177th Anniversary of the Fall of the Alamo

Wednesday, March 6, AD 2013

 

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:

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4 Responses to 177th Anniversary of the Fall of the Alamo

King Kirby, Captain America and American History

Friday, February 22, AD 2013

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.

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2 Responses to King Kirby, Captain America and American History

  • Man, I just never know what to expect when I click on The American Catholic. I suspect I might appreciate this entry a bit more than most. I’m 61 years old and have been reading/collecting comics since I was about 10. I am very familiar with Jack Kirby’s work and have the Bicentennial edition discussed at length here. This is a very detailed analysis; the kind I am usually reading on comic sites. Here this was a pleasant surprise.

    Most readers of this site are probably familiar with Captain America from the recent movies, his own and the Avengers. Most of Marvel Comics movies exude an obvious conservative tone, which I believe has resulted in their success.

  • “Man, I just never know what to expect when I click on The American Catholic”

    Precisely our intention George!

Thaddeus Stevens: Film Portrayals

Monday, December 10, AD 2012

 “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.

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6 Responses to Thaddeus Stevens: Film Portrayals

  • I saw “Lincoln” with my liberal in-laws.

    This thought kept running through my alleged mind every time Stevens was on screen, “Alinsky’s Rule 5: ridicule.”

    The movie didn’t change my opinion of Lincoln, one way or the other. I was impressed that I could sit through the whole of it: not much bang-bang, bloodshed or walking trees, etc.

  • It is one of the best films for showing the nuts and bolts of political horestrading that I have ever seen T.Shaw, and I, of course, found it fascinating for beginning to end. I have seen it twice now, something I have never done with any film while it was still in theaters.

  • T. Shaw I imagine you appreciate this line voiced by Stevens in the movie:

    “The modern travesty of Thomas Jefferson’s political organization to which you have attached yourself like a barnacle has the effrontery to call itself “Democratic”. You are a Dem-o-crat! What’s the matter with you? Are you wicked?”

  • Mac,

    That depends on how you define the word, “appreciate.”

    I think the seed of that “barnacle” was attached by Jackson. Politics and rhetoric are not my areas of expertise. I have a talent for flinging massive strings of four-letter words.

  • Historians often unconsciously reveal more about their own times than the periods they describe, Gibbon and Macaulay, being obvious examples.

  • PLOT SPOILER ALERT: I thought the bedroom scene with Stevens and his mistress/housekeeper was manipulatively gratuitous. His intimate relationship with his housekeeper was based on rumor. It would not be surprising if there was a romance going on, but rumors of one sort or another would of course fly anyway, given that he was single. What bothered me was that, by introducing this love interest, Stevens went from a man who opposed slavery on principle to one who may have been acting under the emotional influence of someone in his household.

Thanksgiving Proclamation: 1863

Wednesday, November 21, AD 2012

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.

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One Response to Thanksgiving Proclamation: 1863

  • Unfortunately, we no longer live in that nation. God help our nation become free again.AMERICAN SPIRIT STILL LIVES!

    The true American spirit will always live – I know why.
    Liberty and religious freedom are ever our cry.
    Don’t let a day pass without honor for the God we trust.
    To aspire for salvation must always be our main thrust.

    The hour of visitation must never be forgotten.
    Without trust in God, our nation could not be begotten.
    We must ensure that Christianity again prevails.
    Without the God of Abraham our basic nature fails.

    The liberty ball is silent – freedom we still ensure.
    In the hearts of Americans it will always endure.
    I will fly Old Glory when our nation is again free.
    Socialism leads a nation into ignominy.

    Now, the nation my military career defended,
    has by traitorous American votes been upended.
    A grave sin was committed against unborn human life.
    God’s Justice surely demands vengeance and eternal strife.

    When spirit seems at its very worst, patriots heed the call.
    They know what made liberty and freedom refuse to fall.
    The American dream, now in default, we must revive,
    Only with revived trust in God can our nation survive.

    Bob Rowland
    X1/XVIII/MMXII

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

Monday, November 19, AD 2012

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.

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

  • Good article. My wife is a direct descendant of Major Andrew McClary (relation?) , the highest ranking officer killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. We visited the Epsom area of New Hampshire last summer with our children and off the main road the area is still quite rural. It is a disgrace that our school children do not learn more about this period of history and the role of the citizen/soldier and the role they played not only in the Revolution but also in the previous periods (eg. French and Indian War). The United States was created from the bottom up and not the top down. Democracy was practiced in these small New England towns long before there was a thought of a central government. The current political situation is ironic to say the least.

  • Fascinating Patrick. According to family tradition Major Andrew McClary is an ancestor, the “e” in my name being a variant spelling that the family picked up in the nineteenth century. My wife has always remarked how much I look like old Andrew as he is depicted in the famous Trumbull painting of the Battle of Bunker Hill. I use the image as a screen saver on one of my computers. I love reading about him. As he was leading his men to Breed’s Hill and encountered Massachusetts men blocking the road, milling about, he yelled out that New Hampshire wanted to borrow the road if Massachusetts wasn’t going to use it! From what I have read of him during the battle he was telling jokes to his men while roaring out commands, interspersed with profanity, the type of combat leader men will follow to Hell if necessary. It was a tragedy that he was killed by a cannon ball while he was looking to see if any of his men had gotten left behind in the retreat. Men like Major Andrew give us a debt we can never repay.

    “The United States was created from the bottom up and not the top down. Democracy was practiced in these small New England towns long before there was a thought of a central government. The current political situation is ironic to say the least.”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • What do these victories mean now that out nation has been taken over by the enemy I spent a career defending America against? Have all their lost lives and efforts been in vain as well?.

  • “Have all their lost lives and efforts been in vain as well?.”

    Way, way too pessimistic and overdrawn Robert. We have had scoundrels and fools win elections before in this country and we will see them win again in the future. The opponents of the current clique at the head of affairs in Washington control 30 statehouses and a majority of the state legislatures. The House can effectively kill any legislation that Obama seeks to implement. Let us all recall this poem during the next four years:

    SAY not the struggle naught availeth,
    The labour and the wounds are vain,
    The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
    And as things have been they remain.

    If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
    It may be, in yon smoke conceal’d,
    Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,
    And, but for you, possess the field.

    For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
    Seem here no painful inch to gain,
    Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
    Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

    And not by eastern windows only,
    When daylight comes, comes in the light;
    In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!
    But westward, look, the land is bright!

    Arthur Hugh Clough

November 15, 1862: Lincoln Enjoins Observance of the Sabbath

Thursday, November 15, AD 2012

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.

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2 Responses to November 15, 1862: Lincoln Enjoins Observance of the Sabbath

  • In the UK, the First Article of War has always been, “1. All officers in command of Her Majesty’s ships shall cause public worship of Almighty God to be solemnly, orderly and reverently performed in their respective ships, and shall take care that prayers and preaching, by the chaplains of those ships, be performed diligently and that the Lord’s Day be observed.”

  • Beautiful, timely, and a powerful example of grace given from prayer.
    The painting is of an agony in the garden.

Mother Marianne

Thursday, November 1, AD 2012

 

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.

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3 Responses to Mother Marianne

Sister Blandina and the Original Billy the Kid

Friday, October 12, AD 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.

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10 Responses to Sister Blandina and the Original Billy the Kid

And Now Idiots

Wednesday, September 5, AD 2012

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.

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7 Responses to And Now Idiots

  • I demand Tulip reparations from the perfidious Dutch for all the descendants of slaves held by them in chains in Brooklyn in 1898! No doubt they were ultimately freed by Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders after Roosevelt was elected governor of New York in the fall of that year! Hit the Dutch again Teddy!

  • If Brooklyn was conquered by Boss Tweed it could have become the 58th state.

  • Don,

    When my poor history major son are debating and he makes some unfortunate historical stumble, I launch into something like, “Yep, that’s right, just like when Washington crossed the Rubicon and defeated Hannibal at Gettysburg.”

    The more outrageous, the more we laugh. Can’t wait till next time when TR Indian-wrestles Peg-leg Pete Stuyvesant!

  • “When my poor history major son are debating and he makes some unfortunate historical stumble, I launch into something like, “Yep, that’s right, just like when Washington crossed the Rubicon and defeated Hannibal at Gettysburg.””

  • “Send in the clowns” is an appropriate theme song for the dem convention.

    Sondheim wrote the lyrics, “Send in the clowns” because “Send in the fools” didn’t have a ring to it.

  • After the fact-checkers report, what headlines and talking head sneering outrage there would be if Yvette Clarke were R-NY.
    Tulip plantations notwithstanding.
    Relativism rules.

  • The only even close to rational explanation I can think of for this statement is that perhaps Clarke mis-heard Colbert’s question and thought he said 1698. Or that he MEANT “1698.” It can happen because sometimes your brain “hears” what it wants to hear. But then, Colbert gave her at least three chances to back off from her mistake and she didn’t take them.

Cardinal Gibbons and the Knights of Labor

Monday, September 3, AD 2012

 

 

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:

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12 Responses to Cardinal Gibbons and the Knights of Labor

  • History lessons such as these illustrate how Catholic Social Teaching by the Bishop of Rome and European bishops needed to be interpreted for and by US pastors. Same went for “separation of Church-State,” democracy, conscience freedom and such. Ironically, they are all back on the front burner with the new atheism and hostility to Natural Law

  • By one of those ironies of history, in the mid-19th century, one finds deeply conservative Monarchist bishops and clergy in France supporting workers’ rights, inspired by their inveterate hatred of the French Revolution and all its works, including, of course, the Allarde Decree of 17 March 1791 and the Le Chapelier Law of 14 June 1791.

    It was not until the law of 25 May 1864, under Napoléon III that workers regained the right to associate and to strike.

    Père Henri-Dominique Lacordaire OP, who restored the Dominican order in France in 1850 and who was the most celebrated preacher of his day was an early champion of the rights of labour. An admirer of Lord Shaftsbury’s Factories Acts in the UK, he famously remarked, “Between the weak and the strong, between the rich and the poor, between the master and the servant, it is freedom which oppresses and the law which sets free.”

  • Donald,

    Thanks for posting this article and letter. The late 19th Century (bleeding into the early 20th Century) was one of the most outstanding times in human history for technological growth, and the improvement of the lives of all people. But, it was not without some pain, especially felt among the workers who became little more than “wage slaves”.

    Ultimately, work places were made safe and salaries rose. While there certainly was violence and blood, what is amazing is that the antagonism, and anarchy, that marked European labor movements did not take hold as deeply nor as long here in the US. This was due (IMHO) to the influence and true interest of Catholic Church leadership here, as compared to the European model.

  • JP 11 championed the sacred dignity of the worker, who made labour sacred, and thus stole the Commie thunder. Leo X111 started with the FACTORY OWNER etc and asked for trickle down as it were, whereas JP11 reversed that and showed where the HUMAN’s SACRED VALUE entered in. That kind of moral evolution is crucial and is the kind of revolution that the late Cdl MARTINI called for in updating the Church being 200 years out of date. Clericalism, bishops addressed and some/many living as lords and Kings with almost untrammeled power. Clericalism needs to be stripped so Servant Leaders take over after 2i00 years as JESUS demanded

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  • Rerum Novarum is actually quite positive about Trade Unions, and was influenced by the ideas of Henry, Cardinal Manning (Archbishop of Westminster) whose intervention in the London dock strike of 1889 made him a hero in the eyes of working men. Unions were given full legal recognition in the 1870s, and Margaret Thatcher actually removed some of the rights which had been granted by her Conservative predecessor Benjamin Disraeli over a century before.

    The anarcho-syndicalism prevalent on the Continent was indeed largely absent in Britain and America. This is due less to the influence of the Church than to a tradition of effective representative government which militated against revolution.

  • John, Cardinal Gibbons considered his victory re: the Knights of Labor to be greatly helped by Manning. Gibbons wrote to him: “I cannot sufficiently express to you how much I have felt strengthened in my position by being able to refer in the document to your utterances on the claims of the working man to our sympathy and support.” Gibbons in later years recalled with amusement a cartoon which had Manning on one side of Pope Leo, and Gibbons on the other, with Pope Leo exclaiming that he must watch himself between two such foxes!

  • John,

    Thanks very much for the information. This is one of the reasons I love TAC so much; unlike many other blogs, the correspondents here (excepting myself) have so much knowledge that the comboxes are actually a great continuation of the excellent posts.

  • John Nolan

    Anarcho-syndicalism, in the tradition of Sorel and Proudhon, has deep roots in the Latin distrust of government, as such. Its main appeal was always in Italy, Spain and France south of the Loire, places in which the political class is held in deep and, often, well-merited contempt.

    In Britain, trade unionism and the Labour party had strong roots in the Nonconformist tradition, especially Methodism in England & Wales and the Covenanter legacy in Scotland.

  • Cardinal Manning was a very great man, but his indignation at wrongdoing sometimes betrayed him into remarks more acerbic than was becoming in a clergyman, as when he said of Lord Palmerston (the Prime Minister) that his character was below his talents.

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The Dorr Rebellion

Tuesday, August 14, AD 2012

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:

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Anti-Masonic Party

Sunday, August 5, AD 2012

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.

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5 Responses to Anti-Masonic Party

  • Coincidentally, the British in 1830’s India suppressed a murder/theft cult called “thugee.” Hollywood picked it up in at least two movies: “Gunga Din” and one of the Indiana Jones serials.

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  • I agree, this was a very peculiar American revolt against a old ideology, but even more interesting was the ingeniousness Liberal revolt against the Americo-Liberian Masonic establishment in Liberal in the 1980’s – I covered the subject in a recent book I wrote on Freemasonry.

  • I promise I’m not picking, but I’m confused. If Morgan was never seen again, how does he have a grave with a statue atop in Batavia? Can anybody clear this up?

  • The grave is an empty one, rather like the graves that many parents in World War 2 had stateside for sons killed in the War who were buried overseas, or buried at sea.

    “At the southwest corner of the cemetery is a 37-foot (11 m) granite pillar with a statue of William Morgan atop it. A four-part inscription on all sides praises Morgan for his heroism in attempting to expose the secrets of Freemasonry and explains how the monument was funded with donations from Canada and 26 U.S. states and terrirories. Morgan is actually not buried there; he disappeared in 1824.”

Father Galveston

Tuesday, July 17, AD 2012

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.

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8 Responses to Father Galveston

  • Thanks for sharing, Donald. I didn’t know about Monsignor Kirwin. My ancestors were part of the Jewish community in Galveston. My great x3 grandfather was the local kosher butcher, a position of some religious importance. After the Hurricane my family moved to the swampy backwater town of Houston, and the rest is history. Galveston never fully recovered from the 1900 hurricane and regained its prominence economically. That may be for the best since it is a very vulnerable barrier island. Currently the island survives because of the University of Texas Medical School and seasonal tourism. The old Cathedral in Galveston is very beautiful, but I think the seat of the diocese has moved to a new Cathedral in Houston. I haven’t seen it since hurricane Ike so I don’t know if it has sustained much damage.

  • I LOVE this! My family visits Galveston a few times a year and I did not know this part of Galveston’s history. . I just purchased a used book about the history of the Ursuline convent there and find it hard reading knowing I’ll eventually have to read about the hurricane. . I’ll have to look up where this marker for Father Kirwin is located so I can make sure we visit it next time we go. .

  • Melinda what strikes me most about Father Irwin’s life is how eager he was to take on challenges that many of us, I know I would, would find overwhelming. We need a lot more of his spirit in this country today.

  • Msgr. Kirwin sounds like a priest after my own heart.

    Reading the article, I couldn’t help but think that so much of the activity that endeared
    him to the city– helping resolve disputes at the docks, his founding of the Home
    Protection League, his work to improve the fire department and the water system,
    building the seawall and blessing its cornerstone– wouldn’t those good things be
    grounds for complaints today?

    Imagine such a priest in 2012– he’d be told to respect the ‘wall of separation between
    church and state’, go back to his rectory and enjoy his ‘freedom of worship’. As for
    his work against the KKK, which was basically an arm of the Democrat party, well,
    today he’d be vilified for interfering in politics!

  • I was not aware of Father Kirwin. He led a very impressive life, in service to his fellow man and his community.

    God bless Texas!

  • I suspect that, in a world where any decent citizen would be “public-minded” and do lots of civic stuff, there’d be less worry about any particular person doing stuff. But of course, a lot of civic activities used to be more bipartisan, and by design. Nowadays, there’s very little agreement about what is normal and agreed by everybody, and it’s common for radical folks to try to “capture” organizations or leadership.

    So there’s not much room for bipartisan or apolitical civic groups. Radicals hate ’em and sue ’em.

  • The Right Reverend Monsignor James Martin Kerwin would be anathema to the one who says ‘no one actually achieves anything on their own’, who may have been speaking for himself, because the hand of God, cooperation of the inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the friend Rabbi Henry Cohen achieved so much through the work of human perseverence. He didn’t operate as a business, probably had no gov. salary or exemptions, and I imagine, in humility, Fr. Kerwin would take no credit for his accomplishments while in Galveston from 1896 to 1926. Love and service for God and neighbor.

The Worst Supreme Court Selections in American History

Friday, July 6, AD 2012

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. 

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15 Responses to The Worst Supreme Court Selections in American History

  • While I like your selections, I could also see arguments for James McReynolds and Harlan Stone. I guess in both of those cases it wasn’t that the Justices evolved but that the issues before the court that would have provoked the most conflict between them and their appointers were well after the appointments. Actually that point was after Wilson and Coolidge were both deceased.

  • Warren as Attorney General of California was a driving force behind the West Coast internment or evacuation of Japanese Americans, a move opposed at the time by J. Edgar Hoover who, no joke, received an award from the American Civil Liberties Union during the War. Warren later repented of the decision many years after the War, but his actions then clearly indicated that he would never let the Constitution stand in the path of anything that Earl Warren wanted done.

  • I would have had Blackmun number one on the list. He made the Supreme Court only because he was a childhood friend of Chief Justice Warren Burger and it was thought he would vote like Burger. A man of infinite vanity and small mind, Blackmun gets my vote for worst Supreme Court justice.

  • O’Connor voted pretty reliably conservative while Reagan was in office. Reagan was badly served by Goldwater, a closet pro-abort and open Planned Parenthood backer, in regard to that appointment.

  • Souter was completely contemptible.

    “David Souter alone was shattered. He was, fundamentally, a very different person from his colleagues. It wasn’t just that they had immediate families; their lives off the bench were entirely unlike his. They went to parties and conferences; they gave speeches; they mingled in Washington, where cynicism about everything, inluding the work of the Supreme Court, was universal. Toughened, or coarsened, by the their worldly lives, the other dissenters could shrug and move on, but Souter couldn’t. His whole life was being a judge. He came from a tradition where the independence of the judiciary was the foundation of the rule of law. And Souter believed Bush v. Gore mocked that tradition. His colleagues’ actions were so transparently, so crudely partisan that Souter though he might not be able to serve with them anymore.

    Souter seriously considered resigning. For many months, it was not at all clear whether he would remain as a justice. That the Court met in a city he loathed made the decision even harder. At the urging of a handful of close friends, he decided to stay on, but his attitude toward the Court was never the same. There were times when David Souter thought of Bush v. Gore and wept.”

    http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2007/09/06/did-bush-v-gore-make-justice-souter-weep/

    A left wing partisan and all around doofus, his opinions have to be read to be believed.
    Souter was a warning against a stealth candidate who turns out to be a stealth candidate for the other side. Warren Rudman, the political mentor for Souter, was a pro-abort RINO senator from New Hampshire and he knew precisely what the nation was getting with his protege:

    http://www.visionandvalues.org/2009/05/when-biden-and-rudman-wept/

    Souter’s view of constitutional jurisprudence given a mocking to remember:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/bench-memos/200197/david-souter-dumbs-it-down/matthew-j-franck

  • O’Connor voted pretty reliably conservative while Reagan was in office.

    I believe it was Jan Crawford’s book that detailed how O’Connor moved leftward as a result of Clarence Thomas. I’m not sure how much credence to put into that, but she certainly started her leftward drift around that time.

    As for Blackmun, I wouldn’t put him above Warren only because the latter was the Chief Justice and more instrumental in transforming the Court. Also – and this is pure conjecture – but I have a feeling that Ike regretted that pick more than Nixon regretted Blackmun.

    As for who was the worst – a slightly different topic perhaps worthy of a separate post – my vote would be Thurgood Marshall. Not only was he horrid from a constitutional standpoint, but his legal reasoning never impressed me.

  • Though wasn’t it O’Connor who said in 1983 that Roe was “on a collision course with itself” because medical advances were lowering the age of fetal viability and undermining the premise of Roe that unfettered abortion was OK through at least the 2nd trimester, if not longer, because the fetus wasn’t yet viable?

  • O’Connor was all over the map throughout her career when it came to abortion. In the AZ legislature she cast pro-choice votes, but then she signaled to President Reagan her personal opposition to abortion. I think Reagan was convinced that her personal opposition to abortion would carryover into her jurisprudence – which is the same reasoning Bush employed when he first nominated Miers. O’Connor did vote to ease some of the restrictions on abortion while on the Court, but ultimately could not vote to overturn Roe itself.

  • Arthur Goldberg, once a mouthpiece for the labor union goons. Breyer, who is mediocre, clerked for Goldberg, who went on to become UN ambassador without distinction. Although Goldberg found a “right to privacy” in Griswold v. Connecticut, he’s best remembered as a vigorous opponent of the death penalty as “cruel and unusual punishment.” Another weakhearted lib on a court dominated in recent decades by pinkos.

  • Souter is a snake, a very bad man.

    Joe Biden and Rudman jumped for joy after Souter’s Casey vote, evil indeed.

    http://www.jillstanek.com/2009/05/when-biden-wept-for-joy-his-history-with-david-souter/

  • On a somewhat smaller fiasco scale, back in the 80’s the Right To Life in our state endorced a ‘conservative Lutheran Pastor” for state assembly. We worked our tails off to get this guy elected. He did and we ended up with the most pro abortion liberal leaning representative we ever elected in this state. We had to live with that end result for many years as once he got in there we couldn’t get him out. Kind of like the SC. I guess anyone can be wolf in sheeps clothing, and the best can be snookered. Too bad millions of unborn have had to be sacrified to these bums.

  • Oh and now our very liberty. I don’t care how anyone tries to defend roberts he’s Benedict Arnold in my book.

  • Paul

    Reference Chief Justice Warren.

    I read Brown v Board of Education I.

    That is one of the worst written documents I have read (believe me I have read an awful lot of bureaucratese). Excerpt he remembered to have one imperative sentence saying Plessey was overturned one has difficulty finding meaning.

    Of course that was his first major opinion did his writing get better with time.?

    Thank you.

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

  • If one looks back to an earlier period, in Jones v Opelika [319 US 584 (1942] one finds Roberts J complaining that, in some six years, the court had fourteen times reversed one or more of its earlier decisions, many of them recent. He observed that such decisions tended “to bring adjudications of this tribunal into the same class as a restricted railroad ticket, good for this day and train only. I have no assurance, in view of current decisions, that he opinion announced today may not shortly be repudiated and overruled by justices who deem they have new light on the subject.”

    As one particularly egregious example, a case, Minersville School District v Gobitis [310 US 586 (1940)] that was decided by a majority of eight to one, was overruled three years later in West Virginia School Board of Education v Barnette [319 US 624 (1943) by a majority of six to three. Of the six, three of the Justices (Black, Douglas & Murphy JJ) had changed their minds, two (Jackson & Ritledge JJ) were new appointments and one was the former lone dissident (Stone CJ, formerly Stone J)

    Whatever one thinks of the decision in question, such judicial capriciousness can only bring the law into disrepute. Surely, the highest court having once decided what the law is, it should be for the legislator to say what it ought to be.

  • I dunno.

    “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”

    The inexplicable Roberts fuster-cluck devastates the economy and personal liberty.

    It creates an omnipotent federal government. The law will make health costs skyrocket and hamstring the private sector.

    It will destroy jobs and consign millions to penury. It will debase the currency and lower all Americans’ living standards.

    And, they will blame Bush.

    FTSCOTUS

Rewriting Jefferson

Monday, June 25, AD 2012

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.

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14 Responses to Rewriting Jefferson

  • “then ignores broader context when cherrypicking quotes from Jefferson.”

    The ignorance of some people who write books on subjects is vast. The cherrypicking quotes phenomenon is picking up steam the past few years on historical themes, where polemic and assertions based on a very superficial knowledge of a period and the individuals involved appear to be the order of the day. I see this all the time in books about Lincoln.

  • I was delighted to see this review and correction. I concur with Mr. McClarey that cherrypicking historic narratives is totoally destructive of decent scholarship. As Christians the refromers did it to the Bible and gave us heresies and schisms that abound to this day.

  • I read and at times skimmed Barton’s book and found it weak in portraying the true Jefferson. As one who esteems Jefferson, who crafted one of the greatest documents in history — The Declaration of Independent — and who espoused limited government, states’ rights and individual liberty, I lament that we live in Hamilton’s America characterized by big central government with “implied” constitutional powers beyond those originally intended. Indeed, Jefferson had his warts, as we all do, but in the main our third President was a great man whose ideas and ideals helped form a great nation.

    As much better description of Jefferson the man and his political philosophy can be found in Marco Bassani’s book, “Liberty, State & Union: The Political Theory of Thomas Jefferson.” Bassani writes that in Jefferson’s view the three greatest men that civilization had produced were John Locke, Francis Bacon, and Isaac Newton. In contrast, Hamilton said the “greatest human: was Julius Caesar.

    Don and others are right in noting that “cherrypicking” of quotes is a common practice used to support an author’s sometimes skewed or mistaken point of view. Mencken, Hitchens, Dawkins and other atheists frequently quoted from Scripture and other sacred writings to argue their cases, as do countless others. As has been said, “The Bible is an old fiddle on which you can play any tune.”

  • I lament that we live in Hamilton’s America characterized by big central government with “implied” constitutional powers beyond those originally intended.

    Wrong. In fact, we are very much living in Jefferson’s America, but it’s the anti-tradition, utopian Progressive Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton was not the proponent of a leviathan state that his critics (and, I guess, some supporters) have made him out to be.

  • Jefferson is easier to cherrypick than other figures since he had a vast correspondence throughout his life and he wasn’t the most consistent thinker to begin with.

  • Paul, I respectfully disagree. States’ rights, a linchpin of Jeffersonian democracy, have all but vanished. Once considered sovereign, the states, which are supposed to have all rights not reserved to the federal government, are subordinate to the federal government. This was the core of Hamilton’s national view.

  • Joe, you have to separate the surface-level stuff from the deeper philosophy. Yes, Jefferson was an ardent states’ righter – in fact, his views on states rights can be considered extreme. But when you dig deep into Jefferson’s worldview, you have actually have the elements that lead to the creation of the leviathan state. Jefferson would have abhorred what has happened to state sovereignty, but in a greater sense its his very own philosophy that helped lead to this moment. And isn’t that the fundamental problem with the Progressive philosophy, namely, unintended consequences?

  • Jefferson is easier to cherrypick than other figures since he had a vast correspondence throughout his life and he wasn’t the most consistent thinker to begin with.

    Very true. Thomas Jefferson left behind an enormous amount of correspondence, and over his life you can probably find him taking both sides of almost any issue. But I do think that it’s possible to sift through the totality of his writing and come to very firm conclusions as to where he generally stood.

  • Paul, when you refer to a leviathan state I automatically think of Hobbes whose thesis was that government rested on a social contract, an idea that Locke among others embraced. It is know that Jefferson was influenced by Locke and perhaps a step removed by Hobbes. No doubt Jefferson would have “abhorred” the loss of states’ rights but I imagine, too, that even Hamilton, Madison and the other Framers would not have recognized the modern United States of America.

  • Not that it is terribly important, but I remember reading somewhere that the descendants of Sally Hemings’ oldest child had French markers so he could not be Jefferson’s son. The descendants of her other children did not have those same markers, but had markers found in the Jefferson family. I remember that his nephew was strongly suspected as the father, but Jefferson himself could not be ruled out. Now someone tell me if I am remembering correctly.

  • Jenny,

    I believe that it is true. Hemings’ oldest son, Thomas, has been ruled out as being Jefferson’s son.

  • Nearly OT, but worth sharing: there’s an interesting theory that Jefferson may have been inspired by St. Robert Bellarmine’s writings (as filtered through an absolutist Anglican critic) in drafting part of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

    http://www.amazon.com/Virginia-declaration-rights-Cardinal-Bellarmine/dp/B003TU1ULG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340736492&sr=8-1&keywords=virginia+declaration+of+rights+bellarmine

    More expansive (and unsupportable) claims have been made regarding Bellarmine’s influence, but Hunt’s thesis makes modest and more supportable claims.

  • I have read that Charles Carrol, influenced by Bellarmine, also influenced Jefferson

  • Man, as a sovereign person, constitutes the government, gives government its sovereignty. When government stops respecting and appreciating the sovereignty imbued to it by the sovereignty of the human being, it ceases to be government and is hell.

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Coolidge Speaks!

Friday, May 11, AD 2012

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.

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