Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas at the White House 1800-1816

“When the second President of the United States, John Adams, moved into what would come to be known as the White House [in November 1800], the residence was cold, damp, and drafty. Sitting at the edge of a dreary swamp, the First Family had to keep 13 fireplaces lit in an effort to stay comfortable. It is in this setting that the cantankerous president held the first ever White House Christmas party in honor of his granddaughter, Susanna. It could be said that the invitations sent for this party were the very first White House Christmas cards, though in those early days, the building was referred to as the President’s Palace, Presidential Mansion, or President’s House.”

“The affair was planned in large part by the vivacious First Lady, Abigail Adams, and was considered a great success. A small orchestra played festive music in a grand ballroom adorned with seasonal flora. After dinner, cakes and punch were served while the staff and guests caroled and played games. The most amusing incident of the evening occurred when one of the young guests accidentally broke one of the First Granddaughter’s new doll dishes. Enraged, the young guest of honor promptly bit the nose off of one of the offending friend’s dolls. The amused president had to intervene to make sure the incident didn’t take an even uglier turn.”

Following in Adams’ footsteps, “Thomas Jefferson [the nation’s 3rd President] in 1805, six of his grandchildren and 100 of their friends – invited by Secretary of State James Madison’s wife, Dolley, who acted as official hostess – made for a tremendously enjoyable holiday party at which Jefferson played the violin for the dancing children. Christmas celebrations at the Jefferson White House were festive affairs where delicacies and local American foods were served.” “…These Christmas celebrations, hosted by the charming Dolley who made sure delicacies were enjoyed by all, continued through the years Jefferson was president.”

“When her husband [James Madison] succeeded his mentor as the master of the White House in 1809, the tradition of celebrating Christmas with White House parties – hosted by none other than Dolley – continued. Her holiday attire would usually include some purple peacock feathers atop a turban or cap covering her hair, along with her dress of lace and pink satin. Although there were neither White House Christmas cards exchanged nor a decorated Christmas tree in those years, the holiday tradition would include wonderful things to eat, as she would oversee the serving of seafood, stuffed goose, Virginia ham, and pound cake, as well as [fermented beverages]. She would lift her glass with the heartfelt toast, “Merry Christmas! God Bless America!”


Monday, November 19, 2012

The Gettysburg Address

By: J. David Gowdy

On November 19, 1863, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln was the second speaker at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A throng of fifteen to twenty thousand people crowded around the speakers' platform. Lincoln was preceded on the podium by the famed orator Edward Everett, who spoke to the crowd for two hours. Lincoln followed with his brief and now immortal Gettysburg Address. The following day, on November 20, Everett wrote to Lincoln: “Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

On the morning of November 19, President Lincoln rode in a train with his secretary, John G. Nicolay, his assistant secretary, John Hay, and three members of his Cabinet who accompanied him, William Seward, John Usher and Montgomery Blair, among others. Hay noted that during the speech Lincoln’s face was “sad, mournful, almost haggard.” After the speech, when Lincoln boarded the 6:30pm train for Washington, D.C., he was feverish and weak, with a severe headache. A protracted illness followed and he was diagnosed with a mild case of smallpox.

The extreme brevity of Lincoln's address caught his audience by surprise. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin reported, one eyewitness said, “The assemblage stood motionless and silent.” Pennsylvania Governor Curtin stated, “He pronounced that speech in a voice that all the multitude heard. The crowd was hushed into silence because the President stood before them...It was so Impressive! It was the common remark of everybody. Such a speech, as they said it was!” Contemporary reactions in the press (while not all so positive) included these: 

Springfield (Mass.) Republican: “Surprisingly fine as Mr. Everett’s oration was in the Gettysburg consecration, the rhetorical honors of the occasion were won by President Lincoln. His little speech is a perfect gem; deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma. Then it has the merit of unexpectedness in its verbal perfection and beauty… Turn back and read it over, it will repay study as a model speech.” 

Providence Journal: "We know not where to look for a more admirable speech than the brief one which the President made at the close of Mr. Everett’s oration… Could the most elaborate and splendid oration be more beautiful, more touching, more inspiring than those thrilling words of the President? They have in our humble judgment the charm and power of the very highest eloquence." 

Chicago Tribune: “The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man.”

Recited by schoolchildren and beloved by generations of Americans, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address stands as a timeless tribute to the principles of the Declaration of Independence -- that "all men are created equal," and to our Constitutional Republic -- "a government of the people":

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Sunday, November 11, 2012

History of Veterans Day

“World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month [or November 11, 1918]...

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"  The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m. …

An Act by the United States Congress approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars…

Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first "Veterans Day Proclamation" which stated: "In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible." ...

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97, which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans’ service organizations and the American people.

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.” 

Monday, October 29, 2012

"I am President of the United States, clothed with immense power."

By: J. David Gowdy

What permanently ended slavery in America was the very close vote in the House of Representatives over the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. In the drama that had unfolded, President Abraham Lincoln sought two more votes necessary for the passage of the Amendment in the House of Representatives.

“While the Emancipation Proclamation was taking its effect in the field, as the Union army advanced, Lincoln also supported Radical Republicans who began to advocate a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery everywhere in the United States. On December 14, 1863, Ohio Congressman James M. Ashley introduced such an amendment in the House of Representatives. Senator John Brooks Henderson of Missouri, a border state that still sanctioned slavery, followed suit on January 11, 1864, courageously submitting a joint resolution for an amendment abolishing slavery.

The proposed amendment passed in the Senate on April 8, 1864, with a vote of 38 to 6. Two months later, however, it was defeated in the House of Representatives, 95 to 66 (or by another account, 93-65), shy of the 2/3 necessary for approval. Lincoln, not about to give up, made abolition a central plank of the National Union platform during his re-election campaign. He argued,

“When the people in revolt, with a hundred days of explicit notice, that they could, within those days, resume their allegiance, without the overthrow of their institution, and that they could not so resume it afterwards, elected to stand out, such [an] amendment of the Constitution as [is] now proposed, became a fitting, and necessary conclusion to the final success of the Union cause. Such alone can meet and cover all cavils…” (Basler, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 7, 380).

Lincoln’s victory over McClellan in 1864 gave him a new mandate and enough seats in the House to eventually guarantee passage of the stalled amendment. Not content to wait until the new Congress met in March, the amendment’s supporters brought the measure to another vote in the House on January 31, 1865.

On being informed that the amendment was still two votes short, Lincoln is reported to have told the Republican Congressmen: “I am President of the United States, clothed with great power. The abolition of slavery by Constitutional provisions settles the fate, for all … time, not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come – a measure of such importance that those two votes must be procured.  I leave it to you to determine how it shall be done, but remember that I am President of the United States, clothed with immense power, and I expect you to procure those two votes ...” (John B. Alley, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, ed., Rice, 1886 ed., p 585-6. Per Goodwin, p. 687). [emphasis added]

The outcome of the vote was in doubt until the final hour. A Pennsylvania Democrat, Archibald McAllister, opened the debate by explaining why he had changed his vote from a “Nay” to an “Aye.” He had been in favor of exhausting all means of conciliation, McAllister stated, but was now satisfied that nothing short of independence would satisfy the Southern Confederacy, and that therefore it must be destroyed, and he must cast his vote against its cornerstone, and declare eternal war with the enemies of the country. Fellow Pennsylvania Democrat Alexander Hamilton Coffroth also changed his vote, and gave a speech advocating passage. Arguments continued until, finally, the votes were tallied. This time it passed, by a vote of 119 to 56, with 8 abstentions.  When Speaker Colfax declared the results, “a moment of silence succeeded, and then, from floor and galleries, burst a simultaneous shout of joy and triumph, spontaneous, irrepressible and uncontrollable, swelling and prolonged in one vast volume of reverberating thunder…” 

(Report of the special committee on the passage by the House of Representatives of the constitutional amendment for the abolition of slavery. January 31st, 1865: The Action of the Union League Club on the Amendment, February 9, 1865, in “From Slavery to Freedom.” American Memory, Library of Congress).” 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Federalist and Human Nature

By Tony Williams

The second installment of my series of essays on The Federalist will examine the understanding of human nature presented by Publius.  This topic is profoundly important because Publius’ view of the basic nature of man logically shaped the kind of government they were advocating. 

Across the ages, examining the basic presuppositions of political philosophers about the nature of man reveals what forms of government followed from those premises.  For example, Aristotle believed that man can form habits of vice or habits of virtue.   Therefore, a rule by a single leader could assume the best form of government in a just monarchy or it can be worst form of government under a corrupt tyrant.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that man was good and perfectible in his nature and corrupted only by institutions.  As a result, a unicameral legislature with no checks and balances was a logical form of government.  Finally, Thomas Hobbes posited that man was by nature evil and that life in a state of nature without law would be nasty, brutish, and short in the war of all against all.  Therefore, he advocated an unlimited sovereign, Leviathan, whose job was to enforce law and order. 

Thus, the view of human nature as presented in The Federalist is a crucial question for understanding the Constitution.  It should hardly surprise us that in an overwhelming Protestant nation of various denominations, Publius formed a generally pessimistic view of human nature based upon Original Sin.  Indeed, in Federalist #51, James Madison uses religious language to explore the basic nature of man.  Madison averred:

But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?  If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.[1]

The implicit conclusions Madison draws from his conditional (if-then) logical statements are plain.  Men are not angels, and therefore government is in fact necessary.  Moreover, men are not always governable by angels or God.  The people follow their passions and leaders suffer from ambition for power.  Thus, internal and external controls on government are necessary because men are governed by men. 

            Madison continues, explaining how to frame a republican government, considering his argument regarding human nature:

In framing government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.[2] 

The writers of the Federalist were also steeped in classical philosophy and believed that man was mired by passions, self-interest, and habits of vice but also capable of self-control, reason, and habits of virtue.  They believed, with Aristotle, that each person had an ethical duty and the reason to govern himself and restrain his vices to live a happy and free life.  So too could a people govern itself justly and virtuously in a republic. 

This influence is evident in Madison’s Federalist #55, where he even uses a classical allusion to illustrate his point about human nature:

In all numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason.  Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.[3]

            At the end of the same essay, Madison further discussed the subject.  He noted the heights and depths to which humanity could rise and sink.  The existence of republican self-government posited the better angels in our nature, but since humans were still subject to their passions, checks on human nature were still necessary.  He wrote:

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.  Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.[4]

            Alexander Hamilton shared Madison’s sober view of human nature.  Passions and self-interest usually predominate over reason and self-control.  In Federalist #6, Hamilton asks two rhetorical questions that he believed were answered by practical experience and knowledge of human nature.   

Has it not, on the contrary, invariably been found that momentary passions, and immediate interests, have a more active and imperious control over human conduct than general  or remote considerations of policy, utility, or justice? . . . .

Is it not time to awake from the deceitful dream of a golden age and to adopt as a practical maxim for the direction of our political conduct that we, as well as the other inhabitants of the globe, are yet remote from the happy empire of perfect wisdom and perfect virtue?[5]
Madison and Hamilton had great hope that Americans, and thereby humans, were capable of governing themselves by their own consent.  They believed that republican ideals of virtue and self-government as well as institutional checks and balances would provide the means for Americans to govern themselves and enjoy their natural rights and liberties. 

Not every Founding Father agreed.  Founders such as Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson often took a more liberal view of human nature.  Paine and Franklin supported unicameral legislatures because they did not believe that human nature needed many checks.  Such ideas were considered at the Constitutional Convention and rejected.  Jefferson, for his part, was in Paris, and more favorably disposed towards the ideals of the radical French Enlightenment and the French Revolution, which believed in the basic goodness of man and the evil of institutions. 

But, the writers of the Federalist was more realistic as were the Framers of the Constitution.  The next essay in this series will explore the institutional checks and restraints upon the government given their understanding of human nature as flawed but capable of aspiring toward higher ideals. 

(Next - 3rd installment in series - "The Federalist, Human Nature, and Forms of Government": http://wjmi.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-federalist-human-nature-and-forms.html)

See also: "Teaching the Federalist in Secondary Schools" -- http://wjmi.blogspot.com/2010/10/teaching-federalist-in-secondary.html
[1] James Madison, Federalist #51, in Charles R. Kesler and Clinton Rossiter, The Federalist Papers (New York: Signet, 1999), 319. 
[2] James Madison, Federalist #51, ibid
[3] James Madison, Federalist #55, ibid., 340. 
[4] James Madison, Federalist #51, ibid., 343. 
[5] Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #6, ibid., 51, 53. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Origins of The Federalist

By: Tony Williams

        On September 17, 1787, at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in the Philadelphia statehouse, Benjamin Franklin pointed at the president’s chair which was painted with a half a sun on it.  He told his fellow delegates: “I have . . . often in the course of the session . . . looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting.  But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”  The delegates then retired to the City Tavern for a farewell dinner and “took a cordial leave of each other,” as George Washington wrote in his diary.[1]

            Two days later, the Pennsylvania Packet and five other Philadelphia newspapers printed the Constitution.  Within three weeks, dozens of others across the country would submit the document to the American people for their consideration.  On September 28, Congress voted to send the handiwork of the Philadelphia Convention to the state legislatures to elect representatives to popular ratifying conventions. 

The ratification of the Constitution was to be an expression of popular sovereignty as the people’s representatives would deliberate on the merits of the new government in popular conventions rather than state legislatures.  The Constitution would be accepted as fundamental law if accepted by nine of the thirteen states rather than the unanimity of the Articles of Confederation.  This method of ratification would additionally preserve the principle of federalism as several devices in the Constitution sought to preserve a balanced sovereignty between the national government and the states. 

By the end of September, Franklin’s sanguine expectations seemed to be confirmed.  But, in October, the opponents of the Constitution rallied and published their criticisms in newspapers in different states.  The Pennsylvanian Independent Gazetteer published an article by “Centinel,” who warned the new government was the “most daring attempt to establish a despotic aristocracy among freemen, that the world has ever witnessed.”  The author was also deeply concerned that the document lacked a bill of rights that would secure such essential rights as liberty of the press.[2]  “Brutus,” meanwhile, in New York, warned that the new government would have unlimited power of taxation, which would destroy state government and act as “the great engine of oppression and tyranny.”[3]  These opponents of the Constitution were labeled “Anti-Federalists” though they believed they stood for a truly federal system rather than a consolidated one and were the true federalists. 

            In mid-October, Alexander Hamilton conceived of a series of essays in defense of the Constitution from its detractors on his journey from Albany to New York as he returned home from a session of the state supreme court.  When he arrived home, Hamilton consulted several friends about joining him in his project and John Jay and James Madison, who was in New York serving in the confederation congress, accepted Hamilton’s invitation. 

On October 27, the New  York Independent Journal published Hamilton’s first Federalist essay written under the pseudonym “Publius.”  Although addressed to the people of New York, Hamilton originally intended the essays to influence the ratification of the Constitution at the New York Ratifying Convention where he expected significant opposition among Anti-Federalists.  To put it in relatively crude modern terms, it was meant to be a piece of political propaganda persuading the Anti-Federalists to ratify the Constitution. 

          The Philadelphia Convention, The Federalist, Anti-Federalist essays, and ratifying conventions, in addition to the informal debates in taverns among ordinary farmers, artisans, and merchants were all part of an unprecedented and incredible moment of reflective deliberation in world history.  The people and their representatives understood the significance of their debate on the principles of republican self-government for their country and their posterity.    

Hamilton certainly realized the import of the American debate for countries around the world.  In a statement of American exceptionalism in the tradition of John Winthrop’s “City Upon a Hill,” Hamilton wrote in the very first Federalist essay:

It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether  they are forever destined to depend upon their political constitutions on accident and force.[4]

Hamilton thought that if creating a republican government by consent failed under such propitious conditions during the American founding, that perhaps mankind was not meant to govern itself. 

From October, 1787 to May, 1788, the triumvirate writing as Publius penned a total of eighty-five essays.  They were reprinted in other states and eventually bound in book form and shipped to states with particularly narrow support for the Constitution.  Madison himself ordered several copies to distribute to the delegates at the Virginia Ratification Convention to persuade them to support the new government.  

This essay is the first in a series of essays on The Federalist and its principles by WJMI Program Director, Tony Williams, as part of our September teacher seminar on the Constitution, celebrating its 235th anniversary.  Having laid down the historical context for its composition, subsequent essays will explore the principles of government that it espoused in the defense of the new Constitution.  Thus, the essays will answer the question why Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia Board of Visitors included The Federalist, along with the Declaration of Independence and George Washington’s Farewell Address, as the essential works for a proper understanding of the Constitution and an inculcation in the principles of American government in a true civic education. 

[1] Quoted in, Tony Williams, America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character (Lanham, MD: Rowman Littlefield, 2010), 161.
[2] Quoted in, Pauline Maier, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010), 76. 
[4] Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #1, Charles R. Kesler and Clinton Rossiter, eds., The Federalist Papers (New York: Penguin, 1999), 27. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

John and Abigail Adams on Women's Rights

In the months leading up to the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, who was a delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and his wife Abigail Adams, who was at their home in Braintree, Massachusetts, engaged in a lively correspondence about men, women, liberty, and equal rights... 

Abigail to John, March 31, 1776
“…I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for Liberty cannot be Equally Strong in the Breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow Creatures of theirs. Of this I am certain that it is not founded upon that generous and Christian principal of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us….

I long to hear that you have declared an independency—and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would 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.

That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.” 

John to Abigail, April 14, 1776
“…As to Declarations of Independency, be patient…. As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our Struggle has loosened the bands of Government every where. That Children and Apprentices were disobedient—that schools and Colleges were grown turbulent—that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters. But your Letter was the first Intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerful than all the rest were grown discontented.—This is rather too coarse a Compliment but you are so saucy, I won’t blot it out.

Depend upon it, We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems. Although they are in Full force, you know they are little more than Theory. We dare not exert our Power in its full Latitude. We are obliged to go fair, and softly, and in Practice you know We are the subjects. We have only the Name of Masters, and rather than give up this, which would completely subject Us to the Despotism of the petticoat, I hope General Washington, and all our brave Heroes would fight….”

Abigail to John, May 7, 1776
“…I cannot say I think you very generous to the Ladies, for whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to Men, emancipating all Nations, you insist upon retaining an absolute power over Wives. But you must remember that Arbitrary power is like most other things which are very hard, very liable to be broken—and notwithstanding all your wise Laws and Maxims we have it in our power not only to free ourselves but to subdue our Masters, and without [violence] throw both your natural and legal authority at our feet—

"Charm by accepting, by submitting sway Yet have our Humor most when we obey." 

(The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, ed. L.H. Butterfield et al. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 121-123, 127) (Spelling Modernized).

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Benjamin Franklin on Welfare

“…I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means.—I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer. There is no country in the world [but England] where so many provisions are established for them; so many hospitals to receive them when they are sick or lame, founded and maintained by voluntary charities; so many alms-houses for the aged of both sexes, together with a solemn general law made by the rich to subject their estates to a heavy tax for the support of the poor.

Under all these obligations, are our poor modest, humble, and thankful; and do they use their best endeavours to maintain themselves, and lighten our shoulders of this burthen?—On the contrary, I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent. The day you passed that act, you took away from before their eyes the greatest of all inducements to industry, frugality, and sobriety, by giving them a dependence on somewhat else than a careful accumulation during youth and health, for support in age or sickness. In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the increase of poverty. Repeal that law, and you will soon see a change in their manners. St. Monday, and St. Tuesday, will cease to be holidays. SIX days shalt thou labour, though one of the old commandments long treated as out of date, will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by dividing all your estates among them.”

(Benjamin Franklin, "On the Price of Corn and the Management of the Poor" (1766), Writings (New York: Library of America, 1987), 587-88).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Declaration of Independence: An Expression of the American Mind

In early May, 1776, Congressman John Adams saw daily signs everywhere that the movement toward independence “rolls in upon Us . . . like a Torrent.”  Within the halls of Congress, a great debate was conducted over a resolution calling on the colonies to “adopt such government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular and America in general.” 

            The resolution was adopted on May 15, but not before Adams drafted a preamble that unequivocally asserted that the people were sovereign and governed themselves by their own consent within their respective colonies.  The preamble thereby essentially declared independence from Great Britain.  Adams wrote:

It is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said Crown should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of government exerted under the authority of the people of the colonies, for the preservation of internal peace, virtue, and good order as well as for the defense of their lives, liberties and properties, against the hostile invasions and cruel depredations of their enemies.

Adams exultantly wrote to his wife, Abigail, to share the news and declared that the May 15 resolution was in fact “a total absolute Independence” of America and a “compleat Separation” from Britain. 

            On that same day, in Williamsburg, Virginia, the delegates to the Fifth Virginia Convention (the governing body after the hated Lord Dunmore fled the previous year).  It instructed its delegates in Philadelphia to “be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the crown or parliament of Great Britain.”  The Convention then proceeded to draft a declaration of rights and a constitution.  Patrick Henry, James Madison, and George Mason were among the notables appointed to the committee to draft the declaration of rights. 

    The first section of the Virginia Declaration of Rights read, “That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights.”  This revolutionary statement of the universal rights of mankind was rooted in the political philosophy of John Locke in his Second Treastise of Government.  Locke also wrote about social compact theory that stated government is a social contract among the sovereign people to create a government to protect their natural, inalienable rights.  Some slaveholders rightly feared that the above statement would mean the liberty of all humans, including their slaves, so forced the inclusion of the statement “when they enter into a state of society” to protect their infernal institution.  The delegates embraced social compact theory by averring: “They cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”  

By June 7, Virginia delegate, Richard Henry Lee, offered a resolution in Congress that, “These United Colonies, are, and of right, ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” 

Thomas Jefferson was appointed to the committee to draft the Declaration and took up his pen.  He did not have his copy of Locke’s Second Treatise with him but the Virginia Declaration of Rights was printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette on June 12 and heavily influenced Jefferson’s writing.  By July 4, the Declaration was adopted with revisions and stated the principles of universal natural right and government by the people’s consent:

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.

On May 8, 1825, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Henry Lee, reflecting on the meaning of the Declaration of Independence after nearly fifty years.  Jefferson explained that he had not been trying to discover new principles or arguments about liberty, but to “place before mankind the common sense of the subject.”  Jefferson freely admitted that his ideas did not significantly differ from the arguments of the 1760s and 1770s for the principles of liberty and republican self-government by the consent of the governed.  “Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind,” Jefferson wrote poetically.  He also acknowledged his debt to classical authors and those of the British Enlightenment regarding republican government, natural law, and natural right.  “All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.” 

Jefferson’s accomplishment was to declare the moral principles of the American creed that created a natural rights republic in which all people were endowed by their Creator, not government, with their rights, and republican government, based upon the people’s consent, was created for the very purpose of protecting those rights.  The Fourth of July is a proper occasion to remember and celebrate those principles deeply embedded in the American character. 

By: Tony Williams, WJMI Program Director

Monday, July 2, 2012

We hold these truths to be self-evident...

The formal resolution declaring political independence from Great Britain had been submitted to the Continental Congress on June 7th by Richard Henry Lee, a delegate from Virginia. It read: “Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”  On Monday, July 1, 1776, Lee’s resolution was debated by Congress. Throughout that day and into the evening the bold supporters of American independence, led by the eloquence of John Adams, a delegate from Massachusetts, argued for severing the colonies’ ties with their mother country, England. The opposition was led by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, and was supported primarily by delegates from New York and South Carolina.  Adams carried the day, and on Tuesday, July 2nd the solemn vote was taken in the affirmative.  Acknowledging that the delegates were in fact committing treason against the King of England, Benjamin Franklin remarked: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”[1]  

On the day the Declaration was actually signed by all of the delegates (August 2, 1776), they pondered the gravity of their act. Thirty five years later, Benjamin Rush recounted this fact to John Adams: “… scarcely a word was said of the solicitude and labors and fears and sorrows and sleepless nights of the men who projected, proposed, defended, and subscribed the Declaration of Independence. … Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants? . . ."[2] What had finally moved these men to pass this dangerous accord?  In the same letter, Benjamin Rush also asked Adams. “Do you recollect your memorable speech upon the day on which the vote was taken?”  According to Daniel Webster, on the day of the great debate before the vote was taken in Congress, John Adams (who was not known as a great orator), stood and eloquently declared:

Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, I give my heart and hand to this vote.  It is true, indeed, that in the beginning we aimed not at independence.  But there's a Divinity which shapes our ends. . . . Why then should we defer the Declaration? . . . You and I, indeed, may rue it.  We may not live to the time when this Declaration may be made good.  We may die; die colonists, die slaves; die it may be, ignominiously and on the scaffold.  Be it so, be it so.  If it be the pleasure of Heaven that my country shall require the poor offering of my life, the victim shall be ready. . . . But while I do live, let me have a country, or at least the hope of a country, and that a free country.

But whatever may be our fate, be assured . . . that this Declaration will stand.  It may cost treasure, and it may cost blood; but it will stand, and it will richly compensate for both.  Through the thick and gloom of the present, I see the brightness of the future, as the sun in heaven.  We shall make this a glorious, an immortal day.   When we are in our graves, our children will honor it. They will celebrate it with thanksgiving, with festivity, with bonfires and illuminations.  On its annual return they will shed tears, copious, gushing tears, not of subjection or of slavery, not of agony and distress, but of exultation, of gratitude, of joy.  Sir, before God, I believe the hour is come.  My judgment approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope, in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it; and I leave off as I begun, that live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration.  It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment, Independence, now, and Independence for ever![3]

The delegates passed the resolution.  Late that same night, Adams wrote to his wife Abigail with respect to the events of that day:  “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 Shows, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”[4]  On the morning of July 5th, copies of the Declaration were dispatched by members of Congress to various assemblies, conventions, and committees of safety as well as to the commanders of Continental troops.

On Monday, July 8, 1776, the first public reading of the newly printed Declaration (one of two hundred John Dunlap broadsides) was celebrated and church bells were rung throughout Philadelphia.  At that time, the Liberty Bell hung in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House.  It was commissioned from the London firm of Lester & Pack in 1752, and was cast with an inscription from Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto the habitants thereof.”  While there is no contemporary account of the Liberty Bell ringing, most historians believe it was one of the bells rung that day.   On July 9th, General George Washington, who was then stationed in Brooklyn Heights with the Continental Army in preparation for the Battle of New York, had several brigades drawn up at 6:00 p.m. in the evening to hear it read aloud.[5]  Its enduring words still ring familiar and true in our day.

           The Declaration of Independence stands as a timeless statement of human liberty, rights and equalityThe 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.”[6]  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. It is, as Abraham Lincoln wrote, the "apple of gold in the frame of silver..." (Proverbs 25:11).

[1] Ben Franklin Laughing, P. M. Zall, ed., (University of California Press,1980), p. 154.
[2] Letter of Benjamin Rush to John Adams, July 20, 1811 (reflecting on the July 4th celebration that year).
[3] The Works of Daniel Webster, 4th ed. (Boston, 1851), 1:133–36.
[4] John Adams to Abigail Adams, The Book of Abigail and John: Selected Letters of the Adams Family, 1762-1784, (Harvard University Press, 1975), p. 142.
[5] Malone, et. al. The Story of the Declaration of Independence, p. 82.
[6] Jefferson to Samuel Adams Wells, 1819, ME 15:200.

Monday, June 11, 2012

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."  George Washington

The "pursuit of happiness" is the third "unalienable right" set forth in the Declaration of Independence in connection with "life" and "liberty."  Webster's dictionary defines "happiness" as a state of well being and contentment.  While each individual may describe happiness differently, most all will agree that happiness is the object of existence.  In this regard, John Adams wrote that: "[H]appiness of society is the end of government."  Thus, liberty is the means and happiness is its end.  Without liberty, no person or society can be truly happy.  Locke, in his Essay the True End of Civil Government, quotes Dragonetti on Virtue and Rewards, stating: "The science of the politician consists in fixing the true point of happiness and freedom.  Those men would deserve the gratitude of ages, who should discover a mode of government that contained the greatest sum of individual happiness, with the least national expense."  This, then is the great dilemma for citizens, representatives and leaders in all ages: how do we efficiently augment the well being and contentment of society, i.e., maximize societal happiness?  Endless social programs have been devised, enacted and administered to this end.  While there is no single solution or easy answer to all social ills, there is a formula proven in nature: "For whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap" (Galatians 6:7)  In other words, being free to sow what we will, if we sow good seed, and so labor, we shall reap good fruit.  Individually and collectively we together bear and reap the harvest of the opportunities and privileges provided us through liberty's vale.  Thus, wisdom and virtue must fashion each seed sown by government.  

Thomas Jefferson said: "[W]hat more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? . . . a wise and frugal government . . . which shall leave [men] free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. . . . We must make our choice between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude.  . . . If we can prevent government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of caring for them, the people will be happy."  As revered in our past, industry, thrift and self-reliance  must be upheld as crowning attributes to each generation.  Thoreau said: "This government never of itself furthered any enterprise . . . [t]he character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished."  There were no "social programs" for the pilgrims or pioneers.  Happiness is garnered by self, not granted by government.

The unalienable rights of "liberty" and "the pursuit of happiness" are truly co-dependent.  Liberty provides an unfettered path in life to choose happiness or its counterfeits.  These individual and collective choices effectually serve to either bless and benefit, or curse and hinder, each of us, our society, and our posterity.  An ancient proverb states: "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." (Proverbs 14:34). The choice and decision is ours.  Thus, while the possession of liberty itself cannot guarantee happiness, it alone affords us the full opportunity in life for its pursuit.

"[T]he form of government which communicates … happiness to the greatest number of persons, in the greatest degree, is the best.” John Adams

Monday, June 4, 2012

Alexander Hamilton and Slavery

“Alexander Hamilton, original federalist and founding father of the U.S. Constitution ...remains perhaps the most underestimated constitutional founder in American history. Few people truly understand the unprecedented legacy of this prominent, passionate patriotic hero. Indeed, his conspicuous contributions to American democracy became overshadowed by the equally prodigious Thomas Jefferson. Yet, his direct ideological influence upon the venerable virtues of American constitutionalism sustains unsurpassed significance…

Alexander Hamilton considered charity an indispensable priority. As a preeminent proponent of freedom, Hamilton promoted altruistic initiatives designed to ameliorate conditions for his fellow American brethren, and most particularly targeted destitute, downtrodden classes lacking equal opportunity. He references profound dedication to philanthropic interests through his abundant record of active civic engagement, establishing institutions that foster racial equality.

While slavery encompassed all races, it predominantly constituted Blacks. After all, slavery remained a pervasive problem during Hamilton's era of political prominence. For example, in 1785, Hamilton collaborated with others under his leadership to consolidate the New York Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves (Scanlon, 17).

Hamilton staunchly sought emancipation, and envisioned the inevitable termination of slavery during an era that condoned its virulent institution. Slavery became a polarizing issue that severely divided America during its infancy.

The dehumanizing institution and heinous hypocrisy surrounding slavery seemed unconscionable to Alexander Hamilton, as someone who championed individual liberty, inalienable rights of man, and freedom from personal oppression. Indeed, Hamilton advocated, "the abolition of Negro slavery," a measure which many Southern plantation owners considered probably "the most daring property invasions ever made," at that time (Miller, 122).

Therefore, recognizing the barbarous treatment of slaves, perceived as nothing more than mere property, Hamilton sought extensive social reform, specifically, substantial philanthropic initiatives that minimized slavery and provided emancipation. He continued these charitable interests throughout his life.”[1]

An alternative view: Michelle DuRoss, “Somewhere in Between: Alexander Hamilton and Slavery”

[1] From Michael Staib “Alexander Hamilton: Architect of American Capitalism” (Apr 27, 2009)
1. Scanlon, Laura Wolff, "Alexander Hamilton, The Man Who Modernized Money" Humanities, Jan/Feb 2006, Vol. 27 Issue 1, p16-19, 4p.
2. Miller, John C., Alexander Hamilton and the Growth of the New Nation (The University Library, Harper and Row Publishers, 1959).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day

“In Flanders Fields”

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918), Canadian Army

“Memorial Day, originally called 'Decoration Day,' is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day… Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war)." In 1971, the U.S. Congress passed the National Holiday Act moving Memorial Day to the last Monday in May. It is now celebrated in almost every State, honoring all Americans who have given their lives in the course of all wars.
See: http://www.usmemorialday.org/backgrnd.html
Photo: Tyne Cot Cemetery in Flanders Fields, Belgium