Anthony Mayer ;  alternative history ;  Jonathan Edelstein's Spinoza in Turkey - Part 15
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1. Preface

2. Spinoza's World, 1664

3. The Sabbateans

4. The Disputation

5. The Holy Land

6. Marriage

7. Common Prayer

8. America

9. Gottfried and Sophia

10. The Sublime Porte

11. Spinoza's World, 1691

12. Mustafa and the Janissaries

13. Naomi

14. Regime Change

15. Tulips

16. Twilight

17. Spinoza's World, 1712

18. Epilogue


Spinoza in Turkey
"It does not require any great art or studied elocution to prove that Christians ought to tolerate one another. I will go even further and say that we ought to look upon all men as our brothers. What! call a Turk, a Jew, and a Siamese, my brother? Yes, of course; for are we not all children of the same father, and the creatures of the same God?"
-- Voltaire, Treatise on Tolerance, 22

Part 15 - Tulips

March 1704 to August 1707

1704 was a good year for the Jews of America, although it didn't begin that way. In January, a prominent member of the Leislerian party in New York [FN1] proposed that the colony institute a system of tax-financed public schools similar to those in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, in which free education would be available to all. The proposal, made just months in advance of the provincial elections, grew quickly into a bitter controversy between those who regarded public education as an enlightened and progressive measure and those who considered it a useless extravagance. The Leislerian faction, seeing a chance to reverse its defeat in the 1702 election, threw its weight behind the proposal, and the Anti-Leislerians condemned it with equal vigor. Throughout the first months of 1704, the Common Schools Controversy dominated New York's political life.

Aside from the Leislerians, the leading proponents of public education were New York's 150 Jews. The majority of the community was Rationalist, and most of them fully agreed with the arguments Spinoza had made a decade earlier in Defense of Common Schools. The Jews of New York were not ordinarily a unified political bloc, but in 1704 they backed the Leislerians almost to a man - and, as it turned out, their unity decided the election. On polling day, the Leislerians won a majority of one in the colonial assembly - but the vote was so close that, in two districts, the handful of Jewish voters provided the Leislerian candidate's margin of victory.

The Anti-Leislerian faction saw in this their chance to reverse the outcome of the election. Almost before the ink on the ballots was dry, the losing candidates lodged a protest, claiming that the Jewish votes should be regarded as a nullity. Several other candidates on both sides also protested the results of the election, but it was the debate over the Jewish votes that caught the attention of the public. For the first time in the colony's history, the equality of Jewish freemen was under serious attack, and the question touched off arguments as bitter as the controversy that had given rise to it.

The challenges were heard before the assembly in May 1704. The issue of Jews' qualification as voters was taken up first, at a hearing that lasted two days. The Anti-Leislerians' counsel, leading New York attorney James Emott, opened the hearing on behalf of the petitioners. In an impassioned oration, he argued that it was an insult to a Christian commonwealth that the killers of Christ should exercise power, and that Jews should not have rights in New York that they did not have in England. At the climax of his argument, Emott read aloud from the gospel according to John, reminding the assembled legislators of the tragedy that had occurred at Calvary nearly seventeen centuries before.

It seemed certain that a majority of the legislators, Leislerian though they were, would vote to deprive New York's Jews of the franchise. But then it was the Leislerian candidates' turn. They were represented a by 28-year-old Virginia lawyer named Andrew Hamilton [FN2] who, although young and untried, proved just as capable an orator as Emott. He reminded the assembly that, no law prohibited Jewish freemen from voting in New York elections and that, in New York as in England, the rule of law was paramount. Surely the law was not to be overturned by momentary passions and prejudices, but rather its benefits were the birthright of every freeman. Moreover, he argued, the Rational Jews did not deserve the calumny of being called Christ- killers, as they had profound respect for Jesus even while cleaving to their own God. For the second time in American history, Spinoza's On Religion was read into evidence before a colonial legislature as proof that the Rational Jews were a modern and progressive sect.

Hamilton did not stop there, however; he concluded his argument with a pointed reminder of what was really at stake. If the Jewish votes were cast out, then the common schools would also be, and all the inhabitants of the province would be the losers. What wisdom was it to sacrifice the election and its promise of reform simply to spite a handful of Jews, who were by all accounts sober and respectable citizens? Such things might be done in uncivilized lands, but this was not the way free Englishmen acted.

It was this argument that carried the day. Few of the Leislerian legislators loved the Jews, but they liked the Anti-Leislerians less, and Hamilton's speech had given them time to reconsider the passions that Emott had aroused. In the cold light of day, it seemed foolish for them to throw away their victory and hand the assembly back to the Anti-Leislerians for the sake of religious prejudice. The margin was narrow, but in the end the assembly voted to accept the Jewish ballots - and, furthermore, to permit Jews in future to swear on the Old Testament in lieu of taking Christian oaths. [FN3] The challenged assemblymen were duly seated, and an important precedent in favor of religious tolerance was set; having won the first two battles to exercise their rights as citizens, the Jews of colonial America would find the road ahead easier.

Two other advances in the same year underscored the American Jews' newfound acceptance. In Newport, where the Jewish community was still small and composed primarily of foreigners, civic rights were not yet an issue, but the provincial council granted them the right to build a synagogue. [FN4] And in Philadelphia, seventy-year-old Simon van der Wilden was elected justice of the peace as a member of David Lloyd's populist party, becoming the first Jew elected to office outside Allegheny. [FN5] Coincidentally, 1704 was also the year that the Pennsylvania council granted a patent of naturalization to Ismet Celer.

In Allegheny, with the arrival of another shipload of German Jewish immigrants, the Jewish population now numbered more than a thousand, making up four fifths of the Jews in the American colonies. [FN6] Others were also beginning to settle in the fertile Susquehanna valley; Herz Behrens' recruiting notices had attracted the attention of the German Mennonites, and a family of French marranos was followed by three of Huguenots. [FN7] Like Pennsylvania itself, the Allegheny Commonwealth would soon be a colony of all nations rather than of one religion only.

For the time being, though, Jews were still the largest group of immigrants to Allegheny, and they became more so as other German princes followed the lead of the Elector of Brandenburg. In Hesse and Mecklenburg as well, the hitherto unimaginable prospect of naturalization was offered to the court Jews, provided that they do the state the service of subsidizing the emigration of ten poor Jewish families. The cost was prohibitive, especially when combined with the heavy fees that also had to be paid to the court treasury, but both the real and the symbolic benefits were great, and by the end of 1705, both states had their first Jewish citizens. In Austria, the protected Jews were made to sponsor their poor fellows' emigration with a slightly different incentive; any Jewish family desiring to arrange a marriage was required to pay the cost of two passages to America or Palestine. [FN8] Quite unwittingly, the dukes and princes of Germany ensured the future of the Jewish community of Allegheny, by giving it the Jews they did not want.

There were also almost two hundred neo-Mu'tazilites in Allegheny, but there were fewer immigrants to add to their numbers. Those who had not remained in England or gone to America with the first expedition had returned to Constantinople, and had little incentive to leave given the favor in which they were now held at court. The few that did come, attracted more by Celer's presence than anything else, preferred civilized Philadelphia to the Allegheny frontier, and by the end of 1705, there were a dozen Muslim families in the city. For the most part, they were educated merchants and professional men with thoroughly modern sensibilities; although they were somewhat unusual in appearance and religion, they seemed respectable and cultivated. [FN9] Ismet Celer's opposition to slavery - the subject of a widely circulated pamphlet published that year - also did much to raise his standing among Pennsylvania's Quaker meetings.

In Allegheny, the neo-Mu'tazilites worshiped in meeting halls like their Jewish counterparts. The wealthier Muslims of Philadelphia, however, wanted a more formal place of worship, and in the spring of 1706, they commissioned the first mosque in the New World. [FN10] The congregation at this mosque quickly grew to include not only the Turkish settlers but several families of West African slaves that the Muslim community had purchased and freed. Several of these would ultimately rise to positions of prominence within the community, including some who would be counted among America's early poets.

Constantinople, too, was in the midst of a flowering - quite literally, in fact, since the newfound admiration for the West had expressed itself in the form of a fad for Dutch tulips. The half- decade of openness that swept the Ottoman capital during Numan Kprl's tenure as Grand Vizier was known for this reason as the Tulip Period. [FN11]

For Spinoza, this meant that he was once again called upon as an advisor to the court. He took this role reluctantly; the death of Haham Saltiel the previous year left him to navigate court protocol without his trusted counselor, and he had less stamina at seventy- three than in his fifties. He found the Grand Vizier an eager student who was fascinated by Western forms of government and even dreamed of creating an Ottoman parliament, but both men were keenly aware that such sweeping reforms were, for the moment, impossible. His reforms were, for the most part, small ones - rooting out corrupt and oppressive civil officials, inviting more foreign scholars to the university, allowing greater freedom of expression, attempting to secure a decade or two of peace so that the empire could get back on its feet. Many of these reforms would prove fleeting, but others would not; the tax remissions given to people who apprenticed in trades useful to the state would continue through successive administrations, and the second university chartered in Cairo in 1707 would be an enduring beacon of learning under the patronage of modernizing governors.

1707 was also the year that Spinoza published Mind and Matter, the second of the three treatises in which he attempted to reconcile rationalism and empiricism. In Mind and Matter, Spinoza adapted his earlier concept of God as the universal substance to his later theories concerning science. Specifically, he argued that the universe was composed of minute particles called motes, which were composed of the essence of God and were too small to be seen or studied. These motes could combine in two ways: into atoms, the basic unit of the physical world, or into coherent ideas, the basic unit of the metaphysical world.

Spinoza drew several conclusions from this concept. First, because the number of atoms was limited by the size of the physical universe while the number of ideas was not, the metaphysical aspect of the universe was far larger than the physical aspect. Second, although the physical world could be studied and to some extent known through the scientific method, its underlying essence was at bottom knowable only through metaphysics. Finally, since thought and matter were composed of the same primordial substance, God could convert one into the other. Spinoza stated that this had only occurred on one occasion - the Creation - but many Rational Jews would regard this as the method by which God performed miracles, and others - especially Newton and Leibniz - would find in this proof that Jesus was the Word made Flesh.

Leibniz was also building on his correspondence with Spinoza in other ways. In May 1707, three months after the release of Mind and Matter, he published his Notes on the Social Calculus. Like the integral and differential calculi he had invented thirty years before, the Social Calculus was a means of finding values that could not be accurately obtained by traditional methods - albeit values that were much more random and difficult to ascertain through mathematical formulas. "The complexity and randomness of nations is such that it is difficult even to define such things as wealth and happiness," Leibniz wrote, "much less to find ways to measure them." Nevertheless, he identified certain attributes by which a society might be measured - a list heavily influenced by The State - and suggested basic statistics for approximating them. Some of the measurements suggested by Leibniz were remarkably advanced for the time; for instance, he argued that the health of a nation might be judged by its life expectancy and infant mortality rates, and that the proper measurement of wealth was purchasing power rather than absolute amounts of money. He argued, as well, that governments or scholars should develop and update the data from which these statistics could be derived, because it would then be possible to tell whether official policies affected countries for good or ill. This idea, listed almost as an afterthought in Leibniz' treatise, was to prove influential in succeeding centuries.

Scarcely had the book been published, however, when another event intervened to determine Leibniz' future. In the winter of 1707, Queen Anne, whose many failed pregnancies had left her in poor health, had taken seriously ill. The remedies prescribed by her physician - a doctor chosen more for his family connections than his ability to heal - seemed only to make things worse, and she faded throughout the spring. [FN12] On June 15, the servant sent to bring Brandy Nan a bottle of her favorite spirit found her dead. She was forty-two, and had enjoyed the title of Queen of Great Britain for less than six months.

This meant that, by the terms of the Act of Settlement, the Electress Sophia of Hanover succeeded to the throne. In early August 1707, she arrived in state in London, and Gottfried von Leibniz was among her companions.

[FN1] Jacob Leisler was a radical populist who seized control of New York City in 1689 and held power for two years before loyalist troops under Governor Henry Sloughter retook the city. For more than a decade after his execution for treason in 1691, New York politics was dominated by the struggle between the Leislerian and anti-Leislerian factions.

[FN2] In OTL, the "Philadelphia lawyer" who defended John Peter Zenger. In 1704, however, he had not yet moved to Philadelphia; he was in Virginia and just starting to practice law, having broken into high society by marrying the mistress of the plantation where he was steward.

[FN3] A similar controversy occurred in OTL in 1737, concerning the election of Adolph Philipse to the New York provincial assembly. The election was so close that the small number of Jewish votes cast in New York City provided Philipse's margin of victory, and the opposing candidate, Cornelius Van Horne, contested those votes before the assembly. After an argument by Van Horne's counsel in which the Jews' alleged responsibility for the Crucifixion was emphasized, the assembly (including some of Philipse's partisans) passed a resolution nullifying the Jewish votes. (See Jacob Rader Marcus, The Colonial American Jew, v.1, p.409-10 (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1970)). The resolution was apparently not permanent, because Jews voted in subsequent New York elections (ibid.), but the legal status of New York Jews remained uncertain until the first state constitutional convention in 1777. The different outcome in the ATL is not due to any great love of Jews on the part of the New York legislature, but because more was at stake. Rather than the election of a single candidate, the ATL crisis of 1704 involved an issue of concern to the entire colony, and it's IMO plausible that the legislators would be much less willing to allow such an issue to be decided on a technicality. Thanks to the bitter partisanship of New York politics at the time - much more so than in 1737 - it's also likely that the Leislerians would despise the anti-Leislerians more than the Jews. The fact that the pro- Jewish side had a good lawyer doesn't hurt either.

[FN4] Jews in Rhode Island had this right in OTL; the Touro Synagogue of Newport was the second synagogue to be established in the United States (after Shearith Israel in New York).

[FN5] This actually isn't that great an advance over OTL; Jews were elected to the municipal constabulary in New York as early as 1718.

[FN6] There were no more than 200 to 250 Jews in British North America in 1700 OTL, with most of them living in New York and other communities existing in Newport, Baltimore and Charleston.

[FN7] In OTL, Huguenots as well as Mennonites were among the early settlers in the Lancaster region. New Rochelle was the oldest Huguenot community in the United States, but far from the only one.

[FN8] It was common for German (and to some extent Italian) states in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to impose a tax or fee on Jewish families for the privilege of marrying. Some states also imposed further restrictions, such as allowing only "protected" Jews to marry, permitting only one marriage in any family, or charging a heavy fee for permission to bear more than one child. (I'm not sure how the childbearing restrictions were enforced given the technology of the time, but they were on the books in several places.) The goal of these laws was to limit natural increase among Jews, encourage poor Jews to leave, and obtain extra funds for the treasury - all of which are also achieved by the ATL measure.

[FN9] In this, the neo-Mu'tazilites are much like the early Sephardic Jewish immigrants of both OTL and the ATL.

[FN10] The first mosque in the United States in OTL wasn't built until the 1920s (in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, of all places). The Philadelphia mosque in the ATL is an advance of more than two centuries, and may represent one of the most profound changes in this timeline; Islam will become one of America's founding religions, and a distinctly modernist form of Islam will flourish in America in the absence of hostile authorities.

[FN11] The period of reform that took place in the Ottoman Empire between 1718 and 1730 OTL also had this name, for the same reason.

[FN12] In OTL, Queen Anne's court physician after 1705 was John Arbuthnot, who was mentioned in connection with Spinoza two episodes ago. Due to his political radicalism in the ATL, he was considered unsuitable for a court position, so the post went to another - and, evidently, a less competent - doctor.

Last modified: Fri Dec 6 12:29:38 GMT 2002