Friday, January 24, 2014

The Four Most Powerful Men in Virginia You Never Heard of

These bills were introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates in the current session:

HB 61: would prohibit the sale of rifles, shotguns or assault weapons to out-of-state residents.

HB 535: would require background checks for firearms transfers at gun shows.

HB 809: would prohibit the sale of large capacity magazines (with stated exceptions).

HB 812: would require background checks for all firearms transfers.

HB 823: would permit background checks for firearms transfers at gun shows if one of the parties to the transfer requested one.

None of these bills will become law this session. In fact, none of these bills will ever be voted on by the House of Delegates. Why?

Have you ever gone to the General Assembly website and looked at that tutorial that tells “How a bill becomes a law?” There is a step in there entitled “Committee studies bill.” It says “The committee studies the bill to see if it would make a good law.” The next step is entitled “Bill is reported.” It reads “If the committee agrees the bill would make good law, the committee reports the results to the House or the Senate.”

Well, trusted reader, I need to inform you that the General Assembly has not been entirely truthful in educating the public on how a bill becomes a law, or more to the point, how a bill does NOT become a law. It’s not that the tutorial doesn’t tell the truth. It’s that it doesn’t tell the whole truth. It doesn’t mention that under House rules the majority party in the House of Delegates decides the makeup of the various House standing committees. It doesn’t mention that the standing committees may set up subcommittees to more efficiently deal with their load of bills. It doesn’t mention that one of the House committees—the Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety (MPPS)—contains fifteen Republican members and seven Democratic members. It doesn’t mention that the MPPS is divided into three subcommittees. It also doesn’t mention that Subcommittee #1 contains four Republicans and only one Democrat. And it also doesn’t mention that all firearms bills are routinely referred to Subcommittee #1. And finally, it doesn’t mention that under House and parliamentary rules, the 4 Republican members of MPPS Subcommittee #1 can prevent any legislation from ever reaching the floor of the House of Delegates, and they can do so without ever having a recorded vote. And that, dear reader, is what happened to all of the bills I described above.

But, Maven, what do you mean by without a vote. Surely, the subcommittee must vote. 

Subcommittee #1 took action by voice vote. How does that work? Motion to table, seconded, all in favor say “aye”, all opposed say “nay,” the ayes have it. And what is reported in the official record? “Subcommittee recommends laying on the table by voice vote.” It is not reported how individual members of the subcommittee voted. So, in theory, we can never hold any of those delegates accountable for their vote. Or can we?

We do know who the members of the subcommittee are. And we can infer how they voted (assuming of course that the chair actually counted the ayes and nays). So let me introduce you to the members of MPPS Subcommittee #1. First the Democrat—Del. Roslyn C. Taylor of the 75th District. And the Republicans—Del. Thomas C. Wright, Jr., of the 61st District (chair of the subcommittee); Del. C. Matthew Fariss of the 59th District; Del. C. Todd Gilbert of the 15th District; Del. Michael J. Webert of the 18th District. Although I certainly cannot prove it, I am quite certain that Del. Taylor voted “nay” on the voice votes to put these bills to sleep. Likewise, I am quite certain that Del. Wright, Fariss, Gilbert and Webert all voted to kill these bills.

In the state-wide election this past November the three candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general who favored reasonable gun control legislation were elected. Those who opposed such legislation were defeated. However, that is irrelevant because Wright, Fariss, Gilbert and Webert said NO. Polls show that most Virginians favor reasonable firearms control legislation (like the bills described above). Too bad! Wright, Fariss, Gilbert and Webert said NO. Hundreds of Virginians, including family members of people who were murdered by firearm at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, demonstrate at the Virginia Capitol in favor of responsible gun legislation (like the bills above). Pity! Wright, Fariss, Gilbert and Webert said NO. The Virginia Senate may pass legislation similar to the bills above. But, when they come to the House on crossover day, Wright, Fariss, Gilbert and Webert will again say NO.

But, Maven, isn’t it unfair that four men on one subcommittee can block the will of a majority of the people in Virginia? 

Yes, reader, it is unfair. It is also undemocratic (not to be confused with unDemocratic). And it is “unrepublican.” In a republican form of government, which the Commonwealth is supposed to be, I would expect that more times than not the majority would decide what is the proper policy to be followed. Yet, because of the actions of Wright, Farris, Gilbert and Webert, we will never even know what the majority is because those four gentlemen will not allow a vote in the House on any restrictive firearms legislation. 

So, what can we do? We need to put the spotlight and the heat on Wright, Farris, Gilbert and Webert. We need to publicize their actions every time they effectively kill reasonable firearms bills. We need to lobby them heavily. We need to make sure that everybody in the Commonwealth knows how these four men continuously block the will of the people. We need to work against the political gerrymandering that allowed three of these “no” men to run unopposed in the last election. Let us not forget the names of these four unknowns: Thomas Wright of Victoria; Matt Fariss of Rustburg; Todd Gilbert of Woodstock; and Michael Webert of Marshall



Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Battle of Shockoe

This maven has said nothing about the ongoing dispute here in Richmond over Mayor Dwight Jones’ plan for the redevelopment of the Shockoe Bottom area of the city, which centers on a new minor league baseball stadium. I have been silent mainly because I am split on this issue, sort of like the population of Richmond. I think the vicinity of the existing stadium (the Diamond) would be a better place for a new stadium, but my preference is not that strong. I also have serious questions whether the taxpayers of Richmond should pay for a stadium for a privately-owned entity. But, we subsidize other businesses to keep them in Richmond so why is a new stadium that different? I am also strongly swayed by those of my African American friends who argue that placing a stadium so close to where so many thousands of African slaves were imprisoned and sold as property (and where many of them died and were buried) is a disgrace to their memory. However, although I know what these friends don’t want, I have not been able to figure out what they do want other than a slogan that calls for an “historic district”. I think that we in Richmond should be forever mindful of the outrageous activities that went on in Shockoe Bottom for so many decades. But I am not sure this necessarily means that the area must remain forever as it is. And, on my third “other hand,” I am aware that the City of Richmond badly needs to expand its tax base. So, with this internal ambiguity, what was a maven to say? 

For the world outside of Richmond (and for you Richmonders who have been hibernating for the last few months)—some time past (I am too lazy to do the research to give you exact dates but exact dates are not important) the mayor of our beloved city, Dwight Jones, revealed to all of us a plan for the total revitalization of Shockoe Bottom. His plan included a new baseball stadium, a hotel, a supermarket, apartment buildings and a structure memorializing the slave trade that went on in the area in the 18th and 19th centuries. The plan was complete with artist renderings and financial statements. The mayor described his plan as essential to the revitalization of the Shockoe area, as well as vital to the economic expansion of the city. The mayor’s Shockoe plan was strongly connected to a more vaguely described plan to develop the area along the Boulevard where the Diamond now stands into a major commercial and residential neighborhood. A close examination of the Shockoe plan showed that its financial success counted on revenue from the Boulevard development. The mayor’s plan met both with very strong support and very strong opposition.  

The mayor’s plan cannot be implemented without the approval of the Richmond City Council. In fact, because it requires the sale of city owned property, the plan needs a super-majority to pass. Like the residents of the city, members of the council are divided on the plan. The eventual outcome will depend on those council members who have not yet decided. Although the mayor and his supporters have called the Shockoe plan an all or nothing proposition and have called for quick approval by the council, the council has been very deliberate, asking questions and holding neighborhood meetings for public input. 

This week, probably out of frustration that his proposal has not gained quick approval by the City Council, Mayor Jones raised the stakes. As reported in the Richmond Free Press 1 and repeated in the Richmond Times Dispatch 2 at a prayer meeting commemorating the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, the mayor said that the City of Richmond is “still 50% African-American” but there is now a majority on the City Council “that doesn’t look like us.” The mayor implied that those white members of the council who don’t back his plan do not care about creating jobs for African-Americans. The mayor’s attempt to turn this dispute into a racial issue is particularly strange because the most vocal opponents of his development plan come from the African-American community. If it turns out that the City Council does not approve Mayor Jones’ plan, he may regret that he suggested that some of them may be racists. 

The mayor may also regret the way that he has tried to implement this project. As I understand it, the mayor did not involve the City Council, as a body, in the formation of the plan. After being mayor for nearly five years, and having been reelected to a second term by a substantial majority, Mr. Jones seems to have forgotten that under the City’s charter it is the City Council, not the mayor, that is the governing body of the City of Richmond. Under the charter, the mayor is responsible “for the proper administration of city government.” He is also has several other specified responsibilities including preparing a proposed city budget for the council’s consideration. But, he is not the government. If I were a member of the City Council I would be jealous of the council’s governing authority and I just might be resentful when the mayor tells me that his plan is an all or nothing proposition and that my only options are to vote “yes” or “no.” Further, it would have made political sense to get council members involved in the planning for the Shockoe development. People who feel they have contributed to the formulation of a plan are not likely to oppose it when it comes up for a vote.

The Shockoe Bottom development plan will probably come onto the City Council’s agenda later this month. If the plan passes, the mayor needs to reach out to those who oppose a stadium in the former slave trading area by making sure that the structure commemorating this dark period in our history is one of the first to be built. He should also take the initiative in making sure that the entire area of the city from the old Manchester Docks along the slave trail up to Broad Street be designated a National Historic District. If the plan is defeated, the mayor and City Council need to get together quickly and create a new plan to redevelop the Shockoe Bottom area.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Lee and Davis and Other Confederate Superheroes

First a disclaimer—I don’t want to write this. As I said earlier this week, I do not like to write anything that is related to the Civil War. Anything I write will necessarily be divisive and this country is divided enough. And as someone who will always be a guest here in Richmond because I was born somewhere else, I know it’s not polite to say things that may upset your hosts. But, I didn’t start this. This was started by the editorial writers in the Richmond Times-Dispatch when they printed “What’s in a name?” in Thursday’s paper. The TD Opinion is in response to an attempt by citizens in Arlington County to remove the name of Jefferson Davis from the roads and streets of their county. I assume they are trying to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway. 

After setting forth these facts and pointing out how contentious such attempt will be, the TD editors say,

Advocates of stripping Davis’ name can make a good case that, whatever his merits, he represented a cause tainted with the stain of slavery — and, so far as the United States is concerned, with treason — that has no business receiving honor today.

Excuse me: “so far as the United States is concerned?!” TD editors, do you live in a different country than the rest of us? Last time I checked, this is the United States. And yes, Virginia, Mr. Davis represented a cause more than “tainted” with treason. By stating this issue as primarily related to slavery--which even we in Richmond, after 150 years, can now acknowledge as being not particularly brotherly—and putting the treason issue as a parenthetical that only concerns “the United States” the TD editors are trying to hide the real heart of this issue.

 In the next paragraph the TD editors roll out the nuclear option. Through the use of a clever segue they turn this into a threat to our precious Monument Avenue. In their words, “To say Davis does not merit honoring is to imply that those statues [on Monument Avenue] should all be torn down.” Hey editors, relax. Those trying to change the name of Jeff Davis highway in Arlington are not going to come marching down I-95 to wreak havoc on our most famous thoroughfare.*

Now that they created the issue, the TD editors go on to defend our monuments:

Unlike certain later developments, those monuments were not erected in defiance of the civil-rights struggle for black equality in the 1960s. Their raising was meant to honor that which was honorable about the South, and to tear them down would be to repudiate not only everything bad about the Confederacy but also everything good as well.

So, erecting Richmond’s statutes of J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson on what became Monument Avenue was meant to honor “that which was honorable about the South.” And, so that we can get back to the beginning point of the Opinion, I must assume that the action of our General Assembly in 1922 specifying that the Jefferson Davis Highway in Virginia ran from the Fourteenth Street Bridge in Arlington to the North Carolina border near Clarksville, Virginia, was also meant to honor that which was honorable about the South.** 

Well pardon me if I disagree that Stuart, Lee, Davis and Jackson (as well as AP Hill whose monument didn’t make it to the Avenue) were that which was “honorable” about the South. I realize that all of these men faced difficult decisions when their states purported to secede from the United States. I know that General Lee was heartbroken. I just read that he initially promised to never take up arms either against the Federal Government or Virginia. I have also read that Jefferson Davis cried when he made his farewell speech in the United States Senate. Yet all but one of these men did decide to take up arms against the United States. And, Davis would have taken up arms if he were not elected President of the Confederacy. He would have much preferred to lead troops against his country.

With the exception of Jackson, who was a teacher at the Virginia Military Academy, these men were all officers of the United States at the beginning of 1861—Lee, Stuart and Hill were in the United States Army, Davis served in the United States Senate. All of them had taken an oath to support and protect the Constitution of the United States. Within months, all of them had violated their oaths by abandoning their allegiance to the United States and joining an insurrection against it. If what these men did was honorable, we need to start changing our thinking about Benedict Arnold.

Moreover, the conduct of all of our honorable Confederates amounted to treason under the United States Constitution. The Constitution defines treason quite clearly: 

 Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Lee, Jackson, Stuart and Hill all participated directly in levying war against the United States. They led military groups that killed thousands of United States soldiers. Davis, although he may not have participated directly in military actions, was the Chief Executive Officer of the insurrection that called itself the Confederate States of America. Although they were never convicted of treason, this fact does not change the nature of their conduct.

After rejecting the removal of the monuments, the TD comes up with their solution:

A wiser way to affirm contemporary values, perhaps, is to continue striving to ensure that statutes, roadway names, and other landmarks and insignia embrace the full panoply of the state’s diversity. The monument to women of Virginia history that will soon rise in Richmond’s Capitol Square – perhaps the first such monument of its type in the country – points the proper way.

I certainly support this statement, especially because nobody (except the TD) seems to be considering destroying Monument Avenue. It’s not just a matter of affirming “contemporary values.” It would be a great idea for the City of Richmond to recognize the entirety of its long history, not just the years 1861 through 1865.

This brings me back to Jefferson Davis Highway. I support the citizens of Arlington. It is time for the General Assembly to reverse its action of 1922 and allow local jurisdictions to decide whether they want to continue to honor Jefferson Davis. In Richmond, I think the wonderful monument honoring Davis on the Avenue as well as the equally moving statute at his grave in Hollywood Cemetery are sufficient honors for a man like Davis. It’s time to change the name of those sections of U.S. Route 1 in Richmond that still bear his name to something that is more consistent with “contemporary values.” And, while we’re at it, do we really need a Robert E. Lee Bridge?

*The TD alarmism is like that of the National Rifle Association, which insists that even though the government claims it only wants to require background checks on those purchasing guns its true intent is to confiscate every gun in the country. It also resembles the statement in South Carolina’s secession document in 1860 that one of its reasons for attempting to leave the Union was that the Republican government in Washington intended to launch a war to free all the slaves.

**For a fascinating history of the Jefferson Davis Highway see


Thursday, January 09, 2014

They Shoot Horses

It is Sunday afternoon. I am pulling out of the Saint James-Beth Ahabah parking lot onto an alley between Franklin and Grace Streets. At the intersection with Ryland Street, I look left to check for traffic and I see what appears to be a police car coming down the street. I am wondering whether it is one of the old white Richmond police cars or the new black ones. I soon discover that it is a Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) police car. I wait for it to pass and then turn right on Ryland. I find myself wondering about the jurisdiction of the VCU police. The police car turns left on Franklin Street and I do the same, making sure that I don’t do anything that resembles a traffic violation. Just before Harrison Street, the police car pulls over and seems to park. I pass him and make a picture-perfect right onto Harrison.

As I drive south on Harrison I sense that the police car is again behind me. And, its lights are flashing. Since I have been driving perfectly, I know it is not me it is after; so I slow down to let it pass. It slows down too, and it is getting clear that it is me it is flashing. I pull over and park. It parks about two car lengths behind me. Then, nothing. About two minutes pass and I am thinking maybe I am wrong. It’s not me it is after. I get out of my car and walk toward the police car to find out what is going on. And then I hear what I have heard hundreds of times before on TV and in the movies—“Sir, get back in your car.”

Soon, a young police officer appears at my window (at my age, almost everybody looks young). I roll down my window. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” This is getting to be more and more a police melodrama. He tells me—“Your registration is expired and you are overdue on your inspection.” He’s gotta be kidding. Nobody is stupid enough to let both those things happen. He asks for my driver’s license and goes back to his car.

I start searching my glove box. I find many pink inspection receipts. 2005, 2008, 2010, several with dates I cannot read. I look up at the inspection sticker on the windshield. It reads 10/2013. And it dawns on me that this 2014. The registration I find ends June 30, 2013. Guess what? It is me that is stupid enough to let both these things happen. But, I don’t remember getting a renewal notice from the DMV. If I had I would have renewed on line. The officer is back.

He asks me to sign two (2) citations. He explains to me that my signature is not an admission of guilt. He explains that if I want to pay these without challenge there is a phone number to call. He also explains that I can go to court to challenge the tickets. He speculates that the registration is six months late so a judge probably won’t let me off. But, he says, the inspection is only two months late and maybe a judge will be lenient. He is talking a lot. Maybe he wants to be my friend. When he finally leaves the side of my car, I am feeling guilty for having ruined his Sunday afternoon by forcing him to write me two tickets.

On Monday I go to the DMV. Seventy something bucks for a two year registration. (Maybe this will encourage my 2004 Camry to last that long). Then off to Allen Tire for the inspection. They call me back. “Your battery is marginal. You also need your cooling system flushed. It is going to be sub-freezing tomorrow so you better get these done.” I reluctantly agree. Later I pick up my car--$336.65. As I am driving home, I notice that my check-engine light has gone on. I am seeing more and more money flowing out of the bank. Don’t they know that me and the maveness are on fixed incomes?

And, I am daydreaming. I bet my great grandfather never had these problems. Of course, I never knew my great grandfather. All I know about him is that he died in the Russian Empire before 1912 (That’s when my grandfather came to this country). I don’t know what he did for a living. I don’t know if he ever saw a car. So, as happens in reverie, I invent an imaginary great grandfather who just happened to live in Richmond, Virginia. He happened to own a horse, which he used to get him around town. He never had to register his horse every year to keep it on the roads. He never had to get it inspected for safety. He had to feed it and take care of it. And when it got old and its arthritic knees kept it from even walking, he could take it out to Henrico and shoot it in the head to put it out of its misery. As for me, I have no horse. I have that 2004 Camry that is eating away at my limited resources. But I have some Facebook friends, probably living in Henrico, who are gun toters. Just one bullet in the head and 2004 Camry would be out of its misery. And me? I would have new-car payments.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Confederacy: Again

It has been years since I have commented on a letter to the editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Generally, I am in total disagreement with the conservative views expressed (I would never suggest that the TD is biased in choosing which letters to publish) and I see no purpose in spending time in an argument that neither side will win. There have been only a few instances in which I felt it was necessary to say something. And with the advent of Facebook and Twitter, it’s a lot easier to comment in those media. In addition, I hate to write again about the Confederate States of America. I am certainly not a Civil War historian and it would be hard to continue serving as a maven if people thought I had become an expert only on the unpleasantness of the early 1860s. Two consecutive articles on the same subject area raise that risk. But the letter that the TD editors entitled “South was fighting for self-determination” in yesterday’s paper sparked my interest.

This all grows out of a dispute that has been going on since the 150 year anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech delivered at the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1863. It seems that some people want to challenge the generally accepted view that Lincoln’s remarks constituted a great speech and an essential United States historical document. Specifically, the letter yesterday asserted that previous letter writers defending Lincoln’s speech had not rebutted the accusation by H. L. Mencken that 1. The Gettysburg speech was “oratory, not logic; beauty not sense” and that 2. Lincoln falsely indicated that Union soldiers were fighting for self-determination, when actually Confederate soldiers were.

Mencken, who was popular about a century ago, was a pretty good writer and a critic of other’s use of the English language. He was also curmudgeonlier than even this maven.*

Although at one time I had memorized it, yesterday I looked back at the text of the Gettysburg Address to make sure I knew of what I speak. And I must wonder what this dispute is all about. Nowhere in his remarks did Lincoln talk of any soldier fighting for “self-determination”. In the second paragraph (I am looking at the so-called “Bliss Copy”—one of five existing versions of the speech) Lincoln said, “We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.” Lincoln refers to Union soldiers as having died to preserve the United States; he doesn’t mention self-determination. In the last paragraph, Lincoln refers to the Union dead buried at Gettysburg as having fought and died to assure that the United States “shall not perish from the earth.” Again he does not mention self-determination.

So where does “self-determination” come from? It was Mencken who equated Lincoln’s statement that Union soldiers fought and died at Gettysburg to preserve the “government of the people, by the people, for the people” as being equivalent to saying they were fighting for “self-determination.” After that, Mencken went on the attack:

“The Union soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves. What was the practical effect of the battle of Gettysburg? What else than the destruction of the old sovereignty of the States, i.e., of the people of the States? The Confederates went into battle free; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision and veto of the rest of the country—and for nearly twenty years that veto was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely more liberty, in the political sense, than so many convicts in the penitentiary.”

Aside from his lapses in logic (1- fighting to preserve the Union is equivalent to fighting for self-determination; 2- sovereignty of the states is the same as sovereignty of the people living in them), Mencken is espousing an argument that the states had total sovereignty before it was taken away by the Union in the Civil War. He is also railing against Reconstruction.

I have mixed emotions about Reconstruction. But I can’t agree with Mencken that from 1865 to 1876 (not quite Mencken’s 20 years) all the people in the states that had attempted to secede from the nation had as little liberty as “so many convicts in the penitentiary.”

As to his state sovereignty argument:

1- The states in the United States have never had total sovereignty. They were always subject to a constitution that said:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

2- Mencken forgets that the major attribute of supposed state sovereignty that caused the southern states to secede from the United States and to precipitate the Civil War revolved around the practice of owning other human beings (a practice I suggest has little to do with “self-determination”). In justifying their secessions, the southern states basically asserted three things that were causing them to separate from the United States: a- the inability of their citizens who were slave-owners to emigrate to western territories and take their slaves with them; b- the failure of some northern states to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law; and c- their belief that a Republican federal government would inevitably launch a war to deprive them of their human chattel.

Neither you nor I will ever know the motivation of individual soldiers fighting at Gettysburg. But, it is clear that the only self-determination that Confederate soldiers were fighting for was that of the southern landed aristocracy to keep other human beings enslaved. In fighting to preserve the United States, Union soldiers were not fighting against any other “self-determination.” Mencken was entitled to his opinion, but he was wrong.

Yesterday’s letter also relies on a statement from British Foreign Minister (I believe he was actually Foreign “Secretary”), Lord John Russell, who served during the American Civil War. As our letter writer quotes him, Lord Russell did not use the term self-determination. Rather he said that thousands of soldiers were dying to prevent the southern states from acting on the “principles of independence” that were asserted by the United States against Great Britain in 1776.

I do not know for sure the context of Lord Russell’s statement quoted in yesterday’s letter. But, I do know we are engaging in something that I did not learn as a student in New York City’s public schools during the 1950s. I vaguely remember learning that the United States government was concerned in 1861 and 1862 that the Brits might formally recognize the Confederate government and that these fears were mostly put to rest by the twin military victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863. But I knew nothing more specific than this. It was not until recently, when I read “The Education of Henry Adams”—a memoir written in the third person by the great grandson of John Adams—that I learned “the rest of the story.”

Henry Adams served as private secretary to his father, Charles Francis Adams, who was United States Ambassador to England during the 1860s. Before he left the United States, the younger Adams assumed that because of their opposition to slavery the British would support the Federal Government in the Civil War. When he arrived in London, he was shocked to find strong pro-Confederate sentiment, especially in government circles. Part of this sentiment grew out of the rather Machiavellian beliefs of Prime Minister Henry John Temple, the Third Viscount Palmerston, that British interests in North America would be better served by splitting the United States in two. (The United States as a single strong nation on the southern border of Canada was more dangerous to British imperial goals in the northwest than would be two weaker nations, possibly involved in perpetual war over control of what later became our western states.)** When the Adams, father and son, arrived in London they were greeted by the news that the British Government had met with emissaries from the Confederate States and had recognized the “belligerency” of the Confederacy. It was in this context that Lord Russell probably made the statement quoted above. By comparing the Confederacy with the United States in 1776, he was attempting to justify Lord Palmerston’s government supporting what was a slavery-based nation. Because of his obvious bias, we can’t rely on his statement as establishing anything.

Further, the “principals of independence” that Lord Russell claimed the Confederacy was fighting for were totally different than those asserted by the United States in the Declaration of Independence. In 1776, we were asserting a right to participate in making the decisions that governed us. We refused to continue in a nation in which we had no representation in the governing body. In 1865, the seceding states were not asserting that they had no representation in the Congress. Rather, they were complaining that they no longer had the votes to control the Congress. They tried to leave the United States because they were no longer getting their way.

*However, Mencken was also the author of the following statement, which raises questions about whether our letter writer should be relying on him:

“The Jews could be put down very plausibly as the most unpleasant race ever heard of. As commonly encountered, they lack many of the qualities that mark the civilized man: courage, dignity, incorruptibility, ease, confidence. They have vanity without pride, voluptuousness without taste, and learning without wisdom. Their fortitude, such as it is, is wasted upon puerile objects, and their charity is mainly a form of display.”

**Prime Minister Palmerston’s policies almost led to disaster. The United States discovered that the British were about to provide secret military assistance to the Confederacy. President Lincoln warned the British that if they did not stop meddling in the internal affairs of the United States he would be forced to seek a declaration of war against England.