160 Years Ago: Literature Makes Things Happen
Update for More done with pens than swords [and whips]:
On January 23, 1850, Richard Bentley in London published White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War.
They [Redburn and White-Jacket] are two jobs, which I have done for money — being forced to it, as other men are to sawing wood. And while I have felt obliged to refrain from writing the kind of book I would wish to; yet, in writing these two books, I have not repressed myself much — so far as they are concerned; but have spoken pretty much as I feel. — Being books, then, written in this way, my only desire for their “success” (as it is called) springs from my pocket, and not from my heart. So far as I am individually concerned, and independent of my pocket, it is my earnest desire to write those sort of books which are said to “fail”.
Herman Melville: Letter to Lemuel Shaw, October 6, 1849.
“Das Buch wurde jedem Kongressmitglied auf das Pult gelegt, und bald ging ein Gesetz durch, das die Auspeitschung in der Flotte untersagte und keine andere Strafe an deren Stelle setzte.”
In March 1850, Herman Melville published [in USA] White Jacket, or the World in a Man-of-War, a novelized memoir of his experiences in the South Seas aboard a U.S. Navy vessel.
Melville’s vivid depiction of flogging, a brutal staple of 19th century naval discipline, led New Hampshire Sen. John P. Hale to renew efforts to have Congress ban the “cat-o’-nine-tails” as a barbarous anachronism.
Flogging, which was prescribed in the original Articles of War written in 1775 by John Adams, was outlawed in the Army in 1812 but revived two decades later as punishment for desertion.
Navy officials, meanwhile, vigorously defended flogging against its critics—most often abolitionists—as the only practical means of controlling “the turbulent and ill-assorted characters common on board every ship of war.”
In 1842, a Navy court-martial convicted Capt. Uriah P. Levy, an outspoken foe of the lash, for failing to flog a disrespectful cabin boy.
Still, at Hale’s urging, Congress banned flogging on all U.S. ships in September 1850. And in July 1862, in a bill authorizing African-Americans to serve in Union militias, it was finally banned from all branches of the military.
George Hodak: September 28, 1850: Congress Bans Maritime Flogging.
Image: A. Burnham Shute for Herman Melville: White-Jacket, 1850, frontispiece p. 131:
“The Captain’s finger was now lifted, and the first boatswainsmate advanced.”