The Pledge of Obedience

Because January 2015 is never too early to battle for the soul of the Republican party, the conservative Washington Free Beacon is already kicking dirt on Rand Paul like a dog after doing its business:

A blogger who has been hired to do social media work for Sen. Rand Paul’s (R., Ky.) likely presidential campaign is not a fan of “stupid armchair jingoes” in the Republican Party, says Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) “will use anything to satisfy his blood lust,” and wants Edward Snowden to receive a Nobel Peace prize, according to her Facebook page.

Beacon writer Alana Goodman then continues with all the journalistic even-handedness of a cartoon housewife standing on a chair and hiking up her petticoats by noting in an update that said libertarian blogger, Marianne Copenhaver, also opposes the Pledge of Allegiance. As Robby Soave at Reason points out, this isn’t very unusual for libertarians: the pledge was written by socialist (and later local Nationalist Club president — ahem ) Francis Bellamy to promote nationalism in schools. Originally the pledge was accompanied by what became known as the Bellamy salute:

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the Flag the military salute—right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it… At the words, ‘to my Flag,’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, towards the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

Ahem, ahem.

To not follow in the footsteps of a proto-Nazi is good reason to oppose the pledge but I can think of better objections. For years I’ve refused to recite the pledge on both the grounds of foolishness — a flag is a thing which exists separate and indifferent to my actions; and the ideals it supposedly represents are, as abstractions, even more remote and indifferent — and principle.

Ever wonder why the end of Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution is worded thusly?

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:–“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The reason the Founders threw that bit in there about affirmation is because they, as residents if not frequent habitues of Philadelphia, believed it likely that one day a Quaker might be elected president (Richard Milhous Nixon!). Quakers swear no oaths. Quakers, like Mennonites — and this is where my Lancaster County blood rises to the top — believe that oaths sworn to things and people compromise one’s relationship with God. If I swear to support a man and that man tells me to kill and killing is against God’s law, then I have put the man before God. If I swear to support a nation and that nation commands me to do something contrary to God’s wishes, I have been compromised. Will that man or that nation be there to defend me when I stand in judgment before God? No. The most you can do in this lifetime is affirm a commitment to self-control: I can affirm to my wife I will not cheat on her; I can affirm to uphold the Constitution to the best of my abilities. And, in any event, both Quakers and Mennonites believe in always conducting themselves honestly, obviating the need for most oaths.

Of course, you don’t need God to reject the pledge. If I have decided that killing is wrong then why should I swear allegiance to a nation which, on a whim, may demand that I travel overseas to kill someone who has never harmed me? How or why does the will of the mob or some bloodthirsty politician trump my own principles? I have to live with what I’ve done.

To the statists of the world, an individual’s utility is only what labor or gold he or she can supply them. This is why the Pledge of Allegiance should be seen in its proper light not as a declaration of patriotism but as another link in the chains used by the rapacious to shackle and enslave. The pledge is meant to enforce conformity, and yet the United States is a country of dissidents founded upon dissidence: it’s more American-as-apple-pie to not recite it.

A Connecticut County in Bill Penn’s Grant

Wyoming Valley by Jasper Francis Cropsey

I have a story at the Journal of the American Revolution about the absolutely true tale of Westmoreland County, a piece of northeastern Pennsylvania claimed by Connecticut as part of King Charles’s grant creating the colony:

The Susquehannah Company was founded in July 1753, when 152 subscribers adjourned in Windham, Connecticut to pay “Two Spanish Mill’d dollars” to join a new joint-stock venture. Declaring “Thatt Whereas we being desirous to Enlarge his Majesties English Settlements In North America and further To Spread Christianity as also to promote our own Temporal Interest,” their aim was to settle an area of the Susquehanna River beyond New York’s borders. … The Company proposed to settle at Wyoming, on the west bank of the river about 50 miles southeast of Tioga. Its clean soil and the scarcity of Native American settlements made it ideal to the Company members. More to the point, they believed the area was included in the Connecticut grant as per the 1662 charter.

I’ve mentioned before how, in the mid-aughts, I shopped a book idea called Lost States, detailing efforts at American state making that went pear-shaped. The book’s sample chapter, all 18,000 words of it, dealt with the first half of the Westmoreland story; this would have been followed by second and third chapters on the Republic of Vermont (using Ethan Allen’s involvement in the Susquehannah Company to segue into the conflict between New York and New Hampshire) and the resolution of the Westmoreland project. Lost States never went anywhere, and I very briefly sent around a proposal focusing solely on Westmoreland until I finally realized not everyone was as fascinated by the history as I was. Fortunately, the editors and readers at the JAR love this kind of stuff. My article is a distillation of that sample chapter.

Even today Westmoreland continues to mesmerize me, especially the religious angle. Was the Company’s obstinate refusal to take no for an answer a result of the New Light zealotry of its members?

Short News, Inebrious Fourth Edition

Ritmeier's C.W. Bitters, c. 1906.
Ritmeier’s C.W. Bitters, c. 1906, on display at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, Wisconsin.

Bracing Tonics. A CRM excavation at the site of a former Manhattan beer garden unveiled a trove of 19th-century bitters bottles. Bitters — tonics that combined herbs and spices along with a hefty dose of alcohol — were used as digestives and medicines at the time, even by otherwise abstinent teetotalers. From the relief writing on the bottles (which today are highly collectible), the archaeologists were able to track down the original recipes, which they then recreated and shared. Also worth noting: in the comments, an author plugged this apothecary recipe book.

Flipping my Lid. Speaking of cocktail books, I recently downloaded food writer Corin Hirsch’s Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England, which includes recipes I intend to inflict upon our guests this July Fourth. I’ve always wanted to try flip. I’ve had switchel before, but didn’t care for it.

Columbia Uber Ailes. And in not-so-alternate-history news, Fox News reached through a tear and stole the logo for BioShock Infinite.

Whaleboat Men of Long Island Sound

Shooting the Harpoon at a Whale by John Heaviside Clark.

During the American Revolution, the sailors of “armed boats” who raided the shores of Long Island didn’t play around:

“[T]wo boates crossed on the fourteenth instant,” wrote Caleb Brewster to New York governor George Clinton in the summer of 1781. “[They] went up about twelve at night to the houses of Capt. Ebenezer Miller and Andrew Miller, demanded entrance which was granted, as soon as the door was opened they demanded his arms which he gave up; his son hearing a noise below stairs got up out of bed shoved up the chamber windo. One of the party without ever speaking to him, shot him dead in the windo …”

You can read my whole article at the Journal of the American Revolution.

Something to consider is why the whaleboats — even the officially commissioned whaleboats — were so prone to abuse. The Connecticut records show little evidence of similar complaints about the privateers or either the state or Continental navies. Did the smaller complements (7-10 men) on the whaleboats or the lower costs of entry — a boat and a £2,000 bond (or not) — attract less honorable sailors nobody else would hire? Or were most sailors already inclined to dastardly deeds and only the officers of the larger vessels kept them disciplined?

There Must Be Some Mistake…

Journal of the American Revolution… because Todd Andrlik at the Journal of the American Revolution has lumped my responses to a questionnaire with those of historians far, far more knowledgeable than me. All this week, great minds like Gordon S. Wood, J.L. Bell, and others have been answering whether American independence was inevitable, who the most underrated and overrated revolutionaries were, whether the US could have thrived without slavery from its very beginning, and when the dividing line between Patriots and Loyalists was drawn.

That Inestimable Blessing, Freedom

In May 1779, two slaves named Prime and Prince dictated, or at least cowrote, a petition for emancipation, which was submitted to the Connecticut Assembly.

Your Honours who are nobly contending, in the Cause of Liberty, whose Conduct excites the Admiration, and Reverence, of all the great Empires of the World, will not resent our thus freely animadverting, on this detestable Practice; altho our Skins are different in Colour, from those who we serve, yet Reason & Revelation join to declare, that we are the Creatures of that God who made of one Blood, and Kindred, all the Nations of the Earth; we perceive by our own Reflection, that we are endowed, with the same Faculties, with our Masters, and there is nothing, that leads us to a Belief, or Suspicion, that we are any more obliged to serve them, than they us, and the more we Consider of this Matter, the more we are Convinced, of our Right (by the Law’s of Nature and by the whole Tenor, of the Christian Religion, so far as we have been taught) to be free.

The petition is as heartbreaking as it is poetic, and is worth reading in its entirety. Both the Lower and the Upper Houses rejected the petition; however, the following year, laws were passed freeing slaves younger than 7 (or born in the state after the law’s passage) when they reached 25, and prohibiting the sale of Connecticut slaves outside the state.

The petition was transcribed by Jonathan Sturges, a justice and judge of probate who was very active in Fairfield’s defense and management during the Revolution; later he was a member of the state delegation to the ratification of the Constitution and a member of the first U.S. Congress. And while there is suspicion about the true authorship of the petition, as historian Vincent Rosivach has pointed out, the language echoes that of other slave petitions of the period, such that the 1779 document is not likely the product of Sturges’s quill alone.

What’s more interesting is the petitioner Prime was owned by Samuel Sturges, Jonathan’s younger brother. This is a strange scenario, in which victory would have resulted in diminishing the estate of the proponent’s close family. Perhaps emancipation was never a goal of Jonathan’s and the action was simply a ploy to demonstrate the impossibility of abolition, to cool the tempers of disgruntled slaves before they boiled over — to obscure the obvious contradiction between freedom from king and parliament and bondage to Yankee fat cats. Hey, we tried. It didn’t happen. Now get back to work.

Or maybe that’s too cynical. I’ve read the Rosivach article, and if I recall correctly, his characterization of Samuel Sturges as “undistinguished” is verbatim. This is some minor ignorance on his part (in his defense, Rosivach probably referenced Donald Jacobus’s History and Genealogy of the Families of Old Fairfield, which lists only the public offices and military honors held by an individual, not the private accomplishments). Actually, Samuel Sturges was a prosperous businessman who co-owned “a suitable store for receiving goods & provisions” with Samuel Smedley along Black Rock Harbor. Smedley himself manumitted two slaves — York, and his son Boston (who may or may not have fallen under the 1780 freedom-at-25 law) — and left each of them money in his will. These actions, along with Jonathan’s penmanship and Samuel Sturges’s seeming acquiescence in Prime’s role, suggest some of Fairfield’s elite shared the sentiments expressed in the two men’s poignant request for liberty.