Archive for 16 junio 2014

 The Surprising Evidence hat Woodrow Wilson Was Suffering from a Brain Malfunction Before the Stroke that Crippled Him

Richard Striner

HNN   June 15, 2014

This is part three of a three-part series distilling the thesis of Richard Striner’s new book, Woodrow Wilson and World War One: A Burden Too Great to Bear, published by Rowman & Littlefield in April 2014. (Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.) Mr. Striner is a professor of history at Washington College. His other books include Father Abraham: Lincoln’s Relentless Struggle to End Slavery and Lincoln’s Way: How Six Great Presidents Created American Power.   – See more at: http://hnn.us/article/155787#sthash.W5bIvaw3.dpuf


Almost everyone who knows anything about Woodrow Wilson agrees he was a tragic figure. But the admirers and detractors of Wilson have differed sharply down the years as to whether Wilson’s tragedy was essentially his own fault. One critical fact about the tragedy was obviously not his fault: the stroke that he suffered on October 2, 1919. And due to the underlying condition of arteriosclerosis (diagnosed as early as 1906), distinguished medical observers have theorized that Wilson suffered from a progressive cerebro-vascular deterioration resulting in episodic dementia as early as 1917.

As one studies the historical record in detail — a record set forth in magnificent abundance by the editorial team led by the late Arthur S. Link that produced the 69-volume Papers of Woodrow Wilson — there is much to support the belief that he was hampered by his medical condition.

Wilson’s judgment seemed grossly impaired by the war years. He was extraordinarily petulant and irrational by 1918, and contemporaneous observers who were in a position to know commented often on his strange and quirky ways.

In 1919, Wilson’s pre-existing medical and mental conditions arguably led to a breakdown months before his paralytic stroke, which occurred on October 2. The nature of this breakdown could be seen as early as February, in a series of words and actions that prefigured his behavior of November and December, at which point he was clearly out of his mind.

When Wilson sailed to Europe aboard the USS George Washington, he had — typically — no substantive strategy for preventing the kind of vindictive peace that he had warned against in his 1917 “Peace Without Victory” speech. One of the advisers recruited for the U.S. peace delegation, Yale historian Charles Seymour, recalled that Wilson turned to him during the voyage and asked, “What means, Mr. Seymour, can be utilized to bring pressure upon these people in the interest of justice?” It was very late indeed for Wilson to be thinking in these terms, especially after the many missed opportunities in 1917 and 1918 to build the political pre-conditions for “peace without victory.”

John Maynard Keynes, at that time serving as an adviser to David Lloyd George, argued in his best-selling book The Economic Consequences of the Peace that Wilson could have come to Europe with a formidable basis for pressuring the allies. Keynes wrote that “Europe was in complete dependence on the food supplies of the United States; and financially she was even more absolutely at their mercy. Europe not only already owed the United States more than she could pay; but only a large measure of further assistance could save her from starvation and bankruptcy.” Referring to Wilson, Keynes wrote that “never had a philosopher held such weapons wherewith to bind the princes of this world.”

If Wilson had explored the possibility of offering a debt moratorium to the allies, the reparations that the British and the French would inflict upon the Germans might have been far less severe. But Wilson never seriously considered that option in 1918 or 1919, as the historical record demonstrates.

The negotiations over reparations and territorial settlements were grueling, but Wilson consoled himself with the fact that the League of Nations won general approval at the Paris Peace Conference in January, though the task of hammering out the details of its overall plan and structure was difficult. Wilson returned briefly to the United States in late February to sign legislation that the lame-duck Congress had passed in its final session. Here was an opportunity to test and adjust the domestic politics regarding both the League and the overall treaty.

Wilson’s behavior in February and early March shows clearly that a mental breakdown was beginning. Some of his behavior, to be sure, was quintessentially Wilsonian: his proclamations, for instance, that pure idealism had won the war and that power politics had nothing to do with the outcome were symptomatic of the escapism that was intermittently a factor in his thinking. In Boston, he delivered the following incantation: “In the name of the people of the United States I have uttered as the objects of this great war ideals, and nothing but ideals, and the war has been won by that inspiration.” He had engaged in this sort of hyperbole many times and it had rendered him largely incapable of strategic thinking since the war began. But some other episodes during this visit showed a new and shocking deterioration.

At the suggestion of Col. House, he sponsored a dinner at the White House to explain the preliminary terms of the League covenant to select members of Congress. The results of this meeting showed clearly that the League was in trouble on Capitol Hill. Several worried Democrats suggested that Republican feedback should supply the basis for revisions that Wilson could bring with him when he returned to Paris. But Wilson refused to consider this.

Two days later, Henry Cabot Lodge made a powerful and persuasive speech on the floor of the Senate denouncing the preliminary structure of the League. Wilson’s response was appallingly simple: he threw a public temper tantrum. In remarks at a meeting of the Democratic National Committee, he proclaimed that all who opposed the preliminary plans for the League were imbeciles. Listen to him: “Of all the blind and little provincial people, they are the littlest and most contemptible . . . . They have not even got good working imitations of minds. They remind me of a man with a head that is not a head but is just a knot providentially put there to keep him from raveling out . . . . They are going to have the most conspicuously contemptible names in history. The gibbets that they are going to be erected on by future historians will scrape the heavens, they will be so high.”

Just before Wilson returned to Paris, Lodge circulated in the Senate a document in which the signatories declared that they would under no circumstances vote for the League in its existing form. Lodge obtained more than enough signatures to show Wilson he was beaten unless he made revisions to the League.

Wilson did so when he returned to Paris, and these new deliberations were as grueling as the earlier ones had been. But Wilson refused to have any contact with Lodge and his supporters, which meant that all of his work was a waste of time, for Lodge was engaging in a simple game of payback, an exercise for the fun of it to make Wilson humble himself and give Republicans a “piece of the action.” Surely at some level Wilson sensed what was going on, but his vanity, his stubbornness, and his indignation were becoming more severe.

Wilson’s signature in 1913



His health began to give way in recurrent bouts of illness. But something drastic seemed to happen to him on April 28 — something that did not come to light until many years later, when historian Arthur S. Link was editing the Wilson documents from 1919. Let Link and his editorial colleagues tell the story: “It became obvious to us while going through the documents from late April to about mid-May 1919 that Wilson was undergoing some kind of a crisis in his health . . . . Whatever happened to Wilson seems to have occurred when he was signing letters in the morning of April 28” when his handwriting changed and became almost bizarre.

Wilson’s signature in spring 1919


The editors continue: “Wilson’s handwriting continued to deteriorate even further. It grew increasingly awkward, was more and more heavily inked, and became almost grotesque.” Link summoned some medical specialists who told him that in their own opinion there was simply no doubt about it: Wilson had suffered a stroke on the morning of April 28.

And then he threw away yet another opportunity to strike a blow for “peace without victory.” When the terms of the Versailles treaty were made public there was widespread outrage regarding their severity. David Lloyd George, the British prime minister, was stricken, and he called the British delegation together on June 1. Their decision was unanimous: the terms of the treaty should be softened.

But when Wilson was approached, he declared that the severe terms were perfectly appropriate. According to one account, he proclaimed that “if the Germans won’t sign the treaty as we have written it, then we must renew the war.”

When he returned to the United States, his mental decline proceeded rapidly. He seemed to be more and more convinced that a religious drama was being enacted, a drama that he could understand more than others. When he presented the treaty to the Senate on July 10, he declared that “the stage is set, the destiny disclosed. It has come about by no plan of our conceiving, but by the hand of God who led us into this way. We cannot turn back. We can only go forward, with lifted eyes and freshened spirit, to follow the vision.” A Democrat, Senator Henry Fountain Ashurst, reacted to the speech as follows: “Wilson’s speech was as if the head of a great Corporation, after committing his company to enormous undertakings, when called upon to render a statement as to the meanings and extent of the obligations he had incurred, should arise before the Board of Directors and tonefully read Longfellow’s Psalm of Life.” Republican responses to the speech were even less charitable.

In August Wilson came to his senses and began to engage in discussions with congressional opponents, including some Republicans known as “mild reservationists” who supported the treaty but insisted on some clarifications to the League covenant, especially in regard to the issue of military force. But on August 11, his mood changed abruptly, and he made his fateful decision to appeal to the American people on a speaking tour that would take him to the West Coast and back.

Before he left, however, he made a significant (if private) concession: he gave his preliminary assent to some secret text for a possible “reservation” to the League covenant that was drafted by Democratic Senator Gilbert Hitchcock.

The speaking tour broke his health permanently, and after falling ill in Pueblo, Colorado, he returned to Washington, where the paralytic stroke occurred on October 2. After a medical team diagnosed the stroke, Wilson’s wife made the very bad decision to conceal the diagnosis from the public. Wilson could and should have been relieved of his presidential duties. As an invalid who had suffered a severe brain injury, he became more irrational and petulant than ever before.

The preliminary showdown in Congress over the Versailles treaty and its League covenant happened in November. Lodge had drafted a series of reservations, the most important of which concerned Article 10, which pertained to collective security and the use of military force under League auspices. Lodge’s text was negative and grudging: it declared that the United States would never participate in collective security actions as recommended by the League unless Congress approved through its constitutional prerogative to declare war. As Arthur Link noted years ago, the Lodge reservation was essentially the same as the Hitchcock reservation that Wilson had secretly approved, though the tone of Lodge’s reservation was of course nasty and negative. But both of them said essentially the same thing: the United States could never be drawn into war against the opposition of the people’s elected representatives.

Wilson, however, was convinced that the Lodge reservation “cuts the very heart out of the treaty.” A caucus of Democratic senators had voted to obey the president’s wishes, so bipartisan discussions with Republican “mild reservationists” were called off. The treaty went down to defeat on November 19.

The reaction was one of bipartisan shock, especially with Republicans such as former President William Howard Taft, who supported the League and who declared that the Lodge reservation “does not modify the original article nearly so much as a good many people have supposed it did.”

So bipartisan discussions resumed in January 1920. Success was approaching as more and more Democrats rebelled against Wilson’s delusional position. Wilson ranted that he would never tolerate “disloyalty,” and he did his best to use party discipline to force recalcitrant Democrats into line. When the treaty was considered again on March 19, twenty-two Democrats broke with Wilson and voted for the treaty with the Lodge reservations attached. But that was seven votes shy of the necessary two-thirds majority. The treaty of Versailles was rejected once and for all on that spring day in 1920. And the blame must be placed where it belongs: at the bedside of Woodrow Wilson.

In the opinion of John Milton Cooper, Jr., one of Wilson’s greatest admirers among academic historians, “in the first three months of 1920” Wilson seemed to be in the grip of “mental instability, if not insanity . . . . He should not have remained in office.”

As this series has attempted to argue — and as my book Woodrow Wilson and World War I: A Burden Too Great to Bear seeks to demonstrate at length — the catastrophe of Wilson’s wartime leadership started long before his madness. For a long time, qualified medical observers have theorized that Wilson suffered from a cerebro-vascular condition that warped his judgment for several years before the stroke. To the extent that these theories are justified, Wilson was not to blame for the blunders and follies that characterized his behavior during World War I. On the other hand, if his mistakes — especially his earlier mistakes when his mind was more lucid, the mistakes that resulted from aversion to strategic thinking — sprang from character flaws that can afflict any one of us, the judgment of history must be severe.

But one thing seems certain to me after studying the record in detail: Woodrow Wilson was not the right leader for the United States during World War I.

 Richard Striner (Washington College) is a historian focused on political and presidential history.

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Las Abejeras del Capital en Porto Rico

Jose Anazagasty Rodríguez

80 grados    13 de junio de 2014


NYT PR July 27 1898

Después de la guerra hispanoamericana varias casas publicadoras, revistas, y periódicos divulgaron numerosos textos que recogían las experiencias y observaciones de las visitas de diversos viajeros estadounidenses a Puerto Rico. Estos viajeros articularon a través de sus narrativas el discurso colonial de la era inicial del imperialismo transcontinental estadounidense. Son por ello un objeto de estudio imprescindible de la “historia de lo imaginario” propuesta por Arcadio Díaz. Fue Díaz quien precisamente afirmó la necesidad de examinar diversas “zonas oscuras” del ’98, entre las que incluyo las relaciones con el espacio, y por supuesto, con la naturaleza.

La inspección y descripción absoluta y detallada de la colonia y su gente, incluyendo el paisaje, fue el propósito fundamental de esas narrativas de viaje. Sus descripciones, aunque enmarcadas en el realismo descriptivo, produjeron una visión estética de la naturaleza isleña articulada a través de varios significados que puntualizaron su riqueza simbólica y material. Puesto que esas representaciones iban dirigidas a la audiencia estadounidense requirieron que sus autores integraran el paisaje tropical de Puerto Rico, raro y confuso para muchos estadounidenses, al ámbito de su cultura. Para ello los autores movilizaron tropos conocidos por sus lectores en Estados Unidos, entre ellos la figura retórica del Edén. Muchos de esos escritores representaron la Isla como un jardín edénico, recurriendo a lo que Carolyn Merchant llamó la “narrativa de la restauración del Edén,” una narrativa familiar a los estadounidenses.

Aparte de convertir el paisaje de la recién adquirida colonia en un objeto familiar el tropo justificó, apelando a la jardinería, la colonización de la naturaleza isleña y sus habitantes. Efectivamente, la etimología de la palabra colonizar traza una conexión a las palabras colonus y colere, labrador y cultivar, respectivamente. La jardinería representaba para el nuevo colonus, los estadounidenses, el conjunto de técnicas necesarias para el control y manejo de los recursos naturales de la nueva colonia. Era la alegoría ajustada a la práctica de cultivar, de culturar la naturaleza apropiada y expropiada, es decir, colonizada.

La jardinería incluye la construcción de un espacio, de un jardín. La narrativa edénica de los textos estadounidenses produjo, en efecto, y a través de varias “geografías imaginativas,” espacios, el ordenamiento territorial y colonial del paisaje puertorriqueño. Pero se trataba ya en el 98 de lo que Henri Lefebvre llamó la producción capitalista del espacio. Pero, la producción del espacio es siempre corolario de la producción de la naturaleza. Y como he planteado en otros contextos existe una conexión entre la narrativa de la recuperación del Edén y lo que Neil Smith llamó la producción capitalista de la naturaleza. En los textos americanos, la conversión de la naturaleza isleña en recursos, el inventario textual y prospección económica de los mismos, así como su valuación monetaria, todo presente en varios textos estadounidenses, contribuyeron a instituir las formas en que la naturaleza sería alterada, capitalizada, circulada, intercambiada y consumida, material e ideológicamente, como bien material en términos de la lógica abstracta de su valor de intercambio en el mercado capitalista. En otras palabras la alegoría edénica movilizada por varios textos estadounidenses animó y justificó la intervención y ordenación capitalista-colonialista de la explotación y manejo de los recursos naturales de la Isla.

La producción capitalista de la naturaleza envuelve la subsunción formal y real de la naturaleza a las redes del capitalismo. Los textos estadounidenses que de una forma u otra escribieron sobre la naturaleza en Puerto Rico contribuyeron a ello, principalmente a la subsunción formal de la misma, aparte de sentar las bases para su prevista subsunción real a las abarcadoras redes del capital. Esto apunta a que la problemática de los estadounidenses, en adición a la delineación de la administración política a seguir en Puerto Rico, ya expuesto en detalle por Lanny Thompson, incluía además prescribir e instituir las formas de explotar y administrar los recursos naturales de la nueva colonia. Sus descripciones del entorno natural puertorriqueño participaron de la apropiación y la organización de su explotación comercial. Contribuyeron así a la ampliación de la subsunción formal, funcionando, naturalmente, como una estrategia primaria del capital para la apropiación y subordinación expresa, precisa y determinada de los recursos naturales.

Los estudiosos del tema, entre ellos Manuel Valdés Pizzini, Mario R. Cancel, José Anazagasty, José E. Martínez y Carlos I Hernández, entre otros, ya han conectado las prácticas de significación de varios de los textos estadounidenses con las prácticas económicas del capitalismo colonial, incluyendo su manejo de los recursos naturales de la isla.Estos textos, más allá de delinear la forma de administración política de lo que muchos llamaron Porto Rico también mostraron, proyectaron y justificaron la expansión económica del capital estadounidense en la Isla. Para ello detallaron el potencial económico de la colonia, incluyendo las posibilidades de invertir capital allí, la disponibilidad de materia prima y recursos naturales, la infraestructura adecuada y la reserva de trabajadores, entre otras cosas. Uno de los propósitos de muchos de estos textos y sus proyecciones económicas fue seducir a los inversionistas y comerciantes potenciales, interesarlos en las posibilidades agrícolas, comerciales e industriales de la isla.

La prospección de la isla también fue científica; Puerto Rico fue objeto de las observaciones y prácticas científicas estadounidenses realizadas por varios científicos de ese país alrededor de la Isla. Muchos de estos científicos, a través de diversos textos, también participaron de la producción capitalista de la naturaleza. Se esperaba que los científicos, particularmente aquellos al servicio del Estado, ayudaran a manejar el ambiente y sus recursos de forma racional. Por ejemplo, y como demostró Manuel Valdés Pizzini, diversos procesos ideológicos y discursivos ligados a la ciencia participaron del diseño de estrategias para el manejo estadounidense de los bosques después de la Guerra Hispanoamericana. Los estadounidenses, a la vez que devaluaron el manejo español de los bosques, recurrieron a discursos particulares de la dasonomía y la silvicultura—la racionalidad científica—para legitimar su ordenamiento y manejo particular—colonial—de los bosques puertorriqueños.

Pero en la mayoría de los casos la problemática, ahora científica, no era únicamente determinar la forma racional de manejar los recursos naturales de la colonia caribeña sino también detectar los recursos rentables y prescribir su explotación lucrativa, lo que requirió, como explica J.R. Mcneill en Colonial Crucible, la institucionalización de una ciencia ambiental. Esa ciencia, también ideológica y discursiva, participó de la producción capitalista de la naturaleza y el manejo de los recursos naturales.

La Estación Experimental de Puerto Rico, ubicada en Mayagüez, fue una importante manifestación de la institucionalización del manejo científico y racional de los recursos naturales, particularmente en el ámbito de la agricultura. Los investigadores afiliados a esa estación dirigieron muchas de sus investigaciones no solo al estudio de fenómenos naturales sino además a la “mejor” explotación y comercialización de diversos recursos naturales y agrícolas. Muchos de los hallazgos y recomendaciones económicas de esas investigaciones fueron publicados en diversas revistas y periódicos, incluyendo Porto Rico Progress. Un buen ejemplo es el artículo “Bees in Porto Rico,” publicado en 1910 justamente en esa revista. Este fue escrito por W.V. Tower, un entomólogo especialista en abejas afiliado a la mencionada estación y fue publicado tanto en inglés como en español.

Tower comenzó su artículo con algunos detalles sobre la introducción de las abejas a Puerto Rico, indicando que las mismas fueron introducidas posiblemente por un tal Mr. Filippi, quien ubicó colmenas de abejas italianas en la finca Juanita en Las Marías. También señaló que la mayoría de esas colmenas fueron destruidas por un huracán en 1899 pero que las abejas sobrevivientes produjeron colmenas silvestres en Las Marías. Tower afirmó esto último fundamentado en las anécdotas de los “vecinos” de Las Marías, quienes le comentaron haberse topado varias veces con colmenas de abejas silvestres. Para el entomólogo la descripción de aquellas abejas silvestres por parte de los vecinos apuntaba a que se trataba de abejas italianas, las sobrevivientes de las colmenas de Filippi.

Tower, desde la Estación Experimental de Puerto Rico, promovía el avance de “apiarios comerciales.” Destacaba en su ensayo que en apenas dos años desde que comenzó el proyecto ya habían enviado abejas a unas cincuenta personas. El entomólogo procedió entonces a confirmar el potencial lucrativo de los apiarios: “Desde que me encargue de esta obra, he estado siempre en busca de plantas apropiadas para abejas, y soy de opinión que Puerto Rico tiene gran cantidad de plantas melíferas, y dudo que exista una localidad en donde las abejas no resulten un buen negocio.”


Caja de abejas. Foto en “Rearing Queen Bees in Porto Rico”, publicado en 1918.

Su apoyo a la producción comercial de miel fue seguido por una serie de recomendaciones dirigidas a maximizar la productividad y potencial comercial de los apiarios, de la producción comercial de miel. Primero, recomendó localizar los apiarios en las faldas de los cerros y en las tierras dedicadas al cultivo del café, y aquellos lugares con varias plantas melíferas. Segundo, ofreció un inventario cabal de plantas melíferas: guamá, palma real, cocotero, moca, jobo, palo blanco, grosellas, higüerillo, y guara. Tercero, subrayó la importancia de las abejas en la fertilización de flores, como las de naranjo, lo que aumentaría las cosechas de frutas. De hecho, señaló que la presencia de más abejas hubiese evitado la escasez de flores de naranjo ese año, 1910, lo que pudo haber garantizado una mejor cosecha de naranjas. Cuarto, Tower recomendó aglutinar los esfuerzos hacia la producción de miel de extracción, objetando la producción de los panales y las secciones de a libra, los que según explicaba eran difíciles de embarcar y distribuir en los mercados, aunque la miel puertorriqueña solo se exportaba a Estados Unidos y en ocasiones a Alemania.

Tower, aunque afirmaba que la producción de los panales y las secciones de a libra podían explotarse para el consumo local, favorecía que los principiantes recurrieran la producción de miel de extracción, por ser este un método más fácil de manejar. Además, la producción de miel de extracción era, afirmaba el entomólogo, menos trabajosa para las abejas, pues evitaba que estas tuvieran que producir panales nuevos constantemente. Añadió también que la producción de miel de extracción facilitaba dominar las abejas porque reducía la tendencia de estas a formar enjambres, lo que no sucedía con los otros modos de producción de miel. Para él, la producción de enjambres disminuía la “fuerza productora de la colmena,” y con ello el potencial comercial de la apicultura. Finalmente, ese modo de producción de miel de extracción, el “método artificial,” permitía producir cera con menos miel, lo que se traducía, explicaba él, en ganancias monetarias, dependiendo claro está del precio de la miel vis-a-vis la cera en los mercados. Finalmente, recomendó seguir usando abejas italianas, porque aunque estas eran las más difíciles de subyugar eran muy buenas defendiéndose de las polillas de cera.

Tower, vaticinaba, si se seguían sus recomendaciones, y gracias a las favorables condiciones ambientales de la Isla, como la presencia de diversas plantas melíferas y la presencia de abejas italianas saludables, un buen éxito económico para la apicultura comercial en Puerto Rico: “El porvenir de los apicultores puertorriqueños es brillantísimo. No se conocen enfermedades que molesten a las abejas. La putrefacción de la cría—terrible enfermedad que puede estudiarse en una de las islas vecinas así como en los Estados Unidos—no ha sido introducida en Puerto Rico.”

Tower, y muchos científicos como él, participando de la subsunción formal de la naturaleza, de las abejeras y su miel en su caso, contribuyeron a la marcha de la naturaleza como estrategia de acumulación capitalista en Puerto Rico. Los científicos asistieron el “imperialismo ecológico”, el control capitalista-estadounidense del flujo de recursos naturales procedentes de la isla. Los estadounidenses, claro está, no fueron los únicos en proyectar y explotar los recursos naturales de la Isla o de convertirlos en bienes lucrativos formal y realmente. Los españoles y los puertorriqueños mismos hicieron lo suyo. Además, la Estación Experimental de Puerto Rico promovió la participación de apicultores locales, inclusive enviándoles abejas y entrenándolos. No promovió, como ocurrió con otros recursos, el control absoluto del capital estadounidense sobre la producción de miel. Pero el proyecto colonial-capitalista de los estadounidenses extendió e intensificó la producción capitalista de la naturaleza, particularmente de su integración formal, como nunca antes, y con la racionalidad científica de su parte.


José Anazagasty Rodríguez

José Anazagasty Rodríguez  es Catedrático Asociado en el programa de Sociología del Departamento de Ciencias Sociales de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez. Es especialista en sociología ambiental, estudios americanos y teoría social, y ha realizado investigaciones en la retórica imperialista estadounidense y la producción capitalista de la naturaleza en Puerto Rico. Es co-editor, con Mario R. Cancel, de los libros “We the people: la representación americana de los puertorriqueños 1898-1926 (2008)” y “Porto Rico: hecho en Estados Unidos (2011)”.


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River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands

Marshall Poe

New Books in History    June 12, 2014

Omar Valerio Jiménez

Omar Valerio Jiménez

Historically speaking, who you were depended on who your rulers were and the ethnic identity (including language, religion, and folkways) of “your” people. In the era of nation-states–that is, our era–these two characteristics have, for most people, been fused. Ethnic Germans live in Germany, ethnic Chinese live in China, ethnic Egyptians live in Egypt. The exceptions to this rule are two: ethnic minorities (e.g., Jews, Kurds, Uyghers, etc.) residing in nation-states and people who live in the shifting borderlands between nation-states.

511zJ3AL48L__SL160_Omar Valerio-Jiménez‘s fascinating book River of Hope: Forging Identity and Nation in the Rio Grande Borderlands (Duke University Press, 2013) is about identity in one particularly interesting shifting borderland, that found in the Rio Grande region between New Spain/Mexico and the United States. Valerio-Jiménez shows that the people of the Rio Grande were, ethnically speaking, many: a variety of native Americans, Spanish soldiers and colonists, Mexican and American immigrants of every stripe. The border shifted back and forth; the river and its people for the most part remained, adapting to new regimes and new conditions. Just “who” they were at any given time depended on a whole variety of factors, all of which are expertly explored by Valerio-Jiménez. Listen in to our fascinating discussion.

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The Invasion of America  

Este  mapa interactivo del desarrollo del expansionismo continental estadounidense,  examina la adquisisicón de territorios a través de los tratados y órdenes ejecutivas relacionadas con las llamadas naciones indias. En otras palabras, ilustra el proceso de despojo de las tierras de los pobladores norteamericanos originales por parte del gobierno federal norteamericano entre 1776 y 1876. También contiene vínculos a los textos de los tratados en cuestión  y un video, los que podrían resultar herramientas muy útiles para educadores.

El mapa esta accesible aquí.


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I Freed Myself: African American Self-Emancipation in the Civil War Era

Marshall Poe 

New Books in History  June 5, 2014

David Williams

David Williams

Lincoln was very clear–at least in public–that the Civil War was not fought over slavery: it was, he 61eT-apOtrL._SL160_said, for the preservation of the Union first and foremost. So it’s not surprising that when the conflict started he had no firm plan to emancipate the slaves in the borderland or Southern states. He also knew that such a move might prove very unpopular in the North.

So why did he issue the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863? There are many reasons. According to David Williams‘ fascinating new book I Freed Myself: African American Self-Emancipation in the Civil War Era (Cambridge University Press, 2014), an important and neglected one has to do with African American self-emancipation. After the war began, masses of slaves began to leave the South and head for the Northern lines. The Union forces received them as “contraband” seized from the enemy during wartime. As such, their status was uncertain. Many wanted to fight or at least serve as auxiliaries in the Union armies like freemen, but they were still seen as property. As Williams points out, the North certainly needed their manpower–as Lincoln knew better than anyone. Bearing this in mind, the President felt the time was propitious to do what he thought was right all along–free the slaves. Listen in.

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The Political War

Allen C. Guelzo

The New York Times  June 5, 2014

A Union artillery battery at Cold Harbor. Library of <Congress

A Union artillery battery at Cold Harbor. Library of <Congress

Pity Abraham Lincoln. Everything that should have gone right for the Union cause in the spring of 1864 had, in just a few weeks, gone defiantly and disastrously wrong.

For two years, the 16th president had toiled uphill against the secession of the Confederate states, against the incompetence of his luckless generals and against his howling critics from both sides of the congressional aisle. Finally, in the summer and fall of 1863, the course of the war had begun to turn his way. Two great victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg staggered the Confederates, and those were followed by a knockdown blow delivered at Chattanooga by the man who was fast becoming Lincoln’s favorite general, Ulysses S. Grant. “The signs look better,” Lincoln rejoiced, “Peace does not appear so distant as it did.”

Peace was not the only thing that would be brought closer by victory. The presidential election of 1864 was looming, and if Lincoln had any desire for a second term, a victorious end to the war was the surest way to secure it. He had never seriously considered taking what appeared to some people as an obvious shortcut to remaining in office – declaring the war to be a national emergency and suspending elections for the duration, though two Union governors, in Indiana and Illinois, had done what amounted to that on the state level. That only made the need for military victory all the more urgent, and so Lincoln installed Grant as general in chief of all the Union armies in March 1864, and Grant obliged him with a comprehensive strategic plan that united Union assaults in Georgia, Alabama and, under his own direct command, in Virginia.

None of it worked, and the place where it seemed to work the least was under Grant’s own nose. Crossing the Rapidan River on May 4, 1864, Grant’s army entered at once into a series of head-to-head contests with Robert E. Lee’s fabled Army of Northern Virginia. Fighting three pitched battles – at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and the North Anna River – and enduring numerous smaller collisions, Grant worked his way down toward the Confederate capital at Richmond, which he got within 10 miles of by the end of the month. But the fighting had cost a colossal total of 40,000 dead, wounded and missing, and Lincoln gloomily understood that the Northern public “hold me responsible.”

They weren’t the only ones. Radicals within Lincoln’s own Republican Party in Congress had long been convinced that Lincoln’s preference for a soft postwar Reconstruction was dis-heartening the Republican base. They were further angered when the Republican national committee, headed by Lincoln’s ally Edwin D. Morgan, met in late February 1864 and announced that the party would hold its presidential nominating convention in Baltimore in June, not as “Republicans,” but as the “National Union Convention.” As Grant’s campaign in Virginia ground agonizingly forward, the most vehement of the Radicals – led by Frederick Douglass, Wendell Phillips and Horace Greeley – staged a protest convention in Cleveland’s Cosmopolitan Hall, and on June 4 nominated the Radical darling, John Charles Fremont.

If ever there was a moment when Lincoln needed good news from the battlefield, it was now, and Grant wanted to deliver it. The staggering blows he had dealt the rebels convinced him a little too easily that the Confederates were “really whipped,” that “our men feel they have gained morale over the enemy and attack with confidence,” and that with one more blow, “success over Lee’s army is already assured.” On June 1, Grant launched a hasty strike at Cold Harbor, before the bulk of his army could get into action. Even so, the attack cracked the Confederate defenses on the Cold Harbor road and forced them to fall back. With another good push, Grant might just be able “crush Lee’s army on the north side of the James, with the prospect in case of success of driving him into Richmond, capturing the city perhaps without a siege, and putting the Confederate government to flight” – not to mention providing a rousing military endorsement for Lincoln’s renomination.

But Grant, in his eagerness, had badly misread the Confederates, and when he launched a full-dress attack at Cold Harbor on June 3, it resembled (as one Confederate general put it) “not war but murder.” Well-prepared Confederate infantrymen mowed down federal at-tackers. Grant’s army sustained 3,500 casualties in the main attack and another 2,500 in related actions that day, and the armies settled into a miserable standoff.

Yet Grant carefully limited his report of the Cold Harbor debacle to four terse sentences, including the claim that “our loss was not severe.” And in the official report of the campaign he filed after the war, Cold Harbor consumed just three sentences in 51 pages. For years afterward, Grant’s doubters wondered whether he had deliberately soft-pedaled the failure at Cold Harbor in order to limit political damage to Lincoln on the eve of the Baltimore convention. There is no direct evidence of such collusion; still, Grant’s dismissal of his losses as “not severe” is peculiar.

Even more peculiar, newspaper reporting from the field was shut down by the War Department because of “a violent storm.” The New York Times (whose editor, Henry Raymond, was the new chairman of the National Union Party’s national Committee) did not publish an ac-count of the June 3 attack for three more days, and even then, merely observed that “losses were inconsiderable.”

Strangest of all, however, was Grant’s refusal to propose a truce to recover the wounded from the battlefield until June 7. Military tradition dictated that only the loser of an engagement asked for such a truce. Even though there could not have been much debate about who had won and who had lost at Cold Harbor, Grant delayed the truce agreement (and any public admission of defeat) for four days, while men suffered and died from thirst, blood loss and exposure.

By June 7, however, any anxiety that bad news from Cold Harbor would endanger Lincoln’s nomination was past. That same day, the Union National Convention opened at the Front Street Theater in Baltimore, with Robert J. Breckinridge asking triumphantly, “Does any one doubt that this convention intends to say that Abraham Lincoln shall be the nominee?” They did not, and the next day, undisturbed by any news of Cold Harbor, Lincoln – described by one state delegation as “the second savior of the world” – was unanimously renominated by the convention.

Given how diligently the National Union Party’s staff had worked to ensure Lincoln’s renomination in the months before the Baltimore assembly, even the freshest news from Cold Harbor might not have made much difference. But keeping the ill wind at bay certainly did not hurt. Nor was it uncommon in this war for the impact of bad military news to be blunted by creative hesitation. One of Grant’s corps commanders was overheard telling a staffer not to report actual casualty figures: “It will never do, Locke, to make a showing of such heavy losses.” After that, wrote the officer who overheard him, “I always doubted reports of casualties.” It irked one Philadelphia newspaper on June 9 to admit that “we can scarcely find out that there was fought one of the bloodiest battles of the war, yet, until yesterday, no one knew its result.” This was, in the end, a highly political war, in which military decisions frequently turned before the winds of politics. And in the coming months, Lincoln would find far greater political challenges in the path of re-election than the ones presented by Cold Harbor.

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Sources: R.P. Basler, ed., “Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln”; Larry T. Balsamo, “’We Cannot Have Free Government without Elections’: Abraham Lincoln and the Election of 1864,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 94 (Summer 2001); Gordon C. Rhea, “Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26-June 3, 1864”; Ralph Morris Goldman, “The National Party Chairmen and Committees: Factionalism at the Top”; Andrew F. Rolle, “John Charles Fremont: Character As Destiny”; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series One, 37 (pt 1); Gordon C. Rhea, “The Overland Campaign,” Hallowed Ground 15 (Spring 2014); The New York Times, June 6 and 8, 1864; Ernest B. Furgurson, “Not War But Murder: Cold Harbor, 1864”; D.F. Murphy, “Proceedings of the National Union Convention Held in Baltimore, Md., June 7th and 8th, 1864”; Morris Schaff, “The Battle of the Wilderness”; David E. Long, “Cover-up at Cold Harbor,” Civil War Times Illustrated 36 (June 1997).

Allen C. Guelzo, professor of the Civil War era at Gettysburg College, is the author, most recently, of “Gettysburg: The Last Invasion.”

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Who Was Jim Crow?

HNN Staff   October 31, 2011

Cover to an early edition of "Jump Jim Crow" sheet music (c 1832) -- Wikipedia -

Cover to an early edition of “Jump Jim Crow” sheet music (c 1832) — Wikipedia

Jim Crow laws, as most Americans should (hopefully) know, were the racist segregation laws which cemented white supremacy over African Americans throughout the United States from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 to the civil rights movement’s victories in the mid-1960s.

But who the heck was Jim Crow, and why did his name grace some of the most odious laws in American history?

Jim Crow was not actually a person—the name comes from an 1828 show by Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice.  Rice, in a proto-minstrel act, would put on blackface and sing “Jump Jim Crow,” with the refrain:

Wheel about, an’ turn about, an’ do jis so;
Eb’ry time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow.

The song was quite popular in the early half of the 1800s, and “Jim Crow” quickly became a disparaging term for blacks, but it wasn’t until toward the end of the century that the name was applied to the various post-Reconstruction “black codes” in the South (the New York Times referred to Louisiana’s “‘Jim Crow’ Law” as early as 1892).


The song was quite popular in the early half of the 1800s, and “Jim Crow” quickly became a disparaging term for blacks, but it wasn’t until toward the end of the century that the name was applied to the various post-Reconstruction “black codes” in the South (the New York Times referred to Louisiana’s “‘Jim Crow’ Law” as early as 1892). – See more at: http://hnn.us/article/142719#sthash.iswHNd5D.dpuf

Jim Crow laws, as most Americans should (hopefully) know, were the racist segregation laws which cemented white supremacy over African Americans throughout the United States from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 to the civil rights movement’s victories in the mid-1960s.

But who the heck was Jim Crow, and why did his name grace some of the most odious laws in American history?

Jim Crow was not actually a person—the name comes from an 1828 show by Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice.  Rice, in a proto-minstrel act, would put on blackface and sing “Jump Jim Crow,” with the refrain:

Wheel about, an’ turn about, an’ do jis so;
Eb’ry time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow.

The song was quite popular in the early half of the 1800s, and “Jim Crow” quickly became a disparaging term for blacks, but it wasn’t until toward the end of the century that the name was applied to the various post-Reconstruction “black codes” in the South (the New York Times referred to Louisiana’s “‘Jim Crow’ Law” as early as 1892).

– See more at: http://hnn.us/article/142719#sthash.iswHNd5D.dpuf

Cover to an early edition of “Jump Jim Crow” sheet music (c 1832) — Wikipedia

Jim Crow laws, as most Americans should (hopefully) know, were the racist segregation laws which cemented white supremacy over African Americans throughout the United States from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 to the civil rights movement’s victories in the mid-1960s.

But who the heck was Jim Crow, and why did his name grace some of the most odious laws in American history?

Jim Crow was not actually a person—the name comes from an 1828 show by Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice.  Rice, in a proto-minstrel act, would put on blackface and sing “Jump Jim Crow,” with the refrain:

Wheel about, an’ turn about, an’ do jis so;
Eb’ry time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow.

The song was quite popular in the early half of the 1800s, and “Jim Crow” quickly became a disparaging term for blacks, but it wasn’t until toward the end of the century that the name was applied to the various post-Reconstruction “black codes” in the South (the New York Times referred to Louisiana’s “‘Jim Crow’ Law” as early as 1892).

– See more at: http://hnn.us/article/142719#sthash.iswHNd5D.dpuf

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