Skip to main content

tv   A. Roger Ekirch Discusses American Sanctuary  CSPAN  March 19, 2017 8:00pm-8:51pm EDT

8:00 pm
booktv is on twitter and facebook and we want to hear from you. booktv or post a comment on the facebook page, [inaudible conversations] >> welcome to the regulator bookshop in north carolina. i am a professor of history at the university of north carolina chapel hill, and we are happy to have c-span here to cover this talk for booktv. ..
8:01 pm
2010 "both right." with many awards include national council for the humanities. tonight professor ekirch is
8:02 pm
discussing his book "american sanctuary." i reviewed this in "wall street journal" and i wrote: the author sets his dripping and timely book in the previous we're ya we questions of refugees and citizenship had dramatic consequences in a presidential election and for the future of the country. it's a timely book, hat to do with refugees refugees and the f the united states. it's an excellent book and i loved every payment of is. welcome, roger ekirch. >> thank you very much, kathleen. in preparing this afternoon's remarks i was remind of
8:03 pm
political rally during last year's campaign at which a a senate candidate spoke. the host of the rally informed the crowd the speaker needs no introduction but he has insist on one. mess let the record show hat child i deeply appreciate the kind remarks they were offered up voluntarily. being on the cusp of march madness i bring you all best wishes and good luck from virginia tech. it's wonderful to be in north carolina. every summer my family routinely spends a week on the outer
8:04 pm
banks, which as my friends know, i have long likened to heaven. contrary to one of my all-time favorite hollywood movies, "field of dreams." heaven does not's in iowa but in north carolina. not least in the research triangle where long ago, i spent six months researching my first book. the fact that the famous regulator riots figured prominently in that book makes this visit to the very heart of regulator country and this magnificent book store, a very sentimental journey indeed.
8:05 pm
thanks to y'all for your interest in my new book, "american sanctuary." and thanks to the regulator book shop for graciously hosting this event. i would also like to thank c-span for covering it, and acknowledge as well the critical role that a fellowship from the national endowment for the humanities played in the writing of the manuscript. the en. do you's -- endowment's generosity has been tremendously important to virtually every book i have published. hopefully this is not caused them any lasting regret. despite my training training try american history, which i do
8:06 pm
teach at virginia tech, my published work has been something of a hodgepodge. varying all over the map from colonial america to great britain, ireland, and continental europe, including the history of slaves. found myself in recent years more often speaking to groups of physicians than to historians. quite a heady experience for someone who really struggled to earn a b in high school chemistry. i was the guy in the back row who could never light his bunson burner. in writing "american sanctuary" i like to think i have returned to my original moorings as an early american
8:07 pm
historian. the book opened with the bloodiest mutiny ever suffered by the royal navy, a horrific eruption during the most storied inwick in british sea-fairing history, the height of the french wars when england was imperiled by invasion. the captain was murdered and nine other officers aboard the hms her miny, a 32-gun frigate. manned by more than 150 seamen. slashed by cut hases, their skulls crushed by tomahawks, the officers, including captain pigott, we heaved discovery
8:08 pm
bored in the care beep, ten miles off the coast of pork puerto rico. the carnage sent shock with as across the british isles while scores scores of mutinieers, scattered to the far shores of the north atlantic. concern years ago hearing the name hermaney i would have conjured up visions of the harry potter's sidekick. the mutiny was far less memorable. especially in the united states. it has remained for historians a little known event that truth be
8:09 pm
told, i happened upon by chance. guided only by a vague interest in embarking on a topic set during the era of the american revolution. unlike the south pacific saga of the bounty, eight years earlier, the butchery aboard the ship in 1797 generated few heroics. the tale is not easily romanticized with little to watch captain bly's epic survival and the adventure odd've othe bookies crew. but the blood bath in puerto rico's passage did have profound
8:10 pm
consequences, consequences for the infant american public that continued to resonate today. was we all know resonate today. not withstanding the iconic goal of the american revolution, voiced by tom payne to an asylum for mankind. many in the united states, particularly members of the dominant federalist political party, had grown increasingly nativist during the 1790s with the lapping tide of xenophobia finally cresting were the congress passage of the alien
8:11 pm
acts in 1798. in europe, incentury rex was in the air and not only was the french resolution still unfolding, triggering military clashes across the continent, but in 1789 a fierce rebellion against british authority failed in ireland, resulting in some 040,000 deaths and forcing many dissidents to flee for safety to the united states. massachusetts congressman ranted that he did not wish to invite hoards of wild irishmen, nor the turbulent and disorderly of all
8:12 pm
parts of the world to come here with a view to disturb our tranquility. death, stone dead in the view of federalists, the dominant political party in the early republic, were visions of america's special role in the world has a beacon of liberty. one of the most catastrophic blunders his presidency, john adams, george washington's successor, authorized the extradion of a sailor named johnathan robbins, a native of danbury, connecticut, who had been impressed, that is to say conscripted by the royal nave,
8:13 pm
or so he claimed. great britain insisted prior to job thousand robbins' execution, that august in jamaica, after which he was hung in chains indefinitely the entrance to port royal, great britain insisted that the seaman was really the most notorious mutinieer aboard the stash crosserred hermine. whether robin or thomas nash, such was the political firestorm in the united states over his surrender that thomas jefferson aveered, upon hearing his
8:14 pm
execution, no one has affected the popular mind more. not only did the ghost of jonathan robbins, immortalized by jefferson and the emergent republican party, as a freedom fighter against british tyranny, greatly influenced the tumultuous presidential election of 1800, but it also helped to shape the young republic's identity. how americans viewed themselves and how to hey -- they envisioned the country's larger destiny. the fact that robbins may have
8:15 pm
been the irish ringleader thomas nash, became irrelevant. more important to most americans than his birthplace were his republican convictions, republican with a small r. thereby encouraging with unprecedented power a broader definition of citizenship and national identity based on belief and on volition rather than on the accidental vagueries of birthplace. of parallel significance, the hermine crisis let directly to the young nations where momentous decision to grant political asylum to european refugees, albeit tragically, whites only, who happened to be
8:16 pm
fleeing foreign governments. including, ironically, former crew members of the hermine. the granting of political asylum, major achievement in fulfilling the magnetic promise of american independence, to paraphrase jefferson in words that bear special resonance today, the unsuccessful strugglers against tyranny have been the chief martyrs of treason laws in foreign countries. we should not wish, then, to give up to the executioner the patriot who fails and flees to us. thank you, and thank you again
8:17 pm
to the regulator book shop for having me. before answering any questions, which i hope some of you might have, i'd like to read a brief selection from the second chapter that describes the conclusion of the mutiny aboard the hermine in the earl morning house of september 22, 1797. the passage in the book commences after the gruesome deaths of the captain and three officers, who were shortly past midnight, heaved overboard and then their deaths followed by a hiatus in the violence.
8:18 pm
and then, as just to catch their breaths, the slaughter stopped. little more than half an hour facing scant resistance, the mutinieers murdered captain pigott, two lieutenants and a mid-shipman. there possibly the killing might have ended, such at least was the view of midshipman casey. their first for vengeance, he later wrote, tried to staunch the blood-letting. with three senior officers slain there were limits, he hoped, to the men's ferocity. striking for liberty, as one mutinieer described their sole aim to rid themselves of captain pigott's oppression.
8:19 pm
lieutenant reed, who had been assaulted and injured early on, received a visit in the gun room from able seaman richard redmond, who in shaking lieutenant reed's hand, said they did not intend to hurt him, who never hurt them. would that have been so. the violence tapped a deep wellspring of hatred, pent up for the summer, the lull in the violence that night was brief. scarcely three hours of pigott's death, 35-year-old lawrence cronin from belfast, leapt atop a table in the gunroom, cramped with ship mates.
8:20 pm
still others on the quarter deck, peered below through a large skylight with a grated cover. formerly an able seaman, the super's mate, lawrence cronin, was man of some education and now his voice arising, he ex-sorted his -- exhorted his comrades to new feats of bloodshed. with the aid of a lantern he read from a prepared text from his pocket, beginning with the proud boast, i've been a republican since the war, declaring they were doing very right, a very good thing, he echoed a growing call for every officer's death. literally to wipe the decks clean. followed by shouts from aloft,
8:21 pm
hand 'em up, past the buggers up, kill them all. and imperative to which most of the original leaders now resigned themselves. we might as well be hung for a sheep, as for a lamb, one of the original conspirators grudgingly admitted. more than that, by defying the popular will, the original ringleaders stood to lose control of the uprising, including any chance by setting the ship's course to avoid a hangman's noose. much less the swipe of an angry ship mid-'s tomahawk. the tide of violence showing few
8:22 pm
signs of ebbing had yet to run its course, witch's brew of hatred and vengeance. it was over quickly. taken first was the purser, steven pacey, after he had first been ordered to sit by the mast, stabbed repeatedly he was cast into the ink black sea, followed shortly be hugh sampson, the surgeon, previously punished for stealing from hugh sampson, his 14-year-old servant, taunted the senior mercilessly with choruses of hand him up, hand the buggers up. next to be flung over the side, his skull split by an axe, was lieutenant reed, not withstanding richard redman's
8:23 pm
bedside assurance that he would not be harmed. not to be outdone, richard redman later described as a tall and lean, with a -- red complex, seized the boatswain, john martin, who brought his wife, fanny, aboard the ship with captain pigott's blessing. not uncommon in the royal navy. by the holy ghost, ex-exclaimed redmon the boatswain shall go with the rt. my god, john martin declared to his attackers, what have i done to you? i've only been six months with you. dragged to the main deck, martin put up a ferocious struggle, protesting that he would not die like a dog.
8:24 pm
bathed in blood, his knees buckling this boatswain was hurled into the sea. by which time fanny, a witness, fainted. her life spared, she nonetheless was forced for the remainder of the night to share a cabin with able seaman richard redman. not even lieutenant mcintosh escapeed the mob's rath. in the final ands of yellow fever he was carried aloft in a blanket, reportedly, and i quote, out of his mind, and thrown over the starboard gangway by a marine dubbed happy tom. earlier naval mutinies in
8:25 pm
british history, even e french terror of 1793, 1794, the carnage aboard the hermine was not. thank you very much. i'd be delighted to try to answer any questions with the sole exception of giving repair jonathan robbins' true identity, whether he was native of danbury connecticut or as the british insists and the federalists waterford ireland. that mystery i'd prefer to let the book itself solve. again, my thanks to the regulate year bookshop and c-span. [applause] please.
8:26 pm
>> so, how did, according to your book, did the robbins controversy lead to america adopting political asylum for foreign refugees? >> that was one of m my pour surprising discoveries. again, he was executed, extradited and executed in 1799. under the terms of a treaty, known as the jade treaty with great britain of 1794, extradition was permitted under certain conditions. but such was the large outcry against his surrender, including even some members of the federalist party, the attorney general himself, objected vociferously with both president adams and his secretary of
8:27 pm
state, timothy pickering, a fervent anglophile. persuading adams to give consent and requesting a federal judge give the seaman occupy. after that, after the turbulent election of 1800, in which this was a pivotal event, for 43 years, not one american or foreign alien, citizen or not, would be turned over to a foreign government.
8:28 pm
precisely because of the clamor of the robbins controversy. it was like a bloody shirt that the republicans waved in their efforts ultimately to put a nail in the casket of the federalist party. not to say there weren't other equally compelling issues, but it haunted both pickering and adams, arguably to their deaths. adams wrote in 1812 to a good friend, what a scandalous affair. i was nearln centuried as he was -- send centuried by the house of representatives on the verge of an election. i don't know if it died as war dead let. it continued to live on.
8:29 pm
robin was the most celebrated martyr for republican members, republican followers, since the boston massacre and lexington and concord. he was a poster child, literally a post poster child. that it mate cutout representations of him they would bring out in state and continued to bring out in national elections, such as in 1804, when jefferson, of course, was reelected. finally, with no branch of the federal government rushing to
8:30 pm
re-establish extradition, finalities taken up in 1842 as one of the provisions of a major treaty between the united states and great britain, known as the burton treaty. daniel want sir is counseled to be care of the quote-unquote popular clamor caused by jonathan robbins, an amazing life span. newspapers call the robin affairs as the only example in united states history of anyone having been extradited for people to refer to and it hat gone horribly, horribly wrong in
8:31 pm
part because adams never inquired whether he was even an american citizen. anyway, to answer your question more succinctly, the webster ashburton treaty does incleared include an extradition provision, the first after all these years, premised, however, on the condition that anyone guilty of committing a political offense, mutiny, desertion, treason, would not be extradited by either country to the other. thereafter, every extradition treaty signed by the united states, quite rapidly after the webster ashburton treaty, inserted the political exception, as did a law passed several years later, the first
8:32 pm
extradition law passed by congress, made it clear that no one could be extradited to a foreign country accused of having committed a political offense. thereby taking a major step. there were still others yet to be taken, certainly, for anyone who is not a white european, but taking a major step in fulfilling tom payne's iconic pledge, widely shared at the time of the revolution, to make america an asylum of liberty for mankind. yes. >> seems to important politically and legally and part of what americans thought of themselves as, the beacon for liberty and a refuge.
8:33 pm
hat happened then to make it not be, say, as famous as the boston massacre or other bloody sorts of the era? >> excellent question, which i still ask myself. why is this not bn -- this very -- historical evidence has not been mined previously. one practical reason. as anyone like yourself, who engages deeply in historical research knows, we have been blessed for arrively the -- roughly the last ten, 15 years, by these electronic, digital databases that permit us to scan
8:34 pm
vast amounts of primary material, not least newspapers, of which 200 were published in the united states in 1800. tremendously influential. as european visitor stated, by newspapers america is governed. even more influential than any form of media, c-span not withstanding today. so that what previously would have taken several lifetimes to canvass these numbers can be accomplished dish tell my students this. they can overturn existing
8:35 pm
interpretations, finding new topics, in the course of in my case, several months to at least gain a deeper understandin of the hermine crisis in their case working on a smaller topic, of course, a period of a week or so. i tell my students, we're still looking for needles in haystacks but we have one huge magnet now with which to work. so that that's a practical explanation. historians who have written on the revolution of 1800, by agoographys of john adams, do biographies of john adams, for whatever reason, have not plumed the departments of in newspapers
8:36 pm
beyond a few obvious titles. beyond that, i think. the applies to several parts of history. this is labeled the counterquestion's fallacy in which we get in a groove -- i'm not going to say rut -- we get in a groove whereby many times, instead of thinking of -- or new ways to view important events, particularly of a political nature, such as the election of 1800, we are determined instead to rebut an existing
8:37 pm
interpretation with evidence th has been around literally for, what, over 200 years. which is widespread, but not terribly deep. i think that's another explanation, that -- i mean, the hermine mutiny was hiding in plain sight. and yet because there was not a narrative to fit it into, it was, i think, widely overlooked. in this country by historians, and for many years in great britain, deliberately overlooked as an embarrassment as the most embarrassing -- the most violent and for that matter arguably the most successful mutiny in the
8:38 pm
history of the royal navy. so, without anything much better to do with my time, i began with a mutiny and i have to give all due credit to several previous works on the subject, one a popular history written by dudley bone in the 1960s, and recent lay bit over 20 years ago, a very meticulous constitutional analysis of the issues raised in congress as a result of the robbins affair by the prominent legal historian, right wedgewood. that was published in the late
8:39 pm
1980s. both of those were a big help, but they did not pique anyone's curiosity, and so i just followed the threads that the mutiny left in it wake, including those left by these two historians. and it was a story that continued to surprise, continued to surprise in terms of it impact on the election of 1800, the impact upon conceptions of citizenship, which of course we are very much struggling with today, but i can tell you, with the election of thomas jefferson and the passage of a new naturalization law in the wake
8:40 pm
of the alien acts in 1802, there was no doubt among members of the republican party and shrewder members of the federalist party, parallels today are amazing. insert hispanic for irish. there's absolutely no doubt that foreign aliens possessed constitutional rights so that even those who thought jonathan robbins was indeed the irishman thomas nash were appalled that he was not accorded a trial by jury, the ability to confront his accusers, and given due process. and yet here we are, still debating or at least raising the issue of constitutional rights,
8:41 pm
espeally for foreign aliens, future citizens, hopefully, of the united states. it was repeatedly that issue was settled by john marshall in the 19th century, even though he was a very fervent supporter of the federalists and job adams. -- john adams. so, that and then the whole issue of political asylum and when i learned that no one had been extradited for 42 years, i thought to myself, that speaks volumes about the power of this controversy.
8:42 pm
>> i'm curious, this may not by close enough to your topic but -- two-propping question. one it was inning english -- [inaudible] and secondly, assuming that a fair number of the crewmen were -- was the u.s. providing evidence as to whether the u.s. was providing sanctuary for these seamen who would no doubt bail when the ship put into port. wonder if there's some l. -- the irish question, and also that question that -- >> to take your second question first, there's absolutely no denying that large numbers of british seamen, especially if
8:43 pm
they had been impressed interest the royal navy, deserted to the united states, especially when british ships came into american ports. this was the british defense, coupled with the very pragmatic argument that they lived by their navy. without their navy, they were vulnerable to invasion, and that had been brought home to them vividly in the american revolution when they lost control of the english channel for the first time in decades. lost control to the french and
8:44 pm
the spanish. but i digress. on the other hand, there's absolutely no doubt as well that british officers interpreted the orders they received, permitting them to impress suspected deserters and to confiscate foreign vessels, even those belonging to neutrals, they interpret those orders very liberally, propelled in part by the fact that virtually everyone, when a ship was confiscated, stood to game a portion of the profits from the commander-in-chief, in this case in the west indies on down to the lowliest cabin boy.
8:45 pm
timothy pickering, who is not in my view, very laudible individual, does nonetheless deserve ample credit for impressing the issue of impressment repeatedly with the british, and in fact, i think perhaps part of his willingness to give jonathan robbins up was to perhaps pacify the british, and show that the united states indeed was willing, even in a dubious case like this, whom the british desperately wanted back, willing to cooperate. he hoped, think, that then they would prove more understanding when it came to impressing
8:46 pm
american citizens and confiscating american ships, but of course they did not and come ten, 12 years later, impressment was not the sole cost of the war of 1812 but certain lay leading cause. sorry. what what's first question? >> the first question -- you answered also which was i have no idea whether english ships were putting into u.s. ports during this period. take it they were. >> they were. but i'll try to keep this very brief. the most critical election, state election, leading up to the presidential election of 1800, was in new york. virtually both the federalists and the republican runs agreed on this issue.
8:47 pm
who won the state legislative election would determine whom new york electors come december 3rd vote for, for president. all or nothing. right on up to the very day that the polls opened, for three days, the new york press constantly hammered the federalists on the issue of jonathan rob best interests and impressment, and then in one of those quirks of history, who should appear on the horizon noun other than a british -- whose brother was next to nelson
8:48 pm
in terms of being revered in england as a naval commander. israel was ill-fated to say the least. shows up in new york harbor for a variety of reasons, having just impressed several ship loads of amecan cizens and con confiscated the ships. the republicans under the excellent political skills of aaron burr, at the time, exploit this so that what had been expected to be a federalist victory, turns out to be a comfortable republican triumph. the federalists themselves say as much, so also does the
8:49 pm
british ambassador to the united states, who laments the answer of the notorious israel palou right on the eve of the elections, and he would in time receive another command, only because of the influence of his brother. but he was specifically removed from the waters of the north atlantic the behest of the united states. >> super interesting. >> anyone else? otherwise, again, thank you so much. for coming and thank you all the mere for absolutely splendid questions.
8:50 pm


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on