J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

More “Black Regiments” in Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts Culture

In the 1760s, friends of the British royal government in Massachusetts such as Peter Oliver (shown here) claimed that James Otis, Jr., had spoken of the value of having a “black Regiment” of clergymen on his side in political disputes.

In searching for uses of the phrase “black Regiment” in eighteenth-century Boston, I came across allusions to various things besides a group of politicized clergymen, which might help to put the phrase in context.

Many British religious authors wrote about the “black Regiment” of devils or sins:
  • “And the Black Regiment of Hell are ready Armed”: Rev. Peter Thacher in The Saints Victory and Triumph over Sin and Death (1696).
  • “Observe that he puts his evil Thoughts in the Front, as the Leader of all this Black Regiment”: Rt. Rev. Ezekiel Hopkins in An Exposition on the Ten Commandments (1697).
  • “Besure the Grand Adversary Seems often to give it in his Instructions to his black Regiments to fight neither with small nor great, but with the Ministers of the Gospel”: quoted by Rev. Thomas Skinner in The Faithful Minister’s Trials, Qualifications, Work, and Reward Described (1751).
Seventeenth-century British authors also used that imagery to make an easy link between hellish demons and the wrong sort of priests, either Roman Catholic or Anglican, depending on their own theologies. The phrase “black Regiment” thus appeared in publications like The Morning-Exercice against Popery (1675) while Sir Roger L’Estrange in his Narrative of the Plot (1680) complained about Anglican ministers being unfairly vilified as “The Black Guard [and] The Black Regiment of Hell.”

In 1750 the Boston printer Daniel Fowle reissued a British book titled Memoirs of the Remarkable Life and Surprizing Adventures of Miss Jenny Cameron, by Archibald Arbuthnot. Or rather, that was the pseudonym the writer chose for this attack on the Jacobite claimants and one of their female supporters, in a book that’s big on insinuation and low on facts. Describing various sexual sinners, the author wrote: “The Black Regiment, I fill up with our Students in Universities, who employ more of their Time in Intrigues with pretty Girls, than they do at their Books”.

Not surprisingly, there were also racial uses of the term. Historians occasionally referred to military forces made up of men of African descent as “black Regiments,” as in Edward Lang’s History of Jamaica (1774) or the widely printed The Modern Part of an Universal History (1763). At the end of 1775 Americans quickly started to refer to Gov. Dunmore’s adherents escaping from slavery in Virginia as his “black regiment.”

I was struck by seeing the same phrase used without explanation for Native American fighters. A Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England, by the Rev. William Hubbard of Ipswich, referred in 1677 to “Philip with his black Regiment of Wompanoags.” That usage resurfaced in the 29 Apr 1771 Boston Post-Boy:
An Indian Girl belonging to Robert Dennis, of Tiverton, went away on the Night of the 10th of January last; and after a few Days, some evil minded People pretended she was dead, and gave hints that her Master and Mistress were the Cause thereof, which so inflamed all the Indians in the Neighbourhood, that they mustered together, to search for the supposed dead Girl, but to no Purpose:—

Whereupon some English Volunteers joined the Black Regiment, ranging the Woods, searching Brooks, &c, but all in vain: then to the Authority they went for a Warrant to search his House, but the Authority mistrusting their evil Intentions, took Two of his Neighbours with him and went to see Mr. Dennis, who gave them free Liberty to search his House as much as they pleased, which they did, but could not discover the least Appearance of Evil.—

The above affair having made such Noise, and caused great Clamours and uneasiness in said Dennis’s Neighbourhood; this is to give public Notice, that, after an Absence of 3 Months and Ten Days, the said Girl, or her own Accord, is safe returned home to her Mother, to the great Joy of many well-minded People.
I suspect there are other such references out there.

Finally, in The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation, first published in England in 1691 and expanded and reprinted often after that, John Ray used the phrase “black regiment” to refer to a “Prodigious Multitude” of frogs he encountered one day in rural England. But I’m going to consider that an outlier.

Thus, well before Otis became the leading opponent of Massachusetts’s court party, there was a tradition of referring to religious ministers one didn’t like as a “black Regiment.” The same phrase also carried connotations of devils or sins, and of frightening non-white fighters. For British authors the term was always pejorative, whatever its context or meaning. Which makes it unlikely that Otis used the phrase for his supporters—unless, of course, he was speaking sardonically in private.

The words’ current resurrection by politically-minded ministers in the form of the “Black Robe(d) Regiment” therefore seems to reflect either ignorance of its historical connotations or a bold reappropriation of the term.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The “Black Regiment” in the Newspapers

As I quoted yesterday, the Loyalist refugee Peter Oliver wrote that on entering electoral politics James Otis, Jr., had said, “that it was necessary to secure the black Regiment, these were his Words, & his Meaning was to engage ye. dissenting Clergy on his Side.”

Oliver was not the first to make that accusation, as shown by an item in the 25 July 1768 Boston Gazette headlined “Dialogue, between a PENSIONER and a DIVINE.” In this context, the “pensioner” was someone being paid by the imperial government and the “divine” a minister. The colloquy begins:
PENSIONER. It seems to me that the Clergy interest themselves too much in the political Dispute of the Day. The Gentlemen in Crape have no Right to intermediate in such Things. But Otis says he could not carry his Points without the Aid of the black Regiment.

DIVINE. If Mr. Otis expressed himself in that Manner, (which I question) he might have expressed himself rather more decently; but surely you will allow this to be a Day of Darkness and Difficulty, and you will also allow us to pray for Light and Direction.
Thus, there was debate at the time over whether Otis had actually spoken of the “black Regiment.” And the side questioning that attribution was also defending clerical involvement in politics.

Two years later, on 8 June 1770, acting governor Thomas Hutchinson wrote to John Pownall, undersecretary of state, with his own complaints about politicized clergy:
It is certain that the present leaders of the people of Boston wish for a general convulsion, not only by harangues, but by the prayers and preaching of many of the clergy under their influence, inflame the minds of the people, and instil principles repugnant to the fundamental principles of government. At the Artillery Election Sermon, one minister in his prayers deplored the tragedy, etc., then prayed “that the people might have a martial spirit, that they might be instructed and expert in military discipline, and able to defend themselves against their proud oppressors, and the men whose feet are swift to shed innocent blood.“ Our pulpits are filled with such dark covered expressions and the people are led to think they may as lawfully resist the King’s troops as any foreign enemy.
A copy of that letter was found in Hutchinson’s Milton mansion after the war began and printed in the 8 August 1775 Massachusetts Spy. The Rev. Samuel Stillman had delivered the sermon to the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company four days before Hutchinson’s letter and three months after the Boston Massacre. He was the minister of Boston’s Second Baptist Meeting, not an orthodox Congregationalist, but he was on the Whig side.

Hutchinson made the same arguments as the fictional “Pensioner” and the real Judge Oliver about ministers speaking against the government, but I haven’t found him using the “black Regiment” phrase. (Maybe the editors of his papers know better.)

Nonetheless, another political essay accused Hutchinson of using that phrase. On 7 Dec 1772, the Boston Gazette ran an item it said came from the 8 September Public Ledger of London. Writing six days before in the metropolis’s “Pennsylvania Coffee house,” a man signing himself “An ISRAELITE” told readers:
Mr. Thomas Hutchinson…was, from his earliest entering into life, a most rigid Dissenter; and being a man of uncommon art, subtilty, and disguise,…had once the greatest part of the dissenting Clergy of New-England, and some here very much devoted to him. The BLACK REGIMENT, as he of late terms them was his main support; there was no doing without the Black Regiment, which he for many years headed, in bitter opposition to the ease and prosperity of the Church of England in that part of the world. The Black Regiment have, however, since found him out; have had the most convincing proofs of his hypocrisy, falshood, and total want of principle; and therefore, almost to a man despise him with an hatred and detestation that can hardly be expressed:

however, as it has always been a maxim with Mr. Hutchinson, that in political affairs, nothing can be done to any effect without spiritual assistance of some sort or other, he has put on another mask, and is now paying his greatest court and attention to the Episcopal Clergy; goes mostly to Church, stays to the Communion, and stands God father to the children of all such as think proper to ask him to the Altar, thinking that such conduct, together with secretly insinuating here, that a Suffragan Bishop would be of great service to Civil Government in New England, will engage our Clergy to become Advocates for his Administration, and thereby be the means of his continuing (however obnoxious) at the head of Government in that Colony.
The essay ended by insinuating that if Hutchinson thought he could gain “a more lucrative Place” by it, he would endure “the pains of Circumcision at the age of seventy.” Nice.

This “Israelite” thus managed to remind his London audience that Hutchinson wasn’t Anglican while also accusing him of trying to install a bishop in America. Overall that essay suggested that any politician might seek clerical support; the real sin was being unfaithful to one’s own denomination.

I’ve found one more example of this use of the phrase “black Regiment” in Massachusetts newspapers. On 11 Jan 1776, inside besieged Boston, the Boston News-Letter published an essay signed “Z.Z.” which described an unnamed man this way:
This man’s adroitness in law was thought necessary to be engaged in the cause of defeating acts of parliament: He was engaged, and he had shrewdness enough to start a thought which, artfully pursued, hath generally its expected effect in all popular commotions; he said, that it was necessary to enlist a black regiment in their service: the bait was snapped at; and many ministers of the gospel, too, too many for the honor of the christian religion joined in the cry.
Phrases in the “Z.Z.” essays show that the author was Peter Oliver, and the man described here was obviously James Otis, Jr. Which brings us back to where we started.

TOMORROW: Other meanings of the “black Regiment.”

Sunday, March 29, 2015

More of Peter Oliver on the “Black Regiment”

A month ago I quoted the longest passage in Peter Oliver’s Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion on “Mr. Otis’s black Regiment,” the politicized Congregationalist clergy of Boston. Oliver used the phrase “black Regiment” at other times in his chronicle as well.

The first passage is from an early chapter on “Beginnings of the Revolution.” It starts in 1760 with Gov. Francis Bernard choosing not to nominate James Otis, Sr., to the province’s highest court, and James Otis, Jr., quitting his royal office and making his talents available to the opposition instead. Oliver, who eventually sat on that court himself, wrote that Otis himself used the phrase “black Regiment“:
Mr. Otis, ye. Son, understanding the Foibles of human Nature, although he did not always practise upon that Theory, advanced one shrewd Position, which seldom fails to promote popular Commotions, vizt. that it was necessary to secure the black Regiment, these were his Words, & his Meaning was to engage ye. dissenting Clergy on his Side. He had laid it down as a Maxim, in nomine Domini incipit omne malum [in the name of God begins all evil]; & where better could he fly for aid than to the Horns of the Altar? & this Order of Men might, in a literal Sense, be stilled such, for like their Predecessors of 1641 they have been unceasingly sounding the Yell of Rebellion in the Ears of an ignorant & deluded People.
The “Predecessors of 1641“ was a reference to the English Puritans who fought the Civil War against Charles I. Oliver was himself a descendant of Puritans, his family arriving in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s, but being on the other side of a rebellion changed his attitude.

The “black Regiment” resurfaces in Oliver’s text as it describes the Stamp Act:
Such was the Reign of Anarchy in Boston, & such the very awkward Situation in which every Friend to Government stood. Mr. Otis & his myrmidons, the Smugglers & the black Regiment, had instilled into the Canaille, that Mr. [Thomas] Hutchinson had promoted the Stamp Act; whereas, on the Contrary, he not only had drawn up the decent Memorial of the Massachusetts Assembly, but, previous to it, he had repeatedly wrote to his Friends in England to ward it off, by shewing the inexpedience of it; & the Disadvantages that would accrue from it to the english Nation, but it was in vain to struggle against the Law of Otis, & the Gospel of his black Regiment. That worthy Man must be a Victim; Mr. Otis said so, & it was done.
Oliver thus accused Boston’s Congregationalist ministers of inspiring the attack on Hutchinson’s house in 1765.

A later section titled “Nonimportation of English Goods” offers this passage:
Mr. Otis’s black Regiment, the dissenting Clergy, were also set to Work, to preach up Manufactures instead of Gospel. They preached about it & about it; untill Women & Children, both within Doors & without, set their Spinning Wheels a whirling in Defiance of Great Britain. The female Spinners kept on spinning for 6 Days of the Week; & on the seventh, the Parsons took their Turns, & spun out their Prayers & Sermons to a long Thread of Politicks, & to much better Profit than the other Spinners; for they generally cloathed the Parson and his Family with the Produce of their Labor: This was a new Species of Enthusiasm, & might be justly termed, the Enthusiasm of the Spinning Wheel.
The spinning meetings or bees organized by “Daughters of Liberty” usually took place at a minister’s homes, and the participants would leave the yarn they spun with him.

Those spinning meetings took place in both Boston and rural communities, and Oliver presented the ministers as a link from one town to another:
About this Time some of the Clergy, at 2 or 300 Miles Distance, undertook their Pilgrimages to the new Jerusalem, Boston, to consult Measures for the Conduct of the sacerdotal Order; & some of the Boston Clergy took their Airings into the Country Towns, to creep into the House & lead silly Men & Women captive; & they cannot be denyed the everlasting Honor of being as industrious in the Cause of Sedition as the first Martyrs were in the Cause of Christianity; but, perhaps, they would not have been equally faithfull to Death, in any cause.

Mr. Otis was prophetically right, at his first Outset, with Respect to his black Regiment; neither their Cloaths, their Shoes, or their Throats are as yet worn out. The Faction deceived them; they have helped to deceive the People; & when the Time may come that the People like Ld. Wharton’s Puppies, may open their eyes before drowning, the Curses of the deluded Sufferers will alight upon their Heads, to their irrevocable Contempt, without Benefit of the Clergy.
The image of Lord Wharton’s puppies opening their eyes as (or just before) they were drowned shows up a lot in eighteenth-century British political writing. The Rev. William Gordon also used it on the other side of the debate. It functions a bit like our frog in a pot being boiled and not jumping out.

And finally during the siege:
At some Times, a Shell would play in the Air like a Sky Rocket, rather in Diversion, and there burst without Damage;…the whole Scene was an idle Business. But as little as the red Regiments performed, the black Regiment played its Artillery to some purpose, and
The Pulpit, Drum eccliastick
Was beat with Fist, instead of a Stick
to such Purpose, that their Cushions contained scarce Feathers, sufficient for the Operation of tarring & feathering one poor Tory.
The couplet comes from Samuel Butler’s Hudibras. The “red Regiments” were the army. But overall I’m not sure what Oliver was getting at in that passage—maybe alluding to how Massachusetts’s rural ministers, and refugees from Boston like the Rev. Samuel Cooper, continued to preach in support of the rebellion.

Proponents of the “Black Robed Regiment” idea today took the concept from Oliver’s memoir but rarely quote it at length. Perhaps because these passages and the longer discussion I quoted before state these historical realities and critical judgments:
  • British Protestants’ intolerance toward Roman Catholics, and rivalry between the Church of England and independent or Congregationalist meetings.
  • the government trying to strengthen its established religion, and how that backfired.
  • ministers as “a Set of very weak Men” driven by “a supreme Self Importance” and not above exploiting women and children who admired them.
  • ministers taking the political lead from their congregants, and being engaged on the side of a vindictive politician.
  • ministers doing “Evil,” spreading lies about a political opponent, and encouraging violence.
Of course, those modern proponents might say, these are the judgments of a Loyalist opposed to the U.S. of A.; the modern “Black Robed Regiment” would never really act like that.

TOMORROW: Where did the phrase “black regiment” come from?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Filling in the Hole in West’s Painting

Yesterday I showed an image of Benjamin West’s painting of the American diplomats who went to Paris to negotiate the end of the War for Independence.

As shown above, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay signed the treaty of peace with Great Britain. West also pictured Henry Laurens and William Temple Franklin, two other Americans involved in the negotiation. But he couldn’t get David Hartley to represent the British side he had signed for, so West abandoned the painting.

In the last few decades, at least two New England artists stepped in to fill that hole.
In 1983 the U.S. Postal Service commissioned a painting for a stamp commemorating then bicentennial of the treaty signing. David Blossom of Weston, Connecticut, created the image above, showing the treaty signers only—and Hartley from the rear. Esther Porter adapted the image for the stamp. Blossom’s original painting now belongs to Winterthur.
In the last decade, David R. Wagner of Scotland, Connecticut, undertook a series of paintings about events along the Rochambeau Revolutionary Route. To that he added an image of the Treaty of Paris, based on West’s original, but with Hartley inserted, reportedly based on other portraits.

Wagner’s painting was shown at the Carroll Museum in Baltimore and at Yorktown in 2008. Judging by the artist’s website, it is now available for purchase.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Hartley and Franklin, Reunited in Paris

I’ve been writing about the on-again, off-again correspondence of Benjamin Franklin and David Hartley, British scientist and Member of Parliament. Their relationship actually turned out to be a factor in the end of the war.

After London received news of the Battle of Yorktown, Lord North’s government fell. In March 1782 power shifted to the Marquess of Rockingham, longtime leader of the opposition, with a mandate to bring the American War to a close before it cost even more money. Rockingham filled the post of prime minister for all of four months before he died of the flu.

The Earl of Shelburne, one of Rockingham’s secretaries of state, took over. He was already steering negotiations with the U.S. of A.’s European diplomats through his envoy, the merchant Robert Oswald. By November 1782 Oswald worked out preliminary articles of peace with Franklin in France.

Meanwhile, Rockingham’s other secretary of state, Charles James Fox, refused to serve under Shelburne. He led other Rockingham Whigs, such as Edmund Burke, out of government. (That created openings for such rising politicians as William Pitt, who became Chancellor of the Exchequer at the age of twenty-three; they didn’t call him “the Younger” for nothing.)

David Hartley had opposed the American War all along, but he also disliked Shelburne and voted against the preliminary articles for peace. Hartley was a Fox ally, and he also maintained a personal friendship with Lord North, despite their political differences.

In April 1783 Fox and North, longtime opponents, made a surprising alliance to force Shelburne out of power. Shortly afterwards, George III appointed Hartley the new negotiator with the Americans. Fox and North both trusted Hartley, and they thought his friendly correspondence with Franklin would help to finish the negotiations on favorable terms.

Hartley walked into a very complex situation since France, Spain, and the U.S., though formally allied and bound to negotiate together, were all secretly angling for their own advantages and undercutting each other. Though there weren’t any more major campaigns on the North American continent, naval battles in the Caribbean and the siege of Gibraltar were still going on, tipping the balance of power and affecting different nations’ hunger for peace.

The Americans in Paris insisted on making very few changes to the terms they had reached with Oswald. If Hartley wasn’t going to sign over Canada, they weren’t about to concede anything else. France and Spain, meanwhile, thought the Shelburne ministry’s agreement to give the new American republic land all the way west to the Mississippi River was quite generous already.

In the end, the Treaty of Paris was basically what Oswald had negotiated eight months earlier. Hartley had voted against those terms, but his main contribution to the final treaty was the “Paris” part—he refused to leave the city for Versailles. On 3 Sept 1783, Hartley signed the final Treaty of Paris on behalf of Great Britain. Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay signed on behalf of the U.S.

(The picture above is Benjamin West’s famous unfinished canvas of the American diplomats involved in the negotiations in Paris. Hartley declined to pose.)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

“I have therefore been backward in Writing”

As I described yesterday, in late 1775 David Hartley, an opposition Member of Parliament, sent two letters to Benjamin Franklin proposing an unlikely way to reconcile Britain’s central government and the rebellious North American colonies. The Crown would pull back its tough laws on Massachusetts and the colonies would guarantee all slaves the right to trial by jury.

In The House of Commons: 1754-1790, Lewis Bernstein Namier and John Brooke called Hartley’s proposal “a tribute both to his benevolence and naïvety”:
It never occurred to Hartley that even if the British Parliament could be induced to pass such an Act, it would merely be regarded in America as one more example of British tyranny.
Franklin must have been savvy enough to know that. So how did he respond?

He didn’t. The next surviving letter from Franklin to Hartley was sent from Passy, France, in 1777, over a year later. It began:
I received duly your Letter of May 2nd. 77. including a Copy of one you had sent me the Year before, which never came to hand, and which it seems has been the Case with some I wrote to you from America.
This is the equivalent of “Your email never arrived, something must have gone wrong with my emails, let’s start over.” Which, given the wartime conditions, was quite plausible.

But then Franklin protested a little more:
Filled tho’ our Letters have always been, with Sentiments of Good Will to both Countries, and earnest Desires of preventing their Ruin, and promoting their mutual Felicity, I have been apprehensive that if it were known a Correspondence subsisted between us, it might be attended with Inconvenience to you. I have therefore been backward in Writing, not caring to trust the Post, and not well knowing, who else to trust with my Letters. But being now assured of a safe Conveyance, I venture to write to you, especially as I think the Subject such a one as you may receive a Letter upon without Censure.
Which at least opens the door to another explanation: Franklin found Hartley’s letters so impolitic and impractical that he just didn’t make a priority of responding.

Either way, Franklin started right up where his last extant letter had left off, complaining about how badly the Crown was treating the colonies:
She has given us by her numberless Barbarities, in the Prosecution of the War, and in the Treatment of Prisoners, (by her Malice in bribing Slaves, to murder their Masters, and Savages to Massacre the Families of Farmers, with her Baseness in rewarding the unfaithfulness of Servants, and debauching the Virtue of honest Seamen, entrusted with our Property,) so deep an Impression of her Depravity, that we never again can trust her in the Management of our Affairs, and Interests.
Once again, even though Hartley had advocated more rights for enslaved people and eventual abolition, all Franklin had to say about slaves was that the British army was encouraging them to revolt. His personal opposition to slavery was growing, but at this point he was writing as a diplomatic representative of the U.S. of A.

In fact, by the time the two men resumed their correspondence, Hartley was advocating that Parliament ban the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He was the first British abolitionist to propose such a law. It took another generation for that idea to take hold.

TOMORROW: Hartley and Franklin meet again.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

David Hartley’s Bright Idea

After my talk at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site earlier this month, there was a long and lively question-and-answer session. And one question I didn’t have a great answer for. So I went home and looked up more stuff.

The question was about a suggestion made to Benjamin Franklin that American governments should guarantee slaves the right to trial by jury. How did that idea arise, and how did Franklin respond?

I looked in the Franklin Papers at Founders Online, and sure enough, a British Member of Parliament proposed that step to Franklin in late 1775. That M.P. was David Hartley (1730-1813, shown here), already introduced on Boston 1775 as the most boring speaker in the House of Commons.

Hartley became acquainted with Franklin in London through their mutual interest in science. He was elected to Parliament for the first time in late 1774. When Franklin headed home to Philadelphia, Hartley suggested they correspond regularly to share ideas about how to reconcile the Crown and the colonies. Because nobody was in a better position to solve the imperial crisis than a rookie lawmaker on the far side of the political opposition.

On joining the Continental Congress, Franklin sent Hartley letters laying out the standard American position, which would later inform the Declaration of Independence. For instance, on 12 September he wrote:
Your Nation must stop short, and change its Measures, or she will lose the Colonies for ever. The Burning of Towns, and firing from Men of War on defenceless Cities and Villages fill’d with Women and Children: The exciting the Indians to fall on our innocent Back Settlers, and our Slaves to murder their Masters; are by no means Acts of a legitimate Government: they are of barbarous Tyranny and dissolve all Allegiance.
Hartley replied on 14 November with a detailed plan for compromise by the two sides. To be more exact, Hartley sent Franklin a letter signed “G.B.” which said it was merely passing on ideas from “Your friend Mr. Hartley.” The first step, he agreed, was for Parliament to suspend three of the Coercive Acts: the Massachusetts Government Act, the Boston Port Bill, and the Administration of Justice Act. The next step:
To pass an act to establish the right of trial by jury to all Slaves in America and to annull all Laws in any Province repugnant thereto, and to require the enrollment of the said act by the respective assemblies of each Province in North America. . . .

I have consulted several American Gentlemen, who have all expressed themselves as confident that America would not hesitate to comply to the act of Jury to slaves, if they could be assured by their compliance with such an act of parliament, that they could secure to themselves restoration to their condition in 1763. It would be a satisfaction to receive some respectable or authentic opinion from America upon that subject.
Why trial by jury? I suspect that was the most basic right in British Whig thought, rooted in Anglo-Saxon legal traditions, not dependent on a person’s property or gender, and available even to criminal defendants. Establishing that right for enslaved blacks would start them on the stairs to more rights.

One wonders who the “several American Gentlemen” Hartley consulted were, because the only initiative in 1775 less likely than convincing Parliament to relax its strictures on Massachusetts (where an actual war had broken out) was to convince American slaveholders to give their human property more rights.

Nevertheless, Hartley thought well enough of his plan to repeat it in another letter to Franklin on 23 November. And on 7 December, well before he could have heard back from America, he brought his ideas to the House of Commons, explaining at length:
The object of the act of Parliament to be proposed to America may be perhaps in the event the abolition, but at present can only be considered as the first step to correct a vice, which has spread through the continent of North-America, contrary to tbe laws of God and man, and to the fundamental principles of the British Constitution. That vice is slavery.

It would be infinitely absurd to send over to America an act to abolish slavery at one word, because, however repugnant the practice may be to the laws of morality or policy, yet to expel an evil which has spread so far, and which has been suffered far such a length of time, requires information of facts and circumstances, and the greatest discretion to root it out; and, moreover, the necessary length of settling such a point would defeat the end of its being proposed as an act of compromise to settle the present troubles; therefore, the act to be proposed to America as an auspicious beginning to lay the first stone of universal liberty to mankind, should be what no American could hesitate an instant to comply with, viz: That every slave in North-America should be entitled to his trial by jury in all criminal cases.

America cannot refuse to accept and to enroll such an act as this, and thereby to re-establish peace and harmony with the parent State. Let us all be reunited in this, as a foundation to extirpate slavery from the face of the earth. Let those who seek justice and liberty for themselves, give that justice and liberty to their fellow-creatures.

With respect to the idea of putting a final period to slavery in North-America, it should seem best, that when this country had led the way by the act for jury, that each Colony, knowing their own peculiar circumstances, should undertake the work in the most practicable way, and that they should endeavour to establish some system, by which slavery should be in a certain term of years abolished. Let the only contention henceforward between Great Britain and America be, which shall exceed the other in zeal for establishing the fundamental rights of liberty to all mankind.
Hartley then moved for a vote on his idea. The vote was overwhelmingly negative.

TOMORROW: And what did Franklin say about Hartley’s proposal?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Limits on Fatal Violence in Boston, 1765-1774

Though Boston earned a reputation as a riotous town in the ten years after the first public Stamp Act protests of 1765, those Boston rioters never killed anyone.

A mob did ruin Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s North End mansion in 1765, and damaged several other royal officials’ houses in the same months. In 1768, the Customs service’s seizure of John Hancock’s ship Liberty prompted another crowd to manhandle three Customs officials.

The next year, Bostonians learned the ritual of tarring and feathering, which they inflicted on several lower-level Customs employees over the next few years. But those actions all stopped short of killing people.

There are examples from elsewhere in New England of fatal, or nearly fatal, resistance to the Crown. In April 1769, as detailed here, sailors out of Marblehead resisting impressment into the Royal Navy killed Lt. Henry Panton at sea.

During the Gaspée seizure of 1772, the Rhode Islanders storming that Royal Navy vessel shot its commander, Lt. William Dudingston, in the chest—which sure sounds like he could have been killed. But he survived with medical care. Guns were also fired, though not hitting anyone, during some rural demonstrations against mandamus Council members in the fall of 1774.

One might argue that the lack of fatalities in Boston riots was only a matter of luck. There were some close calls:
  • After Ebenezer Richardson shot Christopher Seider on 22 Feb 1770, he was nearly lynched by an angry crowd. The Whig leader William Molineux insisted on taking the unpopular Customs employee to a magistrate for indictment.
  • Later that year, a crowd frightened importer Patrick McMaster with tar and feathers so badly he collapsed.
  • In 1774, a mob attacked John Malcolm, yet another Customs employee, after he clubbed George Robert Twelves Hewes. That attack lasted for hours, and involved choking Malcolm with a noose as well as beating, whipping, and tarring and feathering him. But he survived.
In addition, Hutchinson felt that his nephew Nathaniel Rogers was hounded to an untimely death in 1770.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that during those tumultuous years no Crown official, soldier, or supporter was killed in political violence in Boston. In contrast, during a month-long stretch of early 1770 employees of the royal government shot dead four men and two boys, and wounded several more. A big reason for that difference was that Bostonians didn’t use guns in their conflicts, preferring to intimidate their opponents through numbers.

On 18 Oct 1774, an angry sailor named Samuel Dyer broke that pattern. He attacked two Royal Artillery officers at noon on Boston’s main street, firing pistols at their heads. Both his guns misfired, but the army naturally saw Dyer’s actions as an escalation.

I’ll talk about Dyer, his claims of mistreatment, what the record actually shows, and how his assault with deadly weapons might have started the American War off quite differently at this Saturday’s History Camp.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Anderson on Marblehead Furniture Makers and Buyers, 26 Mar.

On Thursday, 26 March, at 7:00 P.M. the Salem Maritime National Historic Site in Salem will host a free talk by Judy Anderson on “Eighteenth-Century Furniture Craftsmanship and Patronage in Marblehead.”

This talk was inspired by the Peabody Essex Museum’s exhibit of work by the Salem cabinetmaker Nathaniel Gould, which closes on 29 March. As noted back here, when genealogist Joyce King and furniture expert Kemble Widmer spotted Gould’s account books in the papers of his attorney at the Massachusetts Historical Society, they were able to match existing examples of Gould’s work with specific sales, shedding new light on both his business and his art.

One of Gould’s most important clients in the years just before the Revolutionary War was the wealthy merchant Jeremiah Lee, who was furnishing his home across the harbor in Marblehead. Anderson has been curator of the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, and in 2003 she collaborated with Widmer on a study of his town’s cabinetmakers. Her fully illustrated talk will explore furniture craftsmanship and patronage in Gould’s time. It includes “some remarkable surprises uncovered by the Gould research and several stories of compelling social history.”

Anderson will deliver the same talk on Friday, 27 March, at 11:00 A.M. at the Salem Athenaeum. For that event, she suggests $5 or $10 donations to benefit the Athenaeum.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Stamp Act Approved by King, Leading to a Change of Government

On 22 Mar 1765, the Stamp Act for North America received the royal sign-off necessary before becoming law. However, George III never approved the bill. He approved of it, it’s clear, but in March 1765 when the bill reached that stage he was ill and confined to his room. Therefore, a special royal commission approved the Stamp Act for the king.

That process led to the fall of George Grenville’s ministry—but not because the Stamp Act kicked up so much opposition in America, much as we might like to believe that. Grenville was replaced before those protests became widespread.

Instead, this is how Edward Baines described the situation in his History of the Reign of George III (1820):
This event impressed upon his majesty’s mind the propriety of appointing some individual, who might, in case of the royal demise, exercise the functions of royalty during the minority of the Prince of Wales. The troubles in which the country had been involved by regencies obnoxious to the parliament and the nation, induced the king to desire parliamentary sanction to his appointment; and for the attainment of this object he went to the house of peers on his recovery, and recommended the two houses to pass a bill, enabling him to vest the regency in the hands of some one personage, from any number which parliament might nominate, with a council composed of individuals, whose relationship, offices, or rank might render them fit advisers to the regent.

The house of peers accordingly passed a bill, empowering his majesty to appoint as regent, the queen, or any member of the royal family, by which was meant only the descendants of George II. usually residing in Great Britain, till the Prince of Wales attained the age of eighteen years. The council whom they appointed was composed of the Dukes of York and Gloucester, his majesty’s brothers; the Duke of Cumberland, his uncle; Princes Henry Frederick and Frederick William, his youngest brothers; and the chief officers of state tor the time being.

By these provisions, the Princess of Wales, his majesty’s mother, was excluded from the number of those who might be appointed regent, as well as from the council.
In some quarters, whispers held that the king’s mother [shown above] was already guiding him, on her own and through his former tutor and first choice for chief minister, the Earl of Bute. Some folks even suggested that the Princess of Wales and Bute had been having an affair.

After the 1763 Treaty of Paris, Bute’s opponents had complained that he was too lenient on France and Spain. Bute had resigned, to the king’s dismay, and his deputy Grenville took over. Bute and Grenville had basically the same policies, but the king never liked his new prime minister personally.

Back to Baines on the regency bill and the Princess of Wales:
In the house of commons,…Lord Bute’s influence was sufficient to procure her nomination as one of the personages eligible for the regency; but this compliment was paid with so indifferent a grace, that it was not proposed to add her name to the list of the council, and the bill, with its amendment, being returned to the lords, was agreed to and passed.

The conduct of ministers on this occasion was considered by the Princess of Wales as a studied insult towards herself; and the downfall of the administration, which had been long anticipated, became now no longer doubtful.
Here’s the text of the final bill. One lesson from this episode seems to be that if you’re worried about the king’s mother having too much power, you’d better make sure you can cut her off, or else she’ll take you down.

In July, George III offered the prime minister’s job to the Marquess of Rockingham, heretofore the leader of the opposition in the House of Lords. I guess the king figured if he wasn’t going to get along with the chief minister, it might as well be about politics instead of personalities.

That led to five years of Whig reformers sharing power in London. North Americans expected the London government to be a lot more friendly to them, and Rockingham did repeal the Stamp Act. But he and his successors saw the same needs as Grenville to maintain Parliament’s sovereignty and raise money from the colonies.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Mohegan Woman’s Deathbed Remarks

A recent issue of the Yale magazine offered a look at a newly recognized document in the handwriting of the Rev. Samson Occom. Apparently in 1776 he took down the deathbed statement of a young woman:
That December, a daughter of Mohegan leader Robert Ashbow, motivated by a religious vision, returned home after what appears to have been a long absence. By the end of the month, the young woman was dying. On Christmas Eve, Occom wrote an account of the last moments of her life, which included a conversation with her mother. (The daughter’s name, unfortunately, is never given.)

The beginning is typical for Christian deathbed narratives—a confirmation of belief in God and an acceptance of death. But then the woman declares, “No one that fights Shall ever enter the Kingdom of Heaven, nor them that Cary Sharp Weapons and Heavy things for the first Christians did not fight but were Loving.” She adds that her aunt Hannah thought herself “better and above” Hannah’s daughter-in-law, Jerusha, but Jerusha had “better inheritance.” These are unusual, unexplained statements.

At first, we thought “inheritance” referred to spiritual redemption. But as we reconstructed the lives of the people in the narrative, another explanation seemed plausible. Hannah’s husband, we found, was Rev. Samuel Ashbow, Robert Ashbow’s brother. The couple had lost one of their sons, Samuel Jr., at Bunker Hill—the first Native American killed in the Revolution. For Hannah and Samuel, that death would begin their family tragedy: they would lose three more sons before the war was over. On the other hand, Jerusha, the widow of Samuel Jr., had a young son whose life was just beginning. Were the dying woman’s remarks a comment on the futility of war? A portent of the immense physical and cultural losses the Mohegans would endure as a result of that war?
Did they reflect that particular moment during the war in late 1776, when the royal forces were handily dispatching the Continental Army and armed resistance seemed like a poor idea? With so few written sources preserved, we‘re unlikely to have the answers to those questions.

The same magazine also notes a rare harpsichord from about 1770 that somebody decided to make look like an even rarer harpsichord from several decades before.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Freedom’s Way Conference in Concord, 26-28 March

This is the last day to register for the Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area’s three-day conference on interpreting “Community Character and Common Themes” in local history.

This event will take place in Concord, 26-28 March, and use that historic town as a laboratory to investigate engaging ways to interpret the meaning and memory of place.

The conference description says:
In a rapidly globalized increasingly homogeneous world, it is the character of the places in which we live that define us. Local stories and places provide a lens through which to develop community identity and sense of place. The conference will explore the intimate link between discovery and interpretation as a means of bringing local stories to life within individual communities, connecting them to themes within the National Heritage Area.
John R. Stilgoe, Harvard University’s Robert & Lois Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape, will deliver the keynote address, “Verandas and Dooryards: Observing Landscape Close to Home.” Historian Bill Fowler of Northeastern University will speak on how regional history shapes the way we think. Case studies, presentations, and round tables will explore best practices in interpretation and educational programming using local resources.

The organizers are offering behind-the-scenes tours of The Wayside at Minute Man National Historical Park, The Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods, The Old Manse (shown above), and other historic locations in Concord.

This conference is aimed to counteract a common challenge for local historical societies and small sites: focusing on local places, artifacts, and stories so closely as to omit the connections with other sites in neighboring towns that, when woven together, can tell a larger story that’s still grounded in the local communities. For example, every Massachusetts town has its own story of citizens responding to the Massachusetts Government Act of 1774 and deciding whether to switch allegiance (and tax funds) to the extralegal Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Together those stories add up to a mass movement and a governmental revolution in the province.

As a sign of how many different organizations are involved in this event, the Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area is working in partnership with the U.S. National Park Service, Minute Man National Historical Park, Boston National Historical Park, John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, American Antiquarian Society, The Drinking Gourd Project, Fitchburg Art Museum, The Guild of Historic Interpreters, Mass Audubon Society, Nashua River Watershed Association, New England Scenic Trails, The Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods, The Thoreau Society, The Trustees of Reservations, Walden Pond State Reservation (DCR), and Wachusett Mountain State Reservation (DCR).

As I said above, registration closes 20 March, and space is limited. The full conference costs $30, and cheaper registration is available for certain days only. Click the link above for more information.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Women to Meet at the Shirley-Eustis House this Spring

This spring the Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury is hosting a series of first-person interpretive presentations on women of Revolutionary Boston and later periods.

Sunday, 22 March, 2:00 P.M.
Meet Phillis Wheatley
Valerie Link Foxx kicks off the series with a poignant first-person performance of the life of Phillis Wheatley. Brought to Boston from Africa at about the age of seven, little Phillis learned English so quickly that she was composing impressive verse while she was still in her teens. As a young woman she pursued literary success with a trip to London even while she was still enslaved, then personal independence as an author, wife, and mother in Boston.

Foxx is an actor, author, wife, and mother. She is also a native of Roxbury and has performed since the age of seven. In 1977, Valerie and her mother, Bernice Link, co-founded Link & Foxx Productions to produce one-woman and family skits and stage plays.

Sunday, 29 March, 2:00 P.M.
Meet Rachel Revere—Petticoats at the Revolution
Hear a remarkable story of tea and Revolution from the woman who rode through life with Paul Revere. Rachel Revere tells of the Boston Tea Party, the midnight ride, and the siege of Boston through the eyes of a woman who had to keep the home fires burning while her husband fanned the flames of Revolution.

This presentation will be performed by Joan Gatturna, creator of Petticoat Adventures. Gatturna is an actor and storyteller. She has been named as a Creative Teaching Partner of the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is on the Touring Roster of the New England Foundation for the Arts.

Sunday, 12 April, 2:00 P.M.
Meet Elizabeth Murray—Shopkeeper to Farmstead
Elizabeth Murray, a Scottish immigrant, developed a successful retail business in colonial Boston. By offering the latest fashions and teaching advanced crafts, and by insisting on prenuptial agreements in two of her three marriages, she achieved economic independence and became a mentor for younger women. Through the upheavals of the American Revolution, Elizabeth (Murray Campbell Smith) Inman faced the challenge of separating from Tory family members while maintaining her home in Massachusetts.

Una McMahon, Founder-Owner of Acorn Tours, provides customized sightseeing tours of Boston and New England and specializes in their rich colonial histories. She is a Governor/Board Member and the Chair of the Events Committee for the Shirley-Eustis House Association. McMahon has taught French Language, led student tours to France and Canada, and established organizations such the Irish Business Network Small Business Forum.

In addition, on 26 April Marcia Stein-Adams will present “Meet Isabella Stewart Gardner,” and on 3 May Jan Turnquist will offer “Meet Louisa May Alcott.”

Admission for each lecture is $10 per person.

(The copy of Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of Rachel Revere above comes courtesy of Oceansbridge.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

History Camp in Boston, 28 March

Boston’s second annual History Camp will take place on Saturday, 28 March, at the Harriet Tubman House of the United South End Settlements at 566 Columbus Avenue in Boston.

History Camp is a self-organizing conference for people interested in all sorts of history in all sorts of ways. That means the schedule of presentations and panels will be decided on the day of the event, with folks then choosing which sessions to attend.

Who’s going to be there? Paula Bagger, who put together the pieces of evidence about Prince Demah. Jason Rodriguez, editor of Colonial Comics. Elizabeth Sulock from the Newport Historical Society. Liz Covart from the Ben Franklin’s World podcast. Salem Witchcraft Trial experts Marilynne Roach and Emerson “Tad” Baker. Erik Bauer from the Peabody Library. Dr. Sam Forman, Judy Cataldo, and many more.

Including me. Here’s the presentation I’m preparing:

“How Would-Be Assassin Samuel Dyer Nearly Triggered the Revolutionary War”

In October 1774 an angry seaman named Samuel Dyer arrived in Newport, describing how the Royal Navy had kidnapped him from Boston to London, how high government ministers had interrogated him about the Boston Tea Party, and how the Lord Mayor of London had helped him to return to America. Rhode Island Patriots fêted Dyer and sent him back to Boston. Soon after arriving, Dyer confronted two Royal Artillery officers on the street and shot at them before escaping to the rebellious Provincial Congress in Cambridge—only for those Patriots to send him back to the royal authorities and the Boston jail. This talk digs into Dyer’s story: how he came close to setting off war in Massachusetts, what happened to him next, and how much of the outlandish story he told was true.
This is a story I haven’t told in full on this blog or anywhere else.

The Harriet Tubman House is five minutes by foot from the Mass. Ave. T stop and ten minutes by foot from a large covered parking garage that serves Jordan Hall. Here are directions.

Last year’s History Camp filled up in advance. There’s still time to register for this one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Paul Revere at Old South and Old North

Fans of Paul Revere can attend two talks about his Revolutionary activities beyond his famous and less-famous rides of 1774 and 1775.

Friday, 20 March, 12:15 P.M.
Old South Meeting House
The Picture of Innocence: Symbols and Propaganda from the Boston Massacre
The Boston Massacre became infamous throughout the American colonies in a matter of weeks. Patriot leaders immediately circulated the news with heavy doses of propaganda. So what really happened on March 5, 1770? Historian and Old South Meeting House Educator Tegan Kehoe will walk you through the facts and fictions of Paul Revere’s famous print and several other contemporary depictions of the “bloody massacre on King Street.”
Admission $6; free for Old South Meeting House members.

Wednesday, 25 March, 6:30 P.M.
Old North Church
Paul Revere: Beyond the Midnight Ride
Author and attorney Michael Greenburg will talk about Revere’s lesser-known travails and ultimate court-martial following the doomed Penobscot Expedition, an often-ignored chapter in the life of this beloved American icon. Following the lecture will be a reception and book signing of Greenburg’s book, The Court Martial of Paul Revere: A Son of Liberty & America’s Forgotten Military Disaster.
Free and open to the public.

One nice thing about lectures in these eighteenth-century Boston churches is that you can almost always get a seat. A hard, flat seat.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Jane Nylander and the Bedrooms of Concord and Deerfield

On Thursday, 19 March, Jane C. Nylander will speak at the Concord Museum on the topic “Handsome Drapery and Sweet Repose: Looking Even Closer at New England Beds and Bedrooms, 1740-1860.”

Nylander is President Emerita of Historic New England, author of Our Own Snug Fireside, and a consulting curator of the museum’s “Behind Closed Doors: Asleep in New England” exhibit.

That exhibit posits, “What goes on behind the closed doors of the bedroom raises interesting questions of privacy, comfort, intimacy, and fashion that can be examined through objects as varied as bedsteads and coverlets, nightclothes and cradles, tin tubs and mahogany high chests.” Nylander’s talk will expand on many of its themes, “weaving together diary entries, snippets from household advice books, sewing instruction manuals, and antiquarian memoirs with a host of additional illustrations.”

This free event begins with a reception at 6:00 P.M. in French Hall, and the lecture will start at 7:00. To reserve space, use the museum’s website or call 978-369-9763, ext. 216. “Behind Closed Doors” closes at the Concord Museum on 23 March, so this is last week to see it.

If you’re restless for more information on bedrooms of the past, Historic Deerfield is hosting a one-day seminar on the topic on 11 April, titled “Pillow Talk: Discovering Early New England Bed Chambers.” And the keynote speaker is none other than Jane Nylander.

Among the other speakers is Prof. A. Roger Ekirch from Virginia Tech, author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past. He has concluded that before widespread artificial illumination, “people enjoyed two sleep sessions in one night: a first sleep and a second sleep, with as long as two hours of wakefulness in between.” The B.B.C. reported:
Ekirch found that references to the first and second sleep started to disappear during the late 17th Century. This started among the urban upper classes in northern Europe and over the course of the next 200 years filtered down to the rest of Western society. By the 1920s the idea of a first and second sleep had receded entirely from our social consciousness.
Knowledge like that can keep you up nights.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Constitutional Correlations

In a recent issue of the New Yorker, Jill Lepore reviewed some recent books about economic inequality, which has been measured for a century on the Gini scale, and what that phenomenon might say about and mean for different societies.

Toward the end of her review Lepore mentions some work by the political scientists Alfred Stepan and Juan J. Linz that found correlatioons between economic inequality and the political structures that different nations had established:
Stepan and Linz identified twenty-three long-standing democracies with advanced economies. Then they counted the number of veto players in each of those twenty-three governments. (A veto player is a person or body that can block a policy decision. Stepan and Linz explain, “For example, in the United States, the Senate and the House of Representatives are veto players because without their consent, no bill can become a law.”) More than half of the twenty-three countries Stepan and Linz studied have only one veto player; most of these countries have unicameral parliaments. A few countries have two veto players; Switzerland and Australia have three. Only the United States has four. Then they made a chart, comparing Gini indices with veto-player numbers: the more veto players in a government, the greater the nation’s economic inequality. This is only a correlation, of course, and cross-country economic comparisons are fraught, but it’s interesting.

Then they observed something more. Their twenty-three democracies included eight federal governments with both upper and lower legislative bodies. Using the number of seats and the size of the population to calculate malapportionment, they assigned a “Gini Index of Inequality of Representation” to those eight upper houses, and found that the United States had the highest score: it has the most malapportioned and the least representative upper house. These scores, too, correlated with the countries’ Gini scores for income inequality: the less representative the upper body of a national legislature, the greater the gap between the rich and the poor.
The U.S. Constitution produced our malapportioned Senate because it was designed to respond to two of the pressing concerns of 1787: the small-population states didn’t want to give up the “one state, one vote” system of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union; and the elite men at the Constitutional Convention had been spooked by the Regulator uprising in Massachusetts and didn’t trust democracy. Their design for the new federal Congress in turn led to the lesser but still significant malapportionment in the Electoral College.

Our Revolution was a step away from aristocratic government, in which hereditary monarchs and nobles had a disproportionate say on the basis of birthright. The new Senate wasn’t hereditary like the House of Lords, but it was initially designed to insulate its members from the voting population. The Seventeenth Amendment changed that. Senators’ six-year terms preserve them from facing the voters as often as other federal elected officials, but the fact that they represent states means that they can’t benefit from gerrymandering—producing more turnover in the Senate than in the House.

As for the veto players, I guess the four American ones are the House, Senate, President, and Supreme Court. The Constitution set up the first three to create “checks and balances”—a term coined by John Adams in 1787 (based on older British Whig phrases). The Supreme Court established itself as another veto player through decisions under Chief Justice John Marshall in the early 1800s.

Many other countries with legislatures also modeled on Britain’s bicameral Parliament have gradually removed veto power from their upper houses, rendering some almost symbolic. Most of those countries also have a weak or even symbolic head of state, concentrating legislative and executive powers in a prime minister. That’s how they get by with so few veto players/checks and balances—yet they remain “long-standing democracies with advanced economies.”

How much effect do those modern government structures have on economic inequality in those countries? As Lepore wrote, Stepan and Linz were finding correlations, not necessarily causes. Linz much preferred parliamentary systems over the U.S. of A.’s separation of powers, so these findings fit into his life’s work. Still, Stepan and Linz’s work makes one think about the unforeseeable consequences of laying out a constitution in the late 1700s.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Proposal for a Bill of Attainder with Corruption of Blood

I had reason this week to look up information about Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas (shown here), and I found this curious line on Wikipedia:
Corruption of Blood

In 2013 Cotton introduced legislative language to overturn the United States Constitution prohibition of attainder.
The citation for that statement led to a Huffington Post article. With further searching, I found the transcript of a markup session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on 22 May 2013 (preserved in this very large P.D.F. file). The discussion turned out to reveal both less and more than the line on Wikipedia suggests.

In that session, House members were hammering out details of a law to impose sanctions on government officials in Iran. Cotton, then in the House, had proposed amending the bill to extend those travel and financial restrictions from officials “responsible for Human Rights violations, for engaging in censorship or otherwise diverting goods designated for common Iranian people” to “any family member of such official (to include a spouse and any relative to the third degree of consanguinity).”

Cotton’s point was to prevent such people from protecting their money by transferring it to relatives. The relatives affected by the law would include, he stated, “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great-grandparents, grandkids, great-grandkids.”

But how would the U.S. government know that any property held by such potentially far-flung people had come from an Iranian government official? Cotton said that didn’t matter: “There would be no investigation. If the prime malefactor of the family is identified as on the list for sanctions, then everyone within their family would automatically come within the sanctions regime, as well.”

And that’s where the constitutional questions arose. Rep. Alan Grayson, one of the House’s boldest voices on the left, objected to the amendment on the grounds it would “allow the sins of the uncles to descend on the nephews.” He noted that its confiscations, fines, and other penalties would violate our Constitution in multiple ways. The particulars:
  • Article One, Section 9: “No Bill of Attainder…shall be passed.” A “bill of attainder” was a British term for a law deeming someone guilty without benefit of a trial. (Section 10 forbade the states from passing such laws as well, so the Founders really didn’t like them.)
  • Article Three, Section 3: “no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood.” The old phrase “Corruption of Blood” referred to punishing relatives of a person convicted of a heinous crime simply because they were related. Even for treason, the Founders didn’t want the U.S. government to go after “grandparents, great-grandparents, grandkids, great-grandkids,” and so on.
  • Amendment Five: “No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Again, since the passage of the Bill of Rights, Congress can’t simply confiscate property from people “automatically” with “no investigation” and no judicial process, as Rep. Cotton wanted.
Grayson later added that the law would also violate the Eighth Amendment against “cruel and unusual punishments,” though that’s not so specific.

Cotton’s first response to Grayson’s objections was, “Iranian citizens do not have constitutional rights under the United States Constitution.” As Grayson replied, his colleague was “completely and utterly mistaken” on that point. The Fifth Amendment and other parts of the Constitution specify that they apply to any “person,” not just citizens. The lines prohibiting bills of attainder and corruption of blood say nothing about citizens only—they just prohibit such laws. There are decades of case law backing that up, which Cotton, as a lawyer, should have known.

That discussion ended with Cotton withdrawing his amendment under pressure from Grayson. It seems clear to me that Cotton didn’t knowingly try to “overturn the United States Constitution prohibition of attainder,” as the line on Wikipedia said. Rather, Cotton ignorantly tried to get around the Constitution because he thought punishing Iranian officials was really, really important. That would not be the last time Iran policy would lead him into breaking long-established American precedents.

Cotton’s claim about rights being restricted to citizens raises bigger questions. Obviously such rights as being able to vote in U.S. elections are exclusive to U.S. citizens. But the Founders and subsequent American leaders viewed more fundamental freedoms through a “natural rights” philosophy, or as what today we call “human rights.” (Cotton himself used that phrase, as quoted above.) We all deserve those rights simply because we’re alive.

So do Cotton and others who adopt his position actually believe in human or natural rights as the Founders described? Do they truly believe those rights are endowed by a creator? If so, how can they deny those rights to most of the human population simply because those people were born citizens of other countries?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Has General Washington’s Riband Come Back Around?

Back in 2010 I wrote some articles about Gen. George Washington’s decision in July 1775 to adopt a blue sash or “ribband” across his chest as the sign of his rank in the new Continental Army.

It turns out that Washington’s riband might survive in the collections of Harvard University’s museums, having come back to Cambridge after passing through the hands of painter Charles Willson Peale, who owned a museum himself.

In this Common-Place article, Philip C. Mead of the Museum of the American Revolution writes of the general:

The decoration he chose, a blue silk moiré ribbon worn across his breast, made allusions to both one of the traditional colors of Whigs, the British political party with which American Revolutionaries identified, and the aristocratic decorations of Europe. At first, he wore the ribbon regularly, and then only on ceremonial occasions and in battles, until he phased the decoration out in 1779, replacing it with stars on his epaulettes. Examples of Washington’s epaulettes have survived and appeared in several publications, but his silk ribbon has remained largely obscure among students of Washington objects and the American Revolution.

A recently re-examined silk moiré ribbon in the collections of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology may well be the very ribbon depicted in the Washington portrait paintings by the Revolutionary artist Charles Willson Peale. It may even have been the one worn by Washington from 1775 to 1779 as referenced in various writings during the war. It may also be the ribbon displayed at Peale’s museum in the nineteenth century.
Harvard received the artifact in 1899 and immediately loaned it to the Old South Meeting-House, one of Boston’s historic sites most associated with the Revolutionary War. It stayed there until shortly after the Bicentennial. When it came back to Harvard, the cloth no longer had its label from Peale’s museum, and, more importantly, the cultural climate had changed since its first arrival. Both museum curation and historiography had become more professionalized, a process that encourages skepticism about the claims of tradition and enthusiastic amateurs. So was this artifact genuinely the general’s?

Mead’s investigation includes the process of making “watered” silk, how this riband compared to what Peale painted in the 1770s, why Washington stopped wearing the sash midway through the war, and how such an artifact does and doesn’t fit into the mission of the museums where it has appeared.

Now if this sash belonged to the Harvard Art Museums, it might be possible to request a personal examination through Harvard’s Art Study Center. But it came to the Peabody Museum. So I don’t know how it might be seen.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Washington Jumping Rope and Sleeping with a Black Soldier

Here are two anecdotes of Gen. George Washington and an African-American soldier from Massachusetts, as reported by the Rev. Henry F. Harringon in Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, July 1849:
There lately died [in 1842 actually], in the city of Boston, a very respectable negro, named PRIMUS HALL. He lived to an advanced age, and was the possessor of considerable property. Throughout the Revolutionary war he was the body servant of the late Col. [Timothy] Pickering, of Massachusetts. He was free and communicative, and delighted to sit down with an interested listener and pour out those stores of absorbing and exciting anecdotes with which his memory was stored.

It is well known that there was no officer in the whole American army whose friendship was dearer to Washington, and whose counsel was more esteemed by him, than that of the honest and patriotic Col. Pickering. [So much for Lafayette.] He was on intimate terms with him, and unbosomed himself to him with as little reserve as, perhaps, to any confident in the army. Whenever he was stationed within such a distance as to admit of it, he passed many hours with the colonel, consulting him upon anticipated measures, and delighting in his reciprocated friendship.

Washington was, therefore, often brought into contact with the servant of Col. Pickering, the departed Primus. An opportunity was afforded to the negro to note him, under circumstances very different from those in which he is usually brought before the public, and which possess, therefore, a striking charm. I remember two of these anecdotes from the mouth of Primus. One of them is very slight indeed, yet so peculiar as to be replete with interest. The other conveys a high and holy moral, and deserves to be recorded among the public and remarkable acts of our country’s saviour, as a brilliant illustration that disinterestedness and true humility were guiding principles of his character. The authenticity of both may be fully relied upon.

Washington once came to Col. Pickering’s quarters, and found him absent.

“It is no matter,” said he to Primus. “I am greatly in need of exercise. You must help me to get some before your master returns.”

Under Washington’s directions, the negro busied himself in some simple preparations. A stake was driven into the ground about breast high, a rope was tied to it, and then Primus was desired to stand at some distance and hold it horizontally extended. The boys, the country over, are familiar with this plan of getting sport. With true boyish zest, Washington ran forwards and backwards for some time, jumping over the rope as he came and went, until he expressed himself satisfied with the “exercise.”

Repeatedly, afterwards, when a favorable opportunity offered, he would say—“Come, Primus, I am in need of exercise;” whereat the negro would drive down the stake, and Washington would jump over the rope until he had exerted himself to his content.

On the second occasion, the great general was engaged in earnest consultation with Col. Pickering in his tent until after the night had fairly set in. Head-quarters were at a considerable distance, and Washington signified his preference to staying with the colonel over night, provided he had a spare blanket and straw.

“Oh, yes,” said Primus, who was appealed to; “plenty of straw and blankets—plenty.”

Upon this assurance, Washington continued his conference with the colonel until it was time to retire to rest. Two humble beds were spread, side by side, in the tent, and the officers laid themselves down, while Primus seemed to be busy with duties that required his attention before he himself could sleep. He worked, or appeared to work, until the breathing of the prostrate gentlemen satisfied him that they were sleeping; and then, seating himself on a box or stool, he leaned his head on his hands to obtain such repose as so inconvenient a position would allow. In the middle of the night Washington awoke. He looked about, and descried the negro as he sat. He gazed at him awhile, and then spoke.

“Primus!” said he, calling; “Primus!”

Primus started up and rubbed his eyes. “What, general?” said he.

Washington rose up in his bed. “Primus,” said he, ”what did you mean by saying that you had straw and blankets enough? Here you have given up your blanket and straw to me, that I may sleep comfortably, while you are obliged to sit through the night.”

“It’s nothing, general,” said Primus. “It’s nothing. I’m well enough. Don’t trouble yourself about me, general, but go to sleep again. No matter about me. I sleep very good.”

“But it is matter—it is matter,” said Washington, earnestly. “I cannot do it, Primus. If either is to sit up, I will. But I think there is no need of either sitting up. The blanket is wide enough for two. Come and lie down here with me.”

“Oh, no, general!” said Primus, starting, and protesting against the proposition. “No; let me sit here. I’ll do very well on the stool.”

“I say, come and lie down here!” said Washington, authoritatively. “There is room for both, and I insist upon it!”

He threw open the blanket as he spoke, and moved to one side of the straw. Primus professes to have been exceedingly shocked at the idea of lying under the same covering with the commander-in-chief, but his tone was so resolute and determined that he could not hesitate. He prepared himself, therefore, and laid himself down by Washington; and on the same straw, and under the same blanket, the general and the negro servant slept until morning.

I say that this lost incident conveys a high and holy moral. It affords additional evidence, and that of the clearest nature, that the reverential admiration of the American people for their Washington is not misplaced. He acted from that pure and deep-seated principle, that true nobility of character and self-respect, which enabled him to bear himself with lofty dignity in the presence of the proudest, and, at the same time, impelled him to respect the rights and sympathize with the sufferings of the humblest.
Hall did work as a waiter for Pickering toward the end of the war, as he stated in his pension applications. Otherwise, I don’t believe a word of this.

Hall never mentioned such close encounters with Washington in his applications or, so far as I know, anywhere else. As Harrington told the story, it reinforced everything that Sarah Josepha Hale’s ante-bellum magazine readers would want to believe: Washington a “saviour” kind even to blacks rather than a slightly conflicted slaveholder totally invested in formal hierarchy and manners, Hall an obedient servant to his “master” and to Washington rather than a stubborn fighter for his pension and for civil rights in the new republic.

Tonight I’ll speak about how Washington started to think differently about black soldiers and African-Americans in general. But I really don’t think that ever extended to sharing his bed.