Many people believe that the founders of the United States were deist rather than Christian. Very few of the founders would fall under the modern definition of deist, but one who certainly would was the pamphleteer Thomas Paine. But even Paine, in his most famous book, Common Sense, based many of his arguments off the Bible, at points quoting extensively from the scriptures.
In one point he even said that God’s law ought to be the king of America:
But where, say some, is the king of America? I’ll tell you, friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth, placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world my know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute governments the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there out to be no other.1
Although Paine wrote like a Christian, in 1776 when he published Common Sense, he was doing it just to make an impression on the colonists, who were very religious. He would use the Bible to win an argument without truly believing it. Three decades later he published The Age of Reason, a three part attack on religion and Christianity. In The Age of Reason Paine clearly denounced Christianity:
The opinions I have advanced … are the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction that the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world, that the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation, by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty; that the only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and mean now, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues – and that it was upon this only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes of happiness hereafter. So say I now – and so help me God.2
This book destroyed his reputation in America, and when he died in 1809, only six mourners came to his funeral.
1. Thomas Paine, Common Sense (New York: Peter Eckler Publishing Co., 1918) p. 35-36.
2. Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (Boston: Josiah P. Mendum, 1874) vol. 1, p. 171.
This photography was taken during the 1918 Battle of Zonnebeke, Belgium. It shows the infantry in their trenches, while planes fly overhead through the smoke of exploding shells. But this image actually isn’t quite what it appears to be. The photographer, Frank Hurley (most famous for his photography on the early Antarctic expeditions), created this image with an early form of “photoshopping.”
Early photographers did not believe that it was dishonest to alter photographs, and Hurley and others were even willing to stage events after the fact to get the photo they were looking for. This picture was probably created by merging a photo of the infantry with others of planes and explosions, to create the impressive final image.
The king of the Old West’s con men was Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith. He made his money by running “sure-thing” con games, which he would use to trick naive gamblers out of their money. But Smith wasn’t just skilled at slight of hand. He was adept at organizing gangs of criminals until he gained influence in town politics. He did this in several places until he was finally shot in Skagway, Alaska, during the Klondike Gold Rush.
Smith got his first great success in Denver in the late 1880s. His most famous game was the “prize soap racket.” He convinced people to buy overpriced soap in the hope of finding the one which contained a five dollar bill, but the prize bar always ended up in the hand of one of his accomplices. It was this con that got him his nickname, when he was arrested for selling this soap without a license. The policeman could not remember his given name, so he wrote down “Soapy,” and the nickname stuck. A soapy and slick individual he certainly was.
Denver in the 1890s
As Soapy continued his cons, he worked on building a criminal empire until he was able to influence politics by supporting corrupt politicians, using his gambling money to buy votes. By 1889 newspapers reported that he was giving bribes to the mayor of Denver, chief of police and many officers, which allowed him to continue his crimes with impunity. He left town in 1892 after some legal reforms, but these were short lived. A few years later he was back in Denver at his old ways, opening businesses to serve as fronts for his criminal activities.
Davis Hanson Waite was elected governor of Colorado in 1893, and he set out to dismantle the political system that allowed men like Smith to continue unchecked. He was given power over two seats on the Denver Fire and Police Board, and he fired both Jackson Orr and D. J. Martin for refusing to enforce the gambling laws, thus shielding men like Soapy Smith. They refused to leave their offices, and barricaded themselves in the city hall.
A mob forming around the City Hall
They were joined by other disgruntled officials, and they barricaded the doors and prepared to hold out against anyone who might come against them. Some of the governor’s party wanted to pursue the matter in the courts, but Waite thought it was a time for action and not trials. He called out the state militia, and Federal troops were sent to join the group. They marched into Denver with cannon and Gatling guns on March 15, 1894. A photographer was on hand to capture the event.
The militia move down Lawrence Street
300 men gathered inside the hall, Soapy Smith among them. They knew that defeat meant the downfall of their political system, so they were prepared to fight to the last. Details of photographs taken at the time show interesting moments in the mob. You can see closeups in this gallery:
Market Street and City Hall
Men have climbed a telegraph pole
The crowd mobs the steps of the city hall, while the windows are filled with men
Men watch from the windows
In another picture, the men are still watching in nearly the same position
Militia formed in the streets at 1 pm
The military moved in to the square in front of the hall, and planted their cannon in front of it. The town seemed to be on the brink of war. But the order from the governor to open fire never came. In last minute negotiations the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to take on the case, and the governor decided not to use the military against the rebels.
Militia in front of the City Hall
In its decision, the court held the governor did have the power to remove the officials, but he was not allowed to call out the militia to force them to vacate their offices. After this decision the governor’s appointees were installed.
The City Hall War was the beginning of the end of Smith’s criminal empire. His saloons were closed one by one, for violating the gambling laws. Finally Smith left Denver, escaping from punishment for assaulting a saloon owner. He would continue his cons for several more years, moving to stay ahead of the law. He traveled to Mexico and finally Alaska. It was there, in the boomtown of Skagway, where he met his end in the shootout on Juneau Wharf.
We recently returned from a trip to Nigeria. While there we visited Olumo Rock in Abeokuta. In the 1830s the rock was used as a hiding place by the Egba people, and the caves in which they hid can still be seen today. Today the rock is worshiped as a god, and animal sacrifices are made to it.
As the siege of Petersburg, Virginia wound down in the winter of 1864, the fighting slowed down and the soldiers on both sides built winter quarters. At some point photographers came into the camps, and took pictures that still exist today. These were what many of the Federal’s camps looked like:
One camp that looked a lot different was that of the 50th New York Engineers. It was their job to construct things, and their camp reflected that. Their quarters were of much higher quality, with shingles on the roofs, and a large church in the center.
Daniel Webster was born on January 18th, 1782 in Salisbury, New Hampshire. His father had led the local militia during the War for Independence, and had ten children. Daniel attended Darthmouth College, and after his graduation was apprenticed to a local lawyer. At the age of 22, he moved to Boston and worked for Christopher Gore, a prominent Massachusetts lawyer, who had helped negotiate the Jay Treaty with Great Britain. In 1808 Webster married Grace Fletcher, and had four children before her death in 1828. Daniel Webster gained prominence by his opposition to the War of 1812, giving a speech and writing pamphlets against it. New England opposed the war because its commercial interests were hurt by the trade embargo against England and France. Ultimately, he was elected to the Rockingham Convention, which sent the Rockingham Memorial to President James Madison, declaring its opposition to the ongoing war. Webster’s contributions to the debate led to his election to the United States House of Representatives from Massachusetts in 1812. In the House, he continued to oppose the war, as well as the paper money that Madison used to fund it. He was against the protective tariff of the American System authored by Henry Clay, then Speaker of the House, saying it was against the true spirit of the Constitution.
Daniel Webster came into national prominence through his work as a Constitutional lawyer. In the first quarter of the 19th century, he argued 223 cases before the Supreme Court, and often the justices would base their decisions on his arguments. He was involved in eight of the leading cases of the time. He became a leading statesman and many people called him the “Great Expounder of the Constitution.” He played a major role at the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1820, where he argued unsuccessfully that voting should be tied to property. He became famous throughout New England and the nation as an orator, giving famous speeches on the anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims, the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Webster Repyling to Hayne
In 1822 Webster was re-elected to the United States House, and in 1827 moved on to the Senate. When the issue of the tariff was brought up again in 1828, he changed his position from what he had previously argued. Now he was much more supportive of the protective tariff and Clay’s American System. When the tariff passed, South Carolina objected strongly. They began talking of nullification, where a state, if it believes a Federal bill to be unconstitutional, can pass a bill rendering a Federal law null and void. At that point, Webster reversed another position he had held years before. Now he was much less supportive of state’s rights than he had been during the War of 1812. At the time, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, the leading intellectual of the nullification movement, was Vice President of the United States and, as the head of the Senate, could not address the body. Instead Robert Hayne, Senator from South Carolina, engaged Webster in a famous multi-day debate in January, 1830. Webster ended his Second Reply to Hayne by saying:
When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic… not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as “What is all this worth?” nor those other words of delusion and folly, “Liberty first and Union afterwards”; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all its ample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart,— Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!1
Webster supported the sending of troops to South Carolina when nullification was enacted, and was wary of the compromise that Henry Clay worked out in 1833 which ended the crisis.
Daniel Webster joined Clay in opposing Andrew Jackson’s attempt to shut down the National Bank, of which Webster was the legal counsel and director of the Boston Branch. In 1836 Webster ran for the nomination of the Whig Party, but was unsuccessful in gaining national support. In 1839 he was offered the opportunity to run for Vice President under William Henry Harrison, but he declined and John Tyler of Virginia was chosen instead. Instead, he was appointed Secretary of State in 1840, and continued in that role under John Tyler when he became president after Harrison’s death. Tyler was an unpopular president in most of the country, opposing Clay’s economic plans and supporting state’s rights. Neither political party supported Tyler, and the Whigs began impeachment proceedings against him based on their view that vetoing bills on policy rather than constitutionality was unconstitutional. Webster, along with all the other Whig’s in Tyler’s cabinet, resigned in protest of the president’s actions.
Webster was re-elected to the Senate in 1845, and, like Clay, opposed the annexation of Texas and Mexican War as it would reopen the issue of slavery. In 1848, he again sought the presidential nomination of the Whig party and once again failed to receive it. He was offered to run as vice president under Zachary Taylor, but he refused again as he had done with Harrison. Taylor, like Harrison, died soon after being elected. Ironically, Webster had twice been offered the opportunity to become vice president and twice he refused, although both times he would have eventually become president through the death of his running mate.
Portrait of Webster
Compromise of 1850
Webster joined with Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas in pushing for the Compromise of 1850, in an effort to prevent a Civil War which they saw looming in the distance. He gave one of the most famous speeches of his career on March 7th, 1850 which he began by saying:
I wish to speak today, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States …. I speak today for the preservation of the Union. ‘Hear me for my cause.’2
Webster’s support for the Compromise, which included a more strict fugitive slave law, greatly angered the abolitionists of Massachusetts, his home state. Theodore Parker said that “no living man has done so much to debauch the conscience of the nation; to debauch the press, the pulpit, the forum, the bar!”3 Webster resigned from the Senate in 1850, and accepted the position of Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore. In that position, he strove to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, which made him unpopular in the north and ensured that he did not receive the presidential nomination of 1852.
Even if he had been nominated in 1852, Webster would not have gotten a chance to be elected. He fell from his horse and suffered a wound to his head, which resulted in a hemorrhage and his eventual death on October 24th, 1852. One of Webster’s greatest failings was his poor mangement of money. He maintained a constant debt, which he accrued through land speculation, living beyond his means, and gambling. He often needed friends to provide money to pay his obligations. Daniel Webster is remembered today for his work to preserve the Union.
Picture of Webster
1. Personal Memorials of Daniel Webster including a Sketch of his Public Life and the Particulars of his Death by Charles Lanman (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, and Co, 1852) p. 52. 2. Speech of the Hon. Daniel Webster upon the subject of Slavery; Delivered in the United States Senate on Thursday, March 7, 1850 by Daniel Webster (Boston: Redding & Company, 1850) p. 3. 3. The Collected Works of Theodore Parker edt. Frances Power Cobbe (London: Trubner & Co, 1865) vol. 12 p. 98.