Archive for the ‘History’ Category


November 26, 2015

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. It is most unfortunate that this day has become little more than an excuse to gorge on turkey. Even worse, the obscenity known as Black Friday has begun to creep back into the holiday making what ought to be a day of giving thanks to the deity a day of frenzied shopping. We in America have perhaps more to be thankful for than any other nation in history and we are probably the biggest ingrates.

Well, anyway, the whole mythology surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday,with the turkey meal, etc is based on the Thanksgiving celebration held by the settlers of Plymouth colony in 1621. They had a lot to be thankful for. These Pilgrims had decided to immigrate to the New World so that they could practice their religion freely. They had intended to settle at the mouth of the Hudson River but their departure from England on the Mayflower had been delayed and the trip across the Atlantic had been rough. They reached America farther north then they had intended,at Provincetown Harbor in November 1620. While they did not really have a legal right to create a colony in what is now Massachusetts, no one really wanted to spend the winter at sea so on December 21, 1620 the Pilgrims began to build the settlement at Plymouth.

Model of a 17th century English merchantman sh...

Would you spend any more time in a leaky ship like this than you had to? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first winter at the new colony was very hard. About half of the colonists had died by spring. By what must have seemed incredible luck or divine providence, the colonists were able to make contact with two Natives who could speak English. One of these was named Samoset and he had learned some English from English trappers and fishermen. He introduced the Pilgrims to the other man, Squanto, who had a truly remarkable life. Captured by Englishmen, he was taken to England and instructed in the English language in the hope that he could serve as an interpreter. When he was brought back to New England, he was captured again, this time by members of John Smith’s expedition who planned to sell captured Indians as slaves in Spain. In Spain, some friars learned of this plan and had the Indians freed and instructed in the Catholic religion. Squanto was able to make his way back to England and then across the Atlantic. There, he discovered that his whole tribe had been destroyed by the diseases, probably smallpox, that the Europeans had already unwittingly brought to the New World.

Squanto was willing to help the Pilgrims and taught what they needed to know to survive in New England.The harvest in the summer of 1621 was good enough that the Pilgrims did not need to fear starvation that winter. They had a feast that Autumn to celebrate their good fortune and to give thanks to God. This celebration was not considered to be anything very remarkable. Thanksgiving celebrations were fairly common at the time, especially among people who had successfully made the difficult and dangerous voyage across the ocean. It was not really the first Thanksgiving.

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930). The First Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth in 1621. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were proclamations of thanksgiving at various times in American history, especially during the Revolutionary War, but the holiday we know of as Thanksgiving really began in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that a national day of Thanksgiving was to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November. It might not seem that there was all that much to be thankful for in the middle of the Civil War but the tide was turning in the North’s favor after the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg that July and the country was continuing to grow in strength and prosperity despite the horrors of the war. Lincoln’s proclamation set the date for the national holiday that has been celebrated ever since. Franklin Roosevelt set the date a week earlier in 1939 in the hope that an earlier date would mean a longer shopping season for Christmas, thus helping the economy still mired in the Great Depression. This was not without controversy and in October 1941 Congress officially set the date of Thanksgiving on the fourth, and almost always the last, Thursday in November.

So,enjoy your turkey but please spare a moment or two to give thanks to the deity you worship. If you happen to be an American you really are one of the luckiest people on Earth.

Veterans Day

November 11, 2015

Today is Veterans Day. This day began as Armistice Day, November 11 1918 being the day that Germany signed the armistice that ended World War I. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day in 1919 to celebrate the courage of the men who fought and died in that war. The day was changed in 1954 in order to honor the veterans of all the wars of America.

I don’t have anything else to say except Thank You to all of the veterans who have served your country. You are better men and women than I am.


The Spanish Civil War

November 2, 2015

Like most Americans, I never knew very much about the Spanish Civil War. Outside of Spain, it mostly seems to be seen as a sort of prelude to World War II; the first battle of the epic struggle between Fascism and Democracy. In the movie Casablanca, that Rick fought on the Loyalist side in Spain was a quick way to indicate that he had, at least at one time, been on the side of the good guys.

At first glance, this impression seems to be true. The Spanish Civil War did begin as a military insurrection against the democratically elected left wing government of Spain. The Nationalists under Francisco Franco were backed by Fascist Italy and Germany who saw the civil war as an opportunity to test new weapons and tactics. A closer examination quickly shows that the issues surrounding this war were much more complicated than this simple view. For one thing, since the democracies such as France and Britain were determined to remain neutral in this conflict, the Republican government of Spain had little choice but to turn to the Soviet Union for help. This help came with strings attached, the Soviets hoped to increase the influence of the Communist Party in Spain and ultimately to create a Socialist dictatorship controlled by the Communists. On the other hand, there were never very many Fascists, or Falangists as the Spanish Fascists were named, in Spain until just before the Civil War. There was an increase in membership of the Falangist Party as the conflict began, mostly as a reaction to the apparent attempts by the left wing parties to convert Spain into a Soviet state. Franco himself never had much use for Fascist ideology and by the end of the end he had subordinated the party to his personal rule.

As for democracy, the truth is that neither side really supported the idea. The Right, whether Falangist, monarchist, or conservative, was frankly authoritarian in outlook. They were prepared to play the game of running in elections, but they didn’t much care for the process. The Left seemed to not understand the whole purpose of democracy is too allow the people to choose their rulers. They believed that they were on the side of History and Progress and thought of elections merely as a way to confirm their mandate. When a right-wing coalition won the elections in 1933, the left demanded that the vote be invalidated, not on the grounds of any evidence of fraud or irregularities, but simply because the wrong people had won. When they won the next elections, they began to rig the system to make sure they wouldn’t lose again. This refusal to follow the Spanish constitution, along with a threatened purge of the military caused the military to rise up against the left-wing government, beginning a terrible civil war. Neither side were the good guys, or even altogether the bad guys.


Stanley G Payne makes this clear in his account of the war, titled, simply enough, The Spanish Civil War. Payne gives a clear and coherent account of the years leading up to the war and is remarkably even-handed in assigning responsibility for the mistakes in policy that caused the war. Payne gives a good chronological account of the military history of the war as well as dealing with the policies each side developed to fight the war and to remake Spain according to their competing ideals. Both sides committed atrocities, and Payne is again even-handed in giving accounts on the inevitable horrors of war, alway worse in a civil war. He also explores why Franco and the Nationalist eventually won control of Spain and the motives of the countries that sought to intervene in the war.

The one thing that most struck me while reading through this book is that the Republicans really should have won this conflict. In 1936, when the fighting actually began, they controlled most of the territory of Spain, including the richest and most productive regions. They were considered the legitimate government of Spain internationally and they held the capital. They also controlled about half the navy, most of the air force, and even much of the army.  The Nationalists began the war as a few disgruntled army officers, mostly stationed in Morocco. How did they end up winning? They did get a lot of support from Germany and Italy and this did make a difference early in the war, but it seems the one advantage the Nationalists had over the Republicans was that they early became unified under a single leader, General Francisco Franco. The Republicans were divided between various factions including liberals who wanted some sort of social democracy, more doctrinaire socialists and communists who wanted to use the existing government to make Spain into a socialist state, and the radical communists and anarchist who wanted a revolution, not to mention nationalist Catalans and Basques. This division made it difficult for the Republican government to develop any sort of coherent strategy for winning the war, and the more extreme left-wing elements of their coalition, especially their anti-religious stance, frightened many Spaniards into supporting Franco as the lesser evil. They were probably correct, Franco was a dictator who crushed dissent after winning the war, but he probably didn’t cause nearly as much misery for the Spanish people as a Soviet backed Communist dictatorship might have, and Franco, at least, had the good sense to keep Spain out of World War II and he was inadvertently responsible for restoring democracy to Spain by arranging for King Juan Carlos to take power after his death. Franco was the least bad option for Spain at the time.

Franco and a young Juan Carlos

Franco and a young Juan Carlos



October 31, 2015

Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit:

The name “Halloween” is actually derived from “All Hallow’s Eve“, that is the day before “All Hallow’s Day” or All Saint’s Day. All Saint’s Day was and is a Christian, primarily Roman Catholic, holy day which celebrates all the saints in Heaven and includes prayers for those in Purgatory.

Halloween, however, is not a Christian holiday. It seems to have come from the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was a summer’s end or harvest festival. The Celts celebrated Samhain with bonfires to ward off evil spirits and sacrificed animals and sometimes humans to their gods. This pagan heritage has made Halloween controversial among Christians at times. The Protestant Reformers in England did not like the holiday and tried to suppress it because of its pagan and Roman Catholic origins. The Scots were more lenient and Halloween is celebrated there more than in England. The Irish, of course, still celebrated it as they remained Catholic and true to their Celtic Heritage. Halloween was not much celebrated in America until large numbers of Scots and Irish immigrated here during the nineteenth century.

As for the customs which have grown up around Halloween, it would seem that carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns is an American innovation. The Scots and Irish used turnips. Pumpkins, which are native to North American, turned out to be larger and easier to carve. Trick or treating seems to be derived from the Scottish custom of guising. Guising is the custom in which children would go from door to door in costume begging for treats and performing a trick or song in return. This custom was first noted in America in the early twentieth century. Trick or treating became the custom by the 1930’s. Haunted houses have also become popular since the 1970’s.

So, Happy Halloween, or Samhain.

Hitler’s Illness

October 26, 2015

Not long ago, I wrote about how Vladimir Lenin‘s poor health and untimely death after a series of strokes drastically effected the course of Soviet, and world, history. This time I want to write a little on how Adolf Hitler’s state of health influence the decisions he made just before and during World War II and whether his judgement was affected by  illness. Hitler clearly was not in very good health towards the end of World War II and it seems likely that even if the Germans had won the war, Hitler would not have lived to enjoy his Third Reich for very long. The precise nature of any illness that Hitler suffered from is unclear since he is not available for a medical examination and his body was not autopsied. There has been much speculation about Hitler’s health in the decades since his death, with theories that Hitler was afflicted with syphilis, suffered from the ministrations of his personal physician; a quack named Theodor Morell, or simply was consumed with the crushing stress of leading a losing war. The most likely theory to explain Hitler’s symptoms is that Hitler suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, as related in this article from the Daily Mail that I read recently.

Parkinson’s disease may have played a crucial role in Adolf Hitler’s defeat, according to a controversial new study.

The research claims the neurological disease influenced some of the dictator’s biggest decisions, making him reckless and ultimately losing World War II.

But it also goes a step further to say that Hitler’s horrific and inhumane murders were also influenced by his disease, exaggerating his ‘volatile temperament’.

The study was led by Raghav Gupta and a team at the University of Pittsburgh and recently published in the journal World Neurosurgery.

‘The possibility of Hitler suffering from Parkinson’s has long been the subject of debate,’ writes Gupta.

‘Video evidence depicts that Hitler exhibited progressive motor function deterioration from 1933 to 1945.’

By the end of his life, Hitler had a pronounced tremor in his hands, particularly his left hand, which has caused a number of scientists to question whether he had the disease.

Parkinson’s can also cause a slow gait, bent posture and a dull stare, along with cognitive disorders such as a lack of imagination and a general apathy.

The researchers suggest that Hitler’s condition may have led him to attack Russia prematurely in 1941, according to a report in Discover.

A previous study claimed that Hitler’s decision to invade Russia, before defeating Britain on the western front, was a direct result of his failing health.

The study points to other bad decisions of Hitler’s such the failure to defend Normandy in 1944, alongside keeping his forces in Stalingrad in 1942.

They say this was the result of the dictator’s ‘volatile temperament’ which may have been aggravated by his Parkinson’s.

The study also goes on to suggest that Hitler’s lack of remorse and sympathy can be associated with his Parkinson’s.

Assuming that Hitler did indeed suffer from Parkinson’s disease, how did it affect his judgement and the outcome of the war?

Did he have Parkinson's Disease?

Did he have Parkinson’s Disease?

 Hitler always was something of a gambler and a risk taker, preferring to improvise rather than making elaborate plans. This willingness to risk everything on a single throw of the dice, as it were, helped Hitler immeasurably during his rise to power in Germany and in the early years of his rule, especially since he could also be patient when it was necessary. Up until around 1937 Hitler was largely successful in obtaining his goals both inside Germany and in Germany’s relations with its neighbors. Germany seemed to have largely recovered from the Great Depression and regained its place as one of the leading nations of Germany. Had Hitler stopped then, he would possibly be regarded as a great statesman.  After 1937, Hitler seemed to become more impatient and reckless.

Consider the timeline leading up to the Second World War. In March 1938, Germany invaded and annexed Austria. Almost immediately, Hitler began pressing for the session of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia on the grounds that the majority of the population were ethnic Germans and therefore the region rightly belonged to Germany. After the Munich agreement in September 1938, the Germans occupied and annexed the Sudetenland. Then in March 1939 Germany annexed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Then Hitler demanded that Poland cede the city of Danzig to Germany and when Poland refused, he ordered the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, beginning World War II. Now, each step of Hitler’s path to the war was in itself reasonable and could perhaps be justified in terms of Germany’s national interest. No one in Europe really wanted a war, even Hitler. If he had allowed more time to elapse between his conquests, it is likely that he would have continued to lull France and Great Britain into inactivity. As it was, one move after another in quick succession thoroughly alarmed both Britain and France. They might have gone to war in any case after the invasion of Poland, but if Hitler had waited perhaps longer between conquests, Germany might have been more prepared for the war. As it was, the war really started too early for Germany. The Germans had been rearming almost since the Nazis had gained power but it would have been better if Hitler could have put it off until around 1942 or 1943, especially since Mussolini had advised Hitler that Italy could not be ready for war until at least 1945. Why the hurry?

By the end of 1940, Hitler had defeated France and was the master of continental Europe with only Britain still opposing him. Then on June 22, 1941, Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. This was not an entirely unreasonable course of action for Germany. Hitler had good reason to suspect that Stalin was biding his time waiting for the capitalist powers to exhaust themselves in war before swooping in to bring the revolution to Europe. Moreover, Stalin’s purges had badly weakened the Red Army and Hitler could reasonably consider that it would be better to invade before Russia recovered its strength. Still, why the hurry when Hitler was still at war with Great Britain and it was increasingly obvious that it was only a matter of time before the United States intervened? Surely Hitler could have waited another year. By that time the morale of the British people would likely to have decreased to the point that they would have been extremely receptive to some peace proposal. The Germans had also wasted valuable time in the spring and early summer of 1941 assisting Italy after its disastrous invasion of Yugoslavia. Why couldn’t Hitler have waited until the spring of 1942 to begin his invasion of Russia, giving the Germans plenty of time to conquer as much territory as possible before the cruel Russian winter began.

I suppose the answer is that Hitler knew by 1938 that he was not especially well and that he perhaps did not have much time left. It may be that the best thing Hitler could have done for the Third Reich would have been to retire from the day to day running of the country and appoint a successor. The problem is that Fuehrers really can’t retire, and Hitler was not willing to be known to history as the predecessor to the man who created the thousand year Reich. He did not want to play the role of Phillip the Macedonian to another man’s Alexander the Great.

It is a little strange that Hitler’s increasingly obvious lapses in judgment towards the end of the war did not lead to some sort of coup. There were attempts to assassinate the Fuhrer, most notably the plot by Army officers led by Claus von Stauffenberg, but no attempts to seize power by the members of Hitler’s inner circle who had direct knowledge of his increasing inability to lead the Third Reich. They schemed among themselves for Hitler’s favor right up to the end, but none of them ever seem to have seriously considered replacing him. Perhaps they realized that they were not strong personalities in themselves and their fates were inextricably tied to Hitler’s.

Whatever the precise nature of Hitler’s illness, I think we can all be grateful that Hitler did suffer from ill health that made him more impatient and reckless. A healthier Hitler might have been a more rational Hitler better able to lead his nation in war and peace and perhaps more likely to succeed in his goals. It maybe that Hitler’s illness is the major reason Nazi Germany is not the leading world power to this day.

President Honorius

October 14, 2015

Recently Stephen Green of Vodkapundit wrote a post titled President Nero referring to President Obama’s seeming cluelessness on the state of the world under his leadership, particularly the president’s prioritizing action on climate change as post Cold War order is breaking up into chaos. Obama is fiddling while the Middle East burns. There is much worth reading here yet I think that Stephen Green is being more than a little unfair to Nero. Nero did not, after all, really play the fiddle, or his lyre as the violin had not yet been invented, while Rome burned down. In fact, Nero did everything that could be expected of an emperor in that disaster. Nero was not a particularly good emperor, to be sure, yet his reign was not a complete disaster, especially early on while his advisors Seneca and Burrus still lived. Despite the short civil war after his death and the rebellion in Judea, the Roman Empire was still strong and whole at the end of Nero’s reign. In fact, the next century was to prove to be the height of the Pax Romana under the Flavian Dynasty and the Five Good Emperors. Perhaps a better fit for President Obama might be a later emperor, Honorius who was emperor when the Visigoths sacked Rome in AD 410.




Honorius was Emperor of the Western Roman Empire from 395 to 423. The Roman Empire had been first divided into Western and Eastern halves by the Emperor Diocletian about a century earlier. After ending the period of incessant civil wars and foreign invasions that had nearly destroyed the Empire, Diocletian realized that one man was unable to meet the challenges of ruling the entire empire and so had divided it. The two halves were not seen as a division into two separate empires, simply a means to divide the labor of ruling but although strong emperors could rule over both halves of the empire, after the third century it was divided more often than not with the Greek speaking East and the Latin speaking West becoming more estranged over time.

085 Eastern & Western Roman Empires Map

The last emperor to rule over the whole Roman Empire was Honorius’s father Theodosius the Great. After his death in 395, the empire was divided for the last time between his two sons Arcadius and Honorius. Arcadius was the elder brother and so inherited the more desirable Eastern Empire where he ruled from Constantinople, while Honorius became the Western Emperor. Both emperors were minors when they acceded to their thrones and neither ever really showed much talent for ruling but the wealthier and more urbanized Eastern Empire proved to be better able to weather Arcadius’s inept rule. The West was not so fortunate and Honorius’s reign was a disaster from beginning to end with continuing invasions by the barbarian Germans and continual civil war by usurpers. At the beginning of Honorius’s reign the true ruler of the West was his guardian, Stilicho a Roman general of mixed Roman and German descent who had been related by marriage to Theodosius. Stilicho was perhaps the last Roman ruler who could have saved the Western Empire from destruction. He had some success in holding the Empire together but proved unable to prevent the invasion of Gaul by the Germans in 406 and the subsequent abandonment of Britannia. By this time, Stilicho’s enemies at court had persuaded Honorius that Stilicho was planning to supplant him and Honorius ordered Stilicho’s arrest and execution in 408, along with the execution of anyone he perceived to have been an ally of Stilicho, including a  large number of Germans living in Italy. This proved to be not a very good idea, since by then, the Roman army was largely made up of Germans, large numbers of Honorius’s soldiers simply deserted leaving Italy defenseless against the invading Visigoths under their king Alaric.

The Visigoths did not intend to capture Rome or conquer the Roman Empire. Indeed, they did not believe such a thing was possible. They, along with their kinsmen the Ostrogoths had fled into Roman territory to escape the Huns. Alaric wanted to negotiate with the Roman government for a homeland to establish an independent Visigothic kingdom allied to Rome. Alaric decided to threaten the city of Rome to compel the Roman government to negotiate in good faith. Honorius and his court were not greatly concerned however because it had been a long time since Rome was actually the capital of any part of the Roman Empire. He was safe in the city of Ravenna with its impregnable defenses and kept putting Alaric off until he was exasperated enough to sack Rome on August 24, 410.

Sack was perhaps too strong a word for the actions of the Visigoths. They did systematically take anything of value they could carry away, but there was no destruction of buildings or slaughter of the population. The Visigoths could not believe they had actually captured Rome and they acted more like awestruck tourist than barbarian plunderers. Meanwhile Honorius was distraught upon learning that Rome had been taken, until the messenger clarified that he meant the city and not Honorius’s pet chicken Roma. Then Honorius lost interest in the news.

Honorius managed to survive as Emperor until 423 while his empire crumbled around him. By the time of his death, Gaul, Spain, and Britannia were all lost to Rome and the Western Empire was limited to Italy and parts of Africa. The Western Empire itself lingered  under the rule of increasingly feeble puppet emperors and their German masters until finally the warlord Odoacer grew tired of the pretense in 476 and deposed the last Western Emperor.

We don’t have barbarians sacking Washington D.C. or New York, at least not yet, but it would be hard not to see that President Obama’s fecklessness has made the world a more dangerous place for us and our allies. He seems to be as little concerned about the collapsing international order previously upheld with American strength as Honorius was about the fate of the city of Rome. Unless the next president can repair some of the damage Obama has done, future historians may well identify Obama as the president who presided over the beginning of the end of the American Empire.


Columbus Day

October 12, 2015
Christopher Columbus, the subject of the book,...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is Columbus day in the United States, celebrating the day that Christopher Columbus reached the New World. In Berkeley and some other Leftist enclaves it is Indigenous People’s Day, in which Western Civilization is condemned for its many crimes against humanity. Columbus Day is no big deal, just a three day weekend for banks and such. Still, should we honor Christopher Columbus with a day?

I think we can absolve Columbus of the destruction of many Native American cultures and peoples. That was inevitable. Europe’s sailing and navigation techniques were advancing rapidly and it was only a matter of time before someone stumbled across the Americas. Since the natives were millenia behind in technology, they were doomed. They weren’t entirely helpless victims though. One of the first things that any Indian tribe did when they were contacted by Europeans was to arrange to trade for firearms to use against their traditional enemies. It does not seem to have occurred to them to form alliances against the European invaders until it was too late.

Still, Columbus did set the pattern by enslaving the natives of the islands he discovered.From the Wikipedia article there is this excerpt from his log.

From the 12 October 1492 entry in his journal he wrote of them, “Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language.”[39] He remarked that their lack of modern weaponry and even metal-forged swords or pikes was a tactical vulnerability, writing, “I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased.”[40

He seems not to have been a very good governor of Isabella, the first Spanish colony in the New World. He was charged with excessive cruelty and sent back to Spain in chains. These charges might be false though, since Ferdinand and Isabella felt they had promised him too much reward for his discoveries. Before he set out, they had promised him governorship of the lands he discovered. As it became obvious to everyone but Columbus that he had discovered a whole continent, the king and queen wanted a bigger share.

Maybe the biggest reason not to celebrate is that he was wrong. The popular view is of Columbus bravely asserting that the Earth is round against the scholars and intellectuals of his time who “knew” the Earth was flat. Of course everyone knew the Earth was round. The scholars and intellectuals knew about how large the Earth actually was and they knew perfectly well that Columbus was fudging his calculations to make his voyage seem feasible. If the Americas hadn’t been in the way, his voyage would have ended in disaster.

For all that though, I like Christopher Columbus. Despite his flaws, and he was only a man of his time, he was brave and he had vision, two qualities that are rare enough in any time, especially our own. So, by all means, let’s celebrate this man and his deeds.

The Election of 1844

October 5, 2015

Slavery was once again the issue that no one wanted to talk about during the presidential campaign of 1844. What people did want to talk about was the territorial expansion of the United States all the way to the West Coast. Manifest Destiny were the words on everyone’s lips, the destiny, nay duty, of the United States to take in as much of the North American continent as allowed by Divine Providence. This expansion could be accomplished in two areas. In the South, the expansionists wanted to annex the Republic of Texas, which had gained its independence from Mexico only a decade earlier and was eager to become a state of the Union. In the  North, there was the Oregon Territory with its disputed border with Great Britain’s Canadian territory. The more ardent expansionists wanted the United States to gain all of the Oregon territory under the slogan “54-40 or fight” referring to the latitude of the northernmost boundary of the territory and Russian Alaska.


Although no one wanted to mention slavery in connection with the territorial expansion of the United States, in fact much of the impetus for expansion was due to the desire of the slave holding South to expand the territories open to slavery. The Missouri Compromise had restricted slavery to territories south of the latitude 36º 30′with the exception of the state of Missouri. Since most of the states that could be carved out of the territory gained with the Louisiana Purchase were North of this line, eventually the free states would outnumber the slave states, upsetting the careful balance that had been maintained between the number of free and slave states. Already the northern states with their greater population had more seats than the slave states in the House of Representatives. An imbalance in the Senate would give the North control of both houses of Congress. President John Tyler had submitted a treaty for the annexation of Texas in April 1844 but he was unable to get the two-thirds majority in the Senate that was needed for ratification, largely because because of opposition from anti-slavery Whigs. Tyler simply resubmitted the treaty as a joint resolution of Congress requiring a simply majority in both Houses, making annexation the major campaign in the election of 1844

There was no question of either party nominating the incumbent John Tyler for a second term. Although he had been a Whig as William Henry Harrison‘s running mate in the previous election, Tyler had been a Democrat before breaking with Andrew Jackson back in the 1830’s. Tyler had never really been a strict party man and while president he had managed to offend the leaders of both political parties. Tyler did make some effort towards building a third party of his supporters, but nothing came of it and he eventually agreed to drop out in favor of the Democratic nominee.

The Whigs met in Baltimore on May 1 and nominated their long time party leader and 1824 presidential candidate Henry Clay. Clay had initially opposed the annexation of Texas as he believed that any such action without an agreement with Mexico would surely provoke a war between the United States and Mexico. Clay also understood that the annexation of Texas would only increase the sectional tensions between the North and South and might well split the Whig Part and the nation. This stand was not particularly popular in the South and Clay almost immediately began to backtrack, stating that he would support the annexation of Texas, even in the absence of an agreement with Mexico provided both North and South supported it. Then, he changed his mind again, and finally stopped talking about annexation altogether, campaigning on domestic issues. It didn’t work.

For Clay’s running mate, the Whigs nominated Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Senator from New Jersey. The Whigs felt that the devout, Northern Frelinghuysen would provide a nice balance with Henry Clay, the Kentuckian who had become notorious for his drinking, gambling, and dueling. Frelinghuysen was perhaps too devout as his Evangelical Christian faith led him to oppose slavery, he wanted to send them all back to Africa, and Indian removal. Neither position was apt to win him support in the South and West. Frelinghuysen also happened to believe that Catholics should be encouraged to convert to Protestantism, which cost the ticket votes among the small but growing Catholic population in the North.

Martin Van Buren was, at first, the prospective nominee of the Democrats, who met at the Odd Fellows Hall in Baltimore late in May. Van Buren lost his support because of his opposition to the annexation of Texas. There was no other front runner for the Democratic nomination until the little known James Knox Polk was introduced on the eighth ballot. Polk had been Speaker of the House from 1835-1839 and governor of Tennessee from 1839-1841. He had acquired a reputation for being quietly competent and had made few enemies and this along with his strong support of the annexation of Texas caused Polk to be nominated on the ninth ballot. The Democrats, at first, had wanted Silas Wright from New York as Polk’s running mate, but Wright was a supporter of Van Buren’s and declined the honor. Instead, the Democrats nominated Senator George M. Dallas from Pennsylvania.

The election of 1844 had the usual amount of personal abuse which was becoming common in American presidential politics. The Democrats had ample material to denounce Clay for his loose morals, declaring him unfit to lead a Christian nation like America. The Whigs found it difficult to reply in kind, since Polk had apparently done nothing fun in his entire life. Instead, the Whigs emphasized Polk’s lack of prominence in national politics, implying that he lacked the experience to be president. The Northern Whigs tried to portray Polk as slave trader and a creature of the Southern Slavocracy. For his part, Polk cleverly linked the annexation of Texas with the Oregon Territory dispute, making the question one of national expansion rather than the expansion of slavery. In the end Polk won by a fairly narrow margin. The Democratic ticket gained 1,339, 494,  popular votes, or 49.5%, against the Whig’s 1,300,004 votes or 48.1%. James G. Birney of the anti-slavery Liberty party got 62,103 votes or 2.3% of the popular vote, enough to have made a difference in some Northern states. In the Electoral College, Polk got 170 electoral votes, winning states both in the North and South. Manifest Destiny proved to be a popular platform. Clay won 105 Electoral Votes, winning his home state, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and a few Eastern states, including New Jersey, North Carolina and Massachusetts.

The Election of 1844

The Election of 1844

The United States formally annexed Texas in March 1845, just before Polk took office. As expected, The Mexican War broke out the following year. Despite the bluster of the expansionists with their cry of 54-40 or fight, Polk was not so foolish as to fight both Mexico and Great Britain at the same time and negotiated a compromise with the British over the Oregon Territory extending the border at the 49th parallel to the Pacific Coast. As for Polk, he served one term, during which he worked very hard, to the point of exhaustion. He declined to run for a second term and died within three months of the end of his administration.

CAIR Demands Ben Carson Withdrawal

September 28, 2015

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for Dr. Ben Carson to withdraw from the presidential race because of his remarks on whether he would support a Muslim for president. Here is the article I read from CNS news.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) plans to call Monday for Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson to withdraw from the 2016 campaign after the retired neurosurgeon said Islam was not consistent with the U.S. Constitution and that he would “absolutely not” advocate having a Muslim in the White House.

“Mr. Carson clearly does not understand or care about the Constitution, which states that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office,’” said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad.

“We call on our nation’s political leaders – across the political spectrum – to repudiate these unconstitutional and un-American statements and for Mr. Carson to withdraw from the presidential race.”

I can understand if Nihad Awad is more familiar with the details of Sharia law than the US constitution, but the provision barring any religious test does not apply to the voters. They can vote for, or against, a candidate for any office for any reason at all, including not liking the candidate’s religious beliefs. The constitution forbids the federal or state governments from imposing a religious test or qualification to bar candidates from running. For example, in the presidential elections of 1928 and 1960 the Catholics Al Smith and John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency. Many non-Catholic voters did not believe that a Catholic should serve as president and voted for their opponents. That was their decision to make. There was no religious test or qualification to bar either man from running.

Anyway, here is a transcript of some of Dr. Carson’s remarks. See if they are really so controversial, at least among sensible people not blinded by the fear of that bogeyman Islamophobia.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Carson was asked his views on the faith of an American president.

“Should a president’s faith matter – should your faith matter to voters?” asked host Chuck Todd.

“Well, I guess it depends on what that faith is,” replied Carson. “If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution – no problem.”

“So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?” Todd asked.

“No, I don’t. I do not,” said Carson, adding, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

I am not sure that I would completely agree with Dr. Carson in saying that I would not under any circumstances vote for or support a Muslim candidate for office. Much would depend on the candidate. I am fairly certain, however, that I would not support any candidate of any faith which CAIR would support, given their links to the terrorist organization Hamas and the Islamic supremacist  views held by their founder.

Of course, a great many people in the United States expressed similar concerns about the first two Catholic candidates for president. For much of the history of the United States, it was taken for granted, by the Protestant majority, that Roman Catholicism was not compatible with American political values. Such concerns were enough to defeat Al Smith in 1928, among other factors. Kennedy, in 1960, felt a need to address a gathering of Protestant clergymen in Texas to assure them that as president he would put the constitution before his Catholic faith.

This wariness on the part of many Americans, although a product of anti-Catholic prejudice, was not entirely unjustified. Until Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church had not been a consistent supporter of the liberal, democratic values this nation was founded upon. (By “liberal” I mean, of course, the political ideology emphasizes human rights, democratic rule, and free market economic, the ideology of the founding fathers and the nineteenth century British Whigs, rather than the ideals of the socialist progressives who hijacked the term in the early twentieth century. Ironically, it is the conservatives in America that uphold classically liberal values, while the liberals in America cling to primitive collectivism) The Papacy had also been suspicious of every political idea that had been developed in the wake of the American and French revolutions, denouncing such ideas as democracy, government by the consent of the governed, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, as errors and part of the heresy of modernism. As late as 1864, Pope Pius IX had denounced all such modern, secular ideologies in his Syllabus of Errors, to the considerable embarrassment of American Catholics, who had been at pains to show that being a good Catholic was compatible with being a good American. It wasn’t until Vatican II that the Church became reconciled with liberalism.

Of course, the truth was that while American Catholics looked to Rome for spiritual leadership, few, if any, American Catholics took advice on how to vote from the pope. There was no movement among American Catholics to replace the constitution with a theocracy ruled by the Pope. Then too, the Roman Catholic Church was itself a major part of the Judeo-Christian heritage on which Western civilization was based, and this heritage included the concept of the human dignity of even the lowest person in society who had rights granted by his creator. If the Catholic Church was slow to accept the development of liberal ideas, Catholic philosophers had at least laid the basis for them. Even the concept of separation of church and state is implied in Christianity with Jesus saying such things as, “My kingdom is not of this world” and “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” and was enunciated in Pope Gelasius I’s Duo Sunt which held that princes and bishops each had their own separate spheres.

Perhaps the Muslims are in a similar position as Catholics before the election of Kennedy. Islam may seem incompatible with American political values, but that does not mean that individual Muslims may not be good Muslims and good Americans, just as many American Catholics were both good Americans and good Catholics. I am skeptical, though. Islam is not part of the heritage of our Western civilization and considering the utter failure of liberal democracy taking root in the Islamic world and the abysmal human rights records of most majority Muslim countries, one could make a very good argument that Islamic political values are opposed to and hostile to Western values. In Islam a person is a slave of God, not a son to be redeemed by sacrifice. Sons have rights, slaves do not. It is not surprising, then, that individual human rights have never been very prominent in Islamic political theory. Mohammed was a prince as well as prophet, so there is no concept of separation of mosque and state. It seems to me that while one can be either a good American or a good Muslim, it must be very difficult to be both a good American and a good Muslim. And, unlike the situation with the American Catholics, there are Islamic organizations, like CAIR, that would like to replace the constitution with Sharia law, and a disturbing number of American Muslims who support that idea.

I wouldn’t necessarily refuse to vote for a Muslim candidate on the basis of his faith, but I think that Dr. Carson is closer to the truth of the matter than CAIR, or the foolish would-be dhimmis who denounce honest discussion as Islamophobia.


Fourteen Years

September 11, 2015

It has been fourteen 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 five 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, even if Barack Obama, the lightworker, is the president. Judging from the headlines, we are already relearning the fact that withdrawing from the world will not make the bad guys decide to leave us alone. Too bad the lightworker is incapable of learning from history. Even now he has made a deal with Iran with virtually guarantees that they will be able to develop nuclear weapons without interference from us. It may well be that the next 9/11 attack will be nuclear one.

Well, I will never forget that dreadful day fourteen 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 two 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.




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