Archive for the ‘History’ Category

The Election of 1880

September 14, 2018

The election of 1880 was not one of the more exciting elections. That was, perhaps, just as well since the election of 1876 had generated enough excitement to last several election cycles. Neither candidate was particularly memorable and the party platforms of the two major parties were almost indistinguishable.

The Republicans met in Chicago, from June 2-8, for what turned out to be the longest political convention in the party’s history. Because President Hayes had decided against running for re-election, the Republican Party was divided between Stalwarts, supporters of Ulysses S. Grant, who had decided to try for a third term as president, and Half-Breeds, who supported civil service reform and opposed the spoils system and the political machines that dominated both parties. These Half-Breeds, so called because the Stalwarts considered them to be only half Republican, supported the candidacy of James G. Blaine, the former Senator from Maine. Some other Republicans supported John Sherman, a former Senator from Ohio, Secretary of the Treasury under President Hayes and the brother of General William T. Sherman. None of these candidates could win a majority of the delegates, so the balloting went on and on until people began to support a relative unknown, James A. Garfield. Blaine decided to throw his support to his friend Garfield and Garfield finally won the nomination on the thirty sixth ballot.

James A. Garfield was a Congressman from Ohio at the time of his nomination. He was, in fact, the only member of the House of Representatives to be elected president while still serving as a Representative. As a youth, Garfield had worked on a canal boat, earning him the campaign nickname, “Boatman Jim”. Garfield was smart and ambitious and began to consider a career in politics but when the Civil War broke out he fought on the side of the Union rising to the rank of Major General. Garfield was elected to Congress in 1862, where he served from 1863 to 1880. Garfield was probably one of the more intellectual candidates for president in the nation’s history, being the only president who proved a theorem in mathematics. He was also able to simultaneously write in Latin with his right hand and Greek with his left hand. Not very practical, perhaps, but still a neat trick.

Garfield’s running mate was Chester A. Arthur. Chester A. Arthur was almost a symbol of everything that was wrong about American politics of the time. Arthur was a machine politician, rising up through the New York Republican Party, taking various civil service/political patronage jobs such as Customs Inspector of New York from 1871-1878. He was a good friend of Roscoe Conkling, the Senator from New York who controlled the patronage in the state. Arthur was a creature of the spoils system that men like Garfield were trying to eliminate.  Chester A. Arthur did serve in the Union army as quartermaster, an important job, but again as a political appointee, and he made sure he was no where near any fighting.

The Democrats held their convention in Cincinnati from June 22-24. There was many Democrats who wanted Samuel Tilden to run again, but he didn’t really want to go through the stress and trouble of another presidential run. Instead, the Democrats nominated a Civil War hero, General Winfield Scott Hancock.

Winfield Scott Hancock had served his country in the Army from 1844, fighting in the Mexican War and the Civil War, rising to the rank of Major General. Hancock had fought heroically at the Battle of Gettysburg, taking command of the left wing of the Army of the Potomac on the first day of the battle. He played a critical role in stopping the Confederate assault on the second day and was wounded on the third day. Hancock had little political experience, but the Democrats believed that nominating a war hero who was known to have opposed secession before the war would insulate them from the usual Republican post-war charges of being the party of treason and secession.

Hancock’s running mate was William Hayden English, a conservative Democrat from Indiana. English had held several posts in the Indiana state government and served as Congressman from 1853-1861. During his terms in the House of Representatives, English was a voice of moderation, trying to prevent the country from breaking apart between North and South. After the election of Lincoln, English urged the Southern states not to secede. As a pro-Union Democrat, English would, like Hancock, deflect charges that the Democrats were the party of rebellion.

There was a third party running in this election, the Greenback Party. The Greenback Party was a populist party which, as the name might indicate, believed that print paper money, or greenbacks, not backed by gold or silver. The federal government had first begun to print greenbacks backed by federal bonds during the Civil War. Thus policy caused the first protracted period of inflation in the United States since the time of the Revolutionary War. This inflationary outcome was precisely what the Greenback Party wanted, since it would result in farmers receiving higher prices for their produce and debts to decrease in real value. The Greenback Party was also in favor of such radical proposals as an eight-hour workday and suffrage for women.

The Greenback Party met in Chicago from June 9-11, and nominated James B. Weaver from Iowa for president. Weaver had begun his political career as a Republican but had grown disenchanted with the party and switched over to the newly formed Greenback Party in 1876 and had served in the House of Representatives as a Greenback from 1879-1881. His running mate was the Texan, Barzillai J. Chambers

The two main parties were largely in agreement on the main issues of the day. Both the Republicans and the Democrats supported hard money, or money backed by gold. Tariffs were the major point of contention between the two parties, and even there there disagreements were mostly on minor details. In this time before the income tax, tariffs were the major source of revenue for the federal government. The Republicans wanted high tariffs to protect American manufacturers. The Democrats wanted lower, but still high, tariffs solely for revenue.

Immigration was another issue in which the parties were in agreement, in particular immigration from China. Everyone wanted to limit Chinese immigration because it was believed that the Chinese workers’ willingness to work for extremely low wages would depress wages for workers generally. No doubt prejudice against people who came from a very different cultural background also played a role. As far as I can tell, no one proposed building a wall along the Pacific coast and making China pay for it, though.

The election turned out to be a close one with James A. Garfield getting 4,446,158 (48.27%) popular votes against Winfield Scott Hancock’s 4,444,260 ( 48.25%) popular votes. James B. Weaver got only 308,649 (3.35%) votes. The Electoral College was somewhat more lopsided. Garfield swept the North and Oregon in the West gaining 214 electoral votes while Hancock won in the South, California and Nevada winning 144 electoral votes. There were some reports of irregularities, as in the election of 1876, but Garfield’s victory was decisive enough that it didn’t matter.

The Election of 1880

Garfield didn’t live to serve a full term as president. Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau on July 2, 1881, just three months after his inauguration. Garfield managed to linger until September 29 before finally dying. Reform minded people throughout the nation were dismayed at the prospect of the machine politician and Conkling crony Chester A. Arthur succeeding to the presidency. They need not have worried though. As soon as he took the oath of office, President Arthur underwent a complete metamorphosis in morals and politics. He turned against the spoils system and fully supported civil service reform, signing the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883. He wouldn’t even give his old pal Roscoe Conkling the time of day. Arthur turned out to be a decent president, considering that no one ever really wanted him to get the job.

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Seventeen Years

September 11, 2018

It has been seventeen years since 9/11. We said that we would never forget, but I am afraid we are already forgetting. They are even starting to teach in colleges that it was our fault.   A person turning eighteen this year, old enough to vote, was only three on that fateful day. I don’t imagine that they would have any clear personal memories of that day, unless they or someone close was personally affected. I am afraid that we are trying to forget the most important lesson of 9/11, that the world is a dangerous place, and there are people out there who would like to destroy us. I suppose that even memorializing 9/11 is considered Islamophobia today.

Well, I will never forget that dreadful day seventeen years ago, no matter how long I live. We will just have to keep telling the story to the younger generations so they will not have to experience any such attacks for themselves. With that in mind, I am going to copy what I wrote three years ago.

On that Tuesday morning, I was at work, driving from Madison to North Vernon when I got a call from my wife. She asked me if I were listening to the radio. I was not. She told me to turn it on because something terrible was happening. I turned my car radio on and listened to the coverage of the attack.

I went about my duties at the stores in North Vernon in a sort of state of shock.  The North Vernon WalMart and Jay C played continuing news coverage of the day’s events instead of the usual soothing Musak. Not too many people were working or shopping in the stores. They were mostly just listening.

I had to go to Seymour for a meeting that afternoon. On the way I noticed that some gas stations had raised the price of gasoline to a then unheard of price of $5 per gallon. At the meeting, no one wanted to discus the business at hand. Instead we talked about the terrorist attack. It seemed certain to us all that more attacks were on the way and that this time we couldn’t just launch a few missiles, blow up some tents, and then move on. We were in for a long fight.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I went home but I don’t remember much about it.

I was once in the World Trade Center. I was in New York with some friends as a sort of tourist and we took the elevator to the top floor of one of the twin towers. There was a gallery up there where you could look out over the city of New York. The day was foggy so I didn’t see anything. They had a gift shop in the center section of the floor. It sickens me to think that the people who worked there went to work one morning, and then had to choose between burning to death or jumping, Not to mention the tourists, who only wanted to look at the city.

It still sickens me to think about the people who were only doing their jobs having to lose their lives.

twin

 

Rosh Hashanah

September 9, 2018

Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and the first of the High Holy Days. To be more precise, Rosh Hashanah actually begins this evening, since the Jews have traditionally begun a new day at sunset. This holiday takes place on the first two days of the month of Tishrei in the Hebrew calender. Because the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, the dates wander a bit in our Gregorian calendar. This year it takes place on  September 9-11. The New Year is celebrated for two days because of the difficulty of determining the precise day of the new moon.

Rosh Hashanah, which means “the head of the year”,  is not mentioned as such in the Bible. Instead the day is called “Zikaron Teru’ah” a memorial of the blowing of horns in Leviticus 23:24 and “Yom Teru’ah” the day of blowing the horn in Numbers 23:9.

 23 The LORD spoke to Moses: 24 “Tell the Israelites, ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you must have a complete rest, a memorial announced by loud horn blasts, a holy assembly. 25 You must not do any regular work, but you must present a gift to the LORD.’”  (Lev. 23:23-25)

1 “‘On the first day of the seventh month, you are to hold a holy assembly. You must not do your ordinary work, for it is a day of blowing trumpets for you. 2 You must offer a burnt offering as a sweet aroma to the LORD: one young bull, one ram, and seven lambs one year old without blemish.  3 “‘Their grain offering is to be of finely ground flour mixed with olive oil, three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths of an ephah for the ram, 4 and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs,note 5 with one male goat for a purification offering to make an atonement for you; 6 this is in addition to the monthly burnt offering and its grain offering, and the daily burnt offering with its grain offering and their drink offerings as prescribed, as a sweet aroma, a sacrifice made by fire to the LORD. (Num 29:1-6)

I mentioned that the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar. That is not quite correct. A fully lunar calendar would be based solely on the phases of the moon would cycle through the year, as the Islamic Calender does. Instead, the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar. The twelve months add up to 354 days, so to keep up with the seasons extra, intercalary months are added in a nineteen year cycle. Seven intercalary months are added during the cycle so that a thirteenth month is added every two or three years. This means that the dates wander a bit compared to the Gregorian calendar but stay within the appropriate seasons.

Anyway, Shana Tova everyone.

 

 

No, Trump is Not a Fascist

July 28, 2018

Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. He is not attempting to establish a Fascist dictatorship in America. There is not a rising tide of Fascism in the United States. No mainstream politician of either political party is anything like Hitler or any other dictator. I shouldn’t have to write these obvious and common sense statements but the lunatic notion that we on on the verge of a Trump Fascist dictatorship has migrated beyond the fever swamps of the unhinged left and is becoming the consensus opinion in the Democratic Party.

One might suppose that the fact that the people who are calling Donald Trump a fascist are not currently in a concentration camp awaiting execution might be sufficient evidence to disprove the idea that Trump is any kind of a dictator and perhaps only the most delusional leftist believes that the dictatorship os already established. Instead, there are numerous articles in left wing sites like Slate or Huffington Post detailing all the ways in which this or that policy of Trump’s is what a Fascist would do and is a sign that we are far down the road to dictatorship, even if we haven’t quite reached the destination yet.

I have no interest in trying to refute these kinds of articles. Any democratically elected leader could be made to seem a potential dictator my making superficial comparisons in policies. Any government, whether democratic or not, has the same sort of problems to resolve, often with similar solutions and even the most despotic government has to maintain basic infrastructure. Nazi Germany was a world leader in legislation to protect the environment and discourage cruelty to animals. Does that mean that an American politician who supports such legislation is a Nazi? Of course not.

It might be more useful to compare the first year and a half of Adolf Hitler’s regime with the Trump administration to see whether or not Trump is indeed taking down the road to Fascism.

  • January 30, 1933-Adolf Hitler appointed Chancellor.
  • February 28-Hitler given emergency powers after the Reichstag fire.
  • March 22-First concentration camp opened in Dachau.
  • March 24-Enabling act passed giving all legislative power to the Chancellor.
  • April 7-German civil service purged of Jews and Communists. Central government takes control of states ending German federalism.
  • April 26-Gestapo created in the state of Prussia
  • May 2-Trade unions banned.
  • July 14-All political parties except for the National Socialists banned. Germany becomes a one party state.
  • November 30-Gestapo given authority throughout Germany.
  • June 30-July 2 1934-Night of the Long Knives. Enemies of Hitler both within the Nazi Party and outside murdered. Hitler gains uncontested power in Germany
  • August 2-President Hindenburg dies. Office of President combined with Chancellor making Hitler head of state as well as the head of government.

As you can see, Hitler began the process of gaining absolute power in Germany almost as soon as he was made Chancellor. WIthin a year of his appointment, Hitler already had the powers of a dictator, banning opposition parties and imprisoning critics of his regime. By the time Hitler was in power for eighteen or nineteen months, he was the Führer, the absolute master of Germany.

Meanwhile, in the year and a half that Donald Trump has been president, he has done none of these things, not one. Trump has not been given emergency powers. He has not opened concentration camps for dissidents nor has he gained control of the media. The Democratic Party has not been banned and none of the “Never Trump” Republicans has been murdered. If Donald Trump aspires to be a dictator, he is taking an awful long time to go about it.

Does it matter that millions of Americans are convinced that we are on the verge of a Fascist dictatorship? I think it does matter quite a lot. In order for democracy to work the loser of an election must concede power to the winner. The faction out of power may oppose the policies of the faction in power, acting as the loyal opposition, but they ought not to question the legitimacy of the government itself. The faction in power must not use its political power to punish the losers. There has to be a certain level of trust between all the participants in the process that the opposition are not the enemy but fellow patriots who happen to have different ideas and priorities. There also has to be a certain willingness of various factions both in and out of power to compromise with one another or to participate in the give and take of democratic politics. If you believe the the other people are Nazis or Fascists or whatever, then you don’t compromise with them, you fight them. If the party in power are Fascists bent on creating a dictatorship, you do not act as the loyal opposition, but as the Resistance. If the party out of power are Nazis waiting for the chance to seize power, you do not treat them as the loyal opposition but as traitors potentially guilty of sedition. Either way, the normal rules no longer apply and the enemy has to be fought by any means necessary, including violence.

If we keep going on the path we have been, it won’t be long before large numbers of people will believe that violence is an acceptable means to effect political change. If political unrest and violence become the norm, we really will end up with the dictatorship Trump’s critics claim to fear. People crave security and public order, even over liberty and if constitutional government cannot provide the security they need, they will turn to a strongman who can. Remember, people turned to Hitler and Mussolini because they seemed to be the only people in Germany and Italy who had their act together.

Maybe part of the reason that so many people want to believe that Trump is a dictator is because they feel it is somehow exciting to be part of the Resistance fighting for liberty against the Evil Empire. This is definitely one of those cases where people should be careful what they wish for. Believe me, you do not want to live in a country that is tearing itself apart. You do not want to live in a country in which a dictator seems like the best option available. There are many places in the world in which dictatorship and civil strife are real threats. Let’s not let America become one of them.

 

A Forgotten Battle

July 8, 2018

We ought to know history fairly well. While there may be all sorts of details to be filled in, the broad outlines of wars and revolutions, the rise and fall of empires, great migrations of peoples, etc, must surely be as well known as anything can be. Of course, our knowledge of history largely depends on written records and if no one thought an event was worth recording or if it occurred before the invention of writing, we may not know anything about it. For all we know, all sorts of things might have occurred before anyone was able to make written records. They may be whole cultures we know nothing of.

This article at Sciencemag.org about an forgotten battle in Bronze Age Northern Europe illustrates nicely how little we may actually know about our past.

About 3200 years ago, two armies clashed at a river crossing near the Baltic Sea. The confrontation can’t be found in any history books—the written word didn’t become common in these parts for another 2000 years—but this was no skirmish between local clans. Thousands of warriors came together in a brutal struggle, perhaps fought on a single day, using weapons crafted from wood, flint, and bronze, a metal that was then the height of military technology.

Struggling to find solid footing on the banks of the Tollense River, a narrow ribbon of water that flows through the marshes of northern Germany toward the Baltic Sea, the armies fought hand-to-hand, maiming and killing with war clubs, spears, swords, and knives. Bronze- and flint-tipped arrows were loosed at close range, piercing skulls and lodging deep into the bones of young men. Horses belonging to high-ranking warriors crumpled into the muck, fatally speared. Not everyone stood their ground in the melee: Some warriors broke and ran, and were struck down from behind.

When the fighting was through, hundreds lay dead, littering the swampy valley. Some bodies were stripped of their valuables and left bobbing in shallow ponds; others sank to the bottom, protected from plundering by a meter or two of water. Peat slowly settled over the bones. Within centuries, the entire battle was forgotten.

This epic battle was forgotten until the twentieth century.

n 1996, an amateur archaeologist found a single upper arm bone sticking out of the steep riverbank—the first clue that the Tollense Valley, about 120 kilometers north of Berlin, concealed a gruesome secret. A flint arrowhead was firmly embedded in one end of the bone, prompting archaeologists to dig a small test excavation that yielded more bones, a bashed-in skull, and a 73-centimeter club resembling a baseball bat. The artifacts all were radiocarbon-dated to about 1250 B.C.E., suggesting they stemmed from a single episode during Europe’s Bronze Age.

Now, after a series of excavations between 2009 and 2015, researchers have begun to understand the battle and its startling implications for Bronze Age society. Along a 3-kilometer stretch of the Tollense River, archaeologists from the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Department of Historic Preservation (MVDHP) and the University of Greifswald (UG) have unearthed wooden clubs, bronze spearheads, and flint and bronze arrowheads. They have also found bones in extraordinary numbers: the remains of at least five horses and more than 100 men. Bones from hundreds more may remain unexcavated, and thousands of others may have fought but survived

No one knows if the men who fought at this battle were good men or bad, or why they fought and died. Archaeologists can uncover the bare facts about the battle, how many fought and with what weapons, but they cannot tell us why they were fighting or what issues they thought were important. enough to fight and die over. If any bard composed epic poems celebrating these warriors, we will never hear it. Any oral tradition has not survived. I am not sure if these warriors are any relation to the people currently living in the region. I would guess probably not. No Homer was able to preserve any epic poetry by writing it down, since these people had no knowledge of writing.

On thing is clear, however. This was no mere skirmish between villages or wandering tribes. These were small armies made up of thousands of fighters, which implies a level of political sophistication unsuspected in that place and time.

Northern Europe in the Bronze Age was long dismissed as a backwater, overshadowed by more sophisticated civilizations in the Near East and Greece. Bronze itself, created in the Near East around 3200 B.C.E., took 1000 years to arrive here. But Tollense’s scale suggests more organization—and more violence—than once thought. “We had considered scenarios of raids, with small groups of young men killing and stealing food, but to imagine such a big battle with thousands of people is very surprising,” says Svend Hansen, head of the German Archaeological Institute’s (DAI’s) Eurasia Department in Berlin. The well-preserved bones and artifacts add detail to this picture of Bronze Age sophistication, pointing to the existence of a trained warrior class and suggesting that people from across Europe joined the bloody fray.

Ancient DNA could potentially reveal much more: When compared to other Bronze Age samples from around Europe at this time, it could point to the homelands of the warriors as well as such traits as eye and hair color. Genetic analysis is just beginning, but so far it supports the notion of far-flung origins. DNA from teeth suggests some warriors are related to modern southern Europeans and others to people living in modern-day Poland and Scandinavia. “This is not a bunch of local idiots,” says University of Mainz geneticist Joachim Burger. “It’s a highly diverse population.”

As University of Aarhus’s Vandkilde puts it: “It’s an army like the one described in Homeric epics, made up of smaller war bands that gathered to sack Troy”—an event thought to have happened fewer than 100 years later, in 1184 B.C.E. That suggests an unexpectedly widespread social organization, Jantzen says. “To organize a battle like this over tremendous distances and gather all these people in one place was a tremendous accomplishment,” he says.

There could have been whole kingdoms and empires in the northern Europe that we know nothing about, a whole undiscovered history. I wonder how much unknown history there remains to be discovered in other parts of the world where the people had not yet learned about writing. Perhaps we will never know.

Independence Day

July 4, 2018

The Fourth of July is the day on which the American people celebrate their independence from Great Britain. It is not actually clear why Independence Day is the Fourth. Congress actually passed the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. It has often been thought that the Declaration was signed on the fourth, but that doesn’t seem to be true. There wasn’t any one time when the members of Congress signed the Declaration and there were a few who didn’t get around to signing it until August. Nevertheless, the fourth is the date that stuck. As John Adams wrote to Abigail.

English: "The Declaration of Independence...

 

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

 

And so it has been, for the last 242 years. May God bless America and grant us many more years of freedom.

 

 

 

Happy Independence Day.

 

 

Memorial Day

May 28, 2018

Today is Memorial Day, the day we honor those who have fallen fighting for their country and for freedom.

Memorial Day first started to be observed after the Civil War. That war was the bloodiest in American history and the casualties of that war were unprecedented. The number of killed and wounded in the three previous declared wars, the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, were insignificant compared to the slaughter house that the Civil War became. After the war people in both the North and South began to commemorate the soldiers who died for their country. The date of this commemoration varied throughout the country until it settled on May 30.

In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill. This law moved the dates of four holidays, including Memorial Day, to the nearest Monday in order to create three-day weekends. This, I think, was unfortunate. I believe that converting the day on which we honor our fallen heroes into a long weekend tends to diminish the significance of this day. It becomes no more that day to take off work and for businesses to have sales. There should be more to Memorial Day.

Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 2018
Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of...

Charge of the Mexican Cavalry at the Battle of Puebla (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Today is Cinco de Mayo, or the Fifth or May. Contrary to what is commonly believed, (including myself), Cinco de Mayo is actually more of an American, or at least a Mexican-American, holiday than a Mexican one. Cinco de Mayo is only celebrated regionally in Mexico, Primarily in the state of Puebla and Vera Cruz. Schools are closed on this day, but it is not an official national holiday in Mexico.

 

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of  Puebla on May 5, 1862. In 1861, the Mexican government was bankrupt and President Benito Juarez suspended payments on Mexico’s foreign debt. In response Britain, France, and Spain sent naval forces to occupy the city of Vera Cruz and demand payment on the debts Mexico owed them. Juarez managed to come to an arraignment with Britain and Spain, but the French, ruled by Emperor Napoleon III had other ideas.

 

Louis Napoleon III was the nephew of Napoleon I Bonaparte. He had somehow managed to get himself elected as president of the Second Republic of  France in 1848, but he decided that president was not a grand enough title for a Bonaparte and in 1851 he seized dictatorial power in France and named himself Emperor. In spite of being the nephew of Napoleon I, Napoleon III was not a particularly aggressive Emperor and was mostly content to have France at peace with other European powers. With the crisis in Mexico, however, Napoleon III saw an opportunity for France to gain an empire in Latin America. The United States was involved in the Civil War and was in no position to try to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. In fact, an additional benefit to French occupation of Mexico would be to give France a base with which to send aid to the Confederate States, keeping the nation divided and unable to resist the French conquest.

 

The French army invaded Mexico with 8000 men under the command of General Charles de Lorencez late in 1861. This army marched from Vera Cruz in April of 1862 and defeated Mexican forces led by Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin on April 28. Seguin retreated to the city of Puebla where the Mexicans had two forts. Seguin had only 4500 badly armed and trained men to defend the city. It seemed likely that the French would crush the Mexicans and march on to Mexico City without and further resistance.

 

On May 5, Lorencez attacked the forts with 6500 men. Against all odds the Mexicans successfully defended the forts against three assaults. By the third assault, the French artillery had run out of ammunition, so the infantry had to attack without artillery support. They were driven back and the French had to fall back. Then, Seguin attacked with his cavalry while the Mexican infantry outflanked the French on both sides of their positions. The French were routed with 462 men killed, while the Mexicans only suffered 83 dead. This unlikely victory has been an inspiration for Mexican patriots ever since.

 

The victory was a short-lived one. Napoleon III sent reinforcements to Mexico and the French were able to conquer the country. Napoleon III placed the Austrian Hapsburg Maximilian as the first Emperor of the Mexican Empire. He was also the last Emperor, since as soon as the United States was finished with the Civil War, the U S government made it clear to Napoleon III that it would not tolerate a French colony on the southern border. Since Napoleon III did not want to fight a war against battle hardened Civil War veterans, he removed the French troops. Maximilian, despite the fact that he sincerely tried to govern Mexico well, was quickly overthrown and executed.

 

Although Benito Juarez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday, Cinco de Mayo was first celebrated by Mexicans in the American Southwest, the territories the US gained in the Mexican War. The former Mexicans began to celebrate Cinco de Mayo both as a way to express their Mexican identity and to show their support for the North in the Civil War. It may seem odd that these unwilling Americans would care about a war half a continent away, but the Mexicans were against slavery and Hispanics insisted that California enter the United States as a free state. Cinco de Mayo gained in popularity in the 1960s with the rise of Latino activism and still more in the 1980s when beer companies realized that the celebratory nature of the holiday would be a good marketing tool to sell more beer.

 

So happy Cinco de Mayo, or should I say feliz Cinco de Mayo!

 

 

 

 

 

The Election of 1872

April 12, 2018

As it happened, electing a man with no political experience to the presidency might not have been a very good idea, even if the man was Ulysses S. Grant, one of the best generals in American history. Grant’s presidency was not the disaster it has often been made out to be. The Grant administration had some solid accomplishments to its credit. Grant consistently upheld the civil rights of the freed Blacks in the South and used federal troops to crush the Ku Klux Klan. Grant sought, not very successfully. to ensure that the Native Americans were treated with some degree of justice. I suspect that the poor reputation as a general and president that Grant has had for most of the twentieth century was the result of Southern historians, the same ones who concocted the Lost Cause mythology, blackening Grant’s reputation as revenge for his defeating their idol Robert E. Lee and standing up for the rights of the former slaves. Recently, Grant’s military reputation has been rehabilitated by military historians who now see him as a masterful strategist and I hope that political historians will follow suit.

That being said, no one is likely to list Ulysses S. Grant as one of the top ten Presidents of the United States. The problem was that Grant turned out to be a remarkably poor judge of character, at least in the civilian sphere. Grant himself was honest, but many of the men he appointed to office were not. Because this was the time before civil service reform when the Spoils System was still in operation meaning that almost every government post was a political appointee. If an incoming president appointed corrupt men, it didn’t take very long for the whole government to become thoroughly corrupt, which is what happened in Grant’s first term.

Despite several scandals, Grant was still personally popular and there was no question that the Republican Party would nominate him for a second term. A number of the more liberal Republicans were sufficiently disgusted with the corruption in the federal government and dissatisfied with Grant’s Reconstruction policies to separate themselves from the Republican Party to form the Liberal Republican Party. This new party, which included such prominent Republicans as Ambassador to Britain to Charles Francis Adams, Supreme Court Justice Salmon P. Chase, and  Senator Carl Schurz from Missouri held its convention in Cincinnati from May 1-3. There they nominated Horace Greeley, the founder and editor of the New York Tribune for the presidency.

Greeley was an unexpected and somewhat unusual choice for the nomination. He was not really a politician, only having served a brief term in Congress back in 1848-1849. He had been one of the founders of the Republican Party and may have given the party its name. He was chiefly a newspaper man however and was used to speaking his mind on every subject. People often say that they want a candidate you says what he really thinks, but they are lying. What people say is that they want a candidate who says what they want to hear and Greeley was not that man He simply didn’t know when to keep quiet or carefully parse his words as an experienced politician learns to do. This openness would not help him during the campaign.

The Liberal Republicans went on to nominate Benjamin G. Brown, the liberal Governor of Missouri. Like Greeley, Brown had been one of the founders of the Republican Party and had served as a Senator from Missouri from 1963-1867 and then Governor from 1871-1873. Brown had served in the Union Army from 1861-1863 before being appointed Senator to fill a vacancy left by the departure of his pro-confederate predecessor. The Liberal Republicans adopted a platform which attacked the corruption of the Grant administration, supported civil service reform and ending Reconstruction and the military occupation of the South. They had some problems with the important issue of protective tariffs, but they made some vague statement about it being up to the people to decide.

The Republicans met in Philadelphia from June 5-6. They nominated Grant  for reelection by acclamation on the first ballot. Grant’s nomination was seconded by William Henry Grey, the first African-American to address an American political convention. Vice-President Colfax was dropped from the ticket because of his suspected involvement with the Credit Mobilier scandal and the convention nominated Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts in his place. Senator Wilson had long been an anti-slavery activist and was a founder of the Free Soil Party, the predecessor to the Republican Party, which he also helped found. Wilson had served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate, before going on to serve in the U.S. Senate from 1855-1873. As the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs from 1861-1973, Wilson had played an important role in the Union’s war efforts. The Republicans went on to adopt a platform praising Republican achievements since 1861. The Republican platform made some mention of civil service reform and tariffs, without too many details on either subject, and favored the protection of the civil rights of all citizens in every part of the country.

The Democrats met in Baltimore from July 9-10, and promptly nominated the Liberal Republican ticket and platform. At only six hours, the Democratic National Convention of 1872 was the shortest political convention in American, and possibly world, history. It might seem strange that the Democrats did not nominate candidates who were actually Democrats, Horace Greeley had been an especially fierce critic of the Democrats, but they wanted to see Grant out of office and believed that nominated their own candidates would only have split the anti-Grant vote, allowing him to win. It didn’t turn out to be an especially good plan.

The campaign was a nasty one, as usual. Grant was assailed as an ignorant, corrupt drunkard. Grant remained silent, preferring not to actively campaign, but his supporters had plenty of ammunition to use against Greeley. During his long career as editor of the New York Tribune, Greeley had endorsed any number of fringe causes; socialism, utopian communes, vegetarianism  etc, and the Republicans had a field day making fun of his eccentricities. It probably wouldn’t have mattered even if the Democrats had nominated someone more, well, normal. Grant was popular enough among regular Republicans, bankers and industrialists, Civil War veterans, and Blacks, that he would have probably beaten any Democrat.

In the end, Grant won in a landslide with 3,598,235 (55.6%) popular votes against Greeley’s 2,834,761 (43.8%). The electoral vote was even more lopsided. Grant won all but six states gaining 286 electoral votes. Greeley won just Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas, for a total of 66 electoral votes. Arkansas and Louisiana had voted for Grant but the electoral votes were rejected due to irregularities arising from Reconstruction and so weren’t counted.

The Election of 1872

 

Horace Greeley took his defeat hard. He became ill and died just three weeks after the election, before the Electoral College met to cast the official ballots. This created the unprecedented situation in which a presidential candidate had died before the election was formally concluded. The Democratic electors resolved the issue by simply casting their votes for four other candidates. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the victor of the popular election had ever died before the Electoral College met.

Humanzee

April 8, 2018

The mad dream of Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov lives on! You may recall that Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was the Soviet mad scientist who sought to create a human-chimpanzee hybrid, or a humanzee, back in the 1920’s. Ivanov never came close to succeeding in part because the technology of the time was not advanced enough and also perhaps because the Soviet government never really gave Ivanov’s project the funding it needed. It seems that even the most ruthless and amoral ruling class in history, Stalin and the Bolsheviks, felt a bit queasy at the prospect. This unease has effectively prevented any further attempts at creating a humanzee and no one has even suggested such an experiment, until now.

David P. Barash, writing in Nautilus has proposed that making a humanzee might be a terrific idea.

 

It is a bit of a stretch, but by no means impossible or even unlikely that a hybrid or a chimera combining a human being and a chimpanzee could be produced in a laboratory. After all, human and chimp (or bonobo) share, by most estimates, roughly 99 percent of their nuclear DNA. Granted this 1 percent difference presumably involves some key alleles, the new gene-editing tool CRISPR offers the prospect (for some, the nightmare) of adding and deleting targeted genes as desired. As a result, it is not unreasonable to foresee the possibility—eventually, perhaps, the likelihood—of producing “humanzees” or “chimphumans.” Such an individual would not be an exact equal-parts-of-each combination, but would be neither human nor chimp: rather, something in between.

If that prospect isn’t shocking enough, here is an even more controversial suggestion: Doing so would be a terrific idea.

His reasoning:

Of course, all that we know of evolution (and by now, it’s a lot) demands otherwise, since evolution’s most fundamental take-home message is continuity. And it is in fact because of continuity—especially those shared genes—that humanzees or chimphumans could likely be produced. Moreover, I propose that the fundamental take-home message of such creation would be to drive a stake into the heart of that destructive disinformation campaign of discontinuity, of human hegemony over all other living things. There is an immense pile of evidence already demonstrating continuity, including but not limited to physiology, genetics, anatomy, embryology, and paleontology, but it is almost impossible to imagine how the most die-hard advocate of humans having a discontinuously unique biological status could continue to maintain this position if confronted with a real, functioning, human-chimp combination.1

It is also possible, however, that my suggestion is doubly fanciful, not only with respect to its biological feasibility, but also whether such a “creation” would have the impact that I propose—and hope. Thus, chimpanzees are widely known to be very similar to human beings: They make and use tools, engage in complex social behavior (including elaborate communication and long-lasting mother-offspring bonds), they laugh, grieve, and affirmatively reconcile after conflicts. They even look like us. Although such recognition has contributed to outrage about abusing chimps—as well as other primates in particular—in circus acts, laboratory experiments, and so forth, it has not generated notable resistance to hunting, imprisoning and eating other animal species, which, along with chimps themselves, are still considered by most people to be “other” and not aspects of “ourselves.” (Chimps, moreover, are enthusiastically consumed in parts of equatorial Africa, where they are a prized component of “bush meat.”)

Let’s stop right there. What Barash is saying is that there is no real distinction between humans and other animals. There is a continuity between human and animals and the difference in intelligence is a matter or degree and not of kind. In other words, we humans are no more than really intelligent animals.

This simply isn’t true. There is an actual discontinuity between human and animal cognition. Human beings are able to do things no other animal can do. This is not simply a matter of intelligence, There are some very intelligent animals and very stupid humans. This is a matter of a fundamental difference in mental ability. It is a difference of kind, not merely of degree. Every single human being, even the mentally handicapped,  has a special quality of mind that no other animal has and the advent of this quality of mind represented a quantum leap in evolution perhaps as great as the development of the central nervous system of the first vertebrates.

Barash disagrees. Very well, let him show me the ape Shakespeare or Homer. Let’s hear music composed by the primate Mozart or Beethoven. Let’s display paintings by the monkey Rembrandt.  No doubt there is a chimpanzee Edison somewhere making new inventions to benefit us all or a gorilla Einstein offering us new insights into time and space. For that matter, where is the ape Hitler. The special human quality can be used for evil as well as good. Chimpanzees have been observed to commit “genocide” against rival bands of chimps. There has been no chimpanzee Holocaust, however, because chimpanzees lack the ability to organize to commit such great evil. I’d even be satisfied if Barash can show us an ape that can read and write, tell stories, or create representational art as well as a child in kindergarten.

Would a humanzee have this special quality of mind? It is hard to say. I have a feeling that it might but not so much as a full human. The humanzee might be just intelligent enough to know it is lacking something. Such a being would probably not be as intelligent as a human being. It might also not be very intelligent by chimpanzee standards since it may lack the instincts that a chimpanzee has. The humanzee would be neither human nor animal, belonging to neither worlds. Chimpanzees would probably reject his society, probably violently. Humans would see him as a freak, a laboratory curiosity. Like a mule, the humanzee would be sterile, unable to bring forth more of his or her kind into the world. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the humanzee may have just cause to hate his creator for bringing him into a world in which he has no place.

Barash recognizes these possibilities, but then instantly dismisses them.

Neither fish nor fowl, wouldn’t they find themselves intolerably unspecified and inchoate, doomed to a living hell of biological and social indeterminacy? This is possible, but it is at least arguable that the ultimate benefit of teaching human beings their true nature would be worth the sacrifice paid by a few unfortunates. It is also arguable, moreover, that such individuals might not be so unfortunate at all. For every chimphuman or humanzee frustrated by her inability to write a poem or program a computer, there could equally be one delighted by her ability to do so while swinging from a tree branch.

What lesson would a humanzee teach human beings about their true nature? What great benefits might derive from such a creation?

ooking favorably on the prospect of a humanzee or chimphuman will likely be not only controversial, but to many people, downright immoral. But I propose that generating humanzees or chimphumans would be not only ethical, but profoundly so, even if there were no prospects of enhancing human welfare. How could even the most determinedly homo-centric, animal-denigrating religious fundamentalist maintain that God created us in his image and that we and we alone harbor a spark of the divine, distinct from all other life forms, once confronted with living beings that are indisputably intermediate between human and non-human?

In any event, the nonsensical insistence that human beings are uniquely created in God’s image and endowed with a soul, whereas other living things are mere brutes has not only permitted but encouraged an attitude toward the natural world in general and other animals in particular that has been at best indifferent and more often, downright antagonistic, jingoistic, and in many cases, intolerably cruel. It is only because of this self-serving myth that some people have been able to justify keeping other animals in such hideous conditions as factory farms in which they are literally unable to turn around, not to mention prevented from experiencing anything approaching a fulfilling life.

By establishing that we humans are nothing special, that we are simply animals like any other, albeit with more intelligence, Barash believes that we will come to treat animals more humanely. Notice how we use the word “humane”. People who argue against cruelty to animals believe in the humane treatment of animals. There is the Humane Society. Why do we use a word derived from the same source as “human”. Perhaps because humans are the only animal that has been observed consistently treating other species with some degree of kindness, as well as deliberate cruelty. The case against cruelty to animals is made precisely on the basis that we are ourselves, somehow more than animals and thus are obliged to exercise more responsibility in our treatment of other animals than they use in treating each other.

But, if we are nothing more than merely another species, simply a clever ape, then maybe we do not have that responsibility either to other animals or to our fellow human beings. If we are not created in the image of God, then maybe we have no inalienable rights given to us by our Creator, which we are required to respect. It is not really possible to raise animals to the status of human beings. It is possible to degrade human beings to the status of animals, and all too often in history groups of human beings have been regarded as less than human and treated accordingly. If we are regarded as nothing special, the result will not be that we will treat animals as though they are the same as humans. That really is not possible. The result will be that we will treat humans like animals, or worse. That is all too possible.

The creation of a human-chimpanzee hybrid is a truly terrible idea, proposed for the worst of motives. It is possible that such a thing could be done, though less easily than Mr. Barash believes. It is certain that it ought not to be done.


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