Filed under: The Past is a Foreign...Something | Tags: Coolies, Forbes, Politics, Utopias
The Unbearable Ubiquity of Steamship Accidents
Last we left John Murray Forbes, China trader and nascent railroad baron extraordinaire, it was 1860 and he was all het up about a possible Federal ban on the coolie trade. In a letter to a Massachusetts Congressman, he argued that banning this trade — as opposed to regulating it — would play into the Slave Power’s hands. Banning the importation of cheap Chinese labor would eliminate a source of free labor in the South, and thus remove a threat to the antebellum plantation complex.
He supported this point with a host of ad hominem attacks on a former American consul, and, more interestingly, an anecdote about a Chinese colonization scheme he’d once supported, but had subsequently dropped on the advice of a planter friend. Forbes’s unnamed interlocutor had made it clear that planters’ “jealousy,” of “any scheme of labor outside of their ‘peculiar institution’ ” would make such any importation of free labor untenable in the South.(1)
Thus was Forbes’s plan to simultaneously “improve the condition of the Chinese, and show in our tropics the benefits of free labor,” strangled in its cradle.
But let’s step back a moment. Who was this planter friend? And what was their actual exchange? How well does Forbes’s story in 1860 match up to what the document’s tell us?
Why is it that papers about money always read like Hegel wrote them? I.e. simultaneously Really Important and Uncannily Soporific.
Seriously folks, time to deploy some verbs, start using normal capitalization, and use words that make sense.
And then maybe I won’t fall asleep like four times while trying to read your work.
Image cite: Lesleyraez, “Old Coins,” Flickr, CC License
Filed under: The Past is a Foreign...Something | Tags: fire, intrigue, William Henry Seward
Or, your daily dose of archival intrigue.
Two notes, One sheet:
First hand (top of page)
Will you do me the favour to destroy the papers I sent you last night — I may have spoken more unnreservedly of a third person than I ought — It is growing colder — will you have a fire.”
Second hand (bottom of page):
My dear Madam
I considered your paper precious to me, and I thought it better to keep it, but since you express a wish to have it destroyed, I will comply. No need of fire. I feel warm.”
Filed under: History and Historians
Two quotes, intentionally out of context*, from Clay Shirky:
Metadata is worldview; sorting is a political act.
We’re used to the future turning out differently than we expected; it happens all the time. When the past turns out differently, though, it can get really upsetting, and because people don’t like that kind of upset, we’re at risk of finding new reasons to believe false things, rather than revising our sense of what actually happened.
Worth thinking about; mainly caught my attention because I’ve been thinking a lot about history and tech for a while now. That, and the ax I’m grinding about the purpose of History (the discipline) being the eradication of nostalgia (in political spaces; keep the nice family memories).
*Context: ruminations on the moral failings of the #amazonfail furor
Image cite: Chris Campbell, “The World’s Largest Axe,” Flickr, CC License
I often begin these posts with some kind of appreciation of the serendipity of the archives; much of what’s appeared here are things I didn’t expect; or, more often, things that don’t fit into the project I’m working on as my main occupation, but that were just too interesting (for a given value of interesting) to forget completely. All well and good, I suppose.
But sometimes … sometimes you find what you’re looking for. Yesterday was one of those times. Continue reading
Filed under: Adams Family, The Past is a Foreign...Something | Tags: JQA, Phrenology, Science!
Or, Phrenology Is Silly
At least, so John Quincy Adams, age 74, told his diary on Thursday, October 14, 1841:
Mr. Clother Gifford came to me, as a phrenologist, and proposed to give my head a scientific phrenological examination, which I declined; regarding the whole pretended science as a mischievous humbug, with all the evil tendencies of fortune telling – I did not say so to Mr. Gifford, but merely declined submitting my head to his examination.”
John Quincy Adams diary 41, p. 494 [electronic edition]. The Diaries of John Quincy Adams: A Digital Collection (Boston, Mass. : Massachusetts Historical Society, 2004), http://www.masshist.org/jqadiaries
Gaetan Lee, “Phrenology Heads,” Flickr, CC License
Part 1 of an infinite series
Stephen H. Branch to John C. Calhoun, New York City, February 8, 1844
My Dear Sir:
I am studying Mnemo-Phrenotechny, or the art of acquiring memory, with every possible facility afforded me for its most critical mastery. Men of science say that it is the most wonderful and useful discovery of the age. If convenient, I purpose [sic] coming to Carolina’s genial and friendly skies to impart it to yourself and children as a slight testimonial of my regard for you. I am happiest when tendering my sincerest homage to distinguished integrity and genius. I love to sacrifice at virtue’s hallowed shrine. Palsied, indeed, be my humanity when I cease to cherish the immortal patriots and god-like intellects of my country. I know you will be highly pleased with this new science, you are so alive to all that glorifies the mind.
I remain, with profound respect,
S. H. Branch”
The Papers of John C. Calhoun, Clyde N. Wilson, ed. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1986), XVII:774.
Image Credit: malavoda, “Hypnosis,” Flickr, CC License