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When assimilation goes bad, empires fall.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A people find themselves fleeing into southern Europe, forced from their homelands by war and unspeakable violence. Their culture is obviously at odds with those of the region that they are moving into. Their peoples are a tribal society with a strong authoritarian bent. They are well recognized as blood thirsty warriors themselves. Oh, and did I mention that they REALLY did not like Christians?

It is said that a wooden image was placed on a wagon, and that those instructed by Athanaric to undertake this task wheeled it round to the tent of any of those who were denounced as Christians and ordered them to do homage and sacrifice to it; and the tents of those who refused to do so were burned, with the people inside.

When the chief men in Gothia began to be moved against the Christians, compelling them to eat sacrificial meat, it occurred to some of the pagans in the village in which Saba lived to make the Christians who belonged to them eat publicly before the persecutors meat that had not been sacrificed in place of that which had, hoping thereby to preserve the innocence of their own people and at the same time to deceive the persecutors. Learning this, the blessed Saba not only himself refused to touch the forbidden meat but advanced into the midst of the gathering and bore witness, saying to everyone, ‘If anyone eats of that meat, this man cannot be a Christian’, and he prevented them all from falling into the Devil’s snare.

Heard that one, huh? Well for those who haven’t, it is the middle decades of the Fourth Century AD. Several tribes of Goths have left their homelands heading west, avoiding death, destruction and subjugation by the Huns.

So here were these multitudes, unable to return to their homes yet their path blocked by the Roman Empire. Never ones to let their past actions stand in their way, they sent envoys to Emperor Valens entreating him to allow their peoples to move into Thracia.

After long deliberation by common consent they finally sent ambassadors into Romania to the Emperor Valens, brother of Valentinian, the elder Emperor, to say that if he would give them part of Thrace or Moesia to keep, they would submit themselves to his laws and commands. That he might have greater confidence in them, they promised to become Christians, if he would give them teachers who spoke their language.  When Valens learned this, he gladly and promptly granted what he had himself intended to ask. He received the Getae into the region of Moesia and placed them there as a wall of defense for his kingdom against other tribes.

On one hand, Emperor Valens was being presented with a fait accompli. The Goths were going to cross into Thracia whether he wanted them to or not. He had neither the forces nor the fortitude to stop them.


In 376 as many as 1 million Goths gathered on the northern bank of the Danube, requesting permission to enter the Empire. Valens was in Antioch (modern day south-central Turkey) and his military forces were preoccupied with conflicts on the Persian frontier. Being in no position to actually prevent the Goths’ migration across the frontier, Valens “permitted” their entry. Under the leadership of two judges, Fritigern and Alavius, these Goths were settled in Thrace.

One could also claim that the good Emperor was being magnanimous, doing charitable work and spreading the word of the Church in the process. Bringing the wretched out of the cold, miserable wilderness and enlightening them through “civilization.” If only! If one is to believe Professor Strauss (who also has a nice Blog that is kept up to date), the Emperor’s actions were just about everything but noble. In his counterfactual essay titled “The Dark Ages Made Lighter“, he opens this way:

He was no humanitarian. Valens knew that the Visigoths were dangerous warriors but he planned to co-opt them and add them to his armies, which already had a Visigoth contingent. He needed more soldiers to fight Persia. He also knew that Visigothic refugees would bring wealth with them, which his officials could skim off, if not plunder outright – corruption being a depressing reality of Late Roman administration. In return, he insisted that the Visigoths lay down their arms when they crossed the Danube. The Visigoths agreed, but Valens should have known better.

Of course, not only did they keep their weapons but also their sacred objects to keep practicing their religion. Perceived, and actual, slights would eventually explode into conflict. This conflict would play out inside the borders of the Empire now – an external threat internalized.

Soon famine and want came upon them, as often happens to a people not yet well settled in a country. Their princes and the leaders who ruled them in place of kings, that is Fritigern, Alatheus and Safrac, began to lament the plight of their army and begged Lupicinus and Maximus, the Roman commanders, to open a market. But to what will not the “cursed lust for gold” compel men to assent? The generals, swayed by avarice, sold them at a high price not only the flesh of sheep and oxen, but even the carcasses of dogs and unclean animals, so that a slave would be bartered for a loaf of bread or ten pounds of meat. When their goods and chattels failed, the greedy trader demanded their sons in return for the necessities of life. And the parents consented even to this, in order to provide for the safety of their children, arguing that it was better to lose liberty than life; and indeed it is better that one be sold, if he will be mercifully fed, than that he should be kept free only to die.

Lupicinus would attempt to terminate the leadership of the refugees before open revolt occurred. Fritigern recognized the Roman commander’s duplicity and was able to escape the trap that had been set for him. Emperor Valens had set up the dominoes and Fritigern would get them tumbling and set a course of events that would ultimately put and end to Empire.

What followed was the Gothic War of 376 – 382, punctuated by the defeat (and death) of Valens at the Battle of Adrianople in 378. The massacre of two thirds of Valens army was the most stunning defeat that Rome had ever suffered at the hands of northern barbarians.

The end of the Gothic War in 382 would find the Empire forced to accept the Gothic tribes within their borders on the Goth’s terms. No longer required to assimilate, they would keep their own laws and culture. Momentum would carry the Roman Empire on for several more decades, but again and again it would find itself torn apart by internal strife and pressed on it extents by the inability to prevent the influx of other barbarian tribes.

What A Secret Treaty Wrought

It funny how Rulers removed from the situation on the ground, so often come up with “brilliant solutions” that then play out for years to come. No- this isn’t about the Asia Minor Agreement of 1916 AKA Sykes-Picot. Though that is another fine example that we are currently living with.

This secret treaty would ultimately result in the first large scale rebellion on the North American continent. The Treaty of Fountainebleau was inked in 1762 by the hands of Duke de Choiseul on behalf of King Louis XV of France and Marquis de Grimaldi for King Charles III of Spain. With a stroke of the pen the inhabitants of roughly a third of the Lower 48 was quitclaimed between regents like so many poker chips. It would be almost two years before the Europeans colonists in the Mississippi Valley knew what happened.

I missed this as a sestercentennial post earlier this month. On March 5th, 1766, Governor Antonio de Ulloa arrived in New Orleans to officially take possession of the former French colonists. He was given a Twelve Point Plan by King Charles III before he left. In addition to swapping the allegiances of the colonists, King Louis XV also gave the Spanish the means co-opt the French soldiers left behind. The Governor would only bring 75 soldiers with him. What could possibly go wrong? Both regents were very confident that those in Louisiana would be content with swapping one Catholic master for another.

There was a book written in 1976 on this rebellion. A Book Review is available. I’ll have to see if I can find a used copy on Amazon. The secret treaty helped to keep the colony out of the hands of Great Britain when French possessions were divided at the end of the Seven Years War. Specifically:

Great Britain officially conceded Spanish ownership of Louisiana in February 1763 in one of the series of treaties ending the French and Indian War. This gesture was a mere formality, for the territory had been in Spanish hands for almost three months.

In typical aristocratic fashion, the new governor would choose not to wield control over the colonials from the seat of government in New Orleans, but rather stay in his manor downriver in La Balize. Since Spanish power in the Americas was focused in Havana, perhaps he felt more secure being on the coast.

The next 24 months would increase the simmering resentment among the locals. Periodic post will be made on these anniversary events as well. In the meantime, take a look at this short summary of the events about to unfold.

By January 1765, the shock had now worn off, and the people of Louisiana felt angry and fearful. They had been abandoned by France, and now their freedoms and sources of wealth could be terminated by the Spanish. Some people conducted mass meetings demanding that France continue their control of Louisiana. The situation was becoming more explosive when, on 4 February 1765, Governor d’Abbadie died of a sudden illness.


Thirteen Clocks and the Myth of a Glorious Leader

It is the silly season. A presidential election that happen every four years. While this is not a political blog per se, it is about the importance of fundamental principles in society.

John Adams once wrote in a to Letter to Hezekiah Niles, marveling on the solidarity of American colonists, that:

The complete accomplishment of it in so short a time and by such simple means was perhaps a singular example in the history of mankind. Thirteen clocks were made to strike together – a perfection of mechanism which no artist had ever before effected.

There were no political parties represented at the First Continental Congress, nor the Second Continental Congress, nor the 1st Confederation Congress, nor even the 1st United States Congress. Neither was there a single Glorious leader guiding omnipotently though these years. What there was were colonists, some formally educated and others not, who stood on their principles and self interests. That Parliament had little desire take up their modest petitions was obvious up and down the seaboard. The list of grievances in the Declaration of Independence is a good two-thirds of the document because the interest of Carolinians were not the same as New Englanders.  The arrogance of the remote ruling class applied equally to all colonists.

Today, both parties are facing philosophical and regional insurrections the likes of which have not been seen in modern history. To simultaneously see this level dissension across BOTH parties you would have to go back to the 1860 election. The Donald and The Bern have both tapped into a simmering discontent, even if their approaches are vastly different.

Rather than looking for A Party to express their will, a significant portion of the electorate are looking for A Person – the quintessential Supertribal Leader from Desmond Morris’ Human Zoo. The parties have decided to look out only for their own interests. Better to have a known quantity in the White House instead of a wild-card, even if they are from the other party.

To match John Adams marveling of making the thirteen clocks strike at the same time, there is also the miracle that the leadership of the rebellion was decentralized. As children we are taught some of the names of “Founding Fathers” in school, but history has really only focused on a few names of military heroes and those who held public office later. Lets take a look at someone that has probably never graced a high school textbook – Captain John Felt.

Before Lexington and Concord, General Gage conducted a powder raid up the coast at Salem, Massachusetts. An account of the day’s events can be found in this text by Charles Endicott, however here is the important part:

At the moment these words were uttered by Captain Felt, a thrill of confidence was felt through the whole multitude. The people saw at once that he was just the man for the present emergency, and with unanimous, though tacit consent, looked to him as their leader in any movement which should he made for the further defence of the bridge.

Here is someone in the community who is respected, not for his words, but for his deeds. Here on the Sabbath, John Felt finds himself standing before a column of Red Coats, and doing the only thing he can do – the right thing. Colonel Leslie who was in charge of the Regulars was none too pleased with being waylaid at the North Bridge, unable to pass.

The Colonel then complained that his soldiers were much insulted, and expressed his determination to cross the bridge, saying he was upon the King’s highway and would not be prevented from passing freely over it. Old Mr. James Barr replied “it’ not the King’s highway, — it is a road built by the owners of the lots on the other side, and no king, country or town has any control over it.” The Colonel remarked “there may be two sides to that,” and Mr. Barr rejoined ” Egad I think it will be the best way for you to conclude the King has nothing to do with it.”

And there you have it. Parliament may not have been able to comprehend the level of discontent over their magnanimous ruling of the colonies – “it’s not the King’s highway…” Locals had decided to build the bridge and lay the byway.

Here’s a comparison. Try to get a township road district to put in a bridge over a creek today. You need to get the approval of the state Department of Transportation, and since you’re crossing a waterway – and all waterways are Federal, you’ll need the Corps approval, and of course the EPA will be involved since the construction may divert pollutants. Don’t forget that there may be a rare subspecies of bull frogs who will be adversely affected.  Time to bring in the Department of Interior and their various minions.

No single misguided Leader got the country to where it is today and no Glorious Leader has the capacity to keep their promises. At best, the two party system can be shaken up. Will it shatter like 1860? Only time will tell.

“…Utterly null and void to all in purposes whatsoever.”

There is always a risk when taking any position opposite that of your Rulers. In 1766, “The System” was the British Parliament. Faced with obnoxious opposition to their Stamp Act, the deliberative body would take it upon themselves to correct the problem. In the same breath that they would repeal the Stamp Act on March 18, 1766, they would issue the Declaratory Act.

And be it further declared and enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all resolutions, votes, orders, and proceedings, in any of the said colonies or plantations, whereby the power and authority of the parliament of Great Britain, to make laws and statutes as aforesaid, is denied, or drawn into question, arc, and are hereby declared to be, utterly null and void to all in purposes whatsoever.

This is the intellectual elite’s version of patting themselves on their powdered wigs and saying “Neener, neener!” What they did was basically state that the American colonists were too stupid and incapable of higher thinking when they were being worked up into a frenzy by self-interested radical firebrands.

Whew! I’m sure glad that we’ve moved past that level of rhetoric.

The arrogance and complete disconnect from what was going on in the hinterlands that were the American colonies is really hard to grasp. Two hundred and fifty years removed it seems so obvious. They were losing control of the political situation and were oblivious – truly incapable of understanding the depth of colonial discontent.  Here are a Few Pages of the debates on the repeal and Declaratory Act originally assembled back in 1919. Its a fairly short read but the dialog between the MPs is illustrative.

Generally speaking, the colonials didn’t buy it for a minute. Evidently they remained too stupid and inflamed. In this Anonymous Letter, the author calls out the MP’s for their headlong rush to the gentle precipice.

SIR: The Declaratory Act, passed by the Parliament at the time they repealed the Stamp Act, was such a violation of the Constitution, such an assumption of new powers, so subversive of liberty, and so destructive of properly, that it deserves particular observation….The abuse of these powers, or the attempt of one branch of the Legislature to extend its peculiar powers so as to abridge those of the others, has been the foundation of many civil wars and struggles in Britain.

Whew! It’s also a good thing that we’ve moved beyond an arrogant ruling class who would abuse the powers of a branch of government.

They would not learn their lesson, even twelves years on when a Peace Delegation would be sent to the Continental Congress in 1778. I came across this Facebook Post in my readings earlier this week and thought that it dovetailed nicely with the anniversary of the Declaratory Act.

The House of Commons creates a peace commission to negotiate with the American patriots because of France’s recognition of the United States. This commission travels to Philadelphia and accedes to all demands except for independence. The Continental Congress rejects their offer.

It was almost an exact restatement of the Declaratory Act. Of course we will address your petty grievances little minions as long as you realize that the Rules Laid Down By Parliament and Assented to by His Majesty the King remain preeminent and inviolable. Your little colonial congresses and town halls mean nothing to us.

The newspapers of the colonies were the Internet of their day, where the radical firebrands could write letters anonymously and stir up the masses. Even the editors were a little slow on the uptake. This was, in part, due to the elation that most felt – they had triumphed over “The System” and the Stamp Act had been repealed. It was less obvious in March of 1766 that while TPTB were publicly being contrite, that they were also laying the groundwork for dealing with future dissent more harshly. The long, hot summer of 1766 had yet to start.


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