Washington Frees His Slaves

George Washington was a very great man, but more importantly he was a very good man.  Born into a time and place where negro slavery was taken to be simply a fact of life, he gradually grew to believe that it was an evil.  Unlike other Founding Fathers who also talked about the evils of slavery but never freed their slaves, Washington left explicit instructions in his will for the freeing of his slaves after the death of his wife.  This of course involved a huge pecuniary loss to his Estate.   He not only made arrangements for the freeing of his slaves, he also left provisions for the care of slaves who were too old and/or infirm to support themselves and instructions that young slaves were to be taught to read and write and trained in a useful occupation and freed on their 25th birthday.   He specifically forbade the sale or transportation of any of his slaves from Virginia in an attempt to avoid the provisions of his will freeing them.   Martha Washington freed all of George Washington’s slaves on January 1, 1801. How much agony, war and bitter racial strife this nation would have been spared if all slaveholders had followed the example of the Father of Our Country!  Here is the portion of Washington’s will regarding the manumission of his slaves:  (more…)

Published in: on August 11, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Malaria and World War 2

In World War 2 the US and other nations around the world used the then relatively new and popular technology of sound films for educational purposes for their troops.  The above film is typical of the genre used in the US military.  Malaria was a major problem for the US forces serving in the Pacific Theater.  The US, early in the War, had seen the devastating impact on military operations of malaria at Bataan where the American and Filipino forces were defeated as much by malaria and starvation  as they were by the Japanese Imperial Army.

Major General James Gillepsie wrote an excellent study of the impact of malaria on the defense of Bataan which may be read here.  His conclusions reveal why malaria control was a top US military priority thereafter: (more…)

Published in: on August 10, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Malaria and World War 2  

Thomas Jefferson Randolph’s Plan For Emancipation


In the wake of the Nat Turner slave insurrection in 1831 in Virginia, the Virginia legislature had raucous debates over the future of the Peculiar Institution in the Old Dominion State.  When Thomas Jefferson Randolph, favorite grandson of Thomas Jefferson and the Executor of his estate, rose to speak in favor of gradual emancipation in the House of Delegates, the lower house of the General Assembly, he must have known that he was walking into a political whirlwind.  He proposed that all slaves born in 1840 be ultimately freed, with female slaves being freed on their eighteenth birthday and male slaves on their twenty-first birthday.  The state would then pay the cost of shipping the freed slaves to Africa to colonies established for the purpose.  He predicted that the enactment of his proposal would cause many slave holders to sell their slaves to states in the deep South, and that in a relatively brief period of time there would be few slaves left in Virginia.


Western Virginia, foreshadowing the divisions of the Civil War, where the slave population was small, rallied to the proposal.  Eastern Virginia, where the vast bulk of the slave population was located, bitterly opposed the proposal.  Two weeks of raucous debate followed in the House of Delegates, with the proposal ultimately defeated  73-58.  Virginia house seats were alloted to artificially increase the power of the slave holding regions.  But for such an artificial increase in the number of seats from the slave holding areas, the proposal would have failed by a single vote. (more…)

Published in: on August 9, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Federalist 50 – Madison

Federalist 50 is a relatively brief continuation of the topic James Madison explored in Federalist 49.  In the previous essay he had critiqued Thomas Jefferson’s proposal to resolve constitutional issues through frequent appeals to the populace.  In this essay, Madison addresses the idea of resolving these issues through periodical appeals to the population.  In other words, there would be fixed intervals at which the nation at large would get to address issues related to enforcing the Constitution (Madison acknowledges that this does not concern amending or altering the Constitution).  Madison rejects this idea, too, noting that there would be problems with either too short or too long periods.

 If the periods be separated by short intervals, the measures to be reviewed and rectified will have been of recent date, and will be connected with all the circumstances which tend to vitiate and pervert the result of occasional revisions. If the periods be distant from each other, the same remark will be applicable to all recent measures; and in proportion as the remoteness of the others may favor a dispassionate review of them, this advantage is inseparable from inconveniences which seem to counterbalance it. In the first place, a distant prospect of public censure would be a very feeble restraint on power from those excesses to which it might be urged by the force of present motives. Is it to be imagined that a legislative assembly, consisting of a hundred or two hundred members, eagerly bent on some favorite object, and breaking through the restraints of the Constitution in pursuit of it, would be arrested in their career, by considerations drawn from a censorial revision of their conduct at the future distance of ten, fifteen, or twenty years? In the next place, the abuses would often have completed their mischievous effects before the remedial provision would be applied. And in the last place, where this might not be the case, they would be of long standing, would have taken deep root, and would not easily be extirpated.

Either the period would be too short, and therefore the issues too current to be settled reasonably, or the intervals would be too long to constrain bad actors.

Madison turns his attention to Pennsylvania, a state which actually developed a mechanism similar to the one under consideration here.  The Council of Censors was impaired by a number of circumstances that prevented it from doing its job fairly.  First of all, many of the individuals on the council “had also been active and leading characters in the parties which pre-existed in the State.”  More importantly, many of the individuals on the council had been members of the executive and legislative branches during the period under review, and therefore had a vested interest in the council’s deliberations.

On top of all this, the proceedings showed the fundamental shortcomings of this particular approach.

Every page of their proceedings witnesses the effect of all these circumstances on the temper of their deliberations. Throughout the continuance of the council, it was split into two fixed and violent parties. The fact is acknowledged and lamented by themselves. Had this not been the case, the face of their proceedings exhibits a proof equally satisfactory. In all questions, however unimportant in themselves, or unconnected with each other, the same names stand invariably contrasted on the opposite columns. Every unbiased observer may infer, without danger of mistake, and at the same time without meaning to reflect on either party, or any individuals of either party, that, unfortunately, PASSION, not REASON, must have presided over their decisions. When men exercise their reason coolly and freely on a variety of distinct questions, they inevitably fall into different opinions on some of them. When they are governed by a common passion, their opinions, if they are so to be called, will be the same.

The Council of Censors was thus dominated by the same partisan divisions that marked the proceedings of the legislature.  Instead of the council being a dispassionate reviewer of constitutional clashes, it was as beset by partisan wrangling as any other actor involved in the process.

Madison outlines two other problem with the council.  The council “misconstrue[d] the limits prescribed for the legislative and executive departments, instead of reducing and limiting them within their constitutional places.”  Finally, Madison doubted that the council’s decisi0ns “had any effect in varying the practice founded on legislative constructions.”  In one instance the legislature essentially ignored the council’s decision.  So not only was this council beset by partisan intrigues, it was ineffective in reigning in the political branches.

Madison has an argument ready for anyone wishing to assert that Pennsylvania is a special case in its partisan division.

Is it to be presumed, that at any future septennial epoch the same State will be free from parties? Is it to be presumed that any other State, at the same or any other given period, will be exempt from them? Such an event ought to be neither presumed nor desired; because an extinction of parties necessarily implies either a universal alarm for the public safety, or an absolute extinction of liberty.

Furthermore, it would be no solution to restrict council membership to people who had not been involved with the government’s decision during the period under consideration.

The important task would probably devolve on men, who, with inferior capacities, would in other respects be little better qualified. Although they might not have been personally concerned in the administration, and therefore not immediately agents in the measures to be examined, they would probably have been involved in the parties connected with these measures, and have been elected under their auspices.

Having thus rejected popular appeals as methods of dealing with encroachments of the constitution, what solution does Madison propose.  He provides the answer in Federalist 51.

Published in: on August 8, 2011 at 1:53 pm  Comments (1)  

Give Us This Day

William Thomas Cummings, pictured viewer’s left in the above photograph, is known for the phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  This is the story of the priest behind the phrase.

Born in 1903 he studied at Saint Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California and was ordained a priest in 1928.  Wanting to be a missionary priest he joined the Maryknoll Order.  In December 1941 he was serving as a missionary priest in the Philippines.  On December 7, 1941 he showed up at the American Army headquarters in Manila in white vestments and offered his services as a chaplain.  The commandant of the Manila garrison attempted to talk him out of it.  He was 39, old for a combat chaplain, and he was nursing a back injury.  He was also near-sighted and lean as a rake.  Father Cummings vehemently replied that he was determined to be an Army chaplain.    Commissioned as a first lieutenant, he joined the Army in its epic retreat to the Bataan peninsula, where American and Filipino troops, on starvation rations and wracked with malaria, would make a heroic stand for months against the Japanese Imperial Army.

Believing themselves deserted by the US, the troops sang this bit of bitter doggerel:

We’re the battling bastards of Bataan,

No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam.

No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,

No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces.

And nobody gives a damn.

General Douglas MacArthur, in command of all American and Filipino troops in the Philippines, continually pleaded with Washington for a relief force to Bataan.  Shamefully, some of the messages from Washington indicated that a relief force was being put together.   These were lies.   After Pearl Harbor the US simply lacked the naval assets to successfully reinforce Bataan.  Any attempt to do so would almost certainly have led to a military disaster for America.  MacArthur refused an order that he leave Bataan, and stated that he would resign his commission and fight as a volunteer.  He finally left after a direct order from President Roosevelt, but refused to be smuggled out in a submarine, instead going by PT boat to demonstrate that the Japanese blockade of the Philippines could be penetrated.  After he arrived in Australia he was shocked to learn that there were no plans for the relief of the Philippines.  His main goal throughout the war thereafter was the liberation of the Philippines and the rescue of the American and Filipino POWs.

On Bataan Chaplain Cummings quickly became an Army legend.   On Good Friday 1942 at a Bataan field hospital undergoing bombardment Nurse Hattie Bradley witnessed Father Cummings in action:  “More piercing screams. Scores must be dead or dying, she was convinced. She dashed into the orthopedic ward for help. There, panic was on the verge of erupting. Then she saw the chaplain…standing on a desk. Above the roar of the airplanes, the explosions and the shrieks of the wounded, his voice could be heard: “Our Father, who art in heaven…” Calmed by his prayers, the patients quieted.” Father Cummings did this in spite of one of his arms being broken by shrapnel from a bomb.

On Bataan he was always with the troops near or on the front line.  He said innumerable Masses, administered the Last Rites to the dying and helped with the wounded.  His field sermons were memorable.  In one of them he made the famous observation that “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  The quotation was passed on in the book “I Saw the Fall of the Philippines” by General Carlos P. Romulo, one of the Filipino troops evacuated from Bataan, which was published in 1942. (more…)

August 7, 1861: Butler, Magruder and Contrabands

Major General Benjamin Butler was probably the most militarily incompetent of the “political generals” appointed by Lincoln during the War.  Like the other “political generals” Butler was appointed for political reasons and not due to his military acumen.  In the case of Butler, he was a powerful  Massachusetts Democrat, and his appointment aided Lincoln in rallying Massachusetts Democrats to support the War.

While he was militarily inept, Butler had a shrewd enough brain in other areas.  Appointed to command Fortress Monroe in Virginia, Butler quickly developed the policy of not returning slaves to their rebel masters, arguing, as the able attorney he was, that such slaves were contrabands of war, and could be used by the Union Army as hired laborers, thus depriving the Confederacy of their labor, and giving it to the Union. (more…)

Published in: on August 7, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 7, 1861: Butler, Magruder and Contrabands  

Scotland the Brave

Something for the weekend. Scotland the Brave.  The tune is only from the early 20th Century.  The lyrics are frankly forgettable compared to the grandeur of the song so I will not repeat them here.  Instead, time for a little Bobbie Burns: (more…)

Published in: on August 6, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Scotland the Brave  
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Chaplain O’Callahan and the Medal of Honor

A hallmark of the Jesuit Order has always been utter fearlessness.  The Order founded by that Basque soldier turned saint, Saint Ignatius Loyola, had as little use for fear as it did for doubt.  The “black robes” of the Jesuits in New France were typical of the Jesuit soldiers of Christ in their almost super-human courage in disdaining the torture and death they exposed themselves to as missionaries to warlike tribes.

Firmly in this tradition of courage is Joseph Timothy O’Callahan.  Born on May 14, 1905 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, he attended Boston College High School.  He joined the Jesuits in 1922  and obtained his BA from Saint Andrew’s College in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1925, and his Masters in Philosophy at Weston College in 1929.  Ordained in 1934, he served as a professor of Mathematics, Philosophy and Physics at Boston College until 1937.  He then spent a year as a professor of Philosophy at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, before becoming head of the Mathematics department at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

On August 7, 1940, Father O’Callahan was appointed a Lieutenant JG in the United States Navy.  His decision to join the Navy as a chaplain shocked some of his friends, one of them remarking, “Let someone younger help those boys.  You can’t even open your umbrella!”  Nothing daunted, Chaplain O’Callahan served at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola,  Florida from 1940-1942.  From 1942-1945 he served as chaplain at Naval Air Stations in Alameda, California and at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.   It was almost at the end of the war when he was assigned to sea duty and reported aboard the Franklin, an Essex Class Fleet Air-Craft Carrier on March 2, 1945.  The Franklin was the fifth ship in the United States Navy to be named after Benjamin Franklin, and had seen a lot of combat during the War.  It was about to see more.

On March 19, 1945, the feast of Saint Joseph, the Franklin was conducting air raids against Honshu, one of the Japanese Home Islands.  Only fifty miles off-shore, the Franklin was closer to Japan than any US aircraft carrier had come  before during the War.  At 7:08 AM a single Japanese dive bomber pierced the cloud cover and dove for the Franklin dropping two semi-armor piercing bombs.  One bomb struck the flight deck centerline, penetrating through to the hangar deck.  The other struck the aft of the carrier, penetrating through two decks.  The Franklin was immediately rocked by huge explosions as the bombs ignited ammunition and gasoline.  A series of explosions would rock the ship for hours as the crew of the Franklin fought to save her.

Approximately 2600 officers and men were aboard the Franklin.  724 would died that day and 265 were  wounded.  Many men would engage in heroic actions as the Franklin struggled to survive, but the deeds of Lieutenant Commander O’Callahan stood out.

After the bombs hit, Father O’Callahan said a quick prayer that God might forgive the sins of the crew of the Franklin.  He then ran to his quarters and put on his lifebelt and helmet which had a big white cross on it.  He and Protestant Chaplain Gatlin began to tend to the wounded brought forward to the Officer’s Quarters, with Chaplain O’Callahan giving the Last Rites many times.

He then ran up to the flight deck which was engulfed in flames.  He helped the wounded and organized teams to fight the fires.  Captain Leslie E. Gehres, the skipper of the Franklin, observed Father O’Callahan from the bridge, where he was trapped by the fires.  Gehres was a stubborn and sometimes cantakerous mustang, an enlisted man who rose to be an officer.  His stubbornness served him in good stead this day.  He had already ignored the advice of the Admiral who had been aboard the Franklin, before he transferred his flag to another vessel, that the Franklin be abandoned.  Gehres was not about to abandon his ship, especially with hundreds of crewmen trapped below deck.  Recognizing Father O’Callahan from the white cross on his helmet, Gehres, using a bull horn, yelled at him to take command on the flight deck to fight the fire.  Captain Gehres later told Mrs. O’Callahan, the mother of the Chaplain, that Father O’Callahan was the bravest man he had ever seen.

Organizing teams of officers and men, Father O’Callahan led them in picking up ammunition near, or even in, the fires, to pitch overboard before the ammunition exploded.  It is hard to imagine anything more hazardous.  Evacuating ammunition from the main gun magazine, Father O’Callahan went himself into the magazine with a fire hose to extinguish the flames so that the ammunition could be pitched over the side.

The crew took courage from the calm example of the priest.  Many men began following him around to help.  He seemed to be everywhere, fighting fires, giving the last rites, helping the wounded, all the while outwardly showing no fear and proceeding calmly and deliberately about his many duties.  When the flight deck fires seemed to be under control, he went below deck several times to lead out trapped crewmen, personally leading to safety over 700 of them. Unbelievably, the Franklin stayed afloat and was towed back to port.  The crew of the Franklin won their fight to save their ship.

For his actions that day Captain Gehres recommended Father O’Callhan for the Medal of Honor.  He was the first Chaplain to be awarded that decoration.  His Medal of Honor citation reads as follows:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as chaplain on board the U.S.S. Franklin when that vessel was fiercely attacked by enemy Japanese aircraft during offensive operations near Kobe, Japan, on 19 March 1945.  A valiant and forceful leader, calmly braving the perilous barriers of flame and twisted metal to aid his men and his ship, Lt. Commander O’Callahan groped his way through smoke-filled corridors to the open flight deck and into the midst of violently exploding bombs, shells, rockets, and other armament. With the ship rocked by incessant explosions, with debris and fragments raining down and fires raging in ever-increasing fury, he ministered to the wounded and dying, comforting and encouraging men of all faiths; he organized and led firefighting crews into the blazing inferno on the flight deck; he directed the jettisoning of live ammunition and the flooding of the magazine; he manned a hose to cool hot, armed bombs rolling dangerously on the listing deck, continuing his efforts, despite searing, suffocating smoke which forced men to fall back gasping and imperiled others who replaced them. Serving with courage, fortitude, and deep spiritual strength, Lt. Commander O’Callahan inspired the gallant officers and men of the Franklin to fight heroically and with profound faith in the face of almost certain death and to return their stricken ship to port.

These videos describe the attack on the Franklin.  The second video has a section on the actions of Chaplain O’Callahan.

After the War Father O’Callahan returned to his academic duties with the Jesuits.  He also stayed in the Naval Reserve and retired as a Captain.  He died on March 16, 1964 and is buried in the Jesuit cemetary at Holy Cross.  A Destroyer Escort was named in his honor.  The O’Callahan Assembly of the Knights of Colombus in Sebring, Florida help keep his memory alive.  Holy Cross has the O’Callahan NROTC Committee to help train future naval officers.  The science library at Holy Cross is named after him.  The best memorials to Father O’Callahan are of course the lives of all the men he helped save on March 19, 1945, and the descendants of those men.

Published in: on August 5, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Chaplain O’Callahan and the Medal of Honor  
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The Archbishop and the Concentration Camp

Retired Archbishop Philip. M. Hannan of New Orleans, still alive at the age of 98, discusses his service in the video above, made in 2007, with the 505th parachute infantry regiment of the 82nd Airborne in World War II.  Ordained at the North American College in Rome on December 8, 1939, he served with the 82nd Airborne as a chaplain from 1942-46, and was known as the Jumping Padre.  He was assigned to be the chaplain of the 505th Regiment with the rank of Captain shortly after the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.  He had many adventures during his time with the 505th, but perhaps the most poignant was what happened to him on May 5th, 1945, in the final days of the War in Europe.

On May 5, 1945, the 505th overran a concentration camp near Wobbelin in Germany.  Captain Hannan and his assistant James Ospital hurried to the camp to see what they could do to help.  A scene of complete horror awaited them.  Corpses were sprawled everywhere.  Dying prisoners lay in filthy bunks crudely made out of branches.  All the prisoners looked like skeletons, both the dead and the living.  The camp reeked of the smells of a charnel house and a sewer.

He found a Belgian priest who had been in the camp since 1940.  He told the chaplain that another priest who had been arrested with him had just died.  Commandeering a truck, Hannan loaded as many prisoners into the truck as it could hold.   Here is a photograph of Hannan helping an inmate into the truck.

Since so many seemed on the verge of death he led them in an act of contrition and gave them a mass absolution.  He then had the truck driven to a nearby civilian hospital.  The Belgian priest refused to be helped until all the prisoners at the concentration camp had been aided.  The priest told him that throughout his captivity he had said mass every day, bribing the guards for a few crumbs of bread and a few drops of wine.  Even the non-Catholic prisoners took part in his masses, giving them something to live for. (more…)

Published in: on August 4, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Archbishop and the Concentration Camp  
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Matthew Brady, Father Thomas H. Mooney, Dagger John and the Fighting 69th

The above photo is one of the archetypal Matthew Brady photographs of the Civil War.  Whenever religion in the Civil War is mentioned in a history, odds are you will see this picture.  It was taken on June 1, 1861 in the camp of the 69th New York, later to be christened The Fighting 69th  by no less an authority on fighting  than Robert E. Lee, and it depicts Mass being said by Father Thomas H. Mooney, the first chaplain of The Fighting 69th.

Born in Manchester, England, and ordained in 1853 in New York City, Father Mooney had been pastor of Saint Brigid’s in New york City, as well as being the chaplain of the 69th New York.  Archbishop Hughes of New York City, known universally by friend and foe as “Dagger John”, warned Father Mooney about the large number of Fenians, a precursor of the Irish Republican Army, who had enlisted in the regiment:

“They are incompetent to be admitted to the Sacraments of the Church during life and of Christian burial after death, unless they shall in the meantime renounce such obligations as have been just referred to. In regard to the whole subject, you will please to exercise all the discretion and all the charity that religion affords: but speak to the men and tell each one (not all at one time) that he is jeopardizing his soul if he perseveres in this uncatholic species of combination.”

The Church in Ireland and America had a mostly negative view of the Fenians due to an overall opposition to revolutionary movements in Europe by Pope Pius IX and because the Fenians called for a separation of Church and State In Ireland.

The 69th was one of the first Union regiments to go to Washington in 1861 in response to Lincoln’s call for volunteers.  Father Mooney went with it, and quickly proved extremely popular with the men and officers of the regiment.  He founded a temperance society in the regiment,  held daily Masses and confessions, and was tireless in reminding wayward soldiers in the regiment that this was a great opportunity for them to return to the Faith.  A correspondent for the New York Times reported on the high esteem in which Father Mooney was held:

As for the Sixty-ninth, they turned out more than twelve hundred muskets, leaving yet another hundred — the newly-arrived Zouaves — in their late headquarters at the College. This Regiment has grown into great fever in Washington — not a single one of its members ever having become amenable to the police authorities in any way; and its discipline and efficiency having frequently been made the subject of complimentary notice by Gens SCOTT and MANSFIELD. For very much of the good order and moral restraint existing in the ranks, it is doubtless indebted to the ceaseless and zealous exertions of Father THOMAS MOONEY, an admirable specimen-priest of the true high type, who, if he were not chaplain, would certainly be a candidate for Colonel — fate and a sanguine temper giving him equal adaptation to the sword of the spirit and the “regulation sword” — a veritable son of the church-militant. But this again is a degression.

Father Mooney’s career as a chaplain was cut short by “Dagger John”.   On June 13, 1861 the 69th was helping to emplace a rifled cannon in Fort Corcoran, named after Colonel Corcoran the commander of the 69th, near Washington.  Everyone was in high spirits.  Father Mooney was called upon to bless the cannon.  Instead, he decided to baptize the cannon. (more…)

Published in: on August 3, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Matthew Brady, Father Thomas H. Mooney, Dagger John and the Fighting 69th  
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