Remember when we believed someone who pleaded the Fifth was guilty? Those who took the 5th did not want to “incriminate” themselves. So, we determined if the accused would not answer questions, they must have something to hide. Donald Trump, the same guy who in 2016 lacerated Hillary Clinton’s tech staff who installed her private email server, for taking the Fifth, proclaimed: “only the Mob takes the 5th.”
But in 1990, in his first divorce trial and again just last week, Trump took the Fifth himself. He says the allegations against him are a “witch hunt” or a “fishing expedition” as his excuse for not responding. (By the way, after the investigation, no one was ever charged regarding Clinton’s mail server.)
Trump sat with New York State’s Attorney General Letitia James a week ago. She has been investigating Trump’s state tax returns in a civil suit for tax evasion (lowering his income for purposes of income taxes) and inflating his wealth to obtain loans to cover his debts.
During his presidential campaign, Trump said that evading taxes “shows he’s smart.” But now, Trump’s long-time chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, 75, pleaded guilty to 15 counts of evading taxes on $1.7 million perks, including a free apartment in Manhattan, school tuition for his grandchildren, and lease payments on a luxury car. (He made a plea deal rather than face 15 years in prison and will spend five months at New York City’s Rikers Island. He will be answering questions.)
What’s the source of the Fifth Amendment?
It goes back to the heart of Anglo-Saxon law–The Magna Carta signed on June 15, 1215, by King John, the British barons, and landowners at Runnymede. The charter limited the king’s absolute authority and laid out the rights of English citizens and commoners. American law is based on this social contract written into the Magna Carta.
In America, the Continental Congress passed the Bill of Rights in 1789; this included the 5th Amendment to protect a person’s rights in these ways:
A person cannot be forced to give testimony against themselves (Self-Incrimination). The 5th Amendment is the basis for the Miranda Warning. (“Anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.”) The government must call other witnesses and find evidence to prove the crime.
You have the right to a fair trial that follows procedure through the judicial process
You are judged innocent until proven guilty. (Due process)You can’t be tried twice for the same crime (Double Jeopardy)
A Grand Jury looks at the evidence to determine whether to indict the accused for a criminal offense; if they decide to charge a person with a crime, they issue an indictment and hold a trial. The Grand Jury traces its roots directly to 1215, the Magna Carta, and Due Process.
The government cannot take your private property unless you are paid current market value in return. (Eminent Domain)
Another critical case about the Fifth Amendment (self-incrimination) involved five young black men convicted of killing a white woman in Central Park in New York City. After they were imprisoned for ten years, a court ruled they had been coerced into giving false testimony after lengthy interrogation and abuse. Under the Fifth Amendment, a confession obtained illegally is not admissible in court. They were freed when the truth came out. Then the actual killer was arrested and convicted.
Due process says that a person is innocent until proven guilty and deserves an opportunity to present their case in court. The concept of due process tells me to reconsider my idea that those who plead the 5th are “guilty,” but it is challenging at times.
Taking the 5th has different outcomes in criminal vs. civil courts. In federal cases, taking the Fifth does not imply guilt. But in civil cases, it can have consequences—providing an inference of guilt is allowed. The current case in New York State likely will be the beginning of a triangular legal sea saw between Trump, NY Attorney General James, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
What’s the Magna Carta’s role in Pleading the Fifth in American courts today? It’s bedrock. American law sits on the foundation of British law that traces to the 13th century when the nobility and the landed gentry demanded fairness in their courts and protection from the absolute power of the king.
Next week I’m looking at David Litt’s book Democracy in One Book or Less.
There’s nothing like the sound of oars pulling through the water and the rush when drawing them back to thrust the boat forward. I live vicariously through my daughter now, who competed last weekend in the Henley Master’s Regatta. She stroked a quad crew to victory. So pardon my pride, but there is a broader issue here; stay with me.
When we “row” together, we have a much better chance of winning. When we row separately or out of sync, we lose.
The Henley is rowed an hour from London, so I could not fail to note what’s going on politically in England. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been paddling apart for some time, practically since he took the job in July 2019. He took over from Teresa May, who could not get Brexit through Parliament.
Johnson seemed to think that he could perpetually break with convention. Childish antics—like having a Christmas party for staff at 10 Downing when the rest of the country was locked down with COVID– rankled the Brits. But last week, he hit the wall when he again lied to his fellow citizens, denying knowledge about unsavory actions by a political associate. Furthermore, just a few weeks before, 40 percent of Parliament voted “no confidence.” This time he lost the leadership of the Conservative party and now will no longer be the Prime Minister.
In the end, he may have that in common with his orange-haired American conservative crony. Time will tell. Rather interesting, a new wrinkle or two has also come up for Donald Trump as well. Both men have rowed along their Atlantic shore, rebelling against traditional political norms—thumbing their noses at convention. Trump still has a following and is pushing hard to wedge the Republican party to continue to swing the conservatives to himself.
But the need to row together with a crew still works here. When you insert a wedge against a portion of your former party, are you not dividing what you should be combining to form a winning coalition? Maybe it only works when not everyone in the opposition votes. And when you separate the competitor by corrupting the Voting Rights Act (limiting voters) and dividing a state’s voting districts, making it impossible for diverse candidates to have a fighting chance—that does complicate matters.
What destroys all credibility is when the former president or governor commands/controls a Secretary of State–the person responsible for voting regulations, voting counting, and preparing the ballots for the Electoral College. That is one person who should respect their role in holding the vote as their state’s voters intended—irrespective of party.
The poll workers I have spent hours with during general and primary elections are dedicated to reporting an accurate ballot every time. I suspect that is true throughout the country. We row together because we believe in the process and are sworn to maintain the vote’s safety. It is nothing short of criminal for a Secretary of State to do the bidding of a political party, a governor, or a former president hell-bent on making up for the last election—he cannot admit he lost but appears sworn to win a second term. At least for now. Time will tell.
This wreath carries meaning for me this July 4th. Over the past few years, I saw too many American flags flying from the back of pick-up trucks circling U.S. beltways or hand-held by Proud Boys marching in Charlottesville or invading the U.S. Capitol. They swore allegiance to falsehoods and exclusionary beliefs I will never share.
They have warped the authentic meaning of the red, white, and blue. Yet, the principles of truth and justice have never wavered for me. I pledge my allegiance to the true America I love. I cannot associate myself with those who do not ask the critical questions democracy requires but prefer to follow along and exclude others from the opportunities and rights we enjoy.
In 2022, this wreath, approximating the proud feathers of the American eagle and the brightest stars in the sky, will represent my brand of patriotism. Today America is a country struggling mightily to return to its principles–while suffering body blows from those we never elected. A President, who lost the popular vote in 2016 and refused to concede his loss in 2020, now spreads political mayhem from coast to coast. His efforts further ignited falsehoods and culture wars that erupted at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th and are slicing this proud nation in two.
I don’t love my country less because I do not agree with the false representations of the U.S. flag in 2021. I can’t see our nation dragged backward two and a half centuries. The 21st century has no time for fabricated beliefs and false images of a glorified Disney-esque “Davey Crocket” time when men provided for their families by landing dinner with buckshot. American families cannot afford to move backward, leaving behind our leading role in technology, business/industry, and world affairs.
Do we want to return to an era where women tended the firepot to prepare whatever animal their spouse’s musket fell? Then women had four children because the child mortality rate was over 30 percent. Women didn’t fare much better. Without contraception, women wore out their bodies with repeated pregnancies, and a high percent died young while giving birth (life expectancy: 38 in 1787). Today women’s work outside the home and their earnings are as important as a men’s. The economy tanked during the Pandemic when schools were closed, and many women stayed home. We’re still beefing up the workforce.
If women had been present for the writing of the Constitution in 1787, the document would have taken a different course. Families and women’s needs, would have been recognized– not listing women as chattel belonging to men—unable to own land, start businesses, or sign legal documents without their husband’s along side.
Over the years, women have realized the only way to make gains legislatively would be by gaining the vote for themselves. Unfortunately, women did not get an opportunity to vote until 1920, one hundred and thirty years after the ink dried on the Constitution. Today women are in Congress: 24 serve in the U.S. Senate and 120 in the House of Representatives (27% of the 539 elected, an all-time high, but well below women’s 50.5 percent of the population.)
You have a responsibility, both men and women, to exercise your right to protect our future and our nation. This right comes with a commitment to get out to vote (or obtain and mail in a ballot if your state allows). Help protect your freedom by exercising that vote. In most states, you cannot register to vote on the same day as you vote. So, get registered NOW. Contact your county’s Board of Elections and be prepared to vote come November.
Determination does pay off. . . at last! Opal Lee, a grandmother from Texas, at 89 walked two and a half miles a day from Fort Worth to Washington. DC, surrounded by a caravan of cars. Opal walked to raise support for designation of Juneteenth (19th) as a federal holiday. Last year at 94, she received a signing pen from President Biden after he inked legislation creating such a celebration. Vice President Kamala Harris took her hand while praising her determination.
Opal, who had been a teacher before becoming “the grandmother of the movement”, had a personal reason for her crusade. When she was 12, she lived in Marshal, Texas, in a home surrounded by several white homeowners in Sycamore Park. A band of white men came one night and burned her home to the ground. Freedom means more to her than recognizing the end to slave labor, but safety in one’s home and access to quality education.
No doubt President Lincoln would be pleased with Opal’s determination and Congressional efforts in 2021 to celebrate Juneteenth, but he might hope this was not a consolation prize offered instead of insuring the opportunity for all Americans to exercise their constitutional Voting Rights.
Above you see the document that Lincoln wrote and signed after Congress passed the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, ending slavery in the Confederacy. Governors in Southern states, with economies mainly dependent on cotton, were very slow to pass this information on to the enslaved population, some waited until the end of the Civil War to notify blacks in the South that they were free.
Texans, being the furthest western state in the Confederacy and with an abundance of cotton, were least likely to share this information. And they didn’t. . . until Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, backed up by 1,800 U.S./Union troops, issued General Order Number 3, from his headquarters in Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865—157 years ago.
Maj. Gen. Granger’s order began: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.” Simple. Then: “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
This order announced the freedom of 250,000 slaves in Texas. In the two and a half years between the Emancipation and Granger’s arrival nearly 200,000 black men had enlisted, mainly in the Union army. Historians estimate that about 500,000 slaves—out of a total of 3.9 million—liberated themselves by escaping to Union lines between 1863 and the end of the war—the rest remained in slavery, according to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
More recently, in 1979, Texas State Rep. Al Edwards, “known as the father of the Juneteenth holiday” succeeded in working with the Texas Legislature to make the date an official holiday statewide as a “source of strength” to young people. “Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations,” Rep. Edwards said. These efforts plus others worldwide can be seen at https://juneteenth.com .
The Great Migration helped spread Juneteenth across the country, as Gates says, one person, one family, one carload or train ticket at a time. Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Sons: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, tells the story brilliantly, spreading the knowledge Juneteenth to places distant to the South, like Los Angeles, Oakland, and Minnesota. Ralph Emerson’s novel, Juneteenth, said to reflect the “mystical glow of history and lore, memory and myth.”
Juneteenth 2021 will also mark the unveiling of Frederick Douglass’s statue in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, the result of long-term efforts of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
In honor of the festivities, perhaps these dining festivities will prepare us for the Fourth of July, red, white and blue creations, while Juneteenth recipes focus on the color red. I’m told that’s for resilience and freedom. So I have one offering and links to several others:
Plenty of stories about the original Thanksgiving float around at this time of year. I’m going with the Smithsonian’s story: Massasoit, the Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Tribe received an invitation to thanksgiving from William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony in fall 1621.
The Pilgrims, who Bradford led, had fled England to avoid religious prosecution. To them “Thanksgiving” meant fasting and praying, so the original intent of the gathering might not have been a gourmet feast. But Native Americans had held Autumn Festivals for many years.
When Governor Bradford invited Massasoit, 90 warriors from combined tribes were meeting to form an alliance for mutual defense. Ousamequin, the warrior’s leader, had heard gunfire from the colony. (Colonists, not unlike future Americans, were celebrating by firing shotguns into the air.) The Tribe believed it meant a war had begun. But native leadership remained level-headed, thanks to the skill of translator Tisquantum. (Bradford called him “Squanto,” based on his community: Squantum.) After negotiating with Bradford, the Wampanoag agreed to attend thanksgiving.
Tisquantum had been kidnapped from the Patuxents on the coast of Cape Cod by explorer Thomas Hunt in 1614. Hunt took him to Spain, whereTisquantum was sold into slavery, but educated by monks. He escaped to England and learned English working for shipbuilder John Slanic, then returned to Plymouth. Upon his return, Tisquantum found his family and the entire tribe had died from Yellow Fever they caught from the European explorers. Alone, he joined the Pokankets.
After arriving on the Mayflower, forty-five of the 102 Pilgrims died of disease or starvation between 1619 and 1620. Maybe because of his own loss, Tisquantum agreed to share with the Pilgrims what he had learned about coastal farming, hunting, and fishing. He explained how to use a fish to fertilize the corn seed to improve the Pilgrim’s crops. His advice helped the Pilgrims to survive and become self-sufficient. This showed the true sense of community that could have marked a turnaround in Pilgrim-Native American relations. But as the colony grew, so too the need for additional land. Unfortunately, the value and scarcity of the rich land on the tip of Massachusetts created a desire to own it, which motivated the colony and later the growing nation’s efforts to push the Native Americans off the land.
1621: What Did the Warriors Bring?
Wampanoag warriors were fishermen and hunters, skills that ensured their tribe would have food. They came to the celebration loaded down with the fruits of their toil and the bounty of New England’s seacoast:
Venison, lobster, fish, wild fowl, clams, oysters, eel, corn, squash, maple syrup, and wild rice—a substantial feast. Maybe the warriors thought it was an “autumn festival!” It could easily take a three-day festival to consume such a feast. Over the centuries, the Native American tribes moved into the heartland,chasing buffalo and/or pushed west and south by federal policies. The tribes brought the foods they originally discovered on the coast that contribute to our Thanksgiving tables today: beans, potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkin, Chile peppers, and cacao, the basis of chocolate, another gift to us from Native Americans, is seen as an “essential” food by those craving sweets.
Did Anyone Say Pie?
Today most Americans take Thanksgiving pie for granted. If pie existed at all in 1621, it would come from a squash molded into a bowl and cooked over a fire. Move forward to 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first official Thanksgiving before the end of the Civil War. For his celebration, Lincoln made sure The Excelsior Pie and Cake Bakery had set aside one of his favorite Pecan Pies with Molasses.* Now we have a full spectrum of fruit pies year round, through the magic of freezers and pre-made pie shells. I’m depending on pumpkin blended with the modern miracles of Cool Whip and cream cheese for a Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie! (See Plum Pudding Recipe below.
(President’s Cookbook, Poppy Camon and Patricia Brooks, 1968.)
Obviously, not Mac & Cheese in 1621, right? Well, the British came up with pasta made from breadcrumbs in the 1390s! They added a sauce made of stock and what they called chese ruayn, a hard cheese similar to brie. The result: a cross between macaroni and cheese and lasagne. But it wasn’t your mother’s or my daughter’s Mac & Cheese!
My update to Mac and Cheese couisine came on Wednesday’s National Public Radio’s “1A” discusson of 2021 Thanksgiving offerings. Stephen Satterfield, host of “High on the Hog” podcast, explained that the updated British recipe for Mac & Cheese came back across the Pond in 1789. Thomas Jefferson’s slave James Hemings (half-brother of Sally) trained to be a chef in Paris. He rose to head chef at the Hotel de Langeac before heading back to New York City when Jefferson became Secretary of State.
Englishwoman Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe “To Dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese,” brings together bechamel sauce, cheddar cheese,and pasta (see below) Published in 1769, it could be similar to what Hemings served to Jefferson’s guests.
I have my own favorite Mac & Three Cheese recipe my daughter fixes at Thanksgiving. Breadcrums on top bake up to an crunchy, brown crust. The treat lies below among the moist macaroni and the three flavors of cheese. Some things do get better with time!
Anything goes in 2021 after a year and a half Pandemic that separated families and friends, isolating Americans. Now we have an opportunity to cook whatever your heart desires for the people you love, related or not. Whether it’s turkey or tofurky, to stuff or not to stuff, pumpkin pie or candy cames, the script is your to write this year. Take a moment to read about America’s Native Americans. You can start with the link below:
Note: A six-foot tall stone marker and aging bronze plaque at Plymouth, Massachusetts, commemorates themeeting of the Wampanoag’s Massasoit and Plymouth Colony Governor Bradford. Fortunately, Tisquantum of the Patuxent tribes could translate.
The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1769
“To Dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese”
Boil four ounces of macaroni till it be quite tender and lay it on a sieve to drain. Then put it in a tossing pan with about a gill (a quarter of a pint) of good cream, a lump of butter rolled in flour, boit it five minutes. Pour it on a plate, lay all over it parmesan cheese toasted. Send it to the table on a warm plate, for it soon gets cold.
Plum Pudding Native American Traditional Recipe
Wild plums, sugar, cornstarch
Wash plums, put in a pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the plums split and fruit comes away from the seeds. Cool and strain juice and put juice in pot and boil. Make a paste with cornstarch and hot water. Used about e tablespoons cornstarch to ¼ cup hot water. Stir until lumps disappear. Slowly add paste to boiling juice to thicken pudding. Add cornstarch if needed. Remove from heat and add sugar to taste.
Two figures from the deep, dark past adorn my lawn this season of spook. I thought a wee bit of ancient English history might interest my Texan neighbors or at least their curious children who might continue, given a taste of it. I have started with the two most referenced—the ones on my lawn—Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife. He had four more wives. (As king, Henry took advantage of his regal power.)
Anne Boleyn’s father, Thomas Earl of Wiltshire, served as ambassador to the Netherlands and France and encouraged his daughter to be educated there. Her date of birth is murky because records from the 16th century are spotty, but a birth in 1501 fits with her education in France and her courtship. While there, Anne served as a maid of honor to Queen Claude of France, learning how to appear in court.
Anne probably would not serve in court much before 14. She returned to England in 1522 to marry her Irish cousin James Butler, but the marriage did not take place. Instead, joined the court of English Queen Catherine of Aragon as maid of honor. King Henry would have been eighteen when crowned and married to Catherine. The king desired and achieved a court of unsurpassed glamour with he the handsome, athletic, and cultured lead. Henry liked to dress like a peacock, enjoyed wearing costumes, including a Turkish outfit of white damask, embroidered with roses made of rubies and diamonds.
Henry Declares War Against France, Builds Navy
But Henry was distracted. In 1522, he declared war against France. This required an increase in taxes, which was not popular. He built the British Navy from a few ships to fifty, earning the title “Father of the British Navy” and making England a serious contender on the water.
Henry got on the wrong side of Hapsburg Charles V of Australia, who carried influence with the pope, from whom the king would eventually want a divorce from Charles’ aunt. Not likely.
By 1526 Catherine of Aragon had failed to produce a healthy heir (her male child died young). Henry took this as an afront to his manhood, damaging his growing ego. While he continued his marriage with Catherine for 24 years, he began to look elsewhere.
Then the king noticed Anne Bolen’s beauty as she danced and sang in court. Henry moved the courtship forward sending Anne love notes and a golden pendant that have survived through the ages. He thought these would sway her decision.
Initially Anne would not be convinced of Henry’s sentiment because she did not want to be a mistress, knowing that women who did not produce legitimate children would not have a long future in court. She brought back from France a knowledge of court and her formal schooling could have been a few paces ahead of Henry. (Although his knowledge of three languages speaks well of him.) The couple could have corresponded in French and few the wiser. (We know Anne wrote in French from a letter to her father.)
We see a different picture of this pair from more recent evidence. Five centuries later, given the picture of the rotund Henry, we find it difficult that Anne would come under the king’s spell. Bur we have learned as a young man Henry bore no resemblance to the portrait by Holbein that shows a guy who resembles a walk-on lineman for the Chicago Bears with the face of an emotionless simpleton. Their courtship lasted seven years. At the front of it, he was a 6’2” man when most everyone else was 5’7.” He kept in shape jousting and performed what we would consider extreme cross-fit sports to impress his subjects and his conquests with his prowess. Henry more likely came in around 175 pounds in his courting years.
. Venetian diplomat Sebastian Giustiani left behind his impression of the young king that draws an attractive suitor, which he shared with the senate:
He is very accomplished and a good musician, composes well: is a capital equestrian, and a fine jouster; speaks good French, Latin, and Spanish, is deeply religious. . . He is extremely fond of hunting…He is also fond of tennis, at which game it is the prettiest thing to see him play, his fair skin glowing through a shirt of the finest texture.
Perhaps the diplomat wanted to score points with the king, but he gives a picture of someone NOT the size of a refrigerator (like the portraits of Henry VIII that come down to us.)
Pope Denies Annulment; Henry Names Self Head of Church of England
Desperate to end his marriage to Catherine with an annulment, Henry appealed to the Pope in 1534. Pope Clement VII excommunicated Henry from the church for dissolving convents and monasteries. Henry broke from the Catholic Church and went to the English Parliament to endorse his claim to be the SUPREME Head of the Church of England, launching the English Reformation and separating from the Roman Catholic pope. This gave the king authority to annul his marriage himself.
The year 1534 marks the beginning of Thomas Cromwell’s role as the king’s chief minister, Great Lord Chamberlain. A lawyer and statesman, he became a chief proponent of the English (Religious) Reformation and helped engineer the annulment of the king’s first marriage. This helped Cromwell become an ally of Anne Boleyn, but this soured by 1536.
Henry took Anne to France to get a blessing for their marriage from the French Archbishop, which they received and celebrated with a secret marriage in November 1532. That same year Henry conferred on Anne the title Marquess of Pembroke, a step towards their upcoming official marriage on January 25, 1533. By which point Anne has already conceived a child, the future Queen Elizabeth I, born on September 7. This pregnancy was followed by several miscarriages.
Anne Fails to Bear a Son; Pays Ultimate Price in 1536
Henry became even less forgiving after he fell off his horse in a jousting contest in 1536, the third year of their marriage, and seriously injured his ankle and the front of his brain. He was unconscious for several hours and the physical damage to the control center likely harmed his emotional responses. Those who have studied his reign believe that he became a more brutal ruler after the accident, though he may always have had a mean streak to begin with.
This might have influenced his decision, to file treason charges against Anne considered false and self-serving. He wanted to remove her as his wife, so he could marry Jane Seymour. Anne’s execution took place in the Tower of London on May 19, 1536. This is where the GHOSTLY part comes. Henry brought in a professional executioner from France, known for a sharp blade, to complete her beheading. She left this earth at 35, leaving behind a daughter, Elizabeth I, who ruled for five years.
Are we to believe that Anne Boleyn did not haunt Henry VIII’s dreams?
Henry will marry four more times before his death in 1547, at which point his waist measured 54 inches. They buried him next to Jane Seymour, the only wife to present him with an heir—the only one he officially mourned.
Ian Crofton, The Kings & Queens of England. (New York: Metro Books, 2006) 128-135. Quote from Venetian and other information about the 16th century king come this source.
America is mesmerized by talent or what passes for it. Nearly two decades of televised contests have drawn huge audiences: snarky Simon Cowell’s America’s Got Talent (despite the fact that he is a Brit), music’s chameleon + EGOT John Legend (1) provides counsel on The Voice, granddaddy show American Idol still selecting soloists, and aging Dancing with the Stars, where contestants have put on their dancing shoes and coaxed themselves into spandex for years.
But are we sending the wrong message? Does talent alone win the race?
No question American Idol Grand Dame Kelly Clarkson towers over country music, winning three Grammy’s (12 nominations), and a slew of Video Music Awards before expanding into television to be a judge on The Voice, and earning Daytime Emmy’s in 2020 and 2021 for her talk show. But would we even know her name today if she did not squeeze every opportunity out of her American Idol crowning and diligently work to assure her worthiness?
Most cannot boast a true “talent” that towers over others in our field, so does that mean we will never achieve “success?” Grammy Award-winning musician and Oscar-nominated actor Will Smith has thought a lot about talent, effort, skill, and achievement. “I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented,” he said. “Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic.” Since May the 51-year-old has worked the gym to turn his Pandemic-weakened body into a muscular physique, better than before 2000.
Psychologist Angela Duckworth studied the “talent vs. grit” question after teaching math to elementary students on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She thought, like many of us, that talent trumped about everything until she had an average student who kept pounding away at the problems until the light went on.
Duckworth’s Chinese father was fixated on creating “genius” children. She assured him she was not one, even when she received a McArthur (“genius grant”) Fellowship in 2014. What she wanted to tell him as a kid: “I’m going to grow up to love my work…I won’t just have a job. I will have a calling. I will challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I will get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.”
In 2016 after over a decade of research, plus writing time, she poured her thoughts into Grit, (2) a book documenting her work showing how people extend their passion beyond talent with perseverance. Unlike struggling to identify talent, her research shows we lesser mortals can develop “grit.” Duckworth conducted research at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to test out her theory. Each year 14,000 juniors apply, just 1,200 are enrolled. Most of these men and women were varsity athletes, even team captains in high school. Yet one in five would drop out of West Point before graduation. A high percentage leave in the first summer, during “Beast” the “most physically and emotionally demanding part of your four years at West Point…designed to help you make the transition from new cadet to Soldier.”
These were cadets who scored well on the Whole Candidate Score judging preparation for the rigors of West Point. This included a weighted average of SAT or ACT exam scores, high school rank adjusted for the number of students in the graduating class, an expert appraisal of leadership potential, and physical fitness performance.
Military psychologist Mike Matthews, who worked with Duckworth, explained his personal reaction to Air Force training: “I was tired, lonely, frustrated, and ready to quit—as were all of my classmates.” What kept him and the remaining classmates from moving forward? A “never give up” attitude. Now Duckworth wanted to know if this applied to elite athletes.
Every four years elite competitive swimmers—multiple gold medal winners that included superstars Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz—bring their “talent” to our screens. Sociologist Dan Chambliss traveled with swimmers and their coaches for six years, from local meets to the elite teams composed of future Olympians. “It is as if talent were some invisible substance behind the surface reality of performance, which finally distinguishes the best among our athletes,” Chambliss said. “These great athletes seem blessed ‘with a special gift, almost a ‘thing’ inside of them denied to the rest of us—perhaps physical, genetic, psychological, or physiological. Some have it and some don’t. Some are natural athletes, and some aren’t.”
But Chambliss found biographies of great swimmers reveal many contributing factors: parents who were interested in the sport, earned enough money to pay for coaching, travel to swim meets and access to a pool, plus thousands of hours of practice in the pool developing muscle memory, all leading up to the “flawless” performance we see on our screens during the Olympics. All those hours polishing the apple until it turns gold.
“With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be,” philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche writes. “We rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.”
Duckworth points to Nietzsche, who preferred that we not talk about giftedness or inborn talents. “One can name great men (note: and women) . . .They all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.”
There is no better example of the “little, secondary things” (rivets) that build into a “dazzling whole” than the persevering craftsmen of the Iroquois tribe, Mohawks, trained ironworkers. They built the Victoria Bridge near Quebec in 1886. Their work required not just personal strength, but mental fortitude, willingly facing death from great heights every single day. They learned climbing skills and absorbed from their elders the courage to venture out onto steel girders suspended in space far above the city.
Mohawks are not superhuman. Thirty-three Kahnawake (Mohawk) died in the collapse of the Quebec Bridge in 1907. That did not end the tribe’s commitment to urban structures. The next generation drove 12 ½ hours to Manhattan (and home on weekends) to walk on 12-inch girders fifty or more stories above the city’s sidewalks while drilling rivets into the 1,046- foot Chrysler Building (1930) and the 1,250-foot Empire State (1931) and the Rockefeller Center (1932-1939). In cold weather, ice needed to be scrapped off the beams before work began. No safety lines existed in those days. (3)
The Mohawks continued to work above the city to constructing five more skyscrapers (the UN, the Woolworth Building, the Seagram Building before applying their skills. Then the veteran ironworkers applied their skills to erect the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers from 1968 to 1973. Over the years Mohawk families moved to an enclave in Brooklyn, so the ironworkers were in New York to help rescue people from the burning towers in 2001 and provided their expertise to disassemble the metal protrusions from the building’s remains following 911.
Being an ironworker throughout the 20th century and into the 21st requires a fearlessness to push higher into the sky, ensuring the buildings continued to rise. No better definition of “grit” exists than the work ethic of those who built America’s towers of business and entertainment, some sacrificing their lives, to provide these lasting monuments to their perseverance.
Legend is one of 16 performers who have been awarded the ultimate creative quad–an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony for their performances on TV, in music, film, and the stage.
Angela Duckworth, Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance (New York: Scribner, 2016) Quotes can be found in her work.
(*Yes. we can. I took a short break from Past Becomes Present but didn’t do the promo because I didn’t know how long it might be. Optimistic by nature, I believed it wouldn’t be long. And happily, my positive attitude bore fruit!)
Optimists get a bad rep. People say we’re Pollyanna’s, breezing along believing that everything is wonderful and will continue to be. True, we like to walk on the sunny side, but there’s the other half of the equation—we work to “make it so.”
The recent Delta strain threatens to scale back Americans’ escape from Covid’s 15-month hibernation. Some cities, like Austin, hang a return to level 4 restrictions over our heads (and dim dreams of mini vacations, while increasing infections nationwide).
How do our brains handle the dramatic pendulum swings we encounter now? Well, being optimistic doesn’t come naturally. Martin Seligman, a psychology professor, and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, says we are “hardwired” to stick to a negative bias. He indicates this goes all the way back to the caveman, preparing us to address the worst-case scenario. It’s why we know not to touch a hot flame after we’ve been burned. Humans are more likely to respond to negative stimuli.
But we are not condemned to be grumps! Humans can learn to protect themselves and bounce back from misfortune—like divorce, unemployment, or health crises. But how? We’re not good at predicting how each of us will react to misfortune, according to Tali Sharot in From the Optimism Bias, A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain.
How is it possible for humans to stimulate and predict the outcome of possible future scenarios? Using imagination can help us create and examine all the possibilities we might face, pulling away the drama that could prevent our success.
Like many others, prior to experiencing hip surgery I feared for a long, painful recovery unable to get around and completing the most basic tasks with great difficulty.
Sharot’s research points to the human mind is flexible enough to find ways to restore balance when facing a challenge. Our brains can change our perceptions of the physical world.
Matt Hampson, a 20-year-old rugby player, experienced a life-changing event that proves the point. In 2005 during practice, he dislocated his neck, paralyzing him. Suddenly this vibrant young man needed round-the-clock care and steers his wheelchair with his chin and breathes through a ventilator.
Rather than dreading his life, Matt has found a purpose. He created the Get Busy Living Centre, a rehab center for those with life-changing injuries in Leicestershire, England. The brain can find the silver lining in seemingly unimaginable circumstances, if only we can use our imagination. The brain is more flexible and adaptable than we imagine.
We don’t need to have a crisis in our lives to take a moment to check in about our own purposes—or to create something that enriches us or others. Putting a couple words together, even just for us, can start the ball rolling. What’s important to you? How could you make a difference in your life and maybe others?
Notice the balloons in the photo above. They are not your garden variety birthday balloons. No, these are Hot Air Balloons. Why this choice? Anyone can manage a single helium balloon but rising a hot air balloon high into the sky and bringing it back to the ground safely requires effort and skill—an optimistic approach paired with knowledge!
Optimism is my vision. Positive brings on more of the same, provided it’s joined by works! So now let’s just try it out and see if it breeds!
(Note: For Women’s History Month I’m sharing the story of a pioneering woman journalist, written by her son, Jay Hamilton, a talented writer-producer.) His mother also pioneered multi-tasking, a trait we talked about last week.)
Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my mother, Nancy Bradsher Hamilton, who along with my father were my inspirations. My current company, Hamilton Media DC, is an offshoot of Hamilton Productions, which my mother co-founded in the early 1980s. She was the driving force.
Looking back on her life, it’s hard to believe that a young woman raised by a single mother in the small town of Salisbury, NC, “took her shot” and landed in the “bright lights, big city” TV studios of Manhattan. There, she hosted numerous programs. Her pioneering journalism career included raising me and my sister. Looking back, I now realize that she epitomized the modern multitasker well before that term entered today’s lexicon.
This Women’s History Month you hear numerous women’s stories about their key influencers, also female. But I dare say, for each successful man, there is also a woman who inspired his success, too. Afterall, most men are unabashedly “mama’s boys.” I’m a member of that club.
Nancy Bradsher wrote a dairy entry in 1953, when she joined the staff of the women’s department of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I was a Depression baby born bald September 7, 1929 at Mercy Hospital, Charlotte, North Carolina.” She went on to grow hair and become the Women’s Club Editor. Back then the only jobs for women in journalism were in the “women’s departments.” Journalism was a male dominated world.
Throughout the years, mom worked as a reporter on the Salisbury Post, The New York Journal American and as a correspondent for The New York Times before co-founding Hamilton Productions and stepping in front of the camera. Mom had the “looks” and the smarts for TV and thrived in New York City with her sweet-sounding southern drawl.
Most of this was happening during my formative years. I knew her simply as “mom” and never gave it a thought about how she successfully balanced family and career. One of her favorite playwrights was Shakespeare. This Women’s History Month, I am reminded of one of my mom’s favorite lines from “As You Like It.”
All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.
So, too, one woman in her time can play many parts. My mom proved it as a pioneering journalist…wife…mother…grandmother. For her to play these many parts vindicates Shakespeare. I am enormously proud of all she accomplished and her contribution to women’s equality.
Jay Hamilton is founder of Hamilton Media DC and Chief Media Strategist of Story Squad.
Note: I met Jay when he wrote and produced a Telly Award-winning safety training video backed by the Department of Transportation with Operation Lifesaver after students were killed at Fox River Grove, IL in a school bus-train crash. Jay led us to Dalton, Georgia, during a very warm summer to work with the city’s school bus drivers. By using actual drivers and students, the video captured the attention of school bus drivers from coast-to-coast, which saved lives.
“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” Jazz Great Miles Davis
Endless time seems to move so slowly as to drip like a leaky faucet, making every moment pregnant with ideas, some alerting our fears to endless possibilities.
Time has taken on new meaning, while simultaneously dropping away into nothingness as we struggle to answer a multitude of WHEN questions.
It has been barely two months since my family flew off to work in London and a month since their dog, my part-time companion, joined them. Sometimes it seems like it’s been six months. Naturally due to the pandemic’s quarantine, I wonder when I might see them again. Even now, a visit this summer is rapidly slipping off the plate, but I am coping by writing, exercising, and appreciating every sunny day.
WHEN? The Universal Question
We’ve all joined in questioning WHEN? When did life as we knew it screech to a halt? When won’t I depend on Zoom to see colleagues or Facetime for friends and relatives? When can I walk in the woods, go to the library, or gym, or get my hair cut, or leave home to hear any concert in person? When will I enjoy the aroma of cooking not my own? Far more important to more than 36 million Americans: When, if ever, will my job come back, so I can resume living without losing a place to live and be able to feed my family?
No matter where we sit politically, or whether we stand in the unemployment line, the food bank line, or the grocery line, stress rides along daily with each of us.
There are few universal answers to WHEN. Many are being made state by state or county by county. As of mid-May, 90,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and 1.5 million tested positive, while 260,000 have recovered. This nationwide pandemic has only engendered more stress and fear and seems in some parts of the country to have widened the divide. But in some communities, people from a wide spectrum of political and religious beliefs are working together to feed the hungry unemployed and their children—taking action, which often lessens the feeling of helplessness and anxiety.
Recently I saw an article that sheds some light on this question:
“In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” by Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, which brings down to lay terms a study of the mindset of Navy SEALS, college students, and business leaders experiencing stress. They consider how to harness stress. Here are their three steps:
Acknowledge Your Stress
Seems by taking on stress we move the place it resides in our mind. Normally before we address our fear, it sits in the amygdala, the brain center for emotion. When we begin the acknowledge our stress, our thoughts move to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is where executive control and planning take place–where we can be more thoughtful and deliberate in our actions– where we can do something about it.
Have you ever tried to stop thinking less about something and instead your mind returns to it even more often? That is the “ironic mental processing” at work in the brain as we stress over something. According to the scientists, the brain tries to help us out by constantly checking in to see if we continue to think of it. Suppression does not work.
Now is where you need to determine what is at the heart of your personal stress or anxiety.
Are you most concerned about getting sick yourself? Or your mate or partner? Is it your children, their education or health? Are you worried about a loved one who is at high risk? Is your anxiety caused by balancing working from home and family responsibilities?
Once you determine this, then you can examine your reactions to these stressors. What emotions come with this? Frustration, sadness, anger? What do you notice in your body? Tight neck and shoulders or do you have difficulty sleeping?
Own Your Stress
Why welcome stress into your life during a pandemic? We only stress, really stress, about the things (and people) we really care about. By connecting to the stress, we identify what is at the core of our anxiety. By denying or trying to avoid our stress, we can do the opposite and avoid what is really important to us.
Difficult task? Try completing this sentence, “I am stressed about (list answer you gave in step one) because I deeply care about. . .”
Use Your Stress—Make it Work for You!
If you connect to the core values behind your stress, then you set yourself up for the most essential ingredient: using or leveraging stress to achieve your goals and connect more deeply with the things that matter most to you.
Are your typical responses aligned with the values behind your stress? Think how you could adapt your response to this stress to facilitate your goals and your responses. There is a lot happening that we cannot control, but there are also unprecedented opportunities amid the fear. It is a matter of connecting with people and materials at hand. Action will help you overcome your anxiety and begin to tackle fear of the unknown. Addressing the here and now. The trick is to channel your coronavirus stress as energy to make the most of this time. Difficult though it seems, if we fail to embrace our stress and utilize it, it will only grow. Take baby steps forward to tackle your anxiety.
On a personal note, much earlier in my life, I needed to learn coping skills after a difficult period. I developed a calm approach to crisis that helped me professionally and has stood by me for three decades. Sticking to our universal values, working to overcome fear and anxiety, we can develop stable solutions to serve us and the next generation.
Daniel Pink, When, the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018)
Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, Stanford University, “In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” New York Times, April 1, 2020
Alia J. Crum and Peter Salovey, “Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2013, Vol. 104, No. 4, 716-733
A classic tenant of crisis management for savvy leaders. Even if your personal chipmunks are running a marathon in your stomach, when you have a team—whether its four classmates, a room full of colleagues, or all 328 million Americans—a time comes when it hits the fan, you set up your essential goal, put on your game face, hunker down, and pass out the assignments to the most qualified, most tested in the room. That makes it much easier to appear sweat less!
Establishing the Critical Goal
Leading a country and overseeing a military at war requires an intensely capable person. Lincoln wasn’t that person at the beginning of the Civil War, but he made it his business to catch up. Some say it took him until he hired U.S. Grant in March 1864, but Lincoln established his goal at the get-go. He did not waiver in his belief that preserving the Union was his prime responsibility. Everything else came second, was collateral damage, or would be a tool to accomplish this goal.
Lincoln preferred to focus on the essential foe and not push a blanket plan to prohibit slavery as he prepared the Emancipation Proclamation. He battled flames in front of him on the battlefield and saw significant matters smoldering behind him, threatening to ignite the abolitionists and the opposition Copperheads at his rear. This messy political stew revealed the alchemy he brewed while working to weave the nation together and draw his critics apart. Developing the persuasive mixture eluded him as his supporters began to lose faith that Lincoln could manage the broth before the wildfire consumed him.
Jousting with Journalists
Being a writer himself who appreciated a turn of phrase, Lincoln enjoyed mixing it up with journalists. Due to his seemingly “rustic” communications skills and quick mind hidden beneath a slow delivery, he could be waiting for reporters’ questions twenty steps ahead of them and have a fitting quip ready. Today wrangling with the media is a required sport for office holders, particularly if they seek or have achieved higher office. Disarming humor, not used as a spear but as a reminder of shared humanity, seems to have nearly disappeared with an earlier generation (think Ronald Reagan, who often appeared with a smile to friend or foe alike, or Barack Obama, who could flash a smile when he wasn’t preoccupied with a financial implosion).
Lincoln saw journalists as another branch of politics. (At the time 3,000, or three-fourths of the newspapers published in America, were supported by a political party). He worked to establish a mutual understanding with the big three of the day: James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, Democratic, pro-slavery, against most of Lincoln’s stands; Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, an abolitionist who had a love-hate relationship with the President, but got special treatment on several stories; and Henry Raymond of the New York Times, a Republican and formerly Greeley’s chief lieutenant, later founder of the New York Times in 1851.
Greeley, like Bennett. loved his role in journalism, but the two loathed each other, primarily for political reasons; A final Greeley-Raymond final split came when Raymond beat him to become New York’s Lieutenant Governor in 1854. Setting up the perfect storm between the three major newspaper editor’s Lincoln needed to cajole. In 1864 he helped engineer Lincoln’s 1864 re-nomination.
Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable or Worse
Bennett came from the pro-Democratic Party, pro-slavery and against pretty much everything Lincoln valued, but Lincoln wooed him rather than pushing him away, most of the time. Lincoln walked a tightrope between Bennett and Greeley when he fed stories and news tips to Greeley, but at times the Tribune bit the hand that fed it, angering Lincoln.
In August 1862, Horace Greeley published “The Prayer of the Twenty Million,” a plea of the “Loyal Millions” requiring a “frank, declared, unqualified, ungrudging execution of the laws of the land.” Greeley wanted Lincoln to enforce the emancipating provisions of the Second Confiscation Act (July 17, 1862) removing slaves from the Confederate states. Greeley believed his readers had carried Lincoln to victory and “now feel that the triumph of the Union is dispensable not only to the existence of our country to the well-being of mankind.” They expected Lincoln to deliver on their request.
Lincoln responded on August 22, 1862 in the Daily National Intelligencer, a newspaper long a part of the Washington scene, founded by George Washington. Lincoln said he did not argue with what Greeley said, but reaffirmed his own chief goal to “save the Union and not either to save or to destroy slavery.” At the very bottom of the letter, Lincoln affirmed: “I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere be free.”
Concerning the letter, historian David Herbert Donald pointed out Lincoln sought to assure the large majority of Northern people that he did not want to see the war transformed into a crusade for abolition, while offering himself time to contemplate further moves against slavery.
No doubt that Lincoln suffered at the hands of the press, but he also knew how to give as well as he got and used humor as honey to make the message go down a little easier. Yet he chastised a visitor to his office who pestered him for “one of his stories.” Lincoln noted his stories were not a “carnival act but were a useful way of directing discussion.” (Elihu B Washburne Chapter3 note 15)
Lincoln exercised patience, waiting for a victory, or close to it, to bolster his proclamation. He only freed the slaves in the states that were in Rebellion—the Confederacy, holding the freedom of slaves throughout the country for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Who Was the Greater Martyr?
The question came up recently as to whether Lincoln or the current President were the greater “martyr” (poor word choice, given that one made the ultimate sacrifice) to the slings of the press. While the current President has a wide array of broadcast and digital media to pester him, Lincoln could only rely on the telegraph and the vital coast-to-coast postal system to send his lithograph—with his warts, wayward tie knotted under his collar, and an unruly mop of black hair—far and wide. His tired, sympathetic mug became fodder for frequent political cartoons that etched in the brains of the electorate.
Lincoln’s low key personality and friendships helped him take on the darts that were flung his way. He had fewer instruments available to respond, being able to utilize only the overhead wires and the power of his pen. He aimed his words at “the people” of the entire nation—North and South alike. The modern president reacts by email or sends a barrage of Twitter messages laser-focused on those aligned to him, “his base,” not concerned about increasing his support or addressing the entire country.
Seven years ago, Mark Bowen of The Atlantic looked at “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day.” He said that the “bile poured on him from every quarter made today’s Internet vitriol seem dainty.” Lincoln seemed caught in a no-win situation, always criticized by those who felt he had gone too far versus those who believed he hadn’t gone far enough. (Mark Bowen, “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day,” June 2013.)
Lincoln’s critics came not just from the South, but from Northern sources, causing him “great pain,” according to his wife, in part because he had thin-skin and felt the thorns others might ignore. Reverend Henry Ward Beecher ‘s attack specially grieved the President, who was sensitive about his lack of formal education. Beecher wrote:
” It would be difficult for a man to be born lower than he (Lincoln) was. He is an unshapely man. He is a man that bears evidence of not having been educated in school or in circles of refinement.”
After reading such an attack, Lincoln exclaimed: “I would rather be dead than, as President, thus abused in the house of my friends.” Note, he did not take Beecher off his list of friends. When faced with a raft of such statements, Lincoln would wave his hand and say, “Let us speak no more of these things.” (Ibid.)
In 1861, Ohio Republican, Lincoln’s own party, William M. Dickson charged that Lincoln “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity. . . and his spirit necessarily infuses itself downwards through all departments.” Early in the war, Lincoln was still learning the ropes, but this had to sting.
Charles Sumner, a Republican from Massachusetts, to whom Lincoln often turned for advice, opposed his re-nomination in 1864, wrote: “There is strong feeling among those who have seen Mr. Lincoln, in the way” of business, that he lacks practical talent for his important place. It is thought that there should be more readiness and also more capacity, for government.” (Bowen)
Could Jealousy Have Framed the Response?
If one looked at Lincoln’s Inaugural Address through a clear, clean lens, would not the words sing?
“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this road land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
And yet, an editorial writer for the Jersey City American Standard (surely a Democrat) found the speech “involved, coarse, colloquial, devoid of grace, and bristling with obscurities and outrages against the simplest rules of syntax.” Ouch!
The Gettysburg Address Didn’t Fare Much Better
“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and they shall be no more repeated or thought of.” The Harrisonburg Patriot & Union printed a much-belated apology 150 years later. Thank goodness they weren’t, and we have this example of clean, heartfelt writing.
The responses pro and con to the Gettysburg Address no longer sway modern opinions. It’s established that positive responses were from the Republican press, while the negative came from the Democratic. Those in-between might have been caught up in the custom of the times that believed the longer the speech, the better it was. Though the crowd that day, most standing throughout, would appreciate a two-minute speech. Perhaps the true nature of Lincoln’s pared-down speech, using exact, purposeful words and few of them (269 in the original speech) would fit nicely on the front pages of newspapers across the country. His intention: to reach the masses.
The celebrated orator who spoke for two hours ahead of Lincoln, Edward Everett, knew a good speech when he heard it and gave credit to Lincoln in a note. “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
Inside the Lincoln Shrine
Since he did not sit for TV interviews, Abe did not require Pancake makeup and likely would not have taken to it, indicating with a quip that not much could improve his physical image. Today the lights in the Lincoln Memorial and the exquisite work by sculptor Daniel Chester French do not require a touchup. Recently the current White House occupant chose a respite in Lincoln’s shine to seat his favorite contemporary news team for a partisan report.
Maybe the 16th President would have equated that with his sit-down with Greeley of the Big Three Newsmen in the 19th century, but maybe he would have preferred the sound of school children instead. Lincoln, accustomed to working in the White House all but three weeks of the Civil War, might have been surprised that a month sequestered there be such a burden for the current president. Likely Lincoln would see the visit inside as a respite—maybe to catch the draft from the former’s reputation.
The World Sweated After His Final Speech
Once the ink on the Appomattox surrender dried, Washingtonians rushed to the White House portico to hear a response from their President, expecting a grand announcement of victory. They didn’t know Abe, who asked the army band to play “Dixie” on the lawn outside his window, calling it a “good tune.”
Lincoln didn’t gloat, instead moved on mentally to the essential work–bringing the nation together. He called for national thanksgiving. He did not plan vengeance against the South’s leader and agreed with a letter he’d received that said: “The people want no manifestations of a vengeful spirit. They are willing to let the unhappy rebels live, knowing that at the best, their punishment, like Caine (sic), will be greater than they can bear.”
Instead Lincoln talked about the hard task ahead: Reconstruction and bringing the tattered nation back into one. John Wilks Booth, a late entry to the far edge of the audience, did not have to strain to hear the President’s high-pitched voice. His disgust grew into rage as Lincoln advanced the idea of the elective franchise for the colored veteran men.
Lincoln told the crowd that by keeping the vote from these men (now 140,000 strong after the deaths of 40,000 black Union soldiers), were saying:
“This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and undefined when, where, and how.”
The President sealed his fate when he spoke of rewarding those who had sacrificed the most, (see note) extending the vote to any black male veteran. With these words, the anger in Booth’s mind boiled over to rage. His initial plans were to kidnap Lincoln to exchange him for Confederate prisoners of war. In his wrath, Booth heard Lincoln’s words as the ultimate sin and from that moment planned for Lincoln to pay the ultimate price.
Yet the country and the Southern states suffered more because of Booth’s action. Bleeding emotions from those fateful days 155 years ago, misunderstandings and grievances surrounding race shape the national psyche and influence the nation’s divisions today, threatening to bring more destruction to America than a pandemic ever could.
You decide: Who was the greater martyr?
Jennifer Weber, “Lincoln’s Critics: The Copperheads,” University of Michigan Vol. 32, Issue 1, Winter 2011, p. 33-47
Mark Bowden, “How Lincoln Wad Dissed in His Day,” The Atlantic Magazine, June 2013
David Blanchette, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL. “Abraham Lincoln, like Donald Trump had his media enemies, too” February 25, 2017
Horace Greeley’s” Open Letter to President Lincoln,” New York Tribune, August 19, 1862
Abraham Lincoln’s “Letter to Horace Greeley,” Daily National Intelligencer, August 22, 1862
Donald Herbert Donald, Lincoln, (London: Random House, 1995)
Ryan Holiday, “Abraham Lincoln as Media Manipulator-in-Chief: The 150-Year History of Corrupt Press,” Observer, November 5, 2014
National Archives: “Black Soldiers in the U.S. Military During the Civil War,40,000 of the 180,000 negro ground troops died in the Civil War; 10,000 in battle and 30,000 of disease, receiving different treatment than white soldiers. Thus 75% of blacks died of disease vs. 50% of whites.
Louis P Masur, Lincoln’s Last Speech, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) p. 12
NOTE: Michael Burlingame’s 1000-page tome, Abraham Lincoln, Vol II (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) p. 810 The week of the murder Booth was challenged as to what he had done for the Cause. While he had thought of the death of Lincoln, he had not moved on it, instead having put together a group to kidnap the President, planning since the prior fall. But the events including the surrender, pushed him to act.
In conversation, we often talk about the past as if it were the present.
Instead we should live in the present but prepare for a future that improves upon it. You say it’s hard to know whether the future will meet that expectation. Ah, but if you aim low, for a so-so or not-so-good future, it’s harder to envision the possibility of a better one and harder yet to obtain the desired future.
“Past Becomes Present,” is this blog’s title, pulling our combined history into present day for better or worse. Or turning history inside out. That seems legitimate. But in conversation this week, I found myself reliving the past, not so much to sample its lessons, but to examine points of trial and pain that should be soothed and digested by now. I decided to take a look at the role the past and future play in life. One might think my hands and mind would have little bearing on the future as I am over 60, but as long as there is breath in any of us, we can influence tomorrow–whether it is the next time we awaken or even possibly 30 years from now.
If we want to push forward, we need to go far beyond the past, carrying it with us, pay attention to our role in the present, embrace it, but hold in our minds a vision of the future that we will work to achieve.
Cruel realities of 21st century life—extreme fluctuations in temperature and rainfall, political philosophies that whiplash the country left and right, and an economy rising upper incomes but often neglecting the bottom–threaten to cloud our impression of the present and impose fears for the future.
As a grandparent, who frequently looks into the inquiring eyes two generations below, I seek the positives that could provide them a future worth moving into. While the current state of affairs has not reached the conundrum faced by Abe Lincoln in the Civil War and Winston Church in World War II, they exercised hope in bleak worlds when their people needed it most.
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Message sent to Congress delivered a written review of the nation-(The tradition at the time minus tv cameras to register the clapping, standing, and sitting of the opposing parties). On December 1, 1862, Lincoln seemed to address my concern as he wrote:
“ The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
Abraham Lincoln December 1, 1862
Churchill ventured across the Atlantic Ocean peppered with German U-boats to address the Canadian Parliament on December 30, 1941. He asked for their assistance but also spoke to his countrymen:
Let us address ourselves to our task, not in any way underrating its tremendous difficulties and perils, but in good heart and sober confidence, resolved that, whatever the cost, whatever the suffering, we shall stand by one another, true and faithful comrades, and do our duty, God helping us, to the end.
Winston Churchill December 30, 1941
Each man had the ability to see beyond the current difficulty to believe in their nation’s ability to overcome, not in a Disney-esque fashion, but in a positive reality built out of turmoil.
Few could have predicted what post-war Reconstruction would bring without a fair and steady hand, like Lincoln’s, at the helm. Some might say America still suffers from the missteps after 1865 that resulted in Jim Crow laws in the South that punished blacks and might have been avoided had race relations been handled differently immediately following the Civil War. Fortunately for Europe, Germany, and Japan a more progressive hand administered the Marshall Plan after World War II, yielding strong partners today. But still this did not prevent backward looking nationalist tendencies from cropping up throughout Europe and the U.S. today.
Every country and every era has been divided by serious issues, but without agreement about the need to draw the sides together and ease opposition by finding areas of agreement and common need, stagnation or worse begins to destroy a country and upset global harmony. On so many issues America seems to be at a stalemate, but as Churchill so memorably proclaimed to students at Harrow School on October 29, 1941:
“Never give in. Never give in. Never. Never. Never in nothing great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”
For modern America facing the future this seems to translate: Stick to your guns, don’t give in to petty challenges. If, however, your country is at stake, work like heck to preserve democracy, just like Lincoln worked to preserve the Union, and Churchill sweat blood to protect England from the Nazi horde.
No one person holds all wisdom in our complicated, fast-moving world. To succeed, a wise leader needs informed sources, trusted advisors, and judgment to separate the grains of wisdom from foggy reasoning. Facing a myriad of problems daily, President Lincoln was no exception; instead, he established the standard.
Here he is seen in the telegraph office, which may seem a sleepy, solitary source of news compared with today’s worldwide information flowing in full-color pixels across multiple digital screens. Yet the telegraph gave Lincoln almost instantaneous news about what was happening on the Civil War battlefields—his early“internet.” He became the first “electronic president,” curious, forward-looking, and eager to learn and master future technology when he saw his first telegraph key. In 1857 Lincoln rode the legal circuit in Illinois and checked into the Tazewell House Hotel in Pekin, one of the state’s early telegraph offices. While there, Lincoln requested a tutorial from the telegraph operator Charles Tinker.
Then, two years before being elected President, Lincoln gave a series of lectures on “Discoveries and Inventions.” He said: “All creation is a mine, and every man, a miner.” (We’ll take it that he included women here based on his other statements on behalf of women.) He praised technological innovation and its benefits, saying it separated “Young America” from the other “Old Fogey” nations to the advantage of the new republic.
Just five weeks after the fall of Fort Sumner, the American Telegraph Company met on the Long Bridge, then across the Potomac River from the White House to sever the North-South telegraph connection. In hindsight, the North’s lopsided amount of military equipment and greater ability to supply their army across better railroad connections seemed to be critical in the outcome of the Civil War. But perhaps an even greater advantage came from the 1500 miles of telegraph lines quickly installed in the North, which was triple that in the South. Crucial communications between Lincoln and his generals ran across these wires. But, again, the Confederate’s focus on States’ rights and their difficulty obtaining the needed supplies to build and install telegraphic networks hampered their ability to communicate between their leadership and their generals in the field. In comparison, the South’s refusal to establish a robust central authority supporting telegraphic messages led to a communications nightmare.
In Washington, Lincoln demanded the latest information from the battlefields. So, during his first year in office, he learned how to manage the telegraph’s capabilities. Lincoln began to haunt the telegraph office near the White House because he wanted to be the first to know where his generals and troops were and the outcomes of the battles. He wasn’t shy about giving his opinion after reading the West Point curricula,, including about the Napoleonic Wars and the American Revolution.
Three months after the Union’s loss at Bull Run, another defeat came at Balls Bluff, across the Potomac River in Virginia. The Confederates drove the bluecoats back over the bluff into the water. Many were shot as they tried to swim to the opposite shore. Colonel Edward Baker, a former Illinois Congressman and Oregon U.S. Senator, died leading his troops at Balls Bluff. He and Lincoln had served in Congress together and were close friends. When Lincoln went to the telegraph office to inquire about dispatches on the battle’s outcome, the telegraph operator denied anything new “in the file.” He’d placed this dispatch under his desk blotter, knowing the news would upset the President.
Then, Lincoln walked into McClellan’s office around the corner, where he saw the dispatch on his desk. Lincoln returned to the operator and asked why he withheld his message. The operator argued that technically he’d been truthful since the information was under his blotter, not “in the file.” Lincoln was not amused.
A President Acts
Lincoln could not abide a situation that ceded control of electronic information to the military, to the exclusion of the elected government. A few similar incidents resulted in Lincoln sending the Secretary of War Simon Cameron to Russia as an ambassador. In January 1862, Edwin Stanton became the new Secretary of War. When Congress returned that month, it followed Lincoln’s request and enacted legislation allowing the government to take control of the telegraph lines as necessary for military purposes. The line continued to be owned by private companies and carried civilian traffic. Still, Stanton assumed control of military applications under the restructured U.S. Military Telegraph Corps (USMTC), a civilian operation only answerable to the Secretary of War, who worked for the President of the United States. The civilians were independent and immune to the orders of army officers.
The telegraph office moved from General McClellan’s headquarters to the War Department building next to the White House. Lincoln saw that telegraph operator Charles Tinker, his former tutor, be appointed a telegraph clerk there. So now Lincoln had a new hideout in the telegraph office in a room between the telegraph machines and Secretary Stanton’s office. There Lincoln would remain for hours, sometimes overnight. The President would hunch over the telegraph operator as he decoded the dispatch word for word. Sometimes Lincoln would open the operator’s drawer and read all the dispatches received since his last visit. At this point, the President would remark,” Well, boys, I’m down to the raisins.” (He referred to a doctor’s response treating a child with stomach problems—once the results came up to raisins, they’d hit bottom and were moving forward.”
The dispatches allowed Lincoln to eavesdrop on his generals in the field. By the summer of 1864, the future on the battlefield and the Presidential Campaign looked grim. Draft riots threatened havoc in New York, and General Grant worried about depleting his front-line forces to quell the domestic mayhem. In addition, Grant felt the heat from a Confederate Army marching up the Shenandoah Valley towards Washington while his advance to Richmond stalled. Finally, Lincoln saw his re-election prospects disappearing with the morning mist across the Potomac.
Then He Speaks
Lincoln believed a clear victory in battle would cut through all the confusion. So he sent one clear message to Grant: “I have seen your dispatches expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are. Neither am I willing. Hold on with a bull-dog grip, and chew and choke, as much as possible.”
Upon reading Lincoln’s dispatch, Grant laughed out loud, reinforced his resolve, and said:” The President has more nerve than any of his advisors.” Knowing what we know of Grant, someone probably polished that sentence for publication! Somehow the weary troops, Grant’s persistence, and Lincoln’s continued support held tight. By March 4, 1865, after many twists and turns, Lincoln stood on the steps of the Capitol to give his Second Inaugural Address. Then, a month later, the President stood on the deck of the River Queen headed up the James River to view the ruins of Richmond, as much the result of the South’s destruction of remaining military supplies to keep them from Yankee hands than active Northern artillery. By April 9, General Lee, his final supply train destroyed before reaching his starving troops, requested a secret meeting to discuss surrender.
We can never know what exactly triggered John Wilkes Booth to take that small derringer pistol to the back of Lincoln’s head that evening at Ford’s Theater. But those who plotted with him later revealed the original plan: to hold the President for ransom. But after Booth heard Lincoln speak from the White House door two days after the Confederate surrender, he changed his mind. Then Lincoln mentioned giving the “elective franchise” (the vote) to “colored men–the very intelligent and those who served our cause as soldiers.” (Lincoln tried to weave a position between those in his party who were uncomfortable with giving the vote to men of color and those who wanted universal suffrage for men.) Booth became furious and decided the President’s fate: “That is the last speech he will make,” and immediately revised his plan to kill the President instead.
Within the week of Lincoln’s death, Frederick Douglass gave a eulogy for the President at Cooper Union in New York, the site of one of Lincoln’s speeches, announcing him to Eastern voters: “. . . no man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him; . . . true to his country, and true to the cause of human freedom, taking care of the Constitution and for this reason, he was slain. . . and for this reason he today commands our homage.
“The greatness and grandeur of the American republic never appeared more conspicuously than in connection with the death of Abraham Lincoln: though always great and powerful, we have seemed to need the presence of some great, and widespread calamity, some overwhelming sorrow, to reveal to ourselves and the world, in glorified forms, all the elements of our national strength and greatness. While it cannot be affirmed, that our long-torn and distracted country has already reached the desired condition of peace, it may be said, and said in the face of all prophecies of failure,…that we have survived the terrible agonies of a fierce and sanguinary rebellion. We have before us a fair prospect of a just and lasting peace, a peace which, if we are wise and just, can never be disturbed or broken by the remains of still insolent and designing slave oligarchy.”
Frederick Douglass escaped slavery to become America’s greatest orator and writer, addressing America’s greatest shame. In 1857 Douglass wrote that freedom must triumph because it had “the laws which govern the moral universe” on its side.
Four years before the Civil War, Douglass predicted a collision between the two enemy forces “must come as sure as the laws of God cannot be trampled upon with impunity.” Then he phrased a line that Martin Luther King shadowed: “That jubilee will come. You and I may not live to see it, but . . .God reigns, and slavery must yet fall; unless the devil is more potent than the Almighty; unless sin is stronger than righteousness, slavery must perish.”
Douglass pointed to emancipation in the West Indies in the 1830s, calling it a “bolt from the sky.” He encouraged African Americans to see the earlier emancipation as a “city on a hill,” an interesting oft, repeated phrase, used by President Ronald Reagan in his depiction of America in his second campaign.
In the summer and fall of 1860, Douglass used his journalistic skills to jump back into the political arena in support of Republicans. According to biographer David Blight, Douglass walked the line between endorsing and denouncing the Republicans while strongly opposing Lincoln’s plan to colonize Blacks in Panama.
“The Republican party,” Douglass wrote his British friends, “. . . only negatively antislavery. It is opposed to the political power of slavery, rather than slavery itself.” Yet the Party could “humble the slave power and defeat all plans for giving slavery any further guarantee of permanence.” (Sewell, Ballots for Freedom, 343-65)
Lincoln: Untried but Honest and Well-Balanced
Douglass found Lincoln to be “untried,” but nevertheless “honest” and possessing a “well-balanced head” and “great firmness of will.” He regretted the Republican’s ‘lack of moral abolitionism,’ but would settle for “the slow process of a cautious siege.” (In speeches in Glasgow in 1860.) The only American politician Douglass had regular correspondence with then was Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, who he admired as the only one with the “daring and nerve to denounce the barbarism of slavery” on the floor of the Senate (Note: A South Carolina Senator nearly caned Sumner to death for his efforts.)
Douglass believed that Lincoln could end slavery throughout the country with a Constitutional Amendment. He’d been arguing the case for nearly a decade (Correctly: The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in America, but not until December 1865.) In the fall of 1860, Douglass persisted writing thirty-two hundred words of editorials and another seven thousand words in a major speech on the West Indian Emancipation anniversary.
Douglass: Republican Attitude Towards Slavery in 7 Examples
Here is Douglass’s depiction of the Republican coalition’s diverse attitude toward slavery. Notice some similarities in the breakdown of work and wealth in today’s society. His list is like a journalist’s first draft in five parts: 1) An expensive and wasteful ‘system of labor”; 2) An “aristocratic class who despise labor,” which in turn led to a broader “contempt” for all others who “work for an honest living”; 3), A small Southern oligarchy (might insert Ivy or Stanford educated or just brilliant and out-of-touch) have become corporate “masters of the United States” and the “governing class” of the nation’s institutions; 4) Led some whites with an “aversion to blacks” to deny them all rights and liberties and to exclude them from new territories. (The country has matured so there are fewer “new territories,” but the attitude towards people of color and immigrants among some political groups as the U.S. experiences a worker shortage with an aging population shows its own bias); 5) The genuine “abolition element” saw slavery as the “most atrocious and revolting crime against nature and nature’s God,” a system of inhumanity to be destroyed out of a “mighty conviction.” Slavery was to become slowly erased as a form of labor, but the embers have burned and achieving equality among the races has been an eternal trial that has extended far longer than Douglass could have imagined.
Douglass’s first meeting with President Lincoln came after a long wait in the visitor’s line. Subsequently, the two continued to meet until Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, days after the surrender at Appomattox. Douglass’s face-to-face conversations with Lincoln convinced him that Black troops could provide the new recruits the Union needed.
“Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service, and formed into a liberating army, to march to the South and rise the banner of emancipation among the slaves,” he said, according to historian David Herbert Donald. Those opposed said black soldiers would never fight and lay down their weapons to be taken up by the enemy. Others predicted that armed blacks would use the weapons against their masters, beginning a second war at home in the South, as occurred in Santo Domingo.
Secretary of War Stanton, desperate for new recruits with or without Lincoln’s approval, agreed to train free blacks for South Carolina, Louisiana, and Kansas, where troops of any color were welcome. Lincoln’s position softened when Vice President Hamlin’s son volunteered to command colored troops. Lincoln realized a decline among white recruits after the initial word of emancipation.
Douglass had success recruiting black soldiers in New York, Massachusetts, and throughout the North. Word about Tennessee General Bedford Forest’s slaughter of 200 Black Yankees after fighting stopped at Fort Pillow did not help recruitment. Yet he recruited hundreds of men, including his two sons, who joined segregated units led by white officers. The issues of equal pay and rank continued throughout the war, but by fighting boldly in the Union uniform raised the image of all black men.
Congress passed the Confiscation Act of July 1862, authorizing Negro enlistments. Lincoln did not favor the policy for some of the reasons listed earlier. He even overruled General David Hunter in his attempt to recruit a Black regiment in South Carolina before the Confiscation Act. Lincoln said he “would employ all colored men as laborers, but would not promise to make soldiers of them.”
Despite the threats of mistreatment or even death if captured or surrendered in battle, Black men continued to sign up. While Lincoln found critics on every side, their participation in the war made it easier for him to recommend the vote for Black veterans who risked their lives for the Union. Douglass knew it would be difficult to reject giving the vote to men who bled for their country and helped to win the war.
But the Border states reacted hostilely and the Catholic archbishop of Maryland’s responded: “While our brethren are slaughtered in hecatombs (a sacrifice of 100 cattle to the gods by the Greeks), Abraham Lincoln cooly issues his Emancipation Proclamation, letting loose from three to four millions of half civilized Africans to murder their Masters and Mistresses!” Outrage spread into the Midwest: The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Democratic paper, declared Lincoln “Dictator of America” and said it was “a complete overthrow of the Constitution he swore to protect and defend.”
“I shall do nothing in malice. What I do is too vast for malicious dealing.” A. Lincoln
Former U.S. Attorney General and chairman of the 1860 Democratic convention in Baltimore and Charleston complained bitterly of the “unspeakable calamities which the Republicans and the President have brought upon us” and predicted “the proposed massacre of eight millions of white men women and children in the Southern States in order to turn four millions of black men into vagabonds [and] robbers.”
New Orleans, home to a great number of Lincoln critics, including Thomas J. Durant, who later worked to sabotage Reconstruction efforts, told reacted to the President with violent words : “If the agitation about slavery is not silenced, every man woman and child capable of using the knife or pistol will rush into the fight regardless of life or property. . . and the result will be that the stars and stripes will not wave over this city ninety days longer.”
Lincoln answered them: “This class of men will do nothing for the government, nothing except demanding that the government shall not strike its open enemies, lest they be struck by accident!” He assured them the fighting would stop “only when the Rebels surrender, and to achieve that end, stern measures must be taken.”
In a letter to his Southern critic, Cuthbert Bullitt, (July 28, 1862), Lincoln put the question to his critic: “Would you give up the contest, leaving any unavailable means unapplied? I am in no boastful mood. I shall not do more than I can, and I shall do all I can to save the government, which is my sworn duty as well as my personal inclination.” He pointed out as he did in the Second Inaugural, “I shall do nothing in malice. What I deal with is too vast for malicious dealing.’ Oh that international leaders could live those words today.
Frederick Douglass, as a young man speaking against slavery. So often we see pictures of leaders from their later years, here is Douglass from his prime. public domain art
As I complain about my struggles, I read this phrase from Frederick Douglass’s life and question the value of my own frustrations. Born into slavery between two races on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 1818, Douglass endured the lashes of his owners, Aaron Anthony, Hugh and Thomas Auld, in his youth. He never knew his father, and his mother, who was hired out to a series of plantations, quickly relinquished his care to his grandmother, Betsy Bailey. When he was six, the boy moved to the Wye Plantation, where he “wept a boy’s bitter tears” to learn his “grand-mammy was gone.” Douglass would later write, “Slavery does away with fathers, as it does away with families.” Given the color of his skin, most believed his father to be white, quite likely one of the plantation owners.
Inspiring the Future
“What man has made; man can unmake.” Frederick Douglass
A self-made man, Douglass learned to use his voice and pen to awaken America to the true nature of slavery, then to support human rights. His name came to light recently when another son of Maryland, Wes Moore, borrowed Frederick Douglass’s Bible and paired it with his grandfather’s Bible, as he became the first Black governor of Maryland (and third in the nation). In 1899, Washington’s AME church had given this Bible to Douglass as he traveled to Haiti to serve as President Benjamin Harrison’s U.S. resident minister and counsel general at age 71.
Governor Moore’s election came not as a “just over the line” victory but as a 63.29% win over his Republican challenger. Moore served in the Army in Afghanistan (43rd Maryland), graduated from Johns Hopkins, and became a Rhodes Scholar. He developed BridgeEDU, a nonprofit, to reinvent the first year for undergraduate students to increase the likelihood of their academic success.
The two men showed a similar mission to use education as a tool. Though centuries apart, each realized how learning could be a building block to a successful future. Unlike Moore, Douglass did not have parents who could teach him to read. So, he sought people who would lead him to knowledge. Once he learned to read himself, he gathered others in groups to spread literacy to them–knowing the power it holds. From that experience and his work recruiting Black men to serve in the Union Army (raised in the South where it was illegal to teach them), Douglass said this:
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass
Young Douglass felt rage in seeing his aunt whipped by the master for sharing her affections with a younger man, instead of him. Douglass had his own welts that he would carry for a lifetime, but being unable to protect her gave him a long-lasting scar that he did not bear on his back. He lived in a “slave society” where the master’s authority over his bondmen defined all social relations, and all economic production depended intimately on the slaves’ brawn, brains, and compliance. Douglass saw slave life go from dawn to dusk, worried about money or hunger, eating, playing, loving, hating, marrying, worshipping God, singing, and dying in a world shaped by slavery. He saw a world that “enforced the right to own him body and soul.”(Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African American Slaves (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003) p. 8-10.
Douglass’s education began with Charles Lawson, an older man who worked at the Dungain & Bailey Shipyard at Fells Point/Baltimore with him and strengthened his faith, leading the teenager to seek greater knowledge. He called Lawson “uncle” and “father” and remembered later, “I could teach him the letter, and he could teach me the spirit.” He learned about Paul, the prisoner prophet, and the stories he carried throughout life. Lawson told the young man that God had “great work” for him and encouraged Douglass that slavery would not be permanent, which gave him hope.
Desperate to learn to write, Douglas snuck into the Auld’s library when they were away. He copied passages from the Webster Spelling Book. The Columbian Orator, the Bible, and the Methodist Hymnal. Words became his reason to live.
He used every opportunity to expand his knowledge. Sent to Baltimore’s shipyards as a teen by an angry master for an escape attempt, Douglass learned the caulking trade and thanked his luck he wasn’t sent to slavery on a Southern plantation. He hated “the right of the robber,” who took his slave’s earnings and gave them to his enslaver. Auld still owned his body and labor but could not possess his mind. He wrote from his heart: “To make a contented enslaved person, you must make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision and, as far as possible, to annihilate his power of reason.
“He must know no Higher Law than his master’s will. . . if there be one crevice through which a single drop can fall, it will certainly rust off the slave’s chains,” he expressed his thoughts on the psychology of enslaved person and master.
Auld took all his $9 earnings but twenty-five cents the Saturday before Douglass fled. Anna Murray, his future wife, sold a featherbed, and together they raised enough for actual train fare, not on the underground. What Douglass learned about ships and the sea helped him escape. He got “free papers” to use at checkpoints from a retired black sailor and taught himself “to talk sailor like an old salt.” Douglass gathered “an authentic sailor’s red shirt and tarpaulin hat and black cravat, tied carelessly and loosely about the neck.” He could speak the language of the sea and believed himself ready to “Talk sailor like an old salt.”
Douglass’s Flight from Slavery: Maryland to Massachusetts
On September 3, 1838, Fred went to work early and met Anna a few blocks from the City Dock on the way to the Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad train station. A friend brought his baggage to the Negro car just as the train started moving. The next hurdle he faced would be convincing the conductor that he—the young mulatto Fred Bailey—could be Stanley, darker-skinned, retired Stanley. Mission accomplished. Then a German blacksmith from the shipyards recognized him but “had no heart to betray me.” (Life and Times, 198-99)
At Wilmington, Delaware, he walked off the train and across town to the wharf and a steamboat to take him down the Delaware River to Philadelphia, where he touched free soil for the first time. He waited for the first Black man to ask for directions to the New York’s Willow Street train station. Then Fred took the night train up the side of New Jersey to the Hudson River landing at Hoboken. Around sunrise, he caught a ferry across the Hudson to the Chambers Street dock.
It took reflection, but he remembered the joy of being a “FREEMAN. Walking amid the hurrying throng and gazing upon the dazzling wonders of Broadway” (which already could thrill in 1838) “with free earth under my feet.” But, while he already had embraced a role, finding just the correct word to express himself, his joy stumped him. He felt sensations “were too intense and too rapid for words.”
“I felt as one might when escaped from a den of lions,” he wrote. “Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be described, but joy and gladness, like the rainbow of promise, defy alike the pen and pencil.” But he could no longer trust the people around him—any white man could be a potential kidnapper seeking to benefit from a master’s reward. At first, he slept among the barrels at the wharf. Then a black sailor sent him to the home of David Ruggles, a Black abolitionist, newspaper editor, and grocer who lived four or five blocks from the dock. He led the New York Vigilance Committee, aiding fugitive slaves throughout New York City.
Ruggles edited Mirror of Liberty, the first black-owned and operated magazine, and maintained a public reading room with antislavery books and newspapers. Ruggles opened Fred to the dangerous work of abolitionism. His host suggested he change his name to Frederick Johnson, which lasted until he landed in Massachusetts, to get further away from Auld’s slave catchers. There he took the name “Douglass.”
Ruggles mailed Frederick’s letter to a friend in the Baltimore debating society, who contacted Anna, who could not read, and sent her North September 10 for the 24-hour trip parallel to Frederick’s. In her trunk, she carried a “plum-colored silk dress” that she wore in the Ruggles’ small parlor for their marriage three days later. Rev. James W. C. Pennington, who had escaped Maryland a decade earlier, presided.
Douglass planned to continue to Canada, but Ruggles suggested New Bedford, Massachusetts, as a whaling port, where he could find work as a caulker and a welcoming fugitive slave and free black community. So, they left New York aboard the steamer John W. Richmond. (Life and Times, 205-6.)
Little Zion, AME, First Pulpit
At barely 30, Douglass gave his first official oration from the African Methodist Episcopal Zion pulpit in New Bedford, Massachusetts. After that, he became a sexton, steward, local preacher, and the Sunday school superintendent at the small church of fugitive slaves and free blacks. He later referred to the church as “Little Zion” and remembered it as “among the happiest days of my life.” A year later, Anna gave birth to their third child while they lived in two rented rooms.
Douglass made quite a sensation in the 19th century. Very few whites had seen a talented mixed-race man like Douglass who could both speak and write skillfully. Of course, being an intellectual “oddity” came with cursing and a blessing—the curse of being treated as some freak or not trusted and the blessing that his work to become a self-made man began to bear fruit. But it did not come automatically.
Abolitionists William Garrison came to New Bedford in 1839 to speak, just as his newspaper began to reach Douglass. A year later, Ellis Gray Loring and other white abolitionists “found” Douglass and were eager to have him as a lecturer. “This stunning young fugitive who escaped two years ago was a light mulatto, well, well-formed, of open countenance & speaks very good English.” Loring noted, “Fred is poor, and a laborer, but his speaking skills could produce great effect.” (Within a few years, Douglass left Maryland for a speaking tour of England without papers. The East Coast abolitionists would purchase his freedom from the Aulds by his return. Since he’d gained a following in England, it would be impossible for Douglass to remain a fugitive slave without papers.)
After hearing Douglass speak in 1841, William C. Coffin, a local bookseller and member of a prominent antislavery family invited him to join a large delegation of the Massachusetts Antislavery Society for a “grand convention” on the island of Nantucket. They asked Douglass to speak to a prominent group of white abolitionists, including Garrison. On this rare occasion, Anna accompanied Douglass. The next morning at the conference, Douglass relaxed, which allowed his natural intelligence and wit to shine through. An attendee wrote: “Flinty hearts were pierced, and cold ones melted by his eloquence. Our best pleaders for the slave held their breath for fear of interrupting him.” (Frederick Douglass, “Living a New Life,” 27).
Douglass: “Putting His Whole Heart into the Cause”
William Garrison, the editor of The Liberator and well-established spokesperson for antislavery, wrote: “I shall never forget his first speech at the convention—the extraordinary emotion it excited in my mind—the powerful impression it created upon a crowded auditory. . . I think I never hated slavery so intensely as at that moment.”
Douglass believed he found “one in intellect richly endowed – in natural eloquence a prodigy—in soul manifestly ‘created by a little lower than the angels.” Within a week of the conference, Douglass had a new vocation—giving witness to the evils of slavery, attacking racial prejudice, and proslavery in the churches of Massachusetts and New Hampshire for three months, “putting his whole heart in the holy cause.” He would turn his life to the “power of the word” for the next five decades. But, of course, in 1841 and many years hence, he subjected himself to hatred, resistance, and violence, taking risks every time he ventured into proslavery America. And just five years after his Sabbath school sermons.
Douglass garnered hope and learned that antislavery forces should make no compromise with slavery in any form—in church, legislature, or the public square—and should work to destroy the institution, root, and branch in their lifetimes.
David N. Johnson expressed his amazement upon hearing Douglass speak in Boston– like a theatrical event: “His voice rivaled Daniel Webster (the orator of the day) in its rightness, depth, and sonorousness of its cadences.” Johnson noted that “listeners never forgot his burning words, and his rich play of humor left a greater impression.”
Douglass published his first book at 27, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an enslaved American, written by Himself in 1845. Throughout his life, he would publish two others: his masterpiece, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, revised in 1892, three years before he died.)
His commitment to justice and freedom lives on today among those still working to protect democracy and extend educational opportunity to all Americans, like Maryland Governor Wes Moore
Yet to come:Douglass’s lifelong role as a defender of human rights– freedom from slavery, the 14th Amendment (1868); the Black male vote – the 15th Amendment (1870); and the vote for women, the 19th Amendment (1920 when ratified by ¾ of the states, after his death).
Main source and recommended read: David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom (New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2018, pp 764.)
Look at the possibilities—the economy, immigration, the War in Ukraine—yield not one single issue to unite behind Kevin McCarthy’s bid. When last the decision of a leader in the House dragged on for days—1855 and 1859—one point burned across the landscape, slavery. With few exceptions, the choice blazed “yes” in the South and “no” in the North before the Civil War. Neither side wanted a leader in the House who did not share their views. But then, slavery or the defeat of slavery would be debated. But in 2023 it’s to feed the personal agendas of those 20 Members seeking to raise money for their own political campaigns and for right-wing causes, but mainly to grasp TV time on CSPAN and FOX.
In 1855, it took 133 ballots to elect Nathaniel Banks (R-Massachusetts) of the American Party as Speaker. The decision stretched from December 2, 1855, to February 3, 1856, when he bested William Aiken D-SC just 103 to 100. The contest began with 21 candidates for Speaker but winnowed to three final candidates, who were called upon to state their views on the recent legislation on slavery expansion in the West. Rep. Banks had ties to anti-slavery New York Times Editor Horace Greeley. In one of many fights on and off the House floor that year, Albert Rust (D-Arkansas) tried to disqualify Banks, punching him with his fist. Then later, Rep. Banks found Rep. Banks and Greeley downtown and hit Banks with his cane.
Now the U.S. House vote for Speaker came down to 213 FOR, not slavery or any defining policy, but in support of giving the POWER of the gavel to Kevin McCarthy v. 213 AGAINST McCarthy and FOR Hakeem Jeffries, who consistently pulled his Party members, but could not reach the 218 required to win the gavel. In the end, past the midnight hour Friday, McCarthy swayed a few votes his way, then persuaded six to vote “present,” reducing the number needed to stop the impasse. (Heaven help us if he promised more than giving the far right the ability to remove him if five of the 20 far-right Members do not fancy his leadership, requiring another ring-around-the-rosy.) Finally, at 1:30 am Saturday, McCarthy snatched the gavel and waved it above his head, nearly like an ax. Let the games begin.
I wondered who won the gavel in 1859-1860 after that Congressional battle. William Pennington won the election for Speaker on Feb. 1, 1860, after 63 ballots. He had been governor of New Jersey from 1837-43. His father served in the Revolutionary Army and as and had served as N.J. governor after the war (1813-15). Later Madison appointed William to a federal judgeship. Amid that balloting for Speaker, there were nine physical fights of the floor of the House and one street fight involving Members of Congress.
ASIDE: To show every era has its voting challenges, twenty-three years before William served as Speaker, he was involved in the “Broad Seal War” in New Jersey. Two contingents of candidates (Democrats and Whigs) in a closely contested race came before him as governor. Each held commissions bearing the seal of New Jersey on the opening day of the 26th Congress in 1839, requesting to be seated. Pennington seated the Whigs (his Party) and refused to sit 5 of the 6 Democrats. Finally, after they proved the county clerks in Cumberland and Middlesex counties suppressed returns in certain townships, the Democrats were seated on February 28, 1840. These members gave the Democrats the majority in the House.
Members avoided violence in 2023, but late on Friday when on the 14th ballot Matt Gaetz (R-FL), leader of the “Never Kevin” extreme right-wing contingent, voted Present,” tensions mounted. At first, GOP members thought that would be enough to seal the deal. Instead, Congressional fisticuffs threatened Friday night when Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) moved fists drawn towards Rep. Gaetz only to be restrained by a fellow Southern Member, averting a battle, not wanting to solve frustrations with violence. Later it was learned that Rep. Rogers had been rumored to be the next Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Will his undisciplined action on Friday night deter other Members from confirming him to this leadership position?
Promises to grasp the gavel in 2023?
Offerings to the Publicity-Thirsty Gang of 15 foretells of rocky times ahead. Could it be called blackmail? We will have two years to determine how this quid-pro-quo operates.
Offerings were made to those who changed their vote from “Never Kevin” to “Present,” making it possible for McCarthy to acquire the Speaker’s gavel. Here are some of the suggested concessions:
If just one Member disagrees with the Speaker, a roll call of the House could be called to determine whether he stays or goes (referred to as having a pistol pointed at the Speaker’s head).
More of the 15 Disaffected could serve on the all-important Rules Committee that sets what bills would be placed on the calendar, when, and what amendments are allowed.
Allow a House vote on term limits.
Possibly also setting the 2022 spending limit for 2024, requiring federal budget cuts and a $75 billion cut in the federal military budget.
It remains to be seen how much of this wish list will be delivered, difficult voting on the Rules of the House and the 2023-2024 legislative agenda. In the Spring, America’s debt ceiling is expected to be reached. A similar legislative fight took place in 2011 when the nation also experienced divided government between the House and the White House. Will the U.S. maintain its financial reputation around the globe? Will media on GOP and DEM sides be able to adequately explain the real impact failing to pay America’s debts have on the average American? In 2011, the nation’s credit rating declined. What will happen in 2023?
Freeman, Joanne B. “It’s Tempting to Laugh at McCarthy’s Struggles, but History Shows That This Type of Chaos is Not a Joke.” New York Times, Jan. 7, 2023.
When the Effie Afton (not pictured) ran into the Rock Island Railroad Bridge stone pier in 1856, exploding in flames and destroying a section of the bridge, it led to the transcontinental railroad. Today people and goods move across the country from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean because of this court case argued in a Chicago courtroom in 1857. Abraham Lincoln, who had a vision of swifter, cheaper travel and a nation united east and west, joined this legal team before he ran for President.
The case: The Effie Afton highlighted the economic interests of steamboats vs. the railroads and competitors along the Mississippi River. Technically: Hurd et al (steamboat investors) v. The Railroad Bridge Company. The steamboat owners filed suit to recover damages against the Railroad Bridge Company, which retained Lincoln and a panel of lawyers to defend themselves against the steamboat company.
The incident: A high wind whipped across the water as the Effie Afton paddled the upper Mississippi the night before the collision. Calmer morning winds encouraged Affie’s captain to get a fresh start. He zoomed backward from the dock into the steamboat John Wilson butkept going, even engaging in a race to the bridge with the slower J.B. Carson.Effie won the race, but about halfway under the drawbridge, the boat began to sway, then plowed into a supporting pillar for the Rock Island Bridge on May 5, 1856. Just open for two weeks, the Rock Island Bridge was the first railroad bridge to span the Mississippi River.
The impact could be felt from Effie’s bow to stern. Emergency bells blared, and the hissing sound of escaping steam filled the air. Two hundred people were on board, including fifty crew, plus livestock, machinery, farm implements, and groceries weighing more than 350 tons. Desperate passengers braved the cold water to swim to nearby ships, and some even reached out to grab sections of the bridge now jutting down from the suspension. Some cattle swam to shore, but others drowned or burned on board. Every person survived as other steamboats fished them out of the water. Firefighters extinguished smaller fires erupting from space heaters on the deck or cooking stoves in 50 staterooms, but then the timbers of the bridge caught fire. Eventually, the remains of the ship and the fallen bridge span floated down the river until they rested on a Rock Island sandbar.
Steamboat Heyday & History’s Influence
Steamboat traffic in the 1850s became the lifeblood of cities along the river, like St. Louis and New Orleans, bringing food, shelter, and people starting a new life. But the boats could not guarantee when any boat would reach port because of surprise sandbars and snags that could delay a trip for days until a strong wave helped ease the ship back on its way. If you glance at a map of the U.S., you will see the Mississippi and its tributaries follow a winding route, not a straight line, south to New Orleans. The Big Muddy weaves lazily through 3,000 miles of soggy land, taking a trip a bird could fly directly in 675 miles, according to Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi (2).
Ironically the relative of a future President, great-uncle of Teddy Roosevelt, Nicholas Roosevelt, financially helped build the first steamboat in America with Robert Fulton and Robert R. Livingston in 1810-11 when Abe Lincoln was just two. In October 1811, Roosevelt made the first steamboat trip from Pittsburg to New Orleans aboard the New Orleans with his wife, Lydia Latrobe. Her father, Benjamin Latrobe, served as the second architect of the U.S. Capitol, creating his reputation.
Railroads’ American Entry
America’s railroads grew from a horse-drawn tramway used to carry granite from Quincy, Massachusetts, four miles to Milton to construct the Bunker Hill Monument in 1826, the origin of the Granite Railway. It took thirty years before the rail industry grew to build the Rock Island Bridge over the Mississippi. Just twelve years later, with Lincoln’s assistance in the White House, two trains met at Promontory Point, Utah,on May 10, 1869, opening the transcontinental railroad to passenger and freight traffic from coast-to-coast.
When he was in the Illinois legislature, Lincoln voted to straighten and deepen river channels, build roads, and build bridges over creeks and rivers. In addition, he supported state financing of a nearly one-hundred-mile-long Illinois and Michigan Canal linking the Chicago River (near Lake Michigan) with the Illinois River, which flowed into the Mississippi. A twelve-year project (1836-48), the canal pushed Chicago to become the Midwest’s principal commercial (and agricultural and cattle) center. (Zobrist, “Steamboat Men versus Railroad Men,” 160.)
Lincoln and the Effie Afton
As a prairie lawyer, Lincoln strolled into the Chicago courtroom in the Effie Afton case and proceeded to etch his role in history. Abraham Lincoln, then 48, had hundreds of civil and criminal cases under his belt (eventually totaling 3,200 cases over 25 years). Twenty years earlier, he began to ride Illinois’ Eighth Judicial Circuit on horseback, his proving ground. From spring into summer, he endured the glaring heat and swirling dust on horseback, then returned to do it again each fall.
In his free moments traveling the Circuit, Lincoln read Euclid’s Geometry to study the logic he found there. He put it to use in the courtroom. Once Billy Herndon, his law partner, questioned Lincoln about why he took the jury so far back in the history of the law in a particular case in the Illinois Supreme Court. (Lewis v. Lewis, 48 U.S.[7Howard] 776 (1849) Lincoln’s response: “I dare not trust this case on presumptions that this court knows everything. I argue the case on the presumption that the court did not know anything.” Herndon noted that Lincoln “won the case by the history he was so careful to state fully.”
Lincoln prepared well for jury trials, particularly those before the Illinois Supreme Court. He removed other cases from his calendar to spend a week or two in the library studying both sides.Lincoln would argue the appeals of more than two hundred cases that other lawyers had lost at the trial court level.
In Effie Afton, Abraham Lincoln served on the legal team for the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad Company and the Mississippi and Missouri Railroads, running on either side of the Big Muddy. Lincoln began his speech in his characteristic way by telling the jury that “he did not propose to assail anybody, that he expected to grow earnest as he proceeded but not ill-natured.”When Lincoln spoke of the depth of the river channel under the bridge, following him took attention and some skill. He conveyed detailed information; his voice gave assurance and facts. While his voice was “shrill, squeaking, piping,” as he continued to speak, it “became harmonious, melodious, musical, if you please; his form dilated, swelled out, and he rose a splendid form, erect, straight and dignified.” (Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life 1:320)
Lincoln honed his analytical and debating skills in this case, further building his reputation. He had learned how to communicate effectively with juries, to speak to them in words that would convince them that justice should prevail. During this trial, Francis Saltonstall, a stock and bond broker, recalled Lincoln “seemed to have committed all the facts and figures to memory, and often corrected evidence so effectively as to cause a ripple of mirth in the audience.” Then Lincoln applied what he learned about appealing to members of the jury to voters in his political life. However, he won his first election to the Illinois State Legislature in 1834, more than two decades earlier.
He didn’t need to stay working in out-back Illinois. After Lincoln won several important cases, a prominent Chicago attorney named Grant Goodrich invited him to join his law practice, but Lincoln said “no,” explaining directly that he “would rather go around the Circuit . . . than sit down & die in Chicago.” (Herndon’s Informant’s: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, p. 349)
When Lincoln spoke of the depth of the river channel under the bridge, following him took attention and some skill. He conveyed detailed information; his voice gave assurance and facts. While his voice was “shrill, squeaking, piping,” as he continued to speak, it “became harmonious, melodious, musical, if you please, with a face somewhat allow; his form dilated, swelled out, and he rose a splendid form, erect, straight and dignified.” (Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life 1:320)
In this case, he honed his analytical and debating skills, further building his reputation. In addition, he had learned how to communicate effectively with juries, to speak to them in words that would convince them that justice should prevail. Then Lincoln applied what he learned to gather Illinois voters to his political life. He advanced from his earlier victory as an Illinois State Legislator in 1834. During the trial, Francis Saltonstall, a stock and bond broker, recalled Lincoln “seemed to have committed all the facts and figures to memory, and often corrected evidence so effectively as to cause a ripple of mirth in the audience.”
He didn’t need to stay working in out-back Illinois. After Lincoln won several important cases, a prominent Chicago attorney named Grant Goodrich invited him to join his law practice, but Lincoln said “no,” explaining directly that he “would rather go around the Circuit . . . than sit down & die in Chicago.” (Herndon’s Informant’s: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, p. 349)
Lincoln would argue the appeals of more than two hundred cases that other lawyers had argued at the trial court level. When preparing for a case before the Illinois Supreme Court, he would quit his other work for a week or two in the court’s library or his office. When he stood to argue an appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court, the opposing lawyer never had an opportunity to make a point Lincoln had not already investigated.
Lincoln on the River:
As a youth, Lincoln learned to navigate the Mississippi River. In 1827, when he was 18, he operated a private flatboat ferry on Little Pigeon Creek, charging twenty cents daily. Eventually, regular ferry operators became angry and arrested him for operating a ferry without a license. He defended himself before a justice of the peace. Lincoln argued that Kentucky law (he lived close to the border between the two states) did not forbid non-licensed ferry boats from conveying passengers to steamboats in the middle of the river. Later Lincoln said this experience helped him develop an interest in the law.
Far from being against water transportation, Lincoln appreciated what steamboats could do to widen the horizons of his fellow Midwesterners. So he built a simple flatboat sailing down the Mississippi to New Orleans. While there, Lincoln saw many black people, including women and children, in chains, being bought and sold in the market, many to work on plantations growing cotton. That experience awakened him to the perils of slavery and stayed with him throughout his political career.
This case fell within Lincoln’s philosophy –the American System–(and the 1830 Whig Party philosophy of Henry Clay). The Whigs called for tariffs to protect and promote American manufacturing and create a home market for American products, a national bank to provide a sound and uniform currency, and federal support for roads, canals, and river improvements.” (Holt, Rise, and Fall of American Whig Party, speech by Henry Clay, March 30, 1830)
History’s Verdict of the Effie Afton
Abraham Lincoln cemented his legal reputation based on this victory. Then after a series of debates with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln overcame better-known candidates to be the Republican nominee and mounted a successful campaign for President in 1860. (Although candidates did not travel around the country in those days, but had surrogates who spoke for them.) But, unfortunately, the jurors could not reach a legally binding verdict—the jury was hung—since they could not reach a unanimous decision. Financial results show the steamboat companies’ fears of the rail industry were realistic. Still, technological change brought faster, less expensive, more reliable transportation that made all the difference, sinking the steamboat trade.
Despite the Effie Afton litigation cost, the railroad spanning the Mississippi made money the year after the decision.
1866 – Railroad bridges were funded and built at Quincy, Ill; Burlington, Iowa; Hannibal, MO; Prairie du Chien, WI; Keokuk, Iowa; Winona, MN; Dubuque, Iowa, and St. Louis and Kansas City, MO
1879 – More than 85 percent of farm products were shipped from states along the Mississippi by rail and 15 percent by the river.
By 1890, the entire rail business out of St. Louis was twelve times the river traffic; by 1906, it was one hundred times.
But just a few decades after the court’s ruling, these economic events gave the victory to travel by rail that now operates across the country. Of course, as history continues, rail passenger travel focuses more on efficient regional trips on both coasts. Now less bulky freight travels by air for swifter service. Instead, large trucks carry products to final destinations, generally for shorter distances, though some 18-wheel trucks haul bulky equipment and agricultural products.
All transportation services compete for drivers and currently rail freight engineers are negotiating higher salaries and sick leave after working through the Pandemic without upgrades. Transportation that moves America will continue to evolve as advances in electric batteries create opportunities for less polluting vehicles. However, the electricity that runs the modern vehicles still relies in part on coal as an energy source. New inventions and advances in energy sources will bring new challenges, just as in the 19th century.
McGinty, Brian. Lincoln’s Greatest Case: The River, the Bridge, and the Making of America (New York: Liveright Publishing Corp., a division of W.W. Norton & Company, 2015)
Online messages hoping to increase eyeballs from the right or left have flooded the net since 2015. Now with Elon Musk’s purchase of the massive mega horn Twitter, could we see the floodgates open for neo-Nazi, fake news, racist, anti-seminist, and pornographic content?
Musk’s emails at the time of his up-and-down indecision about whether to pay $44 billion to acquire Twitter tried to assure conservatives it would be a platform for “free speech.” Yet, a week after the purchase, Musk said he would not immediately lift the ban on those dropped from Twitter until after a review. This comment gave some security to those concerned about where his statement challenging “political correctness” might lead.
Musk tried to reassure the public that his Twitter would not be a “free-for-all hellscape,” then he proceeded to play follow-the-leader with other conservatives spreading fake news last weekend. Now the quick “trim” of half of Twitter’s workforce makes no allowance for Twitter’s fast response to expected hits testing the protective nets for “free speech” allowed on the network (if any remain). Concerning evidence has come already with a 500 percent increase in the use of the “n” word on Twitter, according to Princeton’s Network Contagion Research Institute.
For political or financial reasons, Musk could have painted himself in a deep corner for a company that has not made a profit for eight of the past ten years. (Was his inclination to buy Twitter based on more than money?) In purchasing a company valued at $25 billion, Musk needs quick moneymakers. (He took out a $13 billion loan to complete the sale.) That brings us to Musk’s idea of charging Twitter users $8 a month for the privilege. Yet a poll of Twitter users indicates 50 percent would not be willing to pay, even with a promise of fewer ads. While the former Twitter owners planned to reduce costs by cutting the staff by 25 percent, Musk sent pink slips (via personal email) to as many as 50 percent (or more) of the company’s employees on Friday.
Another money maker being considered is allowing porn to run on the channel Twitter. This change for Twitter might need serious consideration since corporations pay the bills by running their ads alongside Twitter so that individual users can twitter along for free. Several large corporations, including General Motors (albeit a competitor to Musk’s Tesla), Oreo (Mondelez International Inc.), VW/Audi, Pfizer, and L’Oreal cosmetics, have paused advertising on Twitter until their future course stabilizes.
Major media companies IPG and Havas Media, both multinational ad firms, are advising their clients to pause ad spending on Twitter. In addition, Musk will meet by video with clients of Publicist Groupe (Anheuser-Busch In-Bev SA and Samsung Electronics), and WPP LLC (the largest multinational ad company with Coca-Cola, Google, and the home products under Unilever’s umbrella).
Americans will not directly access these corporate discussions with the Twitter owner. Still, we can make our voices heard by emailing our support to Twitter and the companies standing up for a Twitter we would not be afraid to share.
In the meantime, could false statements burn holes into America’s “free speech” blanket? Since the Republic’s beginning, few limits have been placed on Americans’ “free speech.” This freedom of speech comes under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights passed in 1791.
A lot has happened in America over the past 230-plus years. Words mattered then too, but discourse came through the spoken word, not broadcasts. For example, the musical, “Hamilton,” reveals a time when the personal offense could lead to violence to “solve” disagreements through duels. Aaron Burr, offended by something Alexander Hamilton said at dinner, challenged him to a duel. Burr killed Hamilton, then fled to become a hunted man. Today an insult is spread to 100 million people in the blink of an eye or demeans an entire race by racist comments that disgrace a nation. Is this where we are going? Is this the free speech America’s Founders enshrined in 1791?
As part of my education as a journalist and while studying for a master’s in mass communications, I took several Constitutional Law courses covering the constitutional rights of “free speech” and the First Amendment. Of course, this is no substitute for law school, but it stimulated an interest in the subject.
A life, any life, is a series of connections. Sometimes these links are broken. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no hand to reach out to or help when we need it most.
A life, any life, is a series of connections. Sometimes these links are broken. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no hand to reach out to or help when we need it most.
Selema Gomez, the singer and actress, now 30, experienced her mental and physical health crisis in the past decade. Her ability to address these issues encouraged her to reach out to help others. Today is World Mental Health Day, October 10, when medical teams and individuals worldwide seek to raise awareness, educate, advocate for mental health support, and remove the stigma associated with the disease.
Today Goma introduced the trailer for “My Mind & Me,” to be released on Apple TV Plus on November 4. She has also launched the “Wondermind” computer platform (www.wondermind.com), a mental health fitness site, to help people address various issues, including loneliness–an essential way to learn more about mental health.
Today, October 10, is World Mental Health Day. The need for help can be simple or overwhelming when we become depressed because the mental fog has depleted our view of the world of depression or other mental illnesses. This can result in a lasting depression that requires medical attention.
Since the Pandemic, the need for mental health services has increased. While legislation in the U.S. supports insurance and funding to place mental health on equal footing with physical health, budgets and services have not kept pace. As a result, parents seeking treatment for their children and teens are forced to pay “out-of-network” costs to find services for their children. Others unable to pay for these services have been forced to go without treatment, possibly causing safety issues in their communities.
In the last decade, Gomez has been diagnosed with lupus, a brain disease that impacts the joints and organs of the body, and bipolar illness, which includes bouts of depression and mania. Both are under control now, and she wants to reach out to help others learn about mental health and remove the stigma attached to these diseases.
Take this step to learn more. Check out the mental health fitness site. We must make mental health and well-being a global priority—NOW.
Once in death, friend and foe alike ponder one’s life. At 96, the Queen’s history offers much to consider. By this decade, her subjects had come to see her as the nation’s mum, if not a national grandmother, whose calm, leadership skills were much more than the extension of her hand to in-coming Prime Ministers.
Countries wanting to renounce their allegiance to Britain now that the Queen has passed on will deal with younger royals moving beyond the Elizabethan period of British history.
But those who disdain women of a certain age do so at their peril. The British appreciate the talents of mature women, maybe given the long reign of Queen Elizabeth. This woman also exhibited a sense of humor. She enjoyed playing her part in a spoof, pretending to parachuse from a plane with another British favorite, Daniel Craig.
In his 007 roles, Craig led a chase with another well-known British actor, Dame Judith Dench, who passed through much of Bond history as the leader of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service. Pardon my comparison bringing together the Queen with another celebrated Brit, Dame Agatha Christy, who sold more mystery books, short stories, and plays (one billion copies) than anyone except Shakespeare. He began publication three centuries before Christy wrote a word. Nevertheless, her Belgium Detective Poirot still draws an audience to the small screen or the bookstore. Now fifty years after Christy’s death, her creation, Miss Jane Marple, continues to detect the guilty evil doers in homicides in quaint English villages.
Unlike Christy’s fictional characters, the Queen’s final ceremony reminds us that sooner or later, we will all take that final journey to be placed under a headstone or in an urn. Unlikely we will have bagpipes or Beefeaters along, but life is a winding road; rough or smooth will be up to each of us.
What Queen Elizabeth brought to the British during her 70 years on the throne are two attributes in short supply in 2022–continuity and stability. For that, her countrymen and women offer their gratitude.
Do you remember Elbridge Gerry? If not for one slip-up, he could have a role in “Hamilton” or been revered like Thomas Paine.
How soon we forget that Gerry was a genuine Founder, a signer of the Declaration of Independence at 32. Being from Massachusetts, he nearly guaranteed the American Revolution by voting to block shipments of British tea into Boston Harbor (disappointing local tea drinkers) and serving in the Continental Congress. In addition, Gerry helped draft the Bill of Rights. The job of Vice President might not have been any more revered in 1811 than in modern times, but he served under President John Adams in his second term. Adams proclaimed before the district plumping incident, “If every Man here was a Gerry, the Liberties of America would be safe against the gates of Earth and Hell.”
All that is forgotten—Gerry’s 36 years of public service from Signer to U.S. Rep to Governor—disappeared with a cartoonist’s rendering of a salamander in the Boston Gazette in 1812. David Litt’s book, Democracy in one book or less, explains Gerry redrew Massachusetts’ senate district lines, so the Republicans were “guaranteed” to win.
Both political parties have engaged in gerrymandering over the intervening years. Both Parties have done it, but in recent times the Republicans have been more efficient and used the 2020 Census to fine-tune their game. So now, after 200 years, we battle salamander divisions in multiple Congressional districts in many states.
Gerry was not the first to fudge the lines. None other than Patrick Henry, in the cradle of democracy, Virginia, during the first congressional election in 1788, warped the district lines attempting to prevent none other than James Madison from winning a seat in the House of Representatives. Litt jokes about “Henrymanders” but doesn’t have the same ring. Now Henry doesn’t have a role on Broadway, and his name has been unblemished for 200 years. He is not forever linked to his political grudge against Madison, who took his seat and might have been too much of a gentleman to call him on it. (More research needed.)
BTW, Gerry (pronounced “Gary”) lost the 1812 election for governor, his Party lost the State House of Representatives, and when his opponents took the statehouse, they overturned the changes Gerry had made to the map. His reputation suffered again when a follow-up cartoon portrayed a salamander skeleton with the epitaph: “Hatched 1812, Died 1813.”
In 1997 American voters decided on 165 swing districts by ten percentage points or less. By 2012 the number of swing districts fell to 90, and by 2016 down to 72 nationwide. Over the next twenty years, gerrymandering cut the chances of living in a competitive House district by half.
How did this come about? Many factors combined, but gerrymandering became a snowball flung downhill after the 2008 election of Barack Obama, a Democratic supermajority in the Senate, and a renewed majority in the House.
Team Mitch McConnel for the GOP spent $30 million to find a tool to help them dig into redistricting in 2010, a year of the Census. They acquired REMAP software for the “Redistricting Majority Project,” centered on flipping and winning state legislative chambers in swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida. In 2010 the GOP won 117 state legislative races in these states and redrew not just their state maps and Congressional districts. The Party created a red wave that took the House and Senate for the GOP, helped eleven of its own takeover governors’ mansions, and flipped twenty state legislatures to red. Former Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz (R) explains the philosophy behind their plan: “It really represents legislators picking voters rather than voters picking legislators.” A bent view of democracy.
The GOP drew four times as many state district boundaries as the Dems, who became sitting ducks, with a surplus of “vote sinks,” uncompetitive congressional districts. In the wake of the 2011 redistricting cycle, Litt identified five states skewed Democratic and nineteen skewed Republican.
In 2012 the Dems attempted to reverse the odds spending $48 million on a software-based plan to redraw Congressional district lines to catch up. In most states, districts are drawn every decade by the Party that controls the state legislature in conjunction with the Census. However, a few progressive states have named a bipartisan commission to set the boundaries.
That same year voters chose the Democratic candidate by a margin of 1.4 million votes in their local House races. Using gerrymandering, the GOP placed DEM voters into districts where they were overwhelmed by GOP voters and won a majority of thirty-three seats. The votes of people who live in cities got swamped. For example, in Michigan, Obama won 54 percent of the vote, but Democrats won only 5 of the state’s 14 congressional seats. In Ohio, the GOP won 52 percent of the presidential vote and 75 percent of the Congressional seats.
The number of seats considered “swing,” where either candidate could win, has dwindled over the last 46 years. In 1976, three in four Americans resided in counties that split their vote 60-40 or even closer, according to Bill Bishop’s 2009 book, The Big Sort. In 2012, the number of swing districts dropped to 90. Four years later, there were only 72.
As Litt describes it, “Modern Gerrys can slice districts with a finesse that puts brain surgery to shame.” “Mapititude for Redistricting” can automatically crunch demographic numbers to tell you with extraordinary detail what to expect from a given seat. The GOP’s firm grasp of redistricting technology has skewed today’s gerrymandering on a scale “unprecedented” in modern history. Due to the political circumstances of the last election, the Dems hold on to the House (by a thread now), but as of 2020, the GOP started with a gain of between twenty and thirty Congressional seats. Recent decisions by the Supreme Court may indirectly help DEM voters even the score in the months before November 8. But as far as a correction to the voting situation, the now conservative Supreme Court, after the retirement of Anthony Kennedy, has declined to rule on gerrymandering issues.
Finally, elections in Alaska, California, Maine, and New York city-wide have used “ranked-choice voting” to allow the voter to select the candidate they like best and vote for whatever Party without wasting a vote. When the polls close, the election staff begin by counting first-choice votes. If one candidate receives more than 50 percent, they win. If not, anyone who voted for the last-place finisher gets their second-place choice count. Litt believes this will increase participation because voters can vote for the person who excites them the most.
Elbridge Gerry has something in common with 21st-century politicians; his desperation to carry his Party to victory in 1812. As a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who played a role in the Continental Congress, he threw away his legacy as a Founding Father. Instead, he fell to the human trait that has afflicted political candidates for over 200 years—the lust for power that corrupts and spurs candidates to bend or ignore the rules to win a campaign. Unfortunately, the hunger for victory or the desire to retain it (at all costs) seems to turn some politicians’ ethics to mush.
Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, PA matadornnetwork.com
“They who have no voice nor vote in the election of representatives do not enjoy liberty but are enslaved to those who do.” Ben Franklin, 1774
I signed up for VDVR training (Voter Deputy Voter Registrar) since Labor Day begins the campaign season for the 2022 Midterm Election. VDVR is not risk free. The completed registration form lists my name and VDVR number at the bottom. If I incorrectly fill out the form here in Texas, it can bring a criminal penalty, a felony, even if I make an honest mistake. Strange that helping people register to vote can create such fear and loathing in the TX Legislature.
How many people can I register in a day going door-to-door or sitting in a booth at a parade or civic event? 20 to 40. How many people could be registered if automatic registration took place at the DMVor Social Security? Millions. It’s a numbers game. Nationwide 1 in 4 eligible voters are not registered to vote, which partially explains why the U.S. has one of the lowest rates of voting among the developed nations.
But adding registered voters to the rolls does not appeal to some elected officials, who prefer the status quo. Yet progress is being made. Since 2015 nineteen states have switched to automatic voter registration (AVR), primarily blue states. But wait, nineteen mostly red states have acted to restrict voting rights, mostly in 2021. Bills to restrict voting (440) have been filed in 48 states, just 34 have passed, including four wide-ranging omnibus voting restrictions in Georgia, Iowa, Florida, and, yes, Texas.
False Smoke Screen: “Voter Fraud”
Since the 2020 Presidential Election, former President Donald Trump’s redundant and fake cries of fraud, have complicated the registration process. But what’s the risk here? David Litt in Democracy in One Book or Less does not deny there is voter fraud, but instead of dreaming up any old number, he relies on recent, nonpartisan studies.
Litt points to the fact that impostors filling out multiple ballots in places where they’re not registered is rare indeed. Impersonation “tarnishes approximately one ballot out of every 32,250,000.” If you can’t wrap your brain around that number, “imagine a human chain of voters, starting at polling in New York City, stretching across the country to Seattle, dropping down to Los Angeles, and returning back east as far as New Orleans.” In that 5,000-mile line, precisely one of them will commit fraud. (That’s .0000017 percent.) Checks and balances make it much more difficult to commit fraud.
Partisan, geographic, and racial divides over access to the ballot are the law in seven states, which have harsher voter ID laws, seven shrunk the amount of time allowed for mail-in voting, and four limited the use of ballot drop boxes for mail-in votes. Seven states made it easier to purge voters off the voter rolls. In 2020 the Electoral wizards in Georgia applied an “exact match” criterion to registration forms and election day signatures, not by handwriting experts, but by untrained poll workers. Who among us signs their name the same when we’re in a hurry vs. when we’re signing an official document? Is it possible to achieve a “perfect match”? Colorado has agreed to accept “a substantial match” to remove confusion.
Purging Voters: 16 million in 2016
The response to 2020 fears of “voter fraud” created a Catch-22 for those in Florida who have completed prison terms. In 2018 in Florida, nearly 65 percent of state voters supported a referendum (Amendment 4) calling for the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders who completed their prison terms unless they had been charged with murder or felony sexual offenses.
Amendment 4 went into effect on January 8, 2019 and cleared the way for 1.4 million ex-offenders to register to vote. (The state’s ban on felons voting—which disenfranchised 1 in 5 Black Floridians—dated to the Civil War.) However, a year later, Florida’s GOP legislature added another hoop to pass through, contrary to Amendment 4. It requires payment of fines related to their offense (some compounded while they were in prison) before being allowed to vote—essentially a poll tax.
Florida’s county election boards followed the original law established in Amendment 4 and reached out to ex-offenders to register, including 49-year-old street cleaner Nathan Hart. He registered at the DMV in March 2020 and received a Voter’s Registration Card. But on August 18, Hart was arrested by the county sheriff’s deputy and two state law enforcement officers. They charged him with falsifying his registration and being an “unqualified elector.” Both are third-degree felonies. He was held in jail for 14 hours and faced fines of $5,000 and five years in prison.
Similar cases will grow in Florida with a special “election force, a first-of-its-kind.” Governor Ron DeSantis introduced proudly at a campaign event. He asked for $6 million to hire 52 people to “investigate, detect, apprehend, and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws. Florida’s legislature reduced it to $1.2 million and 15 investigators.
It’s understandable to delete the names of voters who have died or moved to another state, but the numbers would not reach the millions. The numbers of purged voters have grown nationwide since the Brennan Center reported that nationwide 16 million voters were culled from voter lists from 2014 to 2016. This total is a 33 percent increase from 2006-2008. Texas threw off 363,000, Wisconsin 232,000, and Georgia won the prize saying goodbye to 1.5 million voters, angering candidates. Some of these voters have been returned, but it’s puzzling to know that these purges were not part of a routine process but came in the heat of political battles. A 2016 Reuters analysis found the cuts hit the largest Democratic counties and twice the rate of GOP. Black city voters were more likely to be purged than white suburban dwellers.
In 2015, Wisconsin began to enforce a photo ID law for all elections. However, a federal judge found that the Wisconsin law led to “real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.” Although the judge found no evidence of widespread voter impersonation in Wisconsin, the “cure is worse than the disease.”
Scrubbing the names of people who have been verified dead or moved to another state can be routine. But a targeted voter purge is not legal, but a throwback to an ugly time. In 1959, the White Citizens Council of Washington Parish, Louisiana, conducted a purge, removing 85 percent of Black voters and just.07 of whites.
Another example, in 1999, a conservative activist group, ironically called the Voting Integrity Project (VIP), endorsed a company called Database Technologies. Florida hired this company to purge its voter rolls before the 2000 election. One example of their over-zealous approach to cleaning the rolls: legitimate voter Michael Jones of Tampa became “confused” with Michael Jones, a convicted felon in Ohio, and Linda Howell, election supervisor in Madison County, appeared on the list. The conservative estimate is that 12,000 eligible voters were erased from Florida’s voter rolls—half of them African Americans. In 2000 Al Gore lost the Presidential Election by 537 votes. Could this purge, before that election have made a difference? But we moved forward.
Mail-in Ballots: Dangerous or Necessary?
A mail-in ballot made it easier for me in 2021during Covid. First, I requested a ballot online. I had time to review the candidates and issues, then used my notes when I filled in the ballot. I drove to the Travis County Elections office and deposited my ballot into a sealed box (with an election official standing next to it).
Despite the hew and cry against it, mail-in voting is not something new-fangled. Oregon has done it since 1989. Since then, seven other states have instituted mail-in balloting: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah (by no means a liberal state), and Vermont. In addition, Nebraska and North Dakota often experience foul weather in the fall, permitting counties to opt for mail-in ballots.
Mail-in ballots can be a Godsend for disabled people or the elderly who can no longer drive. Nine states allow mail-in balloting in small elections: Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming. As the expense of finding locations for a general election, expensive voting equipment, and the challenge of staffing them grow each year, other states may be forced to reconsider
We have options. It doesn’t need to be so difficult to register or even vote. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems there are elected officials who work to make it more difficult, not easier. We need to tell them with our votes that we, the people, don’t want voters removed to meet their political benchmarks. We want it to be easier to vote for all Americans. Despite the roadblocks put in our way, the message will get through if we work diligently to protect our democracy.
Next time we’ll talk about Elbridge Gerry, who went to Harvard, worked in his family business in Massachusetts, then served in the Continental Congress, became governor, and won praise from John Adams. Did he deserve the shame upon his name for “gerrymandering?”