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.
Photo: Tyne Cot Cemetery in Flanders Fields, Belgium

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Courtship of James & Dolley Madison

“Dolley [Payne Todd] had been widowed less than a year when she first met James [Madison].  Like others living in Philadelphia at the time the Widow Todd caught Madison’s attention.  She was a beautiful woman at five foot seven and three quarters, “well-proportioned” with ample bust and slim waist, and a “mouth which was beautiful in shape and expression” and she had male Philadelphia “in the Pouts.”  (p. 27) Madison at forty-three was seventeen years older than Dolley [and at five foot four, was three inches shorter] when he asked his friend and fellow Princeton classmate Aaron Burr for an introduction.  Family legend has it that Dolley received the “great little Madison” in a mulberry-colored satin gown; but no matter what she wore she captured the heart of the shy, bookish, bachelor.  It was said that James was smitten with Dolley and “embarked upon a campaign worthy of a master political strategist” to win her over.  James also had some help from Martha Washington who allegedly informed Dolley of her wisdom of making this match.  

While James was captivated with Dolley, understandingly, “Dolley seems to have been more accepting than rapturous.  It would be the second marriage in her short life, and although remarriage was acceptable, John Todd had been gone less than a year and such a hasty remarriage was certain to shock many and was against Quaker practice.  In addition, James was an Anglican and not a Quaker and marriage to him would most likely lead to her being “read out” of Meeting.  James did have a sterling character, but not perhaps sexual charisma (he was famously frail and suffered life-long illness), but “Dolley no doubt took a practical view of the situation and realized that romance played a very small part, for as a woman she was a nobody unless she married.  If she married James, she would acquire financial security, a legal protector and social position.”  (p. 31-32)  James and Dolley were married on September 15, 1794 on the wedding anniversary of James’ parents at Harewood, the Virginia estate of Dolley’s sister Lucy and her husband, George Steptoe Washington.

Dolley was read indeed read out of Meeting in December.  Dolley and James made a good match and enjoyed a compatibility of character, and had a great deal in common including their southern background.  Her gracious high spirits compensated for James retiring manner.  Their marriage was one of love, respect, and great tenderness and a great partnership.  “While Dolley’s gender prevented her from openly playing politics, the very constraints of womanhood allowed her to construct an American ruling style and to achieve her husband’s political goals.  She did so by emphasizing cooperation over coercion, building bridges instead of bunkers.”
From:  Catherine Allgor, A Perfect Union, Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation (Henry Holt & Company, 2006)

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"

 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)

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.”

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."