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Sunday, 27 November 2016

Who was Fidel Castro?

Fidel Castro
As of writing the former president of Cuba and former revolutionary Fidel Castro passed away two days ago. In Havana the public mourns while in the United States exiled Cubans celebrate. To some Castro was a tyrant, others a warrior for the people, and others both. Today we shall look at who exactly was Fidel Castro and why there are so many polarizing views on him.

Early Life
Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz was born on August 13, 1926 in eastern Cuba to a wealthy sugarcane farmer from Spain, Angel Castro y Argiz, and a household servant, Lina Ruz Gonzalez. When he was young his father divorced his first wife and soon married his mother. It was through this that he managed to get a good education being sent to schools in Santiago de Cuba, and later a Catholic high school in Havana. Although he did not do well academically he did do well in athletics and sports. In 1945 he attended the University of Havana to study law and it is here where he first became interested in politics. Cuba of the 1940s was very different from the Cuba of today. The main reason being that since independence in 1902 Cuba had been virtually a puppet of the United States with the Cuban constitution allowing the US to intervene in Cuban affairs, finances, and foreign politics. Castro, whose politics had drifted towards the far-left of the political spectrum, saw this as outrageous and started protesting, as well as protesting against the corruption of the Ramon Grau government. He joined the Party of the Cuban People in 1947 and when Grau defeated the party in the elections Castro started receiving death threats from gang leaders employed by Grau as police officials. The June of 1947 would see him delve into revolutionary politics.

Early Revolutionary, 1947-53
Castro and others preparing to go to the Dominican Republic
In June 1947 Castro learnt of a plan for Cubans and exiles from the Dominican Republic to invade and topple the government of General Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo had come to power in 1930 and had presided over a corrupt regime which brutally suppressed civil liberties. The United States had been supporting him due to his anti-communist stance. Before Castro, the Cubans, and exiles could invade the Dominican Republic Grau stopped the invasion, (upon a request from the USA), and Castro narrowly evaded arrest. Until he moved to Colombia in 1948 he would lead several protests condemning the Grau government with one leading to him being badly beaten. It was during this time period that he started adopting a Marxist rhetoric in his speeches. In 1948 he moved to Bogota, Colombia where he would meet his first wife Mirta Diaz Balart. Like Castro Mirta came from a wealthy Cuban family. She too had a far-left political ideology and this allowed them to marry quickly. Also, they soon had a son, Fidel Jr. While in Bogota he took part in the anti-government protests which were occurring in the country. By the time Fidel Jr. was born Fidel and Mirta had moved back to Havana where Fidel became embroiled in the anti-racism campaigns of the left and attacking the government's repression in speeches. The new family remained in debt for sometime with Castro's legal practice, which he set up in 1950, not earning much money. He did, however, continue with a political career running for a seat in the House of Representatives for the Cuban People's Party (Ortodoxes) in 1952. However, this was cut short when General Fulgencio Batista, who was briefly president in the 1930s and had ruled through puppets since, ousted the government in 1952 and cancelled elections. Batista's coup was not widely opposed at first, Castro and the Ortodoxes being an exception, with pay increases for the army and police being widely welcomed. However, his suspension of huge tracks of the 1940 constitution, harsh repression of socialist and left-wing parties, and closer ties with the USA caused many young activists turn against Batista. Thus the Cuban Revolution started.

Cuban Revolution
Cuban Revolution
Castro formed a revolutionary group called The Movement which managed to gain over 1,200 followers within a few months. Inspired by figures such as Mao Tse-tung Castro planned to lead a guerrilla war to inspire the impoverished to overthrow the government. To do so he planned to attack Moncado barracks outside Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953. With so many impoverished cane cutters in the area he hoped it would inspire them to join him. With 165 revolutionaries they attacked and were soon captured. In retaliation Batista had ten prisoners shot for every soldier killed and 70 of Castro's revolutionaries were killed. Castro was incarcerated and while in prison he changed the name of his group to The 26th of July Movement. In the end he only served two years of his fifteen year sentence and while in prison he wrote to a friend saying that only 'armed insurrection' instead of electoral politics would defeat Batista. Upon leaving prison he joined his younger brother, Raul, in Mexico. While in prison his marriage started to fall apart and Marti divorced him while he went to Mexico. However, when her son went to visit Fidel in Mexico Castro had him kidnapped so he could not return home to his mother who now worked for the government. 

While in Mexico Raul introduced him to another revolutionary: Che Guevara. (Please see here). In 1956 the Castros and Che returned to Cuba to begin the guerrilla war in earnest. They began by raiding small barracks until they became increasingly powerful against the failing Batista regime. When Batista censored the press Castro managed to get an interview with the New York Times earning him worldwide acclaim. Fidel soon became a well known figure around the world with the political left seeing him as Garibaldi reborn, while the right saw him as a dangerous, Marxist firebrand. In 1959 Batista fled to Portugal after both the United States and Mexico refused him asylum. Castro declared himself Prime Minister and started trials of Batista's supporters. These trials were very popular at home thanks to Batista's brutal atrocities during the Revolution. Later President John F. Kennedy would describe Batista as 'one of the most bloody and repressive dictatorships in the long history of Latin American repression'. It has been alleged that 20,000 were executed on Batista's orders but modern estimates suggest a far smaller figure. The trials and executions of Batista's supporters may not have been fair and we cannot find out until Cuba allows access to its records. Castro in 1959 defended the trials by saying 'We are not executing innocent people or political opponents. We are executing murderers and they deserve it'.

Castro's social and economic policies
Castro soon started changing Cuba from a racially segregated, society where foreign landowners controlled much of a country where civil liberties were curtailed to a more socially equal society, with more equal land ownership but one where civil liberties still remained curtailed. There is a paradox in Castro's Cuba where a whole section of civil rights were given but many vital ones like freedom of speech, assembly, and movement were deprived. Racial segregation was abolished early on by Castro, and education offered for black Cubans but institutionalized racism remained where by 1979 there were only five black ministers out of thirty-four and only sixteen out of one hundred and forty-six members of the Party's central committee. Although not openly socialist until after the Bay of Pigs invasion, (which we shall later talk about), throughout his career Castro implemented socialist policies. Free health care was established early on and is actually a key part of the constitution of 1976. A key aspect of Castro's policies was land reform with the Institute for Agrarian Reform being established early on, and has allowed greater equality among who owns the land. He also nationalized several American sugar companies which were dominating Cuban land which would later earn Castro the hatred of the United States. Castro's and Guevara's education policy also saw remarkable success with literacy rising from 60-76% of the population to around 96% by 1961. In the 1990s Cuba even passed several laws protecting the environment making it one of the greenest countries in the world. Castro's regime also gave greater equality for women, and (although it took until 1979) greater equality for the LGBTQ+ community. However, Castro severely curtailed civil liberties.

Seeing elections fail to oust Batista firmly placed him against democracy and today Cuba is one of the most authoritarian countries in the world. Political parties are banned, censorship is widespread, freedom of speech is banned, and it took until 2013 for Cubans to be able to leave the country. Before the Bay of Pigs invasion 10% of Cuba's population fled the country in fear that they would be persecuted under a possible communist regime, which did happen. We do not know how many political executions have happened in Cuba since 1959. Although the figure is far smaller than that of the USSR, North Korea, or China it could number the thousands. Castro may have brought benefits to Cuba his legacy is of an authoritarian Cuba.

Bay of Pigs and the Missile Crisis
Missile site
After seizing power in 1959 the United States was fearful of Castro. Although he claimed he was not a Marxist there was a fear of a possible ally of the USSR appearing in Cuba. To curtail Castro's influence the USA announced it would cease buying Cuban sugar and stop selling petroleum to Cuba. Immediately the USSR, whose leader Nikita Khrushchev had become almost infatuated with Castro, announced it would buy sugar and sell petroleum to Cuba. In March 1960 President Eisenhower gave money to train Cuban exiles in Guatemala with the intention of sending them to Cuba to oust Castro. In April 1961 a force of 1,500 Cuban exiles invaded Cuba from the Bay of Pigs. The new president, Kennedy, decided to withdraw US planes to avoid the US being blamed for the invasion, (which it was anyway). It was a disaster. Che Guevara and Castro used Soviet made tanks to meet the invaders. Almost all the exiles were either captured or killed. The December of 1961 Castro announced he was a Marxist-Leninist and sided with the USSR over the Sino-Soviet split which greatly upset his friend Che who would leave Cuba a few years later.

Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev asked Castro if he could have nuclear missiles placed in Cuba. Castro accepted. When the United States discovered the missile sites Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba to prevent any further construction materials, or missiles, to go to Cuba. Castro released a 5 point plan demanding that: the USA end the embargo, return Guantanamo Bay, stop supporting dissidents, stop violating Cuban territorial waters, and to stop violating Cuban air space. This standoff nearly escalated into full nuclear war and has been called the Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev and Kennedy went into negotiations where the USSR promised to remove missiles from Cuba in return for a promise that the USA would not invade Cuba and to eventually remove missiles from Turkey. Castro, left out from the negotiations, was outraged. Despite the Crisis ending the USA would continue to embargo Cuba, it is still embargoing it as well, and there would be over 600 attempts to assassinate Castro by the CIA.

After the Crisis
For years after the Cuban Missile Crisis Castro's Cuba remained out of major events of the Cold War to instead focus on domestic issues. However, in the 1970s this started to change when Cuba's economy exploded boomed thanks to a rising demand for sugar. Castro saw himself as the world leader against capitalism and imperialism seeing the USSR as ignoring anti-imperialist struggles. He saw Africa as 'the weakest link in the imperialist chain' and, would start by funding and sending advisers to the Marxist MPLA in Angola. When the South African and American funded FLNA and UNITA received extra funding he actually sent 18,000 troops to support the MPLA. In Mozambique he supported the Marxist RENAMO, supported Marxist Ethiopia during the Ethiopian-Somali War, and gave support to the Marxist South Yemen. His funding and soldiers also went to Latin America to support the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the 1980s. However, he did garner controversy both domestically and internationally. Che Guevara was much loved in Cuba and Castro's refusal to fund his campaign in Bolivia, leading to his execution, greatly upset many Cubans. Controversially he backed the far-right Argentinian junta during the Falklands War where he even offered them military training. 

When the USSR under Mikhail Gorbachev started to re-approach the United States and begin to reform itself in glasnost and perestroika Castro became alone. In 1989 the execution of several senior figures were either executed or sentenced for corruption and drug trafficking. This led to two questions in Cuban society: were they removed because they wished to usher in a figure like Gorbachev, and has Castro's Cuba become the thing which it strove to end in the 1950s? From the early 1990s to the early 2000s Cuba went through various economic declines and food shortages, but despite it all Castro remained popular domestically. Hugo Chavez's election in 1999 created an ally in Venezuela which helped bolster Castro's position with Chavez sending barrels of oil to Cuba in return for Cuban doctors. In 2006 thanks to old age he stepped down with his brother Raul becoming president, and in 2008 he retired. After resigning from the Communist Party central committee in 2011 he went from the public eye until his death this year.

Thank you for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-Cuba: A New History by Richard Gott
-Cold War: For Forty-five years the World held its breath by Jeremy Isaacs and Taylor Downing

Saturday, 19 November 2016

When Presidents Lost the Popular Vote but won the Electoral College vote (and other peculiarities with the College)

2016's Electoral College result
While I am writing this it has been just over a week since the controversial election of Donald Trump. A big part of this controversy centers around the fact that more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Trump, but thanks to the Electoral College Trump will now be president. As of writing this is the fifth time the Electoral College has allowed someone who lost the popular vote to become president. This blog post is neither a call for the abolition of the Electoral College, nor a post supporting the College. Instead it is to show the peculiar scenarios in the past when the College has given people the presidency when they lost the popular vote, (and two other peculiarities which I thought would be fun to mention). First off though we have to know what the Electoral College actually is, and why the United States has it.

The What and Why
The Electoral College is somewhat unique to the United States. In most other countries when you vote in an election you vote for which party you want in power, and the party with the most votes, (and for the most part seats in the parliament, diet, Bundestag etc,), gets to chose the next leader of the country; normally this is the Head of the Party. In contrast, in the United States you directly vote for who you want to be president, (and vice-president), who so happens to represent a party whether it be Democrat, Republican, Libertarian etc. However, that is not entirely accurate. In the United States when you cast a vote you are not saying 'I want x to be president and y to be vice-president', but rather saying 'I want my elector in the Electoral College to vote for x to be president and y to be vice-president'. The Electoral College has 538 electors representing the 435 representatives, 100 senators, and 3 electors for the District of Columbia. These electors are spread across every state based on population and each state has a minimum of three electors. Currently California has 55 electors, Alaska has 3, Michigan has 16, and so on and so forth. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska in each state all the electors have to vote the same way. Say for example in Ohio 60% of the population votes for X and 40% votes for Y all 18 of Ohio's electors have to vote for X. Meanwhile, in Maine if 75% vote for X and 25% vote for Y then 3 of Maine's electors will vote for X, and one will vote for Y. To become president a candidate requires a minimum of 270 electoral college votes. You may be wondering, why was this implemented? For that we have to go back to the eighteenth-century.

Despite winning independence in 1783 the United States did not create the constitution we have today until 1787. It is here where the Electoral College was born. From the outset the plan was for the new republic to be a democracy. However, there was an issue with this. In days prior to the Industrial Revolution it could take days to communicate across an area the size of Great Britain nevermind the eastern coast of the United States. As a result it was difficult to count votes across a wide area using direct voting. Hence, the Electoral College was a quicker solution; people vote for electors who could easily find out who they should vote for. It was also done to limit both autocracy and democracy. Some Founding Fathers believed that direct democracy would lead to anarchy, (and the French Revolution a few years later would support their fears), so figures, like Alexander Hamilton, believed that voting directly for the president could lead to mob rule. On the other hand, there was a general fear that denying popular vote would lead the new republic to become the same autocracy which they had fought to free themselves from. Why fight against one autocracy on the other side of the Atlantic to install one at your doorstep? Hence, the Electoral College seemed a fitting compromise. To top it all off each state had a minimum of three electors so large states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, (today's West Virginia and Virginia), could not dominate the smaller ones like Rhode Island. In later years this would become an issue as votes in some less populated states started to be worth more than states with larger populations. Like all other institutes making up the United States government the Electoral College would evolve, (to an extent), over time. Now to discuss the main topic of this post. I shall skip over the 2016 election due to the fact it is on the news everywhere currently so we can focus on the last time the Electoral College allowed someone who lost the popular vote to win the presidency: the 2000 election.

The 2000 Election
Bush and Gore
The most recent time that the Electoral College, (prior to 2016 that is), allowed someone to lose the popular vote but win the College vote was in 2000. For the Democrat party Vice-President Al Gore ran, and for the Republicans George W. Bush, the son of former president George H.W. Bush, ran. Voter apathy meant that there was a low turnout, (quite similar to the most recent election), The race for the White House was somewhat close; Gore had a narrow lead in both the popular vote, and the College vote. The election rested on one state: Florida. Gore had 266 seats in the College so if he won Florida he would have got the popular vote, (by a small margin), and the College vote, (a large margin). Florida was the last state to count all the votes and Bush was in the lead by the time 85% of Florida's votes had been counted. Thanks to this many news broadcasters declared that Bush had won the presidency. However, Bush's lead dwindled rapidly when the rest of the votes started to come in, so much so that the news switched and declared that Gore won Florida. Then it was declared 'too close to call', and then Bush had won Florida. After heated debates the Supreme Court of Florida ordered a recount. As the recount was underway Bush took the matter to the federal Supreme Court asking for a stay of the recount as he argued it was unconstitutional. In Bush v. Gore the Supreme Court, (in a 5-4 decision), decided to stay the recount. As a result Florida's electors in the College gave Bush their vote, and the presidency by a very narrow margin, (he got 271 seats). Gore had narrowly won the popular vote but lost the College vote by a somewhat large margin. However, it is difficult to say if the recount would have swung the election: it could have either given Bush the popular vote or Gore the presidency.

Although there is some debate if JFK lost the popular vote in 1960 it is very ambiguous, and it is quite possible that he did win the popular vote so for that reason we shall move to the third time when the College swung the election. In was all the way back in the nineteenth century...

The Election of 1888
Cleveland v. Harrison
The third time the Electoral College allowed someone who lost the popular vote to become president was in the 1888 election. In this election incumbent Democrat President Grover Cleveland ran for re-election against Republican Benjamin Harrison. On a side note Harrison was the grandson of ninth president William Henry Harrison who, when elected, was the oldest president aged 68 until Reagan, (and now Trump). He also is the president to have had the shortest time in office serving thirty-two days before dying of pneumonia which he caught during his inaugural address. Back to 1888. Grover Cleveland was unfortunate enough to lose several swing states, including his home state of New York, which meant that Cleveland narrowly lost the popular vote but lost the College vote by a large margin. Also, when I mention popular vote I mean votes cast by people eligible to vote: in 1888 most states only allowed solely white men to vote, and even then some states only propertied white men could vote. In 1892 Cleveland had his own back on Harrison: he won both popular, and College votes becoming the only person so far to be president for two non-consecutive terms.

The second time which the College let someone to be president despite losing the popular vote was in 1876.

The Election of 1876
The Compromise of 1877
The election of 1876 came during a time of fracture, attempted reconciliation, and change in the United States. Following the end of the Civil War in 1865 the Republicans in the North wished to reconcile with the South, reconstruct the South's economy so it no longer required slavery, and somewhat improve the conditions for former slaves. This was called Reconstruction. It was a noble idea which for the most part failed miserably. Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan terrorized, murdered, and mutilated African-Americans and white Southerners who helped them (as well as Northerners); Black Codes in various states stripped the legal rights of African-Americans; opposition from Lincoln's successor, Andrew Jackson, prevented the dismantling of the plantation system; and opposition from Democrats and some Republicans caused many setbacks. Redemption governments sprang up in the South to oppose the new order, and the acts passed to help former slaves, (such as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments), would only help northern African-Americans or civil rights campaigners in the future. Former Union general Ulysses E. Grant since coming to office in 1868 had vainly tried to enforce Reconstruction, (although he did successfully cause the Ku Klux Klan to go into decline), but it was in vain. The South disliked the Republicans, (how times have changed), and they were losing support in the North thanks to Grant failing to deal with corruption. The Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes was not in a good position, and his Democrat opponent Samuel Tilden managed to win the popular vote by over 200,000. However, Florida (again), South Carolina and Louisiana had both parties claim they won, and through a peculiar incident there was one seat available in Oregon. The Republicans made a deal with the Democrats in what has since been called 'The Compromise of 1877': the Democrats would let Hayes be president if the North removes their troops from the South, (ending Reconstruction), policies to be passed to industrialize the South, a Democrat to be in Hayes's cabinet, and transcontinental railroad to be built in the South. The Democrats let Hayes be president; legislation was passed removing all rights from African-Americans in the South (later called Jim Crow laws); and Reconstruction came to an end.

The first time the College let someone who lost the popular vote become president is peculiar. The person lost both the popular and College votes but still became president. This was the 1824 election.

The Election of 1824
Andrew Jackson
1824 was very different to the United States of 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016. For one, most of the USA at this time was under Mexican rule. Also, party politics had basically ceased to exist. The Founding Fathers believed that parties were signs of rot in a democracy, and following the 1816 election politics had gone back to how the Founding Fathers envisioned: people, not parties, running for election. I should also point out that political parties in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were not like the parties of today; instead they were more loose affiliations with loosely defined ideas. In 1824 John Quincy Adams, son of former president John Adams, the Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, and war hero Andrew Jackson all ran for the presidency. The contest, however, was mainly between Adams and Jackson. When the election results came in Jackson won around 40,000 more votes than Adams, (it may not seem much but in 1824 the number of people who voted was around half the population of Washington D.C.), and he had the most seats in the College. He had more popular and College votes than Adams, Clay, and Crawford. However, he only had 99 seats when 131 was needed to win. As the person with the highest amount in the College did not have enough votes to become president the 12th amendment stipulated that the House of Representatives had to who would become president out of the top three candidates. The House had to decide between Adams, Jackson, and Crawford. Clay, who was left out, loathed Jackson saying 'I cannot believe that killing 2,500 Englishmen at New Orleans qualifies for the various, difficult, and complicated duties of the Chief Magistracy', (Jackson was famous for his victory over the British following the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Although the battle actually took place after the war ended). Clay was vocal in his support for Adams who won the support from the House and John Quincy Adams became president. As a reward Clay was made Secretary of State causing Jackson supporters to accuse them of a 'corrupt bargain'. The next election saw Jackson roundly trounce Adams and after he led a government which caused the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Native Americans.

These were the times when the Electoral College inadvertently let the loser of the popular vote become president. However, there are two other peculiar elections, both involving the College, which I wish to discuss, and both were crazier than the 2016 election. The first take us back to 1800...

The Election of 1800
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams
In this election Vice-President, former Secretary of State, former French ambassador, and Founding Father Thomas Jefferson ran against incumbent president and George Washington's vice-president John Adams. This was the second time these two had ran against one another, 1796 being the first, and prior to the 1800 election whoever lost the election became vice-president. 1796 itself was a heated election: France threatened to invade, parties had emerged, and it was the first contested election (no one had ran against Washington). There were the Federalists, who Adams represented, who wanted a strong federal government, and another confusingly named party who Jefferson represented. Contemporaries, (and historians), have called them Anti-Federalists, Democrats, Republicans, and Democratic-Republicans, (they were neither the antecedents of the Democrats nor the Republicans). To avoid confusion we shall refer to them as Anti-Federalists, and they wanted increased state autonomy. In 1796 Adams won but in 1800 Jefferson fought hard. His campaign accused Adams of having 'hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman' so Adams responded saying that Jefferson was 'a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father'. Jefferson was painted as an atheist under the spell of Satan and France, while Adams was accused of being a warmonger, an autocrat, and of even being dead. When elections came around Jefferson chose Aaron Burr of New York to run with him and be his vice-president. This would in theory get both Northern and Southern votes. Jefferson easily beat Adams, but the first crisis of the Electoral College emerged from this. In 1800 electors had two votes so instead of voting for one person to become president they had to vote for two. The Anti-Federalists had planned for their electors to vote for Jefferson, and one or two to abstain from voting for Burr. What really happened was every Anti-Federalist elector voted for both Jefferson and Burr. Jefferson and Burr had equal seats in the College.

Initially if this was to happen the plan was for Burr to concede defeat and become vice-president, as planned. However, Burr decided that he would actually like to become president and refused to concede. What happened then was for the House of Representatives to decide who should be president. The new Anti-Federalist filled House would not convene until January/February of 1801 so Federalists, who hated both Jefferson and Burr, had to decide on the president. The House had to pick the candidate which they hated the least. Although he was not a Representative (despite what the musical says) Alexander Hamilton was an influential figure in deciding the president and although he disliked Jefferson he loathed Burr. As a result the House made Jefferson president, Burr vice-president, and passed the 12th amendment in 1804 to stop this from happening again. Needless to say Jefferson's and Burr's time together was not very warm. In 1804 Jefferson was re-elected easily and Burr shot Hamilton in an illegal duel. 

There is one last election which I wish to talk about. It was an election which fractured a nation but brought to power Trump's, Obama's, and Reagan's favorite president.

The Election of 1860
1860 the USA was in crisis over slavery. North and South were at each other's throats over the issue. The Democrats could not decide over a candidate and had split on North/South lines. Northern Democrats chose Stephen Douglas while Southern Democrats chose John Breckinridge. There was a newly formed party called the Constitutional Union party, represented by John Bell, whose stance on the major issue of the day, (slavery), was to consult the Constitution. Bearing in mind the Constitution mentions slavery twice: the first time never says 'slaves' but instead 'other Persons' and the other time is the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery. Finally there was another newly formed party called the Republicans who had a certain figure representing them: Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln was a political misnomer in 1860. He was little known outside his state of Illinois, he seemed to come from nowhere, and his views on slavery were not known. In fact historians are still debating his views on slavery in 1860. The Republican party in 1860 was made up of abolitionist, and those who merely wished to limit slavery's spread. Although historians debate his views on slavery at this moment in time the Deep South, where slavery was the backbone of society and the economy, viewed Lincoln as either an abolitionist, or as a tool of abolitionists. As a result in the 1860 election the Republican candidate never appeared on the ballot. When the results came in the Southern Democrats received virtually every vote in the Deep South, the Northern Democrats received Missouri, the Constitutional Unionists got the Upper South votes, and Lincoln got the votes from the Northern and two Pacific states. However, although Lincoln received only 40% of the vote he won both the popular and College vote. This infuriated the Deep South who believed that a possible abolitionist was now in prime position to abolish slavery. Starting with South Carolina the Southern slave states seceded one by one to form the Confederate States of America. Thus began the American Civil War, and by the end of 1865 four million slaves became free.

Thank you for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-Give me Liberty!: An American History by Eric Foner
-The Penguin History of the United States by Hugh Brogan
-The Civil War and Reconstruction by David Herbert Donald, Jean Harvey Baker, and Michael F. Holt
-America: A Narrative History by George Tindall and David Shi

Friday, 11 November 2016

World History: Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire

Throughout European history there was a desire to replicate the former Roman Empire. The Byzantines, (rightly), viewed themselves as Romans; the Russian emperors styled themselves as Tsars, (from Caesar); the Renaissance heavily involved 'rediscovering' Latin and Roman knowledge; and we saw in western Europe an empire which almost resurrected the western half of the Empire. Today we shall look at this metaphorical successor of the Western Roman Empire: Charlemagne. Often called the 'Father of Europe' Charlemagne is often seen as someone who almost reformed the Western Roman Empire, and his legacy formed the Holy Roman Empire. Today we shall look at Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire.

Europe before Charlemagne
Charles the Great, Charlemagne, who became king in 768, was born within the boundaries of Francia, and was the eldest son of Pepin the Short. Francia was one of the many kingdoms which slowly emerged to prominence following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476. Politics, society, and religion was very different in this world compared to the Europe of today, and the Europe which Rome ruled over. Unlike the moderately centralized Roman Empire these kingdoms were very decentralized and feudalism was widespread. Feudalism is a system of governance where a king rules over many landowning nobles who would allow people, (vassals), to live and work on their land, (fiefs). The vassals would offer some service to the noble or lord in return for living on the fief and for military protection. The nobles were subservient to the ruling monarch who offered the lords military protection in return for their taxes and loyalty. This feudal system was universally applied across Europe, (it did not exist in some areas), and the feudal system could look very different in different areas. 

Religion was extremely important during this time period. The primary religion was Christianity although many Jews and pagans could be found throughout Europe. As an example, the Saxons, from modern day Germany, remained polytheistic until the seventh century. For many people religion was the most important aspect of their life in many ways other than the obvious ones. The Church collected alms to be given to the poor, the Church was a center for learning, (literacy was highest in monasteries etc.), bishops helped educate the nobility, and women had the chance to rise in the Church through becoming nuns. Christianity was a blessing and a bane for rulers as well. The Divine Right of Kings, (where it was God's will for kings to rule), helped greatly secure their position, but the authority of the Church acted as a counterweight to the Crown's authority. In the eighth century Islam spread to western Europe under the Umayyad Caliphate and rapidly spread across Iberia. Only at the Battle of Tours in 733/4 did the Umayyads fail to spread further into Europe. In 751 Pippin III usurped the Merovingian throne in Francia and almost twenty years later his son Charles came to power, something which we shall now focus on.

The Reign of Charlemagne- Conquests
Bust of Charlemagne at Aachen
Pippin III died leaving his sons, Charles and Carloman, an area consisting of most of modern day France, Belgium, the southern Netherlands, and parts of Germany. In Francian custom Charles and Carloman split the empire between the two of them to rule as co-emperors: the older Charles got the more important northern half, while the younger Carloman got the southern half. At times relations between the two brothers broke down and only through intervention from their mother Bertrada, who became a nun after Pippin's death, prevented relations from collapsing. When Charles broke off his marriage with a Lombard princess, Desiderata, in 770 the Lombards almost made an alliance with Carloman. The alliance failed due to the fact that Carloman died in 771 of natural causes, (often cited as a nosebleed). When Carloman's wife and son fled to the Lombard court Charles was granted rule over his brother's kingdom uniting Francia again. After Charles started his wars of conquest earning him the title Charles the Great, or Charlemagne.

The first conquest was Lombardy. In 772 the newly crowned pope, Adrian I, demanded the Lombard king to return several cities; in response the Lombard king took over several Papal cities and marched to Rome. Adrian sent a message to Charlemagne for help and eager for a boost in legitimacy from aiding the pope he went to war against Lombardy. By 774 Lombardy's capital of Pavia was under siege, and later the same year the capital fell. The Lombardy royal family, and his brother's family who had been residing there, were then sent to religious institutes. Throughout the rest of his reign he would lead wars to conquer land, or create dependencies. Bavaria was conquered in 782, Saxony between 772 and 798 (which we shall get to later), and northern Netherlands between 784 and 785. Despite a serious defeat at Rancesvalles in 778 against the Spanish Muslims he managed to establish the Spanish March in 795, which he expanded in 812. In the east he made dependencies in Croatia, Friuli, Dalmatia, and in present day Bosnia. By the time of his death in 814 the Carolingian Empire, (his empire), and its dependencies stretched from northern Spain to Bosnia, to northern Denmark to southern Italy. In a lifetime he had conquered most of western Europe.

The Reign of Charlemagne- Saxon Wars
Conversion during the Wars
Charlemagne is referred to as the 'Father of Europe'. One thing that Charlemagne did do which continued throughout European history was brutal, bloody conquest. The Saxon Wars were a serious of brutal, protracted wars from 772 to 798. Saxony is an area in north-west Germany, and during the eighth century it was made up of various Saxon tribes, (also showing how feudalism did not exist in all parts of Europe), who were Germanic pagan. In January 772 Saxons burnt a church in Deventer which gave Charlemagne the opportunity to invade. Before he fought Lombardy he fought the Saxons and periodically he would return to crush Saxon resistance. During the wars he started forcibly converting the Saxon tribes from Germanic paganism to Christianity. One of his first acts in Saxony was to burn the sacred symbol of Irminsul. He imposed capital punishment on those who refused to convert, issued decrees to break Saxon resistance, and had shrines destroyed. His harsh actions earned him the title 'Butcher of Saxons'. His religious advisers, such as Alcuin of York, urged him to be more tolerant saying that you could not forcibly convert someone through the point of a sword, but he did not listen. In 779 a Saxon leader called Widukind started leading resistance to Frankish rule including wiping out an entire army in the early 780s. In response Charlemagne in 782 had 4,500 Saxon pagans executed in what has since been called the Massacre of Verden. Saxon resistance started to drop when Widunkind was baptized, and slowly through exile and force Saxon resistance ended.

The Reign of Charlemagne- Rule, Empire, and Renaissance
Charlemagne crowned emperor
Charlemagne's rule saw strong ties with the Church. Early on as king he fought for the Papacy, in the Lombardy war, and he gave clerics key roles in administration. Being deeply pious he ensured that Christians in his kingdom had sufficient welfare and support. There were many reforms under his rule which included strengthening the orthodoxy of the Church, something which pleased the clergy as it ensured that the people were more pious. Corrected canon laws, Bible text and ecclesiastical laws were made, and monasticism was supported. Charlemagne was a deep admirer of the liberal arts and had his family become well-educated as a result. Starting under Charlemagne's reign we have the Carolingian Renaissance bringing information from the Muslim world, Germany, Italy, England, and Francia together, (his court had figures from all across Europe). Without Charlemagne's revival and expansion of the arts the later, more famous, Renaissance may not have been able to happen.  His capital of Aachen became the center of western European culture. Surprisingly, despite his hostility to Germanic pagans he was tolerant to Jews believing they would be an economic benefit. His currency reform created a standard currency throughout the empire. Many of the things made possible in today's Europe had their roots in Charlemagne's reign.

Christmas Day, 800 saw a revolutionary event in European history. Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of Rome while he was praying. The story that Charlemagne had no idea of this is very unlikely but it is still important. Charlemagne was perceived to be the successor of Rome. For all intensive purposes Charlemagne had reformed the western half of the empire. However, this event deeply upset the Byzantine who viewed themselves as the emperors of Rome, (which they were). The East/West divide between Rome and the Byzantines had started to germinate again. The next fourteen years of his life was not too drastically different from his pre-imperial days. He had stopped campaigning, and had to defend against Viking raids, (something for another World History post). Two of his sons died before he did so by his death in 814 his last remaining son, Louis the Pious, inherited a united empire and the title of emperor. However, Louis would later divide the empire as in traditional fashion.

The Holy Roman Empire
The flag used through most of its history
Some historians see Charlemagne as the first Holy Roman Emperor. Following the death of Charles the Fat in 888 East Francia splintered into several duchies, and all who were crowned emperor only ruled in Italy. That is until 962. In 936 Otto of Saxony was elected King of Aachen and he started winning battles against those who opposed him. Eventually he managed to marry Adelaide of Italy allowing him to become king of Italy. In 962 the pope crowned Otto Emperor of Rome and Adelaide Empress of Rome. The Holy Roman Empire had been born truly. Over the next centuries the Holy Roman Empire would cease to be the Holy Roman Empire in everything but name. Instead of being hereditary the position of emperor would become elected by the Imperial Diet, (although it would later become hereditary once more), power shifted from Rome to Germany, and the piousness of Charlemagne would be a long distant memory. It is key to note that the Protestant Reformation originated in the Holy Roman Empire. Instead of being one standardized, state it was instead a collection of free cities, kingdoms, duchies, and various other states with various cultures, languages, currencies, and religions. It did survive for a long time though. The Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist only in 1806 with the invasion of Napoleon.

Charlemagne was integral in forming the institutions of today. Creating a standard government, administration, and currency over large tracts of disparate land helped shape European states in the future. Looking at the Carolingian and the Holy Roman Empires also shows us how potent ideas of history are to society. There was a clear desire to become the new Romans; something which never really went away throughout European history. The division of Charlemagne's empire under his son would greatly shape Germany and France: West Francia remained unified and would become the Kingdom of France, while divided East Francia became a conglomeration of states often referred to as the First Reich. Thank you for reading and the next World History will take us to the other side of the world to look at Japan during the Taika reforms, Heian period, and the rise of the samurai.

The sources I have used are as follows:
-The New Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. 2, c.700-c.900 edited by Rosamond McKitterick
-Charlemagne by Roger Collins
-The Penguin History of the World by John Roberts
-The Times History of the World by Richard Overy

For a list of other World History posts please see here

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Comics Explained: V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta
November 5 in the United Kingdom is Bonfire Night marking the anniversary on a failed plot to assassinate King James I and VI, and blow up Parliament. It is also the opening of Alan Moore's and David Lloyd's fantastic graphic novel V for Vendetta. V for Vendetta was published in the late 1980s by an imprint of DC Comics called Vertigo, and it happens to be my second favorite comic by Alan Moore, (the first being Watchmen). The novel is set in a dystopian England in a 1990s where the UK managed to avoid annihilation during the Third World War, but at the cost of a fascist regime monitoring the public in an Orwellian way. Unfortunately the film adaptation, (although good in of itself), changed the idea that Moore wished to get across making the protagonists fight for liberty which has made many people get the wrong end of the stick in what V for Vendetta is truly about. Let's though first delve into the story of V for Vendetta.

Book 1: Europe After the Reign
November 5 1997 in London two figures get ready to go out at night. One is a dingy apartment while the other is in a room covered in film posters and book shelves. As they get ready the government radio, The Voice of Fate, informs the public that a heatwave is on the way, meat rationing may come to an end, a terrorist ring had been discovered in Birmingham, and that the census forms have to be filled in. Financially strapped sixteen year old Evey Hammond goes out and solicits a group of men for sex only to find out they are Fingermen, a Gestapo like organization. They inform Evey that prostitution is illegal and then proceed to molest her until a figure steps out of the darkness wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, a cloak, and a hat speaking strangely. Quickly he grabs Evey and takes her away but leaves a bomb behind which kills one of the Fingermen. Upon a rooftop Evey thanks the figure for rescuing her. He tells her it is a special night saying: Remember, remember the fifth of November, the Gunpowder Treason and Plot. I have no reason why the Gunpowder Treason...should ever be forgot. Big Ben and Parliament then explode as fireworks shoot up in forming a V in the sky.
A new Gunpowder Treason
The government meanwhile meets to discuss what happened. The Leader, Adam Susan 'The Head', has branches of government surveillance, (the Eyes, the Ears and the Nose), tell him who did the bombing but they have no answers. Derek Almond, head of the Finger police force, visits Roger Dascombe, head of The Mouth (propaganda), to oversee covering up the destruction of Parliament. While there he sees Lewis Prothero, the Voice of Fate. Fate is the computer system which rules the country for Susan and the government uses Prothero to pretend to be the computer, and is so good that people honestly believe him to Fate's actual voice. While this is happening the figure takes Evey to the 'Shadow Gallery' full of contraband items. On his shelves are banned books like Frankenstein, The Iliad, I am Legend and The Divine Comedy while Evey is in wonder of a duke box playing 'Dancing in the Streets'. The scene then cuts to a train where Lewis Prothero is regaling some old stories to his bodyguards. Suddenly the train stops and the power goes out. When Prothero turns on his lighter he finds his bodyguards dead and a man in a Guy Fawkes mask sitting in the carriage. Eric Finch of the Nose investigates this and finds that the guards were choked to death, and a V in a circle had been carved on the carriage wall with a single rose left behind.

We go back to the Shadow Gallery where Evey is crying as the figure left suddenly. They have a formal introduction and the figure turns out to be called V. Evey tells V about her childhood. She lived in London and lived through the Third World War. We learn more about what happened to the world: Africa was wiped out, Britain survived as it had American missiles removed, weather fluctuations caused by the bombs led to the Thames Barrier bursting, Evey's mum died from poisoning when the sewers flooded and floods destroyed Britain's crops, and riots broke out as the government fell. Then a far-right group called Norsefire took over and restored order, but established a totalitarian regime. As Evey's dad had been in a socialist group when he was younger he was arrested and Evey was sent to a workhouse. V tells her that she is safe with him; safe from government cruelty. Meanwhile, Prothero wakes up in prison uniform outside a mock Larkhill Resettlement Camp. V arrives to give him a tour and marches him past Prothero's collection of dolls, (all in prison uniform), and they pass the medical wing with numbers on the doors. Prothero once worked at Larkhill and realizes V was the man behind door five. V then takes Prothero to a oven with some of his dolls inside and proceeds to burn them despite Prothero's wails. As the daily broadcast seems strange to the public Prothero is found with his face painted like a doll, and muttering the word mama. Later, V arrives at the Old Bailey where he talks to the statue of justice, (not wearing a cloth over her eyes), saying that she is a harlot and he has a new mistress: anarchy. He then blows up the Old Bailey.
V and Justice
When he returns to the Gallery Evey begs V to take her with him on his next outing. We then cut to Westminster Abbey where Bishop Anthony Lilliman is giving a sermon denouncing the terrorism. However, it turns out he is a pedophile and has been having girls come to his room. Today it transpires that Evey is the girl. As V is killing Lilliman's guards Evey smashes a lamp across Lilliman's face as he tries to grope her. V then arrives. Eric Finch and Derek Almond later arrive at Lilliman's residence finding a rose, a V carved on the wall, and Lilliman dead by ingesting sacramental bread laced with cyanide. At the Shadow Gallery Evey is distraught that he used her to kill Lilliman which he consoles her on while at his home Derek Almond hits his wife when she disturbed him looking at evidence. We then cut to Dr Delia Surridge who had worked at Larkhill and is friends with Finch who has flashbacks to a man standing in fire. In the night Dr Surridge wakes to see V standing in her room and she thanks God that he's come for her expressing remorse about her medical experiments at Larkhill. V informs her that he had injected her with cyanide as she slept and as a last request she asks to see his face; something which she remarks as being beautiful. Almond, meanwhile, realizes that Surridge is the next target, and after drunkenly abusing his wife leaves to get V but upon arrival he is quickly killed by V. Finch finds Delia's diary revealing a horrific tale of medical experiments on ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and political opponents at Larkhill which kills all but five patients. In the diary she expresses both hatred for Lilliman and Prothero, but also fondness for the patient in room five who is allowed to keep a garden. However, she notes his tendency to pile certain chemicals, fertilizers and powders together is odd. One night there is a massive explosion and, we find out that the patient had been making mustard gas and napalm to escape. 

Book 2: The Vicious Cabaret
Book Two opens with V performing magic tricks for Evey and then dancing with her. Evey even starts to wonder if V is actually her father. He takes her to the surface, reveals he is not her father, and vanishes leaving her alone. Rose Almond, Derek Almond's wife, starts going into depression as she realizes how alone she is now that her abusive husband is no longer there. Later, V infiltrates the headquarters of the Mouth and plays a video both revealing himself to the world, and chastising the public for allowing Norsefire to go unchallenged for so long. Armed police fire on V, but it turns out to just be a costume. In reality V had dressed Dascombe as himself and let the police shoot him. At the scene Finch meets the new head of The Finger, Peter Creedy, whom he punches when Creedy makes a remark about his friendship with Delia. Finch is then given forced vacation. 
V and Dascombe
The day after V's broadcast we find out that Evey had become romantically involved with an older man called Gordon who she is living with. As they regularly attend a cabaret they come into contact with Creedy, (where we find out the government uses retirement homes to murder pensioners), Scottish gangster Alistair 'Ally' Harper, (where we also find out that Scotland declared its independence and now Norsefire is leading a brutal war of conquest against it), and Rose Almond. Rose had been pressured into a relationship with Dascombe after Derek's death but with Dascombe killed she wad forced to work as a dancer at the cabaret. Thanks to Gordon's bootlegging he comes afoul of Ally Harper who kills him. Furious she goes to kill Harper but is kidnapped. After waking up from a surreal dream she finds out she is in a government cell with only a rat for company. She is shaved, tortured and waterboarded. However, in a crack she finds a letter from an actress called Valerie Page who gives details of her tragic story. Valerie was born in Nottingham and fell in love with a girl. When she came out to her parents was forced to move to London where she became an actress meeting the love of her life, Ruth, on the set of The Salt Flats. Ruth was kidnapped by Norsefire and later they came for Valerie. 

One day the guards tell Evey that they'll execute her if she doesn't tell them who V is, and where he is. She refuses. Instead of being killed she is given freedom. Her guards turn out to be mannequins with radios, the rat was in a cage, and the entire prison was in the Shadow Gallery. She launches a tirade against V calling him evil and sadistic. In response he told her that he set her free; England was the true prison, Gordon was simply stabbed by another inmate, and that by refusing to talk she had freed herself. V also tells her that Valerie was a real inmate of Larkhill. Evey slowly forgives V. We then find out that V has hacked Fate and has been slowly driving Leader Adam Susan insane. 

Book 3: The Land of Do-As-You-Please
Book 3 opens up with an insane Susan begging Fate to say that it loves him again. As this is happening V is conducting over the skyline of London. Suddenly the Post Office Tower, (home of the Ear), and Jordan Tower, (home of the Mouth and Eyes), both blow up killing the head of The Ear, Brian Etheridge. Before the government can respond V is on the radio telling the people that the people will not be watched for three days. Riots break out all over Britain. V tells Evey that it is chaos and not anarchism, the Land of Take-What-You-Want not the Land of Do-As-You-Please. As this is happening the leader of the Eye, Conrad Heyer, is being convinced by his abusive wife, Helen, to use the discord to become Leader. Creedy and Ally Harper instead are using their street thugs to suppress revolutionary protests in the hope that this would give them good standing to lead a coup. However, Helen Heyer is also meeting with Harper to use him to propel Conrad Heyer to power. Meanwhile, Finch visits Larkhill and takes LSD to relieve his lost past and put him in the place of a Larkhill prisoner. He breaks down in anguish about the genocide of ethnic minorities and homosexuals that Norsefire did, and finally realizes what V is about. His assistant, meanwhile, realizes that all along V had been hacking Fate giving him forewarning about Norsefire's actions, as well as slowly destroying Susan's mind. V stacks of dominoes knowing that end is soon near...
Finch realizes that V's hideout is in the abandoned Victoria Station. Helen Heyer starts having an affair with Ally Harper to get his allegiance in the upcoming power play which V manages to record, and send to Conrad. As part of Heyer's plan Harper's thugs then kill Creedy. Susan decides to actually go out and meet the people realizing that if he wants to be a stern leader he has to show himself. At first he loves it being greeted from his car by rapturous applause from the public. Rose Almond, however, is in the audience and has broken down from the life under the regime. When Susan goes to shake her hand she pulls out a gun she had bought to kill herself with and fires. Finch goes down into Victoria Station seeing a carriage lined with roses...and V. He fires but sees no blood. V then replies in possibly my favorite ever comic book quote: Did you think to kill me? There's no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill. There's only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof. 
Evey and V
V leaves but Finch spots a trail of blood realizing that he had mortally wounded V. Finch resigns from the Nose as a power play following Susan's death starts. In anger Conrad Heyer manages to murder Ally Harper but is badly cut by Harper's razor. Angry Helen leaves her husband to bleed to death. In the Shadow Gallery V dies asking for Evey to place his body in the carriage for a Viking Funeral. After debating whether to look under his mask she places his body on the carriage. Evey dresses up as V and addresses the public as Downing Street blows up. Evey manages to rescue Finch's assistant from the explosion and introduces him to the Shadow Gallery...

Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed it.