In my last post, I kicked off a new series and talked about my goal of visiting all the CWSAC Battlefields.
One of the first things I did to help me accomplish this was to create a custom Google Map of all the places that I needed to visit (I am a computer and map nerd, you know). I’m embedding a copy of that map here in case it is useful for someone else. This is what the principal battles of the Civil War looked like, geographically:
I’m pretty good about updating the map as I go on trips. Sites marked in green have been visited at least once, while sites in red are on the to-do list.
Full disclosure: I created this map myself based on a best guess of where several of these battlefields are located after looking at the CWSAC reports and various other resources on the web and in books. There may be inaccuracies on sites I haven’t visited yet. No warranty, and your mileage may vary. 😉
One of my favorite things to do is visit historical sites – especially battlefields. Over the last several years, I’ve begun to expand my horizons beyond Gettysburg; building up a desire to learn as much about the entire Civil War as possible. I had of course visited other local battlefields: Antietam, Harpers Ferry, and Manassas to name a few, but I knew there were more battlefields in other theatres, and my study of the Gettysburg campaign had opened my eyes to all the “minor” actions that took place on the way to the major battles that you think of. There had to be some type of definitive list of these events.
My curiosity led me to the CWSAC. In the 1990s, Congress had created the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission to determine which Civil War battlefields existed and their state of preservation at that time. Their efforts led to a list of 384 “principal” battlefields (from as many as 10,500 armed conflicts of all sizes over the 4 years of the Civil War). Most of these sites don’t have a National Park associated with them. Many aren’t even protected by a State or local park. I decided to set a goal to visit each site.
Since I began this journey a few years ago, I’ve made significant progress. As of this writing, I’ve visited 67 of these battlefields. I should also point out that I don’t strictly adhere to visiting only CWSAC sites – many of the smaller skirmish actions (especially those associated with the Gettysburg campaign) have been on my radar, too.
Up to this point, I’ve been keeping notes about my travels in a small journal, and I’ve also occasionally posted about my visits on Facebook, but I recently realized that a more proper outlet for this historical travel-log would be my blog here. So today I’m adding a new category called “Battlefield Visits” and I’ll be doing an entry for each battlefield that I’ve been to and the ones I travel to in the future. My hope is to make a couple of posts a week until I “catch up” with the sites I’ve hit already, but we’ll see how things go. Most of these posts will probably be quite short, but others may be longer – especially for places I’ve been to multiple times, or that are of greater significance. I’m excited to have you along for the ride!
Regular visitors will notice that things look a little different around here.
My previous hosting providers decided to raise their rates, and corrupted part of the website database at the same time (not exactly a great sales pitch). It seems that the only part of the site that I couldn’t recover was the categories for each post. As of this writing, I’m beginning to rebuild and reorganize those.
As I had to make a bunch of changes anyway, I decided to take a fresh approach to the look of the site as well. I’ve switched to a new theme that is cleaner and should behave nicely on whatever size screen you’re reading this on. I’ve also tweaked the color scheme a little. Feel free to let me know what you think!
While family, work, and school remain my top priority, I plan to continue nerding-out about history as time allows in 2018. Most notably, we have the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg to look forward to together!
This is a continuation of my series on famous burials in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. Other posts in the series can be viewed here. The information was researched and produced in the summer of 2011 for The Gettysburg Daily.
The thing that initially attracted me to Hollywood Cemetery was the fact that two U.S. Presidents are buried there. Once I actually got on the grounds to look for their graves, I noticed a bunch of names that are familiar to a Civil War nerd and the idea for this series was born.
Originally buried in New York City (since he died there while living with his daughter) Monroe’s body was moved back to Virginia in 1858. Apparently the Virginia legislature could not tolerate the idea of one of their Presidents resting in a northern city.
His tomb is incredibly ornate, and easily stands out within the cemetery.
I talk a little bit about President Monroe’s life in this brief video:
The second U.S. President buried at Hollywood is a man who is not necessarily a household name, but a very interesting figure nonetheless: John Tyler.
Tyler’s grave is found just a few yards from Monroe’s in the aptly-named “Presidents Circle” section of Hollywood Cemetery.
His monument is quite large, and features a bust on one side.
In this video I give a bit of information on Tyler, who was an exceptionally interesting 19th century political figure. When the Civil War broke out, he sided with the Confederacy – even going so far as to be elected to the Confederate Congress – but he died before he could assume that office. As a result of his rebel status, he remains the only U.S. President to not be officially mourned following his death.
I decided to make a stop this evening at a local historic site that I’ve read a bit about lately. It’s a place that has been at the center of the history of Perryville, MD for the last several centuries. Visiting somewhere like this and walking the grounds always has the effect of making it more real for me.
Rodgers Tavern gets its name from Col. John Rodgers who purchased it and another on the far bank of the Susquehanna River in Havre de Grace, in the 1780s. He also operated a ferry across the river between the two establishments. Located along the Old Post Road (also called the King’s Highway – the major north-south artery in 18th century America) it quickly became a popular stop for travelers.
Col. Rodgers gained fame as a commander in the Maryland militia early in the American Revolution, giving him ties to many notable figures of the day. George Washington was known to have slept here dozens of times – even once as he was travelling with the army to the final victory at Yorktown. Other revolutionary figures like Rochambeau and Lafayette also visited. Jefferson and Madison came through whenever they were travelling between Philadelphia or New York and their homes in Virginia.
It wasn’t just the visitors who were notable. Rodgers’ son (also named John Rodgers) who went on to become a Commodore in the United States Navy – perhaps the most important figure in the early history of that branch of our military, and a hero of the War of 1812 – was born in this building.
When the first railroad was constructed in the area, it paralleled the path of the Old Post Road. The Susquehanna River was seen as being too difficult to bridge, so a ferry remained in-place to carry the rail traffic. Passengers would exit the train in either Perryville or Havre de Grace and walk down a pier to a waiting ferry boat that would carry them and their baggage to the far shore where another train would complete the trip to their destination. The tavern thus remained a popular stop along the route of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad well into the 19th century.
A young Abraham Lincoln was known to have been a passenger on this route during his days in Congress. Robert E. Lee also passed through on several occasions as he traveled between Baltimore (where he was assigned to supervise the construction of Fort Carroll) and West Point (where his son was studying). Eventually, Lee would make the same trip to West Point to take over as its Superintendent. Another future Confederate General, Isaac Trimble, was the Chief Engineer of the PW&B for many years, and must have come past this building constantly.
The first Union troops to arrive in Washington from the north in preparation for the Civil War passed through here on the PW&B. It was these soldiers who were involved in the Baltimore Riots, causing the next wave under the command of Gen. Benjamin Butler, to get off the trains here and continue south to Annapolis by boat.
The tavern and ferry were bypassed once a railroad bridge was constructed here in 1866. Within two decades, it was effectively abandoned.
But before the bridge changed history, my favorite passenger came through – a man who was much more anonymous at the time he was traveling. In fact, he was trying very hard to blend into the crowd, carrying forged papers, and attempting to avoid the constables who were always on the prowl for run-aways. Luckily, a young Frederick Douglass got off the ferry at Perryville and walked right in front of this tavern on his way to freedom on September 3, 1838. Can you imagine the mix of emotions that he must have felt at that moment in this place?
That is the value of historic preservation. Being in this place – having a tangible connection to these events and the people who lived them – makes history (and thus the human experience) so vivid. Go out and find amazing experiences like this for yourself!
This post was inspired by some books on local history that I’ve been reading recently, most notably:
In my last entry, I explored the history of the plot of land where the office I work in is located. Today, we’re going to start looking at how some of the buildings on our campus came to be. But first, because I’m a fort nerd, let’s take a look at a little bit of the history of the defenses of Baltimore.
Probably the fort that immediately springs to everyone’s mind when you talk about Baltimore is Fort McHenry – focal point of the Battle of Baltimore. Located on Whetstone Point, it was completed in 1800, and was thought at that time to be placed so that it could effectively defend Baltimore from naval attack, and clearly it did in September of 1814.
As weapon technology improved and population expanded, it was decided that the defensive line would have to be moved farther out from the city in order to provide sufficient protection. This led to the construction of an artificial island off Sparrows Point that would become Fort Carroll. Even though it was never fully completed as designed (and it was never tested by an enemy) it served for a number of decades in the middle of the 19th century.
The grand march of technology continued on. By 1886, it was known that the coastal defenses of the United States were obsolete once again. New techniques involving smaller but more numerous gun emplacements, combined with naval mine fields became the preferred approach during the Endicott Period. Baltimore’s defenses were upgraded to this new system right around the turn of the 20th century. Fort Carroll was overhauled, and new installations – Fort Armistead, Fort Howard, and Fort Smallwood (just up the road from our campus) – were constructed. All of these were abandoned as defensive measures by the 1920s because of the arrival of another technological advance: military aircraft.
At first, this new threat was countered with the installation of several anti-aircraft gun batteries at strategic points around town, but when jets – and soon thereafter supersonic jets – came on the scene, it became clear that gun crews wouldn’t be able to shoot the new faster planes down. The Army began researching a different approach, leading to the creation of the world’s first operational surface-to-air missile: the Nike Ajax.
All through the 1950s and into the early 1960s, over 200 Nike sites were established in the U.S. to protect targets of military, government, or industrial value.
The system consisted of a few elements.
The missiles themselves were 38 feet long, with a two-stage rocket motor: the first being a solid fuel booster that would get the weapon off the ground and on the way to its top speed of over twice the speed of sound. Once fully airborne, the booster would drop off and a second sustainer engine would propel the missile to its target up to 30 miles away, delivering three powerful, high-explosive fragmentation warheads.
A ground tracking and control station (called Integrated Fire Control, or IFC) used three separate radars: one to search for incoming targets and determine whether they were friend or foe, one to lock-on to and track the intended target aircraft, and one to lock-on to and track the missile. With the locations of both the weapon and the target known, a ground-based computer (usually located in a semi-portable trailer) would calculate an intercept course and send guidance signals to the in-flight missile by radio. Once the missile was close enough, the detonation signal would be sent, sending flaming shrapnel ripping through the sky toward its target.
It is also important to note that the whole idea was that bombers wouldn’t ever make it to our shores (which of course they never did). If everything went according to plan, any incoming threat would be intercepted by Air Force or Navy fighters somewhere over the Atlantic. These Army missile installations only existed to be a last resort in case anything slipped through.
I wonder a bit about what it must have been like to serve on one of these bases. They’re very small, and the work is highly technical. I get a picture in my mind of a group of nerdy guys – what with all the computers, radars, and radios involved – sitting around waiting for doomsday to show up at the door. One of the most interesting things I’ve come across is a few of the recruiting materials for the Nike program. They really play up the idea that you can join the Army and serve in the U.S. near a big city (as opposed to, say, a jungle in southeast Asia). You can go to football games, and meet girls!
It must have been stressful for the local folks, too. I can imagine that having a missile base move in to your literal backyard would be quite unnerving. Community members had lots of concerns about housing for soldiers, danger from the missiles themselves (the potential for accidents, for example), where exactly these first-stage solid rocket boosters would be landing after they drop off, and even the possibility of their neighborhoods becoming targets of attackers or saboteurs. Luckily, the Army had answers for all of these concerns, and assured the locals that having a Nike site move in next door is really no more dangerous than having a gas station around the corner.
Meanwhile, the soldiers dressed like this for the missile fueling procedure:
Baltimore was included in the list of protected areas because of its manufacturing centers, port facilities, and proximity to Washington – in fact the Baltimore / Washington area was treated in many respects as one combined zone since the cities are so close together. Anne Arundel County hosted three installations: W-26 outside Annapolis near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, W-25 near Davidsonville (both part of the Washington defenses), and our own BA-43 at Jacobsville (which was protecting Baltimore).
Our Jacobsville site came to be as the army was searching for “tactically suitable new base sites” around Baltimore, according to a January 5, 1955 article in the Baltimore Sun. By December, construction was underway on the facility that would one day become our offices.
The site seems quite large, but was only around 36 acres in total. Nike installations actually consisted of three sites: the IFC site, the Administration site, and the Launcher site. In the case of BA-43, the IFC and Administration sites were combined on one plot. The important thing was that the IFC and Launcher sites had to be separated by at least 1,000 yards because otherwise the missile-tracking radar wouldn’t be able to keep up with following the supersonic weapons as they launched vertically.
At this point, I should note that the grounds I’m describing here are school system property, and that they are treated as a secure facility – complete with fences, cameras, and various alarms. Please be respectful of those boundaries and don’t trespass.
Let’s have a closer look at each area. First the IFC / Admin:
Among the elements of the site that have remained relatively undisturbed are the concrete pads that the battery’s computer and radar trailers would have sat on:
On to the Launcher area:
Time has brought significant changes to both of BA-43’s sites. I’ll be detailing some of the reasoning behind that in a future post, but for now just know that these are veryout-dated photos.
BA-43 was initially manned by the U.S. Army, Battery C of the 36th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion from 1956 through September of 1958. A Captain, serving as the battery commander, would be the ranking officer on-site, with the full headquarters for the battalion – responsible for the Baltimore / Washington defense area – located at Fort Meade.
In September of 1958 things changed in the way that the Army wanted to categorize these types of units. In the resulting re-organization, BA-43’s garrison became known as Battery C of the 1st Battalion of the 562nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment. I think this change was due to bringing more sites online, and that a battalion-sized unit may not have been able to support the number of soldiers that were now in place in some of the larger defense areas like New York, Los Angeles, or Baltimore / Washington.
This arrangement remained in-place for BA-43 until 1960. The Army had started converting some of the bases to use the larger, faster, more powerful Nike Hercules missile (which sometimes even carried a nuclear payload). BA-43 didn’t make the switch to the new weapon. Instead, the Army decided to turn over the sites using the older style Nike Ajax to local National Guard units. This was done to save on some costs, as guardsmen could commute to the base and pack a lunch (removing much of the need for barracks and mess facilities). In March of 1960, BA-43 was turned over to Battery A of the 1st Battalion of the 70th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, Maryland National Guard. This unit would be in control of the site until it was shut down in December of 1962.
I’m pleased to report that the weapons of BA-43 never had to be used against an enemy. As the 1970s approached, the threat from Soviet bombers became superseded by the threat from Soviet ICBMs, and while an attempt was made to create an anti-ICBM Nike missile (the Zeus), it was ultimately decided to end the Nike program in 1974.
I started this post with a brief overview of the history of Baltimore’s defenses because I think that here we have a great illustration of the incredible progression of technological advancement in the 20th century. Fort Smallwood – just at the tip of the peninsula – was completed in 1905, and was thought at that time to be positioned to provide an adequate defense of Baltimore. By 1927, it was abandoned because it was made obsolete by new technology. Thirty years later, the land just 2 miles south of Fort Smallwood – the place where BA-43 was constructed – was only useful defensively as a last resort. Within 6 years, that purpose was even made obsolete. It’s a remarkable pace of change.
In the next post in the series, we’ll find out what became of BA-43 once the Army had abandoned the site. For now though, I’ll end this post with another video. This one is from an Army-produced film highlighting some aspects of life at the Nike site near Upper Marlboro, MD. It’s a pretty interesting piece:
Here are some useful sources that I consulted for general information in putting together this post:
When I first started working for the Anne Arundel County Public SchoolsFacilities Department last year, almost immediately I noticed some interesting things about the building where our offices were. You could tell that there had been a lot of modifications made to it over the years: walls had been moved around, network and telephone cables are strung near the ceiling along the main hallway, a variety of windows and doors are used throughout – things like that. Clearly, this was not a building that had been designed from the outset for the purpose it was fulfilling today.
In that first week, a few of the guys asked me if anyone had taken me out back to see the “missile silos”. When I asked my boss about it (thinking that maybe this was some kind of initiation-of-the-new-guy thing) she confirmed that the campus we occupied had once been a military installation. Being the military history nerd that I am, I just had to look into the history surrounding our office. What I found was both interesting and surprising, so I figure: what better way to record that history than with a series of blog posts?
We’ll start at the beginning.
The area now known as Pasadena, MD has seemingly always been a peninsula, though the bodies of water surrounding it have not always been so large as they are today. The melting of Canadian glaciers over many thousands of years raised the sea levels to the point where most of the original native settlements are now suspected to be under water. It is believed that the current water levels have been consistent for probably the last 2,000 – 3,000 years.
When Captain John Smith came up the Chesapeake Bay in 1608, he didn’t encounter any native people in this area, but archaeological evidence points to habitation by the Powhatan tribe of the Algonquian people, who had a series of semi-permanent camps on the peninsula during that time. They would have fished, hunted, and done some limited farming. Arrowheads, tools, storage vessels (of both clay and gourd), as well as evidence of fabric have all been found in the area.
By the middle of the 17th century, European settlers had begun to move in, with all the land on the peninsula probably being claimed by the 1690s. This northern part of Anne Arundel County was then known as “Town Neck Hundred” and was heavily wooded. One of the first things to be done by the settlers was the clearing of those forests so that tobacco fields could be established. Tobacco was thecash crop of early colonial Maryland, and land owners (as well as their investors) wanted to generate healthy profits from its sale as quickly as possible. Land grant maps from the 1700s show the location of my office as being in a tract called “Poplar Plains”. Not much physical evidence remains on the landscape from that period except for Hancock’s Resolution, a house built in 1785 about 3 miles east of our department’s buildings.
Population remained sparse well into the 19th century. The 1850 census shows barely more than 2,000 people living on the entire peninsula, most of them farmers. The crops had changed though: tobacco was out, and corn was in. Some were also growing wheat, plums, apricots, and strawberries.
During the Civil War, southern sentiment prevailed among the people here. Though it remained with the Union, Maryland was still a slave state until November of 1864, and almost 1/3 of the residents of what is now Pasadena were slaves. Only a few men from the peninsula served with northern units in the war. More men followed their convictions and left home to join Confederate units in Virginia. Others who stayed behind were later certified by a local doctor as being “unfit” for service in order to avoid the draft that was instituted. There are also stories of men who were drafted avoiding the army by sending one of their slaves to act as a substitute in their place (people could do that back then). The numerous waterways, combined with the agricultural and political character of the area led to a sizable smuggling trade, with sympathetic farmers loading up blockade-running ships full of supplies for the Confederate forces.
In the post-war years, the loss of slave labor created problems for the farmers still trying to work the land and harvest their crops. Most seem to have started transitioning away from grains to fruits and vegetables, and these “truck farms” were able to find ready markets for those products in Baltimore and Philadelphia. Labor issues were alleviated by the wave of immigration coming from eastern Europe, especially in the 1880s. The 1878 Hopkins Map of Anne Arundel County’s Third District shows the area of our offices being held by “Robt W. Chard”. Population and structures remained sparse.
Around the turn of the century, the beaches of the peninsula became a popular tourist attraction, with many people making the trip by boat from Baltimore during the warmer months. Roads were almost nonexistent here at the time, and since these visitors were arriving at, and remaining close to the shore, they made little impact on the farms in the interior of the peninsula where our complex of buildings is located. Seemingly for decades, life went on as it always had, except that the name “Pasadena” – brought along by a group of people who had immigrated from California – was now being used to describe the area.
Fruit and vegetable farming remained very productive. By 1910, Anne Arundel County was known as the strawberry capital of the United States, and it is certain that the fields surrounding Jacobsville made their contribution to that reputation. In addition to strawberries, the plot where our offices are now located also grew a distinct breed of cantaloupes and other types of fruits and berries.
But even 45 years after the abolition of slavery, there was still a darker side to all of this agricultural abundance. Our present campus was, in 1909, part of a large operation owned by Robert Bottomley, and his farm in particular became the subject of a series of photographs by Lewis Hine, documenting the reality of child labor in America at the time. These images and thousands more that Hine would create all across the country, helped to raise public awareness and lead to the institution of child labor laws in the years that followed (Hine’s original caption accompanies each photo):
The living conditions on the farm at the time appear to be quite primitive. Immigrant families lived transient lives, never really putting down roots anywhere, but having to follow the seasons south and north looking for whatever work they could find.
This photo shows a broader vista of Bottomley’s Farm. This is the land that would eventually become our building complex and the Compass Pointe Golf Course that surrounds us.
The pace of change began to accelerate rapidly in the 20th century. In particular, 1932 brought both the electrification of the majority of the peninsula, and the completion of Fort Smallwood Road. The advent of the automobile meant that more of the area’s farmers were purchasing trucks, and as the road system improved, they were overwhelmingly choosing to ship their produce to market over land instead of on the water by the 1950s.
But the middle of the century would bring even more changes to the Pasadena area. The threat of Soviet bombers bringing nuclear destruction upon nearby Baltimore caused the Army to start looking for ways to defend against that possibility. I’ll be exploring that topic further in the next post of the series.
On Wednesday afternoon, I was lucky enough to be in the Leesburg, VA area on a day trip with my family, and had some time to check out a field I’d never been to: Ball’s Bluff.
The battle itself was a fairly small action as Civil War battles go, but is more significant because of who was there and what happened to them. One of the men killed was Col. (and Senator) Edward D. Baker – the only U.S. Senator to be killed in combat – and his death prompted his friends in Congress to take a heavier interest in the war effort, leading directly to the creation of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.
The park that encompasses the battlefield (well, most of it anyway) is owned by the Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority, and is well-maintained. There is also heavy volunteer involvement, with free tours being run on the weekend during the warmer months, and plentiful maps and brochures available at the parking lot. You can tell that the local Civil War nerds take great pride in this place. It is small, but very well marked with monuments and waysides. There is a network of trails leading visitors through the phases of the battle and key terrain features. It’s really nice.
Among the commemorative features are representations of the three artillery pieces that the Union army brought to the field from across the river. Two of those three are reproductions, but there is an actual Mountain Howitzer there as well – I had never seen one in person and was pretty excited about it.
If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth a visit. The hiking trails are nice, and if you’re at all interested in the history, you can’t beat actually being on the field. I can tell you that I’d be pretty uncomfortable with my back against that bluff and a few regiments of Confederates bearing down on me!
Well, it’s been nearly a year since I’ve last posted here, and what a year it has been.
For starters, I’ve changed jobs. In April of this year, I left the Howard County Public School System to take a job with the Facilities Division of the Anne Arundel County Public School System. My official title is “Network Data Specialist”, and I really love what I’m doing. The job is part desktop support, part server administration, part technology adviser, part phone guy – I get to have my hands in a lot of different things in a given day. While that might sound stressful, the people I’m working with and for are really great, and make serving them a joy. I really don’t see how I could be happier professionally.
And how’s this for a kicker? The building that I’m working in now has a fascinating link to military history. We’re located about 2 miles down the road from Fort Smallwood – which I thought was cool enough when I interviewed – but it turns out that our campus started it’s life as a military installation as well. In fact, it was the spiritual successor to the Endicott series fort up the road. I’ll have a post soon about Nike-Ajax Missile Site BA-43.
The other big change is that I’m back in school. I never thought I’d ever write that sentence, but it came about as a result of the job change. AACPS really does a great job of creating incentives to have higher levels of education. In addition to tuition reimbursement, there are higher-paying salary scales for people with degrees, so I finally have a concrete reason to pursue a degree. For now, I’ve re-enrolled at CCBC (where I took one math class almost a decade-and-a-half ago) working toward an Associate’s degree in Network Technology. I’m actually pretty excited about it. I’ve already completed my first class over the summer, and with the transfer credit I brought along from my UMBC days and a few industry certifications I’ve earned over the years, I’m just past the half-way point to my AAS.
As far as hobbies go, I’ve become pretty obsessed with single-board computers lately. I have a PineA64+ (2GB model), a few Raspberry Pi’s, and a CHIP. What started as a cheap way for me to have a Linux server again, has grown into a desire to learn more about electronics and “making”. I may have a few posts about those topics coming up as well.
And of course the fascination with history hasn’t stopped. Lately, I’ve been on a streak of reading about 18th and 19th century African-American history. First, the definitive biography of Benjamin Banneker (a small part of whose property I now live on). I then picked up a brief overview biography of one of my heroes, Frederick Douglass. Currently, I’m reading “The Negro’s Civil War“, a collection of letters, articles, and speeches from African-American authors documenting their thoughts and feelings about the subjects of slavery, the war itself, and reconstruction. I suppose I could probably work up a few posts worth of reviews on these in the coming weeks.
So that’s the big update. With any luck, the next one won’t be another year away. 😉
Originally published December 28, 1787 by “Publius” – who was in this case, Alexander Hamilton.
We already discussed how the Federal government should provide for the military including raising troops, building a navy, and anything else that might be needed for defense. Of course, this isn’t the only thing that the government should be able to collect tax money for. The Federal government needs to be able to pay off national debts, and pay for other things that have a national scope. Clearly, the proposed Constitution must give the Federal government a general power to collect taxes.
It’s obvious that any government needs money, so it follows that the government ought to be allowed to regularly collect enough of it to do its work. If mechanisms for this collection aren’t in-place, then either the people are going to be hit up for money whenever there’s a crisis, or the government will quickly go bankrupt.
As an example, think of the Ottoman Empire – the Sultan has no power to impose a tax on his citizens. Instead, the governors of the individual provinces are allowed to rob their citizens so that the Emperor has the money he needs for his own (as well as the government’s) use. We face the other problem here: our government has been allowed to whither down to almost nothing. Wouldn’t it be better for both countries to have a well-established, regular tax system?
Our current system was supposed to give the Federal government the means to collect all the funds it needed, but the design is flawed. Congress is allowed to figure out what it needs and ask the States (who are legally obliged to comply) to provide it. The States aren’t supposed to get a say in the matter – except in how they collect the necessary funds – but in practice, they drag their feet if they disagree with Congress’ demand. Things will always be like this as long as Congress is dependent upon the States for funding. Even people who don’t care about politics know that this is going on, and we’ve already talked about it at length in these papers. This is the main reason that our government is a mess, and it is a bad thing for us, and a good thing for our would-be enemies.
How can we fix this other than by changing the whole system? We can’t rely on quotas imposed on the States anymore. We have to allow the Federal government to collect its own taxes. Even smart people can disagree about this at first, but there’s no other solution to keep us from going bankrupt.
Some of our smarter opponents will admit that our solution has merit, but they suggest that we limit the Federal government to so-called “external” taxes, like duties on imported goods, while leaving the “internal” taxes – those against the citizens directly – to the States. This idea doesn’t make any sense. The Federal government would still be depended on the States for funding. We can’t possibly bring in enough money to meet our current needs with these purely “external” taxes. And that is to say nothing of our future needs! We need our government to have maximum flexibility in collecting funds.
These opponents go on to say that any lack of Federal funding can be made up by the States. On the one hand, this admits that we can’t really rely on their solution, but that we ought to for any needs we have above a certain amount. Anyone who has really thought through this problem (or read my other papers) will be horrified at the idea of entrusting our national interests to this system. This proposal would make our country weaker, and lay the groundwork for conflict between the States. What makes us think that the same problems won’t crop up just because the Federal government will theoretically be asking for less money from the States? As if there is some point at which the States could decide that the Federal government doesn’t really need any more money. How could any government operate in a state of constant neediness like this? It can’t possibly have stability or establish credit – either at home or abroad. It can’t address anything but short-term issues, and always in “crisis mode”. There can be no long-term planning to advance the greater good.
What would happen if we’re ever drawn into a war? Let’s assume for the moment that the “external” taxes are enough to handle our day-to-day needs during peacetime. How would the Federal government handle an unexpected attack against us? We already know from experience that we can’t rely on the States to provide the Federal government with money – even during a time of great danger. So the Federal government would be forced to divert funds from normal operations (like paying off our debt) to cover the cost of the military. I can’t imagine any other way. And if that happened, our credit would be ruined at a time when we may need it most. Even countries that are richer than ours need to borrow money when they get involved in a war, and if we can’t be trusted to pay our debts, the amounts and terms of the loans we’ll be able to secure will be far from ideal.
You might argue that even with the Federal government having a full power to tax as it needs to, that we may still find ourselves in a position where we have to divert funds from normal operations like debt repayment during a war. There are still two advantages to the system where the Federal government has its own tax power: 1) we know that all the resources possible will be acquired and used, and 2) it will be easier to get loans to cover any gaps.
If the Federal government has the power to tax as much as it needs to, there will be no problem getting loans from either foreign or domestic sources. But if the Federal government is fully dependent upon the whims of 13 other State governments in order to pay it’s own bills, no creditor is going to loan to it.
These may seem like small concerns to people who imagine that we are building some kind of utopia here in this country. But those of us who know the problems and crises that have been experienced by other countries don’t expect that we’ll be able to completely avoid them. These matters deserve our serious consideration.