PostcardsBORING POSTCARDSI'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 RestaurantBack 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, MontrealLe Manoir, Riviere du Loup, QuebecI 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 -
Civil War: SecessionIn 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.LegalityMy 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." 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: StevensThaddeus 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.
VirtuePUBLIC VIRTUEAfter 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.
BellydanceMy 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]
Crossing"WASHINGTON'S CROSSING"I bought David Hackett Fischer's "Washington's Crossing" to read about a battle that figures in local lore in the part of the world where I grew up, but I ended up reading one of the most penetrating books I've yet found on military history, history in general, and what Thomas Jefferson called "human events."When historians delve into military details, the result sometimes ends up being what James McPherson called "more and more about less and less." Not here. Fischer tells the military story in rich and human detail. British soldiers and especially their Hessian coalitionists emerge from the shadows and numbers and stand forth as full-fleshed people. But the book is more than regiments marching. Along the way, Fischer helps explain such puzzles as the fit of slave-owning into Washington's ideas of liberty, or the tension between Yankee town meeting democracy and Southern aristocracy in the colonial army.And he does his best to revive something we've largely forgotten: What made the American Revolution so different.Several times in reading Fischer's prose I recalled Michael Moore taunt that the Iraqi "insurgents" are not terrorists, but "minutemen." In other words, they are the moral equivalent to the American revolutionaries, and Moore predicted they will win and that they deserved to win, just as the American Revolutionaries did. Typically, Moore left it at that and never bothered to back up his assertion.But it's not hard to see what he meant -- to the degree that he meant anything but to be a rankling nuisance. Like all Moore's deceptions, there's a dusting of truth on it. The indigenous revolt against the superpower army from abroad faces the same range of challenges, the same tactical choices. The insurgents inevitably will make some of the same choices, in any generation.But Moore's comparison is superficial. The Iraqi insurgents are like the American Revolutionaries in the same way the death pilots of 9/11 were like the airline pilots they stabbed to death to commandeer the planes. Fischer's concluding chapter explains why:
In 1776, American leaders believed that it was not enough to win the war. They also had to win in a way that was consistent with the values of their society and the principles of their cause. One of their greatest achievements in the winter campaign of 1776-77 was to manage the war in a manner that was true to the expanding humanitarian ideals of the American Revolution. ... In Congress and the army, American leaders resolved that the War of Independence would be conducted with a respect for human rights, even of the enemy. This idea grew stronger during the campaign of 1776-77, not weaker as is commonly the case in war.
It had been a year of disasters. The British routed the Continental army from Long Island, then captured New York City along with many prisoners. The redcoats next pushed George Washington back through New Jersey, waging an increasingly savage campaign not just against the Continental army but against the whole "Levelling, underbred, Artfull, Race of people" they found in America.Yet early in 1777, John Adams wrote to his wife, "I know of no policy, God is my witness, but this -- Piety, Humanity and Honesty are the best Policy. Blasphemy, Cruelty and Villainy have prevailed and may again. But they won't prevail against America, in this Contest, because I find the more of them are employed, the less they succeed."What they fought for colored how they fought. And here, too, the comparison with modern Iraq is instructive. The American revolutionaries had woven into their flag not just stars and stripes, but ideals of liberty, whether it was the learned political theorizing of Madison, the commercial common sense of Franklin, the town meeting democracy of New England soldiers, or the stoic self-discipline of Washington. Educated or ignorant, they built their cause around this quality, learned from their experiences as British citizens, and it informed their decisions on the battlefield.
Not all American leaders agreed. Others in Adams's generation believed, as do many in our own time, that America should serve its own national self-interest, defined in terms of wealth and power, and seek it by any means. But most men of the American Enlightenment shared John Adams's way of thinking. In the critical period of 1776 and 1777, leaders of both the Continental army and the Congress adopted the policy of humanity. That choice was reinforced when they learned that some British leaders decided to act differently. Every report of wounded soldiers refused quarter, of starving captives mistreated in the prison hulks at New York, and of the plunder and rapine in New Jersey persuaded leaders in Congress and the army to go a different way, as an act of principle and enlightened self-interest.
There were no Geneva Conventions in the mid-18th century, but every soldier and officer understood the customs of war, which were binding on their sense of honor as warriors. A wounded or cornered enemy could ask "quarter" from the other side, and there were standards for accepting it, or rejecting it. Plundering was universal, but if a house was occupied, and the owners did not resist, the proper plunderer always left the family enough to live on, and he did not take personal items.There was no international bureaucracy to threaten a violator with a lengthy trial in the Hague, of course, but his own officers could order him summarily shot, which does count as a sort of deterrent. Or the bad behavior could invite like reprisals from the other side. Officers of the two armies in the Revolution traded hot charges across the lines when the system broke down.Americans, unlike the British, generally extended the right of quarter to their enemies, even as the Americans reacted with indignation as British slaughter of wounded and helpless Continental soldiers. After the Battle of Princeton, Washington put a trusted officer in charge of the 211 captured privates with these instructions: "Treat them with humanity, and Let them have no reason to Complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren. ... Provide everything necessary for them on the road." Hessian prisoners were so well treated that, once they had got over the shock of it, they could be sent from one holding place to the next without an armed escort. After the war, almost a quarter of the Hessians remained in America. Their names still dot the phone book in Chester County, Pa., when I grew up there.Any large army is going to have in its ranks men whose better natures will unhinge in the stress of war. Horror and brutality will happen every time an army marches to battle, as sure as innocent civilians will be killed. If you can't accept that, better to be a thoroughgoing pacifist. At least it's an honest position. Better than pretending you didn't know. The job of a nation and its leaders, military and civilian, is to ensure the horrors are as few as possible, and the war crimes are exceptions.The fact that there were many exceptions to the American ideal of 1776 -- especially in the case of loyalist legions and runaway slaves -- does not change the essential fact that the American leaders attempted not just to win, but to fight a war they could look back on with pride, and that would be a fitting birth to the nation they sought to make. And they largely succeeded. "The moral choices in the War of Independence," Fischer writes, "enlarged the meaning of the American Revolution."The Iraqi insurgents, too, have their ideals: a terrorized and repressed people, rule by the gun and the knife, Ba'athist fascism and Islamist fanaticism. They, too, make their moral choices based on their ideals. Does anyone, even Michael Moore, imagine that their "victory," should that nightmare come, would be followed by a replay of Philadelphia, 1787?As Fischer writes in his concluding paragraph:
[American soldiers and civilians in 1776] set a high example, and we have much to learn from them. Much recent historical writing has served us ill in that respect. In the late twentieth century, too many scholars tried to make the American past into a record of crime and folly. Too many writers have told us that we are captives of our darker selves and helpless victims of our history. It isn't so, and never was. The story of Washington's Crossing tells us that Americans in an earlier generation were capable of acting in a higher spirit -- and so are we.
Some of Fischer's best work is crammed into the 8-point type back in the appendices. There he gives a brief, broad-brushed, but insightful tour of "Washington Crossing the Delaware" -- both Emanuel Leutze's famous 1851 painting and the crossing incident itself -- as seen through the evolving eyes of Americans in one generation after another. As you might expect, there's a pendulum effect, with each generation to some extent reacting against the view of the one before, but at one point comes a perfect storm of negative convergence. Guess when that happened?After discussing the "debunking" mood of popular history writers around the time of the U.S. bicentennial, Fischer turns his attention to that generation of academics. Their view of U.S. history still matters, because these men and women are dominant forces in academe and because their bile has informed many Americans now politically active.
A similar mood spread among a troubled generation of academic historians who were born in the baby boom (ca. 1941-57). They came of age in the late sixties and early seventies, when a youth revolution was bright with the promise of a new age. It was a revolution that failed in the era of Vietnam, Watergate, burning cities, and blighted hopes. A conservative revival followed. Republicans moved to the right, liberal Democrats shifted toward the center, and many on the left sought sanctuary in American universities as internal exiles from a society that turned away from them.In the 1980s some of these internal exiles rejected all politics. Others increasingly called themselves American Marxists and predicted the coming collapse of capitalism. Then came the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union instead, and the failure of Marxism throughout the world, It was a double disaster for the American left. The result was an angry generation of academic iconoclasts, disillusioned by the failure of radical movements, alienated from American institutions, and filled with cultural despair. When the light of their revolution failed, some of them could see nothing but darkness.More than a few became historians. Some ex-Marxists became historical relativists who beat their dialectal swords into epistemological ploughshares, and rejected ideals of objective and empirical inquiry. They judged other works mainly by ideological standards of political incorrectness such as racism, sexism, and elitism. Any work with a positive tone about the United States was condemned as "triumphalism." Their writings expressed intense hostility to American institutions and alienation from the main lines of American history.
As his artistic exemplar of this period, Fischer chooses "George Washington Crossing the Delaware" by the artist Peter Saul, of the faculty of University of Texas in Austin. "In vivid, clashing, Day-Glo acrylic colors, it shows a river crossing that has been reduced to chaos. Washington, his horse, and his men (all in tie wigs) tumble out of the boat into the river while American and British soldiers fire at each other in a battle on the ice. The values of Emanuel Leutze's painting are inverted as completely as the capsized boat."Same medium, inverted values. Fallujah, during Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's reign, was no Philadelphia. On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia.INDEX -
"A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does
not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him." [George Orwell, "Shooting an Elephant," 1950]
These are people to remember. They are the honorable dead of a new war. Not all of them are soldiers, but the new war sweeps up more than soldiers in its causes. And all believed in something. They believed in it enough to get up and do something about it, at peril of their lives. Whether it was themselves, their comrades, duty, their mission, their nation, the people of the world, the people of Iraq, the people of America -- or even peace. They went to the war to do something about it.None of them wanted to die. Probably until the moment the darkness whelmed them they were trying to live, to somehow make it. But all had been close enough to Fate by then to know her faceless, pitiless stare. There came a time to choose -- it came many times for some of them -- and they chose the brave thing over the easy one.BERG, NICKApril 2, 1978–May 7, 2004Nick Berg is the young contractor from my hometown in Pennsylvania who went to Iraq to do good and was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamist terror-thugs. His sorrowing father said George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld killed his son. Yet this father, who is of the age of the '60s youth movement, taught his son to think and to make his own choices. And the son grew up to see a world that could be made better, even by Americans. Among those who sent the family condolences when Berg died were Kenyan tribesmen young Berg had helped improve their village.He went to Iraq with the same vision: to bring democracy and a good life to people who knew little of either. He supported the war, for humanitarian reasons. In the Vietnam War, the old held that American power was a force for good and believed in the spread of freedom as a patriotic virtue. Their children spit bile at the administration. In this war, so often, the natural order is reversed.DAILY, MARKJuly 4, 1983-Jan. 15, 2007The night before he shipped out to Iraq, Mark Daily tapped out on a laptop computer a short essay on why he had volunteered for the Army. With the touch of a button, he uploaded it to his MySpace site. Three months later, on Jan. 15, he died with three comrades when a roadside bomb demolished their vehicle near Mosul.Volunteer armies at all times are a mix of people and motivations. But perhaps no army in modern times has had more collective ideals and ethics than the U.S. military. Daily, a cherished child from a privileged neighborhood in California, was a thoughtful, liberal (in the true, noble sense of that abused word), secular college student, a registered Democrat and a vegetarian.Yet he grappled with his conscience and joined the U.S. Army for the sake of the humanitarian purposes it attempts to accomplish. Sept. 11 didn't change him overnight. But instead of kicking in to knee-jerk patriotism or "no blood for oil" opposition, he kept reading, and he kept thinking, and he decided ...
I joined the fight because it occurred to me that many modern day 'humanists' who claim to possess a genuine concern for human beings throughout the world are in fact quite content to allow their fellow 'global citizens' to suffer under the most hideous state apparatuses and conditions. Their excuses used to be my excuses.... Anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience then consider me the exception.... (C)onsider what peace vigils against genocide have accomplished lately. Consider that there are 19-year-old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics.... Don't forget that human beings have a responsibility to one another and that Americans have a responsibility to the oppressed.John Daily, Mark's father, praised his son at the memorial service in his honor for "choosing the difficult right over the easy wrong." He also has said, as any father would, "I'd give it all back a thousandfold just to hug him one more time."The media followed the blogs to the story. LA Times told it, though it relegated it to the local section in print and hid it behind the subscription wall online.
Ultimately, his family says, Daily came to believe that his lifelong altruistic impulses and passions for the underdog had to extend to Iraqis crushed under decades of oppression. It was time to stop simply talking about human rights and actually do something to help secure them.And he decided that joining the Army was the best way to do that.... Daily had read historian Stephen Ambrose's writings on World War II and the generation of soldiers who fought for freedom from the forces of fascism. If not Iraq, Daily thought, he wanted to help save those being slaughtered in Sudan.In the fall of 2003, he entered the UCLA ROTC program. ... Lt. Col. Shawn Buck, who headed the UCLA military science department at the time, said Daily was a deep thinker and natural leader who persuaded many cadets to stick with the program. "Once he made the decision to join, he jumped in with both feet and gave it everything he had," Buck said.In a 2005 videotape of his officers' commissioning ceremony, Daily told the crowd that the U.S. Army is one of the few militaries in the world that teach not only tactics but also ethics. "I genuinely believe the United States Army is a force of good in this world," he said.He was not blind to military transgressions and fumed to his father that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib was a failure of leadership. But that was exactly why he needed to get over there, he said. He was going to make sure that his men upheld Army values of integrity and honor.Christopher Hitchens attended Daily's funeral and wrote a magnificent, painful piece about it.
I thought, Well, here we are to perform the last honors for a warrior and hero, and there are no hysterical ululations, no shrieks for revenge, no insults hurled at the enemy, no firing into the air or bogus hysterics. Instead, an honest, brave, modest family is doing its private best. I hope no fanatical fool could ever mistake this for weakness. It is, instead, a very particular kind of strength. If America can spontaneously produce young men like Mark, and occasions like this one, it has a real homeland security instead of a bureaucratic one. To borrow some words of George Orwell's when he first saw revolutionary Barcelona, "I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for."
HOLLAND, FERNdied March 9, 2004, age 33Here is the AP's story:
Lawyer Fern Holland went to Iraq to help the nation's women: She investigated human-rights violations, set up conferences and assisted in writing the women's rights section of the new constitution."If I die, know that I'm doing precisely what I want to be doing," Holland wrote in an e-mail to a friend on Jan. 21.Holland was one of three civilians killed Tuesday after several gunmen posing as Iraqi police officers stopped her vehicle at a makeshift checkpoint near the town of Hillah, about 35 miles south of Baghdad. ...Holland's family believes she was targeted by assassins because of her work, which included opening women's centers around Iraq."She believed in freedom. She believed that every man and woman born should enjoy the right of freedom," her sister Vi Holland said. ...Holland, a 1996 graduate of the University of Tulsa College of Law, worked at two law firms in Tulsa before joining the Peace Corps and traveling to Namibia.She returned to the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but did not stay long.Tulsa attorney Stephen Rodolf, who kept in touch with Holland through e-mail, said she seemed to be aware of growing threats to her safety."We stand out, and those who dislike us know precisely when we come to town," she wrote to him.Her job required her to travel almost every day on highways where snipers and roadside bombs lurked. And yet, she asked to travel with an unarmed escort because she felt the high security around her was a barrier to her work, he said."She was an extraordinary person who honestly wanted to help people," Rodolf said. "Anybody who knew her would tell you that."According to some reports, she was the first U.S. civilian working for the U.S. occupation authority to be killed in Iraq.MONSOOR, MICHAEL A.April 5, 1981–Sept. 29, 2006Monsoor was born to a Christian Arab/American former Marine father and an American mother. The Wikipedia entry on him paints a picture of a typical active American boy:
Afflicted with asthma as a child, Monsoor strengthened his lungs by racing his siblings in the family's swimming pool. Monsoor attended Garden Grove High School in Garden Grove, California. He played tight-end on the school's football team and graduated in 1999. His hobbies included snowboarding, body-boarding, spearfishing, motorcycle riding, and driving his Chevrolet Corvette.
As a communicator and machine-gunner on patrols, Monsoor carried 100 pounds of gear in temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees. He took a lead position to protect the platoon from frontal assault. The team was involved in frequent engagements with insurgent fighters. Over the first five months of the deployment, the team reportedly killed 84 insurgents.During an engagement on May 9, 2006, Monsoor ran into a street while under continuous insurgent gunfire to rescue an injured comrade. Monsoor was awarded the Silver Star for this action. He was also awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.
Medal of Honor
In the early morning, insurgents prepared to execute a coordinated attack by reconnoitering the area around the element’s position. Element snipers thwarted the enemy’s initial attempt by eliminating two insurgents. The enemy continued to assault the element, engaging them with a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire. As enemy activity increased, Petty Officer Monsoor took position with his machine gun between two teammates on an outcropping of the roof. While the SEALs vigilantly watched for enemy activity, an insurgent threw a hand grenade from an unseen location, which bounced off Petty Officer Monsoor’s chest and landed in front of him. Although only he could have escaped the blast, Petty Officer Monsoor chose instead to protect his teammates. Instantly and without regard for his own safety, he threw himself onto the grenade to absorb the force of the explosion with his body, saving the lives of his two teammates. By his undaunted courage, fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of certain death, Petty Officer Monsoor gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
PERALTA, RAFAELApril 7, 1979–Nov. 15, 2004KIA in the second Battle of Fallujah. Bing West tells his story in "No True Glory," his masterful account of that fight."He saved half my fire team," said Cpl. Brannon Dyer, 27, of Blairsville, Ga."It's stuff you hear about in boot camp, about World War II and Tarawa Marines who won the Medal of Honor," said Lance Cpl. Rob Rogers, 22, of Tallahassee, Fla.Here's a newspaper account:
Peralta, 25, as platoon scout, wasn't even assigned to the assault team that entered the insurgent safe house in northern Fallujah, Marines said. Despite an assignment that would have allowed him to avoid such dangerous duty, he regularly asked squad leaders if he could join their assault teams, they said.One of the first Marines to enter the house, Peralta was wounded in the face by rifle fire from a room near the entry door, said Lance Cpl. Adam Morrison, 20, of Tacoma, who was in the house when Peralta was first wounded.Moments later, an insurgent rolled a fragmentation grenade into the area where a wounded Peralta and the other Marines were seeking cover.As Morrison and another Marine scrambled to escape the blast, pounding against a locked door, Peralta grabbed the grenade and cradled it into his body, Morrison said. While one Marine was badly wounded by shrapnel from the blast, the Marines said they believe more lives would have been lost if not for Peralta's selfless act.... Rogers and others remembered Peralta as a squared-away Marine, so meticulous about uniform standards that he sent his camouflage uniform to be pressed while training in Kuwait before entering Iraq.But mostly they remembered acts of selflessness: offering career advice, giving a buddy a ride home from the bar, teaching salsa dance steps in the barracks.Before he left for Fallujah, he wrote his 14-year-old brother, “Be proud of me bro ... and be proud of being an American.”RUZICKA, MARLADec. 31, 1976–April 16, 2005A California hippiechick anti-war activist and human-rights crusader, she died in an insurgent attack in Iraq in 2005 while working on her campaign to help innocent victims of the war. Ruzicka had invested her adult life into coaxing people to see through the term "collateral damage." To her, it didn't so much matter who started the fight, it didn't so much matter how the hurt happened: she saw people, real people, with names and faces and families. And they've been wounded through no fault of their own, and we should help them.Her young life took some time to reach that level of practical idealism. But that she reached it by 28 -- when many so-called progressives in their 70s still don't get it -- was a testimony to the woman and her virtues.She was well down the Rachel Corrie path. Then, gradually, something happened. She realized she really wanted to help people. And she realized what mattered was connecting people who needed help with those who had the ability to give it. Ruzicka changed her tactics. Instead of bellyaching about the corporate media, she went to Afghanistan and befriended journalists in the foreign correspondent pool and lobbied them with a mix of charm and persistence to tell the stories of the civilians she was meeting. More importantly, she began connecting the civilian casualty survivors with U.S. military and government officials who had the cash in-country that could help."She had the ability to connect with the victims and to talk with the U.S. military and be acceptable and authentic to both," a co-worker said. "I think that was because she was concerned with the victims. It wasn't about the morality of the war, or the politics."Here's how "Rolling Stone" described her awakening:
Through her experiences in Afghanistan, Ruzicka's politics, and views toward the war, had changed. Once a dedicated peace activist, she'd decided that war was terrible but in some cases inevitable, even justified. It was a conscious split between her and her mentors at Global Exchange, and her embrace of the people Medea Benjamin calls "the realists" signified a major shift not just in Ruzicka's political philosophy but in her life as well. For about the past ten years, Benjamin had been both a mentor and a mother to Ruzicka. But now, the two clashed on their views regarding the upcoming war with Iraq, something that became more apparent when Ruzicka joined Benjamin on a fact-finding tour in Baghdad just prior to the war. "She was working with people in D.C. who were saying the war is going to happen, let's help the people who will be hurt," says Benjamin. "I thought it was a mistake to think like that before civilians were even killed." Medea urged Ruzicka to return to the activist fold and come back to San Francisco to "join us with all her energy and all her incredible enthusiasm to do whatever we could to stop the war."
"She had some rebel in her. She didn't like the status quo and wanted to change injustices where she found them. But she learned that she could be more effective by working with the U.S. She wowed the people in Washington and spurred them to do more."
But she strode in there deliberately, with her blonde, simple American demeanor, assured that there was no place else on earth she could do so much good and be true to herself.
'Tis the gift to be simple,'Tis the gift to be free,'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
"One really interesting thing is that Marla was very opposed to the Iraq war before it began, but once the war started I never heard her express any opinion about the war itself. Once the war started she just wanted to help people who were hurt, not engage in a debate about the merits of the war. Beneath her Californian happy-go-luck demeanor Marla was a very hardheaded realist about what needed to be done. The war happened. People were hurt. She wanted to help them. And an example of her realistic approach is how she worked in Afghanistan and Iraq compensating the families who died. Marla had no patience for people who demonstrated against the war, and did nothing else."
SMITH, PAUL R.Sept. 24, 1969–April 4, 2003U.S. Army Sgt. First Class, posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.A few days after he died, I did a wire service search for every variation of the name "Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith." The search would cover everything published in the last three or four days by most of the big media services. I got only one hit. It's an incidental mention in a column of short takes that also includes news about pandas at the National Zoo. [I did get a hit on another Sgt. Smith, but it wasn't the same one. This one was a gay Marine, prominently featured in a big story about how the military is hungry for recruits but turning away homosexuals.]Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith was invisible in the gatekeeper media. Fortunately, the alternate media remembered him.
Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq on 4 April 2003. On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his Task Force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force. Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley Fighting Vehicle and three armored personnel carriers.As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket propelled grenade and a 60mm mortar round. Fearing the enemy would overrun their defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier. In total disregard for his own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded.His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack, and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed, while allowing the safe withdrawal of numerous wounded soldiers. Sergeant First Class Smith’s extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Third Infantry Division “Rock of the Marne,” and the United States Army.VINCENT, STEPHENDec. 31, 1955–Aug. 2, 2005Killed in Iraq for telling the truth.He was one of the people who on Sept. 11 decided to change a world where that could happen into a world were it couldn't.His Reuters obituary describes him as "an art critic inspired to write about war after watching from the roof of his New York apartment as the World Trade Center towers fell."He did it his way. He took his skills to Iraq, and he set up base in Basra. He wrote online, at his excellent blog, In the Red Zone, he wrote a much-praised book by that name, and he freelanced his prose for big media.It was the last that got him killed.
His death came four days after publication in the New York Times of an opinion piece he wrote critical of the rise of Shi'ite Islamist fundamentalism in the southern city of Basra, Iraq's second city and the subject of his next book.
Times of London
There is speculation that Mr Vincent, who received death threats, was murdered in an attempt to silence him. Four days before his death he had written an opinion piece in The New York Times in which he said that the police force in the British-controlled city had been infiltrated by Shia Muslim extremist militias, who were responsible for carrying out hundreds of murders of prominent Sunni Muslims.He criticised the British, whose 8,000 troops in the area are responsible for security in Basra, for turning a blind eye to abuses of power by Shia extremists. The whole city was "increasingly coming under the control of Shia religious groups, from the relatively mainstream ... to the bellicose followers of the rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr".In his final blog, he wrote: "The British stand above the growing turmoil, refusing to challenge the Islamists’ claim on the hearts and minds of police officers."In light of what has been happenning in Basra this spring, Vincent's last full post, dated July 26, 2005, on his blog, is prophecy.Just after Vincent's murder, Nick Gillespie wrote in "Reason":
Journalism is a profession covered in self-congratulatory myths the way a barnyard is covered in stinking horseshit. It's easy to slip into routinized obituaries, especially about good people who die—are murdered—in the ugliest of circumstances by the ugliest of people. The impulse is to acknowledge the victims' sacrifices and their talents, invoke the righteousness of their lives and your anger, bow your head, wipe away the tear forming in your eye, and then get on with your day. That's a noble gesture—and a necessary one. It allows us to process grief, and if we didn't do that, we'd all be puddles of tears all the time.But when I think about the murder of Steven Vincent—when I think about those last grim hours he spent in captivity, waiting for the inevitable bullet to his body or the blade to his throat—it's hard to wipe away the tear. His death gives us reason to linger at the gravesite and puzzle over many things. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to know Steven, however briefly and however barely—and, more important, to have published some of his material. He was that rarest of a breed in a profession that supposedly reveres shoe-leather reporting and a dogged pursuit of the truth, no matter where it leads. Unlike most of us, he used reporting to challenge his own beliefs rather than set them in concrete.
had been trying to get to America
she made itINDEX -
AUTHORAnd so on. Since his death, Daily's little essay has become a well of inspiration to people who never met him. His family has been flooded with letters, mailed from the White House and from mobile home parks.That's the best of this country. No conflict whatsoever between serving in the Peace Corps and helping to rebuild Iraq. People on both sides of the U.S. political equation should wake up to that one. It's the same good work.He joined the Navy and made it to be a SEAL. His platoon was sent to Ramadi in 2006 and assigned to train and mentor Iraqi troops.The citation tells the story of his death:Peralta, a native of Mexico, joined the Marine Corps the day after he got his green card. He took the oath of citizenship in his Marine Corps fatigues. On the wall of his room in his parents' house were three documents: the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and his boot camp diploma.She had the chance to be strident. Instead, she chose to invest herself in actually helping. Her father, Clifford, a civil engineer, put it like this:"She brought a spot of light to a very dim setting," said one friend. "She had this frenetic, youthful energy that made her just unstoppable." She came across as an innocent in some of the darkest, dirtiest places on earth."The Nation's" eulogy noted the words of one of Ruzicka's myriad friends, author Peter Bergen:At some point before the battle, Smith had written, but not sent, an email to his parents. In it, he wrote, "there are two ways to come home, stepping off the plane and being carried off the plane... it doesn't matter how I come home, because I am prepared to give all that I am to ensure that all my boys make it home."Those closer to the story than Reuters make the connection more explicit. The tells it like this:How cruel, then, that, as the Times reports, Vincent "and his female translator were kidnapped as they left a currency exchange shop, within sight of a British military checkpoint." The translator, Nour Al Khal, was shot four times but survived.It is worth noting that Vincent's wounded translator and companion . I'm pleased to be able to say, .
“I fear you do not fully comprehend the danger of abridging the liberties of the people. Nothing but the sternest necessity can ever justify it. A government had better go to the extreme of toleration than to do aught that could be construed into an interference with, or to jeopardise in any degree, the common rights of its citizens.”
I've been seeing this Abe Lincoln quote a lot recently.Andrew Sullivan used it recently to book-end a column in the London Times defending those who stand up for civil rights, and condemn torture, in the war on Islamist terrorism. I think he's right, of course, but I also have noticed that polemicists who enlist historical figures in their crusades often make ill-advised choices.The quote Sullivan uses is a lovely and forceful statement. Its source is the artist Francis Bicknell Carpenter (1830-1900), who from February through July 1864 worked at the White House painting "First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation before Lincoln’s Cabinet." Carpenter was hardly an impartial observer, being a passionate abolitionist. He put the Lincoln quote into a book he wrote, "The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House."
At one of the "levees," in the winter of 1864, during a lull in the hand-shaking, Mr. Lincoln was addressed by two lady friends, one of whom is the wife of a gentleman subsequently called into the Cabinet. Turning to them with a weary air, he remarked that it was a relief to have now and then those to talk to who had no favors to ask. The lady referred to is a radical, — a New Yorker by birth, but for many years a resident of the West. She replied, playfully, "Mr. President, I have one request to make." "Ah!" said he, at once looking grace. "Well, what is it?" "That you suppress the infamous 'Chicago Times,'" was the rejoinder. After a brief pause, Mr. Lincoln asked her if she had ever tried to imagine how she would have felt, in some former administration to which she was opposed, if her favorite newspaper had been seized by the government, and suppressed. The lady replied that it was not a parallel case; that in circumstances like those then existing, when the nation was struggling for its very life, such utterances as were daily put forth in that journal should be suppressed by the strong hand of authority; that the cause of loyalty and good government demanded it. "I fear you do not fully comprehend," returned the President, "the danger of abridging the liberties of the people. Nothing but the very sternest necessity can ever justify it. A government had better go to the very extreme of toleration, than to do aught that could be construed into an interference with, or to jeopardize in any degree, the common rights of its citizens." [p. 156-157]
I've never seen a historian cast doubt on the quote, but it is relevant to note it's anecdotal, not from Lincoln's writings. Oh, I believe he may have said something like that, in response to a fire-eating unionist, in the early months of 1864, with the mid-term elections safely over and the presidential campaign not yet begun, with the crisis of emancipation past and the draft riots quelled.He could afford to speak that way, and it would be like him to pose as a leader carefully navigating a moderate path through the shoals of crisis. Always, Lincoln knew, there were men and women in the North who would have pursued a policy that would have been fatally radical and aggressive. Lincoln was savvy enough not only to keep their hands off the tiller, but to use them as a public foil, to put the shine on his image as a sober, sane leader. It seems he could manage this trick whether they were congressional leaders or ladies at a levee.But at the time he is alleged to have said this, his administration already had once shut down the offending newspaper. It had shut down many others, too, despite the existing machinery of government censorship. Telegraph wires out of Washington, which the major daily newspapers relied on for their news of the war and the government, were subject to State Department censorship.After editorials lashing the administration and expressing sympathy for Clement Vallandigham, the copperhead Ohio politician who had been arrested and banished for criticizing the administration and the war, Gen. Ambrose Burnside, on June 1, 1863, issued "General Order No. 84," which declared, in part:
On account of the repeated expression of disloyal and incendiary sentiments, the publication of the newspaper known as the Chicago Times is hereby suppressed.
Generals in uniform often lacked the patience and philosophy to distinguish between treason or material support of the rebellion, on the one hand, and lawful criticism of civil and military acts of the government, on the other. As a result, military authorities in the North often carried out presidential directives more heavy-handedly than Lincoln and his cabinet intended. Or at least the Administration found it convenient to present matters as such.After learning of the orders to suppress the "Times," Lincoln wrote to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton:
I have received additional despatches, which, with former ones, induce me to believe we should revoke or suspend the order suspending the Chicago 'Times'; and if you concur in opinion, please have it done.
In regard to the order of General Burnside suspending the Chicago "Times," now nearly a year ago, I can only say I was embarrassed with the question between what was due to the military service on the one hand, and the liberty of the press on the other, ... I am far from certain today that the revocation was not right.
embarrassedIt was a small epsiode in a thick book. Under cover of a congressional act of Aug. 6, 1861, authorizing the President to direct the seizure of anyone who was “aiding, or abetting, or promoting ... insurrection,” the Lincoln government had begun shutting down the opposition press. Court martials were authorized in the cases of newspapers that printed information considered to have aided the enemy.Ten days after the bill passed, charges of disloyalty for alleged pro-Southernism had been brought in United States Circuit Court against the "New York Journal of Commerce," "Daily News," "Day Book," "Freeman’s Journal," and the "Brooklyn Eagle." On August 21 the federal government ordered that copies of the New York newspapers that had been suppressed should not be carried by the mails. Suppressions continued August 22 in New York, New York; Canton, Ohio; and Philadelphia. On September 18 the Louisville, Kentucky "Courier" was banned from the mails, and its offices were seized the next day by federal authorities.Even a small-town paper like the "Jeffersonian," in the little borough of West Chester, Pennsylvania (pop. 4,000), could feel the government's wrath. The federal authorities in Philadelphia shut it down in September 1861 after reporting critical of the administration and the conduct of the First Bull Run battle. The Philadelphia "Bulletin" justified this suppression, because:
The principal circulation of the Jeffersonian was in the lower part of Chester County and along the Maryland line. Many of the people even upon this side of the line are touched with Secession sentiment. They take but one newspaper, frequently, and they are, of course, greatly influenced by its statements and opinions. The mischief that can be accomplished by a persistent enemy of the Government, under such circumstances, will be appreciated.
In May, the battles began again, this time with Grant in charge in the East, and the casualty list of dead and wounded skyrocketed. The North fought to bloody stalemates in the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania, and saw terrible waste of lives in the botched Bermuda Hundred campaign.The anti-war New York "World" on May 18 published a false presidential proclamation listing the recent battles and setting aside a day for public humiliation and prayer. It also printed a false call for conscription of 400,000 men. [A conscription was looming, in fact, but this wasn't it.]The day it appeared, Lincoln sent Gen. John A. Dix an order:
Whereas, there has been wickedly and traitorously printed and published this morning, in the New York World and the New York Journal of Commerce, ... a false and spurious proclamation purported to be signed by the President ... which publication is of a treasonable nature, designed to give aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States and to the rebels now at war against the Government and their aiders and abettors, you are therefore hereby commanded forthwith to arrest and imprison ... the editors, proprietors and publishers of the aforesaid newspapers, and all such persons as, after public notice has been given of the falsehood of said publication, print and publish the same with intent to give aid and comfort to the enemy; and you will hold the persons so arrested in close custody until they can be brought to trial before a military commission for their offense. You will also take possession by military force, of the printing establishments of the New York World and Journal of Commerce, and hold the same until further orders, and prohibit any further publication therefrom.
The "extreme of toleration" quote is an unusual one in Lincoln's corpus. Because during the war Lincoln more often turned his eloquence to justifying civil repressions than to condemning them.For instance, he wrote in June 1863 to Erastus Corning and others in New York state who had petitioned against Lincoln's trampling of civil liberties in the name of war for the Union. Lincoln took the petition as an opportunity to reply with a public letter explaining his view of these things.Place, if you can, these ideas in the head of the current incumbent of the White House, and consider the consequences if he were to govern with them in mind. Imagine the safety of a dissident, a Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky, or Cindy Sheehan, in Lincoln's America:
...[A]rrests are made, not so much for what has been done, as for what probably would be done. ... The man who stands by and says nothing when the peril of his Government is discussed, cannot be misunderstood. If not hindered, he is sure to help the enemy; much more, if he talks ambiguously -- talks for his country with 'buts' and 'ifs' and 'ands.'
... [H]e who dissuades one man from volunteering, or induces one soldier to desert, weakens the Union cause as much as he who kills a Union soldier in battle. Yet this dissuasion or inducement may be so conducted as to be no defined crime of which any civil court would take cognizance.
Nor am I able to appreciate the danger ... that the American people will, by means of military arrests during the rebellion, lose the right of public discussion, the liberty of speech and the press, the law of evidence, trial by jury, and Habeas corpus, throughout the indefinite peaceful future which I trust lies before them, any more than I am able to believe that a man could contract so strong an appetite for emetics during temporary illness, as to persist in feeding upon them through the remainder of his healthful life.
[Southern] sympathizers pervaded all departments of the Government and nearly all communities of the people. From this material, under cover of 'liberty of speech,' 'liberty of the press,' and 'habeas corpus,' they hoped to keep on foot among us a most efficient corps of spies, informers, suppliers, and aiders and abettors of their cause in a thousand ways. They knew that in times such as they were inaugurating, by the Constitution itself, the 'habeas corpus' might be suspended; but they also knew they had friends who would make a question as to who was to suspend it; meanwhile, their spies and others might remain at large to help their cause. Or, if, as has happened, the Executive should suspend the writ, without ruinous waste of time, instances of arresting innocent persons might occur, as are always likely to occur in such cases; and then a clamour could be raised in regard to this, which might be, at least, of some service to the insurgent cause. It needed no very keen perception to discover this part of the enemy's programme, so soon as, by open hostilities, their machinery was fairly put in motion. Yet, thoroughly imbued with a reverence for the guaranteed rights of individuals, I was slow to adopt the strong measures which by degrees
I had been forced to regard as being within the exceptions of the Constitution, and as indispensible to the public safety."
I had been forced to regard as being within
Of how little value the constitutional provisions I have quoted will be rendered, if arrests shall never be made until defined crimes shall have been committed, may be illustrated by a few notable examples. Gen. John C. Breckenridge, Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, Gen. John B. Magruder, Gen. William B. Preston, Gen. Simon B. Buckner, and Commodore Franklin Buchanan, now occupying the very highest places in the Rebel war service, were all within the power of the Government since the Rebellion began, and were nearly as well known to be traitors then as now. Unquestionably if we had seized and held them, the insurgent cause would be much weaker. But no one of them had then committed any crime defined in the law. Every one of them, if arrested, would have been discharged on habeas corpus were the writ allowed to operate. In view of these and similar cases, I think the time not unlikely to come when I shall be blamed for having made too few arrests rather than too many.
Mr. Vallandigham avows his hostility to the war on the part of the Union; and his arrest was made because he was laboring, with some effect, to prevent the raising of troops, to encourage desertions from the army, and to leave the rebellion without an adequate military force to suppress it. He was not arrested because he was damaging the political prospects of the administration, or the personal interests of the commanding general; but because he was damaging the army, upon the existence, and vigor of which, the life of the nation depends. He was warring upon the military; and this gave the military constitutional jurisdiction to lay hands upon him ....Long experience has shown that armies can not be maintained unless desertion shall be punished by the severe penalty of death. The case requires, and the law and the constitution, sanction this punishment. Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wiley agitator who induces him to desert? This is none the less injurious when effected by getting a father, or brother, or friend, into a public meeting, and there working upon his feeling, till he is persuaded to write the soldier boy, that he is fighting in a bad cause, for a wicked administration of a contemptable government, too weak to arrest and punish him if he shall desert. I think that in such a case, to silence the agitator, and save the boy, is not only constitutional, but, withal, a great mercy.
In giving the resolutions that earnest consideration which you request of me, I can not overlook the fact that the meeting speak as "Democrats." Nor can I, with full respect for their known intelligence, and the fairly presumed deliberation with which they prepared their resolutions, be permitted to suppose that this occurred by accident, or in any way other than that they preferred to designate themselves "democrats" rather than "American citizens." In this time of national peril I would have preferred to meet you upon a level one step higher than any party platform; because I am sure that from such more elevated position, we could do better battle for the country we all love, than we possibly can from those lower ones, where from the force of habit, the prejudices of the past, and selfish hopes of the future, we are sure to expend much of our ingenuity and strength, in finding fault with, and aiming blows at each other. But since you have denied me this, I will yet be thankful, for the country’s sake, that not all democrats have done so.
Like Bush in 2001, Lincoln in 1861 faced a legal fog in defining his enemy, and delineating his war. Even among many people in the North, the power of a state to secede from the union was held to be a legal right. The Constitution, as read by many, was seen as silent, or ambiguous, on the issue. A range of positions could be defended. Buchanan's attorney general (a loyal Pennsylvanian), for instance, had investigated the laws and concluded that, while the secession was not legal, the government had no authority to stop it.Meanwhile, the seceded states formed themselves into a new nation. Lincoln's official position was that the Confederacy did not exist and that he was suppressing an internal rebellion. Yet in practice, he treated the South as a sovereign power. He blockaded its coast. His administration acknowledged its sea-rovers as privateers and not as pirates. When rebels invaded the North and were captured at Gettysburg they were treated as POWs, not as traitors to be hanged for treason, because they were commanded by officers holding commissions from the Confederate government.In fact, Lincoln made every attempt to have it both ways, because his powers, as president, were limited differently in each case. Whichever situation gave him what he needed, that is how he painted the war/rebellion in that case. He twisted a corkscrew path through the laws and the Constitution to extend his own powers as president to meet a new situation that the existing laws seemed, to him, insufficient to address.He did so to recruit and maintain a large standing army to fight a modern war, and in doing so he broke the Constitution he had sworn to uphold, which was structured to provide temporary, minute-man armies (in a system little changed since King Alfred's aldormen led the Anglo-Saxon fyrd to repel Viking marauders).He did so in sweeping aside civil rights, including habeas corpus, and filling Northern jails with men never charged with any crime. He did so in full knowledge that his nation was full of dissent, and his agents couldn't, or didn't care to, distinguish honest loyal opposition from active treason.Lincoln had at his back a Congress driven by his allies. And he managed to skillfully avoid the courts. When he couldn't avoid them, he defied them. In the Merryman case in 1861, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney denounced the notion of arbitrary military arrest and defended civil liberties, and pointed out that only Congress had the right to suspend habeas corpus. And he admitted he could do nothing to enforce his ruling in the face of a military force "too strong for me to overcome." Taney wrote as defiantly as any anti-Bush zealot today. And the cause for his wrath was more immediate and dangerous than the Patriot Act:
“I can only say that if the authority under which the constitution has confided to the judicial department and judicial officers, may thus, upon any pretext or under any circumstances, be usurped by the military power, at its discretion, the people of the United States are no longer living under a government of laws but every citizen holds life, liberty and property at the will and pleasure of the army officer in whose military district he may happen to be found.”
MerrymanMilitary rule in the first year of the war was especially strong in Maryland, the slave state that stood between Washington, D.C., and the rest of the North. The Maryland legislature denounced "the present military occupation of Maryland" as a "flagrant violation of the Constitution."Secretary of State William Seward then ordered a lightning raid across the state that jailed 31 legislators, the marshal of the Baltimore City Police Force and the Board of Police Commissioners, the mayor of the city, a former Maryland governor, members of the House of Delegates from Baltimore City and County, the 4th District congressman, a state senator and newspaper editors (including Francis Scott Key's grandson). Ft. McHenry (of "Star Spangled Banner" fame) had a darker chapter in these days as the "Baltimore Bastille." Many of those arrested by federal officials were never charged with crimes and never received trials.In the fall, Lincoln arrested allegedly disloyal members of the state legislature (Sept. 12-17, 1861), to prevent them from attending a meeting that could have voted on secession. But Maryland was not really safely in the Union until the November state elections. Federal provost marshals stood guard at the polls and arrested known Democrats and any disunionist who attempted to vote. The special three-day furlough granted to Maryland troops in the Union army, so they could go home and vote, further tilted the election. The result, not surprisingly, was a solidly pro-Union legislature. The next year, state judges instructed grand jurors to inquire into the elections, but the judges were arrested and thrown into military prisons.Flip through the pages of U.S. government and military communiques from Maryland in these months (they're in the "Official Records") if you really want to see a government repressing dissent. Today we have Guantanamo; in 1861, we had Fort Jefferson, a huge, hexagonal brick military base built on a barren, scorched key off the coast of Florida in a desolate island group called the Tortugas:
... I have adopted stringent measures to secure quiet but they are so ordered as to attract no notice. The regiments are well drilled to street-firing and in half an hour I can have 1,000 men in any part of the city; in forty minutes five times that number. ... ...In regard to the "Exchange" and other secessionist presses in that city. I presume you are not aware that an order for the suppression of these presses was made out in one of the Departments of Washington. ... I think a measure of so much gravity as the suppression of a newspaper by military force should carry with it the whole weight of the influence and authority of the Government especially when the publication is made almost under its eye....Reffered to General McClellan. I believe the "Exchange," "Republican" and "South" should be suppressed. They are open disunionists. The "Sun" is in sympathy but less diabolical....No secession flag has to the knowledge of the police been exhibited in Baltimore for many weeks, except a small paper flag displayed by a child from an upper window. It was immediately removed by [the police]. They have been instructed to arrest any person who makes a public demonstration by word or deed in favor of the Confederate Government and I have prohibited the exhibition in shop windows of rebel envelopes and music....Fort McHenry which has not sufficient space for the convenient accommodation of the number of men necessary to man its guns is crowded with prisoners. ... It is too near the seat of war which may possibly be extended to us. It is also too near a great town in which there are multitudes who sympathize with them who are constantly applying for interviews and who must be admitted with the hazard of becoming the media of improper communications, or who go away with the feeling that they have been harshly treated because they have been denied access to their friends.... If as is supposed Fort Lafayette is crowded may they not be provided for at Fort Delaware? ... I certainly do not think them perfectly safe here considering the population by which they are surrounded and the opportunities for evading the vigilance of their guards....The arrest of W. Wilkins Glenn, the proprietor of the "Exchange," has given intense satisfaction. Beale Richardson and his writing editor Joice, of the "Republican," are very violent and would grace the Tortugas. If the exchange should go on a Doctor Palmer and a William H. Carpenter are the ostensible editors, and both write with bitterness. They too would do well at Tortugas....We are determined to prevent any rebel voting if he will not take the oath of allegiance. It is to be done by a system of challenging. The new mayor has already surrendered the pistols retained by the old police and evinces a reaidness to co-operate with the Federal authorities. His name is Blackburn. It is intimated that General Howard has taken the hint and will not accept the rebel nomination for Governor. If he does he should be sent at once to Fortress Monroe, and so too of Jarrett, the rebel nominee for comptroller....My belief is that the peace convention is defunct. Still I have taken measures to have them watched and will inform you promptly of any movement by them....I do not think it would be wise to cease making arrests entirely. Some evidence that the power is with the Government should be kept before the eyes of the discontented few. It has a most salutary effect...."The memoranda states in substance that -- All persons who have lately uttered expressions of hostility to the Government or have spoken disrespectfully of the President of the United States are to be arrested and detained in camp."...You will ... please inform all the prisoners confined at Fort Warren that this Department will not recognize any person as an attorney in such cases, and that if the fact comes to the knowledge of the Department that any prisoner has agreed to pay to any attorney a sum of money or to give to him anything of value as a consideration for interceding for the release of such prisoner that fact will be held as an additional reason for continuing the confinement of such person. You will also please say to the prisoners that it is the wish of the Government that they should communicate whatever they may have to say directly to this Department.Lincoln got a break when an important case came to Justice James M. Wayne, who was perhaps the staunchest war supporter on the Court. In U.S. v. Colonel Gorman Wayne upheld Lincoln’s extra-legal (at best) recruiting drive in 1861 and its retroactive endorsement by Congress. “It is my opinion,” Wayne ruled, “that Congress has constitutional power to legalize and confirm executive acts, proclamations, and orders done for the public good, although they were not, when done, authorized by any existing laws.”Even some who supported the Northern cause blanched at this notion, but it was in keeping with the general spirit of the administration and the pro-war press, which was to “preserve the union at all costs.”Lincoln used his presidency to pack the Supreme Court with justices who would be more sympathetic to his purposes. Three of five justices who sustained the administration in the important Prize case of 1863 were new Lincoln appointments.But the full question of whether the Constitution gave the president a special power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus during wartime never got to the Court. In large part that's because the administration made sure it didn't. It had a valid fear that the Court would rule against there being such a power under the Constitution, and such a ruling would undermine the war effort. On the other hand, by keeping the matter away from the Court, the administration could largely accomplish its policy.Opposition, especially in the press, clamored for a test case to settle whether the arbitrary arrests were legal. Secretary of War Stanton thought it would be wise to do so, too, but Attorney General Bates talked him out of it. In a letter of Jan. 31, 1863, Bates wrote to Stanton that a Supreme Court decision against the habeas corpus policy “would inflict upon the Administration a serious injury,” and would do more good to the rebels “than the worst defeat our armies have yet sustained.”Only after victory was secure, and only gradually and tentatively at first, did the Supreme Court begin to put the nation back on a Constitutional basis, which Lincoln and the Radicals in Congress had disrupted. Both Lincoln and Taney were dead by this time.Lincoln had done what was necessary to his purpose, which he saw as saving America's future, and he let the lawmakers catch up as they would. Or he left it to the courts to undo the power grabs long after they served their purpose. Some of them were never undone, and America after 1865 was never again ruled by the government that had been created in 1787.History forgives him these transgressions (though they are more bitterly remembered in the South) because the war he led America into had a great (if unintended) result of freeing slaves. It gave them an imperfect freedom, to be sure. The backlash brought explosive violence into their lives. And real civil rights didn't come their way for another century.Yet however imperfectly he did it, Lincoln defeated slavery -- an institution that had enjoyed the protection and support of the U.S. government until then. (Even so radical an anti-South man as Thad Stevens once took a case on behalf of a master reclaiming his runaway slave.) And history gives him that honor and Americans rank him among their greatest presidents.Our national system is not perfect, it's dynamic. When you push on the people's civil rights, they eventually push back. And the most dramatic advances in freedom have come after the most serious transgressions. Ever since the Zenger trial in 1735, American civil right have emerged stronger from every attempt to cramp them. Almost 200 years alter, John Scopes lost his "monkey" trial in Tennessee. But the trial itself turned the hearts of Americans.The authorities may bully, and they may have the strong arm, but eventually the case goes to court or the legislative chamber, and there the rights tend to win the day. As long as eloquence can come to their aid, personal liberties will triumph. The outcome of a particular case is no matter. Our love of liberty triumphs, in a Hollywood ending, over our yearning for order and the fear of the strange.But the wrongs that never seem to be undone in the courts are those that increase the power of the federal government, and especially the executive. The superstructure of power that allows the government to clamp down on individual rights still stands, even after the rights have been restored.If you're looking for a quote upholding civil liberties and freedom in a time of desperate war, a better choice than Lincoln would be Supreme Court Justice Robert C. Grier, who presided over the circuit that heard the case of the West Chester "Jeffersonian's" publisher. He charged the jury that there was no justification for the seizure, and that the district attorney had no power to issue a writ ordering the seizure. The power to issue writs, he told them, belongs to the courts alone.
No one can pretend that our law was changed by the mere fact of the rebellion. The very purpose of law is to set a rule that may remain fixed and immovable among the disturbances of society, and that shall be the standard of judging them. ... If it yielded to excitements it would be judged by them, instead of being their judge.
If Lincoln could say this in the middle of the bloodiest conflict in American history, why cannot Bush and Blair say it today?
AUTHORBrig. Gen. Jacob Ammen, commanding the District of Illinois, was charged with the execution of this order, and under his authority the captain in command at Camp Douglas, Chicago, warned the newspaper's management they must not publish again, under penalty of military seizure. The paper resumed publication. But a year later, Lincoln revealed his ambivalence about the matter in a letter to his congressional ally Isaac N. Arnold: Using here in the older sense of "perplexed, thrown into doubt."Not long after the Lincoln speech on freedom of opinion that Carpenter reported, and the now-widely cited quote about "extreme of toleration," another newspaper got into hot water with the administration. This time, Lincoln went directly and personally to the military authorities to shut it down.Dix took newspaper managers into custody. He seized the newspaper offices and held them under military guard for three days.And elsewhere:Harsh measures for perilous times? Lincoln's got that argument covered in honey:The letter reveals an eloquent, lawyerly, and ruthless mind that is willing to bend the Constitution and ignore basic rights for the sake of winning the war. Habeas corpus only matters, Lincoln says, up to the point it becomes an impediment to the persistence of the government that guarantees its citizens habeas corpus. In 1861, he writes,Emphasis added. Read it like Lincoln has to be read -- with an eye to the key phrase, which likely will be a subtle one: "... strong measures which by degrees the exceptions of the Constitution ..." If you want an image what Lincoln would have done had he, not Bush, been president at 9/11, here's a clue:[So far from being then a well-known "traitor," by the way, Lee was held in such regard by Lincoln that the president-elect offered him command of the Northern armies.] And here's another:The Great Emancipator shows his political skill, in a way Bush and Cheney can only envy and never hope to match, in pulling the rug out from under the Democratic opposition without stepping down from his own high ground:Truly, the letter to Corning is one of the great pieces of political writing in American history -- and one of the most nefarious.Lincoln then wrote out a standing order for Taney's arrest. It was never served. But set the tone and left it to the justices to decide whether to provoke fights, legitimate or not, that they had no power to win.And on and on. On Sept. 24, 1862, after fresh military disasters, with a gloomy prospect for the administration in the upcoming elections, with an unpopular conscription looming and doubt about the public's reception of the Emancipation Proclamation, the President suspended habeas corpus again, this time over the entire North. The Maryland scenes were repeated on a national scale.While admitting neither Churchill nor Lincoln was perfect in his adherence to these principles, Andrew Sullivan nonetheless finds them superior to our current crop of leaders.He's right; the modern leaders lack the eloquence of their forebears. But Lincoln said a great many things during that conflict.
Civil War: Habeas"Inter arma silent leges" was a Latin phrase much heard in the North during the Civil War. It translates roughly as, "during war, the laws are silent."Habeas corpus is another Latin phrase, meaning "(you should) have the person," and it's part of a longer phrase, habeas corpus ad subjiciendum, meaning "(you should) produce or have the person to be subjected to (examination)." These were the opening words of writs in 14th century English legal documents to require a person to be brought before a court or judge, especially to determine if that person is being legally detained.Basically, habeas corpus represents the legal right that a person in a free society has to not be whisked from his or her home without reason or cause and to not be detained or punished by the authorities without getting a fair hearing in court and a chance of self-defense. William Rawle in 1829 called the writ, "the great remedy of the citizen or subject against arbitrary or illegal imprisonment; it is the mode by which the judicial power speedily and effectually protects the personal liberty of every individual, and repels the injustice of unconstitutional laws or despotic governors."Article 1, section 9 of the Constitution, restricting powers of Congress, forbids the suspension of habeas corpus except, "when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public safety may require it."Ex parte MerrymanOn April 27, 1861, about a week after the Fort Sumter surrender, President Lincoln ordered Winfield Scott, then head of the nation's military, to arrest anyone between Washington and Philadelphia suspected of subversive acts or speech, and his order specifically authorized suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Scott passed the order down the line, and Southern sympathizers in Maryland were rounded up in batches.This was during the crucial first weeks of the war, when Washington, D.C., desperately needed troops to defend itself and the northern regiments were having difficulty crossing Maryland, which had secessionist sentiments and was hostile to the idea of being overrun by the federal army. The Maryland legislature was about to meet, and Lincoln believed it would act to restrict troop movements through the state.One of the arrested was John Merryman, a prominent Baltimorean -- president of the Maryland State Agricultural Society, among other things -- and an active and vocal secessionist. Merryman was arrested May 25, 1861, and that day his lawyer filed a petition in circuit court, which was overseen by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (Supreme Court justices presided directly over circuit courts in those days). Taney ordered Merryman brought before him on a writ of habeas corpus and commanded the military officer in charge of Merryman to show "the cause, if any, for his arrest and detention."On May 27, the day Taney set for the government to justify its detention of Merryman or set him free, Gen. George Cadwallader, the military commander who had the prisoner in custody, informed Taney via a military aide that he refused to comply. Cadwallader said he needed more time to get word from his superiors on how to proceed. He also said public safety was at stake, and he offered the opinion that, "those who should co-operate in the present trying and painful position ... should not, by any unnecessary want of confidence in each other, increase our embarassments." [sic]This didn't sit well with Taney, who then issued a writ of attachment against Cadwallader, to be served the following day. It was on the morning of the 28th, before leaving for court, that Taney confided to friends that he wouldn't be surprised if he were in prison by nightfall. During the course of the Merryman case, many Northern newspapers, including Horace Greeley's, hoped for Taney's arrest.A U.S. marshal with the delightful name of Washington Bonifant went to Fort McHenry on May 28, but soon returned to the Circuit Court (which was being held in Baltimore's Masonic Hall) and said he had announced himself at the gates of the fort but had not been allowed in to serve the writ.Cadwallader had gotten support from the administration by this time, Taney scolded Bonifant for not calling up a posse comitatus to enforce the court order, but the Chief Justice must have realized it would have been ineffective against the armed fort. He ruled that Merryman should be set free, denounced the notion of arbitrary military arrest and defended civil liberties, and pointed out that only Congress had the right to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. And he admitted he could do nothing to enforce his ruling in the face of a military force "too strong for me to overcome."Taney made no statements of sympathy for Merryman's cause or his principles. His eyes were on Lincoln, and he said the president's course showed he lacked "a proper respect for the high office he fills .... He certainly does not faithfully execute the laws if he takes upon himself the legislative power, by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and the judicial power also, by arresting and imprisoning a person without due process of law."It was a defiant ruling, from a zealous legal mind. Taney said, "I can only say that if the authority under which the constitution has confided to the judicial department and judicial officers, may thus, upon any pretext or under any circumstances, be usurped by the military power, at its discretion, the people of the United States are no longer living under a government of laws but every citizen holds life, liberty and property at the will and pleasure of the army officer in whose military district he may happen to be found."In a private letter to former president Franklin Pierce [June 12, 1861], Taney wrote: "The paroxism of passion into which the country has suddenly been thrown -- appears to me to amount almost to delirium. I hope that it is too violent to last long -- and that calmer and more sober thoughts will soon take its place -- and that the north as well as the south will see that a peaceful separation with free institutions in each section -- is far better -- than the union of all the present states under a military government & a reign of terror -- preceded too by a civil war with all its horror & which[,] end as it may[,] will prove ruinous to the victors as well as the vanquished."Avoiding conflictThe high court generally went along with the administration after the Merryman case pointed up its powerlessness to force the administration to obey its decisions. Several of the justices were enthusiastic supporters of the war effort.Justice James M. Wayne was perhaps the administration's most staunch defender on the bench. He was from Georgia, and his property there had been confiscated at the outbreak of the war (and given to his son, who served as adjutant general of Georgia). But it might have been just natural conservatism that moved him.A circuit court case came before him, involving a Minnesota soldier who had mustered in between the time of Lincoln's call for volunteers to suppress the rebellion and the special session of Congress that had made that call legal by authorizing it. This gap in time became the point of law in the case."It is my opinion," Wayne ruled, "that Congress has constitutional power to legalize and confirm executive acts, proclamations, and orders done for the public good, although they were not, when done, authorized by any existing laws." He said this could be done retroactively. Even some who supported the Northern cause blanched at this notion, but it was in keeping with the general spirit of the administration and the pro-war press, which was to "preserve the union at all costs."The Confederate Congress also authorized suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, and President Davis did so, in certain places and in isolated cases. He did so, for instance, in February 1862 in Richmond and Petersburg and a few Virginia towns, when McClellan's army was at the gates of the capital. It was also suspended in western Virginia and eastern Tennessee, both unionist hotbeds, and on the coastlands of South Carolina, which were under direct attack. For whatever cause, this was not greeted with the broad opposition that resisted the more extensive suspension in the North.On Feb. 14, 1862, the Lincoln administration ended the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and issued an amnesty to political or state prisoners no longer deemed dangerous. The tone was almost apologetic, and the proclamation took pains to explain that, at the early stage of the war, "Every department of the Government was paralyzed by treason," and that Congress "had not anticipated and so had not provided for the emergency." Lincoln, as chief executive, had felt compelled to "employ with energy the extraordinary powers which the Constitution confides to him in cases of insurrection."The amnesty proclamation also seemed to imply that the insurrection was all but extinguished. The amnesty may reflect Lincoln's desire to upset the Constitution as little as possible while prosecuting the war as vigorously as possible. Or it may reflect the administration's confidence that victory was at hand (the War Department also closed the recruiting offices a few months later). Or you can split the difference.But on Sept. 24, 1862, after fresh military disasters, with a gloomy prospect for the administration in the upcoming elections, with an unpopular conscription looming and doubt about the public's reception of the Emancipation Proclamation (preliminary issue Sept. 22), the President suspended habeas corpus again, this time over the entire North. The new directive specifically cited the resistance to the draft. It had been urged privately well before that, by several governors, especially Morton of Indiana who was plagued by disloyal militias and secessionist newspaper editors.In the short session of Congress that began November 1862, a bill was introduced to provide indemnity for the President's suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. This was done to make it legally correct, and to remove Taney's objection that the Congress, not the President, had the power to do that. It passed Dec. 8, the Senate changed it, and it finally cleared Congress, as the Habeas Corpus Act, on March 3, 1863.The Supreme Court continued to give the administration its way as long as the war was in doubt. Clement Vallandingham, the ex-congressman and notorious copperhead from Ohio, had been nominated for governor of that state by the Democratic party in 1863. Union Gen. Burnside had him arrested and set out to court-martial him. Vallandingham sought a writ of habeas corpus from federal court, but ultimately the Supreme Court refused his plea, claiming that the Judiciary Act did not give the Court jurisdiction in appeals from military tribunals. Lincoln eventually commuted Vallandingham's sentence and banished him to the Confederacy.But the full question of whether the Constitution gave the president a special power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus during wartime never got to the Court. In large part that's because the administration made sure it didn't. It had a valid fear that the Court would rule against there being such a power under the Constitution, and such a ruling would undermine the war effort. On the other hand, by keeping the matter away from the Court, the administration could largely accomplish its policy.Opposition, especially in the press, clamored for a test case to settle whether the arbitrary arrests were legal. Secretary of War Stanton thought it would be wise to do so, too, but Attorney General Bates talked him out of it. In a letter of Jan. 31, 1863, Bates wrote to Stanton that a Supreme Court decision against the habeas corpus policy "would inflict upon the Administration a serious injury," and would do more good to the rebels "than the worst defeat our armies have yet sustained."Bates said he would support a test case if he thought it had a chance of success. "I confess to you frankly, that, knowing as we do, the antecedents and present proclivities of the majority of that Court (and I speak of them with entire respect) I can anticipate no such results." This was after Lincoln had appointed three justices to the bench. Bates had intimate contact with the justices, and his judgment of their likely verdicts was well informed."Many loyal men deny this power to the President," he wrote to the Secretary of War, "and, however confident we may be that he possesses it, it is no imputation on the loyalty of the majority of the Court to presume that on this point they agree with their political school."Ex parte MilliganOnly after victory was secure, and only gradually and tentatively at first, did the Supreme Court begin to put the nation back on a Constitutional basis, which Lincoln and the Radicals in Congress had disrupted. Both Lincoln and Taney were dead by this time.The significant case was Ex parte Milligan, which reversed and apologized for the Vallandingham decision. Lambdin P. Milligan was an officer in the Order of American Knights, a copperhead paramilitary outfit in Indiana that had plotted to overthrow the government, seize the Indiana arsenal and free rebel prisoners. It never came anywhere near enacting this plot, and on Oct. 5, 1864, Milligan and others were captured and tried by a military commission, acting under authority of the 1862 suspension of habeas corpus and the 1863 Habeas Corpus Act.The commission sentenced Milligan to hang. Lincoln delayed the sentence, and in the interval a civilian grand jury heard the evidence against Milligan and declined to indict him. And the Habeas Corpus Act had provided that when a grand jury met after a prisoner had been taken, and it adjourned without indicting him, the federal courts were obliged to order his release.Milligan appealed on these grounds, in a petition dated May 10, 1865. The circuit judges were divided, and they referred the question to the Supreme Court.The government's lawyers (Gen. Ben F. Butler chief among them) claimed the President had unlimited power in time of war. "He is the sole judge of the exigencies, necessities, and duties of the occasion, their extent and duration."Among Milligan's defense team was a future president, James A. Garfield, who told the court the government's argument was that "martial law alone existed in Indiana; that it silenced not only the civil courts, but all the laws of the land, and even the Constitution itself; and that during this silence the executor of martial law could lay his hand upon every citizen; could not only suspend the writ of habeas corpus, but could create a court which should have the exclusive jurisdiction over the citizen to try him, sentence him, and put him to death."Butler put his best into his summation:"We do not desire to exalt the martial above the civil law, or to substitute the necessarily despotic rule of the one, for the mild and healthy restraints of the other. Far otherwise. We demand only that when the law is silent; when justice is overthrown; when the life of the nation is threatened by foreign foes that league, and wait, and watch without to unite with the domestic foes within, who had seized almost half of the territory, and more than half of the resources of the government, at the beginning; when the capital is imperiled; when the traitor within plots to bring to its peaceful communities the braver rebels who fight without; when the judge is deposed; when the juries are dispersed; when the sheriff, the executive officer of the law, is powerless; when the bayonet is called in as the final arbiter; when on its armed forces the government must rely for all it has of power, authority, and dignity; when the citizen has to look to the same source for everything he has of right in the present or hopes in the future, -- then we ask that martial law may prevail, so that the civil law may live again, live, to the end that this may be a 'government of laws and not of men.' "The decision was announced April 3, 1866. The court unanimously ruled that military commissions had no jurisdiction in a case such as Milligan's, and it ordered his sentence set aside. He was to be released. The justices took time and care in writing their opinions. The full ruling, finished in July 1866, was written by Justice David Davis, a Lincoln appointee and a longtime friend of the slain president."During the late wicked Rebellion," he wrote, "the temper of the times did not allow that calmness in deliberation and discussion so necessary to a correct conclusion of a purely judicial question. Then considerations of safety were mingled with the exercise of power; and feelings and interest prevailed which are happily terminated. Now that the public safety is assured, this question, as well as others, can be discussed and decided without passion, or the admixture of any element not required to form a legal judgment."And he ruled that the administration's course had been wrong after all. "Martial law cannot arise from a threatened invasion," but only from a real one. "Martial rule can never exist where the courts are open, and in the proper and unobstructed exercise of their jurisdiction." This had clearly been the case in Indiana in 1864, as even the government's lawyers admitted."Wicked men, ambitious of power, with hatred of liberty and contempt of law, may fill the place once occupied by Washington and Lincoln; and if this right is conceded, and the calamities of war again befall us, the dangers to human liberty are frightful to contemplate."Milligan was set free, then promptly seized by civil authorities, but they never pressed charges against him and ultimately released him. He filed suit to collect damages, but the statute of limitations had expired, and the jury awarded him a mere $5.Partial bibliography:Silver, David M., Lincoln's Supreme Court, Univ. of Ill. Press, 1957.McDonald, Forrest, States' Rights and the Union, Univ. of Kansas Press, 2000. "A View of the Constitution of the United States," p.117-19. For those overly fond of Latin, habeas is second person singular present subjunctive of habere "to have, to hold," and corpus "person," literally means "body," and is also the source of modern English "corpse.""Inter arma silent leges" was a Latin phrase much heard in the North during the Civil War. It translates roughly as, "during war, the laws are silent."Habeas corpus is another Latin phrase, meaning "(you should) have the person," and it's part of a longer phrase, habeas corpus ad subjiciendum, meaning "(you should) produce or have the person to be subjected to (examination)." These were the opening words of writs in 14th century English legal documents to require a person to be brought before a court or judge, especially to determine if that person is being legally detained.Basically, habeas corpus represents the legal right that a person in a free society has to not be whisked from his or her home without reason or cause and to not be detained or punished by the authorities without getting a fair hearing in court and a chance of self-defense. William Rawle in 1829 called the writ, "the great remedy of the citizen or subject against arbitrary or illegal imprisonment; it is the mode by which the judicial power speedily and effectually protects the personal liberty of every individual, and repels the injustice of unconstitutional laws or despotic governors."Article 1, section 9 of the Constitution, restricting powers of Congress, forbids the suspension of habeas corpus except, "when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public safety may require it."