The Classive Tradition: General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Hero of the War for Independence

From, “The Classive Tradition” (one among several books now being composed), an essay concerning the Thaddeus Kosciuszko Statue, slavery, and Liberty in its three, distinct forms, National, Political, Personal. 

Henry Mosler, 1841-1920; Birth of the Flag; Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag, a flag requested by General Washington.

Pleased we all are at liberty to speak and to act within the realm of reason.  Was not always so, you know.  The Spartans owned the helot, in Athens you might be doulos, captured in war, owned, or worse, made animal in the mines of Laurium.  In Rome, parents in need might sell their children into slavery with the knowledge of laws in protection of basic human rights.  The condition of slaves in ancient Africa was brutal, appalling, and slaves of Islam were branded, dismembered, castrated well into the 20th Century. 

Slavery is a practice indifferent to race, to class, to sex, always has been.  Entire populations have been enslaved, the Israelites in Egypt to Pharoah, et alia; at this writing, China subdues nearly three-million slaves, chances are, the electronics in your pocket were assembled by slaves.

You might like to know, at the time of our founding, 1776, there were more Caucasian slaves in North Africa than Negro slaves in North America, nearly four times as many*; likely, the number of negros enslaved by negros in Africa was greater than negros enslaved in the world’s remainder (no one can be certain).  And then, remember Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self evident”, and soon they were: in quick succession, Denmark (1803), America and England (1807) banned the importation of slaves – President Jefferson signed the law of prohibition to slave import, a law that neither Denmark nor England would have imagined if Jefferson had not conceived the truth, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Thomas Jefferson: the Family of Man thanks you.

As I have no need of saying: we Americans inherited from Britain, “property in man”, a property neither so easily managed nor so easily disposed as are other commodities: Slaves are human, after-all, and we who reason know that property in man is self-evidently wrong.  

Major Brigadier General Thaddeus Kosciuszko

Antoni Popiel, 1865 – 1910; Major Brigadier General Thaddeus Kosciuszko; 1910, Lafayette Park, Washington, D.C.

Kosciuszko was a Polish, military engineer, ardent in pursuit of human rights, drawn by the sentiments of Thomas Jefferson to battle in America’s War for Independence.  Poland, alike the American, British colonies, suffered the mastery of foreign governance, a detail noticed by Benjamin Franklin who drew to himself remarkable men**.  Kosciuszko introduced himself to Franklin who advised the young man, introduced him to the Continental Congress***: Kosciusko was soon commissioned, colonel of engineers, the Continental Army.  Many were the important engineering necessities of Kosciuszko, remarkably, the fortifications at West Point which Benedict Arnold conspired to surrender to the British, fortifications that stand to this day.  Strategically, tactically, Kosciuszko’s advice was sought, and often, honored; when not honored, failure, as by General St. Clair at Fort Ticonderoga; when honored, as by Generals Gates and Greene, success, advancement over hard ground, across daunting rivers, fortifications to attack and to defend, Halifax Virginia to Charleston South Carolina.  Also, Kosciuszko led troops, was wounded, oversaw operations, as when he assumed the intelligence network of his friend, John Laurens, and, in the Continental Army’s final action of the war, Kosciuszko led two cavalry squadrons and an infantry unit at the battle of James Island, where he was nearly killed.  In victory at Charleston, in celebration of the Treaty of Paris (which, mostly concluded the war), Kosciuszko the engineer designed and conducted a brilliant fireworks display.  Then too, remarkably, during the exhausting exercise of campaign and battle, Kosciuszko composed a polonaise, scored it for harpsicord; the lyrics, crafted by poet and officer, Rajnold Suchodolski, became the anthem of Poland’s uprising against the Russian Empire: the hard, stirring, Polonez Kościuszki, is yet heard, here and there, and yet inspires, as it inspired my extreme friend, poet, Leo Yankevich****.

The Year of Victory, 1783, Kosciuszko was called to Princeton New Jersey, the new nation’s capital, by the Continental Congress which commissioned him to supervise the nation’s celebration of a fireworks display upon the anniversary of Declared Independence, 4 July.  Later in the year, Kosciuszko was promoted to brigadier general, was granted 500 acres for his service, was inducted into The Society of the Cincinnatus, and into The American Philosophical Society … and there is this detail, worthy of note: General Kosciuszko carried upon his side-belt a sword inscribed, “Do not draw me without reason; do not sheathe me without honour.”, a telling inscription of his service to Liberty in American Independence, and in the struggles of Poland to which he soon returned.

Karl Gottlieb Schweikart, 1772–1855: Kosciuszko; after 1802

In brief: in Poland, Kosciuszko thought, taught, and acted, proposed full citizenship for peasants and for Jews, proposed, succeeded in strengthen a Polish military, and was appointed major general of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Army whose intent was to win national liberty from Russia … 18 May 1792, a 100,000 man Russian Army crossed into Poland; the three-to-one outnumbered Polish military fought valiantly as they retreated, until, upon Kosciuszko’s advice, Kosciuszko’s leadership, his 5,300 Poles defeated 25,000 Russians at the Battle of Dubienka.  The republican Kosciuszko was offered the royal Order of the White Eagle, which he refused – in revolutionary glee, the French Assembly, which a month later would imprison its king, granted Kosciuszko French citizenship.  The outcome of the war, yet undecided, the Polish King capitulated to the Russian Emperor, General Kosciuszko resigned from the army, refused the king’s entreaties, and Poland lost national liberty, began its 125-year subjugation to Imperial Russia.  Yes, Kosciuszko led an uprising, the Kościuszko Uprising, where on 24 March 1794, at Krakow, the general delivered a rousing speech, and vowed, “not to use these powers to oppress any person, but to defend the integrity of the borders of Poland, regain the independence of the nation, and to strengthen universal liberties.”  Empress Catherine the Great almost immediately sent an overwhelming military force to crush the revolt (remember recent events in America and France that had upset monarchies), and she succeeded despite Poland’s and Kosciuszko’s resistance, and occasional victories, victories that by mathematics could not be sustained; eventually, 10 October 1794, the general was wounded, was captured; within a month, Poland surrendered, supinely.  Not so Kosciuszko.

When, in 1796, Kosciuszko was pardoned by Emperor Paul I, he, yet limping from wounds, petitioned Vice-President Jefferson, received an American passport, and left for France to fight for liberty, for independence; Jefferson said of Kosciuszko, “He is as pure a son of liberty as ever I have known, and of that liberty which is to go to all, and not to the few and rich alone.”  Kosciuszko once again entered the complex battle for republican liberty in the Napoleonic Wars, yet the tide of European monarchical history opposed him, and he failed to win Polish national liberty from either Emperor Paul I or Emperor Napoleon I.  Toward the ending of his life, Kosciuszko, suffering the lingering pain of many wounds, in a final act of republican defiance, emancipated his serfs from the land (he owned 31 families), an emancipation which was by the Emperor denied.  Upon his death, 15 October 1817, Andrew Thaddeus Bonaventure Kosciuszko (here, I use the general’s American name), subjugated Poland remembered Her hero in city, town, and hamlet where church-bells rang a lovely, haunting death-knell.

Frank Reilly, 1906 – 1967; Welcoming Return of Polish-American General Kosciuszko, Philadelphia, 1797; 1948

Here, in our consideration of Personal Liberty, this most important detail of the great man’s life:  Kosciuszko left in his will, funds and provision to free and to educate American slaves*****, including slaves bound to Jefferson.  Jefferson was executor of the will, was much in favor of Kosciusko’s intent, very much in support philosophically, legally, practically.******  Several years after Kosciuszko died, the elderly, 77-year-old Jefferson recommended his abolitionist friend, John Hartwell Cocke II, to execute the will’s provisions … failure all around, three times the will was upheld by the United States Supreme Court, three times the will was denied by the Polish (other wills existed, though not American wills of American assets, et cetera).  The funds intended to manumit Jefferson’s slaves, to satisfy Kosciuszko’s and Jefferson’s intent were not realized.  Yet, for a time, a small portion of the Kosciuszko estate did find use; as Brooker T. Washington observed, “Seven years after his death, a school (for former) slaves, known as the Kosciuszko School, was established in Newark, New Jersey.  The sum left for the benefit of this school amounted to thirteen thousand dollars … my respects to a man whom the members of my race owed one of the first permanent schools for them in the United States.”  For his own part, Kosciuszko remarked, “By nature, we are all equals; wealth and education are the only difference.”  

The Kosciuszko Mound in Kraków, Poland, is truly, rightly counted among the largest, most important of the world’s civic monuments.  Kosciuszko’s body is interred in a republican fashioned tomb at Wawel Cathedral, the pantheon of Polish kings and national heroes.  This Kosciuszko statue (Lafayette Park), near his friends in liberty, those statued in the squares’ four corners, near the house of American Presidents (several, friends to Kosciuszko), as right it should be, for without these men, likely, none of us now reading would exist, and some other people would be at home upon this land, a people perhaps British, certainly, a people without the liberties that you and I enjoy.   

Of you and I, yes … in closing of the current consideration, Personal Liberty, a sketch of Kosciuszko’s little known friend, the freeman, Agrippa Hull.  

artist unknown; Agrippa Hull; 1848

Hull enlisted to serve his country, our country, in Her War of Independence from the British Empire, and for five of the six years’ war, Hull served as aide to General Kosciuszko.  The two were friends, often in consultation, often in debate.  It should be mentioned that Agrippa Hull, alike his namesake, possessed a towering personality: Hull was once discovered by Kosciuszko to be hosting a party for friends while dressed in the general’s uniform; once, following a speech by a mulatto preacher, Hull was in challenge probed with, “Well, how do you like nigger preaching?” to which Hull retorted, “Sir, he was half black and half white. I like my half, how did you like yours?”  In an assuming way, with a modest military pension, hard work and industry, Hull became a major landowner in his native Stockbridge, winning for his bride, Jane Darby, her freedom.  Agrippa Hull treasured his military papers, signed personally by General Washington, claiming that he had rather forego his pension than lose his record of service.

Thaddeus Kosciuszko was fond to say, “Za wolnosc wasza i nasza.”, id est, “For your freedom and for ours.”

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* Over 250 years, 1530 to 1780, the accepted estimate of Caucasians enslaved in North Africa is most-often given as 1,250,000, or higher; 1525 to 1866 a total of 388,000 Negros were sailed to slavery in North America.

** Among the American heroes of Polish ascent sponsored by Benjamin Franklin, Thaddeus Kosciuszko and General Casimir Pulaski, a hero remembered in a bronze, equestrian statue not far from here, Freedom Plaza.  The statue was created by Kazimierz Chodziński.  Upon the base of the statue is engraved this inscription:

Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski  *  1748-1779  *  The Bronze Equestrian Statue of Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski, Portrays the Revolutionary War Hero In The Uniform of a Polish Cavalry Commander.  Born in Wniary, Poland on March 4, 1748 To a Noble Family, Pulaski Gained Prominence in Europe for His Role In Defending Liberty in Poland.  Excited By The Struggle of the Emerging American Republic, Pulaski Joined in Its Fight For Independence, Arriving in Boston In July, 1777.  Pulaski Was given a Commission As Brigadier General and Chief of Cavalry In Command of All Cavalry of the American Forces.  He Was Present at Germantown, Pennsylvania and Led His Legion At Haddonfield, New Jersey; Egg Harbor, New Jersey; Charleston, South Carolina; And Savannah, Georgia.  At Savannah, Pulaski Was Mortally Wounded and Was Taken Aboard The American Brig, Wasp, Where He Died And Was Buried at Sea, on October 11, 1779.  He Was 31 Years Old.

*** From Benjamin Franklin’s letter of 29 May 1777 to General Washington:

Count Pulaski of Poland, an Officer famous throughout Europe for his Bravery and Conduct in Defense of the Liberties of his Country against the three great invading Powers of Russia, Austria and Prussia, will have the Honor of delivering this into your Excellency’s Hands. The Court here has encouraged and promoted his Voyage, from an Opinion that he may be highly useful in our Service. Mr. Deane has written so fully concerning him, that I need not enlarge; and only add my Wishes that he may find in our Armies … Occasions of distinguishing himself.

Michał Stachowicz, 1768 – 1825; George Washington Awarding the Order of the Cincinnatus to Thaddeus Kosciuszko; date unknown

**** Leo Yankevich (1961 – 2018) grew to adulthood in Farrell, a small steel-town in western Pennsylvania; he studied history and Polish culture; received his baccalaureate in 1984; that year he accepted a fellowship from the Kosciuszko Foundation, attend Kraków’s Jagiellonian University; became a most remarkable poet, passionately devoted to liberty, desperately reactionary, reasonably pessimistic.

***** Thomas Jefferson, upon news of the death of his friend, Thadeus Kosciuzko, wrote:

To no country could that event be more afflicting nor to any individual than to myself.  I had enjoyed his intimate friendship and confidence for the last twenty years, and during the portion of that time which he passed in this country, I had daily opportunities of observing personally of his virtue.  The benevolence of his services during our Revolutionary War had been well known and acknowledged by all.  When he left the United States in 1798, he left in my hands an instrument, giving, after his death, all his property in our funds, the price of his military labors here, to the charitable purposes of educating and emancipating as many of the children of bondage in this country as it should be adequate to.  I am therefore taking measures to have it placed in such hands as will ensure a faithful discharge of his philanthropic views.

****** Will of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, dated, 5th day of May 1798:

I Thaddeus Kosciuszko being just in my departure from America do hereby declare and direct that should I make no other testamentory disposition of my property in the United States I hereby authorise my friend Thomas Jefferson to employ the whole thereof in purchasing Negroes from among his own or any others and giving them Liberty in my name, in giving them en education in trades or othervise and in having them instructed for their new condition in the duties of morality which may make them good neigh bours good fathers or moders, husbands or vives and in their duties as citisens teeching them to be defenders of their Liberty and Country and of the good order of Society and in whatsoever may Make them happy and useful, and I make the said Thomas Jefferson my executor of this
T. Kosciuszko

Lafayette offered this respectful remembrance of his friend:

To speak of Kosciuszko is to recall a man who was greatly respected by his enemies, even the very monarchy against whom he had fought. His name belongs to the entire civilized world and his virtues belong to all mankind.  America ranks him among her most illustrious defenders.  Poland mourns him as the best of patriots whose entire life was sacrificed for her liberty and sovereignty.  France and Switzerland stand in awe over his ashes, honoring them as the relic of a superior man, a Christian, and a friend of mankind.  Russia respects in him the undaunted champion whom even misfortune could not vanquish.

Józef Chełmoński, d. 1914; Prayer before the Battle of Racławice (Poland); 1910; the figure isolated on the horse is assumed to be Kosciuszko

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Top: the “Pliny’s Doves” mosaic, discovered in 1737 at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli … this a copy believed to be a copy of the lost, ancient Greek mosaic at Pergamon, once described by Pliny.

The Classive Tradition: A Personal Consideration, begins with this epitaph:

For our Fathers and their Fathers from time out of memory; to sons and to their sons in times beyond knowing; to those these love, for whom all is accomplished, by whom the all is possible.

Below: the opening and the final paragraph of Classive’s forward will serve to introduce the book, its purpose and intent. Should mention, the thing threatens to out-word Herodotus.

This book, the script, almost exact, of a television presentation in nine parts, [title, yet to be determined], tells the story of us, the US, these United States, the culmination of the world’s Classive expression in Civic Art.  Before you, wonders, beauties, secrets common as the nose-on-your-face, known daily in reflection, though seldom observed, seldom considered.  Today, here, now, we consider the obvious.  But how?  How does one, how do you, how do we know the obvious, invisible air that surrounds us, that gives us life, an air through which we move, through which have moved and breathed all heroes, all villains, all beauties, all which is of God.  How does a fish know it swims through water?  It does not.  How do you know that you live, that you walk and breathe in a Classive atmosphere?  You know by illustration, by example; by reason. 

I hope, sincerely, that I can bring us closer to knowing the creatures who we are.  I hope, in questioning, to discover the meaning and character of our works, our buildings, our statues, our pictures so that I might better know myself, might better know you.  If I can, then I might become a better citizen, a better person, a person closer to my best self.  And this discovery, the purpose of our book, our teleos, “our aim, our end, the hitting of the mark”: a true knowledge of the Classive, of we the people who by virtue improve, who by improving into wisdom, by wisdom become sufficient to govern ourselves.

Thus far written, at Alexandria, Virginia; 1 March 2021;
240 years to the day of ratification,
Articles of Confederation, Perpetual Union Between the States. M. Curtis

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