A Tudor Story – Part Two

Dear Readers,

Three years ago, I began a series of posts about the Tudor dynasty of England – one of my favorite subjects of historical study. However, due to tragic circumstances (namely, high school), I never actually got around to writing more than one post.

Now that I have so much free time, I have decided to continue the series. Without further ado, I present to you… 


It is a question many people, both historians and non-historians, have asked throughout the years: which of his six wives did Henry love the most?

The answer, frankly, is probably something along the lines of “None of them, because he was a hedonistic, egotistical hippopotamus* who didn’t actually care much about anything” – but that isn’t particularly pleasing, isn’t it?

So instead, a lot of people argue that it’s either Wife #1, Catherine of Aragon… or Wife #2, Anne Boleyn. Since my last post was rather terse, I’m going to take some time to provide a backstory for each woman.


The Infanta Catalina of Aragon was, from the moment of her birth, destined for greatness. Her mother, Isabella of Castile, had eloped with Ferdinand of Aragon, thus joining their two kingdoms. They then proceeded to:

a) Drive the Moors, or Muslims, out of Spain


b) Have a whole bunch of kids

One of those children was Catalina of Aragon, born in 1485 (incidentally, the same year in which the House of Lancaster, led by Henry Tudor, vanquished the House of York, led by the then-monarch Richard III). As a young woman, she was betrothed to Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales – son of Henry VII – and sent across the sea to meet her new husband. In the months after their marriage, Catalina – renamed the anglicized “Catherine” – reportedly sat in on Arthur’s meetings, and helped her husband with his affairs of state (Henry VII, who was frankly quite misogynistic, was not very pleased about this).

All in all, it seemed like a fairly decent royal marriage. The Princess was a foreigner, yes; but she was quite pretty, and smart to boot. Everything was going swimmingly-

Until Arthur, who had never been the healthiest of teenagers, kicked the bucket, and Catherine was suddenly bereft of everything. Literally bereft – King Henry wouldn’t pay her an allowance, and she couldn’t work (for obvious reasons), so all she really had left was the dowry her father had given her for Henry. Resultantly, she wore old, tattered clothes while eating stale, meager food… off of valuable solid-gold plates – which she couldn’t sell unless she wanted a furious former father-in-law breathing down her neck.

HOWEVER, her life was about to undergo another drastic change. King Henry VII was getting on in years, and his health was consequently taking a bit of a nosedive – something which his current heir, Arthur’s younger brother Henry, knew all too well. Prince Henry also knew full well about his brother’s widow’s unpleasant situation – and decided that, despite her being seven years older than him, he was going to wed her, thus pulling her out of her misery and restoring her to her intended position.

And when Henry VII hopped the twig** in the year 1509, that is exactly what the new King Henry VIII did. The new English royal couple was a breathtaking sight: he was a tall, fiery-haired seventeen-year-old with a “face like an angel”, and she was a petite, curvaceous twenty-three-year-old with a cloud of strawberry blonde hair and big blue eyes. Where Henry VII had been dour and miserly, Henry VIII was (seemingly) generous and fun-loving. He participated in jousts, held frequent banquets, and was hopelessly in love with his pretty Spanish wife.

 A few months after the marriage, Catherine fell pregnant***. However, this pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. However, she did manage to carry her next pregnancy to term, resulting in the birth of a son – Prince Henry of Wales. Henry VIII was overjoyed, for he had been gifted with his greatest dream, a son to carry on the Tudor name.

Less than two months later, that gift was rudely snatched away from him when Prince Henry, a sickly baby, cashed in his chips. Thus began a long chain of stillbirths and miscarriages. Only one healthy infant – the Princess Mary – was born, in 1516.

Faced with this barrage of failed pregnancies, King Henry’s love for his wife began to crumble like a piece of termite-infested wood****. Where he had once ignored the six-year age difference between himself and his wife, he now looked upon it as the root of all his problems: his wife was simply too old to give birth to the sons he desired.

And so he began to ponder the idea of an annulment, which would erase his marriage to Catherine and allow him to seek a younger, more fertile bride. Initially, his closest advisor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, approved of this plan, and set about researching good marital prospects for the still-young King.

But in 1526, the Cardinal’s dream – of King Henry marrying a nice Catholic princess – turned up its toes – because of a twenty-five-year-old lady-in-waiting named Anne Boleyn.

Thus concludes Part II of A Tudor Story! (I hope that was a suitable enough cliffhanger…)

*No offense intended; I’m sure hippopotamuses are lovely creatures. Highly aggressive and capable of lethal violence, yes – but lovely nonetheless.

**Challenge: How many folksy euphemisms for “died” are present in this post?

***This site is an awesome resource on all things Tudor, and it’s great for brushing up my memory on Catherine’s list of pregnancies: http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-pregnancies-of-anne-boleyn-and-catherine-of-aragon/ 

****This would not be a History Hacker post without at least one ludicrous simile.

The Keystone XL Pipeline: Congress, PLEASE Vote “No”!

Dear Readers,

I haven’t written too much about politics in the past – but with the Keystone XL vote looming up on Friday, I had to dig up one of my old pieces about it and post it. This issue is just way too important to ignore.

For those of you who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, here’s a quick recap: the Keystone Pipeline runs from Alberta, Canada, to Illinois, Texas and Oklahoma. It already exists. What DOESN’T currently exist is Phase IV of it, the Keystone XL Pipeline extension, which would run through a good deal of the Midwest – including the Sandhills region of Nebraska, a prairie ecosystem and American National Natural Landmark. I am strongly opposed to it, due to the severely negative impact it could have on the environment, as well as its failure to create many permanent jobs.

Here goes:

The green energy sector is not simply important. It is our future, and our children’s future. As I have mentioned in previous posts, oil is running out at an alarming rate, and coal – while plentiful – poses far too many dangers to the environment to be used in large quantities. The Ivanpah Solar Plant in California marks the beginning of a new, sustainable era… and I believe that we must – pardon the pun – focus our energies on cultivating a strong green energy sector.

In regards to the Keystone Pipeline project’s job creation capabilities: we must ask ourselves how realistic our current expectations are. The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline was expected to create an enormous number of permanent jobs for Alaskans; however, “The Wall Street Journal concluded in September 1979 that the “capital intensive” oil industry had failed to create a significant number of permanent jobs for Alaska.  After the pipeline was completed, unemployment grew, reaching 15% by June 1977.  By September 1979 it had dropped to 11%, but private industry failed to expand substantially.  40% of Alaska’s workforce remained on the public payroll.” So when that Nebraska judge struck down the Keystone Pipeline, it was for the best. 

You know, the development of green energy can create jobs, too. In fact, it may even create more jobs – for, in order to create an efficient green energy industry, we need entrepreneurs: confident, intelligent thinkers and doers. Let us give our future generations a chance to excel; a chance to breathe cleaner air and live healthier lives.


The History Hacker

The Civil War – A Lecture (Part Three)

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve had time to continue this series. Some of you may be under the impression that I have given it up – but trust me, I have not. I would never give up a chance to write about the Civil War. So, without further ado, here it is!


153 years after the crack of cannons at Fort Sumter signaled the start of America’s bloodiest conflict, Abraham Lincoln’s public image has undergone a drastic change. In the eyes of many Americans, he was not only a President, but also a Jedi, a Time Lord, and Zeus all rolled into one*. In our country’s popular opinion, the deep-voiced and stately Lincoln singlehandedly stormed the Confederacy, spreading freedom and equality by reciting the Gettysburg Address at his enemies, and/or whapping them in the cranium with a large flagpole.

Actually, this is fairly inaccurate, and not just because Lincoln never whapped anyone’s cranium with anything (‘though a certain politician did – more on that later). Contemporaries describe our sixteenth president as very tall and somewhat ugly, with a squeaky voice and distinct Kentucky twang. (He also shared his birthday – February 12, 1809 – with Charles Darwin. Coincidence? WE THINK NOT!**) And – most importantly – he exactly didn’t start out as an abolitionist. (Okay, well, technically, no one started out as an abolitionist, because – generally speaking – newborn infants do not tend to embrace any particular political ideologies***.) But even as a budding lawyer and Congressman, he didn’t voice outright support of abolitionism****. Instead, he was a free-soiler: someone who believed that slavery should stay contained in the South, and not spread to any new territories America might acquire. He believed that African-Americans had the right to live their own lives – but, for the most part, he also believed that they were naturally inferior to whites, and didn’t seem to be in a hurry to end slavery anytime soon. During the famed Lincoln-Douglas debates, he voiced the opinion that “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races….”*****

Given all this, the South shouldn’t have been too worried. However, Lincoln’s moderately anti-slavery viewpoint set alarm bells ringing in the state of South Carolina. Actually, for that matter, many things set alarm bells ringing in South Carolina, prompting bizarre and often drastic overreactions. In 1859, for example New York Senator Charles Sumner****** gave a rather incendiary anti-slavery speech, insulting a senior senator from South Carolina in the process. Senator Preston Brooks of South Carolina, who happened to be related to Sumner’s target, took offense – so, after the session had adjourned, Senator Brooks calmly confronted Senator Sumner and explained his grievances in detail.

HAHAHAHA no. That is far too sane a route for any politician, especially a nineteenth-century one, to take. Instead, Senator Brooks decided to brain Senator Sumner with his cane in front of a large group of aghast Congressmen (following this scene, all of them immediately quit and joined the circus instead, voicing the opinion that “at least it’s more logical than bloody Congress”).

Unsurprisingly, this event proved to be extremely polarizing – even more so than the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Northerners immediately accused Senator Brooks of being unnecessarily violent and foul-tempered – while many Southerners sprang to his defense, claiming that Sumner deserved it all, dammit, because no one badmouths a Southerner’s relatives without getting concussed!

The end result: the Brooks-Sumner debacle, combined with a Northern, Republican, free-soiler presidential candidate, had prompted South Carolina to wake up and smell the foul, conspiracy-laden coffee. The government was out to get them – or, more accurately, out to get their slaves. There was only one thing left to do: threaten secession.

Now, this was pretty old territory for South Carolina: back in 1828, when tariffs were too high for their taste, South Carolinians banded together and claimed that if the hated taxes weren’t lowered, they would secede from the country. At that point, they ended up backing away from their claim, and the Union was saved.

This time, however, they would not be so lenient.

Months passed, and the presidential campaign continued. Due to a feud over slavery, the once-mighty Democratic party had split into Northern and Southern sections, with each running a separate candidate. This greatly weakened their chances of winning the election – and, accordingly, when November rolled around, Abe Lincoln, the fledgling Republican Party candidate, claimed victory.

On December 20, 1860, in a move that shocked many citizens, the state of South Carolina voted unanimously to secede from the United States of America. All eyes turned to the then-president, James Buchanan, who was nearing his last few weeks in office. According to the historical records, President Buchanan’s reaction to South Carolina’s secession was a resigned shrug and a deep swig of whisky.

(Needless to say, President Buchanan was not particularly popular.)

All throughout the winter and spring of 1861, just as Lincoln’s first term began, other Deep South states followed in South Carolina’s wake: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas, in that order. Those seven states then banded together to form a new country: the Confederate States of America. Its capital was in Montgomery, Alabama;  its first President was Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, and its Vice President was Alexander Stephens of Georgia. (Incidentally, President Davis was only one or two years older than President Lincoln, and had been born just a few miles away from Lincoln’s birthplace*******.)

Then, until April 12, the two countries – USA and CSA – proceeded to have a staring contest of epic proportions. States caught in the middle, such as Virginia and Tennessee, squirmed in their seats and hoped that they wouldn’t be driven to take sides. No actual battles had happened yet, so perhaps there was a chance of peaceful reconciliation-

Oh, who are we kidding? There was about as much chance of peaceful reconciliation as there was when Senator Brooks first pulled his Cane of Doom on Senator Sumner. And sure enough, on April 12, 1861, tensions exploded – in the form of the First Battle of Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter is located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. When that state seceded, it claimed all the Federal forts located inside its borders, including Sumter. If Lincoln dared to send troops to defend Sumter, the Confederacy warned, there would be hell to pay.

Lincoln didn’t send troops to defend Sumter. But, in April, he did send troops to supply the soldiers already in the fort. Immediately, the Confederates (commanded by a charismatic Louisianan general named Maria Josepha Johanna von- sorry, I mean Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard) opened fire – and, by the next day, had taken the fort. (Although there were no human casualties during the fight, two men did die during the Union artillery salute…)

This was nothing short of an act of war. Therefore, Lincoln called out for 75,000 volunteers for the army – especially pleading with the states of the Upper South. This, unfortunately, proved to be somewhat of a mistake: four Upper Southern states (Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee) were so incensed by Lincoln’s request that they, too, withdrew from the Union.

As a popular song from the era, “The Bonnie Blue Flag”, put it: “The single star of our bonnie blue flag has grown to be eleven!” The secessionists no longer comprised a tiny percentage of the population. A third of the United States had broken off and formed a new, hostile country, one which had already fired on Federal property and was currently building up an army as fast as it could.

It looked like war was inevitable. 


*Some noted historians also believe he may have been Batman.

**Sorry, Watson/Holmes fans, but Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin would be the most BADASS crime-fighting team ever.

***With the exception of certain politicians: I can totally see Michele Bachmann screaming about 2nd Amendment rights a split second after emerging from the womb, can’t you?

****Someone who was much more outspoken on the topic of racial equality was Thaddeus Stevens, a radical Republican Senator from Pennsylvania (we will touch upon him in a later post). But, from what I have gathered, no one actually seems to know who he is, apart from “that wig dude in Lincoln“.

*****Source: http://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-lincoln-slavery-and-emancipation

******No, they were not long-lost brothers. Even though they kinda-sorta-maybe looked alike, just a little bit.


Dear Readers,

It has been approximately six months since I last posted on my blog. There are many reasons for this: the six AP courses I was foolhardy enough to take in my senior year, an extended trip to England and India during the summer, etc. The main reason, however, is that, once college decisions season ended, I was swiftly and brutally walloped with an attack of advanced senioritis, and spent the next half a year doing nothing but listening to banjo music and reading alternate-universe stories about the Tudor dynasty.

Now my senioritis has been thoroughly cured, and I have deferred my admission to university for a year**, I have plenty of time to do whatever I want. Namely, self-study Physics and Calculus, teach myself Latin, read the dictionary, and write plenty of odd blog entries***.

So get ready, Readers, to be inundated with weird historical facts and an abundance of extremely bad jokes – for The History Hacker is ALIVE!
(dramatic and uplifting music begins to play)

*As far as I know

**Why, you ask? Well, I say: why not?

***As you can see, I have a very rich and diverse social life

My (Your) History Buddy!

Last year, I made my first app. It’s called MyHistoryBuddy. I wanted to name it Hip Historical Hotspots, but my dad told me that my name sounded like a bad disco song, so I went with MyHistoryBuddy instead: http://myhistorybuddy.appspot.com. 

At first glance, MyHistoryBuddy looks like a map. However, it is far more than that. It is a Super Map. A map to overshadow all maps. It’s a map that determines your location, then puts big red markers on every historical landmark within a certain radius*. And if you click on one of the aforementioned big red markers, a little pin-slash-speech-bubble pops up, with the name of the historical landmark, as well as its Wikipedia page and an automatic Google search.

History + technology cannot get cooler than this. It just can’t. 

Except, that is, for my new app, which creates – drumroll please – short MOVIES on every Civil War battle, complete with little sparkly flags and lots of cursive. It’s as yet unnamed, and about 40% of the way done. I’m hoping to release it very soon – preferably sometime during the summer!


*This value is confidential. If I told you, I’d have to steal Harry Potter’s wand and perform an “Obliviate” spell on you immediately afterward.

…just kidding, I forgot it, and if I wanted to write it down I’d have to dig through all my old code, which I don’t feel like doing at the moment.

Macbeth: Internet Style (Part 3)

Part 3. It gets intense, people. There’s even a dagger named Bartholomew.



duncan: cawdors dead rite?

malcolm: yep… he practiced for it, apparently

duncan: weirdo

duncan: oh hey macbeth

macbeth: hey

duncan: ur thane of cawdor!!!!!!11!

macbeth: ya ross told me

duncan: oh yeah by the way im coming 2 dinner @ ur castle & staying da night

macbeth: ya, ross sed that 2

duncan: :-) 😉 good fella

macbeth: ya… kk writin to wife

duncan: didnt u do that b4 u came??

macbeth: DUUDE >.<

macbeth: i do *not* bring my laptop to battle….

macbeth: hey, can i use urs

duncan: yeah sure room on left

macbeth: kk thanx



lady macbeth: WOOOOO!!11! hubby=thane of cawdor!! yeah! ‘n witches say hes gonna be king!!!!!! 

lady macbeth: that’s it, imma stop bein a woman RIGHT NOW.



macbeth: O____________________O

lady macbeth: dude you gonna be KIIING


macbeth: D:

lady macbeth: _what_ did u say?

macbeth: im *not* gonna be king

lady macbeth: but youd make a gret king!!!1!!!

macbeth: honey, we have a king. his name is DUNCAN.

lady macbeth: honey, we have a weapon. its name is *DAGGER*

macbeth: actually, i recently christened it Bartholomew- WAIT, WHAT RU SAYIN?!

lady macbeth: let’s kill duncan!

macbeth: HELL no!!!!!!!!!!!1111

macbeth: whats WRONG wit u

lady macbeth: DO IT

macbeth: nooooo you joking ill get in big trouble

lady macbeth: >:-(

lady macbeth: well, i guess i’m more of a man than you EVER were

macbeth: WHAT

macbeth: THAT’S NOT TRUE

macbeth: x-( x-( x-(

macbeth: m(>_<)^

macbeth: ….

lady macbeth: 😉

macbeth: ok ok ill do it… jeez, woman

lady macbeth: 😀 😀 😀 😀

lady macbeth: come here, you <(^_^)> *hug*


Macbeth: Internet Style (Continued)

What follows doth be a continuation of yesterday’s epic translation of Macbeth. Prithee enjoy this fine work!

RECAP: The witches have held their first sinister meeting, and the Thane of Cawdor has just been exposed as ‘soooo backstabbin’ by the Thane of Ross.



witch 1: hi

witch 2: r we all here?

witch 3: duuude

witch 1: nice. is that macbeth?

witch 2: ya

macbeth: wat the hell is wrong wit da scottish climate

banquo: lot of things. hey r those witches

macbeth: theyre sure ugly enough.

witch 1: shut up. anyway, we r spposed 2 make speech here

witch 2: sumthing bout hailing

macbeth: dont need to tell me weathers bad

witch 1: other meaning

witch 2: anyway r u thane of glamis

macbeth: yeah, y?

witch 2: u r in luck… ur now thne of cawdor 2

macbeth: lol no.

witch 2: true. guy was traitor. gonna be x-cutd.

macbeth: o_O

macbeth: suuuuure… anything else?

witch 3: yeah ur gonna be king


banquo: been practicing for ur own comedy show, have u?

witch 1: hell no, we r creatures of darkness

witch 2: in case u forgot this is a TRAGEDY

witch 3: shakspers darkest

macbeth: thats true. i havent seen the sun for 2 weeks now

witch 1: THAT IS NOT WAT I MEANT!!1! ok well anyway… ur gonna be king in couple of days.

witch 3: yeah… oh andd banquo?

banquo: wat

witch 3: ur not gonna be king. gonna get murdered.

banquo: DAMMIT!!!11

witch 3: ur sons r gonna be kings though

banquo: LOL WAUUUU macbeth lets go this madness might be catching

macbeth: yeah… i dont believe in prophecies… what, do u think this is the middle ages or sumthing?

witch 2: it *is* the middle ages, idiot

macbeth: watever.


macbeth: y

ross: ur thane of cawdor dude!!!!!!!!!1111!!!

macbeth: WUT

macbeth: O_______O

banquo: u in w/ the witches

ross: hell no I hate em

witch 1: we take personal offense

ross: yeah watever anyway macbeth is thne of cawdorcawdor& duncan is comin today

macbeth: 😕 U CANT BE SERIOUS

ross: yeah well he invited himslf

macbeth: omg omg g2g send email 2 lady macbeth

banquo: kk bye dude


Macbeth: Internet Style

Macbeth has long been one of my favorite plays, along with Inherit the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire. But I know many people who find the language a little too… archaic… for their tastes. This is why I have helpfully decided to translate it into Gmail-chatspeak! Now you British Literature students need not worry about poring through hundreds of pages of “Ere” and “Wherefore” and “raveled sleave of care” – you can just zip through THIS version!

(And then fail your test, because I don’t think your teacher would appreciate this very much).

What follows is the first two scenes of Act I… Bon appetit, dear readers.



witch 1: when r we gonna meet agen

witch 2: hurly burly done

witch 2: battle lost&won

witch 3: ere set of sun

 witch 1: o_O WUT r u talkin bout

witch 3: idk… thot it sounded cool

witch 2: ok well watevr. g2g, grymlkn calls

witch 3: me2, paddock calling

witch 1: ok bye


duncan: whos tht guy

malcolm: dude saved me frm captivity

duncan: geez hes bloody. hows battle

captain: bloody.

duncan: figrd that out… so whos winning

captain: us

duncan: 😀 😀 😀 😀

captain: yeah ur cuz macbeth killed macdonwald


malcolm: what happened nxt?

captain: nrway = more troops

duncan: dam man :(

captain: yeah well macB& bAnquo fighting

ross: DUDE OMG

duncan: sup?


duncan: yeah wat about him?

ross: duuude he soooo backstabbin

malcolm: oh drn wat he do

ross: sided w/ nrway

duncan: gee well hes not stayin here go kill him give macbeth title

ross: kk bi



The Civil War – A Lecture (Part Two)

Here I am again, with Part Two! This is the part that I didn’t actually script beforehand. It’s also the part during which I explain the lecture’s tagline – “How Hollywood Almost Became Part of Colorado.”



So, to recap the last episode of the Great Soap Opera of the American Nineteenth Century: Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, walked in on her father with- WAIT! SORRY! WRONG EPISODE! To recap the last episode, the Compromise of 1850 was passed – California was admitted as free, and Utah and New Mexico could choose their status – free or slave.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. The Compromise of 1850 had just one more part to it: a tiny little thing, really, called the “Fugitive Slave Act.” The Fugitive Slave Act decreed that any enslaved people who escaped to the free states wouldn’t be free – they’d be labeled “contraband” and shipped back to their Southern owners ASAP. Given the increase of abolitionist sentiments in the North, it was only natural that Northerners bitterly resented the Fugitive Slave Act, and resisted it as much as they could – something that the Southerners whose slaves were escaping did not take kindly. Thus, the so-called Compromise of 1850 only served to deepen the gap between the South and the rest of the country.

The event that really, truly sealed the divide, though, wasn’t a law. It wasn’t a riot. Nope, it was a book. A book that was published in 1852… a book named Uncle Bob’s Cabin.

JUST KIDDING! Its real name was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It’s a pretty famous book… so let’s see how much YOU, dear reader, know about it:


True or false:

1) Harriet Tubman, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin had never been to the Deep South.

2) Two main characters – a slave and a slave-owner – were both named George.

3) The main antagonist was a Southerner named Simon Legree.










1) False. The author’s name was Harriet Beecher Stowe. Harriet Tubman was an escaped slave who helped run the Underground Railroad.

2) True. George Harris is a slave and the husband of Eliza Harris – and George Shelby is the son of Uncle Tom’s owner.

3) False. Simon Legree was a Northerner, from Vermont (although he did move to Louisiana).


How’d you do? If you’ve discovered that you need a refresher, here’s a quick summary of the book:

Uncle Tom, a middle-aged slave, belongs to the Shelby family of Kentucky. The Shelbys are decent people, and Tom leads a relatively peaceful life with his wife and children. However, one day, the Shelby patriarch realizes that he’s in debt, and decides to sell some slaves. He settles on two: Tom and a toddler named Harry Harris. Harry’s mother, Eliza, finds out about her son’s pending sale – and decides to run away. After a protracted struggle, Eliza, Harry, and Eliza’s husband George manage to escape the slave-catchers and reach the safety of Canada.

Meanwhile, Uncle Tom gets sold “down the river” in Louisiana – originally as a house servant to a kind family in New Orleans, and later (when pretty much everyone in the aforementioned kind family kicks the bucket in a plethora of horrible ways) as a field hand to the dreaded Simon Legree. Legree hates Tom’s Christian attitude, and eventually orders him to be beaten to death. 

 Uncle Tom’s Cabin quickly became one of America’s greatest bestsellers, beaten only by the Bible. Millions of people across the country purchased copies, and, touched by the horrific ordeals of Uncle Tom and the Harris family, began to question the institution of slavery.

Naturally, the Southern aristocrats, whose fortunes and livelihoods depended on their slaves, didn’t take too kindly to this. They absolutely panned Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and denied that there was any truth in it – claiming that, since the Southernmost state Stowe had visited was Kentucky, she had no right to write about Deep Southern slavery. The book caused such violent arguments that, when he finally met her, Lincoln addressed Stowe as “the little woman who started the big war”.

From then on, the 1850s were one enormous sectionalist disaster. In 1857, Dred Scott – a Missouri slave – sued for his freedom, on the grounds that he and his master had been living on free soil for a few years. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, a Marylander by the name of Robert Taney, struck down the case, declaring that slaves were not American citizens, and therefore Scott had no right to file a lawsuit. Taney’s decision outraged the abolitionists, and drove another wedge into the widening gap between the North and the South.

Let’s take a short interlude here and travel west – to the state of California, far removed from all of this political turmoil.

Or was it? Although the slavery issue wasn’t hotly debated in California, a free state, the situation was far from idyllic. For one thing, the southernmost part of California – including Los Angeles and San Diego – believed that, as they were too dissimilar from the northern part, they should secede and form a new state, Colorado. This was actually their second attempt at secession – the first took place in 1854, and was almost approved; the President rejected it at the last minute. Now, in 1859, what with the dramatic rise in tensions between the North and the South, California absolutely could not be allowed to split up – so SoCal grudgingly agreed to stick with its northern half.

Aaaaand that’s how Hollywood almost ended up in Colorado. Wrap your mind around that for a minute.

Returning to the East: one of the most momentous incidents of the decade took place in 1859, when John Brown, a fervent abolitionist who vaguely resembled an electrocuted hawk, decided to incite a slave uprising in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now part of West Virginia). Harpers Ferry was a thriving factory town; Brown’s successfully capturing it would pose a serious threat to Virginia and the rest of the South.

Unfortunately for him, most slaves didn’t dare take part in the armed rebellion, and Brown’s group was quickly captured – by none other than then-Colonel Robert E. Lee. Brown was hanged in Charleston, Virginia; his execution was guarded by Thomas Jonathan Jackson and his cadets from the Virginia Military Institute.

The death of John Brown served as another blow to the country’s already crumbling foundation – but the straw that really broke the camel’s back came in the form of a tall, gangling, rail-splitting lawyer from Illinois.

His name was Abraham Lincoln.




The Civil War – A Lecture (Part One)

Or, How To Effectively Torture People With Banjos

On July 29th, I gave my first historical lecture, on the Civil War. Seven people came, only two of them were related to me, and no one attempted to strangle me when I started playing 150-year-old banjo music… so I counted it as a roaring success. For those of you who were not among the seven attendees, the posts that follow will contain the lecture’s transcript. For today… Part 1!



Hi, guys, and thank you so much for coming to this lecture. I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy it – and if you don’t, you better fake it.

Anyway, I’m here today to talk about a very important topic. An event that literally changed America forever. That’s right. I’m here to talk about the publishing of Twilight.

Seriously, though, I’m here to talk about the bloodiest war in American history – the war that created and destroyed our country. I’m here to talk about the Civil War.

In order to set the mood, I’ve prepared a little montage of pictures set to music. Apart from the last three, they’re all photos that were taken during the war. Oh – and if the music makes you wince… remember that this was hot stuff back in the 1860s. This was the Adele and Carly Rae Jepsen of the Civil War.

As you can see from the photos, many of the soldiers who fought in the war were very young. Their average age was 28, and they legally had to be eighteen or over to join the army, but all too often, fifteen, sixteen and seventeen-year-olds would lie their way into the ranks: running away from home, Civil War style.

And it had tragic consequences. By 1865, America had lost – in Rhett Butler’s words – the flower of its land. An entire generation had either been killed off or turned bitter by the horrors of war. The smell of blood and the screams of dying haunted Americans for decades – and, indeed, still haunt us today.

So how did the war begin? Where did it begin? The answer lies not on the plains of Manassas or the coastline of South Carolina, but in Washington DC, in the year 1820 – with the Compromise that Ripped Us Apart.

As of 1820, there were 22 states in America: eleven free, and eleven slave. But the Missouri Territory – a strongly pro-slavery area, settled by many Southerners (including a Mr. and Mrs. Clemens) – applied for statehood, and America’s delicate political balance came under the knife. If Missouri was added as the twenty-third state, there would be eleven free states and twelve slave states, thus tipping the balance of power in favor of the slave states. If Missouri was admitted to the Union as a free state, then the Missourians wouldn’t be happy, and neither would the South. And if Missouri was denied admission… well, America would still have a whole lot of furious Missourians on their hands.

Thus, the Missouri Compromise was born. Under the compromise, Missouri would be admitted as a slave state, the Maine Territory would be admitted as a free state… and a line – the 36’30 line – would be drawn across the US. Every territory north of this line would be free, and every territory south of it would be slave.

So, for twenty-five years after the Missouri Compromise, there existed a precarious peace between the North and the South. Then Texas came along, and everything started to crumble.

Texas, up until this time, had been part of Mexico – but it was mostly populated by Americans. This was because Mexico, afraid that very few people were actually moving to Texas, started begging Americans to populate the area. Many Americans, delighted at the prospect of cheap land, agreed. There was only one tiny catch: Americans kinda tend to like America more than Mexico. Resultantly, Texas seceded from Mexico in 1836 and became its own country. In 1846, under pressure from Texans and Southerners, the Federal government approved the addition of Texas to the Union as a state.

So far, so good. Except that Mexico was a little miffed about America taking Texas. And when countries are miffed, they start wars. So Mexico and America duked it out in the Mexican-American War, from 1846-1848. Despite Mexico’s strong military, America emerged the victor – and the owner of a whole bunch of new territories. Including the one we’re currently standing in – California.

More territories meant, unfortunately, addressing the slavery question. So in 1850, Congress popped out the creatively named Compromise of 1850. According to this compromise, California would join as a free state, and Utah and New Mexico – the other Mexican territories – had to hold a vote to decide if they’d be free or slave.