Monthly Archives: January 2017

The end of Marbury v. Madison (as we know it)

TEOMVMAWKI

The End of Marbury v. Madison (as we know it)

“There’s nothing to hold on to, when gravity fails you and every kiss enslaves you…” Graham Parker

 

Does President Trump have to divest his assets? Is he subject to the emoluments clause? Does he have to disclose his tax returns? If you answered yes to any of these questions I think you are in for a rude awakening.

Ask most Americans which branch has the ultimate power to interpret the Constitution and they will answer that it is the Judicial Branch. Some will even suggest that the issue was settled by Chief Justice John Marshall in the case of Marbury v. Madison decided in 1800. Well, if that was my answer on my Constitutional Law exam, I think Professor Schwartz would have given me partial credit. Maybe a C.

First, as I am wont to do, I will point out that Marbury v. Madison was decided by a slaveholder (Marshall) for the benefit of slaveholders (President Jefferson and his Secretary of State James Madison). In the waning days of his administration, President John Adams tried to appoint officials to various positions including William Marbury as a Justice of the Peace in Washington DC. The fact that slavery was permitted steps away from the corridors of power in Washington was considered a blight on the government by the fledgling antislavery movement. Presumably, a Justice of the Peace who had no allegiance to slaveholders could have curtailed that great injustice. Slaveholders resisted the appointments. Through some mumbo jumbo, Chief Justice Marshall ruled in favor of the slaveholders and denied the commission to William Marbury, allowing Jefferson and Madison to appoint their own Justice of the Peace, presumably one who would agree with their political ends. The idea of judicial review was born here, in the decision by Marshall. It was a byproduct of the decision; the end justifying a means.

The Constitution sets up three branches of government. It spells out the relationship between the branches. The President appoints the Supreme Court justices with the advise and consent of the Senate. The Congress can impeach the President. etc. Nowhere in the Constitution does it provide that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter in disputes between the branches or as to the “constitutionality” of a piece of legislation or executive action. Depending on your viewpoint it is either ultimately logical or totally illogical that the branch that is furthest away from the direct selection by the People has this ultimate power. In any event, I suggest that Marbury v. Madison and judicial review is not the settled law that many think it is. Perhaps it was just a self-serving power grab by one branch, subject to resistance by another.

So now President Trump faces a lawsuit which argues that he must divest his business holdings or he is in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. It seems logical that as part of that lawsuit he will again be requested to turn over his tax returns. So what happens if he loses the case and then just says NO.

Such a response is not out of the question for this president. He can point to the Constitution and ask where it says that the Supreme Court has power over the executive branch. He can assert that the People have the ultimate power and the People elected him to do the job and don’t care about his business holdings. He can suggest that if Congress or the People don’t like him, their recourse is to impeach him. Despite musings to the contrary, this viewpoint is not without merit. Had I answered same to Professor Schwartz, I think I would have gotten an A.

As we ride through untested waters, I suggest that in a world where nothing is sacred, Marbury v. Madison may be the next ball to drop.

The Whoosit Club

Chapter 2

 

THE WHOOSIT CLUB

 

Frances Burrell was beyond excited to attend this particular meeting of the Whoosit Club. The Whoosit Club was a members only group of proper young ladies who one Sunday a month would meet at the Gentleman’s Club in Piccadilly. The Gentleman’s Club did not allow women to enter but for the afternoon of the first Sunday of every month when the ladies would have a speaker of interest. The selection committee prided itself on its choices from Prime Ministers to poets to artist to politicians. Some were quite famous but the real catches were the “up and coming but not yet famous” and it was quite prestigious for the speaker to be selected. The artists Thomas Gainsborough, Benjamin West, Joshua Reynolds and Angelika Kauffmann spoke there. As did notables including Dr. Samuel Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, and Edmund Burke. It was no secret that by the 1770’s Ladies of the Whoosit Club had a political cause that they supported, the worldwide elimination of slavery and its most ugly sister, the slave trade. Granville Sharp, Hannah More and Charles Middleton all spoke eloquently there about its elimination. Lord Mansfield spoke of his recent decision in the Somersett Case, which declared slavery “odious” and against British Law, and the effect the decision might have on slave owners in America in a talk he entitled “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

Frances preferred not to attend alone and often cajoled her older sister to accompany her. The interests of the sisters Burrell had grown to be quite diverse. As young children they were inseparable, often spending the entire day together working in their garden at Langley Park or on their horses riding off together for hours. As they grew older, when they would ride Isabella habitually would break into a gallop and Frances could not keep up and found herself alone in the countryside of County Dunham until Isabella would return with some hurtful remark about how unadventurous Frances was. Frances took to spending hours grooming her horse and would decline to ride with Isabella. Now that their father accepted a seat on Parliament and the sisters moved to London, attending the Whoosit Club was about all they did together.  Isabella preferred hearing from the swashbucklers; the soldiers and explorers who talked of their wild adventures. Frances liked the thinkers whether they be poets or playwrights or philosophers or preachers. She liked the world of ideas and the people who debated them. It was they, according to Frances, who really moved the world forward. By this time in 1774, Isabella’s thoughts were somewhere else, contemplating her future as spouse of the second son of the Duke of Northumberland, a wedding already set for the couple to take place in 1775.

On this particular Sunday, the guest was an American poet named Phillis Wheatley. It was not Wheatley’s poetry that Frances looked forward to discuss, as she had not read any. It was the fact that Phillis Wheatley was a living breathing slave, who as a girl from Senegambia had been kidnapped and sold and was now owned by the Wheatley family in Boston Massachusetts. Now here in London Phillis Wheatley was trying to fulfill the wishes of her mistress and drum up support for the potential sale of a book of her poems. She had a few things going for her. The London literati truly liked her work, though they were divided as to whether her naiveté was endearing or clumsy. But even more to her benefit was the politics of it all. The antislavery movement was fledgling; mostly a thought among some well to do that England had committed great sins in profiting from the slave trade and in establishing colonies in the Americas that were dependent on slavery. Led by the Quakers, there was a new awareness that it was time to end such abominations and Frances wanted to be part of that movement. Frances had never met a slave before, the institution being historically disfavored in England, and she wanted to see what a cultured slave looked like, although she would have been just as impressed to meet an illiterate working slave.

When the subject of a Whoosit Club meeting had to do with slavery, the meeting was run by the Quaker women who were an important part of the group. These ladies insisted that the meeting be run somewhat in the style of a Quaker meeting. The group would gather in silence and not a word was to be spoken until the leader commenced the gathering, which could take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, which was an interminable time to sit quietly for poor Isabella who did not want to be there at all.  Phillis Wheatley sat facing the club members, sitting with Elizabeth Corman, the Quaker lady running this meeting. The members of the Whoosit Club used the silence to look over Phillis Wheatley, who was a little bit of a thing. She looked younger than her nineteen years and when the silence broke she told her story, explaining to the gathering of mostly wealthy women that she was saved from the toil that most slaves had to endure by her sheer luck. She happened to end up in the house of a Boston tea merchant who had an intelligent worldly daughter named Mary Wheatley who loved poetry and read it aloud whenever she could. As a young child Phillis Wheatley would hear the wondrous words of William Shakespeare and John Milton and would recite portions of their work aloud herself from memory. Secret, at first, but then openly, Mary taught the slave first to read and then to write and then to write poetry. By age sixteen Phillis had written much poetry in English and some in Latin to the amazement of many in Boston. She was encouraged by her mistress Susanna Wheatley to write poetry although when she attempted to sell her work many in Boston labelled her a fraud, arguing that it was impossible that a dark girl from Africa had the ability to write such things. “It must have been the mistress’s words”, so many would say that a trial was held in Boston and Phillis acquitted herself well with her poetry on demand. At the trial, John Hancock, the lead judge, requested a few lines about spring and Phillis Wheatley wrote:

In vain the feather’d warblers sing

In vain the gardens bloom

And on the bosom of the spring

Breathes out her sweet perfumes.

 

That was good enough for the eighteen gentlemen of Boston who signed off on her authorship although it was unclear if they adjudged that there was any value to her work.

Frances Burrell was mesmerized by this little woman. Seventeen years old herself, Frances too had dabbled in poetry but knew in her heart she lacked the finesse of the young slave girl. But her questions that day were not about poetry, they were about life.

“Where did you get the name Phillis Wheatley from?” Frances asked.

“Wheatley is the family name of those that own me now and they have owned me since I was but a child.” Phillis responded.

“What about Phillis?” Frances continued. “Is that a common name amongst your people?”

“Phillis was the name of a boat”, Phillis Wheatley continued. “It was the boat that brought me from Africa to America.” Phillis Wheatley said this so matter-of-factly that its significance was lost to many in the room.

“The boat that brought you from Africa to America?” Frances continued. “You mean that today you bear the name of the slave ship that took you from your native land to the colonies.” There were gasps from the ladies of the Whoosit Club

“That is correct m’lady”, Phillis said. “On that ship the woman to my left died at sea as did the child to my right. I told them that I would never forget them and I never have. Were I to write this book it will surely be dedicated to them and all the others of similar fate.”

“Yet your poetry is full of grace and love, not bitterness and hate. If it was me I would not be able to write what you do, that I can say for certain.”

“M’Lady”, Phillis engaged. “Here we sit in London England a long way from the suffering of so many. The fine things that surround us here may hide the blood that runs through them, and they are beautiful things nonetheless. I am thankful every day for my life and that I have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as you have. Whether I am free or a slave today would not have saved that woman or child. I am not here to save them or even to save myself, I am here to do what I was sent to do, which is to recite my poetry.”

An older woman in fine clothing spoke next. “Miss Wheatley, there are men among us in London who can bring your circumstance to the courts who will surely declare you to be free. No woman with a Christian soul such as yours was meant to be a slave. We have successfully petitioned our courts on behalf of others to acknowledge the value of a Christian soul. We stand ready to act on your behalf.”

“I thank you madam for the kind offer and thank you all for the chance for you to hear my poems. I am afraid I must return to my home at the soonest that I can. I received a message just today that my mistress Susanna Wheatley has taken ill and has asked for my return. I wish nothing more than to return to Boston forthwith.”

“Even if that means your return to slavery? How can this be?” Frances blurted.

“M’Lady”, Phillis Wheatley looked at Frances Burrell with a stare that she would never forget. “You and I are both quite young and many adventures await us. I do not fault you for the comforts you admire. Please do not fault me for the life I choose. I know hardships await and my fate will not be as yours. I have learned much in my youth and above it all I have learned that an easy life awaits no woman so I do not aspire to it. I am confident in my path.”

Frances did not know what to make of this woman. She could not stop thinking about Phillis Wheatley for days and weeks long after Phillis Wheatley took leave of England to return to Boston, her book never having been sold and some of her poems perhaps never having been written. Frances kept the book that was presented as a sample of the work. She could not know that Phillis Wheatley was soon a slave no more. Susanna Wheatley died before Phillis Wheatley arrived in Boston and freed Phillis Wheatley by her will. Still Boston was not kind to the freed slave and it is true that Phillis Wheatley never did have an easy life. Back in London, Frances bored Isabella for days with her constant talk of Phillis Wheatley, poetry, slavery and freedom. Isabella put it out of her head and was relieved to learn that the next meeting of the Whoosit Club was to feature Lord Clive, the great soldier who was to share the tales of his adventures to India and such other places.

Chapter One- The Writing Lesson

BOOK ONE

SLAVERY

Chapter 1

THE WRITING LESSON

I am Bill a slave born in the house of the Most Reverend Richard Charlton and his wife old Mary and their daughter Catherine. I’ve heard tell that I am likely a child of the slave Mae a woman who I cannot recall having ever met. I’ve heard stories on who my father is, that for sure. Missus Catherine teaches me about the Lord and how to read and write. She told me to write something about myself to explain to her who I am but that is harder to do than I thought. I like to work hard for the Charltons so next to that I thought this would be easy but it’s not. Truth be told, I would rather go fishing with my friends or even tend to the farm.

Catherine interrupted Bill’s reading. “Bill if you call mum ‘Old Mary’ she’s never gonna like this. No woman likes to be told that she is old. Women are funny that way.”

“But you told me to write what is true and it is true that we call her old Mary, not disrespecting her or nothing but we do that so we know who we’re talking about. We call Old Mary ‘Old Mary’ and Young Mary ‘Mary’ or sometimes ‘Young Mary’. That is just how we do it so that is how I wrote it.”

“’Anything’…not ‘nothing’.” Catherine corrected Bill.  “Sometimes when you write you have to pick between telling the truth and not hurting someone’s feelings. But that’s what you have to learn. Well alright just keep going and we’ll fix it later.”

Bill continued his reading.

Missus Catherine told me that if I got stuck I should say something about my friends. I got a great friend named Richmond which is funny because we live here in Richmond although the British call it Staten Island. Maybe it isn’t so funny ‘cause lots of slaves who pass through here have names from the places they from. Just yesterday I met a boy named Orleans who said that was a big place like New York but that no slave child should ever want to see it. He said if they ever say they gonna take you to Orleans you just better run away. Better to be dead than to be in Orleans. That is what he said, but I don’t right know about that. Not that any place is so great for a slave I think, but I don’t get chained and I don’t get whipped like they do in Orleans. At least not so far but I’ve heard tell. I also am friends with Mary who I call young Mary cause she is much younger than old Mary. She is the child of Missus Catherine and gets to live in the big house of course since she be a Charlton. She plays all kinds of music on some struments they have at the big house and she teaches me some songs about the Lord. I been told that I can sing like a bird although to me I don’t sound like a bird. I think I sound more like the old working men I see on the farm every day. We sing other kinds of songs out there and they are not at all about the Lord. I don’t tell the Reverend about that cause he would just tell me that I’m gonna go to hell for that although we both know that he don’t mean it. Maybe one day I will be free and I will be a singer or a soldier instead of someones slave. I ain’t complaining though. According to Orleans some peoples got it worse, way worse.

“Well Bill, it is interesting and a good start given that it’s the first thing you ever wrote about yourself.” Catherine said.  “I see we have to work on your punctuation and spelling and some of your sentences but I think you’re doing very well explaining who you are.”

“Well thank you”, Bill replied. “I don’t know why you think I should be learning about all this stuff like punchiation but I do want to learn how to read real bad. They say a slave who knows how to read is a terror but I don’t get that at all. I see you reading all the time and you don’t seem to be a terror. How can me learning how to read be a bad thing?”

“Well let’s just say some folks are scared of their own shadow and those are the people who think what I’m doing here, teaching you to read and write is a bad thing.” Catherine responded. “Some white folks would want to send me to jail for this very lesson, but I don’t pay them any mind. Anyway, I think this is very good, very good indeed for a ten-year-old slave boy who is just learning to read and write. We will keep working on your skills and one day you’ll show people that even though you are someone’s slave you still have your thoughts and feelings to write about.”

“Well ain’t it true that one day I will be a free man? Down at the dock I hear the men talk about freedom all the time. And most of them are white folks who seem free to me. I just want to be as free as them to work for pay and buy me some nice things and have a boy child who knows who his mother and father are.”

“Well Bill”, Catherine said. “I don’t know what our future holds. It would not surprise me if one day you grew up to be a free man. And if that were to happen then you can say that you learned how to read and write and about the Lord from me, Catherine Bayley, daughter of the Right Reverend Richard Charlton and his wonderful wife Mary. While you are still a slave it might be best to keep such things to ourselves. But when you are free you can say that even though the Charltons kept some slaves that we were good people who tried to do the Lord’s work here on earth and that if we failed it was not because we did not try our best to serve the Lord. I want you to say it often and to write it down, because I know I won’t be on this earth for long and neither will mummy or the Reverend, and I don’t want us to go to Hell.”

Bill was always a bit afraid when Catherine started with her serious talk about hell. “I will do what I can Missus, but I am just a slave child”, Bill replied and then he added, “Missus Catherine, is it true what white folks say that I have no soul?”

“You sure are a boy with a lot of questions, aren’t you? I wouldn’t listen too much to what people say. Poppa says that most folks will lead you the wrong way. What do you think?”

Bill knew that if they were right and he had no soul then there was no hope. He would remain a slave all the days of his life. But if he did have a soul that meant that there was a God and if there was a God then anything was possible. The God that gave him a soul would see to it that he was free. Why else give a person a soul? “I don’t know nothing about how God works. I got me enough troubles figuring out people let alone figuring out God.”

“Anything”, said Catherine. “I don’t know anything about how God works. You can’t say nothing when you mean anything or you mess up the whole sentence.”

“Well it is true that I don’t know anything about nothing or nothing about anything”, Bill said cleverly. “I just don’t know why God would give me a soul and put me in a place where I can’t use it.”

“You sure can be clever Bill that is for sure. I don’t know where you get half the things you say.”

“What about the other half?”

“Yes that concerns me as well!”

When Bill’s lesson was over, he returned to his work. He especially liked taking care of the Charlton’s horses and would see to the needs of the animals from dawn to dusk. Even as a ten-year-old child, Bill would do the work of several grown men which was greatly appreciated by the aging Reverend, who insisted on calling him William, since much needed to be done. The Charltons not only ran the large Church and catered to the spiritual needs of their community, but they also had a little farm that provided for their sustenance. With the help of six slaves on the farm the Reverend was free to do God’s work knowing that his small family and the slaves would be fed and there would be plenty left should a widow or orphan or stranger find themselves in need. His wife was free to spread God’s love and the sickly Catherine was tasked to do God’s other work, which included marrying well and raising and teaching the slave children as well as her own daughter. Many thought Catherine favored Bill over her own child, young Mary, who loved Bill like an older brother. When teaching Bill how to read the bible, Catherine would say that she learned as much about God’s love from Bill as she did from the bible or her mother or father, quite a thing to say about a young slave boy. Catherine’s husband, the doctor Richard Bayley, made his best efforts to treat Catherine’s ailments, but the family knew that her constitution was weak and she was probably not long for the world. Catherine did not want for love for she was adored by all around her and she returned the same tenfold when and how she could. Catherine was again with child in early 1774 and the pregnancy was not going well stressing the entire family just as events around them were stressing all the institutions on Staten Island and all of British America.

By 1774, there was much talk of freedom and independence in the Colonies, even on Staten Island, which for the most part was loyal to Great Britain. The Charlton family was steadfastly loyal to the King and like many in Britain and America considered the talk of revolution to be the empty prattle of those who could not know how difficult it was to run anything. Bill would ask Catherine about independence, whether that meant that if the British were kicked out of America he would be free to have a life that he could choose for himself instead of a slave life chosen by his owners. “I am sorry to say”, she would tell him, “but the people around here I know who talk about freedom the most will never let go of their blacks. They would go to war and shed their last drop of blood rather than letting the blacks live free among them.”

Bill was quite disturbed by this talk. “Why should I be a slave my whole life?” he would ask. “What did I do wrong? It is not fair and it is against everything you taught me about being a Christian.”

Catherine would explain that the problem was that everyone had their own ideas about what it meant to be Christian. Bill remained uneasy and unconvinced. He may have been taught as a Christian and may have felt God’s love through Catherine and both Marys and The Reverend, but still he was a slave child. “What about England?” Bill asked Catherine. “I heard tell that they freed all their slaves there because they decided there that owning slaves was unchristian. Why is it that in England, people cannot own slaves but here their cousins can? If it is not a Christian thing to do there, why is it Christian here? If you and The Reverend and the Missus wanted to you could send me to England to be a free man, right? I think that would be the Christian thing to do.”

Catherine answered that she had thought about it but could not bring herself to let him go. “What would we do here without you, Bill? I think everything here would just fall apart and I myself would be heartbroken.” Bill understood the lesson; he was too valuable for them to let him go. Still he had to find his way out of America to freedom in England with the blessing of the Charltons. Bill’s thoughts in 1774 were not that of most ten year olds, but everyone who knew him knew that Bill was no ordinary ten-year-old. Like many others in America, the thought of his own freedom began to consume him.

Bill had heard several stories of how he came to live with the Charltons. There were no records of his birth or past so he had to make up his history from the stories he was told. The Reverend himself told Bill that as a baby he had been exchanged for a sack of potatoes in a deal with a hungry trader that benefited both sides. On the rare day when Bill was resting from being tired out from working the farm the Reverend might chide him, “C’mon William get up and show me you’re worth a sack of potatoes.” And instead of taking offense, Bill would get up and work to sheer exhaustion. He became fond of taking some of the potato sacks and fashioning shirts from them, shirts he alone would always wear. But Bill had reason to doubt the story that he was traded for a sack of potatoes as well as the stories told to many of the slaves he came to know.  He had heard from one of the older slaves that he came to live with the Charltons as a baby because he was a Charlton, son of a union between the Reverend and a slave named Mae who was sent away soon after his birth. Bill was told that Mae consented to the arrangement with the Reverend in the hope that with some Godly intervention she would bear a Moses who would free her people from their oppression. Bill did not put much credence in this tale of his creation either. For one thing, his skin was dark making the fair-skinned Reverend an unlikely father. He also knew he was not going to be doing much liberating as a slave on Staten Island. Bill figured that it was more likely that his creation resulted from a union between his mother and one of the muscular slaves that were working for the Charltons or a neighbor. As a slave, she could not marry or control her family but she could not be stopped from being human. Although it was never spoken of, it may have been that kind of behavior that got his mother in trouble with the Charltons and eventually lead to her removal from their household. There was one other story, also told to him by an older slave, which he could not discount despite his dark skin. According to this story, the Charltons did own a slave named Mae who was very hard working and of a happy sort. She sang like a bird, just like Bill.  Mae, being quite sturdy and attractive to men, was noticed by some of the locals who returned from the North and West as heroes for fighting in the British Army defeating the French and the Indians in the war which finally provided security to the British subjects of America. These hero soldiers were left to do that which they wanted especially in regard to the local slaves. One day, the story goes, they cornered Mae who punched and kicked and bit each and every one of them with a boundless relentless fury that still ended in her rape and pregnancy. Bill believed that this event did happen to his mother, whether or not it was the event that resulted in his creation. After all, in his ten years Bill had seen countless horrible things happen to slaves and he heard tales of even worse. It was not that Bill wanted to think about such a horror happening to his mother but it did explain to him his rage at so many things. It explained why he would get into so many fights, even with his friends, where his tempered rage would make him always the victor. Old Mary would warn him that such anger would not serve him well so she taught him to pray first before striking out in anger. “Pray that you do not hurt anyone. Pray that your anger does not overcome your goodness. Pray that the Lord protects you and takes care of your soul.”

“Soul?” Bill would think. “Maybe it’s true what those people say about me. Maybe it is true that I am just a well-trained animal. Maybe it’s true that I have no soul.” Still, before sleep every night all the Charltons would say their prayers and Bill too would say his; the prayers he would repeat every night of his life. “I pray that I have a soul. I pray that I have a soul.”

Prologue- I AM BILL RICHMOND

Day after Day, Year after Year, Century after Century,

Bondage without rest, Toil without reward.

These are the Children of Misery, the Afflicted, the Hopeless, the Oppressed.

 

Exodus, the Movie

 

 

 

 

Knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.

 

Attributed to Frederick Douglass

 

 

 

 

There’s a lot of versions of the honest truth….

 

Graham Parker

 

 

 

 

Prologue

Fire at the Smithsonian, January 25, 1865

 

“Papa, nooooo.” Anna cried out to her father, Joseph Henry, America’s greatest scientist. She had followed him to the upstairs room afraid for what he was about to do.

“Oh, Anna. I’m glad you’re here.” Joseph Henry replied calmly. “Someone should be here to witness.”

“There must be a better way to make your point. You told me that Jeff Davis himself wishes it all were different and that we could just live in peace.”

“I have done little to help my country and now it is late. Soon the war will be over and all will be lost. This is the only useful thing left for me to do.”

Joseph Henry was the caretaker of the Castle in Washington, which housed the entire Smithsonian Institution. He lived with his family in the downstairs apartment. He toured the entire structure daily obsessed with his fear that flaws in the construction of the building could lead to massive fire. He was convinced that the apartment would be safe from the conflagration that was soon to begin, soon to begin at his own hand.

A few months before, Confederate troops gathered in Alexandria for what was thought to be an assault on Washington. Joseph Henry climbed the extra staircase up to the top of the tallest tower of the Castle in an ill-fated attempt to establish a way to signal to his friend, Jefferson Davis, to help the Confederate cause. Joseph Henry was caught but spared due to the intervention of President Lincoln. Today he had a different mission. Joseph Henry hated living in the Castle. Against his strong objection, this room on the upper floor was recently opened to the public as an art museum, soon to be showing the brilliant portraits of Indian chiefs painted by John Mix Stanley. “They shall traipse through my house no more,” Joseph Henry said to Anna. Henry hated the art museum, hated John Mix Stanley, hated people, and hated much of what was passing for knowledge in America. “This will be a place for science as God intended.”

Joseph Henry found the book of poems written by Phillis Wheatley, which she brought to England in her unsuccessful attempt to sell her work. It was the only known copy still existing, and had been given to the Smithsonian by a Duchess of Northumberland. He went to the crates that contained many of the unpublished works of James Smithson, works that only he, as their caretaker, knew existed. He pulled out the only known copies of Smithson’s The Equality of the Races, and The Evils of Slavery, and a book that Smithson wrote with a former slave called The Worthy Life and Times of Bill Richmond. He threw them in the pile of books and papers that he was building in the center of the room.  “They told me this was to be a place of knowledge, not nonsense,” Joseph Henry muttered. “Teach slaves how to read and this is what happens. Look what America has come to. No one will know of this nonsense,” he said to Anna.

He removed the paintings of Indian chiefs that had already been hung on the walls and threw them in the pile. “They should burn just fine,” he said. “A fitting end for the savages.”

“Please, papa, not the paintings,” Anna implored. Joseph Henry was not listening.

James Smithson had been a scientist of little note until he bequeathed his fortune to America to establish a place “for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.” A debate as to what that meant raged in Washington from the day the money arrived in America in 1838. In 1846, a young architect from New York, James Renwick, Jr., whose brilliant father was a friend of Joseph Henry, was brought to Washington to build a Norman castle in honor of the Northumberlands of England, of whom Smithson was thought to be a bastard son. Renwick’s vision was that the building would have many uses; laboratories for scientists, galleries for the arts, and lecture rooms for the curious. Those opposed to slavery also had another idea, that the Institution would serve their purposes by educating the nation on the evils of slavery. By the time Joseph Henry was appointed as the first Secretary of the Institution, the building was near completion. Joseph Henry immediately requested that it be torn down, to be replaced by a practical building of laboratories. He almost had his way but was thwarted by the Renwicks, who Henry grew to hate as well. Over the objection of Joseph Henry, Frederick Douglass and other abolitionists spoke at the Smithsonian Institution and helped turn much of the nation against slavery, even as that brought the nation to certain war.

“Anna, see here how poorly this building was constructed. The other day the workman brought this stove to fight the chill and instead of venting it out the flue, they vented it into the attic. It would have started a fire then if I had not intervened. How I should have just let that happen. That is what you must tell your sister to put in her silly diary. The workers started the fire. A sad day for Washington indeed.”

“Oh, father, you mustn’t!” Anna pleaded to a stoic Joseph Henry.

“Savages,” he said, as he gathered embers from the stove and lit the waiting pile.