general history


My birthday was on Monday, and so I am now the proud owner of two DVD Box sets. The First, given by my girlfriend was Band of Brothers, the World War II HBO miniseries that was made a few years ago and is always shown on veterans and Memorial Day. The second was procured with help from my mother. She gave me a check, which equaled the Civil War Ken Burns documentary.

I realize that I may love history more than most do. And I have often thought that maybe I should go back to school and get a degree in history. And I may do so. I’ve been researching how much it would cost and what schools I should go to and if my already present degree would eliminate the unnecessary courses like science and math. Or if it would be possible for me to take some kind of test in which I could be placed in an advanced class or maybe just audit enough for me to get the degree without having to be admitted to a four-year school. Because I think I would love a history degree for many reasons.

I’ve been tooling around with a book idea, which I plan to first publish here for the sake of just getting my thoughts out there. The title I have come up with is “Thoughts on the Government of the United States of America” based on John Adams Thoughts on Government, and Thomas Jefferson’s Thoughts on the Stet of Virginia. Plus a bunch of anarchist doctrine from Thomas Paine.

But while thinking of all this, I thought about what would have happened if Jefferson had gone with the original John Locke phrase “Life, Liberty, and Property” as apposed to paraphrasing the “Life Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” phrase he got from George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights in which he stated that “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights of which…[they cannot divest;] namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety…”

I wonder if Jefferson just said property as apposed to the pursuit of happiness whether or not we would have had the Civil War. Slavery would than be arguably protected by the declaration of independence and would have been argued more fiercely at the constitutional convention and argued into law. Thank god Jefferson didn’t want to plagiarize, just paraphrase…

One of the key arguments I have heard as to why Barack Obama should not be president has been his lack of experience. But what I find so odd is the idea that any one has experience at being president. Out of our first five presidents, one had experience leading men. Washington was a General, Adams lead committees in congress and was a third of the diplomatic team in Europe, Jefferson was a farmer, architect, scientist, writer, lover, jerk, and a horrible wartime governor of Virginia. Madison was a congressmen and writer, Monroe was the same. None of these men, with the exception of Washington had significant experience leading men. Or any before the country’s creation.

But another example sticks out in my mind, which I think is more relevant towards the experience question.

There was a man from Illinois who was awkward, considered two-faced, and only served 2 years on the national level as a lame-duck one-term congressman who could not win re-election. He retired from politics until a major political and social issue arose and required, in this man’s mind, a sudden and determined change. The issue was Slavery, the man Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln can arguably be called our greatest president.

Now, I have no idea what kind of president Obama would be. I haven’t even made a choice on whom I’m voting for, but I will say this, the people currently with the greatest resumes are Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. And look at the good job they’re doing….

[not: I worte this post about a month ago, and didn’t finish it, because i became to busy. so i apologize for my lack of posts, and now the sudden surplus.]

I just cme back from my Family reunion in Missouri, and we went through Potosi. And thus the story of Moses Austin.

Wikipedia says:
“Moses Austin (October 4, 1761 – June 10, 1821) was a leading figure in the development of the American lead industry and the father of Stephen F. Austin, a pioneer settler of Texas. He was the first to obtain permission for Anglo Americans to settle in Spanish Texas. He also established the first Anglo-American settlement west of the Mississippi River.”

He also created the town of Herculanium, Missouri, helped build and create the Lead mining industry in Missuori, and created Washington County, with Potosi as the county seat.

He was a major figure in the American settlement of Missuori and Texas. and without him (as i see it) i wold probably not be alive.

My mother was born in Missouri and raised in a small town named Flat River, Missouri. Without Austin, Missouri would have been settled in a vastly different way, and my ancestors, who were drawn to the lead mining industry would never have arrived, met, fell in love, married, had children, and thus my family line would not have been…or maybe it would and I am being overly dramatic, but still…Moses Austin.

I’ve been reading Don’t Know Much About History, which is a question-and-answer style approach to American history that is largely essential facts and trivia. It’s entertaining. This morning, I read a section on the Gilded Age, a time when every branch of the government was pro-business and a small group of men became very rich while the rest of the country was stagnant or losing ground.

Sound familiar?

This was the late-19th century era of JP Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Boss Tweed. The Captain of Industry, be it the railroads, steel, or oil, made money hand over fist while the rest of America struggled through periodic depressions. From PBS:

While the rich wore diamonds, many wore rags. In 1890, 11 million of the nation’s 12 million families earned less than $1200 per year; of this group, the average annual income was $380, well below the poverty line. Rural Americans and new immigrants crowded into urban areas. Tenements spread across city landscapes, teeming with crime and filth. Americans had sewing machines, phonographs, skyscrapers, and even electric lights, yet most people labored in the shadow of poverty…

For immediate relief, the urban poor often turned to political machines. During the first years of the Gilded Age, Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall provided more services to the poor than any city government before it, although far more money went into Tweed’s own pocket. Corruption extended to the highest levels of government.

It’s an interesting cycle. Industrialists exploit the working class to produce a lot for as little cost as possible, and the working class in turn seeks help and support from the people in power who are supported by the industrialists. It means a lot of money goes into the pockets of a few men while everyone else suffers, but the people still look to their leaders for help. Corruption breeds in these environments; Tammany Hall and the New York political machine prospered in this time by promising to help the people and thus influenced the common people to do the bidding of the big bosses.

Um. Sound familiar? It seems to me that there are obvious parallels between this era and today, although the Gilded Age is carried to an extreme. Or is it? A largely pro-business government today keeps the minimum wage low and sacrifices the environment to the benefit of industry, and the top 1% of the American population gets richer while the cost of living is outpacing wage growth for the rest of us.

This, boys and girls, is called plutocracy.

The good news is that the poverty and oppression in the 19th century bred the populist and progressive moment. So we can still hope.

Some links:
Gilded Age from American Experience: Andrew Carnegie
The Gilded Age at Digital History
Robber Barons at Wikipedia
Populism at Missouri State.
Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive Era at Historical Text Archive

Sam the EagleOn last night’s Countdown, Keith Olbermann reported that bald eagles are no longer endangered, and provided some of the history on our national bird, including the fact that Franklin considered the eagle to be a bird of questionable moral character, hence his promotion of the morally upstanding turkey as national bird. Instead, the president just gets to pardon a turkey every Thanksgiving. And sometimes also in July.

On July 3, 1826, Thomas Jefferson slipped into a coma. He last words were, “is it the fourth?” Jefferson died the next day, July 4, 1826, 50 years after that fateful day in 1776 that made him famous and wrote that hollowed document that changed America and the World.

On that same day in Quincy, MA, John Adams slumped into his reading chair and died. His last words are quoted as “Thomas Jefferson Survives.”

50 years before this, the two men combined their talents and formed a friendship that helped bring about the American Revolution and our independence. That bond was solidified in 1785, when Jefferson and Adams were both presented to King George III, and George turned his back to them. Neither man forgot the incident, nor did they forget who was standing by their side.

Their friendship went through harsh times during the party wars of post-Washington politics. (I refer to the person, not the place here.)

Jefferson’s epitaph read:
HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

There as no mention of his presidency, a time in his life he most hated.

Adams was the longest living person to hold both the highest offices in the land. He was 90 when he died. And until Ronald Regan broken his record in 1981, he was the oldest president to be elected.

A skull was found in Peru that is the oldest skull of a native killed by a European bullet found to date. It comes from the early part of a period in which 80% of the Inca died; this skull specifically dates to a few years after the arrival of Francisco Pizarro.

The skull may also be significant as part of a movement to write this history from the perspective of the losers. History is, after all, written by the victors. This skull, however, may belong to a victim who was part of the Siege of Lima, an Inca uprising.