This may be the most unlikely topic addressed yet on my blog. Reading that the Erie Canal opened on this date in 1817 triggered a childhood memory of mine, and perhaps it will do the same for you.
One of the memories I have from elementary school is our class singing a song called “Erie Canal.” If you aren’t familiar with this folk song, you can go to YouTube and listen to Bruce Springsteen singing it. Yes! The Boss! It’s just a fun song about a man and his “mule named Sal” and their “fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.” It has a catchy chorus that we children liked to animate when we sang it.
As a child in North Carolina, I didn’t understand the importance of the Erie Canal. The canal was hundreds of miles away in New York. I’d never been to New York, and I didn’t have much of a concept of it at the time.
If you’re like me, you don’t know the history of the Erie Canal. Never fear. Today’s blog post isn’t going to give a detailed history of the canal, but it will hit the high points. I learned some interesting things about its current use and wanted to share that with you. Some of my readers live in New York or used to, so you probably already know all this. Let me know if you find any glaring errors.
When the concept of the Erie Canal formed
As early 1768 there was talk in New York of connecting the Hudson River to Lake Erie via a canal. The American Revolution delayed any such project.
In 1792, the New York legislature chartered a company to start the canal, but financial problems stymied most of the 363-mile project.
Fast forward to 1817. A study revealed that the Erie Canal would cost nearly $5 million. It would include 77 locks to accommodate the 661-foot rise and fall of the land over that 363 miles.
Ground was broken on July 4, 1817, for the section between Rome and Utica. It wasn’t until that central New York section of the canal was completed in 1819 that the state legislature approved funding for the rest of the canal.
The state was expecting funds from the federal government to make the whole canal possible. President James Madison vetoed the Bonus Bill, which would have given New York funds for internal improvements, on March 3, 1817. With that source of money gone, investors were sought to make up the gap.
The completed Erie Canal opened on October 26, 1825 – 195 years ago today. It opened up commerce from Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to the Hudson River and, therefore, to the Atlantic Ocean. It did wonders for the New York economy until the advent of the railroad. The St. Lawrence Seaway’s creation in 1959 further decreased the commercial need for the canal.
Is the Erie Canal obsolete?
My next question was, “Is the Erie Canal obsolete?” That led me to dig a little deeper.
That’s when I learned that the Erie Canal is still in operation, but only in the warm months. For instance, https://www.cruisingodyssey.com reported the following in an article on May 19, 2020: “The New York State Canal Corporation just announced the schedule for reopening the locks on the historic – and much-travelled – Erie Canal and the system’s other canals in the state. The corporation said it planned to have most of the locks open by July 4, but some may not open until much later.”
That online article continues, “The locks had been scheduled to open on May 15, but maintenance and repair work was stopped a month earlier due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown. That work included seven locks on the Erie Canal and one of the Champlain Canal.”
How can you enjoy the Erie Canal?
I gather from the information gleaned from the Internet that it is primarily used in the summer months today (the months when the water isn’t frozen) by people who enjoy cruising in their boats.
The website https://www.nps.gov/erie/index.htm is a good source of information about the Erie Canal’s history as well as the opportunities for enjoyment offered today by the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.
According to the May 19, 2020 report on https://www.niagara-gazette.com/, the Erie Canal bike tour was cancelled in 2020 but the annual ride is expected to return next July.
That led me to search for information about the Erie Canalway Bike Trail. A bike trail more than 350 miles long sounds wonderful! It goes from Buffalo to Albany, New York.
The website https://bikeeriecanal.com/ appears to be a good source of information for those of you who wish to add it to your “bucket list.”
Since my last blog post
My sister, Marie, is graciously helping me proofread my nonfiction book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? All 350 pages. I don’t even have to pay her!
I’m reading several books and taking notes for my November blog posts about them.
I’m counting the days until the 2020 political campaign ads disappear from our mail boxes, TV screens, phones, and all social media. Anyone with me on that?
Until my next blog post
I hope you have more good books to read than you can possibly read.
I hope you have satisfying creative time this week.
Continue to wear a mask and stay safe and well during this pandemic. For the sake of all of us, follow the science.
The American Revolution is akin to the story of David and Goliath. Who would have thought the 13 colonies on the edge of the American wilderness could defeat the most powerful country in the world?
After a hard-fought war of more than five years, Great Britain had to admit defeat. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow 239 years ago today.
Although the British, under the command of Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis, won the Battle of Guilford Court House in North Carolina in March 1781, they suffered 25% casualties. Leaving Guilford County, Cornwallis led his beleaguered troops to Wilmington, NC to recover and regroup. While there, he decided to head for the coast of southeastern Virginia. Upon arriving there, Cornwallis established a base on the York River at Yorktown.
American General George Washington instructed the Marquis de Lafayette, who was in Virginia, to take his Continental Army troops and contain Cornwallis’ troops on the Yorktown Peninsula until Washington could get there from New York with additional troops.
Various American and French troops began to converge on the Yorktown Peninsula, some defeating British troops in engagements along the Chesapeake coast on their way from points north. By October 6, 1781, American and French forces were in place and ready to attack the British troops encamped at Yorktown and on ships there.
The siege of Yorktown began under the cover of darkness on the night of October 15, 1781. Cornwallis requested terms of surrender on October 17.
On Friday afternoon, October 19, 1781, Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis led 7,000 British and Hessian troops down Hampton Road to Yorktown, Virginia to surrender to General George Washington, commander of the American and French troops.
The peace treaty officially ending the war and recognizing American independence would be nearly two more years in coming, but the war was over and the difficult work of establishing the United States of America as a free and independent nation could begin.
Since my last blog post
My writing was derailed by a computer issue that lasted five days. Proofreading Harrisburg, Did You Know? was not quite 25% complete when all my documents and email disappeared. I’m trying to learn not to panic when such things happen. I know everything is backed up somewhere. Proofreading the manuscript for the e-book will pick by up today. I have one more photograph to track down for the book, and I haven’t done the cover yet. I’ll keep you posted.
On a happy note, I voted last week. What a privilege!
Until my next blog post
I hope you have at least one good book to read for pleasure.
No matter what your vocation or hobby, I hope you have a productive week.
The Covid-19 pandemic continues to worsen in many parts of the world and the flu season has started here in North Carolina. Please wear a mask out of respect for other people, and please take all possible precautions to avoid catching the virus and passing it on to others. We’re all in this together!
Earlier this month I saw a photograph of a beautifully restored octagonal house located at Cedar Point, North Carolina. It reminded me of the hexagonal house designed by my distant cousin, Harriet Abigail Morrison Irwin.
I was a little fuzzy on the details, so I reached for a copy of They Married Confederate Officers: The Intimate Story of Anna Morrison, Wife of Stonewall Jackson and Her Five Sisters, by Kathy Neill Herran.
It was then I discovered I’d missed an opportunity for an #OnThisDay blog post on August 24, for it was on that date in 1869 that Harriet Morrison Irwin was granted U.S. Patent #94,116 for the architectural design of a hexagonal house. It was the first architectural design patent issued to a woman in the United States.
Harriet Morrison was not quite three years older than her more famous sister, Anna Jackson. She was born September 18, 1828 at her parents’ home on Derita Road in Charlotte, NC during her father’s pastorate of Sugar Creek Presbyterian Church.
Though not educated in the realm of architecture, Harriet graduated from Salem College in present-day Winston-Salem, NC. She married James Patton Irwin in 1849, and the couple settled in Charlotte.
In addition to being the mother of nine children (four of whom died before the age of four years), Harriet was a gifted writer. Her husband teamed up with her brother-in-law, Harvey Hill, to publish a magazine called The Land We Love. Harriet contributed many articles to the publication, which was sold to the New Eclectic Magazine of Baltimore, Maryland after three years of publication, according to Mrs. Herran’s book referenced above.
It is said that Harriet suffered from some physical problems that necessitated her being somewhat of a homebody and not as active in civic activities as some of her sisters. She was an avid reader and enjoyed a wide variety of reading materials.
Harriet’s Interest in Architecture
Perhaps it was her delicate physical condition that prompted her interest in architecture. She sought to find a more practical and healthful home design than the standard two-story rectangular houses that dominated the cityscape. In particular, she came to believe that better air circulation in a home would result in a healthier family.
Descriptions of Harriet’s Home Design
Harriet’s patent in 1869 was for a hexagonal two-story house. The house was still standing on West Fifth Street in Charlotte in 1962 when Marie Adams wrote an article about it for the Charlotte News. In her December 7, 1962 article, Ms. Adams described the house as including a “central tower, mansard roof, and an arched porch,” according to Mrs. Herran’s book. (Due to the public libraries being closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I wasn’t able to read the newspaper article myself.)
Mrs. Herran’s book quotes the following from Architecture of the Old South: North Carolina, by Mills Lane:
“The six-sided home featured a central chimney, no hallways, and “lozenge-shaped chambers enclosing more useful area with the expenditure of less materials, labor, and money than conventional rooms.” Mrs. Herran added this about the house: “The rooms were joined by doors providing a circular traffic pattern around the house. Doors and specific windows were also placed with easy access to the outside. They provided comfortable airflow in the warmer months, but could be efficiently closed during the cold temperatures.”
Harriet’s grandson, Hall Morrison Irwin, Jr. reminisced about the house in 1962, remembering his visits there and the marble mantle and beautiful staircase. He also connected two other hexagonal homes in Charlotte to his grandmother. One was at the corner of Cedar and Trade Streets and the other one was on West Fifth Street at Clarkson. (Such an intersection no longer exists due to changes made in the streets in the neighborhood.)
Publicity for Harriet’s Home Design
Harvey Hill became editor and publisher of The Southern Home, a weekly Charlotte newspaper. One of his earliest article was an interview with Harriet Irwin. The article predicted Harriet’s house design would “create a new era in architecture,” according to Beverly Heisner’s April 1981 article, “Harriet Morrison Irwin’s Hexagonal House: An Invention to Improve Domestic Dwellings,” in North Carolina Historical Review.
It is said that Harriet no only extolled the practicality and healthful benefits of her design, but also urged the public to see its potential for being more beautiful than the run-of-the-mill two-story houses of the time. She also made a point to tell people not to confuse her hexagonal design with the octagonal design that had gained some interest.
James Irwin and Harvey Hill teamed up again after selling their magazine. They formed a real estate company and often advertised Harriet’s floor plan in Mr. Hill’s newspaper.
It’s unfortunate that none of Harriet’s hexagonal houses in Charlotte survived into the 1990s. Someone didn’t recognize the value of what they had when those three houses were demolished, at least, one of them being torn down in the 1960s.
In 2020, when the world of architecture is still male-dominated, it’s remarkable to consider that Harriet Morrison Irwin was born in 1828 and died in 1897. In 1870 she was recognized as a female architect in Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony’s newsletter titled, “The Revolution.” I hazard to say that 150 years later news of an architectural patent held by a woman would probably be equally newsworthy.
Since my last blog post
I’ve been busy formatting my 174 local history newspaper columns for self-publication. I hope to publish my work in electronic form and as a paperback book. I’ll keep you posted. This is something I’ve wanted to do since 2012, so I’m excited to finally have the opportunity.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel. I highly recommend it!
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have quality creative time.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to read my blog post today. Don’t forget to wear a mask out of respect for others during this Covid-19 pandemic.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I thought anything that happened in the 1800s was ancient history. It’s amazing how age has a way of putting things in perspective. As I was reading about Chief Joseph in preparation for writing today’s blog post, I was struck by the fact that the conflicts between the United States government and the Nez Perce Native Americans took place a mere 68-76 years before my birth.
Since I’m 67 years old, the number of years weren’t lost on me. It was only 49 years before my birth that Chief Joseph died on September 21, 1904. As I read various sources about Chief Joseph while researching today’s blog topic, in addition to putting the time frame in perspective, I was struck all over again with the fact that the United States government has always treated Native Americans horribly. Period.
Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt was popularly known as Chief Joseph. His tribal name translates into “Thunder Rolling in the Mountain” in English. He succeeded his father as a leader of the Wal-lam-wat-kain band of Nez Perce Native Americans. The Wal-lam-wat-kain lived in the Wallowa Valley in present-day Oregon.
Chief Joseph sought peace and wanted all people to live in harmony. The United States government didn’t share his philosophy of life. He tried repeatedly to come to a peace agreement with the federal government.
Background history – Chief Joseph’s Father
White settlers began settling in the Wallowa Valley around 1850. Chief Joseph’s father was the tribal chief at the time. He was welcoming to the intruders at first, but as their numbers grew they encroached onto more and more of the valley. When Chief Joseph (the elder) told the settlers they could take no land, the settlers took it by force.
As tensions grew, Governor Isaac Stevens of the Washington Territory created a council to try to establish peace. Through that council, the Treaty of Walla Walla was signed in 1855 by Chief Joseph (the elder) and the chiefs of nearby tribes. The treaty created a 7-million acre reservation that included the Wallowa Valley.
The treaty worked fairly well until a gold rush drew more settlers into the reservation land in 1863. A second treaty was signed, but it heavily favored the white settlers. The original 7-million acre reservation was whittled down to only 700,000 acres. The icing on the cake was the removal of the Wallowa Valley from the new reservation boundaries and all the affected tribes were forced to move to Idaho.
Some of the Nez Perce tribes accepted the terms and moved; however, Chief Joseph (the elder) and some others refused to go. The second treaty was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Chief Joseph (the elder) denounced the United States, even throwing away his Bible and burning the American flag. (He had adopted the Christian faith after visits by missionaries and was baptized and given the Christian name “Joseph” in 1838.)
What the US government never understood was the value the Native Americans put on the graves of their ancestors.
“Inside this boundary, all our people were born. It circles the graves of our fathers, and we will never give up these graves to any man.” ~ Chief Joseph (the elder)
Before Chief Joseph (the elder) died in 1871, he said the following words to his son in preparation for his succeeding him as tribal chief: “Never sell the bones of your father and your mother.”
The younger Joseph becomes Chief
More settlers arrived and tensions grew. Chief Joseph (the younger) was threatened with physical violence, but he always responded verbally. He held onto the hope that his people could stand their ground and outlast the white settlers. He knew if he retaliated with violence, the US government would wipe out his people. He couldn’t risk getting violent.
A third treaty was drawn up in 1873. It gave the Wallowa Valley back to Chief Joseph’s people. The treaty was broken four years later and US Army General Oliver Otis Howard set out to forcibly remove the Nez Perce from their lands. Chief Joseph (the younger) offered Gen. Howard a compromise. The Nez Perce would give up part of their land and some of them would leave.
When the two men were unable to come to an agreement, Howard gave the Nez Perce thirty days to vacate their lands. To not comply would be considered an act of war against the United States.
The Nez Perce War
Chief Joseph quietly moved his followers across nearly 1,200 miles, while other Nez Perce tribes chose to stay behind and fight. Chief Joseph’s people were able to avoid armed conflict with the US Army for the most part, but violence ran against the chief’s core values to the point that he couldn’t bear to see his people suffer any more. Even though Chief Joseph tried to avoid fighting the army, the conflict became known as the Nez Perce War because other tribes within the Nez Perce chose to fight.
On October 5, 1877, Chief Joseph surrendered to Gen. Howard. The speech Chief Joseph made that day is remembered to this day and often quoted:
“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, “Yes” or “No.” He who led the young men [Olikut] is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.” ~ Chief Joseph, October 5, 1877
The rest of the story
Chief Joseph and his followers were put on rail cars and taken to Oklahoma. Many died there from exposure to the elements and diseases they’d never been exposed to before. Getting nowhere talking to army generals, Chief Joseph went to Washington, DC and met with President Rutherford B. Hayes.
He pleaded his people’s case with the president, but there was not immediate resolution of the conflict. It was six years later that Chief Joseph and his followers were split up. Some were sent to a reservation near Kooskia, Idaho. Some were sent to northern Washington Territory. But Idaho and the reservation in northern Washington weren’t their homeland. Their homeland was the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon.
In 1897, Chief Joseph returned to Washington, DC to try again to get permission for his people to move to the Wallowa Valley. He never quit trying peacefully to get permission for his people to return to their homeland.
Chief Joseph died 116 years ago today on September 21, 1904. His physician said Chief Joseph died of a broken heart.
No one can argue with that.
If the United States government authorities had just adopted Chief Joseph’s philosophy of life, our country’s history would be quite different. A lot of conflict, bloodshed, and misunderstandings could have been avoided.
Since my last blog post
I was saddened by the death on Friday by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She will go down in history as one of the most-gifted legal minds to ever sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.
I’m formatting for self-publishing the 174 local history columns I wrote from 2006 through 2012 for Harrisburg Horizons newspaper. I hope to get the book published this year in electronic form and paperback.
Until my next blog post
Thank you for reading my blog. Everyone is busy, so I appreciate the time you took to read my post today.
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have satisfying creative time this week.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, please wear a mask to protect the people around you. Even if you’re not displaying any symptoms of the virus, you could be carrying it and infecting others.
Today’s blog post is a brief memory refresher about the Mexican-American War. The deciding battle of the war took place 173 years ago today in Mexico City.
United States President James K. Polk’s belief in the “manifest destiny” of the US to reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific was at the root of the 1846-1848 Mexican-American War. Specifically, there was a dispute between the two countries over where Texas ended and where Mexico began along the Rio Grande and Nueces Rivers.
President Polk pushed the issue by sending troops into the disputed zones, which resulted in a skirmish between Mexican and American troops on April 25, 1846. The US Congress declared war on Mexico on May 13, 1846.
Mexico’s General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was in exile in Cuba. (You, no doubt, remember him from the Battle of The Alamo in the 1836 Texas Revolution.) He convinced President Polk that he would end the war on terms the US would like if he could get back into Mexico. It was a trick. Upon returning to Mexico, Santa Anna took control of the Mexican army and led an attack. In March of 1847, he assumed the presidency of Mexico.
End of the Mexican-American War
General Winfield Scott led the American forces in a march from Veracruz to Mexico City. In September, 1847, US troops laid siege to Mexico City and captured the Chapultepec Castle.
The war was essentially over once the US had taken control of Mexico City on September 14, but the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo wasn’t signed until February 2, 1848.
The treaty established the Rio Grande River as the boundary between the US and Mexico. Included in the treaty was Mexico selling California and the rest of its territory north of the Rio Grande (which was most of present-day Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada) to the US for $15 million!
“Halls of Montezuma”
Incidentally, the opening words of the hymn of the US Marine Corps, “From the halls of Montezuma” are believed to refer to the Chapultepec Castle, although the castle was actually built by the Spanish 200 years after the overthrow of Aztec Emperor Montezuma.
For purposes of my blog post today, I was unable to verify that the beautiful stained-glass windows pictured above were part of the castle in 1847. At the time of the battle, the castle housed the Military College for cadets.
Since my last blog post
I’ll try to get today’s blog post out on schedule, since it’s an #OnThisDay edition. Last Saturday when I clicked on the publish button to schedule my post for Monday morning, it “went live” immediately. That’s the second time that’s happened, and I’m sure it’s due to operator error.
I’m once again focusing on getting the 174 local history newspaper columns I wrote from May 2006 through 2012 published. I formatted 292 pages for self-publishing on CreateSpace. When Amazon absorbed CreateSpace in 2018, I put the project on the back burner. My interest in getting this work published was rekindled the other day. I’m reformatting it as a Word document and adding my research notes for the many newspaper columns I didn’t get to write because the newspaper suddenly ceased publication. I’ll keep you posted.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have fulfilling creative time this week.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, please be safe. Wear a mask out of respect for others.
Thank you for taking a few minutes to read my blog post today!
When I felt an earthquake on August 9, 2020, I’d already planned to blog about the Charleston, South Carolina earthquake today. That recent earthquake was a 5.1 magnitude quake. The epicenter was near Sparta, North Carolina, about 100 miles from where I live. The bed shaking woke me up.
We haven’t felt many damaging earthquakes in North Carolina. In fact, there are only 23 damaging earthquakes of record that were felt in the state in recorded history. Eight of those were centered in North Carolina. I’ve felt three of them.
Charleston Earthquake Experienced in Charlotte, NC Area
I’ve heard of the Charleston, South Carolina earthquake all my life. I grew up seeing visible evidence of the event when I visited a friend who lived in a house in my community that was built in the early 1870s. It’s a sturdy two-story brick house. It’s my understanding that after the Charleston Earthquake, which was felt here – some 200 miles from Charleston — two iron bars were added horizontally inside the back exterior wall of the house. The bars were connected in an overlapping hook configuration in front of a window in my friend’s bedroom.
Although it was later determined that these iron bars did not increase the stability of the wall, the bars were left there as a piece of history. In the 1960s, the bars were visible inside the room from wall-to-wall. When the house was renovated some years later, extra wall insulation was installed which necessitated the wall being extended several inches into the room. The iron bars were left in place, but are now only visible at the window.
US Geological Survey Report
The state of South Carolina has 10 to 15 earthquakes annually, but only three to five of them are felt by people. The magnitude 7.2 August 31, 1886 Charleston Earthquake remains the most powerful earthquake recorded in the eastern part of the United States.
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), hardly a structure in Charleston was left undamaged. Property damage was estimated at $5-6 million, which translates roughly to $138-165 million today. Structural damage was reported hundreds of miles away in central Alabama, central, Ohio, eastern Kentucky, southern Virginia, and western West Virginia. People as far away as Boston, Massachusetts; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; Cuba; and Bermuda reported feeling the earthquake.
Railroad tracks were damaged for a 50-mile radius. Railroad tracks several miles northwest of Charleston were mangled by lateral and vertical displacement, forming S-shaped curves and longitudinal movement.
“The formation of sand craterlets and the ejection of sand were widespread in the epicentral area, but surface faulting was not observed,” according to the USGS. That report continued: “Many acres of ground were overflowed with sand, and craterlets as much as 6.4 meters across were formed. In a few locations, water from the craterlets spouted to heights of about 4.5 to 6 meters. Fissures 1 meter wide extended parallel to canal and stream banks. A series of wide cracks opened parallel to the Ashley River, and several large trees were uprooted when the bank slid into the river.” (Source: Abridged from Seismicity of the United States, 1568-1989 (Revised), by Carl W. Stover and Jerry L. Coffman, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1527, United States Government Printing Office, Washington: 1993.)
Interesting Details Noted in 2001 Encyclopedia
The following was printed in Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes, by David Ritchie and Alexander E. Gates, Ph.D. in 2001: “The earthquake apparently was most intense 12 miles west of Charleston, where large amounts of sand and water spewed from fissures in the ground.” It was preceded by lesser shocks earlier that summer. The August 31 major quake was “accompanied by a noise that later was compared to the sound of steam escaping from a boiler or of fast-moving street traffic at close range…. Reports indicate that some interesting events in distant parts of the country coincided with the earthquake, including a reduction in the yield of natural gas wells in Pennsylvania and the reactivation of a geyser in Wyoming’s Yellowstone valley after four years of inactivity.”
September 3, 1886 report in The Atlanta Constitution
This extensive newspaper article is a prime example of the flowery language that dominated newspapers of that era. It took some diligence to sift through the fluff and find the facts.
The full-page article describes the terror experienced by the residents of Augusta, Georgia, where people took to spending two nights in the streets or in the graveyard. (I’m guessing the graveyard was a place in town without trees that could fall on people if another earthquake occurred.) People were frustrated by not being able to get from Georgia to Charleston due to the disrupted rail lines and breaks in the roads. Travel by sea was also disrupted as ship captains avoided Charleston as long as aftershocks continued.
The 285-acre Langley Pond in Aiken County, SC (approximately 130 miles west of Charleston) was created in 1854 by the construction of a dam. The 400-foot long $50,000 dam broke during the earthquake and the release of the water in the pond (which deserved the designation “lake”) wiped out the forest downstream. A train track over a nearby pond was mangled. An approaching train engineer could not see far enough ahead to avoid crashing his train into the water. He was badly injured and his fireman drowned.
The newspaper correspondent eventually made his way across South Carolina to the village of Summerville, about 25 miles from Charleston. It appeared to the writer that Summerville had taken the brunt of the earthquake. There were numerous fissures in the ground through which sand and water smelling of sulfur continue to erupt after the correspondent arrived. It was reported that in Summerville, a roar like thunder was heard for a half hour after the big quake.
Upon reaching Charleston, the newspaper correspondent reported finding bricks and other construction debris everywhere in the streets and all open places and railway cars packed with people sleeping or just trying to survive. The writer feared Charleston had been struck a mortal blow. There, he found two-foot high stacks of blue mud that had erupted from fissures in the ground. He also found a citizenry not planning to go into a building until forced to by the chill of winter.
September 9, 1886 report in The (Concord, NC) Times
This weekly newspaper some 200 miles northwest of Charleston, SC gave the following details of how residents in that small town experienced the August 31, 1886 earthquake:
“The first shock was very violent, throwing down chimneys, turning over lamps, causing plastering to fall from walls, houses to crack and sway, and creating a commotion that frightened everybody as they had not been frightened before. This shock lasted about three minutes and a half. People rushed pell mell into the street, half dressed and badly frightened. In a few minutes almost the whole town was astir. Fifteen minutes after the first shock another came, but of much less violence than the first. At another interval of about the same length a third was felt, still less severe. Some say they felt as many as five shocks here.”
The article went on to report the following from the gold mining operation at Gold Hill in Rowan County, NC: “At Gold Hill the hands in the mines when the shock came were just shifting, that is the day hands were coming out and the night hands going in. Some of the mines caved in, and it was certainly a fortunate thing that no one was in them.”
Other Newspaper Reports
Another newspaper reported that a thick dust fell in Wilmington, NC on the night of the Charleston Earthquake. “That all the iron in the city lamp posts, store-fronts, and engines was highly magnetized. It is also said that several engines running on roads in this State were highly magnetized, though in no case does the earthquake shock appear to have been felt by people on the trains.”
“A report received to-day from one of the keepers who was on duty in the tower at Cape Lookout lighthouse says the shocks were terrible and the lighthouse rocked to and fro. The keepers were badly frightened.”
Charleston Post and Courier Newspaper Article
In a newspaper articles by Dave Munday, originally published June 11, 2007 and updated December 8, 2016, it was reported that 1886 Charleston Earthquake research was still taking place in the Colonial Dorchester Historical Site by Pradeep Talwani, Director of the South Carolina Seismic Network at the University of South Carolina-Columbia. In excavations done there, evidence of a sand and water geyser eruption was found; however, Talwani suspects this geyser was perhaps from an earthquake in the 1300s.
Talwani’s research has found that a major earthquake hits the Charleston area approximately every 500 years. According to this newspaper article, it is estimated that the 1886 Charleston Earthquake measured perhaps 7.6 in magnitude.
It is stunning to think about what shape Charleston, SC was in at the end of the Civil War in 1865 and then to consider the extensive damage done to the city and to much of South Carolina just 21 years later by an earthquake the likes of which the area had not seen before and has not seen since.
Since my last blog post
I’m adjusting to a life of caring for a wonderful little dog with diabetes and a host of other health problems. Life will be a bit of a rollercoaster for a while. I’ve decreased my book reading expectations.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have uninterrupted creative time.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, please wear a mask out of respect for others you may unknowingly infect. Be safe. We’re all in this together.
My blog post on June 22, 2020 (#OnThisDay: The Chesapeake – Leopard Affair off Virginia, 1807) was about a naval incident that was a cog in the wheel of events that resulted in the War of 1812. One of the most famous events of that three-year war between the United States and Great Britain was the British invasion of Washington, DC and the burning of the White House on August 24, 1814.
Left behind in Washington City
United States First Lady Dolley Madison showed what she was made of on that day. Her husband, President James Madison left Washington City to join General Winder. Before leaving, he asked Dolley if she would be all right there until his return. She assured him that all was well and she wasn’t afraid. He instructed her to take care of the public and private Cabinet papers, the Cabinet being the Secretary of State and other federal department heads.
That’s not how things played out, though, and Dolley became a bit of a hero on that August day 206 years ago. It turned out that the British troops were much closer to the capital city than the president had thought. When President Madison realized the imminent danger posed by the British troops, he wrote to Dolley twice in pencil that she should get out of Washington as soon as possible.
Dolley filled trunk after trunk with government papers, sacrificing the Madison family possessions in order to save important documents. People all around her were fleeing for their lives. As she wrote in a letter to her sister, Anna, “even Colonel C with his hundred, who were stationed as a guard in this enclosure” fled.
A faithful servant, French John, offered to “spike the cannon at the gate, and lay a train of powder, which would blow up the British should they enter the house.” Dolley declined to take him up on his offer of defending the White House.
The Battle of Bladensburg
At sunrise the next morning, Dolley looked through her spyglass in all directions, watching for her husband to appear. He didn’t come. In the early afternoon she could hear the cannons firing as the British defeated the Americans at the Battle of Bladensburg. By mid-afternoon she had procured another wagon and “filled it with plate and the most valuable portable articles belonging to the house.” That wagon was dispatched to the Bank of Maryland for safe keeping.
Gilbert Stuart’s Portrait of George Washington
Dolley was urged to get in a carriage and leave immediately, but she still refused to leave the White House without Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington. It turned out that the frame was bolted to the wall, so it was not just a matter of taking it down. To save time, the canvas was cut out of the frame, rolled up, and saved by Dolley Madison. She went down in history for her heroics of August 24, 1814.
The Burning of Washington City
As the British troops entered the capital city, they torched one government office after another until finally reaching the White House. Some sources say the soldiers feasted on a meal prepared for 40 guests at the grand dining table before setting fire to the house; but that seems a little far-fetched since there was no one remaining there to prepare food and Dolley Madison had fled with the china.
It was surely a day and night of terror for any Washington residents who dared to stay behind. When the sun rose the next morning, the Capitol Building, the White House, and every other building of importance lay in smoking ruins.
Dolley Madison’s Background and Legacy
Growing up in North Carolina, I wasn’t taught much about the War of 1812 when I was in school. The battles all took place north of our state. It just wasn’t emphasized when I came along. If one of my social studies teachers had related the above story with energy and enthusiasm, it would have made the War of 1812 much more memorable and relatable than a recitation of battles and dates.
Dolley Madison is also remembered for making a conscious effort to invite guests from both political parties to social functions at the White House. The term “bipartisanism” had not yet been coined when she worked to do all she could to encourage cooperation between the political parties.
Dolley Payne Madison was born to Quaker parents in Guilford County, North Carolina in 1768. Her family moved to Philadelphia when she was 15 years old. She married John Todd, a Quaker lawyer, and they had two children; however, Mr. Todd and the younger of their sons died during a yellow fever outbreak in 1793.
At that time, Philadelphia was the nation’s capital. Dolley was an attractive young widow. Senator Aaron Burr introduced her to then Congressman James Madison. She married Madison after a brief courtship.
James Madison was an Episcopalian. Dolley converted to his faith and abandoned her Quaker upbringing and manner of dress. The Madisons lived at Montpelier, the family plantation in Virginia before moving to Washington, DC in order for James to be President Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State. It seems that Dolley happily fell right into the Washington social scene.
Since President Jefferson was not married, Dolley Madison served as the unofficial First Lady. It was she who got to make many decisions about the furnishings of the newly-constructed White House. James Madison was elected US President in 1808. Although much-revered as the “Father of the US Constitution,” he was 17 years Dolley’s senior and his terseness was in great contrast to the vivacious Dolley.
At the end of President Madison’s second term, he and Dolley returned to Montpelier. They lived there until his death in 1836. Dolley then moved back to the social life in Washington, DC, where she died in 1849.
Since my last blog post
Life has thrown a few curves at me since last Monday. It seems in the coming days I’ll learn how to care for a diabetic dog. My work on my scenic or step plot outline got hijacked, but I’ll get back to it.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. My mind has been pulled in more than a few directions, making it difficult for me to concentrate on reading. I still have a couple of books I want to finish, though, by the end of the month.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have quality creative time.
Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask. It’s not a sacrifice in the big scheme of things.
Although the War of 1812 didn’t officially start until the United States declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812, a number of incidents over a nine-year period led up to America’s second war against her Mother Country. Those incidents centered around Great Britain’s maritime violations against United States ships and their crews.
Today is the 213th anniversary of a skirmish between the USS Chesapeake and the HMS Leopard off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia on June 22, 1807. (Sorry, if you were hoping for another kind of affair.)
The War of 1812 wasn’t emphasized much when I was taking history in school. Or perhaps I just didn’t retain the details. I couldn’t have told you what led to the United States going to war with Great Britain again so soon after the American Revolutionary War.
In case you’re like me in that respect, in today’s blog I’ll give you some insight. I promise, today’s blog post won’t be as long as my previous two #OnThisDay posts. No one needs or wants to know that much about the War of 1812.
How all this started
There was trouble on the high seas between the American and British navies as early as 1803. Things escalated and resulted in The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair in 1807.
Jenkin Ratford and four other crewmen on a British vessel patrolling off the coast of Virginia decided to steal a boat and desert their ship. They came ashore at Norfolk and bragged about what they’d done. Ratford joined the crew of the USS Chesapeake, a frigate of the US Navy. Great Britain was embarrassed.
The Chesapeake sailed out of Norfolk in June of 1807, heading for the Mediterranean Sea. The HMS Leopard intercepted it and was set to take revenge for what Ratford had done. When the commander of the Leopard requested to go aboard the Chesapeake to search for deserters, James Barron, the American commodore refused to muster his crew.
The response from the Leopard was swift and decisive. Three Americans were killed and 18 were wounded as the frigate attacked the Chesapeake with a barrage from its artillery. The crew of the Leopard seized the opportunity, boarded the crippled vessel, and captured Jenkin Ratford and other British Navy deserters.
Americans were humiliated by the incident and called for war. This was something that people agreed on, in spite of their political differences. US President Thomas Jefferson’s navy had already largely been dispatched to the Mediterranean in an effort to quell the activity of the Barbary pirates. Furthermore, budget cuts had reduced the fighting power of the US Army. He could ill afford to call for a war with Great Britain.
Jefferson decided to take revenge against Great Britain economically. The Embargo Act was passed by Congress a few months later and signed into law in December of 1807.
The Embargo Act of 1807
The Embargo Act of 1807 forbade all international trade in or out of all US ports. The objective was to get Great Britain and France (who were at war at the time) to stop harassing US ships and to recognize the autonomy of the United States as a nation.
One can imagine how unhappy the US port cities were. They depended upon the international trade for their survival. The embargo failed due to loopholes in the law. For instance, Great Britain continued to export goods to the US via Canada. Goods were smuggled in from Canada and whaling ships. Enforcement was a problem.
In the end, Americans suffered far more than the British or the French. Sailors lost their jobs, farmers couldn’t sell their crops, and merchants went bankrupt.
The end results
Tensions continued. The US declared war against the United Kingdom and Ireland and all its territories on June 18, 1812. By then, James Madison was the US president. The war continued until it officially ended with the Treaty of Ghent on February 17, 1815.
What happened to James Barron and Jenkin Ratford?
James Barron was court-martialed and found guilty of “neglecting on the probability of an engagement, to clear his ship for action.” He was suspended, without pay, from the US Navy for five years.
Jenkin Ratford was court-martialed for mutiny and desertion. His punishment came on August 31, 1807, when he was hanged from the fore yardarm of the HMS Halifax, a ship on which he had previously served.
Until my next blog post
I apologize for not including any photographs in today’s blog post. I usually get my blog photos from unsplash.com; however, I was unable to download any images from that website to use today. One of the cardinal rules of blogging is to always include images, so I’m embarrassed to send today’s post out into the blogosphere without illustration.
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m blessed with more library books than I can possibly read before they’re due. I’m giving them my best effort, though. Too many books! What a wonderful dilemma to have!
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have lots of creative time during this pandemic.
Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask in respect for other people.
If not for the 12th Amendment to the US Constitution, Donald Trump could now be president and Hillary Clinton could now be vice president. Talk about an unworkable state of affairs!
The ratification of an amendment to the US Constitution deserves a blog post on its anniversary. Unfortunately, the 12th Amendment gets into the Electoral College – something that has always baffled me. I’m probably the last person who should be trying to explain the 12th Amendment to you, but I’m going to plow my way through it.
As soon as I started doing the necessary research so I could write today’s blog post, I ran into conflicting dates. I’m going with June 15, 1804 as the date the 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. I’ll address the conflicting date later in this post
What is the 12th Amendment about?
The 12th Amendment to the US Constitution determined how every US President and Vice President have been elected since 1804. It mandates that electors in the Electoral College vote for president on one ballot and for vice president on a separate ballot.
Presidential Elections Prior to the 12th Amendment
Under Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution, each state was entitled to appoint a slate of electors equal to the number of US Senators and US House Representatives the state had. Each state had (and still has) two Senators. The number of Representatives a state has is based on population.
Every four years those electors, now known as the Electoral College, chose the president and vice president. Each of them could vote for two people; however, they couldn’t vote for someone from their state of residency.
The highest vote getter became president and the one with the second highest number of votes became vice president, as long as their total votes exceeded one-half the number of appointed electors. Therefore, the president and the vice president weren’t necessarily from the same political party.
If no one got a majority of votes, or if two candidates received the same number of votes, the House of Representatives chose the president and the person with the second highest number of votes became vice president.
In the 1790s, differences of opinion on domestic and foreign policies became pronounced enough that two political parties formed. The founders of the United States had not anticipated the formation of strong political organizations/parties. The two parties were known as the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans.
Yes, it’s very confusing to us in 2020 when there are two major political parties in the US: Democrat and Republican.
The Federalists wanted a strong central government that was friendly to Great Britain. The Democratic-Republicans wanted strong local governments and were more in line with the French Revolution.
The Early US Presidents
Without opposition, George Washington was elected the first US president in 1788 and again in 1792. He announced he would not seek a third term. He became increasingly aligned with the Federalists, although he saw the dangers inherent in factionalism. John Adams was Washington’s vice president. He identified himself with the Federalists. Thomas Jefferson was Washington’s Secretary of State until 1793. Jefferson became the leader of the Democratic-Republicans.
The 1796 election was the first time candidates for president ran from two political parties. John Adams and Charles C. Pinckney were the foremost Federalists running against Thomas Jefferson. John Adams won a majority of votes, but Thomas Jefferson was elected vice president. Remember, they were from opposing political parties and ideologies. Such a situation is difficult for modern Americans to imagine.
Moving on the 1800 election, John Adams ran for reelection and Thomas Jefferson ran for president again. The political parties had gotten stronger and electors divided their votes between “only” five candidates. John Adams received 65 votes. In order to avoid a tie vote between Adams and Pinckney, one of the electors from Rhode Island voted for John Jay so Adams would have a one vote advantage over Pinckney.
But Democratic-Republicans Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each received 73 votes. The Federalists thought they had an edge in the House of Representatives that would result in the election of the more conservative Aaron Burr, so they weren’t worried. They thought they could work better with a President Aaron Burr than a President Thomas Jefferson.
In order to be elected president, a candidate had to receive nine votes from the 16 states. Eight states favored Jefferson, six aligned with Burr, and two states were divided in how to cast their votes. Voting on the floor of the House of Representatives continued for six days and 35 ballots!
Although he personally favored Burr, Delaware elector James A. Bayard let it be known that he would vote for Jefferson after Senator Samuel Smith assured him that Jefferson would not undo the accomplishments of the Washington and Adams administrations. In the end, 10 states voted for Jefferson, electing him the third US president.
The 1800 election proved to the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans that the electoral system was deeply flawed.
On December 9, 1803 Congress proposed a 12th Amendment to the Constitution.
What the 12th Amendment did
The 12th Amendment didn’t change the structure of the Electoral College but, in order to understand the purpose of the amendment, one needs to have some knowledge of the Electoral College.
Whereas the Constitution had required each elector to vote for two people for president (yes, you heard me right!), the 12th Amendment required each elector to cast one vote for president and one vote for vice president.
If no one receives a majority of votes for president, the House of Representatives will choose the president under the rules of the original procedure as set forth in the Constitution, except they will choose between no more than three candidates instead of five, as was stipulated in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.
In case no candidate receives a majority of votes for vice president in the Electoral College, the US Senate chooses the winner from the top two vote getters. However, if there is a tie between multiple candidates, the Senate will choose from all those in the tie.
Additionally, the 12th Amendment requires a two-thirds quorum for balloting procedures. It also provided for a remedy should a president not be chosen by March 4. That remedy was that the newly-elected vice president would act as president until the election of the president could be settled. (March 4 was the first day of a presidential term until the ratification of the 20th Amendment in 1933 which established January 20 as the first day of a presidential term.)
Under the 12th Amendment, if no president or vice president have been elected by January 20, Congress will appoint a president. We almost got into that situation in the 2000 election, but that’s a whole other story, #HangingChads.
The Pros and Cons of the Electoral College
I’ve read various reasons and speculations about why the framers of the US Constitution provided the Electoral College as a way to elect the president. I’ve read that it was to ensure that people who had wisdom (in other words, that knew about politics, had some education, and understood this new form of government) would have enough sense to elect a president.
I’ve read that they didn’t want people living in the population centers of the nation to have an advantage over the citizens in the backcountry because the people in the cities would be more likely to know the candidates. (They obviously didn’t foresee the advent of the radio or television.)
There is much confusion over the Electoral College. As a political science college student, I was more interested in the administration of government than its political aspect. I made a conscious decision not to take the senior-level Political Science course called “The Electoral Process.” Looking back, perhaps I should have taken that class.
With practically every presidential election, pro-Electoral College and anti-Electoral College opinions rise to the surface. There are people who would prefer the candidate receiving the majority of the popular vote (the votes of all citizens) to be president, while people who like the idea of the popular vote in each state being sifted through the Electoral College electors of their state want us to keep the Electoral College.
I’m going to go out on a limb today and say that I would like to see the Electoral College ended. I think each American’s vote should count equally to every other American’s vote. The people in favor of the Electoral College typically fear a populous state such as California or New York could influence an election by the sheer number of voters who live there.
Americans stand in line to cast their votes for president on the first Tuesday in November every four years, and then the electors who make up the Electoral College meet in their states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December and cast their votes.
Since we elect the president and vice president via the Electoral College, in 2016, Donald Trump became president even though Hillary Clinton had some three million more popular votes than Trump. There are other elections in which the top popular vote getter lost the election, but I think that one example suffices.
I think it’s time to rethink the electoral process, but I’m not impassioned enough about it to lead the campaign to amend the 12th Amendment.
Ratification of the 12th Amendment
On June 15, 1804, 189 days after the 12th Amendment had been proposed by Congress, it was ratified by 14 or the 16 states. North Carolina was the first state to ratify it, doing so on December 21, 1803. By the end of February 1804, it had been ratified by nine states.
By mid-May 1804, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Connecticut had rejected the amendment. New Hampshire ratified the 12th Amendment on June 15, 1804, meeting the requirement that in order to be adopted, a US Constitutional amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
What about the conflicting dates I found?
Technically, when three-fourths of the states have ratified a US Constitutional amendment, it is officially ratified and becomes law. That’s what happened on June 15, 1804 with the 12th Amendment. That’s why I went with today being the anniversary of the amendment’s ratification.
Secretary of State James Madison sent a letter to the state governors on September 25, 1804, declaring the 12th Amendment as ratified. Some history books use September 25, 1804 as the date of ratification.
Since my last blog post
I opened my blog with some trepidation last Monday. I didn’t know how my blog post that morning would be received. I was very pleased with the response the post got. As of last night at 10:00 pm, last Monday’s post, “I can’t breathe!”, has had 147 visitors from 15 countries. That’s a record for my blog. It has received more comments than any of my other blog posts. My thanks to each reader!
Until my next blog post
If you still have questions about the 12th Amendment and the Electoral College, please research them. I’ve said all I know about the subject, and I’m still a bit confused. Perhaps I should have gone with the September 25 date. That date doesn’t fall on a Monday (the day I blog) until 2023. After more than a little frustration, I wish I’d postponed today’s post until then!
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have lots of creative time.
Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask in respect for other people.
I had originally considered writing about the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount Saint Helens today, but then I was reminded that it was on this day in 1896 that the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision that changed the course of American history. The case was Plessy v. Ferguson.
Plessy v. Ferguson was one of the cases we studied in the constitutional law class I took in college. The decision in this landmark case sanctioned segregation in the United States.
What happened after the American Civil War?
The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United State Constitution were intended to guarantee the civil rights of African Americans in the years after the Civil War and forevermore. Some states found ways around the intent of those amendments by instituting such things as a poll tax that many former slaves could not afford to pay and literacy tests that former slaves who had been denied an opportunity to learn to read or write couldn’t possibly pass.
The result of the poll taxes and literacy tests was the disenfranchisement of black men. (This just applied to men because women didn’t gain the right to vote until 1920.)
Racially-segregated public schools were the legal norm in some states in the post-Civil War years and into the 1960s. Narrow interpretation of the U.S. Constitution made these state laws possible.
The Louisiana Separate Car Act
The Separate Car Act took effect in Louisiana in 1890. It dictated that railway companies had to provide separate cars for blacks and whites and made it against the law for anyone of either race to enter a car designated for the other race.
Creole professionals in New Orleans organized the Citizens’ Committee to test the constitutionality of the Separate Car Act. They hired Albion Tourgée as legal counsel. Mr. Tourgée had a record as a reformer. They wanted to find a person of mixed race to serve as plaintiff in a test case. They maintained that the act could not be applied on a consistent basis because it did not define the “white” and “colored” races.
Who was Plessy in Plessy v Ferguson?
Homer Adolph Plessy was seven-eighths white and one-eighth African American. He bought a ticket to take the East Louisiana Railroad from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana. He boarded a passenger car for whites. When he refused to move to a car for African Americans, he was arrested.
Mr. Plessy was found guilty and appealed the decision.
Who was Ferguson in Plessy v Ferguson?
John H. Ferguson was the judge when Mr. Plessy was tried in U.S. District Court.
Counsel for Mr. Plessy argued that the Louisiana Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – the amendment that prohibited slavery.
The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states the following in section 1: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States… are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of laws; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Counsel for Mr. Plessy argued that the Act violated this amendment because it did not provide African Americans “equal protection of the laws.” Judge Ferguson dismissed that claim, too.
The case was appealed to the Louisiana State Supreme Court where Judge Ferguson’s ruling was upheld.
Plessy v Ferguson
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider the case, which was titled Plessy v Ferguson and oral arguments were heard April 13, 1896. The court’s 7 to 1 decision with one associate justice not voting, was rendered 124 years ago today on May 18, 1896.
The majority opinion in the case
Associate Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote for the majority. He wrote that the Louisiana Separate Car Act didn’t violate the Thirteenth Amendment because it did not reestablish slavery or servitude. He wrote that the act wasn’t in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment because the amendment only addressed the legal equality of whites and blacks and did not address social equality. Justice Brown maintained that the law in question in Louisiana provided equal cars for the two races. He backed up his statement for the court’s majority by citing various states’ courts that allowed for racially-segregated public schools. He wrote: “If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.” Furthermore, he wrote that the intention of the Louisiana law in question was to preserve “public peace and good order” and was “reasonable.”
The minority opinion in the case
Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan of Kentucky, as the only dissenter, wrote in the minority statement that the majority of the Supreme Court had ignored the purpose of the Separate Car Act. To Justice Harlan, it was obvious that the purpose of the act was “under the guise of giving equal accommodation for whites and blacks, to compel the latter to keep to themselves while traveling in railroad passenger coaches.” He argued that “Our Constitution is color-blind” and does not see or tolerate citizens being divided by class. He said the act affected the free movement of both races and, therefore, violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Stating his dissent to the decision in the strongest possible terms, Justice Harlan wrote, “in my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case.” (In the Dred Scott case in 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote that African Americans were not entitled to the rights guaranteed by U.S. citizenship.)
By the way, Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan came to be called “The Great Dissenter” because in the 34 years he sat on the U.S. Supreme Court (1877 until his death in 1911) he was often the dissenting voice, particularly in cases involving civil rights.
The separate but equal doctrine
Although the words, “separate but equal” do not appear in the majority or minority opinions in Plessy v Ferguson, that doctrine was a result of the case. The “separate but equal” doctrine made possible the continuation of racially-segregated public schools for decades.
The Brown v Board of Education of Topeka landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 1954 ruled that separate but equal public schools were unconstitutional; however, in the county in which I lived in North Carolina, voluntary school integration was not instituted until 1965, and integration wasn’t mandatory until the following school year. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka essentially overturned Plessy v Ferguson.
Since my last blog post
I’ve continued to work on a short story around the May 20, 1775 Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
Until my next blog post
Be safe. Be well. Be positive. Be creative and productive.
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett.
Let’s continue the conversation
I attended an all-white school until the seventh grade. That year, integration was optional. Only three black students attended the school of first through eighth grades. The year I was in the eighth grade, the public schools in our county were fully-integrated. Looking back on it now, I don’t know what all the fuss was about.
How about you? Did you attend a racially-segregated school? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below and on my Facebook pages where I post my blog.