Think Fire Safety Today

Today, 8 October 2016, is the 145th anniversary of the start of the largest and deadliest fire in the history of the United States.

This makes today a good day to think about fire safety. Every home should have a fire plan, and that plan should be reviewed and practiced on a regular basis. Today would be a good a good day to perform an test of household smoke detectors, and to perform an annual battery change. Perhaps its time to replace those old fire extinguishers that you (should) have in the kitchen and the garage. The old saying that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is especially apt when it comes to fire safety.

The enormous fire that started 145 years ago and which was the worst such disaster in American history is not, as some may have guessed due to the date, the Great Chicago Fire, though it did start on 8 October 1871. The calamity of which I write is the lesser‐known, but far more terrible fire that broke out to the north of Chicago near the village of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, that same hot, dry October evening 145 years ago.

The Great Peshtigo Fire was far vaster in area and far greater in devastation than the Great Chicago Fire. In Chicago, almost 2,500 acres were burned and more than 15,000 structures were destroyed. More than 250 people are thought to have died in the Chicago blaze. The Great Peshtigo Fire consumed nearly 1,250,000 acres of timberland and towns, and villages on both sides of Green Bay. Whole towns were erased completely. At least 1,100 people died in the Peshtigo conflagration, though the nature of the firestorm was such that there is no certainty about many details. At times the blaze produced temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which left no organic traces of the possible victims. Some sources estimate more than 2,000 people died in the Wisconsin disaster.

The Great Peshtigo Fire is not well remembered, despite its being much worse than the Great Chicago Fire. For the Peshtigo Fire there was no romantic “cause” to compare with “Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.” (To this day, the cause of the Peshtigo fire remains undetermined.) And, quite frankly, there was no media presence in the lumbering communities of Wisconsin that could compare with Chicago’s press corps. It pays to get the word out. It’s likely that most every American school child has heard about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, though it’s a fiction. Few have read about Peshtigo.

One more fact to note helps to illustrate how much more terrifying and devastating the Peshtigo inferno was: The Great Chicago Fire burned 2,500 acres during the course of 36 hours, from 9:00 pm on Sunday the 8th until about 9:00 am on Tuesday the 10th; the Great Peshtigo Fire consumed its 1,250,000 acres in just under 11 hours!

As to the unknown causes of both Chicago’s and Wisconsin’s fires, it is interesting to note that as early as 1882, a fall of meteorites was suggested. Given that four major fires actually happened virtually simultaneously around the shores of Lake Michigan, it seems plausible that some superior cause may have been responsible. But we will likely never know for certain.

So think fire safety, today and every day, both indoors and out. And you also might do well to reflect upon the power of publicity.

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Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Saratoga

It was on this day in 1777 that the great Revolutionary War battle of Saratoga was concluded, ending in an overwhelming victory for the newly independent Americans. American troops under General Horatio Gates and General Benedict Arnold soundly defeated British General Burgoyne’s regular British Army troops and a contingent of Hessian soldiers.

The Americans took 5,700 prisoners while losing only 150 men. This victory was the strategic turning point of the war as it removed a large portion of the British threat to the northern states, and it inspired France to formally recognize American independence and to commit whole-heartedly to the American cause. France’s support was initially purely monetary, later it took the form of additional troops and fleets. This infusion of cash and troops was indispensable to the ultimate success of the American Cause. It was the victory of the French fleet in the Battle of the Capes in September of 1781 that left General Cornwallis stranded in Yorktown with no British fleet to assist him. A month later he surrendered, effectively ending the American Revolution leaving the Americans the winners.

Because of this impact – making the Colonies’ revolution into a part of the larger European geo-political maneuvering – the Battle of Saratoga ranks as one of the pivotal battles in world history; if the Colonists had lost, everything that followed would have been different.

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Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

The truth is, all might be free if they valued freedom as they ought. — Samuel Adams

Further Reading:

Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War, Richard M. Ketchum; Henry Holt and Company, 1997: ISBN: 080504681X

In this wonderfully detailed and well-written account of the events leading up to the American victory at Saratoga, Ketchum explains how the Colonists alienated their potential allies in Canada, and adds a host of fascinating information which I had never before known of. Really well worth reading.

The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763 – 1789, Robert Middlekauff; Oxford University Press, 2005: ISBN: 0195162471

First published in 1982 as a part of Oxford’s history of The United States series, (which also includes James MacPherson’s landmark work on the American Civil War, The Battle Cry of Freedom) this is the essential one-volume work on the Revolutionary War. Middlekauff treats political and military aspects of the revolution, of course, but he also covers the social context of the times in the Colonies and in Great Britain, the religious moods of the day, and the economic and technological developments of the era. As I say, essential.

The U.S. In South Korea

It was on 27 June 1950, a Sunday, that President Truman ordered U.S. Military resources to support South Korea against the invasion from the Soviet-backed North. Ultimately a successful check in the geo-political chess game of the Cold War, it was a costly decision. Tens of thousands of American and other United Nations’ troops lost their lives. As is so typical with such ventures, the commitment was a major one and the U.S. forces’ stay has lasted these 62 years to this day.

South Korea has remained independent from the North during this time, and it has enjoyed a far superior economic and material propserity than the North; while its record on Democracy is far from unblemished, the South Korean people have enjoyed a far greater degree of political freedom and autonomy than the people of the North. The people of North Korea are essentially enslaved and starved in the name of a professed political ideal. The people of South Korea have accepted some abridgement of, and limitations on, their civil rights in order to gain stability and prosperity. While the South Koreans have gained greater freedom in the past twenty years, the North Koreans have lost much of what they had been promised: that nation has starved and been imprisoned, a virtual outcast in the community of nations.

And through all of the changes of the last 62 years, U.S. troops have stood guard in Korea, from the DMZ which divides the Korean Peninsula to the southern port of Pusan, and from Inchon to Taegu. It has been an enormous committment of men, materiél, and money for more than two generations, but it has helped to ensure that South Korea has remained independent, and reasonably free.

In the Summer of 1987, I spent several weeks teaching at Youngsan in Seoul. One weekend I travelled to Panmunjom to tour the DMZ. Across from the United Nations Forces post stood the most astonishingly unconvincing “Potemkin Village,” erected by the North Koreans to convince those across the border that North Korea is prosperous and healthy. The structures in the village were nothing more than false fronts, and not very well done at that. Unlike a Hollywood set, there was no “camera angle” to control, so the one-dimensionality of these fake buildings was immediately and painfully evident, as was lack of interiors behind the windows. As I say, unconvincing. It would have been comical if it were not done in such deadly ernest by the North. But there was a really huge North Korean flag flying from a flagstaff that resembled a small-scale Eiffel Tower, which was indeed impressive.

One positive aspect is that the talks held at Panmunjom are even today carried on. Nothing much gets accomplished with these talks, it seems, but talking is a better way to deal with conflict than actual fighting, I think.

The war-rent Korean nation is still technically at war with itself. Sadly, there is no peaceful end yet in sight. And given the latest mad-man who now runs North Korea, things are unlikely to get better while that herditary monarchy masquerading as a “People’s Republic” remains in power.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war. — Winston Churchill

A Revolution In Naval Warfare

History so often vitally depends upon which side wins a battle. A key victory at the right moment can alter all that follows. Of course, some glorious victories, such as that of Henry V’s English longbowmen over the flower of French Chivalry at Aigincourt, or John Churchill’s “famous victory” at Blenheim apparently accomplish nothing more, in the long run, than ending the lives of countless soldiers. But, oddly enough, sometimes a great contest can culminate without a clear winner at all, yet radically alter the course of history all the same.

On 9 March 1862, what is arguably the single most important naval battle of the American Civil War ended in a draw at Hampton Roads, Virginia. The Confederate ironclad warship CSS Virginia and the Union ironclad USS Monitor had engaged one another for more than 3 hours without result. CSS Virginia is better known as Merrimac, confusingly, because Virginia had been built on the reclaimed hull of a Union ship. Thus, this battle is generally referred to as the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac.

The two ironclads used steam power alone. Previous steam-powered warships retained traditional sails, as did the very first ironclad, France’s La Gloire of 1859, but the radical designs of Virginia and Monitor precluded such a scheme. Both vessels were heavily armed with powerful guns. Virginia was fitted with traditional broadside ranks, but Monitor had a remarkable, revolutionary revolving turret. Both were heavily armored with iron plates that rendered the most powerful shots harmless. With neither ship able to inflict meaningful damage upon the other in the course of their contest, both withdrew to regroup and repair after the grueling fight.

Both sides claimed victory at the time, but the action has long been considered a draw. The meeting of the two untested, state-of-the-art warships was the truly crucial aspect of the engagement, and the result was undeniably a tie. It is certainly true that on the morning of March 8 the Confederates inflicted great damage to the Union blockade fleet which was bottling up the state of Virginia’s trade. CSS Virginia sank two traditional wooden Union warships and forced a third to run aground. Virginia was initially able to attack at will and with impunity, so the Union losses were about 261 killed to 7 Confederates. This would ordinarily count as a significant tactical victory for Virginia, except that she failed utterly in her mission to lift the Union blockade. The timely arrival of USS Monitor prevented Virginia from inflicting any more damage upon the Union blockade fleet and turned the battle into a contest between the ironclads.

Though the epic clash of the ironclads was inconclusive from a tactical and strategic point of view, it was nevertheless a dramatic turning point in the history of naval warfare. Until 9 March 1862, ironclad warships were an untried experiment, and most tradition-minded naval brass around the world viewed them as novelties. Though France and England had built a small number of ironclads between 1859 and 1862, both navies relied upon and were still bulding traditional wooden-hulled ships. But the news of the battle at Hampton Roads changed everything immediately and irrevocably.

The United States Navy commenced commissioning an entire fleet based upon the design of USS Monitor. The Confederacy could not match the Union’s industrial might, and never again seriously challenged the Union navy. Within days of news of the battle reaching England and France, both country’s navies put an immediate halt to all construction of wooden ships. Other major navies followed suit. Russia ordered the construction of ten “monitors” and newly formed Kingdom of Italy a like number. By year’s end of 1862, ironclads had been added to every major fleet in the Western world, or were under construction. By 1866, in the largest fleet action the world had witnessed in almost 40 years, the Italians and Austrians fought at the battle of Lissa where 7 Austrian ironclads decisively defeated 12 Italian ironclads. The age of sail had effectively ended for naval warfare.

The new iron and steel navies which ran on coal-burning steam engines changed the very nature of global geo-politics. In the age of sail, ships needed little more than periodic replenishment of food and water for the crew, even on extended voyages. And these needs could be met at most any port of call, or even in wilderness. But steam ships required coal, and lots of it. A coal burning ship was limited by her supply line. Suddenly, small and otherwise uninteresting islands became potential strategic resources as coal depots. A scramble for island empires began, and by the end of the century, the majority of oceanic islands across the globe had been claimed by one of the Western powers. Even islands that had previously been independent nations were caught up in this race for coaling stations. In a very real way, the independence of the Kingdom of Hawaii was doomed on 9 March 1862.

The inconclusive battle between CSS Virginia and USS Monitor seemed to have accomplished nothing very meaningful at the time, yet everything that followed was changed by the very fact that it was fought. That no clear victor emerged was, ultimately, unimportant. Wooden ships and sails had been a mainstay of navies for more than 2,500 years; quite literally overnight, they were rendered obsolete. It is perhaps fitting, that the United States Navy christened its first ironclad “Monitor,” which is Latin for “One Who Warns.”

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Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

There was never a good war, or a bad peace. — Franklin

Happy Birthday, George!

It was on this day in 1732 that the first President and Chief Executive of The United States of America, George Washington, was born. Often referred to by the ancient Roman honorific title “the Father of his Country,” George Washington actually deserves the honor. As “Light Horse” Harry Lee wrote at Washington’s death, he was “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it became the fashion to call into question any received wisdom about historical figures in American History, and the more revered a figure, the more downgraded it seemed they had to become. Now, I am all for a healthy skepticism when it comes to history – it is, after all, as Napoleon observed, usually written by the winners – yet I do balk when the known facts are ignored. My 11th grade U.S. History teacher asserted that Washington was a bad general, a poor politician, and a wanna-be king. These “facts” were, of course, at least incorrect, and perhaps even outright lies. (Tom Maeder was possibly trying to spur people to read on their own and form their own opinions; equally likely he just delighted in shattering icons, and didn’t let a few facts get in his way.)

As a general, Washington was no Napoleon nor Alexander; he did not have to be. He won a few pivotal battles, but it is true he lost about as many. Yet war is not a tennis tournament: it really does matter which battles you win. You can lose many minor frays if you win the important ones. Then, too, Washington’s main brilliance was in devising a very modern understanding of the realities of warfare: War is damnably expensive, and Washington shrewdly calculated that his greatest chance for success was to keep several British armies in the field for as long as possible while denying them a chance at a conclusive victory. Knowing that the fledgling United States could neither outgun nor outspend the British Empire, he nevertheless knew he could make the war more expensive than the Empire could tolerate. Washington had studied his Roman history quite thoroughly, and modeled his strategy upon Quintus Fabius Cunctator’s successful war of attrition against Hannibal. And, as we know now, Washington’s “Fabian Strategy” worked.

As a politician, George Washington ably presided over the Constitutional Convention, managing to guide a contentious and divided gathering of representatives of the several states to a successful conclusion of their mission. No other citizen of the United States commanded the necessary respect and personal affection to undertake so politically risky a post; without his leadership and the legitimacy it imposed upon the proceedings, the entire enterprise might have failed aborning.

As the first President under the Constitution, Washington established many precedents which – far from being Royal in character – showed that Washington was sincerely committed to the republic and the democratic, republican ideals upon which the nation had been founded. It was Washington, for example, who decided that The President of the United States of America would be addressed simply as “Mr. President.” Many have noted that Washington was frequently addressed as “His Excellency” during his term of office, but the address was not preferred by Washington; it was a holdover from officials and functionaries who had grown up in the British Empire, and who found old habits of titular deference hard to abandon.

Washington also established the profoundly important precedent that a president should serve no more than two terms. It is hardly a kingly ambition to voluntarily step down from power. And it is quite notable that in his will, Washington identified himself plainly as “Citizen of the United States.” Not “Former President,” not “General of the Army,” but “Citizen.” It is hard to find regal pretension in that.

In his own time, Washington was well respected in Europe, and he enjoyed an excellent reputation in Great Britain after the Revolution. In France, Napoleon himself proclaimed a period of national mourning when the news of Washington’s death reached Paris.

Much much more could be said of Washington – and of course hundreds volumes have been written – but it is enough to say that George Washington truly was a towering figure in American history, and remains truly deserving of our genuine respect and gratitude (he’d not have wanted our awe.)

Oh, and one other thing: I started by noting that many of the old facts about George Washington had been called into question in the iconoclastic 1960s and 1970s, and I noted that the facts genuinely were correct. BUT, I am quite wrong when I say the George Washington was born on this day in 1732, for he most definitely was NOT. Despite what we used to celebrate every year before it was subsumed into the rather bland and uninspiring “President’s Day,” February 22 is not George Washington’s Birthday. Old George was born on the 11th of February 1731! True.

George Washington was actually born on February 11, 1731 as reckoned by the Old Style, Julian Calendar which was then still in use in Great Britain and its colonies at the time. The old Julian Calendar, however, was flawed in its imposition of one leap-day every four years, making the average Julian year exactly 365.25 days. The physical solar year is not quite so neatly precise, being 365.2424 days long; the difference seems small, but trivial values add up over time. The Julian scheme made the calendar gain somewhat on the physical solar year. By the 1500s, the calendar was off by a full ten days and Pope Gregory the XIII decreed in early 1582 that a two-fold correction should be made: the short-term fix was to delete ten days from the year 1582. The calendar that year jumped from October 5 to October 15. The other correction was to eliminate 3 leap-years from every 100 so that only century years evenly divisible by 400 would be leap years (thus 1600 and 2000 were leap years, but 1700, 1800, and 1900 were not.) In this scheme, the average year works out to be 365.2425 days, an error that would add up to about a day around the year 10000. However, because the actual solar year is increasing very slightly, astronomers these days periodically add a “leap second” to the calendar, which should keep things aligned satisfactorily.

The adoption of this new calendrical scheme was uneven, but by 1587 the Catholic countries of Europe had put it in place. On continental Europe, other countries soon fell in line, the utility of the new calendar and the desirability of a uniform dating system being obvious. But insular England stubbornly refused to implement the new, Popish calendar, and held on to the old, inaccurate Julian Calendar for another 180 years. The English also calculated the beginning of the legal year as late March rather than January 1st, and so 1731 ran from April to March, thereby including George Washington’s birth.

At length, bowing to the demands of commercial trading interests, Parliament decided to adopt the Gregorian Calendar. Thus the month of September 1752 lost eleven days – the number required for the correction at that point.

George Washington was a 20 year old surveyor when this change took place. Being a punctilious gentleman, George was uncomfortable with celebrating his birthday 11 day early in 1753, so he himself decided that from 1753 forward he would celebrate his birthday on February 22nd. And so it is that George Washington was born on February 11, 1731, but he and we have come to celebrate February 22 as his birthday, and we now reckon his natal year as 1732.

It’s all so simple, eh? 😉

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Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark
of celestial fire, called conscience.

— Washington

The “Real” First President? Washington, Of Course!

In yesterday’s posting I offered:

SOMETHING TO PONDER: who really deserves to be known as “The First President of The United States of America?”

Is it George Washington, who served as the first president under the present Constitution? That’s what is usually said, and with excellent reason: George Washington was indeed the first chief executive of The United States, for no such position existed under The Articles.

But what about the first holder of the office of President to serve a full term after The Articles were ratified in March of 1781? Or, for that matter, what about the first holder of the office after The Articles were ratified, whether or not he served a full term? How about the man who held the title when The Articles were adopted in 1777? Consider as well the first holder of the title “President” when the United Colonies became the United States? And, while every American school child knows of George Washington, who were these other folks?

I would be most neglectful if I failed to offer up the names in question.

The first holder of the title “The President Of The United States In Congress Assembled,” who served a full term after the ratification of The Articles Of Confederation And Perpetual Union, was Maryland’s John Hanson, whose name sometimes shows up as a trivia contest spoiler in answer to “Who was the first president of the Unites States?”

Hanson is offered as the “first” because he was the first holder of that title to use it in official correspondence with other nations. But note that Hanson and the others above were each president of Congress, and not an executive of any sort, and not at all “president” in the sense we know the office today. The President of Congress was basically a super-committee-chair, who managed the meetings of Congress (and therefore had some power in setting the agenda) but whose position was more akin to the modern Speaker Of The House, though less powerful, actually. As I say, the office had no executive powers. (Look at the title itself: a president *presides*. Before the United States adopted its present tripartite government, no notion of executive function was associated with the title of president. The framers of the present constitution, in fact, struggled with what to call the chief executive of the new government: some favored “Consul,” after the highest office in the Roman Republic [and upon which our presidency was modeled] while others suggested “First Minister.” Finally, the more egaliterian-sounding “President” was selected, suggesting an office of lesser potency than the Constitution gave it [can you say “spin”?] And in a rare linguistic evolution, the word grew in importance to mean most any chief executive [rare because words’ meanings more often decline in importance in common usage.])

But Hanson was the third holder of the title “The President Of The United States In Congress Assembled” to serve after The Articles were ratified. Samuel Huntington of Connecticut served at the time that Maryland ratified The Articles and at last made them the binding constitution of the Land.

South Carolina’s Henry Laurens was President at the time that Congress approved The Articles, 15 November 1777. He later spent time imprisoned in The Tower Of London as a traitor when the ship upon which he was sailing to Europe was captured by the Royal Navy. Though he was acting with diplomatic status, Britain did not recognize it. He was redeemed in an exchange of British and American prisoners after Yorktown. Laurens was traded for General Cornwallis, which shows how highly the British valued him at the time. After he was freed, Laurens served in the peace talks ending the Revolutionary War, though his son – a great friend of Alexander Hamilton – was killed in a skirmish during the relative lull between Yorktown and the final peace.

And last, but not least – and I am sure you know this one – the first person to hold the title of President at the time The United Colonies transformed into The United States, by means of an unprecedented declaration of independence, was none other than John Hancock, whose big, bold signature (“I want fat George to be able to read it without his glasses!”) on The Declaration Of Independence is so familiar that folks to this day use “my John Hancock” as slang for “my signature.”

So there are a few of history’s footnotes. More food for thought.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Always do more than is required of you. — George S. Patton

The United States Get A Government: The Articles Of Confederation

If you learned all your American History in an American high school, this subject was probably glossed over in a paragraph or two, being seen as either unimportant or embarrassing. Who wants to know that these United States stumbled and very nearly fell before they truly took off on their path to world prominence? Or to admit that this virtuous and temperate nation played fast and loose with its creditors, and little adhered to the very alliance by which it was born? Then again, what child matures to adulthood without its adolescent errors? And, more, what erring youth ever so quickly righted its faults?

It was on this date in 1777 that the Continental Congress formally adopted The Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the newly formed United States of America (final ratification would not be completed for another three and a half years.) Most importantly, The Articles provided for a perpetual union; this idea shows up no fewer than six times in The Articles, including right in the preamble. The Articles clearly envisioned the growth of the new nation, and allowed additional colonial territories to be admitted to the union if nine of the original thirteen colonies gave consent. There was an explicit exception to this clause: Canada was to be permitted to join the United States automatically whenever she might choose to!

The articles provided for a notably weak central government, for the colonists feared creating a new King, and they placed the key powers with the states. Within a decade the manifest problems with the Articles would prompt a call for a major revision of them, which in turn led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

One aspect of The Articles which proved to look good in principle but which turned out very poorly in practice was widespread limitations on time in office. With the aim to keep any one man or group from acquiring significant power, the limitations for service were quite short, and very restrictive as to repeat service: three years for the delegates to the unicameral Congress, one year for the President, and no office holder could immediately follow himself or his successor in that office. The authors of The Articles believed that such restrictions would ensure that no one gained significant power (largely true, in fact) and thereby would ensure “good” government (which turned out to be untrue.) The frequent turnover of officials meant that at any given time, only a few members of the government were experienced (imagine running a major corporation with 66% of the management being newhires!) The result was that The Articles government was barely functional. Foreign powers despaired of accomplishing anything with the new nation. A Spanish diplomat observed that European nations delayed and stalled to gain advantage, while America simply delayed and stalled.

Perhaps worse still for the long-range prospects of the country, the newly organized United States were particularly bad about repaying the massive war debts they had accrued during the revolution, because the central government had no power to tax, only to request funds from the individual states. This inability to tax was designed to keep the central government quite weak, and it was successful in attaining that goal. Too successful. In London, John Adams noted that America was not taken seriously in Europe, save among a few intellectuals; from Paris, Thomas Jefferson observed that he had been unable “to discover the smallest token of respect for the United States in any part of Europe.” The reason? Bad credit.

The United States still owed France for the tens of millions of pounds that were borrowed during the revolution, some of which was never repaid (the rapidly deteriorating political situation in France at that time being a convenient excuse to avoid the obligation, though amends were later made by the United States’ powerful support of France through two World Wars.) Ironically, the United States were better about settling up with all other creditors, though it was France and France alone who made the revolution possible with her generous loans and outright gifts. More than 70% of the money borrowed to fund the American revolution was French (the Americans disliked the notion of collecting taxes to support their war, and preferred to borrow from European allies, much to France’s understandable dismay.) It would take Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury, to set the new nation on a sound financial footing by honoring its debts, but by that time France’s own revolution was in full swing – a revolution in part fomented by the financial strain the American Revolution had put upon France’s treasury – and France’s revolutionary government was quite uncertain and quite unpredictable.

Frequent turnover and turmoil, plus bad credit seriously reduced the effectiveness of the United States government under The Articles. Even with these significant debilities, however, much was accomplished under the Articles of Confederation, including the peace treaty with Britain ending the Revolution and recognizing full independence.

Perhaps the greatest, most enduring accomplishment under the Articles was the Great Northwest Ordinance which organized the territory that became the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Importantly, The Ordinance provided for the establishment of new states that would become co-equal with the original thirteen. Such a granting of equal power to newly settled lands was unprecedented in history, and represents a key contribution of the Articles government to the current form and character of the United States.

And the Ordinance also left an indelible mark upon the American landscape. The newly organized lands were to be surveyed and divided into parcels of square miles and sub-parcels of quarter square miles (“quartersections.”) This division of the land is clearly visible from the air when one flys over the old Northwest Territory, and it’s also apparent in some of the unimaginative yet descriptive road names one finds in, say, Michigan: Five Mile Road, Six Mile Road and so forth.

This parceling out of the land was so useful, and so successful, that it was carried on into the lands of the Louisiana Purchase, and so a vast swath of the United States displays, when viewed from the air, a regular, square, and very extensive pattern of roads and property lines. Though as you head north or south, about every ten miles you’ll encounter a small east/west jog in the otherwise straight road: the surveyors had to adjust for the longitude at regular intervals.

Though the Articles of Confederation lasted barely ten years, they paved the way for America as we know it today. And though the Perpetual Union that the Articles established was sorely tested in the 1860’s, it nevertheless endured, and does to this day, in large measure because Abraham Lincoln and his supporters took the notion of Perpetual Union very seriously. We still have our mile-square real estate lines, and we still have our Union and its government. I appreciate the landscape, and I cherish these United States.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything.
You’re a leaf that doesn’t know it’s part of a tree.

— Michael Crighton

SOMETHING TO PONDER: who really deserves to be known as “The First President of The United States of America?”

Is it George Washington, who served as the first president under the present Constitution? That’s what is usually said, and with excellent reason: George Washington was indeed the first chief executive of The United States, for no such position existed under The Articles.

But what about the first holder of the office of President to serve a full term after The Articles were ratified in March of 1781? Or, for that matter, what about the first holder of the office after The Articles were ratified, whether or not he served a full term? How about the man who held the title when The Articles were adopted in 1777? Consider as well the first holder of the title “President” when the United Colonies became the United States? And, while every American school child knows of George Washington, who were these other folks?

Think about it …