Tuesday, March 25, 2014

American Diplomacy in the Wake of War

Diplomacy is  just one of the tools of war. At the bargaining table, many a nation has won more territory than it could possibly have conquered in a pitched battle. At the bargaining table, many a victor's gains have been squandered. Sadly, the United States has a long history of dumping friends in order to make "peace" with bullies.

Neutrality would be a very fine thing, if it meant not getting involved in other people's disputes. But under the pretext of maintaining "neutrality" the United States has often broken with its natural allies in order to appease its more powerful enemies.

Can you imagine going to war with France to help Britain, when only a few years earlier France helped you win your independence from Britain? That's what the administration of John Adams did without a declaration of war.

Or how about the way the Soviet Union ended up our ally in World War II and FDR divided up the world between himself and Stalin at Yalta? Was that in the best interest of US citizens? How?

 Or the way in which Israel is constantly being pressured to give up territory for the sake of peace, while simultaneously being offered bribes in the form of American financial aid at taxpayer expense? Would a powerful Israel not be a good thing for the US? How does using taxpayer money to bribe Israel not to defend itself from forces unfriendly to the US help American citizens? Does it make the price of oil go down? I don't think so.

 Or exactly why was it that  we severed diplomatic relations with our friend Taiwan in order to make peace with Mainland China? Wouldn't "neutrality" have demanded that we treat both China and Taiwan just exactly the same? Why do we have to stop being friends with Taiwan in order to offer friendship to China? Would a real friend ever ask that of us?

All of these actions are part of a pattern that was established very early on in the history of the United States. There is nothing new under the sun, except that diplomacy as practiced by the US State Department does not tend to promote the natural interests of the United States and often penalizes United States citizens who are taxed to support policies inimical to their own interests.

The treatment of Jean Laffite by the United States, both at Barataria and at Galveston, is a case in point. Having driven Laffite out of his territory at Barataria when he helped defend New Orleans from the British invaders, when he moved to Galveston where he served as a buffer against Spain the United States went on to demand that he leave again, and not so that United States forces could take possession, either. It was so that Spain could retain its holdings in Texas, and so that the United States could maintain its fragile "friendship" with Spain. Is that neutrality? Siding with the local bully against the underdog who is friendly to you?

This is my take on it. But what did Jean Laffite think? A few well chosen snippets from his journal will give us an idea.

In this section of the Journal, Jean Laffite is talking about the events that precipitated his expulsion from Galveston. They involve the Spanish Ambassador de Onis putting pressure on President Monroe.
Ambassador de Onis protested more violently and thus forced President Monroe to send agents to Texas to verify the settlement of French refugees without the power of General Lallemand and to prevent him from settling in United States territory.
George Graham, who gave himself the honors, was chosen for the mission.  Mr. Graham was involved in banking matters in Washington, and he was always ready for placement when the occasion presented itself. Mr. Graham did not sympathize with Luis de Onis.
So then Mr. de Onis protested to Secretary John Quincy Adams on the subject of the French invasion of Texas. Mr de Onis and Mr. Adams were able to come to an agreement on their points.
John Quincy Adams, like his father John Adams, sympathized with the British against the French. He was perhaps more nearly neutral about Spanish interests, but Ambassador de Onis knew Adams the younger rather well, and he knew how to manipulate him to see things his own way.

Mr. Adams did not make much noise on the subject of my commune, but when he learned that my corsairs seized British ships, then along with the rest of his cabinet, he protested.

Like his father before him, John Quincy Adams, then secretary of state under President Monroe, sympathized with the British. It was a historic preference inherited from his father, the second president. The Federalist John Adams favored Britain, while Democratic-Republican Jefferson had been sympathetic to  France. Nobody seemed to be neutral, each faction having its own preferences in the European power struggle. In fact, throughout the career of Jean Laffite, it seems that the struggle between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, even when it seemingly culminated in the demise of the Federalist party, was still a factor.  There are echoes of this in the Journal of Jean Laffite.

Jean Laffite writes:

George Graham, a venal political banker in Washington, arrived at Galveston one month before the hurricane. President Monroe had given him orders to study the form of justice and of the government that existed in my commune.
 He pretended to be an official envoy. I treated him with the greatest courtesy and received him with the best hospitality in the world. 
Mr. Graham stayed with me for two weeks.  He was of an agreeable disposition, and each day we hunted and fished together.

 He could not understand why I accorded equal rights to all, without considerations of nationality or religion.
He represented exactly the same type as Alexander Hamilton, opposed to the principles of Thomas Jefferson. 
George Graham told Jean Laffite that "the territory situated to the west of the Sabine River belonged to the United States which had not authorized me to establish  a commune of my choice to the west of that river."

Concerned that there might be some official sanction behind Graham's words, Jean Laffite set out to Washington, where he met with Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. At the time, Adams was fifty-one years old and Jean Laffite was thirty-six. Adams told Laffite that he had not authorized Graham to speak to him or to ask him to clear out of Galveston. Mr Graham was acting alone and without the sanction of the United States government.

Mr. Adams affirmed that Mr. Graham was in banking, and was interested above all  in commercial loans and credit to private businesses and that he liked neither the ideas of Thomas Jefferson nor the system of Napoleon. 
Then again, John Quincy Adams can't have been all that taken with Thomas Jefferson or Napoleon, either. It would be amusing to hear with what tone of voice Adams said this.

John Quincy Adams as painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1818
from the Wikipedia

In the end, when public opinion had been turned entirely against Laffite after the Le Brave incident, and when Graham was again dispatched to tell him he must leave, this time in a more official capacity, Jean Laffite informed George Graham that his government was against England and Spain, and he would abandon Galveston only on the condition the United States would occupy the Antilles as well as Florida. George Graham replied that he was more interested in loans received from Spain than in annexing any of its territories.

From a page of the Journal that has been badly burned
Relevant text reads: "Nous informames Mr. Graham que notre gouvernment etait contre Espagne et l'Angleterre et que nous abondonerions qu'a la condition que les Etats Unis occuperaient L'Antilles et la Floridie."

Can you imagine someone more interested in the well-being of the United States than one who insists that before he can abandon his post as a bulwark against its foes,  the United States should take over more territory?

The story of Jean Laffite should stand as a warning to all external well-wishers of the American experiment, not to set too much store on the friendship of a government whose foreign policy is to neutralize its friends for the sake of doing business with its enemies.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Meanwhile, back in Baltimore...

In the good old days of the nineteenth century, every time a failed revolutionary faced a firing squad in Mexico City, back in Baltimore there were people crying. No, they were not his family. They were the investors who financed his unsuccessful coup.

Francisco Xavier Mina, Spanish soldier, Mexican revolutionary
from the Wikimedia Commons: public Domain, Artist Unknown
Sometimes, years later, when a grateful independent Mexico decided to repay the debt it owed to the American investors and to people who had since gone bankrupt due to lack of payment or who had died of old age, their creditors or their heirs were denied payment, because of the Neutrality Act. This is what happened when Xavier Mina left his base in Galveston on an ill-fated mission to liberate Mexico from its Spanish oppressors in 1817.

Mina was a loyal Spanish subject born in Otao, Navarre, and  he acquired experience in guerilla warfare against the French occupation force in 1808. From an initial guerilla force of only ten men, under Mina's leadership his followers grew to 1,200 infantry and 150 cavalry. He made inroads into the French occupation but was captured in 1810 and sent to prison in France and was released n 1814. By then King Ferdinand VII of Spain was on the throne again, and Napoleon was exiled in Elba. King Ferndinand made Mina a Colonel in his army. But Mina was not happy with King Ferdinand. Why? Because the King had abolished the democratic constitution of 1812.

And so, the idealist Mina, who had fought so hard for the restoration of his King under the French oppressor now decided he wanted to liberate Mexico from Spain. Some English lords financed his voyage to Baltimore.

...there  [Mina]   entered into a contract with certain gentlemen of that place, who associated themselves under the name of the "Baltimore Mexican Company," for the purchase of a quantity of arms, ammunition &c., to fit out an expedition against the then government of Mexico. On account of the risk attending their delivery and the uncertainty of the payment, it was agreed that Mina should pay one hundred percent on the cost of the articles, and interest. The goods were shipped for Mexico and delivered according to contract, but were not paid for by General Mina, as he was soon after taken prisoner and shot. Gill v. Oliver's Executors, 52 U.S. 529 (1850)

That's right. Mina was taken before a firing squad and summarily shot. He was twenty-seven years old at the time of his death. It was November 11, 1817. But that's just the beginning of the story. The good men do is buried with them, but their debts live on forever, or at least until they are paid or discharged in bankruptcy.

Back in Baltimore, the investors who outfitted the expedition were crushed. One of them, Lyde Goodman, filed for discharge in bankruptcy, and he transferred all his right and title to a share in the Baltimore Mexican Company to the trustee in the bankruptcy proceeding. The trustee, a certain Mr. Brown, then transferred all his right to that share to Robert Oliver in 1825. By this time Mina had been moldering in his grave for eight years, his debts to the Baltimore investors still unpaid.

Then one day a grateful Mexican Nation decided to repay its debts. Spain had finally been driven out.

In 1825, Mexico had achieved her independence, and after much solicitation the government was persuaded to acknowledge the justice of this claim, and assume the payment of it by an act of Congress passed to pay the debts of Mina. But notwithstanding the recognition of this claim as a debt, its payment was delayed for many years, and seemed almost hopeless.Gill v. Oliver's Executors, 52 U.S. 529 (1850)

Finally, in 1839 the money became available, but there was now a dispute as to which of two trustees in bankruptcy of Lyde Goodman was entitled to collect. Did this claim to money from the government of Mexico exist as far back as 1816, when the expedition was outfitted in contravention of the Neutraility Act? Or did it only arise in 1825 when the government of Mexico decided to honor the promises that Mina had made back in 1816 when passing through Baltimore?

Was the void and illegal contract with Mina, made in 1816, such a chose in action as would pass by such insolvent law in 1817? Or did it first become an assignable claim after it was acknowledged by Mexico in 1825, and, as a new acquisition of Lyde Goodwin after his insolvency, pass by his assignment to Oliver. Gill v. Oliver's Executors, 52 U.S. 529 (1850)

Well, the Supreme Court took the easy way out. They decided they had no jurisdiction over the matter. They dismissed the case. So why am I telling you this story? Because it's something to think about if you are a supporter of the Neutrality Act.

Should American investors help revolutionaries in other countries to overthrow their government? If you said "No, that should be illegal", think about this: if only the government of the United States has the right to overthrow foreign governments, then only the friends of the President and other powerful politicians will be allowed to profit from investing in war. Do we really want crony capitalism to allow only certain people  to become war profiteers? Do we want to give the government a monopoly on military contracts?

The Neutrality Act does not prevent war. It does not prevent investors from gambling on war. It does not prevent politicians from profiting from war. All it does is hand a monopoly to people in the government. So now if we bet on the wrong horse, all of us have to pay for our mistake and not just a few unlucky investors in Baltimore.

Friday, March 14, 2014

What's Wrong with the Neutrality Acts of 1794, 1817 and 1976?

A neutrality act sounds on its face like a good thing -- an expedient that helps to prevent war. If a neutrality act actually prohibited the government of the United States from waging war without the consent of congress, and by extension, the American people, then it would be an innocent enough thing, and it would not add much to the requirement that the executive branch of the government should not wage war without the consent of the people through their elected representatives in Congress. But like many a mislabeled legislative package, the various neutrality laws that the United States has enacted over the years are not there to limit the government in its subrosa activities in waging clandestine or unauthorized war. Their purpose is to tie the hands of United States citizens. Instead of making the government practice a studied neutrality while Americans abroad can act as they will, the so-called neutrality laws are there to penalize ordinary Americans from acting against governments that the United States government has decided to support. That is not neutrality. That is partisanship on the part of the government! It is granting the United States government a monopoly on the right to defend American interests abroad, and it is tying the hands of citizens in their own business outside the territories of the United States.

The first neutrality act was passed by the United States Congress in 1794 under the administration of  George Washington. The continental congress had had a treaty with France, but in 1794 the Jay Treaty with Great Britain was ratified. France accused the United States of violating its treaty with them, because Great Britain and France were at war. Many Americans at the time were privateers, supporting the French Republican government. The French ambassador to the United States had been actively recruiting American privateers to fight against Spain and Great Britain, the enemies of France. All of a sudden, it was illegal for Americans to ply their trade as privateers in service of a country that had helped support their own revolution and brought about their independence!

Now one might argue that if such a policy brings about peace, the financial interests of the American privateers should be sacrificed in the name of absolute neutrality. But no such thing happened. Instead, during the administration of Washington's successor, the Federalist John Adams, the United States entered into a Quasi-War with France.

USS Constellation vs L'Insurgente -1799

from the Wikipedia

What is a Quasi-War, we may well ask? It means a war that is waged without a declaration, without ratification by Congress and by extension without the consent of the American people.

This undeclared war went on until 1800 when a peace was signed, and it was largely due to this war that Adams did not win reelection. In 1800 Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr won the election under the Democratic-Republican ticket. Unfortunately, their election did not lead to a repeal of the Neutrality Act of 1794, which Jefferson used against Burr in his trial of 1807. Unable to find  the civilian Burr guilty of treason because of his projected private expedition against New Spain, Jefferson did succeed in pinning him with a misdemeanor under the Neutrality Act.

And in order to keep the United States safe from the depredations of Britain, after the end of the Quasi-War with France, Jefferson resorted to the expedient of the Embargo Act. Now, not only were American citizens prohibited from waging war against other countries -- they were not even allowed to engage in international trade, because they could not defend themselves and there was no one else to defend them.

So we went from a constitution that limited the government from waging war without the consent of the people, but allowed citizens to possess any weapon for the purposes of a well-regulated militia so that the people could wage war on their own to a situation where citizens were completely disarmed in defending themselves on the open seas or even venturing forth for purposes of trade.

The constitution limited the government but left unlimited powers and rights to each citizen. But the new laws were used to do the exact opposite. This state of affairs led directly to the War of 1812. Unable to defend themselves, under the administration of James Madison, the people allowed Congress to ratify a declaration of War against Great Britain. Allowing the government to have a monopoly on waging war will always lead inevitably to war.

Who helped  the United States win that war? Privateers and smugglers acting in contravention of both the Neutrality Act and the Embargo Act. Privateers who asserted their second amendment rights to wage war, despite unconstitutional legislation. The arms they bore were not limited to muskets. They had cannons and warships, too.

If we want to understand how Neutrality Acts lead to war, and how a monopoly on waging war violates the rights of citizens under the constitution to defend themselves, then a good place to start might be with Theodosia and the Pirates.

This information is as applicable today, as it was in the 1800s. If there are interests of United States citizens that need defending abroad, hadn't we better let those citizens defend those interests with every means at their disposal, while keeping our government neutral? Let's repeal the Neutrality Act once and for all, so that we can have peace, while those who wish to wage war to defend their own interests can do so at their own expense.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Appropriate for Children?

As a writer in this day and age, I think that I am sailing through a minefield on the issue of whether a book is right for children. Many people have asked me whether Theodosia and the Pirates is a children's book, and my answer is definitely not. It is not intended for a child audience, though I do have some other books that are.

In Case There's a Fox is a picture book appropriate for reading to very small children, even when they are not yet literate.

If you do not want to read it to your child, it is even available in an audio format. Of course, just because it is nice for children does not mean that an adult might not enjoy it, too.

When Sword Met Bow is another of my children's stories. It is based on my real experiences of adopting a baby chimpanzee, and it is a good book to give to a toddler when a new baby is expected in the family.

My third children's book is Ping & the Snirkelly People. It is a chapter book about a little girl from China who learns English by total immersion in a first grade classroom in the United States.

Now some reviewers of Ping & the Snirkelly People have expressed the opinion that though the language in the book might be right for an early chapter book, the ideas are too sophisticated and might be disturbing. Mind you, there is nothing sexual in the book, though the word infidelity does get parsed. The disturbing element is the clash between cultures and a protagonist, who though a child , is not religious.

The question of whether a book is right for children is rather involved, and I have written about it before  here:


In discussions about what books are appropriate for children, three issues dominate:

1) Reading Fluency
2) Reading Comprehension
3) Taboo Subject Matter

Ping & the Snirkelly People is a book that shows how reading fluency can sometimes predate reading comprehension. If Ping had been forced to show good comprehension right at the start of the year, she would not have ended in a high reading group, despite her fluency, which was better than that of most native speakers.

Hyperlexic children are often better at fluency than comprehension. Dyslexics have far better comprehension than fluency. Sometimes an older illiterate who is trying to learn how to read is embarrassed by the childish subject matter he is expected to master. This is touched on briefly in Theodosia and the Pirates. 

Today I came across a shocking blog post about what passes for third grade reading in Tennessee schools under the AR reading program:


What I find most shocking is not the subject matter but the crudeness and vulgarity of excerpts such as these:

The Accelerated Reader is a computer program put out by Renaissance Learning. Along with an assessment testing system called STAR Reading Assessment, this private company has cornered the market in defining the reading levels, books that students can read for school credit and testing for assessment of reading achievement. Since they are the ones who write the tests that determine how a student is doing, they know exactly how to prepare a student for the eventual testing. The daily tests that students are given as AR tests involve the same sort of process that students will undergo once a year to determine their level of achievement. Their assessed reading level then determines which books they are allowed to read.

According to the MommaBears blog, Renaissance Learning has four registered lobbyists in the state of Tennessee alone. They have received a forty million dollar investment from Google. Under mandatory public education and crony capitalism, they have a virtual monopoly on setting both the reading and math curricula in public schools throughout the country.

Because teachers have nothing to do with selecting the reading material or testing the children on what they have read, it is possible for third grade children to be educated in the finer points of sexual slang and crudities without anyone being any the wiser, except for the ever-watchful computers at Renaissance Learning who keep a cloud-based database on each child.

 When someone did notice and complain, Renaissance Learning replied that there was a technical difference between "reading level" and "interest level", implying that this comic book was intended for socially or sexually advanced children with a  below-grade reading level rather than for the average child reading at grade level. To forestall any further complaints, they had now set the "interest level" to sixth grade, rather than third grade. But it was still a third grade reader, because of the lack of grammatical complexity in the sentences.

Here is where it might help us to refer to the old McGuffey Readers to see how low we have sunk.

A sample page from the third grade reader reveals a rather challenging level of grammatical complexity and diction.

Both the level of interest and the reading level appear to be much higher than in the Accelerated Reader.

What is an appropriate book for a third grader? Ultimately, it depends on the individual third grader and the parents of the child. That's why the government and the corporations that lobby it should have no say in the matter.

Is Theodosia and the Pirates a book for children? No, it is not. But I cannot help but think that it is far less vulgar than what is passing for children's books in the public school system these days.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Why not Honor Jean Laffite? Because Acknowledging a Debt is Hard

On Historia Obscura, the latest article is about how we should honor Jean Laffite for his contributions to the American victory in the series of engagements known as the Battle of New Orleans. You would think that after nearly two hundred years, that proposition would be relatively uncontroversial. All of Laffite's enemies have since died, his contemporary rivals and detractors are not  here to continue to besmirch his name, and we have access to the facts.

And yet down in New Orleans there is some fellow by the name of Tim Pickles who wants to say that Jean Laffite helped the British and not the Americans. Why? What's in it for him? Maybe he is a historian who hopes to get credit for a revision of history. Maybe repeating the same old story won't win him any points.

But there are others who step up to support him, in a seemingly unmotivated, disinterested way. One comment was that the only real question  is where Jean Laffite was at every point in each battle, turning the issue of Laffite's loyalty into a historical game of  "Where's Waldo?"

Really? Where was Andrew Jackson at every point in each battle? If we find no record of his whereabouts at any particular junction, are we going to assume that he had sold out to the British?

An Artist's Conception of Jean Laffite by Lanie Frick

People seem to doubt the loyalty of Jean Laffite to the United States precisely because the United States government was not kind to him. Where he offered support and undying loyalty, courage in battle and materials supplied with no hope of ever being repaid, they sent ships against him, robbed him of his goods, and after the war eventually chased him away, forcing him to relocate to Galveston and afterwards telling him he must leave there, too. Sometimes when people are being mean to you, they project their own feelings onto you, assuming that you can't possibly like them, because they don't deserve it.

But Jean Laffite did like the United States of America. He loved it very much, so much so that he was willing to give his life, his wealth and his sacred honor in its support. Was he a courageous fighter, a bold tactician and a commander of men? Yes. And he used all that to help with the Battle of New Orleans. He was right there in the thick of things, getting his hands dirty building mud fortifications, making sure everyone had enough flints for their muskets and advising about the lay of the land, which was not known to Andrew Jackson. He went down the line and helped lift the morale of the men. He sent key personnel to important locations to be where they needed to be to meet and defeat the enemy.

But Jean Laffite was also a financier, a businessman and privateer. One of his major contributions to the Battle of New Orleans was supplying gunpowder and flints free of charge at a time when the regular armed forces of the United States did not have any.

The idea that Laffite's contribution should be judged solely on his achievements as a foot soldier -- how many men he shot with a musket or a cannon or killed with his bare hands -- is ludicrous. We don't judge Andrew Jackson that way!

Why would people think this? Perhaps because we have been conditioned to forget that patriotism and support of one's country can take many forms. George Washington was a great American, but so was Haym Solomon. Washington led armies and spent money. Haym Solomon provided an entire fortune to make sure that Washington could do this. There could not have been one without the other. But the contributions of the General are well known. The debt of the nation to the broker/banker is forgotten.

Jean Laffite was a renaissance man. He was like George Washington and Haym Solomon all rolled into one. He was a leader of men, a bold fighter and also the source of the funding for arming his own subordinates as well as Jackson's men. In this way, he is both a hero and a benefactor.

But people are seldom willing to openly acknowledge debts they can never repay.  Sometimes, when they are owed too much, benefactors are reviled by precisely those people who ought to be grateful. While Jackson acknowledged Jean Laffite's material contribution to the Battle of New Orleans, James Madison never did, except by a proclamation offering to pardon all who participated in the battle. Pardon! What was there to pardon? That they didn't pay customs taxes? What about all the money they contributed to the government during the war?

The United States of America was founded on the idea that taxes should not be taken by force, but that people should use their own money and their own muskets and their own gunpowder and flints to form a well regulated militia. That was the distinguishing factor between the British and the Americans. That was why Jean Laffite was on the American side in the first place. It was why  though "proscribed" by his adopted country, he continued to love her and to want her to prosper.

 Madison, in his pardon proclamation,  named no names and offered no commendations, and the ships and goods plundered by the United States Army and Navy in the Patterson-Ross raid were never returned. The gunpowder and flint donated after the raid were never paid for. In the end, the atmosphere in New Orleans became so poisonous toward the Laffites that they decided they had better leave and start life elsewhere.

Why did this happen? Because when people rob you, they will not be content just to take your goods. They will also want to be able to justify what they did by saying you deserved it. This kind of behavior is going on to this very day.

Let's remember the debt we all owe to Jean Laffite. It can never be repaid, but the least we can do is give credit where credit is due. He was a hero, and he was wronged. Let's not forget what he did for the nation, despite the way he was treated!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Of Cows, Vaccines and Small Pox

Today we hear a lot of controversial statements about vaccines. Some people are dead set against them and think they are causing developmental delays in children. Others are gung-ho in favor in them, so much so that they want to sweep the inherent risks under the rug. And me? I want to know about the etymology.

From the Wikipedia: An 1802 caricature by James Gillray depicting the early controversy surrounding Jenner's vaccination theory
I am a linguist, not a doctor. And I know from long experience that any latinate word starting with vacc- has got something to do with cows. I am so intrigued by this fact that I made it a major plot point in my critically acclaimed novel Vacuum County. (Critically acclaimed in this context means that none of the reviewers hated it.)

In Theodosia and the Pirates, I touched briefly on an important turning point in the history of inoculation. What was that turning point? The place in life where it was an option, but it was not yet required. It could save lives, and people knew that, but it was also risky. This was just before vaccination came out in all its glory.

In 1798, Edward Jenner developed the first successful vaccine -- it was an inoculation against small pox. Jenner had noticed that milkmaids who had caught cow pox from their proximity to their cows did not come down with small pox. Variolae Vaccinae   means small pox of the cow, and that is what the word vaccine derives from. The term vaccination to mean cow pox inoculation was coined in 1800 by Richard Dunning, a friend of Jenner's. 

However, before vaccination came into vogue, inoculation against small pox was already practiced. While many lives were undoubtedly saved due to inoculation, there was also a sizable percentage of people inoculated who died of it. Among them was the great theologian Jonathan Edwards, the great grandfather of our heroine, Theodosia Burr Alston. He died of an inoculation he received in 1758.  

How did this death affect the history of the United States? It left Aaron Burr four times an orphan. First he lost his parents to small pox. Then he lost his grandparents to a small pox inoculation. And finally, he lost his faith. For he concluded that you were damned if you do and damned if you don't.

There is an inherent risk in everything we do. It is risky not to vaccinate, because people do succumb to disease. But it is also risky to put all your trust in the medical establishment of the day, because they can't guarantee us a happy outcome. While vaccines may be safer today than they were in the past, there is always some risk. The idea of eliminating all risk is impossible.Sometimes people die because they were not vaccinated. Sometimes they die because they were.  That is why people need to weigh the options for themselves and decide which risk they are most willing to live with. The right answer for one person may not be the right answer for another.

 Even a theologian like Jonathan Edwards can be brought low by inoculation, and the implications of such a death affect entire families, and the legacy they leave to their nation. Fire and brimstone is what he preached. But sometimes you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.