On the Waterfront


Something for the weekend.  Symphonic suite from On the Waterfront (1954).

Published in: on August 31, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on On the Waterfront  
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August 30, 1861: Fremont Orders Freeing of Slaves of Rebels in Missouri

John C. Fremont led a life of considerable achievement and seemed to  many of his contemporaries a man of destiny.  However, in the Civil War his destiny eluded him.  An engineering officer in the US Army Corps of Engineers, his personal charm led to his marriage in 1841 to Jesse Benton, a woman of considerable ambition and the daughter of the legendary Senator from Missouri, Thomas Hart Bent.  Now politically well connected, Benton achieved fame and the title The Pathfinder, by leading settlers along with scout Kit Carson over the Oregon Trail.  In the 1830’s Fremont had taken part in various topographical mapping expeditions into the West and this served him in good stead in determining the best routes for the pioneers.  His exploits were steadily followed in the eastern papers, and Fremont became a national celebrity.  During the Mexican War, Fremont played a major role in the conquest of California, although he displayed much energy but little military skill.  After the war he served as military governor for California, and, after California was admitted to the Union, Fremont served briefly as a US Senator for the state.

Although he was of Southern birth, Fremont was an ardent foe of slavery and became the first Republican candidate for President in 1856.  Obtaining a third of the vote, and 114 electoral votes, Fremont proved that the new Republican party was a serious contender in national politics.  His electoral slogan of “Free Men!  Free Soil! Fremont!”, resounded throughout the North, Fremont winning all of the Northern states except Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Indiana, demonstrating that if the North was unified, it could elect a President.  Fremont suffered in the election by false allegations that his father was a French aristocrat and that Fremont was a Catholic.  (Fremont’s father was a middle class Frenchman, who fought for the Royalists in France and who immigrated to America.  Fremont was an Episcopalian.)  The Democrats also made hay of the fact that Fremont had been born out of wedlock, and that at the time they started their romance, his mother had been married to a man not his father.  Salacious political gossip is not an invention of the Twenty-First century. (more…)

Published in: on August 30, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 30, 1861: Fremont Orders Freeing of Slaves of Rebels in Missouri  
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August 29, 1864: Democrat Party Platform


The convention of the Democrats in 1864 to nominate a standard bearer for President opened on August 29, 1864 in Chicago.  The convention was badly split between War Democrats and Peace Democrats.  The Peace Democrats were strong enough to have a platform approved which dealt with one issue, the War, and which was highly critical of a continuation of the War and called for immediate peace negotiations:


Resolved, That in the future, as in the past, we will adhere with unswerving fidelity to the Union under the Constitution as the only solid foundation of our strength, security, and happiness as a people, and as a framework of government equally conducive to the welfare and prosperity of all the States, both Northern and Southern.

Resolved, That this convention does explicitly declare, as the sense of the American people, that after four years of failure to restore the Union by the experiment of war, during which, under the pretense of a military necessity of war-power higher than the Constitution, the Constitution itself has been disregarded in every part, and public liberty and private right alike trodden down, and the material prosperity of the country essentially impaired, justice, humanity, liberty, and the public welfare demand that immediate efforts be made for a cessation of hostilities, with a view of an ultimate convention of the States, or other peaceable means, to the end that, at the earliest practicable moment, peace may be restored on the basis of the Federal Union of the States.

Resolved, That the direct interference of the military authorities of the United States in the recent elections held in Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware was a shameful violation of the Constitution, and a repetition of such acts in the approaching election will be held as revolutionary, and resisted with all the means and power under our control.

Resolved, That the aim and object of the Democratic party is to preserve the Federal Union and the rights of the States unimpaired, and they hereby declare that they consider that the administrative usurpation of extraordinary and dangerous powers not granted by the Constitution; the subversion of the civil by military law in States not in insurrection; the arbitrary military arrest, imprisonment, trial, and sentence of American citizens in States where civil law exists in full force; the suppression of freedom of speech and of the press; the denial of the right of asylum; the open and avowed disregard of State rights; the employment of unusual test-oaths; and the interference with and denial of the right of the people to bear arms in their defense is calculated to prevent a restoration of the Union and the perpetuation of a Government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

Resolved, That the shameful disregard of the Administration to its duty in respect to our fellow-citizens who now are and long have been prisoners of war and in a suffering condition, deserves the severest reprobation on the score alike of public policy and common humanity.

Resolved, That the sympathy of the Democratic party is heartily and earnestly extended to the soldiery of our army and sailors of our navy, who are and have been in the field and on the sea under the flag of our country, and, in the events of its attaining power, they will receive all the care, protection, and regard that the brave soldiers and sailors of the republic have so nobly earned. (more…)

Published in: on August 29, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 29, 1864: Democrat Party Platform  
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Sealing Wax

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.

The Walrus and the Carpenter, Lewis Carroll


A fascinating look at the use of sealing wax to seal letters.  Among the facts we learn is that sealing wax was not actually wax.  The Past is truly a different country, and what a fascinating realm it is!

Published in: on August 28, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Sealing Wax  
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The Beginning of American Slavery?


In The New York Times’ The 1619 Project it is proclaimed that slavery started in America, presumably the part of North America that became the United States, in 1619.  Like most things about this series that is a lie.  Most Indian tribes practiced slavery, usually involving war captives or men who had sold themselves into slavery.  The Spanish practiced slavery and began to colonize Florida in the Sixteenth Century.  The Spanish began the colonization of what is now New Mexico in 1598 and brought the institution of slavery with them.  The English colonists were Johnny-come-latelies when it came to the institution of slavery in what would become the US.

The date of 1619 is also misleading for another reason.  Until the 1660s most Africans imported to Virginia had the status of being indentured servants, not very different from white indentured servants, a common institution of the time.  An indentured servant was freed after his period of indenture.  The perpetual slavery of blacks was a later development in Virginia and took time to be codified in law, with the first Virginia slave code being enacted in 1705.

Slavery as an institution is as old as Man and it persists in the contemporary world under other names.  It deserves serious scholarly study and not the shoddy ideological point scoring of The 1619 Project.

Published in: on August 27, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Beginning of American Slavery?  
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Allan Nevins Online


Recently I have been reading about Grover Cleveland.  I recalled that I had Allan Nevin’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Cleveland in my library and I retrieved it.  Nevins was a masterful researcher and an artful stylist and he performs the art of historical necromancy well as he brings to life eras from the past to gracefully dance before the eyes of his readers.  Alas Nevins, who died in 1971, is largely forgotten today.


His magnum opus, The Ordeal of the Union, depicted the history of the US from 1847-1865 in eight fat volumes, the final four volumes dealing with the Civil War in microscopic detail.  I was recently delighted to discover that most of his work is online.  Go here to take a look at it, and hopefully you will learn what a master of Clio’s craft he was.

Published in: on August 26, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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August 25, 1945: Captain John Birch Murdered

John Birch

Sometimes regarded as the first casualty of the Cold War, Captain John Birch died seventy years ago.  Born in 1918 in India to American Baptist missionaries, he followed in his parents’ footsteps by becoming a missionary in China in 1940.  After the Doolittle Raid he helped rescue some of the raiders who landed in China.  He was commissioned a First Lieutenant, later promoted to Captain, in the Fourteenth Air Force.  General Chennault, legendary founder of the Flying Tigers, got him to accept the commission by telling him that he could still function as a missionary in his off hours.   He performed intelligence missions behind enemy lines for the Army Air Corps and the OSS.  While on these missions he would conduct services for Chinese Christians.  He was utterly fearless, despising both the Japanese and the Chinese Communists.  He built up an extensive network of Chinese who passed along information to him about Japanese troop movements and shipping that he passed on to Chennault for bombing attacks.

On August 25, 1945, as he was leading a group of Americans, National Chinese and Koreans to liberate Allied personnel in a Japanese POW camp, he was ordered by a party of Chinese Communists, who had intercepted his group, to surrender his revolver.   Birch refused and was murdered by the Communists.  He was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Medal.  Dead at age 27, he had led a short but eventful life. (more…)

Published in: on August 25, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 25, 1945: Captain John Birch Murdered  
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We’ve Only Just Begun


Something for the weekend.  We’ve Only Just Begun (1970) sung by the brother and sister duo of Richard and Karen Carpenter.  It was the second million dollar single by the Carpenters and was considered by them to be their signature song.  It was played endlessly on the radio in the Seventies but I never tired of hearing it.  It has been said that personal suffering can lead to great art.  I don’t buy that, but Karen Carpenter could be put forward as an example by a proponent of the theory, although I suspect that Miss Carpenter would have had a much happier, and much longer, life if she had never sung a note in public.  Art sometimes demands far too much from an artist and that was certainly true in her case.


Published in: on August 24, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on We’ve Only Just Begun  
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Cotton Mather and Inoculation

Cotton Mather  in many ways represents some of the worst traits of the Puritans who ruled Massachusetts in the Seventeenth Century: fanatical, severe, dogmatic, usually blind to any side of an issue other than his own.   Completely unrepentant of his role in the Salem Witch Trials, Mather generally cuts a poor figure in early American history.  However, not always.  Narrow in most of his views, Mather possessed a good mind and a questioning spirit when dealing with issues outside of his religious beliefs.

In 1706 Onesimus, a slave, explained to Mather how he had been inoculated against small pox as a boy in Africa.  When a smallpox epidemic hit Boston in 1721, Mather encouraged Dr. Zabdiel Boylston to try the procedure.  Boylston performed inoculations of cowpox on his own son and two slaves.  They all recovered in a week.  James Franklin, Ben Franklin’s older brother, in the New England Courant, published article after article denouncing inoculation and so inflamed public opinion that the selectmen of Boston banned the procedure.  (James Franklin was a chronic bomb thrower who loved nothing better than to whip up turmoil and thus to sell more issues of his paper.  He and Ben did not get along.)  Boylston’s life was in danger, and a hand grenade was thrown into Mather’s house for his championing inoculation and sheltering a clergyman who had undergone inoculation.  Stubborn as always, Mather remained an ardent supporter of inoculation.  Boylston fled to England, published his findings, and was elected to the Royal Society in 1726.  Mather died in 1728, as unrepentant about championing inoculation as he was in regard to the Salem Witch Trials.

Published in: on August 23, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Cotton Mather and Inoculation  
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August 22, 1864: Lincoln Addresses the 166th Ohio

Lincoln, six feet one in his stocking feet,

The lank man, knotty and tough as a hickory rail,

Whose hands were always too big for white-kid gloves,

Whose wit was a coonskin sack of dry, tall tales,

Whose weathered face was homely as a plowed field–

Abraham Lincoln, who padded up and down

The sacred White House in nightshirt and carpet-slippers,

And yet could strike young hero-worshipping Hay

As dignified past any neat, balanced, fine

Plutarchan sentences carved in a Latin bronze;

The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,

The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,

State-character but comparative failure at forty

In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,

Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,

Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,

And a self-confidence like an iron bar:

This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,

Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches

Which make the monumental booming of Webster

Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum.

Stephen Vincent Benet

(I originally posted this on February 9, 2012.  The comments it contains regarding my late son Larry reminds me that in this Vale of Tears we can never know the ending of our personal history, but we can do our best to make it a tale worth reading when we come to our end, something that I think both Mr. Lincoln and my son accomplished on vastly different scales.)

Today is the 203rd birthday of the Sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.  The above video is an interesting and imaginative interview of Lincoln, if the film technology of the Thirties of the last century had been available in 1860.

Lately I have been reading a book on Lincoln with my autistic son.  I point at the words and he reads them, an early morning ritual we have carried out for the last 14 years.  Young Lincoln’s struggles against the poverty of his early years, and his lack of more than one year in total of formal education, strikes a chord with me in regard to my son’s struggles against his autism.  One of the many reasons why I find Mr. Lincoln’s life endlessly fascinating is the theme throughout it of the most extraordinary possibilities in all of us, no matter the cards that Fate dealt to us initially. (more…)

Published in: on August 22, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 22, 1864: Lincoln Addresses the 166th Ohio  
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