Bellesiles is Gone--The Problem Lingers

Mr. Fought holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from Yale; he taught linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. He owns guns but is not a member of any pro- or anti-gun organizations.

In "Shanghai Express," Marlene Dietrich, as Lily, reflects that "It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily." So it is with scholarly misconduct: Michael Bellesiles didn't make his name by himself. Supported by generous subsidies over recent years, he wrote a work well calculated to appeal to a special audience defined by a particular cluster of beliefs. Now he and Emory University have parted at last, with no admission of guilt from him, and no clarification of the terms of separation from them. We don't know, and are not likely to know, whether there was a financial settlement. Though not quite the happy ending granted to Lily, it is far more than he deserved with or without a settlement.

Many months ago, a seasoned former academic administrator predicted just such an outcome to me. At first I didn't believe there could be any possibility of a financial settlement after such egregious misconduct. She explained: complicity. Bellesiles didn't just happen: he ripened as he rose through the whole academic system, through graduate study at UC Irvine and teaching in a junior position at UCLA before being hired at Emory as an associate professor, and finally promoted to full professor there. He was supported all along by his peer reviewers, it seems, until volunteers dug out and published enough damning evidence about his recent book to make a new official review unavoidable. Steady pressure from outsiders clearly played a significant and probably decisive role in bringing this case to its conclusion. Clayton Cramer, James Lindgren, David Mehegan, Melissa Seckora, Jerome Sternstein, Kimberley Strassel, Joyce Lee Malcolm and the volunteer archivists of the Contra Costa County Historical Society, among many others, deserve to share a better prize than the Bancroft for their hard and effective work in setting this matter right. In a war, whether shooting or writing, never underestimate the militia.

Unfortunately, it seems that many senior academics still don't understand that what has happened has happened in some measure to them. They are tainted by this failure to use their antique guild procedures strictly, fairly, and above all, promptly; in this they failed all of us. They don't seem to grasp how easily it could happen again.

The main obstacle to dealing forthrightly with gross academic misconduct is the reflexive reaction that any disciplinary measure at all will forever destroy academic freedom, which is fully enjoyed only by tenured faculty, by the way. But this defense of academic freedom may simply mask the worship of academic privilege, that is, a remarkably complete freedom from accountability. The exercise of this privilege to commit scholarly fraud -- rewarded by prizes, royalties, fellowships -- is hard to distinguish from theft by deception. Most fraud, after all, is committed for gain. The long line of Bellesiles's enablers will not be made to pay. His first victims have paid already: they were the scholars whose honest work was not rewarded with the very positions and funds that went to him, and the professional influence that went with them. And all the rest of us are victims too. The book is still sitting on thousands of library and bookstore shelves, waiting to deceive unwary readers for decades to come. The reviewers are ready for another front-page assignment. The editor at Knopf is still in place, doubtless hoping to publish another bombshell soon. There is little cause for rejoicing in this outcome until the system is forced to change. Until then, the moral of this story will remain 'tell them what they want to hear; lie as much as you dare; cash the checks.' Doesn't it sound like the nightly news?

Peer review is supposed to be an adequate protection against fraud, inaccuracy, and other scholarly shortcomings, that being its main reason for existing. There have been studies of how it really works. They do not make encouraging reading. Even if the built-in temptations for reviewers could be taken out of it, the official peer review system can't possibly work as it needs to within the microscopically subdivided academic research system of today: often there are no true peers to be found. In practice, peer review is a compost that nourishes cronyism, conformism, and other abuses. Bellesiles was reviewed at least twice by Emory: once at hiring, and once for promotion, that time after his 1996 article, a preview of the book to follow, had appeared in a peer-reviewed journal. He passed all of those reviews. By now, the selection and performance of the referees for Bellesiles' 1996 paper and for Arming America by Knopf, and of the panelists for the Bancroft Prize award, can also be seen to have worked out rather poorly, after all, just like the personnel actions at Emory. These are all examples of normal peer review, which is in effect a system of social promotion. Of course there are no official admissions of fault, few individual retractions, not even many excuses. And above all, there are no consequences for the many panelists.

The usually unspoken understanding among academics is, first of all, that it's none of your business, and second, that nobody can afford to check thousands of references and facts in a couple of weeks just as an exercise in academic piety, so hardly anyone does. When there's trouble, as in the Bellesiles case, senior members of the discipline first rally around the 'victim' of attacks from outsiders, under the banner of academic freedom, until this begins to seem embarrassing or even risky. Then the buck is passed to the home department. Time passes, and then more time. More time than any procedural guidelines allow. There may be a settlement someday, but its terms will be confidential.

Recent scandals among American historians, including revelations of habitual plagiarism and general sloppiness, underscore an urgent need for a better process than peer review in its current form. One possibility would be to take advantage of the pool of retired senior experts in each field by establishing blind panels of reviewers, from which an editor would be assigned a few to review each submission. Maintaining such panels would even give disciplinary associations something useful to do. The reviewers could be paid an adequate sum upon delivery, as editorial consultants. The ones who never found fault, and those who found nothing else, could be dropped from panels; the rest could make themselves useful and earn some money. The costs should be borne by the authors, who are usually the only real beneficiaries of the academic cycle of publication for promotion. Another approach, actually a more honest one, I think, would be simply to drop the pretext of peer review altogether, to stop invoking its protection, and to let the reader beware, as beware one must in any case. That would be much like the reality of the current system, in which the editor has almost complete control of the outcome anyhow.

Finally, there is a view, often expressed over the course of the Bellesiles affair, that only 'scholars' are able to evaluate 'scholarly' publications. This belief is closely related to the peer review fantasy. In the Bellesiles case, both early and quite late, some asserted that only scholars' comments on his work were relevant, and that only the Emory department could evaluate his fitness, and that all this would take as much time as it takes. But in this case, anyone concerned with the politics of gun control and gun rights could and did come to a conclusion about what Bellesiles was doing and why. Some amateurs and professionals outside the academic profession of American history are truly experts on one or more of the topics addressed in that book, and are thus better qualified than many a tenured American historian who lacks that special expertise to pass judgement on Arming America. Bellesiles' work is out there, available to the public; so are many sources he claims to have used. Anyone can compare what the sources actually say with what the work says they say, and come to an informed conclusion about its accuracy. In academic practice, I repeat, this is what any careful scholar does, of necessity. It is exceedingly disingenuous to claim that only people holding a certain credential can do this kind of checking. What has been demonstrated beyond question by this case, after all, is that these credentials or the lack of them meant nothing. If all this is hard for you to swallow, gentle reader, look within yourself and ask why.

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poop - 3/28/2003

poop sucks. aerosol cheese rules!

Bob Andrews - 12/21/2002

I urge everyone to print copies of the following notice on small slips of paper and insert them into copies of the book at all libraries and book stores.

You might also print up the notice on stickers and seek permission to paste them into the books. But seek permission or you will be committing vandalism.


In October of 2002, Michael Bellesiles resigned from Emory University after an independent panel of PhDs wrote that his work "does move into the realm of falsification" and Emory deemed him to be "guilty of unprofessional and misleading work."

In December of 2002, Columbia University rescinded the Bancroft Prize for his work, saying "his book had not and does not meet the standards ... established for the Bancroft Prize"

Mr. Bellesiles' research fraud ranged from selectively editing source materials to citing non-existent San Francisco probate records that actually were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.

source: AP Wire: 12/13/02

Clayton E. Cramer - 11/19/2002

Let me emphasize that Stiles's claim that criminal misuse of
handguns became more common after the Civil War is not specific
to Bellesiles. I don't know if it is actually true, but it
was perceived by some people after the Civil War that it
was true. There are state supreme court decisions in some
Southern states that make exactly this claim.

What changed seems not to be so much the availability of guns, but the desire of people to carry them. This is unsurprising; once you get used to relying on a gun for your protection from sudden death, it's difficult to stop carrying one, even when the need goes away. (Yes, I'm speaking from personal experience, living in Los Angeles in the early 1980s.)

T.J. Stiles - 11/9/2002

I would like to comment on the mention of Bellesiles's work in the endnotes to my book,
"Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War," and the mistaken notion that there is some
kind of censorship of reader reviews at Amazon. There were two negative customer
reviews that appeared on Amazon--reviews of the bound galleys, not the final book.
I e-mailed Amazon about this, because there were significant changes in the final book,
and asked if they had a policy concerning such cases. I did not ask that they be removed.
"I don't mind people sounding off about my book--the more the merrier," is what I wrote.
Amazon wrote me and said that they do have a policy, and they removed the reviews. If
the critics wish to read the final book and repost reviews, taking the changes into account,
by all means they should do so. For example, there is a negative review on Amazon now
that I think is somewhat unfair (it accuses me of not mentioning things that I do indeed
mention, but I draw different conclusions than other writers), but my feelings
are beside the point--it is, at least, a review of the actual published book.

The significant changes I made regarded Bellesiles's work. When I completed the manuscript,
well over a year ago, Bellesiles had won the Bancroft Prize, and so I referred to his work in
my notes when I discussed firearms; I certainly had no pressure from Knopf to do so.
However, by the time the book was being typeset, a well-reasoned and convincing set of criticisms
had been made by academic historians in the "William and Mary Quarterly."
So I altered my treatment of gun-owning before the Civil War, and altered the notes to alert the reader
to the fact that Bellesiles's book had come under harsh criticism, and was highly controversial. Some
may think I should have removed the book entirely from my notes, but books are not cited in scholarly notes
purely as sources--it is customary to include references to notable books on a subject, even if the author
has problems with them. I also made my final alterations just as the academic counterattack against Bellesiles
was breaking; it was not so overwhelming as it is now, but I still accepted it. I restricted my comments
regarding guns to say (1) specifically military weapons were in short supply at the outbreak of the Civil War,
and (2) specifically revolvers became much more common as a result of the Civil War,
in particular the habit of actually wearing revolvers in Missouri and the South.
I had multiple sources for both points, especially point (2), quite apart from Bellesiles's work. Indeed, remove all
references to his work, and nothing in my book would change. In fact, remove all references to firearms
ownership, and my book would be largely unaffected--the bits on guns are just not central to my book.

I do not say that there were few guns in Missouri before the Civil War; I actually say that
they were "common enough," but did not "define life" there until the Civil War.
Indeed, a gun-control opponent could use my book as evidence that it is not guns themselves,
but society, that cause bloodshed, as I point to the breakdown in society during
the Civil War as the real root of postwar violence. It would be very hard for someone to argue that the
Civil War did not lead to a vast increase in the production and distribution of revolvers; but I note that
daily revolver carrying and use became much more common in specifically those areas that had seen
terrible internecine bloodshed in the war. As one man wrote from Missouri in 1866, "Fist and skull fighting
has played out here; they now do that business in a more prompt manner." People had plenty of revolvers in Ohio,
too, but I don't believe there was the same kind of personal gunplay in that far less divided state.

Bellesiles's work has aroused fierce passions--I think everyone can agree on that. But suggesting that my book
is somehow poisoned or fraudulent simply because I list Bellesiles in a few endnotes is ridiculous. My book in no way
rests upon his; indeed, my very limited discussion of firearms is peripheral to my main points. Like any book,
mine is open to criticism, but I encourage critics to think carefully about the problems they have with.
Jesse James and Southern history arouse fierce passions, too--but it's best to keep them
separate from those over Bellesiles when it comes to an argument over my book.
--T.J. Stiles

Richard Henry Morgan - 11/4/2002

Speaking of Korematsu, you might notice that it makes no appearance in Brown v. Board of Education, though it certainly touches on related issues. I once posed the question why to my students, and it took a week for one to come back with the answer -- Warren, the apostle of civil rights had, when Attorney-General of California, supported internment of Japanese-Americans (a point that gets about an entire sentence in Warren's recent biography).

Jim March - 11/4/2002

Cruikshank stood in in favor of allowing states to kill their minority citizens with no Federal oversight, while both ignoring and destroying the 14th Amendment in the process.

It was both legally incorrect and an action in support of violence, it doesn't get worse than that.

Thomas L. Spencer - 10/31/2002

It would be similar to that from the Houston Chronicle, with some added notations about the Bellesiles matter and how it relates to the book. In the original proof version there was rather slavish attention to B's text, including a statement about 1 of 3 men on the frontier owning a gun. When things started to get hot, that was changed to a watered down version. Both the book and the article are cited as sources in this book, even now. If you are by a bookstore or library [don't run out and buy it], have a look at the endnotes. "And the beat goes on...."

Thomas Gunn - 10/31/2002

I looked at the Amazon site and it show just 4 of 4 reviews but without explaination posts a review which references other reviews, "I frankly don't understand the angry reviews that some have posted on Amazon."

Aparently Amazon thinks folks are too stupid to put 4 and 4 together.


Thomas L. Spencer. - 10/31/2002

The link on the above thread doesn't work so I put the review text below. By the way, Stiles cites Bellesiles as a source six times in his notes, as well as his original 1996 article. And so it goes......


Oct. 18, 2002, 1:03PM

Probe of Jesse James as product of his time falls short


Last Rebel of the Civil War.

By T.J. Stiles.

Knopf, $27.50; 475 pp.

THE first question raised by a new biography of one of America's most notorious outlaws is whether it's needed. A casual survey reveals more than 100 titles, from the sublimely fanciful to the seriously historical, presently available on Jesse James. It seems the subject has been pretty well exhausted.

But T.J. Stiles attacks the subject from a different perspective. He does not treat the infamous James Gang as merely a collection of miscreants falsely sponsored by their commitment to the Lost Cause of the South, or as petty criminals and murderers elevated to historical prominence through tabloid-press sensationalism.

Instead, Stiles argues that Frank and Jesse James were products of their turbulent political times as well as instruments of the volatile and violent death throes of the Old South.

The argument is not without merit. The politics of 19th-century Missouri were volatile and confusing. Stiles' thesis is that, to a great extent, Missouri's internal struggle is a microcosm of the national tragedy that was the War Between the States. But his argument sinks under the weight of strained reasoning supported mostly by supposition and conjecture.

The book is overwritten and disorganized. The first 200 pages offer a repetitive and disorderly account of pre- and postwar Missouri politics and border warfare that is complicated enough without Stiles' anti-Southern biases and slavish commitment to political correctness.

His scholarly naiveté emerges early as he announces with shock that some slaveholders were law-abiding, solid citizens, even staunch unionists. He is stunned to discover that the Jameses didn't brutally beat their slaves and that many freed slaves, including the Jameses', voluntarily remained with their former masters as paid laborers.

Otherwise, he patronizingly dwells on such tangential material as how hogs were rendered, how period weapons worked and how Southerners called virtually all federal troops "Yankees."

Stiles bridges his research with speculation, guesswork and novelistic imagining. Words and phrases such as "likely," "apparently," "no doubt," "might have" and "perhaps" pockmark the prose. He fills in other gaps with extraneous observations that often have no connection to his subject.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Stiles' attempt to shoehorn Jesse James into his political analysis. Often it seems the author has forgotten the book's title and avowed purpose, adding a sentence or two on James with a kind of "oh, yeah" transition.

It is well-documented that Jesse rode with William Quantrill and Bill Anderson during the Civil War and that the depredations of these and other bushwhackers and guerrillas were horrific beyond imagination. But Stiles' presentation of their atrocities and Jesse's part in them is seldom balanced.

Whether James was actually present during many of the more sensational events is not always established. At the same time, Stiles glosses over the equally atrocious terror spread throughout Missouri by Jim Lane, the Kansas Jayhawkers and the Colorado Volunteers.

Once Stiles focuses on Jesse James himself, the book picks up pace. But any hope of a meaningful portrait of James is quickly dashed. Stiles' accounts of James' more sensational criminal exploits rely on concrete period reports, but Stiles hurries through them, rarely pausing to give salient detail. Even his account of the calamitous Northfield, Minn., raid offers more ink on the background of one of the bank's major depositors than on the botched robbery and ensuing shootout.

What does ultimately emerge from the volume is the image of Jesse James as a phenomenon of his times. Far from a ruthless border brigand with murder on his mind and mayhem in his heart, Stiles' Jesse James emerges as a thoughtful, politically astute individual who well knew how to manipulate public opinion.

It's also stunning to realize that James' post-bellum outlaw career spanned more than 15 years, during which time he was never arrested and he moved about freely, protected by politics and his personal popularity.

In this regard, Stiles demonstrates the power of propaganda. He details the seminal role newspaper editor John Newman Edwards played in the development of Jesse James' public image and how the notorious Edwards used James and other former bushwhackers to further his own political idealism.

But finally this volume falls short. Readers seeking to learn something new about the celebrated outlaw and crusader for the Lost Cause will be disappointed, since Jesse James the man rarely appears in Stiles' prose, and when he does, he remains as shadowy and elusive a figure as he has always been.

Clay Reynolds is a professor in the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas and is the author of five novels, the most recent of which is Monuments.

Thomas L. Spencer - 10/31/2002

A number of days ago I posted a review on the web site for another Knopf book, T.J. Stiles' JESSE JAMES: LAST REBEL OF THE CIVIL WAR. It ended up being censored off the site after a brief posting, but you can see another reviewer mentioning it in their ultra positive review. You may have seen this book featured as the cover review on the NY TIMES this past weekend. Below is a link to a much better and to the point review that appeared in the Oct.18 Houston CHRONICLE by a member of the faculty at the Univ. of Texas - Dallas:

If you go to Amazon and look at their review of AA you can see that it too has a glowing review from the Amazon staff. Fortunately, the reader reviews offset this. However, this was before Amazon instituted its current policy of censorship. I expect to see B's forthcoming tome treated with the new "see no evil" policy.

John G. Fought - 10/31/2002

Wasn't there also a salt tax in Colonial America, predicated on the requirement to import salt from dear old England? I seem to recall that this was a favorite of Parliament, because of some inefficient salt operation somewhere in the Homeland. I believe it stayed a favorite too: I think one of Gandhi's first nonviolent demonstrations involved forbidden saltmaking in India, forbidden because all salt was supposed to be imported. I'm just trying to help, salting away a little credit, maybe to get a little footnote in your Salting America opus, somewhere in vol. III. Why, now that I think of it, I'll bet that's how the Shakers got their name!

Clayton E. Cramer - 10/31/2002

I was actually tempted to write a parody called _Salting America: The Development of a Saline Culture_. I found quite a number of items in Revolutionary War records that showed that Americans were suddenly quite interested in salt and salt making. By quoting carefully, I could use Bellesiles's techniques to establish that there was very little use of salt in colonial America. How much salt appears in probate records? I've never seen any!

Suddenly, at the start of the Revolution, governments are pouring money out to anyone and everyone that promises to make them salt. Why? Well, obviously, Americans had never used salt before!

The actual reason, of course, is that Americans imported salt in large quantities from dryer and hotter climates, where it was easier to evaporate water out of seawater. I was astonished to find that some colonies were sending ships overseas to buy salt!

Clayton E. Cramer - 10/31/2002

Don Hickey at least recognizes and admits that he was in error. Quite a number of other historians were deceived by Bellesiles as well, but haven't owned up to it.

In any case, the most fundamental problem was that Bellesiles lied. The peer review system is inadequate, but it works on the assumption that authors aren't inventing documents, or grossly misrepresenting their sources. That is where the biggest problem is.

Here's the analogy: the police and prosecutors fail to arrest a rapist. Most of the time they do their job reasonably well. We might well need to let the police and prosecutors know that they didn't do their job well, but the primary focus of our anger needs to be directed at the rapist.

Dean Douthat - 10/31/2002

I propose that the authors of the First Amendment would be delighted at the development and wide-spread availability at modest cost of the internet. As the Supreme Court has ruled, the internet deserves even greater protection than any prior "press" technology. This ruling, IMHO, springs from its equal opportunity and low entry barrier.

Dane Lewis - 10/31/2002

Jim, You've forgotten the most racist decision of all: Korematsu v. U.S.

Thomas Gunn - 10/31/2002

Your essay gets an honorable mention by the Instapundit here.

[ ]

There are those who may wonder why there is so much interest in the question of gun rights and not others that may be under attack. I think it has something to do with the overt nature of the attacks.


Clayton E. Cramer - 10/31/2002

By California law, a sheriff or police chief can't refuse to give you an application, and can't refuse to process it. (There was a decision back in the 1970s because Sheriff Pitchess of Los Angeles said directly that only celebrities and judges good cause for a permit.) But there are all sorts of ways of making sure that you don't bother with the application process. As the police chief's secretary told me and my wife in one California city where we lived, "What's your reason? I make the decisions on this, and there may not be any point to applying."

By the way, that article of mine was in Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy, a law review. Law reviews aren't peer-reviewed in the sense that history journals are. Instead, they fact-checked the article with enormous care. If only history journals did that, Bellesiles woulld have been caught much earlier.

Jim Roberts-Miller - 10/31/2002

It is my impression that the Press, such as it was in those days, was in fact nakedly partisan. I would suggest the Founders were quite well aware of what they were dealing with.

Jim March - 10/31/2002

Right. And the bastards know that.

Go try and apply. Anywhere in California - try and get an application form. With some departments, insist on your right to at least apply, and you're liable to get threatened with jail.

I've been denied 9 times now. Only two were on paper, documented. And both times, I had to sue to even see the forms.

Go into any urban agency and file a PRAR on their records of denied applicants. They flat out won't have any.

(I know of one PRAR requester who was threatened with investigation and possible deportation just for filing a PRAR, Calif's version of an FOIA. They mistook her for an immigrant. She commented on the absurdity of deportation to Ann Arbor, MI. The conversation deteriorated. I know of two PRAR requesters who filed same after being denied the permit. They were then told their permit applications were being "reconsidered" if they'd "reconsider" their PRAR. How many ways can I express "this system sucks", guys?)

I've looked at well over 1,000 records of issued applicants. I've seen a grand total records of denial of...jeez, less than a few dozen. Almost all of 'em at SFPD, they're the only urban agency that consistently keeps denial records.

I have never seen a record of issuance to a female victim of violence/stalking. Never.

So what I'm going to do, once I get ALL the state's records of issuance off of the state DOJ, is to organize all the permitholders into four basic categories:

* Male permitholders who are "ordinary citizens";

* Male permitholders who are the sorts of gov't employees who usually get easy access, such as Judges, DA staff, reserve cops, etc.

* Female "ordinary citizens".

* Female "gov't employees" of the type that usually score.

What I expect to find is that female issuance is virtually all of the "gov't types that usually score regardless".

The other way to "normalize" the data is to check female issuance rates against the rate in the "shall issue" states where the standards are objective versus subjective. So far, I've found that Texas and Tennessee publish stats; in both cases, ladies make up about 19% of the permitholders. There are 32 such states, I hope to gather data in as many as possible. California won't hit near that.

I'll be sharing all my raw data with as many pros as possible. Clayton Cramer, John Lott, and if I can interest an honest anti-gun scholar (such as the liberal critics of "Arming America) I'll share there too.

I don't intend to make the full permitholder list public, for privacy reasons.

Matt - 10/30/2002

As a student of Professor Hickey's, I must say I found it rather amusing to hear him admit that the political implications of Bellesiles' work--make that "work"--never entered his head.

That said, when I told him about the comment on this site regarding his "screwing up," he laughed and responded that he was the only one to admit having done so. He's right: there must have been any number of other reviewers who have not spoken up. And Don Hickey was, to my knowledge, the first academic to pipe up and call this work a "fraud." Others simply tiptoed around the obvious.

And what if Hickey had caught something that didn't look "quite right"? The article concedes that the editor thoroughly controls what goes through and what doesn't. What makes the case of "Arming America" so disturbing is that a thoroughly liberal academic culture was unable to catch a fraudulent work that appealed to its emotional erogenous zones. It wasn't for lack of warning, either: Clayton Cramer was on this case before anybody else. When a work of history wins a Bancroft Prize before any "serious" historians think to look into its sources, than the historical profession has a problem. And that goes far beyond one man's work.

Steve Lowe - 10/30/2002

Question: How many applications have there been in those counties? It seems as if the REJECTION rate would be a better indicator of racism, especially if the rejection rate of Afican American or Hispacic applicants is statistically significantly higher than the rejection rate for whites.

Jim March - 10/30/2002

...which involves phrases such as:

"Would you like fries with that?"


Seriously now, the next big fraud to debunk in gun control public policy is the historical and current links between gun control and racism. LONG before he took a lead role debunking Bellesiles, Clayton Cramer wrote "The Racist Roots Of Gun Control", published originally in a peer-review law history journal (1995). Since then, much more has come to light, esp. the background of the Cruikshank case (1876), arguably the single most racist US Supreme Court decision ever and *still* cited as current case law for the proposition that the Federal gov't cannot enforce the 2nd Amendment against states:


The Supreme Court decided the case of United States v. Cruikshank in 1876. The case grew out of a brutal massacre of blacks in the little Louisiana town of Colfax.
In Colfax whites burned the court house and murdered an unknown number of blacks. After the U.S. Army restored order, a federal grand jury indicted 72 white men. The United States Attorney brought nine to trial and won a conviction against William Cruikshank and two others.

Normally the federal government does not prosecute persons charged with murder. Control of ordinary crime has traditionally been the job of the states. In this case the U.S. Attorney used the 1870 Enforcement Act. This law makes it a crime for two or more persons to band together with intent to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen.

The Supreme Court threw out the convictions of Cruikshank and his cohorts. As it had in the Slaughterhouse Cases, the Court acted to protect states' power. "Every republican government," Chief Justice Morrison Remick Waite wrote, "is in duty bound to protect all its citizens." He then added, "That duty was originally assumed by the States; and it still remains there."

Jim again: none of the other obviously racist decisions such as Plessy vs. Fergusen, Dred Scott or Williams vs. Mississippi declared it impossible to control states that outright killed blacks. And the majority decision in Cruikshank didn't even mention the 14th Amendment.

Evidence of current racism in gun law: - documents how only 3% of Fresno County's 2,500 gun carry permit holders were Latino, despite the county being 45% Hispanic per Y2000 census data! - if you live in a California county with less than the state average black demographics (6.7%), your odds of having a gun carry permit is 5 times higher than if you live in a county that is 6.7% black or greater.


Jim March
Equal Rights for CCW Home Page

Don Williams - 10/30/2002

Gentlemen, Gentlemen, Gentlemen!

Let's not pick on Mr Luker --let's invite him to a poker game. I always enjoy the company of optimists. Heh heh heh.

Anyone ever read Helman Melville's "The Confidence Man" , by any chance? Never destroy another man's delusions --indulge him! For a price, of course.

In the meantime, join me in a glass of Drambuie and enjoy the delightful song of Mr Bellesiles lecturing to the February 16,2000 Symposium on the Second Amendment --sponsored by
the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence aka Handgun Control.
Enjoy Mr Bellesiles' semi-British accent as he mocks Joyce Malcolm and recounts how his British buddies at Oxford break into guffaws when he recount Ms Malcolm's scholarship.

Listen to the audio file "British Heritage of the Right to Gun Ownership" at .

Then move on the the other files of Bellesiles lecture --and listen to his scorn for the NRA.

"Empires wax and wane; states cleave asunder and coalesce. When the rule of Chou weakened seven contending principalities sprang up, warring one with another till they settled down as Ts'in and when its destiny had been fulfilled arose C'hu and Han to contend for the mastery. And Han was the victor."

--San Kuo Chih Yen-I (Romance of the Three Kingdoms)

Thomas Gunn - 10/29/2002

Absolutely correct, Ralph.

The HNN blogger Thomas M. Spencer is the character I was refering to. Sorry for any misunderstanding. I rather enjoy Thomas L. Spencer's posts.

There are a host of reasons I'd prefer your blog to Spence's, not the least of which is that you are able to disagree without resorting to meanness.


There are a minimum of two paradigm (paradigi(s)?) at work here. The one John and I and most of the others here are mainly interested in, namely that Bellesiles lied in an apparent attempt to influence policy, and which you Ralph refuse to address. The other which seems to interest Ralph more is that the peer process be fair to Michael and not trample the system, which is intended to enhance freedom of thought in an acedemic setting, and was so abused by Bellesiles. Ralph will leave it to others to speculate the how and why peer review failed in this instance, recalling my post, "Remember Michael Floated this T.. T... T... (Oh heck I can't say it) in 1996" here: [ ]. The original title thoughtfully sanitized.

We can count with some certainty. eg. How many guns antebellum. The meaning we must divine, absent definitive writings of trusted contemporary sources.

That is what the current debate over the second falls to. Facts versus speculation.


Ralph E. Luker - 10/29/2002

I think Thomas L. Spencer is not to be confused with Thomas M. Spencer. Right?

Thomas L. Spencer - 10/29/2002

I'd rather see Ralph bloging than to be here myself. Meanwhile, here is a comment someone made to the recent editorial on the Emory WHEEL web site:

"My only disappointment is that this result was not reached earlier, as now "Arming America" has been quoted as authoritative in Gary Wills's "A Necessary Evil: A History of American Mistrust of Government."'

J. Merrett - 10/29/2002

Mr. Cramer, I think you can go Bellesiles one better, by starting with a factual premise. Consider the following:

My (admittedly cursory) (well, OK, nonexistent) research in pre-1832 North American probate materials suggests very strongly that not one testator owned or left to his heirs _any_ computers, stereos, George Foreman Grills, aerosol deodorant, aerosol cheese, or nylon rope.

Now, given that these items are not only ubiquitous in the contemporary world, but are regarded as property which citizens may own as of right, how do we account for their dearth in Colonial and Early Republican America? Why does their absence extend not only through the beginning of the republican era, but CROSS THE BORDER into Canada? What does this tell us about our so-called "right" to listen to our stereos while lashing our George Foreman Grills to our computer monitors with nylon rope, and to top the burgers we have grilled with aerosol cheese, all the while smelling fresh as a spring rain?

As you can see, I have done the spade work for you. I urge you to take up the challenge and write. The glory is yours alone.

John G. Fought - 10/29/2002

Thanks for your concern. In all this, our personalities as well as the issues are in play. I don't intend to leave the fight - far from it. But I'm going to have to manage my time better. I have 'real' work to finish too. I also perceive that Mr. Luker is a good-hearted person. I've known several over the years. I've noticed that they don't always leave matters better than they were before, and being good-hearted, this bothers them. It bothers the hell out of me, too. As I see it, mercy is not always the right choice, and compassion is sometimes absurd. But in the end, our beating on each other in these pages over the same issue again and again is not very useful, so I'm going to attend to other things.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/29/2002

As Ronald Reagan said, Thomas, "There you go again." The last time I checked, a request for evidence is not an appeal to emotion and, as for your repeatedly calling me "anti-rights," I'll be happy to compare my record in defense of Americans' civil rights with that of anyone. Meanwhile, gotta go write 5 articles for series of books on _Americans at War_. Sigh ...

Thomas Gunn - 10/29/2002

why do you let it become so?

". . . this is my last posting in response to you. Really."

First off, Ralph is not a bad person, god knows he's had his trials and tribulations. And I don't know why Ralph devolves to the strictly emotional, except in the final analysis that is all the anti-rights side has. Maybe Ralph was made a victim through circumstances and can not find his way back. I don't know. What I do know is no matter where you look for any substanstial debate on the BOR the anti side stoops to the emotional argument, and beats it like a rented mule.

I hope you don't fall prey to the trap "they win because you don't wanna play". The *real* victims are not the right-restricters, or the criminal perps who get caught, but the common everyday joe just trying to get along believing he's gonna get a fair shake. And when his money, property or life is taken from him (because he's not allowed to defend himself) the rights-abridgers will bend over backwards and see that the criminal gets every benefit the law allows.

I hope you will rethink your hasty decision and get back into the fight.

BTW aren't you both members of the HNN 'family'? And really I'd rather see Ralph blogging for HNN than that Spencer character.


John G. Fought - 10/29/2002

Look again, Mr. Luker: it's you I put on the Titanic. I have an idea: why don't you provide a list of the authors and titles which prove the purity of the system? I'm too busy right now, and it would be a good break with your practice up so far of posting unsubstantiated opinions in the form of pieties. Also, I've forgotten where I wrote 'cesspool of corruption'. It sounds a little too dramatic to have been my phrase.
My article is about peer review. I'm sure you don't want me to instruct you on this, really, but if you do want to find out more about it, start by searching on the web or in a good library catalog under 'peer review'. You'll find some interesting material, including some international conferences and a few journals, though not much is specifically based on the humanities fields. Don't worry, though: I don't think you'll find it difficult to recognize the similarities. The difference seems to be that the humanities simply receive less scrutiny. By the way, this is my last posting in response to you. Really.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/29/2002

Beyond Michael Bellesiles's _Arming America_, I still await John Fought's list of other authors and titles which are evidence of the cesspool of corruption he describes in this article. If he thinks he is on the Titanic, I do certainly recommend that he get off of it.

Clayton E. Cramer - 10/29/2002

"For my part, I particularly regret the time stolen from Clayton Cramer's historical work on gunmakers to help deal with this mess." Actually, I only started looking at gunmakers because of this matter.

Bellesiles's book is actually a lot like the Holocaust denial claims from neo-Nazis in the 1970s--they forced a lot of historians to go out and gather oral histories from the survivors, and led to corrections of some of the errors (e.g., Jewish lard made into bars of soap).

Clayton E. Cramer - 10/29/2002

"_Arming America_ is not a sign of the end of civilization as we have known it. It is a turning point, toward better books." Only if publishers are willing to publish a corrective work. They are not. As Oxford University Press explained, after their reviewers had looked over my book, "very persuasive--almost unrefutable" but they weren't interested because corrective books don't sell.

Lies sell very well, however. Perhaps I should go ahead write a book about how early Americans didn't use salt. I've already got a pile of evidence that there was no salt in America before the Revolution!

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/29/2002

I don't suggest that we seize, or ban, or burn books, but similar things do happen already. I remember visiting the University of Texas Undergrad Library some years ago to attend a linguistics conference upstairs. And I dropped by the stacks and read a comparative report on grad programs shelved there. When I returned later, to read it some more, it was no longer on the shelf. Since it was non-circulating, I asked the librarian for assistance in finding it. She informed me that UT no longer kept it shelved (she produced it from her desk for me) because it could not endorse the report's findings. They were, she explained, doing a service for the undergrads, who they did not want misled. I asked her if that meant that UT endorsed all the opinions and findings remaining on the shelves, and she grew silent (and looked unamused). I noticed the report did not have flattering things to say about some of UT's grad programs.

It's my hope that Bellesiles's book remains on the shelf, right next to a volume on Bellesiles written by Jerome Sternstein.

John G. Fought - 10/29/2002

Now that you've read Mr. Luker's replies, let me say 'welcome to my world'. On the Titanic, he would not have been rearranging the deck chairs. Instead, I picture him lecturing the passengers on the health benefits of a bracing morning swim. I think you made a good point.

John G. Fought - 10/29/2002

It's very much to his credit that he's openly admitted it, though. It's a rare and praiseworthy event when that happens in any profession. Still, we should consider how much easier on everyone it would have been to have done the checking and cleanup on the much narrower and briefer article rather than have that whole book to shovel through.

John G. Fought - 10/29/2002

Yes, under the conditions you describe, prepublication review can work well, and sometimes it does. When this happens, I think the editor responsible for choosing the reviewers deserves credit as much as anyone. My own experiences have been mixed. Peer review is also used in hiring and promotion, however, and there it is much more vulnerable to cronyism and related ills. As long as there is confidentiality and lack of accountability, there will be abuses. Most of the concentrated attention to the process and outcomes and accountability for misconduct is found in biomedical fields, where lives may literally be at stake, as well as very large sums of money for equipment and other expenses. Many of the safeguards found in explicit guidelines in other fields or for all sponsored academic research are derived from federal agency standards imposed on funded biomedical research.

Don Williams - 10/29/2002

The National Review had this comment from Don Hickey:
Don Hickey, a professor of history at Wayne State College, who peer reviewed Bellesiles's earlier work, recently said, "These criticisms have convinced me that Bellesiles misread, misused, and perhaps even fabricated some of his evidence. I no longer believe that his evidence proves his thesis (though it is still possible that the thesis is at least partly correct). Had it not been for the work of an independent scholar as well as the popular press, I might not have reached this conclusion."


The FrontPageMag had this statement:
Don Hickey, a historian at Wayne State College in Nebraksa, originally supported Bellesiles’ work, and had recommended publication of an early version of his research in The Journal of American History. Now he says “it is a case of genuine, bona fide academic fraud.”

Don Hickey is an expert on the War of 1812 and his book --The War of 1812 : A Forgotten Conflict -- included a description of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.

I find it hard to understand why Bellesiles' description of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans did not raise red flags to Hickey.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/29/2002

Good heavens, Mr. Kipper. If folk don't read more carefully than this, it really won't make any difference at all that they read or _what_ they read. It will say whatever they want it to. You say: "You equate [_Arming America_] to 'Mein Kampf' and 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion;' primary sources that reveal the motivations of the authors."
Of course, I made no such "equation" because, if anything, what I did was note a contrast of moral impact between _AA_ and such books. _AA_ is not intended as a "primary source." It becomes that only when it is taken as evidence of the mind of the author.
If you read what I have written as a defense of Bellesiles and _AA_, it can only be because you live in a universe which is so thoroughly bipolar that matters of degree and nuance are irrelevant. In such a world, one won't have to read. You can simply be told which side is good or bad, right or wrong, black or white, credible or incredible and take up arms in the cause.

Charles V. Mutschler - 10/29/2002

Professors Fought and Luker, a few observations on peer review, if I may.

I think the success of _Arming America_ does underscore serious problems in the system. If the peer reviewers are really experts in the field, and the subject of the work, then the process probably works well. If the reviewers are simply other people holding appropriate degrees in the discipline, but not any great expertise on the subject, then it is more likely that the process may fail to find substantive problems with the manuscript.

I think much of what went wrong with the review of _Arming America_ stems from that latter situation. the subject seemed to totally reverse what the profession believed it understood about firearms ownership in the US. In such a case, it would have seemed logical to get one or more people with expertise in this specific field to look at the article (and subsequently the book) manuscript carefully. Given the claims of the manuscript, the reviewers should have wanted to be very careful, checking sources and the author's notes with great detail to be certain that the research really supported the thesis. Arguably, given the nature of the subject, one of the reviewers should have been someone who had the opposing view, to be sure that no corners had been cut in the research. It would appear that most of the reviewers of the initial article were not especially expert in military history, the history of weaponry, or managing statistical databases. All of these would seem to be areas of expertise that would have been extremely useful to evaluate Mr. Bellesiles' manuscript. Had the review committee found the problems with the original article manuscript, quite possibly there would have been no article, and no book.

My own recent experience with peer review was very positive. The people who reviewed my mansucript were people who actually had some expertise in the specific field, including a professor of electrical engineering to check up on my treatment the technical aspects of the subject. The other reviewers were people with expertise in the subject of my work.

In short, peer review works if the reviewers really have the expertise to evaluate the manuscript. When that level of expertise is missing, the process doesn't work well. the sad tale of _Arming America_ seems to bear this out. I tmight be worth looking to see if my thesis is supported by other examples.

Thanks for reading. CVM.

John Kipper - 10/29/2002

I cannot believe that after the condemnation of the review board, the massive evidence that either deceit or incompetence in the collection and interpretation of evidence are the dominant characterizations of "Arming America," you think that the book deserves to taken seriously because it may stimulate reasoned discussion and debate. You equate it to "Mein Kampf" and "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion;" primary sources that reveal the motivations of the authors. I agree. Both of these works are infamous for being polemics that use half-truths, prejudice, hate, distortions to promote both a polictical agenda and the authors' self aggrandizement.

Should the book be withdrawn? It is too late for that. So, what should we do? I suggest that the book be re-categorized. Remove it from the Dewey Decimal history section of the library and place it where it belongs; somewhere between malicious falsehood and proganda. OH, that would be under "N" for nonsense.

And for those who wrong-headedly continue to defend Mr. Bellesiles and his fatally flawed book, I suggest that they revisit their own professional stnadards. I also suggest that they examine just what harm their defense of him does to their profession and to the codes of academic responsibility that supposedly are the reason for academic freedom.

The floods destoyed my notes. Yeah, like any reasearcher wouldn't have transfered those notes to a computer data base and stored them in at least two different locations. You knopw, just like a sophomore student would do with his term paper research. After all it only takes three clicks of the mouse.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/29/2002

There is no suggestion in what I said that anti-semitic texts have anything to do with what you said. My point is that, unlike _Arming America_, some texts bear a near demonic message and, yet, neither of us would burn them. We need copies of them around for research purposes. So, too, we need copies of _Arming America_ for research purposes. Its endnotes led to primary and secondary sources which could be (and have been!)checked and which is the purpose of endnotes. It will encourage other research and writing in the field.
Rather, my concern is that your analysis of a system rife with corruption is not sustained by further examples of its corruption. If you listed other authors and titles which you believe are as susceptible as Bellesiles' _Arming America_ to a deconstruction of its evidentiary base, your insistence that this is only a dip from a cesspool of corruption might be more persuasive.
Among historians, I have been one of the most vocal in saying that the failure of peer review in this instance obliges us to a thorough re-examination of our practices. Yet, for one _Arming America_, I read one terrific book after another -- all generated largely through that same system which you here denounce as riddled with corruption. I've just finished reading Louis Menand's Pulitzer Prize winning book, _The Metaphysical Club_, a brilliant rereading of the emergence of pragmatism out of Emersonian transcendentalism. I'm about to plow into Mills Thornton's _Dividing Lines_ -- perhaps the most important book yet on America's civil rights movement. These are major books, produced -- not by a system riddled with corruption -- but by one which occasionally makes remarkable errors. You take the mistake as the "tip of the iceburg." I see it as an exceptional product which is unlikely to do serious damage to the minds of future generations. In fact, I'd be encouraged to see more of our undergraduates reading a book -- even _Arming America_. Their corruption isn't likely to come from gullibly believing everything it says.

John G. Fought - 10/29/2002

You quote one sentence from my article, and also write, correctly, that I never proposed taking AA or any other book off of any shelf. The rest of your posting grossly misrepresents my views. Your reference to antisemitic propaganda is just an overripe red herring completely unconnected with anything I have written. You should explain to the readership why you injected this into the discussion at all.
I do stand by the sentence of mine that you quoted, however, and I point out to you and other readers that both of the titles you mention, which are easily obtainable anywhere in the United States, as they and other books should be, have deceived and will deceive many an unwary (or predisposed) reader. What should be done, of course, is to put effective works on those same shelves to counteract the falsehoods they spread. And I do indeed hope that a good, strong case is made again, and as often as need be, in books and other media, against the position held by the group that Bellesiles will doubtless continue to represent.
At the end of your posting, you misrepresent my position again: I have not said this matter was the end of anything. More important, however, I categorically reject the empty platitude that Bellesiles' work has generated any worthwhile debate on the broader issue of the legal and social role of firearms in American history, an issue which has been widely and deeply examined for many decades, by many interested parties inside and outside the academy, and especially since the spread of anti-gun legislation beginning in the early 1900s. Instead, the Bellesiles affair has been a long distraction from more serious issues in this debate, a waste of substantial amounts of time that many of us could have used for other work. For my part, I particularly regret the time stolen from Clayton Cramer's historical work on gunmakers to help deal with this mess. Further, I see no prospect that this debate over Bellesiles will sway any anti-gun extremists in or out of the academy. Wiener's essay, appearing when it did, is all the evidence I need offer on that. Indeed, the discussion hasn't even swayed you, has it?
Most of my article is deals with the contribution that a corrupted system of academic gatekeeping has made toward this and certain other inadequate attempts at scholarship. Why don't you give some thought to what can be done about that. That was what my essay was actually meant to stimulate.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/29/2002

John, Among other things, you say:

"The book is still sitting on thousands of library and bookstore shelves, waiting to deceive unwary readers for decades to come."

So, what are we to do? Storm the libraries and bookstores, seizing all surviving copies of _Arming America_ and burning them, so that the uncritical minds of future generations are not "deceived" by them? I can think of more offensive books. Let's see. There's Hitler's _Mein Kampf_, _The Protocals of the Elders of Zion_ and many more titles far more destructive of the morals of youth than _Arming America_. Shall we burn those books while we're at it? Where do we stop in the drive to cleanse our libraries and bookshelves?
Neither you nor I propose that. You and I both know that libraries and bookstores are full of wonderful things and nonsense and much that ranges in between. For all of its flaws, _Arming America_ has generated an important and wide-ranging debate of an important historical issue. It will lead to more discussion and more accurate research. You over-react. _Arming America_ is not a sign of the end of civilization as we have known it. It is a turning point, toward better books.

Thomas Gunn - 10/29/2002

What were the Founders thinking when they determined a Free Press was necessary to the health of the new nation?

They must have envisioned the free press being an honest press. Safe from the machinations of a political process. What need of a free press if it's sole purpose was to toe the party line? Unfortunately we have just that. An ostensibly free press that toes *A* party line, and presents not the truth or the facts but the opinion of a politically correct cabal.

I wonder how far the investigation of Arming America would have gotten had the internet not preceded it. Another reprieve or so it seems.


John G. Fought - 10/28/2002

My apologies to Prof. Joyce Lee Malcolm for arbitrarily changing her first name.

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