Booknotes: Bluff, Bluster, Lies and Spies
3 days ago
Buffon was not the first to assert American degeneracy, and this idea was not based on natural history alone: Politics also played a part. Buffon's immediate source was a book by a Spanish naval officer, Don Antonio d'Ulloa (Relación histórica del viaje hecho de orden de su Majestad a la América Meridional, 1748). d'Ulloa's thesis was that the human condition in the Americas was degenerate as a result of a long history of colonialism, slavery, exploitation of natural resources and subjugation of the native peoples. To d'Ulloa, it was natural that America lacked the large mammals of the Old World and was rife with noxious insects and poisonous reptiles.
Buffon, focusing on North America, developed d'Ulloa's observations into a complex theory in which climate played a central role. In his ninth volume, published in 1761, Buffon compared mammalian species and noted examples in which the same species lived on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. He claimed the New-World versions were always smaller and weaker. European livestock exported to America were always stunted. Species indigenous to the New World were always smaller than comparable species in the Old World (the largest American mammal was the tapir, nowhere near the size of an elephant). Of American Indians, he wrote, "the organs of generation (of the savage) are small and feeble. He has no hair, no beard, no ardour for the female. Though nimbler than the European, his strength is not so great. His sensations are less acute; and yet he is more timid and cowardly." And so on.
When he arrived [in Paris], Jefferson sent Buffon a copy of [his] Notes [on the State of Virginia] and the skin of a large panther, and was subsequently invited to dine with Buffon at the Jardin du Roi, Paris's magnificent botanical garden. Of that meeting Jefferson later wrote, "in my conversations with the Count de Buffon . . . I find him absolutely unacquainted with our Elk and our deer. He has hitherto believed that our deer never had horns more than a foot long." So Jefferson decided to show him a full-grown American moose. He wrote to General John Sullivan, president (governor) of New Hampshire, for help in getting a large specimen, instructing him that the bones of the head and legs should be left in the skin so that it could be mounted in a life-like manner. Eventually a "seven-foot tall" moose was collected in Vermont and shipped to Paris.
Many years later, Daniel Webster told the story that Jefferson had had the moose set up in the hall of his apartment and invited Buffon to see it. Confronted with that stark refutation of his earlier thesis, Buffon was said to have exclaimed, "I should have consulted you, Monsieur, before I published my book on natural history, and then I should have been sure of my facts." It would be nice if this story were true. In fact, Buffon, by this time old and sick, was away from Paris when the moose arrived in October 1787. Jefferson sent it to Buffon's long time associate, zoologist Louis-Jean-Marie D'Aubenton, for the great man to see when he returned. Although most of the hair had fallen off the hide, the antlers sent by Sullivan were from a smaller animal and the whole carcass was probably rancid, Jefferson was "in hopes that Monsieur de Buffon will be able to have it stuffed, and placed on his legs in the King's Cabinet."
But we must next consider whether or not anyone exists who is by nature of this character, and whether it is advantageous and just for anyone to be a slave, or whether on the contrary all slavery is against nature. And it is not difficult either to discern the answer by theory or to learn it empirically. Authority and subordination are conditions not only inevitable but also expedient; in some cases things are marked out from the moment of birth to rule or to be ruled.
A figurative portrayal of the rift within the Republican party resulting from the nomination of Abraham Lincoln for the presidency in 1860. Here New York senator and would-be nominee William H. Seward watches as the radical antislavery senator from Massachusetts Charles Sumner releases a snarling cat, the "Spirit of Discord," from a "Republican Bag." The cat bolts toward New York "Tribune" editor Horace Greeley and Lincoln, who wields a rail in his defense. Greeley exclaims, "What are you doing Sumner! you'll spoil all! she aint to be let out until after Lincoln is elected,--" Lincoln, also alarmed, rejoins, "Oh Sumner! this is too bad!--I thought we had her safely bagged at Chicago [i.e., the Republican national convention at Chicago], now there will be the old scratch to pay, unless I can drive her back again with my rail!" Sumner replies, "It's no use talking Gentlemen, I was'nt mentioned at Chicago, and now I'm going to do something desperate, I can't afford to have my head broken and be kept corked up four years for nothing!" The mention of his broken head refers to the widely publicized 1856 beating inflicted on Sumner by South Carolina congressman Preston S. Brooks. (See "Arguments of the Chivalry," no. 1856-1.) Seward warns, "Gentlemen be cautious you don't know how to manage that animal as well as I did, and Im afraid that some of you will get "scratched." Henry J. Raymond, editor of the "New York Times," stands in background shouting, "Scat!--scat!--back with her, or our fat will all be in the fire."
Calhoun was a major figure not only in South Carolina but in national politics as well. The modern historian David Potter has called him "the most majestic champion of error since Milton's Satan." The English reformer Harriet Martineau, who became acquainted with him on her visit to the United States in 1835, wrote - a famous quotation - that Calhoun was "a cast-iron man, who looks as if he had never been born and could be extinguished." James Henry Hammond, who hoped to be the Calhoun of his generation, said in Charleston on the occasion of Calhoun's death in 1850 that "Mr. Calhoun had no youth, to our knowledge. He sprang into the arena like Minerva from the head of Jove, fully grown and clothed in armor: a man every inch himself, and able to contend with any other man."
Hammond's eulogy, claiming almost every virtue for his subject, did twice concede that Calhoun had no wit or humor. The historian Merrill Peterson, writing in the late twentieth century, said of Calhoun: "Intensely serious and severe, he could never write a love poem, though he often tried, it was later said, because every line began with 'whereas.'"
Then, New Hampshire and Virginia voted their approval – enough to put the document in operation, but only among the states that ratified it. At this point, all eyes turned to Poughkeepsie, where New York's ratifying convention was being held and where the Constitution's anti-Federalist opponents initially held a commanding lead. Without the acquiescence of New York – with its critical harbors, rivers and landmass – could the Philadelphia blueprint really work as planned?
The amendment provisions of the United States Constitution have a serious defect. Although some commentators claim that the supermajority rules in these provisions are too strict, that is by no means clear. Rather, the clear defect in the amendment provisions is that the only effective way they provide of amending the Constitution requires Congress’s approval and therefore Congress enjoys a veto over all amendments. While the Constitution does formally allow the state legislatures to seek to amend the Constitution through a national convention, that amendment method is broken. Not only has the national convention method never been used to pass an amendment or even to call a convention, the state legislatures are unlikely to ever use this method, because of the state legislatures’ fear of a runaway convention that might seek to enact constitutional amendments that they strongly dislike.
This congressional veto over amendments has significant normative implications. It suggests that the Constitution cannot be amended in a way that will constrain congressional power. It also makes it unlikely that the Constitution can be amended to limit the federal government or to expand state authority, because Congress is unlikely to support these changes. While it has often been assumed that the increased nationalism of the Constitution and government over the course of American history reflects changes in technology and values, a significant portion of this nationalist movement may instead be the result of a biased amendment procedure.
In addition to exploring the normative implications of the broken amendment procedure, the article also proposes a new amendment method. Under this state drafting procedure, an amendment would be enacted when it was approved by two thirds of the state legislatures and was ratified by three quarters of the states through either state conventions or ballot measures. Finally, the article argues that this reform of the amendment procedure could actually be passed under the national convention method and proposes a strategy for enacting it.
"The Monk" is Matthew Gregory Lewis's 1796 novel which is the tale of a monk who is tempted by carnal desire and led down a ruinous path of ungodliness. Ambrosio, a pious, well-respected monk in Spain, is lustfully tempted by his pupil, Matilda, a woman who has disguised herself as a monk. Having satisfied himself with her, he is overcome with carnal desire for the innocent Antonia. With the help of Matilda, who is actually Satan in disguise, Ambrosio seduces Antonia, a seduction that would ultimately lead to his downfall. Recognized as one of the first novels of the gothic genre, "The Monk" is a classic tale of the tragic ruin that may befall one tempted by desire.
But the planters had a point [that abolitionist agitation was responsible for slave rebellions]. In 1816 the absentee planter and gothic novelist "Monk" Lewis traveled to Jamaica to visit the sugar plantation he had recently inherited. In the journal he kept during his travels, published in 1834, Lewis recorded the following song, which an overseer had found upon the mysterious "King of the Eboes," who was arrested for plotting a rebellion.
"Oh me good friend, Mr. Wilberforce, make we free!
God Almighty thank ye! God Almighty thank ye!
God Almighty make we free!
Buckra in this country no make we free!
What negro for to do? What negro for to do?
Take force with force! Take force with force!"
The sloop Mary Ann, for example, owned by the Browns of Providence, Rhode Island, sailed to Surinam in 1766 with a cargo that included tobacco, candles, staves, hoops, bricks, horses, pigs, onions, axes, empty hogsheads, barrels of pork and beef, ship bread, flour, butter, oars, tar, and oysters. Such a cargo would have taken months to assemble . . ..