Autumn of the Black Snake: Advance Endorsements

cover(Otherwise known as blurbs.)

“Like all great non-fiction, Autumn of the Black Snake takes the familiar and turns it upside-down and inside-out. With clear, muscular prose, Mr. Hogeland sets the record straight on badly neglected early American history. He knows his stuff and his point of view is fresh and sure-footed. My notion of the Republic’s narrative has been forever altered.” ―Eric Bogosian, actor, Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright, and author of Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide

“William Hogeland is one of the best historians of early America. His books are pulsating and thought provoking, and in Autumn of the Black Snake he marshals his skills to recount the sweeping story of frontier turbulence that culminated in Mad Anthony Wayne’s victory over the Indians at Fallen Timbers. Relating this saga would have been sufficient for some historians, but Hogeland goes further and lays bare President Washington’s hidden motives behind this military campaign. This is history at its best. The gripping account Hogeland provides is must reading.” ―John Ferling, author of Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It and Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged A Nation

Autumn of the Black Snake is an elegantly written and scrupulously balanced account of what is sometimes called President George Washington’s Indian War, enhanced with a nuanced and intriguing recounting of the often dirty politics behind the formation of the United States Army. I highly recommend this important―and thoroughly enjoyable―book on these overlooked but crucial episodes in the early days of the American Republic.” ―Peter Cozzens, author of The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West

“Some wars America remembers, some wars we work to forget. William Hogeland gives a dramatic telling of the war that we have never really talked about, despite being the war that made us the global military power we are today. The Shawnee, Miami, and Delaware communities were robbed and devastated by a conflict they in no way provoked―and defeated by an American general named Mad Anthony, conquering land that President George Washington had long coveted. It’s a harrowing story, brilliantly told, and a radical re-look at the ragged collective of colonies who fought for their own liberty and then, once getting it, set out on the warpath, an empire bent on taking its neighbors’ liberty away.” ―Robert Sullivan, author of My American Revolution and Rats

“In this page-turner, the bigger-than-life characters of Little Turtle, George Washington, Blue Jacket, and ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne clash over the future of the continent, at a time when any of them might have prevailed. A rich and important book.” ―Kathleen DuVal, author of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

“History as if it just happened, written by someone who saw everything and missed nothing. Hogeland’s rare talent is turning books into conversation, and bloodless, impenetrable histories into compelling and strange narratives. Icons become flawed people who did all sorts of things for contradictory reasons. The author is a skeptic, political analyst, and truth teller. Which is all fine, but not nearly as important as being a brilliant and amusing story teller.” ―Paul Chaat Smith, author of Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong

“If you think Custer’s Last Stand was the biggest defeat inflicted on an American army by Native American forces, you should read William Hogeland’s Autumn of the Black Snake. This book describes one of America’s least-known but most important conflicts: the so-called Northwest Indian War. Hogeland shows how the annihilation of a large American force by a confederation of tribes caused the stoic George Washington to cry out in rage and led to the formation of the Legion of the United States which became the foundation of the American Army. He argues that this struggle is an ominous prequel to Imperial America, as greed, nationalism, and ambition swirl through a cast of amazing characters. In Autumn of the Black Snake, Hogeland once again manages to write rigorous, original history in wonderfully colloquial prose.” ―John Dolan, aka Gary Brecher, The War Nerd

Lin-Manuel Miranda and William Shakespeare

At least twice now I’ve been exposed to the notion that criticizing the musical “Hamilton” for its historical tendentiousness is like criticizing Shakespeare’s history plays for their historical inaccuracy, with the presumption — so obvious, the implication goes, that it’s not even worth stating, let alone arguing — that only a cluck would attempt to criticize Shakespeare on that basis, because, well, Shakespeare. The historian R.B. Bernstein invoked the Bard in this context when moderating a panel discussion at a conference of historians. Martha C. Nussbaum, the scholar of philosophy, law, and government, did so too when declining to respond to my argument, editorially solicited, that an uncritical participation in emphasizing the American founders’ reading and thinking, at the expense of examining their action, leads ironically yet ineluctably to acceptance and even celebration, in Nussbaum’s Boston Review essay “Hamilton’s Choice,” of the hagiographic history that served as inspiration for the musical.

This Miranda-Shakespeare comparison seems a natural hook when Miranda’s fans are defending the musical against what they take to be criticism of the show’s historical inaccuracy, because Shakespeare’s famous history plays, from Julius Caesar to the Wars of the Roses cycle and beyond, aren’t history either. Nussbaum puts the comparison in this strange way:

. . . literal veracity matters rather little [in the Hamilton musical], no more than it matters to a just appreciation of Shakespeare’s political ideas that he may have based too much on Plutarch and not studied a wider range of historical sources for ancient Rome. There are flaws in Shakespeare’s political understanding of monarchy and its relationship to the populace, and sometimes these do show up in a one-sided use of his source materials, particularly in Julius Caesar, where he gives Cicero and the republicans short shrift. But one could have seen those flaws had the play been a total fiction, since his disturbing ideas about the inevitable venality of the people are evident from the play alone.

Nussbaum seems to be saying that, in an alternate universe in which the play Julius Caesar lacks any reference to specific historical events (so probably isn’t titled Julius Caesar?), we’d still be able to see the flaws, as Nussbaum calls them, in the view of monarchy and populace presented, back here in our universe, by the play called Julius Caesar. I think that assertion achieves, in a revealing way, meaninglessness. It’s absurd to imagine a Shakespearean view of monarchy and populace, flawed or otherwise, independent of actual Shakespeare works; it’s absurd to imagine any Shakespeare history play independent of that play’s relationship to specific historical narratives. In considering how such issues develop in Julius Caesar, a handy place to look would be the events involving the death of Julius Caesar. That’s where Shakespeare looked, and it seems to me that it actually is important, if not, necessarily, to enjoying a production of one of the plays, then to any critically informed appreciation of Shakespeare, to reflect on his biases regarding democracy and monarchy — I lack the apodictic certainty to label them flaws — in part by considering his relationship to sources.

Nussbaum, for one, has done exactly that. Her close consideration of Shakespeare’s sources is reflected in the quotation above.  Yet regarding the Hamilton musical, she hasn’t considered sources, as I tried to point out. That difference between Shakespeare and Miranda, in the context of scholarly thinkers’ defense of the musical, points to a larger and more important difference. Continue reading

Responding to Martha Nussbaum in a Boston Review Forum on Hamilton

In Boston Review, the eminent  American philosopher, legal scholar, and classicist Martha C. Nussbaum offers a reading of Lin-Maunuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” I dissent. 

UPDATE: How can this matter right now? That’s something I imagine readers thinking, and it’s something I thought, when first asked to respond. And that was before election day. Right now it matters to me this way: You can blame Trumpism and be right. My job is to blame the certified liberal-intellectual culture that has prevailed throughout my lifetime. We own this.


A World-Historical First

After ripping into a Huffington Post article on Hamilton the other day, I get a call from the people involved saying, basically, “you’re right, we were wrong.” Since nobody’s ever changed their mind before, I consider this a benchmark historical moment. Then, even more graciously, they had me on a podcast to talk about it, starting at 22′. Just to be clear: despite the headline, I don’t think Hamilton is overrated. Also, I seem to be swallowing my words in uncharacteristic fashion, but y’all know my rant anyway …

More Bogus Comparisons: Hamilton vs. Jackson 2

If you’re getting sick of this subject, imagine how I feel. I’m only one man, with pressing matters to attend to. However, a while back three profo explainers at the Huffington Post came up with a series of wrongheaded remarks on the excellence of Hamilton when compared with Jackson, and it’s been galling me, so here I go again, as the great communicator used to say.

N.B. I don’t like Jackson. Hell, I don’t like any of these people, and they sure as hell wouldn’t like me. They wouldn’t like you either. This isn’t a fansite, though that’s what I’m beginning to fear a lot of history really is.

But I can’t let the following nonsensical remarks, made with blithe confidence by Ryan Grim, Laura Barron-Lopez, and Zach Carter, in the piece linked above, go uncorrected:

  • “Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers, was a strong opponent of slavery, and was an early member of the New York Manumission Society, an abolitionist group. . . “  Too far a stretch, confusing manumission  with abolition. You’d almost think Grim, Barron-Lopez, and Carter weren’t aware of my earlier blog posts on this matter, here and here. Keep up, people.
  • “Andrew Jackson, meanwhile, a War of 1812 hero, was a slave owner.” I think by “meanwhile,” the authors mean something other than “occurring at the same time as something already mentioned”; they must mean “for his part” or “by contrast,” and the intent, if not the mot, is clear: disparage Jackson by contrast to Hamilton over slaveowning. They never say Hamilton wasn’t a slaveowner, but they imply it, and the record doesn’t support the implication. Which, again, I thought I’d already clarified (see links above): it really is tedious to have to keep repeating these things. Anyway, “slaveowner” applies to all kinds of people (including many members of the Manumission Society) whom the authors refrain from attacking, so what’s their point? Oh. Wait. Here it comes . . .
  • “Even more perniciously, Jackson carried out an ‘Indian removal’ policy as president.” Indian removal, the authors assert here, is more pernicious than slaveholding. (That’s why we have explainers; otherwise we might not know which is worse.) Really, I doubt they meant to make that assertion, because how on earth would they know which is worse, but this writing thing is hard. Such a flailing-in-the-dark opening phrase must reflect the authors’ dimly gathering sense — you can feel it start to nag at them as they write, just not hard enough, unfortunately, to get them to stop writing — that if “slaveowner” were to disqualify a founder from appearing on currency, there wouldn’t be many founders there. So they come up with what they inform us is the distinguishingly awful characteristic of Jackson: Indian removal. And now things get really silly.
  • “. . . decades of policy in the United States and the preceding British colonies had sought  coexistence and reconciliation with various native peoples. Jackson’s policies reversed these efforts. . .”  This is straight-up nonsense. (Well, one thing here is true: the colonies came before the United States. Hence, I guess, “the preceding”?) Many colonial lieutenant governors’ and colonial legislatures’ policies, and those of (“the following”?) United States, from its inception, were dedicated to seizing Indian land and pushing Indians out. In the later colonial period, the royal government at Whitehall did try to prevent white expansion westward and to reserve land for Indians: after Jeffrey Amherst was recalled and Thomas Gage took over, Ministry policy became more beneficial to indigenous people than anything the Americans (and some of their royal governors) were cooking up, and a lot of indigenous nations knew it; that’s why they allied with England in what, for Indians, was only the latest and worst episode in a forty-year war to defend their homes from American incursion for the purpose of real-estate speculation. Ministry efforts to make what is now the Midwest a permanent Indian country served as a cause of war for American independence; American desire to conquer that region was a cause of forming our nation; in 1794 the first war the nation ever fought brought about the conquest. The U.S. did tell the Indians that all of this was in service of coexistence, but that doesn’t mean HuffPo writers in 2016 should believe it; most of the Indians involved sure didn’t. The authors might not think pushing Indians into smaller and less familiar places qualifies as “removal.” It does, but anyway, the idea of someday moving all Indians west of the Mississippi originated with and played into the American Revolution and into the very basis of nationhood. Hamilton, vaguely connected by the authors to this fanciful “coexistence and reconciliation” policy, was really at one with Washington, Jefferson, and all the others in pursuing various forms of military incursion on Indian land, with various schemes, including removal, for coping with continued Indian presence. “There is an American West is a Western  Country. It will be settled,” said Hamilton (emphasis his), and nobody fought harder than he to originate the army that accomplished that goal: the United States Army, that is, which came into existence precisely for the purpose of carrying out the conquest. Jackson didn’t “reverse” anything, and what followed involved the likes of Lincoln and Grant, but again the authors seem to be getting nervous about where their assertions might end up leading them, so . . .
  • “Jefferson was a slave-trading landed elite whose esteem for farmers is often confused under contemporary politics with a ‘small is beautiful’ rural utopianism.” It is? Well, maybe “under contemporary politics,” whatever that means, but smacking Jefferson around like this is only what Hamiltionians have been doing for years; Jeffersonians do the same to Hamilton; it’s all crap, and I really thought I’d made that clear, here, for example, and here. Oh well.

Continue reading