Thursday, October 14, 2010

The True Reasons Behind The American Civil War

I had a discussion with a friend the other evening about the true reasons behind the Civil War. He raised a few good points that really got me thinking about how most Americans see the Civil War and how it is taught to the younger generations in school.

It has always been said that the victors get to write history while the vanquished have to take a back seat ride on the demoralization bus. For instance, take a look at Germany in both World Wars. Surely you can see that Germany was given the raw deal as a result of their loss in 1918. Not only was Germany doomed to accept full responsibility for starting a conflict which brought about the deaths of millions of Europeans and thousands of Americans and also the millions in damages caused across the front lines of France and Belgium, but with that stipulation came the never ending barrage of slanted histories of the deadly 4 year war and the events leading up to it. Clearly the public education system has found it too difficult to correct these false accounts of the war, hiding behind claims that the history leading up to WWI is too complicated for young children. It's easier to make idiots out of our young generation.

When we look to Germany in WWII....well they get the shaft for a reason. The point is, there are numerous opportunities to write history from the other side. I'm not even talking about writing neutral accounts (if there is such a thing). However, if someone were to attempt a history of WWII through the eyes of Nazis and Germany offering justifications or explanations as to why things happened the way they did, that action would be seen as heinous, disgusting and downright deplorable; the historian chastised forever, an act of career suicide for sure. HOW DARE YOU SUPPORT THE NAZIS! YOU MUST BE A RACIST SKINHEAD! Thank you PC society...

Anyhow, back to the topic at hand: The Civil War. So, for the past 140 years, it's been shoved in our faces and down our throats that the North engaged the South for the purpose of destroying slavery. Oh yeah, and that States' Rights thing, but don't worry about that kids, it's not important. Surely a liberal agenda, however they won't admit to it (*cough*even though PC stems from that*cough*). Being a 12 year old kid in school, told and expected to believe everything and anything the teacher throws at them, they swallow it without much question. I'll try not to hold it against teachers seeing how they put more work towards education during the college years in New York than they do in the subject they will be teaching. That's still not an excuse though.

If we look to the facts, New York and Pennsylvania were still offering up Slave Schedules on their 1840 Census and there were still cases of Slaves in New Jersey up until 1860. However, looking back at history, we should expect nothing less of the Great White North with their Puritan background. It's in their blood to hold double standards, correct? We can ask the Native Americans if you want to dispute that. Anyways, with this evidence and while retaining the old idea that slavery was the main focus, we have to believe that the North was acting as the great moral voice for the entire western world in calling for an end to slavery while still retaining traces of the dirty deed themselves.

What strikes me as interesting is that so many people would be capable of believing that so many men joined the Union Army to bring about an end to Slavery. My 4th Great Grandfather stepped up to volunteer with the 76th New York Volunteer Infantry in 1863. At this time his older brother had already been killed at Fredericksburg and his father contracted numerous illnesses while evading capture at Antietam which eventually contributed to his death, it is hard for me to believe that one man would be so eager and willing to lay their life on the line for people who were seen as a lesser kind after all of this. Yes I did just say that and it wasn't only the South who held bad feelings towards blacks after the war. The accounts of conditions during the war are vivid and you can bet your ass, a whole lot more vivid for those who were standing right there as it happened. There is nothing pretty about seeing a fellow soldier torn to literal shreds by grapeshot, or having their leg shattered by a miniball, only to be amputated. The stories of limb piles, wounded men being eaten alive by wild hogs, they go on and on. People were aware of these stories, I find it very hard to believe that men would be so willing to face this. If you were a widow, told your husband fought to free slaves, would you hate the Southerners who shot him or the people who allegedly were the cause for the war in the first place?

A Malnourished Soldier from Andersonville

If we take a closer look at States' Rights, it is possible to ascertain that slavery WAS a part of the war cause but NOT because the North wanted to abolish it. What if slavery fell in as a State Right that the South was trying to retain. If the North is entering the war for the purpose of preserving the Union, there is no real way to say that the Civil War was fought for the purpose of stopping slavery. Instead, it was a bloody conflict fought over the political ideas of  State vs. Federal Rights.

I am also intrigued by the idea that abolitionists could state that the Declaration of Independence declared all people as equal, however the same document stated that the people had the right to "alter or abolish"  a government when it destroys the unalienable rights of its people. This in no way shape or form is to say that I condone slavery, but if some Southerners right to life and happiness stemmed from using slaves to grow crops on plantations, wouldn't the abolition of slavery destroy those rights? We also have to remember that a small, very small percentage of Southern Whites actually owned slaves. It was not something that was affordable for all southerners to engage in. Southern Plantation owners were such a small minority, despite what we have been told in school or despite how pre-Civil War Southerners are depicted in texts and images. How many of these rich plantation owners do you think took up arms on the front lines to engage Union soldiers? Sure, many of the Confederate Officers were from the aristocratic gentry class, but it was the poor farmer who rented his lands and had no slaves who held the rifle and charged the bayonet.

So, are we to believe that the governing bodies of both the North and South used the poor lower classes as pawns in war? Are we to believe that the large number of lower class citizens allowed the governing bodies to exploit them in war games? Or was there something going on, far more complex and meaningful to the entire country, something other than slavery?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Historic Preservation is at a Crossroads in Albion

I have wrote on this subject numerous times in the past, more frequently as I began to feel the greater weight of politics and perceived public dissatisfaction (as claimed by a small group). Preservation has yet again made it into the the newspapers, with a neutral spin to the actual preservation situation in Albion, but a negative spin towards Albion's Mayor. This really should be no surprise considering elections are coming up; the writer a Democrat and the Mayor a Republican. The writer would claim that the editorial has nothing to do with politics, however the issue he discusses is one that has been on the front burner for months now; coincidental that it would appear a month before election day, I doubt it.

Preservation is something that is perceived as taboo, something that people don't want to discuss because, "It's living in the past, we need to move forward and look to the future." So many people take preservation at face value, as a method for throwing thousands of dollars (perhaps hundreds of thousands) at something old to save it for the future. In their minds, these "old things" have no meaning to them, which truly reveals something about their mindset. It's shallow to say the least.

Preservation is not something new to this country and definitely is not something new to this world.  John Ruskin made an argument that people do not have the right to preserve or restore the craftsmanship of structures from a bygone era. Well Mr. Ruskin, I feel the same way. Having worked with two different masons, I have seen the "proper" and "improper" ways of working with stone masonry. However, the "proper" way may not be proper at all in regards to the methods used 200 years ago since many masons worked in secrecy. What we can do, is work as closely to those means as possible. Yet, close only counts with hand grenades, so in theory, we can never replicate those methods used 200 years ago. However, restoration and preservation in the proper sense may be, and most likely is, the ONLY means for combating negligent and abusive owners in the past. A homeowner who applies a cement based mortar to their cobblestone house to made the mortar flush with the stone face is flat out abusive. A property owner who allows their building's roof to collapse, leaving the interior exposed for years and years is negligent. At some point, someone needs to step in and take care of significant buildings to ensure their longevity. Undoubtedly these buildings were constructed to last, but not to take extra abuse from humans.

Preservation in the United States has been around since the city of Philadelphia stepped in to purchase and save Independence Hall from demolition. People clearly understood the historical significance of such a property to this nation's history. In the 1850s, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association stepped in to preserve the home of George and Martha Washington. Again, another influential piece in U.S. History. Citizens have stepped in and saved countless historic structures within the United States, so that future generations might have something to physically look at and touch instead of simply reading history in a textbook.

Preservation has far suppased the argument of preserving our nation's history. It has developed into dollar signs; strictly money in nature. People, specifically owners of potential future landmarks, argue that preservation is nothing more than a hardship and financial burden. Initial landmark designation is not a financial burden, which many people fail to understand. However, the alterations upon a designated landmark are what may create a financial burden.

A friend directed my attention towards the current situation with the U.S.S. Olympia, a cruiser which saw service under Admiral Dewey during the Spanish-American War in Manila Bay as well as service during WWI. In fact, it was the ship that transported the remains of the first Unknown Soldier from France during WWI. With that being said, the ship is in danger of being scrapped or scuttled; to become an artificial reef. To allow such a significant piece of United States history to end up as scrap or at the bottom of the ocean (after being involved in conflict where it surely could have met the same fate) would be a disgrace to all of those who served as navymen on her decks. The monetary argument has been made, which is no surprise. Perhaps it could be drydocked or funds could be provided by the federal government? God forbid the government would do anything to protect or promote our nation's history. War of 1812 Bicentennial funding in New York from the State has been almost non-existent, but that's another story.

Anyways, I have strayed far from my original point; about preservation in Albion. I have to make sure that I am careful of what I write because I have been accosted in the past and forced to jump through hoops to apologize in order to avoid "possible lawsuits." I made my amends with one of the persons after I was essentially scared/threatened into doing. However, others continue to extend similar talk of that person. I suppose as long as you don't write it down, it's OK. But I digress yet again.

Little ol' Albion has failed to incorporate Historic Preservation into a long term economic planning strategy. As most residents live for the day, or two years down the road, preservation offers no benefit to them because they can not see the long term benefits of using real materials vs. synthetics. For example: A brick building constructed in 1829, still retains some of its original wood windows. The glass has been replaced for obvious reasons, but the wood is original (this is what is meant by built to last). So, 180 years later, the wood needs to be worked on. I mean, come on, this stuff will last a long long time but not forever. So the current owner wants to use vinyl windows, which have a life of 5-10 years if you're lucky. The reason for using these windows is the fact that they are about $250 a piece. Now, there IS another option out there, pay $800 a piece for single pane wood windows with wood storm windows (creating the double pane). Lets say there are 8 windows that need replacing. Lets crunch some numbers.

8 windows x $200 = $1600
8 windows x $800 = $6400

Well jeez, I guess that does look pretty bad. Lets take into consideration the durability of the windows in figuring the cost. We'll use the same materials in the wood windows that were used in the original, so let's plan for 100 years out of the wood windows.

Total cost for wood windows; 100 years = $6400

100 years / 5 year durability of vinyl = 20 replacements (this is if you can't live with failed windows)
20 replacements x $1600 = $32,000

But lets say you get lucky and the windows last 10 years so they only have to be replaced 10 times.
10 x $1600 = $16,000

But who is going to be in a house for 100 years? No one, so lets say they have to be replaced 5 times while you are living there.
5 x $1600 = $8000

Jeez, the numbers are still in favor of wood. It's all about the long term planing. Of course, it is also becoming clear that people would rather not have another government entity telling them what they can and can't do with their property. However, the way the law is established, the preservation law is placed within the current code and is an extension of the current property code. Preservation Commissions would then be a body that aids the Codes Enforcement Officer in enforcing the code.

I could spend all day discussing the benefits of preservation methods, but it would do just that; take all day. I would suggest for anyone who is serious about becoming educated on Historic Preservation, that you read:

The Economics of Historic Preservation by Donovan D. Rypkema (National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1994. ISBN: 978-0-89133-388-3).

Educate yourself

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Discovery of the Homeland: Part II

162 years ago on Thursday, March 9, 1848, Mateusz Kaniecki married his wife, Hedwig Sadowska at the altar of Sts. Bartholomew and Anne Roman Catholic Church in Wabcz, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland. At that time, Wabcz and the rest of the outlaying areas were controlled by Prussia, the name of the region called West Prussia. Mateusz and Hedwig's cultural and religious backgrounds screamed Polish even though there were to remain in Prussian lands for the next 33 years.

For the last 10 years, I have spent countless hours attempting to attain this little speck of information. After the death of my Grandmother, it was a dream of mine to discover where my family originated in Poland; to read their names in the sacramental registers of some far away church where the language would undoubtedly be Polish. Over those 10 years I had many reality checks, many obstacles to jump over and numerous brick walls to break down. However, determination proved to be victorious as I was able to make that dream come true. Not only was I able to find this little blip of marriage information on Mateusz and Hedwig, but I was also able to find the baptismal record that proved Mateusz and Hedwig as the parents of my Great Great Grandfather Antoni Kaniecki.

The ladies at the LDS Family History Center must have enjoyed the elated look on my face as I not only found my Great Great Grandfather Antoni Kaniecki and his sister Barbara's baptismal records, but also as I uncovered six other Kaniecki children; their parents recorded as Mateusz and Hedwig. Six children thought to have died at childbirth, disappeared or never heard from again; never to find or read these names. They were there, clear as day, as if the priest recording the information took extra care in writing out Kaniecki as neatly as possible.

Any genealogical researcher would have labeled that day as a great reseach experience. I have considered it much more than that. For something that I spent 10 years on to finally pay off means something much more. The research for my other lines have proved to be much easier but I always met them with less interest. For something with such little physical or visible connection to, my Polish roots have been and seem to always be, the closest to me.

Perhaps it is the fact that I have been fortunate to understand the trials and tribulations that my ancestors faced before leaving home and after arriving in America. I can imagine Antoni, 27 years old, and his wife Maryanna walking out of steerage and off the boat with little three year old Franz in tow, baby Pawel in Maryanna's arms. Their only security waiting in a small remote village in Western New York; Antoni's parents, sister and brother await them in Albion.

For many, it can be difficult to appreciate the sacrifices made by previous generations or ancestors. I greatly admire the courage my ancestors had when they were forced from their homes, to journey into the unknown with little money in their pockets and heads full of prayers. Of course the sacrifices they made here in America can be reserved for another blog posting.

I suppose the purpose of this posting is to share the information that I was able to find on the Kaniecki family. However, I was also fortunate to discover my Great Grandmother's parents, John Romanski and Anna Szybanski's birth records. Growing up, I always imagined that my Great Grandparents' families knew eachother well before they immigrated and married. In a village with a population (now) of less than 600 people, my imagination was correct.

So here are the eight Kaniecki siblings:

Alexander Kaniecki
Born: June 7, 1849
Baptized: June 7, 1849
Parents: Mathew Kaniecki and Hedvigis Sadowska
from Wabcz
Godparents: Alexander Marwaski? And Catharina Ruzyska

Franz Kaniecki
Born: October 3, 1851
Baptized: October 5, 1851
Parents: Matheas Kaniecki and Hedwigis Sadowska
From Obory
Godparents: Bartholomeus Zielenski and Marianna Nogowska

Sylvester Kaniecki
Born: December 30, 1852
Baptized: January 1, 1853
Parents: Matheas Kaniecki and Hedwigis Sadowska
From Obory
Godparents: Simon Gminski and Anna Lipecka

Maryanna Kaniecki
Born: February 3, 1856
Baptized: February 5, 1856
Parents: Matheas Kaniecki and Hedwig Sadowska
From Obory
Godparents: Jacob Kaniecki and Maryanna Bzielska
Paul Kaniecki
Born: June 21, 1858
Baptized: June 29, 1858
Parents: Matheus Kaniecki and Jadwiga Sadowska
From Obory
Godparents: Pawel Ronowski and Marianna Lewandowska

Barbara Kaniecki
Born: December 24, 1860
Baptized: December 30, 1860
Parents: Mathew Kaniecki and Hedwig Sadowska
From Obory
Godparents: Illegible

Antoni Kaniecki
Born: November 19, 1864
Baptized: November 19, 1864
Parents: Matuesz Kaniecki and Jadwiga Sadowska
From Obory
Godparents: Jan Sadowska and Jadviga Ruchinski

Prawiska? Kaniecki
Born: January 13, 1868
Baptized: January 19, 1868
Parents: Mateusz Kaniecki and Jadwiga Sadowska
From Obory
Godparents: Illegible

Barbara married Ignatius Reis and immigrated once in 1881 and again in 1887 after a return trip home, clearly to bring with them the Danielewski and Romanski families (just to name a few) whose names also appear in the sacramental registers of Sts. Bartholomew and Anne Church in Wabcz. Antoni immigrated with his family in 1891; he was the last of the known Kaniecki immigrants. Their older brother Paul immigrated prior to the arrival of the other Kanieckis in 1887. Their brother Sylvester appears on the ship log in 1881 ahead of his parents with his wife and two children, but no other information exists about what happened to him or where the family went.
There is an unknown brother, or a brother who went by another name who immigrated to Albion. Wladyslaw Kaniecki's death certificate states that his father's name was Mathew, his mother Mary. Mary can be found in the census records with Wladyslaw and other children but no husband. Did he die before immigrating? Did he die shortly after immigrating? What was his real name?
The other siblings seem to disappear. It is very possible that the girls married and immigrated with their husbands. Those records haven't been found yet. But what about the other brothers Alexander and Franz? Maybe they died as children? Maybe they stayed in Poland? We may never know.