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Archive for November, 2010

The first snow of the year has arrived.  It’s not accumulating at all, but I can see the flurries fall as the evening matures.  Our winter has started off much milder than last year’s version, but it’s just started, so there’s a long way to go.

I wanted to briefly mention the Philadelphia Convention this evening.  No, not that Convention, as we’ve discussed it quite a bit this year (and will visit it several more times in the future).  The convention I want to discuss is the one that took place after that one.

As you might recall from previous readings, the Pennsylvania legislature was meeting upstairs during the final weeks of the Constitutional Convention.  And while the discussions downstairs were held in secret, there is little doubt that a bundle of rumor, a boatload of speculation, and maybe even a fact or two made its way to the second floor of Independence Hall.

And the close proximity of the two gathering bodies meant that the Pennsylvania legislature would see the finished product first once ratification was complete.  Indeed, just two days after business was completed, the Pennsylvania Packet published as its only news item the entire Constitution, printed in four pages.  And the state legislature got its first exposure a day earlier, as Thomas Mifflin (a Convention delegate) took to the floor and read the Constitution aloud.

To say eyebrows were raised would be to grossly understate the reaction…and with good reason.  Pennsylvania’s own Constitution was altogether different, calling for a one-chamber legislature, elections every year, and a President chosen by the legislative body.  And since 1776, the system had been in place.  And since July of 1787, rumor had been swirling that drastic changes were coming.  In the eyes of many statesmen, Mifflin’s reading confirmed the worst.

The call by supporters of the “new” Constitution for a ratification convention was met with shock and dismay by supporters of the “old”.  For weeks, the arguments back and forth continued, both in the newspapers and in the courts of public opinion.  James Wilson, another the delegates and one of the unsung (and unknown) heroes of the Convention, worked tirelessly in support of innovation (there’s that word again), but met with heavy opposition.  Congress (the big one created under the Articles of Confederation) called for state conventions just eight days after the Constitutional Convention ended, giving rise to fears that things were simply moving too quickly.

It took a couple of weeks for the vote to take place, and the tactics used by each side were both alarming and somewhat comical (and have a place on next year’s schedule), but it finally passed…Pennsylvania’s legislature would meet to determine the new Constitution’s fate in their state.  And on November 30, 1787, the Philadelphia legislature gathered for its convention.  And while the body would meet for five weeks, it would require less than two of them to render a verdict on the Constitution.

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I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving holiday…I know we did.  There was too much food, all of it good.  There was no Black Friday shopping, which was awesome!!  Well actually, there was a bit of shopping on Friday and Saturday, but Friday’s was in the early afternoon, well after all the diehards were pretty much done and back home in bed.

So let’s see, what do we have for today?…Well, it’s my wife’s birthday, so “Happy Birthday!!” to her.  I’m not sure she knows it, but her presents are all ready to go, so we’ll keep that a secret.

Let me check the official Today’s History Lesson spreadsheet…

Here we go…

The Tripartite Pact was an economic, military, and political alliance that was originally set up between three countries (hence the “Tri” in Tripartite).  Germany, Italy, and Japan were the original signers in September of 1940, but the Pact wasn’t strictly limited to them.

As 1941 approached, the Russians were approached about joining the Pact.  It’s a bit unusual, given the natural opposition that Hitler’s National Socialism felt for Russia’s Communism.  But Adolf Hitler’s designs on Russia were not strictly military in scope.  Russia’s tremendous natural resources had as big a target on them as did her military forces.  And if they could be taken peaceably, so much the better.

So Vyacheslav Molotov was invited to Berlin in mid-November and given the Tripartite Pact sales pitch.  And there was some hope that Molotov would listen.  The Russians and Germans had already done business on the Polish issue a couple of years before.  And Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia were all within days of joining the Tripartite Pact.

But those hopes proved fleeting, as the meetings did more to highlight Russo-Germans disagreements than they did to create common ground.  Molotov left Berlin having refused Germany’s “peaceful” overtures, and from the German perspective, the die was cast.  Or maybe “the die was confirmed” is a better phrase, since regardless of the outcome, Hitler had decided years before that Russian soil would be invaded at some point.

On November 29, 1940, the German High Command offered up a proposal for the invasion of the Soviet Union.  The draft included three massive Army Groups, setting off along an 1,800-mile front.  Army Group North would make for Leningrad.  Army Group Centre would have the capital of Moscow as its goal.  And Army Group South was tasked with the capture of Kiev, to be followed with a push to Stalingrad via Kharkov.

Within three weeks, the draft would be polished, planned, and finalized as Directive No. 18…Operation Barbarossa.

If Hitler couldn’t get what he wanted the easy way, he would get what he wanted by any means possible…

Recommended Reading:  WorldWar-2.net – One of the best World War II timelines available anywhere.  A wee bit clunky to navigate, but loaded with information.

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As I type this morning, folks in New York City are preparing for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  And if it’s anything like previous spectacles, there will be floats and bands, convertibles with people waving to the crowds, and probably a celebrity or two.  It’s a big deal.  But Macy’s hasn’t been around forever.  Neither has Thanksgiving, for that matter.  And if you had been in New York City 227 years ago, it would have looked nothing like it will this morning on TV.

But there was a parade…of sorts.

The end of the American Revolution and American victory meant that the remaining British soldiers needed to get out of town.  And New York was one of the last major towns where pro-British sentiments were strong.  But things were changing.  As spring warmed to summer in 1783, those who considered themselves loyal to the British Crown began leaving.  Government personnel, businessmen, and families all headed to Canada or back across the Atlantic.  The loss of businesses was particularly hurtful, as lots of money and jobs were removed from New York’s economy.  By the thousands they pulled up stakes and left.

And what’s more, since the British military had taken control in 1776, New York had been under martial law and had been left in a terrible state of disrepair.  Much of the damage done by the fire in September of that year had never been cleaned up.  Fences and trees had been chopped up for firewood.  The skeletal remains of homes and businesses testified to a much better past, while the cattle roaming the streets and piles of garbage were the reality of the present.  Looking at the harbor, one visitor (probably holding his nose) said, “Noisome vapors arise from the mud left in the docks and slips at low water, and unwholesome smells are occasioned by such a number of people being crowded together in so small a compass, almost like herrings in a barrel, most of them very dirty and not a small number sick of some disease.”  It had become a shantytown.

But on November 25, 1783, there was a parade…a military parade.  Evacuation Day it was called.  The day the last of the British soldiers left town, and new ownership arrived.  The incoming group was led by General Henry Knox, whose first act was to raise the American flag on a brand new flag pole (British soldiers had taken down their flag and greased the pole on their way out).  He was followed by General Washington and Governor George Clinton and their guard.

The remaining citizens of New York were ecstatic.  Seven long years under the thumb of the British was more than long enough, and the day was one of celebration.  And now, the last British outpost was under the flag of freedom.  America was truly independent.  Ron Chernow summarizes by writing, “America had been purged of the last vestiges of British rule.  It had been a long and grueling experience – the eight years of fighting counted as the country’s longest conflict until Vietnam – and the cost had been exceedingly steep in blood and treasure.”  Indeed, it has been estimated that upwards of 25,000 soldiers had been killed in the Revolution.  This amounted to about 1% of the nation’s population, a ratio only surpassed by the Civil War.

Macy’s or no, a parade was most appropriate.

Have a wonderful, and safe, Thanksgiving.

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“The mistakes of the father are often visited upon the son.”

“The apple doesn’t far very far from the tree.”

“Like father, like son.”

These are phrases that you and I have probably said hundreds of times.  We watch children grow up and, whether they belong to us or not, we often notice that the path they follow in some ways resembles that of their parents.  And sometimes that’s good.  Some parents work really hard to set an excellent example for their children, and the kids pick up that example and run with it.  Of course, sometimes the opposite is true, and we watch a cycle of anguish and heartache begin to form.  And then we’ll shake our heads, turn back toward our front door, and mutter one of those phrases under our breath.

But sometimes the time-space continuum gets all contorted.  What was “up” becomes “down” and things start to get all wobbly.  When that happens, it’s the behavior of the children that ends up manifesting itself in the parents.  Yikes!!

Parents are supposed to be experienced…mature…capable of clear, sound thinking and good judgement.  Usually…

Well, time and space conspired to create just such a flip-flop in the Hamilton family.  Alexander Hamilton’s family.  Philip Hamilton was oldest of the children and he had every indication of following in his father’s footsteps.  He was intelligent, good looking, and a bit of a rake (in a youthful way).  He was a fine orator and writer.  The future was promising for young Philip, so much so that his father called him the “eldest and brightest hope” for the family.

But like his father, Philip had a strong sense of honor and, even in his youth, would protect that honor at all costs.  July 4, 1801 was a day of celebration.  The country was a quarter century old, and there was celebration and pomp throughout the country.  There was merriment and feasting.  And, of course, there was speech-making.  In New York, the people gathered for the reading of the Declaration of Independence.  When it was finished, George Eacker got up and addressed the crowd.  This young lawyer was a strong supporter of the Republican movement and President Jefferson.  And as we know, Jefferson was no friend of Alexander Hamilton.

Eacker praised Jefferson for saving the Constitution and the Republic from the likes of Hamilton, blaming Hamilton for the XYZ Affair and, once again, accusing Hamilton of favoring a return to monarchy.  Of course, the speech was published in the newspaper.  And Philip Hamilton read the papers.

Fast-forward to November when, by chance, young Hamilton ran into George Eacker at the Park Theater.  The encounter was heated, with strong words and loud voices that created a disturbance for others trying to watch a play.  Eacker muttered that Philip (and the man with him) were “rascals”.  Today, the word “rascal” means very little.  Maybe we think of Alfalfa or Buckwheat in black and white, but that’s about it.  In 1800, however, the word was loaded.  Calling someone a rascal was the codeword to a duel…and that’s exactly what happened.

Two days later, on November 22, Philip Hamilton and George Eacker exchanged gunfire.  Hamilton had already determined to let Eacker pull first before wasting his own shot in the air.  Unfortunately, Eacker did not throw his shot, which ripped through the former Treasury Secretary’s oldest son and dropped him to the ground.  Taken immediately to the doctor, Philip was soon joined by his father and mother, who was pregnant with their eighth child.

At 5:00am on November 23, 1801, Philip Hamilton died from his injuries, leaving grief-stricken parents, brothers, and sisters.  Eliza’s baby, born in June of the following year, would be named Philip in honor of the lost son.

And in a striking coincidence, the father did not learn from the mistake of the son.  As we well know, Alexander Hamilton would meet his end in exactly the same fashion:  a duel in which he had decided to spare his opponent…one Aaron Burr.

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I’ll keep it brief this evening…hopefully…

More than a year ago, we discussed the publication of the first of the Federalist Papers.  This collection of essays, which comprise what is quite likely the single greatest defense of any government charter anywhere in the world, was penned by three hands under one pseudonym.  Publius, the author in the papers, was actually the 3-headed brain of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

In the weeks following the Philadelphia Convention, James Madison (like Hamilton) looked around and saw newspapers churning out anti-Constitutional articles one after another.  Some of Madison’s comrades, from his very own state of Virginia, were pushing hard against ratification.  Men like George Mason and Patrick Henry, good men to be sure, saw the Constitution not as a natural fix to the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, but as a direct threat to the freedom of every American.

Opposition had really begun in New York, when Yates and Lansing left the Convention in Philadelphia early and returned home.  By the time October rolled into November, Madison found that many northern newspapers were filled “with vehement and violent calumniations of the proposed Government.”

Plans for a pro-government response had begun even before the Convention had adjourned in September, and Hamilton and Madison (as well as others) were besieged with requests to publish a readable defense of the Constitution.  And as we know, young Hamilton got the ball rolling, and would work in prolific manner to keep it rolling, publishing 51 of the 85 essays.  But the only-slightly-older Madison contributed as well, completing 29 essays…

…including the famous Number 10, Madison’s first, which was published in New York’s Daily Advertiser on November 22, 1787.  In his biography of the “Father of the Constitution”, Ralph Ketcham summarizes this most important of writings, in which Madison defended the concept of a “large republic”.  “Madison asked his readers to consider the likely result of extending the representative principle to a large territory.  He granted that this would result in great diversity of interests in the government, but then pointed out what other theorists had overlooked:  in a system which fairly represented the people, this would preserve freedom rather than threaten it, because no one interest would be able to control the government;  each interest – economic, religious, sectional, or whatever – would be a natural check on the domineering tendencies of others.  Thus Madison made a virtue of human diversity and neutralized the selfishness of mankind.”

There is some sense of irony in Madison’s masterful defense.  As a member of the Virginia delegation, he had argued strongly against equal representation in the Senate, only giving in to the Great Compromise when it was readily apparent that the Convention could go no further without it.  He had left Philadelphia (as had Hamilton and many other Constitutional “supporters”) with reservations about the final product.  But as we know, giving a greater voice to the minority helps offset one of the weaknesses of a pure democracy:  the tyranny of the majority.  And clearly Madison understood that danger, and Number 10 addresses it directly.

In one fell swoop, Madison turned the anti-Federalist argument of loss of freedom on its head.  A large republic, rather than restricting freedoms, was the most suitable protector of freedom.

We read The Federalist Papers now and are impressed with their thoroughness and scope.  But we overlook the fact that these three men rarely had time for editing and word-smithing.  Madison reported that the time crunch was such that the documents barely had time to be reread by the author himself, to say nothing of passing them between the men.

Remarkable…

UPDATE:  Martin and Marcia over at What Would the Founders Think? have dissected Madison’s #10 in far more detail than my format allows.  It’s definitely worth a read.

Recommended Reading: James Madison

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In his book A Shattered Peace, David Andelman writes that President Woodrow Wilson went to Paris “with the intention of bringing a new era of moral responsibility to the management of international affairs and an end to global conflict…”  But unfortunately, many of the allied partners who met him there came with very different objectives, and it wasn’t long before the President “found himself mired in a swamp of intra-European intrigue and colonial profiteering.”  Wilson himself offered up his own frustrated summary of six months of Parisian negotiations: “The world will say that the Great Powers first parceled out the helpless parts of the world, and then formed the League of Nations.  The crude fact will be that each of these parts of the world had been assigned to one of the Great Powers.”

It’s no small thing to note that when Wilson arrived in Paris in January of 1919, he was in some sense entering enemy territory.  The President came with a very different agenda than the other victorious Allies.  What Wilson wanted was a lasting peace.  What the others wanted was retribution…retribution they believed they deserved.  France had been the main battle-front for much of the war.  Large sections were a moonscape of shattered trees, mud-filled slit trenches, one-walled homes, bomb craters, and shell casings.  An entire generation of Frenchmen, 1.5 million in total, had fallen on the dust of that landscape, never to rise again.  The French economy was in shambles.  The French wanted payback.

But in addition, the Great Powers came to the negotiating table with land holdings scattered all over the world – holdings they steadfastly refused to give up.  And what’s more, with Germany’s defeat, here was a chance to acquire more territory without the shedding of additional blood.

So the Treaty that was signed differed vastly from Wilson’s vision.  And then he had to return home to sell ratification and entrance into the League of Nations.  Again, he stepped onto hostile ground.  Opposition was led by Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.  An extremely intelligent man with a Harvard PhD on his wall, he viewed the President’s Fourteen Points as somewhat whimsical, mostly idealistic, and all-together out of touch with reality.  And the League of Nations was one of those entangling alliances that would simply eat away at American sovereignty.

In reality, Lodge may have been someone that could have really helped Wilson in Paris.  His strong personality, coupled with his keen knowledge, may have given Wilson more power at the table.  But the long-standing rivalry between the two men meant Lodge didn’t get an invitation.  And with elections but a year away and these two men in opposing parties, here was grist for the upcoming campaigns.

President Wilson did his best to push for ratification, embarking on a wide-ranging speaking tour.  But even that worked against him.  In late September, he collapsed while speaking in Colorado and a week later suffered a massive stroke which left him largely incapacitated and confined to bed.  So there was little he could do or say as the Senate, controlled by Lodge’s Republican party, rejected the Treaty of Versailles on November 19, 1919.

Henry Cabot Lodge may have saved the U.S. from ratifying a bad treaty (maybe the only peace treaty the U.S. has rejected).  He may have also kept the country he loved so dearly from joining a weak League (he would say, “I have loved but one flag and I can not share that devotion and give affection to the mongrel banner invented for a league.”).  But without the power of the United States behind it, the League of Nations was totally doomed to failure.

Recommended Reading: A Shattered Peace – Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today

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This “every third day” thing is getting to be something of a rut.  It’s not a goal to do that, but it’s the way things have gone for a bit here.  But I’ve got a couple things that might interest you history buffs on today’s list, so we’ll see if I can get both in.  First for this morning…

Today’s History Lesson has made no secret of the fact that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was a most capable tactician, one of Germany’s finest.  And rightly so…history has pretty well established it.  It’s no surprise that he was revered by the German people.  He had his detractors in the circle that was the German military, but most military authorities knew he was a gifted leader.  And it’s no shock that Allied leaders, all the way up the chain, respected both his conduct of war and his conduct in war.  He was tough but chivalrous…a brutal opponent on the battlefield and one who detested brutality when the battle was done.

But of course, in war, the opponent you respect the most is the guy on which you place the biggest target.

A year ago, we talked about Operation Crusader.  This British-led offensive had as its goal the relief of Tobruk.  Located in Libya (just west of the Egyptian border), it had been under siege by Rommel’s forces since April of 1941.  It was hoped that General Claude Auckinleck’s forces would come in and break the siege…just before Rommel could strike (what he thought would be) the victory blow.

So, if you’re going to attack Rommel’s forces, wouldn’t it be great if the head guy could be taken out of the picture?  The British thought so, and launched Operation Flipper.  It sounds all nice like that friendly dolphin that was on TV years ago with Annette Funicello or Gidget or whoever, but don’t kid yourself.  Operation Flipper had as its main objective the death or capture of Erwin Rommel.

The mission began on the evening of November 14th.  A pair of British subs arrived to drop off the assualt team, but  horrible weather conditions and strong surf meant that only about half of them made it to shore, the others remaining on-ship.  The target was Beda Littoria, roughly 20 miles from the drop-zone and more than 100 miles further west of Torbruk.  It was there that Rommel was reportedly headquartered and had a villa.  Over the next couple days, the commandos, led by Lt. Col. Geoffrey Keyes, made their way to Beda Littoria, fighting rains, cold, and lots of mud.  And if things were bad leading up to the raid, they only got worse when the bullets started flying.

The raid began just before midnight on November 17, 1941.  Keyes was shot and killed almost immediately, and things just went downhill.  Rommel wasn’t in the villa, and he wasn’t in the HQ.  In fact, he wasn’t anywhere on the African continent.  He was in Rome, and not due back until the following day.  The British had missed their opportunity by 24 hours.

It gets worse.  The surviving commandos were forced to make their way back to the beach.  When they arrived, the weather was still so bad that they couldn’t get to the subs.  And then they were discovered by the enemy and forced to scatter.  In the end, only 2 men reached safety of the 37 that made it to shore on the 14th.  The rest were killed or captured.

Operation Flipper was a major Flopper.

And Field Marshal Rommel, even as the main target, responded with the class and dignity many of his German peers sorely lacked.  He ordered that Lt. Col. Keyes be buried in a Catholic cemetery…with full military honors.

Recommended Reading:  The Story of the No. 11 Commandos – All of their exploits, with a detailed look at Operation Flipper.

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