About Aditi Ramaswamy

I am Aditi Ramaswamy... the History Hacker. I like history, and hacking. Occasionally, I attempt to hack history itself. Sometimes it even works. Oh, and in my free time I also double as the state of Virginia (we really need a state fruit).

A Proposal to Officially Legalize the Secession of States from the Union

That’s right. I did it. I wrote this. (But, uh, to you nice folks from the CIA out there, I’d just like to say that I am not plotting anything. Really. Please believe me.)

So the question arises: why did I do this? Well, after months of reading up extensively on the Civil War, and after perusing my pocket copy of the Declaration of Independence/the Constitution, I suddenly realized that secession isn’t quite as illegal as the North made it out to be during Reconstruction.

In fact… it’s legal.

What follows is a short proposal I drafted, which lists out the reasons for my conclusion. Enjoy.




Ever since the American Civil War (1861-1865), the idea of States seceding from the Union has been called into question – and, in Texas v. White, declared unconstitutional. However, as proved by the arguments below, the secession of States is not, and never was, unconstitutional. The purpose of this piece is to overturn the ruling that secession is unconstitutional, and officially make it legal.



NOTE: We will hereby adhere to a strict interpretation of the Constitution, so that we may better understand and support the arguments presented below, as well as refrain from making unconstitutional decisions.


I. Why Secession is Already Constitutional


a.) The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America states that our          country aims for a “more perfect Union.” This does not entail a larger union, especially if this larger union is fraught with internal strife. A perfect union implies a union in which all associated States share similar ideals and interests. If a State wants to secede from our union on the basis of differing ideals, our union is clearly not perfect. Letting that State secede is indeed a step toward perfection. The Preamble also mentions a wish to “insure domestic tranquility.” A union wherein each State has vastly differing ideals, and is often driven to violence with other States due to those ideals, would be in direct conflict with this line in the Constitution.


b.) Amendment X states that: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Since the federal government does not have the express right to remove states from the union, it can naturally be assumed that this power has been transferred to the States, and therefore it is the States who have the power to remove themselves from the union. And since the people of that State are the ones proposing secession, Amendment X can be reapplied in this situation as well, as it delegates these rights to both the States and their people.


c.) I conclude with a short statement regarding the part of the Constitution that states that Congress holds sovereignty over certain territories. Section III of Article IV states that The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State. While some may take this to mean that the federal government has the power to regulate each State, and therefore prevent them from leaving the Union, the latter part of this quote disproves this idea. When the quote talks of ‘any particular State,’ it is automatically isolating the States from the aforementioned ‘Territory or other Property.’ Therefore, it can be assumed that this ‘Territory’ refers to areas that have applied for statehood but have not actually become States – thus ruling out this particular section as proof of the unconstitutionality of secession.



Texas v. White was an 1869 Supreme Court case that, originally, had to do with the recovery of some bonds that the federal government had paid to Texas in 1850. When Texas seceded, the Confederacy used these bonds to buy materiel during the Civil War. In 1869, the current government of Texas – Unionist men who had been placed in charge during Reconstruction – filed a lawsuit in order to regain these bonds from the private citizens who held them. 

These citizens, naturally, did not want to part with the money, and claimed that since they had been paid after Texas seceded from the United States, Texas could not use federal laws to reclaim the money.

Texas’ Reconstruction government, however, had other ideas. Secession, according to them, was impossible: “The Union of the States never was a purely artificial and arbitrary relation. It began among the Colonies, and grew out of common origin, mutual sympathies, kindred principles, similar interests, and geographical relations. It was confirmed and strengthened by the necessities of war, and received definite form and character and sanction from the Articles of Confederation. By these, the Union was solemnly declared to “be perpetual.” And when these Articles were found to be inadequate to the exigencies of the country, the Constitution was ordained “to form a more perfect Union.” It is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words. What can be indissoluble if a perpetual Union, made more perfect, is not?”

Of course, Texas won the case – and its money. And as a result of Texas v. White, secession from the Union was declared unconstitutional.

However, the arguments Texas used to win are fatally flawed. The original thirteen colonies were vastly different in every way – the religions and ethnic backgrounds of their inhabitants, their economies, their population sizes. Only just before the Revolutionary War did they temporarily set aside their differences and band together to fight the British. Almost immediately afterward, the newly formed States began squabbling again. Compromises, such as a bicameral legislature – which incorporated both the Virginia and New Jersey plans – and the Three-Fifths Compromise- which sought to appease the South on the slavery issue – abounded. The early nineteenth century only brought more compromises; desperate efforts to hold the already shaky Union together, such as the Missouri Compromise and Compromise of 1850. In the end, none of these could work – the differences between the states were too great to be bridged with a few hasty compromises. Secession by itself might have worked to solve this problem, and ensure peace in America: instead, it was declared illegal and the Civil War was fought, causing the – completely unnecessary – deaths of over six hundred thousand men.

Texas v. White also cites the Articles of Confederation as a document that strengthened the ties between states, and invested power in the country as a whole. However, the Articles of Confederation themselves seem to have a different view. It created a Confederacy, wherein the federal government was weak and the States were free to pursue their own, mostly unregulated courses of action. “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled,” Section II of the Articles – the section on states’ rights – declares. Since nowhere in the Articles does it state that the United States had the power to expel States from the Union, it may be understood that States have the power to expel themselvesin other words, the right to secession.

The final argument Texas v. White makes in order to prove the idea that secession is unconstitutional relates to the Preamble of the Constitution – namely, the phrase “more perfect Union.” Texas v. White claims that “it is difficult to convey the idea of indissoluble unity more clearly than by these words.” However, Texas v. White does not even bother to explain how, exactly, “more perfect Union” means “indissoluble Union.” This implies that perfection is not about how peaceful or prosperous a country is, but how large it is. Therefore, a large conglomeration of States, characterized by frequent violence, rioting and disagreement between States, is, according to Texas v. White, a perfect Union.



 I conclude by repeating that Texas v. White took place in 1869, barely four years after the Civil War ended, and many Northerners were still sore about the South’s secession. It is quite possible that secession was declared illegal precisely because of this. An interesting paradox can be found here, during Reconstruction – the Southern states that had seceded were not readmitted back into the Union until they had ratified the 13th Amendment; and yet the North was vehement in declaring that the South had never properly seceded. This raises the question: how can a State that has not seceded be readmitted to the Union?



 1. U.S. Constitution. Preamble

2. U.S. Constitution. Amend. 10.

3. U.S. Constitution. Article IV. Section III.

4. Texas v. White – Supreme Court Case.

5. U.S. Articles of Confederation

6. “Texas v. White”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 11 Aug. 2013 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/589367/Texas-v-White>.

7. Woods, Thomas. “State Nullification: What Is It?” Tom Woods’s LibertyClassroom. LibertyClassroom, 2013. Web. 11 Aug. 2013. <http://www.libertyclassroom.com/ nullification/>.


Also known as The Paper With The Really Long Title. 


“Then this guy comes up to me and says he’s got something that’ll give me a wonderful kick… then he says, ‘You’re a good sport, ain’t you?… A good sport’ll try anything once…’” These words were spoken by Toughie Reed, a Californian teenager in the 1920s. Despite his tender age, Toughie was a murderer and a robber, sentenced to hang for his crimes. He was also a heroin addict. The boy’s interviewer, Lyman Beecher Stowe, describes how a drug peddler’s jabs at Toughie put him on the road to addiction and, eventually, crime in order to support his habit.

 Toughie’s story is not the only one of its kind. In 1918, a paper published in a journal of criminology studied 100 criminals brought into California’s San Quentin Penitentiary on drug-related charges, and revealed some shocking statistics:

  • 75% had gotten addicted before their 25th birthday.
  • 45% developed addictions between 16-20 years of age.
  • 82% took 5+ grams of morphine a day.

The drugs these men used – mainly opiates – were unavailable for legal purchase. Therefore, they had to turn to illegal methods to obtain the drugs. Since many earned far too little to pay what illegal drug dealers demanded, they often had to turn to thievery to acquire enough money for their drugs.

Yet opiates were not always illegal, and the users not always desperate criminals. In 1914, the drug trade had been mostly unregulated. People could easily secure opiates through physicians’ prescriptions or patent medicines such as Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, which contained one grain of morphine per ounce.

Among whites, the largest population of opiate addicts was comprised of middle-class women who developed addictions when physicians prescribed opiates as painkillers. There is no evidence to prove that these women posed any danger under the influence of drugs.

Most opium smokers were Chinese immigrants, who showed little evidence of criminal behavior. “… the Chinese constituted 8.8% of… all arrests while they were not less than 14% of the total adult male population of the city…” reported Mary Roberts Coolidge in her book on Chinese immigration at the time. “…Their offenses have always been gambling… and violation of fire and health ordinances…” Coolidge added. Thus, Chinese immigrants were not violent offenders.

What, then, sparked the events that led to Toughie’s tale? To the situation of the 100 criminals in San Quentin? The answer lies in a piece of legislation, passed in December 1914, that single-handedly changed the face of the American drug trade: the Harrison Act.



The Harrison Act’s foundations were laid by a Canadian transplant to America – the Reverend Charles Brent. In 1901, Brent was elected Bishop of the newly acquired Philippines. At the time, the Chinese population in Philippines was just under 1% of the total population: and with that 1% came opium. The Spanish had placed a tax on opium and restricted natives from purchasing it. However, many natives were flouting the rules and used opium as medicine – leading to addiction. This situation alarmed Brent, and, a year after he arrived, he joined a commission to investigate the use of opium in many Asian places, including the Philippines.

“In the Philippine Islands the practice of smoking opium… [was] imported by the Chinese…” the commission wrote. Despite Spanish law, the commission added, “[natives] were contaminated by the vice in all the provinces…” The report spurred President Roosevelt to commit to antinarcotic action. In 1909 an American delegation, headed by Brent, met with 13 other nations at the Shanghai Opium Commission.

One of Brent’s fellow commissioners was Dr. Hamilton Wright. Wright, an ambitious doctor married to the daughter of a powerful senator, was eager to embark on a political career. His opportunity came when he was asked to join the Shanghai Commission. As he put it, “I saw at a glance that it was bound to be a large… bit of work and I said that certainly I would like to be a member.”

For the rest of his life, Wright was a fervent crusader against narcotics and used any means possible to prove his case.

Immediately after joining the delegation, he began conducting surveys to deduce the extent of opium use in America. In 1908, he told the New York Times that there were 6,000 opium addicts in New York City, of which 5,000 were white. Considering that New York City had a population of 4.5 million at the time, 6,000 opium addicts – 0.1% of the population – hardly posed a serious problem. However, Wright pressed the issue, claiming that the Shanghai Commission would create a plan to combat addiction, both domestic and international.

Despite Wright’s promises, however, the Shanghai Commission achieved very little. Wright did his best to make other nations promise to enact drug control measures, but only China agreed. He also tried to propagate an investigation into anti-opium remedies, but this, too, was thwarted.

Dauntless, Wright returned to America and began pushing for a comprehensive piece of domestic drug-regulation legislation. His main motivation was geopolitical; he planned to coordinate another opium conference soon, and wanted to shape American policy into an example to inspire the rest of the world. After receiving approval from Secretary of State Knox, Wright drafted and found a sponsor for the Foster Bill, which was introduced in 1910.

Wright played on American fears of drugs in order to get the bill passed. Even though his own studies showed just 0.2% of the population was addicted to opiates, Wright alleged that physicians and pharmacists were liberally dispensing drugs to get people addicted. He also used drugs to exploit racial tensions in order to gain support. 

Due to opposition from pharmacists, the Foster Bill ultimately collapsed. Wright’s second political sojourn had been as unsuccessful as the first; but he didn’t give up. “Uncle Sam is the worst drug fiend in the world,” he claimed, saying that the American opium was placed under less restriction, and was therefore more dangerous.

In 1911, Wright attended the First International Opium Convention, where he made more headway than the last time in getting countries to promise domestic drug regulations. However, during the proceedings, Germany challenged the lack of American domestic legislation. This fueled Wright’s determination to get his antinarcotic bill passed – and, when the conference ended in January 1912, Wright returned to America ready to continue his efforts.

Since the Democrats were in control of the House, Wright asked a Democrat – Francis Burton Harrison, who had been present during the debate over the Foster Bill – to sponsor the new bill.

Pharmaceutical companies opposed the proposed measure. In October 1912, they created the National Drug Trade Conference (NDTC) and invited Harrison and Wright to discuss the bill. The meeting was disastrous, with Harrison leaving early for the theater and Wright storming out in a fury, refusing to listen to NDTC demands. Eventually, Harrison mediated the dispute and, in 1914, the Harrison Act – the first piece of American federal drug legislation – was approved by Congress and signed into action by President Wilson.



The Harrison Act was greeted with enthusiasm by the antinarcotic movement driven by fears of foreign vices permeating American society. In 1875, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that “there are now existing… eight opium-smoking establishments kept by Chinese, for the exclusive use of white men and women… these places are… nightly resorted to by young men and women of respectable parentage… unless this most dangerous… dissipation can be stopped… there is great danger that it will become one of the prevalent vices of the city…”

The article clearly mentions that the dens catered to white Americans, and were run by Chinese – the implication is that drug use is an alien custom and therefore cannot be allowed to corrupt pure Americans.

This view extended not only to immigrants, but to blacks as well. The free availability of cheap drugs was distasteful to some Americans, who were afraid of the consequences of drug usage by blacks. Dr. Edward Huntington Williams played on these fears when he published an article on the matter in the New York Times. Cocaine-crazed blacks were terrorizing the South, he declared – according to him, cocaine made them superhumanly strong and invincible to bullets. These drug-crazed blacks would then, Williams said, indulge in killing sprees or rape helpless white women.

So when the Harrison Act was passed, it was seen not just as a simple regulation, but as a moralistic breakthrough – a shield against the foreign menaces that threatened American society.

The Harrison Act was, declared the preamble, “… an Act to provide for the registration of… and to impose a special tax on all persons who… deal in… opium or… their… derivatives…”.

The Harrison Act also included another section that would prove extremely important in the years following its passage. “To the dispensing… of any… drugs… by a physician… registered under this Act in the course of his professional practice only: That the physician… shall keep a record of all such drugs dispensed or distributed…” The intent of this passage was to force physicians to carefully write down each drug they prescribed, so that officials could keep track of the drug trade. However, the wording was interpreted in a radically different manner: “[a physician’s] professional practice only” was taken to imply that drugs could only be administered to patients to treat illness – not addiction. Therefore, it was illegal to give addicts opium purely for the purpose of alleviating withdrawal symptoms.

The Harrison Act then added another measure: “The… distributing of… drugs by a dealer to a consumer under… a written prescription issued by a physician… registered under this Act… such prescription shall be dated… and… signed by the physician… who shall have issued the same.” In other words, where a patient was once freely able to purchase drugs, they now had to have permission to do so. For addicts who had been denied permission due to the preceding clause, it was impossible to buy drugs legally.

Patent medicines were given special exemptions to appease pharmaceutical companies. Toward the end of the bill, an extra amendment was tacked on: “That the provisions of this Act shall not be construed to apply to the… distribution… of preparations… which do not contain more than 2 grains of opium, or more than 0.25… a grain of morphine, or more than 0.125… grain of heroin.”



The Harrison Act was intended to curb addiction rates and stop the spread of drug-related crime. However, it ended up doing the exact opposite by creating a vicious cycle between addicts and dealers, with innocent citizens being caught in the middle.

As mentioned earlier, addicts could no longer obtain their fixes from their doctors; therefore, they went into withdrawal, a painful condition characterized by insomnia, stomach cramps and vomiting. The only thing on these addicts’ minds was getting their drug by any means possible. This was corroborated by the New York Medical Journal, which, in 1915, wrote that “…The immediate effects of the Harrison… law were… sporadic crimes of violence… due… to desperate efforts by addicts to obtain drugs, but occasionally to… sudden withdrawal…”


The addicts were becoming violent in order to obtain drugs; but who was supplying them? On June 22, 1915, the New York Times published an article on the arrest of Louis Fournier, an infirmary worker, on drug-peddling charges. Fournier had stolen cocaine and heroin, which were used legally as medicines, and planned to sell them. His motivation: “My friend told me that I could make a lot of money that way.”

 Like Fournier, others realized that they could easily benefit from the helpless addicts. If a drug is legal, its prices can be regulated – but once it becomes illegal, criminals can easily exploit addicts’ desperation with exorbitant prices. Another 1915 New York Times article mentions that “… whereas the trade price of heroin was $6.50 an ounce,” criminals had started selling it for $96 an ounce. Most addicts could not afford such prices, and had to turn criminal to pay their suppliers.

The situation worsened when the Mafia got into drug dealing. A New York Times article detailing the arrest of Mafia leader “Lucky” Luciano mentioned that “… [Luciano] was arrested… [in] 1923 for a drug law violation…” Eight years after the Harrison Act was passed, the Mafia was starting to enter the illicit drug business. Today, according to the FBI, “[One of] the major threats to American society posed by [the Mafia is] drug trafficking… They have been involved in heroin trafficking for decades.”

 In 2010, it was reported that American organized crime institutions make around $64 billion yearly from the illegal drug trade. America’s legal drug trade was barely worth more at $78 billion in 2010.

The vicious cycle between addicts and dealers was completed when criminals realized that in order to grow their profits, they must create more addicts, who would then depend on their illicit drug supplies. To do this, they latched onto victims, usually teenagers, and offered them free samples of drugs in order to get them addicted.

The Harrison Act also inadvertently helped create more addicts. The act stated that medicines with 0.125 grains of heroin would not be subject to regulation. 0.125 grains are equal to approximately 64.7 mg of heroin. Nowadays, people take 5-1500 mg to get high.

 Regular doses of a patent medicine containing 64.7 mg of heroin could easily create an addiction. Once this addiction strengthened, the user would need increasing amounts of heroin to achieve the same high. Patent medicines contained too little heroin for a hardened addict, and since heroin, under the Harrison Act, could not be prescribed to addicts, users had to resort to illegal methods to obtain it. Thus, the Harrison Act’s failure to address the matter of patent medicines was key to the creating a steady stream of customers for illegal drugs.



The architects of the Harrison Act intended to rid America of the drug vice; to ensure that Americans would not be governed by un-American influences such as Chinese opium and German heroin. Yet, they achieved something completely unintended – they created problems where there were none. The act spawned a vicious, self-reinforcing cycle of addicts and dealers whose violent crimes impact ordinary citizens every single day. In the decades since its passage, Americans have taken to drugs in larger numbers than ever before. Many of these drug addicts resort to crimes of all types to pay for their drug needs, and multibillion-dollar criminal enterprises based on these needs have sprung up. To combat the gang warfare that ensues between these syndicates, American taxpayers have coughed up $1 trillion dollars to pay for the “War on Drugs.”

The makers of the Harrison Act had good intentions. However, the piece of legislation they created became the single most important turning point in the history of American drugs. It is truly the law of unintended consequences.






*Note: Since I used the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy many times, as both a primary and secondary source, I will list its sponsoring organization here: it is sponsored by the DRCNet Online Library of Drug Policy, which is the largest compilation of drug-related resources on the Internet.

*Also used frequently is the New York Times, which is sponsored by none other than the New York Times.


1. Stowe, Lyman Beecher. Heroin Use in the 1920s. Opiates. Ed. Nancy Harris. Farmington Hills: Bonnie Szumki (Greenhaven), 2005. Print. History of Drugs.

The book cited – Opiates – is a collection of essays on the history of opiates, written by various professors and other authorities. I used an example from this paper, written in the 1920s by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s grandson, to illustrate the havoc drugs wreaked after the Harrison Act.


2. Stanley, L. L. “Morphinism and Crime.” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 8 Jan. 1918, 749-56. Reproduced in the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.


This is an article published in 1918 that details the situation and background of a group of drug addicts in the San Quentin Penitentiary. I used statistics from this source to show how serious drug crime was after the Harrison Act.


3. Coolidge, Mary Roberts. Chinese Immigration. : Holt, 1909. Print.

This is a book on Chinese immigration to the United States. I used this source in order to learn more about crime rates among Chinese immigrants in the US, so that I could compare those levels to opium-smoking levels, and see if there is a correlation.


4. “CAREER OF THE REV. C. H. BRENT: Sketch of the Man Nominated as Missionary Bishop in the Philippines.” New York Times [New York City] 13 Oct. 1901: Print (accessed from the NY Times archives).


This is a newspaper article that describes Charles Henry Brent after his election as Bishop of the Philippines. I used this to learn more about Reverend Brent and any possible attitudes he might have held toward morality – since drugs were usually considered immoral.


5. Carter, Major E. C., Jose Albert, and Right Reverend Charles H. Brent. Report of the Committee Appointed by the Philippine Commission to Investigate the Use of Opium and the Traffic Therein. Washington DC: Bureau of Insular Affairs, War Department, 1905. Print.

This is the report given by Brent, Carter and Albert on the opium situation in the Philippines. I read this report in order to understand how widespread opium addiction in the Philippines was, and how exactly the Philippine Commissioners reacted to this opium use.


6. “6,000 OPIUM USERS HERE: Dr. Hamilton Wright Thinks Five-Sixths of Them Are White.” New York Times [New York City] 1 Aug. 1908: Print (accessed from the NY Times archives).


This is a newspaper article describing the results of one of Wright’s drug studies. I use this article in order to understand Wright’s argument as well as to illustrate his penchant for exaggeration regarding statistics.


7. “Report of the International opium commission, Shanghai, China, February 1 to February 26, 1909.” Feb. 1909. MS. Internet Archive.


This source is the full text of the report from the Shanghai Opium Commission. I read this source in order to understand Wright’s role in the conference, and what the conference’s outcomes were.


8. Marshall, Edward. “UNCLE SAM IS THE WORST DRUG FIEND IN THE WORLD.” New York Times [New York City] 12 Mar. 1911: Print (accessed from the NY Times archives).


This article was a special in the New York Times that discussed Harrison’s view of opiates and his solution to the supposed problem they posed. I used this source to illustrate both this view and solution. I also used a photo of Dr. Wright that was taken from this source.


9. “The Proceedings Of The International Opium Conference At The Hague. I.” The British Medical Journal 2.2696 (1912): 503-05. Print.

This source is the full text of the First International Opium Conference at the Hague. I used this source in order to fully understand what happened during this conference, how it differed from the Shanghai Commission, and how much Wright’s role had changed between the two.


10. Fisher, George. MARRIED TO ALCOHOL: The Drug War‘s Moral Roots. 2007. Print.

This source describes how the War on Drugs originated. Although the book itself is a secondary source, I used a primary source quote (regarding Chinese opium dens and the influence they had on whites) that was reprinted in it.

11. Williams, Edward Huntington. “NEGRO COCAINE ‘FIENDS’ ARE A NEW SOUTHERN MENACE.” New York Times [New York City] 8 Feb. 1914: Print (accessed from the NY Times archives).


This source is an article describing the supposed effects of cocaine on southern blacks. I used this source in order to show some of the common antinarcotic arguments of the time, and to illustrate the morality behind the passage of the Harrison Act.


12. Sixty-third Congress of the United States. “Harrison Narcotics Tax Act, 1914.” Drug Library. Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, Web. 24 Mar. 2013.


This source is the full text of the Harrison Act. I used this source in order to understand what exactly the act intended to accomplish, as well as to highlight some of the sections in the act that would later prove harmful to its intent.


 13. Perez, Eric. “Opiate withdrawal.” Ed. David R. Eltz and David Zieve. MedLine Plus. US National Library of Medicine, 23 Jan 2012. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.


This source describes the symptoms of opiate withdrawal. I used this source in order to understand what motivation addicts had for behaving the way they did after the passage of the Harrison Act. This website is sponsored by the US National Library of Medicine.


14. Brecher, Edward M. “The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs: Chapter 8. The Harrison Narcotics Act.” Drug Library. Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, Web. 17 Mar. 2013.


This source describes the Harrison Act, especially its effects. Although this paper itself is a secondary source, I used a primary-source quote – on the behavior of drug addicts after they had been deprived of drugs by the Harrison Act – that had been reprinted in it.


15. “SHOT DOWN IN DRUG ARREST – Prisoner Says He Got Cocaine As Infirmary Employee. New York Times [New York City] 22 June 1915: Print (accessed from the NY Times archives).


This source describes an arrest made about six months after the Harrison Act passed; the defendant was attempting to sell stolen, illegal drugs to people. I used this source to show how and why many criminals got started in the drug business.


16. “POORER DRUG USERS IN PITIFUL PLIGHT.” New York Times [New York City] 15 Apr 1915: Print (accessed from the NY Times archives).


This source describes what problems impoverished addicts faced after the Harrison Act was passed. I used this source in order to corroborate the idea that drug prices increased dramatically, thus forcing addicts to become criminals in order to pay them.


17. “Italian Organized Crime: Overview.” FBI. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Web. 7 Apr. 2013.


This source is an article that discusses the Italian Mafia and the activities it engages in. I used this source to support the claim that, even today, the Mafia runs much of the drug trafficking business in the United States. This website is sponsored by the FBI.


18. “Estimating illicit financial flows resulting from drug trafficking and other transnational organized crimes.” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Web. 6 Apr. 2013.


This source describes how and in what industries illegal money circulates the globe. I used this source in order to find reliable estimates on how much the illegal drug industry made in the US in 2010, so that I could compare this figure to the revenue generated by the legal drug industry in America. This report was created by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.


19. “The Pharmaceutical Industry in the United States.” SelectUSA. SelectUSA, Web. 6 Apr. 2013.


This source describes the legal drug trade in the US. I used this source in order to find out how much revenue this trade generated in 2010, so I could compare it to the revenue generated by the illegal drug trade. This source is powered by SelectUSA, a federal association that promotes creating businesses in the US.


20. Metric Conversions. Metric Conversions, Web. 24 Mar. 2013.


This source is a conversions calculator, which I used to figure out how many milligrams 0.125 grains of heroin are equal to. It is powered by Wight Hat Ltd, a British company.


21. “Morphine (And Heroin).” Drugs and Human Performance Fact Sheets. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Web. 24 Mar. 2013.


This source talks about the effects of morphine and heroin on people. I used this source to figure out what daily dose of heroin people take to get high, so that I could compare it to the amount in patent medicines. This website is sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


22. “Background on Drug Abuse.” Do Something. Do Something, Web. 5 Apr. 2013.


This source talks about drug abuse, and what it is characterized by. I used this source to confirm that, as time passes, some people need higher and higher doses of a drug to get high – which I then used in my argument that the Harrison Act’s failure to address patent medicines ended up increasing the illegal drug trade. This website is sponsored by the Do Something organization, which helps provide suggestions for solutions to societal problems, especially ones that affect young people.


23. Trebach, Arnold S. Doctors Prescribe Heroin in the Early 1900s. Opiates. Ed. Nancy Harris. Farmington Hills: Bonnie Szumki (Greenhaven), 2005. Print. History of Drugs.

This source talks about the discovery of and initial reaction to heroin. I used this source in order to confirm that heroin was first used widely in German medicine, and therefore might be considered foreign by Americans.


24. Weirde. “Chinatown’s Opium Dens.” Shaping San Francisco’s Digital Archive. FoundSF, Web. 17 Mar. 2013.


This is a historical essay talking about opium dens in San Francisco’s Chinatown. I used a primary-source photo, of a Chinese opium den, as my first appendix, in order to illustrate what exactly antinarcotic forces were combatting. This source is sponsored by FoundSF, an organization that has compiled an Internet archive of photos and articles relating to San Francisco’s history.


25. “Francis Burton Harrison.” Encyclopedia Britannica (Online). Web.


This is an Encyclopedia Britannica Online entry on Francis Burton Harrison. I used a primary-source photo, of Harrison himself, as my second appendix. This is sponsored by the online Encyclopedia Britannica.


26. Sledge, Matt. “The Drug War And Mass Incarceration By The Numbers.” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 8 Apr. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2013. 


This is an article from today’s Huffington Post on how much the drug war has cost us since it began. (I’m lucky I was on HuffPost this morning!) I used this source in my conclusion, in order to emphasize the detrimental effect of legislation like the Harrison Act on ordinary citizens.



1. “Patent Medicines and Miracle Cures: Original Documents from the Archives of the New York City Bar.” NYC Bar. New York City Bar, Web. 31 Mar. 2013.


This website, sponsored by the New York City bar, depicts certain fraudulent medicines on sale in America from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. I used facts from this website about opiate-containing patent medicines in my paper.


2. Casey, Elaine. “HISTORY OF DRUG USE AND DRUG USERS IN THE UNITED STATES.” Drug Library. Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, Web. 17 Mar. 2013.


This source describes the history of drugs and drug addiction in the United States from colonial days to modern times. It is from the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy, a compilation of international drug laws and papers from throughout history. I used this paper to gather facts on women who developed opium addictions before the Harrison Act.


3. Williams, Lisa. “Morphine: A Southern Lady’s Drug.” Lisa Williams – Home. Greenville County School District, Web. 31 Mar. 2013.


This source describes the average morphine-addicted woman in the nineteenth century. I used this source to garner an understanding of what types of women became addicted and how they became addicted.


4. Courtwright, David T. Chinese Immigration Brings Opium Smoking to America in the Mid-1800s. Opiates. Ed. Nancy Harris. Farmington Hills: Bonnie Szumki (Greenhaven), 2005. Print. History of Drugs.

The book cited – Opiates – is a collection of essays on the history of opiates, written by various professors. I used this essay to learn more about the history of American opium smoking before the Harrison Act – specifically, when it started and who introduced it.


5. Chepesiuk, Ron. The War on Drugs: An International Encyclopedia. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 1999. Digital file.

This source is a book describing the history of the war on drugs around the world. I used this source to gather information on the Philippines opium trade, especially in regard to Chinese immigration and Spanish legislation, so that I could understand exactly why the 1905 opium commission was assembled.


6. Musto, David F. The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University, 1987. Print.

This source is a book talking about America’s relationship with drugs throughout history. I used this book many times throughout my paper, as it provides valuable information on the opium conferences, Wright, and the Harrison Act – especially Wright’s motivations for pressing the latter’s cause. Although I used this primarily as a secondary source, I do have a primary-source quote from it when talking about Wright’s political aspirations.


7. “NYC Total and Foreign-born Population 1790-2000.” NYC. New York City, Web. 7 Apr. 2013.


This source shows New York City’s population, by decade, from 1790 to 2000. I use this source in order to calculate the percentage of opium addicts Wright estimated there are in New York City. This source is sponsored by the City of New York.


8. “Manhattan Municipal Building.” A View on Cities. A View on Cities, Web. 7 Apr. 2013.


This source also mentions New York City’s population in 1908. I used the former source to confirm the number given in this article. This source is sponsored by A View on Cities, which is a tourism-tips website.


9. History. “Weekend at Woodrow’s.” History, Art & Archives. US House of Representatives, 28 Dec. 2012. Web. 7 Apr. 2013.


This is a source that talks about the House of Representatives in 1912. I used this source in order to confirm that the House had a Democratic majority during this time, thus explaining the reason why Wright asked Harrison to sponsor his bill. This is sponsored by the US House of Representatives.


10. Schaffer, Clifford A. “Homicide Rates from 1900 to Present.” Drug Library. Schaffer Library of Drugs, Web. 6 Apr. 2013.


This is a graph showing the trend in homicides over the last century, with drug laws labeled. I used this graph to show the sharp rise in homicide rates that occurred just after the passage of the Harrison Act.


11. “EXTRADITION STAY IS WON BY LUCIANO.” New York Times [New York City] 7 Apr. 1936: Print (accessed from the NY Times archives).


This article discusses the trial of Mafia leader Charles “Lucky” Luciano. I used this source to provide evidence for Luciano’s involvement in the drug business. Although this is by no means a modern source, it is secondary because the drug incident it mentioned is not the main focus of the article, but a reference to something that happened thirteen years earlier.

The Paper of Unintended* All-Nighters

*Not really.


The year 2013 is many things. It’s the year after the world was supposed to end, and it’s the year I penned my first historical research paper, which basically means that I wrote a giant essay with a lot of footnotes. I really enjoyed researching and writing it – I guess that’s why I’m majoring in History! But most of all, I enjoyed writing the footnotes. This paper really opened my eyes to the awesomeness of footnotes. Footnotes make everything look classier. You can write a piece on why you love chocolate strawberry pie**, and as long as you include at least five footnotes it’ll look like the best dang paper that was ever written.

Anyway, I digress. My point is that I have decided to post my historical research paper on my blog, so as to allow the world to have access to it***. I will leave the topic of my paper**** a secret – if you wanna know, you better read it*****.


Oh dear. The “Add Media” button isn’t working, so until it starts working I’m just going to have to copy and paste the whole shebang onto this blog.

I hope to God that the footnotes work.


**Who doesn’t?

***Whether the world will take advantage of that access or not is questionable… but hey, it’s worth a shot.

****No, it is not chocolate strawberry pie.

*****Or is it?

Irreverent American Literature Limericks

There is a story behind these. It involves a desk, an iPhone, a copy of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and lots of caffeine. It’s quite a long story, actually, so I’ll cut to the chase: I have written a series of limericks (sort of) for every book/play we read in my American Literature Honors course, save Catcher in the Rye. This is because I couldn’t think of a good rhyme for “Holden.” (Embolden? Crawled in? Hat pin?)

So… without further ado, I present to you:


by Aditi Ramaswamy

 (Feel free to cringe.)



There once was a young woman named Janie –

Though a drop-out, she was fairly brainy;

Being restless, she ran away to the swamp

Where, to her horror, a mad dog went “chomp!”

Thus ended the travels of poor Janie.



 There once was a lady named Daisy

Who proved to be inestimably lazy;

She met young Jay Gatsby

And won his undying fancy;

Yet when he died, her eyes were left dried;

She simply yawned and said “That man was crazy!”



There once was a man named Dimmesdale

Whose face was perpetually pale;

He had a young daughter,

But claimed he wasn’t a father;

That poor guilty Rev’rend Dimmesdale.



There once was a fellow named Walter;

Whose belief in his dreams never faltered;

He tried his utmost – 

And came oh so close – 

Yet in the end couldn’t escape from his halter.



There once was a boy named Huck Finn;

Who thought freeing a slave was a sin;

Yet he paddled through mud

And braved every flood

To help his newfound friend Jim.


*This one is not strictly a limerick. It has one extra line… but I just couldn’t resist.


I was reading up on Civil War reenactments the other day, when it struck me – why couldn’t we do our own reenactment at school? After mulling over it, I realized that we could do it. And so MVHS: Antietam 2013 was born!

In January I teamed up with a friend of mine, Arjun Krishna, and started planning for the event. We assigned roles – I was Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and Arjun was Union General George B. McClellan – and started figuring out some logistics. Costumes were pretty easy: just wear your side’s color. Weapons… not so much. After heated debate on the topic, all the generals decided that gray pool noodles would be the safest option. Unfortunately, we faced a slight problem here – namely, that the pool noodles did not resemble muskets in the least. If the soldiers who fought in Antietam actually carried pool noodles as weapons, it wouldn’t have been the bloodiest day in American history. People would have died of laughter.

But the reenactment was held at school, so therefore, we had to abide by zero-tolerance policies, so therefore, on May 25, we found ourselves commanding 77 people holding flags, hats and gray pool noodles. Our instructions were to “drop down and shoot,” but it’s a bit hard to follow those particular instructions when you’re carrying pool noodles, so people ended up fighting each other in a myriad of interesting ways. These included:

1) Using the pool noodles as rapiers and engaging in enthusiastic sword fights

2) Using the pool noodles as bayonets and attempting to stab each other in the chest

3) Using the pool noodles to repeatedly whack each other on the head

Pool noodle abuse aside, however, the reenactment went splendidly! Like the real Antietam, no one was quite sure which side won (although that might be because everyone gave up fighting and rushed to coo over my teacher’s baby in the end). Like the real Antietam, a good portion of people fell on the battlefield. In fact, so many people died that we had to call an emergency meeting and resurrect a few corpses, since we didn’t have enough living soldiers left to fight.

But all of that is absolutely fine. Because, like the real Antietam, our soldiers were young and inexperienced. They didn’t know exactly what they were doing – they just had to follow their generals and hope for the best. And that, dear readers, is the essence of the 1860s – that feeling of unsureness is exactly what the young men of both the South and the North had to go through when they fought and later, when they rebuilt the country. It doesn’t matter that we fought with pool noodles, doesn’t matter that we ate pizza and drank juice and played video games after it was over. All that matters is that for one precious hour on a Saturday morning, 77 people banded together and made history come alive.

Wish you’d been there to see it? Check out the videos of the reenactment here:

1. Trailer 1:


2. Trailer 2:


3. Movie:


Texas Secedes

April, 2013

“I have an announcement,” Texas said.

“So does his desk,” muttered Connecticut. “It’s saying, Get this guy off of me, before I collapse!”

I had to admit that Connecticut had a point. Texas’ desk, on which he was standing, was emitting some rather loud creaks, and its legs were looking a little more bowed than ordinary.

“Hush, y’all,” Louisiana said. “I wanna hear this.”

“After much deliberation,” Texas said, “I have decided to- ow!”

“You’ve decided to ‘ow’?” Georgia asked confusedly.

“Maybe it’s a code word,” South Carolina offered. “Like, maybe, what he really means is – ‘I have decided to take tap-dancing classes’?”

“That,” Georgia said slowly, “is the stupidest idea I have ever heard. Why would a state need to tap-dance?”

South Carolina shrugged. “Why not?”

“Actually,” I said, “I think he said ‘ow’ because his desk just collapsed on top of him.”

“Oh, yeah,” South Carolina said thoughtfully. “It could be that, too.”

Texas raised an arm from under the pile of splintered wood in the center of the room, and waved. “I’m okay!” he said, hauling himself up. “Dang desk… anyway, as I was saying – after much deliberation… I have decided to secede from the Union.”

Silence fell over the room. Vermont and North Carolina stopped pinching each other. Oklahoma and New Mexico stared at Texas, identical expressions of amazement on their faces. Massachusetts’ mouth was hanging open, his eyes bulging and his face slack with shock. I would have laughed if I hadn’t felt the exact same way.

The still was only broken when Mississippi squeaked loudly and fell off his chair. Alabama, who had been holding his hand tightly, emitted a similar squeak and followed him to the floor. 

Massachusetts finally found his voice. “You’re doing what?”

“Seceding,” Texas said.

South Carolina shrugged. “Big deal. I’ve done it too, you know.”

“Yeah,” North Carolina said bitterly. “And then the Civil War happened.”

South Carolina’s smile instantly dropped off her face. “Oh. I, um, forgot about that.”

“Let’s not get off topic,” Louisiana said. “I just found out my neighbor’s seceding from the country. Can we discuss this, please?”

“Yes, let’s,” Massachusetts said, frowning. “Secession is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. We’ve been telling you that since 1845.”

“Well, I dispute that!” Texas yelled.

“And I dispute your dispution!” Massachusetts yelled back.

I was pretty sure ‘dispution’ wasn’t a word, but Massachusetts’ face looked dangerously close to exploding, and I didn’t really want to push him over the edge.

Now Vermont joined in, his expression identical to Massachusetts’. “You can’t secede!”

“Oh yes I can!” Texas said, his hands curling into fists. “I don’t have to listen to you!”

“Oh yes you do!

“Says who?

I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand their bickering one moment longer. “Wait!” I yelled. Texas, Massachusetts and Vermont all froze.

“Why?” I asked.

“Why what?” Vermont snapped.

Why does Texas want to secede?”

“Who cares why I want to?” Texas asked.

“Because,” I said, “if we know the problem, maybe we can fix it so you won’t have to secede.”

There was a general murmur of assent, and everyone’s eyes fixed on a very flustered Texas.

“It doesn’t matter!” he said, reddening. “The point is, I’m seceding, and you can’t do anything about it.”

“You need a reason to secede,” Georgia pointed out, not unreasonably.

“No I don’t!” Texas shot back. “I just want to, that’s all! And I can!”

I sighed. Today’s meeting was going to be a very long one.  I had planned on sorting through some papers when I got back, but noooo

“Oh no you can’t,” Vermont said.

“Oh yes I can,” Texas replied – and with that, we were officially back to Square Zero.

Then Vermont punched Texas, and we slid back to Square Negative-One.

“Oh Lord,” Georgia whispered. “This is bad. This is very, very bad.”

“You can say that again,” North Carolina said, joining us. “If it gets any worse, we’re gonna have to refight the Civil War – and no one wants that.”

I nodded – and suddenly a flash of inspiration hit me. “That’s it,” I said slowly. “That’s it! No one wants the Civil War!”

Georgia raised an eyebrow. “What…?” Before she could say anything more, I did something that, looking back on it, could only be considered suicidal.

I leapt right in between Vermont and Texas.

“Dammit, Virginia! Get out of the way!”

“Unless you’re here to help me, you better skedaddle-”

“Shut up,” I said, cutting them off. “Look. Remember what happened last time someone tried to secede?”

Both fell silent as memories were dredged up – memories of blood-soaked clothes, whistling bullets and screams of agony. Smoke, fire, death… I couldn’t help but wince myself. Most of the fighting had taken place in Virginia, and – though a hundred and fifty years had passed since the weapons were laid down – the memories were still raw.

“I remember,” Vermont said quietly, and Texas nodded. Around us, I heard other states who’d been present – Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio – mumble their agreement.

“Do we really want that to happen again?” I asked. A flurry of ‘No’s’ greeted my question.

“But with the way things are going right now, it might,” Georgia said. “Y’all need to make up with each other. Texas, honey, if you can’t think of a good reason to secede, then don’t secede.”

“Be a sport, Texas!” Missouri called.

“Chill!” California added.

Texas bit his lip and stared around the room. “I- well- fine. Fine. Maybe I won’t secede right now.”

“Or ever,” Vermont added.

“Vermont,” North Carolina hissed. “Don’t push it.”

“I won’t push it if he won’t push it,” Vermont replied, sounding like a five-year-old negotiating for Lego box rights. Texas replied with a rather colorful statement that I’d rather not repeat here.

But despite all of that, I couldn’t help feeling happy. It was a beautiful, warm evening, and the meeting had been concluded without the Union breaking up.

Maybe I might even have time to sort out those papers.

A New Form of Torture

Back in the Middle Ages, many religious figures firmly believed that self-torture was the key to enlightenment. So they starved themselves, beat themselves, wore incredibly ugly hairy itchy undershirts, and clawed at their skin till their clothes were soaked in blood. (Kids, do not try this at home, because it will not lead you to enlightenment. It will, however, make your parents lead you to a psychiatrist.)

Anyway, the point is, they were masters at self-torture. Boiling themselves in oil? Sure! Tying themselves to a large spiky wheel and rolling across Interstate 5 in heavy traffic? Bring it on!

But none of them – none of them – would have been able to stomach the Twilight Saga.

Now, most of you have probably read the Twilight Saga, or at least heard of it. For those of you who have just emerged from the ground after spending 17 years in a state of suspended larval animation and thus have no idea what it is, this is the basic plot: Cedric Diggory, the much-beloved Hufflepuff hunk, inexplicably rises from the grave to become a sparkly, undead, bloodsucking Greek God by the name of Edward Dullen – uh, I mean Cullen. Ed then meets Bella Swan, his soul mate, who has conveniently moved from Phoenix, Arizona, to Forks, Washington. Here I will interrupt myself to ask – who in their right mind would name a town “Forks”? Does Forks actually exist, or is it some strange imagining on the author’s part? Your intrepid writer shall now take a break from writing to unearth the truth.

(One Google Search Later –)

OH MY GOD! FORKS REALLY DOES EXIST! It’s in some place called Clallam County, and it’s named after the forks in a bunch of nearby rivers with unpronounceable names.

Okay, back to the “plot” of the Twilight Saga.

So Ed meets his soul mate, briefly debates whether he should eat her or date her, and finally decides on the latter (much to the reader’s disgust, who by now is fervently praying for Bella’s death.) Then, because the author suddenly realized that no actual plot had been introduced as of yet, James arrives. James is an evil, ugly vampire who wants nothing but to kill Bella. His reasons for doing so aren’t really disclosed, but my guess is that a fed-up reader bribed him into committing the act.

Anyway, Ed kills James and thus incurs the wrath of Victoria, who is supposedly the series’ main antagonist. In reality, she only appears at the end of Book 1 and midway through Book 3, where she gets killed by – guess who – Edward. Generally, book series end when the villain is dead. But not the Twilight Saga. Oh no. No, no, no, no, no. There just has to be a Book 4, Breaking Dawn, which has absolutely no connection with the rest of the books and features a complicated plot involving an Italian vampire-Godfather-wannabe named “Aro”, the meaning of which is “infertile ground.” I do not know the significance of this fact, but it’s funny.

Name meanings aside, though, Aro’s the best character yet – mostly because he’s completely off his rocker.

Moving on. Aro thinks that Bella’s baby – did I mention she gave birth? Aro thinks Bella’s baby is an “immortal child,” an incredibly cute yet incredibly lethal vampire baby.

Huh. Sounds like my brother.

Anyhow, creating an immortal child is punishable by death, so Aro marches over to Forks with his Army of Doom. However, the Cullens are prepared for this – they too have assembled their own army, and have come up with a brilliant plan: reason with Aro, and politely request him to spare their lives.

And guess what? It works!

Oh yeah, I forgot. There are a bunch of werewolves, except they aren’t the kind that morph at the full moon and eat everyone in sight. They’re a bunch of supernaturally good-looking, unrealistically muscular, immortal guys who have full control over their shapeshifting, and work to protect innocent humans from vampires. Go figure.

Anyway, there’s one werewolf, named Taylor Lautner, sorry, Jacob Black, who believes he’s fallen in love with Bella, except in Breaking Dawn it’s revealed that he’s really in love with Bella’s baby – which, considering the fact that he’s 16 and the baby’s half a day old, is just plain creepy. But that’s the Twilight Saga for you.

So now, dear readers, you must be wondering: why would I go through this? Why would I read the Twilight Saga if it’s so horrendously, mind-implodingly, cell-death-inducingly awful?

The answer can be summed up in five words: Because they told me to.

“They,” of course, being my numerous friends and acquaintances, who, after learning that I hadn’t read the Twilight Saga, subjected me to slow torture by fangirling until I gave in and picked the books up.

The moral of this story?

Dear readers, your friends may be lovely. They may be caring, compassionate, attentive. But the moment they pull out that small, black book with an apple on the cover, hightail it out of there.

Operation: Benji! The Postscript

*cough* Yes, dear readers, I promised that there would be no more Operation: Benji! posts, that I was over and done with writing about my failure programming. But! I just had to write one last one, because I just figured out how to write that SETI program. (The one that calculates the Drake Equation, not the duck one.)

See, apparently there’s this nifty class called a Scanner, which can read input from your keyboard. Say you wanted to write a program to hold a conversation with your computer* using the Scanner class. It would probably look something like this:


import java.util.Scanner;

public class IHaveNoLife {

public static void main(String[] args) {

                Scanner hello = new Scanner(System.in);

                System.out.print(“Enter thy name, minion: “);

                String s1 = hello.nextLine();

                System.out.println(“Greetings, puny slave of technology. I see you have found the keyboard. Well done. Anyway, your name is ” + s1 + “, isn’t it? Ho hum. You bore me, lesser being. I am going to leave now.”);




As you can probably tell from this exchange, my computer is extremely humble and submissive.

But anyway, the point is that I’ve learned how to use the Scanner class! Now I can write that SETI program! Then- well, actually, I haven’t really figured out what to do with it once it’s done. Possibly add some ducks.


*Actually, I suggest not doing this particular activity, because from my experience computers are extremely unstable, psychologically delicate creatures who are prone to nervous breakdowns which can only be cured by banana pudding.

Most Interesting Methods of Execution In History


Dear readers, this list is completely from memory. This fact should scare you.

Without further ado…


Though guillotines are very well-known, and were even at one point touted as a humane method of execution, they make this list for a number of reasons.

Number one – they have a history. True, they were popularized by the Committee of Public Safety in the 1790s during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, but they had existed for years beforehand in places such as England, Scotland and Germany. In one case, an impoverished but brilliant carpenter living in Whitechapel, London, built himself a guillotine and used it to hack his own head off. (He was later buried by the side of the road in a shallow, unmarked grave, since suicide was considered an unforgivable sin).

Number two – their humaneness is questionable. One would think that someone would die after having their head chopped off – but actually, it takes a few seconds for the brain to completely shut down. During that span of time, the victim may feel a wave of excruciating pain. Experiments have been carried out to determine exactly how long this period is – one condemned scientist requested one of his friends to call out his name right after his head had been severed, and promised to give some indication if he (the head, that is, not the other guy) heard it. In another case, a murderer was beheaded and, when a scientist called out the murderer’s name, the head was observed to blink. Guesses range from anywhere from two to even ten seconds.



This was especially used during the sixteenth to seventeenth centuries, when the oh-so-gentle government of Britain was trying to “convince” English Roman Catholics to turn Protestant. Those who refused were subject to a variety of persecutions, and some were executed. Among those who were killed was an elderly lady, who was made to lie down with a door on top of her. Boulders were then piled on top of the door till she was crushed to death.


3) SCAPHISM-ed (okay, “scaphism-ed” isn’t strictly a word… but we’ll just have to make do.)

This is an especially gruesome one, put to use in ancient Persia. The victim, when sentenced to scaphism, was forced to ingest milk and honey till they developed severe diarrhea. Faeces, milk and honey were then smeared all over the victim’s body, and the victim was suspended over a body of water. Insects were attracted to the dirt covering the victim, and ended up either eating the victim alive or giving him a lethal infection. I think one word about sums this up: “EWWWW!!!!”



When one thinks of execution methods, hanging is probably the first one that comes to mind. Almost every society has used hanging as a penalty, some more than others – *cough* we’re looking at you here, Britain – but all the same, it deserves a mention here. The duration of a hanging victim’s suffering depended on many factors. Firstly, there was the quality of the rope. If the rope was strong, the victim’s likelihood of hanging to death would be greatly increased. Weak rope tended to break, leaving the victim with an intact neck and a rather painful drop to the wooden scaffold. Secondly, there was the victim’s size – heavier people were likely to drop quicker than lighter ones, and thus be put out of their misery almost immediately with a quick snap of the neck. Light people had to suffer through the agony of being slowly strangled to death.



You’ve probably heard of Bloody Mary Tudor, also known as “that psychotic queen before Elizabeth”. However, there is more to her than that. She was not only the psychotic queen before Elizabeth, she was the psychotic Protestant-burning queen before Elizabeth. England, at the time of Mary’s ascension to the throne, was in the middle of a period of religious turmoil sparked by Henry VIII’s decision to divorce both his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the Roman Catholic church. His son Edward and daughter Elizabeth were both Protestant, while Mary – his daughter by Catherine of Aragon – was a fanatical Roman Catholic. In an effort to revert England back to the “old religion”, she took to burning Protestant dissenters who refused to convert to Catholicism. Now, as you may imagine, burning alive was a fairly unpleasant, not to mention odoriferous, way to go. The condemned would pray for the smoke to quickly suffocate them, in order to avoid the agony of having to feel their flesh blacken and burn to a crisp. Some prisoners’ families bribed the guards to let them tie bags of gunpowder around the prisoners’ necks, so as to ease their sufferings and grant them a quick (albeit messy) death. This is what happened to two Protestant priests who were condemned by Mary – one of them was killed almost instantly by the fumes, while the other was partially burned before his bag of gunpowder went off and he died.

And that, dear readers, concludes How To Hack People Apart… With Style. You probably shouldn’t read this just before you sleep. Or eat. Especially if your food contains milk or honey.