Across America by Motor-Cycle

August 21, 2014

I proofed a lot of Across America by Motor-Cycle, by C.K. Shepherd, but from time to time other pesky proofreaders would grab some pages, so I was happy when it was posted to Project Gutenberg and I could at last read the entire book.  The author was an Englishman who decided just after World War I to ride “across America by motor-cycle,” going from New York to San Francisco. Not something that would raise too many eyebrows these days, but back then there were very few paved roads. “Ninety-five per cent. or more, however, of America’s highways are dirt roads, or what they are pleased to call ‘Natural Gravel.’ In many cases they comprise merely a much worn trail, and as often as not a pair of ruts worn in the prairie. Very often, instead of being a single pair of ruts, there are five or six or perhaps ten, where individual cars have manifested their own personality. When this multiplicity of ruts crosses and re-crosses in a desperate attempt to achieve the survival of the fittest, the resultant effect on the poor motor-cyclist is somewhat disconcerting.”

Things aren’t much better in the cities: “I have seen places in Broadway where the tram-lines wander six or seven inches above the surface of the road and where the pot-holes would accommodate comfortably quite a family of dead dogs within their depths.”

“There are two classes of roads and two only. They are good roads and bad roads. Any road, anywhere, in the whole of the United States of America (and, I presume, her Colonies as well) is a ‘good’ road if you can ‘get through.’ The remainder are bad.”

Lizzie

“Lizzie” in the Petrified Forest, Arizona

Of course these roads were a little rough on his motor-cycle (nicknamed “Lizzie”). He bought it new in New York: “The machine was entirely overhauled on four occasions between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and on three of these by the recognized agents of the manufacturers. The engine cut-out switch was the only part of the machine that did not break, come loose, or go wrong sooner or later. I was thrown off 142 times, and after that I stopped counting! Apart from that I had no trouble.”

Protective gear? “I dispensed entirely with the use of goggles from beginning to end, and except at stops in large towns on the way I wore no hat.” No, they hadn’t heard of helmets back then!

The book describes his journey across country, and makes very entertaining reading, although the author does state, “The journey was comparatively uneventful. I never had to shoot anybody and nobody shot me! In spite of the relative wildness and barrenness of the West, there were always food and petrol available in plenty. I spent most nights at the side of the road and experienced neither rheumatism nor rattlesnakes.”

This post was contributed by rpc, a DP volunteer.


Novanglus and Massachusettensis

July 4, 2014

Many people have a vague idea that the battle for American independence from Great Britain began with the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. But the battle really began much earlier—almost a decade earlier, when American colonists first began protesting “taxation without representation” in the British Parliament. Unrest turned to violence in 1770, when a crowd of angry Boston colonists surrounded a group of British soldiers, who fired into the crowd and killed three people in what became known as the Boston Massacre. In 1773 came the Boston Tea Party, during which saboteurs dressed as Mohawks dumped over 300 chests of British tea into Boston Harbor. Punishment was swift: the British government closed Boston Harbor and passed the “Intolerable Acts,” which, among other things, stripped the Massachusetts Bay Colony of its right to self-government.

The battle wasn’t just waged in the streets or in the harbor. A bitter war of words erupted among the intellectual elite of the colonies, who were split in their opinions of Parliament’s actions. Among the combatants was a feisty Boston lawyer named John Adams (1735-1826), a future Founding Father and President of the United States. Adams, ironically, represented several of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, and his strong self-defense arguments resulted in acquittals. But Adams was no less of a patriot for that. He simply understood how important it was for the American cause to ensure that the soldiers had a fair trial.

Adams

John Adams

A few years later, as American-British relations deteriorated, Adams employed his brilliant legal skills to respond to a series of pro-British letters, by someone calling himself “Massachusettensis,” published in a Loyalist Boston newspaper beginning in December 1774. Writing as “Novanglus,” Adams set forth his argument that the colonies were not answerable to the British Parliament.  In 1819, these letters were collected in a volume entitled Novanglus, and Massachusettensis; or Political Essays, Published in the Years 1774 and 1775, on the Principal Points of Controversy, between Great Britain and Her Colonies. The edition that DP volunteers used to prepare the Project Gutenberg e-book was the presentation copy to John Adams from the printers.

In 1775—more than a year before the Declaration of Independence—Adams was not yet arguing for independence from Britain; he expressly disclaimed such a treasonous view. Instead, he stuck to the more subtle argument that the colonies might be subject to the will of the Crown, but they were not subject to Parliament, because they were self-governing. He argued extensively from British statutes and cases involving the similar status of Ireland and Wales.

Adams’s arguments were brilliant, but his opponent “Massachusettensis” was every bit a match for him, arguing his Loyalist views with equal vigor and skill.  Indeed, because “Massachusettensis” was the better writer, his arguments can seem more compelling than Adams’s “huge pile of learning,” as “Massachusettensis” sneeringly called Adams’s scholarly legal citations.

The exchange between “Novanglus” and “Massachusettensis” came to an abrupt halt in April, 1775, with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The revolution had begun, and there was no going back.

The 1819 edition identifies “Massachusettensis” as Adams’s onetime friend Jonathan Sewall, the last King’s Attorney General for Massachusetts, and Adams himself long believed it was Sewall. But “Massachusettensis” was actually Taunton lawyer and Loyalist Daniel Leonard, another friend from whom Adams later became irrevocably estranged in the turmoil of the Revolution. Leonard was forced to flee America when the British evacuated Boston in 1776; he later became chief justice of Bermuda and then retired to London. When the letters were published in London in 1822, he revealed himself to be “Massachusettensis.”

The 1819 edition of Novanglus, and Massachusettensis also features letters that Adams wrote to various friends and colleagues later in life, recounting the events leading up to the American Revolution. John Adams died on July 4, 1826, at the age of 90. His last words were said to be, “Thomas Jefferson survives”—but the author of the Declaration of Independence had also passed away that very day.

Today, July 4, 2014, is the 238th anniversary of American independence.


Thomas Jefferson’s Writings

May 26, 2014

I recently did a partial smooth-read of a book with a weighty title: The Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Being His Autobiography, Correspondence, Reports, Messages, Addresses, and Other Writings, Official and Private. Volume 1.

Jefferson

I have long been interested in Thomas Jefferson’s writings. Of course, we all know him as the author of the American Declaration of Independence. (Well, most of us know that; I’m not sure this is still taught in public schools in the United States.) So, to have the opportunity to smooth-read Volume One of this work was something I considered a privilege.

Several years ago, I smooth-read some of the diplomatic correspondence that was written during the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson’s perspective on the problems American diplomats faced during the Revolution gave me new insight into this time in the history of the U.S. Of course, European countries had grave doubts about supporting the upstart Colonies. The struggles that American representatives endured while trying to convince European countries to support the Colonies’ need to separate from Great Britain are fascinating to read about.

I learned a great deal about the early movement toward the Revolution, and about how the Declaration of Independence arrived in its final form. Most people today think that Thomas Jefferson was in favor of slavery. He was not, and fully intended to free his own slaves. He included a scathing denunciation of slavery in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, including pointing out how Great Britain was heavily engaged in the slave trade. But other statesmen would not allow this denunciation to remain in the final edition of the Declaration.

In this book, some of the correspondence is from the days before T.J. was famous. He was just a young man studying law, and engaged in romances with several different young women. Much of the early correspondence included in this volume has to do with his pursuit of one or two special young women. He teased his fellow students about their romantic problems, and I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpse into the younger T.J.’s life. He must have been an interesting companion!

Jefferson's signature

I wish that I had been able to read the entire volume. I look forward to the time that Volume 2 enters the Smooth-reading Pool, and I fully intend to read it.

My husband owns a 6-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson, written by Dumas Malone. Dr. Malone had access to the original documents that are in the Library of Congress, when he wrote his biography. I’m thrilled that I’m getting to read the same documentation, although in digital form, as was used to write the definitive biography of Thomas Jefferson.


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