“Within these days past, I have marched by 18 or 20 Negroes that lay dead by the way-side, putrifying with the small pox. How such a thing came about, appears to be thus: The Negroes here being much disaffected (arising from their harsh treatment), flock’d in great numbers to [British General Lord] Cornwallis, as soon as he came into these parts. The artful general takes a number of them (several hundreds), innoculates them, & just as they all are growing sick, he sends them out into the country where our troops had to pass & repass. These poor creatures, having no care taken of them, many crawl’d into the bushes about & died, where they lay infecting the air around with intolerable stench & great danger. This is a piece of Cornwallisean cruelty. He is not backward to own that he has inoculated 4 or 500 in order to spread smallpox thro’ the country, & sent them out for that purpose.” – Josiah Atkins, “Diary, June 24th, 1781,” (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel; emphases in original)

“Some men in these parts, they tell me, own 30,000 acres of land for their patrimony, & many have two or 300 Negroes to work on it as slaves. Alas! That persons who pretend to stand for the rights of mankind for the liberties of society, can delight in oppression, & that even of the worst kind! These poor creatures are enslav’d: not only so, but likewise deprived of that which nature affords even to the beasts. Many are almost without provision, having very little for support of nature; & many are as naked as they came into the world. What pray is this but the strikingly inconsistent character pointed out by the apostle, While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption!” – Josiah Atkins, “Diary, June 6th, 1781,” (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel; emphases in original)

“The contempt we have been taught to entertain for the blacks, makes us fancy many things that are founded neither in reason nor experience . . . the dictates of humanity and true policy equally interest me in favour of this unfortunate class of men.” – Alexander Hamilton to John Jay, March 14th, 1779 (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel)

“It is a maxim with some great military judges, that with sensible officers soldiers can hardly be too stupid; and on this principle it is thought that the Russians would make the best troops in the world, if they were under other officers than their own. . . . I frequently hear it objected to the scheme of embodying negroes that they are too stupid to make soldiers. This is so far from appearing to me a valid objection that I think their want of cultivation (for their natural faculties are probably as good as ours) joined to that habit of subordination which they acquire from a life of servitude, will make them sooner become soldiers than our White inhabitants. Let officers be men of sense and sentiment, and the nearer the soldiers approach to machines perhaps the better.” – Alexander Hamilton to John Jay, March 14th, 1779 (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel)

“What the media have done is to create a new electronic peasantry. The experiment with democratization through mass education has failed, and the message of civilization, in achieving its widest audience, has moved toward entropy.” – William Irwin Thompson, Darkness and Scattered Light

“The Negro’s and Negro Women are unhumanly treated, are two-thirds naked, and are very disgusting to the Eye and another Sense, Tho I begin to be more habituated to the Sight, yet I cannot be to the great Cruelty made Use of to the poor ignorant Wretches. Indeed the Title of the Overseer is a sufficient Explanation of the Whole. He is stiled a Negro Driver. These circumstances of Cruelty to these People render the persons who exercise it disagreable, nay odious to me. When a Set of People can sit down enjoying all the Luxuries of Life without feeling the least Sensation or Compunction for the sufferings of those poor Wretches whose Lives are render’d Miserable and Constitutions destroyed for those Purposes, I must conclude them Obdurate, Selfish, and Unfeeling to the greatest Degree imaginable. At what an Expence of Life and Happiness do we eat Rice and Sugar! One thing more I must add, that their Diet is almost entirely on Rice and sweet Potatoes as they are allowed Meat but once a Year.” – Stephen De Lancey to Cornelia Barclay De Lancey, Savannah, Georgia, January 14th, 1779 (from The American Revolution: Writings from the War on Independence, ed. John Rhodehamel)

“The separation of authority from power is not easily understood in terms of American culture. We based a whole revolution on rejecting European authority and power and lumped geniuses, lords, and cardinals all together into one untrustworthy group. It is, therefore, an historical irony that the country that rejected kings and crowns ended up by idolizing the Presidency and allowed the holder of the office to become more powerful than any Caesar.” – William Irwin Thompson, Passages About Earth

What is it good for

“A war doesn’t merely kill off a few thousand or a few hundred thousand young men. It kills off something in a people that can never be brought back. And if a people goes through enough wars, pretty soon all that’s left is the brute, the creature that we—you and I and others like us—have brought up from the slime.” – John Williams, Stoner

Matters of equity

“Seamen are a class of persons remarkable for their rashness, thoughtlessness, and improvidence. They are generally necessitous, ignorant of the nature and extent of their own rights and privileges, and for the most part incapable of duly appreciating their value. They combine, in a singular manner, the apparent anomalies of gallantry, extravagance, profusion in expenditure, indifference to the future, credulity, which is easily won, and confidence, which is readily surprised. Hence it is, that bargains between them and ship-owners, the latter being persons of great intelligence and shrewdness in business, are deemed open to much observation and scrutiny; for they involve great inequality of knowledge, of forecast, of power, and of condition. Courts of Admiralty on this account are accustomed to consider seamen as peculiarly entitled to their protection; so that they have been, by a somewhat bold figure, often said to be favorites of Courts of Admiralty. In a just sense they are so, so far as the maintenance of their rights, and the protection of their interests against the effects of the superior skill and shrewdness of masters and owners of ships are concerned.” – Justice Joseph Story, Brown v. Lull

The principle of the interest

“It is a maxim founded on the universal experience of mankind, that no nation is to be trusted farther than it is bound by its interest; and no prudent statesman or politician will venture to depart from it.” – George Washington, “Letter to Henry Laurens, November 14, 1778″

Always look on the bright side of life

“The human mind is always poring upon the gloomy side of Fortune, and while it inhabits this lump of Clay, will always be in an uneasy and fluctuating State, produced by a thousand Incidents in common Life, which are deemed misfortunes, while the mind is taken off from the nobler pursuit of matters in Futurity. The sufferings of the Body naturally gain the Attention of the Mind, and this Attention is more or less strong, in greater or lesser souls, altho’ I believe that Ambition & a high Opinion of Fame, makes many People endure hardships and pains with that fortitude we after times Observe them to do. On the other hand, a despicable opinion of the enjoyments of this Life, by a continued series of Misfortunes, and a long acquaintance with Grief, induces others to bear afflictions with becoming serenity and Calmness. It is not in the power of Philosophy, however, to convince a man he may be happy and Contented if he will, with a Hungry Belly. Give me Food, Cloaths, Wife & Children, kind Heaven! and I’ll be as contented as my Nature will permit me to be.” – Albigence Waldo, Diary, December 15, 1777, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania (emphasis in original)

Go hungry and see how good everything tastes

“Mankind are never truly thankfull for the Benefits of life, until they have experienc’d the want of them. The Man who has seen misery knows best how to enjoy good. He who is always at ease & has enough of the Blessings of common life is an Impotent Judge of the feelings of the unfortunate.” – Albigence Waldo, Diary, December 15, 1777

When the war was young

“I am Sick—discontented—and out of humour. Poor food—hard lodging—Cold Weather—fatigue—Nasty Cloaths—nasty Cookery—Vomit half my time—smoak’d out of my senses—the Devil’s in’t—I can’t Endure it—Why are we sent here to starve and Freeze—What sweet Felicities have I left at home; A charming Wife—pretty Children—Good Beds—good food—good Cookery—all agreeable—all harmonious. Here all Confusion—smoke & Cold—hunger & filthyness—A pox on my bad luck. There comes a bowl of beef soup—full of burnt leaves and dirt, sickish enough to make a Hector spue—away with it Boys—I’ll live like the Chameleon upon Air.” – Albigence Waldo, Diary, December 14, 1777

So high, you can’t get over it

“I really am of opinion that there is few of the young fellows of the modern age exempt from vanity, more especially those who are bless’d with exterior graces. If they have a fine pair of eyes they are ever rolling them about a fine set of teeth, mind they are great laughers, a genteel person, for ever changing their attitudes to shew them to advantage, oh vanity! vanity! how boundless is thy sway!” – Sarah Wister, Journal, December 12th, 1777 (spelling, usage, and punctuation in original)

some people think

“some people my dear think that there’s no difference between good nature and good humour. but according to my opinion they differ widely good nature consists in a naturally amiable and even disposition free from all peevishness and fretting, it is accompany’d by a natural gracefulness a manner of doing and saying everything agreably, in short it steals the senses and captivates the heart. good humour. consists in being pleas’d and who wou’d thank a person for being chearful if they had nothing to make them other ways, good humour is a very agreable companion for an afternoon but give me good nature for life.” – Sarah Wister, Journal, November 1st, 1777 (spelling, usage, and punctuation in original)

Getting away with murder

Justifiable homicide is that which is committed either, 1st, by unavoidable necessity, without any will, intention or desire, or any inadvertence or negligence in the party killing, and therefore without blame; such as, by an officer, executing a criminal, pursuant to the death-warrant, and in strict conformity to the law, in every particular; or, 2dly, for the advancement of public justice; as, where an officer, in the due execution of his office, kills a person who assaults and resists him; or, where a private person or officer attempts to arrest a man charged with felony and is resisted, and in the endeavor to take him, kills him; or, if a felon flee from justice, and in the pursuit he be killed, where be cannot otherwise be taken; or, if there be a riot, or a rebellious assembly, and the officers or their assistants, in dispersing the mob, kill some of them, where the riot cannot otherwise be suppressed; or, if prisoners, in gaol or going to gaol, assault or resist the officers, while in the necessary discharge of their duty, and the officers or their aids, in repelling force by force, kill the party resisting; or, 3dly, for the prevention of any atrocious crime, attempted to be committed by force; such as, murder, robbery, house-breaking in the night time, rape, mayhem, or any other act of felony against the person. But in such cases, the attempt must be not merely suspected, but apparent, the danger must be imminent, and the opposing force or resistance necessary to avert the danger or defeat the attempt.” – Simon Greenleaf, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence (footnotes omitted; emphases in original)

Do you call that equitable

“If one man strikes another a blow, that other has a right to defend himself, and to strike a blow in his defence; but he has no right to revenge himself; and if, when all the danger is past, he strikes a blow not necessary for his defence, he commits an assault and a battery. It is a common error to suppose that one person has a right to strike another who has struck him, in order to revenge himself.” – Justice Coleridge, Regina v. Driscoll

Parking on the left is now parking on the right

“So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distractions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.” – James Madison, “The Federalist 10”

Pulling a national rabbit from an imperial hat

“A remarkable aspect of the Revolution is that for almost seven years, the war was conducted by a government that, strictly speaking, had no governing powers. The wonder of this becomes all the sharper when one reflects that the war was both a struggle with Britain and an internal or civil war. No one has yet convincingly disputed the guess of John Adams that throughout the conflict at least one third of the Americans remained loyal to Great Britain. Another third were neutrals, people who didn’t much care who won and who never caught the spirit of ‘76 until after the definitive American victory at Yorktown in 1781. The Revolution was carried to its successful end by a mere third of the population.” – Milton Lomask, The First American Revolution

And still do

“The ‘Tidewater’—the broad coastal plain along the Atlantic—had spawned one kind of culture. The ‘upcountry’ beyond—the great central plateau or Piedmont and the mountains forming its western border—had engendered a far different one. Tidewater North Carolina was rich. Upcountry was poor. Tidewater was a land of rice and indigo plantations worked by armies of slaves. Upcountry was a warren of small farms, each tillable by ‘a man, a mule, and a nigger,’ provided all three worked from dawn to dusk. In the three lower colonies, the Carolinas and Georgia, the Tidewater planters controlled the legislature, made the laws, fixed the taxes, and dominated the courts.” – Milton Lomask, The First American Revolution

The ghosts that haunt us still

“Colonial policy had always been to exclude Negroes from militia service, but more often than not a need for soldiers had dictated a contrary practice. Many blacks had fought in the French and Indian War. As the dispute with Parliament neared breaking point, Negroes volunteered for the New England militia. All were accepted. . . . In the late fall of 1775 Southern delegates to Congress were complaining that the Continental Army had become ‘a refuge for runaway slaves.’ They insisted that the blacks already enrolled be dismissed and that future volunteers be turned down. The Congress at first rejected these proposals. Then the delegates reversed themselves to the extent of barring future enlistments. On this matter they would alter their position several times during the war. Meanwhile, in the face of changing official edicts, blacks continued to join both their local militia and the Continental Army.” – Milton Lomask, The First American Revolution

Same as it ever was

“This is the age of crime. I’m sure we all grant that. It’s the age, of course, of other things as well. Of the great chance, for instance, and the loss of faith, of the bureaucrat, and of technology. But from the highest public matters to the smallest private acts, the mugger, the embezzler, the burglar, the perjurer, tax chiseler, killer, gang enforcer, the plumber, party chairman, salesman, curator, car or TV repairman, officials of the union, officials of the corporation, the archbishop, the numbers runner, the delinquent, the police; from the alley to the statehouse, behind the darkened window or the desk; this is the age of crime.” – Renata Adler, Pitch Dark