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Posts Tagged ‘Louisiana Purchase

“Education is the key to unlock a golden door of freedom”*…

Historian (and author) Ada Palmer on what she convincingly argues is an unappreciated aspect of American cultural and political history…

Many shocking, new ideas shaped the American Experiment and related 18th century democratic ventures; as an historian of the period, I often notice that one of the most fundamental of them, and most shocking to a world which had so long assumed the opposite, often goes unmentioned — indeed sometimes denied — in today’s discussions of democracy: the belief that all people are educable.  I think it’s urgent that we bring that principle back into the spotlight if we want to defend democracy from one of its common failure modes: pseudo-populist oligarchy.

Within “all men are created equal” lies the sub-principle that all people, or specifically all enfranchised citizens of a state (which often at the time meant white male adults, though some made it broader, or narrower) that all such people are, if given appropriate educational resources, capable of learning, exercising sound judgment, and acting on said judgment, thus that they all people are equally rational and capable of competent self-governance.  This thesis does not assume that all people when adults are equally prepared to participate in government, but that all people when born have the capacity to absorb education if given access to it.  Rare intellectual disabilities might make the education process challenging for certain individuals, but (the thesis argues) even then the right support and resources make education possible, and such situations are not the default human state.  This is the thesis that all people are fundamentally educable. 

Many in the 18th c. who thought democracy was absurd rejected it because they disagreed with this thesis, believing that the majority of people (even of white men) were not educable, i.e. that even with educational resources most people were born incapable of being guided by Reason and making sound political judgments. Those who believed this predicted that government by the people would collapse into absurdity, since it would be led by a parliament of fools…

[Palmer runs through pre-modern and Enlightenment thinking on the subject– most of which dismissed democracy as impractical on grounds that went to the incapacity of the many to understand and make intelligent decisions…]

It took a lot to get even a small radical fringe by 1750 to entertain the notion that all people–or even just all men–were created equally educable.  A long survey of the causes would get unwieldy, but they include (among other things) contact with indigenous cultures in the Americas and other regions which had functional governments without European-style systems, revolutions in medicine and the understanding of the sense organs which undermined old hierarchy-enforcing ideas about how cognition and sensation functioned, second-order consequences of the rags-to-riches path opened by Renaissance courts employing scholars from any background so long as they had good Latin, and Protestantism’s second-order implication that, if people didn’t need priests as intermediaries between their prayers and God, perhaps they didn’t need aristocrats as intermediaries between them and power.  But by 1750 that fringe existed, and had enough momentum to implement its experiment in the new United States, which most people who were considered sensible at the time thought would quickly degenerate into chaos, because they didn’t think most people were capable of understanding the world enough to vote sensibly, draft legislation, or serve in a congress, and that the tiny wise minority would be drowned out by the majority wanting to vote for dining on the king’s tab and killing all the lawyers…

Democracy can function, says Thomas Paine (to pick a spokesman for the US founders), because human beings are fundamentally educable, and if given a good teacher, a good reading list, and some newspapers, all human beings, or at least the overwhelming majority of them, will become capable of wise judgment and self-rule. One’s civic duty is not to identify the wise minority and put them in power, but to disseminate the tools of education so the majority can become wise. This thesis is opposed to aristocracy, to oligarchy, to timocracy, even to most forms of meritocracy, since education isn’t supposed to prepare people to be sorted out by the exam but to demonstrate that human beings are so excellent that everyone can pass it…

… Today’s America has seen decades of the intentional conservative-led starving and squeezing of public education, efforts to increase the disparity in education quality between public education and private or charter school education, conservative-led homeschool movements which aim to expose people to a narrow range of ideology, and also the devastation of newspapers, journalism, and a vast misinformation campaign. All this adds up to preventing many who are educable from becoming educated. Thomas Paine, and those I’m using him to represent, would recognize this as a sabotage of their system, one they would say might indeed enable Cade-style populism, which (as in Henry VI) is easy for ambitious elites to then harness to their own ends.  Thus, Paine would say: of course the democracy isn’t working well if such an essential precondition is being sabotaged.

In sum, we need to talk more about the vital tie between democracy and the conviction that all people are created educable.  It helps make clear how strategic the strangulation of educational resources is, and that one of the less loud but most dangerous threats to our confidence in democracy is the project to make it seem like most people can’t make sensible political judgments, reducing people’s confidence in democracy as a system by seeming to prove true conservative principle that there will always be a few who should rule and many who can’t.  When I see conservative thinking start to show up in acquaintances (or Silicon Valley leaders) who consider themselves progressive but also consider themselves smart, it often begins with them feeling that most people are stupid and the world would be better off if the smart were in charge.  One can often get such people to pause and reflect by bringing up the question of whether they think all people are fundamentally educable, and whether the solution isn’t to put the reins of power into genius hands but to put the Encyclopedia in everyone else’s.  Information is key.  Those peasants who shared commons maintained them sustainably for centuries because (as we now recognize) they were educated in the ways that mattered, they learned from families and communities to understand what they were doing, using local knowledge of commons, grazing etc. as they made choices.  If one’s democratic state is the commons, people will likewise maintain it well, but not if they’re intentionally deprived of access to basic knowledge of how it works and what can harm or heal it, and drowned instead in deliberate falsehoods.

We all know we need to support education & good journalism, and combat misinformation, but revisiting the principle that all people are created educable is a good way to remember that these are not merely invaluable social goods, like sanitation or public parks.  They were conceived from the start as essential components of modern democracy, in direct opposition to the many-centuries-old conservative principle that some are best to rule and others to be ruled.  Enlightenment-style democracy cannot function without the conviction that all people are created educable.  If we forget that, if we doubt it, if we let it shake our confidence in the experiment which didn’t turn into Jack Cade for more than two centuries (bets were not on America surviving for so long in 1776!), we risk opening the gates to the old failure mode of oligarchy rising when democracy wavers…

In support of the engine of the American Experiment: “All People Are Created Educable, a Vital Oft-Forgotten Tenet of Modern Democracy,” from @Ada_Palmer.

* George Washington Carver


As we enable education, we might recall that it was on this date in 1818 (15 years after the Senate ratified the Louisiana Purchase) that the “Convention respecting fisheries, boundary and the restoration of slaves” (also known as the London Convention, Anglo-American Convention of 1818, Convention of 1818, or most widely and most simply as the Treaty of 1818) was signed by The U.S. and the United Kingdom.

Primarily aimed at settling border disputes, the treaty set the Canada–United States border on the 49th parallel for most of its length. The British ceded all of Rupert’s Land south of the 49th parallel and east of the Continental Divide, including all of the Red River Colony south of that latitude, while the United States ceded the northernmost edge of the Missouri Territory north of the 49th parallel.

The treaty also allowed for joint occupation and settlement of the Oregon Country, known to the British and in Canadian history as the Columbia District of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and including the southern portion of its sister district New Caledonia.


“History may be divided into three movements: what moves rapidly, what moves slowly, and what appears not to move at all.”*…

Out of Italy was Braudel’s attempt to… explain a historical flash in the pan: the Italian Renaissance.

For Braudel, history was a struggle to see connections across the high walls of academic disciplines. This kind of approach to the past, showing that all ‘civilisations have their feet on the ground’, is Braudel and the Annales school’s most important legacy: the value of interdisciplinary research, as exemplified by their radical programme, is now so tacitly accepted as to be hardly worth mentioning.

If Italy’s rise must be explained, so, Braudel thought, must its decline. Today, historians are not so concerned with questions of cultural supremacy and decay; they don’t view culture as a vital force that can be ‘concentrated and exhausted’ in a couple of centuries. But the explanation for the fizzling out of this creative energy in the mid-17th century vexed Braudel. He saw the seeds of Italy’s decline within its greatness, borrowing Léon Brunschvicg’s image for ancient Greece’s influence (which Brunschvicg in turn had taken from Hegel): the owl of Athena takes flight only at nightfall. ‘Rightly or wrongly,’ Braudel wrote, ‘it seems to me that there must be a kind of nightfall preceding, and determining, almost every case of cultural greatness. It is the darkness that provokes a multitude of lights.’ The catastrophes of the Italian Wars (1494-1559) and a declining economy were the shadows that prompted the brilliance of Renaissance art and culture; it was peace and economic tranquillity that ‘spread like treacle through Italian life’ after the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559. Greatness (and influence) was born in darkness.

To make his point Braudel asks us to imagine conversations with three Baroque architects: with Agostino Barelli (from Bologna), standing outside his Theatine Church in Munich in 1660; with Carlo Antonio Carlone (from Como), as he began work on his Church of the Nine Angelic Choirs in Vienna in 1663; and with Andrea Pozzo (from Trento), while he oversaw the construction of his Jesuit Church in Vienna in 1701. Three Italians, three major building projects outside Italy. They would have been surprised to learn that Italy was on the path to decline…

How could cultures as vibrant as Baroque Italy or interwar Europe have been so radically diminished? Italy’s economic dominance would be supplanted first by the capitalist burghers of the Netherlands and then by English industrialists….

Braudel’s writing also sought to confront the inability of even the greatest historians to predict what would happen next. In this light, his pessimism about human time and human stories can be hard to face… And yet Braudel is optimistic about human civilisations:

Mortal perhaps are their ephemeral blooms, the intricate and short-lived creations of an age, their economic triumphs and their social trials, in the short term. But their foundations remain. They are not indestructible, but they are many times more solid than one might imagine. They have withstood a thousand supposed deaths, their massive bulk unmoved by the monotonous pounding of the centuries.

Nothing changes, and individual lives barely leave an imprint. But this is not tragic determinism. It is an unshakeable belief in the persistence of human history through time. ‘A Renaissance,’ Braudel writes, ‘is always possible.’

On Fernand Braudel‘s Out of Italy, and an appreciation of its insightful author, a leader of the Annales school of history: “Down with Occurrences.”

* Fernand Braudel


As we think in time, we might recall that it was on this date in 1803 that Spanish representatives in New Orleans executed documents ceding sovereignty over the Louisiana Territory to France. Twenty days later, France transferred the Territory to the United States.

The U.S. gained possession of 828,000 square miles of territory (an area that includes all or part of 15 current U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces).  Americans had originally sought to purchase only the port city of New Orleans and its adjacent coastal lands; but Napoleon, cash-strapped by his war with England, offered the (much) larger parcel– and the U.S. quickly agreed.

The modern continental United States, with the Louisiana Purchase overlaid


Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 30, 2020 at 1:01 am

“The nature of an innovation is that it will arise at a fringe”*…




Alternative media outlets of the Left and Right have become a crucial supplement to our knowledge of the world, providing those perspectives usually ignored by our mainstream media...

From the masthead of the aggressively-inclusive site that means to make those views available, The Unz Review.

The collection is sufficiently vast that your correspondent cannot guarantee against any bias in its eclecticism (indeed, he notes that it is the work of Ron Unz).  Still, it’s a remarkable aggregation of theory, opinion, and reportage, from what seems a broad array of points-of-view.

Readers are advised to steel themselves, take a deep breath…  then dive in.

Pair with Wikipedia’s Fringe Theory page– and perhaps more interestingly still, their explanation in their editorial guidelines of how they identify and classify fringe theories.

[Image above: source]

* “The nature of an innovation is that it will arise at a fringe where it can afford to become prevalent enough to establish its usefulness without being overwhelmed by the inertia of the orthodox system.”   — Kevin Kelly


As we iris out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1804 that Corps of Discovery– better known today as the Lewis and Clark Expedition– left Camp Dubois, near Wood River, Illinois, commencing what would be a trek over two years on which they became the first American expedition to cross what is now the western portion of the United States.

President Thomas Jefferson had commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase (in 1803) to explore and to map the newly acquired territory, to find a practical route across the western half of the continent– a Northwest Passage– and to establish an American presence in this territory before Britain and other European powers tried to claim it.


Meriwether Lewis and William Clark




Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 14, 2020 at 1:01 am

“History is past politics and politics present history”*…


Vintage compass lies on an ancient world map.

A recent study confirms a disturbing trend: American college students are abandoning the study of history. Since 2008, the number of students majoring in history in U.S. universities has dropped 30 percent, and history now accounts for a smaller share of all U.S. bachelor’s degrees than at any time since 1950. Although all humanities disciplines have suffered declining enrollments since 2008, none has fallen as far as history. And this decline in majors has been even steeper at elite, private universities — the very institutions that act as standard bearers and gate-keepers for the discipline. The study of history, it seems, is itself becoming a relic of the past.

It is tempting to blame this decline on relatively recent factors from outside the historical profession. There are more majors to choose from than in the past. As a broader segment of American society has pursued higher education, promising job prospects offered by other fields, from engineering to business, has no doubt played a role in history’s decline. Women have moved in disproportionate numbers away from the humanities and towards the social sciences. The lingering consequences of the Great Recession and the growing emphasis on STEM education have had their effects, as well.

Yet a deeper dive into the statistics reveals that history’s fortunes have worsened not over a period of years, but over decades. In the late 1960s, over six percent of male undergraduates and almost five percent of female undergraduates majored in history. Today, those numbers are less than 2 percent and 1 percent. History’s collapse began well before the financial crash.

This fact underscores the sad truth of history’s predicament: The discipline mostly has itself to blame for its current woes. In recent decades, the academic historical profession has become steadily less accessible to students and the general public — and steadily less relevant to addressing critical matters of politics, diplomacy, and war and peace. It is not surprising that students are fleeing history, for the historical discipline has long been fleeing its twin responsibilities to interact with the outside world and engage some of the most fundamental issues confronting the United States…

Hal Brands and Francis J. Gavin suggest that “The historical profession is committing slow-motion suicide.”

[Image above: source]

* The motto of the Johns Hopkins History Department (attributed to 19th century Oxford historian Edward Augutus Freeman by some scholars, and to 19th century Cambridge historian Sir John Robert Seeley by others)


As we look to the past, we might recall that it was on this date in 1803 that the Louisiana Purchase was consummated, when the U.S. took formal possession of 828,000 square miles of territory from France (an area that includes all or part of 15 current U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces).  Americans had originally sought to purchase only the port city of New Orleans and its adjacent coastal lands; but Napoleon, cash-strapped by his war with England, offered a (much) larger parcel– and the U.S. quickly agreed.


The modern continental United States, with the Louisiana Purchase overlaid




Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 20, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself”*…


The 93rd U.S. Congress, 1973-74, considered 26,157 bills; it made 738 (3%) of them law.  The 103rd Congress, 1993-94, enacted 458 (5%) of the 9,746 bills it considered.  The current Congress– the 113th, 2013-14– has so far introduced 7,980 bills, and passed only 100 (just over 1%) of them.

The Legislative Explorer, from researchers at the University of Washington’s Center for American Politics and Public Policy, allows readers to follow the lawmaking process– over 250,000 bills and resolutions introduced from 1973 to present– in action.

The left half represents the U.S. Senate, with senators sorted by party (blue=Democrat) and a proxy for ideology (top=liberal). The House is displayed on the right. Moving in from the borders, the standing committees of the Senate and House are represented, followed by the Senate and House floors. A bill approved by both chambers then moves upward to the President’s desk and into law, while an adopted resolutions (that does not require the president’s signature) moves downward.

Each dot represents a bill, so one can see them move through the process.  The drop-down menus at the top allow a shift of focus to a specific Congress, a person, a party, a topic, and several other categorizations; and there’s search to allow one to examine specific bills.  Counters across the bottom of the screen keep track of the action… or the lack thereof.

Give it a try.

[TotH to Flowing Data]

* Mark Twain


As we yield, Mr. Speaker, to the gentleman from the District of Columbia, we might think expansionist thoughts in honor of Thomas Jefferson, whose emissaries Robert Livingston and James Monroe  signed the the Louisiana Purchase Treaty, called by some “the letter that bought a continent,” in Paris on this date in 1803… and in one stroke (well, three strokes– Livingston, Monroe, and French representative Barbé Marbois all signed) doubled the size of the United States.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

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