Thursday, February 13, 2014

Smithsonian Gets Ready for a Star-Spangled Bicentennial

Preparations are underway for the 200th anniversary celebration of the successful defense of Fort McHenry and the poem written by Francis Scott Key, which became our national anthem....

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Shameless Plug

This blog is essentially dead.  I never post here but am still posting at my personal blog.  I invite you (I really need the help) to follow me there.  Click here to go to my blog.

Please...FOLLOW ME!!!!!  =)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

American History Without George Washington?

Since this weekend is the one Americans are supposed to set aside to honor George Washington (rather than the shallow, watered-down "Presidents' Day"), I thought I'd pose this question: "Can you imagine American history without George Washington?"

It's a question that should interest not only early American history buffs, but Americans in general. A United States of America without George Washington would be a very different nation indeed -- if it existed at all. And it's a question I explore in my latest blog post over at "American Revolution & Founding Era."

You can read the post by clicking on the link below...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Francis Salvador: Forgotten (or Perhaps Never Known) American Hero

Just off of Highway 52 in Charleston, South Carolina rests the beautiful and famous Washington Park. Along with being a popular location for weddings and other social gatherings, Washington Park also serves as the location for several historical monuments, including statues of George Washington, memorials for the southern Confederacy, and plagues dedicated to the memory of local and national heroes.

Amongst these various plagues, tucked away in an obscure corner of the park, resides an obscure memorial to one Francis Salvador:

The plague reads:

Francis Salvador
1747 – 1776
First Jew in South Carolina to hold public office
To Die for American Independence

He came to Charles Town from his native London in 1773 to develop extensive family landholdings in the frontier district of ninety six. As a deputy to the provincial congresses of South Carolina, 1775 and 1776, he served with distinction in the creation of this state and nation, participating as a volunteer in an expedition against Indians and Tories, he was killed from ambush near the Keowee river, August 1, 1776.

Born an aristocrat, he became a democrat, an Englishman, he cast his lot with America.
True to his ancient faith, he gave his life for new hopes of human liberty and understanding.

Erected at the time of the Bicentennial celebration of the Jewish community of Charleston.

Approved by the historical commission of Charleston SC

Chances are that most Americans have never heard of Francis Salvador. If I am being honest, I can't recall ever hearing about him until graduate school, and even then it was only in passing. In reality, Salvador's story isn't all that dramatic, which is probably one of the many reasons he goes relatively unrecognized. Yet despite his historical obscurity, Salvador's story is worthy of our attention, for it is a story of faith, patriotism and sacrifice.

Born in 1747, Salvador was the fortunate decedent of the very successful Joseph Salvador: businessman and leader of the Portuguese Sephardic Jewish community in Britain. Thanks to his sharp business instincts, Joseph Salvador had gained incredible wealth and prestige, which made him the natural choice to become the head of the British East India Company. In addition, Joseph Salvador also became an advocate for impoverished Jews living in Britain, whom he aided by assisting in their settlement in Georgia (a difficult prospect, since Jews were a relatively unwelcome group in the "New World").

Thanks to his family's success, Francis Salvador's early years were spent in luxury. But as is often the case with life, the storms of economic and world turmoil caused the Salvador family to lose much of its wealth and prestige. After the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 destroyed their Portuguese property and the East India Company collapsed, draining the family's resources, the Salvador family was left with only one prospect: immigrate to the American colonies (where they held property) and start anew.

Francis Salvador arrived alone at South Carolina in 1773. His hope was to establish himself on his family's land and then send for his wife (Sarah) and their three children. The timing of his arrival, however, brought a new set of unanticipated challenges that eventually pulled Salvador in a different direction. The fires of the American Revolution, which were blazing hotter with each passing day, led Salvador to become a passionate and vocal voice for American independence. Within a year of his arrival, Salvador won a seat in the South Carolina General Assembly. In 1774, South Carolinians elected Salvador to the Revolutionary Provincial Congress, which began to meet in January 1775, and in which Salvador regularly revealed his passion for the cause of independence.

In addition to his political service to South Carolina, Salvador also fought in the South Carolina Militia, where he earned the nickname, "Southern Paul Revere" for his brave late night ride to warn the countryside of an impending Cherokee attack. And though his service in both the militia and the elected assembly were, by all accounts, exemplary, Salvador's service to the cause of liberty was short-lived. During a military engagement on July 31st, 1776, Salvador was shot and later scapled by a group of hostile Cherokee Indians and local Loyalists. And though he lived long enough to see the militia defeat the Cherokee/Loyalist attack, Salvador eventually succumbed to his wounds and died at the tender age of 29.

The response to Salvador's death was felt throughout the colony. As historian Michael Feldberg points out in his book, Blessings of Freedom:
A Friend, Henry Laurens, reported that Salvador's death was "Universally regretted", while William Henry Drayton, later chief justice of South Carolina, stated that Salvador had "sacrificed his life in the service of his adopted country." Dead at twenty-nine, never again seeing his wife and children after leaving England, Salvador was the first Jew to die in the American Revolution. Ironically, because he was fighting on the frontier, Salvador probably never received the news that the Continental Congress in Philadelphia had, as he urged, adopted the Declaration of Independence.
Francis Salvador's legacy is usually nothing more than a side note in the history books. For the most part, Salvador is remembered for being the first Jew killed in the American Revolution and little more. And though his death is noteworthy, the life of Francis Salvador is deserving of much more than a simple side note or an obscure memorial. In reality, Salvador is the embodiment of what made the American Revolution special. He was a foreigner, a Jew and a wealthy English aristocrat who became a trusted comrade alongside his fellow native, Christian American revolutionaries.

Perhaps the words of his Washington Park memorial capture the true legacy of Francis Salvador best:
Born an aristocrat, he became a democrat; An Englishman, he cast his lot with the Americans; True to his ancient faith, he gave his life; For new hopes of human liberty and understanding.
***Interesting Side note: Despite Salvador's incredible service, the South Carolina Constitution of 1776 prohibited anyone not of the Christian faith from being elected to office. Interesting that the very state, which benefited from Salvador's impeccable service, would prohibit those of his faith from following in his footsteps.***

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Connecticut (Vermont) Declares Independence

On this day in 1777, the great state of Vermont decided to declare its independence not only from Great Britain but from the neighboring state of New York as well. For years, the settlers in the Vermont area had been asserting their right to break from New York, but were unable to do so. Thanks in part to the efforts of Ethan Allen and his "Green Mountain Boys," Vermont was able to finally able to gain its independence and maintain a relatively neutral stance during the American Revolution.

Origionally named New Connecticut, the state's delegates chose to adopt the new name of Vermont, which is an inaccurate translation of the French phrase "green mountain."

Vermont was also the first state to draft an official constitution. Its constitution was one of the most radical to say the least. It guaranteed every male (reguardless of property status) the right to vote, it abolished slavery (making Vermont the first state to do so), and it gave some rights (mostly property rights) to women. Despite their incredible efforts to gain independence, Vermont was finally incorporated into the United States in 1792, making it the first state outside of the original thirteen colonies to join the union.

The origional flag of Vermont was the same flag that was used by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys (a picture of the flag is posted at the beginning of this article). The flag has 13 stars in a scattared pattern, which was to represent the scattered and unsettled nature of the early United States. The green color is, of course, representative of the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pastor Rutherford Apologizes

Last week I posted my review of a video on the history of the Star-Spangled Banner. In the video, Pastor Dudley Rutherford of Shepherd of the Hills Church in California shares a story on the origins of our national anthem that wasn't completely historically accurate. The day after posting my review, Pastor Rutherford contacted me via email and shared his regret that some of the points in his video were a bit misleading.

Well, yesterday Pastor Rutherford posted a new video in which he expresses his regret and apologizes for his video on the Star-Spangled Banner. Take a look:

First, let me say how refreshing it is to see somebody who is sincerely interested in historical integrity. Pastor Rutherford, who is not a professional historian, has more "True Grit" (an excellent movie that you should see, BTW) than many professionals in the historical community. I personally know several historians who could NEVER admit when they had made a mistake because their pride, ego and Ph.D. get in the way. I hope that I can follow Pastor Rutherford's example when I get my history wrong in the future.

Let's be clear here, there are no winners or losers in this debate. Nobody has been proven wrong and nobody is keeping score. This is history, not hockey. Pastor Rutherford's apology is not an admission of guilt but rather a determination to get the history right. And as a result, he comes off the victor. Like I said, I sincerely hope that all of us here at ARB (and the historical community in general) can learn for Pastor Rutherford's brilliant example. Admitting error leads to growth, persisting in one's mistake only makes the individual look like a fool.

Pastor Dudley Rutherford is no fool.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Heartbreaking Loss

On New Year's Eve of 1775, the American forces under Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery were defeated in their late night attack on Quebec. Having arrived at the city almost a month prior, both Arnold and Montgomery were hopeful that they could force the British from their strongholds by surrounding the city and bombarding it with canon fire. Much to their dismay, the British were well supplied and entrenched, and the Canadian population was not eager to support the American cause of liberty as Arnold, Montgomery and even Washington had hoped. As a result, the "rebels" were forced to attack the city on December 31 with everything they had. With year enlistments coming up, along with a horrific shortage of food and supplies, both Arnold and Montgomery knew that they would not be able to hold out for long. Simply put, the attack became an all-or-nothing roll of the dice.

The outcome was disastrous for the Americans. Of the 900 American soldiers who participated in the assault, 100 were killed and another 400 were taken prisoner -- the British only lost 6 in the assault. Among the casualties was none other than General Montgomery, who was killed in the attack. Colonel Benedict Arnold was also severely wounded in the leg, which forced him to relinquish command -- albeit temporarily -- to Daniel Morgan, who had the presence of mind to call off a second assault on the city.

For Washington and the rest of the Continental Army the news of the defeat at Quebec was a terrible pill to swallow. Both Washington and his aides, along with several members of the Continental Congress had hoped that an assault on Quebec would inspire British Canadians to their cause and cut off the British in the north.

They were wrong.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Story Behind the Star-Spangled Banner (Except Not Really)

With snow piling up in Colorado it looks like I have some extra time to devote to blogging this weekend. To start things off, I wanted to address a video that has become quite popular over the past few months. In fact, three different people have sent it to me via email this past week. The video is of a man named Dudley Rutherford. Rutherford is the Pastor of the Shepherd of the Hills Church in California. In the video, Rutherford gives a stirring and patriotic account of what he calls the story behind the National Anthem. The video has gained so much attention that even Glenn Beck, pseudo historian extraordiaire, is planning on having Mr. Rutherford on to discuss the "real" history of our nation's anthem. Take a look:

Now, before I point out where he went terribly wrong with his history let me first state for the record that I admire Mr. Rutherford's love of country. One of the things I appreciate most about the Christian right is their reverence for this nation and their appreciation for those who went before us. In my opinion, this is something that the secularists on the left (and yes, I realize that not every secularist fits this mold) either detests or can't seem to understand. With that said, I do want to address Mr. Rutherford's woefully inaccurate account in the video above. I do so with the intent to simply correct the history. In no way am I suggesting that Mr. Rutherford is a diabolical liar bent on twisting history for his own personal gain.

1.) About 39 seconds in, Rutherford stated that "the colonies were engaged in vicious conflict with the mother country, Britain." Rutherford continuously refers to "the colonies" throughout the video, which reveals very poor chronology on his part. The American Revolution lasted from 1775 to 1783, and the U.S. Constitution was adopted in 1787, which means that "the colonies" had become a thing of the past. By the time Francis Scott Key met with the British at the Battle of Baltimore the United States had been a sovereign nation for over 30 years. They were not "colonies". Rutherford messes up his chronology by assuming that the Battle of Baltimore took place during the American Revolution, and he is incorrect.

2.) Key did not sail out to the British to free a bunch of prisoners. In fact, he sailed out in order to free only ONE prisoner, Dr. William Beanes. As for Rutherford's claim that Key tried to liberate a bunch of men who were being kept in chains in a cargo hold, this is completely not true. In reality, Key was considered a "guest" on board a British command frigate, where he dined with other British "gentleman." From the Library of Congress website:
When the British invaded Washington in 1814, Ross and Cockburn with their staff officers made their headquarters in Upper Marlboro, Md., at the residence of a planter, Dr. William Beanes, whom they subsequently seized as a prisoner. Upon hearing of his friend's capture, Key resolved to release him, and was aided by President Madison, who ordered that a vessel that had been used as a cartel should be placed at his service, and that John S. Skinner, agent for the exchange of prisoners, should accompany him. Gen. Ross finally consented to Dr. Beanes's release, but said that the party must be detained during the attack on Baltimore.

Key and Skinner were transferred to the frigate "Surprise," commanded by the admiral's son, Sir Thomas Cockburn, and soon afterward returned under guard of British sailors to their own vessel, whence they witnessed the engagement.
Again, no account of hundreds of men, in chains, in a dark cargo hold being comforted by Francis Scott Key.

3.) Rutherford continuously refers to the fort as "Fort Henry." It was actually called Fort McHenry.

4.) Rutherford is right when he states that Key, Beanes, and John Skinner (who accompanied Key) were not allowed to return to shore, due to the impending attack by the British. This point, however, is about the only point Rutherford gets right. He then completely derails and really screws up the true history. Rutherford claims that Admiral Alexander Cochrane, who was in command of the British naval forces, informed Key that he was going to reduce Fort McHenry to rubble. This isn't true. The British had no intention of destroying the fort but instead wanted to capture it.

5.) Rutherford states that Admiral Cochrane informed Francis Scott Key that "the entire British war fleet...with hundreds of ships" were going to attack the "Fort Henry." This is completely untrue. The British only had 19 ships at Baltimore, nothing more. In addition, only 8 or 9 of those ships actually fired on the fort, since the other ships didn't have the guns that could reach the shore. Also, it is important to note that Cochrane had sent a landing party of British soldiers to attempt to gain intelligence. Cochrane then ordered his ships to pull back and only attack the redoubts of the fort. He clearly didn't want to destroy the fort or inadvertently kill his own men who he had sent ashore.

6.) There were no women or children in the fort. Another bogus claim. I think Rutherford states this because there was one woman killed in the bombardment. She was trying to bring her husband and other men dinner when a bomb took her out.

7.) Rutherford is 100% wrong when he states than men from the fort held the flag up "until they died" and that "the patriot's bodies" were piled around the flag pole. Not true. Only 3-5 soldiers were killed in the fort, nothing more.

*** On a side note, I am curious to know if the Washington quote that Rutherford brings up is true. He claims that Key was inspired by Washington's following words:
"The thing that separates the American Christian from every other person on earth is the fact that he would rather die on his feet, than live on his knees!"
I have looked around and cannot find anything to substantiate or repudiate that Washington did/did not say this. Anyone out there have the answer?

In conclusion, my intention is not to make fun of Mr. Rutherford or to start calling him a pathological liar. Instead, I simply believe that patriotism based on mythical history really isn't patriotism, and sadly, too many people gobble this stuff up as gospel. After all, it came from a pastor!

***Update: In the post I mistakenly stated that Mr. Rutherford was going to be on Glenn Beck's show. That is not true. Rutherford informed me that he has never been in contact with Mr. Beck and has no plans to be on his program. My apologies for the error.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Don't Forget Trenton Today!

Merry Christmas everyone! As you enjoy the festivities, keep in mind that today also carries a special American tribute that should not go forgotten.

234 years ago on this date George Washington and the Continental Army made their daring advance on Trenton to attack the Hessian soldiers encamped at the city. The move was risky to say the least. Trenton was defended by 1,500 Hessian mercenaries, who were expecting to pass through a relatively calm winter encampment at the city. Washington, however, saw an opportunity to gain a moral victory (moral because winning Trenton was not a major tactical victory) for his army. After all, this was the same army that had been thoroughly routed by the British at New York, where they were forced to flee on a number of occasions. As a result, the Continental Army was in extreme disarray and Washington himself was being questioned by the delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. In fact, some even suggested that the General should be replaced for his poor performance at New York.

It was under these tough circumstances that Thomas Paine wrote the words to his epic pamphlet, The Crisis, which was written just two days before the planned attack on Trenton:
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but "to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER" and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.
With such dire circumstances all around them, Washington decided to roll the dice. An attack on Trenton would secure a for the Continental Army a legitimate moral victory, one which would help to inspire the allegiance of more colonials to the cause of independence. Despite the benefits, Washington was not unaware of the tremendous risk he was taking. In a very real sense this was an all-or-nothing gamble (It is therefore no surprise that Washington would pen a note on his desk that read, "Victory or Death").

To make a long story short, Washington and the Continental Army won an astonishing victory at Trenton, capturing over 1/3 of the entire Hessian garrison. Since the Hessians expected a quiet winter encampment, they chose to enjoy the holidays by staying up late and drinking away their Christmas Eve. As a result, the army was caught asleep, hung over, and disorganized upon Washington's arrival. Here is a clip from the movie The Crossing, which captures the feel of that Christmas morning:

The Army then goes on to rout the Hessians at Trenton. In the process, only 2 continental soldiers lost their lives. In addition, only five were wounded (including James Monroe, who eventually became our 5th president).

So, Merry Continental Army Kicks Hessian Butt Day/Christmas!!!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Season Decorations at Colonial Williamsburg

Thought you all might enjoy watching this video from the folks at Colonial Williamsburg on how they decorate for the Christmas holidays...

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Was Lincoln the Most Influential American in History?

According to a 2006 survey of ten historians, conducted and published by The Atlantic, Abraham Lincoln topped the list of the 100 most influential Americans in history. Several figures from the founding era (and before) made the list, including Jonathan Edwards (#90), Noah Webster (#71), John Quincy Adams (#55), John Adams (#25), Thomas Paine (#19), Andrew Jackson (#18), James Madison (#13), John Marshall (#7), Benjamin Franklin (#6), Alexander Hamilton (#5), Thomas Jefferson (#3), and George Washington (#2).

I'd like to see The Atlantic update this list by moving George Washington to the top spot where he belongs (without Washington, there wouldn't be a United States or a President Lincoln) and to move Jefferson down a few notches. He continues to be overrated in his influence. And Paine at #19? What's that about?

If you want to check out the list, visit The Atlantic's "100 Most Influential Figures in American History." And then let Brad and me know what you think in the comments section.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"From the Halls of Montezuma, to the Shores of Tripoli"

Happy 235th Birthday to the
United States Marines!!!

On this day in 1775, the United States Marine Corps was born. Members of the Continental Congress, seeing that war with Britain was on the horizon, drafted a resolution calling for the establishment of "two battalions of Marines to be raised." The Continental Congress, gathered at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, ratified the resolution, which officially commissioned the Continental Marines "for the protection of the American colonies and to fight for independence at sea and shore." It was John Adams, the chief supporter of the bill, who pushed for the ratification of this resolution. As a result, it is Adams who should be given special recognition as being the "father" of the Marine Corps.

Here are some interesting tidbits of history on the Marines and their role in the Revolution from the History Channel's website:
Serving on land and at sea, the original U.S. Marines distinguished themselves in a number of important operations during the Revolutionary War. The first Marine landing on a hostile shore occurred when a force of Marines under Captain Samuel Nicholas captured New Province Island in the Bahamas from the British in March 1776. Nicholas was the first commissioned officer in the Continental Marines and is celebrated as the first Marine commandant. After American independence was achieved in 1783, the Continental Navy was demobilized and its Marines disbanded.

In the next decade, however, increasing conflict at sea with Revolutionary France led the U.S. Congress to establish formally the U.S. Navy in May 1798. Two months later, on July 11, President John Adams signed the bill establishing the U.S. Marine Corps as a permanent military force under the jurisdiction of the Department of Navy. U.S. Marines saw action in the so-called Quasi-War with France and then fought against the Barbary pirates of North Africa during the first years of the 19th century. Since then, Marines have participated in all the wars of the United States and in most cases were the first soldiers to fight. In all, Marines have executed more than 300 landings on foreign shores.
For more information on the birthday of the U.S. Marines click here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jefferson's "Tree of Liberty" Quote in Context

This past week Americans witnessed the beautiful miracle that is a democratic election. And though many on the left are probably unhappy with the results, all Americans should be proud of the fact that in this nation we can have a safe transfer of power from one person to another without a single shot being fired or a single life being lost. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest blessing of living in America.

Over the past few months, however, we have witnessed a great disturbance in the collective political discourse of this nation. The fires of political partisanship has led to an inferno of overheated, hate-filled demonstrations of pretended patriotism aimed at "securing" America's "true" glory no matter the cost (some have even suggested revolution as a viable option). Now, it's not my intention to engage in a political debate here (that's one of the things I love best about this blog...very little politics), but I do think there are some historical matters to clear up here.

In the wake of this public discourse one infamous and stirring quote has made its way back onto the public stage: enter none other than Thomas Jefferson.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson -- who was then living in France -- wrote a letter to his friend William Smith. In the letter Jefferson wrote the following words, which have, from time-to-time, been quoted to affirm the rights of the people to rebel against one's government:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.
Simple enough, right? Well, not quite. And while Jefferson's "tree of liberty" quote has become a favorite of many who oppose the current direction being taken by the Obama Administration, the quote has an important and often forgotten context.

As mentioned before, Jefferson was still living and working in France in 1787. At the time, Jefferson was deeply concerned about some of the proposals for the new United States Constitution -- particularly the role of the executive branch, which he saw as being far too powerful. In addition, Jefferson believed that the recent rebellion in Massachusetts -- which became known as Shays' Rebellion -- had heightened the fears of the American elite, causing them to throw their weight behind a stronger executive government. Shays' Rebellion was essentially an armed rebellion against taxes being levied at Massachusetts farmers. It's leader, Daniel Shays -- who had served as a soldier during the American Revolution -- used the legacy of the American Revolution to garner support for his cause. As a result, scores of patriotic Massachusetts men, most of whom were farmers themselves, resurrected the legacy of the "liberty tree" to fight the perceived injustices of the newly created government. As a result, America's governing class -- and yes, it was a class -- believed that a strong centralized government was the only surefire way to ensure America's future security.

For Jefferson, this was a textbook example of how partisan passions could cloud judgement, creating an atmosphere of panic and fear. As Jefferson states in his letter to William Smith:
Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it's motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms
Simply put, Jefferson understood Shays' Rebellion to be a common and important component of republican government. Without it, the people could not be effectively represented and the communal "lethargy" would eventually destroy the nation. On the flip side, however, Jefferson also notes that the people are rarely if ever well informed on all issues. It is this communal ignorance -- Jefferson emphasises ignorance and not wickedness -- that Jefferson believed the government must endeavor to remedy. He continues:
The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them.
The remedy is not suppression or rejection of public discontent, but rather persuasion and public discourse.

So would Jefferson support the current public dialogue? There's a good chance that he would. We can debate whether or not he would like the current rhetoric of the conservatives/liberals but I think it's hard to deny that Jefferson would be pleased to see the outpouring of public interest.

With that said, I doubt Jefferson would support actual blood being shed on the proverbial "Tree of Liberty." After all, enough blood has been lost thanks in part to this often misunderstood quote. It was Timothy McVeigh, the convicted Oklahoma City bomber, who was so very misguided by his poor understanding of Jefferson's words. On the day he chose to murder 168 of his fellow Americans, McVeigh was wearing a shirt that carried Jefferson's infamous words:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.
May we ALWAYS remember to be cautious with the history we fail to understand!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Remember, Remember the 5th of November...

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

Probably few Americans are aware of the significance of November 5th or of Guy Fawkes Night: a celebration to commemorate the failed attempt made by Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators to blow up the English Parliament in 1605. As a devout Catholic, Guy Fawkes hoped that his actions would end the discrimination of Protestant England towards Catholics. From that day forward, the 5th of November was commemorated by British citizens with the burning in effigy of Guy Fawkes, along with a celebration of God's providence in protecting their Protestant King.

In colonial America, Guy Fawkes Night was celebrated as "Pope Day" (or "Pope Night"). Young men from New England would traditionally construct large wagons (with figures of the Pope, the Devil and other Catholic figures, along with unpopular British governing officials all to be burned in effigy), which were drawn throughout the public streets for all to see. The young men would even dress up and petition the affluent of the city for money which was used for getting drunk and having a "splendid supper." As Historian J.L. Bell (of Boston, 1775 fame) points out on his 5th of November website:
In the mid-1700s, the 5th of November was one of Boston’s most popular holidays. On that day, apprentices and young men paraded through town with giant effigies of the Devil, the Pope, and current political scapegoats, demanding coins from householders and passersby.

At nightfall, Boston’s North End and South End gangs met in the middle of town and brawled. The winners hauled away the other side’s paraphernalia and burned all the effigies in a festive bonfire. In 1764 the event became so violent that a young boy was killed, his head crushed by a wagon wheel.

In the decade that followed, the 5th of November processions became closely linked to the town’s protests against Parliamentary taxes. That political conflict led to the American Revolution. Ironically, the Revolutionary War ended up doing away with the 5th of November holiday in America.
In essence, "Pope Day" became yet another example of how Colonial American bred a culture of anti-authoritarianism. Pope Day evolved to become not only a day to mock Catholicism but a day to also express disgust with colonial (particularly British) government.

In addition, it is interesting to note how "Pope Day" gave birth to many of the traditional Halloween customs that are still in practice today. As Mr. Bell points out above (and throughout his website) the tradition of children running though the streets in costume asking for money, treats, etc. was most certainly a common practice on the 5th of November.

With that said, let us not forget the origins behind this anti-Catholic celebration. Guy Fawkes became, for many colonial Americans, the perfect scape goat for all their anti-Catholic rhetoric. The following poem helps to capture at least a portion of that popular anti-Catholicism:

A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A fagot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Washington Saves the Pope...Sort Of

Guy Fawkes Night (or "Pope Day" as it was called in colonial America) is coming up this Thursday. And as was commonly the case, Guy Fawkes Night was celebrated in colonial America with the ritual burning in effigy of the Catholic Pope, which most American Protestants embraced with glee.

That is, unless you were a member of George Washington's army. In his November 5, 1775 General Orders to the Continental Army, Washington strictly forbade the practice of burning the Pope in effigy or the mockery of Catholicism in general:
As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form'd for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope -- He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain'd, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.