BORING POSTCARDS I've collected stuff over the course of my life: Coins, stamps, sports cards, old maps, you name it. But always at some point I start to sniff the obsession, and then I go out and sell it all off. What I've got right now is a stack of old postcards. I was the first of my family in my generation to buy a house. That, and my known interest in historical stuff, prompted my parents to dump all the family white elephants on me. Stuff not worth anything or useful to anyone, but too much a part of the family to simply pitch in a Dumpster or set up on folding tables at a yard sale. Among the elephants were several albums full of old postcards. Some of them were fascinating. In the "why on earth would anyone make a postcard of this?" way. Not only did someone make it, my family bought it, or got it in the mail, and then hung on to it for 80 years. Like this one: It seems it's still there, converted to luxury apartments. But that's the kind of thing I almost don't want to know. I want to hold on to this picture, this day in 1929 or whenever, and wonder why my grandmother and her new husband ever moved, briefly, to Cleveland. Why they bought this but never sent it to anyone. Why they kept it. My favorite postcards are representations of the kind of places I imagine most people want to forget when they travel. Train stations, municipal buildings, grim and spiritless hotels. Like this one: People would make a postcard out of just about anything. "Factory of Wells Whip Co., Wellsville, Pa." And what a cheerful bit of architectural eye candy it is. To be fair, though, this appears to be a business postcard. On the back, in the space for message, is pre-printed, "On or about _____, C.M.S. Gruber will call on you with a complete line of Whips and Flynets of every description." Either a business postcard or BDSM fetish tease. The funny thing is, in the blank for a date is hand-written "soon." Some business! The company's motto is "Wells Whips Wear Well," which is such a tongue-twister it encourages the theory that this card is somehow meant to be sadistic. Did you know Shredded Wheat had a home? Did you know it was bigger than your home. True! And here is "The Home of Shredded Wheat, Niagara Falls, N.Y." Their motto is (or was) "It's all in the Shreds," which says it all while saying nothing at all. Unlike the whip card, this wasn't a business calling card. Someone actually mailed this to my great-great-grandmother. The writing seems to be a description of touring the plant. But the thing is postmarked "Colorado Springs." Go figure. I didn't add at once to the family albums. But I started dating a girl who collected antique jewelry. She'd haunt the antique malls and flea markets, looking for the perfect find. Rather than follow her like Mary's little lamb from stall to stall, I started flipping through the postcard bins. I decided if I never spent more than 10 cents on any one postcard, and avoided knowing anything about them, it wasn't really collecting. I don't specialize in anything except the blandly bizarre. I tend to like the old Atlantic City hotels, but it's not enough of a concentration to amount to a specialty. I couldn't tell you the history of the various printers, or the hallmarks of collectibility. And I love it like that. They show me what they choose to show and I accept it. What they mean to me is between me and them, and no Guide to Collectible Postcards comes between us. Here's the old Hotel Chalfonte in Atlantic City. I'm pretty sure this is where my grandparents stayed when they took summer trips down the Shore in the teens: It had Philadelphia Quaker owners dating back to 1868 and must have been a predictable and placid hotel by the time they established a base there. I've got an old book of matches from the place that I found in my grandfather's cigarette box decades after he died of heart disease. When gambling came in, the new money tore down the Chalfonte to make a parking lot for the Resorts casino it opened inside the shell of the bigger hotel next door, the former Haddon Hall. Here you can see what the scene looked like when the behemoth and glamorous Haddon replaced the older wooden version (which you can see a bit of in my postcard) in 1929. This, on the other hand, decidedly was not the kind of hotel where my grandparents would have stayed. Just look at that typeface, and the woman is scandalously dressed. No doubt a haunt of rich bootleggers. And the dropped apostrophe of "nations capitol" is not to be lightly forgiven by a family of schoolteachers. Sure enough, the inscription on the back reveals it was sent from one of the neighborhood girls to my two great-aunts back home. "250 rooms," 200 of them with bath! Modern! Fireproof! Which just reminds you that fire safety used to be one of the chief concerns of people booking hotels. Simms Restaurant Back when dining out was not considered to be a private experience for most people. Coatracks, hard chairs, small tables, and radiators spread around in a big open space. Here are two views of the Jersey Shore, circa 1930. The first is North Wildwood: It prominently features Ed Morton's Bit of Broadway, a popular restaurant run by a retired Vaudeville star who had been known as the "Singing Cop;" and it shows how far Skee Ball, sport of kings, had migrated in 20 years from its birthplace in Philadelphia. And this is Ocean City: The old Moorlyn Theater visible in the background survives, sort of. But Shriver's Salt Water Taffy is still going strong, much to the fiscal benefit of the dentists who have to replace the fillings it pulls right out of your teeth. What amuses me about this pairing, though, is that nowadays, Ocean City is "America's Family Fun Place," a dry town suitable for young children and old people (and with a zoning board's nightmare of liquor stores and dance clubs stacked up on the traffic circle just outside the city line). While Wildwood is where the teenagers go after graduation to take their first plunge into sin. But in these pictures the order seems reversed. North Wildwood (which admittedly is not quite Wildwood) features old people and families with young kids. While Ocean City features flappers and loafers who look like extras from a gangster film, that trio of bad-girl Clara Bow wanna-bes over on the left corner, and that disreputable fellow with the unmarked parcel on the right. A couple of New York City hotels; the Manger: ... and the Taft: It wasn't till I was scanning them in that I noticed they're the same building. Sure enough, the address is identical. Here's an interesting short history of the place The massive building on the east side of 7th Avenue between 50th and 51st turns 80 next year, but don't expect any birthday celebrations. For most New Yorkers, the boxy Spanish Renaissance structure barely registers, lost amidst sleek newcomers like Lehman Brothers' headquarters a block away. But the Hotel Taft, as this building was once known, has a long history that reflects all the frenzy of 20th-century Manhattan. When it opened as the Manger in November 1926 (on the site of a railway-car barn), it was the third-largest hotel in the city, with 20 stories, 1750 rooms and a special "key chute" on each floor that whisked lost items straight to the lobby desk. Among other things I learned, Jimmie Rodgers died here, far from his country music roots, in town to make recordings in a desperate bid to raise money to pay off his medical bills. The line, "For much of its history, the Taft was a low-priced and dependable tourist hotel" explains why these postcards got into my family collection. That was their kind of place. The grill was home base for Vincent Lopez and his dance band. Among the stars that began their career with Lopez were Artie Shaw, Xavier Cugot, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Tony Pastor. Also vocalists Betty and Marion Hutton sang with his orchestra but on one occasion, part-time saxophonist Rudy Vallee was told by Lopez NOT to sing... an order he evaded the minute Lopez left the bandstand. The hotel still operates under an upscale Italian chain as the Michelangelo, N.Y. But I think my favorite aspect of the Taft is that tap room. That's what a beer bar should be: A bunch of little tables, big enough to hold three pitchers and about 20 mugs, that you can push together at will to form whatever arrangement you please as the night goes on. Some ashtrays. Chairs. Period. Looking like a French chateau lifted by alien gravity beams and dropped whimsically atop an insurance company's headquarters, Philadelphia's Bellevue-Stratford Hotel rules over Broad Street in 1904, the year it opened as the most glamorous hotel in the nation. Two years later it became the home of the Philadelphia Assemblies, an annual social event that was like a debutante ball for grown-ups. According to Nathaniel Burt's Perennial Philadelphians, it is "of all Philadelphia's many institutions the most socially venerable and the most venerated, and combines in a fine bouquet almost everything characteristic of the city. It is both a club and a family occasion,and though a dance, involves food and drink, and a good deal of sitting." The Assemblies date back to colonial times (though it was not founded by Ben Franklin), and early guests are said to have included an Indian chief who terrified the ladies with a war dance, and his wife, who offered herself sexually to the governor of Pennsylvania in a traditional gesture of hospitality. Its exclusiveness is legendary, and the rules of who's on the list and who's not seem harsh and dated, but Burt (writing in the 1970s) found they served the purpose. If a daughter marries out of the Assembly, she stays out. A son however can marry anybody and stay in. "A man can bring his cook, if she's his wife," is the usual way of putting it. He can't bring her if she has been divorced, however, or come himself if he has been. In older days this hard and fast rule was said to have kept many Philadelphia marriages together, but now it just means the continual weeding out of possible subscribers. Archaic as the rule seems to outsiders, in as tight a world as this, most divorced members of the Assembly immediately remarry other divorced members of the Assembly, and if they all got together in the same room it might be deuced awkward. Needless to say, Mohawk maidens no longer were invited, though by the 20th century some of the debauched and eccentric Philadelphia gentry behaved little better. Nonetheless, in more recent times, as divorces and marriages out of class rose, some civic leaders from even the old families found they had to pull every wire in reach to get a daughter and her escort invited -- only to have them skip out early, finding the event insufferably stuffy. It seems likely (at least to me) the Assemblies are the source of the society slang phrase for "huge fashionable party where everyone knows everyone, characterized principally by socializing," said to have been coined by Averell Harriman's second wife: Philadelphia rat-fuck. The hotel was well past its prime when it hosted an American Legion convention in the summer of 1976 and hundreds fell mysteriously ill with what subsequently came to be called Legionnaire's Disease. The hotel closed for a while, and it has been remodeled and reopened several times since, as part of various chains, but its glory days are over. You can't get into the Assemblies, but you can get into the building and marvel at the marble stairs, hand-wrought iron railings, and gilt ceilings. But they sit awkwardly amid the upscale chain shops that now occupy the chopped-up and walled-up space of what used to be the large downstairs public areas. There was still an excellent and cozy bar on the top floor, last time I was there, where you can get nicely smashed in good old debauched Philadelphia style. The Lorraine Hotel on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. Now boarded up, awaiting a plan from its third owner in six years. My sister lives half a dozen blocks from here; we pass it by a lot. Home of Father Divine's kooky social gospel mission for half a century. These are scenes from the part of the world you miss now as you whizz down to Florida on I-95. There's still a hotel DeSoto at this address in Savannah, but it's a Hilton now and it looks nothing like this as far as I remember. Must have been a fire or something. Route 17 is the old Ocean Highway; it runs through some of the most extraordinary Spanish moss country along the Georgia coast. You can turn off it down near-dirt roads and find some of the best food imaginable. We like to linger there when we drive down South. Two examples of the first generation of resort hotels in America: Old Orchard House opened in 1837 in an old farm house and soon was serving summer vacationers from as far off as Montreal. The owners built a big new hotel for 300 guests. It burned down in 1875, but they replaced it with this 500-guest version. As this photo shows, the idyllic view above is somewhat deceptive: The walkway runs down, not to the beach, but to the railroad station that brought the tourists to town. Unlike most of the Jersey Shore postcards I have, the building in this one is still there It's the sole survivor of the golden age of grand hotels on Long Beach Island. The "borough of Surf City" where it was built originally was a region known as "Great Swamp." You have to think the real estate prospects were improved by the name change. The core of this old hotel seems to date back to the 1840s, and it was known as Harvey Cedars Hotel in its heyday in the late 1800s. This photo shows it as it was when the Philadelphia YWCA ran it as a women's vacation resort. The camp foundered in the Depression. This is a prize. It really does say "Shepard of the Hills," right? I'm not misspelling that? Then again, the owner really does seem proud of that "hot baked ham." And the "real coffee" As opposed to? "Free dancing." As opposed to? Perhaps this also was the first campsite owner to conceive the brilliant plan to whitewash the tree trunks to keep his predictably drunk patrons from ramming into them. I've lived in Pennsylvania most of my life, and I never heard of a "Van" except the one in Turkey. The "Lakes to Sea Highway" is a reminder of the pre-Eisenhower interstate system, when the government took a lot of random state roads between one place and another and connected them with lines on a map and gave it some grandiose name. Another one. Nothing written on the back, and I don't really know what one would write on the back of a postcard of the Milwaukee court house. "Wish you were here"? No, probably not. "Food is great. Having a wonderful time. Promised a police escort to state line"? Downtown Reno, Nevada, and another scenic view of a courthouse. It makes more sense here than in Milwaukee, though. That is, a vacation in Reno is more likely to involve a courthouse angle. I like how the bored artist at the postcard factory amused himself by painting highly improbable yellow, red, and blue hubcaps on the parked cars. See Mormons. See Mormons swim. Swim, Mormons, swim! Actually, floating seems to be the order of the day. You may think you saw this in a Monty Python animation, but you probably didn't. The Panama Canal under construction. Possibly the most boring postcard of all time. The little blurb on the back says, "The progress of the Panama Canal has been so rapid that it is almost ready for the ships of commerce that will use this gigantic sluiceway that has made two hemispheres out of one." Trying to compensate with breathless prose for what is essentially a colorized black-and-white photograph of standing water. Of course, if the modern Western media were a postcard company from the turn of the last century, it would be a picture of dead coolies and a headline about Roosevelt lied and an editorial asserting that this whole pointless adventure was a waste of life and international goodwill. Visitors in one of the galleries of the Hoover Dam. The blurb on the back calls this "one of America's great visitors' attractions," and with a boost from this psychedelic watercoloring job it's almost convincing. What a disappointment, though, when little Johnny gets there and discovers, "Aw, gee, mom, it's really just all a lot of gray concrete." The postcard says more than 2.5 million people have been through here. This lucky group just happened to be passing through when the cameraman set up his tripod, and thus have been apotheosized into scrapbooks all over the land. Too bad for us it was a tour group from some pre-Civil War sect that refused, on theological grounds, to smile for cameras. A couple for you Windy City fans: Back from the day when the Masonic Temple and the railway station and the market -- for chrissakes -- were the city's architectural wonders. An aerial view of the 1933 "Century of Progress" exhibition. Any of this still there? I guess the great dirigible of time has moved on. Care to guess on a date? I was thinking mid-1940s by the cars and the dress styles, but then I looked closely at the marquee at the Loew's State Theater, and you can see enough of the second feature title to make out what I guessed to be "Dr. Kildare Goes Home", which turns out to be a real film, released in 1940. The Loew's State was a classic big theater in mid-century. But, according to the site linked above, it converted to Spanish-language films in 1963, fell victim to urban decay, and wound up a church. According to this site, the Loew's State offered vaudeville as well as film (not uncommon in the teens) "enhanced by its own orchestra and chorus line." It said Judy Garland made her Los Angeles debut here as one of the Gumm Sisters in 1929. Here's another view of the corner, taken a couple of decades later. Street scene postcards seem to have been pretty common. At least, I have a lot of them. Big cities, small towns, it didn't really matter. Sometimes, though, there's not much there there. An orphan's home and an insane asylum. More proof that, once upon a time, they'd make a postcard of anything. And notice, once again, that they're far nicer than a modern apartment building or college dorm. Here is a ghost that haunts me: This was the Singer Company headquarters, a 612-foot-high tower of Beaux-Arts brick and steel at Broadway and Liberty streets in Manhattan. The architect, Ernest Flagg, loathed the skyscrapers then surging up to claim the profile of New York. Rather than build straight up from the lot lines, Flagg said, why not raise up graceful shafts out of lower-profile buildings? By doing so, he wrote, "we should soon have a city of towers instead of a city of dismal ravines." The Singer tower, on the remodeled company headquarters, captured that vision. But few followed it. When the tower was finished in 1908, it was the tallest building in the world. Here's what Manhattan looked like when the Singer was king. It only held the "world's tallest" designation for about a year, but it remained a famous New York landmark. Singer sold it in 1963, however, and it was torn down to make way for the U.S. Steel Building (now 1 Liberty Plaza). The flaw in Flagg's vision of a city of towers was a simple one of profit and numbers: The total area per floor in the Singer building was just over 4,200 square feet; the floors in 1 Liberty Plaza, a conventional big box skyscraper, measure about 37,000 square feet. Square feet = big bucks. Demolition of the Singer began in August 1967, just as the new king of skyscrapers, the World Trade Center, was rising up a few blocks to the west. And that's when the Singer building acquired another, temporary, world record. It was, at that time, the tallest building ever to be demolished. That record held until Sept. 11, 2001. Coolidge was one of the most "misunderestimated" presidents. His image is fixed for us, perhaps by H.L. Mencken's mocking quip that Coolidge was "the greatest man ever to come out of Plymouth, Vermont." His voice was "about as musical as the sound made by a buzz saw," and the man himself was once summed up as "repressed sentimentality chained in a prison of a smooth, flinty New England exterior." But a couple of stories I've read about him incline me to like him better, differences of politics aside. One hinges on his legendary taciturnity. A lady guest seated beside him at a dinner party said, "Oh, Mr. President, I bet a friend I could get more than two words out of you." Coolidge replied, "You lose." I don't know if that one is true or not (and I quote it from memory, so all caveats apply). But it is true that Coolidge is on the list of presidents whose terms were marred by the tragedy of a child's death. The list is remarkably long to us who live now and forget how remarkably common such losses were not so long ago, to paupers and presidents alike. Lincoln is on the list, of course, as is Coolidge's fellow New Englander Franklin Pierce, who with his wife endured a horrific railway crash two months before his inauguration. Their train-car derailed and rolled down an embankment and the Pierce's sole surviving child, a son named Bennie, was practically decapitated in front of their eyes. Mrs. Pierce never recovered her full sanity and thought the loss was somehow the price God exacted in exchange for the White House. Coolidge lost a young son to a blood infection that started as a blister. Even in 1924, medicine couldn't save him. The president seemed to take the loss in the same despairing spirit the Pierces had: Coolidge said, "In his suffering, he asked me to make him well. I could not. When he went, the power and the glory of the presidency went with him... The ways of Providence are often beyond our understanding. It seemed to me that the world had need of the work he could have done. I do not know why such a high price was exacted for occupying the White House. If I hadn't had the office, he may never have died." ... Subsequent to the Coolidges' personal tragedy, Coolidge made it clear that any young boy out at the White House fence who wanted to see him was to be ushered in. A friend of Coolidge's also lost a young son, to polio. In a book dedication, Coolidge wrote to his friend, "To Edward Hall, in recollection of his son and my son, who have the privilege, by the grace of God, to be boys through all eternity." This, on the other hand, strikes me as so full of phallic symbolism as to be borderline obscene -- from the spiking skyscraper to the memorial granite erection to the minuteman's musket to the very wheelwell paint scheme of the Gray Line tour bus. Now known as The Davis Building. Now with air conditioning! And radio! And boxing! Queen's Hotel, Montreal Le Manoir, Riviere du Loup, Quebec I can find very little interesting to say about either of these places. The Queen's Hotel obviously is not the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in the same city, where John and Yoko took to their beds in 1969 and therefore set of a worldwide media frenzy for some reason. It was once one of Montreal's best hotels, but in the way of hotels it fell on hard times before it was demolished in 1988. I learned that date via this loving reminiscence of a grandfather. Which is what is really interesting about this exercise of post card-chasing. You plunge your hand in the muddy stream of the Internet toward some random object, and you come up with a fistful of mud and pebbles. You meet mundane family letters of obscure stage actresses who stayed at the hotel. You also discover that there's an online button museum in which you can take a tour of the finest museums in the world, if by "tour" you mean a picture of their staff uniform buttons. The Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg is a pretty impressive pile of architecture. The old capitol burned down in 1897, and the new one was built (for the princely sum of $13 million) as a "palace of art." Pennsylvania had the good fortune to attempt this in one of the few periods in American history when that could be done with confidence, and without serious embarrassment. Governor Pennypacker (one of my favorite Pa. governors and one of the few honest ones) deidated the building on Oct. 4, 1906, which means it just turned 100. The architectural inspiration was St. Peter's Basilica. The interior is adorned with Carrara marble, murals (by Violet Oakley and Edwin Austin Abbey), gold leaf, stained glass, and sculptures. The most notable of the last are "Love and Labor, the Unbroken Law" and "The Burden of Life, the Broken Law" by George Grey Barnard, a disciple of Rodin. President Theodore Roosevelt, among others, found them moving: "I recognize in the foreground two symbols which are supremely contrasted. One is humanity pausing, dominated by the influence of past error. The other is humanity advancing, inspired by the gospel of work and brotherhood," Roosevelt said. Barnard's art, naturally, offended some folks since it included anatomically correct male nudes. But the Pennsylvanians didn't go as far school authorities at Kankakee (Ill.) Central School, Barnard's alma mater. Barnard caught them putting plaster shorts on the nude statues he had donated. When he died, his friends said, "all America would remember him because ... he left a trail of beauty across the whole United States." But we've forgotten him. His will asked that he be buried in Harrisburg Cemetery so he could rest near the statues he considered his masterpiece. The Connecticut state capitol building, erected in 1879, overlooks Hartford's 41-acre Bushnell Memorial Park. The capitol is less interesting than the park, from a historical point of view. Originally known as "City Park" (till it was renamed for the Rev. Horace Bushnell), the park dates to 1854, the first era of urban parks in America. City Park was the first park in the nation to be conceived, built and paid for by its citizens through popular votes. The great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a Hartford native, directed the layout of the park, which unfortunately was much impaired by a 1936 redesign after severe flooding. The Corning Fountain, in the foreground, was erected in 1899 and presented by John Corning (of Corning Glass Works fame), "as a tribute to his father, a Hartford businessman who operated a grist mill on the site." Designed by James Massey Rhind of New York, the sculpture uses a Native American theme, rather than a classical one, which would have been more typical of the period. The monument is made of marble and stone, 30 feet tall, with the figure of a stag (or "Hart" for Hartford) surrounded by Saukiog Indians, the city's first inhabitants. If you've been following this series of old boring postcards, you'll know something about my father's family and family friends circa 1890-1940. They went to safe, sober places like Cleveland and Myrtle Beach and Ocean City and the World's Fair. So how did this one slip into the collection? The caption on the back identifies the scene as Bombay, India! Exotic and decadent, with a swirl of curry in the fleshpots. And guess what? The postcard, however it found its way into their album, is still boring! INDEX - AUTHOR

Civil War: Secession

In the special session of the Georgia legislature that was called in November 1860 to consider secession, Robert Toombs, future Confederate Secretary of State, gave a forceful speech outlining the wrongs the South had endured. He recounted Northern political efforts to forever exclude slavery from Missouri, most of the Louisiana Purchase territory, California, and New Mexico. "The South at all times demanded nothing but equality in the common territories, equal enjoyment of them with their property, to that extended to Northern citizens and their property -- nothing more. They said, we pay our part in all the blood and treasure expended in their acquisition. Give us equality of enjoyment, equal right to expansion -- it is as necessary to our prosperity as yours." But at every turn they met resistance. And this was not because free men didn't want to compete with slave labor -- they didn't, but these were almost entirely agricultural territories. It was not because settlers from free states were bent on excluding all blacks, free and slave, from the territories -- even though they were. Instead, as Toombs told it, this amounted to a policy, and the policy was explicit in the Republican Party platforms. The target of the policy was not the West, but the South. From 800,000 slaves in the South in 1790, there were more than 4 million in 1860. "The country has expanded to meet this growing want, and Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, have received this increasing tide of African labor; before the end of this century, at precisely the same rate of increase, the Africans among us in a subordinate condition will amount to eleven millions of persons. "What shall be done with them? We must expand or perish. We are constrained by an inexorable necessity to accept expansion or extermination. Those who tell you that the territorial question is an abstraction ... are both deaf and blind to the history of the last sixty years. ... "The North understand it better -- they have told us for twenty years that their object was to pen up slavery within its present limits -- surround it with a border of free States, and like the scorpion surrounded with fire, they will make it sting itself to death." Sen. Toombs and a great many other men of the times knew that African slavery presented the South with a complex burden. It couldn't just be dropped, and in fact to cut it off and hem it in, as the Republicans proclaimed they would do, would have caused a crisis and could have brought on open war between blacks and whites. Marx realized this when he wrote his dictum that the American Civil War was fought over slavery. He wrote that a "strict confinement of slavery within its old terrain," cut off from any possibility of expansion, would cause it to reach a crisis and collapse the entire social system of that region of America. Of course to Marx, with his class consciousness, this meant the "so-called poor whites" would rise against the planter class. And as a European and a socialist, he approved. The Southerners saw the same case, but the outcome in their minds was Haiti; slave rebellion that would wipe one or the other race clean off the earth of the Deep South. It was openly discussed in North and South whether white or black would triumph in what was to come. The wire-pulling over the Morrill tariff bill in 1860 showed the party of the abolitionists cynically using a legitimate government mechanism to gain power in a presidential election. It indicated to the South what this party would do once it got its hands on the U.S. military and on the financial machinery of the nation. Legality My reading in the Founders (Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Washington), not just in excerpts but in entire correspondences and publications, makes me think they would have regarded the dissolution of the United States, under any circumstances, as a great tragedy, and the undoing of all they had worked and sacrificed to create. Yet they did not forbid it. They had the opportunity to do so, when they wrote the Constitution in 1787, and they let it pass. They had the opportunity throughout the next two generations, when America was essentially governed by the men who had crafted the Constitution. Adams, Madison, Jefferson certainly during their presidencies did not shy from attempts to modify the government they had created. (I get the feeling they regarded the Constitution as a lot more organic and fluid than we do today, open to rewriting and evolution, but that's a topic for another place). In Washington's "Farewell Address," he told the citizens of the United States that union was "a main Pillar in the Edifice of your real independence," and something to be carefully guarded. But if he had thought it was inviolable, he would have simply said so, and not spent so much time pleading with Americans to think of themselves as a single nation and to foster good relations between the regions. The union, Washington wrote, was an experiment, albeit one that should be given time to prove itself. " 'Tis well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to Union [he's just listed some of them], affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason, to distrust the patriotism of those, who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bonds." In 1803, Federalists objected to the Louisiana Purchase because it would make the nation too large. True democracies must be small, according to received wisdom, and a nation so large as the United States were becoming would either lose its institutions or split. The idea did not bother Thomas Jefferson. "Whether we remain in one confederacy, or form into Atlantic and Mississippi confederacies, I believe not very important to the happiness of either part. Those of the Western confederacy will be as much our children & descendants as those of the Eastern." He wrote that if those of the Mississippi valley should "see their interest in separation, why should we take side with our Atlantic rather than our Mississippi descendants? It is the elder and the younger son differing. God bless them both, & keep them in Union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better." [1] During the War of 1812, when New England was making a serious bid to separate from the Union, Adams and Jefferson, as retired presidents, corresponded about this effort, and the personalities behind it. Both men thought it a foolish bid by petty minds who put selfish and regional interests over national good. Jefferson wrote as much, too, in a letter to Lafayette in France. But nowhere did either man write anything like, "The states can't secede because it's not constitutional to do so." They did not call it illegal, in public or private. They did not claim the union of states was legally unbreakable. During the South Carolina nullification crisis of the early 1830s, I see the same thing in the public and private writing of Madison (Jefferson and Adams both being dead by then, of course). He deplores the drift toward disunion; he says the crisis at hand does not rise to the level of anything that would justify secession -- but he does not deny the right to secede. I think the Founders left that door unlocked, and prayed (to a non-denominational "providence") that it would never be needed or used. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, often cited to show the Founders' support for the right to secede, read like a desperate bid to hold the country together in the face of a deplorable drift toward federal tyranny over the states.

Civil War: Lackofwill

Among historians, the dominant view of the Confederacy for the last generation or so has been the "lack-of-will" thesis. Despite a tenacious rear-guard action, the old "Lost Cause" thesis of a unified Confederacy went down in the '60s, shattered by batteries of scholarship. But new distortions have been built into the prevailing paradigm of the last 40 years, which offers the vision of a Confederacy collapsing under the weight of its own internal contradictions. A Southern government abandoned by its people, rejected and repudiated by every non-slaveholding white person, fighting with an army of disgruntled draftees. That is some people's estimation of the rebel army. As one who spent years studying Northern troops in battle, I had to wonder, "Who, then, were the grey-clad troops that my regiments encountered on the fields of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg and Spotsylvania? Surely it wasn't this army of slaves, who only stayed in their ranks out of fear. They fought hard; they fought smart; and they and fought not just to survive, but to win. In many battles they were cornered and offered the chance to surrender and refused it, and they fought on and they died. Where was the other CSA, that fought so aggressively and so well right up to the spring of 1865? The one my blue-clad regiments had bloodied themselves against at Fort Fisher? At Cold Harbor? at Petersburg?" Yet some people seem uninterested in the contrast between the Confederacy they portray as unworkable and flying apart almost from its inception, and the tenacious fight put up by the South for so long, in the face of great hardship. You can read more here about the evolving historical view of the South. Within the last eight years or so, this fixation with Southern "lack of will" has been questioned by some of the most active and able historians, who believe we have replaced one unbalanced view with another. Such questioning invites a charge of "neo-Confederate," or worse, from people who have some political or personal investment in the prevailing paradigm. This questioning is not the work of a lot of "moonlight-and-magnolia" sentimentalists. Many of them are not Southern-born; many have no ancestors who fought the war. One of them is James McPherson, the dean of American Civil War historians, who, after examining letters and diaries of 374 Confederate soldiers, wrote in "What They Fought For" [1994] that, "I found less evidence of the 'rich man's war/poor man's fight' attitude in soldiers' letters than I expected, given the prevalence of this theme in recent scholarship." George Rable, in "The Confederate Republic," writes, "Indeed, what remains most remarkable about the Confederacy was not its internal weaknesses -- political, social, or economic -- but its staying power and especially the ability of so many men and women to endure and make sacrifices." William Blair's extensive 1995 study of Virginia concluded that the "vast majority" of the common people remained loyal to the Confederacy even when they grew dissatisfied with the government and their rich neighbors. He also found that planters there showed much more concern for the poor than they have generally been given credit for. It may well have been a self-interested concern. But it existed, and any conception of the Confederacy that leaves it out is willfully misleading. Steven Elliott Tripp's study of artisans and semi-skilled workers in Lynchburg, Va., found that "although they hated conscription and elite privilege, white workers hated Yankees more and devoted themselves to the Confederate cause." Some of the rhetoric of the "lack-of-will" partisans is so one-sided you'd think there was no North at all in the war, just the South fighting against itself. After Appomattox, when the surviving Confederate leaders fell into a big blame game over who lost the war, someone asked George Pickett his opinion of who was responsible for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg, and he replied, "I've always thought the Yankees had something to do with it." Even the "lack-of-will" historians often pause to admire the South's sustained effort, ignoring the begged question that this reveals. Steven Hahn, obsessed with "inherent contradictions and class conflict," still emphasizes that "the Confederate nation managed to command sufficient social unity to struggle on for four years," because "backwoods farmers, sacrificing their lives in great numbers, ... formed the backbone of the war effort and enabled the Southern armies to remain in the field as long as they did." The authors of "Why the South Lost the Civil War" spend more than 400 pages discussing the internal weakness of the Confederacy. Then they write that "Confederates fought harder than Americans ever fought, or needed to fight, facing far more formidable opposition than Americans ever confronted, and without allies." As an American I'd hate to think the thing they were fighting for, in their hearts, was the power to keep black people as slaves, or, worse, because they were dupes of conniving aristocrats. The South lost; therefore we search the record for evidence of why the South had to lose. Had the North gone down to defeat, you could as easily write 800 pages on the surviving documentary and literary evidence on "Why the North Lost the Civil War." A close look at that effort is often breathtaking. Jonathan M. Bryant in 1996 published a study of Greene County, Ga., which had an 1860 population of 1,075 white males age 13 to 45. The county sent 800 men into eight companies of regular infantry and cavalry and hundreds more into militia units. "Virtually all of the county's military-age males of all class backgrounds, plus many older men and some boys, served in the Confederate armed forces or the militia during the war," he concluded. Having studied military records on a county level in the North, I can tell you, that's as astonishing as it looks. Bryant focused on four regular companies and derived a 30 percent mortality rate of men in service, 14 percent discharged as permanently disabled, only 14 men listed as official deserters, and one-quarter of the 141 who were left in service at the surrender at Appomattox having been wounded at least once. The Confederacy mobilized between 750,000 and 850,000 men, which translates into an amazing 75 to 85 percent of its available draft-age white military population (The presence of slaves, to keep the economy moving, allowed this, but so did the work of women on the yeoman farmsteads). The losses the South took would translate into, say, six million U.S. battle casualties in World War II (instead of 961,977, the actual figure); nearly a million in Vietnam, instead of 201,000. Yet they lost the war, and, to the "lack-of-will" partisans, this makes the Confederacy a failed society. There's a danger of circular reasoning in this, and it sets the bar of "commitment to the cause" awfully high. Is total victory or total annihilation the only proof of "commitment"? Half of the Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded. How many more would have had to take a bullet to qualify as "commitment"? What if there had been a Confederate equivalent of Sherman's march? The response of my little corner of Pennsylvania to the rebel incursion of 1863 doesn't present much prospect of a glorious home front stand. Bell Wiley downplays Northern disaffection, both in the ranks and at home, while stressing the "depth of the North's devotion to the Union." Where is the Confederate equivalent of the political dissent of the 1862 and 1864 elections? Of the New York City draft riots? Of the widespread unrest over the suspension of habeas corpus? Or the estimated 90,000 -- as a low-end figure -- Americans who fled to Canada during the war as deserters or draft dodgers? "The alienated elements of the American population during the Revolution were probably larger than in the South during the Civil War," McPherson wrote. "Many slaves ran away to the British, while the Loyalist whites undoubtedly weakened the American cause more than the disaffected nonslaveholders weakened the Confederate cause. Yet the Americans triumphed and the Confederates did not. It is easy to exaggerate the amount of class conflict and yeoman alienation in the Confederacy; some historians have done just that. "... If the South had its class conflict over the theme of a rich man's war and poor man's fight, so did the North. If the Confederacy had its bread riots, the Union had its draft riots, which were much more violent and threatening. If many soldiers deserted from the Confederate armies, a similarly large percentage deserted from Union armies until the autumn of 1864, when the Confederate rate increased because of a perception that the war was lost and further sacrifice was useless. Note that this rising Southern desertion rate was primarily a result of defeat, not a cause." Instead, late 20th century scholarly preoccupation has often zeroed in on evidence of discontent within the Confederacy. It was real, and the evidence for it is substantial. The emphasis on it corrects earlier, over-simplistic theories. But it should not continue to be the whole picture, and to crowd into the shadows the majority of white southerners who supported the war. Gary W. Gallagher's "The Confederate War" [1997] is a handsome little book, engagingly written. Here, from Gallagher's introduction: "Letters, diaries, and newspapers reveal a widespread expectation of Confederate success and tenacious popular will rooted in a sense of national community and closely attuned to military events. In March 1864, a point in the war when many modern scholars describe a Confederacy enveloped in despair and defeatism, Lucy W. Otey penned a letter that evinced common sentiments. Alluding to contributions of clothing for soldiers in Lee's army, Otey observed that "they are raised through the energetic and persevering efforts of Southern Women who can never faint or tire, in animating and sustaining the brave Soldiery of this Confederacy, while struggling for our Independence!" So long as the men remained in the field, stated Otey, "there are loving hearts and busy hands at home--praying and toiling, for their preservation and success!" Eight months later a young woman in Milledgeville, Georgia, lamented the fall of her city to Federal troops but expressed undiminished loyalty to the Confederacy: "The yankee flag waved from the Capitol Our degredation was bitter, but we knew it could not be long, and we never desponded, our trust was still strong. No, we went through the house singing, 'We live and die with Davis.' How can they hope to subjugate the South. The people are firmer than ever before." A signed letter proves what the writer wanted the recipient to believe on such and such a day. Especially a letter from a politician. Beyond that, you have to use a little common sense in treating communications. Is it public or private? What is the context? In the wake of the anti-draft riots, Lincoln writes to the Democratic governor of New York [Aug. 7, 1863], "We cannot match the rebels in recruiting our armies if we waste time to re-experiment with the volunteer system, already deemed by Congress, and palpably, in fact, so far exhausted as to be inadequate." He's probably not giving an accurate statement about the rebel recruiting abilities in this sentence. The dust jacket blurb, by Prof. McPherson, reads, "The best interpretive study of the Civil War, or at least of the Confederacy, to have appeared in a good many years. Gallagher has an almost unparalleled command of sources, both primary and secondary. His sound common sense, incisive analysis, and forceful and lucid literary style have produced a superb book." Eugene Genovese wrote of Gallagher's book, "In this bold, high spirited, well argued -- and indispensable -- book, Gary Gallagher does justice to the extraordinary courage and tenacity with which the white people of the South fought to establish their claims to national self-determination. And in so doing, he respectfully refutes prevalent but wrong-headed judgments." Gallagher, in an interview, said, "Common sense should play more of a role in historical evaluation than it often does. To be able to wage war, the Confederacy was willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of its young men and suffer the destruction of its economy. In terms of military casualties, Confederates sacrificed far more than any other generation of white Americans in U.S. history. Yet the South still fought. This would suggest broad popular support for the war." And ... "Many, if not most, Southerners viewed their struggle as identical to that of the colonies during the American Revolution. They honestly believed they had a right to secede from what they perceived as a despotic central government bent on destroying the institution of slavery. They knew that the early Republic had slaves and that the Constitution at that time protected slavery." I think the correction will be made, in time, and that the lens of academic history will be refined, in its focus on the Civil War. The prejudices of an earlier generation have been dispatched. It's time to stop pushing so hard in that direction. Of course, some individuals will persist, clinging to an exploded dogma that suits their personal needs, long after it has been reversed or modified by honest seekers of wisdom. Much like the Lost Causers did in the last century. Progress is like that. A few people always choose to be left behind.

Civil War: Stevens

Thaddeus Stevens, at first glance, looks like God's gift to Lancaster, Pennsylvania's, quest to be a mecca for 21st century historical tourism. Unstained by race prejudice, he shines bright against the dismal background of 19th century white America. He connects our collective past with a future we still yearn for, when a diverse United States will fairly share her national blessings. His mulatto housekeeper, Lydia Smith, was an object of rumor and scandal during her life, and speculation by historians. Whatever the truth of it, Stevens' relationship with his employee seems to be a model of mutual respect in an age when black women got scant dignity in Northern white households. Besides, Thad's old home and office sit smack in the bootprint of revitalization, on the half-block of downtown Lancaster that was marked for demolition to make way for the new convention center. The guardians of local history stepped in, and that plan changed. His house and office offer an ugly and uninspired example of 19th century architecture, which is wholly in step with the character of the man. Stevens wore a wig cut the same way all around, so he wouldn't have to bother about which side was the front. He pursued his political visions with vindictive force, reckless of the consequence. He brought a tangled, bullying personality to his work as a legislator. I think it's worthy to memorialize him. Any American as powerful and influential as Stevens was ought to be remembered, whether you like him or not. But if you're going to raise up a statue, it pays to think first about how you'll pose the man. My question is, do we intend to treat Thaddeus Stevens as a full-blooded figure from a complex and turbulent history, or as a cardboard god of civil rights? Start with another question: Did he hate slavery more than he hated the South? I have studied his works and writings for years, and I confess I cannot decide. Stevens was born and raised in Vermont. He had a deformed foot, and his father was a drunk who couldn't hold a job and eventually abandoned his family. Thaddeus' mother worked as a maid and housekeeper to support her children. He left no autobiography, but it is difficult not to see his early struggles as the force that shaped his lifelong resentment of privilege. "He sympathized with the poor, the perpetually downtrodden, and the outcaste [sic];" according to one local account, "and was willing that there be retribution for them at the expense of others. ... His interest in the Negro was largely resultant from the fact that they were poor; and Stevens knew, from his own youth, the meaning of poverty." A fellow Congressman said of Stevens, "He seemed to feel that every wrong inflicted upon the human race was a blow struck against him." Stevens put himself through Dartmouth College, studied law in York and opened a law practice in Gettysburg. By 1821 he was prosperous enough to invest in real estate and iron foundries. He rose to prominence in Pennsylvania when ignorant popular suspicion of the Masonic order erupted into a bizarre conspiracy-theory movement. Since Masons were typically a fraternity of the privileged, Stevens eagerly joined the crusade against them, and it propelled him into the Pennsylvania legislature. His tenure there showcased the best and the worst of the man. He helped lead a witch hunt against the Masons and other secret societies. He used his position to benefit his business, may have manipulated elections, and certainly bribed newspaper editors. Yet while in Harrisburg he also delivered a brilliant speech that single-handedly saved the state's infant public school system from an attempt to abolish it by the wealthy and devout. And he fought the state Constitution of 1838, which took away from black males the right to vote. When the political tide in Pennsylvania turned against the Anti-Masonics, Stevens refused to yield power and the governor had to call in armed militia to bring order in the state Legislature. By 1839, he was out of power and almost broke. His iron mill was failing, and the Anti-Masons had been absorbed into the elitist Whig Party. Stevens was past 50 and had evidently failed in life when he came to Lancaster in 1842 and moved into the property that local folks came to call "Old Thad's House," just past the northeast corner of South Queen and East Vine streets. He bought the lot and the two houses at sheriff's sale April 21, 1843, for $4,000. He lived in the north-most one, except when he was in Washington, until his death in 1868, and he was buried from it. Stevens probably saw the move as a fresh start in the last bastion of Anti-Masonic power in the state, as well as a chance to put his finances in order by practicing law in a wealthy county. An outsider, politically at odds with the powers, Stevens characteristically bulled his way through the local social strata. Stevens "cared nothing for social life," in the words of one local authority, and as a self-described "impious" man, he made no attempt to win over deeply religious Lancaster County. Instead, within six months he cowed the local lawyers with his intellect, command of the law and unerring nose for the crucial legal points of a case. Stevens had boarded at a hotel when he lived in Gettysburg. But when he moved to a house in Lancaster, he had to find a housekeeper. There was a class of unmarried or widowed women who managed the cooking, cleaning, laundry and household concerns of bachelor professional men like Stevens. Stevens' search eventually led him to Lydia Hamilton Smith, a mulatto widow in Gettysburg with two small children. Smith took the job in 1848, moved with her family to Lancaster, and stayed with Stevens until his death. Smith and her two boys lived in "a one-story frame house on the rear of Mr. Stevens' lot, fronting on South Christian street," according to a 1924 article in the Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society. Stevens lived in the main house with his two nephews, both of whom also worked as lawyers in the city. Smith was "assumed by gossips and the press to be his mistress." Historians are divided on the issue. Nothing has been proven, but when asked about the rumors, Stevens only denied being the father of Smith's sons. The innuendos were printed and reprinted, and Stevens, veteran of dozens of libel suits, never brought action. In July 1866, the "Lancaster Intelligencer," a Democratic party organ, wrote, "Nobody doubts that Thaddeus Stevens has always been in favor of negro equality, and here, where his domestic arrangements are so well known, his practical recognition of his pet theory is perfectly well understood. ... There are few men who have not given to the world such open and notorious evidence of a belief in negro equality as Thaddeus Stevens. A personage, not of his race, a female of dusky hue, daily walks the streets of Lancaster when Mr. Stevens is at home. She has presided over his house for years. Even by his own party friends, she is constantly spoken of as Mrs. Stevens. ..." Stevens had brought a libel action against the "Intelligencer" in 1858 when it called him a gambler. This time, he was silent. He insisted that she be called "Mrs. Smith," not "Lydia;" he hired Jacob Eichholtz to paint her portrait; and he left her $5,000 in his will -- all unusual signs of respect for a white lawyer to show a black housekeeper, but Stevens was not typical of his times or his class. Through the 1840s, Stevens took in many law students, who eventually became a loyal cadre of young political allies. He paid down his debts and made trouble in the local Whig Party. He was execrated by the pro-Whig "Lancaster Examiner" newspaper as a "pestilent demagogue." The "Intelligencer" went the "Examiner" one better a few years later and called him "a pestiferous political demagogue." In the chaotic election year 1848 Stevens won the county's seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, perhaps in exchange for his faction's support of the Whig candidate for governor. In Washington, when he took his seat in Congress, Stevens found a new focus for his contempt for elites: the Southern slaveholders. Growing up, he would have absorbed the New England Puritan's deep-grained hatred of the Cavalier society of the old South. His baiting nature loved to get under their skins, and twist their codes of honor and old-fashioned politeness. After his first term, Howell Cobb, the Georgian who was Speaker of the House, summed him up: "Our enemy has a general now." Stevens owed his political success, such as it was throughout his life, to his skill at playing the game -- the wire-pulling and dirty tricks that characterized politics in those days. But ultimately he succeeded because he could inflame the electorate's resentments. First he rallied them against the benign Masonic lodges, then, more powerfully, against the South. Most Pennsylvanians had no love for abolitionists, whom they regarded as meddling and immoral. Pennsylvanians were deeply prejudiced against blacks and had no humanitarian love of slaves. In fact, they were busy petitioning the Legislature to pass laws that would bar blacks from entering Pennsylvania. In 1851, Stevens ran the defense of the Christiana Rioters from behind the scene and helped win their acquittals. But the anti-slavery violence in Christiana helped spark a backlash against him and within a year he was out of Congress and back in Lancaster. When the new, anti-slavery Republican Party formed in the mid-1850s, Stevens helped organize it in Pennsylvania. The Republican Party in Pennsylvania in the 1850s played down its abolitionist leanings to win votes. For a time, it even avoided the name "Republican," which was too tainted with abolitionism. Instead, Stevens and the fledgling Republicans convinced Northern voters that they were in danger of political subjugation to "slave power" and that their very rights and freedoms were at risk from Southern aristocrats. What was worse, he told them their economic security was at risk. Men in the South, seeking advantage, were telling their own people similar stories about the North. Secession and disunion were murmured in both sections, and the politicians of division, of fear, of hatred, fanned it. Stevens rode the Republican Party into Congress again in 1858. He was unanimously renominated every two years thereafter through 1866, often running unopposed or against mere token Democratic competition. After the Southern states left the union, but before the shooting started, many people on both sides worked hard for a compromise. But Stevens, who held a powerful committee position, opposed any concession to the South. He frustrated even President Lincoln, who had staked his career and destiny on union at all costs. Lincoln wanted to keep the Southern stars on the flag. Stevens wanted to let them go so he could punish them. Little more a year and a half into the war, Stevens wrote in a private letter that he hoped the leadership in Washington had "a sufficient grasp of mind, and sufficient moral courage, to treat this as a radical revolution, and remodel our institutions .... It would involve the desolation of the South as well as emancipation; and a re:peopling of half the Continent. This ought to be done but it startles most men." He became the House leader of the faction of his party known as the Radicals, who "were primarily responsible for turning the struggle into a war not only to preserve the Union but also to extinguish slavery," in one historical judgment. On March 28, 1864, Stevens proposed a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, with no mention of compensation to slave-owners. That fall, after Lincoln's re-election and a string of Northern battlefield victories, it was taken up again and ultimately passed, in basically the form Stevens wrote it, to become the 13th Amendment. After Appomattox, the Radicals opposed President Lincoln's plan for quickly re-uniting and healing the broken nation. When Lincoln's assassination brought Andrew Johnson to power, the new president tried to continue the reconciliation. But Stevens wanted to crush the institutions and culture that had upheld the Confederacy. His faction led the impeachment of Johnson in trumped-up charges. Stevens would have impeached Lincoln himself if he thought he could have gotten away with it. The Radicals nullified Johnson's program and unleashed the hounds of "Reconstruction" on the South. Thomas Dixon made Stevens the basis for the character "Stoneman," the malevolent Northerner, in 1905 when he published "The Clansman," the book which formed the basis of the film "Birth of a Nation." We were, and to some extent still are, two nations under one flag, and Stevens simply hated the other one. He advocated what now would be called ethnic cleansing. You cannot sanctify Stevens without involving the whole man. In the past year, local voices have pumped up the circumstantial evidence that Stevens may have taken a hand in the "Underground Railroad." Making out that Stevens directly helped runaway slaves escape to Canada pushes him into the pantheon of liberators and emancipators. And that certainly is a good thing if you want to market your history based on civil rights alone. Stevens well may have helped runaway slaves flee. But there's no unambiguous evidence of it. In fact, since it was an illegal activity, a clever and controversial Congressman who was breaking the law would likely not leave a paper trail for subsequent generations to discover. The truth probably will never be known. What we do know is that, in addition to his progressive attitudes about race, he was an uncompromising man bent on narrow political goals that bled into his personal traumas. And he often practiced a brand of politics stoked by fear and hatred. That succeeds today as it did in 1860, and, now as then, it often gets innocent people killed. Stevens died in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 11, 1868, less than three months after the acquittal of Johnson on impeachment charges that Stevens had largely engineered. Stevens was buried in Shreiner's Cemetery, at Chestnut and Mulberry streets in Lancaster, four days later. Lancaster Cemetery and Woodward Hill Cemetery, the city's prominent burial grounds, were restricted to whites. Stevens' grave lies, according to the wish engraved on his tomb, in Shreiner's small cemetery, "that I might be enabled to illustrate in my death the principles which I have advocated throughout a long life." Lydia Smith died in a hospital in Washington on Feb. 14, 1884. Her funeral was held from the old Stevens home, then owned by George Heiss, a prominent tobacco dealer and city councilman. She was buried in St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery, at the church where she long had been a member.


PUBLIC VIRTUE After the Revolution, Americans were republicans but they did not agree on what a republic looked like. The political philosophies came in a thousand exceptions, shades, and hybrids, but away from the center stood two powerful poles, which have been described as the "classical/puritan" model of republicanism and the "modern/agrarian" model. That they tended to have their bases in different ends of the new nation, the first in New England and the second in the South, is no accident. This touches on the image of Roundhead New England vs. Celtic South. It's an overworked cliche, but there's an element of truth in any idea around long enough to be a cliche. Different strains of republicanism flourished in between -- in Dutch New York and Quaker Jersey and Pennsylvania. And they played important roles in the young nation. But the two poles of republicanism remain solid anchors in our national life, and it is impossible to understand America's maddening contradictions without reference to them. As Americans set up their infant republic, one of the images foremost in their minds was how republics die. All the classical republics, then knew, had come to an end in anarchy and then tyranny. Classical and modern writers had taken up the theme of the death of a republic so often and so minutely that by the 18th century the process could be described in almost clinical medical terms. The learned men knew it from their classical educations, and the common people knew it from the popular plays of the day, such as "Julius Caesar" and Addison's "Cato" (which Washington had performed for the troops at Valley Forge, notwithstanding a Congressional ban on theaters).* The vital principle in keeping a republic alive was public virtue. This was virtue in the classical, not the Christian, definition. The Christian, seeking to be not of this world in Roman times, turned pagan virtue on its head. Classical virtue was not meek. It strove to be first in doing good for one's country and coveted the glory that comes with unrelenting devotion to the good of the people. It expressed itself in endurance, industry, frugality, and probity -- many of which were consistent with Christianity. Gertrude Himmelfarb has ably condensed the classical idea of virtue as "the will and capacity to put the public interest over the private." This was the pulse and ichor of a republic. Washington said it plainly in his Farewell Address, "It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government." His successor, John Adams, wrote, "There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real liberty." It was obvious to the Founders that public virtue could be the province of free men only. One who was bound by debt or loyalty to other men was not free to give himself totally to the good of the public. That accounts for the Founders' general horror of debts, banks, lenders, and mortgages. It accounts for the requirement in many states that voters or office-holders be men of a certain income or property. This was at heart a republican, not an aristocratic, principle. But North and South diverged on how best to keep the tree of public virtue well-watered and flowering. The puritan republicans upheld personal morality as the solution: A virtuous people could not help but be a virtuous republic. Agrarians looked to the structure of a limited government and to an ordered, hierarchic society to keep the republic healthy. The puritan approach led to dence volumes of blue laws in New England states. Everything under the sun was considered in light of whether it might weaken the republic, and thus everything was properly subject to regulation or proscription. The result, in the extreme, was a totalitarian liberty: One was free to do anything, so long as it was not against the best interest of all. John Adams was the embodiment of this republican philosophy. Moral to the point of austerity, he railed against "vanities, levities, and fopperies." Of his children, he wrote with pride, "They shall live upon thin Diet, wear mean Cloaths, and work hard, with Chearfull Hearts and free Spirits." At least one Pennsylvanian, surveying the New England society, was reminded of the Spartans, who, the Athenian Alcibiades remarked, were so fearless in battle because death "is a welcome relief to them from such a life as they are obliged to lead." All of which makes a stark contrast to the indolence, passion, and leisure ethic of the Southerners. Historians' views of the political philosophy of the South during the Revolution tend to miss the mark because the writers are dazzled by the twin stars of Jefferson and Madison. The two friends had a potent impact on America, but, as Southern men, they were exotics. A more typically Southern view of the republican problem is represented by John Taylor of Caroline, who wrote, "The more a nation depends for its liberty on the qualities of individuals, the less likely it is to retain it. By expecting publick good from private virtue, we expose ourselves to publick evils from private vices." It was a frank repudiation of the puritan model. But it was not original to him. Like the puritans, the agrarians had a battery of writers at their fingertips, such as Bolingbroke and the authors who published under the title "Cato's Letters." To them, the ownership of property, unencumbered by debt, was the rock foundation of republican independence, virtue, and liberty. New Englanders believed in this, too, but the Southerners made it a dogma. This led them to see the hierarchy which already existed among them as a bulwark of the republic: In their vision, the masses of slaves did the labor, and the citizens -- by definition free white males -- thus stood on a republican equality. As DeBow wrote, "No white man at the South serves another as a body servant, to clean his boots, wait on his table, and perform the menial services of his household. ... He is a companion and an equal." At least ideally, and socially. But there was a class of men at the top of the social order whose plantations gave them such independence and leisure that they could devote themselves wholly to public virtue, without regard for keeping food on the table. John C. Calhoun was the epitome of such a man. One reason Southerners so dominated the republic in its early generations was that the leading Northern men in Congress frequently had to drop government business or retire from office for a time and go home to make money or plow their fields. The Southern senators did not. As odious as much of the old South is to modern attitudes, it had the approval of history. The Spartan, Athenian, and Roman republics -- the principal examples available to the Founders -- all were built on essentially the same social and economic model, with a mass of slaves at the bottom. Indeed, the very fact of slavery among them made the Southern men more zealous about protecting liberty. Edmund Burke, looking to the Southern colonies, guessed it right in 1775, answering the question that puzzled so many Englishmen: Why the love of liberty was so strong among those who held slaves. Where this is the case in any part of the world, those who are free are by far the most proud and jealous of their freedom. Freedom is to them not only an enjoyment, but a kind of rank and privilege. Not seeing there, that freedom, as in countries where it is a common blessing and as broad and general as the air, may be united with much abject toil, with great misery, with all the exterior of servitude; liberty looks, amongst them, like something that is more noble and liberal. If the paradox of the North was totalitarian liberty, the paradox of the South was aristocratic liberty. As in the Athenian democracy, the people were to be consulted directly only upon the most dangerous and important questions -- such as secession. South Carolina still chose its presidential electors in the state government in 1860. Rigorous private moral virtue was not necessary in the agrarian republican model -- and was little esteemed among men in the South. Instead, jealousy of power and careful attention to governance would keep the flame of public virtue alive. Govern well, put men of pure virtues and total leisure in power, guard against demagogues and tyrants, and live as well as you please. Instead of the New England ideal of a government that put its thumb down on every amusement and vice, the Southerners favored a minimal government on every level, with few restrictions and coercions. Now, think of America today, and do you not sense both those forms of republicanism -- Adams and Taylor -- twisted into our national sinews? They come up convoluted sometimes -- how is it that the very liberal modern idea of a right to privacy would be more appealing to a Southern slaveholder of 1776 than to a free farmer of Massachusetts? Which one would find it more essential to national survival to constitutionally ban gay marriage? The Civil War upended and destroyed the South's social order, which was the basis of its political order. The Southern culture was subsumed into a Yankee-built national political regime to which it was temperamentally ill-suited. Might this not explain some of the role of the South in modern American politics? Or this: Parisians used to say that Paris was the France of France. Texas, settled out of the hill country of Georgia and Alabama, by the most distilled and purified of the Southern whites, was the South of the South. But what's missing, what I always miss when I lay the present atop the past and look at my country, is public virtue. I think the Founders, if they could urge on us one book every American should read in his education, would choose Plutarch's "Lives" -- a textbook on classical public virtue. I once wanted to do a version of it that could be easily read on a 6th grade level. Younger, if possible. * The influence of theater on Revolutionary-era politics probably was enormous, and I don't know if anyone has studied it properly. Otway's "Venice Preserved," for example, was one reason Venice was not brought up among the model republics when America's Founders were doing their work. How different the country might have been without that now-forgotten play. INDEX - AUTHOR

Civil War: York

This happened in York, Pennsylvania, a small city where people who lived only a few blocks apart lived in separate worlds -- in what a local newspaper has called "a de facto segregated and discriminatory system supported by city government." William Lee Smallwood, now a city councilman, said, "I remember as a teen-ager being routinely stopped by the cops when they'd see me with a white girl." Black citizens of York had been marching on city hall since 1963, protesting police violence and official discrimination. Their demands for a bi-racial police review board were turned down by the all-white city council. The marchers were frequently clubbed or had German shepherds set on them by police. Whites in York blamed it -- and still blame it -- on "outside people coming in stirring up the neighbors," as one resident recently said. A York College professor put it like this: "It's not simply that people were bigoted. Many whites just didn't see race issues as their problem. Probably most York citizens were in favor of integration, but they saw it as a Southern problem." Not everyone, though. The city had several notorious white gangs -- such as Roosevelt Park Inc., the Newberry Street Boys, the Swampers, and the Girarders -- which the Pa. Crime Commission report called "armed vigilantes." By the mid-'60s, York had become a war zone, divided by race. "What began as bottles and bricks in 1967 escalated into guns in 1968 and armor-piercing bullets by the summer of 1969," according to the York Dispatch, the newspaper which has done wonderful work in documenting the city's recent history (and from which most of the information in this post is drawn). The York race riots began July 17, 1969, after a white gang member shot and wounded a black man. Fights broke out, buildings were set ablaze and police began barricading black neighborhoods. More than 60 people were injured, 100 were arrested and entire city blocks burned. A white rookie police officer was fatally shot while patroling the city in an armored car. No one has ever been identified as the assassin, and the case is still unsolved. On July 20, the day after the killing, York white citizens rallied. One of the police officers who attended was yelling "white power!" He gave bullets for a 30.06 hunting rifle to white gang members and told them to "kill as many niggers as you can." He also told them, "If I weren't a cop, I'd be leading commando raids against niggers in the black neighborhoods." The next night, a cadillac driven by Hattie Dickinson blundered onto Newberry Street. This was the turf of the Newberry Street Boys, and it was the wrong place to be if you were black, in York, and Dickinson was black. She and her family were visiting York from Aiken, S.C. They were out to pick up groceries. Dickinson, was driving her father's car when she saw a person with a gun. She tried to turn around on Newberry Street, near Gay Avenue, at the barricades fronting the railroad tracks. The car stalled. Armed white men poured from the porches. Dickinson panicked. Her parents, in the back seat, started praying. Her older sister, Lillie Belle Allen, 27, jumped out of the car to get to the driver's seat and take the wheel. She waved her arms and yelled, "Don't shoot!" A hail of gunfire cut her down. One of the Newberry Street Boys fired the first shot, and "after that all hell broke loose and it seemed as though everyone started shooting," according to a witness. Up to 20 white shooters at Newberry Street and Gay Avenue opened fire from the street, rooftops, and windows. Allen's body was riddled with "pumpkin balls," buckshot the size of a .38-caliber bullet. The ammunition supplied by the police officer flew along with the rest, though it was not the fatal bullet. Witnesses heard the first shooter later say "we got one," and, "I blew the nigger in half." People who knew about the fatal shootings kept silent, because they were afraid or they didn't want to be seen as traitors. "It was tougher than pulling teeth," said Thomas V. Chatman Jr., who was lead detective on the murder investigations for the York City police. "There were witnesses. But no one wanted to tell you anything. People took sides according to race and didn't want to cooperate." And so for thirty years, the case was cold. Then one of those witnesses finally cracked. Donald Altland, 51, killed himself along the banks of the Susquehanna River on April 11, 2000. Altland left a note on a napkin that read "Forgive Me God," and two cassette tapes reportedly detailing the Allen case, including the admission that he was one of the men who fired on Allen's car. Two months later, the district attorney's office announced it had new leads in the murders. And so while ex-Ku Klux Klansman Thomas Blanton Jr. is being sentenced to life in prison for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, nine people are being indicted in York and other places for the killing of Lillie Belle Allen. And that police officer, the one who handed out bullets and advised commando raids and shouted "white power"? He's now the mayor of York. Just last month in the primary election he won nomination for another term. In the Democratic Party. Around midnight, a few weekends ago, bright orange stickers were plastered all around downtown York. "Earth's Most Endangered Species: The White Race. Help Preserve It," they read. They were put up by The National Alliance, a neo-Nazi organization based in West Virginia. Dr. William L. Pierce, the leader of the National Alliance, said he has doubled the membership of the alliance to about 2,000 members and 30 chapters in the last few years. He has five alliance chapters in rural Pennsylvania and Maryland, within an easy drive of York. Ann Van Dyke, civil rights investigator for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, said that York "obviously has a long history of distrust" between the races. "But I also emphasize that York County has the highest number of citizens unity coalitions in the state," Van Dyke added. "It deserves credit for being one of the most diligent at reporting hate crimes." National Alliance stickers and pamphlets appear regularly in state trouble spots, Van Dyke said, along with provocations from a wide assortment of other groups seeking to exploit local frustrations over changing demographics and problems with government like prison and highway proposals, and even landfills. The state's high number of waste dumps is an endless source of local fears. "Anywhere you've got change happening and people are scared, you'll find fodder for bigotry, even a dump, for Pete's sake. We've seen messages of 'The Jews are running the dump.' "

Civil War: Intro

We know what America is today, and has been in the last century. And we can look at what America was in the generation of the founders, and we can read their vision for it. And we can see the wrenching turn in the nation's destiny that stands between us and them. By the mid-1800s the North was boosting its population and aggressively asserting state power in the interest of its own industrial capitalism. The South was not. The two sections were diverging, and it was the North that had evolved a new culture since 1787, one that sought to control the national destiny. Before the seats vacated in 1861 by the Southern congressmen were cold, the economic order of the United States had been turned on its head: the tariff had taken off on an upward trajectory that would leave even industrialists breathless. The nation's resources were thrown open to private profit; and the whole banking and monetary system was revamped to suit investors and creditors. A tax scheme was created that weighed against the small consumers, the North's factories (and even its army) were thrown open to immigrant contract labor, and the federal government was using the U.S. military to put down labor strikes. Congress and the President gave another 100 million acres to various railroads, free of charge. After the war, Reconstruction had far more to do with reordering the South as a section and reducing it to the status of a financial-industrial colony than with black people. Fear, vengeance, love of union, and interest in civil rights may have played a part in Reconstruction, but it seems clear, especially after the 1876 election, that what the South suffered had much more to do with the establishment of permanent Republican party control, tariff protection, and rigging the nation's financial arrangements to suit bankers, creditors, and New England industrialists. In the 1870s, when the North debated within itself topics like the black vote and delaying the readmission of Southern states, the argument in favor was frankly presented as being good for the tariff and government bonds and New England "ideas of business, industry, money-making, spindles and looms." Midwestern farmers, the same men who swelled Sherman's army that broke the South, bore the brunt of the new order and soon found themselves being herded into the same colonial status the South had resisted, in vain. By the time William Jennings Bryan and others rose up to defend them, in rhetoric reminiscent of John C. Calhoun, it was too late. The country had been turned over to foreclosing banks and greedy railroads so thoroughly that Missourians were ready by 1880 to make a hero of a murderous ex-Confederate named Jesse James. After the war, state legislatures trying to protect their people against predatory trusts and capitalists were thwarted by the Supreme Court, which swept away state laws to regulate corporations (230 in 1886 alone), using the argument that corporations were "persons," and thus protected by the due process clause of the 14th amendment. Between 1890 and 1910, of all the 14th amendment cases brought before the Supreme Court, 19 dealt with black people, and 228 with corporations. That's what America bought with four years of hell and 10 years of civil enslavement of the South. Even in New York City in the 1850s a respectable fortune was a few hundred thousand dollars. In the next generation, of "Robber Barons," of big fortunes and big depressions, men like Rockefeller and Carnegie were able to amass countless millions. The culture that gave birth to Washington and Jefferson was branded as backwards and immoral. The sectional balance cherished in the vision of Madison and Hamilton was swept away in the name of greed. Whatever else it was besides, the South had been the brake on these forces, which were pent up in New England and itching for dominance. The region's distinct economy and social values blocked this "progress." The South favored restricted central government, purely local financial agents, and a leisurely way of life. The South was pulling hard after 1850 to avoid becoming a backwards dependent of a North that was now opposed to everything about the South except its cotton and its money. Greed hid behind anti-slavery morality. Practical selfishness and pious abstraction merged beautifully. The Lord's "terrible swift sword" that smote the South was made in some Connecticut mill whose owner piled up millions in the process. It is important to remember that outright anti-slavery work -- as opposed to a sense of sectional rivalry and resentment -- was limited to a very small class in the North. Prominent among that class were a great many leading capitalists. In New York City during the war girls sewed umbrellas from 6 a.m. to midnight, earning $3 a week, from which their employers deducted the cost of needles and thread. Girls who made cotton shirts received 24 cents for a 12-hour day. One historian, after studying in intimate detail a cluster of Northern cotton factories, summed up the owners' abolitionism like this: "By making chattel slavery the uniquely immoral form of human exploitation, abolitionism undercut the mounting working-class complaints about wage-slavery and beatified the capitalist order. These abolitionists hated slavery not just for its inhumanity but also for impeding their vision of a capitalist society of free individuals whose labor could be freely exploited."[1] The Republican Party's conviction that it has the God-given right to legislate the morality of all Americans runs right back to Civil War. The GOP has never quite forgotten it was the party that God anointed with victory. Henry Wilson, the dedicated abolitionist who headed the important Senate committee on military affairs during the war and was later vice president under Grant, declared the Republican Party had been "created by no man or set of men but brought into being by almighty God himself ... and endowed by the creator with all political power and every office under Heaven." The Republicans committed themselves to being the "Party of Piety," and gave us Anthony Comstock, the original national censor. The first act regulating U.S. mail content was passed in March 1865, spawned by complaints that boys in blue were getting obscene carte de visites and dirty novels. Congress made mailing such material a crime. One of Comstock's most illustrious victims was Ezra Heywood, the veteran abolitionist who had mailed pamphlets that criticized marriage and advocated birth control. The old man (well into his 60s) served two years at hard labor. Lysander Spooner was an influential and ardent abolitionist and a true American radical humanitarian in the mold of Thoreau. By 1867, he had come to understand that the war was a defeat for men like him. The North had fought for the principle that "men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support a government they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals." Southerners saw this sooner. They saw the victory of Lincoln in 1860 as defeat after a long struggle, the final reduction to helplessness in the face of a majority determined to force its social and economic values on the whole nation. You can love your homeland and still lament the place it might have been. Is 20th century America -- with its Babbittry, its rotten bureaucracies and its destructive disregard for natural resources and human lives -- really the best we could have done? Or did we take an unbalanced, headlong tumble into modernity because the Northeast, child of industrial capitalism and Puritan morality, became "America" by grinding an economic and political rival under its heel?


My beautiful wife took a day-long performance seminar Saturday in Philadelphia with Ansuya, one of the undisputed superstars of modern American belly-dance. She reports Ansuya "worked our butts off," but was completely involved, down-to-earth, open to every question. At the end of it all, wife said, "I think she's my new hero." After the seminar we went to dinner at a great Irish place that had Belgian beer on tap (go figure), then returned for a performance concert. About a dozen belly-dancers got up and did their thing, one by one. Some were entertaining, some had skills. All of them moved to music. Sometimes they wrapped themselves up in the performance so tightly it felt like voyeurism to be watching them. Others chased the music around the room. Then, at the end, Ansuya came out. She cued the tape, and the music swelled and she just lit up, improvising every move. I have seen nothing so stunning and powerful in decades. She wasn't a dancer, and it wasn't music. She was an elemental force that pulled music into her body and merged both into something more than human. And she radiated into the room, even when her eyes were closed, and she drew the room's energy into herself, too, so that for the first time in the evening I found my foot stomping, my hands clapping. Her face was full serene. She didn't even break a sweat. Yet every moment of her performance she was working two or three different isolation movements together -- hip rotations and shoulder shimmies and arm motions, all at once, any one of which would have taxed the abilities of most dancers -- and in each moment she was not only full on moving the music, she was in transition to the next set of movements. She put the zills to work, and for the first time in a live performance, I understood zills. She wasn't just clacking along to the music but she layered something over top of it all, like a soprano saxophone jazz riff dancing on top of a pounding melody, like butterflies drawn to the unfolding rose of the dance. Layer upon layer of ability spun up like non-stop sensual lightning from the supple body of one woman. When I was a sportswriter, I got to see athletes at the peak of their game. Gretzky, for instance. They didn't just perform well, they made things happen. They controlled a space and everyone in it, with a perfect flow of mental-into-physical energy. They owned their muscle and bone and their skill, and they took that ownership and projected it into everyone around them. So did Ansuya. You don't forget those moments, when you see them. They're times you lie awake and what you saw plays over in your head and you think, is that really a mortal quality? Is there any way to produce that out of the same stuff that I'm made from? [Sept. 12, 2005] This weekend the wife and I went to see a performance of Bellydance Superstars, a traveling revue featuring some of the top names in the American branch of the ancient art. Somehow I came out of this getting praised for being one of the few husbands who would willingly sit through a series of sensual dances performed by striking and supple women in glamorous and revealing costumes. Some days I just feel lucky. I've been a fan of this art form for many years, and I was particularly impressed by the work of two of the dancers we saw Sunday, Petite Jamilla and Moria. Both impressed me, though they hardly could be more different, since each represents one of the two different paths of development in modern American belly-dance. Jamilla exemplifies the older cabaret-based style of bellydance: outgoing, entertaining, welcoming. This type of dance is a performance for an audience. Here she is: Moria, on the other hand, performs in the "tribal" style that has been percolating on the West Coast: tribal-style belly dance is more intentionally expression than entertainment. This approach to the dance turns it from the performance, toward the personal. When you watch it, you feel more like you're eavesdropping. Its costuming also sets it apart: goth-influenced, based in black, and dripping with chunky accessories. Here's Moria in classic Tribal dance garb: In general, I favor cabaret style, though Tribal, when it's done well, leaves me in awe of the artistry and athleticism. Yet Jamilla and Moria were most impressive to me in dances that transcended these styles. Jamilla performed a four-veil dance with dervish intensity, in which she seemed deeply tranced. [Here she is in a more standard number. You'll get a sense of her complete, natural confidence]: And Moria held me rapt with her share of a bellydance-flamenco fusion number. Afterwards, I read Moria has a background in yoga, and realizing that made everything click. Tribal dance tends to be so focused on intense single motions, but when you string it all together as a dance, the effect can be mechanical in less capable dancers. Moria's motion flowed from hips to belly and up into her arms. It was literally fluid, where it might have been modular, and she allowed it to appear both intense and effortless. Here she is in a different performance: Tribal, of course, is heavily indebted to the delightful Rachel Brice, a genius of movement. She works herself into the performance so completely that she reaches the breathless height where the dancer becomes indistinguishable from the dance. Here's Rachel: I can't find a good video clip of Moria. But I've seen many dancers try to follow in Rachel's footsteps. Moria actually can keep up with her, and not merely imitate. Yet all this we saw in a private school auditorium, with a few dozen vocal fans in the audience. Afterward, we mingled with the dancers. Here's a picture of me with Petite Jamilla (on the right) and Colleen, another excellent veteran dancer in the troupe. How can I make this relevant to you? In the world of belly-dance, these are incomparable stars. If I were like many of my co-workers, and obsessed with late '60s rock, this would be like standing with Bob Dylan on one arm and Neil Young on the other. Take my word for it, though: My situation above is on the whole much more pleasant. [Nov. 20, 2006]