Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Liberty is based upon Timeless Principles

"Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto the inhabitants thereof."
[Inscription on the Liberty Bell; Leviticus 25:10] 

Liberty! The very word evokes hope and stirs the inner soul of man. Throughout the course of time, individuals and nations oppressed by the yoke of tyranny or bondage have cried out for liberty's reprise and have sought for the comfort of its soothing rays. Revolution and war have oft been its price. Few nations have ever obtained it, let alone maintained it. Why so rare this prize for which so much blood and so many tears have been shed? Is its definition misunderstood? What is liberty and how is it secured, or more portentous, how is it lost? 

First, we must understand that liberty is based upon fundamental principles and not philosophies or policies. Principles, which are based on truth, are constant and timeless; philosophies and policies are variable and changing and are based upon theories, circumstances and opinion. Second, we must recognize that liberty is not free. It must be both earned and guarded. Lastly, we must realize that liberty requires public morality or virtue. George Washington said: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” See: "No Liberty without Virtue."

The greatest, and probably most generally unrecognized, threat to our liberty today results from the gradual erosion of virtue. This decay has resulted from negligence and apathy on the part of many and from calculated attacks on the part of a few. The invasive roots of its opposing influences have crept deeper into the soil of our communities while we have slept, and in some cases, while we have been thwarted in our efforts to eradicate their causes. James Madison stated: "I believe that there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." When the policies and practices of the nation favor rights in exclusion of responsibility, and sanction vice at the expense of virtue, calamity is imminent. The impending consequences of the ruin of public virtue, which already cast a dark shadow across our nation, now loom on the horizon as a force destructive to our society, our government and our very peace and happiness. 

Unless we become vigilant in understanding and upholding liberty's principles, we shall lose all which is attached to it: our national unity, our security, our peace and our prosperity. No person who loves liberty, can, in the face of the danger of its loss, stand idly by when life itself and the pursuit of happiness, hang so precipitously in the balance. A modern statesman, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., said: "We stand in danger of losing our liberties, and . . . once lost, only blood will bring them back . . ." In order to preserve liberty we must not only pledge allegiance, but prove loyal in deed to the standards upon which it is founded. Our Founding Fathers mutually pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to the cause of liberty. May we commit anything less and stand worthy of its benefaction? 

"[T]he preservation of the sacred fire of liberty . . . [is] finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American People." --George Washington

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The First Martyr to the Cause of American Liberty

The first martyr to the cause of American liberty was Major General Joseph Warren (June 11, 1741 – June 17, 1775). The son of Joseph Warren and Mary Stevens, his father was a respected farmer. He enrolled in Harvard College, graduating in 1759, and then taught for about a year at Roxbury Latin. He then studied medicine and married 18-year-old heiress Elizabeth Hooten on September 6, 1764. She died in 1773, leaving him with four children: Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, and Richard. Before his death in 1775, he was engaged to Mercy Scollay. Warren played a leading role in Patriot organizations in Boston during the early days of the American Revolution, eventually serving as President of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Warren enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes on April 18, 1775, to leave Boston and spread the alarm that the British garrison in Boston was setting out to raid the town of Concord and arrest rebel leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Warren participated in the Battles of Lexington and Concord the following day – the opening engagements of the American Revolutionary War. 

After the meeting of the Provincial congress at Concord in October 1774, Dr. Warren acted as chairman of the committee of safety, charged with the duty of organizing the militia and collecting military stores. As the 5th of March, 1775, drew near, several British officers were heard to declare that anyone who should dare to address the people in the Old South church on this occasion would surely lose his life. As soon as he heard of these threats, Dr. Warren solicited for himself the dangerous honor, and at the usual hour delivered a stirring oration upon "the baleful influence of standing armies in time of peace." The concourse in the church was so great that, when the orator arrived, every approach to the pulpit was "blocked up" and rather than elbow his way through the crowd, which might lead to some disturbance, he procured a ladder and climbed in through a large window at the back of the pulpit. About forty British officers were present, some of whom sat on the pulpit-steps, and sought to annoy the speaker with groans and hisses, but everything passed off quietly. 

On Tuesday evening, the 18th April, 1775, observing the movements of the British troops, Dr. Warren dispatched William Dawes, by way of Roxbury, and Paul Revere, by way of Charlestown, to give the alarm to the people dwelling on the roads toward Concord. Next morning, on hearing the news of the firing at Lexington, he left his patients in charge of his pupil and assistant, William Eustis, and rode off to the scene of action. He seems to have attended a meeting of the committee of safety that morning at the Black Horse tavern in Menotomy (now Arlington), and there to have consulted with Gen. William Heath. By the time Lord Percy reached Menotomy on his retreat, Gen. Heath had assumed command of the militia, and the fighting there was perhaps the severest of the day. Dr. Warren kept his place near Heath, and a pin was struck from his head by a musket-ball. During the next six weeks he was indefatigable in urging on the military preparations of the New England colonies. At the meeting of the Provincial congress at Watertown, the 31st of May, he was unanimously chosen its president, and thus became chief executive officer of Massachusetts under this provisional government. 

Warren was commissioned as a major general by the Provincial Congress on June 14, 1775. Several days later, in the moments before the Battle of Bunker Hill, Warren arrived where the militia was forming and asked where the heaviest fighting would be; General Israel Putnam pointed to Breed's Hill. Warren volunteered to join the fighting as a private against the wishes of General Putnam and Colonel William Prescott, both of whom requested that he serve as their commander. Warren declined the command in the belief that Putnam and Prescott were more experienced with war. He was among those inspiring the men to hold rank against superior numbers. Warren was known to have repeatedly declared of the British: "These fellows say we won't fight! By Heaven, I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!" He fought in the redoubt until out of ammunition and remained until the British made their third and final assault on the hill to give time for the militia to escape. He was killed instantly by a musket or pistol ball in the head by a British officer.  The enemy stripped his body of clothing and he was bayoneted until unrecognizable, and then shoved into a shallow ditch and buried. His body was exhumed ten months after his death by his brothers and Paul Revere, who identified the remains by the artificial tooth he had placed in the jaw. His body was placed in the Granary Burying Ground and later (in 1825) in St. Paul's Church before finally being moved in 1855 to his family's vault in Forest Hills Cemetery. 

General Gage reportedly said Warren's death was equal to the death of 500 men. It encouraged the revolutionary cause because it was viewed by many Americans as an act of martyrdom. His death, immortalized in John Trumbull's painting, “The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775,” (see image below) galvanized the rebel forces. 

At the time of Warren's death, his children were staying with his fiancée, Mercy Scollay, in Worcester as refugees from the Siege of Boston. She continued to look after them, gathering support for their education from John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Benedict Arnold, and even the Continental Congress. He has been memorialized in the naming of many towns, counties, streets, and other locations in the United States, by statues, and in numerous other ways.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Poems of Thomas Jefferson

“Thomas Jefferson did not write many poems, although he had a great appreciation for poetry.[1] He read and quoted widely from poets such as Homer, Virgil, John Dryden, and John Milton. Ossian was a special source of pleasure. In 1786, Jefferson's pleasure reading briefly turned more scholarly when he wrote "Thoughts on English Prosody," an essay in which he debated whether the principal characteristic of English poetry was accent or quantity (he settled on accent). 

From the age of fifteen until he turned thirty, he kept a Literary Commonplace Book[2] in which he pasted newspaper clippings of favorite poems and prose. Beginning in 1801, he began the first of two poetry scrapbooks dedicated exclusively to poetry clippings.[3] Jefferson also helped his granddaughters create their own poetry scrapbooks. One of them, Virginia Randolph Trist, recalled that "whenever an opportunity occurred, he sent us books; and he never saw a little story or piece of poetry in a newspaper, suited to our ages and tastes, that he did not preserve and send it to us."[4] 

A number of scholars have attributed to Jefferson an unfinished poem, "To Ellen," indicating that it may have been intended for his granddaughter Ellen Wayles Coolidge.[5] 

“To Ellen” 

Tis hope supports each noble flame, 
'Tis hope inspires poetic lays, 
Our heroes fight in hopes of fame, 
And poets write in hopes of praise. 

She sings sweet songs of future years, 
And dries the tears of present sorrow, 
Bids doubting mortals cease their fears, 
And tells them of a bright to-morrow. 

And where true love a visit pays, 
The minstrel hope is allways there, 
To soothe young Cupid with her lays, 
And keep the lover from despair. 

Why fades the rose upon thy cheek; 
Why droop the lilies at the view? 
Thy cause of sorrow, Ellen speak, 
Why alter'd thus thy sprightly hue? 

Each day, alas! with breaking heart, 
I see they beautous form decline; 
 Yet fear my anguish to impart, 
Lest it should add a pang to thine... 

Jefferson may have composed some light verse during periods of his later life, but the only surviving poem of definite authorship by Jefferson was written in 1826, at the approach of his death. Confined to bed by illness, Jefferson wrote "A death-bed Adieu" for his daughter, Martha [“Patsy”] Randolph[6]. On July 2nd, two days before he died, Jefferson told Martha that he'd composed a farewell in her honor; following his instructions, she found the verse in a small box after his death. ['Two Seraphs' refers to Jefferson's wife, Martha, and to their daughter Maria Jefferson Eppes, born August 1, 1778; died April 17, 1804].” 

“A death-bed Adieu” -- TJ to MR 

Life's visions are vanished, it's dreams are no more. 
Dear friends of my bosom, why bathed in tears? 
I go to my fathers; I welcome the shore, 
which crowns all my hopes, or which buries my cares. 
Then farewell my dear, my lov'd daughter, Adieu! 
The last pang in life is in parting from you. 
Two Seraphs await me, long shrouded in death; 
I will bear them your love on my last parting breath. 

1. Until recently, most scholars thought that Jefferson's interest in poetry waned significantly in his later years. To learn why this may not have been the case, see Jonathan Gross's "When Jefferson Dined Alone" (http://hnn.us/articles/20061.html, History News Network, February 12, 2006). 
2. See Jefferson's Literary Commonplace Book, ed. Douglas L. Wilson (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989) for a critical edition. 
3. The contents of Jefferson's poetry scrapbooks can be found in Jonathan Gross's Thomas Jefferson's Scrapbook's: Poems of Nation, Family & Romantic Love Collected by America's Third President (Sterforth Press: Hanover, New Hampshire, 2006). 
4. B. L. Rayner, Sketches of the Life, Writings, and Opinions of Thomas Jefferson. With Selections of the Most Valuable Portions of His Voluminous and Unrivaled Private Correspondence (New York: A. Francis and W. Boardman, 1832.): 346-47. 
5. Ellen (Eleonora) Wayles Randolph (1796–1876), the fourth child of Thomas Mann Randolph and TJ’s daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph, shared her name with an elder sister who died in 1794. Born at Monticello, Randolph returned with her family to live there following her grandfather’s retirement from the presidency. She became one of TJ’s favorite grandchildren, often accompanying him on trips to Poplar Forest and Natural Bridge. In 1816, with his financial assistance, she visited Richmond, Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, winning renown as an intelligent conversationalist. On May 27, 1825 in the Monticello drawing room, she married Joseph Coolidge, a Bostonian who had first visited TJ a year earlier. When the newlyweds settled in Boston, the separation proved difficult for both TJ and his granddaughter. Ellen Coolidge corresponded regularly with those who remained at Monticello but did not return until just after TJ’s death. 
 6. The poem first appeared in its entirety in Sarah Randolph's The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson (1871). A facsimile of the original manuscript is available at Virginia's James Monroe Museum.