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Anthony Comstock Launches His Crusade, 1872

2018-10-15T17:00:10+00:00October 15, 2018|HH 2018|

“But every man is tempted, where he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” —James 1:14-15

Anthony Comstock Launches His Crusade,
October 19, 1872

H.L. Mencken

“The net result of Comstockery is complete and ignominious failure. All its gaudy raids and alarms have simply gone for naught. Comstock, of course, was an imbecile; his sayings and doings were of such sort that they inevitably excited the public mirth.” —H.L. Mencken, Prejudices, 1926


Anthony Comstock was one of the most admired and most hated men of the nineteenth century. Journalist and professional cynic H.L. Mencken hurled ridicule at the legislation inspired by Comstock and at anyone who tried to call America to repentance or, more commonly, sought to use the government to suppress vice and moral turpitude, by law. Comstock was neither an imbecile nor a failure in the years of his influence.

Anthony Comstock (1844-1915)

Anthony Comstock came into the world in 1844 as one of ten children, in the devoutly Christian family of the Comstocks of New Canaan, Connecticut. As a young man he showed the two primary characteristics that defined his life — an unabashed desire to serve Christ and an indomitable penchant for taking direct action to right a wrong. He enlisted in the Union army in 1863 at the age of twenty after his older brother was killed at Gettysburg, and shipped with the 17th Connecticut Regiment to a South Carolina swamp. He connected with the Christian Commission as his regiment moved around, and became a lay leader of the couple dozen Believers in his regiment.

Comstock’s notoriety came after the Civil War, with his most influential work beginning in 1872. In the year preceding, his job as a salesman created substantial wealth, he married a Christian woman, and established a comfortable home. Anthony, however, also became infuriated by the amount of pornography that surrounded his home in New York City, on the sidewalks, bookshops and taverns. The state had no effective way to enforce the laws against it, and many police and politicians looked the other way or were conniving in its propagation. Anthony found out the names of the four main publishers of obscene books and systematically set out to shut them down by purchasing the print plates and destroying them. A group of Christian bankers, pastors, and businessmen found out about his success in shutting down the industry and banded together with the Civil War veteran to continue the war against the porn industry.

East River Bridge in New York City, c. 1872

Comstock became a special prosecutor for the U.S. Post Office and director of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, from which positions he led a broad anti-obscenity campaign. His war against vice did not stop with the anti-porn crusade. He saw the close connection between obscenity, contraception, and abortion, and believed that it was civil governments’ responsibility to protect the American people from all three evil influences. A majority in Congress agreed and passed legislation to track and destroy the production, mailing, and propagation of each aspect of that tri-partite connection.

Official Seal of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice

Between 1872 and 1880 Comstock oversaw the arrest and conviction of fifty-five abortionists operating up and down the East Coast. He was physically beaten, spit upon, mocked and pursued, but the legislation that he had drafted for Congress was used to prosecute the likes of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood and Julius Hammer, father of Armand and co-founder of the American Communist Party. Comstock saw contraception as the lynchpin of the other two vices and worked hard to prevent access to such abortifacients, with signal success.

As a fighter for public morals and defender of children, Anthony Comstock went up against organized crime syndicates, newspapers, politicians, law-enforcement, and those, like Mencken, who believed the Constitution protected obscenity and any other personal behavior that “was nobody’s business but their own.” The vices of Comstock’s day have metastasized, now with legal sanction and even approval from many in the Church, not to mention the public at large. Comstockery has become a term of derision and illegitimate interference in the libertine wantonness of popular culture. Nonetheless, one courageous Christian, one hundred forty years ago, took on the purveyors of vice, attracting others of like conviction to finance and help, and made a difference for a few years, to help stem the propagation of moral turpitude in a reprobate culture.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)

The Great Chicago Fire, 1871

2018-10-08T15:01:49+00:00October 8, 2018|HH 2018|

“And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory.” —Revelation 16:8-9

The Great Chicago Fire
October 8-10, 1871

Fire has destroyed many cities in the past. The great fire of London, England in 1661 consumed more than 13,000 homes and 87 parish churches as temperatures reached 2,280 degrees fahrenheit. Many saw it as divine judgement on a dissolute monarch, Charles II. In the American Civil War, the cities of Atlanta, Columbia and Richmond were burned after falling to Union forces. Many saw those burnings as judgement by a dissolute general. In World War II, Allied fire-bombings immolated 1,600 acres of the city center of Dresden, Germany, burning to death more than 25,000 people. The bombing raids on Tokyo, created firestorms that burned up sixteen square miles of the city and killed an estimated 100,000 civilians. In 1871, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern and burned down the city of Chicago.

1871 Chicago view before the ‘Great Conflagration’

By 1871, the Windy City had become a major metropolitan Midwestern city, sporting a population of 340,000, along the shores of Lake Michigan. The city had not grown because of the business generated by the 26,000 Confederate prisoners of war that had starved, frozen, and died of disease six years earlier at Camp Douglas, the largest and most deadly Union prisoner of war camp in the Civil War, but from the success of railroads linking the city with the grain and livestock markets of the Midwest, till it became the most important rail hub in the United States. By 1870, more ships docked at this inland port than New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco, Charleston, and Mobile combined. The city had grown so quickly that most of the buildings were constructed from wood, plentiful and cheap. The 561 miles of raised wooden sidewalks created horizontal pine chimneys which would draw thousands of cubic feet of oxygen and encircle the city in a stranglehold of fire if set ablaze. And set ablaze they were.

Mrs. O’Leary and her cow — the supposed cause of the fire

October 8, 1871, a fire broke out in the barn of the O’Leary family on the city’s west side. The understrength and dispersed fire companies of the city were quickly overwhelmed as the fire leaped from building to building and street to street; many roofs were tarred. Convection whirls sucked the fire one hundred feet in the air, giving an appearance of tornadoes of heat and ash. A lumber mill, furniture factory and box factory stood side by side and provided acceleration fuel to the uncontrollable blaze. In one hour, the fire crossed the Chicago River to the South Side when burning debris ignited a horse stable — the Parmelee Omnibus and Stage Company. A roofing material company and the gas works quickly caught fire. On the north side of the city, a train of railroad cars containing oil caught fire, touching off the Wright Brothers’ Stables.

This Currier & Ives lithograph depicts people fleeing across the Randolph Street Bridge. Thousands of people literally ran for their lives to escape the flames. One survivor wrote: “The whole earth, or all we saw of it, was a lurid yellowish red. Everywhere dust, smoke, flames, heat, thunder of falling walls, crackle of fire, hissing of water, panting of engines, shouts, braying of trumpets, roar of wind, confusion, and uproar.”

People fled to the beaches of Lake Michigan, some trying to remain underwater, others wading out as far as they dared. It took two days for the fire to burn itself out with the untiring help of the exhausted firemen. It had destroyed 3.3 square miles of the city, obliterated about 17,500 buildings and killed an estimated three hundred people, perhaps many more, since the conflagration was so hot that bodies were completely incinerated. The post-fire investigators set out to determine what caused the fire.

1871 panoramic of Chicago after the fire

Early in the rumor mills of the city, a story made the rounds that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over the lantern, and that tale is still believed to this day by many people. After interviews with fifty witnesses, it could not be concluded that the cow did the deed. Alternative theories have abounded; Richard Bales in The Great Chicago Fire and the Myth of Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow claims to have definitively solved the greatest mystery of Chicago’s history. Whatever the truth, Mrs. O’Leary, Al Capone, and Michael Jordan still hold the lead positions of recognition for the City of Chicago. The O’Leary property today is, appropriately, a fire academy. Once the providential and uncontrollable holocaust was spent, the city rebuilt, with all sorts of lessons learned about building materials, fire departments, codes, and strategic planning, to become the third largest city in America.

Map of Chicago, highlighting the burned area and indicating the starting point of Mrs. O’Leary’s barn (red dot)

Presumption of Innocence

2018-10-02T15:35:08+00:00October 2, 2018|Articles|

Presumption of Innocence

With the recent Supreme Court hearings on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, we hearken back to early American history and the more recent case of Clarence Thomas, where we see emotionally driven testimony lacking the support of factual evidence.

In the example of John Adams, some of the most powerful men in Boston opposed his case. On behalf of the accused British soldiers, he faced off against John Hancock, Sam Adams and Joseph Warren, as well as the wholly partisan press, and the visual media — illustrated by the popular and respected Paul Revere, who represented the mob as “victims.”

Adams knew that the presumption of innocence was at stake when he uttered the above powerful words — as apropos today as in 1770.

On our history tour of Boston we stand on the spot where British soldiers were pelted with rocks and ice and, fearing for their lives, fired in self-defense. Or was it revenge for verbal abuse suffered over the previous months? Smoldering anti-British sentiment ignited into blind emotional hatred. Against a tidal wave of public opinion, Adams built his case on facts and evidence, arguing that the innocent should be protected at all costs or the law would cease to have meaning. He won his case, but this timeless principle must be defended in every generation.


God’s Remedy for Bearing False Witness

“If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” —Deuteronomy 19:16-19, ESV

Sir Walter Scott Publishes Tales of a Grandfather, 1828

2018-09-29T16:55:52+00:00October 1, 2018|HH 2018|

“For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told.” —Psalm 90:9

Sir Walter Scott Publishes
Tales of a Grandfather, 1828

An old Indian adage asserts that “when a man dies, a thousand stories die with him.” Sir Walter Scott determined that a thousand stories of his old nation would not die, even though they were at times a combination of historic events and a product of his romantic imagination. In this week in 1828 Scott began publication of Tales of a Grandfather, a series intended to tell the entire history of Scotland, not as an academic narrative, but through the stories told to his grandson, full of glory, courage, and admiration of a heroic past.

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Walter Scott came into the world in 1771 in College Wynd, an alleyway leading from the Cowgate to the University of Edinburgh. He was the ninth child in the family, and one of the few who survived infancy. He barely survived, since he contracted polio, which permanently damaged his ankle and caused a lifelong limp. He received a solid education in Edinburgh from private schools and tutors and planned to follow in his solicitor-father’s footsteps. An early assignment as a lawyer sent Scott to the Highlands to direct an eviction.

View of Smailholm Tower from the east across the lochan from near Sandyknowe Farm, childhood home of Walter Scott

Walter Scott was an inveterate collector of Scottish stories, many of them related to him by an aunt in the Borders (area along the English borderline) and others from whom he solicited old tales. He read multiple works on poetry, history, drama, fairy tales, and romances. At the age of twenty-five, he translated a book of poetry from German, and then published four years later, a collection of ballads that he had collected, as The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Scott devoted the rest of his life to literary pursuits, publishing long narrative poems and historical novels. He published an eighteen-volume edition of John Dryden and nineteen volume edition of Jonathan Swift, two of his favorite writers.

25 George Square, Edinburgh, Scott’s home between the ages of 4 and 26 (1775-1797)

Scott’s Waverly novels struck a chord with readers in the United Kingdom and America. His “vigorous” storytelling, revealed his keen knowledge and love of Scottish history and character types, as well as a gift for describing landscapes. He was a master of dialogue, especially that of regional Scottish language. For the first time, the Highlands and Highlanders were revealed as romantic figures, kilted and brave, fighting and dying for their clan chief and love of independence in their mountain fastness. He created a somewhat mythological world to which even the Royals of England were attracted.

“Scott was the master of a rich, ornate, seemingly effortless literary style that blended energy with decorum, lyric beauty with clarity of description.” —Encyclopedia Britannica

Title page from an 1869 edition of Sir Walter Scott’s Tales of a Grandfather

Scott was awarded a baronetcy by the King for recovering the “Honours of Scotland,” the crown jewels that had been hidden since the 1650s. He bought and improved a home in the borders — Abbottsford, a wonderful place to visit today. When his publisher Ballantyne went bankrupt, Scott himself was saddled with enormous debt. Instead of declaring bankruptcy himself, he “wrote himself out of debt.”

Sir Walter Scott rediscovers the hidden “Honours of Scotland”, the location of which had remained unknown since the 1650s

Though little read today, Sir Walter Scott was the most famous storyteller of the 19th century. He took seriously the Christian faith of his historic creations, but preferred the latitudinarianism and formality of the English Church over his inherited, stricter, Calvinist heritage. He was criticized by historian Thomas McCrie for his treatment of the Covenanters in Old Mortality, considered one of his best novels by Scott’s admiring literati. He was of contradictory mind on some issues: ever the Royalist, Scott nonetheless loved the Highland Host, Montrose and “Bonnie Dundee”, and wrote about them favorably, while disliking their Roman Catholic heritage and allegiances. He almost single-handedly recreated the world of kilts, claymores, bagpipes and tours of the Highlands for future admirers.

“Sir Walter Scott, 1771-1832, Novelist and Poet”, by Sir William Allan

Scott served as an elder in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and was steeped in the contentious church history of his country, especially the Covenanter period. Although Scott respected his parents, he eventually left the Presbyterian Church, married an Episcopalian woman, with whom he had five children and had them baptized as Episcopalians, and considered himself of that communion. Anyone who loves Scotland and its history will never fully appreciate that heritage without at least “a little Scott” in their reading plans.

The Birth of Caesar Augustus, 63 BC

2018-09-17T20:33:57+00:00September 24, 2018|HH 2018|

“Tremble before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, and His dominion will be forever.” —Daniel 6:26

The Birth of Caesar Augustus, 63 BC

“Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that census be taken of all the inhabited earth.” (Luke 2:1) With these words many Christmas pageants and plays begin, but Augustus is just a bit player off stage to the moment around which all of history revolves — the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of all mankind and the Creator of all that is. Ironically, Caesar Augustus thought of himself in similar terms, and historians of ancient Rome grant him first place among all the Caesars of Rome. God used this Roman “Pontifex Maximus” to establish the imperial environment for the coming of the Messiah, unwittingly fulfilling a number of wonderful prophecies from the Old Testament.

Caesar Augustus,
born Gaius Octavius Thurinus (63 BC – AD 14)

Gaius Octavius Thurinus was born into an “equestrian” family in Rome on September 23, 63 BC. His mother was the niece of the famous General Julius Caesar. When Octavius was thirteen, his great-uncle crossed the Rubicon River with the famous 13th Legion and deposed Pompey the Great, chasing his army down and defeating them. Upon the destruction of all his rivals, Julius Caesar became dictator of Rome, thus bringing about the demise of the Republic. Caesar adopted Octavius (whose name then changed to Octavius Julius Caesar) and in his will named Octavius as his successor. As heir, Octavius continued his military training and courted the favor and loyalty of the legions associated with his great-uncle’s army.

Julius Caesar (100-44 BC)

The Assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC

Ruins of the Roman Forum

Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Roman Forum in 44 BC by a conspiracy of former friends and colleagues. Octavian and Marc Antony’s forces destroyed the legions of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Phillipi. The Senate deified Julius Caesar, and in response Octavius began calling himself divi filius, the “son of god”. He turned on Antony and chased him till he defeated the coalition of Antony and his ally, Cleopatra of Egypt. Octavius had three hundred senators and equestrians put to death for opposing his rule. After the elimination of all his enemies, internal and external, Octavius took the title Augustus Caesar, a religious title implying total authority, and settled into what became the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, which lasted through his reign and beyond.

The Battle of Actium — a naval confrontation against the combined forces of
Marc Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC — was a decisive victory for Augustus

While still assuring the Senate of his Republican convictions, Augustus Caesar consolidated his control of the Empire:

“…first of all from various powers of office delegated to him by the Senate and people, secondly from his immense private fortune, and thirdly from numerous patron-client relationships he established with individuals and groups throughout the Empire. All of them taken together formed the basis of his auctoritas, which he himself emphasized as the foundation of his political actions.”1

With the successes of his battle and wars, Octavius chose for himself the name Imperator (victorious commander) Caesar (his adopted family name) Divi Filius (son of god) Augustus. (No one asked “what’s in a name?” anymore).

A denarius minted c. 18 BC with the following inscriptions —
Front: CAESAR AUGUSTUS. | Back: DIVUS IULIU(S) (Divine Julius)

Caesar Augustus’s reign brought expansion and pacification of the Empire, legal and economic reforms, general prosperity and prosperity to the Generals. His reign established in one form or another an empire that would last fifteen hundred years. His very name — Caesar — became the word for Emperor: Kaiser in Germany, Tsar in Russia, etc. He built roads across the empire, some still in use today. They enabled Christian missions to spread throughout the empire as the centuries passed. He established the gladiatorial and other games for the masses. Many of his building projects still stand. The month of August is named after him.

The extent of the Roman Empire at its zenith in AD 117

All that being said, the legacy of Augustus is a drop in the bucket of royal achievement compared to the coming of the real King at Bethlehem in about the 38th year of Caesar’s reign. After all, Augustus was but a man, and the marble busts of his head in the museums of the world but match his feet of clay. His empire went to dust, and weeds choke his flagstones. Another great king, who was brought to his senses after an unwilling diet of grass stated:

“…I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation.” —From Daniel 4:34