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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Taste of Pumpkin This Thanksgiving: John Greenleaf Whittier


The Pumpkin

By John Greenleaf Whittier

Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.

On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden
Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden;
And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold
Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold;
Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North,
On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth,
Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines,
And the sun of September melts down on his vines.

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and from South come the pilgrim and guest,
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before,
What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie?

Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling,
When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling!
When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin,
Glaring out through the dark with a candle within!
When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune,
Our chair a broad pumpkin,—our lantern the moon,
Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam,
In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team!

Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better
E'er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o'er its baking, than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!

The Poet

John Greenleaf Whittier (December 17, 1807 – September 7, 1892) was an American Quaker poet and advocate of the abolition of slavery in the United States. He lived in New England, and he was a part of a small group of poets called the Fireside poets which also included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. They were so named because people would read their poetry while gathered together by the fireplace. They were the popular poets of the day who wrote about everyday life, nature and politics.

The poem above is Whittier's tribute to the pumpkin, “the fruit loved of his boyhood.” It was first published in the Boston Chronotype in 1846, and available in his 1849 Poems. Perhaps the verse reminds the reader of some favorite food or dish of his or her own childhood still served at gatherings to help honor such rich traditions.

The Poem – A Gourd of Distinction

The poem itself establishes the growing cycle of the pumpkin along with some symbolic and historical understanding.
  • Note: Archeologists have determined that variations of squash and pumpkins were cultivated along river and creek banks along with sunflowers and beans by natives of America. This took place long before the emergence of maize (corn). After maize was introduced, ancient farmers learned to grow squash with maize and beans using the "Three Sisters" tradition.
  • In Colonial America, the pumpkin, or pompion as it was called, got more respect. An important food source, pumpkins were crucial to colonials' survival through the hungry winter months.
In the first stanza, the speaker speaks of the beautiful pumpkin plant with its “leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold.” The pumpkin vines grow large and their tangled mass puts the speaker in mind of the prophet of Nineveh. The Nineveh allusion in the first stanza refers to Jonah, whom God sent to Nineveh in order to warn the people to mend their evil behavior, else the city would be destroyed. As the prophet waited outside the city walls, the giant pumpkin grew to protect him from the scorching sun.

In the second stanza, the speaker further extols the value of the pumpkin. It is cherished by a young Spanish girl, who waits on the Xenil River bank and by Creole Indians in Cuba who “laugh out” to behold the growth of those beautiful the “broad spheres of gold.”

Then, the speaker brings the celebration to his own American shores and the Yankee harvest “where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines/ And the sun of September melts down on his vines.”

With references to both Halloween and Thanksgiving, the speaker employs the gourd to revive pleasant memories of these seasonal American holidays. With this reference, the poet solidifies the importance of the pumpkin in celebration and national lore.

So eventually, the speaker completes the journey of the pumpkin – from the fruit of the vine to becoming a rich and flavorful pumpkin pie sure to delight the entire family. In this delicious fruit is an enduring symbol of traditional hearth and thanksgiving.

With a grateful voice, the speaker compares the sweetness in his own life with the “rich pumpkin pie.” And, in his heart, he holds a prayer of blessed life. Even with a mouth full of this delight, the speaker senses that his mind and heart are also full with gratitude for all the blessings he experiences and enjoys.

Ending on a serious yet whimsical note, the speaker prays further that his listeners' lives be sweet and that their final days be filled with golden moments that remain as sweet as "Pumpkin pie!"

"The Pumpkin" -- what a fitting reflection for Thanksgiving. May each of us have a pumpkin pie memory  this holiday. A simple food or a simple dish represents so much. Whittier lovingly reminds us of this. With humble reflection, we too can find a familiar taste to be a wonderful reward.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Not a "Guns Situation"? Delusional Thinking Steeped In Profit


"Mental health is your problem here. This was a very, based on preliminary reports, a very deranged individual, a lot of problems over a long period of time. We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries. But this isn't a guns situation."
--President Trump speaking about the First Baptist Church shooting that left at least 26 people dead and 20 others wounded in Sutherland Springs, Texas

Not a “guns situation”? 
The shooter, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, had been a member of the US Air Force. He was court-martialed in 2012 for assault on his spouse and assault on their child. He served a year in confinement, received a bad conduct discharge, and had his rank reduced.

Not a “guns situation”?

At one point, the shooter tried to get a license to carry a gun in Texas but was denied by the state according to the director of Texas' Department of Public Safety.

Not a “guns situation”?

Then, how was it that Kelley was able to get a gun? He was not supposed to have access to a gun. But, in April 2016, Kelley purchased the Ruger AR-556 rifle he allegedly used in the Texas shooting from a store in San Antonio.

Fred Milanowski, special agent in charge of Houston's field division for Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said three firearms were recovered from the scene: a 556 rifle, uncovered at the scene of the church, and two handguns from the vehicle: a Glok 9 millimeter and a Ruger 22. All three were purchased by the deceased suspect, as well as a fourth. Two of the weapons four weapons were purchased in Colorado and two in Texas, one in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, authorities said.

Officials confirmed the suspect did not have a license to carry, and did have a noncommissioned unarmed private security license, “similar to a security guard at a concert type situation.”

“There were no disqualifiers entered into the national crime information center database that would preclude him from receiving a private security license,” they said.

Not a “guns situation”?

The First Baptist Church shooting is the latest in the long history of deadly massacres by shooters using an assault-style weapon. The NRA continues to resist any restrictions on such weapons. In fact, after the Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016 that killed 49 people and wounded 53 others, the National Rifle Association released a video on YouTube urging Americans to buy more AR-15 assault rifles. According to the NRA video, Americans should buy assault weapons to “protect their life, liberty, and happiness.”

Not a “guns situation”?

The effect of marketing campaigns on fragile minds should be very obvious by now. Allowing deadly power in the wrong hands simply creates unwarranted danger. But given their financial success, gun makers tout assault weapons for the huge monetary returns.

One Bushmaster rifle campaign used an ad touting guns and bulleted machismo with the slogan, “Consider your man card reissued. If it’s good enough for the professional, it’s good enough for you.”

Not a “guns situation”?

Trump is by far the largest beneficiary of the NRA – the organization spent more than $21 million to help him: $9.6 million on ads and other pro-Trump materials, and another $12 million attacking Hillary Clinton, whom the organization saw as a threat to nominate a Supreme Court justice seen as unsympathetic to gun rights. There is no better example of the corrosive effect of money on American politics than the spending of the NRA.

The gun rights organization spent a whopping $54.4 million in the 2016 election cycle, almost all of it in “independent expenditures,” meaning spending for or against a candidate but not a direct contribution to a campaign. The money went almost entirely to Republicans. Of independent expenditures totaling $52.6 million, Democrats received $265. (That figure is not a typo.)

Not a “guns situation”?

Despite the fact that Americans indicate that they support universal background checks by a wide margin, gun manufacturers don't want anything that interferes with total gun sales and profits.
Background checks would impose a minor burden on gun transactions, but more importantly, checks limit the size of the market (and therefore, profits) in two ways.

First, the direct loss of profit comes because closing the current gaping loophole in the background check system will shut off sales to criminals and the mentally ill who are effectively free to buy all the guns they want at gun shows and through private transactions.

And, consider the other loss of profit – cutting off sales to the mentally ill and criminals will reduce crime and thereby reduce the public's demand for guns for self-protection. Gun manufacturers saw gun sales plummet during the dark days of the Clinton administration when crime dropped sharply every year. The 42% drop in the murder rate from 1993 to 2000 was a nightmare for gun sellers. Nothing scares the NRA like a sense of calm and safety in the public.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre once said FBI background checks “are just the first step in their long march to destroying our Second Amendment-protected rights.” Thus the NRA made sure that current federal law requires that the record of every gun buyer who goes through a background check be destroyed. 

Compromise and Solution?

Justice Antonin Scalia upheld the individual right to bear arms (District of Columbia et al v. Heller). He argued at length in Heller that the core constitutional right is to keep and bear arms for self-defense within one's home with weapons in common use for self-defense. The point, according to Scalia was that the Second Amendment only protects arms typically kept at home by law-abiding citizens for the purposes of self-defense, such as handguns.

Yet Scalia noted at length that the right is not unlimited. For example he acknowledged and supported the existing ban on fully automatic weapons. He also enumerated many key restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. He reaffirmed prohibitions on felons, the mentally ill, limits on arms in sensitive places (like schools and government buildings), regulations on commercial sales, and importantly, prohibitions of dangerous and unusual weapons, and "weapons most useful in military service -- M16 rifles and the like."

On this basis, the Fourth Circuit of the US Court of Appeals recently upheld Maryland's ban of semi-automatic assault weapons like the AR-15, noting that the AR-15 is modeled on the M16 and, while it is semi-automatic, unlike the automatic M16, the AR-15 possesses crucial military features that put it outside of the protection of the Second Amendment (or at least subject it to a constitutionally satisfactory balancing standard with public safety).The court's reasoning should be the basis of a much broader compromise.

This is an example of a regulation that could provide an effective compromise. Jeffrey Sachs, professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, explains how such a compromise might work. Sachs says, “If individuals want to own semi-automatic assault weapons, either as collectors or for practice shooting, then enforce a provision that such weapons can only be kept at legally registered shooting ranges or other registered depositories, and cannot be removed from the designated premises.

(Jeffrey Sachs. “Sachs: A modest proposal on guns.” CNN. October 16, 2017.)

President Trump, I strongly believe the First Baptist Church massacre involves a “guns situation” that must be addressed. It actually is a “situation” created by greedy manufacturers, misguided associations, and powerful lobbies, all with blood-stained hands. No control will stop all the senseless gun violence in America; however, certain measures can produce positive effects. Our government can take steps that will limit the access of highly deadly weapons to irresponsible individuals.

You see, Mr. Trump, by even using the phrase “guns situation,” you acknowledge the existence of the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. So, if you know the problem does exist, what do you think a “guns situation” entails?

A maniac who should never possess an assault weapon who somehow slips through the system after a history of personal violence and purchases the means to commit mass destruction … and who then kills at least 26 and wounds another 20 in a small rural church in Texas on Sunday morning. That is what I call a horrible “guns situation.” Do you have a better definition? God bless the families and friends of those innocent human beings.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Confederate Flags: What Pride in Human Bondage?


While several states still include remnants of Confederate symbols in their state flags, Mississippi is unique. The primary symbol on the flag is a smaller version of the Confederate battle flag, which to many black Americans recalls an earlier era of slavery and discrimination, but to some white communities symbolizes Southern heritage. What heritage does the controversial flag actually represent?

The state flag of Mississippi was adopted April 23, 1894. According to Civil War historian and native Southerner Shelby Foote, the flag traditionally represented the South's resistance to Northern political dominance; it became racially charged during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, when fighting against desegregation suddenly became the focal point of that resistance.

In 2000, the Supreme Court of Mississippi ruled that state legislation in 1906 had repealed the adoption of the state flag in 1894, so what was considered to be the official state flag was only so through custom and usage.

Governor Ronnie Musgrove appointed an independent commission which developed a new proposed design, and on April 17, 2001, a non-binding state referendum to change the flag was put before Mississippi voters. The proposal would have replaced the Confederate battle flag with a blue canton with 20 stars. This is the proposed flag:

The new flag was soundly defeated in a vote of 64% (488,630 votes) to 36% (267,812) and the old flag was retained.

In the wake of the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, in which nine black parishioners of an Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were killed by a young white supremacist, there were renewed calls for southern states to cease using the Confederate battle flag in an official capacity.

This extended to increased criticism of Mississippi's state flag. Several municipalities and schools in Mississippi, including the University of Mississippi and the city of Biloxi, are now refusing to fly the state flag until the emblem is removed. Over 20 flag-related bills, some calling for another statewide referendum, were introduced in the state legislature, but none were adopted.

A 2016 federal lawsuit alleging that the state flag is tantamount to "state-sanctioned hate speech" was dismissed by both a district court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The lawsuit was brought by a black lawyer who said he suffered because of the "painful, threatening and offensive" flag, which made him feel like a second-class citizen. He noted that as a lawyer, he saw the flag frequently in court, compounding the pain it caused him. He cited both emotional and physical harms, including high blood pressure and anxiety.

The central question was whether the man had standing to sue — which depended on whether he had experienced an "injury in fact." The appeals court didn't deny that the flag might have a deep and personal effect on the man. They said he demonstrated that he feels stigmatized.

But feeling stigmatized, they said, isn't the kind of injury you can sue the state over.

"[E]xposure to a discriminatory message, without a corresponding denial of equal treatment, is insufficient to plead injury in an equal protection case," the three-judge panel ruled.

The 5th Circuit also rejected a claim on behalf of the Mississippi man's daughter, who, under Mississippi law, will be taught "the proper respect" for the state flag in school and learn the state pledge of allegiance to the flag.

The man said that being forced to respect or pledge allegiance to a flag with Confederate imagery would violate his daughter's First Amendment rights.

The Circuit Court responded with an argument that, in a roundabout way, suggests the Mississippi flag might not be worth respecting. That is, they said "proper respect" for the flag is the "correct" or "suitable" respect, not a particular amount of respect.

They concluded, "all that is required to be taught is the history of the flag and the respect that it is due, whatever that may be."

The state does not take responsibility in cases of equality. It does not believe this flag creates a hostile environment for people, and it finds that the stigma created by the symbol is not sufficient to satisfy an injury. Moreover, it requires children to respect it despite

So, the State of Mississippi continues to fly a flag undeserving of respect which causes stigmatization and deep personal negative effects.

Are symbols free and open for interpretation? Of course. Do these symbols speak of different connotative meanings? Undoubtedly. Yet, do symbols also hold powers within themselves to unleash definite emotions? I think so. I believe people should respect the fact that negativity is portrayed in this design. Yet, I still wonder if all Americans are sensitive enough to care.


Much study has been done on the effects of the display and the associations of the Confederate flag. Wise students can view these findings for in depth information. Each study below is followed by a brief summary

(Strother, Logan; Piston, Spencer, Ogorzalek, Thomas. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, June 2017.)

The findings yield strong support for the hypothesis that prejudice against Blacks bolsters White support for Southern symbols (such as the Confederate flag), support for the Southern heritage hypothesis is decidedly mixed. Despite widespread denials that Southern symbols reflect racism, racial prejudice is strongly associated with support for such symbols.”

(Christopher A. Cooper; H. Gibbs Knotts. Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 87, Number 1, March 2006.)

Research shows although racial attitudes are important among both southerners and nonsoutherners, region and race also influence support for the Confederate flag. Southern whites have the greatest support for the flag followed by nonsouthern whites, nonsouthern blacks, and southern blacks. Conclusions. Support for the Confederate flag is not simply about racial attitudes, but a more complex phenomenon where region and race exert important influences.”

(Ehrlinger, Joyce; et al. Political Psychology, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2011. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2010.00797.x.)

As predicted, participants primed with the Confederate flag reported less willingness to vote for Obama than those primed with a neutral symbol. The flag did not affect willingness to vote for white candidates. In a second study, participants primed with the Confederate flag evaluated a hypothetical Black target more negatively than controls. These results suggest that exposure to the Confederate flag results in more negative judgments of Black targets. As such, the prevalence of this flag in the South may have contributed to a reticence for some to vote for Obama because of his race.”

(Moeschberger, Scott L. In Symbols that Bind, Symbols that Divide, Peace Psychology Book Series, 2014, 207-218.)

It was reported is not unreasonable to see racist overtones in a Northern area where the Confederate flag is commonly flown. Grant County, Indiana was the location of the last lynching in the northern states (in the year 1930) and still harbors racial tensions. The sight of the old courthouse where the lynching was held still holds power for many blacks in the city of Marion. Some would be appalled at this implication of racism and assert that it is simply a part of being a Southerner and taking pride in that geographical heritage.

(Holyfield, Lori; Moltz, Matthew Ryan; Bradley, Mindy S. Race. Ethnicity and Education, 2009, 12:4, 517-537, doi: 10.1080/13613320903364481.)

Findings reveal that whiteness remains largely an ‘unmarked’ category as demonstrated via discursive strategies (downplaying and defensive diversions versus race competence). Educators, especially in the American south, may benefit from examinations of controversies over the U.S. Confederate Flag in order to challenge racism in the classroom.”

My Conclusions

Remembering the history of the Confederacy is one thing, but nothing about the lost cause of secession should define who we are today. The Confederate flag is offensive, particularly to blacks. It represents those who fought to keep human beings as slaves and to continue the unimaginable acts inherent in slavery. Those who claim it is an enduring symbol of Southern pride evidently lack the ability to accept a New South in which remnants of racism have been removed.

Symbols and emblems should unite people. How does the Confederate flag do this? If you must fly it on your property, you are making the decision that your right to fly the flag is more important than the perception of others who take offense to it. Others will surely judge your stand. After all, the Ku Klux Klan and various Nazi groups still use it for purposes of promoting white supremacy. Using such a symbol, these supremacists employ racist history to attract members and to spread hate.

We all know the meaning of the symbol has not changed. Perhaps the historically-ignorant are not fully aware of its implications. To take pride in a government dedicated to preserving slavery without endorsing a racist view is more than I can believe.

On a lighter note, even iconic Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd no longer uses the symbol. Gary Rossington, a founding member of the band made a bold statement. The band, he said, was no longer going to use the Confederate flag in their merchandise because hate groups had “kidnapped” it. Rossington said the band wanted no part of “the race stuff” or “the bad things” associated with the flag. “We’re proud to be American,” he concluded.

The Confederate flag – in any form – should not be displayed on public property – any such property in any location. Any heritage it represents serves only to divide present-day America. It should take its appropriate place on display in museums and private collections, places off official grounds. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. There, history can be shared in its proper context. There, people can view it as an object that is not used to create political meaning. There those who care can review its many negative connotations. And, there people of all persuasions can walk away from it and not be affected by the stigma of its ugly design. And, the nation progresses with such dignity.


Southern pride has nothing to do with the Confederate flag. Can someone please convince Mississippi of this? Perhaps, a historical tidbit will help. Just a few weeks before the start of the Civil War, Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens gave his now-famous “cornerstone speech,” from which this is a quote:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth…”


Henry Cleveland, Alexander H. Stephens, in Public and Private: With Letters and Speeches, Before, During, and Since the War. 1886.

John Wihbey. “The Confederate flag, divisive politics and enduring meanings.” August 26, 2017.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

What Is Patriotism? Are You Sure?


On November 1, 2016, the Crusader , the official newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan, threw its support behind Donald Trump with a front page article headlined “Make America Great Again.” The article read: “America was founded as a White Christian Republic. And as a White Christian Republic it became great.”

People like to view patriotism by what they believe is its true meaning – a set of concepts supporting national loyalty. Yet, when asked to define those concepts, folks usually sputter, then mutter some words about gestures of respect for symbols such as the flag and the National Anthem. Most of their answers about patriotism are superficial and definitively evasive. People understand the word more as an emotion than as a strict set of beliefs.

To me, American patriotism is not about idolatry. The flag and the anthem are powerful national symbols, not objects that require worship. These symbols, though deserving of respect, should never inspire a nation to blind allegiance. Patriotism is not about “my country, right or wrong.” Instead, it is about working together to form a more perfect union.

In what is still the sole book-length philosophical study of the subject, Stephen Nathanson, professor of philosophy at Northeastern University, defines patriotism as involving:

Special affection for one’s own country

A sense of personal identification with the country

Special concern for the well-being of the country

Willingness to sacrifice to promote the country’s good

Patriotism and nationalism are often viewed as synonymous; however, philosophers have made critical distinctions.

Both patriotism and nationalism involve love of, identification with, and special concern for a certain entity. In the case of patriotism, that entity is one’s patria, one’s country; in the case of nationalism, that entity is one’s natio, one’s nation (in the ethnic/cultural sense of the term). Thus patriotism and nationalism are understood as the same type of set of beliefs and attitudes, and distinguished in terms of their objects, rather than the strength of those beliefs and attitudes, or as sentiment vs. theory.

In the 19th century, Lord Acton contrasted “nationality” and patriotism as affection and instinct vs. a moral relation. Nationality is “our connection with the race” that is “merely natural or physical,” while patriotism is the awareness of our moral duties to the political community.

In the 20th century, Elie Kedourie did the opposite, presenting nationalism as a full-fledged philosophical and political doctrine about nations as basic units of humanity within which the individual can find freedom and fulfilment, and patriotism as mere sentiment of affection for one’s country.

And, George Orwell contrasted the two in terms of aggressive vs. defensive attitudes. Nationalism is about power: its adherent wants to acquire as much power and prestige as possible for his nation, in which he submerges his individuality. While nationalism is accordingly aggressive, patriotism is defensive: it is a devotion to a particular place and a way of life one thinks best, but has no wish to impose on others

This way of distinguishing the two attitudes comes close to an approach popular among politicians and widespread in everyday discourse that indicates a double standard of the form “us vs. them.” Country and nation are first run together, and then patriotism and nationalism are distinguished in terms of the strength of the love and special concern one feels for it, the degree of one’s identification with it.

When these are exhibited in a reasonable degree and without ill thoughts about others and hostile actions towards them, that is patriotism; when they become unbridled and cause one to think ill of others and act badly towards them, that is nationalism. Conveniently enough, it usually turns out that we are patriots, while they are nationalists.


President Donald Trump is a politician who encourages nationalism by demanding rote adherence to his limited views that he labels “patriotism.” It is a mission full of archetypal ideas and bent on division.

Kathleen Powers, assistant professor in the department of international affairs at the University of Georgia, in an email to Newsweek, said, “When people identify with a nationality, they have an idea about what defines the prototypical or archetypal group member. In short, they carry a picture of what it means to be an American.

“That prototypical American,” Powers adds, “might be defined in relatively inclusive terms, like a person who respects political institutions, or in more exclusive terms, like someone who is part of a Judeo-Christian religion, speaks English, or is a member of a certain racial group. Certainly, some people define the prototypical American as white, Christian, and/or born in the U.S.”

"And if that’s your conception of what it is to be an American, Powers writes, then anyone who deviates from the norm is either not a true American, or is a poor version of one."

The upheaval over patriotism is clearly part of Trump's vision – a belief that the U.S. should be a “great” white, Christian nation “again.” His disapproval of black matters such as player protests in the NFL, his playing on people's prejudices toward Muslims and immigrants, and his repeated incendiary comments that threaten diversity shows his extreme nationalism.

Jacqueline Gehring, associate professor of political science at Allegheny College shows Trump's influence on his followers …

“Part of what led to Trump’s rise, Gehring says, was a growing frustration among some people simply at having a black president. There has been a backlash. Obama is seen as having emboldened black people, having led to the rise of groups like Black Lives Matter and I think it makes many white people feel uncomfortable.”

Few non-supremists would admit their support for the beliefs of racist groups like the KKK, but many would agree that America should be a “White Christian Republic.” Any plea to demand patriotism serves to limit the liberty of individuals who still face inequality in their lives. Demanding adherence to so-called patriotic acts spurs nationalism and, in turn, limits free expression and protected peaceful protest.

In truth, our nation has yet to achieve its promise of “life, liberty, and happiness” for all. A good patriot would serve with all of his fellow citizens to fight injustice – this is “the affection, identity, concern, and sacrifice” of which Nathanson spoke … and the kind of patriotism that builds the character of our country.


Mirren Gidda. “How Donald Trump’s Nationalism Won Over White Americans. Newsweek. November 15, 2016.

Igor Primoratz. “Patriotism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. June 01, 2009. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Doors and "Riders on the Storm" -- Whispers of a Sweet, Fading Memory


Riders on the Storm

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm

There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin’ like a toad
Take a long holiday
Let your children play
If ya give this man a ride
Sweet memory will die
Killer on the road, yeah

Girl ya gotta love your man
Girl ya gotta love your man
Take him by the hand
Make him understand
The world on you depends
Our life will never end
Gotta love your man, yeah


Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm


“Riders on the Storm”was released by the Doors as their second single from the studio album, L.A. Woman in April 1971. It reached number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. More notably, it has remained popular as a fan favorite for its undying mystique. “Riders” was actually the last song recorded by the Doors with Jim Morrison, and thus Morrison's last recorded song to be released in his lifetime. It was released shortly before he went to France, where he died a few months later.


L.A. Woman

By the time The Doors came to make their sixth and final studio album, L.A. Woman, they were close to collapse. Their tour at the end of 1970 had been disastrous. Jim Morrison was charged with indecent exposure in Miami in September, then apparently suffered a breakdown at the band’s last ever show in New Orleans. But LA Woman was the LP that pulled them back from the brink, breaking new ground

The LA Woman sessions began badly in November 1970. The band fell out with their long-term producer, Paul Rothchild, who quit two weeks in, unwilling to go another six rounds with an increasingly drunken, unpredictable singer.

Rothchild dismissed "Riders on the Storm" as "cocktail music," but reserved particular scorn for "Love Her Madly," which he cited as the song that drove him out of the studio. "The material was bad, the attitude was bad, the performance was bad," he said in the Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive. "After three days of listening I said, 'That's it!' on the talk-back and cancelled the session."

So, the Doors turned to engineer Bruce Botnick, whose credits included all of their previous albums, as well as the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, and the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed. With his help, the band vowed to coproduce their new album – no more endless days of Rothchild's studio strictness, where it was normal to record 30 takes or spend hours on perfecting a drum sound. "Rothchild was gone, which is one reason why we had so much fun," Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger told Guitar World in 1994. "The warden was gone."

The Doors decided to record in their unassuming "workshop" at 8512 Santa Monica Boulevard. "It was the room we had rehearsed in forever," recalled John Densmore, Doors drummer, in the documentary Mr. Mojo Risin. "Our music was seeped into the walls. We were very comfortable. It was home."

Like a fraternity common room, the cramped space was littered with empty beer bottles, dog-eared magazines, an endless tangle of cables and assorted instruments – plus a jukebox and pinball machine. "It was tight," says Botnick, who was ensconced in the upstairs office behind a portable mixing board. "It was like sardines."

Krieger speaks of the sessions …

“We adapted our rehearsal room, bringing in a portable board, a kind of forerunner of today’s ProTools set-up. We were comfortable there, plus there were two titty bars next door. It was the fastest time we recorded anything after the first album, all recorded live between the four of us, very few takes, Jim in the bathroom, with the door off. Not stoned, not drunk. Unless he was drunk, he was great to work with.

During takes, Morrison would grab his gold Electrovoice 676-G stage mic and sing in the adjoining bathroom, which served as a provisional vocal booth. The room's tile provided impressive natural acoustics, and he ripped the door off its hinges to better commune with his band mates. (Also note the vocals and the lyrics in Hyacinth House” “I see the bathroom is clear, I think that somebody´s near” line.)

“Jim’s concentration level was low, but he was focused the whole time. After the first album, Paul Rothchild had said, ‘Boys, we better record as much as we can ’cause Jim ain’t gonna be around for too much longer.’ I always thought Jim would last forever. He was indestructible. He wasn’t saying Jim was going to die, but maybe go off and live in Africa or somewhere. You didn’t always know what Jim was going to do the next day so, as a group, we did everything for the moment.”

Jim Morrison actually left on an extended trip to Paris as the final mixes were being prepared, hoping to rediscover his muse in the City of Light. He would never return.

The album was a huge success. Self-produced and recorded in their private rehearsal space, it was a homecoming in both a musical and spiritual sense. "Our last record turned out like our first album: raw and simple," drummer John Densmore reflected in his autobiography. "It was as if we had come full circle. Once again we were a garage band, which is where rock & roll started." 


Riders on the Storm”

It seems inspiration for the song abounds. The process of creating “Riders...” is an amalgamation of ideas sparked by Morrison and nurtured by the rest of the group.

John Densmore, remembers …

“Jim always had notebooks of writings and poems to draw from and would just pull lyrics out from these. Jim had made the film, HWY, that was a road movie and he played the hitch-hiker who killed the guy that gave him a ride. It was out there, experimental. He called his friend, the poet Michael McClure, and pretended that he had actually committed a murder just to get a reaction. I’m not aware it was based on a true story, but Jim was a voracious reader as well as having a wild imagination.”

Some critics see the song as an autobiographical account of Morrison's life in that he considered himself a "rider on the storm." The "killer on the road" is a reference to a screenplay he wrote called The Hitchhiker (An American Pastoral). Morrison was going to play the part of a hitchhiker who goes on a murder spree.

Stephen Davis in Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend (2005) speaks of Morrison attending Florid State University in Tallahassee in 1962 while seeing a girl named Mary Werbelow who lived in Clearwater, 280 miles away. Jim would often hitchhike to see her. Davis says ...

"Those solitary journeys on hot and dusty Florida two-lane blacktop roads, with his thumb out and his imagination on fire with lust and poetry and Nietzsche and God knows what else – taking chances on redneck truckers, fugitive homos, and predatory cruisers – left an indelible psychic scar on Jimmy, whose notebooks began to obsessively feature scrawls and drawings of a lone hitchhiker, an existential traveler, faceless and dangerous, a drifting stranger with violent fantasies, a mystery tramp: the killer on the road."

Also, in reference to the contents of the lyrics, Jim Morrison mentioned spree killer Billy Cook during at least one interview. Cook killed six people, including a young family, while hitchhiking to California. In all likelihood, the Cook murders were inspiration for the song's lyric, "There's a killer on the road / His brain is squirming like a toad ... if you give this man a ride/sweet family will die;..."

Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek said, “Interestingly, Jim was pulled in two directions – he didn’t want to complete the song just about a killer hitchhiker. The last verse: ‘Your world on him depends/Our life will never end/You gotta love your man.’ It becomes a very spiritual song; you won’t still occupy this body, but the essential life will never end, and love is the answer to all things. It gives the song a different perspective.”

Further lyrical investigation is interesting. Speaking with Krieger and Manzarek, the philosopher Thomas Vollmer argues that the line "Into this world we're thrown" recalls Heidegger's (1889-1976) concept of thrownness (human existence as a basic state with all its attendant frustrations, sufferings, and demands that one does not choose, such as social conventions or ties of kinship and duty). In 1963 at Florida State, Jim Morrison had heard an influential lesson about Heidegger, including discussion about philosophers with the same tradition, including Freidrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger.

The title? Astute listeners can recognize that the song was also inspired by the song “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky: A Cowboy Legend.” Robby Krieger of the Doors attests to this. He says it evolved out of a jam session when the band was messing around with “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky, a 1948 cowboy song by Stan Jones that was later recorded by Johnny Cash, Bing Crosby and many others. It was Jim Morrison's idea to alter the title to "Riders On The Storm."

Bruce Botnick reveals his take on the recording …

“It’s hard to remember the exact chronology – unfortunately a lot of the tape boxes and outtakes were destroyed – but ‘Riders On The Storm,' like everything else, took only two or three takes and, as an afterthought, we recorded Jim’s whispered vocal. We all thought of the idea for the sound effects and Jim was the one who first said it out loud: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to add rain and thunder?’ I used the Elektra sound effects recordings and, as we were mixing, I just pressed the button. Serendipity worked so that all the thunder came in at all the right places. It took you somewhere. It was like a mini movie in our heads.”

The Obscure

“Riders on the Storm” features Jim Morrison's main vocals and whispered lyrics over them to create the echo effect. Densmore says, “After we’d finished ‘Riders On The Storm,' I had this idea, which I suggested to Bruce Botnick, that Jim went back in and did another vocal that was just whispered, and it’s really subliminal. Unless you know it’s there, you don’t hear it.”

Referring to the dubbed lyrics, Ray Manzarek told Uncut magazine September 2011: "There's a whisper voice on 'Riders on the Storm,' if you listen closely, a whispered overdub that Jim adds beneath his vocal. That's the last thing he ever did. An ephemeral, whispered overdub."

Played in the E Dorian mode, "Riders On the Storm" not only incorporates effects of rain and thunder, but also the sounds of the electric piano playing keys which emulate rain – Manzarek used a Fender Rhodes to achieve the eerie mood. Sessions bass player Jerry Scheff, fresh from backing Elvis Presley at Las Vegas' International Hotel, came up with the distinctive, “jazzy” bass line with Manzarek's assistance. (Both Morrison and Densmore were massive Presley fans.)

The band also called upon guitarist Marc Benno, who was making a name for himself playing with Leon Russell.

Fittingly, “Riders on the Storm” ends with the storm fading slowly to silence. But not before Morrison had a more subtle contribution: two ghostly whispers of the song's title on the fadeout. The eerie send-off is even more haunting in retrospect. "That's the last thing he ever did," Ray Manzarek told Uncut. "An ephemeral, whispered overdub."

According to an interview with Manzarek, the song was performed live only twice: on the L.A. Woman tour at the Warehouse in New Orleans, Louisiana, on December 12, 1970, and in Dallas the night before that. This was The Doors' last public performance with Jim Morrison. It was only the second date of the tour, but was also the last, as the tour was canceled after this concert.

In November 2009, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame under the category Rock (track).

In the weeks before Morrison died on July 3, 1971, he intimated to John Densmore that he would soon be ready to record again. As it was, released shortly after the singer’s death, “Riders On The Storm” would become his haunted, mesmerizing swansong.

Today, Densmore is pragmatic about what might have been: “Either Jim would be a drunk playing blues in a club, or a vibrant, creative artist, clean and sober like Eric Clapton.”


Forty Year on, Jim Morrison Cult Thrives at Paris Cemetery.” The Independent. July 01. 2011.
Heinz Gerstenmeyer. The Doors – Sounds for Your Soul. Die Musik Der Doors. 2001.

Mick Houghton. “The Making Of… The Doors’ Riders On The Storm.” Uncut. September 18, 2014.

Lindsay Planer. “Riders on the Storm” – The Doors. Allmusic Review.

"'Riders on the Storm' full Official Chart History. Official Charts Company.

Riders on the Storm” (Which specific Rhodes was used?) The Electronic Piano Forum. April 25, 2009 Retrieved April 1, 2013.

Riders on the Storm.”

Jordan Runtagh. “Doors' 'L.A. Woman': 10 Things You Didn't Know.” Rolling Stone. April 19, 2016. 


Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Portsmouth Legacy: James Ashley, Lincoln's Conscience

 James Mitchell Ashley

Would it surprise you to know that President Abraham Lincoln was not an abolitionist when the Civil War broke out in 1881? He wanted desperately to preserve the Union. Although he personally found the practice of slavery abhorrent, he knew that neither Northerners nor the residents of the border slave states would support abolition as a war aim. The idea of granting freedom to nearly 4 million slaves in America was not his political concern.

Lincoln wrote in a famous letter to Horace Greeley on August 1862 ...

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”
Even in his first inaugural address, Lincoln declared that he had “no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with slavery in the States where it exists.”

So, how did the Thirteenth Amendment that formally abolished slavery in the United States come about? Who led the cause, and what pressures caused President Lincoln to act? The story may surprise you. Although somehow lost in the annals of history, the person most notably credited with applying direct action in the right places was an abolitionist with a Portsmouth, Ohio connection.

Prior to the Thirteenth Amendment, the United States Constitution did not expressly use the words slave or slavery but included several provisions about unfree persons. Since the American Revolution, states had divided into states that allowed and states that prohibited slavery.

Slavery was implicitly permitted in the original Constitution through provisions such as Article I, Section 2, Clause 3, commonly known as the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” which detailed how each slave state's enslaved population would be factored into its total population count for the purposes of apportioning seats in the United States House of Representatives and direct taxes among the states.

For purposes of the Fifth Amendment, which was ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights – “no person shall… be deprived of… property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” – slaves were understood as property. They or their descendants could be sold or inherited like any other personalty. Like other property, human chattel was governed largely by laws of individual states. The Fifth Amendment rights of due process in the pursuit of life and liberty did not apply to slaves.

President Lincoln’s position on “Union above all” did pivot as the war progressed. It did so largely for a very utilitarian reason. By the fall of 1862, he had begun to believe that freeing the slaves could aid in his ultimate goal of reuniting the states as he saw the military benefit provided by the thousands of slaves who had fled their owners and joined the Union forces fighting behind enemy lines. After all, the Confederacy was using slaves as trench builders, teamsters, cooks, and in many other ways to help their cause. Lincoln was convinced that abolition had become a sound military strategy, as well as the morally correct path.

Foremost, Lincoln wanted to change the tide of the war. It was going badly for the Union. After the Northern armies had won a string of military victories in the early months of 1862, they suffered demoralizing reverses in July and August. He saw that emancipation would weaken the Confederacy and strengthen the Union by siphoning off part of the Southern labor force and adding this manpower to the Northern side.

Also, most Republicans had become convinced by 1862 that the war against a slaveholders’ rebellion must become a war against slavery itself, and they put increasing pressure on Lincoln to proclaim an emancipation policy. By the summer of 1862, it was clear that he risked alienating the Republican half of his constituency if he did not act against slavery.

Yet, even when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all slaves in areas still in rebellion on January 1, 1863, “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free,” the mandate did not apply to border states or slave-holding territory already seized by the North.

It should be understood the proclamation only freed slaves; it did not abolish slavery itself. It pronounced freedom for all slaves in the Confederacy – states over which Lincoln had no control. Still, the symbolic directive had the effect of highlighting the centrality of slavery to the Union cause.

As historian Eric Foner writes, “never before had so large a number of slaves been declared free. By making the army an agent of emancipation and wedding the goals of Union and abolition, it ensured that northern victory would produce a social transformation in the South and a redefinition of the place of blacks in American life.”

Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery in the nation, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war. It was much more symbolic than practical.

Some historians believe issuing the proclamation gave Lincoln great benefit from a position of strength, rather than one of desperation. And, by shifting the Civil War’s main purpose from preserving the Union to universal liberty, Lincoln was hurling a moral challenge in the face of the British and French at a time when they were considering recognition of the Confederate government. In essence, it said, “You both abolished slavery – are you really going to recognize a nation built on that institution now, just to have access to the cotton grown by their slaves?” Britain and France balked.

A major concern was that the proclamation was executed by a president exercising greatly expanded wartime powers, and the president and his supporters were concerned that courts might rule it a temporary emergency measure invalid once the war concluded. Lincoln had preferred to see abolition codified on the state level, and by early 1864 several states had enacted laws prohibiting slavery.

Radical Republicans were opposed during the Civil War by the Moderate Republicans (led by Lincoln), by the conservative Republicans, and by the largely pro-slavery and later by anti-Reconstruction Democratic Party, as well as by conservatives in the South and liberals in the North during Reconstruction. The abolitionist group tried to convince the president that slavery would only be outlawed with an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. One of them was James Mitchell Ashley – the man with connections to Portsmouth, Ohio.


Born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, James Ashley moved with his parents and siblings to Portsmouth in the spring of 1826 at the age of two and grew to manhood here. His father, John Clinton Ashley was a minister in the Disciples (Campbellite) Church and served as a Justice of Peace and Township Trustee, providing the young Ashley a model of public service.

Still, Ashley and his father had a tense relationship. His father wanted him to follow family tradition and become a Baptist minister. Ashley did not want to do so. Therefore, Ashley grew very close to his mother, and he learned many things, both intellectually and morally, from her. She had many abolitionist friends, and this learning is said to have molded him into becoming a strong abolitionist. \

The young boy witnessed white men who refused to let their cattle drink from a stream in which his father had baptized slaves. Ashley grew to hate the "peculiar institution" (which he considered a violation of Christian principles) and the oligarchy that supported it.

When James Ashley was 14 years old, rather than attend a seminary, he ran away to become a cabin boy on Ohio and Mississippi River boats, and later he worked as a clerk on those boats. Ashley did not speak or write to his father again until he was twenty-one, but wrote often to his mother.

Nelson Evans, in his History of Scioto County account of the young Ashley, notes that it was “during his life on the river that he saw much that horrified him with the slave system. He saw coffles of chained slaves being walked to the Deep South, boys his own age being sold. In later years Ashley used to relate how free Negroes employed to work on the same steamer with him would be kidnapped.”

He recalled: “At landing places where the steamer would stop to take on freight, they (Negroes) would go ashore to help with the work, and would be arrested on the charge of being runaway slaves, and being unable, without money or friends, to make a defense, and no owner appearing, would finally be sold to pay the expenses of apprehending them.”

James Ashley began to help fugitives. Reports confirm that Ashley began helping slaves to escape as early as 1839. According to W. H. Siebert, a pioneering historian of the Underground Railroad, James Ashley began his active participation in the movement in 1841, at the age of seventeen, when he assisted two groups of slaves across the Ohio (one a group of seven and another of five), transferring them by a small boat from near Greenup, Kentucky, to two operators that lived below Portsmouth, on the West Side.

Late in his life Ashley relished telling stories of the families he had saved. Ashley explained in an interview when he was 70 years old: “The five was the most exciting time I ever had. From the group of seven, all of them got away.”

Ashley worked the river for several years, then he returned home to Portsmouuth and educated himself in the printing industry. By 1842, Ashley had begun working for various newspapers, particularly the Scioto Valley Republican. And, in 1848, he became editor and part owner of the Portsmouth (Ohio) Democrat in 1848 – the first Democratic party-aligned newspaper in Portsmouth. Ashley and the other owner would soon sell the paper to Francis Cleveland, who continued the enterprise.

Ashley then studied law with Charles O. Tracy, and he was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1849. However, he chose not to practice law. Instead, he ran for mayor in 1851.

Evans noted that Ashley lost the election because he split the Democratic vote with Judge William Oldfield. This loss discouraged young Ashley with Portsmouth.

Evans record also relates that Ashley realized his secret and illegal underground railroad activities had become common knowledge when “he met a Quaker whom he knew had “anti-slavery sentiments” on the street who said to him, “James, I think thee needs this,’ at the same time handing him $20.00.” 

In 1851, he was married to Miss Emma Smith of Kentucky. That same year he and Emma decided to leave Portsmouth. They moved to Toledo, Ohio, to avoid prosecution under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. There, he opened a drug store. He sold his portion of the business in 1858 in order to focus on politics. James and Emma had four children.

Ashley decided to relaunch his political career in northwest Ohio, where he abandoned the Democratic Party and helped establish the new Republican Party. Soon, James Ashley became an active abolitionist. He even traveled with John Brown's widow to Brown's execution in December, 1859, and reported on the event in the still-extant local newspaper, the Toledo Blade.

Ashley said of Charles Town (Charlestown, now in West Virginia):

“It is enough to say, that any anti-slavery man would have been safer from personal injury and insult in...countries whose language he could not speak, a stranger without a passport...than in the town of Charlestown, in my own country, for the past few days.”

The way Ashley got into the city without arrest or confrontation was to get an old horse and rickety buggy and quietly drive into town. Ashley even spoke to Mrs. Brown who was present to fetch her husband’s body. Mrs. Brown had brought a few friends with her for support, but she was made to leave them behind when she spoke with her husband. Ashley reported that she was treated terribly, even made to strip to be certain she had no poisons or weapons upon her person to relay to her husband.

Ashley was very sorry for what she went through, “A poor, broken hearted woman, with two gentlemen and a Quaker lady friend, harmless and unarmed...” Many people still ask why Harper’s Ferry was such an excitement to slaveholders, and Ashley said that “It is inseparable from the system of slavery.” Of Brown’s execution, he had somewhat torn feelings. To quote him,“However much I condemn and lament, as I most since rely do, his attack on this place, I cannot but admire his heroism, his straight-forward independence, and his undoubted courage.”

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown wrote:
I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.”
Brown read his Bible and wrote a final letter to his wife, which included his will. At 11:00 a.m. he was escorted from the county jail through a crowd of 2,000 soldiers a few blocks away to a small field where the gallows were. Among the soldiers in the crowd were future Confederate general Stonewall Jackson and John Wilkes Booth (the latter borrowing a militia uniform to gain admission to the execution).

Brown was accompanied by the sheriff and his assistants, but no minister since he had consistently rejected the ministrations of pro-slavery clergy. Since the region was in the grips of virtual hysteria, most northerners, including journalists, were run out of town, and it is unlikely any anti-slavery clergyman would have been safe, even if one were to have sought to visit Brown.

Brown elected to receive no religious services in the jail or at the scaffold. He was hanged at 11:15 a.m. and pronounced dead at 11:50 a.m. His body was placed in a wooden coffin with the noose still around his neck. His coffin was then put on a train to take it away from Virginia to his family homestead in New York for burial. In the North, large memorial meetings took place, church bells rang, minute guns were fired, and famous writers such as Emerson and Thoreau joined many Northerners in praising Brown.

French poet, novelist, and dramatist Victor Hugo had tried to obtain a pardon for John Brown. This text, written at Hauteville-House on December 2, 1859, warned of a possible civil war:
Politically speaking, the murder of John Brown would be an uncorrectable sin. It would create in the Union a latent fissure that would in the long run dislocate it. Brown's agony might perhaps consolidate slavery in Virginia, but it would certainly shake the whole American democracy. You save your shame, but you kill your glory. Morally speaking, it seems a part of the human light would put itself out, that the very notion of justice and injustice would hide itself in darkness, on that day where one would see the assassination of Emancipation by Liberty itself.
Let America know and ponder on this: there is something more frightening than Cain killing Abel, and that is Washington killing Spartacus.”
While in Toledo, Ashley was active in local politics and served as chairman of the Ohio Republican Party in 1858. A year later, in 1859, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in the 36th Congress. During his tenure, Ashley was one of the abolitionist movement’s leaders. His service to Congress spanned the entire Civil War and part of the Reconstruction Era.

According to biographer Robert F. Horowitz, Ashley "maintained that under the war powers clause of the Constitution, the government had the right to interfere with slavery in the states and to initiate complete abolition, and that the power should be used against the oligarchic slaveholders. He firmly believed that his views would eventually be accepted by the administration and the American people." Such strong support led to the Emancipation Proclamation.

In 1860, Ashley campaigned for Republican presidential nominee Abraham Lincoln. During the secession crisis in the winter of 1860-1861, Ashley opposed compromising with the slave-holding South. As chairman of the House Committee on Territories, Ashley formulated a radical plan for Reconstruction in December 1861. It would have abolished slavery, established territorial governments in the seceded states, redistributed confiscated land to former slaves and Southern white Unionists, and granted black men the right to vote.

Ashley was also instrumental in the drafting and passage of the law abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia in April 1862.

In December 1863, Ashley introduced a bill proposing a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery in the entire United States. Modeled after the wording of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, Ashley's motion was the foundation for what would become the Thirteenth Amendment.

When President Lincoln presented his much milder Reconstruction plan, Ashley unsuccessfully attempted to add a provision for black voting rights. Also in his second term, the congressman was accused of illegal land speculation and misuse of his office to secure jobs for relatives. A special congressional committee acquitted him in 1863.

By the summer of 1864 Lincoln’s position on the 13th Amendment had continued to evolve. At his party’s convention, he pushed for a Republican platform that called for slavery’s “utter and complete extirpation,” and in accepting the nomination, he for the first time called for a federal amendment banning slavery as “a fitting, and necessary conclusion” to the war.

Emboldened by the 1864 election that not only returned him to the White House but increased his party’s seats in Congress, Lincoln threw himself behind the effort to pass the amendment. In his annual message to legislators in December 1864, Lincoln made clear that he had no intention of waiting for the inauguration of the new Congress in March. “The next Congress will pass the measure if this does not,” he wrote. “May we not agree that the sooner the better?”

As the 2012 Steven Spielberg biopic “Lincoln” portrayed, the president and Secretary of State William Seward were willing to strong-arm border Unionists and horse-trade with reluctant Democrats to secure their votes or at least their abstentions in order to lower the threshold for a two-thirds majority. The administration took advantage of the timing of the lame-duck Congress by offering patronage jobs – and in one case an ambassadorship to Denmark – to defeated Democrats.

As floor manager of the Republican majority, James Ashley then steered the Thirteenth Amendment through the House of Representatives until its passage in January 1865 by 2 votes. The constitutionally required three-quarters of the states ratified the Thirteenth Amendment and it became part of the U.S. Constitution on December 6, 1865, eight months after the end of the Civil War.

The chamber grew silent as House of Representatives Speaker Schuyler Colfax declared the results of the historic vote with a quiver in his voice: “On the passage of the joint resolution to amend the Constitution of the United States, the ayes have 119, the noes 56.” The measure passed by the narrowest of margins, with eight members abstaining. Sixteen Democrats, all but two lame ducks, joined the full slate of Republicans in approving the measure.

It was reported that following a short heartbeat of silence, the chamber erupted in celebration. Parliamentary rules were cast aside as congressmen cheered wildly and “wept like children.” Then came the thunder of a 100-gun salute outside the Capitol Building to relay the news of the vote to the rest of the city. Ashley quickly telegraphed the Toledo Commercial, "Glory to God in the highest! Our country is free."

Although it wasn’t legally necessary, Lincoln affixed his signature to the engrossed copy of the amendment the following day. That night, a jubilant crowd led by a brass band gathered by torchlight outside the White House and raised a great cheer when Lincoln appeared in a central upper window of the portico. The president leaned outside and told his supporters that slavery had caused the Civil War and must be expunged so that it would never tear apart the country again. “This amendment is a king’s cure for all the evils,” he said. “It winds the whole thing up.” Before he left, Lincoln congratulated the country “upon this great moral victory.” One must wonder what he said to Congressman Ashley.


James Mitchell Ashley is forever known as the Radical Republican who introduced the first bill which ultimately became the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. He was good friends with President Lincoln, yet Ashley views on slavery were deep-seated and more extreme – breaking away from any compromise that deprived humans of equality and absolute freedom. Without such pressure on the President and Congress, the necessary transformation would likely not have occurred. A radical group led by a radical man had served the nation.

Ashley wasn't finished with his important work. He also became a leading advocate of the enfranchisement of black men, which was established by the First Reconstruction Act of 1867 and the Fifteenth Amendment (1870). Three years before his death, his efforts on behalf of racial equality were recognized by the Afro-American League of Tennessee, and he donated the proceeds of a book of his speeches to build schools.

With his health declining, Ashley developed a bad case of diabetes and it eventually cost him his life. In September of 1896,Ashley took a fishing trip up north. While fishing, he neglected to watch his diet and his health. On September 16th, Ashley suffered a fatal heart attack and died. He is buried in Toledo, Ohio.

While honoring James M. Ashley, William H. Young, the president of the Afro-American League of Tennessee said of Ashley …

“We come to snatch from the consummate statesman, patriot, philanthropist and benefactor, the chill and gloom of ingratitude and to reinvest his being with new life. We come to reassure him that the years of strife, turmoil, and self-abnegation spent for a despised race were ‘as bread upon the water.’

"We come to remind him that we tonight intend that his name and life-work shall be a precious legacy to our children’s children. That they shall rise up and call him blessed. We have come to announce to the world that henceforth, he who shall merit our gratitude shall not go unrewarded.”

With supreme conviction, Ashley fought for his beliefs. He fought for minority rights in a time when minorities had nothing. He pushed the people of his time to abolish slavery and to do away with segregation not only in his state, but also in the entire country. His name should forever be remembered as the person most responsible for the conviction and execution of these words: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” No Founding Father did more for equality in America than James Mitchell Ashley.


Jean Allain. The Legal Understanding of Slavery: From the Historical to the Contemporary. 2012.

“James Ashley.” Ohio History Central.

Evan Carton. Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America. 2006. 

“Emancipation Proclamation.” History Channel.

Andrew Feight, Ph.D. “James Ashley & the Thirteenth Amendment.”

Raelin Ingram. “The Life and Times of James. M. Ashley.” Washington Senior Research History Class.

Christopher Klein. “Congress Passes 13th Amendment, 150 Years Ago.” History Channel. January 30, 2015.

Abigail Perkiss. “Abraham Lincoln as constitutional radical: The 13th amendment.” Constitution Daily. July 12, 2013.

David Potter. The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861. 2011.