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November 29, 1864: Sand Creek Massacre

 

 

 

On Novmber 29, 1864, in a stain on American honor, 700 men of the 1st Colorado Cavalry, 3rd Colorado Cavalry and a company of the 1st New Mexico Volunteer Cavalry, under the command of Colonel John M. Chivington, a Methodist minister turned soldier, attacked and slaughtered an encampment of peaceful Indians.  I cannot improve on the report of this massacre issued by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War on January 10, 1865:

 

The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War submit the following report:

In the summer of 1864 Governor Evans, of Colorado Territory, as acting superintendent of Indian affairs, sent notice to the various bands and tribes of Indians within his jurisdiction that such as desired to be considered friendly to the whites should at once repair to the nearest military post in order to be protected from the soldiers who were to take the field against the hostile Indians.

About the close of the summer, some Cheyenne Indians, in the neighborhood of the Smoke Hills, sent word to Major Wynkoop, the commandant of the post of Fort Lyon, that they had in their possession, and were willing to deliver up, some white captives they had purchased of other Indians. Major Wynkoop, with a force of over 100 men, visited those Indians and received the white captives. On his return he was accompanied by a number of the chiefs and leading men of the Indians, whom he had invited to visit Denver for the purpose of conferring with the authorities there in regard to keeping peace. Among them were Black Kettle and White Antelope of the Cheyennes, and some chiefs of the Arapahoes. The council was held, and these chiefs stated that they were friendly to the whites, and always had been, and that they desired peace. Governor Evans and Colonel Chivington, the commander of that military district, advised them to repair to Fort Lyon and submit to whatever terms the military commander there should impose. This was done by the Indians, who were treated somewhat as prisoners of war, receiving rations, and being obliged to remain within certain bounds.

 

All the testimony goes to show that the Indians, under the immediate control of Black Kettle and White Antelope of the Cheyennes, and Left Hand of the Arapahoes, were and had been friendly to the whites, and had not been guilty of any acts of hostility or depredation. The Indian agents, the Indian interpreter and others examined by your committee, all testify to the good character of those Indians. Even Governor Evans and Major Anthony, though evidently willing to convey to your committee a false impression of the character of those Indians, were forced, in spite of their prevarication, to admit that they knew of nothing they had done which rendered them deserving of punishment. Continue Reading

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Think It Will End With Confederates?

He talked of the early days of America and the men who had made those days. It wasn’t a spread-eagle speech, but he made you see it. He admitted all the wrong that had ever been done. But he showed how, out of the wrong and the right, the suffering and the starvations, something new had come. And everybody had played a part in it, even the traitors.

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

The attempt to read Confederates out of American history, thereby implicitly giving a posthumous “You Are Right!” to the Confederate contention that they had left the Union, by the ignorant yahoos of the iconoclastic left, is only the beginning.  Hattip to my friend Paul Zummo, the Cranky Conservative:

Last week, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a review of “symbols of hate” on city property. It got off to an okay start I guess. Some plaques to Robert E. Lee were removed, and this:

CBS2 reached out to de Blasio’s office to find out what criteria they will be using to determine which plaques and monuments across the city should be removed, but are still waiting for a response.

Now we have the response:

The city’s 76 foot tall monument to explorer Christopher Columbus which sits in Columbus Circle could be considered for the chopping block, removed as part of the mayor’s new purge.

“He is a controversial figure, and I know that many people take offense to that, but for many of us who come from the Caribbean Islands we see him as a controversial figure,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito said. “We have to look at history. We have to look at it thoroughly and clearly.”

This is to be expected. Eradicating Columbus has been on the leftwing ‘to-do’ list forever.

A spokesperson said Viverito also thinks that Grant’s Tomb should be on the review list. Grant has been regarded by some as anti-Semitic.

“In 1862, he signed general order 11, expelling Jews from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. I wonder if you think that given the large number of Jewish, he should be buried in New York City,” CBS2’s Kramer asked the mayor.

“Marcia, I’m not familiar with that history. Obviously I take it very seriously, but I’m not familiar with it. We don’t tolerate anti-Semitism in New York City,” the mayor said. “We have to look at each one of these cases. We’ll have a commission. They’ll come up with some universal rules.”

(History of General Order 11)

As ESPN showed last night with its decision to reassign Asian sportscaster Robert Lee from doing play-by-play for a football game in Charlottesville, VA, because his name might be scary, we are no longer on a slippery slope when it comes to this nonsense. We are in a total freefall into the Volcano Of Good Feelings. Continue Reading

3

Imperial German Plans to Invade the US

 

Other than the diplomatic debacle of Germany attempting to tempt Mexico to engage in a hopeless war with the US if America and Germany went to war which led to the Zimmerman Telegram, Imperial Germany had no plans to invade the US, having more than it could handle in Europe and the Middle East.  However, plans had been drawn up to invade the US from 1897 to 1903 at the request of the Kaiser who was perturbed at the growing global influence of the US.

The first plan written by a German naval Lieutenant envisaged a naval war of the east coast of the US with raids against American east coast naval bases.

After American victory in the Spanish-American War, the plan was revised to include German troop landings and occupation of Boston and New York.

A third and final plan concentrated on bringing America to the negotiating table by seizing Puerto Rico and establishing a  naval base there and polished up the ideas of invading at Boston and New York.  The plan noted that none of this could be undertaken unless Germany enjoyed peace in Europe. Continue Reading

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March 30, 1842: First Use of Ether in Surgery

Surgery took a giant leap forward one hundred and seventy-five years ago thanks to Doctor Crawford W. Long.  On that date in Jefferson, Georgia he used ether on James M. Venable before removing a tumor from his neck.  The procedure was a success and Long used ether for surgeries and in his obstetrics practice.  He published the results of his use of ether in 1849 in The Southern Medical and Surgery Journal.  Dentist William T. G. Morton had demonstrated the use of ether before an audience of physicians on October 16, 1846 in the operating theater of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.  His publication of this event in December 1846 alerted Long to the claim of Morton to be the discoverer of the use of ether in surgery.  Long wrote of the controversy in his 1849 article:

A controversy soon ensued between Messrs. Jackson, Morton and Wells, in regard to who was entitled to the honor of being the discoverer of the anaesthetic powers of ether, and a considerable time elapsed before I was able to ascertain the exact period when their first operations were performed. Ascertaining this fact, through negligence I have now permitted a much longer time to elapse than I designed, or than my professional friends with whom I consulted advised; but as no account has been published, (so far as I have been able to ascertain), of the inhalation of ether being used to prevent pain in surgical operations as early as March, 1842. My friends think I would be doing myself injustice, not to notify my brethren of the medical profession of my priority of the use of ether by inhalation in surgical practice. Continue Reading

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Kelly’s Irish Brigade

 

(I first posted this in 2010.  Over they years it has proven quite popular judging from the number of hits it has received, so I thought this weekend would be a good one to post it again.)

I have had a few posts, here, here  and here, on the famous Irish Brigade that fought for the Union in the Army of the Potomac.  There were however other Irish units, North and South.  This song celebrates Kelly’s Irish Brigade that fought for the Confederacy in the West.  The Brigade was actually a regiment, the Washington Blues, organized by Joseph Kelly, a grocer in Saint Louis, prior to the Civil War.  Kelly was an Irish immigrant as were most of the men in his regiment.  They provided good service for the Confederacy, and you may read about them here.

Listen all ye that hold communion
With Southern Confederates who are bold,
And I will tell you of some men for the Union
Who in northern ranks were enrolled;
They came to Missouri in their glory
And thought at their might we’d be dismayed;
But they soon had a different story
When they met Kelly’s Irish Brigade.

CHORUS:
When they met with the Irish Brigade me boys
When they met with the Irish Brigade
Didn’t those cowardly Lincolnites tremble
When they met with the Irish Brigade.

They have called us rebels and traitors,
But themselves have thrown off that name of late.
They were called it by the English invaders
At home in the eve of ninety eight
The name to us is not a new one though,
Tis one that shall never degrade
Any true-hearted Irishmen
In the ranks of Kelly’s Irish Brigade.

CHORUS

Well they dare not call us invaders,
‘Tis but state rights and liberty we ask;
And Missouri, we will ever defend her,
No matter how hard may be the task.
Then let true Irishmen assemble,
Let the voice of Missouri be obeyed;
And the northern fanatics will tremble
When again they meet Kelly’s Irish Brigade.

CHORUS

 

4

The Good Old Days

“People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.”

Edmund Burke

 

Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts muses as to how conservatives and leftists view the past and the present:

 

Or not, depending on your point of view.  A basic difference between a more progressive spin on America and a more traditional spin is that progressives tend to believe America can be a great nation despite the evils of its past, while traditionalists tend to believe that America has been a great nation despite the evils in its past. Likewise, those who swing to the Left tend to see the changes happening as positive, while those who are more conservative will obviously see many changes as negative, especially if they’ve changed important characteristics of their society.  That Americans are divided along political lines over wanting America the way it used to be or not shouldn’t be surprising.  Nor should we assume that when people say they want the past, that they necessarily want the evils of the past.  An interesting, but hardly surprising, survey. Continue Reading

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April 25, 1976: Saving the Flag

I am not much of a baseball fan, but I have always remembered Cubs centerfielder Rick Monday saving the flag from two loons who sought to burn it on the field during a game on April 25, 1976 between the Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Field.   When Monday came to bat the next time in the game he received a standing ovation from the crowd.   The Dodgers went on to win the game 5-4 in ten innings, but Rick Monday, nonetheless, went home a winner.

Continue Reading

1

December 14, 1836: End of Toledo War

Toledo strip

 

An intriguing, but largely overlooked, feature of American history is the disputes that almost came to blows between states and territories.  One of these was the Toledo War between Michigan and Ohio.  Due to conflicting State and Federal legislation, the State of Ohio and the Territory of Michigan claimed 486 square miles in what is now the northern border of Ohio with Michigan.  The Northwest Ordinance decreed that the boundary line between north and south states in the territory would be the southern extremity of Lake Michigan.  At that time Congress had no idea just how far south Lake Michigan extended.  The Territory of Michigan claimed what was known as the Toledo Strip based upon the Ordinance while Ohio claimed the land under Ohio state legislation. Continue Reading

4

The Many Faces of Dalton Trumbo

Hollywood …



… and history:

Hollywood’s Trumbo appears to be something of a whitewash of Stalinist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Portrayed as a victim of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a closer investigation of history reveals that he did his fair share of censoring and “blacklisting” himself — against anti-Communists within the industry.

  • Hollywood’s Missing Movies: Why American films have ignored life under communism, by Kenneth Lloyd Billingsly. Reason June 2000:

    if Comintern fantasies of a Soviet Hollywood were never realized, party functionaries nevertheless played a significant role: They were sometimes able to prevent the production of movies they opposed. The party had not only helped organize the Screen Writers Guild, it had organized the Story Analysts Guild as well. Story analysts judge scripts and film treatments early in the decision making process. A dismissive report often means that a studio will pass on a proposed production. The party was thus well positioned to quash scripts and treatments with anti-Soviet content, along with stories that portrayed business and religion in a favorable light. In The Worker, Dalton Trumbo openly bragged that the following works had not reached the screen: Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and The Yogi and the Commissar; Victor Kravchenko’s I Chose Freedom; and Bernard Clare by James T. Farrell, also author of Studs Lonigan and vilified by party enforcer Mike Gold as “a vicious, voluble Trotskyite.”

  • The Stalinist Ten–A True Story About Communists in the Movie Industry, by Allan H. Ryskind. [excerpt from the newly released book, Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters – Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler, by Allan H. Ryskind]:

    Trumbo is less well known for a script that never made it to the screen: An American Story, whose plot outline, in the words of film historian Bernard F. Dick, goes like this: North Korea finally decides “to put an end to the border warfare instigated by South Korea by embarking upon a war of independence in June 1950.” (In his papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Trumbo says he “dramatized” Kim Il-sung’s supposedly righteous war for a group of fellow Communist screenwriters, including at least two Hollywood Ten members.)

    Trumbo also seemed to think that Stalin needed a bit of a reputation upgrade. So one finds in his papers a proposed novel, apparently written in the 1950s, in which a wise old Russian defends Stalin’s murderous reign as necessary for the supposedly grand achievements of Soviet socialism.

    Those celebrating Trumbo today as a sort of saintly curmudgeon do not feel obligated to mention this aspect of his Red ideology, nor do they point to his writings during the Soviet-Nazi Pact, when he was excusing Hitler’s con- quests. “To the vanquished,” he airily dismissed the critics of Nazi brutality, “all conquerors are inhuman.” For good measure he demonized Hitler’s major enemy, Great Britain, insisting that England was not a democracy, because it had a king, and accused FDR of “treason” and “black treason” for attempting to assist the British in their life-and-death struggle against the despot in Berlin.

  • Hollywood Celebrates Another Stalinist, by Allan H. Ryskind. CNSNews.com 01/05/15:

    … The evidence of Trumbo’s Red activities is hardly secret. He came clean, sort of, to his biographer, Bruce Cook, a writer of the upcoming Trumbo screenplay. He told Cook in the 1970s that he joined the party in 1943 (some FBI informants think he joined in the 1930s), that some of his “very best friends” were Communists and that “I might as well have been a Communist 10 years earlier….” He also says, about joining the party: “But I’ve never regretted it. As a matter of fact, it’s possible to say I would have regretted not having done it….”

    He said he let his party membership lapse after his HUAC appearance, possibly finding it difficult to pay his party dues after he was blacklisted, but he never publicly turned his back on communism or Stalin. Indeed, in his private papers he admits that he “reaffiliated with the party in 1954,” apparently his passion for a Communist America burning brightly as ever. So, by the historical record and his own account, he was in tune with the Soviet Union for nearly a quarter of a century, when Stalin was in his prime killing years.

  • Will the new Trumbo movie rehash old myths?, by Ronald Radosh. National Review 11/02/13:

    [Trumbo] bragged how he had used his position to stop anti-Communist films from being made. Stalin, he said, was “one of the democratic leaders of the world,” so he used his position to stop Trotsky’s biography of the dictator from being filmed, and did the same with anti-Communist books by James T. Farrell, Victor Kravchenko, and Arthur Koestler, all of which he called “untrue” and “reactionary.” As he explained in 1954 to a fellow blacklisted writer, the Communist party had a “fine tradition . . . that whenever a book or play or film is produced which is harmful to the best interests of the working class, that work and its author should and must be attacked in the sharpest possible terms.”

    Two years later, when many Communists learned some of the truth about Stalin from the Khrushchev speech, Trumbo wrote a comrade that he was not surprised. He explained that he had read the books by Koestler, George Orwell, James Burnham, Eugene Lyons, and Isaac Don Levine, who all had exposed the truth about the Soviet Union. These, of course, were the very books he had made sure would never be turned into movies. Trumbo supported Stalin, all the while knowing that he was a monster.

  • Flipping Hollywood’s Blacklist Narrative, by Ron Capshaw. Library of Law and Liberty 01/25/15:

    … All in all, Ryskind’s work is a welcome addition to the anticommunist corrections to the blacklist legend. He has written a convincing and well-sourced follow up to the pioneering effort of the Radoshes. Moreover, he has refused to play the warped victim son of a writer who was much maligned in his time and may have been black-listed (Morrie never got another script accepted after 1945). Instead he has focused on disputing how Hollywood then and now has rehabiliated what in essence were Stalinists.

  • Exclusive Author Interview with Allan Ryskind, Author of “Hollywood Traitors”, by Christopher N. Malagisi.
  • Who was Dalton Trumbo, Screenwriter and Stalinist?, by Ron Capshaw. The American Spectator 01/06/15.

  • Dalton Got His Gun, by Stefan Kanfer. City Journal 02/27/15. “The lodestar of the Hollywood blacklist was all that his fans said he was—and less.” [Review of Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical by Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo, and Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters, Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler by Allan H. Ryskind].
3

Apostle of California

(Apparently Pope Francis is going to canonize Father Serra during his visit to the US this year.  Finally!  Time to repost this post that ran in 2011.)

 

 

By the 18th Century Spain’s glory days were in her past, and her time as a great power was rapidly coming to an end.  It is therefore somewhat unusual that at this period in her history, Spain added to her vast colonial empire.  It would never have occurred but for the drive of one Spanish governor and the burning desire of a saint to spread the Gospel of Christ.

Miquel Josep Serra i Ferrer was born on the island of Majorca, the largest of the Balearic islands, off the Mediterranean coast of Spain on November 24, 1713.  From his youth he had a desire to join the Franciscans and on September 14, 1730 he entered the Order of Friars Minor, and took the name of Junipero after Saint Junipero, one of the closest companions of Saint Francis.  He had a sharp mind, and before his ordination to the priesthood was appointed lector of philosophy.  He would go on to earn a doctorate in philosophy from Lullian University and went on to occupy the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy there.  A quiet life teaching philosophy was his for the asking.  Instead, he went off to be a missionary in the New World in 1749.

His first assignment was to teach in Mexico City, but that was not why he had left the Old World.  At his request he was assigned to the Sierra Gorda Indian missions in Central Mexico as a mission priest, a task which occupied him  for the next nine years.

In 1768 he was appointed the head of 15 Franciscans in Baja California who were taking over Jesuit missions to the Indians there, following the suppression of the Jesuit Order.  It was in Baja California that he met the Governor of that province, Gaspar de Portola.

Continue Reading

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American History and Political Correctness

“the difference between the old and the new education being) in a word, the old was a kind of propagation – men transmitting manhood to men; the new is merely propaganda.”

CS Lewis, The Abolition of Man

My son and my daughter when they were in high school both took advanced placement American history, earning A’s.  (Yeah, they heard quite a lot about American history from me as they were growing up!  “Dad, I only asked for three dollars!  What does Washington’s strategy during the Yorktown campaign have to do with it?”)  They enjoyed the classes and thought they were worthwhile.  I am glad they took the courses prior to the new framework for teaching the courses was initiated.  Larry Krieger is a retired American history teacher.  He specialized in teaching advanced placement American history, and was recognized in 2004 and 2005 by the College Board, the company that produces the courses, as the best teacher of advanced placement American history, and he has written several books to help students prepare for the course.  He has been leading the charge against the changes that the College Board is implementing in their American history course:

The Framework’s unbalanced and biased coverage of the Colonial era represents a radical departure from its existing topical outline and from state and local curriculum guides. While students will learn a great deal about the Beaver Wars, the Chickasaw Wars, the Pueblo Revolt, and King Philip’s War, they will learn little or nothing about the rise of religious toleration, the development of democratic institutions, and the emergence of a society that included a rich mix of ethnic groups and the absence of a hereditary aristocracy. The Framework blatantly ignores such pivotal historic figures as Roger Williams and Benjamin Franklin and such key developments as the emergence of New England town meetings and the Virginia House of Burgesses as cradles of democracy.

The absence of coverage on the development of religious toleration is a particularly egregious flaw. Freedom of religion is one of America’s greatest contributions to world civilization. Yet, inexplicably the Framework omits the Pilgrims, mentions the Quakers once, and fails to discuss the importance of religious dissenters such as Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams and the consequences of the First Great Awakening.

Thomas Jefferson described New England town meetings as “the best school of political liberty the world ever saw.” Jefferson was right. We encourage parents, teachers, and students to attend local meetings and ask school and political officials if the new College Board AP U.S. History Framework is aligned with their locally mandated courses of study. If it is not, then the public has a right and a responsibility to demand that the College Board rescind the new Framework and adopt a more appropriate course of study.

 

UNIT 3: 1754 – 1800

At the present time, a five-page outline provides AP U.S. History teachers with a clear chronological list of topics that they should cover in their courses. This traditional outline conforms to the sequence of topics approved by state and local boards of education. In contrast, the new redesigned Framework provides a detailed 98-page document that defines, discusses, and interprets “the required knowledge of each period.” The College Board has thus unilaterally assumed the authority to replace local and state guidelines with its own biased curriculum guide. These biases can be clearly seen in how the Framework emphasizes, deemphasizes, and omits selected topics in the period from 1754 to 1800.

The Framework begins this critical period of American history with a full page devoted to how “various American Indian groups repeatedly evaluated and adjusted their alliances, with Europeans, other tribes, and the new United States government” (page 32). The Framework then generously grants teachers the flexibility to discuss Pontiac’s Rebellion and Chief Little Turtle (page 32).

While the Framework emphasizes “new white-Indian conflicts along the western borders (page 36) and “the seizure of Indian lands” (page 37), it all but ignores George Washington’s life and indispensible contributions to American history. Although Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” he merits only one random Framework reference: “Although George Washington’s Farewell Address warned about the dangers of divisive political parties and permanent foreign alliances, European conflict and tensions with Britain and France fueled increasingly bitter partisan debates throughout the 1790s” (page 34).To put this glaring omission into perspective, imagine how South Africans would respond if an unelected agency issued a history of their country that contained just one reference to Nelson Mandela.

The Framework’s decision to all but omit George Washington extends to his command of the Continental Army. Most state and local curriculum guides require teachers to discuss the significance of Valley Forge and the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown. Instead, the College Board Framework completely ignores all Revolutionary War battles and commanders. Veterans and their families will by dismayed to discover that this is not an oversight. In fact, the College Board ignores military history from the Revolutionary War to the present day.  Students will thus not learn about the valor and sacrifices of the Army of Northern Virginia, the Army of the Potomac, the Rough Riders, the doughboys, the GI’s, and the servicemen and women who fought in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The Framework’s superficial coverage of the Revolutionary War is typical of this poorly organized unit. For example, the Framework devotes just one sentence to the Declaration of Independence (page 34). John Adams later wrote that “the Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.” While the College Board Framework invites teachers to discuss “the architecture of Spanish missions” (page 34), it does not invite teachers to fully explore the republican ideals that motivated America’s founders. Confused students may wonder what cause motivated the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the soldiers at Valley Forge, and the framers at Independence Hall to sacrifice their lives, their fortunes, and their “sacred honor.” For example, Richard Morris risked his life and sacrificed his fortune to promote the cause of freedom. Continue Reading

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Sister Blandina on the Path to Sainthood

sister-blandina-segale

 

 

One of the pioneer nuns of the Old West is on the path to sainthood, Sister Blandina Segale:

 

 

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced Wednesday it is exploring sainthood for an Italian-born nun who challenged Billy the Kid, calmed angry mobs and helped open New Mexico territory hospitals and schools.

Archbishop Michael Sheehan said he has received permission from the Vatican to open the “Sainthood Cause” for Sister Blandina Segale, an educator and social worker who worked in Ohio, Colorado and New Mexico.

It’s the first time in New Mexico’s 400-year history with the Roman Catholic Church that a decree opening the cause of beatification and canonization has been declared, church officials said.

Go here to read the rest at The Sacramento Bee.

 

I heartily support this cause!  Here is a post on Sister Blandina that I wrote back in 2012:

Rose Marie Segale was born on January 23, 1850 in the small village of Cicagna in Italy.  When she was four she and her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, part of the initial wave of immigration from Italy to America.  From her earliest childhood she was determined to be a sister and frequently told her father that she wanted to join the  Sisters of Charity as soon as she was old enough.  She began her novitiate at the age of 16.  When she professed her vows she took the name of Blandina Segale.  She taught at Steubenville and Dayton, and in 1872 she was ordered to Trinidad for missionary work.  Initially she thought that she was being sent to the island and was thrilled.  Instead, she was sent to Trinidad, Colorado in the western part of that state.

What she found when she got there, was a town that was frequently visited by outlaws and where lynchings were common.  A fairly rugged environment for a 22-year-old sister!

Nothing daunted, she began to teach.  Soon after she got there she stopped a lynching by convincing a dying man to forgive his assailant, the father of one of her pupils.  Sister Blandina and the sheriff brought the accused killer from the jail where he was being held to the bed of the dying man, through the midst of an angry lynch mob.  The dying man, very generously I think, forgave the man, the lynch mob dispersed, and the man’s fate was determined by the court and not the mob.

One of the many outlaws who terrorized the area was Arthur Pond aka William LeRoy, sometimes known as Billy the Kid, and who was celebrated as the King of American Highwaymen by the “penny dreadful” novelist  Richard K. Fox who released a heavily fictionalized biography of him immediately after his death, conflating his exploits with those of the more famous Billy the Kid.  (Sister Blandina in later life confused LeRoy with William H. Bonney, the more famous Billy the Kid, who operated in New Mexico a few years later.  Sister Blandina had known the outlaw only by his nickname and didn’t realize that there were two Billy the Kids, who died within months of each other in 1881.)  A member of his gang had been accidentally  shot by another member of his gang and left to die in an adobe hut in Trinidad.  Learning this from one of her students, Sister Blandina went to the outlaw and nursed him back to health, answering his questions about God and religion.   When Billy the Kid showed up in Trinidad one day, intent on scalping the four doctors who refused to treat the man Sister Blandina had been caring for, he thanked Sister Blandina and at her request reluctantly spared the physicians. Continue Reading

3

Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.: American Eagle

benjaminodavisjr02

Benjamin O Davis, Jr, a 1936 graduate of West Point, probably did not have any premonition when he graduated that he and his father were destined to write an interesting chapter in American military history.  At the time of his graduation from West Point, the Army had a total of two black line officers, Davis and his father.  Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. would be the first black general in the United States Army and Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. would be the first black general in the United States Air Force.  They both earned their stars through sheer ability at a time when prejudice against blacks was official policy within the US military.

The grandson of a slave, Davis senior was born in 1880.  He enlisted in the black 8th volunteer infantry during the Spanish-American War, serving as a temporary first lieutenant.  After the war he enlisted in the regular Army as a private, serving in the 9th United States cavalry, one of the Buffalo Soldier regiments.  A promising young soldier, he shot up in rank to squadron sergeant major.  He came to the notice of the commander of his unit, Lieutenant Charles Young, then the only black officer in the Army.  With Young’s encouragement and tutoring, he took the officer’s test at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant on February 2, 1901.  For the next 39 years he served in various postings, including military attaché to Liberia and professor of military science at Tuskegee.  It took persistence to stay in an Army where blacks served only in segregated units and where he was often the only black officer in the entire Army, but on October 25, 1940 Davis became the first black in American military history to earn a general’s star.

His son found the going just as tough initially.  At West Point Davis Junior was officially shunned by almost all of the other cadets, who would only speak to him in the line of duty.  He ate his meals alone and had no room mate during his four years.  However, his hard work and ability earned grudging respect judging from this inscription in the West Point year book for 1936:

The courage, tenacity, and intelligence with which he conquered a problem incomparably more difficult than plebe year won for him the sincere admiration of his classmates, and his single-minded determination to continue in his chosen career cannot fail to inspire respect wherever fortune may lead him.

Such respect did not change the fact that he was black in an Army that had no love for black officers.  His application to the Army Air Corps was summarily rejected because the Army Air Corps did not accept blacks.  He found himself serving as a professor of military science at Tuskegee just as his father had years before.

With the advent of World War II the military was still segregated, and opposition to blacks serving as pilots was intense.   However, the Army Air Corps could not ignore that blacks had passed the tests to qualify as aviation cadets.   To his delight, Captain Davis was assigned to the first training class for black fighter pilots.  He was the first black to solo in the Army Air Corps and got his wings in March 1942.

Trained at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, the 99th Pursuit squadron was activated in 1941 and sent overseas to North Africa in April 1943.  Now a Lieutenant Colonel, Davis Junior was in command.  In September he was called back to the States to help form the all black 332 fighter group.  After he arrived back, an attempt to kill the project was made by senior Army Air Corps officers alleging deficiencies in the record of the 99th.  Furious, Davis held a news conference at the Pentagon, with his father, to defend his men, and challenged the accuracy of the charges.  Further investigations determined that the 99th had performed as well as similar white units. Continue Reading

5

Washington At Prayer

There is an old tradition that Washington prayed in the snow at Valley Forge on Christmas Day 1777.  Certainly the wretched condition of the Continental Army in December of 1777, with a hungry winter beginning, would have driven commanders less pious than Washington to their knees.  However, Washington was pious and prayed every day.

The tradition rests on this account of the Reverend Nathaniel Randolph Snowden, a Presbyterian Minister in Philadelphia who lived from 1770-1851 and who wrote the following: Continue Reading

20

Thomas Nast, Santa Claus and Anti-Catholicism

Union Santa Claus

At this time of the year it is appropriate to recall that the modern image of Santa Claus was largely created by a German immigrant to these shores, Thomas Nast, an illustrator for Harper’s Weekly.  The above is the first of his many Santa Claus drawings.  It appeared on January 3, 1863 and showed a Red, White and Blue clad Santa visiting Union troops.  Nast would draw Santa Claus many times throughout his career and the Santa we see today is largely Santa as imagined by Nast.

Born in 1840 in Landau in Germany, then a geographical term rather than a nation, Nast came to America as a child, along with his family.  His passion for drawing was notable even as a child.  In 1862 he became illustrator for Harper’ Weekly, a post he would hold until 1886.

Nast was a cartoonist with strong convictions.  He loved the Union, racial equality, at least for Negroes and the Chinese immigrants in the West, the Republican party, until he supported Grover Cleveland in 1884, political reform, and any number of other reform causes.  He was also clear as to what he hated:  the Confederacy, political corruption, especially the Tammany Hall organization in New York and the Democrat party, until he supported Cleveland in 1884.  Among his hates were Irish immigrants, largely supporters of the Democrat party, and the Catholic Church.

Like many a bitter anti-Catholic bigot, Nast was a born and baptized Catholic.  He had left the Faith by his marriage in 1861 to an Episcopalian.    Nast’s anti-Catholicism was savage.  Typical is  an 1870 cartoon where the Pope is depicted as lusting to conquer America:

Nast_Promised_Land

Nast also hated Mormons, as depicted in the cartoon below where Nast symbolizes Catholicism and Mormons as foreign reptiles, demonstrating that Nast knew little about Mormonism, an entirely American creation, or of the history of Catholicism in what is now the United States, which stretches back to the earliest explorations: Continue Reading

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How Dagger John Saved the Irish

 

 

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Matthew 6:33

 

 

 

Archbishop John Hughes of New York, universally known to friend and foe as Dagger John, was  a very tough and fearless man.  After the anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia in 1844 he called on the mayor of New York, an anti-Catholic bigot, and informed him that if a single Catholic church was touched in New York, New York would be a second Moscow.  (The reference was to the burning of Moscow in 1812 during Napoleon’s occupation of the city.) Not a Catholic church was touched.  On another occasion when a threat was made to burn Saint Patrick’s cathedral the Archbishop had it guarded within hours by 4,000 armed Catholics.  He earned his nickname!

Among his many accomplishments was his success in leading the New York Irish out of poverty.  It is a fascinating story and relevant to our time.  In 1997 in City Journal, William J. Stern wrote an article on how Dagger John did it:

 

 

Hughes once remarked that “the Catholic Church is a church of discipline,” and Father Richard Shaw, Hughes’s most recent biographer, believes that the comment gives a glimpse into the inner core of his beliefs. Self-control and high personal standards were the key—and Hughes’s own disciplined labors to improve himself and all those around him, despite constant ill health, embodied this ethic monumentally. Hughes proclaimed the need to avoid sin. His clergy stated clearly that certain conduct was right and other conduct was wrong. People must not govern their lives according to momentary feelings or the desire for instant gratification: they had to live up to a code of behavior that had been developed over thousands of years. This teaching produced communities where ethical standards mattered and severe stigma attached to those who misbehaved.
The priests stressed the virtue of purity, loudly and unambiguously, to both young and old. Sex was sinful outside marriage, no exceptions. Packed together in apartments with sometimes two or three families in a single room, the Irish lived in conditions that did not encourage chastity or even basic modesty. Women working in the low-paid drudgery of domestic service were tempted to work instead in the saloons of Five Points, which often led to a life of promiscuity or prostitution. The Church’s fierce exhortations against promiscuity, with its accompanying evils of out-of-wedlock births and venereal disease, took hold. In time, most Irish began to understand that personal responsibility was an important component of sexual conduct.
Since alcohol was such a major problem for his flock, Hughes—though no teetotaler himself—promoted the formation of a Catholic abstinence society. In 1849 he accompanied the famous Irish Capuchin priest, Father Theobald Mathew, the “apostle of temperance,” all around the city as he gave the abstinence pledge to 20,000 New Yorkers.
A religion of discipline, stressing conduct and the avoidance of sin, can be a pinched and gloomy affair, but Hughes’s teaching had a very different inflection. His priests mitigated the harshness with the encouraging Doctrine of the Sacred Heart, which declares that if you keep the commandments, God will be your protector, healer, advisor, and perfect personal friend. To a people despised by many, living in desperate circumstances, with narrow economic possibilities, such a teaching was a bulwark against anger, despair, and fear. Hughes’s Catholicism was upbeat and encouraging: if God Almighty was your personal friend, you could overcome.
Hughes’s teaching had a special message for and about women. Women outnumbered men by 20 percent in New York’s Irish population partly because of famine-induced emigration patterns and partly because many Irish immigrant men went west from New York to work on building railways and canals. Irish women could find work in New York more easily than men could, and the work they found, usually as domestics, was steadier. Given the demographic facts, along with the high illegitimacy rate and the degree of family disintegration, Hughes clearly saw the need to teach men respect for women, and women self-respect.

He did this by putting Catholicism’s Marian Doctrine right at the center of his message. Irish women would hear from the priests and nuns that Mary was Queen of Peace, Queen of Prophets, and Queen of Heaven, and that women were important. The “ladies of New York,” Hughes told them, were “the children, the daughters of Mary.” The Marian teaching encouraged women to take responsibility for their own lives, to inspire their men and their children to good conduct, to keep their families together, and to become forces for upright behavior in their neighborhoods. The nuns, especially, encouraged women to become community leaders and play major roles in church fund-raising activities—radical notions for a male-dominated society where women did not yet have the right to vote. In addition, Irish men and women saw nuns in major executive positions, managing hospitals, schools, orphanages, and church societies—sending another highly unusual message for the day. Irish women became important allies in Hughes’s war for values; by the 1850s they began to be major forces for moral rectitude, stability, and progress in the Irish neighborhoods of the city.
When Hughes went beyond spiritual uplift to the material and institutional needs of New York’s Irish, he always focused sharply on self-help and mutual aid. On the simplest level, in all parishes he encouraged the formation of church societies—support groups, like today’s women’s groups or Alcoholics Anonymous, to help people deal with neighborhood concerns or personal and family problems, such as alcoholism or finding employment. In these groups, people at the local level could exchange information and advice, and offer one another encouragement and constructive criticism. Continue Reading

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Jefferson’s Danbury Letter and the Separation of Church and State

A fine video by Professor John Eastman for Praeger University demonstrating how Church State relations today in the United States bears almost no relationship to that envisioned by the Founding Fathers.  The vehicle of this misapprehension has been Thomas Jefferson’ s letter to  a congregation of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut.  Here is the text of that letter:

To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins,  & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association  in the state of Connecticut.

Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which  you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist  association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful  and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion  as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them  becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies  solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for  his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach  actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence  that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature  should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting  the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between  Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the  nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction  the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural  rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection &  blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves  & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson           Jan. 1. 1802.

It would have astounded Jefferson if he could have foreseen that the Supreme Court would make his letter the cornerstone of erecting a wall of separation between Church and State.  Jefferson did not intend to have the letter be a centerpiece of Constitutional theory, but rather it was a partisan attempt by his to refute Federalist arguments that he was an infidel.  In a brilliant essay, which may be read here, James Hutson, Chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress, explains the historical background of the letter: Continue Reading

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Civil War History and Inevitability

I’ve been on a bit of a history kicker lately, particularly Civil War history, even if by chance. On successive occasions I read Tony Horowitz’s Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War, followed by April 1865: The Month that Saved America by Jay Winik. It was purely coincidental that I read those books back-to-back, though they serve as proper bookends to Civil War history. I also happened to finally see Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. 

First a review of the works themselves. Midnight Rising is an excellent recounting of the events leading up to John Brown’s raid, the raid itself, and of course the fallout. Horowitz’s account is fairly straight, though one can’t help but detect a bit of admiration for Brown peeking through his narrative. You can probably make a good argument for both the proposition that Brown was a complete lunatic and that he was a hero who stood on principle (though probably more the former).

Winik’s narrative is engaging, and if you are unfamiliar with many of the details of not just the events of April 1865, but of the Civil War in general, then Winik’s book is a very good primer. Unfortunately it suffers from a few severe, though hardly fatal defects. First of all, Winik litters his story with repeated digressions, filling in biographical details of the main figures – Lee, Grant, Lincoln, Davis, Forrest, Sherman, Booth, even Johnston. Again, this may or may not infuriate the reader depending upon his knowledge of Civil War history. It felt like padding to me, and unnecessary padding at that.

Second, while he gets his history mostly right, there are a few notable lapses. Most grating to me was his discussion of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and their respective writings on nullification. Like many other writers, he contends that Madison supported nullification in the Virginia Resolutions, when in point of fact Madison completely rejected the doctrine of nullification throughout his life and merely argued for a concept known as interposition in the Virginia Resolutions. This is a relatively minor point, but Winik makes a handful of errors, especially with regards to Lincoln’s attitudes towards having extra protection on the day of his assassination. Winik makes Lincoln seem callous about his own security, but it was Edwin Stanton who denied him an extra bodyguard.

Finally, Winik’s fundamental thesis is overstated (and also restated repeatedly in a  seemingly unending epilogue). Though the conclusion of the war was a momentous occasion in American history, Winik overstates the willingness and the capability of the south to engage in guerilla warfare to prolong to conflict. Certainly Lee could have decided to rebuff Grant’s peace overtures, and Johnston could have listened to Jefferson Davis’s appeals to continue the fight, but would the south have kept the Union at bay as effectively and as long as Winik speculates?  I suppose that is a matter of some conjecture, but I think Winik drastically overestimates the ability of any sizable confederate band to harass the Union for much longer.

As for the movie Lincoln, I’ll largely second Donald’s review. It was an epic film, and Daniel Day-Lewis was simply outstanding. I’ll admit I even got choked up at the end – a rarity for me as usually only Field of Dreams ever makes me cry.

Beyond the merits of these works, I wanted to explore some of their themes – or at least some of the thoughts that they inspired in me directly or indirectly. Continue Reading

Quotes Suitable For Framing: George Washington

A contemplation of the compleat attainment (at a period earlier than could have been expected) of the object for which we contended against so formidable a power cannot but inspire us with astonishment and gratitude. The disadvantageous circumstances on our part, under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverance of the Armies of the U States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.  

George Washington

I love studying history, but one unfortunate feature of it is that one tends to learn of the flaws and mistakes of great men and women and that it lowers them in the esteem of the careful student of their careers.  I have not found that the case with Washington.  He certainly had flaws, a bad temper that he had to exert iron control over for example, and he made mistakes, as a study of his campaigns during the Revolution demonstrates.  However with Washington that is counterbalanced by what he accomplished in the teeth of immense odds, and his humility that made him relinquish power, something that inspired his adversary George III to hail him as the greatest man in the world.  God gave us a Washington when we most needed him and that, in the words of Washington, was, indeed, a standing miracle.

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Daniel Webster

Yes, Dan’l Webster’s dead–or, at least, they buried him. But every time there’s a thunder storm around Marshfield, they say you can hear his rolling voice in the hollows of the sky. And they say that if you go to his grave and speak loud and clear, “Dan’l Webster–Dan’l Webster!” the ground’ll begin to shiver and the trees begin to shake. And after a while you’ll hear a deep voice saying, “Neighbor, how stands the Union?” Then you better answer the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper sheathed, one and indivisible, or he’s liable to rear right out of the ground. At least, that’s what I was told when I was a youngster.

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

In his short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, Benet has Satan conjure up the damned souls of 12 villains from American history to serve as a jury in the case of Satan v. Jabez Stone. Only seven of these entities are named, and we have examined the lives of each of them including the “life” I made up for the fictional the Reverend John Smeet.  We also looked at the judge who presided over the case, Justice Hathorne.  Only one personage remains to examine, Daniel Webster.

Born in 1782 a few months after the American victory at Yorktown, Webster would live to be a very old man for his time, dying in 1852.  Webster would serve in the House for 10 years from New Hampshire and 19 years in the Senate from Massachusetts.  Three times Secretary of State, he also attempted on three occasions to win the Presidency failing three times, watching as much lesser men attained that office.  Like his two great contemporaries, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, his name is remembered while most Americans would be hard pressed to name many of those presidents.

While holding political office he also practiced law, arguing an astounding 223 cases before the United States Supreme Court and winning about half of them.

He was acknowledged to be the finest American orator of his day, a day in which brilliant speech making was fairly common on the American political scene, and his contemporaries often referred to him blasphemously as “the god-like Daniel”.  Perhaps the finest example of Webster’s oratory is his Second Reply to Senator Haynes of South Carolina during the debate on tariffs which took place in the Senate  in January of 1830.  In the background lurked the nullification crisis and possible secession, a crisis which would build over the next three decades and explode into the attempted dissolution of the union in 1860.  The ending of this speech was once known by every schoolchild:   Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable!

The American Union was Webster’s passion throughout his life, he being above all an ardent patriot.  He was also an ardent opponent of slavery.  However, in 1850 when his opposition to slavery conflicted with what he perceived to be the necessity of a compromise to preserve the Union, he did not hesitate and helped hammer the compromise together.  Because it included a stronger fugitive slave act, he was roundly condemned throughout New England, something noted in The Devil and Daniel Webster: Continue Reading

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177th Anniversary of the Fall of the Alamo

 

Thermopylae had her messenger of defeat-the Alamo had none.
Thomas Jefferson Green

Today is the 177th Anniversary of the fall of the Alamo.  The above Ballad of the Alamo is from the Alamo (1960), John Wayne’s love note to America.  The film was scored by Dimitri Tiomkin, one of the true masters of film music.  Here is Wayne’s film in eight and a half minutes:

I can never write about the Alamo film without showing this clip of John Wayne giving his Republic speech:

Continue Reading

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King Kirby, Captain America and American History

A guest post by commenter Fabio Paolo Barbieri on one of the legendary comic book artists, Jack “King” Kirby, his greatest comic book creation, Captain America, and Kirby’s trip through American history with the Captain:

With Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles we at last reach a masterpiece within the meaning of the act.  The Marvel Treasury Edition format in which it was published, though suffering from the same bad production values as the regular titles, tried for a more upmarket and collectable air: instead of slim pamphlets with floppy covers, padded out with cheapo ads, they had 80 large pages, no ads, and more durable hard(ish) covers. On the whole, it was an unhappy compromise without future, but Kirby, who had seen formats and production values decline throughout his career, grasped the opportunity of more elaborate work than the regular format allowed.  (Artists of Kirby’s generation are often heard commenting on the quality of paper and colouring available to today’s cartoonists, even when they don’t read the stories; bad printing had been such a fundamental reality to their period that improved paper stock and technology are the one thing that stands out when they see a new comic.)
Captain-America-Bicen-01fc
That is not to say that it is flawless everywhere; few details of title, packaging and secondary material could be worse.  That anyone could come up with such a title as Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles would be incredible had it not happened; its clanging, flat verbosity belongs more to the kitsch of 1876 than of 1976 – “Doctor Helzheimer’s Anti-Gas Pills”.  The pin-ups that pad out the awkwardly-sized story (77 pages), with Captain America in various pseudo-historical costumes, are positively infantile, the front cover is dull and the back one ridiculous.  Nothing shows more absurdly the dichotomy between Kirby’s mature, thoughtful, even philosophical genius and the bad habits of a lifetime at the lowest end of commercial publishing coming on top of a lower-end education; the nemesis, you might say, of uneducated self-made genius.  The Kirby who did this sort of thing was the Kirby who filled otherwise good covers with verbose and boastful blurbs, who defaced the English language with “you matted masterpiece of murderous malignancy!” and the like, who cared nothing for precision and good taste – in short, the man whose lack of education lingered in his system all his life. Kirby went into his work with less inherited “baggage” than any other cartoonist, and was correspondingly radical and revolutionary, but he also had little share in common taste and standards.

Continue Reading

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Thaddeus Stevens: Film Portrayals

 “I repose in this quiet and secluded spot, not from any natural preference for solitude, but finding other cemeteries limited as to race, by charter rules, I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life, equality of man before his Creator.

Inscription on the Tombstone of Thaddeus Stevens

As regular readers of this blog know, I greatly enjoyed the film Lincoln and praised it for its overall historical accuracy.  Go here to read my review.  One of the many aspects of the film that I appreciated was Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens (R.Pa.), a radical Republican who rose from poverty to become the leader of the abolitionists in the House, and one of the most powerful men in the country from 1861 to his death in 1868.  There haven’t been many screen portrayals of Stevens, but they illustrate how perceptions of Stevens have shifted based upon perceptions of Reconstruction and civil rights for blacks.

The above is an excellent video on the subject.

The 1915 film Birth of a Nation, has a barely concealed portrayal of Stevens under the name of Congressman Austin Stoneman, the white mentor of mulatto Silas Lynch, the villain of the film, who makes himself virtual dictator of South Carolina until he is toppled by heroic Klansmen.  The film was in line with the Lost Cause mythology that portrayed Reconstruction as a tragic crime that imposed governments made up of ignorant blacks and scheming Yankee carpetbaggers upon the South.  This was the predominant view of scholarly opinion at the time.  The film was attacked by both the NAACP and the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization, as being untrue to history, a glorification of mob violence and racist.

By 1942 when the film Tennessee Johnson was made, we see a substantial shift in the portrayal of Stevens.  Played by veteran actor Lionel Barrymore, best know today for his portrayal of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, Stevens is portrayed as a fanatic out to punish the South and fearful that the too lenient, in his view, treatment of the South in Reconstruction will lead to a new Civil War.  This leads up to the climax of the film, the trial in the Senate of Johnson, with Stevens as the leader of the House delegation prosecuting Johnson, with Johnson staying in office by one vote.  The portrayal of Stevens is not one-dimensional.  Stevens is shown as basically a good, if curmudgeonly, man, consumed by fears of a new Civil War and wishing to help the newly emancipated slaves, albeit wrong in his desire to punish the South.  Like Birth of a Nation, Tennessee Johnson reflected the scholarly consensus of the day which still painted Reconstruction in a negative light, although not as negative as in  1915.  Additionally,  the issue of contemporary civil rights for blacks was beginning to emerge outside of the black community as an issue, and Stevens in the film is not attacked on his insistence for civil rights for blacks. Continue Reading

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Thanksgiving Proclamation: 1863

If a nation ever needed Divine assistance it was our own America during the Civil War.  Riven in two, the nation must have seemed on a path to destruction by many of those who lived through that terrible trial.  Abraham Lincoln, as he led the United States through that struggle, increasingly found his mind turning to God.  This Proclamation was written by Secretary of State Seward, but the sentiments are no doubt ones in which Lincoln fully joined.

 

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union. Continue Reading

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American Militia in the Revolution: Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill

Here once the embattled farmers stood,

And fired the shot heard round the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Part three of a series on militia in the American Revolution. Go here and here to read the previous posts in the series. On the eve of the Revolution the 13 colonies had no Army but they were not defenseless. Their militias constituted a military force of uncertain power but they had a history as old as their colonies and they allowed the colonists to assume that as a last resort they would not be helpless against the British Army. General Thomas Gage, the commander of the British garrison in Boston and the military governor of Massachusetts, viewed the militia as a constant threat to his forces, and it was his sending of a detachment of 700 troops to seize the militia arsenal at Concord that precipitated the American Revolution.

The battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 demonstrated both the strengths and the weaknesses of the American militia system. The initial clash at Lexington involved a standard militia unit of 77 men, not a picked minute man company. The militia was under the command of Captain John Parker, a veteran of the French and Indian War. Parker was in ill-health, suffering from tuberculosis, and some accounts indicate he was difficult to hear. 77 men of course stood no chance against 700 British regulars, and Parker seemed to regard his militia as making a political statement rather than actually attempting to stop the British. Shots were exchange, who fired first is unknown. The British swiftly brushed aside the fleeing militia and continued their march on Concord. So far, so ineffective, as far as the American militia was concerned.

But the British did not simply have to deal with one company of militia at Lexington. The entire country around Boston was up in arms, the word of the British foray spread by Paul Revere, William Dawes and other messengers, and the militia companies were assembling and marching to fight, convinced after the news of Lexington filtered out that the long-expected war had begun. Continue Reading

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November 15, 1862: Lincoln Enjoins Observance of the Sabbath

Well this would give the ACLU fits today!  On November 15, 1862 Lincoln sent out the following general order:

GENERAL ORDER RESPECTING THE OBSERVANCE OF THE SABBATH DAY

IN THE ARMY AND NAVY.

EXECUTIVE MANSION, WASHINGTON, November 15, 1862.

The President, Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, desires and enjoins the orderly observance of the Sabbath by the officers and men in the military and naval service. The importance for man and beast of the prescribed weekly rest, the sacred rights of Christian soldiers and sailors, a becoming deference to the best sentiment of a Christian people, and a due regard for the divine will demand that Sunday labor in the army and navy be reduced to the measure of strict necessity.

The discipline and character of the national forces should not suffer nor the cause they defend be imperilled by the profanation of the day or name of the Most High. “At this time of public distress,” adopting the words of Washington in 1776, “men may find enough to do in the service of God and their country without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality.” The first general order issued by the Father of his Country after the Declaration of Independence indicates the spirit in which our institutions were founded and should ever be defended:

“The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.”

A. LINCOLN. Continue Reading

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Mother Marianne

 

Born on January 23, 1838 in Heppenheim, in the Grand Duchy of Hesse, Maria Anna Barbara Koob moved with her family the next year to Utica, New York.  Her father became an invalid when Maria was in the eighth grade.  She left school and worked in a factory to help support her family.  By 1862 her younger siblings were old enough to take care of themselves, and she felt free to follow her heart’s desire by joining the Sisters of the Third Order Regulars of Saint Francis based in Syracuse, New York.  After her novitiate, she served as a teacher and principal in the parochial schools set up for the children of German-speaking immigrants.

She rapidly showed leadership and organizational skills and from 1870-1877 ran Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse.  In 1883, by which time she was Superior General of her congregation, she received a plea for sisters to provide medical assistance to the leper colony on Molokai in Hawaii from the King of Hawaii.  Fifty religious institutes had turned down the King, but he struck paydirt with the fifty-first.  Mother Marianne responded enthusiastically, and she and six of her sisters landed in Honolulu on November 8, 1883.  The sisters took charge of  Kakako Branch Hospital which served as a receiving hospital for lepers from all over Hawaii, with the most serious cases sent to Molokai.  The next year Mother Marianne, at the request of the Hawaiian government, set up Malulani Hospital, the first general hospital on Maui. Continue Reading

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Sister Blandina and the Original Billy the Kid

Rose Marie Segale was born on January 23, 1850 in the small village of Cicagna in Italy.  When she was four she and her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, part of the initial wave of immigration from Italy to America.  From her earliest childhood she was determined to be a sister and frequently told her father that she wanted to join the  Sisters of Charity as soon as she was old enough.  She began her novitiate at the age of 16.  When she professed her vows she took the name of Blandina Segale.  She taught at Steubenville and Dayton, and in 1872 she was ordered to Trinidad for missionary work.  Initially she thought that she was being sent to the island and was thrilled.  Instead, she was sent to Trinidad, Colorado in the western part of that state.

What she found when she got there, was a town that was frequently visited by outlaws and where lynchings were common.  A fairly rugged environment for a 22-year-old sister!

Nothing daunted, she began to teach.  Soon after she got there she stopped a lynching by convincing a dying man to forgive his assailant, the father of one of her pupils.  Sister Blandina and the sheriff brought the accused killer from the jail where he was being held to the bed of the dying man, through the midst of an angry lynch mob.  The dying man, very generously I think, forgave the man, the lynch mob dispersed, and the man’s fate was determined by the court and not the mob.

One of the many outlaws who terrorized the area was Arthur Pond aka William LeRoy, sometimes known as Billy the Kid, and who was celebrated as the King of American Highwaymen by the “penny dreadful” novelist  Richard K. Fox who released a heavily fictionalized biography of him immediately after his death, conflating his exploits with those of the more famous Billy the Kid.  (Sister Blandina in later life confused LeRoy with William H. Bonney, the more famous Billy the Kid, who operated in New Mexico a few years later.  Sister Blandina had known the outlaw only by his nickname and didn’t realize that there were two Billy the Kids, who died within months of each other in 1881.)  A member of his gang had been accidentally  shot by another member of his gang and left to die in an adobe hut in Trinidad.  Learning this from one of her students, Sister Blandina went to the outlaw and nursed him back to health, answering his questions about God and religion.   When Billy the Kid showed up in Trinidad one day, intent on scalping the four doctors who refused to treat the man Sister Blandina had been caring for, he thanked Sister Blandina and at her request reluctantly spared the physicians. Continue Reading

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And Now Idiots

Hey, remember when those evil Dutch overlords refused to free all their slaves in Brooklyn? No? Because Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY) sure does.

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) appeared to botch American and Brooklyn political history during an appearance on “The Colbert Report” that aired Tuesday night, saying that slavery in the United States persisted under the Dutch as late as 1898.

Colbert was quizzing Clarke on the history of her borough.

“Some have called Brooklyn’s decision to become part of New York City ‘The Great Mistake of 1898,’ ” Colbert said. “If you could get in a time machine and go back to 1898, what would you say to those Brooklynites?”

”I would say to them, ‘Set me free,’ ” Clarke said.

Pressed by Colbert what she would be free from, the black congresswoman responded, “Slavery.”

“Slavery. Really? I didn’t realize there was slavery in Brooklyn in 1898,” Colbert responded, seemingly looking to give the lawmaker a chance to catch her error.

“I’m pretty sure there was,” Clarke responded.

“It sounds like a horrible part of the United States that kept slavery going until 1898,” the late-night comedian then quipped.

Colbert pressed on, asking, “Who would be enslaving you in 1898 in New York?”

At that point, Clarke responded, “The Dutch.”

Yes, that was surely a dark period of American history. Fortunately, a contingent of troops who had been training in Central Park under Joe Pepitone finally managed to free the poor, oppressed Brooklynites from the clutches of the Dutch, who were rounded up and sent back to their home country of Dutchland on a series of trans-Atlantic flights, all piloted by Howard Hughes.

12

Cardinal Gibbons and the Knights of Labor

 

 

This Labor Day I recall an episode in both the history of labor in the United States and in the history of the Catholic Church in America.  The last half of the nineteenth century was a time of labor strife, as businesses grew larger, the fruit of the ongoing Industrial Revolution, and workers fought for improvement of working conditions that by any standard were frequently abysmal.  Prior to the Civil War apologists for slavery often argued that the average slave in the South was better fed, better housed and better clothed than the average industrial worker in the North.  This of course overlooked the entire question of liberty, but there were enough terrible examples of wretched working conditions in the North to give the argument facile support.

Unions sprang up to represent workers.  One of the largest in its day was the Knights of Labor founded in 1868.  Successful in several large strikes, by 1886 the membership totaled 700,000, perhaps a majority of whom were Catholic.  In 1886 the Archbishop of Quebec condemned the Knights in Canada based upon the secrecy that attended the meetings of the organization and forbade Catholics to join it.

The American hierarchy voted 10 to 2 against condemning the Knights.  Archbishop James Gibbons was going to Rome in 1887 to receive his red hat as Pope Leo XIII had made him a Cardinal.  While there he took the opportunity to submit a lengthy letter in support of the Knights.  Although the letter bears the name of Gibbons, it was probably written by his friend Bishop John Ireland of Saint Paul, who had long been active in support of the rights of workers.  The letter did the trick and the Vatican announced that the Knights were not to be condemned.  The arguments made in the letter had an impact on Pope Leo XIII and helped lay the groundwork for his historic encyclical  Rerum Novarum (1891) in which he defended the rights of workers to organize to seek better working conditions.  Ironically the subject matter of the letter, the Knights of Labor, was in decline, too many of its strikes having involved violence which the leadership of the Knights condemned, but which tarnished the Knights in the eyes of the public.  The Knights would cease to operate as a labor union in 1900, newer unions taking the place of this pioneering organization.

The letter of Cardinal Gibbons stressed that Catholic workers in America who belonged to labor organizations were not hostile to the Church as often occurred in Europe where Unions were organized by Leftist and Anarchist groups.  In America most Americans supported the workers in their struggle to improve their lot, with both major political parties vying to pass legislation aiding workers.  In short, the letter explained American labor and political conditions to the Vatican and how these differed substantially from those existing in Europe.  The letter and the decision of the Vatican were good examples of effective communication between American ecclesiastics and Rome.  Here is the text of the letter: Continue Reading

The Dorr Rebellion

One of the major developments in American history in the first half of the Nineteenth Century was the extension of the franchise to all adult white men.  By 1841, Rhode Island was the only state that had not removed the property requirement for voting by adult white men.  Years of frustration in failed attempts to remove the property requirement through legislation burst out into one of the more unusual rebellions in US history.  Led by Thomas W. Dorr, a so-called People’s Convention was held in October 1841 which drafted a new constitution for Rhode Island.  The convention had not been authorized by the Rhode Island legislature.  Opponents of Dorr and his followers in the state legislature drafted a new constitution for Rhode Island which they designated the Freeman’s Constitution.  This constitution made some concessions to broadening the franchise.  It was defeated in the legislature by followers of Dorr.

A statewide referendum called by Dorr approved the constitution which had been drafted by the People’s Convention.  In 1842 Rhode Island witnessed two sets of election with two competing legislatures and two governors: Thomas W. Dorr and Samuel W. King.

The Dorr forces attempted an attack on the arsenal in Providence on May 19, 1842 and were routed, most, including Dorr, fleeing the state.  The Rhode Island legislature approved a new Constitution which was approved by a referendum.  The new constitution extended the franchise to all adult white men who could pay a poll tax of $1.00.

In the case of Luther v. Borden, 48 US 1, the United States Supreme Court declined to rule on which of the competing Rhode Island governments had been the legitimate government, holding that such a decision was a political one and not subject to judicial determination: Continue Reading

5

Anti-Masonic Party

One of the most peculiar periods in American political history is the rise and fall of the Anti-Masonic Party.  In 1826, William Morgan, who lived in Batavia, New York, decided to write a tell-all book about the Masons after he was denied admission to the local lodge.  Some members of the Batavia lodge ran an advertisement denouncing Morgan.  Various Masons claimed that Morgan owed them money.  Someone attempted to set fire to the newspaper offices of David Miller who had agreed to help publish Morgan’s planned book exposing the Masons.  Morgan was jailed for debt.  On September 11, 1826 he was freed from jail when his debts were paid by a man who claimed to be a friend of Morgan.  The two men went by carriage to Fort Niagara, the carriage arriving there the next day.  Morgan was never seen again.  Suspicion was immediate that Morgan had been killed by Masons drowning him in the Niagara River.  Three Masons served jail terms for kidnapping him.  No prosecution was ever attempted for the murder of Morgan.

This caused a huge stink in New York, with popular opinion believing that Masonic officials had literally gotten away with murder.  Thurlow Weed was the driving force in transforming this anti-Mason sentiment into the anti-Masonic political party.  Churches throughout New York state denounced the Masons.  In the 1828 election it became the main opposition party to the Democrats in New York and broadened its appeal by supporting internal improvements and a high protective tariff.  The movement quickly spread to other states, becoming powerful in Pennsylvania and Vermont, electing governors in both states.  In 1832 it held the first national political convention and nominated William Wirt, a former United States Attorney General for President.  In 1836 the party did not nominate any candidate for President, but most anti-Masons support William Henry Harrison, who ran well in Northern states thus setting himself up for a successful run in 1840.

By 1838 the party was largely a part of the new Whig anti-Democrat party, with the anti-Masonic party relegated to being one of the curios of American political history. Continue Reading

8

Father Galveston

It is ironic that a priest who became so associated with Galveston and Texas was a Yankee!  James Martin Kirwin was born in Circleville, Ohio on July 1, 1872.  Kirwin was ordained to the priesthood on June 19, 1895.   Incardinated in the Diocese of Galveston, Texas, while in the seminary he attended, Father Kirwin was sent to the University of America in Washington, DC by the Bishop of Galveston, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in theology.  His ability being recognized early, Father Irwin was made rector of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston in 1896.

Throughout his priesthood Father Kirwin was always a whirlwind of activity, and he quickly became noticed for the heroism with which he attended the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1897.  During the Spanish-American War he helped raise the First United States Volunteer Infantry and served as its chaplain with the rank of captain.  Although the regiment never served over seas, the fate of most of the American units raised for the Spanish-American War, Father Kirwin’s service began a life long association for him with the Texas National Guard and the United States Army.

Father Kirwin rose to national prominence after the Galveston hurricane of 1900, the worst national disaster in US history which killed approximately 8,000 people.   He helped found a committee of public safety which restored law and order to the city, he drafted the martial law plan, helped with the burial of the dead, and organized and served on the central relief committee which aided victims of the hurricane.  Together with his good friend Rabbi Henry Cohen, he spearheaded the efforts over the next few years to rebuild Galveston, including the building of a seawall for the city, the cornerstone of which he blessed in 1902 and saw through to completion in 1905. Continue Reading

15

The Worst Supreme Court Selections in American History

Chief Justice John Roberts’ recent decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, as well as his vote to overturn much of Arizona’s illegal immigration law, has made conservatives think that yet again a Republican president was bamboozled. Personally I think it’s a bit early to completely write off the Chief Justice. For most of his tenure he’s been a fairly reliable conservative vote, and there is still much time (presumably) before he retires. Then we will be better able to assess his legacy.

It did get me thinking, though. What are the worst Supreme Court selections in history? I’m looking at this question in terms of the president doing the selecting. Someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a doctrinaire liberal, wouldn’t make the cut because no doubt she has voted in much the way Bill Clinton would have wished when he picked her. Similarly, I do not include someone like John Paul Stevens. Though over time he veered much further to the left than Gerald Ford or his Attorney General , Edward Levi (who basically made the selection) could have anticipated, Stevens’ jurisprudence was not that radically removed from Ford’s own preferences. In fact, Ford wrote of Stevens:

For I am prepared to allow history’s judgment of my term in office to rest (if necessary, exclusively) on my nomination thrity years ago of Justice John Paul Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court. I endorse his constitutional views on the secular character of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, on securing procedural safeguards in criminal case and on the constitution’s broad grant of regulatory authority to Congress. I include as well my special admiration for his charming wit and sense of humor; as evidence in his dissent in the 1986 commerce clause case of Maine v. Taylorand United States, involving the constitutionality of a Maine statute that broadly restricted any interstate trade of Maine’s minnows. In words perhaps somewhat less memorable then, “Shouting fire in a crowded theater,” Justice Stevens wrote, “There is something fishy about this case.”

He has served his nation well, at all times carrying out his judicial duties with dignity, intellect and without partisan political concerns. Justice Stevens has made me, and our fellow citizens, proud of my three decade old decision to appoint him to the Supreme Court. I wish him long life, good health and many more years on the bench.

Well, if Ford was willing to base his legacy on his choice of John Paul Stevens, then I’m happy to call Gerald Ford a miserable failure.

This, then, is a list of the biggest mistakes in Supreme Court selection.  Continue Reading

14

Rewriting Jefferson

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine sent me a link to David Barton’s book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. It’s almost like my friend, knowing my academic interest in Thomas Jefferson, cast some bait in my direction. And two months later, I took it.

I can honestly say that I went into it with an open mind. Even if Barton misinterpreted Jefferson, maybe he would do so in at least a semi-convincing way. After all, it’s possible for individuals to have high opinions of Thomas Jefferson without being historical hacks. I have tremendous respect for David Mayer, for example, and his opinion of Jefferson is completely different than mine.

Sadly, my low expectations were met. To be sure, Barton does offer enough arguments to rebut the most absurd and historically inaccurate claims about Jefferson. For example, Barton correctly points out the fallacy of the claim that it has been definitively proven that Thomas Jefferson fathered children by the slave Sally Hemings. I also believe that Barton’s insinuations about the partisan motivations behind the claims have some merit. But this chapter exemplifies so much of what is wrong with Barton’s methodology. While there can be no conclusive argument made that Jefferson fathered children by Hemings, it is also impossible to assert with any certainty that he did not. But Barton cannot leave well enough, and Barton distorts the findings of the commission tasked with determining the paternity of Hemings’ children to make it appear that Jefferson almost certainly could not be the father. While it’s certainly true that genetic testing at this stage of history cannot offer conclusive proof one way or the other, the idea that the father of Hemings’ children can be any one of  a dozen men or so is also not really credible. Personally I am rather agnostic on the question, and don’t think it is of huge historic import, but Barton stretches the truth almost as badly as those who adamantly insist that Jefferson was the father.

The real meat of the book focuses on the topic of religion. Again, Barton is incredibly frustrating to read. He asserts towards the beginning of the book that it is important to read primary sources, and to truly understand the historical context when judging historical figures. He is correct on both counts. He then incredibly proceeds to selectively cite dubious secondary sources in order to prove his assertions, and then ignores broader context when cherrypicking quotes from Jefferson.

A prime example of Barton cherrypicking Jefferson occurs in a chapter in which Barton tries to prove that Jefferson was no fan of the secular French Enlightenment. Barton offers as proof of this assertion a critical passage in one of Jefferson’s letters regarding the French philosopher Guillame Raynal. Evidently one critical passage about one obscure thinker is all the evidence we need that Jefferson was at odds with French Enlightenment philosophy. Well then.

Barton’s reliance on dubious sources bites him when discussing the supposed Jefferson Bible. Again, Barton is correct in the narrowest sense when he notes that Jefferson did not attempt to create a bible. Rather, two separate works by Jefferson – The Philosophy of Jesus and The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth – were compilations of Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. It wasn’t a “bible,” and Jefferson never attempted to pass these compilations off as such. But then Barton claims that neither work was as unorthodox as historians have claimed them to be. Jefferson did not cut out the supernatural elements from the Gospel, and indeed included some stories that referenced miracles and the afterlife. But as Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter demonstrate in Getting Jefferson Right, Barton’s source declaring that Jefferson included the miracle stories in his compilations is just plain  wrong. As for the other examples of Jefferson including references to the supernatural, these were mainly concerned with the afterlife. Throckmorton and Coulter concede that Jefferson did believe in the afterlife, thus it isn’t all that surprising that Jefferson would include these references. After all, Jefferson was not an atheist. He certainly believed in God, though he did not believe that Jesus Himself was a member of the Godhead.

And that is really the fundamental problem with Barton’s work. Barton tries mightily to paint Jefferson as some kind of conventional Christian, suggesting that his heterodoxy developed late in life as he fell under the Unitarian influence. Barton has to ignore almost an entire lifetime of Jefferson’s work in order to reach this conclusion. Here is how Jefferson expressed his views on Jesus:

The question of his being a member of the Godhead, or in direct communication with it, claimed for him by some of his followers, and denied by others, is foreign to the present view, which is merely an estimate of the intrinsic merits of his doctrines.

1.He corrected the Deism of the Jews, confirming them in their belief of one only God, and giving them juster notions of his attributes and government.

2.His moral doctrines, relating to kindred & friends, were more pure & perfect than those of the most correct of the philosophers, and greatly more so than those of the Jews; and they went far beyond both in inculcating universal philanthropy, not only to kindred and friends, to neighbors and countrymen, but to all mankind, gathering all into one family, under the bonds of love, charity, peace, common wants and common aids.  A development of this head will evince the peculiar superiority of the system of Jesus over all others.

3.The precepts of philosophy, & of the Hebrew code, laid hold of actions only.  He pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man; erected his tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.

That’s pretty clearly not orthodox Christianity to me.

Jefferson would even call Jesus’s teachings defective, though he praised Jesus as an ethicist. His compilations from the Gospels were meant to restore Christ’s teachings to their original intent, as it were. Jefferson believed that Paul and the other Apostles had distorted Christ’s work, so that is why he took out all accounts of miracles and references to Jesus being in any way part of the Godhead. Most importantly, his compilation ends at the death of Christ on the cross and his placement in the tomb. Jefferson rejected the resurrection.

Jefferson repeatedly excoriated Paul as one of the principle impostors who distorted Christ’s teachings.

Of this band of dupes and imposters, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and firm corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.

Jefferson added that Paul was a “Platonist who had brought beclouding mysticism to Jesus’ clear moral teachings.”

Barton also glosses over Jefferson’s disdain of the clergy. He cites some examples of Jefferson praising men of the cloth, but in almost every example Jefferson was praising a fellow heterodox Christian. It would be like trying to prove that someone is a faithful Catholic by highlighting their words of praise for Voice of the Faithful or Catholics for a Free Choice.

In several of his letters, Jefferson overtly criticized organized religion. “My opinion is that there never would have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest,” he wrote to Samuel Smith, meaning that religion creates artificial guidelines which restrict freedom of thought. He added that clergy only lay down these rules in order to augment their own power. “The artificial structures they have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it pence and power, revolts those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there.”

Barton is correct to temper some of the more extreme claims about Jefferson and religion. Jefferson was no atheist, and it would not entirely be correct to say that he disdained Christianity as such. On the other hand, Barton glosses over much of Jefferson’s more negative assessments of Christianity. Most importantly, his attempt to portray Jefferson’s heterodox views as a late-life aberration is simply laughable.

Barton and those that follow him do neither conservatism nor Christianity any favors by distorting the historical record. Barton seems to be under the impression that each of the Founding Fathers must be protected from the slings and arrows of Progressive historians who would tear down these great men. I share Barton’s distrust and even contempt for most contemporary historians. But Barton’s pseudo-history is no way to counter this trend, and only provides ammunition to those who would mock conservative Christians. The progressive reading of Jefferson happens to be the correct one. Well, you know what they say about stopped clocks.

7

Coolidge Speaks!

Ironic that the president who has the reputation for being the most taciturn man to ever occupy the White House is also the first president to ever appear in a “talkie” in the above video.

Coolidge is a fascinating man and in future posts I will have much more to say about him.  One fact I will note now is that he was ever a friend of Irish Catholics in his home state of Massachusetts and fought against the discrimination they frequently endured.  Most Irish Catholics were Democrats, but that did not stop Coolidge from standing up for them.  As mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts he developed a life long friendship with Father Joseph Gordian Daley who shared Coolidge’s love of Latin and Greek.  Coolidge helped Father Daley build a mission church in Northampton.  There was a great deal of compassion to this dry, unemotional Yankee.

It is not a myth that Coolidge was tight-lipped.  The archetypal example is when a young lady encountered him at a White House reception and said that she had bet a friend of hers that she could get him to speak three words to her.  “You lose” was Coolidge’s terse response.  As the video indicates Coolidge was not a scintillating speaker, droning monotone being a better description.  However, in his writings Coolidge indicates that lack of verbal expression did not indicate a lack of thoughts on the issues of his day, and many of which are quite relevant to our day:

There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.

I favor the policy of economy, not because I wish to save money, but because I wish to save people. The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the Government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form.

If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final.

We live in an age of science and abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create the Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all of our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage bequeathed to us, we must be like minded as the Founders who created. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had and for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped.

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

The government of a country never gets ahead of the religion of a country.  There is no way by which we can substitute the authority of law for the virtue of man.  Of course we endeavor to restrain the vicious, and furnish a fair degree of security and protection by legislation and police control, but the real reform which society in these days is seeking will come as a result of our religious convictions, or they will not come at all.  Peace, justice, humanity, charity—these cannot be legislated into being.  They are the result of divine grace. Continue Reading

13

Vice-Presidents of the United States

Ah, the occupants of an office which is only of importance upon the death of someone!  Many of the men who have occupied the office have left some pungent quotes about it.  Here are a few:

John Adams, first Vice-President:   “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”

Theodore Roosevelt, twenty-sixth Vice-President:  “I would a great deal rather be anything, say professor of history, than vice president.”

Thomas Marshall, twenty-eighth Vice-President:  “Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice president of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again”.

Charles Dawes, thirtieth Vice-President:  “This is a hell of a job. I can only do two things: one is to sit up here and listen to you birds talk….The other is to look at newspapers every morning to see how the president’s health is.”

John Nance Garner, thirty-second Vice-President:  “The vice-presidency is not worth a warm bucket of spit.”  (Cactus Jack probably used another term instead of “spit”, but this is a family blog.) Continue Reading

44

The War That Gets No Respect

When it comes to the War of 1812, the ignorance depicted in the above video is no exaggeration.  Of all our major conflicts, our Second War For Independence is the most obscure to the general public.  In this bicentennial year of the beginning of the War, I will do my small bit on the blog Almost Chosen People , the American history blog that Paul Zummo and I run, to help correct this situation.   The War of 1812 was an important struggle in American history for a number of reasons, a few of which are:

1.      Until the War of 1812 the British tended to treat the United States as if it were a wayward colony that would ultimately become part of the British Empire again.  After the War the British understood that we were an independent power and a permanent factor in their calculations.

2.     The War established the United States Navy as an aggressive and resourceful combat force, unafraid to pit daring and skill against the massively more powerful Royal Navy.

3.     The War ended American dreams of conquering Canada.

4.     As a result of the War, the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi could no longer provide serious resistance to American expansion into the Northwest and the Southwest.

5.     The Star-Spangled Banner symbolized the new surge of nationalism that the country experienced as a result of the War. Continue Reading

8

The Abolitionist and the Liberator

 

 

Frederick Douglass, the black abolitionist of 19th century America and Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, who led the fight to gain the right to vote for Irish Catholics in 19th century Ireland, have always been two of my heroes.  Most Americans tend to be unaware of the connection between them.

Throughout his life Daniel O’Connell had been an opponent of slavery, and made his sentiments known at every opportunity, calling upon Irish-Americans to attack the “Peculiar Institution”.  He was frequently quoted by opponents of slavery in the United States.  While a boy and a slave, Douglass had heard one of his masters curse O’Connell for attacking slavery, and Douglass knew that he must love O’Connell if his master hated him so.  In 1846 Douglass went to Ireland for four months and went on a speaking tour.  O’ Connell was seventy-one and had just one more year to live.  Douglass was a mere twenty-eight.  However, a firm friendship quickly sprung up between them.  O’Connell, perhaps the finest orator of a nation known for oratory, heard the eloquent Douglass speak in Dublin and proclaimed him the “Black O’Connell”.

The wretched condition of most of the Irish moved and shocked Douglass as this passage he wrote in a letter to William Lloyd Garrison on March 27, 1846 reveals:

The spectacle that affected me most, and made the most vivid impression on my mind, of the extreme poverty and wretchedness of the poor of Dublin, was the frequency with which I met little children in the street at a late hour of the night, covered with filthy rags, and seated upon cold stone steps, or in corners, leaning against brick walls, fast asleep, with none to look upon them, none to care for them. If they have parents, they have become vicious, and have abandoned them. Poor creatures! they are left without help, to find their way through a frowning world—a world that seems to regard them as intruders, and to be punished as such. God help the poor! An infidel might ask, in view of these facts, with confusing effect—Where is your religion that takes care for the poor—for the widow and fatherless—where are its votaries—what are they doing? The answer to this would be, if properly given, wasting their energies in useless debate on hollow creeds and points of doctrine, which, when settled, neither make one hair white nor black. In conversation with some who were such rigid adherents to their faith that they would scarce be seen in company with those who differed from them in any point of their creed, I have heard them quote the text in palliation of their neglect, “The poor shall not cease out of the land”! During my stay in Dublin, I took occasion to visit the huts of the poor in its vicinity—and of all places to witness human misery, ignorance, degradation, filth and wretchedness, an Irish hut is pre-eminent. It seems to be constructed to promote the very reverse of every thing like domestic comfort. If I were to describe one, it would appear about as follows: Four mud walls about six feet high, occupying a space of ground about ten feet square, covered or thatched with straw—a mud chimney at one end, reaching about a foot above the roof—without apartments or divisions of any kind—without floor, without windows, and sometimes without a chimney—a piece of pine board laid on the top of a box or an old chest— a pile of straw covered with dirty garments, which it would puzzle any one to determine the original part of any one of them—a picture representing the crucifixion of Christ, pasted on the most conspicuous place on the wall—a few broken dishes stuck up in a corner—an iron pot, or the half of an iron pot, in one corner of the chimney—a little peat in the fireplace, aggravating one occasionally with a glimpse of fire, but sending out very little heat—a man and his wife and five children, and a pig. In front of the door-way, and within a step of it, is a hole three or four feet deep, and ten or twelve feet in circumference; into this hole all the filth and dirt of the hut are put, for careful preservation. This is frequently covered with a green scum, which at times stands in bubbles, as decomposition goes on. Here you have an Irish hut or cabin, such as millions of the people of Ireland live in. And some live in worse than these. Men and women, married and single, old and young, lie down together, in much the same degradation as the American slaves. I see much here to remind me of my former condition, and I confess I should be ashamed to lift up my voice against American slavery, but that I know the cause of humanity is one the world over. He who really and truly feels for the American slave, cannot steel his heart to the woes of others; and he who thinks himself an abolitionist, yet cannot enter into the wrongs of others, has yet to find a true foundation for his anti-slavery faith.

It is a tribute both to Frederick Douglass and Daniel O’Connell that their compassion was not limited to people like them, but extended to victims of injustice far removed from them.

 

In his memoirs published in 1882, Douglass recalled O’Connell: Continue Reading

7

Catholics in the American Revolution

Nor, perchance did the fact which We now recall take place without some design of divine Providence. Precisely at the epoch when the American colonies, having, with Catholic aid, achieved liberty and independence, coalesced into a constitutional Republic the ecclesiastical hierarchy was happily established amongst you; and at the very time when the popular suffrage placed the great Washington at the helm of the Republic, the first bishop was set by apostolic authority over the American Church. The well-known friendship and familiar intercourse which subsisted between these two men seems to be an evidence that the United States ought to be conjoined in concord and amity with the Catholic Church. And not without cause; for without morality the State cannot endure-a truth which that illustrious citizen of yours, whom We have just mentioned, with a keenness of insight worthy of his genius and statesmanship perceived and proclaimed. But the best and strongest support of morality is religion.

Pope Leo XIII

American Catholics, a very small percentage of the population of the 13 colonies, 1.6 percent, were overwhelmingly patriots and played a role in the American Revolution out of all proportion to the small fragment of the American people they represented.  Among the Catholics who assumed leadership roles in the fight for our liberty were:

General Stephen Moylan  a noted cavalry commander and the first Muster Master-General of the Continental Army.

Captains Joshua Barney and John Barry,  two of the most successful naval commanders in the American Revolution.

Colonel John Fitzgerald was a trusted aide and private secretary to General George Washington.

Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of Illinois, whose aid was instrumental in the conquest of the Northwest for America by George Rogers Clark.

Thomas Fitzsimons served as a Pennsylvania militia company commander during the Trenton campaign.  Later in the War he helped found the Pennsylvania state navy.  After the War he was one of the two Catholic signers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787

Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.

Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War. Continue Reading

11

The Great Pig War of 1859

The United States and Great Britain after the War of 1812 frequently came into conflict during the Nineteenth Century, and it is a medium sized miracle that one of these conflicts did not end in a third Anglo-American War.  The most surreal of these conflicts, beyond a doubt, is the Pig War of 1859.

Both Great Britain and America claimed the San Juan Islands lying between Vancouver Island and the then Washington territory, and the islands were settled by British subjects and American citizens.  On June 15, 1859 Lyman Cutlar, an American farmer on San Juan island, came out and found a pig eating tubers in his garden.  This was not the first incident involving the wayward pig, and Cutlar shot the pig, killing the porcine invader.  The pig was owned by a British subject, Charles Griffin, who took umbrage at the slaying of his wandering porker.  The two men had words about the pig.  British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, and the American settlers called for American military protection.

By August 10, 1859, 461 American soldiers with 14 cannon confronted five British warships carrying 2,140 men.  Fortunately, both sides exercised restraint and no shots were fired.  James Douglas, the governor of British Vancouver, ordered British Rear Admiral Robert L. Baynes to land Royal Marines on  San Juan island and engage the Americans.  Baynes flatly refused, saying that for two great nations to come to blows over a squabble over a pig was foolish.  London and Washington were equally aghast at the idea of going to war over this case of porcinecide, and General Winfield Scott was sent by President Buchanan to Vancouver to negotiate with Governor Douglas.  Agreement was reached that the British and American forces would be reduced to a 100 men each on San Juan island while negotiations were underway between the countries.  Ultimately third party arbitration, by Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, led to the islands being awarded to America in 1872. Continue Reading

29

Alexander Hamilton and the National Debt

This country was blessed at its founding to have on the scene a member of the Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, who was a financial genius.  His idea to have the Federal government adopt the Revolutionary War debts of the states in order to establish the credit of the new Federal government was a policy of genius.  At a stroke he restored the credit of the country as a whole, made certain the debt would be paid, made America attractive to foreign investors and laid the basis of future American prosperity.  His ideas on the subject were set forth in his first report to Congress on  public credit, 1789, and which may be read here.

The final paragraph of the report is salient for the time in which we live: Continue Reading

6

Apostle to the Sioux

“Happy would I be if I could sacrifice for God what Custer threw away to the world.”

 

Bishop Martin Marty

During his approximately 59 years on this Earth it is probable that the Sioux chieftan Sitting Bull met only one white man he trusted implicitly:  Martin Marty.

Marty was born on January 12, 1834 in Schwyz, Switzerland to a shoemaker and his wife.  Gifted scholastically, he attended the Benedictine school attached to Einseideln Abbey.  Upon graduation he entered the novitiate, taking his final vows in 1855 and being ordained a priest a year later.  It is quite likely he would have remained at the abbey for the remainder of his life, “of the world forgetting, and by the world forgot”,  except that in 1860 his abbot ordered him to take over a disobedient and debt-ridden daughter house of the abbey in Saint Meinrad, Indiana.  He performed a minor miracle in restoring the morale and faith of the monks at the abbey at Saint Meinrad and brought it back to fiscal solvency.  The abbot decided that he was doing such a good job that he should stay where he was in America.  In 1870, the Saint Meinrad Abbey achieved independent status by a Papal decree of Pius IX with Father Marty as the first abbot.  It continues in existence to this day as an abbey and a seminary. Continue Reading

10

Top Ten Civil War Movies For The Fourth of July

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.

 

Shelby Foote

 

Two years ago I compiled a list of the top ten movies for the Fourth of July which focused on films about the Revolutionary War.  Go here to view that post.  Last year I compiled a list of top ten patriotic movies for the Fourth, and that post may be viewed here.  This year we will focus on the top ten Civil War films for the Fourth of July.  I agree with historian Shelby Foote that it is impossible to understand the United States without understanding the Civil War, and it is “therefore fitting and proper” that over the Fourth Civil War movies come to mind.

 

10.   Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)-We begin with a non-Civil War movie with the video clip at the beginning of this post.  In 1908 English Bulter Charles Ruggles, well played by actor Charles Laughton, comes to work in the American West.  It is a hilarious fish out of water comedy, as Ruggles, with his culture and British reserve comes face to face with the Wild West.  While living in America, Ruggles becomes interested in American history, and becomes a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln.  When he recites the Gettysburg Address, the impact on his listeners is obvious, and reminds us that for Americans the Civil War will never be a matter simply relegated to books or memory, but is something that still has a vast impact on us to this day.

 

 

9.    Friendly Persuasion (1956)-Starring Gary Cooper as Jess Birdwell, the head of a Quaker family in southern Indiana during the Civil War, the film is a superb mix of drama and comedy as the Quakers have to determine whether to continue to embrace their pacifist beliefs or to take up arms against General John Hunt Morgan’s Confederate cavalry during his Great Raid of the North in June-July of 1863.  When the oldest son of the Birdwell family, portrayed by Anthony Perkins in his pre-Psycho days, takes up arms, his mother, played by Dorothy McGuire is aghast, but Cooper, as Jess Birdwell, defends him.  Although he remains true to his pacifist convictions, Birdwell understands that his son is acting in obedience to his conscience, and, as he tells his wife, ” A man’s life ain’t worth a hill of beans except he lives up to his own conscience.”

 

 

8.    Major Dundee (1965)-Sam Pekinpah’s flawed, unfinished masterpiece, the film tells the fictional account of a mixed force of Union soldiers and Confederate prisoners who join forces to hunt and ultimately defeat an Apache raider, Sierra Charriba, in 1864-65.  Charlton Heston gives an outstanding performance as Major Amos Dundee, a man battling his own personal demons of a failed military career, as he commands this Union-Confederate force through northern Mexico on the trail of the Apache, with fighting often threatening to break out between the Union and Confederate soldiers.  Use of Confederate prisoners as Union soldiers in the West was not uncommon.  Six Union infantry regiments of Confederate prisoners, called “Galvanized Yankees”, served in the West.   The final section of the film involving a battle between Major Dundee’s force and French Lancers, the French occupying Mexico at the time, has always struck me as one of the best filmed combat sequences in any movie.

 

 

7.    The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid. Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg. John Wayne gives a fine, if surly, performance as Colonel Marlowe, the leader of the Union cavalry brigade.  William Holden as a Union surgeon serves as a foil for Wayne.  Constance Towers, as a captured Southern belle, supplies the obligatory Hollywood love interest. Overall the film isn’t a bad treatment of the raid, and the period.  I especially appreciated two scenes.  John Wayne refers to his pre-war activities as “Before this present insanity” and Constance Towers gives the following impassioned speech: Well, you Yankees and your holy principle about savin’ the Union. You’re plunderin’ pirates that’s what. Well, you think there’s no Confederate army where you’re goin’. You think our boys are asleep down here. Well, they’ll catch up to you and they’ll cut you to pieces you, you nameless, fatherless scum. I wish I could be there to see it. Continue Reading

21

Dumbing Down the Federalist Papers

I remain fairly ambivalent about Glenn Beck (an ambivalence that got me involved in a heated debate on this very site, but that’s another matter).  His style, especially on television, just doesn’t appeal to me.  He also seems to believe that having the dial turned to 11 is the only way to get his point across.  That said, I am appreciative of his efforts to teach American history to his audience.  He’s had some excellent academic guests like Ronald Pestritto on his show, and he has an appreciation of some of the nuances of American political thought that go over a lot of other heads.

Then I saw this, and I’m ready to grab the pitchforks.  From the product description:

Adapting a selection of these essential essays—pseudonymously authored by the now well-documented triumvirate of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay—for a contemporary audience, Glenn Beck has had them reworked into “modern” English so as to be thoroughly accessible to anyone seeking a better understanding of the Founding Fathers’ intent and meaning when laying the groundwork of our government. Beck provides his own illuminating commentary and annotations and, for a number of the essays, has brought together the viewpoints of both liberal and conservative historians and scholars, making this a fair and insightful perspective on the historical works that remain the primary source for interpreting Constitutional law and the rights of American citizens.

So it’s the New American Bible for the Federalist Papers.  I wonder if Bishop Trautman consulted on this project.

Just as the average person can probably handle such mysterious words as “ineffable,”  I’m sure that most Americans can pretty much figure out what’s going on with the Federalist Papers without Glenn Beck re-translating it for us.  Yes, there are no doubt some tricky words in the 500+ pages and 85 essays, but that’s what footnotes are for.  Annotated versions of the Federalist Papers already exist, and those should suffice for Beck’s purposes.  Besides, part of the joy of the Federalist Papers is reading Madison and Hamilton’s beautiful prose.

Jeff Goldstein elaborates further on why this is problematic.

On the one hand, we’re supposed to believe that anyone can read and understand the Constitution — meaning, we don’t need a special priesthood to interpret the thing (and of course, this is true, assuming a base level of reading comprehension and intelligence, and assuming one can get past the fact that the document itself is like, over a hundred years old!); and yet at the same time, the Federalist Papers, we’re to understand today, are so arcane and abstruse and unintelligible that they aren’t even being taught anymore — a problem happily solved by Beck’s latest offering, a book that rewrites the Federalist Papers using modern language, which can be yours for only however many dollars (through the website, blah blah blah).

I agree with Jeff that this sends a very poorly thought out mixed message.  In fact Beck is playing into the hands of those who criticize the concept of originalism.  He’s conceding that the language of this era is difficult for people to comprehend, so the only way to make these writings more widely accessible is to completely re-write them.  It is a contradiction that I doubt Beck has thoughtfully considered.

10

Henry David Thoreau: A Rant

I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau has always struck me as one of the most buffoonish and over-rated characters in American history. His aunt paying his taxes for him so his great tax protest over the Mexican War lasted all of one night, his accidental setting of a fire that consumed 300 acres of Walden woodlands, Thoreau contracting the tuberculosis that would kill him as a result of a middle of the night excursion to count tree rings and the pacifist Thoreau writing a pamphlet in which he claimed that John Brown, a murderer, embezzler, cattle thief and congenital liar, was humane are only a few of the many episodes in his life that are worthy of a great satirical novel.  Continue Reading

1

Mormon Long March

One of the oddest episodes in American military history occurred during the Mexican War.  In 1846 the Mormons were beginning their epic trek West which would end with their carving a Mormon Zion out of the wilderness in what is now Utah.  The Mormons, realizing they would need at least tacit Federal approval to accomplish this, sent representatives to Washington.  The Polk administration asked for a quid pro quo.  The Federal government would render assistance if a battalion of Mormons would enlist to fight in the Mexican War.  Brigham Young readily agreed, and a battalion was raised after much cajoling by Young, due to the suspicion of most Mormons of the Federal government as a result of Federal indifference to the persecution of Mormons in Illinois and Missouri.

Along with the approximately 500 men, the Battalion was accompanied by 30 Mormon women, 23 of whom served as laundresses, and 51 children.  The Mormons were mustered into the Army on July 16, 1846.  They were assigned to the Army of the West under General Stephen W. Kearny, a tough regular.  From Fort Leavenworth on August 30, 1846, the Mormon Battalion made the longest infantry march in US military history, 1900 miles to San Diego, California which they reached on January 29, 1847.  The Battalion captured Tuscon, Arizona on the way to California, but saw no fighting, although the harsh climate and terrain they marched through more than made up for the absence of human adversaries.

The Battalion was discharged on July 26, 1847 in Los Angeles, and most of the men began the long trek to rejoin the Mormons in Utah.  Among the men who marched in the Mormon Battalion was George Stoneman, a future governor of California.  The video below at the end shows members of the battalion rejoining a Mormon wagon train after their service in the Mexican War.

Continue Reading

3

Gates v. Washington

I think most Americans today fail to realize how close this country came to dying right after its birth.  After the disastrous New York campaign, the Continental Army was reduced to a few thousand ill-fed, ill-trained and ill-uniformed men under Washington.  As the year of 1776 was coming to an end, many Americans thought the cause of American independence was also coming to an end, but not George Washington.  He realized that for the war to continue he had to come up with some masterstroke that would rouse American morale and convince his troops that they stood a chance to win this lop-sided conflict. Continue Reading

6

Most Incompetent Union General

“It seems but little better than murder to give important commands to such men as Banks, Butler, McClernand, Sigel, and Lew Wallace, yet it seems impossible to prevent it.”  Henry W. Halleck

There are of course several generals in the running for this title:  Ambrose Burnside, Don Carlos Buell, John Pope, Henry Halleck, Nathaniel Banks, Franz Siegel and the list could go on for some length.  However, for me the most incompetent Union general clearly is Benjamin Butler.  A political general appointed by Lincoln to rally War Democrats for the war effort, Butler in command was a defeat waiting to happen for any Union force cursed to be under him.  Butler during the Bermuda Hundred campaign in 1864 threw away chance after chance to take Richmond, with a timidity that rose to astonishing levels and an ineptitude at leading his forces that defies belief.  Grant summed up Butler’s generalship well in his Personal Memoirs when he recalled a conversation with his Chief of Engineers:

He said that the general occupied a place between the James and Appomattox rivers which was of great strength, and where with an inferior force he could hold it for an indefinite length of time against a superior; but that he could do nothing offensively. I then asked him why Butler could not move out from his lines and push across the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad to the rear and on the south side of Richmond. He replied that it was impracticable, because the enemy had substantially the same line across the neck of land that General Butler had. He then took out his pencil and drew a sketch of the locality, remarking that the position was like a bottle and that Butler’s line of intrenchments across the neck represented the cork; that the enemy had built an equally strong line immediately in front of him across the neck; and it was therefore as if Butler was in a bottle. He was perfectly safe against an attack; but, as Barnard expressed it, the enemy had corked the bottle and with a small force could hold the cork in its place. Continue Reading

8

Election Day

Don’t worry!  We are done with elections for a while!  I am not going to start writing about 2012 already!  However, as annoying as the election commercials, mendacious politicians and all the assorted insults to our intelligence that are part and parcel of political campaigns are, we sometimes forget how truly remarkable a process it is in the history of our planet. Continue Reading