Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Note on Zero
Part I


One of the most important intellectual feats of all time was the invention of the Zero. Now “0” is what enabled the creation of a place system of writing numbers and in fact seems to absolutely necessary for higher mathematics aside allowing the use of numbers in a significantly less cumbersome way.

Now the “0” is a symbol meaning “nothing” and indicating non existence and as such the idea of something representing “nothing” can be a bit of a stretch especially if you figure out that this “nothing” is in fact a real number and not simply “nothing”.

Now the concept of Zero, as a number, since it is not obvious seems to have been invented only three times. In Ancient Babylonia, Mesoamerica and India.1 In each case the invention seems to be independent. So called uses of Zero like symbols in Egypt etcetera do not count in that they seem to have been used to indicate that nothing of X remained and not to have been used as a true number to count with. A dash in list by an item is also today commonly used to indicate nothing.2

Babylonian Zero

Now I mentioned above although a Zero represents “nothing” this nothing is still in mathematical terms a real number so that thinking of Zero as simply being nothing misunderstands what it is.3 This being the case any symbol representing nothing is not necessarily a Zero. In order for a Zero to be a true Zero it must be used in a numerical system and must be understood to be a number like other numbers.

Now to get to the point of what do I mean about a Zero being a “true number” perhaps one can look at the following problem:

6789 divided by 0 = ?

If you don’t treat Zero like a real number you get the answer “0”. If you treat Zero like a real number you get the answer infinity. In other words zero goes into 6789 an infinite number of times.4

Now the other use of Zero indicating that it is viewed as a “true number” and not simply an indication of nothing is if you use it in ordinary ways to number things. For example the Maya had Zero days, and years indicating that they understood Zero as a true number.5

Mayan Zero

It is strange that the Greeks and the Romans had a hard time with the idea of both infinity and the void and that this led them to avoid using a Zero. To put it simply the idea that there could exist “nothing” was thought impossible by most Greeks and Romans and further the idea that something could be infinite further bothered them has being both absurd and horrible.6

The Mathematicians of India however had no problem at all with either the idea of a void “nothing” or the idea of infinity. The result was that they devised a Zero and place system of writing numerals.7

Indian Zero

The Zero is one of these inventions that only seems obvious in retrospect. In fact it seems that the idea of using something to represent nothing and that that “nothing” is in fact something is simply counter intuitive.

Later I might write some more about the Zero but this is it for the time being.

1. Seife, Charles, Zero, Penguin Books, London, 2000, p. 12-19, 63-71, Ifrah, Georges, The Universal History of Numbers, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 2000, pp. 148-156, 308-311, 438-439.

2. See web page on Egyptian Zero. Lumpkin, Beatrice, The Ancient Egyptian Concept of Zero and the Egyptian Symbol for Zero, Here Page provides some interesting material but fails to prove that the “Zero” is a Zero at all.

3. Seife, pp. 19-23, 131-156.

4. See Seife p. 71, Ifrah, p. 440, and Wikipedia, Division by Zero, Here. I should note that this answer does not solve all division by Zero problems and that this result can lead to mathematical paradoxes etc., if your not careful. See Wikipedia article for more info.

5. Ifrah, pp. 312-316.

6. Seife, pp. 19-62.

7. Ifrah, pp. 356-440, Seife, pp. 63-82.

Pierre Cloutier

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Erasmus and Julius II

Erasmus (Left) Julius II (Right)

A work attributed to the great Renaissance Humanist and Theologian Erasmus of Rotterdam is a rather funny and quite acidic little piece called Dialogus Julius exclusus e coelis, or Julius Excluded from Heaven, which satirizes the reign of Pope Julius II, (1503-1513 C.E.).

Now Julius II was a formidable statesman and even led troops into battle he was also a great builder and a patron of Michelangelo, (the Sistine Chapel and other projects, including the rebuilding of St. Peters). However he was also a relentlessly earthly man obsessed with money and power who put off and fatally undermined any effort to reform the Church.1

Erasmus was a reformer keenly interested in reforming the Church of abuses and eliminating corruption and Julius was an outstanding example of corruption within the Church.2 So that a few years later, (1517/18), after Julius’ death this work appeared.

Erasmus never stated bluntly that he wrote this work although he also never denied authorship. It is in fact rather revealing that he in fact said that those who made this piece public were more to blame than the actual author. Which is rather significant. Other people were given credit for this piece but the opinion of most of Erasmus’ contemporaries and later scholarship is that Erasmus wrote it.3

The piece states with Julius banging on to heaven’s gate accompanied by his Genius or guiding spirit. St. Peter comes to see what is the commotion is all about.

Peter is not too impressed with Julius:

…I see that all your equipment, key, crown, and robe, bears the marks of that villainous huckster and impostor, who had my name but not my nature, Simon, whom I humbled long ago with the aid of Christ.
Julius Stop this nonsense, if you know what’s good for you; for your information, I am Julius, the famous Ligurian; and unless you’ve completely forgotten your alphabet, I’m sure you recognize those two letters, P.M.
Peter I suppose they stand for Pestis Maxima.
Genius Ha ha ha! Our soothsayer has hit the nail on the head!
Julius Of course not! Pontifex Maximus.4

Later Peter describes Julius II as:

…you’re all belches and that you stink of boozing and hangovers and you look as if you’ve just thrown up. Your whole body is in such a state that I should guess that it’s been wasted, withered and rotted less by old age and illness than by drink.
Genius A fine portrait: Julius to the life!5

Peter asks Julius a few simple questions what he did during his life.

Peter Well. Did you win many souls for Christ by the saintliness of your life?
Genius He sent a good many to Tartarus.
Peter Were you famous for your miracles?
Julius This is old-fashioned stuff.
Peter Did you pray simply and regularly?
Julius What’s he jabbering about? Lot of nonsense!6

Julius then boasts of his achievements such as:

…today there is not one Christian king whom I have not incited to battle, after breaking, tearing, and shattering all the treaties by which they had painstakingly come to agreement among themselves;…7

Julius outlines why he overthrew a ruler of Bologna:

Julius Simply that, under his administration, our treasury got only a miserable few thousand out of the enormous sums he collected from his citizens. But in any case, his deposition fitted in well with the plans I was making at the time. So the French, and some others who were intimidated by my thunderbolt, set to work with a will; Bentivoglio was overthrown, and I installed cardinals and bishops to run the city so that the whole of its revenue would be at the service of the Roman church.8

Peter asks Julius concerning accusations against Julius:

Peter Were they true or false?
Julius What’s the difference? It’s sacrilege even to whisper anything about the Roman pontiff, except in praise of him.9

Julius states about certain critics of his Papacy:
They said that all our doings were tainted by a shameful obsession with money, by monstrous and unspeakable vices, sorcery, sacrilege, murder, and graft and simony. They said that I myself was a simoniac, a drunkard, and a lecher, obsessed with the things of this world, an absolute disaster for the Christian commonwealth, and in every way unworthy to occupy my position.10
St. Peter asks:
Was what they said true?
Julius Indeed it was.11

Peter also asks:

But were you as bad as they claimed?
Julius Does it matter? I was supreme pontiff. Suppose I were more vicious than the Cercopes, stupider than Morychus, more ignorant than a log, fouler than Lerna: any holder of this key of power must be venerated as the vicar of Christ and looked on as most holy.12

Julius then explains that the Pope cannot be removed for crimes:

In fact, he cannot be deprived of his jurisdiction for any crime at all.
Peter Not for murder?
Julius Not for parricide.
Peter Not for fornication?
Julius Such language! No, not even for incest.
Peter Not for unholy simony?
Julius Not even for hundreds of simoniacal acts.
Peter Not for sorcery?
Julius Not even for sacrilege.
Peter Not for blasphemy?
Julius No, I tell you.
Peter Not for all these combined in one monstrous creature?
Julius Look, you can run through a thousand other crimes if you like, all more hideous than these: the Roman pontiff still cannot be deposed for them.13

Julius states after Peter mentions that Christ would accept all men that:

I’d be quite willing to welcome Indians, Africans, Ethiopians, Greeks, so long as they paid up and acknowledged our supremacy by sending in their taxes.14

Peter then asks Julius how one enlarges the Church:
Julius Ah, now you’re coming to it: listen. The church, once poor and staving, is now enriched with every possible ornament.
Peter What ornaments? Warm faith?
Julius You’re talking nonsense again.
Peter Sacred learning?
Julius You don’t give up, do you?
Peter Contempt for the world?
Julius Allow me to explain. I’m talking about real ornaments, not mere words like those.
Peter What then?
Julius Royal palaces, the most handsome horses and mules, hordes servants, well trained troops, dainty courtiers…15
Julius then describes his triumphs and asks Peter what he thinks about a man who accomplished those things. Peter says regarding Julius:
That I was looking at a tyrant worse than any in the world, the enemy of Christ, the bane of the church.16
Peter further says regarding Julius:

O worthy vicar of Christ who gave himself to save all men, while you have engineered the ruin of the whole world to save your own pestilent head!
Julius You’re only saying that because you begrudge us our glory, realizing how insignificant your pontificate was compared to ours.17

After Peter talks about the glory of Christ and Apostles consisting of saving souls and enduring much for Christ and saving the souls of others Julius says:
I’ve never heard such things.18
Peter then unburdens himself about what he thinks of Julius:
But now I see the opposite of this: the man who wishes to be thought the closest Christ, even his equal, is involved with all the most sordid things, money, power, armies, wars, treaties, not to mention vices. And yet, although you are furthest from Christ, you use the name of Christ to bolster your pride; you act like an earthy tyrant in the name of him who despised the kingdoms of earth, and you claim the honour due Christ although you are truly Christ’s enemy.19
Finally Peter utterly rejects Julius entering heaven:
The last person I’d let in is a pestilent fellow like you. In any case, we’re excommunicated, according to you. But would you like some friendly advice? You have a band of energetic followers, an enormous fortune, and you, yourself are a great architect; build some new paradise for yourself, but fortify it well to prevent evil demons capturing it.20
Julius true to form rejects the advice and tells Peter that he will wait a few months and storm heaven.

Peter as a few words with Julius' Genius who tells him the Julius leads and he merely follows. The dialogue then ends.

This vicious, but funny dialogue illustrates quite well the problems with the Papacy that helped lead to the Protestant Reformation and in also the Counter Reformation. It is also a fun read.

1. MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Reformation, Penguin Books, London, 2003, pp. 41-42, 87-88, Tuchman, Barbara W., The March of Folly, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1984, pp. 91-103.

2. IBID.

3. Erasmus, The Erasmus Reader, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1990, p. 216. Julius Excluded from Heaven is on pp. 216-238.

4. IBID. p. 217.

5. IBID. pp. 218-219.

6. IBID. p. 230.

7. IBID. p. 232.

8. IBID. p. 226.

9. IBID. p. 227.

10. IBID. p. 228.

11. IBID.

12. IBID.

13. IBID. pp. 229-230.

14. IBID. p. 231.

15. IBID. p. 232.

16. IBID. p. 233.

17. IBID. p. 234.

18. IBID. p. 235.

19. IBID. p. 237.

20. IBID. p. 238.

Pierre Cloutier

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Commander of the Armada

Alonzo Perez de Guzman el Bueno
Duke of Medina Sidonia

You may not have heard of Alonzo Perez de Guzman el Bueno, also called the Duke of Medina Sidonia, but you probably have heard of the Armada. Well Alonzo etc., or as I will refer to him, the Duke, was the commander of that singularly unfortunate and indeed disastrous expedition.

When in 1588 the expedition was launched it was confidentially hoped by Philip II of Spain and by Spain in general that it would result in the defeat of England and the thwarting of Spain’s enemies. Expected benefits included the suppression of the rebellion in the Netherlands, strengthening Spain’s position in France and the strengthening of the Catholic faith. The investment of resources was prodigious by Spain and the result was a disastrous failure.1

Why this came about was almost immediately subject to some debate and the unfortunate commander, the Duke, got a major share of the blame. How fair was that?

Well it turns out not fair at all. One of the more amusing things you can read about is old English accounts that go into tirades about just how could Philip II could possibly have approved of the Duke has commander of the Armada and what possessed him and the Duke was such an obvious bad choice, blah, blah, blah. One of the requirements for holding this position is a studied and cultivated ignorance of the Spanish side of things. A most determined effort must be made to remain ignorant and clueless about the Spanish archives and historical writings.2

First the Duke was not just a Duke and a clueless nobleman who knew nothing about the sea. The Duke was the Duke of Medina Sidonia the greatest noble family in Spain, whose title and position gave him enormous prestige. In a society in which inherited status meant an enormous amount that counted for much. The bottom line was that Philip needed a man of enormous social prestige to command the Armada because his status conscious commanders would obey only someone with enormous prestige. So to be blunt Philip didn’t have a lot of choice. Further and this is something that a little work in the Spanish archives would have revealed in spades. The Duke was, if not a genius at administration, extremely competent, intelligent and almost insanely hard working and could be expected to carry out his instructions. Further the Duke was perfectly willing and able to listen to military advice and was surrounded by capable military men.3 The Duke was given very specific instructions and it was made abundantly clear that he was not to deviate from them under any circumstances, which severely constricted his freedom of action.3

When the Duke was appointed commander of the Armada, a position he tried to turn down on the grounds his knowledge of naval affairs was minimal and in fact he got sea sick on boats, things were in almost complete administrative chaos and disorder and in fact it was a very good bet the Armada would not sail at all. Due to his high intelligence and considerable administrative skill and sheer hard work the Duke was able to put the Armada together in a feat that quite rightly drew applause from his countrymen. Very few subsequent historians have drawn attention to this quite laudable feat.4

Finally it is important to remember that the Duke was severely constrained by his orders, which were quite detailed. In a nut shell the Armada was to sale up the channel, with 18,000 men link with the Duke of Parma with an additional 20,000 men at Dunkirk and the Armada would then convey the whole force to Kent in England. This was bluntly a very difficult operation made doubly so by the fact, as the Duke was well aware, the English navy was superior to the Spanish. It is at this point worth mentioning that the Duke did in fact accomplish getting the fleet up the channel and anchoring off Flanders in preparation to convey Parma’s army over the channel to Kent.5 A feat which to put it bluntly had the odds quite clearly stacked against it from the start.

The Armada was defeated by a combination of bad luck and English naval supremacy, in fact Parma’s ability to rendezvous with the fleet was extremely dubious and given the stifling instructions the Duke was expected to obey, his chances of success were weak. Incompetence by the Duke played no role and in fact the Duke, given the way his hands were tied by his instructions, made very few mistakes of any kind.6

After the remnants of the Armada limped into port the Duke was allowed, he was extremely ill when he arrived in port, to retire to his estates.7 In later years the Duke with his considerable administrative skills would serve King and Country again. However he would also perform a great service for future historians; that of convenient whipping boy.
1. Fuller, J. F. C., A Military History of the Western World, v. 2, Da Capo, New York, 1955, pp. 34-35.

2. Pierson, Peter, Commander of the Armada, Yale University Press, New Haven CONN, 1989. This book is basically the first that uses extensive archival research in the Spanish archives to give a portrait of the Duke.

3. Howarth, David, The Voyage of the Armada, Cassell and Co., London, 1981, pp. 20-59, Mattingly, Garrett, The Armada, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1959, pp. 204-217, Elliott, J. H., Imperial Spain, Penguin Books, London, 1963, pp. 287-299, and Europe Divided, Fontana Books, London, 1968, pp. 321-338, Rodger, N. A. M., Safeguard of the Sea, HarperCollins Pub., New York, 1997. pp. 254-260, Parker, Geoffrey, The Grand Strategy, of Philip II, Yale University Press, New Haven, CONN., 1998, pp. 179-204.

4. See Mattingly and Parker above.

5. Howarth, pp. 46-59.

6. See both Howarth and Mattingly for detail overviews of the Duke’s decisions which reveal their competence and general good sense. Mattingly pp. 369-370 gives a good over view of the Duke’s actual accomplishments and his lack of responsibility for the failure. For reasons why the Armada failed see Parker pp. 229-268.

7. Mattingly, pp. 372-373.

Pierre Cloutier

Friday, August 14, 2009

Stephens’ “Cornerstone”

Alexander Hamilton Stephens

Alexander Hamilton Stephens, (1812-1883), Vice President of the Confederacy and all round politician was basically a moderate. His political record indicates on many matters that he was in no way a Southern extremist or a pro-slavery fanatic. In fact his moderation is abundantly indicated in much, if not all of his political record.1 It is that well attested and correct perception of Stephens as a moderate that makes his infamous Cornerstone speech both interesting and illuminating.

The Cornerstone speech was given by Stephens in a hall in the city of Savannah on March 21, 1861 and in it he discusses the principles and prospects of the new Confederate government and state.

Stephens mentions that although the new Confederate constitution is almost exactly the same as the older American constitution it as some changes that as you read Stephen’s states are for the better.

Some changes have been made. Some of these I should have preferred not to have seen made; but other important changes do meet my cordial approbation. They form great improvements upon the old constitution. So, taking the whole new constitution, I have no hesitancy in giving it as my judgment that it is decidedly better than the old.2

After this introduction Stephen’s then outlines the improvements all of which are those that were subject to sectional disputes. For example:

We allow the imposition of no duty with a view of giving advantage to one class of persons, in any trade or business, over those of another. All, under our system, stand upon the same broad principles of perfect equality. Honest labor and enterprise are left free and unrestricted in whatever pursuit they may be engaged. This old thorn of the tariff, which was the cause of so much irritation in the old body politic, is removed forever from the new.3

Thus the tariffs which sought by taxation to improve the prospects of American Business but which were considered an imposition by many Southerners, including cotton growers are deemed unconstitutional. This was of course largely opposed not simply because it was perceived to be against the interests of planters but because it was perceived to be interference in the day to day activities of planters and their economic prospects.

Again, the subject of internal improvements, under the power of Congress to regulate commerce, is put at rest under our system. The power, claimed by construction under the old constitution, was at least a doubtful one; it rested solely upon construction. We of the South, generally apart from considerations of constitutional principles, opposed its exercise upon grounds of its inexpediency and injustice.4

Here is another restriction upon the central government. It was believed that the power to finance and carry out internal improvements was unjust; in that monies collected at A should not go to pay improvements in B. further lurking behind this was the idea that the central government could use such leverage to interfere in “domestic institutions”, (slavery), and therefore the central government should be kept out. Only states should do internal improvements. Of course Stephens never explains how state taxation used to pay for improvements in county A as against county B were any different from a central government using tax money from state A to pay for improvements in state B.
Another feature to which I will allude is that the new constitution provides that cabinet ministers and heads of departments may have the privilege of seats upon the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives and may have the right to participate in the debates and discussions upon the various subjects of administration.5
This change is of course the adoption of a feature of the British system which has Cabinet Ministers defending their policies in Parliament and their seats. Stephens however feels that Cabinet Ministers should be only selected from the elected representatives of the Confederate Congress or Senate. So that the system is even more similar to the British system.

Another change in the constitution relates to the length of the tenure of the presidential office. In the new constitution it is six years instead of four, and the President rendered ineligible for a re-election. This is certainly a decidedly conservative change. It will remove from the incumbent all temptation to use his office or exert the powers confided to him for any objects of personal ambition.6

Another indication of Confederate fear that central authority could lead to the creation of system by which the central government is used for purposes that reward “spoils” men and ambition. It is of course interesting that there seems to be little concern that state central authority could be used in the same way. Of course it is mainly just another way of protecting the “local” authority from the central government’s power.

Stephens then comes to the central focus of the improvements in the new Confederate constitution.

But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."7

Now Stephens out of his own mouth utters the great central truth about Succession and the establishment of the Confederacy and the central “principle” on which it is based. He casts aside the Declaration of Independence’s statement “All men are created equal”, that they are endowed with certain “inalienable” rights. Stephens even admits that Jefferson and the founding fathers hoped Slavery would wither away eventually. Stephens further admits that slavery and the agitation around slavery were the cause of succession and hence the civil war that might come. Stephens further declares that the founders were wrong to think that slavery was wrong and should hopefully disappear. Thus in some respect the creation of the Confederacy was a revolution against the Declaration of Independence and the hopes of the Founders. All of this especially in light of what Stephens would say later and the established “correct” version created in the late 19th century, is most revealing. Here right at the beginning of the Civil War a prominent Southern Statesman, and a moderate to boot, was emphatically saying it was about slavery. Stephens is not finished however.

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the
equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.8

Thus Stephens emphatically says that the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy is human inequality and the slavery that arises from such inequality. Further that slavery was natural, good and proper for Black people. That the notion of basic human equality was false and wrong and that inequality was the great principle of the Confederacy which would one day be recognized world wide.

It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.9

Stephens again reiterates that inequality and hence slavery is the basis of the Confederate social system. I wonder what Jefferson would have thought?

May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made "one star to differ from another star in glory." The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders "is become the chief of the corner" the real "corner-stone" in our new edifice. I have been asked, what of the future? It has been apprehended by some that we would have arrayed against us the civilized world. I care not who or how many they may be against us, when we stand upon the eternal principles of truth, if we are true to ourselves and the principles for which we contend, we are obliged to, and must triumph.10

So Black people are created to be subordinate; to be the foundation of the Confederate system. It is a “principle” that Blacks being inferior should be subordinate, indeed enslaved, and that the Confederate government is founded on this “natural” inferiority and subordination, which of course is “best” for Black people. The Confederate government is carrying out, according to Stephens, in practice the divinely ordained principle of the “natural” subordination of the “inferior” and further this is the foundation of the Confederate government and society. What Stephens said latter about this speech is most revealing but more of that later.

The rest of Stephens’ speech is an optimistic look at the prospects of the new Confederacy and how given its wealth, size, population the prospects were very bright for both survival and expansion.

Well we all now how the story turned out; the Confederacy was crushed in a 4 year civil war by the far more powerful Union. Slavery both collapsed and was destroyed. Blacks in the former Confederacy gained certain political rights which they exercised and then came the backlash in which, so-called, “Bourbon” governments regained power and instituted mass disenfranchisement, “Jim Crow” laws, massive violence against Blacks etc., etc. During all of this a re-writing of the Civil War and the conflicts that preceded it was done. Characterized by demonizing Abolitionists, down playing or in fact ignoring slavery, disregarding black people and any perspectives they might have, combined with a romantic nostalgic idea of the “Lost Cause” and the Confederacy. A prime example of that was the novel Gone with the Wind. In this atmosphere that emerged after the Civil War many former Confederate politicians had ample scope to get a sympathetic hearing for what the war and conflict was “really” about. In other words they either lied a lot or exercised extraordinary self deception. What was said before and after the Civil War could and did differ. It was simply unacceptable to state bluntly that the Confederacy was mainly created to safeguard slavery from real and perceived threats against it so history in hindsight was rewritten to say, over and over again, ad-nauseaum that succession and the Civil War was not about slavery at all that it was a mere incident to real causes that were more honourable and not disagreeable causes like retaining and safeguarding slavery. Added to this was a copious literature stating again ad-nauseaum that slavery was nothing much to get upset about anyway. So in this conducive atmosphere of self-deception and revisionism Stephens could toss out his “explanation” of his speech. Said speech stood out like a drunken groom at a wedding it had to be ignored as much as possible, and when impossible to ignore explained away.11

As for my Savanna speech, [The Cornerstone Speech] about which so much has been said and in regard to which I am represented as setting forth "slavery" as the "corner-stone" of the Confederacy, it is proper for me to state that that speech was extemporaneous, the reporter's notes, which were very imperfect, were hastily corrected by me; and were published without further revision and with several glaring errors.12

First we hear that the Reporters notes were “inaccurate” a common tactic when a politician says something that turns out to be embarrassing later on. Of course it is rather interesting that Stephens was saying similar things at other meetings at the same time so I think it rather likely the reporter got the speech right.13

The order of subordination was nature's great law; philosophy taught that order as the normal condition of the African amongst European races. Upon this recognized principle of a proper subordination, let it be called slavery or what not, our State institutions were formed and rested. The new Confederation was entered into with this distinct understanding. This principle of the subordination of the inferior to the superior was the "corner-stone" on which it was formed. I used this metaphor merely to illustrate the firm convictions of the framers of the new Constitution that this relation of the black to the white race, which existed in 1787, was not wrong in itself, either morally or politically; that it was in conformity to nature and best for both races. I alluded not to the principles of the new Government on this subject, but to public sentiment in regard to these principles. The status of the African race in the new Constitution was left just where it was in the old; I affirmed and meant to affirm nothing else in this Savannah speech.14

This is hemming and hawing it in my opinion amounts to I said something almost exactly like I was reported saying but I didn’t say exactly that. Finally it is very easy to demonstrate that Stephens’ view of the relationship that existed between Blacks and Whites in 1787 is simply wrong. Not only were all Blacks not subordinate to all Whites in 1787 some could vote and were recognized has state citizens by some states. Further it is easy to demonstrate that some free Blacks who lived in the Confederacy were not a subordinate class to all Whites. As for the rest of it that he was merely repeating that the “African race” was in the same position under the new constitution of the Confederacy as under the old U.S.A. constitution, a reading of the speech reveals this to be, shall we say “bogus”. Stephens in the recorded speech calls the subordination, slavery, of the Black person as a clear founding principle of the new Confederate government, and admits clearly that the founders, including Jefferson, thought all men were basically equal and looked forward to the eventual disappearance of slavery. Further he states that the Founders believed as a principle in essential human equality whereas the new Confederate government was founded on the principle of inequality and that this was a great truth which would soon be recognized world wide. In other words Stephens is lying. Whether or not he was consciously lying when he wrote the above is unknown but even if he believed his own lies he was still lying.15

How can I be so sure that Stephen’s was lying? It is easy. On March 13, 1861 in Atlanta Stephens gave a speech in which he said the following concerning the Confederate Constitution and aims of its creators; that they:

…solemnly discarded the pestilent heresy of fancy politicians, that all men, of all races, were equal, and we had made African inequality and subordination, and the equality of white men, the chief corner stone of the Southern Republic.16

It is easy to demonstrate how during the various Succession crises how central the survival of slavery was to believers in Succession, how concerned so many were with securing the survival of slavery. How during the actual crisis of the succession winter of 1860-61, how central was slavery to their demands for succession. The contemporary documents, newspaper accounts talk all about what a grave threat to slavery was the election of Abraham Lincoln. About how only succession would secure slavery from attack. After the war the contemporary documentary record was ignored and the losers spent enormous time and resources rewriting i.e., falsifying history and their own deeds and words.17 Stephens’ efforts resulted in his multi-volume book A Constitutional View of the Late War between the States. The book alleged that the war was over the principle of constitutional liberty and the centralization and tyranny. That slavery was a mere question over which these two principles fought and that to call those who fought the efforts of those in the north to centralize and impose tyranny a pro-slavery party or group was utterly false.18 To describe this as untrue is to be evasive it is quite simply bold-face lies. Stephen’s cornerstone speech damns his post war apologia as simply false. In early 1861 Stephens’ could publicly state what the conflict was really about just as could other Southern politicians, Newspapers etc. After the war it was recognized that such honesty was unacceptable and it was too painful to accept in retrospect what the conflict had been mainly about so memory and history had to be “corrected” and a new improved version of reality banded about. Thus regarding the American Civil War what former Confederate politicians said about the causes of the conflict after the war should be discounted as self-serving and efforts concentrated on what they said and or did at the time. Stephens is an excellent example of this.

This last comment by Stephens illustrates to perfection the self serving nature of the post-war flood of ex-Confederate memoirs and apologia.
My own opinion of slavery, as often expressed, was that if the institution was not the best, or could not be made the best, for both races, looking to the advancement and progress of both, physically and morally, it ought to be abolished. It was far from being what it might and ought to have been. Education was denied. This was wrong. I ever condemned the wrong. Marriage was not recognized. This was a wrong that I condemned. Many things connected with it did not meet my approval but excited my disgust, abhorrence, and detestation. The same I may say of things connected with the best institutions in the best communities in which my lot has been cast. Great improvements were, however, going on in the condition of blacks in the South. Their general physical condition not only as to necessaries but as to comforts was better in my own neighbourhood in 1860, than was that of the whites when I can first recollect, say 1820. Much greater would have been made, I verily believe, but for outside agitation. I have but small doubt that education would have been allowed long ago in Georgia, except for outside pressure which stopped internal reform.19
Interestingly it is not difficult to find that yes indeed Stephens is telling the truth when he indicates that prior to the war he had problems with certain aspects of slavery. However he does not mention that he expressed his doubts privately and even then only intermittently. As for his comment about slavery should be abolished if it wasn’t for the best for both Black and White. Well considering that he said repeatedly before the war, in public, that slavery was for the best for Black and White I doubt that this post war comment is entirely to be trusted. Also he became a wealthy slave owner which would certainly indicate that his doubts about the system were not very deep when combined with his public silence of the systems problems.

It is revealing that Stephens mentions that even the best institutions and communities have problems, rather indicating that slavery wasn’t so bad after all; it just needed to be twicked. This is made clear by Stephen’s assertion that “great improvements” were being made in the conditions of Blacks, that they were becoming comfortable and even getting “comforts” i.e., luxuries. This is self serving and not to be taken seriously. It is an established fact that the life expectancy of Black slaves was significantly worst than the White life expectancy in the south. The actual exact figure is unknown but it appears to have been as little as one half White life expectancy. In other words slavery produced conditions of life has bad as the worst city slum. I frankly doubt that conditions much improved between 1820-1860 for slaves.20

Then comes the required denunciation of the Abolitionists accusing them, by their “agitation” of retarding efforts to ameliorate the conditions of slaves. This is nonsense. Stephens is trying to excuse his own and other’s silence on the matter of slave conditions. The bottom line is that the improvement of slave conditions such as recognizing slave marriage, limiting the break up of families by sale, and allowing for slave education, would have limited the power of slave owners over their human chattels and so were opposed by the great majority of slave owners. After all the slave owner owned slaves for their own profit not to benefit their slaves and limits on the ownership of their slaves would potentially limit their profits. Certainly education had in the mind of most slave owners the potential of encouraging slaves to want to be free and questioning their subordination. Stephens should have read some Frederick Douglas.

Also it is quite clear that the movement to reform slavery in the south, manumission societies etc., had almost entirely died before the advent of Abolitionism simply because the institution had become very profitable and quite dynamic. There had emerged in the South a powerful constituency interested in perpetuating the institution and getting rid of by fair means or foul any effort to attack the system and this included efforts to reform it, which was seen, rightly in my opinion, as steps towards its eventual abolition.21

Abolitionism emerged as a response to the vitality and strength of the institution and the disappearance of efforts to reform it, along with the flat out disappointment of the founder’s hope that the institution would gradually wither away.22

As I said earlier Stephens was a moderate, even during the Succession winter of 1860-61 he suggested that Abraham Lincoln could be worked with, that his election was nothing to succeed over. He had strong Unionist beliefs and became a secessionist reluctantly. In fact he voted against succession at the Georgia Succession convention. Also he supported candidates like Stephen Douglas who were considered anathema in the South. And as indicated above he had doubts about slavery.23 So it is entirely illuminating to see that this moderate said emphatically that the main cause of all this turmoil was slavery and that the foundation of the new state was the enshrining of this “subordination”. Further he stated that the idea of basic human equality was wrong and that one of the principles of the new Confederate government was human inequality. Finally that He, Stephens, agreed with all the above. If this was the opinion of a moderate and a rather extreme moderate at that for the South at the time; it doesn’t take much to guess what the less moderate, let alone the extremists must have thought. It is ironic that after the war Stephens pictured the conflict as one of liberty against tyranny considering that what the new Confederate government wanted to make safe was the domestic tyranny / despotism of slavery and that is what ultimately Stephens when he threw his lot in with the Confederate government was fighting for and although he would candidly admit it before the war afterwards it became unmentionable and was denied.

In the end this counter revolution against the American Revolution failed but its poisonous fruit continue to mar politics right to the present day.

1. See Wikipedia, Alexander Stephens, Here

2. Cornerstone Speech from Teaching American History Here

3. IBID.

4. IBID.

5. IBID.

6. IBID.

7. IBID.

8. IBID.

9. IBID.

10. IBID.

11. Stampp, Kenneth M., The Irrepressible Conflict, The Imperiled Union, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1980, pp. 191-245. For a look at the causes of the Civil War that puts slavery front and cener see, Ransom, Roger L., Conflict and Compromise, Cambridge University Press, 1989.

12. Stephens, Alexander Hamilton, Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens, Sunny South Publishing Co., New York, 1910, pp. 172-175, the full work can be located at Internet Archive, Here, Just the actual apologia analyzed can be found at Adena Here.

13. Dew, Charles B., Apostles of Disunion, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, 2001, pp. 15-16.

14. See Footnote 12.

15. For the position of free Blacks and the constitutional position of same see Fehrenbacher, Don E., The Dred Scott Case, Oxford University Press, New York, 1978, pp. 335-364. For the position of free Blacks in the South see Berlin, Ira, Slaves without Masters, The New Press, New York, 1974.

16. Quoted in Dew p. 16.

17. IBID. pp. 15-21, Stampp, pp. 191-245. For an account of the coming of the war that uses contemporary sources and emphasizes slavery see Klein, Maury, Days of Defiance, Vintage Books, New York, 1997.

18. Stephens, Alexander Hamilton, A Constitutional View of the Late War between the States, 2 volumes, National Publishing Company, Philadelphia PA, 1868-1870, pp. vol. I 9-12, vol. II 534-537.

19. See Footnote 12.

20. See David, Paul A. et al, Reckoning with Slavery, Oxford University Press, New York, 1976 for a collection of essays on the living / working conditions of slaves. See especially Sutch, Richard, The Care and Feeding of Slaves, pp. 231-301. See also Stampp, Kenneth M., The Peculiar Institution, Vintage Books, New York, 1956, pp. 237-278, Blassingame, John W., The Slave Community, Revised Edition, Oxford University Press, New York, 1979, pp. 249-283. For a look on how slaves were controlled that is clear eyed and shocking see Jones, Norrece T., Born a Child of Freedom Yet a Slave, Wesleyan University Press, London, 1990.

21, See Stampp, 1980, Dew, Oakes, James, The Ruling Race, Vintage Books, New York, 1982, and Slavery and Freedom, Vintage Books, New York, 1991, Channing Steven A., Crisis of Fear, W.W. Norton and Co., New York, 1974.

22. Stampp. 1980.

23. See Footnote 1.

Pierre Cloutier

Monday, August 10, 2009

Glimpse into a Disaster

The Franklin Expedition, 1845-1848, was without a doubt the greatest Arctic exploration disaster in which every last member of the expedition perished.1 A great deal has been written and will continue to be written about the expedition and why it ended in disaster. There has also been not surprisingly been a great deal of, what can only be described, has fantasy.2

Franklin’s Voyage

The key document, and in fact the only document found, concerning the fate of the expedition, (aside from graves on Beechey island with headboards3), was a document found buried in a cairn at Victory Point on the north west side of Kings William island.

Victory Point Document

The above document has the following two notes written about a year apart. Here are two versions. The first excludes the marginalia and goes has follows. It should be noted that the first note by Lieutenant Gore exist in a duplicate copy that was found not far from Victory point at Back bay, it does not have Captain Crozier's additions about the fate of the expedition.4

The first note bears the date of May 28, 1847 and says:

28 of May, 1847 (H. M. ships Erebus and Terror wintered in the ice in lat. 70 05’ N. long. 98 23’ W.) Having wintered in 1846-7 at Beechey Island, in lat. 74 43’ 28” N., long. 91 39’ 15” W., after having ascended Wellington Channel to lat. 77, and returned by the west side of Cornwallis Island. Sir John Franklin commanding the expedition. All well. Party consisting of 2 officers and 6 men left the ships on Monday 24th May, 1847.

Gm. Gore, Lieut.

Chas. F. Des Voeux, Mate.5

The second note is dated the 25th of April 1848.

April 25, 1848. H. M. ships Terror and Erebus were deserted on the 22nd April, 5 leagues N.N.W. of this, having been beset since 12th September, 1846. The officers and crews, consisting of 105 souls, under the command of Captain F. R. M. Crozier, landed herein lat. 69 37’ 42” N., long. 98 41’ W. Sir John Franklin died on the 11th June, 1847 and the total loss by deaths in the expedition has been to this date 9 officers and 15 men.

F. R. M. Crozier cccccccccccJames Fitzjames
Captain & Senior Officer. cccCaptain H. M. S. Erebus

and start (on) to-morrow, 26th, for Back s Fish River.6

The second version is as follows for the May 28, 1847 note:
Lieutenant Graham Gore and Mr. Charles F. des Voeux, mate, left the ships on Monday, the 24th of May, 1847, with six men. H.M. ships Erebus and Terror wintered in the ice in latitude 70 5' N, longitude 98 23' W. Having wintered in 1846-47 at Beechey island in latitude 74 43' 28" N., longitude 91 31' 15" W. After having ascended Wellington channel to latitude 77, returned by the west side of Cornwallis island, (Sir) John Franklin commanding the expedition. All well.7
For the April 25, 1848 note the version is as follows:

(1)848. H.M. ships Terror and Erebus were deserted on the 22nd April, 5 leagues .N. W. of this (hav)-ing been beset since 12th Sept., 1846. The officers & crews consisting of 105 souls under the command ---tain F R M. Crozier landed here in lat. 69 37' 42", long. 98 41' paper was found by Lt. Irving under the cairn supposed to have been built by Sir James Ross in 1831, 4 miles to the northward, where it had been deposited by the late Commander Gore in June, 1847. Sir James Ross' pillar has not, however, been found, add the paper has been transferred to this position which is that in which Sir J. Ross' pillar was erected. Sir John Franklin died on the 11th June, 1847, and the total loss by deaths in the expedition has been to this date 9 officers & 15 men.

F. R. M. CroziercccccccccccJames Fitzjames
Captain & Senior Officer cccCaptain H. M. S. Erebus

and start on to-morrow 26th, for Back's Fish river8.

What can we say from this single and singularly laconic document? Well we can say a few things concerning the fate of the expedition.

1, The expedition circled Cornwallis island in 1845 (see map) and then wintered at Beechey island. Where from the graves we know three men died, that winter of 1845-1846.

2. In 1846 the expedition sailed south probably through Peel sound and was beset by the ice on 12th September 1846.

3. On the 24th of May 1847 a 8 man expedition led by Lieutenant Gore left the ships and buried an Admiralty paper and on which, dated the 28th of May 1847 was written certain details about the expedition.

4. Shortly after on June 11, 1847 John Franklin died.

6. On April 22, 1848 the ships were abandoned.

7. On April 25, 1848 the New Commander Crozier left a note indicating when Franklin had died and that there were 105 men left. Nine officers, including Lieutenant Gore, and 15 enlisted men had died so far. From the note we learn that the remnants of the expedition will try to go up the Back river apparently to reach the Hudson Bay posts around Great Slave Lake.

8. If we exclude the 3 men who died at Beechey island it appears that 21 men had died in the two winters beset off the coast of King William island.

Scene of the Tragedy; King William Island

Aside from the above everything else is sheer conjecture. I will however point out to those who argue that the phrasing in the message does not necessarily mean that the ships were completely abandoned and everything was bet on an all or nothing race up the Back river that the text clearly says the ships were deserted and that all 105 of the survivors had landed. The text seems to be pretty clear that everyone was out of the ships and a make it or break it effort was going to be made for safety. Of course you could by semantic parsing and double talk say the text does not mean what it most likely means but without really good evidence I do not see any reason to doubt that the ships were completely abandoned and the last 105 men made a break for it.

The death total is significant in indicating how desperate things were. The note of May 28th 1847 does not indicate the death total so we can probably conclude that the number of deaths over the winter of 1846 / 47 were no worst than the number at Beechey island or perhaps no deaths at all. It seems likely the note would have mentioned anything unusual in that regard if it had happened. However it seems that the winter of 1847-48 had seen more than 10% of the crews dying. Perhaps as many as 21 men out of 126. This is a very high percent and would indicate that the health of the crew was bluntly quite poor. This would reinforce the idea that leaving the ships was an attempt to escape and that the crew was in truly desperate straits. All of this would seem to preclude the crews surviving very long unless they could get good food etc., very quickly. The time of year they left would not be conducive to finding food, as both Caribou and birds would not arrive until much later. Again a sign of desperation.9

A truly unlikely idea is that mistakes has to two dates in the document, (i.e., the statement about having wintered 1846-47 at Beechey island in the first note and the crossing out of May and replacing it with June, apparently done in April 1848, as the date in the note was first left in the carin in 1847) are errors that indicates lead poisoning can be dismissed as unlikely. I merely note that the first seems to be a “typo” of some kind, the second could be the same thing or may refer to another event regarding the note, it is of interest that the May added by Crozier in another part of the document which refers to Gore's time off the ship in 1847 is correct so the crossing out is mysterious but as indicated all the other dates including the dates given in the 1848 note, when they would have been even more lead poisoned, seem to be entirely correct. It is likely that stressed desperate men would make mistakes of this kind without lead poisoning or they could simp-ly be the result of "typos" drawing far ranging inferences from these errors seems dubious.10

I further note that given the dates given in the second note for abandoning the ships and the date the note was written it appears that it took three days for the crews to drag themselves to King William island, which would certainly not indicate a thoroughly fit crew. Given the deaths recorded already it is likely the crew was in overall bad shape and the exertions of dragging heavy sleds and boats, to say nothing of an assortment of useless crap, being ill equipped for the weather and poorly nourished make it very likely that all of Franklin’s men perished in a few months. It’s possible that a few survived longer but that only remains a possibility.11

M’Clintock discovers the remains of members of Franklin’s Crews

Much as been written about what happened to the Franklin expedition and why. It seems to be the case that if some of Franklin’s men had been able to live and forage in the polar environment they would have had a better chance of survival. Although it must be emphasized that the sheer size of the Franklin expedition, 129 men, would have made it very difficult for them to survive in such a resource poor part of the Arctic as King William island.12

In the end this very short laconic document provides a revealing glimpse into over 100 men sliding into a hell on earth and then death. Perhaps we should learn from it to cherish life and each other more.

Copy of the Victory Point document that appeared in Harper's in 1859.

1. M’Clintock, Francis, In the Arctic Seas, Porter and Coates, Philadelphia, 1859, p. 317. A copy can be found at Internet Archive , Here.

2. for responsible books that describe the Franklin expedition in detail see Berton, Pierre, The Arctic Grail, Anchor, Books, Toronto, 2001 and Beattie, Owen, Geiger, John, Frozen in Time, 3rd Edition, Greystone Books, Toronto, 2004. For irresponsible books see Latta, Jeffery Blair, The Franklin Conspiracy, Hounslow Press, Toronto, 2001, Woodman, David C., Unravelling The Franklin Mystery, McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal, 1991.*

3. See Beattie. The inscriptions on the headboards read as follows:

Sacred to the memory of John Torrington, who departed this life January 1st, A.D.1846, on board of HM ship Terror, aged 20 years

Sacred to the memory of John Hartnell, AB, of HMS Erebus, died January 4th, 1846, aged twenty-five years. “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, consider your ways.” Haggai, I, 7

Sacred to the memory of William Braine, RM of HMS Erebus, died April 3rd, 1846, aged thirty-two years. “Choose ye this day whom you will serve”, Joshua xxiv, 15

The source for the inscriptions is Battersby, William Hidden Tracks, at Here.

4. Cyriax, Richard J., Sir John Franklin's Last Arctic Expedition, Methuen & Co. LTD., London, 1939, pp. 128-131.

5. M’Clintock, p. 256.

6. IBID. p. 258.

7. Low, A. P., Dominion Government Expedition to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Islands, Government Printing Bureau, Ottawa, 1906, p. 97. A copy can be found at the Internet Archive Here.

8. Low, pp. 97-98.

9. See Berton, pp. 334-341.

10. See Beattie for more. I note here that I do not dispute that Franklin’s crews suffered from Lead poisoning or that this contributed to the disaster; if only by lowering the crew’s resistance to other diseases and deficiencies. What I dispute is the idea that this lead poisoning led to a massive amount of disordered thinking by the crew that contributed to the disaster. In other words their minds were befuddled by lead and they could not think clearly. Well these two notes, if anything, indicate clear thinking and a lack of befuddlement. That of course does not mean they made the right decisions just that it appears that their thinking processes were not seriously impaired by lead.

11. Berton, pp. 331-332, M’Clintock, pp. 262-271. For a analysis of the tragedy that heavily emphasizes how unprepared Franklin's crews were to survive in the Arctic if something went wrong see Stefansson, Vilhjalmer, Unsolved Mysteries of the Arctic, Macmillian Company, New York, 1939, pp. 36-129.

12. Berton, pp. 335-341, Stefansson.

* The reason why I include David C. Woodman’s book and by implication his other books about the Franklin expedition is his cavalier attitude towards Inuit testimony. He insists on interpreting all sorts of Inuit testimony about European explorers in the region of King Williams island as memories of the Franklin expedition despite the fact that before and after the expedition there was all sorts of European explorers who visited the area, for example in the years 1854-59. When a lot of this testimony was collected beginning in the late 1860’s and continuing to past 1900 there were lots of European explorers who had visited the area after Franklin to say nothing of before Franklin. It was not the Inuit who described those expeditions as Franklin’s but the Europeans. The Inuit were actually very honest, but like most oral peoples their memory for exact dates of events more than a generation before being recorded is a not exact. Further all the stories that Woodman uses to indicate a late abandonment of the ships possible survival etc., is almost entirely of late derivation and likely attributing such testimony to describing the Franklin expedition rather than earlier or later ones shows wishful thinking on the part of the European collectors of such testimony, not any error on the part of the Inuit. The testimony most germane to the destruction of the Franklin expedition was collected by Rae, M’Clintock and others in the period 1853-1860 and it would appear to indicate that the entire expedition perished soon after abandoning the ships in the spring of 1848.

Pierre Cloutier

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Brazen Effrontery

Menzies' Voyages

A few years ago Gavin Menzies' book 1421 was published1 amidst a blaze of publicity and controversy, rather than discuss the “merits”, zero in my opinion, of Menzies’ worthless piece of pseudo-scientific garbage.2 I will briefly discuss what we know about how this piece of “scholarship” was manufactured.

I used the word manufactured quite deliberately above, because yes indeed this book was not “researched” or “written” it was manufactured quite deliberately and coldly to make the publisher, and yes the writer, boodles of cash, with of course absolutely no qualms, ethical, moral or simply prudent whatsoever.

Let us go through the steps by which this work of no value was manufactured from the bowels of a shameless publisher.

It all stated when Menzies and his wife traveled to China for their silver wedding anniversary. While visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing Menzies noticed that the dates of all sorts of buildings etc., was the date 1421. Which was the year the capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing during the reign of the Yongle Emperor.4

Menzies decided to write a book about the year 1421 in China and the rest of the world. The result was a huge book of 1,500 pages. By this time Menzies had acquired an agent who told him that the manuscript has written was un-sellable. However his agent did have a few suggestions…5

In a very small part of the manuscript Menzies had a far out speculation about Admiral Zheng He’s subordinates exploring the world c. 1421. The agent suggested Menzies dump the rest of the book and expand that section massively.

And I then said to him, ‘Look, let's forget what was happening in France and Germany and Britain in the 15th century, let's just look at this one episode and let's make the whole book the story of how China discovered America.’6

Further it was decided to get the media involved in publicizing Menzies’ idea. The agent even decided to rewrite some of the chapters. So a public relations company was contacted and got involved and soon a story was published in the Daily Telegraph and further Menzies gave a talk at the Royal Geographical Society, (they will rent to anyone it seems). Soon major publishers were interested.7

The publisher finally selected was Transworld and one of its subsidiaries Bantam Books. They offered 500,000 pounds for the world rights to 1421. A problem was that despite the extensive expansion of that short section by Menzies the book was still only 190 pages and apparently was badly written and confusing to look at. So Bantam decided to “improve” the manuscript. Supposedly Menzies was told that he could not write.8

It was dry as dust. And Transworld said, "Well" - after they bought it, they said, "You know, this is a great book, potentially, but nobody's going to read it. You know, if you want to get your story over, you've got make it readable, and you can't write, basically." I mean, in a sort of polite way.9

So they had a large staff of supposedly 130 people work on “improving” the book including a ghost writer by the name of Neil Hanson. All the research remained Menzies however and despite the large resources devoted to “improving” the book, zero effort seems to have gone into checking out the books claims.10

As one of the publishers said:

It's very hard to prove that something is or is not correct. I mean, we do have to rely on our authors - we - we simply don't have the time. I mean, we work full - flat out publishing the books, bringing them to press, marketing them, publicising them, selling them - we can't possibly go through all our books and check every single one of them out for factual accuracy.11

Where does one begin with such bold faced cheek! The fact is they devoted extensive resources to “improving” the book, including hiring a ghost writer, and then to marketing the book. It would not have been all the difficult to have the book checked out by a few experts in maritime and Chinese history or to have hired a fact checker to check out a few things.

The bottom line is that the publisher could not be bothered to do anything that might throw a monkey wrench into their desire to earn mega-profits from this piece of dribble.

One of the publishers did say:

What Gavin was claiming, was, of itself, a step away from orthodox history, and anything that says - that does - that is, can be, sensational, or certainly different. And we're always looking for things - as are lots of people - that really go up against conventional wisdom, and this is what I thought this book did.12

Roughly translated we saw this as a bit of sensationalistic clap-trap that would make us much boodle. Of course it was deliberately marked as sensationalistic and a “controversy” was manufactured out of whole cloth, by the publisher as a way of boosting sales of the book.13

Typical of the mindset of the publisher was the claim on the book that Menzies was born in China. He wasn’t; he was born in London.14

The book was published and quite predictably got a torrent of vicious reviews, but well over a million were sold, the book has been translated into many languages and will into the future make even more boodle for Menzies and his publishers.15

The result has been that Menzies is well known and is a sought after public speaker and his book and its equally worthless follow up 1434,16 are selling very well.

This book as been described as:

The most successful book of pseudohistory to appear since Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: the Antidiluvian World over a hundred years earlier. The difference between the books is that when Donnelly wrote his research had some scientific and historical credibility based on the state of knowledge at the time. Menzies’ hypothesis and research has withered under the light of intelligent and informed criticism from the very beginning. His success has been the result of an extensive publicity and marketing campaign that ignored established scholarship and expert opinion in favour of sensationalistic and unwarranted speculation at every step of the way.17

It is clear that the publisher did not and does not care about the truth of Menzies absurd ideas, but cares very much about making acres of cash. By outrageous manipulation and yes “brazen effrontery” they have done precisely that.

1. Menzies, Gavin, 1421, Harper Perennial, New York, 2004.

2. For some critical reviews of Menzies see Findlay, Robert, How Not to (Re)Write World History, Journal of World History, v. 15. no. 2, June 2004, at Here, Hartz, Bill, Gavin’s Fantasy Land, at In the Hall of Maat, at Here,Dutch, Steven, 1421, at Steve Dutch Home Page, Here.,See also this website with lots of articles: The ‘1421’ Myth Exposed, at Here. The above is just some of the critical analysis on the web.

4. Fritze, Ronald H., Invented Knowledge, Reaktion Books, London, 2009, p. 99.

5. IBID. pp. 99-100. The agent’s name is Luigi Bonomi. I hope he enjoyed the money from his pact with the devil. See also Four Corners, Junk History, Broadcast on July 31, 2006, Transcript at Here.

6. Junk History.

7. Fritze. p. 100. The public relations company was Midas Public Relations. See Junk History also.

8. IBID.

9. Junk History.

10. IBID., Fritze, p. 100.

11. Junk History.

12. IBID.

13. IBID. Fritze, pp. 101-102.

14. Junk History.

15. Fritze, pp. 101-102.

16. Menzies, Gavin, 1434, Harper Perennial, New York, 2009. This book seems to be as much a calculated effort to make moolah as 1421. See The ‘1421’ Myth Exposed, above for some well deserved tearing apart of this book.

17 Fritze, p. 103.

Pierre Cloutier

Thursday, August 06, 2009


One of the problems of the historiography of modern Europe is the “westernization” and “modernization” of Russia and why this process which started with Peter the Great seems to have had at best only a partial success? Why as Russia in so many ways proved to be resistant to the process of “westernization” and “modernization”?

Maybe the question should be phrased differently; perhaps the reason why Russia failed to “westernize”, “modernize” more than particially is precisely the effects of the process of “westernization” and “modernization”.

Yet if the Russian experience warns against any single, linear theory of modernisation, the concept nevertheless helps to bring into focus crucial interrelationships between government, economy, and society. Russia’s kinship-dominated peasant communities were not the casual detritus of government-led modernisation: they were its direct consequence. As the state counted the cost of its new standing army, its extensive multi-national territories, its administrative institutions, and its glittering cosmopolitan capital, the people paid the price. Risk-averse peasants relapsed into intensified collective responsibility as the only safe way to meet the government’s increasing fiscal demands. The more Russia’s rulers tried to modernize their state, the more backward their empire became.1

This opens up a whole new area of thought. Usually the “modernizers” of Russian History like Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, are celebrated has great visionaries and bearers of progress and enlightenment. The above quote asks us to think again about the real legacy of such reform from above.

Aside from the issue of exaggerating Russia’s isolation from the “west” and Russia’s “backwardness”, and locating “all” “good” in adopting the attributes of the “west”, this approach systematically ignores certain features of Russian development. Of course such an approach flatters the chauvinistic assumptions of “westerners” and also plays into the assumption that some how Russia really isn’t part of the “west”.

For example Peter the Great’s reformation of Russian society, economy and culture was accomplished through a vast strengthening of the forces of coercion and violence. It was a top down operation. Even today we have little idea of the sheer scale of violence and bloodshed required to effect these changes. Peter the Great used a vast Secret Police network and mass terror. I could give a long list of Peter’s myriad atrocities. I will simply mention that the building of St. Petersburg on a delta of the Neva river cost the lives of who knows how many forced labourers.2

Peterof palace near St. Petersburg

In fact due to violent oppression, massive fiscal demands etc., it appears that the population of Russia actually fell during Peter’s reign.3 In many respects Peter was similar to Stalin in that much of the modernization accomplished was through violent, coercive means in a process that was frequently costly and wasteful in lives and money. It was also accompanied by a massive extension of state power. If anything society became far more rigid, intrusive and authoritarian than before.4

Russia under the old regime was in many ways a centralized, authoritarian state with some truly unpleasant features, but it appears in many respects Peter the Great’s reforms massively strengthened these features of the state.5

The creation of a bureaucratic system of police surveillance with a vast array of police spies and intrusive bureaucratic system went hand in hand with a systematic regularization of procedure, including the systematic use of torture. Hand in hand with this process went the vast expansion of the internal passport system and similar measures to control internal movement. Censorship and other forms of detecting and destroying thought-crime also were regularized. And of course the use of such means of punishment has exile; forced labour and execution were also systemitized.6

To quote:

The Peterine reforms were also the apotheosis of statism that in practice left no place until now for other (nonstate) forms of social existence. The era of the Peterine reforms was the time of the foundations of the totalitarian state, the graphic preaching and inculcation into mass consciousness of the cult of the strong personality – the boss, “the father of the nation,” “the teacher of the people.” It was also the time of the start-up of the “eternal prime mover” of a native bureaucratic machine that worked until now according to its own internal laws alien to society.7

If Peter the Great left behind a legacy that can be described as ambiguous what can one say about Catherine the Great?

Of course Catherine the Great has a huge horde of modern “western” fans who once again, like with Peter, writhe in ecstasy at the “reformer’s” feet. The legion of biographies taken in by her posturing and building, and very successful wars of conquest are characterized by fawning hero worship.8

The fact is Catherine continued the process of enforced “westernization” of Peter although with vastly less overt brutality. The power of the state was largely undiminished and so was the way in which the state operated. What changed was that Catherine decided to make the nobility her ally in the ruthless exploitation of Russia. Her “reforms” and “freeing” of the nobility were accompanied by giving to the nobility vastly greater autocratic powers over the peasantry. These powers already very large before Peter were increased by Peter and reached their apogee under Catherine. Even her founding of hospital’s orphanages etc., and of course the Noble Bank, which was basically nothing more than means to allow the nobility to loot the treasury.9

It is the peasantry that paid most of the price for the “westernization” of Russia and Russia’s development into a great power.

The fiscal and social exploitation of the peasantry by the state increased massively under the “westernization” regimes. This was accompanied by an increase in exploitation by the nobility, who like the state had to pay for their efforts to “westernize”.

Before Peter the Great became Tsar the overwhelming majority of Russian peasants had through state coercion become Serfs. Either serfs proper, bound to particular nobles, or state peasants. They had gradually over a period of several centuries been striped of their rights and partially enslaved. Eventually in fact serfs could be bought and sold.10

The great symbol of fiscal oppression by the state was the soul tax, which flagrantly disregarded the ability to pay, which each adult male was required to pay to the state. It was regressive and each village community or Mir was made responsible for the tax. The tax was devised and was implemented in the reign of Peter the Great. It was part of a whole series of taxes and impositions (labour, men for the army etc.) that imposed themselves on the peasantry and which the peasantry dealt with by reinforcing and strengthening ideas of communal responsibility. Further this constant and quite sustained fiscal etc., pressure from the state and landlord created among the peasantry a situation in which individual initiative was not rewarded but in fact punished. The result was the creation of a risk adverse culture among the peasantry, a lack of interest in rural development and especially agricultural development. The result was the backwardness of Russian agriculture.11

One of the most interesting features of the development of Russia during this time is the lack of interest by the state in developing roads. Why this is so is subject to much debate. It was perhaps the huge cost radically improving the road system combined with a reliance on water transport.12 It is possible that this neglect was in part because an improved road system although it would reduce the cost of moving goods considerably would also ease the flight of peasants away from their bondage.

The other taxes imposed by the state were similarly regressive and fell heavily on the peasantry that took refuge from the onerous obligations to state and landlord through collective responsibility. The fact that the state later on created institutions that gave massive largess to the nobility in return for their support further increased the fiscal oppression of the state. If you add in labour corves etc., the fiscal oppression of the peasantry was severe. To add to the peasantries woes the soul tax and other taxes increased substantially over time as well as the landlord’s demands.13

Everything else in Russian society was coloured by the ruthless fiscal oppression of the peasantry. The idea that the west could be emulated by obedience and coercion, that people could be regimented to be free was omnipresent. The habits of pre-peterine Russia of slavish obedience and the capricious and oppressive nature of authority that was not bound by agreed upon rules was if anything increased under the “westernization” regimes. Education produced not the autonomous individuals of the west but technocrats whose basic attitude was slavish subordination. The result was a continual need to import experts from the west. In many respects the backwardness of Russia was noticeably increased as “westernization” including a dynamic and expensive foreign policy, created such demands on society as to drain away the money and initiative to actually transform society.14

A classic example of the massive extension of state power under the “westernization” regimes was the treatment of the Church. In the pre-peterine period the Church had a certain degree of real autonomy; the result of Peter’s “reforms” and the actions of certain of his successors, especially Catherine the Great, was to turn the Church into a adjunct of the state and to greatly if not fatally damage the Church in spiritual terms. Basically the Church became an object of manipulation and abuse by the state. It became a cash cow of the state and another way of squeezing the population. If the Church had serious problems before Peter they became immeasurably worst under Peter and his successors.15

Economic and commercial development proceeded to a large extent without the creation of a self aware, self confident middle class / bourgeoisie, dependence on state help and manifold interference by the state was omnipresent and oppressive.16

The end result was a state and society whose “westernization was to a large extent superficial and based on intense coercion and oppression. In many respects features of pre-peterine Russia were intensified by “westernization”. Certainly not intended, but the actual results of the reformers efforts. Instead of freeing their society from the straight jacket of the past Peter and Catherine in fact basically reinforced and added new and brutal features to the oppressive system they had inherited. Behind the glitter was a rigid authoritarian system that was by the standards of the day uniquely oppressive, coercive and wasteful. And in the end it in the long run added further impediments on Russia’s ability to modernize.

In 1839 a Frenchman, the Marquis de Custine, visited Russia for a few months. Despite the brevity of his visit he produced what many regard has one of the greatest travel / political science books of all time.17 He also produced this verdict on the work of the “westernizers”:

Peter I. and Catherine II. have given to the world a great and useful lesson, for which Russia has had to pay: they have shown to us that despotism is never so much to be dreaded as when it pretends to do good, for then it thinks the most revolting acts may be excused by the intention; and the evil that is applied as a remedy has no longer any bounds. Crime exposed to view can triumph only for a day; but false virtues for ever lead astray the minds of nations. People, dazzled by the brilliant accessories of crime, by the greatness of certain delinquencies justified by the event, believe at last that there are two kinds of villainy, two classes of morals,, and that necessity, or reasons of state, as they were formerly called, exculpate criminals of high lineage, provided they have so managed that their excesses should be in accord with the passions of the country.18

Also Custine says:

In Russia, the government interferes with every thing and vivifies nothing. In that immense empire, the people, if not tranquil, are mute; death hovers over all heads, and strikes capriciously whom it pleases: man there has two coffins, the cradle and the tomb.19


I must correct myself — there is no people of Russia: there is an emperor, who has serfs, and there are courtiers who have serfs also; but this does not constitute a people.20

De Custine went to Russia in the hope of finding an Autocracy that worked, what he instead found was an autocracy whose glittering surface features disguised and in fact reinforced it’s backwards autocratic features.

When in 1725 Peter the Great died someone produced a woodcut of mice burying the cat. The cat is clearly Peter and the sense of relief of the “mice” that the tormenting cat was no longer around is palatable.21 Like the rule of Stalin Peter’s reign had had great accomplishments but at a truly terrible price.

The people of Russia paid in spades for the “modernization”, and “westernization” of Russia because it was done as the first quote emphasizes by means which at the same time it pushed Russia forward pushed Russia backwards.

The Mice bury the Cat

1. Dixon, Simon, The Modernization of Russia 1676 – 1825, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, p. 256.

2. See Anisimov, Evgenni V., The Reforms of Peter the Great, M. E. Sharpe, London, 1993, for a detailed description of this process. For St. Petersburg see pp. 239-243.

3. Anisimov, p. 177-178, 291-292.

4. Anisimov, p. 184-202, and Pipes, Richard, Russia under the Old Regime, Penguin Books, London, 1974, pp. 112-138.

5. For an overview of the pre-Peterine state see Pipes, pp. 85-111.

6. Anisimov, pp. 217-243.

7. IBID, p. 296.

8. Just Google you will find acres of such “biographies”, although hagiographies is more accurate.

9. Blum, Jerome, Lord and Peasant in Russia, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1961, pp. 382-385, 424-425, 428-431.

10. See IBID, pp. 247-276, 414-441.

11. Dixon, p. 64, Anisimov, pp. 170-183.

12. IBID, pp. 240-241.

13. IBID, pp. 64-65.

14. IBID, pp. 152-156, Anisimov, pp. 184-202.

15. Dixon, pp. 209-220, Blum, pp. 364-366, Pipes, pp. 221-248.

16. Dixon, pp. 225-255, Anisimov, pp. 170-183.

17. de Custine, Astolphe, The Empire of the Czar, (in three volumes), Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, London, 1843.

18. IBID, v. 3, p. 317.

19. IBID, v. 3, p. 305.

20. IBID. v. 3, p. 328.

21. Anisimov, pp. 288-290.

Pierre Cloutier