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.


armandcabrera said...

Stapleton great post.
Your comments make me think of the other kind of person who wishes to return to those times. They see them as more wholesome and moral than our current society. Of course ignoring all the cruelty ,bigotry and ignorance of those days.

Unknown said...

Morse could definitely be accused of historical shortsightedness, since he looked at the slavery of his era and compared it to that of ancient Greece and Judea. The two systems were vastly different.

Gregory Becker said...

Has slavery really come to an end though or has it merely changed forms?
What if every blue collar worker decided to stay home for one week and refused to buy sell or trade anything during that week. How long would it take the government to force us back to work at gunpoint? Isn't that what Bush did to the UPS workers on strike not long ago?
I think slavery is still with us. We're told we have the freedom to find other employment if our current employer is not satisfactory but who would put that on a resume. Changing jobs is only competitive within a margin.
Sure people are paid to work but even slaves had to eat.
Corporations and employees look very similar to owners and slaves. Sometimes I think we are kidding ourselves.

Stapleton Kearns said...


There was certainly plenty of cruelty and bigotry then and now,

Stapleton Kearns said...


You have no doubt run into that argument before and I have simplified it for brevity. It is found at the link I have posted.

Stapleton Kearns said...

It sounds like you need a new job to me.
You will have a hard time convincing me that it is impossible to walk away from the job though. I got filtered through a lot of thin times for doing it, but I HAVE done it. Many others have as well. I felt exploited by employment, but no one sold my children out of the family, chased me down with dogs or cut off one of my feet when they caught me. My boss didn't count my children as his possessions,and I have never worn leg irons or been whipped.
I would have to say that although I disliked employment I never felt my plight was the equal of slavery.

armandcabrera said...

'My Bondage My Freedom' by Frederick Douglass chronicles everything Stapleton mentions from Douglass's first hand experience. It is a powerful reminder how bigoted and cruel people can be to others they deem different or inferior. And like Stapleton says our age has its own share of horrors it commits.

Gregory Becker said...

You're right just venting