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Dichotomy?

Thoreau happens to be one of my favorite historical personages. I have read all of his writings (over and over), including the 14 volumes of his Journal (3 times through). In 1846, Thoreau went to jail for refusing to pay his pole tax. The Mexican War was beginning, a war that Thoreau believed to have been started by the United States [it had been] on behalf of slave holders who wished to extend their slave territory.

go An article on Thoreau and architecture that I wrote in 1990 for the Early American Industries Association magazine The Chronicle, posted online at IronOrchid.com
go And one on the Mocotagan website on Thoreau's observations on birch canoes and canoe building.

In 1846, another of my favorites Frémont, in California on his 3rd exploring expedition, happened to be one of those starting that war with Mexico.


Thoreau: The Rights and Duties of the Individual in Relation to Government
later titled
Civil Disobedience

How does it become a man to behave toward this American Government today?

Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts are not a hundred thousand politicians at the South, but a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what it may. I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with those who, near at home, cooperate with, and do the bidding of, those far away, and without whom the latter would be harmless. We are accustomed to say, that the mass of men are unprepared; but improvement is slow, because the few are not materially wiser or better than the many. It is not so important that many should be as good as you, as that there be some absolute goodness somewhere; for that will leaven the whole lump. There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to the question of free-trade, and quietly read the prices-current along with the latest advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may be, fall asleep over them both. What is the price-current of an honest man and patriot to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret.

The American as conquerer is unwilling to appear in public as a pure aggressor: he dare not seize a California as Russia has seized so much land in Asia, or as Napoleon, with full French approval, seized whatever he wanted. The American wants to persuade not only the world, but himself, that he is doing God service, in a peaceable spirit, even when he violently takes what he has determined to get.
Josiah Royce


Frémont
Memoirs of My Life

The cross of St. George hung idly down from the peak of the great ship "Collingwood," the breeze occasionally spreading out against the sky the small red patch which represented centuries of glory. There lay the pieces on the great chessboard before me with which the game for an empire had been played…I was but a pawn, and like a pawn I had been pushed forward to the front at the opening of the game,

and from the proceedings of the Court Martial
of Col. John Charles Frémont

Knowing well the views of the cabinet, and satisfied that it was a great national measure to unite California to us as a sister State, by a voluntary expression of the popular will, I had in all my marches through the country, and in, all my intercourse with the people, acted invariably in strict accordance with this impression, to which I was naturally farther led by my own feelings. I had kept my troops under steady restraint and discipline, and never permitted to them a wanton outrage, or any avoidable destruction of property or life.


My own 3-great grandfather Captain John Grigsby found himself involved in the same political arena. When he crossed Truckee Pass into California in 1845, he was advised that all foreigners had been ordered by General Jose Castro to leave California within forty days. With their animals worn out from the long journey, and without money or supplies, they decided to remain. John moved his family to the Napa Valley, and obtained work from George Yount. As the situation worsened, rather than leaveing California, John chose to become a member of what became known as The Bear Flag Party. Thirty of them captured the Military Garrison at Sonoma one morning and declared California an Independent Republic. They didn't know it yet, but war had broken out with Mexico. Frémont soon became active in the Bear Flag Revolt, and commissioned John Captain of the Garrison. Some months later, under a commission by Commodor Robert S. Stockton,he served as Captain of E Company in Frémont's California Battalion on the march to Los Angeles and The Capitulation of Cahuenga, which ended the hostilities in California.

Critics of the policies that resulted in the acquisition of California, including those residents such as philosopher/pacifist Josiah Royce, were not, however, willing to "give it back," or even to remove themselves to some other region of the county (legitimately acquired?) in which they felt more moral justification in residing. It brings to mind the immortal words (still ringing in our ears) of the former president of The University of California (then, Senator) S. J. Hayakawa's 1977 objection to the suggestion of returning the Panama Canal to Panama: "We stole it fair and square."

Thoreau's abolitionist objection over the issue of Slaveholding and Slave States and the war does not hold with Frémont. Though both he a Jessie came from the same southern heritage, they were both abolitionists (see emancipation Proclamation below).

go Frémont's Emancipation Proclamation in Missouri.
And about his Capitulation of Cahuenga.
go Frémont's contributions to meteorology.
A history of Frémont 's training in mathematics, navigation, and mapmaking.


©1999, 2007
Bob Graham