Coolidge Speaks!

Friday, May 11, AD 2012

Ironic that the president who has the reputation for being the most taciturn man to ever occupy the White House is also the first president to ever appear in a “talkie” in the above video.

Coolidge is a fascinating man and in future posts I will have much more to say about him.  One fact I will note now is that he was ever a friend of Irish Catholics in his home state of Massachusetts and fought against the discrimination they frequently endured.  Most Irish Catholics were Democrats, but that did not stop Coolidge from standing up for them.  As mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts he developed a life long friendship with Father Joseph Gordian Daley who shared Coolidge’s love of Latin and Greek.  Coolidge helped Father Daley build a mission church in Northampton.  There was a great deal of compassion to this dry, unemotional Yankee.

It is not a myth that Coolidge was tight-lipped.  The archetypal example is when a young lady encountered him at a White House reception and said that she had bet a friend of hers that she could get him to speak three words to her.  “You lose” was Coolidge’s terse response.  As the video indicates Coolidge was not a scintillating speaker, droning monotone being a better description.  However, in his writings Coolidge indicates that lack of verbal expression did not indicate a lack of thoughts on the issues of his day, and many of which are quite relevant to our day:

There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.

I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the Government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form.

If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final.

We live in an age of science and abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create the Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all of our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage bequeathed to us, we must be like minded as the Founders who created. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had and for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

The government of a country never gets ahead of the religion of a country.  There is no way by which we can substitute the authority of law for the virtue of man.  Of course we endeavor to restrain the vicious, and furnish a fair degree of security and protection by legislation and police control, but the real reform which society in these days is seeking will come as a result of our religious convictions, or they will not come at all.  Peace, justice, humanity, charity—these cannot be legislated into being.  They are the result of divine grace.

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7 Responses to Coolidge Speaks!

Vice-Presidents of the United States

Thursday, February 23, AD 2012

Ah, the occupants of an office which is only of importance upon the death of someone!  Many of the men who have occupied the office have left some pungent quotes about it.  Here are a few:

John Adams, first Vice-President:   “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

Theodore Roosevelt, twenty-sixth Vice-President:  “I would a great deal rather be anything, say professor of history, than vice president.”

Thomas Marshall, twenty-eighth Vice-President:  “Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice president of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again”.

Charles Dawes, thirtieth Vice-President:  “This is a hell of a job. I can only do two things: one is to sit up here and listen to you birds talk….The other is to look at newspapers every morning to see how the president’s health is.”

John Nance Garner, thirty-second Vice-President:  “The vice-presidency is not worth a warm bucket of spit.”  (Cactus Jack probably used another term instead of “spit”, but this is a family blog.)

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13 Responses to Vice-Presidents of the United States

  • Hate to be a nitnoid, but Henry Wallace was the 33rd Veep.

  • I always appreciate factual corrections Dale. Truman of course was the thirty-third president as well as being the thirty-fourth vice-president, and that threw me apparently I suppose. Additionally, there are fewer US vice-presidents more deserving of historical oblivion than Henry Wallace! The nation dodged a bullet in that FDR’s health held out just long enough to make certain that the Stalin sympathizing Wallace was back in private life by the time that FDR was wheeled off the stage. To be fair, shortly before Stalin died, Wallace did publicly recant his previous positive misconceptions about the Soviet Union, even writing a book about how wrong he had been, and reversed wheels politically, endorsing the re-election of Eisenhower in 1956.

  • This also serves as a useful reminder that for all the attention we pay the Veep selection, the guy who gets the nod will be slightly less relevant than the head of HUD.

  • Yes and no, Paul. Four of the nine quoted above became presidents, three of them in the most unfortunate way. It’s a reminder why the best teams pay a fortune to the backup quarterback that they hope never takes a snap.

  • it is indeed rather a peculiarity of the Vice Presidency that the only regular constitutional action for which the Vice President is absolutely essential is opening the envelopes for Electoral College votes.

  • Doesn’t the VP enjoy equally irrelevant status as President Pro Tem of the Senate unless he casts a tie-breaking vote?

    That might actually have impact sometimes. Algore cast the tie-breaking vote to tax elderly Social Security benefits who earn as little as $22,000 per year in 1993.

  • WK — he’s actually the President of the Senate; the President Pro Tem is the guy who does the honors when the VP’s not there. In actual fact, neither has to do much — standard Senate practice is for the President Pro Tem to delegate the position to junior Senators so that they’ll get practice with the rules and procedures, and the only explicit constitutional power is the tie-breaking one. There have been VP’s who actually did a lot in the position — a lot of Senate procedure was developed under the influence of the early VP’s — and some important ties broken; but you’re certainly right that it’s mostly irrelevant — the Senate can perform almost all its business without him. (It’s also useful in that it makes it easier for the Office of the President to have an influence on legislation, though.)

    There have also been Vice Presidents who never attended a Cabinet meeting (that’s at the President’s discretion; the VP has no more a guaranteed right to attend than the First Lady). I always find it fascinating: it’s a government position whose only major function is to assist at making things run smoothly — organizing the Senate, serving as a back-up, making sure Electoral College certificates are in order, etc.

  • Of course – my High School civics slipped for a bit. It is an interesting position, as long as you don’t actually call it yours.

  • PZ: one irrelevant head of HUD, namely Andrew Cuomo, helped wreck the US economy.

    The duties of VP are to inquire daily as to the president’s health and to attend state funerals. They “robo-sign” electoral certificates.

  • A little over a week ago, I took a rather unusual step for a vice-president – I said something.” – Spiro T Agnew.

    As I recall, Spiro T……WHO?? 😉 had quite a bit to say.

    The quote of his that really sticks in my mind was when he called the peace movement emblem an “Encircled crow’s foot.”

  • An even more useless office, most (but not all) of the time, is the state-level counterpart of the Veep, the lieutenant governor or “lite guv”. Some states don’t even bother having one; they simply designate the secretary of state or some other official as the first in line of succession if something should happen to their governor. In the early 1980s one of Illinois’ lite guvs quit the job, claiming that he had (literally) nothing to do. (His boss was not in imminent danger of death, disability or indictment at the time either.)

  • Fun! My favorites were Agnew and Lyndon Johnson.

The War That Gets No Respect

Thursday, January 26, AD 2012

When it comes to the War of 1812, the ignorance depicted in the above video is no exaggeration.  Of all our major conflicts, our Second War For Independence is the most obscure to the general public.  In this bicentennial year of the beginning of the War, I will do my small bit on the blog Almost Chosen People , the American history blog that Paul Zummo and I run, to help correct this situation.   The War of 1812 was an important struggle in American history for a number of reasons, a few of which are:

1.      Until the War of 1812 the British tended to treat the United States as if it were a wayward colony that would ultimately become part of the British Empire again.  After the War the British understood that we were an independent power and a permanent factor in their calculations.

2.     The War established the United States Navy as an aggressive and resourceful combat force, unafraid to pit daring and skill against the massively more powerful Royal Navy.

3.     The War ended American dreams of conquering Canada.

4.     As a result of the War, the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi could no longer provide serious resistance to American expansion into the Northwest and the Southwest.

5.     The Star-Spangled Banner symbolized the new surge of nationalism that the country experienced as a result of the War.

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44 Responses to The War That Gets No Respect

  • 6. Check! Check! Although, the man was not so nice; sometimes I long for the days of settling matters of honor with pistols or rapiers.

    I think that war cemented American nationality. Our forefathers bore defeat and rapine, on our soil, and came out strong and united.

    It could have ended much differently.

    Little remembered land and naval battles in the Great Lakes areas of NYS are an interesting side bar.

    One of my least favorite wars.

  • Would that war deserve the later epithet “War is Hell”? Was number 4 above good for the native population or did they enjoy losing their land and broken treaties? Some of us who descended from conquered people and part of whose family still lives under colonial rule have a whole different take on war and occupying armies.

  • Well HT I am part Cherokee, as well as Scot and Irish. I have a standing offer to help assuage any white guilt for the wrongs done my people, in exchange for a substantial monetary payment to me, by sending out a personal letter of forgiveness and absolution. For a large enough contribution the letter will be sent out in Cherokee! ( I would note that I have absolutely no intention of sharing any of these funds with tribes dispossessed by the Cherokee, so descendants of the Muscogee should not even bother asking.)

  • I disagree, Don, With your point 3. Amanda Foreman writes in ‘A World on Fire’:

    “One of the legacies of the War of 1812 was a British fear that the United States might try to annex [Canada} and a conviction among the Americans that they should never stop trying. It was neither forgiven nor forgotten that precious ships and men had to diverted from the desperate war against Napoleon Bonaparte in order to defend Canada from three invasion attempts by the United States between 1812 and 1814. London regarded the burning of Washington and the White House by British soldiers in August 1814 as a well-deserved retribution for the sacking of York (later Toronto) by American troops.”

    Another legacy was a hubristic assumption thet the Americans had “licked the British twice” when in fact in the first instance they relied on foreign support (and a lot of luck) and the second (the Battle of New Orleans) was fought after the peace treaty had been signed, accepting what was essentially a draw, and therefore in cricketing terms was the equivalent of a catch outside the boundary.

  • London was concerned John with an attack on Canada in the event of war with the US in the Civil War. However, Lincoln was adamant that one war at a time was quite enough, and had no intention of provoking one with Great Britain.

    In regard to Great Britain in the War of 1812, the Brits had been impressing American seamen off American ships into the Royal Navy for a generation, and stirring up the tribes in the Northwest against the US since the glorious American victory in the War for Independence (Cue the trumpets!) The US had sufficient casus belli to justify going to war in 1812.

    In regard to the Revolution we would ultimately have triumphed in the War in any case, although it might have taken longer. The War in the North had largely been won by the time of French intervention, with the Royal Army clinging only to New York and its immediately surrounding areas, and the British forces during the Southern campaign were too small to have posed a lasting occupation force. One could argue that the French intervention caused the War to last longer by increasing British reluctance to recognize the obvious: they were never going to conquer the 13 colonies. However, I do not believe this. King George was too pig-headed to admit his ghastly mistake in trying to suppress the American patriots any sooner than he did.

    In regard to New Orleans, one of the most lop-sided defeats in British military history, I have my doubts as to whether the Brits would have easily relinquished it if they had taken it. Facts on the ground tend to be stronger than words printed on parchment. My guess is that they would have wanted some concessions in exchange. However, Old Hickory made such considerations purely speculative.

  • It never fails to disappoint me that some people always take the view of liberal revisionist history about the American Indians. Did the white man do wrongs? Yes. Did the red man do wrongs? Yes. Does that mean that the white man alone is guilty? All men have sinned and come short of the glory of God. PS, somewhere in my family tree – great grandmother on my father’s mother’s side – is Mohawk Indian. As Donald indicated, does anyone want to pay?

    PS, there is no equivocation to be made between the paganism of the native American Indian and Christianity. That doesn’t mean that the white man always (or even often) acted in accord with Christian principles. But it does mean that just as too many white men in today’s society are pagans, so also were most native American Indians back then. I have seen zero improvement in the donning of paganism in modern society for either white or red man. BTW, there’s only one race: the human race – just in case anyone had any doubts.

  • I suggest that it was only after the Civil War that the US abandoned her designs on Canada; once Canada had self-government it was more difficult for American politicians to justify invasion on the grounds that they were simply having another crack at the old enemy. There is ample evidence of US bellicosity in the half-century before the Civil War, and during the latter conflict Seward’s war-mongering is in sharp contrast to the measured statesmanship of Palmerston and Russell. England was an established Great Power, America an aspirant one, and it shows. I’m surprised at the extent to which present-day Americans still mythologize their Revolution.

  • I find no justification for any need to repeat comments that all humans are flawed and no race, ethnic group, or faith group is free now or ever was free of sin. My study of some areas of history is limited even now as an adult but as a very young child I learned all about Original Sin.

  • Then HT, one should kindly stop pointing out the white man’s guilt to the exclusion of all other guilt. The white man didn’t live up to his Christian principles. The red man was pagan. The inevitable happened – “the wages of sin are death.”

    Frankly, I am sick and tired of hearing how those of my ancestors who by accident of birth were white were so violent towards those of my ancestors who by accident of birth were red. I don’t hate either of my ancestors, and I loathe this self-hatred that liberals (who invariably are white themselves) like to foster on the rest.

  • My views of Andrew Jackson can be summed up thusly:

    Tis a pity that Jesse Benton wasn’t a better shot, or that Chief Junaluska lacked the foresight at Horseshoe Bend that he later lamented.

  • I do not understand. I made a semi-serious reply to the post about that war. I simply asked a question about whether it was hell or not and if the Native population enjoyed losing their land and broken treaties. Re-read it and see if that is accurate, I said absolutely nothing about anything else. I happen to believe that war is hell, few are justified. I have also said over a lifetime as a teacher since Vietnam to the present, if American cities, were for the most part pawns in a surrogate war how would that be today? Electrical systems, and water supplies were bombed, shelled and overrun by foreign Troops who knew nothing of the local culture, political or religious system, ethnic rivalries and faith-group differences they would have cried foul many wars ago. Pearl Harbour and 9/11 versus Nagasaki and Hiroshima? 8.5 years, one trillion dollars and thousands of dead allies, ten times that many injured for life in body and mind,? No one knows how many civilians dead and refugees exiled and religious rivalries all over the whole Middle East as new “martyrs” for Allah are created. “The beat goes on, ” and the killing is still going on. Reminds me of the old saw that ” I am up to my backside in alligators but all I wanted to do was drain the swamp. “

  • Paul, I’m generally in agreement with your commentary, but what you refer to as the so-called “liberal revisionist history about the American Indians” could probably just be shortened to “history”. The “revisionist history” was the one that portrayed the native peoples of this land as savages, who could, at times, prove noble, and portrayed those who took their lands from them by force and chicanery as “civilized” Christians “taming the Wild West”.

    Just as slavery is a blight on this Nation’s history, so is the shameful treatment of the Indians. Now, I’m perfectly inclined to admit that the clash of cultures made the Indians’ decline inevitable, but the way it went down is absolutely shameful.

  • The wars around the world will not stop till the war against children in the womb stops.

  • Yes, Jay, I am in agreement, but I would revise your statement to say that savage were both the native Americans and their opponents, the descendants of white Europeans.

  • HermitTalker, you are absolutely correct that the War of 1812 proved to be absolute hell for the Indians. The death of Tecumseh, alone, meant that there would never be any organized resistance by the native peoples to westward expansion.

    American hubris regarding “besting the British” aside, there were no winners in the War of 1812 (although if anyone has a claim in that regard it is probably Canada). But the Indians proved to be the biggest losers.

  • To HT, let’s not bring the necessary but aweful and terrible nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki into this. BTW, as I mentioned before here at TAC, I was a reactor operator on a nuclear submarine. I had virtually no involvement with the nuclear weapons with which my submarine was armed (though due to limited bunking space in bearthing, I did sleep on a mat right next to one in the torpedo room). But being submarine qualified, I was trained in the rudiments of how to launch, assuming I were the last man alive. And if I had been given the order to launch, then I would have remorsefully but immediately carried out my orders. Liberals cannot understand such a sense of duty, nor did they ever understand the MAD doctrine that preserved the free world from communist aggression, and when defense – the SDI or “Star Wars” Program – was proposed as an alterantive to MAD, they opposed that tooth and nail, too. But none of that is relevant to the topic of this blog post.

  • Mr Paul P: War will not end unless and until every leader and every citizen creates the climate wherein we hear God’s Message; we are made in His Image, the Earth and its resources are His and are given to us in Trust as stewards. Our flawed human nature whose root is Hubris, ” I am god or I want to know good and evil as the Genesis story tells us explains that. We trick ourselves, or are tricked into thinking we have it right so life from womb to tomb is disposable and subjected to “my” decision as to whether I can make money on it or get rid of it or decide that “they” have no right to it- whether land, jobs, property or life, for political, economic or national or religious reasons. The SIN takes many forms whether in colonial Aamerica, or in the battle against the Native Americans or Palestinian humans or sunni versus shia in the Middle East. I read a good line from the DC March for Life on Monday; “abortion is ripping the knitting out of God’s hands.” (Msgr C Pope). I add to that the rest of destroying life is like burning all the sweaters and jackets HE already finished.
    Peace.: from a Catholic Christian Humanist, which includes being a pacifist as Jesus’ BEATITUDES teach us.

  • You’re right, HT, war won’t end until we all repent.

    But in the meantime, thank God there were men like Charles Martel to turn back the Islamic Moors at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD, and thank God for the intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary that led to the victory of the Holy League’s fleet against the Ottoman Sultan’s fleet at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 AD. There are many other examples, a great number that include Biblical heroes and heroines like Joshua, Deborah, Judith, David, etc. Personally, I thank God every day for our nuclear submariners who patrol the ocean’s depths, ever ready to unleash hell against enemies that might attack us. You see, regardless that that man of sin Obama is in charge, I love the US and we are the good guys, however flawed we may be. Indeed, when an Islamist bullet kills a woman or child, it’s a direct hit, but when an American does, it’s a complete miss.

  • Being 1/8th Native American myself I am in agreement with Don. Of course one should also consider the Native American habit of waging war against other Native Americans, their introduction of slavery (of other Native Americans) into the New World and other acts of barbarism which Europeans took issue with as they colonized the Americas. In fact many a Southwest tribe was pleased by the arrival of the Spanish in the hopes that these Europeans would be able to stop the Cheyenne agression in their lands.

    This European outlook influenced subsequent generations of Americans as they moved West.

  • “Peace of Earth to men of good will.” Everyone else “gets it.”

  • “‘Peace of Earth to men of good will.’ Everyone else ‘gets it.’”

    Having been rescued from men of ill will in two world wars, European liberals have gratitude for neither the country that did the rescuing nor the benevolence of the God who enabled that country’s efforts to be successful.

    In equal measure is their gratitude for the victory had at both the Battle of Tours and the Battle of Lepanto. Indeed, perhaps if the War of 1812 had gone differently, then perhaps 130 years later they would have gotten what they really wanted after all, and we’d all be speaking German with no Jewish synogogues anywhere.

  • I never like to second-guess what GOD could have pulled out of His hat over the centuries in all the wars and ills of society, we humans decided what or who or which battle plan fed HIS Grand Plan the best. Neither do I give much credit to people who are not taught their own history or forget the lessons. Someone referred up there a while back about God and the Old Testament wars. They reflect the culture of the time and do not necessarily reflect His take on war and violence, nor do the wives and concubines of HIS Patriarchs reflect His current views on marriage. Neither would HE have approved Abrahan passing off his wife as his sister to get out of trouble or making a baby by his wife’s servant-woman. I do think GOD had some fun when little David’s slingshot got the Big Bad Goliath. By the standards of the day, and the later David’s tactics, and what might have happened if Goliath killed the boy, that was pretty mild.

  • You still, HT, have no gratitude to the USA for what it did in enabling you to say the disrespectful things you say about the USA, and I for one obviously do not subscribe to your revisionist view that the “USA is evil, USA is evil.” Two world wars and the end of the cold war say you are incorrect (though I do agree that unlike former President Bush, Obama is indeed evil). I am not going to talk on this any further with you because arguing with a liberal is trying to convince a person who will forever remain adamantly unconvinced still, facts to the contrary of his viewpoint be darned. I love my God and my country. For all her faults, these United States are still the very best of the best. Hate her all you wish, I only pray that when the time comes we will still be able to rescue European liberals from the consequences of their decisions one more time. But that can only happen if first we repent of our liberalism.

    And PS, I not only pray for the safety of our troops overseas, I pray for their overwhelming and unconditional victory against the enemy – radical fundamentalist Islamic terrorists.

  • War of 1812 and Mexican War are definitely in the top 5 wars that still shape the US today, but neither is remembered well enough or given the sort of public monument on the National Mall that they deserve. The Vietnam War gets a memorial, but there is no monument to the victorious war that added almost a third of our territory and gave us Pacific ports?

  • I have absolutely no idea as to which of my comments you are replying. My last post above was a philosophic opinion about our humans not knowing what God would do or not do to see our problems solved. I went on then to comment in lessons from the OT with a little humourous take on Boy David and the Unjolly Giant. As a believer you are aware of the fact that JESUS, God’s Son came later to give us the Beatitudes and rejected even calling our enemy a fool. GOD is pro-life, His SON died trying to tell us to cut the crud that passes for “religion.” Your “primavera” “spring” name comes across to me Paul as dark, dreary winter mumbling on here as far as your treatment of some posts and your opinions are concerned. Do you actually try to see the points of view I express with the eyes of faith and knowing the immediate hands on effect of guerilla war and lying Government propaganda. Taking a look from my vantage point about life, and the fragile earth and its wasted resources ( people, cash and the land and its resources ) and dumb military moves that litter the history books. “Radical islamist fundametalists” Ask earlier generations how they were trained to see “the Enemy” dehumanised, every insulting name and li they could manufacture. emotionally healthy human beings cannot kill others- they are “products of conception ” or “commies ” or “dirty catholics” or ” terrorist palestinians” or Fxxxxing whoever else is sub-human in whatever theatre of war. GOD of course is always called on as being on “our” side. My earliest memory is on an Englishman in London chewing my backside because he saw some photo of Pope Pius X11 supposedly blessing some military equipment. Anything to dehumanise your presumred enemy, Truth be darmed.

  • “War of 1812 and Mexican War are definitely in the top 5 wars that still shape the US today, but neither is remembered well enough or given the sort of public monument on the National Mall that they deserve.”

    It’ll never happen because neither war is politically correct. Both wars are rightly seen as wars caused primarily by American expansionism (so-called “Manifest Destiny”), one at the expense of the Indians and the other at the expense of the Mexicans.

  • At the expense of very few Mexicans Jay. The Mexicans of course brought in the Americans into Texas to serve as a buffer against the Comanches who were the real rulers of Texas. The Mexican population of Texas in 1824 when American immigration began was 3000. By 1830 the Texans outnumbered the Tejanos by two to one. California had about 10,000 Mexicans in 1845, and a foreign, mostly American population of 2000. Mexican population was too sparse to hold onto such a vast region. If we hadn’t taken it in the Mexican War, I have no doubt that California would have come under British or Russian rule, and that Texas would ultimately have formed a break away Republic with or without American immigration.

  • “There is ample evidence of US bellicosity in the half-century before the Civil War, and during the latter conflict Seward’s war-mongering is in sharp contrast to the measured statesmanship of Palmerston and Russell. England was an established Great Power, America an aspirant one, and it shows. I’m surprised at the extent to which present-day Americans still mythologize their Revolution.”

    There is no need to mythologize the Revolution John; the history of that conflict is spectacularly pro-American enough, as underfed, dressed in rags America troops developed a Continental Army that could go toe to toe with the best Army on Earth.
    Palmerston almost caused a war with America due to his overreaction to the Trent affair. He will always get my vote as the most overrated British prime minister. It was the dying Prince Albert and his toning down of the ultimatum to the United States that crucially helped avoid war, along with Lincoln’s willingness to release the Confederate emissaries when he could politically do so.

    Canada was not a major factor in the conflicts between the British Empire and the US in the first half of the nineteenth century, after the War of 1812. It would obviously have become the main theatre of a war, but the conflicts were about other important issues, like the division of the Oregon Territory or the slaying of an innocent American pig (no, really!)

  • Non-Texans like to conflate the two, but 1836 and 1845 are two different wars.

  • All one big war Jay, or so the Texans thought at the time, especially since the Mexican government repudiated the Treaty of Velasco and thus remained at war with the Texan Republic throughout its existence.

  • Different wars fought over different territories by different constituent powers. But even if one were to accept your interpretation, which I don’t and few Texans would (and even at the time it was only the latecomers to Texas who saw the Texas Revolution in larger terms than independence from a country that couldn’t get its act together), it still doesn’t explain why expelling the Mexican forces across the Rio Grande wasn’t enough to accomplish the alleged goal of securing Texas. There was no need to invade and capture Mexico City and humiliate the Mexican people in order to achieve the peaceful annexation of Texas. No, the war was nothing more than an excuse for a great-big land grab.

  • Jay,

    That’s how long I’ve been out of school!

    The US declared war against the indians in 1812? Who’d a thunk!

    Did the brits go to war to save the Indians from us? That would be just like them. They acted in a similar charitable manner regarding Ireland in the late 1840’s.

  • C’mon Jay, if there’s a monument to our biggest defeat on the National Mall there’s certainly the possibility of a monument to our defense against the British and our glorious victory and expansion to the Pacific.
    Even the Canadians are putting up a War of 1812 monument

  • We need to give back AZ, CA and NM to Mexico before they drag down the rest of the country. They are obama states, right?

    Do you think Mexico would take meager Maine and insolvent Illinois off our hands, too?

  • Jay, your Texan ancestors would have vigorously disagreed with you. The Mexican War was immensely popular in Texas. The disputed land between Mexico and Texas that sparked the war had always been claimed by Texas. The Texans had also claimed Santa Fe. The idea that there was any reluctance on the part of the Texans to take part in the Mexican War is simply ahistoric. I would note that the history of the Texan Republic is filled with filibustering expeditions into Mexico by Texans intent on conquering more Mexican land. Likewise the Mexicans invaded Texas several times during this period, twice in 1842. The Texas Rangers who fought in the Mexican War were noted both for extreme courage and extreme brutality to the Mexicans luckless enough to fall into their hands. (The Mexicans usually showed small mercy to any Texan troops who fell into their hands.) If the Mexican War is to be considered a huge land grab, it all started with the land grab by American settlers in Texas. Of course the Mexicans grabbed the land from the native inhabitants, so I guess by rights the really aggrieved parties should be the Comanches and the Apaches and the other tribes, although they had of course displaced other tribes before them. If the Mexican War is viewed purely as a land grab, the Americans were only following a time honored tradition in the southwest.

  • “The US declared war against the indians in 1812 …”

    Don’t believe I said that. Might want to read what I wrote again. I said that the War of 1812 was about American expansionism (and it was since (a) annexation of Canada was a major goal of the U.S. side in the war, and (b) removal of the Indians from the Northwest Territory was a catalyst for Indian involvement on the side of the Brits) and that said expansionism came at the expense of the Indians.

    Is there really any disagreement about that fact?

  • “Jay, your Texan ancestors would have vigorously disagreed with you.”

    They’d have disagreed with me about stealing land from Mexicans? Imagine that.

    They’d have probably disagreed with me on the issues of slavery, too. And Indian policy. And being anti-Catholic freemasons, no doubt they’d have disagreed with me on a much wider variety of issues on top of those.

  • No doubt they would disagree with you about a whole hosts of issues Jay, but I believe we were debating history, and the history is as I have stated it. That it rubs some 21rst century Americans the wrong way is of little consequence to me.

  • “Even the Canadians are putting up a War of 1812 monument …”

    That’s because (a) they arguably won the war, (b) it’s not considered politically incorrect in Canada because they’re seen as fighting on the side of the Indians, and (c) the War is sort of a defining national moment for the Canadians – arguably, the thing that defined them as a nation.

    By the way, I would favor a memorial to the War of 1812 on the mall, just don’t think it very likely for PC reasons (the actual Star Spangled Banner in the Smithsonian sorta serves the purpose anyway).

    For my part, I plan to take my kids to as many War of 1812 commemorations as I possibly can over the next 3 years. Fort Meigs and Put-in-Bay are only about an hour a way, so those are definites. Probably will try to get to Niagara for some of their commemorations, and will try to make it for Baltimore’s celebration of the bicentennial of the Star Spangled Banner.

  • Well, Don, I can tell you how it’s taught in Texas History classes, and there’s a chapter on the Texas Revolution, followed by several chapters on the Republic of Texas, followed by a chapter on annexation, and THEN there’s a chapter on the Mexican War. Texas History books are hardly paragons of PC, so I don’t think they’re trying to sugar coat anything. It’s just that Texans don’t view the war in 1836 as part-and-parcel with the war in 1845. And with good reason. There had been conflict with Mexico off and on during the ensuing years, including the Mier Expedition, but Texas had existed for almost a decade as a Republic (a struggling one financially, but a Republic nonetheless) before the Mexican War began. It’s not the same thing, and upon my extensive reading of Texas history (and I assure you it is quite extensive), the two wars are and always have been seen in Texas as separate events. Related, but separate. Texans have always seen themselves as having won their independence in 1836. Whether the Mexican War was ever fought a decade later, that fact was not going to change.

    As far as the history being as you state it, or my allegedly “being rubbed the wrong way” being of little consequence to you, I consider myself to be not wholly illiterate on the topic, and just happen to disagree with your interpretation of the facts in this instance. It need not become a matter of sharpness.

  • I meant no offense to you personally Jay. My comment was not intended for you alone but for general application. When it comes to history I strive to relate the facts of it and that people may find the facts unpalatable is always of little consequence to me, even when I greatly respect the individual I am debating, as I greatly respect you. Interpretation of historical events will always vary, but they have to be based on the facts of the history being interpreted. Fidelity to the historical record is very important to me.

    We will simply have to disagree as to whether the Mexican War was a continuation of the Texas war with Mexico that began in 1836. Texas was in a state of war with Mexico until the signing of the treaty of Guadaloupe Hidalgo in 1848. Mexico threatened war with the US if the treaty of annexation with Texas was approved. The start of the Mexican War of course was over the issue of whether the Nueces River or the Rio Grande was the boundary between Mexico and Texas. The Republic of Texas also claimed vast territories beyond the present borders of Texas, and those claims ensured conflict with Mexico following annexation. In the US it was long recognized that annexing Texas would probably mean war with Mexico which was one reason, slavery being the other main reason, why annexation took ten years. Texas annexation meant taking up the Texan war with Mexico, something that was understood by all three governments involved.

  • Don, by the time Palmerston became PM he was arguably past his best and a generation older than Gladstone or Disraeli. His reputation rests on his time as Foreign Secretary, particularly his first stint 1830-1841. The enormous workload of the job effectually killed two of his predecessors, Castlereagh and Canning, but Pam was up to it. His skilful handling of the protracted and extraordinarily complex negotiations which resulted in Belgian independence was admired by contemporaries, and he himself regarded it quite rightly as his greatest achievement. His skill in preventing what seemed inevitable conflict between the Great Powers as the Vienna settlement began to unravel is justly praised by historians, and the consensus is that he would have avoided the Crimean War had he been in office.

    He had no intention of declaring war on the United States (had war eventuated, the US would have declared it) but at the same time would not allow Britain to be insulted and diplomatically humiliated, although both he and Russell, well briefed by the British Minister in Washington, knew that Seward’s posturing was motivated by personal political interests. The British regarded US politics as mired in corruption, and with good reason.

    The chief myth about the American Revolution, which I fear still persists in certain quarters is that the Americans were victims of ‘colonialism’ who engaged in a popular and successful revolt against a foreign Power. In truth the so-called ‘Old Colonial System’ benefitted the colonies, and the Americans were not only colonists, but colonizers on a grand scale. In the 19th century we described expansion as imperialism, and did not dress it up in the euphemistic phrase ‘manifest destiny’.

  • I suppose the differing perspectives come from the fact that Texans interpret the event in light of independence from Mexico. For Texans, the defining event was becoming an independent Texas after years of being a province of the Mexican state of Coahila. For many years, they had sought independence from Coahila as a separate state within Mexico, and when this was viewed by the Mexican authorities as rebellion, it eventually led to the state of affairs that became the Texas Revolution and led to full independence for the Republic of Texas.

    Non-Texans, however, interpret the event in light of U.S. expansion, so annexation becomes the defining event and therefore the key focus of their historical perspective. Clearly, the annexation of Texas would never have happened (at least not when and how it happened) without the Texas Revolution. And, clearly, the Mexican War was a direct result of the annexation of Texas.

    But the reason Texans (and I believe even non-Texan historians should, as well) view the events as, although related, not the same conflict is because Texas’ existence as an independent entity from Mexico did not come about as the result of the Mexican War or the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. It came about because of the revolution fought a decade earlier by Texans. For 10 years, Texas existed in fact and in law as a free and sovereign (though financially struggling) republic (whether Mexico repudiated the terms of peace or not is somewhat irrelevant in that they were in no position to try to recapture what they had lost), and it did not come about because U.S. troops captured Mexico City a decade later.

    Mexico might seethe about losing Texas, but they weren’t going to regain their lost province, and were somewhat content to fight an ongoing border skirmish with the Republic. But what they would not tolerate was the United States becoming their next-door neighbor to the north, and they had good cause for concern given that U.S. interests in territorial expansion into Mexican lands weren’t going to end there. The Mexican War was about Texas’ annexation, not Texas’ independence. That war had already been fought and won by Texas. Certainly, closely related events from a historical perspective, but nonetheless distinct events.

The Abolitionist and the Liberator

Tuesday, January 24, AD 2012



Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist of 19th century America and Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, who led the fight to gain the right to vote for Irish Catholics in 19th century Ireland, have always been two of my heroes.  Most Americans tend to be unaware of the connection between them.

Throughout his life Daniel O’Connell had been an opponent of slavery, and made his sentiments known at every opportunity, calling upon Irish-Americans to attack the “Peculiar Institution”.  He was frequently quoted by opponents of slavery in the United States.  While a boy and a slave, Douglass had heard one of his masters curse O’Connell for attacking slavery, and Douglass knew that he must love O’Connell if his master hated him so.  In 1846 Douglass went to Ireland for four months and went on a speaking tour.  O’ Connell was seventy-one and had just one more year to live.  Douglass was a mere twenty-eight.  However, a firm friendship quickly sprung up between them.  O’Connell, perhaps the finest orator of a nation known for oratory, heard the eloquent Douglass speak in Dublin and proclaimed him the “Black O’Connell”.

The wretched condition of most of the Irish moved and shocked Douglass as this passage he wrote in a letter to William Lloyd Garrison on March 27, 1846 reveals:

The spectacle that affected me most, and made the most vivid impression on my mind, of the extreme poverty and wretchedness of the poor of Dublin, was the frequency with which I met little children in the street at a late hour of the night, covered with filthy rags, and seated upon cold stone steps, or in corners, leaning against brick walls, fast asleep, with none to look upon them, none to care for them. If they have parents, they have become vicious, and have abandoned them. Poor creatures! they are left without help, to find their way through a frowning world—a world that seems to regard them as intruders, and to be punished as such. God help the poor! An infidel might ask, in view of these facts, with confusing effect—Where is your religion that takes care for the poor—for the widow and fatherless—where are its votaries—what are they doing? The answer to this would be, if properly given, wasting their energies in useless debate on hollow creeds and points of doctrine, which, when settled, neither make one hair white nor black. In conversation with some who were such rigid adherents to their faith that they would scarce be seen in company with those who differed from them in any point of their creed, I have heard them quote the text in palliation of their neglect, “The poor shall not cease out of the land”! During my stay in Dublin, I took occasion to visit the huts of the poor in its vicinity—and of all places to witness human misery, ignorance, degradation, filth and wretchedness, an Irish hut is pre-eminent. It seems to be constructed to promote the very reverse of every thing like domestic comfort. If I were to describe one, it would appear about as follows: Four mud walls about six feet high, occupying a space of ground about ten feet square, covered or thatched with straw—a mud chimney at one end, reaching about a foot above the roof—without apartments or divisions of any kind—without floor, without windows, and sometimes without a chimney—a piece of pine board laid on the top of a box or an old chest— a pile of straw covered with dirty garments, which it would puzzle any one to determine the original part of any one of them—a picture representing the crucifixion of Christ, pasted on the most conspicuous place on the wall—a few broken dishes stuck up in a corner—an iron pot, or the half of an iron pot, in one corner of the chimney—a little peat in the fireplace, aggravating one occasionally with a glimpse of fire, but sending out very little heat—a man and his wife and five children, and a pig. In front of the door-way, and within a step of it, is a hole three or four feet deep, and ten or twelve feet in circumference; into this hole all the filth and dirt of the hut are put, for careful preservation. This is frequently covered with a green scum, which at times stands in bubbles, as decomposition goes on. Here you have an Irish hut or cabin, such as millions of the people of Ireland live in. And some live in worse than these. Men and women, married and single, old and young, lie down together, in much the same degradation as the American slaves. I see much here to remind me of my former condition, and I confess I should be ashamed to lift up my voice against American slavery, but that I know the cause of humanity is one the world over. He who really and truly feels for the American slave, cannot steel his heart to the woes of others; and he who thinks himself an abolitionist, yet cannot enter into the wrongs of others, has yet to find a true foundation for his anti-slavery faith.

It is a tribute both to Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell that their compassion was not limited to people like them, but extended to victims of injustice far removed from them.


In his memoirs published in 1882, Douglass recalled O’Connell:

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8 Responses to The Abolitionist and the Liberator

  • A fascinating post, Don! O’Connell certainly put Catholic Emancipation on the political agenda following the County Clare by-election of 1828, but to me the real heroes are the Duke of Wellington and Robert Peel, the leaders of the Tory party who got the measure through Parliament. Peel had to give up his Oxford seat as a result:

    O member for Oxford, you shuffle and wheel!
    You have altered your name from R. Peel to repeal!

    Daniel O’Connell once remarked of Peel that his smile was like the gleam of a brass plate upon a coffin, but his ministry of 1841-1846 was of momentous significance and he is the architect of the modern Conservative Party, which despite the PC posturings of its current leader, best enshrines the moral values which must inform our society.

    Thank you for directing me to Amanda Foreman’s ‘World on Fire’ which I persuaded someone to give me as a Christmas present. She seems to have an American readership in mind, hence her use of the term ‘banquet’ instead of ‘dinner’ and a couple of unfortunate references to British warships as ‘the HMS …’ (cringe, cringe). I wonder if American readers might find it a bit Anglocentric, however.

    I have gained a lot from your coverage of American politics – not really understood in Europe.

  • With all due respect to Mr. Douglass, and to you, Don, this passage reads like the sort of nonsense one would expect to read at NC Reporter:

    “Where is your religion that takes care for the poor—for the widow and fatherless—where are its votaries—what are they doing? The answer to this would be, if properly given, wasting their energies in useless debate on hollow creeds and points of doctrine, which, when settled, neither make one hair white nor black.”

    What hogwash! We were treated to the same sort of attacks on the Church by the so-called progressive Catholics during the debates over the new Roman Missal: “Why are we spending so much time debating the words of the Creed – ‘consubstantial’? Really? No one even knows what that means! – when there is so much suffering in the world?”

    Examples can be found here:

    The truth is that the Church can walk and chew gum at the same time. It can (and has throughout its entire 2000+ year history) debate creeds and still care for the poor. To accuse the Church in Ireland of not being there for the poor is outright calumny. The Church was ALL they had, and did what it could to alleviate their suffering.

    Whatever Mr. Douglass’ virtues as an abolitionist, in this instance, at least, he was either grossly misinformed or a liar.

  • Douglass was not a Catholic Jay, and I would note that his comment was not directed solely against the Church. The poverty in 19th Century Ireland among Irish Catholics was absolutely incredible to behold, especially during the potato famine, and it shocked most foreign visitors and not just Douglass. In other writings on Ireland, Douglass laid the blame for much of the poverty at the feet of the British government, and at the alcoholism that was rampant through all sections of Ireland at the time. The man also only spent four months in Ireland so he hardly had time to become expert on what the Church was doing to alleviate poverty. My guess is that his statement was uttered out of shock that such poverty was possible in a nation that purported to be Christian. Throughout his life Douglass was an outspoken advocate of Irish independence, so he certainly had no prejudice against Irish Catholics. As to his virtues as an abolitionist, they were great, as he was a walking refutation of the theory prevalent at the time that blacks were naturally inferior to whites.

  • “The man also only spent four months in Ireland so he hardly had time to become expert on what the Church was doing to alleviate poverty.”

    Then he probably should’ve kept his mouth shut regarding aspects of the situation about which he was ignorant.

    My problem with ALL progressives, even ones who are right about such things as slavery, is that religion is all to often for them a cheap scapegoat.

  • Douglass had the additional misfortune of being owned by extremely pious slaveholders during most of his life as a slave, and witnessing another nearly beating another slave to death over a minor infraction. The only one who treated him with any decency was a man who never made any profession of religious belief. While contacts with religious abolitionists helped over time, he had little patience with professed belief that was not matched with words.

  • “not matched with *actions.*”

    In linking to this post, I also link to Douglass’ “Narrative,” the first account of his life in slavery. It makes a difference when reading him here.

    Douglass was a remarkable man, and not afraid to change his opinions, startling even those who were staunch political allies. He alienated a lot of radical abolitionists when he broke with them over whether the Constitution was a slave-enabling document beyond redemption. He came to the conclusion that it was not, and shocked Garrison by arguing against him on that point in public.

  • “Then he probably should’ve kept his mouth shut regarding aspects of the situation about which he was ignorant.

    My problem with ALL progressives, even ones who are right about such things as slavery, is that religion is all to often for them a cheap scapegoat.”

    Douglass was a staunch upholder of the Constitution Jay, as Dale notes, and a fervent believer in free market capitalism. He wanted blacks to simply enjoy the rights and opportunities of all other Americans, and that strikes me as being a quite conservative position. He cannot be dismissed as a mere progressive. As to his comments, frankly the history of Ireland would have been a great deal better with less religious based hatred and a great deal more Christian charity. I am sure that Douglass did meet with some Protestants and Catholics in his visit to Ireland who seemed quite a bit more concerned with hating each other than in helping their poor countrymen. Such people, unfortunately, have never been in short supply in Ireland.

  • A minor point of correction. The issue of 1828 was not that Irish Catholics did not have the right to vote (they did, and the electors of County Clare voted for O’Connell) and in any case the franchise at that time was not a right – most Englishmen did not have it. It was that legislation dating back to the 17th century prevented Catholics from sitting in the House of Commons.

Catholics in the American Revolution

Friday, September 23, AD 2011

Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.

Pope Leo XIII

American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented.  Among the Catholics who assumed leadership roles in the fight for our liberty were:

General Stephen Moylan  a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster Master-General of the Continental Army.

Captains Joshua Barney and John Barry,  two of the most successful naval commanders in the American Revolution.

Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.

Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of Illinois, whose aid was instrumental in the conquest of the Northwest for America by George Rogers Clark.

Thomas Fitzsimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign.  Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy.  After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787

Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.

Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War.

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7 Responses to Catholics in the American Revolution

  • Thanks for this report. Any thoughts on the Catholic contribution to the British side? I imagine many Irish soldiers, some Scots, etc. Please share your insights.

  • There were of course quite a few Irish Catholics among the British regulars, probably about 25%, Ireland being a chief recruiting ground for the Royal Army. The French Canadians were almost all on the side of the British Crown during the War, the Quebec Act having granted them a measure of self-government, to the ire of many anti-Catholic Americans. Some Catholic Americans did fight for the crown, but their numbers were quite small, probably in the hundreds. One group was organized in New York calling themselves the Roman Catholic Volunteers. They were eventually disbanded by the British, proving themselves only proficient in plundering and militarily useless. On the other hand the Irish Volunteers, mostly Catholics, were a very good unit that after the War was taken into the Royal Army as a regular unit, the 105th Regiment of Foot.

  • You mentioned Pulaski but not Kosciuszko, who engineering skill ensured the American victory at Saratoga, which led to official French recognition. Pulaski was arguably the father of American cavalry, despite lukewarm support from Washington. As far as Moylan is concerned, he butted heads with Pulaski on several occasions and conspired to undermine Pulaski’s authority, which led to Pulaski resigning to organize his Legion…there is no evidence that Moylan had any battlefield skill…and much to suggest was felt more comfortable with his flask.

  • Pulaski was a brave and talented cavalry commander who had a quarrelsome disposition which undercut his effectiveness. You libel Moylan who was an effective cavalry commander getting valuable information to Washington about the British forces prior to the Battle of Monmouth. Kosciuszko was a good engineer, as he proved throughout the War, but I think you overstate his role in the Saratoga campaign. Morgan and Arnold, along with hordes of enraged American militia were much more important in that victory. I would have mentioned him if I had intended the list to be a comprehensive one, which was not my intent.

  • If anti-Catholicism had not been so prevalent in the Colonies, I suspect Quebec may have entered the war on the American side. When approached by the Americans, Quebec flatly rejected them – not because of love for Great Britain, but because of the Americans’ attitude towards the Catholic Church….yet another episode in history where being anti-Catholic is just plain stupid.

    The French soldiers, sailors and officers were certainly almost 100% Catholic. Let us not overlook the contributions of Spain. Then-Catholic Spain did fight in the War for Independence on the side of the United States. The Spanish Navy wreaked havoc on Great Britain in the Caribbean Sea and the Spaniards kicked the British Navy out of the Mississippi Valley.

    While the numbers of American Catholics in the War for Independence were understandably small, the Catholic contribution from France and Spain played no small part in the defeat of Great Britain. Under the Treaty of Paris, Spain got Florida back from England (later ceded by Madrid to the US in 1821).

    As we know, things did not end well for the Catholic monarchies in France and Spain. France was drained financially after the war and it was only six years after the Treaty of Paris that the Reign of Terror began.

    Spain was invaded by Bonaparte in the first decade of the 19th century and Great Britain, of all nations, fought to liberate Spain. Spain lost almost its entire empire less than 25 years after the Treaty of Paris. Eventually, most of Spain’s landholdings in North America ended up as the American West, which was evangelized by Catholic missionaries long before there was anyone who spoke English settled in the present day US.

  • Yes, Pulaski was quarrelsome…frustrated I suspect by the language barrier and the American distrust of foreign officers, but his problems with Moylan were fundamentally driven by the American lack of understanding of the role and potential of cavalry. Gathering intelligence was an important role and Moylan may have done well in that role, but he was not a battlefield commander. With with rare exceptions, Light Horse Harry Lee being the most prominent, American cavalry played no significant battlefield role in the major battles of the revolution…Tarleton showed what impact a couple of hundred well trained cavalry could have when he scattered the Virginia legislature and almost captured Thomas Jefferson.

    Koscuiszko’s fortifications at Bemis Heights, selected by both he and Arnold, forced the British to try and outflank them, requiring them to fight in wooded terrain giving Morgan’s men and the militia an advantage they would not have enjoyed if the British could just push up the road along the Hudson.

The Great Pig War of 1859

Wednesday, September 7, AD 2011

The United States and Great Britain after the War of 1812 frequently came into conflict during the Nineteenth Century, and it is a medium sized miracle that one of these conflicts did not end in a third Anglo-American War.  The most surreal of these conflicts, beyond a doubt, is the Pig War of 1859.

Both Great Britain and America claimed the San Juan Islands lying between Vancouver Island and the then Washington territory, and the islands were settled by British subjects and American citizens.  On June 15, 1859 Lyman Cutlar, an American farmer on San Juan island, came out and found a pig eating tubers in his garden.  This was not the first incident involving the wayward pig, and Cutlar shot the pig, killing the porcine invader.  The pig was owned by a British subject, Charles Griffin, who took umbrage at the slaying of his wandering porker.  The two men had words about the pig.  British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, and the American settlers called for American military protection.

By August 10, 1859, 461 American soldiers with 14 cannon confronted five British warships carrying 2,140 men.  Fortunately, both sides exercised restraint and no shots were fired.  James Douglas, the governor of British Vancouver, ordered British Rear Admiral Robert L. Baynes to land Royal Marines on  San Juan island and engage the Americans.  Baynes flatly refused, saying that for two great nations to come to blows over a squabble over a pig was foolish.  London and Washington were equally aghast at the idea of going to war over this case of porcinecide, and General Winfield Scott was sent by President Buchanan to Vancouver to negotiate with Governor Douglas.  Agreement was reached that the British and American forces would be reduced to a 100 men each on San Juan island while negotiations were underway between the countries.  Ultimately third party arbitration, by Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, led to the islands being awarded to America in 1872.

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11 Responses to The Great Pig War of 1859

  • “By August 10, 1859, 461 American soldiers with 14 cannon confronted five British warships carrying 2,140 men. Fortunately, both sides exercised restraint and no shots were fired.”

    Imagine what might have happened if the commanders on the scene had been rasher.

  • Imagine what might have happened if the commanders on the scene had been rasher.

    No doubt! It would be almost as silly as going to war just because France asked us to secure Lybian oil for them. Oh wait…

  • Another interesting what if, is if this had occurred in 1860 instead of 1859. There was little love lost, to say the least, between James Buchanan and Stephen A. Douglas, but I think Buchanan would have found it much more difficult to be diplomatic in the midst of a heated election campaign. Twisting the tale of the British Lion was almost always good domestic politics in Nineteenth century America, and I can imagine both Democrats and Republicans engaging in a contest over who could make the most inflammatory remarks against John Bull.

  • San Juan is a beautiful island and you can still visit the American and English camps. True fact: the command of the American camp was none other than George Pickett of Pickett’s Charge.

  • Some commanders will forever remain

  • There is an interesting twist involving the British constable on the island Mark and the Civil War, but that is a post for another day.

  • In the same month that Griffin’s pig was killed the French and Austrian armies accidentally bumped one another on the plains of Lombardy. The ensuing battle of Solferino was a bloodbath with 20,000 Austrian and 18,000 French casualties. Witnessing the carnage, Henri Dunant was moved to found the Red Cross. In the next twelve years Bismarck went to war successively with Denmark, Austria and France, unified Germany and radically altered the balance of power in Europe. Britain could only watch from the sidelines; her commercial and maritime supremacy availed her little. When Bismarck was asked what he would do if the British army landed in Europe he replied “I would send a policeman and have it arrested”. War with the United States was never really on the cards, as naval power could only be effective on the peripheries of the conflict. Granted, the US army in 1859 didn’t amount to much, but the Civil War showed what happens when a nation mobilizes its industrial and manpower resources for a protracted and all-out conflict. Not for nothing did John Terraine refer to it as the first of the three great wars of the Industrial Revolution. Sickened by the cost of his victory at Solferino, Napoleon III quickly made peace; this was not possible in 1861-65, 1914-18, or 1939-45.

  • Would the Civil War not have been fought if in 1860-1861 the nation had been involved in a war with Great Britain? On the other hand, would such a war have given impetus to the secession movement by assuring the South of a built in ally in its war for independence?

    I answer both questions with a “no” because Lincoln isn’t a plausible Republican nominee had a war with a foreign power been ongoing in 1859-60.

  • In that event Micha, the odds on favorite for the Republican nomination would have been Senator Seward of New York, who was anathema to the South because of his abolitionism and coining of the phrase “irrepressible conflict” in regard to the battle over slavery. Interestingly enough, after Lincoln made him Secretary of State, Seward thought that the best way to get the seceding states back into the Union was by threatening war with Great Britain. The whole idea was simple madness, as Lincoln pointed out when he told Seward that one war at a time was quite enough.

  • The military world didn’t pay too much attention to the lessons of the American Civil War. IIRC, the otherwise-astute elder Moltke dismissed the conflict as “armed boys chasing each other across a contintent.” While there was some merit to that, he should have paid more attention to the entrenchments around Richmond and Petersburg. Lord knows the soldiers of 1914-18 paid for it. Over and over again.

  • Dale, you’re right up to a point, although the American Civil War was seriously studied at Sandhurst in the 1870s. One shool of thought held that modern technology would make future wars quicker and more decisive, which seemed to be borne out in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05. Others, including Lord Kitchener, were less sanguine.

Alexander Hamilton and the National Debt

Tuesday, July 26, AD 2011

This country was blessed at its founding to have on the scene a member of the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, who was a financial genius.  His idea to have the Federal government adopt the Revolutionary War debts of the states in order to establish the credit of the new Federal government was a policy of genius.  At a stroke he restored the credit of the country as a whole, made certain the debt would be paid, made America attractive to foreign investors and laid the basis of future American prosperity.  His ideas on the subject were set forth in his first report to Congress on  public credit, 1789, and which may be read here.

The final paragraph of the report is salient for the time in which we live:

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29 Responses to Alexander Hamilton and the National Debt

  • ” . . . the creation of debt should always be accompanied with the means of extinguishment.”

    Ah, there’s the rub. The US likely does not have the capacity to repay.

    Adults are trying to set up a means where, at least, the debt will not “eat us alive.”

    Demagogues are kicking the can down the road and cannot agree to cutting the Federal dollars they use to buy political power, er help the poor.

    The name of the president’s secret plan seems to be “demonize, lie, and polarize.”

    FYI: When a corporation applies for a commercial loan, the Board of Directors passes a resolution authorizing the corporation to incur the debt. The bank then looks at the corporation’s collateral, capacity to repay, character, credit, and capital. Then, decides whether or not to extend the loan. The BoD borrowing authority only says the corp. owners want the money. The credit decision is made on the numerous other general credit factors mentioned.

    The US is not a AAA credit, anyway.

  • Don,

    What do you suppose Hamilton would have said about whether we should raise the debt ceiling?

  • This scene portrays rather well the complexities of the balance between states rights and the need for a strong yet not overreaching central government.

    I find Jefferson’s support for the French Revolution so ironic in that it was so contrary to Jeffersonian sense of liberty, especially in regards to the right of the church to tend to its owninternal affairs. Jefferson, despite his views on institutionalized religion, was adamant in defending the rights of church bodies to tend to its own affairs and the need for them to influence political action.

    While I believe Washington was the greatest of the founders overall, I find John Adams the most endearing. He was at times impetuous and thin skinned, but could aspire to greatness despite.

  • “What do you suppose Hamilton would have said about whether we should raise the debt ceiling?”

    I rather suspect that he and many of the other Founding Fathers BA would wonder why the American people hadn’t long ago risen in revolt. What the Founding Fathers intended as the government of our new nation is not what we have now, and the Federal government bears an uncanny resemblance to the government of King George III, in many respects, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Governmental intrusion in the daily lives of the citizenry they would have regarded as shocking. Our expenditures and tax rates they would regard as obscene. The number of Federal criminal statutes they would regard as an engine of tyranny. In judging most aspects of modern American life, except for our technological advances, I suspect the views of the Founders would be pungently negative.

  • ” . . . the creation of debt should always be accompanied with the means of extinguishment.”

    Fortunately, we do have the means to extinguish our debts when those bonds come due. No matter the amount we take out, we have the means to extinguish them as we are the issuer of our own currency. And it’s not simply just printing money, its more accurately changing numbers in bank accounts. The debt is simply the amount of savings in dollars that the private sector holds. Bonds (or debts) are offered so that holders of dollars have an interest-earning option to their dollar holdings. It is a way that the government can keep inflation and interest rates from spiking by “forcing saving” when it needs to spend. Deficits are simply the amount of net injection of dollar reserves into the private sector.

    We cannot go bankrupt, unless we volunatrily declare it, as we are threatening to do.

    To say that our government is too big and should be reduced is one thing and is, I think, up for further debate and should be our polticians’ focus; but to say that we can have so much debt that it cannot be extinguished is simply a misunderstanding of how government finances work in a sovereign nation with its own currency.

    If you think differently, tell me how the government does not have the ability to pay its debt, and I will be glad to debate with you.

  • You are mistaken Alex. Too much conjuring money out of thin air and we all have monopoly money of no value. One can imagine the impact on the value of the dollar :

    This type of printing endless paper money to pay for government has been tried twice in American history: The Continentals during the American Revolution and Confederate currency during the Civil War. It is beyond the power of any government to alter economic reality forever.

  • First of all, I wish you no ill-will or animosity of any kind. Nor do I inted to attack you as a person in any of my comments, so please do not read them in that way. I am just trying to promote truth (and its opposite, demote non-truths) and lively debate about achieving the common good.

    You are correct, we can all “conjure money out of thin air” the problem is its acceptability. The value of the dollar is dependent on its supply and its demand. Taxes are what create a demand for government money. I am not familiar with the continentals of the American Revolution, but I challenge your suggestion that the reason for the Confederacy’s inflation was “printing endless paper money.” In their case it came from their inability to tax their people, they had no reason to hold and accept it.

    What do you think gives money its value? It is no longer backed by gold or any other commodity. Even if it was it does not explain why we all hold and use US govt dollars. We hold them and use them because the government demands them in payment of taxes and if we refuse to pay those taxes, we face some kind of punishment.

    As for reality, there are many institutions who hold economic power and who alter our economic reality. The question is: should the government get involved and if so how? It seems clear you think it shouldn’t, I am merely pointing out that it can get involved without constraint of bankruptcy. I would rather debate what governemnt should do, and not what it supposedly can’t do.

    In regard to the article, I see no reason to retire all or any of our debt. I am more than okay with ignoring the debt constraint through seignorage, but would prefer a payroll tax holiday for both employers and employees so that we can boost demand and end the recession.

  • “What do you think gives money its value?”

    The goods and services produced by a population. That is why Zimbabwe can print trillion dollar bills and they will not receive a trillion dollars in goods in return.

    “In their case it came from their inability to tax their people, they had no reason to hold and accept it”

    Incorrect. The States of the Confederacy also issued state paper money as legal tender and that currency was wiped out by the same inflation that wiped out the Confederate currency. The South simply lacked the economic basis for the paper currency being issued. The North on the other hand had stunning success with the greenbacks issued during the war. The worthlessness of Confederate currency was replicated with the issuance of Continentals during the Revolution by the Continental Congress. Paper money is worthless paper unless a country has the economic strength to assure people that the nation backing it with its full faith and credit can prevent the money from collapsing in value.

  • “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble. It’s what you know that ain’t so.” Will Rogers

    Whose portrait will be on the $10,000,000,000,000 Federal Reserve Note (or platinum or plutonium coin)? Saul Alinsky or Michelle Obama?

    Deficit/national debt problem solved.


  • We hold them and use them because the government demands them in payment of taxes and if we refuse to pay those taxes, we face some kind of punishment.

    An odd theory of money. The reason I hold dollars is because I’d rather make transactions in small paper notes than in chickens or shirts or martinis. You seem dismissive of the whole medium of exchange/unit of account/store of value definition of money. On what basis do you think seigniorage is not inflationary? Or perhaps you don’t see anything wrong with inflation?

  • I see I am not making much headway here, so I will defer to an expert on my views of money. I’m not a quack who thinks he knows everything, rather I am a Ph.D. student of economics who believes whole-heartedly in the modern money definition of money that has its roots in Chartalism.

    So if you are interested in my views of money I implore you to read a short and easy book Understanding Modern Money: The Key to Full Employment and Price Stability by L. Randall Wray or “What is Money” an article by A. Mitchell Innes.

    But I stand fully behind the explanation of hyper-inflation given above (by me), that it is more the inability of the government to tax (and therefore its inability to appropriate REAL resources towards it uses, like wars, infrastructure, etc.) rather than its printing of money willy-nilly without it being properly backed by real goods. If it wants to appropriate real resources to itself by printing and issuing its own money it has to be able to enforce a tax in that money. Otherwise, yes, printing money will lead to Zimbabwe, the Confederacy, or the Weimar Republic.

    And as I retreat, I still don’t think you’ve given me an answer why people demand government money. Why hold government dollars instead of your own money? What makes them so special? I contend it has to do with taxes and enforceable contracts, you say its because it is an easier medium of exchange?

  • Sorry one last recommendation to understand where I am coming from in regard to the taxes and demand for govt currency:

  • Pacem. A. Binder: Good for you.

    I’m a mere conservative, tea party hobbit who is constantly enthralled by academics’ and politicians’ detachments from both reality and virtue.

    Only thing that will save the US is stable, strong economic growth.

    The US debt was 117% of GDP at end of WWII. Since, the debt was never paid down. The economy/GDP growth far outpaced debt growth. That reversed in the 1960’s and 1980’s and 2000’s. Spending has expanded at higher rates than both taxes revenues and GDP growth and development. Federal spending was $2 trillion when Clinton left in 2000. It was $3 trillion when Bush left in 2009. It is $4 trillion in 2011. And, will rise each year if the GOP doesn’t stop it.

    There is one rational (completely absent from DCcrats) argument that might support this huge, deathly debt. I have not heard it.

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  • Alex is right. The ISSUER of the currency “cannot become insolvent with respect to obligations denominated in that currency” — a quote from Alan Greenspan, who ought to know! As Ben Bernanke affirmed: the government spends by marking up balances in others’s accounts. It taxes by marking them down. A deficit means a net addition to the non-government sector’s holdings of financial assets. So-called “fiscal responsibility” misses this point completely. Notice that the private sector is now running massive surpluses. Why is that? Anyone who understands balance sheet accounting knows that it is because the government’s deficits have been large enough too push the print sector back into surplus … Where is belongs.

    And it is sheer folly to suggest that the US has “never paid down the debt”. Anytime the government runs a surplus (as under Clinton”) debt is retired (rather than rolled over). And how did that work out for the economy? The Clinton surpluses 1997-2001 were the longest on record since the 1927-1930 surpluses? Coincidence.

    Stephanie Kelton

  • Why is that? Anyone who understands balance sheet accounting knows that it is because the government’s deficits have been large enough too push the print sector back into surplus … Where is belongs.

    Though to the extent that the private sector surplus is representative of people needing pay down excessive debts they’ve built up, or socking away extra savings because they fear more economic instability in the near future, the private sector running at a “surplus” is not necessarily a healthy sign.

    And it is sheer folly to suggest that the US has “never paid down the debt”. Anytime the government runs a surplus (as under Clinton”) debt is retired (rather than rolled over).

    Well, it’s never paid off all the debt. There have been times when the government has run a surplus, thus decreasing the total amount of debt, but there’s certainly never been a period when the US hasn’t had debt. (Not that I would advocate that.)

    And how did that work out for the economy? The Clinton surpluses 1997-2001 were the longest on record since the 1927-1930 surpluses? Coincidence.

    Frankly, I think this is one of the weaker MMT claims, at least if it’s meant to be cause and effect. It seems really hard to argue that the late ’20s stock bubble or the DotCom era stock bubble were caused by the government running a surplus — though perhaps one could argue that part of the reason for the surplus was that the economy was booming and thus the government receipts were growing faster than its expenses (the which booming turned out to be leading up to a bust.)

    Plus, the 27-30 period was entirely different in that back then the US was on the gold standard — we didn’t have a fiat currency.

  • Darwin–

    Hello again.

    I think you make a good point about private sector surplus. It certainly does matter who takes in that surplus and how they use it. Because of the private sector debt run up prior to the crisis and the subsequent crash, people are needing to pay down large amounts of debt. They desire a larger surplus–more savings. I think it’s important to give it to those most in need through programs like medicaid, TANF, etc., but I also advocate a payroll tax holiday until demand picks up. People will pay down their debt and eventually start spending, and this may mean larger deficits, but demand-pull inflation won’t be an issue as long as their are so many idle resources. So we need more of a surplus in the right hands to see it as a healthy sign.

    About the ‘surpluses lead to recession’…a booming economy certainly can lead to a government surplus of its own accord through increases in revenue. The argument, though, is that gov’t surpluses take away from the private sector who will almost always prefer to take in net savings or a net surplus. So govt surpluses take away the desired savings of the private sector. They also reduce the total income of the private sector. People often will desire to consume at a minimum level that maintains the standard of living they are used to and often times they desire to consume more than that to “keep up with the Joneses”. If the gov’t surplus takes away income and savings from the private sector, when the private sector is trying to increase it, the private sector will respond by taking on more debt to keep up their consumption patterns which is partly what drives a bubble. So I do think, through this reasoning, there is some cause and effect–govt surplus leads to recession.

    Also, MMT is still applicapable to gold standard regimes, the implications are what change.

  • The argument, though, is that gov’t surpluses take away from the private sector who will almost always prefer to take in net savings or a net surplus. So govt surpluses take away the desired savings of the private sector.

    I think you are overlooking the role the Federal Reserves plays in a fiat system.

  • In case my last comment was too obscure, the problem with the argument is that it (implicitly) assumes the Fed does not alter its policy based on what the government is doing. That is an implausible assumption for modern fiat based monetary systems. If government starts sucking more money out of the economy via taxes than it puts in through government spending, for example, that will exert a downward pressure on inflation. If the Fed is targeting inflation, however, it will respond to this pressure by loosening its own policy a corresponding amount, and the net effect overall will be approximately zero. A similar line of reasoning applies if the Fed is targeting interest rates, NGDP, etc.

  • Well, it’s never paid off all the debt

    I believe there was no federal debt for a time in 1835 and in 1841

  • DarwinCatholic said:

    “Well, it’s never paid off all the debt. There have been times when the government has run a surplus, thus decreasing the total amount of debt, but there’s certainly never been a period when the US hasn’t had debt. (Not that I would advocate that.)
    with one brief exception the federal government has been in debt every year since 1776.”

    Again, not so.


    “For the first and only time in U.S. history, the public debt was retired in January 1835 and a budget surplus maintained for the next two years, in order to accu- mulate what President Jackson’s Treasury secretary, Levi Woodbury, called “a fund to meet future deficits.” In 1837, the economy collapsed into a deep depression and drove the budget into deficit, and the federal government has been in debt ever since.

    There have been seven periods of substantial budget sur- pluses and debt reductions since 1776. The national debt fell by 29 percent from 1817 to 1821, and was eliminated in 1835 (under President Jackson); it fell by 59 percent from 1852 to 1857, by 27 percent from 1867 to 1873, by more than 50 percent from 1880 to 1893, and by about a third from 1920 to 1930. Of course, the last time we ran a budget surplus was during President Clinton’s second term.”

  • oops. that last line “with one brief exception the federal government has been in debt every year since 1776” was from the article I provided, not from DarwinCatholic.

  • Blackadder,

    You make a good point, thank you for clarifying. I do not think I overlooked the Fed, however. I believe that the Fed, or monetary policy in general, has less control over inflation than fiscal policy. The Fed primarily targets over night interest rates, or the price of money, which affect the quantity of money much less directly. Monetary policy has more to do with interest rate management than inflation management. The purpose of the Fed’s actions, as long as they are targeting overnight interest rates, is to avoid undue impacts on reserves from Treasury actions, in order to maintain interest rates at target levels.

    The only exogenous variable they set is the overnight rate, which I believe has very little impact on how much banks loan out to borrowers and therefore on the quantity of money (note that despite very low rates at the moment there is very little borrowing because there is no demand for loans because there is no demand for the goods and services those loans would provide), and the rest of their actions are defensive, that is, meant to maintain the rate they set.

    If I didn’t explain myself well enough I direct you to Understanding Modern Money by L. Randall Wray, particularly Chapter 5. Or perhaps this post regarding inflation and an alternative theory of prices will suffice:

  • I believe that the Fed, or monetary policy in general, has less control over inflation than fiscal policy.

    In 1980 the inflation rate in the United States was 13.5%. In 1983 it was 3.2% (I could cite dozens of other similar cases, but let’s look at this one). This coincided with aggressive action by the Fed to get inflation down. It did not coincide with any significant contractionary fiscal policy. On the contrary, the federal government cut taxes during this period while simultaneously increasing spending.

    If you think monetary policy doesn’t have much effect on inflation, how do you explain the fall in inflation rates from 1980-83?

  • The idea that fiscal policy has a greater influence on inflation than monetary policy is pretty unorthodox. In any case, I think the evidence, as well as mainstream economic thinking, supports Blackladder’s assertions.

  • Blackadder,

    First, I’m not sure what you mean by “aggressive action.” Volcker tried targetting monetary aggregates for the first time ever from 1979 – 1982 to control inflation and it didn’t go so well, meaning he didnt (couldnt) hit his targets.

    Second, I think that contractionary monetary policy can have an effect on inflation through its effect on aggregate demand. If pushing interest rates up (which is what happened when the Fed let the FFR float in its attempt to target reserves) causes demand to fall, then inflation will fall accordingly.

    Third, I think that people calling his actions a success is a mistake. He did lower inflation through contractionary monetary policy, but in the process helped bring about a painful recession. Under my policy proposals, that wouldn’t have to happen for inflation to be reduced.

    My contention is that inflation is affected more by aggregate demand and aggregate supply and less by monetary policy. Monetary policy can certainly have an effect on inflation if it’s policies have an effect on aggregate demand or aggregate supply.

    As it says in the link I posted:
    “Thus, overall, there are two sources of inflation in this approach, a cost-push source (here summarized by the unit labor cost) and a demand-pull source (here summarized by the aggregate demand gap). Note that the money supply is absent from this equation. Money does not directly affect prices.”

  • Mike,

    I believe that fiscal policy has a greater effect on aggregate demand and therefore on prices and inflation than does monetary policy. I’m not sure what evidence you are referring to or how much economics you have had. I’m quite aware my views are unorthodox as are my Catholic Social Teaching views on economics in general.

    I realize that I have a major uphill battle against the mainstream, but I am choosing to debate others and defend/promote my views in any way I can for the common good of all people. I truly believe that this is right and that understanding it will help us achieve greater economic propserity and stability and thus enable us to focus on a more equitable and just distribution of wealth as well as on social issues that deserve our attention more so than bad economics such as abortion, death penalty, etc.

    I did not come up with these ideas on my own and encourage you to look into it for yourself so that you can decide what you think is right/wrong rather than just trusting the mainstream and the talking heads on television.

    I do not wish to persuade anyone, but rather to help them come to the right conclusions themselves for I, too, was once a mainstream thinker before I pursued the topics further.

    If you want to know more, visit my blog: Christian Economics where you can find in my opinion a wealth of resources on Catholic Social Teaching and heterodox views of economics including the ones I mention in my comments.

  • My contention is that inflation is affected more by aggregate demand and aggregate supply and less by monetary policy.

    This is kind of like saying ‘I believe that deaths from gunshot wounds are caused less by bullets than they are by a lack of oxygen to the brain.’ Both monetary and fiscal policy operate through certain mechanisms. The question, though, was which of the two was more powerful.

    Suppose you have a monetary authority (the Fed) that wants to increase aggregate demand and a fiscal authority (Congress) that wants to decrease it. Who wins? The fiscal authority controls around a quarter of GDP. The monetary authority controls the money supply. The fiscal authority acts infrequently and with a fair amount of notice as to what they will do. The monetary authority is constantly adjusting its activities to meet its objectives. The fiscal authority is made up of people most of whom have little to no idea how the monetary authority works or whether it might be pursuing a contrary policy. The monetary authority is very aware of what the fiscal authority is doing and how it may affect its own goals.

    It’s not even a close call.

    I think that people calling his actions a success is a mistake. He did lower inflation through contractionary monetary policy, but in the process helped bring about a painful recession. Under my policy proposals, that wouldn’t have to happen for inflation to be reduced.

    What is the policy proposal you would have suggested to bring down inflation without a recession?

  • Right, I contend that fiscal is more powerful. I also contend that the monetary authority doesn’t control the money supply (that’s perhaps my main point).

    I agree with your statements starting “The fiscal authority acts infrequently…how it may affect its own goals.” I still think that whether congress knows it or not their policies have more affect on our economy (and money supply) than monetary policy.

    I’m not sure what you’re saying is not a close call. Monetary authorities being aware of their policies and fiscal authorities unaware does not make monetary policy more powerful.

    The policy I suggest (but to be clear its not my own idea; I didn’t come up with it) for both full employment and price stability is a buffer stock job guarantee program. To explain the policy would take a lot of time and I am currently working on such paper incorporating CST principles and will also be engaging in debate with DarwinCatholic over the policy in the near future. But if you’d rather not wait you can read all about it in Understanding Modern Money: The key to full employment and price stability by L. Randall Wray. Wray is a very learned economist and the greatest pupil of the late great Hyman Minsky. You can purchase the short, easy to read, and relatively cheap book at Amazon.

Apostle to the Sioux

Thursday, July 7, AD 2011

“Happy would I be if I could sacrifice for God what Custer threw away to the world.”


Bishop Martin Marty

During his approximately 59 years on this Earth it is probable that the Sioux chieftan Sitting Bull met only one white man he trusted implicitly:  Martin Marty.

Marty was born on January 12, 1834 in Schwyz, Switzerland to a shoemaker and his wife.  Gifted scholastically, he attended the Benedictine school attached to Einseideln Abbey.  Upon graduation he entered the novitiate, taking his final vows in 1855 and being ordained a priest a year later.  It is quite likely he would have remained at the abbey for the remainder of his life, “of the world forgetting, and by the world forgot”,  except that in 1860 his abbot ordered him to take over a disobedient and debt-ridden daughter house of the abbey in Saint Meinrad, Indiana.  He performed a minor miracle in restoring the morale and faith of the monks at the abbey at Saint Meinrad and brought it back to fiscal solvency.  The abbot decided that he was doing such a good job that he should stay where he was in America.  In 1870, the Saint Meinrad Abbey achieved independent status by a Papal decree of Pius IX with Father Marty as the first abbot.  It continues in existence to this day as an abbey and a seminary.

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6 Responses to Apostle to the Sioux

  • St. Meinrad, pray for us.

    Recently, I had business with a man named Meinrad. I had never heard the name.

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  • I expect Sitting Bull also trusted Father de Smet, who is perhaps better known to casual historians of the West than Father Marty. de Smet mediated two treaties between the Sioux and the United States. One might say in these cases that Sitting Bull’s trust was misplaced–not because of anything de Smet did, but because of bad faith by the Americans.


    I don’t think the trust was misplaced. The old ways for the Sioux and the other plains Indians were dying. The only hope for survival was the path of peace and education offered by missionaries such as Father DeSmet and Bishop Marty. Certainly war accomplished virtually nothing for the Plains Indians except speeding up the process of the ending of their traditional way of life, which was as doomed as the buffalo with the advent of the hordes of whites heading West.

  • Misplaced in an “objective” sense. de Smet himself remained completely trustworthjy. He had no power to force the United States to keep the treaties; and in any case the main violation, the invasion of the Black Hills, did not begin until 1874, after de Smet’s death.

    The way of life of the Plains Indians was no doubt doomed;but the United States did not keep its word.

Top Ten Civil War Movies For The Fourth of July

Wednesday, June 29, AD 2011

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.


Shelby Foote


Two years ago I compiled a list of the top ten movies for the Fourth of July which focused on films about the Revolutionary War.  Go here to view that post.  Last year I compiled a list of top ten patriotic movies for the Fourth, and that post may be viewed here.  This year we will focus on the top ten Civil War films for the Fourth of July.  I agree with historian Shelby Foote that it is impossible to understand the United States without understanding the Civil War, and it is “therefore fitting and proper” that over the Fourth Civil War movies come to mind.


10.   Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)-We begin with a non-Civil War movie with the video clip at the beginning of this post.  In 1908 English Bulter Charles Ruggles, well played by actor Charles Laughton, comes to work in the American West.  It is a hilarious fish out of water comedy, as Ruggles, with his culture and British reserve comes face to face with the Wild West.  While living in America, Ruggles becomes interested in American history, and becomes a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln.  When he recites the Gettysburg Address, the impact on his listeners is obvious, and reminds us that for Americans the Civil War will never be a matter simply relegated to books or memory, but is something that still has a vast impact on us to this day.



9.    Friendly Persuasion (1956)-Starring Gary Cooper as Jess Birdwell, the head of a Quaker family in southern Indiana during the Civil War, the film is a superb mix of drama and comedy as the Quakers have to determine whether to continue to embrace their pacifist beliefs or to take up arms against General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry during his Great Raid of the North in June-July of 1863.  When the oldest son of the Birdwell family, portrayed by Anthony Perkins in his pre-Psycho days, takes up arms, his mother, played by Dorothy McGuire is aghast, but Cooper, as Jess Birdwell, defends him.  Although he remains true to his pacifist convictions, Birdwell understands that his son is acting in obedience to his conscience, and, as he tells his wife, ” A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.”



8.    Major Dundee (1965)-Sam Pekinpah’s flawed, unfinished masterpiece, the film tells the fictional account of a mixed force of Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners who join forces to hunt and ultimately defeat an Apache raider, Sierra Charriba, in 1864-65.  Charlton Heston gives an outstanding performance as Major Amos Dundee, a man battling his own personal demons of a failed military career, as he commands this Union-Confederate force through northern Mexico on the trail of the Apache, with fighting often threatening to break out between the Union and Confederate soldiers.  Use of Confederate prisoners as Union soldiers in the West was not uncommon.  Six Union infantry regiments of Confederate prisoners, called “Galvanized Yankees”, served in the West.   The final section of the film involving a battle between Major Dundee’s force and French Lancers, the French occupying Mexico at the time, has always struck me as one of the best filmed combat sequences in any movie.



7.    The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid. Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg. John Wayne gives a fine, if surly, performance as Colonel Marlowe, the leader of the Union cavalry brigade.  William Holden as a Union surgeon serves as a foil for Wayne.  Constance Towers, as a captured Southern belle, supplies the obligatory Hollywood love interest. Overall the film isn’t a bad treatment of the raid, and the period.  I especially appreciated two scenes.  John Wayne refers to his pre-war activities as “Before this present insanity” and Constance Towers gives the following impassioned speech: Well, you Yankees and your holy principle about savin’ the Union. You’re plunderin’ pirates that’s what. Well, you think there’s no Confederate army where you’re goin’. You think our boys are asleep down here. Well, they’ll catch up to you and they’ll cut you to pieces you, you nameless, fatherless scum. I wish I could be there to see it.

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10 Responses to Top Ten Civil War Movies For The Fourth of July

  • Civl War movies on 7/4 is sort of like viewing Vietam movies on 6/6. Most appropriate one is probably Gettysburg, since it was 7/1 to 7/3.

    More appropriate movies may be Te Patriot, Jonny Tremaine, Revolution for a few.

  • I disagree with you Bob in regard to Civil War movies not being appropriate for the Fourth. In my mind the American Revolution is not simply an historical event that played out between 1775-1783. I think it is on-going throughout American history, and the Civil War was a very important event in that continuing Revolution. Both sides in the Civil War quoted the Founding Fathers, especially the Declaration of Independence, and both argued that they were fighting for liberty. At certain points in American history the American people have an argument about first principles and when they do they inevitably look to the Founding for guidance.

  • Bob, I agree 100%. I’ll stick to movies about the American Revolution.

  • Of course one thing often overlooked about the American Revolution is that it was our First Civil War, as the approximatly 20%-30% of the population that was Tory/Loyalist could affirm. A good novel on this overlooked aspect of the Revolution is Oliver Wiswell:

    Partisan as I am of the Patriots I thought Kenneth Roberts played fast and loose with some of the history of the time in order to portray the Loyalists in a better light, but it was interesting viewing the American Revolution from the defeated American side.

  • I’d put Andersonville in there somewhere, Don.

  • It almost made the cut Joe. I limit these lists to 10, but I could easily have had 15 top notch films on the Civil War in the list.

  • It’s a pity “Birth Of A Nation” wasn’t included in your list. It dealt with the before, during, and after aspects of the War Betwwen The States.

  • I loved Glory when I first saw it but I was disappointed to find that they besmirched the character of the real man who was the flag bearer — who was not a jerk, and who did not actually die! When people want to make a movie about a real event they should make up some of the characters, not give real peoples’ names to characters that then do things the real people did not. Sometimes Hollywood folks don’t seem to understand the difference between real people and fictional characters. It’s still a good movie, but the real story is even more interesting and I haven’t been able to think of it the same way since.

  • Jay has his Fourth of July film recommendations up at Pro Ecclesia:

    Jay likes documentaries far more than I do, but he has some first rate ones listed regarding the American Revolution.

  • I agree Gail. A retelling of the exploits of Medal of Honor winner Sergeant William Harvey Carvey would have been a fine addition to Glory.

    “When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.”

Dumbing Down the Federalist Papers

Tuesday, June 14, AD 2011

I remain fairly ambivalent about Glenn Beck (an ambivalence that got me involved in a heated debate on this very site, but that’s another matter).  His style, especially on television, just doesn’t appeal to me.  He also seems to believe that having the dial turned to 11 is the only way to get his point across.  That said, I am appreciative of his efforts to teach American history to his audience.  He’s had some excellent academic guests like Ronald Pestritto on his show, and he has an appreciation of some of the nuances of American political thought that go over a lot of other heads.

Then I saw this, and I’m ready to grab the pitchforks.  From the product description:

Adapting a selection of these essential essays—pseudonymously authored by the now well-documented triumvirate of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay—for a contemporary audience, Glenn Beck has had them reworked into “modern” English so as to be thoroughly accessible to anyone seeking a better understanding of the Founding Fathers’ intent and meaning when laying the groundwork of our government. Beck provides his own illuminating commentary and annotations and, for a number of the essays, has brought together the viewpoints of both liberal and conservative historians and scholars, making this a fair and insightful perspective on the historical works that remain the primary source for interpreting Constitutional law and the rights of American citizens.

So it’s the New American Bible for the Federalist Papers.  I wonder if Bishop Trautman consulted on this project.

Just as the average person can probably handle such mysterious words as “ineffable,”  I’m sure that most Americans can pretty much figure out what’s going on with the Federalist Papers without Glenn Beck re-translating it for us.  Yes, there are no doubt some tricky words in the 500+ pages and 85 essays, but that’s what footnotes are for.  Annotated versions of the Federalist Papers already exist, and those should suffice for Beck’s purposes.  Besides, part of the joy of the Federalist Papers is reading Madison and Hamilton’s beautiful prose.

Jeff Goldstein elaborates further on why this is problematic.

On the one hand, we’re supposed to believe that anyone can read and understand the Constitution — meaning, we don’t need a special priesthood to interpret the thing (and of course, this is true, assuming a base level of reading comprehension and intelligence, and assuming one can get past the fact that the document itself is like, over a hundred years old!); and yet at the same time, the Federalist Papers, we’re to understand today, are so arcane and abstruse and unintelligible that they aren’t even being taught anymore — a problem happily solved by Beck’s latest offering, a book that rewrites the Federalist Papers using modern language, which can be yours for only however many dollars (through the website, blah blah blah).

I agree with Jeff that this sends a very poorly thought out mixed message.  In fact Beck is playing into the hands of those who criticize the concept of originalism.  He’s conceding that the language of this era is difficult for people to comprehend, so the only way to make these writings more widely accessible is to completely re-write them.  It is a contradiction that I doubt Beck has thoughtfully considered.

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21 Responses to Dumbing Down the Federalist Papers

  • Allow me to play devil’s advocate. The Federalist Papers are 700 pages long. For a slow reader like me, that’s a bit much for something that’s probably not going to change my opinion on anything. I’m not looking for a New American Bible of the Federalist Papers, but I wouldn’t mind a Cliffs Notes or a book of selected readings.

    Then again, it looks like Beck’s book is 500 pages long, so I could be completely off-base here.

  • A few select essays would be fine, but I think re-writing them in modern prose is a bad idea, and for the reasons Goldstein suggests.

    Now if you want a Cliff’s Notes version of the Papers, you can always go here. At this rate, I should have the series wrapped up sometime before my grandchildren are born.

  • I’m on the fence on this one. I see your point and I don’t disagree, but on the other hand, I think it could be helpful in reaching people who would otherwise be disinterested by showing them how The Federalist Papers are still relevant today.

    Ideally, everyone would read the originals. I’ve read them and they aren’t that hard to understand. However, I’m also very politically tuned in and am already inclined to be interested in examining our founding documents. I’ve got scores of friends and relatives whose eyes glaze over at the mere mention of this stuff. So if I can get their attention with a book like Beck’s and by extension possibly get them interested enough to read the originals for themselves then maybe that’s a good thing.

  • Paul, I’ve read some of them, and they’re really good.

  • So it’s the New American Bible for the Federalist Papers.
    Or the Douay-Rheims for the Federalist Papers. Learn Latin you slackers!

    Granted, the original Federalist Papers are still in English but if they can be made more accessible, by all means. Unlike the New American Bible, I don’t even see much of an overlap between people who would read the Federalist Papers and people who would buy Beck’s adaptation.

    I hope Beck releases an annotated Constitution. He won’t though because he knows a lot of his followers believe a lot of crazy things about the Constitution and he doesn’t want to lose them.

  • Bad idea. In its own way, rather like updating the language of Shakespeare. They need to be read in the original language, and if that makes it somewhat harder, then so what? Stretch!

    A dynamic equivalence Federalist Papers we don’t need.

  • I was just directed to your blog via Pat Archbold at the NC Register as one of the best Catholic blogs. I’m always looking for these, so naturally I had to come check you out.

    I am unimpressed. You have managed to sound elitist, snobbish, and boring in this post. Actually, you sound threatened, and I don’t understand why. Yes, most of us can handle The Federalist Papers in the original, but look at the state of our Republic and ask yourself why it’s a bad thing to make such important documents more accessible to more people?

    Commenter RR says: “Unlike the New American Bible, I don’t even see much of an overlap between people who would read the Federalist Papers and people who would buy Beck’s adaptation.”

    May I just say, RR, that you’re completely out of touch. Because of GB, there is a huge movement of people in this country who are delving into our founding documents with great enthusiasm. You’ve got a vast segment of the population (of GB listeners) pigeonholed rather nicely as simpleminded followers, or something. But, whatever fits the narrative, I guess.

    He’s not doing this because The Federalist Papers are “arcane.” It’s because they’re still so relevant. You’re making a bad guy out of the wrong person. Might I suggest you expend some energy criticizing those who would banish our founding documents from study at all?

  • “Might I suggest you expend some energy criticizing those who would banish our founding documents from study at all?”

    Who would those people be Lindy?

  • Actually, you sound threatened, and I don’t understand why.

    You probably don’t understand it because it’s not an emotion I’m feeling.

    ask yourself why it’s a bad thing to make such important documents more accessible to more people?

    You can make the documents more accessible without re-translating them. I’d love for every American to read the Federalist Papers. If I had gone into academics they would have been required reading in any course on American politics that I taught.

    Might I suggest you expend some energy criticizing those who would banish our founding documents from study at all?

    I’m not making Beck a bad guy – I’m disagreeing with his approach. I don’t subscribe to the theory that you can never criticize like-minded individuals. In fact, when a fellow traveler does something that hurts the cause it’s imperative to correct them.

  • One other thing occurs to me. How is that the guy who thinks anyone should and can read the Federalist Papers as written is the snobbish and elitist guy, while the man who thinks many Americans might be too simple-minded to grasp them without dumbing down the words is the populist champion?

  • Paul Z: Fair enough. Obviously, you’re free to disagree with Beck’s approach, but I still don’t understand why you think he is hurting the cause, as you say.

    What is the worst that could happen as a result of reading a translation of TFP? That someone would miss out on the beautiful prose (which is, undoubtedly, a shame) but still have a greater understanding of our founding? How is this a bad thing?

    Perhaps you’re right and one can make TFP more accessible without re-translating them. We can see how well this translated version is received to determine if that’s truly the case. I just can’t deem it a bad idea if it allows even a small segment of the population to better appreciate our founding. Maybe this will fill a previously unfilled niche.

    And, for the record, when someone says they’re ready to “grab the pitchforks,” that strikes me as rather emotional. That’s all.

  • I understand your point and can see the appeal of trying to make our founding documents more widely accessible. As I said in my post the one thing I like most about Beck is that he works hard to educate the public about our early history, so I’m sure his heart is in the right place. It just strikes me as the wrong approach.

    And, for the record, when someone says they’re ready to “grab the pitchforks,” that strikes me as rather emotional.

    Oh, I’m just exaggerating for effect. Tar and feathering would be as far as I’d go. 😛

  • All I’m saying is: Don’t lament another approach to reaching people. Maybe it’s not for you, maybe you hate it, but don’t dismiss the idea wholesale just because you think it stinks. I think that’s the reason I thought you sounded elitist.

    And after listening to Beck introduce the idea–after having heard him firsthand–I don’t think he comes to the idea because he thinks Americans are too simpleminded. He just so earnestly believes in the importance of our great founding documents that he will try every approach in making them accessible to everyone.

  • I get it.

    And I will probably still bookmark this blog. : )

  • “I am unimpressed.”

    Take a number.

    “You have managed to sound elitist, snobbish, and boring in this post. Actually, you sound threatened, and I don’t understand why.”

    Because we are better than everyone else and they don’t know it. 😆

    Welcome to the blog Lindy. Look forward to your thoughts in the future.

  • I vote they be translated into Ebonics.

  • I have no problem with Beck’s approach to the Federalist Papers, but his fans are simpletons. That’s why he’s doing this. His whole show is about him teaching the ignorant with chalkboard and teacher’s desk and all.

  • But for the fact the further you get from the original text the more distortion you get in the translation; Beck’s updating/translating is of no consequence.

    RR no need to be insulting – if one has a sound argument one does not need to rely insults to destroy someone’s position, argument, etc. 🙂

  • In my humblest of opinions, The Federalist Papers, like Cicero or Montesquieu, must be read in the original. No matter how faithful the translation or adaptation, something; even a seemingly irrelevant phrase, is lost. I am no scholar, but to me there is merit in struggling to understand works that form the foundation of our society or culture. These types of works are often read and reread thoughout one’s life like Imitation of Christ, or Anna Karenina or Les Miserables. I fear we have tried to make difficult things so “accessible” we no longer stretch the mind for fear it will tear. LOL.

  • Alecto, are you saying that Les Miserables shouldn’t have been translated?

  • RR – your argument is a sound one, I find Glenn Beck far more arrogant than intelligent, with a need to be Center Stage at any cost. The Missionary version of the Music Man, It’s almost sad.

Henry David Thoreau: A Rant

Monday, June 6, AD 2011

I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau has always struck me as one of the most buffoonish and over-rated characters in American history. His aunt paying his taxes for him so his great tax protest over the Mexican War lasted all of one night, his accidental setting of a fire that consumed 300 acres of Walden woodlands, Thoreau contracting the tuberculosis that would kill him as a result of a middle of the night excursion to count tree rings and the pacifist Thoreau writing a pamphlet in which he claimed that John Brown, a murderer, embezzler, cattle thief and congenital liar, was humane are only a few of the many episodes in his life that are worthy of a great satirical novel. 

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10 Responses to Henry David Thoreau: A Rant

  • Nicely said.

    HDT is a pretty good writer about nature, and is certainly quotable (I esp. like his bit about Paris fashions), but when he attempts poetry he lapses into a bizarre and obscure formalism. An amusing man, and, yes, highly overrated, but that’s not his fault.

  • Edward Abbey, my favorite naturalist writer (his ‘Desert Solitaire’ is a masterpiece), sneeringly called Thoreau the “poet-spinster” and raked him pretty good.

    But Abbey, in one of his essays written while on a river trip, wound up saying this: “The deeper our United States sinks into industrialism, urbanism, militarism–with the rest of the world doing its best to emulate America–the more poignant, strong, and appealing becomes Thoreau’s demand for the right of every man, every woman, every child, every dog, every tree, every snail darter, every lousewort, every living thing, to live its own life in its own way at its own pace in its own square mile of home. Or in its own stretch of the river.”

    For my part, there is much wisdom to be found in Walden and Civil Disobedience and on balance I’d still rate him as one of the great thinkers. On his death bed he was asked if he had made peace with God and he answered: “I did not know we had ever quarreled.”

    To read more on Abbey’s view of Thoreau click on the following link (better yet pick up his essay book; a great read)

  • “I did not know we had ever quarreled.”

    He made that typical Thoreau glib-comment-substitute-for-wisdom to an inquiry from his aunt Louisa, the same aunt who bailed him out of jail during his great one night anti-Mexican War protest. She had bailed Thoreau out of several scrapes during his life as a feckless grown child, and she was attempting to do it one last time.

  • Don, uncharacteristic of you to come out of the chute in a new week by dumping on an American icon. Get up on the wrong side this morning or lose a case? : )

  • Actually Joe I am in a very good mood this morning as I start my June vacation on Friday this week at 5:00 PM. In regard to Thoreau, any day is a good day to bash him as far as I am concerned! 🙂

  • Well, Don, when you’re out in the woods or wherever enjoying nature, try to give ol’ Henry some kind thoughts and hug a tree for him.

  • the right of every man, every woman, every child, every dog, every tree, every snail darter, every lousewort, every living thing, to live its own life in its own way at its own pace in its own square mile of home. Or in its own stretch of the river.”

    Nonsense which perhaps explains how the late Mr. Abbey burned through four marriages (or was it five?).

  • Art, what do his marriages have to do with anything Abbey wrote or his brilliance as a writer? He was a complex conflicted man and what you consider “nonsense” I and many others find quite profound when taken in context. Suggest you read Desert Solitaire or his essay about nature and tell me he was a man lacking a good soul.

  • Life is lived socially, and properly so. There is an inherent conflict between freedom and community. One generally assumes one’s thoughts have some effect on one’s acts. That Edward Abbey was intent (apparently) to ‘live his own life in his own way’ appears to have been rather incongruent with creating and maintaining a zone of well-being for those entrusted to his care.

    Suggest you read Desert Solitaire or his essay about nature and tell me he was a man lacking a good soul.

    Sorry, nature writing bores me blank. What James Wolcott said, “I prefer to be in town, where the people are”.

Mormon Long March

Wednesday, March 23, AD 2011

One of the oddest episodes in American military history occurred during the Mexican War.  In 1846 the Mormons were beginning their epic trek West which would end with their carving a Mormon Zion out of the wilderness in what is now Utah.  The Mormons, realizing they would need at least tacit Federal approval to accomplish this, sent representatives to Washington.  The Polk administration asked for a quid pro quo.  The Federal government would render assistance if a battalion of Mormons would enlist to fight in the Mexican War.  Brigham Young readily agreed, and a battalion was raised after much cajoling by Young, due to the suspicion of most Mormons of the Federal government as a result of Federal indifference to the persecution of Mormons in Illinois and Missouri.

Along with the approximately 500 men, the Battalion was accompanied by 30 Mormon women, 23 of whom served as laundresses, and 51 children.  The Mormons were mustered into the Army on July 16, 1846.  They were assigned to the Army of the West under General Stephen W. Kearny, a tough regular.  From Fort Leavenworth on August 30, 1846, the Mormon Battalion made the longest infantry march in US military history, 1900 miles to San Diego, California which they reached on January 29, 1847.  The Battalion captured Tuscon, Arizona on the way to California, but saw no fighting, although the harsh climate and terrain they marched through more than made up for the absence of human adversaries.

The Battalion was discharged on July 26, 1847 in Los Angeles, and most of the men began the long trek to rejoin the Mormons in Utah.  Among the men who marched in the Mormon Battalion was George Stoneman, a future governor of California.  The video below at the end shows members of the battalion rejoining a Mormon wagon train after their service in the Mexican War.

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One Response to Mormon Long March

  • The “Extermination Order” is known in Latter Day Saint history as the executive order issued on October 27, 1838 by Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs to have Mormons driven from the state in response to what he termed “open and avowed defiance of the laws, and of having made war upon the people of this State … the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description.”

    The law made it legal to kill anyone who belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the state of Missouri, until it was repealed in 1976. At least 60 Mormons were killed and dozens of women and girls raped, and countless others died from exposure in 1838 under the executive order and resulting forced evacuation from the state (See History of the Church Volume III, preface).

    There is nothing new under the Sun.

    History repeats itself, again. Now, we have a new, vicious threat to our lives and property. The muslim problem that needs to be resolved. The commanders-in-chief have done nothing to protect us.

Gates v. Washington

Friday, December 17, AD 2010

I think most Americans today fail to realize how close this country came to dying right after its birth.  After the disastrous New York campaign, the Continental Army was reduced to a few thousand ill-fed, ill-trained and ill-uniformed men under Washington.  As the year of 1776 was coming to an end, many Americans thought the cause of American independence was also coming to an end, but not George Washington.  He realized that for the war to continue he had to come up with some masterstroke that would rouse American morale and convince his troops that they stood a chance to win this lop-sided conflict.

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3 Responses to Gates v. Washington

  • Truth. Read David McCulloch’s 1776 and Barnet Schechter’s The Battle of New York. God Almighty and Washington held it together in face of serial, disastrous defeats at the hands of a numerically and professionally far superior army of British regulars and Hessian mercenaries.

    The United States of America came into existence only through Divine Assistance and George Washington: the father of his country. “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

  • Washington agreed with you T.Shaw that divine assistance was essential to American victory:

    “A contemplation of the compleat attainment (at a period earlier than could have been expected) of the object for which we contended against so formidable a power cannot but inspire us with astonishment and gratitude. The disadvantageous circumstances on our part, under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverance of the Armies of the U States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.”

    George Washington

  • I receive (I have been in on his tours of Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery – Washington’s MLR during the Battle of Brooklyn Hts) emails from author Barnet Shecter. Latest:

    “My new book, George Washington’s America: A Biography Through His Maps, is a top seller on Amazon in several categories, including #1 in cartography. Below are some links to reviews and other articles. You can also hear a 15-minute NPR interview by Robin Young on “Here and Now,” WBUR-FM, Boston:

Most Incompetent Union General

Wednesday, December 1, AD 2010

“It seems but little better than murder to give important commands to such men as Banks, Butler, McClernand, Sigel, and Lew Wallace, yet it seems impossible to prevent it.”  Henry W. Halleck

There are of course several generals in the running for this title:  Ambrose Burnside, Don Carlos Buell, John Pope, Henry Halleck, Nathaniel Banks, Franz Siegel and the list could go on for some length.  However, for me the most incompetent Union general clearly is Benjamin Butler.  A political general appointed by Lincoln to rally War Democrats for the war effort, Butler in command was a defeat waiting to happen for any Union force cursed to be under him.  Butler during the Bermuda Hundred campaign in 1864 threw away chance after chance to take Richmond, with a timidity that rose to astonishing levels and an ineptitude at leading his forces that defies belief.  Grant summed up Butler’s generalship well in his Personal Memoirs when he recalled a conversation with his Chief of Engineers:

He said that the general occupied a place between the James and Appomattox rivers which was of great strength, and where with an inferior force he could hold it for an indefinite length of time against a superior; but that he could do nothing offensively. I then asked him why Butler could not move out from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler’s line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if Butler was in a bottle. He was perfectly safe against an attack; but, as Barnard expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place.

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6 Responses to Most Incompetent Union General

  • Butler was horrible, but I can’t get past the sheer mind-numbing awfulness of Ambrose Burnside, and at multiple levels of command–division, corps, and army.

  • If we are talking about incompetence on the field alone, arguments can be made for any number of northern generals. However, if we factor in such things as Butler’s “General Order Number 28”:

    By my reckoning the combination of incompetence and an order such as that would secure the title of most incompetent or worst northern general to Benjamin “Beast” Butler.

  • No list of incompetent Union generals would be complete without Gen. George McClellan — if not the most incompetent Union general, at least a very strong contender for that title. Why Lincoln put up with his dilatory tactics as long as he did is a mystery to me. Since McClellan actually ran against Lincoln for president in 1864, I’d very strongly suspect that he was actively trying to undermine the Union war effort. But McClellan was a master of the blitzkrieg compared to Butler, I suppose.

    From “Lincoln’s New Salem” by Benjamin Thomas comes this illustrative anecdote: Lincoln once refereed a cockfight between two of his New Salem buddies. One of them, Babb McNabb (yes, that was his name) bragged incessantly about the fighting ability of his rooster, but when the bird was placed in the pit, the bird immediately ran away, mounted a fence, preened his feathers and crowed lustily. McNabb then said to his bird, “You’re great in a dress parade, but not worth a damn in a fight.” Years later, Lincoln compared McClellan to McNabb’s rooster.

  • McClellan was a superb organizer and trainer of troops Elaine. He also had the essential gift of a top commander of inspiring troops to follow him into a campaign against Hades if he wished to lead them there. He was also not a bad strategist: his peninsula campaign plan was quite good. However, as you noted, he was very dilatory in his movements. Even after he got Lee’s plans during the Antietam campaign, the best he could manage was a drawn battle, and he allowed Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia to get across the Potomac although they were vastly outnumbered. In battle he had almost no ability to coordinate attacks and he was worse than no commander at all.

  • I’m basically with Elaine, though as Donald notes, his troops would have followed him to the netherworld and back. But his complete refusal to take on the enemy even though he outnumbered them tremendously is frustrating to read about even 140 years later. As Lincoln once asked of him, if you’re not going to use the army, may I borrow it?

Election Day

Monday, November 15, AD 2010

Don’t worry!  We are done with elections for a while!  I am not going to start writing about 2012 already!  However, as annoying as the election commercials, mendacious politicians and all the assorted insults to our intelligence that are part and parcel of political campaigns are, we sometimes forget how truly remarkable a process it is in the history of our planet.

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8 Responses to Election Day

  • Wish I could be as sanguine about our “democracy,” but, based on presidents, legislatures and judges governing against the will of the people, I’d have to say the system is irretrievably broken. When one set of bums gets thrown out, another set replaces them. Politics in America is all about money. The more you raise the better chance you have to win. “Campaign contributions” are a euphemism for bribery and backroom deals. Corruption is rife, mendacity rules and the people, content with their bread and circuses, are not really concerned about their loss of freedoms.

    This comes after 68 years of careful observation, and is not some knee-jerk cynicism. I’m glad to be checking out soon. I don’t want to be around when America implodes from total decay and depravity.

  • Joe, every last thing you wrote, and I mean every last thing, could have been lifted word for word from newspaper editorials written in the 1790s. Your pessimism about the prospects for our experiment in self-rule go back to the very beginnings of the Republic, as does my optimism. Time, as it always does, will tell.

  • I doubt the US will disappear any time soon. It will, like many (most, all?) political systems go on and slowly decay, like some ancient ruin. Certain vestiges of self rule will remain, but those will be as unrecognizable to us as our current ones would be to our founding fathers (just look how far we’ve decayed in a short 200 years). But something will remain – whether it’s worth keeping will depend largely upon what the rest of the world (and hence, available alternatives) look like.

  • “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! — how consoling in the depths of affliction! “And this, too, shall pass away.” And yet let us hope it is not quite true. Let us hope, rather, that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and around us; and the intellectual and moral world within us, we shall secure an individual, social, and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward, and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.”

    Abraham Lincoln, September 30, 1859

  • I had thouhght that phrase (This too shall pass) is in the Gospels. Not so.

    Mark 9:29-36 “… Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my word shall not pass away …”

  • Donald, I’ve been reading too much Schopenhauer lately. I would like to try your rose-colored glasses for a day or two. Anything to cheer up this old misanthrope.

  • Schopenhauer would depress a laughing hyena Joe. I prefer Doctor Franklin:

    “Whilst the last members were signing it [i.e., the Constitution] Doct FRANKLIN looking towards the Presidents Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.”

    James Madison

Conqueror of the Northwest

Wednesday, August 11, AD 2010

One of the largely unsung heroes of the American Revolution is George Rogers Clark.  The campaign that he fought in Illinois and Indiana secured to America a claim to these territories that was recognized in the treaty ending the war.

In 1778 Virginian Clark, at 25, was already a seasoned veteran of the savage warfare that raged on the Kentucky frontier throughout the Revolution.  Lieutenant Colonel Henry Hamilton, known to the patriots as “Hair-buyer” Hamilton,  from Detroit constantly aided the Indians war against the settlers in Kentucky, and paid generous bounties to the Indians for the prisoners and scalps they brought him.

Clark realized that the best way to stop the raids into Kentucky was for the patriots to go on the offensive and seize British outposts north of the Ohio river.  Recruiting 150 men to form what he called the Illinois regiment, Clark, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia militia, led his force into Illinois and took Kaskaskia on July 4, 1778.  The men of the Illinois regiment received an enthusiastic reception from the French, largely due to the efforts of Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of the Illinois Country, and Frenchwomen soon busied themselves sewing flags for the regiment.  Cahokia and Vincennes were taken without firing a shot, and British power in Illinois and Indiana seemed to vanish over night.

Hamilton did not take long to respond.  He raised a force of 30 regulars, 145 French Canadian militiamen and 60 Indians, marched from Detroit and re-took Fort Sackville at Vincennes on December 17, planning to stay there for the winter and then retake Illinois in the spring of 1779.

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Come, Come Ye Saints

Saturday, August 7, AD 2010

Something for the weekend.  A blues arrangement of the Mormon hymn Come, Come Ye Saints.  The hymn was written as the Mormons were making their epic trek in 1846 from Illinois to Utah in order to carve their new Zion out of the wilderness.

Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
Tis better far for us to strive our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell –
All is well! All is well!
Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
‘Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward if we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we’ll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!
We’ll find the place which God for us prepared,
Far away, in the West,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the saints, will be blessed.
We’ll make the air, with music ring, Shout praises to our God and King;
Above the rest these words we’ll tell –
All is well! All is well!

And should we die before our journey’s through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
But if our lives are spared again to see the Saints their rest obtain,
Oh, how we’ll make this chorus swell-
All is well! All is well!

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4 Responses to Come, Come Ye Saints