Mini-Federalist #2 – Concerning Dangers from Foreign Force and Influence

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #2, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_02.html

Originally published October 31, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, John Jay.

I’ll begin by reiterating how important it is to make the right decision about ratifying the Constitution.

Any government is going to require the people to give up a certain amount of freedom. Is it better to give that freedom up to one big government, or to a series of smaller ones?

It has always been the consensus that a single Union of the States was the best course of action for America. Only now have people begun to suggest that we’d be better off as a group of smaller countries. We can’t ignore this thought completely, but we should be careful until we know whether this is actually a good idea.

We have an amazing country – and it is great that it is a single country – almost as if that was God’s plan all along. The land is fertile and productive, and we have good rivers to transport our goods. Similarly, the people who inhabit this country are all united with the same culture, language, and religion. These people fought together to obtain their freedom and firmly believe in self-government. That united government has already conducted a lot of business and done a lot of good. These people, this land, and this government seem to have been made for each other. It would be a shame to break this all up.

From the beginning, the people have agreed. The first government they created was a federal one. The fact that it isn’t perfect is clear and totally understandable as it was instituted in a time of war and under great stress. Because the people still want a united government – just a better one – the recent convention in Philadelphia met to figure out what to do. The best and brightest minds came together and were able to take their time in designing a government this time. The Constitution is the result of these careful deliberations.

To be fair, the Constitution is only one suggestion for fixing our government. But we should consider it carefully. Remember how many people thought it was a bad idea for us to declare our independence from Britain? That turned out OK. We had a lot of smart guys in Congress from all across the country back then. Many of them are still in Congress and even participated in the Constitutional convention – they haven’t done us wrong before, and they have always believed in a united America.

It was the mandate of the convention to keep the Union together, and that’s what their plan – this Constitution – does. Why are there now people who think that Union is a bad idea? The majority of the people have never thought that dissolving the Union was the way to go, and if we were to follow through with it, I’m sure our best days would be behind us.

Mini-Federalist #1 – General Introduction

This is a continuation of a series of posts that are intended to be shorter, more understandable versions of the Federalist Papers. This post deals with Federalist #1, the original text of which can be read here: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/histdox/fed_01.html

Originally published October 27, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.

We have all experienced how terrible the current federal government is. Thanks to the recent convention in Philadelphia, there is a new proposal on the table to consider – the Constitution of the United States. America has a unique chance to show that a free society can work, and that we need to take this opportunity seriously and ask whether this new government would be best for society as a whole, and not look for the advancement of our own selfish interests in it.

At the same time, we must not to make the argument personal. People will have different and varied motives for their support and opposition to the Constitution, and we should hear each other out and give the benefit of the doubt, as both sides can have evil motives dressed in the clothing of “the public good”. For this reason, we should try to judge the different arguments as dispassionately as possible. My own view is that the Constitution is a good solution to our governmental problems, and I will write a series of articles to lay out the reasons why. My papers will include discussion of:

  • The benefits of having a Union of all the States (as opposed to breaking up into smaller, regional confederacies, as some have proposed).
  • The fact that the Articles of Confederation don’t do a good job of creating such a Union.
  • No matter what government we come up with, it needs to be at least as strong as the one proposed in the Constitution.
  • How the government that is created by the Constitution matches up with what a true republic should look like.
  • How the Constitution is like the pre-existing State Constitutions.
  • Other aspects of the Constitution that will lead to better government, freedom, and protection of property for all.

Further, I will try to provide answers to arguments brought up by the other side in opposition to the Constitution.

Simply put, the argument is one between keeping the Union intact, or breaking off into smaller confederacies – an option that I don’t think is palatable at all, and the next paper will begin to explain why.

Civil War Artillery: Basics

One of the things that is often over-looked (or mistreated, in my opinion) by most visitors to a battlefield is the artillery pieces that are on display. In most cases, these are actual weapons used during that period and fired in anger at the opposing force. They exist today because of careful preservation efforts and we’d like to keep them around for generations to come. This means that you probably shouldn’t let your kids treat them like playground equipment, OK?

Well, I’m not here to lecture you – at least not about your parenting. I’m here to talk about the guns themselves. Mini-rant over.

Gettysburg National Military Park has one of the best collections of Civil War-era artillery anywhere. While there are some fakes among the guns on the field (which have their own interesting history), most of the collection consists of the real thing. In this post, I’d like to focus on laying out some of the basics of Civil War artillery so that you too can become as much of a nerd for this stuff as I am!

First, let’s examine some of the different kinds of guns that were used during the Civil War.

As you may know, the Civil War marked several turning points in warfare. It was certainly a transitional period for tactics, but also for the technology employed in weapons and their manufacture. Some of these advances didn’t catch on right away, but you can see the beginnings of modern artillery in some of the pieces from this era.

The most visually-obvious advance was the use of metals other than bronze in the casting of cannons. Bronze was still in heavy use in the construction of weapons like the Model 1857 12-pounder Light Field Gun (the “Napoleon”), and in the Howitzers of the day, but iron was beginning to make an impact in weapons like the Parrott Rifle (mostly cast iron, with a wrought iron reinforce), and the 3-inch Ordnance Rifle (made entirely from wrought iron). These weapons were very strong and lighter-weight than their bronze counterparts. They were cheaper to produce (especially the Parrott design), and also did a much better job with another big innovation: rifling.

So we’re able to develop a basic identification guideline already: if a weapon is green (or greenish) it is made of bronze. If it is black, it is made of iron. The iron guns are ALL rifled (UPDATE: Well, maybe not). Very few of the bronze ones are.

Now let’s have a look at some of the basic anatomy of these weapons:

6-pounder Gun diagram. From the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.
6-pounder Gun diagram. From the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.

While this diagram specifically refers to a 6-pounder gun (which was basically obsolete by the time of the Civil War), the same terms apply to all the other weapons of the period.

The important parts to note here are the breech, the muzzle, and the trunnions. These are the places where a cannon will bear marks that will help you to identify it. Information stamped onto a piece might include it’s manufacturer, serial number, weight, year of manufacture, and inspector’s initials. No visible markings on the piece is a pretty clear indication that it is a fake.

Let’s have a look at an example from Gettysburg:

Muzzle of a "Napolean"
Muzzle of a “Napoleon”. Photo by John Dolan.

On the left, the “No. 90” refers to this weapon being serial number 90. The serial numbers were unique to each manufacturer, so there may be as many as 6 or 7 U.S. number 90s. Sometimes the serial numbers were also done by orderer. This is especially true of the Parrott rifles. There was a “No. 1” that was made for the U.S. Army, AND a “No. 1” that was made for the Pennsylvania militia. It can get rather confusing.

Below the “No. 90” marking, are the initials “T.J.R” – this is the inspector’s mark (in this case, Thomas Jefferson Rodman) who ensured that the gun was fit for service. If it was, a “U.S.” mark was applied on the top of the barrel, near the trunnions. Moving counter-clockwise, we come to the “1862” mark, referring to the year this weapon was cast. The next marking, “1247 lbs.” obviously refers to the weight of the gun tube itself (not the full weight with the carriage and all).

On this example, the manufacturer’s mark is at the top of the muzzle:

Sound familiar?
Sound familiar? Photo by John Dolan.

It says “Revere Copper Co.” for those of you who have trouble reading it. Yes, it’s THAT Revere. While we all know him for his revolutionary exploits (including a certain late-night ride), that was not his entire life story, of course. His real business was silversmithing and in the post-revolutionary period he did so well for himself that he expanded his business into copper, brass, and iron works. While not the largest supplier of artillery, there are a few examples of his company’s work at Gettysburg, and to my eye, they are the ones with the highest level of craftsmanship. They seem to always have a very bright and consistent green color and just take a look at the “U.S.” stamp on top of the tube:

Revere's fancy "U.S."
Revere’s fancy “U.S.” Photo by John Dolan.

So we can tell a lot about this particular weapon by the markings. First, it is a REAL one. Since we know it was made by Revere Copper Co. in 1862 with a “U.S.” mark, we can also deduce that it was made in Boston, MA and purchased by the U.S. Army specifically for the war effort (since the war went on from 1861-1865). It was likely actually used in battle. The weight of the piece determined the price (usually between $0.40-$0.50 per pound), so that tells us that it probably cost the government between $500-$600 at the time (between $11,500-$13,000 in 2010 dollars) to buy. The fact that it is a bright, consistent green color tells us that it used a pretty high-quality bronze. Some of the Confederate guns in particular are a dingy grayish-green color; a result of metals like iron and lead being mixed into the bronze because the south couldn’t produce or smuggle-in enough copper. Confederate guns may also have bright green dots scattered on them. These are plugs that were put in after the gun was cast to fill in imperfections in the metal.

Another important part of the artillery is the carriages that the weapons are mounted to for field use. A gun without a carriage is pretty useless. During the Civil War, these were made from wood for ease of construction and to keep them lightweight. The problem with wood carriages in a static, “museum” atmosphere is that they don’t weather very well. The carriages at Gettysburg (and on every battlefield I’ve ever been to) are reproductions made out of steel and painted to appear as they would have. All the normal pieces are present on these copies, though:

A full artillery piece (side view). Scanned from the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.
A full artillery piece (side view). Scanned from the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.
A full artillery piece (top view). Scanned from the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.
A full artillery piece (top view). Scanned from the 1864 US Army Field Artillery Tactics manual.

Terms like “prolonge” and “elevating screw” tend to come up in official descriptions of battle action, so it’s handy to know what parts these are referring to.

Now that the basics are out of the way, I’m planning to do a series of posts on this topic. Among the other things I want to cover are the mechanics of how these pieces were fired; how they were arranged into sections, batteries, and battalions (including command structure); and a few posts on specific weapons in the Gettysburg collection that are unique or interesting.

Stay tuned!

Trips to Gettysburg

It’s no secret that I’m a huge nerd for Gettysburg. I go up whenever I can.

I haven’t been going with my regular frequency since our son, John has been born though. You aren’t really supposed to take a newborn out too much, and it’s been kind of a lot of work to take him places. I’ve been missing it up there.

So when my friend John (not my son, John) suggested going up for the day a few weeks ago while Ruth was at work, I got excited. Little John is old enough to be out in the world now, and we recently bought a minivan so taking him places is much less of a production now. Ruth was even fine with it! We were going to Gettysburg!

First trip to Gettysburg!
First trip to Gettysburg!

Once we got into town, we hit the newly-bare and reopened Powers Hill (which none of us had ever visited), and then we went cruising around the field. At some point, the visit turned into a quest to find different pieces of artillery. We hit all the unique pieces that I knew of off the top of my head, including the only intact 6-pounder on the field (pictured above), and the little-visited Jones Ave. and Benner’s Hill. We even took a side-trip over to Hanover, PA to see 10-pounder Parrot No. 1 (which it turns out, wasn’t the first one produced).

We had such a great time doing it, that as soon as we got home, Big John and I started going through books and websites learning all we could about the guns on display at Gettysburg. As is usually the case, we found things that we missed, but REALLY wanted to see. Last Saturday, we made a return trip, this time with Big John’s girlfriend, Jess.

Daddy and his boy on McPherson's Ridge.
Daddy and his boy on McPherson’s Ridge.

We got some more artillery nerdery in (which I will post further about later), and gave Jess a basic overview of the battle. It’s always nice to go up there with a new set of eyes – it makes me question my assumptions and tighten up my story of the battle for the eventual day when I decide that I don’t really care about money and start guiding.

One a "James", the other a John. Both 14-pounders.
One a “James”, the other a John. Both 14-pounders.

These are the first of many memories that I want to make with Little John. Not just at Gettysburg, but chasing history and learning whatever we can, wherever we are. Learning is a life-long process that happens away from a school and without tests most of the time. I want John to really understand that, and I look forward to our future adventures.

Maybe mom can come along, too.

Ignorance

One of the things that REALLY irks me, is the idea that politics was never this bad back in the “good old days”.

They say it about nasty election-season ads. They say it anytime there’s a natural disaster (like the recent Hurricane Sandy). They say it wistfully, in support of a return to “civility” (whatever that means). Most importantly, they say it when they’re in the majority.

The trouble is, this “good old days” that people pine for never existed. This sentiment is raised by those who are utterly ignorant of history (which seems to be a requirement for political punditry nowadays).

To wit:

1) The Election of 1800.

This video from Reason pretty much says it all (all of these lines were written by the partisans for each candidate):

2) Abraham Lincoln.

While Lincoln is widely regarded these days as being one of our greatest Presidents, contemporaries did not see it that way.

The event of his election -literally- tore the country apart. He had no support in the South. His re-election in 1864 was far from certain until the tide of the war changed shortly before the election. Many members of his own cabinet didn’t like him.

He was accused of waging a war for his own political gain (and for the financial gain of the monied industrial interests in the north) against the simple, agrarian South that wanted nothing but peace (or so they claimed). Even his refusal to “compromise” on the issue of slavery was trumpeted by his opponents. On top of that, he was apparently a terrible public speaker!

And as if you needed more evidence, he was assassinated because of his politics.

3) FDR.

We think of FDR as being a super popular President (since he was elected to 4 terms – more than any other President), but his pinnacle really occurred in that second election (the election of 1936) when Roosevelt got almost 61% of the vote. His final 2 re-election campaigns saw steadily declining numbers.

Of course, the only thing you need to know about FDR is the history of the 22nd amendment.

FDR died April 12, 1945. On March 21, 1947 (less than 2 years later), Congress passed an amendment to the Constitution limiting the President to only 2 terms (it would officially become part of the Constitution in 1951 when Minnesota ratified it). Some may say this is purely coincidence. I’d argue that the country had just lived through the economic disaster that was FDR’s Presidency and collectively said, “Lets not do THAT again.”

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The point is, we’ve NEVER been “civil”. We’ve never all agreed. We’ve never had an issue that had no dissenters. We’ve always been pricks to each other when it comes to politics.

That hasn’t changed – and I don’t think it ever will.

Daniel E. Sickles, Concluded

This article is the conclusion of my series on Union Major General Daniel E. Sickles during the Civil War. Before you read this one, you should go read the first and second installments to get the full story.

After Gettysburg, Dan Sickles’ career as a field commander was over. His missing right leg (and his utter lack of qualifications in the first place) assured that. He spent the rest of his Army career as a high-profile recruiter, and as a commander in a few of the departments that the military set up after the war to oversee Reconstruction. He was also involved in some covert diplomacy to ensure that the government of what is now Panama (in the era before we built the canal) would continue to allow our troops to cross their territory on the way to ships waiting in the Pacific.

By 1867, both his daughter, Laura and his wife, Teresa had died from disease. With nothing holding him in the U.S., Sickles took a post as the U.S. Ambassador to Spain during President Grant’s administration. It turns out that he did not have the temperament for diplomacy (I’m sure you’re surprised by that revelation). He did, however continue his womanizing in Europe (reportedly even having an affair with Queen Isabella II) and eventually married Carmina Creagh, the daughter of a Spanish government official.

Returning to the U.S., he served in a few local government roles in New York, most notably as the Chairman of the New York Monuments Commission – the organization that coordinated the funding and dedication of Civil War monuments for the state of New York. This kept him involved in veterans affairs and in Gettysburg, as a large number of monuments were placed there from New Yorkers. His involvement ended when an investigation found that over $25,000 (well over $600,000 in today’s dollars) had gone missing from the commission’s funds. Sickles was forced out on suspicion of embezzlement.

Sickles visiting Gettysburg
Sickles visiting Gettysburg with a few of his old subordinates.

One of the victims of the missing money was a monument to the Excelsior Brigade that was placed at Gettysburg. The loss of funds had left the monument missing one of the elements from its original design: appropriately, that was a bust of General Sickles.

He was re-elected to Congress in 1893 and his most notable contribution from his last term in office was sponsoring the bill that created the Gettysburg National Military Park. He helped to secure the purchase of land around Gettysburg that would become part of the park, and even found a fence to put around the National Cemetery (it was the fence that had been around Lafayette Park, where Sickles had shot Philip Barton Key years before). When asked by a reporter on a tour of the battlefield why there was no individual monument to him, like there was to all the other Corps commanders, Sickles supposedly replied with something to the effect of, “the whole place is a monument to Dan Sickles!” As we’ve seen, modesty was not his strong suit.

Sickles' Fence
The fence from Lafayette Park, now in Gettysburg, that was a witness to Philip Barton Key’s murder.

Adding to his mystique, Sickles was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg. The citation read:

“Displayed most conspicuous gallantry on the field vigorously contesting the advance of the enemy and continuing to encourage his troops after being himself severely wounded.”

Not to speak ill of the man, but this is just a little exaggerated, right? Especially that part about “encouraging his troops” that was probably inspired by the cigar-smoking legend I referenced earlier. You also have to remember that the Medal of Honor was newly-created for the Civil War and there were no lesser medals (Bronze Star, Silver Star, etc.) at the time, so you were either awarded the Medal of Honor or nothing (although as an officer, you could also be given a purely-honorary promotion called a “brevet“). Just to give you an idea of how loose the qualifications were in those days, there were scores of men who were awarded the Medal of Honor for picking up flags that had been dropped by the enemy.

Sickles died in 1914 at the age of 94 in New York. His funeral was held in New York City, and he was buried according to his wishes in Arlington National Cemetery, a controversial and fascinating character to the end.

Also – If you’re interested in learning more about Dan Sickles, may I suggest James Hessler’s outstanding book, Sickles at Gettysburg? While it focuses specifically on his involvement with Gettysburg (both during and after the war) it gives a good overview of his life in the process.

Daniel E. Sickles, Continued

This article is a continuation of my series on Union Major General Daniel E. Sickles during the Civil War. The first post can be read here.

So how did Dan Sickles end up in command of 10,000 troops at Gettysburg? Politics, that’s how.

For as much as we like to lionize Abraham Lincoln these days, we have to remember that he was a politician – and a damn good one. The Civil War was not popular among the opposition Democrats, who went so far as to describe the war as a purely political one against the south being played out by Lincoln. To them, this was “Mr. Lincoln’s Little War”.

Lincoln was a Republican President who needed the support of Democrats in Congress to continue the war. Sickles was a disgraced Democratic politician who needed to restore honor to his image. The result was inevitable. When Sickles became heavily involved in successful recruiting efforts in New York, Lincoln rewarded him with a commission as a Brigadier General.

As a result of more political maneuvering within the Army, Sickles eventually rose to the rank of Major General, and was given command of the 3rd Corps before the Battle of Chancellorsville, befriending fellow Generals Dan Butterfield and Joe Hooker (who was in command of the Army of the Potomac for the Battle of Chancellorsville) along the way. These three were kind of the frat boys of the Union Army.

General Hooker
Joe Hooker – Dan Sickles’ BFF.

At Chancellorsville, Sickles was ordered off of the best piece of ground for artillery on the field: Hazel Grove. Almost as soon as his troops left, the Confederates set up their own artillery and pounded the nearby Union line, forcing Hooker’s withdrawal.

Two months later, at Gettysburg, the memory of that last battle was fresh in Sickles’ mind. He entered the field at Gettysburg on the evening of July 1, 1863 by way of the Emmitsburg Road, next to a peach orchard that, like Hazel Grove, seemed like a great place for artillery.

By morning, Sickles was unhappy. He had been placed on the left side of the Union line, along the low rise of Cemetery Ridge. In front of him was a rocky, marshy, ugly piece of ground and a line of trees that obscured the view of his front and made artillery placement impossible. He found himself yearning to be in that peach orchard from last night. Eventually, he made his way up to Army headquarters where General Meade was much more concerned about the possibility of an attack from the right than he was about Sickles’ nonsense.

After a few unsuccessful lobbying attempts that morning, Sickles finally convinced Meade to send someone down to look over the 3rd Corps’ position with him. General Henry Hunt, who literally wrote the book on artillery prior to the war, accompanied Sickles to the southern end of the field to help him place his guns. It was clear that the position was horrible for artillery. When Sickles showed General Hunt his preferred location at the Peach Orchard, Hunt agreed that it would be more suitable, but reminded Sickles that he wasn’t authorized to order the move. Even if he were, Hunt said, it would be a good idea to scout out the woods nearby to make sure that there was no enemy force in there.

Sickles took the suggestion and sent a party of sharpshooters and a couple regiments of troops into those woods. Within minutes, they were skirmishing with hidden Confederate troops massing for an attack. Sickles felt that he had no choice – he had to move his line to the Peach Orchard – even without permission.

Sickles didn’t really care about getting Meade’s permission anyway. He didn’t like Meade: the stuffy, Old-Army officer who less than a week before had replaced his pal Hooker in command of the Army. Meade didn’t have a whole lot of respect for Sickles, either. Regular Army officers tended not to like non-professionals who were promoted into command positions with little or no training – especially when they were politicians.

From Army headquarters, Meade could see the 3rd Corps line breaking off and moving out to the exposed position at the Peach Orchard and along the Emmitsburg Road – a line nearly twice as long as they had been assigned to hold. He immediately sent to Sickles for an explanation, but heard nothing back. Meade had to go see for himself, but by the time he arrived, Sickles’ men were being attacked and it was too late to pull back. Meade sent for all available reinforcements to aid General Sickles.

The famous Peach Orchard, while good for artillery, did not prove to be very defensible, and it wasn’t long before it was being attacked from two sides. The position crumbled shortly thereafter.

Sickles' Wounding Monument
This marker on the Trostle Farm marks the spot of Sickles’ wounding.

Sickles could see all of this happening from his headquarters at the nearby Trostle Farm. As he was mounted on his horse, watching the collapse of his line, he felt something wet on his pant leg and, bending down to investigate, realized that a Confederate artillery round had flown right along-side his horse and smashed into his leg, leaving his shin bone shattered and this leg dangling lifelessly.

Some stories have him calmly requesting a stretcher and “cooly” smoking a cigar as he is carried to the rear. That’s a romantic legend that didn’t happen, though. Immediately after the wounding, Sickles was in hysterics – pleading with the officers on his staff not to leave him to be captured. He was successfully evacuated to a field hospital behind the 3rd Corps line, somewhere along the Taneytown Road. Once he was stable, he was transported to the Daniel Schaefer Farm on the Baltimore Pike to recuperate further. It was at one of these field hospitals that his right leg was amputated at the knee.

Most limbs amputated during the Civil War were simply discarded. There were piles of arms and legs outside of every field hospital. Medical techniques and training were also not very advanced. Most doctors during the Civil War had never seen the inside of a human body – operating on cadavers (even for training purposes) was illegal in most states. Since the skills and experience of the medical department was not up to snuff, the Army Medical Corps had put the word out by 1863 for people to come up with training materials and documentation on wounds and treatments.

Sickles knew about the training initiative. He used his political influence to have his newly-amputated leg saved and turned over to the Army Medical service, and it was placed (at his request) in the Army Medical Museum where you can still go visit it today (as Sickles himself did regularly for the rest of his life).

Sickles' Leg
Why not visit?

When he was well enough to be moved a greater distance, he got on the road to Washington, DC where there were larger established hospitals and politicians that Sickles could chat up about what REALLY happened in the late battle. Sickles claimed that if it weren’t for him, Meade would have retreated from Gettysburg to his preferred Pipe Creek Line, leaving the field to the Confederates who would have rightly claimed victory. He made enough noise (combined with the fact that the Confederate Army escaped relatively unharmed across the Potomac 10 days after Gettysburg) that it tarnished Meade’s reputation and led to hearings by the Committee on the Conduct of the War investigating Sickles’ accusations and Meade’s supposed lack of action.

We still argue about whether Sickles really deserves that “hero of the battle” title today. While his actions did spoil the element of surprise in the main Confederate attack on July 2, that attack was not very well executed itself, and probably only did as well as it did because the 3rd Corps was in an exposed position. Sickles hardly planned his own actions that day, too. His beef with Meade was not a disagreement about tactics or strategy, it was personal. Sickles purely wanted his old pal Hooker back in charge and used the best tool he knew in his attempt: politics.

While the battle itself was finished, Sickles’ impact on Gettysburg wasn’t over yet. But we’ll cover that in the final post….

Also – If you’re interested in learning more about Dan Sickles, may I suggest James Hessler’s outstanding book, Sickles at Gettysburg? While it focuses specifically on his involvement with Gettysburg (both during and after the war) it gives a good overview of his life in the process.

Recent Reads

I wanted to do a quick set of mini reviews of some books that I’ve read lately. Due to my preparations for a reading party I hosted on Constitution Day, there’s an easily-detectable theme here. Enjoy!

Miracle At Philadelphia

Catherine Drinker Bowen

Miracle at Philadelphia
Miracle at Philadelphia

A few months ago, I read Bowen’s biography of Sir Edward Coke (the greatest lawyer of all time), The Lion and the Throne. While it wasn’t an easy read, and seemed to focus much more on the events around Coke than on Coke himself, I thought I’d give her take on the events surrounding the Constitutional Convention a shot. I’m glad that I did.

She does a good job of setting the stage quickly and getting right into the details of all the politics involved in the convention coming together. Some of the more prominent personalities – Hamilton, Franklin, Washington, and even lesser-known James Wilson – are the central characters. Madison gets his thoughts in as well, but since he kept copious notes on the convention proceedings, he ends up playing the role of narrator in Bowen’s telling.

Some of my favorite parts involved the struggles of the different personalities trying to get their way. Patrick Henry, as the leader of the Anti-Federalists, ends up looking like the “bad guy” in retrospect. I think we tend to forget that not everyone in the room agreed that the Constitution was a good idea – or even that creating a Constitution was a good idea. Some of the ideas that were floated, from having a 3-person committee act as the executive (because we were so freaked-out by the idea of monarchy), to the “revolutionary” idea that elected offices wouldn’t come with a religious or property-ownership requirement, seem really strange to us today but were all concepts that were experimental at the time. It’s good to remember how far we’ve come.

There is an odd section in the middle where she talks about the people and history of the different sections of the country at that time, including the western frontier. It was good info, but it really felt like it killed the flow of the book to me.

This is a solid history of the personalities and politics of the Convention. I really highly recommend it.

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The Odd Clauses

Jay Wexler

The Odd Clauses
The Odd Clauses

This book came up in an article I read on one of the libertarian blogs I read frequently. You have to love the idea of investigating some of the stranger parts of the Constitution, and if the author is the kind of guy who would put Christy’s classic painting of the Convention (with the addition of a few random woodland creatures Photoshopped in) on his book’s cover, you know you’re in for a fun ride.

Wexler doesn’t disappoint. This is a great combination of serious Constitutional scholarship, fascinating historical trivia, and joking-around. It’s quite brilliant.

He does a good job of remaining neutral throughout the book, too. You can just barely detect his own liberal slant on issues in the writing. He does end up going a little nuts in the final chapter though – I suppose he can’t help but rip into the concept of Substantive Due Process (although he does admit that this mechanism also gave us Roe v. Wade).

One of my favorite passages is in the chapter about judicial powers. Wexler imagines the justices operating like a trial court, arguing about whether to let in a certain piece of evidence. Of course, the court splits 4 – 4, with everyone turning to Clarence Thomas for whether to uphold or overrule the objection. He just sits silently. Maybe that’s only funny to SCOTUS nerds.

Overall, if you can tolerate the occasional liberal outburst, this is a really fun book. And you’ll learn a ton in-between laughs.

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A Sanctuary For The Wounded

Christ Lutheran Church – Gettysburg, PA

A Sanctuary For the Wounded
A Sanctuary For the Wounded

This one is not regularly published. The church self-published this collection of essays – I found it in a book shop in Gettysburg.

Christ Lutheran Church is an old historical church in Gettysburg just west of the center of town. It quickly became a field hospital the morning of July 1, 1863 when the fighting started on the ridges west of town. The church does a weekly program (on Saturday nights, I think) where they tell the story of the church as a hospital and they sing period music, and read period poetry. This book is basically the take-home version of that show.

As a collection of essays, its a little disjointed and scattered. While it begins with an overview of the history of Christ Lutheran itself, it doesn’t focus exclusively on the church, but tells the story of the wounded and those who cared for them in the downtown area. There’s also a collection of 19th century poetry at the end for character.

This was a really brief read. I’m no speed demon, but I finished in about 2 hours. While the information is good and somewhat interesting, this is hardly a deep treatment of the subject of the mess left behind after Gettysburg.

Daniel E. Sickles

Saturday marks the (probable) 193rd birthday of one of the most interesting characters in the story of the Battle of Gettysburg: Major General Daniel Edgar Sickles.

General Sickles
The man himself.

At Gettysburg, General Sickles commanded the Union 3rd Corps – a force of nearly 10,000 men – assigned to defend the left flank of the Army of the Potomac (AoP) on July 2, 1863. Sickles played a major & decisive role in the battle that day, but it is his story leading up to that point which provides the most drama.

Although most people don’t know of him today, in 1863, “Sickles” was a household name. Unlike most Generals in the AoP, he did not attend the United States Military Academy at West Point. He had no experience as a soldier. His experience was in politics, as a Democrat from New York. By age 22, he was a member of the New York State Assembly, and became involved in the Tammany Hall political machine. During his time in the state legislature, he was charged or indicted multiple times for misappropriating funds for projects he worked on. He was also accused of theft, brawling, and tampering with elections. There was even a time that he was censured by his colleagues for bringing a known prostitute into the chamber of the legislature as his guest (possibly as part of a vote-buying scheme of some kind).

At the age of 33, he married Teresa Bagioli, the 16-year old daughter of one of his friends (he had met his future wife when she was 2 years old). As you might guess, her family did not approve of the marriage, so the two were married in a small civil ceremony. She gave birth to a daughter named Laura not long after (although Laura’s actual birthdate is less than clear). Married life did not do much to affect Sickles’ womanizing ways however, and he continued to “cavort with low women” for most of his life.

Teresa Bagioli Sickles
Sickles’ wife, Teresa

In 1856, his Tammany connections got him elected to Congress, and Sickles moved his family to a very nice house in Washington, DC on Lafayette Park (just across the square from the White House). There are some questions as to how he was able to afford such a place, as the rent was more than he was making as a Congressman.

While Sickles was busy with his political career (and all those women), Teresa – as the wife of a Congressman – was expected to either attend or host a party nearly every night of the week. That’s just how things were in 19th century Washington. Since Congressman Sickles was so busy, it was considered to be perfectly acceptable – even encouraged – for Teresa to be escorted to these parties by another man. On a few occasions, she was escorted by a man named Philip Barton Key. Not only was Key an extremely handsome widower and a U.S. Attorney for DC, he was also the son of Francis Scott Key – a name familiar to Baltimoreans as the author of the Star Spangled Banner. Almost certainly aware of her husband’s own affairs, Teresa was enamored by Key and the two started a (not so) secret romance.

Key rented a house that he exclusively used as a hookup spot not far from Sickles’ place, and would walk to Lafayette Park waving a handkerchief in the air as the signal for Teresa to come and meet him for a rendezvous. Sickles was either too busy, or too stupid to notice that this was going on.

One day, Sickles received an anonymous letter (we still don’t know who sent it) laying out the details of what his wife was up to:

Dear sir with deep regret I enclose to your address the few lines but an indispensable duty compels me so to do seeing that you are greatly imposed upon. There is a fellow I may say for he is not a gentleman by any means by the [name] of Philip Barton Key & I believe the district attorney who rents a house of a negro man by the name of Jno. A Gray situated on 15th Street btw’n K & L streets for no purpose than to meet your wife Mrs. Sickles. He hangs a string out of the window as a signal to her that he is in and leaves the door unfastened and she walks in and sir I do assure you he has as much the use of your wife as you have. With these few hints I leave the rest for you to imagine.

Most Respfly

Your friend R. P. G.

Sickles didn’t believe it at first. It took a few more of his friends mentioning his wife’s odd behavior before he angrily confronted her. She confessed, and at Sickles’ request, wrote out a letter describing exactly what she had been up to. It was scandalous. Sickles sent Teresa back to New York, and became extremely upset. Key didn’t know that any of this was happening, and he continued with his occasional signaling from the park as before.

On February 27, 1859, Sickles happened to be looking out the window as Key waved his handkerchief. He absolutely lost it. Grabbing two pistols, he stormed out front to take his revenge. As he got closer to Key, Key started to panic and pleaded for his life as Sickles shot him at least twice and then calmly walked to the house of the Attorney General to turn himself in. Key died a few minutes later.

Sickles shoots Key
Murder!

The trial was a media circus. It was the 19th-century equivalent of the O.J. Simpson trial – a celebrity sex scandal, turned murder. Unlike the Simpson trial though, Sickles had public opinion on his side. People in those days felt that if your wife was cheating on you, you should be able to take care of that situation yourself. His defense team was extremely innovative, devising an argument that had never been used before in American history: temporary insanity. The story was that Sickles went insane when he saw Key, killed him, and then clearly stopped being insane when he calmly turned himself in.

The jury bought it. Sickles was acquitted of murder charges.

Where Sickles went wrong was shortly after the trial. He came out and publicly forgave his wife for the affair. Public opinion instantly flipped on him. People thought, “if you could forgive her now, why couldn’t you forgive her before killing Key?” Sickles now had a PR problem.

So how does a shady politician who has quite literally admitted (in Federal court, no less!) that he was insane, end up in command of 10,000 troops at the pivotal battle of the Civil War? The answer (as you might imagine) lies in politics.

But that’s a story for another post….

Happy Birthday, Dan!

Also – If you’re interested in learning more about Dan Sickles, may I suggest James Hessler’s outstanding book, Sickles at Gettysburg? While it focuses specifically on his involvement with Gettysburg (both during and after the war) it gives a good overview of his life in the process.