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.
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
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
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
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
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
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:
- The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill
- The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec
- Declaration of Independence
- The Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga
- The Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown
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 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.
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.
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
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”:
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
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, the sole Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, was an endlessly fascinating man. He led the fight for Catholic civil rights in Maryland and the new nation. A slaveholder, he supported the efforts to establish a free colony of blacks in Liberia, and sponsored legislation in the Maryland Senate for the gradual abolition of slavery in Maryland, although the bill was defeated. He lived a long and eventful 95 years, dying in 1832, the last of the signers. He will be the subject of many blog posts in the future, but today I want to post on what he is most famous for, the signing of the Declaration.
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
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
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 !
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.
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.
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