Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: October 1

On October 1, 1797, during the Trans-Oceanic War, a combined force of British regulars under General Lord Cornwallis and Southern Confederation militia under General Edward Curtis took New Orleans, which was only weakly defended by its Spanish garrison.

On October 1, 1892, former North American Governor-General John McDowell suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Manitoba.

On October 1, 1939, the Germanic Confederation declared war on Great Britain.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 30

On September 30, 1939 the Global War began when British and German troops clashed near Damascus. The two nations' troops had been airlifted into Arabia earlier in the month to aid the opposing sides in the Arab Revolt.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 29

On September 29, 1914, the Hundred Day War between France and the United States of Mexico came closer to its conclusion when French forces besieged in Tampico surrendered to General Emiliano Calles.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 28

On September 28, 1820, six days after the start of the Mexico City Convention, Andrew Jackson gave an address to the assembled delegates. In short, straightforward sentences, Jackson outlined his proposal for a constitution governing a union of Jefferson and Mexico. In the new nation, Jefferson would be one of six states ruled from Mexico City by a federal government with separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches, with the right to own slaves guaranteed. Jackson then turned and left the podium without looking back. That night, at a dinner, Jackson offered the toast, "Gentlemen, I give you the United States of Mexico."

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Come on come on come on come on

It's been entirely too long since we had an embedded music video here at the Johnny Pez blog, so here is L7 with "Pretend We're Dead".

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 23

On September 23, 1793, King Louis XVI of France suffered a head injury when a carriage he was riding in struck a rock in the road. Louis's head struck an ivory handle inside the carriage, causing him some pain but no apparent injury. Two hours later, when the carriage reached the Palace of Versailles, Louis collapsed while getting out, and died instantly. He was succeeded by his son, Louis XVII.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 22

On September 22, 1820, the Mexico City Convention opened. The convention was sponsored by Andrew Jackson, the co-Governor of Jefferson and provisional president of Mexico, in order to create a union of the two (well, one-and-a-half) countries. In addition to Jefferson's legislature, the Chamber of Representatives, which had voted three months earlier to dissolve itself and reconvene in Mexico City, the convention's delegates included former Clericalists who supported Jackson, as well as non-voting delegates from the Indian tribes, and observers from the other Mexican factions.

On September 22, 1920, Mexican President Emiliano Calles joined John Walker, a slave who was due to be freed by Calles' Manumission Act, in confronting a mob. An anti-manumission group called the Sons of the Wilderness Walk had announced that if any freed slaves were processed through the Mexico City Manumission Bureau, it would be destroyed. A mob assembled in the plaza in front of the Bureau building on the morning of the 22nd, but before any slaves appeared, a government locomobile drove up, and Calles himself emerged. Calles passed silently through the jeering mob to enter the building. Rumors went through the mob that Calles would close the building, or that he would call out the army to disperse them. Instead, at 9:30 am, Calles emerged arm-in-arm with Walker, and accompanied him to the center of the jeering mob. The two men stood silently while the mob screamed for three minutes. After that, the screaming slowly died down, until the plaza was silent, and the mob began to disperse. By 10:00 am the plaza was empty except for Calles, Walker, and a group of twenty or so reporters.

Scorpions in a Bottle: Suffragette City

Any history of the United States of America is going to devote at least some attention, and possibly an entire chapter, to the women's suffrage movement. Oddly, Robert Sobel's history of the C.N.A. and the U.S.M. makes no mention of any analogous movement in either country. In the case of the U.S.M., this could be due to the fact that women never gained the vote there -- a comparison of population figures with voter turnout suggests that the franchise was restricted to men as late as 1920, and Sobel never does mention Mexican women gaining the franchise.

But we know that women in the C.N.A. did gain the vote in 1908 (twelve years before passage of the 19th Amendment in our history). However, we don't know the circumstances, or any of the details, since Sobel gives us nothing more than a passing mention in a footnote on page 85.

Why doesn't Sobel go into more detail? It could be because he finds the matter embarrassing, and prefers to avoid mentioning it. I suggested as much in one of my For All Nails vignettes, and in Scorpions in a Bottle, I get to make it official:

* * *



Fourteen of the sixty-eight delegates to the original Norfolk Convention of October 1869 were women, and a majority of the delegates supported woman suffrage. However, the delegates decided to focus their initial efforts on the economic concerns of small farmers, so the Norfolk Resolves issued by the convention were confined to the promotion of agriculture and the regulation of big business. [1] At the Michigan City Convention, seven months later, when the confederation-level branches of the People’s Party united to form the People’s Coalition, the delegates agreed to support a broader agenda, and universal suffrage, for both men and women, was part of it. [2]

At the confederation level, woman suffrage proved particularly popular in the frontier confederations of Manitoba and Northern Vandalia, due largely to the desire of political leaders there to attract woman settlers. The Manitoba Council passed the Suffrage Expansion Act of 1890, granting universal adult suffrage in local and confederation elections, and the Northern Vandalia Council followed suit in 1893. However, an attempt by Manitoba to extend woman suffrage to Grand Council races in 1895 was overturned by the High Court. [3]

When Gallivan and Ruggles gained control of the Coalition at the 1883 nominating convention, they sought to moderate the insurgent party’s stances, and Gallivan in particular was determined to remove all references to woman suffrage from the party’s manifesto. At the time, he insisted that he was simply seeking to win over moderate voters from the older parties who were opposed to woman sufferage. It was only with the publication of Bernard Gallivan’s Letters from My Father in 1920 that the world learned of what has become Gallivan’s most notorious statement: “I would sooner give the vote to Man’s Best Friend than to Man’s Worst Enemy.” [4]

Gallivan succeeded in removing woman suffrage from the Coalition manifesto, but the party’s radical wing continued to support it, and the cause was taken up by Thomas Kronmiller, a radical labor organizer who was elected to the Grand Council from the Michigan City South riding in the landslide Coalition victory in 1893. Gallivan was a more astute politician than Kronmiller, and he succeeded in associating woman suffrage with the Moral Imperative, which had little support among the rank-and-file of the People’s Coalition, although it was popular among the Kronmiller faction.

Kronmiller himself chose to shift his emphasis from electoral reform to foreign policy in the 1898 elections, which were dominated by fears of growing Mexican influence in Russian Alaska as a prospecting team from Kramer Associates made the largest discovery there of gold deposits since the California gold strike of 1838. Other members of the radical wing of the Coalition, notably Councilman Roscoe Breckman of Manitoba, continued to support woman suffrage. For ten years, Breckman repeatedly introduced bills amending the Design to expand the franchise to women, but these invariably failed to make it out of committee. [5]

During the Starkist Terror of 1899-1901, Kronmiller became fixated with removing Gallivan from office. Although he succeeded in ousting Gallivan, Kronmiller was unable to gain sufficient support to become governor-general himself. Gallivan continued to exert influence on the Coalition, gaining the party leadership for his protégé Christopher Hemingway in 1903. Hemingway, whether through conviction or merely out of respect for his mentor, continued to oppose woman suffrage during his term in power.

Hemingway, successor, Albert Merriman, also owed his rise to power to Gallivan’s influence. Despite this, he did not share the other man’s determination to exclude women from the franchise. When Breckman introduced his latest woman suffrage bill on 7 March 1908, he encountered no opposition from Merriman. Even though Gallivan himself rose to speak against the Reform Bill of 1908, condemning it as “an unwise attempt to extend the franchise to those who are, by their very nature, incapable of making rational, informed decisions,” a sizeable majority of Breckman’s fellow Coalitionists voted in favor, as did the Liberal delegations from Manitoba and Northern Vandalia. In this way, women in the C.N.A. were at last able to join in the civic life of the nation. [6]

1. Barbara Montez. A History of the People’s Coalition (London, 1960), pp. 31-38.

2. Ibid. pp. 44-46.

3. Candace Evans. The Struggle for Woman Suffrage (New York, 1956), pp. 390-96.

4. Bernard Gallivan. Letters from My Father (New York, 1920), p. 171. The younger Gallivan was perplexed by the uproar provoked by the remark. He later said, “If I had known that people would be so judgmental about my father, I would never have published the book.” Morton Pettigrew. “The Uncensored Gallivan,” New York Tribune, October 11, 1921.

5. Edward J. Baker. The Unkept Promise: The People’s Coalition and Woman Suffrage (New York, 1967), p. 226.

6. Evans. The Struggle for Woman Suffrage, pp. 624-28.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 21

On September 21, 1839, Louis Papineau, leader of the Patriotes, a Francophone resistance organization in Quebec, led an army of 3,800 men from that confederation and Nova Scotia in an attack on Quebec City. Governor Henry Scott was prepared for the attack, and Papineau's men were met with an overwhelming volley of gunfire that left them dead or forced to flee the city. Papineau himself died in the attack; his last words were, "Our cause is just and will prevail. But flesh and blood can do little against a wall of lead and iron." Despite the defeat of the Patriotes, Quebec's Anglophone population continued to fear future insurrections.

On September 21, 1890, the War for Salvation between the United States of Mexico and New Granada ended in Mexican victory with the surrender of the last active New Granadan general, Roberto Bermudez, who had occupied the southern area of Guatemala early in the war.

On September 21, 1939, a third and final flight of German airmobiles landed in Arabia, debarking an additional 2,000 elite troops, bringing the total to 6,000. The Germans and their Arab allies faced 3,500 British troops, allies of the Ottoman government, who had also been airlifted into the area the day before.

Scorpions in a Bottle: The Albany Congress

One of the major themes of Canadian history is the transfer of sovereignty from the British Parliament to the Canadian state, and the same would be even more true in Canada's Sobellian counterpart, the Confederation of North America. As it happens, though, Sobel rarely brought North American sovereignty to the forefront of his narrative, mostly allowing it to serve as a subtext to discussions of the C.N.A.'s growing financial and economic power. The reason for this is obvious: as an American, the issue of sovereignty is one that Sobel doesn't give much thought to, since that issue was, in our history, settled by the treaty recognizing American independence.

The Australian business historian who is the nominal author of For Want of a Nail ought to have paid more attention to the matter, though. In Scorpions in a Bottle, the issue will serve as a recurring theme of North American history. In fact, the book will start with the very first proposal to devolve sovereign powers on the North American colonies: Benjamin Franklin's Plan of Union at the 1754 Albany Congress.

In our history, the Albany Plan is recognized as an inspiration for the 1777 Articles of Confederation and the 1787 Federal Constitution. In the Sobel Timeline, it is more than that -- it is a direct ancestor of the Britannic Design of 1781, and any proper history of the C.N.A. will begin with it.

* * *



     Prologue: The Albany Congress

The Seven Years’ War of 1756-1763 is now seen as one of the pivotal events in the history of the world.

The war’s contribution to history is twofold: first, the British were able to capture Canada, the heart of French North America. During the peace negotiations in Paris, the British negotiators had offered to restore to the French either Canada or the island of Guadeloupe, which had also been captured during the war. The French chose the island, with its lucrative sugar plantations; and so the British, more by accident than design, were able to end the century-long French presence in North America.

A second, even more significant event, occurred in 1754, two years before the official start of the war, as the British colonists sought for ways to counter the growing power of the French. In that year, at the suggestion of the Board of Trade in London, delegates from seven colonies met in Albany, New York with representatives from the Iroquois Confederacy. The purpose of the congress was to coordinate their responses to a French expansion into the country south of Lake Erie, and to persuade the Iroquois to continue their alliance with the British.

The delegation from Pennsylvania was headed by Benjamin Franklin, at the time the most notable British subject in North America: publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanack, discoverer of the electrical nature of lightning, and inventor of the Franklin stove and the lightning rod. Franklin presented the other delegates with what has come to be known as the Albany Plan of Union, a plan to create a unified government for Britain’s North American colonies.

The colonies of British North America had been settled at various times, for various reasons, by various groups. They had little in common apart from their English origins, and disputes among them were common. Nevertheless, the common threat posed by the French led the delegates to the Albany Congress to endorse Franklin’s Plan of Union, and copies were sent to the seven participating colonial assemblies, as well as to the Board of Trade.

As it turned out, even the coming of war with the French was insufficient motivation for the colonies to adopt Franklin’s plan, which was voted down in those assemblies that elected to consider it. It was universally felt among them that the loss of sovereignty to a prospective Union government was too great. Meanwhile, when the Board of Trade received its copy of the plan, it declined even to pass it along to the Cabinet, since the Board felt that the creation of a Union government would be ceding too much power to the colonies.

Over twenty years would pass before the British colonies would finally agree to the establishment of a unitary body to represent their interests, and it was not war with the French that finally moved the colonists to action, but war with the British.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 20

On September 20, 1783, John Burgoyne, first Viceroy of the Confederation of North America, died of pneumonia in spite of attempts by doctors to treat the condition by bleeding.

On September 20, 1911, British Prime Minister Stanley Martin remarked on Marshal Henri Fanchon's election as President of France, saying, "France is now at peace. The republicans have their Republic, and the royalists their King." Baldwin's remark was quoted in the next day's issue of the London Times.

On September 20, 1939, a second flight of German troop airmobiles landed in Arabia, debarking another 2,000 elite troops to join the previous day's arrivals. In London, Prime Minister George Bolingbroke met with his Cabinet in the morning to discuss a request for aid by the Ottoman Shah. The Cabinet assented to his request to send 10,000 Royal Marines from the Victoria Canal to Constantinople. That afternoon, Bolingbroke informed the House of Commons of the decision, saying, "This may mean war. If so, then so be it. We cannot allow Mr. Bruning to destroy a century and more of progress in that part of the world." That evening, 3,500 marines were airlifted to Arabia, while 20,000 more boarded ship for Constantinople.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 19

On September 19, 1939, the first German troop airmobiles began landing at an airstrip controlled by Arab rebels led by Abdul el Sallah. Two thousand elite German troops debarked from the aircraft and began establishing a base from which to assist the Arabs in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 18

On September 18, 1890, the War for Salvation neared its end as New Granadan Premier Adolfo Camacho was captured by Mexican troops, three months after fleeing the capital city of Bogotá.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 17

In the early hours of September 17, 1881, Constabulary agents raided the homes of several Libertarian senators, seizing and imprisoning five, including Senate Minority Whip Fritz Carmody of Mexico del Norte. Senate Minority Leader and Libertarian presidential candidate Thomas Rogers was warned of the coming raids and fled Mexico City along with his family and those of Senators Schuyler Stanley of Durango and Winthrop Sharp of Arizona. By morning, every major Libertarian politician in the capital was either dead, fled, imprisoned, or had defected to the Continentalist Party. In the afternoon, a rump Senate of fourteen members confirmed Benito Hermión's appointment as Chief of State and the indefinite postponement of the presidential election.

On September 17, 1914, the Hundred Day War continued as the last French ships withdrew from Tampico before the port was placed under siege by the Mexican Caribbean Fleet and the army of General Emiliano Calles.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 16

On September 16, 1881, Chief-of-State-designate Benito Hermión appeared before the Mexican Senate to seek confirmation of the Cabinet's decision the previous day to indefinitely postpone the presidential election, create the office of Chief of State, and appoint Hermión himself to fill it. The Liberty Party caucus immediately protested, with Homer Sheridan of Arizona calling the business "cynical and contrary to law," and Minority Leader Thomas Rogers denouncing Hermión as "a man of great ambition but little character." A confirmation vote was postponed until the next day.

On September 16, 1939, Chancellor Karl Bruning of the Germanic Confederation called a council meeting at which it was decided to send military aid to the faltering Arab Revolt. Elements of the German air arm would travel to the Middle East to "buttress the Arab position."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 15

On September 15, 1881, the Mexican Cabinet met for the first time since being granted full executive power by the Senate. Constabulary Commandant Benito Hermión immediately urged that the upcoming presidential election be postponed indefinitely, claiming that leading members of the Liberty Party were under the control of French revolutionaries. When Secretary of State Marco Ruíz asked for Hermión's evidence, the Commandant said that he could not reveal it, since two members of the Cabinet were also working for the French. Hermión was able to persuade six other Cabinet members to join him in voting to postpone the election. Hermión then proposed that a temporary executive office called Chief of State be created for the duration of the emergency, and again he was able to persuade a majority of the Cabinet to vote for it. The Cabinet then selected Hermión himself to be Chief of State.

On September 15, 1949, Kramer Associates President John Jackson died. Within hours, his chosen successor, Carl Salazar, had been named president in his place.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Scorpions in a Bottle: John Mason

In Sobel, a wealthy gold prospector named John Mason appears out of nowhere in 1839 to win the Continentalist Party's presidential nomination, loses to Senator Miguel Huddleston of the Liberty Party, then disappears from the narrative. He isn't even listed in Sobel's index.

John Mason needs to get a life, and I'm just the man to give him one.

* * *



John Mason was the owner of a cotton plantation in eastern Jefferson, near the old Spanish town of Nacogdoches. He had inherited the land from his father, another John Mason, who had immigrated from the Southern Confederation in 1801. The elder Mason had purchased the land from the Jeffersonian government and built the plantation, which he named Elsinore. Elsinore was relatively modest by the standards of the Jefferson cotton barons, and John Mason was well off, but not wealthy. His neighbor, James Rutledge, was wealthy, and for some years he had been trying to persuade Mason to sell out to him. The fall in the price of cotton since the Panic of 1836 had not ended Rutledge’s offers for Elsinore, though it had reduced the price he was offering Mason. Mason’s own profits from his plantation had fallen to the point where he was beginning to seriously consider Rutledge’s offer.

Then, in May 1838, had come word of the gold discovery at Santo Tomás, California, and John Mason knew that it was time to leave Jefferson. Mason sold Elsinore to Rutledge for $800 cash, and set out for California with six men in his employ – a mining engineer, a cook, and four armed guards. Traveling via the isthmus of Panama, Mason’s party reached the gold fields in August, one of the first groups to arrive from the Atlantic coast. With great foresight, Mason was able to lay claim to a twenty-mile stretch of the Jackson River that proved to be particularly rich in gold deposits. By the end of the year, Mason and his men had gained the enormous sum of $100,000 from their prospecting. With his new-found wealth, Mason became one of the most influential men in California. His contributions to the state Continentalist Party made him a major political player at a unique moment in the party’s history. [1]

President Jackson’s health had been deteriorating since he suffered a bout with typhoid fever in 1837. Jackson had held the Continentalist Party together for twenty years by sheer force of personality. Now, as Jackson declined, so did his party. Rivalries that he had kept under control now flared up and threatened to tear the party apart. Cabinet meetings degenerated into shouting matches, and at once point a brawl broke out between Secretary of Agriculture Homer Brown and Secretary for Religions Anastasio Bustamante. [2] By the time the Continentalist caucus met in July 1839 to choose Jackson’s successor, the party had fragmented into half a dozen mutually hostile factions. The only man who could have imposed unity was Jackson himself, but by this time he was practically an invalid. Mason’s sudden rise to prominence in the party was now a virtue; since he had had no time to make any enemies, he was an ideal compromise candidate. Senator Hernán Montoya of Chiapas would later write, “In a party as full of old grudges as the Anglo party, only a man with no past could gain the nomination. That man was Mason, and so the nomination was his.” [3]

Unfortunately for Mason, the blank slate that had been a virtue at the caucus meeting became a liability on the campaign trail. The Libertarians, as expected, had nominated Senator Huddleston, who had spent the previous six years building a reputation as a reformer, and as a bridge between Mexico’s Anglo and Hispano populations. Mason now found himself regarded as an unfamiliar face with nothing to offer Mexican voters. Mason attempted to appeal to the growing Mexicano vote by distancing himself from his Jeffersonian roots, calling himself “A Californian, by God, and proud of it!” The attempt failed, and only served to alienate the Jeffersonian planters who were the closest thing Mason had to an electoral base. In desperation, Mason sought to co-opt Huddleston’s reform program, calling for less reliance on French loans and investments, and greater assistance to the impoverished Mexicano peasants of the south. Even a Continentalist candidate with an established reputation would have had a difficult time persuading the voters of his sincerity; for the “man with no past,” it was an exercise in futility.

The result was a complete route for the Continentalists. The Libertarians gained control of five of the six state legislatures, allowing them to replace eight incumbent Continentalist Senators with their own candidates, and giving them control of the Senate for the first time. When the newly-elected Senate met on September 5, the seventeen Libertarian members voted in unison for Huddleston, who was inaugurated the next day as the second President of the U.S.M. [4]

1. Lorenzo Baker. The Man With No Past: The Life of John Mason (San Francisco, 2009), pp. 130-44.

2. Pablo Cruz. The Long Twilight: The Decline of Andrew Jackson (Mexico City, 1974), p 367.

3. Hernán Montoya. Strange Places and Strong Men (Mexico City, 1857), p. 73.

4. Martin York. The Election of 1839 (Mexico City, 1970), pp 488-506. Mason’s poor showing in the elections left him disillusioned with politics, and he embarked on a career in business. A series of bad investments left him virtually penniless by 1846, when he volunteered for the California Brigades. He was killed at the Battle of San Fernando on July 6, 1850. Baker. The Man With No Past.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: September 13

On the morning of September 13, 1881, Mexican Secretary of State Marco Ruíz called the Senate into session to select a new president, following the death the previous afternoon of President George Vining. However, the Senators became deadlocked between Minority Leader Thomas Rogers and Ruíz himself. Senator Frank Hill of California, acting on orders from Kramer Associates President Bernard Kramer, suggested as a compromise that the Cabinet as a whole act as the country's executive until a new president was elected in eight days. Given the unusual circumstances, the Senate approved Hill's proposal.

Scorpions in a Bottle

Let's say you're a previously unpublished writer who wants to publish a sequel to Robert Sobel's For Want of a Nail. Who do you get to publish it?

The publisher of the original book, the Macmillan Company, is now part of an international media conglomerate based in Germany. They only accept submissions from literary agents. Del Rey Books, which has its own alternate history line, is also owned by an international media conglomerate. They too only accept submissions from literary agents.

There are some SF/F genre publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts. Tor Books requires a cover letter, three or so sample chapters totalling some 10,000 words, and a story outline, and has a turnaround time of about six months. Daw Books requires a cover letter and a complete manuscript, and has a turnaround time of three months (if you don't hear back from them by then, you're free to make a simultaneous submission to another publisher).

An additional difficulty is that FWoaN fell into a gray area between fiction and non-fiction, being a work of fiction that presented as a work of non-fiction. Thus, it may be too nonfictional for a fiction publisher, and is probably too fictional for a nonfiction publisher. Sobel was able to get away with it because he had already published half a dozen books by the time he started writing FWoaN.

Well, I suppose if I have to write some or all of my sequel before I can find a publisher, I'd better get at it. Below is another sample of what it will be like, continuing on from what I wrote yesterday. I've decided on Scorpions in a Bottle as my working title, which was Sobel's own original title for FWoaN. And so here, appropriately, is an account of the Pedro Hermión speech that produced that phrase.

* * *

The story of the Henrytown convention is a familiar one. For two days, Continentalist stalwarts such as John Berrien and Homer Brown reminisced about the glory days of the 1820s, and made vague, unconvincing predictions of their imminent return. On the third day, May 7, convention chairman Peter O’Gorman was persuaded to allow Assemblyman Hermión to give an address, largely due to the lack of any alternative speakers. O’Gorman was expecting Hermión to make a few remarks on Lafayette’s growing Hispano community. What he got was a searing critique of the Continentalist Party itself.

Hermión angered his listeners by accusing them of blindness and timidity. When the convention delegates began hurling racial slurs at him, Hermión scolded them, saying “You have just given the world another example of this blindness of which I speak.” Overriding the delegates’ howls of outrage, Hermión spoke of the party’s historic role in creating and building the U.S.M. “Our party made the U.S.M. a major world power. And now our party is in despair, not because of any failing of the party or its leadership, but because of events our party could not control: the price of cotton has fallen a few centavos.”

This was the point where previous speakers had promised that the price of cotton would rise again, and with it the fortunes of Jefferson and the Continentalists. Hermión, however, had a very different message for the delegates. He said, “Our party has not been built on cotton, but on men! And it is men, not cotton, who will bring our party to greatness once again!” And with each mention of the word men, Hermión slammed his fist on the podium, with a sound that could be heard throughout the convention hall. Here and there in the hall, the delegates who had been cursing Hermión just minutes before were shouting their approval.

The Assemblyman from Lafayette was winning over his audience, and now he was ready to bring them his vision for the future of the party of Hamilton and Jackson, and of the country they founded. “Russia looks longingly at California, Spain dreams of a new empire in the Americas. And most of all, the Confederation of North America threatens our very existence.” Hermión spoke vividly of the newly-united British dominion to the east, led by the Butcher of Michigan City and the Caesar of the Northern Confederation: “Along the Mississippi and Arkansas, in the Gulf of Mexico and the west Atlantic, we face the North Americans, who hunger for our lands and wealth.”

Hermión then concluded with the famous image that gave the speech its name, and has haunted the thoughts of two nations ever since. “In Mexico del Norte the Mexicanos have a game – some call it a sport. The peasants put two scorpions in a large bottle, and then take wagers as to which will win the struggle. Slowly, the scorpions circle each other, until one lashes out at the other, and strikes him dead.

“So it is on our continent. At first glance, it appears North America is a large place, with room enough for all. But the C.N.A. and the U.S.M. are both inhabited by aggressive and expansionist peoples. Within a few years this great expanse will seem small indeed, as we meet in the waters of the Gulf and along the Jefferson-Vandalia border.

“At this point, the scorpions will meet in combat, with only one the victor. I mean that victor to be Mexico, and I believe only the Continentalist Party, revived and restored, can lead the nation to such a destiny!”

Assemblyman Hermión then stepped down from the podium to the sound of thunderous applause. In fifteen minutes, he had won over the leadership of the Continentalist Party, and set it on a new path. [1]

The Scorpions in a Bottle speech, as it has become known, was controversial at the time, and has remained so ever since. [2] Was Hermión calling for an attack the C.N.A., or was he warning Mexico to beware of North American aggression? President Huddleston and the other leaders of the Liberty Party believed, or claimed to believe, that it was the former. When he learned of the speech, Huddleston warned that “Assemblyman Hermión should have better sense – or better scruples – than to speak so recklessly of coming war. We have troubles enough in our own land without seeking new ones abroad.” [3]

The Continentalists were electrified by Hermión’s speech, and he quickly became a leading figure in the party. When the Assembly reconvened in August, Minority Leader George Culpepper stepped down, and the Continentalist caucus chose Hermión to succeed him. Under his leadership, the Continentalists offered a new military appropriations bill that would increase the size of the Mexican army to 200,000 men and authorize an expanded naval construction program at the navy bases in Vera Cruz, Tampico, and Henrytown. Although Assembly Speaker Nathaniel Butler denounced the bill as “provocative and unnecessary,” Hermión was able to gain enough Libertarian votes to win first passage of the bill in September. In a speech afterwards, the new Minority Leader vowed to win final passage of the bill the following March. “On that day,” he claimed, “the people of Mexico will learn who is prepared to defend them, and who is not.”

1. The definitive account of the Henrytown convention and the Scorpions in a Bottle speech is Raúl Peterson’s The Henrytown Convention and the Birth of Mexican Nationalism (San Francisco, 1989).

2. The common view in the C.N.A. is exemplified by Janet Holt’s Demagogue and Dictator: The Life of Pedro Hermión (New York, 1954). Reeves points out that North Americans tend to view Pedro Hermión through the prism of his son Benito, who became dictator of the U.S.M. and launched several wars of aggression during his twenty year rule. Pedro Hermión himself was an elected republican leader who scrupulously maintained constitutional rule in spite of repeated invasions of Mexican territory by North American armies. Reeves. The Hermións, p 86. Mexican nationalists see Hermión’s speech as a prescient warning of Henry Gilpin’s determination to attack the U.S.M. See, for instance, Emiliano Vega Pérez. Una Sirena en la Noche: Los Escorpiónes en una Botella Discurso de Pedro Hermión (Mexico City, 1991).

3. Charles Pearson. Huddleston and Hermión: The Rivalry that Shaped Mexico (Jefferson City, 2007), p 229.

For Want of a Nail 2: Electric Boogaloo

As I've mentioned before, I've been given permission by the estate of Robert Sobel to publish a sequel to For Want of a Nail. So one or two of you out there may be wondering just what a FWoaN 2 will look like. Will I just pick up the story where Sobel left it off in 1971 and carry on from there?

The answer is no. Setting a work of alternate history fiction 194 years after the point of divergence is perfectly reasonable. In fact, there have been works of alternate history set millions of years after their POD. But Sobel's book is unique: instead of being a fictional narrative set in an alternate history, it's a work of non-fiction from an alternate history. Starting a work of fiction in media res is fine; starting a history book in the middle of the story is not.

So what I'll be doing is not so much a sequel as a counterpoint to the original, covering the same ground from the same starting point. This will give me the opportunity to present events from a different perspective than alt-Sobel's anti-U.S.M., pro-Kramer point of view. I'll also get the chance to fill in some of the blank spaces left by Sobel, like what happened to the Hudson's Bay Company, and how John Mason was able to come out of nowhere to get the Continentalist Party's presidential nomination in 1839. And of course, I'll be able to carry on the story past Sobel's original 1971 endpoint, into the second decade of the 21st century.

As a sample of what my reading public can expect to see in the finished book, here's a few hundred words on the origins of the Hermión family.

* * *

Although many Hispano families could trace their roots back to the conquistadors of the sixteenth century, the Hermións were not among them. Pedro Hermión's father was a Greek immigrant originally named Michael Taskasaplidis. Michael fled his native country following the disastrous Nakos Uprising, eventually reaching the Mexican port of Vera Cruz on board the S.S. Hermione in 1807. The customs clerks, finding his name both unpronounceable and unspellable, rechristened him Michael Hermione. Eight months later, when Michael volunteered for the Mexican army, he underwent a second name change, becoming Miguel Hermión. The skills Miguel had learned in the Nakos Uprising proved valuable during the long struggle to suppress the Clericalist guerrillas, and within two years he had risen to the rank of lieutenant. While stationed in Mexico City, he fell in love with Rosa Dominguez, the daughter of a prosperous mestizo shopkeeper, and the two married. [1]

Miguel's death at the Battle of Seven Forks in 1816 left Rosa Hermión with four young children to raise alone. The family's circumstances went from difficult to dire after the Clericalists and their Jeffersonian allies took Mexico City, and the Figueroa Purge began. Rosa realized, as many others with ties to the Morelos regime did, that the only place in Mexico beyond the reach of Figueroa's ruthless inquisitors was Jefferson. Fleeing Mexico City in April 1817, Rosa and her children reached the city of Lafayette after a harrowing four-month journey. Rosa found work as a housekeeper for Henry Vining, a prosperous lawyer, and her children were able to attend the local school along with her employer's children. [2]

For Pedro Hermión, Mexico City was nothing more than a dim memory from childhood; he considered himself Jeffersonian, and remained intensely loyal to his adopted homeland throughout his life. [3] Hermión excelled at school, and Vining was able to obtain a scholarship for him at Greene College in Jefferson City. At a time when the ancient classics of Greek and Latin literature were part of the university curriculum, Hermión's Greek heritage opened doors for him that remained closed to most of his fellow Hispanos. Hermión took full advantage of his opportunities, graduating from Greene with honors in 1831, and earning a place as a law clerk at Vining's practice. After reading the law under Vining for a year, Hermión passed the Jefferson Bar. [4]

Hermión was interested in public affairs, and instead of pursuing a legal career, he became involved in the local Continentalist Party, one of the few Hispanos in Lafayette to do so. With his combination of ambition and ability, along with his willingness to allow himself to be used by the Continentalist leadership as their token Hispano, Hermión was able to gain a seat on the Lafayette City Council in 1835. [5] Four years later, as the Libertarians under Miguel Huddleston gained control of Congress, Hermión became the only Hispano elected to the Assembly as a Continentalist. Although little known to the general public outside of Lafayette, Hermión gained a reputation in the Assembly as a persuasive legislator and a superb orator. He was not above using his race to gain favors from the Libertarian leadership that they would not have granted to an Anglo. [6]

Hermión was easily re-elected in the 1842 midterms, but his success was one of the few bright spots for the Continentalists, who saw their numbers in the Assembly fall from 43 seats to 41. Jefferson was still the heart of the Continentalist Party, but the state that had founded the U.S.M. was facing hard times. Jefferson cotton sales continued to suffer as the world cotton glut grew worse. The problem of cotton overproduction was exacerbated by an influx of pro-slavery fanatics from the Southern Confederation, who were fleeing the abolition of slavery under the Lloyd Bill. [7] At the same time, Jefferson's position as the political nexus of the U.S.M. was being undermined by California, which was growing rapidly in both wealth and population thanks to the ongoing gold rush. By the time the Jefferson Continentalists held their annual state convention in Henrytown in May 1843, the state's future seemed bleak, and the party's with it.

1. Esteban Reeves. The Hermións: Mexico's First Dynasty (Mexico City, 1977), pp 26-28.

2. Maria Fuentes Carter. Rosa Hermión: La Madre de Mexico (Mexico City, 1994), pp 61-79.

3. Herman Muller. Hermión of Jefferson: Patriot or Traitor? (Mexico City, 1969).

4. Jason Altmayer. Young Pedro Hermión (Jefferson City, 2003), pp 41-46.

5. Ibid. pp 160-74.

6. Robert Fisher. Assemblyman Hermión: The Legislative Career of Pedro Hermión (Mexico City, 1974).

7. Augustus Clayton. Flight from Freedom: The Slaveowners' Exodus of 1841 (New York, 1999), pp 276-83.