Casting Out Devils

Speaking Conservative Truth to Evil-Doers

Posts Tagged ‘history

Whose ‘Monuments’ Survive?

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Despots throughout history have “won” history by destroying the history of others and inserting their own version (i.e., revisionism).  As noted in the movie, “Monuments Men,” based on a true story, this is exactly what Adolf Hitler intended to do with the history of the French, English, and many other peoples, meanwhile looting for himself and his “Thousand-Year Reich” the fruits of others’ accomplishments.  As the main character in the movie explains,

“They would tell us, with this many people dying, who cares about art?  But they’re wrong, because that’s exactly what we’re fighting for, for our culture and for our way of life.  You can wipe out a generation of people, you can burn their homes to the ground, but somehow they’ll still come back.  But if you destroy their achievements, and the history, then it’s like they never existed — just ash, floating.  That’s what Hitler wants, and it’s the one thing we simply can’t allow.”

There are sinister forces at work in America today seeking likewise to “win” history by quashing anybody’s history and accomplishments that do not fit their politically-correct, Totalitarian narrative, deriding and attacking not only the Confederacy and its flag, but the Founding Fathers of America, the Ten Commandments, and any other ideas that oppose them, in hopes of erasing them altogether from the public consciousness.

BUT — “this is one thing we simply can’t allow!”

Monuments Men Compared to Confederate Flag & Heroes

Monuments Men Compared to Confederate Flag & Heroes

Copyright © 2015 Paul A. Hughes


Written by biblequestion

July 29, 2015 at 9:04 PM

Why the Confederacy Still Matters

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The Big Picture:  Federalism vs. Centralization

Texas Flags

by Paul A. Hughes

The path to the Confederacy, bred of republican Federalism, passed through Mexico to Texas, where the future of Federalism might still lie.

On September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla stood on the steps of his church in Dolores, Mexico, and uttered the “Grito” (“cry”) of independence from colonial Spain.  Hidalgo was a Francophile, steeped in the same ideals of democratic freedom that helped inspire the American Revolution.  For too long, he had watched his native and mestizo parishioners neglected and abused by a far-off, centralized government that did not represent them or their interests.  Rather, the Spaniards and native-born criollos in central Mexico maintained the masses as a permanent under-class to serve their own interests.  A revolutionary army formed almost instantly behind Hidalgo which soon threatened Mexico City, but which was ultimately defeated by government troops in a series of setbacks and betrayals.  Hidalgo’s head and those of leaders Ignacio Allende, Juan Aldama, and José Mariano Jiménez were displayed in cages hanging from the corners of a public building in Guanajuato for ten years, a reminder to passersby of the fruits of revolution.  Hidalgo’s cry is still echoed throughout Mexico each Independence Day.

El Grito de Independencia en 1810

El Grito de Independencia en 1810

Independence from Spain would not be realized until 1821.  Threatened by Napoleon, Spain had enacted a new, liberal Constitution in 1812 which granted New Spain (Mexico) seven representatives in government, plus Freedom of the Press and revocation of special privileges for Catholic clergy and the military.  However, the new Constitution was almost immediately set aside by the Spanish viceroy, Francisco Javier Venegas, on the premise that Hidalgo’s insurgency, which was being continued by José María Morelos, justified emergency measures.  Fernando VII of Spain, released from Napoleon’s custody in 1814, abolished the Spanish Constitution and enacted policies which caused such widespread reaction that he began to entertain forsaking Spain for a new empire in Mexico.  An apparent resurgence of liberalism in Spain encouraged conservative Centralists in Mexico to now consider the advantages of independence.  If they remained loyal to Fernando and the Church, they reasoned, there was no treason.  (Still Fernando never arrived.)  At this fortuitous juncture, Agustín de Iturbide, an ambitious army officer who had defeated Morelos, conspired with Vicente Guerrero, another of Hidalgo’s successors, in a coup d’état against the viceroy.  Supported by 6,000 troops under Gen. Anastasio Bustamante, Iturbide and Guerrero laid out the Iguala Plan, which led to the de facto independence of Mexico.

Unfortunately, Iturbide followed Napoleon’s example and set himself up to be Emperor; but soon he exhausted his personal capital with both government officials and the army, who were not getting paid.  Seizing this opportunity, Iturbide’s former protégé, Antonio López de Santa Anna, joined with yet another Hidalgo successor, Guadalupe Victoria, in a counter-coup, leading to Iturbide’s abdication and Santa Anna’s aggrandizement.

By 1823, sentiments of the upper classes swayed again toward republicanism.  The new government enacted the democratic Constitution of 1824, based largely on the principles of the U.S. Constitution.  It set up a federal system in which power was shared with 19 states and four territories.  The document, written by Don Miguel Ramos Arizpe, reflected his strong Federalist, self-rule sentiments and those of the northern states, including Texas.

Shortly before this time, Mexico’s northeastern frontier known as Texas remained an untamed wilderness, populated by Karankawa, Tonkawa, Attacapa, and Hasinai tribes near the coast, Caddos and Comanches inland, and Apaches in the Hill Country.  French traders, Spanish missionaries, and a few shipwrecked sailors had been the main points of contact by Europeans with these tribes (some rumored to be cannibals).  Spain had long sought to establish the region as a buffer zone between itself and French Louisiana, and later with the United States.  They had imported Canary Islanders into San Antonio, but were never truly successful at settling the region.

Spanish North America Map

Spanish North America

This void presented a window of opportunity, especially after Mexican independence.  Parts of the Alabama and Coushatta tribes from the east established themselves on the lower Trinity River, and by 1819 Virginia native Aaron Cherry had claimed land nearby for a plantation.  A contingent of Cherokee settled further north.  In 1821, Stephen F. Austin was granted an empresario contract to establish 300 farming families west of present-day Houston.  Irish immigrants, preferred by Mexico because they were also Catholic, established coastal colonies in San Patricio and the vicinity of Aransas Pass, while other colonies were placed further inland.  The Imperial colonization Act of 1823, enacted under Iturbide, granted 4,428 acres each to immigrant families with livestock, for a nominal fee.  Later, the National Colonization Act of 1827 continued these liberal policies but prohibited colonization within a buffer zone of 20 leagues (52 miles) of the U.S. border.  Soon plantations were staked out and land placed under cultivation all along the lower Trinity (known as the Atascosito administrative district, from the name of an early Spanish outpost near present-day Liberty).

American immigrants took great pains to present themselves as loyal citizens of Mexico.  They formally converted to Catholicism, as required, and kept the peace.  In 1826, citizens of Austin’s colony and settlers from Atascosito escorted Mexican political chief, Col. Mateo Ahumada, under arms, to put down the abortive Fredonian Rebellion in Nacogdoches.

However, settlers in Atascosito began to realize their need for organization in order to enforce the peace within their district.  Moreover, their land grants had yet to be confirmed by the Mexican government, as did the contracts of some empresarios down the coast.  According to law, settlers were entitled to have their land surveyed by the Mexican land commissioner, their titles confirmed, and a township established as their seat of government (ayuntamiento).  Juan Antonio Padilla, the secretary of state, was appointed general land commissioner for Texas.  He had just begun his work when he was accused of embezzlement and murder, and arrested (later exonerated), probably out of political retribution.  Padilla was replaced by José Francisco Madero (great-grandfather of future president Francisco Madero).

Military authorities, as an arm of the Centralist power structure, had become suspicious of Norteamericanos, and began to interfere with Federalist state authorities.  In 1828, Gen. Manuel de Mier y Terán was commissioned to assess the situation in Texas, and was alarmed by the vitality of the Anglo-Saxon settlers, the sajones, who had cultivated more land than Hispanic settlers, then numbering a scant three to four thousand, had in 300 years.  In 1829, then president Guerrero, himself part African, tried to discourage new settlement by outlawing slavery.  Gen. Bustamante seized the presidency in 1829 and enacted a strict new colonization law the next year, sending Gen. Terán with troops to enforce it.  Madero and his surveyor, José María Jesús Carbajal, were arrested by John Davis Bradburn.  The latter had been newly dispatched by Gen. Terán to establish a fort and garrison at Anahuac on Trinity Bay, and another at Velasco on the Brazos.  An Irishman born in Kentucky, Bradburn nevertheless served the interests of the Centralist military and president.

Map of Liberty County, 1895

Map of Liberty County, 1895

Interpreting Terán’s orders and the new law, Bradburn insisted that the citizens, and Madero, were in violation of the law, which prohibited new American settlement and gave all authority to act on land titles to himself.  Madero maintained that the new law did not apply to land or persons settled under previous laws.  An order to release the men was issued by the political chief at San Antonio, Antonio Elosúa.  Thereafter, Madero proceeded, during a brief period in 1831, to confirm up to 60 land titles and establish a town site straddling the Trinity River, near the crossroads at the old Atascosito outpost.  He named it, “Villa de la Santissima Trinidad de la Libertad.”  Madero laid out its streets and named them after heroes of democracy, including Socrates, Demosthenes, Cicero, and Cincinnatus, current Hispanic liberator Simón Bolívar, and recent revolutionary martyrs including Hidalgo, Morelos, Allende, and Jiménez.  (Now known simply as Liberty, the town later renamed many of its streets after heroes of the Texas Revolution, even including Santa Anna and his brother-in-law, Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos.  Liberty proudly remarked its streets with their original names for the Sesquicentennial of Texas Independence in 1986, which markers remain to this day.)

Liberty Street Markers, Sinsinato and Hidalgo

Liberty Street Markers, Sinsinato and Hidalgo

Gen. Terán ordered Bradburn to demolish the town, such as it was, though apparently this was never attempted.  The new law further placed high tariffs on imported goods.  A customs house was established on Galveston.  Authorities attempted to assess tariffs on ships already arrived within Brazos River ports, and captains complained bitterly about ex post facto laws.  Citizens were accused of smuggling.  Worse, citizens of various locales organized militias, prohibited under Mexican law, which were claimed by some to be meant merely to guard against Indian raids.  Bradburn arrested Patrick C. Jack and his law partner, William Barret Travis, Jack having been chosen captain of the Anahuac militia.  Militia groups from as far away as San Augustine and Austin’s colony mobilized to march upon the fort.  A group of militia from Austin’s colony, joined by several ready men from Liberty, purportedly numbering at least 130, made camp north of Anahuac, near Turtle Bayou.  Encountering cavalry dispatched by Bradburn as a show of force, they managed to capture and hold hostage all 19 troopers.  This action led to skirmishes at Anahuac and at Velasco, both Anglo victories.  At Velasco the first blood of what became the Texas Revolution was shed.

Meanwhile, a committee drafted a list of grievances, which reads like the Declaration of Independence and became known as the Turtle Bayou Resolutions.  These were further presented, in true Hispanic style, as a pronunciamento denouncing President Bustamante and declaring for the Constitution of 1824 and Santa Anna, who at that time was known as a liberator and Bustamante’s rival.  “This had the effect of taking their actions out of the realm of rebellion,” wrote one historian, “and placing themselves in the main stream of revolutionary activities going on throughout all of Mexico.”*  It was a master stroke.  An agreement was reached with Bradburn’s superior, Col. José de las Piedras, prisoners were released, and the settlers returned home in peace.  Gen. Terán, however, wrote to Lucas Alamán, “How could we expect to hold Texas when we do not even agree among ourselves?”  He concluded, “The revolution is about to break forth and Texas is lost.”  To add to his troubles, Mexican Federalists dealt a defeat to government forces in Matamoros.  Ill and despondent, on July 3, 1832, Terán donned his dress uniform, entered the church in Padilla, Tamaulipas, and fell on his sword.

Representatives from the various colonies and districts convened in October 1832, and again in January 1833, to discuss grievances and reforms.  The 1833 convention commissioned Stephen Austin to carry their proposals to the government in Mexico City.  Most objectionable to the Centralists was the proposal to separate Texas from Coahuila and form its own state government, which had heretofore been combined under the Constitution of 1824 (with Texas as a subordinate Department).  Unable to get results, Austin presently wrote a letter instructing local officials back home to go ahead and form a government.  This was intercepted, and Austin arrested.  He languished in a prison of the Inquisition for 18 months, without trial, before being released in a general amnesty, upon the ascension of Santa Anna to the presidency.  Austin’s health was never the same.

Stephen F. Austin with Dog

Stephen F. Austin with Dog

Soon Santa Anna issued his Plan of Cuernavaca, which repealed liberal reforms and enforced a Centralist government.  In April, 1835, a faction of the Coahuila government declared against the Plan.  Newly-elected governor, Agustín Viesca, called out the militia, intent on removing the capital to San Antonio.  Efforts to do so were hindered by troops under Gen. Cos, and Viesca was arrested.  Thus Federalism in Coahuila was stymied.

Events in Texas moved quickly.  In July 1834, Capt. Manuel Sabriego was dispatched from the old stone fort at Goliad to the town of Refugio, in the Aransas colony, with orders to displace settlers from the old Spanish mission and convert it to military barracks.  June 1835, Anahuac merchant Andrew Briscoe was arrested for violating tariff laws by bartering, prompting William Barret Travis to raise 25 volunteers and take the fort there, site of his previous confinement.  Its garrison was forced to agree to evacuate Texas.  Santa Anna sent Gen. Cos with several hundred troops to investigate, which landed on the coast south of Goliad in September.  Santa Anna’s brother-in-law had orders to arrest Travis and other instigators and discourage any settlers who arrived after the 1830 colonization law.  First stationing troops at San Antonio, Cos sent a detachment of cavalry to Gonzales, the most northwesterly Anglo settlement, to retrieve a small cannon previously granted to them for defense.  Indeed, the cannon was once used to frighten off a Comanche raiding party.  October 2, displaying a flag emblazoned with a cannon and the words, “Come and Take It,” the citizens of Gonzales forced the troopers to back down.  October 9, colonists from Matagorda and Victoria mobilized, along with 30 mounted rancheros, and captured the fort at Goliad by subterfuge.  November 4, colonists took Fort Lipantitlán, southwest of Goliad, inflicting 28 casualties without a loss of their own, and but one injury.  John Linn recognized a friend among the wounded, Lt. Marcelino Garcia, who denounced Santa Anna before he died.  The next morning, the same colonists encountered deposed governor Viesca, who had escaped confinement, headed to Goliad with an armed escort.

Meanwhile, Texans convened a Consultation at Columbia, many delegates still hoping to resolve differences with Mexico City.  Yet on November 7, the Consultation voted 33 to 14 to organize a government, under the stipulations of the Constitution of 1824.  At the same time, they declared Santa Anna to have already alienated any allegiance owed to him.

The Alamo in 1854

The Alamo in 1854

Several hundred Texan volunteers proceeded to San Antonio.  Their first skirmish took place at nearby Misión Concepción, in which the same Andrew Briscoe previously jailed in Anahuac, and freed by Travis, led a detachment of Liberty volunteers.  The Texans besieged Cos’s superior force for some weeks, finally fighting from house to house to capture the town, ultimately forcing the capitulation of the old mission known as San Antonio de Valero de los Alamos, the Alamo, on December 9.  From Gen. Cos was exacted the promise to march his remaining forces out of Texas, permanently.

By February 1836, Santa Anna crossed into Texas with his army.  He had come by way of Zacatecas, where he had defeated a well-armed Federalist militia of 3,000 and allowed his army to sack the town, raping and murdering, causing the deaths of 2,000 non-combatants.  A second army under Gen. José de Urrea, numbering 1,100, came by the coastal route, heading for Goliad by way of the Anglo settlements at San Patricio and Refugio.  The rest of the story is better known.  Santa Anna had learned from Bustamante the doctrine that all prisoners should be shot, and all combatants at the Alamo were slaughtered.  Santa Anna ordered Urrea to do the same with about 400 rebel prisoners at Goliad.  Afterward, Santa Anna led a “flying” force after Sam Houston’s army, to meet its fate at San Jacinto, while Urrea continued up the coast as far as Brazoria.

Goliad Fort and Chapel

Goliad Fort and Chapel

The public in the United States watched these events with increasing interest and enthusiasm.  The citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, donated two matching cannon, dubbed thereafter the “Twin Sisters,” which were the two cannon used by Texans in their victory at San Jacinto on April 21.  One manufacturer of weapons, which produced a short model fighting sword for the U.S. military, provided a Texas version.  One of these was reported found on the San Jacinto battleground by a construction worker about 1936, and was more recently featured on the PBS program, “Antiques Roadshow.”

Historians and pundits have since speculated that some later-arriving settlers, namely Sam Houston, had come on a mission to steal Texas from Mexico and hand it over to the United States, perhaps on President Jackson’s secret orders.  Certainly there were those Anglos who longed for incorporation into their native country, if only for preservation of their accustomed rights as free citizens.  (Americans maintained a concept of basic citizenship rights, as had the American Founding Fathers, which harked back to 17th-Century England, see “Politics and Religious Liberty in 17th-Century England.”)  Certainly such desire to associate themselves with the United States seems to be reflected in the design of the flag of the Republic, adopted at the end of 1838, displaying one five-pointed star and one each of red and white stripes.  As we have seen, however, the evolution towards an independent Texas goes back to at least 1810 (some might point back further to Aaron Burr’s conspiracy), yet did not immediately presume U.S. statehood.

Texas was a republic for nearly ten years, then a U.S. state for barely 15 years when Secession took place.  Other causes of Secession are well-known and much-debated, but without doubt the independent, Federalist example of Texas was still fresh in the public consciousness.  The Southern states were not traitors against America, but states populated by Americans who wished to escape what they saw as the tyranny of an unresponsive and no longer representative, Centralist government and continue as American states under self-rule.  Unlike the North, the South did not raise an army to invade others’ territory with an eye to subjugating it.  The South raised an army in order to tell other states and the Centralist government to leave them alone.

There is to this day no stipulation in the U.S. Constitution that forbids states, once joined, to thereafter secede.  The matter was never settled by law, but by sheer force of arms and economic weight.  The Spanish forces opposing Hidalgo, and the armies that Santa Anna took to Texas, had done or attempted to do the same.  Same also were the palpable as well as existential violations of the inalienable rights of free and law-abiding citizens.

The same principle of Centralization is at work today, “in spades,” as special interests, a bureaucratic mentality, and socialistic, dictatorial politicians and legal activists attempt to force laws, speech, thought, and behaviors upon states (which the Constitution declares to be sovereign) and their citizens against their will—except today’s Liberals are the Centralists and Statists, and Conservative Southerners are those who wish to remain free to live as they choose, much as they have always lived, meaning no harm, but brooking little interference.  It remains to be seen when the “tipping point” will be reached, with what substantial reaction, and what form that reaction might take.

God bless you Texas! And keep you brave and strong,
That you may grow in power and worth, throughout the ages long.
”   Listen

Surrender of Santa Anna by William Huddle, 1886

Surrender of Santa Anna by William Huddle, 1886


*Miriam Partlow, Liberty, Liberty County, and the Atascosito District (Austin, TX: The Pemberton Press, 1974), p. 89.


Copyright © 2015 Paul A. Hughes

Written by biblequestion

July 17, 2015 at 6:26 AM

General Custer’s Religious Experience

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Generals Sheridan, Forsyth, Merritt, Devin, Custer, L-R, by Brady Studios

Generals Sheridan, Forsyth, Merritt, Devin, Custer, L-R, by Brady Studios

Originally published in Divine Parodies & Holy Histories:  with Select Poems:
Illustrations of Gospel Truth (Liberty, TX: God’s Trombone, 2007).

In the Shenandoah Valley in the Fall of 1864, the Union Army was hard-pressed by the guerilla tactics of Confederate Lt. Col. John Singleton Mosby and his Rangers.  The response from the armies of Sher­man and Sheridan was ruthless, none more so than that of Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer and his colleague, Brigadier General Wesley Merritt.

Both commanders adopted the practice of having suspected spies and bushwhackers summarily shot or hanged, reflecting the attitude of Sheridan that local residents “have furnished too many meals to guerrillas to expect much sympathy.”  On one occasion, an unseen sniper killed a Federal trooper in the vicinity of two farmhouses.  Custer had the owners of both houses arrested and shot.  Federal reprisals were not mitigated until, after the execution of seven Confederates, Mosby had seven Union prisoners hanged.  A note was left that read, “These men have been hung in retaliation for an equal number of Colonel Mosby’s men hung by order of General Custer.”

See also:  “John S. Mosby, George A. Custer and the Front Royal Executions of 1864.”

Mosby's Rangers

Mosby’s Rangers

That winter, as heavy weather imposed a dormancy on both camps, Custer took a trip to visit family in Monroe, Michigan.  As historian Roy Morris, Jr., writes,

. . . Custer took advantage of his furlough to put himself right with God.  At a Sunday evening service at the Monroe Presbyterian Church, he experienced a religious conversion, one that left him feeling, Custer said, “somewhat like the pilot of a vessel who has been steering his ship upon familiar and safe waters but has been called upon to make a voyage fraught with danger.  Having in safety and with success completed one voyage, he is imbued with confidence and renewed courage, and the second voyage is robbed of half its terror.  So it is with me.”

Perhaps it is characteristic of Custer that his religious sensibilities would, apparently, focus more on himself than on the Lord.  But then, that is probably true of most of us, most of the time.  If Custer’s conversion was genuine and lasting, how did it affect his subsequent decisions leading to his demise at the Little Big Horn?

Source:  Roy Morris, Jr., “Last Stand in the Shenandoah,” America’s Civil War, March 2001.

© 2014 Paul A. Hughes

Written by biblequestion

February 1, 2014 at 6:34 AM

Posted in History, Spirituality

Tagged with , ,

The Molding of Jonathan Edwards

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Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards

A period of exceptional religious zeal, popularly called the Great Awakening, took place in the American colonies, spontaneously, in the decades preceding the American Revolutionary War.  One of the heralds of this new period was Jonathan Edwards.  Such was his effect upon the history of the North American continent that even the secular history books find that they, too, must give account of this man.  He conceived his purpose to show the public the Father; to urge them, through his writing in his preaching, to a greater understanding of God; and to maintain a deep personal relationship with him.

If there is one single factor that makes a biographical study of Jonathan Edwards difficult, it is the veritable plethora of information to be drawn from.  That numerous biographies of him are in circulation is evident upon first perusing the library catalog.  Then there are the many writings of the late minister himself to be pored over for meaty tidbits of insight into his personality and mental processes, not to mention the studies and critiques written on his works.  Once the chaff has been shaken from the wheat, there is still quite a lot of wheat left to deal with.  Therefore, a brief study must be severely limited in scope, targeting fixed objectives—and, in this case, encompassing his early life only.  The concentration of this paper, then, will be up on Edwards’ developing years:  his development, primarily spiritual and personal, and secondarily intellectual, into a man so obviously a cut above the ordinary, molded into an instrument of the revelation of the Almighty to his fellow men, lifted up and exalted by the sovereign will of God, and leaving an indelible mark upon both American and church history.

How does God choose a man, and use that mere earthen vessel to pour out his Word in the Spirit upon others?  Who, in fact, does He choose, and is there any rhyme or reason to it that mere mortals can hope to grasp?

Consider David, who became the great king of God’s chosen people.  He was an unknown shepherd, the youngest of eight sons of Jesse.  Scripture records that while he kept the sheep, the flock had been attacked by a lion and a bear, and he had killed each of them in hand-to-hand combat.1  Before David had ever come before King Saul, he had gained some notoriety as “a mighty, valiant man, and a man of war, and prudent in matters. . . .”2  But did God choose him for his mettle—for what he had become in the natural—or had He chosen him long before, and molded him into what He would have him to be?  Did David, indeed, have an outstanding character, or was that character instilled in him by the power and presence of God?  It is a great mystery.

There was much discussion in earlier times about the importance of breeding in the molding of great men.  Whether high character, with all its associated attributes—culture, intellect, innovation, foresight, honesty, forthrightness, diligence, discernment, etc. —are actually transmitted by heredity or simply passed along by the less noble means of education and exposure during the growth process, is subject to some question.  Either way, there is much evidence that Jonathan Edwards was, to a large extent, influenced by his forebears.

The Edwards family back in England had been of ministerial stock.  Clerics, even Puritans, were given a high place on the social scale among their peers.  This ecclesiastical Edwards dynasty was cut short when great-great-grandfather Richard, having already sired son William, died of the plague in 1625.  Young William Edwards’ mother was remarried to James Coles, a cooper (a barrelmaker, an unglamorous trade).  William, not by choice, was raised to carry on his stepfather’s business, the only trade Mr. Coles was able to teach him.

William was eventually to emigrate to new England, evidently disposed to improve his lot in the more free and open economic climate, as well as to escape the entrenched disdain of Puritans by the Anglican majority in his native land.  In those early days, the new England frontier began not so very far from the ship’ s dock.  The life of frontier Puritans was one of hard work and hardship, and future Edwardses were to develop a sturdy constitution.

The trek to better economic fortunes paid off, for William’s son Richard Edwards was to improve his station from that of mere tradesman to that of merchantman.  Richard was able to send his son Timothy to Harvard to obtain a formal education.

Timothy Edwards studied six years at Harvard, intent upon entering the ministry.  He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees in two separate ceremonies held on the same day, July 4, 1694.  The reason for both undergraduate and graduate degrees being granted simultaneously is unclear.  After graduation he moved to the frontier village of East Windsor, Connecticut, where he pioneered a pastorate.  Though never achieving for himself any fame, he served his congregation respectably and faithfully for sixty-four years.3

Timothy married Esther Stoddard, one of the daughters of the influential Reverend Solomon Stoddard.  He was of great renown in the Connecticut River Valley, referred to by the Indians as “The White Man’s God.”4  Stoddard had waged a doctrinal war with the famous Cotton and Increase Mather for over a decade, and had emerged victorious.5  Esther Stoddard, who was to become the mother of Jonathan Edwards, inherited his forceful character.

Jonathan was born on October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, the only boy among ten sisters.  All the Edwards children were tall.  Timothy Edwards was known to refer as his “sixty feet of daughters.”6  Jonathan, as the only male sibling, was in line for special treatment.  From an early age, he was tutored at home.  His diligent parents made sure he was well grounded in the “basics”:  arithmetic, algebra, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, rhetoric, and logic.7  He became an avid reader—books in that day were rare and considered precious, but he managed to read widely in the important contemporary works.  Edwards’ own writings show that he was greatly influenced by the philosophy of John Locke, the science of Isaac Newton, the theology of Richard Baxter, and even the fiction of Daniel Defoe.

From childhood, Edwards expressed a great love for the outdoors—the countryside, the seashore, and all of nature.  He said to himself, “sometimes on fair days I find myself more particularly disposed to regard the glories of the world than to betake myself to the study of serious religion.”8

He and an immensely inquisitive mind:  “When I was yet a child, no children’s play to me was pleasing; all my mind was set serious to learn and know. . . .”9  While others his age were given to frivolous activities, young Jonathan was reading, writing, and—with eyes wide and mind open—observing.  It was his observation of those tiny creatures that live and move all about us, and the relentless drive to understand, that led him to write his earliest known literary work, “Of Insects,” at the tender age of eleven.

“Of Insects,” like other of his early works such as “Of the Rainbow” and “Notes on Natural Science,” was the product of a mind that would not—could not—stop thinking.  Here was a natural student, a boy who could not be content to know the facts, but who must always know why things are the way they are.  “Of Insects” was in no way a literary masterpiece.  In fact, the text is fraught with run-on sentences.  However, eleven-year-old Edwards shows himself to have developed an extensive vocabulary, and to wield a depth of philosophical thought far beyond his years.  This depth of thought was presently to astound the men of his generation, as it still does today.

As in the case with all the sons of men, though they be raised in a religious atmosphere and instilled with the most stringent Christian ethics, each must necessarily make his own personal commitment with the Almighty.  Such was the case with Jonathan Edwards.  In his own words:

I had a variety of concerns and exercises about my soul from my childhood; but had two more remarkable seasons of awakening before I met with that change by which I was brought to those new dispositions, and that new sense of things that I have since had.  The first time was when I was a boy, some years before I went to college, at a time of remarkable awakening in my father’s congregation.  I was then very much affected for many months, and concerned about the things of religion, and my soul’s salvation; and was abundant in duties.10

And again,

The first time that I remember that ever I found anything of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things, that has lived in me since, was on reading those words of I Timothy 1:17, “Now unto the king eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory forever and ever.  Amen.”11

The Puritan society in which Edwards lived was staunchly Calvinistic.  Their doctrine included that of Unconditional Predestination, the belief that God had chosen which souls would be saved and which would be damned at the beginning, and the individual was powerless to change or resist the divine plan.  The logical mind of Edwards, intent upon knowing the reasons why, rather than blindly accepting established views as fact, did not easily accept this:

From my childhood up, my mind has been wont to be full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom He would to eternal life, and rejecting whom He pleased, leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly in Hell.  It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me.  But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and His justice in thus eternally disposing of  men, according to His sovereign pleasure.  But never could I give account, how, or by what means, I was thus convinced; not in the least imagining, in the time of it, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it.12

Edwards had had doubts about this doctrine, but could not easily cast aside what had been drilled into him all his life.  Though unable to totally justify it in his mind, he finally came to the point where he was able to accept it in faith.  He was evidently resolved not to worry about it any longer.

At the tender age of thirteen he entered Yale College, in New Haven, Connecticut.  Yale, like Harvard and other New England colleges, had been founded by the Puritan Fathers with the training of future ministers in mine.  It was not entirely unusual for students to enter college so young in those days, but Jonathan was nevertheless younger than most of his peers.

In 1722, Edwards completed a stint of four years of undergraduate study and two years as a theology student.  He had distinguished himself in his studies, giving the valedictory address.  Then he traveled to New York City to begin serving as a minister in a Presbyterian Church, a time of solid, practical training for him.

In April of 1723, he returned to East Windsor for the summer, intending to serve at Yale as a tutor the next term.  He was subsequently to enter into what was probably the most trying period of his life, and a time of great emotional and spiritual growth.  It is fortunate for the historian that he kept a private journal during this period.  Many of the entries speak of his deep soul-searching attitude.  For example:

The reason why I, in the least, question my interest in God’s love and favor, is, —1.  Because I cannot speak so fully to my experience of that preparatory work, of which divines speak.  —2.  I do not remember that I experienced regeneration, in those steps, in which divines say that it is generally wrought, —3.  I do not feel the Christian graces sensibly enough, particularly faith.  I fear they are only such hypocritical outside affections, which wicked men may feel, as well as others.  They do not seem to be sufficiently inward, full, sincere, entire, and hearty.  They do not seem so substantial, and so wrought into my very nature, as I could wish.  —4.  Because I am sometimes guilty of sins of omission and commission.  Lately I have doubted, whether I do not transgress in evil speaking.13

The rector (president) of Yale, Timothy Cutler, had been a mentor to Jonathan when he first entered the school, and the young student had great respect for him.  Cutler had been trained in the Church of England, not unusual since Puritan institutions were a recent development, but when he began displaying strongly Episcopal leanings he was dismissed, along with three like-minded tutors.  This left only Jonathan and two other tutors to bear the bulk of the burden of discipline and organization.  These tutors were overworked in preparing and conducting lessons, the students had become unruly and disrespectful in the uproar, and Edwards was shaken by the downfall of his friend.

It must be kept in mind that, although he was a college graduate with an advanced degree, possessing eight months of solid ministerial experience, and entrusted with manly responsibilities, he was yet only twenty years old.  It is not surprising, therefore, that yet another source of pressure should rest upon the mind and shoulders of young Edwards:  he met a girl.

Sarah Pierrepont was a pretty brunette from an influential family.  Her father, James Pierrepont, was a Harvard graduate, and the established pastor of the New Haven church.  He had been instrumental in the founding of Yale.  Also among her progenitors was a mayor of New York City, and many other impressive characters.14  As the proper daughter of a leading family, Sarah had been well trained in the social graces of the day.  She had even been taught to play the lute.

Edwards was thoroughly smitten.  This young man who had dedicated his life to intense study and prayer, who wrote profusely along philosophical/theological lines, who maintained a strictly disciplined lifestyle in a society where the good pleasures of life were imbibed heartily, now spent much time dwelling upon romance.  Inside the cover of the Greek grammar book was found this description:

They say there is a young lady in [New Haven] who his beloved of that Great Being, who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this Great Being, in some way or another invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything except to meditate on him…

Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction.  She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and singular purity in her affections; is most just and conscientious in all her conduct; and you could not persuade her to do anything wrong or sinful if you would give her all the world . . . .  She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness, and universal benevolence of mind . . . .

She will sometimes go about from place to place, singing sweetly, and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what.  She loves to be alone, walking in the fields and groves, and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her.15

Edwards was in no way prepared to undertake the task of winning such a prize as Sarah.  He was known to chide himself, during this period, for never having given attention to the social graces, as is recorded in his journal.16  he was a scholar, not a beau.  Tall and gangly, socially awkward and of a dismal, inanimate countenance, he stood little chance of making a favorable impression upon her.

Indeed, she was not impressed.  A mere teenager, Sarah did not find his immense loyalty or his already obvious attributes of achievement the least bit adventuresome.  It was too soon, in her mind, to settle on Jonathan as a husband.

At the Yale commencement exercises of 1725, the tutors, including Jonathan, received a raise:  “the tutors for their extraordinary Services of the year past and their trouble and pains in sorting the books and fixing Catalogues to ye Boxes have five pounds each added to their salary.”17  Riding home afterward to the East Windsor, Edwards was stricken down with pleurisy.  Ill for months, and unable to return to his duties at Yale, he resigned in 1726.  No doubt the enforced rest and separation from Sarah gave him plenty of time to consider his future.

Sarah led him on a merry chase for three years.  Lovesick Jonathan, faced with a distinct possibility of failure, had hit upon a plan:  to improve his social skills, so as to appear less awkward, more companionable, and more acceptable to Miss Sarah.  In time, whether as a result of “the plan” or not, Jonathan wed Sarah in a gala ceremony on July 28, 1727.

Edwards had accepted appointment as a pastoral assistant in Northampton, Massachusetts.  This was the church of his own grandfather, Solomon Stoddard.  Rev. Stoddard, at eighty-five years old, had decided to lighten his load.  His assistant was to preach every other Sunday in his place.  It was taken for granted that Edwards, when Stoddard died, would inherit his pulpit.

And so he did.  Stoddard died in February of 1729.  Edwards had already distinguished himself as an outstanding theologian.  Though in no way an orator—he wrote out his sermons beforehand and read them in the pulpit—his abilities in expounding doctrinal philosophy were soon recognized.  He was invited to address the Boston clergy in 1731, a significant honor.  His sermon was entitled, “God Glorified in the Work of Redemption, by the Greatness of Man’s Dependence upon Him, in the Whole of It.”18  In it he blamed the moral problems of the time on an attitude of self-satisfaction in religious circles.  The work became his first published sermon.

Edwards soon settled into his role as a pastor.  He was not known to make social visits upon his congregation, not considering himself socially oriented, but would promptly visit the sick and needy.  He did, at times, invite the young people of the church to his home for prayer and discussion.  He would spend most of his energies in prayer and meditation, and thirteen hours a day in concentrated study, with a time set aside each day for outdoor exercise.  He was well-known for his extensive library.

Sarah, his wife, was to bear him eleven children.  She became known as a model wife and mother, and the perfect help-mate for one such is he.  A family friend, Samuel Hopkins, wrote of her:

It was a happy circumstance that he could trust everything . . . to the care of Mrs. Edwards, with entire safety and with undoubting confidence.  She was a most judicious and faithful mistress of a family, habitually industrious, a sound economist, managing her household affairs with diligence and discretion.

While she uniformly paid a becoming deference to her husband and treated him with an entire respect, she spared no pains in conforming to his inclination and rendering everything in the family agreeable and pleasant; accounting it her greatest glory and there wherein she could best serve God and her generation, to be the means in this way of promoting his usefulness and happiness.19

Again, he recalled:

She had an excellent way of governing her children: she knew how to make them regard and obey her cheerfully, without loud angry words, much less heavy blows.  She seldom punished them; and in speaking to them, used gentle and pleasant words.  If any correction was necessary, she did not administer it in a passion; and when she had an occasion to reprove and rebuke she would do it in few words, without warmth and noise . . . .  She had need to speak but once; she was cheerfully obeyed; murmuring and answering again were not known among them…

The kind and gentle treatment they receive from their mother, while she strictly and punctiliously maintained her parental authority, seemed naturally to . . . promote a filial respect and affection, and to lead them to a mild tender treatment of each other.  Quarreling and contention, which too frequently take place among children, were in her family unknown.20

Thus we see the groundwork of the ministry of Jonathan Edwards.  His was a public ministry touched and blessed by the hand of God.  In addition, his sterling character and his very lifestyle were examples to his community and to the world of what a man of God should be.  He and his wife together built a household that was the envy of all.

The ministry of Jonathan Edwards has often been characterized as “fire and brimstone” because of his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  However, this harsh, stark message was in no way exemplary of his ministry.  His desire was to preach the gospel, not condemnation.  Consider some of his other works:  “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Works of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls” (1737); “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God” (1741); “Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England” (1742); “An Account of the Life of the Late Reverend Mr. David Brainerd” (1749, a biography of the self-sacrificing missionary to the American Indians, engaged to Edwards’ daughter Jerusha, but who died at the age of 29); “The Freedom of the Will” (1754); “The Nature of True Virtue” (1755); and “Concerning the End for Which God Created the World” (1755).

Edwards pastored the Northampton church until 1750, when he left in a time of controversy.  He served for a time as a minister and missionary to the Indians in Stockbridge, then was chosen as the new president of Princeton College.  After only a week in office, he was inoculated for smallpox, and died of complications on March 22, 1758.

Near death, Edwards had spoken of Sarah, who was not present:

Give my kindest love to my dear wife, and tell her that the uncommon union which has so long subsisted between us has been of such a nature as I trust is spiritual and therefore will continue forever.21

Two years later, Sarah, too, had passed away.

It was discussed earlier that one’s ancestry seems to have some bearing upon the character of the individual, whether by heredity or by the cumulative effect of family traditions, attitudes, and lifestyles.  As an interesting footnote, let us examine a study made of more than 1,400 descendents of the Jonathan Edwards/Sarah Pierrepont union by A. E. Winship in the year 1900.  He found that their marriage had produced: 13 college presidents; 65 professors; 100 lawyers, and the dean of an outstanding law school; 30 judges; 66 physicians, and a dean of a medical school; 80 holders of public office including three United States senators, mayors of three large cities, governors of three states, a vice president of the United States, and the comptroller of the United States Treasury, plus scores of college graduates, ministers, missionaries, prominent businessmen, authors, editors, and voluminous readers.  Even the “black sheep” of the family were outstanding, including the infamous revolutionary Aaron Burr.22

Scripture tells us repeatedly that the blessings of God or upon the generation (offspring) of the righteous.  It is said that the ultimate proof of a prophecy is to see it fulfilled.


  1. I Samuel xvii. 34-37.
  2. I Samuel xvi. 18.
  3. Ola Elizabeth Winslow, Jonathan Edwards (New York: The McMillan Co., 1940), pp. 5-7.
  4. Elizabeth D. Dodds, Marriage to a Difficult Man (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1971), p. 19.
  5. Perry Miller, Jonathan Edwards (Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1949), pp. 9-13.
  6. Dodds, p. 18.
  7. Edward H. Davidson, Jonathan Edwards: the Narrative of the Puritan Mind (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1966), p. 9.
  8. Dodds, p. 22.
  9. Ralph G. Turnbull, Jonathan Edwards, the Preacher (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1958), p. 13.
  10. Turnbull, p. 15.
  11. Turnbull, p. 16.
  12. Turnbull, p. 15.
  13. Vergilus Ferm, Puritan Sage: Collected Writings of Jonathan Edwards (New York, Library Publishers, 1953), p. 117.
  14. Dodds, p. 13.
  15. Dodds, p. 17.
  16. Dodds, p. 22.
  17. Dodds, p. 21.
  18. “Jonathan Edwards,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 1981 ed.
  19. Dodds, pp. 34, 35.
  20. Dodds, pp. 42, 43.
  21. Dodds, p. 201.
  22. Dodds, p. 38.

Also refer to Alfred Owen Aldridge, Jonathan Edwards (New York: Washington Square Press, 1964).

© 2011 Paul A. Hughes. Originally presented to Gaylan Claunch, in partial fulfillment of the course requirements for PME 112, Introduction to PME, Southwestern Assemblies of God University, April 7, 1983.

Written by biblequestion

June 10, 2011 at 3:03 PM

A History of Early Electric Cars

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1896 Electrobat

1896 Electrobat

by Paul A. Hughes

Previously published at (now defunct).  Originally written as a research paper for American History course at Texas A&M University, circa 1979.  Cited in the books, The End of the Road: the Transition to Safe, Green Power (Xlibris, 2010) by Joseph McKinney and Amy Isler Gibson, and NASA Contests and Prizes:  How Can They Help Advance Space Exploration?:  Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Committee on Science, House of Representatives, One Hundred Eighth Congress, second session, July 15, 2004, Volume 2, Issues 108-166.

Every few years, engineers unveil the latest experimental electric car, touting it as a panacea for the pollution of the world’s crowded cities and the depletion of vital resources.  These quaint conveyances are shown tooling along city streets, operating with a gentle hum, emitting no fumes to choke the lungs or burn the eyes.  Their design is clean and functional, their controls simple.  Still, they fail once again to “catch on,” capturing the interest and imagination of the general public.  The next model goes the way of the last, exiled to obscurity.

Today, few people realize that successful electric automobiles were being produced as early as the 1880’s.  For over 20 years, electric cars were commercially produced, and were for some years in heady competition with internal combustion and steam-powered carriages.  Not until internal combustion technology and promotion, along with cheap fuel, had outstripped all competition, did electric cars drop out of the automotive picture.

The Storage Battery

The technology required for the electric car was being developed long before the automobile was conceived.  The primary cell, invented by Volta in 1800, generated electricity by chemical action.  This primitive battery could be recharged only by replacing the active elements.   Not until 1860, when Gaston Faure invented the secondary cell, could a battery be recharged by simply passing a current through it — providing portable, renewable electric power.

In spite of earlier experimental work, a working electric motor was not built until 1833.   Thomas Davenport, an uneducated Vermont blacksmith, conceived it after observing a demonstration of an electromagnet.  Davenport patented his motor in 1837.

Riding the Rails

The invention of both the storage battery and the electric motor set the stage for their incorporation into an electric vehicle.  Davenport had in fact built a model electric locomotive as early as 1834, powered by primary cells.  In 1847, Moses Farmer of Massachusetts designed a locomotive that, powered by 48 one-pint cells, could carry two people along an 18-inch-wide track.

About the same time, Professor Charles Page of Washington, D.C., built a locomotive which, using 100 cells and a 16-horsepower motor, carried twelve people on the Washington and Bladensburg Railroad at up to 19 mph.  In 1847, Lilly and Colton of Pittsburg built a locomotive which received its power, produced from a central station, through an electrified rail.

Taking to the Road

Such rail-bound vehicles were a great leap forward, but it would be 30 years before another major advance.  In 1888, electric cars suddenly began appearing on the scene both in the U.S. and abroad.  Philip Pratt of Boston built an electric tricycle powered by six Electrical Accumulator Company cells, weighing 90 pounds.  In London, Ratcliffe Ward began operating an electric omnibus, the foundation of the London Electrical Cab Company.  Walter Bersey, a brilliant 20-year-old who had invented an improved dry battery, designed Ward’s second bus.  In two years, this second bus was licensed to make a regular run between Charing Cross and Victoria Station.

The first really successful electric automobile was the carriage built by William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa, in 1890.  Morrison’s car used high, spoked wagon wheels to negotiate the rutted roads of America, and an innovative guidance system which included patented rack-and-pinion steering.  Morrison’s car was capable of running for 13 consecutive hours at 14 mph.  Much of the car’s success, however, was attributable to the promotional efforts of Harold Sturges, secretary of the American Battery Company.

1890 Morrison

1890 Morrison

Fits and Starts

In May, 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition opened in Chicago.  Exhibits included the Morrison-Sturges carriage, another by the Ward Electrical Car Company, and two Keller-Dagenhart tricycles.  Originally, an entire fleet of Keller-Dagenharts was ordered to transport patrons around the exposition ground.  But only two were built, thus missing a golden opportunity to make electric vehicles a major attraction at the fair.

About that time, electric cars were built by W. J. Still of Toronto and Dickson’s Carriage Works of Ontario.  Dickson’s car was commissioned by Frederick Barnard Featherstonhaugh, who later granted it an honorable retirement after 15 years’ service.

Walter Bersey designed and built a post office van in 1893.  The next year, he completed a four-seater car.  But Bersey was constantly in trouble for violating Britain’s Red Flag Act which, among other regulations, restricted automobiles to 2 mph in cities, and required two drivers, plus a third man walking ahead of the vehicle.

Stiff Competition

At this juncture, steam and internal combustion cars began to emerge as stiff competition to the electric.  James Bullard introduced the flash boiler in 1885, enabling steam cars to get up steam within minutes.  Nicolaus Otto of Deutz, Germany, combined the best features of previous internal combustion engines into his successful four-cycle engine of 1877.  The first gasoline-powered cars were built by John Lambert and Henry Nadig in 1891.

In 1894, Le Petit Journal sponsored a 78-mile car race from Paris to Rouen.  Then, in 1895, the Automotive Club of France held the great Paris-Bordeaux race of a then incredible 727 miles in length.  Only steam and gasoline cars participated in these two events, and the upstart gasoline cars asserted themselves convincingly.

The Big Race

H. H. Kohlsaat, publisher of the Chicago Times-Herald, decided to sponsor an automotive contest which was more than just a sensationalized competition.  The Times-Herald contest ostensibly placed great emphasis on preliminary tests and evaluations with only a secondary interest in the outcome of a road race.  The primary considerations of the test were to be general utility, cost, speed, economy of operation, and general appearance.

The competition took place in November of 1895.  The road-race itself, in which just six cars participated, was by no means on the scale of the previous European races.  Many automobile developers who had planned to participate were foiled by either mechanical difficulties or by the snowstorm which took place the night before the race.

Two of the entries were electric.  Morrison had planned to enter a new version of his carriage, but found it could not be readied in time.  Instead, he removed the third bench seat of his original car to make room for more batteries.   The race version dressed out at 3535 pounds.

The other electric car in the race was the Electrobat II of Henry Morris and Pedro Salom.  The pair had completed their first car, the Electrobat I, in 1894.  Their improved model was steered by the rear wheels instead of the front, and powered by two 1-1/2 horsepower motors mounted on the front axle, weighing in at 1650 pounds.  With a range of 25 miles at 20 mph, the Electrobat II was one of the first automobiles to employ pneumatic tires.

The other entries in the race, all gasoline-powered, were those of the Duryea brothers, H. Mueller and Company, R. H. Macy Company, and the De La Vergne Refrigerating Company.  Of these, all but the Duryea car sported engines designed by Karl Benz of Mannheim, Germany.

After all the other tests were complete, the participants lined up for the road race on November 28.  The snowstorm the night before covered the 54-mile course, already rutted, with eight inches of new snow.  In spite of cold temperatures, ranging from 30 to 39 degrees, crowds lined the course.

Only the Duryea and Mueller cars were able to finish the race.  The Duryea won easily, averaging 8 mph in spite of a 55-minute stop to repair the steering mechanism.  Morris and Salom had planned to have fresh batteries relayed along the course, but the wagons carrying them could not get through.  Consequently, the Electrobat II was limited to a short demonstration run.   The Morrison electric was overworked in the deep snow, causing its motor to overheat.  It was forced to drop out of the race after three hours.

After the race, the judges were ready to present the awards.  The Duryea car earned $2000 for its speed, power, compactness, and race performance.  The Mueller car was awarded $1500 for its performance and overall economy.  The race performance of the Morrison and Macy cars garnered each of them $500.  The Electrobat II was granted no money, but was awarded a special gold medal for “best showing in official tests, for safety, ease of control, absence of noise, vibration, heat, or odor, cleanliness and general excellence of design and workmanship.”1 Though the outcome of the road-race had been officially minimized in the beginning, it seems to have been the major consideration when monetary prizes were awarded.

The Success Years

In May of 1896, H. J. Lawson held an auto show at the Imperial Institute at South Kensington, England, attended by the Prince of Wales.   This time, Walter Bersey’s latest carriage, elegant and absolutely silent in operation, stole the show.

For the time being, the electric car held its own with its competitors.  More and more entrepreneurs began manufacturing electric vehicles.  In 1895, Colonel Albert A. Pope of Columbia Bicycle fame had an electric car built by inventor Hiram Maxim.  Maxim’s design was a Crawford horse-drawn runabout converted to electric power.  Pope went on to produce electric cars for several years before changing to internal combustion.

Early in 1897, Morris and Salom formed the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company, which ran twelve electric cabs on the streets of New York City.

General Electric began building electric cars in 1898.  In December of that year, Count Chasseloup-Laubat achieved a record speed of 39.25 mph in his Jeantaud Electric automobile.  At the time, only the electric car was capable of such speed.

The Count did not hold the record for long.  In 1899, Belgian inventor Camille Jenatzy challenged him to a series of races.  Jenatzy’s “La Jamais Contente” had a 100-horsepower motor, and was one of the first “streamlined” automobiles.  In fact, Jenatzy’s car looked like a bullet on wheels.

La Jamais Contente

La Jamais Contente

A series of three races were held at Achere from January 17 to April 29.  In the first two races, the two cars matched speeds at 41.42 mph and 49.42 mph, respectively.  On the third try, Jenatzy’s electric achieved a then incredible 65.79 mph.  This record was not broken until Leon Serpollet’s steamer reached 75.06 mph at Nice, France, in 1902.

In 1899, ninety percent of the cabs in New York City were electric.   By 1900, the Electric Vehicle Company had put hundreds of its electric Hansom cabs, modeled after the design of its horse-drawn predecessors, on the streets of the metropolis.  The Hansoms eliminated the need for a differential by providing a separate motor and axle for each rear wheel.

For three years, Canadian Motors Limited produced a small two-seater electric called the “Motette,” beginning in 1900.  The same company also manufactured an electric bus called the “Tallyho.”

Henry and Clem Studebaker had begun their wagon manufacturing business in 1852, and supplied wagons to the Union Army during the Civil War.  In 1902, the company decided to enter the electric car market, producing a light, conservative runabout.   But after manufacturing electrics for six or seven years, they switched to internal combustion.

Unresolved Difficulties

The advantages of the electric car had been realized from the beginning.  Near-silent operation and lack of unpleasant exhaust emissions made the electric automobile ideal for city use.  Its controls were simple enough for a child.  But because of certain inherent drawbacks, the increasing availability of cheap petroleum, constant improvements in internal combustion, and to a significant degree the whims of consumers, the electric car market began to lose its momentum.

The major disadvantages of the electric car can be attributed largely to its immediate power source, the storage battery.  The lead-acid battery underwent many changes over the years and was much improved, thanks to the work of Faure, Brush, Volckmar, Swan, Sellon, Correns, Bersey, and others.  However, its inherent faults remained: the electrolyte, sulfuric acid, was by nature corrosive.  The batteries deteriorated even when not in use and had to be replaced in about two years at significant expense.

Battery cases were prone to leak, staining or corroding surrounding parts of the car and emitting noxious fumes.  The acid fumes were not only unpleasant but potentially explosive and otherwise hazardous to the car’s occupants.  The batteries were heavy, close to 100 pounds per horsepower-hour.  Because of the weight, electric cars had trouble climbing hills. Extremes of temperature affected battery performance.  A charge was good for 20-60 miles, depending on the make of the battery, the type of automobile, and the way in which it was used.

In 1900, Thomas Edison undertook to invent, develop and market an entirely new type of battery.  Starting from scratch, he was able to begin manufacturing the new battery in four years.  Edison’s battery was based on an entirely new combination of elements, nickel-alkaline, with a non-corrosive electrolyte, potassium hydroxide.  Non-corrosive, its contents sealed safely in a nickel-plated case, Edison expected the battery to solve the problems of the electric car.  The cells were much lighter, only 53 pounds per horsepower-hour.

Edison with Alkaline Battery

Edison with Alkaline Battery

However, the voltage produced by the nickel-alkaline battery was lower, 1.2 volts as opposed to 1.5 volts for the lead-acid battery.  More cells would be required to do the same job.  Edison halted production when reports of leaking cases, bad electrical contacts, and a drop in voltage during use were reported.  He withdrew the battery from the market in order to do more work.  In about five years, he released an improved version.

The Decline

Unfortunately, the introduction of the improved battery was too little, too late.  By that time, the electric-powered car could no longer compete with the speed, power, economy, and range of the internal combustion engine.  By 1910, the general public had come to prefer the sputter, cloud of smoke, and raw power of the gasoline engine to the silent operation of the electric motor.  The roar of an engine became a sign of power, prestige, and progress.  The gentle electric came to be associated with senior citizens.

Like the steamer, the electric car was made obsolete by the advances of internal combustion.  More than that, the electric lost the imagination of the public, which was its ultimate downfall.  Only token electric cars have been produced since 1914, more curiosities than commercial successes.  For electric cars to compete again in an open market, barring a major and prolonged oil crisis, it would seem that they must not only match their competitors in technology and performance, but recapture the public imagination, as well.


  1. L. Scott Bailey et al., The American Car Since 1775 (NY: Automobile Quarterly, Inc., 1971), p. 96.

© 1996 Paul A. Hughes

Written by biblequestion

February 1, 2011 at 7:40 PM