The Black General in 18th Century Europe

Revolutionary France had a Black general.

His name was Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, and he was born a slave in Haiti — then a French colony — the son of a French nobleman and his African slave. Dumas’ father had little money and actually pawned the boy in 1776, when he was fourteen, but then bought him back. Father and son moved to France, where Dumas gained his freedom and a gentleman’s education. He enlisted as a private in the army at age twenty-four and soared to the rank of general by thirty-one. That was thanks to courage, brains, and charisma — and thanks to the French Revolution, which created unheard-of opportunities for humble-born men. Dumas repeatedly distinguished himself in combat, and France’s Austrian enemies called him the Schwarzer Teufel: the black devil.

General Dumas on horseback
Général Alexandre Dumas, by Olivier Pichat (1825-1912)

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The Historic Ties Binding Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea

The world risks a new cold war thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — of the Crimean Peninsula. The conflict calls for short history of the two nations and of Crimea.

[Originally posted in 2014. I’m reposting because this article has so much to say about today’s news from Russia and Ukraine.]

KievanRus.map - Ukraine, Russia, Crimea
Kievan Rus during the early 1200’s

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EU Superpower: The New Holy Roman Empire

Vladimir Putin may have created a new superpower — and it’s not Russia. In the weeks since Putin invaded Ukraine, the European Union has changed. A recent New York Times opinion piece suggests the invasion has both united and militarized the EU (transforming it into a far more effective partner for the U.S). Europe could become an aggressive advocate for democracy, with power to rival China’s, as well as America’s. If so, how would this third superpower operate, given the EU’s decentralized structure? Europe’s own history offers an answer. The EU starts to look like the Holy Roman Empire.

European Union predecessor: Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire in 1356 (red borders)

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“Thay”: Gender-Neutral Pronoun

Here’s a crazy idea that might work.

“They” has become the English language’s preferred third person singular pronoun, for gender-neutral use. But of course, we use the same pronoun for the third person plural. That creates confusion. Why not revise the pronoun’s spelling when it’s singular? Why not switch out the “e” for an “a”?

You’d need only a few words of explanation. “In this [article/book], I use ‘thay,’ ‘thair,’ and ‘tham’ as third person singular pronouns, equivalent to ‘they,’ ‘their,’ and ‘them.’ I use the latter three solely as third person plural pronouns. Continue reading ““Thay”: Gender-Neutral Pronoun”

History Tells Us Congress CAN Impeach the President After His Term

The Constitution says nothing specific about whether Congress can impeach an official after his or her term. That didn’t stop the House of Representatives from impeaching the Secretary of War in 1876, after he left office — or the Senate from trying him. And history tells us Congress got it right that year, just as they apparently will again in 2021. The Framers based the impeachment process on the English Parliament’s power to impeach. And English impeachments could start after the official left office. In fact, Parliament impeached an official named Warren Hastings in 1787 and tried him between 1788 and 1795 — though he left office in 1784. The Hastings impeachment battle raged while the Framers wrote the Constitution, and it played a central role in their thinking.

The House of Commons, where they impeached Hastings
The House of Commons, Late 1700s

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History Tells Us the President Cannot “Self-Pardon”

The Framers of the Constitution based the presidential pardon on the English monarch’s power to grant pardons. And the monarch could not pardon himself — could not use executive power to escape the judgement of the courts. Parliament established that principle during the century before the Constitutional Convention, when it tried and executed King Charles I. To the Framers, then, “pardon” meant legal forgiveness granted to another. The authority they gave the President does not include a “self-pardon.”

even with 3 positions, Charles I could not self-pardon
Charles I, triple portrait by Anthony van Dyck

The Constitution does not address a “self-pardon,” and caselaw offers little guidance on whether the President has such a power. But the history of the Seventeenth Century does.
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King George III: The Abdication that Never Happened

George III was Britain’s king during the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence called him, “A Prince whose character is … marked by every act which may define a Tyrant.” But recent research has revealed a surprise about the king — one that hardly smacks of tyranny. In 1783, as the Revolutionary War drew to a close, George III almost abdicated—as revealed by a draft abdication speech in his own hand, recently discovered. The king’s speech blames the loss of the colonies on selfish partisanship within Britain. (Apparently, little has changed in the U.K. or in its former colonies.) King George also concluded that he had nothing left to offer. “A long Experience … has gradually prepared My mind to expect the time when I should be no longer of Utility to this Empire; that hour is now come; I am therefore resolved to resign My Crown and all the Dominions appertaining to it to the Prince of Wales my Eldest Son and Lawful Successor and to retire to the care of My Electoral Dominions the Original Patrimony of my Ancestors.” (The last point means he planned to move to his family’s duchy in Germany.) Continue reading “King George III: The Abdication that Never Happened”

Police History: Constable vs. Paramilitary

Calls to abolish or massively reform America’s police sound new and radical. Yet history offers a very old model for those reforms: an alternative to our current military style of policing. In the world of the Founding Fathers, civilian constables enforced the law. They had done so for 150 years in the American colonies and for longer in England. And they would continue well into the 19th Century.

a constable or beadle: police reform option
An English constable (technically, a beadle)

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