Monday, October 26, 2009
Samuel Morse 2
Above, later portrait of Samuel Morse by Mathew Brady, wearing medals presented to him by various governments. Samuel Morse was a complicated man and held some opinions that are shocking today. I think we would consider him a bigot and a nut today and I expect in his own time he was thought that as well. It is difficult though to compare opinions held by people from one era to the next.
Hollywood has made a zillion a historically themed movies wherein a character somehow possesses contemporary Californian beliefs and ideals but somehow mysteriously lives in the 19th century. Everyone around him is contrasted as backwards and stupid by the screenwriters. This is a historical narcissism where we imagine that we are so much smarter than a previous generation and can even tell ourselves smugly that "had we lived then, we would have not have held the opinions of the era"
But I don't think we are on that plane when we are faulting Morse for his ideas. Although he was a generous man who gave much to charity, Morse held that the abolitionists were wrong and turned to the Bible to prove it . He argued that God had OK ed slavery, as Christ never reproached the holders of "servants" and he encouraged those "servants" to serve their masters well.
Morse argued that the holders of slaves in the south were charged by God for caring for the four million or more slaves that he felt were to be redeemed, brought to civilization and Christianized by their owners. A description and excerpts of his dreary pro slavery writings can be found here.
Morse also ran on an antiCatholic immigration platform for the Mayor of New york in 1836. He received few votes. He also wrote a series of pamphlets and a book that argued that the government of Austria was in a conspiracy against the United States and was attempting to destroy our liberty by sending waves of Catholic immigrants to our country. If you would for some reason want to read this book ( and I can't imagine why you would ) it is here . I have presented this not so you may read it, but as a proof that these things are true. History tells us some things and leaves others out of the narrative.
As if that wasn't enough, Morse married his first cousin, once removed, Sarah Elizabeth Griswold.