Adonis Diaries

Archive for March 21st, 2016

 

Nativist Riots of 1844

lithograph of the southwark riot

This lithograph depicts key elements of one of the riots of 1844. The image portrays the fight that took place in the Southwark neighborhood on July 7, 1844. (Library Company of Philadelphia)

 

 

 

 

 

In May and July 1844, Philadelphia suffered some of the bloodiest rioting of the antebellum period, as anti-immigrant mobs attacked Irish-American homes and Roman Catholic churches before being suppressed by the militia.

The violence was part of a wave of riots that convulsed American cities starting in the 1830s.

Yet even amid this tumult, they stand out for their duration, itself a product of nativist determination to use xenophobia for political gain. In the aftermath of the riots, shocked Philadelphians began debating new methods of maintaining order, a discussion that contributed to the consolidation of Philadelphia County in 1854.

Ethnic and religious antagonism had a long history in the city.

Since the 1780s, Irish textile workers had come to Philadelphia after losing their jobs to mechanization in the British Isles. As early as 1828, when an off-duty watchman was killed after disparaging “bloody Irish transports,” Catholic presence had provoked anxiety among American- and Irish-born Protestants.

In 1831, Irish Catholics battled along Fifth Street with Protestants celebrating the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

Anti-Catholic agitation increased in the early 1840s, organized in part around a perceived threat to the Bible in the public schools.

Catholic Bishop Francis Patrick Kenrick (1796-1863), an Irish immigrant himself, objected to Protestant teachers’ leading students in singing Protestant hymns and requiring them to read from the King James Bible.

Nativists used Kenrick’s complaints to gain followers. In 1842, dozens of Protestant clergymen formed the American Protestant Association to defend America from Romanism. In early 1843, editor Lewis Levin  (1808-60) made the Daily Sun an organ for attacks against Catholicism and Catholic immigration, and in December of that year, he helped found a nativist political party called the American Republican Association.

Bible Reading as Flashpoint

In 1844, the Bible controversy intensified in the district of Kensington, a suburb to the northeast of Philadelphia City and home to many Irish immigrants, both Protestant and Catholic. In February, Hugh Clark (1796-1862), a Catholic school director there, suggested suspending Bible reading until the school board could devise a policy acceptable to Catholics and Protestants alike.

Nativists saw this as a threat to their liberty and as a chance to mobilize voters, and they rallied by the thousands in Independence Square. On May 3, 1844 they rallied in Kensington itself but were chased away.

The first serious violence broke out three days later.

On May 6, the nativists reassembled in Kensington, provoking another fight, during which a young nativist named George Shiffler (1825-44) was fatally shot.

By day’s end, a second man—apparently a bystander—was dead, and several more nativists were wounded, two mortally.

The next day, the First Brigade of the Pennsylvania Militia, commanded by Brigadier General George Cadwalader (1806-79), responded to the sheriff’s call for help. The troops faced little direct resistance, but they proved unable to stop people from starting new fires.

On May 8, mobs gutted several private dwellings (including Hugh Clark’s house), a Catholic seminary, and two Catholic churches: St. Michael’s at Second Street and Master and St. Augustine’s at Fourth and Vine.

Only a flood of new forces—including citizen posses, city police, militia companies arriving from other cities, and U.S. army and navy troops—ended the violence by May 10.

The city remained superficially calm for the next eight weeks, but both nativists and Catholics anticipated further violence.

In Southwark—an independent district south of Philadelphia City and a seat of nativist strength—a Catholic priest’s brother began stockpiling weapons in the basement of the Church of St. Philip de Neri on Queen Street.

On Friday, July 5, a crowd of thousands gathered to demand the weapons. When the crowd reassembled the following day, the sheriff requested militia troops, and Cadwalader led about two hundred into Southwark. Saturday ended without bloodshed, but the situation remained tense, with a small group of militia—some of them Irish Catholics themselves—guarding the church and a group of nativist prisoners inside it.

Armed Clash in Southwark

On Sunday, July 7, the crowd reassembled, and this time it armed itself with cannon.

Egged on by nativist speakers, the crowd forced the militia to surrender the church and its prisoners. Cadwalader returned to Southwark about sunset at the head of a column and tried to clear the area around the church. When the crowd attacked the militia with bricks, stones, and bottles, the militia fired on them, killing at least two and wounding more.

Starting around 9pm, the crowd counterattacked. For the next four hours, rioters and militia battled in the streets of Southwark, with both sides firing cannon.

By morning, four militiamen and probably a dozen rioters were dead, along with many more wounded. Southwark’s aldermen negotiated the militia’s withdrawal from their district, but thousands of militia troops from other parts of the state arrived to patrol the City of Philadelphia.

Although American cities, particularly Philadelphia, had endured a surge of riots since the early 1830s, few individual riots lasted for more than a day, making the 1844 riots extreme in their severity and duration.

While some of the violence had been spontaneous, the ambitions of the nativist newspapers and political party in an election year likely sustained nativist fury through the spring and summer. Though the riots were more than the simple transplantation of anti-Catholic violence from Northern Ireland, they echoed the deliberate provocation seen there.

The riots did not resolve the place of the Irish in the city.

On the one hand, few Philadelphians were willing to endorse publicly the attacks on Catholics, and more than two thousand Philadelphians signed an address praising the militia’s use of “lawful force which unlawful force made necessary.”

On the other hand, in the October elections, amid the heaviest turnout in Philadelphia’s history, Levin and another nativist won congressional seats and other nativists took lesser posts.

Meanwhile, Philadelphians began discussing plans for a stronger police force to deter future riots.

In April 1845, the legislature passed a law requiring each major city and district of Philadelphia County to support at least one police officer for each 150 taxable inhabitants, and in 1850 it created a new Philadelphia Police District to cover the entire metropolitan area, including the outlying districts of Kensington and Southwark.

Though not the sole cause, these steps contributed to the consolidation of Philadelphia County into a single government in 1854.

Zachary M. Schrag is a professor of history at George Mason University. He is at work on a book about the 1844 riots.

Cuba on the Edge of Change?

Obama visiting for 3 days accompanied by 40 senators…

The last US president to set foot in Cuba was 80 years ago: Calvin Coolege?

Cuba at times can feel like a nation abandoned. The aching disrepair of its cities, the untamed foliage of its countryside, the orphaned coastlines —
a half-century of isolation has wrapped the country in decay. Yet few places in the world brim with as much life as Cuba, a contrast drawn sharper amid its faded grandeur.
Sabine Choucair shared this link
It’s a land of endless waiting and palpable erosion. Yet after all these decades, an uncanny openness among the Cuban people remains.
nytimes.com

They wait, coiled with anticipation. For web pages to download. For tourists to hurry up and buy something.

For a flag to be raised. Cubans know how to wait. Yet, after decades of Communist rule, they are less prepared to handle the feeling of opportunity now permeating the island, and their government’s resistance to letting them seize it.

Breaking out of Havana is essential, eye-opening, often impossible. Flights are irregular, leaving in their own good time — if at all.

The search for a car that can handle the gouged roads and aged infrastructure will plumb the depths of your patience. The effort, though, is worth it.

The country yields all the complexity, beauty and idiosyncrasy of one of the world’s few remaining frontiers.

From the outside, the destruction is palpable. Paint molts from walls. Structures list to one side.

Facades torn from the edges of homes leave dollhouse interiors exposed to the elements. Look closer, though, at knickknacks arranged just so on splintered shelves.

Cracked floors swept clean. Plastic flowers perfectly arranged. Quiet pride in every detail.

The revolution is over. It has been for decades. Not that you would know it from the rhetoric or the adulation bestowed on this slice of Cuban history, at least by Communist Party leaders.

But when the sound waves subside and the propaganda quiets, what you find is a military clinging to historic relevance, with an uncertain place in today’s Cuba.

Like much else there, its aging weaponry and upper ranks have been sealed up in a time capsule for more than 50 years.

The trappings of the past are literal in Cuba — the ancient Chevys, the faded posters of Fidel.

It can, at times, seem studied, a museum of quaintness, until you need a ride somewhere and come to realize that these classics, not meant to be cute, are vital transportation for the Havana masses. Or you realize that the posters cling to the walls of a former revolutionary’s home, the charm only incidental

Tourism is inescapable in today’s Cuba. Selfies on the Malecon. Shots of classic cars.

Che T-shirts. For Cubans, this is for now the highest rung in the emerging economic order, one of the few ways to break free of monthly salaries that could scarcely pay for an hour of parking in Miami.

Cubans scrape together what they can to offer services outside their areas of specialization. Here, doctors drive cabs, engineers hawk tamales and working farmers hustle to sell a horse ride to travelers.

In a land of iconic imagery, perhaps no images are more revered, marketed or pervasive than those of the nation’s revolutionary heroes.

Ground zero for this iconography is the Plaza de la Revolucíon. The black outlines of Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos grace the walls of buildings flanking the plaza, their images looming large over the heart of the nation.

Though Cuban society has been closed off from the world for a half-century, there remains an uncanny openness about the nation’s people.

Pop into a random apartment and the worst you may get is a wary stare, followed by a joke.

Cubans seem inoculated from the preoccupation with privacy that infects other countries. Life is lived in public here, doors cast open to the night, beckoning the passers-by.

Note: In the 80’s Cuban physicians were everywhere civil unrest plagued countries. Particularly in Angola and Africa.

Bertrand Russell on Immortality.

Why Religion Exists, and

What “The Good Life” Means

“There are forces making for happiness, and forces making for misery.

We do not know which will prevail, but to act wisely we must be aware of both.”

Bertrand Russell (May 18, 1872–February 2, 1970) is one of humanity’s most grounding yet elevating thinkers, his writing at once lucid and luminous.

There is something almost prophetic in the way he bridges timelessness and timeliness in contemplating ideas urgently relevant to modern life a century earlier — from how boredom makes happiness possible to why science is the key to democracy.

But nowhere does his genius shine more brilliantly than in What I Believe (public library).

Published in 1925, the book is a kind of catalog of hopes — a counterpoint to Russell’s Icarus, a catalog of fears released the previous year — exploring our place in the universe and our “possibilities in the way of achieving the good life.”

Russell writes in the preface:

In human affairs, we can see that there are forces making for happiness, and forces making for misery. We do not know which will prevail, but to act wisely we must be aware of both.

One of Russell’s most central points deals with our civilizational allergy to uncertainty, which we try to alleviate in ways that don’t serve the human spirit.

Nearly a century before astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser’s magnificent manifesto for mystery in the age of knowledge — and many decades before “wireless” came to mean what it means today, making the metaphor all the more prescient and apt — Russell writes:

It is difficult to imagine anything less interesting or more different from the passionate delights of incomplete discovery.

It is like climbing a high mountain and finding nothing at the top except a restaurant where they sell ginger beer, surrounded by fog but equipped with wireless.

Long before modern neuroscience even existed, let alone knew what it now knows about why we have the thoughts we do —

the subject of an excellent recent episode of the NPR’s Invisibilia — Russell points to the physical origins of what we often perceive as metaphysical reality:

What we call our “thoughts” seem to depend upon the organization of tracks in the brain in the same sort of way in which journeys depend upon roads and railways.

The energy used in thinking seems to have a chemical origin; for instance, a deficiency of iodine will turn a clever man into an idiot.

Mental phenomena seem to be bound up with material structure.

 

Nowheredo our thought-fictions stand in starker contrast with physical reality than in religious mythology —

and particularly in our longing for immortality which, despite a universe whose very nature contradicts the possibility,

all major religions address with some version of a promise for eternal life.

With his characteristic combination of cool lucidity and warm compassion for the human experience, Russell writes:

God and immortality … find no support in science… No doubt people will continue to entertain these beliefs, because they are pleasant, just as it is pleasant to think ourselves virtuous and our enemies wicked. But for my part I cannot see any ground for either.

And yet, noting that the existence or nonexistence of a god cannot be proven for it lies “outside the region of even probable knowledge,” he considers the special case of personal immortality, which “stands on a somewhat different footing” and in which “evidence either way is possible”:

Persons are part of the everyday world with which science is concerned, and the conditions which determine their existence are discoverable.

A drop of water is not immortal; it can be resolved into oxygen and hydrogen. If, therefore, a drop of water were to maintain that it had a quality of aqueousness which would survive its dissolution we should be inclined to be skeptical.

In like manner we know that the brain is not immortal, and that the organized energy of a living body becomes, as it were, demobilized at death, and therefore not available for collective action.

All the evidence goes to show that what we regard as our mental life is bound up with brain structure and organized bodily energy.

Therefore it is rational to suppose that mental life ceases when bodily life ceases. The argument is only one of probability, but it is as strong as those upon which most scientific conclusions are based.

 

But evidence, Russell points out, has little bearing on what we actually believe.

(In the decades since, pioneering psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman has demonstrated that the confidence we have in our beliefs is no measure of their accuracy.) Noting that we simply desire to believe in immortality, Russell writes:

Believers in immortality will object to physiological arguments [against personal immortality] on the ground that soul and body are totally disparate, and that the soul is something quite other than its empirical manifestations through our bodily organs.

I believe this to be a metaphysical superstition. Mind and matter alike are for certain purposes convenient terms, but are not ultimate realities.

Electrons and protons, like the soul, are logical fictions; each is really a history, a series of events, not a single persistent entity.

In the case of the soul, this is obvious from the facts of growth. Whoever considers conception, gestation, and infancy cannot seriously believe that the soul in any indivisible something, perfect and complete throughout this process.

It is evident that it grows like the body, and that it derives both from the spermatozoon and from the ovum, so that it cannot be indivisible.

Long before the term “reductionism” would come to dismiss material answers to spiritual questions, Russell offers an elegant disclaimer:

This is not materialism: it is merely the

recognition that everything interesting is a matter of organization, not of primal substance.

Our obsession with immortality, Russell contends, is rooted in our fear of death — a fear that, as Alan Watts has eloquently argued, is rather misplaced if we are to truly accept our participation in the cosmos. Russell writes:

Fear is the basis of religious dogma, as of so much else in human life. Fear of human beings, individually or collectively, dominates much of our social life, but it is fear of nature that gives rise to religion.

The antithesis of mind and matter is … more or less illusory; but there is another antithesis which is more important

that, namely, between things that can be affected by our desires and things that cannot be so affected.

The line between the two is neither sharp nor immutable — as science advances, more and more things are brought under human control.

Nevertheless there remain things definitely on the other side. Among these are all the large facts of our world, the sort of facts that are dealt with by astronomy.

It is only facts on or near the surface of the earth that we can, to some extent, mould to suit our desires. And even on the surface of the earth our powers are very limited. Above all, we cannot prevent death, although we can often delay it.

Religion is an attempt to overcome this antithesis.

If the world is controlled by God, and God can be moved by prayer, we acquire a share in omnipotence…

Belief in God serves to humanize the world of nature, and to make men feel that physical forces are really their allies.

In like manner immortality removes the terror from death. People who believe that when they die they will inherit eternal bliss may be expected to view death without horror, though, fortunately for medical men, this does not invariably happen.

It does, however, soothe men’s fears somewhat even when it cannot allay them wholly.

In a sentiment of chilling prescience in the context of recent religiously-motivated atrocities, Russell adds:

Religion, since it has its source in terror, has dignified certain kinds of fear, and made people think them not disgraceful.

In this it has done mankind a great disservice: all fear is bad.

Science, Russell suggests, offers the antidote to such terror — even if its findings are at first frightening as they challenge our existing beliefs, the way Galileo did.

He captures this necessary discomfort beautifully:

Even if the open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cosy indoor warmth of traditional humanizing myths, in the end the fresh air brings vigor, and the great spaces have a splendor of their own.

But Russell’s most enduring point has to do with our beliefs about the nature of the universe in relation to us.

More than eight decades before legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser’s exquisite proclamation —

“If you perceive the universe as being a universe of abundance, then it will be. If you think of the universe as one of scarcity, then it will be.” — Russell writes:

Optimism and pessimism, as cosmic philosophies, show the same naïve humanism; the great world, so far as we know it from the philosophy of nature, is neither good nor bad, and is not concerned to make us happy or unhappy.

All such philosophies spring from self-importance, and are best corrected by a little astronomy.

He admonishes against confusing “the philosophy of nature,” in which such neutrality is necessary, with “the philosophy of value,” which beckons us to create meaning by conferring human values upon the world:

Nature is only a part of what we can imagine; everything, real or imagined, can be appraised by us, and there is no outside standard to show that our valuation is wrong.

We are ourselves the ultimate and irrefutable arbiters of value, and in the world of value Nature is only a part. Thus in this world we are greater than Nature.

In the world of values, Nature in itself is neutral, neither good nor bad, deserving of neither admiration nor censure.

It is we who create value and our desires which confer value… It is for us to determine the good life, not for Nature — not even for Nature personified as God.

Russell’s definition of that “good life” remains the simplest and most heartening one I’ve ever encountered:

The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.

Knowledge and love are both indefinitely extensible; therefore, however good a life may be, a better life can be imagined.

Neither love without knowledge, nor knowledge without love can produce a good life.

What I Believe is a remarkably prescient and rewarding read in its entirety —

Russell goes on to explore the nature of the good life, what salvation means in a secular sense for the individual and for society,

the relationship between science and happiness, and more.

Complement it with Russell on human nature, the necessary capacity for “fruitful monotony,” and his

ten commandments of teaching and learning, then revisit Alan Lightman on why we long for immortality.


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