Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Romance of John and Abigail Adams

 
“John Adams, a 24-year-old lawyer in Braintree, Massachusetts, first met the teenage Abigail Smith in the summer of 1759 at her father’s home in Weymouth. John’s initial impressions were less than complimentary: “Not fond, not frank, not candid” was the overall assessment in his diary. But from these inauspicious beginnings a romance developed that would sustain this most famous of American couples through fifty years of marriage, five children (three of whom they outlived), multiple homes in numerous cities and towns across three countries and two continents, lengthy separations, and all the rigors of eighteenth-century life—not to mention a revolution, wars, and a wide array of political and diplomatic crises.

What we know of John and Abigail’s relationship stems largely from the letters they wrote to one another, of which some 1,160 have survived to the present day. Their earliest extant note, written from John to Abigail in October 1762, shows just how much had changed between them in the three short years since they first met. “Miss Adorable,” John wrote. “By the same Token that the Bearer hereof satt up with you last night I hereby order you to give him, as many Kisses, and as many Hours of your Company after 9 O Clock as he shall please to Demand and charge them to my Account.” In time their flirtatious correspondence evolved to reflect a deeper, more abiding relationship, but they never lost what Abigail described as “that unabated affection which has for years past, and will whilst the vital spark lasts, burn in the Bosom of your affectionate A Adams.”

Along with that affection and intimacy, Abigail and John proved to be kindred spirits, with shared interests in and a common outlook on the world around them. Abigail had never received a formal education, but her access to some of the finest libraries in Massachusetts and her voracious love of reading gave her a wide-ranging knowledge that allowed her easily to serve as John’s equal in any intellectual debate. Her place as John’s primary political advisor was merely a logical extension of her role as wife and manager of their household in a partnership of equals.

Their letters not only reflected this emotional and intellectual interdependence; they also became symbols of it.” 
 
(Margaret A. Hogan is Managing Editor of the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society and Coeditor with C. James Taylor of  "My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams" http://harvardpress.typepad.com/off_the_page/2008/02/the-romance-of.html)

 This tender letter was written by Abigail to John after eighteen years of marriage:

My Dearest Friend,

…should I draw you the picture of my Heart, it would be what I hope you still would Love; tho it contained nothing new; the early possession you obtained there; and the absolute power you have ever maintained over it; leaves not the smallest space unoccupied. I look back to the early days of our acquaintance; and Friendship, as to the days of Love and Innocence; and with an indescribable pleasure I have seen near a score of years roll over our Heads, with an affection heightened and improved by time -- nor have the dreary years of absence in the smallest degree effaced from my mind the Image of the dear untitled man to whom I gave my Heart...

(December 23, 1782)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Benjamin Franklin and Religious Tolerance


“[Benjamin Franklin] ended up in Philadelphia, a place unlike much of the world. There were Lutherans and Moravians and Quakers and even Jews, as well as Calvinists, living side by side in what became known as the City of Brotherly Love. Franklin helped formulate the creed that they would all be better off, personally and economically, if they embraced an attitude of tolerance.

Franklin believed in God and in the social usefulness of religion, but he did not subscribe to any particular sectarian doctrine. This led him to help raise money to build a new hall in Philadelphia that was, as he put it, "expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something." He added, "Even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service."

He also wrote parodies that poked fun at Puritan intolerance. In one of them, called "A Witch Trial at Mount Holly," a couple of accused witches were subjected to two tests: weighed on a scale against the Bible, and tossed in the river with hands and feet bound to see if they floated. They agreed to submit--on the condition that two of the accusers take the same test. With colorful details of all the pomp, Franklin described the process. The accused and accusers all succeed in outweighing the Bible. But both of the accused and one of the accusers fail to sink in the river, thus indicating that they are witches. The more intelligent spectators conclude that most people naturally float. The others are not so sure and resolve to wait until summer when the experiment could be tried with the subjects unclothed.

Franklin's freethinking unnerved his family. When his parents wrote of their concern over his "erroneous opinions," Franklin replied with a letter that spelled out a religious philosophy based on tolerance that would last his life. It would be vain for any person to insist that "all the doctrines he holds are true and all he rejects are false." The same could be said of the opinions of different religions. He had little use for the doctrinal distinctions his mother worried about. "I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue. And the Scripture assures me that at the last day we shall not be examined by what we thought, but what we did ... that we did good to our fellow creatures…"

By the end of his life, he had contributed to the building funds of each and every sect in Philadelphia, including £5 for the Congregation Mikveh Israel for its new synagogue in April 1788. During the July 4 celebrations that year, he was too sick to leave his bed, but the parade marched under his window. For the first time, as per arrangements that Franklin had overseen, "the clergy of different Christian denominations, with the rabbi of the Jews, walked arm in arm."

And when he was carried to his grave two years later, his casket was accompanied by all the clergymen of the city, every one of them, of every faith.” 

--Walter Isaacson, Citizen Ben’s 7 Great Virtues (Time Magazine, July 7, 2003)
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Sunday, March 25, 2012

March 25, 1807 - British Parliament Abolishes Slave Trade


“William Wilberforce was a deeply religious English member of parliament and social reformer who was very influential in the abolition of the slave trade and eventually slavery itself in the British empire.

William Wilberforce was born on 24 August 1759 in Hull, the son of a wealthy merchant. He studied at Cambridge University where he began a lasting friendship with the future prime minister, William Pitt the Younger. In 1780, Wilberforce became member of parliament for Hull, later representing Yorkshire. His dissolute lifestyle changed completely when he became an evangelical Christian, and in 1790 joined a leading group known as the Clapham Sect. His Christian faith prompted him to become interested in social reform, particularly the improvement of factory conditions in Britain.

The abolitionist Thomas Clarkson had an enormous influence on Wilberforce. He and others were campaigning for an end to the trade in which British ships were carrying black slaves from Africa, in terrible conditions, to the West Indies as goods to be bought and sold. Wilberforce was persuaded to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade and for 18 years he regularly introduced anti-slavery motions in parliament. The campaign was supported by many members of the Clapham Sect and other abolitionists who raised public awareness of their cause with pamphlets, books, rallies and petitions. In 1807 [on March 25th], the slave trade was finally abolished…

Wilberforce's other efforts to 'renew society' included the organization of the Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1802. He worked with the reformer, Hannah More, in the Association for the Better Observance of Sunday. Its goal was to provide all children with regular education in reading, personal hygiene and religion. He was closely involved with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He was also instrumental in encouraging Christian missionaries to go to India.

Wilberforce retired from politics in 1825 and died on 29 July 1833, shortly after the act to free slaves in the British empire passed through the House of Commons. He was buried near his friend Pitt in Westminster Abbey.”

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/wilberforce_william.shtml

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Education in the Republic


“Religion, Morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, Schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged.” Northwest Ordinance passed by Congress, July 13, 1787.

“[T]he common education of . . . our youth . . . well deserves attention. . . . and a primary object . . . should be the education of our youth in the science of government.  In a republic what species of knowledge can be equally important and what duty more pressing . . . than to patronize a plan for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?” George Washington, 8th Annual Message, December 7, 1796

“Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.” John Adams, “Defense of the Constitutions,” Vol. III, Chapter 3; Works: 6

“[The purpose of education in a republic is] to form the statesmen, legislators and judges, on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend; To expound the principles and structure of government, ... and a sound spirit of legislation, which ... shall leave us free to do whatever does not violate the equal rights of another; … to develop the reasoning faculties of our youth, enlarge their minds, cultivate their morals, and instill into them precepts of virtue and order ...”  Thomas Jefferson, Report for the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, August 4, 1818

“A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” James Madison, Letter to W. T. Barry, August 4, 1822.

“[P]ublic education must prepare pupils for citizenship in the Republic. . . . It must inculcate the habits and manners of civility as values in themselves conducive to happiness and as indispensable to the practice of self-government in the community and the nation.” U. S. Supreme Court, Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675 (1986), quoting C. Beard & M. Beard, New Basic History of the United States 228 (1968).

“We also need to make sure that [students] understand their own country. Far too little is taught about America at Harvard. The Government Department has too few courses on America; little on the Supreme Court, for example, and less on American foreign policy. The History Department has no course on the American revolution or on the American founding. . . . Courses in American history and politics should be part of the recommended or required part of the curriculum.” Harvey C. Mansfield, “A More Demanding Curriculum,” 2004.

“[T]hat's what I think education, in the end, involves -challenging our children seriously to take a look, seek the truth and think it through for themselves. I therefore have to say that I can think of nothing that could be more powerful for the start of the educational day, indeed as a basis for our educational philosophy, than the notion that we wish to shape our young hearts and minds in the new generations in the light of those principles which have been the basis for our freedom…” Alan Keyes, The Declaration in Our Schools, May 15, 2000.

“I don't think the problem is the teachers …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.” David McCullough, Interview, New Haven, Connecticut, May 25, 2005.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Great Seal (1776)


On July 4, 1776 Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams were appointed by the Continental Congress to design a seal for the new United States of America.  "Resolved, That Dr. Franklin, Mr. J. Adams and Mr. Jefferson, be a committee, to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America." – July 4, 1776, Journals of Continental Congress. For the design team, Congress chose three of the five men who were on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. The men consulted among themselves between July 4 and August 13, and then each brought before the committee a suggestion for the design of the Great Seal.

Benjamin Franklin's proposal is preserved in a note of his own handwriting: 

“Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.”

“Motto, Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."

Thomas Jefferson also suggested allegorical scenes. For the front of the seal: children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  For the reverse: Hengist and Horsa, the two brothers who were the legendary leaders of the first Anglo-Saxon settlers in Britain.

Jefferson's edit of Franklin's suggestion read as follows:

“Pharaoh sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his head and a Sword in his hand, passing through the divided Waters of the Red Sea in Pursuit of the Israelites: Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Cloud, expressive of the divine Presence and Command, beaming on Moses who stands on the shore and extending his hand over the Sea causes it to overwhelm Pharaoh.”

Jefferson fully agreed with Franklin’s motto.

The same day Congress received the committee's report, it was "Ordered, To lie on the table."

See: https://www.greatseal.com/committees/index.html

Monday, February 27, 2012

Preaching Virtue and Happiness in Virginia (1776)

The Anglican church (or the Church of England) was the official church of the colony of Virginia.  In colonial Virginia, during what has been called “The Great Awakening” – a period of increased religious fervor during the 18th century that was as a precursor to the American Revolution, Anglican priests taught that virtue led to happiness.  In their own preaching, the Anglican ministers in Virginia often relied upon the sermons of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. John Tillotson (1630-1694). The Archbishop of Canterbury was the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, and Tillotson served in this capacity from 1691-1694.  His Works were read and used not only by ministers, but were read by many parishioners.  According to one historian, Tillotsons Works were "among [Virginian's] favorite books." (Thomas Jefferson owned a copy in his personal library). Among other religious themes, Tillotson asserted that human happiness was only to be found in the pursuit of moral virtue, and he taught that, “Virtue and Goodness are so essential to happiness that where these are not, there is no capacity of it.”

Interestingly enough, the law in Virginia at the time was such that you must attend church at least once a month or be subject to a fine, so the church pews were usually full.  Thus, whether from duty or devotion Anglican Virginians, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, would have heard these types of sermons when they attended church. For example, Charles Clay, the Anglican minister in Thomas Jefferson’s parish, who presided over Jefferson’s mother’s funeral in 1776, was a follower of Tillotson.  Clay taught his congregations to “Give …all diligence to grow in grace & increase in Virtue… [which brings] true Happiness.” (Virginia-born Clay was a parish priest in St. Anne’s Church, Albemarle County, from 1769 to 1785). 

Of course while Washington and Jefferson didn’t attend church every Sunday, they were exposed to these teachings.  From their study of history, and British political philosophers such as Sidney, as well as the reformation and the enlightenment, is it any wonder then that Washington and Jefferson embraced these same principles and reflected them in their beliefs and writings? 

George Washington wrote, "[T]here is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists . . . an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness." (First Inaugural Speech (1789).  And in his Farewell Address he stated, "Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity [happiness] of a nation with its virtue?"

Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend, “The order of nature [is] that individual happiness shall be inseparable from the practice of virtue.” (Letter to M. Correa de Serra, 1814).  In another letter (almost quoting Tillotson), Jefferson stated that: “Without virtue, happiness cannot be.” (Letter to Amos J. Cook, 1816). And, on another occasion he wrote, “Happiness is the aim of life.  Virtue is the foundation of happiness.” (Letter to William Short, October 31, 1819).  

With this in mind, Jefferson (who was a moralist at heart) might have penned this most famous line of the Declaration of Independence to read, "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 Virtue."
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Primary references from: Jacob Blosser, “Pursuing Happiness in Colonial Virginia,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 118, No. 3 (2010) pp. 214, 229, p. 243 n. 24).

Also see: "Thomas Jefferson and the Pursuit of Virtue."

and "Thomas Jefferson: Moralist" by Mark Andrew Holochak (McFarlanad & Co., 2017)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Washington's Birthday

The federal holiday celebrated today, February 20, 2012 (the 3rd Monday of February) is officially intended to honor George Washington’s Birthday. Washington’s Birthday has been a federal holiday since 1885. For more than 80 years it was celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, Feb. 22nd.  What changed?  Following is a brief history of this important holiday:  

           “Presidents' Day is intended (for some) to honor all the American presidents, but most significantly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. According to the Gregorian or "New Style" calendar that is most commonly used today, George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. But according to the Julian or "Old Style" calendar that was used in England until 1752, his birth date was February 11th. Back in the 1790s, Americans were split - some celebrated his birthday on February 11th and some on February 22nd. 

            When Abraham Lincoln became president and helped reshape our country, it was believed he, too, should have a special day of recognition. Tricky thing was that Lincoln’s birthday fell on February 12th. Prior to 1968, having two presidential birthdays so close together didn't seem to bother anyone. February 22nd was observed as a federal public holiday to honor the birthday of George Washington and February 12th was observed as a public holiday to honor Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. 

          In 1968, things changed when the 90th Congress was determined to create a uniform system of federal Monday holidays. They voted to shift the existing holidays (including Washington's Birthday) to Mondays. The law took effect in 1971, and as a result, Washington's Birthday holiday was changed to the third Monday in February. But not all Americans were happy with the new law. There was some concern that Washington's identity would be lost since the third Monday in February would never fall on his actual birthday. There was also an attempt to rename the public holiday "Presidents' Day", but the idea didn't go anywhere since some believed not all presidents deserved a special recognition. 

Even though Congress had created a uniform federal holiday law, there was not a uniform holiday title agreement among the individual states. Some states, like California, Idaho, Tennessee and Texas chose not to retain the federal holiday title and renamed their state holiday "President's Day." From that point forward, the term “Presidents' Day” became a marketing phenomenon, as advertisers sought to capitalize on the opportunity for three-day or week-long sales. 

In 1999, bills were introduced in both the U.S. House (HR-1363) and Senate (S-978) to specify that the legal public holiday once referred to as Washington's Birthday be "officially" called by that name once again. Both bills died in committees.

Today, President’s Day is well accepted and celebrated. Some communities still observe the original holidays of Washington and Lincoln, and many parks actually stage reenactments and pageants in their honor. The National Park Service also features a number of historic sites and memorials to honor the lives of these two presidents, as well as other important leaders.” (1) 

Despite the commercial and colloquial use of the term “President’s Day,” hopefully, we as a nation will choose to continue to celebrate and remember the life and legacy of the Father of our Nation, George Washington.  An excellent way to do so was commended to all citizens by Abraham Lincoln in a Presidential Proclamation on February 19, 1862:

"It is recommended to the people of the United States that they assemble in their customary places of meeting for public solemnities on the twenty-second day of February instant, and celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Father of His Country by causing to be read to them his immortal Farewell Address.” (2)

May all students and citizens, young and old, regularly read and ponder Washington's Farewell Address, and may we teach our children and posterity to always remember and honor our nation’s Founding Father.

J. David Gowdy, President
The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute
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(2)  Read Washington's Farewell Address at:  http://www.wjmi.org/DOCS/farewell.htm