Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Memories

A re-post from last Christmas:

With Christmas behind, a few reflections:

It goes without saying that Christmas traditions vary era to era and family to family. (But I guess I said it anyway.) One constant, however, is the focus on the children.

Some parents, probably a plurality, create anticipation for the holiday by reading A Visit from St. Nicholas to their enraptured children. They help compose a letter to Santa or make a personal call on him at the local mall to work out an agreement on gifts. They change the car radio station from the classic rock station to the 24 hour Christmas music station, where the horns blare, the strings reach a crescendo, and Andy Williams croons, “It's the most wonderful time of the year.” (And for Andy Williams, it IS the most wonderful time of the year. It's the only time of the year that he gets  radio play anymore.) Eventually, those children grow skeptical of the claim that reindeer fly or that Santa can fit down the chimney flue.

Other parents create the anticipation for the holiday with advent calendars that countdown the days to the arrival of the Christ child. Their worship services at church begin to incorporate holiday themes. Perhaps a reading of Matthew and Luke's accounts of the birth of Jesus takes place Christmas eve or Christmas morn before exchanging gifts. The gift giving may be construed as an imitation of God's give to man or the gifts of the wise men to the infant Christ child. Later, some of these children, too, may experience a more psychologically traumatic skepticism about those accounts from Matthew and Luke to which they listened growing up.

An interesting change in the “sounds of the season” has taken place over the years. I mean the sounds on the street. I remember the sounds of carolers in the neighborhood in which I grew up. I cannot recall if this occurred every season or just the one that I still remember. One evening it moved several us to get our coats on go caroling ourselves. At least on one evening we did not make it very far. After singing outside the home of one of our friends, we received an invitation in to drink hot chocolate. Once we entered the house, our caroling itinerary ceased.

Another change in the “sounds of the season” manifests itself Christmas morning. The streets used to be a noisy place. Every Christmas morning, after the neighborhood kids opened their presents, they spilled out of their houses into the streets. Children were everywhere with footballs, baseballs, skateboards, mock firearms, remote control cars, bicycles, dolls, baby strollers, etc. Now the streets have an eerie silence. I know that kids live in my neighborhood; I see them each school day waiting at the bus stops. But Christmas morning no kids can be found anywhere.

I imagine they are sitting in front of their television screens and video game platforms or computers. Instead of skateboards, they own a Tony Hawk video simulation. Instead of creeping silently around they neighborhood with their plastic M-1 carbines, helmet, and back-packs or manipulating their G.I. Joes, they direct a platoon in Call of Duty or Halo. Instead of assembling a couple of teams for front yard foot ball, they coach an NFL franchise with Madden NFL Football. There is probably a video game out in which a young girl feeds and changes the diaper on a virtual baby instead of an actual doll. (Or else she has a REAL baby of her own.)

Its not just silent night anymore. Its silent morn.

Kids saving the world in the 1960s:

Kids saving the world in the 2000s:

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Gun Control: Pragmatism and Principle

Although the occasion of mass killings by lone gunmen remains unpredictable, the reaction of the liberal  media, liberal entertainers, and liberal politicians is anything but unpredictable: repeated calls for a "national conversation" on gun control and the reintroduction of  legislation  to ban specific types of weapons.

Of course, in liberalese, a national conversation means one in which liberals lecture anyone who holds differing views and  attribute to them  the most vile motivations for holding those views. That's why no one took seriously Attorney General Eric Holder's call for a national dialogue on race.

On the question of practicality,  gun control seems not very feasible. The guns used in the Sandy Hook murders were legal under Connecticut law. In addition, we already had a national assault weapons ban in place after 1994. As writer Charles Krauthammer recently pointed out, with so many legal loopholes and 1.5 million so-called assault weapons in circulation, the law had negligible impact. We cannot  police illegal narcotics and illegal aliens; what makes us think we can control guns? (Krauthammer suggests we focus on control of the mentally ill. Other suggest banning schools, which would solve a host of other problems as well.) Short of provision that includes confiscation of privately owned firearms, no future weapons ban is likely to succeed. And that brings up the issue of principle.

On the question of principle,  what is really at stake is our rights. We possess a nature right to self-defense. For the last few hundred years, that means with firearms. This natural right was not given us by the Second Amendment to the Constitution; it is only confirmed by that provision.

In addition, hunting and sport shooting seem innocuous enough not to warrant government intervention.

Not to trivialize the tragedy at Sandy Hook,  crimes involving firearms are one of the costs of freedom.

It is possible that we might reduce the incidence of mass killings with "information control" laws. Surely the anticipation of achieving infamy must reside in the back of the minds of perpetrators of mass killings. Perhaps the knowledge that any potential  acts of savagery would go unreported might discourage them and move potential perpetrators to remain content with their relative obscurity.

A host of other social problems, too, could be solved by taking away freedom. For example, today throughout the world, 35 million people live with HIV and two million die every year from AIDS related causes. This tragedy could have averted if governments world-wide had quarantined carriers when they first identified the disease and its means of transmission. Such a policy conflicted, however, with modern notions of freedom.

Security is almost always a poor substitute for freedom.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sandy Hook: The Week After

Cable news networks and their affiliated news websites today note the one week anniversary of the mass murder of twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Headlines and leads such as "Remembering the Victims" imply that media coverage of the tragedy had moved on to other issues and now has returned to see how the families of the victims are fairing.

Media coverage of Sandy Hook never really left. Initial reports of the details of the events one week ago (including lots of speculation)  were followed in succession by introductions to the victims one by one, reactions by families, friends, and co-workers, re-introductions to the victims one by one as the funerals began, inquiries about the perpetrator, and the obligatory call for a "national dialogue" on guns.

That is part of the problem.

Obviously the outrageous crime was a newsworthy event. The combination of the natural human emotional reaction to suffering and the desire for viewer ratings have conspired, however,  to turn coverage into a 24 hour a day spectacle. This sets the stage for future tragedies perpetrated by lunatics like Adam Lanza.

No one knows why Adam Lanza  murdered a classroom full of children. We probably will never know. On a superficial level, Lanza and previous perpetrators of similar crimes seem to be self-absorbed youths possessing no social skills, enjoying few friends, wallowing in self-pity, and harboring an intense resentment that no one notices them.

After the commission of their horrific crimes, however, the mainstream media finds them simply  fascinating.

When all is said and done, isn't this really what it is all about?

If you can't enjoy fame, why not infamy?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Regime Change

With the Presidential Electors officially casting their ballots on last Monday, it is a timely occasion for a short observation on the electoral college: its time to abolish it.

It originated in the time when those men entrusted with political power arranged our institutions with maximum "filtration" of the popular will. They acknowledged that in a republic, power must rest with the people. Yet they also recognized that the people too often fall under the sway of their passions and act politically against their own long term interests. Consequently, most government institutions moderated the general will of the people.

The most obvious means was the separation of government powers into legislature, executive, and judicial branches. Most legislative branches were further divided into two houses.

A second means was the mode of elections. In the early republic, most voters faced property qualifications in order to vote. Because of the widespread holding of property, most male citizens exercised the right to vote. Many important offices, however, were not submitted to the voters. Under most of the first state constitutions, governors were elected by one or both of the state houses. On the federal level, the President was elected by a special "assembly" of electors chosen by the state legislature for that purpose alone--commonly called the Electoral College. And under the original provisions of the Constitution, United States Senators were elected by the state legislatures. 

Within a hundred or so years, the nature of the regime has changed. Gradually all property qualifications disappeared in every state. Eventually women received the right the vote. In addition, states amended their constitutions or wrote completely new ones that established popular election of the governors. Many states even expanded directed lawmaking authority to the voters through initiatives and referendums.

Government at the federal level changed as well. Amendment 15 established the right of black Americans to vote. Amendment 17 provided for the direct election of United States Senators instead of selection by the state legislatures. And Amendment 19 guaranteed the right to vote for women.

In short, we have expanded the suffrage and minimized the filtration of the will of the people.

Yet we still have the monstrosity known as the electoral college that retains the old system of "filtration" of the voters that has been bastardized by its pairing with popular elections and political parties.

It's time to do away with it. 

Most discussions of this issue involve partisan perspectives that seem most concerned with how the popular election of the President will effect the prospects of each political party. Who knows the answer to that question. Regardless of which party benefits, I think it will enhance the quality of our elections in two areas.

First, popular elections will eliminate the claims of "mandates" by the winning candidates. The winner-take-all nature of the current process exaggerates the extent of the victory by the winning candidates. Even the most lopsided elections in U.S. history involved only a little more than a 60-40 split in the popular vote. Presidents typically use the claim of electoral mandates to pressure Congress into doing their bidding.

Second, popular elections will require that candidate focus on reaching as many voters as possible in all states. Currently, candidates "write off" states for which pre-election polling indicates a sure loss or a sure victory. Consequently, candidates devote their time and resources to the contested high electoral count "swing" states. Under a system of popular election of the President, candidates will be forced to "get out the vote" in every state.

With the popular election of the President, the campaigns will be more meaningful and the results will provide a more realistic picture of the desires of the voters.

It is time for electoral modernization.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Electors Cast Their Votes

Today the members of the Electoral College gathered in each of the 50 state capitals (and the District of Columbia officially signed their ballots for President of the United States. On January 6, 2013, these ballots will be counted by the Presiding Officer of the Senate (the Vice-President of the United States--alas, Joseph Biden) and the winner officially announced. Two weeks later the winner (alas, Barack Obama) takes the oath of office.

So how did we conceive such an unusual system of electing our chief executive?

It resulted from disagreements and subsequent compromises that took place at what is now call the Constitutional Convention during the summer of 1787. At that time, the United States functioned under its first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. Because of frustration over the inability to the government address the nation's problems, the Congress called for a convention to suggest amendments to the Articles of  Confederation. The states elected delegates to meet during the summer of 1787. They ended up writing an entirely new constitution.

The basis of the the new government was the so-called Virginia Plan, drafted by Virginia delegate James Madison. Its called for a two house legislature in both of which representation was based upon the population of each state. Only the lower house would be elected by the voters in each state. The upper house would be elected by the lower house. Then both houses together elected the President, who was eligible for only one term.

The debate at the convention about the executive branch had to disentangle a number of issues.Should the executive be a unity or a plurality? Should the executive be elected by the Congress or the people? Should the executive be eligible for reelection? Should the executive enjoy appointment powers?

James Wilson, a delegate from Pennsylvania (and later appointed a Justice on the first Supreme Court) proposed a unitary executive because it would provide the "most energy, dispatch, and responsibility" to the office. Elbridge Gerry (MA.) and Edmund Randolph (VA) opposed this idea, preferring that a council be annexed to the executive, calling a unitary executive the "fetus of a monarchy."

After postponing this question, the delegates turned to method of election.

Wilson  argued for election by the people at large. He pointed to the example of the New York and Massachusetts state governments. He added, "The objects of choice in such cases must be persons whose merits have general notoriety."

Roger Sherman (CT) suggested election by the legislature. Since the chief executive's job is simply to carry out the laws enacted by the legislature, the legislature should possess the power of selection. Moreover, according to Sherman, "An independence of the Executive on the supreme Legislature, was in his opinion the very essence of tyranny if there was any such thing." The following day he also suggested that the national legislature have the authority of remove the chief executive at will.

John Dickinson of Pennsylvania retorted that the legislative, executive, and judicial powers should be kept as separate at possible. Only this separation of power would protect against tyranny.

Other delegates suggested the election of the chief executive by the legislature would lead to corrupt bargains and backroom deals prior to every election.

After what proved to me temporary agreement on term of office and some other questions, Wilson suggested a compromised of sorts on how to elect the chief executive. He suggested that each state be divided into districts, in which voters would choose elector of the "executive magistrate." He left open the question of the number of districts and electors. Wilson argued that this method would give citizens more confidence in the executive than election by the national legislature. The delegates, however, voted down Wilson's proposal. Only Pennsylvania and Maryland voted in favor.

Only later did the delegates revisit the idea. They modified his plan by delegating to the states the method of choosing Presidential electors and apportioning the number of electors based upon the number of congressmen and senator to which it is entitled.

In the first few Presidential elections, the state legislatures reserved for themselves the power to chose that state's electors. After the rise of political parties and the spread of universal white male suffrage, the state legislatures began delegating this task to the political parties. Today, prior to each Presidential election cycle, each party  in every state names its slate of presidential electors, usually at the state party convention. After the popular vote is tallied, only the electors of the party that won the popular vote will case their official "electoral college" votes in their respective state capitals. That happened today.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Your Work is Done Here

Remember this quaint television commercial?

Not possessing even the rudimentary musical talents of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, a motley assembly of members of the United Auto Workers recently chose a different way to express their enthusiasm for their union and the benefits it brings to the American worker:

What we are witnessing is the reaction that many people display when they recognize that what has been an integral part of their life is now a dying way of life.

Union membership has declined for years; now in Michigan the legislature has swapped  the "closed shop" for "the right to work."

Unions in some ways are the victims of their own success. Those original goals--the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, workplace safety, end to child labor, establishment of minimum wages, and  limitations on hours--all have been enacted in federal, state, and local laws.

Unions have hurt their own cause, too. Contracts which award wages based upon seniority rather than performance and make it difficult to terminate employees reduced the competitiveness of their company. It does not seem to dawn on union leadership that the well-being of union members depends a great deal upon the well-being of the company that employs them.

In other ways, Unions have fallen victim to developments beyond their control. Union membership and influence peaked in the years immediately after World War II. And so did America's share of the world's GNP. There is  a reason for that.  Europe and Japan lay in ruins and rest the rest of the world remained undeveloped.

It was not long, however, before Europe, and Japan began to  flex their industrial and technological might in competition with America. This competition has led both American and European companies to seek an edge by lowering labor costs. Production based upon unskilled and semi-skilled labor has moved to the underdeveloped nations. (One irony is that much of this production ended up in China. Who knew that capitalists in search of a working class to "exploit" would be enabled by the CPC and the communist workers' paradise that they run?)

 This development  is good for the people who live in those desperately poor countries. But it has eroded the industrial base that since the 1800s made Americans the most prosperous people in the world. With the reduction of this industrial base went the American union.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Messed Up on Drugs

In the most recent election cycle, several states reformed their  marijuana laws. Following the example of other states, Massachusetts legalized marijuana for medical use. Perhaps setting the example that other states will follow in the future, Washington state and Colorado legalized marijuana for private use.

These developments exacerbates the already confusing legal and moral questions on drug use.

First, and what should be the easiest confusion to clarify, concerns the question of federalism. Law regarding controlled substances really should remain in the hands of state legislatures. The Constitution provides no role  for the federal government in setting and enforcing laws about consumption of narcotics. As a matter of border control, the federal government has the interdicting the importation of marijuana from outside the country. And the commerce clause empowers it to regulate any transportation of marijuana across state lines. That seems about it. The federal government, through Congressional action, presidential executive orders, and judicial activism, acts as if it has the legal authority to rule on anything and everything. Consequently, the federal government has asserted jurisdiction over marijuana and other controlled substances that conflicts with many state laws. The federal government opposes marijuana for both medical and recreational uses.

Second, the legalization of so-called medical marijuana seems to be a scam to erode resistance to legalization for so-called recreational use. In the first place, whatever medicinal value of marijuana has been capitalized upon by drug companies. The production of Idrasil should have ended the question of "medical marijuana." Legalization advocates, however, claim Idrasil is not as effective as raw weed. (Perhaps this means that the pill comes without the "side effects" that are really the "intended effects" for recreational users.) In the second place, some preliminary data suggests that the primary users of medical marijuana are not elderly stage four cancer patients under intense pain, but 25-34 year old males who need "relaxation."

Third, the legalization of marijuana for recreational use creates a whole new set of problems. In spite of the cannabis  countdown that took place in Seattle,  public consumption of marijuana remains illegal in both Washington and Colorado.

The law merely legalized possession. It remains unsettled how marijuana will be sold, regulated, and taxed. (The opportunity for increased tax revenue is about the worst argument for legalization.) Schools and employers will still possess the right to exclude marijuana from campuses and workplaces.

Finally, there is the more complex health and  moral questions. Like other drugs, marijuana has negative side effects. Reefer reformers claim it is no more dangerous that cigarettes or alcohol. But why should states legalize one more substance that negatively impacts the health of its citizens?

 And smoking marijuana seems just a little bit morally vicious. Again, reefer reformers liken it to alcohol. One supporter noted that now that marijuana is legal,  people can go to marijuana instead of alcohol. By "people," this advocate meant those addicted to the vice of excess regarding their alcohol consumption. Those "people" now enjoy an alternative source for excess.

This analogy between alcohol and marijuana, however, is not so clear. Beer, wine, and even distilled spirits contain alcohol, classified as drug. But they are more of a food than they are a drug. They are consumed for nutrition and the pleasure of their taste. They only become a vice when consumed in excess. Marijuana, however, is not consumed for the pleasure of a bong burn. Marijuana's use is for the same effect of alcohol's abuse. Most thoughtful people acknowledge the moral vice of the temporary physical and mental debilitation through intoxication by alcohol; the same should be true for becoming blazed by blunts.

Ultimately, this raises the question of to what extent a state should take an interest in the moral character of its citizens.  This is why I am a conservative and not a liberal or a libertarian.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Gamble

The Obama Administration and House Republicans remain deadlocked in budget negotiations. At issue is the extent to which the Bush tax cuts will be retained. Obama wants to extend them for those making under $250,000 a year. Republicans want to extend them for everyone.

It is puzzling why the Bush tax cut, enacted as a temporary measure, have evolved into a sacred cow to Republicans. The cuts are just one more bit of residue left by the fiscally irresponsible Bush administration. Republicans claim that the increase in taxes will harm the already weak economy. Sometimes Republicans appear to oppose tax increases for any reason.

In addition, the Republicans see the tax policy as the only leverage they have to reduce spending. So far, however, they have been unable to leverage anything. The Social Democrats already have ruled out any cuts in so-called entitlements, the largest threat to fiscal solvency. In an earlier post, I suggested granting the President his wishes, perhaps by voting "present" on tax provisions. Then they can fight on the spending side of the government ledger. If they fail to secure significant reductions in spending, perhaps they can rally around the "debt ceiling" fight that will come in January. That will not really reduce existing the amount of money budgeted for specific programs, but it will stop to government from borrowing to fund those programs. Perhaps this will force the government to prioritize its spending and reduce it. 

Another option is to call the administration in its threat to go over the so-called "fiscal cliff.."

"Going over the fiscal cliff" simply means implementing the provisions of the Budget Control Act of 2011. This will force both severe spending cuts and steep tax increases. This entails some high stakes risks.

First, no one is certain what this will do to the economy. On the one hand, conservatives claim that government spending, especially that contained in the various "stimulus packages," does not create jobs. If this claim is true, then cutting government spending through sequestration should not adversely impact the economy. On the other hand, Republicans claim tax increases will hurt the economy. The question is if either reduced spending or increased taxation--or both--will send us into a recession.

Second, the political fallout must be considered. On the one hand, the last thing Obama wants is a recession in his second term. His first term proved pretty pathetic, but voters decided to give him more time. A recession would consign his presidency to that large class of Presidential mediocrities. On the other hand, polls show by a 53-27 margins that Republicans would carry the blame for failure to close a deal with the President. That might portend trouble for 2014.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor Day

President Roosevelt called it "a day which will live in infamy."

British Prime Minister Winston Church, who had been leading Britain in a fight for its life for two years,  later reflected:

"No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. I could not foretell the course of events. I do not pretend to have measure accurately the martial might of Japan, but at thes very money I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death."

"So we had won after all!

"I went tot bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Season of Giving Wisely

As the season draws nearer to Christmas, television media and the internet inevitably will publicize increasing numbers of stories of "random acts of kindness." Sometimes these stories will hype faith and the religious angle; sometimes they vaguely refer to "the spirit of giving" or restoring another kind of faith--"the faith in humanity."

One recent example of the latter  featured the kindness of a New York City police officer. Patrolman Larry DiPrimo purchased shoes and socks for a homeless man on Times Square.  A tourist from Arizona snapped the photo. She happened to be there because she, too, planned to help this man by giving him some change.

As it often the case, things are not quite what they seem. Jeffrey Hillman may be shoeless, but he is not homeless. He has an apartment that he pays for with veterans benefit, social security, and federal assistance. Moreover, he has accumulated a records for petty crimes going back twenty years--including assault, menacing, possession of stolen property, grand larceny, forgery, reckless endangerment, and resisting arrest.

And within a week, Hillman was seen on the streets without his new shoes. He says he put them away for safe keeping, which probably means, he  swapped them for some Mad Dog 20 20.

The incident does present every citizen confronted by panhandlers with an ethical dilemma: to give or not to give.

For those who take the words of Jesus seriously, Jesus did say "Give to every man that asketh of thee" (Luke 6:30). This command comes with the promise that it will glorify God and it earn a reward from him in the future. It seems to imply that God's concern is withe the motive of the giver, and not with the  efficacy of the act. The giver will be rewarded for his faithfulness; the receiver will receive his own judgment for what he does with the gift. I guess that makes sense in the minds of those who believe such things.

For those who do not believe, Aristotle provides some general guidance for the financially liberal man in Book IV of Ethics.

"Virtuous acts are fine, and are done for a fine end; so the liberal man too will give with a fine end in view, and in the right way; because he will give to the right people, and the right amounts, and at the right time, and will observe all the other conditions that accompany right giving."

To give foolishly reduces the resources available to give wisely:

"He will avoid giving  to any and everybody, so that he many have something to give to the right people at the right time and in circumstances in which it is a fine thing to do."

So while Christmas is seen as the season of giving,  there should never by a  season of giving foolishly.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Food Stamp Challenge

Today Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker begin his so-called "Food Stamp Challenge."

Booker and several of his followers on Twitter plan to live for a week on the monetary equivalent of food stamps. 

(These days the program comes through EBT cards, not "stamps.")

I have not bothered to spend much time in an internet search of stories to learn how the Mayor calculated the  amount of money he plans to spend. I suspect it will differ from the amount most of the food stamp customers who shop where I work. 

Most of my food stamp customers do not overtly display signs of economic hardship. I have observed quite a few customers pass through our check out lines purchasing large quantities of shrimp and crab from our fresh seafood department.  The only restriction is that the food cannot be cooked. That regulation does not stop a few customers from trying. Knowing the law, many make their purchase first, and THEN return to the seafood department to have it steamed with some Old Bay seasoning.

At least one of our seafood lovers occasionally provides a nice shrimp luncheon for her friends. One day a customer arrived to return some shrimp for a refund because it was not as fresh as that to which she was accustomed. Demonstrating her experience at working the system, she also demanded a full refund for the trouble of having to go out of her way to return the product. Of course, she punctuated her demand with a threat to call the corporate office on us if we failed to comply. When she produced her receipt, we saw it was for an  EBT purchase. She explained that  she was returning it on behalf of her best friend who actually made the initial purchase. Hmmmm, I thought, now the taxpayers are funding shrimp luncheons for the economically oppressed. 

One of the more interesting  dynamics of EBT is the impact their use on business trends. In our particular region, our business analysts have noticed a correlation between EBT clientele and the sale of pre-made decorated cakes in our bakery departments. And it is easy to understand how this developed. 

Why spend only two dollars on a box of Betty Crocker Cake Mix and another two dollars on frosting and actually have to WORK by mixing it and baking it, when the taxpayers will purchase a $50 or more fully prepared, fully decorated cake from the bakery.

Cory Booker: 
Having your cake and eating it, too?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Like White on Rice

The anticipated nomination of Susan Rice seems to be on hold as Republican senators remarked that they grew even more disturbed about the government's reaction to the terrorist attack in Benghazi AFTER began her own apology tour.

In another example of the ever diminishing quality of our political discourse, the Washington Post published an editorial speculating that racism and sexism motivates Republican opposition. They note that white males from the old Confederacy constitute the heart of the opposition.

The Post's sensitivity was not so evident back in 2005, when another black female, Condoleezza Rice received the nomination for Secretary of State from President George Bush. Similarly, she came under criticism for misleading the public about the circumstances leading up to the invasion of Iraq. She,too, claimed that she depended upon information provided from the intelligence community.

Spearheading the opposition to Condoleezza Rice were ex-Klansman Senator Robert Byrd and ex-passenger of Mary Jo Kopechne Senator Edward Kennedy. If there were any two that might emit the stench of racism and sexism, it was these two. She won the nomination 85-13, but twelve of the negative votes came from MEN.  The Post's olfactory senses failed them back then, however, as they assumed the best of motives from Senate Democrats.

But at least in their recent editorial they conceded that they, unlike the  fluffers at MSNBC, cannot read minds.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cliff Diving in Washington DC

Leaving for a time our historical diversion . . .

The immediate challenge facing President Obama after his reelection is how to reach an agreement with Republicans on a budget that avoids going over “the fiscal cliff.” The cliff refers to the massive cuts in spending that will occur after the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 expire. If the President and the Congress cannot reach a new budget agreement by January 2, 2013, spending cuts of $1.2 trillion over the next ten automatically go into effect. None of these cuts involve the largest long term expenditure: entitlements. On the other side of the ledger, income taxes and capital gains taxes go up.

Almost everyone agrees that the “sequester cuts” will cripple our already limping economy.

And almost everyone agrees that the Republicans will bear the brunt of the blame.

The President won reelection on his so-called “balanced” plan on the budget, especially that part about “taxing the rich.” So far he has not shown much balance. With the support of his fluffers at MSNBC, He can stiffen his resistance to spending cuts and force the Republicans to accept the tax hikes he wants.

So what can Republicans do? Not much. They say that holding out on the tax increases is their only leverage. So far, however, they have failed to leverage anything out of the President. Their obstructionism will likely cost them Congressional seats in 2014.

Maybe the best bet is to vote “present” and let the President have his way. The Bush tax cuts are hardly sacred. They linger as part of the residue left by Bush's undisciplined and fiscally irresponsible administration. Once the President has his tax increases, begin the demands for spending cuts. If don't come (and they won't), then call the President out as a “G-d d----d liar.” Then force the cuts by refusing to pass any budget that does not include them.

                                   Over the fiscal cliff

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Puritans and Yankees

The Puritan vision of a “Christian Commonwealth” failed to last.

First, their commitment to congregational rule inevitably led to religious diversity. Without any religious governing body, it was only a matter of time before individual congregations began to deviate from Puritan orthodoxy. Eventually, concerned ministers felt compelled to adopt some form of official statement of faith and practice to govern all the congregations. In 1648, they adopted the Cambridge Platform.

Second, increasing numbers of later generations of New Englanders could not pass existing examinations for church membership and qualify for political rights. The Congregationalists baptized their infants, but they could not become full church members until they gave an account of a “new birth” conversion experience. Without this testimony they could neither receive communion nor participate as church members. In addition, lack of church membership disqualified them from political participation as well.

Most of the first generation of settlers possessed full church membership and political rights. They had their children baptized as a symbol of the New Covenant. Many of this second generation, however, never gave a conversion narrative to become full church members. A problem arose when this generation produced their own children: should the church baptize children of the unconverted? To overcome the diminishing numbers of church members, many churches adopted what came to be known as the “Half-way Covenant.” This allowed churches to baptize the children of the unconverted in order that they, too, could enjoy the privileges of partial membership. And, of course, this also made them subject to church discipline for moral infractions.

Event outside the churches also eroded the “Christian Commonwealth.”

As quality land became more scarce, increasing numbers of people left for the frontiers or the growing port cities like Boston, effectively moving beyond the control of their families and churches.

Overtime the Massachusetts Bay economy grew more diversified. Although most people remained farmers, others found new opportunities in lumbering, fur trapping, and distilling. The most important change was the growth in shipping. Massachusetts Bay and the other Puritan colonies prospered from participation in the commerce of the North Atlantic. New England ships appeared along the North American coastline, in the West Indies, in Africa, and and in England. Commerce opened the door for employments as sailors, stevedores, inn keepers, taverns, and import merchants. Increasing numbers of persons who never shared the Puritan vision made their way to Boston either as sailors or as permanent residents. Soon the first Anglican Churches made their appearance in the large port city.

New England society grew more prosperous, alarming those concerned about the rise and seduction of “luxury.” And it grew more stratified, as the numbers of new wealthy people were exceeded by the growing numbers of the poor.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the “Jeremiad” sermon, warning listeners about the moral decline of New England, became regular staples from the pulpit. But Massachusetts continued to grow more prosperous, more economically diverse, and, in short, more modern. Its inhabitants grew less and less Puritan—people sustaining a Christian Commonwealth-- and became more and more Yankee—people possessing a shrewd ability to make money.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Roots of New England Culture

In our continuing historical diversion . . .

The Puritans became famous for the implementation of their “applied theology” in organizing their society. But it was not religion alone that gave New England its distinctive regional culture.

Over 60% of settlers to Massachusetts during the Great Migration originated from the easternmost counties in a region historically called East Anglia. As in most historically significant migrations, people connected by family relationships or friendships constituted most of the settlers. In addition, that region was such Puritan stronghold that Anglican Archbishop William Laud called it the heartland of heresy. In fact, during the persecution of Protestants in the previous century under Catholic Queen Mary, out of 273 dissenters burned at the stake, 225 hailed from East Anglia. The settlers, however, brought much more than their religion to New England.

East Anglia at the time of the Great Migration was one of the most densely populated areas of England. It was also the most urbanized; Norwich was England's second largest city. The area was also characterized by a prosperous wool industry and large numbers of artisans or skilled craftsmen. Consequently  the Massachusetts settlement patterns in organized villages not only reflected the religions visions of the founders, but also replicated what most of the Puritan settlers knew back in England.

The settlers also brought with them their distinctive East Anglia accents. The “Norwich whine” of East Anglia became transplanted as the “Yankee twang” in New England. The nasal intonation was accompanied by such distinctive pronunciations such as darter for daughter, yistidy for yesterday, har or hair, and hev for have.

Finally, the brought with them their habits of hard work and their knack for what became known as “Yankee ingenuity ” Where the more leisure oriented settlers in the Southern colonies spoke of “killing time,” the hard working New Englander labored to “improve the time” or, in the more biblical expression, “redeem the time.”

Later generations of their descendants spread this culture across New York state and into the Midwest.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Peopling of New England

In our continuing historical diversion . . .

John Winthrop's fleet was the first of many ships that brought Puritans to New England. Over 20,000 settlers arrived between 1630 and 1640 in what the Puritans called “The Great Migration.” After the English Civil War broke out, immigration abruptly stopped.

Within a few years, however, natural increase of the settlers made Massachusetts the most populous of England's North American provinces.

Several factors contributed to this and serve as a contrast with the earlier settlement in Virginia. First, the Puritans faced and less numerous and less hostile native population. Although two major wars broke out with the surrounding tribes, the Puritans experienced nothing like the devastation faced by settlers in Virginia. Second, the Puritans lived in an environment that did not support many of the communicable diseases that plagued Virginians. And finally, the different demographics of the settlers laid the foundation for explosive population growth even after emigration ceased. In contrast to the predominantly single, male, and uneducated servant that came to Virginia, the Puritans attracted intact families with education, skills, and financial assets.The population exploded from this original 20,000 to nearly 100,000 by 1700 as they spread from Massachusetts, to Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.

The peopling of Massachusetts and New England was not haphazard. During the first generations, the colony's leaders managed the seeding of additional settlements. Most villages seemed to have been planned as nucleated villages surrounding a green and a meeting house. The villagers each possessed small landholdings for farms, orchards, and pastures. And for the first couple of generations, the Puritans utilized “applied theology” to build their Christian commonwealth.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Puritan Vision

In our continuing historical diversion . . .

In most ambitious colonization effort to date, eleven ships carrying over 700 English Puritans arrived in Massachusetts on 12 June 1630. The flagship Arbella carried the leader of the project, Governor John Winthrop. Prior to coming ashore, Winthrop read a sermon he wrote entitled “A Model of Christian Charity.” It laid out his vision for a Christian commonwealth.

He opened the sermon with his recognition of the traditional hierarchical social order that in his view rested on God's providence:

GOD ALMIGHTY in His most holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in submission.”

God did this for three main reasons.

First, the show the glory of his wisdom, power, and greatness to all his creatures in ordering society for the good of the whole.

Second, to show the workings of his Spirit in restraining the wicked--so that the rich would not consumer the poor and the poor would not revolt against the rich—and in showing grace to the regenerate—so that the rich would show love, mercy, and gentleness and the poor would exhibit faith and obedience.

Finally, to show that every man needs others.

Much of rest of the sermon developed these three points in an exhortation of the settlers to show Christian love and unity in their support of the common good.

The most memorable phrase from this largely forgotten sermon was Winthrop's call to be a “city on a hill,” a reference to the declaration of Jesus that his followers were “the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.”

As a future post will show, the Puritan vision of “a city on a hill” faded with time. Later generations of American politicians appropriated the phrase and applied it in a secular fashion to America's mission in the world on behalf of freedom and democracy.

And for unfortunately for some, even if that means war.

Governor John Winthrop

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Puritan Diaspora

In our continuing historical diversion . . .

With a secure charter from King Charles I, the Massachusetts Bay Company aggressively pursued the settlement of New England.

From another point of view, the company engaged in a de-settlement of old England. For between 1630 and 1640, some 80,000 English left their homeland. About 20,000 moved to nearby Ireland, another 20,000 moved to the Netherlands and the Rhineland of western Europe, a third wave of 20,000 or so settled in the Caribbean Islands of Barbados, Nevis, and St. Kitts, and while a fourth wave of 20,000 or more settlers came to Massachusetts Bay.

What drove this diaspora of English?

Emulating the absolute monarchs of the European continent, King Charles I attempted to enhance his power through the expansion of royal prerogatives. Faced with  opposition from a Parliament that sought to aggrandize its own authority, Charles on several occasions dissolved Parliament and attempted to rule England without it.

In addition, he supported the efforts of Anglican Archbishop William Laud to bring a more severe conformity to the state church. This meant the rooting out of the Puritan reformers who desired a more radical reformation of the English church in both dogma and church government. The aggressive pushed for religious uniformity drove thousands of Puritans to leave their homeland.

This massive diaspora lasted until 1642, when a civil war erupted between Charles and and Parliament and their respective supporters in the army. With the triumph of Parliament and the religious reformers, the massive migrations ceased. (The victory of the Puritan party led to a similar but smaller emigration of royalist "distressed cavaliers" to Virginia.) But the foundations had been laid for the establishment of English societies abroad.

King Charles I

Archbishop William Laud

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Demise of the Plymouth Company

In our continuing historical diversion . . .

After the failure of the Plymouth groups first settlement in Maine, it attempted another colonization venture near the location of the Pilgrims. It issued a land grant to a Dorchester company led by Puritan minister John White out of Dorchester, England. This Dorchester investors funded the establishment of a small fishing village at Cape Anne. But this, too, never took off. The investors stopped their financial support after only two years. The small group of adventurers moved to another settlement a little closer to the Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth.

Back in England, the Plymouth Company reorganized with new investors as the Plymouth Council for New England. They made another land grant, this time to a group of inventors styled as the New England Company for a Plantation in Massachusetts Bay, or, the Massachusetts Bay Company for short. (Plantation simply meant colony or settlement.) Investors included minister John White.It sponsored another settlement at a site later called Salem, Massachusetts. The settlement experience similar hardships to those at Plymouth—starvation and disease killed off nearly half the settlers. Additional settlers with supplies, however, kept the settlement going. It proved to be the first successful settlement of the Plymouth reorganized Plymouth group.

Investors in the Massachusetts Bay Company harbored concerns about the legality of their land grants. The original London and Plymouth groups of the Virginia Company possessed overlapping grants, the London group charter had been revoked by the Crown, and the Plymouth groups had subsequently reorganized under new leadership with a new named. Consequently, they went directly to the Crown and secured a charter for themselves that superseded all previous grants. This provoked some lawsuits, but the old Plymouth Council for New England eventually lost its legal status in 1635.

The Massachusetts Bay Company possessed the freedom to move ahead with plans for a massive migration of Puritan dissenters to the New World.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Proclamations

Local Thanksgiving traditions eventually led to “official Thanksgiving proclamations. Such proclamations encouraged the regularity of the practice and began to bring uniformity of the date of the celebration.

A couple of important Thanksgiving proclamations:

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation (3 October 1789):

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789

And below is Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation (3 October 1863):

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

Thanksgiving became a federal holiday after President Franklin Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress 26 December, 1941.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 1621

Cultures throughout the world have held and continue to hold feasts at the close of the growing seasons after the final harvest. Usually these feasts involve giving thanks to whatever divine being(s) the particular cultures acknowledge. In the United States, the tradition loosely relates to the first “Thanksgiving" feast held by the English settlers at Plymouth, Massachusetts

The original one hundred or so settlers consisted of congregants of a separatist church who refused to worship in the England’s established Anglican Church. They arrived on the Mayflower in November 1620, just in time for the onset of winter. After an exploratory party located an advantageous site, the settlers came ashore that December. The site selected had been a Patuxet village that the natives abandoned after its decimation by small pox. By March 1621, however, about half of the English settlers themselves had perished from diseases contracted spread during the voyage or the harsh winter living conditions.

The new settlement took root that year with assistance from the local Wampanoag tribe. Their help had been secured through the efforts of Squanto, a Patuxet native. (Years before he had been captured and brought to England as a “specimen” by an English explorer. While living in England he learned the language. Later he found himself back in his native land. He served as a translator). That fall, after a successful harvest and hunting, a feast was held with some of the Wampanoag neighbors.

One settler preserved an account in a journal:

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

And so a local tradition, although inconsistently practiced, began. Other parts of the English colonies celebrated their own traditions on different fall days. These gradually became unified through proclamations of the government.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Pilgrims

In our continuing historical diversion . . .

Several recent posts surveyed the colony of Virginia, started in 1607 by the London group of the Virginia Company. What about that part of the company known as the Plymouth group? In the same year of the London group established a settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, the Plymouth group started a settlement at the moth of the Kennebec River in what is now Maine. It lasted only a year, however, that the settlers boarded a supply ship for home.

Ironically, the London group that initiated the Virginia colony also sponsored a second settlement named after the city of Plymouth. A group of religious dissenters decided to leave England to avoid continuing legal harassment for their refusal to conform to England's established church. 

To understand who these people were, it is necessary to distinguish the main religious factions within the Church of England. Within the Anglican communion many Christians who desired a more radical reformation of the church. They sought changes in both church dogma and church government. Regarding dogma, they wanted to bring the church more in line with the teachings of John Calvin. Regarding church government, most of these reformers wanted to replaced the episcopacy (rule by bishops) with presbytery (rule by association of  ministers. A smaller group wanted to replace the episcopacy with congregational government. 

The dissenters who came to America desired congregational government. In contrast to the majority of reformers, they gave up any hopes of reforming the church. So they became complete separatists. This brought legal harassment from a government that desire religious uniformity. Before coming to America, the fled to the Netherlands in 1609. After ten years, however, many families decided to leave the Netherlands. They could not see returning to England. As described by one of the leaders, William Bradford, “They knew they were pilgrims, and looked not much on those things but lift up their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted their spirits.” Discussions began about a plan to move to the New World.

Even while its original settlement struggled in Jamestown, the Virginia group agreed to sponsor a second settlement. They funded Bradford's group to settle near the mouth of the Hudson River, which at that time lay within the original grant of the Virginia Company. A little over one hundred adventurers, including Bradford's “Pilgrims” and several of what the Pilgrims called “Strangers” set sail for American in the Mayflower.

They never made it to “Virginia.” Storms forced a landing on the coast of Massachusetts. Although sponsored by the London group, the Pilgrims ended up on land owned by the Plymouth group. Because they possessed no charter rights in Massachusetts, the settlers drew up a document that announced the formation of a “civil body politic” to enact and submit to laws for the good of the colony.

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.

Some have interpreted the Mayflower Compact as an example of a real social contract than anticipated the more famous philosophical Lockean version. The settlers found themselves in a “state of nature” with no established governing authority. Consequently, they formed themselves into a civil political body pledged to form a governing body and to submit to its laws.

This is a partial truth. The Mayflower Compact was a type of social contract. It differed, however, from Locke's more theoretical contract in a couple of important ways. First, although the settlers found themselves in a state of nature, they were not completely beyond all authority. They had no company charter rights to be in Massachusetts, but the land constituted part of the dominions of the English monarch. So in the compact, the settlers acknowledged that they remained the “loyal subjects” of King James. Second, the compact cited different ends that Locke's contract. In Locke's version, the reason for the establishment of a social contract was the protection of individual rights. The security of natural rights would be tenuous at best in a “state of nature.” In the Mayflower Compact, the ends consisted of the “furtherance and preservation” of the mission behind their voyage: the glory of God, the advancement of the Christian faith, and the honor of king and country.

The compact did, however, provide another early example of self government among the English in the New World

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The First South

In the last historical diversion into the South . . .

As Virginians entered the eighteenth-century, their society had matured into a simplified version of society as they knew it back in England. It was hierarchical and highly stratified, but some elements were missing. At the top were the so-called planter elite, those wealthy families who set the pattern for behavior and who came to dominate the colony's political life. The “middling sort” consisted of small landowners who had to migrate from the Tidewater areas westward into the Piedmont to secure affordable land. Because of the self-sufficiency of the larger plantations, few independent artisans emerged to meet demands for their services. And almost no urban areas developed. Society was bottom heavy with largely illiterate indentured servants who performed labor on the larger farms. With a tradition of weak public institutions, education remained the prerogative of the wealthy. Ominously, in the 1680s planters began importing increasing numbers of slaves to replace those English laborers who left after the completion of their indentures.

Over 60% of the seventeenth-century immigrants that helped Virginia become one of the most populous of the English colonies came from Southern and Western England. They also brought their customs into the New World. As we shall see in future posts, settlers in other parts of North American came from different regions of England. This accounts for the different regional cultures found in the United States then  . . . and today.

A few cultural distinctives from Virginia and the later Southern colonies in general.  First, Virginians transplanted speech patterns from Wessex and Sussex that gave the region its peculiar pronunciation and grammatical characteristics. Such constructions as I be, you be, he ain't, it don't, and using “like” for “as if” were found almost exclusively in the Chesapeake region. Vocabulary such as allowed (permitted), skillet (pan), mighty (very), favor (resemble), right good (very good) persisted in the colony even as it disappeared in England. Hundreds of other example could be noted.

Second, Virginians exhibited an ambivalence about hard work. The affluent planters of course, were above it. By definition, a gentleman was a man who enjoyed the financial independence that freed him from working with his hands. It is difficult, maybe impossible to measure, but one must wonder about the influence of Virginia's cultural elite on the work ethic among the general population. Their aversion and denigration of labor had to contribute in some ways to "the lazy South." Perhaps, too, the fertile soils and warm weather permitted Southerns to produce what they needed with labor much less intense than that required in other regions. Even animals thrived. Instead of mastering the skills of animal husbandry, many Southerners turned their pigs loose to forage for themselves and multiply. When needing meat for the table, the Southern farmer grabbed his musket and went out to find one.

Third, Virginians and the South transplanted the Dorset method of preparing food through simmering or frying in a pan. The use of heavy spices came to characterize the cooking style of the Chesapeake. And the region became known for barbeque.

In short, the beginning of America was also the beginning of the South.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Ascension of Virginia

In our continuing historical diversion . . .

After becoming a royal colony, Virginia continued to struggle. Immigrants continued to arrive, but mortality rates approaching 50% retarded population growth. Moreover, the colony still had the appearance of “impermanence.” Most of the more ambitious settlers had no intentions of staying. They continued to hope for the acquisition of quick riches—through tobacco cultivation instead of conquest or trade—to enable them to return to England and live the life of a “country gentlemen.” Most either failed or died trying. Few attained the level of success that enabled a return to England. A small indigenous leadership emerged, but they contributed little to the development of traditional English social life or institutions.

That began to change finally during the decade of the 1640s.

First, a Civil War broke out in England that divided the army between supporters of Parliament and supporters of King Charles I. The Puritan dominated forces that gave Parliament the victory attempted to erect a republic in place of the traditional English monarchy. In addition, they enforced their own version of Presbyterian religious uniformity on the English people. Thousands of English immigrants unhappy with the new regime left for Virginia, boosting the population from 8,000 in 1640 to over 40,000 in 1675. Most immigrants consisted of tenant farmers and day laborers from England's rural areas seeking to improve their lot. Perhaps 75% came as indentured servants whose contracts required seven years of labor on behalf of whoever paid their passage to Virginia by purchasing the contract after their arrival. In contrast, a number of these immigrants were the so-called “distressed cavaliers,” fairly well-off supporters of the old monarchy. The scions of many eighteenth-century notable Virginia families arrived in Virginia during this time, including those of the Lee, Culpepper, Chinchely, Custis, Page, Harrison, Randolph, Washington, and Madison families.

Second, Sir William Berkeley received appointment as the governor of Virginia. Berkeley was staunchly loyal to the Stuart dynasty that appointed him. After the English Civil War, Berkeley refused to recognized the authority of the new Puritan leadership back in England. Only the threat of invasion forced Berkeley to submit to England's new rulers. And more than any other governor before him, Berkeley allied himself with the interests of Virginia's emerging elite.

After the restoration in 1660, Berkeley continued to recruit immigrants from among England's genteel families. He published a pamphlet in 1663 that touted the opportunities that awaited the adventurous in Virginia:

A small sum of money will enable a younger brother to erect a flourishing family in a new world; and add more strength, wealth, and honor to his native country. . . .”

This appeal to “a younger brother” was directed at the younger sons excluded from inheritance by laws of primogeniture and entail. Many of these “younger sons” saw settlement in Virginia as an opportunity to establish their financial and personal independence. These newcomers and their descendants through personal connections, good fortune, and individual talent reached levels of prosperity unmatched by earlier generations of immigrants. They began constructing the red brick Georgian style homes across the counties of the Tidewater area. They became as self-conscious elite that intermarried amongst themselves across counties. In an era when political power rested upon social status, they eventually came to dominate the House of Burgesses and the governor's Council. These families emerged as the political and social elite of Virginia's eighteenth-century “golden age.”

 Sir William Berkeley

                    Westover Plantation

                                   Gunston Hall

                                  Stratford Hall

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Dissolution of Virginia Company

In our continuing historical diversion . . .

When Governor Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, arrived in the starving colony, he brought a new set of laws to instill discipline into the inhabitants. The new set of Laws Divine, Moral, and Martial prescribed the death penalty for theft, lying, rape, adultery  blasphemy, and several other offences. It also required inhabitants to gather at the beat of a drum into separate gangs, each under a different leader. Each leader was not permitted to allow “any of his company to be negligent, and idle, or depart from his work” until signaled to do so under another communication from the the drums.

This measure proved temporary in the face of the food crisis. After a couple of years, the new leadership added some positive incentives as well. Previously, whatever production of food had taken place was based upon a community basis. No private property or private plots were permitted. The new leadership instituted private property in land and began making land grants to the settlers. Immigrants whose passage had been paid by the Virginia Company had been required to work seven years for the company.When their term of service ended, individuals received three acres and families received twelve. The governor put production regulations in place. The regulations required that farmers produce not only produce their own food, but also two and one half barrels of corn each year for the substance of new comers. Moreover, to encourage more immigration to the colony, the directors instituted a new “headright” system. Any new immigrant who paid his own passage to American received a grant of 50 acres. And anyone who paid the passage of new immigrants received 50 acres for each one.

After the colony made headway in the production of food, they finally discovered a source of wealth beyond mere sustenance. John Rolfe learned how to cultivate tobacco from the local natives. The domestic variety proved unpleasant to the English palate. He subsequently began cultivating a Caribbean variety in Virginia. So began the tobacco boom. By 1620, Virginians exported 50,000 pounds of tobacco; by 1630, they exported 250,000 pounds.

Not only did the company improve the situation with the institution of landed private property, they also eventually gave the settlers more control in local affairs. In 1619, each of the now twenty small sparsely populated settlements chose representatives called burgesses to meet in Jamestown to craft policies for their fellow settlers.

The colony suffered a major setback, however, from an attack by the natives on 22 March 1622. A massive attacked killed 346 colonists, nearly one-third of the settlers.

Meanwhile, stockholders back in England pressed for some kind of profit from their investments. Eventually, King James sued the company in court to revoke the charter. He won the case, but died before its conclusion. His son and new heir, Charles I, declared Virginia a royal colony.