I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m reading Edmund Wilson’s Patriotic Gore. In the section on William T. Sherman, it has a long section on his son. Sherman wasn’t religious, but his wife was a rather devout Catholic. And one of his sons, Thomas, became a Jesuit priest. Thomas eventually went mad. To quote the second to last paragraph of the chapter:
The story of his last twenty years is most painful. He was able to travel and to live alone, and he engaged in a whole forlorn series of self-invented ministries and projects. Father Sherman first set out to organize a Catholic Colonization Society designed to resettle, in the state of Washington, recent immigrants of Catholic faith from the big American cities
On reading that, I wondered, why Washington? I mean on the one hand, there’s only so much you can question the schemes of someone who was in and out of mental institutions. On the other hand there were 40 some states when this happened, why should he pick Washington for his Catholic homeland in the US? Is it just our remoteness to the rest of the country or is it something else? I don’t know, but it put me in mind of a somewhat more creditable idea for resettlement in Washington. It starts off kind of in a strange place, so bear with me.
Before the Civil War, the United States would occasionally chide foreign governments for being bad on something or another related to human rights, and those governments would essentially respond, “fuck off, you still have slavery, so you can’t lecture us” except in more diplomatic speak. So it wasn’t until after the Civil War that US foreign policy had any sort of systematic human rights component.
All this is to get to Benjamin Franklin Peixotto, who was a consul in Romania. His official diplomatic posting was the same as any other consul, but unofficially, he was President Grant’s Jewish representative in a country that was persecuting its Jewish population. After failing to get anywhere in defense of that population, he according to this book:
In response, Peixotto advocated large-scale Jewish emigration to the United States, an objective that Romania’s antisemitic government, eager to be rid of its Jews, enthusiastically encouraged. He even contacted his old friend Governor Edward S. Salomon…about the possibility of settling Romanian Jews in Washington Territory.
I’d always assumed that in that case it was probably Governor Salomon more than Washington qua Washington that would have made us a homeland for those Romanian Jews. But in light of Father Sherman, maybe there’s something about us in the imagination of the late 1800’s?