Category Archives: History

Another Side of History

The Road to Freedom Tour Guide App

Today’s blog is inspired by The Virginian Pilot, April 18, 2021. “New Virginia Travel Map and App Offer a Tour into the Black Experience During the Civil War Era,” by Denise M. Watson

Virginia has a lot of history tied to the Civil War and has faced harsh and not unwarranted criticism over monuments to those honoring the Confederacy. The state of Virginia, along with Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia have had “Civil War Trails” for many years. They make for an interesting trip that I recommend, even if you make a side trip to a few sites while traveling through the area.

We all know (or most of us, at least) that there are at least two sides to every story. Those in the South who subscribe to the theory of The Lost Cause are only comfortable with the honoring of those who wore the Confederate uniform. There needs to be a counterpoint to the tales of Lee, Jackson, Pickett.

Over the last few years, the Civil War Trail has added sites that are significant to African American History. Eighty-eight sites are highlighted as “The Road to Freedom” tour, which you can access as a phone app, online app, or printed map. The timing is coincidental with current events but is nevertheless long over due. The African American side of the story is a more compelling, if not yet polished, story than the one that reflects the traditional White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant viewpoint.

A small example–Mary Peake taught enslaved people in violation of the laws of the time. One place she taught was under a large oak tree, under which she read the Emancipation Proclamation. The tree, known for many years as the Emancipation Oak is still alive and at the entrance to what it is now Hampton University. You have the chance to stand under that very tree, but probably never heard about it before.

At Fort Monroe, another site where Mary Peake taught, enslaved people sought freedom. General Benjamin Butler made a decision. We do not know if it was shrewd or just dumb luck. Southerners demanded their “property” be returned. He decided that if slaves were property, they were contraband and would not be returned. This started the first of many freedmen’s camps.

Although it’s not (yet) on the Road to Freedom Trail, there is a cemetery near my home, which is identified as “Unknown and Known Afro-Union Soldiers*.” Not quite the cachet that accompanies most military sited. Although overlooked for many years, these men were veterans, having worn the cloth of our country. They went into harm’s way, with the risk of death–either in battle or if they were captured.

Unknown & Known Afro-Union Civil War Soldiers Memorial Grave Site with American Flags

There’s more to history than what you were taught in high school. Check out https://www.battlefields.org/visit/mobile-apps/road-to-freedom-tour-guide

Minimum Wage

I was never cut out to be an economist. I took undergraduate economics in the early 1970s. When I took economics in graduate school in the late 1980s, many economic theories had swung 180 degrees. Up was down and down was up, but that’s not too surprising since they’re all theories, not facts.

One of the theories of economics is that as the economy improves, it helps everybody–“a rising tide raises all boats.” This would be great if true, but to this non-economist, it does not seem to be so. The current discussion of minimum wage is one such example. It’s complex, since people who work for minimum wage include entry level workers, such as high school students who have a part time, after-school job, as well as adults. When I pick something up at a fast food restaurant I usually see a number of adults. Although I can’t say that they are working at minimum wage, I doubt that they are at the median US income of $68,400.00. Median, as you recall, is a number that reflects the point where half of the population is above that number and half below.

Adults at minimum wage may include those without the skills for better employment. However, the pandemic has thrown so many people out of work that those with advanced education or skills may work at a minimum wage job since that is all that’s available.

Below is a chart of non-farm productivity. In the United States, the productivity of nonfarm workers is measured as the output of goods and services per hour worked. Labor productivity is calculated by dividing an index of real output by an index of hours worked of all persons, including employees, proprietors, and unpaid family workers.

United States Nonfarm Labour Productivity

Productivity has obviously increased significantly over the past 10 years, but productivity is measured as a percentage. To find out how much money this reflects, we can look at a different measure. Gross domestic product (GDP) is a monetary measure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced in a specific time period. (The following chart is in billions of dollars.)

Both charts reflect the same period of time and show an increase in both productivity and GDP, yet for the same period, minimum wage has remained at $7.25 per hour.

To this non-economist it appears that the rising tide missed at least one boat.

Yesteryear

I’m taking a break from the news, so today’s blog is about a long time ago.

Long ago in a grade school far, far away, normally sane people decided that it would be a good thing to educate me. They succeeded in most regards; the one exception was my penmanship. Even though the good Dominican nuns kept me in at recess to spend one-on-one time helping me, it came to naught. Note: as the shortest kid in my grade, not having to go out at recess and be the last one picked for every sport was a minor blessing.

It was a different world in the late 1050s and early 1960s. The desks we used in school had a circular hole in the upper right corner, which was left over from the use of inkwells. The only alphanumeric keyboards were on typewriters, most of which were manual.

We were required to use fountain pens, with allowance for cartridge pens. In any case, it had to have a nib, rather than a ballpoint. We had to turn our papers about 30 degrees counterclockwise so that the characters would be at a slant. The combination of the paper position and the ink meant that the left-handed kids wrapped their arm so that after they wrote a line, their arm dragged across it, sometimes smearing the ink.

In the Palmer Method of cursive writing, many of the letters are quite different than how they look in typeface. The capital “F” looks like a “T” with an extra line. The only place I see the cursive “G” today is in the General Mills logo. The “Q” looks exactly like a “2” to me, and no one will convince me otherwise.

As if that weren’t complicated enough, several lower case letters had different forms. If a word ended in “t,” there was a variation; the character was not crossed, but the last pen stroke looked like an upside down Nike swoop, although Nike did not yet exist. Similarly, there was a lower case “s” that looked more like a cursive “f.” Fortunately, these were optional so no one, except a few of the girls, used them. Girls’ hand muscles mature sooner than boys, so their overall penmanship was already near-perfect, not to mention that most grade-school boys were too impatient and not in the least inspired by cursive.

I could wax poetic about what a wonderful time it was back then–Black and White television, three or four channels, asbestos covered plumbing in the school hallways and restrooms, school uniforms– but I won’t.

Historic Lessons

Oldest Human Blood Cells Found in Prehistoric Caveman

Throughout history, mankind has advanced in knowledge and capabilities, which, when viewed in retrospect is seen a good thing. Overall, people view progress as better than stagnation.

People once relied on hunting and gathering to feed themselves, but this gave way to agriculture. With people staying in one place to farm, towns developed to provide a market and other services. Bartering was clumsy and inefficient, so money became the means of exchange.

Clubs were replaced by swords and spears made of bronze and then iron. Archers were no match for firearms. Trains were more efficient than horses for long distance travel; aircraft replaced trains. The telegraph replaced messengers and was, in turn replaced by radio and eventually the Internet.

While we say that the only constant is change, there is a second constant–resistance to change. At every major change, there were those who were so invested in the old ways that they unsuccessfully fought progress. The buggy whip makers, no doubt, were not huge fans of automobiles.

Today’s buggy whip makers include the fossil fuels industry. Coal was once the main fuel for generating electricity. Its smoke and soot were tolerated because there were no real alternatives. Already, some electrical power producers have found that switching to solar and wind power make economic sense and are reaping its benefits. Others are desperate to keep mining and using coal.

Progress is inevitable. We should have learned that year, if not centuries ago. We would do better to accept where the future is headed and adapt. We can choose to do so today or be forced to in the not-too-distant future.

What Could Go Wrong?

https://www.cinemacats.com/wp-content/uploads/movies/hotshots01.jpg
Pete “Deadmeat” Thompson, his wife, and black cat crossing his path

In the movie Hot Shots!, a character named Pete “Deadmeat” Thompson (played by William O’Leary) asks at inopportune times “What could go wrong?” I haven’t watched that movie in a while, but “Deadmeat” inspired me today when I was wondering about advisors to powerful leaders. “Deadmeat” is satirical, so he’s the perfect conduit as I ask, “Where do these advisors come from and why do powerful people listen to them?”

Julius Caesar‘s advisors:
“Brutus is like a son to you. What could possibly go wrong?”

King John of England‘s advisors:
“Tell the barons you won’t sign this Magna Carta thing. What could possibly go wrong?”

Jefferson Davis‘s advisors:
“Tell Abraham Lincoln you quit, and you’re taking the South with you. What could possibly go wrong?”

Major General George Pickett‘s advisors:
“Just charge across that open field to attack the Union Army. What could possibly go wrong?”

Adolph Hitler‘s advisors:
“You should invade Russia. What could possibly go wrong?”

Donald Trump‘s advisors:- – – – -Never mind


How Will History Treat 2020?

The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody | Fall, Book ...
This is historically accurate and funny as hell.

I continue to wonder how the year 2020 AD (or 2020 CE, if you’re politically correct) will be recorded in the history books. This may be far more complex than you might imagine.

The reason–most history books are about the same size. No matter how much history there is, it has to fit into a standard book.

Part of this is due to the fact that many history books are intended to be used as textbooks and there’s only so much that can be taught in a semester. There are exceptions, such as the 10 volume Abraham Lincoln: A History written by John Nicolay and John Hay, his secretaries during his presidency, but such exceptions are rare.

My history book collection includes A History of the United States Navy by John R. Spears, published in 1908. It predates both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars but is about the standard one and a half inches thick and 334 pages. A lot of what is prominent in that book, such as the details of the Spanish American War or the importance of the Dahlgren gun is either absent or barely mentioned in modern history books.

So how will 2020 be covered in the future? The COVID-19 pandemic, like the Spanish Influenza of 1918 may get a paragraph, if covered at all. Today’s political scandals will likely be treated as briefly as the Teapot Dome Scandal or Boss Tweed. Donald Trump may be as obscure a president as Millard Filmore or John Tyler.

It’s probably just as well.

Background Check

Mo Brooks et al. that are talking to each other: Representative Mo Brooks is not the first lawmaker to try to use the tallying process to challenge the results of a bitter election loss.
Huey Long statue, center, with Congressman Mo Brooks.

Nicholas Fandos and Michael S. Schmidt wrote in the New York Times about Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama. Without any evidence and following the president’s lead, he claims that election results in five states were illegitimate and proposes challenging the results.

I’ll leave the legal issues to others, but I found it hilarious that the photo-op was staged so that it prominently featured Louisiana politician Huey P. Long. Long was hardly the image of an honest politician. He was, to put it nicely, a flim-flam man, although he did so in such a way that Louisiana benefited and everyone was entertained by his performance.

In the definitive biography Huey Long by T. Harry Williams, Chapter 1 begins:

The story seems to good to be true–but people who should know swear it is true. The first time that Huey P. Long campaigned in rural, Latin, Catholic south Louisiana, the local boss who had him in charge said at the beginning of the tour: “Huey, you ought to remember one thing in your speeches today. You’re from North Louisiana, but now you’re in South Louisiana. And we got a lot of Catholic voters down here.” “I know,” Huey answered. And throughout the day in every small town Long would begin by saying: “When I was a boy, I would get up at six o’clock in the morning on Sunday, and I would hitch our old horse up to the buggy and I would take my Catholic grandparents to mass. I would bring them home, and at ten o’clock I would hitch the old horse up again and I would take my Baptist grandparents to church.” The effect of the anecdote on the audience was obvious, and on the way back to Baton Rouge that night the local leader said admiringly: “Why, Huey, you’ve been holding out on us. I didn’t know you had any Catholic grandparents.” “Don’t be a damn fool,” replied Huey. “We didn’t even have a horse.”

Perception > Reality

People in Marketing know that perception is more important than reality. Because of this phenomenon, people will prefer one brand over the others even when there is no perceptible difference between them. For example, a classic case was when a company test marketed three detergents, one in a yellow box, one in an orange box, and one in a red box. Customers reported that the detergent in the yellow box didn’t adequately clean their clothes. The red was too harsh and ruined their clothes. However, the detergent in the orange box cleaned their clothes without ruining them.

As you’ve probably guessed, all three boxes contained the same detergent.

Perception is very important. Marie Antoinette may have been clueless and lived in luxury, but she never said that if the peasants had no bread, “let them eat cake.” In fact, on the platform of the guillotine, she stepped on the executioner’s foot and apologized, saying, “I am sorry sir, I did not mean to put it there.” The real quotation does not get anywhere near the mileage of the cake story.

Politicians, celebrities, and other highly visible people who are in the spotlight try to avoid perception problems. Many have aides who try to steer them clear of statements and actions that are bad optics.

Only time will tell whether a recent event will become another “let them eat cake” legend. I’m speaking, of course, of the new White House Tennis Pavilion.

The White House, has had movie theaters, swimming pools, running tracks, bowling alleys, and–yes–tennis courts, so this is not something new. However the timing is a problem. With well over 15 million COVID-19 cases in the US, 293,931 ending in death, and 12 percent unemployment, the perception might well be a problem.

If you’re young enough, check the history books in 40 years to see how it turns out.

Strict Interpretation of the US Constitution

There’s been a lot of talk, lately, as to whether the law, particularly the US Constitution should be interpreted to reflect exactly what was written or whether the law adapts with the times. I am an analyst, so I am cursed with need to make sense—to the best of my ability—of issues of importance that are presented to the masses. I do not claim superior intelligence nor do I do believe I have extraordinary understanding of legal subtleties or political intrigues. I do however view myself as a responsible American voter trying to prepare for the time I will spend in the voting booth. I ask questions when I do not know the answers. However, sometimes the best way to find the answers is to ask the right questions. In fact, the questions are often more important than the answers.

Just for the record, I have sworn an oath to protect and defend the US Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic. I will continue to honor that oath for as long as I live. I take the US Constitution seriously, just as it deserves.

There is a mad dash to nominate and approve a new Supreme Court Associate Justice in the weeks before the next presidential election. The primary goal is stated as to appoint an associate justice who will interpret the constitution so as to reflect the exact intention of the those who wrote and signed the original US Constitution in 1787. The founding fathers were responsible for creating the Great American Experiment, which is both wonderful and yet remains an experiment.

A story, which is generally accepted as true tells us: Benjamin Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when someone shouted out, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin supposedly responded, with a rejoinder at once witty and ominous: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

I believe we may be facing just that question.

The founding fathers planted the seed; for the past 230 years, those of us who love America have tried to nurture that seedling and the plant as it has grown. In my opinion, some parts of the republic have done well, while others need more tending, including some weeding and pruning, even today.

The thoughts and ideals of the founding fathers were based on their times and their norms, which is why many people today believe that the Constitution should be interpreted based on today’s norms. This is not necessarily a new idea. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and the third US President wrote to James Madison, the fourth US President and who is considered the Father of the Constitution.

Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of nineteen years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right (Emphasis added). It may be said, that the succeeding generation exercising, in fact, the power of repeal, this leaves them as free as if the constitution or law had been expressly limited to nineteen years only. In the first place, this objection admits the right, in proposing an equivalent. But the power of repeal is not an equivalent. It might be, indeed, if every form of government were so perfectly contrived, that the will of the majority could always be obtained, fairly and without impediment. But this is true of no form. The people cannot assemble themselves; their representation is unequal and vicious. Various checks are opposed to every legislative proposition. Factions get possession of the public councils, bribery corrupts them, personal interests lead them astray from the general interests of their constituents; and other impediments arise, so as to prove to every practical man, that a law of limited duration is much more manageable than one which needs a repeal.”

Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789. ME 7:459, Papers 15:396

Inasmuch as Jefferson’s suggestion was never implemented, we have kept the US Constitution, more or less as written. It’s true that there have been 27 amendments, although the 18th amendment (Liquor Abolished) was negated by the 21st Amendment (Amendment 18 Repealed).  Therefore, there have actually been 25 changes to the US Constitution since 1787.

The first 10 amendments, commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights, were ratified in 1791, only four years after the main body of the Constitution, and given that they were primarily the work of James Madison, I propose that it is fair to include and accept that they, too, accurately reflect the will of the founding Fathers.

Before we consider some specific passages of the Constitution, let’s first mentally adjust our perspective to social norms of the Founding Fathers in the mid eighteenth century:

  • Only gentlemen could exert significant power. A gentleman was first and foremost a landowner. In many cases the land that they held had been granted by the British Crown before the War of Independence.
  • A gentleman was invariably white.
  • Every signatory of the US Constitution was a male.
  • Every signature on the Declaration of Independence also belonged to a man.
    • The closest was Mary Katharine Goddard, who was Baltimore’s Postmaster and an important journalist. She was charged with publishing the Declaration, so at the bottom of the broadside, issued in January 1777, the following appeared, “Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard.”
  • Suffice to say, women could not vote. I find no record of female judges until Esther Hobart Morris served as a Justice of the Peace in 1870.
  • At the time of the Founding Fathers, women were considered chattel (property).

Given these conditions and how they conflict with our norms and mores today (Thank, God) I have a difficult time accepting that strict interpretation is the best approach for the Twenty-first century.

The primary responsibility of the Supreme Court is to review legal decisions to ensure that they agree with the US Constitution. A strict constructionist sees the gold standard as the writings of the Founding Fathers. The Constitution, for example does not address issues concerning communication beyond the printed page. The telegraph, radio, television, internet, and smartphones are outside the instructions left by the Founding Fathers. While the Founding Fathers were well familiar with issues of property and the navigation of the seas, they had no concept of vessels that operate below the seas, in the air above the land, most assuredly of people and equipment that exist and operate above the Earth, on the Moon or on other planets.

Given that, let’s examine some original sections of the US Constitution. The following sections of the original Constitution may have been amended, but the original statement, and therefore strict interpretation best reflects the Founding Fathers’ intention.

  • Section 2, third paragraph: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
    • Women counted in the census, although they could not vote.
    • Native Americans were excluded from both being counted and voting.
    • “Other Persons”—in other words slaves—counted as 3/5th of a person, giving states with slaveowners more clout than other states. The more slaves in a particular state, the more representatives that state would have. At the time of the Revolution, the population of the United States is believed to be somewhere between 2.5 million and 4 million. There were about 450,000 enslaved “other persons,” although I cannot determine how they were enumerated in the total.
  • Further down in Section 2, third paragraph, “The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative.”
    • The 450,000 “other persons” is believed to include an estimated 400,000 slaves brought from Africa to the Colonies plus another 50,000 who had been born in the Colonies.
      • Americans in all 50 states owned slaves at that time.
      • The “breeding stock” aspect of slavery was a profitable business
    • The effect of the headcount of both freemen and the 3/5th count of slaves on representation was not trivial. In 1790, New York had 6 representatives, Pennsylvania had 8, while Virginia had 10. The number of slaves tipped the balance in Virginia’s favor.
    • Based on the original verbiage of the US Constitution—“The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each Shall have at least one Representative.” The forefathers were looking at a small number of people in a huge landmass, but today, it’s different. Based on strict interpretation, today, we would be entitled to 11,013 members of the House of Representatives.
  • Section 8, paragraph 7 points out that the Congress shall have the Power “To establish Post Offices and Post Roads.” A strict interpretation expected Congress to establish, operate, and maintain a Post Office. Back then, there were not necessarily roads in existence to provide postal communication. The Post Office needed to build and maintain those roads. Nowhere does it say that Congress can abdicate their postal responsibilities onto a pseudo-governmentally-owned-corporation or hand it over to a political sponsor to disenfranchise voters.
  • Section 8, paragraph 12 states that Congress has the authority “To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a Term longer than two Years.” The Founding Fathers did not want a standing Army because of the mischief that standing armies in Europe had caused.
  • “To provide and maintain a Navy.” The United States was and is a maritime country. In the time of the Founding Fathers, we were separated from European powers by the ocean, yet we needed to free travel through the ocean in order to maintain trade and commerce.
  • “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel invasions
    “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” During the Civil War, for example, the armies of both the North and the South primarily consisted of state militias.
  • Besides slavery being legally recognized, the Constitution in Article IV, Section 2, runaway slaves were to be returned to their owners. This was superseded by the 13th Amendment, which was passed in 1865—well after the Founding Fathers had passed into history.
  • Since the Bill of Rights was written by the Founding Fathers and reflects their views, the 9th and10th Amendments are especially important:
    • Amendment 9 – Construction of the Constitution: The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
    • Amendment 10 – Powers of the States and the People: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The Federal Government has expanded its authority into areas and in ways that would have shocked the Constitution’s signatories. This has resulted in rights of the individual and the state being impacted–sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

To interpret the Constitution as the Founding Fathers intended is not possible. In college, when a question on an exam asked what an author meant by a particular passage, I would answer in two parts:

  1. No one knows except the original author.
  2. Having established that, the interpretation that you taught is—and I’d regurgitate whatever the textbook or lecture opined.

If, on the other hand, we consider the Constitution to be a more current document, we would have to include the following conditions added by those who were NOT the Founding Fathers. These are not all-inclusive, but do reflect the most significant changes after the Founding Fathers passed on. A strict constructionist should, by rights, ignore every one of these since they are not from the Founding Fathers.

  • The abolition of slavery
  • All persons born in America or born anywhere to at least one American parent are citizens.
  • Voting cannot be denied or abridged on the basis of sex, race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
  • Congress can lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.
  • Attempts to legislate morality, such as Prohibition, have not succeeded.

I recommend that we admit that we’re no longer an 18th century agrarian society and act accordingly.

Tyler’s Grandson Dies

News sources have reported that John Tyler’s grandson died on September 26, 2020 [Link to CNN]. I mean no disrespect to Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., the grandson, but the media did leave out a few significantly interesting details. Many of us see (and dread) history as boring collection of names and dates, dry as toast, and impossible to make interesting. Just as the devil is in the details, so too are the exciting–and sometimes lurid–details of history.

John Tyler was not elected president, but was vice president to William Henry Harrison. You may remember their famous campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!” Harrison’s victory against Tecumseh at Tippecanoe earned him the nickname.* When sworn in as president, Harrison only served 31 days before dying; the cause of death was from a disease, although exactly which disease is still debated.

This was the first time a president had died while in office, so there was little guidance as to how to handle it. Harrison’s cabinet wanted Tyler to be referred to as “Acting President,” but before they could make that official, Tyler announced that he was president. Period. However, he was often referred to as “His Accidency,” but most likely behind his back.

After his term expired, Tyler initially worked as a representative of Virginia on a commission to avoid a civil war. He eventually saw it as insurmountable. In 1861, Tyler voted for the secession of the slave-holding states and volunteered for appointment to the Congress of the Confederacy. Later, when elections were held, he was elected to its House of Representatives, but died before its first session.

Tyler was the only president to be buried under a flag other than the United States Flag. He was also the only president to be considered a traitor and an enemy of the state.

I told you history was interesting.

*It always strikes me as odd that so many American “heroes” main accomplishment were push Native Americans from their own land. Put another way, they coveted their neighbors’ land and commited murder to obtain it.

75th Anniversary WW II

Seventy-five years ago, the Second World War ended.

That was my parent’s war. The Greatest Generation’s war. At that time, every American was, in one way or another, invested in it. It was a very different time with very different values.

In a small gesture, I’ve been watching Band of Brothers–the story of one company of the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army during World War II. The first time I saw any of this series was at the Pat Tillman USO in Afghanistan. I didn’t see much of it, as I was waiting for transportation to a FOB (forward operating base) or something. Nevertheless, the small exposure piqued my interest. Years later, my family gave me the set of DVDs.

The movie portrays the essence of the soldiers’ experiences. if not every precise detail. The movie is too intense for some, so the first time I watched it was with my son, Adam, when everybody else was away on a trip. Even for me, it was intense–as well it should be.

Today, when people view the history of warfare, some say, “I don’t get it, what was in it for them?” They’re right they don’t get it,” and it’s sad that they have passed through this life without  experiencing honor, courage, commitment, and camaraderie.

Is the Electoral College Leftover from Slavery?

I read a lot. I read all kinds of material, because it makes me think. I prefer not to rely on “echo chambers” that only reflect the ideas I already have.

I’d always been taught that the purpose was to ensure that smaller states were not drowned out by the larger states. It’s a clumsy system that has resulted in a number of elections in which the winner did not receive the most votes. Nevertheless, I’ve tried to accept that the electoral college was an effort to ensure fairness.

Now however, I’ve read a few things that challenge that belief.

Electoral votes for each state are based on the states total representation in Congress–senators and representatives. Each state gets two senators, but the number of representatives is based on population. However, for roughly the first century of the country, slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person.

Slaves could not vote, of course, but they counted toward representatives and therefore to the number of electors. In essence, slave states ended up with a disproportionate amount of influence in choosing presidents.

Was this coincidental?

Is anything in politics coincidental?

Space – A Great Frontier

Echo 1 was a Mylar balloon satellite launched in 1960 that was visible from the earth. At night, we’d rush outside at the time printed in the paper and watch it go by.

During the Mercury launches 1961-1963, we sat in the classroom clustered around a transistor radio.

For Gemini launches in 1965 1nd 1966, someone brought a 45 pound “portable” black and white television into the classroom.

For the Apollo Missions, especially Apollo 11, we watched from home on console TVs with a 17 inch color cathode ray tube screen.

I lived in Florida for a portion of the shuttle era, I walked down my driveway, turned tight, and saw it live. For most people, there would be a brief mention with a few seconds of video on the evening news.

Today, I watch the Space-X Crew Dragon return to earth, with live video from inside the craft and the recovery boats on my iPad.

Cool.

Aging

Clocks Challenge - The Winners by annewipf on DeviantArt

I don’t do hip-hop or whatever young people listen to today. If I tried, I’m sure I’d hurt something or maybe even cause some body part(s) to fall off. It would be embarrassing. That’s how Mother Nature ensures that old people will eventually give way to the younger ones. Like it or not, it’s the way it is. It has worked for eons and is not likely to change.

When I was young, I had fresh ideas because I had no clue as to what would work and what wouldn’t. However, as I gained grew older, bold thoughts were more difficult to come by because they were tempered by experience and reality. Today, bold ideas are not my job.

However, that doesn’t mean that I cannot appreciate someone else’s fresh new idea or root for their success. In some cases, I can help younger people with good ideas maneuver through the bureaucratic mishmash that reality throws in their way. I understand mishmashes, especially bureaucratic ones.  That’s where I can help.

The progression from old to new needs to be a collaborative hand-off, not an abrupt change. Outcomes must not be seen as a personal triumph, but instead as a step forward for all of us.

As the saying goes, it’s amazing what you can do if you aren’t concerned with who gets the credit.

He Deserves a Statue!

Although many statues representing the Civil War are rightfully being removed,  the most significant individual of that time lacks a statue.

Ladies and gentlemen! May I present Wilmer McLean!

Haven’t heard of him? And you call yourself a history buff?

Wilmer McLean was a green grocer in Manassas, Virginia who, in his younger days, had served as an officer of the Virginia militia. Confederate General Beauregard was using McLean’s home as his headquarters when the first shots of the Civil War–the battle the North calls the first Battle of Bull Run while the South calls it +the first Battle of Manassas–occurred at McLean’s farm.

His home was bombarded by union shells. One cannonball dropped down the chimney, destroying the dinner that was being prepared for McLean and the general.

Shortly after the battle, for a variety of reasons, including business, McLean decided to move to Southern Virginia. However, his karma seemed to be in overdrive. A few years later, in 1865, General Ulysses S. Grant sent a messenger to find a suitable location for Grant to meet with Robert E. Lee to discuss surrender. The messenger found a house that might do, knocked on the door , and Wilmer McLean grudgingly agreed.

So, the Civil War started at McLean’s home, he moved, only to have the Civil War end at his new home.

Thanks to Guy D. McCardle, Jr. for jostling my memory on this fascinating Civil War fact.

Juneteenth

The South’s “Peculiar Institution”of slavery allowed wealthy property owners to have millions of laborers work without pay. Not only was this free labor valuable, but selling the children of slaves was profitable as well.

The American Civil War was initially fought by the North to preserve the Union. This was after years of conflict, both in the legislature and elsewhere, regarding slavery, especially regarding which new states endorsed their citizens to buy and sell human beings.

The Civil War began on 12 April 1861. Under his war powers, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in all states engaged in armed conflict with the Union on 1 January 1863. Any slave who reached Union territory or if Union military lines reached them, they were, by law, free.

The South ignored the Emancipation Proclamation, even when the war ended. In Galveston, Texas, African Americans who had legally been free since 1863 only found out on Juneteenth, 19 June 1865, when Union Army General Gordon Granger read the federal orders that all slaves in Texas were free.

That is why Juneteenth is such an important day and should soon be a national holiday. How could we not honor and celebrate it?

 

Southern History

Although I was born, grew up, and was educated all the way through graduate school in the North, I have lived in the South—on and off—for several decades. I’ve worked with people whose ancestors fought against the Union during the Civil War. Some were members of “The Sons of the Confederacy” and had a whole different perspective on the Civil War than the one with which I was raised.

I love history, so I listened to their viewpoint with as unbiased a mind as possible. After all, it is normal for history to be adjusted as additional facts are uncovered. Recently, I did a little research and here are some interesting facts and figures from credible sources.

DISCLAIMER: Some of my ancestors may have been heroes, villains, or just plain folks trying to get by. I cannot control my ancestors, but I can maintain my own set of values and accept or reject their actions. I do not hold others responsible for their ancestors’ actions, only their own. In that frame of reference, here are some of the data that I found.

  • Records indicate that 1,082,119 men served in the Confederate Army, throughout the Civil War, although not all at the same time.

I tried to determine how many Confederate soldiers owned slaves. Nowhere is that number directly reported, but the following statistics are:

  • According to the 1860 US census—just before the Civil War—more than 32 percent of white families in those states which would secede from the Union owned slaves.
  • There were approximately 2,880,000 slave owners when the Southern population was about 9 million people.
  • There were estimated to be more than 3½ million slaves in the South. (For full disclosure, there were also 432,586 in the border states—those states that did allow slavery but did not secede from the union.)
  • Some slaveholders in the South did not actually own the slaves who worked for them, but instead rented them from slaveowners.

I suspect that the numbers reported in the 1860 census were reasonably accurate, since each slave counted as 3/5 of a citizen toward the number of Congressional representatives, Electoral College votes, etc. (Isn’t it ironic that there has recently been pressure to count only citizens? The founding fathers from the South wanted ALL people counted since it benefited them.)

Based on the data I acquired:

  • There were more than 3 times as many slaves in the South as there were soldiers who fought for the Confederacy.
  • If the total population reported in the census included slaves at the 3/5 ratio, then the white population of the South was closer to 6.8 million. In which case one-third of the actual population of the South would have been enslaved persons.

In addition:

  • After the Civil War, many slaves were not told that they were free. In fact, by virtue of the Emancipation Proclamation, those enslaved people in the Confederate States had been freed on 1 January 1862.
  • Juneteenth celebrates 19 June 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas—one of the most remote locations—the first news those slaves had that they were free.
  • The border states either freed their slaves by state law or else by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in December 1865.

A couple of thoughts.

  • For several centuries—in the Land of the Free—some people believed it was good business to have a workforce that was not paid, had no rights, and could be beaten, bought, and sold at will.
  • For more than a century after that, there have been some people who seem to be wishing for a return to those days.
  • If you ask many of those waving the red flags with the “X” what they are, they will probably misidentify it as “the flag of the Confederate States of America.” It’s not—it’s a battle flag. The Confederacy went through a number of national flags.
  • If you really want to have fun, ask them which former US President became a Confederate legislator. (John Tyler)

One final trivia item – Many people talk about freedmen (former slaves) owning slaves themselves. There is truth to this, but most of these freedmen owned one or a small number of slaves. Why? Historians believe that once a man or a woman was freed, they would purchase their spouse and, if possible, their children. If so, this was not slavery, it was a family struggling against all odds to be together.

 

Thanks to:
https://www.history.com/
American Battlefield Trust

Monuments?

In order for the nation to figure out its future, it must first figure out its past–in particular, the appropriateness of monuments to the Confederacy.

Let’s start with one authoritative source, Robert E. Lee. Lee, a top graduate of West Point who had served in the US Army for 32 years. As a commissioned officer, he had taken an oath to the US Constitution. He chose–albeit difficultly–to disregard his oath, choosing Virginia, his state, over the United States of America, his country.

After the war, “He swore allegiance to the Union and publicly decried southern separatism, whether militant or symbolic.”

“I think it wiser,” the retired military leader wrote about a proposed Gettysburg memorial in 1869, “…not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated,” Lee wrote of an 1866 proposal, “my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; [and] of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”

Many of the Confederate monuments were not erected until the late 1800s and early 1900s. While the stated purpose was to honor those who fought, many–including myself–believe that it was a blatant trumpeting of white supremacy.

Why are the number of people who today condemn the monuments increasing? The list of reasons is long and growing, but let’s look at one–just one–reason.

Treason.

In law, treason is criminal disloyalty, typically to the state. It is a crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one’s nation or sovereign. This usually includes things such as participating in a war against one’s native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.[1]

The Southern states took up arms and engaged in war against their own nation. The individuals involved were traitors–Lee, Jackson, Bragg, and all the others. They may have been brilliant, but they were still traitors. In other times or countries, such as England, traitors were subjected to the horrors of being drawn, hanged until they were almost–but not quite–dead, eviscerated while still alive, decapitated and their bodies divided into quarters.

Such is not the American way. Instead, the Southerners were welcomed back, if they chose–like Lee–to once again honor their nation.

However, there is no good, logical, rationale reason to build monuments to traitors.

(Thanks to PBS and Wikipedia for much of this material. Links are embedded for your convenience.)

 

 

Black Lives Matter

I am totally unqualified to write this. If I am wrong, please correct me.

I’ve never been pulled over for driving because of my color. I’ve never had to have “the talk” with my sons. I’ve never been watched suspiciously while shopping.

I am not black. If I were, I wouldn’t be able to say the things I wrote above.

To me, “Black Lives Matter” is an attempt to make the first very tiny step to address 400 years of inequality, oppression, and cruelty.

It’s about damn time,.

 

 

A Solemn Oath

An oath is defined by Merriam Webster as:

(1) : a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says

(2) : a solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one’s words – The witness took an oath to tell the truth in court.

An oath is a sacred promise. While this might not carry as much weight today as it once did, it does for most of those who take an oath. It is a commitment that not only defines what a person agrees to do, but also defines who that person is.

Oaths are used for major offices, including members of Congress, judges, and other elected officials. For example, Presidents swear the following oath at their inauguration:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.[

Commissioned and warrant officers in the United States uniformed services swear the following oath:

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.[1]

Each person enlisting in an armed force swears to the following oath:

I, (state name of enlistee), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (So help me God).”

Those in the National Guard take similar oaths, adding their obligations to their state or territory.

The common factor is that the core of each oath is the commitment to the US Constitution. Those in the military are pledging their lives. I’ve seen enough inverted rifles, boots, helmets, and dog tags to know that those in uniform really mean it.

That’s what makes the US what it is.