This Day in History

January 30, 1838
:  
Death of the Chieftain Osceola 

What follows tells part of the career of the great Seminole chieftain, Osceola, and his devastating war on the United States in the larger context of the story of the Trail of Tears. The text comes from our high school textbook, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North AmericaFor ordering information on Lands of Hope and Promise and our other books, please click here.

White settlers had long been encroaching on Cherokee lands. In 1828, gold was discovered in Cherokee country, and white encroachments on tribal lands increased until, by 1830, about 3,000 white settlers were occupying Cherokee lands. The legislature of Georgia for its part ignored a 1791 federal treaty that had acknowledged the Cherokee as an independent nation; instead, the state encouraged the dispossession of the Cherokee. 

1830 Map Showing Cherokee Nation
1830 Map of Cherokee Nation within Georgia
In 1832, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Marshall ruled that Georgia had no authority over the Cherokee, because they constituted a sovereign nation; but the state legislature denounced the court and ignored the ruling. In this case, President Jackson did not back federal authority with threats of force, or anything else; he took Georgia’s side. “John Marshall has made his decision,” Old Hickory said. “Now let him enforce it.”

John Ross,
a Cherokee chieftain
When Georgia held a lottery to dispose of Cherokee lands to whites, a delegation under Chief John Ross went to Washington in 1835 to plead the Indians’ case. Ross, whose Indian name was Coowes Coowe, was the son of a Scottish Loyalist and a mother who was one-fourth Cherokee. The Cherokee returned with a treaty of removal that they submitted to a tribal council that met at Red Clay, Tennessee. Ross and others opposed the treaty, and the entire council rejected it. But Ross was not able to return to Washington; Georgia officials had him imprisoned, and to hide this breach of justice, suppressed the publication of the Cherokee Phoenix.
  
A period of terror followed. Whites, including justices of the peace, crossed into Cherokee territory; they destroyed property, assaulted and flogged Cherokee men and women with cowhide, hickory sticks, and clubs. But though the Cherokee suffered abuse and murder, the majority under John Ross held fast — they would not leave their lands. Finally, in order to avoid intervening in state affairs and so risk another secession movement — and to save the Cherokee from extermination — the federal government decided to break its treaty with the Cherokee and force them to move west.
  
Blockhouse at Fort Marr, near Benton, 
Tennessee.  A remnant of one of the forts 
where the government interned the 
Cherokee following their expulsion 
from their lands.
In May 1838, General Winfield Scott, commanding U.S. forces, began the forced ex-patriation of the Cherokee to Indian Territory. According to an eyewitness, soldiers “were sent to search out with rifle and bayonet every small cabin hidden away in the coves or by the sides of mountain streams.” Indian men “were seized in their fields or going along the road, women were taken from their [spinning] wheels and children from their play.” Roughly 15,000 Cherokee were forced to follow their own “trail of tears”; and a sorrowful trail it was. By the time the Cherokee reached Indian Territory, about 4,000 of them had died. But the loss of their ancestral lands was as bitter as death to them. “My poor and unhappy countrymen,” lamented one Cherokee, “[were] driven by brutal power from all they loved and cherished in the land of their fathers to gratify the cravings of avarice.”

Farther south, in Florida, the Seminole had also signed a treaty of removal with the U.S. government. The treaty however presented a major stumbling block to the Seminole — it stipulated that all blacks living among them would be sold into slavery. Many escaped slaves had found refuge among the Seminole and had married Indian women, and their chief, Osceola, refused to abide by the treaty. Jackson, not one to back down, especially to “savages,” told the Seminole that they must go willingly, or in chains.
  
Seminole chieftain, Sam Jones
The Seminole would not go willingly or in chains. The war that followed was bloody. Poorly armed, the Indians fought guerrilla-style in the swamps and thick forests against a vastly superior American force. Still, Osceola was able to destroy Fort King, killing its commander, Wiley Thompson, who had taken Osceola’s half-black wife prisoner. Then began raids on plantations, so effective that the civilian population fled to the cities and area forts. In the spring of 1837, U.S. general Thomas Jessup met the Seminole at a peace conference at Fort Dade. Assured that they and their black tribesmen could leave Florida peacefully, the tribe signed a treaty of removal. But when white slave owners appeared at the fort, the Seminole, smelling treachery, repudiated the peace and again took to the warpath.
  
Finally, the army adopted a more devious measure. In the fall of 1837, General Jessup met with Osceola under a flag of truce. While Jessup spoke with the chief, his men quietly surrounded the Seminole camp. Osceola and his men were taken prisoner and sent to Fort Moultrie in South Carolina.  

The capture of Osceola, however did not end the Seminole resistance. The war would last another five years until the United States, in desperation, simply gave up the struggle. The war had cost the United States government $20 million and the lives of 1,500 soldiers, not to mention untold num-bers of civilian dead. Some of the Seminole finally did remove to Indian Territory, though a large number remained in Florida, dwelling in the depths of the Everglades swamps. No peace treaty had been signed, so these Seminole remained officially at war with the United States well into the 20th century.

Map of Main Indian Removal Routes from James W. Clay, Paul D. Escott,
Land of the South  (Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor House, 1989).
Osceola, himself, died only a few months after arriving at Fort Moultrie. He had been treated with every respect, been allowed to use the officers’ quarters, and had free rein of the fort. He had become something of a celebrity, sitting to have his portrait painted by the famous artist George Catlin and mixing with the finest of Charleston society. Yet, despite all the dinners, the plays, and the attention received from prominent whites, Osceola remained a stranger, a tragic figure. One woman named Mary Boykin, who had seen Osceola at the theatre in early January 1838, painted with her pen this portrait of the chieftain:
  
His was the saddest face I ever saw. Under that red skin it seems there was a heart to be broken … For the poor savage — there is no friend. It seemed to me that my country had not dealt magnanimously with these aborigines of the soil. And I found the dignified Osceola a sad spectacle.

Osceola, by George Catlin


In dioceses around the country National Catholic Schools Week is currently being observed with the 2014 theme of Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service. The observance of Catholic Schools Week began in 1974 and this year marks its 40th anniversary.  According to the USCCB, “about 2.1 million students are currently educated in more than 6,600 Catholic schools in cities, suburbs, small towns and rural communities around the country… An estimated 99 percent of students graduate from high school and 85 percent of Catholic school graduates attend college.” 

According to Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha Nebraska, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Education:
The heart of the apostolate of Catholic education is the mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Catholic schools provide a rich environment of faith and learning where students experience how much God loves them in Christ. They are free to express their own love for God in prayer and the celebration of the sacraments and to express love of neighbor in a community where each is respected as a gift from God. Our students hear Jesus inviting them to be his followers and friends, and they learn how to respond to him with generosity and faith.
To observe Catholic Schools Week we have a special offer:

All Catholic school orders receive free shipping and teacher materials (Workbook CD, Teacher Manual and teachers eBook of the textbook) through February 7th, 2014.

(Note – order must be for a classroom/homeschool co-op set of books, 7 textbooks books or more of the same title.)

Email order to:  mvh@CatholicTextbookProject.com


This Day in History

January 21, 1793
:
Louis XVI Guillotined 
 
Below is the continuation of last week’s post, “Louis XVI Condemned.” It comes from our text, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern WorldFor ordering information on Light to the Nations II and our other books, please click here.

Louis XVI in the Tower of the Temple
It was Malesherbes who first reported the Convention’s decision to the king. Louis received the news with great calm. Only Malesherbes’ distress seemed to affect him. He sought to comfort the old man, who had once served him as a minister of state; but, said the king, “For myself, death does not frighten me; I have the greatest confidence in the mercy of God.”
  
Later that Sunday, January 20, an official delegation of the Convention — led by the minister of justice, Dominique Joseph Garat — formally informed the king that he was to die. They, too, were impressed by the king’s demeanor as he received the news; he seemed calm and at peace with his fate. Quel homme! Quelle résignation! Quel courage! (“What a man! What resignation! What courage!”) said Minister Garat of the king.
  
Imprisonment and suffering had seemed to transform Louis XVI. The dull, weakwilled, and imprudent man had now truly become a king. He commanded himself. Moreover, he gave no thought to himself but to the comfort of his loved ones who shared his durance. Over the weeks and months of their imprisonment, the royal family had suffered insult and many small cruelties from their guards. The king was never allowed to speak to anyone, not even to his wife, without the presence of a guard. When the royal family walked in the gardens of the Temple fortress, they endured the mockery of their captors. Yet Louis’s response was to forgive. “I pardon very willingly those who have been my guards for the ill treatment and cruelty which they have thought fit to use towards me,” he wrote in his will on Christmas Day.

The Abbé Henry Edgeworth
For weeks, since the beginning of his trial, the king had been forbidden to see his family — the queen, Marie Antoinette; his son, the Dauphin Louis-Charles; his daughter; and Madame Elizabeth, his sister. Now, on the day before his execution, Louis with firm hand wrote a note to his captors, asking that he be able to speak with his family, in private, for the last time. But this was not his only request. He asked to be granted three days more of life “to permit me to appear before the presence of God.” To aid him in this task, the king requested the presence of his confessor, the Abbé Henry Edgeworth.
 
The Convention deputies would not postpone the execution, but they did allow Louis his other requests. About 8 p.m. on that cold Sunday in January 1793, the heavy oaken door of the king’s cell opened to admit the royal family. Marie Antoinette, Madame Elizabeth, and the children threw themselves into the king’s arms; their cries were so piercing that they could be heard in the courtyard outside the tower. Gathering his family about him, the king spoke with them for two hours. Taking his son (a mere boy, but the heir to the throne) between his knees, Louis bade him never to take revenge for what he was about to suffer. At about a quarter after 10 p.m., the interview ended. The king led the family to the door. So expressive was his adieu that the queen fell fainting at his feet. She was lifted, he embraced her again, and repeating, “Adieu! Adieu!” he reentered his chamber.

Marie Antoinette in 1793
The king had promised his wife that he would visit her once more the following morning, Monday, January 21. But this was not to be. He arose before dawn, prayed, and prepared to hear Mass. A chest of drawers was arranged as an altar in the middle of the room, and there the Abbé Edgeworth said Mass. After Mass, Louis asked that a seal be given to his son and a ring — his wedding ring — to his wife. But He did not wish to see his family again, for he wanted “to spare them the pain of so cruel a separation.”

After 9 a.m., the king and Edgeworth entered a roomy carriage. They passed from the courtyard of the Temple and then rolled down broad boulevards, lined on both sides by ranks of soldiers and militia. Before the carriage, soldiers marched; most of them were drummers who kept up an incessant, deafening noise. Inside the carriage, the king and Edgeworth read from the Psalms. At last, after turning into the Rue Royale, they felt the carriage come to a stop. Turning to Edgeworth, Louis said in a low voice, “Unless I am mistaken, we are there.”
 
They were there, the place of execution. In a large plaza before the palace of the Tuileries, the Place de la Révolution, a scaffold of wood had been erected. Rising from it vertically were two posts connected by a horizontal crossbeam, from which hung a large, keenly sharpened blade — a guillotine. The king was to mount this scaffold and lie facedown on a wooden platform; his neck would be placed under the blade that, descending, would quickly — and, it was thought, painlessly — sever it.

The execution of Louis XVI
Stepping down from his carriage, the king could see the soldiers placed around the scaffold and, beyond them, a multitude. As he prepared to mount the scaffold, three executioners approached Louis to take off his coat and collar. But the king, pushing them aside, undressed himself. One executioner holding a cord then prepared to bind the king’s hands. The king withdrew his hands.

What do you want?” he cried.
 
To bind you,” said the other.
 
With regal pride Louis replied, “Bind me? Never will I consent to that. Do as you have been ordered, but think not that you will bind me.”
 
The executioners now cried out for help, but Edgeworth intervened. With tears he said to the king, “Sire, in this new outrage I see only a final resemblance between Your Majesty and the Savior who is to reward you.” In sorrow, then, the king turned to his executioners. “Do what you wish; I will drain the cup to the dregs,” he said, and was bound.
 
As the king mounted the steep steps, supported by Edgeworth, he seemed to falter. The priest half glanced at the king, fearing Louis’s courage was weakening. But then, to the priest’s astonishment, upon reaching the platform, the king left him and, crossing the scaffold, gave a stern glance to fifteen or so drummers, and all fell silent. In a loud voice the king then said, “I die innocent of all the crimes imputed to me. I pardon the authors of my death, and pray God that the blood you are about to shed will never fall on France.” It appeared the king would say more, but a man on horseback, sword drawn, rode up, ordering the soldiers to commence the drum roll. The king’s words were drowned out. The executioners seized him, bound him to the wooden platform; and, at the command, the blade of the guillotine fell.The youngest of the executioners took hold of the king’s severed head. Holding it aloft, he walked around the platform, displaying it to the crowd. At first there was silence. Then a few cries of Vive la République! (“Long live the Republic!”) were heard. The cries increased as more voices joined in the praise of the Republic; finally the entire crowd, holding hats aloft in the air, was roaring the words, Vive la République! Vive la République! If they had felt even for a moment the old fear and awe (the respect paid to kings), they felt it no longer. People rushed the scaffold. They could not be held off — indeed, the executioners seemed to welcome them (it is said they sold portions of the king’s clothes and hair). The people pushed against the scaffold; they strained their hands to dip handkerchiefs and the points of pikes in the blood — the blood of the man whom all France had once acclaimed as His Most Christian Majesty, the anointed of God.

The King’s Complaint, Robespierre’s Response
 
The following is a medley of two songs from the period around 1793. The one song is the “Complaint of Louis XVI of France,” in which is interwoven and parody of the song.

 
  Complainte de Louis XVI aux
Français & Parodie de la complainte


This Day in History

January 17, 1793
:  
Louis XVI Condemned 

The following account comes from our text, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern WorldFor ordering information on Light to the Nations II and our other books, please click here.

The Jacobins in the Convention feared Louis XVI. As long as the king was alive, he could be the focal point around which a counterrevolution could form. This threat had to be gotten rid of, and the revolutionaries of the Mountain were determined to get rid of it.

A French revolutionary infantry flag.
The words on the flag read
(from upper left corner, clockwise):
King, Nation, Law, Liberty
Accusations against the king were easy to find. Chiefly, he was charged with conspiring with foreign enemies against the republic. Agents of the Convention examined the king’s papers in the palace of the Tuileries and discovered evidence that he had been corresponding with the Prussians and the Austrians. On November 3, 1792, the Jacobins presented their allegations of the king’s “treason” to the Convention deputies. The Mountain pushed for a trial, but the Girondins resisted them. Did the Convention have the legal authority to try a man who had formerly been head of state, asked the Girondin deputies? But such bland, legal arguments could not triumph over the desire for revenge. Popular anger, stirred up by the Jacobins, won the day. The trial of Louis XVI was set for early December 1792.

On December 10, a committee presented its indictment of the king before the Convention. The next day, Louis himself and his three lawyers appeared before the Convention. For the next two weeks, the deputies debated; Girondin members sought to save the king, and the Jacobins pushed for his condemnation.

Louis XVI
On Christmas Day, Louis made his will, for he knew what the Convention would decide. The next day he appeared before the deputies, and his lawyers made one last defense. On January 4, 1793, the Girondins made a final appeal to save the king. They said the people of France themselves, not the deputies, should decide whether the king was guilty of treason. The Convention voted this motion down, and on January 15 declared its decision. Many of the deputies were absent, but those who were present voted unanimously that Louis XVI “had been guilty of conspiracy against public liberty” and of “attempting the general safety of the State.”

Though they had resisted the condemnation of the king, the Girondins could do nothing to stop it. The Jacobins represented Paris, and many in Paris thirsted for Louis’s blood. People in the streets had been clamoring for the king’s condemnation. Throughout the trial, angry mobs – many of them armed – had filled the galleries of the assembly hall. Confusion filled the city as those who pitied the king battled with those who wanted only his death.

Robespierre
The confusion and violence continued when the deputies met on the evening of January 16 to decide on the king’s punishment. Over 700 deputies were present. Each deputy was to stand before the entire Convention and declare his vote and, if he wished, explain the reasons for his decision. Among the first was Maximilien Robespierre. Though he had resigned his judgeship in Arras because he had opposed the death penalty, he now demanded death. “I remain compassionate for the oppressed,” he told the deputies. But, “I know nothing of that humanity which is forever sacrificing whole peoples and protecting tyrants . . . I vote for death.”

Danton had just arrived from Belgium. He had returned to Paris to find his beloved wife in danger of death, and had sat  with her through the night. Now he stood before the Convention, his body exhausted, his voice harsh, and his manner cruel. “I am no politician,” he declared in strident tones. “I vote for death.” Other votes followed, some for banishing the king, others for imprisonment, but most for his execution. For 24 hours the voting continued without respite. Finally, near midnight of January 17, 1793, the votes were tallied. The Girondin leader Vergniaud stood up to read the sentence. “It is with profound sadness,” he said, “that I declare to you the penalty incurred by Louis Capet to be, by the vote of the majority of this assembly, that of death.”

Danton addressing
the National Convention
For the next two days, the king’s lawyer, Lamoignon de Malesherbes, pleaded that the king could not be condemned except by two-thirds of the judges or by the people as a whole. A simple majority in the Convention was not sufficient to condemn a head of state to death, he said. Robespierre rejected the argument, saying that submitting the matter to the people would lead to civil war. But could only a simple majority decide the fate of the king? Danton thought it could and rose up to speak. “You decided the Republic by a mere majority, you changed the whole history of the nation by a mere majority,” he told the deputies, “and now you think the life of one man too great for a mere majority; you say such a vote could not be decisive enough to make blood flow. When I was on the frontier the blood flowed decisively enough.”

On Sunday, January 20, the question of the king’s fate was decided once and for all. The Convention declared that Louis XVI was to suffer death immediately, on the following day.

Next Week: the execution of Louis XVI




This Day in History

Now, For Something Somewhat Different

File:1905-Parsifal.jpg
libretto from Parsifal
This January 13, 131 years ago, the German composer, Richard Wagner, completed his last music drama, Parsifal. The five-hour work is loosely based on  an epic poem by medieval poet, Wolfram von 
Richard Wagner
Eschenbach. It tells the story of the Holy Grail and the search of the “Pure Fool” – Parsifal — for it. The story of Parsifal/Perceval has its origin as one of the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Wolfram von Eschenbach was one of the greatest of the German minnesingers of the 13th century. Similar to the French troubadours or Celtic bards, minnesingers wrote and performed lyric poetry at court. Minnesingers’ main compositions were love (minne) songs, but Wolfram’s long narrative Parsifal is considered his masterpiece and one of the great works of literature of the High Middle Ages.

Here is a modern example of the minnesinger, performing a composition of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s, Sigune’s Lamentation.


Below is a selection from Wagner’s ParsifalIt features the great German Heldentenor, Siegfried Jerusalem, with orchestral music performed by the orchestra of the Bayreuther Festspiel, conducted by Horst Stein. You may listen to the entire work (with English subtitles) on You Tube — if you have time! If you don’t, please enjoy the beautiful overture below. (You will have to listen to the first two clips to hear the whole overture.)