The Military Failures of General George Washington

Frederick Kemmelmeyer (1755-1821) , General George ...

A Skeptic’s Guide to American History (2012)

Episode 4: Washington’s Failures and Real Accomplishments

By Gerald Stoler PhD (2012)

Film Review

Rarely taught in public schools, General George Washington’s military shortcomings during the US War of Independence are the main focus of this presentation.

Unlike most US generals, Washington wasn’t a professional soldier. A Virginia* planter and slave holder, he joined the Virginia colony militia in 1754 and inadvertently started the French and Indian War.**

The Continental Congress chose Washington to lead the Continental Army because they hope the involvement of a high profile Virginian would inspire other Southern colonies to support what began as a New England insurrection in 1775.

The first of Washington’s major military blunders included his 1775 order for his best general Benedict Arnold to take Quebec. More than a third of Arnold’s men were forced to turn back due to their inexperience navigating Canada’s swampy tangle of lakes, streams and rapids. When Arnold finally reached Quebec with 600 starving men and no canon or field artillery, he had no hope of capturing a fortified city and was forced to retreat.

Washington also came under heavy criticism for losing New York City and Philadelphia (to the British) in 1776. The British would make the city their headquarters for the war’s duration. Discontent with these and two other major defeats would lead to the formation of the Conway Cabal, in which senior officers in the Continental Army conspired to replace Washington with the more experienced general Horatio Gates.

General Benedict Arnold’s victory (Washington wasn’t involved) at Saratoga New York was clearly a turning point in the war. When it was followed by Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton, France committed military and naval support. In 1781, the combined forces achieved a decisive victory at Yorktown, ultimately convincing the British (who were also at war with France, Spain, Holland and the Holy Roman Empire) to surrender.

The major accomplishments Stoler attributes to Washington were mainly political:

  • Suppression of the Newburgh Conspiracy in 1783. This was an attempted coup by Continental Army officers against the Continental Congress.
  • Creation of a sound currency and fiscal structure to pay off the national debt incurred by the War of Independence (which I dispute as an accomplishment – see below).***
  • He successfully crushed the Pennsylvania Whiskey Rebellion (1791-93), an insurrection against the federal tax Congress imposed on hard liquor.
  • He secured the US Western borders (in part via treaties with Britain and Spain, but largely by massacring Native Americans believed to threaten US security).

*The French and Indian War (1754-1763) pitted the French and their Native American allies against the British army for ultimate control of North America. The war started when Washington allowed a junior member of his militia to assassinate a captured French officer in cold blood.

**At the time of the War of Independence, the Virginia colony comprised modern day Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky.

***The federal government didn’t create any currency (as stipulated in the Constitution) until Lincoln ordered the US Treasury to issue Greenbacks to fund the Civil War. In fact, the US had no standardized currency until Congress passed the National Banking Acts in 1863 and 1864. Until then, all state-chartered private banks issued their own currency. Federal taxes (on liquor and imports) could only be paid with currency issued by the First Bank of the United States. The latter was an 80% (70% foreign owned) privately owned central bank similar to the current Federal Reserve. Moreover the Washington administration paid off their war debts by borrowing more money from private banks, albeit at a lower rate of interest.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/washington-failures-and-real-accomplishments

The Incredible Tragedy of the Civil War

Gallery

Death and the Civil War Directed by Ric Burns (PBS) 2012 Film review This PBS documentary explores the unprecedented level of casualties during the US Civil War and its effect on future federal and military policy. The Civil War was … Continue reading

What You Don’t Learn About the Civil War in School

Thursday will mark 150 years since the end of the Civil ...

The Skeptic’s Guide to American History (2012)

Episode 8 The Civil War’s Actually Turning Points

Film Review

If they cover the Civil War at all, most high school history classes, pay most attention to the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), the bloodiest battle ever on the North American continent. Despite the high number of casualties on both sides (dead and wounded: Union 23,000, Confederacy 28,000), neither side prevailed.

The battle of Antietam (aka the Battle of Sharpsburg) Maryland, the next day was far more consequential. In this battle Union General George B McClellan halted Lee’s invasion of Maryland, but his army had suffered heavier losses and Lee successfully withdrew his army back to Virginia. McClellan’s refusal to pursue Lee’s army led President Lincoln to remove him from command.

Although the battle was tactically inconclusive, Lincoln used the strategic victory (Confederate troops withdrew first), as an excuse to enact the Emancipation Proclamation. This executive order was purely symbolic as it only freed slaves in the Confederate states. Lincoln’s primary goal was to discourage Britain (which had a large and vocal anti-slavery movement) from entering war on the side of the Confederacy.

For his part, Confederate General Robert E Lee (considered invincible prior to Gettysburg) had embarked on a campaign to attack northern cities (starting with Gettysburg Pennsylvania) in hopes of bringing both Britain and France into the war on the side of the Confederacy. Most historians believe if he had prevailed in just one northern battle, Britain (and eventually France) would have provided military support to the Confederacy.*

Stoler believes that Lee was a far more skilled military tactician than most of the Union generals prior to Ulysses S Grant. Grant’s capture of the Confederate city of Vicksburg (Mississippi) would split Confederate forces in two, while reopening Union access to the Mississippi River.

Based on this victory on March 1864, Lincoln promoted Grant (who previously commanded the Army of Tennessee) to Lieutenant General and put him in charge of all the Union Armies.

Grant’s Overland Campaign was a series of brutal battles fought in Virginia for seven weeks during May and June 1864. Despite incurring more than 17,000 casualties, Grant continued his campaign to push Confederate troops out of Virginia. His reckless disregard of Union casualties earned him the nickname of “The Butcher” and threatened Lincoln’s reelection campaign.

In 1864, the Democrats nominated former Union general George McClellan as the peace candidate to oppose Lincoln. McClellan pledged to recognize the Confederacy if elected.

In the end, the Union army’s victory’s at Mobile Bay (Alabama) and Cedar Creek (Virginia) would ensure Lincoln’s victory.


*Both the French and British were tempted to support the Confederacy because it was their advantage to deal with two smaller weaker countries than a large strong one. French support had been decisive in the rebels’ victory during the War of Independence.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/civil-wars-actual-turning-points

The History of American Evangelicalism

Religious, Education, and Prison Reform (Discussion ...

The Skeptic’s Guide to American History

Episode 7 The Second Great Awakening: Enduring Impact

Mark Stoler PhD (2012)

Film Review

This fascinating video concerns another topic that is never taught in high school: the history of the US evangelical movement.

According to Stoler the First Major (evangelical) Awakening occurred in each of the 13 colonies prior to the US War of Independence. He believes this tendency to challenge established church authority possibly Influenced the US decision to break away from Britain.

The Second Major Awakening, he asserts, began during the late 1820s, and continues to the present.

During the 19th century, this anti-authoritarian tendency manifested politically in the election of self-made military hero Andrew Jackson. It manifested in the religious sphere through a widespread challenge of traditional religious beliefs. Whereas, the Puritans who had founded New England believed in original sin and predestination,* evangelicalism essentially democratized religion by making salvation available to everyone. Anyone willing to publicly confess their sins could be “born again.”

Although this was more likely to occur in revival camp meetings than in established churches, by the 1850s, evangelicalism had such a major impact on society that one out of every three Americans was attending church regularly.

Early evangelical Christians also worked for social reform, believing they could hasten Christ’s second coming by improving the world.

This emphasis on social reform also spilled over into secular movements, such as the Transcendental** movement; Horace Mann’s program to eradicate economic inequality via universal compulsory education; Dorothea Dix’s movement to improve the treatment of the mentally ill in insane asylum’s; a temperance movement aimed at reducing at an epidemic of alcoholism (which Stoler attributes to the massive dislocation caused by America’s industrial revolution); the antislavery movement; and the women’s suffrage movement.***


*Predestination is the doctrine that God has foreordained all things, especially that God has already elected certain souls to eternal salvation.

**Transcendentalism was a 19th century philosophical system based on a belief in the essential unity of all creation, the innate goodness of humanity, and the supremacy of insight over logic and experience.

***Dedicated to winning women the right to vote, the US suffrage movement was founded in 1848 at Seneca Falls New York.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/second-great-awakening-enduring-impacts

Andrew Jackson: America’s First Populist President

Top 10 Scandals to Hit American PresidentsThe Skeptic’s Guide to American History

Episode 6: Andrew Jackson: An Odd Symbol of Democracy

Mark Stoler Phd (2012)

Film Review

According to Stoler, President Andrew Jackson, a well-known populist, owes his 1828 election to the elimination of the property qualification (for male voters) that occurred in most states. On inauguration day in 1829, a mob of Jackson supporters took over the White House while the new president and his family fled.

Born into poverty, Jackson became a war hero during the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. At the time of his election, he was a wealthy Tennessee planter and slave owner. By this time, the Federalist Party had collapsed, leaving a single Democrat-Republican Party supporting limited government and states rights.

Although Jackson received a plurality of the popular vote, the electoral college vote was split between four candidates. The decision was referred to the House (as designated in the Constitution), which awarded the presidency to John Quincy Adams.

In the 1828 election, Jackson defeated Adams outright.

Despite Jackson’s reputation as a “man of the people,” Stoler gives many examples of undemocratic behavior on hos part: he apposed abolition of slavery and rights for women, Blacks and Native Americans; he supported the Postmasters’ Revolt (tje refusal by Southern postmasters to deliver abolitionist materials); he supported South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis;* he lobbied for the Indian Removal Acts (which authorized the military removal of southern tribes to federal lands west of the Mississippi), and he refused to enforce Supreme Court decisions he disagreed with.**

Sovereign money enthusiasts venerate Jackson for his closure of the industry-dominated Second National Bank (precursor to the Federal Reserve) in 1833. Closing the Second National Bank was a major campaign issue in 1832 – one that voters responded to by electing Jackson to a third term.

Stoler seems a bit confused about Jackson’s constitutional reasons (ie the Constitution specifically grants the power to create money to Congress, not to private central banks) for opposing the Second National Bank.

He also seems confused about British economist Adam Smith’s views on government intervention in a so-called “free market” economy. In Book V Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth, Smith makes a compelling case that government intervention is essential in free markets to ensure economic growth and general prosperity.


*South Carolina declared the federal tariffs of 1828 and 1832 unconstitutional and refused to enforce them.

**One specific decision related to Georgia’s efforts to forcibly remove Cherokee from their state. Although the tribe won the decision, Jackson refused to honor it.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/andrew-jackson-odd-symbol-democracy

Jefferson vs Hamilton: The Dispute that Led to the Two-Party System and Nearly Caused Civil War

Jefferson versus Hamilton - Brewminate

A Skeptics Guide to American History (2012)

Episode 4 Confusions About Jefferson and Hamilton

Mark Stoler PhD

Film Review

This presentation traces how the bitter political dispute between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson led to the creation of America’s two-party system – and almost caused civil war.

The two men first clashed when they served in George Washington’s cabinet, where  Jefferson served as Secretary of State and Hamilton Secretary of the Treasury. Their political dispute concerned main areas, the creation of an 80% privately owned (20% government owned) national bank, known as the First Bank of the United States, and the ongoing alliance with France following the French Revolution.

In addition to serving as a depository for import taxes, the First Bank of the United States also had the authority to print bank notes to supplement gold and silver in circulation. Hamilton wanted to create a national bank to help repay the country’s war debts. Jefferson opposed it for two main reasons: first because the US Constitution specifically assigns Congress the power to create money and secondly (which Stoler doesn’t mention) because the vast majority of the bank’s investors were foreign (mainly British). The official ownership breakdown would be 70% foreign investors (see https://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/BofUS.htm), 10% domestic investors and 20% government.

Jefferson supported an interpretation of the Constitution that assigned states (as per the 10th amendment) all powers not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. Hamilton, in contrast, favored a strong federal government operating in close alliance with wealthy commercial interests (via the national bank).

Hamilton and Jefferson also differed on whether to support the French republic following their revolution. Following the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, numerous European countries (Great Britain, the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia, Russia, and several other monarchies) declared war on France.

As secretary of state, Jefferson believed the US should support the French republic (because he favored republicanism over monarchy, because the French had supported the US colonists during the War of Independence, and because the US had a treaty with France). Hamilton wanted the US to support Britain because he felt trade with the UK was essential for US economic development.

Jefferson also opposed the Jay Treaty* (1794) with the UK, which was extremely unpopular with the American people. Like Jefferson, they feared closer ties with Britain would undermine US independence. Hamilton claimed it was essential to prevent another war with Britain.

The political dispute between Hamilton and Jefferson would give rise to America’s two-party system, with Hamilton and his supporters forming the Federalist Party (1789) and Jefferson and his supporters the Democratic-Republican Party (1792). President John Adams, who supported the Federalist Party, signed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. These were four laws directly primarily against the Democratic-Republican Party.

At the time, most immigrants supported Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. As well as allowing the president to imprison or deport aliens considered “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States,” the Alien and Sedition Acts (which the Supreme Court later declared unconstitutional) prohibited all speech critical of the federal government. The latter resulted in the prosecution and conviction of many Jeffersonian newspaper owners.

Jefferson and his supporters responded by passing resolutions in the Virginia and Kentucky legislatures declaring the Alien and Sedition Acts unconstitutional. A civil war with northern states was narrowly averted when Jefferson was elected the third president of the US on the Democratic-Republican ticket in 1800.


*Instead of being negotiated by Jefferson, who was Secretary of State, the Jay Treaty was negotiated by John Jay (a federalist like Hamilton), who was Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. Through this treaty, the British agreed to withdraw their remaining army units from Northwest Territory (all the land west of Pennsylvania, north of the Ohio River, east of the Mississippi River and below the Great Lakes). In return, the US agreed to end the confiscation of British loyalist estates and arbitrate the US-Canadian boundary and the settlement of wartime debts owed to British financiers. It also granted Americans limited rights to trade with British colonies in the Caribbean in exchange for some limits on the American export of cotton.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/confusions-about-jefferson-and-hamilton

The Constitution Did Not Create a Democracy

What If We Held a Constitutional Convention and the Right ...

A Skeptics Guide to American History

Episode 3 The Constitution Did Not Create a Democracy

Dr Mark A Stoler

Film Review

I find it extremely ironic how little I know about early US history despite studying it every year in social studies between age 10 and 16. In fact, I was surprised how much new information I gleaned from this presentation.

On the downside, Stoler isn’t nearly as skeptical as I had hoped. While he reminds us that the most democratically minded of the founding fathers (Patrick Henry, Sam Adams and Thomas Jefferson) were excluded from the secret 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, he fails to mention that the men who wrote the Constitution were merchants, bankers, traders and land speculators with the primary goal of protecting their business interests.

Between 1776 and 1781, the Second Continental Congress governed the newly independent US. From 1781-89, the country was governed by the Congress of the Confederation, whose founding document was the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were first were presented to the states in 1777. However owing to early colonists’ extreme distrust of central government, they weren’t fully ratified (by the required nine states) until 1781.

Under the Articles of Confederation, the new government successfully negotiated the Treaty of Paris (ending the War of Independence) in 1783 and passed the Northwest Ordinance. The latter provided for all federal land west of the Appalachians, east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio River to be surveyed and sold for $1 per acre and required the new territories to guarantee trial by jury, freedom of religion and to prohibit slavery.

Stoler claims the main weakness of the Articles was their failure to give the Congress of the Confederation the authority to issue money, tax or establish a standing army.* In arguing the importance of a standing army, he seems to side with the imperialist ambitions of wealthy merchants and land speculators eager to seize western lands occupied by Native Americans.

He acknowledges that Shay’s Rebellion was the likely the main impetus behind the Constitutional Convention. However he also implies the farmers (the vast majority of the population) who participated in the rebellion as “anarchists” who “threatened tyranny from below.” In fact, he makes no mention whatsoever of the corrupt banking practices that led to Shay’s Rebellion,**


*In my view these are strengths, rather than weaknesses. Thomas Jefferson (deliberately excluded from the Constitutional Convention) strongly opposed the creation of a standing army during peacetime. See http://thomasjeffersonleadership.com/blog/thomas-jefferson-on-the-danger-of-a-standing-army/

**When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the farmers who served in the Continental Army returned home to find their discharge pay (in British pounds) was worthless. All 13 states were on the verge of economic collapse, due to heavy war debts they owed European banks. 80% of the prison population in Western Massachusetts (where Daniel Shay had his farm) were there for non-payment of debts. Determined to keep their economies from collapsing, many states issued paper money to allow trade to continue. The colony’s bankers, fearing the inflation risk of paper money, demanded, above all, that the new constitution immediately strip states of the power of money creation. Ironically, although the US Constitution gives Congress the sole power to create money, Congress quickly handed this power over to private banks – where it remains to the present day.

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/constitution-did-not-create-democracy

Remembering the Irish Potato Famine

Star of the sea: farewell to old Ireland by O'CONNOR ...

 

Star of the Sea: Farewell to Old Ireland

By Joseph O’Connor

Published by Secker and Warburg (2002)

Book Review

Although fiction, this novel is based on more than a dozen books and website documenting the Irish famine, as well five eye-witness accounts published between 1847 and 1850, and passenger manifests from the Irish and Canadian national archives.

The plot concerns a trip aboard the fictional Star of the Sea in December 1847. Passengers included 402 in steerage, fifteen in First Class staterooms and 37 crew. Among the steerage passengers were 239 Irish victims of the potato famine who could pay the £8 fare to emigrate from Liverpool to New York.

Although the failure of the potato crop (from blight) starting in 1845 is blamed for the famine leading a million Irish to die and more than 1 million to emigrate, the causes of the famine were complex. The grain crops Irish tenant farmers produced for export to England were probably sufficient to feed the entire starving peasantry. However as frequently happens, the preeminence of the export market, dramatically inflated the cost of food in local markets.

There was the added issue of landlords setting fire to the homes of farmers unable to pay rent (to replace them with sheep). In these instances, it was clearly the sudden loss of their land, not the potato blight, that caused their families to starve to death.

Only the First Class passengers received regular meals. Steerage passengers were provided with biscuits and water unless they brought their own food. With only two water closets for 402 of them, living conditions were extremely unhygienic and smelly.

During the Atlantic crossing, which took 26 days, an average of three to four steerage passengers died daily of starvation and starvation-related infectious disease.

When the Star of the Sea arrived in New York, it, like other ships with large numbers of Irish immigrants, was refused permission to dock, leading to additional deaths from starvation. First Class passengers were rowed to shore after eight days. Those in steerage remained on board for almost seven weeks, awaiting interview by police and health officials from the Office of Aliens.

 

The Hidden History of the Balfour Declaration and the State of Israel

The Hidden History of How the US Was Used to Create the State of Israel

Allison Weir (2014)

Film Review

This 2014 talk addresses two main topics: the obscenely biased MSM coverage of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the role of the US Zionist lobby in embroiling the US in World War I.

Weir provides a detailed breakdown of Israeli and Palestinian deaths over the period 2000-2015. In every case Palestinian deaths from Israeli Defense Force bombing and shelling exceeds Israeli deaths by 200-fold or more.

One of the most interesting tables she displays relates to Israeli military actions against Gaza in 2001, which was five years before Hamas was elected or a single rocket fired. She also shows slides from her 2001 visit to Gaza. Together they provided a horrifying glimpse of the damage recent Israeli military strikes have wreaked on Palestinian buildings and homes, as well as olive and date orchards.

Her expose of the role the US Zionist lobby played in embroiling the US in World War I begins at 29.25min.

She begins by describing the demography of Palestine in the late 1800s when Zionist groups first began began organizing in the US. In 1900, Palestine was 80% Muslim, 15% Christian and 5% Jewish. Owing to concerns it would displace Palestinian Muslims and Christians, there was strong global opposition during this period to the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine.

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson’s close friend Louis Brandeis became chief of the world Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs. Although he stepped down in 1916 when Wilson appointed him to the Supreme Court, he continued to play a major role in a secret Zionist group called the Parushim. In 1915, the latter had launched a major campaign to win Western support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

According to Weir, a number of scholarly Israeli sources credit Brandeis with convincing Wilson to enter World War I (as a British ally) in return for a formal British commitment (known as the Balfour Declaration*) to establish a Jewish state in Israel.

Prior to Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948, a preponderance of US statesmen and diplomat opposed the displacement of Palestine’s Arab population to establish a Jewish state. Dean Acheson** predicted it would endanger all Western interests in the Middle East. The CIA predicted it would lead to massive “bloodshed and chaos.”


*When the Balfour Declaration was written in November 1917, Palestine was still under control of the Ottoman Empire (who had entered World War I on the side of Germany). Palestine would become a British protectorate under the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. The Balfour Declaration was actually a a letter British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour wrote to prominent Zionist Lionel Walter Rothschild promising British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

**Dean Acheson was Undersecretary in Truman’s State Department from 1945 to 1949, when he became Secretary of State.

 

 

 

 

How First Australians Domesticated Landscapes Instead of Plants and Animals

First Footprints Part 4

SBS (2013)

Film Review

In the most fascinating episode of this series, the filmmakers dispel the myth that the first Australians were simple hunter gatherers. Archeological evidence suggests they were exposed to agriculture via Torres Strait islanders and rejected it. Instead over thousands of years, 200 distinct nations and cultures created a complex land management system spanning the entire continent.

Plant and animal domestication in greater Australia first arose in the New Guinea highlands (which was attached to the continent until rising sea levels separated the land masses 8,000 years ago). This highlands culture was unique, however, as one of the only instances in which agriculture (mainly cultivation of bananas, taro and sugar cane) didn’t give rise to city-states.

People on the Torres Strait islands adopted this style of agriculture. Yet despite robust trade that developed between these islands and northern Australia, indigenous Australians preferred their own methods of domesticating landscapes to domesticating individual plants and animals.

The filmmakers begin by exploring a permanent system of aquaculture, involving artificial canals and woven fish traps developed by the Gunditjmara in Southeastern Australia. The resulting abundance of fish and eels supported a fairly dense population that lived in permanent stone houses.

Elsewhere in Australia, most of the 200 nations used controlled burning to increase the amount of food they produced. The controlled fire setting accomplished differing purposes in different areas. Examples include

  • To help hunters ambush panicked kangaroos
  • To create grassy runs to lure kangaroos out of eucalypt forests
  • To stimulate new growth (eg berries and lizard habitat) in desert areas

The most interesting segment of part 4 concerns the first contacts of indigenous Australians with the outside world. Makassan fishermen from Indonesia, the first to visit the continent in the early 1600s, set up a robust trading system with the aboriginals.First Australians caught sea cucumbers, which they traded to China (via the Makassans) in exchange for dugout canoes with sails, detachable harpoons, tobacco pipes and brightly colored fabrics.

In 1606, sailors from the Dutch East India Company visited Australia (and as per company policy) kidnapped an indigenous woman to make her tell them where the gold was. After several men were killed on both sides, the Dutch decided Australia didn’t have any gold and sailed away. Although other Dutch ships were seen offshore for the next 200 years, none of them tried to land.

Captain Cook’s ship the Endeavour would arrive in Botany Bay in 1770. Although members of the Eora nation threatened them with spears, they ran away when Cook’s crew began shooting at them. It would be 18 years later that 11 ships arrived with over 1000 passengers to set up a permanent penal colony.