Tag Archives: Jim McNiven

Those Healthy Yankees: Graham and Alcott

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
April, 2016

Sylvester Graham and William Andrus Alcott were men of their disease-ridden times, amongst the first American promoters of “health food,” “phys-ed” and temperate living for health in both the here and now — and the afterlife.

In 1832, the Great Cholera Epidemic hit the United States. It was another of the epidemics and plagues that had affected the world since at least late Roman times. No one understood how these instances of mass illness and death occurred, but the pattern of transmission along trade routes suggested some kind of agent in the illness. In the case of cholera, the disease came out of Bengal in India in the wake of the British conquest there during the Napoleonic Wars. It travelled from Calcutta to London and then, in 1832, to New York. Cholera then spread upriver and along the Erie Canal, killing thousands. Diagnosis was superficial, prevention was guessed at; cures were ineffectual; attempts at relief were often as deadly as the disease, and recovery was left to the patient.

Americans suffered then from other diseases as well, sometimes affecting more people, such as tuberculosis (TB), yellow fever and malaria. TB was a common complaint and generally killed a quarter of those affected, being a slow-moving disease. Malaria and yellow fever differed in their effects, with malaria seeming to be slow-moving like TB and yellow fever striking seasonally and killing quickly. Smallpox’s effect resembled other epidemics, but by the 1800s, the effectiveness of a crude vaccination meant that, while its causes were poorly understood, the disease could be controlled.

The result of the loss of life from these and other illnesses led people at the time to try and figure out what caused them to spread. Two kinds of answers were proposed; the first was an environmental one that disease came from unhealthy ‘miasmatic’ conditions, such as bad air, fetid swamps, uncleanliness and exposure to poor living conditions. The second was that disease arose from poor nutrition, alcoholism and general bad behavior, or physical weakness on the part of the victims.

Neither answer was satisfactory, but they were based upon medical treatises that dated in some cases back to Roman times. Attempts by medical people to treat them were as bad as the diseases, consisting of ‘bleeding’ the patient or giving doses of calomel (mercury chloride).

By and large, the training and reputation of medical personnel was low, especially on the frontier, where almost all educational standards were low. Outside the cities, people were left largely to their own devices in preventing and dealing with disease.

Some Americans began to fix on the notion that disease could be prevented, if only people were to live proper lives, consume food in a moderate fashion, drink only pure water and keep their physiques in proper order.

This package came wrapped in a popular religious attitude called Arminianism, which posited that God made the world good, and that it was the duty of everyone to pursue salvation in both a moral and physical sense. It was not a coincidence that moral and physical virtues were seen as being tied together.

The earliest prominent proponent of this conjunction was a Connecticut man, Sylvester Graham, who had suffered from ill health as he grew up. Graham attended, but did not graduate from, Amherst College. At 34, he became a Presbyterian minister to a rural congregation in New Jersey. His ministerial career did not last long: two years later, in 1830, he was lecturing to the Philadelphia Temperance Society. Soon after, he was lecturing on the wider need for temperance in the eating of food, in much the fashion as early temperance lecturers approached alcohol — don’t drink, but if you must, keep it temperate.

Graham looked for validation for his idea that food must be consumed in a spirit of tempered abstinence.

He borrowed ideas from France about the body as a ‘chemical machine,’ and came up with the notion that stimulation of the digestive system was at the root of many human health problems. The theory was these could be prevented by a calm lifestyle, which included only eating foods that were not “stimulating” and assisted digestion. He went on to apply his temperance argument to sexual relations and emotional control as well.

Graham was fixed on the idea that Christian theology was congruent with the laws of nature. By the time the cholera epidemic hit New York City, he lectured there that symptoms of gastrointestinal irritation pointed to people eating wrongly and general misbehaving.

But, as was discovered a couple of decades later, one of the prime causes for the spread of cholera was well water infected with the cholera bacillus. Graham’s advocacy of drinking water rather than alcohol — which would have killed the germs — was unfortunate.

Today, his name lives on in the ‘graham cracker’, a kids’ staple for many generations (and still a favorite of mine). Graham was less interested in the graham cracker than returning to a rough type of bread that had been replaced in the cities by white bread. ‘Well-made bread’…must contain…’all the natural properties of wheat,’ he said, and published a recipe for ‘graham bread’ in the 1829 New Hydropathic Cookbook.

He felt that other foods should not be altered much from their natural condition either, which led to a prohibition on meat consumption.

In 1835, Graham moved to Boston, where the temperance movement and the antislavery movement were joined with a growing food-health movement, spurred by by William Andrus Alcott, brother of Bronson Alcott,  a transcendentalist leader and the father of writer Louisa May Alcott. There was some rivalry between Graham and Alcott, and both endured opposition to their ideas from local grocers and butchers in the city.

Graham was reputed to be vain, obtuse and obsessive, so attacks were likely not a surprise to him, but a butchers’ riot was too much.

Shaken, he moved from Boston to Northampton, Maine, and died there in 1851 at the age of 57. His relatively young age at death shocked many of his followers and caused some to stray from Grahamism.

The most interesting part of Alcott’s approach to preventive health was that he was more willing to play down the doctrinaire religious force within Grahamism in order to point out the social benefits of a good lifestyle in food and drink. Alcott had attended Yale and taken a medical degree, with a thesis on TB, of special relevance to him as he suspected he himself was a sufferer. After graduation, he tried medicines to relieve his symptoms, but then found a temperate lifestyle to be more useful.

Alcott taught for a couple of years before attending Yale, and his experience led to the idea that children should be taught basic nutrition and physiology as part of the school curriculum; he was the originator of ‘phys-ed’ classes.

Alcott promoted health reform as a Christian redemption project, to help all live a good life — and good afterlife; promoted information about nutrition, and  helped form the American Physiological Society in 1837.

In an address to the society Alcott bluntly focused on prevention rather than cure as the best health care and waxed, enthusiastically: ‘In the present blaze of physiological light, we can, in ways and processes almost innumerable, manufacture human health to an extent not formerly dreamed of.’ As president of the society, he helped establish what may be America’s first “health food” store, which stocked, of course, “Graham” bread, fresh fruits and vegetables.

 

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2016

This column is part of Jim McNiven’s project The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern America. www.theyankeeroad.com

 

Thanks for reading Facts and Opinions. Our journal is employee-owned and survives on the honour system: try a story at no charge;, if you value our work, please chip in at least .27 per piece or make a sustaining donation. Details here. 

 

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Real journalism has value. Thank you for your support. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Yankee Dollars and Florida Development: Henry Flagler and Julia Tuttle

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
January, 2016

There is a point in each Canadian winter, as the cold sets in following December’s holiday season,  that Canadians start to dream of warmer weather. Soon, the annual ‘snowbird’ migration begins to the American south.

This is the story of how their destination came to exist.

After the Civil War, John D Rockefeller was looking for venture capital to expand his fledgling Cleveland Ohio refinery’s production. Yankee grain merchant Steven Harkness offered to invest, on condition that his half-brother Henry Flagler be made a partner in the company. Steven wanted to be a silent partner, perhaps because he had just started a bank and refineries were considered risky, but also Flagler’s name was not immediately associated with the Harkness clan, and brother-in-law Henry’s failed salt production experience was closer to oil production, so he could more effectively protect their interests.

Henry made many strategic, negotiating and legal contributions to the success of Standard Oil. As the company grew, its headquarters were moved to New York City and in 1877, Flagler moved there as well. As his wife was ill, he took her to Florida that year for part of the winter.

Wealthy families’ interest in travelling to Florida had begun after the Civil War, when the climate, like that of Arizona later, was promoted as being healthful for sufferers from pulmonary disease, aka tuberculosis. Gradually, the wealthy followed the ill. This process had been known in reverse in the antebellum years, when wealthy Southerners followed the ill north in summer to mountain spas, such as Saratoga Springs or to the cool seaside at Newport RI.

In 1881, Mary Harkness Flagler died. Flagler, at 52, began to distance himself from the affairs of Standard Oil. In June,1883, he married his deceased wife’s former nurse, who was considerably younger than himself. The Flaglers decided on a delayed winter honeymoon in Florida. The problem they encountered lay in getting there. At the time, one could go by packet along the Atlantic coast, braving storms and rough weather. On land, railroad connections were indirect and uncomfortable, to say the least.

When the Flaglers arrived in Jacksonville, they found the hotels, what there were of them, to be unsuitable. They found the same thing after they made a ferry-plus-small-railway excursion to St. Augustine. Flagler’s intent to spend winters away from New York’s cold was unshaken, but someone had to provide better transportation and shelter. Gradually, he came to the conclusion he wanted to do it himself.

Flagler and his wife did not get back to Florida until late February 1885 and by then the rail connection had improve and the trip from New York to Jacksonville took only two days, instead of the previous four. As well, a new hotel, the San Marco, financed by a group of New England Yankees, was open and waiting for them. Clearly, from the numbers and average length of stay, Northerners were building demand.

In St. Augustine, Flagler became friends with a Floridian of Yankee extraction, Dr. Andrew Anderson, purchased some acreage from him and returned to New York in April with concepts for a large, luxury hotel running through his head. Over the summer, as land speculation spread through the St. Augustine area, Flagler encouraged the town to move its tiny railroad station to land he donated, thus clearing the way for hotel construction to begin and providing the town with a station worthy of its potential customers.

Anderson had become Flagler’s man in St. Augustine and they remained lifelong friends. In questioning Flagler, Anderson began to realize that the lavish Ponce De Leon Hotel was but the beginning of Flagler’s ambitions. Flagler was not worried about realizing profits as much as leading development on a large scale. It was a kind of hobby. When asked about his motives, Flagler replied with a story about a devout churchgoer who one day went on a drunken spree. When questioned by his pastor, the man said,’ I’ve been giving all my days to the Lord hitherto, and now I’m taking one for myself’. Flagler had devoted much of his adult life to Standard Oil, and now he was pleasing himself.

Flagler’s Yankee contractors had been brought down from Boston by a wealthy merchant from there to build a hotel in Magnolia Springs. Then, they had built the San Marco in Jacksonville and now were building the Ponce De Leon. It was formally opened January 10, 1888 and was easily the largest hotel in the region. More well-off Northerners began to flock to the Florida winter warmth. When Flagler built a neighboring, but more modestly-priced, hotel nearby, the numbers of ‘snowbirds’ grew even more.

While building the Ponce De Leon, he bought the flimsy railroad from Jacksonville and upgraded the tracks and equipment. Later, he began to push it southward, both to develop tourism but also to tap the northern demand for citrus products. Next, he began to move his Florida East Coast Railroad (FEC) terminus south to Daytona. Once Daytona was reached and new hotel construction begun there, Flagler then began to look at Palm Beach further to the south. Later, there would be new moves on south to Fort Lauderdale, Miami and over the water to Key West. This last effort, designed to give land access to Florida’s then second-largest city entailed years of work bridging the waters between low-lying islands, or ‘keys’. The railroad connection to Key West was abandoned in1935 after an intense hurricane caused major devastation. Eventually, it was replaced by a highway.

In his push down the coast, Flagler created Palm Beach as a relatively isolated community of wealthy homeowners. It was on an island connected to the mainland by a bridge. West Palm Beach, on the mainland, was where businesses, the railroad and the homes of servants for the Palm Beach residences were located and housed. Flagler built a mansion in Palm Beach for his family, which has since become a museum. My wife and I have been there a couple of times and it is well worth the visit. Its rooms are decorated in a variety of European styles, a seemingly odd choice for a man who had never visited any place outside the US, except for Jamaica and the Bahamas. Flagler died in 1913, but not before he had seen the completion of his railway down the length of the Florida peninsula.

Julia Tuttle has been called ‘The Mother of Miami’. Her father, Ephraim Tanner Sturtevant was a Connecticut Yankee who moved to the Western Reserve when he was 13. A few years later, he was sent back to Connecticut and graduated from Yale in 1826. After teaching school for a short time in Connecticut, he returned to Ohio to teach at the new Western Reserve College in 1827. Two years later, he resigned and started his own private school nearby, which he ran for 17 years, before retiring due to ill health. He then seems to have become a ‘gentleman farmer’ for the next quarter century before starting to travel south to Biscayne Bay in Florida for his health in 1870. His third wife (he outlived the others) was also from Connecticut and was the mother of Julia in 1849.

She married Leonard Tuttle in 1867, and had two children. Leonard Tuttle was wealthy and owned a Cleveland foundry. There is some evidence that the couple knew both Rockefeller and Flagler around that time. Julia Tuttle first went to Florida in 1875 and was attracted to area and, upon her father’s death in1881, she inherited the property he had acquired at Biscayne Bay.

In 1886, Tuttle’s husband died and she discovered that he had gone through most of his fortune. Her children were in their late teens, so she decided to sell the Cleveland house and move permanently to Biscayne Bay. She began to invest in the property that would later become the center of Miami. She watched as Flagler’s railway proceeded south to the Palm Beach area. Eventually, in 1893, she approached Flagler and tried to interest him in extending the line further south. She offered him some of her property, knowing that if he accepted and word got out, it would lead to a land boom in the area.

A year later, in December, 1894, a cold spell froze the citrus orchards in central Florida, causing millions of dollars in losses to many sectors of the economy. Flagler began to take an interest in land farther south and sent his property manager to look things over in the Biscayne Bay area. He found it untouched by frost and recommended Flagler visit the area himself.

He came; he saw; and in his first night in Biscayne Bay, he decided to extend his railway south once more. Tuttle offered Flagler some tracts of land, including those for the now formulaic railroad station and hotel, but kept enough for herself to guarantee her future. Tuttle insisted that Flagler not only agree to extend his line, but to finish a hotel in the town within 18 months. His men started the surveys for the new line immediately and the local suppliers in Biscayne Bay quickly were sold out of everything, while housing was impossible to get and the land rush began. By 1902, Miami’s population was over 5,000 and Julia Tuttle’s dream would have come true, had she lived to see it. ‘The Mother of Miami’ died of meningitis in 1898. In later years, a Miami causeway was named after her and there is a statue of her in Bayfront Park.

Between 1870 and 1900, Yankees such as Henry Flagler and Julia Tuttle invested their dollars into Florida, helping to change the State from one with almost no population or infrastructure to one with a growing population and an economy based on warm-weather agriculture and tourism. This was not just the development of a resort hotel or two, but most of a whole State, one which now ranks as the fourth most populous in America. Miami is one of the country’s largest cities and the unofficial financial capital of Latin America.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2015

Thanks for reading Facts and Opinions. Our journal is employee-owned and survives on the honour system: try a story at no charge;, if you value our work, please chip in at least .27 per piece or make a sustaining donation. Details here. 

This column is an adaptation from a chapter in a forthcoming volume 2 of Jim McNiven’s latest book, The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern America. www.theyankeeroad.com

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Real journalism has value. Thank you for your support. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Fair Maidens, Dragons and Golden Mountains

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
December, 2015

We are dealing with a couple of known unknowns in our look at the future of the economies in the developed world. My suggestion in my last piece was that these economies are faced with deflation and population decline, both of which are interconnected. My feeling is that these conditions are unknown to the world’s developed economies. They are, as cultures, sailing toward a dimly recognized territory.

Further, there are a couple of assumptions that have been around for as long as economics has been studied: that populations only increase and that inflation is the ‘dragon’ that has to be tamed if there is to be sustainable prosperity. In this way of thinking, sustainability means price stability.

It would seem, however, that the future may contain two ‘dragons:’ the known one of inflation and the one known in theory but unknown in combat, that of deflation. Yes, there was some deflation in the Great Depression, but it was seen as a temporary condition. Also, there have been price collapses in various commodities at times, including today, but these are temporary, caused by production outrunning demand.

But what about deflation as a chronic condition? Can we deal with such deflation in the same way as we dealt with inflation? If the chronic inflation of the late 1970s required 20 per cent interest rates to subdue it, so, must chronic deflation require the opposite — negative 20 per cent interest rates, where people lose part of their savings and thus are encouraged to spend? This sounds like something out of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ but the future will be quite odd-looking as Europe and East Asia, Australia and Canada all slip into population decline.

Now, we know from fairy tales that a fair maiden is always in distress until the stalwart knight comes to save her from the dragon. Japan is the developed country with the oldest (and now declining) population; and its economy is a fair maiden in distress. As the noble knight, the Japanese government has been attempting a rescue by simply flooding the country with money, a kind of super quantitative easing (QE), hoping the deflation dragon will go away. With Japan slipping into recession for the fourth or fifth time in a decade and with rather little inflation on the horizon, it appears that existentially they, and we, haven’t got very far in dealing with this dragon.

If you accept that a shortfall in births is the common underlying cause of population decline and chronic deflation, then it follows that stability can only be achieved by countering this reality. But all of the direct solutions collide with national cultures. Do we encourage immigration? Do we incentivize or force the birth rate to rise? Do we incentivize or force people to work longer into old age, or lower the child working age? Do we let others do the work and appropriate their production? All of these population solutions imply culturally unacceptable futures.

So the Golden Mountain in our tale has to be the other element besides population underlying economic growth: productivity. Different commentators on this problem have suggested that as long as the productivity rate increases faster than the population declines, then the remaining population will live better than before. Of course, there are a lot of ‘ifs’ that need to be answered in order to get at the ‘gold’ in these mountains.

The first is that we don’t seem to understand what productivity may entail in the computer age. Our definitions were derived in the 1930s in response to the need to better understand the economy of the times, which was dominated by physical production from farms and factories. One example is the common breakdown of the economy into primary, secondary and tertiary or service sectors. Today, this characterization is a joke, since the service sector comprises nearly all of the economy. If one of three sectors is 80% of the whole, then our definitions are no good.

The second problem is that productivity is not a useful tool to measure what is happening as parts of the economy are successively disrupted by information technology. Does my adopting Uber for my car, or AirBnB for my apartment, increase the productivity of these pieces of property? Is Wikipedia more productive than an encyclopedia? Does laying off a travel agent because I and others are using the web to reserve flights increase or decrease productivity? Until we get a new way to measure what is happening in productivity, we are in the same confused position as economic policymakers were in the early 1920s.

These criticisms being made, there are some things that, however unconventional, do emerge. The first is a reversal in the labor/capital situation in society.

Traditionally, capital has been expensive, and labor cheap. Today it is the other way around. When you have a labor shortage in a society that is growing, or in one where growth is desirable, the obvious policy ought to be one that makes the scarce factor more expensive, thus encouraging the substitution of capital for labor. Get rid of capital taxes and raise payroll taxes.

A couple of policies to increase labor participation are to reduce the school age to six months and to extend the retirement age to at least 70. In every developed country there are many schoolrooms that are underused or vacant. At the same time, depending on mom-and-pop daycares is a haphazard way of providing mothers with the freedom to enter the workforce. School changes are the only means to bring daycare/early childhood education to every family, rich or poor.

Today, the average retirement age in Canada is 62 and the average retiree should live into his or her early 80s. That is a 20-year ‘gap’ when people are making much less income and paying much less in taxes. Given where pension systems seem to be going, sliding into genteel poverty is hardly the best use of human resources in a country. We need to have people working later in life and our pension systems ought to reflect that. Even part-time is better than nothing when there is a labor shortage.

To go back to our known unknowns theme: we have seen mountains off in the distance and they may contain the Seven Cities of Cibola; there are maidens in distress from threatening dragons. That may be enough to propel us into exploring a new terrain, but make no mistakes and fall into a policy swamp. Explore carefully and thoroughly. We aren’t there yet, but we will come ashore into a new economy soon.

Whether the economy is to go into a slow decline, suffer stagnation or enjoy modest growth will depend on our willingness to effect cultural change and adapt to a somewhat different reality.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2015

Thanks for reading Facts and Opinions. We survive on the honour system: try a story at no charge;, if you value our work, please chip in at least .27 per piece or make a sustaining donation. Click here for details. 

Jim McNiven’s latest book is The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern Americawww.theyankeeroad.com

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Real journalism has value. Thank you for your support. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Known Unknowns in Global Economics

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
November, 2015

A decade ago, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ruminated about the uncertainties of life and how little we know about our wider environment. His comments were not original with him, but they did popularize the categories of what we think we know, what we are aware of but are ignorant of its outline and details, and what we don’t even suspect that is lying out there: 1) the knowns, 2) the known unknowns and 3) the unknown unknowns.

A lot of people made fun of Rumsfeld and his categories, but they have entered the popular lexicon and he even used a variation as the title of his memoirs. I had run across the same classification system many years before and it has proven useful to me. I am pretty sure the ancient Babylonians and Greeks used it.

We are a global society slowly beginning to explore a couple of ‘known unknowns’ that need to be managed right as we start to experience their effects.* These are population decline and price deflation. By and large, the development of modern economies over the past 500 years has come with a continual increase in population and our general economic thinking has been predicated on an assumption that the population of a society and therefore demand for goods and services will be potentially larger tomorrow than today. What if that assumption is beginning to be incorrect?

Second, at least since the Great Depression, there has been a presumption that one of the major challenges to economic management has been the need to control inflation. In the early 1980s, when inflationary pressures began to recede under the installation of high interest rates, many commentators wished for the halcyon days that would come when price stability (read: zero inflation) was achieved. Well, here we are, at least in some societies, and close to it in many more.

If you look at reliable projections of population for the major societies in the world, say, the US, the EU, Japan, China and India, with the exception of the last in this list, populations will start to decline from now (Japan) until 2050 and will keep doing so thereafter. These projections are inexorable without very heavy immigration from other countries with ‘better’ demographics or intolerable governance.

We do not know how to deal with this phenomenon, but we are learning a bit from Japan about it. Japan’s population has begun to decline recently after a couple of decades of stagnation. Its labor force has remained steady in size only because of poor pensions, which force many retirees back into the labor market. The labor force could grow if there weren’t cultural constraints against greater female participation and against immigration. The present government has said it wants to change the first of these, but it is doubtful that exhortation will accomplish a lot before the size of the decline in Japan’s labor force overtakes these wishes.

Further, all of the experiments in places like Russia and Canada and Sweden and elsewhere to provide incentives for citizens to have more children have proven, at best, to lead to minor changes in birthrates, but nothing near a rate that would lead to population stability. Note that the decision to have children in the more developed countries is normally one made by both prospective parents. Policymakers have not got their heads around this yet.

The ‘known unknown’ in this situation is how does a society maintain any kind of economic growth when one of the two main drivers, population/labor force and productivity, does not exist? So far, the Japanese have shown us that they haven’t a clue, but are vigorously pushing all the available policy buttons. Their economy has been more or less flat for two decades and more. Maybe that is success …

The second problem is tied to the first, but has its own dynamic. As noted above, coping with inflation has been a concern for decades now. Too much money chasing too few ‘goods’. Run government surpluses in good times and deficits in bad. Keep the value of the currency stable. The stress was always on achieving and maintaining stability in the face of upward pressures on prices and wages.

Yet, today, if we return to Japan for a moment, it has been practicing a massive QE, or quantitative expansion of its money supply, for a number of years, really without much effect on the price levels in the country. QE ought to be inflationary, since it pumps a lot more money into the economy.

Let’s pretend that it is inflationary. Then we have to look at why the US, which did much the same thing after 2008, did not have a lot of inflation. In this case, it appears that a lot of the excess cash produced by the Federal Reserve found its way out of the country and into loans or purchases by foreigners. This has not been the case in Japan, where the excess cash has led to a decline of the yen relative to most countries, something that also ought to be inflationary. But not much happened in Japan price-wise either. The implication is that the Japanese QE has only succeeded in keeping deflation at bay. Maybe that is success as well….

Deflation comes from a lack of demand, with prices dropping until the market is cleared of whatever is on offer. If you have a society where there is an increasing number of pensioners, who outstrip the number of new, young entrants into the workforce, then you will get a decrease in demand. This is because retirement for most people brings with it a decrease in income that can equal, say for instance, a 50% drop. Part of this leads to lower spending and part may be made up by savings. We can include public and private pensions in the 50% that was maintained. Savings rates in the country would drop and demand would decline as well, which is what we have seen in Japan.

There is a second effect when we get to population decline, but first let’s explore the difference between labor force decline and that of population. In places like Canada and Japan, people normally retire in their early 60s, say 62, and they normally die around 80. Therefore, they spend 18 years living on reduced incomes and reduced demand.

Labour force decline puts a cap on how much a society can produce, unless non-participants are encouraged into working or there is adequate immigration. Otherwise, the job of increasing output has to rely on productivity increases. In both instances, people and productivity, there are a number of cultural constraints that work against this neat, logical solution.

Population decline puts a constraint on demand as well as investment. First, less people means a smaller market. Second, it means that investment calculations are upset, in that adding capacity to a shrinking market is an illogical act unless the investor assumes this new investment will drive somebody else completely out of the market. A growing market might be able to absorb new capacity; a shrinking market is a nasty exercise. At any given time there is more capacity than needed, there is no hope that a rising number of consumers will buy their way into a national recovery from recession, there is no prospect for gains on savings and there is no government, save possibly Japan, that has gone thorough the process of the initial denial of this reality towards a policy set that allows us to manage such a condition.

That being said, there are some possibilities for successful management, once we get used to this coming new reality. It will become an increasingly widespread condition and this will encourage innovation in economic management, but right now the economic effects of population decline and deflation are terra incognita. We know it is there, but like the old mapmakers, we don’t know much about it.

Let’s speculate on what might contribute to a more optimistic future. Like the old mapmakers, perhaps we can populate the known unknown ‘lands’ of the future with the odd fair maiden, dragon and golden mountain or two …  in another column.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2015

Welcome to Facts and Opinions. We survive on the honour system: try a story at no charge;, if you value our work, please chip in at least two bits or make a sustaining donation. Click here for details. 

Jim McNiven’s latest book is The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern Americawww.theyankeeroad.com

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Real journalism has value. Thank you for your support. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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‘There’s Something Happening Here …

‘There’s Something Happening Here…But What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear…’
–Buffalo Springfield, 1967

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
October, 2015

Forty-seven years ago in the United States, the Democrats found themselves going into their Presidential nomination process rather at sea. The incumbent Democratic President had said he would not run again and a number of potential candidates were vying to take his place. The most notable was someone who had broken with his party Establishment and opposed the party’s position on an unpopular war. On the Republican side was a candidate who had run 8 years before and lost, along with some potential opponents of his.

In the end, the Democratic ‘machine’, read: Establishment, prevailed in a Pyrrhic victory at the convention. It nominated the sitting Vice-President, all the while hearing the sounds of a furious opposition rioting outside. In the end, the Establishment’s candidate went down to defeat by the once-defeated Republican candidate.

Does this sound familiar? Does it look like a mirror image of today?

Today it is the Republicans who are in disarray, their party divided between the Establishment and a large group, estimated at being almost half of the Republican ‘base’, being unable to agree, not only on legislation, but on the very ability of the Government to manage itself. The party is divided over whether its major foreign policy initiative of the past 15 years, war in the Middle East, was right or wrong, and whether the legislative/executive processes devised in the Constitution should be disobeyed or upheld. A rump of the party in the House of Representatives has driven their Speaker out of office, and opposed his potential replacement, in part for trying to govern with minority Democratic support.

The three leading Republican candidates for President are all from outside the Establishment, have no prior political experience and they seem to be unconstrained in deviating from most of the standard policy positions put forward by the party. Those who are experienced candidates find themselves relegated to the sidelines in the polls.

Now, remember those ‘hippies and yippies’ running from the Chicago police in 1968, in opposition to the Vietnam War? Let’s pretend they averaged 22 years of age. Now, 47 years later, they are almost 70. Then and now, they were almost all white and mostly male. Then, the activists were to the left of their party; today’s activists, largely men and women of the same generation, are on the right. Then, the criticism was that democracy was being subverted by the military-industrial complex; today it is that democracy is being subverted by illegal immigrants, abortionists, the Supreme Court and a supine or dictatorial (depending on your view) President.

Barring some run of luck, the Republicans will end up nominating either a real maverick from outside the Establishment or will win a Pyrrhic victory and produce an experienced candidate. The Democrats will likely nominate a once-defeated female potential candidate, who should win the general election in 2016.

What is happening here?

First and foremost, this a story about the largest ‘generation’ of Americans in history. The Baby Boomers are people born between 1946 and 1964. They are 51-69 years old right now—let’s say 60 on average. As they have gone through life, this generation’s sheer size has affected everything in politics. Whether it is school overcrowding, housing demand, stock market performance or medical/ethical programs such as abortion rights (pro then; anti now), pressures on government have changed as they have aged.

Second, the country seemed to them to be going awry in both the 1960s and the 2000s. In one time, the tension with a strong and aggressive Soviet Union, a growing and frustrating war in Vietnam that was taking the young Boomer men away from the country and the signing of a couple of civil rights acts that fundamentally altered the voting preferences of the South, led to domestic conflict between Boomers who were promoting a ‘legal revolution’ to enfranchise blacks, keep themselves out of wartime service and expand their own freedoms and their elders who saw these as being ‘soft on communism’ and anti-patriotic.

Forty years later, a black is President. The long war in the Middle East, while consuming more treasure than soldiers, is facing doubt and opposition at home, including that of the President. The near-collapse of the economy in 2008 has seriously damaged Boomer homeowners and constricted retirees incomes.

Those Boomers who were leftist activists in the Sixties used their youth and energy to develop techniques on university campuses to get out the vote, which they transferred to the South. The march to Selma, the antiwar demonstrations all across the country, the Woodstock festival and the demonstration outside the Democratic convention in Chicago showed their power.

Forty years later, other Boomers, now older, reacted against economic and financial rescue policies either by opposing the temporary virtual nationalization of the financial commanding heights or by calls to prosecute the financial leadership of the country. Second, they were upset about the rise in importance of minority communities and their political leaders and had a fear that the country was slipping from their hands. The fighting in the Middle East continues into a second decade and is both confusing in its shifting political alliances and in its inconclusive quality. Its origins had to be defended, since they were tangled in the destruction of the World Trade towers in New York City, but its later prosecution by others could be scorned.

In the end, the rise of overlapping activist groups on the right; the Tea Party, the evangelical and other conservative Christians, the neocons who wanted justification for the war in the Middle East and those un-reconciled to the political rise of minority politicians and voters—amongst others—have come together to oppose compromise with their version of America. It has resulted in enthusiasm for hard-line aspirational candidates who promise to push their, and only their, agenda. I doubt this can lead to electoral victory, but, at the least, they can tie up the process just as effectively as did their other, younger selves (metaphorically speaking) in 1962-69.

Given that the young Boomers’ pressure in the late 1960s led to Nixon and the ‘end of the Sixties’ on the Kent State campus, the betting has to be that the revenge of the old Boomers in the middle 2010s will not be realized. How this frustration will play itself out will be the subject of a lot of action and reading material in the next few years.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2015

Welcome to Facts and Opinions. Try one story at no charge and, if you value our work, please chip in at least .27 per story or $1 for a day site pass, using the “donate” button below. Click here for details. 

Jim McNiven’s latest book is The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern Americawww.theyankeeroad.com

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Real journalism has value. Thank you for your support. Please tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Love Canal: Utopia to Dystopia

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
October, 2015

US Environmental Protection Agency, public domain, via Wikimedia

US Environmental Protection Agency, public domain, via Wikimedia

In the late 1880s, a mysterious stranger, said to have come from the West, appeared in Niagara Falls and began to scout the opportunities there. He was taken with the power potential and with the possibilities for land speculation. His name was William T. Love.

In 1893, Love proposed to build a new ‘model city’ that would rise to the east and north of Niagara Falls. The city would eventually have 700 thousand inhabitants along a seven-mile navigable ship canal (not a tunnel) passing by a downstream generating station that would produce clean power for both factories and households. It would be a planned community, possibly resembling that built in the 1880s by George Pullman, the sleeping-car magnate, for his employees in the south of Chicago. It would boast worker-owned cooperative industries and a university. He claimed to have a $25 million fund established to finance the venture. He was a skillful promoter, one of his gimmicks being the rewriting of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’:

“Everybody’s come to town,
Those left we all do pity,
For we’ll have a jolly time
At Love’s new Model City.”
They’re building now a great big ditch
Through dirt and rock so gritty
They say ‘twill make all very rich
Who live in Model City.

Love got a charter of incorporation for his ‘Modeltown Corporation’ from the State of New York in 1893 that allowed it to construct and operate just about anything it wanted, including permission from the State to access water from the Niagara River.  He began to travel to raise capital for the project, as well as acquiring options on as much as 30,000 acres of farmland east of Niagara Falls.

There were regular announcements of companies moving to Model City to take advantage of the cheap power to soon be available. The company began laying out streets and roads for Model City, with all the appropriate publicity, and also began to cut the canal from the river toward the escarpment. Though only a few houses were built, Love, a teetotaler, refused all requests to permit the establishment of a saloon inside the city limits.

Unfortunately, the Panic of 1893 hit at this time and over the next three years Love’s credit sources dried up, along with his dreams, though he continued to publish a newsletter about the project until 1895. His canal lay unfinished, at least 3225 feet long from the river and as much as 30 feet deep. Love denied that the credit squeeze affected his plans, but by late 1895, New York City investors had taken over the project and its lands and things ground to a halt. When international protocols were signed in 1906 regulating how much water both sides could extract from the River, the project truly died, as the existing power company was already using most of the American share.

The only things left of his development today are the name of Model City Road, running to the east of Niagara Falls, passing a few commercial establishments that use its name and elsewhere, miles to the south, the site of the unfinished canal that, ironically, now bears the name of its utopian promoter.

The companies attracted to the Niagara area by cheap power created a legacy that was more pernicious. First to come in 1892 was an aluminum smelter, requiring considerable cheap power. Next came chemical industries, developed out of discoveries in German and American labs, which provided products that were based on the transformation of petroleum, wood and minerals through electric power. Niagara Falls, by 1914, had 11,000 jobs based on electricity and, by 1940, had become the world’s largest producer of electrochemicals.

In time, a considerable portion of the land Love had optioned was taken by the military in World War II for a giant munitions plant and for a dump site for chemicals, radioactive materials and discarded ammunition and shells. Electric power could provide the high temperatures needed for them and for aluminum smelting and eventually uranium products to feed the atomic bomb-making efforts during and after World War II. A Niagara Falls site became a major part of the mammoth Manhattan Project that created the atomic bomb. The site of a large munitions factory built during World War II has been turned into the only hazardous waste dump in the northeast, Chemical Waste Management’s ‘Model City Facility’.

Like Rockefeller’s refineries did in Cleveland with gasoline before the auto age, these Niagara Falls industries, coming 50-75 years after him, just dumped their wastes into the river, burned or buried them. The uncompleted canal, started by Henry Love in the 1890s and then abandoned, was one handy place for solid wastes, some radioactive materials and some liquid industrial waste. The site was condemned at auction in 1920 and first used for a municipal garbage and industrial waste dump. Serious use of it was made during and after World War II, as an estimated 200 kinds of chemical waste, including 12 carcinogens, were dumped there, including 200 tons of a chemical containing dioxin as a contaminant. A large landfill dump was created at the junction of the canal and the river and a master’s thesis produced in 1953 noted that such waste dumping along the upper River helped to build up the shore for potential real estate use.

Postwar developers of an expanding Niagara Falls region, including the city, never knew or never cared what went into the old canal site. Once urban development reached the area, in 1953, the then owners, Hooker Chemical, covered the site with the same kind of clay liner that was similar to that used by Love 60 years earlier on its sides and bottom. The company then donated it to the City for $1, being given absolution for any responsibility for personal injury on the site.

The whole area of the canal and the thousands of acres to the north of it in ‘Model City’ became in a sense a mockery of planner Frederick Olmstead’s vision of Niagara Falls as a natural preserve and Love’s dream of a utopian city for people to enjoy happy, healthy lives. A disaster was waiting to happen.

Everything came together at the site of Love’s unfinished canal. When title to the canal was transferred to the city in 1953, Hooker had warned city officials against subdividing the adjoining land for housing, but the city approved adjoining development and in 1955 even built a school along the eastern edge of the canal. Not surprisingly, it contained no basement as the contractors had uncovered some of the chemical wastes there. As well, a drainage system was constructed around the building that carried off rainwater and chemical leachates into the city storm drain system and on into the river. Yet, inexplicably, the school playground was laid out right on top of the canal, behind the school.

The area gradually filled with small houses popular with younger families. Gradually, over the next two decades, the chemicals began to leach into the surrounding land and to migrate along underground watercourses. People, especially children began to suffer, but complaints about children’s diseases were seen as individual occurrences and simply treated as best possible.

By 1976, after some years of heavy precipitation, the problems in the area began to intensify as barrels began to rise out of the cap placed over the canal 20 years earlier and noxious substances began to appear through the basement walls and backing into the drains of local residences.  A 1976 consultant’s report to the State Health Department stating that the canal was leaking was ignored, as were local health concerns. In August, 1977, a reporter for the Niagara Falls Gazette. Michael Brown, began a series of articles noting that something was wrong in the Love Canal area and that public health was at risk. Through the next months, the paper stepped up its reporting on the Love Canal area.

As the State government began to respond to the articles and subsequent publicity, they began an investigation. They discovered high incidences of miscarriages, still-borns and birth defects in the area. The State government found itself on the horns of a dilemma. Residents (how many?) would have to leave the area, but who would pay for their relocation? The health of the residents then got tangled up in intergovernmental fights over who would pay the costs.

As the controversy dragged on, the residents of the area began to organize themselves for action, heightening the profile of the problem. The mayor then criticized the activists for hurting tourism in the area with their negative publicity.

The State Health Department held a public meeting in June, 1978, to see if there was really a problem and, in August, inexplicably convened another ‘public’ meeting in Albany, at the other end of the State. Afterwards, while not claiming the area was safe or unsafe, it ordered that residents not eat anything from their gardens and that pregnant mothers and children under 2 years old be ‘temporarily relocated’, a half-measure that only made the uncertainty worse, since there was no offer to offset the cost of this move. The resultant embarrassing uproar coming just before the 1978 elections led President Carter to declare a state of emergency at Love Canal and led the Governor, only a week after the temporary relocation order had been issued, to announce a permanent relocation of those in the most affected area.

As a result of continuing pressure by the residents, others were moved in early 1979 and in May 1980, President Carter declared another ‘health emergency’ in the Love Canal area and provided funds to ‘temporarily’ relocate 810 families, if they wished to move. In October, noting the ‘mental anguish’ of the residences, he ordered that all the families who wished, would be permanently relocated. Part of the mental anguish came from the residents’ association discovering that elaborate plans had been made for the safety of crews who were contracted to clean up the canal site, while residents were simply expected to stay inside their homes while the dangerous work was being done near them. By 1988, after the area had been cleaned up, some of the less-affected houses were deemed ‘habitable’ and put on the market once more.

The controversy over Love Canal forced a recognition among Americans that they and especially their children were at risk from environmental problems of which they were barely aware. In 1980, the Environmental Protection Agency noted the existence of 30,000 such industrial dump sites across the country. Of 336 US facilities where former and existing employees were to be given compensation for exposure to nuclear and radioactive material, 13 were in the Niagara area, more than in all of New Mexico, the site of Los Alamos and the first nuclear bomb test. The New York Department of Environmental Protection listed 649 sites of concern in Erie and Niagara Counties alone.

In the end, Niagara still shimmers between visions of heaven and of hell.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2015

This column was adapted from Jim McNiven’s book The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern Americawww.theyankeeroad.com

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We do not carry advertising or “branded content,” or solicit donations from foundations or causes. If you appreciate our work, help us continue with a contribution, below, of at least .27 per story — or purchase a site pass for at least $1 per day or $20 per year. 

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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The Yankee Origins of Baseball

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES  
July, 2015 

My wife and I have visited Cooperstown, New York, at least four times, primarily to view America’s Baseball Hall of Fame. The “downtown” of today’s village of two thousand people is a standard tourist trap: an attraction surrounded by a large number of related souvenir shops and restaurants. In the 1930s, the baseball establishment accepted Cooperstown as the place where Abner Doubleday supposedly devised the rules of the game in 1839. The attribution of Doubleday as baseball’s inventor was made on very improbable evidence, however. The Abner Doubleday — and there could have been more than one living in upstate New York at the time — was a noted Civil War general, but in 1839 had been a cadet at West Point and unable to leave its grounds.

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Photo by Beyond My Ken via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, in 2012. Photo by Beyond My Ken via Wikipedia, Creative Commons

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was a child of circumstance. The 1939 decision to locate it in Cooperstown rested on a letter sent more than thirty years earlier to a committee investigating the history of the game. Reacting to baseball critic Henry Chadwick’s 1903 claim that baseball was descended from the British game of cricket, A.G. Spalding, who had developed a prosperous baseball-related business, was determined to Americanize the origins of the game. As Zev Chafets puts it, “[w]hat Spalding needed was an alternative creation myth, one backed up by evidence.” Spalding accordingly asked Abraham G. Mills, a former president of the National League and a political ally, to lead a hand-picked group of five other prominent former players and sports administrators to investigate the origins of baseball. Spalding produced a letter from a supposed old friend of Doubleday’s, a retired mining engineer who claimed to have been there when Doubleday gave the boys of Cooperstown a set of rules that prefigured the eventual game as it was played. Yet Doubleday, who was deceased by the time of the Mills Commission, had made no mention of baseball in his writings. Moreover, his “friend” had been just five years old in 1839. The friend’s claim, however, was enough to give Cooperstown its mythic importance, and at the end of 1907, the Mills Commission reported that it was satisfied that Doubleday had created the modern game in Cooperstown in 1839.

Much evidence of the game’s standardization in fact points to the son of a relocated Nantucket Yankee sea captain, Alexander Cartwright, and a Yankee medical doctor, Daniel L. Adams. In 1845, two years after he and other young Manhattanites had come together to form the New York (City) Knickerbockers ball club, Cartwright devised a constitution for the club and set down the rules for how his club should play the game. These rules then spread across the country until, by 1860, they constituted the standard for play. Cartwright eventually was inducted into the Hall of Fame. More recent research also points to Daniel Adams, the president of the Knickerbocker club, as having had a significant role in the development of the rules and standardization of the game, since Cartwright left for California during the 1849 gold rush. The controversy that began in 1906 over Doubleday and Cooperstown seemed to have been put to rest in 1953, when the US Congress, no less, resolved that Cartwright was the first to put down the rules.

In 1857, the teams that adopted the Knickerbocker rules organized the National Association of Base Ball Players. At first, most of its members were from the New York area, but gradually it expanded to cover most of the area north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi. By 1869, the Association, originally devoted to promoting amateur sport, gave in and allowed professional play. The Cincinnati Red Stockings began a string of consecutive victories that gained baseball a large following, and in 1870 the first professional league, the National Association, was formed.

Commercialism, indeed, was already a part of the scene. In 1862, Brooklynite William Commeyer built an enclosed field for baseball games and a clubhouse, graded the diamond, and charged admission. With the Civil War raging, he had “The Star Spangled Banner” played before every game, though it would not become the official national anthem until sixty-nine years after baseball had adopted it. Sporting events, including baseball, still acknowledge Commeyer’s patriotic gesture.

By the time of the Great Depression, and as concerns about mass immigration faded, Spalding’s venture to Americanize baseball had been largely ignored for almost three decades. The federal government then was prevailed upon to develop a ball field on the site where Doubleday was supposed to have invented the game. The Works Progress Administration (WPA), an agency of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, put a number of unemployed locals to work constructing what became known as “Doubleday Field,” and in 1935, Baseball Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis laid out a program for a Hall of Fame and museum next to Doubleday Field, along with a process for naming players, coaches, and others to the Hall. In 1937, the Clark family offered to build a permanent Hall and museum for the sport. This would prove to be of commercial help to the village and surrounding area, through not only its construction, but also the continuing benefits of a tourist attraction.

The relationship of the site of the Hall of Fame to baseball’s origins might be mythical, but its location in a small town, rather than at, say, the Knickerbockers’ old playing field across the Hudson River in urban New Jersey, somehow evokes a sense of appropriateness. Baseball should have been invented in a small town only a generation or so past its frontier days, with the accompanying nostalgia of long summer days in a pastoral atmosphere. Let’s give the final comment to Frenchman Bernard Henri-Levy, who visited America and the Baseball Hall of Fame 150 years and more after Alexis de Tocqueville passed nearby:

This is not a museum; it’s a church. These are not rooms; they’re chapels. The visitors themselves aren’t really visitors but devotees, meditative and fervent. I hear one of them asking, in a low voice, if it’s true that the greatest champions are buried here — beneath our feet, as if we were at Westminster Abbey or in the Imperial Crypt beneath the Kapuziner Church in Vienna. And every effort is made to sanctify Cooperstown itself, this cradle of the national religion, this new Nazareth, this simple little town that nothing prepared for its election and yet which was present at the birth of the thing….The only problem is that [its] history is a myth, and every year millions of men and women come, like me, to visit a town devoted entirely to the celebration of a myth. 

Today, none of this really matters to the stream of pilgrims coming to baseball’s historic Hall of Fame. For them, the rules are eternal and the myth is real. 

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2015

This column was adapted from Jim McNiven’s book The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern Americawww.theyankeeroad.com

 

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis. 

Jim McNiven’s new book is The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that created Modern America.

 

 

 

 

~~~

Journalism has value: please help sustain us with a “hat tip” donation (every two bits helps), or by purchasing a subscriptionFacts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O provides journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising, you will never see “branded content” articles on our pages, and we do not solicit donations from foundations or causes. Subscribe by email to our free FRONTLINES blog, find evidence-based dispatches in Reports; commentary, analysis and longer form writing in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. Some of our original works are behind a paywall, available with a $1 site day pass, or with a subscription from $2.95/month – $19.95/year. Email editor@factsandopinions.com to inquire about republishing F&O’s original content.  

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Telegraphy, Radio, Utopia and You

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES 
June, 2015 

In 1887, Edward Bellamy, perhaps one of the last of a long line of Yankee utopians, published a book called Looking Backward. In it, his character, Julian West, falls asleep in a secure basement room in his house in Boston in that same year. West is awakened in the year 2000, to be greeted by Bostonians who are living in a world at peace, with prosperity and full of the benefits of equality. The book became very popular in its time and ‘Bellamy clubs’ sprang up to promote his ideals.

"Edward Bellamy - photograph c.1889" by Philpott - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3a42968.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.العربية | čeština | Deutsch | English | español | فارسی | suomi | français | magyar | italiano | македонски | മലയാളം | Nederlands | polski | português | русский | slovenčina | slovenščina | Türkçe | українська | 中文 | 中文(简体)‎ | 中文(繁體)‎ | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edward_Bellamy_-_photograph_c.1889.jpg#/media/File:Edward_Bellamy_-_photograph_c.1889.jpg

Edward Bellamy. Photo C.1889 by Philpott, from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division, digital ID cph.3a42968. Public domain.

Here, we want to look at the technology that is incorporated in some of Bellamy’s social theorizing. In the book, the family who finds and wakes West in 2000 use, as a matter of course, a variation on the telephone to hear music, speak to each other at a distance and hear other programming. The stores in 2000 were really showrooms and orders were transmitted by phone to central warehouses that quickly delivered goods to people’s homes. Since Marconi did not prove out radio until 1900, which led to television, Bellamy’s 2000 lacked those improvements. Otherwise, he was close to describing modern cable entertainment, and his interpretation of the commercial structures of the utopian time resembled those of Amazon.com.

The telephone had been invented only a decade before Bellamy wrote his book. Alexander Graham Bell, a recent immigrant to Boston from Scotland via Canada, was interested in the mechanics of speech and hearing, which led him to come up with a variation on the telegraph. A Boston native living in New York City, Samuel F. B. Morse, had patented the telegraph in 1844. Yes, the telegraph spawned the telephone. They both relied on sending electrical impulses through a conducting wire. 

The story gets more tangled. In the year after Bellamy’s book came out, a German named Heinrich Hertz discovered that when electrical impulses are sent through a wire, an electromagnetic equivalent radiates from the wire through space; in our case, through the air. In the next decade, an Italian, Guglielmo Marconi, figured out how to enhance these signals and how to detect and hear them at a distance without any connecting wire. That is why we call it ‘wireless’.

Over the first two decades of the twentieth century, others figured out how to make these signals more complex, so they could be represented as sounds when activating a ‘speaker’. Somebody else figured out how to sell advertisements over this new ‘radio’, and broadcasting entertainment into everyone’s house began to make economic sense. Television was simply a more complex broadcast where the impulse was directed into a beam inside a tube whose surface was coated to make a section called a pixel glow or not, depending on where the beam struck. Lots of pixel action fools you into seeing a moving picture. None of this was easy to devise, but it still was all based on electrons moving along a wire.

The ‘internet’ became the next variation on this theme. It started as a line connection between tubes that made pictures of letters and numbers and then got more complex thereafter. Its features depended on the continued progress in building more sophisticated computer chips. Today, the internet includes an option that is like radio and television broadcasting (Netflix or Twitter); with other parts being interactive like the telegraph and telephone (texting or voice). A lot of new technology went into the varieties that make up the internet, but the basic principles of telegraphy and radio still underlie it.

In the late 1950s, the transistor was invented. Based on quantum theory devised by physicists in the 1920s, it allowed these electrical impulses to be switched on or off and amplified in a piece of material which was far smaller and required less power than a vacuum tube. By the early 1960s, transistors could be hooked together to form a small circuit that took the place of many tubes. It was called an integrated circuit (IC) and it was placed on a ‘chip’.

Clearly, the more transistors you could get onto or into a chip, the more complex an operation could be performed. Gordon Moore, who had developed the silicon chip, the most practical medium for ICs, was asked in 1965 to speculate in an article for Electronics magazine, what the future, in terms of the number of transistors could be shrunk and crowded onto a single chip, might be. He thought it might double every year. A decade later, though he was correct, he altered his prediction to one of doubling every 18 months or so indefinitely.

It has been 50 years since Moore’s Law was posited and the number of transistors on a chip is still going along this trend line. In 1965, it was possible to put 60 transistors to a chip: today, the number is 2 billion. This is why you can watch Netflix on your tablet, put your boarding pass on your phone and talk to someone on the other side of the world while (illegally, for most places) driving down the expressway. Bellamy could have written these into his story, but no one knew about radio or transistors, and the gasoline-powered auto was only a year old in 1887.

If Moore’s Law continues to hold, and there is no reason to suspect the opposite, we get into strange country in the next decade. Some people call it the ‘second half of the chessboard’, after the apocryphal story of the Persian hero who is given whatever he wants from the King. He asks for one grain of wheat on the first chessboard square and for it to be doubled on the second, and so on. By the time the first half of the board is filled, the amounts are getting very large and it becomes impossible to complete the reward in the second half. 

You can already see some of the second half of the electronic chessboard in terms of Moore’s Law. There are driverless cars coming along and the ‘internet of things’ is being touted. The fracking revolution in oil and gas production is due to computing developments, ‘Big data’, enabled by computers full of ICs, allows us to collect enormous volumes of information on almost anything we can conceive, including, by 2020, information that would fill the equivalent of 3 million books on each man, woman and child in the world. 

Of course by 2020, getting 2 billion transistors on a chip will be child’s play: the challenge by then would be to cram something over 16 billion on a chip; a product 8 times more powerful than what a driverless car or a surveillance drone or really long range ‘global warming’ weather forecasting might need. A personal advisor should be there to guide you successfully through all of life’s complexities, from shopping to news to reminding you to take your pills to reporting on the state of your refrigerator or the power levels in your car. Who will be able to say where you leave off and the ’internet of you’ takes over? Underneath though, it is still telegraphy and radio. 

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2015

 

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis. 

Jim McNiven’s new book is The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that created Modern America.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for select journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Help sustain us with a donation (below), by telling others about us, or purchasing a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. To receive F&O’s free blog emails fill in the form on the FRONTLINES page. 

 

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Now for Another Debt Crisis

JIM MCNIVEN  
April, 2015

I don’t know where the next debt crisis is going to come from, but I’ve got some good possibilities. When it does come, the big problem will not be the lenders or taxpayers who will get stiffed, more or less, but whether the crisis can be contained. What I mean is that when some kind of borrower, be it a state or a corporation, defaults on its financial obligations (bonds), other lenders will look around, find similar organizations in the same shape, and try to get their loans paid back immediately. This is not likely to be possible, even for the best of borrowers so, like a row of dominos, they will begin to fall and fail. This is called ‘contagion’ in the business. On a global scale, contagion can lead to an economic mess much more serious than the United States crisis of 2008.

There has already been one technical default, by Argentina, but it is an outlier and not contagious. Argentina defaulted a decade and more ago and its creditors eventually agreed to settle for 33 cents on the dollar. A hedge fund bought up some of the original debt at something like this discount, but has been successfully suing Argentina in U.S. courts to pay the hedge fund in full for its portion. Needless to say, the other creditors are not happy. They lose 67% and the hedge fund makes a killing. Argentina says it won’t pay the agreed-upon 33 cents until the hedge fund back down, so it is in default again. Ouch.

What I am focused on are other situations that could seriously rattle the international financial system. The first is a real dilly. Globally, there is something like $3 trillion (with a T) in loans outstanding that are denominated in U.S. dollars. What this means is that the loan was made in, or to, country X, payable in U.S. dollars by someone who had them. The loan proceeds were then converted into the local currency and invested or spent by that country. Such a loan is also repayable in U.S. dollars, but the U.S. dollar began to rise as the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank began to taper down its money-creating stimulus program. The dollar’s rise, relative to other currencies, was due also to the unexpected boost to the US balance of trade by the sudden increase in domestic oil production. In a short time, the U.S. purchases of foreign oil declined significantly.

Consider these changes. The Canadian dollar dropped from U.S.$1.02 in September 2012 to U.S.$0.79 in January 2015, a 20% decline in less than 2.5 years. Someone in Canada borrowing a million U.S.$ in September 2012 could have exchanged it for $1.02 million Canadian right away, but would owe, ignoring interest and some repayment, $1.264 million Canadian in January 2015. This is an extra quarter of a million dollars in local currency that the borrower would have to find, simply because of the relative strength of the U.S. dollar. The same repayment over the same months would cause the Japanese borrower to have to come up with 53% more yen, an Indonesian with 15% more rupiahs and a German with 14% more euros. You get the picture. What if the borrower’s plans did not work out and she can’t pay? What if a lot of borrowers can’t pay? There’s U.S.$ 3 trillion out there, a lot of it picked up from the Fed’s stimulus and shipped overseas to eager borrowers. The Argentinian case mentioned above is mere peanuts next to this.

A second problem is somewhat related to the American stimulus program. The Japanese government debt is the largest relative to the size of the economy (GDP) in the developed world. In order to, hopefully, stimulate the Japanese economy, the central bank is buying back a lot of this debt by just printing money — lots of it. The yen has dropped in value outside Japan, because there is so much yen floating around, but foreign holders are not screaming because 95% of the government bonds are held by the Japanese themselves. All that has happened is that imports have become a lot more expensive. And Japan imports almost everything. The crash in oil prices has masked the looming import problem, but sooner or later, it will bite. Exporters are ok, because their workers have all taken a foreign-exchange ‘pay cut’. For the average Japanese, this makes life harder. For the large numbers of retirees, this is a real blow. The pension system is not that great and Japan has the oldest population in the world, besides maybe the Russians. Can the Japanese succeed at a cheap currency problem? Well, if so, then why doesn’t everyone else play the same game of competitive devaluation? Contagion, anyone?

Then there are the interlinked problems of over-borrowing and austerity. The ratio of debt to GDP in most of the developed world is large. As long as these countries can make their payments on this debt, all is well, maybe. The problem is that making payments on the debt crowds out other demands that the society has. This shrinking of program spending is called austerity and it is not a popular thing for governments to foist on their populations. The Greeks, for instance are in this mess. The bondholders, especially in Germany, want to be paid. The Greek society is riddled with ways to avoid tax payments, so that the EU has insisted that if the Greeks want to continue to be in the Euro zone, they have to tighten up their collection systems and pass along more money. If they do that, then they are taking more money from their citizens and giving nothing but the vague satisfaction of having paid something on their debt. That’s a formula for political disaster. If they don’t do this, then the Greeks may have to leave the Eurozone and maybe the EU entirely, so they can create the new drachma, a basically worthless currency, and stiff their bondholders. How would this go down in the rest of the Eurozone countries where there are high public debt levels, you ask? Well, that’s contagion.

Finally, where does all the money come from that the lenders have available to lend? Thomas Piketty recently wrote a book, Capital, where he suggests that wealth grows by continuous positive returns on the investment of that wealth. Just keep getting a guaranteed 5% real (after inflation) return on your million dollars plus of capital and it will grow and grow, if you’re careful. If this is threatened, you turn to the bankers and the politicians to protect your money. Maybe you hide a lot of it in some offshore accounts, where wealth managers and hedge funds get you your return. You could buy apartments in New York City or Toronto or London — any place where the property market is hot. Of course, government bonds are safe, maybe, or at least you can get a high rate of return on some of the shaky ones and hope you can get out just before they crash. Whatever the approach, you will be a bit paranoid if you find that the bonds you own may lose their value, thus threatening your capital. It’s a tough world out there….and the herd instinct to all run in the same direction is strong….and that’s contagion.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2015

 

Jim McNiven

Dr. McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~~~

Help sustain independent, non-partisan and professional journalism by buying a $1 day pass or subscription to Facts and Opinions. An online journal of first-rate reporting and analysis, without borders, F&O is employee-owned, does not carry advertising, and is funded entirely by readers. Click here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. Receive free blog emails via the form on FRONTLINES. Please tell others about us.

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War of 1812: Yankee Seamen on Fresh Water

John Christian Schetky, H.M.S. Shannon Leading Her Prize the American Frigate Chesapeake into Halifax Harbour (c. 1830). Public domain via Wikipedia

John Christian Schetky, H.M.S. Shannon Leading Her Prize the American Frigate Chesapeake into Halifax Harbour (c. 1830). Public domain via Wikipedia

Part two of a three-part series on the War of 1812, in The Yankee Road, an ongoing project by Jim McNiven.

JIM MCNIVEN  
February 27, 2015 

America did not need control over the lower Great Lakes to access their communities to the extent that the British did, except for two spots. The first was the Niagara area, where inconclusive battles were fought mostly on the British side. The second was the western end of Lake Erie and its feeder, the Detroit River. British control over Lake Erie meant that American troops and supplies could not be brought far enough north on land from Indiana to allow them to support Detroit and control the Upper Lakes. As well, the British Fort Malden at Amherstburg controlled the shipping channel in the Detroit River.

Conversely, the loss of control over the Lakes would mean that the British could not defend Sandwich, now Windsor, Amherstburg or their other scattered western communities. Without control over Lake Ontario, they could not supply their troops on the Niagara peninsula. Back in London, the post-Napoleonic strategy in North America assumed control over the Lakes would be held while a troop build-up could be effected.

The war began with the British dominating the Lakes. Both sides then began an arms race to gain or keep control over the Lakes. Armed ships could attack the merchant vessels used to transport troops and supplies, and could escort invasion forces to take the small communities on either side of the waters. From the first, the British encouraged illegal American cross-border trade. It was said that foodstuffs from western New York kept the British military effort fed throughout the war.

American bases were at Sackets Harbor NY and Black Rock NY and Erie PA. British bases were at Kingston, York (Toronto) Port Dover and Amherstburg. Most of the port of Black Rock, now a part of Buffalo, was in range of British cannon across the Niagara River at Fort Erie and so was of no use unless that fort was in American hands, while Port Dover was a minor fishing port on Lake Erie. None of these places west of Montreal on either side of the water had a thousand inhabitants.

When the War of 1812 broke out, following Congress’ action on June 18, the British had already become active. They assumed that Madison’s war message of June 1 would lead to this result. Eleven days later, on June 29th, the British seized 2 schooners in the St. Lawrence River. Three days later, on July 2, British troops based at Fort Malden at the mouth of the Detroit River boarded an unsuspecting American schooner containing American military sick and the confidential papers of the commanding general, William Hull, who was approaching Detroit by land with a large force. He had either been unaware that war had been declared or had gambled that the British were unaware.

Hull’s tenure in Detroit was short and by mid-August, he had been bluffed into surrendering himself and the the town by the energetic British General Isaac Brock.

All along the border, the British had gained knowledge of the start of the War before American authorities had managed or bothered to send the news west and north to American forces. This American failure to even inform their own forces of the War’s start presaged the incompetence that plagued the American military through much of the next couple of years.

The Incompetent get Somewhat Focused

Daniel Dobbins, an Erie, PA, shipowner, was among the first to raise the alarm at the British control of Lake Erie and their capture of Detroit. His ship was taken by surprise, but he managed to escape from the British at Detroit. He returned to Erie, reporting to General David Mead, head of the local militia, Dobbins was sent on his way to Washington DC, arriving on September 3. Madison and the War Department already had come to realize that the key to regaining the Northwest was control over Lake Erie and Dobbins seemed to offer a place to build the ships to do the job. Only the British had armed ships on Lake Erie, since the only American armed ship had been captured as part of the surrender of Detroit. Dobbins noted the advantages of Erie’s protected harbor and the presence of large oak trees near the water that would be suitable for ship construction The channel at Black Rock, the only other potential site, was within range of the guns of British Fort Erie on the other side of the Niagara River. 

Dobbins soon returned with a Naval commission for himself (he remained in the Navy until 1826.) and an authorization to build a war fleet at Erie. He also had been provided with the plans for a 40-ton gunboat, presumably of the useless type Jefferson had advocated, and allocated $2000 to build 4 of them. How these were to overcome a British fleet that was being constructed as well, is a mystery to me.

When Dobbins returned to Erie, according to one account, he took an axe and cut down the first tree selected as part of the keel of the first ship. Gradually, supplies and funds began to trickle into Erie. He sailed to Black Rock to find a shipbuilder, but the sole result of his search was an old ship’s carpenter, Ebeneezer Crosby, whom he hired for ’20 shillings and a pint of whisky’ per day.

The Great Lakes naval commander, Isaac Chauncey, upgraded Dobbins’ orders to start construction on two 60-ton schooners. At the end of December, 1812, Chauncey visited Erie for a day and was surprised to find four hulls under construction but only five carpenters and Crosby on the job. Two of the gunboats were far enough advanced that they could not be changed, but Chauncey ordered that the other two be extended 10 feet and fitted as schooners and that two larger brigs also be constructed. Once committed to building a real fleet, Chauncey was energetic. He wrote to a renowned New York City ship designer, Noah Brown, and asked him to go to Erie with a team of experienced builders and to take over the job of building the brigs.

With the arrival of Brown and his people in early 1813, and the further recruitment of skilled workers from as far away as Pittsburgh, the construction of the fleet moved forward. Into the spring, metal parts and cannon and other necessities were shipped up by water from Pittsburgh or came by ship from Black Rock, avoiding British patrols. Dobbins found an appropriate outlet for his sailing skills in commanding this latter supply operation. 

Next, Chauncey needed a commanding officer for the Erie fleet. He asked Washington for a 27-year old Commander, Oliver Hazard Perry. Perry went to sea at 13 and had a variety of experiences on Navy ships. Commanding some Rhode Island gunboats was both useless and boring for Perry and he had written to Chauncey, asking for a posting on the Great Lakes. His letter arrived on the 19th of January. Chauncey wrote back on the 20th, officially requesting that Perry and a contingent of Newport RI sailors be sent to the Lakes.

Perry received his orders in Newport on the 17th of February and within the next 5 days, he and150 sailors were on their way west to Black Rock. Perry could not proceed to Erie right away as the British had made a recent raid on Sackets Harbor and Chauncey needed a seasoned commander with him until the threat had passed. Thus, Perry did not arrive in Erie with his contingent until late March, when the ships were nearing completion. 

The British Miss Their Chances 

Meanwhile, General Mead’s militia defending Erie had served their terms and left to go home. From March until the beginning of May, the town and shipyard were effectively undefended, so a British attack then would have reduced the nascent fleet to ashes and delayed the campaign for another year. Bickering between Washington DC and the State authorities in Philadelphia was eventually resolved, with the state militias contributing to a new force, with the first contingent of 500 men arriving in Erie on May 7. This was the first, and perhaps the easiest, opportunity to keep control of Detroit and the Upper Lakes that was missed by the British. Instead, they had focused on futile land attacks on William Harrison’s forces in northern Ohio. As long as the British kept control of Lake Erie, Harrison could not advance in any case.

Through June and July, British Commander Robert Barclay, who had only arrived in Amherstburg on June 5, cruised the Lake trying to halt American shipping traffic and observing American progress in the Erie shipyard. He planned an immediate land and sea attack on the lightly defended port, but army General Procter would not let him have the necessary troops. His life was made more difficult by a successful American attack on Fort George at the mouth of the Niagara River near the end of May, which meant that Fort Erie had to be evacuated, cutting the supply line via the Lakes from Kingston through Niagara, thus forcing supplies to Amherstburg to be rerouted with difficulty overland or through Port Dover to the west of Niagara.

Perry had returned to the Niagara area to participate in the assault on Fort George and when he realized that the British had then left Fort Erie as well, immediately went to Black Rock and took the ships bottled up there and sailed them to Erie, arriving on the 18th of June. Barclay anticipated that such a move might be made, but the British missed the weaker American ships in a fog bank. Otherwise, he might have captured or destroyed a part of the forces gathering at Erie and captured or killed Perry himself. A second opportunity missed. 

As the ships at Erie were completed, Perry faced the problem of their being adequately manned. This was intensified when General Dearborn at Niagara ordered the 200 soldiers he lent to Perry to get the ships from Black Rock to Erie to return. Perry was left with 120 healthy sailors to fill as many as 740 slots on 11 ships of various sizes. There were few local people to draw upon and these were untrained in any case. Perry managed to pry another 116 from Chauncey at Sackets Harbor and another 100 local men were recruited by the end of July.

Barclay had the same problem at Amherstburg. His superior, Sir James Yeo at Kingston was engaged in an arms race with Chauncey Both were in overall command and both needed a growing number of sailors to man their Lake Ontario fleets, making them reluctant to part with good personnel for what seemed to be a sideshow on Lake Erie. It should have been clear to the British high command that, with Napoleon on the ropes in Europe, some of the ships’ personnel in their European operations could now be spared for service on the Lakes, since the government’s evolving political strategy encompassing territorial gains around the Great Lakes and into the Midwest would require continued control over Lake Erie. None of these dots were connected in time.

Then came the ultimate miscalculation: on July 31, just as the ships at Erie were completed and ready to sail, Barclay’s fleet, which had been shadowing the mouth of Presque Isle Bay in hopes of catching the American ships whenever they might try to get across the sandbar, had disappeared. Perry could not believe his luck. He had to unload all the armaments from the larger ships and, using large floats, lift them over the sandbar at the mouth of the bay. While this task was going on, they would have been helpless in front of Barclay’s fleet. They would have been sunk in short order. Perry took the chance.

Perry’s men took from August 1 to August 4 to get all the ships across the bar. Just as the ships had all crossed, but were largely unmanned and unarmed, Barclay reappeared with his fleet. He still could have prevailed in battle right then, but he imagined these ships were armed and ready, and so left the area. Later, Barclay faced a court-martial, which examined the particulars of the subsequent battle, where he had fought well, but lost. For whatever reason, the officials never asked why had it even been fought, given the situation at Erie on the first of August. Had Barclay simply maintained his position outside the mouth of the bay until late October, the kind of thing that British ships had been doing for two decades along the coasts of Europe, Perry would have been frozen in until the next spring. Meanwhile, Harrison and his Kentuckians would have been stalled on the Maumee River in Ohio for a second winter, deteriorating into a restive and disintegrating militia force.

 Wellington Renews British Distraction

The result of Perry’s victory off Put-in-Bay reversed the strategic situation. Fort Malden at Amherstburg was untenable, given American control over Lake Erie. The overland track (now the 401 expressway) from York (now Toronto) to Sandwich (now Windsor) could not sustain the amount of traffic that would be required to defend the Detroit River communities. Perry and Harrison cooperated unusually well. Harrison had provided men to fill Perry’s ships before the battle while afterwards, Perry quickly ferried Harrison’s forces, not to Detroit, but over to the Amherstburg area, almost cutting off the retreating British, Near Moraviantown, on the trail to York, a newly-arrived Kentucky cavalry contingent cut the British and Indian forces to pieces.

Tecumseh, the charismatic chief who had tried to unite the tribes from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Superior into a confederacy that might resist American expansion, was killed at Moraviantown. Michigan was to have been an Indian buffer state between American settlers and British Canada. Now, all that was gone. 

Perry’s victory meant that the British could not re-establish themselves at Detroit and threaten the Ohio and Indiana communities. As well, any hold they had on the Upper Lakes was placed at risk. Though the British politicians continued to fantasize over the establishment of a new territory along the Mississippi, the practicalities were that it could not happen after the Battle of Lake Erie. Meanwhile, Napoleon had re-emerged as the ruler of the French and was preparing to take on Europe once again. British strategy, became one of punishing the America where it could, namely along its coasts.

As a sidelight, the British in 1814 also occupied the lightly settled Maine coast from New Brunswick west to the Penobscot River. Their initial idea was to establish a new boundary there, which would give them a more secure communication route between Halifax and Quebec City, but it would also constitute a symbolic ‘victory’ to end the war. In the end though, the loss of the British fleet on Lake Erie and the repulse at Baltimore, coupled with more instability in the more important European theatre led the politicians to take Wellington’s advice, accept the status quo ante in North America and concentrate on Europe.

The result in the Northwest was that American control became a reality and the northern borderline, except for the Oregon Territory, was settled. The sale of Louisiana by Napoleon was tacitly recognized as valid by the British, regardless of its ally Spain’s feelings about the matter. Conversely, the Americans agreed to the division of the continent with the British, since they had not been able to bring any part of the rest of the border along the Lakes under their control. The Battle of New Orleans, fought as peace was being ratified, meant nothing other than a morale boost to the American side.

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2015

Read Part 1: The Incompetent vs The Distracted 

 

Jim McNiven

Dr. McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~~~

Help sustain independent, non-partisan and professional journalism by buying a $1 day pass or subscription to Facts and Opinions. An online journal of first-rate reporting and analysis, without borders, F&O is employee-owned, does not carry advertising, and is funded entirely by readers. Click here to purchase a $1 day pass or subscription, from $2.95/month to $19.95/year. Receive free blog emails via the form on FRONTLINES. Please tell others about us.

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