Anthology – Peoples’ Plan for Life, Now and Forever …
What Do People Know?
With innumerable attempts to establish a counterpoise to assumptions about human nature that give a pass for behavior resulting in the deaths of our fellow humans in the name of this or that, it is clear nothing has yet been written that changed much of anything. In fact, given the brilliance of much of this record one has to ask, “Why try?” While you ponder the point, consider the tale of the frustrated orchestral conductor, exasperated with the musicians’ failure to deliver what he sought from them with the exclamation “Look here! I’ve taught you everything I know, and what do you know? Nothing!”
Communicating is problematic. Learning is a sometime exercise. Where does the human race get the idea that it is perfectly all right to kill, not just some, not just on occasion, not only here or there, but as many as possible, in many places, all the time, and with no regard even for its own mortality or that of other living things’. As the historian John Dower relates in his 2010 publication Cultures of War, people who invent and produce the means of mass murder feel there is “sweetness” in the use of force, especially if it will kill in numbers beyond any previously reached. To them, I suppose, it represents progress.
Inasmuch as Anthology has introduced you first to Henry Steel Commager, it follows that his introduction to you of Henry Adams (1838 – 1918) should be respected by quoting Mr. Adams. He was a primal force in establishing the historiography of United States history for all others to follow and as reference for their own work, the present author included. His complaint of the weakness in “coequal” branches of government distorted by the Senate to paralyze government led very nearly to its utter destruction as a result of the parochial beliefs in 1860 that were beyond adjudication in the legislature.
“The people, the final arbiters, can be seen to fail routinely in their modest role as citizens by virtue of their capacity to listen to the nonsense of ideologues and pretenders of every stripe, nearly all of whom are revealed to have a profit motive or a personal aggrandizement driving their agenda, the great weakness in our own system.”
In History of the United States during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson, 1801 – 1809, he describes opinions published contemporaneously about the ill effects of the growing democratic tendencies in the nation, leading to a one word riposte by Alexander Hamilton at a dinner party to the person quoting the evils of those tendencies: “Beastly!”
Adams’s account of the origins of our American Civil War is concise. He was the great grandson of America’s second president. The Great Secession Winter of 1860-61 was intended by its 23-year-old author to be published in the Atlantic Monthly. He decided not to submit it because he believed it “not worth printing.” The result of his modesty in youth caused the piece to reside among the papers of his father, Charles Francis Adams, many years until recovered for publication in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 1909-1910, vol. 43, pp. 660-687. For something this monumental, it is amazing to see a footnote by the author delivering the tale of the events leading to war (with Buchanan still in the Presidency)]:
“On the night of December 12, 1860, Major Robert Anderson, commander of the Federal garrison in Charleston harbor, secretly and without explicit orders, removed his men from their exposed positions at Fort Moultrie and Castle Pinckney to the more defensible Fort Sumter. The South Carolinians, who thought they had an agreement with President Buchanan that the military status of the harbor would not be changed without notice, were enraged and demanded Anderson’s return to his original positions. He refused, and in the end Buchanan was forced by his cabinet to support him.” [quoted from Henry Adams, The Great Secession Winter of 1860-61 and Other Essays, edited by George E. Hochfield © 1958, Sagamore Press, Inc., Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 58-9144, Perpetua Edition 1963.]