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Monday, August 4, 2014
419 Reasons to Like Nigeria and Nigerians - Part 3- Cherish Your Diaspora
Originally Published on forbes.com on August 31st,2011
You’ll have to go back into the previous posts if you want the connection that this has to taxes fully explained. It is a tax court decision from 1952 that sent me down this path. This is the final post in this series, unless I decide to do more. Earlier in the series I proposed that people start making lists of 419 reasons to like Nigeria and Nigerians. Why 419 ? Well if you don’t know you’re not going to find out in this post. As I noted in my last post, I don’t know that I have anything worthwhile to offer beyond the original idea, assuming for the sake of argument that the original idea was worthwhile. Regardless, I observed that there are, probably among other reasons, two reasons that Americans form an affection for other lands and their peoples – neighbors and American history. I discussed neighbors in the last post and this one is dedicated to American history. I should mention here that I have two intellectual passions. Title 26 of the United States Code and the history of the United States from 1830 – 1870. Since I am a professional in the first and an amateur in the latter, I don’t hold myself to exacting standards of scholarly citation. Besides this is blogging not peer reviewed publication. Go check out the William and Mary Quarterly or something like that if that’s what you want.
Nation of Immigrants – Not Exactly
The large influx of immigrants into the United States commenced around 1830 and continued at an increasing pace until the early 20th century. It’s a complicated story. Here are some numbers if you want that. There are plenty more resources if you poke around. The immigrants of course changedAmerican culture in many ways, but I don’t think it is fair to say that they transformed it. If you read Democracy in America you see that many of the elements of American culture and governance were fully formed by then. TheDeclaration of Independence was almost as old then, as I am now. We still number our presidents in the same sequence. Although if we were going to drop one number 7 who is on the 20 dollar bill wouldn’t be a bad choice.
Three Major Groups in the Formation
The nation that the immigrants started coming to in droves in the mid-nineteenth century had been formed by the encounter between three major groups. The indigenous peoples of North America, the descendentsof European settlers, predominantly English speaking Protestants, many of whom could trace their ancestors in America back over a century and descendants of Africans taken in captivity to America, most of whom were held in bondage. The immigrants, not being idiots, figured out which group they wanted to be part of right off but the culture they were joining up with had been shaped by all three groups such that even the descendants of the Europeans were not European anymore. That’s another complicated story too big for blogging
What in the World Does That Have to do with Nigeria ?
For that I have to divert a little. Several years ago I visited Antietam with mydaughter. Antietam is the site of the deadliest day in American historySeptember 17, 1862. It is a very important day because Abraham Lincoln had decided that he would only issue the Emancipation Proclamation after a victory. The proclamation, by itself, did not free anybody, but after it went in effect on January 1, 1863 it meant that the men in blue suits brought freedom wherever they went. One of the monuments at Antietam which I just had to see with my daughter was dedicated to the Irish Brigade. The Irish Brigade is another long story. Suffice it to say they were probably mostly famine refugees commanded by Thomas Francis Meagher, who barely missed being executed for his participation in an abortive uprising in Ireland. One of the things that I noted was an acknowledgement of their courage by the Republic Ireland. The men were soldiers in the service of the United States of America on the bloodiest day in the country’s history. At the dedication ceremony one of the speakers said:
”They showed by their record that they brought with them a true endowment of riches. They added a glorious new chapter to the history of the Irish soldier.”
At my inauguration I spoke of the seventy million people worldwide who can claim Irish descent. I also committed my Presidency to cherishing them – even though at the time I was thinking of doing so in a purely symbolic way. Nevertheless the simple emblem of a light in the window, for me, and I hope for them, signifies the inextinguishable nature of our love and remembrance on this island those who leave it behind.
Over 100 years since the last of my immigrant ancestors came to America and the president of Ireland has the light on for me. To put the seventy million in context, the current population of Ireland is just over six million roughly 75% in the Republic and the balance in Northern Ireland, part of the U.K. Ireland had a population of about eight million in 1840. From1845 to 1852, Ireland lost two million people, half to starvation and disease and half to emigration. High rates of emigration afterwards prevented Ireland from ever recovering to its pre-Famine population.
My Favorite Civil War Monument
My favorite Civil War monument is not the one to the Irish Brigade at Antietam or the even more impressive one at Gettysburg. It is in Boston. It is called the Shaw monument in honor of Robert Gould Shaw colonel of the 54th Massachusetts. As the inscription shows the monument is really in honor of the whole regiment. I first saw it when I was eighteen and coming at it from behind so I read the inscription before I saw the Augustus Saint-Gaudens sculpture:
THE WHITE OFFICERS TAKING LIFE AND HONOR IN THEIR HANDS CAST IN THEIR LOT WITH MEN OF DESPISED RACE UNPROVED IN WAR AND RISKED DEATH AS INCITERS OF SERVILE INSURRECTION IF TAKEN PRISONERS BESIDES ENCOUNTERING ALL THE COMMON PERILS OF CAMP MARCH AND BATTLE.
THE BLACK RANK AND FILE VOLUNTEERED WHEN DISASTER CLOUDED THE UNION CAUSE SERVED WITHOUT PAY FOR EIGHTEEN MONTHS TILL GIVEN THAT OF WHITE TROOPS FACED THREATENED ENSLAVE- MENT IF CAPTURED WERE BRAVE IN ACTION PATIENT UNDER HEAVY AND DANGEROUS LABORS AND CHEERFUL AMONG HARDSHIPS AND PRIVATIONS.
TOGETHER THEY GAVE TO THE NATION AND THE WORLD UNDYING PROOF THAT AMERICANS OF AFRICAN DESCENT POSSESS THE PRIDE COURAGE AND DEVOTION OF THE PATRIOT SOLDIER. ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY THOUSAND SUCH AMERICANS ENLISTED UNDER THE UNION FLAG IN MDCCCLXIII MDCCCLXV.
CHARLES W. ELIOT.
I KNOW NOT MR. COMMANDER WHERE IN ALL HUMAN HISTORY TO ANY GIVEN THOUSAND MEN IN ARMS THERE HAS BEEN COMMITTED A WORK AT ONCE SO PROUD SO PRECIOUS SO FULL OF HOPE AND GLORY AS THE WORK COMMITTED TO YOU.
JOHN A. ANDREW, GOVERNOR
The math isn’t all that hard to do. About 30% of the persons taken in captivity from Africa were from Nigeria. That means 70% weren’t. The African people in America were pretty intermingled so you could infer that after a generation about 51% would be partially of Nigerian descent (1- (.7 x .7)). Run that out 8 generations and you are well into the nineties. So let’s be conservative and say that 150,000 of the Americans of African descent who wore blue suits in the mid eighteen sixties were partially of Nigerian descent. Now since the Americans of African descent were one of the three primary groups that created the United States, I could start naming names of other heroes, but I only promised you 419 and I’m already at 150,000 and I’m just a tax blogger and have other things I need to be writing about.
Some things I have read in other places lead me to believe I may have stepped into another controversy in which I don’t really belong, so I should clarify that this is something of a personal idiosyncratic viewpoint t. The men of the 54th Mass and the less well known but earlier formed First South Carolina Volunteers, who as mostly Gullah speakers from isolated areas were more distinctively African than their cousins recruited in the North, are American heroes. They did not think of themselves as Nigerian and their descendants probably don’t either. And maybe Nigerians don’t think of them as Nigerian. But they are American heroes, which makes them my heroes. And they are of Nigerian descent, so they make me like Nigeria. As I said in a previous post, I am very ignorant about Nigeria. Maybe Goodluck Jonathan keeps a light on for them in his house, but if he doesn’t it might not be such a bad idea. He could give Mary Robinson a call.
You may be reading this on a site other than forbes.com. Comment away, but if you also log onto forbes.com and comment there, more people may see your comment and I will be able to respond. For more on the topic of the participation Americans of African descent in the Civil War check out theAfrican American Civil War Memorial and Museum.