Interviews With Veterans of the Revolution in 1864

Tuesday, September 20, AD 2011

 

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.

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5 Responses to Interviews With Veterans of the Revolution in 1864

  • Dear sir,I read american Catholic and I thank you for your hard work.I was very interested in the revolutionary war article and was wondering if you could provide me and the rest of our readers with the % of fighters and if possible some of the names of the men that were catholic in the american army.,thank you for your valuble time and God bless,Mr.Jesse Fremont Bateman….

  • Thank you for your kind words. 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.

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

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

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2010/05/10/american-swashbuckler-joshua-barney/

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2009/03/25/father-of-the-united-states-navy/

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

    Thomas Fitzimons 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, far in exess of the Catholic percentage of the population.

    The foreign volunteers who came to fight for our freedom were overwhelmingly Catholic, including LaFayette, de Kalb and Pulaski. Of course the French troops were almost all Catholic, and there were tens of thousands of them who saw service in the US. The first mass in Boston was a funeral mass for a French soldier with members of the Continental Congress in attendance. Washington on occasion attended mass during the War along with other Founding Fathers.

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2009/11/05/george-washington-and-catholics/

    Here is a quote from Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence in regard to Catholic participation in the Revolution:

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

  • What is fascinating to me about this post is how a single human lifespan can encompass so much history. Only a century separates the birth of Mozart and the death of Schumann, yet what a musical revolution was there in between! Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) recalled that as a young boy he remembered an old friend of the family, Mme de Mongolfier (related to the famous balloonists) recalling how as a young girl she had witnessed the mob surging down the rue St-Antoine in 1789. Towards the end of his life he mused ‘There will be someone living well into the 21st century who can say “I was told of the fall of the Bastille by someone who heard it from an eye-witness.” ‘.

  • In the first law firm I worked for John, the senior partner’s mother lived from 1865-1965. (She died from a fall while cleaning a chandelier in her house at the age of 100!) When she was born the Civil War had just ended and she lived to see the beginning of the Space Age. She saw covered wagons, the first cars, the first planes, the first phones, the first radios, the first televisions the first computers. World War I and World War II were part and parcel of her life, with a grandson dying at Omaha Beach on D-Day. She saw the reunited Union grow from 31 states to 50. What a wonderful panorama as the background of one’s life!

Remember

Saturday, July 2, AD 2011

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:

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2 Responses to Remember

  • “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom!”

    Amen!

    Divine Assistance, their blood, their courage, their faith . . . combined to bring forth our blessed nation. Lest we forget.

  • The Founding Fathers were always thinking about their descendants and how their actions today would impact their posterity tomorrow. One of the many comparisons between the Founders and our current leadership which would lead one to conclude that we have learned little in the past two centuries and forgotten much.

July 2, 1776: The Vote

Friday, July 1, AD 2011

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.

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One Response to July 2, 1776: The Vote

  • The movie 1776 is among my favorites, but as you note it unfortunately does not do justice to James Wilson. He was a well respected legal scholar, a leading figure at our Constitutional Convention, and one of original justices of the US Supreme Court; and notably a supporter of American independence. Thanks for an interesting article.

Preserving the Declaration

Tuesday, June 28, AD 2011

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.

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17 Responses to Preserving the Declaration

  • One of the myths about the Declaration is that it was adopted and signed July 4, 1776 by all members of the Continental Congress. Actually July 4 was the day the draft was voted on and on that day not all the delegates had approved it and there were no signers at all.

    One state, New York, did not even vote on it until July 9. The actual signing was even more gradual and it is quite misleading to speak of the “56 original signers of the Declaration of Independence.” By August 6 most of those whose names are on the document had signed, but at least six signatures were attached later. One signer, Thomas McKean, did not attach his name until 1781!

    Some of those who signed were not even in Congress when the Declaration was adopted, and some who voted for it in Congress never did get around to signing it. Robert R. Livingston was one of the committee of five who helped frame it; he voted for it, but he never signed it. The other members of the committee included Thomas Jefferson, who performed the actual writing, but his version was revised by Ben Franklin, John Adams and Jefferson himself before it went to Congress, which then did some editing of is own, winding up with a terser version than the expanded, wonderful language crafted by Jefferson, et al, which sets forth the theory of this new country’s government and the justification for the break in the light of the specific grievances that its people had endured.

    All of this sausage-making, of course, does not detract from the final product, which, as Don suggests, a magnificent Declaration.

    However, in the interest of historical accuracy, all those July 4 celebrations are a tad early and should really be held sometime in August. 😆

    Source: The Dictionary of Mislnformation by Tom Burnam

  • July 4 is good as any other date in regard to the Declaration process Joe and better than most. It has been hallowed by tradition and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the fiftieth anniversary of the Fourth, a highly unusual coincidence to say the least.

    This video has John Adams correcting the misunderstanding that the Declaration was signed on the Fourth:

  • The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

    ~ John Adams

  • One of many predictions about the future that the ever certain John Adams got wrong! 🙂

  • Well, he appears to have gotten everything else right other than the date right. The only thing he left out was the barbecue ribs, burgers, hot dogs, and beer.

    😉

  • On the Fourth of July we do not merely engage in ancestor worship.

    So you’re saying on the Fourth we do engage in ancestor worship (but not just that)? 😛

    Reading Joe Green’s post, my first thought was “Someone needs to link to that clip of Adams correcting Reubens,” but Don beat me to it! 😀

  • I admit I hadn’t watched the clip before posting. Happy Fourth, everyone! 🙂

  • “On the Fourth of July we do not merely engage in ancestor worship.”

    Ah, the limitations of the English language, or the limitations of my ability to wield it! 🙂

  • Ack! I meant “Trumball” when I wrote “Rebuens”! 😳 As Mr. Adams pointed out, the latter is definitely not the former. 😉

  • *”Reubens”! Again with the bad spelling!

  • That video clip of Barney Fife is priceless. I used to love the Andy Griffiths Show.

    Must confess, that is the first time I have read the Declaration of Independence right through.

    But there is another, and more important connection in my family to the 4th. July. It is the birthday of my youngest very beautiful grandaughter who turns 6 on Monday –
    Oh, but I have always said she is our American connection, and will teach her the Declaration of Independence. 😉 😉

  • Happy Birthday on the Fourth to your granddaughter Don! I am glad that you will teach her about the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers did not intend the truths contained therein for Americans alone.

    Don Knotts was a true comedic genius and Barney Fife was his greatest creation.

    Part of my Fourth of July film viewing will be Beneath Hill 60 if it comes in the mail in time. What more American way to celebrate the Fourth than by watching a film about Aussie sappers on the Western Front in World War I!

  • May be a bit off-topic, but in the patriotic spirit, may I respectfully recommend that everyone read “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand, as well as “Devil at My Heels,” by Louis Zamperini, a still-living member of America’s Greatest Generation. Inspiring beyond words. A story of courage, resilience and, most of all, faith. (Don, a highly linkable topic some day.)

  • This is an OT, but please, please pray for my brother-in-law.

    He has had a persistent, dry cough for a month now and it is not improving with antibiotics. I am deeply frightened (as is my sister, a RN) because he sounds exactly like my mother did when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. He is 60 years old – and you have not met a kinder more generous man.

    His CT scan was scheduled for today. I have not yet heard back from my sister. I have said so many Hail Marys in the past 4 days or so.

    150 people got laid off from my place of employment today. My job was saved; I was scared that I would lose it. However, I’d gladly trade my job for my brother-in-law’s good heath if I could. Nevertheless, I pray for those who got laid off. I saw many crying people today. It was awful. And nobody will be screaming in Madison for them.

  • The Declaration was not meant to be shut up in books, forgotten, or worshiped as some sort of priceless heirloom. It was meant to be read, thought about and argued about.

    In that same vein, far be it for me to disparage Barney Fife’s effort with the Preamble to the Constitution, but the following link has to be the best exposition of it in the known universe – and I think Fred Steiner wrote the music accomanying it!

  • Well done Jonathan! Kirk the Canadian explaining the Preamble to us has been touched on before by me:

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2009/06/30/the-omega-glory/

    I have always found it as the most moving passage in the original Trek.

John Trumbull: Painting the Revolution

Tuesday, May 24, AD 2011

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:

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4 Responses to John Trumbull: Painting the Revolution

  • Thank you Kurt. The clip from the John Adams’ miniseries is my favorite from the whole series. It skillfully combines both humor and melancholy and conveys the hard, perhaps impossible, task of every truly understanding a vast historical event like the American Revolution unless one lived through it.

  • The miniseries was fantastic. I watched it all.

    And I walk by the Trumbull painting frequently. It is impossible not to pause and reflect on it, even if it be ahistorical.

  • The advantage of a great painting is that even if it is ahistorical it can convey an underlying truth about an event depicted, in a similar manner to the way in which a great historical novel, Gironella’s trilogy on the Spanish Civil War for example, can convey the passion and fervor of a period of history missing from a dry chronicle of events.

The Unquiet Afterdeath of Thomas Paine’s Corpse

Thursday, April 7, AD 2011

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

Friday, December 17, AD 2010

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.

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3 Responses to Gates v. Washington

  • Truth. Read David McCulloch’s 1776 and Barnet Schechter’s The Battle of New York. God Almighty and Washington held it together in face of serial, disastrous defeats at the hands of a numerically and professionally far superior army of British regulars and Hessian mercenaries.

    The United States of America came into existence only through Divine Assistance and George Washington: the father of his country. “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

  • Washington agreed with you T.Shaw that divine assistance was essential to American victory:

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

    George Washington

  • I receive (I have been in on his tours of Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery – Washington’s MLR during the Battle of Brooklyn Hts) emails from author Barnet Shecter. Latest:

    “My new book, George Washington’s America: A Biography Through His Maps, is a top seller on Amazon in several categories, including #1 in cartography. Below are some links to reviews and other articles. You can also hear a 15-minute NPR interview by Robin Young on “Here and Now,” WBUR-FM, Boston: http://www.hereandnow.org/2010/11/30/george-washington-maps

Castro Hates the Tea Party

Friday, November 19, AD 2010

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.

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Chester

Saturday, October 30, AD 2010

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.

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Conqueror of the Northwest

Wednesday, August 11, AD 2010

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.

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Great Jesuits 7: Vicar General of Illinois

Monday, August 9, AD 2010

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.

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One Response to Great Jesuits 7: Vicar General of Illinois

Revolution, Independence and Schoolhouse Rock

Friday, July 2, AD 2010

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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4 Responses to Revolution, Independence and Schoolhouse Rock

  • These are some of my daughter’s all time favorite videos. “Fireworks” has a very jazzy feel to it which I love. The composers and singers of the Schoolhouse Rock songs were very artistic.

  • We have America Rock on DVD. My kids love it as much as I did. I still sing the SHR “We the People” in my head whenever reading the Preamble to the Constitution. Great stuff.

  • Pardon me while I put on my tinfoil hat for a moment, but has anyone else ever noticed that, in the “Preamble” one, whenever they get to the “provide for the common defense” lyrics (the second time through), the soldiers are wearing what appear to be UN-style baby blue helmets?

    😉

  • Barney Fife is extremely disturbed by that factoid:

    🙂

American Swashbuckler: Joshua Barney

Monday, May 10, AD 2010

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

Sunday, April 18, AD 2010

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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12 Responses to Alexander Hamilton's Dying Wish, Holy Communion

  • Thanks for an excellent and engrossing essay, Dave. There’s always something new to be learned from history, especially when written from a Catholic perspective.

  • Very interesting.

    A few minor points:

    Hamilton is the only non-President on US currency

    Franklin, Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony, and Salmon Chase.

    Hamilton was a self made man.

    The local community paid for his college education then he married into wealth.

    I disagree with your point about money:

    Hamilton was a strong advocate of agriculture and manufacturing subsidies. Of course the vast majority of people don’t like taxes. But Hamilton and others understood that taxes used for the general welfare were necessary. Those who understand it best often come from disadvantaged childhoods. Hamilton, Obama, Clinton. People from relatively more advantaged backgrounds like the Tea Partiers have a more difficult time comprehending the struggles of the poor.

  • As Thomas DiLorenzo in his book Hamilton’s Curse points out:

    “Hamilton complained to George Washington that “we need a government of more energy” and expressed disgust over “an excessive concern for liberty in public men” like Jefferson. Hamilton “had perhaps the highest respect for government of any important American political thinker who ever lived,” wrote Hamilton biographer Clinton Rossiter.

    Hamilton and his political compatriots, the Federalists, understood that a mercantilist empire is a very bad thing if you are on the paying end, as the colonists were. But if you are on the receiving end, that’s altogether different. It’s good to be the king, as Mel Brooks would say.

    Hamilton was neither the inventor of capitalism in America nor “the prophet of the capitalist revolution in America,” as biographer Ron Chernow ludicrously asserts. He was the instigator of “crony capitalism,” or government primarily for the benefit of the well-connected business class. Far from advocating capitalism, Hamilton was “befogged in the mists of mercantilism” according to the great late nineteenth century sociologist William Graham Sumner.”

    Hamilton the first of the “Rockefeller Republicans” or “Big Government Conservatives.”

  • Sorry for the monetary error Restrained Radical, I mede the necessary correction.

  • Sorry for the monetary error Restrained Radical, I made the necessary correction (it is awful early in the morning!)

  • Far better for the world if Hamilton had stayed in it and Burr, a true blackguard, had departed it.

  • Thanks Dave great stuff as always!

  • Speaking of Hamilton and Burr, the Creative Minority Report posted a funny account that mentions them in response to the news that George Washington, Hamilton and others failed to return library books: http://www.creativeminorityreport.com/2010/04/george-washington-and-i.html

    “Dueling for Dummies”: what a hoot!

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  • Given that Obama’s grandmother was a bank president and he attended a prestigious private school in Hawaii, I have a difficult time seeing his upbringing as “disadvantaged,” unless you wish to argue that simply being of mixed race automatically places one in the ranks of the disadvantaged.

    People from relatively more advantaged backgrounds like the Tea Partiers have a more difficult time comprehending the struggles of the poor.

    My, tea party haters really need to get their memes straight. One day we’re being characterized as ignorant trailer trash, and the next we’re folks with all sorts of advantages and no sympathy for the poor. It might behoove you to simply attend one yourself and take a good look at the country instead of mindlessly repeating whatever the media line du jour is about the tea partiers. When I went to one, the great majority of people struck me as utterly ordinary; neither toothless hicks nor BMW-driving swells.

    I did not know the details of Hamilton’s last hours. Thank you for a very interesting and informative post, Dave.

  • Donna, thank you for your kind words. I think you succinctly described the way critics of Big Government are described in the Mainstream Media. It does appear critics are either described as the toothless characters one saw chasing Ned Beatty in Deliverance, or a modern version of Mr Howell, upset that more taxes are being heeped upon Lovie and him.

    In truth the alternative “Coffee Party,” that the mainstream media seems to smitten with is indeed the new elite. Gone are Mr & Mrs Howell and their Polo Club Membership. Instead the new elite holds Cocktail Party fundraisers in cosmopolitian neighborhoods in spring, or a large Cape Code home in Marth’a Vineyard in the summer. For the Heinz-Kerry Yachting crowd, maybe a little gnosh in Monaco for the fall.

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A Just War

Monday, July 6, AD 2009

 

 

 

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:

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25 Responses to A Just War

  • Good post, Don. My concerns about the actual justness of the war have always been found in two areas. Given that some of the leading patriots (mostly in MA) like Samuel Adams could rightfully be called rabbel-rousers. Sam Adams was nowhere nearly as thoughtful and principled as his cousin John, but did have a gift of zealous leadership. On the whole I think his contribution is problematic from a Catholic standpoint.

    The other issue ties into the above. Were things really becoming that bad for the colonists? Were they overreacting to legitimate governing decisions? Objectively, it’s hard to say for sure. I always tend to soothe my doubts by considering April 19, 1775. The justice/injustice of all prior affairs become somewhat suspended at that point. General Gage’s actions were an act of war – at the very least a deliberate provocation to war – and the results could have been easily foreseen by any reasonable man.

    Now after a week of discussions and arguments on this blog I’m doubting my doubts. I think you and others have done a good job arguing that the escalations by the crown over the previous decade were not only unjust, but knowingly intended to harm and/or provoke the colonists, and were only to increase in number and severity. But I guess in the end it’s the words of Edmund Burke’s that tend to exonerate the colonists and condemn the king and parliament.

    Good series of posts, sir.

  • I think I agree with all Burke’s arguments. My doubts as to the justice of the war center, I guess, around whether it was really appropriate for the colonists to get all that worked up about the state of taxation in the first place. Historically, I can see why they did. And once they objected, the British crown seemingly did everything in their power to push the colonists further and further in the path towards war.

    But while I can agree that the taxes were without precedent in the colonies and were imposed in a fashion which the colonists had decent reasons for considering unjust, there’s a part of me that wants to say that the level of taxation was simply not worth getting that upset about.

    That may be a case of overly imposing a modern set of experiences and expectations, however.

    That’s a quibble, though. Very well written and researched post. Thank you.

  • I think the biggest problem you’re going to have in justifying the Revolution is in #4. While the imposed taxes were unjust, they were hardly that damaging save in principle. Do taxes justify killing? This is exactly what the Church would demand under #4, so that the good obtained outweighs the evil done. I hardly think so. Moreover, Aquinas is very clear that rebellions themselves are very dangerous, as the loss of order and the resulting chaos is very bad for a society (particularly its unity), thus meaning that rebellions have to meet the very highest standards in order to be considered just. The intrinsic ills of rebellion have to be added to the evils that would have to be outweighed by the good accomplished by independence.

    It’s also worth noting that just b/c the English were provoking us to war doesn’t mean we’re justifying in fighting it. All that means is that England is fighting an unjust war (which I think is VERY clear), not that we’re fighting a just one. Two opposing sides can be engaged in an unjust war against each other at the same time.

    Finally, the reason they have the “chance of success” is that as you can see in Aquinas, there is a sense that the war has to benefit the overall common good. Fighting a losing war b/c of a principle is only going to do further damage to the society. Of course, this is one of the most difficult standards to discern but I think it’s a very necessary one.

  • Very good points Michael.

  • Thank you for your kind comments Rick and for your kind comments Darwin.

    In reference to your comments Michael, I think the Americans were fighting to retain the right to rule themselves and I agree with them that this is a right worth fighting for. As to the Angelic Doctor and rebellions, what has to be taken into account in the American Revolution is that the colonialists were very much fighting to preserve the status quo initially. If King George and Parliament had simply passed an Act in 1775 confirming the status quo prior to the Stamp Act, the Americans will be only taxed by their legislatures and the legislatures have the sole power to legislate in regard to the internal affairs of the colonists, all but a few of the Patriots would have been willing to accept it. No such offer was made, and Independence came about because it became clear to most Americans that the status quo they yearned for would never be granted to them by George III.

  • Two opposing sides can be engaged in an unjust war against each other at the same time.

    I can see how this could be true in certain kinds of situations (say you have two tribal/ethnic groups both trying to ethnic cleanse the others) but in general it would seem to me that if someone wages a unjust aggression against you, wouldn’t it fairly obviously be just to resist that unjust aggression?

    Is there something I’m missing there?

  • I think the Americans were fighting to retain the right to rule themselves and I agree with them that this is a right worth fighting for.

    Yes, it is worth fighting for but is it worth killing over? This is not an issue of a foreign country attempting to take over; this is an example of a jurisdictional battle between the colonial assemblies and Parliament. It’s notable that the Burke quote you give suggests that Parliament would have to grant those rights to the colonists, not that those rights existed before the French & Indian war.

    Furthermore, Aquinas specifically discusses that the presence of a tyrant is not sufficient to justify war & rebellion, as it is possible that God has allowed the tyrant as a punishment for the sins of the people. Thus, in Aquinas’s mind, the tyrant has to be exceptionally bad (at war with his own people, essentially) to justify revolt.

    To put this in perspective, would any state or group of states be conducting a just rebellion due to the federal government’s usurpation of states rights and excessive taxes?

    People are going to die, including innocent people. While that number is not large, that doesn’t matter. Just war doctrine is not a consequentialist theory. To engage is war, to take a life, always requires dire circumstances and no other resorts. That is a very high standard, one which a tax and jurisdictional dispute is hard pressed to meet.

    As to the Angelic Doctor and rebellions, what has to be taken into account in the American Revolution is that the colonialists were very much fighting to preserve the status quo initially. If King George and Parliament had simply passed an Act in 1775 confirming the status quo prior to the Stamp Act, the Americans will be only taxed by their legislatures and the legislatures have the sole power to legislate in regard to the internal affairs of the colonists, all but a few of the Patriots would have been willing to accept it. No such offer was made, and Independence came about because it became clear to most Americans that the status quo they yearned for would never be granted to them by George III.

    I don’t think that quite gets to what Aquinas is saying. He argues that a rejection of the ruling order necessarily leads one to chaos as well undermines the unity of a society. The brother against brother idea is something that horrifies Aquinas, as the division of a society at such root undermines the community as a whole. This makes it difficult for such critical institutions as the community, family, and Church to function properly, thus endangering their ability to provide the necessary framework for man to function, thrive and ultimate receive salvation. Thus Aquinas takes care to argue that rebellion is only permissible in the worst of situations.

    While the colonists were being harmed and treated unjustly, I don’t think they were so mistreated as to justify war.

  • Thus, in Aquinas’s mind, the tyrant has to be exceptionally bad (at war with his own people, essentially) to justify revolt.

    This is precisely why the events of April 19, 1775 is so important. Whether the acts of the king and parliament previously were intended to be oppressive or provocative it became hard to consider them any but at that point. Great Britain began to wage war against the colonial population that night. They hoped to chop the colonial head off in one fast swipe and declare an easy victory. That didn’t happen and they got a very surprising ass-kicking. The war was on from that point forward.

  • Darwin

    I can see how this could be true in certain kinds of situations (say you have two tribal/ethnic groups both trying to ethnic cleanse the others) but in general it would seem to me that if someone wages a unjust aggression against you, wouldn’t it fairly obviously be just to resist that unjust aggression?

    Is there something I’m missing there?

    Well, the just war theory is designed around making sure the war is serving the interests of peace and the common good. So if one fights a war with no chance of winning, even against an unjust aggressor, you’re not serving the interests of peace and the common good; you’re just fighting to fight.

    If you fight a war, particularly in the modern age, that’s going to be exceptionally bloody, it may not be just. Nuclear war is a good example of this. If for example fighting a war required fighting a nuclear war, along with Armageddon that comes with as a result, it wouldn’t be just to fight back.

    Finally, the intention of securing peace has to be there. For example, the Soviets in WWII were repelling an unjust German invasion, however the intention was not to restore peace but to extend the Soviet landholdings.

    Using those criteria, you can see how it’s possible for two sides to be engaging in just war against each other. You could probably plug many other wars into the equation as well.

    It might also be helpful to think about the difference between Lockean justification of revolution/war and Thomistic ones. Locke believed that any violation of the social contract (i.e. rights violation) moved us back into the state of nature, a place where any attack justified killing. We have to be careful to avoid that thinking, as it’s prevalent especially in the narrative justifying the Revolution in American textbooks. Thomas on the other hand takes a much more cautious approach, seeking always to encourage people to peace whereas Locke would lead many people more to war.

    I think your question is good and it shows the difficulty of the just war theory. It very much leads to many scenarios where one has to turn the other cheek.

  • Rick

    This is precisely why the events of April 19, 1775 is so important. Whether the acts of the king and parliament previously were intended to be oppressive or provocative it became hard to consider them any but at that point. Great Britain began to wage war against the colonial population that night. They hoped to chop the colonial head off in one fast swipe and declare an easy victory. That didn’t happen and they got a very surprising ass-kicking. The war was on from that point forward.
    This is good. Y’all are making good points. By the way, I lean towards the American Revolution being unjust but I may be wrong. I do think the American narrative of the war is unjust, but you’re getting to why it might actually be just. Allow me to challenge you a little bit here.

    The problem you’ll have is that Britain was responding to an act of rebellion. That is, the rebellion/war was already happening to some extent. I don’t know that I can say attacking a rebellious group that’s stockpiling weapons is necessarily a oppressive action; most governments should act when that’s going on.

    So I don’t you can say “England attacked, therefore rebellion was justified” b/c England attacked b/c of the rebellion that was already present unless you separate them someone (i.e. Before England attacked Concord, the rebellion was unjust but the methods England used showed that in fact England had created a war against its own people, justifying martial defense). I suppose it’s possible, but it seems rather difficult. But I’m open to your response.

  • After the first paragraph, there should be no italics. Mea culpa.

  • “Yes, it is worth fighting for but is it worth killing over?”

    Without a doubt in my mind. In the case of the Americans they were being told that although they had thought they ruled themselves, Parliament, at any time, could alter their government and impose any laws they chose. This was far more than a jurisdictional dispute. It went to the heart of whether the colonialists were free men, or mere subjects who had no voice in their government.

    “as it is possible that God has allowed the tyrant as a punishment for the sins of the people.”

    With all due respect to the Angelic Doctor one could just as easily suppose that God brings a tyrant forth to provoke a rebellion in order to serve His purposes. The motives that can be ascribed to God for human events are endless and I think resting public policy on an assertion that something is “God’s Will” is normally a mistake since the will of God is often exceptionally inscrutable in my experience.

    “To put this in perspective, would any state or group of states be conducting a just rebellion due to the federal government’s usurpation of states rights and excessive taxes?”

    Sure under these conditions. The Federal government imposes new taxes on only the Midwestern States. These states are stripped of representation in Congress. When legislatures and citizens protest the unfairness of this, federal legislation is enacted ensuring that all state officials in these states will be appointed by the President and that the legislatures will meet in session only when these new officials say that they will. A Declaratory Act is passed by Congress stating that the Midwestern States are subject to the laws passed by Congress in all things, any acts of the legislatures or the state constitutions notwithstanding. In the meantime Chicago, the hotbed of resistance, is garrisoned by federal troops. Under these conditions I would be willing to place my 52 year old carcass at the disposal of the state forces of Illinois organizing to fight this.

  • “He argues that a rejection of the ruling order necessarily leads one to chaos as well undermines the unity of a society.”

    Yes, but in the case of the colonies they had been ruling themselves since the inception of the colonies. It was George III and Parliament who were disturbing the ruling order.

  • On Burke, Peter Stanlis and the sadly departed Francis Canavan SJ have written much worth reading about him and North America.

    What a genius he was…..

  • Thanks, Michael. First:

    I don’t know that I can say attacking a rebellious group that’s stockpiling weapons is necessarily a oppressive action; most governments should act when that’s going on.

    I think it’s important to consider time and place. Just because our modern society has been so blessed by material prosperity, relative peace, etc. AND due to those things has become a little whacked about how it views firearms and weapons, that we need to be careful how we consider an act of disarming a population – and how to view “stockpiling weapons”.

    To our modern ears “stockpiling weapons” sounds like something a doomsday cult does in preparation for Armageddon. However, colonial America was still basically frontier living. Firearms were absolutely necessary for harvesting wildlife as well as defending oneself. Remember, the army of the colonies was a citizen militia that was raised and supported in part by Great Britain (who used these very militias to fight her battles with the Indians). Stockpiling weapons was an ongoing business, it was necessary and a constant thing all along.

    You don’t have to be a member of the Sons of Liberty – or even be terribly sympathetic to them – to be very distraught about the idea of the imperial government sending out regulars to confiscate your weapons store. The mounting tensions regardless of who was at fault for what and when leave one with little choice but to assign nefarious motives to that act.

    After all, just because General Gage had the authority to do it, doesn’t make it just. There are limits to what a government can do its citizens, right? Personally I think they crossed the line and I think it’s pretty obvious the citizens (not just the SoL) of the day thought so too.

  • Thanks for fixing my last post.

    Rick:

    My history may be fuzzy, but it was clear that they weren’t stockpiling just for hunting or Indians, but for resistance to the Brits, right? I’m all for the 2nd amendment and all that, but I think stockpiling against the government is a serious act of rebellion.

    Donald:

    Without a doubt in my mind. In the case of the Americans they were being told that although they had thought they ruled themselves, Parliament, at any time, could alter their government and impose any laws they chose. This was far more than a jurisdictional dispute. It went to the heart of whether the colonialists were free men, or mere subjects who had no voice in their government.

    This is Aquinas’s thoughts.Summa II Q42 A II.

    Reply to Objection 3. A tyrannical government is not just, because it is directed, not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, as the Philosopher states (Polit. iii, 5; Ethic. viii, 10). Consequently there is no sedition in disturbing a government of this kind, unless indeed the tyrant’s rule be disturbed so inordinately, that his subjects suffer greater harm from the consequent disturbance than from the tyrant’s government. Ondeed it is the tyrant rather that is guilty of sedition, since he encourages discord and sedition among his subjects, that he may lord over them more securely; for this is tyranny, being conducive to the private good of the ruler, and to the injury of the multitude.

    What I’m challenging you on is this. That while England may have been tyrannical, that the disturbance that came from the colonist’s resistance was greater than the harm done from England, thus meaning that the overall common good was harmed and the war was unjust. We may get to an impasse here, but I think you’ll need to show not only that England was being tyrannical, but that it was of such devastating tyranny as to justify war.

    With all due respect to the Angelic Doctor one could just as easily suppose that God brings a tyrant forth to provoke a rebellion in order to serve His purposes. The motives that can be ascribed to God for human events are endless and I think resting public policy on an assertion that something is “God’s Will” is normally a mistake since the will of God is often exceptionally inscrutable in my experience.

    I think Aquinas’s point is to give one pause before assuming that jettisoning the tyrant is the will of God b/c he is a tyrant and is in sin, which is the way Locke looks at it. Of course God may will that the tyran be defeated, but he may not, which is why it is very important to look at the other tenets of the just war theory; namely the amount of damage being done by the tyrant compared to the amount of damage done by a violent rebellion.

    As to the federal v. states example, it may also be important to remember that the colonists were not innocent in all this. There were quite a few of them, especially anti-Catholic Sam Adams, who were actively seeking to provoke war. The Boston Tea Party is such an action. While the Brits overreacted, it’s not like most of their moves were out of the blue and solely after a desire to grab power, but to try to retain order.

    Of course, how much each action was for order and how much for power of Parliament is a difficult trick, which is why these decisions are very complicated and require much prayer.

    P.S. Thanks to the both of you for arguing in a charitable manner. It’s rare to see it on blogs, and so I like to compliment it when I see it.

  • Michael, I guess I’m disputing the the term “stockpiling” and then using it as a means to show ill intent on behalf of the colonists. The arsenal at Concord was already in existence prior to this lead up and was not something anyone would have considered threatening or an ominous sign. That the militia may have felt threatened by the actions of the British and were solicitous about keeping the munition stores full and safe is not an act of aggression or an imminent threat. I guess what I’m trying to say is the arsenal at Concord was the default and prior to the escalations was actually something the British looked favorably upon.

    I’m trying to be careful to not utilize biased rhetoric in support of my position, though I know I basically just did. However, I did try to use it in support of genuine argument. I can only explain feeling the need to use that is that I think your characterization is laden with it the other way.

  • Rick:

    I’m trying to be careful to not utilize biased rhetoric in support of my position, though I know I basically just did. However, I did try to use it in support of genuine argument.

    Absolutely. I hope I didn’t give the impression I thought otherwise. I thought your observation was a good one and one I need to keep in mind.

    Michael, I guess I’m disputing the the term “stockpiling” and then using it as a means to show ill intent on behalf of the colonists. The arsenal at Concord was already in existence prior to this lead up and was not something anyone would have considered threatening or an ominous sign. That the militia may have felt threatened by the actions of the British and were solicitous about keeping the munition stores full and safe is not an act of aggression or an imminent threat. I guess what I’m trying to say is the arsenal at Concord was the default and prior to the escalations was actually something the British looked favorably upon.

    That’s what I was asking. Namely, was the purpose or level of the munitions such to be an obvious threat to the Brits. Now I will need to go do some research on my own to look more into what the situation was in Concord. Do you have any links or sources that may be helpful in this regard?

  • Michael, I breezed through a couple wiki entries and am satisfied enough with the content to stand here feeling both confirmed and corrected.

    The Minutemen entry is adequate enough to get a feel of the militia system and it’s history and how it was effected by the building crisis with the Crown (see the section about the revolutionary period). I think this is relevant to understand that the militias weren’t merely an organized revolutionary outlaws and that they were by nature armed by themselves and that was the status quo.

    Read about the Powder Alarm to see how things were and how they changed during the British escalations. Here is where I was wrong. I stated that the Concord arsenal predated these events. It did not. I thought Concord contained one of the magazines that were emptied and munitions hidden. Apparently the munitions came from another town to be hidden there.

    See the Lexington and Concord entry for details on the British intentions to confiscate the colonist’s arms and the hunt for the cannon and munitions. Oh, and the fires set too.

    IDK, it’s hard for me to not consider those events as an act of war.

  • When we consider the justice of the colonists cause, we should do well not to forget their opposition to the Quebec act and to limits on their ability to encroach on territory that the British crown had yielded, in treaties, to Indian tribes. I’m not sure how these causes, the justice of which is, at the least, suspect, would affect the overall jus ad bellum of the Revolution, but the do seem like they need to be considered.

  • I believe that by “there must be a serious prospect of success” can be interpreted to mean whether the intended consequences will be met without any unintended adverse consequences which are just as bad if not worse then the evils being fought. For example, World War II may have eliminated the Nazis but resulted in a great part of Europe falling under the yoke of Communism for over 60 years.

    As Howard Zinn once wrote:

    We’ve got to rethink this question of war and come to the conclusion that war cannot be accepted, no matter what the reasons given, or the excuse: liberty, democracy; this, that. War is by definition the indiscriminate killing of huge numbers of people for ends that are uncertain. Think about means and ends, and apply it to war. The means are horrible, certainly. The ends, uncertain. That alone should make you hesitate.

  • Awakaman, while your point is not lost on me, and I have great sympathy regarding the fate of Eastern Europe post-war, I think WWII is poor support for your point. I think FDR selling out Eastern Europe to Stalin was basically immoral, imprudent, unnecessary and unwise. However, the fate of those people would have been no better had the Axis Powers not been defeated, plus much of Western Europe and a good chunk of Asia and other parts of the world would have suffered the same fate. And since Western Europe and the US prevailed and were able to stand as a successful contrasting example – and as a stumbling block to Communist expansion – those 60 years may have been a drop in the bucket in comparison to what might have been. I don’t like playing “what-if” all that much, but I think these are reasonable observations and conclusions.

  • Rick:

    You state that the “fate of these people would have been no better had the Axis Powers not been defeated” but the point of my previous post was maybe they would not have been in a better position under the Axis then the Communists but a lot fewer of them would have been dead as a result of a four year war of attrition.

    “[T]hose 60 years may have been a drop in the bucket compared to what might have been?” I think the most probable result of non-British/French/US intervention would have been a prolonged war of attrition between Germany and the USSR which woud have resulted in the collapse of both regiemes.

    Finally, what do you mean by the US prevailed

  • No, awakaman, without a doubt one of them would have prevailed, probably the Nazis without lendlease to the USSR and the western bombing campaign that tied down so much of the Luftwaffe in the West, not to mention a third of the Wehrmacht that, without western opposition, could have been deployed against the USSR. Then the West would probably have faced a Nazi regime armed with nuclear ICBMs circa 1952.

  • Hand hit the submit button prior to finishing:

    Finallhy what do you mean by “the US prevailed and were able to stand as a successful contrasting example.” How so? By showing that we were willing to kill alot of our own troops, others troops and a lot of innocent civilians in the name of “liberty and freedom/” By showing that we were willing to enter into an alliance with one evil in order to defeat another? Sure the Axis were defeated but excuse me if I view the post WWII world as much worse than the ante bellum world – and that applies to the effect the prolonged and expanded war had on areas of the world which were not ceaded to Stalin and Mao after the war.

Charles Carroll: Our Catholic Founding Father

Saturday, July 4, AD 2009

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

Monday, June 29, AD 2009

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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41 Responses to Read The Declaration on the Fourth

  • For younger kids, try playing a video or recording of Schoolhouse Rock’s “No More Kings,” “Fireworks”, and “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World.” My daughter and I love these and to this day I sometimes catch myself humming these tunes.

    In fact it wasn’t until I listened to “Fireworks” with my daughter that I realized that five people worked on writing the Declaration (“And though some people tried to fight it,/A committee was formed to write it,/Benjamin Franklin, Philip Livingston, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Thomas Jefferson,/they got it done…)

  • A pure statement of Enlightenment era liberalism. Worship at its temple if you will!

  • Tony, that a total statist such as yourself would have little but scorn for the Declaration is of absolutely no surprise.

  • A pure statement of Enlightenment era liberalism. Worship at its temple if you will!

    We’ll be sure to pass that along to anyone tempted to worship the Declaration, rather than think about it and debate it as the posts suggests.

    Thank you for adding your characteristically thoughtful perspective on matters U.S. to this discussion.

  • “We Americans have a wonderful heritage..”

    You have a system of government than is no better or no worse than that of compatable countries. Get off the American exceptionalist hobby horse. And it most assuredly is an Enlightenment-era liberal dcoument — if that’s your cup of tea, fine, but stop pretending it is something else.

  • The idea Tony that men derive their rights from God is as old as civilization, as is the idea that governments that push their people too far leave them no choice but to revolt. To label these as solely the product of the Englightenment is to overrate the Enlightenment and to underrate the rest of recorded history. The American Revolution was a great reminder of first principles regarding government and individual liberty.

    Your lack of appreciation for the role of the American Revolution in ushering in the modern era of individual liberty is as unsurprising as it is ahistoric. When it comes to America you hate the country and the horse it rode in on. What else is new.

  • So what do you think MM believes: That humans are created unequal? That God doesn’t endow us with rights? That governments are better when they rule by dictat rather than by the consent of the governed?

  • “a total statist such as yourself..”

    Sorry, nice try, but my objection comes from the Catholic faith. As I grow older, I’m less drawn to Murray, and more to Schindler, when it comes to making peace with American liberalism. One major distinction is between the indidualism of liberalism and the person of Catholicism.

  • You have a system of government than is no better or no worse than that of compatable countries.

    Assuming that you mean “comparable”, it would probably be most helpful if you would list for everyone what you consider to be 5-10 comparable countries.

  • Man, this is torture – on the one hand we’re treated to yet another cliche trodden display from Tony, on the other hand this is one of the times that the cliche trodden response is half-right. Jefferson is actually an embodiment of the type of Enlightenment secular-left thinking that is problematic. The Declaration itself is less of a true ideological marker than a very good lawyer’s brief making the argument for rebellion. I am perhaps one of those that puts less stock into the document, but that said, it is one of Jefferson’s greatest accomplishments (that’s as much praise as you’ll ever get out of me for the man.)

  • I’ve a funny feeling that somebody who comes in here and denies the real presence would get a more sympathetic hearing than one who criticizes the American founding myth.

    Where do I “hate” the country? And how does one display emotion toward a geographic entity with administrative borders? Doesn’t make much sense.

    Let me repeat what I said – the American system is no better and no worse than countless other systems in the modern world. How is that “hate”? Its political system is in no way superior to (say) that of any European country today. And no, the world does not owe a debt to the US, except to the extent that all owe a debt (in one form or other) to Enlightenment-era liberalism (and as I said before, there are many benefits of this system, but also many problems).

    But you need to put the American exceptionalist mullarky to bed. God does not favor the USA in any special manner. The USA has no prophetic role in the world. Winthrop was wrong, and Reagan was wrong to invoke Withrop. This is Calvinist clap-trap, and shame on Catholics for swallowing it hook, line, and sinker.

    The only aspect that is 100 percent allied with Catholicism is the right to life. Aside from this, there is a wide chasm between the Church’s approach to freedom, and this definition of liberty. And the “pursuit of happiness” is directlty utilitarian — true freedom is marked by choosing good and avoiding evil. Don’t you see this “pursuit of happiness” utilitarianism leads to materialism, hedonism, a sexual free for all, divorce, abortion, gay marriage? This is what happens when you replace “happiness” with the “good”, when “individual” replaces “person”.

  • 5-10 comparable countries? That’s easy. UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Australia, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Austria, Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Canada etc etc etc.

  • Which of these countries has a founding document based on the personalist philosophy of the Church?

  • And given that most of those are in the EU, how do you square their denial of a Christian heritage with America’s foundational sins?

  • Tony, but for the United States of America, you would now be penning hymns of praise to the latest successor of Hitler or Stalin, or be in a concentration camp or a gulag. As for the hatred you feel for America, anyone who has any knowledge of your body of work on the net would be left in no doubt as to the extreme contempt you feel for this nation in which you make your living.

  • I’ve a funny feeling that somebody who comes in here and denies the real presence would get a more sympathetic hearing than one who criticizes the American founding myth.

    Um….what? I think it’s fine to criticize the Declaration of Independence and American exceptionalism. I’ll do so myself in various contexts. It is your tendency to caricature and misrepresent others I find wearisome (e.g. worshiping the Declaration above). As to the real presence, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Was there a thread I missed?

  • Which of these countries has a founding document based on the personalist philosophy of the Church?

    None, which is really my point. Donald keeps trying to pin me as somebody who “hates” America. That makes no sense. It’s perfectly fine to work with this system of government, and direct it toward the common good. It has some virtues, and some problems. I could say the same with most systems of government. But must still note the flawed anthropology, and we must desist from assuming it is the greatest system in history.

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  • It’s perfectly fine to work with this system of government, and direct it toward the common good. It has some virtues, and some problems. I could say the same with most systems of government. But must still note the flawed anthropology, and we must desist from assuming it is the greatest system in history.

    Why can’t a Catholic believe it is the best system in history (or the worst except compared to all the others, if you prefer)? It’s a matter of opinion, not doctrine. I’m fairly ambivalent about the matter, but I don’t see why someone couldn’t take a position. Enlightenment anthropology may be flawed, but it doesn’t follow that the Declaration can’t be interpreted in a Catholic manner or that the U.S. government in practice is worse (or better) than Ireland’s for example.

  • “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.”

    What here is inconsistent with a Catholic anthropology?

  • I’ve a funny feeling that somebody who comes in here and denies the real presence would get a more sympathetic hearing than one who criticizes the American founding myth.

    This is an odd sort of thing to do: Assume that someone would do something that you don’t like, and then blame them for it. And silence in the face of heresy is an odd thing to accuse the authors of this blog of, when it’s been observed on several occasions that on your own blog there tends to be deafening silence when people show up and dissent from Catholic teaching, so long as they do so from a cultural leftist point of view.

    5-10 comparable countries? That’s easy. UK, France, Germany, Ireland, Australia, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Austria, Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, New Zealand, Canada etc etc etc.

    So you’d say that it’s in no sense better or worse that the UK has a state church (which is, from a Catholic point of view, schismatic and heretical) of which it’s monarch is the head?

    And you would certainly not consider the lack of a guarantee of free exercise of religion in France, where public signs of religion are banned and many church’s remain state owned, is no more or less preferable to the US approach?

    Etc, etc?

    Look, the US is certainly not perfect or chosen by God any such silliness, but that doesn’t mean that its differences from other nations are a matter of complete indifference either.

    Given that these countries all have different constitutions and structures of government, if you really think there is absolutely nothing to choose between them then you must think that the differences have no value. Thus, for instance, despite all your talk, about health care it must be a matter of total indifference whether one has an approach such as that of the US or one like the UK or France.

    Sheesh… A little precision of expression please.

  • MM,

    Let’s take it point by point. Let’s start here:

    “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certian unalienable rights…”

    “The ultimate source of human rights is not found in the mere will of human beings[307], in the reality of the State, in public powers, but in man himself and in God his Creator. These rights are “universal, inviolable, inalienable”[308]. Universal because they are present in all human beings, without exception of time, place or subject. Inviolable insofar as “they are inherent in the human person and in human dignity”[309] and because “it would be vain to proclaim rights, if at the same time everything were not done to ensure the duty of respecting them by all people, everywhere, and for all people”[310]. Inalienable insofar as “no one can legitimately deprive another person, whoever they may be, of these rights, since this would do violence to their nature”[311].” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 153)

  • And then this:

    “…Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers, from the consent of the governed…”

    “395. The subject of political authority is the people considered in its entirety as those who have sovereignty. In various forms, this people transfers the exercise of sovereignty to those whom it freely elects as its representatives, but it preserves the prerogative to assert this sovereignty in evaluating the work of those charged with governing and also in replacing them when they do not fulfil their functions satisfactorily. Although this right is operative in every State and in every kind of political regime, a democratic form of government, due to its procedures for verification, allows and guarantees its fullest application.[803]” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church)

  • And this:

    “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.”

    “401. …Recourse to arms is seen as an extreme remedy for putting an end to a “manifest, long-standing tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country”.[825]” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church)

  • Really it seems the Declaration is in accord with the Church’s Social teaching.

  • Bravo Phillip! This type of thought and debate about the Declaration was precisely what this post was intended to inspire!

  • Phillip, do you see the core difference between the “person” of Catholic social teaching and the “individual” of liberalism?

  • These words are now forgotten, the country is nothing more than a dish served only to rich corporates. I hope one day people do start to act on these words. but now the government is just destroying American people. See: http://eventsoftheworld.wordpress.com/2009/06/12/american-economy-a-highway-robbery/

  • Phillip, do you see the core difference between the “person” of Catholic social teaching and the “individual” of liberalism?

    Why don’t you try explaining it instead of making snippy comments that evade the core of the argument.

  • Actually I would copy from Maritain’s analysis that I read a year ago and don’t recall from memory but I don’t have the book in front of me. Essentially my thoughts are as follows.

    Jacques Maritain sought to reestablish the understanding of the human person as a unity of body (matter) and soul (spirit.) Through this unity, a realist view of epistemology is again possible. For it is through sense experience provided by the body and the action of the rational soul upon this sense data that one knows the world. One realizes a world that has being independent of one’s own thoughts or will. It is not my ideas that form the world but rather real, existing objects that have being that inform my thoughts. We in turn can reflect upon ourselves and be aware of our own being. From this we can also see that we along with others around us come into and in turn pass out of being. From this one comes to realize one’s own being as well as that of others is limited and contingent in nature.
    Given this contingency, there comes the realization that there is necessarily a Being that is not limited or contingent. This Being which transcends the world, calls all contingent beings into existence. This Being as a result is not of the world and in turns orders it to an end that is transcendent – unlimited Being itself. This knowledge is not the result of complicated philosophical development however, but rather the result of the intuition of true reason open to all men. Thus apart from Hobbes, Maritain maintains there is the reality of the spiritual. At the same time as opposed to Kant, this immaterial reality is discernable by human reason that calls us to an order that transcends our reason and ourselves. Thus for Maritain metaphysics is possible and necessary for a true understanding of what it is to be man.
    Man’s reason is not capable of discerning all truth due to the limits of human reason. Natural reason cannot attain to the fullness of supernatural truth. Thus reason must receive Revelation to complete its understanding of Truth. This openness to Revelation does not deny or destroy reason however, but raises it above what it can achieve alone and perfects it. It is through Revelation then, they we come to see that this Being is not merely a transcendent, self-thinking spirit, but rather a living, tri-personal God. As such, this God is a community of perfect persons in perfect communion with the other. As pure persons in perfect act there is no individuality or sense of part for the good of all is the good of each person. This good is the Divine Essence of Divinity co-equal in each person.
    Man as created by the Triune God necessarily reflects this triune nature. As created being, human nature is not the same as God’s and can only analogically be spoken of in reference to the Divine Essence. What then is man? Maritain distinguishes between the human being as an individual and as a person. Human beings are individuals in that they are individuated in matter. But this individuation does not define the person as an individual is incapable of fully developing his self in solitude. Rather, as a reflection of the Divine Persons, the human person is ordered to others in his very nature. For God as triune persons is not pure self-reflective thought but is necessarily giving in His Being and in calling others into being through the creative act. God, who is self-knowledge and self-gift, in turn becomes the image of our nature which is called to knowledge and gift. Also by our relatedness to God as first cause and final end of our being is the source of the dignity of the person. This is an end which is not temporal nor material but eternal and spiritual.
    Thus the person is a subject with the dignity of a transcendent destiny. But while this destiny is supernatural, it does not detach oneself from this world. In both the material and the spiritual order human beings are called to participate in the common good. In virtue of their individuality, humans are part of and have obligations to the social order. But in virtue of the supernatural end to which they are called, persons cannot be reduced to a simple part of that order. At the same time, man’s realization of his personality leads him to fulfill this in gift of self – a gift that works to true justice out of love in the social order. This proceeds from a respect for true reason and thus the legitimate autonomy of the secular sphere. True advances in science, social rights, etc are respected as is the legitimate use of reason to determine the proper means of ordering the social order in accord with the good. Through this truly autonomous secular reason informed by transcendent truth, it is possible to create a society that is “truly human and progressive.” This is fully realized through the ordering of society to promote the supernatural end of the persons comprising it. This is thus Maritain’s vision of a true and integral humanism in which man, cognizant of his dignity and true end, embraces what is truly good in human reason and self-giving for the good of all.

    Thoughts?

  • Also,

    Why don’t you acknowledge that the principles in the Declaration are consistent with Catholic thought. A tremendous accomplishment considering it was written almost a hundred years before the first social encyclical. An exceptional accomplishment one might say. Given the circumstances, with multiple different policital forces at play among the 13 colonies, it is also quite amazing that the group of men involved could have come up with it. One might say it was almost Providential.

  • OK, here’s the one-line version. The “individual” is sovereign — in other words, he has the right to do as he wishes as long as he does not trample on the toes of another. The “person” is only defined in the sense of a relationship to others — this is a Trinitarian anthropology. Here’s the longer version, from one of my co-bloggers: http://vox-nova.com/2008/03/11/person-vs-individual/

    To take a somewhat different context that makes the same point, the Catholic perspective is not so much “I think, therefore I am”, but “I am thought of, therefore I am”.

  • As my discussion of the person notes in its Trinitarian foundation. So how is Enlightenment individualism expressed in the principles as stated in the Declaration? And you haven’t answered the question if the principles of the Declaration are consistent with Catholic Social thought.

  • To take a somewhat different context that makes the same point, the Catholic perspective is not so much “I think, therefore I am”, but “I am thought of, therefore I am”.

    Actually, I don’t think that’s the case at all, at least not in the stark terms that you’ve put it. The fact that persons exist in relationship does not mean that they are defined by being perceived by others.

    “I am thought of, therefore I am,” would suggest that the person does not have objective existence and nature.

  • Phillip, do you see the core difference between the “person” of Catholic social teaching and the “individual” of liberalism?

    The question you should ask of yourself MM is, can a thing be objectively good or just or in supportive of the dignity of the person regardless of whether the people who instituted it had an erroneous worldview? Can someone attempt to come from the right place and end up with a wrong or bad idea?

    I’ll make a hypothetical here. If someone is against abortion and works to end it because he thinks the moon god is offended by the practice, is his desired outcome less preferable to a Catholic who thinks abortion is a matter of women’s liberation, reproductive freedom, or subsidiarity in action?

    Point is, if the Angelic Doctor penned those words from the DoI you’d probably have no problem with them.

  • The “individual” is sovereign — in other words, he has the right to do as he wishes as long as he does not trample on the toes of another. The “person” is only defined in the sense of a relationship to others — this is a Trinitarian anthropology.

    So Robinson Crusoe isn’t a “person”? Or what?

    It’s still perfectly mysterious what political implications you think you can draw from this purported distinction, and why.

  • I would say he is a person if only in his relationship with God. Just as a hermit is. The point is that there are no real, solitary individuals. Such a concept only exists in philosophy. Rather everyone is a individual person that as called to relationship with others. Such Enlightenment philosophies that argued there are radical individuals may have had some impact on the Founding Fathers but the extent is still unclear and far from making definitive pronouncements about the impurity of the Declaration and other founding documents.

    Rather the Declaration and other such documents are in part idealistic and in part practical. The practical reality that all persons are individual persons is encompassed in the thought of the Declaration and is again consistent with Catholic thought.

  • Again from the Compendium. Note that the Church teaches that the person finds purpose at the individual and social level. Any philosophy that does not take this into account is flawed from a Catholic perspective.

    “384. The human person is the foundation and purpose of political life.[775] Endowed with a rational nature, the human person is responsible for his own choices and able to pursue projects that give meaning to life at the individual and social level. Being open both to the Transcendent and to others is his characteristic and distinguishing trait. Only in relation to the Transcendent and to others does the human person reach the total and complete fulfilment of himself. This means that for the human person, a naturally social and political being, “social life is not something added on” [776] but is part of an essential and indelible dimension.”

  • By the way, MM, nice jaw-dropper over on Vox Nova. I mean, how did you not think of the fact that teenage birthrates are inversely related to abortion rates? That is, Obama-voting states have more abortion, which is why their teenage birthrates are lower. For evidence, see http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/06/pro-life-states-have-lower-abortion.html

    Congrats on that.

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  • MM, I’m surprised that you haven’t at least changed the graphic after the obvious has been pointed out . . . not that I expect you ever to correct an intellectual error, but you do occasionally try to keep up the pretense of being against abortion, a pretense that is utterly belied by ridiculing “red states” for having less abortion.