"Southern Unionist," a memoir by Philip Phillips.
I was born in the city of Charleston [South Carolina], on 17 Dec, 1807. I had the benefit of the best schools then existing in that city, first that of Mr. Gates and then that of Isaac Harby, a gentleman distinguished in his day for his literary attainments. [Harby was the founder of the Jewish Reform Movement in the United States.] With the family of this gentleman 1 also boarded for several years, and I now look back upon this period with pleasurable recollections of the kindness received from its individual members.
My mother died when I was very young. I do not now recollect the year, but the impression of her appearance is very strongly engraved on my memory. She was very tall, and consumption had worn her to the bone. Her saint-like smile, as I recall that dismal chamber in which she breathed her last, is as fixed and lasting as memory itself. It was her death that caused my transfer to a boarding school.
My father [Aaron Phillips], an emigrant from Germany, was a man of industry and sterling integrity. He fancied I possessed talent, and had so great a pride in me that he subjected himself to the friendly criticism of members of my mother’s family. To afford me the best opportunity for instruction his limited means afforded, he sent me, when I was about fifteen, to the Military Academy of Capt. Partridge, which had been removed from Norwich, its original location, to Middletown, Connecticut.
This was a very popular institution, especially at the South. When I joined it there were upwards of 300 cadets in attendance. As the means of developing the physical attributes, the system pursued was an excellent one, but it failed in the exercise of that strict supervision over those studies which enlarge and strengthen the intellectual faculties. As to these, the young cadets were left very much to their own course, provided they maintained in their recitations a decent mediocrity.
I must now, confess that, in the three years of my cadetship, I could never persuade myself to be a student. 1 disliked the gloom of the closet [study room]; I delighted in the sunshine of outdoors. Full of health and of great bodily strength and vigor, exercise of all kinds was my delight. One of my roommates, the late Gov. [Thomas Hart] Seymour of Connecticut (cousin to the distinguished Gov. [Horatio] Seymour of New York, who was also a fellow cadet), and myself passed several hours daily playing at swords. We were the two experts of the academy.
To illustrate the high degree of physical training to which we were subjected, 1 may mention that on one occasion a surveying class under Professor Johnson, of which I was one, marched from Middletown to Hartford, a distance of about fifteen miles, in little over three hours. On another occasion a select body of 100 cadets, with knapsacks and U. S. muskets, marched from Middle-town to New Haven, thirty miles, in seven hours. While I regret that my time for study was too much neglected, I recognize the advantage gained by the strengthening of a constitution naturally vigorous, and which has carried me through a long life with unbroken health.
At the age of eighteen I returned to Charleston and determined to adopt the law as a profession. I then called to mind an incident that occurred while at Mr. Gates’s school. I was always very fond of reciting select speeches from Shakespeare, and at one of our annual examinations, though very young, I was put forward for this purpose. After I had concluded my speech, Mr. John Gadsden, one of the visitors, rose from his seat and, putting his hand on my head, said: “My son, you must become a lawyer.”
So flattering a testimonial from so distinguished a man, as may be supposed, made an indelible impression on my memory. Mr. Gadsden was the District Attorney of the United States, and though not a pleasant speaker, owing to an unfortunate impediment of speech, recommended himself to all by the accuracy of his learning and the sterling integrity of his character.
Meeting Mr. Gadsden in the street, I stopped him and gave him my name. He had forgotten me, but I recalled to his mind the incident at the Gates examination. “Now,” said he, “I remember you well.” Then I said: “I have determined to follow your advice and ‘become a lawyer,’ and for this purpose,” I added, “I desire to pursue my studies in your office.” To this he readily and kindly consented, and on the next day I was seated in his office with other novitiates, Blackstone in hand.
Here again I have to confess that my love for bodily exercise and the open air mastered my desire for close study, and the three years of preparation, though not entirely misspent, were not utilized by me with the real energy which should have been applied.
It was the day after I had reached my majority, and on a Friday, I appeared before the court with some fear and trembling for a public examination. I went through the ordeal (fortunately not a severe one) with some credit and received my parchment of admission.
I immediately determined to locate temporarily in the town of Cheraw [South Carolina], situate at the head of navigation of the Pee Dee River, one inducement being that a bachelor uncle [Joshua Lazarus] resided there who kindly had extended an invitation to share his home with him.
Before leaving Charleston, I called to pay my respects to Mr. Gadsden, and on taking leave of him I said: “Mr. Gadsden, I feel that should I see anyone approaching my office to ask advice, I would be strongly impelled to make my exit through the back door.”
He replied: “Oh, no! stand your ground firmly. When a client states the character of his case, do not resort to the books, but give such opinions as, in your judgment, the principles of equity and justice dictate. When he is gone, go to the book, and all the chances are that you will find adjudications to sustain you.” . . .
The year 1828 found me located in Cheraw, South Carloina, living first with my bachelor uncle, and when he took to himself a wife, a Miss Yates of Liverpool, at the hotel kept by Mr. Stinemetz, whose two pretty daughters proved excellent as attendants and most agreeable as companions.
My pecuniary means were very limited, but little was required. Board was supplied at $2.50 per week, and the keep of horse at $60 per annum. This will serve to mark the change in the value of money from 1828 to this centennial year of 1876. My practice soon afforded enough to carry me along without embarrassment.
The riding of the circuit was a source of enjoyment. Kindness and good humor prevailed among the brethren, and we traveled together from courthouse to courthouse, resting at midday to take our luncheon of broiled chicken (known as spread eagle), baked potatoes, broiled ham, and the inevitable Madeira which was the general solvent of that day. . . .
In 1830 political excitement in South Carolina, consequent upon the tariff of 1832 , was stimulated to the highest pitch. The right was asserted to nullify this obnoxious law of Congress by an ordinance of a convention of the people. This was claimed not as a revolutionary measure to be resorted to by a people in resisting oppressions, but as a constitutional move of redress, which necessitated the call of a convention of all the states to determine the question thus made.
The people of the state in this matter were divided by lines sharply drawn, and to combine the force of the state, clubs were formed by the party in favor of Nullification. Constitutions for this purpose were sent from Charleston, the seat of the parent club presided over by Gen’l James Hamilton [the governor], to the several districts. One of those was received in Chesterfield, the district in which Cheraw is located. This district was divided for military purposes into the upper and lower battalion. Cheraw was in the latter.
My sympathies and opinions were with the Union men, and finding Col. Ervin, an elderly and influential man, to be in accord with me, we agreed to meet the danger at once, and try to save the district for the Union cause. We immediately visited the precincts of the upper battalion, and when we could collect the people, we rallied them for the Union cause. As we both resided in the lower battalion we neglected to use the same means there, thinking them unnecessary. When the elections came on it was found that the upper battalion was nearly unanimous for the Union, while a large majority in the lower was for Nullification, but in the aggregate the vote was largely for Union.
My popularity in the district was thus firmly established. This was shown by my repeated elections, first to the convention , which by a very large vote was carried by the Nullifiers, then, as colonel of the regiment, and soon after to the state legislature . . . .
I may now say, writing only for the eyes of my family who will not misjudge my motives, I have never sought political promotion. I have never gone out to seek it, but when I have received it, it has come unbidden to my door, and sought me. How I came to be elected a colonel, a title which has ever since been attached to my name, I should explain, as it connects itself with the political question referred to.
By an ordinance of the convention, it was declared that allegiance was due only to the state, and subject to this allegiance, and through it, obedience to the general government. To carry out this doctrine, the legislature, under the instructions of the convention, passed an act vacating all the military concessions and providing for a new election. The newly elected, before receiving their commissions, were to take the new oath of allegiance. The purpose of this act was, of course, to put the whole military force of the state in the hands of the Nullification party. My political associates insisted I should become a candidate for the colonelcy of the Chesterfield Regiment for the purpose of raising the question as to the constitutionality of the new oath thus imposed. I was elected, but before my application a test case was made by a gentleman elected major in Lancaster District.
It was thus I was elevated to an office for which I had little taste and less capacity, and the object of my election accomplished nothing, as the major’s case produced the judgment of the Supreme Court declaring the oath to be unconstitutional. The judgment was rendered by [Judges] Johnston [David Johnson] and O’Neale [Belton Oneall], [William] Harper dissenting. . . .
The convention assembled in 1832 at Columbia [South Carolina], and on the 24th December adopted the ordinance which declared null and void the Tariff Acts of 1828 and July, 1832, with the further declaration that if any species of coercion was attempted by the federal government, “the people of this state will thenceforth hold themselves absolved from all further obligation to maintain their political connexion with the people of the other states, and will forthwith proceed to organize a separate government, and to do all other acts and things which sovereign and independent states may of right do.” . . .
In 1833 Benjamin Watkins Leigh was appointed by Virginia a commissioner to intercede, for the purpose of having the ordinance rescinded. He urged upon Governor Haynes [Robert Young Hayne] the fact that Congress had materially modified the Tariff Laws of 1828 and 1832. His request for again assembling the convention was complied with, and on 15 March an ordinance was passed declaring of no force and effect the ordinance of 24 November, 1832.
The excitement produced by this attempt to nullify an act of Congress was so great as to produce complete nonintercourse socially, and this extended itself to members of the same family. The ties of blood were dissolved in the furnace of political agitation.
The Union party in the convention did not number thirty delegates, but it was a compact and determined minority, backed by a constituency resolved, if the final struggle came, to stand by their principles at whatever cost. It was a happy fortune that saved the state from the horrors of a civil war. . . .
The legislature assembled in 1834, and immediately several acts were introduced, intended to brand the Union men as unworthy the confidence of the state. They were made the special order for a day fixed. It was difficult to reconcile men who had been for years denouncing each other as traitors to the best interests of society and the state. But the effort was initiated by wise leaders on either side.
All the Union men boarded together at Hunt’s, near the Capitol. Negotiations looking to the restoration of harmony were then considered, which resulted in this resolve: that the Union men, in refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the state, were influenced only by the ordinance of the convention, which [however] decreed that allegiance was due to the Federal government, and were willing to take the oath to the state fixed by this definition. It was agreed by the leaders that the substance of this should be embodied in a report to be made by David I. McCord, chairman of the appropriate committee, and that on its adoption the odious acts should be indefinitely postponed. This being agreed on, it remained to be seen whether the leaders of the Nullifiers could procure the consent of the rank and file of the party.
For the purpose of a conference they met in caucus on the day fixed for the consideration of these acts. All the Union men were in their seats in the legislature hall at eleven o’clock, the hour of meeting. The Nullifiers were all absent. The galleries were filled to overflowing by men and women, active participators in the excitement, and expecting to witness what is called a “field day” in legislation.
It was one o’clock when the opposite body appeared. Turning my eyes to the door of entrance, I distinguished Gen’l Hamilton. He beckoned to me, and when we met, he took me by the arm and we descended to the governor’s room in the basement. Closing the door after us, he said: “My young friend, we have had a difficult and boisterous time in caucus. We have carried a majority for our compromise, but against the violent dissent of the minority. Now, what I wish is that in the debate which will occur in the House to carry out the measure, you do not interfere. Leave the matter wholly to us, and when we succeed, then I wish you to address the House, accepting the measure as a peace offering and congratulating the country on its restoration to harmony.”
This I readily agreed to, although I suggested that an older and more influential man should be selected for the office. He said: “No, there are reasons why this would come best from you.”
The debate that took place was indeed a violent one, but the measures according to the program were all carried out. When the final vote was announced, I spoke as I had promised. I was brief but impassioned, and when I concluded, the hall rang with the wildest cheers, in which the galleries participated, the ladies waving their handkerchiefs and the men their hats. An informal adjournment then took place; the members rushed from side to side in the hands of those who had but lately been regarded as bitter foes; tears of gratitude from many who now saw that the sacred family unity, which had been so rudely broken, would again arise to bless the land. Of course, as the organ of this peace proclamation, I came in for my full share of congratulations. This scene was fully described by Mr. [Thomas] Ritchie in the Richmond Enquirer, who paid the people of South Carolina the high compliment by saying that he did not believe that such a transaction could have taken place in any other state of the union. . . .
While serving in the second session of the legislature I was induced by Col. Thomas Williams, a member from York district, to form a partnership with him for the practice of law at Mobile [Alabama], to which city I removed in 1835.
The colonel, a man of splendid physique, was reputed the ablest advocate in the upper portion of the state, and I relied much upon this for future success, as Alabama was fast being populated by emigration from our native state. It will hereafter be seen that in this I was disappointed. . . .
Previous to my removal from the state I had written to Mr. Duke Goodman, formerly a factor in the city of Charleston, to rent an office for us. He met me on my arrival at Mobile, and pointed out the office he had engaged, which was on Royal Street, and to my inquiry as to the rent he astonished me by stating it at $1,500!
Mobile was then attracting great attention in all parts of the country. I was more than astonished—I was staggered by what seemed to me an unheard-of price for a lawyer’s office. I was making an experiment in a strange land; my means were very limited; all I possessed was $5,000, my share of my father’s estate.
I entered, however, on my duties with a determined will, dividing the room by a curtain; and occupying one portion of it as a chamber. It was not many months before my fears as to the rent vanished, and I became satisfied that, notwithstanding extravagant prices, and the self-indulgent habits of those occupying my rank in life, I should easily get along.
In 1836 I returned to Charleston, and on 7 September fulfilled by marriage my previous engagement. My wife [Eugenia Levy] was not then seventeen years of age, and I was anxious as to her ability to endure the fatigues of the homeward journey. The railroad from Charleston to Hamburg [South Carolina] was then completed, 136 miles, the largest road of the kind then in existence. From Hamburg to Montgomery [Alabama] we had to stage it. This occupied seven days and nights over some very rough and hilly country in Georgia, This long journey, however, she accomplished apparently without fatigue, making merry of the upsets and other annoyances which sorely tried the endurance of the other passengers.
Arriving at Montgomery, we took a little steamer, called the “Fox,” and were seven days more in reaching Mobile. The beauty of the Alabama River was at that time very striking. The banks in their native verdure were studded with a variety of flowers; the water was blue and so translucent that you could see every object on its bed. The trees were heavy with flocks of paraqueets whose twittering filled the air. I am describing the upper portion of the river as it existed in 1836.
I continued to reside in Mobile until 1853, and I propose only a brief notice of the chief events of my life during that period. As to my professional success, it was greater than my diligence deserved. I suppose that my average annual income was about $8,000. This was easily made and still more easily expended. During this time 1 was successively associated in business with Gov. John Nayle, Judge [Edmund Strother] Dargan, afterwards chief justice of the state, and R. B. Sewall. For many years, and up to 1853, I was the attorney of the Bank of Mobile at a salary of $2,000. The partnership with Mr. Williams was dissolved very soon after it was made, as he was not willing to risk the summer climate of Mobile.
For the greater portion of this period we resided at Somerville, in the western suburbs of the city, and then on the [Mobile] Bay, where the house I built was consumed by fire. By that disaster I lost almost everything I possessed. The picture of my two oldest children, Clavius and Fanny, was rescued from the flames by their faithful colored nurse, and now adorns our parlor at Washington. . . .
In 1840 I prepared and published a digest of the decisions of the Supreme Court of the state, and in 1846 a new edition thereof. This was the first publication of the kind. In 1844 I was elected to the legislature, then convened at Tuscaloosa, and was made chairman of the Committee on Federal Relations. In 1846 a separate court for the city of Mobile was established and, much to my surprise, I received from the governor, Benj. Fitzpatrick, my commission as judge. I qualified by taking the necessary oath, but having come to the conclusion that it would disqualify me from practising in the other courts, I subsequently resigned. . . .
In 1852 I was again elected to the legislature, then held at Montgomery and was made chairman of the Committee on Internal Improvements. In this capacity I introduced and had passed a memorial to Congress, praying [for] an appropriation for the survey or a ship channel across the Isthmus of Florida. This was granted, and the survey has been made. This great, national work has not yet been undertaken, but my children may live to see it executed.
I also introduced a bill for a system of railroads. It was the cause of great excitement; the people were not prepared for the large appropriations necessary for the purpose. It was defeated by a small majority. It, however, aroused public attention. Since then several of these roads have been constructed, and in time all will be.
My local attachments are very strong, stronger than those which are personal. I devoted much time to matters relative to the improvement of the city and state. It could have been more profitably employed in my profession. My exertions in this direction produced some fruit, but more barren blossoms.
In 1852 I was elected to the Democratic convention held at Baltimore for the nomination of [a] presidential candidate. I was appointed to the Committee on Resolutions, and made a speech in support of Mr. [Franklin] Pierce, who was subsequently elected.
During the same year [the Hungarian liberator, Lajos] Kossuth and suite visited Mobile. Mesdames Kossuth and [Ferencz Pulszky] Pulsky [the wife of Kossuth’s companion] became our guests for several days. After they left I chanced upon some Hungarian bonds in my wife’s drawer. I suppose their full value was paid for them. Kossuth made a public address, and his command of our language, his thorough acquaintance with our affairs, and his eloquence excited my highest admiration. As an orator I have never heard his equal. . . .
I come now to the year 1853, when a convention was held at Mobile for the nomination of a member of Congress for that district. This nomination was presided over by Col. Wm. R. Hallett, president of the Bank of Mobile, of which I was then attorney.
Col. Hallett had befriended me in many ways, especially in aiding me to get through an unfortunate speculation made in [the panic year] 1837 in orange grove lots, whereby I lost $25,000, a large sum for those days. One of my sons bears his name in token of this friendship.
When the convention assembled I had not been mentioned in connection with the nomination. I had, as it was well-known to my friends, refused on prior occasions to consider an offer of such promotion, as my limited means would not warrant the loss absence from the state would bring upon me.
After several days’ balloting without result for the gentlemen in nomination, my name was suddenly proposed. Col. Hallett protested against it in my behalf and threatened to resign his position if persisted in. It was, however, insisted upon, and I was unanimously nominated. On my way to dinner that day, I was met by a committee who surprised me by announcing the action of the convention and that it was waiting for my presence. I had a brief consultation with Col. Hallett, and the conclusion arrived at was that under the circumstances of this nomination an acceptance was proper.
The election took place in August. My opponent was Elihu Lockwood, a Northern man by birth, but an old resident of the state, who had gained great popularity by his integrity of character but, more particularly, by the investment of his means in establishing a line of ocean steamers, with Mobile as the home port. The “Black Warrior” was one, then commanded by Lieut. Schufeldt [Robert Wilson Shufeldt] now a distinguished officer of the Navy.
The election was severely contested, and I succeeded by a majority of a few hundred votes whereas the party majority, as shown by the preceding election, was very much larger.
This dissemination was thus produced. In the last legislature preceding my election . . . a joint committee [had been appointed] to report what should be done with the codification of the laws of the state, then in manuscript, which had been prepared and laid before the House by the codifiers.
The report made by me for the committee in effect recommended the printing and adoption of the code, leaving the succeeding legislature to remedy any errors or deficiencies which might be discovered, and this was adopted.
It happened that the amanuensis employed by the codifiers, in copying the list of articles exempt from execution, omitted by accident the item of 100 bushels of corn.
This was during the canvass carefully concealed, until I reached the county of Butler, on our way to Mobile. There the mine was exploded. I was charged with being the author of the code, and an enemy of the poor man. Handbills had been set up throughout the country[side] to this effect. Everywhere the judgements recovered before magistrates for small sums were executed by the seizure of corn, and “Corn for Sale” was posted at all the crossroads.
It was in vain that the codifiers telegraphed that this omission was a mere clerical mistake. It was in vain I stated my true relation to the code. I tried ridicule, I tried argument; both were ineffectual. At many of the precincts I did not receive a single vote, and in this country [county] where the usual democratic majority was about 600 I was beaten by about the same number.
Full returns of the election were received late at night on [a day in] . . . August. I had retired to rest in a philosophical temper. As I had made the contest I desired victory but, on the other hand, I was consoled by the reflection that defeat would be to my pecuniary advantage. About midnight I was aroused by my wife to answer a violent ringing of the doorbell. I hastened down in robe and slippers and, in opening the door, was greeted with cheers by a crowd of my political supporters. My rooms were soon filled, and, after a very brief address, I proceeded to the sideboard, where I made a vain search for the usual treat. In this embarrassment I remembered that my friend Isaac Bell, formerly of Mobile and now residing in his native city of New York, had some months previously presented me with a demijohn of old gin of a superior quality, which for safekeeping had been stored in the closet of my chamber. This I called for. To my great surprise I found it answered to the demand of one “grand round” only, and with this my friends departed soberly.
This month of August ushered in one of the most fatal epidemics (yellow fever) that ever afflicted the south. The description of the plague given in the Decameron was fully realized in all its cruel incidents. I determined at once to avail myself of the proffered hospitality of my wife’s parents, who then resided in Savannah.
Before starting, my friend and family physician, Dr. Josiah C. Nott, one of the authors of Types of Mankind, supplied me with a basket of drugs and a letter of instruction as to their use, in case they were needed on the journey.
We took the steamboat for Montgomery, with eight children and nurses. The second day out, Phebe Dunlap, our seamstress and devoted friend, now living at New Orleans, was taken with the fever, but with the means provided by our good doctor, and with the arduous nursing of my wife, she was carried safely through the shadow of death. . . .
In November, 1853, we located in Washington, occupying the house of Mr. Gideon on F Street, a few doors east of Seventh, then a fashionable quarter.
I served through the long and short sessions of the Thirty-third Congress. My compensation averaged $2,500 a year. How I discharged my duties as representative, I leave to the judgment of others, on the evidence exhibited by the record of the [Congressional] Globe [precursor of the Congressional Record]. My principal speeches related to the act prescribing the manner of appointing the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury (23 Dec, 1853); the act organizing the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas (24 April, 1854); the Mexican Treaty, and power of the House of Representatives in relation thereto (27 June, 1854); the act for payment of French spoliations (25 Jan., 1855). . . .
When my congressional term expired [in 1855], I was again unanimously designated for re-election, but my determination was fixed against any further political employment. I had lost largely in a pecuniary way, as the cost of living greatly exceeded my pay as a member. Besides this, I had lost my clientele in Mobile. Mr. [Joseph G.] Baldwin, my partner,very shortly after my arrival in Washington, had removed to San Francisco, where he was soon elevated to the bench of the Supreme Court of that state [California].
Under these circumstances I determined to fix myself permanently in Washington and to devote myself exclusively to my profession. . . .
When engaged in my profession at Washington, my practice in the Supreme Court being yet limited, I published in one of the journals of the city a series of articles for organizing the Court of Claims so as to vest it with judicial power and give conclusiveness to its judgments. I have the satisfaction of believing that these efforts contributed to a great degree in creating the present court, and thus establishing a reform needful to the pure administration of justice. . . .
On the 24 August, 1861, we were living on I Street, and my office was kept upstairs, in the wing of the house. While engaged at my desk, an officer entered and told me to consider myself under arrest. He then demanded my papers and especially my letters, which he hurriedly overhauled. He then told me the orders were I was not to leave the house. It seems that at the same time detectives were in the front chambers searching for papers. When this was over, my wife, two daughters [Fanny and Caroline], and my wife’s sister [Martha Levy] were taken away and imprisoned in the attic story of Mrs. Greenhaugh’s [Rose O. Green-how] residence in this city, on 16th St., near K St. . . .
Beyond all doubt, the sympathies of my wife and daughters were strongly on the Southern side, and they were doubtless openly expressed and, considering the times, indiscreetly so. Rebellion, or revolution, developed a new chapter in our history, and as the right of secession was openly advocated in the Senate chamber, women could not be made to understand that it would be treated as treasonable to proclaim adherence to it in their parlors. I was confined to my room one week, and my wife and daughters until the 18 September.
During my confinement I was visited one night by Mr. Edwin M. Stanton, afterwards so celebrated as Secretary of War. He was a friend and at this time a stronger sympathizer with the South than I was. It appears that subsequent events carried him over to the other side. His motives for the change I have no right to question. I am indebted to him for his zeal in aiding the liberation of my family. . . .
My wife and daughters were released; the officials, notwithstanding my arrest, had confidence in me and entrusted them to my sole guidance and custody. . . . But a brief time was allowed us to prepare for our exodus and, as a consequence, our household furniture was sold at a great sacrifice.
I had previously spoken to Mr. Seward, then Secretary of State, as to the propriety of allowing me to take my family South, as the policy of the government was to change the tone of public sentiment at Washington, which was then strongly Southern. I had my extensive law library packed in boxes, and entrusted it for safekeeping to Mr. McGuire, the auctioneer, and it is now in my possession.
Preparatory to my departure I applied to the provost marshal for the return or papers taken from the possession of my wife and daughters. He returned me a large bundle. Whether any letters were retained by him I know not.
I find among them two letters: one addressed by my daughter Fanny, written at New Orleans, to her mother under date 30 April, 1861; the other written by my daughter Lina [Caroline] to her sister in New Orleans, and of same date. These two letters, I presume, were not intended to be delivered up, for they . . . had been endorsed for the purpose of being retained.
It has afforded me amusement to look over the letters of my daughters as I prepare this. These two young girls of amiable disposition wrote under the excitement, which then pervaded the public mind, like two viragos. If they could read them now, they would themselves laugh heartily at their extravagant expressions. It is no less amusing to note the extravagant excitement of the provost marshal, who gravely endorses the tattle of these two children as “rank treason.”
My departure from Washington was facilitated by the friendly offices of Gen’l Win-field Scott, who gave me written permission to carry out $5,000 in gold. He directed the officer in command at Fortress Monroe to furnish a steamboat to convey us to Cran[e]y Island [Virginia], then the highest point where the Confederates held sway. Col. [General Benjamin] Huger was then in command at that post. . . .
After a brief sojourn, I took the family to New Orleans, trusting that there I would be freed from the complications of the war. I opened a law office, but found a literal interpretation of the maxim inter arma leges silent [“In time of war the laws are silent”].
New Orleans relied upon her forts for her protection, but after a severe and prolonged bombardment they were passed by [Commodore David G.] Farragut’s fleet. I was on the levee and witnessed its arrival at the city on 25 April, 1862. As soon as the telegraph announced that the fleet had passed Fort St. Philip, a general conflagration of the produce lying on the levee, at least so much of it as could not-be taken away, enveloped the city with its smoke. The Union flag was hoisted over the Mint, but was torn down, as alleged, by a man named [William B.] Mumford, who was hung on the arrival of Gen’l [Benjamin F.] Butler, commanding the land forces of the United States. . . .[After the occupation of New Orleans, Mrs. Phillips was arrested by order of General Butler and confined on Ship Island.]
The suffering induced by this confinement during the summer heat was very great, but it was very much allocated [alleviated?] by the companionship and attendance of [Mrs. Phillips’ maid] Phebe Dunlap, who was permitted to accompany the prisoner. For three months neither my wife nor her attendant were permitted to leave the small room in which they were confined, During this period I was allowed on two occasions to visit them. All correspondence had to be passed through the office of the provost marshal, and the letters were, I presume, all read before delivery.
If the imprudence of my wife brought on her these difficulties, she endured the consequences of them with a heroic spirit that could not be excelled. It was this only which enabled her to go through her sufferings and preserve her health.
Her letters were written during this imprisonment in the most cheerful temper. In many of them she forbids any application to be made for her release, either by myself or friends. In one of them she says: “If the boys behave badly, send them to [General] Butler to be corrected.” No application for her release was ever made by anyone to my knowledge.
She returned home early one morning, greatly to our surprise and joy, but the meeting with the children overcame her and produced a nervous fit. Her screams were heard by the crowd that assembled at the door and gave rise to the wildest rumors of her insanity. . . .
Immediately after her release, I made an effort to get my family out of the Federal lines, and on 29 October  I succeeded in procuring from Gen’l Sheply [George Foster Shepley], military governor, a passport for the purpose. I took with me my sister’s family and left the lake end in a small schooner filled with refugees.
Our next location was in the pleasant village of La Grange, situated in the heart of Georgia. There I purchased, in conjunction with Mr. Levy, my brother-in-law, a charming cottage house, with beautiful surroundings. Several other families, refugees like ourselves, located in this village, and formed a pleasant social circle which served to while away the time. The gentlemen had their Boston [card] club, and the ladies, musical parties. Several hours each day I devoted myself to hard labor in the cultivation of the vegetable and flower garden.
I visited Mobile whenever I had a professional call. The first occasion was to defend the interests of certain persons in the steamer “Fox.” The circumstances of the case deserve mention. The steamer was lying at the mouth of the Mississippi while New Orleans was in possession of the Federal forces. A Capt. Andrews, with a few daring companions, fitted out a little schooner for her capture. The enterprise was eminently successful, and the steamer was brought into [the] port of Mobile, and then libelled as prize of war. I defended for the citizen owners on the ground that all captures accrued to the benefit of the government, as representative of its citizens, and that the title of citizens was not divested by such a capture, [and] that the captors were not libelled under prize law, but only to compensation for salvage services. This was sustained by the decree. The boat was sold for $500,000, one half awarded to [the] captors, the other half to the owners. My fee was $15,000 in Confederate money. This I invested in fifty bales of cotton and twenty-five shares of stock in a coal mine. On the former I realized at the close of the War as much in Treasury notes as I had invested in Confederate money. The stock I still retain, but is of little value.
On another occasion I visited the city and argued before Judge [William G.] Jones, formerly district judge of the United States, the question as to the power of the Confederate government to tax the bonds of the Confederate states. The negative was maintained by me, and sustained by the court.
One case may be worth mentioning. Three English steamers, the “Virgin,” the “Mary,” and the “Red Gauntlet,” eluded the blockade and made their way into the [Mobile] Bay. Gen’l [Dabney Herndon] Maury, then commanding, seized these boats for harbor use. I was employed to appear before the board of appraisement. They were valued at £20,000 each. I was paid for this service $1,000, and was then employed to go to Richmond [Virginia], to collect the money. For this service I received £300 sterling. This was near the close of the war, and the value in Confederate currency was about $75,000. My fees during my four years’ residence in La Grange enabled me to support the family abundantly and furnished the means to begin a new life with the expenses incident to the changed condition from the economy of war to the extravagances of peace.
I was accompanied on my visit to Richmond by Mr. [Andrew J.] Ingersoll of Mobile, the agent of the foreign owners of the steamers. We succeeded in getting from the government £10,000. A second visit to Richmond in the last months of the Confederacy proved unavailing. The treasury was empty, the army worn out, the [Confederate] commissioners had returned from their interview with President Lincoln at [the Hampton Roads Conference, February 3, 1865, near] Fortress Monroe, dispirited.
I saw the end approaching with rapidity, as I had long anticipated. I did not, therefore, tarry. My journey homeward was embarrassed by the movements of the armies. [Confederate Vice President] Alexander H. Stephens travelled with me, and, owing to his ill health, we only journeyed in the daytime. Waggons and mules were furnished us, when needful, to flank the military forces, or when railroads failed us. We finally arrived at Washington, Georgia, where I left Mr. Stephens at the residence of Mr. [Robert A.] Toombs.
Our afternoon amusement while at La Grange for those who, like ourselves, were without fixed employment, was to assemble at the depot when the cars to and fro[m] Atlanta made a landing. On the 10 May, 1865, we were at the depot, and on the arrival of the cars a gentleman stepped out with a newspaper in his hand. When he was about resuming his position in the car I asked him, if he had read it, to let us have it. He complied, and the first thing that arrested my attention was a proclamation offering a reward of $100,000 for the apprehension of [Confederate President] Jefferson Davis, C.[lement] C.[laiborne] Clay [sometime Confederate agent in Canada], and others, charged with being accomplices to the assassination of President Lincoln.
Mr. Clay and wife had recently arrived at La Grange, and Mrs. Clay was then present at the depot. I took her aside, pointed to the horrible accusation, and advised her to immediately communicate it to her husband. The distress of this good woman was painful to behold. In a few minutes a messenger on horseback summoned me to Mr. Clay, who was staying at the fine mansion of Mr. Ben Hill, now a representative in Congress. Mr. Clay earnestly protested his innocence. My advice was asked. I said: “Mr. Clay, in a matter which so seriously concerns you, I prefer you should first state the result of your own judgement.” “It is,” said he, “I should deliver myself to Gen’l Wilson.” “I am happy,” I replied, “to concur in your proposal instead of having myself suggested it.”
A letter was at once written to Gen’l [James Harrison] Wilson, then in command at Macon [Georgia]. . . .
It was then, on the morning of the eleventh, that I started for Macon with Mr. Clay in my custody. Mrs. Clay accompanied us. We were compelled to stop the night at Atlanta, en route to Macon. I there reported to the Federal general, who at my request detailed an officer to remain with us until our departure, to protect us from any molestation. Arriving at Macon, I left Mr. and Mrs. C. at the house of one of their friends living in the suburbs, and immediately visited Gen’l Wilson’s headquarters to report to him that Mr. Clay was then in the city and had come voluntarily to surrender himself.
In my intercourse with the general I found him in every way worthy of his rank. He expressed great astonishment that Mr. Clay should be thus accused, but said: “I am bound to suppose that my government had good grounds to rest on in making the accusation.” On asking him for his orders, he said that he had none other to give except that Mr. Clay was to hold intercourse while in Macon with no one but the family whose hospitality he was enjoying. He then agreed to my request to allow Mr. Clay to remain for several days, while his wife made a visit to friends in south Georgia to collect funds for their further journey.
The day after our arrival (Saturday), as I entered the town from our suburban residence, I was accosted by Gen’l Wilson’s aide, who told me he was just then in search of me, as Gen’l Wilson wished to see me immediately. The general said, when we met, he had sent for me to say that he was obliged to withdraw the permission given to Mr. Clay to remain some days at Macon; that a telegram had just been receivd announcing the arrest of Mr. Davis and party, who would be in Macon about twelve o’clock that day; that another telegram had given him the information that a steamer was lying at Beaufort, and he had determined to send the prisoners overland that evening to Beaufort, to be thence transported by steamer to Fortress Monroe. He added: “As Mrs. Clay is determined to accompany her husband, this is the best arrangement that could be made.”
The new order, therefore, directed Mr. Clay to be at the depot at seven o’clock, for the purpose of taking the train that evening. As Atlanta was on the way to La Grange, I obtained permission to accompany the party to that point. When we arrived at the depot we found it environed by a cordon of troops. Within these lines was a carriage containing Mr. Davis’ wife and children. As we entered the car allotted to us, our names were taken down by an officer stationed at the car steps.
On each alternate bench within the car sat two soldiers fully armed, and on the rear seat the officer in command. With Mr. Davis was Mr. [John Henninger] Reagan, postmaster general of the Confederacy, now a representative at Congress; Mr. Harrison, his private secretary, and some others whose names are now not recalled. There was attached to our car another, containing a full company armed and equipped.
A common misfortune, which thus brought Mrs. Davis and Mrs. Clay together, seemed to produce a reconciliation of difficulties which had severed their association for many years, and without any explanation they at once embraced and kissed.
History will tell of the imprisonment of these gentlemen, and show how groundless was the accusation for which they so long suffered.
Very shortly after my arrival home the quiet of the little town, which during the whole period of the war had been undisturbed, was now rudely broken by the entrance of a body of troops, singularly enough commanded by an officer bearing the name of the town. The depot and tannery were burnt, and the body of troops passed on, leaving behind the straggling bummers who robbed the people of their watches and other portables. On complaint made, Col. LaGrange ordered their restoration.
These troops were part of Gen’l Wilson’s command. They crossed at West Point [near La Grange, Georgia], and were assailed by a small body of boys and old men who had improvised a little breastwork on a hill commanding the bridge [April 16, 1865]. Two of their officers were killed, and the remainder of the party was bagged. LaGrange’s force was about 5,000 men.
Among the captives was my son John, then about fifteen. We were relieved by a message sent by the Col., as he passed through, that he was safe and sound, but that under new regulations no parole could be granted until the elapse of ten days. He added that the boys had displayed the utmost gallantry. At the expiration of ten days John reached home, a richer if not a wiser youth, for he was the owner of the mule on which he returned.
A few days subsequently we learned the surrender of Lee’s Army. This terminated a struggle in which the South lost all but honor. So far as the loss of property in slaves was involved, I regard it as the greatest blessing. Out of the nettle danger, we pluck the flower safety. L’homme propose, mais Dieu dispose. A new generation with self-reliant spirit will create a new South, and crown it by their energy and industry, with all that enriches and enobles a land. . . .
The War having closed, I determined to locate again at Washington, leaving for the present my family at La Grange. My sojourn was brief. I found a wonderful change in the population. New faces met me at every step; the few old acquaintances I encountered extended to me a hesitating courtesy. I found my admission to practice in the courts was barred by the odious test oath, commonly known as the Iron Clad Oath of 2 July, 1862. This required all officers to swear that they had given “no aid, countenance, counsel, or encouragement to any person” in aimed hostility to the government.
The Act 24 Jan’y, 1865, directed this oath to be taken by attornies as a prerequisite to an appearance in the courts of the United States. In this condition of things, though I had been opposed to secession and had committed no overt act of hostility to the government, I determined that I could not conscientiously subscribe to this far-reaching test of loyalty.
I would have remained in Washington until the dawn of a better day, but my pecuniary means were limited and, to confess it, my courage, not to say my manhood, was shattered by the past and by forebodings of the future. I gave away the furniture of my new office and returned to La Grange, much to the surprise and mortification of my wife, whose hopeful disposition always sees the silver lining in the cloud. Still leaving my family, I located at New Orleans, where I remained two winters.
I think it was Napoleon who said that to constitute a well-poised man, forethought and energy should be equally balanced. A preponderance of the former prevents action, and [a preponderance] of the latter leads to enterprises too large for the judgment. If I am a correct judge of myself, my forethought overpowers my motive power.
A final return to Washington, however, was ever lingering in my mind, and this feeling was quickened by the unwillingness of my wife to live in New Orleans, and by the advice of Judge Campbell, who insisted that Washington was my proper theater of action. . . .
The test oath, as applied to attornies, had at the December term, 1866, been declared void by the Supreme Court in the case of Ex parte Garland. The field being thus opened to me, on 7 July, 1867, again leaving my family behind, I once more established my office in this city, in the building still occupied by me at the corner of C St. and Louisiana Avenue.
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Philip Phillips, Southern Unionist: A Memoir
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Terror is a choice.
Ari Fuld described himself on Twitter as a marketer and social media consultant “when not defending Israel by exposing the lies and strengthening the truth.” On Sunday, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed Fuld at a shopping mall in Gush Etzion, a settlement south of Jerusalem. The Queens-born father of four died from his wounds, but not before he chased down his assailant and neutralized the threat to other civilians. Fuld thus gave the full measure of devotion to the Jewish people he loved. He was 45.
The episode is a grim reminder of the wisdom and essential justice of the Trump administration’s tough stance on the Palestinians.
Start with the Taylor Force Act. The act, named for another U.S. citizen felled by Palestinian terror, stanched the flow of American taxpayer fund to the Palestinian Authority’s civilian programs. Though it is small consolation to Fuld’s family, Americans can breathe a sigh of relief that they are no longer underwriting the PA slush fund used to pay stipends to the family members of dead, imprisoned, or injured terrorists, like the one who murdered Ari Fuld.
No principle of justice or sound statesmanship requires Washington to spend $200 million—the amount of PA aid funding slashed by the Trump administration last month—on an agency that financially induces the Palestinian people to commit acts of terror. The PA’s terrorism-incentive budget—“pay-to-slay,” as Douglas Feith called it—ranges from $50 million to $350 million annually. Footing even a fraction of that bill is tantamount to the American government subsidizing terrorism against its citizens.
If we don’t pay the Palestinians, the main line of reasoning runs, frustration will lead them to commit still more and bloodier acts of terror. But U.S. assistance to the PA dates to the PA’s founding in the Oslo Accords, and Palestinian terrorists have shed American and Israeli blood through all the years since then. What does it say about Palestinian leaders that they would unleash more terror unless we cross their palms with silver?
President Trump likewise deserves praise for booting Palestinian diplomats from U.S. soil. This past weekend, the State Department revoked a visa for Husam Zomlot, the highest-ranking Palestinian official in Washington. The State Department cited the Palestinians’ years-long refusal to sit down for peace talks with Israel. The better reason for expelling them is that the label “envoy” sits uneasily next to the names of Palestinian officials, given the links between the Palestine Liberation Organization, President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, and various armed terrorist groups.
Fatah, for example, praised the Fuld murder. As the Jerusalem Post reported, the “al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Fatah . . . welcomed the attack, stressing the necessity of resistance ‘against settlements, Judaization of the land, and occupation crimes.’” It is up to Palestinian leaders to decide whether they want to be terrorists or statesmen. Pretending that they can be both at once was the height of Western folly, as Ari Fuld no doubt recognized.
May his memory be a blessing.
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The end of the water's edge.
It was the blatant subversion of the president’s sole authority to conduct American foreign policy, and the political class received it with fury. It was called “mutinous,” and the conspirators were deemed “traitors” to the Republic. Those who thought “sedition” went too far were still incensed over the breach of protocol and the reckless way in which the president’s mandate was undermined. Yes, times have certainly changed since 2015, when a series of Republican senators signed a letter warning Iran’s theocratic government that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (aka, the Iran nuclear deal) was built on a foundation of sand.
The outrage that was heaped upon Senate Republicans for freelancing on foreign policy in the final years of Barack Obama’s administration has not been visited upon former Secretary of State John Kerry, though he arguably deserves it. In the publicity tour for his recently published memoir, Kerry confessed to conducting meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif “three or four times” as a private citizen. When asked by Fox News Channel’s Dana Perino if Kerry had advised his Iranian interlocutor to “wait out” the Trump administration to get a better set of terms from the president’s successor, Kerry did not deny the charge. “I think everybody in the world is sitting around talking about waiting out President Trump,” he said.
Think about that. This is a former secretary of state who all but confirmed that he is actively conducting what the Boston Globe described in May as “shadow diplomacy” designed to preserve not just the Iran deal but all the associated economic relief and security guarantees it provided Tehran. The abrogation of that deal has put new pressure on the Iranians to liberalize domestically, withdraw their support for terrorism, and abandon their provocative weapons development programs—pressures that the deal’s proponents once supported.
“We’ve got Iran on the ropes now,” said former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, “and a meeting between John Kerry and the Iranian foreign minister really sends a message to them that somebody in America who’s important may be trying to revive them and let them wait and be stronger against what the administration is trying to do.” This is absolutely correct because the threat Iran poses to American national security and geopolitical stability is not limited to its nuclear program. The Iranian threat will not be neutralized until it abandons its support for terror and the repression of its people, and that will not end until the Iranian regime is no more.
While Kerry’s decision to hold a variety of meetings with a representative of a nation hostile to U.S. interests is surely careless and unhelpful, it is not uncommon. During his 1984 campaign for the presidency, Jesse Jackson visited the Soviet Union and Cuba to raise his own public profile and lend credence to Democratic claims that Ronald Reagan’s confrontational foreign policy was unproductive. House Speaker Jim Wright’s trip to Nicaragua to meet with the Sandinista government was a direct repudiation of the Reagan administration’s support for the country’s anti-Communist rebels. In 2007, as Bashar al-Assad’s government was providing material support for the insurgency in Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sojourned to Damascus to shower the genocidal dictator in good publicity. “The road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi insisted. “Unfortunately,” replied George W. Bush’s national security council spokesman, “that road is lined with the victims of Hamas and Hezbollah, the victims of terrorists who cross from Syria into Iraq.”
Honest observers must reluctantly conclude that the adage is wrong. American politics does not, in fact, stop at the water’s edge. It never has, and maybe it shouldn’t. Though it may be commonplace, American political actors who contradict the president in the conduct of their own foreign policy should be judged on the policies they are advocating. In the case of Iran, those who seek to convince the mullahs and their representatives that repressive theocracy and a terroristic foreign policy are dead-ends are advancing the interests not just of the United States but all mankind. Those who provide this hopelessly backward autocracy with the hope that America’s resolve is fleeting are, as John Kerry might say, on “the wrong side of history.”
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Michael Wolff is its Marquis de Sade. Released on January 5, 2018, Wolff’s Fire and Fury became a template for authors eager to satiate the growing demand for unverified stories of Trump at his worst. Wolff filled his pages with tales of the president’s ignorant rants, his raging emotions, his television addiction, his fast-food diet, his unfamiliarity with and contempt for Beltway conventions and manners. Wolff made shocking insinuations about Trump’s mental state, not to mention his relationship with UN ambassador Nikki Haley. Wolff’s Trump is nothing more than a knave, dunce, and commedia dell’arte villain. The hero of his saga is, bizarrely, Steve Bannon, who in Wolff’s telling recognized Trump’s inadequacies, manipulated him to advance a nationalist-populist agenda, and tried to block his worst impulses.
Wolff’s sources are anonymous. That did not slow down the press from calling his accusations “mind-blowing” (Mashable.com), “wild” (Variety), and “bizarre” (Entertainment Weekly). Unlike most pornographers, he had a lesson in mind. He wanted to demonstrate Trump’s unfitness for office. “The story that I’ve told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says that he can’t do this job, the emperor has no clothes,” Wolff told the BBC. “And suddenly everywhere people are going, ‘Oh, my God, it’s true—he has no clothes.’ That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end this, that will end this presidency.”
Nothing excites the Resistance more than the prospect of Trump leaving office before the end of his term. Hence the most stirring examples of Resistance Porn take the president’s all-too-real weaknesses and eccentricities and imbue them with apocalyptic significance. In what would become the standard response to accusations of Trumpian perfidy, reviewers of Fire and Fury were less interested in the truth of Wolff’s assertions than in the fact that his argument confirmed their preexisting biases.
Saying he agreed with President Trump that the book is “fiction,” the Guardian’s critic didn’t “doubt its overall veracity.” It was, he said, “what Mailer and Capote once called a nonfiction novel.” Writing in the Atlantic, Adam Kirsch asked: “No wonder, then, Wolff has written a self-conscious, untrustworthy, postmodern White House book. How else, he might argue, can you write about a group as self-conscious, untrustworthy, and postmodern as this crew?” Complaining in the New Yorker, Masha Gessen said Wolff broke no new ground: “Everybody” knew that the “president of the United States is a deranged liar who surrounded himself with sycophants. He is also functionally illiterate and intellectually unsound.” Remind me never to get on Gessen’s bad side.
What Fire and Fury lacked in journalistic ethics, it made up in receipts. By the third week of its release, Wolff’s book had sold more than 1.7 million copies. His talent for spinning second- and third-hand accounts of the president’s oddity and depravity into bestselling prose was unmistakable. Imitators were sure to follow, especially after Wolff alienated himself from the mainstream media by defending his innuendos about Haley.
It was during the first week of September that Resistance Porn became a competitive industry. On the afternoon of September 4, the first tidbits from Bob Woodward’s Fear appeared in the Washington Post, along with a recording of an 11-minute phone call between Trump and the white knight of Watergate. The opposition began panting soon after. Woodward, who like Wolff relies on anonymous sources, “paints a harrowing portrait” of the Trump White House, reported the Post.
No one looks good in Woodward’s telling other than former economics adviser Gary Cohn and—again bizarrely—the former White House staff secretary who was forced to resign after his two ex-wives accused him of domestic violence. The depiction of chaos, backstabbing, and mutual contempt between the president and high-level advisers who don’t much care for either his agenda or his personality was not so different from Wolff’s. What gave it added heft was Woodward’s status, his inviolable reputation.
“Nothing in Bob Woodward’s sober and grainy new book…is especially surprising,” wrote Dwight Garner at the New York Times. That was the point. The audience for Wolff and Woodward does not want to be surprised. Fear is not a book that will change minds. Nor is it intended to be. “Bob Woodward’s peek behind the Trump curtain is 100 percent as terrifying as we feared,” read a CNN headline. “President Trump is unfit for office. Bob Woodward’s ‘Fear’ confirms it,” read an op-ed headline in the Post. “There’s Always a New Low for the Trump White House,” said the Atlantic. “Amazingly,” wrote Susan Glasser in the New Yorker, “it is no longer big news when the occupant of the Oval Office is shown to be callous, ignorant, nasty, and untruthful.” How could it be, when the press has emphasized nothing but these aspects of Trump for the last three years?
The popular fixation with Trump the man, and with the turbulence, mania, frenzy, confusion, silliness, and unpredictability that have surrounded him for decades, serves two functions. It inoculates the press from having to engage in serious research into the causes of Trump’s success in business, entertainment, and politics, and into the crises of borders, opioids, stagnation, and conformity of opinion that occasioned his rise. Resistance Porn also endows Trump’s critics, both external and internal, with world-historical importance. No longer are they merely journalists, wonks, pundits, and activists sniping at a most unlikely president. They are politically correct versions of Charles Martel, the last line of defense preventing Trump the barbarian from enacting the policies on which he campaigned and was elected.
How closely their sensational claims and inflated self-conceptions track with reality is largely beside the point. When the New York Times published the op-ed “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” by an anonymous “senior official” on September 5, few readers bothered to care that the piece contained no original material. The author turned policy disagreements over trade and national security into a psychiatric diagnosis. In what can only be described as a journalistic innovation, the author dispensed with middlemen such as Wolff and Woodward, providing the Times the longest background quote in American history. That the author’s identity remains a secret only adds to its prurient appeal.
“The bigger concern,” the author wrote, “is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us.” Speak for yourself, bud. What President Trump has done to the Resistance is driven it batty. He’s made an untold number of people willing to entertain conspiracy theories, and to believe rumor is fact, hyperbole is truth, self-interested portrayals are incontrovertible evidence, credulity is virtue, and betrayal is fidelity—so long as all of this is done to stop that man in the White House.
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Review of 'Stanley Kubrick' By Nathan Abrams
Except for Stanley Donen, every director I have worked with has been prone to the idea, first propounded in the 1950s by François Truffaut and his tendentious chums in Cahiers du Cinéma, that directors alone are authors, screenwriters merely contingent. In singular cases—Orson Welles, Michelangelo Antonioni, Woody Allen, Kubrick himself—the claim can be valid, though all of them had recourse, regular or occasional, to helping hands to spice their confections.
Kubrick’s variety of topics, themes, and periods testifies both to his curiosity and to his determination to “make it new.” Because his grades were not high enough (except in physics), this son of a Bronx doctor could not get into colleges crammed with returning GIs. The nearest he came to higher education was when he slipped into accessible lectures at Columbia. He told me, when discussing the possibility of a movie about Julius Caesar, that the great classicist Moses Hadas made a particularly strong impression.
While others were studying for degrees, solitary Stanley was out shooting photographs (sometimes with a hidden camera) for Look magazine. As a movie director, he often insisted on take after take. This gave him choices of the kind available on the still photographer’s contact sheets. Only Peter Sellers and Jack Nicholson had the nerve, and irreplaceable talent, to tell him, ahead of shooting, that they could not do a particular scene more than two or three times. The energy to electrify “Mein Führer, I can walk” and “Here’s Johnny!” could not recur indefinitely. For everyone else, “Can you do it again?” was the exhausting demand, and it could come close to being sadistic.
The same method could be applied to writers. Kubrick might recognize what he wanted when it was served up to him, but he could never articulate, ahead of time, even roughly what it was. Picking and choosing was very much his style. Cogitation and opportunism went together: The story goes that he attached Strauss’s Blue Danube to the opening sequence of 2001 because it happened to be playing in the sound studio when he came to dub the music. Genius puts chance to work.
Until academics intruded lofty criteria into cinema/film, the better to dignify their speciality, Alfred Hitchcock’s attitude covered most cases: When Ingrid Bergman asked for her motivation in walking to the window, Hitch replied, fatly, “Your salary.” On another occasion, told that some scene was not plausible, Hitch said, “It’s only a movie.” He did not take himself seriously until the Cahiers du Cinéma crowd elected to make him iconic. At dinner, I once asked Marcello Mastroianni why he was so willing to play losers or clowns. Marcello said, “Beh, cinema non e gran’ cosa” (cinema is no big deal). Orson Welles called movie-making the ultimate model-train set.
That was then; now we have “film studies.” After they moved in, academics were determined that their subject be a very big deal indeed. Comedy became no laughing matter. In his monotonous new book, the film scholar Nathan Abrams would have it that Stanley Kubrick was, in essence, a “New York Jewish intellectual.” Abrams affects to unlock what Stanley was “really” dealing with, in all his movies, never mind their apparent diversity. It is declared to be, yes, Yiddishkeit, and in particular, the Holocaust. This ground has been tilled before by Geoffrey Cocks, when he argued that the room numbers in the empty Overlook Hotel in The Shining encrypted references to the Final Solution. Abrams would have it that even Barry Lyndon is really all about the outsider seeking, and failing, to make his awkward way in (Gentile) Society. On this reading, Ryan O’Neal is seen as Hannah Arendt’s pariah in 18th-century drag. The movie’s other characters are all engaged in the enjoyment of “goyim-naches,” an expression—like menschlichkayit—he repeats ad nauseam, lest we fail to get the stretched point.
Theory is all when it comes to the apotheosis of our Jew-ridden Übermensch. So what if, in order to make a topic his own, Kubrick found it useful to translate its logic into terms familiar to him from his New York youth? In Abrams’s scheme, other mundane biographical facts count for little. No mention is made of Stanley’s displeasure when his 14-year-old daughter took a fancy to O’Neal. The latter was punished, some sources say, by having Barry’s voiceover converted from first person so that Michael Hordern would displace the star as narrator. By lending dispassionate irony to the narrative, it proved a pettish fluke of genius.
While conning Abrams’s volume, I discovered, not greatly to my chagrin, that I am the sole villain of the piece. Abrams calls me “self-serving” and “unreliable” in my accounts of my working and personal relationship with Stanley. He insinuates that I had less to do with Eyes Wide Shut than I pretend and that Stanley regretted my involvement. It is hard for him to deny (but convenient to omit) that, after trying for some 30 years to get a succession of writers to “crack” how to do Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, Kubrick greeted my first draft with “I’m absolutely thrilled.” A source whose anonymity I respect told me that he had never seen Stanley so happy since the day he received his first royalty check (for $5 million) for 2001. No matter.
Were Abrams (the author also of a book as hostile to Commentary as this one is to me) able to put aside his waxed wrath, he might have quoted what I reported in my memoir Eyes Wide Open to support his Jewish-intellectual thesis. One day, Stanley asked me what a couple of hospital doctors, walking away with their backs to the camera, would be talking about. We were never going to hear or care what it was, but Stanley—at that early stage of development—said he wanted to know everything. I said, “Women, golf, the stock market, you know…”
“Couple of Gentiles, right?”
“That’s what you said you wanted them to be.”
“Those people, how do we ever know what they’re talking about when they’re alone together?”
“Come on, Stanley, haven’t you overheard them in trains and planes and places?”
Kubrick said, “Sure, but…they always know you’re there.”
If he was even halfway serious, Abrams’s banal thesis that, despite decades of living in England, Stanley never escaped the Old Country, might have been given some ballast.
Now, as for Stanley Kubrick’s being an “intellectual.” If this implies membership in some literary or quasi-philosophical elite, there’s a Jewish joke to dispense with it. It’s the one about the man who makes a fortune, buys himself a fancy yacht, and invites his mother to come and see it. He greets her on the gangway in full nautical rig. She says, “What’s with the gold braid already?”
“Mama, you have to realize, I’m a captain now.”
She says, “By you, you’re a captain, by me, you’re a captain, but by a captain, are you a captain?”
As New York intellectuals all used to know, Karl Popper’s definition of bad science, and bad faith, involves positing a theory and then selecting only whatever data help to furnish its validity. The honest scholar makes it a matter of principle to seek out elements that might render his thesis questionable.
Abrams seeks to enroll Lolita in his obsessive Jewish-intellectual scheme by referring to Peter Arno, a New Yorker cartoonist whom Kubrick photographed in 1949. The caption attached to Kubrick’s photograph in Look asserted that Arno liked to date “fresh, unspoiled girls,” and Abrams says this “hint[s] at Humbert Humbert in Lolita.” Ah, but Lolita was published, in Paris, in 1955, six years later. And how likely is it, in any case, that Kubrick wrote the caption?
The film of Lolita is unusual for its garrulity. Abrams’s insistence on the sinister Semitic aspect of both Clare Quilty and Humbert Humbert supposedly drawing Kubrick like moth to flame is a ridiculous camouflage of the commercial opportunism that led Stanley to seek to film the most notorious novel of the day, while fudging its scandalous eroticism.
That said, in my view, The Killing, Paths of Glory, Barry Lyndon, and Clockwork Orange were and are sans pareil. The great French poet Paul Valéry wrote of “the profundity of the surface” of a work of art. Add D.H. Lawrence’s “never trust the teller, trust the tale,” and you have two authoritative reasons for looking at or reading original works of art yourself and not relying on academic exegetes—especially when they write in the solemn, sometimes ungrammatical style of Professor Abrams, who takes time out to tell those of us at the back of his class that padre “is derived from the Latin pater.”
Abrams writes that I “claim” that I was told to exclude all overt reference to Jews in my Eyes Wide Shut screenplay, with the fatuous implication that I am lying. I am again accused of “claiming” to have given the name Ziegler to the character played by Sidney Pollack, because I once had a (quite famous) Hollywood agent called Evarts Ziegler. So I did. The principal reason for Abrams to doubt my veracity is that my having chosen the name renders irrelevant his subsequent fanciful digression on the deep, deep meanings of the name Ziegler in Jewish lore; hence he wishes to assign the naming to Kubrick. Pop goes another wished-for proof of Stanley’s deep and scholarly obsession with Yiddishkeit.
Abrams would be a more formidable enemy if he could turn a single witty phrase or even abstain from what Karl Kraus called mauscheln, the giveaway jargon of Jewish journalists straining to pass for sophisticates at home in Gentile circles. If you choose, you can apply, on line, for screenwriting lessons from Nathan Abrams, who does not have a single cinematic credit to his name. It would be cheaper, and wiser, to look again, and then again, at Kubrick’s masterpieces.