Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What is your Love About?

A first meeting with the love of your life may or may not be dramatic. In Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain, I had Jean Laffite and Theodosia Burr meet on board The Patriot after he saved it from a British attack and then proceeded to commandeer it for his own use, having found that the Captain and all of the crew had been killed as prisoners aboard the British ship he sank.


In the sequel, Theodosia and the Pirates: The War Against Spain, Jean Laffite unwittingly introduced his daughter Denise to the man she would marry by inviting him to make her a spinning wheel.

by Platt Powell Ryder, an American artist 1821-189
Denise had just come out of a disastrous marriage to a pirate, and she was dressed all in black because her father had recently killed him to avenge her, and she had made the statement that she wanted henceforth to remain a spinster. Taking her literally at her word, Jean Laffite commissioned a spinning wheel to be made for her by Francis Little, who turned out to be her future husband.

Of course, I made all that up because I'm a novelist. In real life, it may not have happened anything like that. But does it really matter how they met? Does it ever matter? According to this article  recently read, it does not, but people sometimes feel very deeply that it should.

Modern Love: When the Words Don't Fit by Sarah Healy

Should your first meeting make a great story to tell the grandchildren? Well, not necessarily. If there is nothing to sustain a long-term love, then we are certainly not going to marry someone because it would make a great story. But the entire sum total of your love should make a great story, and that is where the article left me cold.

Is a meeting at a bar where friends introduce you really all that conventional? (I've never had anything like that happen to me.) And what exactly is a conventional marriage, the kind the author is happy to claim she has? This has got me quite mystified. Every love story is about something. What is a conventional marriage about?

A person once answered me with this: "Sex, companionship, children." But even in a conventional marriage, aren't the sex, companionship and children about something? Something bigger and more important and at the same time much more personal than such a generic listing of three nouns?

In a novel, to be interesting, a love story has to have both a plot and a theme; conflicts built in that enhance and ignite the love and keep it going for a very long time. For Theodosia and Jean, they loved one another because of her Battle against Britain and his War Against Spain, because she loved her country and her father, and because he loved the Constitution and hated tyranny. He wanted to avenge her wrongs, because it was too late to avenge his grandmother directly. They served as surrogates for other people they had loved and worshiped, and they also served as agents of catharsis whenever their interests clashed. His deep respect for Thomas Jefferson, but her hatred for the man who ruined her father and his alliance with James Wilkinson who had been the chief witness for the prosecution at Burr's trial for treason were both jarring and hateful to Theodosia. How could she keep loving Jean and still hold on to her honor?

 The sex, companionship and children in Jean and Theodosia's story were a byproduct of their plot and theme. They were not an end in themselves.


In the case of the romance between Denise and Frank, I made the story much more understated. Still there was a story. It was the conflict between the high spirited, imaginative Denise and her artistic and domestic urges, and the question of whether kindness alone can sustain passion. Sometimes after rough sailing, we want a little peace in our lives. But peace is never enough. There has to be art and beauty and courage and a common cause. And ultimately, in order to be sustainable, a marriage has to have a built in theme and a recurring conflict. For Frank and Denise it was art and weaving and furniture making and all while facing up to evil.

Do you have a love story in your life? If so, then you know what it's about. You don't have to tell, of course. It can remain your secret. But it can't be about nothing. There's no such thing as a conventional love. If it's conventional, then it's not love.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Myth of the Self-Made Man

A little before I left for Galveston, I read an article that made me think about our current socio-economic reality and how it relates to people like Jean and Pierre Laffite and also to their offspring, such as Pierre's children and grandchildren by Marie Villard. But I had no time to sit down and organize my thoughts about this. So I just shared the article on my Twitter feed and moved on.

The article was published on Slate by John Swansburg, and it was called "The Self-Made Man: the Story of America's Most Pliable, Pernicious and Irrepressible Myth."  I have linked the article here, so you can go read it in its entirety. It is very, very long, contains a lot of historical details and is sort of apologetic of the good fortune of some, including the father of the author, who happens to have been one of those "self-made men."

The article is nuanced, has a reasonable tone, is not too dogmatic, but it was basically written to appeal to the progressive sensibility. There's a lot of truth to what it has to say, but at the same time, it misses what to me is the real point of upward mobility and the melting pot.

 Some of the points the author made include these perfectly unobjectionable observations:

  • get-rich-quick schemes are a by-product of gullibility in the general public that has allowed itself to swallow the myth that extreme success is open to everyone, regardless of effort, talent or other qualifications.
  • The myth of the self-made man has changed over the years from being based on the Puritan work ethic, where industry, hard work and frugality were its basis,  which also allowed for circumstances shaping the man, to some sort of idea of individual drive being the chief qualification, so that if you want it badly enough success will come, and now ambition is in itself a virtue.
  • A lot of the self-help industry is based on this myth.
  • People who did succeed were not entirely self-made, as they came from families where the skills and virtues that led to success were already taught and part of the socio-economic and cultural heritage of the entrepreneur.
Nobody is self-made, so, of course, taken in its most literal sense, there is no such thing as a self-made man. Our DNA comes from someplace. Our flesh, including our brain cells and our most basic predilections all come from others, passed down through a long chain of ancestors, the earliest of which were not even human.

"You're self made, eh?" the Progressive scoffs. "Well, did you invent bipedalism all by yourself? How about the wheel? Language? Writing? Algebra?" 

In a somewhat less absurd move, Swansburg points out that Jewish immigrants to the United States who became successful in the garment industry already had garment industry experience in Europe, before immigrating. That makes sense. But does it take away from the achievements of the few who succeeded grandly, despite poverty and a language barrier?

Or how about the fact that many East Asian immigrant children come from a culture where literacy and studiousness are already very much valued and encouraged, which is why they tend to excel in academics far and above their Anglo-Saxon classmates, whose ancestors were still illiterate savages at a time when the East had a well developed culture?  Does this mean that we should put quotas on university entry by Asian-Americans?

The fallacy is in thinking that the melting pot and upward mobility in the United States was ever supposed to be based on dispossessing people of the individual advantages that came from belonging to a particular family or ethnic group. The idea was always that you got to compete based on everything you left home with, and that nobody would ever penalize you for what sort of home you had. Rising based on your own merit was not supposed to be tempered by handicapping certain people for coming into the race with certain built-in advantages. In fact, the myth of the self-made man was that everybody was allowed to shine based on their built-in advantages, regardless of anything else.

"But it's not fair that some people come better equipped!" some complain.  Fair to whom? To the consumer who wants to buy inexpensive well-made garments? To the university that seeks the brightest students? To the employer who is looking for the best workers money can buy?

Social Darwinism is frowned upon. as a misunderstanding of the theory of evolution. But the theory of evolution, some have pointed out, is a tautology. It is true by definition. If traits are selected for in future generations based on the survival of the fittest, then how do you determine who the fittest were, except by looking around to see who survived? Fittest does not mean some kind of absolute virtue -- it just means most adapted to the particular environment. When the environment changes, the traits that make us most fit also change.

In today's market, those who are willing to do necessary blue collar work are at an advantage over the merely studious, because the market is flooded with college graduates who have no useful skills. Half a century ago it might have been different. Tinker with the marketplace, and you change the fitness of all the participants.

Upward mobility at present is at an all time low, some complain. I'm not sure whether that is true or not, but I do know that even during slavery, there was upward mobility for blacks. Marie Villard was a descendant of slaves, but she was a free woman who owned property. Though miscegenation laws prevented Pierre Laffite from marrying her, his children by her were well provided for under a binding contract. After a few generations, the descendants of Marie Villard had been so assimilated into New Orleans society that they did not even know they were black. They remembered they had a famous "pirate" in their lineage, but they conveniently forgot about Marie Villard. (Source: Davis, The Pirates Laffite.)

That is in fact how upward mobility and the American melting pot worked. Though all people have certain advantages inherited from their ancestors, over time we become assimilated to the point where we no longer remember where we came from, and then it may appear that we are entirely self-made. It may be a myth, but it is also one of the advantages of the American culture of the nineteenth century, because by allowing people to forget their origins, society was able to let individuals fully claim every useful trait that came built in, to the advantage of not only the individual, but also society as whole.

Jean Laffite never denied his roots. He was proud of his ancestors and of the way he used what he inherited from them to become a successful entrepreneur, leader and patriot. Was he a self-made man? As much so as anyone ever was. He was just unusually honest about where he came from. That was perhaps his greatest flaw, and the reason he never received the recognition he deserved.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Slide Show from Presentation before the Laffite Society

I gave a talk before the Laffite Society this Tuesday. It was all about how the changing laws concerning privateering -- and also filibustering -- affected the career of Jean Laffite. I am not going to set forth the content of my talk here, as I plan to submit that by the end of the year to Laffite Society for publication. However, the talk was accompanied by a slide show, and I will share some of the slides to give you some idea of what the talk covered. I will also comment on the content of the slides from the perspective of how this information was acquired, and how it relates to my own life and my process as a writer.

The next slide actually shows something from one of my many notebooks that helps to document the trajectory of my interest in Jean Laffite. I had been planning to write a book entitled Theodosia and the Pirates for a very long time, ever since I read Gore Vidal's Burr when I was sixteen. But it was not the first thing on my list. I was thinking that it would be kind of a light book, after I had finished writing all the truly important books about justice and honor and freedom. So it was always planned to be something that I would write toward the end of my life, as a kind of reward to myself. I knew that Theodosia was going to be the heroine. But which pirate should she meet?

Here in this notebook, while I was still engaged in writing the first half of Our Lady of Kaifeng, I jotted some notes about what I wanted Theodosia and the Pirates to be about.

Theodosia Burr Alston
Find a famous real life pirate from that era and relate the events of his life to the story of Theodosia after she was lost at sea. 
This is the story of what happens when none of our dreams come true and we have to give up World Conquest. 
It is about the life of contentment  and spontaneous happiness that is possible only after everything else goes wrong and we lose all hope.

 That was written on May 12, 2007. At the time, my daughter was almost eight, and Bow, the chimpanzee, was five. We had not had the breakthrough yet that catapulted him to literacy. The scribbling on the top right hand page from the notebook was by Bow. He always wanted to write if I was writing, although one could not make out anything in what he scribbled.We had just moved into the pen system, and both Bow and I were feeling depressed.

That was in May of 2007. By July of that same year, Bow had an enormous breakthrough. Though my original online article about this has been de-indexed, you can still read it on the Reddit Mirror.

After Bow's breakthrough, I was busy documenting everything that happened with his language acquisition and submitting an article to Nature. I was also attending conferences with other primatologists and discussing my findings, and for a while there was great excitement in the air about Bow. And then all of that fizzled out. I could prove nothing, and it was all dismissed as Clever Hans.

In the meanwhile, I finished writing the first half of Our Lady of Kaifeng, and eventually I rediscovered my writing notebook with the entry on Theodosia and the Pirates. And somehow or other I went back to thinking about poor Theodosia, lost at sea, and how I needed a pirate to save her.

That is why on the right hand page, right under all that scribbling by Bow, I ended up writing this on  April 6, 2009: "The real life pirate will be Jean LaFitte."

I still knew very little about him. I could not even spell his name correctly. But I knew it could be nobody else. And that's when my focus, which up till then had been on Bow's literacy and on the inmates of an internment camp in Shandong Province in World War II, began to shift. And all of the sudden I absolutely needed to know everything there was to know about Jean Laffite. I ordered The Journal of Jean Laffite in the original from the library in Liberty, Texas and I read and re-read William C. Davis's The Pirates Laffite, and everything else that I could get my hands on concerning Laffite. And gradually it dawned on me: he was not a pirate! And what's more, I had met him before somewhere. He was familiar. He felt like home.

I suddenly began to understand that a momentous change had happened in the interpretation of the constitutional provisions of how war was to be waged and financed and what powers belonged to the government and what powers belonged to the people.  I began to see how it was that right at first, prior to the passage of the first Neutrality Act in 1794, Congress had to grant the right to declare war to the US government, but private citizens did not need permission from anybody to wage war, since all powers not granted to the Federal government were reserved to the states and to the people.

And then one day the Neutrality Act of  1794 was passed, to make it easier for the United States to please Britain in the Jay Treaty.

I never liked the Neutrality Act, because of how it affected Aaron Burr's plans to become emperor of Spain. But it was not against Aaron Burr that this law was actually designed. Both the Federalists and the British were deeply afraid of the Jacobins who were now running rampant in France under Maximilien de Robespierre, and they wanted to make sure the madness did not spread to England and beyond.  The Neutrality Act was, among other things, meant to discourage American privateers under a letter of marque from France from harrying the British when they were at peace with the United States, and it was invoked by John Adams in his undeclared Quasi-War against France.

The American privateers who had private interests in conflict with the foreign policy of the president  of the United States were not pirates. Or were they? And what exactly was the difference?

Jean Laffite, when he met Theodosia in my book,  on New Year's Day  1813, had a privateering license from Cartagena. No, not the one in Spain. The one in Colombia. Only there was no Colombia then, and the Republic of Cartagena had only in 1811 become free of Spain.

Of course, before that, before he had a privateering license from Cartagena, Jean Laffite had been a smuggler under the Embargo Act of 1807, which was Thomas Jefferson's way of keeping the United States out of war.

The public hated the Embargo Act. It destroyed American commerce.

But with smugglers like the Laffites operating to fill the gap, it was still possible to shop for cheap goods at Barataria. It was because he was such an independent privateer and smuggler that Jean Laffite was able to provide the United States with the flint and the gunpowder and the artillery and men that won the Battle of New Orleans for the American side. But no recognition was given him, because the tide of history had already gone the other way. When James Monroe came to power, the Neutrality Act was amended to make it even more damaging to American privateers and filibusters, and Jean Laffite was forced to give up Galveston, just as he had earlier given up Barataria. Not only that, but when he sought to serve in Simon Bolivar's Colombia, he had to take on a commission as Colombian naval officer. The Americans had pressured Bolivar to outlaw privateering in return for recognition of his government. So he nationalized all the privateering vessels, and he allowed their captains to stay on as government employees. When Jean Laffite disappeared from the historical record, he was no longer a privateer. He was a "brave Colombian naval officer" serving as a government's hired hand.

There was a lot more to my talk and many more slides, but there in a nutshell is the story. Why does it appeal to me? Why was it such an epiphany for me to discover the real Jean Laffite, rather than the pirate with a heart of gold that he was portrayed as by the media and the childhood history books? Because it all ties in. Everything in life is interconnected. Not only do Laffite's grievances and Theodosia Burr's complaints against the government match, it also fits into my own life story.

Today, there are no more privateers, and the government has a monopoly on waging war. But in almost every other field, government encroachment into private affairs is likewise felt. I am the only private ape language researcher remaining. All the others have fallen under a network of laws that has all but nationalized chimpanzee research. Whether they work for the government, a university or a non-profit, they are not allowed to make decisions on their own which are at odds with national policy on chimpanzees.

Jean Laffite is a hero who appeals to me on so many levels. He is much more than a plot device to save Theodosia Burr. And the two novels that I wrote about him and Theodosia are not light romances, as I originally thought they would be. They are an in-depth look at what happened to an entire nation very soon upon its formation. What happened to Jean Laffite happened to all America -- to all of us. It is our loss.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Invitation to Attend a Talk about Jean Laffite and Privateering

If you happen to be in Galveston, Texas on October 14, 2014 at about six pm, you might like to attend my talk at the Meridian Towers.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Neutrality Act of 1817

The first American Neutrality Act was passed in 1794.  It made it illegal for Americans to wage war on a country at peace with the United States. The thing to consider about this act of Congress is that prior to its passage, it was perfectly legal for an American citizen to wage war on his own against a country that the United States was not at war with. The constitution provided that the Federal government under its commander-in-chief, the President, would not be allowed to wage war unless Congress issued a declaration of war. But all the rights not granted to the Federal government were reserved to the states and to the people. So while the president of the United States was bound to remain neutral in all matters, unless Congress voted otherwise, each individual American was allowed to conduct his own foreign policy.

Take a deep breath and think about what this means. American citizens prior to 1794 were considered autonomous. They could make war on other countries in order to pursue their own interests. And, indeed, many Americans were privateers with letters of marque from foreign countries, such as France, and earning a good living by helping others in their wars against the great international empires such as Britain and Spain.

What happened in 1794 to change all that? In 1794, under the administration of George Washington, the United States signed the Jay Treaty with Britain. The Jay treaty was the brainchild of Alexander Hamilton, and it was hotly contested by the Jeffersonian-led Democratic-Republicans, who feared that this was a return to old world aristocratic tendencies and the rule of tyranny.

The other thing that happened in 1794, which I might as well also mention, was the reign of terror of Maximilien de Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety in France. After the French revolution, Jacobins had taken over France. It was off with everybody's head and a complete deterioration of all civilized things, including private property.

Britain did not want this general lawlessness to spread to England, and George Washington and Alexander Hamilton agreed. So they decided to tie the hands of American privateers who were still working for France. They also thought this would be a good time to repudiate the American war debt to France, since, after all, that promise was made to the French monarchy that helped to free American Colonies from Britain and not to those lawless  Jacobins currently in power.

The Jay Treaty cleared the way for the Quasi-War with France under John Adams, an undeclared war that served British interests and helped the United States renege on the American promise to repay its war debts to France. During the Quasi-War with France, the president of the United States ignored the constitutional provision that required him to get clearance from Congress before starting a war. Meanwhile, the Neutrality Act, far from creating neutrality was used to make sure that no individual American fought for a side in any war that the president did not want him fighting on.

Just like the Committee for Public Safety in France, that did anything but insure public safety, the Neutrality Law was named the very opposite of what it did.

But our subject here is not the Neutrality Act of 1794. Our subject was the Neutrality Act in 1817. The original Neutrality Act was superseded by this new act that also mentioned the unrecognized governments of newly liberated Latin American countries as additional powers that American citizens were not to help anymore. Henry Clay called this an "Act for the benefit of Spain against the Republics of South America." The act prescribed penalties of three years imprisonment and three thousand dollars in fines.

Far from breeding neutrality, all these laws collectively were used to tie the hands of American privateers and to help the great empires of Britain and Spain to hold on to their dominions. But much more importantly than this, the Neutrality Act was used to subdue the independent spirit of American businessmen, who henceforth would need the permission of their government to conduct business abroad and to defend their foreign holdings.

When Jean Laffite was routed out of all his holdings in both Barataria and Galveston, this disempowerment did not happen to him alone. It happened to all Americans, who became more like subjects and less like citizens under a government that took on itself more and more power. In order to pursue its own dreams of empire, the United States government under James Monroe wanted no competition from private citizens in the international arena.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

When is Martial Law Justified? Who Can Impose it?

I am reading a book entitled Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law by Matthew  Warshauer. Of course, the first thing I do is turn to the index and look for Aaron Burr. The index lists just one mention, on page 21.

The turmoil in New Orleans was, of course, not the first time that conspiracies and plots presented a danger to the city. Aaron Burr's infamous attempt to separate the southern portion of the newly acquired Louisiana Territory in 1805-7 had prompted concerns. As a result of the warnings over Burr, Gen. James Wilkinson, who was also a longtime friend of his and a co-conspirator, attempted to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and proclaim martial law.
Channeling Theodosia, I am tempted to fling the open book across the room. But since I'm not Theodosia, and I love books of all sorts, I just put it gently down on the table, on top of a bunch of other books I am also reading. Outside, Bow is enjoying the crisp autumn day.

Why is it that so many historians still have swallowed whole the entire "Burr Conspiracy" story, which was concocted by James Wilkinson and embraced by Thomas Jefferson? Even if we know nothing at all about the history of the falling out between Jefferson and Burr, even if we don't realize that Burr was exonerated of the charge of planning to separate the western territories and only convicted for violating the Neutrality Act, which was because he was going to war with Spain as a private American citizen -- not unlike Sam Houston  in his day --  then surely the words in the paragraph quoted above themselves would put us on notice that something does not tally.

We are told that James Wilkinson was a friend and a co-conspirator of Burr's and that when he heard "warnings about Burr" he attempted to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and impose martial law. On whose behalf was he doing it? Not for Burr. He was arresting Burr and all his friends and depriving them of their right to a day in court. He was doing this for the sake of Thomas Jefferson and also for his Spanish employers. It is a well established fact that Wilkinson was in the employ of Spain, and that he betrayed Burr at the behest of his Spanish employers, who did not want Burr to succeed in conquering Mexico or liberating Texas. Yet if we read the paragraph not knowing this, we might have supposed that Wilkinson was imposing martial law to help Burr with his "conspiracy".

 Nevertheless, I calm down and pick the book back up, to see what I can learn about Wilkinson's attempt to impose martial law.

The result of  of Wilkinson's defiance of the writ of habeas corpus was the 1807 Supreme Court decision of  Ex Parte Bollman and Swartwout, which declared that only the legislature can suspend the writ. Prior to this decision, who exactly could suspend the writ of habeas corpus was in some question. 
This is all just preparation for the discussion later on in Warshauer's book of what happened when Andrew Jackson declared Martial Law in New Orleans before the Battle of New Orleans and kept it in effect even after a peace treaty was known to have been signed, officially ending the war, and all without getting congress to approve the suspension.

Is the imposition of Martial Law ever really done by voting about it? An essentially undemocratic action, is it ever democratically brought about? Is it ever left for the people or their representatives to decide on, or is it not something that by its nature is imposed by the executive branch, acting on its military prerogatives, constitutional or not? I will have to read the rest of the book to find out.

But before I start reading, I can't help but check the index for Jean Laffite. There is just one mention, pages 22-23.

Old Hickory ultimately solved the ... problem by invading the city [Barancas]  in November 1814 and driving the English from the area, but in the meantime they had arrived below New Orleans and approached the Baratarian pirate, Jean Laffite, to enlist his aid in capturing the city. Laffite had cleverly stalled the British and informed members of the Louisiana legislature of the enemy's plan. Yet the British infiltration in the area alarmed the general, and on December 15 he published an address to the citizens... '...The rules and articles of war annex the punishment of death to any person holding secret correspondence with the enemy.'
Warshauer notes that these rules were traditionally applicable to soldiers only, but Jackson was applying them to all the residents of New Orleans.

This book seems kinder to Jean Laffite than to Aaron Burr, even though the word "pirate" is used, but I will have to read it in its entirety to see how fairly it treats Andrew Jackson, and what we can learn about the roots of martial law and suspension of habeas corpus under which we live today. Where exactly do no-knock warrants or the siege of Mt. Carmel fit into the general scheme of our constitutional freedoms? What about the NDAA or the "sheltering at home" required in Boston after the Marathon bombing? If a general rode into your town today and declared that anyone not for him is against him and subject to the penalty of death for speaking with "the enemy", what recourse would you have against that?

I will post a full report on the book once I have had a chance to read and digest it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Price of a Free Press -- Or A Free Anything

There are two views of freedom. One is that freedom is a matter of choice, and not being coerced is what it consists of. The other is that freedom means getting all your needs met at someone else's expense. The founding fathers of the American revolution had the first view in mind, but fairly early on in the history of the republic, the second one was already insinuating itself into American politics.

The price of freedom is that someone free has to defend it. If it is paid for by the government, then the government gets to determine what freedom means, using funds coercively taken from individuals. If it is paid for by individuals, such as citizens and free militias, then it is they who will ultimately decide on the meaning of their own freedom. That's why Jean Laffite's contribution in the War of 1812 was so important to the definition of American liberty. This is also why the end of privateering meant the beginning of tyranny.

"If this is a free country, then shouldn't everything be free?" This question was placed into the mouth of Francie in the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Her father answered: "If everything were free, it wouldn't be a free country." Then he proceeded to help her steal a better education than she was legally entitled to by pretending to live in a wealthier neighborhood than he could afford.

The American educational system has been a confusing mess for a very long time, Partly based on taxation of local property, and hence indirectly on the wealth of residents, and partly based on Federal funding, it serves no one and everyone, because no one and everyone pays for it.

The price of a free education is that the people who use it must pay for it. Unless it is paid for by students and their families, then the content of the education will be determined by someone else. The price of free healthcare is that the people who use it have to pay for it. If it is paid for by someone else, then someone else will determine what treatment will be given and what priorities will apply. If the government pays for medical care, then the government can determine who will live and who will die.

What about a free press? Who should pay for that? And in fact, who did pay for it early in the 19th century, after the War of 1812?

I have two mastheads at my disposal, thanks to Pam Keyes. One is the Weekly Aurora, a political paper espousing "Jeffersonian" views. There is no advertising, and the subscription is listed as three dollars per year.The issue I have is from October of 1815.

The second is the Southern Patriot and Commercial Advertiser. The subscription cost is ten dollars per year, but there is also advertising. The date of this issue is July 21, 1824. It does appear that the Southern Patriot came out more frequently than the Aurora, which might account for the great difference in the subscription price.

Advertisements in the Southern Patriot

Interestingly, the advertisements are of all sorts, with no particular type overshadowing others. "For Philadelphia. The New Packet Ship, Langdon Cheves, John Baker, Master; will sail on Thursday next, the 22nd instant. For freight or passage apply to Captain Baker, on Board at Edmonston's Wharf, or to Fleming  & Ross. For Sale on Board, Half Barrels Philadelphia Marker Beef, Barrels and boxes, choice cyder, barrels fresh rye flour, Hay in bundles, 500  bushels white gourd seed corn, 20 hogsheads rye whiskey. July 17." Just in this one ad, we can see that the public had access to transportation, freight and goods on board a private vessel belonging to a private person. Since there was no public road built at public expense, private enterprise was supplying all that people needed on board ships that were owned by individuals, not corporations.

Another ad, quite different in tenor and content that particularly caught my eye ran like this: "Mrs. Eliza Schroder hereby gives public notice, that it is her intention to become a freedealer in 30 days after this date, agreeably to the act of the legislature. m4 July 12."

I am not sure what being a freedealer means, but I did look up freed slaves in South Carolina, and I found out that after 1820 it became possible for a slave in South Catolina  to be freed only by an act of the legislature. Could this be an announcement by Mrs. Eliza Schroder that in thirty days time she was freeing herself? Did Mrs. Eliza Schroder save up the money to buy her own freedom? How many of us today could do the same? Why was an act of the legislature required?

Feel free to look over all the ads I have displayed above. Some are announcements for funerals, one is for a private lottery to support a school of fine arts, but we learn that the week before there was another lottery to support a different cause. It seems there was no state monopoly on lotteries and anyone could run one.

The Superintendent of Indian Affairs and the Governor of Florida Territory was buying up food to to "furnish to Florida emigrant Indians" and was soliciting contracts from suppliers.

The Treasury Department ran several ads, but so did booksellers, including one about a polar expedition in 1819 with information about the Aurora Borealis. There were meetings announced, houses for rent, and even a reward for a lost gold watch. What is remarkable is the wide variety of personal ads, side by side with those from commercial ventures and government entities.

While this period of American history was full of injustices and unfairness of many kinds, from slaves to be sold to native Americans who were clearly being dispossessed and interned, what is remarkable about the advertisements in this paper is that there are no large ads by more important people or entities overshadowing the smaller, more personal ads. It seemed as if each ad was given equal space and each person advertising had an equal say.

For there to be a free press, the press should be paid for by private people. This can happen in the form of subscriptions or advertising. We learn a lot about the press in the early nineteenth century by seeing how it was paid for and by reading both the editorials and the ads.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Jean Laffite on the Insurrection in Haiti

Add caption Toussaint L'Ouverture from the Wikipedia

What did Jean Laffite think about the insurrection that led to the formation of Haiti? Here is an excerpt from the Journal of Jean Laffite that deals with this issue.

He writes: "Toussaint L'Ouverture annd Henri Christophe were the two educated blacks who directed and agitated the insurrection for the absolute independence of the black negroes of the eastern part of Santo Domingo, choosing an Indian name, 'Haiti' which is the current name of the Republic."

"The two principal black leaders had an excellent education and had without a doubt the right to liberty and independence because France was strangled on all sides by the British dragon and the despotic crown of Spain."

"Mr. Bonaparte thought that these slaves of Santo Domingo had the the right to establish a small autonomous republic, but he resented greatly that a nation, no matter which, would give contraband munitions of war and firearms into the hands of  illiterates for independence in an effort to cause insurrection [reurrections?-sic]."

There is a legitimate cause to criticize this attitude as attributed by Jean Laffite to Napoleon, as there is no reason to assume that only literate men have the right to freedom. However, what Jean Laffite probably meant was that he was in favor of freeing the slaves, but he was against the general carnage that ensued when the literate and civilized leaders lost control of their followers.

Here is an excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain that deals with this question:

From "Theodosia and the Pirates: The Battle Against Britain"
It is perhaps in the 19th century when the idea of education as a cure-all was introduced. It is the same idea that is attributed to Robespierre by today's progressives on Facebook memes, But it is not education that is lacking when people turn to general carnage as a way to air their grievances: it is common decency. Indigenous tribes, ordinary people with limited means and many other illiterates have common decency and behave well toward others even when they are unhappy about something. It is slavery that robs people of the experience of bearing arms and knowing how to restrain themselves in their use. Freemen are so accustomed to being armed that the common decency that comes with this responsibility is second nature. One of the dangers that accompanies the loss of second amendment rights in the United States today is that too few people have been trained in gun safety or the moral imperatives of proper firearm use.

The Biblical adage "a servant when he reigneth" is what applies here. Freedom is something you have to grow into. It is dangerous to give it to a whole mass of people all at once, however well-educated they are, when they have not yet learned self-restraint. Neither poverty nor illiteracy is the problem. It just takes time and proper upbringing to master self-control.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Should the Government Build Roads?

Who would build the roads if not for national taxes? This is one of the arguments that we hear from statists of all stripes. And those who don't wish to have the Federal government involved in the building of roads are usually in the Jeffersonian camp. But when we look at historical debates on this issue, it seems that Mr. Jefferson was not quite the libertarian that we think, and his opposition in the northeast was not quite as statist as we might suppose.

Excerpt from the Aurora, October 25, 1815
In an editorial probably by William Duane, in the October 25, 1815 issue of The Aurora, it is alleged that Thomas Jefferson "sought in vain to establish at least one great national road from the extremes to the centre of the union" and that this desire of his was frustrated by representatives of Connecticut.

I will be sharing this very interesting editorial -- sent to me by Pam Keyes --  in its entirety on Historia Obscura in the very near future. But for the time being I leave you with this to think about: who was really the statist here?

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