The escape from bondage of the slave Eliza, infant in tow, is one of the most remarked upon portions of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. I have never read Uncle Tom's Cabin. My first encounter with Eliza came this Friday, while I was on a plane to Nashville.
As it happens Eliza is a historical person, and enslaved woman who escaped, child in tow, from slavery in Kentucky. Her story is brilliantly depicted by Fergus Bordewich in his book Bound For Canaan: The Epic Story of The Underground Railroad, which I have excerpted below. I was in the middle seat as I read about Eliza and it was only with some work that I kept from breaking down on a neighbor's shoulder. All of this to say you should strap yourself in for this one.
On a bitter night in the winter of 1838, a heavy-set black woman picked her way furtively down Tuckahoe Ridge toward the frozen river. She followed the familiar track from the plantation where she was enslaved, careful to keep herself out of sight when she reached the snow-covered flood-plain, moving close to the ground. In her arms, she carried an infant whom she had wrapped in a shawl against the cold air.
She was leaving her other children and a husband behind, hoping that if she was not caught, and if she did not die, she might be able to return for them someday. She had fled abruptly for the same reason as so many other fugitives: a day or two earlier a slave trader had appeared at her master's estate to negotiate her price or that of her child. She knew that she might die crossing the river, but if she did nothing she would die a different kind of death, to be sold away south, and away from her family forever.
In some accounts, the woman begged help from an elderly Scotsman or Englishman who lived near the shore, and who sheltered her until she heard the baying of dogs on her trail. As she ran from his house she grabbed hold of a plank and raced to the river's edge. When the ice was solid, teams of horses could cross it. But there had been a thaw and the ice was rotten, full of air holes and cracks, and the water was running over it, and it was ready to break up.
No one had ventured onto it for the past two days, but she had no choice. Her first step broke though. For a moment she stood paralyzed in freezing water. Then she plunged forward, carrying her baby in one had and the plank in the other. The ice seemed firmer as she ran toward the Ohio shore, but then without warning she broke through again, this time up to her armpits. She pushed the baby of her onto the ice, then levered herself up with the aid of the plank.
Laying the plank across the broken ice, she crept along it until she fell through once more. Again she managed to throw the infant ahead of her before she sank. Crawling back onto the ice, she continued her progress in this fashion until the ice disintegrated beneath her again. This time she sank in only to her knees, and she knew that she was close to the Ohio shore. When she finally touched solid land she collapsed, physically spent.
She was safe for the moment, she thought. But she was not alone. A white man had come up out of the darkness and loomed over her. Had she known who he was she would have recognized him as her worst nightmare. He was a Ripley man named Chancey Shaw, a sometime slave catcher who often prowled the northern bank of the river on the lookout for fugitives. He had watched attentively as the woman made her way across the ice, and he was preparing to seize her when, he later admitted to a local abolitionist, he heard her baby whimper and something unexpectedly moved inside him. Surprising himself, he heard himself tell her, "Woman, you have won your freedom."
Instead of arresting her, he led her, soaked and freezing to the edge of the village. There he pointed to a long flight of steps that ascended a bare hill, at the top of which the rectangle of a farmhouse and a light were visible. He told her to make for the light saying, "No nigger has ever been got back from that house.
The house was famed abolitionist John Rankin, a native Southerner who'd moved to Ohio as the South increasingly became a place where open opposition to slavery became a capitol offense. In Ripley, Ohio, Rankin preached abolition, ran a prolific Underground Railroad station, and waged gunfights with slave-catchers.
This story really wrecked me. And Bordewich has many just like them in his book. The epoch of slavery is, to my mind, the definitive epic poem, the quintessential romance of American history. It may well be the most powerful story of the Enlightenment wars.
I urge you to check out Bordewich's book. it's excellent.
In the final days of the Obama administration, scholars and journalists took stock of all that he had done to combat the dangerous rise of climate change. Barack Obama, they pronounced, had built up a surprisingly vast array of climate-concerned rules and guidelines across the government. He had turned the many policy-making tools of the many federal agencies toward preparing for this one imminent disaster.
Well, that was then.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump will sign an executive order that will demolish his predecessor’s attempts to slow the pace of climate change. It is an omnibus directive that strikes across the federal government, reversing major rules that aim to restrict greenhouse-gas emissions while simultaneously instructing departments to ignore or downplay the risks of climate change in their decision-making.
Years of misleading coverage left viewers so misinformed that many were shocked when confronted with the actual costs of repeal.
As the Republican Party struggled and then failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, pulling a wildly unpopular bill from the House without even taking a vote, a flurry of insightful articles helped the public understand what exactly just happened. Robert Draper explained the roles that Stephen Bannon, Paul Ryan, and others played in deciding what agenda items President Trump would pursue in what order. Politicoreported on how and why the House Freedom Caucus insisted that the health care bill repeal even relatively popular parts of Obamacare. Lest anyone pin blame for the GOP’s failure on that faction, Reihan Salam argued persuasively that responsibility rests with poor leadership by House Speaker Paul Ryan and a GOP coalition with “policy goals that simply can’t be achieved.”
Donald Trump observed that health care policy is “so complicated.” The next item on his agenda, tax policy, will be just as knotty.
“Health care is a very, very complicated issue,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said last week in an interview with Mike Allen at Axios. “[Tax reform’s] a lot simpler.”
America’s health-care industry is roughly one-sixth of the economy, or about $3 trillion. U.S. federal tax revenue is roughly one-sixth of the economy, or about $3 trillion. Health care is a complex national cross-subsidy, where, for example, the healthy support the sick. Taxes are a national cross-subsidy, where, for example, workers support retirees. With health care, Americans interact with with an amorphous institution, with a maze of entrenched interests, in which they ultimately just want access to an excellent bundle of services at an affordable price. With the federal government, Americans interact with ... okay, I think you get the point.
Democrats want the chair of the committee looking into collusion between the Trump administration and Russia to recuse himself, and hearings have ground to a halt for the moment.
Embattled House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes is now facing Democratic calls for his recusal from an investigation into the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, as the inquiry grinds to what is at least a temporary halt.
The California Republican has been on the hot seat since announcing last week that he had vague but significant information about “incidental collection” of information about Trump transition team members by U.S. intelligence agencies. “Incidental collection” is when the communications of someone who is not the target of surveillance are picked up because they are corresponding with a target.
Jared Kushner’s new initiative promises to tap the expertise of the business community—but government isn't a business.
This week President Trump put his son-in-law Jared Kushner in charge of a new White House office, the Office of American Innovation. It will reportedly be staffed by former business executives who will operate like a SWAT team to bring new ideas to government.
This is an admirable undertaking. Like any large organization the government can always use fresh ideas. But the reality is that government is like the private sector only in some pieces of its operations—consulting business executives can be very useful, but a real government-reform effort must be led by people with in-depth knowledge of the government itself. Otherwise, it will simply be another initiative that is forgotten almost as soon as it is announced.
The rise of faith-based counseling in America’s most Christian regions has brought the clash over religious liberties to the therapist’s couch.
In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, life in the town of Easley, South Carolina, was tense for Leigh Drexler. Pick-up trucks with airborne Confederate flags seemed more prevalent than ever before, and her grandparents—who had never voted in their lives—registered to cast their ballots for the Donald himself.
Drexler felt isolated. “My family has always directed their point of view at me, but it has been a million times worse than normal,” she told me last October. “Every time we’re in a conversation, it’s either about the election or religion.”
It’s a dynamic that led Drexler, who identifies as a democratic socialist and an atheist, to go online in search of a therapist—someone who would perhaps better understand her lack of faith. She scouted towns within a 20-mile radius, but only “faith-based” practitioners turned up. She resorted to distance counseling over the phone with a therapist a few states away. “I knew there would be Christian counselors here, but I didn’t think that was all I was going to find,” she said.
President Trump may feel liberated to pursue tax reform after the failure on health care. But the GOP’s to-do list in Congress only gets harder from here.
“In a way I’m glad I got it out of the way,” President Trump told the Washington Post last week in the moments after he and Republican leaders in Congress pulled the plug on their first major legislative priority, repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
Health care was hard. Really hard. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” the president had said in a now-infamous quote. The health-care legislation was pulled without a vote last week after House Speaker Paul Ryan told the president there were not enough votes from Republicans to pass it.
The implication of Trump’s musings about the difficulty of passing complicated health-care legislation is that he believes the rest of his agenda will be much easier. Tax cuts? Everybody like tax cuts. The legendary border wall. More defense spending. A big, bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The College Board earns over half of all its revenues from the courses—and, in an uncertain environment, students keep being suckered.
Fraudulent schemes come in all shapes and sizes. To work, they typically wear a patina of respectability. That's the case with Advanced Placement courses, one of the great frauds currently perpetrated on American high-school students.
That's a pretty strong claim, right? You bet. But why not be straightforward when discussing a scam the scale and audacity of which would raise Bernie Madoff's eyebrows?
The miscellany of AP courses offered in U.S. high schools under the imprimatur of the College Board probably started with good intentions. The idea, going back to the 1950s, was to offer college-level courses and exams to high-school students. The courses allegedly provide students the kind of rigorous academic experience they will encounter in college as well as an opportunity to earn college credit for the work.
A new book argues that the giving patterns of today’s wealthy may present challenges to the democratic process.
In 2011, Michael Bloomberg gave the Sierra Club $50 million, the biggest donation in the club’s history, to expand the organization’s Beyond Coal initiative, which sought to shut down coal-fired power plants across the country. He gave $30 million more in 2015. The Beyond Coal campaign now says it has helped shut down 251 coal-burning plants, thanks in large part to Bloomberg’s donations.
The campaign’s success is good news if you’re an environmentalist who wants to replace coal with renewable energy, but not so great if you’re a coal miner watching his livelihood slip away. In a democracy, both sides might argue the issue of whether to shut down coal-fired power plants to their legislators or express their preference at the voting booth. But Bloomberg’s $80 million in donations inarguably gave a boost to the environmentalists’ side, and led to changes on the ground.
Conservatives once warned that Obamacare would produce the Democratic Waterloo. Their inability to accept the principle of universal coverage has, instead, led to their own defeat.
Seven years and three days ago, the House of Representatives grumblingly voted to approve the Senate’s version of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats in the House were displeased by many of the changes introduced by Senate Democrats. But in the interval after Senate passage, the Republicans had gained a 41st seat in the Senate. Any further tinkering with the law could trigger a Republican filibuster. Rather than lose the whole thing, the House swallowed hard and accepted a bill that liberals regarded as a giveaway to insurance companies and other interest groups. The finished law proceeded to President Obama for signature on March 23, 2010.
A few minutes after the House vote, I wrote a short blog post for the website I edited in those days. The site had been founded early in 2009 to argue for a more modern and more moderate form of Republicanism. The timing could not have been worse. At precisely the moment we were urging the GOP to march in one direction, the great mass of conservatives and Republicans had turned on the double in the other, toward an ever more wild and even paranoid extremism. Those were the days of Glenn Beck’s 5 o’clock Fox News conspiracy rants, of Sarah Palin’s “death panels,” of Orly Taitz and her fellow Birthers, of Tea Party rallies at which men openly brandished assault rifles.