In 1856, Robert Brown's wife and four children were sold, because the wife would not submit to the "lustful designs" of Brown's master. This condemnation of Brown's family into the deep Southern oblivion sent him to great mourning and desperate measures. These measures are narrated here, by the great William Still, spymaster for America's greatest resistance movement, the Underground Railroad:
In very desperate straits many new inventions were sought after by deep-thinking and resolute slaves, determined to be free at any cost. But it must here be admitted, that, in looking carefully over the more perilous methods resorted to, Robert Brown, alias Thomas Jones, stands second to none, with regard to deeds of bold daring. This hero escaped from Martinsburg, Va., in 1856.
He was a man of medium size, mulatto, about thirty-eight years of age, could read and write, and was naturally sharp-witted. He had formerly been owned by Col. John F. Franie, whom Robert charged with various offences of a serious domestic character.
Furthermore, he also alleged, that his "mistress was cruel to all the slaves," declaring that "they (the slaves), could not live with her," that "she had to hire servants," etc.
In order to effect his escape, Robert was obliged to swim the Potomac river on horseback, on Christmas night, while the cold, wind, storm, and darkness were indescribably dismal.
This daring bondman, rather than submit to his oppressor any longer, perilled his life as above stated. Where he crossed the river was about a half a mile wide. Where could be found in history a more noble and daring struggle for Freedom?
The wife of his bosom and his four children, only five days before he fled, were sold to a trader in Richmond, Va., for no other offence than simply "because she had resisted" the lustful designs of her master, being "true to her own companion." After this poor slave mother and her children were cast into prison for sale, the husband and some of his friends tried hard to find a purchaser in the neighborhood; but the malicious and brutal master refused to sell her--wishing to gratify his malice to the utmost, and to punish his victims all that lay in his power, he sent them to the place above named.
In this trying hour, the severed and bleeding heart of the husband resolved to escape at all hazards, taking with him a daguerreotype likeness of his wife which he happened to have on hand, and a lock of hair from her head, and from each of the children, as mementoes of his unbounded (though sundered) affection for them.
After crossing the river, his wet clothing freezing to him, he rode all night, a distance of about forty miles. In the morning he left his faithful horse tied to a fence, quite broken down. He then commenced his dreary journey on foot--cold and hungry--in a strange place, where it was quite unsafe to make known his condition and wants.
Thus for a day or two, without food or shelter, he traveled until his feet were literally worn out, and in this condition he arrived at Harrisburg, where he found friends. Passing over many of the interesting incidents on the road, suffice it to say, he arrived safely in this city, on New Year's night, 1857, about two hours before day break (the telegraph having announced his coming from Harrisburg), having been a week on the way.
The night he arrived was very cold; besides, the Underground train, that morning, was about three hours behind time; in waiting for it, entirely out in the cold, a member of the Vigilance Committee thought he was frosted. But when he came to listen to the story of the Fugitive's sufferings, his mind changed. Scarcely had Robert entered the house of one of the Committee, where he was kindly received, when he took from his pocket his wife's likeness, speaking very touchingly while gazing upon it and showing it.
Subsequently, in speaking of his family, he showed the locks of hair referred to, which he had carefully rolled up in paper separately. Unrolling them, he said, "this is my wife's;" "this is from my oldest daughter, eleven years old;" "and this is from my next oldest;" "and this from the next," "and this from my infant, only eight weeks old."
These mementoes he cherished with the utmost care as the last remains of his affectionate family. At the sight of these locks of hair so tenderly preserved, the member of the Committee could fully appreciate the resolution of the fugitive in plunging into the Potomac, on the back of a dumb beast, in order to flee from a place and people who had made such barbarous havoc in his household. His wife, as represented by the likeness, was of fair complexion, prepossessing, and good looking--perhaps not over thirty-three years of age.
Having spent some time reading the files of Underground Railroad escapees, somethings become clear about those of who made it North. They are generally--though not exclusively--young and male. (Still's own mother, for instance, was a runaway.) Very few of them run because of slavery, itself. In the main, it is not simply the thievery of their labor, the lack of civil rights, or even the floggings that compel them. It is their status as property, the utter inability to construct a secure family due to the threat of rape or sale. t is the making of "barbarous havoc" upon the household. The Underground Railroad springs not simply from the immorality of labor-theft, but from the immorality familiocide.
This is one reason why comparison between "wage slavery" and the Southern slave society always fall down. The antebellum slave society took as its premise not just zero wages, but the perpetual destruction of the black family.
Still's words here are very important--These mementoes he cherished with the utmost care as the last remains of his affectionate family. This is a man whose family has been sold into the deep South. They have been made dead to him. I have noticed a touch of borderline insanity in the profiles of these runaways. I understand why. In the 1850s, if you destroy someone's family, what else is left?
The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves.
You’ve likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they’ll get two. Some do. Others cave almost immediately.
This “Marshmallow Test,” first conducted in the 1960s, perfectly illustrates the ongoing war between impulsivity and self-control. The kids have to tamp down their immediate desires and focus on long-term goals—an ability that correlates with their later health, wealth, and academic success, and that is supposedly controlled by the front part of the brain. But a new study by Alexander Soutschek at the University of Zurich suggests that self-control is also influenced by another brain region—and one that casts this ability in a different light.
Americans are optimistic about the communities they live in—but not their nation. Why?
I have been alive for a long time. I remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when I was a 10th-grader, and then watching with my family through the grim following days as newscasters said that something had changed forever. The next dozen years were nearly nonstop trauma for the country. More assassinations. Riots in most major cities. All the pain and waste and tragedy of the Vietnam War, and then the public sense of heading into the utterly unknown as, for the first time ever, a president was forced to resign. Americans of my children’s generation can remember the modern wave of shocks and dislocations that started but did not end with the 9/11 attacks.
Through all this time, I have been personally and professionally, and increasingly, an American optimist. The long years I have spent living and working outside the United States have not simply made me more aware of my own strong identity as an American. They have also sharpened my appreciation for the practical ramifications of the American idea. For me this is the belief that through its cycle of struggle and renewal, the United States is in a continual process of becoming a better version of itself. What I have seen directly over the past decade, roughly half in China and much of the rest in reporting trips around the United States, has reinforced my sense that our current era has been another one of painful but remarkable reinvention, in which the United States is doing more than most other societies to position itself, despite technological and economic challenges, for a new era of prosperity, opportunity, and hope.
Why the ingrained expectation that women should desire to become parents is unhealthy
In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a "safe haven" law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe-haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off in a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.
Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here's the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family -- nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.
Strangling public-sector unions in Wisconsin has shrunk teachers’ pay and benefits. Who’s next?
Back in 2009, Rick Erickson was happy with his job as a teacher in one of the state’s northernmost school districts on the shores of Lake Superior. He made $35,770 a year teaching chemistry and physics, which wasn’t a lot of money, but then again, he received stellar healthcare and pension benefits, and could talk honestly with administrators about what he needed as a teacher every two years when his union sat down with the school district in collective bargaining sessions.
Then, five years ago, Wisconsin passed Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which dramatically limited the ability of teachers and other public employees to bargain with employers on wages, benefits, and working conditions. After Act 10,Erickson saw his take-home pay drop dramatically: He now makes $30,650. His wife is a teacher, too, and together they make 11 percent less than they did before Act 10. The local union he once led no longer exists, and so he can’t bargain with the school district for things like prep time and sick days. He pays more for health care and his pension, and he says both he and his wife may now not be able to retire until they are much older than they had planned.
In a completely new approach, scientists reduced a hallmark of the disease in mice by stimulating their neurons with flickering lights.
When a crowd starts to applaud, each person initially does so to their own rhythm. But in some cases, those claps can synchronize, with hundreds or thousands or millions of hands striking in unison.
Something similar happens in the brain. When a single neuron fires, it sends an electrical pulse down its length. But large networks of neurons can also fire together, creating regular cycles of electrical activity that resemble the synchronized applause of a rapturous crowd. Formally, these are called neural oscillations; more colloquially, they’re brain waves.
These waves are classified by how frequently the neurons fire in a single second. If they fire one to four times, that’s a delta wave, which occurs during deep sleep. If they fire 12 to 30 times, that’s a beta wave, which is typical of normal wakefulness. And if they do so 30 to 90 times, that’s a gamma wave, which has been linked to higher mental abilities, like memory, attention, and perception. It’s no surprise, then, that scientists have seen disrupted gamma waves in many types of brain disorders, including injuries, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Babylonian tablets suggest that Earth’s rotation is slowing less than expected.
On the morning of April 15, 136 B.C.E., residents of the ancient city of Babylon, in what is now Iraq, experienced quite a sight. An hour and a half after sunrise, the moon moved across the face of the sun, blotting it out so only the golden halo of its atmosphere was visible. The sky went dark.
“Venus, Mercury and the Normal Stars were visible; Jupiter and Mars, which were in their period of disappearance, were visible in that eclipse,” a Babylonian astrologer inscribed in cuneiform, on a clay tablet now stored in the British Museum.
To measure the eclipse’s duration, the astrologer would have used a cylindrical vessel called a clepsydra, or a water clock, whose slow draining marked the passage of time. “It moved from SW to NE. 35 us [time duration] for obscuration and clearing up. In that eclipse, north wind which...” The rest of the observation is on a missing chunk of tablet and was lost to history, but the astrologer may have been noting that the wind shifted direction, which happens during a total eclipse.
Long-shot efforts to stop Donald Trump or change the election system risk taking up time and energy with little to show at the end.
As Donald Trump’s inauguration draws near, Democrats are channeling time and energy into long-shot political fights focused on the Electoral College. But while their efforts have generated media attention, they ultimately seem unlikely to win back the power liberals lost in the presidential election.
A group of Democratic electors areleading the charge for an Electoral College revolt by attempting to convince electors to deny Trump the White House when they vote for president later this month. At least one Republican elector has also publicly advocated for his colleagues to reject Trump: “I believe electors should unify behind a Republican alternative,” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Monday.
Unless he divests himself of his business holdings, the president-elect could violate constitutional rules meant to guard against corruption.
With the recent news that two Republican electors are refusing to vote for Donald Trump, we have been inundated with inquiries asking whether other electors should decline to select Trump because of a particular constitutional issue. It’s one we worked on when we were advising Presidents Bush and Obama, respectively: the Emoluments Clause.
Every elector must search his or her own conscience, but after a blizzard of reporting on the president-elect’s foreign business relations in recent days, it appears that Trump will be in violation of this clause of the Constitution from the moment he takes office—and the plan for his business that he hinted at on Twitter last week does not solve the problem.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
Everyone has someone on their holiday shopping list who’s impossible to buy for. For the second year in a row, we asked Atlantic readers to describe their someone, and brainstormed a few perfect gift ideas for them.
There should be a word for it—the agony of loving someone, or feeling familially obligated to them, and having no idea what to buy them as the next gift-giving occasion draws near. Liebengeschenkenschmerz? We’ll workshop it.
Even if you’re a winter-holiday fanatic, that anxiety can put a damper on seasonal festivity. So, for the second year in a row, we set out to help, with a different take on the traditional gift guide. Last month, we put out a call to Atlantic readers to describe the person on their shopping list who’s the most difficult to buy for. We picked 15 across the spectra of relationship, age, gender, and location, and a collection of Atlantic staffers buckled down to brainstorm some fitting gift ideas. (Note: The descriptions from readers, in italics below, have been edited lightly for style and clarity.) Maybe one of our suggestions will suit the impossible someone on your list, or otherwise inspire some gift-giving greatness.