Archive for September, 2015

Three Confederate Cannons Recovered from River

September 30, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War by

Madison Explains How to Interpret the Constitution

September 28, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in War for Independence by

James Madison

“As a guide in expounding and applying the provisions of the Constitution, the debates and incidental decisions of the Convention can have no authoritative character. However desirable it be that they should be preserved as a gratification to the laudable curiosity felt by every people to trace the origin and progress of their political Institutions, & as a source perhaps of some lights on the Science of Govt. the legitimate meaning of the Instrument must be derived from the text itself; or if a key is to be sought elsewhere, it must be not in the opinions or intentions of the Body which planned & proposed the Constitution, but in the sense attached to it by the people in their respective State Conventions where it recd. all the authority which it possesses.”

James Madison to Thomas Ritchie, 15 Sept. 1821

Politics of the War of 1812

September 26, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in War of 1812 by

In 1783 the United States obtained its independence with the end of the War for Independence, but less than 30 years later they would once again be engaged in war with Great Britain. The War of 1812 was very controversial at the time, and much debate persists to the present. The reasons the nation went to war were not entirely clear, and a large part of the country was opposed to it. Many mistakes were made in the prosecution of the conflict, and some of the populace was left with a mistaken view of what was achieved by the fight. In this paper we will review the causes of the war, how it was conducted, and what was achieved by it.

President James Madison

When the United States declared war on Great Britain on June 12, 1812, there was not one clear reason for the conflict. Historians have continued to debate the issue to this day. One thing frequently said, then and now, is that the War of 1812 was the Second American Revolution. Although the states had won their independence, England had not fully accepted it. This was manifested in what President James Madison called “a series of acts hostile to the United States as an independent and neutral nation.”1 Most of these involved the American maritime commerce. Britain was involved in a war with France, and the Americans conducted business with both sides. The English tried to prohibit American trade with France through the Orders in Council, and the Americans protested that these acts violated international law and their rights as a sovereign power. The British would stop American ships all over the world and forcibly search them, sometimes confiscating the ships and goods. They would impress into their navy any crew members that they believed were born in the British empire.2 The English did not think that citizenship could be transferred to a different country. They thought once a British citizen, always a British citizen. Therefore they refused to acknowledge the claims to American citizenship made by immigrants.3

Although this was the reason for which the war was declared, it soon became apparent that there were other issues involved. Just two days before the United States declared war, the British government suspended the Order in Council which had forbidden American trade with France. This removed the major stated cause of the war before it even began. But when President Madison heard about the repeal about fifty days later, he did not immediately declare victory. This was because there were other issues involved. Americans complained that the British in Canada encouraged the Indians to raid the United State’s western settlements. There was also a group in Congress called the War Hawks, who wanted to conquer Canada so that the United States would control all of North America. It was a combination of Britain’s restriction of American shipping, their impressment of American sailors, and the desire of the War Hawks to conquer Canada that caused the War of 1812.4

A Press Gang

A Press Gang

When the war began the United States was woefully unprepared. The regular army was very small and undisciplined, especially when compared with the impressive British forces. The Americans had to rely on militia, which proved time and time again to be unreliable. The United States’ strategy was to invade Canada and force Britain to end the war, but the Americans divided their forces, aiming for too many targets. The badly trained Americans were easily defeated by the Canadians, who were aided by their Indian allies and the British regulars. The fighting along the northern frontier was characterized by repeated American disasters punctuated by an occasional victory. The United States also had a difficult time combating England on the water. The British navy was huge, but the Americans did have seven frigates. The Americans won several glorious successes in single ship fights, but on a broad scale the British were able to maintain an efficient blockade on the American coast.5

This blockade only worsened the divide on the American home front. The Federalists of New England were opposed to the war, as the disagreements with Britain had been hurting their trade for years, and they had no interest in the conquest of Canada. There was even some talk of secession in the northeastern states,6 but this was put to rest when the war ended in 1815. In 1814 the British armies were freed up to concentrate on America with the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and they launched several major offensives. The new capitol of Washington was burnt, but the Americans were cheered by the successful defense of Fort McHenry.7

US Capitol, 1814

US Capitol, 1814

Although after the end of the Napoleonic wars the British had more resources to devote to the War of 1812, their people were tired of fighting. The Americans were also tired of the war, and peace delegates were sent to Ghent, Belgium. There the Treaty of Ghent was signed, essentially restoring the status quo from before the war. Although no territory changed sides, the United States came out having achieved several important things. The search and seizure of American ships was over, though that had not been affected by the war. The Americans had shown the British that they were still willing to fight for their sovereignty, and the impressment of American sailors ceased. The relationship between the two countries would improve to the point where they were fighting as allies in the World Wars.8

But the United States was also left with several unfortunate legacies from the war. After the peace treaty was signed, but before the news of it had reached America, the Battle of New Orleans was fought in Louisiana. Andrew Jackson, leading the American force, which was mostly militia, resoundingly defeated the 11,000 British soldiers. Although it had no impact on the outcome of the war, the battle was crucial in shaping the American memory. Although for most battles the service of the militia had been very disappointing, the people were left with the greatest victory of the war fresh in their minds. It seemed that the reliance on the militia as then organized was validated. The Americans continued to believe that their civilian soldiers, virtually untrained and raised just before the battle, were the ones responsible for a victory of the United States during the War of 1812.9 This would lead to the nation yet again repeating its mistakes in coming conflicts.

USS Constitution destroys the HMS Guerriere

USS Constitution destroys the HMS Guerriere

1. John Frost, The Presidents of the United States from Washington to Cleveland (Boston: Lee and Shepard Publishers, 1889) p. 102.
2. Donald Snow and Dennis Drew, From Lexington to Baghdad and Beyond (Armonk, New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2010) 3rd ed. p. 263-254.
3. Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812 (New York: Vintage Books, 2011) p. 5.
4From Lexington to Baghdad, p. 264-265.
5Ibid, p. 267-270.
6. David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, Encyclopedia of the War of 1812 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2004) p. 173.
7From Lexington to Baghdad, p. 270.
8Ibid, p. 270-271.

A Modern Day Civil War Photographer

September 23, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War, Featured, Weekly Video by

Rob Gibson of Gettysburg, PA has made a career of recreating the techniques used by Civil War photographers. Learn his story in this video!

Photographic Tour of New England History

September 22, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in War for Independence by

Recently, the Discerning History team led a historical tour through New England, with a special focus on the American Revolution. Here are a few highlights:

Masts of the Mayflower replica

The Old South Meeting House, into which 5000 people crammed in a meeting before the Boston Tea Party

The Old State House, in front of which British troops fired on civilians in the Boston Massacre

Paul Revere and the Old North Church

Springfield Armory, which for many years was the US military’s major weapons manufacturer

A cannon overlooks Saratoga Battlefield

You can see more here.

Remembering the Battle of Britain

September 15, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in World War II by

A rare colour photograph of a Hurricane of  No.1 Squadron RCAF over the south of England

A rare colour photograph of a Hurricane of
No.1 Squadron RCAF over the south of England

Today is Battle of Britain Day. Across Britain, Poland, France, Germany, Canada, America, and elsewhere, services of remembrance and commemoration are being held as many remember the bravery, heroism, and sacrifice of those who participated in the Battle of Britain. It is has been seventy-five years since the climax of a battle in the skies which decided to a great degree the outcome of WWII.

This was the day when, 75 years ago, the Royal Air Force defeated two major attacks by German Luftwaffe bombers and fighters on England and London. 61 Luftwaffe planes were destroyed at a cost of only 31 aircraft for the RAF. These were the most severe losses that the Germans had suffered in the past month. Over the next few days, the German High Command gradually stopped large daylight raids on Britain, and the Battle of Britain, while not completely over, was virtually won.

Ground crew replace the port wheel on a Hurricane.  These often forgotten, yet vital members of the RCAF, played an important role throughout the war

Ground crew replace the port wheel on a Hurricane. These often forgotten,
yet vital members of the RCAF, played an important role throughout the war

Britain had survived – but only just. Another week, and the tide might have turned the other way. But that was not what happened. In God’s providence, the RAF defeated the Luftwaffe and ended the threat of invasion of Britain by the Germans. Fighting would continue for another four years, but in one of the most heroic and desperate battles ever fought in the air, history was made and courage exemplified.

RCAF pilots run towards their waiting Hurricanes in this incredible photograph taken during the height of the Battle

RCAF pilots run towards their waiting Hurricanes in this
incredible photograph taken during the height of the Battle

At the end of the Battle, almost 1500 airmen from thirteen countries had given their lives in defense of Britain – and freedom. Following is a list, by country, of those who fought and died during the official period of the Battle of Britain: July 10 – October 31, 1940.

           Pilots                Nation             Killed in Action*
          1878          United Kingdom            448
             21                  Australia                     14
             73               New Zealand                 11
             88                  Canada                       20
             21                South Africa                    9
             2               South Rhodesia                 0
             8                     Ireland                         0
             7                United States                   1
             141                Poland                        29
             86            Czechoslovakia                 8
             26                  Belgium                        6
             13                   France                          0
             1                      Israel                           0
German Losses During the Battle of Britain
     Bomber Crews:                           2621
     Fighter-Bomber Crews:            297
     Fighter Pilots:                             171
May we never forget those who fought on both sides.


William Moore is a Christian young man who lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He writes frequently at his blog “For Christ’s Glory”, commenting on subjects ranging from Theology and History to Music and Film.


A pilot of No.1 Squadron climbs out of his plane after a sortie knowing full  well that he will be fighting in the skies again before the day is out

A pilot of No.1 Squadron climbs out of his plane after a sortie

Was the Emancipation Proclamation Trying to Incite a Slave Rebellion?

September 5, 2015 with No Comments and Posted in Civil War by

Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Philip Leigh, who brings us a guest post on Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Be sure to check out his newest book, Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies.


Capture of Nat Turner

Such an uprising would almost certainly have compelled Confederate soldiers to desert in order to go home to protect their families. Even if they were members of the nearly 70% of families in the Confederate states that did not own slaves such a rebellion could trigger a race war. The danger was a particularly sensitive point in states like South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi where slaves represented over half, or nearly half, of the population. The Confederacy would have little chance of surviving a widespread servile insurrection that would require it to fight both the slaves and the Union armies.1

Although there were few prior American slave rebellions, Nat Turner’s 1831 Virginia uprising confirmed they could be merciless racial conflicts. During their brief summer rampage Turner’s rebels killed nearly every White they encountered. A total of about sixty were massacred, mostly women and children.

One near-victim was George Thomas who was spared because he fled his home to hide in the woods with his mother and sisters. Thomas later became a famous Union general credited with saving an entire army at the battle of Chickamauga. Out of 7,000 Blacks in the region, Turner was only able to recruit about sixty followers. There were even reports that some masters gave weapons to their wards and that the armed slaves helped put-down the insurrection.2

Some slave rebellions elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere involved more extensive genocide. One example was on the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo where a multi-year revolt culminated in the formation of the Free Haitian Republic in 1804. Although most Whites left by that time, the 5,000 or so who remained were systematically massacred. Some women who took Black husbands or lovers were spared.3


Slave Trade Destinations. Source.

The map above shows that the vast bulk of African slave trade terminated in the Caribbean and South America, not the United States. Therefore, Western Hemisphere slave uprisings outside our country were more common. As shall be explained, their potential to disrupt Atlantic trade was a serious worry for the Europeans.

President Lincoln famously resisted pressure to emancipate slaves during the first year-and-a-half of his administration. In the first year he required that Major General John C. Fremont withdraw the general’s military order freeing Missouri slaves, which was a state where Fremont was then military commander. In May 1862 Lincoln rescinded an order by Major General David Hunter that freed the slaves in parts of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. Lincoln’s resistance to emancipation early in the war was partly influenced by a desire to prevent the slave-legal border-states, such as Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, from seceding.4

However, by the summer of 1862 the president was considering emancipation as a necessary means of winning the war. His earliest supportive remarks date to July 13, 1862. While riding in a carriage with Secretary of State William Seward and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, who were conservative cabinet members, he remarked that he “had about come to the conclusion that we must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued.” Both men were surprised and asked for time to consider the matter. Lincoln urged them to ponder it seriously because “something must be done.”5


Lincoln and his cabinet

About a week later on July 22 the president read a first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to the entire cabinet that included abolitionist and conservative members. The secretaries had expected the meeting to address other matters and had difficulty focusing on the statement. It had a curious structure that showed the president was trying to reconcile his previous policy and constitutional arguments with the new position. For example, less than eighteen months earlier in his presidential inaugural address he said he had no lawful right “to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.” It also pledged pecuniary aid to any state, including the rebellious ones, who voluntarily abolished slavery. He concluded by asking for cabinet member opinions.6

Secretary of War Stanton and Attorney General Bates urged immediate adoption. Surprisingly, the abolitionist Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase felt that it would be better to let the generals in the field implement the program sector-by-sector partly to avoid the “depredation and massacre” of civilians and their property. Secretary of State Seward remarked that emancipation “would break up our relations with foreign nations and the production of cotton for sixty years.” Apparently he believed that cotton could not be economically produced except by slave labor. Seward also advised that if the president was determined to proceed, he should wait until the Union armies won an important victory. Otherwise, he warned, the policy “would be viewed as the last measure of an exhausted government, a cry for help.”7

Slave Reading the Emancipation Proclamation

Slave Reading the Emancipation Proclamation

Secretary Chase’s comment suggests that a number of important Northerners recognized that emancipation might prompt a slave uprising. In point of fact, President Lincoln was among them. On September 13, 1862 he replied to a delegation of Chicago abolitionists visiting Washington that he recognized the potentially immoral “consequences of insurrection and massacre at the South.” Whatever the moral benefits, or immoral consequences, of emancipation he “view[ed] the matter as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the [Confederate] rebellion.”8

After the battle of Antietam that repulsed Robert E. Lee’s Maryland invasion, Lincoln publicly announced the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. It is described as “preliminary” because the formal proclamation would not be effective until January 1, 1863.

Following the September public announcement many voices condemned the proclamation as an attempt to provoke a slave rebellion. Unsurprisingly, it was a common interpretation in the South where Confederate President Jefferson Davis averred the document “encouraged [slaves] to a general assassination of their masters.” But similar reactions were not uncommon in the North partly because the manuscript includes a statement that the “[US] military and naval authority…will do no act to repress [slaves], or…any efforts [the slaves] may make for their actual freedom.” Many critics concluded the statement ordered the military to do nothing to protect Southern civilians should a slave rebellion arise.9


Charles Dana

Among them was Charles A. Dana, a trusted civilian observer of generals and armies in the field for Lincoln and Stanton. Dana immediately urged that the statement by erased or changed because of its potential to incite servile insurrection. Another example was former Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Curtis from Massachusetts. He was on the Court during the Dred Scott decision and sided with the minority who felt Scott should have been freed. After the ruling went against him, Curtis resigned from the Court. Although he did not believe Lincoln intended to instigate a slave rebellion, he concluded the proclamation’s likely result would be to “incite a part of the inhabitants of the United States to rise in insurrection against valid laws.” He foresaw “scenes of bloodshed” and “servile war.”10

Boston maritime mogul and friend to abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner, Robert Forbes, concluded that Sumner’s followers genuinely wanted the slaves to “be made free by killing or poisoning their masters and mistresses.” US Representative Thaddeus Stevens who was a primary abolitionist leader and chief architect of Civil War Reconstruction validated Forbes’s conclusion. Stevens later admitted hoping the slaves would be “incited to insurrection and give the rebels a taste of real war.” Similarly, the Continental Monthly of New York urged that a “thousand mounted men” be recruited to raid deep into the South with authority to assemble and arm the slaves.” Finally, Senator Sumner himself said, “I know of no principle…by which our [Southern White] rebels should be saved from the natural consequences of their own action…They set the example of insurrection…They cannot complain if their slaves…follow it.11

Colonel Charles Francis Adams, Jr. who was the son of Lincoln’s ambassador to Great Britain and the great-grandson and grandson of two US presidents concluded the prevailing belief in the North at the time of the proclamation was that it would spark an immediate slave uprising to bring the war to a sudden end. Major General George McClellan similarly complained that the president sought to stir up slave rebellions in an attempt to end the war. McClellan cannot be dismissed as an isolated example because he was Lincoln’s opponent in the 1864 wartime presidential election when he received over 1.8 million votes, which was 45% of the total. As late as July 1864 Lincoln was convinced he would lose the election to McClellan, but the president’s prospects were rescued by Sherman’s capture of Atlanta on September 2.12



Grosvenor Lowery, a US Treasury Department lawyer who wrote legal pamphlets supporting the expansion of the president’s wartime powers, opined that nobody could predict a slave rebellion. However, he added, that if a “servile resurrection …ensu[ed]” the rebels could only blame themselves. Essentially, Lowery argued for Lincoln that emancipation was legal as a wartime measure, which the government should use to win the war even at the risk of a Southern slave rebellion. In legal terms, Grosvenor echoed Lincoln’s points to the delegation of Chicago abolitionists nine days before he issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It was legal as a wartime measure but had both moral, and potentially immoral, ramifications.13

According to historian Howard Jones, initial reaction that the Emancipation Proclamation might provoke slave rebellions was also common in Europe. Moreover, the Europeans worried that it could trigger a race war that would extend beyond American borders. Instead of concluding that emancipation gave the United States the moral high ground Jones writes:

What developed was not an expected debate over the morality of slavery but a deep fear among British leaders that the president’s move would stir up slave rebellions. The result, they predicted, would be a race war that crossed sectional lines and, contrary to Lincoln’s intentions forced other nations to intervene [in America’s Civil War.]

[British Foreign Secretary Earl John Russell]…told [the House of] Lords that the war must come to a halt on the basis of a southern separation. Otherwise a full-scale race war would result…14

Russell justified mediation on…[presumption of] a certain race war that would drag in other nations. In the ultimate irony Lincoln had adopted an antislavery posture in part to prevent outside interference…but had instead raised the likelihood of foreign involvement by, according to the British and French, attempting to stir up a servile insurrection… 15

Similarly Jones writes of the opinion held by the French minister to Washington, Henri Mercier:

…like the British [Mercier concluded] that the Union’s expected demand for immediate emancipation would spark a race war that disrupted the southern economy and stopped the flow of cotton. Such a conflict would spread beyond sectional boundaries and drag in other nations.16

Opinions similar to those above were echoed by a number of prominent British and French newspapers. The London Times asked whether “the reign of [Lincoln’s presidency was] to go out amid the horrible massacres of white women and children, to be followed by the extermination of the black race in the South?” According to Jones, the French “…Conservative press thought the Proclamation would cause slave rebellions and a ‘fratricidal war’ that would envelop America in ‘blood and ruins.’”17

In time, however, since a slave rebellion failed to materialize, Lincoln was able to win the moral high ground with the Europeans and posterity. It is impossible to be certain about his intentions. Nonetheless, there is a subtle but important difference in language between the Emancipation Proclamation of September 22, 1862 and the final one about three months later on January 1, 1863. Lincoln added the following paragraph to the final version, which was altogether missing from the September 22 version:

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

Philip Leigh Philip Leigh contributed twenty-four articles to The New York Times Disunion blog, which commemorated the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Westholme Publishing released three of Phil’s three Civil War books to date:

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies (2015)
Trading With the Enemy (2014)
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated (2013)

Phil has lectured a various Civil War forums, including the 23rd Annual Sarasota Conference of the Civil War Education Association and various Civil War Roundtables. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Florida Institute of Technology and an MBA from Northwestern University.


Slaves with their Master

1. Tim McNeese America’s Civil War (Dayton, Oh.: Lorenz Educational Press, 2003) 9; James Randall & David Donald The Civil War and Reconstruction (Boston: D. C. Heath & Company, 1961) 5.
2. Francis Simkins and Charles Roland A History of the South (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972) 126 – 127; Ernest Furgurson “Catching Up With Old Slow Trot” Smithsonian Magazine March, 2007.
3. Philippe Girard The Slaves Who Defeated Napoleon (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011) 321 – 322.
4. James McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) 352, 499; David Donald Lincoln (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995) 363 – 364.
5. David Donald Lincoln 362.
6. Ibid., 365; Abraham Lincoln “First Presidential Inaugural Address” Yale Law School, The Avalon Project
7. Ibid., 365.
8. Abraham Lincoln, Roy Basler Editor The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln Volume 5 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953) 421.
9. Michael Burlingame Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) 417; John Franklin The Emancipation Proclamation (Wheeling, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, 1963) 43.
10. Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life 417; Louis Masur Lincoln’s Hundred Days (Cambridge, Ma.: Belknap Press, 2012) 123 – 124.
11. Louis Masur Lincoln’s Hundred Days 123 – 125; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life 417; Allen Guelzo Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006)
12. Howard Jones Blue and Gray Diplomacy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010) 230; Matthew Andrews Virginia: The Old Dominion (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1937) 632n; James McPherson Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) 771, 773, 805.
13. Louis Masur Lincoln’s Hundred Days 123.
14. Howard Jones Blue and Gray Diplomacy 120.
15. Ibid., 234.
16. Ibid., 146.
17. Ibid., 232.