Thursday, May 3, 2018

Ezra Stiles to Jacob Richardson, July 7, 1794

I finally came across the entire letter from Ezra Stiles (President of Yale, 1778–1795) to Jacob Richardson, July 7, 1794. You can access that and another letter here. (I can access it through my institution.) You may be able to see a portion of the letter in Edmund Morgan's book that terms Stiles "A Gentle Puritan."

Stiles ironically doesn't come off so gentle in that letter. There Stiles, fervently supporting both, connects the American Revolution to the French Revolution and called for MORE use of the guillotine.

Stiles is interesting in that he was, as far as I can tell, a traditional orthodox Trinitarian Christian. The narrative with which we are familiar posits that it was enlightenment deists and unitarians -- many of whom understood themselves to be "Christians" as well (indeed, many of them ministers!) -- who posited the more cutting edge, controversial notions of the time.

With Stiles, though, it looks like we have a notable orthodox Trinitarian Christian who was like minded with Thomas Jefferson, Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, etc. I don't think he was alone in this regard (Samuel Miller of Princeton, for instance).

It's no wonder that Ben Franklin trusted Stiles with his religious secrets.


Tom Van Dyke said...

The bloodthirstiness may be related to [Protestant] anti-Catholicism, as the ancien regime was heavily allied with popery and the persecution of the Huguenots---many of those murdered by the Reign of Terror were clergy or loyal Catholics such as those genocided in the Vendee.

From an old Jon Rowe post at another blog:

jimmiraybob said...

"...genocided in the Vendee."

Church propaganda.

In the wake of the initial revolution and spurred by the execution of the king, the Vendee people began attacking and either driving out or murdering representatives and sympathizers of the new republican system. Eventually the people of the Vendee region raised an army of some 80,000 - called the Catholic and Royal Army - in order to fight for the status quo of the Ancien Regime. The C&R Army was not a gentle movement but a war-fighting force that began attacking and capturing the control of various cities.

The response from the National Convention was to fight back and eventually quell the violent royalist reaction. This was, in effect a rebellion against a revolution and the National forces got real brutal to regain control.

For the Catholic Vendean monarchist side it was a military defeat and not a random slaughter of the innocents, although innocents on both sides paid a heavy price.

Seriously. Actual facts are just a few keystrokes away.

Tom Van Dyke said...

typical secularist whitewash

let the reader decide

The Heart of Darkness: How Visceral Hatred of Catholicism Turns Into Genocide

Tom Van Dyke said...

General Westermann, the butcher of Vendée, informed the Committee of Public Safety after the battle of Savenay in December 1793: “Following the orders you gave to me, I crushed the children beneath the horses’ hooves, massacred the women…. I have not a single prisoner…. I exterminated them all….” Note his words: following the orders you gave to me.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The genocide of the Vendean Catholics cannot be palmed off as the deed of an army run amok. It was a program of annihilation ordered from the top by dogmatic atheists. The National Convention coolly came to the decision that the Vendean Catholics “must be exterminated from the face of the earth.” They ordered the nation’s troops to divide into several columns and march through that region of western France destroying everyone and everything — the old, women, children, even the “patriots” (this was the name given by the revolutionary government to those in Vendée who supported them) who still imagined they were safe with their certificates of loyalty from the government. The region was to be turned into the national cemetery to teach Catholics everywhere in France a lesson. No person, no property was to be spared. Even the forest was to be burned down. And it would have been, had it not been for the unceasing rain.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No one who reads the gruesome details Secher gives of the genocide in Vendée can ever deny Original Sin. Here we face the heart of darkness in man. A police officer named Gannet wrote of seeing women and children thrown into an oven and of their cries giving “so much amusement for Turreau’s soldiers” that they wanted “to continue with these pleasures” even when they ran out of Catholic victims. So they proceeded to throw 23 of the wives of “true patriots” into the fire. Other such monstrous amusements included throwing women out of windows onto bayonets, crushing pregnant women under winepresses, tossing infants from bayonet to bayonet. In Angers the skins of 32 victims were tanned to make riding breeches for the officers, and in Meudon, a comparison was made between the tanned skins of men and women in terms of suppleness.

jimmiraybob said...

The Catholic and Royal Army, fighting for God, the King and the Ancien regime, included women and children on the battle lines. And by "battle lines" I do include insurgent guerrilla fighting. The C&R Army committed atrocities against the Republican representatives and sympathizers. They were then brutally crushed and, as the visiting bleeding heart liberal, I agree that the reprisals went way too far and, yes, the dark heart of mankind was brutally exposed as it always is in war.

Were the people of the Vendee justified in their negative reaction against the real and perceived injustices of the revolution? I'd say yes. But when one joins an army and begins killing the enemy then the prospect of brutality, mayhem and death all around should be anticipated. Violence begets violence when passions rule. It would be interesting to know if among the Vendee peoples there were those that advocated against reacting with violence in favor of political negotiation - and if they were themselves ostracised or worse for being ungodly peacenics or republican sympathisers.

In the end the republican government recognized the atrociousness of the military over-reach and granted the Vendeans concessions, including a right to freely practice religion, and some restitution.

Tom Van Dyke said...

first jimmibob wrote

"...genocided in the Vendee."

Church propaganda.

now it's

as the visiting bleeding heart liberal, I agree that the reprisals went way too far

uh huh

well we're making progress

The story of the Vendean genocide is also a much-needed corrective to the endless hurrahs offered to the French Revolution since its bicentenary in 1989. There was a hideous underside to the Revolution, a heart of darkness.

Davies shows how, step by step, the persecution of Catholic priests led to the tumult in Vendée. This persecution was not supposed to happen because, under Article X of the Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789), no one was to be penalized for his religious beliefs, if those beliefs did not disturb the public order. But the ruling atheists quickly began to oppress the priests and the Church. First they nationalized Church property, including schools and hospitals. Next they suppressed monasteries and convents. Then they eliminated all forms of revenue and reduced Catholic priests to dependence on a government salary. By the end of 1790 priests were forced either to take a new oath to the “Civil Constitution of the Clergy” or lose their job and salary. Early in 1791, 134 French bishops condemned this “Civil Constitution” and Pope Pius VI declared it heretical. The anti-Catholics in Paris ignored this and kept turning the screw: In August 1792 a new law made those priests who still refused the oath liable to deportation, and in May 1793 another law condemned to death those priests liable to deportation who were still in France. Thus the law was turned into a weapon to destroy the holy order of priesthood and the Catholic Church.

The Marquis de Bonchamps, for example, made a last request as he lay dying at age 33, asking that the lives of the captured government soldiers be spared. So 5,000 prisoners were released, but meanwhile, on the government side, 29 cartloads of Catholic prisoners were drowned in the reservoir at Vihiers. It was hard for the Catholic army to abide by a code of decency in the face of the unremitting atrocities of their foes. The prisoners released by Bonchamps went on to devastate La Chapelle, where the inhabitants at the time were old men, women, and children.

Among the many atrocities carried out against the Vendean Catholics was the massacre at a hospital near Yzernay, where 2,000 wounded soldiers, old men, women, and children were slaughtered A Chapel of the Martyrs now stands at the spot. There was also the massacre of 6,000 Catholic prisoners, many of them women, after the battle of Savenay. In addition, there were the Martyrs of Avrillé, half of them women — recently beatified by John Paul II — who were marched out of town in batches of some 400, lined up 50 at a time against a ditch, and shot by fusillade. Then there was the drowning of 5,000 in the Loire River at Nantes — priests, old men, women, and children. And 3,000 Catholic women killed by drowning at Pont-au-Baux. Drownings became a form of entertainment for the soldiers. Comic names were given to the drownings: They were called “republican marriages” when young Catholic men and women were tied naked in pairs and cast into the water. They were also called “vertical deportation in the national bathtub” and “patriotic baptism.”

"Church propaganda."

jimmiraybob said...

Propaganda \ ˌprä-pə-ˈgan-də (noun): information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

You have cited a perfect example of a genre of apologetic propaganda designed to elicit sympathetic emotions for the innocent "persecuted" and evoke antipathy and outrage toward the evil "oppressor" – persecution flogging. It is written by an author specializing in short tracts supporting various aspects of the Church.

It’s not all that indistinguishable from the millennia-old charge that the Jews steal Christian children to use their blood to make matzo.

The persecution card is powerful. I’m reminded of a time that a friend of mine called to my attention a church website and its blazing articles about the severe persecution its people were receiving at an African mission. Missing from the list of outrages was any mention that the “oppressors” were actually other competing Christians. That was revealed after about an hour of research. No doubt there appeals for dollars to fight the persecution was successful.

In the Vendee War case, additional research reveals that the it was initiated as a brutal civil uprising with blood on its own hands before the government response. It’s not contradictory to acknowledge the moral lapse of so brutal a response carried out by the government troops against the uprising while at the same time acknowledging that if the peoples of the Vendee had not formed the Catholic and Royal Army - in order to fight for the status quo of the Ancien Regime and royal and church prerogatives, they wouldn't have faced such brutal repression. Also too, they committed atrocities in an aggressive wartime posture.

A lot of people, and especially hard-line conservatives, justify dropping nukes on Japan in order to bring WWII to an end. And yet tens of thousands of innocent old men, women and children were annihilated or physically and emotionally scarred for life. It was a brutal decision to end a brutal conflict. It was morally reprehensible. War is bad.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Nothing like the genocide of women and children of the Vendee occurred in America. The attempt to equate the French Revolution with the American one is a lie.

jimmiraybob said...

I’m not trying to make a case that the American and French revolutions, per se, were one and the same. Obviously the implementation and outcomes of each were drastically different. But when Jonathan Israel and others make the case for a “radical” enlightenment they are referring to the fundamental intellectual underpinnings such as an elimination of the monarchy and hereditary aristocracy and the reigning in of undo church influence in civil affairs. The radical ideas of a right to individual conscience and expression are the underpinning ideas behind the radical social and political shifts away from old European status quo. Throw in a right of association and a free press and you have the core radical ideas of both revolutions.

Israel makes the point that the American revolutionary political leaders were much more moderate in the implementation of the revolutionary rhetoric that they’d used for inspiration but still, between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights, we ended up with the incorporation of radical notions the likes of which had not been seen in old Europe. In many ways the radical notions of freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of political thought, and freedom of the press had been bubbling below the surface and growing organically in America for some time – a certain American independence. Of course, many thought that there’d never be a day that these ideas would cover blacks and women and Jews and, of course, Catholics (to name a few). But the words and the radical ideas had been monumentalized as attainable American ideals. The soil was fertile and the seeds sowed. No backsies.

On the contrary, the French revolution, idealistically similar to the American, faced an almost impossible task in overcoming the local entrenched interests of the monarchists and church and the peoples who supported the power status quo. It turns out that it’s not all that easy to overturn a feudal system and, as was de rigueur in old Europe, armies were formed and the countryside embroiled.

So, both the American and French revolutions overthrew the entrenched feudal order and implemented radical ideas that were previously circulated clandestinely. There are similarities.

jimmiraybob said...

Nothing like the genocide of women and children of the Vendee occurred in America.

Well, unless we count the native inhabitants. I guess that slavery falls outside of the definition of genocide since keeping the slaves and livestock alive was more economically viable.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Changing the subject. Nothing to do with the American revolution. Cut the crap, son.

Art Deco said...

The French Census of 1801 put the population of the Department of the Vendee at 243,000. Necrometrics reports that estimates of the death toll during the Vendee range from 100,000 to 600,000. IOW, the lower bound is similar to the situation in Poland during WWII.

Art Deco said...

Well, unless we count the native inhabitants.

There was no genocide, except in the imagination of political sectaries.

jimmiraybob said...

"...estimates of the death toll during the Vendee range from 100,000 to 600,000. IOW, the lower bound is similar to the situation in Poland during WWII."

Some estimates of the Vendee death toll range from 58,000 to 200,000. I'm not sure if these estimates include the Republican troops and sympathizers killed by the Vendee Catholic and Royal Army.

Poland did not assemble an army, march across the countryside conquering cities, and commit atrocities against their perceived enemies all in the name of preserving the feudal order. Not sure what your point was supposed to be.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The point is that the French revolution featured genocide; the American one did not. The French remodeled their society by force and murder; America did not.

Big stinking difference.

Art Deco said...

Not sure what your point was supposed to be.

You understand my point perfectly well. It's not the least bit obscure.