What Our Ancestors Did

My podcasting partner Stacy McCain has a post up that touches on the fact that many Americans, including many black Americans, are descendants of slave holders. I am one.

From 1680 to 1863, seven generation of my ancestors were planters in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Tennessee who used slave labor. Slavery was part of the economic system that existed in those places and times, and they were people of the those places and times.

I am a man of my place and time. I’m not a slave holder. Indeed, I oppose slavery.

The 18th of April—As Remembered in 1860

“Paul Revere’s Ride” was written in 1860 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to commemorate the actions of American patriot Paul Revere in 1775. It was first published in the January, 1861, issue of The Atlantic Monthly. I doubt that publication would touch it today.

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,—
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders, that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

The poem is in the voice of an old innkeeper telling children of his memories of the 18th. You know the rest in the books you have read … Do children still read the story of Paul Revere and Lexington and Concord in school these days?

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Rep. Jim Jordan, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has issued a subpoena for FBI Director Wray to testify about the agencies intelligence gathering activities aimed at the Catholic Church. A few weeks ago, news broke of an FBI office targeting enthusiasts of the Latin mass as extremists. It now turns out that the FBI has recruited at least one “undercover employee” to develop sources among the Catholic clergy and other church leaders.

IIRC, the Cheka and its successors down to the KGB infiltrated the Russian Orthodox Church with a goal of separating the people from religion and controlling what little of the church survived in public.

Jūdica me, Deus, et dicērne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab hōmine inīquo et dolōso ērue me.

UPDATE—For those of you who don’t know Latin:

Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the unholy nation, deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.

That’s from Psalm 42, and it’s read as part of the Traditional Latin Mass for Easter Tuesday. It seems to fit the present situation.


2001: A Space Odyssey

55 years ago today, 2001: A Space Odyssey opened. I went to see it a couple of days later at the Belle Meade theater in Nashville which was showing the Cinerama super-widescreen version of the film.

The 21st century’s exploration of space has not turned out as the film suggested. Neither of the two manned orbital stations are as extensive as Space Station 5, and there are no manned bases on the Moon. No one has been to the Moon for 50 years.

Indeed, no one has flown beyond low Earth orbit since Apollo 17, let alone headed to Jupiter.

OTOH, none of the AI systems have turned out like HAL. Yet.


You Keep Using Those Words

I do not think they mean what you want me to to think they mean.

Whenever I hear some politician talking about “our democracy,” I wonder if I’m included in the group he means when he says, “Our.”

Also, whenever I hear a politician talking about “democracy,” I’m reminded of how Benjamin Franklin described the form of government being created by the Constitutional Convention: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

My President’s Day Lists

I believe that most lists of best and worst presidents aren’t particularly helpful. Here are my lists of, not the best and worst, but the most beneficial and the most harmful presidents.

Most Beneficial
1. (Tie) George Washington / Abraham Lincoln—If you don’t understand why, you probably flunked American History.
3. James K. Polk—Made the United States a truly continental power and kept his promise to only serve one term.
4. Ronald Reagan—For his leadership in opposition to the 20th-century’s experimentation with Marxism.
5. Calvin Coolidge—For leaving well enough alone.

Most Harmuful
1. (Tie) James Buchanan / Andrew Johnson—Buchanan’s incompetence made the Civil War unavoidable. Johnson hindered the nation’s recovery from the Civil War.
3. Woodrow Wilson—For resegregating the federal government and his WW1 police state.
4. Herbert Hoover—For his “progressive” economic polices that turned a bad recession into a depression.
5. Franklin Delano Roosevelt—For his “progressive” economic policies that stalled the recovery from Hoover’s depression and caused The Great Depression.