Japanese Internment for Children: Review of “Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind” by Cynthia Grady

Throughout American history, some citizens have had more rights and privileges than others.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, fear and prejudice towards the Japanese reached a fever pitch. These attitudes extended to both citizens and non-citizens of Japanese descent living in the United States.

In 1942 Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Under the terms of the Order, approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent living in the US (of whom 70,000 were American citizens) were removed from their homes and placed in internment camps. The US justified its action by claiming that there was a danger of those of Japanese descent spying for the Japanese. However more than two thirds of those interned were American citizens and half of them were children. None had ever shown evidence of disloyalty.

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The internees were transported to one of ten relocation centers in California, Utah, Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming for up to 4 years, without due process of law or any factual basis, in bleak, remote camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. Families were crammed into 20- by 25-foot rooms and forced to use communal bathrooms. No razors, scissors, or radios were allowed. Children attended War Relocation Authority schools.

This book tells the story of Clara Estelle Breed, the children’s librarian at the East Branch of the San Diego County Library, which served many Japanese American families. Miss Breed got to know many of these children, and went to the train station to see them off when they were being relocated. She took a bagful of books to give them, as well as stamped, addressed postcards. “‘Write to us,’ Miss Breed said. ‘We’ll want to know where you are.’”

Over the next three years until the war ended, Miss Breed received many postcards from approximately thirty children. At first, they were postmarked from Arcadia, California. She wrote the kids back every week, and sent them boxes of books and more stamped postcards. She also wrote articles for magazines and letters to authorities about the mistreatment of Japanese Americans.

The author used excerpts from the postcards received by Miss Breed, incorporating them into the book. For example, One said:

“Dear Miss Breed,
I was overwhelmed with joy to see the books when the postman opened the package for inspection. Thank you, Miss Breed, Thank you!
Very sincerely yours,
Louise Ogawa”

Miss Breed even took a train to Arcadia and visited the children. But then they were transferred to a prison camp in Poston, Arizona. Miss Breed did not stop trying to lift their spirits however. As the author reports:

“Miss Breed sent them seeds for planting, thread for sewing, and soap for washing. She sent pipe cleaners, crepe paper, pencils, and glue for making crafts.”

Two young evacuees in Poston, Arizona

The children wrote her back about the crafts they made, the books they were reading, and also about how they were doing and feeling.

In the Author’s Note, we learn that when Miss Breed packed to move to a retirement home, she found the box she had kept of more than 250 letters and postcards she had received during the war. She gave them to Elizabeth Kikuchi Yamada, one of the former children who had corresponded with her. The author reports:

“In 1991 Clara Breed was the honored guest at a reunion for Japanese Americans who had been imprisoned in Poston, Arizona. More than seven hundred people gave her a standing ovation for her kindness, friendship, love, and courage during the war.”

After the Author’s Note, there is a list of notable dates in Clara Breed’s life, a selected history of Japanese people in the United States, source notes, a selected bibliography, photo credits, and suggestions for further reading.

Evacuees in Poston,Arizona, photo by Francis Stewart, 1942

The muted colored-pencil illustrations by Amiko Hirao are lovely, and there are a number of actual photographs included on the end papers.

Evaluation: This book presents an important historical moment from a unique perspective, providing emotion and heart. The connection to a children’s librarian may resonate with young readers, and the reproduction of words from actual postcards add a touching realistic element to the story. There is also a wonderful message, about how one person can provide compassion and relief even when otherwise powerless against larger forces. And with any luck at all, it may help readers understand the injustice and cruelty of locking up children, a practice which is not restricted to the past.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Charlesbridge, 2018

Librarian Clara Breed


February 14, 1912 – Arizona Joins the Union as the 48th State

Arizona is the sixth largest state in area and the 14th largest in population. It is one of the “Four Corners” states, having borders with New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, as well as one point in common with the southwestern corner of Colorado. Arizona’s border with Mexico is 389 miles long, along the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California.

Historically part of the territory of Alta California in New Spain, Arizona became part of independent Mexico in 1821. As part of the settlement of the Mexican–American War, Mexico ceded to the U.S. the northern 70% of modern-day Arizona above the Sonora border along the Gila River in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. (The U.S. agreed to pay $15 million for more than a half-million square miles of Mexican territory.)

The southernmost portion of the modern-day state was acquired in 1853 through the Gadsden Purchase.

Gadsden Purchase Area

Gadsden Purchase Area

In 1853, the entirety of present-day Arizona was part of the New Mexico Territory, which had been formed in 1850. But in 1863, Arizona was split off from the Territory of New Mexico to form the Arizona Territory. The Army built a series of forts to act as a buffer between Native Americans and settlers.

Fort Whipple served as the territory’s first capital. The capital was soon moved to Prescott and then, a couple of years after the end of the Civil War, to Tucson. In 1877, it returned to Prescott before moving to Phoenix in 1889.

An Arizona newspaper recounts that Arizona’s “road to statehood was long and agonizing. No other territory waited as long or fought as stubbornly as the pioneers of the Arizona Territory.”

In 1891, just 28 years after becoming a territory in 1863, the residents petitioned for statehood, without receiving satisfaction.

Nevertheless, thousands of Arizona men answered the call for a volunteer army in 1898 to fight in the nation’s first overseas war: the Spanish-American War. They became Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. The Arizona troops were led by Prescott Capt. William “Bucky” O’Neill, who was killed and whose tombstone says it all: “Who would not die for a new star on the flag.”

Colonel Roosevelt and his Rough Riders at the top of the hill which they captured, Battle of San Juan / by William Dinwiddie.

Still, Congress denied the territory statehood.

In 1903, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories proposed combining Arizona with New Mexico and admitting the area as one state. They called it “jointure,” and while New Mexico liked the idea, Arizona didn’t, declaring in a petition: “We prefer to remain a territory indefinitely rather than lose our identity.”

Arizona started calling itself the “47th state” in anticipation of things turning around, and in 1910, Congress told the territory to write a constitution. Voters passed it on February 9, 1911 but President William Howard Taft vetoed it because of a provision including the recall of judges.

Arizona removed the recall of judges and went back to voters, who approved the sanitized constitution. It hoped to be admitted on February 12, the birthday of President Lincoln. But Taft didn’t sign off on statehood until February 14, 1912. Meanwhile, New Mexico, which didn’t tinker with Taft’s rules on a constitution, was admitted as the 47th state on Jan. 6, 1912, making Arizona the 48th.

After the Civil War, Texans brought large-scale ranching to southern Arizona. The era of large-scale mining in Arizona began in 1858 when Jacob Snively found gold in Gila City, east of Yuma. Gila City became the first of the region’s many boom towns. Mining for silver and copper came next.

As True West Magazine reports:

. . . the copper strikes really began in the mid 1800s. Still, it took the Southern Pacific Railroad’s arrival at Gila Bend in 1879 and the coming of electric power (thus, a need for copper wires) to lead to better copper-mining ventures. Even then, only roughly 1.7 million pounds of copper were hauled out a year from the 1880s till 1917. From World War I until the Great Depression, copper mining exploded . . . .”

The population didn’t explode much though until after the World War II, with the widespread availability of refrigeration and air conditioning.

The United States Census Bureau estimates that the population of Arizona was 7,171,646 as of July 1, 2018. Of that number, 31.4% identify as Hispanic or Latino. Just 5% of the population is black.

About one-quarter of the state is made up of Indian reservations that serve as the home of 27 federally recognized Native American tribes, including the Navajo Nation, the largest in the state and the United States, with more than 300,000 citizens. Arizona has the greatest percentage of its acreage designated as Indian tribal land in the United States.

Navajo Indians from Arizona were enlisted to transmit secret communications for the U.S. Marines after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Known as Navajo Code Talkers, they created an oral code the enemy was unable to decipher, fulfilling a crucial role during World War II and saving countless lives.

One of Arizona’s greatest challenges is the state’s water supply. It has a desert climate, and depends on water from four sources: Colorado River water, surface water other than Colorado River water, groundwater and effluent. Colorado River water, shared by Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Mexico, is a constant source of political strife. When there is less water in the Colorado river reservoirs, Arizona and Nevada have to start cutting back on their take, pursuant to a deal made with California in 1968. The state closely monitors drought conditions and water supplies; you can see the stats here. Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States in terms of water capacity, is a lake on the Colorado River formed by the Hoover Dam. The reservoir serves water to the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, providing sustenance to nearly 20 million people and large areas of farmland. The outlook as of early 2018 was “dismal.” You can see from the photo below the effects of drought plus increased demand.

White areas show decline of water level in Lake Mead (Photo: Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic)

Arizona’s continued population growth puts an enormous stress on the state’s water supply. Arizona the second fastest-growing state in the U.S. in the 1990s (the fastest was Nevada). The state encourages water-saving initiatives, such as drinking beer made from recycled water. You can read an update on the legal struggles over the water supply here.

As of the Census Bureau’s 2017 population estimates, Metro Phoenix had 4,737,270 residents, making it the 11th largest Metropolitan Area in the nation by population. Metropolitan Phoenix and metropolitan Tucson (close to 1 million) are home to most of Arizona’s people.

Southern Arizona is known for its desert climate, with very hot summers and mild winters. Nevertheless, you can find ski resorts in Arizona, even in Tucson. In addition to the Grand Canyon National Park, there are several national forests, national parks, and national monuments. (Arizona’s Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and one mile deep.)

Many people think of Mormons as living mainly in Utah, but as of 2010, the Association of Religion Data Archives reported that the three largest denominational groups in Arizona were the Catholic Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and non-denominational Evangelical Protestants. In fact, the religious body with the largest number of congregations is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In Tucson, many people put Christmas lights on saguaro cacti (pronounced ‘sah-wah-roh’). Saguaros are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert. [The Sonoran Desert straddles part of the United States-Mexico border and covers large parts of the U.S. states of Arizona and California and the northwest Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur.]


Saguaros, the largest cacti in the United States, are very slow growing. A ten-year-old plant might only be 1.5 inches tall. Saguaro can grow to be between 40-60 feet tall. When rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3200-4800 pounds.

This cactus is one of many desert cacti that put out both flowers and fruit; the saguaro flower is the state flower of Arizona. But the saguaro doesn’t produce its first flower until it is about 50 years old! The white blossoms open only at night, last less than 24 hours and are pollinated by moths and bats.

Another special biological phenomenon you can find in Arizona is the javelina. Javelina (the “j” is pronounced as an “h”), also known as collared peccary, are medium-sized animals that look similar to a wild boar. They have long, sharp canine teeth but they are vegetarians.

Javelina mom & baby

There is great regional food in Arizona, especially in the south, where the Mexican and Native American populations influence the cuisine. In fact, Tucson has such great things to eat and drink that in 2015 it became the first city in the U.S. to be designated a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy.

Prickly Pear Margarita

February 12, 1968: Black Sanitation Workers Strike in Memphis

How did the Black Sanitation Worker Strike begin? And why did Martin Luther, King, Jr. take up this cause? This action was the last movement Martin Luther King, Jr. would lead before his untimely and tragic assassination on April 4, 1968.

The strike began over the mistreatment of sewer and sanitation workers in Memphis. At that time, Memphis sanitation workers were mostly black. Their pay was low and they could be fired (usually by white supervisors) without warning. In 1968, the average wage of these workers was about $1.70 per hour. In addition to their sanitation work, often including unpaid overtime, many worked other jobs or appealed to welfare and public housing. The working conditions were appalling.

An article from The American Prospect in January, 2007, by Peter Dreier (Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College), explains:

“Forty percent of the workers qualified for welfare to supplement their poverty-level salaries. They had almost no health care benefits, pensions, or vacations. They worked in filthy conditions, and lacked basic amenities like a place to eat and shower. They were required to haul leaky garbage tubs that spilled maggots and debris on them. White supervisors called them ‘boy’ and arbitrarily sent them home without pay for minor infractions that they overlooked when white workers did the same thing. The workers asked Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb and the city council to improve their working conditions, but they refused to do so.”

On February 12 of 1968, 1,300 black sanitation workers walked off their jobs, demanding that the city recognize their union, a pay increase to $2.35 an hour, overtime pay, and merit promotions without regard to race.


For the next several months, city officials refused to negotiate with the union. In private, Mayor Loeb reportedly told associates, ‘I’ll never be known as the mayor who signed a contract with a Negro union.'”

Dreier tells us:

The city used non-union workers and supervisors to pick up garbage downtown, from hospitals, and in residential areas. Even so, thousands of tons of garbage piled up. Community support for the strikers grew steadily. The NAACP endorsed the strike and sponsored all-night vigils and pickets at City Hall. On February 23, 1,500 people — strikers and their supporters — packed City Hall chambers, but the all-white city council voted to back the mayor’s refusal to recognize the union.

On several occasions, the police attacked the strikes with clubs and mace. They harassed protestors and even arrested strike leaders for jaywalking. On March 5, 117 strikers and supporters were arrested for sitting in at city hall. Six days later, hundreds of students skipped high school to participate in a march led by black ministers. Two students were arrested.”


Local ministers invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Memphis to add support and he agreed. Dr. King inspired the protestors and drafted a plan to march in Memphis with the strikers on March 22. Then it snowed, and the march was re-scheduled for March 28.

Six thousand people gathered in downtown Memphis. The police moved into crowds with nightsticks, mace, tear gas, and gunfire. The police arrested 280 people. Sixty were injured. A 16-year-old boy, Larry Payne, was shot to death. The state legislature authorized a 7 p.m. curfew and 4,000 National Guardsmen moved in. The next day, 300 sanitation workers and supporters marched peacefully and silently to City Hall — escorted by five armored personnel carriers, five jeeps, three large military trucks, and dozens of Guardsmen with bayonets fixed.

29 Mar 1968, Memphis, Tennessee, USA --- National Guard bayonets block Beale Street as African-American protesters march through downtown Memphis wearing placards reading "I  A MAN.&quot. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

29 Mar 1968, Memphis, Tennessee, USA — National Guard bayonets block Beale Street as African-American protesters march through downtown Memphis wearing placards reading “I A MAN.” Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Dr. King came back to Memphis on Wednesday, April 3 to address a rally to pressure city officials to negotiate a compromise solution to the strike. That night, at the Mason Temple — packed with over 10,000 black workers and residents, ministers, white union members, white liberals, and students — King delivered what would turn out to be his last speech.

Every bit of that speech is worthy of quoting. Dr. King emphasized the linkage between labor movements and civil rights, and he told the crowd:

“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.”

He even talked about the threats against his life:

“And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

The next afternoon, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood out on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Hotel, joking with a group of friends and fellow organizers who were down in the parking lot, when James Earl Ray, an escaped convict, shot and killed him.

Martin Luther King Jr. stands with fellow civil rights leaders on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968 — one day before he was assassinated. From left are Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King and Ralph Abernathy. Charles Kelly/AP

As Peter Dreier observed:

“As Time magazine noted at the time: ‘Ironically, it was the violence of Martin Luther King’s death rather than the nonviolence of his methods that ultimately broke the city’s resistance’ and led to the strike settlement. President Johnson ordered federal troops to Memphis and instructed Undersecretary of Labor James Reynolds to mediate the conflict and settle the strike. . . . On April 16, union leaders and city officials reached an agreement. The city council passed a resolution recognizing the union. The 14-month contract included union dues check-off, a grievance procedure, and wage increases of 10 cents per hour May 1 and another five cents in September. Members of AFSCME Local 1733 approved the agreement unanimously and ended their strike.”

February 10, 1927 – Birth Date of Leontyne Price

Mary Violet Leontyne Price, born on this day in 1927, is an American soprano, winner of 18 Grammy awards (including a special Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989), trail-blazer, and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Leontyne Price as Bess in Porgy in Bess, from 1953

Leontyne Price as Bess in Porgy in Bess, from 1953

Her talent was recognized early on. In fact, the great Paul Robeson was among those who sang at a benefit to pay for her further musical education. In the late 1940’s, Julliard awarded her a full scholarship, and based on her appearances in a production there, she was invited to Broadway.

In 1952 she debuted as Bess in a revival of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”, and toured with the production all over the world for the next two years. This video shows only stills from the show, but features the very first recording of her voice, on September 21, 1952, in a beautiful duet with co-star William Warfield, who later became her husband. (In his memoir, My Music and My Life, Warfield wrote that their careers drove them apart. They were legally separated in 1967, and divorced in 1973. They had no children.)

In 1961, Ms. Price debuted at the Metropolitan Opera as Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore. This performance resulted in a 42-minute ovation, one of the longest in the Met’s history. Critics went crazy over her performance as well. In 1964, she was awarded the Presidential Freedom Award, and the following year, she won the Italian Award of Merit. In 2007, she was named one of the “20 All-time Best Supranos” in BBC Music magazine’s poll.

Leontyne Price in a live Met broadcast of Puccini's Tosca, from 1962

Leontyne Price in a live Met broadcast of Puccini’s Tosca, from 1962

Although Ms. Price officially retired in the mid-1980’s, she came out of retirement for special occasions, such as Carnegie Hall’s free concert of remembrance in October 2011 to honor the victims of September 11th. The New York Times reported that, at age 74, Ms. Price’s voice took time to get “settled.” But by the time she sang a solo rendition of “America the Beautiful,” “her voice resounded throughout the hall. As she capped the anthem with a lustrous top note, decades suddenly disappeared.”

During her active years before retirement, she served as a role model for an entire generation of African American youth. But she eschewed the designation of African American, preferring to call herself an American. She said, moreover:

“If you are going to think black, think positive about it. Don’t think down on it, or think it is something in your way. And this way, when you really do want to stretch out, and express how beautiful black is, everybody will hear you.”

And finally, can you not cry through this? This video shows the very end of Leontyne Price’s last performance at The Met (as Aida), as she tries to maintain her role and her composure in spite of the crazy outpouring of love from the audience:

February 9, 1825 – The House of Representatives Decides the Presidency in Favor of John Quincy Adams

In the presidential election of 1824, none of the four candidates achieved the Constitutionally-required majority of electoral votes. Andrew Jackson received 99, John Quincy Adams 84, William Crawford 41, and Henry Clay 37.

John Quincy Adams

The 12th Amendment provides:

The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President.”

The election was therefore remanded to the House of Representatives.

As the Miller Center, non-partisan UVA-affiliate specializing in presidential scholarship, explains:

Jackson had received more than 150,000 popular votes, and nearly 40,000 more than Adams. Yet, in 1824, the overall popular vote had no standing. In some states, the state legislatures still chose the electors; many other states had only begun to have their electors chosen by general election. With no candidate having an outright majority of the electoral votes, the House was to choose between the top three vote-getters, and Clay’s supporters generally threw their votes to Adams. On February 9, 1825, John Quincy Adams received 13 votes, Jackson 7, and Crawford 4. Adams thus became the sixth President of the United States.”


It happened that Quincy and Henry Clay were friends, and shared political ideals. The two met up before the House procedure, and they decided that Clay would toss his delegates’ votes in for Quincy. Upon winning, Quincy then announced that Clay would be Secretary of State. There is no evidence it was a direct trade, and in fact, much evidence that it was rather a natural selection by Quincy, but Andrew Jackson and his party never forgave Quincy for “buying” the office they thought should have gone to Jackson. Moreover, they resolved to obstruct him in the Congress at every step of the way in his presidency. As historian Harlow Giles Unger in his biography John Quincy Adams has written:

Calling themselves Democrats, the new party [of Jackson followers] set out from the first to cripple John Quincy’s administration and ensure his departure after one term. John Quincy tried to forestall the inevitable by offering Jackson a cabinet post as secretary of war, but Jackson all but laughed in his face and refused even to consider serving an administration he was determined to bring down.”

Thus John Quincy Adams, the nation’s sixth president, served only one term. He took the oath of office on a book of laws, rather than the traditional Bible, to underscore his belief in the separation of church and state. He was also the first president inaugurated wearing pants rather than knee breeches, and the first to forgo powdered wigs.

After having accomplished little in office thanks to Congressional obstruction, Quincy was defeated by Andrew Jackson in 1828.

Andrew Jackson in 1824, painting by Thomas Sully

February 7, 1795 – 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution Ratified in Aftermath of Supreme Court Decision of Chisholm v. Georgia

On February 7, 1795, the 11th Amendment to the United States Constitution took effect with ratification by North Carolina. Adopted in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Chisholm v. Georgia, the amendment limited the jurisdiction of the federal courts to automatically hear cases brought against a state by the citizens of another state.

In 1777, the Executive Council of Georgia had authorized the purchase of supplies from a South Carolina businessman. The supplies were delivered to Georgia, but the state did not deliver payments as promised. After the merchant’s death, the executor of his estate, Alexander Chisholm, took the case to the Supreme Court in an attempt to collect from the state. Georgia maintained that it was a sovereign state not subject to the authority of the federal courts.

[Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution held – before the 11th Amendment – that the Supreme Court would have jurisdiction in cases arising from controversies between a state and citizens of another state.]

In Chisholm v. Georgia (2 U.S. 419, 1793), the Supreme Court, by a vote of four to one, rejected Georgia’s assertion of sovereign immunity as a defense against a suit in federal court for breach of contract brought against it by a citizen of another state. The majority held that supreme or sovereign power was retained by citizens themselves, not by the “artificial person” of the State of Georgia. State conduct was subject to judicial review.

Justice James Wilson, one of the Founding Fathers, wrote in his separate opinion:

A State, like a merchant, makes a contract. A dishonest State, like a dishonest merchant, willfully refuses to discharge it: The latter is amenable to a court of justice: Upon general principles of right, shall the former when summoned to answer the fair demands of its creditor, be permitted, Proteus-like, to assume a new appearance, and to insult him and justice, by declaring ‘I am a Sovereign State?’ Surely not.”

Justice James Wilson

Like Justice Wilson, Chief Justice John Jay, in his separate opinion, affirmed the “great and glorious principle, that the people are the sovereign of this country. . . . ” Furthermore, denying individuals the right to sue a state “would not correspond with the equal rights we claim; with the equality we profess to admire and maintain, and with that popular sovereignty in which every citizen partakes.”

Alas, the states didn’t like that answer.

As Justice Felix Frankfurter later noted in a federal sovereign immunity case, Larson v. Domestic & Foreign Commerce Corp., 337 U.S. 682, 708 (1949) (dissenting), “The vehement speed with which the Eleventh Amendment displaced the decision in Chisholm v. Georgia . . . proves how deeply rooted that doctrine was in the early days of the Republic.” [That is, the doctrine of “unquestioned acceptance of the sovereign’s freedom from ordinary legal responsibility,” or as Frankfurter also phrased it, “legal irresponsibility.”]

Justice Felix Frankfurter

The amendment was passed on March 4, 1794 by the House, and ratified on February 7, 1795, when the twelfth State acted, there then being fifteen States in the Union.

On January 8, 1798, approximately three years after the Eleventh Amendment’s adoption, President John Adams stated in a message to Congress that the Eleventh Amendment had been ratified by the necessary number of States and that it was now a part of the Constitution of the United States. New Jersey and Pennsylvania did not take action on the amendment; neither did Tennessee, which had become a State on June 16, 1796.

You can see an extensive discussion of the legislative and judicial history of the Amendment in a Cornell University Law School Annotation, here.

For an interesting interpretation of Chisholm and its individualist theory of popular sovereignty, see Randy E. Barnett, “The People or the State?: Chisholm v. Georgia and Popular Sovereignty” (93 Va. L. Rev. 1729-1758, 2007). (This paper can be downloaded free of charge here.) His conclusion is striking:

If nothing else, Chisholm teaches that the concept of sovereignty as residing in the body of the people, as individuals, was alive at the time of the founding and well enough to be adopted by two Justices of the Supreme Court, who were also influential Founders. Likewise, Chisholm shows that the bold assertion that states inherited the power of kings (subject only to express constitutional constraints) was rejected by four of five Justices when the issue first arose. By omitting Chisholm v. Georgia, the first great constitutional case, from the canon of constitutional law, we have turned our gaze away from perhaps the most fundamental question of constitutional theory and the radical way it was once answered by the Supreme Court. We law professors have hidden all this from our students; and by hiding it from our students, we have hidden it from ourselves.”

Book Review of “Eisenhower 1956” by David A. Nichols

Generally when one thinks of our thirty-fourth president, one thinks of golf. Or at least, Eisenhower was the president most closely associated with golf before Trump was elected. During Eisenhower’s eight years in office (from 1953-1961) he played almost 800 rounds of golf. Plagued by a football knee injury however, he was never satisfied with his score, and once grumbled, “If I don’t improve, I’m going to pass a law that no one can ask me my golf score.”

Eisenhower playing golf in 1956 (Time Life Pictures - Getty Images)

But Eisenhower was much more adept than his diversionary life suggested, even if the fact that the press played up his avocations (he was also fond of painting) tended to obscure his successes as President. One of the greatest of his achievements was the commanding way in which he handled the Suez Crisis of 1956.

In that year, America’s closest allies pursued a course of action profoundly adverse to U.S. interests and which also brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. In the greatest secrecy, Britain, France, and Israel prepared and conducted an invasion of Egypt in response to Gamal Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal.

Gamal Nasser came to international attention in 1952, when he and a group of army officers overthrew the monarchy of Egypt and Sudan. He became president of Egypt in a military coup in 1956. Nasser wanted to build the Aswan High Dam to regulate the flow of the Nile River, and sought financial aid from the United States. The U.S. was willing to assist the Egyptians only if they installed financial controls that the Egyptians considered infringement on their sovereignty. The Soviet Union was willing to assist Egypt under less onerous terms, but the U.S. used its leverage in arms sales to dissuade the Russians. Unable to find satisfactory financing for the dam, Nasser then nationalized the Suez Canal, planning to use revenue from operation of the canal to pay for the dam.

Gamal Nasser

The British envisioned the canal as an important strategic asset because it greatly reduced travel time by sea to its prize colony, India. Even though the canal lay entirely within Egyptian territory, Britain and France owned nearly all the stock in the canal company and Britain had controlled and operated the canal since the 19th century. The British stationed 80,000 troops in the canal zone to protect its interests.

The British and the French could not envision the canal to be operated by mere Arabs (thought to be not even able to make water run down hill). Moreover, the Europeans distrusted Nasser, a dictator in his own country who was openly seeking to be the leader of the Arab world. Meanwhile, Israel and Egypt had been engaged in numerous deadly border skirmishes since 1948. The Israelis were eager to attack Egypt and annex more territory as a buffer zone between the two countries.

The British, French, and Israelis secretly concocted a wild scheme whereby the Israelis would attack Egypt from the East. Britain and France would then intervene militarily to protect their vital interests in the canal.

In mid-October 1956, just before the American presidential elections, the Israelis invaded Egypt, and the British and French launched a large expeditionary force that they had secretly assembled in Malta and Cyprus, ostensibly to separate the Egyptians and Israelis, but actually to retake the canal. Seeking to establish their influence in the Mideast, the Soviets threatened to use all necessary force, including nuclear weapons, to prevent the Europeans from taking the canal.

Eisenhower was just recovering from a severe heart attack. His Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was also very ill. Nevertheless, during this crisis with the world at the brink of war, Eisenhower managed to keep his composure. Through deft diplomacy and careful manipulation of the procedures of the United Nations, he led an American effort to persuade the British and French to withdraw from Egypt and avoid a world war, all the while keeping the Soviet Union from establishing a foothold in the oil rich Mideast. (It may have helped that the Soviets had their hands full elsewhere, as they were busy brutally putting down popular uprisings in Hungary and Poland.)

Eisenhower realized that Egypt was completely within its right to nationalize the canal with appropriate compensation to the British and French shareholders of the canal company. He also firmly believed and asserted that the law was the same for Egyptians as it was for his long time allies. He rightfully felt betrayed by Britain and France, which had kept their machinations secret from him. He had to take sides against his close friends and allies from World War II to prevent World War III. Moreover, he had to confront a strong pro Israeli lobby and a staunchly pro-Israeli Democratic party during a period immediately before the presidential election. All this while conducting his own re-election campaign while his Secretary of State was hors de combat and he himself was recovering from his own medical crisis!

Discussion: Nichols gives us an arresting description of a strong, decisive leader under great pressure. If anything, Eisenhower is portrayed even more favorably than in Michael Korda’s stridently positive Ike, An American Hero.

Eisenhower is surely our most underrated modern president. He had the guts to tell our two closest allies to discontinue a policy near and dear to them. Moreover, he defied a recalcitrant and uncooperative Israeli government, just before a presidential election no less, and forced them to cede territory they had just taken from Egypt by force of arms. Compare the reluctance of our more recent presidents to sacrifice electoral advantage and assert American strategic interest by not objecting to Israel’s construction of additional settlements in occupied land!

Eisenhower 1956 reads almost like an adventure novel with the president as the chief protagonist. But that quality may be its biggest shortcoming. It contains more detail (at what time did Ike arise, how did he sleep, what did he eat) than I found interesting in a book even about very important historical events. On the other hand, Nichols’s analysis is keen, albeit sparse.

Note: An excellent map is included, as well a number of photographs of the key players.

Rating: 3/5

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2011