The US Supreme Court has played a key role at times in US history. One such occasion was when a decision was required on segregation in the 1890s. Here, Jonathan Hennika continues his look at the history of the US Supreme Court (following his article on Marbury v Madison hereand Dred Scott here), and focuses on the 1896 case of Plessy v Ferguson.

Justice Henry Billings Brown, who write the majority opinion in the Plessy v Ferguson case.

Justice Henry Billings Brown, who write the majority opinion in the Plessy v Ferguson case.

Recently, President Trump criticized a federal judge who ruled against his administration’s asylum policy calling him an “Obama judge.” While it is often customary for judges to avoid commentary on this type of political remark, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Robertsthought little of Mr. Trump’s comparison. In repudiating the President’s comment,the Chief Justice relied on the conventional wisdom of an apolitical judiciary. In a rare display of judicial independence, Chief Roberts declared, “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges or Bush judges or Clinton judges, what we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.”[i]

In discussing the debate between President Trump and Chief Justice Roberts, The New Republic’sJonathan Zimmerman invokes the “Martin-Quinn” measure of the judiciary to point out that, “We have a Supreme Court where every Republican on the court is more conservative than every Democrat.” What this means to the nation is that “gone are figures like John Paul Stevens, a Republican judge nominated by a Republican president, who usually sided with Democrat-nominated justice on the court.”[ii]The Martin-Quinn measure was developed by two University of Michigan academics, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, to provide a statistical analysis of the Court’s ideological leanings since 1937.[iii]

While proving helpful, one does not need a statistical analysis of ideological leanings to examine the Court’s history. The Court’s Dred Scott decision ill defined what it was meant to be a citizen. In another infamous ruling, the Court ratified de jure discrimination when it ruled in support of de factodiscrimination of the Jim Crow South.

 

Plessy versus Ferguson: A Test Case Like No Other

The American landscape changed dramatically in the decades after the Supreme Court’s Dred Scottdecision. The nation fractured with the Civil War, followed by a period of Reconstruction.  Concurrently, it was a period of rapid industrializationin the North and Midwest; the agricultural South fell into a system of tenant farming and sharecropping. This system flourished, in part, because in the states of the old Confederacy societal divisions continued along racial lines. Historically referred to as the Jim Crow era; it was the period of segregation of the races.

One of the popular benchmarks historians use to measure a nation’s growth is the area of transportation. Rail united America in 1890; approximately 163,597 miles of railroad tracks crisscrossed the land.[iv]To govern rail passage, the state of Louisiana enacted the Separate Car Act, legislation requiring the railroad companies to maintain a second set of train cars for African American passengers.  In New Orleans, a group of like-minded residents formed the “Comite des Citoynes” or Committee of Citizens to fight the law. The Committee asked Homer Plessy to participate in the test case. With his one-eighth African heritage,Plessyagreed. After purchasing a first-class ticket and boarding the train’s whites-only car, a private detective hired for the sole purpose arrested Plessy.[v]

The case made its way to the Supreme Court which heard arguments and issued its ruling on May 18, 1896. Unlike the Court that ruled on Dred Scott, the Plessy court was regionally diverse. Three of the justices hailed from the Northwest; two from the South; three from the Midwest; and one from the West. Regionalism, once the rallying cry of the nation gave way to other considerations. “Most of the judges were conservatives who favored protection of property rights vis-à-vis state regulationof private property….Justice Stephen J. Field, a California Democrat…was by far the most influential member of the Plessycourt….he was an early champion of minority rights, he later became an advocate of laissez-faire economics and championed the revolution in due process of law…when the Court recognized substantive due process as a limitation of state legislative power.”[vi] The Court became economic activists, issuing rulings limiting the effectivenessof governmental regulations on private enterprises. The railroad company, East Louisiana Railroad, was a voluntary participant to the lawsuit. They objected to the Separate Car Act on the economic grounds of the added expense of the African-American only cars. When deciding the case, the laissez-faire, hands-offattitude espoused by Field could not stand up to prevailing institutionalized racism predominate in the American South.  In a 7 to 1 decision, Justice Brewer did not participate; theCourt ruled the Separate Car Act did not violate the 14thAmendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

 

Separate but Equal?

Justice Henry Brown wrote for the majority: “The object of the [14th] amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.Lawspermitting and even requiring, their separation in places where they are liable to be brought into contact do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either raceto the other and have been…recognized as within the competency of the state legislatures in the exercise of their police power.”[vii]

The irony of the Plessy decision is that neither the attorney’s involved for Plessynor the Court ever discussed the premise of equal accommodations. The legal question revolved around the constitutionality of the Louisiana statute when measured against the Constitution. In arguing that the state followed the 14thAmendment in the creation of the Separate Car Act, Brown turns to inherently racist logic:

It is claimed by the plaintiff in error that, in any mixed community, the reputation of belonging to the dominant race, in this instance the white race, is property in the same sense that a right of action or inheritance is property. Conceding those to be so for the purpose ofthis case, we are unable to see how this statute deprives him of, or in any way affects his right to, such property. If he bea white man and assigned to a colored coach, he may have his action for damages against the company for being deprived of his so-called property. Upon the other hand, if he bea colored manand be so assigned, he has been deprived of no property, since he is not lawfully entitled to the reputation of being a white man.[viii]

 

University of Michigan Historian Rebecca Scott summarized the Court’s decision as embracing the “white-supremacist formulation—which reinterpreted the claim to equal treatment as a matter of forcing oneself where one was not wanted—that carried the day…the damage thus done was both practical and doctrinal, formalizing the sleightof hand that portrayed an aggressive program of state-imposed caste distinctions as the mere ratification of custom.”[ix]

Segregation in the American South continued unabashedly throughoutthe twentieth century. Proponents of segregationembraced the Plessy decision as validation that separate was equal. They argued that classification was not discrimination and if all members of the class receivedthe same treatment, there was no disparity. The Supreme Court heard other cases regarding racial bias, but it was not until its Brown versus Board of Education, decision in 1956 that separate but equal was declared unconstitutional.  In the intervening years, there are additional rulings that exemplifythe apolitical nature of the federal judicial systems’ top court.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.


[i]Jonathan Zimmerman, “Who is John Roberts Kidding,” The New Republic, November 26, 2018. https://newrepublic.com/article/152399/john-roberts-kidding

[ii]Ibid.

[iii]Martin-Quinn Score Project Description, http://mqscores.lsa.umich.edu/

[iv]Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum “Maps Showing the Progressive Development of U.S. Railroads - 1830 to 1950,”http://cprr.org/Museum/RR_Development.html

[v]Plessy v Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)

[vi]David W. Bishop, “Plessy v Ferguson: A Reinterpretation,” The Journal of Negro History,62 (Apr. 1977), 126. This 

[vii]Plessy v Ferguson, 163 US 537; 544

[viii]Ibid, 549.

[ix]Rebeca Scott, “The Atlantic World and the Road to Plessy v Ferguson,” The Journal of American History, 94 (Dec. 2007), 731.

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Britain’s role in the abolition of slavery during the 19thcentury is a well-known and well-studied part of the historiography of slavery. While it is often said this was due to the British upholding their Christian moral duty, there were other, more sinister motives that led to the British abolishing slavery. Thomas Cripps explains.

William Wilberforce, perhaps the most famous campaigner in favor of abolishing slavery. Painting by John Rising.

William Wilberforce, perhaps the most famous campaigner in favor of abolishing slavery. Painting by John Rising.

How the British Abolished Slavery – And Ensured Many Others Did the Same

In 1765 Granville Sharp issued the first meaningful petition against Britain's role in the slave trade, and by 1783 there were significant protests outside of the British Parliament; in part due to the Zong Massacre of the same year where 130-150 slaves were massacred aboard a trading vessel. This in turn meant that by 1788-89 William Wilberforce, probably the most well known abolitionist, petitioned the government to end the Slave trade, yet this took 19 more years to happen. It was not until March 1807 and the Slave Trade Act that it would be illegal to trade in slaves, nevertheless slavery was still in place in much of the British Empire until the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, which ended slavery in the British Empire.

That being said, this came with some caveats. The East India Company was exempt from the Act as was the colony of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and the island of St Helena, although this did end in 1843 when the 1833 Act was enforced to its fullest extent. Furthermore, the slave owners received large compensation payments for their losses, the sum of which is estimated at around £20 million at the time. 

The trading of slaves in the British Empire was apparently now at an end, it was now their Christian duty of the British Empire to ensure that others partook in this humanitarian gesture and they set out to enforce this. 

Between c. 1833 and the end of the 19thcentury there was still a thriving illegal slave trade. Thousands of African slaves were being transported to the America’s, perhaps most notably to Cuba and Brazil. To combat this the British government increased the size of the Royal Navy’s West African Squadron that had been created in 1808 following the initial Slave Trade Act. By 1850 there were 50 ships in the region of West Africa. These ships aimed to deter would be slave traders, often stopping them forcefully in the process of transporting slaves who would then be returned to the African continent. This led to the expansion of societies such as Freetown in Sierra Leone where these ‘liberated’ slaves were delivered.

 

 

Ulterior Motives for the Abolition of Slavery

Whilst many of these actions may seem to be pointing the moral compass in the right direction, there were mostly certainly ulterior motives to the British enforcement of abolishing slavery and expanding the end of slavery globally.

The end of slavery cannot completely be seen as being motivated by the moral compass of Britain. And while there were certainly some who were driven by this, the powers that be were less certain and this can be seen as a large part of why the aforementioned legislation took so long to come to pass. Key wealthy individuals who had made significant monetary and political gains obviously objected to its end and funded serious campaigns against abolition. An apt example of this is William Beckford, who was a 22,000-acre plantation owner during the late 1700s and twice Mayor of London. In addition to this there were a large number of British Members of Parliament (MPs) who sided with the anti-abolition movement. It was not until later they came to the realization that it was no long conducive to profit. 

Excessive planting of crops, most notably tobacco, had lead to a large percentage of the soil in these areas becoming eroded meaning it was less profitable than it had been in the past to harvest these crops. Once the profitability of slavery was on the decline, it was not in the interest of the British Empire to continue with its previous policy on slavery. 

 

From Slavery to Colonialism

It is then, no coincidence that the number of British colonies in Africa significantly increased during the period following the abolition of slavery. In many ways their role in enforcing the end of slavery was a pretext for the expansion of imperialism into the African continent. 

Under the guise of a civilizing mission, to rid the ‘heathens’ of their inherent barbarism, the British among other European nations undertook a mission to ‘civilize’ the ‘dark continent’. The British abolition enforcers were then in a prime position to see that this goal was achieved.

Throughout the 1840s and 1850s the city of Lagos in modern day Nigeria was in a succession crisis. Kosako, one of the contenders for the city declared his loyalty to the Oba of Benin and repulsed a British force. The British reaction was to support the other contender who agreed to abolish slavery in support for their help in overthrowing Kosako. Following a British bombardment of the city in December 1851 he was replaced with his British-backed rival Akitoye. Again, this may seem like a noble and chivalric mission, yet within ten years Lagos was seized as a crown colony and by 1887 the remainder of the former Benin Empire was seized as part of this so-called civilizing mission. 

Then, in 1884, at the Berlin Conference European nations met to discuss the partition of Africa. Following this, the well-known ‘Scramble for Africa’ took place - Britain was in pole position due to its activities in abolishing slavery.

By the turn of the century Britain had the largest empire in Africa, including South Africa, Nigeria, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Kenya, the Gold Coast (Ghana), and Sierra Leone.

In 1833 only 10% of Africa was colonized, by 1914 this figure sat at 90%. Only Liberia and Ethiopia, then known as Abyssinia, managed to successfully navigate the ‘Scramble for Africa’ and even Ethiopia was colonized in 1935 by Italy.

Whilst, Britain did not colonize the whole continent or force other countries to engage in imperial practices, it did utilize its maritime dominance and the opportunity afforded by the ending of the slave trade to expand its own imperial possessions.

 

What do you think about the motives of the British in ending the slave trade?

California is not talked about too much in the context of the American Civil War (1861-65). It had only joined the Union in 1850 and was far from the main action in the east of the USA. However, California did have a part to play during the US Civil War. Daniel L. Smith explains.

An Independent gold hunter on his way to California, circa 1850. California’s gold helped to fund military activities during the US Civil War.

An Independent gold hunter on his way to California, circa 1850. California’s gold helped to fund military activities during the US Civil War.

California and Statehood

It was prior to 1850 that the true nature of the Wild West existed in California, this pristine region of the country. Ideology was split, and even within the split, there was further fracturing due to cultural differences as well as consistent fighting for property rights. The discovery of gold exacerbated the issue of regional turmoil as California was pulled into the US Civil War. This is just the tip of the iceberg on how California existed during this era. Many, or almost all people, are not aware of how truly important California as a region was during the Civil War.

California and Californians themselves endured in its struggle and existence. California had essentially wrapped itself in the American Civil War in politics, finances, and culture. California ethos (or ideology) was absolutely split politically. In hindsight, it was seemingly more than “Blue & Grey” ideology in a state that was overwhelmingly Native American. California had always been home to a Native American and slave population well before being “settled” by Americans East of the Mississippi.

It all started when California made statehood in 1850. Soon thereafter in 1859, the legislature of California was split into two states – Northern California and Southern California (as Colorado Territory). Even though Southern California was part of the Union, it had strong Confederate sympathies. These Confederate ties were due to the large number of Southerners who had transplanted to the Southern California area during the famous Gold Rush. This mass-relocation showed its evidence in the 1860 presidential elections. Lincoln had received only 25% of the Los Angeles vote. 

On the brink of the Civil War California chose the Union, abandoning three other choices: secession, neutrality, and independence. Arguments and counterarguments were made from every political and civic level of the community. It seemed as though some people were in doubt and tossed about in which decision it should have been. Although California was isolated from the conflict in the East and despite the diversified political beliefs of her people, a feeling of loyalty to the United States and federal government was overwhelming. California Republican and Union-Democratic leaders expressed an unwavering loyalty in a multitude of ways.  

Ultimately, the Unionist political candidates took over two-thirds of the votes for state government. Various estimates have been guessed regarding the number of pro-Confederates in the population in California. Indeed, although the loyalty of the state appeared evident, militias were activated. 

 

Revenue and Turmoil

Oaths of loyalty were required for certain groups and individuals, and of course occasional military arrests were made to solidify loyalty. Regardless, California would end up being a major financial contributor to the federal government during the Civil War, because the gold deposits were direct revenue to pay for war costs. In fact, quite a large portion of the federal government’s war budget was reinforced by new gold from California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. General Grant, in fact, said, "I do not know what we could do in this great national emergency, were it not for the gold sent from California.” 

The U.S Army built and operated many fortifications along frontier trails in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. What people do not know is that although California leaned towards the Union, they were so wrapped up in their own civil discord at home they were not able to send organized regiments east. In late 1861, a Confederate Brigadier General Henry Sibley was allowed to open up an easier route into California through northern Arizona Territory, with further instruction to capture the gold fields in San Francisco by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. This instruction would be for the purpose of a preemptive strike against the Unionist state and in turn show how significant California really was in the Civil War.

Little did both sides realize, California was in regional turmoil on its own accord without the help of a formal war. Now, aside from the status quo bleeding “Blue & Grey,” some non-traditional elements to the war are that the settlers who had come to California were still dealing with the effects of settling tribal lands, adding negative social, criminal, and economic dilemmas between the local Native American tribes, settlers, and the U.S. government.[1]For example, in Humboldt County (approximately 271 miles north of San Francisco) on March 29, 1862, a Humboldt Times headline read, “Horrible Indian Outrages!—The Savages Become Bolder!”  

In this letter submitted to the paper’s editors on March 27, 1862, the citizens of Arcata were “really alarmed at the extent of their (the Native America) evil deeds and the increased boldness and daring… “.  The letter states that local natives shot Mr. Zehendner and burned his home, burnt Goodman’s house and the next day, Mrs. Brehmer’s. On Friday, March 28, Augustus Bates was shot and killed. The natives burned his house. The letter ends, “What a sudden reverse - peace and fancied security one day - death and destruction the next. Surely human life is mutable and occurrences like this bring the fact impressively to our mind. This is a gloomy letter, and ours is a gloomy town.  I can think and write of nothing else.” 

 

Still The Wild West

On April 2, 1862, many of the citizens of Arcata signed a petition asking the military to remove all the Native Americans from the county completely and push them far away. They went on to state that they didn’t want them in Mendocino County or Crescent City – as it was too easy to get back.[2]  This shows that California was essentially dealing with its own problems, as well as the internal war. With a combination of civic non-cohesion of indigenous native populations, the settlers of the newly established towns, and with the two warring governments remaining active in the state, it appears as though both the centralized governments failed to see the deeper issue residing in California.[3]

Overall, there were handfuls of land skirmishes in California. Within the timeline of the war, California seemed to be most concerned with keeping political tension at a minimum. A further example of the civil issues that California would have to navigate would be the Bullion Bend Robbery.Two stagecoaches were robbed of their silver and gold near Placerville. A letter was left for authorities explaining that they were not committed criminals but carrying out a subversive operation to funnel money to the Confederacy.[4]

In 1864, a magistrate and handful of men became known as the Partisan Rangers.They sacked the property of Union-loyal civilians in the rural and outlying areas around Stockton. For the next two years they posed as “Confederate Partisan Rangers” but acted out criminally. They were found committing robberies, thefts, and murders located in the counties of San Joaquin Valley, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Santa Clara, and a few other counties located in Southern California.[5]

A final notable incident required a superb show of force by the Federal Cavalry in the streets of San Bernardino at the end of election day in September of 1864. They quelled a Confederate political demonstration during the gubernatorial elections in San Bernardino County.[6]

 

California’s Permanent Divide

After the Civil War ended in California the state took greater control and quickly began to integrate the counties of what would end up being on today’s political boundary maps. With the last of the Pacific coast Native Americans being rounded up to be placed on reservations and the fizzling out of what would come to be known as Westward Expansion, the state would start to consolidate its power as the new and now truly established authority in the West.[7]

It was now no longer considered the Wild West – as you would see on old black and white Western movies. Even so, the Union won the Civil War and California adopted the Union’s policies, there would always be a permanently heavy Democratic and Republican divide that would simmer beneath the voting cracks.

 

What do you think of the role of California in the US Civil War? Let us know below.

Finally, Daniel Smith writes at complexamerica.weebly.com.


[1]Charles B. Turrill."San Francisco and the Civil War." Museum of the City of San Francisco. Last modified 1876. http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist5/civwar.html.

[2]“Horrible Indian Outrages! - The Savages Become Bolder!”The Humboldt Times, March 29th, 1862. p.3 col. 1.

[3]Brian McGinty. "I Will Call a Traitor a Traitor: Albert Sidney Johnston." Civil War Times Illustrated, 1981.

[4]John Boessenecker (1993). Badge and Buckshot: Lawlessness in Old California.Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 133–157. ISBN 0806125101. Retrieved 21 October 2018.

[5]William B. Secrest, (2007). California Badmen: Mean Men with Guns.Sanger, Calif.: Word Dancer Press. pp. 143–147. ISBN 1884995519. Retrieved 21 October 2018.

[6]Henry Martyn Lazelle; Leslie J. Perry (1897). The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved 21 October 2018.

[7]Kevin Starr. California: A History. New York: Modern Library, 2015

The US Supreme Court becomes a very important political issue whenever a vacancy arises. Here, Jonathan Hennika continues his look at the history of the US Supreme Court (following his article on Marbury v Madison here), and focuses on slavery. He looks at the case of Dred Scott, and the 1850s ruling that said freed slaves were not US citizens.

Dred Scott, circa 1857.

Dred Scott, circa 1857.

In his Congressional testimony refuting the allegations of Dr. Christine Ford, Judge Brett Kavanaugh said in part: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”[i]In 2018 the political reality is the line drawn between the Right (Conservatives/Republicans) and the Left (Liberals/Democrats).  As the final arbiter of all things Constitutional, Supreme Court nominees have and always will be a political firestorm. After his testimony, concerns were raised by the American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations, both political and apolitical, regarding Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial independence. Judicial independence is as strong a myth in the system of American Jurisprudence as an apolitical court. 

In the teaching of American history, there was a euphemism used to discuss slavery: the peculiar institution. The phrase originated in the early 1800s as a “polite” way to discuss the topic of slavery. Southern historians later appropriated the phrase in an attempt to re-brand the image of the New South, i.e., the post-reconstructed South. These historians postulated and taught the paternalistic theory of slavery—that the life of the slave was better because the fatherly master-class took care of the slave’s basic needs. Such phraseology and historical excuses are intellectually dishonest. The question of slavery is one that troubled the founding fathers and the framers of the American Constitution. To see that conflict, one need look at Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution, which reads: 

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

 

Known as the “Three Fifths Compromise,” it was a stop-gap measure in determining the number of Representatives in Congress from the Southern States. Throughout the 19thcentury, as the nation grew, the debate raged on as to whether a territory or state admitted to the union were permitted to have slaves. Other measures included the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. As the nation grew and slavery became tied into the economy of the South, Southern politicians railed against Northern interference in the “peculiar institution.” The country balanced on a fulcrum of “free” and “slave” states. Each new admission to the Union tipped the balance one way or another. One of the methods the Southern plantocracy used to their advantage was through political patronage and judicial appointments. Southern politicians, such as John Calhoun, were adroit at imposing the will of the South on the nation.

 

The Question of “Citizenship”

It was not long for the question of slavery to reach the Supreme Court. It did so in the case of Dred Scott v Sanford60 US 393 (1856). As is often the circumstance, the Dred Scott case was two separate cases brought together for Supreme Court review. The slave, Dred Scott, sued under Missouri law and brought a second suit in Federal Court. These are the cases that became the Dred Scott case. The statutes in question were criminal trespass and false imprisonment. The historian Walter Ehrlich wrote extensively on the subject of Dred Scott and discovered heretofore lost court documents of Scott’s state action:

“The origin of any court litigation involves at least two basic issues. The first is grounds—do the law and the facts warrant legal action? The second is motivation—what specific circumstances impel the plaintiff to take his legal action….An investigation of Missouri statutes…reveals quite clearly not only that there were laws which prescribed circumstances under which a slave might become free, but also that ample precedent existed of slaves actually having been freed under those laws…Dred Scott…qualified substantially for his freedom.”[ii]

 

Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote the majority opinionthat held:

“A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a "citizen" within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States. When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State and were not numbered among its "people or citizens." Consequently, the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them. And not being "citizens" within the meaning of the Constitution, they are not entitled to sue in that character in a court of the United States, and the Circuit Court has not jurisdiction in such a suit…. The only two clauses in the Constitution which point to this race treat them as persons whom it was morally lawfully to deal in as articles of property and to hold as slaves.”[iii]

 

Sectionalism as a Deciding Factor 

In a 7 to 2 vote the Taney Court declared that the rights and privileges of citizenship did not apply to slaves and freed Africans. In the 20thand 21stcentury the Justices’ votes are often broken down via political lines; the left, the right, the middle. In the 19thcentury, sectionalism dominated the discussion. What section of the country did the Justice represent? There were nine members of the Taney Court:

-       Roger Taney (Chief), Maryland: Majority

-       John McLean, Ohio: Dissent

-       James Moore Wayne, Georgia: Majority

-       John Catron, Tennessee: Majority

-       Peter Vivian Daniel, Virginia: Majority

-       Samuel Nelson, New York: Majority

-       Robert Cooper Grier, Pennsylvania: Majority

-       Benjamin Robbins Curtis, Massachusetts: Dissent

-       John Archibald Campbell, Georgia: Majority

 

The Court’s majority hailed from states that left the Union in 1860. Chief Justice Taney was from Maryland, wooed by President Lincoln as a border state, and could have been a member of the Confederacy. Of the two Northerners who voted in the majority, President Buchanan pressured Justice Grier to join the majority to avoid the appearance that the ruling ran along “sectional lines.”[iv]The Executive branch used its friendship to influence the political topic of the day. These men on the Supreme Court may have attempted to “rise above” partisan rhetoric. If you examine them within the context of their times, a question arises: when declaring that Dred Scott and the many other slaves were not protected by the laws of man, were they thinking of their own section’s best interests? 

Dred Scottwas not the last time the Supreme Court had the opportunity to weigh in on the constitutionality of racial subjugation. The next time the Court sat on this question, the entire national dynamic had changed, though the culture remained. 

 

What do you think of the political nature of the US Supreme Court? Let us know below.


[i]“Brett Kavanaugh’s Opening Statement: Full Transcript.” New York Times¸ September 26, 2018. Retrieved October 14, 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/us/politics/read-brett-kavanaughs-complete-opening-statement.html

[ii]Ehrlich, Walter. “The Origins of the Dred Scott Case,” The Journal of Negro History59 (April 1974):133

[iii]Scott v Sanford,60 US 393 at 393

[iv]John Mack; et al. Out of Many: A History of the American People(Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall, 2005) 388

John Tyler was the 10thPresident of the Unites States. He was born in 1790 and was American President from 1841 to 1845. Amazingly he still has two living grandchildren. Here, Casey Titus explains how this is possible - as well as considering Tyler’s legacy.

John Tyler in his later years.

John Tyler in his later years.

John Tyler was the first vice president lifted to the presidency on the death of the then president of the United States (he followed William Henry Harrison), and the first president to marry in the White House. Despite serving as the tenth President of the United States from 1841 to 1845, he has been ranked near the bottom of surveys, including the Rasmussen poll conducted in 2007 where John Tyler had lowest positive favorability.

 

John Tyler’s Presidency

He may have not been remembered today except for the untimely death of the ninth U.S. president, William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia just thirty-one days into his term. Despite Tyler being firmly resolute that he was the 10thPresident of the United States, his political opponents refused to accept him and fierce debate ensued about whether the phrasing of the U.S. Constitution meant that a vice president should become president upon the death of the incumbent, inheriting the title of President, its powers, and residency in the White House. His opponents argued that Tyler should merely fulfill the constitutionally-specified duties of the Executive Office while Congress guided the nation until the next presidential election and continued to address him as “Vice-President” or “Acting President.” Author Gary May in his 2008 biography of John Tyler referred to Tyler as the “Accidental President.” This ascendency to full presidential power would eventually direct such future successions and organize itself into the twenty-fifth amendment to the Constitution.

Tyler had aligned himself with the Whig Party and the enemy of the Democratic Party (Jacksonian Democracy sin particular), despite being a former affiliate. His downfall from the party was prompted by his strong stance on states’ rights and vetoing Henry Clay’s bills to establish a National Bank with branches in several states. All of his Cabinet members except the Secretary of State resigned. In 1842, Tyler vetoed a tariff bill and the first impeachment resolution against a President was introduced in the House of Representatives as a result. That same year, President Tyler did sign a tariff bill that protected northern manufacturers and ended a Canadian boundary dispute with the Webster-Ashburton treaty. In the final year of his term, Texas was annexed and Tyler left office in 1845 when Texas was on the cusp of entering the Union as a slave state. Tyler was an advocate of slavery’s expansion; the nation’s intense division over the issue of slavery would erupt into the Civil War.

 

A little known fact

Whether his presidency is regarded well or even widely known, possibly the most interesting fact about the 10thPresident of the United States, who was born in 1790, is that his two grandchildren are still living among us. How is that possible?

John Tyler married Letitia Christian in 1813 and fathered eight children. After Letitia died of a stroke in the White House in September 1842, the first First Lady to do so, President Tyler met and fell in love with Julia Gardiner who was 30 years his junior. After numerous attempts to woo her, Julia finally accepted his proposal and the first wedding in the White House was conducted in 1844. She bore him seven surviving children.

It is certainly remarkable that a man born in the 18thcentury and during George Washington’s first presidential term, and who died in the mid-19thcentury, has two grandsons alive today, more than a decade into the 21stcentury. Throughout early American history, it was not uncommon for women to die in childbirth or disease and their husbands to be left widowers with children to provide for. It was rare for men to be alone as they could not cope with running a household and establishing themselves financially at the same time so he would then marry another woman to be his wife and stepmother for his children in addition to any future children they might have together. It was also not unusual for widowers like Tyler, to wed women much younger than themselves. His youngest child with Julia, Pearl Tyler, was born in 1860, when Tyler was 70 years old, and even lived through World War II, dying in 1947. 

President Tyler’s 13thchild was Lyon Gardiner Tyler, a genealogist, historian, and the 17th president of the College of William and Mary. Lyon continued his father’s marriage tradition by having three children with his first wife, Anne Baker Tucker Tyler, and three more with his second wife, Sue Ruffin Tyler, who was thirty-five years his junior. After Anne’s death, he married Sue when he was nearly 70 years old. One of their three children died in infancy, but the other two, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, born in 1924 and 1928 respectively, are still with us.

 

The grandsons now

Harrison currently resides at Sherwood Forest Plantation – the historic Tyler family home in Virginia where President Tyler once lived. “Sherwood Forest” is named in recognition of Robin Hood whom Tyler relates with as a “political outlaw.” Visitors are still given tours. John Tyler’s presidency is regarded poorly due to its supposed lack of events and being overshadowed by an unexpected and awkward shift in power, but his descendants disagree. Harrison speaks fondly of his grandfather and stands by his presidential decisions. According to New York magazine’s Dan Amira: 

He’s been maligned in some ways, because he was elected to the Confederate Congress, so people say he’s a traitor. But actually, he should be known for his efforts as the organizer of the Peace Conference in Washington in 1861. He tried to get the uncommitted states to all agree on a program, and then get the other states to join in, and get everybody back together.

Harrison’s son, William Tyler, believes that his great-grandfather stood by his beliefs and the Constitution, and evaded tumultuous foreign policy bungles, describing it as “the things you really want a president to do.” Despite the family’s rich political history, both William and Harrison joked they don’t want to continue that ambition. “I know better,” William said in an interview with CBS News’s Chip Reid.

 

What do you think of John Tyler? Let us know below.

The US Civil War (1861-1865) changed America in many ways. With many men fighting in the war, one such change was the role of women in society. Here, Kaiya Rai considers the role of women in the Confederate States, including a look at feminine ideals at the time, Belle Boyd, and Mary Chestnut.

Mary Chestnut, author a well-known civil war diary.

Mary Chestnut, author a well-known civil war diary.

Women’s lives in the Confederacy were dramatically changed right from the breakout of war in April 1861. The very notion of womanhood underwent a transformation, as men were called up to fight in the army, and women from the upper-class were forced to look after slaves, women from the middle-class were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge, and women of the lower-class and widows gained social standing as a result. The idea of women having to takeover on the home front during a war is not a new one, but in the case of the American Civil War, this was an entirely new concept. Furthermore, women held no previous social standing. There was no growing suffrage movement as there was in World War One (WWI), it was the first time such an event had occurred, in contrast to World War Two (when many remembered WWI), and women from the upper reaches of society, did not generally have significant difficulties in their lives.

Much of the information gained about women in the Confederacy, and their changing identities, has come from the diaries that the majority of upper-class women wrote in. They provided a new way of self-discovery, as such writing required self-description as a result of self-understanding. Even when women began writing letters to officers, and even Jefferson Davis, it meant claiming a public voice, and so was incompatible with their definition and understanding of themselves as ‘women’.

 

Feminine ideals

The fragility of feminine ideals existing in the antebellum period appears to have served the women well, as it seems that ‘feminine weakness served as the foundation of female strength’ (Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War) in this case. Many women did what they could to play their part in the war, albeit covertly sometimes, as it wasn’t seen as being ‘feminine.’ Belle Boyd shooting the Union soldier entering her house is a key example of this; escaping punishment by claiming feminine fragility and fear was fundamental to the patriarchal nature of war. The hoop skirts that many upper-class women wore were used to hide jewelry, as they had no fear of being searched as women. This lack of threat is displayed in a Union soldier’s comment that ‘if she was a man I would whip her.’ The Nancy Hart regiment in La Grange, Georgia displayed a similar idea. When a Union regiment approached the town, the women-only regiment refused to back down, invited the soldiers in for tea and thus evaded the capture of the town! Elite women, in particular, hated the occupation of Confederate towns by Union soldiers, and were noted to have stepped in gutters to avoid passing Union soldiers on the pavement, and even wore thick veils to avoid eye contact with the officers! Students at a girl’s school in Georgia were recorded as emptying their chamber pots out of the windows onto soldiers’ heads, and Flag Officer Farragut was also subjected to this, in New Orleans. This hatred of the officers fuelled many women into action; despite their view of femininity, many wanted to play their part in forming a new nation and playing patriotic games against the country they believed had oppressed their ideals for so long.

However, their feminine helplessness has also been seen, to a large extent, to have been perpetrated by the women themselves. One of the first requirements for women in the Confederacy was as nurses and teachers, seen as traditionally female roles today, ironically! Yet, upon this call for help, many were writing to their husbands asking them to be forbidden to go. One woman even started addressing letters to her husband as ‘dear papa’ and ending them from your ‘daughter.’ Here, it seems that the patriarchy, whilst perhaps initiated by men, seems to have been upheld and continued by women. As McCurry noted that “no one, apparently, believed in women’s non-partisanship as fervently as the women themselves.” The need for protection was a big issue when men were called up to fight, and many made it a condition of them joining the war effort; they would do so, if the state could offer support for their families. 

 

Belle Boyd’s Role as a Spy

Belle Boyd, also known as ‘the Siren of the Shenandoah,’ was one woman who played a particularly noteworthy role for the Confederacy. A die-hard secessionist, she spied for the Confederacy during the Civil War and was able to use her role as an upper class ‘lady’ to cover her actions, and claim ignorance when needed. When she and her mother denied entry to some Union officers wanting to raise a Union flag over their house, and when one assaulted her mother as a result, Belle shot and killed the soldier, and became infamous as a result. Despite being a spy for the majority of the Civil War, the usefulness of her intelligence work is not nearly as significant as the symbolism of her doing the work itself. She informed General Jackson of the Union intentions to set fire to the bridges in Front Royal (Virginia) as they retreated, and also reported on Union action in the Shenandoah - these are considered by most as the only outcomes of her intelligence work to have had major effect. However, the uncertainty of women’s roles, especially upper-class women’s roles during the Civil War was hugely compounded by Boyd’s actions, and perhaps it can be argued that she represented an icon for the helpless Confederate woman. Their femininity was, to an extent, reliant on the view that women were husbands’ wives, not individuals in their own right. Boyd used this fragile need for women to her advantage, and many stories of her outrageous flirtations circled among Union and confederate officers alike. These, however, played an important role as Boyd identified in one diary entry, "I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and last, but not least, for a great deal of very important information.” The notion of womanhood as dependency on a man, and the objection, to some part, of women, that men perpetrated by bringing flowers and ‘remarkable effusion,’ actually allowed Boyd to gain all the information she needed to effectively spy on the Union for her cause.

Belle Boyd, a Confederate civil war spy.

Belle Boyd, a Confederate civil war spy.

Mary Chestnut as the more common female experience

Mary Chestnut conversely played the role of the conventional, helpless Confederate woman abandoned by her husband, but she held real devastation in this, and truly felt lost. Many women in the Confederacy had similar experiences to Chestnut, as they were left with a plantation and possibly hundreds of slaves to manage. There was also the constant fear of servile insurrection, aggravated by abolitionist John Brown’s raid in 1859 in which he wanted to start an armed slave revolt. Chestnut was the embodiment of women’s beliefs that, as Faust identifies, the feeling of ‘a new sense of God’s distance and disengagement combined with a distrust of the men on whom they had so long relied,’ and as such, the necessity of war that forced Confederate women to behave in new ways, became the driving force behind the changing of their identities. The lives of the confederate women, not having undergone the innovations of society that were occurring in the north, had been so focused on marriage and child-bearing, with their identities so tied up with visions of themselves as wives and mothers, that when war overturned these norms, it meant that their fundamental self-definition was altered. Moreover, their emotional relations and experiences were so fixed on privacies of heterosexual love that the countless examples of female homosexuality recorded in diaries, were not seen as anything other than close female friendship, probably in part because the identity of a woman was so ingrained as part of a larger patriarchal sphere.

Related to this is the renewed view of the identities of widows during the war. As a result of huge casualties, with 260,000 Confederate deaths at the end of the war, many women became widows, and this notion became romanticized as they were seen as having ‘loved and suffered’. Widows were seen as the settlers of ‘the rejuvenating club’ of women who became self-confident in themselves and eligible for a state pension of $30 per year, on certain conditions. This brought with it a sense of independence for many women, as they no longer had the choice of relying on a husband, and now owned money themselves, an opportunity which most would not have previously had. Widows therefore became essential for women all over the Confederacy, in questioning the very nature of being a woman, because women actively seeking romance redefined marriage conventions. The stereotype of the faithful, heartbroken wife, and therefore the assessment that women only lived for their husbands, was deconstructed, as they showed that they would continue to live their life even without a husband. To court and remarry was to assert a claim to happiness, preceding the self-abnegation and altruism expected from a woman.

 

To conclude

It can be seen that, as Faust argues, necessity may have been the ‘mother of invention’ for women in the Confederacy during the Civil War, as the romantic notions of war and patriotism had been replaced with a selfishness due to a need to survive. The women themselves could have also been the ‘mothers of invention’ themselves, though, and the women’s property law of 1860, embodied a new ‘vision of masculine irresponsibility’ (Lebsock), perhaps consequential of the new gender ideology introduced as a result of the Civil War.

 

What do you think about the role of women in the Confederacy during the US Civil War?

Politicians have a history of using fear to gain votes and win elections. Here, Jonathan Hennika (his site here), follows on from his first article on Scared America (here) and considers recent events in the US in the context of 19th century America. He explains how Chinese immigration to America, particularly to California, led to hostility and the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which would significantly reduce Chinese immigration.

A sketch on the ship  Alaska , bound for San Francisco, with many Chinese people aboard. Sketch from  Harper’s Weekly  in 1876. Available  here .

A sketch on the ship Alaska, bound for San Francisco, with many Chinese people aboard. Sketch from Harper’s Weekly in 1876. Available here.

Something unexpected happened as an outcome of the Watergate Scandal: Americans realized their leaders were merely human. When transcripts from the Oval Office tape recording system utilized by Nixon became available, the populace was shocked to hear their President say to his Chief of Staff: “You know, it's a funny thing. Every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. Whatthe Christ isthe matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists.”[i]

President Donald Trump has further demystified and possibly demoralized the Office of the President. In an Oval Office meeting with Congressional leaders, discussing protecting immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and some African nations, the President asked, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?"[ii]

Immediately upon taking office in January 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order[1]banning immigration from certain Middle East countries. The purpose of the Order was laid out in the first paragraph:

The visa-issuance process plays a crucial role in detecting individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States.  Perhaps in no instance was that more apparent than the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when State Department policy prevented consular officers from adequately scrutinizing the visa applications of several of the 19 foreign nationals who went on to murder nearly 3,000 Americans.  And while the visa-issuance process was reviewed and amended after the September 11 attacks to better detect would-be terrorists from receiving visas, these measures did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admittedto the United States.[iii]

 

According to a Fact Sheet issued by the State Department, “For the next 90 days, nearly all travelers, except U.S. citizens, traveling on passports from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen will be temporarily suspended from entry to the United States.”[iv]

Despite many legal challenges and additional Executive Orders issued by President Trump, some form of this travel ban remains in effect. Numerous raids by the aptly acronymic ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) have stormed businesses and stalked illegal immigrants at non-immigration related court hearings. No one is safe from deportation, including military veterans. 

These actions are just part and parcel of the American experience. Nor is this the first timethat our leaders enacted laws barring the immigrant population from becoming part of the American Narrative.  

 

RISE OF THE ‘YELLOW PERIL’

`They are coming to take our jobs,’ is an oft-repeated refrain when speaking of any significant numbers of want-to-be immigrants. From the Irish of the 1850s to the Latinos of the 1980s, and somewhere in between, there is the Chinese.  The 47thUnited States Congress has the ignominious distinction of being the first to codify discrimination based upon national origin.  The signature piece of legislation: The Immigration Act of 1882, historically referred to as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

In similar fashion to the Know Nothing Party, decades later in California,there was a political party with nativist roots. Founded in 1877, the California Workingman’s Party took control of the state legislature in 1878. In their session in Sacramento, they rewrote the State’s Constitution, disenfranchising the Chinese. In an address that same year, Denis Kearney, founder of the CWP, declared, the Chinese “are imported by companies, controlled as serfs, worked like slaves, and at last go back to China with all their earnings. They are in every place; theyseem to have no sex. Boys work, girls work; it is all aliketo them.” Kearney used inflammatory rhetoric, stating that “we shall arm” and “we are men, and propose to live like men in this free land, without the contamination of slave labor, or die like men, if need be, in asserting the rights of our race, our country, and our families.[v]

The Chinese first began emigrating to the western coast of the American continent after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1849. In the decade of the 1850s, over 40,000 Chinese immigrants entered the United States. In the next decade,that number increased to close to 65,000.[vi]A majority of that population settled in California. 

 

The Chinese Exclusion Act

When discussing the motivation of any group of immigrants, there are two factors: pull and push. Pull factors are the concepts, ideas,ormonetary reward for moving to a new nation. In this example, the California Gold Rush was the first pull factor for the Chinese. An additional pull factor was the plentiful jobs working on the construction of the first transcontinental railroad. By the early 1860s, in response to the rise of the Chinese immigrants, the State of California enacted legislation heavily taxing these cheap "coolie" laborers, the "Anti-Coolie” tax. 

 Push factors, on the other hand, are intolerable conditions in the native homeland of the immigrant group. The potato famine of the 1840s drove many Irish and Germans away from their ancestral homes. In the 1850s China was engulfed in the Taipei Rebellion, a quasi-religious Civil War that raged from 1850 until 1864. There are estimates that 20 to 30 million Chinese lost their lives during the Rebellion, not counting those that died due to disease and famine in the aftermath. The Taipei Rebellion served as a significant push factor in the Chinese immigration to the United States. 

Political pressure mounted on Congress to act on the immigration issue. California continued to place prohibitions on Chinese immigration, but it was not enough, a national solution was required.  On August 3, 1882, President Chester Arthur signed the Immigration Act into law. In bowing to the California pressure groups and the national labor movement, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred any additional skilled or unskilled labor from entering the country. There were exceptions for professional Chinese immigrants such as doctors and lawyers though. The Immigration Act of 1882 was modified in 1888 by the Scott Act, which stated any Chinese in the United States who returned toChina were no longer permitted re-entry intothe United States. Set to expire in 1892, Congress enacted the Geary Act, re-authorizing the Immigration Act of 1882, for ten years. In 1902 the Geary Act was renewed but did not set an expiration date. 

 

Judicial Discretion: Chae Chan Ping v United States, 130 US 581 (1889)

The judicial branch must make any test of law enacted by the legislative branch, in accordance withthe wishes of the Founders when they created the conceptual idea of a separation of powers. In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court declared the Chinese Exclusion Act constitutional.  The Plaintiffin the case was Chae Chan Ping, who challenged the validity of the Chinese Exclusion Act on the ground it violated the Treaty of Wangxia. Signed in 1844, the Treaty of Wangxia was the American equivalent of the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of Nanjing, which ended the First Opium War in China. The relevant section of the treaty guaranteed unlimited entry of Chinese to America. Writing for the majority, Justice Horace Grey stated, “The power of the government to exclude foreigners from the country whenever, in its judgment, the public interests require such exclusion, has been asserted in repeated instances, and never denied by the executive or legislative departments.” The justice questioned the legal standing of the Plaintiff. Concluding that “If there be any just ground of complaint on the part of China, it must be madeto the political department of our government, which is alone competent to act upon the subject.” [vii]

An analogy: The majority of the Supreme Court told Mr. Chae, “Sorry, sir, that’s not my department, let me see if I can find someone for you.” The Legislative Branch passed a law based upon the "threat" represented by the incoming Chinese. The Executive Branch, in all its 19thCentury feckless glory, signed the Bill into Law. The Judicial Branch, eight white men (Stephen J. Field, Joseph P. Bradley, John Harlan, Horace Gray, Samuel Blatchford, Melvin Fuller, David Brewer, Henry Brown, andLucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II), ratified the law.  The Chinese Exclusion Act finally ended in 1943, when the United States and China became wartime allies.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

You can read more of Jonathan’s work at Portable Historianwww.portablehistorian.com.


[1]An Executive Order is a rule or order issued by the President to the Executive Branch, bypassing the legislative branch, and having the full force and effect of law. 


[i]https://www.thoughtco.com/richard-nixon-quotes-2733879

[ii]Josh Dawsey.  “Trump Derides Protections for Immigrants From ‘Shithole’ Countries.” The Washington Post(January 2018) https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-attacks-protections-for-immigrants-from-shithole-countries-in-oval-office-meeting/2018/01/11/bfc0725c-f711-11e7-91af-31ac729add94_story.html?utm_term=.0abfecb37af0

[iii]President Trump. “Executive Order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/27/donald-trump-executive-order-immigration-full-text

[iv]Homeland Security. “Fact Sheet: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry to the United States.” (January 29, 2017) https://www.dhs.gov/news/2017/01/29/protecting-nation-foreign-terrorist-entry-united-states

[v]Dennis Kearney, President, and H. L. Knight, Secretary, “Appeal from California. The

Chinese Invasion. Workingmen’s Address,” Indianapolis Times, (28 February 1878).

[vi]Immigration to the United States, “History of Immigration, 1783-1891,” http://www.immigrationtounitedstates.org/549-history-of-immigration-1783-1891.html

[vii]CHAE CHAN PING v. the UNITED STATES 130 U.S. 581(9 S.Ct. 623, 32 L.Ed. 1068)https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/130/581

Legendary American Civil War-era nurse Clara Barton was extraordinary in many ways. Not only was she an important nurse in the US Civil War, she also played a key role in bringing the Red Cross to America. Here, Matt Goolsby follows his first ‘nurses in war’ article on Cornelia Hancock (available here) and tells us about the life of Clara Barton.

An engraving of Clara Barton from 1867. Engraving by John Sartain.

An engraving of Clara Barton from 1867. Engraving by John Sartain.

Humble Beginnings

The United States was a very agrarian based nation in the early part of the 19th century. Travel and communication were typically slow and arduous.

By the time of the Civil War, the northeast region of the U.S. was experiencing the growing pains of the Industrial Revolution that had started in England in the 1700s. Railroad lines were expanding at an exponential rate as the demand for goods transversed the entire region of the rapidly growing country.

Communication was also becoming a transcontinental medium to rapidly transmit information from one region to another through the use of telegraph lines. Newspapers began publishing stories next day instead of relying on couriers delivering accounts that took days if not weeks to send and receive.

One would assume that the rapidly expanding use of technology and industry would have affected how the medical profession cared for the sick, wounded, and dying soldiers who were the casualties of the Civil War during this time. In reality, it exposed the glaring weaknesses and woeful practices utilized in treatment that spawned a desire for improvement of those who were most vulnerable. Against this backdrop, a formidable leader and role model emerged.

Clarissa Harlowe Barton was born on Christmas Day, 1821 in North Oxford, Massachusetts to Captain Stephen Barton and his wife Sarah Stone. She was the youngest of five children: Dorothy - 17, Stephen - 15, David - 13, and Sally – 10 at the time.

Coming from very unpretentious beginnings, Clara as she was fondly known by, was a timid and shy child. Her elder brother David spent much time with Clara riding horses and enjoying the outdoors which helped to relieve some of the timidity she first felt.

The Barton home where Clara was born still exists to this day in its original location and is a museum to her life and testament to the simple yet solid foundations her family was known for.

The Barton family, whose beginnings can be traced back to 11thcentury England in the Domesday book, otherwise known as: ‘A great survey’ commissioned by William the Conqueror, shows that the family was awarded land due to their loyalty to king and country.

The Barton family in America first appears in 1640 in Salem, Massachusetts after Edward Barton emigrated from England as one of the early colonists. After several moves throughout New England, the Barton family finally settled in North Oxford, Massachusetts and took up daily living with their Universalist religious background.

Of particular note are the facts that Clara’s family established the first Universalist church in Oxford and ordained its first Pastor: Hosea Ballou who is considered one of the fathers of American Universalism. As described in the story of Clara’s life by Percy H. Elper: “Yet her father and mother, however liberal in their creed, never relaxed from the deepest habits of all that was best in Pilgrim and Puritan. No matter how snowy, no matter how the winds hurtled over the hilltops — the Barton family not only drove five miles to church every Sunday, but maintained, during the other six days of the week, the deeper fundamentals of conscience and honor peculiar to their forefathers' faith.”

 

Foundational Nurse Training

In 1832 Clara and her family experienced a significant medical crisis that helped form her future nursing skills and made clear the talent she innately possessed.

Her brother David was severely injured while working on a barn-raising when one of the boards he was standing on at the peak collapsed under him. He fell to the ground sustaining a severe head injury that laid him up in bed for nearly two years. 

Clara, perhaps from the closeness she felt to her brother while riding horseback in the woods, spent the entire recovery time caring for David. She also was the one who applied the prescribed treatments of the time for him that consisted of: Leeches, setons (stitches to relieve infection), counter-irritating blisters, and blood-letting to relieve his fever. She is quoted as saying: “For two years I only left his bedside for one half day. I almost forgot that there was an outside to the house.”

After David had finally recovered from his injuries, (when the new treatment of steam baths came into use), Clara had to sequester herself for recovery time from the care she had provided. At the tender age of 11, it was a portent of things to come.

 

Civil War Service

After spending 18 years teaching and then another 5 years living and working in Washington D.C. for the U.S. Department of the Interior and Patent Office, Clara saw firsthand what many of the men who were involved in the Civil War would experience through its long, arduous journey.

In April of 1861, the Massachusetts 6thregiment heeded the call of Abraham Lincoln for 75,000 troops and proceeded to make its way down to the nation’s capital. On their way they passed through Baltimore, Maryland where a crowd of 10,000 opponents of the beginning conflict assaulted them. This left four dead and 30 wounded.

They fought their way through the crowd and arrived in Washington the following day: April 16, 1861. Clara witnessed the regiment as they arrived by train and was there to greet them. 

This was the first time she had worked as a ‘Volunteer Nurse’ and experienced what would become her life’s mission to apply healing to those wounded in conflict. In her own words she testifies: "Among the soldiers, I recognized my own early associates. We bound their wounds, and fed them." There were many from Worcester, Massachusetts including Sergeant J. Stewart Brown and Joseph M. Dyson who she knew by name.

As the war progressed, Clara became acutely aware of the need for frontline care for the wounded and dying. Her desire to care for them put her in mortal danger numerous times. She writes of her time with the soldiers at Antietam in September of 1862: "We were in a slight hollow and all shell which did not break our guns in front, came directly among or over us, bursting above our heads or burying themselves in the hills beyond. A man lying upon the ground asked for a drink, I stopped to give it, and having raised him with my right hand, was holding him. Just at this moment a bullet sped its free and easy way between us, tearing a hole in my sleeve and found its way into his body. He fell back dead. There was no more to be done for him and I left him to his rest. I have never mended that hole in my sleeve. I wonder if a soldier ever does mend a bullet hole in his coat?”

These experiences as gleaned from her writings, demonstrate the conviction of purpose and character that she had developed since her time caring for her brother’s injuries.

There are several key traits of Clara’s personality that are apparent in both her writings and of those who knew her.

The first is that she was never interested in money, only in solving humanities ill fortunes. This is best described later as she would later become the founder of the American Red Cross and would petition the U.S. Government to have its purpose expanded as a humanitarian relief organization for natural disasters as well as their charter to aid the wounded, sick, and dying in war. 

The second trait that also is very apparent is her love for her fellow man and the ability to rise to the occasion when events merit it. I’m reminded fondly of Mother Teresa and her ministering to the poor, sick, and weak ‘untouchables’ of India who she cared for during most of her adult life.

Towards the end of the war Clara was recognized for her gallant service by being named the Superintendent of the Department of Nurses under Surgeon McCormack who was Chief Director of the Army of the James stationed at City Point, Virginia.

As was always the case with Clara, she never settled for comfort in the ‘safe’ zones, but wanted to be attending to the infirm on the frontlines. 

Her oldest brother Stephen would also become a victim of the war and perhaps one of her greatest motivations to fulfill her duty as a nurse.

Stephen Barton had been mistakenly identified as a Confederate by the Union due to his living in North Carolina and had been neglected for a long period until Clara got word of him being hospitalized in Washington D.C. By this time, his health had deteriorated beyond hope.

Not long before he passed away in 1865, she wrote of hearing one of his final, moving prayers: "Oh God, whose children we all are, look down with thine eye of justice and mercy upon this terrible conflict, and weaken the wrong, and strengthen the right till this unequal contest close. Oh God, save my country. Bless Abraham and his armies.” She also painted a vivid portrait of what the conditions of where he passed were: "And there under the guns of Richmond, amid the groans of the dying, in the shadows of the smoky rafters of an old negro hut, by the rude chimney where the dusky form of the bondsman had crouched for years, and on the ground, trodden hard by the foot of the slave, I knelt beside that rough couch of boards, and, to the patriot prayer that rose above, sobbed 'Amen.'”

 

American Red Cross Founder

For four years following the Civil War, Clara Barton helped find those men who were missing in action from the official records of the war’s dead. While still living in Washington D.C., she ran the Office of Missing Soldiers to identify those who were killed or missing in action to try to relieve the suffering of family and friends.

During this time, she met and befriended Susan B. Anthony as well as Frederick Douglas. These relationships would leave a lasting impression on her as she championed women’s suffrage and civil rights for the rest of her life.

The years of Civil War work for others had taken their toll on Clara. After seeing her doctor and following his orders to get rest and recuperation from her many travails, she decided to visit Europe in 1869. Her first visit was to Liverpool, England and then on to Paris. Her final stop was to be where her life’s calling was forever changed.

Arriving in Geneva, Switzerland for the end of her vacation period, she was visited by the president and members of the “International Committee for the Relief of the Wounded in the War”, which would later become the International Committee of the Red Cross. Since Clara had such an outstanding reputation even with the international community, she was asked why America didn’t honor the recently signed ‘Geneva Convention’ and why after such a conflict as theirs, they wouldn’t be interested in it? Her answer was simple: “I listened in silent wonder to all this recital, and when I did reply it was to say that I had never heard of the Convention of Geneva nor of the treaty, and was sure that as a country America did not know she had declined.”

Not long after she had arrived in Geneva, the Franco-Prussian war broke out. Clara was able to see first-hand how the Red Cross in Europe was operating and how it contrasted with her experiences in the Civil War: "As I journeyed on and saw the work of these Red Cross societies in the field, accomplishing in four months under their systematic organization what we failed to accomplish in four years without it — no mistakes, no needless suffering, no starving, no lack of care, no waste, no confusion, but order, plenty, cleanliness and comfort wherever that little flag made its way — a whole continent marshaled under the banner of the Red Cross — as I saw all this, and joined and worked in it, you will not wonder that I said to myself 'if I live to return to my country I will try to make my people understand the Red Cross and that treaty.' But I did more than resolve, I promised other nations I would do it, and other reasons pressed me to remember my promise.”

One is struck with the irony of Clara’s timing in situations where war breaks out. It seems that she was called for just a time as these.

In early 1871 the Franco-Prussian war ended, but the battles continued throughout both Germany and France until the late summer of the same year. Clara stayed through this entire time ministering to the sick, treating the wounded, establishing clothiers who would fashion garments for the poorest, and soliciting funds from aristocratic donors who included Grand Duchess Louise of Baden, Kingdom of Prussia. Her willingness to befriend any class of person is another testament to her savviness and skill.

By 1874 Clara was worn out from her time in Europe and lack of recuperation. She was no stranger to loss having found out that her sister Sally had died before she could see her one final time in Worcester. Her only remaining relative in her family circle was her brother David whom she had nursed back to health as a child.

She spent several more years convalescing and writing friends, family, and officials of her intentions to establish the American Red Cross. With great perseverance, she was finally successful in 1881 with President James Garfield’s administration and it was established. An assassin’s bullet struck down the President and delayed the formal establishment of the association while the nation mourned for 80 days. 

Finally, in 1882, the Red Cross was formally established with ratification by Congress and the signing of the Geneva Convention by President Chester Arthur. Its role had expanded from not just treating the wounded and dying from war, but also those who experienced natural disasters.

At a convention of the International Red Cross in Geneva during 1882, the President of the International organization gave Clara the credit for the new American branch: "Its whole history is associated with a name already known to you — that of Miss Clara Barton; without the energy and perseverance of this remarkable woman, we should not for a long time have had the pleasure of seeing the Red Cross received into the United States."

Clara would serve as the President of the American Red Cross until June, 1904. Her tasks of running the organization along with doing fieldwork are unheard of in this day and age. 

As the years went by, Clara would write her autobiography titled: ‘The Story of My Childhood’. But the Clara Barton that I read about was gleaned from the book titled: ‘The Life of Clara Barton’, by Percy Elper who was the only authorized biographer of her life by the family. He used her unpublished war diaries, letters, eyewitness accounts, and conversations to write a truly compelling picture of this unique lady. 

Clara died in her home in 1912 at the age of 90. Her stature and legacy on American society have had a tremendous impact on so many people. We have much to learn from her compassionate and caring nature for those in need.

 

What do you think of Clara Barton? Let us know below.

References

Percy H. Epler, “The Life of Clara Barton”, The Macmillan Company, New York, July 1915.

 “Evolution of the Railroad”, https://www.history.com/topics/industrial-revolution/videos/evolution-of-railroads

“Nursing History – Clara Barton”, 

https://www.redcross.org/content/dam/redcross/enterprise-assets/about-us/history/history-clara-barton-v3.pdf

“Biography of Mother Teresa”, https://www.biography.com/people/mother-teresa-9504160

“The Domesday Book”, http://www.domesdaybook.co.uk/

“Clara Barton – Library of Congress”, https://www.loc.gov/item/2018651854/

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Politicians have a history of using fear to gain votes and win elections. Here, Jonathan Hennika (his site here), considers recent events in the US in the context of 19th century America. He explains how immigrants from Ireland and Germany led to fear and the rise of the American Party – or Know Nothing Movement.

An image representing the American Know Nothing Movement. 1850s.

An image representing the American Know Nothing Movement. 1850s.

In 1958 for three-bits you were able to purchase "Masters of Deceit" by J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The book is currently available at various booksellers and online. In explaining Communist Discipline, he wrote, "Modern-day communism, in all its many ramifications, simply cannot be understood without a knowledge of Communist Discipline: how it is engendered, how it operates, how it tears out man's soul and makes him a tool of the Party.”[i]After defeating the Axis powers in the catastrophic war, a new/old threat emerged, Red Communism. The era of bomb shelters and duck and cover, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, McCarthy and Nixon, and Alger Hiss and the Pumpkin Papers. Korea ended in a stalemate, and something was brewing with the French in Indo-China. Americans were afraid.

According to J. Edgar Hoover, this was the threat America faced, "To make the United States a communist nation is the ambition of every Party member, regardless of position or rank. He constantly works to make this dream a reality, to steal your rights, liberties, and property. Even though he lives in the United States, he is a supporter of a foreign power, espousing an alien line of thought. He is a conspirator against his country."[ii]

Many questions surround the legitimacy of the 2016 elections and the current political climate in America. Regardless, we are still a scared nation, whether it be from a terrorist attack, a mass shooting, or just everyday life in poverty-stricken America. When we vote, that fear is present. We elect leaders whom we believe will take care of us. In the television show The West Wing, the character of Josh Lyman explains to an aide how the electorate makes their choice at the polls: “When voters want a national daddy, someone to be tough and strong and defend the country, they vote Republican. When they want a mommy, someone to give them jobs, health care the policy equivalent of matzah ball soup, they vote Democratic.”[iii] Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst studied the impact of fear and anger in political information processing.[iv] They found “feelings of anger may promote voting for candidates who are well recognized, regardless of their beliefs on issues. However, fear may encourage individuals to vote for candidates whose positions on specific issues are congruent with their own, thus leading to more thoughtful, meaningful, and self-relevant choices.”[v]

At the height of the 2016 election cycle, Time magazine’s political correspondent, Molly Ball, published an article in The Atlantic. The title of her article: “Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear.”[vi] In it, she wrote: Fear and anger are often cited in tandem as the sources of Trump's particular political appeal, so frequently paired that they become a refrain: fear-and-anger, anger-and-fear. But fear is not the same as anger; it is a unique political force. Its ebbs and flows through American political history have pulled on elections, reordering and destabilizing the electoral landscape.”[vii]

It is with that premise in mind that I plan to write on the use of fear in politics, in particular, the “fear of the other.” The other being whomever the politicians need to target to arouse fear and anger. I will work through this examination in chronological order; examining various political campaigns, parties, and movements for their use of fear and treatment of the other. I will demonstrate how the use of fear impacts the electorate.

 

The First Immigration Crisis: The Irish and Emergence of the Know-Nothing Party

Most Americans recognize the words of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Patriarchal language aside, this was a fundamental tenet of the Founding Fathers. In contrast, thirteen years later, these same founders indicated that an African-American was 3/5th a person, for purposes of the decennial census.

This American Narrative, a nation founded on the principles of freedom and equality, was accepted as truth. The narrative makes false assumptions, using an English and Protestant-centric view. The everyday use of the English language as an amalgamating societal force aided the growth of the narrative. Enacting its first Naturalization Act in 1790, the United States accepted any white person into its citizenry. Estimates are that between 1790 and 1805 immigration to the United States averaged 6,000 new citizens a year. The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 tampered down new influxes of Americans. The first rise in immigration began in 1815, leading the Congress to enact the Steerage Act, in 1819, requiring all ships to keep detailed records of passengers and offer better transportation conditions.[viii]

Immigration to America peaked in 1854 at 428,000, with Irish and Germans escaping adverse agricultural conditions. [ix] For these immigrants, their first views of America were the port cities they disembarked from. The first test of the American Narrative began in that time and place. "In the communities where the new Irish Catholic immigrants settled, many wondered whether their presence would affect American cultural identity. Natives also expressed fears and doubts regarding the allegiance of this group to American democratic values and institutions. Finally, they feared that these newcomers were being manipulated by corrupt city politicians, who were more concerned about votes than inculcating the principles of democracy in the new immigrants." [x]

 

The Order of United Americans/Know-Nothing Party

Thomas R. Whitney, son of a New York silversmith, is a little-known name to most Americans. A politician and a journalist, Whitney was a moving force in the Order of United Americans (OUA), a nativist fraternity. Founded in 1846, the OUA, was an amalgam of former Whigs, Free-soilers, and nativists who opposed slavery and were concerned with the growing power of the foreign-born. Initially, a secret society (members were instructed to answer that they knew nothing about the organization if questioned), by the early 1850s knowledge of them was common. Whitney served as editor starting in 1851 of the Republic, “a monthly magazine of American Literature, Politics, and Art that the rapidly expanding OUA initiated, sponsored, and distributed. Whitney's standing in the OUA was confirmed in 1853 when he began a second term as grand sachem. In 1856 Whitney crowned his writing career with the publication of a nearly four-hundred-page Know-Nothing bible, A Defence of the American Policy." [xi]

Economic development, a homogeneous national culture, active government, and opposition to the burgeoning women's rights movement was at the heart of OUA beliefs. The nuclear family was essential and required female and filial subordination. An active government was committed to economic and cultural development. It did not offer legislation attacking societal inequality. Whitney opposed maximum hours laws, public aid to the elderly, as well as a homestead bill that proposed to grant federal lands to those without. "Government’s proper task, Whitney argued, was to shore up the foundations of existing society, serve its needs, and advance its general interests."[xii]

To Whitney and the rest of the OUA, foreign-born nationals were not reliable conservatives and would not support the American Narrative. The OUA was threatened by the new peasants, craft workers, and unskilled laborers emigrating to the United States. They did not have the proper political experience. They had the wrong acculturation. The threat to the United States came in two forms: Roman Catholics and Radicals.

 

IRISH NEED NOT APPLY

According to the Library of Congress, nearing one-third of those immigrating to the United States between 1830 and 1860 were Irish Catholics.[xiii]

An Anti-Catholic fervor swept the nation. One conspiracy theory postulated the Catholic Church was behind the influx of Irish. The Irish also represented a greater fear for the OUA; they did not own property, so they were corruptible, irresponsible, and ignorant. The OUA used propaganda that the Irish were uneducated, politically unaware and easy to manipulate to attract men (i.e.voters) to the OUA. Voters were scared that the corruptible immigrants would prevent "good men" from governing. [xiv]

There was also a fear of radicalism, as Europe was undergoing its transformation in the 1840s. A riot between striking Irish dock workers and strikebreakers exemplified this radicalism. The political upheaval of 1848 added to the fear of newly arrived citizens. Some of the radical ideas were coming out of Germany; thus German emigres were marked as targets. In speaking of these working-class immigrants, Whitney said they were "carriers of a deadly plague--Red Republicanism." [xv]

The political wing of the OUA, the American Party, had strong showings in the elections of 1852 and 1854. The American Party drew most of its support from New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. The 1855 Congressional session started with 43 members of the American Party. Their candidate for President in 1856 won 21% of the vote.[xvi]

The leaders of the American Party were men who had never voted and defectors of the Whig Party. They promised to take power away from the political machines, to "drain the swamp," as it were. They proposed a direct primary voting system and required candidates for office to be "fresh from the people-not professional, no politicians." As a result, most, American Party candidates were inexperienced and incompetent.[xvii]

America, then as in now, was a nation in crises. The people, the voters, were scared. There were more Irish, Germans, and other Europeans coming to America. The revolts in Europe in 1848 added to the influx. The uneducated immigrants added to the population of the emerging cities. Soon, ghettos would appear. As the towns grew so did their political machines. These events added up to a threat against the traditional American narrative cherished by Thomas Whitney and others like him. They seized upon the inherent fear of the other in trying to preserve the American Narrative, never knowing they were altering it by their use of fear.

To be continued.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

You can read more of Jonathan’s work at Portable Historianwww.portablehistorian.com.

 

[i] J. Edgar Hoover, Masters of Deceit, (NY, 1958), 163

[ii] Ibid., 4

[iii]  Elie Attie, “The Mommy Problem,” The West Wing, (2005) https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/view_episode_scripts.php?tv-show=the-west-wing&episode=s07e02

[iv] Michael T. Parker and Linda M. Isbell, “How I Vote Depends on How I Feel: The Differential Impact of Anger and Fear on Political Information Processing,” Psychological Science, 21 (April 2010), 548.

[v] Ibid., 549

[vi] Molly Ball, “Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear,” The Atlantic, September 2, 2016, 1.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] The Statute of Liberty- Elis Island, "Immigration Timeline," https://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/immigration-timeline#1790

[ix] Raymond L. Cohn, "Nativism and the End of the Mass Migration of the 1840s and 1850s," The Journal of Economic History, 60 (June 01), 361.

[x] Jose E. Vega, "Cultural Pluralism and American Identity: A Response to Foner's Freedom and Hakim's Heroes," OAH Magazine of History, 20 (July 2006), 19.

[xi] Bruce Levine, "Conservatism, Nativism, and Slavery: Thomas R. Whitney and the Origins of the Know-Nothing Party," The Journal of American History, (Sept 2001), 461-463.

[xii] Ibid. 464-466

[xiii] https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/irish2.html

[xiv] Levine, 468

[xv] Ibid., 469

[xvi] Encyclopedia Britannica, "Know-Nothing Party," https://www.britannica.com/topic/Know-Nothing-party; Michael F. Hot, "The Politics of Impatience: The Origins of Know-Nothingism," The Journal of American History, 60 (September 1973) 311.

[xvii] Ibid., 311, 318,319

Cornelia Hancock was born in 1840, and by 1863 she was ready to help look after the sick in the US Civil War. Here, Matt Goolsby explains how Cornelia broke boundaries and helped many people during the Civil War and after.

20180812 Cornelia_Hancock_civil_war_nurse.jpg

From Quaker to Volunteer Nurse

Life in mid-nineteenth century America was vastly different to today. The news was relayed either by messenger via horseback, by train, or over telegraph wires. The northern states had more than 90% of the established infrastructure of the day versus the paltry facilities of the South.

Unsurprisingly, there was a heightened interest in news of the Civil War and especially of the battle of Gettysburg since the nation’s sons were involved.

Pennsylvania took center stage in July of 1863.

Driven by a desire to fulfill her life’s purpose, Cornelia Hancock knew that she needed to be involved.

Cornelia Hancock came from a very unassuming Quaker family. She had been born on February 8, 1840, at Hancock’s Bridge in Salem, New Jersey. Many Quakers had fled England due to religious persecution and had wanted only to live a quiet life and practice their religion. Their unique lifestyle even caused persecution to occur in early New England history, but had subsided with the Tolerance Act of 1689.

The Hancock family had abolitionist leanings due to their Quaker principles and believed that the nationwide conflict was just. Personally affected, Cornelia’s brother had enlisted in the Union Army, which motivated her to help in some significant way.

Cornelia’s older sister had been employed at the US mint in Philadelphia and later married a Quaker doctor named, Henry T. Child, also from Philadelphia, who felt strongly about caring for wounded soldiers.

Dr. Child knew of Cornelia’s desire to get involved and so requested she travel to Gettysburg to help relieve some of the pain the wounded and dying were going through.

Her arrival in Gettysburg established her role as a ‘Volunteer’ nurse as most of the nurses or assistants of the day had no formal medical training. Nurses of the day were called ‘Volunteer’ and were recruited as plain women over the age of thirty-five who were required to wear unassuming and non-adorning apparel. They were also instructed to wear nothing in their hair and forego jewelry so as not to be a distraction and to also not become a victim of men’s advances. This had been outlined by Dorothea Dix, the Army Superintendent of Nurses. Cornelia spurned these requirements being only 23 at the time and proceeded with grim determination. She made it to the battle site on July 6, 1863 to ghastly conditions.

Most of the dead had remained on the battlefield in the blistering summer sun for three days after the battle ended. This caused the bodies to quickly decompose, which created an unbearable stench that hang heavy in the air.

After losing the battle, Robert E Lee had fled the Union Army with his forces leaving 5000 of his Confederate troops behind. This only added to the misery experienced after the conflict ended.

Upon entering 3rd Division, 2nd Corps Field Hospital on July 7, 1863, Cornelia wrote that the wounded had been separated into differing levels of triage: those who had severe head wounds and were deemed ‘hopeless’, those who had a slim chance of survival, and those who were recovering. Her first official duties were to write down last requests to family members from those too weak to do it themselves who would soon become the ‘beloved dead’.

 

From Volunteer Nurse to Caregiver

As Cornelia quickly matured in her work at the Field Hospitals, she became a strong advocate for the men in her care. There were severe shortages of basic supplies, especially bedding and bandages. Her writings reflect the desire to meet these basic needs as she solicited family and friends for funds to procure what was essential for the care of the wounded.

The amazing aspect of Cornelia’s personality that comes out in her writings is that she was truly moved by the misery surrounding her and yet the sadness of the situation never seemed to paralyze her to the needs of others. These experiences would refine as well as clarify what her future life’s work would become.

As the war progressed and the suffering continued, she would jokingly refer to the ‘Copperheads’ as being worthy of death because of the lack of support they gave to the Union cause. This coming from a nurse who saw the best and worst in humanity shows the paradox of the experience of war and life itself. 

‘Copperhead’ was the term given to a group of Union Democrat politicians who were vociferous in their criticism of the war and wanted an immediate truce with the Confederates of the Southern United States. It was given to them by Republicans who likened them to a snake of the same name. Not an endearing term or moniker.

Another aspect of Cornelia’s personality that comes out is the love of her family and yet, in the resistance to become what they would have preferred. She had been raised with loving but strict Quaker principles. Her family would have preferred she take a more ‘prudent’ direction with her life. However, she chose to care for those who she felt needed her most. This is very evident in her letters.

One such letter shows the depth of compassion she has for both the wounded and their families and friends: “I have eight wall tents of amputated men. The tents of the wounded I look right out on - it is a melancholy sight, but you have no idea how soon one gets used to it. Their screams of agony do not make as much an impression on me now as the reading of this letter will on you. The most painful task we have here, is entertaining the friends who come from home and see their friends all mangled up”, written Sunday, July 26th, 1863 at 3rd Division-2nd Army Corp Hospital, Gettysburg, PA.

Cornelia had the innate ability to see the greater purpose in her service to others. Her desire to provide for the physical needs of the men as well as their emotional comfort is on plain display in many of her letters. When she speaks of men who are about to die from mortal wounds to those who would cry because they were being transferred to another hospital away from her care, you can hear her compassion and empathy for them.

 

From Caregiver to Lifelong Advocate

In the final two years of the Civil War, Cornelia spent her time moving to different locations as the need arose. During the latter part of October, 1863, she moved from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. to care for the ‘Contraband’.

The escaped slaves or those who sided with the Union Army during the Civil War were referred to as ‘Contrabands’. Cornelia also used the term in her letters to describe the families of those who had also escaped with them.

Conditions for those termed ‘Contraband’, were dismal at best. It was after witnessing the effects of slavery and poverty that she felt strongly that something had to be done to improve their lives.

Her first efforts were to solicit family for funds to purchase clothing for those who were the poorest of the poor. She also witnessed firsthand the brutal effects of what many a slaveowner had wielded on their slaves.

One such situation occurred when she described two slaves to her mother in a letter dated, November 15th, 1863, Contraband Hospital, Washington D.C.: “There were two very fine looking slaves arrived here from Louisiana, one of them had his master’s name branded on his forehead, and with him he brought all the instruments of torture that he wore at different times during 39 years of very hard slavery.” 

She goes on to describe the heinous instruments used to keep slaves from comfort and freedom. These experiences along with her witnessing what the ‘Contraband’ had for food and clothing only solidified her resolve to do what she could for the least of these, her brethren.

As the war continued, Cornelia would transfer to several different locations. They included: Brandy Station and Fredericksburg, Virginia, White House Landing, City Point, Virginia, and finally to where the war ended: Richmond, Virginia.

After the war ended, Cornelia spent the next ten years in which she established the Laing School in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina whose mission was to educate former slaves and to inspire them to become good citizens through high ideals.

The remainder of Cornelia’s life was spent working on behalf of the poor and ministering to those who had no advocate. Her strength of character and purpose is demonstrated in the many letters written to family that document her experiences at Gettysburg and throughout the American experience during the Civil War. She was and continues to be a national treasure.

 

What do you think of the article? Let us know below.

Finally, the next article in the series is on Clara Barton, another US Civil War-era nurse. Clara Barton also played a key role in the formation of the American Red Cross - article available here.

References

Henrietta Stratton Jaquette - Editor, “Letters of a Civil War Nurse: Cornelia Hancock 1863-1865”, University of Nebraska Press, 1998, Foreword and 1-32.

“News and the Civil War”, http://americanantiquarian.org/earlyamericannewsmedia/exhibits/show/news-and-the-civil-war

“Cornelia Hancock – National Park Service”, https://www.nps.gov/people/cornelia-hancock.htm

“Definition of Copperhead (Politician)”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copperhead_(politics)

“Definition of Contraband (American Civil War)”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contraband_(American_Civil_War)

“Definition of Quakers”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quakers

“Laing School – Mount Pleasant, South Carolina”, http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/laing-school/

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones