Saturday, December 15, 2018

New England and Secession: 1814

The first serious effort at secession in the United States came not from the South, but from New England.  As a result of the economic impact of the War of 1812 and the seeming stranglehold that the southern states held in the national government, the Federalists from several states met at Hartford, Connecticut, to discuss their grievances. 

The Hartford Convention began on December 15, 1814 and lasted nearly three weeks.  There were representatives from Connecticut, Massachusetts (the largest delegation), New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  They urged several constitutional amendments that they felt would strengthen their regions’ influence.  Secession was discussed.

But timing is everything.  The War of 1812 ended almost immediately after the convention and the Federalists, already dwindling in number, were discredited.  The Hartford Convention sounded the death knell for the nation’s first ruling political party.  Their last presidential candidate competed in 1816 and he was soundly defeated.

Theodore Dwight, a prominent Federalist and journalist, served as the convention’s secretary.  He later wrote a defensive account of the proceedings. He said, for example, that “the Hartford Convention, from the time of its coming together to the present hour, has been the general topic of reproach and calumny, as well as of the most unfounded and unprincipled misrepresentation and falsehood.”  Not surprisingly, he was critical of Democratic-Republicans Jefferson and Madison.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Louis Daguerre, Photography Pioneer

 Louis Daguerre, the creator of the earliest form of photography, was born on November 18, 1787.  The French artist revolutionized the way we see the world when he perfected his process, which resulted in daguerreotypes, in the 1830s.  

Over the next two decades, a mania was created as people were able to obtain, receive and trade images of people and sites.  Samuel F.B. Morse, a painter and later inventor of the telegraph, brought daguerreotype to the United States.

Daguerre’s meticulous chemical process, which reflected mirror-like images, would be superseded by improved photography such as ambrotypes and tintypes, which took hold by the time of the Civil War and continued beyond.  Each of these types of images, which were of varying sizes, was housed in cases, often in ornate early plastic. 

I’m particularly interested in the history of daguerreotypes, and in fact I’m a collector.  Hobbyists seek out unusual poses or settings and even the different cases are avidly pursued.  The example here is identified as a ninth plate, the second smallest size at two inches by two and a half inches.  A later dag, this is one of my favorites.  

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Articles of Confederation Approved, 1777

There will be little fanfare but today marks the anniversary of the congressional approval of the new United States government under the Articles of Confederation in 1777. The seat of the government was then in York, Pennsylvania, and that’s where the document was drafted and approved.  It was quickly sent to the thirteen states for ratification, which took place over a little more than three years.

Responding to the concerns over what they considered the tyrannical authority of the King George III, these first framers wanted to craft a government with little national authority and strong state autonomy.  In fact, there wasn’t even national coinage or currency. 

There were some achievements with this form of government, but its decentralized nature doomed it to failure.  After some preliminary discussions at Mount Vernon and Annapolis, a call went out for a constitutional convention in Philadelphia to revise the instrument of government.  Of course, this new assembly completely scrapped the existing framework and drafted the more responsive and enduring Constitution. 

Interestingly, under the Articles, ten men served as head of the government during a seven-year period, presiding over the Congress but also called “President of the United States.”  Thus, our first president was Samuel Huntington of Connecticut.  Alas, as with the Articles of Confederation, President Huntington had little power. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Peacemakers Flock to Paris

When the Great War ended on November 11, 1918, the euphoria quickly moved toward the post-war settlement.  Paris became the hub of the world as leaders and hangers-on flocked there, pressing concerns and special interests.  The Big Four, the leaders of the United States, England, France, and Italy, would have the pivotal role in drafting the Treaty of Versailles. 

But there was scores of others, including Winston Churchill, seeking to rebuild his reputation and promote the interests of the British Empire; T.E. Lawrence, the legendary Lawrence of Arabia, with special interests related to the Middle East; and Ho Chi Minh, trying to get support for the end of colonialism in Indochina.

Woodrow Wilson arrived in Paris to a tumultuous welcome on December 16.  The articulator of the Fourteen Points, his views would clash with Old World statesmen such as French premier Georges Clemenceau. Wilson, then sixty-two-years old, would be entering the last and most significant periods of his life:  seeming triumph in Paris, an inability to compromise and get the Treaty of Versailles ratified in the U.S. Senate, and his debilitating stroke.

While the war which lasted four years—much less for the United States—was a significant and tragic event, the post-war settlement had profound impacts.  Not only did the “war to end all wars” not prevent a far greater conflagration twenty years later, decisions were made and boundaries were drawn which affect us one hundred years later, often to our detriment.

This image, meant to portray the Versailles confrees on June 28, 1919, is entitled “The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors" and was painted by Irish-born artist Sir William Orpen.  Orpen had painted scenes of World War I.  By William Orpen - Imperial War Museum London,, Public Domain,

Friday, November 9, 2018

President-elect Kennedy Meets the Press

I was only ten years old, but I remember the post-election remarks given by John F. Kennedy on television on this day in 1960.  The president-elect was driven through a crowd in a white Lincoln Continental from Hyannis Port to the nearby National Guard Armory in Hyannis.  The reporters there gave him a standing ovation before he read congratulatory telegrams from Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower, thanked supporters, gave a brief acceptance speech, and ended by saying, “and now my wife and I prepare for a new administration and a new baby.”  John F. Kennedy, Jr., was born two weeks later.

This session would be JFK’s first as he transitioned from candidate to president.  Over the course of his 1,036-day presidency, he held sixty-four news conferences (about one every two weeks) at which he was well prepared and witty.  The typical venue was the cavernous auditorium at the State Department. 

Kennedy, who was once briefly a reporter himself (Hearst), had a good relationship with the press though—as with all presidents—it could be testy.  He understood the role of the media in American society. 

I have been by the historic armory several times over the years.  I am struck by how small the building is; it seemed enormous to me on television fifty-eight years ago.  Unfortunately, the armory has fallen into disrepair and is largely abandoned, but apparently there are efforts underway to rehabilitate it.  I certainly hope so.

Here is a photograph of the armory that I took earlier this year.