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.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Private Command Structure versus Public

Most sensible people do recognize that having a command structure with authority for those at the top to make decisions is good for the overall functioning of any social unit. Even among chimpanzees there are dominance hierarchies, and this is something that would not exist in nature if it did not serve a function.

Military units need military discipline, and even seemingly unimportant details can help. Lawrence, who works with my chimpanzee Bow, was in the service, and he was talking to me the other day about how requiring new recruits to keep their uniform clean was not really about keeping the uniform clean, but about maintaining overall discipline. If recruits were disciplined for tiny, unimportant infractions, then they learned to obey every command by the time they were faced with actual combat.

People who join the service understand that they are giving up most of their civil liberties when they sign up. In many other organizations, people also give up the right to express themselves when they join, Many companies require employees not to speak or publish about certain topics that are considered sensitive to the business of the company. Women who had the right to vote in New Jersey in the 18th century lost that right when they got married. But they didn't have to marry, unless they were sure they trusted their husband to vote the way they thought was right.

Freedom does not mean the freedom to do anything at all at someone else's expense. Free men and women give up rights every day in order to receive certain benefits from other people, to whom they cede their rights. Speaking up for freedom does not necessarily imply that we are against command sturctures in social units. It does not mean that we don't understand the value of discipline.

As long as there is a choice whether to join or not, there is nothing unconstitutional or wrong in the curtailment of those rights set forth in the constitution and bill of rights by a unit of society. But what if a general rode into your American  town and imposed martial law on everyone, without asking permission? Could that ever be constitutional? And if it is unconstitutional, could it ever be necessary or useful?

That is the topic of today's article on Historia Obscura. It's not that military law is bad -- it just needs to stay in the military. Martial law is not for civilian populations. That was one of the basic beliefs that led to the American revolution.

Just as a parent may have the right to discipline his own child but not the neighbor's child, a military commander needs to understand that he can discipline those under him, but not everyone else. It's a very simple proposition.

Friday, November 14, 2014

How to Take Back a Punishment and Be Vindicated

There are three branches to the United States government. What one takes away, another one can give back. For instance, if the legislative branch makes a mistake and passes an unconstitutional act, the executive can refuse to enforce it and the judicial can nullify it.

If somebody is wrongfully adjudicated guilty of a crime, the executive can pardon the accused, and the legislative can offer restitution in payment for what has been suffered.

But what if someone is in the middle of a lawsuit to reclaim his property, and the legislature just passes a law that the spoils go to one of the parties to the litigation? I don't have direct evidence of this myself, but I have heard that something like that happened to the goods belonging to Jean and Pierre Laffite. Before their lawsuit could come to trial, a law was passed to the effect that the goods belonged to Patterson. Is that constitutional?

It's good to have checks and balances. And yet.... this ability to undo what has already been done can be misused. And sometimes a person does not want  a pardon for a crime he has not committed. He wants vindication, instead.

Notice that when President Madison pardoned all the Baratarians who served in the Battle of New Orleans, Jean Laffite did not claim that pardon, because he believed he was not guilty of a crime.

And when Andrew Jackson was forced to pay $1000.00 as a fine for being in contempt of court, for having Judge Hall incarcerated for granting a writ of habeas corpus during Jackson's imposition of martial law, Jackson never asked for a pardon. Instead, toward the end of his life, he got Congress to pass a law that the fine was to be paid back to him.

Why? Was it because he needed the money? Or was he trying to make a point? According to the book by Matthew Warshauer, Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law it was because: “He viewed the return of his fine as a larger statement about the legitimacy of violating the constitution and civil liberties in times of national emergency.”

What can we learn from this? If you get in trouble, but you want to be vindicated, don't go for a pardon. Get an act of Congress to refund your money.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jean Laffite: American War Veteran

Today is Veterans Day, and everywhere we see pictures of people in uniform. People who served in the armed forces. Some of them died for their country, some were wounded, and all were part of the military branch of the government.  But it is important to remember that some of the greatest veterans who ever lived never wore a uniform.

The true heroism of Jean Laffite's independent contribution to the American war effort can be read in Pam Keyes' article, Commemoration of a Hero: Jean Laffite and the Battle of New Orleans.

Of course, Andrew Jackson was also there and also made valuable contributions. But without Jean Laffite's help, the Battle of New Orleans would have been lost. Quite possibly the entire war would have been lost. We would have ended being British subjects who were thankful for the services of the redcoats on Veterans Day.

One of the founding principles of the United States was having no standing army. Let us not forget that this is what the original founders fought for in 1776 when they resisted the British attempt to tax them to pay for the defense of the colonies.

It would be a shame to save the Union only to lose the constitution

Friday, November 7, 2014

Reframing the Context: The Secretary of War

Context is everything. When a certain group manages to reframe the context of a discussion, then the sorts of answers available to any given question seem to become limited to a specific number of listed possible responses.

The Seal of Office of the United States War Office
Take for instance the question of war. A long time ago, everyone understood that war was inevitable, and they talked about how to pay for it, who should serve and when to declare it.  In the cabinet of the president of the United States, there was a Secretary of War.

Under George Washington, the Secretary of War was Henry Knox. He had been the chief artillery officer of the Continental Army, and before the ratification of the constitution, he served as the Continental War Secretary.

At first, the Secretary of War was responsible for all military affairs, but in 1798 the separate position of Secretary of the Navy was created, and the Secretary of War's scope was reduced to cover only the army. After 1886, the Secretary of War was third in line of succession to the presidency, right after the Vice President and the Secretary of State. (I bet Al Haig knew that!)

Something rather big happened to the Secretary of War position in 1947, with the passage of National Security Act of 1947: the Office of Secretary of War entirely disappeared. According to the Wikipedia: "The Secretary of the Army's office is generally considered the direct successor to the Secretary of War's office although the Secretary of Defense took the Secretary of War's position in the Cabinet, and the line of succession to the presidency."

Why? Why did they do that? By eliminating the word "War" from the name of the office, did we eliminate war? No. There have been lots of wars in which the United States was involved since 1947. But none of them have been declared! This means that the Executive Branch has been free to wage war without the consent of the other branches ever since the word "war" was eliminated from our respectable statesman-like vocabulary.

Change the linguistic context, and you change the meaning of the constitution. Apparently, the requirement for a declaration of war went away as soon as we stopped calling it war.

Today, everybody seems to agree that war is a bad thing and we should avoid war at all costs. Everyone gives lip service to this idea. And yet it is easier for the president to start a war than ever before!

Reframing the context is a very dangerous thing. It would be better if we still called it war and had open  discussions about when it should be declared and who should pay for it and who should be asked to risk life and limb in waging it.

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.

from http://cms.toptenthailand.net/file/picture/20131119133038170/20131119133038170.jpg

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.

from http://bjws.blogspot.com/2012/11/sewing-indoors-1800s.htm
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.

from http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-5PXWBkfGYC4/UJ5rdWQ3yjI/AAAAAAABM8w/CFlXdS04R-M/s640/1800+Vilhelm+Hammershoi+(Danish+Artist,+1864%E2%80%931916)+Young+Girl+Sewing,+1887.jpg

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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