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May 03, 2011


S. Petersen

Excellent post. Academic writing is poison. Most of the sensible writing done by academics is outside of the recognized publications of their various fields. And, the sensible writers are salted around at random--one of the best is at some no-name jr. college in LA.
(Incidently, we had here in Michigan a system just as effective as your St. Louis library--just about any book can be obtained by computer request from the aggregate state-wide libraries' holdings. But, rather than cut unionized bureaucrats' salaries or defund the highway commisars' making messy cross-hatching down the middle of all the paved 2-lanes, they cut down the interlibrary loan system.)

Mr. P

Thank you very much. It was a pleasure geting that stuff of the diaphragm. Yes, academics should be spelled "ack!-ademics!" Or possibly "hackademics". Like junk scientists, the conclusion is reached before the evidence is sifted, if it ever is.

One of my favorite historians, John Ferling, teaches at the University (or College) of Western Georgia (or someplace like that). Among other works, his comparative history of Jefferson, Adams and Washington, "Setting the World Ablaze", is a revelation. I admit I may like him because he agrees with my prejudices (on the whole pro-Adams and anti-Jefferson). Also there is Gordon Wood (emeritus at Brown, so he can say what he really thinks).

As far as the Michigan Library system, I, too have experienced it. My problem was that it only allowed two weeks for any one book. An impediment to any enjoyment when you've just received a 700-page tome, have a job, two kids and a marriage. Probably made that rule so those messy lines could be on the bike paths, too.


Excellent disassembly of the tedious and irrelevant class, Mr. P. Unfortunately, since Prof Breen and his ilk are card carrying members of the state sponsored propaganda squad, they aren’t nearly as irrelevant as they should be.

Mr. P

Thank you, MOTUS. And just when I'd packed up my tool box and put it back on the shelf in the garage, along comes Robert V. Remini.

His latest is entitled, "At the Edge of the Precipice: Henry Clay and the Compromise that Saved the Union". It's about, if you haven't already guessed, the Compromise of 1850. At 150 pages, its a good overview of the story--sometimes a little too much of an overview, as when Remini comments that "in this democratic age" both Clay and Webster were "misfits . They really belonged with generations that had gone by. Sadly, the electorate seemed to know this." One Democratic Senator said to Webster, "How unfortunate for the Country that you adopted opinions adverse to the democracy! had you not, you would have been President!"

Exactly what these opinions were or to what generation they belonged ("generations gone by" doesn't necessarily mean the Founders)is never stated. Later Calhoun observes that the original Federal Republic had since degenerated into "a great national consolidated Democracy." That's a hint, but nothing more.

Still, it's a good primer for a period I've gown out of touch with of late. But again, the real problems lay in the Preface.

Like with Breen, the period under discussion is held up as a great example to our times. We face, according to Remini, "myriad problems...that defy easy solution, and that will, in all likelihood, require both major political parties to agree to compromise their differences." (Tell that to the man who said "I won".) Then as if we didn't know, Remini enumerates those problems: "severe economic problems that threaten to pitch the nation into a deep recession [this was written, mind you, just last year]...health care, energy, immigration, and social concerns such as abortion and gay marriage..."

Ok, let's just take abortion. Like slavery, a moral evil. How do we compromise with it? Only permit every other abortion to be performed? How do you picture the forces behind abortion compromising? Exactly.

Remini's thesis is the usual one about 1850--that the Great Compromise put off the Civil War for 10 years, until the North had Lincoln and was good and ready to win it. Which is, of course, sheer speculation. In the meantime, how many more families were torn apart, how many lives embittered, how many beatings and deaths sanctioned by law?


So the Revolutionary Generation can teach us something valuable about "overcoming the divisions that compromise our own ability to cooperate effectively for the general political welfare, however defined?”

Um, does he mean that we ought to paper over our deepest divisions with emergency stop-gap expedients and let the next generation fight a civil war over them? (Oh, that's right...this is what we're doing about Entitlement Reform.)

And, of course, in the spirit of ye goode olde days of the Constitutional Convention, perhaps we should only allow two out of every three abortions.

Old Dominion Tory

A superbly executed dismantling of a bit of arrant snobbery, Mr. Peperium.
Unity usually is the fetish of totalitarians. Everyone stands united, loyal to the leader or the party. Those who aren't . . . well . . .
In democratic systems, expressions of a desire for unity usually are expressions of a desire for your opponents to shut up.

Mr. P

You're probably right, Robbo. When I suggested permitting only one out of every two abortions as a fitting compromise, I knew I was being too optimistic. As ODT points out, unity, compromise, shared suffering, it's all another way of saying shut up these days.

Professor Breen doesn't seem to realize that with all their splendid ability to form political solidarities that overcome divisions, the colonists still went to war--eight years of it--with their cousins across the sea.

Remini doesn't seem to realize that compromise just kicks the can down the road, and that perhaps the war wouldn't have been as bloody if it had taken place 10 years before 1860. In 1850 Scott was still active, for example, fresh from a campaign in Mexico which the Duke of Wellington himself admired. If the north was less prepared, the south was as well. I finished the book today and must say I have seldom come across a better (or rather, worse) example of history being written backwards. As he runs on to the election of Lincoln and the resulting secession of South Carolina, Remini ends the book with a wistful, "If only Henry Clay had been alive."

Really. Do you really think that, after Kansas and Nebraska had become a battlefield, Harper's Ferry and Lincoln's election, Clay could have worked something out? How would the south have been accommodated with a man in the White House who openly opposed the extension of slavery into the territories?

Like War on the Run, that book about Rodgers, Remini became a captive of his subject.

Andrew Cusack

"the colonists still went to war--eight years of it--with their cousins across the sea."

And their neighbours across the street, don't forget.

Old Dominion Tory

The trouble with such wishful thinking (and that's what it is) is that the country in 1860 was vastly different than it was in 1850. Politically, the Whigs were dead, the Democrats increasingly fractured, the secessionists even more emboldened (or frightened), and the politics of the North was dominated by a political party that had its roots in "free soil" politics.
Moreover, many in the North were heartily tired of the ever-heightening demands of many of the fire-eaters. Some, yes, would have been happy to see them go; others, however, were tired of accommodation.

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