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.

www.powels.com/authors/mccullough.html

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Hand of Providence

When the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia in May 1787, George Washington was elected to preside by a unanimous vote. He sought to do this in an impartial manner and took no active part in its debates, although his support was widely known and had a significant influence. Privately, he urged certain delegates to support the Constitution, writing "it is the best constitution that can be obtained...and...this, or a dissolution of the union awaits our choice." (Papers of George Washington (University of Virginia), Letter to Edmund Randolph, January 8, 1788). On one of the few occasions he spoke publicly during the four hot months in Independence Hall, he said: "If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the event is in the hand of God." (George Washington, as quoted by Gouverneur Morris in Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, March 25, 1787).

James Madison, often referred to as the father of the Constitution wrote: "It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution." (The Federalist, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1983, no. 37, p. 222).

Alexander Hamilton, famous as the originator of The Federalist papers and author of fifty-one of the essays, said: "For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system, which without the finger of God, never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interest." (Paul L. Ford, Essays on the Constitution of the United States, 1892, pp. 251-52).

Charles Pinckney, a very active participant and author of the Pinckney Plan during the Convention, said: "When the great work was done and published, I was struck with amazement. Nothing less than the superintending Hand of Providence, that so miraculously carried us through the war . . . could have brought it about so complete, upon the whole." (Id., Essays on the Constitution, p. 412).

Benjamin Franklin in his speech for Adoption of the Constitution, said: “All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?” (Speech to the Constitutional Convention, 28 June 1787; Manuscript notes by Franklin preserved in the Library of Congress).