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"

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.


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,

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:

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….”