Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas at Mount Vernon

 “Christmas was primarily a religious holiday in 18th century Virginia, described by one colonist in 1774 as 'the day set apart to remember the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.'  It was also, however, a festive occasion marked by visits between friends and relatives, parties, and public assemblies.  A great deal has been written about the Washingtons and Christmas, much of it greatly embellished and characterized by wishful thinking.  As evidenced by George Washington's correspondence, his diaries and cash accounts, Christmas at Mount Vernon followed the typical Virginia pattern, which was far more simple than twentieth century Americans may feel comfortable with.

Religion played a part in the observance of the holiday at Mount Vernon, for the Washingtons occasionally attended church on Christmas day. In 1770, Christmas was a Tuesday and after going to nearby Pohick Church in the morning, the family returned to Mount Vernon for dinner.  Similar patterns were followed in 1771 and 1772, when December 25th fell on a Wednesday and Friday, respectively.  During his first year as president, Washington attended St. Paul's Church in New York City on Christmas day, a Friday, and later a number of 'respectable' visitors came to see Martha Washington at her regular weekly levee.  Records from other years are not always complete, so the Washingtons could easily have gone to church on other Christmases for which there is no documentation.

While they preferred to spend the holiday with family and friends, George and Martha Washington themselves were seldom the guests of others at Christmas.  The surviving records are not complete, however, except for the years of the French & Indian and Revolutionary Wars, when George Washington was with the army, 1769 was one Christmas he and Martha spent away from home.  The whole family went to Williamsburg that fall.  While George Washington attended the House of Burgesses, his wife and her two children amused themselves in Virginia's capital city and in visits to Martha's sister at Eltham Plantation.  The family headed for home on December 22nd, but spent several days in Fredericksburg with George Washington's sister's family at Kenmore and with his mother.  They arrived at Mount Vernon on the 28th in time for dinner.  A letter from Martha Washington to her granddaughter makes an even stronger case for the family's usual holiday practice.  During the presidency, while Nelly Custis spent the winter of 1795-96 with her mother in Virginia, her grandmother tried to keep her apprised of social events in Philadelphia, writing shortly after the start of the new year:  ‘The President and myself are much obliged to you my dear for your good wishes to us & we have spent our Christmas at home as we always have done....’”

Sunday, November 14, 2010

John Adams: "Thoughts on Government"

“Thoughts on Government” was written by John Adams during the spring of 1776 in response to a resolution of the North Carolina Provincial Congress which requested Adams's suggestions on the establishment of a new government and the drafting of a constitution. Adams says that "Politics is the Science of human Happiness -and the Felicity of Societies depends on the Constitutions of Government under which they live." Many of the ideas put forth in Adams's pamphlet were adopted in December 1776 by the framers of North Carolina's first constitution.  Adams describes the purpose (or end) of government, which is happiness, and the source of happiness, which is virtue, which provides the only sure foundation for government.  Following are excerpts from his essay:

“MY DEAR SIR,--If I was equal to the task of forming a plan for the government of a colony, I should be flattered with your request, and very happy to comply with it; because, as the divine science of politics is the science of social happiness, and the blessings of society depend entirely on the constitutions of government, which are generally institutions that last for many generations, there can be no employment more agreeable to a benevolent mind than a research after the best…

We ought to consider what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all divines and moral philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow, that the form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.

All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue. Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this.

If there is a form of government, then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?

Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.

Honor is truly sacred, but holds a lower rank in the scale of moral excellence than virtue. Indeed, the former is but a part of the latter, and consequently has not equal pretensions to support a frame of government productive of human happiness.

The foundation of every government is some principle or passion in the minds of the people. The noblest principles and most generous affections in our nature, then, have the fairest chance to support the noblest and most generous models of government…

You and I, my dear friend, have been sent into life at a time when the greatest lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to live. How few of the human race have ever enjoyed an opportunity of making an election of government, more than of air, soil, or climate, for themselves or their children! When, before the present epocha, had three millions of people full power and a fair opportunity to form and establish the wisest and happiest government that human wisdom can contrive? I hope you will avail yourself and your country of that extensive learning and indefatigable industry which you possess, to assist her in the formation of the happiest governments and the best character of a great people.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Good and Bad Magistrate

Algernon Sidney (1622-1683) wrote his Discourses Concerning Government in argument against the divine right of Kings, and in support of individual liberty and representative government. Discourses was first published in England in 1698 (with several later printings), and was first in America in 1805.  Thomas Jefferson cited Algernon Sidney’s writings as one of the sources for the “authority” of the Declaration of Independence. He endorsed Sidney's "Discourses Concerning Government" as "a rich treasure of republican principles" and "probably the best elementary book of the principles of government, as founded in natural right which has ever been published in any language." In Discourses, Sidney reviews the history of governments from Biblical, through Greek, Roman and English eras.  In one of its most significant passages, he discusses and analyzes the characteristics of "Good and Bad Magistrates."  This selection is quoted verbatim by Trenchard and Gordon in their Cato's Letters (published as pamphlets in Great Britain from 1720-1723) which were popular in the American colonies at the time of the revolution.  Sidney's insights into what makes a magistrate (a government leader) "good" or "bad" are still applicable today:

"Reason and experience instruct us, that every man acts according to the end he proposes to himself. The good magistrate seeks the good of the people committed to his care, that he may perform the end of his institution: and knowing that chiefly to consist in justice and virtue, he endeavors to plant and propagate them; and by doing this he procures his own good as well as that of the public. He knows there is no safety where there is no strength, no strength without union, no union without justice; no justice where faith and truth, in accomplishing public and private contracts, is wanting. This he perpetually inculcates, and thinks it a great part of his duty, by precept and example, to educate the youth in a love of virtue and truth, that they may be seasoned with them, and filled with an abhorrence of vice and falsehood, before they attain that age which is exposed to the most violent temptations, and in the which they may, by their crimes, bring great mischiefs upon the public. He would do all this, tho' it were to his own prejudice. But as good actions always carry a reward with them, these contribute in a high measure to his own advantage. By preferring the interest of the people before his own, he gains their affection, and all that is in their power comes with it; whilst he unites them to one another, he unites all to himself: in leading them to virtue, he increases their strength, and by that means provides for his own safety, glory, and power.

"On the other side, such as seek different ends must take different ways. When a magistrate fancies he is not made for the people, but the people for him; that he does not govern for them, but for himself; and that the people live only to increase his glory, or furnish matter for his pleasures; he does not inquire what he may do for them, but what he may draw from them. By this means he sets up an interest of profit, pleasure, or pomp, in himself, repugnant to the good of the public, for which he is made to be what he is. These contrary ends certainly divide the nation into parties; and whilst every one endeavors to advance that to which he is addicted, occasions of hatred for injuries every day done, or thought to be done, and received, must necessarily arise. This creates a most fierce and irreconcilable enmity, because the occasions are frequent, important, and universal, and the causes thought to be most just. The people think it the greatest of all crimes, to convert that power to their hurt, which was instituted for their good; and that the injustice is aggravated by perjury and ingratitude, which comprehend all manner of ill; and the magistrate gives the name of sedition or rebellion to whatsoever they do for the preservation of themselves, and their own rights. When men's spirits are thus prepared, a small matter sets them on fire; but if no accident happens to blow them into a flame, the course of justice is certainly interrupted, the public affairs are neglected; and when any occasion, whether foreign or domestic arises, in which the magistrate stands in need of the people's assistance, they, whose affections are alienated, not only shew an unwillingness to serve him with their persons and estates, but fear that by delivering him from his distress, they strengthen their enemy, and enable him to oppress them; and he, fancying his will to be unjustly opposed, or his due more unjustly denied, is filled with a dislike of what he sees, and a fear of worse of the future. Whilst he endeavors to ease himself of the one, and to provide against the other, he usually increases the evils of both and jealousies are on both sides multiplied. Every man knows that the governed are in a great measure under the power of the governor; but as no man, or number of men, is willingly subject to those who seek their ruin, such as fall in so great a misfortune continue no longer under it than force, fear, or necessity, may be able to oblige them. But as such a necessity can hardly lie longer upon a great people, than till the evil be fully discovered and comprehended, and their virtue, strength, and power, be united to expel it; the ill magistrate looks upon all things, that may conduce to that end, as so many preparatives to his ruin; and by the help of those, who are of his party, will endeavor to prevent that union, and diminish that strength, virtue, power, and courage, which he knows to be bent against him. And as truth, faithful dealing due performance of contracts, and integrity of manners, are bonds of union, and helps to good, he will always by tricks, artifices, cavils, and all means possible, endeavor to establish falsehood and dishonesty; whilst other emissaries and instruments of iniquity, by corrupting the oath, and seducing such as can be brought to lewdness and debauchery, bring the people to such a pass, that they may neither care nor dare to vindicate their rights, and that those who would do it, may so far suspect each other, as not to confer upon, much less to join in, any action tending to the public deliverance.

"This distinguishes the good from the bad magistrate, that faithful from the unfaithful; and those who adhere to either, living in the same principle, must walk in the same ways. They who uphold the rightful power of a just magistracy, encourage virtue and justice; teach men what they ought to do, suffer, or expect from others; fix them upon principles of honesty; and generally advance every thing that tends to the increase of the valour, strength, greatness, and happiness of the nation, creating a good union among them, and bringing every man to an exact understanding of his own and the public rights. On the other side, he that would introduce an ill magistrate, make one evil who was good, or preserve him in the exercise of injustice when he is corrupted, must always open the way for him by vitiating the people, corrupting their manners, destroying the validity of oaths and contracts, teaching such evasions, equivocations, and frauds, as are inconsistent with the thoughts, that become men of virtue and courage; and overthrowing the confidence they ought to have in each other, make it impossible for them to unite among themselves. The like arts must be used with the magistrate: he cannot be for their turn, till he is persuaded to believe he has no dependence upon, and owes no duty to the people; that he is of himself, and not by their institution; that no man ought to inquire into, nor be judge of his actions; that all obedience is due to him, whether he be good or bad, wise or foolish, a father or an enemy to his country. This being calculated for his personal interest, he must pursue the same designs, or his kingdom is divided within itself, and cannot subsist. By this means those who flatter his humor, come to be accounted his friends, and the only men that are thought worthy of great trusts, whilst such as are of another mind are exposed to all persecution. These are always such as excel in virtue, wisdom, and greatness of spirit: they have eyes, and they will always see the way they go; and, leaving fools to be guided by implicit faith, will distinguish between good and evil, and chose that which is best; they will judge of men by their actions, and by them discovering whose servant every man is, know whether he is to be obeyed or not. Those who are ignorant of all good, careless, or enemies to it, take a more compendious way; their slavish, vicious, and base natures, inclining them to seek only private and present advantages, they easily slide into a blind dependence upon one who has wealth and power; and desiring only to know his will, care not what injustice they do, if they may be rewarded. They worship what they find in the temple, tho' it be the vilest of idols; and always like the best which is worst, because it agrees with their inclinations and principles. When a party comes to be erected upon such a foundation, debauchery, lewdness, and dishonesty, are the true badges of it. Such as wear them are cherished; but the principal marks of favor are reserved for those, who are the most industrious in mischief, either by seducing the people with allurements of sensual pleasures, or corrupting their understandings by false and slavish doctrines. By this means, a man who calls himself a philosopher, or a divine, is often more useful than a great number of tapsters, cooks, buffoons, players, fidlers, whores, or bawds. These are the devil's ministers of a lower order; they seduce single persons; and such as fall into their snares, are for the most part men of the simpler sort; but the principal supporters of this kingdom are they, who by false doctrines poison the springs of religion and virtue, and by preaching or writing (if their falsehood and wickedness were not detected) would extinguish all principles of common honesty, and bring whole nations to be best satisfied with themselves, when their actions are most abominable. And as the means must always be suitable to the end proposed, the governments that are to be established or supported by such ways must needs be the worst of all, and comprehend all manner of evil." (Discourses, III:19:342-45).

1 Thomas Jefferson to John Trumbull, 18 January 1789, in "The Papers of Thomas Jefferson," ed. Julian P. Boyd (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), 14:467-68; Thomas Jefferson to Mason Locke Weems, 13 December 1804, in "Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson," ed. W. Millicent Sowbery (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1953), 3:13.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Teaching the Federalist in Secondary Schools

John J. Patrick[1] shared the following insights and teaching ideas for The Federalist: “[The] Ideas of The Federalist should be essential elements of civic education, because they are core values and principles of the American heritage and foundations of national unity in a pluralistic society. These ideas are also keys to understanding how American government works.

Recent assessments of the curriculum and of students' knowledge indicate a need to emphasize The Federalist in secondary schools. Secondary school textbooks in history and government tend to avoid detailed examination of political ideas in history and our contemporary society. One analyst writes: "The lack of intellectual history in the texts has had some serious consequences, one of which is that students get a rather profound misunderstanding of the Constitution. ... Rarely have they (the textbooks) mentioned the political philosophy of the Framers.[2] Another deficiency of the textbook-dominated curriculum of secondary schools is neglect of primary sources -- the documents that directly communicate to students the ideas and ways of thinking and writing of Americans in other times. In particular, most students have little or no exposure to documents on American political ideas, including the ideas of the Founding Fathers in such fundamental sources as The Federalist Papers.

There is an obvious need to emphasize ideas of The Federalist Papers in the secondary school curriculum. These ideas certainly fit standard educational goals and curriculum guides for courses in history, government, and civics. They are also core components of the American civic heritage and keys to civic literacy. Finally, they have enduring relevance to contemporary citizenship and government.”[3] 

“Ideas of The Federalist Papers are congruent with the content of standard secondary school courses, such as American history, government, civics, and studies of Western Civilization in world history. Therefore, there is no need to create special courses or units of study on The Federalist Papers because examination of these documents can be infused into standard coursework…

Use The Federalist Papers to teach core concepts of American constitutional government, such as republicanism, federalism, separation of powers, judicial review, national security, civil liberties, popular sovereignty, an energetic executive, limited government, the rule of law, free government, and so forth. Excerpts from selected essays can be used to explicate these civic concepts; for example, essays 47-51 are classic discussions of the American conception of separation of powers; essays 78-83 explain and justify novel American ideas on an independent judiciary and judicial review; essays 9, 10, 37, 39, 51 treat the American idea of federalism in an extended republic.

Show how core concepts of The Federalist are rooted in Western Civilization by teaching connections of the European Age of Enlightenment to the theory and practice of politics in eighteenth-century America. Compare these ideas and the institutions of government around the world in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Through this global comparative analysis, students can learn how American ideas on constitutional government are related to civic cultures of other times and places.

Encourage deliberation, reflection, and rational decision-making about perennial issues of constitutional government that are raised by The Federalist Papers. These essays can be used to spark debate on questions that have permeated our constitutional history, such as how to have majority rule with protection of minority rights; how to have a powerful national government that is also strictly limited by law; how to maintain national security while protecting civil liberties, including the freedom of dissenters; and how to balance effective national government with meaningful rights for state governments. Discussions of these issues in The Federalist can be assigned in concert with readings about specific instances of these issues in history and current events.”[4] 

U. S. Government and Civics classes serve as the gate to the rising generation’s knowledge of the Constitution and its principles, and The Federalist is the key to that gate.
Purchase The Federalist Papers at Amazon.com for $7.95:

[1] Professor, Indiana University, author of The Oxford Guide to the United States Government (2001), ERIC (ED) contributor, the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, and the Center for Civic Education.
[2] Frances FitzGerald, America Revised: History Schoolbooks in The Twentieth Century (New York, Vintage Books, 1980), p. 152.
[3] John J. Patrick, Teaching the Federalist Papers (ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education, Bloomington IN, 1988)( http://www.wjmi.org/DOCS/eric.htm).
[4] Id.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Mrs. Madison's Wednesday Nights"

Most Americans know Dolley Madison as the heroine who saved the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington from the White House when British Troops occupied and burned Washington in 1814. But, in addition, “during the time as the president’s wife and for decades after she was one of the best-known people in the United States. [Many] people raved about her charismatic charm and gracious presence, her legendary parties and her impressive wardrobe.  Even the occasional criticism centered on the excess of these qualities – she was too charming, too regal, and too popular.”  (p. 5)

“Like many extraordinary people, Dolley cannot entirely be explained by her origins.  If leaders are born as well as made, Dolley seems to have been born a leader full of ambition and the desire to be the center of attention and activity.  But she was also born a girl, and so was taught from the first the cardinal virtues of meekness and femininity.  She was raised in a Quaker culture, which prized passivity and retirement from the world.  Dolley turned compliance into an art, transforming female submissiveness into a political tool. She employed conciliation to disarm and defuse a violent political culture, while winning friends and supporters for her husband.” (p. 8)   Dolley’s dinner table and her drawing room parties which soon became known as “Mrs. Madison’s Wednesday Nights” were two ways she helped her husband as his political partner.

Madison had decided to refuse all dinner invitations in order to avoid any hint of favoritism.  Since he could not go out to meet the political families of the area, Dolley devised a way for them to come to him by hosting formal dinners in the White House.  Over the eight years that they lived there, Dolley hosted more formal dinners than any other president’s wife in history (p. 182.) “In making her dinner table yet another political space, Dolley built on a long tradition in politics.  Sitting down with people to share food constitutes an act of power in all societies, the first step in network building.  The superior food, the lovely setting and the refined behavior allowed people to feel open, relaxed, and included.  Dolley’s table, laden with luxury foods such as duck and ice cream made her guests feel privileged and honored. Dinner at Dolley’s bought nothing so crass as to be measurable in monetary terms, or so crude as a vote in Congress.  Rather, it built goodwill and a social allegiance that, in early Washington, easily translated into political alliance.  By inviting prominent people to dine with her, Dolley made them part of the Madison family.”   (p. 185-186) 

Dolley’s Wednesday Nights began just two months after James Madison’s inauguration and became part of the Washington Social scene for the next eight years.  Initially, Dolley put a general invitation in the newspapers with the only qualification for attendance the usual requirement “that one had been “introduced” to the Madison, either personally or through letters of introduction.” After a very short time both the introduction and the invitation faded away as everyone knew where to be on Wednesday nights.  The first drawing room parties where held in the sunny yellow parlor but were moved to the Oval room for more space when it was ready on January 1, 1810.  Dolley’s drawing room “swirled with excitement, crowds, color and movement.  Before long, these events became known as “squeezes” – for two hundred people crammed into the White House rooms.”  (p. 189)   Dolley’s gathering was much different that the formal gatherings held by Martha Washington and Abigail Adams “where all the guests stood or sat in ceremonious fashion waiting to be greeted.  Dolley’s guests had the freedom to meet, greet and move among groups of people as they wished” helping themselves to side tables which overflowed with punch, wine, coffee, tea, nuts, cake, fruit, and ice cream. This weekly event allowed everyone in Washington City “access to the president unparalleled before or since.” (p. 191)    

Dolley’s generosity and openness were the key to her charm, and “a large measure of her social success lay in her willingness to supply members of the federal government with access not only to herself and her husband, but also to one another. Then, as now, “access” to key personnel and points of decision was a crucial factor in the political process, and one most available in an informal situation rather than in a formal structure.” (Id.)  At a Madison’s drawing room people could move beyond partisan politics if they chose.

From: “A Perfect Union, Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation” 
By Catherine Allgor (Henry Holt & Company, 2006)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Prospect Hill, Virginia

The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute has held seven, semi-annual seminars for high school and middle school teachers over the past three years (2007-2010) at Prospect Hill located near Charlottesville, Virginia.  Following is a brief history of this historic Plantation Inn.

"Roger Thompson, the first settler to this part of Virginia arrived sometime  about 1699 when this was the Western Frontier.  There were few natives between the Tidewater area and the Shenendoah Valley and Thompson selected as his homesite a place on a hilltop with a strong spring nearby.  This simple 10 X 10 log cabin still houses guests today, more than three hundred years later.  A few years later when he was beginning to show success as a farmer in this wilderness he married a widow, Mary English, who brought her husband’s wealth and sons to help farm.  Thompson built a larger cottage and the boys stayed in the original log cabin, thereby giving it the current name, "the Boys’ Cabin."

Soon the Thompson family grew to 13 children and Thompson built the nucleus of what became the manor house in 1732, the year George Washington was born. This parlor in the manor today still has the original windows and glass panes from that time.  In 1796 the farm of then 400 acres was sold to a relative from adjoining Albemarle County, Richmond Terrill and his wife Elizabeth Overton Terrill, who were absentee owners and introduced the first slaves to work the fields.  The farm had now grown from a small farm on the frontier into a plantation where others  instead of the planter worked.  About 20 field-hands lived in the slave quarters named after the slave foreman who also lived there, Uncle Guy, and this present two story guest cottage has been called Uncle Guy’s house ever since.

Terrill later sold Prospect Hill to his wife’s relative, William Overton and his wife, Martha Gilliam Overton, in 1840 who soon expanded the house adding two wings on the east and west wings for a dining room and ballroom for entertaining and they and their children and grandchildren lived here until the last passed away in 1969.  Due to the area switching to wheat farming during the Revolution, the Overton’s extended their wealth in the ensuing years by exporting this high quality wheat to Europe in the 1840’s and 1850’s and acquired more land and slaves to work it and also added the Carriage House with more slave quarters above, called the Grooms’ Quarters.

Their son, William G. Overton, Jr. gradated from Virginia Military Institute in 1859, second lowest in his class due to many demerits.  He was commissioned a Lieutenant in the Provisional Vrmy of Virginia and was assigned to enlist the newly immigrant Irish fleeing from the potato famine in their homeland which, after Virginia secceeded [from the Union], was later formed into the Irish Battallion, the First Virginia, under his former professor at VMI, Gen.Stonewall Jackson’s Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, under Gen. Robert E. Lee.  Overton would serve in every battle with Lee until the surrender at Appomattox Court House in April, 1865.  Overton and his former slave, Sanco Pansy Scott, walked home barefoot after his parole.

In 1875 Overton married Nannie Branch Giles, the granddaughter of a VA governor and contemporary of Thomas Jefferson, although they were political enemies.  Nannie had also joined the Confederacy and was a bill signer at the Confederate Mint at Charlotte, NC during the war.  She took over the household accounts and quickly realized that Prospect Hill was losing a great deal of money farming since there was a terrible economic depression in the South as all the railroads that had been built out West during the war and the nation’s breadbasket with them.

Nannie soon began taking in guests from Richmond and Washington, DC for the summer at Prospect Hill.  One of her relatives had not resigned his US commission during the war and remained in the Union Army.  His wearing of his uniform did not please Overton and became a thorn in their marriage.  Nannie and her daughters, Frances and Marcie, inherited this General Giles home in Washington and opened a boarding house catering to women who worked in Congress, bringing them home to Prospect Hill during summer when Congress was in recess. 

The manor house was expanded with two more bedrooms, a pantry, and later the kitchen was brought into the house as well.  Business gradually faded in the 1920’s and 30’s for economic as well as comfort reasons.  Prospect Hill had two modern bathrooms added after the First World War but no electricity or running hot water until 1953 and no central heat until 1969. Bill and Mireille Sheehan and their children, Michael and Nancy, bought Prospect Hill in 1977 and began the restoration of the manor and renovation of the original outbuildings and slave quarters into guest rooms for a country inn and restaurant." 

Over the past 33 years the Sheehans have received many awards for excellence for both inn-keeping and fine dining. The warmth of their, and their staff's, genuine friendship and dedication, together with the historical roots, character and atmosphere of Prospect Hill, combine to make it the perfect setting to teach and to study the lives and writings of the Founders of the Republic.
From: Bill Sheehan, "Prospect Hill History" http://www.prospecthill.com/history/History.html

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Calvin Coolidge: The Inspiration of the Declaration

Our 30th President, Calvin Coolidge spoke in Philadelphia on the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  Here is a brief excerpt from his speech:

"Under a system of popular government there will always be those who will seek for political preferment by clamoring for reform. While there is very little of this which is not sincere, there is a large portion that is not well informed. In my opinion very little of just criticism can attach to the theories and principles of our institutions. There is far more danger of harm than there is hope of good in any radical changes. We do need a better understanding and comprehension of them and a better knowledge of the foundations of government in general. Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped."

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Rotunda

The Rotunda at the University of Virginia was designed by Thomas Jefferson as the architectural and academic heart of his community of scholars, or what he termed the "academical village." As the phrase implies, learning was for Jefferson an integral part of life. The academical village is based on the assumption that the life of the mind is the pursuit of all participants in the University, that learning is a lifelong and shared process, and that interaction between scholars and students enlivens the pursuit of knowledge.

The Rotunda is the focal point of the academical village, which includes the Rotunda at the north end; the Pavilions, which house faculty; and the student rooms along the Lawn. From the Lawn, Jefferson's academical village appears as he intended it. The Rotunda was designed by Thomas Jefferson to represent the "authority of nature and power of reason."

Jefferson modeled the Rotunda after the Pantheon in Rome, reducing the measurements by half, making the Rotunda 77 feet in diameter and in height, so that the Rotunda would not dwarf the Pavilions. For its interior, Jefferson divided the first two floors into suites of oval rooms to serve as classrooms and lecture halls. The domed top floor, with its ring of paired columns, served as the university's library. Construction began in 1822 and was completed in 1826 at a cost of almost $60,000. With the books Jefferson initially selected, the Rotunda served as the library, demonstrating Jefferson's belief that a university should have as its focus a collection of academic achievements. The library remained in the Rotunda for more than a century.

In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette and James Madison dined with Thomas Jefferson in the Dome Room of the unfinished Rotunda at the University's inaugural banquet, and Lafayette toasted Jefferson as the "Father of the University of Virginia". This brought Jefferson to tears, and he later had the phrase inscribed on his grave.

From: http://www.virginia.edu/uvatours/rotunda/rotundaHistory.html

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Abigail Adams and Equality

“Abigail Adams (1744 - 1818) advocated and modeled an expanded role for women in public affairs during the formative days of the United States. Married to John Adams, she was an invaluable partner to him as he developed his political career, culminating in the presidency of the United States. She left a voluminous correspondence, providing information on everyday life and insight into the activities in the corridors of power during her time. Her letters show her to have been a woman of keen intelligence, resourceful, competent, self-sufficient, willful, vivacious, and opinionated—a formidable force. Her writing reveals a dedication to principle, a commitment to rights for women and for African-Americans, fierce partisanship in matters of her husband's and her family's interest, and an irreverent sense of humor….
[Before the Declaration of Independence was adopted] a visit below the Mason-Dixon line strengthened Abigail's conviction, passionately shared by her husband, that slavery was not only evil, but a threat to the American democratic experiment. Neither John nor Abigail had any use for Southern slavery accommodationists. On March 31, 1776, Abigail wrote that she doubted the distinguished Virginians in the corridors of power had quite the "passion for Liberty" they claimed, since they had been used to "depriving their fellow Creatures" of freedom.
On February 13, 1791, she wrote to her husband regarding a black servant boy who had come to her asking to go to school to learn to write. Abigail enrolled the boy in a local evening school. A neighbor reported serious objections of several people to the black boy's presence. Swiftly Abigail responded that the boy was "a Freeman as much as any of the young Men and merely because his Face is Black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? . . . I have not thought it any disgrace to my self to take him into my parlor and teach him both to read and write." No further complaints were made.
Often, Abigail spoke up for married women's property rights and more opportunities for women, particularly in education. She believed that women should not submit to laws clearly not made in their interest. Women should not content themselves with the role of being decorous companions to their husbands. They should educate themselves and be recognized for their intellectual capabilities, for their ability to shoulder responsibilities of managing household, family, and financial affairs, and for their capacity morally to guide and influence the lives of their children and husbands. Although she did not insist on full female enfranchisement, in her celebrated letter of March, 1776, she exhorted her husband to "remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation."
Excerpts from Article by Laurie Carter Noble

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

“Beranrd Bailyn has spent his career at Harvard University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1953. He served as Winthrop Professor of History from 1966 until 1981, when he was appointed Adams University Professor. His works range from the history of education to historical methodology, but his most noted projects are in the field of early American intellectual and cultural history. His Ideological Origins of the American Revolution won both the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes in 1968....

Ideological Origins took up the fate, in America, of the Old Whig or English commonwealth ideas of the early 18th century. Here, again, it was the peculiar relevance of these ideas, and the conscious choosing among them and adding to them that was at the core of Bailyn's history. The critique of power's corrupting influence, what might be called the "anti-power" ethic, resonated with American experience…. In place of the individual seeking security for private rights of property and liberty, republicanism gave us a more politically concerned citizen laboring for the commonwealth by carefully preserving the constitutional balance of the one, the few, and the many. It was virtue, not interest, that motivated the American Revolution; self-seeking commercialism was more akin to corruption in the body politic than to the public good, according to the new republican consensus.…Bailyn argued:

‘Within the framework of these ideas, Enlightenment abstractions and common law precedents, covenant theology and classical analogy—Locke and Abraham, Brutus and Coke—could all be brought together into a comprehensive theory of politics.’

This was no unchanging paradigm, but the vibrant and shifting undercurrents of English opposition thought, "stirred by doctrinaire libertarians, disaffected politicians, and religious dissenters." It is this dynamic stirring that was and is the focus of Bailyn's interpretation….” (From: A Revolutionary Historian, The Claremont Institute, http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.970/article_detail.asp).

The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute's next educational seminar will focus on the topic of "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution," including the political writings of John Locke, Algernon Sidney, and Bailyn's award-winning book, of which the New York Times Book Review said, “One cannot claim to understand the Revolution without having read this book.” We will also discuss the role of Enlightenment, Classical, and Covenant ideology, together with Never Before in History: America's Inspired Birth, by Gary Amos and Richard Gardiner (1998), which sets forth the influence of Christian and religious principles in the Revolution.

The seminar is primarily for Virginia middle and high school U.S. government and history teachers, and will be held Friday morning, September 17, 2010 (Constitution Day) at Prospect Hill near Charlottesville.

For registration or to receive an agenda, contact Jody Weierholt: jody@wjmi.org.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Moral Education

Our first four Presidents (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison), all taught that there is no happiness without virtue, and that virtue is the foundation of our Republic. Virtue, of course, requires morality, and as Washington stated, “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Modern foes of national morality and religious principle seek to overthrow the Constitution’s foundation of virtue through the courts, as they have been previously defeated by the popular will via legislatures and democratic ballot. Their attack is being fostered by those who lack a conviction of the “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” (Declaration of Independence).

The consequences to our communities, and to our States’ education systems, of a ‘change’ in our nation’s moral fabric if mandated by judicial decree are profound. For example, California education code section 51230 provides that both the reading and teaching of Washington’s Farewell Address are a civics requirement for graduation from high school. In his Farewell Address, Washington confirms that:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness ‑these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. …And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

'Tis substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free Government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”

National educational policy confirms that: “Schools …may play an active role with respect to teaching civic values and virtue, and the moral code that holds us together as a community. The fact that some of these values are held also by religions does not make it unlawful to teach them in school.”(U. S. Department of Education, Statement on Religious Expression, Revised May 1998). We face a dilemma in America as virtue, religious principles and the freedom of moral education are being threatened.

By: J. David Gowdy

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Courage in American Political Life

Justice Clarence Thomas

Excerpts from a Speech at the American Enterprise Institute, May 22, 2001:

“…In my humble opinion, those who come to engage in debates of consequence, and who challenge accepted wisdom, should expect to be treated badly. Nonetheless, they must stand undaunted. That is required. And, that should be expected. For, it is bravery that is required to secure freedom.

…What makes it all worthwhile? What makes it worthwhile is something greater than all of us. There are those things that at one time we all accepted as more important than our comfort or discomfort -- if not our very lives: Duty, honor, country! There was a time when all was to be set aside for these. The plow was left idle, the hearth without fire, the homestead, abandoned.

We all share a reasonable and, in many ways, admirable, reluctance to leave the safety and peacefulness of private life to take up the larger burdens and challenges of active citizenship. The price is high, and it is easier and more enjoyable to remain within the shelter of our personal lives and our local communities, rather than the larger state. To enter public life is to step outside our more confined, comfortable sphere of life, and to face the broader, national sphere of citizenship. What makes it all worthwhile is to devote ourselves to the common good.

…I do believe that we are required to wade into those things that matter to our country and our culture, no matter what the disincentives are, and no matter the personal cost. There is not one among us who wants to be set upon, or obligated to do and say difficult things. Yet, there is not one of us who could in good conscience stand by and watch a loved one or a defenseless person --or a vital national principle -- perish alone, undefended, when our intervention could make all the difference. This may well be too dramatic an example. But nevertheless, put most simply: if we think that something is dreadfully wrong, then someone has to do something.

…Listen to the truths that lie within your hearts, and be not afraid to follow them wherever they may lead you.

The war in which we are engaged is cultural, not civil, it tests whether this "nation: conceived in liberty . . . can long endure."

The Founders warned us that freedom requires constant vigilance, and repeated action. It is said that, when asked what sort of government the Founders had created, Benjamin Franklin replied that they had given us "A Republic, if you can keep it." Today, as in the past, we will need a brave "civic virtue," not a timid civility, to keep our republic….”

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chief Justice John Roberts on the Role of Judges

“Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules; they apply them.

The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.

Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent, shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath.

And judges have to have the modesty to be open in the decisional process to the considered views of their colleagues on the bench.

Mr. Chairman, when I worked in the Department of Justice, in the office of the solicitor general, it was my job to argue cases for the United States before the Supreme court.

I always found it very moving to stand before the justices and say, “I speak for my country.”

But it was after I left the department and began arguing cases against the United States that I fully appreciated the importance of the Supreme Court and our constitutional system.

Here was the United States, the most powerful entity in the world, aligned against my client. And yet, all I had to do was convince the court that I was right on the law and the government was wrong and all that power and might would recede in deference to the rule of law. That is a remarkable thing.

It is what we mean when we say that we are a government of laws and not of men. It is that rule of law that protects the rights and liberties of all Americans. It is the envy of the world. Because without the rule of law, any rights are meaningless.

President Ronald Reagan used to speak of the Soviet constitution, and he noted that it purported to grant wonderful rights of all sorts to people. But those rights were empty promises, because that system did not have an independent judiciary to uphold the rule of law and enforce those rights. We do, because of the wisdom of our founders and the sacrifices of our heroes over the generations to make their vision a reality.”

From John Roberts’ opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 12, 2005

Sunday, July 18, 2010

David McCullough on History Education

David McCullough was interviewed and asked his opinion of the state of history education in America. Following are a few of his comments as to what we can do to improve the education of our youth in American History:

“I feel strongly that we've got to revise how we teach the teachers. I would abolish schools of education. I think what every teacher ought to have is a good liberal arts education. … One of the problems with having a teacher that doesn't know the subject he or she is teaching is that they are more dependent therefore on the textbooks, and the textbooks, though there are some exceptions, are appallingly bad. Dreary, deadly it's as if they're designed to kill any interest you might have in history. And you can't love something you don't know any more than you can love someone you don't know. If the teacher doesn't know any history, how is he or she really going to love it? We know from our own experiences that it's the ones that really love what they're teaching that teach you the most.

But I don't think the problem is the teachers, entirely. I think the problem with education in our country is us. We're not doing anywhere near enough as parents or grandparents to talk about history with our children, to talk about the books we've loved about historical subjects or figures. And taking our children or grandchildren to historic sights... we can't leave that for the schools because they don't do it much anymore. Reinstate the dinner table conversation. Reinstate dinner as part of family life. I grew up that way. It's another era, I know, but there's nothing wrong with the idea that you'd talk about history or current events and politics at the dinner table. Every night. Go with your children to Fort Necessity or Monticello or someplace like that. They never forget it. It changes their life.

I know from teaching as a visiting professor or guest lecturer at universities for more than twenty years now that what our students don't know about American history is absolutely appalling. It's stunning. It leaves you gaping when you first encounter it. You think, How can this be? But it's correctable.”

David McCullough, Interview, New Haven, Connecticut, May 25, 2005.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Declaration of Independence

Written by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence stands as a timeless statement of human liberty, rights and equality. Adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the signers of the Declaration pledged to it their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Jefferson said, “The Declaration of Independence... [is the] declaratory charter of our rights, and of the rights of man.”[1] The Declaration is America's first and foremost founding document. It sets forth our understanding of human rights based upon the principles of natural law, and the legitimate authority and purpose of government. The first three sentences constitute its most significant and oft-quoted words:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. 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.

 Writing to Henry Lee concerning the source of the principles of the Declaration, Jefferson said: This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, not yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All it's [sic] authority rests on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, & c. [2] Abraham Lincoln said that ‘[these] principles … are the definitions and axioms of a free society.”[3] He concluded that that in the Declaration, Jefferson introduced “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times ….”[4] Indeed, the individual, natural rights of man and woman to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are universal. As we celebrate our nation's independence this 4th of July, may we read and reflect upon the words of the Declaration of Independence that declared to all the world that all men are created equal and that God is the "Author of Liberty."[5]
[1] Jefferson to Samuel Adams Wells, 1819, ME 15:200.
[2] Jefferson to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825, ME 16:118-19.
[3] Abraham Lincoln to H. L. Pierce, April 6, 1859, Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1953), 3:375-76.[1] [4] Id.
[5] Samuel Francis Smith, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" (1831).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Virtue & Happiness

"There is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness." --George Washington

"Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue?" --George Washington

"The order of nature [is] that individual happiness shall be inseparable from the practice of virtue." --Thomas Jefferson

“Happiness is the aim of life. Virtue is the foundation of happiness.” --Thomas Jefferson

"Without virtue, happiness cannot be." --Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thomas Paine: "Common Sense"

Published anonymously by Thomas Paine in January of 1776, Common Sense was an instant best-seller, both in the colonies and in Europe. It went through several editions in Philadelphia, and was republished in all parts of United America. Because of it, Paine became internationally famous.

Common Sense was "by far the most influential tract of the American Revolution....it remains one of the most brilliant pamphlets ever written in the English language."

First and foremost, Common Sense advocated an immediate declaration of independence, postulating a special moral obligation of America to the rest of the world. Not long after publication, the spirit of Paine's argument found resonance in the American Declaration of Independence.

Written at the outset of the Revolution, Common Sense became the leaven for the ferment of the times. It stirred the colonists to strengthen their resolve, resulting in the first successful anti-colonial action in modern history.

Quotes from Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776):

“As parents, we can have no joy, knowing that this government is not sufficiently lasting to ensure any thing which we may bequeath to posterity: And by a plain method of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully. In order to discover the line of our duty rightly, we should take our children in our hand, and fix our station a few years farther into life; that eminence will present a prospect, which a few present fears and prejudices conceal from our sight.”

“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”

“The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.”

“The reformation was preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety.”

“The Sun never shined on a cause of greater worth.”

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

“When we are planning for posterity, we ought to remember that virtue is not hereditary.”


Sunday, May 23, 2010

George Washington's Seven Principles of Liberty

Derived from his First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789, and from his Farewell Address, September 17, 1796, George Washington understood, lived, and taught these great maxims or principles of liberty:

I. Liberty is of Divine Origin "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts in the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. -- Every step, by which they have been advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency." (First Inaugural Address)

 II. Liberty has a Price "The independence and liberty you possess are the work of . . . joint efforts, of common dangers, suffering and successes." (Farewell Address)

 III. Liberty is secured by Government "Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian." (Farewell Address)

 IV. Liberty requires Unity "[Y]our union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other." (Farewell Address)

 V. Liberty is maintained by Obedience to Law "Respect for [this Government's] authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty." (Farewell Address)

 VI. Liberty is dependent upon Virtue "[V]irtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government." (Farewell Address)

 "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim tribute to patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness." (Farewell Address)

 VII. Liberty affords the path to Happiness "[T]here is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists . . . an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness." (First Inaugural Address)

 "Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue?" (Farewell Address)