Ben Sakoguchis American Dream
Tonight's post presents a look at one modern artist’s critical interpretation of America’s Founding Fathers. Painter Ben Sakoguchi’s Orange Crate Label Series: A Brief History of Slavery boldly portrays the issue of racism in Colonial America and how it influenced the structure of our nation. In 2004, Sakoguchi began directing his focus toward the “peculiar institution” of slavery, as well as the contributions of early African-Americans by merging historic and pop-culture imagery to create these political advertisement-like collages. These striking images, both enthralling and offensive, represent the shameful aspects of America’s origins and the often neglected side of our Founder’s stories. Sakoguchi later added an additional series that takes an identical approach to the Civil War and Confederate history. (NOTE: During World War II, the artist's family was incarcerated by the U.S. government because of their Japanese ancestry. Sakoguchi spent his early childhood in an internment camp at Poston, Arizona which likely influenced his views on race in America.)
Posted by ny5/pinstripepress
at 10:53 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 14 September 2011 10:07 AM EDT
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The Founding Stoners?
For years folks have argued over whether or not some of the Founding Fathers indulged in a little “recreational” smoke from time to time. Many of these wealthy Virginia planters (such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson) grew Hemp on their farms, but the question remains as to what degree did their use of it go? Myths and misquotes abound. Proponents for the legalization of marijuana often reference these cloudy facts in support of their cause, while the anti-drug crowd vehemently disagrees with the notion. In his book Hemp: Lifeline to the Future (Chapter 16, A World of Cannabis Cultures) Chris Conrad outlines this mystery. He writes:
The extent of cannabis smoking during the Colonial era is still subject to debate. President George Washington wrote a letter that contained an oblique reference to what may have been hashish. “The artificial preparation of hemp, from Silesia, is really a curiosity.” Washington made specific written references to Indian hemp, or cannabis indica, and hoped to “have disseminated the seed to others.” His August 7, 1765 diary entry, “began to separate the male from the female (hemp) plants,” describes a harvesting technique favored to enhance the potency of smoking cannabis, among other reasons. Hemp farmer Thomas Jefferson and paper maker Ben Franklin were ambassadors to France during the initial surge of the hashish vogue. Their celebrity status and progressive revolutionary image afforded them ample opportunities to try new experiences. Jefferson smuggled Chinese hemp seeds to America and is credited with the phrase in the Declaration of Independence, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Did the Founding Fathers of the United States of America smoke cannabis? Some researchers think so. Dr. Burke, president of the American Historical Reference Society and a consultant for the Smithsonian Institute, counted seven early presidents as cannabis smokers: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor and Franklin Pierce. “Early letters from our founding fathers refer to the pleasures of hemp smoking,” said Burke. Pierce, Taylor and Jackson, all military men, smoked it with their troops. Cannabis was twice as popular among American soldiers in the Mexican War as in Vietnam: Pierce wrote to his family that it was “about the only good thing” about that war.
So what do we know? Let’s start by dispelling some myths. Yes, both Washington and Jefferson grew and wrote about Hemp, but why? There is an entire Hemp page on the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s website that answers this question (Read Here). According to them, Hemp, along with flax and cotton, was primarily used for making clothing at Monticello. Slave garments for example, were often constructed from Hemp. Rope was also made from its extremely strong fibers. The TJ Foundation also addresses the often quoted and entirely unproven statement attributed to Jefferson, “Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see.” According to them:
This statement has not been found in any of the writings of Thomas Jefferson. It appears to be of extremely recent vintage, and does not appear in any secondary print sources available online. Thomas Jefferson did grow hemp, but there is no evidence to suggest that Jefferson was a habitual smoker of hemp, tobacco, or any other substance. Some have pointed to a supposed reference in Jefferson's Farm Book to separating male and female hemp plants as evidence that he was cultivating it for purposes of recreational smoking; no such reference exists in Jefferson's Farm Book or any other document, although George Washington did record such a thing in his own diary: “Began to seperate the Male from the Female hemp at Do.&—rather too late.” The editorial note accompanying this comment cites Bernard McMahon's American Gardener’s Calendar: “This may arise from their [the male] being coarser, and the stalks larger.
[I do applaud the stoner who came up with that quote and managed to propagate it to the point it had to be officially addressed.] Similarly, Jefferson’s friend George Washington is also frequently quoted by the weed crowd. According to Cecil Adams for The Straight Dope:
In his diary for August 7, 1765, Washington writes, “Began to separate the Male from the Female hemp … rather too late.” Female marijuana plants are the ones that contain enough THC to be worth smoking. Some take this to mean Washington was cultivating the plant not just for fiber. Of course, two days later Washington says he put the hemp in the river to soak and separate out the fibers, and later in September that he started to harvest the seed. That suggests he divided the plants because the males made stronger fiber while the female plants produced the seed needed for the next year's crop. Jefferson in his Farm Book wrote that a female plant would produce a quart of seed, and a bushel of seed was enough to plant an acre.
We can prove that Washington was indeed a farmer of cannabis-crops, as he enthusiastically grew Hemp and promoted its growth. In 1794 he wrote a note to his gardener at Mount Vernon stating, “Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!” (The Writings of George Washington, Volume 33, page 270). However, in the 1790s, the crop was grown mainly for its industrial value and for soil stabilization. It was many years later that the recreational and illegal use of marijuana became popular. Therefore, the Father of our Country probably did not partake.
So what can we prove? Yes, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were growers, but they do not appear to have ever indulged in their crops. Most accounts and quotes that allegedly support this claim are either incorrect or completely fabricated. We do know for a fact that Ben Franklin used opiates as a pain killer, more specifically, a laudanum opium in alcohol extract-to alleviate the pain of kidney stones during the last few years of his life.
We also know that several American presidents have admitted to using drugs either recreationally in their youth, or medicinally in their final years. This includes Franklin Pierce (Hashish), Ulysses S. Grant (Cocaine), John F. Kennedy (Prescriptions), Bill Clinton (Marijuana), George Bush (Cocaine) and our current Commander and Chief Barak Obama (Marijuana). None of these men are said to have abused drugs while in office. Still, it is the Founding Fathers who seem to be the most desirable examples when arguing for the legalization of marijuana in America.
Too bad the history behind their drug use is bogus. This should not surprise us as the propagation of historical BS is nothing new. The Founders are constantly being hijacked in support of either Right or Left political ideology. More often than not, the reasons for doing so are fraught with false claims and misinformation. These brilliant men were by no means perfect people and I have spent plenty of words taking them to task for their faults and indiscretions. That said, their implied recreational drug use is founded on little or no evidence. So although we might like to envision a more mellow Mr. Jefferson, kicking back on the porch at Monticello and firing up a big fatty, there are absolutely no reliable sources to prove this.
I would point that out to the stoner crowd, but they would probably forget. :)
KJV turns 400
This year marks the 400th anniversary of The King James Bible. This version, also known as the Authorized Version of the Bible, is an English translation of the Christian Bible first published in 1611. The New Testament was translated from the Textus Receptus (Received Text) edition of the Greek texts, so called because most extant texts of the time were in agreement with it. The Old Testament was translated from the Masoretic Hebrew text. The King James Version has had a profound impact on English literature. The works of famous authors such as John Milton, Herman Melville, John Dryden and William Wordsworth are replete with inspiration derived from it. (I only quote from the KJV in my own published works.) Although it is often referred to as the KJV (King James Version), particularly in the United States, the only active part King James took in the translation was lifting the death penalty attached to its translation and setting very reasonable guidelines for the translation process, such as prohibiting partisan scholarship and footnotes. Current printings of the King James Bible are based on an edition published at the University of Oxford in 1769, edited by Benjamin Blayney, and contain substantially the same text; however, there are a few differences between the 1769 and the 1611 versions.
Participating churches here in the Fredericksburg, VA area will divvy up all 66 books to be read aloud over 12 sessions on three weekends between Sept. 16 and Oct. 2, in a commemoration similar to a Holy Week event at the Globe. Churches taking part in the marathon effort here include: Fredericksburg Seventh-day Adventist Church, Christ Episcopal Church, Fredericksburg United Methodist Church, Resurrection Lutheran Church, Tower of Deliverance Church, Fredericksburg Baptist Church, Tabernacle United Methodist Church, Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site), Spotsylvania Presbyterian Church, Crossroads Baptist Church, Zion United Methodist Church and Ferry Farm Baptist Church. I will be participating in this marathon as a member of Spotsylvania Presbyterian Church on Saturday, October 1 (beginning at 3pm). Our KJV readings will cover the New Testament books of Acts, through 2 Corinthians. I will post a recap of the experience here.
Posted by ny5/pinstripepress
at 10:19 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 12 September 2011 11:18 AM EDT
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The problem with American-Exceptionalism
The preaching of “American-Exceptionalism” has become a stumbling block for many historians. It is a narrow-minded and archaic way of looking at our nation’s past and does nothing to expand our knowledge of history. By simply believing that we were, are, and always will be the best is not only conceited, it is completely illogical and ignorant. I believe in exceptional people while simultaneously rejecting the notion of an exceptional nation. We can be proud of our heritage and still be honest about ourselves. America is a great country for sure, but it is not THE greatest country. For any country to make that claim is absurd. Therefore “American-Exceptionalism” is a myth. It is a lazy practice that is propagated by the rehashing of biased history. The only way to get away from it is to get away from ourselves. Enter the foreign press. Sometimes the best way to get an honest answer is to get a second, unbiased opinion. After spending a few hours on foreign press websites I have found five common beliefs about America’s view of history that are shared across the globe.
- America has created a revised version of its own story. This adaptation is taught to its youth and contaminates their fundamental understanding of history for the rest of their lives.
- The nation’s founding documents are revered more like divine scriptures than legal documents. This is the primary cause of never-ending controversy and misinterpretation.
- The vision of an underdog rising against tyrants has indelibly been etched in the nation's consciousness. Americans believe that their fight for independence trumps all others.
- Misguided and inappropriate hero-worship abounds in America. There is no distinction between the real contributions of a George Washington and the fantasy ones of a John Wayne.
- America persists in describing itself as the freest country on earth, although by nearly every objective criterion, most European nations are more liberal and free than the United States.
I don’t think anyone can argue with those points. One article in particular put America’s historical vanity in perspective for me. It was written by a German journalist named Thomas Klau for the Financial Times, Deutschland, Germany. Appropriately titled 'Cult of the Founding Fathers' is Obscuring America's Worldview, this piece outlines why our exaggerated and self-centered interpretation of American history has affected our perspective, not only of ourselves, but also the rest of the world. Klau writes:
…And while it is a pillar of American democracy, that healing strength that is founded in the cult of the founding fathers has a rather peculiar consequence: The intentions of these political actors of two centuries ago are the ultimate touchstone for conditions in the United States today; and to this day it is this backward-perspective that to a great extent influences America’s perceptions of the rest of the world. Americans are hardly conscious of this, and since they never discuss it, the phenomenon is hardly registered in Europe. But anyone who listens to the way Americans discuss themselves is surprised at America's implicit self-comparison, less with real foreign countries than to another, mythical, abroad. And it's this imaginary abroad which is manifestly ruled by an unrestrained monarch where no constitutional court dominates state and government, and where people are not equal and less free than the citizens of the much-blessed United States.
In America, the collective image of foreign countries is a mythical one, preserved as if in formaldehyde, handed down from the time of the founding fathers with the Kingdom of England circa 1776 unconsciously serving as the main point of reference. This allows the United States to persist in describing itself as the freest country on earth, although by nearly every objective criterion, most European nations are more liberal and free than the United States. One only has to recall the repressive American culture of prohibition and punishment. It is in this way that the tradition-arrested Americans protect themselves against the pressure to compare their own achievements and social structures against real foreign examples. Thus the myth and collective emotion stabilize society. But this happens at the expense of critical thinking and lessons learned. It is a double-edged phenomenon that has worked its way into every aspect of American public life.
I am curious as to how the proponents of “American-Exceptionalism” would respond to this. Some would no doubt scoff at this German’s interpretation of us and disregard it as yet another silly foreigner’s unwelcomed opinion. Others who are less astute will offer the same old argument that America is simply the best because God blessed us above all others. I look at this as a challenge for American historians to work harder at examining our past in the present. Maybe then we can claim to truly understand who we are and where we come from. Maintaining a superiority complex that was started by our ancestors does nothing to evolve the study of American history.
Ben Franklin, ambassador, inventor, sex therapist?
Although we aren’t exactly sure of Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts on sex (see 9/2 post), we do know for a fact what Benjamin Franklin thought about it. We know this as Franklin, a man who confessed to having carnal knowledge of “women of low character,” was kind enough to leave behind a graphically-salacious letter that was penned in 1745. This kinky and revealing correspondence, once considered to be obscene and intentionally left out of published collections, was written to an unknown individual who was rumored to have been Cadwallader Colden, the Lt.Governor for the Province of New York.
The theme of the letter deals with Franklin’s remedies for a young man’s sexual urges. After recommending marriage as an obvious and less-exciting alternative, Franklin offers up eight dirty-minded benefits of having an older mistress. It appears that Mr. Franklin, an adulterous playboy himself, was able to apply his whimsical no-nonsense perspective towards the “cougar-community.”
June 25, 1745
My dear Friend,
I know of no Medicine fit to diminish the violent natural Inclinations you mention; and if I did, I think I should not communicate it to you. Marriage is the proper Remedy. It is the most natural State of Man, and therefore the State in which you are most likely to find solid Happiness. Your Reasons against entring into it at present, appear to me not well-founded. The circumstantial Advantages you have in View by postponing it, are not only uncertain, but they are small in comparison with that of the Thing itself, the being married and settled. It is the Man and Woman united that make the compleat human Being. Separate, she wants his Force of Body and Strength of Reason; he, her Softness, Sensibility and acute Discernment. Together they are more likely to succeed in the World. A single Man has not nearly the Value he would have in that State of Union. He is an incomplete Animal. He resembles the odd Half of a Pair of Scissars. If you get a prudent healthy Wife, your Industry in your Profession, with her good Economy, will be a Fortune sufficient.
But if you will not take this Counsel, and persist in thinking a Commerce with the Sex inevitable, then I repeat my former Advice, that in all your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones. You call this a Paradox, and demand my Reasons. They are these:
1. Because as they have more Knowledge of the World and their Minds are better stor’d with Observations, their Conversation is more improving and more lastingly agreable.
2. Because when Women cease to be handsome, they study to be good. To maintain their Influence over Men, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility. They learn to do a 1000 Services small and great, and are the most tender and useful of all Friends when you are sick. Thus they continue amiable. And hence there is hardly such a thing to be found as an old Woman who is not a good Woman.
3. Because there is no hazard of Children, which irregularly produc’d may be attended with much Inconvenience.
4. Because thro’ more Experience, they are more prudent and discreet in conducting an Intrigue to prevent Suspicion. The Commerce with them is therefore safer with regard to your Reputation. And with regard to theirs, if the Affair should happen to be known, considerate People might be rather inclin’d to excuse an old Woman who would kindly take care of a young Man, form his Manners by her good Counsels, and prevent his ruining his Health and Fortune among mercenary Prostitutes.
5. Because in every Animal that walks upright, the Deficiency of the Fluids that fill the Muscles appears first in the highest Part: The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.
6. Because the Sin is less. The debauching a Virgin may be her Ruin, and make her for Life unhappy.
7. Because the Compunction is less. The having made a young Girl miserable may give you frequent bitter Reflections; none of which can attend the making an old Woman happy.
8. They are so grateful!!
Thus much for my Paradox. But still I advise you to marry directly; being sincerely
Your affectionate Friend,
View this letter at The Rosenbach Museum & Library, Leather Archives & Museum.