Monday, April 25, 2016

The Angel of Omaha

You've all heard of the Oracle of Omaha - now I want to introduce you to the Angel of Omaha.  Omaha is a weird place.  Yes, it is odd that the second richest man in the United States is not only from here, but still lives here in a very modest house he purchased in the 50's.  There are five Fortune 500 companies here.  There are three billionaires on the board of Omaha Performing Arts (OPA) - where my wife is employed.

The only thing about Omaha that seems to stand out is that it doesn't stand out.  Omaha doesn't really have it's own culture - like the weather - it's more of an amalgam of Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Missouri.  People here act a lot like folks from Minnesota.  They are usually very nice and hardworking - they may have pride, but they don't brag.  But we have good BBQ here - like our neighbors to the south, Kansas City.

Within the first six months of us moving to Omaha I got a good example of how unexpected this place can be.  We were invited to the Knights of Aksarben Ball (which deserves its own post) to honor Kendra's boss, Joan Squires.  I sat next to Harriet Otis - all I knew about her was that she gave money to OPA and that she was good friends with Joan.  In fact they lived next door to each other in an apartment building downtown.

Harriet had just come back from Italy - she had spent time at a 1,000 year old farm - taking art classes, eating wonderful food etc.  The painting above was made by her.  We talked a lot about travel, which I love as much as she did.  Even though she was almost 50 years older than me - we seemed to be kindred spirits.  I'll have to be honest that my curiosity got the better of me.  I asked some questions, that I thought were subtle, trying to figure out where her money came from - because she didn't act like many people do who have money.  I could tell that she was deliberating about whether she should tell me something - she finally said "my husband and I used to play a lot of bridge.  One of the couples who we played with regularly you might have heard of - the Buffett's."  I didn't ask any other questions, but I assumed that meant that they got in on the ground floor of Berkshire.  I would later learn there were a lot of people like that in Omaha.  Warren Buffett did not start out with tons of money - he is one of those rare people who was not only adept at getting people to trust him - he actually made really good decisions once he got their money.  So, there are a lot of very rich people in Omaha - who in any other place or time would have been upper middle class - they just happened to be lucky enough to play bridge with Warren Buffett.

And Harriett knew she was lucky - as she put it "I never thought that I would have the money to be a 'philanthropist'."   Her focus, when it came to philanthropy, was education.  She made many of the masters classes given by internationally touring artists possible.  But she didn't just write checks.  She came to pretty much every class.  She asked questions.  Even though many of these classes were designed for children she fit right in - because she never stopped being curious about the world.

It's been a rough six months at OPA.  The organization was central to a controversy regarding whether three historic buildings should be torn down in order to make way for a multi-use building that would have including parking.  It's a long story and I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say that OPA somehow became a pariah in the minds of some people in Omaha.  Disturbing to me, was the fact that many people who should know better - who have experienced first hand the dedication that OPA has to this community stayed silent and didn't come to the defense of the organization.  In January there was a city council meeting where a decision was going to be made regarding funding for tearing down the historic buildings.  Finding people in the community who would speak on behalf of OPA at this time was difficult.  Harriet was one of the few willing to speak up.

The above picture is from the Omaha World Herald at the city council meeting in January.

Harriet's death was unexpected.  She had health problems, but who doesn't at 87?  A week before she died I saw her at a concert at the Orpheum.  We talked during intermission and she started talking about her life.  She told me about her childhood on the Southside of Chicago and her time in college at the progressive Grinnell in Iowa.  She told me about how she had moved back to Chicago after college and came out to Omaha one weekend to visit some friends.  One of them set her up with another Grinnell grad.  After three days he asked her to marry him.  "What did you say?" I asked - looking rather shocked.  "I said yes!" she beamed.  Seeing how I was a little scandalized - she added with a smile - "Now don't go around spreading rumors about me!"

Joan wasn't feeling well that night and left at intermission.  Harriet wanted to stay - "Well I can walk you home if you want", I offered.  So, after the performance I met her and we walked home.  I even got a few other stories out of her.  As she entered the building she turned to me and blew me a kiss.  It was the last time I saw her.

I wanted to write this because I haven't seen anything written about Harriet in the local press.  She did a lot for this community - but as a true Omaha citizen - she didn't brag about it.  She did things quietly.  There were numerous people at her memorial yesterday who had been touched by her - whose lives were enriched because they knew Harriet.  Some, like me, didn't know her for very long - others had been close friends with her for over 50 years.  Some people you meet in this life appear to be angels sent from heaven.  Harriet Otis was one of those people.  Omaha has lost a very incredible person - but more than that - there are many of us who have lost a friend.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Jazz, Blues, Rock & Roll, and Laith

I tried to write this post over the weekend.  The result was a rushed serial biography of all the important innovators in Jazz and Blues music.  It was boring.  I realized the most interesting topic that I wanted to talk about was the appropriation of music from cultures other than one’s own.  After watching my buddy Laith Al-Saadi on The Voice tonight I realized that should the main thing I talk about.

Jazz, Blues, and Rock and Roll are significant because they are musical forms that could only come from America.  Although it was for an awful reason (slavery) – there was nowhere else on the planet where Europeans and Africans mixed culturally in the way they did in the South.

Jazz is the best example of this.  It really is as simple as European melody and African rhythm.  These elements were put together by African-Americans, but quickly became mainstream – as popular with Whites as it was with Blacks.

Early Jazz came from more than just New Orleans – Scott Joplin was from Texarkana, Texas – W.C. Handy was from Alabama - but it was codified in New Orleans.  What we think of now as Jazz developed mostly in New Orleans from 1900-1920 by people like Buddy Bolden, Joe “King” Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, and of course Louis Armstrong.

The Blues had an even hazier history – Leadbelly, Robert Johnson – these were men who were “discovered” by researchers – but you wonder how many others were out there who had just of an important impact on the music, but remained anonymous.  Blues was a rural music, while Jazz came from the cities.  Blues players still picked cotton by day and played juke joints at night in the Mississippi delta.

Yep, we’re going to skip ahead all the way to this guy – Elvis Presley.  For most Americans of a certain age Elvis is a god.  But for many Black folks he “stole their music.”  I can see their point.  Rock and Roll came out of the Blues.  And the first Rock and Roll innovators were all Black – most notably Chuck Berry.  Elvis got his start at Sun Records in Memphis.  Until I made this trip I didn’t realize how close Memphis is to the Mississippi Delta where Blues music got its start.  Beale Street was hopping even in the early 1900’s – all kinds of music were being played there. 

Elvis got his break with Sun Records and Sam Phillips.  Phillips signed both Black and White musicians – he went with whoever he thought had talent.  Elvis just got more traction.  So, while I can understand the whole – “he stole our music” thing – I think in the end it’s a good thing that Elvis was so popular.  He showed how incredible this music actually was.  It wasn’t just music for Black people picking cotton – it wasn’t some musical dead end – it was a music that connected with everybody.

This music then took over the entire world.  First in Britain – people like Lennon and McCartney took notice of Elvis – Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones etc . . .  Jazz became the defining music of Paris and Tokyo.  Anyone in the 20th century who was “cool” anywhere on the planet consumed music first created by Black Americans. 

I think the main reason that it took over in such a huge way was that it simply was good music – but more than that – it allowed people to express themselves in ways that their cultures didn’t always allow.  When we think of Britain we think of the stiff upper lip – Mick Jagger turned that into a curled lip.  Brits found a music that had recognizable melodies – but an emotion and beat that was completely new.  Eric Clapton has said that when he was 19 he wouldn’t talk to you if you didn’t know who Robert Johnson was.  Think of that – Robert Johnson recorded barely an album worth of material – he died when he was 27 – and yet someone half a world away from a culture that shared only the English language – a young man felt that this voice and guitar spoke to him in a way that nothing had ever spoke to him before.

So, now we get to Laith.  Laith is half-Norwegian and half-Iraqi.  Growing up Laith had a pretty basic white bread American upbringing.  I knew him because he went to the same Lutheran church as me.  He had two sisters who were much older than him and who listened to a lot of Beatles.  His mom listened to a lot of classical and his dad listened to a lot of Arabic music.  Before he started playing guitar at the age of 14 I doubt he had ever listened to the Blues – he might not have even listened to Jazz.  But as he learned how to play guitar he also learned about the history of guitar.  There was of course the stuff popular on classic rock stations coming out of Detroit that we could hear in Ann Arbor.  But he always was digging deeper.  Eventually he found the Blues. and he taught me a lot about Jazz and Blues music.  By the age of 16 he had formed a band called Blue Vinyl.  They played a lot of Rock and Roll – but Blues was always the main jumping off point for their music.

So, tonight Blake Sheldon said about Laith’s performance - “I don’t know much about the Blues – but I can’t imagine it getting much better than that.”  I’m sure some Blues nerds will disagree with him, but I think it’s true.  With his virtuosic guitar and his voice that vacillates between growl (as all the coaches seem to like to call it) and what I would call an almost honey drenched twang – he does it as well as anybody I’ve heard.  And I’ve heard most of the greats live.  Yes, of course I’m biased – but come on – tell me what he could improve!! : )

The question is, does a half Norwegian half Iraqi dude who was born in 1977 into a relatively well to do family in the U.S. have any business singing about how he was “Born Under a Bad Sign”?  I would say actually “yes.”  The human condition has always included pain.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have – bad things happen.  As the Buddhists would say – suffering is part of the human condition.  We all know what it means to suffer.  The magic of the Blues is that it is, at least in part, a cure to the very thing it sings about.  It was invented by people who lived lives more depressing and painful than any of us could imagine.  They invented it to help them to survive – to process what had happened to them – to rise above their suffering in an incredibly beautiful way.  But that message – that working through of a problem to get beyond the problem – is universal.  The fact that somebody with Laith’s background can play the Blues as well as anybody is a testament to its power – and it’s a testament to his spirit and his soul.
So, you know what to do – vote for him.  Listen to Pharrell! Here are the ways you can do it.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The South Will Rise Again

As we get closer and closer to the present these events are more difficult to write about.  It’s one thing to discuss the craziness of Burr and Jackson – it’s another thing to talk about Ferguson, Missouri – which I eventually will.  Since I mentioned it – I’ll give you a little preview of what I’m planning to write about.  Today is about the post-civil war era in the south.  It includes some really awful stuff.  Mobs of white people doing things that nobody can defend.  After that happy subject I’d like to talk about the music that came out of the South.  America was seen as a cultural wasteland by Europe for the first 150 years of our existence.  Jazz changed that completely.  Today the U.S. is the main producer of all forms of entertainment – it might seem obvious now – but it wasn’t always that way.  The Civil Rights museum deserves its own post.  Then Katrina and whether New Orleans was worth saving – then Ferguson and what “Black Lives Matter” really means – and then, because I want to end on a positive note, a post about the beauty of the South and some interesting interactions that I had with Southerners.

But before we get to the sweet tea – we have to drink the bitter tea of Jim Crow.  Warning – there is a very disturbing picture that includes the charred remains of a lynching victim at the end of this post – so, you might not want to read past the part about Kendra’s grandma if that would be disturbing to you.  There is also use of the “N” word when quoting a political leader.

Camp Ford was in Tyler, Texas.  First it was to train confederate soldiers – as battles started moving west they brought prisoners of war.  By July 1864 it peaked at 5,000 prisoners – more than any other camp west of the Mississippi.  The townsfolk were nervous about such a large group of Union men from the beginning.  After the first large group of 800 prisoners was brought to Camp Ford – there was a panic that they might break free because of the lack of defenses.  After that a large stockade was built to keep them contained.
What happened next was just a preview of how cruelly White folks in the south could be when they no longer felt like they had firm control of the Black population.  After a few fires had started in town – some Northerners who were new to town were blamed.  As would happen many times in the south over the next 100 years – this relatively small provocation would bring great violence down on anyone who was suspected of being aligned against the status quo.  Hundreds of Blacks were tortured – supposedly to find out information about a Northern plot that everyone was sure that these fires proved was occurring.  When they had no information to give – on the non-existent plot – they were killed.  Many of them were burned at the stake.  Apparently these executions were attended by many of the townsfolk – as if it were reason for celebration.  These are the kinds of stories that scare me about the South.
As I said – this was only the beginning.  In May, 1866 in Memphis there was a much larger riot.  It started as a confrontation between white police officers and Black soldiers.  The soldiers were awaiting being released from their duty and having a good time in town.  The police officers – mostly Irish who were competing with Blacks for jobs in town – didn’t like any Blacks, especially those in official looking uniforms.  There had been several confrontations between these two groups.  The police had tried to embarrass the Black soldiers – even attempting to arrest some of their wives at one event as prostitutes.  The elite of the city apparently took advantage of this naturally occurring animosity.  Several rumors were planted in the Irish population that the Blacks were arming themselves and planned to take revenge.  So, the Irish – along with many other Whites decided to take action themselves.
After yet another confrontation a mob formed after a speech by a local official who said – “everyone of the citizens should get arms, organize and go through the Negro districts,” and that he “was in favor of killing every God damned nigger”…”We are not prepared now, but let us prepare and clean out every damned son of a bitch of a nigger out of town…”Boys, I want you to go ahead and kill every damned one of the nigger race and burn up the cradle.” It was no longer about confronting the Black soldiers – it was about an attempted genocide.  The word “holocaust” comes from Greek – holo meaning whole and caust meaning burnt.  Over the next 24 hours “46 blacks and 2 whites were killed (one wounded himself and the other was apparently killed by other whites), 75 persons injured (mostly black), over 100 persons robbed, 5 black women raped, and 91 homes (89 held by blacks, one held by a white and one by an inter-racial couple), 4 black churches and 12 black schools burned.” (Ryan, The Memphis Riots of 1866). 

In New Orleans a few months later – there was a similar incident.  There wasn’t as much damage to Black neighborhoods, but 44 Blacks were killed.  Both the New Orleans and Memphis riots gave rise to the “radical reconstructionists” in Congress.  They said that these events showed that there needed to be more federal control over the South.  That congress needed to guarantee certain rights to the newly freed slaves – including the right to vote.  Northerners came South – looking to either help make these changes for the good of the freedmen or simply to make money – they were called “carpetbaggers.”  It was kind of a mess.  But what was the federal government supposed to do?  Let white southerners murder Blacks indiscriminately?  
The reaction from the South was brutal.  Since their ability to suppress Blacks was limited in many ways – they turned to a new organizations like the Klu Klux Klan and The White League.  The main goals of these organizations were to get Republicans (usually “carpetbaggers”) out of office and intimidate Blacks from voting.  Violence was the main way that these goals were carried out. 
143 years ago yesterday in Colfax, Louisiana (April 13, 1973) a group of White militia, who would eventually become The White League attacked the state militia, which was made up of mostly Black men.  The militia was overpowered and eventually surrendered.  The group of Whites killed over 100 of these men after they surrendered.
Eventually the Republicans in the North gave in to the Democrats in the South.  Much of the reconstruction era had relied on Federal troops and the Freedsmen’s bureau to protect the rights of Blacks.  In 1877, the new President Rutherford Hayes, having made a deal with the Southern Democrats, removed all Federal troops from Southern capitals.
Of course, even though the members of these groups claimed they just fighting to keep the North out of their affairs – they immediately turned to making laws which eventually became known as Jim Crow.  Laws which made it much more difficult for Blacks to vote.  By 1910 in Louisiana only 700 Black men were registered to vote – Black people were a majority in Louisiana.  Of course Jim Crow was much more than just about voting – it was about education, access to bathrooms, drinking fountains, hotels, restaurants, transportation, etc . . .
My wife’s grandmother is 96 years old – she was born in Mississippi in 1919.  Once we were visiting her in Chicago.  Kendra and her aunt went out to get something, which left me alone with her grandmother for about 20 minutes.  Of course I took the opportunity to find out what it was like to grow up as a Black person in Mississippi in the 1920’s.  She told me how they lived on a farm owned by a White man.  Her father was responsible for farming a certain number of acres as a sharecropper – in return he had a small plot of land where he could grow vegetables and keep animals. 
Kendra’s grandma said that they canned 365 jars of vegetables per year – so that they knew that whatever happened they wouldn’t ever go hungry.  Her father was supposed to receive compensation for what he farmed, but most years the White man gave him nothing.  Somehow her father had saved up enough money to buy a plow.  After several years he decided that he needed to move his family – he attempted to bring along his plow.  The white owner told him that he understood that he had bought it, but that he couldn’t let him take it because the owner needed it.  He had no recourse to keep his property.  If he had complained to the local sheriff he probably would have been threatened somehow just for asking that his property rights be respected.
My reaction was “so, basically it was still slavery.”  Just after that Kendra and her aunt walked in the door.  Kendra asked, “so what have you guys been talking about?”   Kendra’s grandma said “Ben’s been talking about slavery.”  Kendra gave me a stare that said “that’s the last time I leave you alone with my grandma.”
I could write more about the race riots that occurred across the country from the end of the Civil War up to the present day.  To be honest though – I’d rather move on to a happier topic.  I would encourage you to read about the “Red Summer” of 1919.
I leave you with one last picture, from the city where I live – Omaha, Nebraska.  It’s from 1919 during that “Red Summer” where there was an incredible amount of violence across the country.  Much of the violence seemed to come from the fact that returning Black soldiers from WWI felt that given their service to the country that they would now be accepted as equal citizens.  As before, Whites looked for any reason to show Blacks that they would always occupy the bottom of society.  A Black man was accused of raping a White woman.  Rather than allowing the courts to decide his guilt – a mob of 10,000 men gathered – took the man, Will Brown, from his cell and lynched him.  And then they burned his body.  Below is a picture of the white mob gathered around the charred remains of Will Brown.  What is most disturbing is how many of them are smiling.  As if they have just done a deed that they should be proud of.  This picture could have been taken in Memphis in 1866 or from any of the over 4,000 lynchings of Black people estimated to have occurred between the end of the Civil War and 1950.  Many times there were pictures like this made – with smiling White men – some of them were even made into postcards. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Quick Post on Laith

Wow - that was awesome.  I jumped up from my couch - I clapped and I even got a little teary.  To see your friend nail something so perfectly in front of 10 million people on live TV.  There are no words.

The content of the song was perfect too.  This is Laith - this really is who he is as a person.
Laith has very strong views on many things - which sometimes gets him into conflict (even with his friends ; ) - but at his core he is all about love.  When we were teenagers it was impossible to go anywhere with him without him knowing someone.  He is a true extrovert.  He gets his energy from being around others - and he in turn energizes the people around him.  The lyrics - "getting high with a little help from his friends" - it's almost as if it was written for him.

When Laith talked about how music is important because it brings people together I knew it was going to be good.  Although Laith is a great technical musician and has spent plenty of alone time perfecting his craft - Laith is a musician because he loves people.  He understands how to connect with people - that is what makes him a successful musician.

So, how do you vote?  Laith's sister Mina wrote some instructions.  Here they are:

Team Laith, here are the details for VOTING ON THE APP. On the app, you may vote beginning at showtime: 8:00 p.m. (4/12) - noon (4/13) ET. Since you know he will be awesome, you could knock out some voting early. Your call. THANK YOU!!!
1. To begin, open the App and click the red VOTE button.
2. Select Laith's image
3. Slide the dial on the right up to 10.
5. Confirm that you see "THANK YOU FOR VOTING. LAITH AL-SAADI" AND "YOU SAVED 10 VOTES". If you made a mistake, click KEEP VOTING and repeat the process to assign 10 votes to Laith.
6. That is it! Now go to to vote for Laith beginning at 10:00 p.m.
7. Finally, if you like it, download Laith's new iTunes song. Do this between 9:55 p.m. (4/12) - noon (4/13) ET and you will give him at least 1 extra vote. Please be aware that there is a fee associated with downloading the song.

Ok - I think that is all the info you will need.  Again - awesome job my friend - so happy for you!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Civil War

Most of the Civil War was fought, of course, on the east coast.  There were however, some important battles and events that occurred along the Mississippi River and even west of the river.  The first significant event to occur where I was traveling was the capture of New Orleans.  You might remember me mentioning General Benjamin Butler on my post about Andrew Jackson and the words Butler ordered to be inscribed on Jackson’s statue in New Orleans.  Butler had captured New Orleans on May 1, 1862 with a force of only 5,000 men.  He eventually had 15,000 men under his command – but at times he only had 2,500 men to control the entire city.  He decided that in order to maintain order and control that he needed to be brutal.  An example of this was his infamous Order No. 28.  It was made on May 15, 1862 – only two weeks after he had taken the city.  It was in response to the fact that his troops were not exactly welcomed into the city.  Women especially would hit and spit on his troops – even emptying chamber pots on them – the women felt somewhat safe doing this because by the rules of chivalrous society of the day his troops didn’t feel like they could attack “a lady.”  His order was kind of a permission slip for his men to defend themselves or even to retaliate against abuse coming from anyone. 

“As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.”

If you didn’t quite get that last part - it meant that these women would be treated as if they were prostitutes.  He was rather vague as to what that meant.  Many in the south (and even the north and Europe) were enraged and thought it might mean that his men could interpret this as a license to rape.   His nickname in the south became “The Beast.” 


Vicksburg occurred at approximately the same time as Gettysburg.  Both battles came to an end – as Union victories – on the same day, July 4th, 1863.  While the destruction of Robert E. Lee’s army in Pennsylvania was important (never again would the Confederate army invade the north) Vicksburg was arguably more important to ending the war.  Lincoln certainly appeared to feel that way.  For it was the General who won Vicksburg who would eventually become the leader of the entire Union Army (Ulysses S. Grant) – not the victorious General at Gettysburg (George Meade).

For one thing – the siege of Vicksburg was in many ways the more complicated of the two.  Vicksburg was such a difficult prize for the Union because it is positioned high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi.  It earned the nickname “Gibraltar of the South” because of this advantageous position.  President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, called Vicksburg the “nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.” 

Grant and his 2nd in command – William Tecumseh Sherman (best known for his “march to the sea” later in the war) planned a two prong approach.  Coming from the North Sherman took 32,000 troops along the railroad that ran basically parallel to the river.  Grant took his 40,000 troops to Oxford, Mississippi – hoping to lure the Confederates from Vicksburg, which would make it easier for Sherman’s force to take the city.  This plan had limited success.  From late December, 1862 – May, 1863 there were many expeditions – coming at Vicksburg at different angles.  Most of them were abject failures.  But by May they had cut off most of the supply lines of the Confederates.

Grant realized that the most prudent way to take Vicksburg with the least loss of life was to “out camp” them.  The fortifications built by both sides are still evident at the National Park site today.  In some ways it is the most beautiful Civil War battlefield that I’ve seen (and I’ve seen pretty much all of them).  The entrenchments are still visible.  And the monuments are the most impressive I’ve seen – even more impressive than Gettysburg.  Here are some pictures – the most impressive monument – a Greek inspired temple – is from the state of Illinois.

Vicksburg had both symbolic and strategic value.  In the words of Abraham Lincoln after the Union victory, "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea." It was demoralizing to the South because many people thought it would never be taken.  Even the people of Vicksburg were confident of their success.  When their homes came under threat of Union cannon – many of them dug out caves on the bluff over the Mississippi.  The steep hills meant that the Union guns were most likely not going to hit these caves. 

The deep trenches presaged World War I, which wouldn’t happen for another 50 years.  Many historians have said that the American Civil War was a bridge between the strategy of Napoleon and the strategy of the bunker in WWI.  The use of new guns and cannon using old strategy meant that that Civil War was incredibly bloody.  At least 620,000 soldiers died in the Civil War.  The population of the entire US at that time was only 31 million.  Today we have 10 times the population – meaning that if we had the same per capita losses today 6.2 million people would die.  That doesn’t take into consideration the wounded – which was almost twice that amount.

The question I always ask myself is “did it have to happen this way?”  John Brown thought so – just before he was hanged over a year before the start of the Civil War he wrote a note that stated “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood.”   

My hesitancy at just saying – “this is how it had to happen” is mostly because I think that does not fully appreciate how uncertain the future was at that time.  This might seem like something that is so obvious that it isn’t worth saying – but the past has already happened.  The bias of being in the future is that it seems to us as if we live in the only possible future.  The past appears settled and therefore we don’t appreciate how uncertain it was for our ancestors.  The fact that we know the outcome makes the past less dramatic than it actually was.  And by pretending that everything had to happen in exactly the way it happened – or the saying that really bugs me, “everything happens for a reason” – we minimize how difficult the road was for our ancestors.  We also minimize how much of a difference we can make today.  We seem to think that it was obvious to our ancestors how the future was going to play out – it wasn’t obvious.  They were grasping at the right path just as clumsily as we do now.

The biggest question about the Civil War is – could we have gotten rid of slavery in a less violent way?  Tomorrow my question will be – what did the Civil War actually settle?  What position were Black people in our society after the Emancipation Proclamation? or even after the 13th and 14th amendments?  

Saturday, April 9, 2016

John Brown in Kansas

Before I start talking about John Brown – there is another place I visited that was related to the abolitionist movement and occurred before John Brown came to Kansas.  It was the initial trial regarding whether Dred Scott should be free.  Dred Scott was the slave of a surgeon – John Emerson – who worked for the Army.  During the time that he was a slave Emerson was located in Illinois and Minnesota – both free states.  In 1843 Emerson died – leaving Scott to his wife.  Dred Scott had saved money to purchase his own and his wife’s freedom – however Emerson’s widow refused to allow him to purchase his freedom.  So he sued.  He sued based on a Missouri law which stated that if a slave had been in a free state for a period of time then he was actually free.  The jury in St. Louis found in his favor in 1847.  The supreme court of Missouri however decided against him.  The statue below of Scott and his wife is at the old courthouse in St. Louis – just across from the arch.

He then filed a federal law suit.  The case made it to the Supreme Court.  The majority decided against Scott – stating that anyone with African ancestors, regardless of whether they were free or slave – were not actually citizens of the United States and therefore they did not have any rights under the constitution.  As chief justice Roger Taney would state – “blacks have no rights that the white man is bound to respect.”  Let that sink in for a bit.  The decision reversed the Missouri Compromise.  It basically put Blacks on the same level as any property.  Taney was from Maryland.  There is actually a monument of him about a block away from where we lived in Baltimore – in Washington Monument Square.  In 2008 I went there to celebrate Obama’s victory along with hundreds of others.  I thought how ironic it was that we were celebrating a biracial man’s victory beneath a statue of a man who denied the rights in America of all descendants of Africa.  

The very first place I visited on my sojourn south was Osawatomie, Kansas.  Don’t worry – I hadn’t heard of it either until I was researching where I should go for my trip.  In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska act was passed.  It opened up the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to settlement.  As a compromise between North and South it was going to be up to the settlers to decide whether the new territories and soon to be states would be slave or free.  The unintended consequence was that radicals on both sides flooded Kansas.  Proslavery folks came from as far away as Georgia – although much of the violence was from Missourians who wanted their border state to be slave.  Many abolitionists from the Midwest and Northeast came to Kansas to attempt to make it free.  As a white person, I think it’s fair for me to say that us white people have done a lot of awful stuff in this country – but I’m pretty proud of that fact that white people actually uprooted themselves and moved close to 1,000 miles in some cases in the 1850’s to fight for the rights of Black people.

So now we get to John Brown.  The basic question is – was he crazy and just happened to be on the right side of history?  Or was he a great man – who is misunderstood?  I’ve done a lot of thinking on this.  He certainly had his heart in the right place.  He talked about his awakening of the evil of slavery as occurring when he was a young boy.  He was friends with a black boy – who was a slave.  He saw the owner of that boy beat him viciously for no real apparent reason. 

On the other side was the fact that he was a complete failure in life.  He never was able to be successful in business.  In 1843 four of his children died from dysentery.  The man has the feel of someone who was desperate to do something great because most of his life had been a failure.

In 1855 he moved to Kansas to help protect abolitionists – who he believed were not capable of protecting themselves.  The sacking of Lawrence appeared to support his beliefs.  Even more so was the beating of abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner by South Carolinian representative Preston Brooks.  He felt as though the abolitionists needed someone who was capable of violence against the pro-slavery supporters – and he was that man.

J.L. Magee’s political cartoon about the attack on Sumner.
John Brown and his men – who included many of his sons – did perpetrate some rather questionable acts.  The most questionable action was a nighttime attack against five pro-slavery men in Pottawattamie Creek – who were killed with broad swords.  This attack led to a greater organization of Missouri pro-slavery men who were bent on attacking abolitionist settlers in Kansas.  The focused their attacks on Brown.  They were determined to capture him.  On August 30, 1856 250 proslavery men from Missouri came to Osawatomie to hunt down Brown.  Brown only had 31 men to defend himself.  He used guerilla tactics to attempt to lure the proslavery men away from the town of Osawatomie. 

John Brown and his men took up such a favorable position, that the proslavery men did not attempt to go after them.  However, the proslavery men did come back and burn down the town of Osawatomie.  Soon after, John Brown went back east.  He was able to get funding from abolitionist for his idea of starting a slave insurrection. On October 17th, 1859 he and 18 men attempted to raid the armory of Harpers Ferry.  They were defeated by men led by Robert E. Lee – eventual General of the Confederate Army.  John Brown was put to death – but his insurrection terrified the South.  They saw it as proof that the North would not allow slavery to stand.  The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 only furthered their fear.  18 months after Harpers Ferry – the Civil War started – with the bombardment of Fort Sumter.  During the war the Union soldiers favorite song to sing on the march was “John Browns Body” – which was set to the same tune as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Tomorrow a few of the Civil War sites that I visited on my trip.


Thursday, April 7, 2016


The above monument can be found in Alton, Illinois – a town on the Mississippi just up river from St. Louis.  It memorializes Elijah P. Lovejoy.  Lovejoy was born in Maine in 1802.  After college he traveled west and settled in St. Louis, where he worked for an anti-Jackson newspaper.  Eventually he went back east – studying at Princeton Theological Seminary – and became an ordained Presbyterian minister.  He came back west and started an abolitionist newspaper in St. Louis.  Missouri was a slave state and didn’t appreciate an abolitionist newspaper being printed in their state.  His press was destroyed three separate times – which eventually caused him to move across the river to Alton – in the free state of Illinois.  However, as we will see, the people of Missouri were out to fight against abolitionists regardless of whether they were in their state or in an adjoining state.  On November 7, 1837 a proslavery mob came to destroy his printing press in Alton.  Lovejoy, along with many of his supporters were armed and ready to defend his property.  The mob proved to be too much for them.  Lovejoy was killed one day short of his 35th birthday and his press was thrown in the Mississippi.
Like several other abolitionists who would be killed during this period, Lovejoy’s importance is not so much about what he did in life – but who and what he inspired in his death.  At the time there was a 28 year-old state representative in Illinois who took notice of what had happened to Lovejoy.  That representative wrote a speech, which the historical record first shows him giving to the Young Man’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838.  That 28 year-old was Abraham Lincoln.  Google it and read the whole thing – it is such an incredible speech – it carries an incredible moral power, but also an appeal to reason.
He starts out talking about how wonderful the country is that his generation had inherited from their forefathers – remember, the American Revolution had only happened 50 years prior.  More time has passed since World War II to our present, than had passed between 1776 and Lincoln’s speech. The topic he gives for the speech is the “perpetuation of our political institutions.”  Here are some of my favorite passages.  “It” – meaning how we will perpetuate our political institutions.
“How then shall we perform it?--At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?-- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!--All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be a violation of truth, and an insult to our intelligence, to deny. Accounts of outrages committed by mobs, form the every-day news of the times. They have pervaded the country, from New England to Louisiana;--they are neither peculiar to the eternal snows of the former, nor the burning suns of the latter;--they are not the creature of climate-- neither are they confined to the slave-holding, or the non-slave- holding States. Alike, they spring up among the pleasure hunting masters of Southern slaves, and the order loving citizens of the land of steady habits.--Whatever, then, their cause may be, it is common to the whole country.

It would be tedious, as well as useless, to recount the horrors of all of them. Those happening in the State of Mississippi, and at St. Louis, are, perhaps, the most dangerous in example and revolting to humanity. In the Mississippi case, they first commenced by hanging the regular gamblers; a set of men, certainly not following for a livelihood, a very useful, or very honest occupation; but one which, so far from being forbidden by the laws, was actually licensed by an act of the Legislature, passed but a single year before. Next, negroes, suspected of conspiring to raise an insurrection, were caught up and hanged in all parts of the State: then, white men, supposed to be leagued with the negroes; and finally, strangers, from neighboring States, going thither on business, were, in many instances subjected to the same fate. Thus went on this process of hanging, from gamblers to negroes, from negroes to white citizens, and from these to strangers; till, dead men were seen literally dangling from the boughs of trees upon every road side; and in numbers almost sufficient, to rival the native Spanish moss of the country, as a drapery of the forest.”

I happen to agree with him that the destruction of our country even today by foreign powers is completely ridiculous.  We weren't in 1828 - and even less in 2016 in danger of any foreign power or religion overtaking our country.  The only danger that we faced then or face now is internally.  After discussing some of the specific mobs – including the mob who killed Lovejoy – he continues.

I know the American People are much attached to their Government;--I know they would suffer much for its sake;--I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.

Here then, is one point at which danger may be expected.

The question recurs, "how shall we fortify against it?" The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;--let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children's liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap--let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;--let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

. . .

It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion, as others have so done before them. The question then, is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot. Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would inspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon?--Never! Towering genius distains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.--It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.

Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm; yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.

This passage is completely fascinating to me.  Not only because, in part, this warning is still so relevant today – but because some Americans would soon consider him to be the Caesar.  After Booth killed him he yelled on the stage of the Ford's Theater - "sic semper tyrannus" - meaning "thus always to tyrants" - the phrase that Brutus is supposed to have said after he killed Caesar.  Lincoln of course would be the one to emancipate slaves and arguably enslave freemen through his suspension of habeas corpus.  It’s as if he was wrestling with his own ambition against his love of democracy.  And if any historian faults him for anything – it’s that he probably did go beyond his constitutional powers as president.

He continues.

Another reason which once was; but which, to the same extent, is now no more, has done much in maintaining our institutions thus far. I mean the powerful influence which the interesting scenes of the revolution had upon the passions of the people as distinguished from their judgment. By this influence, the jealousy, envy, and avarice, incident to our nature, and so common to a state of peace, prosperity, and conscious strength, were, for the time, in a great measure smothered and rendered inactive; while the deep-rooted principles of hate, and the powerful motive of revenge, instead of being turned against each other, were directed exclusively against the British nation. And thus, from the force of circumstances, the basest principles of our nature, were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest cause--that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty.

But this state of feeling must fade, is fading, has faded, with the circumstances that produced it.

I do not mean to say, that the scenes of the revolution are now or ever will be entirely forgotten; but that like every thing else, they must fade upon the memory of the world, and grow more and more dim by the lapse of time. In history, we hope, they will be read of, and recounted, so long as the bible shall be read;-- but even granting that they will, their influence cannot be what it heretofore has been. Even then, they cannot be so universally known, nor so vividly felt, as they were by the generation just gone to rest. At the close of that struggle, nearly every adult male had been a participator in some of its scenes. The consequence was, that of those scenes, in the form of a husband, a father, a son or brother, a living history was to be found in every family-- a history bearing the indubitable testimonies of its own authenticity, in the limbs mangled, in the scars of wounds received, in the midst of the very scenes related--a history, too, that could be read and understood alike by all, the wise and the ignorant, the learned and the unlearned.--But those histories are gone. They can be read no more forever. They were a fortress of strength; but, what invading foeman could never do, the silent artillery of time has done; the leveling of its walls. They are gone.--They were a forest of giant oaks; but the all-resistless hurricane has swept over them, and left only, here and there, a lonely trunk, despoiled of its verdure, shorn of its foliage; unshading and unshaded, to murmur in a few gentle breezes, and to combat with its mutilated limbs, a few more ruder storms, then to sink, and be no more.

They were the pillars of the temple of liberty; and now, that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason. Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.--Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws: and, that we improved to the last; that we remained free to the last; that we revered his name to the last; that, during his long sleep, we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place; shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our WASHINGTON.
Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

There are a lot of interesting parts to this last section.  First of all, he seems to understand how the lack of a common enemy can actually be a difficult thing for a country to endure.  Again, I think this is relevant to today.  It wasn’t that long ago that the USSR was our mortal enemy.  Republicans and Democrats had their differences, but there were regular reminders that we had to come together to fight against this outside force who was intent on destroying us.  Maybe that’s why our politics are starting to mirror the politics of the mid 19th century. 

The next section that I find is interesting is in regards to the pillars of the temple that he says have crumbled away.  That we must replace those pillars.  I’m not sure that it was quite stated this way at the time, but it seems to be an argument in favor of a "living constitution" – that we can’t just rest on our laurels as a nation because we have this great constitution - we have to continuously work to keep it standing.

Also interesting is his appeal to reason.  This speech seems to me to be very emotional – but at that end he states that our country will only survive through reason.  Again, another lesson that we could remember in our current presidential election.

Finally, there are so many ways in which this speech presages The Gettysburg Address – the reference to our kind of democracy as an “experiment.”  The acknowledgement that we owe so much to those who have fought and died for our way of government.  The understanding that all of this can go away.  That the American Revolution must be fought continuously if we are to continue to be a country worthy of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

There was another individual who was strongly inspired by the murder of Reverend Lovejoy.  He was living in Ohio at the time and after attending a memorial service for Lovejoy he stated the following - "Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!"

Some have called him “America’s first terrorist.”  Others saw him as a martyr.  Tomorrow I’ll discuss John Brown and Bleeding Kansas.


Above is the statue of Andrew Jackson in the square named for him in New Orleans.  On the base of the statue there is a quote – “The Union must and shall be preserved.”  Now, I know a lot of Civil War history and I was pretty sure that Andrew Jackson was dead by the time of the civil war – so what was this quote about?  Apparently it was part of a toast that he made during the nullification crisis during his presidency.  It was not a part of the original monument that was dedicated in 1851.  Rather it had been etched into the stone in 1863, by order of Benjamin Butler – a Union General who ruled over New Orleans during the last few years of the Civil War after it had been captured by the North.  I’ll write more about Butler when I get to the Civil War.

The nullification crisis during Jackson’s presidency was brought about by a tariff on goods from Britain.  The tariffs protected northern manufacturers, but made their products more expensive for consumers.  Southerners did not want to pay more for products in order to support the North – especially because of the strong relationship that the South had with Britain – Britain bought the South’s cotton and the South bought Britain’s products.  South Carolina decided to nullify the tariff within the borders of its state.  It also argued that it had a right to secede from the U.S. if it felt that its interests weren’t being upheld.  This was in 1828 – 33 years before the start of the Civil War.

Jackson actually felt some sympathy for their argument.  He also felt some sympathy for the South generally.  He was from the border of North and South Carolina and he had over 100 slaves on his plantation near Nashville.  But he was also a believer in a strong central government.  He said, “the constitution forms a government, not a league . . . to say that any state may at pleasure secede from the Union is to say that the United States is not a nation.”  He also stated “the tariff was only the pretext, and disunion and southern confederacy the real object.  The next pretext with be the Negro, or slavery question.”  Of course, he was right.

What I find interesting about this is how deep the conflicts that led to the civil war were.  There were decades of arguments and bitterness on each side.   It was a long simmering feud that was always headed for a bloody confrontation.  Tomorrow I’m going to discuss more about some places I visited that were a part of the build up to war.  For now though – back to Jackson.

Jackson is an incredibly interesting person.  He was also a jackass – there is no question about that.  In fact during the election of 1828 (possibly the dirtiest election in our nation’s history) his more creative opponents called him “jackass.”  Jackson decided to take it on as his identity – and that’s why the symbol of the Democratic party, which he helped founded, is a donkey.  

Jackson’s childhood is fertile ground for any pop psychologist.  His father died in an accident three weeks before Jackson was born.  He was born in 1767, so he was too young to serve as a soldier during the Revolutionary War – however both of his brothers did serve.  In 1779 his older brother Hugh died from heat exhaustion in a battle.  The 12 year-old Jackson decided that he wanted to serve his country in some capacity – so he became a courier.  At the age of 13 both he and his older brother Robert – who was a soldier in the local militia for which Jackson was a courier – were both captured by the British.  Conditions were harsh and the two apparently almost died from starvation and they contracted small pox.  Another story, which seems apocryphal on its face, is that a Jackson refused to clean the boots of a British officer while he was under British custody – who then slashed him with a sword.  Apparently Jackson could prove the story true though – as he had scars on his left hand and head for the rest of his life.

His brother Robert died just days before they were to be released.  After he was released his mother attended to him for a few days and then went off to volunteer to nurse prisoners of war – who were victims of a cholera epidemic.  Unfortunately she too contracted the disease and died – meaning that Jackson had lost all four of his family members by the age of 14.

All of this might explain his anger.  Jackson would be known his entire adult life for having a short temper.  At times it was a strength, but it also caused him to be rash and cruel. 

In his early career he worked as a frontier lawyer in the soon to be state of Tennessee.  By the time he was 21 years old he was elected prosecutor of a district in Tennessee.  He first got involved in politics when he was 29 – he was elected as a delegate to the Tennessee constitutional convention in 1796 – and then was elected as senator the next year for the new state of Tennessee. 

He was also a good in business.  He made many profitable real estate deals – eventually he bought a large plantation near Nashville that was worked by over a hundred slaves at any one time.  He also was one of the founders of Memphis, Tennessee.  He truly was the embodiment of what would become the American dream.  Of course though – there was a dark side too.  He not only used slave labor to enrich himself - many of his land deals were of land that was supposed to be set aside for Native Americans.    
From 1801 – 1819 he had many military adventures.  His most famous being the Battle of New Orleans which was part of the War of 1812.  His force of 5,000 Americans won against 7,500 British.

The battle made him a hero.  His other military adventures were against Native Americans.  At this time in American history Native American tribes were still very strong, strong enough to kill 400 settlers near present day Mobile, Alabama in 1813.  Jackson was heavily involved in the war against the Red Stick Creek Indians.  His forces could have destroyed the entire Creek Nation, so he got very favorable terms from them.  The treaty, which he personally negotiated, opened up 22 million acres in what would become Georgia and Alabama for European settlement.  The Creek called him “Jackson, old and fierce.”
 At this time Florida was under Spanish control.  There was concern that Florida could become a place for runaway slaves or Native Americans who were plotting against the American government to hide.  While fighting Seminoles in present day Georgia he found documents that showed Britain and Spain were supporting the Indians so as to weaken the US.   Jackson decided to illegally invade Florida.  It was risky.  Spain could have easily retaliated, but he estimated that they didn’t have the military force available to do anything about it.  He ended up being proved right.  John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State for James Monroe, negotiated a treaty with Spain which ended up ceding Florida to the United States.
It is impossible to deny Jackson’s victories.  The battle of New Orleans was the last time that the British would risk attacking US interests through direct military force.  He opened up Alabama, Georgia, and Florida to settlement by American citizens.  It was a time when America was finally able to flex some muscle – and Jackson could rightly say that he played a major role.  Of course, if you were Native American or Black – these developments were at times tragic.
I could go on and on about Andrew Jackson.  I will end with one story about how a policy of his had a very negative outcome for a large number of people and another story about how he endured yet another personal hardship that no one should have to experience.
First, the personal story.  Here is another example of why no historian should be surprised about the nastiness of any presidential election.  Jackson first ran for President in 1824, but lost in a highly contested election to John Quincy Adams.  In 1828 he ran again.  It was even more brutal than 1824.  At that time people running for President didn’t actually campaign.  The campaigning was all done by their supporters.  Supporters of Adams printed up handbills called “coffin bills”, which had pictures of six coffins and allegations of how Jackson had unnecessarily executed six members of his militia while he was a General.  Jackson supporters spread a story about how Adams had procured an American girl for the Russian Czar when he had been minister to that country – basically calling him a pimp. 

The most devastating “mudslinging” in the election was reserved for Jackson’s wife Rachel.  Rachel had been previously married.  She and Jackson had met when she was married.  She had separated and Jackson thought divorced – but the divorce didn’t go through until after she and Jackson were married.  So technically she had been a bigamist for a period of time.  Opponents of Jackson would not let this go.  They used ugly language to say that to elect Jackson was to elect a “convicted adulteress and her paramour husband” to the highest office in a “Christian land.”  Rachel was distraught over the scandal.  On December 22, 1828 – just a month after her husband was elected President – she died, most likely of a heart attack.  Jackson blamed his opponents saying at her funeral “may God Almighty forgiver her murderers, I never can.”  Whatever Jackson’s short comings – he certainly experienced much more loss than any person should have to endure.
The next story is about the The Indian Removal Act – which Jackson called for in 1829 and which was passed by congress and he signed in 1830.  This act led to the “Trail of Tears.”  Jackson actually thought he was doing the Indians a favor.  He felt that the new settlers would come into conflict with Native Americans and eventually kill them all off.  He claimed that he wanted to put aside territory where Indians would own the land for perpetuity.  Here is a map of the United States at that time and how vast he envisioned that territory to be.

Well, I think we all know exactly what happened.  White people kept moving west.  So, exactly what happened in the southeast was repeated in the west.  Jackson was as smart guy.  I can’t imagine that he didn’t realize this was going to happen.  In quotes he even seemed to admit that he valued progress over rights for Native Americans.  I stopped in the town of Okmulgee, Oklahoma – where the Creeks (who were the main adversaries of Jackson) made their capital in 1867.  Here are some pictures.

The dream of a Creek nation modeled after the US Constitution  - with land guaranteed to them by the US government eventually died as more whites move west.  That Indian Territory showed on that map shrank drastically.  First to the exact borders of the current state of Oklahoma and then to small reservations.  America is a great nation, but I think it’s necessary for us to recognize that we have not always lived up to the ideals of our founding documents.  We could have found a way to better include Native Americans – who were in this land for 10-12,000 years before us – in some more respectable way.  Instead we allowed the law of “might makes right” to rule.  We prioritized the fact that our white population was hungry for land to excuse our poor treatment of a people, who fought proudly, but were severely outnumbered.  We used the threat of Native American violence to excuse inhumane policies well past the time that they opposed an actual danger to anyone.
Tomorrow I start the lead up to the Civil War.