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Bringing the Past to Life!

Benjamin F. Butler and His View on Equality


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Benjamin F. Butler, 1870, Wikipedia.org

” There may be able children of degenerate sires. But whether such instances are not proof of the rule depends upon the question, whether, from some earlier intermingling, better blood may have not have been taken from the lower class.”-Benjamin F. Butler

A View on Racial Equality

In continuing with my reading of Benjamin F. Butler’s autobiography, I get a sense that he writes in a way to give insight as to how he views the world around him and how this view influenced his decision making though out his life and career. One thing that stands out is his view on racial equality. He does not agree with the elite intellectual thought theorized during the 19th century that inherited genes of the first born child are the strongest genes, and that subsequent offspring will receive a watered down version. Because of this, parents with mixed races were thought to be incapable of passing down good genes. Butler disagreed with this. He argued that parents of mixed races passed down stronger genes because by banding together the genes mutated more favorably due to populations being in constant state of war and survival in early New England. The information Butler provides in his memoir points to his view that mixing society with different races other than “white” did, in fact, produce individuals capable of acquiring equality. Mainstream society was against this idea throughout Butler’s entire life. To step out of that norm and stand up for what he believed and felt was right and opposite of what society thought was courageous (1).

Military Family

Butler was proud of his military heritage. His grandfather Zephania participated in the Revolutionary war and his father John in the war of 1812. John was commissioned captain of “light dragoons” and served the Northern frontier until he broke his leg. After that, he continued to serve in the war by becoming a privateer. Due to his success at this and his aid to the American cause, he was re-commissioned and sent to New Orleans to work under the direct command of General Jackson. From there he ended up working logistically for ships going back and forth to South America. On one of these voyages, John caught Yellow Fever and died Soon after. The suffering Butler’s father endured bothered Butler so much he vowed to “investigate the scourage” and blamed the viral devastation as a major influence in decisions later in his life (2).

Raised in Religious Household

The way Butler’s writes of his mother shows how much of a close of a relationship they had and how much respect he had for her. His mother was a Calvinist, and he notes this again and again in his book I think this is to show how this religious upbringing shaped his entire life. His mother envisioned him to grow up and become a minister however due to circumstances at the time this was not the best option for him. During Butler’s childhood children went to college at 12 and one of the students he grew up with attended Harvard University.  He was awestruck by this, and it seems Butler also surrounded himself with very smart and intellectual people even at a pre-teen age (3).

School Years

To prepare for religious college Masters would administer a test in which Butler excelled by exceeding the standards of his peers. His high score propelled him to a college prep school where he learned Latin and Greek. To him, language was not an art but merely memorizing, and he used this to strengthen his analytic skills of paragraphs, of which he was good at and made him feel proud. To him, it was a way to use his talents to do something good for people in his public service. During prep school, he attended a Unitarian church because he felt the school’s religious rules conflicted with thier belief in one God vs. his belief in the Trinity (4).

Somehow (he does not explain how) he ends up moving to Lowell Massachusetts. Lowell became a city as a result of a manufacturing boom between 1822 and 1836. There he acquired a part-time job to help with his living expenses. It is not clear if Butler lived alone, with his mother or with a roommate. He enjoyed living in the city (5).

During Butler’s college years he mentions a couple of people whom he finds inspirational. One of these was the Reverand Theodore Edson, rector of ST. Anne’s church and who worked tirelessly to establish the Lowell High School. Butler mused that “When he perceived the right thing to do, he did it, regardless of personal consideration or of danger to himself.” Edson was instrumental in establishing more schools in the town so that future generations of women, children and freemen could obtain an education and therefore be eligible for equal opportunity. Butler considered Edson’s passion and his perseverance to see his vision through against the opposition of ex-English Calvary officer, Kirk Boot who wanted to capitalize financially on grounds owned by the manufacturing companies, very courageous (6).

Serving Humanity

Equality was important to Butler from early in his life. Growing up and being surrounded by friends and family influenced him and his thoughts on poverty, education and equal opportunity for all people not just the White elite or upper class. He was obviously very smart and read books that were hard for him to read. He liked to challenge himself to do better and when he accomplished he yearned for ways to help others with his talents.

1. Benjamin F. Butler, Butler’s Book: Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major General Benj F. Butler : A Review of His Legal, Political, and Military Career (Boston: A.M. Thayer & Co., 1892), 36.

2. Ibid, 41-43.

3. Ibid, 45, 50.

4. Ibid, 51.

5. Ibid, 52.

6. Ibid, 52-54.

 

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President Lincoln Addresses Two Critical Issues in 1863


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President Abraham Lincoln

During the Civil War and in the summer of 1863 the fighting between the Northern and Southern parts of the United States was closing in on a climax of death and destruction. At the time President Lincoln faced two particular problems with the situation. First, how to end slavery and second how to keep the ranks of the Union Army from becoming depleted. After considerable thought, he chose a solution for both problems: an emancipation proclamation and a wartime draft.

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Emancipation Proclamation

The proclamation itself focused solely on ending slavery by making it illegal in the United States. It did not give enslaved Blacks the full freedom that White Americans enjoyed. One reason for this is that Lincoln favored buying time for the South to come to terms with the new law,  and to gradually allow Black slaves an opportunity to choose a life for themselves once freed. Both Northern and Southern Americans had conflicting views on slavery as a whole, but the majority of all cared little for slaves once free and even disliked their assimilation into American society even more. Perhaps Lincoln felt by allowing a slow progression of this adaptation, a change that might prove easier to adapt to for all.

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Draft Poster

The wartime draft allowed an unlimited supply of able-bodied men, either age between 25 and 35 or between ages of 35 and 45 depending on their marital status, to serve in the Union Army by way of a lottery system. The lottery system was a recruitment tool used to draft individuals and not just sweep any and all men that qualified. It was meant to be a fair system. However, if you were wealthy you could get out of the draft by paying a bit of cash. This was hardly fair to those of lower income classes who never stood one chance to dodge the draft. Many folks in New York also perceived this solution as particularly federally intrusive to their lives. It  increased focus on slavery politically as three groups vied for their attention on the national stage: the New York Democrats which included Irish migrant workers, Republicans who remained neutral on the topic of slavery and Abolitionists who vigorously rallied the public support for the end of slavery with marches and speeches.  Finally, it incited anger with the White male working population who felt the law was tipped unfairly toward them by favoring Blacks and immigrants to whom the draft law did not even apply.

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Political Cartoon depicting effect of Draft Riot and Emancipation Proclamation

These groups clashed in July with deadly consequences. On the 13th, the day of the draft lottery, violence erupted, as tempers grew out of control. Working class men began attacking the very people they felt the federal government aimed to support in the draft. They attacked Irish immigrant workers naive of the American justice system. They attacked Blacks: women, children and elderly. These victims were easy targets and could not defend themselves because they did not have the same right within the law as White Americans. Another reason rioters targeted African Americans was because of their progression toward upward mobility. For example, they destroyed a black-owned orphanage, a  business created for the sole purpose of Blacks helping Blacks. These institutions’ did not interfere with White society, so why was this threatening? Perhaps the upward mobility by free or freed Blacks was a threat politically to Democrats and a reason for them to publicly protest the Republicans and the government itself.

Lincolns two solutions did affect the United States significantly, but it did not unify the nation, as he had desired. To quell the riot and fighting federal troops were ordered in to control crowds, establish curfew and authority and, bring order to the city. The draft stayed, and the anger and rage lingered on for years to come. Tensions increased between ethnic groups and whites. Now the country was not only divided by north and south but between race and ethnicity as well.

Some White citizens did support African Americans and came to their defense to try and fight back against or protect them from violence. However, there were too few of these groups to make a difference. No one directed their attention to the political systems in place that seems to incite further racial problems between different ethnicity in New York at the time.

The Draft Riots remains a spot of contention within the history of the United States as a nation. What has yet to be determined is why the nation focused more on the government to end the war and bring peace and less focus on ending racial tensions and bringing the nation together racially and ethnically.

 

References used:

The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/317749.html.

New York Draft Riots

http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/draft-riots

Four Days of Fire: The New York City Draft Riots

http://www.history.com/news/four-days-of-fire-the-new-york-city-draft-riots

Civil War Draft Records: Exemptions and Enrollments by Michael T. Meier

http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1994/winter/civil-war-draft-records.html

 

African-American Woman Bessie Coleman


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Bessie Coleman, via Wikipedia.

Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) defied Jim Crow laws and racism towards Blacks early in the 20th century by becoming the first African-American female aviator. Despite the fact that she grew up poor, she sought out the opportunity to make her dreams come true. With the help of a mentor and the inspiration of her brothers, she ventured overseas to France to obtain flight training. France at the time did not discriminate against Blacks but welcomed them into its society and schools. There Bessie not only completed her training but gained fame and prestige as a fully qualified and talented airplane pilot, who performed stunts at air shows. This recognition influenced other African American women to realize they too could defy oppression by White society and seek opportunities previously closed to women of their race. Bessie’s success and others contributed not only to the Women’s Movement and but also to the Equal Rights Movement for years to come because of her belief in optimism and perseverance.

Unfortunately, Bessie would not live to see the changes inspired by her contributions of African-American firsts. She died on April 30, 1926, at her final air show. Her legacy continues to this day through the recognition and adoration by modern female African American aviators.

Francis Drake-The Pirate


Francis Drake
Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake lived and worked during a time when Spain was at war with its bordering nations. He was born sometime in the years between 1540 and 1541(birth records did not exist at this time). Although this lack of record keeping might seem a bit unusual in our time such a record for them was insignificant. Francis hailed from Devonshire, England and was raised by a farmer. On those days, farming could sustain a family but it could not often bring riches alone and it did not bring prestige and respect of the royal family, but success at high seas did. Drake may have dreamed his future of owning and captaining a ship as a young boy. In his spare time, he tagged along with relatives on their ships. Whenever they sailed, the crew learned the art of piracy as they targeted merchant ships traveling the sea trade routes. Francis Drake became famous as a world renown ocean navigator and land explorer but before all that he was a real pirate.

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Slave Trade 1500s

At the completion of his apprenticeship, young Francis commanded his first ship called the Judith. He hired a cousin to assist in the mission to the continent of Africa to participate in the slave trade. After acquiring slaves, they sailed for New Spain with the goal of acquiring funds by selling captives to settlers there. The slave trade was Illegal in Spain at the time and Francis along with some of his crew were soon arrested and held for those crimes. Drake vowed revenge upon the Spanish crown from that point on.

After returning to England, he received a notice from Queen Elizabeth I to take his piracy to a new level. She permitted him to obtain a privateer license. This license enabled him to use his piracy to raid, plunder and steal property that belonged to Spain. It was an unofficial war on King Phillip whom Queen Elizabeth I despised. Soon after Drake embarked upon his fist mission to Nombre De Dios, a stop in Panama for Spanish ships full of silver and gold returning from Peru. Unfortunately, Francis did not acquire much success as the Spaniards battled hard against Drake, his fleet, and ships. To compensate for this instead of high seas piracy Drake and his men raided Spanish settlements and robbed them of their precious metals instead.

For the remainder of Francis Drake’s life, he remained a pirate. Although he is known popularly for his success at being the first to circumvent the globe and as a successful maritime and land explorer he should also be remembered as a pirate and as someone who participated in the slave trade. Piracy at the time was a normal way of life and considered a divine right. Even though today we understand the piracy of the 16th century to be criminal, the expeditions conducted and led by Francis remind us how folks in his time viewed the world and the people around them.

War Toys_1


History That Interests Me

Below are three pics of some of my summer finds at rummage sales or antique stores. Although I’ve been a military miniature collector (and painter) for most of my life I never branched out into collectible war toys that were manufactured for most of the last century but are increasingly rare today.

The models below carry the brand  name Midgetoys. I confess that growing up I never heard of Midgetoys but probably saw them in the various “dimestores” that were popular in the 1960s like Woolworths or Ben Franklin.

http://www.esnarf.com/MTstory.htm  A little research turned up a link titled The Midgetoys Story.

Midgetoys were created by Al and Earl Herdklotz in 1948. The Herdklotz’s ran a machine shop and during WW2 and were involved in the war production industry like every other company in the US.

After the war the brothers got the idea of entering the die cast model field…

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#NeverForget: Four Little Girls and Two Little Boys


How #NEVERFORGET can be applied to the past beyond September 11.

Diary of a Historian

On September 15, 1963, Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley were murdered in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Countless others were injured in the bombing of this church which has been a cornerstone in the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham. Yesterday, as many posted images of these four little girls and #neverforget, it seems as if we forgotten the other victims of this date, Virgil Ware and Johnny Robinson. This is not to dismissed the story of Addie, Carol, Carole, and Cynthia. No, this is just a call to remember the slain lives taken that day as a result of hate.

Four Little Girls

I recall seeing Ava Duvernay’s Selma earlier this year. As a historian, there were no surprises for me in the movie. When I watched the four little girls walking down the stairs my heart became heavy and…

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Why We All Love Pirates


Meet The Keystone Kops


Silent-ology

Slapstick!  Mayhem!  Incompetence!  Buffoonery!  Clumsiness!  Craziness!  Bungling!   Chasing!  Running!  Zaniness!  Now quick, say the first words that come to your mind…

…And I’ll bet the $2.38 that I have in my pocket that you just said “Keystone Kops.” Cue their most famous photo.

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Quiz: Name the film this publicity pic is from! (The answer will be at the end of this post.)

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Benjamin F. Butler: Why All Men are not Created Equal


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Benjamin F. Butler, 1870, Wikipedia.org

“The political system of this country is founded upon what Rufus Choate once termed a “glittering generality,” contained in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” This is a truth as applied to political rights, immunities, and burdens, but an utter absurdity so far as it is made to describe other mutual relations of people.”-Benjamin F. Butler

It is not surprising Benjamin F. Butler begins his autobiography with an opinion of equal rights and how those rights contradict themselves in the line of the Declaration of Independence; “all men are created equal”. Butler’s life and work were all about equality. He articulated well his idea of the definition of equality, and how the United States society’s interpretation differed. The cause of this difference according to Butler is while the definition of equality meant people and their actions were recognized legally, judiciously, it did not apply to the equal rights of individuals. Butler was not alone in his thoughts. Many other folks recognize this problem such as Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner. Butler obsessed about it because of his passion for the law and helping those who were unable to help themselves obtain equality and justice (1).

Butler’s analysis of how the “all men are created equal” caused a problem for equality in the U.S. makes a lot of sense. He uses the horse for an example of this. He explains that a horse is just a horse but when divided into different species each is quite different in its abilities. Therefore, not every horse is created equal. Like all people of the world, each belongs to a different class. Higher class horses are bread differently so that the can achieve results or meet higher expectations. People are born into these separate classes in the same way. By birthright, there is no automatic equality. Therefore basing equality on a false assumption in the Declaration of Independence unintentionally set the United States up for generations of misunderstanding about equality that is still relevant today(2).

Notes:

1. Benjamin F. Butler, Butler’s Book: Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major General Benj F. Butler : A Review of His Legal, Political, and Military Career (Boston: A.M. Thayer & Co., 1892), 33.

2 .Declaration of Independence. http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/document/

 

 

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