Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Looted Ships in the Navy Docks

Pam Keyes has just published a very interesting article about the Battle of Lake Borgne.


The article describes a number of tactical and strategic mistakes made by Commodore Daniel T. Patterson and those under his command that not only lost the United States Navy some badly needed gun boats but also made those same gun boats available to the British to use against the American forces.

The article also touched obliquely on the fate of the ships confiscated at Barataria during the Patterson-Ross raid.

Patterson’s small navy had been reduced to the Carolina schooner and Louisiana sloop, both at New Orleans, and one gunboat at Ft. St. Phillip on the Mississippi River. Six fast armed schooners taken in the Patterson-Ross raid of Jean Laffite’s Barataria sat idle at the Navy yard in New Orleans, but couldn’t be used for two reasons: there were no sailors to man them, and they were still awaiting judgment in admiralty court, so it was like they weren’t even there. The Louisiana also couldn’t be used initially due to a lack of men. Only the Carolina boasted a full crew of New Englanders who had arrived with the ship in August 1814. Patterson’s unpopularity with sometime privateer crews made him anathema for them to want to work for his navy.
 One wonders, since Andrew Jackson had declared martial law and was conscripting men and impressing sailors and confiscating property and ignoring court orders, according to the book by Matthew Warshauer, why Jackson could not simply take over the Baratarian ships in the Navy dockyard and assign Baratarian volunteers under his command to man them.

Could it be because the Navy and the Army were separate entities, and there was no Secretary of the Navy in office, and Jackson was not sure he could make his martial law stick against Daniel T. Patterson?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Answerable to None: Commodore Patterson and the Absent Secretary of the Navy

It is a minor footnote to the War of 1812 that between December 2, 1814 and January 16, 1815 the United States had no Secretary of the Navy.  But to those of us who are following the exploits of Daniel Todd Patterson, it means that for over six weeks, during the most important battles of the war, the Commodore had no immediate superior, save for the President.

 And the President, at the time, was very busy issuing Letters of Marque to independent privateers.  Or was he? The letter of marque reproduced below was issued two hundred years ago on December 22, 1814, but there is no signature on the documents by either the President or the Secretary of State. Where was everyone? Who was in charge?

Dated 22 December 1814. Commissioning the private armed schooner Lucy of 25 tons and commanded by John Lawton, Captain and Perez Drinkwater, Lieutenant,  to seize and take British vessels. Unsigned by either the President or Secretary of State.

Source:Old Source  http://www.history.navy.mil/library/manuscript/marque.htm 
              New Source: http://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/research/library/manuscripts/k-l/letter-of-marque-commissioning-the-schooner-lucy-as-a-privateer-during-the-war-of-1812/_jcr_content/body/media_asset/image.img.jpg/1406555033626.jpg

Andrew Jackson had declared martial law in New Orleans. All the ordinary forms of law and order had ceased. Property was being confiscated for military use.  Daniel Patterson was authorized along with Jackson to issue passes into and out of the city. Sailors were even  being impressed into service on the US side. But the ships looted from the Baratarian privateers were sitting idly by in the Navy dockyards. There was no Secretary of the Navy, and Daniel Patterson was answerable to none.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Will the Real Pirate Please Stand Up

Pam Keyes recently published an article about Daniel Todd Patterson's activities against innocent bystanders during the Patterson-Ross raid at Barataria.


If you review the evidence objectively, it was Patterson, not Laffite, who was the real pirate. I have nothing to add to what Pam Keyes has uncovered except to ask:

  •           Why did Patterson behave this way?
  •           Why were all complaints against this behavior met with indifference?
  •            Who really gained from the Patterson-Ross raid?
  •            Why don't the history books tell us about this? 
 I know a lot of people who say: "Don't rehash old history. Don't keep reliving the past. You can't change the past, so concentrate on the present."

I am concentrating on the present. But how do we fix the present, if we don't understand the past?

Isn't this an ongoing problem?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Misremembering Robin Hood

When I was seven years old, and I lived in Seattle, Washington for a year before returning to Israel just in time to start third grade, I had a friend who came from Poland named Anya Engelking. Anya's father was a scientist, and in order to be allowed to visit America for a year, he and his wife had to leave their two youngest daughters as hostages back in Poland, so that their government would know for sure that he would return. This was back during the Cold War, and Poland was a communist country.

Both Anya and I, as non-American school children, knew a lot more about the details of World War II than the other children our age. We used to take turns reenacting battles from the European front of the war. She was about a year older than me, and she was very good at converting currency from dollars to zloty. 

Anya's mother was different from my parents in her child rearing, as there were times when she required Anya to play outside in order to get exercise. She was not allowed back in the house until her mother said so. Then at other times  her mother required her to watch TV, when she believed that what was on television was good for her. This was quite different from the way I was raised, as I got to choose when I played outside and what I watched on TV.

One time,  Robin Hood was on TV, and Anya told me she could not play with me, because she had to dutifully watch it. Her mother insisted. It was about communist dogma. When I told my father about that, he laughed and said that actually Robin Hood was about a struggle between Normans and Saxons in medieval England. And then he recited this poem:

Hear underneath dis laitl stean
Laz Robert earl of Huntingtun
Ne’er arcir ver as hie sa geud
An pipl kauld im robin heud

Was there ever a real Robin Hood? And if so, what was his struggle about? Many people, both for and against redistribution of wealth, believe that the legend of Robin Hood is about robbing the rich to feed the poor. Those who are in favor of redistribution say that Robin Hood was good. People who are against redistribution say he was bad. But isn't that the wrong frame of reference to begin with?

Can robbing the rich to feed the poor ever work as a closed system? No, because to the extent that the rich get rich by providing goods and services to those less wealthy than themselves, their very livelihood depends on those who pay them, who are poorer than they are. Redistribution from an ecological standpoint would be like rabbits trying to feed on a fox. Foxes eat rabbits for a living. If rabbits ate foxes, they would actually be living off indirect cannibalism. Cannibalism doesn't work --  not because it's immoral  -- but because it is impractical. It is the impracticality of the thing that makes us feel that it is immoral, because it cannot be self-sustaining. It's the same reason why parents cannot feed on their young and why chickens cannot live off the eggs they lay themselves. It would be a perpetual motion machine.

Illustration by Aya Katz from In Case There's a Fox

On the other hand, in an open system, it is possible to rob your enemy in order to pay for your self-defense or your outward expansion. When there is a struggle between two peoples, such as the Normans versus the Saxons, it is possible to pillage the enemy camp in order to pay for the expense of having to fight them in the first place. That is also how large empires sustain standing armies: by constantly being at war with someone whom they can pillage. But when an empire runs out of easy targets, that's when that sort of growth has to stop. Once you have assimilated the people you have conquered and now treat them like citizens, taxing them becomes cannibalism. You are weakening yourself  by doing it

So what does this have to do with Jean Laffite? He is remembered as a "pirate" -- which is a kind of robber. But he is thought of by some as a kindly robber, and so we get a representation of him such as the one in the movie The Buccaneer, in which he seems to have a heart of gold, but is in fact not a respectable member of society. We are allowed to feel for him as a bad person who did a good deed, but we are not allowed to understand what really happened: that he was robbed by the United States Navy and that it was acting against the direct interests of the United States in its war against Britain when Patterson and Ross raided Barataria, knowing the British were about to attack Fort Bowyer.

Jean Laffite robbed the enemies of the United States, Britain and Spain, in order to sell goods at below market price to the American people. It was the fact that he was robbing outsiders at war with us that made the robbery legal and moral and not a case of cannibalism. Patterson and Ross raided their own allies to line their pockets, against the best interest of the country that was paying them a salary at taxpayer expense.  Their policies were cannibalistic. But nobody will show you that  at the movies today. Have you ever asked yourself why?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Consequences of the Louisiana Purchase

I have finished reading Matthew Warshauer's book and have posted a review on Amazon.

Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law Review

In looking back on what I learned from reading about the refund debates, the biggest thing that stands out was what a mistake the Louisiana Purchase was and what a very big price we paid for it in both the loss of life in a war fought to keep it, the loss of our civil liberties under martial law imposed during the Battle of New Orleans and in the financial shenanigans that bankrupted our economy right after the War of 1812.

Please understand, I am not saying that the states which were once part of the Louisiana Purchase should not be part of the union. On the contrary, I think that they inevitably would have been, had we followed a constitutional course of action, But you cannot "purchase" land for mere money, and a country committed to civil liberties cannot possibly maintain ideological purity when it buys not only the land but the people who live on it.

The corrupting influence of the Louisiana Purchase can be seen in Andrew Jackson's belief that the people of Louisiana were not faithful to the United States, and hence there was a necessity to impose martial law on an unwilling population. He made it seem that if not for his heavy handed, dictatorial treatment of everyone in the city, the non-English speaking population would have embraced the British invaders.

It wasn't true. The people of Louisiana did not want the the British to win. Those of French descent particularly hated Britain and everything it stood for. The Battle of New Orleans was won through the voluntary donations and exertions of the French speaking Baratarian volunteers, Jean Laffite chief among them.

But sometimes the hidden sense of guilt that we have for being a conqueror can make us paranoid, because deep down inside we feel that if anyone had done to us what we did to our subject population, we ourselves would rebel. That's what happened to Andrew Jackson, and for a few months he ran roughshod over an entire population, just in case there might be some spies or turncoats or terrorists or saboteurs among them. And twenty-nine years later he returned to Congress and asked for an endorsement of those actions. And he got it! This precedent was in turn used to subdue civilian populations during the Civil War and during World War II and after 9/11 and ever since.

But there's also an economic price for the Louisiana Purchase that we are paying to this very day. The original notes for the purchase were made out to France, but Napoleon turned around and sold them to a British Bank, and when the payments came due, we paid almost all our gold and silver reserves to Britain, precipitating the Panic of 1819.

Today, people who are against a strong monetary system point at the business cycle's ups and downs and say that being off a hard specie standard is what keeps us from having crises like the one in 1819. But it was not the free market that caused the Panic of 1819. It was the Louisiana Purchase all over again.

So how should we go about getting new territories? The colonization of Texas by independent Americans is one example. Filibustering is the American way. It allows independent individuals to pursue their own interests, while keep the government out of it. This way any war that occurs is a private war, waged only by those who stand to gain from it.

The Neutrality Act should never have been passed. Americans should have been free to settle anywhere and fight for independence from European empires. Then, years later, when everyone who lived in the territory actually wanted to join the United States, they could petition to join the union.

This is how a government by the consent of the governed operates. It does not  put the union above the people. It waits to be asked nicely to join. And if we had lived by this creed of consent of the governed,  we would have been left free both in the economic sphere and in the matter of civil liberties  That's why I think repealing the Neutrality Act is the first step in regaining our freedom.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Andrew Jackson Contempt Fine Refund Debates

It was Senator Lewis Field Linn from Missouri who in 1842 introduced the bill to get Andrew Jackson a refund from Congress of his contempt fine of a thousand dollars paid in 1815 under the orders of Judge Dominick Hall.

Lewis Field Linn
from the wikipedia

At the time, Jean Laffite was residing in Missouri and may well have been one of Linn's constituents. The debates about Jackson's refund raged for two years, and Linn did not live to see the thing to its conclusion, as he died on October 3, 1843.

What must Jean Laffite have thought, reading in the papers about those debates? Did Andrew Jackson deserve to have his thousand dollars refunded for trampling on the civil liberties of citizens in New Orleans? In contrast, did he, Jean Laffite,  who saved to city of New Orleans from the British by donating flints and powder and artillery and men and fighting for its defense at the risk of his life not deserve to have his $500,000 loss at the hands of Patterson and Ross during their raid on Barataria refunded? Which refund would have advanced the cause of liberty? Which was meant only to weaken civil liberties in times of war?

Next year, 2015, marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. Many celebrations are being planned, and those of us who are interested, but live far away, can only regret that we can't afford to go. But did you know that Andrew Jackson himself faced a similar situation in 1839? He wrote to his nephew, Andrew Jackson Donelson that it would be impossible for him to attend the annual Battle of New Orleans celebration in Louisiana, due to insufficient funds. He then hinted that the thousand dollars he paid to the court back in 1815 as a contempt fine ought really to be refunded to him, as he had sacrificed so much for his country! You didn't see Jean Laffite making such complaints. He could not go to New Orleans for the celebration, not because he didn't have enough money for the trip, but because if he were recognized, he might still be hanged for a pirate!

Whenever we are feeling sorry for ourselves and think we have been dealt with unfairly, it is good to remember Jean Laffite, who was dealt with the most unfairly of all.

Alexander Bellow, from Louisiana, offered a modification to Senator Linn's proposed bill to the effect that nothing in the refund should be construed as questioning the fidelity of the citizens of New Orleans, but a reply quickly came that of course the fidelity of citizens of New Orleans was in question. That was the reason for the imposition of martial law against them in the first place!

If that was the case, then Andrew Jackson came not as a liberator but as a conqueror to that city! Meanwhile, in December,  close to Christmas, Senator Linn tried to support the refund bill by declaring: "This bill must pass. The American people have willed it.  All go for it -- Jew and Gentile, Democrat and Whig...." But the bill did not pass.

The bill was introduced in the House by Charles Jared Ingersoll in March of 1842 as "A Bill for the Relief of General Andrew Jackson." Jackson did not like it. It made him seem like a pauper and in need of charity. He wanted it said that the fine he had been forced to pay was unjust, because he had done nothing wrong.

John Quincy Adams spoke up against the bill, saying it had already been passed, but Jackson supporters did not want it unless it spoke ill of the judge who ordered the fine.

President Tyler had this to say about the bill in his Annual Message: "I have no doubt that the American people wished this fine to be paid back. It might be so. At least a portion of them wished it -- a portion commonly called the Democratic Party."

After this, all partisan hell broke loose and John Quincy Adams declared that all the Democrats were paying court to Andrew Jackson, as he would choose the next presidential candidate for that party.

But as this proved to be actually true, the Democrats redoubled their efforts to pass the bill!  Charles Conrad of Louisiana lost his seat as a result of not backing the bill, and it was clear that Andrew Jackson was a kingmaker for the party. John C. Calhoun resigned from the senate rather than get embroiled in the refund debates. He wanted to run for president, so he could not afford to make waves.

When the refund eventually passed  and President Tyler signed it into law on February 16, 1844, it carried six percent interest per annum, so that Jackson for his thousand dollar investment in 1815 got $2,732.90.

Not a bad deal, considering what interest rates are like today! Meanwhile, Jean Laffite had to write off the $500,000 that Patterson and Ross stole from him as a bad debt. But he could afford to, because unlike Jackson, he was not a pauper.

Warshauer, Matthew. 2006. Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.