Sunday, September 8, 2013


I have given this some thought and realized how much time it took me to write a post anymore. Plus my getting tied up in other things. I did some soul-searching to figure out what I want to do and what I don't want to do. I decided that in what little free time I have anymore, I want to focus on my research (which I haven't done in a while) in the hopes of getting published (again) someday.

I know the blog was short-lived, but I want to thank everyone who read it and hope you all got something out of it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I'm still here...

"Where is America's Past is Carmen Sandiego?" brings back memories of second grade. It's one of the first video games I remember playing. I just found the image appropriate because I imagine the half-dozen of you who actually read my blog were wondering where I've been since April.

Well, the short version of the story is that I got engaged and I'm getting married in November. The blog kind of fell through the cracks in the midst of the wedding planning. Fortunately, I had my future sister-in-law over at Footprints on My Heart to occasionally nag me about not updating my blog. I'm still ahead of my mom over at The Blotter. In other words, if you want to confuse my mom by the sudden spike in blog visits, click the latter link.

I have been keeping up (somewhat) with my historical reading. I picked up David Donald's 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning biography Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War on sale when Borders was closing a while back. Dry at times, it's still interesting, especially his discussion of the caning incident. The violent actions against a prominent, outspoken abolitionist like Charles Sumner was inevitable given the inherently violent nature of slavery and the culture around it.

I'm currently working through some books recommended by the historian of the House of Representatives: Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans by Louis L. Gould and Party of the People: A History of the Democrats by Jules Witcover. So far, its making me feel like a fish out of water in modern American politics...but I digress.

Anyway, I do have some exciting posts upcoming. Two series are on their way.

More later as life unfolds!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Boston Strong

This week we stand with the people of Boston in the wake of the terrible bombing.

Historically, the week of April 15-20, a lot of bad things have happened from the massacre of African American soldiers at Fort Pillow, Tennessee on April 15, 1864, to President Lincoln's death a year later, to the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, to the Columbine shootings on April 20, 1999.

So, let's take a quick look at some positive things that happened in history this past week.

April 15, 1947- Jackie Robinson debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking baseball's color barrier. I'm hearing great things about the new movie 42. I'll have to check that one out.

April 16, 1862- Emancipation Day in Washington, DC. Slavery ended, and this was the only case of compensated emancipation in the United States.

April 17, 1970- Odyssey, the command capsule of Apollo 13, returned safely to Earth after a disaster in space.

April 18, 1923- Yankee Stadium, "The House that Ruth Built," opened. I'm a National League guy, and like a lot of baseball fans, I'm not a fan of the Yankees. Nonetheless, I respect their storied history. Some of the all-time greats stepped up to the plate at this stadium.

April 19, 1775- What else can we say about this day? "The Shot Heard Around the World"--the American Revolutionary War began as American Minutemen bravely confronted British regulars at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.

April 20- Let's go with more baseball history. On this day in 1912, Fenway Park in Boston and Tiger Stadium in Detroit opened. Four years later, the field now called Wrigley in Chicago opened for the Cubs.

April 21,753 BC- The traditional date that Romulus and Remus founded Rome, the Eternal City. For the environmental conservation fans, John Muir was born on this day in 1838.

So, some things to do this week:

-Thank a law enforcement officer for putting their lives on the line to protect us every day. If you can thank anyone in Boston for their response, do so.
- Get outside. Spring is here, so enjoy it!
- Take in a baseball game.

It's still a goal to blog more. I'll do better in the future, I hope. More later as life unfolds.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day everybody! I'm overdue for a blog post. I was thinking of blogging about the fifth Chief Justice of the United States, Roger B. Taney, who was born on this day in 1777, but I decided to type up a brief commemorative post on the Irish Brigade instead.

Irish Brigade Memorial at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Andrew Tremel
Thomas Francis Meagher, an Irish immigrant with a colorful past, got permission from the War Department in September 1861 to recruit a brigade of Irish units. Anchored by the 63rd New York, 69th New York, and the 88th New York, other regiments were part of the brigade at various times during the Civil War, including the 29th and 28th Massachusetts (the latter replacing the former early in the war) and the 116th Pennsylvania. The Irish Brigade fought at First Bull Run, Fair Oaks, and the Seven Days. The regiments were decimated in brutal frontal assaults at Antietam and Fredericksburg. The Irish Brigade's charge on the Sunken Road in Fredericksburg was one of the few well-done parts of the 2003 film Gods and Generals.

The brigade served in the Second Army Corps in the Union Army of the Potomac. When corps badges were introduced early in 1863, each soldier in the Second Corps wore a clover leaf, the emblem selected because of the Irish Brigade's service in that corps. After the depleted brigade fought at Chancellorsville, General Meagher requested permission to recruit throughout the North to bring the brigade back to full strength. His request denied, Meagher resigned. Further reduced in size at Gettysburg (fighting at the Angle and helping to repulse Pickett's Charge) and the Overland Campaign, the War Department disbanded the Irish Brigade in 1864. A second Irish Brigade formed with the same regiments early in 1865 and served through the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.

Just on a side note, one of the several notables in the brigades ranks was the chaplain, Father William Corby, who granted general absolution to the soldiers before they charged into the Wheatfield at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. Father Corby allegedly told the soldiers that if they didn't do their duty, they would be refused a Catholic burial. Corby later became president of Notre Dame. There are identical statues of the chaplain at Gettysburg and Notre Dame. Because of Notre Dame's love for football, the statue earned the nickname "Fair Catch Corby."

Statue of Father Corby blessing the troops at Gettysburg. Photo by Andrew Tremel

Again, this is just a short commemoration of one of the most battle-scarred units in the Civil War. As you tap your keg of Guinness today, offer a toast to the brave immigrants who fought to save the Union.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Old Man Eloquent

One of those months that I kinda forgot I had a blog. But the good news is that I'm now officially published. Titled "The Union League, Black Leaders, and the Recruitment of  Philadelphia's African American Civil War Regiments," it appears in the Winter 2013 issue of Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies. Even more exciting for me is that it's the lead article. Thanks to everyone who's helped me along the way.

Now for today...

John Quincy Adams, from
On February 21, 1848, "Old Man Eloquent," John Quincy Adams suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on the floor of the Hall of House of Representatives. He voiced his objection to a vote honoring officers from the Mexican War and collapsed at his desk. He died two days later in the Speaker's Office, now the Lindy Claiborne Boggs Congressional Women's Reading Room.

Adams, the son of our second president John Adams, had a long distinguished career as a diplomat, senator (featured in John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage for breaking with his party over the Embargo Act of 1806), and secretary of state. He helped negotiate the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812 (leading to his appointment as secretary of state), negotiated a treaty with Spain that set America's southern border, and was the brains behind the Monroe Doctrine.

He came in second in the popular vote and Electoral College in 1824. However, Andrew Jackson, the leader, didn't have a majority of electoral votes. By the terms of the Constitution (particularly the Twelfth Amendment), the House of Representatives settled the election. Speaker of the House Henry Clay swung the election over to Adams, who then appointed Clay as secretary of state. While there was likely no shady deal (at most an unspoken agreement), it destroyed Clay's hopes of becoming president and the Adams Administration's agenda. Though he was brilliant, he didn't have the temperament to be an excellent president.

It was his post-presidential career that was remarkable. Much to the chagrin of his wife, he won a House seat from his home state of Massachusetts in the House of Representatives. He took his seat in 1831. During his term he pushed through the bill to accept James Smithson's generous gift and create the Smithsonian Institution. He opposed nullification (I promise a post on this at some point) and the 1836 "gag rule."

A nationwide religious revival, the "Second Great Awakening," sparked a number of social movements, notably the abolitionist movement. As a result, citizens sent petitions to Congress, asking the national legislature to abolish slavery in Washington, DC or the territories--where Congress had jurisdiction. The House barred the consideration of these petitions in 1836. Adams opposed the rule because of his own antislavery sentiments and his belief that the rule violated citizens' First Amendment rights to petition their government. The former president continued to bring petitions to the floor, facing congressional censure, the harshest punishment short of expulsion. He survived the censure vote and finally, in 1844, gathered enough votes to overturn the rule.

If you've seen the 1976 miniseries The Adams Chronicles or the 1997 film Amistad, you might remember Adams for his eight-hour long arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of slaves who mutinied aboard the Spanish trader Amistad. Adams and the Court, in its decision, invoked international law and the captives were sent back to Africa.

Certainly, Adams was a remarkable, if often forgotten, American.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Historic Dinner

One of my graduate adviser's favorite questions was really out of the box, but it worked. He'd often ask "If you could have dinner with either Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, or John C. Calhoun, who would it be and why?" Those three, known as the Great Triumvirate, served in the Senate during the antebellum period and the question is actually a clever way of getting us to think about the contribution of those men. So...who would it be? Let's look at the three candidates.

Henry Clay, from
Henry Clay, Whig, Kentucky

Why: Clay was the longest serving Speaker of the House of the nineteenth century. Before Clay, the speaker was a glorified parliamentarian. The Kentuckian made it more like what we know today--someone active in policy. He pushed the vote to declare war on Britain in 1812 and was involved in peace negotiations. He ran for president unsuccessfully three times, became the founder and spokesman of the Whig Party, and was one of the most prominent senators in history. Known as the "Great Compromiser," Clay forged the tariff legislation that ended the nullification crisis in 1833 and staved off the Civil War for a decade with the Compromise of 1850. The deal had eight parts including the admission of California as a free state, the settling of a boundary dispute between Texas and New Mexico, the abolition of the slave trade in Washington, DC, and the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Dinnertime Conversation: In other words, what would I want to talk to Clay about over dinner? I'd really want to hear how he felt about the other two members of the Great Triumvirate and how he worked with them (and others) behind the scenes to forge those compromises.

Main Course: Steak and potatoes. Classy, simple. I'm sure somehow a bottle of bourbon would get involved.

Daniel Webster, from
Daniel Webster, Whig, Massachusetts

Why: Webster, a congressman from New Hampshire and Massachusetts and a senator from Massachusetts, is one of the most renowned orators in American history. His Second Reply to Hayne on January 26-27, 1830, rebutting pro-nullification arguments, is considered one of the greatest speeches in history. Webster concluded, "Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable." He argued over two hundred cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, notably with a four hour argument in Dartmouth College v. Woodward and three days of speaking in McCullough v. Maryland, both in 1819. In the first case, his defense of his alma mater after New Hampshire tried to change the charter moved the courtroom to tears. In McCullough, Webster defended Congress's authority to establish a national bank and made the famous statement (borrowed by John Marshall in the Court's decision), "The power to tax is the power to destroy." Webster backed Clay's compromises. His support for preserving the Union cost him his seat after he spoke in favor of the Compromise of 1850. That Webster was supporting legislation that included a fugitive slave law alienated his base.

Dinnertime Conversation: Webster opposed the War of 1812 and after the burning of Washington in 1814, suggested moving the capital city north of the Mason-Dixon line. What accounted for his conversion from sectionalism to nationalism? What did he really think of Clay's compromises and his leadership of the Whig Party?

Main Course: He's from New England. I think you have to go with lobster.

John C. Calhoun, from
John C. Calhoun, Democrat, South Carolina

Why: Calhoun was the strongest voice the South had in the decades before the Civil War. He began his national career as a "War Hawk" who lived in the same boarding house as Henry Clay. After the War of 1812, Calhoun's political views shifted from an ardent nationalism to a fierce sectionalism. In 1828, he penned South Carolina Exposition and Protest, which outlined the policy of nullification. In other words, he explained that South Carolina saw the Tariff of 1828 as an unconstitutional attack on the South and therefore, South Carolina could declare the act as null and void. He was the first vice president to resign and took his seat in the Senate in 1832. He believed that the Compromise of 1850 wasn't enough to appease the South. He was too ill to deliver his final speech, so Senator James Mason of Virginia read the remarks. Calhoun said that if Southern rights were not respected (namely the right to take slaves into the territories), then secession would be the only option. He died on March 31, 1850. The South lost its most prominent voice and the Compromise of 1850 passed through Congress. His legacy lived on as the South threatened secession throughout the 1850s, finally pulling the trigger during the winter of 1860-61.

Dinnertime Conversation: I'd really be curious about how he shifted away from the nationalism of his early career. He seemed to take the opposite political theory path than Daniel Webster. I'd also love to talk to him about his political theories on secession.

Main Course: Perhaps barbeque? Cajun food? I think with Calhoun's temperament, something spicy is in order.

The Verdict: Clay, Calhoun, and Webster all had major roles in antebellum politics, and I'm hoping future blog entries will get more into this. Bear in mind that Webster and Clay both died in 1852. Without the Great Triumvirate, the Senate had nobody who could forge the great compromises. Stephen Douglas tried, but he only made enemies in both the North and South (more on this later, I hope). But merely because I think he was a genius and because of all he did, I'd have to go with Clay. Oddly enough, I think John C. Calhoun would agree with me. He and Clay were once friends but had a falling out over politics. Calhoun once said of Clay, "I don't like Clay. He is a bad man, an imposter, a creator of wicked schemes. I wouldn't speak to him, but, by God, I love him!" Who would you pick?

I'm hoping that this is the first of many entries for the new year. I'm a little late in acting on my new years' resolution to update more often. Thanks for reading!