For Constitution Day, a few days late

Or, what our dissenting soldiers might have thought of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

In Philadelphia that September, President Washington joined many signers of the Declaration of Independence to discuss revision of the Articles of Confederation, the document governing the way the country was put together. Many came with ideas: James Madison had drafted a “Virginia Plan” which contained a bill of rights, to spell out what was contained in “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”

By then. Pennsylvanian Jacob Ritter was a busy shoemaker/preacher, converting others to the Society of Friends while traveling to sell his shoes to southern Quakers. Matthew Lyon was representing Vermont in Congress, publishing Federalist newspapers. Daniel Shays had built a fortified village in Vermont for his family, and was in touch with Regulators back home (Alas, no one has turned up any records of interaction between Lyon and his accidental neighbor.). All three, one we can be reasonably sure, followed the Convention as it was reported in the newspapers — perhaps even in Lyon’s own  Fair Haven Gazette.

Ritter, Shays and Lyon likely noticed, if too politic to mention, how few of the 55 delegates had themselves been soldiers on the front lines; Lyon certainly noticed  his soon-enemy John Adams and his well-known medical militia waivers. There were storied generals, between Commander-in-chief Washington, Pennsylvania’s John Armstrong Sr. and Jr, and Pierce Butler, who’d mobilized southern patriots to retake Charleston from the British. But to find any of lower ranks, one must dig into the fine print of delegates’ biographies, e.g.  Connecticut’s Thomas Mifflin, Army Quartermaster General until 1780.  This was a gathering of politicians and intellectuals, from Alexander Hamilton to Benjamin Franklin.  Delegates were bankers, landowners, owners of small factories; some were slave-owners.

Among delegates’ few truly shared beliefs was that they did not want to put soldiers in charge. Indeed, very few topics consumed the convention more than that of how to simultaneously defend the new nation and avoid oppressive standing armies like those of the empire.  Lyon and Shays, having started as militiamen and small farmers, were likely cheered as the Second Amendment affirmed a “well-regulated militia” as the country’s the principal defender, and set some guidelines for those militias’ future.

But where in that scheme were the likes of Jacob Ritter, or the Quakers young Colonel Washington had admired, or other doves in uniform? “This was called the land of liberty, and yet we are going to make a respectable class of citizens pay for a right to a free exercise of their religious principles?” asked delegate Aedanus Burke, a South Carolina judge deeply affected by his own militia service.

The writers of the Constitution listened, at least at first. James Madison’s first draft of the Second Amendment contained explicit language to protect the rights of conscience: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, a well-armed and well-regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.” This “conscience clause” survived weeks of negotiations before it was jettisoned, its implied national jurisdiction over state militias unacceptable to many Southern legislators already angered by the Quakers’ explicit anti-slavery position.

Even Burke, the pacifists’ unlikely ally, said of the Friends’ antislavery petitions: “it gives particular umbrage that the Quakers should be so busy in this business. That they will raise up a great storm against themselves appears…very certain.” The centuries to come would not contradict him.

Quakers were among the interests represented at the state conventions then convened to discuss the new constitution. Their sessions were notoriously brutal, from Vermont to Virginia. Lyon covered in his Federalist newspaper the proceedings of that of his home state. Daniel Shays, still a fugitive, was also in Vermont, in the fortified village he’d built for his family, but some of his fellow regulators were aggressive participants the Massachusetts convention. On February 3, 1788, Madison wrote to Washington that “We have in the Convention 18 or 20 who were actually in Shay’s army,” naming them among the “three parties opposed to it—1. all men who are in favour of paper money & tender laws; those are more or less in every part of the State. 2. all the late insurgents & their abettors. In the three great western Counties [the insurgents] are very numerous.”[1]

Then John Hancock, recently elected governor of Massachusetts, brokered the “Massachusetts Compromise”, in which the bill of rights drafted by Madison was explicitly added to the published Constitution. Hancock was also in the process of negotiating a pardon for Daniel Shays, which became final in 1788.[2] No explicit mention was made, in either the Compromise or the pardon, of Shays’ possible role in the nation’s Constitution.

While Shays got to go back home and congratulate his peers on their victory, Matthew Lyon was about to test that constitution’s boundaries, even if it was from a jail cell.

 

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No #47traitors here;The Logan Act’s namesake just wanted peace with France

If you’ve been following national politics some, you may have heard, from both the left and the right, people naming the “Logan Act” as a way to penalize those Republican senators who sent a letter to Tehran behind Obama’s back. This isn’t the site for it, so I’ll leave it to Charlie Pierce to  explain the atrocity.

What I can do, however, is make “Logan Act” less of a partisan mantra – and explain why we care about it over here. It’s actually an oooooold amendment to the Sedition Act: not the 1917 Act, whose buddy the Espionage Act is currently being used to prosecute whistleblowers, but JOHN ADAMS’ 1798 version. Trying to make like George Bush and get on with a sorta-war with France, Adams had to contend with two soldiers, a current Army medic and one veteran-chaplain-poet, neither of whom thought the newborn nation they’d fought for should take on naval kabuki as its first order of business.

220px-GeoLoganThe ink was barely dry on the Constitution when the first of America’s Wars for Unclear Purposes began: the naval duel with France known as the Quasi-War. By the time the latter ended in 1800, two soldier-dissenters had tried to prevent it—Quaker physician/militiaman George Logan {left} and former Continental Army chaplain Joel Barlow—while Matthew Lyon, now “the asp” of colonial politics, was imprisoned for publishing his objections , calling President Adams names, and publishing “confidential” memos meant for the elite.

The two who tried to prevent it were both Francophiles. Logan, whose grandfather had been secretary to William Penn, was a physician who had spent the war attending medical school in Switzerland and traveling in Europe; upon his return, he hobnobbed with his local militia and began serving in the Pennsylvania legislature.

Fluent in French and something of early enthusiast for the French Revolution, Logan watched closely as Adams responded to French naval maneuvers, made uneasy by unresolved treaty obligations and a new U.S.-Britain treaty. Also watching closely was Yale poet Barlow, veteran of the Battle of Saratoga, now living in France, having rushed to help the French with their Revolution. Barlow wrote home and encouraged Madison to send commissioners to meet with Talleyrand, horrified when said envoys were unable to get him that appointment.  As naval insults continued and anti-French sentiment was high in Congress, Logan took it upon himself to go to France, to see if he could possibly talk to the Directory and test the waters for peace.

While Logan was taking the Quaker path and listening, back home Adams had secured new funds for the U.S. Navy and recalled General Washington in preparation for a ground war. He also acted to crack down on the Federalist press, which in classic 18th-century flavor was a flood of insults to the “tyrant” Adams. Congress then passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, the latter of which made it a crime to criticize the President. Fines were set of up to $2,000 for any person convicted of uttering, writing or printing any “false, scandalous and malicious statement against the Government of the United States; or either House of the Congress of the United States, with intent to defame… or to bring them […] into contempt or disrepute.”

There was a special Logan Amendment added to the Act, written especially for George Logan, whose freelance diplomacy was regarded as traitorous. Logan had, however, met with Talleyrand; after securing the release of some captured U.S. sailors, he sailed for home in August carrying a list of possible terms for peace negotiators. When he arrived in November, he was immediately, if briefly, arrested.

Thinking about all this is enough to turn me into Alanis – as in, “Isn’t it ironic…” To rail against GOP senators who love war against Iran by threatening to use legislation meant to stop an enthusiastic Quaker from preventing a war – that’s jujitsu of a worthy sort.

“Canada! Canada! Canada!”

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Two hundred years ago, Canada had been fighting off invaders for nearly six months; with First Nations allies,  U.S. forces had been defeated at Detroit and Queenston.  In addition to the invaluable coalition with Native forces including the great Tecumseh, the invasions failed in part due to the refusal of some brave soldiers to participate. If they had crossed the border, some might doubtless have remained in Canada afterward and sought refuge  — just like an intrepid crew of American soldiers has done since the illegal Iraq war began.

This past fall, Kimberly Rivera became the most high-profile Iraq resister to be denied sanctuary by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who refused to acknowledge that she’d be arrested when she crossed the border. Many, if not most, Canadians supported her expulsion, saying what former Prime Minister Trudeau’s “refuge from militarism” was never meant for deserters, especially in these days without official conscription. But the story of dissenters in uniform is far richer than we know — and people like Rivera have long been part of the (North) American story.

In 1776, the same month the Declaration of Independence was being finalized in Philadelphia, Lt. Matthew Lyon was just getting to sleep when he heard the shouts. “Turn out! Turn out!”/p>

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“the poor and Midling will bear the burden”

I promised more last time, so here are some mavericks, some eary CO’s, and the guys who pioneered the idea that “War costs. Who pays?” As my last (?) deadline on this book looms, pieces like this will come faster, I think. (At right: the cover of one of my book’s precursors, by the acclaimed Carl Van Doren — who narrated in much more detail than I could one of the first such rebellions.)

all being Volunteers

The Continental Army was itself built upon a “revolutionary crowd,” the “mobs” who stomped on the Stamp Act and and threw tea into Boston Harbor.By 1775, the empire began to crack down, finally noticing that these “mobs” had gradually acquired more and more autonomy for themselves and their legislatures. Parliament enacted the Administration of Justice Act, under which a soldier who killed a rioter could only be tried back in England, out of sight of the colonists being suppressed.ii When four thousand nervous redcoats laid siege to Boston, one result was the “Massacre.”

The militia responded in kind on April 19, 1775, alerted by Paul Revere and his cohorts. A young Minuteman named Daniel Shays was among the 70 militiamenwho mobilized after the redcoats had set fire to homes and fields and most civilians to flee Boston.v Shays was one of the many Irish immigrants that joined the call early, inspired to fight the same oppressors that had driven them across the Atlantic.

After Lexington and Concord, armed rebel supporters camped out at Harvard Square. Most were from already-existing state militiasvi from all the Mid-Atlantic colonies, come to defend Boston’s famous Minutemen and the towns’ “Committees of Safety.” It was this possibly-unruly lot that the First Continental Congress then declared an Army under the command of George Washington, a former British Army colonel from Virginia. Among the enthusiastic recruits at “Cambridge Camp” was young Daniel Shays, who was soon commissioned second lieutenant in the new Army.

A similar offer was being made to Ethan Allen, Seth Warner, and their Green Mountain Boys, who by then included a printer’s assistant named Matthew Lyon. Lyon had arrived in New-York from Ireland in 1765 (the week the Stamp Act was passed); after eight years of indentured service to the captain who’d brought him over, he started drilling with Allen and moved to the border area known as “New Hampshire Grants” (now Vermont). On May 10, the Boys flooded into the nearly-unguarded Fort Ticonderoga and seized it from the British; the ammunition inside helped end the siege of Boston and equipped the new army for the battles in New-York. Inspired by these victories and emboldened by Jefferson’s 1776 poetry, even more joined the fight.

The new Army was thus a loose coalition of regulars and state forces organized along regional lines. Commanders and newspapers alike lauded the “Maryland Line,” the Connecticut and New-Jersey Lines, the swelling forces of the western frontier in Pennsylvania. Some native allies were reported to join in: in Boston a local chief was quoted as “offering to raise a tomahawk” against the British, given the Bostonians’ solid treaty agreements. Benjamin Franklin, who’d spent the revolutionary spring in France, exulted in July: “The Tradesmen of this City were in the Field twice a day, at 5 in the Morning, and Six in the Afternoon, disciplining with the utmost Diligence, all being Volunteers.”

That “utmost Diligence” included immunity to the cause for desertion so often parodied in Voltaire’s Candide, that “Swiss disease” known as nostalgiavii — at least according to Dr. Benjamin Rush, the Continental Army’s first physician. In letters, Rush exulted that the more they felt like a national army, the less subject they would be to the disorder now known as PTSD:

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Revision sneak peek: preview of chapter one

Wonder how those themes I identified earlier play out in an actual war narrative? So did my peer reviewers. even though I thought I was hitting people over the head with them…

Here’s the opening of chapter one of Ain’t Marching, with a somewhat-expanded musings about why these particular rebels made the cut. What do you think? Some longtime observers may note that I changed the tag  for one of those themes, leaving Jerry Maguire behind for the less-pop-culture-y War costs. Who pays?) Thanks to Greg Turner for the evocative photo, “This is What Revisions Look Like.”

Chapter One: A Military Born of Dissent

Lt. Matthew Lyon was just getting to sleep when he heard the shouts. “ Turn out! Turn out!”

Lyon opened his eyes and reached for his weapon, a light infantry “fuzzee” with tamped-down bayonet.Were the Algonkin attacking already? Had the spies been lying? He sat up and ran out the door of the hut, sweating. It was July 1776, and all the river breeze in the world couldn’t stop the heat from rising off his neck.

What Lyon saw, he had feared. Not the redcoats of the British, nor the tanned and paint-spattered skin of the 500-strong Indian warriors reportedly massing at the next hill: just the backs of his men in formation, and preparing to leave the camp forever. In some ways, the 26-year-old lieutenant couldn’t blame them.

This was not the mission he had promised when he got them to reenlist. Not here in Upper Canada, ordered to stay after Washington retreated and“guard” land owned by some rich men they didn’t know. Starving as they were, they told him, they would never buy corn at the owners’ war-inflated prices.

Nonetheless, he had orders. The Indians were coming. Lyon issued commands that turned to pleas. He himself, he told them, would rather suffer death than the dishonor of court-martial; wouldn’t they?

All entreaties were ineffectual,” Lyon told the U.S. Congress 20 years later. “They declared they had been abused—there was no chance for their lives there…As they were going to take the canoe to the other side, they insisted on [the officers] going [with them], and threatened violence if we refused.”

The men submitted to arrest after the company was returned to Fort Ticonderoga, which many of them had helped seize from the British. Their court-martial was overseen by Gen. Horatio Gates, a rival of George Washington’s and a dear friend of John Adams – the same general who had ordered the company north, on behalf of his wealthy supporters who owned that land. Gates ruled that the men were to be publicly flogged, while Lyon was “cashiered” and given a wooden sword in place of his prized musket.

By the time Lyon told his story publicly, he was a member of Congress. Adams was president, and not there to hear him speak. But he was very familiar with Lyon and his newspaper, The Scourge of Aristocracy and the Repository of Important Political Truths. A few years after his testimony, Lyon would be one of the first Adams ordered clapped in prison, for the new crime of criticizing the Presithedent.

That Jericho mutiny happened before many had finished reading the Declaration of Independence – a document that mentions, as cause for action, both oppressive standing armies and their suppression of dissent. Many in the new country’s uniform saw such agitation as just another fundamental, newly-asserted right. And for nearly every touchstone in what is popularly phrased the American Revolution, you find men in uniform acting as the full citizens they had just been declared.

Like the “Committees of Safety” that evolved into state assemblies, soldiers mostly went about asserting their grievances like citizens: they formed committees, petitioned their officers, assigned the more literate among them as representatives. They did so during the so-called “French and Indian War,” when enlistees held their enlistment papers as golden; they did so in the new Continental Army, which was was in its own way composed of the armed mobs who’d assembled in response to Lexington and Concord. They did so during early naval battles, including the first known military whistleblowers in 1777; in 1779, marching on the house of the future Treasury Secretary to protest hoarding, just as the colonies had secured assistance from Continental Europe and the British retreated from Philadelphia, and an even larger contingent leaving their posts entirely in January 1781, after years of pleas for better supplies. A few found themselves newly members of peace churches, like new Quaker Jacob Ritter, or in exile, like Simon Girty, a “white Indian” Army scout who deserted rather than perpetuate an original sin.

In the fragile depression years after the British surrender, Revolutionary veterans generated the anti-banker protest known as the Shays Rebellion, while others spoke on behalf of conscientious objectors at the Constitutional convention, or started newspapers in stark opposition to the government they had helped found. By the time of Thomas Jefferson’s election in 1800, the deciding vote in a deadlocked Congress was cast by Matthew Lyon, who chose to have the ultimate dissenting answer to the man who had imprisoned him in 1798.

As the mini-history above might suggest, of our core themes the most prominent is the one identified by Lt. Ephraim Faulkner and other Pennsylvania militiamen in 1798: “the midling and the Poor shall bear the burden.” Or, in less 18th-century diction, “War costs. Who pays?That was the heart of Shays Rebellion, the January mutineers, even the New England militiamen waving their enlistment contracts on weary British commanders.

Also key from the beginning: the very few moved by conscience to refuse to fight, whether experiencing a mid-battle insight or staking ground for the original “peace churches.” The latter were also among the few consciously protesting one of the country’s two main original sins, since Quakers also spent a fair amount of time witnessing against slavery. In the face of that original sin, we have soldiers of color at a time when their very existence threw out multiple challenges, a few also participating in explicit rebellions. As for the other sin, only murmurs in soldiers’ letters and desertion by a few half-breed “White Indians” signaled any problem with “claiming” formerly Iroquois or Pequot or Shawnee or Alachua land.

Mavericks were there in full presence, if not exerting as much muscle as later. We see our very first military whistleblowers in 1777, in the form of Navy sailors who violated the chain of command because their commander was torturing prisoners of war. The nation’s first veterans were not shy in supporting press that made trouble, including Matthew Lyon’s Repository. As for combat trauma, explicitly regarded by American physicians as a “European” disease unfit for their young patriots, signs of it are still detectable in some veteran diaries and after-war memoirs, especially by Quakers – the latter, of course, beginning their perpetual role as official extreme that opened up room for everyone else to ask questions, some telling the extremists Hold onto your beliefs, brother. By the end of the era, as newer wars approached, you could even see the Revolutionary veterans preparing guides for the ones to follow.

Next, more details about just a few of these stories, though I can’t reproduce the entire chapter. Do let me know what you think?

the first lying promise to veterans: outtakes from 1785

When I’m not tracking that moving target, I’m making my last swim through the rest of the book, to tighten the prose and strengthen its themes. Of course, since I’m the one doing it, that latter task means just-a-little-more-research-please —  sifting through old files and asking the scholarship for bits that belong in that zig-zag of change.

Yesterday, the question I was trying to pursue was:  OK, my 19th-century chapters are all about those original sins (slavery and “Indian policy”). But how much opportunity did earlier American soldiers have to resist enforcing either? Were they active participants or simply surrounded by the assumptions of the day?

In particular, I wanted to know if Continental Army soldiers, so conscious of their compensation, had dangled before them the promise of “empty” land west of the settled colonies. By the time the new century rolled around, as evidenced in the document at left, Revolutionary War veterans were claiming land grants as their due for their service. (That particular vet, Matthew Lyon, had by then survived being thrown into prison by John Adams.)  The answer, of course, was paradoxical: no such promise was initially made when Continental Army troops helped destroy Iroquoia or massacred the Pequot, but proved after the Revolution to be an easy way for politicians to solve problems.

“Independence had thrown into the lap of a none- too-perfect union the vast and unsettled area between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi and Ohio rivers,” reads an article in Agricultural History in 1946, by a historian named Rudolf Freund, who was seemingly oblivious to the fact that that “unsettled area” was in 1776hardly unclaimed by its original inhabitants.

American Indians are nonexistent in Freund’s piece,  but he does provide some other pieces of the narrative. It all started, as we learned in school, with the German-born Hessian soldiers who switched sides:

Curiously enough, land was first promised by Congress, in August 1776, to Hessians and other foreigners if they would desert from the English army, but nothing much came of it. The story of the military bounty lands really began somewhat later when Congress decided to offer land to its own nationals as an inducement for enlisting in the new army and for permanent service.

The ill- fated summer campaigns of 1776 made it depressingly clear to everybody concerned that the war could not be waged successfully unless the militia was replaced, at least for the purposes of sustained warfare, by an army of regulars who were willing to serve without interruption until victory was won. This was a radical departure from  previous practices, and it was clear that substantial rewards had to be offered to achieve the change from temporary to permanent enlistment. Therefore, when Congress decided in September 1776 to establish 88 regiments on State lines to serve during the war, the former money bounty of $20 was augmented by promises of land, ranging from 100 acres for a private to 500 acres for a colonel. The land was to be provided by the United States, and the expenses connected there- with were to be borne by the States in the same proportion as the other expenses of the war.

All of which was argued over to death in Congress, some by those hating the idea of a “mercenary” army and some by states that feared they’d pay more than others. No one, of course, pointed out the arrogance-crossed-with-hubris of the provision that “The land was to be provided by the United States.”  If Tecumseh had been older than eight years old at the time, perhaps he could have been the one to stand on the floor of Congress and ask: “Provided by who, white man?” In any event, in order to get the land portion of the bounty you had to sign up for at leeast three years or the duration of the war, and even then the commitment was nearly completely verbal. But then, Freund says, came Britain’s surrender in 1782, which suddenly did throw something unforeseen into the national lap: hundreds of thousands of soon-to-be-unemployed military men. “Our circumstances afford an odd Contrast to those we have heretofore experienced. The Difficulty which heretofore oppres’d us was how to raise an Army. The one which now embarrasses is how to dissolve it,” a major named Richard Peters  wrote to Washington adviser Baron Steuben.

By then, military courts and prisons had filled with thousands charged with desertion and insubordination, despite constant efforts to make the Continental force into more of a professional army. Washington and his fellow generals saw themselves as simultaneously fighting the British on one side, Indians on another, and on a third Continental legislators so wary of a standing army that they had still not paid any of the half-wages they had earlier agreed to give former soldiers.

As the exhausted, enraged, still-underfed Continental Army camped out at Newburgh for the winter, Washington — like Wayne two years earlier at Mount Kemble — chose to stay in town instead of going home to warmer Virginia. What happened next, in 1783, is still a matter of controversy. What is not in dispute: that officers at Newburgh met repeatedly, fearing their fate as Congress contemplated peace and despairing of their repeated requests for compensation; that tempers in the camp ran high after the arrival of Colonel Harold Washington of Pennsylvania, who had been part of the Trenton negotiations and had earlier talked down the Connecticut mutineers; that an anonymous Address was circulated throughout the officer corps, which stated in its beginning:

After a pursuit of seven long years, the object for which we set out [independence] is at length brought within our reach!— Yes, my friends, that suffering courage of yours, was active once— it has conducted the United States of America through a doubtful and a bloody war! It has placed her in the chair of independency, and peace again returns to bless— whom? A country willing to redress your wrongs, cherish your worth, and reward your services, longing to divide with you that independency which your gallantry has given, and those riches which your wounds have preserved? Is this the case? Or is it rather, a country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your cries, and insults your distresses?

There’s a reason why the whole thing is sometimes called the “Newburgh Conspiracy,” involving some of Washington’s political rivals at that time. But even after he won that round, the officer corps was still pressing hard for commitments frm the new parliament, and only mentioned the “new western lands” as a last-minute dodge to make sure their debts would be paid. In other words, these soldiers were not jonesing to go grab Indian land: they wanted enough cash to go home to their families.

In particular, writes Freund, some officers at Newburgh who were NOT among the dissenters were instead trying to leverage soldiers’ grievances for a state of their very own: to “turn the insidious counsel of the “fellow soldier” into a positive scheme which would utilize the promised bounty lands and other land grants for the establishment of a new state for veterans on the Ohio.”   With the bloody history of the rest of the West still to come,  two other interesting details from this story. The original plan for the still-to-be-created veterans’ state included “the preparation of a constitution previous to going west which would exclude slavery,” fascinating when the commander-in-chief was still a slaveowner.  And Alexander Hamilton, who wrote the final agreement, included the provision that “the money and pension claims of the army would be treated in exactly the same way as the claims of any other creditor upon the exchequer of the United States.” In other words, welcome to the very first “entitlement” to be passed on  to future generations.

What was then called “the West,” Freund writes, felt an appropriate dumping ground for all those now-useless soldiers, as “a proving ground for the political principles of independence, self-government, and personal liberty for which the war had been fought. Thus, the lands on the Ohio beckoned with the lure of still another Utopia. In these empty expanses would rise a new community from the seeds of a corporation of New England veterans who had forged their swords into plowshares.” Again, what empty  spaces? I want to ask that nice historian, before thanking him for his answer to part of my question.

Why did I talk about a “lying promise” in the title?  Because the power brokers, as sincerely as they believed in their new nation and hoped to outrun “the slave question,” that veterans’ state was likely never a real idea to them. Or if it was, it was as convenient as giving rights to Palestine to a newly-decimated Jewish diaspora was to Europe in 1948: a seemingly elegant solution to a vexing problem that didn’t require them to sacrifice anything.

I’ve talked so much about this, I don’t have room to talk about(or you the patience to hear, likely)  what I learned about the Iroquois and Creek nations. I promise that tomorrow I’ll pull myself back into the 21st century, at least to see who’s still standing in Marja.

Nashville tea party? Not.

I wake up and  the ‘nets are buzzing with a speech last night made in Nashville by that shapeshifter from Alaska (Governor?  Talk show host? Avatar?). But another quiet buzz came in a report about another Battle of Nashville, one that was hardly a tea party. Unsurprisingly, it’s from a Fort Campbell-oriented paper, Clarksville Leaf-Courier, about some often-overlooked troops fighting in that other battle:

“These troops were here, for the first time, under such fire as veterans dread, and yet, side by side with the veterans of Stone’s River, Missionary Ridge and Atlanta, they assaulted probably the strongest works on the entire line, and though not successful, they vied with the old warriors in bravery, tenacity and deeds of noble daring,” said Col. C.R. Thompson in his report.

These troops were members of the 13th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment, freed black slaves — recruited from Clarksville and other Middle Tennessee cities.

“This was a very active area for black troops,” said local historian Dr. Richard Gildrie. “They saw a lot of action.”

Newsflash to some: The story of black recruits in the Civil War is hardly limited to those Massachussets units we keep valorizing (mostly because of that movie about the 54th). To this weekend’s Nashville warriors, the thought of armed Negroes is enough of a surprise, I know.  (If that feels harsh, read this roundup of the crowd at the Gaylord Hotel.) But the rest of us need to keep being reminded — thank you, the best-writer-on-the-web-Ta-Nehisi-Coates — of the dimensions of their full role in bringing forward emancipation’s promise.

Speaking of the 13th U.S. Colored Troops our old friend Ambrose Bierce was nearly the regiment’s commander. Born in the Appalachian section of Ohio, Bierce declined the commission, but later saw his racism challenged when he saw them in battle at Overton: ““Better fighting was never done. Their chances were hopeless and they knew it. Still they showed courage and discipline.”

Back to current issues shortly. But I wish some of those USCT reenactors who threw their photos all over Flickr had showed up at the so-called Tea Party convention, just in time for Miss Sarah’s coronation by the likes of those at left/ They could have turned up in full uniform,  maybe with real guns. The woman who left college in Hawaii because of all the less-white folks in the state (“a minority type thing,” her dad said) might have then been slightly more restrained in her slanders.