— History —

January 31, 2013

Walter Russell Mead: "Two hundred years ago people thought that the only real jobs involved growing food"

Carroll Andrew Morse

Walter Russell Mead, on the relationship between American politics and American society...

Does the American middle class (and by extension, the middle class in other advanced democracies) have a future in a post-blue world? That is the basic question at the heart of American politics;. As I’ve noted, 4.0 liberals think that it doesn’t, and think that the defense of the blue social model is the only way to protect the social achievements of the twentieth century.

They’re wrong. The post-blue future for the middle class is bright, and instead of using the weight of the state to shore up a declining blue system to defend an embattled middle class we need to use that power to promote the transition to a 21st-century political economy and a reinvigorated middle class—larger, richer and more in charge than ever before. This is not a call to dismantle the state; there really are important things that government has to do in a complicated and interconnected society. It’s a call to transform, retool and repurpose the state so that it becomes an engine for progress rather than an anchor trying to hold us in place.

...and on how a future that is different from the present is a source of both hope and fear...
The information revolution destroys jobs, but it also creates them, and we are already in the early stages of a jobs explosion. And as it proceeds, the information revolution is likely to propel the rise of a middle class that is more productive, better educated, more autonomous and more interested in and capable of civic leadership than the Fordist middle class of the late industrial age.

The new jobs will be different from the old jobs, and this is one of the reasons many fear the economic transition we’re in. There are a lot of people on both the right and the left who think that in a country that doesn’t “make stuff” there won’t be any jobs. If it isn’t a widget that you can grab in your hand and do something with, it isn’t real. This is nonsense. Two hundred years ago people thought that the only real jobs involved growing food, and that people who made non-necessary consumer goods were engaged in a socially parasitic activity....

The industrial revolution transformed agriculture from the core business of the human race into just one of many things that we do. The information revolution is doing the same to manufacturing....Design, software and engineering become more important as manufacture slips into a secondary status. (We still need factories, just as we still need farms—but fewer and fewer people will be working in them and less and less of our GDP will be bound up in their products.)

November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Marc Comtois

Given the contemporaneous release of Lincoln, I figured posting our 16th President's Thanksgiving Proclamation seemed appropriate this year:

October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States
A Proclamation

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Abraham Lincoln

September 29, 2012

The Messiah May Have Used the Word "Wife"

Justin Katz

Of one thing, we can be reasonably confident: Coverage of proof and arguments against that sliver of papyrus purporting to prove that Jesus had a wife will have a far smaller profile than the initial boom of proclamations that it had been discovered.

Not surprisingly, the Vatican has stated its opinion that the artifact is "counterfeit," but what I found most interesting about the article is that it's the first time I've seen a picture of it:

I'll confess, off the bat, that I'm not able to read ancient Coptic text, but unless it's a remarkably compact language, that's really not much context on which to come to any conclusions. The paragraph before could have made clear that it was a parable. The paragraph to follow might have been an explanation of the Church's view that it (the Church) is the "bride of Christ." Or the whole thing might be some piece of nefarious propaganda.

I don't know, one way or the other, but the credulity with which such items are passed around is telling, especially with regard to the news media and the stories that it deigns to amplify.

The Messiah May Have Used the Word "Wife"

Justin Katz

Of one thing, we can be reasonably confident: Coverage of proof and arguments against that sliver of papyrus purporting to prove that Jesus had a wife will have a far smaller profile than the initial boom of proclamations that it had been discovered.

Not surprisingly, the Vatican has stated its opinion that the artifact is "counterfeit," but what I found most interesting about the article is that it's the first time I've seen a picture of it:

I'll confess, off the bat, that I'm not able to read ancient Coptic text, but unless it's a remarkably compact language, that's really not much context on which to come to any conclusions. The paragraph before could have made clear that it was a parable. The paragraph to follow might have been an explanation of the Church's view that it (the Church) is the "bride of Christ." Or the whole thing might be some piece of nefarious propaganda.

I don't know, one way or the other, but the credulity with which such items are passed around is telling, especially with regard to the news media and the stories that it deigns to amplify.

U.S. Grant and the Left-Right Lines

Justin Katz

Two lines of debate in the battle of Left versus Right cross frequently.

One is the question of whether history has an inexorable pull toward which it progresses, making it possible for there to be a "right side" of history that one can predict beforehand for a given issue.  The other is whether one's side on the issues of the day offers a direct parallel to the sides that one would have taken having born at another period in history.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

September 18, 2012

Things We Read Today (13), Tuesday

Justin Katz

Days off from retirement in Cranston; the conspiracy of low interest rates; sympathy with the Satanic Verses; the gas mandate; and the weaponized media.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

September 11, 2012

Things We Read Today, 8

Justin Katz

Today: September 11, global change, evolution, economics, 17th amendment, gold standard, and a boughten electorate... all to a purpose.

August 2, 2012

Technology and Education Then and Now

Marc Comtois

The family and I recently spent a long weekend in Washington, D.C. and we visited the Smithsonian Museum of American History. The "America on the Move" exhibition included a 1939 Dodge school bus from Martinsburg, Indiana, which served as a platform for explaining how technology (the bus) affected education.

In rural areas, the introduction of school buses changed the character of the communities they served and the lives of the children who rode to school. Students who had once walked to a local, often one-room, schoolhouse now rode a bus to a larger consolidated school where they were taught in separate grades. Progressive educators viewed buses as a step toward modernizing rural education....[and] favored larger schools, arguing they would provide students a better, more standardized education. Some rural citizens feared consolidation would bring higher taxes and a loss of involvement in their children’s education. One midwestern farmer said his local school was “the center—educational, social, dramatic, political, and religious—of a pioneer community.” But declining rural populations and better roads spelled the end of one-room schools. In 1920 Indiana had 4,500 one-teacher schools; in 1945, just 616.
I'd say that everyone was right, to a point. At the time, most rural students did benefit from the standardized education (much as did their more urban peers) they attained via a more efficient school consolidation model and better trained, more professional teachers.

Rural folks were correct in that taxes probably did go up to meet the increasing costs of professionalized (and eventually unionized) education. I also don't think that--while the school does still serve as a neighborhood center of sorts (at least in a populous 'burb like Warwick)--many would argue that parental involvement in school has declined precipitously since then.

Fast forward to today and the problems and debates we have with education have less to do with the implementation of a standardized education model than with the very nature of the standards themselves. Indeed, technology continues to play a key role in this contemporary push/pull as, for example, it is the internet upon which ideas such as distance learning and "flipping the classroom" are built and which could lead to, ironically, a less centralized, more student-centered, personalized--versus standardized--education.

June 17, 2012

Review: The Price of the Ticket by Frederick Harris

Marc Comtois

Fredrick C. Harris is a Professor of Political Science and the Director of Columbia University's Center on African-American Politics and Society. In the world of academia, his racial/political bona fides are beyond reproach. so when he proposes that our first African-American President hasn't adequately addressed racial inequality, it's worth a read. In his Price of the Ticket, Harris explains that the election of President Obama has allowed the country to feel good about itself for choosing a black man as President, even as this President has done little to forward the causes for which so many of his fellow African-Americans have long fought. Harris hopes to put "Obama's race-neutral campaign strategy and approach to governing within the context of history, politics and policy."

Much of the book does just that. Harris spends a few chapters providing historical context that explains the two strategies (and the tension between them) used by African Americans to achieve political power:

The coalition-politics perspective calls on black voters to build coalitions with whites and other racial and ethnic groups to develop support for issues and policies that help most everyone. The independent-black-politics perspective presses blacks to work independently of other groups to push for community interests with the aim toward building support with other groups around both universal policies and community-specific issues.
Harris' telling of the evolution of these strategies over the decades is an interesting story and he provides valuable insights as to how the political campaigns of Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson and the late-Chicago Mayor Harold Washington laid the groundwork for Obama's successful 2008 run for the Presidency. Focusing on Obama, Harris contends that the race-neutral politics of the President--which go hand-in-hand with coalition politics--"has marginalized policy discussions about racial inequality."
Proponents of "race-neutral" universalism fail to acknowledge that policies that help everyone--what can be described as a trickle-down approach to eradicating poverty and social inequality--are not enough to correct the deep-rooted persistance of racial inequality. In many ways, the majority of black voters have struck a bargain with Obama. In exchange for the president's silence on community-focused interests, black voters are content with a governing philosophy that helps "all people" and a politics centered on preserving the symbol of a black president and family in the White House.
This is the "price of the ticket" and it's clear that Harris is no proponent of coalition-politics. To bolster his point, he contrasts the gains made by the LGBT community under the Obama Administration to the lack of progress made on racial equality. The former, Harris contends, has kept the pressure on Obama (as has, according to Harris, the Tea Party) and been rewarded while the black community has given the President a pass, a dynamic he delves deeper into in his chapter, "Wink, Nod, Vote."

Further, Harris argues that Obama has become a "hollow prize" for Black America because the President has been forced to contend with an economic downturn instead of turning his attention to implementing policies--however modest--that dealt with racial inequality. Worse yet, by Harris' contention, Obama hasn't adequately addressed inequality even within the context of the economic downturn. When asked in 2009 about the "mounting problem of black unemployment" and why he hadn't targeted it:

Obama provided the same pat answer. Obama acknowledged that black and Latino workers were disproportionately affected by the great recession, but he still insisted that policies that helped everyone would cure the catastrophic unemployment rate in minority communities.
This was in contrast to a proposal by the Congressional Black Caucus, for instance, that:
...incorporated the principle of "targeted universalism"; an approach that would geographically target government-sponsored job projects in communities most affected by the recession and with the greatest concentrations of poverty. By default, such legislation would not help everyone equally but benefit those most affected by the recession.
In other words, blacks and other minorities.

In a comparison between Herman Cain (running for the Republican Presidential nomination at the time Harris' was writing the book) and President Obama, Harris finds that both fall short of the promise that politically powerfull African-Americans are supposed to fulfill.

When you place Cain next to Obama, who appears to be too timidly strategic to raise questions about--and work overtly against--racial inequality, the actions (or in the case of Obama inactions) of both diminish black interests on the national political scene. One black candidate for president spouts bigoted views about blacks and the poor. The other is silent on issues of racial inequality and poverty. In the end, neither political party is a vehicle for blacks to directly confront inequality, because both parties push black-specific issues to the margins of national policymaking. This development tells us something about the durability of racism as an ideology in American politics. Instead of fading away in an era celebrated as "postracial," race as ideology demonstrates convincing staying power, endowed with the ability to readapt and readjust as new political situations arise. {emphasis added}
Thus, we see that Harris' critique of Obama is rooted in his apparent belief that America, as whole, is still a racist society. By Harris' interpretation, electing a black man president is not to be taken as a symbol of the end of widespread, institutional and cultural racism, but rather a signal that such racism has changed and "readjusted."

The problem is that his interpretation is based on his contention that Obama hasn't done enough to address what Harris refers to--multiple times--as racial inequality. Yet, he never truly defines that inequality and the reader not versed in contemporary African-American politics is left wondering, "so what could Obama do in the realm of addressing racial inequality that will make Harris happy?"

Harris does spend time giving examples of, and discounting, what he calls the "politics of respectibility" (Bill Cosby comes in for some criticism on this front). But without more specificity as to what policies Harris supports towards racial equality, as opposed to explaining what he doesn't support, we are left guessing. In the end, Harris has provided a fine history of the development of contemporary black political strategies. He is less convincing in supporting his contention that President Obama's decision to govern America as a coalition--and not focus on acute issues affecting African-Americans--marks Obama as a failure as an African-American president. As a result, we're just not sure, exactly, what President Obama could have done to have been a success in Harris' eyes.

February 20, 2012

Happy Presidents Day

Marc Comtois

I had thought about pointing to a few articles on presidential rankings made by historians or political scientists. But, really, we know they're biased (heck, they ranked President Obama #15 overall after 18 months in office!), so I'll just leave you with this link to a Wikipedia article on the subject that also includes a handy and sortable aggregate ranking table.

Rankings don't mean agreement with ideology or politics, just recognition of their effectiveness at what they wanted to do combined with how well they governed. For my money, I still put ol' GW as #1. Thanks to him, the whole idea that the President isn't a king took hold (though FDR would have kept going if he hadn't died, methinks). I have a soft spot for John Adams, but, frankly he wasn't a good President even if he was a helluva character. Lincoln, for me, is a close #2--he guided our nation through it's toughest times. After that, we get into tiers--Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR; Madison, Jackson, Truman; Reagan, Wilson, Polk--etc. Obama isn't in the top half in my book--I'd put Clinton ahead of him for instance--but I still think he's ahead of Carter!

Who's your favorite?

January 18, 2012

RE: Life Before Entitlement - Historical Perspective

Marc Comtois

The article to which Justin referred discusses the mutual aid societies that cropped up during the late 19th and early 20th century to deal with poverty and other social issues. Historian Walter Trattner, author of From Poor Law to Welfare State, was quoted in the article:

Those in need. . . looked first to family, kin, and neighbors for aid, including the landlord, who sometimes deferred the rent; the local butcher or grocer, who frequently carried them for a while by allowing bills to go unpaid; and the local saloonkeeper, who often came to their aid by providing loans and outright gifts, including free meals and, on occasion, temporary jobs. Next, the needy sought assistance from various agencies in the community–those of their own devising, such as churches or religious groups, social and fraternal associations, mutual aid societies, local ethnic groups, and trade unions.
Anecdotally, I know this to be true in my own family. My grandparents owned a small general store in northern Vermont and many was the time when they carried people going through a rough spot. (After he died, my grandfather's papers included more than a few uncollected IOUs, including property or farm deeds). The sense of community was very real and aid societies were comprised of such like-minded individuals who bonded together to help their neighbors and those in need.

A good paper on the topic was written by Dave Beito.

Continue reading "RE: Life Before Entitlement - Historical Perspective"

January 2, 2012

History Bits

Marc Comtois

Here are a few historical items I've come across that piqued my interest (but not enough to devote a whole post).

In the wake of "tree gate" and all the Roger Williams talk, wouldn't you know a new book is out about him? Read an excerpt, an interview with the author and a review.

This piece from 2010 by Scott McKay on "Fighting" Bob Quinn is worth reading for those who'd like more insight into Rhode Island political history and (the legacy we still live with!).

On a lighter note: If, like me, a lot of your early reading was done via the pages of comic books, you may recall Classics Illustrated. Now they're online. If you like Fighting Bob Quinn, you'll love Fightin' Abe Lincoln!

More seriously, "Why Irish soldiers who fought Hitler hide their medals" was one of those items that had me shaking my head. In the wake of gaining their independence, I understood how the Irish continued to loathe Great Britain and that this led to Ireland being neutral during WWII. I didn't know they treated the returning war veterans (albeit technically they were "deserters") like pariahs.

Finally, I recently re-read Bernard Bailyn's To Begin the World Anew, a book of essays (it's short) concerning the American founding. I highly recommend--a good library pick. Here's the introductory essay (in a slightly different form than that found in the book).

In the most general sense, what stimulated the Founders' imagination and hence their capacity to begin the world anew was the fact that they came from outside the metropolitan establishment, with all its age-old, deeply buried, arcane entanglements and commitments. From their distant vantage point they viewed what they could see of the dominant order with a cool, critical, challenging eye, and what they saw was something atrophied, weighted down by its own complacent, self-indulgent elaboration, and vulnerable to the force of fresh energies and imaginative designs. Refusing to be intimidated by the received traditions and confident of their own integrity and creative capacities, they demanded to know why things must be the way they are; and they had the imagination, energy, and moral stature to conceive of something closer to the grain of everyday reality, and more likely to lead to human happiness.

December 7, 2011

Would Roger Williams Have Called it a Holiday Tree II

Carroll Andrew Morse

Yes, there are many other issues in the world to be discussed, but there has been so much rote recitation of bad history in the coverage of the Rhode Island statehouse "holiday" tree, it is worth repeating that views never held by Roger Williams routinely are attributed to him. The latest, perhaps most direct, example comes from a former director of the Rhode Island Historical Society, quoted in Paul Davis' Projo article on yesterday's statehouse event celebrating a cluster of holidays that recur in month 12...

[Governor Lincoln Chafee] says his decision honors the state’s origins as a sanctuary for religious diversity. Roger Williams founded Rhode Island in 1636 as a haven for tolerance and insisted government and religion remain separate, he says.

Rhode Island historians say Chafee’s interpretation of Williams is correct.

“If Roger Williams was alive today, he would not refer to it as a Christmas tree,” says historian Albert Klyberg, a former director of the Rhode Island Historical Society. “Williams was very much opposed to introducing religious elements into public business.”

Actually, Mr. Klyberg is incorrect. As Marc has pointed out, Rhode Island's colonial charter, strongly influenced by Williams, did not require that religion be removed from the public square. And in one of his most famous expositions of his own ideas, "The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience", Roger Williams expressed no opposition to introducing a religious dimension into government business, when offering specific counsel to civil leaders on the matter of religion. In fact, just the opposite was true...
The civil magistrate either respecteth that religion and worship which his conscience is persuaded is true, and upon which he ventures his soul; or else that and those which he is persuaded are false.

Concerning the first, if that which the magistrate believeth to be true, be true, I say he owes a threefold duty unto it:

First, approbation and countenance, a reverent esteem and honorable testimony, according to Isa. 49, and Revel. 21, with a tender respect of truth, and the professors of it...

Approbation (I had to look it up) is approval, usually with the connotation of officialness; there is no meaningful connection to be drawn from Roger Williams' advice "that religion and worship which [a] conscience is persuaded is true" be countenanced and approbated by civil authority, to separating religion from public or even government celebrations.

Day of Infamy

Marc Comtois

With the 70th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it feels like the passing of an age is upon us. Fewer and fewer of those alive during those times--particularly those who fought--are still alive today. It seems the emotional resonance that past remembrances of the "day that will live in infamy" began to dampen over the last few years, particularly as we live in the shadow of our own more contemporary tragedy of 9/11. Nonetheless, brave men fought and died for our nation on December 7, 1941 and their sacrifices should not be forgotten.

November 17, 2011

The Cultural Cycle We're In

Justin Katz

Commenting on the image cut by "union protesters" (that is, protesting union members), Alice Losasso of West Warwick quotes Scottish historian Alexander Tytler as follows:

"The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to complacency; From complacency to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage."

I'd like to think that the cycle can be broken, but I'm not so sure. As Tytler indicates in the preceding paragraph, the forces pushing toward decline control the vote because they get goodies from the system. The topic brings to mind a comment that Phil left yesterday to one of my pension posts:

I think it is appropriate to try to stifle reform that targets aging retirees. Do you want your generation to be the one that breaks contracts and faith with your elders once they have stopped working?

My "elders" fashioned the yoke of government regulation and inside dealing that is strangling our economy; they set fire to the cultural pillars that must stand in order to sustain liberty and abundance over the long term; they worshiped their own untrammeled independence to such a degree that they failed to reproduce in sufficient numbers to maintain the Ponzi schemes that they developed; and they made themselves promises at the expense of those whom they deigned to beget. The generation that once declared, "don't trust anyone over 30," is now insisting, "don't discomfit anyone over 60."

For my part, I'm utterly unpersuaded that those now approaching middle age, much less those who are younger still, are therefore obligated to maintain the scheme. There is no moral obligation for a young, struggling family to ensure a cushy retirement that maintains an arbitrarily high standard of living for people who have ceased to produce. But to enforce that obligation, and others like it, my "elders" will be only too happy to place increasing power in the hands of an incompetent governing class that will persist long after the gray years of the Boomers — probably until the entire civilization collapses or a bloody revolution sets things aright. From my perspective, some rational, not-exactly-arduous reforms now would be preferable.


Russ was happy to point out in the comments that the Tytler quotation is actually a common misattribution. That's fine. Just as I wouldn't argue that a cultural observation must be true because some historian made it, I won't discount that it might be true even if he didn't say it, especially for use in a more philosophical-type blog post.

September 8, 2011

Teaching September 11th

Patrick Laverty

In the Valley Breeze today, I was happy to read that the Lincoln Middle and High Schools will be teaching the events of September 11, 2001 to the students. The part that disappointed me a bit was that they will be talking about it with the students, for the first time.

"[LHS Principal Kevin] McNamara said that LHS has not done anything like this in the past, but he decided to for this milestone year. "With the 10-year anniversary, it has refocused everyone on the importance of memorializing the event," McNamara said."

I remember after it happening, wondering how schools were going to teach this. When I was in school, we learned about D-Day, we learned about Pearl Harbor, we also talked about the Vietnam conflict. So how would schools teach about what happened on that perfectly clear Tuesday morning ten years ago now. Apparently, the answer is they don't. They don't want to talk about the gruesomeness of it, they don't want to talk about the fear of flying a commercial airplane or being in a tall building and wondering if anything will happen to it. They don't want to scare the children.

I did some more searching on how the subject is taught in schools and why it isn't taught in many places and found this one explanation:

"With no standard curriculum in place, teachers across the country have been forced to develop their own methods to talk about the traumatic events of the past decade in the classroom. Many have turned to privately created lesson plans"

"forced to develop their own methods"? Isn't that what they do? Teachers are professionals and in their training, they learn how to develop a lesson plan in their subject area. I'm not sure why teachers can develop a plan for how to teach this part of history in the same ways that they develop lessons to teach algebra, diagramming sentences or the FDR presidency. When these things aren't taught, a very important part of our history is lost on the students, even to the point where people from their mid-twenties on up might want to bang their head in frustration.
Back in May, the Yahoo search blog wrote:

However, it seems teens ages 13-17 were seeking more information as they made up 66% of searches for “who is osama bin laden?”

That just shouldn't even be possible. Our schools should be spending more than a day or two on the subject. This is a topic that could go for an entire semester or even an entire year, so to talk about it in the schools for just a day or two around the anniversary of the attacks doesn't do the history justice. The Middle East and the US' involvement is something that will probably be a topic of discussion for the entire lives of today's students. To not even talk about it in schools is irresponsible.

June 30, 2011

Arbitration and History

Justin Katz

Marc and Matt Allen continued the conversation about binding arbitration on last night's Matt Allen Show and went on to talk a bit about Michelle Bachmann. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

June 29, 2011

About Bachmann's "Founding Father's fought Slavery" statement

Marc Comtois

Apparently we're at the point in Campaign 2012 where we play the game of dissecting political statements for "gotcha moments." The pols have to be ready for the questions, so they should work to make sure they mitigate damage by reading up beforehand. That being said, of all the things to talk to a Presidential candidate about, why focus on interpretations of who exactly was a Founding Father? But, since it was broached....

The question, from ABC's George Stephanopoulos, and Bachmann's answer:

Stephanopoulos: [E]arlier this year you said that the Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence worked tirelessly to end slavery. Now with respect Congresswoman, that’s just not true. Many of them including Jefferson and Washington were actually slave holders and slavery didn’t end until the Civil War....

Bachmann: Well if you look at one of our Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, that’s absolutely true. He was a very young boy when he was with his father serving essentially as his father’s secretary. He tirelessly worked throughout his life to make sure that we did in fact one day eradicate slavery….

Stephanopoulos: He wasn’t one of the Founding Fathers – he was a president, he was a Secretary of State, he was a member of Congress, you’re right he did work to end slavery decades later. But so you are standing by this comment that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery?

Bachmann: Well, John Quincy Adams most certainly was a part of the Revolutionary War era. He was a young boy but he was actively involved.

First of all, because "some" Founders had slaves doesn't mean that "some" didn't fight against slavery. This isn't an "either or" kinda thing. Besides, someone else offered an opinion on this (H/t)
Who were our fathers that framed the Constitution? I suppose the "thirty-nine" who signed the original instrument may be fairly called our fathers who framed that part of the present Government. It is almost exactly true to say they framed it, and it is altogether true to say they fairly represented the opinion and sentiment of the whole nation at that time. Their names, being familiar to nearly all, and accessible to quite all, need not now be repeated....

In 1784, three years before the Constitution - the United States then owning the Northwestern Territory, and no other, the Congress of the Confederation had before them the question of prohibiting slavery in that Territory; and four of the "thirty-nine" who afterward framed the Constitution, were in that Congress, and voted on that question. Of these, Roger Sherman, Thomas Mifflin, and Hugh Williamson voted for the prohibition...[t]he other of the four - James M'Henry - voted against the prohibition, showing that, for some cause, he thought it improper to vote for it.

In 1787, still before the Constitution, but while the Convention was in session framing it, and while the Northwestern Territory still was the only territory owned by the United States, the same question of prohibiting slavery in the territory again came before the Congress of the Confederation; and two more of the "thirty-nine" who afterward signed the Constitution, were in that Congress, and voted on the question. They were William Blount and William Few; and they both voted for the prohibition...This time the prohibition became a law, being part of what is now well known as the Ordinance of '87....

In 1789, by the first Congress which sat under the Constitution, an act was passed to enforce the Ordinance of '87, including the prohibition of slavery in the Northwestern Territory. The bill for this act was reported by one of the "thirty-nine," Thomas Fitzsimmons, then a member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania. It went through all its stages without a word of opposition, and finally passed both branches without yeas and nays, which is equivalent to a unanimous passage. In this Congress there were sixteen of the thirty-nine fathers who framed the original Constitution. They were John Langdon, Nicholas Gilman, Wm. S. Johnson, Roger Sherman, Robert Morris, Thos. Fitzsimmons, William Few, Abraham Baldwin, Rufus King, William Paterson, George Clymer, Richard Bassett, George Read, Pierce Butler, Daniel Carroll, James Madison.

Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. Lincoln.

Is this a stretch? Perhaps, but no more, really, than the gymnastics that Stephanopoulos went through just to get to this point.

March 14, 2011

An Invitation to Michele Bachmann

Carroll Andrew Morse

On behalf of no recognized or legitimate authority whatsoever (i.e. staying true to my blogging roots), I invite United States Congresswoman and possible long-shot Presidential Candidate Michele Bachmann to round out her knowledge of New England history by paying a visit to my neighborhood, the Edgewood and Pawtuxet sections of Cranston and Warwick, Rhode Island, during the second weekend of June, where she can watch the annual reenactment of the burning of the HMS Gaspee -- sometimes referred to as "the first blow for freedom" struck by the American colonies against the British -- and perhaps meet a few folks who will be able to convince her that not everyone in New England outside of New Hampshire is part of a monolithic political culture (although we understand how non-New Englanders might sometimes see it that way time), and that there's still much life left in Alexis de Tocqueville's observation that New England is the home to the closest thing to the democratic (small-d) ideal that the modern world has ever seen.

February 16, 2011

Fordham Institute Reports on the State of U.S. History Standards (Except Rhode Island)

Marc Comtois

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute has studied various State-level U.S. History Standards and come up with a report (PDF). For the most part, they didn't like what they found with a "majority of states’ standards are mediocre-to-awful." And, surprise, of all the states, Rhode Island was the only state to receive an N/A (Incomplete). Why?

As of 2010, Rhode Island has chosen not to implement statewide social studies standards....Rhode Island expressly declares its GSEs [Grade Span Expectations...for Civics & Government and Historical Perspectives/Rhode Island History] not to be general social studies or history standards, it would be inappropriate to review them as such.
Perhaps once Rhode Island implements the Common Core standard we'll have an analysis-worthy standard in place (though I think the initial emphasis is on Math and ELA). Until then, it looks like RI shares the same core problem with History standards with most of the rest of the states across the country. According to Fordham, this is the "submersion of history in the vacuous, synthetic, and anti-historical 'field' of social studies." They quote Dianne Ravitch.
What is social studies? Or, what are social studies? Is it history with attention to current events? Is it a merger of history, geography, civics, economics, sociology, and all other social sciences? … When social studies was first introduced in the early years of the 20th century, history was recognized as the central study of social studies. By the 1930s, it was considered primus inter pares, the first among equals. In the latter decades of the 20th century, many social studies professionals disparaged history with open disdain, suggesting that the study of the past was a useless exercise in obsolescence that attracted antiquarians and hopeless conservatives. (In the late 1980s, a president of the National Council for the Social Studies referred derisively to history as “pastology.”)
They also criticize "overly broad content outlines" ("isolated fragments of decontextualized history") and the practice of chopping up historical periods across grade levels, which leads to different levels of historical inquiry based on grade level. They also find that there is too much ideological pollution finding its way into History curricula.

Continue reading "Fordham Institute Reports on the State of U.S. History Standards (Except Rhode Island)"

February 13, 2011

Sunday Book Review: A Slave No More

Marc Comtois

A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation by David W. Blight.

A Slave No More is many books in one. The heart and soul of the work are the never-before-published emancipation narratives written by Wallace Turnage and John Washington. Blight provides historical context by matching their individual stories to the Civil War time line and compares them to other emancipation narratives. In essence, Blight provides the historical skeleton upon which the Turnage and Washington stories are overlayed.

In the first two chapters, Blight provides the historical context and his analysis of Washington and Turnage narratives, respectively. His discussion of the different nature, tone and goals of antebellum and post-bellum emancipation narratives is important.

Antebellum slave narratives tended to conform to certain structures and conventions. Given the depth of racism in the era, rooted in assumptions of black illiteracy and deviance, pre-1860 ex-slave autobiographers had to demonstrate their humanity and veracity. They had to prove their identity and their reliability as first-person witnesses among a people so often defined outside the human family of letters….Most narratives were cast as contests between good and evil, moving through countless examples of cruelty toward slaves and ending in a story of escape. Many are essentially spiritual autobiographies, journeys from sinfulness and ignorance to righteousness and knowledge. On one level, antebellum slave narratives were effective abolitionist propaganda, condemnations of slavery in story form.

Post-emancipation slave narratives, however, changed in content and form. They still tend to be spiritual autobiographies, often by former bondsmen turned clergymen, and they were written in the mode of “from slave cabin to the pulpit.” But postslavery narratives are more practical and less romantic, more about a rise to success for the individual and progress for the race as a whole….It is not so much the memory of slavery that matters in the bulk of the postwar genre, but how slavery was overcome by a narrator who competed and won his place in an ever-evolving and more hopeful present. Slavery is now a useable past in the age of Progress and Capital….Antebellum narratives are saturated with the oppressive nature of slavery and a world shadowed by the past. Postbellum narratives reflect backward only enough to cast off the past, exalt the present and forge a future.

According to Blight, the Washington and Turnage narratives are unique because they exhibit qualities of both ante- and postbellum types.

In the third chapter, Blight describes how he used various resources to rediscover Washington and Turnage’s past. It is a good object lesson to future historians as to the twists and turns—some frustrating, some unexpected--that research can take. In chapter four, Blight tackles the larger historiographical question of emancipation and whether it was bottom-up or top-down. It was both:

Emancipation in America was a revolution from the bottom up that required power and authority from the top down to give it public gravity and make it secure. Freedom, as Lincoln said, was something given and preserved, but it also, as he himself well understood had to be taken and endured. And it ultimately was fostered by war and engineered by armies.
In this chapter, he also charts the origin of the “faithful slave” myth and the important part it played in the “Lost Cause” narrative that arose in the postbellum south.

The final two chapters are the emancipation narratives themselves. Both writers apologized for their poor writing skills, yet, while they did write simply, they also wrote engaging and sometimes eloquent prose. In addition to having a talent for description, both were skilled at using humor (sometimes dry) and irony to make their point. For instance, Turnage, in explaining--upon overhearing that he was due a whipping from an overseer--decided not to wait around, so he “got over the fence to see what would be the result.” That’s one way of explaining that he ran away!

In sum, whereas Blight--as he describes--may believe that he was simply in the right place at the right time to have had these works fall into his lap, he has done a magnificent job of presenting the Turnage and Washington stories within their proper historical context. This is a valuable work of history.

A version of this review was originally posted at Spinning Clio on 1/13/2008.

February 6, 2011

Book Review: From Battlefields Rising

Marc Comtois

Note Bene: One of the ancillaries of having a history blog was receiving, from time to time, a review copy of a book from its publisher. Well, although the aformentioned blog is now dormant, I still occasionally receive books and I think offering the occasional Sunday review seems appropriate. Life is more than politics and culture wars and sometimes taking a breath and writing about something else--and throwing it up here--is worthwhile all its own. At least, I hope you all agree.

From Battlefields Rising: How The Civil War Transformed American Literature, by Randall Fuller. Oxford University Press, Inc. New York, NY, 2011.

Fuller's aim is to explore how the Civil War affected leading writers of antebellum America such as Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville. Sometimes we forget how clustered these writers were: all in the Northeast, particularly New England, and many in Concord, MA. This geographic closeness had some influence on their philosophical and political views, too.

Chiefly, most of these 'transcendentalists' (if not all) were avidly abolitionist. Most had advocated for this cause and, at the outbreak of the Civil War, were sure of both its rightness and the relative ease--so they believed--with which it would be attained. Their moral clarity would become clouded to one degree or another as the casualties mounted and the war dragged on. Fuller investigates these various crisis' of conscience and the questions that arose.

For instance, at the outbreak of the war Walt Whitman was attempting something of a literary comeback. A pair of young Boston publishers had sought him out to publish the next edition of his Leaves of Grass (something he would update throughout his life), which had opened with his poetic paradigm shifting "Song of Myself." It was from this "Song" that Whitman seemed to draw inspiration for much of his latest work--poems that ruffled Victorian-era feathers and substantiated Whitman's notoriety. Yet, his infamy was shortlived with the outbreak of war. The reading public became interested in news and writings that dealt with it and little else. Even the various writers of the time found their focus shifting and Whitman's own optimism about the war was permanently affected by the tragedy of the Battle of Bull Run, which would resurface in his writing again and again.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was also profoundly affected by the war. A writer of romances who had been abroad for many years, he returned to Concord, Massachusetts in the months preceding the war to find a changed and radicalized town. For while he certainly agreed with abolitionist goals, he didn't approve of their approval of John Brown and his actions. Unlike the rest of Concord's leading lights, Hawthorne felt, according to Fuller:

Brown's actions...begged questions of morality that were too easily obscured by the transcendentalists' lofty rhetoric. How could the man's admirable vision of slavery's wrongs ever justify his murderous actions? Didn't the deaths of soldiers, innocent bystanders, and his own men negate the righteous imperatives Brown felt he represented? And how could responsible thinkers so blithely excuse these consequences?
Hawthorne simply couldn't relate. He published an essay in the Atlantic, "Chiefly about War-Matters" that posed many of these same questions and caused a ruckus amongst his neighbors. As Fuller explains, the essay was accompanied by critical footnotes by the Editor--who was Hawthorne himself! No one was immune to Hawthorne's problematic probing. As for his career, Hawthorne had returned to Concord with hopes of completing another great novel, but he found trouble focusing because of the war and eventually gave up hope of completing it. He died shortly thereafter. As Fuller eulogizes, "For Hawthorne, the war...had doused a fervent literary imagination, ended an illustrious career."

Others were affected in varying degrees and in different ways. Emily Dickenson watched her male acquaintances and relatives march off to war and her poems came to include more references to the conflict and its results: death and maiming. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in the wake of the burning death of his wife, turned to translating Dante's Divine Comedy, which was itself written during a period of civil war in Tuscany. Herman Melville actually participated in the war, briefly (and the episode would influence his Billy Budd, a Sailor many years later), but he spent most of his time compiling his Battle Pieces, in which, according to Fuller, "[He] insisted...the war might have been avoided if both sides had been less rigid and unyielding in their convictions." The work was published a year after the war (1866) and sold less than 200 copies. As Fuller no doubt correctly surmises, "Tired of war, Americans were certainly not interested in ambiguity or self-questioning."

The literary and personal insights provided by Fuller are interesting and provocative. One can't help but trace the war-time evolution of these writers' feelings, thoughts and works and compare them to those of the contemporary media and even ourselves. There is also some solace to be gained from learning that even literary giants who supported as modernly uncontroversial a cause as the abolition of slavery would have flawed conceptions about the ease with which it could be accomplished and would come to have some reservations concerning the vehicle by which it was ultimately attained. In short, they were human, just like us.

January 26, 2011

Principles Opposed to Slavery and Statism

Justin Katz

Once again, I find I must recommend an inaccessible article in National Review, this one by Gettysburg College history professor Allen Guelzo:

The antidote to slavery, Lincoln insisted, was also economic free labor. In the 19th century, free labor was the shorthand term for a particular way of viewing capitalism: as a labor system, in which employers and employees struck bargains for production and wages without restriction and where the boundaries between these two roles were fluid enough that today's employee could, by dint of energy, talent, and foresight, become the employer of tomorrow.

Slavery was the polar opposite fo free labor. With very rare exceptions, it denied the slave any future but that of being a slave, and it replaced the open-ended arrangements of employees and employers with a rigidly dictatorial system. The harmful effects extended beyond the slaves themselves, Lincoln wrote, because in the process, all labor became stigmatized as "slave work"; the social ideal became "the gentleman of leisure who was above and scorned work," rather than "men who are industrious, and sober, and honest in the pursuit of their own interests." Men who are industrious — that, of course, described Lincoln. Slavery, then, was not merely an abstraction; it was the enemy of every ambition Lincoln had ever felt.

Especially interesting are the links that Guelzo implicitly draws between the social system built on American slavery and a social system built on statism. For one thing, both characterize a relationship of freely exchanged employment as its opposite:

Lincoln was aware that pro-slavery propagandists had begun claiming in the 1850s that laborers in northern factories were, in reality, no more free to make wage bargains than slaves on southern plantations. In fact, they claimed, "free labor" was worse off, because employers had no obligation to provide health care for mere wage-earners or to support them in childhood and old age, the way slaveowners did for their slaves.

Not for no reason, then, did the Confederate government organize itself in line with the principles of its guiding institution:

... while the Union government contracted out its wartime needs to the private sector, the Confederate government set up government-owned supply facilities...

Historian Raimondo Luraghi called it "quasi-socialist management."

Despite the links between slavery and statism, two considerations have to taken into the balance, one qualifying the case of the former, the other the case of the latter. First, the slave-based system, here, is specifically that of the mid-to-late 1800s — the last guard, as it were, striving to maintain the system. In prior eras, slavery was simply a fact of life coexisting, however discordantly, with evolving notions of liberty.

Second, statists often begin with the well-being of the lower classes primary in their minds. In that respect, their views are opposite those of slaveholders. What unites them is the notion that the great majority of human beings are better off letting experts with centralized authority govern their lives. No matter the impetus, that sounds like slavery to me, no matter how beneficent.

January 8, 2011

Taking the GG Out of Literature

Justin Katz

During my time as a college English student, with professors being predictably as you can imagine they were, I was struck by how powerful a set of letters "nigger" could be — first, as a dehumanizing attack and, later, as a literary marker of the speaker's ignorance. Particularly in postbellum literature, and especially in certain fonts, that double-g looks like a dark jab scattered across the page. Whether the book that first gave me that impression was something by William Faulkner or was Huck Finn, I don't recall, but it came to mind upon reading of an edition of Mark Twain's book that replaces all instances of the word with "slave."

As Twain once said, "the difference the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

Rich Lowry has posted a letter that makes the point well. Readers of Huck Finn can't help but discern the author's criticism of those using the word, and the callousness of their attitude toward human life. There's a callousness to removing the word, as well.

My reading of the book, which I described in academic detail in the essay that kept me out of Brown University's graduate program in Literature, makes this point central to a sly, more intriguing intention that I believe to have been Twain's underlying purpose for the book. Addressing longstanding and heated disapproval of Twain's reintroduction of Tom Sawyer for the climax of the book — which has led multiple critics to declare the ending an unforgivable failure, with no less a figure than Ernest Hemingway calling it "cheating" — I proposed that Twain was putting the reader in the position of the character of whom he or she was apt to be most critical:

When it is considered that, at Huck's moral juncture, Tom comes into an adventure in progress with privileged information, a new link is seen: this time to the reader. Tom's reappearance for the Phelps section does lead to a change in the book (as is evident from the controversy over the end), but only inasmuch as we were expecting (read "hoping") for something different. A reader hoping to read a Jim-as-hero-escaping-from-slavery story would be, essentially, hoping to do (or hoping that the author does) exactly what Tom tries to do from his point of view: make the book interesting in a certain way, in part by making Jim into a specific type of hero. In the Connecticut of the 1880s, this would translate into a desire to "set [Jim] free" even though "he was already free" (Twain, 262). It is not necessarily requisite to this conclusion that the reader of this, or our, era would see Jim, specifically, as free; it is enough that the post–Civil War reader (and, more so, the modern reader) would consider freedom as some intrinsic quality of humanity in much the same way that it is possible, now, to see the Emancipation Proclamation as an overdue formality — the Civil War itself can be said to have set free people free (like a liberation of civilian hostages in a hostile country who are being held unjustly or against their rights). ...

Ultimately, a reader who is upset at the ending is put in a parallel role to Tom — wanting to set a free slave free in a manner that accords to his or her own sense of heroism (and, if you wish, morality). As stated by Fritz Oehschlaeger, "something in us longs for quite a different outcome, one that would allow Jim to retain his heroic stature and force Huck to live up to the decision that accompanies his tearing up of the letter to Miss Watson." [21] In other words, like Tom, the reader wants circumstances to allow Jim and Huck to become heroes according to the reader's definition.

It is not a testament to a fortitude of national character that a significant portion of our population would, in a sense, so dramatically merge the reader's role with that of Tom. To my reading, Twain merely implied the connection, in keeping with his dark, wry humor. Now, in seeking to sanitize the culture that enslaved Jim, making the story more to the tastes of the modern audience, the reader is doing precisely what Tom Sawyer has drawn fire for doing: selfishly making light of the black man's predicament.

January 1, 2011

The Foundation for Everything You Know

Justin Katz

It doesn't diminish the fields of history and science to express fascination that it's entirely possible for some bones or fragments thereof to reorder the entire history of man:

A Tel Aviv University team excavating a cave in central Israel said teeth found in the cave are about 400,000 years old and resemble those of other remains of modern man, known scientifically as Homo sapiens, found in Israel. The earliest Homo sapiens remains found until now are half as old. ...

The accepted scientific theory is that Homo sapiens originated in Africa and migrated out of the continent. Gopher said if the remains are definitively linked to modern human's ancestors, it could mean that modern man in fact originated in what is now Israel.

The article goes on to note that it could still prove to be the case that the remains are of Neanderthals, not homo sapiens, but the finding still serves as a healthy reminder that relatively little of our knowledge of the past comes from rigorous documentary evidence.

December 4, 2010

Health and Wealth

Justin Katz

This is very neat; an animated chart of global health and wealth over two hundred years.

The discouraging aspect is the continued struggle within Africa to advance. On a different note, Hans Rosling breaks some nations into regions to illustrate differences; it'd be interesting to see a similar effort covering the individual states of the U.S.A. over the history of the nation.

October 29, 2010

Dirtiest Campaign Ever? Thus has it always been claimed....

Marc Comtois

Thanks to the folks at Reason.com for reminding people that political campaigns have been dirty for quite some time (say, a couple hundred years, at least).

April 16, 2010

Paranoia, it's the American Way

Marc Comtois

As Rich Lowry explains in his latest column, we Americans are perpetually paranoid about our government, whether it's the liberal paranoia throughout the Bush years (Patriot Act, world hegemony) or the right wing paranoia amongst conservatives in the Clinton years (Waco, domestic anti-terrorist laws post-Oklahoma City). Lowry explains that our paranoid view of government has been in our "DNA" since the Founding (and before).

As Bernard Bailyn demonstrates in his classic, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, our forebears prized the thought of the 18th-century “country” opposition in England, which considered the government a clear and present danger to liberty — corrupt, conspiratorial, and insatiable.

America’s leaders viewed Revolutionary events through this prism. “They saw about them,” Bailyn writes, “not merely mistaken, or even evil, policies violating the principles upon which freedom rested, but what appeared to be evidence of nothing less than a deliberate assault launched surreptitiously by plotters against liberty, both in England and in America.”

This is the taproot of American paranoia. It’s not in status anxiety, or economic dispossession, or racism: It’s in flat-out distrust of governmental authority. As the Patriot Act shows, in America even the statists can summon a robust fear of government. And would we have it any other way? Would we prefer the natural deference to authority of a Japan, or a political culture as favorable to central government as Russia’s?

Lowry's analysis of Bailyn's thesis is spot on and also helps explain why we Americans sometimes tend to buy into conspiracy theories, too.

Continue reading "Paranoia, it's the American Way"

March 24, 2010

"Servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind"

Marc Comtois

In these times, the observations of Alexis de Tocqueville seem as apt as ever:

[Government] takes upon itself alone to secure [the people's] gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood....For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
According to de Tocqueville, it is a misunderstanding of the concept of equality--which rightly understood should be an equality of liberty and opportunity, not of standing--that leads a democratic society down the primrose path to dependency upon government.
[Government] extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.

Thus, the tropes of democracy are maintained so that "we the people" may elect our own masters.
Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free. As they cannot destroy either the one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once. They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large who hold the end of his chain.

By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master and then relapse into it again. A great many persons at the present day are quite contented with this sort of compromise between administrative despotism and the sovereignty of the people; and they think they have done enough for the protection of individual freedom when they have surrendered it to the power of the nation at large.

ADDENDUM: Michael Ledeen noted basically the same passages a couple days ago, but is optimistic:

Tocqueville had it right, and it’s exactly what has happened on his old continent. Europe has fallen under precisely that sort of tyranny, and our would-be tyrants thought they could do the same here.

But the scheme did not succeed, at least the way they planned it. Instead of embracing the tyranny, the American people unexpectedly rose up against it. To use Tocqueville’s metaphor, Americans acted like a recalcitrant child and refused to behave. At which point the tyrannical wannabes decided to slap us down and make us behave properly. They were forced to carry out a coup, a baldfaced seizure of power. Thus, the Demon Pass. Thus the two most memorable lines from the coup plotters: (Pelosi): “we have to pass it to find out what’s in it,” and (Hastings): “there are no rules. This is the U.S. Congress.”

That was not the way it was supposed to happen. We were supposed to go quietly. Instead we fought back, and the final outcome of this big fight–the one I foresaw more than a year ago–is still in doubt. The would-be tyrants may prevail; after all, they have the awesome power of the state. But we have the numbers and a superior vision.

Americans can be very tough in this kind of fight. Ask King George.

March 10, 2010

Hoss Radbourn, The Grays and a Lady

Marc Comtois

ProJo scribe Ed Achorn just released a new book, Fifty-nine in '84, which tells the story of Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn's 1884 season with the Providence Grays when he won 59 consecutive games. Old Hoss was indeed a character, something that can be seen even in the stills captured in this video:

But there's more than baseball in the book. Achorn also writes about the history and atmosphere of 1880's Providence and writes extensively about Radbourn's romance and eventual marriage to Carrie Stanhope, "the alluring proprietress of a boarding house with shady overtones, a married lady who was said to know every man in the National League personally."

February 6, 2010

Anti-Dorrite African-Americans in Antebellum Rhode Island

Marc Comtois

In "Strange Bedfellows", sometime ProJo book reviewer Erik Chaput and Russell J. DeSimone explain how free blacks in antebellum Rhode Island joined forces with the conservative Law and Order party to help put down the egalitarian and populist Dorr Rebellion.

[I]n Rhode Island, forces loyal to Governor King, including some 200 black men from Providence, summarily arrested hundreds of suspected Dorrites. The Law and Order forces, a coalition of Whigs and conservative Democrats, needed all the troops they could get their hands on because many of the state militia units were loyal to Dorr. Black participation in squashing the rebellion made a deep impression on William Brown, the grandson of slaves who had once been owned by the famous merchant turned abolitionist Moses Brown. At numerous points in his memoir, William Brown pointed out that many blacks "turned out in defense" of the newly formed Law and Order party. The "colored people," according to Brown, "organized two companies to assist in carrying out Law and Order in the State." One Dorrite broadside viciously depicted blacks at a table with dogs eating and drinking like barbarians at the conclusion of the rebellion. Indeed, the Law and Order party was frequently referred to as the "nigger party" by the Dorrites.

Ironically, the disenfranchised black allies of the Law and Order party helped to put down a rebellion that claimed to speak on behalf of the disenfranchised. Indeed, the black men who made such an impression on Brown played a key role in suppressing a rebellion that they once had every intention of joining because of its egalitarian ethos. Just as ironically, blacks' support for the Charter government, a relic of Rhode Island's colonial past, helped secure their voting rights when the state approved a new constitution in 1843. The former slave and staunch abolitionist Frederick Douglass maintained in his autobiography that the efforts of black and white abolitionists "during the Dorr excitement did more to abolitionize the state than any previous or subsequent work." One effect of the "labors," according to Douglass, "was to induce the old law and order party, when it set about making its new constitution, to avoid the narrow folly of the Dorrites, and make a constitution which should not abridge any man's rights on account of race or color." This legal triumph, the only instance in antebellum history where blacks regained the franchise after having it revoked, was rooted both in the particular political and economic situations of Providence's black community and in the Revolutionary rhetoric that was part and parcel of Dorr's attempt at extralegal reform.

It's a very interesting read and explanation of how politics did, indeed, bring together these strange bedfellows.

January 29, 2010

Howard Zinn

Marc Comtois

It shouldn't go unremarked that radical left historian Howard Zinn has passed away at the age of 87. Zinn, Matt Damon's favorite historian, is best known for his A Peoples History of the United States, a controversial work that has generated mountains of debate within (and outside of) the historical profession. (He even caused a stir around here back in 2004 when he was invited to speak at South Kingstown High unbeknownst to many parents). Disagree with him or not, Zinn will remain hugely influential in the fields of history and political thought for years to come.

Continue reading "Howard Zinn"

November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Marc Comtois

To commemorate Thanksgiving this year, I thought it appropriate to post George Washington's original Thanksgiving Proclamation setting aside Thursday, November 26th (exactly 220 years ago!) as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer.

General Thanksgiving

By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America


WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houfes of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to eftablifh a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and affign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of thefe States to the fervice of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our fincere and humble thanksfor His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the fignal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpofitions of His providence in the courfe and conclufion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have fince enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to eftablish Conftitutions of government for our fafety and happinefs, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are bleffed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffufing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleafed to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in moft humbly offering our prayers and fupplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and befeech Him to pardon our national and other tranfgreffions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private ftations, to perform our feveral and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a bleffing to all the people by conftantly being a Government of wife, juft, and conftitutional laws, difcreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all fovereigns and nations (especially fuch as have shewn kindnefs unto us); and to blefs them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increafe of fcience among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind fuch a degree of temporal profperity as he alone knows to be beft.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand feven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

August 6, 2009

The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History

Marc Comtois

Peter Berkowitz reviews Patrick Allitt's The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History in the latest Policy Review. Berkowitz explains that Allitt helps explain the "paradoxes that constitute conservatism in America."

The questions that guide his study are straightforward: “Where did conservatism come from, what are its intellectual sources, and why is it internally divided?” In answering them, however, he is obliged to undertake considerable intellectual legwork because a recognized conservative movement in America only came into existence after 1950. This doesn’t prevent Allitt from reconstructing “a strong, complex, and continuing American conservative tradition” stretching from The Federalist to the Federalist Society. It does mean, though, that to justify his decisions about whom and what to include and exclude in the absence of a formal conservative tradition, a common canon, and an established set of spokesmen, Allitt is compelled to spell out the conflicting elements that distinguish a distinctively conservative approach to politics in America.

Allitt does not seek to go beyond his role as a historian. Yet his learned and fair-minded reconstruction lends support to the view that the proper way forward for conservatives is neither greater purity nor a more perfect unity, but a richer appreciation of the paradoxes of modern conservatism and a more assiduous cultivation of the moderation that is necessary to hold conservatism’s diverse elements, frequently both complementary and conflicting, in proper balance.

I particularly liked Allitt's definition of American Conservatism (as summarized by Berkowitz):
According to Allitt, conservatism is, first, “an attitude to social and political change that looks for support to the ideas, beliefs, and habits of the past and puts more faith in the lessons of history than in the abstractions of political philosophy.” Second, it involves “a suspicion of democracy and equality.” This can be divided into a concern that the formal equality of men before God and law not be confused with equality in all things, particularly virtue, and that too much government power not be placed directly in the people’s hands. Third, conservatism reflects “the view that civilization is fragile and easily disrupted” and therefore it teaches that “the survival of the republic presupposes the virtue of citizens” and calls for “a highly educated elite as guardians of civilization.”

MORE: Tod Lindberg reviewed Allitt's book in the latest addition of National Review and gives Allitt high marks for focusing on conservative history back to the founding and, more importantly, for helping to focus on the central problem of conservatism:

An affection for what’s best in the social order and the urge to protect it are qualities that inevitably lead to a degree of tolerance for the defects of the social order. This is the problem of conservatism, then and now. A conservative sensibility would not necessarily lead to a defense of slavery or toleration of it: See Allitt’s characterization of Lincoln. One might instead note that Calhoun’s racial theorizing was novel and radical more than it was conservative. But a defense in the 1830s or 1850s of slavery as a social institution would necessarily have been conservative.
Lindberg hopes Allitt will turn to an examination of Progressivism next:
Progressivism has its central problem as well: the tendency to take the positive aspects of social order as a given and to assume that the attempt to remedy its defects can be achieved without risk to what’s already good and perhaps essential. One would welcome a book by Professor Allitt about the progressive tendency in American intellectual history, one that would bring this central problem of progressivism into similarly sharp relief.
For more, read on....

Continue reading "The Conservatives: Ideas and Personalities Throughout American History"

July 21, 2009

NEA Leader Compares RI Revolutionary War Hero to My Lai War Criminal

Marc Comtois

I suppose when you've established a weekly shtick, you gotta keep doing it. Even when the source material is a Revolutionary War hero. So sometimes you overreach. Like comparing Rhode Island's own Revolutionary War hero General Nathanael Greene to Lt. William Calley, the war criminal notorious for his role in the My Lai massacre. It might be even worse if you've made this comparison based on your own ill-informed, uncritical supposition based on an "appeal to authority" (something for which you often criticize others) to a snippet of context-missing history by a well-known partisan historian. Or maybe its worse that you advocate for the state's biggest education entity, the NEA.

Way to set an example!

In his weekly quest to harpoon his very own white whale, NEA's Pat "Ahab" Crowley has decided to deride the topic of Ed Achorn's latest book review/column, war hero Nathanael Greene.

Why not an editorial piece lauding the work of Lt. William Calley? Do you remember Rusty Calley? He led an operation very similar to one that Greene led during the Revolutionary War, though he doesn’t have any schools named after him (at least I hope not.) What was the operation that Calley led? You have probably heard of the My Lai massacre, right?

Well, Nate Greene described similar operations in his diary.

{Technically, I believe Greene described the events and the aftermath in a letter to Thomas Jefferson-ed.}

Crowley then quotes from Howard Zinn*:
Washington's military commander in the lower South, Nathanael Greene, dealt with disloyalty by a policy of concessions to some, brutality to others. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson he described a raid by his troops on Loyalists. “They made dreadful carnage of them, upwards of one hundred were killed and most of the rest cut to pieces. It has had a very happy effect on those disaffected persons of which there were too many in this country.” Greene told one of his generals “to strike terror into our enemies and give spirit to our friends.” **
Based on his reading of Zinn, Crowley wrote:
This wasn’t an attack on soldiers, by the way…..a “raid” on “loyalists” meant an attack on civilians. He cut them to pieces. Greene….Calley…..My Lai…..
Wrong. "Loyalists" in this context were male American colonists who enlisted in loyalist militias to fight for the crown. Not women and children. Further, while it is true that Greene noted in his letter to Jefferson that the affect of the "massacre" was beneficial in that it helped to tamp down counter-revolutionary actions, he didn't directly take part in the action, as did Calley at My Lai. In fact, Greene didn't even order the attack!

Zinn isn't the only one to have written about this particular incident. But first, here is some additional context. In late May 1780, before Greene took over command of the Continental forces in the south:

Cornwallis had detached a cavalry force under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, by reputation hard and unsparing, to mop up the last remaining Continentals in that area, some 350 Virginians under Col. Abraham Buford. Tarleton's 270-man force had caught up with Buford's retreating soldiers on May 29 and quickly overwhelmed them. But when the Continentals called for quarter—a plea for mercy by men who had laid down their arms—Tarleton's troops hacked and bayoneted three-quarters of them to death. "The virtue of humanity was totally forgotten," a Loyalist witness, Charles Stedman, would recall in his 1794 account of the incident. From then on, the words "Bloody Tarleton" and "Tarleton's quarter" became a rallying cry among Southern rebels. {These events were dramatized in the movie "The Patriot."-ed.}

Following Buford's Massacre, as it soon came to be called, guerrilla bands formed under commanders including Thomas Sumter, Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens. Each had fought in South Carolina's brutal Cherokee War 20 years earlier, a campaign that had provided an education in irregular warfare. Soon, these bands were emerging from swamps and forests to harass redcoat supply trains, ambush forage parties and plunder Loyalists. Cornwallis issued orders that the insurgents would be "punished with the greatest vigour."

It was a nasty portion of the war before Greene assumed command in December of 1780. He soon adjusted, which leads to the description given by Zinn, mentioned above. Here's another description of the event.
As Greene headed toward Hillsborough, members of his cavalry, commanded by Col. Henry Lee, surprised an inexperienced band of Tory militiamen under Col. John Pyle, a Loyalist physician. In an action disturbingly similar to Tarleton's Waxhaws massacre, Lee's men slaughtered many of the Loyalists who had laid down their arms. American dragoons killed 90 and wounded most of the remaining Tories. Lee lost not a single man. When he heard the news, Greene, grown hardened by the war, was unrepentant. The victory, he said, "has knocked up Toryism altogether in this part" of North Carolina.
Finally, here is another more critical and more contemporary account (from 1822) that also provided some context (this is a very descriptive account and warrants a fuller read):
Many a son, a husband, and a father, met with a most sudden and unexpected fate.

The soul sickens at such an instance of unresisted slaughter, and it has called down the severest animadversions upon the conduct of the American party. It is enough to be said of it, that there cannot be found such another instance of military execution inflicted by the American arms in the whole history of the revolution. Far be it from us to stand forth the apologist of unnecessary bloodshed. Yet two things cannot be denied, that the humanity of Pickens was proverbial, and that Colonel Lee was never charged with any other instance of unnecessary severity. Let the extraordinary peculiarity of the circumstances attending the affair be considered, and it will be difficult to point out how such an issue could have been avoided. The first blow would probably be decisive between the parties. Had the enemy been allowed time to deliver their fire, the cavalry would have been prostrated, and that event would have brought destruction upon the whole corps; for Tarleton would soon have been upon the infantry. Nor would the evil have stopped there, the dispersion of this party must have been followed by that of all the detachments on their march to join it. It is appalling to follow up the train of consequences.

In short, Lee stumbled into a group of loyalist militia and a battle ensued in whose aftermath loyalists attempting to surrender or flee were killed. Fighting men get carried away and nasty things happen in war.** And though he condoned the results, Greene had no direct part in the affair. Yet, lest we forget--according to Crowley--Greene is just like Calley. Hardly:
Soldiers went berserk, gunning down unarmed men, women, children and babies. Families which huddled together for safety in huts or bunkers were shown no mercy. Those who emerged with hands held high were murdered. ... Elsewhere in the village, other atrocities were in progress. Women were gang raped; Vietnamese who had bowed to greet the Americans were beaten with fists and tortured, clubbed with rifle butts and stabbed with bayonets. Some victims were mutilated with the signature "C Company" carved into the chest. By late morning word had got back to higher authorities and a cease-fire was ordered. My Lai was in a state of carnage. Bodies were strewn through the village.
It would be debatable to compare Lee with Calley, nevermind Greene. (Does this mean that everything Crowley does is directly attributable to Bob Walsh?)

All of this context makes Crowley's closing accusation against Achorn all the more laughable.

Your minimalist approach to the history of the founding of our country does it a disservice.
This from someone who approaches history as a means to a political end, regardless of the deeper facts and context....which he doesn't care about anyway. For Crowley, history is only valuable as rhetorical ammunition for his ideological shotgun. It doesn't matter if he misses the target, so long as he gets his shot off.


*Zinn is the favorite historian of many on the left and he is best known for his People's History of the United States of America. He is known for his openly-biased, non-sourced method of doing history. He likes to pull from hither and yon to make his larger ideological points, a method that leaves out important context regarding particular events. Further, because he doesn't include footnotes, he makes it difficult for other historians to check his sources for that context. This is well known in the history field (here, here and here). In other words, Zinn is an important historian (because so many people read him), but one that should be read very carefully: often with another history book for comparison. But hey, he's preaching to a choir member named Crowley who has an Achorn to roast, damn the particulars!

**Crowley left out this part while quoting Zinn: "On the other hand he advised the governor of Georgia 'to open a door for the disaffected of your state to come in...'" I wonder why he left that last sentence out. I guess such nuance would have grayed up Crowley's "Black Hat" caricature of Greene.

***There are several "massacres" recorded and all that I could find involve British troops killing American revolutionaries after they had surrendered (or in their sleep). There was at least one instance of British (and their Native American allies) killing non-combatants (the Cherry Valley or Wyoming Massacre). That doesn't mean there weren't instances of American revolutionaries acting similarly, it's just that a quick survey of sources didn't bring any to light. Though hardly an all-inclusive list, see Cherry Valley, Hancock's Bridge, Fort Griswold (in Groton), and the Baylor Massacre for a fair representation.

July 14, 2009

An Excuse for History

Justin Katz

Brian Wilder conveys an interesting and timely history lesson on slavery in Rhode Island, but he ends with a peculiar conclusion:

Today it is strange, and perhaps convenient, how little most of us know about the extent of Rhode Island's involvement in slavery.

The least we can do is to dump a word that lost its innocence when Rhode Island and its despicable plantations became the hub of the equally despicable North American slave trade. We can't honestly claim ownership of our state's and nation's past glories if we deny our past evils.

The peculiarity comes in the fact that Wilder spends most of his essay edifying the reader about not only Rhode Island's participation, but its prominence in the slave trade — which he would not have had occasion to do had the word "plantations" not been included in the state's name. In other words, "dumping" the word would make it that much easier to forget and thereby deny the very history that Wilder claims to be essential for civic honesty.

Seems to me, he should advocate for leaving the state's full name as is, perpetuating the opportunity for historical exploration.

July 5, 2009

The Grit and Grime of History as Modern Metaphor

Justin Katz

The beastliness of tarring and feathering has probably been the most deeply disturbing smack of history as I've worked my way through HBO's John Adams presentation on DVD.

During a childhood vacation, I walked through a wax museum with my parents, and although much of the attraction is lost to my memory, I still remember the figure of a wax dummy hanging from a hook through his molded midriff in a dungeon setting. The associated placard informed visitors that the phrase "off the hook" derived from this particular practice, and I haven't heard or uttered the cliché since without recalling the excruciating sideways arch of the body — as well as the fact that even those who were released before they'd bled to death typically died anyway. Herman Melville's description of the "keel-haul" in White Jacket did me the same service, just barely rescuing the experience of reading the book from status as a lower-magnitude form of torture. Colloquial English — a linguiphile learns over time — is riddled with images that ought not be as lightly uttered as they frequently are.

A reaction to the tarring scene with broader and more subtle application is the constitution of the mob, which drew in even some among our national heroes. One hears of a "mob mentality," but I suspect that it's not quite so monolithic a phenomenon. Some among the group are doubtless bloodthirsty, perhaps relishing the opportunity to taste power as the peasants of Dickens's Paris relished wine — the drip of conviviality — that a broken cask had poured across the filthy cobblestones. Others (the film's Sam Adams) become entranced at the opportunity that the desperate flex of community muscle imports. Still others (John Adams) intuit the danger of testing their own powerlessness and attempt no more than to persuade somebody nearby that the act is barbaric.

It makes us no better, only more fortunate, that such scenes are reduced mainly to metaphors in the modern public square. There was more grit to life, in those days, and the harsher our quotidian experience, perhaps the fewer barriers simple aesthetics can supply against unspeakable displays. Inoculation to us is an inconvenient trip to the pediatrician and a chance of fever. Abigail Adams (in the movie, at least) sat her children down to be sliced across the arm and infected with smallpox puss taken from a dying boy in the doctor's cart outside, with the grim risk for the patients being death. (I'd note, here, the genius of the film's creators in interweaving the emotional threads of the Declaration of Independence with the question of whether all Adams children survive the procedure.) When that is the look of preventative medicine, death by the infection of tar burns mightn't scorch the conscience as deeply.

Still, the grime of plain life through which our forefathers waded does bring into relief some realities of more lasting duration. Throughout most of the four parts that I've watched of the seven, Adams has been away from his family. Upon returning to America well into the late 1880s, he requires his children to introduce themselves from amidst the masses as he stands with an awkward smile on the dock. His history being as yet unwritten, he faced the frustrating drudgery of politics and the fear of failure no less than any who struggle toward some end in the twenty first century. Matters of aptitude and luck certainly contribute to the building up of Great Men and Women, but this portrayal of our nation's founding reminds us that sacrifice and risk, and willingness to accept both, mustn't be disregarded.

In our time of unprecedented leisure and safety from life's fluctuations, the demands of public responsibility aren't offset by the universal difficulty of just living. Mark Steyn sees this dynamic in Sarah Palin's sudden resignation from office:

If you like Wasilla and hunting and snowmachining and moose stew and politics, is the last worth giving up everything else in the hopes that one day David Letterman and Maureen Dowd might decide Trig and Bristol and the rest are sufficiently non-risible to enable you to prosper in their world? And, putting aside the odds, would you really like to be the person you'd have to turn into under that scenario?

National office will dwindle down to the unhealthily singleminded (Clinton, Obama), the timeserving emirs of Incumbistan (Biden, McCain) and dynastic heirs (Bush). Our loss.

Whatever the accuracy of Steyn's analysis of this specific story, his theme is worth considering. Public figures who are self-standing in a financial sense and ensconced in a social sphere in the sense of status have a disproportionate advantage when it comes to the personal hazards of office. A rarified clique may liken the snickers of their peers to flogging, but there remains a difference between emotional and physical scars. We can take it as true that the only guillotine public figures need fear is the sharp bite of comedians' monologues, and the modern pillory is a photograph in the ephemeral medium of the tabloids.

For those with the good (and great) fortune of summer manses to which to retreat in shame, the risk may be lightly taken, but to regular folk, the actual modern threats captured in historical metaphors of torture and pain are real enough — apt to be ruinous. For the former, being "off the hook" of public scrutiny means a return to life; for the latter, the wound may yet prove economically fatal.

To whatever extent the difference between the two perspectives is likely to prove unhealthy for our polity, it is exponentially more so for our culture. Though it is now the temper of the cynical to scoff at the notion, Americans once believed of their nation that grit and principle could carry one — rough edges and street creds intact — to the very top. As our civilization advances its technological ability to file down the barbs of life — such that a latter-day John Adams could fly his dear Abigail to the Netherlands for a weekend and stay connected with his children via the Internet — an inequity in the sacrifice that service and striving require may well establish an aristocracy in which the term "representative" joins the list of mere metaphors that once denoted something tangible.

July 2, 2009

Anti-'Plantations' Campaign Ramping Up

Marc Comtois

Still talking about 'Plantations':

Supporters of a plan that would give voters in next year’s general election the opportunity to strike the phrase “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s formal name, launched a public awareness and education campaign Wednesday....Backers say there is much work to be done if they are to persuade Rhode Island voters that the word “plantations” conjures up enough negative images of the state’s involvement in the slave trade to warrant a name change.

“When I see that word ‘plantations,’ I start thinking about slavery. I start thinking about the injustices,” said Sen. Harold M. Metts, a Providence Democrat and a bill sponsor. “… It’s not about guilt. For me, it’s about healing.”

Does a top-of-the front page placement signify anything about the ProJo's willingness to help persuade the public about the proposed State name change? I won't recount the history again. I suspect many, like Justin, while ambivalent about it don't buy the reasoning behind the proposal (the ProJo poll on the matter is running 8-1 against the name change). I also think the Phoenix's David Scharfenberg asks a good question: What happens if (when?) the ballot question fails?:
"The big issue is, what happens if it fails?" said Maureen Moakley, political science professor at the University of Rhode Island. "Where does it leave our notion of coming together and understanding? It could be divisive."

There is no polling data on the issue. But there is reason for proponents to be concerned.

When Rhode Island settled on its official name in 1636, the word "plantation" did not have the connotation it would pick up some two centuries later — it referred, more benignly, to the farms on the state's mainland. And there are early indications that a tradition-bound state could resist calls to change a name that was not intended to invoke bondage....Fear of rejection is already percolating in the state's small black activist community. "I don't want the people of Rhode Island to insult the advocates of racial justice — and that's what a 'no' vote would be," said Ray Rickman, a consultant who once served as a state representative and deputy secretary of state.

The reaction from Rickman is unfortunate, to say the least. That the majority of Rhode Islanders voted for a black President trumps any such talk. If a majority of Rhode Islanders rejects the removal of 'Plantations' it won't be because they want to "insult the advocates of racial justice." It will because they recognize an exercise in political sophistry when they see it.

June 6, 2009

This Mission of D-Day Continues

Justin Katz

Ocean State Republican has posted video and text of President Reagan's 1984 D-Day speech:

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.

Take special note of this passage:

... Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They're still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost 40 years after the war. Because of this, allied forces still stand on this continent. Today, as 40 years ago, our armies are here for only one purpose — to protect and defend democracy. The only territories we hold are memorials like this one and graveyards where our heroes rest.

Presence is not occupation; that's a notion some among our countrymen don't seem to comprehend in their distrust of their fellows.

April 8, 2009

Columbus Banned at Brown

Marc Comtois

They editorialized, they polled and now they've been seconded by the faculty: Brown University will no longer celebrate Columbus Day. Why? From an earlier editorial at the Brown Daily Herald:

Anyone who has studied history, especially at a mostly liberal institution like Brown, knows that Christopher Columbus did not "discover" the Americas. Not only are many of his accomplishments falsified or overstated - Columbus was not the first Westerner to explore the Americas, and he never set foot in the United States - but the claim that Columbus or other explorers "discovered" America ignores the civilizations built and sustained by Native Americans for hundreds of years.

To celebrate Columbus Day is to celebrate a colonizer's holiday. It is the celebration of European powers claiming land on this and other continents, and a celebration of violence toward and oppression of indigenous people and culture. White people, ranging from European colonizers to the government of the United States, have committed innumerable brutal offenses against Native Americans over the past 500 years. Honoring Columbus with a holiday glosses over a racist, blood-stained facet of our history and glamorizes the past as victorious manifest destiny.

Yes, Europeans are indeed unique in this:
For the Aztecs, warfare had a much different goal than for most of their counterparts. The goal of the battles was not to destroy the enemy and ransack the village but to capture the community and integrate them into the Aztec society, thus providing a much more productive and expanding kingdom. The temples of these cities were burned and the worship of Huitzilopochtli was installed. Warfare was also used to capture victims for ceremonial use. Prisoners of war were sacrificed on huge alters in front of large crowds. The heart of the victim was cut out, symbolically offered to the gods, and the lifeless bodies of the victims were rolled down the long stairs, staining the steps with blood.
In North America, Europeans were one among equals in the Beaver Wars. In what we now call southern New England, the wars between the Narragansetts, Wampanoags, Pequots and Mohegans were going on before the arrival of white Europeans. Of course Europeans didn't cover themselves in glory with the way they treated the indigenous people of the New World. Man has made war upon man for time immemorial. As "anyone who has studied history" should know, the difference is only a matter of degree. This exercise in PC-feelgoodism is based on a blinkered and anachronistic view of history.

March 18, 2009

An Albatross of a Memorial to Slavery

Justin Katz

People wonder why race remains an issue, why the United States seems to move forward so slowly. Well, does this memorial of guilt strike anybody else as bizarre?

More than 240 years ago, John and Moses Brown financed a slave ship bound for Africa. They also poured money into Brown University in Providence. Slaves worked on the first building, now University Hall.

Yesterday, Brown University said it will recognize its slave trade past through a new memorial modeled on monuments and sites in New York City, Montgomery, Ala., and Liverpool, England.

But the memorial may not be built on the Ivy League school's Providence campus.

Both Newport and Bristol played major roles in the slave trade, which continued into the early 1800s, long after the state outlawed it. Many reminders of the trade — former auction sites, Colonial homes and Newport's slave cemetery — remain, Brown's Commission on Memorials said.

"It may be appropriate, in memorializing Rhode Island's role in the trade, to look beyond Brown's immediate neighborhood," the commission said.

One repudiates atrocities that are generations old by behaving differently — by correcting the patters of thought that led to them. Fixating on old sins serves to keep them alive and wreaking their harm.

As I browsed for this article on Projo.com, my eye happened upon another about violence in Providence. As a direct and practical matter, the two stories are unrelated, but culturally, it seems to me that erecting public monuments declaring "this is what your country thought of you" can only contribute to a subculture of deliberate isolation, feeding a well of anger.

Build monuments to the good and hopeful, to the noble sacrifice. We must never forget, but if we're to heal, our memorials should be living examples that the prejudices of the past no longer apply.

March 13, 2009

Life on the Plantation

Marc Comtois

Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was established by Royal Charter in 1663:

Because titles to these lands rested only on Indian deeds, neighboring colonies began to covet them. To meet this threat, Roger Williams journeyed to England and secured a parliamentary patent in March 1643-44 uniting the four towns into a single colony and confirming his fellow settlers' land claims. This legislative document served adequately as the basic law until the Stuart Restoration of 1660 made it wise to seek a royal charter.

Dr. John Clarke was commissioned to secure a document from the new king, Charles II, that would both be consistent with the religious principles upon which the tiny colony was founded and also safeguard Rhode Island lands from encroachment by speculators and greedy neighbors. He succeeded admirably. The royal charter of 1663 guaranteed complete religious liberty, established a self-governing colony with local autonomy, and strengthened Rhode Island's territorial claims. It was the most liberal charter to be issued by the mother country during the entire colonial era, a fact that enabled it to serve as Rhode Island's basic law until May 1843.

To this day, the official name of the state is still the state of "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations", though the last half of the name has been forgotten by just about everyone for a very long time. Basically, the full name has been relegated to nothing but an interesting piece of trivia: the littlest U.S. state also has the longest name. So no one really thinks much about it. Well, except a few who want to officially drop the "Plantations."

Continue reading "Life on the Plantation"

December 27, 2008

Up Against the Pirates Who Never Left

Justin Katz

I understand that part of historian Doug Burgess's argument is that piracy was once a somewhat respectable occupation among American colonies, but I can't help but take this as an indication of the historical nature of conservative reformers' current task:

Newport became a Colonial capital for pirating.

"The Colony [of Rhode Island] now began to attract brigands from every Colony," Burgess writes. "This was due both to its geographic advantages as a safe harbor and to the complacency of its government. Yet 1691 also marks the beginning of Rhode Island's 'pirate fever' when the Colony became virtually synonymous with piratical trade."

Ironically, pirating's success became its problem. Pirates became plentiful, lazy and inarguably unlawful, according to Burgess. Instead of traveling to some far away place to loot ships, they simply cruised the coast, robbed some boats and returned home from a day's work. And what's worse, at least for the Colonial governments, is the pirates didn't seek commissions, and, consequently didn't give any cuts.

There's a novel waiting to be written on the premise that some spiritual force located in this area attracts a certain type of character — the pirates and mobsters — and instills a certain insidious apathy among broad segments of the population. The state is possessed by a demon whispering, "Just get yours, brother."

Even if we're merely up against a regional character trait centuries in the stewing, we must take it as an opportunity to undo what the pirates have wrought.

November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Marc Comtois

Tocqueville and Thanksgiving....two of my favorite things.
The foundation of New England was a novel spectacle, and all the circumstances attending it were singular and original. Nearly all colonies have been first inhabited either by men without education and without resources, driven by their poverty and their misconduct from the land which gave them birth, or by speculators and adventurers greedy of gain...The settlers who established themselves on the shores of New England all belonged to the more independent classes of their native country....

The other colonies had been founded by adventurers without families; the immigrants of New England brought with them the best elements of order and morality; they landed on the desert coast accompanied by their wives and children. But what especially distinguished them from all others was the aim of their undertaking. They had not been obliged by necessity to leave their country; the social position they abandoned was one to be regretted, and their means of subsistence were certain. Nor did they cross the Atlantic to improve their situation or to increase their wealth; it was a purely intellectual craving that called them from the comforts of their former homes; and in facing the inevitable sufferings of exile their object was the triumph of an idea.

The immigrants, or, as they deservedly styled themselves, the Pilgrims, belonged to that English sect the austerity of whose principles had acquired for them the name of Puritans. Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but corresponded in many points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories. It was this tendency that had aroused its most dangerous adversaries. Persecuted by the government of the mother country, and disgusted by the habits of a society which the rigor of their own principles condemned, the Puritans went forth to seek some rude and unfrequented part of the world where they could live according to their own opinions and worship God in freedom.

November 10, 2008

Future History is Written

Marc Comtois

It took historians a full term of George W. Bush's presidency before they declared he was "the worst president ever." Now, only days after the election, at least one prominent historian is declaring that the presidency of Barack Obama will be "unforgettable" (h/t).

Like Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D.Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F.Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan - the most memorable of the 18 presidents who served in the last century - Obama seems likely to become an unforgettable personality who presided over a transforming administration....

If Obama's campaign that brought him from relative obscurity in Illinois to the White House in so brief a time is any true measure of the man, we can have every hope that he will acquit himself admirably in the days ahead - and claim a place in the pantheon of America's most distinguished presidents.

There's no doubt that the election of Barack Obama is already historic. But the confidence and the stake-claiming already being made by historians regarding his Presidency gives me pause. In the coming years, through the various trials and tribulations that confront every President, I suspect that many of the "Historians for Obama" will be less than willing to admit their man have been wrong over this or that. Instead, we'll have contemporary "history" being written to justify his decisions and--by extension--the wisdom of those historians who so very publicly supported him. The reputation of the profession will be at stake, you see.

Cross-posted at Spinning Clio.

September 19, 2008


Marc Comtois

Sen. Joseph Biden, September 18, 2008:

“We want to take money and put it back in the pocket of middle class people. Anyone making over $250,000….Is going to pay more. You got it. It’s time to be patriotic, Kate. It’s time to jump in, it’s time to be part of the deal, it’s time to help get America out of the rut.”
Alexis de Tocqueville:
The evils that freedom sometimes brings with it are immediate; they are apparent to all, and all are more or less affected by them. The evils that extreme equality may produce are slowly disclosed; they creep gradually into the social frame; they are seen only at intervals; and at the moment at which they become most violent, habit already causes them to be no longer felt.

The advantages that freedom brings are shown only by the lapse of time, and it is always easy to mistake the cause in which they originate. The advantages of equality are immediate, and they may always be traced from their source.

Political liberty bestows exalted pleasures from time to time upon a certain number of citizens. Equality every day confers a number of small enjoyments on every man. The charms of equality are every instant felt and are within the reach of all; the noblest hearts are not insensible to them, and the most vulgar souls exult in them. The passion that equality creates must therefore be at once strong and general. Men cannot enjoy political liberty unpurchased by some sacrifices, and they never obtain it without great exertions. But the pleasures of equality are self-proffered; each of the petty incidents of life seems to occasion them, and in order to taste them, nothing is required but to live.

July 17, 2008

Identify that Historic Figure

Monique Chartier

A snippet from his life and writings.

- Hundreds were reportedly executed on his watch, and that doesn't include the deaths incurred in the wars he was constantly trying to start.

- When describing the differences in the strife between "Europeans" and "the black," ... [he] wrote, "their different attitudes of life separate them completely: the black is indolent and fanciful, he spends his money on frivolity and drink; the European comes from a tradition of working and saving which follows him to this corner of America and drives him to get ahead."

Also the subject of posters, tee-shirts, CD cases and many other retail items, this was Che Guevara.

Glenn Beck's complete commentary about Guevara, excerpted above, and a fashion tip on how to blend in when infiltrating a group of terrorists can be accessed here.

July 15, 2008

Cleaning the Attic

Marc Comtois

Time to clean out the "To do" link "attic" I keep handy. So, before they vanish into the ether, here are some that may be interesting to others.

Part I: Politics and Economy

Obama, Shaman by Michael Knox Beran:

Obama-mania is bound in the end to disappoint. Not only does it teach us to despise our political system’s wise recognition of human imperfection and the pursuit of private happiness; it encourages us to seek for perfection where we will not find it, in politics, in the hero worship of a charismatic shaman, in the speciousness of a secular millennium.
But Obama is for school choice...and for union "card-checks," as Mickey Kaus mentions in his refutation of the same:
It seems to me that a) a tight 90s-style labor market and b) direct government provision of benefits (e.g. health care, OSHA) accomplishes what we want traditional unions to accomplish, but on a broader basis and without encouraging a sclerotic, adversarial bureaucracy that gets in the way of the productive organization of work.

A Newsweek report on the economic feasibility of oil shale.

Megan McCardle
on Sweden, cultural homogeneity and the welfare state.

"A behavioral economist explores the interaction of moral sentiments and self-interest." Surprise! The guy who wrote about the "Invisible Hand" and The Theory of Moral Sentiments was on to something.

Part II: History

A piece on America's "special grace" :

If America has been given a special grace, it is because its founders as well as every generation of its people have taken as the basis of America's legitimacy the Judeo-Christian belief that God loves every individual, and most of all the humblest. Rights under law, from the American vantage point, are sacred, not utilitarian, convenient or consensual. America does not of course honor the sanctity of individual rights at all times and in all circumstances, but the belief that rights are sacred rather than customary or constructed never has been abandoned.

"The Paranoid Style Is American Politics" reminds that conspiracy theories have abounded in American politics since, and including, the American Revolution. Mentions one of my favorites, Bernard Bailyn.

How "luck" is an important, if often overlooked, factor in American History (or any History, for that matter). It's not all about conspiracy or inevitability.

A long and interesting piece on Herodotus and why he wrote his history (from the New Yorker--if you're not banning it or anything...).

Book review of Sean Wilentz's Age of Reagan.

A review of a book about the "Black Death."

Part III: Culture

A "conservative" review of Iron Man (I haven't seen it):

The fantasy wish-fulfillment that makes Iron Man so winning is not being a guy who can fly around and shoot fire from his robot suit. It's being the guy with all the money in the world, the guy who can afford to make that suit.

In "Cleavers to Lohans: The Downhill Slide of the American TV Family", Katherine Berry traces the devolution of "quality family TV" to the reduced importance of parental figures. (Isn't the Lohan show reality tv?).

"Violence and the Video Game Paradox," a fairly recent ProJo op-ed by Dr. Gregory K. Fritz:

...the boom in violent video games correlates with the sharpest decline in youth violence in many decades....The answer to this apparent paradox is that correlation does not prove causation.
But, says Dr. Fritz, parents should still pay attention!

Finally, Where'd Generation X go?

July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day!!!

Marc Comtois

July 3, 2008

The Best John Adams Quote Ever

Carroll Andrew Morse

In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.

Partisan Adams

Justin Katz

Marc and Matt Allen had a bit of back-and-forth about John Adams on Anchor Rising's Wednesday spot on Matt's radio show (segment streamable by clicking here, or download)

July 2, 2008

John Adams

Marc Comtois

Ed Achorn had a piece yesterday on John Adams and recommended taking in the HBO mini-series that is now out on DVD (I hope to). Coincidentally, I had been thinking about Adams thanks to Matt Allen's (gratuitous plug!) Independence Day show over the past weekend, during which he read the Declaration of Independence and extolled the virtues of our great nation. The conversation was wide-ranging, and along the way he made an off-the-cuff remark along the lines that John Adams was a Democrat and Thomas Jefferson was a Republican.

Wha.....? I thought. I suspected it was based on the fact that Adams was a prominent member of the post-Revolution Federalist Party (along with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, incidentally), which advocated a strong central government. Given Matt's, shall we say, inclination against big government, I can understand why he'd think that anyone for a strong national government--no matter the time or place, I suppose--was akin to what we would call a contemporary, big government Democrat.

Unfortunately, I think Matt is anachronistically attributing the Federalist's desire to centralize power as the equivalent of today's conception of "big government." But he's missing the historical context surrounding the rise of the Federalist philosophy of government, which was based on a belief that they urgently needed to strengthen and tighten the internal ties of their nascent nation so it could survive in a belligerent world.

If anything, Adams is considered by most conservatives to have been the first American conservative; one of their own, much less a Founding era Democrat! He wasn't interested in encroaching on the rights of the population or imposing arbitrary taxes or monetary redistribution or instituting a vast bureaucracy or creating programs to address every ill, whether real or perceived. In fact, neither were his political opponents, Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans. I guess the truth of the matter is that, in the Founding era, there really was no equivalent to the modern conception of a big-government Democrat. They came along with Woodrow Wilson and, later, FDR.

If so inclined, read on for a little of the historical context I mentioned.

Continue reading "John Adams"

June 20, 2008

The Baby-Mama Witches of Gloucester

Marc Comtois

Cross-posted at Spinning Clio.

The first thing I thought of when I read the story about the 17 wanna-be baby mamas of Gloucester, Massachusetts were the teenage girls who lay at the center of the Salem Witch Trials. No doubt, this was probably because of the proximity of Gloucester to Salem Village (now Danvers, Mass.). Now, I'm simply not well-versed enough in group psychology or the deeper history of the Salem Witch hysteria to draw any conclusions. I just found these parallels interesting (if they are indeed parallel!).

A little digging brought up some statistical similarities: there were 16 girls in Salem Village who claimed they were the victims of witchcraft, and most were teenagers; there are 17 new baby mama teenagers in Gloucester.

Continue reading "The Baby-Mama Witches of Gloucester"

June 6, 2008

Lest we Forget

Marc Comtois

Today is D-Day

Think of the courage it took for the men in the picture above to face what they did. Thank God they did.

May 5, 2008

Pope Sees a Fragile but Inspirational America

Marc Comtois

Father Roger J. Landry of the Diocese of Fall River has some thoughts on the meaning of Pope Benedict's recent visit to the U.S. (h/t). In particular, he focuses on how the Pope called on our own founding traditions to reinvigorate us.

He came to speak to all Americans: to remind us who we are, what our particular cultural and political inheritance is, and inspire us to treasure, protect and advance it.

For Benedict, the greatest part of that inheritance is the way our constitution and culture has protected religious freedom. In an interview on the plane coming to our country, the Holy Father said that America’s founding fathers understood and applied a crucial paradox: that the best way to preserve religious freedom was to have a secular state.

Father Landry notes that the Pope, in a seeming echo of Edmund Burke, makes a critical distinction between the "positive concept of secularism" held--and handed down--by the American founders and the "negative European secularism flowing from the French revolution." The Pope believes America can serve as the “'fundamental model' for Europe," but that many Americans believe in the European model instead of that of their own heritage and they must be persuaded to re-think their position. Why?
If this corruption of the positive American secularism continues — whereby faith becomes a civic virtue rather than leads to moral virtues — then the entire American experiment in self-government is endangered. This is not an exclusively papal insight, but, as the Pope himself noted, the clear conclusion of Presidents Washington and Adams as well as Alexis de Tocqueville. The 265th pope quoted the first president, who in his farewell address said that “religion and morality represent indispensable supports of political prosperity,” and added, “Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation.”

May 4, 2008

May 4: Rhode Island Independence Day

Monique Chartier

Will Ricci over at The Ocean State Republican points out that

Today marks the 232nd anniversary of the declaration of independence by the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations from Great Britain on May 4, 1776. As Rhode Island did not ratify the US Constitution until May of 1790, it was for all intents and purposes a “free and independent state” for 14 years!

April 14, 2008

The More Things Change

Marc Comtois

From Time (h/t):

The Middle American's faith is not merely grounded upon nostalgia and emotion. He believes in a system that did work and in large measure still does; a brilliant, highly adaptable system, heir to the Enlightenment and classic democracy, with innumerable, ingenious, local accretions. But the country has become too complex and the long-hidden inequities too glaring for the system to continue without drastic changes. The Middle American's education does not dwell upon the agonizing moral discrepancies of American history—the story of the Indians or the blacks, or the national tradition of violence. He quite sincerely rejects the charge that he is prejudiced against the blacks or callused about the poor. He cannot believe that the society he has come to accept as the best possible on earth, the order he sees as natural, contains wrongs so deeply built-in that he does not notice them. His sense of indignation is all too easily served by the fact that so many reformers have gone beyond the reform as being too slow, and are using methods ranging from rude to downright totalitarian.
Oh, that was written in 1969.

March 1, 2008

History Carnival 62

Marc Comtois

For those of you with an interest in what historians blog about, I'm hosting History Carnival 62 over at my side project, Spinning Clio. Please keep in mind that the purpose of the Carnival is to present those items both submitted by others and discovered by the host (me this time around). Generally speaking, if it's submitted, it gets in. But I did put in some things that, I believe, most academic-type history bloggers wouldn't. For instance, I doubt most would have included real discussions about Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. Anyway, if interested, please peruse.

December 24, 2007

Washington Crossing the Delaware at Christmas

Marc Comtois

One of the little things that Christmas reminds me of is the first time I saw Washington Crossing the Delaware at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art when I was in college back in the early 1990's. (Why? Well, Washington crossed into Trenton on Christmas Eve).

Now, I'd seen pictures of it, sure. But nothing prepared me for turning a corner in the Met and being confronted by a 12 foot high by 21 foot long painting. I was awestruck. It was the first time that I actually realized that there was a difference between a picture of a painting and seeing the real thing, up close. I had seen real paintings before, and already thought that being able to discern the individual actual brush strokes on the canvas was pretty cool. It gave me an appreciation of the talent and craft that went into painting. But the impact that size can have on the senses was something I hadn't thought of nor experienced until that moment.

December 6, 2007

Romney Speech: The Public Square Cannot Be Naked

Donald B. Hawthorne

The Corner provides excerpts from Mitt Romney's speech today, which suggest it will focus on the broader strategic question of what role religion should play in the American public square instead of the granularity of Mormon theology:

There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adam's words: 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone…

When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States…

There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths…

It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter – on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.

We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

We should acknowledge the Creator as did the founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty…

These American values, this great moral heritage, is shared and lived in my religion as it is in yours. I was taught in my home to honor God and love my neighbor. I saw my father march with Martin Luther King. I saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to people nearby, and in just as consequential ways in leading national volunteer movements…

My faith is grounded on these truths. You can witness them in Ann and my marriage and in our family. We are a long way from perfect and we have surely stumbled along the way, but our aspirations, our values, are the self -same as those from the other faiths that stand upon this common foundation. And these convictions will indeed inform my presidency...

The diversity of our cultural expression, and the vibrancy of our religious dialogue, has kept America in the forefront of civilized nations even as others regard religious freedom as something to be destroyed.

In such a world, we can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day. And you can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion - rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith.

The Mormon tradition has some serious theological differences with Catholic and Protestant traditions. Yet, there are also theological differences which exist between Roman Catholicism and Protestant traditions, Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox traditions, Pentecostal and main line Protestant traditions, Evangelical and main line Protestant traditions, Christianity and Judaism, as well as Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed traditions of Judaism. We can argue about theological particulars but I haven't found that to be interesting since college days when we debated all sorts of topics. And even then, those debates were often inconclusive or unproductive.

But the issue regarding what is the proper role of religion in the American public square - including how it informs the way we live together as a nation, a community, and a family - is a most important debate. That debate requires a certain moral seriousness, which can exist across differing religious traditions. It further requires us to take a serious look again at the principles of our Founding, which affirm that we are born with our rights which come from the Creator and "the laws of nature of and of nature's God," not the government. And, as the Founders stated, morality cannot be sustained without religious influence.

It is a debate which has not been conducted openly and honestly in recent times, as noted in the earlier Anchor Rising posts highlighted in the Extended Entry below.

If Romney's speech reignites a public debate on what should fill our public square, he has then made an important contribution to our civic discourse.


The text of Romney's speech is here. The video is here.

Here are some of the subsequent commentaries -

Kathryn Jean Lopez
Mona Charen
Byron York
Byron York
Kate O'Beirne
Ramesh Ponnuru
Jonah Goldberg
Mark Levin
Captain's Quarter
South Carolina Republican Party leadership
Power Line
Examiner editorial
Lee Harris
Ed Cone
John Podhoretz
Fox News Special Report with Brit Hume
Evangelical leaders on Hannity & Colmes
Wall Street Journal
Boston Globe
Peggy Noonan
John Dickerson
Michael Gerson
Pat Buchanan
David Kuo
Rich Lowry
Charles Krauthammer
David Kusnet
Kathleen Parker
Jay Cost
E.J. Dionne
David Brooks
Dick Morris
Eleanor Clift
Liz Mair
Jonah Goldberg
Jason Lee Steorts
National Review editors
An NRO symposium
Kathryn Jean Lopez
Bill Bennett
David Frum
The Anchoress
Jimmy Akin
International Herald Tribune
Steve Chapman
Robert Robb
Terry Eastland
Richard John Neuhaus

Along with the American Founders, Romney strongly affirms the role of religion at the creation and through the history of this constitutional order...

...Those familiar with the discussion of these questions might say that the entirety of Romney’s address is an exercise in "civil religion." That is closer to the truth of the matter. Civil religion is not another religion but is a mix of convictions about transcendent truths that are held in common and refracted through the particular religious traditions to which Americans adhere...

...His understanding that the naked public square is not neutral toward religion but is a project of the quasi-religion of secularism is entirely on target. His sharp contrast between America and a secularistic Europe, on the one hand, and jihadist fanaticism, on the other, is well stated.

It is too much to say, as he did, that Americans "share a common creed of moral convictions." It is not a creed, just as America is not a church, but there is an undeniably Judeo-Christian moral ambiance within which we engage and dispute how we ought to order our life together. And, however much we may argue over particulars, Mr. Romney is surely right in saying that "no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people."...

...He was making a bid for the support of people who find themselves on one side of a culture war that they did not declare. If you wonder who did declare the war, you need go no further than the facing page of the Times on the same day, with its typically strident editorial attacking Mr. Romney and his argument about religion in American public life...

...I believe Mr. Romney has rendered a significant service in advancing the understanding of religion and public life in the American experiment...

Continue reading "Romney Speech: The Public Square Cannot Be Naked"

November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Marc Comtois

The First Thanksgiving 1621 by Karen Rinaldo

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after have a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Edward Winslow, Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, 1622, Part VI

November 12, 2007

Thank You

Marc Comtois

October 1, 2007

"The War"

Marc Comtois

I've finally started to watch Ken Burns' "The War" and just completed the first episode, "A Necessary War." It's an interesting social history to be sure and, not surprisingly, inspires comparisons between how war was perceived then and now, especially on the homefront.

The centerpiece of the first episode was the battle for Guadalcanal and Sidney Phillips, a young Marine at the time, is a focal point. His narrative is compelling as he describes the hell that was Guadalcanal. He also provides glimpses into the mindset of the average Marine or soldier engaged in close combat. In one instance, he talks of finding fellow marines decapitated with their genitals cut-off and stuffed in their mouths. According to Phillips, after seeing that, he and his fellow Marines didn't take any Japanese prisoners.

Meanwhile, his sister, Katharine Phillips, provides a counterpoint to Sidney's battle narrative. She talks of how a neighbor down the street would lose a son, and then someone across the street, then the next house over. All the while, her mother would visit and console and they would worry who would be next. Yet the most striking thing she said was that she didn't know how bad Guadalcanal was until after Sidney came home. No one on the homefront did. The 5,000+ casualties weren't reported. The brutal fighting wasn't shown on Movietone.

In contrast, Katherine Phillips also talked about how the American public had been prepped for war against Nazi Germany for a few years prior to Pearl Harbor. The American public was shown some of the Nazi and Japanese atrocities on Movietone and they became convinced it was a moral imperative to act. When the time came, they were ready to go.

They also didn't equate Nazi or Japanese propaganda with U.S. war reporting. Looking back, there can be no doubt that the U.S. glossed over things. But even then, even if the American people had known more, I doubt that they would have considered the press releases of the enemy as just "another point of view." It points to how much faster and accurate our wartime information has become since then and that difference helps to explain, at least partially, why WWII is considered "The Good War" and why subsequent conflicts aren't.

There's much more to this episode and much more to the series as a whole. As I said, it is a social history most of all. Wartime tactics are only touched upon and it is the feelings of the average Americans involved that are explored most deeply. If you've seen your fill of documentaries on the "Hitler-story" Channel and want a different type of history of WWII, "The War" is worth watching.

UPDATE: Edward Rothstein is more critical of Burns' historical method than I.

By selectively telling history from below, by highlighting emotion and sketching everything else, Mr. Burns privatizes war. He takes one of the most necessary wars ever fought and leaves viewers wondering whether any public goal can be worth its price. Occasionally, we learn that during the war the government kept details about loss or film footage of suffering secret, out of fear that they would shake public purpose; here, such details and footage seem to serve that very effect. In interviews, Mr. Burns has suggested that his views of today’s American warfare affected his portrayal of the Second World War. Here too, though, he is letting feelings eclipse history.

“The greatest sense I have about the war,” says one character at its end, is “relief we wouldn’t have to do any of that stuff again.” That is the teaching of this history from below. History from above tells us that unfortunately and terribly, we will.

Good point.

September 17, 2007

September 17, 1862: The Bloodiest Day in American History

Mac Owens

September 17, 1862 remains the bloodiest day in American history. On that day near Sharpsburg, Maryland, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac suffered combined casualties of nearly 26,000, including nearly 5500 dead. Although tactically a draw, the fact that Robert E. Lee had been turned back after a string of victories beginning in the spring permitted Lincoln to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which changed the character of the war. I wrote a piece on Antietam as part of my series on the Civil War for the Ashbrook Cetner in Ashland, Ohio. It is here.

September 11, 2007

Michael Morse: "If they thought the job hopeless, they never would have tried it…those who entered the towers thought the poor souls on the upper floors had a chance and they went to go get them"

Carroll Andrew Morse

Providence firefighter (and Rescuing Providence blogger) Michael Morse spoke to the assembled crowd at today's 9/11 memorial service at Providence Police and Fire headquarters

Michael Morse: It is vitally important that we come together on this date to honor those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001. It’s hard to believe, but six years have passed, and though the memorials have grown smaller, the painful memories are easier to bear. Some people prefer to block it from their minds, act as if it never happened. That’s their choice, not ours. Time marches on; new experiences take the place of memories we once thought would be with us forever. From the depths of sorrow, we find hope. It’s a good and necessary thing. Without it, we would be crushed by the weight of sorrow that builds as the years go by.

We’ve learned to live with the painful memories from that day, but we will “Never Forget!” It is up to us to keep the memory of the fallen alive. This isn’t just another day. It’s a day when all Americans, and especially Firefighters, need to stop and think of what we have, of those who fight for it and of those who died protecting it, and vow to keep their memories alive.

Never forget that every time we put our gear on the truck, we honor the memory of the 343 firefighters who died while doing their job six years ago. Every one of us knows we may be asked to risk everything while doing our job. It’s not heroic or glamorous or anything else we may have thought it was before we took the oath. It’s simply what we do. We are born with it; it’s in our blood. Some see it as a curse; most consider it a blessing.

The firefighters that died that day were people like us, proud of their profession, their families and their ability to save lives and protect property. I’m sure there was a little swagger in their walk that morning when they started their shift; confident they could handle anything thrown at them and somehow walk away. We think the same way, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be wearing these uniforms. But with that swagger comes a price. People expect us to save them, and we usually do. Sometimes we don’t, and sometimes we die with them.

Continue reading "Michael Morse: "If they thought the job hopeless, they never would have tried it…those who entered the towers thought the poor souls on the upper floors had a chance and they went to go get them""

Michael Morse: "If they thought the job hopeless, they never would have tried it…those who entered the towers thought the poor souls on the upper floors had a chance and they went to go get them"

Carroll Andrew Morse

Providence firefighter (and Rescuing Providence blogger) Michael Morse spoke to the assembled crowd at today's 9/11 memorial service at Providence Police and Fire headquarters

Michael Morse: It is vitally important that we come together on this date to honor those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001. It’s hard to believe, but six years have passed, and though the memorials have grown smaller, the painful memories are easier to bear. Some people prefer to block it from their minds, act as if it never happened. That’s their choice, not ours. Time marches on; new experiences take the place of memories we once thought would be with us forever. From the depths of sorrow, we find hope. It’s a good and necessary thing. Without it, we would be crushed by the weight of sorrow that builds as the years go by.

We’ve learned to live with the painful memories from that day, but we will “Never Forget!” It is up to us to keep the memory of the fallen alive. This isn’t just another day. It’s a day when all Americans, and especially Firefighters, need to stop and think of what we have, of those who fight for it and of those who died protecting it, and vow to keep their memories alive.

Never forget that every time we put our gear on the truck, we honor the memory of the 343 firefighters who died while doing their job six years ago. Every one of us knows we may be asked to risk everything while doing our job. It’s not heroic or glamorous or anything else we may have thought it was before we took the oath. It’s simply what we do. We are born with it; it’s in our blood. Some see it as a curse; most consider it a blessing.

The firefighters that died that day were people like us, proud of their profession, their families and their ability to save lives and protect property. I’m sure there was a little swagger in their walk that morning when they started their shift; confident they could handle anything thrown at them and somehow walk away. We think the same way, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be wearing these uniforms. But with that swagger comes a price. People expect us to save them, and we usually do. Sometimes we don’t, and sometimes we die with them.

Continue reading "Michael Morse: "If they thought the job hopeless, they never would have tried it…those who entered the towers thought the poor souls on the upper floors had a chance and they went to go get them""

9/11 Recalled

Carroll Andrew Morse

The opening of President George W. Bush's address to the nation, delivered about a week after the September 11 attack on America, remains the best assessment of how the nation responded six-years ago today…

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro Tempore, members of Congress, and fellow Americans:

In the normal course of events, Presidents come to this chamber to report on the state of the Union. Tonight, no such report is needed. It has already been delivered by the American people.

We have seen it in the courage of passengers, who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground -- passengers like an exceptional man named Todd Beamer. And would you please help me to welcome his wife, Lisa Beamer, here tonight.

We have seen the state of our Union in the endurance of rescuers, working past exhaustion. We have seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers -- in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own.

My fellow citizens, for the last nine days, the entire world has seen for itself the state of our Union -- and it is strong.

September 6, 2007

In Case You Missed It (The Article and the History)

Justin Katz

Mac puts Gen. Petraeus in his historical military context in today's Walll Street Journal:

Events have vindicated the claims of those who argued that President Bush's "surge" strategy in Iraq could work. Security, the sine qua non for ultimate success, has improved. This is especially true in Anbar and other Sunni-dominated provinces where the Sunni sheiks, who may have previously supported al Qaeda, have concluded that the Americans are now the "strongest tribe" in the region and have turned against their erstwhile allies.

This is an important development. Of course, success also depends on the actions of the U.S. Congress and the behavior of the Iraqi government. But the military element is important. Advocates of the surge argued that militarily, success would depend less on the number of U.S. troops in Iraq than on how they were used. Under Gen. David Petraeus, they have been used correctly to conduct effective counterinsurgency operations. What perhaps is not fully appreciated is the significant cultural change that his approach represents.

Some years ago, the late Carl Builder of Rand wrote a book called "The Masks of War," in which he demonstrated the importance of the organizational cultures of the various military services. His point was that each service possesses a preferred way of fighting that is not easily changed. Since the 1930s, the culture of the U.S. Army has emphasized "big wars." But this has not always been the case.

Throughout the 19th century, the U.S. Army was a constabulary force that, with the exception of the Mexican and Civil Wars, specialized in irregular warfare. Most of this constabulary work was domestic, the Indian Wars representing the most important case. But the U.S. Army also successfully executed constabulary operations in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, which involved both nation-building and counterinsurgency.

August 22, 2007

Anachronistic History: Ruth Simmons on George Washington

Marc Comtois

In a ProJo story about the annual reading of George Washington's Letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Brown University President Ruth Simmons is quoted thusly:

She touched upon the moral contradictions underlying the noble desires of past leaders who were eager to uphold freedom, despite an indifference to the injustice of slavery.

“We all know that these lofty and compelling ideals were largely omitted from discourse when it came to Africans and Native Americans.… In failing to apprehend the corrosive evil of slavery and the immoral inequities that it was to create for generations of descendants, Washington compromised his legacy as a moral leader,” she said.

This is simplistic. Historians agree that Washington's views on slavery certainly evolved from his early manhood up until he freed many of his slaves in his last will. For Simmons to opine that he "fail[ed] to apprehend the corrosive evil of slavery and the immoral inequities that it was to create for generations of descendants" betrays a blindered view of history. The fact is, Washington was hardly indifferent and fully recognized the evils of slavery.

Continue reading " Anachronistic History: Ruth Simmons on George Washington"

August 11, 2007

Post-Modern Conservatives

Marc Comtois

Over at Spinning Clio (two mentions in a week!), I've posted about the Post-Modernism of Russell Kirk. I know, I know...but if your interest is pique, please take look.

August 8, 2007

Calvin Coolidge, Movie Star

Marc Comtois

Believe it or not, there has never been a movie made about Calvin Coolidge.

[Cue laughtrack.]

OK, that is ENTIRELY believable. Over at Spinning Clio I post about a new documentary that looks at the presidency of "Cool Cal" and attempts to revise some of the impressions we have about him. In short, it is proof that "historical revisionism" is far more than the liberal shibboleth that so many assume. (OK, done preaching). So, if you're so inclined, check it out. (We've also mentioned him around here from time to time).

In the meantime, here are a couple Coolidge timeless quotes that show that conservatives could learn a lot from our 30th President.

  • "We do not need more material development, we need more spiritual development. We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen.

    It is on that side of life that it is desirable to put the emphasis at the present time. If that side be strengthened, the other side will take care of itself."

  • "Real reform does not begin with a law, it ends with a law. The attempt to dragoon the body when the need is to convince the soul will end only in revolt... It is time to supplement the appeal to law, which is limited, with an appeal to the spirit of the people, which is unlimited."
  • "We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp... Man has a spiritual nature. Touch it, and it must respond as the magnet responds to the pole."

  • May 22, 2007

    National Maritime Day

    Marc Comtois

    As the resident maritimer (KP, '91), I'd be remiss if I didn't take note that today is National Maritime Day. Besides, one would think that denizens of the Ocean State would be at least mildly interested. (Though the idea of the sea as anything other than an avenue for pleasure craft or something to "keep clean" is probably as maritime as most RI'ers get). Anyway, here's the President's 2007 National Maritime Day proclamation and a link to USMM.org, a great spot to read up on the contributions made by the U.S. Merchant Marine during war time. Fair winds and calm seas...

    April 2, 2007

    Elaborating on MacKay's Immigration History

    Marc Comtois

    Scott MacKay's immigration piece in the Sunday ProJo was a good piece of historical writing. However, and inevitably, it will be used by some as proof for their arguments in the contemporary illegal immigrant debate. Namely that the U.S. has "historically" allowed all immigrants, whether illegal or not.

    My first thought after reading the piece was that, while historically accurate, it doesn't necessarily reflect the situation that confronts us now. To be fair, though, this was only the first in a series (at least according to the ProJo), so I don't want to take MacKay to task when I don't know what else is forthcoming. However, I do suspect that there is an attempt to link the past with the present rather too directly--and some of MacKay's writing has the air of polemic rather than reporting.

    Perhaps the issue that stirs the passions the most is that the primary difference between the immigrants of then and now is that the U.S. did not have the current social welfare apparatus in place. As such, the tax dollars of American citizens didn't go to support the immigrants of yesteryear. Instead, the immigrants worked hard for what they got. Were the conditions deplorable? Yes. Did they face racism and xenophobia? Yes. But to conflate then with now is simply not accurate.

    MacKay writes about how French-Canadians were resistant to be assimilated into the U.S. culture and society. That is entirely true and I deal extensively with it below. He seems to be emphasizing this for the sake of invoking compassion for today's immigrants--and by doing so he conflates the legal/illegal distinction--but there is another way to look at it. Instead of using it as an excuse for today's immigrants, the difficulties encountered by the French Canadians as they attempted to cling to la survivance can also be used as an object lesson.

    I don't think anyone will argue that chances are that the quicker an individual can acclimate to our culture and learn our language, the quicker he can succeed. That does not mean that Americans should denigrate or dismiss the various cultures of the immigrants--and we must keep in mind that there are waves of immigrants, which can obscure any acute progress in cultural education that is being made--but it does mean that we shouldn't let our compassion or forbearance be taken for granted. Today's immigrants should learn the "American way" as soon as possible and be encouraged to do so. That does not mean that they will be or should be somehow forced to forget their own culture.

    Another point is that there was no such thing as "illegal immigration" until the U.S. passed laws saying so. MacKay deals with this, and although he certainly ascribes nefarious motives for the passage of the these laws, they were passed in reaction to a specific problem. Americans believed that too many people were coming in, too fast. Regardless of the ofttimes despicable reasoning behind the original passage of these laws, they are still the law and most Americans want to keep it that way.

    By limiting immigration, the laws--if properly enforced--would actually reduce the current level of acrimony. They help to throttle back on the "incursion" of "the other" (to use a favorite academic term)--they make the waves smaller--and make it easier for those immigrants who enter the country legally to assimilate into the U.S. If these laws weren't so popular amongst Americans--including legal immigrants--then I don't think that some illegal immigration apologists would so consistently conflate the difference between illegal and legal immigration.

    Overall, I find it interesting that much of this recounting of history is deemed pertinent because it apparently supports the argument that goes something like this: we've always had these immigration problems in the U.S. so why is it such a big deal now? What's missing from MacKay's accurate re-telling of history is any sense of learning from the lessons of the past. (Though, as I indicated, perhaps that will be present in the next story). Since when have progressives taken to premising their arguments upon the notion of "that's the way it's always been..." to argue for what it should be now? Usually they take what they know of history and try to identify a better way of dealing with the problems that were encountered. In this case, it seems like they're really just saying that everything is fine, let's move on.

    In the extended portion of this post, I've tried to elaborate a bit on some of the unsaid implications in MacKay's piece by calling upon my own research into French-Canadian immigration during the post-Civil War era. To do this, I've excerpted liberally from a 4-part series on the topic that I've posted at Spinning Clio. (For important background--and full sources--see these posts on French-Canadian immigration before the Civil War and French-Canadian involvement in the Civil War, portions of which are included in this post).

    Continue reading "Elaborating on MacKay's Immigration History"

    January 23, 2007

    State of the Union Open Thread

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    I was going to write a high-snark-factor post about how nothing memorable has ever occurred in a State of the Union Address. However, I came across this Whitehouse webpage (the building, not the Senator; this is going to be really annoying for the next six years) which lists some impressive State of the Union moments…

    • 1823: James Monroe’s “Monroe Doctrine” speech.
    • 1862: Abraham Lincoln’s connects the Civil War to the emancipation of slaves.
    • 1941: Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s "Four Freedoms" speech.
    In more recent memory, both Lyndon’s Johnson the Great Society (1965) and Bill Clinton’s declaration that the “era of big government is over” (1996) were announced in States of the Union. And, of course, in 2003, George W. Bush used the State of the Union to make his case for invading Iraq.

    Still, I don’t think the country would lose too much if the State of the Union, especially in its modern laundry-list form, was delivered like it was between the years 1801 and 1912…

    The third President, Thomas Jefferson, objected to appearing in person - saying it was too much like an imperial or king's speech, and for the next 100 years presidents sent a written message to Congress that was then read out for them.
    It worked for Presidents Monroe and Lincoln, right?

    Consider this post to be an open-thread on tonight's State of the Union. Insightful comments, witty comments, and even comments that spin like a vinyl 78-rpm recording of “Happy Days are Here Again” are all welcome, but crude or personally insulting posts will be deleted as soon as I see them.

    The comments are open now!


    Here's an incisive preview from Byron York of National Review...

    ...the official said the speech is about as long as previous SOTU's, as measured in words, but it should go more quickly because nobody expects there will be as much applause as in past years.

    January 15, 2007

    Remembering Dr. King

    Marc Comtois

    In remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., take some time to read his "I Have a Dream" speech. Also, there are quite a few pieces extolling the inherent conservatism (and Republicanism) of Dr. King. For instance, the Heritage Foundation held a lecture in 1993 concerning "The Conservative Virtues of Dr. Martin Luther King" and posted a piece about "Martin Luther King's Conservative Legacy" last year. Then there is a new piece by Francis Rice explaining "Why Martin Luther King Was Republican." Finally, Andrew Busch responds to some criticism he received on an earlier piece he had written on Dr. King and Conservatism.

    I suppose it could appear as if I'm overly-politicizing here. Yet, my intention is to present the conservative viewpoint on Dr. King in hopes of showing that he did indeed speak to--and for--all Americans.

    December 24, 2006

    Christmas During War (revisited)

    Marc Comtois

    {Nota Bene: Two years ago I wrote this post offering some thoughts from soldiers and others concerning spending Christmas at war. I still believe it to be relevant today. Merry Christmas.}

    With the current confluence of Christmas and our nation at war, I think it appropriate to mention a few noteworthy writings that deal with the topic. First is a recent column written by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo that details the Continental Army's Christmas in 1778. Despite the sense of desparation surrounding the cause of upstart colonies during that Christmas, the small, underfed and under-equipped army weathered that winter at Valley Forge under the leadership of George Washington and went on to help build a nation.

    I also offer these poignant words written during the Civil War by Corporal J. C. Williams, Co. B, 14th Vermont Infantry, December 25, 1862:

    This is Christmas, and my mind wanders back to that home made lonesome by my absence, while far away from the peace and quietude of civil life to undergo the hardships of the camp, and may be the battle field. I think of the many lives that are endangered, and hope that the time will soon come when peace, with its innumerable blessings, shall once more restore our country to happiness and prosperity. (source)
    Equally as poignant are the words of Corporal John Ferguson of the Seaforth Highlanders, who noted the irony of a Christmas scene during World War I
    What a sight; little groups of Germans and British extending along the length of our front. Out of the darkness we could hear the laughter and see lighted matches. Where they couldn't talk the language, they made themselves understood by signs, and everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill. (source)
    Finally, I'd like to point you to a piece by W. Thomas Smith Jr. at NRO about the Christmas time Battle of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. (This is of particular significance to me as my great uncle Victor Comtois, a Lieutenant in the infantry (Yankee Division), died on Christmas Eve 1944 in Luxembourg during the pushback.)

    With these stories in mind, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and hope that we all take the time to remember both the true reason for the season and to remember our brave men and women who find themselves in harm's way at this time. May God Bless America and may He protect our troops.

    December 21, 2006

    ‘Tis the Season For…

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    …year-in-review articles. Ian Donnis files his entry in this week’s Providence Phoenix

    Imagine a year when the Narragansett Indians were energetically pitching a casino, cynical Rhode Islanders had plenty of reason to reinforce their jaundiced views, and state house Democrats maintained the upper hand over hapless Republican opponents without even breaking a sweat....

    Yet whether the Dems’ politically advantageous position enables the state to deal any more effectively with its most serious problems, including a deficit pegged at more than $100 million, not to mention a long-term structural deficit and the perpetual to need to create more good jobs, remains to be seen.

    December 7, 2006

    Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and Conspiracy Debunking

    Marc Comtois

    For those so inclined, I've put up a longish piece (WARNING: excessive scholarliness may induce drowsiness) over at Spinning Clio that touches on Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and conspiracies about each. (Though it is mostly about debunking the Pearl Harbor conspiracies.)

    November 23, 2006

    It all started because Samoset wanted a beer...

    Marc Comtois
    Friday, the 16th, a fair warm day towards; this morning we determined to conclude of the military orders, which we had begun to consider of before but were interrupted by the savages, as we mentioned formerly. And whilst we were busied hereabout, we were interrupted again, for there presented himself a savage, which caused an alarm. He very boldly came all alone and along the houses straight to the rendezvous, where we intercepted him, not suffering him to go in, as undoubtedly he would, out of his boldness. He saluted us in England [English], and bade us welcome, for he had learned some broken English among the Englishmen that came to fish at Monchiggon [Monhegan Island], and knew by name the most of the captains, commanders, and masters that usually came. He was a man free in speech, so far as he could express his mind, and of a seemly carriage. We questioned him of many things; he was the fist savage we could meet withal. He said he was not of these parts, but of Morattiggon [Monhegan Island or Pemaquid, Maine], and one of the sagamores or lords thereof, and had been eight months in these parts, it lying hence a day's sail with a great wind, and five days by land. He discoursed of the whole country, and of every province, and of their sagamores, and their number of men, and strength. The wind being to rise a little, we cast a horseman's coat about him, for he was stark naked, only a leather about his waist, with a fringe about a span long, or little more; he had a bow and two arrows, the one headed, and the other unheaded. He was a tall straight man, the hair of his head black, long behind, only short before, none on his face at all; he asked some beer, but we gave him strong water and biscuit, and butter, and cheese, and pudding, and a piece of mallard, all which he liked well, and had been acquainted with such amongst the English.

    from Mourt's Relations by Edward Winslow

    The rest, as they say, is history.

    Happy Thanksgiving!!!

    November 16, 2006

    Mayor Steve Laffey on the Passing of Milton Friedman

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Cranston, RI -- Mayor Laffey today ordered that Cranston flags be lowered to half-mast to honor the life of Nobel prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman, who passed away today at the age of ninety-four. The Mayor commented, "Milton Friedman's belief that individual freedom should rule economic policy is inspirational to all of us who truly believe in the American Dream." Mayor Laffey added that Friedman, "along with Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul, and of course, Ronald Reagan were all part of a team that brought us out of the global malaise of 1970's and collectively -- though in very different ways -- contributed to the overwhelming victory of Democracy over Communism."
    (via John J. Miller of National Review)

    November 11, 2006


    Marc Comtois

    May 24, 2006

    Charles Rappleye, The Sons of Providence, Slavery, and American History

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    In his book titled Sons of Providence, author Charles Rappleye tells the story of two brothers, John and Moses Brown, who figure prominently in early Rhode Island history. Both men were involved in many aspects of the early commercial and economic development of Rhode Island, but there was a sharp contrast between the two. John Brown engaged in and defended the slave trade throughout his life, while Moses Brown was a leader in the early abolitionist movement.

    Mr. Rappleye is interesting both to read and to listen to (Marc and I recently attended a lecture he presented on his book sponsored by the Providence chapter of the NAACP and the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society) because of his impressive command of the different levels of the story he is telling. His work is fully aware that the story of the Brown brothers is important because it is a part of the long shadow that slavery casts on American history. But Rappleye is equally clear that John and Moses Brown are not mere prisoners of the events of their time; the individual decisions they make for personal, human reasons shape and drive the events of the period -- events that include the American revolution and the formation of the American form of government.

    Here are just a few of the interesting points that Mr. Rappleye presents...

    • Not only was the slave trade very important to the economy of colonial Rhode Island, but there was also substantial slaveholding here. At one point in the mid-1700s, about 15% of Newport's population was comprised of slaves.
    • Moses Brown took up the abolitionist cause after the death of his wife Anna, believing that God had taken her as punishment for his sins, and that he had to work to eradicate slavery as his atonement.
    • Moses Brown wrote the first Federal law banning slave trading. The first person convicted under the law was his brother John.
    • John Brown was the original Robert Healey (not for reasons related to the slave trade) -- he was elected to Congress even though he didn't really believe in the Federal government. While in Congress, John bucked the common practice of the time of ignoring slavery in civic dicussions and offered the first public, affirmative defense of the slave trade.

    After his presentation, Anchor Rising had the chance to ask a few questions to Charles Rappleye...

    Anchor Rising: Can you tell us some more about how the story of Moses Brown and abolitionism combines two distinct strands; on the one hand, you have the philosophy of liberty growing out of the rationalistic enlightenment; on the other, you have Moses Brown converting to Quakerism and talking up abolition after a passionate religious experience following the death of his wife...

    Charles Rappleye: The first three generations of Moses Brown's five generations in Rhode Island were all Baptist preachers. His father James was a merchant and not a preacher. For Moses to convert from the Baptist faith was a big break with his family. As I describe in the book, as I see it in my mind, he was listening to his religious side, his religious core, whereas John and the other members of the family were kind of just going along.

    I do talk, for more than my editor wanted me to, about how the Quakers were alone in talking about slavery and becoming abolitionists long before anybody else. Their tradition of abolitionism was about 50 years old. It was really reaching a crescendo just as this rhetoric of liberty and freedom started breaking out. Abolitionism went from a heretical fringe idea to the popular idea of the day, a popular movement that had the support of most people, certainly in the North, in a period of about three years, which is remarkable.

    It was the Quaker influence connected with the revolution rhetoric, even though the Quakers were against the revolution because they were pacifists. But that idea of anti-slavery really caught on. Before I wrote the book, I hadn't known that there was an early phase to the abolition movement, I thought it was more the William Lloyd Garrison kinds of activities going on in the 1820s, 30s and 40s.

    It is kind of tragic. There was this moment where abolitionism was popular and slavery unpopular right around the time of the writing of the Constitution, but it was the economic interests, and not the popular sentiment, that prevailed at the conference that wrote that document.

    AR: At that time, how radical was an idea like "everyone is equal"?

    CR: That was an idea that was on the fringes, although some colonies were fairly democratic. Rhode Island was the most democratic. Some people considered it to be their big flaw. There was one guy who called it a "downright democracy". He was one of the members of the commission that was assembled to hear the evidence of the burining of the Gaspee. In 1772, they're still saying "it's a downright democracy around here".

    Democracy was coming into vogue, but was certainly not universally accepted like it is now.

    AR: From your work, do you get a sense of whether the appeal of abolitionism was something that was universal, or something unique to the American experience, or something that grew out of European ideas?

    CR: Abolitionism was an American product. At the same time, America, as time went on, became the largest slaveholding enterprise in the world. Abolitionism really did start here and caught on here. The Quakers were pushing it in England it at the same time as the ideas of the enlightenment were catching on there as well.

    Britain passed their abolitionist legislation after the stuff that was written by Moses Brown and then they became the enforcers of the ban on the Slave trade. That was actually an issue in the War of 1812. The British insisted on the right to search on the high seas because they wanted to search cargoes of the American ships coming out from Africa to search for slaves. The Americans were saying you have no right to search us and no, we're not in violation, whether they had slaves on them or not.

    But the prohibition on Slave trading that Moses Brown wrote that passed the legislature in 1787 was the first prohibition on Slave trading anywhere in the world.


    Marc gives his thoughts on Sons of Providence and Charles Rappleye's discussion of it over at Spinning Clio.

    March 3, 2006

    Doctor Seuss - Political Cartoonist

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    A Jessica Selby article in the Kent County Times describes yesterday's celebration of Dr. Seuss' birthday in local schools...

    Yesterday was Dr. Seuss's Birthday and school children around the Valley took time out of their academic day to celebrate it....

    Each year on March 2, millions of children nationwide join the National Education Association in celebrating "Read Across America Day," the day devoted to celebrating Dr. Seuss's birthday. It is, according to information from NEA, the nation's largest reading celebration and serves as a prime showcase for focusing the country's attention on literacy and the importance of reading.

    What many people don't know (and this might make a nice addition to the celebration for the older kids) is that early in his career, Dr. Seuss was an uncompromising World War II political cartoonist who didn't pull any punches when challenging America through his artwork on subjects like isolationism, anti-semitism, racism, and most importantly, on the need for the United States to stand united and defeat its enemies.

    The University of California at San Diego (the source of the above links) has a large collection of Dr Suess' World War II cartoons here.

    January 18, 2006

    Spreading Falsehoods in our Children's Education about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Founding

    Joseph Farah has written an editorial entitled I have a dream, too about how the life of a great American - Martin Luther King, Jr. - is being taught to our children:

    I have a dream that America will return to its heritage of freedom.

    But before that dream is realized, we've got to stop miseducating kids at every turn. What do I mean? Take what your kids are learning today about Martin Luther King and the principles of American freedom.

    They learn that "civil rights are the freedoms and rights that a person has as a member of a community, state or nation." That's what Scholastic magazine, distributed through schools all over the country, published six years ago. "In the U.S., these rights are guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution and acts of Congress."

    That is not true. Civil rights, America's founders taught us so well, are God-given, unalienable rights. They don't descend from government. They are not given out through acts of Congress. They cannot be invented by man. They are inherent, universal, permanent.

    This is such a foundational point of understanding American civic life, history and government...This is deliberate brainwashing an example of the dumbing-down process...What these institutions produce are not educated students so much as spare parts for a giant statist-corporate matrix called America.

    As if to underline the point, the Scholastic article writer added: "Since the 1960s, many laws have been passed to guarantee civil rights to all Americans. But the struggle continues. Today, not only blacks, but many other groups including women, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, people with disabilities, homosexuals, the homeless and other minorities are waging civil-rights campaigns."

    If Scholastic is correct about rights simply being extended by legislative decree, then rights can be taken away as easily as they are bestowed. Those are not rights, folks. Those are privileges.

    Notice the subtle way the struggle by blacks is equated with agitation by "the homeless" and homosexuals. This is Marxist Indoctrination 101...now it is thoroughly permeating not just academia, but elementary schools and private educational companies that must sell their products to the government educational monopoly...

    ...Who cares what people think about rights? It doesn't matter. Once again, rights true rights descend from God and cannot be given to man by anyone else nor taken away.

    We also learn from Scholastic materials that King got his ideas for peaceful resistance from two sources Mahatma Gandhi and Henry David Thoreau...I don't deny that those folks were influences on King, but to ignore King's inspiration from the Bible is ludicrous...

    Ah, but then, of course, you have the old sticky wicket of religion in the classroom. Better to simply ignore reality the truth that Martin Luther King was a Christian minister. I have a feeling that not many kids in government school will hear this part of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech:

    I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

    This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

    This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, 'My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.'

    And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

    Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

    Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!

    But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

    Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

    Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

    When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

    Freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom. That was the King message. Martin Luther King talked a lot more about freedom than he did rights. He was clear on where true freedom and rights came from. That distinction has been obliterated in today's teaching about him.

    Why? Because freedom cannot be controlled by government. Government would prefer to define the limits of your freedom by arbitrarily creating new "rights" and disabusing us of the notion that rights are God's unalienable gifts to all humanity.

    It is startling how misinformed Americans are about the principles underlying the American Founding. And we are raising children who either are ahistorical or know only politically correct falsehoods about America, a point argued by Yale's David Gelernter in We Are Paying Quite a Price for Our Historical Ignorance:

    ...Our schools teach history ideologically. They teach the message, not the truth...They are propaganda machines. Ignorance of history destroys our judgment...

    To forget your own history is (literally) to forget your identity. By teaching ideology instead of facts, our schools are erasing the nation's collective memory...

    There is an ongoing culture war between Americans who are ashamed of this nation's history and those who acknowledge with sorrow its many sins and are fiercely proud of it anyway. Proud of the 17th century settlers who threw their entire lives overboard and set sail for religious freedom in their rickety little ships. Proud of the new nation that taught democracy to the world. Proud of its ferocious fight to free the slaves, save the Union and drag (lug, shove, sweat, bleed) America a few inches closer to its own sublime ideals. Proud of its victories in two world wars and the Cold War, proud of the fight it is waging this very day for freedom in Iraq and the whole Middle East.

    If you are proud of this country and don't want its identity to vanish, you must teach U.S. history to your children. They won't learn it in school. This nation's memory will go blank unless you act.

    In an effort to correct those falsehoods, three quotes below elaborate further on the American Founding.

    Continue reading "Spreading Falsehoods in our Children's Education about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Founding"

    November 24, 2005

    Eagle or Turkey?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    If the choice had been his alone, Benjamin Franklin would have selected the turkey to be the symbol of the United States of America...

    For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country�For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.
    You disagree with Ben Franklin at your own risk. However, with the benefit of hindsight, I can think of at least 5 reasons why we should be glad the eagle beat out the turkey for the honor of representing the United States of America...

    5. I'm not sure that it's possible to do a realistic drawing of a turkey holding arrows with one foot and an olive branch with the other for the Great Seal of the United States.

    4. I doubt that "Sam the Turkey" would have become the cultural icon that Sam the Eagle has.

    3. Do you really think that John Wayne would have starred in a movie titled "The Wings of Turkeys"? How about Clint Eastwood in "Where Turkeys Dare"?

    2. The 101st Airborne division would be known as "The Screaming Turkeys".

    1. Having the Apollo 11 crew announce that "the Turkey has landed" would have destroyed the moment.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

    November 23, 2005

    Revising Thanksgiving

    Marc Comtois

    First, here is a worthwhile example of what Thanksgiving can mean in contemporary America. Contrast that with this jeremiad by someone who thinks Thanksgiving celebrates the oppressiveness of white European-types over Native Americans (don't read it if you want to keep your teeth from grinding--though some of the comments are worth reading). (via Instapundit).

    Also, in an effort to prove that all historical revisionism isn't bad, I'd like to point to an article in the latest Smithsonian called "Squanto and the Pilgrims: Native Intelligence, " (PDF). The author is Charles Mann who wrote the critically acclaimed 1491 (I haven't read it yet). In the Smithsonian piece, Mann "suggests that the Native Americans were far more sophisticated than previously believed-and yet at the mercy of forces that abetted the settlers' ambitions." It's an interesting and worthwhile read. It's not hagiography, but it's also not demonization.