Fortnight For Freedom: Top Ten Movies for the Fourth of July

Fortnight For Freedom 2014

 

 

Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.

John Adams

 

 

 

This is a repeat from a post last year, with some very slight modifications, but I think the logic behind the post still holds true.  As we are embroiled now in a struggle to preserve our religious liberty, I think the Fourth of July is a good time to recall the price paid to establish our liberties.  It is trite to say that freedom is not free, but it is also true.  A people who forget this eternal lesson will not remain free for long.

 

 

A number of feature films and miniseries have been made about the events of the American Revolution.  Here are my top ten choices for Fourth of July viewing:

10.  Ben and Me (1953)- Something for the younger patriots.  Disney put to film the novel of Robert Lawson, Ben and Me, which related how many of Ben Franklin’s bright ideas came from his mouse Amos.  Quite a bit of fun.   Not a classic but certainly an overlooked gem.

9.  The Crossing (2000)-A retelling of Washington’s brilliant crossing of the Delaware on Christmas 1776 and the battle of Trenton.  This film would rank much higher on my list but for Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Washington as sullen and out of sorts throughout the movie.  Washington had a temper, and he could give vent to it if provoked, although he usually kept it under control, but the peevish Washington portrayed here is simply ahistoric and mars an otherwise good recreation of the turning point of the Revolution.

8.  John Paul Jones (1959)  Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero.  Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great.  The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days.  The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong.  This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two-volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900.  Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications.  Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison.  Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.

7.  The Patriot (2000) Finally, a film which depicts the unsung contribution of Australians to victory in the American Revolution!  Actually not too bad of a film overall.  Heath Ledger is quite good as Gibson’s oldest son who joins the Continentals at the beginning of the war against his father’s wishes.  Jason Isaacs is snarlingly good as the evil Colonel Tavington, very loosely based on Banastre Tarleton, commander of Tarleton’s Raiders during the Southern Campaign.  The film of course allows Gibson to carry on his over-the-top vendetta against all things English.  No, the British did not lock up American civilians in churches and burn them alive.  However, the ferocity of the partisan fighting in the South is well depicted, and Banastre Tarleton  at the Waxhaw Massacre earned a reputation for slaughtering men attempting to surrender.  The final battle of the film is based on the battle of Cowpens where General Daniel Morgan decisively defeated Tarleton.

6.  Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)-A John Ford classic starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert.  Through the eyes of a young newlywed couple, Fonda and Colbert, the American Revolution on the frontier is depicted in the strategic Mohawk Valley.  Full of the usual Ford touches of heroism, humor and ordinary life. Continue Reading

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John Trumbull and Bunker Hill

“These fellows say we won’t fight! By Heaven, I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!”

Major General Joseph Warren to his men prior to the battle of Bunker’s Hill

 

A lecture by John Walsh, emeritus director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, on John Trumbull’s painting on the battle of Bunker Hill and its historical accuracy, or lack thereof.  The painting has always been a favorite in my household, as it depicts my ancestor Major Andrew McClary of the New Hampshire militia.

Bunker Hill

Trumbull had witnessed the battle through field glasses, he was serving with the American army, although not with the portion fighting on Breed’s hill.  The painting shows the death of General Warren, and is entitled The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775,  the painting having been commissioned by Warren’s family.  Trumbull squeezes into the painting almost everyone famous who fought in the battle, both Americans and British.  Major Andrew McClary 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.

The scene depicted is not historical, but rather a tribute to General Warren by having his death the center of the action.  To us it seems a very romantic version of the grim reality, but Abigail Adams, who heard the battle from her farm and saw the aftermath of the wounded and dead American soldiers, found it so realistic when she saw it that she shivered with the memories of the fight it aroused in her.  To most of us moderns war is simple butchery and unless it is shown as such, we are almost offended.  To the men and women of Abigail Adams’ generation, at least the Patriots, they would have been offended by a painting that only remembered the death and carnage, they needed few reminders of that, but that ignored the heroism and sacrifice that ultimately prevailed against the odds and established a new nation. Continue Reading

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Washington: The Greatest American Part II

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

With the end of the Revolutionary War Washington was looking forward to a well earned retirement from public life at his beloved Mount Vernon.

On June 8, 1783 he sent a circular letter out to the states discussing his thoughts on the importance of the states remaining united, paying war debts, taking care of the soldiers who were wounded in the war and the establishment of a peace time military and the regulation of the militia.  It is an interesting document and may be read here.   No doubt Washington viewed this as in some respects his final thoughts addressed to the American people in his role as Commander in Chief.

Washington ends the letter with this striking passage:

I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.

The War having been won Washington resigned his commission to Congress in Annapolis, Maryland on December 23, 1783.  The next day he had reached his heart’s desire:  home, Mount Vernon.  Christmas the next day was probably the happiest in his life. Continue Reading

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Washington: The Greatest American-Part I

George Washington

by Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benét

Sing hey! For bold George Washington,

That jolly British tar,

King George’s famous admiral

From Hull to Zanzibar!

No–wait a minute–something’s wrong–

George wished to sail the foam.

But, when his mother thought aghast,

Of Georgie shinning up a mast,

Her tears and protests flowed so fast

That George remained at home.

Sing ho! For grave Washington,

The staid Virginia squire,

Who farms his fields and hunts his hounds

And aims at nothing higher!

Stop, stop it’s going wrong again!

George liked to live on farms,

But when the Colonies agreed

They could and should and would be freed,

They called on George to do the deed

And George cried “Shoulder arms!”

Sing ha! For Emperor Washington,

That hero of renown,

Who freed his land from Britain’s rule

To win a golden crown!

No, no, that’s what George might have won

But didn’t for he said,

“There’s not much point about a king,

They’re pretty but they’re apt to sting

And, as for crowns–the heavy thing

Would only hurt my head.”

Sing ho! For our George Washington!

(At last I’ve got it straight.)

The first in war, the first in peace,

The goodly and the great.

But, when you think about him now,

From here to Valley Forge,

Remember this–he might have been

A highly different specimen,

And, where on earth would we be, then?

I’m glad that George was George.

I have never liked President’s Day.  Why celebrate loser presidents like Jimmy Carter and James Buchanan, non-entities like Millard Fillmore, bad presidents, like Grant, with great presidents like Washington and Lincoln?   Officially the date is still the commemoration of George Washington’s birthday and in this post we will recall the life of the greatest American who ever lived.  Ironically in the length of a blog post we will be unable to cover all of Washington’s event filled life, including his Presidency.  We will break off at the close of the Revolution and finish off on February 22, the actual birthday of the man who will always be first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of all of us who, as Americans, in many ways are his children.

Only Abraham Lincoln comes close to Washington in our American secular pantheon.  Our first president, he was also the man who led our armies to victory in the Revolutionary War, a conflict I am certain that we would have lost but for his leadership, faith and example.  In his own time, and from his days as a very young man, most people who encountered Washington assumed he was destined for greatness.  Six foot three at a time when most men were around five foot six, Washington was a literal giant for his day, weighing 220 pounds of muscle, and noted for his feats of strength.  A quiet aura of dignity and command seemed to envelop him from the first time that he put on the uniform of a Virginia militia officer.  He had a hot temper that he usually successfully controlled beneath a mask of quiet dignity, leavened by a lively sense of humor.  However, none of these explain why men and women instinctively looked to him for leadership, but they always did.  Perhaps it was simply a matter of trust.  Although the cherry tree is a myth, Washington was always known to be an honest man, and a man who could be entrusted with great tasks that he would attempt to do out of a sense of duty and not for personal aggrandizement.  Such men are very rare in history, and almost all Washington’s contemporaries realized that he was  such a rarity.

Washington of course did not appear full grown on the stage of history.  When he was born none would have expected him to have any historical significance in his life. Continue Reading

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Privateer McClary

A feature of the American Revolution that has never received nearly as much coverage in histories of that conflict as it warrants is the successful privateer war waged by the Americans against British merchant shipping.  This conflict helped the Americans in many ways:  got badly needed supplies to the colonies, drove up British maritime insurance rates, caused the Royal Navy to divert ships to chase privateers and increased anti-war sentiment among merchants in Britain.  A typical privateer ship of the period is the McClary.

Commissioned by the state of New Hampshire on September 2, 1776 and named after New Hampshire hero Major Andrew McClary who fell at Bunker Hill, the McClary was an armed schooner equipped during her career with 6-8 cannon and up to six swivel guns.

Between September 1776 and February 1778 she would make five voyages.

In her first voyage she captured five prizes off the Newfoundland Banks:  the schooner Neptune , the schooner Glasgow, the British Army transport Hero, the ship Live Oak and the brigantine Three Friends.

In her second voyage she took the snow (merchant brig) Resolution and a transport, name unknown.

In her third voyage she took the brigantines Jane, Two Sisters and Thetis.

In her fourth voyage she captured the schooner Lusanna.

In her fifth voyage she made no captures and was captured herself by the frigate HMS Unicorn on February 6, 1778, bringing her privateering career to an end.

Although McClary, also called McClarey, a common variant of the McClary family name, enjoyed a brief privateering career, it was a successful one. Continue Reading

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General John Glover and His Marbleheaders

A good argument can be made that but for the presence of John Glover and his Marblehead Regiment in the American Revolution, the War might well have been lost.

Born on November 5, 1732, Glover grew up in poverty in Marblehead, Massachusetts, after the death of his carpenter father when Glover was 4 years old.  Glover became a cordwainer and rum trader, working his way up to become a merchant and a ship owner.  Elected to the Marblehead Committee of Correspondence following the Boston massacre, Glover’s political sympathies were firmly allied with the patriot cause.  A member of the  Marblehead militia since 1759, with the coming of the War Colonel Glover marched the Marblehead militia, Almost all fishermen, to the siege of Boston in April 1775.

While active on land in the fight for independence, Glover was also active on the sea.  General Washington commissioned Glover’s schooner Hannah, to raid British supply vessels.  The Hannah is considered to be the first ship of the US Navy.

The Marblehead militia regiment joined the Continental Army, becoming the 14th Continental regiment.

In 1776, Glover and his “amphibious regiment”, as it was called, saved the army after the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Long Island, by ferrying it to Manhattan in a nighttime operation.  On land throughout the New York campaign the regiment fought fiercely in every engagement.  It capped its service by ferrying the Army across the Delaware on Christmas 1776 to attack the Hessians at Trenton. Continue Reading

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Remember, Remember

The idiotic anti-Catholic celebration of Guy Fawkes Day , observed each November fifth, was effectively ended in America during the Revolution, in large part due to George Washington.  Here is his order on November 5, 1775:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope–He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada. Continue Reading

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Father of the United States Navy

 

john_barry_by_gilbert_stuart

(First published in 2009, the 238th birthday of the United States Navy is a good day to post it again.)

 

 

1745 was a busy year in the history of the misnamed British Isles, with Bonnie Prince Charlie doing his best to end the reign of the Hanover Dynasty in England, so I guess it is excusable that no note was taken of the birth date of John Barry in Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland.  During his childhood John received, along with all the other excellent reasons given to Irish Catholics over the centuries to love Britannia, good reason to look askance at the British when his father was evicted from his poor little farm by their British landlord, and the family went to live in the village of Rosslare.

Yet the nameless landlord, completely unintentionally of course, did John a good turn, because it was in Rosslare that young John found his life’s calling:  the Sea.  Nicholas Barry, his uncle, lived there and was captain of a fishing skiff.  John decided to follow in the footsteps of his uncle and seek his fortunes on water.

This was a completely rational choice on the part of John.  The British imposed penal laws, summarized by the great Edmund Burke as follows:   “For I must do it justice;  it was a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts.   It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”   Rendered helots in their own land,  almost all ambitious Irish Catholic lads and lasses had to seek their fortunes elsewhere.  Additionally, for a poor ambitious young man in Europe in the Eighteenth Century, the Sea offered a path to wealth and social advancement.  If he was willing to work hard, learn to read, and learn enough math to chart the course of a ship, a poor sailor, with luck, could rise to be captain of a ship one day.  Compensation for the crew of a merchant vessel was often based on a share of the profits, with the merchants who bankrolled the vessel usually taking between a half to two-thirds with the remainder being divided among the crew:  the greater the rank, the larger the share.  An able captain could eventually become a wealthy merchant.  His daughters might marry into the aristocracy.  His sons might become wealthy bankers and eventually be ennobled if they played their political cards right.  Although this path was precluded to Irish Catholics by the anti-Catholic Test Act, a poor sailor in the Royal Navy might end his days as an admiral, and there were always a few admirals in the Royal Navy in the Eighteenth Century who had begun their careers in just such a fashion.

However, if the Sea offered opportunities it also had severe risks.  Life aboard ship was cramped and unpleasant, with bad food and putrid water tossed in as a garnish.  Discipline was often brutal and risk to life and limb was an every day occurence.  According to Dr. Samuel Johnson,  “No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.”   Ports were filled with crippled sailors who eked out a miserable existence with any light work they could get, selling wood carvings and begging.  As Lord Nelson noted, the average British sailor, due to a hard life, was dead by forty-five.

Defying all challenges, John flourished at sea.  Flying through the ranks of cabin boy, seaman, able seaman and a mate’s rating, he proved himself tough and determined.  It also didn’t hurt that he was as strong as a sea-going ox, and grew into a giant  of a man, standing six foot and four inches in a time when the average height of an adult male was five feet and five inches.  During his career he would suppress three mutinies aboard his ships single handedly, and his great physical strength was a key asset in the very rough world afloat.  In 1766 he achieved his dream of becoming a captain and skippered the Barbados with a home port of Philadelphia.  It was on the Barbados that he began his habit, that he kept up in peace and war, in having the day start with a reading from the Bible to the crew.  Captain Barry fell in love with Phillie, a town where he could freely practice his Catholic faith, and a bustling, prosperous port. Continue Reading

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A Just War

 

 

(I originally posted this on July 6, 2009 when the blog readership was much smaller.  I therefore have decided to blow the dust off of it and present it again today.  It also reminds me that I need to complete a much delayed project, looking at the Civil War from both the Union and Confederate sides and applying a just war analysis.  I will attempt to do so by the end of the year.)

 

Based on the just war doctrine first enunciated by Saint Augustine, the American Revolution was a just war.

 

Over the centuries the precise content of the just war doctrine has varied.  The classic definition of it by Saint Thomas Aquinas is set forth in Part II, Question 40 of his Summa Theologica:

“I answer that, In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Rm. 13:4): “He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil”; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Ps. 81:4): “Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner”; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 75): “The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.”

Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says (Questions. in Hept., qu. x, super Jos.): “A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”

Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. [*The words quoted are to be found not in St. Augustine’s works, but Can. Apud. Caus. xxiii, qu. 1]): “True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good.” For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 74): “The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.”

The most recent formulation of the Just War doctrine for the Church is set forth in the Catechism at 2309: Continue Reading

Fortnight For Freedom: Liberty Song

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have proclaimed a second Fortnight for Freedom from June 21-July 4th, and, as last year, The American Catholic will participate with special blog posts each day.

Something for the Weekend.  Liberty Song.  Written by Founding Father John Dickinson in 1768, the song was sung by patriots in America to the tune of Heart of OakThe video above is the most hilarious scene from the John Adams mini-series where a completely fish out of water John Adams gets donations for the American cause from French aristocrats as they sing the Liberty Song, led by Ben Franklin who is obviously immensely enjoying himself.  It is a good song for Americans to recall, and perhaps especially so in this year of grace, 2013.

 

Continue Reading

Fortnight For Freedom 2013: Yankee Doodle

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have proclaimed a second Fortnight for Freedom from June 21-July 4th, and, as last year, The American Catholic will participate with special blog posts each day.

Something for the weekend.  Yankee Doodle.  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.”

James Cagney did an immortal riff on Yankee Doodle in the musical biopic of composer and actor George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942):

Yankee Doodle plays in the background as Cagney at the end of the film, entirely impromptu, dances down the White House staircase:

Continue Reading

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232 Years Since Cowpens

A very accurate video on the battle of Cowpens, January 17, 1781.  Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, the American commander, was an American original.  An ill-educated frontiersman, Morgan was also a natural leader of men, made easier by his height, well over six-foot, and his robust sense of humor, along with his willingness to use his fists to enforce discipline if necessary.  He served in the French and Indian War, being sentenced to 500 lashes for punching a British officer.  He later made a joke of it saying that in carrying out the sentence the count was one short, but it was a tribute to his toughness that he survived such an experience.  It is a pity that the late John Wayne, circa 1955, did not appear in a movie bio of this remarkable man.

At the beginning of the Revolution, Morgan led a company of Virginia riflemen to join Washington’s Army besieging Boston.  Volunteering to join the invasion of Canada, he led three companies of riflemen that quickly became known as Morgan’s Sharpshooters.  In the attack on Quebec on December 31, 1775, Captain Morgan led his men in ferocious fighting in the city.  The attack was ultimately defeated, with Morgan refusing to surrender to the British and instead tendering his sword to a French priest. Continue Reading

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Girty the Renegade

And there was Simon Girty, the renegade, who saw white men burned at the stake and whooped with the Indians to see them burn. His eyes were green, like a catamount’s, and the stains on his hunting shirt did not come from the blood of the deer.

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

In his short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, Benet has Satan conjure up the damned souls of 12 villains from American history to serve as a jury in the case of Satan v. Jabez Stone.  Only seven of these entities are named.  This is beginning of a series to give short biographies on each of these figures.

Born in 1741 on the Pennsylvania frontier, Girty’s life took a sharp turn when he and his brothers were captured by the Seneca and adopted by them.  It would be seven years before Girty was able to return to his family.  By that time Girty was a Seneca in all but skin color.  At the outset of the American Revolution Girty supported the patriots, but eventually became a loyalist.  Frontier patriots regarded him as a turncoat and renegade. Continue Reading

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Thinking Rationally About Secession

Secession has been in the news lately. Well, not the mainstream news, for the most part, but local, Internet and alternative news outlets have been reporting a growing number of signatures added to secession petitions submitted to Washington (one has it at over 750,000 signatures). This began almost immediately after President Obama’s reelection, and while no one really expects this particular movement to go anywhere, people on both sides of our political divide take it somewhat seriously as a sign of how polarized and unstable our situation has become.

I’m going to tell you what I think about secession, and my hope is that readers will find it somewhat reasonable. In short, I reject the absolutely hysterical and frothing narrative that comes from some leftist quarters about the evil of secession. I don’t much appreciate the haughty dismissal and contempt that comes from some on both the left and the right, as if only a mental patient would want to secede from what America has become. Lastly, I don’t agree with the secessionists, but it has nothing to do with any sort of moral or philosophical objection to the principle of secession (I don’t think it is racist or crazy, in other words). Now to the meat and bones.

Continue Reading

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

Here once the embattled farmers stood,

And fired the shot heard round the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

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

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

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Militia Immediately Prior to the American Revolution

In the first post in this series on militia in the American Revolution, which may be read here, we looked at American militia in the Colonial period. In the years following the French and Indian War, as Great Britain and her colonies increasingly clashed, several of the colonies began to beef up their militias as an armed clash with Great Britain moved from unthinkable to likely. Massachusetts took the lead in this process with the formation of minutemen companies. This was not an innovation. The Massachusetts militia had fielded minutemen companies since 1645. These were young men, no more than 30, chosen for their physical strength and endurance, and formed into picked companies.

The necessity for putting the Massachusetts militia on a war footing was underlined in 1774. General Thomas Gage was appointed military governor of Massachusetts in early 1774. He embarked on a campaign to disarm the Massachusetts militia. In an event that is largely forgotten today but was a huge event throughout the colonies in 1774, on September 1, 1774 Gage sent an expedition of British troops to seized the powder at the arsenal located in Sommerville, Massachusetts. The British succeeded in their mission and almost started the Revolutionary War. Militia units formed up in alarm throughout Massachusetts and surrounding colonies in New England, thinking that a war had begun while wild rumors flew, and it was several days before calm was restored. This Powder Alarm caused the militia in Massachusetts and the colonies to take steps to protect their arsenals for fear of a deliberate British policy to disarm them and leave them helpless before the redcoats. The stage was set for Lexington and Concord. Continue Reading

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Electoral Defeat-1780

 

 

“For I must do it justice;  it was a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts.   It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

(I originally wrote this post in the wake of Obama’s election four years ago.  It tells the story of how the great Edmund Burke suffered electoral defeat in 1780 for standing up for principle.  It reminds us that fighting for that which one believes in, no matter the outcome at the polls, is never a real defeat over time.)

So wrote Edmund Burke, brilliant writer and member of Parliament, of the Catholic penal laws in the Eighteenth Century.  Son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, suspected in his lifetime, probably incorrectly, of being a secret Catholic, Burke was a man who fought during his life for many causes:  reform in Parliament, support for Americans in their fight against oppression by the English government, prosecution of Warren Hastings for his misrule in India, his crusade against the French Revolution, all these and more engaged his formidable intellect and his luminous pen.  However, one cause he championed from the beginning of his career to the end of it:  relief for Catholics in Ireland and England from the Penal Laws.

What were the Penal Laws?  A series of statutes dating from the time of Queen Elizabeth I, and codified and harshened after the so-called Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, to transform Irish Catholics into helots in their own land and to keep English Catholics a despised and helpless minority.  Burke summarized the penal laws nicely in a speech to his Bristol constituents on September 6, 1780:

A statute was fabricated in the year 1699, by which the saying mass (a church service in the Latin tongue, not exactly the same as our liturgy, but very near it, and containing no offence whatsoever against the laws, or against good morals) was forged into a crime, punishable with perpetual imprisonment. The teaching school, an useful and virtuous occupation, even the teaching in a private family, was in every Catholic subjected to the same unproportioned punishment. Your industry, and the bread of your children, was taxed for a pecuniary reward to stimulate avarice to do what Nature refused, to inform and prosecute on this law. Every Roman Catholic was, under the same act, to forfeit his estate to his nearest Protestant relation, until, through a profession of what he did not believe, he redeemed by his hypocrisy what the law had transferred to the kinsman as the recompense of his profligacy. When thus turned out of doors from his paternal estate, he was disabled from acquiring any other by any industry, donation, or charity; but was rendered a foreigner in his native land, only because he retained the religion, along with the property, handed down to him from those who had been the old inhabitants of that land before him.

Does any one who hears me approve this scheme of things, or think there is common justice, common sense, or common honesty in any part of it? If any does, let him say it, and I am ready to discuss the point with temper and candor. But instead of approving, I perceive a virtuous indignation beginning to rise in your minds on the mere cold stating of the statute.” Continue Reading

11

Remember, Remember

The idiotic anti-Catholic celebration of Guy Fawkes Day , observed each November fifth, was effectively ended in America during the Revolution, in large part due to George Washington.  Here is his order on November 5, 1775:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope–He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada. Continue Reading

3

Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death

In the political season we are engaging in currently, with its frequently petty back and forth, it is easy, all too easy, to lose sight of the great principles on which this country was founded.  As a reminder we turn to a speech by Patrick Henry.

A fine video is at the beginning of this post on the great “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death Speech” of Patrick Henry delivered in the Virginia House of Burgesses on March 23, 1775.  It is a remarkable speech, made even more remarkable when we consider that Patrick Henry was in deep mourning for his beloved wife Sarah who, after years of fighting a losing battle with mental illness, had died in February of 1775. ( Henry refused to have her committed, against the advice of his physician, to the appalling insane asylums of his day, one he inspected would have had his wife chained to a wall, and cared for her at home, bathing her, dressing her and keeping her from harming herself.)

Henry was perhaps the greatest American orator in a time of great American oratory.  It was said of him that cold print did not do justice to the passions he roused in his listeners with his speeches.  American school children used to memorize passages from this speech, a custom I hope is revived, because his speech goes to the core of what it means to be an American.  Here is the text of his speech, as it has been reconstructed, as no manuscript of it survives and our text is based on the recollections of men who heard it: Continue Reading

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The American Revolution at Sea

I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.

Captain John Paul Jones, November 16, 1778

Yesterday was the 237th birthday of the United States Navy.  On October 13, 1775 the Continental Congress passed the following resolutions:

Resolved, That a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruise of three months, and that the commander be instructed to cruize eastward, for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies, and for such other purposes as the Congress shall direct.

That a Committee of three be appointed to prepare an estimate of the expence, and lay the same before the Congress, and to contract with proper persons to fit out the vessel.

Resolved, that another vessel be fitted out for the same purposes, and that the said committee report their opinion of a proper vessel, and also an estimate of the expence.”

Congress thus threw down the gauntlet against the mightiest sea power in the world.  Vastly outnumbered by the Royal Navy, the United States Navy gave a good account of itself, raiding British commerce, bringing desperately needed supplies to Washington’s Continental Army, shipping diplomats like Benjamin Franklin and John Adams to Europe to enlist the aid of France and other sympathetic countries, and demonstrating to an astonished world, again and again, that it was possible to beat a British warship in battle, as John Paul Jones did commanding the USS Bonhomme Richard against HMS Serapis on September 23, 1779:

Continue Reading

24

Fortnight For Freedom Day Eleven: Catholics in the American Revolution

To obtain religious, as well as civil, liberty I entered zealously into the Revolution, and observing the Christian religion divided into many sects, I founded the hope that no one would be so predominant as to become the religion of the State. That hope was thus early entertained, because all of them joined in the same cause, with few exceptions of individuals. God grant that this religious liberty may be preserved in these States, to the end of time, and that all believing in the religion of Christ may practice the leading principle of charity, the basis of every virtue.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence

 

 

Beginning for two weeks, up to Independence Day, the Bishops are having a Fortnight For Freedom:

On April 12, the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a document, “Our First,  Most Cherished Liberty,” outlining the bishops’ concerns over threats to religious freedom, both at home and abroad. The bishops called for a “Fortnight for Freedom,” a 14-day period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom, from June 21-July 4.

 

Bishops in their own dioceses are encouraged to arrange special events to  highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. Catholic  institutions are encouraged to do the same, especially in cooperation  with other Christians, Jews, people of other faiths and all who wish to  defend our most cherished freedom.

 

The fourteen days from June  21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to  July 4, Independence Day, are dedicated to this “fortnight for  freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face  of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More,  St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the  Church of Rome.  Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our  Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that  would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for  religious liberty.

 

We here at The American Catholic are participating in the Fortnight For Freedom with special blog posts on each day.  This is the eleventh of these blog posts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.

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

The list could go on at considerable length.  Figures on how many Catholics served in the Continental Army or the American militias is speculative as records of religious affiliations were not normally kept.  From anecdotal evidence my guess would be at least five percent of the American troops were Catholic, far in excess of the Catholic percentage of the population. Continue Reading

6

Fortnight For Freedom Day Nine: Top Ten Movies For the Fourth of July

 Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it. 

John Adams

 

Beginning for two weeks, up to Independence Day, the Bishops are having a Fortnight For Freedom:

On April 12, the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a document, “Our First,  Most Cherished Liberty,” outlining the bishops’ concerns over threats to religious freedom, both at home and abroad. The bishops called for a “Fortnight for Freedom,” a 14-day period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom, from June 21-July 4.

 

Bishops in their own dioceses are encouraged to arrange special events to  highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. Catholic  institutions are encouraged to do the same, especially in cooperation  with other Christians, Jews, people of other faiths and all who wish to  defend our most cherished freedom.

 

The fourteen days from June  21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to  July 4, Independence Day, are dedicated to this “fortnight for  freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face  of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More,  St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the  Church of Rome.  Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our  Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that  would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for  religious liberty.

 

We here at The American Catholic are participating in the Fortnight For Freedom with special blog posts on each day.  This is the ninth of these blog posts.

 

As we are embroiled now in a struggle to preserve our religious liberty, I think the Fourth of July is a good time to recall the price made to establish our liberties.  A number of feature films and miniseries have been made about the events of the American Revolution.  Here are my top ten choices for Fourth of July viewing:

10.  Ben and Me  (1953)- Something for the younger patriots.  Disney put to film the novel of Robert Lawson, Ben and Me, which related how many of Ben Franklin’s bright ideas came from his mouse Amos.  Quite a bit of fun.   Not a classic but certainly an overlooked gem.

9.  The Crossing (2000)-A retelling of Washington’s brilliant crossing of the Delaware on Christmas 1776 and the battle of Trenton.  This film would rank much higher on my list but for Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Washington as sullen and out of sorts throughout the movie.  Washington had a temper, and he could give vent to it if provoked, although he usually kept it under control, but the peevish Washington portrayed here is simply ahistoric and mars an otherwise good recreation of the turning point of the Revolution.

8.  John Paul Jones (1959)  Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero.  Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great.  The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days.  The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong.  This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two-volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900.  Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications.  Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison.  Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.

7.  The Patriot (2000) Finally, a film which depicts the unsung contribution of Australians to victory in the American Revolution!  Actually not too bad of a film overall.  Heath Ledger is quite good as Gibson’s oldest son who joins the Continentals at the beginning of the war against his father’s wishes.  Jason Isaacs is snarlingly good as the evil Colonel Tavington, very loosely based on Banastre Tarleton, commander of Tarleton’s Raiders during the Southern Campaign.  The film of course allows Gibson to carry on his over-the-top vendetta against all things English.  No, the British did not lock up American civilians in churches and burn them alive.  However, the ferocity of the partisan fighting in the South is well depicted, and Banastre Tarleton  at the Waxhaw Massacre earned a reputation for slaughtering men attempting to surrender.  The final battle of the film is based on the battle of Cowpens where General Daniel Morgan decisively defeated Tarleton.

6.  Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)-A John Ford classic starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert.  Through the eyes of a young newlywed couple, Fonda and Colbert, the American Revolution on the frontier is depicted in the strategic Mohawk Valley.  Full of the usual Ford touches of heroism, humor and ordinary life. Continue Reading

2

Fortnight For Freedom Day 4: John Carroll, Bishop and Patriot

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.

Pope Leo XIII on John Carroll, first Bishop in the United States

Beginning for two weeks, up to Independence Day, the Bishops are having a Fortnight For Freedom:

On April 12, the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a document, “Our First,  Most Cherished Liberty,” outlining the bishops’ concerns over threats to religious freedom, both at home and abroad. The bishops called for a “Fortnight for Freedom,” a 14-day period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom, from June 21-July 4.

Bishops in their own dioceses are encouraged to arrange special events to  highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. Catholic  institutions are encouraged to do the same, especially in cooperation  with other Christians, Jews, people of other faiths and all who wish to  defend our most cherished freedom.

The fourteen days from June  21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to  July 4, Independence Day, are dedicated to this “fortnight for  freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face  of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More,  St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the  Church of Rome.  Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our  Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that  would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for  religious liberty.

We here at The American Catholic are participating in the Fortnight For Freedom with special blog posts on each day.  This is the fourth of these blog posts.

From the beginning of our Republic, American Catholics were at the forefront of the battle to free America from British rule and to enshrine a committment to liberty in our founding documents.  The remarkable Carroll family of Maryland was at the head of this effort by American Catholics.  Charles Carroll of Carrollton signed the Declaration of Independence.  His cousin Daniel Carroll signed both the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.  Daniel Carroll’s younger brother John Carroll, was the first bishop in the United States of America.

Born on January 8, 1735 in Maryland, he went abroad to study in Flanders and France, joined the Society of Jesus and was ordained a priest in 1769.  With the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, he returned to his native Maryland as a missionary priest.  A patriot, he served on a diplomatic mission to Canada for the Continental Congress in 1776.  During the War he continued his efforts as a missionary priest, along with efforts to persuade the new states to remove disabilities from Catholics in their new state constitutions.  He was ever an advocate for religious freedom:

When men comprehend not, or refuse to admit the luminous principles on which the rights of conscience and liberty of religion depend, they are industrious to find out pretences for intolerance. If they cannot discover them in the actions, they strain to cull them out of the tenets of the religion which they wish to exclude from a free participation of equal rights. Thus this author attributes to his religion the merit of being the most favorable to freedom, and affirms that not only morality but liberty likewise must expire, if his clergy should ever be contemned or neglected: all which conveys a refined insinuation, that liberty cannot consist with, or be cherished by any other religious institution; and which therefore he would give us to understand, it is not safe to countenance in a free government.

I am anxious to guard against the impression intended by such insinuations; not merely for the sake of any one profession, but from an earnest regard to preserve inviolate for ever, in our new empire, the great principle of religious freedom. The constitutions of some of the States continue still to intrench on the sacred rights of conscience; and men who have bled, and opened their purses as freely in the cause of liberty and independence, as any other citizens, are most unjustly excluded from the advantages which they contributed to establish. But if bigotry and narrow prejudice have prevented hitherto the cure of these evils, be it the duty of every lover of peace and justice to extend them no further. Let the author who has opened this field for discussion, be aware of slyly imputing to any set of men, principles or consequences, which they disavow. He perhaps may meet with retaliation. He may be told and referred to Lord Lyttleton, as zealous a Protestant as any man of his days, for information, that the principles of non-reistence seemed the principles of that religion which we are not told is most favorable to freedom; and that its opponents had gone too far in the other extreme!

 

On June 6, 1784 he was appointed by the Pope as superior of the missions in the United States.  On November 6, 1789, he was appointed by the Pope as Bishop, after being elected to the post by American priests, a procedure previously approved by the Pope. Continue Reading

5

Fortnight For Freedom Day 3: Chester

 

Their blood flowed as freely (in proportion to their numbers) to cement the fabric of independence as that of any of their fellow-citizens: They concurred with perhaps greater unanimity than any other body of men, in recommending and promoting that government, from whose influence America anticipates all the blessings of justice, peace, plenty, good order and civil and religious liberty.

John Carroll, first American bishop, on American Catholics in the Revolution

Something for the weekend.  Chester,  America’s unofficial national anthem during the American Revolution.   This fits in well with the Fortnight of Freedom proclaimed by our Bishops in resistance to encroachments by government on our religious liberty.

Written by William Billings in 1770, he added new lyrics to the song in 1778 and transformed it into a battle hymn for the Patriots in their war for independence.  The song reveals the strong religious element that was ever-present on the American side of the conflict, with most Patriots viewing the war as a crusade. Continue Reading

4

Kipling and the Yanks

The tenth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.   The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , herehere , here ,here, here and here.  Rudyard Kipling had an intensely ambivalent attitude towards America and Americans.  His wife was an American and he and she after their marriage resided in Vermont from 1892-1896.  The Kiplings loved Vermont, Rudyard Kipling especially loving the rugged natural beauty of the Green Mountain State. but eventually returned to England due to a now forgotten diplomatic squabble between the US and Great Britain over the boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana and which led to the last talk of war between those two nations, and a family squabble involving some of Kipling’s wife’s relatives.

Kipling admired American energy and inventiveness, but hated traditional American antipathy to Britain and what he regarded as a boorishness that afflicted many Americans.  This ambivalence is well reflected in the poem American Rebellion which appeared in A School History of England (1911) by C. R. L. Fletcher and Kipling.  The poem is in two strikingly different sections.  Here is the first section:

1776

                    BEFORE
TWAS not while England’s sword unsheathed
Put half a world to flight,
Nor while their new-built cities breathed
Secure behind her might;
Not while she poured from Pole to Line
Treasure ships and men–
These worshippers at Freedom’s shrine
They did not quit her then!
Not till their foes were driven forth
By England o’er the main–
Not till the Frenchman from the North
Had gone with shattered Spain;
Not till the clean-swept oceans showed
No hostile flag unrolled,
Did they remember what they owed
To Freedom–and were bold. Continue Reading
7

George Washington Celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day

 

Throughout his life George Washington had a great deal of sympathy for the struggles of the Irish against their English rulers, seeing in those struggles a mirror for the American fight for independence.  Irish immigrants to America, Protestant and Catholic, were enthusiastic in their embrace of the American cause, and during the Revolutionary War many of the soldiers who served in the Continental Army were Irish or of Irish descent.  Therefore when General Washington heard in March 1780 that the Irish Parliament had passed free trade legislation, he issued the following general order to the Army on March 16, 1780:

The general congratulates the army on the very interesting proceedings of the parliament of Ireland and the inhabitants of that country which have been lately communicated;  not only as they appear calculated to remove those heavy and tyrannical oppressions on their trade but to restore to a brave and generous people their ancient rights and freedom and by their operations to promote the cause of America. Continue Reading

Chester

Something for the weekend.  Chester,  America’s unofficial national anthem during the American Revolution.  Written by William Billings in 1770, he added new lyrics to the song in 1778 and transformed it into a battle hymn for the Patriots in their war for independence.  The song reveals the strong religious element that was ever present on the American side of the conflict, with most Patriots viewing the war as a crusade.

Let tyrants shake their iron rods,
 And Slav’ry clank her galling chains.

We fear them not, we trust in God.
New England’s God forever reigns.


Howe and Burgoyne and Clinton, too,

With Prescott
and Cornwallis joined,
Together plot our overthrow,
In one infernal
league combined.

When God inspired us for the fight,

Their ranks were broke, their lines were forced,
Their ships were
shattered in our sight,
Or swiftly driven from our coast.


The foe comes on with haughty stride,

Our troops
advance with martial noise;
 Their vet’rans flee before our youth,
And
 gen’rals yield to beardless boys.

What grateful

 off’ring shall we bring,
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud
 hallelujahs let us sing,
 And praise his name on ev’ry chord! Continue Reading

7

Catholics in the American Revolution

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

Pope Leo XIII

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colonel Thomas Moore led a Philadelphia regiment in the War.

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

5

Interviews With Veterans of the Revolution in 1864

 

Hattip to commenter RL for finding this American Heritage article.

In 1864 the Reverend Elias Brewster Hilliard, a minister from Connecticut, at the request of a Hartford publisher, set out on the task of interviewing the seven surviving veterans of the American Revolution in the North, writing down their memories of the American Revolution and obtaining their views of the Civil War.  In 1958 American Heritage published a fascinating story on the results of these interviews, and the story may be read here.

The American Revolution is not normally associated with photography, but some elderly veterans of that conflict lived long enough to have their pictures taken by the then cutting edge technology of photography.  Some of the photographs were taken for the 1864 interviews.  Among the veterans pictured above is John Gray, the last surviving veteran of the Revolution.  He was born fittingly enough near Mount Vernon.  His father was killed at the battle of White Plains in 1776.  John joined up at 16 in 1780 and was present at Yorktown when Cornwallis’ army marched by in surrender.  He died on March 29, 1868, age 104.  He was not among the veterans interviewed in 1864, and I assume he was overlooked.

How brief our history as an independent nation truly is!  Men who fought to give this nation birth lived to see the Civil War and the ultimate preservation of the nation.  The last surviving veteran of the Civil War, Albert Woolson, died in 1956 just six months before I was born in 1957.  We are still a very young nation. Continue Reading

2

Remember

Something for the weekend.  Scenes from the American Revolution set to the music of the film National Treaure.  This Fourth of July weekend we should recall our heritage, especially the eight long years of war it took to achieve American independence.  We should also remember these words of our second President John Adams in a letter to his wife Abigail on April 26, 1777: Continue Reading

1

July 2, 1776: The Vote

From the musical 1776, a heavily dramatized version of the vote to declare American independence on July 2, 1776.  The scene is effective but historically false.   James Wilson did not dither about his vote, but was a firm vote for independence, having ascertained that his Pennsylvania constituents were in favor of independence.  There was no conflict over slavery, Jefferson and Adams having already agreed to remove from the Declaration the attack on the King for promoting the slave trade.  Caesar Rodney did make a dramatic ride to Congress of 80 miles in order to break a deadlock in the Delaware delegation over independence, but he was not dying and would live until June 26, 1784, witnessing the triumph of America in the Revolutionary War. Continue Reading

17

Preserving the Declaration

A fascinating little video on preserving the Declaration of Independence. 

It is of course very important that the physical document be preserved.  However, it is much more important that the spirit of the document be preserved.  On the Fourth of July we do not merely engage in ancestor worship.  The principles of the American Revolution, immortally set forth in the Declaration, are just as important today as they were then, and almost as controversial. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

1.  God given rights.

2.  Government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

3.  A right of revolution when Government becomes destructive of God given unalienable rights. Continue Reading

4

John Trumbull: Painting the Revolution

In an age before photography, America was fortunate to have a painter of the skill of John Trumbull to give us a visual narrative of those stirring days and portraits of so many of the participants.  A veteran of the American Revolution, serving as an aide to George Washington and deputy adjutant general to Horation Gates, Trumbull painted with one eye, having lost sight in the other as a result of a childhood accident.

Some of the more notable paintings of Trumbull are:

Trumbull allowed future generations of Americans to visualize these scenes of the birth of their nation.  Of course, the man was not without his critics: Continue Reading

The Unquiet Afterdeath of Thomas Paine’s Corpse

The Reformation was engendered in beastly lust, brought forth in hypocrisy and perfidy, and cherished and fed by plunder, devastation, and by rivers of innocent English and Irish blood.

William Cobbett

A good trick question for a history quiz would be, “Where is Thomas Paine buried?”  The correct answer would be, “No one knows!’

Paine died in New York City on June 18, 1809.  His views on Christianity had made him persona non grata in the US, his services during the American Revolution to the cause of Independence being overlooked.  A controversy has raged since his death as to whether he did or did not recant his attacks against Christianity.  I would say the burden of the evidence is that he did not.   Six people attended his funeral.  No Christian church would bury him, so his corpse was interred in unhallowed ground under an oak tree on a farm he owned in New Rochelle.  There his bones rested until September 1819, when his body was stolen.

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Gates v. Washington

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

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Castro Hates the Tea Party

An English translation of the first portion of the above video.

Fidel Castro: Comrades, our nation is completely bankrupt! We have no choice but to abandon communism!
Castro’s Aide #1, Castro’s Associates: [sigh]
Fidel Castro: I know, I know, I know… but we all knew from day one this mumbo jumbo wouldn’t fly! I’ll call Washington and tell them they won.
Castro’s Aide #1: But presidente, America tried to kill you!
Fidel Castro: Ah, they’re not so bad. They even named a street after me in San Francisco!
[Aide #2 whispers something into his ear]
Fidel Castro: It’s full of what?

Hattip to the Babalu Blog, the go to blog on the net to keep advised of the follies of the Castro regime in Cuba.  It seems the Bearded One views the Tea Party as “fascist”: 

Speaking to a group of students visiting Havana, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro accused the Tea Party of leading the United States towards “fascism.”

In his comments, Castro chided the United States as a “ruined nation” and derided the Tea Party as “extreme right.”

Castro also announced that health concerns had forced him to step down from his position as head of the Cuban Communist Party.

Castro’s exchange with the students was published in Granma, the state-run newspaper.

“I got sick and did what I had to do — delegate my powers.” Granma reported.

Castro ceded the Presidency of Cuba in 2006 after 46 years in power. He was replaced by his younger brother Raúl.

Under both brothers, Cuba has been isolated from the international community, criticized for its lack of democratic elections and for its systematic abuse of human rights. Continue Reading

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Chester

Something for the weekend.  Chester by William Billings.  During the American Revolution, this was the unofficial national anthem for the new United States.  As we participate in elections it is good to recall the struggles throughout our history that bequeathed to us the freedoms we enjoy today.  We stand on the shoulders of the giants who preceded us, and we should never forget that. Continue Reading

Conqueror of the Northwest

One of the largely unsung heroes of the American Revolution is George Rogers Clark.  The campaign that he fought in Illinois and Indiana secured to America a claim to these territories that was recognized in the treaty ending the war.

In 1778 Virginian Clark, at 25, was already a seasoned veteran of the savage warfare that raged on the Kentucky frontier throughout the Revolution.  Lieutenant Colonel Henry Hamilton, known to the patriots as “Hair-buyer” Hamilton,  from Detroit constantly aided the Indians war against the settlers in Kentucky, and paid generous bounties to the Indians for the prisoners and scalps they brought him.

Clark realized that the best way to stop the raids into Kentucky was for the patriots to go on the offensive and seize British outposts north of the Ohio river.  Recruiting 150 men to form what he called the Illinois regiment, Clark, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia militia, led his force into Illinois and took Kaskaskia on July 4, 1778.  The men of the Illinois regiment received an enthusiastic reception from the French, largely due to the efforts of Father Pierre Gibault, Vicar General of the Illinois Country, and Frenchwomen soon busied themselves sewing flags for the regiment.  Cahokia and Vincennes were taken without firing a shot, and British power in Illinois and Indiana seemed to vanish over night.

Hamilton did not take long to respond.  He raised a force of 30 regulars, 145 French Canadian militiamen and 60 Indians, marched from Detroit and re-took Fort Sackville at Vincennes on December 17, planning to stay there for the winter and then retake Illinois in the spring of 1779. Continue Reading

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Great Jesuits 7: Vicar General of Illinois

Part 7 of my continuing series on great Jesuits in American history.  Born in Montreal on April 7, 1737,  Pierre Gibault early in life decided that he wished to be a Jesuit missionary priest.  Ordained on March 18, 1768, he was appointed by the Archbishop of Quebec to be the Vicar General of the Illinois country.  Father Gibault arrived in Kaskaskia in Illinois on September 8, 1768.  His flock consisted of French settlers, Indian converts, and members of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment who were temporarily stationed there.

As Vicar General of Illinois, Father Gibault had responsibility for a huge expanse of territory making up modern day Illinois and Indiana, very sparsely populated and with vast distances between the main settlements of Kaskaskia, Vincennes, Cahokia, Peoria, Saint Genevieve, Quiatenon and Saint Joseph.  When he first arrived in Vincennes, the local inhabitants, desperate for a priest, greeted him with the cry, “Save us Father;  we are nearly in Hell!”  The territory was quite dangerous, and as Father Gibault rode the circuit, he always carried with him a musket and two pistols.

Father Gibault toiled away at his frontier outposts until history intervened in the form of George Rogers Clark who led a force of Virginians in 1778 to conquer the Illinois from the British during the American Revolution.  After Clark and his men arrived in Kaskaskia, Father Gibault had a meeting with Clark in which he said that he supported the American cause, but that he wanted assurances that the Catholic faith would be respected by Clark and his men.  Clark told the priest that freedom of religion was enshrined in Virginia law, and he also advised Father Gibault of the treaty between France and America. 

Father Gibault threw his support to the Americans.  He helped rally the French settlers to the cause of the Americans, encouraged the men to enlist with the Americans, and out of his private resources helped pay for the cost of the American campaign in the Illinois country.  When Clark set out to reconquer Vincennes from the British, Father Gibault blessed the mixed French and American force.  A post tomorrow will detail the campaign of George Rogers Clark, which resulted in the conquest of what became the Northwest territory for the US. Continue Reading

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Revolution, Independence and Schoolhouse Rock

I loved these schoolhouse rock videos when they were first broadcast back in the Seventies right before the bicentennial.  Among a fair number of kids I knew they sparked an interest in history.  Of the videos, I believe No More Kings has the catchiest tune.  For a cartoon, The Shot Heard Round the World does a fairly good job of conveying information about the Revolution in a very short span of time:  it manages to include the opening battles of the war, Washington as the central figure of the war, the role of the militia, the endurance of the Continentals, the battle of Trenton, Valley Forge, the frequent defeats of the Americans, the importance of diplomacy and foreign intervention, and the decisive victory at Yorktown.  Fireworks is a nice opening view of the Declaration for kids.  If readers have kids, or if, like me, part of them has never really grown up, watching these cartoons can be a good way to get into the Fourth of July spirit !

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American Swashbuckler: Joshua Barney

It is a pity that Errol Flynn during the Golden Age of Hollywood never had the opportunity to do a biopic on Joshua Barney.  Barney’s life was more adventuresome and filled with derring-do than the fictional characters that Flynn portrayed.

The scion of a Catholic Maryland family, Barney was born on July 6, 1759 in Baltimore, one of 14 children.  At 10 he announced to his startled father that he was leaving school.  His father found him a job in a counting shop, but Barney refused to spend his life chained to a desk.  He left his father’s farm at 13 to seek his fortunes on the sea.  He became an apprentice mate on the brig Sydney engaged in the Liverpool trade.  The captain of the brig died suddenly on a voyage  to Europe and  the 14 year old Barney assumed command and successfully completed the voyage.

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Alexander Hamilton's Dying Wish, Holy Communion

Like many intellectual men in Revolutionary America and Western Europe, Alexander Hamilton bought into the Deist ideas of a Creator, but certainly not a Creator who needed a Son to rise from the dead or perform miracles, and certainly not the continuous miracle of the Eucharist. Most leaders of the American Revolution were baptized Anglicans who later in life rarely attended Sunday services, the exception being George Washington.  The first President was the rare exception of a Founding Father who often attended Anglican-Episcopal Services, though he occasionally did leave before Holy Communion, which many intellectuals in the colonies (and most of England) decried as “popery.”

Hamilton was a unique man, who unlike many of the Revolution was not born in the colonies, but in the Caribbean and was born into poverty at that. He was practically an orphan as his father left his mother and she subsequently died from an epidemic. At a young age Hamilton showed so much promise that the residents of Christiansted, St Croix (now the American Virgin Islands) took up a collection to send him to school in New England. As a child, Hamilton excelled at informal learning picking up on what he could from passersby and those who took the time to help him. In August of 1772,  a great hurricane hit the Caribbean. Hamilton wrote about it in such vivid detail that it wound up being published in New York.

It was at this point that the residents of Christiansted answered the local Anglican pastor’s request and enough money was raised to send Hamilton to school in the colonies. While in school, Hamilton would excel and wound up in the Revolutionary Army as a young officer. By the time of Yorktown, General Washington thought enough of the 24 year old to have him lead a charge on one of the redoubts of Yorktown. It was here that the “Young Americans” and their French counterparts on land and sea, overwhelmed the British and the world turned upside down.

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A Just War

 

 

 

Based on the just war doctrine first enunciated by Saint Augustine, the American Revolution was a just war.

 

Over the centuries the precise content of the just war doctrine has varied.  The classic definition of it by Saint Thomas Aquinas is set forth in Part II, Question 40 of his Summa Theologica:

“I answer that, In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Rm. 13:4): “He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil”; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Ps. 81:4): “Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner”; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 75): “The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority.”

Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says (Questions. in Hept., qu. x, super Jos.): “A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”

Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. [*The words quoted are to be found not in St. Augustine’s works, but Can. Apud. Caus. xxiii, qu. 1]): “True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good.” For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 74): “The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.”

The most recent formulation of the Just War doctrine for the Church is set forth in the Catechism at 2309: Continue Reading

Charles Carroll: Our Catholic Founding Father

Charles Carroll of Carrollton was a delegate to the Continental Congress and later United States Senator for Maryland. He was also the only Catholic to have signed the The Declaration of Independence. One of the wealthiest men in the colonies, it is reported that — upon fixing his signature,

a member standing near observed, “There go a few millions,” and all admitted that few risked as much, in a material sense, than the wealthy Marylander.

(The Life of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, 1737-1832, by Kate Mason Rowland).

A new biography, American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll (Lives of the Founders) (ISI) will be published in February 2010. (Tip of the hat to Carl Olson). The author, Dr. Bradley J. Birzer, was recently interviewed by the Washington Times:

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Read The Declaration on the Fourth

In my family each year we have a group reading of the Declaration of Independence.  The kids enjoy it and so do Mom and Dad.  Each year I am struck by a timeless quality of the words. 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

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Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier

Something for the weekend.  I have been thinking a lot about the American Revolution this week.  One of the most popular ballads during that war was Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier.  Sad like most Irish tunes, it captures well the bitter partings that war always causes.  Dedicated to Major Andrew McClary, New Hampshire militia, and all the patriots who went to be soldiers and who never came back from that war.

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Electoral Defeat-1780

burke

“For I must do it justice;  it was a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts.   It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

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