Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Teaching the Bill of Rights

The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute's next semi-annual educational seminar will be on the subject of “The Bill of Rights: Charter of Freedom. The Seminar includes presentations by Tony Williams, Williamsburg Author and Teacher, and David J. Bobb, Director of the Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies (Hillsdale College), on the topics of English Traditions, Colonial Charters, and State Constitutions; Madison-Jefferson Correspondence about a Bill of Rights; and Madison's June 8, 1789 Speech & Prudential Statesmanship.  The seminar is primarily for Virginia middle and high school U.S. Government, U.S. History and Social Studies teachers, and will be held Friday morning, February 15th from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Prospect Hill near Charlottesville.  A complementary luncheon is included.  There is no cost for teachers to attend.  For an invitation contact jody@wjmi.org.

The President of the Texas State Bar Association recently wrote, “We hear a lot of talk these days about the U.S. Constitution and how important it is to protecting our liberties. But surveys continue to show a disturbing trend of many Americans not understanding the Constitution and its relevance to our lives today….

For starters, just imagine life without the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights guarantees some of our most precious liberties, including freedom of religion, speech, and press, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and private property rights. The Constitution created the framework for a strong but limited national government and established the fundamental rights of all U.S. citizens.

...we also should take this time to renew our focus on civics education in our schools and society. Today’s young people soon will be voting, sitting on juries and running for political office, and they must have the civics knowledge to make informed decisions and be engaged citizens. Research has shown that individuals who receive a solid civics education are more likely to be involved in their communities through activities such as volunteering and voting.

In today’s economy, the need for math, reading, writing and science knowledge is obvious, but civics education is an essential part of a comprehensive education. It is also essential to develop informed, effective and responsible citizens. Our future depends on individuals who understand their history and government, have a sense of what it means to be an American, and know their rights and responsibilities as a citizen.

“The better educated our citizens are, the better equipped they will be to preserve the system of government we have,” said retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a longtime civics education advocate.  “And we have to start with the education of our nation’s young people. Knowledge about our government is not handed down through the gene pool. Every generation has to learn it, and we have some work to do.” (Texas Bar Page, 09/11/12). 

The mission of the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute is “To instill within educators and students of the rising generation a greater understanding of and appreciation for the Founding Fathers and the Founding Documents of the United States of America.”  We encourage all Americans to actively support their local Civics, Government and Social Studies teachers in this great task.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Brief History of the Bill of Rights

“The original Constitution, as proposed in 1787 in Philadelphia and as ratified by the states, contained very few individual rights guarantees, as the framers were primarily focused on establishing the machinery for an effective federal government.  A proposal by delegate Charles Pinckney to include several rights guarantees (including "liberty of the press" and a ban on quartering soldiers in private homes) was submitted to the Committee on Detail on August 20, 1787, but the Committee did not adopt any of Pinckney's recommendations.  The matter came up before the Convention on September 12, 1787 and, following a brief debate, proposals to include a Bill or Rights in the Constitution were rejected.  As adopted, the Constitution included only a few specific rights guarantees: protection against states impairing the obligation of contracts (Art. I, Section 10), provisions that prohibit both the federal and state governments from enforcing ex post facto laws (laws that allow punishment for an action that was not criminal at the time it was undertaken) and provisions barring bills of attainder (legislative determinations of guilt and punishment) (Art. I, Sections 9 and 10).  The framers, and notably James Madison, its principal architect, believed that the Constitution protected liberty primarily through its division of powers that made it difficult for oppressive majorities to form and capture power to be used against minorities.  Delegates also probably feared that a debate over liberty guarantees might prolong or even threaten the fiercely-debated compromises that had been made over the long hot summer of 1787.

In the ratification debate, Anti-Federalists opposed to the Constitution, complained that the new system threatened liberties, and suggested that if the delegates had truly cared about protecting individual rights, they would have included provisions that accomplished that.  With ratification in serious doubt, Federalists announced a willingness to take up the matter of a series of amendments, to be called the Bill of Rights, soon after ratification and the First Congress comes into session.  The concession was undoubtedly necessary to secure the Constitution's hard-fought ratification.  Thomas Jefferson, who did not attend the Constitutional Convention, in a December 1787 letter to Madison called the omission of a Bill of Rights a major mistake: "A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth."

James Madison was skeptical of the value of a listing of rights, calling it a "parchment barrier."  (Madison's preference at the Convention to safeguard liberties was by giving Congress an unlimited veto over state laws and creating a joint executive-judicial council of revision that could veto federal laws.)  Despite his skepticism, by the fall of 1788, Madison believed that a declaration of rights should be added to the Constitution. Its value, in Madison's view, was in part educational, in part as a vehicle that might be used to rally people against a future oppressive government, and finally--in an argument borrowed from Thomas Jefferson--Madison argued that a declaration of rights would help install the judiciary as "guardians" of individual rights against the other branches.  When the First Congress met in 1789, James Madison, a congressman from Virginia, took upon himself the task of drafting a proposed Bill of Rights.  He considered his efforts "a nauseous project." His original set of proposed amendments included some that were either rejected or substantially modified by Congress, and one (dealing with apportionment of the House) that was not ratified by the required three-fourths of the state legislatures.  Some of the rejections were very significant, such as the decision not to adopt Madison's proposal to extend free speech protections to the states, and others somewhat less important (such as the dropping of Madison's language that required unanimous jury verdicts for convictions in all federal cases).

Some members of Congress argued that a listing of rights of the people was a silly exercise, in that all the listed rights inherently belonged to citizens, and nothing in the Constitution gave the Congress the power to take them away.  It was even suggested that the Bill of Rights might reduce liberty by giving force to the argument that all rights not specifically listed could be infringed upon.  In part to counter this concern, the Ninth Amendment was included providing that "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people"....

Most of the protections of the Bill of Rights eventually would be extended to state infringements as well federal infringements though the "doctrine of incorporation" beginning in the early to mid-1900s.  The doctrine rests on interpreting the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as prohibiting states from infringing on the most fundamental liberties of its citizens.

In the end, we owe opponents of the Constitution a debt of gratitude, for without their complaints, there would be no Bill of Rights.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, "There has just been opposition enough "to force adoption of a Bill of Rights, but not to drain the federal government of its essential "energy"….”
________________________________________


Friday, January 4, 2013

Remember Morristown!


On this day, January 4th, in the year 1780, a major snow storm hit General Washington and his troops encamped at Morristown, New Jersey.  The weather from January through March was extremely cold with snow accumulating to 12 feet high in places. It is well that we remember the sufferings of the Revolutionary soldiers at that time. A brief account follows:

“Washington again decided upon Morristown for his winter encampment and on November 30th (1779), informed General Nathanael Greene of his decision. The various units marched to Morristown arriving between the first week of December and the end of the month. An area southwest of Morristown, called Jockey Hollow, was selected. It is estimated that 600 acres of forest were cut down to build more than 1,000 1og huts. It became known as "log-house city". Each hut was built to specifications required by General Washington measuring about 14 by 15 feet. The height at the eaves was 6 feet 6 inches. They were built of notched logs, with clay used as chink to seal the huts from the cold, and with a door at one end and a fireplace at the other. …Each hut held 12 men. The officers' huts were somewhat larger, with one to four officers, depending on rank to occupy each….

General Washington set up Headquarters at the Ford Mansion, some five miles from Jockey Hollow. Across what is now Morris Street, some 75 yards from Ford Mansion, the Commander-in-Chief's Guards constructed twelve huts of the same design as the main army and one officer's hut for Major Caleb Gibbs and Captain William Colfax. Gibbs, in personal correspondence, referred to his hut as "Gibb's Manor".

By 1780, the Continental Army had been at war six long years. It was in deplorable condition. Congress had exhausted all their resources, including the promised assistance from France. The Continental paper dollar had depreciated to 3,000 to 1! Even those supporting independence would not accept "Continentals", hence what money available to the army was worthless. The expression "Not worth a Continental" originated at this time.

George Washington wrote the Marquis de Lafayette on March 18th, 1780 from the Ford Mansion. "... The oldest people now living in this Country do not remember so hard a winter as the one we are now emerging from. In a word the severity of the frost exceeded anything of the kind that had ever been experienced in this climate before. "

When the Army arrived at Jockey Hollow, there was already a foot of snow on the ground. Doctor James Thacher, whose journal is one of the best sources of first person descriptions of events during the war, wrote: "The weather for several days has been remarkably cold and stormy. On the 3rd instance, we experienced one of the most tremendous snowstorms ever remembered; no man could endure its violence many minutes without danger to his life. ... When the storm subsided, the snow was from four to six feet deep, obscuring the very traces of the roads by covering fences that lined them. "

…General Johann de Kalb wrote: "...so cold that the ink freezes on my pen, while I am sitting close to the fire. The roads are piled with snow until, at some places they are elevated twelve feet above their ordinary level." 

Private Joseph Plumb Martin's memoirs, writing in the rollicking style of a soldier, reported: "We are absolutely, literally starved. I do solemnly declare that I did not put a single morsel of victuals into my mouth for four days and as many nights, except for a little black birch bark which I gnawed off a stick of wood. I saw several men roast their old shoes and eat them, and I was afterward informed by one of the officer's waiters, that some of the officers killed a favorite little dog that belonged to one of them." He then wrote that he wore "what laughingly could be called a uniform, and possessed a blanket thin enough to have straws shoot through it without discom­moding the threads "

…All roads were impassable and would stay that way until the snow melted. Not a single cart or wagon load of supplies could move.” The Continental Army was in danger of utter starvation.
_______________________________

May we never forget the sacrifices of these early patriots for our precious liberty. 

http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/coldwinter.html

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas at the White House 1800-1816

“When the second President of the United States, John Adams, moved into what would come to be known as the White House [in November 1800], the residence was cold, damp, and drafty. Sitting at the edge of a dreary swamp, the First Family had to keep 13 fireplaces lit in an effort to stay comfortable. It is in this setting that the cantankerous president held the first ever White House Christmas party in honor of his granddaughter, Susanna. It could be said that the invitations sent for this party were the very first White House Christmas cards, though in those early days, the building was referred to as the President’s Palace, Presidential Mansion, or President’s House.”

“The affair was planned in large part by the vivacious First Lady, Abigail Adams, and was considered a great success. A small orchestra played festive music in a grand ballroom adorned with seasonal flora. After dinner, cakes and punch were served while the staff and guests caroled and played games. The most amusing incident of the evening occurred when one of the young guests accidentally broke one of the First Granddaughter’s new doll dishes. Enraged, the young guest of honor promptly bit the nose off of one of the offending friend’s dolls. The amused president had to intervene to make sure the incident didn’t take an even uglier turn.”

Following in Adams’ footsteps, “Thomas Jefferson [the nation’s 3rd President] in 1805, six of his grandchildren and 100 of their friends – invited by Secretary of State James Madison’s wife, Dolley, who acted as official hostess – made for a tremendously enjoyable holiday party at which Jefferson played the violin for the dancing children. Christmas celebrations at the Jefferson White House were festive affairs where delicacies and local American foods were served.” “…These Christmas celebrations, hosted by the charming Dolley who made sure delicacies were enjoyed by all, continued through the years Jefferson was president.”

“When her husband [James Madison] succeeded his mentor as the master of the White House in 1809, the tradition of celebrating Christmas with White House parties – hosted by none other than Dolley – continued. Her holiday attire would usually include some purple peacock feathers atop a turban or cap covering her hair, along with her dress of lace and pink satin. Although there were neither White House Christmas cards exchanged nor a decorated Christmas tree in those years, the holiday tradition would include wonderful things to eat, as she would oversee the serving of seafood, stuffed goose, Virginia ham, and pound cake, as well as [fermented beverages]. She would lift her glass with the heartfelt toast, “Merry Christmas! God Bless America!”

http://www.whitehousechristmascards.com

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Gettysburg Address


By: J. David Gowdy

On November 19, 1863, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln was the second speaker at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A throng of fifteen to twenty thousand people crowded around the speakers' platform. Lincoln was preceded on the podium by the famed orator Edward Everett, who spoke to the crowd for two hours. Lincoln followed with his brief and now immortal Gettysburg Address. The following day, on November 20, Everett wrote to Lincoln: “Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

On the morning of November 19, President Lincoln rode in a train with his secretary, John G. Nicolay, his assistant secretary, John Hay, and three members of his Cabinet who accompanied him, William Seward, John Usher and Montgomery Blair, among others. Hay noted that during the speech Lincoln’s face was “sad, mournful, almost haggard.” After the speech, when Lincoln boarded the 6:30pm train for Washington, D.C., he was feverish and weak, with a severe headache. A protracted illness followed and he was diagnosed with a mild case of smallpox.

The extreme brevity of Lincoln's address caught his audience by surprise. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin reported, one eyewitness said, “The assemblage stood motionless and silent.” Pennsylvania Governor Curtin stated, “He pronounced that speech in a voice that all the multitude heard. The crowd was hushed into silence because the President stood before them...It was so Impressive! It was the common remark of everybody. Such a speech, as they said it was!” Contemporary reactions in the press (while not all so positive) included these: 

Springfield (Mass.) Republican: “Surprisingly fine as Mr. Everett’s oration was in the Gettysburg consecration, the rhetorical honors of the occasion were won by President Lincoln. His little speech is a perfect gem; deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma. Then it has the merit of unexpectedness in its verbal perfection and beauty… Turn back and read it over, it will repay study as a model speech.” 

Providence Journal: "We know not where to look for a more admirable speech than the brief one which the President made at the close of Mr. Everett’s oration… Could the most elaborate and splendid oration be more beautiful, more touching, more inspiring than those thrilling words of the President? They have in our humble judgment the charm and power of the very highest eloquence." 

Chicago Tribune: “The dedicatory remarks by President Lincoln will live among the annals of man.”

Recited by schoolchildren and beloved by generations of Americans, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address stands as a timeless tribute to the principles of the Declaration of Independence -- that "all men are created equal," and to our Constitutional Republic -- "a government of the people":

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”


Sunday, November 11, 2012

History of Veterans Day

“World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month [or November 11, 1918]...

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"  The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m. …

An Act by the United States Congress approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars…

Later that same year, on October 8th, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first "Veterans Day Proclamation" which stated: "In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. Toward this end, I am designating the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs as Chairman of a Veterans Day National Committee, which shall include such other persons as the Chairman may select, and which will coordinate at the national level necessary planning for the observance. I am also requesting the heads of all departments and agencies of the Executive branch of the Government to assist the National Committee in every way possible." ...

The first Veterans Day under the new law was observed with much confusion on October 25, 1971. It was quite apparent that the commemoration of this day was a matter of historic and patriotic significance to a great number of our citizens, and so on September 20th, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-97, which returned the annual observance of Veterans Day to its original date of November 11, beginning in 1978. This action supported the desires of the overwhelming majority of state legislatures, all major veterans’ service organizations and the American people.

Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.” 


Monday, October 29, 2012

"I am President of the United States, clothed with immense power."


By: J. David Gowdy

The film “Lincoln” is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and covers the final four months of President Lincoln's life and the ending of slavery.  The film’s director, Steven Spielberg said that "what permanently ended slavery was the very close vote in the House of Representatives over the Thirteenth Amendment – that story I'm excited to tell."  In one of the movie trailers, with Daniel Day-Lewis in the role of Abraham Lincoln, we see the President fighting against his opponents to abolish slavery. The trailer ends with a great line delivered by Lewis: “I am the president of the United States of America… clothed in immense power!”  Did Lincoln really say that and why?  The answer is found in history…

“While the Emancipation Proclamation was taking its effect in the field, as the Union army advanced, Lincoln also supported Radical Republicans who began to advocate a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery everywhere in the United States. On December 14, 1863, Ohio Congressman James M. Ashley introduced such an amendment in the House of Representatives. Senator John Brooks Henderson of Missouri, a border state that still sanctioned slavery, followed suit on January 11, 1864, courageously submitting a joint resolution for an amendment abolishing slavery.

The proposed amendment passed in the Senate on April 8, 1864, with a vote of 38 to 6. Two months later, however, it was defeated in the House of Representatives, 95 to 66 (or by another account, 93-65), shy of the 2/3 necessary for approval. Lincoln, not about to give up, made abolition a central plank of the National Union platform during his re-election campaign. He argued,

“When the people in revolt, with a hundred days of explicit notice, that they could, within those days, resume their allegiance, without the overthrow of their institution, and that they could not so resume it afterwards, elected to stand out, such [an] amendment of the Constitution as [is] now proposed, became a fitting, and necessary conclusion to the final success of the Union cause. Such alone can meet and cover all cavils…” (Basler, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 7, 380).

Lincoln’s victory over McClellan in 1864 gave him a new mandate and enough seats in the House to eventually guarantee passage of the stalled amendment. Not content to wait until the new Congress met in March, the amendment’s supporters brought the measure to another vote in the House on January 31, 1865.

On being informed that the amendment was still two votes short, Lincoln is reported to have told the Republican Congressmen: “I am President of the United States, clothed with great power. The abolition of slavery by Constitutional provisions settles the fate, for all … time, not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come – a measure of such importance that those two votes must be procured.  I leave it to you to determine how it shall be done, but remember that I am President of the United States, clothed with immense power, and I expect you to procure those two votes ...” (John B. Alley, Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln, ed., Rice, 1886 ed., p 585-6. Per Goodwin, p. 687). [emphasis added]

The outcome of the vote was in doubt until the final hour. A Pennsylvania Democrat, Archibald McAllister, opened the debate by explaining why he had changed his vote from a “Nay” to an “Aye.” He had been in favor of exhausting all means of conciliation, McAllister stated, but was now satisfied that nothing short of independence would satisfy the Southern Confederacy, and that therefore it must be destroyed, and he must cast his vote against its cornerstone, and declare eternal war with the enemies of the country. Fellow Pennsylvania Democrat Alexander Hamilton Coffroth also changed his vote, and gave a speech advocating passage. Arguments continued until, finally, the votes were tallied. This time it passed, by a vote of 119 to 56, with 8 abstentions.  When Speaker Colfax declared the results, “a moment of silence succeeded, and then, from floor and galleries, burst a simultaneous shout of joy and triumph, spontaneous, irrepressible and uncontrollable, swelling and prolonged in one vast volume of reverberating thunder…” 

(Report of the special committee on the passage by the House of Representatives of the constitutional amendment for the abolition of slavery. January 31st, 1865: The Action of the Union League Club on the Amendment, February 9, 1865, in “From Slavery to Freedom.” American Memory, Library of Congress).”