Tag: American history

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If this was how Republicans argued in televised interviews, they wouldn’t always be stuck defending themselves against Democrats’ lies. Instead of investing in fleeting individual campaigns, the Republican party should invest in promotion of videos and arguments such as this.   Preview Open

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“Join or Die” with Craig Ferguson and various guests “chat about historical topics, current events and provocative ideas.”  Per the promo at History.com , it will be based on facts, “unlike the news.”  Ferguson’s late night show was too late for me, but this history show might be fun.  I do like how happy he is […]

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Living in a college town, I’m friends with a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters. Watching them go crazy on Facebook is a daily source of entertainment. When the Congressional Black Caucus PAC (separate from the CBC) recently endorsed Clinton, their spokesman John Lewis stated that Sanders didn’t have a good record on civil rights in […]

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At the obelisk statue in the Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico there is a very polite sign explaining why the word “savage” is used in the etchings on the memorial. It is a memorial dedicated to soldiers who fought for the Union and battled Native Americans in the West. Preview Open

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Thanksgiving, 1789

 

If you want a clear example of how the authors of the US Constitution understood our government’s relationship to religion, look no further than the proclamation of a day of thanksgiving to God in 1789 by President George Washington. Here is his speech inaugurating this holiday (and yes, “holiday” is a derivation of “holy day”).

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 favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving 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 establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Killing History

 

Patrick HenryI have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. — Patrick Henry, 1775

Nearly twenty years ago, Australian historian Keith Windschuttle wrote a scathing indictment of contemporary historiography. He attacked the prevailing post-modern analysis as little more than “Parisian labels and designer concepts.” The book, Killing History, established the basic argument against history written in a way that was divorced from empirical evidence and a sense of universal standards.

This is how we’ve come to understand the history wars: the destruction of the past through the use of distorted evidence and the rendering of Western history as the bigoted story of small pox blankets and war-time internments. While framed as a fight against the biases of traditional history writing, the post-modern approach commits its own sins while attacking those of its enemies. The world of the po-mo historian is a world in which only white Europeans have agency, while the remainder of mankind is made up of hild-like victims of European greed and lust.

Take a Deep Breath About Confederate Nostalgia

 

shutterstock_149387531In the Washington Post, James L. Loewen makes an interesting point about Civil War monuments:

Take Kentucky, where the legislature voted not to secede. Early in the war, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston ventured through the western part of the state and found “no enthusiasm, as we imagined and hoped, but hostility.” Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones…

Neo-Confederates also won parts of Maryland. In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) put a soldier on a pedestal at the Rockville courthouse. Maryland, which did not secede, sent 24,000 men to the Confederate armed forces, but it also sent 63,000 to the U.S. Army and Navy. Still, the UDC’s monument tells visitors to take the other side: “To our heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland: That we through life may not forget to love the thin gray line.”

4 on the Floor for the Fourth

 

150701120633-calvin-coolidge-nationals-exlarge-169Quietly (which seems appropriate), it’s been a good year for Calvin Coolidge. America’s 30th President is this year’s choice as the White House Historical Association’s annual Christmas ornament. And tonight he gets to take what may or may not be a victory lap when an oversized Coolidge mascot competes at the Washington Nationals’ “running of the presidents” — a fourth-inning dash around the ballpark also featuring the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft (if the mascots are done to scale, getting stuck behind Taft would seem like a ticket to defeat).

About Coolidge: he’s also the only American president born on America’s birthday (in 1872, in Vermont’s Plymouth Notch). Which prompted me to write this column for Forbes.com about four aspects of the 4th of July that pertain to Republican presidential hopefuls and and the coming election:

1) Coolidge. In this remarkably bunched-together field of Republicans, which candidate(s) comes closest to “Silent Cal” as an espouser of tax cuts, deregulation, and limited government? Remember, it’s not just Ronald Reagan who championed conservative beliefs in a 20th Century White House. Here’s a Coolidge address to Congress, from December 1923 (his first year in office), to get you thinking . . .

Exporting America

 

Thaddeus_Kosciuszko_sculpture,_Public_Garden,_Boston,_MA_-_IMG_5481In Still the Best Hope, Dennis Prager argues that American values — roughly, the small-l liberal values that underlie the Declaration of Independence and U. S. Constitution — demand to be exported. Elsewhere, Prager describes these values as the American Trinity: the beliefs in a transcendent God, in liberty, and in the emphasis of culture and values over ethnicity or race. These values, he says, can be adopted around the world and integrated into existing national identities. We can quibble with the definitions and the choice of words, but Prager’s onto something profound here.

While there’s much Americans — or those from Anglosphere countries with similar values — can and should do to help others, the ultimate burden falls on those elsewhere. Doing so often takes tremendous effort and even great courage. July Fourth seems as a good a time as any to honor those who’ve risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to further the ideals exemplified by the American Revolution.

For starters, I’ll nominate Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1817). Kościuszko is one of those figures whose biography is too rich to summarize easily, so what follows is only a very rough sketch (cartoonist Kate Beaton gave the task an effort here; it’s great if you don’t mind a little language). Born a Polish-Lithuanian noble, he emigrated to the United States in 1776, where he served in the Continental Army as an engineering and a combat officer. He oversaw the fortification of West Point, fought in the South Carolina campaign under Nathanael Greene, and befriended both Washington and Jefferson. If you’ve ever been to Monticello, you’ve likely seen his famous portrait of Jefferson.

4 Things You Didn’t Know About Alexander Hamilton

 

405px-Alexander_Hamilton_portrait_by_John_Trumbull_1806As you’ve likely heard — including on our own Member Feed — the Department of the Treasury is planning to replace the portrait of Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill, very likely with Harriet Tubman’s. All due respect to Mrs. Tubman — who deserves it greatly — but this is an incredible travesty. For all his many faults, Hamilton is one of the most extraordinary members of one of the most extraordinary generations in world history — and a handsome devil at that.

It’s difficult to decide which is more amazing: that Hamilton accomplished so much during his 51 years of life, or that he managed to make it that long before getting himself killed. While many of the incidents of his life are extremely well known — his work as Washington’s aide and spymaster, his contributions to the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, his remarkable and controversial tenure at Treasury, his affair with Maria Reynolds, his battles with Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr — his life also has a lot of chapters that are more obscure. Here are four of them:

Opposition to Slavery

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When someone pointed me to this document, I figured it had to be a hoax. It was mentioned in an unconvincing conspiracy theory video about JADE HELM 15 that I endured out of respect for the person who sent it to me. But it turns out that the document is listed among the US Senate’s […]

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While recounting a guided tour of the Jack Daniel’s distillery on my way back from the airport, I was surprised when my dad referenced the ATF in relation to “sin” taxes. Half the price of a bottle of whiskey is taxes. Half the price of a carton of cigarettes is taxes. Handguns, bullets, and even […]

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Histories are strongly colored by their origins. On less popular subjects, we often hear or read only a single perspective. On popular subjects, one perspective tends to dominate… and it’s not always the most honest.  I’d like to invite all Ricochetti to share their favorite history books, links, or anecdotes. Many member posts have offered […]

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The Greatest Presidential Speech Ever Delivered

 

abraham-lincoln-secondinauguration3Presidential speechwriters are a competitive bunch. I don’t know how many of us there have been since Warring Harding hired Judson Welliver as a “literary clerk” in the early ’20s, but I do know that the majority of those who’ve labored over a draft in the EEOB — or, if they were truly lucky, the West Wing — have a little bit of an inferiority complex.

Why? Because the first question you get when your vocation is mentioned to a stranger is “Did you write anything I know?” Put aside the banality of the question for a minute — how the hell am I supposed to have a vise-like grip on what you know? — and think about how this actually plays out. For the vast majority of us, the answer is ‘no.’ Most presidential speeches — especially in an age when they’ve become ubiquitous — are unremarkable affairs. No one reads your Rose Garden remarks congratulating science fair winners from around the country (yes, I actually got that assignment once. John Negroponte said he loved the speech. I’m still convinced he was mocking me). As a result, your average White House scribe lives in perpetual envy of Raymond Moley, who penned the 1933 FDR inaugural address that included “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” (though Moley doesn’t seem to have been responsible for that line); of Ted Sorensen for working on JFK’s 1961 inaugural; and, yes, of Peter Robinson for writing Ronald Reagan’s Brandenburg Gate speech and etching the phrase “tear down this wall” into history. Only the lucky few get a signature song.

What’s sort of remarkable — beautiful, in a way — is that none of the members of this small fraternity, no matter how great their achievements, will ever plausibly be able to claim pride of place…because the greatest presidential speech ever delivered was written by the chief executive himself. And it was delivered 150 years ago today.

Which Political Greats Don’t Get the Upgrade?

 

shutterstock_191343719One of my guilty pleasures is listening to Bill Simmons’ “The B.S. Report” podcast, especially when he dials up his college buddy, John O’Connell. O’Connell, aka “Jacko”, is a devout New York Yankees fan. Simmons is a diehard Red Sox fan, so they know how to push each others’ buttons. Including the other day, when Simmons poked fun at the notion of past Yankees Andy Petitte, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams having their numbers retired this year.

All were very good players during the Yankees’ return to baseball royalty. But they’re borderline Hall of Famers at best. And hardly in same class as Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, or Mantle. Figure it this way: if you filled an airplane with past great Yankees, who’d get the eight seats in first class? Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle? Absolutely. Toss in Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, both first-ballot Hall of Famers once they’re eligible. That leaves two seats. Feel free to debate who deserves them (Whitey Ford, one of the managers — Stengel, Torre, Huggins, Martin — The Boss or Colonel Ruppert, and so forth). Anyway, let’s take this concept of who boards the plane and gets to turn left and apply it to the GOP. Again, with eight first-class seats for everyone standing at the gate and praying for an upgrade.

Three are obvious: Lincoln. Reagan and T.R.

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From The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn: Routines are not just good theory. They work in practice. Order makes life more peaceful, more efficient, and more effective. In fact the more routines we develop, the more effective we become. Routines free us from the need to ponder small details over and over again; routines let […]

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History’s B-Listers

 

381px-James_WilkinsonBiography is probably the most popular — and certainly the most accessible — way of learning about history. For obvious reasons, most of them focus on the star figures of their day: hundreds of books have been written about Alexander of Macedon, Augustus, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill, and hundreds more will be written in the centuries to come.

But for every Great Man, there are always a number of ancillary and supporting characters whose lives are equally fascinating — and just as illuminating about their eras — as those of the superstars. I don’t simply mean the other well-known figures of the day — the Dariuses, Marc Antonies, Wellingtons, and Jefferson Davises — or the millions of common folk who are the subject of social history: I mean the genuine supporting characters who were important in their day, but whose names have understandably faded from memory. Think of them as “Best Supporting Historical Figures.”

One such character is Gen. James Wilkinson (1757-1825), who recently found a biographer in Andro Linklater. As the title of An Artist In Treason implies, Wilkinson was undoubtedly one of the slimiest, most perfidious characters of his day and widely suspected of being in the employ of the Spanish government, then one of America’s biggest rivals (the Spaniards confirmed Wilkinson’s well-compensated treachery decades after his death). That, however, did not prevent him from serving as America’s highest-ranking military officer under each of America’s first four presidents, and as the United States’ first governor of the Louisiana Territory. His military career began with the Siege of Boston in 1775 and ended — with a few gaps as a Kentucky politician/statesman/scoundrel — thirty-seven years later 1812. He died while serving as the American Envoy to Mexico.

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Let’s talk about the Louisiana Purchase! No doubt, everyone else fed up with modern politics has taken up the same topic… perhaps around some good cognac or fried alligator, as the case may be.  The half of modern Americans who don’t hate themselves for living under the stars and stripes sometimes cite the Louisiana Purchase as an example […]

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