Our jaded historical minds race over the word abolitionist.
George Leonard White could have stayed at his consumptive father’s blacksmith shop in New York State but left for Ohio to become a school teacher. Nothing particularly heroic in that.
Yes, yes. George was against slavery. Ho hum. Aren’t we all equally against slavery these days? Human trafficking as a phrase hardly captures the same depth of feeling we let rise up in us when the word slavery is mentioned but it’s the very same thing.
Part of training to become a foster parent is to recognize when children (in New York, in America!!) have been victims of sex slavery. Yes, we all say, of course we’re adamantly opposed to sex slavery.So much so that we’d rather not address the subject at all.I suppose most people living in the 1860’s sort of felt the same way.
George Leonard White saw a need. At 6′ 5″ with dark hair and intense eyes George kept an orderly classroom. He noted that black children needed schooling too, so deep in the woods he taught them as well.
The Bible and music were George’s two loves. He taught himself the fiddle and sang. I wonder did he ever share this love with the children he taught. I hope so. But let’s stay a moment with George and his pupils in the school room. Nobody held a carrot on a stick, there was no Teach for America back then. No one held George’s hand when he decided to enrich the minds of black children. This was one person acting alone in a dark wood.
The war came and George, Bible in knapsack, eagerly joined Ohio in the fight. George was certain of his reason for fighting: to help end slavery. He didn’t put himself in harm’s way because his buddies were doing the same. He had a heroic sense of conviction and a sense that his one life mattered–though he did not need a professor or coach to convince him of it. Every word of his worn Bible told him so.
When a person slogs through cold mud on stale crackers, maggot-infested meat and coffee for three years; faces bullets and sickness and human depravity for just as long; marches up mountains and falls apart by the roadside unable to move for hours and almost no longer caring we say this is war. People tell war stories that fit neatly into boxes. Join up, go fight, come home.
A friend spots George, his 6’5″ frame wasted to a skeletal 140lbs lying in the mud. The friend helps him into a wagon. George goes home.
Heroism becomes habit. Maybe that’s all it is–a very noble habit. A way of thinking about oneself. Can one’s life be a mission without the idea of God? For, really, what’s the point of a mission that dies with you? Knowing someone may read about you in a history book seems like a sad reward for bothering. Humanitarianism, social uplift, basic manners make no real sense without mission.
I’m already in love with George’s heart and I hardly know a thing about him yet. George never fully recovers his health after the war, but he refuses to shirk his mission. Soon we will find out how he leads a group of black singers to stardom and leads white America to a new understanding of black humanity. No degrees, no permission needed or asked for, just a heart for mission.
The practical weakness of the vast mass of modern pity for the poor and the oppressed is precisely that it is merely pity; the pity is pitiful but not respectful. Men feel that the cruelty to the poor is a kind of cruelty to animals. They never feel that it is injustice to equals; nay, it is treachery to comrades.
–G. K. Chesterton.
Old white men. The bane of revisionist historians’ existences. Yet take a look into the eyes of William Seward. He confessed to doing nothing without determining how it might affect his political career.We can take him at his word, I suppose, but I prefer to dig beneath his veneer of cynicism.
William’s wealthy father owned slaves just north of New York City in the tiny town of Florida, N.Y. when slavery was still legal that far up the seaboard. Former slaves remembered young William running not from school to home but from home to school. In later years Seward said, “Education banishes the distinctions, old as time, of rich and poor, master and slave. It banishes ignorance and lays axe to the root of crime.”
As always, I wonder if modern education with its emphasis on class distinctions, slights, victims and the myth of the evil, old (and boring) white men of the past really elevates and inspires young adults to do great things in life. (My husband always says there are no feelings in engineering, no relativism, no racism. A bridge stands if done right).
Seward graduated top of his class at Union College after a short stay in the South with a friend. He enjoyed his time there, but came away more convinced of the evils of slavery. A later trip with his wife cemented his conviction that slavery was “morally unjust, politically unwise and socially pernicious, in some degree, in every community where it exists.” (1858, Bruce Chadwick)
Despite Seward’s self-deprecating denial of heart, he consistently, outspokenly denounced slavery in a time when few people did (for decades!). Again, the problem was not so much that average people and politicians didn’t believe slavery was wrong. Most in the North and some in the South did, but feared the consequences of ending the institution (would there be bloodshed and suffering?). Poor innocents. We look back upon them now wondering how did they recognize the winds of war? But that is unfair. Men (and women) spent active lifetimes denouncing slavery and pursuing justice. Seward was one of them.
There is much to be learned studying the lives of brave men.
How many of us, black, white, Asian, Hispanic spend more than a few minutes liking posts about justice and love and think we’re making a difference? How many of us are so single-minded about a pet cause that we leave family and friends for months and years while suffering the slings and arrows of corrupt journalists and fellow politicians?
I plead guilty to my fickle heart and plain old laziness.
Ego can be used for good. What good is it to dampen the soul with the sense that we are all just the “little people” of the world? My father once turned tail at a restaurant with all of us in tow because he thought we weren’t quite up to snuff to eat with the other patrons. How sad for my father who did so much good but saw his reflection in such low light.
Here’s what makes Seward particularly interesting to me: When he got to Washington he held dinner parties. So? These extravagant dinner parties were attended by all and sundry. Not just Northerners. Not just abolitionists. Southerners, slaveholders and just about every type of human on the political spectrum eagerly awaited invitation.
Imagine that. Knowing that some snowflakes could not control their passions when discussing politics over dinner, the topic was forbidden and real friendship flourished–despite the fact that everyone knew where they’d stand against each other in the morning.
A noble man is one who can hold strong beliefs while allowing others the same freedom (a rare art).
Even as Seward used his home to hide fugitive slaves and helped finance Frederick Douglass’s newspaper, he visited the future Confederate president JEFFERSON DAVIS every day, rain or shine, when Davis lay sick in bed for months in Washington.
Lincoln beat him for the presidency in 1860 for a number of reasons, politics being what they are, and Seward is remembered in school for the folly of securing Alaska. What a shame. This friend of Harriet Tubman’s was so much more than that.
After politics Seward returned to New York to write his memoirs but lost interest in them. One morning he sat at his desk and had trouble breathing. As his family gathered at his bedside they asked him if he had any final words.
The man who tried to hide his heart spoke. “Love one another.”
***Seward’s Rochester speech which electrified the nation is so worth reading!
The main subject, then, is whether the Democratic party deserves to retain the confidence of the American people. In attempting to prove it unworthy, I think that I am not actuated by prejudices against that party, or by prepossessions in favor of its adversary; for I have learned, by some experience, that virtue and patriotism, vice and selfishness, are found in all parties, and that they differ less in their motives than in the policies they pursue.
Our country is a theatre, which exhibits, in full operation, two radically different political systems; the one resting on the basis of servile or slave labor, the other on voluntary labor of freemen. The laborers who are enslaved are all negroes, or persons more or less purely of African derivation. But this is only accidental. The principle of the system is, that labor in every society, by whomsoever performed, is necessarily unintellectual, grovelling and base; and that the laborer, equally for his own good and for the welfare of the State, ought to be enslaved. The white laboring man, whether native or foreigner, is not enslaved, only because he cannot, as yet, be reduced to bondage.
You need not be told now that the slave system is the older of the two, and that once it was universal. The emancipation of our own ancestors, Caucasians and Europeans as they were, hardly dates beyond a period of five hundred years. The great melioration of human society which modern times exhibits is mainly due to the incomplete substitution of the system of voluntary labor for the one of servile labor, which has already taken place. This African slave system is one which, in its origin and in its growth, has been altogether foreign from the habits of the races which colonized these States, and established civilization here. It was introduced on this continent as an engine of conquest, and for the establishment of monarchical power, by the Portuguese and the Spaniards, and was rapidly extended by them all over South America, Central America, Louisiana, and Mexico. Its legitimate fruits are seen in the poverty, imbecility, and anarchy which now pervade all Portuguese and Spanish America. The free-labor system is of German extraction, and it was established in our country by emigrants from Sweden, Holland, Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland. We justly ascribe to its influences the strength, wealth, greatness, intelligence, and freedom, which the whole American people now enjoy. One of the chief elements of the value of human life is freedom in the pursuit of happiness. The slave system is not only intolerable, unjust, and inhuman, toward the laborer, whom, only because he is a laborer, it loads down with chains and converts into merchandise, but is scarcely less severe upon the freeman, to whom, only because he is a laborer from necessity , it denies facilities for employment, and whom it expels from the community because it cannot enslave and convert into merchandise also. It is necessarily improvident and ruinous, because, as a general truth, communities prosper and flourish, or droop and decline, in just the degree that they practise or neglect to practise the primary duties of justice and humanity. The free-labor system conforms to the divine law of equality, which is written in the hearts and consciences of man, and therefore is always and everywhere beneficent.
The slave system is one of constant danger, distrust, suspicion, and watchfulness. It debases those whose toil alone can produce wealth and resources for defence, to the lowest degree of which human nature is capable, to guard against mutiny and insurrection, and thus wastes energies which otherwise might be employed in national development and aggrandizement. The free-labor system educates all alike, and by opening all the fields of industrial employment and all the departments of authority, to the unchecked and equal rivalry of all classes of men, at once secures universal contentment, and brings into the highest possible activity all the physical, moral, and social energies of the whole state. In states where the slave system prevails, the masters, directly or indirectly, secure all political power, and constitute a ruling aristocracy. In states where the free-labor system prevails, universal suffrage necessarily obtains, and the state inevitably becomes, sooner or later, a republic or democracy.
Russia yet maintains slavery, and is a despotism. Most of the other European states have abolished slavery, and adopted the system of free labor. It was the antagonistic political tendencies of the two systems which the first Napoleon was contemplating when he predicted that Europe would ultimately be either all Cossack or all republican. Never did human sagacity utter a more pregnant truth truth. The two systems are at once perceived to be incongruous. But they are more than incongruous-they are incompatible. They never have permanently existed together in one country, and they never can. It would be easy to demonstrate this impossibility, from the irreconcilable contrast between their great principles and characteristics. But the experience of mankind has conclusively established it. Slavery, as I have intimated, existed in every state in Europe. Free labor has supplanted it everywhere except in Russia and developed in modern times are now Turkey. State necessities developed in modern times are now obliging even those two nations to encourage and employ free labor; and already, despotic as they are, we find them engaged in abolishing slavery. In the United States, slavery came into collision with free labor at the close of the last century, and fell before it in New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, but triumphed over it effectually, and excluded it for a period yet undetermined, from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Indeed, so incompatible are the two systems, that every new State which is organized within our ever-extending domain makes its first political act a choice of the one and the exclusion of the other, even at the cost of civil war, if necessary. The slave States, without law, at the last national election, successfully forbade, within their own limits, even the casting of votes for a candidate for President of the United States supposed to be favorable to the establishment of the free-labor system in new States.
Hitherto, the two systems have existed in different States, but side by side within the American Union. This has happened because the Union is a confederation of States. But in another aspect the United States constitute only one nation. Increase of population, which is filling the States out to their very borders, together with a new and extended network of railroads and other avenues,, and an internal commerce which daily becomes more intimate, is rapidly bringing the States into a higher and more perfect social unity or consolidation. Thus, these antagonistic systems are continually coming into closer contact, and collision results.
Shall I tell you what this collision means? They who think that it is accidental, unnecessary, the work of interested or fanatical agitators, and therefor ephemeral, mistake the case altogether. It is an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces, and it means that the United States must and will, sooner or later, become either entirely a slaveholding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation. Either the cotton and rice fields of South Carolina and the sugar plantations of Louisiana will ultimately be tilled by free labor, and Charleston and New Orleans become marts of legitimate merchandise alone, or else the rye-fields and wheat-fields of Massachusetts and New York must again be surrendered by their farmers to slave culture and to the production of slaves, and Boston and New York becomes once more markets for trade in the bodies and souls of men. It is the failure to apprehend this great truth that induces so many unsuccessful attempts at final compromises between the slave and free States, and it is the existence of this great fact that renders all such pretended compromises, when made, vain and ephemeral. Startling as this saying may appear to you, fellow-citizens, it is by no means an original or even a modern one. Our forefathers knew it to be true, and unanimously acted upon it when they framed the constitution of the United States. They regarded the existence of the servile system in so many of the States with sorrow and shame, which they openly confessed, and they looked upon the collision between them, which was then just revealing itself, and which we are now accustomed to deplore, with favor and hope. They knew that one or the other system must exclusively prevail.
Unlike too many of those who in modem time invoke their authority, they had a choice between the two. They preferred the system of free labor, and they determined to organize the government, and so direct its activity, that that system should surely and certainly prevail. For this purpose, and no other, they based the whole structure of the government broadly on the principle that all men are created equal, and therefore free – little dreaming that, within the short period of one hundred years, their descendants would bear to be told by any orator, however popular, that the utterance of that principle was merely a rhetorical rhapsody; or by any judge, however venerated, that it was attended by mental reservation, which rendered it hypocritical and false. By the ordinance of 1787 they dedicated all of the national domain not yet polluted by slavery to free labor immediately, thenceforth and forever; while by the new constitution and laws they invited foreign free labor from all lands under the sun, and interdicted the importation of African slave labor, at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances whatsoever. It is true that they necessarily and wisely modified this policy of freedom by leaving it to the several States, affected as they were by different circumstances, to abolish slavery in their own way and at their own pleasure, instead of confiding that duty to Congress; and that they secured to the slave States, while yet retaining the system of slavery, a three-fifths representation of slaves in the federal government, until they. should find themselves able to relinquish it with safety. But the very nature of these modifications fortifies my position, that the fathers knew that the two systems could not endure within the Union, and expected within a short period slavery would disappear forever. Moreover, in order that these modifications might not altogether defeat their grand design of a republic maintaining universal equality, they provided that two thirds of the States might amend the constitution.
It remains to say on this point only one word, to guard against misapprehension. If these States are to again become universally slaveholding, I do not pretend to say with what violations of the constitution that end shall be accomplished. On the other hand, while I do confidently believe and hope that my country will yet become a land of universal freedom, I do not expect that it will be made so otherwise than through the action of the several States co-operating with the federal government, and all acting in strict conformity with their respective constitutions.
The strife and contentions concerning slavery, which gently disposed persons so habitually deprecate, are nothing more than the ripening of the conflict which the fathers themselves not only thus regarded with favor, but which they may be said to have instituted.
It is not to be denied, however, that thus far the course of that contest has not been according to their humane anticipations and wishes. In the field of federal politics, slavery, deriving unlooked-for advantages from commercial changes, and energies unforeseen from the facilities of combination between members of the slaveholding class and between that class and other property classes, early rallied, and has at length made a stand, not merely to retain its original defensive position, but to extend its sway throughout the whole Union. It is certain that the slaveholding class of American citizens indulge this high ambition, and that they derive encouragement for it from the rapid and effective political successes which they have already obtained. The plan of operation is this: By continued appliances of patronage and threats of disunion, they will keep a majority favorable to these designs in the Senate, where each State has an equal representation. Through that majority they will defeat, as they best can, the admission of free States and secure the admission of slave States. Under the protection of the judiciary, they will, on the principle of the Dred Scott case, carry slavery into all the territories of the United States now existing and hereafter to be organized. By the action of the President and Senate, using the treaty-making power, they will annex foreign slaveholding States. In a favorable conjuncture they will induce Congress to repeal the act of 1808 which prohibits the foreign slave trade, and so they will import from Africa, at a cost of only twenty dollars a head, slaves enough to fill up the interior of the continent. Thus relatively increasing the number of slave States, they will allow no amendment to the constitution prejudicial to their interest; and so, having permanently established their power, they expect the federal judiciary to nullify all State laws which shall interfere with internal or foreign commerce in slaves. When the free States shall be sufficiently demoralized to tolerate these designs, they reasonably conclude that slavery will be accepted by those States themselves. I shall not stop to show how speedy or how complete would be the ruin which the accomplishment of these slaveholding schemes would bring upon the country. For one, I should not remain in the country to test the sad experiment. Having spent my manhood, though not my whole life, in a free State, no aristocracy of any kind, much less an aristocracy of slaveholders, shall ever make the laws of the land in which I shall be content to live. Having seen the society around me universally engaged in agriculture, manufactures, and trade, which were innocent and beneficent, I shall never be a denizen of a State where men and women are reared as cattle, and bought and sold as merchandise. When that evil day shall come, and all further effort at resistance shall be impossible, then, if there shall be no better hope for redemption than I can now foresee, I shall say with Franklin, while looking abroad over the whole earth for a new and more congenial home, “Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” You will tell me that these fears are extravagant and chimerical. I answer, they are so; but they are so only because the designs of the slaveholders must and can be defeated. But it is only the possibility of defeat that renders them so. They cannot be defeated by inactivity. There is no escape from them compatible with non-resistance. How, then, and in what way, shall the necessary resistance be made,? There is only one way. The Democratic party must be permanently dislodged from the government. The reason is, that the Democratic party is inextricably committed to the designs of the slaveholders, which I have described. Let me be well understood. I do not charge that the Democratic candidates for public office now before the people are pledged to-much less that the Democratic masses who support them really adopt-those atrocious and dangerous designs. Candidates may, and generally do, mean to act justly, wisely, and patriotically, when they shall be elected; but they become the ministers and servants, not the dictators, of the power which elects them. The policy which a party shall pursue at a future period is only gradually developed, depending on the occurrence of events never fully foreknown. The motives of men, whether acting as electors or in any other capacity, are generally pure. Nevertheless, it is not more true that ” hell is paved with good intentions,” than it is that earth is covered with wrecks resulting from innocent and amiable motives.
The very constitution of the Democratic party commits it to execute all the designs of the slaveholders, whatever they may be. It is not a party of the whole Union, of all the free States and of all the slave States; nor yet is it a party of the free States in the North and in the Northwest; but it is a sectional and local party, having practically its seat within the slave States, and counting its constituency chiefly and almost exclusively there. Of all its representatives in Congress and in the electoral colleges, two-thirds uniformly come from these States. Its great element of strength lies in the vote of the slaveholders, augmented by the representation of three-fifths of the slaves. Deprive the Democratic party of this strength, and it would be a helpless and hopeless minority, incapable of continued organization. The Democratic party, being thus local and sectional, acquires new strength from the admission of ever new slave State, and loses relatively by the admission of every new free State into the Union.
A party is, in one sense, a joint stock association, in which those who contribute most direct the action and management of the concern. The slaveholders contributing in an overwhelming proportion to the capital strength of the Democratic party, they necessarily dictate and prescribe its policy. The inevitable caucus system enables them to do so with a show of fairness and justice. If it were possible to conceive for a moment that the Democratic party should disobey the behests of the slaveholders, we should then see a withdrawal of the slaveholders, which would leave the party to perish. The portion of the party which is found in the free States is a mere appendage, convenient to modify its sectional character, without impairing its sectional constitution, and is less effective in regulating its movements than the nebulous tail of the corset is in determining the appointed, though apparently eccentric, course of the fiery sphere from which it emanates.
To expect the Democratic party to resist slavery and favor freedom is as unreasonable as to look for Protestant missionaries to the Catholic propaganda of Rome. The history of the Democratic party commits it to the policy of slavery. It has been the Democratic party, and no other agency, which has carried that policy up to its present alarming culmination. Without stopping to ascertain, critically, the origin of the present Democratic party, we may concede its claim to date from the era of good feeling which occurred under the administration of President Monroe. At that time, in this State, and about that time in many others of the free States, the Democratic party deliberately disfranchised the free colored or African citizen, and it has pertinaciously continued this disfranchisement ever since. This was an effective aid to slavery; for, while the slaveholder votes for his slaves against freedom, the freed slave in the free States is prohibited from voting against slavery. In 1824 the democracy resisted the election of John Quincy Adams-himself before that time an acceptable Democrat and in 1828 it expelled him from the presidency and put a slaveholder in his place, although the office had been filled by slaveholders thirty-two out of forty years.
In 1836, Martin Van Buren-the first non-slaveholding citizen of a free State to whose election the Democratic party ever consented-signalized his inauguration into the presidency by a gratuitous announcement that under no circumstances would he ever approve a bill for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. From 1838 to 1844 the subject of abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia and in the national dockyards and arsenals, was brought before Congress by repeated popular appeals. The Democratic party thereupon promptly denied the right of petition, and effectually suppressed the freedom of speech in Congress, so far as the institution of slavery was concerned.
From 1840 to 1843 good and wise men counselled that Texas should remain outside the Union until she should consent to relinquish her self-instituted slavery; but the Democratic party precipitated her admission into the Union, not only without that condition, but even with a covenant that the State might be divided and reorganized so as to constitute four slave States instead of one.
In 1846, when the United States became involved in a war with Mexico, and it was apparent that the struggle would end in the dismemberment of that republic, which was a non-slaveholding power, the Democratic party rejected a declaration that slavery should not be established within the territory to be acquired. When, in 1850, governments were to be instituted in the territories of California and New Mexico, the fruits of that war, the Democratic party refused to admit New Mexico as a free State, and only consented to admit California as a free State on the condition, as it has since explained the transaction, of leaving all of New Mexico and Utah open to slavery, to which was also added the concession of perpetual slavery in the District of Columbia, and the passage of an unconstitutional, cruel, and humiliating law, for the recapture of fugitive slaves, with a further stipulation that the subject of slavery should never again be agitated in either chamber of Congress. When, in 1854, the slaveholders were contentedly reposing on these great advantages, then so recently won, the Democratic party unnecessarily, officiously, and with super-serviceable liberality, awakened them from their slumber, to offer and force on their acceptance the abrogation of the law which declared that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude should ever exist within that part of the ancient territory of Louisiana which lay outside of the State of Missouri, and north of the parallel of 36′ 30′ of north latitudes law which, with the exception of one other, was the only statute of freedom then remaining in the federal code.
In 1856, when the people of Kansas had organized a new State within the region thus abandoned to slavery, and applied to be admitted as a free State into the Union, the Democratic party contemptuously rejected their petition, and drove them with menaces and intimidations from the halls of Congress, and armed the President with military power to enforce their submission to a slave code, established over them by fraud and usurpation. At every subsequent stage of a long contest which has since raged in Kansas, the Democratic party- has lent its sympathies, its aid, and all the powers of the government which it controlled, to enforce slavery upon that unwilling and injured people. And now, even at this day, while it mocks us with the assurance that Kansas is free, the Democratic party keeps the State excluded from her just and proper place in the Union, under the hope that she may be dragooned into the acceptance of slavery.
The Democratic party, finally, has procured from a supreme judiciary, fixed in its interest, a decree that slavery exists by force of the constitution in every territory of the United States, paramount to all legislative authority, either within the territory or residing in Congress.
Such is the Democratic party. It has no policy, state or federal, for finance, or trade, or manufacture, or commerce, or education, or internal improvements, or for the protection or even the security of civil or religious liberty. It is positive and uncompromising in the interest of slavery-negative, compromising, and vacillating, in regard to everything else. It boasts its love of equality, and wastes its strength, and even its life, in fortifying the only aristocracy known in the land. It professes fraternity, and, so often as slavery requires, allies itself with proscription. It magnifies itself for conquests in foreign lands, but it sends the national eagle forth always with chains, and not the olive branch, in his fangs.
This dark record shows you, fellow-citizens, what I was unwilling to announce at an earlier stage of this argument, that of the whole nefarious schedule of slaveholding designs which I have submitted to you, the Democratic party has left only one yet to be consummated-the abrogation of the law which forbids the African slave-trade.
I know-few, I think, know better than I-the resources and energies of the Democratic party, which is identical with the slave power. I do ample justice to its traditional popularity. I know further-few, I think, know better than I-the difficulties and disadvantages of organizing a new political force, like the Republican party, and the obstacles it must encounter in laboring without prestige and without patronage. But, understanding all this, I know that the Democratic party must go down, and that the Republican party must rise into its place. The Democratic party derived its strength, originally, from its adoption of the principles of equal and exact justice to all men. So long as it practised this principle faithfully it was invulnerable. It became vulnerable when it renounced the principle, and since that time it has maintained itself, not by virtue of its own strength, or even of its traditional merits, but because there as yet had appeared in the political field no other party that had the conscience and the courage to take up, and avow, and practise the life-inspiring principle which the Democratic party had surrendered. At last, the Republican party has appeared. It avows, now, as the Republican party of 1800 did, in one word, its faith and its works, ” Equal and exact justice to all men.” Even when it first entered the field, only half organized, it struck a blow which only just failed to secure complete and triumphant victory. In this, its second campaign, it has already won advantages which render that triumph now both easy and certain.
The secret of its assured success lies in that very characteristic which, in the mouth of scoffers, constitutes its great and lasting imbecility and reproach. It lies in the fact that it is a party of one idea; but that is a noble one-an idea that fills and expands all generous souls; the idea of equality-the equality of all men before human tribunals and human laws, as they all are equal before the divine tribunal and divine laws.
I know, and you know, that a revolution has begun. I know, and all the world knows, that revolutions never go backward. Twenty, senators and a hundred representatives proclaim boldly in Congress to-day sentiments and opinions and principles of freedom which hardly so many men, even in this free State, dared to utter in their own homes twenty years ago. While the government of the United States, under the conduct of the Democratic party, has been all that time surrendering one plain and castle after another to slavery, the people of the United States have been no less steadily and perseveringly gathering together the forces with which to recover back again all the fields and all the castles which have been lost, and to confound and overthrow, by one decisive blow, the betrayers of the constitution and freedom forever. (NYHistory.com)
While working as an engineer overseeing the building of a federal customs house in Galena, Illinois, 29-year-old Ely Parker dropped in to a store and met a dissatisfied ex-military officer, Ulysses S. Grant employed as a clerk by his father and bored out of his skull. The meeting was chance and friendly, but did not promise anything more than friendship to either of them at the time. Yet as with most people who move and strive chance meetings are the reward for hard work and determination.
Let’s go back a ways, though. One day long before Ely was a successful engineer, he was a 14-year-old Seneca boy with a Baptist father who valued classical education. A group of English soldiers mocked young Ely’s stammering attempt at speaking English. Did Ely let this stop him? Of course not. He vowed to learn the language so well he’d shame the Englishmen themselves!
Tribal elders loved his drive and his growing intellect determining one day he would represent them in their relations with the “Americans.” One such American Lewis Henry Morgan romanticized the noble savages and upon meeting Ely by chance in a bookstore begged him to join his fraternity The Grand Order of the Iroquois in which an enthusiastic and idealistic group of young white men planned to model their lives after the Indians. Ely wasn’t offended by Morgan’s silly fraternity. Maybe Ely was bemused by Morgan’s naivete but invited Morgan to the reservation anyway. They fast became friends. Morgan learned much that helped him establish his fledgling career as an anthropological pioneer.
But Morgan wasn’t the type to take, take, take. He helped his friend Ely gain entry into the elite, white Cayuga Academy where despite some bullying he excelled and went on to study engineering at Rensselaer Institute (RPI).
At the start of the Civil War Ely was told as an Indian (a non-citizen) he could not organize a unit to fight for the Union and was rebuffed yet again when he asked to join the Union army as an engineer. As luck would have it U.S. Grant was short engineers and arranged for Ely to be commissioned a captain. Ely eventually worked alongside his friend as his adjutant and then as a lieutenant colonel and Grant’s military secretary writing most correspondence for Grant and taking part in drafting the final documents for Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse (in fact the documents are in Ely’s handwriting).
Ely Parker’s life was not without controversy. He married a white woman and took the job of Commissioner of Indian Affairs when Grant became president. Although Grant’s Indian Peace Policy lessened the fighting in the west some Indians unfairly accused Ely of selling out to the white man in marriage and career. This is always the way, isn’t it? Traveling once in Ireland I came across a group of young men who bitterly accused their friends successfully living in America as sell-outs. So be it, I say.
Heroes make lemonade.
Like Grant, Ely made and lost a fortune in the stock market and died with little money, but what a life he led! Ely Parker was a man of two worlds but saw the big picture. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox quipped upon meeting Ely, “I am glad to see one real American here.” Ely shook the defeated general’s hand and replied, “We are all Americans.” (wiki)
Inspired by PBS BIOGRAPHY
🙂 JUST THOUGHT I’D SHARE THIS INSPIRATIONAL VIDEO WITH YOU ALL TODAY AS A BONUS:
John Quincy Adams. Shall we bow our heads for an early nap before discussing a white dead president? It’s kind of superficial to judge a person because they’re white and dead, don’t you think? John Quincy was pretty cute (okay that’s superficial) as a young guy, but he was much more than that.
You know how we always love to trash kids who have famous parents? We say they got where they got because their father knew, say, George Washington, but a meeting with a president doesn’t always assure you a brilliant career. John Quincy started his brilliant career at the age of 14. Yes, fourteen. He accompanied Francis Dana as a secretary on a mission to Saint Petersburg. (WIKI)
Do you know any fourteen-year-olds? How many impress foreign diplomats and presidents? Well, maybe Justin Beiber did in his prime, but if you check out John Quincy’s love poems to his wife you might be surprised at Mr. Adam’s sensuous side. So young Adams did have the advantage of being born into a brainy family (funny they lived in Braintree, Massachusetts), but John Quincy’s younger brother with all the same advantages died young of alcoholism.
How many kids today know Greek, Latin, French, German and Dutch? How many consider it a fine hobby to translate Virgil, Horace, Plutarch and Aristotle? Anybody for one more opinion about deflated footballs?
Lest we think young Johnnie had it easy, let me mention his parents. John and Abigail groomed him for moral and intellectual greatness. This was no soft curry-comb grooming. Lovingly and beseechingly–daily, weekly, monthly and yearly–John and Abigail bombarded John Q with “advice.” When excelling at language, Abigail bemoaned his sloppy handwriting. When dancing with the girls in Europe, John Adams Sr. worried he might bring home a horrible Euro-trash girl.
Johnnie could have bolted under the pressure. He could have whined. Instead he wrote volumes in his journals, he translated volumes, he married well and became a great husband and father. These things were done in his spare time!
Here are some of his other accomplishments:
Graduated Harvard and became a lawyer (he thought this terribly dull). Later taught at Harvard.
Became a respected foreign minister to the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, Prussia and later Russia.
Became Secretary of State
Was elected President
And then for 18 years decided to hang out in Congress refusing all the while to descend into party politics. This guy had tons of courage. At one time or another everyone hated him. He stood for what was morally right and best for the country he loved. This meant that he vehemently opposed slavery before it was cool. He was a hard-working trail-blazer!
“The discussion of this Missouri question has betrayed the secret of their souls. In the abstract they admit that slavery is an evil, they disclaim it, and cast it all upon the shoulder of…Great Britain. But when probed to the quick upon it, they show at the bottom of their souls pride and vainglory in their condition of masterdom. They look down upon the simplicity of a Yankee’s manners, because he has no habits of overbearing like theirs and cannot treat negroes like dogs. It is among the evils of slavery that it taints the very sources of moral principle. It establishes false estimates of virtue and vice: for what can be more false and heartless than this doctrine which makes the first and holiest rights of humanity to depend upon the color of the skin?” (Journal entry Wiki)
John Quincy Adams also sat for one of the first presidential photographs:
US Grant was the greatest equestrian president. Everyone says so!
“He was a great horseman and sat his horse as if he were part of the horse, all one figure. There was never a movement of any description that was not masterful and graceful. No one ever saw him disturbed in any way, that is, jolted or taken unaware on horseback, whether he was going fast or slow. He was a born horseman. He had a natural love for animals of all kinds and he was of kindly instincts, without being demonstrative at all, except to his family. He never abused an animal, never.” Corporal M. Harrison Strong Grant, The Equestrian
And then there’s Theodore. Whatever he didn’t possess in grace he made up for with enthusiasm!
Even honey bees are an invasive species. Plants, insects and people tend to move–and take over. Populations explode and people jostle for position. Mrs. Astor of the late 19th century had a big house in NYC with a ballroom. People naturally wanted to attend her soirees. If you were “in” you were one of “The Four Hundred” which only meant that you were one of the 400 people who could fit in her ballroom. Do any of us have dinner parties without considering how many chairs we have?
Lower Manhattan was littered with old, once regal mansions chopped up for new immigrants. And at first everyone was sort of okay with it. The island could handle the influx and since many of the new people spoke English they didn’t seem so alien.
This did not mean that a Mrs. Astor wanted to live right next door to some working class shlub. But lets not do the easy thing–the setting of the rich against the poor. The middle class and the already established working class started feeling a bit uneasy as the century wore on. As one of my uncles once said when people were discussing how disgusting the beaches were on Coney Island, “Who cares, we can just move to nicer beaches.” Some of us didn’t have the funds to move at that particular moment and I suspect that many New Yorkers who watched the surge in immigration through the 19th century felt some alarm.
NYC Immigration rates went something like this:
1840: 60,609 (or a 20% addition to the city’s population in one year)
and so on.
Stats from Mrs. Astor’s New York
“Taxpayers were asked to welcome a very different kind of immigrant; usually untrained, largely illiterate, demanding free public services, practicing a different religion . . . the native poor and the taxpayers resented that immigrants could apply for relief.”
Does it all sound familiar yet? I grew up in a town where a bunch of kids who didn’t do well at school could depend on decent (not great) paying jobs landscaping other people’s yards. Suddenly those jobs were given to non-English speaking illegals and there was some resentment directed mainly at the landscaping company owners who’d started as the less than successful high school kids, built a company and now profited off the cheap labor of the immigrants.
I can personally understand why desperate people would want to flock to a country advertizing free everything but I can also understand the graph below:
Graph swiped from Pew Research