Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Best Books of 2013

Happy New Year to all our readers, teachers, and fellow citizens who are helping to make the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute a voice in the national civic discussion and continuing education of American founding principles.  2013 has seen the publication of many important books related to history and politics related to the Founding.  We at the WJMI have invited a few scholars to reflect on some of the best books they read that were published this year (or very recently).  That is of course a different list that they might have drawn up of the best books they read this year whatever the publication date, some may quibble with some of the choices.  But, we hope that you will read over lists, enter into the conversation, and maybe even pick up one of the following books! 

Tony Williams, Program Director of the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute, and author of four books, including America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character. 

         One of my favorite books of the year was published by a frequent lecturer at the WJMI, David Bobb, who wrote Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue (Thomas Nelson).  Trying to restore some sanity to our national civic conversation, Bobb spends the beginning of the book with a brilliant, readable examination of humility in classical and Christian philosophy.  He then examines the virtue of humility in the character and statesmanship of George Washington, James Madison, Abigail Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass.  Coming in under 200 pp., it is a wonderful brief masterpiece on this highly original topic. 

         In The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization (Random House), Arthur Herman compares and contrasts the ideas of the great ancient Greek philosophers and their relative influence on Western philosophers in the medieval and modern world.  The book is broad in scope, written with magnificent prose, has sound judgments, and demonstrates a remarkable erudition.  It is a grand achievement. 

         Although many books on the American Founding did not always live up to my expectations, two solid books on the subject were Stephen Brumwell, George Washington: Gentleman Warrior (Quercus), and John Ferling, Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry that Forged a Nation (Bloomsbury).  Brumwell’s Washington is an aggressive risk-taker in war and an eighteenth-century virtuous gentleman.  Ferling’s book narrates the events, ideas, and characters of the well-known rivalry in the 1790s that shaped the America of today. 

         Daniel Hannan, an English writer and former member of the European Parliament, has written a book – Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World (Harper Collins) – on the “Anglosphere” based upon extensive research and experience in politics.  In the book, he examines what Winston Churchill called the “English-Speaking Peoples” and notes that their great political success, economic growth and world leadership has resulted from the exceptional principles of individual liberty, the common law, a rule of law, property rights, and representative government as seen in its great charters of liberty: Magna Carta, English Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, and the American Constitution. 

         In The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Left and Right (Basic Books), Yuval Levin writes an intelligent comparison of great British conservative, Edmund Burke, and radical pamphleteer, Thomas Paine.  Levin attempts to prove that Burke represents the right and Paine the left in politics.   Although he underestimates the significant political changes engendered in the Progressive Era and rise of the welfare state in creating the current political categories that he is analyzing, this important discussion of these lesser-known figures in the popular imagination is an important, thought-provoking one.   

         Coming off Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin has written another magisterial tome of history and American politics, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (Simon & Schuster).  The book compares and contrasts the progressive policies and expansion of federal and presidential power under Roosevelt and the conservative temperament and use of power by Taft.  Goodwin also shows the very close ties Roosevelt had to progressive journalists who eschewed journalistic objectivity for social activism.  Although Goodwin is a firm advocate for Roosevelt’s view and a masterful writer of narrative history, she perhaps inadvertently exposes how much of a progressive Teddy Roosevelt was in expanding federal power and creating the twentieth-century state. 

David Frisk, a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute, is author of If Not Us, Who? William Rusher, National Review, and the Conservative Movement (ISI Books, 2012).

         A notable disjunction exists between intellectuals and average citizens on the Right. Ordinary people tend to assume that freedom and a governmental recognition of traditional values fit together. The intellectuals are prone to suspect that when the question is considered rigorously, they don’t. One intellectual who thinks they do is Donald Devine, a vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, formerly a political scientist at the University of Maryland and a high official in the Reagan administration. His book, America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution (ISI Books), introduces believers in limited government and traditional values to the relationship between these ideals—both of which conservatives identify with, but whose linkages aren’t often clearly expressed.

Devine does this with a combination of persuasive policy analysis and well-integrated insights from various thinkers which help to argue for the Right’s stances on current issues. His title reflects a general view among conservatives that the country has indeed lost its way, along with the author’s opinion that too many people they have accepted as their political representatives are lost as well. After watching the Reagan-era spirit of limited government recede in the George W. Bush years, Devine was among those disgruntled leaders who thought the conservative movement had been badly wounded by Republican officeholders who wouldn’t uphold its principles and probably didn’t get them. Now, with a passionate statist in the White House, he is hoping for a new Reaganism. America’s Way Back—inspired partly by the role Frank Meyer, the in-house philosopher at the early National Review, played among conservatives—offers current activists the deeper understanding of their less-government, more-responsibility platform without which they may win elections but cannot govern.

Stephen F. Knott is a Professor of National Security Affairs at the United States Naval War College and author of several books including Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth (University of Kansas Press) 

The year 2012 marked the bicentennial of the War of 1812, but this “commemoration” generated little interest from the American public and the media. Donald R. Hickey’s book, The War of 1812: Writings from America’s Second War of Independence (The Library of America), however, brings this distant war to life in a gripping manner that gives this forgotten conflict the attention it deserves.

Hickey has assembled a fascinating collection of writings that do justice to both the “great man” approach to history as well as to those interested in the experiences of “ordinary” people engaged in the conflict. All are given their due, including Native-Americans, prisoners of war, disgruntled and disloyal Federalists, newspaper editors, and key decision makers in Washington and London. While most of the causes of the conflict remained unresolved at war’s end, “Mr. Madison’s War” restored a sense of American honor and respectability. For many Americans, the War of 1812 was America’s “Second War of Independence,” a conflict that concluded the unfinished business of the American Revolution. One important outcome of the war was that it convinced James Madison that Alexander Hamilton’s proposals for a national bank, a professional military, and a vibrant manufacturing base were all in the national interest. As Hickey notes, after the war Republicans who “had been hostile to peacetime defense spending . . . embraced a sizable army and an ambitious program of naval expansion and coastal defense.” Unable to make reality bend to his Republican ideology, President Madison was forced to concede on many of the contentious points that had divided the young nation since the early 1790s.

J. David Gowdy, is the founder and President of WJMI, and the author of "Jefferson & Madison’s Guide to the Constitution" and "Seven Principles of Liberty."

         In Long Journey with Mr. Jefferson: The Life of Dumas Malone (Potomac Books), author William G. Hyland, Jr. reviews the life of the noted author Dumas Malone as a man, teacher, and historian. The ultimate focus of the biography, and of Malone’s life, was the research and writing of his six-volume biography Thomas Jefferson and His Time, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in History, and is considered the definitive work on Jefferson’s life. This 38-year labor of devotion occupied much of Malone’s professional life, and constituted his crowning achievement (particularly considering that Malone struggled with pain and blindness the last 15 years of his 83-year life).  Malone’s unequaled experience in seeking to uncover and comprehend Jefferson’s character led him to confess that, “I considered him my friend.”

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Alexander Hamilton (January 11, 1757 - July 12, 1804)

By: Stephen F. Knott

Since the day Aaron Burr fired his fatal shot in the notorious duel at Weehawken, New Jersey, in July, 1804, Americans have tried to come to grips with Alexander Hamilton’s legacy. A controversial figure in his time and ours, Hamilton is often portrayed as the most reactionary member of the founding generation — the man who hoped to foist a crown upon America and called the people a “great beast.” Although Hamilton did not advocate the former and probably never said the latter, he remains for many Americans the founding’s villain.

It is unfortunate that many Americans have this distorted image of Hamilton, for no man worked more assiduously for the ratification of the American Constitution than Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton had many doubts about the efficacy of the Constitution, yet as the guiding force behind The Federalist Papers and for the remainder of his life, he arrayed all of his formidable intellectual talents in defense of our nation’s charter.  Hamilton was well aware that he was part of a unique generation (Tom Brokaw to the contrary, this was America’s greatest generation) whose decisions would prove to cynics around the globe that men were capable “of establishing good government from reflection and choice” rather than on “accident and force.”

On Alexander Hamilton’s birthday, perhaps George Washington’s perspective on his closest advisor is worth pondering. As the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Washington observed that Hamilton filled “one of the most important departments of government with acknowledged abilities and integrity.” Washington went on to note that Hamilton was “enterprising, quick in his perceptions” and that his judgment was “intuitively great.” Responding to Hamilton’s critics, Washington noted that some considered Hamilton to be an “ambitious man, and therefore a dangerous one. That he is ambitious I shall readily grant, but it is of that laudable kind which prompts a man to excel in whatever he takes in hand.” 

As Americans living under the Constitution, we are the modern beneficiaries of Alexander Hamilton’s great abilities, intuitive judgment, and laudable excellence.
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Stephen F. Knott is a member of the Board of Visitors of WJMI, a Professor of National Security Affairs at the United States Naval War College and the author of Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth (2002). 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The WJMI Year in Review

Happy New Year from the Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute!  We at WJMI are grateful for your support this past year.  A few statistics from 2013:

During 2013 over 9,171 people have downloaded WJMI’s free manual “Jefferson & Madison’s Guide to the Constitution” at the Federalist Papers Project: 

The Guide is also available on Amazon’s Kindle:
http://www.amazon.com/Jefferson-Madisons-Guide-Constitution

Our Blog averages over 2,000 page views per month.  Our top blog posts are:           
Entry
Pageviews

9535

8317

4838

2205

2044


WJMI sponsored three seminars for secondary school teachers during 2013:

     The Bill of Rights: Charter of Freedom            February 15, 2013
     Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution       September 13, 2013
     Thomas Jefferson Roundtable                            November 15, 2013

WJMI also sponsored several seminars on the Constitution for Citizens in Utah and Virginia.

Tony Williams joined WJMI as full-time Program Director in 2013. He is the author of four books on the Founding, including “America's Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation's Character” (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010), all available at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Tony-Williams

WJMI began to collaborate in 2013 with the Center for American Studies at Christopher Newport University (http://cnu.edu/cas/) and they will co-sponsor our first teacher seminar of 2014 in February on the topic of “The Life & Character of George Washington.”

We hope that you have a Happy & Prosperous New Year and commend to all this wise advice:

"Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors,
and let each New Year find you a better man."
— Benjamin Franklin


Thursday, December 19, 2013

The History of Christmas in America

“In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday. 

The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.

After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America’s new constitution. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

Washington Irving reinvents Christmas

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. But what about the 1800s peaked American interest in the holiday?

The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season. In 1828, the New York city council instituted the city’s first police force in response to a Christmas riot. This catalyzed certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Christmas was celebrated in America.

In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. The sketches feature a squire who invited the peasants into his home for the holiday. In contrast to the problems faced in American society, the two groups mingled effortlessly. In Irving’s mind, Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status.

Irving’s fictitious celebrants enjoyed “ancient customs,” including the crowning of a Lord of Misrule. Irving’s book, however, was not based on any holiday celebration he had attended—in fact, many historians say that Irving’s account actually “invented” tradition by implying that it described the true customs of the season.

Before the Civil War 

The North and South were divided on the issue of Christmas, as well as on the question of slavery. Many Northerners saw sin in the celebration of Christmas; to these people the celebration of Thanksgiving was more appropriate. But in the South, Christmas was an important part of the social season. Not surprisingly, the first three states to make Christmas a legal holiday were in the South: Alabama in 1836, Louisiana and Arkansas in 1838.

In the years after the Civil War, Christmas traditions spread across the country. Children's books played an important role in spreading the customs of celebrating Christmas, especially the tradition of trimmed trees and gifts delivered by Santa Claus. Sunday school classes encouraged the celebration of Christmas. Women's magazines were also very important in suggesting ways to decorate for the holidays, as well as how to make these decorations.

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, America eagerly decorated trees, caroled, baked, and shopped for the Christmas season. Since that time, materialism, media, advertising, and mass marketing has made Christmas what it is today. The traditions that we enjoy at Christmas today were invented by blending together customs from many different countries into what is considered by many to be our national holiday.”
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Boston Tea Party

By: Tony Williams

On December 16, Americans recognize and celebrate the 240th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.  We honor what patriot John Adams called an act “so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid, and inflexible.”  Adams rightly predicted that the Boston Tea Party would be remembered as a significant event in the resistance against British tyranny. “It must have so important consequences, and so lasting, that I can’t but consider it an epocha in history.” 

The events of the Boston Tea Party are familiar to most schoolchildren. The colonists were angered by the Tea Act which gave a monopoly to the East India Company and the tax that was retained from the Townshend Acts.  The Bostonians refused to allow the tea to be landed in Boston and threatened the tea agents.  After a democratic mass meeting of thousands in which Sam Adams warned that they would make “Boston harbor a tea-pot tonight!” the assembled crowd make their way to Griffin’s Wharf to destroy the tea.  Patriots dressed up like Mohawk Indians and methodically dumped an incredible 90,000 pounds of tea worth £10,000 into the water. 

For the colonists, it was not a matter of paying a few extra pence for their tea, but rather the constitutional principle of Englishmen not wanting to be taxed without their consent.  George Washington asked from Virginia: “What is it we are contending against?  Is it against paying the duty of 3d. per pound on tea because burdensome?  No, it is the right only . . . as Englishmen, we could not be deprived of this essential and valuable part of our Constitution.” 

In response to the Boston Tea Party, the British passed several acts collectively known as the “Coercive Acts,” which systematically violated the rights of the colonists in Massachusetts.  Their right to trade was violated, their right to their property and not to have troops in their home without their consent was violated, their right to self-government was violated, their right to justice and local trial by jury for accused royal murderers, and their right to settle out West was violated.    

The colonists believed that these acts constituted a systematic British plan of despotism to enslave the colonists.  They argued for their rights as Englishmen, but they also argued that their natural rights from nature and nature’s God were being violated as well.  Washington wrote, “An innate spirit  of freedom first told me, that the measures, which administration hath for some time been, and now are most violently pursuing, are repugnant to every principle of natural justice; whilst much abler heads than my own hath fully convinced me, that it is not only repugnant to natural right, but subversive of the laws and constitution of Great Britain itself.”

It is no surprise then that Washington averred, “The crisis is arrived when we must assert our rights, or submit to every imposition.”  Although history is filled contingency and reconciliation was certainly possible to avert war and revolution at this point, it is also true that the Boston Tea Party triggered a series of events that would ultimately lead to independence and self-government for Americans. 

It is for that reason that Americans rightly commemorate the event. 


Tony Williams is the WJMI Program Director and has written about the Boston Tea Party and related events in his book America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The First Whitehouse Christmas with John & Abigail Adams

“When the second President of the United States, John Adams, and his wife Abigail, 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 uglier turn.”

Following the Adams’ first Christmas in the White House, they held the first presidential levee on New Year’s Day.

“As you can imagine, the celebration was grand! Cookies, custards, and cakes, all baked in the new hearths on either side of the enormous kitchen fireplace, were served, along with all kinds of puddings, pastries, trifles, and tarts. Borrowing court etiquette from European kings and queens she had seen while John was U. S. Ambassador to Britain, Abigail regally greeted guests from a throne-like chair. Standing proudly beside her was her husband, wearing velvet breeches and lace with fashionably powdered hair.

Although that reception was a lavish affair, John and Abigail preferred more basic fare, and a few of their favorite foods, which can be traced to their New England roots, included Green Turtle Soup, Indian Pudding, and Gooseberry Fool.”
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Sources:
http://www.whitehousechristmascards.com/john-adams-1797-1801/john-adams/
http://lincolnslunch.blogspot.com/2010/07/john-and-abigail-adams-indian-pudding.html

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Remember Pearl Harbor

In  the morning hours of Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise air attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii (located on the south side of the Hawaiian island of Oahu).  The first wave of Japanese planes reached the U.S. Naval Station at 7:55 a.m

Almost two weeks before the strike, on November 26, 1941, the Japanese attack force, led by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, left Etorofu Island in the Kurils (located northeast of Japan) on its 3,000-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean with an armada of six aircraft carriers, nine destroyers, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and three submarines. 

At 6:00 a.m. on December 7th, the Japanese aircraft carriers began launching their planes amid rough sea. In total, 183 Japanese aircraft took to the air as part of the first wave of the attack on Pearl Harbor. At 7:15 a.m., the Japanese aircraft carriers, plagued by even rougher seas, launched 167 additional planes to participate in the second wave of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

That Sunday morning, U.S. military personnel at Pearl Harbor were either still asleep, in mess halls eating breakfast, or getting ready for church. They were completely unaware that an attack was imminent.  Just before the first bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, leader of the air attack, called out, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" ("Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!"), a coded message which told the entire Japanese navy that they had caught the Americans totally by surprise. 

The Japanese onslaught lasted just two hours, but it was devastating. They had been hoping to catch U.S. aircraft carriers at Pearl Harbor, but the aircraft carriers were out to sea that day. The next major important naval targets were the battleships. As their planes approached, there were eight U.S. battleships at Pearl Harbor, seven of which were lined up at what was called Battleship Row and one (the Pennsylvania) was in dry dock for repairs (the Colorado, the only other battleship of the U.S.'s Pacific fleet, was not at Pearl Harbor). One of the eight, the Arizona, was struck a number of times by bombs. One of these bombs, thought to have hit the forward magazine, caused a massive explosion, which quickly sank the vessel. Approximately 1,100 of her crew were killed and drowned. Including the eight battleships, enemy bombs and torpedoes destroyed nearly twenty American naval vessels and almost two hundred aircraft.  In total, more than 2,400 American soldiers and sailors died in the attack, and another 1,000 were wounded.  

The day after the assault, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan. In his speech he said,

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan….No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory…With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph -- so help us God.”

Congress approved the President’s pronouncement with just one dissenting vote.  Three days later, Japanese allies Germany and Italy also declared war on the United States.  America had been thrust into World War II.
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