A Super VOTING Tuesday

For many of the United States of America, today is a voting day. As is the case with every Election Day, it represents an occasion to have important impact upon the future, and there is so much more at stake than just the immensely high-profile upcoming presidential race. Having that impact, of course, is only available to those who vote.

While the United States was still in the throes of the ferocious fighting of the Second World War, President Franklin Roosevelt took to the radio on 5 October 1944 to address a nation about the need and the obligation to vote:

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves, and the only way they could do that is by not voting at all.

The continuing health and vigor of our democratic system depends upon the public spirit and devotion of its citizens which find expression in the ballot box.

Every woman and every man in this nation, regardless of party, who have the right to register and to vote, and the opportunity to register and to vote, have also the sacred obligation to register and to vote. For the free and secret ballot is the real keystone of our American constitutional system.

The American Government has survived and prospered for more than a century and a half, and it is now at the highest peak of its vitality. This is primarily because when the American people want a change of Government, even when they merely want “new faces,” they can raise the old electioneering battle cry of “throw the rascals out.”

Roosevelt also frankly acknowledged the serious defects which then plagued America’s voting rights then, saying:

It is true that there are many undemocratic defects in voting laws in the various States, almost forty-eight different kinds of defects, and some of these produce injustices which, prevent a full and free expression of public opinion.

The right to vote must be open to our citizens irrespective of race, color or creed, without tax or artificial restriction of any kind. The sooner we get to that basis of political equality, the better it will be for the country as a whole.

Two decades would pass before Roosevelt’s ambition for equal access to voting would be made into law. For many Americans today, access to voting may be more difficult than it should be. Polling places are often fairly distant, lines will likely be quite long, and even registered voters may be challenged. But exercising one’s right to vote is a very worthwhile thing, and worthwhile things do not always come easily.

I have heard from many folks that they either have already voted, taking advantage of early voting options, or that they surely intend to do so today. I have also heard from a variety of folks who tell me that they have been praying and plan to pray about this election. That sounds like a good idea.

This conflation of voting and praying is wholly apt, as it turns out, at least from the etymology and origins of the word “vote.”

Our English word “vote” derives from the Latin VOTVM, which means a prayer, a wish, or a promise to God (this last is reflected in our words such as “devotion” and “votive” offerings.) The word VOTVM is in turn derived from the verb VOVERE meaning to pray, wish or to vow.

When we vote, then, we express our wish. Perhaps we avow our preference. Possibly we pray. And maybe – just maybe – our prayers will be answered.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:

1, To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy:

2, To speak no evil of the person they voted against: and,

3, to take care their spirits were not sharpened against those who voted on the other side.

– John Wesley

From The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A. M., Volume IV, 3rd edition, London: John Mason, 1829, entry from Thursday, October 6, 1774:

23 February 1941: A New Element Is Discovered

It was on the uncharacteristically stormy evening of 23 February 1941 that the world dramatically changed in a rather undramatic way, as often happens. In room 307 Gilman Hall on the University of California, Berkeley Campus, a team of researchers chemically identified element 94. The element had been produced the previous December in the powerful 60″ cyclotron at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory. Because the quantity produced in the cyclotron was extremely minute, the chemical identification took great precision and unusual expertise. Fortunately, the head of this team, Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg, was both an outstanding physicist and an exceptional chemist.

The unusual properties of element 94 were immediately recognized as having crucial impact as material for a possible atomic bomb, and so this landmark discovery was kept secret for reasons of national security. Because element 92, which was identified in 1798, had been named for the planet Uranus, the first of the synthetic transuranium elements discovered at Berkeley, element 93, had been named Neptunium, after the planet Neptune. In accordance with this scheme, the new element would be named Plutonium, for the planet Pluto. There is a fitting irony to this naming, because in Roman mythology, Pluto was the god of the underworld and death. Dr. Seaborg later said that he honestly had no idea of this connotation when he selected the name, yet he recognized that his discovery had indeed been an agent of death and destruction, and understood that the name was apt in that way.

Plutonium, identified by science writer Jeremey Bernstein as “The world’s most dangerous element,” has many unusual properties, but it is its use as the trigger for nuclear reactions which gives it the profound impact it has upon the world of today. One of the most remarkable achievements of science and technology was to develop Plutonium from a laboratory curiosity which was measured in tiny fractions of a gram to making it by the ton with the span of less than four years, and Professor Seaborg was key throughout this process.

Doctor Seaborg understood the implications of his discovery immediately, and though he himself opposed warfare as a solution to disagreements among nations, he nevertheless was keenly aware that both Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Tojo’s Imperial Japan were working feverishly to develop atomic weaponry. Dr. Seaborg once remarked that he “hated the thought of making an atomic bomb,” but he even more “hated the thought of Hitler getting it first.” And in 1945, Dr. Seaborg took a clear stand against use of nuclear weapons as a signatory to the then-secret Franck Report in which many prominent nuclear scientists urged the United States government not to use the atomic bomb against Japan. Doctor Seaborg was convinced that the future of atomic power was in peaceful applications.

After World War II ended, Doctor Seaborg resumed his academic career as a professor of chemistry at Berkeley. Wartime security concerns delayed publication of his discovery (and his many other wartime contributions) so it would not be until 1951 that Dr. Seaborg would receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work. Professor Seaborg was a modern “Renaissance Man” in every way; in addition to his contributions to the physics of transuranium elements (he was discoverer or co-discoverer of ten of them!) he reorganized the periodic table of the elements to rationally accommodate elements that did not “fit” in the traditional scheme (which in and of itself was a contribution that would have earned him a Nobel Prize!) Despite these towering accomplishments, Dr. Seaborg was no “Ivory Tower” scientist: he served for many years as the Berkeley Campus representative to the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference and was instrumental in reorganizing to build what is now the PAC-12; he served as the second chancellor of the Berkeley Campus until he was tapped by president-elect John F. Kennedy to take lead of the Atomic Energy Commission. He held the AEC post he held for 11 years under three presidents.

After stepping down as chair of the AEC, Professor Seaborg returned to his academic life in Berkeley and continued to advise presidents in many subjects outside the scope of atomic energy. Because he himself had been a beneficiary of the unparalleled opportunities provided by public education in California, Dr. Seaborg was a firm advocate for quality education and advised every president from Truman to Clinton on educational matters. In 1983, he created the report on education in the United States for the Reagan administration which he bluntly entitled A Nation At Risk. On campus, while he continued his advanced research, he also devoted his time end energy to teaching both graduate students and undergraduates. He took his role as teacher to be of profound importance, and remained actively engaged with students on campus throughout his career. (During my time at Berkeley, Professor Seaborg was undergraduate advisor to my classmate Scott Dreisbach!) Professor Seaborg was involved in many campus organizations, and remained an ardent fan of Cal athletics until the end of his life (he was fond of noting that his name, “Seaborg” is an anagram of “Go Bears!”)

Because Professor Seaborg was fully involved in campus life, I had the privilege and pleasure of dining with him on two different occasions. He was equally comfortable talking about college basketball standings or “wet” chemistry, and though he had been an intimate of presidents and the powerful, he clearly loved talking with undergraduates and “ordinary folk” as well. To this day, I find that an impressive thing.

As for his role as the discoverer of plutonium, Dr. Seaborg said that he was never troubled by it. “It is an element. It was going to be discovered,” he observed. “It’s a good thing for humanity that the United States was the first to develop the bomb.” But he did recognize his responsibility to strive to see that atomic energy would be used wisely. He worked tirelessly for nuclear arms control from 1945 until he suffered a stroke that would prove to be fatal in 1998. And the many contributions he made to nuclear medicine are saving lives to this day.

It is a light and interesting note that, after element 106 was officially named “Seaborgium” in his honor, Glenn Seaborg may have been the only person whose address could be written by using elements of the Periodic Table:

Sg (106)
Lr (103)
Bk (97), Cf (98)
Am (95)

That is:

(Glenn) Seaborg
Lawrence (Laboratory)
Berkeley, California
(United States of) America

In this small space, I cannot do justice to Glenn Seaborg’s astounding achievements and fascinating character. But I can remind us that “minor,” exotic developments in a small lab somewhere can, occasionally, change everything.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

A hardworking individual will succeed where a lazy genius will fail.

— Glenn T. Seaborg


Transuranium elements:

Uranium: War, Energy, And The Rock That Shaped The World, Tom Zoellner; Viking, 2009: ISBN: 9780670020645

This highly readable account traces the technological, economic, and social impact of uranium from the Middle Ages, when it was only known as a component of other minerals with unusual properties, to the modern age of geopolitics.

Plutonium: A History Of The World’s Most Dangerous Element, Jeremy Bernstein; Joseph Henry Press, 2007: ISBN: 9780309102964

Inspired by allegations that Nazi scientists had actually created a nuclear explosion during WWII, Jeremy Bernstein began the research that led to this book. Covering the history of plutonium from a scientific curiosity to an international political and environmental crisis, Plutonium is well written and engaging. It is intended for a scientific audience, but it does not require a degree in chemistry or physics to appreciate and benefit from reading.

Elements at war:

The Manhattan Project, Cynthia C. Kelly, ed.; Black Dog and Leventhal, 2007: ISBN: 9781579127473

A compendium of original accounts, reports, and paper related to the development of the atomic bomb.

Dark Sun: The Making Of The Hydrogen Bomb, Richard Rhodes; Simon & Schuster, 1995: ISBN: 9780684804002

This fascinating follow-up to Rhode’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Making Of The Atomic Bomb, is an exciting account of espionage, cold war politics, and technology in the race to develop the “ultimate weapon.” Drawing upon Soviet-era resources that had previously been unavailable in the West, Rhodes’ account is probably the best and most complete one-volume work on this topic.

Glenn T. Seaborg:

Adventures In The Atomic Age, Glenn T. Seabrg; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001: ISBN: 0374299919

This autobiography is simply wonderful reading. Seaborg has a simple, uncomplicated prose style and relates utterly fascinating tales of his long and fruitful life from his boyhood until near the end of his life. It is interesting to note that his favorite honor was having element 106 officially named Seaborgium!

The Transuranium People, Hoffman, Ghioroso, and Seaborg; Imperial College Press, 2000: ISBN: 1860940870

This rare but fascinating work is a combination of biography and laboratory history of some of the most cutting edge science of the past 70 years. While written for a technical audience, it is intended to be accessible for more general readers as well. My copy is signed by several of the principals, but Dr. Seaborg passed away before it was published, so his is not among them.

There Was Light: Alumni Essays, Irving & Jean Stone, eds; Berkeley, 1996: Library of Congress catalog: 77-78738

Seaborg’s essay in this collection is as good a brief autobiography as you will ever find on the man.

A New Era Of American Music: Rhapsody In Blue

On this day in in 1924, the New York Times carried a review by music critic Olin Downes. The review began, “A concert of popular American music was given yesterday afternoon in Aeolian Hall by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra of the Palais Royale.” Downes had attended the concert that was billed as an “Experiment In Modern Music.” Downes noted that one composition in particular “shows extraordinary talent” and was “fresh and new.” Downes’ review concluded, “The audience packed a house that could have been sold out twice over.”

It was on Tuesday, 12 February 1924, that “America’s Homegrown Music” – Jazz – put on white tie and tails and entered the lofty precincts of the halls of “serious” music with the premier of the classic Rhapsody In Blue. Paul whiteman, the leading figure in popular Jazz in the 1920s, had approached the young George Gershwin some months before to propose that Gershwin write a Jazz work specifically for a symphonic setting. Gershwin, whose work to that time had consisted of Tin Pan Alley songs and light-hearted musical fare, apparently agreed to undertake Whiteman’s commission.

I say “apparently” because as George’s brother Ira told the tale, it was not until January of 1924, when Ira showed George a item in the paper that the February concert would include a “Jazz Concerto” by Gershwin, that George realized he was committed! Improbably enough, in about five week’s time, Gershwin had essentially completed the work which became known as Rhapsody In Blue.

Whiteman’s orchestra premiered the work at Aeolian Hall in New York, a locale not usually associated with popular music, and Whiteman’s musicians all wore classic concert attire. Many musical luminaries were present for the concert, including Sergei Rachmaninoff and John Philip Sousa, along with several noted music critics. Whiteman’s arranger, Ferde Groffe, best known for his Grand Canyon Suite, orchestrated Gershwin’s piano score. Gershwin himself Played the piano at the concert, which turned out to be a necessity, as he had not written any piano part! The orchestra members were warned to keep a sharp eye on Gershwin as he would have to nod to let them know where they were to come back in to the music as he played. The written score was produced later, and therefore we cannot be certain exactly what that very first performance was like, but we know that it was received with wild enthusiasm by the audience though many of the critics in attendance offered rather negative assessments of the piece.

This premiere was no great political or military turning point; it did not free the oppressed nor did it bring down a tyrant. But it did contribute to the changing of a culture, and decisively so. Before Whiteman’s “Experiment in Modern Music,” Jazz was looked upon as an inferior music and not fit for “the better sort of people.” There was a nasty undercurrent of racism in this judgment as well: Jazz was often called “African Music” or even plainly vulgar, derogatory epithets. And it is true that not one African-American was present at Aeolian Hall that chilly February afternoon to hear musical history being made. But this concert launched Jazz into the realm of respectability, and by the end of the 1920s many Black Jazz greats were making an impact upon popular culture with concerts and recordings, playing in venues that would have been irrevocably barred to them a few years before. Jazz and its talented practitioners were here to stay.

George Gershwin made two recordings of Rhapsody In Blue with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra, and in 1925 he cut a master piano roll which QRS player piano company later issued in its own roll format. QRS, which claims to be the oldest “software” company in continuous existence, (since 1900) still produces paper piano rolls for old player systems, but moving into the digital age, they converted many of their classic roll recordings into CDs which can be played on their “Pianomation” electronic system. Thus it is that now and again, I can enjoy the experience of listening in my own home to “the very keystrokes” that George Gershwin himself recorded some 94 years ago when I put on the CD of his solo piano rendition of his masterpiece. Then I can close my eyes and take delight in talent and vision and just plain good music!

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Music, the greatest good that mortals know,
And all of Heaven we have below.

— Joseph Addison

Further Reading:

Downes’ review in full may be found in The George Gershwin Reader.

See also: The Roaring Twenties.

10 November 1975, The Gales Of November Came Early …

It was forty years ago today that Captain Ernest McSorley and his crew of twenty-eight perished in the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. In the 1991 addendum to his 1960 classic Great Lakes Shipwrecks & Survivals, William Ratigan pretty much agrees with Gordon Lightfoot’s lyric in his 1976 memorial musical tribute to the tragedy, The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald, that “she may have broke deep and took water.” Though the ship was found in two halves in the Spring of 1978, consensus is that it broke as it settled the 600 feet to the bottom.

When the Edmund Fitzgerald was launched in 1958, she was the largest vessel on the great lakes, and one of the fastest. She was equipped with the most sophisticated navigational and communications systems and she was built specifically to ply the great lakes, even in stormy weather. It is essentially impossible to sail the great lakes and avoid sailing through gales and tempests.

Odd as it may seem at first, storms on the great lake are often more treacherous than storms on the high seas. The relative shallowness of the lakes helps produce mountainous waves, and the relative smallness of the lakes – compared to oceans, of course – makes it hard to run around bad weather. The Edmund Fitzgerald was indeed trying to make the relative shelter of Whitefish Bay when all radio contact ceased. Gordon Lightfoot’s 1976 ballad is as good a musical narrative as ever was written about such an event.

The Dream Is Still Being Dreamed

On this day in 1963, words were spoken which may be rightly said to have changed a nation. True, thousands and thousands of people had been striving and sacrificing for the change long before the speech, and that work is continuing today. But on 28 August 1963, the whole world watched as a great man made a great speech about a simple idea: All people are created equal and should be equal.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a human being, so it is not surprising that in recent years some of his foibles have been brought to light. If he was flawed, however, these were minor flaws, for he remained focussed on his goal, and he remained true to his principles. When he was met with violence, he offered peaceful response. Dr. King never hesitated to speak out, but he continually forebore to strike out. And though he could march 25,000 people from Selma to Montgomery to present their demands to Governor Wallace, he did not use that great crowd to extort or coerce. At a time of uncertainty and unrest, Dr. King strove to effect maximal change with minimal upheaval.

Dr. King was also one of America’s greatest orators, possessed of an entrancing speaking voice, a dramatic delivery style, and a great gift of rhetorical brilliance. Few people can hear a recording of a speech by King and remain unmoved. His, “I Have a Dream” speech surely ranks among the very foremost of American speeches, and it represents a landmark in the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century. In one of the most often quoted passages in any American speech, Dr. King proclaimed:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

It is clear that Dr. King’s work is not yet completed, even today. But it is also clear that his dream did not die with him. He was just 38 years old when he was killed; shortly before his death he was heard to wonder if he had accomplished anything at all in the previous dozen years: there was still so very much yet to be done. The work which Dr. King undertook remains to this day unfinished, but he did not strive in vain. The world we live in today is one far removed from that of 1955 or even 1968. It is today unthinkable that dogs and fire hoses would be used against peaceful demonstrators. It is unimaginable that a state government would seriously assert its right to disenfranchise and to discriminate against a large portion of its citizens. It seems medieval that a state would deny anyone employment, or legal rights, or even so basic a human institution as marriage, based upon race. Yet in one form or another, issues of these types still face us, more usually as a matter of kind rather than degree.

The work is not yet done. But it has been well begun.

Dr. King earned a goodly share of the credit for getting this work underway. It seems fitting, that we pause for a moment on this anniversary to remember a great leader. And to recall his great work, a work in progress.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Oh, the worst of tragedies is not to die young, but to live until I am seventy-five and yet not ever truly to have lived.

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Seventy Years Ago Today, And After

It is likely worthwhile to reflect that seventy years ago today, at 0816 hours Japanese War Time, the first nuclear weapon used in battle exploded over the city of Hiroshima. The blast destroyed about 80% of the structures in the city, and in the wake of the blast perhaps 150,000 people died, some long years later as a result of radiation exposure.

Whether or not The Bomb should have been dropped is a matter that is much debated; some say it was not needed, others say it was the only hope for allied victory. In the end the debate can always rage, and both extremes of the argument have their points. It is certainly clear from the American experience in the final stages of the Pacific war that the Japanese Homeland would have been fiercely defended, and many tens of thousands (likely hundreds of thousands) of Japanese soldiers would have died in the defense. Many tens of thousands of Americans and allies would have died as well. In any case, invasion was a bloody, dreadful prospect.

I cannot say that The Bomb was the only way, but I can understand the grim realities that led to the decision to use it. Whether the decision was right or wrong, The Bomb was dropped, and the result was ghastly in the extreme. True, war is a ghastly business, and all carnage — that delivered by 1000 heavy bombers or that delivered by one — is carnage. But the spectre of a city wiped out at a single blow intensifies the horror. And Hiroshima has come to symbolize the devastation of nuclear warfare.

My main motive today, though, is to write about a different anniversary, a personal one, of August 6, 1981, in Palos Verdes, in Southern California.

On that date my Mom and Dad hosted a barbecue for several neighbors and friends. I was in charge of most of the cooking so that my Mom and Dad could concentrate on socializing with their guests. I made up an immense batch of seasoned hamburger patties and staffed the grill.

The guests — there were about 12 or 15 or so — chatted and had a pleasant time. Some were local neighbors, and some guests were visiting from Japan, for the barbecue was a thank you for the friends and neighbors who had helped my Mom and Dad prepare for an upcoming trip to Japan as part of a teachers’ exchange program. These neighbors and friends were mostly employees of Japanese firms doing business in America. They were in california for a few years, and they gladly helped my Mom to practice her Japanese, to learn about Japanese culture and history, and to discover and to appreciate Japanese cuisine.

When my Mom decided to hold the thank-you barbecue — intended as a typically American cultural event — she discovered, to her anxiety, that the only date that all could coordinate was Thursday, 6 August. And she was aware that it had been 36 years to the day since Enola Gay had dropped its devastating payload on Hiroshima. But those whom she asked if it would be better to reschedule assured her that no, it would not be a problem. That was in the past, and the present was time for friendship.

So we hosted the barbecue and a good time was had by all. I received many requests for my hamburger recipe, and the next Christmas I received a small ceramic sake service from Japan, along with a thank you note assuring me that “Jamie’s hunburgers” were quite popular among the outdoor grilling crowd in Osaka!

So it is this personal anniversary that I share today. Yes, great devastation happened seventy years ago, but much healing happened in the intervening years. August 6 to me is always an occasion to recall that past conflict need not be present strife, if we have the courage and the character to permit the past to be the past. Remember the past. Honor it. Learn from it. Be guided by it. And visit the past from time to time. But do not live there. The present needs us so that we may continue to advance the cause of friendship and of peace.

— Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it. — Eleanor Roosevelt

A Terrifying Slave Raid On Baltimore

Yesterday I wrote of Juneteeth, the remembrance and celebration of the coming of freedom to Texas slaves. Today I look into slavery in another era, and in a completely different setting.

A small village on a rather barren stretch of coast was suddenly descended upon by a slaving party who captured as many able-bodied inhabitants as they could, killed those who were of no use to them, and burned the such modest shelters as the villagers had. The captives were shackled and bound together, marched into the slavers’ ship, crammed into the foul and nearly suffocating hold of the ship to be carried across the sea to a new and unfamiliar world and sold in the slave markets of that world so unlike the world in which they had been raised; not a one of those enslaved would ever see their homeland again. It is notable that, perhaps contrary to expectations, in this case the slavers hailed from Africa while the enslaved villagers were Europeans.

It was on 20 June in 1631 that the small town of Baltimore, County Cork, Ireland, was set upon by Algerian corsairs who killed two of the town’s residents and carried off between 100 and 200 of its inhabitants into slavery in the Ottoman Empire. The raiding force was not particularly large at perhaps 200 pirates. But the town was not fortified, and the Mohammedan raiders landed at 2:00 in the morning when all the townsfolk were asleep. The raid has ever after been known as “The Sack Of Baltimore,” and that is also the title of a 19th Century poem by Thomas Davis which commemorates the event.

The Sack of Baltimore was not by any means a unique occurrence, and as far as such raids go, it was rather minor. But Davis’ poem has ensured that the event be remembered. Though the piece was much admired when it was published in the early 19th Century, its style is unpopular today. It nevertheless served to preserve the memory of the devastating raid.

In the wake of the raid, most of the inhabitants of Baltimore moved further inland to Skibbereen. Baltimore faded into obscurity until the late 19th Century. And the fate of the hundred or so men, women, and children who were enslaved remains unknown to this day.

Such raids were the commonplace risks of living on Europe’s coasts between 1500 and 1850. Pirates operating under the aegis of the Ottoman Empire preyed freely upon the coasts of Western Europe and the Mediterranean and Black seas, and even raided as far north as Iceland, where a 1627 raid depopulated whole regions of the island. Sources vary as to the number of captives taken from Iceland in the raid. The Icelandic Tourist Board states that 237 people were captured, other sources claim as many as 1,200. Most sources settle on a range of between 400 and 800, but the data is very hard to confirm. A large number of people were killed by the raiders as well. In any case, it was a huge loss for the island and its people. One of those captured was a Lutheran minister. He was later sent to Denmark to negotiate the payment of a ransom for some of the enslaved Icelanders. His memoir of the experience was one of many such accounts from the 17th and 18th Centuries. (Though it has recently been translated into English, I’ve not been able to locate a copy.)

Especially in the early 17th century, Corsair raids were frequent along the Cornish coast, Southern England, Wales, Ireland, as well as in the South of France, Spain, southern Italy, Sicily, and other Mediterranean islands. The naval commander of Plymouth complained to the Privy Council that there were not enough ships in the waters around England to defend against the raiders, for the pirates wisely avoided large and well-defended locations.

It has been estimated that between 1500 and 1850, as many as 2 million European Christians were forced into slavery in the Islamic world. Though there were no European slave raids against Ottoman territories, during this same period, Christian Europeans themselves were considerable slavers as well, carrying between 5 and 10 million Africans into slavery in the New World. (It was always easy to justify the enslavement of those who were “others.” The Islamics could in good conscience enslave Christians – Mohammed forbade Islamics to enslave fellow Mohammedans – and Christians could enslave pagan Africans and use the Bible to justify their actions.)

By the middle of the 19th Century, Western naval and military progress had advanced to a state which completely dominated the forces of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, and at length, the threat of North African pirates raiding European countries finally ceased. Europe gradually got out of the slave trade so that by 1850 no European nation was directly engaged in that activity. Popular sentiment during the emerging Industrial Revolution no longer tolerated slavery. England, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United States all outlawed the overseas slave trade before 1850. Spain held out until 1880.

The last Western nation to abolish slavery and the trade was Brazil in 1888. In Africa the trade flourished well into the 20th Century. In the 1930s the writer/adventurer Richard Halliburton bought two slaves in Timbuktu at a large and flourishing marketplace. According to the National Geographic Magazine in its August 2002 issue, slavery is still practiced throughout much of Africa and the Middle East.

The Ottoman Empire never abolished slavery, though under Kemal Ataturk Turkey forbade it in the 1920s. Saudi Arabia has still never formally abolished slavery, a situation that still obtains in many Middle Eastern countries. Though mostly unproven, there are rumors and tales of tourists and students in Africa and the Middle East being taken into slavery to this very day. And in the myriad conflicts and civil upheavals that have been plaguing African nations recently, thousands of hapless unfortunates have been enslaved as well.

I must ask: What Century is this?

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong
impulse to see it tried upon him personally.

— Abraham Lincoln

There are many hundreds of books which examine the history of slavery and its impact. Having studied the subject extensively in school, I can offer a useful bibliography from my own reading, though some of the books are rather old and may be hard to find. More recently I took up the subject of Christian slaves in the Islamic world.

I frequently describe a book as “readable.” To me this is an essential quality for any work, and I consider not faint praise but high praise for a work of history; far too many history works are dry as two-day-old toast and just as stale.


The sack of Baltimore:

The Stolen Village: Baltimore And The Barbary Pirates, Des Ekin; The O’Brien Press, Ltd., 2008: ISBN: 9781847171047

Irish journalist Des Ekin was intrigued by the many references to the sack of Baltimore when he was researching an earlier book, and his interest was piqued. He discovered that while there was a rich variety of documentation related to the raid, there was not a single, book-length treatment. Because none of the enslaved villagers were ever redeemed, and because of a lack of records from Algiers of that era, Ekin decided to write about the fate of the slaves after the raid by inference, drawing from documented accounts of people who were similarly enslaved but who were later redeemed. This highly readable account is a valuable contribution to an aspect of history that is all too often overlooked.

Islam’s Christian Slaves:

Slavery In The Arab World, Murray Gordon; New Amsterdam, 1989: ISBN: 1561310239

In This well written book, Gordon covers almost a millennium of Arab slavery. Gordon goes into extensive detail about the racial and sexist aspects of Arab slavery – he observes that, as in the West, slavery gave rise to endemic racism among the enslavers, and he notes the importance of supplying concubines for the Harem trade. He also points out that the Arab slave trade reached its peak in the 19th Century as Europe was moving away from it, and he gives due consideration to the abolition movement among 19th Century Islamic clerics in Africa.

Race And Slavery In The Middle East, Bernard Lewis; Oxford University Press, 1990: ISBN: 0195053265

Princeton History Professor Lewis is widely known as a foremost Western scholar of Islamic history and culture. His writing is often tedious and repetitive, and he seems to rove over centuries with no apparent pattern. He reads more as an apologist for Islam than as an independent historian. In chapter 11, on Abolition, he quotes extensively from sources that insist that Islamic slavery is a good thing for the slaves and the slaveholders. I read Lewis because one must, but I am no fan.

Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery In the Mediterranean, The Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500 – 1800, Robert C. Davis; Palgrave MacMillan, 2003: ISBN: 0333719662

Professor Davis’ book is a wealth of well-researched data. He includes a comprehensive table of the major Islamic slave raids upon Europe between 1509 and 1815 as well as extremely extensive endnotes. The book is also very readable.

White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and Islam’s One Million White Slaves, Giles Milton; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004: ISBN: 0374289352

Using his research based upon the diaries and memoirs of Thomas Pellow, an 18th Century Cornishman who was enslaved in North Africa for more than 20 years, Giles Milton tells a tale of both horror and courage. Milton’s book is perhaps a bit too uncritical in its reliance upon Pellow’s memoirs, for they were written as a commercial endeavor, and were undoubtedly sensationalized to help assure good sales. Nevertheless, a readable and informative book.

The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, The First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805, Richard Zacks; Hyperion, 2005: ISBN: 1401300030

Zacks tells the story of the capture of the United States Navy’s Philadelphia in Tripoli and the subsequent enslavement of its crew and officers. The ensuing diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and an Islamic state could have come from today’s headlines. In the first chapter of the book, Zacks recounts the raids of Islamic slavers on Europes Mediterranean coasts, and he later describes the lot of the American sailors who were enslaved in Tripoli. This is an excellent account of a little known episode in American history.

Slavery In The New World:

Slavery,(3rd Ed.) Stanley Elkins; University of Chicago Press, 1976: ISBN 0226204774

First published in 1959, Elkins’ book is a foundation of the modern historical understanding of the subject of slavery in the New World. Elkins, who was Emeritus Professor at Smith College until his death in September 2013, conducted extensive research in North and South America, mining an immense wealth of data from legal archives of laws and cases, which he used to compare the relative status and the condition of slaves in the United States and slaves in Latin America. Elkins’ conclusion – that slavery was less oppressive in Latin America due to far greater extension of legal rights and protections to slaves than in the U.S. – spurred a huge outpouring of critical debate. Today, Elkin’s conclusion has been disproven by subsequent researchers. Nevertheless, his work still contains essential and valuable data on the subject of New World slavery, and it remains a standard reference.

The Problem Of Slavery In Western Culture, David Brion Davis, Cornell University Press, 1966; LoC 66-14348

Yale Emeritus Professor David Brion Davis, now 88, explores the roots of slavery in the New World by delving back as far as the ancient Mediterranean world and the ancient Near East. Davis notes that in no ancient culture was the line between master and slave so utterly and inflexibly drawn as in the New World, a fact which he attributes to the racist character of New World slavery. In the second half of the book, Davis specifically addresses and refutes Elkins’ conclusion, and he marshals a great deal of evidence in support of his argument. Davis’ work remains highly readable and even compelling, and never bogs down in the supporting data. Davis received the 1967 Pulitzer Prize in History for this volume. Still a must.

The World The Slaveholders Made, Eugene D. Genovese; Vintage Books, 1969: LoC: 69-15474

Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World The Slaves Made, Eugene D. Genovese; Vintage Books, 1974: ISBN: 0394716523

From Rebellion To Revolution: Afro-American Slave Revolts in The Making of The New World, Eugene D. Genovese; Vintage Books, 1979: ISBN: 0394744853

Genovese is absolutely essential reading for the study of slavery in North America. Genovese’s style is readily readable and compelling, even as he assembles mountains of factual data. His books are never dull and dry, and they are liberally supplied with extensive quotations from source documentation which both enlighten and entertain. Professor Genovese had Marxist political affiliation in his earlier days, and The World The Slaveholders Made is clearly influenced by this connection: Genovese regards the Antebellum South as a society of Lords and Manors and oppressed workers (both slave and free.) Genovese observes that the slaves used their religious practices as a form of resistance to their masters, interpreting this as a conscious tool in class struggle, which seems a rather unusual take for a Marxian. His later works move away somewhat from a distinctly Marxian view, and Roll, Jordan, Roll” is rightly considered a classic in the field. (Genovese, who passed away in September of 2012, became distinctly conservative in his latter years.)

Neither Black Nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States, Carl N. Degler; Macmillan, 1971: LoC: 73-130946

Degler, an emeritus professor at Stanfurd University, passed away late last year. He won the Pulitzer Prize, among other honors, for this landmark study of race in North and South America. Degler explicitly rejected Elkins’ conclusion, and showed that slavery in Latin America in general and Brazil in particular was much harsher on the slaves that slavery in the U.S. Degler documents mortality rates in general, particularly noting a much higher suicide rate for Brazilian slaves, and the inability of Brazil’s slave population to be self-sustaining until after the end of slavery in 1888. He also notes that, contrastingly, in the United States the slave population increased steadily throughout the first half of the 19th Century, despite the ban on importation of new slaves. Degler writes in a very readable style, and his mastery of the facts never devolves into a dull litany of data.

Degler’s conclusion that discrimination and the social debilities of blacks in the modern New World cultures is derived from the former status as slaves seems uncontroversial. His interpretation that New World slavery arose from racism has engendered intense debate and controversy.

Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion Peter H. Wood; W.W. Norton and Company, 1974; ISBN: 0393314820

Professor Wood developed this detailed treatment from his ground-breaking doctoral thesis. Wood advanced the argument that the Africans selected for the slave trade to the colonial South were taken because of their sophisticated knowledge of rice cultivation. This thesis was the first to argue that the contribution of Africans to the development of America represented much more than simple muscle-power. This, in turn, brought about a significant change in U.S. historical scholarship, an impact similar to Elkins’ of half a generation before. Professor Wood writes in a fashion that is always accessible to a non-specialist, but which does not truncate or “water down” his scholarship.

Also recommended is Wood’s Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America (Oxford University Press, 2003: ISBN: 817649433X.)

Abolition and its aftermath:

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild; Mariner Books, 1999: ISBN: 0618001905

Bury The Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, Adam Hochschild; Houghton Mifflin, 2005: ISBN: 0618104690

Both of these books are well worth reading.

A professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, Hochschild has nevertheless built an impressive reputation as a historian, though perhaps “popular historian” should be used (historians can be a snarkey bunch, and there always seems to be a certain disdain for those who write things that many people actually want to read!) King Leopold’s Ghost addresses the grotesque exploitation of the Belgian Congo as the personal estate of King Leopold of the Belgians (17 December 1865 to 17 December 1909.) The book tells the story with a narrative style that is as exciting as any fictional adventure, and the real characters are vividly brought to life. As one reads this book, one is simultaneously fascinated and appalled. It is an essential reading to learn more about slavery after the official Western abolition of all slavery.

In Bury The Chains, Hochschild recounts the struggle of the British anti-slavery movement. He notes that this cause was the first modern popular cause, employing mass media – newspapers and broadsheet posters – and organizing economic action against slavery in the form of sugar boycotts. He says, “It was the first time a large number of people became outraged, and stayed outraged for years, over someone else’s rights.” This book too has its villains such as Banastre Tarleton, (the evil English dragoon colonel featured in Mel Gibson’s The Patriot; he was pro-slavery in Parliament) and its heroes such as John Newton who wrote Amazing Grace.

Juneteenth: A Day To Celebrate Freedom

It seems to me, in light of the horrific massacre at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, it is even more compelling to reflect upon our nation’s past, both the bad and the good, the noble and the infamous. Today it is fitting to recall the great gain of the expansion of freedom which grew from the great horror of war.

On this date in 1865, a Monday exactly a century and a half ago today, Major General Gordon Granger of the United States Army, landed at Galveston, Texas and proclaimed that the Emancipation Proclamation of two and a half years earlier was thereafter in effect in the Department of Texas. Granger posted notice, by broadsheet and by cryer, that the slaves in Texas were thenceforth and forevermore free, that the relationship between them and their former masters would be one of “absolute equality,” and that former masters were to become employers while former slaves were free labor.

Accounts differ about the immediate impact; there may or may not have been dancing in the streets and spontaneous revelry that particular day in 1865, though it seems likely. But quite quickly in the years that followed, June 19th, contracted into the euphonious “Juneteenth”, became a day of celebration, feasting, rejoicing and prayer throughout Texas.

By the early 20th century, Juneteenth observances had become less common as the generation who had been present in 1865 faded away. But in the 1950’s and 1960’s, in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, interest in Juneteenth revived. Today some of the largest Juneteenth celebrations are held far from Texas, in California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin! Juneteenth celebrations mark a recognition of the vast difference between a legal status, as when the slaves were theoretically freed in 1863, and a real status, as when Union troops arrived in Texas with the news.

I think that Juneteenth is really an appropriate day for all Americans to take note; freedom is truly meant for all people, and it cannot mean much to a free people if they permit or engage in the enslavement of other people. And while I cannot properly condemn the past — the past is, as L.P. Hartley observed, “A foreign country; they do things differently there” — I can rejoice that we have grown away from some of the obvious wrongs of the past, at least to a meaningful degree. Yet as recent horrible events have shown, there is so much work to be done. The most corrosive legacy of institutionalized slavery, racism, remains with us still in various forms and degrees, and it still erupts in violent and deadly ways. Yes, we have much work ahead of us. It is not only right that we undertake the effort to fully achieve a world beyond racism, it is necessary.

Of course freedom takes work. I suspect that freedom will always be like a precious fruit tree, always in need of care and tending, and it can never be taken for granted.

Therefore, on Juneteenth 2015, as we mourn those brutally and senselessly killed in Charleston, South Carolina, take a moment to be grateful for the freedoms we have, and remember they must never be taken for granted. Let us all commit to continue to strive, actively and aggressively, for an end to racism in every form. But we should also consider the unspeakable joy that must have been in the hearts of those slaves who heard the glorious news that fine June day so long ago, “You are free!”

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last
Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last

Free At Last, an old Negro Spiritual

Two Centuries Ago: A Resounding Defeat

Today is another significant date in history, which is not surprising, really. Until modern times, many really big events – great gatherings and assemblies and battles – had to wait until the weather made it possible to travel and move masses of people and supplies. Winter was too cold, Spring too wet, so Summer is when a lot of stuff used to happen. Thus June is rather heavily loaded with memorable dates.

It was on this date in 1815, now fully two centuries ago – that Napoleon met his Waterloo at the hands of the forces allied against him under Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. The battle of Waterloo was one of those linchpins of history, marking the end of Napoleon’s quest for a European Empire, and a return to the older world order of hereditary monarchs and privileged nobility (for a while, at least.)

In the late 1950s, a young history doctoral candidate at Harvard, wrote his thesis on the aftermath of Napoleon’s nearly 20 years of military adventuring in Europe. Focussing on the Congress of Vienna, at which virtually every change that Napoleon had made was undone, he titled his massive study of the importance of diplomacy A World Restored. This student saw that for all of Napoleon’s magnificent battlefield accomplishments, it was the diplomats who shaped the next century of European history. He later was able to apply his notions of diplomacy in a meaningful way, as Secretary of State: Henry Kissinger.

In American History, the aftermath of Waterloo is notable in that Napoleon’s sale of the Louisiana Territory to the fledgling United States was permitted to stand, even as virtually every other Napoleonic transaction was undone after Waterloo. This meant that The United States of America was the only nation to materially gain from the two decades of warfare that Napoleon waged. No small accomplishment for a nation that never involved itself in the fray! The results of famous victories may be erased almost immediately. Diplomacy can gain more than mighty armies!

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

The next greatest misfortune to losing a battle
is to gain such a victory as this.

— Wellington, on Waterloo

An 800 Year Legacy Of Law

It is perhaps worth a moment of our time this day – especially at a time when there is serious concern that governmental overreach may be compromising fundamental rights – to reflect that Magna Carta was signed by England’s King John at Runnymeade on this day, June 15, approximately 800 years ago in 1215. Magna Carta – The Great Charter – is aptly named.

Magna Carta looms large in our history and in our daily lives for two important reasons: Magna Carta delineated certain rights, protections, and liberties which evolved into those we enjoy to this day, such as Due Process, Habeas Corpus, and trial by jury. Far more importantly, though, Magna Carta established The Fundamental Principle that The Government would be documentably Responsible To The Governed and documentably Limited In Its Powers. No King of England could claim as France’s Louis XIV did, “I am the state!” (Well, he said: “L’etat c’est moi!“)

Even when England’s monarchs enjoyed their greatest degree of personal power during the Tudor and Stuart dynasties, they were constrained by law in ways that other monarchs around the globe were not. Clause 29 of Magna Carta, which remains in force in English law to this day, requires due process of law for all punishments.

In April of 1603, as King James VI of Scotland made his procession from Edinburgh to London to ascend the English throne upon the death of his cousin Elizabeth, a thief was caught stealing from his household. King James ordered the officials of Newark to have the man hanged immediately, which was done. This autocratic exercise of power horrified King James’ English subjects. No King of England had been able to decree such punishment for almost four centuries. Sir John Harington wrote, “I hear our new King hath hanged one man before he was tried. ‘Tis strangely done; now if the wind bloweth thus, why not a man be tried before he hath offended?”

When the English began establishing colonies on the Atlantic Coast of North America, Magna Carta formed a fundamental basis for colonial law. The Virginia Charter of 1606 provided for the continuance of the liberties guaranteed English subjects in Magna Carta. The Charter of Massachusetts Bay did likewise. William Penn, founder and proprietor of Pennsylvania, expressly interpreted Magna Carta as providing for Habeas Corpus and Jury trial within his colony. Maryland wished to incorporate Magna Carta explicitly into the colony’s fundamental law, but a wary King Charles I, who insisted upon his devine right to rule, was unwilling to authorize such a check upon his desired powers. The English colonists in the New World expressly and implicitly carried Magna Carta with them. Indeed, it was the violations of the Rights of Englishmen by King George III and the Parliament which fomented the revolution which resulted in an independent United States of America. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson delineated the King’s many tyrannies, including several abrogations of Magna Carta. Specifically cited were the King’s refusal to respect colonial legislatures, the displacement of Common Law in Quebec, and the denial of the right to trial established in Magna Carta. The fundamental law established in Magna Carta was the basis for the very notion of a written and clearly codified constitution. Magna Carta is truly the direct ancestor of the Constitution of the United States of America. The heritage of Magna Carta was similarly profound in other English colonies.

The main features of Magna Carta were not for the general populace, of course, but rather for the elite nobility, the Barons. Our true inheritance from this document is that it paved the way for our own U. S. Constitution and the principle of the rule of law (even if it be often bent or breached!) It is no accident that the history of the English Common Law nations is not repleat with strong men and all-powerful monarchs; it is no accident that no English Common Law nation has ever been home to a brutal dictatorship. The precedent of Magna Carta – that The Law is above the ruler and not the ruler above The Law – makes hard ground for authoritarian regimes to flourish.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

We are slaves of the law so that we can be free. — Cicero

Further Reading:

Libraries of analyses and interpretations of Magna Carta have been written, of course, many for the legal scholar or specialist. But one very interesting and reasonably light treatment that is worth a look is:

1215: The Year Of Magna Carta, Danny Danziger and John Dillingham; Touchstone, 2005: ISBN-10: 0743257782

One can locate the portions of Magna Carta which remain in effect, unchanged, in English law by consulting this site: