- October 15th, 2013
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Jincy Dunne, a high school student from O’Fallon, Missouri could make the 2014 USA Hockey Team. Courtesy of O’Fallon TV (produced Summmer 2013)
Jincy Dunne, a high school student from O’Fallon, Missouri could make the 2014 USA Hockey Team. Courtesy of O’Fallon TV (produced Summmer 2013)
On May 14th, 1787, 225 years ago, 55 of America’s finest representatives assembled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to revamp their young country’s original binding document – the Articles of Confederation. Months later, they left Philadelphia with an entirely different tract. These 55 men were determined not to leave Philadelphia until they formed a “more perfect union” for the benefit of posterity – the Constitution of the United States of America. It was a scene immortalized in Howard Chandler Christy’s oil canvas masterpiece, which, after all these years, hangs in the House of Representatives section of the Capitol. It is poignant, detailing the immensity of the moment, the serenity of the scene – destiny was at hand. And the painting is nonsense. In fact, it is because of misconceptions like that painting, and many of the stories we learn of the Constitution and its signers, that so few Americans know much about their country’s founding document at all. What people need is someone from that Convention who represents us a little more, someone who doesn’t seem like some mere relic of the past.
Let’s take a look at Christy’s painting (above). The painting shows George Washington presiding over a captive audience, holding his hand out to a signer of the document as if he were saying, “We have fulfilled our destiny, my fellow men of means.” Or maybe he was saying to the signer, “Are you going to hurry up? We got 54 more to go, and you’re cutting into my booze time!” Washington was truly at the Convention, and presided over it as its president. He didn’t say much, though. He didn’t have to – the man was a demigod at this point. It was Washington who defeated the British, and he did it with very little help from the Continental Congress at the war’s outset. Despite Washington’s fascinating character, he still seems made of wood – although his teeth weren’t, as myths suggest. It’s hard for us to connect with George. Maybe that says more about us than it does him. But I’m with you; this is 2012. We need something sexier.
You want sexy? I’ll give you sexy. Another man had a very big part in the American victory over the British. We can see him front and center in the painting. Ben Franklin used his celebrity status, a sex symbol in his day (no, really!) and diplomatic acumen to secure an alliance with France, finally giving Washington what the Continental Congress never gave him – hope for victory. When you get into his personal life, Ben can be really interesting. Imagine Bill Gates (rich philanthropist inventor), Mark Zuckerberg (media entrepreneur) and Charlie Sheen (sex-crazed partier) rolled into one – that’s Franklin. He was sort of a Tony Stark without the Iron Man part. But at this point, he might have been older than Philadelphia, itself. He was hardly the American idol he once was. After all, this is two hundred years before Viagra (OK: sorry!)…however, I’m sure he was working on it. Like many Founding Fathers, Franklin has devolved into a much more boring character than the mad scientist playboy media magnate he was. The aging sage Franklin, like Washington, didn’t say much at the Convention, either, except what he thought about the final product. “I am not sure that it is not the best,” Franklin characteristically said. Both he and Washington seemed to be passing the proverbial torch to the next generation by just consulting and offering their approval. So, Franklin isn’t our guy to connect with.
Thomas Jefferson was the United States’ delegate in France, which is fine because the peculiar genius kind of creeps me out, anyway (see my other history articles). John Adams was the minister to Great Britain, so he was busy being creeped out by the notoriously, and increasingly, insane King George III. Sam Adams and John Hancock weren’t at the Convention. The always entertainingly cranky Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death!”) chose not to attend because he “smelled a rat.” Although everyone can appreciate a good curmudgeon like Henry, he’s not the guy we want to necessarily relate to. After all, in his younger years, Virginian aristocrats would invite him over to their dinner parties just to have him rant and argue as the evening’s entertainment. However, I would love to see Patrick Henry in action with a Twitter account.
James Madison? History is grateful for the diligent notes he took at the Convention, so that we can know how our country was founded – not just with the sword, but also with the pen. But Madison was the classic ubergeek. Although that character attribute made him a man for his time, he wasn’t a man for our time. I know we’ve been guilt-tripped into rooting for nerds these days, but Madison was too antisocial for us. Alexander Hamilton was the opposite – a bully, of sorts. He and Madison might have been the smartest guys in the convention chambers, but only one – Hamilton – was there to make sure everyone knew it. Hamilton was arrogant and ambitious. He was also brilliant. In any sport, there’s always a guy on the opposing team who plays like a jerk all the time, making you love to hate him – with full knowledge that you’d love to have him on your team. Hamilton was that guy. But we can’t root for bullies.
Here’s the trick: can you name anyone else at the Constitutional Convention? Come on, this is the bible of your country – the document that all life in the United States is governed around. We can all probably name the four men at the Convention mentioned above, but I bet you can name more than four contestants on “American Idol” from this season. Certainly, you can name more characters from “Game of Thrones” than Convention delegates. (Come to think of it, I think there are many more characters in “Thrones” than there were delegates…) What’s the matter? Are you not a Rufus King scholar? Not privy to the lifestyles of Gunning Bedford, Jr., Oliver Ellsworth or Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer? How about Elbrige Gerry, whose name “gerrymandering” derives from? Try the robust Robert Morris on for size – he was perhaps the richest man in America, its most powerful citizen. OK, I can hear you yawning (those cookies in your computer are pretty powerful these days). I’ll get to the point.
I have the man you’re looking for – the man who we can relate to. And you probably never heard of him. Gouverneur Morris is our guy, a celebrity in his day. He was rich, famous, headline-grabbing, and eccentric. Having lost his leg in a reported chariot accident, this peg-legged man-about-town never slowed down. Though he came from an aristocratic family in New York (Westchester County), he didn’t inherit much of the family’s fortune because he was the son of his father’s second marriage. But Morris took his modest inheritance and turned it into a fortune. Of course, his closest relation to modern times is that he had no problem spending the money he made. If he was a modern man, he’d be a club-hopper, tearing up the New York and Philadelphia night-time hot spots. Morris’s partying was well-documented, and he was even more nefarious as a playboy and philanderer, known for his romps with just about any woman with a pulse – single or not. In fact, rumors abounded of his leg being lost not in a chariot accident as reported, but in an escape from a vengeful, cuckolded husband. Morris would be a favorite target of TMZ if he lived today.
Morris’s naughty side didn’t keep him from hobnobbing with the elite. An entrepreneur with noted success, Morris became the assistant to the leading financier of the American Revolution, Robert Morris, and together the two unrelated men with identical surnames later worked out the finances of the Constitutional Convention. Between the Revolution and Convention, according to Francis W. Hirst’s Life and Letters of Thomas Jefferson, both Robert and Gouverneur Morris suggested to Jefferson the utilization of an unprecedented decimal system and a new currency (we were still using English guineas, Spanish doubloons, French sous, etc.). TJ liked the idea of the decimal system, but couldn’t go along with them completely. TJ preferred the Spanish dollar and its smallest coin – the copper cent, which was equivalent to 1/100 dollar. When it was finally approved, the monetary system we use today in the United States (with dollars and cents, rather than using fractions of foreign currencies that fluctuated in value depending on the state) was put into place. Much to the chagrin of both Morrises, however, the credit went to Jefferson (we write with his preferred Spanish “$” and “¢”), who characteristically had no problem accepting the credit. Robert Morris was a big name to cavort with, but you’ll better recognize his two other BFFs – George Washington and his sidekick, Alexander Hamilton.
If you’ve ever tried to read Washington’s diaries, you’d know they’re page after page of tedious recollections of what part of his farm he visited that day, or what kind of oats were growing that season. Planting carrots seemed to enrapture Washington even more than my German-farmer grandfather, who used to tell me he could “hear the beans growing.” However, Washington also wrote with his green thumb about his many visits with influential people. During the Convention, Washington stayed with Robert Morris out of respect for him (or at least his money). But he traveled with Gouverneur Morris, who was Washington’s aide-de-camp in the Revolutionary War. Morris had originally signed up for a New York militia unit, despite a childhood arm injury that precluded him from being drafted. Gouverneur endeared himself to his military mentor by helping him win the war – not on the battlefield, but in the Congressional chambers.
Morris was a different kind of war hero. Not only did he turn against his mostly loyalist family (his half-brother was a British Army senior officer), but he was also the man who finally coaxed the Continental Congress to pass reforms in military finance, training, etc. The reforms were necessary for Washington to change the tide of a – at the time – one-sided war in the British’s favor. In the winter of 1777-78, amid the dark days of Valley Forge, the American “army” was starving, freezing, undertrained, unmotivated, and on the brink of desertion. Morris was so appalled at the conditions that he signed up to serve as a delegate in the Continental Congress just to get Washington what he and his troops needed. The changes he fought for at Washington’s behest led to a couple victories over the British. The victories helped Ben Franklin form an alliance with France and their desperately needed navy, and the alliance led to more victories and the subsequent surrender of the British. How’s that for a history of the War of American Independence in one paragraph. Washington’s rolling over in his grave…
When they weren’t at the Constitutional Convention, Morris and Washington ventured out to fish and visit other well-to-dos. Washington wrote in his diaries about riding in Morris’s phaeton (the ever-thrifty Washington was sure to point out that they used his horses) to visit a wealthy woman named Jane Moore. While Morris went trout fishing, Washington waxed nostalgic at the old ruins of his Revolutionary encampments. They embarked on another fishing trip, this time to Trenton in early August, taking advantage of a short recess taken at the Convention for the Committee of Detail to work out some particulars. Washington complained sarcastically that his fishing was “not very successful”. Later, Gouverneur Morris was a frequent visitor to Washington’s estate at Mount Vernon. And when America’s new government was put in place, Washington thought so highly of Gouverneur that he sent Morris to Great Britain to “examine British intentions.”
Washington was hoping that Morris could reestablish good relations with their old mother country. The implication of Britain allying with its former colonies could coerce Spain to concede some territory in the western frontier to keep up its relations with America, or so Washington hoped. To send Morris on such an important mission exemplified Washington’s impression of him. The two were very distant in characteristics – Morris was brilliant, albeit conceited, and garrulous, while Washington was reserved and conscious about his own vanity. But the two opposites seemed to enjoy each other’s company. Morris’s other intimate friend was Alexander Hamilton. Proving how close the two were, Morris was the orator at Hamilton’s funeral. Contrary to his opposites-attract friendship with Washington, his connection with Hamilton was more attributed to their common characteristics – both men were brilliant, and both men knew it. And that friendship with the controversial Hamilton might have helped foster some dissenting opinions about Morris.
Morris was not loved by all. The first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Marshall, wrote in his papers about Morris on October 16, 1793, “…his morals and manners are hateful, and his understanding and information is contemptible.” Marshall contends that many thought of Morris as a “friend of monarchy”, which was a much worse insult in those days than saying one had “hateful manners”. Marshall did equivocate, however, that since he had never met Morris he could not “admit or deny” the accusations against his character. Unlike the stoic views posterity has taken of his counterparts at the Constitutional Convention, Morris appears to be the most human of the delegates. Morris had a rare quality in politics – he never shied away from telling you what he really thought. And his competitors took advantage, just as politicians do in modern times. His honesty and noted sarcasm led to the loss of his political station in New York, and compelled him to relocate to Philadelphia. It was Philadelphia, and not his native New York, that he represented at the Constitutional Convention.
Things didn’t work out that well for Morris while he was the Minister to Great Britain. Even his intimate friend Hamilton would blame Morris for his ineffectiveness, saying that “his failure was largely the result of his…consorting with the French ambassador and…his communications with the Foreign Ministry.” Similar tidings came when Morris was in France – he was known for consorting with the British Minister to France. But not all of Morris’s actions warranted the rolling of eyes; some actions actually contradicted his reputation. For instance, he tried to sneak Louis XVI out of newly republican France, and many pointed to his reputation as a monarchist. But Morris also insisted that the U.S. debts to France be paid – no matter if it be to the crown or the republic. That shows he wasn’t necessarily a monarchist, but rather someone who attempted to do what he thought was right at that particular time. Morris’ character might be best summed up by author Lawrence Kaplan, who said that “Morris wrote cautiously but frequently behaved impulsively and occasionally with abandon.” Maybe that’s why Washington wrote that he rode in Morris’s “phaeton” and not his “chariot” or “carriage” – in Greek mythology, Phaëton was the son of Helios, who was killed by Zeus for trying to drive his chariot across the sky.
For the first month, not much was accomplished at the Constitutional Convention. For the convention to succeed there needed to be a voice of reason – someone who didn’t hold all their allegiances to the North or the South, a divide that had already begun to widen, or to big states or small, which was a point of contention even at the outset of independence. And one of those voices turned out to be the wooden legged, love-affair ridden, ostentatious Gouverneur Morris. Morris was quoted as saying that his intentions at the Convention were to speak as a kind of “representative of the whole human race.” Immediately after returning to the Convention, he became its loudest voice. In fact, he spoke 173 times at the Convention, more than anyone else despite arriving about a month late. Better late than never, right?
Here’s the short, short version of what he fought for at the Convention. A wealthy man, Morris argued lengthily to prevent a national Congress ruled by the rich. Contrary to his reputation as a champion of the aristocracy, Morris was looking out for the poor. He figured that the rich would dominate a national Congress, and the only way to prevent an aristocracy-dominated legislature was to make two branches. The common branch would check the other branch, protecting the common people. Among his many speeches, Morris helped establish the objectives of the Senate, including its duty to monitor the first branch, “especially against abuses of personal liberty and threats to private property.” Those protections would be included in the subsequent Bill of Rights. In Madison’s notes from the Convention, he creates the persona of a man in Morris who would not stand for abuse of the common man by the state.
Morris also fought for people who weren’t always considered people by colonial Americans – slaves. Perhaps he was just looking out for the North’s representation, but he “could never agree to give…encouragement to the slave trade as would be given by allowing the [the South] representation for their Negroes.” In a brilliant compromise, Morris proposed, “the more congressmen a state had, the more taxes it would pay.” The South wanted three-fifths of their slaves to be counted as one person in the census (population would determine the amount of congressmen), so Morris’s proposal would make them, at least, pay for this representation of their slaves. But his antislavery speech was, if nothing else, the most dramatic. In it, he boldly said to his southern delegates about the slaves, “Are they men? Then make them citizens and let them vote.” Though abolitionist sentiment was present in Revolutionary times, these thoughts – especially voicing them publicly – were still revolutionary.
His forward thinking didn’t cease there. Morris fought to prevent a proposed split among large and small states, saying that war would be inevitable. Union between the states was the only answer. He foresaw that if large and small states, and northern and southern states, didn’t share interests, bloodshed would be the inexorable solution to their quarrels. He prophetically said the “stronger party will then make traitors of the weaker, and the gallows and halter will finish the work of the sword.” If only Confederate President Jefferson Davis had read what Morris had said 75 years before the South seceded from the Union…
Fellow Convention delegate Roger Sherman said of Morris in 1790, “I consider him an irreligious and profane man…it is a bad example to promote such characters.” But he also said that he hadn’t “heard that Morris has betrayed a trust, or that he lacks integrity.” The men at the Constitutional Convention might have had the same, perhaps overly positive, attitude about the men who would become the Congress and Executive. They thought that they could establish a quorum of wise men, a government of civic duty-minded gentlemen patriots – of philosopher kings. Gouverneur Morris was certainly no philosopher king. But he helped forge the document that has stood the test of time – our Constitution of the United States. Morris put the finishing polish on the document Americans still govern their lives with today, giving it its graceful, erudite language, and even wrote its illustrious preamble. It is because of the way he worded the Constitution that it is so revered around the globe, and that it has been mimicked so many times, as well. These 55 delegates set out to form “a more perfect union”. And we can’t get a more perfect example of how imperfect these men, the Founding Fathers, really were than Gouverneur Morris. If there’s anything we can all relate to, it is imperfection. But that doesn’t mean we can’t seek to better ourselves and our country like these imperfect men did.
I hope learning about Gouverneur Morris shows you how interesting the Constitution can be when you look at the effort that went into its conception, and the diverse cast of characters that saw it through. To see the kind of minds present at the Convention, and what their intents were, can possibly help us better understand the elegantly worded document. They weren’t so different from us, after all. They had their distractions, just like us, but they still took the time to make the world around them better. And they had not just their own interests in mind, but generations to follow.
It’s an election year, which means we’re all going to endure a litany of nonsense about the Constitution. In our modern age of politics – dominated by the 24 hour news cycle and the advent of Twitter and Facebook – maybe we just need to get back to the basics. Despite the colloquial and snarky tone of this article, I want you to take one thing seriously – our Constitution. Men like Morris did, and we shouldn’t take that for granted.
We don’t all need to be Constitutional scholars, but I do encourage us to at least take a look at our founding document and the subsequent Bill of Rights. It is important to point out that the country that piece of paper officially created became such a great country that its citizens now don’t have to know much about the Constitution. Though they sought order, I doubt these 55 delegates would prefer consumer drones over an educated voting populace. True, the Constitution isn’t exactly like reading a Harry Potter novel, but it’s about seven hundred pages shorter. Come on, give it a shot. That way when you’re hearing a politician speak, you can hold your head up high, and say in a loud, steady voice, “Bull—t!”
Even if Morris and the other Constitutional Convention delegates don’t relate to you, then maybe their words will. Remember, it is “We the People” who are supposed to form “a more perfect union”, not the piece of paper those words are on. Educated voters are the only hope in preserving freedom; the country’s future rests in your hands. The philosopher Socrates once said, “You should learn more about your world before you condemn it.” Let’s learn a bit more about the Constitution before we condemn it as a mere relic of the past.
By Joe Richter
“The Mystic Chords of Memory…will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” – Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address, 1861 ([I], Kearns Goodwin page 326)
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the world’s view of slavery was changing, and the men who founded America recognized this changing perspective. Humanism, an ethical philosophy based on the rights of all men, had immigrated with the Puritan settlers of America. Unfortunately, the American settlers didn’t include all humans in their humanist ideology. These American men, with their self-proclaimed desire for the rights of all men, didn’t extend the liberty they coveted to their slaves. When those New Englanders bailed the tea into Boston harbor, did they cast their morals into the surf as well?
As we know now, America and its groundbreaking republic inspired the world. This tract will prove that though they made the mistake of allowing slavery to happen, America’s Founding Fathers made strides to eradicate the world of the terrible tradition, and were – like their republic – an example to the world. If they knew slavery was wrong, what factors kept them from emancipating their fellow man? If all men were created equal, why weren’t they treated equally?
Winston Churchill talked about the intellectual revolution of the 1600’s and 1700’s in the second volume of his History of the English Speaking Peoples. Churchill wrote, “In the Middle Ages education had largely been confined to training the clergy; now it was steadily extended, and its purpose became to turn out not only priests but lay scholars and well-informed gentlemen ([II], Churchill page 4).” Well, how did these “well-informed gentlemen” manage to undertake one of the most abominable acts in history?
Slavery transported equally created humans from their homelands, from their families, and from their cultures. Accounts abound about the cruelty and inhumanity of many of the slaveholders. In Henry Wiencek’s An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, he chronicles some of the atrocious acts by supposed “gentlemen planters”. Some of these “gentlemen” would cut off their slaves’ toes to hinder any expeditious escape, and even had legislation passed which pardoned them if the slaves didn’t survive the procedure ([III], Weincek page 46). Most slaves’ diets were relegated to corn meal, and whatever game or vegetables they could catch or grow for themselves (if they were allowed to hunt, fish, or grow). We have heard, thanks to the work of many historians, of the malevolence of the overseers – the men who did the “southern gentleman’s” dirty, or punitive work. Unfortunately, the short length of this article cannot do justice to the myriad number of atrocities.
It should be mentioned again that this article is not seeking to condone this terrible part of American history. The question is why men in quest of liberty wouldn’t bestow the same liberty on the Africans they had enslaved. Was it truly a racist sense of ethnic superiority? Or was there more to the reasoning about why the men who founded this country utilized the cruelest form of labor in history?
There were a number of reasons that led to the adoption of slavery in the American Colonies. Education, economics, and religion all contributed to the decision. Slavery wasn’t a new thing to the world when the American Colonies adopted it. Obviously the French and Spanish were quite adept at it, enslaving many of the South and Central American natives along with African captives. But this kind of irreparable history precedes America entirely. Before we scrutinize early America, we should examine the world before us.
Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, and the Arabs – all these great civilizations practiced human slavery of some form. These civilizations are mostly remembered by posterity because of their magnificent monuments. The pyramids and obelisks in Egypt, and the wonders and Wall of ancient China were constructed by, at least, conscripted laborers. Although that sounds like some kind of sugar-coated term for slaves, historians believe that there was some light at the end of the tunnel for these workers; they would later be freed, but probably not until the good part of their life was already gone.
The ancient Greeks eventually offered citizenship to many of their slaves, if they performed well, but they would enslave just about anyone. They would even enslave other Greeks, like the Spartans did with their neighboring Helots ([IV], Plutarch page 74) after they conquered them. Imagine the parallel of Sparta’s enslaving the Helots to, say, the American Civil War: the North decides after its victory that it would enslave all of Virginia and the Carolinas. However, Greek city-states such as Athens were appalled at the thought of enslaving anyone other than a “barbarian”. But barbarians were just people who didn’t speak Greek, so this wasn’t some Taygetus Mountain-high moral stance. However, the conquerors of the Greeks – the Romans – made Greek slave masters look like missionaries.
The Romans liked to take the best of the cultures they conquered by force, and make the best of these cultures even better. Slavery was no exception. In fact, the Romans were a little too good at it. Slaves of many ages, races, and sizes were taken in war and were sold in the Roman markets. Once they were in the master’s possession, they were just that – a possession ([V], Gibbon page 63). Although the back of the hand, or the whip, was the first reaction, the master always had the option for termination – of the “for good” kind. You want retribution? If you killed your master, or one of his family or guests, the master family could lawfully murder all the slaves in the house for your transgression. It might make you think twice.
The Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero once said, “The wise alone are free, and all fools are slaves ([VI], Breen page 39).” While historians debate the true meaning behind this quote, it exemplifies the ho-hum attitudes the ancients had about slavery. Cicero spoke often about freedom, but he never really included the slaves in that freedom for men he sought – this sounds awfully familiar to our founders. Also akin to the founders, who sought to supplant the tyranny of King George, Cicero was speaking against a formidable tyrant of his own, Julius Caesar. Caesar proudly proclaimed his genocide of the inhabitants of Gaul – hundreds of thousands (numbers are debated) in the lowly populated area of Northwest Europe – in his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. Caesar’s famous quote of “I came, I saw, I conquered” should have added “I murdered, and I enslaved” at the end.
Both of these men were of incredible fortitude. Caesar was an utterly brilliant, undaunted general and innovative statesman; Cicero was just as brilliant a statesman as Caesar was a general, and he stood up to powerful generals even under the threat of death (he was eventually murdered for it). But neither of these geniuses realized the horror of slavery; they actually did more to proliferate it. Most of their wealth was built on that very practice. Since the great villas, roads, aqueducts, and arenas like the Colosseum were constructed by slave (but also legionary) labor, would Rome be remembered 2000 years later if they hadn’t used slave labor?
Despite their notorious cruelty toward slaves, the Romans learned through several revolts that it was to the master’s benefit to treat his/her slaves better. In his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Sir Edward Gibbon – a British contemporary of the American Revolution – wrote about how legislation evolved in the times of the Roman Emperors, giving slaves in Rome what African slaves in America never had – “hope”. “Diligence and fidelity of a few years would be rewarded with the inestimable gift of freedom (63).”
Slavery didn’t escape the Arabic cultures, either. According to Albert Hourani’s A History of the Arab Peoples, the most common form of slavery was that of the household servants – mostly women. But those domestic occupations were also worked by free females. Slavery in Arab culture “did not have exactly the same associations…as in the countries of North and South America discovered…from the sixteenth century onwards. Slavery was a status recognized by Islamic law ([VII], Hourani page 116).” The “legal category of slavery” consisted of mostly non-Muslim men taken in war, but it “was a meritorious act to liberate them (Hourani 116)”. These “legal slaves” could have rights bestowed on them after being converted and freed – Hourani even said that some could marry their master’s daughters. Of course, the most well-known freedmen in Arabic cultures were the Mamluks. The intrepid Mamluks “ruled Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517 (Hourani 117)”, and were “self-perpetuating”; so they pretty much ruled that mini-empire on their own for over 250 years. Not bad for a bunch of ex-slaves.
What does all this world history have to do with the founders of America (I hope you’re still with me)? Our founders were students of history, especially ancient Rome and Greece. The founders, like the Romans, learned from the past. Though they took the good things from Rome, like the idea of civic duty, they took the bad things as well, like their justification of slavery. And both these sets of men had similar educations. Many of them studied the Greek philosophers. Thomas Jefferson even admitted to learning more from reading the ancient Greek chronicler, Thucydides, than he did from reading the daily newspaper. Certainly, they influenced the founders.
The men many consider the founders of education – ancient Greeks Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle – tried to reason themselves out of the guilt inherited in the practice of slavery. Although Socrates and Plato skirted the subject ([VIII], Stone page 45) – apparently Plato had no problem utilizing slavery in his Utopia – Aristotle called a slave “an instrument for the conduct of life ([IX], Ross page 249)”. One can already surmise that Aristotle recognized a difference between master and slave, but his method of differentiating gets a bit slipperier. His idea was that nature created this diversity (he even uses the example of men ruling women) so that one could rule the other, “…where such a difference between two things exists it is to the advantage of both that one should rule the other. Nature seems to produce such a distinction between men – to make some strong to work and others fit for political life (Ross 249-250).” Aristotle taught that “some men are by nature free, and others slaves (Ross 249-250).” One can wonder what Aristotle’s slaves thought of his assessment. Sir David Ross criticized how Aristotle was “cutting the human race in two with a hatchet (Ross 250).” However, he defends the philosopher’s few stipulations to slavery. Included in these, Ross states that Aristotle thought ill of “slavery by mere right of conquest (Ross 250).” He certainly was against the notion of Greeks enslaving their fellow Greeks. The English settlers in America seemed to ignore this lesson in their early days, but they then, eventually, transitioned to slaves of other races. The next couple stipulations of Aristotle that Ross pointed out weren’t followed very diligently by our southern founders, either. The philosopher felt a master should virtually treat the slaves like children – to adjust their behavior with not a whip, but with “reason”. The other was that “all slaves should be given the hope of emancipation.” The American founders did follow Aristotle in the major facet of slavery, on the other hand. It seemed like Aristotle recognized the evil of slavery, but it was just a necessary institution with which he had grown up – almost a state of nature. It wasn’t Aristotle’s best logical theorem, but the southern founders of America appeared to think it sufficed in justifying their actions.
It is not just who the early Americans studied that contributed to the social divide, and ultimately to the perpetual slavery of the Africans, but who did the studying. Even most freed African slaves weren’t allowed the same opportunities that a freed white man had. In his article “Origins of American Slavery: Education as an Index of Early Differentiation”, Joseph Boskin presents the thesis of Carl Degler, who says, “The introduction of Africans as slaves…unquestionably fostered a sense of superiority among Englishmen ([X], Boskin page 127)” as they exemplified by their treatment of the Irish immigrants, and the Native Americans. Ethnic hatred was by no means new or uncommon at that time in history, so perhaps the founders of America just hated everybody equally. But why did they choose the Africans over all others to be lifelong slaves?
The first owner of an African slave was actually a black man (and former indentured servant in South America, himself) – a Virginian settler named Anthony Johnson in the 1650s ([XI], Billings page 286-87). But he sadly wouldn’t be the last. With the dramatic influx of African workers in the ensuing decades, many of them captured and sold by rival African tribes, it might be understood that the first reaction is cultural differentiation. Realizing these polarizing differences in culture between Africans and Englishmen might have been the beginning of the slippery slope. As Boskin said, the “discriminatory attitudes and behavior conditioned the form slavery would eventually take (127).” In effect, law after law was passed to further enervate the status of Africans – slaves or not – in the American Colonies, especially in Virginia. The slippery slope was turning slimy, and there no was no getting back uphill.
If you’ll allow the understatement of the year, the English settlers weren’t known for gently caressing their predecessors, the Native Americans, either. It should be pointed out, as Boskin reminds us in his article, “that of the two distinct cultural groups they (Englishmen) dealt with in the seventeenth century in the New World, one was marked for destruction and the other was enslaved (128).” Noting the difference between African and Native American is important here. As Boskin says, “unlike the Indian who would live apart from the English, the African had to be assimilated into, or accommodated by a culture (the English) which possessed definite ideas of God, family, manners, morals, male-female relations, and which further prided itself on a high degree of accomplishment (130).” The Africans would not have the same opportunity as the Englishmen to educate himself enough to reach that high degree of accomplishment – slavers would even punish slaves for attempting to learn how to read and write. As Boskin tells us, “from the scanty evidence that exists…it would appear that the Negro did not receive formal education in the seventeenth century in the colonies (132).” If they could not be educated like their English neighbors, what chance did they have in the English world? Their lack of this training certainly couldn’t have helped their status as “accomplished” men.
Two things should be mentioned before moving on. First, although people of African descent weren’t allowed education in most areas, “the education of the Indian was specifically encouraged and provided for in legislative articles in many instances (Boskin 132).” Englishmen deemed that the Native American needed to be “civilized” for cohabitation to be successful. Secondly, the most prevalent education system of the time, apprenticeship, wasn’t open to Africans. As Boskin said of colonial apprenticeship, “A perusal in the statutes of colonies…reveals no mention of either bond (sic) or free Negroes and/or slaves (132).” Even mulatto children were exempt until 1765. Boskin concludes very succinctly, “it may well be assumed that the Negro was regarded as uneducable. Certainly…the unaltered direction was toward total rejection (133).” Or maybe it was just undesirable – an educated slave is a rebellious one.
The majority of the southern colonists saw their slaves as below them, and that the existence of their slaves was just a price of being part of the southern gentry. But was slavery really profitable? In his article, “The Profitability of Slavery: A Historical Perennial”, Harold Woodman proved that, at least by the Civil War, it wasn’t. According to the 1850 census, “…The value of agricultural products in the free states exceeded that of the slave states (when the value of the slaves was excluded [[XII], Woodman page 305]).” However, a century before, it was a money-maker, whether or not tobacco sales were booming. Wiencek mentions how George Washington was one of many Southerners who would send one or two slaves to “hold” land that he hadn’t officially settled (Wiencek 27). Apparently, laws were passed to prohibit plantation owners from holding land on speculation, and Washington had found a loophole – if it appeared that you were working the land, then you weren’t just “holding it” for its future value. It is necessary to mention, however, that land speculation was not a definite boon.
Although the profitability of slavery has been proven to be inflated, the founders thought otherwise. If it wasn’t about economics, it was about the southern gentry’s lifestyle. Somehow, owning slaves was a status symbol – as if owning another human being and forcing him/her to do labor was something to be proud of. But let’s not just point the finger at the southern colonies.
The institution was tolerated by northern colonies, but suspicions progressively arose. Just having so many black slaves in the south, almost half their population, made the Northern Colonies worry. According to Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier, “the North had to assume that the South would soon become the dominant section of the country in both numbers and wealth (though that could be debated). This assumption proved later incorrect, but in 1787, northerners were nervous about the possibility of a government dominated by the south ([XIII], Collier and Collier, page 185).” These issues would be prominent in the debates at the Constitutional Conventions, but that is for another tract.
Noting that the North was obviously nervous about the South’s nefarious institution for both financial and population reasons, the South might have realized the North’s trepidations. Perhaps they saw the attempts by the North for Abolition as means to supplant the South in dominance of the new country. Either way, the North and South believed that slavery was profitable enough to allow it to persist.
Since we are examining why the founders kept a half-blind eye to the horror of slavery, we shouldn’t let religion get away so easily. Where was the church while all this death and cruelty was taking place? As sad as it sounds, the Catholic Church actually encouraged slavery. In her article, “The Philosophes and Black Slavery: 1748-1765”, Claudine Hunting explained how “King Louis XIII of France had agreed, however reluctantly, to authorize slave trade in the French colonies, on the express urging of the Catholic Church and its missionaries, for the alleged purpose of saving their souls, more than a century after Portugal and Spain had adopted that policy in their own colonies ([XIV], Hunting page 408).” Apparently, the mostly Protestant colonists didn’t have the same disdain of this Catholic more as they did with their Papacy.
There are two things to remember about The Church and Slavery. First, not all Catholics were proslavery. Many friars spoke out against the inhumanity of some slave owners, and spoke for the humanity of the slaves. Second, of our Founding Fathers, very few were Catholic. As we know, many Englishmen came to America to practice their own brand of religion (or to practice a brand of religious intolerance of their own). This was a new world with a new way of thinking.
Thanks to the brilliant minds of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Locke, Descartes, and others, a new world was being discovered – not just the American continents. As Winston Churchill wrote, “The urge to inquire, to debate, and seek new explanations spread from the field of classical learning (4).” Everything was being learned anew, and everything had to be examined – not even The Church was safe anymore. Churchill pointed out that this academic drive even set its examining eye “into that of religious studies (4).” Of course, the Protestant Reformation ran its course, and England was never the same. The New World would be a perfect setting for this new way of thinking.
The 18th century historian, and contemporary of the American Revolution, Sir Edward Gibbon wrote, “Whatever may be the changes in their political situation, they (America) must preserve the manners of Europe; and we may reflect with some pleasure that the English language will probably be diffused over an immense and populous continent (Gibbon 376n).” But though the new Americans kept much of British culture, and its language, they would fall way behind the English in regard to slavery.
In 1807, James Clarke Fox’s term as Prime Minister did what Churchill said, “ranked among the greatest of British achievements ([XV], 311).” Fox abolished the slave trade in England and its provinces – except for some islands where it was still deemed imperative. But holding slaves was legal until 1833. Something else to be considered was that Napoleon Bonaparte had recently legalized French slavery, so Britain could just have been taking the proverbial “high moral ground” over France. Whatever the case, Britain had to be influenced by the Abolitionist factions which were prevalent in America.
As mentioned earlier, the consensus about our Founding Fathers was that they had some (but very few) problems with the South’s intransigence in the slavery issue. Research shows, however, that most of our well-known founders were seeing the changing of the guard in the rest of the world. Even the men who owned slaves seemed to see, and desire, the practice’s ensuing death, and they were ready to welcome its passing.
One cannot scrutinize the founders without mentioning our first president, George Washington. Washington had a somewhat benevolent aura when it came to his slaves, proof of which can be found in his relationship with his favorite servant, Billy Lee ([XVI], McCullough page 42). Billy Lee wouldn’t be outdone in proving his own sporty prowess, as historian David McCullough said, the “body servant ‘rode like the wind by all accounts, and no less fearlessly than his master (48)’”. Master, however, is the important word there. In fact, as McCullough alludes to on his following page, even Washington had to see the irony of these American rebels – many of them slave owners – seeking independence. One would like to hear what Billy Lee had to say about all this. Did he enjoy all that horsing around as much as Washington?
Washington was a man who knew the value of posterity’s view of him. He would be glad to know that the story of his relationship with Billy Lee came to light, along with some of the other pleasant stories about how well, compared to many slaveholders, Washington treated his slaves. However, that is an insult to the families who actually were his slaves, and their hardships. Washington was no angel, but he was the perfect example of the American Revolution’s ultimate paradox – slaveholders crusading for liberty. According to Joseph Ellis’ His Excellency: George Washington, Washington made a not so excellent decision after the battle of Yorktown. “He (Washington) insisted on the return of all escaped slaves in British custody to their respective owners. (Four of his own slaves were included in the contingent of about three thousand carried from New York to freedom by the British navy [[XVII], Ellis page 163].)” According to Henry Wiencek’s aforementioned book, Washington – someone who seemed to be antislavery –had no problem separating the slave families on his plantation, and threatened troublesome slaves to virtual damnation on the brutally laborious Caribbean islands if their behavior didn’t improve – and it wasn’t an empty threat.
However, contemplative of posterity’s view of Washington, his views were changing. Something had to be done. Ellis offered the account Washington composed in April 1786, where Ellis quoted Washington as saying to his colleague Robert Morris, “I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of (slavery) – but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, & that is by Legislative authority: and this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting (163).”
Washington not only thought that emancipation needed to be accomplished legally, but he knew there needed to be some plan for what to do with the emancipated slaves before they set this immense portion of the southern population free. To his credit, what Washington couldn’t do for all the black slaves in America, he at least took care of his own. According to Ron Chernow, “Washington emancipated his slaves in his will and even set aside money to assist the freed slaves and their children ([XVIII], Chernow page 212).” However, one of Chernow’s biographical subjects, Alexander Hamilton, was far more hopeful of emancipation than Washington – and far more fervent in his actions.
If one doesn’t examine the career of Alexander Hamilton fully, then he can be easily written off by some as just a whiz-kid orphan from the Caribbean who liked to dabble with other men’s wives until Aaron Burr shot him for it. On the contrary, Hamilton was much more complex than that kind of harsh preconception. In Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, Chernow proves his subject founder to be a man of the new world; a man of the new way of thinking. “He had expressed an unwavering belief in the genetic equality of blacks and whites – unlike (Thomas) Jefferson, for instance, who regarded blacks as innately inferior – that was enlightened for his day (Chernow 211).” Chernow said that, “Few, if any, other founding fathers opposed slavery more consistently or toiled harder to eradicate it than Hamilton (212).” Hamilton’s loss in the duel to Burr prevented him from completing his task.
Other Founding Fathers were unsuccessful in transitioning their disdain of slavery into action. Chernow explained how “John Adams never owned a slave…yet he did not always translate his beliefs into practice.” Chernow said, “Adams opposed plans to emancipate slaves joining the Continental Army, contested the use of black soldiers, and opposed a bill in the Massachusetts legislature to abolish slavery (212).” Adams had bent over backwards, however, to placate the southern colonists – these could be examples of such appeasement. The issue of independence from Great Britain might have taken precedence from his perspective.
The Father of the Constitution, James Madison, was vulnerable to Chernow’s criticism, as well. Although “Madison never tried to defend the morality of slavery…neither did he distinguish himself in trying to eliminate it (213).” Chernow said, “Madison’s political survival in Virginia and national politics required endless prevarication on the slavery issue.”
Speaking of prevarication, Thomas Jefferson was no stranger to it. In his “Report on Government for Western Territory; March 1, 1784”, Jefferson claimed that “after the year 1800 of the Christian aera (sic), there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states.” In his autobiography, Jefferson admitted having put off the slavery issue to gain the South’s allegiance in independence from Britain. He said, “the clause…reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it.” He later said, “It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation and deportation peaceably and in such slow degree as that the evil will wear off insensibly.” In the end, Chernow said Jefferson “freed only a handful of his slaves, including the brothers of his apparent mistress, Sally Hemings (213).” Perhaps Jefferson hoped that future generations would have higher morals than his own, a sentiment that appears to be quite common among the founders.
Maybe the most enigmatic founder is Benjamin Franklin. In Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson describes how Franklin, who owned a few slaves over his lifetime, defended charges of hypocrisy in his 1770 publication, “Conversation on Slavery”. Franklin made erroneous defenses about how few slaves there actually were in America, and made light of the treatment of slaves. He did, however, cleverly compare the “working poor” in England to slaves. Isaacson mentions, “At one point, the speaker’s (Franklin’s) argument even lapses into racism ([XIX], Isaacson page 268).” In other works, however, Franklin shows his slowly diverging perspective.
Isaacson said, “In ‘Observations on the Increase of Mankind,’ he (Franklin) attacked slavery on economic grounds. Comparing the costs and benefits of owning a slave, he concluded that it made no sense.” Economics aside, the moral issue was more important, even a question of an owner’s work ethic. In the same tract, Isaacson points out that Franklin believed owning a slave made whites lazy. Isaacson quoted Franklin as saying, “Slaves perjorate (sic) the families that use them; white children become proud, disgusted with labor (152).” It is important to point out that Franklin seemed more worried about the effects of slavery on the master, rather than its effects on the slave. Isaacson called the article, “quite prejudiced in places.” He said Franklin “urged that America be settled mainly by whites of English descent.” Isaacson quotes Franklin, “Why increase the sons of Africa by planting them in America, where we have so fair an opportunity, by excluding all blacks and tawneys (sic), of increasing the lovely white and red (152)?” It should be noted that Franklin was known for his sarcasm, and might have been trying to be ironic. His later actions imply that.
Franklin came to understand the importance of abolition very well in his later life. Isaacson said, “Franklin presented a formal abolition petition to Congress in February 1790 (Isaacson 465).” As Isaacson quotes Franklin, he says that it was the duty of Congress to ensure “the blessings of liberty to the People of the United States…without distinction of color (465).” Can a man not change?
In order to really understand their reasons, one must step into the founders’ buckled shoes (silk stockings and powdered wigs are optional). In one’s search to comprehend why these noble men chose to stand by arguably the worst form of slavery in the history of man, nothing can be found to exonerate them for their behavior. Sometimes history can be a painful thing. While learning about this subject is hard to do because of its horror, it is not something we can just forget about.
A lot is still left to learn about slavery, but what stands out is that these poor Africans – and even their descendants – never were given a chance. Because their culture was considered centuries behind the ethnocentric Europeans, the Englishmen found the Africans to be what we learned Aristotle called, “instruments for the conduct of life”. It was as if God Himself had given white men the right to be another man’s master – and it was good for both of them.
In an attempt to defend them, however, it can be said that America’s founders planted the seed for emancipation. Whether their motives were based on ethics or not, they knew it was only a matter of time before the South would concede their dreadful practice. Franklin was quoted many times as saying, “In time.” Although our country was slow to actually pass the legislation that many in America were trumpeting, the world took notice of this infant republic. Yes, America wasn’t the first government to emancipate all their slaves; but after the American Revolution, as many states outlawed slavery, countries around the world began the alleviation of the slavery scourge, as well.
Slavery is illegal throughout the modern world. Sadly, slavery still lives in parts of Africa (such as Sudan and Mauritania) and elsewhere (parts of China and South America) in an unofficial capacity. We can hope, however, if we learn why we made this appalling mistake (and continue to do so), that we will learn the folly of it and abolish slavery once and for all. Look at how far we have come as Americans. Whether or not we agree with President Barack Obama politically, to see an African-American elected President of the United States of America in 2008 has to make one proud to be an American – even though it took over 140 years.
Our Founding Fathers had their reasons for allowing slavery to persist. After finding that there were influences like education, economy and religion, one can better understand their flawed logic. What we cannot condone are the results of their logic, or their harsh methods in the implementation of slavery. It is hard to be proud of the founders’ steady blind eye to the suffering of their fellow man. But it is easy to be proud of the great country they created. Some say our founders allowed slavery to persist when they signed the Constitution with the belief that the dying institution was coughing up its final bad breaths. Tragically, they thought too highly of the sensibilities of men. Again it should be said that there was some good out of their foolish assumption – they created this country. And just because we Americans must live with our cloudy history doesn’t mean we can’t be proud that these founders created a country where we are free to question that history, and criticize those flawed creators.
Were men equally created? Despite the obvious affirmative answer, man was slow to accept his brethren as being created equal throughout all of history. By learning how fallible our founders were we will see that it does not take demigods, like history has made of Ben Franklin, George Washington and others, to make a country great. Times are changing, and so are people. History has plenty of pages left to write.
(This article is not to be copied without consent of administrator. Copyright 2012, Joe Richter Media)
[I] Doris Kearns Goodwin. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2005.
[II] Winston S. Churchill. A History of the English Speaking Peoples: The New World. vol. 2 New York, NY: Barnes and Noble, Inc., by arrangement with Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc., 1993.
[III] Henry Wiencek. An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.
[IV] Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives: Volume I. Trans. John Dryden. Ed. Arthur Hugh Clough. New York: The Modern Library, 2001.
[V] Edward Gibbon. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. vol. 1 The Turn of the Tide. ed. Betty Radice. London: The Folio Society, 2003.
[VI] Quirinus Breen. “The Antiparadoxon of Marcantonius Majoragius, or A Humanist Becomes a Critic of Cicero As a Philosopher”. Studies in the Renaissance, vol. 5, (1958), pp 37-48. Published by: Renaissance Society of America.
[VII] Albert Hourani. A History of the Arab Peoples. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1991.
[VIII] I.F. Stone. The Trial of Socrates. New York, NY: First Anchor Books, 1989.
[IX] Sir David Ross. Aristotle. New York, NY: Routledge, 1996.
[X] Joseph Boskin. The Origins of American Slavery: Education As an Early Index of Differentiation”. The Journal of Negro Education, vol. 35, no. 2 (Spring 1966), page 125-133.
[XI] Billings, Warren (2009). The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century: A Documentary History of Virginia, 1606-1700. Pg 286-287.
[XII] Harold Woodman. “Profitability of Slavery: A Historical Perennial”. The Journal of Southern History, vol. 29, no. 3 (Aug 1963), pp. 303-325.
[XIII] Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier. Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1986.
[XIV] Claudine Hunting. “The Philosophes and Black Slavery: 1748-1765”. Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 39, no. 3. (July – Sept. 1978), page 405-418.
[XV] Winston Churchill. A History of the English Speaking Peoples: The Age of Revolution. vol. 3 New York, NY: Barnes and Noble, Inc., by arrangement with Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc., 1993.
[XVI] David McCullough. 1776. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2005.
[XVII] Joseph Ellis. His Excellency: George Washington. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.
[XVIII] Ron Chernow. Alexander Hamilton. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004.
[XIX] Walter Isaacson. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2003.
1) William J. Bennett. America: the Best Last Hope: Volume I. Nashville, TN: Nelson Current, 2006.
ST. LOUIS, MO. (Joe Richter, Missouri Sports Magazine) – The St. Louis Blues are in first place in the National Hockey League (tied with the New York Rangers) after their 45th game for the first time since 2000. But they know it’s not time to let off the gas. One bad week and they could be out of the playoffs. That’s how the NHL goes these days. Teams can’t just grab the first place spot and ride into the playoffs on cruise control anymore. The NHL’s playoff scenario will be a fight to the end, and it’s a fight the Blues type of game is made for.
As of Tuesday, the Blues had 60 points, which was good for first place in the Western Conference. Consider this, however – the ninth place team (Colorado Avalanche) had just ten fewer points (50). The 12th place team (Calgary Flames) of a 15-team Conference had 47 points. The Blues are on pace for about 109 points, but they have to keep the pace.
The Minnesota Wild are a perfect example of a good team having a bad week and falling out of the top spot in the standings. The Blues got their first shootout win against the Wild on Saturday, January 14th, and the Wild found itself in eighth place in the Western Conference (as of Tuesday afternoon). But the last time the two teams played, Minnesota was among the top three teams. They just happened to have a bad couple weeks in between. After the Wild’s 3-2 shootout win on the 19th of November against St. Louis, they went 8-2 in their next ten. Then the bad stretch happened. The Wild went 2-9-3 in their next couple weeks, relegating them to the middle of the pack. They just couldn’t keep the pace.
The Blues can’t fall into that trap. Luckily, they have a coach, Ken Hitchcock, who won’t let his team get complacent. He’s also noticed how his team reacts to the pressure of playing the best teams. “We’re willing to work for our chances,” Hitchcock said last week. “This is a real competitive group right now.”
With puckmaster Alex Steen and the slippery Andy McDonald out of the lineup, two potent offensive weapons, the Blues aren’t exactly scoring in bunches. But the team is playing a great team game. Hitchcock knows Steen’s and McDonald’s presence and imminent return will change things dramatically, but his team has shown a lot about themselves by winning without that offensive punch. Hitchcock said, “Even when Steener (Alex Steen) was out and with (Andy) McDonald out, we’re still competitive as heck; and we’re a different lineup with them in.”
This is a young Blues team, a nucleus with very little if at all playoff experience. That’s why General Manager Doug Armstrong added vets such as Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. They have contributed a lot of toughness and a bit of scoring, as well. But they might have supplied the kind of hardhat, professional attitude that the youngsters have absorbed. If nothing else, the Blues are reacting to their success very well. They’re not changing their plan because they’re among the best teams in the NHL. Hitchcock uses the matchups against top teams as measuring sticks for his team. “We respond well when we’re a little bit scared,” he said. “If you don’t play well against teams like Vancouver and Detroit, you’re gonna get blitzed. So we play our best hockey whenever we’re feeling like that.”
Blues fans hope so. One bad week or two could have the Blues looking up at the standings wondering why they couldn’t keep the pace.
The Blues (27-12-6) host the Edmonton Oilers (17-23-4) at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri Thursday night. Loaded with young stars, the Oilers have been struggling lately – 2-7-1 in their last ten. Game time Thursday is 7:00 CST.
INTO THE BLUE
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ST. LOUIS, MO. (Joe Richter, Missouri Sports Magazine) – We hold parades for sports teams, but what about the people who are really important to our country? Where are the parades for those who sacrifice a large portion of their lives to serve their country, and foster freedom around the globe? That’s just what Craig Schneider and Tom Appelbaum are trying to make happen on January 28thin downtown St. Louis.
Sure, this is a sports website. But sometimes there are things much more important than multimillionaire athletes and what their teams are doing. We need to show how much we appreciate the sacrifices made by American troops in Iraq who are returning back to the country they fought for. We need to welcome our heroes with open arms.
Schneider and Applebaum are trying to put a parade down Market Street on January 28th to welcome our troops home from Iraq and honor them for their service to America. There’s just one trick – they need to reach a certain dollar mark to make it happen. They’re trying to do this in under a month. People have told them they’re attempting the impossible – especially in a time of economic stagnancy. But this is St. Louis, and this is America. Charity and honor is what we do.
How does something like this happen in the modern age? Schneider and Applebaum chose to utilize Facebook to get the word out. They started the page “Make January 28th Welcome Home the Heroes from Iraq Day” on the social media website, and the region took notice. A veteran’s charity of great reputation (but asked not to be named yet) offered to back the parade if Schneider and Applebaum could raise $25,000 by this Friday, January 13th to show just how interested the region is. They need donations from those who want to thank the men and women who served in Iraq just as much as we needed these veterans to keep us free.
If you would like to donate to this very worthy cause and properly honor these brave men and women, visit their Facebook page, or send an email to them at email@example.com. You can also pledge through the law offices of Tom Applebaum (314-985-5673) or fax a pledge to 314-985-0637. If they’re unable to reach their financial goal, they’ll donate the money to the veteran’s charity mentioned.
As they say on their page, these veterans “didn’t ask for a parade, or a community show of support, or a gathering of people and organizations specifically focused on easing our warriors’ transition back to civilian life. We’re throwing one anyway.”
It’s the least that a grateful country can do for those who have given so much. Please do all you can to help make this happen.
(Thanks to Ann Rubin of KSDK for contributing to this article.)
For more from this author, visit www.missourisportsmag.com.
ST. LOUIS, MO. (Joe Richter, Missouri Sports Magazine) – You’ve probably heard several times over the last week that St. Louis Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock is the longest tenured coach in St. Louis professional sports. Tony La Russa retired from the Cardinals and Steve Spagnuolo was fired by the Rams, leaving “Hitch” as the coach who’s been in St. Louis the longest. He laughs about that fact, but he’s not laughing about the team he coaches. With a dominant 4-0 win Saturday night against one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League – the Colorado Avalanche (9-1-0 in the ten games preceding Saturday) – the Blues moved into first place in the Central Division, and second in the Western Conference. Considering the teams they leapfrogged, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings (who play each other Sunday night), the NHL is finding out that the Blues are no laughing matter. They’re doing it right.
The franchise was collapsing under previous ownership – ever since the Blues traded Norris Trophy winning defenseman Chris Pronger (like him or hate him) the team has been a bottom feeder. They’ve made the playoffs just once since then, a 4-0 sweep in the first round. But then a guy named John Davidson came to town.
The Blues made Davidson the President of Hockey Operations, and things have improved ever since. Davidson changed the attitude of the franchise. He brought in some bright management people – such as wisely bringing the great Al MacInnis aboard as VP of Hockey Operations. Jarmo Kekäläinen (who moved back to his native Finland) set the stage for what we’re seeing on the ice with some excellent drafting. Bill Armstrong also was instrumental in the strong player development since 2004 – and it was no surprise he took over the team’s drafting. The Blues brought in some great names as scouts, as well, and longtime Blues fans can’t help but crack a smile at some of the names – Rob DiMaio (pro scout), Basil McRae (part-time amateur scout), Rick Meagher (part-time amateur scout), Michel Picard (part-time amateur scout).
The result is a stockpile of talent. Since 2004, the Blues have eleven draftees that are currently playing in the NHL – and many more who are on the cusp, such as Phil McRae and Ben Bishop. Since 2005 (not counting developing first round picks from 2010 Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko), the Blues haven’t missed on a first round pick. Every player drafted by the Blues in the first round between 2005 and 2009 are currently in the NHL, and five of those eight (TJ Oshie, Patrik Berglund, David Perron, Ian Cole and Alex Pietrangelo) are productive players on the team right now. When it comes to scouting, the Blues are doing it right.
So many ex-Blues have stayed with the team – most notably Bruce Affleck, who’s been a fixture with the team for decades. Affleck is Vice President, Broadcasting and Blues Alumni. He’s part of an alumni group that shows what Blues hockey is all about. They are constantly seeking ways to help the community and grow the game of hockey in St. Louis. The franchise should be extremely proud of what their ex-players do for the city. The team has reached out to the community in many facets, with names you never hear despite their contributions such as Randy Girsch and Lamont Buford. When it comes to the greater St. Louis community and having a group of alumni that develops the game in the city, the Blues are doing it right.
But let’s get back to the current Blues. And if we do that, we have to talk about Doug Armstrong. Armstrong didn’t have much salary room to work with, but he signed the players the Blues needed to take the next step. The depth he added to the team, supplementing what the Blues have done in drafts, gave the team the kind of roster that could get them back to the playoffs. He didn’t just fix the roster to get back to the playoffs, though; he adjusted the roster to go deep in the playoffs. Goaltender Brian Elliott has been a nice surprise, but the contributions of veteran forwards Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner have given the Blues an element they didn’t have – playoff experience. Both have won Stanley Cups, and Arnott even scored the Cup-winning goal. Before this previous offseason, the Blues were so young that the team parties should have been held at Chuckie Cheese. After Armstrong was done adding experience, the Blues looked more like a championship team. He added well over three hundred career playoff games to the roster, nearly tripling the amount of playoff games played by players on his team’s roster. The attitude in the locker room changed. The Blues went from a team that felt it could make the playoffs to a team that felt it could compete long into the NHL’s second season – the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Armstrong’s work over the offseason is the biggest reason the Blues are doing it right.
The Blues didn’t take the NHL by storm, however. They struggled around the .500 mark for the first month of the season. The “maybe” attitude seemed to be returning. Enter Ken Hitchcock.
Hitchcock simplified the game for the Blues; and the team’s record since he started with the team (18-5-5) really gives the team hope that they truly are a Cup contender. The Blues brought in a coach with a Stanley Cup and over 500 career wins in Hitch, and his confidence and work ethic has infected the Blues. Bringing in a winner such as Hitch is yet another reason the Blues are doing it right.
Finally, the Blues never take for granted the kind of fans they have. Oshie, Perron, Hitchcock and others have praised the kind of lift they get when they play in front of the home crowd. They know how much this town loves their Blues, and they know how much this town deserves a parade down Market Street with the team carrying the Cup. They know it is time to dethrone the perennial contenders in the Western Conference. And they must know they’re doing it right.
The Blues (24-12-5) head north to take on the Montreal Canadians (16-18-7) in Montreal, Quebec Tuesday night. Game time Tuesday is early, 6:30 CST.
INTO THE BLUE
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ST. LOUIS, MO. (Joe Richter, Missouri Sports Magazine) – The Rams will not have starting Pro Bowler this year, to the surprise of few. However, DE Chris Long, MLB James Laurinaitis and RB Steven Jackson will serve as alternates. The Rams haven’t had a starter in the NFL Pro Bowl since 2007 – wide receiver Torry Holt. The Rams had three Pro Bowlers that year: Holt, QB Marc Bulger and RB Steven Jackson.
In 2008, Holt was the lone Rams representative. The Rams had none in 2009. Jackson was selected as an alternate, but did not play due to injury.
So even though things didn’t exactly work out for the Rams this year, if you’ll excuse the understatement, they had individual contributions from three players who truly deserved recognition. Long, Laurinaitis and Jackson all had very good seasons despite a not very good season for the team. Rams Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo said “to me you get recognized in this league at all in the conversation of Pro Bowl I think is something we all ought to be proud of. The landscape, the way they have it now with the Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl, there’s a decent chance that one, two, three of those guys might find their way into the game.”
Steven Jackson (244 carries, 1069 yards, 5 TDs) needs no introduction; he has been the heart of the Rams for some time now. Jackson’s seventh straight one thousand yard season puts him in the history books, but his one hundred yard rushing game against the Steelers in a lost cause shows how he isn’t history. Jackson still has some great football in him, and hopefully the Rams will put a good enough team around him to make a run before it’s too late.
Long has had a breakout season. The Rams were 16th in total sacks this year (36), but Long is tied for sixth in the NFL with 13. He had one-third of the team’s sacks. Long has become someone whom teams have to prepare for, and he’ll be the first to tell you he has room for improvement. This is the beginning of a great career.
Laurinaitis is tied for fifth in the NFL in tackles this season, with 133. He also has three sacks and nine pass deflections. He had one interception on top of all that. Laurinaitis is a team leader who knows the game as well as any middle linebacker in the game. And this is only his third season.
RAMS SECONDARY FINALLY CORNERED
ST. LOUIS, MO. (Joe Richter, Missouri Sports Magazine) – It’s official – all five of the cornerbacks that the St. Louis Rams started the season with are gone for the season. After Jerome Murphy, Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher all were put on the Injured Reserve, the Rams were left with veteran Al Harris and young corner Justin King. Then Harris fell, and King was the last man standing. Finally, ailing with a bad shoulder after fighting through several minor injuries, King was shut down for the season.
This has been a punishing season for the Rams cornerbacks, with…11, 12…we lost count…cornerbacks going down for the season. It’s where cornerbacks go to disappear. ESPN’s Mike Tirico made a joke during the Rams Monday Night Football game against the Seattle Seahawks about how Justin King should go on the show “Survivor” because of how he’s survived the injury pandemic on the Rams roster.
You have to feel bad for the cornerbacks whose season has ended, but the guy you really must have sympathy for is Rams Defensive Coordinator Ken Flajole. Whatever plans he had for his secondary went out the window when he had to tutor several new players not even on the Rams roster when the season began. Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo, a master blitz planner, and Flajole have been limited as to who and how often they send blitzes because they’ve had to supplement the ailing secondary with extra linebackers and safeties playing pass defense.
Not many coaches, if any, can just sign a d-back and expect him to perform up to task in a complicated Spagnuolo/Flajole defense. But that’s what the two defensive schemers had to do. It is admirable how they have made the best of what they had every game. “You know,” Flajole said last week, “we’ve had some freak injuries and some unexpected turns.” But they just go back at it every week with new blood. “The guys that we’ll put in, they’ll go play hard and they’ll give it their best shot.”
Flajole further explained, “As you guys know this league is all about matchups and we spent a lot of time trying to find out if we can get guys in position where we don’t get a bad matchup in our mind, for us. Sometimes that’s not always doable, but we work on it. I think sometimes it forces you to play maybe more coverages, different types of two-deep coverages that you maybe weren’t planning on because you’re trying to make sure that you can hold up in the back end. But the young guys again, I take a guy like (CB) Josh Gordy, I know Josh is not going to get elected into the Hall of Fame but I would say this, that kid has improved in my opinion more in the last three or four weeks since he’s been in it. I think he gets as much out of his God given ability as anybody does. And those are things you look for as a coach. If guys are getting better, that’s what you look for and I think you can hang your hat on it. I’m proud of a guy, (there are) other guys on our football team, but Josh Gordy comes to mind because we’re addressing the secondary and I think he’s done a marvelous job and I’m proud of him.”
Even Gordy has had to fight through bumps and bruises – the fill-ins of the fill-ins have gotten hurt at cornerback this season. But the good news is that the Rams have found a way to – for the most part – get things done. The future at cornerback doesn’t look as tragic because of how some newbies have played. Rod Hood, for instance, certainly hasn’t embarrassed himself out there. Spagnuolo said about Hood’s play on Saturday, “He was very productive. He broke up, certainly the pass on our sideline, then they went to throw a rocket screen, tackled him for a negative play. Supported really well on a run play, backside. Like I just said, chased the ball carrier down on that one play and gave us a chance to line up in red zone goal line. Who knows you hold them to a field goal there, I think they scored right on the next play, but you’re always looking to line up and play the next defensive play and keep them out of the end zone. He had a good game.”
Nate Ness and Chris Smith have contributed, as well. Spagnuolo said “those guys have been scrambling learning-wise, obviously. But Nate’s been here a little bit and Chris has gotten some reps here since Gordy hasn’t been in there and Nate’s kind of sprinkled in. Right now we’re relying on those two guys to help us on special teams. That’s where they’ve got to surface for us. It’s a scramble for them. The coaches are trying to get them up to speed and they’re trying to get up to speed.”
With the NFL Draft already the talk of the St. Louis Rams fans, at least they can take solace in the fact that even if the Rams lose all five cornerbacks they start the season with, there are some guys who can still get the job done. Justin King has played well enough to earn a sure spot on the team, and he was the fourth CB on the depth chart coming into preseason (if Al Harris was considered the fifth). A position of drastic need this season might be one of the few positions they don’t have to worry about so much next year in the draft.
The Rams (2-13) face the San Francisco 49ers (12-3) Sunday. Game time is noon CST.
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ST. LOUIS, MO. (Joe Richter, Missouri Sports Magazine) – The St. Louis Rams weren’t exactly the talk of the town over the past 48 hours, with St. Louis Cardinals legend Albert Pujols heading west to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In fact, with sincere apologies to outstanding St. Louis Blues defenseman Barrett Jackman, Rams punter Donnie Jones might now be the best #5 in town. Even Steven Jackson had some words about Pujols’ departure. Jackson said, “I was a little disappointed for Cardinal Nation. He’s been a huge attraction for us for quite some time. He’s the reason why, one of the reasons, I can’t say the only, but one of the main reasons why I started following the Cardinals. I was a huge fan and still am a huge fan of his. (It’s) a business decision; I think he made a business decision at the end of the day.”
Jackson has been in St. Louis since 2004, and couldn’t help but become part of Cardinal Nation, himself. Being from Las Vegas, Nevada, Jackson wasn’t a big baseball fan prior to his St. Louis residence. “I was not. It’s one thing about Las Vegas, you don’t have any real ties to any sports teams – you just watch the winners. Since I’ve been here the Cardinals have been some winners, so I’ve jumped on the bandwagon with that.”
And that contract Pujols got might make Jackson think twice about what sports he has his kids concentrate on. He said, “I tell my kids, ‘Anything with a round ball; no oval shaped balls.’ You can do pretty good in the round ball department. We check that off – Dad did the football, you guys do something else.”
The defection of the megastar from St. Louis has become more than a sideshow, overshadowing both a very exciting Blues team and the Rams making an appearance on the big stage of the NFL – Monday Night Football. But the Rams aren’t letting this chance to rise above their troubles slip away. “Honestly I don’t really listen to sports talk or anything else,” Jackson said. “On Monday night this is what we all hope, during the regular season you get a Monday night game and to put on a show for the nation and kind of propel yourself for the postseason. We’re not going to have a postseason, so this is our shot to show the nation what we’re trying to do here and what we’ve been building here over the last three years. Although we have our backs against the wall and some young guys playing or some guys that wouldn’t normally be playing in circumstances, this is also time for them to show off their talent too. It’s a stage that I think everyone looks forward to being on.”
It will be interesting to see how the Rams approach the game on Monday night. Both Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley were held out of practice so far this week, with ankle and thumb injuries respectively. You’re thinking they should run 50 times, right? Well, the offensive line injuries haven’t helped the run game excel. “Well to answer that,” Jackson said, “I expect a big load every Sunday or Monday. Whoever is going to be the field general on that particular day I think he’ll be ready. I’m expecting that I’ll be a part of the game plan. I don’t know how much, but whenever my number is called, just try to go out there and execute to the best of my ability.”
Come on, Steven; what will it really take to make the run game work? “It’s not going to be easy,” he said, “but I think just getting me in a groove, getting me back in my groove that we were at about a month ago, continue to just get guys to focus in and hone in on different assignments. Once we get that into rhythm, it’s hard to catch your rhythm when guys are constantly rotating in and out of the lineup. If we could just get our core guys together for this last month of football and get into a rhythm, I think we’ll be able to put up a pretty good fight against these next four opponents.”
One thing is for certain – Jackson and the Rams will do everything they can to make their fans proud. Though playoffs aren’t in the immediate future for the Rams, there is much more to play for. “Well,” he said, “the first thing is you play for pride and then secondly the love of the game. You don’t want to turn on the film on Mondays or Tuesdays or whenever you’re doing a grade sheet and have guys questioning your heart or your love for the game. The passion that I try to display each and every Sunday, I hope that it fuels the guys around me, just be a lightning bolt for what to expect out of this team and out of this club. Anytime we hit the field I expect that we never give up and never throw in the towel.”
There’s something to be said about Jackson being a part of St. Louis sports for so long. He’s been through some of the hardest years to be a Ram, and never made a public spectacle about wanting out. In modern sports, with all the free agency opportunities to go to greener pastures, Jackson finds loyalty to be divine. “To finish out with one team is special,” he said. “That particular franchise that gave birth to a dream and allowed you to live it out and be embraced by the community, so I would believe that he would have wanted to stay here and I think any athlete, whoever drafts you or signs you when you’re a young guy, you would love to finish with that particular team.”
And we’re proud and happy to have you, Steven.
Other players who were held out of practice were: DE Chris Long (ankle), RB Quinn Porter (abdomen), FB Brit Miller (knee) and DT Fred Robbins (back). DE Eugene Sims (ankle) was limited and T Mark LeVoir (chest) progressed to full participation.
The Rams (2-10) will have their rematch with the Seattle Seahawks (5-7) Monday night in Seattle, Washington. Game time is 7:30pm CST.
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St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson doesn’t just run the football to get yards; it looks like he runs the football to punish defenses. Jackson runs the ball fast, but he also runs the ball hard. If you’re a secondary player, the last thing you want to see is that Rams helmet and long hair sticking out the back, and a #39 jersey running full speed your way. Just ask the last three teams the Rams have played – he’s run for 417 yards in the last three weeks.
Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll said, “Yeah, he looks great, man. He looks great and it’s no coincidence that they’re 2-1 (in their last three games). They could have won another game too with him on the rise like this. He’s such a fantastic player. I’ve watched this guy and played against him for years, way back in college and all that. He’s always been the same guy that just…he’s the only guy you can see on the field when he’s playing. So, we’ve got our hands full with this. The fact that he’s stacked up three big games in a row and they’re getting their confidence and they’re roaring off the football, that doesn’t help us at all. It’s going to be tough.”
Jackson plays running back like a linebacker, and is now – despite missing time with a thigh injury – seventh in the league in rushing yards (707 yards, 88.4 average, 4 TDs) before Thursday night’s game. And he’s done that without having more than two 40+ yard runs, meaning he’s banging those yards out.
But there’s another running back in the league that plays that same way, and he just happens to be in the same division as Jackson. Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch is a bruiser, himself. Lynch has run for 244 yards in the last two weeks, and last week pounded out more than 100 yards against the second-best run defense in the league – the Cincinnati Bengals (86.8 run yards against per game). After a slow start (507 yards on the season, 63.4 average, 5 TDs), he’s showing the kind of runner he can be. Carroll said, “I think he’s just working with the guys. We’re all growing together at the same time kind of. Again, you can’t get any younger than these guys are, but they’re figuring it out. He’s hitting runs well as they give him the opportunities and we haven’t always been doing that. I think it’s just he’s taking advantage of their growth and the progress they’re making.”
The Seahawks are trying to reinvent themselves as a running team. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said, “That’s what we’re hoping for. We want to be able to run the football whenever we feel, something that we can hang our hat on. The history that (Offensive Line/ Asst. Head) Coach (Tom) Cable has in the run game is pretty good, so we want to make sure we keep that going and we know that he knows what he’s doing. We’ve just got to trust him and the guys have been trusting him the last couple weeks and we’ve been doing a better job. We want to be able to run the football, then just do everything off the run.”
Carroll agreed, “You know, this is a very young (offensive) line and it’s taken us some time. I don’t think we’ve arrived by any sense, but we’re getting better and coming off the ball with more confidence. We’ve run the ball the last two weeks against two very difficult defenses in Dallas and Baltimore. We take that into account that those guys are about as physical of a style that you could play. One’s a 3-4 team, one’s a 4-3 team more so. So we’re getting better.”
Looking at the two backs you might give Steven Jackson the edge over Marshawn Lynch. But the Seahawks have done well against the run this year, ranked 12th in the NFL with an average of 106.4 yards allowed per game. They haven’t allowed a run longer than 40 yards all season long. But they haven’t seen a banger like Jackson yet.
For the Rams, it’s been well-documented – they’re the worst run defense in the league statistically (150.6 yards allowed per game). They’ve done much better the last few weeks; Chris Ogbonnaya’s 90 yards is the most they have allowed a runner since DeMarco Murray’s 253 yards in Week 7 for Dallas. Pete Carroll thinks they’re underrated. “Yeah,” Carroll said, “they had that game against Dallas that threw everything out of whack. All those yards went up and that day on the big runs. Listen, we know this is a good solid group that knows how to do the things on the line of scrimmage. This is a physical tough group that attacks the heck out of you. I think their numbers are skewed from that game in particular.”
Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch will go head-to-head this weekend in St. Louis. Both teams are coming off big wins, ones they want to build off of. And they’ll be counting on their punishing running backs to put their teams on their backs.
The Rams (2-7) come home Sunday to host the Seattle Seahawks (3-6) at 3:05 CST.