Tocqueville

There is a scene in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835-40) where he is sailing down the Ohio River. To his left is Kentucky, at the time a slave state, and it is a portrait of economic indolence, for the simple reason that slaves do not work any harder than they need to (since there’s no reward for it), while everyone else refuses to work, because that is what slaves do and it lowers your status. Thus the fundamental problem with slave societies – they are not economically efficient. But to his right is Ohio, and there it is all hustle and industry, because Ohio is a free state and there is an incentive to work – you actually get to keep the fruits of your labor, and prestige is bestowed by how much of them you can produce.

Not to diminish the moral crime of slavery, but I would say that America’s wealth and preeminence today are derived far more from what was going on in Ohio than in Kentucky.

U.S. Grant

Another nineteenth century presidential home and museum is the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in Grantwood Village, St. Louis, Missouri. This one is run competently by the National Parks Service. (Grant’s papers are at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss.)

The house is called White Haven, and yes, it is green. That is because, according to our NPS guide, in 1874 Grant had it painted in the era’s “most expensive color” to show off his wealth! Grant himself was from Ohio, but started coming regularly to White Haven, the home of his West Point classmate Frederick Tracy Dent, when Grant was stationed at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. Thus did Grant begin courting Dent’s sister Julia in 1844 – discreetly, since Grant’s family were abolitionists, and White Haven was a plantation powered by slaves and owned by an unapologetic slaveowner, Dent’s father Frederick Dent. Only after the Mexican-American War (in which Grant distinguished himself, although he claimed that there was “not ever a more wicked war”) could the couple marry, and even then Grant’s parents did not attend the ceremony. To support Julia, Grant remained in the army, and after stints in Detroit and New York, was transferred to the Vancouver Barracks in the newly-acquired Oregon Territory. Julia, now eight months pregnant, did not join him, and his three years on the west coast were not happy ones. He started drinking, a habit that contributed to his dismissal in 1854, although nothing indicating this fact was entered into his record. 

The next seven years were hard ones. Grant was happily reunited with his family at White Haven, but failed at most of the jobs he tried, whether farming, bill collecting, or even selling firewood. It was as though Grant was at heart a soldier, and so the advent of the Civil War represented a sterling opportunity for him, now 39 years old. Grant’s daring and competent service to the Union at the Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga are well known, and over the course of the war Grant rose from colonel to Commanding General of the United States Army. (Complaints to President Lincoln about Grant’s drinking prompted the memorable, although perhaps apocryphal, retort: “Well, I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.”) Following the Overland Campaign, Grant accepted Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Within a week, Lincoln was dead; his successor Andrew Johnson turned out to be more favorable to the Southern cause than he had initially let on, and Grant eventually broke with him – one of the reasons why Johnson was impeached in 1868. The episode certainly set up Grant to be nominated by the Republicans for the presidential election that year, and he won in an electoral college landslide, largely due to the votes of newly-enfranchised African-Americans. 

Grant’s presidency was characterized by making Reconstruction work, both by mollifying ex-Confederates and by ensuring civil rights for ex-slaves. He did this largely through enforcing the fifteenth amendment, passed in 1870, which guaranteed the right to vote, and by successfully waging war against the Ku Klux Klan. His second term was less successful – numerous cabinet members were implicated in various scandals, and although Grant himself was innocent, he generally kept the cabinet members in place, to widespread disappointment. Republicans urged him to run for a third term, but he declined, thereby setting the country up for the disputed election of 1876, the elevation of “Rutherfraud Hayes,” and the unfortunate ending of Reconstruction. There followed a world tour and business venture in which Grant eventually lost everything, even White Haven, which he had inherited following the death of his father-in-law in 1873. Thus did he compose his memoirs, largely in order to provide a source of income for his family. He completed this valuable primary source in 1885, right before his death from throat cancer at age 63.

Obviously the plantation has largely been sold off. (Most of it is occupied by Grant’s Farm, an animal reserve run by the Anheuser-Busch corporation.) The NPS only acquired the house in 1989, along with a large barn that Grant had built for his horses (Grant was an excellent horseman). The barn houses the museum, nicely done in a “spokes of a wheel” format. The separate visitors center has a theater which shows a short film about Grant’s life, and a well-stocked store featuring all the latest books on Grant. 

Definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in St. Louis. 

Jackson and Polk

A recent trip through Tennessee allowed us to see two presidential museums: Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville and the President James K. Polk Home and Museum in Columbia.* Both are quite enlightening in their way.

The Hermitage, first acquired by Jackson in 1804, was little more than a log cabin until 1820, when he built a two-story Federal style mansion. This burned down in 1834, and was replaced by the Greek Revival building in the photo above. But this was simply the manor house for a thousand-acre plantation, with numerous outbuildings devoted to various functions –  including the housing of enslaved African-Americans, of whom Jackson owned up to 300 over the course of his lifetime. The whole thing is reminiscent of Mount Vernon or Monticello, other presidential plantations that one can visit. 

The visitors’ center gives more information on Jackson’s life and presidency. I did not know that he was a veteran of the Revolutionary War – he joined the militia in South Carolina at age thirteen, and was taken prisoner by the British shortly thereafter. A formative episode occurred when Jackson refused an order to polish the boots of a British officer, who then slashed him on the head and hand for insubordination. A Currier & Ives lithograph from the 1870s, “The Brave Boy of the Waxhaws,” depicts this event. Jackson carried the scars, and an abiding hatred for the British, for the rest of his life. 

Jackson’s mother managed to secure his release, but she died soon after from cholera, leaving Jackson an orphan (his father had died before Jackson was born). Despite having a rather ornery personality, he found a lawyer who took him on as an apprentice, and was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1787. The next year he was appointed prosecutor of the western district (i.e. Tennessee), and moved to the new settlement of Nashville to take up the post. There he met Rachel Donelson Robards, whom he married despite that her divorce from her first husband had not yet been finalized, a situation that dogged him throughout his career. In 1796, he became a delegate to Tennessee’s constitutional convention, and on account of his participation there was elected the state’s first U.S. representative. Shortly thereafter, the Tennessee legislature elected him U.S. senator, but he grew bored with the job and returned to Tennessee to become a judge of the state superior court – and to engage in the sort of land speculation common on the frontier. It was at this point that he purchased and began to build up the Hermitage, but what really set him up for future notoriety was his election as major-general of the Tennessee militia in 1802. 

In this capacity, Jackson defeated the Red Stick faction in the Creek War at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1813, and most famously routed the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. This made Jackson a national hero.

He then proceeded to invade Spanish Florida in order to defeat the Red Stick refugees, runaway slaves, and Seminoles, some of whom were using it as a base to launch raids into Georgia. Jackson was ruthless and successful, and Spain relinquished control of Florida by the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819. For his efforts (not appreciated by everyone), in 1821 Jackson was appointed the first territorial governor of Florida, but the job was as appealing to him as being Senator from Tennessee, so he quit after a few months. Then followed his run for the presidency in 1824, when he was one of four Democratic-Republican candidates at a time when political parties seemed to be losing their importance. Jackson won the most popular votes, and the most votes in the electoral college, but he did not get a majority there, so the election was thrown to the House of Representatives. There, in a “corrupt bargain,” House Speaker Henry Clay, himself one of the four candidates, threw his support to John Quincy Adams, who was duly elected president – and who promptly appointed Clay Secretary of State. Stung by this rejection, Jackson almost immediately began campaigning for the presidential election of 1828. He won in a landslide, and then won again in 1832.  

Ralph Earl, The Tennessee Gentleman (detail), c. 1831.

To my annoyance the “Presidential Gallery” at the visitors’ center was closed, but presumably it would have dealt with Jackson’s boisterous inauguration, the Petticoat Affair, the battle over the Second National Bank, Cherokee Removal, the Nullification Crisis, and other things I vaguely remember from History 1. We did get to see a short film about his presidency, and it left me with the impression that he was a perfect embodiment of “he’s a nice guy, but don’t cross him.” He would not have been as successful as he was if had he not been immensely popular, but he also had a volcanic Scots-Irish temper, fought numerous duels, and held intense grudges (Wikipedia: “On the last day of his presidency, Jackson admitted that he had but two regrets, that he had been unable to shoot Henry Clay or to hang John C. Calhoun.”) One commentator in the film claimed that he represented “both the best and the worst” of the American national character. 

Lots of people liked to compare Trump to Hitler, but the parallels between Trump and Jackson are what always interested me. Both were extremely polarizing figures, rich but rough around the edges, with their base of support among commoners far from the centers of political power. (The difference is that Jackson was much more self-made than Trump, and had actual political and military experience prior to becoming president – which may be why Jackson got a second term while Trump didn’t.) 

Another thing that struck me as relevant was Jackson’s attitude toward political parties. He believed in them, and is considered the first Democratic president. The trouble is that he identified his party with “the People,” and a victory for the Democrats was a victory for “the People” – conversely, a defeat for the Democrats was a defeat for the People. Some would say that this attitude has not changed in almost 200 years. 

Jackson died at the Hermitage in 1845, and is buried on the grounds.

Right next to it is the grave of “Uncle Alfred,” Jackson’s “faithful servant.” Alfred was born into slavery on the plantation, and was put to work maintaining wagons and farm implements. After emancipation he continued to live there as a tenant farmer, and acted as a tour guide for people interested in seeing the Hermitage once it was turned into a museum in 1893. He died in 1901; his funeral took place in the main hall of the Hermitage, and he insisted on burial right next to Jackson, a wish that was granted. 

One interpretive sign mentioned that, in the late nineteenth century, Alfred was held up as a model ex-slave, who maintained affection for and loyalty to his old master’s family. I don’t doubt there were such people, but they’re not the whole story – apparently most of the slaves at the Hermitage sought refuge with Union troops when those troops were close enough. Jackson may have been a relatively benign slave master, but he had no compunction against chasing runaways, or offering rewards for whipping them. And in general, the enslaved people were simply invisible – more valuable than the cattle or the farming equipment, but otherwise treated as the property that they were. Modern researchers have had to work very hard reconstructing the identities of those who lived and worked at the Hermitage. One is reminded, once again, how great a moral crime slavery was. 

Jackson’s ally and protege James K. Polk won the presidency in 1844, somewhat by accident. The Democrats nominated him on the ninth ballot at their convention in Baltimore as a compromise candidate among their factions, and he went on to defeat Henry Clay in the general election that fall. He vowed to serve only one term, which he did – but that was enough to fulfill all his campaign promises, as his fans are proud to claim. 

Polk was born in North Carolina in 1795. In 1803, his family moved to the Duck River in what became Maury County, Tennessee, and came to dominate the county and its new town of Columbia. He received enough of an education that he could enroll in the University of North Carolina in 1816, and graduated with honors in 1818. He then moved to Nashville to apprentice as a lawyer, and upon being called to the Tennessee bar in 1820 he returned to Maury County to open a law office there. This practice provided him with a steady income, and the house museum in Columbia that one visits dates from this time (it is the only place where he lived, apart from the White House, that still stands). However, he always had political ambitions, and his marriage to the educated and graceful Sarah Childress in 1824 certainly helped on this front. From 1825 until 1839 he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was eventually chair of the Ways and Means Committee and Speaker of the House. From 1839 until 1841 he acted as governor of Tennessee – always with Sarah’s unwavering and competent support.

Although he lost his bid for reelection as governor, and lost again two years later, fortune had bigger things in store for him. His presidency is most famous for its realization of Manifest Destiny, the idea that the United States had the right to dominate the North American continent from coast to coast. His administration accepted Texas as a state, thus provoking war with Mexico – which the United States decisively won, thereby annexing what became the American southwest. As an extension of Texas most of this had the potential to become slave territory, so Polk was practically obliged to offset it by coming to an agreement with Britain about the free Oregon Country. This large area spread from the Rocky Mountains westward, from the latitude 54º40′ in the north (the southernmost extent of the Alaskan panhandle) to 42º in the south (the northern boundary of California). It was jointly occupied with the United Kingdom, and although “54-40 or fight!” was apparently one of Polk’s campaign slogans (i.e. either we get the whole thing or we go to war for it), he came to a deal with the UK simply to extend the already-existing boundary between the United States and British North America at the 49th parallel all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Some people may have seen this move as an admission of weakness, but it established unquestionable American title to the Pacific northwest, out of which were carved the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. 

(A fun fact: the British did not call the area the Oregon Country, but the Columbia District. Thus the part north of the 49th parallel, which the British retained, became “British Columbia.” Apparently before its admission to Canadian confederation in 1871, B.C. was sometimes called “British Oregon.”)

Other achievements of Polk’s presidency included the foundation of an independent treasury (a precursor to the Federal Reserve), the Smithsonian Institution, and the Department of the Interior, the issuing of the first U.S. postage stamp and a postal treaty with the U.K., the admission of Wisconsin and Iowa to the Union, the lowering of tariff rates, and the beginning of the construction of the Washington Monument. All this had an effect, which is apparent in the two portraits shown above, the first of which was painted at the beginning of his presidency, and the second at the end. 

Unfortunately Polk did not live long after he left office. He traveled by boat from Washington DC down the Atlantic coast, around Florida, to New Orleans, and thence up the Mississippi to Tennessee. Somewhere along the way he contracted cholera, and died of it in Nashville at age 53 on June 15, 1849. Polk thus set a number of presidential records:

• Shortest post-presidency (101 days)
• Longest surviving First Lady (42 years)
• First president to be survived by a parent (his mother)

Some others:

• Only president to have no children, either natural or adopted (it is reckoned that surgery as a teenager to treat bladder stones may have left him sterile)
• Youngest president elected until that time (49)
• The only president to have been Speaker of the House

I would be remiss in not mentioning that, like Jackson, Polk was a slaveholder, both in Tennessee and through the absentee ownership of a plantation in Mississippi. Although he recognized the evils of slavery he did not do anything to try to end it; in fact as speaker he instituted a gag rule to prevent the issue from being brought up in the House of Representatives. Polk’s personal slave, Elias Polk, was proud of his service to the former president and, following the Civil War, played the same “faithful servant” role that Uncle Alfred did for Andrew Jackson. But it’s useful to remember that the slaves at Polk’s Mississippi plantation, which he only occasionally visited, suffered an exceptionally high death rate. This is disappointing and an unquestionable blot upon the reputation of a man who had so many other accomplishments. 

It was fun to learn about both these presidents. The only drawback to these museums is that, being fundamentally house museums, they emphasize domestic affairs at the expense of a really detailed look at the president’s early life and time in office. But this is a minor complaint. See them if you can. 

* The earliest president to get a full-on NARA-sponsored Presidential Library and Museum is Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), and you can visit his if you’re ever passing through West Branch, Iowa. Presidents prior to him can have museums, but they’re variously run by states, the National Parks Service, universities, local history societies, or specific foundations; those presidents’ papers are also stored here and there. Such things were beyond the federal government’s concern in the nineteenth century. 

National Songs and Poetical Pieces

The book referenced below, Hugh Williams, ed., National Songs and Poetical Pieces Dedicated to the Queen and her Countrywomen (London: Hetherington, 1839), illustrates just how informative and fun primary sources can be. For instance, I was completely unaware of Nils von Schoultz (1807-38), a military officer of Finnish-Swedish origin who served in Poland against the Russians and who eventually ended up in the United States, became interested in the Canadian cause, and led a small force that invaded Canada in the wake of the failed Rebellions of 1837. These border skirmishes are designated the Patriot War, and I confess that I did not know about them either, although it makes complete sense that certain Americans would look with favor on the Canadian rebels and try to help them. Von Schoultz was a participant in the Battle of the Windmill in November 1838, during which time his force, having failed to take the town of Prescott, occupied a stone windmill at nearby Newport for four days before surrendering to the British (and Americans – apparently the United States government did not support this freelance invasion). Von Schoultz was put on trial, at which he expressed remorse for his actions and, contrary to the advice of his lawyer, future Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, pleaded guilty. As a consequence he was hanged at Kingston’s Fort Henry on December 8, 1838, at the age of 31. 

But that’s a somewhat neutral account, gleaned from the font of all knowledge. Here is how National Songs puts it:

There is a proud gratification in contemplating brilliant illustrations of the sprit of liberty, however melancholy, when clouded by the frowns, not of fortune, for liberty must eventually triumph, but of the hitherto overbalancing power of despotism.

Tyranny has recently added to its blood-stained catalogue, one of the brightest characters that ever humanity produced, freedom inspired, or history recorded. Where the Russian miscreant failed, English despots too well succeeded.

Neil S. Von Shoultz was a native of Poland, of prepossessing appearance and mild manners. His father was a major of a regiment at Cracow. His unfortunate and gallant son was compelled to emigrate to the United States in 1836, where congenial impulses for the suffering Canadians, led him to an untimely end, at the age of thirty-one.

He undertook an expedition for their liberation, and in command of a small body of American citizens, and Canadian refugees, gained a signal victory over a superior British force, at Prescott, U.C., on the 13th of November, 1838. The English afterwards returned to the charge with overwhelming reinforcements, and hemmed in, massacred and captured what remained of the small and exhausted band, previously cut off from all communication with the opposite American shore, by the conniving authorities of the United States, in opposition to the wishes of an indignant border population. The deceived, but not discomfited Schoultz, fought his way through the ranks of the enemy, but having become exposed to the horrors of a Canadian winter, without food or shelter, was eventually taken prisoner, and met with that sort of reward which successful tyranny had ever allotted to revolutionary prowess. He was tried at Kingston, on the 8th of December, 1838, by court martial, composed possibly of vagabonds whom he had lately put to disgraceful fight, or of their associates; and the HERO of PRESCOTT, under the matter-of-course sanction of Colburne and Arthur, was immediately put to death in cold blood.

“Colburne” is Sir John Colborne, acting Governor General of British North America; “Arthur” is Sir George Arthur, Lt. Gov. of Upper Canada. That’s a rather different perspective, eh?! The text goes on to excoriate President Martin van Buren for selling out these “true friends of liberty,” contrary to the supposed political principles of the great American Republic. It’s a reminder how, in the early nineteenth century, the conflict between “liberty” and “order” transcended national boundaries and even the Atlantic Ocean. The Congress of Vienna was not successful at putting that genie back in its bottle. 

I’m amused to discover that the author blames the “Canadian winter” for Schoultz’s defeat! Apparently it’s not just Russia’s greatest general

Then there are three separate poems that praise the “tricoloured flag.” According to one of them, the flag of Revolutionary France, a vertical tricolor of blue, white, and red, made tricolors symbolic of “liberty”:

Hail emblem of Liberty, spirit of light,
Thou sheerest my heart, and thou gladdest my sight
Thou beacon of hope to the good and the brave,
Thou foe to the tyrant, thou friend to the slave.
Ere long Britain’s sons shall awake from their trance,
And hail thy bright form like Republican France;
And the time draws nigh, when thy banner unfurl’d
Shall wave in proud triumph all over the world.
Hail tri-coloured flag!
Hail tri-coloured flag!

Note, though, that by the 1830s, tricolors did not necessarily represent republicanism. For instance, Louis-Philippe, France’s “citizen-king” who came to power in 1830, readopted the revolutionary tricolor to represent his regime, and the Belgians, whose state was born in the same year as the result of a rebellion against the Dutch, adopted a vertical tricolor of black, gold, and red, even though Belgium was a monarchy from the start.

But according to this collection, the flag adopted by British fans of “liberty” had a different set of colors. In the poem “The Tri-Colour!”, we read:

“Hark! hark! ’tis the trumpet of LIBERTY sounds,
As the tricolor flag is unfurl’d;”
With joy at its notes “every bosom resounds,”
While the echo is heard o’er the world.
Her cause is as pure as the deep azure sky,
It cheers like the bright sunny ray, –
Refreshing and lively as nature’s green dye,
Ever gentle, unchanging, and gay.

In other words, the British tricolor is to be blue (“azure”), white (“bright”), and green. One sees a fuller explication of this idea in the introduction to the poem “Freedom’s Tri-Coloured Banner,” which poem was:

Composed on the occasion of the Writer’s presenting the Metropolitan, Merthyr, Pontypool, and Carmarthen Associations each with the first projected Tri-coloured banner – composed of green, white and blue, symbolical of the aspect of nature – the green earth, the solar light, and the ethereal blue. A banner with colours as predominant as EQUAL RIGHTS are universal; and now about to supersede the blood-stained standards of the old world, of ancient and modern tyranny, and so form the emblem of freedom, of fraternity and happiness to the rising millions!

A footnote to the poem suggests that the stripes are to be:

horizontal, and in the following proportions: – grass green below, two ninths of depth; white, centre, four-ninths, and the rest deep sky blue. 

Furthermore:

The standard Radical flag will bear for its motto Universal Liberty along the center… with the Sun gilded on the upper staff quarter.

So of course I had to mash one up:

But I have not been able to find any other evidence for this flag, or any variants thereof, on the Internet. Note that it’s different from what Flags of the World claims was Flag of the English Republic:

Wikipedia.

And note that in both cases the stripes are horizontal, not vertical. This too is not necessarily republican, viz. the contemporary flags of the Netherlands and Russia, which were both horizontal tricolors representing monarchies, although horizontal stripes do allow for words and slogans to be written on them.

I would be curious to know just how popular Chartism (and/or English Republicanism) was in the 1830s. Did it command the sympathies of a majority of the working class? Or was it like the more recent anti-WTO or Occupy movements – something that got a certain amount of attention, but that was ultimately ignored by most people? 

The Empire Writes Back

I mentioned below that there was always a strain of anti-British, republican sentiment among the denizens of British North America. The most glaring expression of this occurred in 1837-38, when simultaneous rebellions broke out in Upper and Lower Canada, led by William Lyon Mackenzie and Joseph Papineau respectively.* In contrast to the republican experiment of the United States, the British had set up colonial administrations that attempted to replicate the social conditions of rural England, with a local “aristocracy” holding power and everyone else minding their station. Needless to say, as the nineteenth century wore on, this setup became less and less tolerable to ordinary people, and by 1837 a significant number of them had had enough of the “Family Compact” and “Château Clique,” derogatory nicknames for the regimes that ran Upper and Lower Canada. These rebellions were not successful, although they did inspire a number of reforms

When studying the history of your own country, you can become somewhat myopic. That is, you assume that since this is your history, it’s only interesting to you and your fellow citizens, and only really influenced the subsequent events in your own country. But people forget that local happenings often have an international impact. This was especially true within the British Empire, in which events in the metropole affected the colonies… and events in the colonies could reverberate throughout the empire. Apparently the Rebels of 1837 had a lot of British fans, particularly among the Chartists, that is, supporters of the People’s Charter of 1838, who thought that the Great Reform Act of 1832 had not gone far enough. Chartists demanded universal male suffrage, the secret ballot, proper salaries (and no property qualifications) for MPs, constituencies of equal population size, and annual elections. It is worth noting that eventually every one of these demands, except the last, was met – although not without the threat of serious violence always lurking in the background. 

From Stephen Basdeo, I was pleased to learn about the Chartist song “On, On! Ye Brave Canadians!“, written by one “S.R.G.” and published in London in 1839. I reprint it, and the author’s explanatory note, in their entirety:

On, on! ye brave Canadians, with Freedom’s flag unfurl’d,
Shout hatred to Usurpers, to the despots of the world;
Long may ye stand, ye gallant band—make ramparts of your slain,
And drive the hireling scoundrels to their Island Hell again.

Up, up! ye honest riflemen, bold freemen of the States,
And aid your brothers in the strife their Mother Hag creates;
Bring over hempen-neckerchiefs for every bully’s neck,
And string or shoot them one and all, from Huron to Quebec.

The millions of the British Isles are with ye, heart and soul—
But, oh! their country’s destinies are wrench’d from their control;
They’d rather that Britannia’s flag should down to dust be hurl’d,
Than be, as ’tis, protection to the tyrants of the world.

Up!—French and British—both are men—both children of one sire,—
And both alas! are buried to their chins in British mire!
Then, on! ye brave Canadians, despite their martial law,
Nine glorious cheers for LIBERTY and three for PAPINEAU!

There is no country on the face of the earth where despotisms prevails with more horrible atrocity than in Canada. We can well conceive the sort of sympathies entertained by the Melbourne and Russell government, when they permitted that splendid colony to be devastated by inhuman fiends, whose names shall be consigned to eternal infamy, as samples of the cannibal spirit of aristocratic domination. May our beneficent CREATOR grant that the British People may yet prove the liberators of the brave, bleeding, and prostrate Canadians!

Other poems in the collection include “A Rhyme for Canada” (“The rifle is heard, and the flag is unfurl’d, A land to be free is a boon to the world”), “The Canadian Exile’s Invocation to his Country,” and “Canadian Ode to Liberty”:

When the proud land of Britain would sternly maintain
Over far distant lands her tyrannical reign;
When she sends forth her slaves to destroy Freedom’s sons,
May each slave that she sends prove a mark for their guns.

It’s always flattering to learn that your country is more consequential than you thought. I note that a proposed British republican flag was simply an inverted Patriote flag. (Although I don’t endorse all these sentiments. I would not describe the Upper Canadian government as a “despotism” ruling with “horrible atrocity,” for instance.)

* Canada’s contribution to the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War took the name “Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion,” or “Mac-Paps.”

Dominion Day

A happy Dominion Day to my fellow Canadians. To celebrate, I post something I found as the result of an image search.

Rubylane.com.

It’s a nine-quartered Canadian coat of arms from a Wedgewood plate manufactured c. 1910. Alberta and Saskatchewan had been admitted to Confederation in 1905, raising the number of provinces (and thus sections in the national coat of arms) to nine. But this plate does something rather strange: Saskatchewan’s coat of arms (featuring a lion and three wheat sheaves) appears in the sixth quarter, but Alberta is nowhere to be found! Instead, E.M. Chadwick’s proposal for the arms of Yukon Territory sits in the second quarter. 

I have never seen a Canadian coat of arms arranged like this. What they were thinking? (UPDATE: I discover that Auguste Vachon has also noticed this rendition – see Figure 11 at the link.) 

To rectify this oversight, I post a stained glass version of Alberta’s coat of arms, which features a scene of mountains and prairie, underneath a cross of St. George. 

glassincanada.org.

This window may be seen in the Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver, B.C. The stained glass was manufactured in 1927 by Robert McCausland in Toronto.

In the lobby of the Holiday Inn, St. John’s, Nfld. JG.

And in fairness, I should also post the arms of Newfoundland and Labrador, admitted to Confederation in 1949 (but never featured on an amalgamated coat of arms).

Once again: Happy Dominion Day!

UPDATE

To a post from a few years ago

Brilliant Maps.

This is what North America would have looked like had Nathaniel P. Banks’s Annexation Bill of 1866 passed into law, and been accepted by the United Kingdom. When I originally posted this, I noticed that Newfoundland (and Labrador) had disappeared, when that colony had an independent existence in 1866; I might had added that Vancouver Island was separate from British Columbia, and neither Canada West nor Canada East extended as far north as the map indicates. But I was not paying attention – the boundaries on this map were prescribed by the Bill itself, whose full text can be read on Wikisource. Banks wanted these states and territories admitted to the U.S. under the following conditions:

(1) New Brunswick, with its present limits
(2) Nova Scotia, with the addition of Prince Edward Island
(3) Canada East, with the addition of Newfoundland and all territory east of longitude eighty degrees and south of Hudson’s strait
(4) Canada West, with the addition of territory south of Hudson’s bay and between longitude eighty degrees longitude ninety degrees
(5) Selkirk Territory, bounded east by longitude ninety degrees, south by the late boundary of the United States, west by longitude one hundred and five degrees, and north by the Arctic circle
(6) Saskatchewan Territory, bounded east by longitude one hundred and five degrees, south by latitude forty-nine degrees, west by the Rocky mountains, and north by latitude seventy degrees
(7) Columbia Territory, including Vancouver’s Island, and Queen Charlotte’s island, and bounded east and north by the Rocky mountains, south by latitude forty-nine degrees, and west by the Pacific ocean and Russian America.

The bill was sent to committee and never made it out, and was not introduced to the Senate. One wonders why. The idea that the United States had a Manifest Destiny to rule the entire continent was especially powerful following the Civil War (thus the purchase of “Russian America” in 1867), and British North America, as representing the rump state of the previous regime, was especially illegitimate to a certain type of American expansionist. Banks was also interested in appealing to Irish Americans, who hated the British for obvious reasons, and northerners in general, who were peeved about Britain’s perceived support for the Confederacy in the late Civil War. But I guess this project was a step too far for other powerful people in Washington. I assume that they did not want to risk offending what was by that point the preeminent world power. 

I wonder what subsequent history would have looked like had Banks’s vision come to pass. I assume that the map would have undergone numerous changes, as the territories were subdivided and new states admitted to the Union. I think that Canada’s Francophones would have retained their culture and religion and would eventually have launched a secessionist movement against the United States, as they did against Canada in the 1960s. But would those who became English-Canadians have accepted their status as “Americans”? Much as I hate to say it, they probably would have eventually. There was always a strain of republican, pro-American sentiment among the Anglophones of British North America, and once the US replaced the UK as a world superpower, I think that this sentiment would probably have taken over and become their default outlook. And since the Annexation Bill would have passed prior to Canadian Confederation, people wouldn’t even be able to look back with fondness on a time when they had their own country, as Texans do. (Although I should think there would still persist some “northern” cultural characteristics, parallel to those of the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, New England, etc.)

George Floyd Square

A trip to Minneapolis allowed us to see George Floyd Square, an urban autonomous zone parallel to Seattle’s CHAZ or “Free Derry” from the early 1970s. It is centered on the intersection of Chicago Ave. and E. 38th St., the spot where suspect George Floyd died while being subdued by Officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police, the spark for last summer’s unrest. 

George Floyd Square, Minneapolis, Minn. Google Maps with annotations.

The four approaches to the intersection, indicated by yellow squares on the map, mark the boundaries of what the residents are proud to call Independent Republic of George Floyd. On the street they’re marked by sculptures of upraised fists. There is also one at the intersection itself.

I was pleased to see the appearance of the Pan-African Flag. In the background of the photo, on the northeast corner of the intersection, you can see the famous Cup Foods, where George Floyd allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. On the street in front of the store, is a sectioned-off memorial to which no single photo can do justice.

Other sorts of artwork, decorations, graffiti, chalkings, flags, and what not may be seen throughout the area. The locals actively patrol it, directing traffic and permitting (or forbidding) people from entering – in addition, it seems, to smoking lots of marijuana.

Whatever the politics, there is something deeply appealing to these sorts of impromptu and authentic demonstrations.

No Easy Lessons

From the Financial Post:

In an uncertain time, forays into the past for advice are becoming ever more common. They often make for grim reading, like the attempts to harness the “spirit of the Blitz” in the United Kingdom post-Brexit or equating the crisis of American democracy with the downfall of the Roman Republic. Without proper historical expertise, attempts to draw lessons for policy from what happened in the past often end up wandering in the wilds of history without a map. Historical data is not a house cat that purrs on command. It’s more of a wild tiger that will chew you up if you don’t treat it with respect.

To be sure, instrumental use of history goes back a long way. Nowadays, governments in countries as diverse as Poland, Hungary, and India try to write narratives of the past that fit their current goals. Earlier, communist and fascist regimes excelled in weaponizing history to achieve what they wanted. As did Roman emperors, for that matter. But recently, a different form of this phenomenon has appeared. Backed up this time with spurious “data-based” claims, these sweeping statements are often in the service of a fictionalized and self-serving version of Western history. Most of this is coming not from historians themselves but from scientists or pundits who decide that they have discovered a magic key to the past.

Last September, for instance, neuroscientist Lou Safra and her team attempted to analyze which factors contribute to how “trustworthiness” changes over time using machine learning. The authors examined historical portraiture in order to identify facial features that correlate with “trustworthiness” and discovered that it rises over the period 1500 to 2000 and that this increase correlates with “higher levels of affluence.”

Over the span of the last decade, Peter Turchin and his collaborators have championed a new approach in which history as a discipline will be replaced by cliodynamics, a new way of reading the past through discovering great patterns that explain the course of history and can even predict the future. This is not a new idea in itself. The 20th century, especially 20th-century conservatives, had a love affair with using history as futurology, with varying degrees of credibility. Oswald Spengler and Samuel Huntington wished to see patterns in the historical record that could explain not only why things happen but also how and if they happen. This often meant being very selective with said historical record. It also often meant falling for various forms of Western exceptionalism. Playing loose with history gets worse with every such attempt. Recently, evolutionary biologist Joseph Henrich and other proponents of interdisciplinary use of the WEIRD theory—focusing on societies that are “Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic”—reached a new level of distortion and Western exceptionalism, claiming that the rise of the West is attributable to psychological reasons rooted in the way the medieval Catholic Church directed an overhaul of marriage rules in Europe. The prohibition of kin marriages, they argue, broke down the clannishness of Western societies.

But those studies lack an important element: context. The authors of the “trustworthiness” study did not, as they thought, take big data on human depictions and extract patterns out of them. In reality, they took fashions, cultural norms, and power structures of a colonial European polity and put them into predictions about an arbitrary feature they called “trustworthiness.” The correlations that they thought they had seen between the rise of this arbitrary feature and the rise of affluence were based on a false understanding of the societies that created those portraits and ultimately of what portraiture actually is. This led them into the vast and broad desert of racial, gender, and economic bias.

Read the whole thing. Peter Turchin was referenced earlier on this blog. 

Areopagus

The Areopagus, according to Wikipedia, “is a prominent rock outcropping located northwest of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Its English name is the Late Latin composite form of the Greek name Areios Pagos, translated “Ares Rock” (Ancient Greek: Ἄρειος Πάγος). In classical times, it functioned as the court for trying deliberate homicide, wounding and religious matters, as well as cases involving arson or olive trees.”

John Milton’s Areopagitica (1644), an impassioned defense of unlicensed printing, argues that “the censors of ancient Athens, based at the Areopagus, had not practiced the kind of prior restraint of publication being called for in the English Parliament of Milton’s time.”

Dionysus the Areopagite “was a judge at the Areopagus Court in Athens, who lived in the first century. As related in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 17:34), he was converted to Christianity by the preaching of Paul the Apostle during the Areopagus sermon.” The French in the Middle Ages liked to argue that their St. Denis was in fact a transplanted Dionysus the Areopagite.

What I did not realize is that Πάγος in Greek is not “pagus” in Latin. In Greek it means mountain peak or rocky hill. In Latin it means district, area, or countryside – thus the English word “pagan,” which refers to the idea that the old religion held on in the countryside after the cities had converted to Christianity. So the Areopagus is not Athens’s equivalent of the “Field of Mars,” as I wrongly assumed, but of “Mars Hill,” of which there are plenty of examples throughout the world. 

The more you know!