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, 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.

alexandre_dumas_1762-1806

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History’s Worst Governments Had the Most Ideology

Ideology is great stuff. It topples tyrants and fires up the citizens to achieve momentous things. But when a government adopts an ideology, it’s grim tidings for those who disagree — and for anyone suspected of disagreeing. Plus, fiercely held ideologies tie governments’ hands and lead to irrational policy choices. Ideology, in other words, is a prescription for bad government. Continue reading “History’s Worst Governments Had the Most Ideology”

Breaking News (to Me): Lafayette Was Not Handsome

I’m working on a post about the French and American revolutions, and I’ve come across some distressing news about the great Lafayette, hero of both.

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, was a French aristocrat who rode in on a white horse and offered his sword to George Washington in 1777, risking his life to bring justice and democracy to a foreign people. He was a cavalier general in a colonial blue uniform, complete with silver wig and golden epaulettes, raising his jeweled saber as he led a rag-tag band of colonials into the smoke and thunder of redcoat musket-fire. Continue reading “Breaking News (to Me): Lafayette Was Not Handsome”