Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's My Money and I Need It Now, The Alabama Claims

When studying the American Civil War the last component we learn about is the Reconstruction Era. It was a time in American History that showed the broken nation trying to piece itself back together. We all learn about the Radical Republicans, the Carpetbaggers, the ending of slavery and so on but there is one topic that is always overlooked, The Alabama Claims. The Alabama Claims are an example of how the American Civil War was more than just an American event but was a world wide event.

The Civil War was one of the darkest times in American History. It is also the most discussed event in American History as it was a turning point in American political, economic and cultural history. There are actually so many events, issues and stories from the Civil War that it is easy to over look some of them. For example I have previously written about the lost Confederate submarine the CSS H.L. Hunley (Sorry I know that was a shameless self plug). But my point is even though the Civil War lasted four years and Reconstruction lasted another twelve so you can see how easy it is to forget everything surrounding the Civil War. And one of these events is the Alabama Claims.

The Alabama Claims actually have nothing to do with the state of Alabama but a with the Confederate sloop of war CSS Alabama. The Alabama was built in Birkenhead, England in 1862 for the Confederates. These ships were built by English companies knowing that they would be used specifically to attack Union ships and harbors. The English Prime Minister Lord Palmerston and Foreign Secretary Lord John Russell not only knew about the Alabama and several ships like her but allowed for them to be completed and sold even with objection from American Minister to Britain Charles Francis Adams. After the news of the Alabama had spread across England, both the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary were quite embarrassed as they had violated England's neutrality claims in the American Civil War. However, the damage had been done as the Alabama was setting sail towards the American coast and prepared for war.

The Alabama was armed to the teeth, well at least for 19th century standards. She was armed with six 32lb cannons and with a 68lb and 110lb cannon. She had several successful raids against Union ships. From August of 1863 until December of 1863 the Alabama was unstoppable. During this time the Alabama burned somewhere around 65 Union ships, after taking supplies and goods of course, boarded around 400 ships, took about 2000 POW's and sank the USS Hatteras all without losing a single crew member. However, no one can stay unbeaten forever and the Alabama and her crew were soon to find that out the hard way.

The Battle of Cherbourg is pretty much forgotten when discussing battles of the Civil War, especially the naval battles. The Alabama arrived in Cherbourg, France to dry dock and repair. However, the USS Kearsarge was hot on her tail and followed her to France. The captain of the Kearsarge also sent for backup and telegraphed for the USS St. Louis to assist in taking the Alabama. Now the Alabama and Kearsarge were pretty evenly matched but the St. Louis was one bad ass ship, a man-o-war armed with TWENTY 24lb smooth bore cannons. Not wanting to surrender his ship the Alabama's Captain Semmes decided to make a run and fight his way out. This would be a bad move on the old Captains part as he was out gunned and out classed by the Union Captains and ships. About an hour after the first shot was fired the Alabama was on her way to the bottom of the ocean. Not many men were lost that day as the ship did sink slowly, however Captain Semmes was never taken, he was actually picked out of the water by a British yacht which happened to also be in the area.

Captain Semmes made it back to the states...well Confederate States in February before the war ended but the damage had been done by he and the Alabama. The war itself would end a few months later and it was time for the America to put itself back together, however there was someone who need to pay up for some damages caused. The Alabama ran up a hefty tab at the expense of the Union, a total of some $6,000,000 dollars in damages and loses. The Confederacy was abolished and the southern states barely were able to run a lemonade stand let only pay the damages which they owed. So looks like it's those limey tea drinking Brits fault...again. The United States put the damage caused by the Alabama squarely on the shoulders of the British and called it, well they called it the Alabama Claims. The claim was that the British directly violated the neutrality act by knowing and allowing the Alabama to be constructed. So the U.S. sent a bill over to jolly old England and awaited their response.

The United States sent over a well planned exchange in order to pay for the damages caused by the Alabama. At first they felt it best for a lump some of $2 billion dollars or just give Canada to the U.S. This was all in part to the wonderful idea of Manifest Destiny and it quickly fell through as Congress was busy with Reconstruction and rebuilding the nation. It wouldn't be until President Grant's Secretary of State Hamilton Fish worked out a deal in 1871. American and British representatives got together and not just worked out the issue over the Alabama but several other issues between the two nations. In the end the Treaty of Washington was signed in march of 1871 and the Brits paid the U.S. a sum of $15,500,00 dollars and apologized for allowing the Alabama to be built. It was from then on that there was almost no differences between the two nations, making them the allies they have been for the last some 120 years.

Today the Alabama lay beneath 200 ft of water off the coast for Cherbourg for 121 years. She was discovered by the French Navy and confirmed by Captain Max Guerout as the Alabama. The Association of the CSS Alabama have been in charge of the wreck since 1988. The U.S. and France have both worked on with the Association in efforts to preserve the wreck and in its excavation. Since the late 1980s there have been numerous artifacts found and raised from the Alabama. In 2002 the ship's bell was raised. The artifacts helped piece together not only the mid 19th ship, but also what life on a ship during the Civil War was like. The artifacts found on the Alabama are kept at the Underwater Archaeology Branch, Naval History & Heritage Command in Washington D.C. The Association also created an online museum for those who can't make it to D.C. so you might want to check that out instead. But what do we learn from the Alabama Claims? Well it has been noted that the Alabama Claims was the predecessor to many multinational unions. I mean the convention between the U.S. and England was overseen not just by American and British officials but Italian, Swiss and Brazilian officials. The meeting took place in Geneva's Town Hall. It would ultimately become the standard for international arbitration. It cemented a need for international law and showed the need for peaceful meetings in order to avoid war. Some historians even claim that the Alabama Claims were the blueprint for future international meetings such as the League of Nations, United Nation and World Court. In the end the Alabama and the Alabama Claims are another part of American History which are being overlooked yet have influenced our modern world more than were actually knew.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Fasha's Day!

Every third Sunday in June children of all ages across America take time to honor the man who brought them into this world. Father's Day is the one day a year when dads can relax, take a load off and finally get that day of well deserved rest they need. A day when everything is put on the back burner; work, that list of home repairs, headaches from annoying kids, etc. But do we know why we celebrate Father's Day, or where it even comes from? Why don't we take some time and examine the origins of Father's Day and give our dad's some time to just sleep on the couch, watch golf or This Old House or whatever else he may enjoy doing, and then we can go tell him the exciting beginnings of Father's Day. DJQV72NG5YQ6

Father's Day was first celebrated in Spokane, Washington in 1910. Sonora Smart Dodd held the first Father's Day on June 19, 1910. She did it to honor her father, William Jackson Smart, who raised six children all on his own. The idea to celebrate honor her father was planted in 1909 when she heard about Anna Jarvis' work with Mother's Day. Sonora then went to her local pastor and pitched the idea of Father's Day to him. She hoped for him to prepare a sermon for June 5, her father's birthday but he wasn't able to prepare it until the third Sunday of June. Father's Day had a tough time catching on and Dodd promoted the holiday until the mid 1920s and it fell into the shadows of history. It wouldn't be until the 1930s when Dodd was finished with school that she would give Father's Day a kick in the pants and raise it to the national stage.

Father's Day gift ideas have been the same since it's creation, but there is a very good reason for that. Unlike Mother's Day which America's took naturally to, Father's Day needed a little extra help. Dodd found that trade groups would benefit from Father's Day. She pitched the idea to many manufacturing companies; tie, tobacco pipe, wallet, cologne producers to name a few but all manufacturers that would profit from a day celebrating dad. In 1938, the Father's Day Council was created by the New York Associated Men's Wear Retailers. The Council then scientifically commercialized the holiday, all aimed at turning a profit. It was pretty evident to Americans that Father's Day was a commercial holiday and was never really celebrated but the Council never gave up. That persistence and never ending quest for more money would finally pay off in the 1980s when the Council said, "Father's Day has become a second Christmas for all the men's gift oriented industries." So we can see why we have traditional Father's Day gifts for the last 100 years, but more importantly put Father's Day on the map even though their intension may be a little off.

In order for Father's Day to become the holiday it is, it need to pass through Washington D.C. There were several attempts at making Father's Day a national holiday since its creation in 1910. "The Professor," President Wilson tried in 1916, but Congress was weary of it commercialized origins. In 1924, President "Silent Cal" Coolidge called for an observation of the day, but never really made an attempt to make it a nationally recognized holiday. 1966, President Johnson issued the first Presidential proclamation recognizing Father's Day nut it wasn't until 1972 when Tricky Dick, President Nixon made it an official holiday. But Father's Day does not go without some controversy on where it originates from. Dodd may have pushed for the celebration and Nixon may have signed it into law but there are some that still say they have the title for holding the first Father's Day.

There are a few place across the nation that try to lay claim to the first Father's Day celebration. Fairmont, West Virginia claims to have held a Father's Day service at Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1908. The event was the honor Grace Golden Clayton's late father who died in the Monongah Mining Disaster in 1907. The service was only locally and only once, so it never spread as Dodd's idea did. In 1911, Jane Addams tried to have Chicago celebrate Father's Day but was turned down in city hall. Methodist pastor J.J. Berringer tried to claim Vancouver, Washington as birthplace of Father's Day but they were a year short of Dodd. Finally in 1915, Harry Meek of the Lions Club International claimed he created Father's Day and chose the third Sunday in June as it was his birthday. The only people to recognized Meek as created of the holiday is the Lions Club.

Who created Father's Day really doesn't matter that third Sunday of June. The important thing is your father. Remembering all the good he has done, does, will do and can do just for you. For me Father's Day is the one day a year I get to see my dad really relax and get to spend some quality time with him. He never asks for nothing but always acts like whatever my brother and I give him is the greatest gift he ever got, this year was lottery tickets and Kashi Bars. The point being that Father's Day was a necessary holiday. It may have been created to by a group of business men to fill their pockets with more money, but the idea behind it is what most Americans value. I'd like to wish all the fathers out there a Happy Father's Day and for everyone else, Father's Day is only once a year, but give your big guy a thanks every once in a while, not just in June. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The South Has Risen Again...Sorta

"The South Will Rise Again!" was the slogan used after the Civil War by pro-Confederate supporters, but what if the south never really fell? What if, after the Civil War, some Confederates continued on? No, I am not talking about Black Codes, Jim Crow, or segregation. I am referring to the Rebels living and still flying the stars and bars. You must think I am talking about some back woods land that time forgot down in Mississippi, but that is not so. The Civil War may have ended in 1865 but the Confederacy lived on and in all places, Brazil.

A few things that come to mind when people think of Brazil are: soccer, the Amazon, favelas, Christ the Redeemer, a beautiful coast line, and supermodels. The last thing that comes to mind is the Confederate States of America, but after reading this it will be right up there with Gisele Bundchen. But first, why and how would the Confederacy continue in Brazil? The reasons involve cotton, angry Rebels, and the Emperor of Brazil. The Confederates may have lost their way of life in America, but they were offered a second chance to keep Dixie alive in Brazil.

The last shot of the American Civil War was fired on June 22, 1865 by the CSS Shenandoah and the war was over. It was now time for the North and South to patch the country back together and move beyond the horrors of the Civil War. However, some former Confederates were not to happy with those damn Yankees coming down to Dixieland. Those disgruntled citizens moved further west into the American West but others had a different plan. They chose to head further south, as in South America. The main destination choice for these folks was Brazil and no, it was not for the beautiful beaches or scantily clad women either. Rather, these people went to Brazil because they saw it as a place they could preserve their way of life and culture.

Enter Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil. The Emperor was looking to expand Brazil's economy and he saw how cotton was in high demand. He offered former Confederates, land, low taxes and subsidies on cotton crops. The Emperor targeted southerners who had lost everything during the war and those who refused to live under the rule of the North. Slavery was still legal but this was not a factor for these Confederates. Some historians have found that the first Confederates to settle in Brazil only had about 66 slaves as they were the poorer of Confederate society. It is also estimated that somewhere between 10 and 20 thousand Confederates immigrated to Brazil from 1865-1885.  It is quite evident that Brazil's legalization of slavery had nothing to do with the migration, but was the chance to preserve southern culture and move up the economic ladder.

The first settlement of the "Confederados", as they became known as, was in Americana, Sao Paulo. Yet the Confederados did not all settle in one place. They established settlements across Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, Santarem, Parane, and the areas around Sao Paulo. The first recorded Confederado was Colonel William H. Norris from Alabama (whose home is pictured above). The area around his home was known as the Norris Colony. With the Confederado colonies established, the Rebels got right to work. The immigrants were seen as a great influence on Brazil. They were known for being working hard and as honest businessmen. They also brought with them modern American technology and agricultural techniques. They grew cotton, watermelon, pecans and other southern crops. They shared their knowledge of farming with the local Brazilians. But farming wasn't the only thing the Confederados imported to Brazil as they also kept their cultural practices. The Confederado colonies were known to establish Baptist Churches, continued to use tradition dishes and practiced the culture of Dixie. The one main difference was that those who did have slaves educated them and other black freedmen in local schools, which was much different to their counterparts that remained in America.

No, this is not a tailgate party outside a county fair in Georgia, but is in in Brazil at the "Festa Confederada". As in the case of any and all immigrants, it is only time before there is mixture into the general population. The original settlers stuck mainly to themselves, the second generations intermarried with each other and as the third generation came along they intermarried with Brazilians. Today, only a handful of Confederdo descendents live on their families original land, most spread throughout Brazil. The Confederado descendents still connect to their history through the Associação Descendência Americana. The ADA, links past with present in order to preserve this unique piece of history. They also hold the annual  Festa Confederada which is a celebration of Confederate culture in Brazil. During the festa the stars and bars are proudly flown, people dress in tradition southern clothes (Confederate uniforms for the men and hoop skirts for the ladies) and antebellum period music is preformed and danced to all with the influence of Brazilian culture as well.

The Confederados today are also linked to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Some travel to America to see Civil War sites and the areas in which their ancestors come from. But does these mean we have to worry about The South actually rising again? Do we now have to fear this super breed of Confederate/Brazilian people coming to take down the Union? Probably not. I  think the Confederados and their pride in the history is a good thing. Sure its easy for some to say, "I am a proud American because my grandfather fought in WWII" or "yeah, I am a proud Englishman because my granddad was in WWI" or whatever people say that they're proud of their ancestry for. Here in the states we remember the horrors of the Civil War and of the institution of slavery which is why we demonize the Confederate flag and everything else linked to the Confederate States of America. But in Brazil, the Confederadoes remember their ancestors as hard working, honest and family focused people. They see their past free from history and take pride in their origins. It is important to remember between 10 and 20 thousand Confederates went to Brazil and all took 60 some odd slaves. It is even more important to remember that wars are not by those who start them but by average people who feel the need to defend their way of life, culture or what have you. In every war there is always a loser and that losing side has to carry a burden for the rest of history, but in Brazil, in the Confederados, they have no reason to be ashamed of their history.