Thursday, December 22, 2011


Haven't done a quiz in a long while.  Here's one that will outrage you.

What famous enlightenment figure is guilty of the following quote.  Remember, he (or she) said it, I didn't:
What age or period of life is the most addicted to superstition? The weakest and most timid. What sex? The same answer must be given. “The leaders and examples of every kind of superstition”, says Strabo, “are the women. These excite the men to devotion and supplications, and the observance of religious days. It is rare to meet with one that lives apart from the females, and yet is addicted to such practices."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Pit of Resurrection

Virtually nothing is known of Celsus, a late second century Greek philosopher, other than the fact that in the 170s AD he wrote a major work, called the True Discourse, devoted to debunking Christianity. Ironically, the text is preserved and known to us only because some eighty years later the early Church Father Origen wrote a massive reply to Celsus, in eight volumes, in which Origen quoted from Celsus's arguments at length before refuting them.

Surprisingly, the brief Wikipedia article on Celsus does not quote his most well known bit of invective, which displays an acid wit. I therefore thought I'd share it with you. Origen quotes it in Chapter 34 of Book 6 of his response, Contra Celsum:

Everywhere in their [the Christians'] writings, mention is made of the tree of life, and a resurrection of the flesh by means of the “tree,” because, I imagine, their teacher was nailed to a cross, and was a carpenter by trade; so that if he had chanced to have been cast from a precipice, or thrust into a pit, or suffocated by hanging, or had been a leather-cutter, or stone-mason, or worker in iron, there would have been a precipice of life beyond the heavens, or a pit of resurrection, or a rope of immortality, or a blessed stone, or an iron of love, or a sacred leather! Now what old woman would not be ashamed to utter such things in a whisper, even when making stories to lull an infant to sleep?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pliny the Younger

 In his delightful book The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, Robert Louis Wilken does a wonderful job teasing out all sorts of information about Roman habits and attitudes - how a social club worked, for example, or the difference in Roman eyes between a "superstition" and a "religion."  But I particularly enjoyed his portrait of the diligent and dutiful aristocrat Pliny the Younger, who famously encountered Christians while serving as governor of Bithynia and Pontus in 112 AD and corresponded with the Emperor Trajan about what to do with them.

Like most upper class Romans, Pliny wore his ambition on his sleeve.  But at the same time his frankness on the subject conveys an almost child-like innocence rather than arrogant grasping.  I just loved his straightforward admission in a letter to his friend, the historian Tacitus, of his desire to be mentioned at least in one of Tacitus's works:

I believe that your histories will be immortal, a prophecy that will surely prove correct.  That is why, I frankly admit, I am anxious to appear in them.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

How Did Christianity Grow Before the Edict of Milan?

The best guess seems to be that, immediately before the emperors Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, about 5 percent to 10 percent of the population of the Roman Empire was Christian. Although these percentages may seen low, they translate to millions of converts. Assuming a total population of about 55 million in the Roman Empire at the time, the number of Christians would have been somewhere between 2.75 million and 5.5 million.

And yet, as Ramsay MacMullen notes in Christianizing the Roman Empire A.D. 100-400, a profound mystery remains as to how Christianity had acquired so many converts. “After New Testament times and before Constantine,” there is almost no evidence of “open advertising” of Christianity, and much evidence that Christians were urged to lay low and to associate only with other Christians, both to avoid being identified in the event of persecution and in order to avoid the impure practices of the pagans.

How exactly, then, Prof. MacMullen wonders, did Christianity generate those millions of followers in the years before toleration? He suggests an answer by trying to “imagine in some detail a scene that conflicts with no point of the little that is known about conversion in the second and third centuries.”

I would choose the room of some sick person: there, a servant talking to a mistress, or one spouse to another, saying, perhaps: “Unquestionably they can help, if you believe. And I know, I have seen, I have heard, they have related to me, they have books, they have a special person, a sort of officer. It is true. Besides and anyway, if you don't believe, then you are doomed when a certain time comes, so say the prophecies; whereas, if you do, then they can help even in great sickness. I know people who have seen or who have spoken with others who have seen. And healing is even the least that they tell. Theirs is truly a God all-powerful. He has worked a hundred wonders.” So a priest is sent for, or an exorcist; illness is healed; the household after that counts as Christian; it is baptized; and through instruction it comes to accept the first consequences: that all other cults are false and wicked, all seeming gods, the same.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


It's been a while since I've posted a picture of whats-his-name.

Jacob Broom, Man of Mystery

Did you know that Jacob Broom of Delaware is the only signer of the Constitution of whom there is no extant picture of? I didn't, until I read Richard Brookhiser's post at The Corner. It is for this reason that only the top of Broom's (alleged) head appears in Howard Chandler Christy's Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States (1940):

Poor Mr. Broom (or a very small part thereof) may be found by consulting the key below.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Diocletian's Great Persecution: A Modern Parable

What separates a good biography from an excellent one, I think, is the author's ability to explicate the problems encountered by the subject. Only in this way is it possible to appreciate the subject's reactions and responses to them.

Stephen Williams is such an author. In his excellent and highly recommended Diocletian and the Roman Recovery he does a superb job of explaining the myriad issues facing the Roman Empire at the time of Diocletian's accession to the throne - military defense and rampant inflation to name just two.

Williams's discussion of Roman religion, the rise of Christianity during the Third Century and the problems it presented to traditionalists such as Diocletian is as fine as any I have read. Although Williams carefully lays out the many challenges that Christianity presented, I was particularly struck by his use of a "modern parable" to illustrate the "remorseless argument" that ultimately led Diocletian to sign off on the Great Persecution of Christians beginning in February 303:
A small state, brave and resourceful, is permanently surrounded by powerful enemies who threaten to destroy it. By great efforts it had success in repelling them again and again. But its government soberly realizes that, in the long run, it can only be sure of surviving if it retains the friendship (and ultimate protection) of a certain Superpower. Should this be forfeit, no amount of bravery can guarantee it against being eventually engulfed. But in this state is a noisy radical minority violently opposed to the Superpower, whose activities threaten the vital relationship. The government tries to persuade them to keep their views to themselves and show at least outward respect for the Superpower, for the sake of their country's safety. But the radicals utterly refuse such a compromise, and their movement is growing in numbers. Finally, the government's supporters urge that it has no option but to suppress this movement before irreparable damage is done.
"In this parable," Williams concludes, "the small state is Rome, the Superpower is Jupiter and the gods, and the radical minority, the Christians. It was this remorseless argument . . . that shifted Diocletian."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Gimme That Wine (Fourth Century Edition)

In the year 301, the Roman emperor Diocletian attempted to curb rampant price inflation by issuing his famous Edict on Prices, which set maximum prices for a long list of goods and services. The Edict proved to be a dead letter almost from the moment of issuance, but it has been a godsend for historians by "providing a mine of economic [and social] information . . . giving a picture of trades and their relative pay and status, the varieties of goods on the market and their places of origin, types of dress, culinary tastes, and techniques of manufacture."

According to Stephen Williams, the Edict suggests that modern days oenophiles would be sorely disappointed were they to travel back in time to the early Fourth Century. There were different kinds of wine, some of which were sold at a premium. But, whether because the art of aging wine was largely lost (there is evidence that Romans in the late Republic and earlier Empire drank and appreciated older vintages), or Fourth Century Romans just didn't care, little if any wine was cellared; anything more than a year old sold at a discount!
Almost the only significant price difference in wine seems to be between the plain (rustici) and the rest. Tiburtine, Falernian, Sabine, Picene and others are all 30 denarii a pint, with reductions for wine a year old, confirming that storage and maturation had not yet been generally mastered.
And for you beer lovers, sorry, no fancy IPAs, stouts, or designer beers for you. Only "[t]hree kinds of beers are mentioned, Celtic, Pannonian and Egyptian, the latter an inferior brew at only two denarii.

Diocletian's Horse

John Malalas, a Sixth Century chronicler from Antioch, is apparently the sole source for the story of how Diocletian's horse saved the residents of Alexandria from mass slaughter.

As you may know, the great Roman emperor Diocletian restored the Roman Empire after the Crisis of the Third Century almost destroyed it the mid-Third Century. He was acclaimed emperor by the eastern army in late 384 and ruled (first alone, then later with other members of the Tetrarchy until his retirement in 305.

Early in the year 297, the Roman province of Egypt exploded in revolt. Although the revolt may have been triggered by fears of anticipated tax increases following the announcement of a new census, there was reason to believe that it was coordinated by or with the Sassanid (Persian) Empire, Rome's dangerous enemy to the east. In 296 a powerful Sassanid army under its expansionist king Narses had invaded into the areas of modern day Turkey and Syria. In early 297 – just about the time of the Egyptian uprising – the Persian army defeated a Roman army led by Diocletian's colleague Galerius near Carrhae (where the Persians had annihilated a Roman army under Crassus 350 years earlier). The revolt appeared to be part of a treasonous conspiracy to aid the Persians by opening a second front requiring the diversion of Roman troops. (The fact that Manicheans were believed to have spearheaded this fifth column may have contributed to the later decision to persecute the similar-looking Christian sect.)

Leaving Galerius and the bulk of the army to deal with the Sassanids, Diocletian rushed with a detachment of troops to Egypt in the spring of 297 to stamp out the rebellion. He ultimately did so, but it was not a walk in the park for the entire province was in revolt. While largely reducing other areas and towns to submission by the end of 297, during the late summer or early fall Diocletian laid siege to Alexandria. With almost one million residents, second in size only to the city of Rome itself, the provincial capital was well prepared. The city stubbornly resisted for eight months, reportedly falling only in the spring of 298.

The ends of sieges in the ancient world were rarely pretty affairs. From Troy on, the rule of thumb was that, if the besieged city did not capitulate early on, when the end came all of the inhabitants were killed or enslaved. Consistent with this tradition, and convinced that the revolt represented a treasonous conspiracy with Rome's mortal enemy to destroy the empire, when Alexandria fell Diocletian issued orders that so much blood should be shed that his horse might go knee-deep in it.

Now, however, the gods intervened to save the Alexandrians. As Diocletian approached the city gate his steed stumbled over a corpse, falling to its knees, which were stained red with the gore. Recognizing the omen, Diocletian ordered that the slaughter be stopped, no doubt to the great disappointment of his men.

In the ensuing celebrations the grateful Alexandrians displayed a sardonic sense of humor. They are said to have erected a bronze statue of Diocletian's horse in the city in honor of their savior.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

St. Cuthbert and the Otters

The Venerable Bede relates this wonderful story in his Life of St. Cuthbert:

Now one night, a brother of the monastery, seeing [Cuthbert] go out alone, followed him privately to see what he should do. When [Cuthbert] left the monastery, he went down to the sea, which flows beneath, and going into it, until the water reached his neck and arms, spent the night in praising God.

When the dawn of day approached, he came out of the water, and, falling on his knees, began to pray again. Whilst he was doing this, two quadrupeds, called otters, came up from the sea, and, lying down before him on the sand, breathed upon his feet, and wiped them with their hair after which, having received his blessing, they returned to their native element. Cuthbert himself returned home in time to join in the accustomed hymns with the other brethren.

The illustration is modern, but too perfect not to use.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bundle Up . . .

. . . Fall's coming.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Frank Zappa Friday

How about two versions of "How Could I Be Such A Fool?"

First from Freak Out:

And then the Ruben and the Jets variation:

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Don't Forget to Convert Your Historical Dates

Are you worried about observing your favorite historical anniversaries on the correct date?  The internet has the answer.

Let's say that you're obsessed with the Roman emperor Valens and want to celebrate or mourn his catastrophic defeat and death at the Battle of Adrianople on August 9, 378 AD.  But wait!  Something's bugging you.  August 9, 378 was the date of the battle according to the calendar of the time - the Julian Calendar.  To properly observe the event, you realize, you need to figure out what that date translates to on the Gregorian Calendar we now use.

It turns out there are multiple calendar converters on the web that will accomplish the task in just a few seconds.  Here's one of many that I found, which appears no better or worse than many others.  It turns out that Thursday August 9, 378 (Julian Calendar) would have been August 10 on the Gregorian Calendar.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

"What's for dinner, Hun?"

As I mentioned in the last post, the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus claimed that the Huns partially cooked their meat by warming it between their thighs and the backs of their horses:

[T]heir way of life is so rough that have no use for fire or seasoned food, but live on roots of wild plants and the half-raw flesh of any sort of animal, which they warm a little by placing it between their thighs and the backs of their horses.

To my surprise, in The End of Empire: Attila the Hun & the Fall of Rome, Christopher Kelly asserts that there may be a germ of truth to Ammianus's assertion:

Hans Schiltberger, a fourteenth-century mercenary and adventurer from Bavaria, claimed to have observed that among the Tatars, nomadic neighbors of the Mongols who captured Kiev in 1240, horsemen preparing to travel long distances placed raw meat under their saddles.  "I have also seen that when the Tatars are on a long journey they take a piece of raw meat, cut it into slices, place it under the saddle, ride on it, and eat it when they are hungry.  They salt it first and claim that it will not spoil because it is dried by the warmth of the horse and becomes tender under the saddle from riding, after the moisture has gone out of it."  Tenderized raw meat seems to have been something of a steppe signature dish.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Of Mice and Huns

Found on a classroom floor at a university that shall remain nameless:

 History 385/Mathematics 385
History of Mathematics and Science in the Ancient World
Professor Elektratig
Final Exam

This examination consists of two question, requiring both mathematical calculations and an essay discussing the historical reasoning behind those calculations.

1. In Book XXXI of his Res Gestae, Ammianus Marcellinus described the Huns as wearing "garments made of the skins of field-mice." Calculate the number of such skins it would take to clothe the average Hun warrior, using both Euclidian and non-Euclidian geometry. Explain the reasoning behind your calculations, including considerations such as (a) the size of the average Hun warrior (taking into account Ammianus's description of the Huns as "of great size, and bow-legged, so that you might fancy them two-legged beasts"), and (b) the types of garments that you believe the average Hun warrior wore, such as tunics, hats, leggings or trousers, shoes, etc., and which of those garments you believe would have been fashioned from the skins of field mice rather than from some other material. If you conclude Ammianus correctly described the Huns as covering their "shaggy legs" "with the skins of kids" rather than with the skins of field-mice, calculate the number of kids required.

2. Ammianus also observed that the Huns did not cook their meat using fire, but rather warmed "the half-raw flesh of any animal" "by placing it between their own thighs and the backs of their horses." Calculate the amount of riding time necessary to adequately warm to "half-raw" the flesh of a chicken, a boar, a stag, a bear and a trout. Explain the bases of your calculations, including the effect on warming time of (a) the speed and gait of the horse, (b) the amount of flesh being warmed, (c) the season, and (d) whether the warrior was wearing leggings, the material of the leggings, and, if leggings were worn, whether the half-raw flesh was placed inside or outside the leggings 

The exam will last one hour.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Valens Says, ""Julian, Are You Friggin' Nuts?"

What a fantastically ironic (indirect) quote, delivered by the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate in 361 A.D., as per Ammianus Marcellinus:
While [Julian] was so arranging these matters, tolerating no slackness in action, his intimates tried to persuade him to attack the neighbouring Goths, who were often deceitful and treacherous; but he replied that he was looking for a better enemy; that for the Goths the Galatian [slave] traders were enough, by whom they were offered for sale everywhere without distinction of rank.

Seventeen years later, at the terrible Battle of Adrianople in 378 A.D., those Goths would destroy the cream of the Roman Eastern army and kill its leader, the Emperor Valens.

Hat tip to Michael Kulikowski, whose wonderfully opinionated yet balanced and transparent book Rome's Gothic Wars is highly recommended.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Counting Holiness

A society prepared to vest fellow humans with such powers was ever vigilant. Men watched each other closely for those signs of intimacy with the supernatural that would validate their claim. Holiness itself might be quantifiable. Symeon Stylites, we are told, touched his toes 1,244 times in bowing before God from the top of his column. The true horror of this story lies not in the exertions of the saint, but in the layman who stood there counting.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wolfen in the Streets of the Roman Empire

In The Making of Late Antiquity, Peter Brown startled me with this:
The towns of the Mediterranean were small towns. For all their isolation from the way of life of the villagers, they were fragile excrescences in a spreading countryside. As in medieval Italy, "Everywhere the country thrust its tendrils into the town." Not every tendril was innocent: wild animals drifted into the towns of North Africa, making their lairs in the basements and eating the citizens.
Needless to say, I had to check out where the wild animals eating the citizens came from. An accompanying footnote cites to Tertullian's Ad Martyras (c. 197 AD):
How often have wild beasts, both in their own woods and in the middle of cities, having escaped from their dens, devoured men!
I, of course, immediately thought of Wolfen.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Sarapion the Loincloth" and the Naked Pious Virgin

So there I was, innocently reading Averil Cameron's The Later Roman Empire, when I ran into this description of “Sarapion the loincloth”, an Egyptian Christian ascetic from the late Third or Fourth Century:
[A] certain “Sarapion the loincloth”, an Egyptian by birth who wore only a loincloth, sold himself as a servant to some Greek actors, whom he converted, and travelled to Greece, where he begged for money from some “philosophers” in Athens, converted a Manichaean at Sparta, and then went to Rome, where he tried unsuccessfully to persuade a pious virgin to walk naked through the city to prove that she really was as dead to the world, as she claimed.
Now an ancient Egyptian monk named “Sarapion the loincloth” trying to talk a “pious virgin” out of her clothes is not something you hear about every day, so I decided that further investigation was warranted. The story was cited as coming from the Lausiac History, described in Wikipedia as “a seminal work archiving the Desert Fathers (early Christian monks who lived in the Egyptian desert) written in 419-420 by Palladius of Galatia, at the request of Lausus, chamberlain at the court of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II.“ I therefore grabbed my handy copy of the Lausiac History off the nightstand (that's where you keep yours, isn't it?) and flipped to Chapter 37, which catalogs the exploits of “Sarapion the Sindonite”, so named because “apart from a sindon (loincloth) he never wore clothes.”
So having come to Rome he [Sarapion] inquired who was a great ascetic in the city, man or woman. Among others he met also a certain Domninus, a disciple of Origen, whose bed healed sick persons after his death. So he met him and was benefited, for he was a man of refined manners and liberal education, and learning from him what other ascetics there were, male or female, he was told of a certain virgin who cultivated solitude and would meet no one.
And having learned where she lived he went off and said to the old woman who attended her: "Tell the virgin, 'I must meet you, for God has sent me.' " So after waiting two or three days at last he met her, and said to her: "Why do you remain stationary?" She said to him: "I do not remain stationary, I am on a journey." He said to her: "Where are you journeying?" Said she to him: "To God." He said to her: "Are you alive or dead?" She said to him: "I trust in God that I am dead, for no one who lives to the flesh shall make that journey." He said to her: "Then do what I do, that you may convince me that you are dead." She said to him: "Order me possible things, and I will do them."
He answered her: "All things are possible to a dead person except impiety." Then he said to her: "Go out and appear in public." She answered him: "This is the twenty-fifth year that has passed without my appearing in public. And why should I appear?" "If you are dead to the world," said he to her, "and the world to you, it is all the same to you whether you appear or appear not. So appear in public." She did so, and after she had appeared outside and gone as far as a church, he said to her in the church: "Now then, if you wish to convince me that you are dead and no longer live pleasing men, do what I do and I shall know that you are dead."
"Follow my example and take off all your clothes, put them on your shoulders, go through the middle of the city with me leading the way in this fashion." She said to him: "I should scandalize many by the unseemliness of the thing and they would be able to say, 'She is mad and possessed by a demon.'" He answered her: "What does it concern you if they say, 'She is mad and possessed by a demon?' For you are dead to them." Then she said to him: "If you want anything else I will do it; for I do not profess to have reached this stage."
Then he said to her: "See then, no longer be proud of yourself as more pious than all others and dead to the world, for I am more dead than you and show by my act that I am dead to the world; for impassively and without shame I do this thing." Then having left her in humility and broken her pride, he departed.
Unfortunately I could find no image of Sarapion the Loincloth. The image at the top is of the most famous Desert Father, Anthony the Great.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Never Forget

Never forget the evil. And never forget who your enemies are.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Eusebius Transforms the Church

In the year 168 AD, the pagan anti-Christian philosopher Celsus quipped that "If all men wanted to be Christians, the Christians would no longer want them." Within 150 years, Christianity was on its way to becoming the dominant religion in the great cities of the Mediterranean.

What accounts for the dramatic expansion of the Christians during the Third Century? Peter Brown posits that the most important factor was a fundamental rethinking by Christian leaders such as of Christianity's relationship to the Roman state and Roman society. They "found that they could identify themselves with the culture, outlook and needs of the average well-to-do civilian." Leaders such as Origen of Alexandria (c. 185 - c. 254) and Eusebius, bishop of Caesaria, thus transformed Christianity from "a sect ranged against or to one side of Roman civilization" to "a church prepared to absorb a whole society."

This is probably the most important aggiornamento in the history of the Church; it was certainly the most decisive single event in the culture of the third century. For the conversion of a Roman emperor to Christianity, Constantine in 312, might not have happened - or, if it had, it would have taken on a totally different meaning - if it had not been preceded, for two generations, by the conversion of Christianity to the culture and ideals of the Roman world.

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Roman World Merges Into the Medieval

I ran across a picture of the above sculpture yesterday in Peter Brown's so-far excellent The World of Late Antiquity and was stunned.

When do you think the sculpture was made? 800 AD? 1000 AD?

In fact the sculpture is of the Emperor Diocletian and the three other members of the Tetrarchy - circa 300 AD.

Prof. Brown notes that "This simplified, military group was so medieval in tone that the individuals were long mistaken for Christian crusaders, and even worshipped as statues of Saint George!"

This is what a Roman bust of Diocletian should look like - except that it was created in the 17th Century:

I could go on about how this symbolizes perfectly the impossibility of identifying a specific date on which late Roman civilization transformed into the medieval world, but I'll spare you.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Love Story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson

Over at his Jacksonian America: Society, Personality and Politics blog, historyprof Mark Cheathem has a review of a book entitled A Being So Gentle: The Frontier Love Story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson. I haven't read the book and can't comment on its substantive merit. But my first thought was that the cover is, as they say, from hunger. My suggestion for the cover of the second edition is above.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Alexander Stephens Predicts Civil War, July 3, 1850

I suspect that many or most who deplore the Compromise of 1850 assume that it wasn't necessary - the South would have rolled over anyway. It's impossible, of course, to prove (or disprove) the consequences of contingent scenarios that never came to be. But the angry words of Alexander H. Stephens certainly suggest that, had the compromise failed, and had shooting broken out between Texas and the United States over the Texas-New Mexico border in late 1850 or 1851, the Civil War would likely have started out ten years early.

After the Compromise was brokered, Stephens became its champion. He helped lead the campaign in support of the Compromise in his native Georgia, decisively rallying public opinion behind the Compromise and away from secession in late 1850 and 1851.

But at the beginning of July 1950, Stephens was both angry and frantic. Having heard that President Zachary Taylor supported the immediate admission of New Mexico as a state, Stephens then received news that the president and his cabinet "had supported using the army if necessary to oppose Texas forces in New Mexico." On July 3, 1850, Stephens, already "smoldering", read an editorial in the National Intelligencer that appeared to confirm the report: the Whiggish newspaper urged that "If Texas advanced on Santa Fe . . . it would be the 'duty' of the army to defend it."

Stephens promptly sat down and wrote to the paper a reply (published by the Intelligencer on July 4)that both expressed his fear that this course would lead to general civil war and made clear that even moderates like Stephens would regard war as justified. Thomas E. Schott summarizes Stephens's letter in Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia: A Biography (from which the other quotes in this post are likewise taken):
Convinced beyond doubt that Taylor would use force to carry out his policy, Stephens sat down at his desk in the House and wrote a blistering reply to the editors. "The first Federal gun that shall be fired against the people of Texas, without the authority of law, will be the signal for the freemen from Delaware to to the Rio Grande to rally to the rescue." Whatever doubts there might be about the Texas boundary, "nothing can be clearer than that it is not a question to be decided by the army." In case of conflict, the Texas cause would be the cause of the entire south.
Here's a thought exercise. Imagine you're a northern politician in mid-1850. You detest the Slave Power, slavery and the proposed Fugitive Slave Act in particular. Do you hold your nose and support the proposed compromise because you fear civil war? Or, if you decide to oppose the compromise, do you do so because (a) you're confident the South will cave, or (b) war or no war, it's about time someone stood up to these people?

About the illustration, entitled Congressional Scales, A True Balance (1850):
A satire on President Zachary Taylor's attempts to balance Southern and Northern interests on the question of slavery in 1850. Taylor stands atop a pair of scales, with a weight in each hand; the weight on the left reads "Wilmot Proviso" and the one on the right "Southern Rights." Below, the scales are evenly balanced, with several members of Congress, including Henry Clay in the tray on the left, and others, among them Lewis Cass and John Calhoun, on the right. Taylor says, "Who said I would not make a "NO PARTY" President? I defy you to show any party action here." One legislator on the left sings, "How much do you weigh? Eight dollars a day. Whack fol de rol!" Another states, "My patience is as inexhaustible as the public treasury." A congressman on the right says, "We can wait as long as they can." On the ground, at right, John Bull observes, "That's like what we calls in old Hingland, a glass of 'alf and 'alf."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Alternative History

This Etsy page features wonderful prints of American historical themes and figures . . . slightly altered. The one above is my favorite because it includes Millard. The one below is for you Abe lovers!

Thanks to Boing Boing for the pointer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Publius Valerius Publicola and the Federalist Papers

You probably know that Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison wrote the Federalist Papers under the pseudonym "Publius." Publius was a common Roman name, and I always assumed that the Federalist authors used it generically, to invoke the aura of the Roman republic, not to refer to a specific person.

But today I heard that the Federalist authors did mean to summon up the image of a particular Roman. A quick check of the Wikipedia entry for the Federalist Papers corroborates that at least one academic has asserted that Hamilton decided to use the name "in honor of" a specific Roman: Publius Valerius Publicola.
Hamilton chose "Publius" as the pseudonym under which the series would be written. While many other pieces representing both sides of the constitutional debate were written under Roman names, Albert Furtwangler contends that "'Publius' was a cut above 'Caesar' or 'Brutus' or even 'Cato.' Publius Valerius was not a late defender of the republic but one of its founders. His more famous name, Publicola, meant 'friend of the people.'" It was not the first time Hamilton had used this pseudonym: in 1778, he had applied it to three letters attacking Samuel Chase.
Publicola, a legendary figure from the dawn of the Roman republic, helped drive out the last of the kings and later sponsored a law that permitted the murder of anyone who tried to become king. Here's Plutarch:
But although in these particulars [Publicola] showed himself a popular and moderate lawgiver, in the case of an immoderate offence he made the penalty severe. For he enacted a law by which any one who sought to make himself tyrant might be slain without trial, and the slayer should be free from blood-guiltiness if he produced proofs of the crime. For although it is impossible for one who attempts so great a task to escape all notice, it is not impossible for him to do so long enough to make himself too powerful to be brought to trial, which trial his very crime precludes. He therefore gave any one who was able to do so the privilege of anticipating the culprit's trial.
But, if the story is true, I can't help wondering whether Hamilton settled on the name because he enjoyed the delicious irony that the most famous tale about Publicola revealed the inherently irrational nature of an insufficiently controlled populace.

As the story goes, having established his devotion to republicanism beyond any possible doubt, Publicola built a house on a height above Rome called the "Velia". The Roman public promptly drew the bizarre conclusion that Publicola was going to use the house as base from which to establish himself as king. Here's Livy:
After the battle had gone in this way [a battle in which Publicola had led a Roman army which defeated an Etruscan attempt to reinstate the last king], so great a panic seized Tarquin and the Etruscans that the two armies of Veii and Tarquinii, on the approach of night, despairing of success, left the field and departed for their homes. . . .

At all events the Romans left the field as victors; the Etruscans regarded themselves as vanquished, for when daylight appeared not a single enemy was in sight. P. Valerius [Publicola], the consul, collected the spoils and returned in triumph to Rome. He celebrated his colleague's obsequies with all the pomp possible in those days, but far greater honour was done to the dead by the universal mourning, which was rendered specially noteworthy by the fact that the matrons were a whole year in mourning for him, because he had been such a determined avenger of violated chastity.

After this the surviving consul, who had been in such favour with the multitude, found himself - such is its fickleness - not only unpopular but an object of suspicion, and that of a very grave character. It was rumoured that he was aiming at monarchy, for he had held no election to fill [Lucius Junius] Brutus' place [Brutus had been killed in the battle], and he was building a house on the top of the Velia, an impregnable fortress was being constructed on that high and strong position.

The consul felt hurt at finding these rumours so widely believed, and summoned the people to an assembly. As he entered the "fasces" were lowered, to the great delight of the multitude, who understood that it was to them that they were lowered as an open avowal that the dignity and might of the people were greater than those of the consul. Then, after securing silence, he began to eulogise the good fortune of his colleague [Brutus] who had met his death, as a liberator of his country, possessing the highest honour it could bestow, fighting for the commonwealth, whilst his glory was as yet undimmed by jealousy and distrust. Whereas he himself had outlived his glory and fallen on days of suspicion and opprobrium; from being a liberator of his country he had sunk to the level of the Aquilii and Vitellii.

"Will you," he cried, "never deem any man's merit so assured that it cannot be tainted by suspicion? Am I, the most determined foe to kings, to dread the suspicion of desiring to be one myself? Even if I were dwelling in the Citadel on the Capitol, am I to believe it possible that I should be feared by my fellow-citizens? Does my reputation amongst you hang on so slight a thread? Does your confidence rest upon such a weak foundation that it is of greater moment where I am than who I am? The house of Publius Valerius shall be no check upon your freedom, your Velia shall be safe. I will not only move my house to level ground, but I will move it to the bottom of the hill that you may dwell above the citizen whom you suspect. Let those dwell on the Velia who are regarded as truer friends of liberty than Publius Valerius."

All the materials were forthwith carried below the Velia and his house was built at the very bottom of the hill where now stands the temple of Vica Pota.
And here's Plutarch:
But that which the rather displeased and offended the people in Valerius was this. Brutus, whom they regarded as the father of their liberties, would not consent to rule alone, but once and again chose a colleague to rule with him. "But this Valerius," they said, "in concentrating all power upon himself, is not a successor to the consulate of Brutus, to which he has no right, but to the tyranny of Tarquin. Yet why should he extol Brutus in words, while in deeds he imitates Tarquin, descending to the forum alone, escorted by all the rods and axes together, from a house no less stately than the royal house which he demolished?"

For, as a matter of fact, Valerius was living in a very splendid house on the so‑called Velia. It hung high over the forum, commanded a view of all that passed there, and was surrounded by steeps and hard to get at, so that when he came down from it the spectacle was a lofty one, and the pomp of his procession worthy of a king.

Accordingly, Valerius showed what a good thing it is for men in power and high station to have ears which are open to frankness and truth instead of flattery. For when he heard from his friends, who spared him no detail, that he was thought by the multitude to be transgressing, he was not obstinate nor exasperated, but quickly got together a large force of workmen, and while it was still night tore the house down, and razed it all to the ground.

In the morning, therefore, the Romans saw what had happened, and came flocking together. They were moved to love and admiration by the man's magnanimity, but were distressed for the house, and mourned for its stately beauty, as if it had been human, now that envy had unjustly compassed its destruction. They were also distressed for their ruler, who, like a homeless man, was now sharing the homes of others. For Valerius was received into the houses of his friends until the people gave him a site and built him a house, of more modest dimensions than the one he had lived in before, where now stands the temple of Vica Pota, so‑called.

Wishing now to make not only himself but also the government, instead of formidable, submissive and agreeable to the multitude, he removed the axes from the lictors' rods, and when he came into the assembly, inclined and lowered the rods themselves to the people, emphasizing the majesty of the democracy. This custom the consuls observe to this day. And before the multitude were aware of it, he had succeeded, not by humbling himself, as they thought, but by checking and removing their envious feelings through such moderation on his part, in adding to his real influence over them just as much as he had seemed to take away from his authority, and the people submitted to him with pleasure and bore his yoke willingly.

They therefore called him Publicola, a name which signifies people-cherisher. This name prevailed over the older names which he had borne, and it is the name which I shall use for him in the remainder of this Life.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Charles Sumner Receives a Stroke of Good Luck

Ironically, the caning that Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner received from South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks on May 22, 1856 may well have been the best stroke of good luck that Sumner ever received, rescuing his senatorial career and ultimately transforming him into one of the most powerful men in the country.

Sumner was first elected to the United States Senate by the Massachusetts legislature in 1851 as the result of an unstable and transitory coalition between Democrats and Free Soilers. No party at the time had a majority in the state. At the beginning of 1851, Massachusetts Free Soilers - heretofore primarily a group with more connections to the Whigs than to the Democrats in Massachusetts - struck a deal with the Democrats:
With Free Soil backing, the Democrats would elect their candidate for governor, George S. Boutwell, the lieutenant governor, the speaker and other officers of the [state] House of Representatives, a majority of the governor's counsel; in addition they would receive the short-term United States senatorship, the few remaining weeks of [Daniel] Webster's term which [Robert C.] Winthrop was filling.
The quid pro quo included the other Senate seat, which would go to Sumner:
The Free Soilers would get the presidency of the state senate, the remaining members of the governor's council, and the six-year United States senatorship, commencing March 4 [1851]. On January 7 [1851], a Free Soil caucus, by a vote of eighty-four to one, nominated Sumner senator, and the following day the Democrats, with only six dissenting votes, accepted him.
But even with this deal, Sumner's election was a close-run thing. In the legislative voting, a large majority of the Whigs unenthusiastically but steadfastly supported Winthrop. More important, a faction within the Democratic Party, led by Caleb Cushing and former governor Marcus Morton, "objected to sending 'a red-hot Abolitionist, . . . like a firebrand, for six years, into the senate chamber of the United States.'" Although Sumner was tantalizingly close, he was a few votes short.

The legislature remained deadlocked for over three and a half months (from early January to late April 1851). Ultimately, Sumner was elected "with a majority of precisely one" vote:
On April 24 [1851] the legislature reassembled in an atmosphere of great tension. On the twenty-fifth ballot there were again two more votes than there were representatives present [there had been prior irregularities]. After much wrangling, the house adopted a Whig proposal that on future ballots each member must cast his vote in a sealed envelope, so that it would be impossible for these extra ballots to be slipped in. Shortly after noon, the twenty-sixth ballot was taken. This time Sumner received 193 of the 385 votes cast, a majority of precisely one, and was declared elected.
Having been elected by a paper-thin majority, Sumner soon saw the coalition that elected him fall apart, for both internal and external reasons. In the 1852 and 1853 elections, the coalition was defeated by the Whigs, the second "time so decisively that the plan for Free Soil-Democratic fusion in Massachusetts was finally abandoned." The Whigs, in charge of the state government, elected Edward Everett to the other senate seat.

Then in 1854 the Know-Nothing tidal wave hit Massachusetts. Democrats, Whigs, Free Soilers and the new Anti-Nebraska proto-party alike were swept away in the deluge. The Know-Nothings emerged with the governorship, an overwhelming majority in the state legislature, and the U.S. Senate seat not held by Sumner:
[Former Conscience Whig and Free Soiler Henry] Wilson . . . had thrown his strength behind Henry J. Gardner, the Know-nothing candidate for governor. In return he secured a pledge that, if successful, the Know-nothings would elect him to the Senate as Sumner's colleague. Gardner received an unprecedented majority of nearly 33,000 votes, and the new legislature consisted of one Whig, one Democrat, one Republican - and 377 Know-nothings.
Although the Know-Nothing tide ebbed somewhat in 1855, the Know-Nothings remained firmly in charge of the state. "In 1855, as in the previous year, the new [Republican] party made a poor showing in the polls, and Gardner, combining nativism and Whiggery, was re-elected."

In short, by the end of 1855 - and the Congressional session beginning December 1855 was the last in which Sumner had a chance to make an impact before he would be up for reelection in early 1857 - Sumner's political base had disappeared. For all the latent anti-slavery sentiment in Massachusetts, the old coalition had fallen apart and there was no sign that the new anti-Nebraska coalition would gel anytime soon. Many former Whigs detested him and Democrats felt no loyalty for him. Governor Gardner was eying the Senate seat and "plot[ting] to stage a premature election of [Sumner's] successor." Sumner looked like a political goner.

"Providentially, a burning issue came to hand" that saved Sumner from likely defeat. At the beginning of January 1856 Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which gave Sumner the opening to deliver his The Crime Against Kansas speech on May 19 and 20, 1856. Two days later, on Thursday May 22, 1856, South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks administered his famous caning of Sumner - and created a "senator for life":
Sumner's friends used Massachusetts indignation over the assault to bolster his shaky political prospects. The news of the attack reached Boston just in time to give Sumner's supporters a face-saving victory over Governor Gardner, who was trying to emasculate the personal liberty law Sumner had helped draft. By astute management Republicans forced through the legislature resolutions not merely condemning Brooks's actions, but endorsing "Mr. Sumner's manliness and courage in his earnest and fearless declaration of free principles, and his defence of human rights and free territory." [Future wartime Republican governor] John A. Andrew almost gave the game away when he blurted out at the Faneuil Hall rally that in order to secure "liberty of speech - nay, liberty itself," Sumner must be re-elected, for Republicans were unobtrusively working toward precisely that end. "Providence itself seems to be on the side of the republican party," [Sumner's estranged former law partner George S.] Hilliard lamented. "Sumner is not merely their champion but their martyr, and his election for the next six years is now certain." A New Yorker, more prescient, declared that Sumner "is made by this act, senator for life."
After that, Sumner's reelection was almost a foregone conclusion. When the new state legislature met in January 1857,
the Republicans in the [state] House of Representatives forced a vote on January 9, even before Governor Gardner [who had once again been reeelected] could send in his inaugural message, which they feared might contain distracting proposals. Out of the 345 votes cast, Sumner received all but twelve. Four days later, against protests over their unseemly haste, Republicans in the [state] Senate adopted a rule for viva-voce voting on the senatorial election, and, as public opinion could thus be brought to bear upon each member, Sumner received the unanimous vote of the upper house.
In his book Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War (from which all quotes in this post are taken), Prof. David Herbert Donald sums up Sumner's stroke of good luck:
Candidate of a minority party, [Sumner] was first chosen to the Senate through the devious workings of a political coalition. At nearly any point during his first five years in office, had he been up for re-election, he would almost certainly have been defeated. Then Preston Brooks's attack gave him his second term in the Senate and thereby assured him seniority and prestige within the Republican party. Never chosen by direct popular vote for any office, Sumner, by 1861, nevertheless had become one of the most powerful men in the United States.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Seward, You Weeny!

Think the word "weeny" is of recent vintage? Think again. Amanda Foreman records its use by none other than Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in the summer of 1861, referring to Secretary of State William H. Seward, whom Sumner detested. On July 3, 1861 The Times correspondent William Howard Russell
bumped into [Sumner] on the street [in Washington] and had to stand for an hour in the blistering heat while Sumner gleefully enlarged on "the dirty little mountebankism of my weeny friend in office."
So, was Sumner calling Seward a dick? Alas, probably not. A quick search around the internets suggests that the words "weeny" and "weenie" are of different origin. Weeny, an adjective, is a diminutive of "wee", small, and apparently dates to at least the late Eighteenth Century. Think "teeny-weeny." Weenie, a noun, apparently derives from wiener and is of later origin. Perhaps by association with weeny (I'm guessing here), "weenie" acquired a connotation of smallness (a weeny weenie, as it were) and thus the meaning of nerd.

About the illustration, entitled I'm Not to Blame for Being White, Sir! (1862):
Massachusetts senator and prominent antislavery advocate Charles Sumner is attacked here. The artist questions his sincerity as a humanitarian as he shows him dispensing a few coins to a black child on the street, while ignoring the appeal of a ragged white urchin. The scene is witnessed by two stylishly dressed young women. Though unsigned, the print has the relatively skillful draftsmanship and atmospheric quality found in the works of Boston lithographer Fabronius. See, for instance, that artist's "The Mower" (no. 1863-14). "The Secession Bubble" (no. 1862-12) also appears to be by Fabronius. Weitenkampf gives the 1862 date and publisher's imprint.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Owl of Minerva Flies Only at Dusk

Only one word more concerning the desire to teach the world what it ought to be. For such a purpose philosophy at least always comes too late. Philosophy, as the thought of the world, does not appear until reality has completed its formative process, and made itself ready. History thus corroborates the teaching of the conception that only in the maturity of reality does the ideal appear as counterpart to the real, apprehends the real world in its substance, and shapes it into an intellectual kingdom. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, one form of life has become old, and by means of grey it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known. The owl of Minerva, takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Preface to Philosophy of Right.
Everything in the universe is, is, is made of one element,
which is a note, a single note.
Atoms are really vibrations, you know.
With your extensions of the BIG NOTE, everything's one note.
Everything, even the ponies.
The note, however, is the ultimate power,
but see the pigs don't know that,
the ponies don't know that.
Frank Zappa, Lumpy Gravy.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

William Seward's Irrepressible Conflict

A while ago, I puzzled over What the Hell Happened to William Seward? How was it, I wondered, that the north's leading radical anti-slavery Whig during the 1850s - the guy whom the Republicans failed to nominate in 1860 because they perceived him as too radical, versus the more "moderate" Lincoln - became such a wimp during the secession crisis, frantically seeking to appease the south to the point that he had to mislead the president in the process?

What I discovered, to my surprise, was that Seward displayed many signs of moderation during the 1850s. In fact, it seemed that his "radical" reputation was based largely, and perhaps exclusively, on two speeches - one might say on two phrases: his "higher law than the Constitution" speech of 1850, and his "irrepressible conflict" speech of 1858.

In her wonderful (thus far) A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War, Amanda Foreman reaches a similar, but more pointed conclusion about Seward: he was a moderate with a radical veneer who, during the late 1850s, spent years positioning himself "as the moderate alternative to Charles Sumner."

Ironically, she maintains, Seward inadvertently sabotaged those efforts, and his bid for the presidency in 1860, with his October 1858 "irrepressible conflict" speech. Although the phrase was not all that different from Lincoln's "house divided" language, Seward's speech was perceived as more divisive. "Whereas Lincoln sounded as though he were giving a warning, Seward seemed to be laying down a challenge." The damage to Seward's image was immediate and lasting:
Seward later claimed that "irrepressible" was not the same as "unavoidable," but the damage could not be undone. The press dubbed him "Irrepressible Conflict Seward," fostering the sense that he was a divisive rather than a unifying figure and voiding three years of careful positioning by Seward to be perceived as the moderate alternative to Charles Sumner.
On the advice of his friend and manager, Thurlow Weed, Seward traveled to Britain in the Spring of 1859 "in the hope that the public would forget the unfortunate phrase" before the 1860 election season.

Alas, it was not to be. When Seward returned to the United States on December 28, 1859, southern hysteria following the John Brown raid was at its peak, and southerners repeatedly pilloried Seward as an instigator. In the Senate, James Murray Mason of Virginia, whose seat was next to Seward's,

harangued [Seward] for being the moral, though not actual, instigator of the action. Again and again, Seward's unfortunate phrase "irrepressible conflict" was hurled back in his face. Democratic newspapers denounced his as the "arch agitator who is responsible for this insurrection." One Virginia newspaper even went so far as to put a price of $100,000 on his head; the governor of Virginia urged the South to demand Seward's exclusion from the presidency.
The cartoon reflects the considerable bitterness among New York Republicans at the party's surprising failure to nominate New York senator William H. Seward for president at its May 1860 national convention. The print was probably issued soon after the convention's nomination of Abraham Lincoln. The "Republican Barge" tosses on a stormy sea, precariously close to a rocky shore, with Lincoln (far left) at the rudder. "I'll take the helm. I've steered a "flat" boat before," says Lincoln. Also in the barge are (left to right) "Tribune" editor and powerful Lincoln supporter Horace Greeley, Missourian Edward Bates, an unidentified man, and former Washington "Globe" editor and influential Jacksonian Democrat Francis Preston Blair. The three men together heave Seward overboard. Greeley says, "Over you go Billy! Between you and I there is an "Irrepressible Conflict." Bates encourages him, "Over with him Horace never mind his kicking!" while Blair says, "He can't withstand my muscle for I once moved the Globe." The idea of an "irrepressible conflict" between slaveholding and free interests in the Union was taken from Seward's famous 1858 Rochester speech against slavery. The term became a catchphrase for radical antislavery factions in the North. Seward protests, "Dont throw "me" overboard, I built this boat, and I alone can save it." Further right are three unidentified men, two of whom are speaking. One cries, "I'm afraid this boat will sink." The other remarks, "If it had only been built in two sections instead of one we might be saved." A black wearing "Discord's Patent Life Preserver" notes, "If de boat and all hands sink, dis Nigger sure to swim, Yah! Yah!" In the bow sits New York "Courier" editor James Watson Webb, who warns, "Breakers ahead!!" Watching anxiously from the shore is Brother Jonathan, clad in striped trousers, coat with tails, and a tall hat. He admonishes the boat's crew, "You wont save your crazy old craft by throwing your pilot overboard; better heave that tarnal Nigger out."

Sunday, July 31, 2011

William Seward's April Fools Memo: The Prequel

As you may know, in his somewhat wacky April 1, 1861 "April Fools Memorandum", entitled Some Thoughts for the President's Consideration, Secretary of State William H. Seward recommended to President Abraham Lincoln, among other things, that the United States declare war on Spain and France:
I would demand explanations from Spain and France, categorically, at once.

I would seek explanations from Great Britain and Russia, and send agents into Canada, Mexico, and Central America to rouse a vigorous continental spirit of independence on this continent against European intervention.

And, if satisfactory explanations are not received from Spain and France,

Would convene Congress and declare war against them.
In her beautifully written book, A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War, Amanda Foreman provides evidence that Seward had been contemplating the possibility of war as a means of diverting secession for almost two months before he delivered his memorandum to Lincoln. On the morning of February 3, 1861, "Seward paid a surprise call on Lord Lyons," the British envoy to the United States in Washington. In a confidential memorandum to his government, Lord Lyons reported that, during the meeting, Seward indicated that a foreign war would not displease him. Lyons reported that
Seward also repeated to him a recent conversation with the minister from Bremen (one of the smaller states of the German Confederation), "no doubt for my instruction." The hapless diplomat had complained about the Republican Party's election promise to place tariffs on foreign imports, saying that such a move would turn Europe against America at the moment when she most needed friends. Seward claimed to have replied that nothing would give him more pleasure, since he would then have the perfect excuse for an international quarrel, "and South Carolina and the seceding states would soon join in."

Resolution VI of The Virginia Plan

Lawprof Kurt T. Lash has written some great articles on the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, among other things. A new article is always a treat. I haven't read it yet, but I see via Lawrence Solum's Legal Theory Blog that the good professor has a new article up at SSRN: "Resolution VI": The Virginia Plan and Authority to Resolve "Collective Action Problems" Under Article I, Section 8. The abstract is as follows:
In the past few years, a number of influential constitutional scholars such as Jack Balkin, Robert Cooter, Andrew Koppelman, Neil Siegel and others have called for doing away with the traditional principle of judicially limited enumerated power and replacing it with the principle declared in Resolution VI of the Virginia Plan originally introduced in the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention. According to Resolution VI, federal power should be construed to reach all matters involving the “general interests of the Union,” those “to which the “states separately are incompetent” and those affecting national “harmony.” Resolution VI advocates maintain that, under this principle, Congress has power to regulate all collective action problems of national importance. In support of their claim, Resolution VI advocates argue that the members of the Philadelphia Convention adopted Resolution VI and sent the same to the Committee of Detail with the expectation that the resulting text would be based on this overriding principle of national power, and that they accepted the text of Article I, Section 8 as the enactment of Resolution VI. These scholars also claim (or rely on the claim) that Philadelphia Convention member James Wilson publicly declared during the ratification debates that the framers based Article I, Section 8 on the principle of Resolution VI.

A close reading of the historical sources, however, shows that the framers did not view Article I, Section 8 as having operationalized the general principle of Resolution VI and allowing federal action in all cases in which the “states separately are incompetent.” In fact, they expressly stated otherwise. Even more importantly, it turns out that there is no historical evidence that Resolution VI played any role whatsoever during the ratification debates. Claims to the contrary are based on an error of historical fact.
For those who are not familiar with it, the full text of Resolution VI, as reprinted in Farrand's Records, provided as follows:
6. Resolved that each branch ought to possess the right of originating Acts; that the National Legislature ought to be impowered to enjoy the Legislative Rights vested in Congress by the Confederation & moreover to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent, or in all which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual Legislation; to negative all laws passed by the several States, contravening in the opinion of the National Legislature the articles of Union; and to call forth the force of the Union agst. any member of the Union failing to fulfill its duties under the articles thereof.
Prof. Solum awards the article his "Download of the Week" prize and opines, "Highly recommended. Download it while its hot!" I've already done so.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Henry Clay and the First Bank: The Cow and the Turkey

In the early 1820s William Harris Crawford of Georgia would become a conservative, almost winning the presidency in 1824. But all that lay in the future. In February 1811, he was a staunch defender of the First Bank of the United States in the Senate, "deliver[ing] a brilliant speech is support of the bank, which even [Nathaniel] Macon called 'a better argument in favor of it on constitutional ground than ever has been made. . . .'"

In his February 15, 1811 Senate speech opposing the extension of the First Bank's charter, Henry Clay, having disposed of William Branch Giles, next turned to Sen. Crawford's complaint, as paraphrased by Clay, "that this has been made a party question." In fact, Clay pointed out, the original bank bill, passed in 1791, "was one of the causes of the political divisions of this country" and had spurred the formation of the Jeffersonian Republicans. It was Crawford, not opponents of the bank, who was playing politics and abandoning the Republican party:
And if, on this occasion, my worthy friend from Georgia has gone over over into the camp of the enemy, is it kind in him to look back upon his former friends, and rebuke them for the fidelity with which they adhere to their old principles?
Taking advantage of the fact that Crawford and other proponents had cited different provisions of the Constitution as the source of Congress's power to create the bank, Clay mocked their attempts to locate "some congenial spot" in which to locate "[t]his vagrant power":
This vagrant power to erect a bank, after having wandered throughout the whole Constitution in quest of some congenial spot whereupon to fasten, has been at length located by the gentleman from Georgia on that provision, which authorizes Congress to lay and collect taxes, &c. In 1791, the power is referred to one part of the instrument; in 1811, to another. Sometimes it is alleged to be deducible from the power to regulate commerce. Hard pressed here, it disappears, and shows itself under the grant to coin money.
Clay's arguments had to this point been largely playful. But now he became more serious. The Constitution granted Congress limited and defined powers. "The power to charter companies is not specified in the grant." And while the Necessary and Proper Clause may effectively grant implied powers, those powers "must be necessary, and obviously flow from the enumerated power with which it is allied."
What is the nature of this Government? It is emphatically federal, vested with an aggregate of specified powers for general purposes, conceded by existing sovereignties, who have themselves retained what is not so conceded. It is said that there are cases in which it must act on implied powers. This is not controverted, but the implications must be necessary, and obviously flow from the enumerated power with which it is allied.
Emphasizing the fearsome powers of corporations, Clay denied that the power to charter companies could be created by mere implication:
The power to charter companies is not specified in the grant, and I contend is of a nature not transferable by mere implication. It is one of the most exalted attributes of sovereignty. In the exercise of this gigantic power we have seen an East India Company created, which has carried dismay, desolation, and death throughout one of the largest portions of the habitable world. A company which is, in itself, a sovereignty - which has subverted empires and set up new dynasties - and has not only made war, but war against its legitimate sovereign!
Examples of implied powers cited by supporters - such as "the power 'to make rules and regulations for the government of the land and naval forces,' which, it is said, is incidental to the power to raise armies and provide a navy" - only proved Clay's point, for they demonstrated "[h]ow extremely cautious the Convention were to leave as little as possible to implication."
In all cases where incidental powers are acted upon, the principal and incidental ought to be congenial with each other, and partake of a common nature. The incidental power ought to be strictly subordinate and limited to the end proposed to be attained by the specified power. In other words, under the name of accomplishing one object which is specified, the power implied ought not to be made to embrace other objects, which are not specified in the Constitution.
Applying these principals might permit the creation of a bank of limited powers. But the First Bank had, and was proposed to have, powers that extended far beyond any enumerated end:
If then you could establish a bank to collect and distribute the revenue, it ought to be expressly restricted to the purpose of such collection and distribution. It is a mockery, worse than usurpation, to establish it for a lawful object, and then extend it to other objects which are not lawful. In deducing the power to create corporations, such as I have described it, from the power to collect taxes, the relation and condition of principal and incident are prostrated and destroyed. The accessory is exalted above the principal. As well might it be said that the great luminary of day is an accessory, a sattelite [sic] to the humblest star that twinkles forth its feeble light in the firmament of the heavens!
In order to illustrate his point Clay resorted to an analogy. I'm not sure it works, but who can resist a story about a cow and a turkey?
Like the Virginia justice, you tell the man, whose turkey had been stolen, that your book of precedents furnishes no form for his case, but then you will grant him a precept to search for a cow, and when looking for that he may possibly find his turkey! You say to this corporation, we cannot authorize you to discount - to emit paper - to regulate commerce, &c. No! Our book has no precedents of that kind. But then we can authorize you to collect the revenue, and, while occupied with that, you may do whatever else you please!
About the illustration, entitled A Foot-Race (1824):
A figurative portrayal of the presidential race of 1824. A crowd of cheering citizens watch as candidates (left to right) John Quincy Adams, William Crawford, and Andrew Jackson stride toward the finish. Henry Clay has dropped from the race and stands, hand on head, on the far right saying, "D--n it I cant save my distance--so I may as well "draw up."" He is consoled by a man in riding clothes, "Well dont distress yourself--there'll be some scrubbing by & by & then you'll have a chance." Assorted comments come from the crowd, reflecting various sectional and partisan views. A Westerner with stovepipe hat and powder horn: "Hurra for our Jacks-"son."" Former President John Adams: "Hurra for our son "Jack."" Two men in coachmen's livery: "That inne-track fellow [Crawford] goes so well; that I think he must have got the better of the bots [boss?]." and "Like enough; but betwixt you & I--I dont think he'll ever get the better of the "Quinsy."" A ragged Irishman: "Blast my eyes if I dont "venter" a "small" horn of rotgut on that "bald filly" in the middle [Adams]." A Frenchman: "Ah hah! Mon's Neddy I tink dat kick on de "back of you side" is worse den have no dinner de fourt of july." In the left background is a platform and an inaugural scene, the "Presidential Chair" with a purse "
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