Got Burr?

A comedic follow up to Paul’s  post here on Alexander Hamilton.  Alternate history has always fascinated me.  What if Hamilton hadn’t been killed by Burr at that fateful duel on July 11, 1804?  Could he have led a revival of the Federalist Party?  Would he have finally achieved his lifelong ambition of military glory in the War of 1812?  If he had become a national hero in the War of 1812, would I now be blogging about President Hamilton?  So many possibilities snuffed out by the well aimed pistol of the worthless Burr.

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Published in: on February 28, 2010 at 6:19 am  Comments Off on Got Burr?  
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We’ll Fight For Uncle Sam

Something for the weekend.  We’ll Fight For Uncle Sam sung to the tune Whiskey in the Jar.  A nice tribute to the Irish volunteers who were a mainstay of the Union Army of the Potomac.  The song is also celebratory of George Brinton McClellan who led the Army of the Potomac in 1861-62.  Little Mac was a good organizer and he made sure his men were well fed and clothed.  He took care of his men and they were fond of him as a result.  Unfortunately, though not a bad strategist, he was a lousy battlefield commander.  During the battles of the Seven Days, although McClellan outnumbered the Confederates under Lee, he allowed Lee to take the initiative and force him back from Richmond.  At Antietam, in spite of enjoying better than two to one odds,  McClellan’s uncoordinated attacks blew a prime opportunity for the Army of the Potomac to destroy Lee’s army.  As a battlefield commander McClellan was worse than having no commander at all. (more…)

Published in: on February 27, 2010 at 5:31 am  Comments Off on We’ll Fight For Uncle Sam  
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James Madison on Secession

 

James Madison in his old age lived through the Nullification Crisis of 1832-1833.  He was against nullification and secession, which he saw lurking clearly in the background of the Crisis.  As the author of the Virginia Resolution of 1798 which contended that Congress had no power to pass the Alien and Sedition Acts, Madison had his own words thrown back at him, and he took pains in his letters to explain the differences between his Virginia Resolution and the revolution South Carolina was attempting to initiate.  I find his words on secession to be of great interest in light of the battle over the right to secede fought after Madison was long in his grave.  Here is a letter to Nicholas Trist on December 23, 1832 in which Madison makes his position clear.

TO N. P. TRIST. … MAD. MSS.

Montpellier, Decr 23, 1832.

Dr. Sir I have received yours of the 19th, inclosing some of the South Carolina papers. There are in one of them some interesting views of the doctrine of secession; one that had occurred to me, and which for the first time I have seen in print; namely that if one State can at will withdraw from the others, the others can at will withdraw from her, and turn her, nolentem, volentem, out of the union. Until of late, there is not a State that would have abhorred such a doctrine more than South Carolina, or more dreaded an application of it to herself. The same may be said of the doctrine of nullification, which she now preaches as the only faith by which the Union can be saved.

I partake of the wonder that the men you name should view secession in the light mentioned. The essential difference between a free Government and Governments not free, is that the former is founded in compact, the parties to which are mutually and equally bound by it. Neither of them therefore can have a greater fight to break off from the bargain, than the other or others have to hold them to it. And certainly there is nothing in the Virginia resolutions of –98, adverse to this principle, which is that of common sense and common justice. The fallacy which draws a different conclusion from them lies in confounding a single party, with the parties to the Constitutional compact of the United States. The latter having made the compact may do what they will with it. The former as one only of the parties, owes fidelity to it, till released by consent, or absolved by an intolerable abuse of the power created. In the Virginia Resolutions and Report the plural number, States, is in every instance used where reference is made to the authority which presided over the Government. As I am now known to have drawn those documents, I may say as I do with a distinct recollection, that the distinction was intentional. It was in fact required by the course of reasoning employed on the occasion. The Kentucky resolutions being less guarded have been more easily perverted. The pretext for the liberty taken with those of Virginia is the word respective, prefixed to the “rights” &c to be secured within the States. Could the abuse of the expression have been foreseen or suspected, the form of it would doubtless have been varied. But what can be more consistent with common sense, than that all having the same rights &c, should unite in contending for the security of them to each.

It is remarkable how closely the nullifiers who make the name of Mr. Jefferson the pedestal for their colossal heresy, shut their eyes and lips, whenever his authority is ever so clearly and emphatically against them. You have noticed what he says in his letters to Monroe & Carrington Pages 43 & 203, vol. 2,1 with respect to the powers of the old Congress to coerce delinquent States, and his reasons for preferring for the purpose a naval to a military force; and moreover that it was not necessary to find a right to coerce in the Federal Articles, that being inherent in the nature of a compact. It is high time that the claim to secede at will should be put down by the public opinion; and I shall be glad to see the task commenced by one who understands the subject.

I know nothing of what is passing at Richmond, more than what is seen in the newspapers. You were right in your foresight of the effect of the passages in the late Proclamation. They have proved a leaven for much fermentation there, and created an alarm against the danger of consolidation, balancing that of disunion. I wish with you the Legislature may not seriously injure itself by assuming the high character of mediator. They will certainly do so if they forget that their real influence will be in the inverse ratio of a boastful interposition of it.

If you can fix, and will name the day of your arrival at Orange Court House, we will have a horse there for you; and if you have more baggage than can be otherwise brought than on wheels, we will send such a vehicle for it. Such is the state of the roads produced by the wagons hurrying flour to market, that it may be impossible to send our carriage which would answer both purposes.

Published in: on February 26, 2010 at 6:44 am  Comments (9)  
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Jefferson: Science, Progress and Permanent Revolution

This will be the final post in my series on the political thought of Thomas Jefferson.  We have explored some of the key tenets of his political philosophy, and now we will see how they all fit together to mold what was a very radical vision of society.

In a letter to Benjamin Waterhouse, dated March 3, 1818, Jefferson wrote:

When I contemplate the immense advances in sciences and discoveries in the arts which have been made within the period of my life, I look forward with confidence to equal advances by the present generation, and have no doubt they will consequently be as much wiser than we have been as we than our fathers were, and they than the burners of witches.[1] (more…)

Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 9:39 pm  Comments Off on Jefferson: Science, Progress and Permanent Revolution  
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The Horse Soldiers

One of the few Hollywood films to deal with actual combat operations in the Civil War, The Horse Soldiers (1959) is based on Harold Sinclair’s novel, and a first rate novel it is I might add, The Horse Soldiers (1956), a fictionalized account of Grierson’s raid in 1863. 

Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge.  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 an impassioned speech in which she refers to the Union soldiers as thieves in blue and motherless scum.  Both scenes ring home with authenticity.  Not a bad effort from the usual history manglers of Hollywood.

Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 7:01 am  Comments Off on The Horse Soldiers  
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The Preamble

From Schoolhouse Rock.  For those preferring a more dramatic, or histrionic, reading:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

 

Published in: on February 23, 2010 at 5:03 am  Comments Off on The Preamble  
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Alternate Georges

On the birthday of the Father of Our Country it is proper to take a moment and reflect that in all likelihood the United States of America would not exist today but for the leadership shown by George Washington during the Revolution.  The poets Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet explored long ago some of the many different paths the life of Washington might have taken which would have altered our history so profoundly.  We call Washington the Father of Our Country not to honor him, but as a simple statement of fact.

George Washington by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét

Sing hey! For bold George Washington,

That jolly British tar,

King George’s famous admiral

From Hull to Zanzibar!

No–wait a minute–something’s wrong–

George wished to sail the foam.

But, when his mother thought aghast,

Of Georgie shinning up a mast,

Her tears and protests flowed so fast

That George remained at home.

Sing ho! For grave Washington,

The staid Virginia squire,

Who farms his fields and hunts his hounds

And aims at nothing higher!

Stop, stop it’s going wrong again!

George liked to live on farms,

But when the Colonies agreed

They could and should and would be freed,

They called on George to do the deed

And George cried “Shoulder arms!”

Sing ha! For Emperor Washington,

That hero of renown,

Who freed his land from Britain’s rule

To win a golden crown!

No, no, that’s what George might have won

But didn’t for he said,

“There’s not much point about a king,

They’re pretty but they’re apt to sting

And, as for crowns–the heavy thing

Would only hurt my head.”

Sing ho! For our George Washington!

(At last I’ve got it straight.)

The first in war, the first in peace,

The goodly and the great.

But, when you think about him now,

From here to Valley Forge,

Remember this–he might have been

A highly different specimen,

And, where on earth would we be, then?

I’m glad that George was George.

Published in: on February 22, 2010 at 5:40 am  Comments Off on Alternate Georges  
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Gettysburg 1938

A video montage of coverage of the 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg in 1938.  Seeing Union and Confederate veterans, some 1800 gathered,  jointly observing the anniversary is touching and brings home something very good about this country.  Most countries that go through a domestic bloodletting like the Civil War never really recover from it.  The passions unleashed are passed down like precious heirlooms from generation to generation leaving a legacy of hate that poisons a nation’s life.  America largely escaped that fate as the video above indicates.

FDR dedicated a monument at Gettysburg on this occasion which he accepted “in the spirit of brotherhood and peace”.  In America even a fratricidal Civil War ultimately became something that unfied us in common memories as the years rolled by.  I believe it was the Prussian statesman Otto von Bismark who remarked that God looks after fools, drunks and the United States of America.  He meant it unkindly of course, but in regard to our Civil War and its legacy, I think it is a sober assessment.

Published in: on February 21, 2010 at 6:09 am  Comments Off on Gettysburg 1938  
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The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

Something for the weekend.  The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.  Not period music of course, but few songs better evoke the despair of Confederates in the aftermath of defeat.  The above version is the original one sung by The Band.  Here is the version that became the signature song of Joan Baez.

Published in: on February 20, 2010 at 6:01 am  Comments Off on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down  
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Father of the United States Navy

 

1745 was a busy year in the history of the misnamed British Isles, with Bonnie Prince Charlie doing his best to end the reign of the Hanover Dynasty in England, so I guess it is excusable that no note was taken of the birth date of John Barry in Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland. During his childhood John received, along with all the other excellent reasons given to Irish Catholics over the centuries to love Britannia, good reason to look askance at the British when his father was evicted from his poor little farm by their British landlord, and the family went to live in the village of Rosslare. Yet the nameless landlord, completely unintentionally of course, did John a good turn, because it was in Rosslare that young John found his life’s calling: the Sea. Nicholas Barry, his uncle, lived there and was captain of a fishing skiff. John decided to follow in the footsteps of his uncle and seek his fortunes on water.

This was a completely rational choice on the part of John. The British imposed penal laws, summarized by the great Edmund Burke as follows: “For I must do it justice; it was a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts. It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.” Rendered helots in their own land, almost all ambitious Irish Catholic lads and lasses had to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Additionally, for a poor ambitious young man in Europe in the Eighteenth Century, the Sea offered a path to wealth and social advancement. If he was willing to work hard, learn to read, and learn enough math to chart the course of a ship, a poor sailor, with luck, could rise to be captain of a ship one day. Compensation for the crew of a merchant vessel was often based on a share of the profits, with the merchants who bankrolled the vessel usually taking between a half to two-thirds with the remainder being divided among the crew: the greater the rank, the larger the share. An able captain could eventually become a wealthy merchant. His daughters might marry into the aristocracy. His sons might become wealthy bankers and eventually be ennobled if they played their political cards right. Although this path was precluded to Irish Catholics by the anti-Catholic Test Act, a poor sailor in the Royal Navy might end his days as an admiral, and there were always a few admirals in the Royal Navy in the Eighteenth Century who had begun their careers in just such a fashion. However, if the Sea offered opportunities it also had severe risks. Life aboard ship was cramped and unpleasant, with bad food and putrid water tossed in as a garnish. Discipline was often brutal and risk to life and limb was an every day occurence. According to Dr. Samuel Johnson, “No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.” Ports were filled with crippled sailors who eked out a miserable existence with any light work they could get, selling wood carvings and begging. As Lord Nelson noted, the average British sailor, due to a hard life, was dead by forty-five.

Defying all challenges, John flourished at sea. Flying through the ranks of cabin boy, seaman, able seaman and a mate’s rating, he proved himself tough and determined. It also didn’t hurt that he was as strong as a sea-going ox, and grew into a giant of a man, standing six foot and four inches in a time when the average height of an adult male was five feet and five inches. During his career he would suppress three mutinies aboard his ships single handedly, and his great physical strength was a key asset in the very rough world afloat. In 1766 he achieved his dream of becoming a captain and skippered the Barbados with a home port of Philadelphia. It was on the Barbados that he began his habit, that he kept up in peace and war, in having the day start with a reading from the Bible to the crew. Captain Barry fell in love with Phillie, a town where he could freely practice his Catholic faith, and a bustling, prosperous port. Barry specialized in the West Indies trade and enhanced his reputation around town when it was noted that he successfully sailed various ships to and from the Indies in nine profitable voyages. In 1772 he was placed in command of the merchant vessel Peg owned by one of foremost mercantile houses in Philadelphia, and in 1774 he began a life-long collaboration and friendship with Robert Morris, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, and who earned the title Financier of the Revolution by putting his considerable financial skills at the service of his country during the War for Independence. Barry was assigned command of the 200 ton Black Prince in 1774 and in that year set a speed record that endured throughout the Eighteenth Century, traveling 237 miles in a 24 hour period. As he grew in wealth he never forgot his humble origins. Early in his career as a ship captain he joined the Charitable Captains of Ships Club, an organization dedicated to supporting the widows and orphans of sailors. Not only Barry’s financial life prospered but also his personal life. In 1767 he married Mary Clary, a Protestant, at Old Saint Joseph’s Chapel. She converted to the Faith during their marriage and died tragically at 29 in 1774 while John was away at sea. In 1777 he married Sarah Keen Austin. Sally as she was called, also converted to the Faith, and although their marriage was not blessed with children, they joyfully raised two of John’s nephews after his sister Eleanor died. The Barrys attended mass at Old Saint Joseph’s, Old Saint Mary’s and Saint Augustine’s in Philadelphia. (more…)

Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 6:17 am  Comments (3)  
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