Monday, November 30, 2009

The Emancipation Proclamation of 1775



Link to: Secrets of American History


On November 7, 1775 the Royal Governor of Virginia, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore issued a proclamation offering freedom to all slaves and indentured servants belonging to rebels and willing to bear arms in the service of the Crown. The Earl of Dunmore’s proclamation anticipated Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by some four score and seven years and was done for much the same reason, to cripple the ability of rebels to resist.

Lord Dunmore armed hundreds of runaway slaves in Virginia and formed an all black unit called the “Ethiopian Regiment” which performed distinguished service. The regiment marched under the banner, “Liberty to Slaves”. An estimated twelve thousand ex-slaves served with British forces during the American Revolution in such units as the Ethiopian Regiment and the Black Pioneers.

Some four thousand blacks who had served the Crown were evacuated to England at the end of the war. The presence of the black loyalists on British soil helped swell sentiment in Britian for the end of the slave trade and laid the groundwork for British abolitionism, which eventually spread to America.



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Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Plot to Overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt



The Plot to Seize the White House: The Shocking True Story of the Conspiracy to Overthrow FDR
by Jules Archer

In 1934, Colonel Smedley Butler, the most decorated Marine in the nation, and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor not once, but twice, (for separate engagements) testified before Congress that he had been approached by a cabal of businessmen to enlist his support in the overthrow President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Butler, a hero to hundreds of thousands of disillusioned World War I veterans, was to lead the veterans on an armed march on Washington which would strip Roosevelt of power and install a fascist government.

The planned coup was allegedly designed to protect the interests of businessmen and Wall Street financiers disenchanted with the New Deal. There was ample precedent for this type of coup in 1934. Mussolini had successfully seized power by a daring march on Rome in 1922. Hitler had initially tried to seize power in Germany by using a popular military figure (General Erich Ludendorff) to march against the government.

A Congressional Committee investigated Smedley Butler’s claims and found them credible but no action was ever taken against the alleged plotters.

Link to: Secrets of American History



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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Auto Fatalities in America

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, since the end of the Vietnam War in the mid-1970’s, approximately 43,000 Americans have died annually on the nation’s highways. The total number of casualties over the last thirty five years amounts to some 1.5 million men, women and children. The number of Americans killed in automobile accidents during this period is larger than the total number of American military casualties (both combat related and non-combat related) suffered in all of the wars ever fought by the United States (approximately 1.3 million).

While American military casualties are a hot topic of debate by politicians, pundits, and the public, the annual slaughter on America’s highways is accepted without a murmur. No foreign enemy has ever inflicted as much damage on the American people as they have inflicted upon themselves. The trend continues. The National Highway Traffic Highway Safety Administration now estimates that nearly 6,000 Americans will die annually in car crashes involving distracted drivers texting, and talking on cell phones.

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American War Casualties

As America ponders its role as a superpower in the world, and the price this entails, a little historical perspective may illuminate the discussion. The following chart presents total military deaths (both combat & non-combat deaths) suffered in America’s wars.


The American Revolution (1775-1783): 25,000

The War of 1812 (1812-1815): 20,000

The Mexican American War (1846-1848) : 13,000

The Civil War (1861-1865): 600,000 (As a percentage of total population this would be equivalent to five million deaths in present day America)

The Spanish American War (1898): 2,500

World War I (1917-1918) : 116,000

World War II (1941-1945): 405,000

Korean War (1950-1953): 36,000

Vietnam War (1957-1973): 58,000

Post Vietnam (1973-2009): 6,500* / **
(This figure includes the twelve military involvements America has had since the end of the Vietnam war: (1) El Salvador,(2) Beirut, (3) Persian Gulf escorts, (4) Invasion of Grenada, (5) Invasion of Panama, (6) Gulf War, (7) Somalia, (8) Haiti, (9) Bosnia-Herzegovina, (10) Kosovo, (11) Afghanistan (approximately 1,000) , (12) Iraq (approximately 4,500)

* 2,740 Americans also died in the September 11, 2001 attack…these casualties are not included in the 6,500

** In the thirty six years since the end of the Vietnam War, approximately 3,600 uniformed police officers have died in the line of duty according to the “Officers Down Memorial Page” http://www.odmp.org/

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Civil War Romance: J.E.B. Stuart Conquered!

In 1855, J.E.B. Stuart met Flora Cooke, the daughter of the commander of the 2nd U.S. Dragoon regiment, Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke. They became engaged in September, less than two months after meeting. Stuart humorously wrote of his rapid courtship in Latin, "Veni, Vidi, Victus sum" (I came, I saw, I was conquered).





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Cocktail History: American Culture at the Paris Exposition

The Cocktail is, perhaps, America’s mot important contribution to the culture of the world. The first cocktail known to history was described in an American periodical of 1816. The American display at the Paris Exposition of 1867 featured a genuine American bar dispensing New World concoctions. Two British critics, Henry Porter and George Roberts, deplored the, “…sensation drinks which have lately traveled across the Atlantic. We will pass the American bar, with its bad brandies and fiery wine, and express gratification at the slight success which, ‘Pick-Me-Up’, ‘Corpse-Reviver’, ‘Chain Lightning’, and the like have had in this country.”



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Are Taxes too Low?

No one likes taxes (or death), but here is a little historical context when you are forced to listen to the political rhetoric:

Top income tax rates in the United States:

1913: 77 %

1932: 63 %

1945: 94 %

1963: 90 %

1964: 77 %

1988: 28 %

1991: 31 %

2009: 35 %





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Monday, October 05, 2009

Cars and the Environment

In September 1895, the Duryea brothers established the first American company to manufacture gasoline-driven cars, the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. In 1904 the Ford Motor Company produced 1,695 cars, and by 1907 had increased its production to 14,887. America’s love affair with the automobile had begun in earnest and has never stopped, as demonstrated by the fact that by 2006 there were some 251 million registered passenger vehicles in the U.S. owned by a population of 298 million. There is now a car for virtually every man, woman and child in America. Overall passenger vehicles have been outnumbering licensed drivers since 1972 at an ever increasing rate. New York City is the only place in the country where more than half of all houselholds do not own a car.



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The Civil War “Marrying Craze”

The diaries of hundreds of women of the time attest to the “marrying craze” sweeping the South. "Every girl in Richmond is engaged or about to be”, wrote Phoebe Pember Yates in February 1864. Fear of spinsterhood and natural desire heightened by the immediacy of war led to many unconventional matches, many reflecting the truth of a phrase common to the time, “The blockade don’t keep out babies.”

Things in the North were somewhat better, but single men were still scarce. Mary Livermore wrote, "Wisconsin and Iowa are run by women". Women were doing jobs previously performed by men. Women were in the fields, behind store counters and manning factories. Recuperating soldiers were eagerly sought after.






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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Senator Charles Sumner Beaten on Floor of the Senate!



Today’s partisan bickering, even a Congressman hooting “You lie” at the President, seems mild compared to some of the political feuds of the past. In 1826, Virginia Senator John Randolph, a bitter opponent of President John Quincy Adams’ “creeping nationalism” made a fiery speech on the floor of the Senate denouncing the President’s foreign policy. Randolph insinuated the Secretary of State, Henry Clay, was a scoundrel. For this insinuation, Clay challenged Senator Randolph to a duel.

Duels among prickly partisan rivals were not unusual in the young republic. Andrew Jackson fought over one hundred duels before becoming President. In those days, if you called the President a liar you were likely to have to back up your words with a sword or a dueling pistol.

One of the most egregious cases of politician on politician violence was the severe beating of Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts in 1856 by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks on the floor of the Senate. It took Sumner years to fully recover from the beating.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Confederate Economy: Inflation

The Confederate treasury could probably have raised more gold and silver from the population if it had embarked on a vigorous policy of taxation rather than trying to finance the war through the issuance of bonds. The Confederate treasury indulged, ultimately, in the perilous device of issuing unsupported paper money. In 1861 the treasury issued $100 million in paper Confederate notes and $100 million in 8 percent Confederate bonds. By 1863 the treasury was pumping out $50 million in notes a month. The Confederate public sensed that there was too much money being issued and that it was becoming progressively more worthless. Wits were soon saying, "An oak leaf will be worth just as much as the promise of the Confederate treasury to pay one dollar."

To increase its hard cash reserves, before loosing the flood of paper money on the country, the Confederate Congress made U.S. silver coins legal tender up to $10, and gave full standing, with fixed values stipulated, to English sovereigns, French Napoleons and Spanish and Mexican doubloons. This helped somewhat, and a small treasury shipment in 1862, for example, was made up of the following coins: 28 Spanish dollars, 24 Spanish quarter dollars, 8 Spanish half dollars, 8 English sovereigns, 3 Napoleons, 385 U.S. half dollars and 988 U.S. quarter dollars.

No halfway measures, however, could make up for the mismatch between revenue and the issuance of currency. Many people hoarded their hard money. Less than a month before the final collapse of the government, the Confederate Congress, seeming to believe that there was an abundance of hard money in private hands, passed a law trying to raise $30 million in gold and silver. Other estimates indicate that there may have been $20 million in U.S. coins remaining in the pockets of Confederate civilians. These coins were hoarded and did not come out except in rare instances. A Richmond editor in 1864 wondered why more copper and nickel coins did not make their appearance, "There must be any quantity of them stored away", he observed.

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Alexandria, Virginia in the Civil War


Alexandria and Northern Virginia were the first areas to feel the fury of the Civil War. Alexandria, Virginia was the longest occupied Southern city during the Civil War. The New York Herald war correspondent observed, “Many hamlets and towns have been destroyed during the war, Alexandria has most suffered. It has been in the uninterrupted possession of the Federals. . . . Alexandria is filled with ruined people; they walk as strangers through their ancient streets, and their property is no longer theirs to possess. . . . these things ensued, as the natural results of civil war; and one's sympathies were everywhere enlisted for the poor, the exiled, and the bereaved.”




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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cinema and Immigration

The movies were an important cultural bridge, mediating the immigrant’s transition into broader American culture. The movies were a collective experience where diverse groups experienced the same public phenomenon. Going to the movies was a common bridging experience between groups. The movies also allowed immigrants (and especially immigrant women who were very limited in their interactions with people outside of the family and “neighborhood”) to broaden their experience outside of the family and immigrant group. The movies helped immigrants organize exposure to new cultural experiences in their own terms in a benign environment. The movies also served as the catalyst for breaking down traditional immigrant norms among the younger generation who were now exposed to a broader range of options.

Cinema and other forms of mass communications helped to define the public and public opinion. In an earlier time this had been the province of the written word, but emerging technologies made “public spaces” (opinions about common ideas) accessible to virtually everyone. To be a public figure was to be someone who was before the public in a mass communications format. The public person (movie star, commentator, politician) because of his public presence came to define the norms, symbols, and values of the society. The consumption of the products of the mass media constructed the mass public.



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The Principles of Scientific Management



The Principles of Scientific Management (Forgotten Books)
By Frederick W. Taylor

The so called notion of “Taylorism” underlined the clash between the norms of largely rural family and community based institutions, and the rigorous, impersonal demands of labor and social discipline imposed by an industrializing America.

Taylors’s work glorifies the notion of labor discipline in the cause of maximum productivity (which he justifies as economically good for both the worker and the employer). The three elements of scientific management are: (1) standardization of tools and processes, (2) selection of the most capable workers, and (3) close supervision of the worker to ensure that the worker executes the previously management approved “one best way” of doing the job. Taylor’s critics decried scientific management for de-humanizing workers, making them nothing more than interchangeable parts in a giant industrial machine.

The emergence of consumerism served to mask the transformation of the worker from person to commodity and tempered resistance to labor discipline.




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Beyond Ethnicity: Book Review




Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture
By Werner Solors

Sollors uses American literature/culture to explain the continuous process of revitalization of the concept of Americanism” as new ethnic groups are assimilated into the existing mainstream. As new groups are assimilated they simultaneously modify the very nature of Americanism.

Sollors argues that there are two legitimizing strains in the formation of “Americanism”, one being descent and the other being consent. There is (and always has been) a tension between Americans who feel that they are legitimate Americans by right of birth and descent and those who feel that they are equally legitimate because they have chosen (consented) to be Americans. This tension is reflected in literature and culture. Sollors argues that it is cultural medium that provide a place for mediation between group norms and the socialization of new groups into the codes of American-ness. Sollors argues that the sense of national kinship between Americans is created by a process of cultural mediation. Forms, symbols and language do much to forge national identity. Out of a shared symbolic language ( the acceptance of the symbolic meaning for events) emerges a middle ground for the immigrant between assimilation (complete surrender to the new culture) and ossification (refusal to abandon Old World identification).

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gender and the Politics of History: Book Review



Scott’s book on gender points out the very fragile nature of “how we know what we know.” Scott points to language as the way in which people represent and organize life. Language creates a cosmology upon which people build their values, order their priorities and take action. Napoleon once said that, “a man will die for a bit of ribbon” (a medal), this because he had internalized the symbology of the ribbon. Thus if you change the language (terms of debate) you begin to change the system of values.

Why would you need to change the terms of debate? Scott suggests that history, as it had traditionally been written by men, is a fiction created through implicit processes of differentiation, marginalization, and exclusion. Power relationships determine how the story is told. As new power centers emerge in a society (class, race, gender, ethnicity) alternative views of history emerge. Scott shows the underlying power structure behind the writing of history and implicitly raises the question, “Who owns’ history?” In a homogenous society you have “one” history. In a heterogeneous society you have multiple histories.

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Cipher Book Reveals Location of Treasure

In the 1940s, Edward Rowe Snow of Marshfield, Massachusetts searched for the treasure of Captain James Turner, “The King of Calf Island”. He didn't have a treasure map, but by a stroke of extraordinary luck Snow came into possession of a 17th century book which proved to be the key to the treasure’s whereabouts. Upon examining the book he found that holes picked out certain letters which spelled out a message, “Gold is due east trees Strong Island Chatham Outer Bar.” When he searched the area, Snow discovered a small metal chest buried just above the high water mark. The chest contained 316 silver coins dating between 1799-1820.

Time Magazine Report of October 15, 1945:



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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jean Lafitte

As communications and national maritime strength grew piracy withered. Still, as late as 1813 three thousand acts of piracy were reported in the Gulf of Mexico. It was not until 1850 that piracy finally disappeared from the Western Hemisphere.

One of the greatest pirates of the Gulf was Jean Lafitte. Jean Lafitte was born in France in the year 1780. He was apprenticed as a blacksmith in his youth, a trade which he took up in New Orleans when he and two of his brothers moved to America. Within a few years the smithy had become a clearinghouse for pirate goods.

Lafitte decided to outfit his own ships to bring in more goods. He established a base in Barrataria Bay outside of New Orleans. Soon Lafitte's ships were cruising the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. Holding a privateer's commission from the Republic of Cartagena, Lafitte preyed on Spanish commerce. The merchandise would then be smuggled into New Orleans. All attempts to dislodge the pirates failed. The governor of Louisiana offered the unheard of sum of $5,000 for the capture of Lafitte, dead or alive. Lafitte responded by offering a $50,000 reward for the head of the governor.

The War of 1812 placed Lafitte's pirates in a tenuous position. The Barratarian gulf was an important approach to New Orleans, and in 1814 the British offered Lafitte a huge cash settlement , along with a commission in the Royal Navy for his cooperation in seizing the city. Lafitte alerted American authorities and offered to aid the Americans if the United States would offer a full pardon. General Andrew Jackson accepted Lafitte's offer, and the pirates, in charge of the artillery, rendered distinguished service in the battle of New Orleans. Lafitte and his men received a full pardon, but Lafitte found that he could not endure the monotony of a respectable life. In 1817, Lafitte, with a thousand followers, established a new pirate stronghold on Galveston Island off the coast of Texas. Finally, after several more years of piratical activities an American naval force smashed Lafitte's base. Laffite fled to South America, finally returning to Europe, where he died in 1826.

Most of the treasures hidden by Lafitte are in Louisiana, although Florida and Texas claim their share as well.


Amazon.com link to Legends of Pirate Gold





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Monday, June 29, 2009

The Confederate Blockade of the Potomac

Link to:
Even before Virginia became part of the Confederacy, Northern Virginians realized the opportunity they had to strangle Washington by erecting land batteries on prominent points along the Potomac River.

The decision to do so was finally reached in August 1861, while the Union army lay paralyzed after its defeat at Bull Run. In all, there were thirty seven heavy guns placed along the river. And five regiments were encamped along the river to protect the vital gun positions. The Confederates also had a captured steamer, the C.S.S City of Richmond, terrorizing smaller craft on the river.

The Confederate defenses effectively closed the Potomac River from August 1861 to March 1862. The speediest ships could be kept under constant fire for almost an hour. The Confederate blockade was so successful that a foreign correspondent reported that Washington was the only city in the United States which really was blockaded.

When Confederate forces shifted south in March 1862 to forestall a Union drive on Richmond, the batteries along the river were evacuated.






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Friday, June 26, 2009

The Populists, the Progressives, and Revolution in America

Link to:
There was a mandate for change in the Gilded Age, but no agreement on what that change should be among the divergent groups that made up American society. (1) The upper industrial class engineered a wrenching economic transformation, accumulated staggering fortunes, and pursued notorious private lives, upholding a set of values at odds with the middle class, farmers, and workers. Even among themselves the upper industrial class disagreed how best to live their lives and secure their future. Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, among the most successful, were, with their austere lifestyles and doctrines of philanthropy, revolutionaries to other members of the upper industrial class; (2) the middle class was split between old style Radicals such as Albion Tourgee with notions of color blind meritocracy and more cautious middle class reformers such as the Progressives who sought to avoid societal turmoil and remake workers, immigrants and the industrial upper class in their own image; (3) the agrarian class simultaneously pursued the agrarian myth of the yeoman farmer, while living the life of the rural small businessman; (4) labor divided between those seeking a re-structuring of society and those primarily concerned with wages and working conditions; (5) sectional and racial issues unresolved from the time of the Civil War continued to divide; (6) women increasingly questioned prescribed gender roles.

No group could unilaterally impose its will. Instead, each group usually had to make alliances, some of them strange and uncomfortable, and win over at least some of the enemy in order to achieve its goals. For example, by the end of the century, many women suffragists argued that Anglo-Saxon women’s votes, would serve as bulwark against the influence of foreign and black votes. Then, as now, the very fragmentation of America precluded revolution or the emergence of a successful radical opposition.



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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Domestic Propaganda in World War I



Amazon.com link to: Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen by Christopher Capozzola

In 1917 the United States government established the Committee on Public Information (CPI) to mobilize and sustain public opinion in favor of America’s war effort. Since that time, the historical treatment of American domestic propaganda efforts in World War I has evolved in three distinct phases, reflecting an evolution in thinking not only about the definition of propaganda but also about its impact on American life.

Christopher Capozzola, a scholar trained in the post-Cold War period, analyzes the past from a vantage point in which a “rights society”, diversity, and pluralism are the enshrined national norms. His book is compelling in that he shows us that such was not always the case.

The works of earlier historians bear out that American thought has undergone a significant change. In the 1940s, Lavine and Wechsler could write unblushingly “In the molding of public opinion, the miners and unskilled workers didn’t figure very decisively; ‘the Americans’ delivered the sermons and wrote the newspaper editorials.” Here was a top down driven society where historians wrote knowingly for a narrow and homogeneous elite. During the period 1950-1990s, we see the emergence of the voice of dissent, and increasing attention to previously excluded groups. The discourse revolves around the relationship of the individual to the state, with the balance shifting in the direction of historians giving the rights of individuals an increasing significance in relation to the needs of the state. The scholarship of this period clearly reflects the national security anxieties and domestic political battles of the Cold War.

Interestingly, with the end of the Cold War, and the emergence of historians trained after the fall of the Soviet Union, scholarship concerning World War I launches forth in a new direction, leading one to speculate if historians are inevitably prisoners of the political era in which they live. If so, then no one book can ever do justice to a subject, and the history book/web product of the future must incorporate the viewpoints of all prior historical schools/phases in order to provide the most skillful and useful analytical tool.


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Monday, June 01, 2009

A Rifleman in Normandy

THE NORMANDY CAMPAIGN

“Incentive is not ordinarily part of an infantryman’s life. For him there are no 25 or 50 missions to be completed for a ticket home. Instead the rifleman trudges into battle knowing that statistics are stacked against his survival. He fights without promise of either reward or relief. Behind every river, there’s another hill….and behind that hill, another river. After weeks or months in the line only a wound can offer him the comfort of safety, shelter, and a bed. Those who are left to fight, fight on, evading death but knowing that with each day of evasion they have exhausted one more chance for survival. Sooner or later, unless victory comes, the chase must end on the litter or in the grave”
General Omar N. Bradley, Commander US First Army.

June 6, 1944
On June 6, 1944 the Allies land in Normandy, on the north coast of France. Operation Overlord is underway.

August 25, 1944
Paris is liberated by the Allies. The Battle of Normandy costs the German army 450,000 men. Some 240,000 of these were killed or wounded. The Allies suffered 209,000 killed or wounded.






Link to: A Rifleman in Normandy



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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why do we study history?

This video of a slave auction site in St. Louis, Missouri raises the question, “Should we remember history or move on?" Why do we study history?




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A Confederate attack on Washington D.C. ?


CSS Stonewall

The Confederacy almost turned the naval balance of power around when it was the first to commission an operational ironclad. On the morning of March 8, 1862, the CSS Virginia (Merrimack) sailed toward the entrance of the James River, attacking the wooden ships of the Union fleet. Panic spread throughout Washington as news of the destruction of the wooden ships flowed into the city. Washingtonians waited to be shelled by the ironclad monster. An officer asked President Lincoln, “Who is to prevent her from dropping her anchor in the Potomac…and throwing her hundred pound shells into this room, or battering down the walls of the Capitol?” Lincoln replied, “The Almighty,” but together with members of his cabinet continued looking anxiously down the Potomac for a sign of the CSS Virginia.

Actually the heavy, ponderous Virginia,with its deep draft, was probably incapable of sailing up the Potomac. The more seaworthy CSS Stonewall, purchased in Europe and commissioned late in the war, was the type of ocean going ironclad cruiser that could have destroyed the Union blockade and bombarded Washington, Philadelphia and New York.


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Monday, May 18, 2009

Captain Kidd’s Treasure

If Captain Kidd really buried treasure in all of the places he is credited as having visited, he would have spent more time digging than sailing. Still, the legends of Kidd's treasures should not be dismissed lightly. On May 12, 1701, after sentencing, and while awaiting execution, Kidd made a desperate appeal to the House of Commons, offering to lead Royal officials to "goods and treasure to the value of one hundred thousand pounds" in exchange for a reprieve.

Legend places chests of Captain Kidd's gold in many locations in many states. In Connecticut these locations include:

- Milford, New Haven County
- Charles Island off Milford
- Pilot Island off Norwalk
- Sheffield Island off Norwalk
- The Thimble Island group
- Near Middletown, Middlesex County
- Conanicut Island near old Lyme
- Clarke's Island
- On Kelsey Point in Middlesex County

In Maine:
- Wiscasset, Lincoln County

In Maryland:
- Druid Hill Park in Baltimore

In Massachusetts:
- Gold and jewels are buried near Turner Falls.

In New Jersey
- Cliffwood Beach on Raritan Bay
- Sandy Hook
- Red Bank
- Lilly Pond near Cape May Point

In New York:
- Gardiner's Island...in Kidd valley.
- Several Kidd legends center on the Hudson River:



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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Eugene Debs - Bigot

Link to:
In the early 20th century, the premise of left wing radical Eugene Debs’ ideology rested upon identification of the labor movement with Anglo-Saxon male Protestants intimately familiar both with the prophetic strain in Christianity and with the traditions of American democracy. Immigrants, especially those of non-English or non-German stock, black and female workers did not fit into this conception. Debs wrote, “The Dago works for small, and lives far more like a savage or wild beast, than the Chinese.” These sentiments did not inspire universal labor solidarity.

Debs was not unique in his outlook. The American Protective Association identified Catholicism as the country’s most dangerous threat. Members took an oath never to vote for a Catholic, patronize Catholic merchants, or strike with Catholic workmen.

The objects of intolerance change over time, but the shrill voices of intolerance never seem to change.



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Friday, May 08, 2009

Rare Coins: Confederate Coins (1861-1865)

The Confederacy made tentative steps toward coining money. Many United States silver half dollars minted in New Orleans in 1861 ( 1861 O) were struck by Confederates. The 1861 O quantity includes 330,000 coins struck by the U.S. government; 1,240,000 for the state of Louisiana after it seceded from the Union, and 962,633 coins struck after Louisiana joined the Confederacy. Since all of these coins were struck from U.S. dies they cannot be distinguised one from the other.

The Confederacy’s attempt to operate the New Orleans mint also accounts for some of the rarest coins in American history, the so called “Confederate half dollars.” In 1861 the Confederate government coined four silver half dollars at New Orleans using the obverse of the regular U.S. half dollar and an original Confederate design on the reverse side. The first of these Confederate half dollars was not found until 1879. The other three have yet to be found.





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Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives

“Too much cannot be said against the men of wealth who sacrifice everything to getting wealth. There is not in the world a more ignoble character than the mere money-getting American, insensible to every duty, regardless of every principle, bent only on amassing a fortune, and putting his fortune to only the basest uses….”

Page 96: A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America by Michael McGerr. Oxford University Press, 2003

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

American Civil War Crime

There was more to the American Civil War than just battles and generals. Millions of ordinary people were doing ordinary things. Some of these things involved breaking the law, civilian and military. Author Tom Lowry has read over 85,000 court martial transcripts and is one of the foremost authorities on Civil War justice.









Why the South Fought the Civil War





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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Taxes to Beat the Axis

In 1943 Americans realized that paying their taxes was a patriotic duty to be done in support of the common good.

“There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”…..Franklin D. Roosevelt





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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

John Brown at Harpers Ferry

The culminating event of the 1850s was John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. To white Virginians, Brown’s raid was emblematic of an evil outside influence trying to disrupt the harmony enjoyed by Virginia’s white and African American communities.

“ Not a Slave Insurrection!”, proclaimed an editorial in the Alexandria Gazette,

“ The recent outbreak at Harper’s Ferry was, in no sense, an insurrection. The slaves had no part nor lot in the matter, except in so far as some of them were forced to take part ….There were five free negroes engaged in the affair, but not a single slave! And even the free negroes thus engaged were not Virginia free negroes”

Two days later, the editor of the Alexandria Gazette elaborated on his claim that the Brown raid was not an insurrection. The editor asked, “What single feature or circumstance characterized it as an ‘insurrection’?” After pointing out that “abolition invaders” found not “one single abettor or sympathizer in the State”, the editor pointed out that to call John Brown’s raid an insurrection disguised the enormous truth, “that Virginia has been invaded…actually, deliberately, and systematically invaded…by an organized band of miscreants, white and black, from Free States, under the lead of a Kansas desperado, at the instigation and appointment of influential and wealthy Northern Abolitionists!”

Ultimately the psychological tensions produced by the internal contradictions of slavery as it faced both economic modernization and hostile outside forces found catharsis in secession and war.

Runaway Slaves in Virginia available on Kindle



Secrets of American History: available on Kindle







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Monday, March 30, 2009

Review: Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War



Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War
by Penny M. Von Eschen

Penny Von Eschen raises the question as to whether music can be a universal language, transcending national boundaries and communicating with all people regardless of language or social barriers. Can music act as a “tool for global transformation?” She suggests that American jazz was such a universal language acting as a bridge to other cultures. The key ingredient appears to be the individualistic nature of jazz. Jazz carries a subtext of individualism, of personal expression, and of the possibility of freedom. There are serious claims that the Cold War was won largely by American blue jeans and music presenting an alternative societal vision to the Communist bloc.

As appealing as this view is, it appears na├»ve and romantic. Cultural influence is a form “soft” power as opposed to “hard” power which is economic and military. As Mao Tse Tung once observed, “all power comes from the barrel of a gun.” Countries with more hard power tend to have more soft power (i.e. cultural influence). Thus after the Second World War, British and French cultural hegemony in the Third World declined as American and Soviet cultural influence rose. As much as American culture may have influenced the ultimate demise of the Soviet Union, forty five years of military containment and the collapse of the Soviet economy probably played more decisive roles.

Can the world be changed by song? Problematic. When the artist creates a song the meaning of the song passes to the audience. Thus a jazz listener in Africa during the Cold War might respond to jazz because, “to speak English as an American, put him in the vanguard”. In addition, “to be liberated (from French colonial rule) was to be exposed to R&B….” an alternative source of cultural capital. (Von Eschen, 178). How the audience receives the song and what meaning it fashions from the song may be totally removed from the artist’s original intent.

More problematic yet is that artists are in and of their culture and cannot necessarily transcend it. While an artist may oppose certain aspects of the culture, he/she is also a product of that culture. Thus, the same individualism, personal expression and possibility of freedom that is found appealing within Western culture may be totally anathema, for example, within the context of traditional Islamic culture. American music, as a product of a secular Western consumer society, may be perceived by both the elites and the masses in traditional religious non-consumer societies as part of overall American cultural imperialism, as opposed to something benign.

Since we do not have a universal world culture, and many political scientists posit that we are in an era characterized by the “clash of civilizations”, policy makers will assess the merits of using music as a “tool/weapon” in this struggle of competing civilizations. For example, Western societies embrace notions of gender equality. Islamic culture largely rejects this western value. Thus American policy makers might use American cultural products to target the aspirations of Islamic women for power/political purposes. However unwittingly, the artist becomes an agent of cultural imperialism in its broadest sense.

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