We have an interesting piece today! Thanks to a post at the Portal to Texas History, we at 140first stumbled across this 1829 letter from General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna that was delivered to a friend in Colombia by a gentleman who needed a “favor”.
It’s interesting to wonder whether or not this was an offer his colleague “couldn’t refuse”, but given the reputation of General Santa Anna, this wouldn’t be out of the question. Here’s the full text, below, translated by Jose Gabriel Martiez-Serna:
Veracruz, July 29 1829
My appreciable friend.
The presenter of this letter will be Don Gaspar Antonio Rodriguez, Spaniard by birth, who in order to use a passport given to him for Colombia needs two thousand pesos or so to be satisfied amount he spent fulfilling a commission of the government in Yucatan, as the accompanying documents will show.
I hope to be deserving of you to provide such a gift to said Mr. Rodriguez with everything you can to satisfy another amount; a favor which will be infinitely appreciated by your dear friend that has you in high regards,
J. S. M. B.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana
Of interesting note today? Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas” and early supporter of General Santa Anna, (though his Texans would later overthrow him,) would be celebrating his 217th birthday today!
Read about Santa Anna’s wooden leg (One of 140first’s favorite stories) here at Roadside America.
The Spanish Civil War is quickly working it’s way back into the textbooks of history classes worldwide, as the expanded study of this terrible conflict has shown the immense impact that it had on religion, politics, art, literature, and lifestyle worldwide.
There is no simple way to describe the war, or the factions who took part. General Francisco Franco and supporting forces attempted a Coup d’etat against the Second Spanish Republic, and along the way found the support of Mussolini’s Italian forces, Hitler’s regime, Irish and Spanish Moroccan volunteers, and the Portugese military. (It should be noted that many of the soldiers, volunteer brigades, especially, considered themselves soldiers of the Roman Catholic Church.) The Spanish Republic did not fight alone, either, as Mexican, Soviet, and American volunteers came to their aid. All in all, over 35,000 soldiers from around the world came to fight fascism
One such unit was known as the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade,” nearly 3,000 Americans who had traveled to Spain in an effort to combat fascism. Some were members of Socialist political groups in the United States, others were there to fight what they saw as a coming evil in the form of European fascism. Through medical, combat, and transport groups, they served and sacrificed in a war that they had not been drafted into.
Their letters home provided incredible insight into the mindset and motivation of these volunteers. One, from an Abraham Lincoln soldier named Canute Frankson, and African-American volunteer, shows the passion with which many were viewing this struggle:
since this is a war between whites who for centuries have held us in slavery, and have heaped every kind of insult and abuse upon us, segregated and jim-crowed us; why I, a Negro who have fought through these years for the rights of my people, am here in Spain today?
Because we are no longer an isolated minority group fighting hopelessly against an immense giant. Because, my dear, we have joined with, and become an active part of, a great progressive force, on whose shoulders rests the responsibility of saving human civilization from the planned destruction of a small group of degenerates gone mad in their lust for power. Because if we crush Fascism here we’ll save our people in America, and in other parts of the world from the vicious persecution, wholesale imprisonment, and slaughter which the Jewish people suffered and are suffering under Hitler’s Fascist heels.
To Frankson and his comrades, the coming perils of the 1940s seemed obvious. Just as many artists and writers had turned their attention to Spain with the hopes of drawing attention to the growing evils of fascism, and just like Langston Hughes, (who would regularly speak to this brigade of troops,) he saw the parallels between the oppression in Europe and the oppressions in America:
All we have to do is to think of the lynching of our people. We can but look back at the pages of American history stained with the blood of Negroes; stink with the burning bodies of our people hanging from trees; bitter with the groans of our tortured loved ones from whose living bodies ears, fingers, toes have been cut for souvenirs—living bodies into which red-hot pokers have been thrust. All because of a hate created in the minds of men and women by their masters who keep us all under their heels while they suck our blood, while they live in their bed of ease by exploiting us.
One can imagine that the scenes Frankson and his fellow soldiers witnessed were similar to what GIs would later see in the fields of France and Germany, or the jungles of the Philippines. In studying Frankson, or even the misguided Irish brigade, we can see the attitudes that would soon shape and change the world in the coming years:
But these people who howl like hungry wolves for our blood, must we hate them? Must we keep the flame which these masters kindled constantly fed? Are these men and women responsible for the programs of their masters, and the conditions which force them to such degraded depths? I think not. They are tools in the hands of unscrupulous masters. These same people are as hungry as we are. They live in dives and wear rags the same as we do. They, too, are robbed by the masters, and their faces kept down in the filth of a decayed system. They are our fellowmen. Soon, and very soon, they and we will understand. Soon, many Angelo Herndons will rise from among them, and from among us, and will lead us both against those who live by the stench of our burnt flesh. We will crush them. We will build us a new society–a society of peace and plenty. There will be no color line, no jim-crow trains, no lynching. That is why, my dear, I’m here in Spain.
The Lincoln Brigade Archives have dedicated themselves to preserving the history and memories of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade soldiers. Please visit and discover their incredible resources!
To read a reprinting of Frankson’s letter, and the correspondence of many American volunteers, visit this UI site.
For fans of the Beat generation, the above words need no introduction or narrative. Allen Ginsberg’s 1955 poem Howl became a defining work of a movement, held in the same regard as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. Published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco, Howl brought the beat movement to the conversations of the nation when Ferlinghetti was brought to trail for obscenity charges surrounding the book. The trial, which has been depicted in the recent arthouse film sharing the poem’s name, was featured in several national magazines and newspapers, and Judge Clayton Horn’s ruling is still considered a strong stand for free speech.
The poem stands in four parts, each possibly representing a “stage” in Ginsberg’s academic and philosophic growth. The first part, perhaps the most recognizable, deals with the wild and restless undertakings of “the best minds of my generation”, some being the exploits of friends and colleagues, and some being autobiographical:
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,
The second part, influenced equally by Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking film Metropolis and a peyote-induced hallucination, describes the industrial civilization that Ginsberg believes is consuming and destroying the culture he has described. Personified, in this case, as the ancient Cannanite god Moloch, the apocalyptic movement replaces both culture and minds:
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!
The third part addresses Ginsberg’s friend Carl Solomon, whom the poem is dedicated to. He had briefly been interred at a mental facility with Solomon, and he uses this section to show a great mind that has stood in the face of his metaphorical Moloch and survived, however broken.
I’m with you in Rockland
where you scream in a straightjacket that you’re losing the game of the actual
pingpong of the abyss
I’m with you in Rockland
where you bang on the catatonic piano the soul is innocent and immortal it
should never die ungodly in an armed madhouse
I’m with you in Rockland
where fifty more shocks will never return your soul to its body again from its
pilgrimage to a cross in the void
I’m with you in Rockland
where you accuse your doctors of insanity and plot the Hebrew socialist
revolution against the fascist national Golgotha
I’m with you in Rockland
where you will split the heavens of Long Island and resurrect your living
human Jesus from the superhuman tomb
The fourth part, called the “Footnote”, is a disjointed declaration proclaiming all of this to be one unified “Holy” action:
Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy
Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cas-
sady holy the unknown buggered and suffering
beggars holy the hideous human angels!
Holy my mother in the insane asylum! Holy the cocks
of the grandfathers of Kansas!
Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop
apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana
hipsters peace & junk & drums!
Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! Holy
the cafeterias filled with the millions! Holy the
mysterious rivers of tears under the streets!
Holy the lone juggernaut! Holy the vast lamb of the
middle class! Holy the crazy shepherds of rebell-
ion! Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!
Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria &
Seattle Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow Holy Istanbul!
As a poem, Howl is hailed as an absolute masterpiece. In it’s experimentation with the long line, it provided a new manner to wrap in the sagas of experience. As a focal point of a major court decision, it provided a cover for poets and authors who used intense and effective language to convey critical emotion in their work. Backed by American constitutional freedom, it ushered in an era of new understanding for readers of the written word.
To read the first 3 sections of Howl, visit the Poetry Foundation.
To see how the work of Allen Ginsberg is being preserved, visit the Ginsberg Project.
Discovery does not come easy.
In addition to the hours of work, the dedication, the different point of view that is needed to uncover something missed by much of humanity, there is also a thick skin that will be irremovable when the pain of a changing reality upsets the conventions of those around you. Throughout history, many have suffered ridicule, persecution, and even execution because of the light they sought to bring to others. Galileo Galilei is one of the most famous examples of this hardship. One of the first to popularize the concept of heliocentrism, his works and studies were taken to task by everyone from his colleagues to, eventually, the Catholic Church. While study of Galileo’s Roman Inquisition is essential for most students, rarely is the beginning of his struggle addressed.
At the beginning of his research, Galileo was one of many heliocentrists who were producing intense research on the movement of the planet. His telescopic observations, begun in 1609, had allowed him to see evidence of mountains on the surface of the moon, lesser moons orbiting Jupiter, the faintness of stars not entirely visible from earth, phases of Venus, and spots on the surface of the sun. Much of these observations were not taken easily by natural philosophers and theologians, due to the challenge they presented to the established mindsets popularized by Aristotelian and Copernican systems. Galileo found Jesuit scholars to be his harshest critics, often refusing to even look at his findings.
In a letter to his good friend and fellow astronomer Johannes Kepler, Galileo was able to voice his frustrations with the views held against him.
You are the first and almost the only person who, even after but a cursory investigation, has, such is your openness of mind and lofty genius, given entire credit to my statements…. We will not trouble ourselves about the abuse of the multitude, for against Jupiter even giants, to say nothing of pigmies, fight in vain. Let Jupiter stand in the heavens, and let the sycophants bark at him as they will….
The harsh, condescending attitude that Galileo takes towards his critics is one that preceded and followed him. There has always been a seeming war of mindsets between the Academy and the rest of society, which in medieval times would sometimes result in “Town and Gown” riots. Nonetheless, between academics themselves, differing specialities can cause a rift of understanding, to say the least.
In Pisa, Florence, Bologna, Venice, and Padua many have seen the planets; but all are silent on the subject and undecided, for the greater number recognize neither Jupiter nor Mars and scarcely the moon as planet. At Venice one man spoke against me, boasting that he knew for certain that my satellites of Jupiter, which he had several times observed, were not planets because they were always to be seen with Jupiter, and either all of some them, now followed and now preceded him. What is to be done? Shall we side with Democritus or Heraclitus?
Soon, the letter turns again to a condescending view of those who reject his work. Notice the manner in which Galileo hooks Kepler in with a “them vs. us” attitude:
I think, my Kepler, we will laugh at the extraordinary stupidity of the multitude. What do you say to the leading philosophers of the faculty here, to whom I have offered a thousand times of my own accord to show my studies, but who with the lazy obstinacy of a serpent who has eaten his fill have never consented to look at planets, nor moon, nor telescope?
Here, the crux of the matter is addressed. Not the actual beliefs held by the Jesuits, but the stubbornness to which they cling:
Verily, just as serpents close their ears, so do these men close their eyes to the light of truth. These are great matters; yet they do not occasion any surprise. People of this sort think that philosophy is a kind of book like the Æneid or the Odyssey, and that the truth is to be sought, not in the universe, not in nature, but (I use their own words) by comparing texts!
Six years later, Galileo would stand before the Roman Inquisition facing excommunication. Famously, he wrote his recantation for his supposed heresy, and then allegedly muttered, “E pur, si muove!” (And yet, it moves!) From that perspective, the dedication to his findings is admirable and praiseworthy. But the stubbornness of humans on both sides of an issue can rip the two further and further from any sort of resolution, which from evolution to climate change, we still see today.
For more on the history of the Galileo trial, including a translation of the letter, visit this UKMC Page.
It is 1962. The world is either falling apart at the seams or being reborn, depending on the outlook. In America, a new age is dawning under the leadership of John F. Kennedy. In Cuba, a recently excommunicated Fidel Castro has aligned himself with the Soviet Union, supporters of his recent overthrow. Across the world, a new generation of young people are entering adulthood, filling universities, colleges, and workplaces . Raised in a different world than their parents, one that was born out of the terrors of World War II, this generation would come to stand for a set of ideals that would carry them into the “New Frontier”, as Kennedy called it. Civil Rights, global engagement, and the war in Vietnam would be defining factors in the development of their identities, though there would be many different stances taken on each of these.
At the University of Michigan, a student organization was rising to its own occasion. The Students for a Democratic Society was born in 1960 out of councils such as the Student League for Industrialized Democracy and that had existed since 1905 on American campuses. Their goal was to branch out from the labor background into one of social activism.
Needing a unifying charge, the SDS held their first convention in June of 1962. Tom Hayden, then the field secretary, had been working on a document that was brought to the convention for revision as a manifesto statement. It begins with a statement of what they had come to stand against in American society:
As we grew, however, our comfort was penetrated by events too troubling to dismiss. First, the permeating and victimizing fact of human degradation, symbolized by the Southern struggle against racial bigotry, compelled most of us from silence to activism. Second, the enclosing fact of the Cold War, symbolized by the presence of the Bomb, brought awareness that we ourselves, and our friends, and millions of abstract “others” we knew more directly because of our common peril, might die at any time. We might deliberately ignore, or avoid, or fail to feel all other human problems, but not these two, for these were too immediate and crushing in their impact, too challenging in the demand that we as individuals take the responsibility for encounter and resolution.
Following this, they define and declare their values, even in an imperfect state:
In suggesting social goals and values, therefore, we are aware of entering a sphere of some disrepute. Perhaps matured by the past, we have no sure formulas, no closed theories — but that does not mean values are beyond discussion and tentative determination. A first task of any social movement is to convenience people that the search for orienting theories and the creation of human values is complex but worthwhile. We are aware that to avoid platitudes we must analyze the concrete conditions of social order. But to direct such an analysis we must use the guideposts of basic principles. Our own social values involve conceptions of human beings, human relationships, and social systems.
Next, the role of the student in this New America is discussed and confronted:
If student movements for change are rarities still on the campus scene, what is commonplace there? The real campus, the familiar campus, is a place of private people, engaged in their notorious “inner emigration.” It is a place of commitment to business-as-usual, getting ahead, playing it cool. It is a place of mass affirmation of the Twist, but mass reluctance toward the controversial public stance. Rules are accepted as “inevitable”, bureaucracy as “just circumstances”, irrelevance as “scholarship”, selflessness as “martyrdom”, politics as “just another way to make people, and an unprofitable one, too.”
In contrast to this identity, there are a series of topics that are breached and confronted: the economy, deterrence, American discrimination, global policy, and the role of the Welfare State in the new society. Plans are given to attack these issues:
To turn these possibilities into realities will involve national efforts at university reform by an alliance of students and faculty. They must wrest control of the educational process from the administrative bureaucracy. They must make fraternal and functional contact with allies in labor, civil rights, and other liberal forces outside the campus. They must import major public issues into the curriculum — research and teaching on problems of war and peace is an outstanding example. They must make debate and controversy, not dull pedantic cant, the common style for educational life. They must consciously build a base for their assault upon the loci of power.
The idealistic beginnings would breed incredibly controversial results. The SDS would come to be known as terrorists, freedom fighters, and anything and everything in between through the coming years. The Weather Underground, an offshoot of the SDS, would become notorious nationwide for their series of bombings. SDS campus lockouts would hinder educational systems throughout the 60′s. Some have drawn links from the SDS to the creation of the Yippie movement in the late 60′s, culminating in the Chicago Seven trials. In the 1970′s, their reputation for trouble too high, the SDS disbanded.
Still, amidst all the chaos, there are some who find the words of the Port Huron Statement to be inspiring and influential. Good or bad, the issues addressed would be the identity of student life in the 1960′s, and the Statement showed that there was a sincere movement amongst the young adults of America to take charge of the nation they had inherited. Here was organization on the rise, in contrast to the social structure of the first half of the century.
And if this is impressive, just imagine what the uncompromised first draft looked like!
To read the Port Huron Statement in it’s entirety, please visit HNet Online.
To see the current dealings of Port Huron Statement author Tom Hayden, visit his website.
The years have not been kind to Christopher Columbus. On one hand, he is still seen as an icon of America – schoolchildren still memorize the rhyme “In Fourteen-Hundred Ninety-Two Columbus sailed the ocean blue”, and the second Monday in October is set aside as a memorial to his spirit of discovery and accomplishment. On the other hand, the way that he ravaged the land upon his arrival is a black mark upon his reputation, and some might say American history.
However, his dedication to the spirit of discovery is hard to deny. While rather uneducated by conventional standards, Columbus was a ravenous reader, finding works of philosophy, astronomy, geology and prophecy particularly fascinating. In his early years, he took on several apprenticeships which eventually took him to sea. He was overcome with a desire to explore, owning a copy of The Travels of Marco Polo which he wrote in frequently.
His expedition to “Asia” is well known to most. After a long battle to find funding, he received a commission from the King and Queen of Spain as well as the High Bishops. He outfitted three ships, hired a massive crew, and began writing a journal that was directed as a letter to his benefactors.
Your highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes who love the holy Christian Faith, and the propagation of it, and who are enemies to the sect of Mahoma and to all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Cristóbal Colon, to the said parts of India to see the said Princes, and the cities and lands, and their disposition, with a view that they might be converted to our holy faith; and ordered that I should not go by land to the eastward, as had been customary, but that I should go by way of the west, whither up to this day, we do not know for certain that anyone has gone.
Eventually, the crews and ships were ready, and on Friday, August 3, 1492, Columbus and his ships set for at 8 o’clock.
… and proceeded with a strong sea breeze until sunset, towards the south, for 60 miles, equal to 15 leagues, afterwards SW and WSW, which was the course for the Canaries.
There were some days that were recorded as more eventful than others, and some that simply passed as distance.
Saturday, 29th of September
They saw a bird called Rabiforcado, which makes the boobies vomit what they have swallowed, and eats it, maintaining on nothing else….
Wednesday, 12th of September
That day, steering their course, they made 33 leagues during the day and night, counting less.
On the 12th of October, Columbus and his crews spotted land off of what is now San Salvador, and went out to greet the natives. Columbus took meticulous details, on this island and others, of the appearance of these “indians”:
All I saw were youths, none more than thirty years of age… They were very well made, with very handsome bodies, and very good countenances. Their hair is short and coarse, almost like the hairs of a horse’s tail. They wear the hairs brought down to the eyebrows, except a few locks behind, which they wear back and never cut. They paint themselves black, and they are the color of the Canarians, neither white nor black…
As his voyages continued, he kept going further into Cuba, assessing the situation for his benefactors:
Sunday, 4th of November
He also understood that far away, there were men with one eye, and others with dog’s noses, who were cannibals…
The country is very fertile. The people have plenty of mames which are like carrots and have the flavor of chestnuts… there are a thousand other kinds of fruit, which it is impossible for me to write about, and all must be profitable.
There is no denying that Columbus ravaged the lands he visited, even in his later voyages. Indeed, one might today consider him something of a conspiracy nut,with his hatred for Jews, apocalyptic tendencies, and eagerness to exploit the areas he visited. On the 5th of March. he returned to Portugal and began his final voyage home. Much of his crew was lost, and he was not the same man who left that past August. But no one can deny that he had accomplished something remarkable: voyaging to what many believed was the end of the world, and coming back alive.
While the myth that his most used quote was “today, we sailed on” is not exactly accurate, here is a passage that might be equally as inspiring:
Wednesday, 26th of September
Day and night, they made 31 leagues, counting 24 for the people. The sea was like a river, the air beautiful and mild.
The original copy of Columbus’ journal has been lost. Translations for this piece were taken from The Northmen: Columbus and Cabot by Julius Olsen.
Read more about the first voyage at Eyewitness to History
The field of eulogy and obituary research can be particularly engaging for professional and amateur historians alike. The traditional summation of a life into a few sets of words can not only describe what the subject accomplished during their life, but how they were viewed by those closest to them. What is included, what is omitted, and what is created can change the perception of a figure for generations to come. In the case of public figure, it also gives historians a hint as to how they ruled.
Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus remains, nearly 2,000 years after his death, one of the most fascinating figures in all of humanity. Rising to power following the assassination of Julius Caesar, he turned the conquests of his predecessor into the period known as the Pax Romana. In his declining years, as he was nearing his death, he had several revisions made of his Res Gestae (Great Deeds) and included them in his will to be given to the Senate. Once he passed on, inscriptions were to set in bronze pillars at the front of his mausoleum. Eventually, these were inscribed on Augustus’ temples throughout the empire.
The account is divided up into four sections, each of them describing a different period of his life and rule. It begins:
At the age of nineteen, on my own initiative and at my own expense, I raised an army by means of which I restored liberty to the republic, which had been oppressed by the tyranny of a faction.
Much of the document maintains his image as the Champion of the Republic, although it does have a reverent tone for his predecessor:
Those who slew my father I drive into exile, punishing their deed by due process of law, and afterwards when they waged war upon the republic I twice defeated them in battle.
The second section deals almost entirely with the land, money, and public works that Augustus bestowed on his people and his army. Once again, there is a prevailing air of “greatest of equals” throughout the entirety of the document, in an effort to show that the Republic was his greatest charge:
Four times I aided the public treasury with my own money, paying out in this manner to those in charge of the treasury one hundred and seventy million sesterces. And in the consulship of Marcus Lepidus and Lucius Arruntius I contributed one hundred and seventy million sesterces out of my own patrimony to the military treasury, which was established on my advice that from it gratuities might be paid to soldiers who had seen twenty or more years of service.
The third section accounts for his military conquests, mostly dealing with exapnsion of the empire into Asia, Africa, and the extents of Europe. Though there is some mention of friendliness, much of the account comes from a perspective of domination:
Egypt I added to the empire of the Roman people. In the case of Greater Armenia, though I might have made it a province after the assassination of its King Artaxes, I preferred, following the precedent of our fathers, to hand that kingdom over to Tigranes, the son of King Artavasdes, and grandson of King Tigranes, through Tiberius Nero who was then my stepson. And later, when the same people revolted and rebelled, and was subdued by my son Gaius
The final section is the briefest, summing up his political statement which includes the following:
After that time I took precedence of all in rank, but of power I possessed no more than those who were my colleagues in any magistracy.
Augustus has certainly survived the ages because of his reign. Yet, the public works and temples that he established were, for ages, the best record that history had of his rule over Rome. In a situation of absolute power, in an age when a ruler is a god, they can pretty much write their own history, but what of the people who lived during this age? Much was lost, certainly, in the fires of Alexandria, but some records still remain that call to mind the power and extent of his rule. Most well-known among them, perhaps:
In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world…
To read the original Latin of the Res Gestae, along with Greek and English translations, please visit LacusCurtius.
To find out more about the Temple in Ankara (where the most complete copy of the Res Gestae exists,) visit this GIS Development site