Boris Johnson Wants to Suspend Parliament. Could Trump Suspend Congress?

Boris

In case you haven’t heard, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked Queen Elizabeth II to suspend Parliament for five weeks so he can silence dissenters as he leads Great Britian’s departure from the European Union.  Get up to speed here and here.

Could something similar happen in the United States?  Could the President of the United States suspend Congress?  Eliga Gould, a professor of history at the University of New Hampshire, explains why such a move would be unconstitutional.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Conversation:

When Americans started debating what sort of government they wanted for the United States, they knew they needed an executive with some of the vigor that they associated with a monarchy. What they had in mind, however, was different from the British crown. The monarch, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in the “Federalist” essays, was a “perpetual magistrate,” who had powers that were limited only by whatever rules he or she chose to observe.

The newly created role of U.S. president, by contrast, had clearly defined powers under the Constitution, as did Congress. Crucially, the power to summon or dismiss Congress belonged to the House of Representatives and the Senate, which together decided when to convene and when to adjourn. The position of president, in other words, was intentionally designed without the authority to reproduce the 11-year tyranny of King Charles – or the five-week suspension of Queen Elizabeth II and her current prime minister.

Read the entire piece here.

What if Great Britain Purchased Texas in 1843 and Freed all the Slaves?

Lone Star

This is a fascinating short piece on Stephen Pearl Andrews, a lawyer in the Republic of Texas who wanted to sell large portions of Texas to Great Britain in the hopes that these new landowners would end slavery.  Here is a taste of Mark Sussman’s piece at JSTOR Daily:

In 1843, a New England lawyer almost managed to sell Texas to Great Britain. A convinced abolitionist practicing law in what was then the independent Republic of Texas, Stephen Pearl Andrews got it into his head that, in an attempt to free Texas’s slaves, he would invite a foreign power into North America and hand over a massive chunk of it. Andrews’s attempt to free Texas’s slaves by way of an invitation to foreign interference illustrates the strange bedfellows created by “the slavery question” in the nineteenth century. Andrews, in his quixotic vision, in his idealism, ambition, and occasional crankery, was an exemplary nineteenth-century American figure.

Andrews spent his late teens and early twenties teaching at a girls’ school in New Orleans opened by his brother and sister-in-law, where he was exposed to the reality of slavery. He grew close to a man named George, a slave at the Andrews’s school, who went about his work with a cheerful attitude until, one night, confiding as to the true nature of his condition. George’s reports of his own sorry treatment at the hands of his owners, from the everyday indignities to whippings, left Andrews with “a profound impression… of the tremendous power of that great national machinery of oppression, American Slavery.” That impression never left him.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with James Delbourgo

619ROeDHlSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgJames Delbourgo is Associate Professor of History of Science and Atlantic World at Rutgers University. This interview is based on his new book, Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum (Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Collecting the World? 

JD: My first book was on electricity in colonial North America and I wanted to see what the pursuit of science looked like from a completely different angle. When I learned that Hans Sloane, the founder of the British Museum (1753), had been in Jamaica and made natural history collections there, I was fascinated. What was the future founder of the world’s first national public museum doing in the Caribbean and what were the links between slavery and the origins of that museum? I was never taught this in school and thought many readers would be interested in the answer. I was also fascinated by the idea of a universal collection and a museum that aspired to contain every kind of thing in the world. We live in an age where universalism is often critiqued and mistrusted but the early modern era and the origins of museums were powerfully inspired by notions of the universal.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Collecting the World?

JD: One argument is that collecting things always involves collecting people: there is no such thing as “a collector” in the sense of an isolated individual and Sloane relied on worldwide networks to accumulate the thousands of objects which the British Museum was created to house. The second is that Sloane is vital for understanding the complex legacy of the Enlightenment: out of slavery and imperialism emerged the first articulation of an ideal of universal free public access to museums and their collections, an ideal we still cherish and must defend today.

JF: Why do we need to read Collecting the World?

JD: It is the first book to tell the full story of how the world’s first public museum came into being, and shows how that enlightened institution owes its origins to slavery and imperialism, while also championing Sloane’s legacy in calling for universal access to museums and knowledge. Sloane is a compelling contradiction and defies easy categorization: he embodies the relationship between enlightenment and imperialism and his collections embody the great global collision of peoples that took place in the long eighteenth century. It’s also a story about universal knowledge and the dream of total information, and what their pursuit actually entailed. This dream is familiar to us today through digital technology and the internet, but Sloane’s house in eighteenth-century London — where he sought to assemble a universal museum — is an important to precursor to this ongoing ideal of somehow collecting the entire world in a single place. Finally, it’s a book that connects several historical subdisciplines — from the history of science to the history of the African diaspora — and urges us to move beyond academic specialization to tell richer, more complex stories for a broad reading public.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JD: I was completing my first year as an undergraduate student at the University of East Anglia in the UK and wrote a seminar paper about Abraham Lincoln’s theory of the union for Professor Dan Richter who was visiting professor that year. It was a liberating experience to try to understand someone else’s thinking in a completely foreign time and place. As one wit has quipped, all the best stories are true. I once explained my work to a member of my family, who listened carefully and then replied, “But you really live in the past then?” Yes.

JF: What is your next project?

JD: I have several current research interests which include the history of collecting; global & Atlantic histories of science especially in the early modern period; and the transport of key objects from around the world into various museum collections.

JF: Thanks, James!

The Author’s Corner with Steven Pincus

TheHeartofDeclaration.pngSteven Pincus is Bradford Durfee Professor of History at Yale University. This interview is based on his new book, The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government (Yale University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write The Heart of the Declaration?

SP: For about a decade I have been working on a book on the British Empire, from the middle of the seventeenth century through the 1780s.  That book, which has grown to be a monster, tries to explain why the British Empire emerged, developed and was fundamentally transformed in the second half of the eighteenth century.  While the book has much to say about British America, it also discusses developments in England, Scotland, Ireland, Tangier, the West Indies, South Asia and Africa.  

A few years ago I was invited by Doug Bradburn to give a talk on a conference at Mount Vernon exploring Anglo-American cooperation.  In preparing that talk I set myself the task of reading through the correspondence and papers of George Washington.  What struck me then was how much George Washington seemed like a partisan in British imperial debates — that is I was struck by how much his arguments seemed like those I had been encountering when working on other bits of the Empire.  The paper I presented invited a good deal of discussion.  Several people then suggested I should I write a short book setting out the implications of my arguments about the nature of British imperial debate for the American Revolution.  The result is The Heart of the Declaration.

In historiographical terms, this meant explaining how a post-Namierite interpretation of British history in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would alter our understanding of the coming of the American Revolution.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Heart of the Declaration?

SP: In my view the framers of the Declaration of Independence argued, along with most Patriot Whigs across the British Empire, not that the British state did too much, but that it did too little to promote the prosperity and development (the happiness) of the British colonists.  Patriots wanted to create am activist government that would promote economic development by building infrastructure, subsidizing immigration, prying open Caribbean and South American markets, and eliminate the slave trade.

JF: Why do we need to read The Heart of the Declaration?

SP: Because it offers a fresh ideological interpretation of the American Revolution laying stress on political economic debates across the empire.  In essence it suggests that divisions in North America that have become familiar in recent scholarship had their partisan counterparts in Britain itself and right across the Empire.  By recognizing that the American Revolution was less an anti-colonial struggle than an imperial civil war, it becomes possible to reinterpret the meaning of America’s founding document.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

SP: I am not an American historian.  I am a historian of the British Empire in its political, social, economic, intellectual and cultural aspects.  Because I come from that perspective I hope to be able to revisit some old and very important questions from a new angle.

I became a British historian in the first instance because I have always been interested in the origins of the modern world — recognizing that modernity has both its achievements and its very dark sides. Since Britain was the first Parliamentary democracy, the first industrial nation, created a new kind of empire in the 17th and 18th centuries, and also spawned some of the most creative thinkers, I thought that was a good place to start.

JF: What is your next project?

SP: I am engaged in a bunch of projects at the moment.  First, I am still hard at work on the book on the British Empire from which this book is a spin off.  Second, I am working (with Jim Robinson of the University of Chicago) on a book project investigate the role of the state in the making of the industrial revolution, and I am also working on a book on the American Revolution in global context. 

JF: Thanks, Steven!

Is Great Britain a Christian Nation?

Some of you have been following this debate occurring across the proverbial pond. Callum Brown concluded that “Christian Britain” is dead.  Prime Minister David Cameron disagreed. Rowan Williams landed somewhere in the middle.

If you want to get caught up on this debate I encourage you to read Brantley Gasaway’s recent post at Religion in American History.  Here is a taste:

For those of us who study American religion, this recent British debate can remind us once again of the ambiguity of identifying a country as a “Christian nation.”  What qualifies a country as “Christian”?  Is it the official establishment of a Christian church (but if so, then is Great Britain “Christian” while the United States is not)?  Is it a matter of the historical influence of Christianity upon a nation’s laws, politics, and culture (but if so, when does this historical influence matter less than the contemporary relevance of Christianity in the public sphere)?  Is it a matter of demographics (but if so, does a simple majority of self-identified Christians qualify a nation as “Christian”)?   Is it the close alignment of a country’s policies with the Christian ethics of peace and justice?  Or it is the number of references to God in a country’s passport?

As some of you know I took a shot at this whole issue in the context of the United States.