Ah, the WordPress blog snow is back

November 30, 2010

No, your vision isn’t deteriorating faster than you thought.  If you pause on a post here for a few seconds, snowflakes may begin to fall.

It’s a December, holidays sort of thing.  A few complaints, but I like it.


Whiskey and Cigar Day, 2010: Mark Twain and Winston Churchill

November 30, 2010

Mark Twain, afloat

November 30 is the birthday of Mark Twain (1835), and Winston Churchill (1874).

Twain had a comment on the Texas Education Agency and State Board of Education:

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made School Boards.

- Following the Equator; Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar

The Nobel literature committees were slow; Twain did not win a Nobel in Literature; he died in 1910. Churchill did win, in 1953.

Both men were aficionados of good whiskey and good cigars. Both men suffered from depression in old age.

Both men made a living writing, early in their careers as newspaper correspondents. One waged wars of a kind the other campaigned against. Both were sustained by their hope for the human race, against overwhelming evidence that such hope was sadly misplaced.

churchill-time-cover-man-of-the-year-1941.jpg

Both endured fantastic failures that would have killed other people, and both rebounded.

Each possessed a great facility with words, and wit, and frequently said or wrote things that people like to remember and repeat again.

Both of them rank near the top of the list of people to whom almost any quote will be attributed if the quote is witty and the speaker can’t remember, or doesn’t know, who actually said it.

Both men are worth study.  And wouldn’t you really love to have had them over to dinner?

Twain, on prisons versus education:

Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.” – Speech, November 23, 1900

Churchill on the evil men and nations do:

“No One Would Do Such Things”

“So now the Admiralty wireless whispers through the ether to the tall masts of ships, and captains pace their decks absorbed in thought. It is nothing. It is less than nothing. It is too foolish, too fantastic to be thought of in the twentieth century. Or is it fire and murder leaping out of the darkness at our throats, torpedoes ripping the bellies of half-awakened ships, a sunrise on a vanished naval supremacy, and an island well-guarded hitherto, at last defenceless? No, it is nothing. No one would do such things. Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of public law, the Hague Convention, Liberal principles, the Labour Party, high finance, Christian charity, common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible. Are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong. Such a mistake could only be made once—once for all.”

—1923, recalling the possibility of war between France and Germany after the Agadir Crisis of 1911, in The World Crisis,vol. 1, 1911-1914, pp. 48-49.

Image of Twain aboard ship – origin unknown. Image of Winston S. Churchill, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for 1941, copyright 1941 by Time Magazine.

More on Mark Twain

More on Winston Churchill

Orson Welles, with Dick Cavett, on Churchill, his wit, humor and grace (tip of the old scrub brush to the Churchill Centre):

Yeah, mostly this is an encore post from past years.


Norton Security: Customer service fail

November 29, 2010

For the past two weeks I’ve been trying to get approval for a license I already paid for to work on my laptop.  Probably a dozen times I’ve gotten a message that I’ve been “updated,” or “approved,” or somesuch, but each morning when I boot up I get the nastygram from Norton that my “trial” security period is ended — or now, that I’m wholly unprotected.

Never mind that this is the 6th license I’ve bought from Norton in two years for two different computers.

Skroom.  Norton security is worthless if it doesn’t work after you’ve paid them several times.  Off to shop for something else.

And, just try to contact them.  E-mails go unanswered for weeks.  Phone calls are disconnected after 15 minutes of waiting, in the middle of some explanation for why you should be happy to be waiting.

Once upon a time I found Norton to be responsive and very useful.  Now Norton is merely the subject of great frustration.

Rats.


Fort Worth area teachers: Amon Carter Museum workshop on art from the Gilded Age

November 29, 2010

From the Amon Carter Museum education department (in Fort Worth):

During the Gilded Age, the U.S. economy boomed, the population soared, and Americans flourished. Well, not all Americans; for some this time was not prosperous. During an educator workshop on December 9, [2010] explore both sides of this period using paintings and sculpture from the Amon Carter’s collection.  [Send a note of interest to: education@cartermuseum.org.]

Eastman Johnson, Bo-Peep (Amon Carter Museum)

Eastman Johnson (1824–1906), Bo-Peep, 1872, oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, 1980.

Or just sign up:

Thursday, December 9, 2010 – 5:00pm – 7:00pm

The Gilded (or Not-So-Gilded) Age

Educator Workshop: $12 for museum members and $15 for nonmembers

During the Gilded Age (late 1800s to the early 1900s), the U.S. economy boomed, the population soared, and Americans prospered. Well, not all Americans; for some this time in American history was not prosperous. Explore both sides of this period using paintings and sculpture from the Amon Carter’s collection. This workshop is most appropriate for educators of all grade levels teaching English, language arts, social studies, U.S. history, and visual art, although others may benefit. Refreshments are provided from 4:30 to 5 p.m.

Download registration form


BBC News – Malaria ‘cannot be eradicated’

November 29, 2010

BBC report: Experts say control, not eradication of malaria (short advertisement precedes news video):

BBC News – Malaria ‘cannot be eradicated’, posted with vodpod

More, and resources:

Lancet map, showing nations where  malaria eradication may be possible, and those where control may be the best solution

Map from The Lancet, accompanying article: "Malaria is caused by five species of a parasite that can be carried from human to human by mosquitoes. Over the last 150 years, the portion of the world where malaria is still endemic has shrunk, but the disease is still endemic in 99 countries. However 32 of these countries, most of them on the edges of the endemic zone, are attempting to eradicate the disease, while the rest are trying to reduce infections and deaths though control measures."


Protest signs with high qualifications

November 28, 2010

From John Stewart’s march for rational discussion, came this sign:

Protest sign:  Evidence based change, after peer review

Protest sign from John Stewart's D.C. rally: Evidence based change, after peer review

That would take more than three cups of tea, certainly.

One of dozens of witty signs from that rally.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Kenny, near Beijing.


NJ Gov. Christie applauds video/cyber assault on special education teacher

November 28, 2010

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Teachers, they hate you out there — some people do, at least.  Who?  Republicans.  The War on Education is getting pretty serious, now with Republican operatives using techniques of public shaming made famous in Moscow in the 1920s and in Mao’s China in the 1970s.  Consider this:

  1. Sleazeball political hack James O’Keefe, R-Sodom,  tried to get a New Jersey special education teacher drunk, to hit on her, to get her to dish on her colleagues.
  2. Not just any teacher — a special ed teacher commended by President Clinton for risking her life to save the lives of her students.
  3. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) then applauded the resulting video, saying it indicates a problem with teachers.  (Christie has his own anger management issues, it appears.)

Godwin’s law prevents us from making the obvious comparisons.

James O'Keefe, hired thug

James O'Keefe, undercover political hoaxster -- teachers, if you see this man and he asks you about education, call the police and your education association that provides your liability insurance, and do not talk to O'Keefe.

Details at The New Republic.

It’s Republicans Gone Wild, with all the depth of analysis and moral backbone such a title implies.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ed Brayton at Dispatches on the Culture Wars.


Tuba Christmas near you?

November 28, 2010

Did I mention I really like a good tuba melody?  No, not the oompah back-up — I love it when tubas take the lead, when they sing as only a tuba can.

It’s that time of year I get a chance to hear organized tuba playing for Tuba Christmas.

Like here, in Dallas, at Thanksgiving Square  — the 31st annual Tuba Christmas (2008):

In Texas, the first performance I know of is in Brenham (home of Blue Bell Ice Cream!) on December 3; Amarillo is December 4.   Dallas is set for December 24, at Thanksgiving Square once again.

Is there a Tuba Christmas peformance near you?  Check the website of the Harvey Phillips Foundation, which promotes and organizes the events.

Do you play tuba, or euphonium (baritone), or Sousaphone?

Is America a great place, or what?


Quote of the moment: Jefferson on public education (again), “Preach . . . a crusade against ignorance”

November 26, 2010

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, Anaheim, California, circa 1940

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, Anaheim, California, circa 1940; image from the Anaheim Public Library, via the California Digital Library, University of California

Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people.  Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests, & nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.

To George Wythe, from Paris, August 13, 1786

Excerpted here from The Quotable  Jefferson, collected and edited by John Kaminski, Princeton University Press, 2006, p. 84

Beard that saved the Union

November 25, 2010

Adam Goodheart’s online essay on the beginning of Abraham Lincoln’s beard makes worthy reading.

Library of Congress image, first photo of Lincoln's beard, by Samuel Alschuler in Chicago, 11-25-1860 (via NY Times)

Very first photo of president-elect Abraham Lincoln with a beard, November 25, 1860. Lincoln was photographed in Chicago by Samuel G. Alschuler. Library of Congress photo, via New York Times

Goodheart points to the first photo of Lincoln’s beard, made November 25, 1860, exactly 150 years ago, today.


Happy Origin Day!

November 24, 2010

On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s book was published, On the Origin of Species.

Title page, 1859 edition of Darwin's Origin of Species - University of Sydney/Wikimedia image

Title page, 1859 edition of Darwin's Origin of Species - image from the University of Sydney via Wikimedia image

How to celebrate?  You could read a summary of Ernst Mayr’s shorthand version of Darwin’s theory, and understand it really for the first time  (I hope not the first time, but there are a lot of people who really don’t understand what Darwin said — especially among critics of evolution):

Darwin’s theory of evolution is based on key facts and the inferences drawn from them, which biologist Ernst Mayr summarised as follows:[3]

  • Every species is fertile enough that if all offspring survived to reproduce the population would grow (fact).
  • Despite periodic fluctuations, populations remain roughly the same size (fact).
  • Resources such as food are limited and are relatively stable over time (fact).
  • A struggle for survival ensues (inference).
  • Individuals in a population vary significantly from one another (fact).
  • Much of this variation is inheritable (fact).
  • Individuals less suited to the environment are less likely to survive and less likely to reproduce; individuals more suited to the environment are more likely to survive and more likely to reproduce and leave their inheritable traits to future generations, which produces the process of natural selection (inference).
  • This slowly effected process results in populations changing to adapt to their environments, and ultimately, these variations accumulate over time to form new species (inference).
Darwin's original sketch of a "tree of life," from Darwin's journals

Charles Darwin's 1837 sketch, his first diagram of an evolutionary tree from his First Notebook on Transmutation of Species (1837) on view at the the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Interpretation of handwriting: "I think case must be that one generation should have as many living as now. To do this and to have as many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction . Thus between A + B the immense gap of relation. C + B the finest gradation. B+D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed. Bearing relation" (next page begins) "to ancient types with several extinct forms." Wikimedia image


Annals of Global Warming: Lakes warming in temperate regions worldwide

November 24, 2010

While we were trying (unsuccessfully) to find the criminals who hacked the e-mails of scientists, and trying (unsuccessfully for the most part) to point out that being victims of a crime does not mean a group’s research is faulty, and watching the disastrous results of the cynical assault on American politics by e-mail thieves and modern enemies of Hypatia, the world continues to spin.  Galileo so aptly described the news:  Eppur si muove!

Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay - one of the world's warming lakes - NASA photo

Lake Tahoe, seen here from Emerald Bay, was one of the primary validation sites for the global lake study. The lake, which straddles the borders of California and Nevada, is the largest alpine lake in North America. Image credit: NASA-JPL

Against those religiously inclined to ignore the facts, a modern Galileo could say:  Eppure, lei si scalda!

Just a few months ago critics of science told us that the Copenhagen conference on climate change was unnecessary, because the world is cooling, and not warming.  Eleven months ago, supporters of the theft of e-mails from the Hadley Climate Research Unit in Britain claimed that researchers had goofed about global warming, and then covered it up.  The sad old Earth kept turning and orbiting . . .

Comes now this news from NASA:

November 23, 2010

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

RELEASE : 10-308

NASA Study Finds Earth’s Lakes Are Warming

WASHINGTON — In the first comprehensive global survey of temperature trends in major lakes, NASA researchers determined Earth’s largest lakes have warmed during the past 25 years in response to climate change.

Researchers Philipp Schneider and Simon Hook of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., used satellite data to measure the surface temperatures of 167 large lakes worldwide.

They reported an average warming rate of 0.81 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, with some lakes warming as much as 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. The warming trend was global, and the greatest increases were in the mid- to high-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.

“Our analysis provides a new, independent data source for assessing the impact of climate change over land around the world,” said Schneider, lead author of the study published this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “The results have implications for lake ecosystems, which can be adversely affected by even small water temperature changes.”

Small changes in water temperature can result in algal blooms that can make a lake toxic to fish or result in the introduction of non-native species that change the lake’s natural ecosystem.

Scientists have long used air temperature measurements taken near Earth’s surface to compute warming trends. More recently, scientists have supplemented these measurements with thermal infrared satellite data that can be used to provide a comprehensive, accurate view of how surface temperatures are changing worldwide.

The NASA researchers used thermal infrared imagery from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and European Space Agency satellites. They focused on summer temperatures (July-September in the Northern Hemisphere and January-March in the Southern Hemisphere) because of the difficulty in collecting data in seasons when lakes are ice-covered and/or often hidden by clouds. Only nighttime data were used in the study

The bodies studied were selected from a global database of lakes and wetlands based on size (typically at least 193 square miles or larger) or other unique characteristics of scientific merit. The selected lakes also had to have large surface areas located away from shorelines, so land influences did not interfere with the measurements. Satellite lake data were collected from the point farthest from any shoreline.

The largest and most consistent area of warming was northern Europe. The warming trend was slightly weaker in southeastern Europe, around the Black and Caspian seas and Kazakhstan. The trends increased slightly farther east in Siberia, Mongolia and northern China.

In North America, trends were slightly higher in the southwest United States than in the Great Lakes region. Warming was weaker in the tropics and in the mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere. The results were consistent with the expected changes associated with global warming.

The satellite temperature trends largely agreed with trends measured by nine buoys in the Great Lakes, Earth’s largest group of freshwater lakes in terms of total surface area and volume.

The lake temperature trends were also in agreement with independent surface air temperature data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. In certain regions, such as the Great Lakes and northern Europe, water bodies appear to be warming more quickly than surrounding air temperature.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

- end -

 

Warming trends in temperate zone lakes, 1985-2009 - NASA image, JPL

Global trends in seasonal nighttime lake surface temperatures, 1985-2009. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltec

World wide, a few lakes show not a great deal of warming, but none of the lakes sampled showed any cooling over the past two-and-a-half decades.


Quote of the moment: 1971, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia orders a review of the safety of DDT

November 23, 2010

Excerpted from ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE FUND, INCORPORATED et al., Petitioners, v. William D. RUCKELSHAUS, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency & Environmental Protection Agency, Respondents, Izaak Walton League of America, Montrose Chemical Corporation of California, State of New York, Intervenors, 439 F.2d 584 (1971); Chief Judge David L. Bazelon wrote the decision.

This is a petition for review of an order of the Secretary of Agriculture,1 refusing to suspend the federal registration of the pesticide DDT or to commence the formal administrative procedures that could terminate that registration.

Judge David L. Bazelon, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

Born in Wisconsin, David L. Bazelon grew up in Chicago and practiced law there. In 1949, President Truman named him to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, often described as the country's most influential court, next to the Supreme Court. At 40, he was the youngest judge ever appointed to that court. From 1962-1978 he served as chief judge, retiring in 1986 as a senior judge.

*      *      *      *      *

We conclude that the order was based on an incorrect interpretation of the controlling statute, and accordingly remand the case for further proceedings.  In this case the Secretary has made a number of findings with respect to DDT. On the basis of the available scientific evidence he has concluded that (1) DDT in large doses has produced cancer in test animals and various injuries in man, but in small doses its effect on man is unknown; (2) DDT is toxic to certain birds, bees, and fish, but there is no evidence of harm to the vast majority of species of nontarget organisms; (3) DDT has important beneficial uses in connection with disease control and protection of various crops. These and other findings led the Secretary to conclude ‘that the use of DDT should continue to be reduced in an orderly, practicable manner which will not deprive mankind of uses which are essential to the public health and welfare. To this end there should be continuation of the comprehensive study of essentiality of particular uses and evaluations of potential substitutes.’38

There is no reason, however, for that study to be conducted outside the procedures provided by statute. The Secretary may, of course, conduct a reasonable preliminary investigation before taking action under the statute. Indeed, the statute expressly authorizes him to consult a scientific advisory committee, apart from the committee that may be appointed after the issuance of a cancellation notice.39 But when, as in this case, he reaches the conclusion that there is a substantial question about the safety of a registered item, he is obliged to initiate the statutory procedure that results in referring the matter first to a scientific advisory committee and then to a public hearing. We recognize, of course, that one important function of that procedure is to afford the registrant an opportunity to challenge the initial decision of the Secretary. But the hearing, in particular, serves other functions as well. Public hearings bring the public into the decision-making process, and create a record that facilitates judicial review.40 If hearings are held only after the Secretary is convinced beyond a doubt that cancellation is necessary, then they will be held too seldom and too late in the process to serve either of those functions effectively.

The Secretary’s statement in this case makes it plain that he found a substantial question concerning the safety of DDT, which in his view warranted further study. Since we have concluded that that is the standard for the issuance of cancellation notices under the FIFRA, the case must be remanded to the Secretary with instructions to issue notices with respect to the remaining uses of DDT, and thereby commence the administrative process.

*        *        *        *        *

We stand on the threshold of a new era in the history of the long and fruitful collaboration of administrative agencies and reviewing courts. For many years, courts have treated administrative policy decisions with great deference, confining judicial attention primarily to matters of procedure.48 On matters of substance, the courts regularly upheld agency action, with a nod in the direction of the ‘substantial evidence’ test,49 and a bow to the mysteries of administrative expertise.50 Courts occasionally asserted, but less often exercised, the power to set aside agency action on the ground that an impermissible factor had entered into the decision, or a crucial factor had not been considered. Gradually, however, that power has come into more frequent use, and with it, the requirement that administrators articulate the factors on which they base their decisions.51

Strict adherence to that requirement is especially important now that the character of administrative litigation is changing. As a result of expanding doctrines of standing and reviewability,52 and new statutory causes of action,53 courts are increasingly asked to review administrative action that touches on fundamental personal interests in life, health, and liberty. These interests have always had a special claim to judicial protection, in comparison with the economic interests at stake in a ratemaking or licensing proceeding.

To protect these interests from administrative arbitrariness, it is necessary, but not sufficient, to insist on strict judicial scrutiny of administrative action. For judicial review alone can correct only the most egregious abuses. Judicial review must operate to ensure that the administrative process itself will confine and control the exercise of discretion.54 Courts should require administrative officers to articulate the standards and principles that govern their discretionary decisions in as much detail as possible.55 Rules and regulations should be freely formulated by administrators, and revised when necessary.56 Discretionary decisions should more often be supported with findings of fact and reasoned opinions.57 When administrators provide a framework for principled decision-making, the result will be to diminish the importance of judicial review by enhancing the integrity of the administrative process, and to improve the quality of judicial review in those cases where judicial review is sought.

Remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

(President Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture Clifford M. Hardin reviewed DDT regulations and decided no further action was required — since 1958, USDA had been reducing and eliminating DDT from use on USDA lands, as was the Department of the Interior.  Environmental Defense Fund sued, arguing more action should have been required.  In a complex decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered more study of the issue.  By the time of the decision, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been established, and EPA Director William D. Ruckelshaus took Hardin’s place as defendant, with EPA assuming USDA’s position as defendant agency.  EPA’s review resulted in a ban on use of DDT on crops in the U.S.)

Some historians and many critics of EPA’s decision to ban DDT from agricultural use in the U.S. fail to acknowledge the importance of this ruling.  Judge Bazelon said that great caution alone is not sufficient on the part of administrators, and he ordered that the evidence against DDT be placed on the public record for public scrutiny.  “Public scrutiny” in this case would mean analysis by scientists, pesticide manufacturers, farming and farm support organizations, health workers, policy makers, and reporters.

On one hand, this decision tends to favor DDT advocates.  Judge Bazelon said the administrator in charge of carrying out FIFRA, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, must give advocates of DDT the basis for the ruling: “On the basis of the available scientific evidence he has concluded that (1) DDT in large doses has produced cancer in test animals and various injuries in man, but in small doses its effect on man is unknown; (2) DDT is toxic to certain birds, bees, and fish, but there is no evidence of harm to the vast majority of species of nontarget organisms; (3) DDT has important beneficial uses in connection with disease control and protection of various crops.”

On the other hand, Bazelon’s order means that the significant harms of DDT must  be spelled out in public — so that the administrator’s ruling can be contested if it does not do what FIFRA requires.  In other places in the decision, Judge Bazelon notes that Congress had required, through FIFRA, that a pesticide determined to be uncontrollably dangerous must be taken off the market, under the justification that it was “mislabeled.”  Lower courts had already made that determination on DDT.  Bazelon’s order set the stage to require the administrator to ban DDT as a matter of law — the administrator being  the Secretary of Agriculture originally, or the Director of EPA under the reorganization of the government that created EPA .

Critics of William Ruckelshaus’s decision to ban DDT miss this point of the law.  Under the findings of the nearly year-long hearing in EPA’s administrative law courts, DDT was found to be an uncontrollable poison in the wild.  FIFRA required such a pesticide to have its registration cancelled, with very little wiggle room to make a case for any continued use of the stuff.  Ruckelshaus’s action stopped the immediate shutdown of DDT manufacturing in the U.S.   This proved to be a mixed benefit decision.  While the U.S. benefited financially from export of DDT, that the U.S. exported a chemical banned for most uses inside the U.S. proved to be a sore point in foreign relations with other nations; also most of the manufacturing sites were highly contaminated, so much so that the manufacturers declared bankruptcy rather than stick around to clean them up under the rules of the Superfund which took effect in 1984.  Taxpayer dollars now pay for massive cleanup operations of DDT manufacturing sites in California, Michigan, and Alabama, and other places.


Quote of the moment: Jefferson, public education as the protector of freedom

November 23, 2010

South Elevation of the Rotunda, University of Virginia -- Thomas Jefferson design for the university he founded and shepherded - UVA image

Thomas Jefferson. South Elevation of the Rotunda, begun 1818, completed March 29, 1819. Ink and pencil drawing. Courtesy of the Thomas Jefferson Architectural Drawings, University Archives, Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library

By far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people.  No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom, and happiness.

Jefferson in a letter to his mentor George Wythe, from Paris, August 13, 1786; referring to his Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, proposed in 1779

Excerpted from The Quotable Jefferson, collected and edited by John Kaminski, Princeton University Press, 2006


Unhappy marriage led to founding of Texas?

November 23, 2010

I’m looking for more photographs of presidents, especially Millard Fillmore and Andrew Johnson at the moment.  Only a tiny handful of photos are available for Fillmore, and generally, there are only three photos of Andrew Johnson.  Are there other photos hidden in archives, or is that really a reflection of how many photos were made of the two men?

The search continues.

While searching the archives at the University of Tennessee, I came across this press release on a wedding invitation to Sam Houston’s first marriage, in Tennessee, when he was governor of that state.  It features a photo of Houston that’s a little rare — and an interesting story.

Houston’s first marriage failed fast and hard.  He was so shaken that he resigned his office as governor of Tennessee, and left for Indian territories.  Eventually he found himself in Texas, and he was the leader of the Texian forces that defeated and captured Mexico’s President Santa Ana, securing independence from Mexico for Texas.  Houston was president of the Texas Republic, and governor of the State of Texas.

What would Texas history be had Houston’s first marriage been happy, and he had stayed in Tennessee?



March 23, 2007

University of Tennessee Special Collections Library acquires rare invitation to Sam Houston’s 1829 wedding

samhouston.jpgThe Special Collections Library at the University of Tennessee recently purchased a copy of an invitation to the sudden January 1829 wedding of then-Tennessee governor Sam Houston and Eliza Allen. This rare item may be only one of its kind.

Aaron Purcell, university archivist, discovered the piece on eBay.com and purchased the invitation on February 14, 2007, just over 178 years after the wedding date. The invitation was kept by descendants of one of the wedding guests for five generations.

Sam Houston is an important figure in Tennessee’s history, serving as governor from 1827-1829 and representing the state in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1823-1827. Born in Lexington, Virginia, in 1793, his family moved to Maryville, Tennessee, in 1806. Houston joined the army in 1813 and fought at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. There he caught the attention of Andrew Jackson. Jackson became Houston’s mentor and helped guide his political career.

While governor, Houston briefly courted 18-year-old Eliza Allen, daughter of a wealthy Gallatin, Tennessee, businessman. On January 15, 1829, the couple mailed a handful of invitations to a small January 22nd wedding at the Allen family home. It is one of these few invitations that UT was able to purchase.

invitation.jpgThe invitation UT acquired is addressed to Miss Harriet Roulstone, the daughter of George Roulstone, who in 1791 founded the Knoxville Gazette, the state’s first newspaper.

Shortly after the ceremony, the newlyweds were at odds. After 11 weeks, Eliza Allen left her husband and returned to her family’s home in Gallatin. There are many theories as to why the marriage was so short-lived, but none are substantiated. Allen burned all of her letters regarding the relationship and Houston was reluctant to speak about his brief marriage.

The invitation gives few details about the wedding, but the piece remained in the Roulstone family for many years, tucked in a trunk with other important family papers.

Shortly after his marriage dissolved, Houston resigned his position as governor and fled to Indian Territory. He married a Cherokee woman and became a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Houston returned to public service in Texas, serving as president of the Republic of Texas, U.S. senator, and making several failed presidential runs. He died in 1863, leaving behind a complex legacy.

“Sam Houston materials are exceedingly rare and expensive,” Purcell said. UT holds only one other Houston item in its collections, a letter to Colonel Ramsey, dated February 1829. Both items are available for research use in the Special Collections Library at 1401 Cumberland Avenue.

About the Special Collections Library
The University of Tennessee Special Collections Library was founded in 1960 and resides in the historic James D. Hoskins Library building. Materials in special collections include manuscripts, books and other rare materials for research use. For more information, contact the library at (865) 974-4480  or visit www.lib.utk.edu/spcoll/.


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