Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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The French and Indian War

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The Canadian Conrad Black says the Americans helped the British throw out the French. Ten years later they helped the French throw out the British.

THE ENGLISH SETTLEMENTS 1619-1776

At first, the British Empire wasn't even British, it was English. English history, English religion, English unification, even English court intrigue, and gossip. When Sir Francis Drake brought home the Spanish gold, it was welcome enough, but it was just part of the English Revolution, on its way to becoming the British Empire. English settlers were just a curiosity, like the "Indians" they brought home. England was Ben Franklin's idea of home, left behind by his prosperous family because of largely religious quarrels. The silk-dye Franklins, by the way, had to start over at the bottom in Boston because Cotton Mather's crowd wouldn't accept their money, or see their side of an English religious quarrel. England was, in fact, everybody's home, intellectually, although that was fast coming to an end. Because of the plague and the fire, lots of things were coming to an end, and lots of other things were just starting. For now, the important thing was they were people of former substance, wide acquaintance, and thoroughly English. Whiggish and out of favor perhaps, but not seriously in rebellion.

When they got to America, the whole Franklin family was rambunctious and supported itself with sister Jane's invention of bar soap, her father's candle-making shop, and brother James' printer shop. They got in trouble somewhat with a straight-laced community, but most of their troubles would be called "scrapes" and "quarrels" of a family trying to re-establish itself in new circumstances. When he got to Philadelphia, Benjamin repeated the performance. Arriving at a strange town as a penniless teenager, he turned a print-shop into a chain of newspapers and was ready to retire to his hobbies and politics at the age of 42. Along the way, he learned to keep his mouth shut, selectively.

Franklin was not an aristocrat, but there were scarcely any aristocrats who did not seek him out. In spite of writing one of the most famous autobiographies in America, few people could be certain of his religion, his marital status, his politics. He was definitely not a Quaker, but for a while, he led the Quaker faction. He never went past the second grade, but would have won a Nobel prize if there had been such a thing, and financed his own research. He spent eighteen years living in London, inventing a musical instrument which pleased Mozart, and regularly visited Parliament. When the King's Saint Paul Cathedral was struck by lightning, the King sought his advice. When King George III rejected this advice, the personal quarrel turned him into a personal enemy of the King. As a consequence of a forty-minute public tongue-lashing by Lord Wedderburn at the King's request, he finally turned rebel, joined the Continental Congress, and eventually helped write the American Constitution. At the Albany Conference of 1754, he had proposed a Union of the Thirteen Colonies and lived to see it a reality in 1789, although it was an independent America, not a British colony. But in spite of that, it took a personal confrontation with King George III to convince him Independence was a good idea. In spite of his greatly praised autobiography, no one suspected it of him. No one seems to have known.

Virginia Invades Pennsylvania

{Privateers}
Map of Pittsburg

Pittsburgh is situated at a water gap, where a prehistoric North-South river broke through the mountain to the West. Thus, the southerly Monongahela river joined the northerly Allegheny to form the Ohio river at the "Golden Triangle". Virginian explorers saw the Monongahela as their path to the mid-West, the French in Canada saw the Allegheny as their path from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi, while William Penn had an awkward charter saying he owned the whole territory. To make matters worse, the region was largely settled by semi-barbarian Scotch-Irish squatters, while the equally fierce Indian tribes were pretty outraged by the white men. Benjamin Franklin added his bit to uproar by buying the territory from the Iroquois at the 1754 Albany Conference, when it belonged to the Delaware tribe, who promptly became the main exterminators of General Braddock's army. Lord Dunmore also bought the Ohio territory from the Iroquois, in spite of the fact that it traditionally belonged to the Shawnees. The whole region was a seething cauldron of massacres and assassinations, betrayals and vengeance. Not exactly a place to welcome pacifist Quaker governance.

{http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/YoungGeorgewashington2.jpg}
Young George Washington

It would be interesting to know George Washington's later thoughts about this region since he was the young officer who started the French and Indian War in 1753. The Governor of Virginia had learned the French were fortifying Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio and sent Washington to warn them to desist. He barely escaped with his life, and soon accompanied General Braddock's English troops to their own disaster in 1755. In 1758 the British sent General Forbes with a British army to wipe out Fort Duquesne, which he did, establishing Fort Pitt on the ashes. Fort Pitt somehow remained under the control of -- Virginia -- until 1777.

{http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/Thedelaware2.jpg}
Delaware River

The Penn proprietors were vigilant, but patient when they had to be. Presumably through influence with the British crown, the Penns gave their consent to the Forbes expedition only on condition their ownership rights were recognized. Their argument was a difficult one to maintain in the face of military realities, since their charter read that the western boundary of Pennsylvania was to be five degrees west of the Delaware River, a rather vague concept in the wilderness of Appalachia. It was maintained that such a boundary would naturally parallel the twists and turns of the Delaware, at a distance of several hundred miles west. Such a preposterous boundary was soon abandoned for the cubist idea of several straight lines with bends at major levels of the Delaware River. With all disputants rather befuddled, it was finally established that any possible variation of language and interpretation would still put the boundary at least six miles west of the forks of the Ohio. Seeing the main point of the sophistry was lost in any event, Virginia gave up.

It might be possible to be sympathetic with Virginia's claim, except for Lord Dunmore the Governor. After all, Virginia had shed blood for the area, surveyed it, built roads, and persuaded the British Ministry to support them militarily. The Pennsylvanians only had a piece of parchment, carelessly engraved with an unworkable depiction of vague boundaries in the woods which totally ignored the most important natural landmark. But Lord Dunmore was too clever by half.

It would appear that his scheme was to make the region uninhabitable by stirring up the Indians and settlers into ferocious massacres. With these competing claims eliminated, it would be far easier to negotiate with other competitive claimants. Virginia was by far the largest of the thirteen colonies, and Pennsylvania was notoriously the most unwilling to meet force with force. It would be interesting to see studies of the inside pressures and negotiations which eventually made Virginia back off. But it seems safe to believe that the necessity for the colonies to unite in their common struggle for independence was in one form or another, the definitive force.

At any rate, at the end of a long career, in 1794 President George Washington personally led an army into Pennsylvania's Appalachia to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion at a town called Monongahela. It would be immensely revealing to know what his thoughts and reflections were, as he jiggled along on his horse.

The Walking Purchase

{Privateers}
William Penn and the Indians

Any fair discussion of Quaker relations with the Indians must emphasize that almost all other colonists of the time regarded Indians as subhuman components of the local wilderness. Only William Penn was careful to treat the Indians as fellow human beings, entitled to fair play, dignity, and respect. Like a good politician, he entered into their games with enthusiasm and definitely earned their respect by outdoing them all in the broad jump contests. Even though he had bought the land from King Charles II, he took care to buy it a second time from the Indians, and for many decades was able to enforce the wise rule of never permitting settlers on the land before the Indians agreed to its purchase. After Penn's death, however, and particularly from 1726 to 1736, a major wave of German and Scotch-Irish immigration created an overwhelming population pressure on the seaboard areas, resulting in much unauthorized pioneering and settlement. Since William Penn spent only a few years in the colonies his agents chiefly James Logan, had long set the tone.

Walking Purchase

Logan had been equally famous for his many efforts to treat the Indians fairly, and the grounds of Stenton, his manor house, were often filled with Indians come to pay their respects. Against all this evidence of the benign attitudes of both Penn and Logan, there stands the episode of the Walking Purchase of 1737. No doubt about it, the Indians were treated badly.

In the triangle between the Neshaminy Creek and the Delaware River, the Delaware Indians agreed to a sale with the third side of the triangle established at a distance from Wrightstown, as far as a man could walk northward toward the Wind Gap in a day and a half. That was a common form of boundary for Indian land sales, and its distance was fairly well understood. In anticipation of pacing out the distance, the colonists sent out explorers to find the easiest path, then sent out woodsmen to clear a path in the forest, and selected three of the fastest runners in the colony to do the running. The pace was so fast that two of the runners had to drop out, and the third one nearly did so. The resulting boundary was nearly twice as far into the wilderness as was commonly accepted for the measurement, taking advantage of the sharp bend in the river which widened the land in question by a great deal. The Indians were so disgusted they refused to leave the territory. Logan had already made an agreement with the Iroquois nation, to whom the Delawares were subject, and the Delawares only surrendered the land when the Iroquois began to look as though they really would act as enforcers for the bargain. Although serious Indian warfare did not break out for another twenty years, the Walking Purchase went a long way toward convincing the Delaware tribe that the Quakers were no more trustworthy than the settlers in other colonies, and is said to have been on their minds when twenty years later they helped the French decimate General Braddock's army.

There will probably never be a clear resolution of the paradox of Quakers, particularly Logan, behaving in this reprehensible manner within a very long history of the unusually honorable treatment of the Indians. With William Penn now dead and gone, no doubt Logan was caught in a squeeze between the two rather dissolute sons of William Penn, neither of them Quaker, who had over-indebted themselves with high living and were pressing their agent to make land sales to pay for it. Then there was the pressure of the new German and Scotch-Irish immigrants, brought to the New World by real estate promises, and stranded in the seaport unable to complete their land purchases. Under this pressure, Logan may have been unduly persuaded that the 1684 treaties with the Indians, along with many other treaties and understandings, were all the legal justification he needed. Whatever the specifics of the situation at the time, it is now clear the Walking Purchase was a blot on the Quaker record that can never be entirely justified within the Quakers' own standards of fairness. Within the Society of Friends, whatever other English colonists might have done in their position, let alone what French and Spanish regularly did to the Indians, doesn't matter in the slightest.

Philadelphia in 1658

Annals of Philadelphia

Of all the settlers prior to Penn, I feel most interested to notice the name of Jurian Hartsfield, because he took up all of Campington, 350 acres, as early as March 1676, nearly six years before Penn's colony came. He settled under a patent from Governor Andros. What a pioneer, to push on to such a frontier post! But how melancholy to think, that a man, possessing the freehold of what is now cut up into thousands of Northern Liberty lots, should have left no fame, nor any wealth, to any posterity of his name. But the chief pioneer must have been Warner, who, as early as the year 1658, had the hardihood to locate and settle the place, now Warner's Willow Grove, on the north side of the Lancaster Road, two miles from the city bridge. What an isolated existence in the midst of savage beasts and men must such a family have then experienced! What a difference between the relative comforts and household conveniences of that day and this! Yea, what changes did he witness, even in the long interval of a quarter of a century before the arrival of Penn's colony! To such a place let the antiquary now go to contemplate the localities so peculiarly unique!"

--John F. Watson, Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania in the Olden Time

Politics of the French and Indian War

{Privateers}
Isaac Sharpless

In the European view, the French and Indian War was a mere skirmish in the many-year conflict between France and England. But the Atlantic is a wide ocean. The local Pennsylvania politics of that war concern the land-hungry settlers striving for Indian lands, the Quaker Assembly doing its best to maintain William Penn's formula for peace ("No settlements without first buying the land from the Indians."), and William Penn's far-from-idealistic Anglican sons, focused on profit from a land rush. Western Pennsylvania belonged to the Delaware tribe, but the Delawares were subject to the Iroquois nation. The year is 1754. The following pro-Quaker description is given by Isaac Sharpless, president of the Quaker Haverford College between 1887 and 1917 (Political Leaders of Colonial Pennsylvania,

{Isaac Norris}
Isaac Norris

Isaac Norris was appointed to another Albany treaty with the Indians in 1754. The commission consisted of John Penn and Richard Peters representing the Proprietors, and Benjamin Franklin and himself, the Assembly. Indian relations were becoming difficult. The Five Nations still claimed the right to the ownership of Pennsylvania and insisted that no sale of land by the Delawares was permissible. In an evil hour, the government of Pennsylvania recognized this claim and this Albany meeting was for the purpose of effecting a purchase. By methods that were more or less unfair, taking advantage of the Indian ignorance of geography, they bought for 400 pounds all of southwestern Pennsylvania. When the Delawares found their land had been sold without their consent, they threw off the Iroquois yoke, joined the French, defeated Braddock's army a year later and for the first time in the history of the Colony the horrors of Indian warfare were known on the frontiers.

Although Sharpless goes directly to the unvarnished truth of the situation, he reveals the depth of his bitterness by openly discarding Franklin's cover story about being in Albany to propose political unity among the British colonies.

It was on this expedition that Franklin presented to his fellow delegates his plan for a union of the Colonies, of course in subordination to the British Crown which was a precursor of the final union in Revolutionary days. Sixty years earlier William Penn had proposed a somewhat similar scheme.

The war came, French intrigue and the unwisdom of the Executive branch of the government of the Province (the Penns) drove the Indians, who for seventy-three years had been friendly, into the warpath. Cries came in from the frontiers of homesteads burnt, men shot at their plows, women, and children scalped or carried into horrible captivity, and a growing sentiment among the red men that the French were the stronger and that the English were to be driven into the sea.

George Washington Starts The French and Indian War(?)

{Pearls on the String}
George Washington

George Washington started in the British Army as a Lieutenant Colonel in a Virginia militia company. As was customary at the time among the families of the several-generation- in-Virginia set, his family probably purchased his commission and helped raise his troop. Since he started life as a surveyor, his family had probably come up in life, socially.

The British Army at the time had the reputation as a killing machine, so it was not too much of a stretch to suppose the Brits were fairly open (and merciless) about their contempt for the colonials, and the colonials were probably fairly sullen about it. In any event, when Robert Dinwiddie the Governor of Virginia dispatched Washington's troops to Ohio to tell the French to stay clear of Virginia's land claims (with private instructions to kill them if you must), Washington undoubtedly saw this as an opportunity to advance his military career. Then, or possibly when he watched the Virginia troops stand while British under Braddock ran for their lives, he developed a new view of their relative merits, perhaps a new view of the advantages of guerrilla warfare fighting against regular troops, trained to a different sort of war. Or a little of both. Washington was tall, well-dressed and aristocratic, but was not a deep thinker. There is, of course, an alternative story. It blames the death of the French Ensign Joseph Coulon de Jumonville on the Iroquis leader Tanaghrison, or his two chief warriors, Kankusky or Tar Heels. According to this version, these Indians were traitors to the French who had stolen Indian lands in Ohio. This story has it these two got away with it, in the heat of battle.

In any event, a decade later the tall Virginia gentleman presented himself as an aristocratic rebel soldier from by far the largest colony, who badly wanted the job. John Adams grabbed him when the choice for defending Boston was his. It perhaps proved to be a good choice for the wrong reasons.

George Washington's View of the British Army

George Washington

TWO things about George Washington continue to puzzle us. Why would the rich, aristocratic Virginia gentleman become a revolutionary? And, how could he or his backwoodsmen soldiers even imagine they could defeat the British, the greatest military force in the world? The following letter, written to his mother after the defeat of Braddock's army, shows his viewpoint at the age of 23, putting the British regular army in a very bad light, indeed.

"HONORED MADAM: As I doubt not but you have heard of our defeat, and, perhaps, had it represented in a worse light, if possible than it deserves, I have taken this earliest opportunity to give you some account of the engagement as it happened, within ten miles of the French fort, on Wednesday the 9th instant.

"We marched to that place, without any considerable loss, having only now and then a straggler picked up by the French and scouting Indians. When we came there, we were attacked by a party of French and Indians, whose number, I am persuaded, did not exceed three hundred men; while ours consisted of about one thousand three hundred well-armed troops, chiefly regular soldiers, who were struck with such a panic that they behaved with more cowardice than it is possible to conceive. The officers behaved gallantly, in order to encourage their men, for which they suffered greatly, there being near sixty killed and wounded; a large proportion of the number we had.

"The Virginia troops showed a good deal of bravery and were nearly all killed; for I believe, out of three companies that were there, scarcely thirty men are left alive. Captain Peyrouny and all his officers down to a corporal were killed. Captain Polson had nearly as hard a fate, for only one of his was left. In short, the dastardly behavior of those they call regulars exposed all others, that were inclined to do their duty, to almost certain death; and, at last, in spite of all the efforts of the officers to the contrary, they ran, as sheep pursued by dogs, and it was impossible to rally them.

"The General was wounded, of which he died three days after. Sir Peter Halket was killed in the field, where died many other brave officers. I luckily escaped without a wound, though I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me. Captains Orme and Morris, two of the aids-de-camp, were wounded early in the engagement, which rendered the duty harder upon me, as I was the only person then left to distribute the General's orders, which I was scarcely able to do, as I was not half recovered from a violent illness, that had confined me to my bed and a wagon for above ten days. I am still in a weak and feeble condition, which induces me to halt here two or three days in the hope of recovering a little strength, to enable me to proceed homewards; from whence, I fear, I shall not be able to stir till toward September; so that I shall not have the pleasure of seeing you till then, unless it be in Fairfax... I am, honored Madam, your most dutiful son."

George Washington's Cherry Tree, Revisited

{American Revolutionary}
American Revolutionary
George Washington Chopping the Cherry Tree

Parson Weems, it seems, was a mercenary type who made up stories because he thought they would sell. Someone should explore the history of this anti-Weems debunking campaign for us, because it has distracted history from what may be a far more important truth about the founding, and the founder, of our country.

The address President Washington sent to his countrymen, published September 19, 1796, will apparently be forever referred to as his Farewell Address, and it is true that one of the important points he was making was the President should have only two terms of office, adding in his particular case the determination not to die while in office and create undesirable precedents for Presidential succession. It is also sometimes stressed that Washington cautioned the nation against all foreign entanglements, although likely he had in mind the particular conflicted loyalty at the time between England which we strongly resembled, and France to whom we owed a debt of gratitude for our independence. Surely he was telling the nation to watch out for its precarious independence, even at the price of disappointing old friends, and not really attempting to look centuries ahead in foreign relations. The point about a third term was a pretty firm one; Washington's greatest achievement in the eyes of the world was to renounce all resemblance to monarchy, which he could have had for the asking.

{Farewell Address for George Washington}
Farewell Address for George Washington

Much deeper meaning for the address is suggested when you search, let's say with Google, for the origins of the speech's repeated maxim, Honesty is the best policy. It sounds like the sort of thing Ben Franklin would put in his Almanac, but didn't. There are even times in Franklin's life when it might be questioned whether he really believed honesty was always the best choice for every situation, and Franklin's true belief might possibly have been closer to advising that you should strive to avoid getting caught misleading people. The opinion that honesty is the best policy sounds as if it might come from Shakespeare, or Cervante's Don Quixote; something pretty close can be found in both places. It might be much older than that; the phrase and a detailed examination of its merits can be found in the works of Quintilian, 69 AD. George Washington was unlikely to have read any classical Roman essays, but James Madison the favorite student of John Witherspoon at Princeton might well have been familiar with Quintilian. But these stray remarks about honesty are merely scatterings over fifteen centuries, mostly throw-away lines. It is only in the last decades of the Eighteenth Century that the little maxim is found peppered in the speeches of many people, beginning to use it as a cliche to adorn some other point of emphasis.

{top quote}
It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them. {bottom quote}

The point begins to catch the imagination that perhaps this flowering of a maxim can be traced to Washington's Farewell Address. It's unlikely that George Washington actually coined the phrase that honesty was the best policy, any more than Franklin Roosevelt coined the motto that all we have to fear is fear itself, or John Kennedy originated the happy phrase that we should ask not what our country can do for us, etc. Our more sophisticated views of Presidential rhetoric are now quite broad enough to accept the existence of ghostwriters and wordsmiths. It is current practice to agree that credit for originating a phrase adheres rightly to the person symbolized later when the phrase enters common parlance. To think otherwise is to become entangled in bickering about who wrote Shakespeare's plays, or who really wrote the various books of the Bible.

{President's House Philadelphia}
President's House Philadelphia

There is, however, historical importance to the speech-writer question in Washington's case. We are told that Washington had asked James Madison to draw up a speech for the occasion of his declining to accept a second term of office in 1792, but the whole matter was reconsidered when various advisors finally persuaded the President that the country needed him at the helm for more than four years. The speech was therefore set aside but revised and re-issued four years later. By this time, however, Washington and Madison had experienced their fateful falling-out, and therefore Madison's arch-enemy Alexander Hamilton did the re-writing. That honesty is the best policy should survive as a centerpiece in an address co-edited by such bitter philosophical enemies, plus some passing reflection on the personalities of the three men, should suffice to dispel most doubt that the sentiment was Washington's and that it must have been held very intensely by him. Madison may well have planted it, and he might very well have got it in turn from Cervantes or Quintilian. David Hume of Scotland might be an even likelier source. But overall it is hard to let go of the idea that Washington seized on it as a summary of something he fiercely believed.

There are differing degrees of and situations for honesty, of course; surely the most trivial is the sort of honesty Parson Weems was imagining in the little lad who would become our greatest leader. It really is not necessary to believe the courage to risk a whipping by a schoolboy is a core value which evolves into the broad economic vision for a nation. The legal profession, for example, may even overvalue absolute precision of wording, sometimes tolerating exquisite accuracy which artfully avoids full disclosure, caveat emptor. The military academies come closer to Washington's meaning by stressing to their graduates that what matters is not what is said, but what is communicated. At the time of the Farewell letter, what agitated Washington most was political partisanship -- political parties -- and overzealous effort to defeat the opinions of honest opponents rather than strive for a resolution of problems by bargain and compromise. In his youth, Washington was a surveyor, deeply impressed by the advantages of getting things straight the first time. Washington was to lose the argument over political parties, but while this defeat was among his greatest disappointments, his resistance still shines like a beacon.

It is hard to discern whether Washington had the depth of economic insight to emphasize the feature of honesty is the best policy which has the greatest importance to the Twenty-first Century. However, it is possible he did, because he was speaking in the midst of Quaker Philadelphia, having centered most of his public life there. Puritan Boston deeply believed that God had commanded honesty in His followers, honesty for its own sake, and the sake of the honest person's soul. But the wealth of Boston was overshadowed by thriving Eighteenth-century Quaker Philadelphia. Honesty to a Quaker was, of course, a good thing in itself, but experience showed that strict honesty in commercial dealings, and friendliness in all dealings, was very good for business. And conversely, the example of success on all sides encourages others to be honest and friendly when perhaps it was not their first inclination; honesty is catching. John Adams was scornful of those who do the right thing for the wrong reason, but this viewpoint gets ignored in the Twenty-first century. What is important for the third world to grasp is not intuitively obvious; they see abundant examples of getting rich at the expense of others, so much so that the third world and much of our own is willing to believe that if you have prospered, you must have stolen. If the third world cannot grasp the higher truth, we despair of ever getting along with them. Indeed, we may need to worry about skeptics increasing in our own midst. If Washington ever wavered, however, no one has told us of it.

Franklin Bets His Wad on General Braddock

{General Edward Braddock}
General Edward Braddock

The defeat of General Braddock at Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh) in 1755 was not a turning point of the French and Indian War, because although the French won the battle, they lost that War, they also lost Canada in the Seven Years War that followed, and eventually had to sell what remained of their American dream in 1804 as the Louisiana Purchase. The French dream was an empire stretching in an arc from the St. Lawrence River to New Orleans, leaving the British only the thirteen Eastern seaboard colonies.

Nevertheless, the disastrous defeat of the Redcoats was a real turning point in the attitudes of two direct participants, Lieutenant Colonel George Washington of Virginia, and Pennsylvania's political leader, Benjamin Franklin. Both men greeted the arrival of Braddock's troops in America with great relief because it was increasingly evident to them that the Colonies themselves were too indecisive to survive. Both of them were in a unique personal position to see that the French and their Indian Allies were serious about conquering the backcountry, even likely to do so. These two staunch British patriots, therefore, threw themselves into the crisis, with Washington eventually having two horses shot from under him, taking charge of the retreat after Braddock's death. And Franklin pledged his considerable personal fortune on Braddock's behalf, almost losing it and spending the rest of his life in debtor's prison as Robert Morris would later actually do. These two men knowingly laid their lives on the line for the British Empire and came very close to losing everything else for their King and country.

Franklin had retired seven years earlier, a rich man at the age of 42. We now know that he lived like a gentleman for another 42 eventful years. Puttering with science and public works, he joined the Assembly in 1750. It was not long before he was the political leader of the Colony, in a peculiar struggle with the dominant Quaker party who not only opposed war for their own self-defense but were enraged that the Penn family had turned away from Quakerism and refused to be taxed for the defense of its colony. The Governor was appointed by the Penns, with an express contract not to agree to any taxation of the Penn holdings. Since it began to look to Franklin as though everybody was trying to commit suicide rather than spend a farthing, he greeted the arrival of General Edward Braddock's redcoats with great relief. But then Braddock himself turned out to be a brave but exasperating ninny.

Braddock's plan was to take the old Indian trail from the Potomac River to the Monongahela (now Route 40), fording the Monongahela just below its junction with Ohio at Fort Duquesne, then blowing up the French fort with artillery. He had brought plenty of troops and cannons on his ocean transports, but he needed horses and wagons from the colonies. When he was warned of the dangers of Indian ambush in the wilderness, he made a much-quoted response, "These savages may be a formidable enemy to your raw American militia, but upon the king's regular and disciplined troops, sir, it is impossible they would make an impression." The other thing he said was if he didn't get wagons and horses pretty damned quick, he was going back home to England.

Within two weeks, Franklin and his son William collected 259 horses and 150 wagons for him. But to do so, they had to overcome the Pennsylvania farmer suspicion that the swaggering English General wouldn't pay for the goods. To persuade them, Franklin made a public pledge to stand behind the debts with his own money, and his word was known to be good.

The other thing wrong with Braddock's plan was that the trail wasn't wide enough for the wagons and gun carriages, so he had so sent a body of axeman ahead of the troops to widen the road. Progress was at times as slow as two miles a day, plenty of time for word to be taken to Fort Duquesne that the British were coming with cannon. Since it was clear that the Fort could not withstand a siege army, the French commander ordered his troops to attack Braddock as he was crossing the Monongahela. It was meant to be an ambush, but the two armies blundered into each other on the trail, and the Indians simply fought the way they knew best, from behind trees. Two-thirds of the British were killed and most of those captured were burned at the stake. The death toll would have been even higher, and probably would have included Washington, except the Indians, ignored French orders and delayed pursuit to collect scalps. And by the way, all of Franklin's wagons were burned.

Franklin spent an anxious two months since his later reflection was that the loss of 20,000 pounds sterling would surely have ruined him. However, he was lucky that Governor Shirley of Massachusetts, an old friend of his, was appointed at Braddock's successor, and Shirley ordered the debt to be repaid out of Army funds.

The American Revolution would not come for another twenty years, but you can be sure the Braddock episode had an important impact on the minds of both Franklin and Washington. The British Army was not invincible. It was not even very smart.

Germantown and the French and Indian War

{The survivors of General Braddock's defeated army}
The survivors of General Braddock's defeated army

Allegheny Mountains from which to trade with, and possibly convert the Indians, the French had a rather elegant strategy for controlling the center of the continent. It involved urging their Indian allies to attack and harass the English-speaking settlements along the frontier, admittedly a nasty business. The survivors of General Braddock's defeated army at what is now Pittsburgh reported hearing screams for several days as the prisoners were burned at the stake. Rape, scalping and kidnapping children were standard practice, intended to intimidate the enemy. The combative Scotch-Irish settlers beyond the Susquehanna, which was then the frontier, were never terribly congenial with the pacifism of the Eastern Quaker-dominated legislature. The plain fact is, they rather liked to fight dirty, and gouging of eyes was almost their ultimate goal in any mortal dispute. They had an unattractive habit of inflicting what they called the "fishhook", involving thrusting fingers down an enemy's throat and tearing out his tonsils. As might be imagined, the English Quakers in Philadelphia and the German Quakers in Germantown were instinctively hesitant to take the side of every such white man in every dispute with any redone. For their part, the Scotch-Irish frontiersmen were infuriated at what they believed was an unwillingness of the sappy English Quaker-dominated legislature to come to their defense. Meanwhile, the French pushed Eastward across Pennsylvania, almost coming to the edge of Lancaster County before being repulsed and ultimately defeated by the British.

In December 1763, once the French and Iroquois were safely out of range, a group of settlers from Paxtang Township in Dauphin County attacked the peaceable local Conestoga Indian tribe and totally exterminated them. Fourteen Indian survivors took refuge in the Lancaster jail, but the Paxtang Boys searched them out and killed them, too. Then, they marched to Philadelphia to demand greater protection -- for the settlers. Benjamin Franklin was one of the leaders who came to meet them and promised that he would persuade the legislature to give frontiersmen greater representation, and would pay a bounty on Indian scalps.

Very little is usually mentioned about Franklin's personal role in provoking some of this warfare, especially the massacre of Braddock's troops. The Rosenbach Museum today contains an interesting record of his activities at the Conference of Albany. Isaac Norris wrote a daily diary on the unprinted side of his copy of Poor Richard's Almanac while accompanying Franklin and John Penn to the Albany meeting. He records that Franklin persuaded the Iroquois to sell all of western Pennsylvania to the Penn proprietors for a pittance. The Delaware tribe, who really owned the land, were infuriated and went on the warpath on the side of the French at Fort Duquesne. There may thus have been some justice in 1789 when the Penns were obliged to sell 21 million acres to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for a penny an acre.

Subsequently, Franklin became active in raising troops and serving as a soldier. He argued that thirteen divided colonies could not easily maintain a coordinated defense against the unified French strategy, and called upon the colonial meeting in Albany to propose a united confederation. The Albany Convention agreed with Franklin, but not a single suspicious colony ratified the plan, and Franklin was disgusted with them. Out of all this, Franklin emerged strongly anti-French, strongly pro-British, and not a little skeptical of colonial self-rule. Too little has been written about the agonizing self-doubt he must have experienced when all of these viewpoints had to be reversed in 1775, during the nine months between his public humiliation at Whitehall, and his sailing off to meet the Continental Congress. Furthermore, as leader of a political party in the Pennsylvania Legislature, he also became vexed by the tendency of the German Pennsylvanians to vote in harmony with the Philadelphia Quakers, and against the interest of the Scotch-Irish who were eventually the principal supporters of the Revolutionary War. It must here be noticed that Franklin's main competitor in the printing and publishing business was the Sower family in Germantown. Franklin persuaded a number of leading English non-Quakers that the Germans were a coarse and brutish lot, ignorant and illiterate. If they could be sent to English-speaking schools, perhaps they could gradually be won over to a different form of politics.

Since the Germans of Germantown was supremely proud of their intellectual attainments, they were infuriated by Franklin's school proposal. Their response was almost a classic episode of Quaker passive-aggressive warfare. They organized the Union School, just off Market Square. It was eventually to become Germantown Academy. Its instruction and curriculum were so outstanding as to justify the claim that it was the finest school in America at the time. Later on, George Washington would send his adopted son (Parke Custis) to school there. In 1958 the Academy moved to Fort Washington, but needless to say, the offensive idea of forcing the local "ignorant" Germans to go to a proper English school was rapidly shelved. This whole episode and the concept of "steely meekness" which it reflects might be mirrored in the Japanese response, two centuries later, to our nuclear attack. Without the slightest indication of reproach, the Japanese wordlessly achieved the reconstruction of Hiroshima as now the most beautiful city in the modern world.

William Penn, Robert Barclay and the Ranters

The 15th-century printing press allowed the laity to read the Bible for themselves. The 16th-century scientific method (continually testing a theory, then revising it, then testing the revision) let loose a Reformation of the Church, on the one hand, and of English Common Law on the other. These disruptions of 17th century English society carried religious dissention to the point of civil war. Eventually, many defined Protestant religions emerged from the mass of dissenters. At one extreme, the Quakers and the Ranters rejected all miraculous teachings and ceremonies, but the Ranters carried onward to a rejection of any religious idea at all except individual meditation, the "inner light." To the governing establishment, this was not religion, it was anarchy. Although there was cross-over between the two religious groups, the Quakers eventually drew away from the Ranter position. In a series of pamphlets, Robert Barclay, William Penn and Joseph Pike laid out principles which separated Quakerism from Ranterism and thus brought Quakers within the mainstream of Protestantism. Echoes of this 17th-century episode can perhaps be seen in the "Summer of Love" upheavals of the 1960s. Even at the beginning, however, the Quakers demonstrated self-restraint in speaking their minds, as the term plainly describes, and as ranting does not.

{top quote} Before ranting, try to quake a little. {bottom quote}

In both the 17th and 20th centuries, rejection of the rules of organized society was really a demand to have rules of behavior re-examined. Behind that, lay suspicion the world itself had greatly changed and needed new rules, or perhaps no rules. But in both cases, such restlessness eventually subsided after recognition that many minds had already faced the same issues, and had left a logical trail back to the same old conclusions. Oliver Wendell Holmes stated the matter effectively by intoning that "The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience." In the case of science, experiments are discontinued when results are always the same. In the case of the common law, society's experiments in court are conducted by adversaries, so consensus takes longer. Both processes state the apparent logic, test it, and revise the logic to test it further; the goal is to reach a point where further questioning can subside. And the world can go on about its other business.

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Although Barclay, Penn and Pike mixed their conclusions together in several tracts, it seems likely that Barclay established the need for a gathered Quaker meeting, as contrasted with solitary meditation. A religion with no fixed dogma, except perhaps reliance on an inner light found in every man, and one which rejects appointing professional clergy, has difficulty preserving shared conclusions; it cannot grow. Reliance on the Bible, as one weighty Quaker gently put it, is to rely too heavily on faulty translations. The Catholic Church appointed priests. But in Protestant opinion, the Catholic tradition gradually wandered into the ceremony and inflexibly resisted going back to first principles. Barclay's identification of the sense of the gathered Meeting could begin with a blank slate. It would however constantly generate default positions, maintaining experiences that others had deeply contemplated. Without a meeting, even if not a word is spoken at it, Quakerism cannot thrive. Sitting at home alone is not the same as sitting in a silent meeting. Sooner or later, Quakers must sit together in a gathered community.

Some Quakers believe Barclay sometimes carried this reasoning too far. In his day, it was necessary to reject Catholic doctrines, while continuing to adhere to Protestant moral teachings. In a way, his position was similar to the American founding fathers just after ratifying the Constitution. It was essential for stability to maintain English common law until the new Republic had time to revise it, a process which took American courts several decades. The solution for Barclay was to go back to the writings of the Apostles prior to the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. This helped manage the controversies of the 17th century, but has since raised uncertainty about how authentic the early records were, how inviolate they should now be considered.

William Penn, another close friend of the King, was also in a position quite unlike other Quakers. Whether from lack of concern for theology, or for more practical reasons, his position was as follows:

"...it is the root of Ranter-ism to assert, that nothing is a Duty incumbent upon thee, but what thou art persuaded is thy Duty...Although thou art not to conform to a thing ignorantly, yet thou art seriously to consider, why thou art ignorant..it then must needs to be in thyself, who has not yet received a sense for or against the matter, about which thou art in doubt."
Penn's position seemed to be: before dissenting, examine the logic behind conformity.

Pennsbury Manor

{http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/FaireMount.jpg}
Fairmount

William Penn once had his pick of the best home sites in three states, because of course he more or less owned all three (states, that is). Aside from Philadelphia townhouses, he first picked Faire Mount, where the Philadelphia Art Museum now stands. For some reason, he gave up that idea and built Pennsbury, his country estate, across the river from what is now Trenton. It's in the crook of a sharp bend in the river but is rather puzzlingly surrounded by what most of us would call swamps. The estate has been elegantly restored and is visited by hosts of visitors, sometimes two thousand in a day. On other days it is deserted, so it's worth telephoning in advance to plan a trip.

{http://www.philadelphia-reflections.com/images/gasifi.jpg}
Gasified Garbage

After World War II, a giant steel plant was placed nearby in Morrisville, thriving on shiploads of iron ore from Labrador, but now closed. Morrisville had a brief flurry of prosperity, now seemingly lost forever. However, as you drive through the area you can see huge recycling and waste disposal plants, and you can tell from the verdant soil heaps that the recycled waste is filling in the swamps. It doesn't take much imagination to foresee swamps turning into lakes surrounded by lawns, on top of which will be many exurban houses. How much of this will be planned communities and how much simply sold off to local developers, surely depends on the decisions of some remote corporate Board of Directors.

However, it's intriguing to imagine the dreams of best-case planners. Radiating from Pennsbury, there are two strips of charming waterfront extending for miles, north to Washingtons Crossing, and West to Bristol. If you arrange for a dozen lakes in the middle of this promontory, surround them with lawns nurtured by recycled waste, you could imagine a resort community, a new city, an upscale exurban paradise, or all three combined. It's sad to think that whether this happens here or on the comparable New Jersey side of the river depends on state taxes. Inevitably, that means that lobbying and corruption will rule the day and the pace of progress.

Meanwhile, take a trip from Washingtons Crossing to Bristol, by way of Pennsbury. It can be done in an hour, plus an extra hour or so to tour Penn's mansion if the school kids aren't there. Add a tour of Bristol to make it a morning, and some tours of the remaining riverbank mansions, to make a day of it.

The First Pennamite War (1769-1771)

{The Wyoming Valley Massacre}
The Wyoming Valley Massacre

Things seemed peaceful in the Wyoming Valley for half a dozen years after the massacre, so Connecticut settlers slowly drifted back. This time, the people who didn't like poachers were the Proprietors of Pennsylvania. The Penn's were no longer Quakers, did not control the State Government, and in fact, were often in conflict with the Pennsylvania Quakers who had bought their land. They had to act as private citizens in their effort to expel the Connecticut poachers, which in this case meant calling Sheriff Jennings to evict them. Since everyone on the frontier in those days was armed and ready to fight, Jennings brought along a band of soldiers, led by Captain Amos Ogden.

On five different occasions, with escalating casualties, Jennings would arrest the settlers and take them before a judge in Easton, while Ogden stayed behind and burned the cabins and farm buildings to the ground, following which a somewhat larger group of Connecticut Yankees would return to the Wyoming Valley. By 1771, the Connecticut squatters had grown too numerous to be intimidated easily, and were militarily organized under an effective soldier, Zebulon Butler. Butler's men surrounded the handful of Pennsylvania soldiers in a fort under Ogden. At that point, Ogden briefly became a hero.

Seeing that reinforcements would be necessary, Ogden stripped naked, wrapped his clothes in a bundle around some sticks, and tied his hat on top. Tying a rope to the bundle, he floated down the river while the Connecticut sharpshooters peppered his hat with holes. Luckily, their aim was excellent, and Ogden escaped without being hit by a stray bullet. Off to Philadelphia for reinforcements.

Unfortunately, when Ogden and two hundred soldiers returned, Zebulon Butler ambushed them. In those days of honorable combat, Ogden was set free in recognition of his derringer-do, but only on the condition that he promised never to return. The Connecticut group was thus left in possession of the valley, and can fairly be said to have won the first war.

The Houses in the Park

Strawberry Mansion

Fairmount Park is said to be the largest park (7000+ acres) within the limits of an American city, and in fact, maybe just a little bigger than the city can afford to maintain. It was established in the middle of the 19th Century through the efforts of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia to reverse the Industrial Revolution's relentless pollution of Philadelphia's Schuylkill River and the water works. The waterworks were built in 1801 in the mistaken belief that Yellow Fever was caused by pollution; Fairmount Park more accurately responded to the idea that Typhoid Fever was waterborne from upstream pollution. Lemon Hill, the nearby mount containing Robert Morris' Mansion, was purchased to expand the reservoir capacity of the waterworks and thereby made the Art Museum possible where the reservoirs were originally located.

The Park has long constituted a symbolic interval between center city and the suburbs. Since the construction of the river drives and later the expressway, the commute along the river amidst trees and parkland has made an entrance to town a pleasant experience. If the town planners had been able to foresee automobile commuting, they might have anticipated that the sun would be in the driver's eyes coming East during morning rush hour, and in his eyes as he went home toward the West in the evening. Driving safety might perhaps have been impaired by the tendency of this glare to direct attention to the park rather than straight ahead, but nevertheless redoubles the effect of the park views as a daily aesthetic experience. Even the pollution idea had its ambiguous side since animals increase the bacterial runoff from their grazing areas, and the original houses in the park had many pastures. Strip mining, however, allows mineral contaminants to be washed by rain into the watershed. The city waterworks today extract nearly 800 tons of sludge from the water supply, daily. Whatever the effect downstream, the high ground had less malaria and less typhoid than swampy lowlands, so many of the original houses were useful summer retreats for city dwellers during the early years of the city.

The park is governed by the Park Commission, and at one time had its own police force, the fourth largest police force in the state. Started in 1868, the Park Guards changed their name to the Park Police and then became part of the Philadelphia Police in 1972. The original 28 officers had grown to 525, had their own police academy and a proud tradition. It seems very likely that some deep and dirty politics were played in this shift of authority, and it might be a fair guess that some bitterness still survives in the circles who know and care about these things. In 2008 a scarcely-noticed rule change gave the Park to the City Department of Recreation, thus placing it just a little closer to ambitious real estate development. Our present concern, however, is with the houses in the park.

There are seven of them, kept up and maintained by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Guided tours are provided intermittently by the museum, but since funds are limited only three of the houses are open year round. The others are equally worth a visit but unfortunately, are closed during the height of the spring flowering season. Two of the year-round houses represent the two extremes of Philadelphia culture, since Mount Pleasant was owned by a buccaneer ("privateer") named McPherson who lived at the height of 18th Century elegance, while Cedar Grove was originally a Quaker farmhouse of the greatest simplicity consistent with honest comfort, a style which persisted relatively unchanged until late in the 19th Century. Benedict Arnold and Peggy Shippen looked at Mount Pleasant with an eye to purchase but never lived there because they were called away by national events. With the addition of modern plumbing and air conditioning, Mount Pleasant would be an elegant place to live, even today. McPherson had to sell the place to pay his debts, whereas the Wister and Morris descendants of Cedar Grove still populate the Social Register in large numbers. The two houses completely typify the underlying philosophies of the two leading Philadelphia classes of leadership. One group measures itself by how much it spends, the other group measures success by how much it has left.


REFERENCES


Treacherous Beauty: Peggy Shippen, the Woman behind Benedict Arnold's Plot to Betray America: Mark Jacob:978-0762773886 Amazon

The King's Last and Final Word

{Privateers}
King Charles II

In 1662, King Charles II of England signed a charter, giving a strip of land in America to the inhabitants of Connecticut, and that land to stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. And then, eighteen years later, the same king signed a second charter, giving much the same land to William Penn. As lawyers say, these are the facts. In the many lawsuits, arguments, and wars which followed, no one ever seriously raised the point that King Charles was unaware that he was giving the same land twice, so it must be assumed he knew exactly what he was doing, and did it on purpose. In fact, he did this sort of thing many times, in other cases. The legal disputes which this double-dealing inspired, are therefore entirely concerned with whether the King had a right to do it, and if so, whether that right would normally be recognized (i.e. durable) when we threw off the King and became a republic. The matter was considered by many courts many times, and in every single case, the judgment was in favor of Pennsylvania.

Oliver Wendel Holmes Jr.

Consider Connecticut's probable attitude toward all this. The colony was settled by Calvinist dissenters, so-called Roundheads for their surprisingly contemporary haircuts, adherents of General Cromwell, executioners of King Charles I during English Civil War. They gave Old Testament first names to their own children, and had always known they couldn't trust that licentious King. Giving their land away after he had promised it to them was just about what they always expected. When, after seventy years of growing families of fifteen to seventeen children, they discovered that Connecticut soil was merely a pile of pebbles left by the glaciers and covered with a thin layer of topsoil, they became even more convinced they had been cheated in the first place, and the bargain was no bargain. The reverse side of this enduring religious hatred will reappear in a few paragraphs.

The Proprietors of Pennsylvania, by this time no longer pacifist Quakers, but while descendants of William Penn, converted Anglicans and great friends with the King, took the matter calmly. The Connecticut lawyers were saying that if you sell or give away some land, it is no longer yours, so you can't give or sell it a second time. That is the modern view perhaps, but the English-speaking world was changing from a feudal, semi-nomadic, culture into a settled agricultural country where fixed boundaries were only starting to be important. That's where the world was going, but at the time King Charles gave away the land, it was far more important for the King to be able to reward successful underlings, and punish rebellious tribes, as the situation warranted. Ownership of land then seemed a nebulous thing at best, and the King was the best judge of how things should be divvied up.

Oliver Wendell Holmes introduced his book on The Common Law, by warning "The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience." For life to go on and prosperity to endure, some decision must be made and held to, right or wrong. Stare decisis. That's of course fine for judges to say, but it must be observed that when people divide up on this question, where they stand depends heavily on where their ancestors stood on the English Civil War, and where their ancestors happened to be living during the so-called Pennamite Wars. As matters turned out, courts kept deciding in favor of Pennsylvania, and Connecticut kept bringing it up, again.

Madeira Party 2009: Franklin Mistakes Lead Poisoning For Gout.

{Madeira Wine class=}
Madeira Wine class=

The hundred years war, the thirty years war, the seven years war, and other European disagreements made it difficult to import wine to England, turning the wine import trade to Portugal. Port wine was, of course, prominent, but the best wine of all came from the Portuguese colony of Madeira. The island of Madeira is closer to Africa than to Portugal, so the triangular slave trade made it easy to import Madeira wine to the British colonies in America. The eastern seaboard of America had no grape culture of any note, so the beverage trade centered on rum, whiskey, beer, and Madeira. George Washington is widely reported to have had half a bottle of Madeira every day for lunch, for example.

{S. Weir Mitchell. Mitchell}
S. Weir Mitchell. Mitchell

The other evening at the Franklin Inn Club, a traditional Philadelphia Madeira party filled the hall, and the membership was brought up to date on some of the traditions and finer points of the occasion. In the first place, the Franklin Inn was founded by S. Weir Mitchell. Mitchell, in his spare time as Father of Neurology, had written a short story called The Madeira Party which worked in a large number of details about what was what about Madeira, ending with ribald tipsiness. Nathan Steven, a well-known wine authority, instructed the group in the various types of grape and vintage, and other members who have summered in Madeira related current conditions. Because the volcanic island is a favorite place for visitors, particularly Englishmen, real estate is at such a premium that most vineyards have only one or two acres of grapes. The wineries whose names are on the bottles pick up the crop from these local growers and take it on from there. This seems as good as any other explanation for the current high prices of the wine. However, a century ago a disease wiped out the French and Portuguese vineyards, who were forced to beg back some exported grapevines from California to get back in business. So, one wonders about the scarcity claim.

{Madeira in a barrels}
Madeira in a barrels

It is related that a number of cargoes of Madeira, particularly those of John Hancock of Boston were caught being smuggled to the colonies, and got returned. It was discovered that the taste of the wine was greatly improved by the tumult so that each vintner experimented with various methods of agitating and heating the wine to produce a particular brand. Madeira, like sherry, is a fortified wine, with various proportions of grain alcohol and brandy added in secret formulas. On one point there is general agreement, that if fortified wines are aged for long enough periods, eventually they all taste alike. There thus has emerged a tricky business of aging the wine long enough for the vintage of the wine to match the age or anniversary of the person being honored by the gift. Fifty years is the tricky goal; it's the most popular gift, but perilously close to the point where you can't tell if it is sherry or Madeira. There are four main varieties of Madeira (brand names are something else), getting progressively sweeter, darker colored and more expensive as they age. Malmsey, in a barrel of which Shakspere portrayed the royal princes being drowned, is claimed to be the very best. Some people regard it as too sweet, however. At proper Madeira party, each variety is served with a different course of terrapin or whatever. The President of the Franklin Inn read off the instructions for cooking the traditional first course of jellied boiled boar's head, and the guests agreed that modern tastes called for a substitute. After the reading of Mitchell's short story, the group added a new tradition of singing Flanders and Swann's ribald song, "Have Some Madeira, m'dear".

Chuck Barber, the current President of the Green Tree Insurance Company, added an entirely new historical slant. The Insurance Company is well known for having the best dinner in town at its meetings since directors of insurance companies don't do much. At the dinner in 1799, the news was brought in that George Washington had just died. A member rose to propose what has become an annual toast in Madeira, "To President Washington!" In time, S. Weir Mitchell became a member of the board, and the famous short story was the outcome which firmly fixed the rules of the Philadelphia Madeira Party. Bill Madeira was called on to verify this history, but he protested that his family name was derived from the wine, not the other way around.

It seems appropriate to add another historical note. Benjamin Franklin, after whom the club is named, suffered severely from gout. Although some sort of association with liquor had been mentioned as far back as Hippocrates, Franklin's powers of observation and his fame as a scientist placed him in a position to make it an irrefutable doctrine that gout was a medical penalty for drinking liquor. It was, of course, Madeira that old Ben was drinking, and it was the rule that Madeira was transported in lead-lined kegs. The Green Tree has some of the old kegs if you doubt it. Franklin's observation was acute, but what he was reporting was the effect of the lead poisoning, not of the wine.

Albany Conference 1754

State and Federal Powers: Historical Review

John Dickinson of Delaware

It was expedient to leave certain phrases in the Constitution intentionally vague, but the overall design is clear enough. Just as twenty-eight sovereign European nations now struggle to form a European Union, thirteen formerly sovereign American colonies once struggled to unify for the stronger defense at a reduced cost. Intentionally or not, that created a new and unique culture, reliant on the constant shifting of power among friendly rivals. Everybody was a recent frontiersman, trusting, but suspicious. It still takes newcomers a while to get used to it.

So the primary reason for uniting thirteen colonies was for a stronger defense. As even the three Quaker colonies of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware could see, if you are strong, others will leave you alone. In time, the unification of many inconsequential behaviors created a common culture of important ones; and in time that common culture strengthened defense. At first, it seemingly made little practical difference locally whether construction standards, legal standards, language and education standards and the like were unified or not. Except, that in the aggregate, it forged a common culture.

The practice of Medicine was certainly one of those occupations where it mattered very little whether we were a unified nation. Unification of medical care offered a few benefits, but mostly it didn't matter much, right up to 1920 or so. Even then I would offer the opinion, that unification of the several states (with consequent Free Trade) only made a big difference to health insurance, and still made little difference to the rest of medical care. In fact, there are still about fifteen states with too little population density to provide comfortable actuarial soundness for health insurance, as can readily be observed in the political behavior of their U.S. Senators. Although the number of low-population states gets smaller as the population grows, there are even so perhaps only ten big states where multiple health insurance companies can effectively compete within a single state border. Quite naturally the big-state insurers expect one day to eat up the small ones. By contrast, the nation as a whole, the gigantic population entity which Obamacare seeks to address, has far too many people spread out over far too large an area, to be confident we could unify them into one single program. Dividing the country into six or seven regions would be a much safer bet. That's the real message of the failure of the Computerized Insurance Exchanges -- far too much volume. And the coming failure of the Computerized Medical Record -- with too much complexity. With unlimited money, it can be done, because diseases are disappearing and computers are improving. But why struggle so hard?

It is at least fifteen years too early, and mostly serves the interest of insurance companies, if they can survive the experience. At the same time, we are at least fifteen years away from growing the smallest states to the point where we could decentralize. It's really a situation very similar to the one John Dickinson identified, James Madison briefly acknowledged, and where Benjamin Franklin improvised a solution. In their case, it was a bicameral legislature. In the case of medical care, it could be an administrative division of revenue from the expenditure. It could be the cure of a half-dozen chronic diseases. It could be six regional Obamacare. But creating one big national insurance company during a severe financial recession is something we will be lucky to survive.

Returning to the Constitutional Convention, an additional feature was added to the tentative 1787 document to respond to protests from small component states. They objected that whatever the big-state motives might be, small states would always be dominated by populous ones with more congressmen if a unicameral Legislature is made up of congressmen elected by the population. Pennsylvania had recently had a bad experience with a unicameral legislature. So a compromise bicameral legislature (with differing electoral composition in the two houses) was added to protect small-state freedoms from big domineering neighbors. Even after the Constitution was agreed to and signed, the states in ratifying it still insisted on a Bill of Rights, especially the Tenth Amendment, elevating certain citizen prerogatives above any form of political infringement, by any kind of a majority. These particular points were "rights"; individuals were even to be insulated from their own local state government. The larger the power of government, the less they trusted it.

John Dickinson of Delaware, the smallest state, soon made the essential point abundantly clear to a startled James Madison, when he pulled him aside in a corridor of Independence Hall, and uttered words to the effect of, "Do you want a Union, or don't you?", speaking on behalf of a coalition of small states. It was probably galling to Dickinson that Madison had never really considered the matter, and went about the Constitutional Convention airing the opinion that, of course, the big states would run things. Dickinson, who had been Governor of two states at once, had observed the effect of this attitude and wasn't going to have more of it.

{William Bingham class=}
Delegates

Benjamin Franklin, who for over 40 years had been working on a plan for a union of thirteen colonies (since 1745, long ago producing the first American political cartoon for the Albany Conference), devised the compromise. It was essentially a bicameral legislature -- with undiminished relative power in the Senate for small states. In this backroom negotiation, it was pretty clear Franklin held the support of two powerful but mostly silent big-state delegates, Robert Morris and George Washington. These were the three men of whom it could be said, the Revolution would never have been won without each of them. In 1787 they were still the dominant figures in diplomacy, finance, and the military. All three were deeply committed to a workable Union, each for somewhat different reasons. Now that a workable Union was finally within sight, parochial squabbles about states rights were not going to be allowed to destroy their dream of unity.

And so it comes about, they gave us a Federal government with a few enumerated powers, ruling a collection of state governments with regional power over everything else. And since big-state/small-state squabbles are unending, almost any other solution to some problem repeatedly, seemed preferable to disturbing what holds it all together. On the other hand, the Industrial Revolution was beginning at about the same time, and people who recognized the power of larger markets almost immediately set about attacking state-dominated arrangements, systematically weakening them for a century, and redoubling the attack during the Progressive era at the end of the 19th Century. Attacks on what seemed like an abuse of state power, the power to retain slavery, and later the power to perpetuate white racism, were claimed to justify this attrition of states rights. The ghost of the Civil War hung over all these arguments, restraining those who pushed them too far.

However, the driving force was industrialization, with enlarged businesses pushing back against the confinement of single-state regulation within a market that was larger than that. This restlessness with confining boundaries was in turn driven by railroads and the telegraph, improving communication and enlarging markets, which offered new opportunities to dominate state governments, and when necessary the political power weakens them. One by one, industries found ways to escape state regulation, although the insurance industry was the most resistant, whereas local tradesmen like physicians found it more congenial to side with state and local governments. The 1929 crash and the Franklin Roosevelt New Deal greatly accelerated this dichotomy, as did the two World Wars and the Progressive movement from Teddy Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson. The Founding Fathers were said to have got what they wanted, which was a continuous tension between two forces, supporting both large and small governments; with neither of them completely winning the battle.

Insurance Monopoly

The medical profession further evolved from a small town trade into a prosperous profession during the 20th century, but the practice of medicine remained comfortably local. Even junior faculty members who move between medical schools quickly come to realize their national attitudes are somewhat out of touch with local realities. For doctors, state licensure and state regulation remained quite adequate, and state-regulated health insurance companies paid generously. State-limited health insurance companies had a somewhat less comfortable time of it, but the ferocity of state-limited insurance lobbying, as exemplified by the McCarran Ferguson Act, perpetuated it. The medical profession watched uneasily as the growth of employer-paid insurance extended the power of large employers over health insurance companies beyond state boundaries, and thus in turn over what had been medical profession's kingdom, the hospitals. And the medical profession also had to watch increasing congeniality with big government extend through businesses, unions and universities, fueled by overhead allowances of federal research grants and finally in 1965, federal health insurance programs. Nobody likes his regulator, but national organizations inevitably prefer a single regulator to fifty different ones. Furthermore, everybody could see that health care suddenly had lots of money, and naturally, everybody wanted some.

{top quote}
There is nothing naturally inter-state about medical care -- except health insurance. {bottom quote}
It was all very well to pretend that health care was out-growing local-state regulation, but those on the inside could uneasily watch the federal/state competition for control, with the federal government repeatedly stacking the deck more in its own favor. Aside from federal program interventions, there is still nothing naturally inter-state about medical care -- except health insurance. Doctors, hospitals, and patients all tend to remain local, but insurance can easily cross state lines if regulation permits. Even in insurance, small states have difficulty maintaining actuarial stability, driving health insurance toward one-state monopolies. With a few big-state exceptions, even most health insurance companies prefer single-state monopoly status to federal regulation because it facilitates marketing. To praise the virtues of insurance competition is fine, but if sharing the local market means struggling for adequate risk reserves, nationwide regulation will inevitably lead to domination by a few big-state insurance companies. Small-state insurers would enjoy access to a national market; but blocked from it, they need to retain a local monopoly to survive. Fleeting thought might be given to Constitutional Amendment, but there are probably always going to be enough states which consider themselves small, to block the two-thirds requirement for Amendment. Imposing nationwide uniformity by force would possibly improve standards, but uniformity is increasing rather than decreasing, so the argument is not a strong one.

To be fair about it, there was not a strong case for state regulation, either. It could have been argued that uniformity and reduced administrative costs favored central regulation over-dispersed control, because of improved efficiency; and few would have argued about it. Until the ACA insurance exchanges crashed of their own weight around the ears of hapless creators, that is, unable to do what Amazon seems to do every day, and raising quite a few embarrassing recollections. Recollections of the mess the Sherman Antitrust Act inflicted on local medical charity in Maricopa County, Arizona. Recollections of the "Spruce Goose" airplane that Howard Hughes made so big it couldn't fly. Recollections of the gigantic traffic jam strangling the District of Columbia every weekend. And, reminders that 2500 pages of legislation remain to be converted into 20,000 pages of regulations which it would take a lifetime to understand. Suddenly, let's face it, retaining state regulation of health care, or not rocking the boat, gets a lot better press. It might even work better than the national kind, especially in an environment where no one expected a perfect solution, and just about everyone had heard of the Curse of Bigness. When we first discovered that use of health insurance added 10% to the cost of health care, it had seemed like an easy place to extract 2% of the Gross Domestic Product for better things, just by streamlining administration. But after the health exchange fiasco, some people begin to wonder if 10% is just what it costs to use insurance to pay for healthcare. If that is the case, perhaps we should look at other ways of paying our bills, not just a different regulator. Nobody would pay 10% just to have his bills paid, if he understood what he was doing.

C2.............The Era of French and Indian War 1754-1763

The French and Indian war was only a small part of the long English-French quarrel, but it was a time when the colonies were still definitely colonies. The British won, but a large French contingent remained behind in Canada. In a sense, the line of demarcation along the Appalachians, while well-intended to keep the colonies from settling Indian land, defined the self-interest of the Colonies as conflicting with British self-interest. This was an unstable four-way arrangement destined to fail in some way, as the Indian interest was to keep the white colonization from spreading, but acknowledged the continued settlements of the European colonists within two East-coast clusters, mostly English but with a stable French cluster around Quebec. Trying to pacify all groups, they antagonized all four. England won the right to decide things, but their attention was really still focused elsewhere. You might say the Revolution of 1776 was to some degree an effort to make a readjustment. Unfortunately, mercantilism was the wrong choice for them in this muddle.

 

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18 Blogs

THE ENGLISH SETTLEMENTS 1619-1776
At first, Europe rushed to settle the new world. King Henry the VIII started it for England, and his daughter Elizabeth pushed it along by piracy and other aggressive methods to steal it away from Spain and the Pope. By 1750 the adjustment between the home country and its colonist empire was coming to a confrontation. On a geographic level it was two cultures separated by 3000 miles of ocean. On an economic level it was Mercantilism versus the Frontier. But politicians dominated the scene of owners versus debtors, aristocrats versus vassals, owners versus slaves. Hardly anyone recognized that the Industrial Revolution was starting to sort things out. The English Settlements

Virginia Invades Pennsylvania
Virginians always lusted for "Ohio" which in their mind stretched from Pittsburgh to the Pacific Ocean. The chaos of the Revolution provided an opportunity for Lord Dunmore the Governor to move in on the Ohio Valley, but it proved too much of a stretch.

The Walking Purchase
Quaker treatment of the Indians had been exemplary before 1737 and has been highly sympathetic ever since then, too. However, James Logan totally destroyed the trust of the Delaware Indians by using hired runners to establish boundaries of the Walking Purchase, north of the Neshaminy Creek.

Philadelphia in 1658
The Annalist John Watson reflects on the earliest scenes in Philadelphia.

Politics of the French and Indian War
The French and Indian War is usually depicted as combining French treachery, Braddock's arrogance, Quaker stupidity, and Ben Franklin's heroism. Here's an incisive Quaker reply.

George Washington Starts The French and Indian War(?)
He never told a lie, but he didn't object too much when others did.

George Washington's View of the British Army
Washington's escape from Braddock's defeat may help us understand his future low opinion of the British Army, and possibly suggests a reason for his hating them.

George Washington's Cherry Tree, Revisited
Everybody knows the story of Washington chopping the cherry tree is bunk. But debunking drowns out a greater truth.

Franklin Bets His Wad on General Braddock
Braddock came to rescue Fort Duquesne with soldiers but no horses or wagons, and the pacifist Quaker government couldn't or wouldn't raise money. So, Franklin, the loyal British subject gave his personal pledge to farmers for their wagons and would have been a pauper if the British government hadn't bailed him out.

Germantown and the French and Indian War
In 1750, the frontier was not very far from Germantown, and the pacifist Germans were as conflicted as English Quakers about Scotch-Irish behavior, Indian warfare techniques, and Benjamin Franklin

William Penn, Robert Barclay and the Ranters
The early Quakers were hard to tell from other Dissenters. Robert Barclay and William Penn set out what made them distinctive.

Pennsbury Manor
The Delaware River takes an abrupt right turn at Trenton, creating extensive wetlands for miles around. Whatever its environmental drawbacks, the river delta is moving toward landfill and "development". Come back in fifteen years and be amazed.

The First Pennamite War (1769-1771)
The Penn family called Sherrif Jennings to evict Connecticut poachers from their land, along with a glamorous adventurer named Ogden who burned the cabins. The fifth time this happened, it was almost too bad about Ogden.

The Houses in the Park
William Penn intended his city to stretch from river to river, with the gentry living in mansions along the Schuylkill. Briefly, it was so; the mansions are on display in Fairmount Park.

The King's Last and Final Word
King Charles II did give Wilkes-Barre to Connecticut first, and the same king did later give the same land to William Penn. Unfortunately for Connecticut, at that time the last word was all that mattered.

Madeira Party 2009: Franklin Mistakes Lead Poisoning For Gout.
In Colonial America, Madeira was what the upper crust drank.

Albany Conference 1754

C2.............The Era of French and Indian War 1754-1763
Part of the settlement of the French and Indian War was a "line of demarcation along the Appalachian Trail" beyond which there would be no further westward white settlement on Indian land. It was well-intentioned but mostly an ignored temporary expedient.