”I repose in this quiet and secluded spot, not from any natural preference for solitude, but finding other cemeteries limited as to race, by charter rules, I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life, equality of man before his Creator.
Inscription on the Tombstone of Thaddeus Stevens
As regular readers of this blog know, I greatly enjoyed the film Lincoln and praised it for its overall historical accuracy. Go here to read my review. One of the many aspects of the film that I appreciated was Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens (R.Pa.), a radical Republican who rose from poverty to become the leader of the abolitionists in the House, and one of the most powerful men in the country from 1861 to his death in 1868. There haven’t been many screen portrayals of Stevens, but they illustrate how perceptions of Stevens have shifted based upon perceptions of Reconstruction and civil rights for blacks.
The above is an excellent video on the subject.
The 1915 film Birth of a Nation, has a barely concealed portrayal of Stevens under the name of Congressman Austin Stoneman, the white mentor of mulatto Silas Lynch, the villain of the film, who makes himself virtual dictator of South Carolina until he is toppled by heroic Klansmen. The film was in line with the Lost Cause mythology that portrayed Reconstruction as a tragic crime that imposed governments made up of ignorant blacks and scheming Yankee carpetbaggers upon the South. This was the predominant view of scholarly opinion at the time. The film was attacked by both the NAACP and the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization, as being untrue to history, a glorification of mob violence and racist.
By 1942 when the film Tennessee Johnson was made, we see a substantial shift in the portrayal of Stevens. Played by veteran actor Lionel Barrymore, best know today for his portrayal of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, Stevens is portrayed as a fanatic out to punish the South and fearful that the too lenient, in his view, treatment of the South in Reconstruction will lead to a new Civil War. This leads up to the climax of the film, the trial in the Senate of Johnson, with Stevens as the leader of the House delegation prosecuting Johnson, with Johnson staying in office by one vote. The portrayal of Stevens is not one-dimensional. Stevens is shown as basically a good, if curmudgeonly, man, consumed by fears of a new Civil War and wishing to help the newly emancipated slaves, albeit wrong in his desire to punish the South. Like Birth of a Nation, Tennessee Johnson reflected the scholarly consensus of the day which still painted Reconstruction in a negative light, although not as negative as in 1915. Additionally, the issue of contemporary civil rights for blacks was beginning to emerge outside of the black community as an issue, and Stevens in the film is not attacked on his insistence for civil rights for blacks. Continue reading
If a nation ever needed Divine assistance it was our own America during the Civil War. Riven in two, the nation must have seemed on a path to destruction by many of those who lived through that terrible trial. Abraham Lincoln, as he led the United States through that struggle, increasingly found his mind turning to God. This Proclamation was written by Secretary of State Seward, but the sentiments are no doubt ones in which Lincoln fully joined.
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union. Continue reading
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Part three of a series on militia in the American Revolution. Go here and here to read the previous posts in the series. On the eve of the Revolution the 13 colonies had no Army but they were not defenseless. Their militias constituted a military force of uncertain power but they had a history as old as their colonies and they allowed the colonists to assume that as a last resort they would not be helpless against the British Army. General Thomas Gage, the commander of the British garrison in Boston and the military governor of Massachusetts, viewed the militia as a constant threat to his forces, and it was his sending of a detachment of 700 troops to seize the militia arsenal at Concord that precipitated the American Revolution.
The battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 demonstrated both the strengths and the weaknesses of the American militia system. The initial clash at Lexington involved a standard militia unit of 77 men, not a picked minute man company. The militia was under the command of Captain John Parker, a veteran of the French and Indian War. Parker was in ill-health, suffering from tuberculosis, and some accounts indicate he was difficult to hear. 77 men of course stood no chance against 700 British regulars, and Parker seemed to regard his militia as making a political statement rather than actually attempting to stop the British. Shots were exchange, who fired first is unknown. The British swiftly brushed aside the fleeing militia and continued their march on Concord. So far, so ineffective, as far as the American militia was concerned.
But the British did not simply have to deal with one company of militia at Lexington. The entire country around Boston was up in arms, the word of the British foray spread by Paul Revere, William Dawes and other messengers, and the militia companies were assembling and marching to fight, convinced after the news of Lexington filtered out that the long-expected war had begun. Continue reading
Well this would give the ACLU fits today! On November 15, 1862 Lincoln sent out the following general order:
GENERAL ORDER RESPECTING THE OBSERVANCE OF THE SABBATH DAY
IN THE ARMY AND NAVY.
EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, November 15, 1862.
The President, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, desires and enjoins the orderly observance of the Sabbath by the officers and men in the military and naval service. The importance for man and beast of the prescribed weekly rest, the sacred rights of Christian soldiers and sailors, a becoming deference to the best sentiment of a Christian people, and a due regard for the divine will demand that Sunday labor in the army and navy be reduced to the measure of strict necessity.
The discipline and character of the national forces should not suffer nor the cause they defend be imperilled by the profanation of the day or name of the Most High. “At this time of public distress,” adopting the words of Washington in 1776, “men may find enough to do in the service of God and their country without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality.” The first general order issued by the Father of his Country after the Declaration of Independence indicates the spirit in which our institutions were founded and should ever be defended:
“The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.”
A. LINCOLN. Continue reading
Born on January 23, 1838 in Heppenheim, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse, Maria Anna Barbara Koob moved with her family the next year to Utica, New York. Her father became an invalid when Maria was in the eighth grade. She left school and worked in a factory to help support her family. By 1862 her younger siblings were old enough to take care of themselves, and she felt free to follow her heart’s desire by joining the Sisters of the Third Order Regulars of Saint Francis based in Syracuse, New York. After her novitiate, she served as a teacher and principal in the parochial schools set up for the children of German-speaking immigrants.
She rapidly showed leadership and organizational skills and from 1870-1877 ran Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse. In 1883, by which time she was Superior General of her congregation, she received a plea for sisters to provide medical assistance to the leper colony on Molokai in Hawaii from the King of Hawaii. Fifty religious institutes had turned down the King, but he struck paydirt with the fifty-first. Mother Marianne responded enthusiastically, and she and six of her sisters landed in Honolulu on November 8, 1883. The sisters took charge of Kaka?ako Branch Hospital which served as a receiving hospital for lepers from all over Hawaii, with the most serious cases sent to Molokai. The next year Mother Marianne, at the request of the Hawaiian government, set up Malulani Hospital, the first general hospital on Maui. Continue reading
Rose Marie Segale was born on January 23, 1850 in the small village of Cicagna in Italy. When she was four she and her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, part of the initial wave of immigration from Italy to America. From her earliest childhood she was determined to be a sister and frequently told her father that she wanted to join the Sisters of Charity as soon as she was old enough. She began her novitiate at the age of 16. When she professed her vows she took the name of Blandina Segale. She taught at Steubenville and Dayton, and in 1872 she was ordered to Trinidad for missionary work. Initially she thought that she was being sent to the island and was thrilled. Instead, she was sent to Trinidad, Colorado in the western part of that state.
What she found when she got there, was a town that was frequently visited by outlaws and where lynchings were common. A fairly rugged environment for a 22-year-old sister!
Nothing daunted, she began to teach. Soon after she got there she stopped a lynching by convincing a dying man to forgive his assailant, the father of one of her pupils. Sister Blandina and the sheriff brought the accused killer from the jail where he was being held to the bed of the dying man, through the midst of an angry lynch mob. The dying man, very generously I think, forgave the man, the lynch mob dispersed, and the man’s fate was determined by the court and not the mob.
One of the many outlaws who terrorized the area was Arthur Pond aka William LeRoy, sometimes known as Billy the Kid, and who was celebrated as the King of American Highwaymen by the ”penny dreadful” novelist Richard K. Fox who released a heavily fictionalized biography of him immediately after his death, conflating his exploits with those of the more famous Billy the Kid. (Sister Blandina in later life confused LeRoy with William H. Bonney, the more famous Billy the Kid, who operated in New Mexico a few years later. Sister Blandina had known the outlaw only by his nickname and didn’t realize that there were two Billy the Kids, who died within months of each other in 1881.) A member of his gang had been accidentally shot by another member of his gang and left to die in an adobe hut in Trinidad. Learning this from one of her students, Sister Blandina went to the outlaw and nursed him back to health, answering his questions about God and religion. When Billy the Kid showed up in Trinidad one day, intent on scalping the four doctors who refused to treat the man Sister Blandina had been caring for, he thanked Sister Blandina and at her request reluctantly spared the physicians. Continue reading
Hey, remember when those evil Dutch overlords refused to free all their slaves in Brooklyn? No? Because Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY) sure does.
Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) appeared to botch American and Brooklyn political history during an appearance on “The Colbert Report” that aired Tuesday night, saying that slavery in the United States persisted under the Dutch as late as 1898.
Colbert was quizzing Clarke on the history of her borough.
“Some have called Brooklyn’s decision to become part of New York City ‘The Great Mistake of 1898,’ ” Colbert said. “If you could get in a time machine and go back to 1898, what would you say to those Brooklynites?”
”I would say to them, ‘Set me free,’ ” Clarke said.
Pressed by Colbert what she would be free from, the black congresswoman responded, “Slavery.”
“Slavery. Really? I didn’t realize there was slavery in Brooklyn in 1898,” Colbert responded, seemingly looking to give the lawmaker a chance to catch her error.
“I’m pretty sure there was,” Clarke responded.
“It sounds like a horrible part of the United States that kept slavery going until 1898,” the late-night comedian then quipped.
Colbert pressed on, asking, “Who would be enslaving you in 1898 in New York?”
At that point, Clarke responded, “The Dutch.”
Yes, that was surely a dark period of American history. Fortunately, a contingent of troops who had been training in Central Park under Joe Pepitone finally managed to free the poor, oppressed Brooklynites from the clutches of the Dutch, who were rounded up and sent back to their home country of Dutchland on a series of trans-Atlantic flights, all piloted by Howard Hughes.
This Labor Day I recall an episode in both the history of labor in the United States and in the history of the Catholic Church in America. The last half of the nineteenth century was a time of labor strife, as businesses grew larger, the fruit of the ongoing Industrial Revolution, and workers fought for improvement of working conditions that by any standard were frequently abysmal. Prior to the Civil War apologists for slavery often argued that the average slave in the South was better fed, better housed and better clothed than the average industrial worker in the North. This of course overlooked the entire question of liberty, but there were enough terrible examples of wretched working conditions in the North to give the argument facile support.
Unions sprang up to represent workers. One of the largest in its day was the Knights of Labor founded in 1868. Successful in several large strikes, by 1886 the membership totaled 700,000, perhaps a majority of whom were Catholic. In 1886 the Archbishop of Quebec condemned the Knights in Canada based upon the secrecy that attended the meetings of the organization and forbade Catholics to join it.
The American hierarchy voted 10 to 2 against condemning the Knights. Archbishop James Gibbons was going to Rome in 1887 to receive his red hat as Pope Leo XIII had made him a Cardinal. While there he took the opportunity to submit a lengthy letter in support of the Knights. Although the letter bears the name of Gibbons, it was probably written by his friend Bishop John Ireland of Saint Paul, who had long been active in support of the rights of workers. The letter did the trick and the Vatican announced that the Knights were not to be condemned. The arguments made in the letter had an impact on Pope Leo XIII and helped lay the groundwork for his historic encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) in which he defended the rights of workers to organize to seek better working conditions. Ironically the subject matter of the letter, the Knights of Labor, was in decline, too many of its strikes having involved violence which the leadership of the Knights condemned, but which tarnished the Knights in the eyes of the public. The Knights would cease to operate as a labor union in 1900, newer unions taking the place of this pioneering organization.
The letter of Cardinal Gibbons stressed that Catholic workers in America who belonged to labor organizations were not hostile to the Church as often occurred in Europe where Unions were organized by Leftist and Anarchist groups. In America most Americans supported the workers in their struggle to improve their lot, with both major political parties vying to pass legislation aiding workers. In short, the letter explained American labor and political conditions to the Vatican and how these differed substantially from those existing in Europe. The letter and the decision of the Vatican were good examples of effective communication between American ecclesiastics and Rome. Here is the text of the letter: Continue reading
One of the major developments in American history in the first half of the Nineteenth Century was the extension of the franchise to all adult white men. By 1841, Rhode Island was the only state that had not removed the property requirement for voting by adult white men. Years of frustration in failed attempts to remove the property requirement through legislation burst out into one of the more unusual rebellions in US history. Led by Thomas W. Dorr, a so-called People’s Convention was held in October 1841 which drafted a new constitution for Rhode Island. The convention had not been authorized by the Rhode Island legislature. Opponents of Dorr and his followers in the state legislature drafted a new constitution for Rhode Island which they designated the Freeman’s Constitution. This constitution made some concessions to broadening the franchise. It was defeated in the legislature by followers of Dorr.
A statewide referendum called by Dorr approved the constitution which had been drafted by the People’s Convention. In 1842 Rhode Island witnessed two sets of election with two competing legislatures and two governors: Thomas W. Dorr and Samuel W. King.
The Dorr forces attempted an attack on the arsenal in Providence on May 19, 1842 and were routed, most, including Dorr, fleeing the state. The Rhode Island legislature approved a new Constitution which was approved by a referendum. The new constitution extended the franchise to all adult white men who could pay a poll tax of $1.00.
In the case of Luther v. Borden, 48 US 1, the United States Supreme Court declined to rule on which of the competing Rhode Island governments had been the legitimate government, holding that such a decision was a political one and not subject to judicial determination: Continue reading