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Oliver Law (1899-1937)

Oliver Law (1899-1937)



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Oliver Law (1899-1937)

Oliver Law was born in Texas on 9th July 1899. He was a somewhat controversial officer in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade which fought against Fascism during the Spanish civil war. Law served for six years in the US army, where he apparently showed considerable ability but the US army of the time would not promote Black African-Americans so a somewhat disillusioned Law left. He then lived on the South Side of Chicago working in the construction industry but soon made a name for himself as a political activist. Law was a natural leader and passionate about workers rights and helped organised a huge rally in the US in Aug 1935 in support of Ethiopia, and in protest against the Italian occupation during the Second Italo-Abyssinian war. Law was arrested at this event when trying to speak to the crowd. As a black labour organiser and political activist Law was constantly attracting police attention especially after he joined the communist party in 1929.

In 1937 Oliver Law traveled to Spain to join one of the international brigades (foreign volunteer units) fighting General Francisco Franco. Law quickly gained promotion (within 6 months) and was well respected among his men described as quiet, serious and respectful and encouraging of the men under his command. Law was a tall impressive figure standing around 6ft 2. Around 3,000 volunteers, traveled from the US to Spain and most were in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in which Law served, more than half of those who volunteered were killed or wounded during the conflict. Law became a commander of a battalion and it is sometimes claimed that he was the first African American to command white American troops, but this is a dubious claim as the international brigades were not under American control and a few Black officers were serving in the American Coast guard and Army at that time.

On 27 February 1937 Oliver Law fought at the battle of Jarama River , where the first black volunteer Alonzo Watson was killed. Along with two other Black volunteers Law received a battlefield promotion for bravery. Jarama river was General Franco’s attempt to cut the road that linked Madrid to the rest of Republican Spain after his forces had failed to take the city by frontal assault. The nationalist forces of 40,000 faced three international Brigades under General Jose Miaja.

In July 1937 the Republicans launched an offensive in an attempt to free Madrid from threat. The Republican Army of 80,000 men tried to drive off the Nationalists near Brunete on the Western approaches to Madrid. In the hot Spanish summer sun the Republican International Brigades suffered heavy losses and according to the official records Oliver Law was killed leading his men on an attack on Mosquito Ridge. Some eye witnesses disagree and claim that Law was an incompetent officer whose lack of ability had led to some deaths and in fact he was only promoted for propaganda reasons. It is also claimed that Law was actually killed by his own men. What ever the truth Oliver Law remains an interesting character and the final word goes to the black American singer Paul Robeson who in 1938 said

“I would like to make a film on the life of a Black commander of the Lincoln Battalion in the International Brigades who died there; but this would be refused by the big Yankee movie companies “

It is clear he was referring to Oliver Law.


Important and Famous African Americans

From the earliest days of the African presence in the United States, blacks have contributed to the fiber of American culture, ranging from useful inventions to innovative musical interludes, and beyond. Blacks have served and died in defense of their adopted homeland. The individuals that make up the whole of the black population, have offered up their talents to forward the cause of peace and prosperity in America. The following individuals have been selected from thousands of examples of selfless acts, sacrificing, in some cases, their own lives for the betterment of all. Obviously, this table provides only a small sample of these courageous Americans u-s-history.com will continue to add to this list from time to time.

Astronomer, clockmaker, publisher

Was able to make the calculations to predict solar and lunar eclipses and to compile an ephemeris for the Benjamin Banneker`s Almanac.

Jean Baptiste Point du Sable

du Sable built his first house in the 1770s, 30 years before Fort Dearborn was established on the banks of the Chicago River.


Brown v. Board of Education Verdict

When Brown’s case and four other cases related to school segregation first came before the Supreme Court in 1952, the Court combined them into a single case under the name Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

Thurgood Marshall, the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, served as chief attorney for the plaintiffs. (Thirteen years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson would appoint Marshall as the first Black Supreme Court justice.)

At first, the justices were divided on how to rule on school segregation, with Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson holding the opinion that the Plessy verdict should stand. But in September 1953, before Brown v. Board of Education was to be heard, Vinson died, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower replaced him with Earl Warren, then governor of California.

Displaying considerable political skill and determination, the new chief justice succeeded in engineering a unanimous verdict against school segregation the following year.

In the decision, issued on May 17, 1954, Warren wrote that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,” as segregated schools are “inherently unequal.” As a result, the Court ruled that the plaintiffs were being �prived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.”


Talk:Oliver Law

"TERZ: Im Zweiten Weltkrieg kämpften Schwarze in der US-Army in separierten Einheiten. Wie war das in der Lincoln-Brigade? Harry Fisher : Wir hatten zwischen 80 und 100 schwarze Soldaten unter uns. Sie waren angewidert von der Verfolgung der Juden durch die Nazis und sie wollten durch ihren Kampf gegen den Faschismus einen Beitrag leisten gegen rassistische Verfolgung und Unterdrückung. Wir waren die erste soldatische Einheit von Amerikanern, die keiner Rassentrennung unterlag. Viele unserer farbigen Mitkämpfer waren Offiziere. Der erste farbige Kommandeur überhaupt war Oliver Law, der mit uns in der Lincoln-Brigade kämpfte. Er fiel bei der Schlacht in Brunete. Wir errichteten eine Holzplatte auf seinem Grab, auf der stand: Hier ruht Oliver Law, der erste amerikanische Neger, der weiße Amerikaner im Kampf führte."

Harry Fisher was a volunteer of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade

A rather different version appeared in Herrik's book "Hermanos!" (1969), a novel based on real events in Spanish Civil War: an Afro-American soldier in the Internaional Brigades is promoted to command though clearly unfit to it, purely for anti-racist propaganda purposes he leads his soldiers to a disastrous fiasco in which many are killed when the survivors angrily accuse him of responsibility for their comrades' death, the officer shouts the slogan of the American left: "Black and White - Unite and Fight!" - whereupon black and white soldiers togtheter turn on him and beat him to death.

In serious looking statements in the Comments section of the online edition (September 2, 2009) of The Jewish Daily Foreward (September 11, 2009) the old story about Law's incompetence and subsquent murder by his own people is repeated. statement by Alan, Sept. 7, 2009. Either way, the Grover Furr statements in the Comments are really stupid or worse.--Radh (talk) 10:37, 16 November 2010 (UTC)

Another sign of dissatisfaction among some of his men. Ray Steele and Jim Katz accused Law of incompetence, favourism, food-theft. "Hourihan found Law guilty of the charges but he was overruled by a committee of political commissars". http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/SPhourihan.htm (in the middle of the text).--Radh (talk) 08:44, 19 November 2010 (UTC)

Another strange thing: on spartacus.schoolnet (reference given above) it is said, that Hourihan had been elected commander by his men and so was deeply distrusted by the Soviets.

But this spartacus entry seems to rely on Cecil Eby's book Comrades and Commissars. Grover Furr did not like it, coming from a close friend of William Herrick (Law's archenemy).--Radh (talk) 09:17, 19 November 2010 (UTC)

I find "Oliver Law was killed on July 10 leading his men in an attack on Mosquito Crest (Mosquito Hill)." The head of the article has July 9 death. (Year 1937) Carlm0404 (talk) 00:33, 27 December 2020 (UTC)

Texas is a large place 678,051 Km². In fact, Texas is 135% the size of Spain (504,030 Km²). There are tens of thousands of named communities in Texas. For an “encyclopedia” to state in passing that Oliver Law was from Texas suggests that this very un-encyclopedic entry leaves a considerable amount to be desired. Can’t the contributor do better than narrowing Law’s birthplace down to 678,051 Km² ? —Preceding unsigned comment added by 202.79.62.19 (talk) 06:44, 6 September 2007 (UTC)

Not really -- the closest historians seem to get is a Texas cotton farm, between 1899 and 1904. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives give West Texas, October 23, 1900 as his birth, which is the most precise locator I've found. 72.181.245.208 (talk) 17:27, 9 April 2011 (UTC)


The Strange Elegance of Joe Manchin’s Voter-ID Deal

Americans Say Immigrants Should Learn English. But U.S. Policy Makes That Hard.

The Conservative Publishing Industry Has a Joe Biden Problem

In the last few years, the quote has reared its head on countless occasions. In September, commentators pointed to it when questioning whether the controversial anti-Muslim video should be censored. Before that, it was invoked when a crazy pastor threatened to burn Qurans. Before that, the analogy was twisted to call for charges against WikiLeaks for publishing classified information. The list goes on.

But those who quote Holmes might want to actually read the case where the phrase originated before using it as their main defense. If they did, they'd realize it was never binding law, and the underlying case, U.S. v. Schenck, is not only one of the most odious free speech decisions in the Court's history, but was overturned over 40 years ago.

First, it's important to note U.S. v. Schenck had nothing to do with fires or theaters or false statements. Instead, the Court was deciding whether Charles Schenck, the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America, could be convicted under the Espionage Act for writing and distributing a pamphlet that expressed his opposition to the draft during World War I. As the ACLU's Gabe Rottman explains, "It did not call for violence. It did not even call for civil disobedience."

The Court's description of the pamphlet proves it to be milder than any of the dozens of protests currently going on around this country every day:

It said, "Do not submit to intimidation," but in form, at least, confined itself to peaceful measures such as a petition for the repeal of the act. The other and later printed side of the sheet was headed "Assert Your Rights."

The crowded theater remark that everyone remembers was an analogy Holmes made before issuing the court's holding. He was explaining that the First Amendment is not absolute. It is what lawyers call dictum, a justice's ancillary opinion that doesn't directly involve the facts of the case and has no binding authority. The actual ruling, that the pamphlet posed a "clear and present danger" to a nation at war, landed Schenk in prison and continued to haunt the court for years to come.

Two similar Supreme Court cases decided later the same year--Debs v. U.S. and Frohwerk v. U.S.--also sent peaceful anti-war activists to jail under the Espionage Act for the mildest of government criticism. (Read Ken White's excellent, in-depth dissection of these cases.) Together, the trio of rulings did more damage to First Amendment as any other case in the 20th century.

In 1969, the Supreme Court's decision in Brandenburg v. Ohio effectively overturned Schenck and any authority the case still carried. There, the Court held that inflammatory speech--and even speech advocating violence by members of the Ku Klux Klan--is protected under the First Amendment, unless the speech "is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action" (emphasis mine).

Today, despite the "crowded theater" quote's legal irrelevance, advocates of censorship have not stopped trotting it out as thefinal word on the lawful limits of the First Amendment. As Rottman wrote, for this reason, it's "worse than useless in defining the boundaries of constitutional speech. When used metaphorically, it can be deployed against any unpopular speech." Worse, its advocates are tacitly endorsing one of the broadest censorship decisions ever brought down by the Court. It is quite simply, as Ken White calls it, "the most famous and pervasive lazy cheat in American dialogue about free speech."

Even Justice Holmes may have quickly realized the gravity of his opinions in Schneck and its companion cases. Later in the same term, Holmes suddenly dissented in a similar case, Abrams vs. United States, which sent Russian immigrants to jail under the Espionage Act. It would become the first in a long string of dissents Holmes and fellow Justice Louis Brandeis would write in defense of free speech that collectively laid the groundwork for Court decisions in the 1960s and 1970s that shaped the First Amendment jurisprudence of today.

In what would become his second most famous phrase, Holmes wrote in Abrams that the marketplace of ideas offered the best solution for tamping down offensive speech: "The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas -- that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out."

In @ComfortablySmug's case during Hurricane Sandy, that is exactly what happened. Within minutes of sending out his false tweets, journalists discovered he was spreading rumors and quickly corrected the record, sounding the alarm not to trust his information. Regardless, no one was hurt because of his misinformation. The next day, @ComfortablySmug (whose real name is Shashank Tripathi) apologized and resigned from his job as the campaign manager of a House Republican candidate in New York in response to the public's reaction to his actions.

The truth prevailed, not through forcing censorship or jailing a person for speaking, but through the overwhelming counterbalance of more speech. As Holmes said after his soliloquy in Abrams, "That, at any rate, is the theory of our Constitution."


John Marshall Harlan’s Dissent

Alone in the minority was Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slaveholder from Kentucky. Harlan had opposed emancipation and civil rights for freed slaves during the Reconstruction era – but changed his position due to his outrage over the actions of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

Harlan argued in his dissent that segregation ran counter to the constitutional principle of equality under the law: “The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race while they are on a public highway is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution,” he wrote. “It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds.”


History - Law

George Frost, a businessman and philanthropist, met a young man while traveling from Cape Cod to Boston. The young man, Gleason Archer, had been working that summer to finance his college studies and was returning to Boston to be treated for an injury. Frost befriended the young man and, over time loaned him funds to complete his law school education. Later, Frost helped Archer obtain a position in a law firm after graduation.

When Archer attempted to repay his benefactor, Frost refused saying, &ldquoIf you ever have a chance to pass this favor along to others, do it for me.&rdquo

More than 100 years ago, Suffolk Law School was founded to ensure higher education for those seeking opportunity. In an effort to repay the generosity shown him by George Frost, Gleason Archer established Suffolk Law as an evening law school for young men like himself. He reached out to students working to better themselves and their communities through the study of law.

Suffolk University Law School has not wavered from its founding principles. The path to education widened by founder Gleason Archer has become a broad avenue of opportunity.

Suffolk University Law School was founded on the premise that capable men and women should have the opportunity to study law regardless of background or circumstances. While it has grown to be one of the largest law schools in the country, with thriving day and evening programs, Suffolk Law has remained true to its mission to provide excellent education and training for a diverse student body.

Suffolk University celebrated its centennial with a series of year long events and a timeline display in the Cameron Great Hall. View pictures from Suffolk Law School's Centennial Timeline.


Worth a Volume of Logic: The Study of Legal History at the Law School

If you’ve ever walked into Professor Richard Helmholz’s office, you know about the very old books. Dozens of thick tomes, lined on shelves along their worn, hand­bound spines, cover nearly the whole east wall. Most are hundreds of years old, and in Latin. For Helmholz, one of the world’s top historians in medieval and early modern English law, these books are anything but irrelevant old volumes.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in 1921’s New York Trust Co. v. Eisner: “a page of history is worth a volume of logic.”

Helmholz takes it further: “If history is important, it’s important to get it right. We need to understand what happened on the ground and what it meant then.”

Legal history is dedicated to this pursuit, of understanding today’s laws and debates in the context of the past. It is much more than a recollection of dates and characters, but rather a science with its own methodology and ethos. And all law, in a sense, is legal history, as it is built on precedent and shaped by its time.

At the Law School, three professors dedicate much of their time to teaching and writing about legal history. Helmholz, Ruth Wyatt Rosenson Distinguished Service Professor of Law, is joined by Alison LaCroix, Professor of Law and Ludwig and Hilde Wolf Teaching Scholar, and Laura Weinrib, Assistant Professor of Law. All three have a PhD in history as well as a JD.

Three well-­regarded and active legal historians on one law faculty is an impressive number, said Patricia Minter, Associate Professor of History at Western Kentucky University and membership chair for the American Society for Legal History.

“One of the great strengths of a law school of the rank and reputation of Chicago is that they have three legal historians and others who are interested in the field, and this gives them a gravitas that is difficult to duplicate elsewhere,” Minter said.

Two Department of History professors, Jane Dailey and Amy Dru Stanley, also do important work in legal history and have appointments at the Law School.

The Law School’s legal historians each have their own specialty. Helmholz, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences who has taught at the Law School since 1981, earned his PhD in medieval history from the University of California, Berkeley, five years after his JD from Harvard Law. In his history program, he developed an interest in canon and Roman law and saw that he could make a name for himself in the field, which was relatively unpopulated by other scholars. His first book was 1974’s Marriage Litigation in Medieval England, which explored the legal doctrine of marriage law and the reality of how it was enforced in the courts. It was one way to examine people’s social relations in that era, he said. And the material is fascinating people in the Middle Ages could get married by verbal contract, Helmholz explained, but it mattered whether they spoke in present tense or future tense. Since then, he’s authored and edited hundreds of works, almost all on legal history topics.

LaCroix focuses on eighteenth-­ and nineteenth­-century US legal and intellectual history. “What I like to do is study the history of ideas and use all these diverse sources to understand what these ideas meant at a given time,” she said. She was a history major in college at Yale University, where she also earned her JD in 1999. She took one seminar in legal history during law school amazingly, a majority of the students in that seminar are now legal historians. She practiced law for a short time and then went to Harvard for her PhD, which she completed in 2007.

Much of LaCroix’s work centers on federalism, such as whether Congress can compel the states to take certain actions because of the spending power conferred in Article I of the Constitution. Today, those debates are around topics such as health care and immigration, but LaCroix looks to contextualize them by examining the debates of the past, such as the founding­-era debates about giving Congress a veto over state laws, the Fugitive Slave Acts, and the public works projects of the early nineteenth century. She challenges common assumptions about the way the Supreme Court has “always” acted and shows that other approaches to federalism were taken in the past.

For example, she said, the modern Supreme Court has often taken a strongly protective view of state sovereignty. It has held that it is not up to the states to consent with federal laws, but rather the job of the courts to protect them from commandeering by Congress. This means that the Court has overruled acts of Congress even when the states have consented. But a review of the historical sources reveals that this view was not always held by legal and political actors in the federal government. For example, during the first decades of the nineteenth century, the consent of a given state was a key element in the debate about federal funding of public works projects, such as roads and canals. This and many other examples illustrate that ideas about federalism are far from fixed, LaCroix said.

Weinrib, a 2003 graduate of Harvard Law, completed her history PhD in 2011 at Princeton University. Her specialty is twentieth-­century American legal history, with an emphasis on the history of civil liberties and labor history.

Weinrib’s attraction to legal history is that it gives scholars the “critical distance” to see the way law shapes social and cultural ideas and the way those ideas shape the law, she said. Legal history is a reminder that even concepts that we take for granted, such as the First Amendment, were anything but inevitable developments. Sometimes, we falsely see history as a slow progression toward ideal forms of laws and norms, she said, but really those laws and norms are the product of contending ideas about access to justice.

“I think history can help us recover lost paths that are useful in contemporary approaches to the law,” she said. She chooses to teach in a law school, rather than a history department, because she wants her work to have contemporary policy implications, which means it helps to be surrounded by people working on contemporary legal problems.

“I have a lot to learn from political scientists, philosophers, economists, and others who are studying the law,” she said. “In the time I’ve been here, my work has become much richer because of the conversations I’ve had.”

Now, she’s working on a book about the history of the modern civil liberties movement in the United States, with a focus on the period between World War I and World War II. She argues that it was this era in which the modern concept of civil liberties as rights asserted against the state and enforced through the courts emerged. It grew out of the labor movement and involved unlikely coalitions across the political spectrum.

The book will explain how a social movement evolved and grew and used the courts as an agent for change, which has relevance for plenty of modern causes, Weinrib said. The work also dives into the many limitations of the courts when it comes to the expansion of rights.

Helmholz, LaCroix, and Weinrib all agree that you can be a legal historian without having both degrees, but it does have its intellectual and practical benefits. For one, each discipline teaches distinct skills that are hard to pick up as an outsider. Two, in a competitive academic marketplace, top schools want their legal historians to have all the credentials. Scholars with JD/PhDs have training in the methodology of legal history, which involves intense reading of historical sources and learning the existing historiographical debates. “This is not just narrative, telling a story of the past,” Weinrib said. “It is constructing arguments about the past.”

LaCroix agreed, adding that a legal historian’s job is to investigate the source material without anticipating the outcome beforehand. Like law and economics, the data has to bear out, she added. To do that kind of research, it’s very helpful to have a full understanding of both legal and historical literature. “It’s hard to pick that up on the fly,” LaCroix said.

These days, almost all legal history is done in law schools, said Dailey, the history professor. She considers herself a historian with a legal interest, not a legal historian. She doesn’t have the JD, and “it’s close to essential” if your work is legal history, she said. Much of Dailey’s work is on the civil rights movement she started working with law professors to gain some legal training and make her research better.

Obviously, legal scholars’ “grip on the law is surer than historians who haven’t had the formal law school training,” Dailey said. She also expressed gratitude for Dean Michael Schill’s support of legal history within the history department, where he has made funding available to PhD students who already have JDs and want to teach in law schools one day. This has helped the history department compete with other top schools for these students, Dailey said.

The Law School also hosts the annual Maurice and Muriel Fulton Lectureship in Legal History, created in 1985. Maurice Fulton is a member of the class of 1942, and his wife Muriel is an alumna of the University. Since its inception, the Fulton Lecture has grown in size and reputation. Last year, Professor David Armitage of the history department at Harvard University presented a critical history of the conceptions of civil war and its evolving legal definitions. This year, Professor Tomiko Brown-­Nagin of Harvard Law School will speak on the life and legacy of Judge Constance Baker Motley, the first African­-American woman appointed to the federal judiciary.

Mr. Fulton said there was no legal history class when he was in law school, but he wishes there had been. He and his wife support the lecture series to ensure that the school’s commitment to legal history is sustained, he said. “The history of law is bound tightly with the subject of history,” he said. “I think the students, when they go through the Law School, are exposed to the history of law whether they like it or not.”

And they often do like it, said LaCroix, who finds that law students see legal history work as an enjoyable departure. During Winter Quarter, she taught a class on American legal history from the colonial period through Reconstruction. “They often say, it’s so nice to be reading things besides cases,” she said. “I think it feels to them like a different way to look at law. It feels grounded.”

A handful of her legal history students have proved capable research assistants for her upcoming book,The Interbellum Constitution, LaCroix said. Throughout the course of a seminar last Spring, they collected a stack of primary sources seven inches tall. “They liked seeing the inside of what their professors do. It felt really productive pedagogically.”

Abbey Molitor, ’15, worked as a research assistant for LaCroix last summer, helping find federalism sources for the book and a related Yale Law Journal article. Reading primary source materials such as letters of a Washington socialite from the early decades of the 1800s was “really fun,” Molitor said. “It was a lot more history than law, and it was fun to do that after a year of all law.”

Another enthusiastic legal history student, Mike Educate, ’14, said he has learned to view the study of history as “an act of persuasion.” For example, he wrote a paper for Professor Tom Ginsburg’s constitutional design seminar about the relationship between nationalist parties and the success of secessionist movements. He used Scotland as a case study, showing how the Scottish National Party used a historical narrative to sell the idea that Scotland is culturally distinctive from the rest of the United Kingdom.

“It’s more than just ‘history matters,’ or ‘history is awesome,’” he said. “History actually has an instrumental, normative function. If you can effectively tie it to policy concerns, people are going to buy into it.”

Both Molitor and Educate said they would consider pursuing PhDs in history in the future. But even law students without an intense interest in legal history can use it to understand their own legacy as lawyers. As Helmholz explained: “Law is a learned profession. It should be about more than just making money. A lot of learning comes from understanding the past of what you’re doing,” he said. “You see yourself as part of something that’s been going on since the twelfth century, and even before that in Roman times. If you have a new idea, it has to fit within this system that has developed over the ages.”


The Supreme Court Case That Enshrined White Supremacy in Law

“White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” the Iowa congressman Steve King inquired of a Times reporter last month. After the remark blew up, King explained that by “that language” he was referring to “Western civilization.” He also said that he condemned white nationalism and white supremacy as an “evil and bigoted ideology which saw in its ultimate expression the systematic murder of six million innocent Jewish lives.” (It’s unclear whether King thinks of Jews as nonwhite.)

However, to answer the congressman’s original question: only after a long struggle. Seventeen states had laws banning interracial marriage, which is pretty much the heart of the doctrine of white supremacy, until 1967, when the Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional. From the Compromise of 1877, which ended Reconstruction, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, American race relations were largely shaped by states that had seceded from the Union in 1861, and the elected leaders of those states almost all spoke the language of white supremacy. They did not use dog whistles. “White Supremacy” was the motto of the Alabama Democratic Party until 1966. Mississippi did not ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, until 1995.

How did this happen? How did white people in a part of the country that was virtually destroyed by war contrive to take political control of their states, install manifestly undemocratic regimes in them, maintain those regimes for nearly a century, and effectively block the national government from addressing racial inequality everywhere else? Part of the answer is that those people had a lot of help. Institutions constitutionally empowered to intervene twisted themselves every which way to explain why, in this matter, intervention was not part of the job description. One such institution was the Supreme Court of the United States.

The case of Martha Lum is typical. She was the daughter of Jeu Gong Lum, who came to the United States from China in 1904. After being smuggled across the Canadian border by human traffickers, he made his way to the Mississippi Delta, where a relative ran a grocery store. In 1913, he married another Chinese immigrant, and they opened their own store. They had three children and gave them American names.

In 1923, the family moved to Rosedale, Mississippi, and Martha, then eight years old, entered the local public school. According to Adrienne Berard, who tells the Lums’ story in “Water Tossing Boulders” (2016), nothing seemed amiss for the first year, but when Martha returned to school after the summer the principal relayed the news that the school board had ordered her to be expelled. Public schools in Mississippi had been racially segregated by law since 1890, and her school educated only whites. The board had decided that Martha was not white and, consequently, she could not study there.

The Lums engaged a lawyer, who managed to get a writ of mandamus—an order that a legal duty be carried out—served on the school board. The board, which must have been very surprised, contested the writ, and the case went to the Supreme Court of Mississippi, which ruled that the board had the right to expel Martha Lum on racial grounds. That part was not so surprising.

The court acknowledged that there was no statutory definition of the “colored race” in Mississippi. But it argued that the term should be construed in the broadest sense, and cited a case it had decided eight years earlier, upholding the right of a school board to expel from an all-white school two children whose great-aunts were rumored to have married nonwhites.

That decision, the court said, showed that the term “colored” was not restricted to “persons having negro blood in their veins”—apparently since the children involved were in fact white. Martha Lum did not have “negro blood,” either, but she was not white. She could attend a “colored” school. Mississippi’s separate-schools law, the court explained, was enacted “to prevent race amalgamation.” Then why place an Asian-American child in a school with African-American children? Because, according to the court, the law was intended to serve “the broad dominant purpose of preserving the purity and integrity of the white race.”

The Lums appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. At issue was the Fourteenth Amendment, which had been ratified in 1868. The first clause of that amendment is the most radically democratic clause in the entire Constitution, much of which was designed to limit what the Founders considered the dangers of too much democracy. It decrees that any person born in the United States is a citizen, and that states may not abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens nor deprive them of life, liberty, or property without due process of law nor deny them the equal protection of the laws. The United States has two founding documents: the Constitution, which is a legal rule book, and the Declaration of Independence, a manifesto with no force of law. The Fourteenth Amendment constitutionalized the Declaration.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case, Lum v. Rice, was handed down in 1927, three years after Congress passed the Johnson-Reed immigration act, which barred all Asians from entering the United States. Was Martha Lum a citizen? The Supreme Court said she was. Was she being denied the equal protection of the laws? The Court said that she was not, and cited a series of precedents in which courts had upheld the constitutionality of school segregation.

It was true, the Court conceded, that most of those cases had involved African-American children. But it couldn’t see that “pupils of the yellow races” were any different, and the decision to expel such pupils was, it held, “within the discretion of the state in regulating its public schools, and does not conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment.” Even though the Mississippi court had stated that the purpose of the school-segregation law was to preserve “the purity and integrity of the white race,” it was not a denial of equal protection to nonwhites. The Lums, of course, knew from firsthand observation what it meant to be classified as “colored” in Mississippi, and they did what a lot of African-American Mississippians were also doing—they left the state.

The decision in Lum v. Rice was unanimous. The opinion of the Court was delivered by the Chief Justice, William Howard Taft, a former President of the United States among the Justices who heard the case were Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and Louis Brandeis. One of the precedents the Court quoted prominently in support of its decision was a case it had decided thirty-one years earlier—Plessy v. Ferguson.

After Dred Scott, Plessy is probably the most notorious decision involving race in the history of the United States Supreme Court. It is the case identified with the principle of “separate but equal”—the theory that segregation is not per se discrimination. Plessy is the decision the Supreme Court had to overturn, in Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954, to declare that school segregation violated the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

From our perspective, therefore, Plessy looks huge. So it’s revealing that, as the journalist Steve Luxenberg tells us in “Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation,” little note was taken of the decision at the time. Even when principal figures in the case died, years later, their obituaries made no mention of it. It’s revealing because it suggests that Plessy should never have been brought in the first place. The decision did not create a new justification for racial segregation it locked an old one into place.

Plessy was a test case. It challenged a law that Louisiana passed in 1890, the Separate Car Act, requiring railroads to maintain separate cars for white and “colored” riders—in order, according to the act, “to promote the comfort of passengers.” The penalty for breaking the law was a fine or a short prison sentence. Transportation had been segregated in parts of the country, both North and South, since long before the Civil War, and many cases had been brought by passengers complaining of discrimination, with mixed success. But in those cases segregation was a matter of company policy. In the Louisiana case, the constitutionality of a state law was at issue.

When the South began instituting Jim Crow, after the end of Reconstruction, laws mandating separate cars on trains appeared across the region. One of the first was passed in Florida, in 1887, followed by Mississippi, in 1888, and Texas, in 1889. When Louisiana passed its separate-cars law, a New Orleans lawyer and newspaper editor named Louis Martinet—his mother was born a slave his father, a Belgian, bought her freedom—formed the Citizens’ Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law, and set about building a case.

First, Martinet approached the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which agreed to act as a silent partner. It did not do so out of altruism. From a business point of view, segregation represented a cost—the cost of providing separate facilities for black customers. It would have been cheaper for the railroads if the state had mandated integration instead.

Then Martinet recruited a plaintiff, Daniel Desdunes, a young mixed-race musician whose father was on the Committee. On February 24, 1892, Desdunes boarded a train in New Orleans with a ticket for Mobile, Alabama, and sat in a car reserved for whites. He was duly arrested and charged, his case set to be heard by the criminal-court judge in New Orleans, John Ferguson. All had gone as planned, but then, in another case, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the Separate Car Act did not apply to interstate passengers. Because Desdunes had been going to another state, he could not be required to use a separate car, and the prosecution dropped the case.

The interstate-travel issue was a persistent wrinkle in the Jim Crow era, and it inspired some impressive judicial contortions. In 1878, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Reconstruction-era Louisiana statute requiring integrated facilities on steamboats. Under the Constitution, only Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce. Because riverboats stopped in many states, the Court said, they could not be bound by the regulations of one state.

You might assume that a state law requiring segregated facilities on interstate carriers would be subject to the same prohibition. In 1890, however, the Supreme Court held otherwise. It declared that an interstate train was subject to a Mississippi law requiring separate cars for “colored” and white passengers for as long as the train was in Mississippi. The Court somehow parsed its way around its own earlier decision.

But now, because of the Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling, Martinet needed another volunteer scofflaw. Fortunately, he had one at hand: Homer Plessy. Like Desdunes, Plessy was light-skinned—“fair-skinned enough to cause confusion,” as Luxenberg puts it, suggesting that Plessy might have been accustomed to passing, as many nominally “colored” people in New Orleans did. He was twenty-nine years old, married, and in the shoemaking business. Like Desdunes, he followed the script. On June 7, 1892, he boarded a train, one travelling only within the state of Louisiana, and sat in the car for white passengers. When the conductor asked if Plessy was colored, he said yes, and was removed from the train and booked. (Train conductors were in a ridiculous position: even if the law required trains to have separate cars, riders could still sue the conductor for misclassifying them.)

Plessy came before the same Judge Ferguson, who ruled that, since there had been no claim that the cars for white and black passengers were not “equal,” there was no constitutional issue. The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed, adding that, if the Separate Cars Act were declared unconstitutional, many other state laws—on separate schools, intermarriage, and so forth—would be affected. The U.S. Supreme Court finally heard the case four years later, and on May 18, 1896, it issued its opinion.

As Luxenberg points out, the concept “separate but equal” (the phrase the Court used in Plessy was actually “equal but separate”) was hardly a novelty. It had been a customary way to throw out complaints about segregation since before the Civil War. In Plessy, the Court added a gloss that became almost as famous as the phrase itself: “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority,” it said. “If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” As Charles Black, a Yale law professor, wrote of these sentences many years later, “The curves of callousness and stupidity intersect at their respective maxima.”

The assumption that separate facilities for blacks—railroad cars, steamboat berths, schools—were not inferior is a good example of the Supreme Court’s formalism in that period of American law. Everyone knew the assumption was false. The Jim Crow train car was sometimes called “the dirt car,” and “colored” schools were often shacks. It was also absurd to claim that the “badge of inferiority” was a black person’s construction. In Dred Scott, the Chief Justice, Roger Taney, had said that, constitutionally, black people were “a subordinate and inferior class of beings,” with “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

In Brown v. Board of Education, the Warren Court would cite psychological studies showing that black children are harmed by segregation. That’s not something a nineteenth-century court would have considered appropriate (and some people did not consider it appropriate in Brown). In cases like Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court looked to the text of the statute. If the statute did not prescribe unequal conditions, then, legally, conditions were not unequal.

The Justices in the Plessy case were aware of the repercussions that a robust interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment would have, of course. Political realities, as always, put a constraint on judicial reasoning. The Supreme Court in the early twentieth century did decide cases in favor of African-American and Asian-American plaintiffs, but it mostly kept its hands off state racial regulations.

When Louis Martinet formed his Citizens’ Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law, he wrote to Frederick Douglass and asked for his support. Douglass refused. He said he could not see how the case could help things. Douglass was proved correct. The decision was the worst possible outcome, and the one Plessy’s lawyers had feared. It stamped a constitutional seal of approval on state-mandated racial segregation. The case may not have received much press attention at the time, but over the next fifty years it was cited in thirteen Supreme Court opinions.

It’s true that in 1890, when the Separate Car Act was passed, Southern race relations were still somewhat in flux. Blacks voted and were politically active. The Louisiana legislature that passed the act had sixteen African-American members. And the composition of the Supreme Court is subject to change the lawyers for Plessy might have hoped that they would draw a winning hand.

By 1896, though, the endgame was clearly in view. Six years earlier, Mississippi had become the first state to contrive laws to disenfranchise black voters, rather than rely solely on terror and fraud. Other states followed, although extralegal methods remained in use, and, by the end of the century, the work of disenfranchisement was complete. There were 130,334 African-Americans registered to vote in Louisiana in 1896 in 1904, there were 1,342. In Virginia that year, the estimated black turnout in the Presidential election was zero.


Oliver Law (1899-1937) - History

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Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was one of the greatest leaders ever to rule England. He was a dedicated Puritan, deeply and fervently devoted to carrying out the will of God. He was relentless in battle, brilliant in organization and had a genius for cavalry warfare. With a Psalm on his lips and a sword in his hand he led his Ironsides to victory after victory, first against the Royalists in England, then against the Catholics of Ireland, and finally against the rebellious Scots.

Oliver Cromwell pursued religious toleration which helped to stabilize the fragile country after the King was executed. His foreign policy in support of beleaguered Protestants in Europe and against Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean was successful and he restored the supremacy of the seas to England.

A Distinguished Family

Oliver Cromwell was one of the few people who could trace his family origins to pre-Norman Conquest times. His family was frequently active in the fight for liberty. Six of his cousins were imprisoned for refusing the Forced Loan of 1627. When he was first elected as Member of Parliament from Huntington in 1628, nine of his cousins were Members of Parliament. Seventeen of his cousins and nine other relatives served at one time or another as Members of the Long Parliament.

Born towards the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, Cromwell grieved England’s decline from those golden years. His mother, his wife and one of his daughters were all named Elizabeth. He frequently referred to “Queen Elizabeth of famous memory.”

A Country in Crisis

England in the early 17 th century was deeply troubled. King James had left his realm embroiled in the conflict in Europe against Spain that launched The Thirty Years War, the Crown was bankrupt and England was universally disgraced. James’ heir, King Charles I, had married a French Catholic princess less than three months after he had inherited the throne. All of England had been against a Catholic marriage but Charles evidenced contempt for the opinions of all. He lied, entered into war without Parliamentary approval, made secret concessions with the Catholics, undermined and interfered in the churches, sent out his agents to collect Forced Loans, bypassing Parliament, and sent rich people to prison until they paid the ransom he demanded.

Under a Tyrannical King

Land confiscations multiplied under Charles, and an increasing number of men were sent to prison for refusing to hand money over to the Crown. Arbitrary imprisonments and depriving men of property without any semblance of the Law jeopardized the rights of everyone in the realm. Charles summarily dissolved Parliament whenever it interfered with his will. He scorned a Petition of Rights and said that Parliament had no rights, merely privileges granted by the Crown! The King did not seem to consider himself to be bound by any promise or subject to any law.

In March 1629 Parliament passed a Bill that declared: “Whoever brought in innovations in religion, or introduced opinions disagreeing from those of the true and orthodox Church whoever voluntarily paid those duties was to be counted an enemy to the kingdom and a betrayer of its liberties.”

The Cruelty of Charles

Immediately the motion was passed, the King dissolved Parliament and exacted a furious vengeance on Sir John Eliot who had proposed the motion and others who had supported it. Eliot and other MP’s were thrown into prison. Eliot remained in prison for the rest of his life, dying in the Tower of London in December 1632. Charles’ pettiness was seen in how he even refused the widow the right to take her husband’s body to be buried at their Cornish home. Charles appointed and dismissed judges at will. His appointed Archbishop Laud banned the publication of Calvinist sermons that had been collected since the time of Elizabeth and Edward VI.

The Star Chamber

The cruelty of Archbishop Laud’s Star Chamber can be seen in the treatment of Calvinist minister Alexander Leighton for writing a Puritan book. Leighton was chained in solitary confinement until his hair fell out and his skin fell off. He was tied to a stake and flogged until his back was raw. He was branded in the face, had his nose slit and his ears cut off and was condemned to life imprisonment.

War Against Calvinism

From the moment that Laud was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, the Arminians assumed full control over the Church of England and declared war on Calvinism. Calvinist pastors were dismissed from their parishes. Calvinist writers and speakers were excommunicated, placed in the stocks and had their ears cut off.

The treatment that Calvinists received at the hands of the Arminian Star Chamber was remarkable as Arminians accused Calvinists of being “cruel” in believing that God’s Salvation could be selective. The Arminians had also accused the Calvinists of being in favour of a Theocracy, in which the church ruled the state. They claimed to be less ambitious, but in practice, these Arminians ruled the people through the state. For example, Archbishop Laud had author John Prynne hauled before the Star Chamber for “seditious libel.” Prynne was barred from further practice of law, had his university degrees rescinded, was fined an impossible £5,000, was pilloried, had his ears cut off and was then sent to prison for life. All this because of one book he had written.

Ruling Without Parliament

All of these abuses took place during the eleven years that Charles ruled England without Parliament. These eleven years were the longest years without Parliament in English history.

The Scots Rebel

However, when the Scottish rebelled against the imposition of what they saw as Roman Catholic superstition and ritual on their churches in Scotland, Charles was forced to recall Parliament to raise new taxes and an army.

The Short Parliament

The Short Parliament was summoned 13 April 1640. Instead of providing Charles with the money and men to fight the Scots, they immediately started talking about the crimes of Charles’ government, the atrocities of Archbishop Laud, the illegal taxation of the people, the excesses of the High Commission, and the terrors of the Star Chamber. This Parliament lasted only 23 days before the King dissolved it on 5 May.

A Kingdom in Crisis

A whole series of crisis situations compelled Charles to call a new parliament. Turkish pirates were raiding the Irish and Cornish coasts and carrying Christians off into Islamic slavery. English settlers were being slaughtered by the Catholics in Ireland. A Scottish army had seized Northern England. There was a general belief that a Catholic conspiracy was at work to destroy English liberties and to install an absolutist Catholic monarchy.

The Long Parliament Seizes the Initiative

For eleven years newspapers had been banned. The secret circulation of pamphlets helped keep people informed. King Charles was being out-maneuvered and cornered. The Long Parliament moved swiftly and impeached the Earl of Strafford, the King’s dictator of Ireland, as a secret Papist plotting to bring his Catholic army from Ireland to alter the laws and religion of England. The House of Commons also charged that the Arminian changes in the Canons of the Church of England were illegal and impeached Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, of popery and treason. He ended up in the same tower to which he had consigned so many others. Censorship was abolished and pamphlets on religion and government couldn’t be produced fast enough, the demand was so great. London became a fountain of Puritan publications dealing with God and government, faith and morals.

The King’s government collapsed and his ministers fled the country. Systematically Parliament dismantled the instruments by which the King had oppressed the nation. No taxes could be levied without Parliamentary consent. The Star Chamber, and its torture, was abolished. The Privy Council was deprived of its power. The Court of High Commission was abolished and the king left financially dependent on Parliament. Parliament also took control of the militia.

Oliver Cromwell played an increasingly pivotal role in Parliament. The Long Parliament, which began its sitting on 3 November 1640, was the fifth Parliament of Charles’s reign. Cromwell had been in two previous Parliaments which had been summarily dissolved by King Charles.

The Puritan Politician

Oliver Cromwell was described as having penetrating eyes of steely blue, being profoundly religious, well-read, eloquent, full of fervour, and with an iron conviction - which his character turned to steel. He was a graduate of Cambridge University, a descendant of Henry VIII’s Chancellor Thomas Cromwell and a dedicated Puritan. In 1620 Oliver married Elizabeth Bourchier. Cromwell proved himself an affectionate husband with a deep love for his children. When he was 28, Cromwell was elected to Parliament as a Member for Huntingdon. This Parliament lasted less than five months before the King dissolved it.

It was eleven years before the Short Parliament was summoned. By the time the Long Parliament was summoned on 3 November 1640, Oliver Cromwell was nearly 42 years old. Up to this point, he had no military experience, but that was about to change.

War

As war became inevitable it seemed that the King’s forces had the great advantage of trained and experienced cavalry. The Royalist officers were experienced at fencing and riding. Leading the King’s cavalry was his cousin Prince Rupert of the Rhine. Prince Rupert had brought over 100 professional officers experienced in the Dutch and German wars.

In the first serious battle at Edgehill on 23 October 1642, the King’s forces, led by Prince Rupert descended upon the Parliamentary infantry so effectively that it was almost a massacre. But, after thundering through Essex’s men, the cavalry stopped to plunder baggage. This gave Captain Cromwell the opportunity to counter-attack with his cavalry and halt the Royalist effort to march on London. Cromwell observed to his cousin John Hampden that they never would be able to beat these gentlemen’s sons schooled in sword fighting and horse riding with old, decaying serving men. Oliver Cromwell declared that he was going to set out to find honest men who feared God and were full of the Holy Spirit.

Selecting and Training a Special Force

Cromwell’s initiative earned him a promotion to Colonel. Richard Baxter noted that Oliver Cromwell “had special care to get religious men into his troops because these were the sorts of men he esteemed and loved and…from this happy choice flowed the avoiding’s of those disorders, mutinies, plundering’s and grievances of the country which debased men and armies are commonly guilty of.” By May 1643, Cromwell had selected and trained 2,000 brave disciplined and dedicated men.

In May 1643 Cromwell, heavily outnumbered, attacked a Royalist force at Belton and killed over a hundred at a cost of only two men. Cromwell’s men quickly earned a reputation for being religious, obedient, fearless and disciplined. In October 1643 Cromwell won a victory at Winceby.

Prince Rupert led the King’s forces to massacre the Calvinists of Bolton, at Clothington.

Cromwell’s Ironsides were victorious at the Battle of Gainsborough on 28 July 1643.

Religious Freedom

Cromwell rose in Parliament in December 1644 to propose a self-denying ordinance in which all members should resign their military commands. He argued for religious freedom: “Presbyterians, Independents, all here had the same spirit of Faith and prayer…they agree here, know no names of difference pity it should be otherwise anywhere. All that believe have real unity, which is most glorious because inward and Spiritual…As for being united in forms, commonly called uniformity, every Christian will, for peace sake, study and do as far as conscience will permit and from brethren, and things of the mind, we look for no compulsion but that of light and reason.”

A New Threat

Cromwell was horrified to see that Parliament was seeking to impose Presbyterianism on the nation. Baptists, Congregationalists, Anglicans and other Believers had fought on the field of battle for religious freedom, against Catholicism and Episcopal tyranny. Were they now going to replace that with Presbyterian tyranny?

Cromwell demanded the restructuring of the Army. He castigated those sections of the Army where: “profaneness and impiety and the absence of all religion, drinking and gambling, and all manner of license and laziness” had led to poor performance and defeat. He argued for a New Model Army. Cromwell was appointed second-in-command of the Parliamentary Forces, under Lord Fairfax. Out of the total Parliament Forces of over 88,000, Cromwell selected and trained a quarter (22,000) as a New Model Army.

Victory

At Marsdon Moor, on 2 July 1644, Oliver Cromwell led his cavalry to victory over the Royalists in a most decisive battle. By now Cromwell was a Lieutenant-General and his disciplined Bible-reading, Psalm-singing troops won the day. His new Model Army again won a most decisive Battle at Naseby on 14 June 1645. This ended the first civil war.

Presbyterian Tyranny

Meanwhile, Parliament established the Church of England as Presbyterian, with orders to persecute Baptists, Congregationalists and other non-conformists who were to be imprisoned for life, and on some occasions, even to be put to death! No laymen were to be allowed to preach or expound on the Scriptures.

Liberty of Conscience

Oliver Cromwell was horrified. This was not what his army had been fighting for! He argued most passionately for religious freedom and liberty of conscience. The Army did not want to see Arminian absolutism replaced with a Presbyterian version. The Independents no longer wanted a national church but all varieties of the Protestant Faith to be free of state interference and limitations. When the Parliament sought to disband the New Model Army which was overwhelmingly composed of Congregationalists, Baptists and other Independents, the Army Council sent a message to Parliament demanding liberty of conscience for its members.

Cromwell wrote: “He that ventures his life for the liberty of his country, I wish he trust God for the liberty of his conscience, and you for the liberty he fights for.”

Checks and Balances

The Army Council proposed a Council of State, free elections and an enlarged franchise, the right to disagree with both, King and Lords, no bishops, no compulsory orders of service, and no compulsory obedience to Presbyterianism. Although one of the king’s advisors observed “never was a Crown so nearly lost, so cheaply recovered” the king contemptuously dismissed these, and all other, proposals for settlement.

Cromwell then became the power-broker between the army, Parliament and the captive Charles in an attempt to restore a constitutional basis for government. However, dealing with the slippery and inflexible Stuart monarch exhausted Cromwell’s patience.

A Second Civil War

In 1647 Charles escaped and sought to restart the war with the Scottish Presbyterians in support. Defeating the Royalist Welsh and Scottish rebels in 1648, Cromwell supported a trial for treason of the King which ended in the execution of Charles on 30 January 1649.

On 17 August 1648, Cromwell achieved a tremendous victory at Preston. He quickly broke up the Royalist Army and seized 10,000 prisoners. As on any other occasion, Cromwell was always very careful to give all the glory to God. He wrote: “It pleased God to enable us to give them a defeat…”

On 6 August 1647, the Army 18,000 strong, with the King in their midst, entered London. Despite the illusions of the Presbyterians in Parliament, the Army knew that it alone had defeated the King. The Army included officers and men who had previously been excluded from the religious and political consensus. They were determined not to have Parliament send them back to the pattern of the past that they had so successfully fought against.

Independent Congregations and a Qualified Franchise

Cromwell emerged as the Leader of the Independents, favouring freedom of religion for all Protestants. John Milton, Henry Ireton, and Oliver Cromwell argued for “rule by the virtuous, selected by men of standing.” They rejected the universal franchise proposed by the Levellers observing that a man with no more fixed property than what “he may carry about with him”, one who is “here today and gone tomorrow” would be enabled by numbers to enact confiscatory laws. Therefore, they advocated a qualified franchise based upon the ownership of property.

Treachery and Duplicity

While Parliament was arguing over the form of their future Faith and freedoms, King Charles was negotiating with the Scots, promising to accept and impose Presbyterianism over England, suppressing all non-conformists. The Scots who had launched the war against Charles in the first place, now decided that it was God’s will that Presbyterianism should be enforced over England - through restoring Charles to the throne.

On 3 May 1648, the Scots issued a Manifesto calling on all England to accept their Covenant and suppress all religious dissent from Presbyterianism. They also demanded that the New Model Army be disbanded. The Royalist Cavaliers, both from within and outside of England hurried to join the Scots in this new conflict against the Parliamentary Forces. This Second Civil War saw the Presbyterians allied with the Arminians against the Independents and the new Model Army. How these two theological opposites expected to settle their differences with one another if they ever defeated the New Model Army was a question no one dared even ask, let alone attempt to answer at that time.

Cromwell led part of the army to Wales where he lay siege to Pembroke Castle. This nearly impregnable stronghold took an agonizing six weeks to subdue. Cromwell then had to force march his army across the country to intercept the invading Scottish army. In a ferocious three-day battle Cromwell’s forces defeated the Scots.

Now the Army was outraged that the duplicity and treachery of the King had led to a new war, even against their previous allies, the Scots. The Army demanded a trial of “this man of blood.”

True Unity of Believers

Cromwell wrote to his cousin Robin Hammond, who was guarding the King on the Isle of Wight: “I profess to thee a desire from my heart, I’ve prayed for it, I have waited for the day to see the union and right understanding between the Godly people (Scots, English, Jews, Gentiles, Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists and all).”

Placing the King on Trial

135 Men were nominated to the High Court of Justice, and the trial of the King began on 8 January 1648. The trial was held in the ancient Westminster Palace which had originally been built in the time of the Norman William Rufus. In it Sir Thomas More, Guy Fawkes and the Earl of Strafford had been tried.

Convicting Charles of Treason

The indictment against the King read that he had by “wicked design” erected and upheld in himself “an unlimited and tyrannical power…to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people.” That he had “traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament and the people…” and that he was “a tyrant, traitor and murderer, and a public and implacable enemy to the Commonwealth of England.”

Evidence was brought forward of the illegal taxes, arbitrary imprisonments, mutilations, tortures and executions of people whose only crime had been to disagree with the King on matters of Faith and ethics, and that he had trampled upon the Common Law of England and the Chartered Rights guaranteed by the Magna Carta.

The prosecutor argued that “there is a contract and a bargain made between the King and his people…a bond of protection…is due from the Sovereign the other is the bond of subjection that is due from the subject….if this bond is ever broken, farewell sovereignty!… The authority of a ruler is valid only so long as he can provide protection in return.” But the King had made war against his own subjects.

Despite Charles’ attempt to disrupt and derail the proceedings, the death warrant was signed by 59 of the Commissioners. Cromwell described the execution of Charles on 30 January 1649 as “a cruel necessity.”

New Threats

When Charles II promised that he would impose Presbyterianism upon the Realm, the Scottish Presbyterians mobilized to fight their Protestant Brethren in England. A Catholic uprising in Ireland also threatened the new Republic. The Council of State appointed Oliver Cromwell as Lord General of a new army to deal with the Catholic threat in Ireland.

Knowing that he still had to deal with the Scottish threat, Cromwell determined to subdue the Irish as quickly, and as finally, as possible. His first action on reaching Ireland was to forbid any plunder or pillage. Two men were hanged for disobeying that order. At Drogheda, Cromwell’s forces crushed the Catholic stronghold in a ferocious battle. He then moved to Wexford, long a thorn in the side of English traders as a centre of Piracy. As the town refused to surrender, after an intense 8-day siege it was put to the sword. Cromwell prayed that “this bitterness will save much blood through the goodness of God.”

After subduing the major strongholds of resistance in Ireland, Cromwell learned that Charles II had landed in Scotland. He left Ireton to complete the mopping operations in Ireland and returned to England.

The Scottish Campaign

Young Charles II had signed the Scots National Covenant and Solemn League and Covenant, swearing to maintain Presbyterianism in his household and in all his dominions. Charles II was crowned King at Scone, in Scotland. Lord Fairfax, the Supreme Commander of the Parliamentary Forces refused to lead an English army into Scotland – because he was a Presbyterian. Fairfax was relieved of command and Oliver Cromwell was appointed Supreme Commander of the Parliamentary Forces.

Cromwell Conquers Scotland

With his usual fearful efficiency, Oliver Cromwell led 16,000 well-equipped and well experienced, determined troops into Scotland. Despite being heavily outnumbered, and trapped by superior forces, Cromwell decisively defeated the Scottish Army at Dunbar on 3 September 1650. He seized 10,000 prisoners and soon occupied Edinburgh and Leith.

Reasoning with the Scottish Presbyterians

Cromwell attempted to reason with his Scottish neighbours: “Our brethren of Scotland, are we to be dealt with as enemies because” we do not agree with you on all points? “Are you sure that your league with wicked and carnal men is a Covenant of God? I pray you read Isaiah 28.”

“I beseech you in the mercies of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken…are you troubled that Christ is preached? Is preaching so inclusive in your function?” He argued and reasoned for the liberty of conscience and religious toleration. Cromwell’s persuasions were somewhat successful as numerous Covenanters chose neutrality thereafter.

The Victory of the Independents

On 3 November 1651, a year after the battle at Dunbar, Cromwell’s forces defeated another Scottish army at Worcester. Charles II’s massive army of 30,000 was put to flight and scattered. It was remarkable that the Presbyterians, the Arminian Episcopal and the Catholics had co-operated to fight the Protestant Parliament of England. Each of these three groups believed in the tradition of a single faith in a single land. They were willing to co-operate with their most determined enemies in order to crush the Independent Calvinists, Baptists and Congregationalists of Parliament.

Cromwell’s Triumph

The victory at Worcester was to be Oliver Cromwell’s last battle. He was now 52 years old. In campaign, after campaign, Oliver Cromwell had triumphed, often over vastly superior forces numerically. Cromwell’s tactics had proven themselves time and again. He was welcomed back to London in triumph in September 1651. He was now at the height of his power and prestige. As Captain General of the Army and as a member of the Council of State, Oliver Cromwell’s position in England was unassailable.

The English Royalists had been bled white, decisively defeated time and again. Charles I, had been executed Charles II had fled to France. The Second Civil War had ended. England was firmly under the control of the Parliamentary Forces. Ireland was subdued. Scotland had been conquered. The three kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland were united under the Parliamentary government in London.

Parliamentary Dilemmas

However, the situation that confronted Oliver Cromwell upon his return to London was most disturbing. In his absence, England had declared war on Protestant Holland. This was the first war in English history that was fought primarily for economic reasons. Cromwell was horrified that the English Republic should have waged war against the Protestant Dutch. He deprecated the Licensing Acts and Treason Acts, which overrode customary liberties. The war with Holland was resented by the New Model Army. The soldiers wanted to know when they would see the Reforms for which they had fought.

When Parliament refused to renew the Commission for the Propagation of the Gospel in Wales – the army’s favourite instrument for evangelising that politically unstable country - it created a storm. Oliver Cromwell was outraged: “This we apprehended would have been throwing away the liberties of the nation into the hands of those who never fought for it.”

Parliamentary Intolerance

As parliamentary intolerance and interference in the religious liberty of the Independents increased, Oliver Cromwell gathered some soldiers and, accompanied by Major-General Thomas Harrison, he entered Parliament, sat down and listened to the discussions. At length, he rose and calmly began to speak of his concern that Parliament had become “a self-perpetuating Oligarchy” unfit to govern England. He condemned the members of Parliament as drunkards and whoremasters.

Ending the Long Parliament

“You are no Parliament. I say you are no Parliament! I will put an end to your sittings.” He turned to Harrison and ordered, “call them in call them in.” Soldiers appeared and Cromwell told them to clear the room. The members left, some under protest. This ended the Long Parliament that had dethroned the King, abolished the House of Lords, created a new government and won a revolution – only to be itself abolished.

A New Parliament

Cromwell called for a new Parliament of 140 members. Some of these were chosen by churches, others by various generals, 5 were from Scotland, 6 were from Ireland London Puritans predominated. In short order, this Parliament reviewed the judicial system and voted to abolish the Court of Chancery. Tenants were provided protection against arbitrary expulsions. For the first time in English history, marriages were made possible by a civil ceremony. Their proposals not to execute pick-pockets and horse thieves for first offences shocked the lawyers. Many of these reforms were constructive, but they alienated the population by seeking to abolish tithes. Concerned that Parliament was seeking to undermine the Church and secure ownership of property, the Army grew impatient and persuaded the members to dissolve voluntarily.

A New Constitution

A committee produced a constitution, titled The Instrument of Government. On 16 December 1653, Oliver Cromwell has proclaimed Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland. This was an elective position and not for life, nor hereditary. The Lord Protector was to be the Chief Executive, assisted by a Council of 15 members (8 civilians and 7 army officers). Parliament alone was to retain the power to levy taxes and grant supply to the government. The Protector could not dissolve Parliament while it was in session.

Religious Freedom

Oliver Cromwell believed in an established, non-Episcopal, Evangelical church with full toleration of dissent and separate congregations. His position was fully supported by the Baptists, Congregationalists and other Independents. The new government was silent on rites, ceremonies and sacraments. How to administer the Lord’s Supper or Baptism was left to each congregation. Church government was to be congregational, allowing for Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist and Episcopal congregations. Any form of Protestant worship was permitted.

The Arts Flourished

Writers found the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell far more lenient than his bureaucratic predecessors. Literature flourished and the Calvinist love of poetry appeared everywhere. Christmas once again became festive. Musical entertainments and theatre, which had been prohibited under the Presbyterian Parliament, were now encouraged under the Puritan Protectorate. The first full-length, five-act English opera (The Siege of Rhodes) in 1656 premiered under the Protector. Women were again allowed to wear make-up. Even play readings that satirized the government was allowed. It was during the Commonwealth that the violin became popular and solo singing began to be enjoyed.

Foreign Policy

In terms of foreign policy, Oliver Cromwell promptly made peace with Holland. The British Navy crossed the ocean and restored Virginia and the Barbados Islands to England. In the summer of 1654, the Lord Protector summoned the Spanish Ambassador and told him that Englishmen in Spanish territories should have the liberty to worship as they pleased, free of the Inquisition and that English traders should no longer be molested. The negative response of the Ambassador prompted Cromwell to send an English fleet to San Domingo, and to Jamaica. The expedition to Jamaica succeeded in conquering this previously Spanish territory. Cromwell dreamed that Calvinists from New England would settle there. Unfortunately, it became another Barbados, a place for the English to ship their criminals and rebels.

Defeating the Barbary Pirates

In April 1655, Admiral Blake led the English Navy into the pirate stronghold of Tunis, in North Africa, destroying the Bey’s ships and forcing the sultan to release all English prisoners and slaves. Oliver Cromwell sent his warm congratulations on this decisive action against the Barbary pirates and ordered Blake to proceed to Cadiz to intercept Spanish ships carrying treasure from the New World.

Defending the Waldensians

In May 1655 the Catholic Duke of Savoy unleashed vicious persecution against the Protestant Huguenots in the Vadois (or Waldensians’) Valley. Newspapers in England reported “a devilish crew of priests and Jesuits leading unspeakable atrocities” against their Protestant brethren. Oliver Cromwell immediately sent an agent to the scene whose report verified the persecution. The Lord Protector headed a subscription list that raised several hundred thousand pounds for the relief of the Waldensian victims. He then brought pressure to bear upon the Duke to stop the campaign. The threat of mobilizing English Navy and the New Model Army quickly sobered the Duke of Savoy and the Waldensians survive to this day.

Social Justice

Oliver Cromwell turned his attention to cruelty to animals and banned cock fights and bear baits. Vagrants who often were involved in drunkenness and theft were swept up by the military, evaluated by officers and either imprisoned or sent to forced labour outside the country.

Freedom for the Jews

Cromwell then invited Jews to return to England. Jews had been officially expelled from England in 1290. The Puritan Protector now launched a campaign for their return. Cromwell did not theologically approve of Jews, Unitarians, or any group that denied the Divinity of Christ, but he favoured freedom of religion and longed to see the fulfilment of prophesy by Jews being brought to Salvation in Christ.

Cromwell hosted Menasseh Ben Israel at White Hall. This earned Cromwell much opposition, especially from London merchants who foresaw fearsome competition from this close-knit network. On 4 December 1655, Oliver Cromwell made a speech, sometimes described as one of his best, which smothered the objections of the Council to the re-admittance of Jews to England.

Surviving Conspiracies and Threats

Cromwell was frequently burdened by the costs of war against Spain. His Head of Security, Thurloe, uncovered numerous plots to murder the Protector. Those Jews who returned to England flourished, and many proved most useful to England’s survival by providing vital intelligence, through their international commercial network, of the conspiracies against the Commonwealth from Spain.

A Refuge for the Persecuted

The Protector not only welcomed Jews to England but Protestants of all nations. The University of Oxford received an influx of distinguished foreign Protestant professors. Education profited immensely from the Commonwealth and the Calvinists.

Refusing the Crown

Cromwell refused offers of the Crown declaring that he “cannot undertake this government with the title of King.” The whole of Europe was astonished, but Calvinists hailed the decision as proof that Cromwell did not bow down before the honours of this world.

Victory against Spain

In June 1658, 6,000 English soldiers defeated the Spanish in Mardyk, Gravelines and Dunkirk. This finally secured the freedom of Protestant Holland from what had previously been the Spanish Netherlands.

The House of Lords Restored

Oliver Cromwell restored the House of Lords, declaring: “Unless you have such a thing as balance, we cannot be safe…”

The Limits of Tolerance

Cromwell’s religious toleration even led to him having talks with George Fox of the Quakers. When a well-known Quaker preacher, James Naylor, rode in triumph into Bristol on a donkey to the cries of “Hosanna!” from his hysterical supporters who changed Naylor’s name to Jesus, the parliamentary authorities arrested Naylor for blasphemy and sentenced him to whipping, branding, and life imprisonment. Cromwell was appalled and sought to alleviate the sentence but was informed that he could not.

Oliver Cromwell has frequently been blamed for many of the excesses of the Commonwealth Parliament. However, many of these extreme measures, such as the banning of Christmas and closing down of theatres were put in place by the Presbyterian Parliament, and rescinded by the Puritan Protector.

The Protestant Alliance

Oliver Cromwell sought to build up a Protestant League throughout Northern Europe. He settled disputes between Denmark and Sweden, concluded an alliance with Sweden, restored the supremacy of the seas to England, and even challenged the Catholic powers and Muslim pirates in the Mediterranean.

During the times of Oliver Cromwell, England was feared and respected throughout Europe. Cromwell formed a strong alliance between Holland and England, negotiated peace between the Protestant nations, cleared the English Channel and the Mediterranean Sea of pirates, expanded foreign trade and worked enthusiastically for the evangelism of Indians in North America. During the time of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, the whole world learned to respect British sea power. Cromwell became known as the Champion of Protestantism, an arbiter of Europe, a patron of learning and of the Arts and a tireless worker to lay legal foundations and checks and balances for the Parliamentary rule of England.

The Protector

While some have sought to describe Oliver Cromwell as a dictator, there was no attempt to make any kind of party around the personality of a Protector. Respect was always shown for private property and an effective and vocal opposition was always tolerated. Very few people were put to death under the Protectorate and none for purely political crimes. No one was cast into prison without trial.

A Heritage of Freedom

Liberty of conscience and freedom of the press flourished under Oliver Cromwell. Religious toleration reached new heights - unprecedented up until that time. It is remarkable that in that bitter time of conflict, Oliver Cromwell could write: “We look for no compulsion but that of light and reason.”

Parliament, through the English Civil War, had swept away the remains of Feudalism. Oliver Cromwell pioneered the New Model Army, created the world’s first global sea power, laying the basis for both the Industrial Revolution and the British Empire, and preserved the Common Law.

Otto Scott in “The Great Christian Revolution” concludes that: “Luther and Knox and Cromwell and Calvin lifted millions from the swamps in which they were placed by elegant men in power.” He noted that the foundational work of Oliver Cromwell in establishing checks and balances for the Rule of Law triumphed in the United States of America as people, inspired by his example, instituted many of the same principles of government and restrictions on power in their nation as Cromwell had worked so hard to achieve in England.

Otto Scott writes: “Our War of Independence…raised men like Cromwell’s, who fought like Cromwell’s, for the same reason that Cromwell fought. The men at Philadelphia echoed the history of the 1640s and 1650s when they wrote the constitution with its limitations on the powers of congress, the presidency and the court…. when they said in the constitution that this nation would not have an established church, they reflected the experience of their forebears with Laud and his successors. When they spoke about open doors to all, open careers to all, they spoke in accents of Cromwell and the Calvinists, the Independents and the Congregationalists and the Puritans and the Presbyterians and the Levellers and those who fought under these banners. All this and more came from the great Christian Revolution all the liberties that men know have come from Christianity, from its lessons about the individual and the state God and His Covenant…to fulfil God’s Word by bringing justice, truth, faith and joy to the world.”

A Vision for World Missions

Under Oliver Cromwell, The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England was established. An enormous sum of money was donated towards this first Evangelical missionary society. Cromwell was keenly interested in the evangelisation of the Red Indians and he proposed a comprehensive plan for world evangelism – dividing up the world into four great mission fields. Unfortunately, the death of Oliver Cromwell and the restoration of the Monarch in England under Charles II set back the cause of missionaries.

Chief of Men

“Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud

not of war only, but detractions rude,

guided by Faith, and matchless fortitude,

to peace and truth, the glorious way hast plowed,

and on the neck of crowned fortune proud,

hast reared God’s trophies, and His work pursued,

while Darwen stream, with blood of Scots imbued,

and Dunbar field, resounds thy praise loud,

and vistas Laureate Wreath.

Yet much remains to conquer still peace hath her victories

no less renowned than war new foes arise,

threatening to bind our souls with Secular chains.

Help us to save the conscience from the poor

of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their naw.”

One of the Greatest English Leaders of All Time

President Theodore Roosevelt in his book on Oliver Cromwell described him as: “The greatest Englishman of the 17 th century…the greatest soldier statesman of the 17 th century…” whose sacrifices and achievements “have produced the English-speaking world as we at present know it.”

Theodore Roosevelt makes comparisons with the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and Oliver Cromwell, and the American War of Independence with the English Civil War.

Theodore Roosevelt concluded that, in his opinion, Oliver Cromwell was: “one of the greatest of all Englishmen, and by far the greatest ruler of England itself, …a man who, in times that tried men’s souls, dealt with vast questions and solved tremendous problems a man who erred…but who strove mightily towards the Light as it was given him to see the Light a man who had the welfare of his countrymen and the greatness of his country very close to his heart, and who sought to make the great laws of righteousness living forces in the government of the world.”

“I will love you, O Lord, my strength, the Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer my God, my strength, in whom I will trust my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised so shall I be saved from my enemies.” Psalm 18:1-3


Watch the video: Oliver Wakefield 1938 (August 2022).