Saturday, April 30, 2011

Cut Off the Head and Save the Blood

I missed Easter dinner at my sister's this year, so I've asked her to make this mouth-watering turtle stew recipe for me the next time I come over. It's from Amelia Simmons's American Cookery, or the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Puff-Pastes, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes, from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake. Adapted to This Country, and All Grades of Life (1796). Do you think she'll mind?
Fill a boiler or kettle, with a quantity of water sufficient to scald the callapach and callapee, the fins, &c. and about 9 o'clock hang up your turtle by the hind fins, cut of [sic] the head and save the blood, take a sharp pointed knife and separate the callapach from the callapee, or the back from the belly part, down to the shoulders, so as to come at the entrails which take out, and clean them, as you would those of any other animal, and throw them into a tub of clean water, taking great care not to break the gall, but to cut it off from the liver and throw it away, then separate each distinctly and put the guts into another vessel, open them with a small pen-knife end to end, wash them clean, and draw them through a woolen cloth, in warm water, to clear away the slime and then put them in clean cold water till they are used with the other part of the entrails, which must be cut up small to be mixed in the baking dishes with the meat; this done, separate the back and belly pieces, entirely cutting away the fore fins by the upper joint, which scald; peal off the loose skin and cut them into small pieces, laying them by themselves, either in another vessel, or on the table, ready to be seasoned; then cut off the meat from the belly part, and clean the back from the lungs, kidneys, &c. and that meat cut into pieces as small as a walnut, laying it likewise by itself; after this you are to scald the back, and belly pieces, pulling off the shell from the back, and the yellow skin from the belly, when all will be white and clean, and with the kitchen cleaver cut those up likewise into pieces about the bigness or breadth of a card; put those pieces into clean cold water, wash them and place them in a heap on the table, so that each part may lay by itself; the meat being thus prepared and laid separate for seasoning; mix two third parts of salt or rather more, and one third part of cayenne pepper, black pepper, and a nutmeg, and mace pounded fine, and mixt all together; the quantity, to be proportioned to the size of the turtle, so that in each dish there may be about three spoonfuls of seasoning to every twelve pound of meat; your meat being thus seasoned, get some sweet herbs, such as thyme, savory, &c. let them be dryed an rub'd fine, and having provided some deep dishes to bake it in, which should be of the common brown ware, put in the coarsest part of the meat, put a quarter pound of butter at the bottom of each dish, and then put some of each of the several parcels of meat, so that the dishes may be all alike and have equal portions of the different parts of the turtle, and between each laying of meat strew a little of the mixture of sweet herbs, fill your dishes within an inch and an half, or two inches of the top; boil the blood of the turtle, and put into it, then lay on forced meat balls made of veal, highly seasoned with the same seasoning as the turtle; put in each dish a gill of Madeira wine, and as much water as it will conveniently hold, then break over it five or six eggs to keep the meat from scorching at the top, and over that shake a handful of shread parsley, to make it look green, when done put your dishes into an oven made hot enough to bake bread, and in an hour and half, or two hours (according to the size of the dishes) it will be sufficiently done.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Millard, Dissed Again

Uh oh, the upcoming Paul Finkelman biography of Millard Fillmore looks like it's going to be a simplistic hatchet job. Amazon has posted an excerpt from the beginning of the book, and it's full of nonsense and snide innuendo. Let's start with this; my comments are in brackets:

Millard Fillmore, who became president after Taylor's death, was inexperienced and virtually unknown when he was nominated for vice president at the 1848 Whig convention. [Uh, he served four terms in Congress, rising to become Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee; alot more experience that a certain Mr. Lincoln later had.] He was born in poverty in central New York, poorly schooled as a child, and largely self-educated after that. [Notice the snarky "poorly schooled". Again one might say the same about Lincoln.] He achieved a comfortable middle-class status and struggled to fit in with men who were better educated, culturally more sophisticated, and more socially adept than he. [More snarkiness. Millard didn't raise himself up by his bootstraps to better himself and achieve success. His goal, apparently, was to become a self-satisfied bourgeois fat-cat - if he weren't such a socially inept dolt. Imagine Abe being described this way.] Moving to Buffalo, he practiced law and entered politics at age twenty-eight, serving three terms in the state legislature and later four terms in Congress. He was an unsuccessful candidate for governor of New York in 1844, but in 1847 he was elected state comptroller - an important but hardly a major office. [What happened to the Ways and Means Committee? And what state-wide office did Abe hold?] A year later, this obscure politician was nominated to run for vice president alongside General Taylor. [So obscure he was nominated more or less by acclamation after his name was suggested.]
Pathetic rubbish.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Moon Times Five

Just playin'. Click on any photo to enlarge.

Sailors and Cats

The U.S. Naval Institute has posted some delightful pictures, dating from the 1880s to the 1950s, of Cats in the Sea Services. The photo at the top is accompanied by the following caption:
"Accepting her fate as an orphan of war, 'Miss Hap' a two-week old Korean kitten chows down on canned milk, piped to her by medicine dropper with the help of Marine Sergeant Frank Praytor ... The Marine adopted the kitten after its mother was killed by a mortar barrage near Bunker Hill. The name, Miss Hap, Sergeant Praytor explained, was given to the kitten 'because she was born at the wrong place at the wrong time'." Korea, ca 1953

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

After the Rain

We had a cold, miserable rain most of the day here in western New Jersey, but shortly before dusk the rain slackened to a mist. Spring is coming.

Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Barnum in the Pulpit

While his sister Harriet sunned herself in Florida after the War, brother and preacher Henry Ward Beecher remained in Brooklyn. But as David Goldfield explains in America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation, Henry, too, "backed off from crusades after the war."
He had always interspersed his sermons with secular humor, and some critics complained he was Barnum in the pulpit. After the war, his sermons at Plymouth Church dwelt on topics such as civic duty, child rearing, and voting rights. It was nondenominational entertainment, punctuated by such aphorisms as "The mother's heart is the child's schoolroom" and "The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one often comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won't." Fellow Brooklynite Walt Whitman stated flatly, "It was only fair to say to Beecher that he was not a minister." Showmanship and fortune-cookie advice overtook theology, and most northerners welcomed the transition.
Head-and-shoulders portrait of Chief Justice Joseph Neilson surrounded by head-and-shoulders portraits of 17 people, including S.D. Morris, Theodore Tilton, Francis D. Moulton, and Henry Ward Beecher.

Harriet Beecher Stowe in Disney World

David Goldfield's America Aflame: How The Civil War Created a Nation comes into its own when he arrives at the end of the Civil War. He does an excellent job painting the dizzying array of technical, business and cultural developments and distractions that led northerners, always thinly committed to anti-slavery, so quickly to turn away from the War, the south and the problems of the freedmen.

Goldfield employs Harriet Beecher Stowe as a symbol of the transformation:
She moved to Florida. Stowe came to teach former slaves to read and write and stayed to promote Florida real estate. She coauthored a book with her sister Catharine, The American Woman's Home (1869), which served as the middle-class bible for home design through World War I.
Harriet began the book even before the end of the War, correctly sensing correctly that the war-weary public would prefer to read about home decoration. "Her first essay on the subject, 'Ravages of a Carpet,' appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in January 1864."

Applauding William Lloyd Garrison's decision to withdraw from the American Anti-Slavery Society shortly after the War, Harriet concluded that the end of slavery was enough. Harriet was in Disney World:
Florida's exotic environment captivated Stowe. When she arrived on the banks of the St. Johns River in north Florida in February 1867, the orange blossoms were in bloom. She immediately "stripped off the woolen garments of my winter captivity, put on a thin dress white skirt . . . & sat down to enjoy the view of the river & the soft summer air." At this desk, Stowe wrote a breezy account of her early experiences in Florida, Palmetto Leaves (1873), describing her work with the freedmen, but mostly promoting Florida tourism and offering advice on growing citrus trees.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Judicial Review at the Constitutional Convention

In his podcast course on Colonial and Revolutionary America, Stanford history prof Jack Rakove criticizes those lawprofs who, he says, characterize the doctrine of judicial review as springing forth fully formed out of nothing from the pen of Chief Justice John Marshall, like Athena from the head of Zeus.

The doctrine, Rakove concedes, was not systematically developed at the time of the Philadelphia Convention. But the idea, he contends, was in the air and common currency among the delegates.

Without citing a particular speech, Rakove refers to arguments by delegate Elbridge Gerry criticizing James Madison's proposed council of revision. I tracked down one of Gerry's statements to which Rakove presumably refers, and I thought I'd go over it with you.

The Resolutions laid out by Edmund Randolph (almost universally believed to have been prepared by Madison) at the outset of the Convention included an Eighth Resolution by which a “Council of revision”, composed of both “the Executive” and “a convenient number of the National Judiciary”, would “ examine every act of the National Legislature before it shall operate”:
8. Resd. that the Executive and a convenient number of the National Judiciary, ought to compose a Council of revision with authority to examine every act of the National Legislature before it shall operate, & every act of a particular Legislature before a Negative thereon shall be final; and that the dissent of the said Council shall amount to a rejection, unless the Act of the National Legislature be again passed, or that of a particular Legislature be again negatived by ----- of the members of each branch.
The Convention, sitting as a Committee of the Whole, held an initial discussion concerning “Proposition 8th” on Monday June 4, 1787. Elbridge Gerry promptly objected to it. Among other things, Gerry suggested that the federal judiciary did not need to review laws in advance because it would have an opportunity to review them, and if necessary to set them aside as unconstitutional, after the fact (emphasis added):
First Clause of Proposition 8th. relating to a Council of Revision taken into consideration.

Mr. GERRY doubts whether the Judiciary ought to form a part of it, as they will have a sufficient check agst. encroachments on their own department by their exposition of the laws, which involved a power of deciding on their Constitutionality. In some States the Judges had actually set aside laws as being agst. the Constitution. This was done too with general approbation. It was quite foreign from the nature of ye. office to make them judges of the policy of public measures. He moves to postpone the clause in order to propose "that the National Executive shall have a right to negative any Legislative act which shall not be afterwards passed by -------- parts of each branch of the national Legislature."
Rufus King of Massachusetts then jumped in in support of Gerry, amplifying a conclusion perhaps implicit in Gerry's remarks. Because federal judges would be evaluating laws after the fact, approving them in advance would compromise their judicial role:
Mr. KING seconds the motion, observing that the Judges ought to be able to expound the law as it should come before them, free from the bias of having participated in its formation.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Battle Over the Soul

Last night I attended a screening of The Battle Over the Soul at the Center for Jewish History on West 16th Street in Manhattan. The Battle for the Soul is a remarkable and moving film documenting the astonishing exploits of a handful of young Israeli soldiers who held off virtually the entire Syrian army for the better part of three days at the beginning of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, almost certainly preventing the annihilation of the Jewish state, and exploring the effects that those few hours had on those young men's lives. Saving Private Ryan has nothing on this film.

Dan Almagor, one of those then young men, the driving force behind the film, and the host of the screening, is a an exemplar of the best that humanity has to offer and deserves your support.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Hampton Roads Peace Conference

At the beginning of February 1865, President Abraham Lincoln met with old friend, former fellow Whig, and then Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens of Georgia at a “peace conference” on board the River Queen at Hampton Roads, near Fort Monroe, Virginia. (Other attendees were Secretary of State William H. Seward with Lincoln and former United States Supreme Court Associate Justice John A. Campbell of Alabama and former United States Representative and Senator and Confederate Secretary of State and Senator Robert M.T. Hunter of Virginia representing the Confederacy.) In America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation David Goldfield recounts the beginning of the Hampton Roads meeting:
The following morning, February 3, Stephens boarded the president’s steamer and greeted Lincoln warmly. Stephens seemed rather frailer than the last time the two former Whigs met, nearly seven years earlier. The Confederate vice president wore a thick gray overcoat that descended to his ankles and threatened to swallow him. He had always looked cadaverous, but the coat made his appearance even more ghostly. A Union soldier guarding the gathering exclaimed, “My God! He’s dead now, but he don’t know it.” Stephens doffed his overcoat, and Lincoln chuckled, “Never have I seen so small a nubbin come out of so much husk.” The atmosphere immediately relaxed, and the two men chatted amiably about the old days before settling down to business.
But that is amusing prelude. What I really wanted to focus on was Lincoln’s remarkable advice to Stephens concerning the Thirteenth Amendment, which had passed the House of Representatives just three days earlier, on January 31, 1865. Stephens’ home state of Georgia, Lincoln suggested, should ratify the amendment prospectively, “so as to take effect, say, in five years”.

During the conference, Seward told the southern representatives of the recent passage of the amendment, and “Lincoln saw that the announcement rattled the [southern] commissioners perhaps more than any other disclosure that day.” He therefore “offered some advice to Stephens”:
“If I were in Georgia, I would go home and get the governor of the state to call the legislature together . . . and ratify this constitutional amendment prospectively, so as to take effect, say, in five years. Such a ratification would be valid in my opinion.” That way, Lincoln explained, southerners “will avoid, as far as possible, the evils of immediate emancipation. Lincoln, according to Stephens, pledged “to remunerate the southern people for their slaves,” on the grounds that both North and South were responsible for slavery.
William C. Harris's article on the meeting, The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln's Presidential Leadership, provides additional context:
Later, when the issue of emancipation was again raised, the president gave a lengthy explanation of his own antislavery history, beginning with his opposition to the extension of slavery into the territories and repeating his reasons for acting against the institution during the war. The president concluded his account, as Stephens later wrote, by maintaining that he had always favored emancipation but not immediate emancipation, even by the states, because of the "many evils attending" it. The Confederate vice president also wrote that Lincoln then declared that if he were Stephens, he would go home to Georgia, "get the Governor of the State to call the Legislature together, and get them to recall all the State troops from the war; elect Senators and Members to Congress, and ratify the Constitutional Amendment prospectively, so as to take effect—say in five years." "Such a ratification," the president allegedly said, "would be valid in my opinion." Lincoln went on to say, again according to Stephens, "that whatever may have been the views of your people before the war, they must be convinced now, that Slavery is doomed. It cannot last long in any event, and the best course, it seems to me, for your public men to pursue, would be to adopt such a policy as will avoid, as far as possible, the evils of immediate emancipation."

Harris expresses substantial doubt as to whether Lincoln in fact endorsed “prospective” ratification, both because the endorsement would have been inconsistent with other statements the president had made and because another participant, Campbell, did not mention the statement in his account of the meeting.

I am not so sure. Stephens published his account in 1868, only three years after the event. While it is possible that Stephens's memory was faulty, his recollection of the meeting and Lincoln's comments seems to have been quite distinct. The other statements that Stephens attributes to Lincoln (concerning his history of opposition to immediate emancipation and his belief that the north as well as the south was responsible for slavery and that southerners should be compensated for the loss of their slaves) are entirely consistent with Lincoln's known history. And there is no apparent motive for Stephens to have lied about this otherwise trivial detail of the conversation.

Moreover, as Harris himself admits in another context, Lincoln was clearly concerned at the meeting to convey the impression “that he did not seek a social revolution in the postwar South”:
One of the Confederate commissioners then mentioned "the evils of immediate emancipation," specifically, as Stephens later wrote, the hardships that many blacks "who were unable to support themselves" would face in freedom. The president "fully admitted" that the sudden end of slavery might produce severe dislocations, but, instead of elaborating on the point and describing his expectations for the former slaves, he illustrated his view with a rather crude anecdote. Drawing upon his reservoir of rural Midwestern stories, Lincoln told of an Illinois farmer who informed a neighbor that he had discovered a way to save time and labor in feeding his hogs. "What is it"? asked the neighbor. "Why, it is," said the farmer, "to plant plenty of potatoes, and when they are mature, without either digging or housing them, turn the hogs in the field and let them get their own food as they want it." "But," the neighbor inquired, "how will they do when the winter comes and the ground is hard frozen"? "Well," replied the farmer, "let 'em root."

This anecdote, which appears in both Stephens' and Campbell's accounts and which Lincoln later repeated to his portraitist, reveals a harsh side to Lincoln, perhaps caused by his desire to reassure the Confederates that he did not seek a social revolution in the postwar South. The story also belies Lincoln's earlier expressions of sympathy for black refugees from slavery and his approval, one month after the Hampton Roads Conference, of the Freedman's Bureau bill providing temporary aid for the former slaves (and white refugees) in their adjustment to freedom.

Indeed, earlier in the meeting, when Seward first mentioned the Thirteenth Amendment, Lincoln raised no objection to Seward's incredible suggestion that the confederate states should rejoin the Union in order to defeat the amendment:
At this point, Seward produced a copy of the proposed Thirteenth Amendment, which had not been seen by the commissioners. He declared that if the South abandoned the struggle, the amendment probably would fail to receive the necessary approval of three-fourths of the states for ratification. Seward inferred [sic, should be “implied”], according to Stephens's account of the conference, that if the Southern states quickly rejoined the Union, they could assist in voting down the amendment.
I find Lincoln's statement on prospective ratification, if true, fascinating for at least two, maybe three reasons. First, there is the abstract legal question. I suppose it is possible for a proposed constitutional amendment to provide by its terms that, upon ratification, it will not go into effect until some time thereafter. But can a state ratify “prospectively”, in the sense described by Lincoln, an amendment that contains no such limitation? And what if an amendment were ratified by three-quarters of the states, but one-third of those votes in favor included “prospective” provisos specifying various different periods (e.g., one year, three years, five years, ten years) before the amendment would become effective? Whose period, if any, would control? Or could opponents maintain that a state’s ratification subject to such a proviso was no ratification at all, much as Federalists argued in 1788 that conditional state ratification of the Constitution would be equivalent to rejection?

Second, the incident is remarkable because it suggests that Lincoln was prepared to send the slaves and freedmen back into captivity, at least for a period. Lincoln no doubt understood that the Emancipation Proclamation, as an exercise of war powers, would lapse following the cessation of hostilities. And what if southern states then began demanding the return of slaves who had fled to Union lines and thence to northern states under the Fugitive Slave Clause? The mind reels.

Finally, one wonders what light this incident sheds on the hypothetical actions of a Reconstruction Abe. Lincoln defenders generally sheepishly admit that his actions and words before his death indicated that he was planning a relatively quick and gentle (and Andrew Johnson-like) Reconstruction, but tend to emphasize the president’s flexibility and capacity for growth, leading them to claim that southern intransigence would have quickly moved him toward a firmer and more “radical” policy. Ironically, Harris in his article provides a perfect illustration of this mode of thought. After recounting Lincoln's “harsh” Illinois farmer story (described above), Harris immediately proceeds to suggest that he would have changed his mind. I provide the complete paragraph for context (emphasis added):
This anecdote, which appears in both Stephens' and Campbell's accounts and which Lincoln later repeated to his portraitist, reveals a harsh side to Lincoln, perhaps caused by his desire to reassure the Confederates that he did not seek a social revolution in the postwar South. The story also belies Lincoln's earlier expressions of sympathy for black refugees from slavery and his approval, one month after the Hampton Roads Conference, of the Freedman's Bureau bill providing temporary aid for the former slaves (and white refugees) in their adjustment to freedom. Still, Lincoln, like most Americans at the time, optimistically expected emancipation itself to be "the king's cure" for blacks in the South. Lincoln believed that a free person, now including blacks, should be able to make his way in America through his own ability and effort without the assistance of the state. Though he had admitted the difficulties of the white and black races living together in freedom (his earlier support for black colonization reflected this concern), the president envisioned a limited role for the federal government in protecting and aiding blacks after the war. Had he lived to witness the postwar threat to black freedom, Lincoln might have changed his mind regarding federal responsibility for black liberty.
Abe might have arrived at a more radical position on Reconstruction. But the fact remains that if, two months before his death, Abe was prepared to send the slaves back into slavery, he sure had a long way to go before he got there.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sir Billy and His Filly

I've been listening intermittently in the car to Stanford historian Jack Rakove's Colonial and Revolutionary History podcast course. The good professor has referred several times to a bit of doggerel concerning Sir William Howe's liaison while in New York with Elizabeth Loring, the wife of a loyalist by the name of Joshua Loring, suggesting that Sir Billy's extramarital bliss accounted for his slow departure from New York to Philadelphia in 1777.

Sir William, he, snug as a flea,
Lay all this time a-snoring;
Nor dreamed of harm, as he lay warm
In bed with Mrs. ------.


Awake, arouse, Sir Billy,
There's forage in the plain.
Ah, leave your little Filly,
And open the campaign.

In his lectures, Prof. Rakove suggests that Sir William ultimately decamped for Pennsylvania rather than venture up the Hudson because he misunderstood the penultimate line to be "Ah, leave for Philly".

A Thought on Nullification and Secession

A recent post by history prof Mark R. Cheathem, Nullification, the South, and Historiography, prompted a thought.

It's unfortunate that the doctrines of nullification and secession became entangled with and identified with the defense of slavery. Substantively the doctrines are neither good nor evil. They could be used just as well in support of an end that most of us would consider admirable – to block, for example, a Sedition Act, or federal regulations requiring you to eat a serving of broccoli each day.

This does not mean that the doctrines are clearly correct either. But the unique historical identification of the doctrines with slavery skews all discussions about them and makes it extremely difficult to exchange views about their merits without the discussion promptly descending into accusations and finger-pointing.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

"[T]o call it murder would be to defame all ordinary murderers"

Following up on my last post on the 1818 military trial and execution of Robert Ambrister and Alexander Arbuthnot, I thought I'd see what Andy Jackson's partisans might have to say in Old Hickory's defense. To do this, I consulted two sources that might be expected to give Andy Jackson the benefit of the doubt: Volume 2 of James Parton's Life of Andrew Jackson and Volume 1 of Robert Remini's Andrew Jackson.

Parton's verdict on the incident is harsh. The execution of Arbuthnot – whom both Parton and Remini portray as less culpable, and probably entirely innocent – was an “unmitigated atrocity.” Nor did Ambrister's conduct warrant summary execution:

Such was the tragedy enacted at St. Mark's [in Spanish Florida], in the year of our Lord 1818. Who can characterize it aright? The execution of Arbuthnot, apart from all the extenuating circumstances, was an act of such complicated and unmitigated atrocity, that to call it murder would be to defame all ordinary murderers. He was put to death for acts every one of which was innocent, and some of which were eminently praiseworthy. Even Ambrister's fault was one which General Jackson himself would have been certain to commit in the same circumstances. He sent a party to “oppose” the invasion of the province; and even his seizure of Arbuthnot's schooner seems to have been done to provide his followers with the means of defense. Arbuthnot was convicted upon the evidence of men who had the strongest interest in his conviction. And who presided over the court? Was it not the men whose treatment of the Fowltown warriors, first arrogant and then precipitant, was the direct cause of the war and all its horrors? [The First Seminole War had begun when, on November 21, 1817, 250 troops sent by General Edmund P. Gaines under the command of Col. David E. Twiggs burned down the Seminole village of Fowltown, located just north of the Florida border on land claimed by the United States under the Treaty of Fort Jackson, and drove off the inhabitants. Nine days later, on November 30, 1817, the Seminoles took revenge by ambushing a boat on the Apalachicola River and killing 46 of 51 people on board – 36 soldiers, six women and four children. The same Gen. Gaines who had ordered the Fowltown expedition later served as President of the fourteen-officer military tribunal that convicted and sentenced Arbuthnot and Ambrister.]

Having accused Jackson of presiding over an “atrocity,” however, Parton then oddly lets Old Hickory off the hook, characterizing him as “perhaps, the least blameworthy” of the participants:
Of all the men concerned in this tragedy, General Jackson was, perhaps, the least blameworthy. We can survey the transaction in its completeness, but he could not. He carried out of the war of 1812 the bitterest recollections of [British Major Edward] Nicols [or Nicolls] and [British Marine Captain George] Woodbine, who had given protection, succor, and honor to the fugitive Creeks. A train of circumstances led him to the conclusion that Arbuthnot and Ambrister [who were also British subjects] were still doing in Florida the work that Nichols and Woodbine had begun in 1814. He expressly says, in one of his dispatches, that, at the beginning of his operations, he was “strongly impressed with the belief that this Indian war had been excited by some unprincipled foreign agents,” and that the Seminoles were too weak in numbers to have undertaken the war, unless they had received assurances of foreign support. Woodbine had actually been in Florida the summer before, brought thither by Arbuthnot. To the “machinations” of these men General Jackson attributed the massacre of Lieutenant Scott [the November 30, 1817 massacre on the Apalachicola River mentioned above, during which, according to Parton, “[m]en, women and children were involved in one horrible massacre, or spared for more horrible torture. The children were taken by the heels and their brains dashed out against the sides of the boat.”], and considered them equally guilty. They were at length in his power, and he then selected fourteen of his officers to examine the evidence against them. After three days' investigation those officers brought in a verdict that accorded exactly with his own previous convictions, as well as with the representation of . . . others who surrounded his person and had an interest in confirming his impressions.
Nonetheless, Parton warns in conclusion, “This is not a justification; for it is not permitted to a man to make mistakes which involve the lives of human beings.”

Remini likewise delivers a discordant verdict. While seemingly condemning Jackson's actions he simultaneous explains and excuses them:

Whether the executions of Arbuthnot and Ambrister were necessary or justified may be questioned. The war with the Indians was over and the trials could have been delayed until Jackson had consulted with his superiors in Washington. But Jackson was not a merciful man in these circumstances, nor was it his style to defer to Washington for decisions. He could have delayed the execution of the sentences; he certainly stood on shaky legal ground in decreeing that a person forfeits his nationality and becomes an outlaw by warring against another nation [Jackson maintained that Arbuthnot and Ambrister were no longer British citizens or subjects but international outlaws]. But this was the early nineteenth century, along a frontier where the Indian menace kept settlers in a perpetual state of alarm and apprehension. Jackson had no patience with those who trifled with this fear. To him, Arbuthnot and Ambrister were guilty of inexcusable crimes and their punishment was obligatory under frontier law and conditions. “The proceedings of the Court martial in this case,” he reported to [Secretary of War John C.] Calhoun, “with the volume of corruption, and barbarity at which the heart sickens and in which in this enlightened age it ought not scarcely to be believed that a christian nation would have participated and yet the British government is involved in the agency.” He hoped that the execution of Arbuthnot and Ambrister would “convince the Government of Great Britain as well as her subjects that certain, if slow retribution awaits those unchristian wretches who by false promises delude and excite a [sic] Indian tribe to all the horrid deeds of savage war.”
About the illustration at the top of the post, entitled The Little Magician Invoked (1844):
Martin Van Buren, known as "the Little Magician" for his remarkable political agility, summons spirits to divine the Democratic or "Loco Foco" prospects for election in 1844. He sits in an astrological circle, conjuring up three imps in the smoke of his pipe, and addresses them: Spirits white and Gray appear! appear! / my call attend! my power revere! / Their destiny the Locos ask / Apply ye to the mighty Task! First spirit: Loco-Focos! desperate Chaps. / Make your speech & draw your Caps! / You've had your day--you've had free scope / And hanged yourselves with your own rope! Second spirit: When Arnold rises form the Tomb / To receive a Traitors doom! / When Yankee Children bear his name / And all are proud of Arnolds Fame! / Then Tyler shall his honors share, / And keep the Presidential chair! Third spirit: When the stars fall from above. / When the Globe shall cease to move, / When flowers grow amid the snow / And Lions fear the timid Roe. / When Lawyers shall refuse a feel / And misers pray for poverty /Till then, you'll find that many folk, / Will never vote for Master Polk! / Till then, they'd swing upon the Gallows / Before they'd vote for Master Dallas! Democratic nominees James K. Polk, wearing the striped trousers associated with the Loco Foco or radical wing of the Democratic party, and George M. Dallas stand at right. Visibly awed, Polk says, "By Heavens! these words remind me of the dream I had when I first heard of my nomination!" Dallas, fleeing to the right, asserts, "I'll get out of this scrape as quick as possible Texas wont save us!" On the left Andrew Jackson brandishes his cane and threatens, "By the Eternal! you old Hags! if I get hold of you, I'll hang you all up under the 7th section as I did Arbuthnot and Ambisiserter!" Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert Ambrister (not "Ambister") were two Englishmen hung by Jackson during the Florida campaign in 1818, for aiding the Seminole Indians in their fight against the general's militia. The act was one which Jackson's political foes invoked throughout his career as evidence of his brutality.

Andy Jackson In the News!

Apparently the Justice Department, seeking to defend military commissions, cited Jackson's actions as precedent. In the process, DOJ likened the Seminoles to al Qaeda and seemingly endorsed Jackson's actions:
In a recent brief to the Court of Military Commissions Review (CMCR), the Pentagon cited an 1818 military commission convened by General Andrew Jackson to execute two British men, Robert Ambrister and Alexander George Arbuthnot, for assisting the Seminole Indians after U.S. forces had invaded then-Spanish Florida to prevent black slaves from escaping. The prosecution’s brief elaborated: “Not only was the Seminole belligerency unlawful, but, much like modern-day al Qaeda, the very way in which the Seminoles waged war against U.S. targets itself violate the customs and usages of war. Because Ambrister and Arbuthnot aided the Seminoles both to carry on an unlawful belligerency and to violate the laws of war, their conduct was wrongful and punishable.” (emphasis added).
Prof Hafetz condemns the argument as "[b]ad lawyering", "[o]ffensive" and "[r]evealing":
The Ambrister- Arbuthnot commission may be historical evidence, but it’s not legal precedent and it’s very poor evidence. That commission was never considered or validated by any court. Jackson, meanwhile, was almost censured by Congress and the decision was castigated, including by the House Committee on Military Affairs. William Winthrop, whom the U.S. Supreme Court has called “the Blackstone of Military Law” and repeatedly cited in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and other opinions, later described Jackson’s order to execute Ambrister (after the commission had sentenced him to corporal punishment) as “wholly arbitrary and illegal.” (Winthrop also remarked that if an officer had ordered the execution as Jackson had, he “would now be indictable for murder.”). If one were defending the commissions, this is historical evidence you’d normally want to bury, not showcase.
OK, you Andy Jackson scholars, have at it!
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