Monday, May 31, 2010

Mrs. Dred Scott

At Legal Theory Blog, Lawprof Lawrence Solum recommends Lea VanderVelde's Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier. Here is a description [the publisher's, I assume]:
Among the most infamous U.S. Supreme Court decisions is Dred Scott v. Sandford . Despite the case's signal importance as a turning point in America's history, the lives of the slave litigants have receded to the margins of the record, as conventional accounts have focused on the case's judges and lawyers. In telling the life of Harriet, Dred's wife and co-litigant in the case, this book provides a compensatory history to the generations of work that missed key sources only recently brought to light. Moreover, it gives insight into the reasons and ways that slaves used the courts to establish their freedom.

A remarkable piece of historical detective work, Mrs. Dred Scott chronicles Harriet's life from her adolescence on the 1830s Minnesota-Wisconsin frontier, to slavery-era St. Louis, through the eleven years of legal wrangling that ended with the high court's notorious decision. The book not only recovers her story, but also reveals that Harriet may well have been the lynchpin in this pivotal episode in American legal history. Reconstructing Harriet Scott's life through innovative readings of journals, military records, court dockets, and even frontier store ledgers, VanderVelde offers a stunningly detailed account that is at once a rich portrait of slave life, an engrossing legal drama, and a provocative reassessment of a central event in U.S. constitutional history. More than a biography, the book is a deep social history that freshly illuminates some of the major issues confronting antebellum America, including the status of women, slaves, Free Blacks, and Native Americans.
Looks interesting.

Memorial Day

It amazes me that good Americans remain willing to sacrifice their lives for their country when their president hates and belittles their country and them. Here's to them, to better times, and to better leaders.

H/T to Tom Smith at The Right Coast for the video.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Chickamauga, Stereos and Boris Godunov

It's been a beautiful summer day here in northwest New Jersey. I've been spending the afternoon reading Steven E. Woodworth's (ed.) The Chickamauga Campaign with Modest Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov blasting in the background.

The book is excellent and highly recommended. I don't pretend to be a Chickamauga expert, but provided one knows the broad brush outlines of the battle the essays are uniformly understandable and of high quality. I hesitate to highlight certain essays for fear of unfairly slighting others, but I particularly enjoyed William G. Robertson's "Bull of the Woods? James Longstreet at Chickamauga" for its detailed and contrarian analysis of Longstreet's actions in connection with his transfer to the western theater and his actions on September 20, 1863. Together with Robert K. Krick's essay "Longstreet Versus McLaws - and Everyone Else - About Knoxville" (which appears in his book of essays entitled The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy: The Death of Stonewall Jackson and Other Chapters on the Army of Northern Virginia), Prof. Robertson's chapter should be required reading for those inclined to worship Lee's Old War Horse.

Editor Woodworth has written before on the Confederate fiasco at McLemore's Cove on September 10 and 11, but I found his chapter on the subject, "'In Their Dreams': Braxton Bragg, Thomas C. Hindman, and the Abortive Attack at McLemore's Cove", particularly lucid in explaining the dispositions and in offering some reasons as to how such a golden opportunity could have been lost despite Braxton Bragg's clear (to me at least) orders - a subject on which Alexander Mendoza also touches in his "The Censure of D.H. Hill: Daniel Harvey Hill and the Chickamauga Campaign". It's hard not to feel sorry for Bragg after reviewing the stupidity and outright insubordination to which he was subjected.

For a beautiful summer day, I broke out the summer stereo for the first time - a 100 Watt solid state AKSA amp, an Assemblage L-1 tube preamp, and an old Sony cd player, all driving a pair of Pi Speakers Two Pi Towers. I've used this combo for a number of years and it remains superb.

On the cd player has been (among other things) an EMI recording of Mussorgsky's unfinished masterpiece originally recorded in 1952 and featuring Boris Christoff in the title role (and two others).

A wonderful day.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Chuckle Head"

In his essay entitled "In the Shadow of the Rock: Thomas L. Crittenden, Alexander M. McCook, and the 1863 Campaigns for Middle and East Tennessee," which appears in The Chickamauga Campaign (Steven Woodworth, ed.), Ethan S. Rafuse quotes a contemporary describing Gen. Alexander McDowell McCook as a “chuckle head:”
By March 1863, however, Perryville and Stones River had done enough damage to McCook's reputation that relatively few in the Army of the Cumberland were still expressing such confidence [in him]. Indeed, that month one officer expressed what was undoubtedly a more widely held sentiment when he proclaimed the “young and very fleshy” McCook “a chuckle head.” McCook, he added, was a man who “swear[s] like a pirate and affect[s] the rough-and-ready style,” which combined with his grin to excite “the suspicion that he is either still very green or deficient in the upper story.”
All of which got me wondering about the origins of the term “chucklehead.”

Until I saw the quote, I would have imagined the term was of fairly recently vintage. Doesn't it sound like some sort of 1950s thing? “You chucklehead, you!” As it turns out, nope.

Extensive research (consisting of a few clicks on Google) suggests the term goes back to the Eighteenth Century and “is perhaps connected with” the verb “chuck,” "'to throw,' 1590s, variant of chock 'give a blow under the chin' (1580s), possibly from Fr. choquer 'to shock, strike against.'"

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

An Interesting Quote

Mr. BALDWIN: My statement . . . was . . . that the administrative force of the government must be lodged necessarily in the hands of the majority; . . . and that any attempt to build the administration of the Government on any narrower foundation than the virtue, and intelligence, and power of a majority of the people would lead to its overthrow.

Mr. MONTAGUE: Exactly. I did not misunderstand my friend. . . . But, sir, I utterly deny that proposition. It is entirely at war with the theory and practice of the government. . . . The very aim, and end, and object of a government, is to protect the minority against the majority. A majority can always protect itself. If you give the minority no guarantee of power to protect itself, against the aggressions of the majority, then your government is but a despotism of numbers, the worst of all despotisms - a government of strength and not a government of right.
About the illustration, entitled A Cure for Republican Lock-Jaw:
The artist portrays congressional efforts to pass the Crittenden Compromise as an antidote to Republican intransigence on the slavery issue. (For an earlier anti-North satire relating to the compromise, see "Congressional Surgery. Legislative Quackery," no. 1860-44.).

Three well-dressed men (probably members of Congress) attend a sick man, who wears a dressing gown and holds a document inscribed "Republican Platform No Compromise." Together they pull the invalid from his chair and struggle to force an oversized pill "Crittenden Compromise" down his throat, pushing it with a "Petition of 63,000." A box of "Constitutional Remedies" (containing more giant pills) is on the floor nearby. The door to the room stands open at right.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Footnote on "Bounties"

Last month ago I published several posts explaining why I believed that the prohibition of "bounties" in Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Confederate Constitution referred to federal subsidies to New England fishermen and not to army enlistment bonuses.

I was reading an article in the January 1861 issue of DeBow's Review this morning, entitled The Non-Slaveholders of the South: Their Interest in the Present Sectional Controversy Identical With That of the Slaveholders, which provides a little more evidence of southern anger over fishing bounties.

The body of the article includes a complaint about tariffs and other "tributes" that the south was then paying to the north:
[Non-slaveholders of the south] perceive the inevitable drift of Northern aggression, and know that if necessity impel to it, as I verily believe it does at this moment, the establishment of a Southern confederation will be a sure refuge from the storm. In such a confederation our rights and possessions would be secure, and the wealth being retained at home, to build up our towns and cities, to extend our railroads, and increase our shipping, which now goes in tariffs or other involuntary or voluntary tributes* to other sections, opulence would be diffused throughout all classes, and we should become the freest, the happiest, and the most prosperous and powerful nation upon earth.
The footnote immediately following the word "tributes" sets forth figures that allegedly represent "[t]he annual drain in profits which is going on from the South to the North." The very first item on the list is "Bounties to fisheries, per annum ... $1,500,000."

The Clarksburg Call

William W. Freehling's and Craig M. Simpson's highly recommended book Showdown in Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the Union draws a direct line from the extra-legal end of the Virginia secession convention to the first stirrings of the new state of West Virginia.

On April 17, 1861 – even before the convention had adopted a resolution in favor of secession – former governor Henry A. Wise “ascended to the podium,” “placed his huge horse before him,” and announced to the delegates that, as he spoke, Virginia troops were moving on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry and the navy yard at Norfolk. “There is a probability that blood will flowing at Harpers Ferry before night.”

Unionists led by John Brown Baldwin of Staunton, Augusta County, in the Shenandoah Valley, protested these actions as an unconstitutional usurpation. The people of the State of Virginia, Baldwin pointed out, had not authorized secession until the convention had voted for it and the people had then ratified that decision at the polls:
But, sir, I am speaking here as the representative of the people in a constitutional government, in regard to an act which the people themselves, by a majority of 60,000, directed should not be consummated without their voice at the polls; and I say that to consummate this act in defiance of the solemn action of the sovereign people of Virginia, I care not how patriotic the impulse, . . . is in derogation of the sovereign rights of the people of Virginia, who have appointed to settle it at the polls.
Confronted with a fait accompli, the delegates passed an ordinance of secession that same day by a vote of 88 to 55 and set May 23, 1861 as to date for a popular vote on whether to ratify it. Even so, Baldwin continued to object:
I understood from the gentleman from Princess Anne [Mr. WISE], today that an unauthorized expedition has been instructed to seize upon the armory at Harpers Ferry. If that be true, and that act is ratified by the Governor of the State, those persons engaged in it are acting in violation of the rights of the people of this State; and the Governor, in ratifying and adopting this act, is acting in violation of the Constitution of the State . . . [and] the rights of the people. . . . If this Convention adopts that unauthorized act, . . . the people of this State . . . [cannot decide] a question which they have reserved for their own decision.
Baldwin, ironically, ultimately chose to side with his native state. His protests, however, found expression in less than a week in a resolution known as the Clarksburg Call. Freehling and Simpson recount that, “Upon reaching home, [Harrison County delegate] John Carlile wrote the first document in the second Virginia revolution of the week.” According to newspaper reports, “At a large and enthusiastic meeting of from 1,000 to 1,200 of the citizens of Harrison county, assembled at the Court House upon a notice of forty-eight hours, on Monday, April 22, 1861,” and adopted “the following preamble and resolutions . . . without one dissenting voice.” I have broken down the “whereas” clauses into separate paragraphs to make them more readable and have bolded the key language incorporating Baldwin's argument:
WHEREAS, The Convention now in session in this State, called by the Legislature, the members of which had been elected twenty months before said call, at a time when no such action as the assemblage of a convention by legislative enactment was contemplated by the people, or expected by the members they elected in May, 1859, at which time no one anticipated the troubles recently brought upon our common country by the extraordinary action of the State authorities of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, has, contrary to the expectation of a large majority of the people of this State, adopted an ordinance withdrawing Virginia from the Federal Union: and

whereas, by the law calling said Convention, it is expressly declared that no such ordinance shall have force or effect, or be of binding obligation upon the people of this State, until the same shall be ratified by the voters at the polls,: and

whereas, we have seen with regret that demonstrations of hostility, unauthorized by law, and inconsistent with the duty of law-abiding citizens, still owing allegiance to the Federal Government, have been made by a portion of the people of this State against the said Government: and

whereas, the Governor of this Commonwealth, has, by proclamation, undertaken to decide for the people of Virginia, that which they have reserved to themselves, the right to decide by their votes at the polls, and has called upon the volunteer soldiery of this State to report to him and hold themselves in readiness to make war upon the Federal Government, which Government is Virginia's Government, and must in law and of right continue so to be, until the people of Virginia shall, by their votes, and through the ballot-box, that great conservator of a free people's liberties, decide otherwise: and

whereas, the peculiar situation of Northwestern Virginia, separated as it is by natural barriers from the rest of the State, precludes all hope of timely succor in the hour of danger from other portions of the State, and demands that we should look to and provide for our own safety in the fearful emergency in which we now find ourselves placed by the action of our State authorities, who have disregarded the great fundamental principle upon which our beautiful system of Government is based, to wit: "That all governmental power is derived from the consent of the governed," and have without consulting the people placed this State in hostility to the Government by seizing upon its ships and obstructing the channel at the mouth of Elizabeth river, by wresting from the Federal officers at Norfolk and Richmond the custom houses, by tearing from the Nation's property the Nation's flag, and putting in its place a bunting, the emblem of rebellion, and by marching upon the National Armory at Harper's Ferry; thus inaugurating a war without consulting those in whose name they profess to act; and

whereas, the exposed condition of Northwestern Virginia requires that her people should be united in action, and unanimous in purpose - there being a perfect identity of interests in times of war as well as in peace - therefore, be it

Resolved, That it be and is hereby recommended to the people in each and all of the counties composing Northwestern Virginia to appoint delegates, not less than five in number, of their wisest, best, and discreetest men, to meet in Convention at Wheeling, on the 13th day of May next, to consult and determine upon such action as the people of Northwestern Virginia should take in the present fearful emergency,

Resolved, That Hon: John S. Carlile, W. Goff, Hon. Chas. S. Lewis, J. Davis, Lot Bowen, Dr. Wm. Dunkin, W. E. Lyon, Felix Sturm, and James Lynch be and are hereby appointed delegates to represent this county in said Convention.

J. W. Harris, Sec'y.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Jubal Early Tells A Joke

On Saturday April 13, 1861, the delegates to the Virginia secession convention meeting in Richmond learned of the outbreak of hostilities and surrender at Fort Sumter. Delegates in favor of secession rejoiced, believing that the event would force the convention's hand.

But unionists and many conditional unionists held firm. Among them was none other than Jubal Anderson Early, representing Franklin County in the western Piedmont (31.6% enslaved). Ironically, in light of his later exploits, Early vigorous objected to the idea of Virginia becoming a highway for a Confederate army to march on Washington:
Mr. Chairman, this act [the events at Sumter] has done nothing to advance the cause of the Confederate States. In . . . Virginia, the mass of the people will never be found sanctioning their cause. . . . If there be any Virginians who advise or encourage the idea of marching an army from the Confederated States through our borders to Washington, they mistake the tone and temper of our people. I trust that the issue may never be forced upon us; but when it does come, mark it, that the invasion of our soil will be promptly resisted. The spirit of manhood has not deserted the sons of Virginia.
But I digress. What I really wanted to relate was a joke that Early told during the course of remarks he delivered later the same day. Eastern delegates maintained that the news of Sumter united Virginians behind the Confederate States. Warning easterners not to assume that the distant western parts of Virginia shared their views, Early emphasized the great size and varied nature of the state:
Sir, I imagine that gentlemen don't know how large the State of Virginia is. There was an old man, a citizen of my county, who has been reared in the hollows of the mountains, where the peaks run up very high, and you see only a little of the sky above. He had never been further than ten miles from his home. He . . . took it into his head to become a candidate for the Legislature. Well, he started, and when he got a little below our Court-House, the country began to open up before him, and he was led to exclaim, “Great God, if I had known the world had been half so large, I never would have started out from home.”
All quotes are from Showdown in Virginia: The 1861 Convention and the Fate of the Union (William W. Freehling and Craig M. Simpson, eds.).

Baby Giraffe

What the heck. Here's another, taken at the San Diego Zoo earlier this month.

Sleeping Koala

Taken at the San Diego Zoo earlier this month.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Fillmore refused to stand on ceremony"

At the end of November 1851 Senator Henry Clay arrived in Washington for the last time. He was dying of consumption and knew it. On December 1 he appeared in the Senate chamber, "a shocking, frail ghost," and delivered "a short speech often interrupted by his racking cough." It was his final appearance in that body. He spent the next seven months until his death on June 29, 1852 largely confined to his rooms at the National Hotel.

He was not alone, though. During those months, friends and old political enemies as well visited to pay their respects. David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler report that one of the former was the president of the United States. "President [Millard] Fillmore sent an invitation for a private dinner a the White House, but Clay apologized that he was too weak to make the short trip up Pennsylvania Avenue. Fillmore refused to stand on ceremony. He came to see Clay right away and made a point of visiting him when he could . .."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Talk Talk

Always loved this song.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Henry Clay did not"

David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler have no axe to grind; their subject is Henry Clay, not Millard Fillmore. It is therefore particularly gratifying to read their sympathetic and perceptive appreciation of our thirteenth president:
Millard Fillmore became president amid a grave crisis. The new president could match anyone as to humble origins, for his youth was framed in want, hard men, and harder circumstances, exploited by an apprenticeship that worked him like a dog at the hands of masters intent upon keeping him ignorant and dependent. He rose above it with almost superhuman resolve to acquire an education in the law and to establish himself in politics, first in New York and then in Washington, gaining a reputation as a reliable worker and an unquestionably honest man. Along the way he acquired habits and manners that would have made him celebrated for sophistication had be not been so resolutely self-effacing. His manner in fact convinced many that he was a plodding, timid intellect, but not everyone fell into the trap of thinking simplicity equated with simpleness. [Henry] Clay did not.
About the illustration, entitled Inklings of Travel, Up Salt River:
A broad satire, ridiculing all of the candidates in the 1848 presidential campaign. Swimming up "Salt River" and pulling the "Salt River Barge" is fox Martin van Buren. Seated in the barge are (left to right): Zachary Taylor, Taylor running mate Millard Fillmore, Henry Clay, Democratic vice presidential candidate William O. Butler, and presidential candidate Lewis Cass. Seated in the front of the boat and looking ahead through a spyglass, Taylor observes, "I say, Fillmore, I don't see anything ahead yonder that looks like the White House. The coast is very low & well adapted to Salt Works." Cass, at the tiller, says, "This boat carries Cesar and his fortunes. It cannot fail to arrive at its place of destination."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Justice Judah P. Benjamin?

Did you know that President Millard Fillmore offered to nominate Judah P. Benjamin to the United States Supreme Court? From Eli N. Evans, Judah P. Benjamin, The Jewish Confederate:
Soon after his [Benjamin's] election to the Senate, his career almost took another extraordinary turn. In the fall of 1852, the outgoing President, Millard Fillmore, offered him a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. It was a seat that had been promised to a Southerner who could represent the Fifth Circuit (consisting of Alabama and Louisiana) held by the late Justice John McKinley. The Democrats in the Senate were not going to approve the nominations of a lame-duck Whig President and rejected three candidates that Fillmore put forward. On February 15, 1853, the New York Times reported that “if the President nominates Benjamin, the Democrats are determined to confirmed him.” It predicted that “Mr. Benjamin, the new Senator, if nominated would be promptly confirmed.”
Benjamin declined Millard's offer. “It would require another sixty years before the first Jew [Louis Brandeis, 1916] would sit on the nation's highest court.”

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Could Millard Fillmore Have Made Henry Clay President in 1844?

In Henry Clay: The Essential American, David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler make a claim I had never seen before: Millard Fillmore was Henry Clay's choice for his vice presidential running mate in 1844:
Clay was prudent in refraining from publicly endorsing anyone in particular [as his vice presidential running mate in 1844], but in private he obliquely inclined toward Millard Fillmore. Others agreed that the New York could best mollify abolitionists and Antimasons and, if Clay died, would not be obnoxious like [John] Tyler. “I think Mr. Fillmore deserves the high estimate in which he was held by the Whigs of the last Congress,” Clay said. “I think him able, faithful, and with uncommon business habits.” It was the closest he came to supporting anyone.
All of which got to me to thinking . . . what if the Whigs had nominated Millard for the vice presidency in 1844 instead of Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey? Could Millard have put Clay over the top and won him the presidency over James K. Polk?

I'm going to have to think about this one, but the idea strikes me as plausible. Clay lost the vote in the Electoral College by sixty-five votes, 170 to 105. New York had 36 electoral votes. If Clay had retained all of the votes he won (including the seven votes of New Jersey), plus New York, he would have prevailed 141 to 134.

Could Millard have turned the tide in New York? Well, the vote there was extremely close. Clay lost by roughly 5,000 out of 486,000 cast. The results were as follows:

Polk (Democrat) 237,588
Clay (Whig) 232,482
Birney (Liberty) 15,812

Could Millard have eliminated that margin? Maybe, just maybe. Apart from the fact that Millard would have been a native son, his nomination might have suppressed the Democratic vote, particularly among the Irish in New York City. Frelinghuysen was tarred as an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic moralist, a label that Fillmore might well have avoided. Second, Millard might have induced some James G. Birney voters to switch columns. Finally, Millard began his political career as an Anti-Mason. His presence on the ballot might have persuaded additional anti-masons or former anti-masons, who were wary of Clay (who was a Mason) to make their way to the polls.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"I shall do nothing to disturb the sleep of the child or the repose of the mother"

I have previously published several posts on the 1826 duel held between then Secretary of State Henry Clay and Virginia Senator John Randolph of Roanoke. Reading the account of the duel, and the accompanying endnotes, contained in Henry Clay: The Essential American gives me another excuse to revisit this colorful event.

What I realized when I read the Heidlers' description was that Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton had been a witness to and participant in events leading up to the duel and had witnessed the duel itself. What is more, Benton composed a description of those events, published in his autobiography.

I located an 1858 printing of Benton's autobiography, Thirty Years' View; or, A History of the Working of the American Government for Thirty Years, From 1820 to 1850 (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1858), at Google Books. It turns out that Benton's description of the duel is detailed to the point of being turgid. I therefore thought that I'd highlight a few angles that I think are particularly interesting.

On Saturday April 1, 1826, Randolph approached Benton and asked him whether he “was a blood-relation of Mrs. Clay.” Benton said he was (Mrs. Clay's maiden name had been Lucretia Hart). Randolph “immediately replied that that put an end to a request which he had wished to make of me.” He then proceeded to explain that he had received and accepted a challenge from Clay and was hoping that Benton would be his second. Since Benton could not serve, Randolph would ask Col. Edward F. Tattnall (spelled "Tatnall" throughout Benton's account) to do so.

Then Randolph told Benton a secret and swore him to silence: he would not fire on Clay:
Before leaving, he told me he would make my bosom the depository of a secret which he should commit to no other person: it was, that he did not intend to fire at Mr. Clay. He told it to me because he wanted a witness of his intention, and did not mean to tell it to his second or any body else; and enjoined inviolable secrecy until the duel was over.
Procedural details and efforts by the seconds to dissuade the participants delayed matters for a week, but the duel was at last scheduled to take place on Saturday April 8th at 4:00 p.m. The location was the Virginia side of the Potomac, selected by Randolph because, if shot, his native state was “his chosen ground to receive his blood.”

That morning, Benton met with Randolph, hoping to obtain a reaffirmation of his commitment not to fire at Clay. Afraid to ask Randolph directly (because Randolph might take a direct question as an affront to his honor), Benton hit upon a scheme to elicit the information indirectly. He related to Randolph that he had visited the Clay residence the evening before and encountered a pathetic scene. The youngest Clay boy was sleeping on the sofa. Although apparently unaware of the impending duel, Mrs. Clay was “the picture of desolation.” Always physically frail, she was still despondent over the recent deaths of two daughters. “I told him of my visit to Mr. Clay the night before – of the late sitting – the child asleep – the unconscious tranquillity of Mrs. Clay; and added, I could not help reflecting how different all that might be the next night.”

Randolph understood and gave Benton the reassurance he was hoping for. “He understood me perfectly, and immediately said, with a quietude of look and expression which seemed to rebuke an unworthy doubt, 'I shall do nothing to disturb the sleep of the child or the repose of the mother.'"

Immediately before the duel, however, two events occurred that caused Randolph to question his resolve. First, Randolph became flustered when he dropped his pistol on the dueling ground, causing it to discharge. More importantly, shortly before that, during his carriage ride to the dueling ground, he had learned that Clay had requested a change in the rules that made his (Randolph's) injury or death more likely.

The duel was to be with pistols at ten paces, and the seconds had agreed to a procedure that minimized the likelihood that either participant would be shot. Immediately after the command to “fire,” there would be a quick count, “One, two, three, stop.” Hopefully, the participants, neither of whom was experienced with firearms, would not have time to raise their pistols and make accurate shots before the “stop” order was recited.

Shortly before the duel, however, Clay's second, Thomas J. Jesup, at Clay's request, asked Randolph's second to agree to slow down the count. Apparently Clay was concerned that, because he had no experience with pistols, he would not even have time to raise his pistol, leaving him defenseless if Randolph was able to get off a shot. Randolph's second declined the request, and the procedure was not changed.

Word of the request got back to Randolph, who apparently believed that the procedure had in fact been altered to slow down the count. Randolph decided that he might fire at Clay, but only to “disable” him. As he wrote in a note shortly before the duel:
"Information received from Col. Tatnall [Randolph's second] since I got into the carriage may induce me to change my mind, of not returning Mr. Clay's fire. I seek not his death. I would not have his blood upon my hands – it will not be upon my soul if shed in self-defence – for the world. He has determined, by the use of a long, preparatory caution by words, to get time to kill me. May I not, then, disable him? Yes, if I please."
When the time came, Randolph did indeed fire at Clay. “Mr. Randolph's bullet struck the stump behind Mr. Clay.” Clay's bullet was likewise wide of its mark.

After the first shots were exchanged, Benton pulled Randolph aside to try to settle the affair. During that conversation, Randolph affirmed that he had aimed only to disable Clay:
[H]e declared to me that he had not aimed at the life of Mr. Clay; that he did not level as high as the knees – not higher than the knee-band; "for it was no mercy to shoot a man in the knee;” that his only object was to disable him and spoil his aim. And then added, with a beauty of expression and a depth of feeling which no studied oratory can ever attain, and which I shall never forget, these impressive words: "I would not have seen him fall mortally, or even doubtfully wounded, for all the land that is watered by the King of Floods and all his tributary streams."
Clay and Randolph had agreed to a second exchange of fire, but Randolph assured Benton that, this time, he would not defend himself. “[Randolph] regretted this fire [his first shot at Clay] the instant it was over. He felt that it had subjected him to imputations from which he knew himself to be free – a desire to kill Mr. Clay, and a contempt for the laws of his beloved State [dueling was illegal in Virginia]; and the annoyances which he felt at these vexatious circumstances revived his original determination, and decided him irrevocably to carry it out.” “He left me to resume his post . . . with the positive declaration that he would not return the next fire."

Randolph was true to his word. Benton recounts the famous climax:
I withdrew a little way into the woods, and kept my eyes fixed on Mr. Randolph, who I then knew to be the only one in danger. I saw him receive the fire of Mr. Clay, saw the gravel knocked up in the same place, saw Mr. Randolph raise his pistol – discharge it in the air; heard him say, “I do not fire at you, Mr. Clay;” and immediately advancing and offering his hand. He was met in the same spirit. They met half way. shook hands, Mr. Randolph saying, jocosely, “You owe me a coat, Mr. Clay" - (the bullet had passed through the skirt of the coat, very near the hip) – to which Mr. Clay promptly and happily replied, "I am glad the debt is no greater."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"The general principles of this bill receive my approbation"

In Henry Clay: The Essential American, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler recall the drama of the moment when the public learned for the first time that the Nullification Crisis would be resolved.

In early 1833, Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky fashioned a compromise tariff bill that would gradually reduce the tariff over a period of years, until it would ultimately decrease to a level merely sufficient to raise the necessary income for the federal government, with protection of industry being abandoned. Clay privately discussed his ideas with John Caldwell Calhoun of South Carolina and “emerged from these discussions . . . confident that Calhoun would support it.”

Having laid the groundwork, on the morning of February 11, 1833 Clay took the Senate floor and “announced that he would present a formal compromise proposal the following day.” He provided no details.

The next morning, February 12, 1833, Clay delivered a speech that lasted “several hours”, in which he outlined his plan. At the conclusion, he “asked 'leave' to present his bill formally.” Supporters of president Andrew Jackson immediately objected, “if only to keep Clay from gaining plaudits for breaking the impasse.”

Amid the disorder, however, “the chair recognized Calhoun. The gallery watched the South Carolinian rise from his desk. Clay's eyes were on him, and the chamber fell suddenly silent, like a church in prayer.”

The Gales and Seaton Register of Debates, which reported the proceedings, provides only an indirect account of Calhoun's remarks (e.g., “Mr. Calhoun rose and said . . .”). I have taken the liberty of translating the account back into direct speech. I have also added paragraph breaks. After rising, the Senator from South Carolina made the following brief statement:
I will make but one or two observations.

Entirely approving of the object for which the bill is introduced, I shall give my vote in favor of the motion for leave to introduce it.

He who loves the Union must desire to see this agitating question brought to a termination. Until it is terminated, we can not expect the restoration of peace or harmony, or a sound condition of things, throughout the country. I believe that to the unhappy divisions which have kept the Northern and Southern States apart from each other, the present entirely degraded condition of the country (for entirely degraded I believe it to be) is solely attributable.

The general principles of this bill receive my approbation. I believe that if the present difficulties are to be adjusted, they must be adjusted based on the principles in the bill, of fixing ad valorem duties, except in the few cases in the bill to which specific duties are assigned.

It has been my fate to occupy a position as hostile as any one could, in reference to the protecting policy; but, if it depends on my will, I will not give my vote for the prostration of the manufacturing interest. A very large capital has been invested in manufactures, which have been of great service to the country; and I will never give my vote to suddenly withdraw all those duties by which that capital is sustained in the channel into which it has been directed. But I will only vote for the ad valorem system of duties, which I deem the most beneficial and the most equitable.

At this time, I do not rise to go into a consideration of any of the details of this bill, as such a course would be premature, and contrary to the practice of the Senate. There are some of the provisions which have my entire approbation, and there are some to which I object. But I look upon these minor points of difference as points in the settlement of which no difficulty will occur, when gentlemen meet together in that spirit of mutual compromise which, I doubt not, will be brought into their deliberations, without at all yielding the constitutional question as to the right of protection.
The Register of Debates dryly reports the reaction of the gallery to the stunning news that the Crisis was on its way to resolution:
[Here there was a tumultuous approbation in the galleries, which induced the CHAIR to order the galleries to be cleared. On the expression of a hope, by Mr. [George] POINDEXTER [of Mississippi] and Mr. [John] HOLMES [of Maine] [the same John Holmes, by the way, who was the addressee of Thomas Jefferson's “fire bell in the night” letter], that the order would not, at this time, be enforced, the CHAIR subsequently withdrew it; but gave notice that on any repetition of the disorder, the officers of the House would act without any further direction.]
Drawing on contemporaneous letters (according to the endnotes), the Heidlers provide some additional color:
Spectators in the gallery were not aware that the two [Clay and Calhoun] had made an arrangement. Now, as Calhoun spoke, they heard his words in amazement and immediately exploded into loud cheers, stamping, whistling, and raising such a noise that only the threat of eviction caused the celebration to end. Clay had seized the momentum from the administration. As Calhoun took his seat, Clay's eyes were upon him.
About the illustration, entitled Destruction of the Snake of South Carolina:
Eagle holds a dead snake in beak and another in claws as many smaller snakes slither in surrounding grass. American flag behind eagle with Andrew Jackson and John Calhoun watching from top corners. White envelope with colored ink. Image covers sheet. The destruction of the snake of South Carolina, nullification and secession, and all her progeny by the national bird. To portray the ultimate overthrow of the evil power, which strikes at the life of the national government, is the object of this cut.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The "Corrupt Bargain": The Opening Volley

In Henry Clay: The Essential American, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler point out that Jacksonian accusation that there was a “corrupt bargain” between Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams arose even before Adams was elected president.

The House vote among the three finalists for the presidency in 1824 (Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams and William H. Crawford) was scheduled to be held on February 9, 1825.

One month earlier, on the evening of January 9, 1825, Clay had met privately with Adams in the latter's study for about three hours. “Most of what was said there would remain forever behind the room's doors, for neither man left a lengthy account of their discussion.”

In the following weeks, Clay began lining up votes for Adams. On January 24, 1825, irate Jacksonians learned that the Kentucky delegation in the House would cast its vote for Adams, defying instructions from the state legislature to vote for Jackson.

The Jacksonian assault began the next day, some two weeks before the House voted. The opening volley took the form of an anonymous letter that appeared in the January 25, 1825 edition of the Philadelphia Columbian Observer. A Pennsylvania Congressman by the name of George Kremer later claimed that he wrote the letter, although there is apparently substantial doubt as to his authorship.

I searched around the internet and found a copy of the letter here. It reads as follows (some paragraph breaks added):

I take up my pen to inform you of one of the most disgraceful transactions that ever covered with infamy the Republican ranks. Would you believe that men professing Democracy could be found base enough to lay the axe at the very root of the tree of Liberty? Yet, strange as it is, it is not less true. To give you a full history of the transaction would far exceed the limits of a letter. I shall, therefore, at once proceed to give you a brief account of such a bargain as can only be equalled by the famous Burr Conspiracy of 1801.

For some time past, the friends of Clay have hinted that they, like the Swiss, would fight for those who would pay best. Overtures were said to have been made by the friends of Adams to the friends of Clay, offering him the appointment of Secretary of State for his aid to elect Adams. And the friends of Clay gave this information to the friends of Jackson, and hinted that if the friends of Jackson would offer the same price, they would close with them. But none of the friends of Jackson would descend to such mean barter and sale. It was not believed by any of the friends of Jackson that this contract would be ratified by the members from the States who had voted for Mr. Clay.

I was of opinion, when I first heard of this transaction, that men, professing any honorable principles, could not, nor would not, be transferred like the planter does his negroes, or the farmer his team and horses. No alarm was excited - we believed the Republic was safe. The nation, having delivered Jackson into the hands of Congress, backed by a large majority of their votes, there was on my mind no doubt that Congress would respond to the will of the nation, by electing the individual they had declared to be their choice.

Contrary to this expectation, it is now ascertained to a certainty that Henry Clay has transferred his interest to John Quincy Adams. As a consideration for this abandonment of duty to his constituents, it is said and believed, should this unholy coalition prevail, Clay is to be appointed Secretary of State. I have no fears on my mind - I am clearly of opinion we shall defeat every combination. The force of public opinion must prevail, or there is an end of liberty.
Extra credit question: why have I headed this post with a picture of Stephen van Rensselaer, the Patroon of Rensselaerswyck?

William Crawford Suffers a Stroke

For those of you who don't know of him, William H. Crawford was a leading political figure during the period following the War of 1812 and in the early 1820s. A transplanted Virginian who became a power in his adopted state of Georgia, Crawford served as Secretary of War under President James Madison from 1815 to 1816 and as Secretary of the Treasury from 1816 through 1825 under President Madison and throughout the term of President James Monroe.

In the jockeying for the presidential election of 1824, Crawford was probably the early front-runner in a crowded field that included Secretary of State John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, Secretary of War John Caldwell Calhoun of South Carolina, House Speaker Henry Clay of Kentucky and dark horse war hero and Senator Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. However, the dynamics of the covert race – and Crawford's own fortunes – changed dramatically when in the summer of 1823 Crawford suffered what modern histories inevitably refer to as a “massive stroke.” Remarkably, Crawford survived, although he suffered the crippling impairments typical of severe stroke victims. (His health later improved somewhat, and he lived for over decade, dying in 1834.)

Equally remarkable was the fact that, despite these impairments, Crawford's candidacy survived as well. Such was his political standing that, although he was essentially non-functional, he nonetheless finished third in the Electoral College vote for president in 1824, ahead of Henry Clay and ending Clay's presidential run. (Because no candidate amassed a majority of Electoral College votes, the House of Representatives would choose the winner from among the top three Electoral College vote-getters. As Speaker of the House, Clay would likely have won that contest had he finished third rather than fourth.)

In their new biography of the Great Pacificator, Henry Clay: The Essential American, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler provide details about the onset of Crawford's stroke that I had not seen before. Medical incompetence, they assert, transformed a serious but non-critical illness into the stroke that ultimately ended Crawford's national career.

In those days, anyone who could do so fled swampy and steamy Washington, D.C. in the summer to avoid the diseases such as malaria and yellow fever that swept the town. Crawford was no exception. In the summer of 1823 he left Washington and traveled to the home of leading Virginia politician James Barbour in Barboursville, Orange County.

Unfortunately, Crawford seems to have left a few days too late. By the time he arrived at Barbour's home in the more healthful Piedmont, he was seriously ill. Whatever the precise disease Crawford was suffering from, the doctor summoned by Barbour proceeded to misdiagnose it as a heart ailment – and to prescribe an extremely dangerous remedy:
Thinking Crawford suffered from a heart malady, the doctor administered digitalis, an extract of the poisonous foxglove plant and toxic if incorrectly dosed. In fact, it was an extremely dangerous drug. The measure separating a fruitless from a fatal dose could be less than a drop. The doctor gave Crawford too much. With his heart beating wildly out of control, Crawford suffered a massive stroke . . ..

Sunday, May 09, 2010

WHEREAS, the Party of the First Part Loves the Party of the Second Part

In their newly-published biography, Henry Clay: The Essential American, David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler report that John Calhoun's courtship of his future wife, Floride Bonneau Colhoun, was "ardent, although the one love poem that John had written to her oddly began every stanza with a lawyerly 'Whereas.'"

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Lying in State: The Quiz

I'm reading a new biography. Can you guess the subject? He's the correct answer to the quiz below. I'm sure you can Google the answer, but why not take a stab instead?

The illustration, courtesy of Son of the South, is of Abraham Lincoln's casket on view in the White House, not in the Capitol.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Antecedents of the Freeport Doctrine

In Parties, Slavery, and the Union in Antebellum Georgia, Anthony Gene Carey points out that the "idea that territorial legislatures could exclude slavery by hostile inaction" was circulating in Georgia long before Stephen A. Douglas made it famous at Freeport, Illinois. All of the quotes within the paragraph date to August and September 1856:
Many Democrats considered quibbling over different interpretations of popular sovereignty a futile exercise. "If the majority of the people of a Territory have the right to fix the character of their domestic institutions," the Millidgeville Federal Union asked, "what practical difference will it make either to the North or to the South whether the will of the majority is expressed through a Territorial Legislature or a [state constitutional] convention; will not the results in both cases be the same?" Union Democrat and former congressman Junius Hillyer considered it "a waste of time for us to be splitting hairs, and drawing legal distinctions, for slavery will exist in Kansas just as the legislature of the territory may be in favor of it or opposed to it." To exist anywhere, the Athens Southern Banner declared, the institution of slavery needed "laws to protect it." If the people of a territory opposed slavery, their legislature could easily exclude it by refusing to enact the necessary laws to protect slave property.
About the illustration, entitled Congressional Surgery, Legislative Quackery:
A rare anti-North satire, probably dealing with either the Crittenden Compromise or the Douglas Compromise. Proposed in December 1860 in the form of several constitutional amendments, the former called for restoration of the Missouri Compromise line and prohibition of slavery north of it. Stephen Douglas's compromise, an alternative proposed immediately thereafter, offered two similar amendments but also advocated settlement of the slavery issue by popular sovereignty. "Congressional Surgery" reflects the viewpoint of the lower South, which rejected both compromises. "Doctor North" (Pennsylvania congressman Thaddeus Stevens) sits with hands folded in a chair at left, a young black crouching beside him. On the doctor's desk rests a wooden leg labeled "Constitutional Amendment." The Doctor says, "Help you! Of Course! We will first, with your assistance, take you off your legs, & then fix you up nicely on these Constitutional Amendments." His patient "South," a tall bearded man with his left arm in a sling, replies, "Can't see it." Behind the desk are several crutches and bookshelves holding a bottle of "Black Draught" and a skull.

Millard Loses a War He Didn't Fight

In At the Edge of the Precipice: Henry Clay and the Compromise that Saved the Union, Robert V. Remini makes clear that he believes that the Compromise of 1850 saved the Union. “By 1850 . . . it appeared likely that the nation would descend into secession and civil war. . . . The resulting Compromise of 1850 delayed the catastrophe of civil war for ten years.”

Prof. Remini likewise does not equivocate in his opinion concerning the importance of those ten years. Had civil war broken out in 1850, he maintains, the Union would not have survived:
[T]hose ten years were absolutely essential for preserving the American nation under the Constitution. Had secession occurred in1850, the South unquestionably would have made good its independence, and the country might well have split permanently into two nations. . . . Even ten years later, when war finally did break out, the South almost succeeded militarily in establishing its independence Why it failed was largely due to the Compromise of 1850.
Prof. Remini argues that those ten years made a difference for two reasons. Here is where the good Professor and I come to a parting of the ways. His first reason I agree with. To his second I register my vehement objection.

The first consideration to which Prof. Remini points is continued industrialization by the North during the 1850s:
First, [the Compromise of 1850] gave the North ten years to further its industrialization, by which it strengthened its ability to survive a protracted military conflict. The South did not have that capacity. It did not have the railroad system by which to move men and material to the areas where they were most needed. It did not have the factories or industries by which it could indefinitely sustain a fighting army and functioning government.
Prof. Remini's second factor refers to specific personalities. Basically, he asserts, only Abraham Lincoln could have saved the Union. In the process, he goes out of his way to dis poor Millard, which as you may imagine gets my goat:
Second, the Compromise gave the North ten years to find a statesman who would provide the wisdom and leadership the Union needed to successfully fight a war . . . Abraham Lincoln. By the 1850s . . . leadership of the nation had been reduced to such figures as presidents Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan, not one of whom had the talent, the skill, or the intelligence to prevent secession and civil war. By the end of the decade, Lincoln had appeared . . ..
Now them's fighting words. To begin at the end, it's worth noting that Prof. Remini is mixing his fruit. Abraham Lincoln didn't have “the talent, the skill, or the intelligence to prevent secession and civil war” either, so that's not the question. Come to think of it, Millard did have the talent, skill and intelligence to preserve the Union without war, so I suppose that puts him one up on Abe.

More fundamentally, it's just absurd to lump Millard together with Pierce and Buchanan. While it's impossible to prove a counterfactual, there is no particular reason to believe that Millard would have made a bad war leader. Look at Lincoln himself. Based on his uncertain and indecisive performance during his first six weeks in office, who would have predicted his growth?

Pace Prof. Remini, as I have documented here in many posts, Millard was a talented and intelligent man who, although he had no military experience (as Lincoln, for all practical purposes, had none), was utterly devoted to the Union. During the period before he resolved the Crisis of 1850 (with some help) he displayed decisiveness and boldness in matters both political and military – issuing a measured but stern warning to Texas not to send a military force against New Mexico, and issuing orders directing United States troops to New Mexico to back up that warning. See here, here, here and here.

If civil war had erupted in 1850-51 (probably starting as hostilities between United States and Texas troops in New Mexico, then spreading as southern states sided with Texas), technology and other considerations would probably have resulted in southern independence. Maybe Millard would have developed into a good war leader, maybe not. But there's no reason to identify his presumed incompetence as one of two key reasons for the North's hypothetical loss in a war that Millard never had an opportunity (if that's the word) to direct.

Henry S. Foote on Henry Clay

I have only to add that had there been one such man in the Congress of the United States as Henry Clay in 1860-'61 there would, I feel sure, have been no civil war. Had Mr. Clay himself been then living, the same high toned patriotism and consummate statesmanship which had been so efficiently instrumental in 1819, in 1832, and in 1850, in preserving the Republic from the horrors of civil butchery, and from the yet greater evils sure to result from disunion, whenever that shall be effected, would have been seen to achieve a still grander triumph of principle over the embodied factionists of that period, from whose ill counsels such unmeasured evils have been seen to flow.
Henry Stuart Foote, Casket of Reminiscences (1874).
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