the american thanksgiving

Today’s selection — from The American Plate by Libby H. O’Connell. The American celebration of Thanksgiving:

“To understand the importance of turkey in our culinary heritage today, let’s take a look at how it became the iconic food of America through its association with Thanksgiving, a vivid part of our shared, almost mythic past. The idea of Thanksgiving is based in part upon the natural inclination of agrarian groups of people to hold a festival in thanks for the harvest, and we humans have been celebrating the gathering-in of crops for millennia.

“The term ‘Thanksgiving’ originally included serious religious dedication, with several hours spent in church — and it started long before the famed feast between American Indians and colonists in Massachusetts. In 1519, at St. Augustine, Florida, the Spanish celebrated Thanksgiving with pork and chickpeas brought from the Old World. According to contemporary sources, a harvest dinner shared by Spanish settlers, missionaries, and American Indians took place in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the 1590s. At the Berkeley Hundred settlement in Virginia in 1618, the English dined on ham and gave thanks for their safety and survival.

“Of course, the 1621 harvest feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts — where the ‘Pilgrims’ (the term is in quotes because they wouldn’t have labeled themselves that) were joined by ninety Wampanoag warriors — is the big dinner remembered every November. We know that four Englishmen went out hunting for that celebration and brought back unspecified fowl, which could be anything with wings — duck, geese, partridge, or yes, even turkey.

“They also may have served eel and shellfish, plus foods based on the Three Sisters [winter squash, maize, and climbing beans], which their indigenous neighbors had taught them to grow with such success. We know that the Indians brought venison. Cranberry sauce, which requires so much sugar, would not have made an appearance, although stewed pumpkin sweetened with honey or maple syrup may have been shared.

“The historical record about the harvest feast we celebrate as the first Thanksgiving does not specify a turkey, but it is clear that there was plenty of food at the celebration. As the colonial period progressed, the tradition of a harvest festival continued, particularly in the Northeast, where it was observed at different times in different colonies.

“Families traveled to be together and dined on turkeys as well as chicken pie, ham, and game. Women worked hard for weeks to present a table laden with different dishes, along with an abundant array of fruit pies and cakes, and distributed gifts of food to the poor. After the American Revolution, young families emigrated from New England, looking for farms of their own in the western territories, and brought the Thanksgiving tradition along with them.

“This particularly home-centered holiday grew in cultural importance before the Civil War, when it was championed by Sarah Josepha Hale, the Martha Stewart of her day. Cookbook author, novelist, and magazine editor, she published recipes for roast turkey with stuffing and pumpkin pie, along with editorials favoring the creation of a new national holiday. At that time, governors of several states declared Thanksgiving at some point in the late fall.

“Hale encouraged President Lincoln to make the feast day a single national holiday for all, uniting every American. With his uncanny political timing, Lincoln authorized this quintessential American celebration in 1863, just as things were looking up for the Union in the Civil War. …

“One reason why our images of Thanksgiving reflect the Pilgrim legend is that New England (and the North more generally) culturally predominated in the United States in the years after the end of the Civil War in 1865. And this was the era when popular artists created the images of our mythic New England forefathers and foremothers gathered around a scenic table, complete with a big turkey roasted to a golden fare-thee-well. So it is the story of the Wampanoags and the settlers of Plymouth, not Jamestown, Virginia, and certainly not St. Augustine, Florida, that schoolchildren have reenacted for more than a century. Quite possibly, other similar Thanksgiving celebrations between European settlers and American Indians occurred as well. We just didn’t hear about them.”

The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites

Author: Libby O’Connell
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Copyright 2014 by Libby H. O’Connell
Pages: 52-53
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About Us is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.


a knife to barney fife’s throat

Today’s selection — from Andy and Don by Daniel de Visé. Don Knotts vaulted to national fame in the 1960s as Barney Fife, the exasperatingly comical deputy sheriff and sidekick to Andy Griffith in theAndy of Mayberry sitcom. Just as Barney’s false bravado masked his insecurities, so Don’s ascent to stardom masked a deeply grim childhood:

“Don was fourteen years younger than his next youngest sibling, William Earl, a boy so slender he was called Shadow. Don was an accident, Elsie, thirty-nine and married to a forty-two-year-old invalid, had not planned to bring another child into the world.

“Don’s childhood was bleak, even by the sepia-toned standards of the Depression. The house on University Avenue sat in a crowded row of unkempt wooden colonials set against a steep hill. He slept on a cot in the kitchen, next to the stove. Two of his older brothers, Shadow and Sid, shared a bedroom with a boarder. Willis Vincent ‘Bill’ Knotts, the most ambitious sibling, had already decamped to seek his fortune as a manager at Montgomery Ward. Don’s mother and father slept in the living room, and Jesse Sr. spent most of his waking hours on the sofa, staring into space. Don’s brothers liked to drink and fight; there was little to distinguish them from the vagabonds who paraded in and out of the University Avenue home.

Don Knotts early in his career as a ventriloquist

“Don emerged from infancy with a ghostly pallor, a skeletal frame, and a predisposition to illness, traits he shared with his older brother Shadow. ‘I did not come into the world with a great deal of promise,’ Don recalled. ‘By the time I started grammar school, I was already stoop-shouldered, painfully thin, and forever throwing up due to a nervous stomach.’

“Three decades later, Elsie Knotts would ask Don, ‘Do you remember when you were in nappies, and your father used to hold a knife to your throat?’ Don did not. Only in therapy did the memories come flooding back. Don spent his first years living in fear of the monster on the couch. Jesse Knotts harbored a primal jealousy toward Don, the unexpected baby who drew Elsie’s attention away from her bedridden husband. From the day Don arrived, he competed with his father for his mother’s care.

“The only path out of Don’s kitchen bedroom led through the living room, where his father lay. Don would try to tiptoe by. Sometimes he would pass unnoticed. Other times, the father would emerge from his fever dreams and train his bloodshot eyes on his youngest son. Don would freeze as he heard the ragged growl of an unpracticed voice: ‘Come here, you little son of a bitch.’ Don would slowly retreat from the room. Usually, the summons was an empty threat. But on occasion, Jesse would rise from the couch like a shambling ghoul and stagger into the kitchen to find a blade. Then he would stumble through the house in search of his son; the hunt wouldn’t take long, as there was nowhere for Don to go. Jesse would pin Don against the wall, raise the knife to his throat, and terrorize the child with dark oaths: ‘I’ll kill you, you son of a bitch.’ “

Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show

Author: Daniel de Visé
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copyright 2015 by Daniel de Visé
Pages 4-5
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About Us is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.

slave coffles

Today’s selection — from The American Slave Coast by Ned Sublette and Constance Sublette. The coffle was a common way of transporting slaves from the slave breeding states on the Atlantic coast such as Virginia to the slave markets and plantations of the deeper South.

“Southern children grew up seeing coffles approach in a cloud of dust.

“A coffle is ‘a train of men or beasts fastened together,’ says the Oxford English Dictionary, and indeed Louis Hughes referred to the coffle he marched in as ‘a herd.’ The word comes from the Arabic qāfilah, meaning ‘caravan,’ recalling the overland slave trade that existed across the desert from sub-Saharan Africa to the greater Islamic world centuries before Columbus crossed the Atlantic. …

“But the people trudging to Mississippi … were not Africans. They were African Americans, born into slavery and raised with their eventual sale in mind. Force-marched through wilderness at a pace of twenty or twenty-five miles a day, for five weeks or more, from can’t-see to can’t-see, in blazing sun or cold rain, crossing unbridged rivers, occasionally dropping dead in their tracks, hundreds of thousands of laborers transported themselves down south at gunpoint, where they and all their descendants could expect to be prisoners for life. …

“About a quarter of those trafficked southward were children between eight and fifteen, purchased away from their families. The majority of coffle prisoners were male: boys who would never again see their mothers, men who would never again see wives and children. But there were women and girls in the coffles, too — exposed, as were enslaved women everywhere, to the possibility of sexual violation from their captors. The only age bracket in which females outnumbered males in the trade was twelve to fifteen, when they were as able as the boys to do field labor, and could also bear children. Charles Ball, forcibly taken from Maryland to South Carolina in 1805, recalled that

The women were merely tied together with a rope, about the size of a bed cord, which was tied like a halter round the neck of each; but the men … were very differently caparisoned. A strong iron collar was closely fitted by means of a padlock round each of our necks. A chain of iron, about a hundred feet in length, was passed through the hasp of each padlock, except at the two ends, where the hasps of the padlocks passed through a link of the chain. In addition to this, we were handcuffed in pairs, with iron staples and bolts, with a short chain, about a foot long, uniting the handcuffs and their wearers in pairs. …

“The captives were not generally allowed to talk among themselves as they tramped along, but sometimes, in the midst of their suffering, they were made to sing. The English geologist G. W. Featherstonhaugh, who in 1834 happened upon the huge annual Natchez-bound chain gang led by trader John Armfield, noted that ‘the slave-drivers … endeavour to mitigate their discontent by feeding them well on the march, and by encouraging them’ — encouraging them? — ‘to sing “Old Virginia never tire,” to the banjo.’ Thomas William Humes, who saw coffles of Virginia-born people passing through Tennessee in shackles on the way to market, wrote: ‘It was pathetic to see them march, thus bound, through the towns, and to hear their melodious voices in plaintive singing as they went.’ …

“An enslaved person could always be sold to another owner, at any time. Charles Ball described a deal that took place on the road in South Carolina:
The stranger, who was a thin, weather-beaten, sunburned figure, then said, he wanted a couple of breeding wenches, and would give as much for them as they would bring in Georgia. … He then walked along our line, as we stood chained together, and looked at the whole of us — then turning to the women; asked the prices of the two pregnant ones.

“Our master replied, that these were two of the best breeding-wenches in all Maryland — that one was twenty-two, and the other only nineteen — that the first was already the mother of seven children, and the other of four — that he had himself seen the children at the time he bought their mothers — and that such wenches would be cheap at a thousand dollars each; but as they were not able to keep up with the gang, he would take twelve hundred dollars for the two. …

“Women with babies in hand were in a particularly cruel situation. Babies weren’t worth much money, and they slowed down coffles. William Wells Brown, hired out to a slave trader named Walker, recalled seeing a baby given away on the road.”

The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry

Authors: Ned and Constance Sublette
Publisher: Lawrence Hill Books
Copyright 2016 Ned Sublette and Constance Sublette
Pages: 5-9
with thanks to naked capitalism
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About Us is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.

military death tolls

Today’s selection — from The Cash Nexus by Niall Ferguson. With the dawn of the Industrial Age, casualties suffered by Western forces in wars increased dramatically and culminated in the 57 million deaths of World War II. Since that peak, however, casualties suffered by these same Western forces have slowed precipitously. Why?:

“The death toll of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-13) was 1.2 million. A century later, the Napoleonic Wars killed 1.9 million men. And a century after that, the First World War cost more than 9 million servicemen their lives. Perhaps as many as 8 million people died in the maelstrom of the Russian Civil War of 1918-21 (though most of these were the victims of the famine and pestilence unleashed by the conflict). But even this figure pales into insignificance alongside the total mortality caused by the Second World War. For military personnel, the total body count was roughly twice the figure for the First World War. But this figure excludes civilian casualties. According to the best available estimates, total civilian deaths in the Second World War amounted to 37.8 million, bringing the total death toll to nearly 57 million people. In other words, the majority of deaths in the Second World War were due to deliberate targeting — by all sides — of civilians on land and sea and from the air. Including all the minor colonial wars like the Boer War and all the civil wars like the one that raged in India after independence, the total figure for war deaths between 1900 and 1950 approaches 80 million.

“The increase in the destructiveness of war becomes even more striking when the relative brevity of the world wars is taken into account. … The First World War caused five times as many deaths in four and a quarter years as the entire Napoleonic Wars in the space of twelve. Another way of expressing this is to calculate the approximate annual death rate during the various wars. This rose from above 69,000 in the Thirty Years War to …155,000 in the Napoleonic Wars and for the world wars, respectively, 2.2 and 3.2 million — or 9.5 million if civilian deaths in the Second World War are included. … From the time of Napoleon to the time of Hitler — born a mere 120 years apart — the increase was more than sixty-fold.

“Even allowing for the accelerating growth in the world’s population, then, the world wars were the most destructive in history. Somewhere in the region of 2.4 per cent of the world’s entire population was killed in the Second World War and 0.5 per cent in the First, compared with roughly 0.4 per cent in the Thirty Years War and 0.2 per cent in the Napoleonic Wars and the War of the Spanish Succession. … In the Second World War roughly 3 per cent of the entire pre-war population of all combatant countries died as a result of the war. For Germany, Austria and Hungary the figure was around 8 per cent, for Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union 11 per cent and for Poland — of all countries the worst affected by the war — nearly 19 per cent: almost a fifth of the entire pre-war population. The armies of some countries were almost wholly annihilated. …

“Why then have the casualties suffered by Western forces in wars since tended to fall? The number of US servicemen who died in the Vietnam was ‘only’ 57,939; the number killed in Korea 37,904. And the death toll has continued to decline. In the Gulf War there were 148 American deaths, excluding victims of accidents and ‘friendly fire’: a tiny proportion of a total force numbering 665,000. In the 1999 war against Serbia the figure was precisely zero. Compare those figures with the body counts in two world wars: 114,000 American servicemen in the First World War and 292,100 in the Second. The drop in military casualties is even more marked in the case of Britain: 720,000 Britons lost their lives in the First World War over 270,000 in the Second; yet in the Korean War just 537 British soldiers were killed. All told, 719 British soldiers have been killed in Northern land since ‘the Troubles’ began in 1969, along with 302 members of Royal Ulster Constabulary. Just 24 UK servicemen were killed in the Gulf War, not including 9 killed accidentally by their own side.

Scott Belleau Wood.jpg
American Marines in Belleau Wood (1918)

“The answer lies in the nature of the wars fought since 1945 — which have invariably been against far less well-equipped opposition. These death rates do not, however, signify a decline in the destructiveness of weaponry. As we have already seen, there was no shortage of wars in the of the world in the second half of the twentieth century. Indeed, according to one estimate, the total war-induced death toll for 1945-99 lies somewhere between 15 and 20 million. The world has not become that much peaceful. It is just that the overwhelming majority of the victims of war have been Asians and Africans.”

The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000

Author: Niall Ferguson
Published by Basic Books
Copyright 2001 by Niall Ferguson
Pages 33-36
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About Us is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.

the renowned drug lord “el chapo” — 11/03/15

Today’s selection — from Zero Zero Zero by Roberto Saviano. The path to power of the Mexican drug lord El Chapo, recently escaped for the second time, now making headlines across the United States, and a folk hero to many in Mexico:

“Mexico is now, here, and [its] warlords are masters of the most sought after goods in the world, the white powder that brings in more money than the oil wells.

“The white petrol wells are in the state of Sinaloa, on the coast. Sinaloa, with rivers flowing down from the Sierra Madre to the Pacific, is so spectacular you can’t believe there’s anything else here but blinding sunlight and bare feet on the sand. … Chinese merchants brought opium to Sinaloa back in the 1800s. Black poison, they called it. And since then, Sinaloa has been full of opium. You can grow opium poppies just about anywhere; they grow wherever grain grows. All they need is the right climate: not too dry, not too humid, no frost, no hail. The climate’s good in Sinaloa; it almost never hails, and it’s close to the sea.

“The Sinaloa cartel is hegemonic. In Sinaloa, drugs provide jobs for everyone. Entire generations have fed themselves thanks to drugs. From peasants to politicians, police officers to slackers, the young and the old. Drugs need to be grown, stocked, transported, protected. In Sinaloa, all who are able are enlisted. The cartel operates in the Golden Triangle, and with over 160 million acres under its control, it’s the biggest cartel in all of Mexico. It manages a significant slice of U.S. cocaine traffic and distribution. Sinaloa narcos are present in more than eighty American cities, with cells primarily in Arizona, California, Texas, Chicago, and New York. They distribute Colombian cocaine on the American market. According to the Office of the United States Attorney General, between 1990 and 2008 the Sinaloa cartel was responsible for the importation and distribution of at least two hundred tons of cocaine, as well as vast quantities of heroin, into the United States.

1993 mugshot of Joaquín Guzmán Loera

“Until El Chapo’s arrest in 2014, Sinaloa was his realm and he was viewed in the United States as having a significance akin to a head of state. Coke, marijuana, amphetamines: Most of the substances that Americans smoke, snort, or swallow have passed through his men’s hands. From 1995 to 2014 he was the big boss of the faction that emerged from the ashes of the Guadalajara clan after the Big Bang in 1989. El Chapo, aka Shorty, five feet five inches of sheer determination. El Chapo didn’t lord it over his men, didn’t dominate them physically; he earned their trust. His real name is Joaquin Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, born on April 4, 1957, in La Tuna de Badiraguato, a small village with a few hundred inhabitants in the Sierra Madre mountains in Sinaloa. Like every other man in La Tuna, Joaquin’s father was a rancher and farmer, who raised his son on beatings and farmwork. These were the years of opium. El Chapo’s entire family was involved: a small army devoted to the cultivation of opium poppies, from dawn to dusk.

“El Chapo started at the bottom: Before he was allowed to follow the men along impassable roads to the poppy fields he had to stay at his mother’s side and bring his older brothers their lunch. One kilo of opium gum brought in eight thousand pesos for the family, the equivalent of seven hundred dollars today. The head of the family had to get the gum into the next step of the chain. And that step meant a city, maybe even Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa. No easy feat if you’re merely a farmer, but easier if the farmer in question, El Chapo’s father, is related to Pedro Avilés Pérez — a big-shot drug lord. The young El Chapo, having reached the age of twenty, began to see a way out of the poverty that had marked the lives of his ancestors. At that time it was El Padrino, Miguel Ángel Felix Gallardo, who ruled in Sinaloa: Together with his partners, Ernesto ‘Don Neto’ Fonseca Carrillo and Rafael Caro Quintero, he controlled the coming and going of every drug shipment in Mexico. Joining the organization was a natural step for the young El Chapo, as was accepting his first real challenge: handling the drugs from the fields to the border. If you want to get to the top, you can’t take pity if someone makes a mistake, you can’t back down when underlings make excuses for not keeping to the schedule. If there was a problem, El Chapo eliminated it. If a peasant was enticed by someone with a fatter wallet, El Chapo eliminated him. If a driver with a truckload of drugs got drunk and didn’t deliver his shipment the next morning, El Chapo eliminated him. Simple and effective.

“El Chapo soon proved himself trustworthy, and in a few years’ time he was one of the men closest to El Padrino. He learned many things from El Padrino, including the most important one: how to stay alive as a drug trafficker. Just like Félix Gallardo, in fact, El Chapo lived a quiet life, not too ostentatious, not too many frills. El Chapo married four times and fathered nine children, but he never surrounded himself with hordes of women.

“When El Padrino was arrested and the race to find an heir began, El Chapo decided to remain loyal to his mentor. He was methodical, and didn’t flaunt his power. He wanted to keep his family beside him, wanted his blood bonds to be his armor. He moved from Sinaloa to Guadalajara, the last place El Padrino lived before his arrest, while he based his organization in Agua Prieta, a town in the state of Sonora, convenient because it borders the United States. El Chapo remained in the shadows, and from there he governed his rapidly growing empire. Whenever he traveled, he did so incognito. People would say they’d spotted him, but it was true only one time out of a hundred. El Chapo and his men used every form of transport available to get drugs into the United States. Planes, trucks, railcars, tankers, cars. In 1993 an underground tunnel was discovered, nearly fifteen hundred feet long, sixty-five feet belowground. Still incomplete, it was going to connect Tijuana to San Diego.

“These were years of settling scores against rivals, of escapes and murders. On May 24, 1993, Sinaloa’s rival cartel, Tijuana, recruited some trustworthy killers to strike at the heart of the Sinaloa cartel. Two important travelers were expected at the Guadalajara airport that day: El Chapo Guzmán and Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo, who, as archbishop of the city, had railed constantly against the drug lords’ power. The killers knew that El Chapo was traveling in a white Mercury Grand Marquis, a must for drug barons. The cardinal was in a white Mercury Grand Marquis as well. The Tijuana hit men started shooting at what they believed to be the boss of Sinaloa’s car, and others — El Chapo’s bodyguards, maybe — returned fire. The airport parking lot suddenly became hell. The shoot-out left seven men dead, among them Cardinal Posadas Ocampo, while El Chapo managed to escape, unscathed. For years people wondered if the killers really wanted to eliminate the inconvenient cardinal, or if chance had merely played a bad joke on Posadas Ocampo that morning. It was only recently that the FBI declared the killing a tragic case of mistaken identity.

“El Chapo was arrested on June 9, 1993. He continued to manage his affairs from prison with scarcely a hitch. The maximum security prison Puente Grande, where he was transferred in 1995, became his new base of operations. After eight years, however, El Chapo could no longer afford to remain behind bars: The Supreme Court had approved a law making it much easier to extradite narcos to the United States. American incarceration would mean the end of everything. So El Chapo chose the evening of January 19, 2001. The guards were bribed handsomely. One of them — Francisco Camberos Rivera, known as El Chito, or the Silent One — opened the door to El Chapo’s cell and helped him climb into a cart of dirty laundry. They headed down unguarded hallways and through wide-open electronic doors to the inner parking lot, where only one guard was on duty. El Chapo jumped out of the cart and leaped into the trunk of a Chevrolet Monte Carlo. El Chito started it up and drove him to freedom.

“El Chapo became everybody’s hero, a legend.”

Author: Roberto Saviano
Publisher: Penguin Press
Copyright 2013 by Roberto Savino
Pages 38-41
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benevolence only makes things worse — 10/27/15

Today’s selection — from Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by Edward J. Renehan Jr.  The miraculous gains of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s brought untold new wealth to western societies, but simultaneously brought a new type of poverty and disruption among workers — equally unprecedented in its scale.

“The first few decades of the nineteenth century were a largely cynical and callous time in American history — a period of institutionalized harshness. It was in 1817 that a group of prominent New York merchants and professionals (many once having been the principal supports of such institutions as the New York Hospital and other worthy causes) officially and publicly began to rethink their charitable habits. Such previously generous philanthropists as DeWitt Clinton (now governor of the state), Thomas Eddy, and John Griscom took their cue in this from British reformers. In so doing, they succumbed to the rhetoric of several hard-nosed British social thinkers, most notably Thomas Robert Malthus, Jeremy Bentham, and the Scottish conservative Patrick Colquhoun.

“Twenty years earlier, all three of those gentleman had been instrumental in the founding of the London Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor. Despite the burden of its long-winded name, the London Society did not distribute charity but specialized in cutting off funds for social welfare. Malthus, Bentham, and Colquhoun believed that a distinct line must be drawn between the ‘deserving poor’ (those facing hard times as a result of unfortunate histories) and ‘undeserving paupers,’ namely, the drunk, the lazy, and the whorish members of society for whom aid was considered a reprehensible act of facilitation. Another key underpinning the London Society’s logic was the presumption (for lack of a more accurate term) that paupers outnumbered the deserving poor by a factor of about nine to one. In reform meetings and from church pulpits, politicians and clerics repeatedly cited this astonishing though unverifiable statistic, which soon became accepted as fact. In time, the public mind became convinced that a mere 10 percent of London’s poor were the crippled and the orphaned, while 90 percent were degenerates. For every one person in London’s slums who genuinely needed aid, popular wisdom said there were nine who required something else entirely: intolerance, punishment, and correction. As a corollary to this line of thinking, logic dictated that 90 percent of the charitable aid previously offered was superfluous. In turn, wallets closed.

A group of children at Crumpsall Workhouse_ 1895_97

“For decades the London Society remained influential in the development and spread of such institutions as workhouses and debtors prisons. It was also influential, through its example, in New York and other American cities. By the end of 1817, Clinton, Eddy, and Griscom, joined by hundreds of other New Yorkers, had formed a clone organization on the banks of the Hudson: the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism (SPP).

“Several months before the founding of the SPP, New York’s Humane Society forlornly announced the startling result of recent research: no less than 15,000 men, women, and children — the equivalent of one-seventh of the city’s population — had been ‘supported by public or private bounty and munificence’ the previous winter. Historians Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace have eloquently described the SPP’s point of view, expressed in response to the above data. In the London Society’s grand tradition, the SPP said it believed that ‘willy-nilly benevolence’ only made things worse. ‘Giving alms to the undeserving poor not only undermined their independence but also drove up taxes and sapped the prosperity of the entire community.’ Thus, ‘for their good as well as everyone else’s … the SPP recommended that all paupers in the city be cut off from all public assistance forthwith.’ Soon the Humane Society itself announced its intention to disband in the wake of its realization that the very act of giving charity had ‘a direct tendency to beget, among [the citizenry] habits of imprudence, indolence, dissipation and consequent pauperism.’

” ‘Tough love’ was in. Cruelty equaled kindness. Frugality equaled generosity. And all three were not only cheap, but easy.”

Author: Edward J. Renehan Jr.
Publisher: Basic Books
Copyright 2007 by Edward J. Renehan Jr.
Pages 48-49
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