But the continuing success of American democracy depends on the degree to which each new generation, native-born and immigrant, makes its own the moral truths on which the Founding Fathers staked the future of your Republic. Their commitment to build a free society with liberty and justice for all must be constantly renewed if the United States is to fulfill the destiny to which the Founders pledged their “lives . . . fortunes . . . and sacred honor.
Saint John Paul II, December 16, 1997
A good way to observe the Fourth of July is to read aloud the Declaration of Independence. My family has done that for years. The Declaration is not an historical artifact to be mentioned in passing in forgettable speeches once a year. It is the most radical document ever to issue from the pen of Man:
- Rights derive from God and are unalienable.
- That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men.
- Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
- All men are created equal.
- That the people have a right to overthrow a government that is becoming a despotism.
These words, as a cursory glance around the world reveals, remain just as revolutionary and controversial today as when Mr. Jefferson wrote them two hundred and forty years ago. His words are not meant to be worshiped, but rather to be argued about and debated. It is common to date the end of the American Revolution to 1783. Not so, not so. That is when Britain recognized the independence of the United States. However, the Revolution itself, as articulated in the Declaration of Independence, is an ongoing proposition, and each day it has defeats and victories, and the outcome of that Revolution is still very much in doubt. It is up to each of us, by our actions today, to determine whether the vision of the Founding Fathers is a true one or not. Continue reading
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.
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.
Hercules Mulligan-Ran a haberdashery in New York City during the War which catered to British officers, and all during the occupation of that community by the British was a spy for George Washington. Washington cleared him of suspicion of Loyalism by having breakfast with him the day after the evacuation by the British of New York in 1783.
Father Eustache Lotbiniere who served as chaplain to one of two Continental regiments, known as Congress’ Own, of French Canadiens.
Nurse Mary Waters’, an Irish immigrant, work in the Continental Army hospitals was praised by Surgeon General Benjamin Rush.
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.
Colonel Morgan Connor served as Adjutant General of the Continental Army in 1777.
Major John Doyle led a group of elite riflemen during the War. Continue reading
Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, [and] which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, and [which] insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, letter to James McHenry, November 4, 1800.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, as he signed his name when he added his signature to the Declaration of Independence, was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. When he died at the age of 95, he was the last of the Signers to depart this vale of tears.
The scion of perhaps the richest family in the colonies, Charles Carroll was initially uninterested in politics and, in any case, was debarred by his religion from participating in politics in his native Maryland by his religions. However, in his thirties he became a passionate advocate of American independence from Great Britain and quickly became one of the chief leaders of the Patriot cause in his home colony. It was only natural as a result that he was sent to Congress, in spite of his religion, where he was one of the chief spokesmen for independence and happily placed his signature on the Declaration even though by doing so he risked not only his fortune but his life if the British had prevailed. By the end of 1776 the revolutionary government of Maryland had issued an act of religious freedom, and Carroll and his fellow Catholics in Maryland enjoyed the same civil rights as Protestants.
In 1778 he returned to Maryland and helped draft the state constitution and in setting up the new state government, serving in the State Senate until 1800, and briefly in the United States Senate.
A slaveholder, throughout his career Carroll spoke and wrote of slavery as an evil that must come to an end as soon as possible. He attempted, but failed, to have Maryland implement a plan of gradual emancipation. At the age of 91 he took on the task of being president of the Auxiliary State Colonization Society of Maryland, part of a national movement to have free blacks voluntarily colonize what would become Liberia in Africa.
Throughout his life his two main passions were the American Revolution and his Faith. Like most of the Founding Fathers he regarded the idea of political liberty divorced from sound morality, derived from religion, as an absurdity. He set forth his ideas on this subject in a letter to Secretary of War James McHenry in 1800 in which he lamented the then current American political scene: Continue reading
I occasionally encounter people who claim that freedom is an abstraction, and that they would never die for an abstraction. That has never been the case in my family. McClareys have fought in all the nation’s wars down to the present, and we have attempted to remember them beginning with the first, Andrew McClary, a man who has fascinated me since my father told me about him so long ago.
He is memorialized in the above section of a painting by John Trumbull and depicting, with artistic license, “The Death of General John Warren.” The Major is shown raising his musket to brain a British soldier attempting to bayonet the dying Warren, a warlike action quite in character for him, and one which warms the cockles of my heart. My wife has noted over the years how much I resemble Major Andrew, and it is intriguing how his facial features have been passed down through the generations of my family.
Born in 1730 in Ireland, at an early age he emigrated to New Hampshire with his family. He grew to six feet, a giant of a man for his time, jovial in disposition but always ready to fight if need be to defend his rights or the rights of those he loved. The colonies were fortunate that quite a few men, like George Washington, who had served in the French and Indian War, were still in the prime of life and constituted a potential officer corps with, in many cases, combat experience, at the time when the Revolution began. Major Andrew McClary was typical of these men. After serving as an officer in Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian War, and singlehandedly throwing six British officers out of a tavern window during a loud “discussion” on a memorable evening, he had settled down as a farmer outside of Epsom, serving as a selectman of that town, a member of the New Hampshire legislature, and, always, as an officer of the New Hampshire militia. When news of Lexington and Concord reached him, he abandoned his plow, told his young family he was off to fight the British, and immediately marched off with a company of 80 militiamen to the siege lines around Boston. There he met up with his old friend from Rogers’ Rangers Colonel John Stark, who made McClary a major in his regiment of New Hampshire militia.
At the battle of Bunker Hill, Major McClary led the regiment onto Breed’s Hill, where the battle was fought on June 17, 1775. The advance of the regiment was momentarily blocked by a gaggle of Massachusetts militia standing about on the road doing nothing. That obstruction was removed when McClary yelled out that New Hampshire would like to borrow the road, if Massachusetts was not using it. Continue reading
The eldest of twelve children, Sybil Ludington grew up in a household of ardent patriots, her father being the commander of the local militia in Duchess County New York. On April 26, 1777 she became, at age 16, a heroine of the Revolution when she rode forty miles to her father’s militia encampment at night on her horse Star to spread the alarm that the British were moving on Danbury Connecticut. During her ride she successfully defended herself against a highwayman using a long stick. She used the same stick to bang on the door of houses along the way to let the occupants know that the British were on the march, Thanks to her, her father Colonel Henry Ludington chased after the British with 400 of his militia. They were unable to intercept the British before their attack on Danbury, but they, along with other militia units, harassed the British as they retreated to New York. The campaign is considered a turning point that helped ensure firm patriot control in Connecticut. Sybil received the personal thanks of George Washington. Continue reading
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare,
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1837) Continue reading
“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter.”
William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, March 1763, in his speech against warrantless searches allowed under the proposed Excise Bill before the British Parliament.
James Otis had a glittering career ahead of him. At the age of 35 in 1760 he was Advocate General for the Admiralty Court in Boston. His wife Ruth was heiress to a fortune worth ten thousand pounds. He threw it all away and resigned his post to represent pro bono, he refused the fee they wished to pay him saying that in such a great cause he despised all fees, colonial merchants subject to writs of assistance. A writ of assistance was a court order that allowed British officials to search at whim houses and businesses of those suspected of smuggling without obtaining a search warrant. These writs were in effect for the lifetime of the King during whose reign the writ was issued. Bearers of writs of assistance were not responsible for any damage caused by their searches. Otis viewed the writs to be a violation of Magna Carta, English case law and the traditional English legal doctrine that an Englishman’s home was his castle.
In a five hour address that captivated listeners at the Boston State House on February 24, 1761, James Otis denounced the writs of assistance:
Your Honors will find in the old books concerning the office of a justice of the peace precedents of general warrants to search suspected houses. But in more modern books you will find only special warrants to search such and such houses, specially named, in which the complainant has before sworn that he suspects his goods are concealed; and will find it adjudged that special warrants only are legal. In the same manner I rely on it, that the writ prayed for in this petition, being general, is illegal. It is a power that places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer. I say I admit that special Writs of Assistance, to search special places, may be granted to certain persons on oath; but I deny that the writ now prayed for can be granted, for I beg leave to make some observations on the writ itself, before I proceed to other Acts of Parliament.
In the first place, the writ is universal, being directed “to all and singular justices, sheriffs, constables, and all other officers and subjects”; so that, in short, it is directed to every subject in the King’s dominions. Every one with this writ may be a tyrant; if this commission be legal, a tyrant in a legal manner, also, may control, imprison, or murder any one within the realm. In the next place, it is perpetual; there is no return. A man is accountable to no person for his doings. Every man may reign secure in his petty tyranny, and spread terror and desolation around him, until the trump of the Archangel shall excite different emotions in his soul. In the third place, a person with this writ, in the daytime, may enter all houses, shops, etc., at will, and command all to assist him. Fourthly, by this writ not only deputies, etc., but even their menial servants, are allowed to lord it over us. What is this but to have the curse of Canaan with a witness on us: to be the servants of servants, the most despicable of God’s creation?
Now, one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally annihilate this privilege. Custom-house officers may enter our houses when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient.
Otis lost the case, but his bold stand was considered the start of the American independence movement. John Adams was present during the speech and later wrote:
“The child independence was then and there born,[for] every man of an immense crowded audience appeared to me to go away as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance.”
In the years to come he helped popularize the phrase, “No taxation without representation.” Mental illness cut short his services to the American cause, illness exacerbated by his receiving a blow to his head from a British customs inspector in 1769. In years to come he would have alternating periods of madness and lucidity. His wife Ruth, although her personal political sympathies were Tory, loyally stood by her husband and cared for him.
Otis did not let his madness stop him from bearing arms. Hearing the artillery bombardment preparatory to the battle of Bunker Hill, he snuck out of his house, got a rifle, and joined the American troops on Breed’s Hill. After the battle he walked home. Continue reading
On March 14, 1776, that sea going Catholic son of Ireland John Barry, received his commission as a Captain in the Continental Navy from the Continental Congress. It was signed by John Hancock, President of the Congress. Barry wasted no time making his mark.
Barry was placed in command of the USS Lexington, 14 guns, on December 7, 1775. Captain Barry took the Lexington on its maiden voyage on March 26, 1776. On April 7, 1776, Barry had his initial victory of the war, taking H.M.S. sloop Edward after a short but fierce engagement. This was the first naval victory of the new Continental Navy and the first British warship captured by the Americans. Barry had begun his victorious military career and started to earn the proud title of Father of the American Navy.
Congress on April 3, 1776 formally authorized American privateers to raid British merchant ships. In this Congress was merely recognizing what was already well under way, the patriot governments of the various colonies having issued letters of marque and reprisal since the beginning of hostilities. The British parliament would authorize privateers against American merchant ships in December 1776.
Privateers were a traditional part of European naval war which fitted in well with the American national character. Private operations, a common seamen on board a privateer after a successful cruise of capturing several British ships, could come back home with a small fortune in his pocket, often enough to purchase a small farm, or an inn, or set himself up in trade. Privateers led by more daring commanders would even make prizes of several smaller ships of the Royal Navy. Of course the risks were commensurate with the rewards, with death by sinking, or the slow death of rotting away in a British prison hulk if a crew was captured, ever a possibility. Most American sailors were eager to take the risk, so many that the Continental Navy often found it difficult to man its ships. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Maryland, my Maryland. Written by James Ryder Randall in white heat in 1861 after he learned that his friend Francis X. Ward had been killed by soldiers of the 6th Massachusetts in the Baltimore riot of 1861. A heart felt plea for his native state to join the Confederacy, set to the tune of O’Tannenbaum it became one of the more popular songs in the Confederacy. Tuberculosis prevented Randall from serving in the Confederate Army, so he joined the Confederate Navy. After the War he was commonly referred to as the poet laureate of the lost cause. A Catholic, his later in life poems were usually religious in nature.
Although the Civil War brought forth Maryland my Maryland, there are many references to Maryland’s proud Revolutionary history:
Thou wilt not cower in the dust,
Thy beaming sword shall never rust,
Remember Carroll’s sacred trust,
Remember Howard’s warlike thrust,-
And all thy slumberers with the just,
Maryland! My Maryland! Continue reading
“The rebels have done more in one night than my whole army would have done in a month.”
On August 10, 1815, Thomas Jefferson set pen to paper to respond to John Adams’ letter to him of July 30, 1815. Go here to read that letter. Jefferson was no more optimistic than Adams that a true history of the American Revolution could be written:
On the subject of the history of the American revolution, you ask Who shall write it? who can write it? and who ever will be able to write it? nobody; except merely it’s external facts. all it’s councils, designs and discussions, having been conducted by Congress with closed doors, and no member, as far as I know, having even made notes of them. these, which are the life and soul of history must for ever be unknown. Botta, as you observe, has put his own speculations and reasonings into the mouths of persons whom he names, but who, you & I know, never made such speeches. in this he has followed the example of the antients, who made their great men deliver long speeches, all of them in the same style, and in that of the author himself. the work is nevertheless a good one, more judicious, more chaste, more classical, and more true than the party diatribe of Marshall. it’s greatest fault is in having taken too much from him. I possessed the work, and often recurred to considerable portions of it, altho’ I never read it through. but a very judicious and well informed neighbor of mine went thro’ it with great attention, and spoke very highly of it. I have said that no member of the old Congress, as far as I knew, made notes of the discussions. I did not know of the speeches you mention of Dickinson and Witherspoon. but on the questions of Independance and on the two articles of Confederation respecting taxes & voting I took minutes of the heads of the arguments. on the first I threw all into one mass, without ascribing to the speakers their respective arguments; pretty much in the manner of Hume’s summary digests of the reasonings in parliament for and against a measure. on the last I stated the heads of arguments used by each speaker. but the whole of my notes on the question of independance does not occupy more than 5. pages, such as of this letter: and on the other questions two such sheets. they have never been communicated to any one. do you know that there exists in MS. the ablest work of this kind ever yet executed, of the debates of the Constitutional convention of Philadelphia in 1788.? the whole of every thing said and done there was taken down by mr Madison, with a labor and exactness beyond comprehension. I presume that our correspondence has been observed at the post offices, and thus has attracted notice. would you believe that a printer has had the effrontery to propose to me the letting him publish it? these people think they have a right to every thing however secret or sacred. Continue reading
John Adams often groused that the true history of the American Revolution would never be written. Considering this, it is somewhat surprising that he did not undertake the task himself. He had ample time after his Presidency, and his lively and copious correspondence indicates that age had not lessened his skill with a pen. It is possible that he simply viewed it as an impossible task, as he indicated in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on July 30, 1815:
Dear Sir Quincy July 30th 1815
Who shall write the history of the American revolution? Who can write it? Who will ever be able to write it?
The most essential documents, the debates & deliberations in Congress from 1774 to 1783 were all in secret, and are now lost forever. Mr Dickinson printed a speech, which he said he made in Congress against the Declaration of Independence; but it appeared to me very different from that, which you, and I heard. Dr Witherspoon has published speeches which he wrote beforehand, and delivered Memoriter, as he did his Sermons. But these I believe, are the only speeches ever committed to writing. The Orators, while I was in Congress from 1774 to 1778 appeared to me very universally extemporaneous, & I have never heard of any committed to writing before or after delivery.
These questions have been suggested to me, by a Review, in the Analectic Magazine for May 1815, published in Philadelphia, page 385 of the Chevalier Botta’s “Storia della Guerra Americana.” The Reviewers inform us, that it is the best history of the revolution that ever has been written. This Italian Classick has followed the example, of the Greek and Roman Historians, by composing speeches, for his Generals and Orators. The Reviewers have translated, one of Mr R H Lee, in favour of the declaration of Independence. A splendid morcell of oratory it is; how faithful, you can judge.
I wish to know your sentiments, and opinions of this publication. Some future Miss Porter, may hereafter, make as shining a romance, of what passed in Congress, while in Conclave, as her Scottish Chiefs.
“The History of our Revolution will be one continued lye [sic] from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin’s electric rod smote the earth and out sprang General Washington. Then Franklin electrified him… and thence forward those two conducted all the Policy, Negotiations, Legislations, and War.”
John Adams, letter to Benjamin Rush, 1790
John Adams was a very great man, but he could be somewhat petty at times. This pettiness came to the fore when he considered that other men, particularly George Washington, would loom larger than him in the history of the American Revolution and its aftermath. In a letter to Benjamin Rush on November 11, 1807, he remarked upon what he considered to be Washington’s ten great talents:
Self taught or Book learned in the Arts, our Hero was much indebted to his Talents for “his immense elevation above his Fellows.” Talents? you will say, what Talents? I answer.
1. An handsome Face. That this is a Talent, I can prove by the authority of a thousand Instances in all ages: and among the rest Madame Du Barry who said Le veritable Royaute est la Beaute.
2. A tall Stature, like the Hebrew Sovereign chosen because he was taller by the Head than the other Jews.
3 An elegant Form.
4. graceful Attitudes and Movement:
5. a large imposing Fortune consisting of a great landed Estate left him by his Father and Brother, besides a large Jointure with his Lady, and the Guardianship of the Heirs of the great Custis Estate, and in addition to all this, immense Tracts of Land of his own acquisition. There is nothing, except bloody Battles and Splendid Victories, to which Mankind bow down with more reverence than to great fortune. They think it impossible that rich Men especially immensely rich Men, Should Submit to the trouble of Serving them but from the most benevolent and disinterested Motives. . . . Such is their Love of the Marvellous, and Such their Admiration of uncommon Generosity that they will believe extraordinary pretensions to it and the Pope Says, Si bonus Populus vult decipi, decipiatur. Washington however did not deceive them. I know not that they gave him more credit for disinterestedness, than he deserved, though they have not given many others so much. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Yankee Doodle, seems appropriate in the weekend before Washington’s Birthday. Originally sung by British officers to disparage American troops who fought beside them in the French and Indian War, it was seized upon by Patriots, given endless lyrics, and cheered the patriot troops and civilians during the eight long years of the Revolution. After Lexington and Concord it was reported by Massachusetts newspapers that the British were suddenly not as fond of the song:
“Upon their return to Boston [pursued by the Minutemen], one [Briton] asked his brother officer how he liked the tune now, — ‘Dang them,’ returned he, ‘they made us dance it till we were tired’ — since which Yankee Doodle sounds less sweet to their ears.”
At Yorktown when the British troops marched out in surrender, they looked at the French troops, doing their best to pretend that the American troops did not exist. The Marquis de Lafayette, commanding the Continental Light Infantry Division, was outraged and ordered his bands to strike up Yankee Doodle. Startled by the outburst of music the British turned and faced the Americans who had outlasted and defeated them in a very long War. It was appropriate that the British bands were playing a popular ditty, The World Turned Upside Down. Continue reading
American artist Howard Pyle did a series of paintings on the American Revolution in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Pyle had a striking style, combining both romanticism and realism in his paintings. My favorite of the series is the above painting that depicts an American line of infantry advancing at the battle of Brandywine. Led by their officer, the common soldiers are dressed in rags, but clearly determined and ready to fight. A ragged American flag gives a splash of color as it towers over the men below it. The light of the sun seems to be breaking through a cloudy sky. The painting is brilliantly entitled The Nation Makers, reminding us that this nation came into being largely through the courage of private soldiers. Most of them, if they survived and did not die of illness or in battle, would end the War poorer financially then they began it, being paid in worthless currency. They fought their War usually wearing the ragged remnants of uniforms, often barefoot and living off wretched rations. Many of them were teenagers, no doubt homesick and frequently worried that no one outside of their fellow soldiers really cared about the sacrifices they were making for the nation they were desperately attempting to bring about. If they were lucky they left the Army without their health being broken by wounds, illness, or the endless privations they endured daily through the long years of the War. Continue reading
One of the interesting aspects of wars and revolutions is the unexpected talents and abilities that come to the fore in the most unlikely of individuals. As that remarkable year 1775 was drawing to a close, General Washington, if he was to force the British to leave Boston, needed a substantial artillery force, which he entirely lacked. Twenty-five year old Colonel Henry Knox, a fat Boston book seller prior to the War, came up with the idea of transporting the artillery from newly captured Fort Ticonderoga in northern New York to the siege lines around Boston. This was accomplished by Knox from December 5, 1775 to January 27, 1776, transporting sixty tons of artillery and ammunition, 59 cannon, mortars and howitzers, through wilderness in the dead of winter, a truly astounding feat. On December 17, 1775 Knox wrote to Washington:
I return’d to this place on the 15 & brought with me the Cannon being nearly the time I conjectur’d it would take us to transport them to here, It is not easy [to] conceive the difficulties we have had in getting them over the Lake owing to the advanc’d Season of the Year & contrary winds, but the danger is now past & three days ago it was very uncertain whether we could have gotten them untill next spring, but now please God they must go – I have had made forty two exceeding Strong Sleds & have provided eighty Yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield where I shall get fresh Cattle to Carry them to Camp – the rout will be from here to Kinderhook from thence into Great Barrington Massachusetts Bay & down to Springfield There will scarcely be possibility of conveying them from here to Albany or Kinderhook but on sleds the roads being very much gullied, at present the sledding is tolerable to Saratoga about 26 miles; beyond that there is none – I have sent for the Sleds & teams to come here & expect to begin [to] move them to Saratoga on Wednesday or Thursday next trusting that between this & then we shall have a fine fall of snow which will enable us to proceed further & make the carriage easy – if that should be the case I hope in 16 or 17 days time to be able to present to your Excellency a noble train of artillery. Continue reading