the star-spangled banner — why baltimore? — 4/07/17

Today’s selection — from The Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan. America’s location makes it almost invulnerable to invading forces from other countries. The last best chance any country had to disrupt America’s progress was the British during the geographically pivotal battle for Fort McHenry in 1814:
“Beyond Mexico and Canada, there are no other powers that could even theoretically march on American territory. … As hard as it is to conceive of a credible military threat to the United States arising in North America, coming up with one from beyond the conti­nent strains the imagination. The oceans serve as fantastic buffers, sharply limiting unwanted interaction with the larger populations of Europe and East Asia. … The shortest distance from Europe to the United States is over three thousand [miles].
“Considering the distances involved, the outside world missed its best chance to disrupt America’s development in the War of 1812, one of only two occasions when the Americans faced an extrahemispheric invasion (the other being the Revolutionary War). The critical battle was for Fort McHenry in September 1814.

“The British had sacked and captured Washington, D.C., just three weeks before and were moving north by land and sea toward Baltimore. At the time, Baltimore was the largest city in the region and a notorious hub for the privateers who had been raiding British shipping lines. But it was also the sole meaningful land link between the northern and south­ern states: With the Allegheny Mountains to the west, all roads hugged the Chesapeake Bay, which in turn led to the bay’s major city and port. As importantly, the entirety of inland America was dependent upon Bal­timore. The Cumberland Narrows through the Appalachians lay just to the west, and only three years earlier the government had begun construc­tion on a road to connect the Potomac River to the Ohio valley. Instead of a months-long sail down to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi to the Ohio, this new National Road would allow Baltimore to serve as an imme­diate outlet for Pittsburgh and lands beyond.

“If the British could hold Baltimore, the war’s other theaters would be rendered moot and the young America would be split into North, South, and interior. Luckily for the Americans, Major George Armistead’s heroic defense of Fort McHenry convinced British commanders that the post could not be taken with available forces. While time has eroded the details from the American mind, all Americans instantly recognize the descrip­tion of the battle and its outcome as recorded by an American who watched the battle from the deck of a British vessel where he was being held pris­oner: Francis Scott Key’s ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’ “
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The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder

Author: Peter Zeihan
Copyright 2014 by Peter Zeihan
Pages: 58-60

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voters never approved the euro — 4/06/17

Today’s encore selection — from War and Gold by Kwasi Kwarteng. European countries have high levels of trade with each other, so they needed currency exchange rates that are relatively stable. In the early twentieth century, having their currencies tied to gold provided that. After World War II, it was provided by the Bretton Woods agreement, which tied these major currencies to the dollar, which was in turn tied to gold. But after President Richard Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard in 1971, the need reappeared and a number of European countries created a mechanism called the “snake,” which constrained fluctuations of currencies, and then the “exchange rate mechanism,” which did much the same thing. But the ultimate dream was to create a single currency — the euro — in one of the boldest monetary initiatives in history. For something so resolute and so laden with potential moral hazard, and for something that has in recent years contributed to so much European economic pain, it was surprisingly the creation of technocrats, and never taken to any country’s voters for their approval:
“The fiscal situation of the European countries which aspired to join the single currency [in 1997] did not inspire confidence. All through the late 1990s, the lack of preparedness of certain EU countries to join the euro was a subject of open debate. ‘There has, of course, been some sleight of hand,’ wrote Rupert Cornwell in the Independent in February 1998. ‘It remains mysterious quite how Italy, which for years regularly ran double-digit budget deficits, conveniently slashed last year’s to a mere 2.7 per cent of GDP.’ It was obvious, even before the euro was launched, that the single currency was an almost purely political project, which would be pursued without any real regard for the underlying economic reality. As the Frenchman Jacques Rueff had said, ‘Europe will make itself by money or not at all.’ The words of the Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres at the Madrid summit in December 1995 were even more grandiose and emphatic: ‘When Jesus resolved to found a church, he said to Peter, “You are Peter, the rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.” You are the euro, and upon this new currency we will build our Europe.’

“There was never any idea that the people of Europe, the citizens of the individual states, would be consulted before this momentous step was taken. As [Otmar] Issing [the German economist who also served as a member of the European Central Bank’s first executive board], himself later admitted, it was ‘doubtless in Germany that resistance to EMU was the greatest’. The decision to ‘abandon the D-Mark required a great deal of political courage’, he remembered. In opinion polls conducted as late as the autumn of 1995, only 34 per cent of Germans were in favour of the single currency, while 45 per cent were against. Needless to say, these figures were reversed as the decade wore on and the single currency became more imminent. By the spring of 1999, some 55 per cent of Germans now supported the single currency while only 36 per cent continued their opposition.

“In the same poll from 1995, the Finns were shown to be the least in favour of the currency among the nations which eventually joined: 53 per cent of Finns were hostile to the currency, while only 33 per cent approved. It is important to grasp the extent to which Europe’s political elites were committed to the single currency. The reasons why numerous political figures and bankers became strong advocates of the euro differed. For the Germans, it was often as much a symbol of fiscal discipline as a badge of European unity. For Issing, the benefits of the euro were explicitly focused on the need for fiscal discipline. This was a view widely held in Germany and the Netherlands.
“The people of Europe, of course, had not been consulted before the single currency was officially launched on 1 January 1999. The euro was always conceived as an elite project, conjured up by technocrats, to be foisted upon a largely acquiescent and amorphous European public. There was as yet no European superstate, a fact which worried Germans, unsure of whether a monetary union was possible without a political union.”
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War and Gold: A Five-Hundred-Year History of Empires, Adventures, and Debt

Publisher: PublicAffairs
Copyright 2014 Kwasi Kwarteng
Pages: 277-278

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human sacrifice — 1/30/17

Today’s selection — from Mexico City by Nick Caistor. When Hernando Cortez and his troops arrived at Tenochtitlán (current day Mexico City) they witnessed the Mexica [rulers of the Aztec empire] performing the ritual of human sacrifice. These sacrifices were performed at a moment of dread for the Mexica, the end of a 52 year cycle, when they were unsure whether the world would be renewed or come to an end in disaster, and they offered these sacrifices in hopes that the cycle would be renewed:
“During the final assault on Tenochtitlán, Bernal Díaz del Castillo was witness to what happened to some Spanish soldiers captured by the Mexica and taken to the Great Temple. His gruesome account spared no details:
Human sacrifice as shown in the Codex Magliabechiano, Folio 70.

 

Again there was sounded the dismal drum of Huichilobos (Huitzili) and many other shells and horns and things like trumpets and the sound of them all was terrifying, and we all looked towards the lofty Cue [Great Temple] where they were being sounded, and saw that our comrades whom they had captured when they defeated Cortés were being carried by force up the steps, and they were taking them to be sacrificed. When they had got them up to a small square in front of the oratory, where their accursed idols are kept, we saw them place plumes on the heads of many of them and with things like fans in their hands they forced them to dance before Huichilobos, and after they had danced they immediately placed them on their backs on some rather narrow stones which had been prepared as places for sacrifice, and with stone knives they sawed open their chests and drew out their palpitating hearts and offered them to the idols that were there, and they kicked the bodies down the steps, and Indian butchers who were waiting below cut off the arms and feet and flayed the skin off the faces, and prepared it afterwards like glove leather with the beards on, and kept those for the festivals when they celebrated drunken orgies, and the flesh they ate in chilmole. In the same way they sacrificed all the others and ate the legs and arms and offered the hearts and blood to their idols, as I have said, and the bodies, that is their entrails and feet, they threw to the tigers and lions which they kept in the house of the carnivores.

“Experiences such as this meant that when Cones and his men finally completed their conquest of the city, they were all the more determined to pull down the ‘accursed’ buildings of the Mexica. Like much of the rest of the city center, the Great Temple was razed to the ground. Some of its stones were used in the construction of the first Christian churches in the Spanish Mexico City. And that was the last that was seen of the Great Temple for more than 450 years. …
“The [archeologists] who [beginning in 1978] uncovered the remains [of Tenochtitlán] confirmed what the early Spanish chroniclers had suggested: that Tenochtitlán, the city of the Mexica, was first and foremost a religious and ceremonial center. Its main function was a religious one, … the Mexica hoped to bring divine blessing, to ward off evil, and to keep the world turning. …
“The sacrifices, which had so horrified Díaz del Castillo, were not mere acts of barbarism, but a sacred reenactment of that victory over the dark forces that constantly threatened the stability of the Mexica world. This hill in the middle of the island on the great lakes of Tenochtitlán was the focal point, …  the central point on the vertical plane in which human beings, gods, and their spirits existed. The souls of the Mexica dead went down through nine planes to reach the realm of Mictlán. The gods dwelled on the thirteen higher levels, while at the highest sat the ‘lords of creation’ of the myth, Omeyocan and Ometecuthli. It was the Templo Mayor that offered access to all these worlds.
“But this world was an unstable one, in which the forces of life, the sun, and the water god Tlaloc, who also had his temple at the top of the sacred hill, were constantly threatened. Human sacrifice was needed to ensure that the cycle of life and death continued as it should, with the rebirth of the cosmos at the end of each 52-year period that the Mexica calendar described.
“The Florentine Codex of Mexica history describes this moment of dread, when the Mexica were unsure whether the world would be renewed or come to an end in disaster. As the closing days of the old period approached, everyone in their homes put out their domestic fires, swept the hearths clean, and threw their household gods into the waters of the lake. On the fearful night that had been calculated as the end of one great heavenly cycle, the fire priests and a chosen warrior climbed the Hill of the Star in Tenochtitlán. All the people watching ‘with unwavering attention and necks craned towards the hill became filled with dread that the sun would be destroyed forever.’ The priests watched the progress of the constellation we know as the Pleiades as it moved across the heavens on that one night after 18,980 nights. Seeing that it still moved through the night sky, the priests saw it as the sign that the world had not stopped turning. A small fire was then kindled. The warrior was laid out on the sacrificial stone, ‘then speedily the priests slashed opened the breast with a flint knife, seized the heart, and thrust it into the fire.’ The people of Tenochtitlán cut their ears ‘and spattered their blood in the ritual flicking of fingers in the direction of the fire on the mountain.’ That fire was taken down from the Hill of the Star and conveyed by priests to the Templo Mayor, where it was placed in front of the statue of the god. Messengers and runners then took fire back to all the towns of the empire, where people rekindled their fires, sure in the knowledge that the stars and the sun would continue on their way for another cycle of 52 years.
“However solid and imposing the Great Temple looked to worshippers and to Spaniards alike, the world that revolved around it was a fragile one. And when Cortés and his men arrived toward the close of one of these 52-year cycles, it seemed like a confirmation of the Mexica’s worst forebodings.”
Mexico City: A Cultural and Literary Companion (Cities of the Imagination)

Author: Nick Caistor
Publisher: Interlink Publishing Group
Copyright Nick Caistor 2000
Pages 43-48

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About Us
Delanceyplace.com 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.

how george washington got votes

Today’s selection — from Drinking in America by Susan Cheever. Money, alcohol, and votes were regular companions at polling places in colonial and early America:

“George Washington, a wealthy Virginia aristocrat who loved par­ties and fox hunting, found out about the connection between drink­ing and voting for the American electorate the hard way. A rigorous military commander who drove his soldiers hard and expected much of them, he began to aspire to a government position after he did not get a command in the British military. While seeking a seat in the Vir­ginia Assembly in 1755, he was roundly defeated.
George Washington depicted during his French & Indian War days.

“Two years later he ran again, but this time he delivered 144 gallons of rum, punch, cider, and wine to the polling places distributed by election volunteers who urged the voters to drink up. At 307 votes, he got a return on his investment of almost two votes per gallon. Most elections featured vats and barrels of free liquor as well as the candi­date in hand to drink along with his constituency. Candidates showed off their generosity as well as their drinking capacity. Although voting while intoxicated was normal for the colonists, French traveler Ferdi­nand Bayard was horrified to notice, ‘Candidates offer drunkenness openly to anyone who is willing to give them his vote.’

“A few years later the writer George Prentice described a Kentucky election that lasted three days. ‘During that period whiskey and apple toddy flow through our cities and villages like the Euphrates through ancient Babylon.’ Later, after the Revolution, some of the Founding Fathers objected to the American way of voting. James Madison, who drank a pint of whiskey daily to aid his digestion, was also running for the Virginia Assembly in 1777. Madison decided that bribing the voters with alcohol was beneath his dignity and the dignity of the new nation. The influence of liquor at the polls was ‘inconsistent with the purity of moral and republican virtues,’ he announced. He lost.
Old courthouse in Philadelphia during the October 1, 1764 election
“Later, when he became Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state, Madison’s ideas about democracy began to sharpen. A Virginia aris­tocrat who had grown up on a plantation, he did not believe in ‘excessive democracy’; democracy was too precious to waste on the common man. This belief, which may have begun with his horror at the way polling places were conducted, led him to favor a strong fed­eral government, and he eventually helped Alexander Hamilton­ — another man who was disturbed by drunkenness — draft The Federal­ist Papers.”

Drinking in America: Our Secret History

Author: Susan Cheever
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Copyright 2015 by Susan Cheever
Pages: 40-41

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how we got the electoral college

Today’s encore selection — from The First Presidential Contest by Jeffrey Pasley. The Electoral College was perhaps the least successful element of the U.S. Constitution. (And not unexpectedly, modifications to the Electoral College process came quickly). The Founders did not want the public to directly elect the President, since previous experiments in direct elections at the state level had reinforced the conclusion that pure democracy was too dangerous. But the founders didn’t want Congress to elect the President either, because that would lead to “cabal faction & violence.” So the idea was adopted of having influential or “notable” community leaders that were not in Congress as Electors, with the people voting for these Electors because they believed they had good judgment. And these Electors were expected to use that good judgment to cast their votes rather than simply reflect the choice of the people:

“We must [now] delve into the work­ings of America’s murkiest political institution, the indirect system of presidential elections now known as the Electoral College. If ever there were a constitutionally defined role for America’s local ‘notables,’ the Electoral College was it.
James Wilson

“The national ‘college’ never met, acting instead as a filtering mechanism to concentrate the large pool of names that bubbled up from be­low. The guiding logic was that the country was too big, and even most of its locally prominent men too parochial, to ever coalesce around a single candidate other than General George Washington. Most would vote for someone from their own state or region, argued Connecticut’s Roger Sherman, generating a list too large and miscellaneous to be use­ful. At the same time, it was considered too dangerous to have a sin­gle body like Congress choose the chief magistrate all on its own: that could lead to ‘cabal faction & violence’ as in the elective monarchy of Poland, where nobles and foreign governments battled it out to name a new king.

“So Article II, Section I of the Constitution provided for each state legislature to designate, by whatever method it chose, a number of electors equal to the size of its congressional delegation (the number of House members plus two for each state’s equal number of senators). Each state’s electors were then to gather simultaneously, in their own state, to prevent said cabals. Each elector would then vote for two men, including at least one man who was not from the elector’s home state. Next the electors were to send their certified lists to Congress, where the votes would be compiled and the two top vote getters named president and vice president if they were selected by a majority of the electors. If not, then Congress would make the decision, according to complex rules that need not detain us here, choosing from the top five candidates the electors had voted for. At no point in any step of the process was anyone bound to vote a certain way (except for Congress choosing from the top five), and no provision was made, as we have seen, for running mates or party tickets. Instead, individual electors were to exercise their independent judgment of individual candidates.
“The format was a compromise hammered out in the last weeks of the Federal Convention in 1787 by the Committee on Postponed Parts, a working group made up of one member from each state delegation. The major issue the Electoral College settled was the summer-long dispute over how and by whom the new office of president would be filled. Given that one of the chief impulses behind the movement for a new Constitu­tion was the creation of a government insulated from the excessive de­mocracy and localism of the state governments, popular election of the president was a nonstarter at the Convention. A few of the large-state delegates made self-interested pitches for it, but most rejected the idea as impractical if not downright dangerous.
“George Mason of Virginia argued that ‘it would be as unnatural to refer the choice of a proper character for chief Magistrate to the people, as it would, to refer a trial of colours to a blind man. The extent of the Country renders it impossible that the people can have the requisite capacity to judge of the respec­tive pretensions of the Candidates.’ The other major option, selection of the president by Congress, had more proponents than nationwide democracy, but it reminded too many of what Americans considered the corrupt British parliamentary system with its unseparated powers (the prime minister controlling Parliament and the executive functions of government). A legislative election would also be a playground for conspirators and party-builders. Said Gouverneur Morris, ‘It will be the work of intrigue, of cabal, and of faction: it will be like the election of a pope by a conclave of cardinals.’
John Dickinson
“The idea of a secondary popular election, with the people choosing the choosers, was originally suggested by nationalist James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who was trying to preserve some advantage for the large states but also some element of democracy in the presidential selection process. Wilson did not do this because he was any great lover of the common man — common Philadelphians had tried to kill him in the ‘Fort Wilson’ riots in 1779 because of his alleged softness toward Loy­alists.
“Wilson’s attitude was more of a healthy fear; he had learned the hard way that in a free country, the common people needed to at least feel that their views were respected. Wilson’s suggestion was ignored until John Dickinson of Delaware, arriving late to the deliberations of the Committee on Postponed Parts, challenged his colleagues over the legitimacy problems that a completely unelected president would face. Shocked that the Convention was still leaning toward a president se­lected by Congress, Dickinson wrote, ‘I observed, that the Powers which we had agreed to vest in the President, were so many and so great, that I did not think, the people would be willing to deposit them with him, un­less they themselves would be more immediately concerned in his Elec­tion.’ In response, James Madison immediately sketched out a version of Wilson’s idea on a piece of paper, and the Electoral College was born.
“On paper, the Electoral College served well as a way to steer theo­retically between the large and small states and between oligarchy and democracy. What the Framers never discussed was how the thing was supposed to work in practice, or why it would be effective in meeting their goal of a chief magistrate who felt like the people’s choice without being beholden to parties, parochial interests, or popular opinion. Ex­cesses of democracy were still a far bigger worry for most of the Fram­ers, who filled the Constitution with firebreaks against the potential depredations of the mob.”
The First Presidential Contest: 1796 and the Founding of American Democracy

Author: Jeffrey L. Pasley
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
2013 by the University Press of Kansas
Pages: 309-312

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bicycles were thought to lead to seductions — 9/23/16

Today’s selection — from The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. In the late 1800s, the newly invented “safety bicycle” became all the rage across America. Some thought they were morally hazardous:

“[By 1892 the Wright brothers] had also taken up bicy­cling, and as Wilbur reported, they had lately headed off on a ‘run’ to the south, down the Cincinnati Pike, stopping at the County Fair Grounds to pump around the track several times. From there they continued on to Miamisburg up and over numerous steep hills to see the famous prehis­toric Adena Miamisburg Mound, largest of Ohio’s famous conical-shaped reminders of a vanished Native American civilization dating back more than two thousand years. In all they covered thirty-one miles.

“Bicycles had become the sensation of the time, a craze everywhere. (These were no longer the ‘high wheelers’ of the 1870s and ’80s, but the so-called ‘safety bicycles,’ with two wheels the same size.) The bicycle was proclaimed a boon to all mankind, a thing of beauty, good for the spirits, good for health and vitality, indeed one’s whole outlook on life. Doctors enthusiastically approved. One Philadelphia physician, writing in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women and Children, concluded from his observations that ‘for physical exercise for both men and women, the bicycle is one of the greatest inventions of the nineteenth century.’
“Voices were raised in protest. Bicycles were proclaimed morally haz­ardous. Until now children and youth were unable to stray very far from home on foot. Now, one magazine warned, fifteen minutes could put them miles away. Because of bicycles, it was said, young people were not spend­ing the time they should with books, and more seriously that suburban and country tours on bicycles were ‘not infrequently accompanied by seductions.’
“Such concerns had little effect. Everybody was riding bicycles, men, women, all ages and from all walks of life. Bicycling clubs sprouted on college campuses and in countless cities and towns, including [the Wright brothers home town of] Dayton, [Ohio]. … In the spring of 1893 Wilbur and Orville opened their own small bicycle business, the Wright Cycle Exchange, selling and repairing bicycles only a short walk from the house at 1005 West Third Street. In no time, such was business, they moved to larger quarters down the street to Number 1034 and renamed the enterprise the Wright Cycle Company.”

The Wright Brothers

Author: David McCullough
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Copyright 2015 by David McCullough
Pages 21-22
 

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