Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Who Said it V?

Time for another Who said it?, the world’s second most popular trivia game. There are one and a half rules but they are for me, not you. One, the quote has to be found in my own library and, two, it (usually) has to be someone that most people who like history or politics or literature would have heard about. In one case below the person the quote is from the wife of a famous person about him. Nine of the ten are Americans and the other one an Englishman speaking about Americans.

1) When I was a little fellow, as long as I can remember, I would go into a panic if I heard strange voices in the house. I felt I just couldn’t meet people, and shake hands with them. Most of the visitors would sit with mother and father in the kitchen, and it was the hardest thing in the world to have to go through the kitchen door and give them a greeting. I was almost ten before I realized I couldn’t go on that way. And by fighting hard I used to manage to get through that door. I’m all right with old friends, but every time I meet a stranger, I’ve got to go through the old kitchen door, back home, and it’s not easy.

That’s from President Calvin Coolidge, sometimes known as Silent Cal. Despite his name, his speeches and press conferences were quite frequent and lengthy. He also was a prolific author, but he was shy and quiet in company. If we can believe the story, at a party he was seated next to a woman who said she had heard about his reputation for not talking much and that she had bet someone that she could get three words out of him. He replied – ‘You lose.”

2) Nothing has ever hurt me so much and affected me with such keen sensations as to find myself deserted in my old age by my only son; and not only deserted, but to find him taking up arms against me, in a cause wherein my good fame, fortune and life were all at stake.

* * *

I have made a rule, whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draughtsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident which I will relate to you. When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words, 'John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells hats for ready money,' with a figure of a hat subjoined. But thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to thought the word 'Hatter' tautologous, because followed by the words 'makes hats,' which showed he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed that the word 'makes' might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats. If good and to their mind, they would buy them, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words 'for ready money' were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one who purchased expected to pay. They were parted with, and the inscription now stood, 'John Thompson sells hats.' 'Sells hats!' says the next friend. 'Why, nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?' It was stricken out, and 'hats' followed it, the rather as there was one painted on the board. So the inscription was reduced ultimately to 'John Thompson,' with the figure of a hat subjoined.

Ben Franklin is my favorite founder, bar none. The first quote is from a letter to his son William, the governor of New Jersey when the revolution broke out and an unrepentant tory. Dad wrote him off, and if I recall correctly, saw him only once more in his life, never forgiving him.

The second, one of my favorites, is actually told by Thomas Jefferson, and relates how Franklin tried to comfort him when congress was picking apart his original draft of the declaration of independence. Cynic though I am, and always suspicious of Jefferson, I hope there is more Franklin in it and less Jefferson. It sounds like the type of story Old Ben would tell.

3) Assassination is not an American practice or habit, and one so vicious and so desperate cannot be engrafted into our political system. This conviction of mine has steadily gained strength since the Civil War began. Every day's experience confirms it. The President, during the heated season, occupies a country house near the Soldiers' Home, two or three miles from the city. He goes to and from that place on horseback, night and morning, unguarded. I go there unattended at all hours, by daylight and moonlight, by starlight and without any light.

Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, showing why he was not famous for his prophetic powers. It is sometimes forgotten that he was nearly assassinated himself the same night as Lincoln. Booth’s confederate Lewis Powell chose a knife instead of a gun and did not finish the job, but the recovery was long and the scars endured.

4) After being hunted like a dog through swamps, woods, and last night being chased by gun boats till I was forced to return wet cold and starving, with every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for, what made Tell a Hero. And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat. My action was purer than either of theirs. One hoped to be great himself. The other had not only his country’s but his own wrongs to avenge. I hoped for no gain. I knew no private wrong. I struck for my country and that alone. A country groaned beneath this tyranny and prayed for this end. Yet now behold the cold hand they extend to me. God cannot pardon me if I have done wrong. Yet I cannot see any wrong except in serving a degenerate people.

That is from the diary of John Wilkes Booth, kept while he was on the run after the assassination. There are some pages missing and that fact has raised not a few eyebrows as to who he might have implicated.

5) Being more than usually pale, I ventured to put on a little rouge, which I found relieved the black and made me quite beautiful. Wishing to evade Mr. [A. . . ‘s] observation, I hurried through the room telling him to put the lights out and follow me down. This excited his curiosity and he started up and led me to the table and then declared that unless I allowed him to wash my face he would not go. He took a towel and drew me on his knee and all my beauty was clean washed away, and a kiss made a peace, and we drove off.

* * *

One evening, when I had dressed to go to Court, the everlasting teasing about my pale face induced me to make another trial of a little rouge, and contrary to my first proceeding, I walked boldly forward to meet Mr. [A. . . ]. As soon as he saw me, he requested me to wash it off, which I with some temper refused, upon which he ran down and jumped in the carriage and left me planté là, even to myself appearing like a fool, crying with vexation.

Ah, the rouge wars of the Adams' clan. These descriptions of life with John Quincy Adams make you wonder why his wife Louisa didn’t do away with herself. Between her depressing and arrogant husband and her opinionated and overbearing mother-in-law (Abigail was not so wonderful from Louisa’s viewpoint as history makes her out to be), she did not enjoy much of her life. At one point poor Louisa bought Abigail a ring only to have John Q. refuse to let her send it, and then telling his mother that he refused because it was too showy.

6) I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the wall. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due his honor or that of his country. VICTORY or DEATH.

* * *

I look to the colonies alone for aid; unless it arrives soon, I shall have to fight the enemy on his own terms. I will, however, do the best I can under the circumstances; and I feel confident that the determined valor and desperate courage heretofore exhibited by my men will not fail them in the last struggle; and although they may be sacrificed to the vengeance of a Gothic enemy, the victory will cost the enemy so dear, that it will be worse to him than a defeat. I hope your honorable body will hasten on reinforcements ammunition, and provisions to our aid as soon as possible. We have provisions for twenty days for the men we have. Our supply of ammunition is limited. At least five hundred pounds of cannon powder, and two hundred rounds of six., nine, twelve and eighteen pound balls, ten kegs of rifle powder and a supply of lead, should be sent to the place without delay under a sufficient guard. If these things are promptly sent, and large reinforcements are hastened to this frontier, this neighborhood will be the great and decisive ground.

This first quote is from the letter addressed to all Texans and all Americans in the world from Lt. Col. William Travis as he and his men approached destiny at the Alamo at the hands of the Mexican general Santa Anna. The second quote is from a little more than a week later, still trying to sound confident, but with reality creeping in. The courier John W. Smith brought it out, the last man to leave the Alamo alive.

7) The Americans will have no interest contrary to the grandeur and glory of England, when they are not oppressed by the weight of it; and they will neither be inclined to respect the acts of a superintending legislature, when they see them the acts of that power which is itself the security, not the rival of their secondary importance. In this assurance my mind most perfectly acquiesces, and I confess I feel not the least alarm from the discontents which are to arise from putting people at their ease; nor do I apprehend the destruction of this empire from giving, by an act of free grace and indulgence, to two millions of my fellow citizens, some share of those rights upon which I have always been taught to value myself.

This is from a speech by Edmund Burke to parliament in 1775, when a declaration of independence was still a year away, but hostilities were already joined. Burke is rightly celebrated as a great friend of America, liberty and democracy, but his predictions about America, which would declare independence be a great rival and sometimes enemy of Britain for over a century afterwards, shows that even someone who others put forth as the great man (Dr. Samuel Johnson, for one), cannot see the future.

8) My friends, we declare that this nation is able to legislate for its own people on every question, without waiting for the aid or consent of any other nation on earth; and upon that issue we expect to carry every state in the Union. I shall not slander the inhabitants of the fair state of Massachusetts nor the inhabitants of the state of New York by saying that, when they are confronted with the proposition, they will declare that this nation is not able to attend to its own business. It is the issue of 1776 over again. Our ancestors, when but three millions in number, had the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation, shall we, their descendents, when we have grown to seventy millions, declare that we are less independent than our forefathers?

This is a question that is probably worth asking every generation. We are now 300 million and the pressure to meld into some sort of world government or give away sovereignty always grows. Recently, listening to the physicist Michio Kaku discuss mankind’s evolution into what is called a type one civilization – that is, mastery of the resources of a home planet (this is actually called the Kardashev scale - we are now a type zero civilization), he suggested that as part of reaching that goal in the future we will have a world government. I emailed his blog and asked him if that didn’t show a political bias, and that maybe advancement to a type one civilization could involve the end of government, rather than what sounds like must be prototypical Platonic global tyranny to me. No answer, of course. The quote above though is from William Jennings Bryant famous Cross of Gold speech in 1896. He was focused on the issue of bimetallism – gold and silver. This is a very difficult subject to get our heads around now when we do not have a metal standard at all, but at the end of the 19th century it was quite the big deal.

9) First he expressed his condolences. Then he said . . . this might be part of a worldwide plot, which I didn’t understand, and he said a lot of people down here think I should be sworn in right away. Do you have any objection to it? And – well, I was sort of taken aback at the moment because it was just an hour after . . . the President had been shot and I didn’t think – see what the rush was. And I thought, I suppose at the time, at least, I thought it would be nice if the President came back to Washington – President Kennedy . . . . But I suppose that was all personal . . . . he said, who could swear me in? I said, I’d be glad to find out and I’ll call you back.

This quote is taken from Arthur M. Schleshinger, Jr.’s Robert Kennedy and His Times and is somewhat eerie for a number of reasons. The speaker is Bobby Kennedy, brother of the assassinated president, JFK. He was relaxing by his pool with his wife and some co-workers during a break in a Justice Department conference on organized crime when he learns that his brother had been shot and then that he was dead. The caller in this case was LBJ, who some conspiracy theorists like to think had a hand in it. If you’ve read the first three volumes of Robert Caro’s awe inspiring biography of LBJ, you might just think he had the sociopathic personality for it, although I have never read anywhere any reliable evidence to support it (hearsay evidence has it that LBJ thought the CIA was involved). However, I look forward to Caro’s last installment (he says in 2012), which will cover this period of time, with great eagerness. The phone call had to be difficult for many reasons – Johnson and RFK were not admirers, in fact they were antagonists, and LBJ is calling right after RFK learns of his brother’s assassination, mostly because RFK is the attorney general. Johnson was right, of course – he should have been sworn in immediately, and RFK acknowledges his reluctance was probably personal. It also is a little weird that he refers to his brother as “the President,” rather than Jack or “my brother”. But, it is easy to understand how RFK might feel affronted by a call like this from his brother’s main opposition in their own party who will now replace him in the presidency so soon after his death. According to Schleshinger, JFK only asked LBJ if he wanted the VP job out of propriety and was shocked when he accepted, or he wanted him as VP so that he wouldn’t be majority leader in the senate anymore and would be gotten out of the way.

10) The Jew waited until I paid him before he laid the watch on the counter. He gave his signal -- and this other fellow suddenly appeared, from the back, walking toward me.

One hand was in his pocket. I knew he was a cop.

He said, quietly, “Step into the back.”

Just as I started back there, an innocent Negro walked into the shop. I remember later hearing that just that day he had gotten out of the military. The detective, thinking he was with me, turned to him.

There I was, wearing my gun, and the detective talking to that Negro with his back to me. Today I believe that Allah was with me even then. I didn’t try to shoot him. And that saved my life.

I remember that his name was Detective Slack.

I raised my arm, and motioned to him. “Here, take my gun.”

I saw his face when he took it. He was shocked. Because of the sudden appearance of the other Negro, he had never thought about a gun. It really moved him that I hadn’t tried to kill him.

Sounds like a detective novel, doesn’t it? It has the tone of a Walter Mosely Easy Rawlins’ mystery. But, it is from the Autobiography of Malcolm X, which I recall reading during law school for some reason and found fascinating.

I am aware that there is a claim that at least some of the episodes described in the autobiography were manufactured, but have never looked into it myself. It still makes for arresting reading. Alex Haley, later the author of Roots collaborated on it based on his interviews, and it was brought out after X’s assassination. Haley supposedly had an important role in toning down the anti-semitism which would have made it less appealing to many audiences. At the same time that I read X’s autobiography, I also read that of Patrick Buchanan. Both grew up in Washington, D.C., one a privileged white kid and the other a poor black one. Their perspectives about blacks made for quite an interesting juxtaposition.

Okay, all done. As usual, this is really just an excuse for my ruminating about history.

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .