Friday, November 30, 2007

Book Review: Rape and Sexual Power in Early America

Having worked in law enforcement for a few years, I have always maintained an interest in the criminal world. One of my favorite aspects of history has to do with the evolution, interpretation and punishment of crime throughout the years. Unfortunately, not much is written on the topic. Sharon Block's "Rape & Sexual Power in Early America" is one of those rare scholarly insights into a topic that is often forgotten or not talked about for obvious reasons. I admire Block because she realizes that hiding from a problem or pretending that there are insufficient resources to make a historical study of sexual crime is foolish. The fact is that there IS information and there ARE sources available to us on this and other criminal issues of the past. Block takes an in-depth look at how sexuality (in particular criminal sex) has changed over the years. In the colonial era, Block makes the important point that consensual sex (meaning what we in the modern society think of as two consenting adult participants), was much different in colonial America. For example, Block points out that consent was rarely if ever an issue in colonial America simply because it was believed that women would always refuse intercourse. In essence, the phrase "No means no" did not deter colonial men who believed that "No means pursue me harder."

Issues like the ones brought up by Block are difficult to discuss, but they are imperative to any historical inquiry. Understanding the criminal aspects of a society, along with what a particular society deemed to be acceptable and unacceptable behavior, can tell a lot about a people. For her efforts (and because the book is very entertaining), Block gets an A.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Look at Benedict Arnold

American Heritage magazine has published an interesting article on Benedict Arnold, entitled "On the Trail of Benedict Arnold." It is written by historian and author W. D. Wetherell.

The article explores the legacy of a man who was one of the greatest heroes of the American Revolution - and also the most despised traitor in American history.

Arnold continues to fascinate us today. How could a man so courageously committed to the cause of America go on to betray that cause (as well as his friendship with George Washington - a man in many ways like a father to him)?

Check out the article, and then let us know what you think of Benedict Arnold.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

James Otis: Early Abolitionist

Remembering the American Revolution is often done from the perspective of valiant patriots on the battlefield, exerting themselves for the "Glorious cause" of independence. Our national sense of pride comes from heroic stories of fearless soldiers, holding steadfast against the mighty arm of the British Army. Rarely are the contributions of peaceful protesters remembered. We often forget the "American Revolution" of the common citizen.

Such is the case with James Otis. Though not a common citizen, Otis's legacy is often shrouded by the contributions of those that fought in the ranks of the Continental Army. Otis was not a warrior. He never fought for independence (in fact, Otis was quite reluctant to break from Great Britain). yet Otis was undoubtedly one of the first influential voices of the American Revolution. Aside from his protests against the British, Otis was also a powerful voice against slavery (which is often a forgotten part of his legacy). Throughout his life, Otis wrote some stirring arguments against slavery. In a 1764 pamphlet Otis wrote:

Does it follow that 'tis right to enslave a man because he is black? Will short curled hair like wool instead of Christian hair, as tis called by those whose hearts are as hard as the nether millstone, help the argument? Can any logical inference in favor of slavery be drawn from a flat nose, a long or a short face? Nothing better can be said in favor of a trade that is the most shocking violation of the law of nature, has a direct tendency to diminish the idea of the inestimable value of liberty, and makes every dealer in it a tyrant, from the director of an African company to the petty chapman in needles and pins on the unhappy coast. It is a clear truth that those who every day barter away other men's liberty will soon care little for their own.

John Adams recalled Otis speaking against slavery even earlier, during his argument against the writs of assistance in 1761. Adams recalled the moment this way:

He asserted that these rights were inherent and inalienable. That they never could be surrendered or alienated but by idiots or madmen and all the acts of idiots and lunatics were void and not obligatory, by all the laws of God and man. Nor were the poor Negroes forgotten. Not a Quaker in Philadelphia or Mr. Jefferson in Virginia ever asserted the rights of Negroes in stronger terms. Young as I was and ignorant as I was, I shuddered at the doctrine he taught...

Remembering Otis as a pioneer for the later abolitionists should not be forgotten. When dressed in this light, Otis's legacy and contributions become every bit as important as those of the men that fought on the battlefield.

***The excerpt from Otis's pamphlet and the John Adams quote were taken from the Boston, 1775 blog (***

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Joseph Ellis, the Founders, and the Presidency

Joseph Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and scholar on the founding era, says that the Founding Fathers would likely see the increased power of the presidency since 1945 as being a "perversion" of what they intended.

What do you think?

Book Review: "An Autobiography of George Washington"

So I can't believe I am actually making a posting on this book. I read this book out of pure curiosity and nothing more. When I heard about it a few months ago I almost couldn't stop laughing. I don't usually like to rip on any author, but this book is just simply ridiculous. The "autobiography" was allegedly written by an Edith Ellis, a semi famous playwright and spiritualist, who received periodic visitations from George Washington in 1944. She would act as scribe for the dead angel/General. About 20 years later, another spiritualist woman named Caroline Myss published the book. Needless to say, the book is filled with obvious errors in the life history of George Washington (perhaps the General went senile in the afterlife and forgot obvious specifics). Or perhaps Ellis (and Myss) were themselves prone to delusions of grandeur.

Whatever the case, this book is absolutely ridiculous. I bring it up here to prove a point: the legacy of the American Revolution (and George Washington in particular) are alive and well, even though their lives are often distorted by ignorant individuals hoping to make a buck. Either way, if you need a good laugh, I HIGHLY recommend this book! If not, then it receives a massive F.

Remembering the Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation are one of the most neglected and overlooked aspects of the American Revolution. It is often clouded by the grandiose history of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (not that those documents are undeserving). Many students today have never even heard of the Articles of Confederation. Though their legacy may not be as grand as other historical documents, no true historian can ignore their massive importance in the American Revolution saga. As historian Donald Lutz of the University of Houston put it:

"The Articles functioned as the first national constitution of the United States and, as such, reflected American political theory as it emerged during the Revolution. Equally important, a textual analysis reveals the extent to which the 1787 Constitution was a logical extension of the Articles of Confederation. Most of the Articles were incorporated in the U.S. Constitution, and several key changes found in the later document were present in embryo in the Articles of Confederation."

To understand the federal government and the Constitution one must first understand the Articles of Confederation. It was an essential first step in shaping American political ideology. One also gains a greater appreciation for the truly remarkable achievement that was the Constitution when we consider that the Articles of Confederation was THE governmental system of the United States. In essence, the Constitutional Convention was a bloodless coup d'etat when we consider the role of the Article of Confederation.

In addition, understanding the Federalist Papers (and anti-Federalist Papers) can only be accomplished with a strong understanding and knowledge of the Articles of Confederation.

Of course we must also keep in mind the limitations of the Articles of Confederation. After all, they were replaced with a more centralized system of government created under the Constitution. James Madison called the Articles, "a blessed stumbling block that re-charted America's course." Despite its faults, the Articles of Confederation should be remembered as a critical stepping-stone in what the founders have called, "The American experiment."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Viva La France!

Many people don't realize this, but the American Revolution is often considered to be the first world war. The involvement of Britain and France (along with the often forgotten Spain) propelled the war to a larger level of importance. As we all know, Benjamin Franklin's efforts to secure French aid was a major turning point in the war. Yet so many people still neglect to mention the true significance of French aid during the war. The involvement of France put such a stress on the British that had never existed before. Even if French involvement was limited early on, their mere presence was invaluable.

Most of the fighting betweeen the British and France took place in the Caribbean. Again, most people forget that the Caribbean (and much of South and Central America) was considered to be the economic future for Europe. North America was only an afterthought. The Caribbean's importance took a tremendous amount of British military resources to defend, especially with France now joining with the Unites States. Because of this, only a limited amount of British forces remained in North America to fight the "rebels."

Let us not forget the importance of France (or the Caribbean) when it comes to the American Revolution. They played a very important role.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

George Washington: Spymaster

Click on the above YouTube video to see an interview with author Alexander Rose, who discusses his book Washington's Spies.

One of the many generally underappreciated facts about George Washington and the founding era is that he (and it) really saw the beginning of America's spy program. Washington was a brilliant spymaster, and his network of agents and informants played a key role in winning the War for Independence.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Burr v. Arnold: Who was the bigger traitor?

Most of us know the stories surrounding Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr. Both men have become synonymous with treason. Arnold conspired with the British during the war, while Burr conspired against the United States to steal New Orleanes after his duel with Alexander Hamilton. Prior to their treason, both men served the American cause with great zeal, contributing a tremendous amount to the American cause.

So which of these men is the bigger traitor? Does Burr win the title for his attempt to lure the southern states ay from the union and for his attempt to take control of the Mississippi by conquering New Orleanes? Or does Arnold win the title for his attempt to give the British control of the Hudson River by surrendering Westpoint?

In my opinion, Burr wins this head-to-head matchup easily. Your thoughts...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Colonial Thanksgiving

The first Thanksgiving address from the "father" of our nation. Click to enlarge:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Movie: "Amazing Grace" Review

Normally I don't like to critique historical movies simply because it is problematic at best. Putting history and Hollywood together in the same sentence is almost like putting Hillary Clinton and John McCain together on the same ticket. Usually, it just doesn't mesh. I realize that viewing a movie for its historical value can be a futile effort (one that most Americans fall victim to). With all of that said, however, I want to give the highest praises I can for the movie "Amazing Grace." It is the story of the infamous William Wilberforce, who was the prominent anti-slavery voice in Parliament during the colonial era. The movie is from the perspective of the British (particularly the political participants in Parliament) and does a great job depicting the political struggles Wilberforce faced.

Of course the movie is not perfect. There is little depiction of slavery or of actual slaves. Again, the movie is from the perspective of Parliament primarily. There are also some historical mistakes in the story as well. Despite these errors, this movie gives a fantastic portrayal of colonial Britain and of the political struggle to outlaw the British slave trade.

I would reccomend this movie to anyone interested in the topic. It earns an A-.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Book Review: "Faiths of the Founding Fathers"

The Founding Fathers and religion has been a very hot issue in recent years. In his book "Faiths of the Founding Fathers" David Holmes helps to resurrect the key elements that made colonial religion distinct from modern practices. Holmes effectively demonstrates the role and importance of the Enlightenment and Deism during the 18th century. Along with recreating the religious atmosphere of the 18th century, Holmes also gives a detailed analysis of several Founding Fathers and their personal beliefs of God, religion, heaven, hell, etc.

This is a wonderful book! Most of the books that talk about religion and our Founding Fathers carry a strong bias with them. There is almost always an agenda to their approach. Holmes, however, does not try to portray the Founding Fathers as zealous Christians or as Atheists. Instead he focuses on the facts using a large amount of primary sources to back them up.

The main thesis that Holmes tries to get across is that colonial religious ideology was very different than it is in our modern times. Holmes makes it clear that the Founding Fathers had different concepts of Christianity than exist today. Holmes sums up the Founding Fathers by calling them "Theistic Rationalists", meaning that many of them embraced religious ideologies, but rarely gave allegiance to a particular sect. Of course Holmes mentions the few founders (like Patrick Henry) that were strongly devoted to a particular church, but he suggests that this was the exception to the rule.

I would recommend "Faiths of the Founding Fathers" to anyone that is interested in the religious aspects of 18th century colonial America, or interested in the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers.

Overall, this book gets an A- (The minus is because he could have gone into more detail).

Friday, November 16, 2007

Did George Washington Pray at Valley Forge?

Nearly every American has seen this painting. In fact, it has become one of the best selling pieces of art in recent years. Homes, churches, office buildings, etc decorate their walls with this extremely powerful portrayal of America's first president. Completed in 1976 by Arnold Friberg, the painting was in commemoration of America's bicentennial festivities. But how accurate is it? Recent inquiry into the religious life of George Washington has uncovered some interesting findings. Did Washington actually pray at Valley Forge?

The original story of George Washington kneeling in prayer comes from a source that is questionable to say the least. The story allegedly came from an Isaac Potts, who is the supposed eyewitness to this event. It is said that Potts was riding along one day when he came across General Washington, hidden in the woods and in deep prayer. Potts, who was against the war, allegedly had a change of heart upon seeing the General in prayer. This story went unreported for roughly 40 years until Reverend Nathaniel Snowden revealed the story, which he had recorded in his journal. Here is an excerpt from that journal:

I tied my horse to a sapling & went quietly into the woods & to my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at Prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid, as it was ye Crisis, & the cause of the country, of humanity & of the world.

Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying. I went home & told my wife. I saw a sight and heard today what I never saw or heard before, and just related to her what I had seen & heard & observed. We never thought a man c’d be a soldier & a Christian, but if there is one in the world, it is Washington. She also was astonished. We thought it was the cause of God, & America could prevail.

The powerful imagery of General Washington beseeching God to bless and protect his army is moving to say the least. The problem with the story, however, is that there is no proof that Rev. Snowden ever or knew met Isaac Potts. In fact, there are several problems in the Journal entry. Snowden records the name of Potts's wife to be Sarah, when in fact her name was Martha. The family biographers of the Potts family also point out that Isaac Potts did not work at or around Valley Forge until after the war. Some historians have even suggested that Snowden later reported the story to be somewhat inaccurate, when faced with the evidence. Joseph Ellis, a biographer of Washington, has even pointed out specific moments when Washington recorded the fact that he detested praying on his knees.

This story has received incredible publicity and attention over the years. In 1866, artist John McRae was commissioned by the United States to create an engraving of this event.

Later, the Valley Forge Park Commission was given a grant to create a statue of McRae's engraving, which was to be placed at the entrance to Valley Forge Park. The Park authorities refused, stating that there was ample evidence to suggest that the Washington prayer story was a hoax. Despite the decision of park authorities, tours were conducted until roughly 1930, which took travelers to various locations where Washington had allegedly knelt in prayer.

Despite your personal feelings, the Prayer at Valley Forge has become an important symbol for millions of Americans. Even if it is a fraud (and there is a lot of evidence to suggest so), the story of America's first Commander-in-Chief kneeling in prayer has been a source of inspiration for generations of Americans.

A Problem With Early American Historiography?

Over the yars I have noticed that the influences of politics, religion, etc have managed to infiltrate the study of history. There may be no better example of this than the historiography of the American Revolution. One only needs to brouse youtube to realize how polarizing people have become over a variety of issues. It is irresponsible to "tweak" history to fit a particular agenda, but it is being done every day. The religious right in this country strives to depict our Founding Fathers as hard-core Christians (in a very modern sense by the way), while the liberal left has made our Founders out to be purely motivated by secularism.

To be honest, I am outraged at both the religious right and the liberal left. They both see no need for compromise or for an objective view of historical events. Instead, they both inject their own doctrine by misquoting or misrepresenting those of the past.

The reality is that our nation's founders were NOT what we wish them to be. Colonial America was a completely different word. Social structures, religious and political ideologies, and cultural norms were very different then than they are today. To compare the two only leads to problems. If you were to ask a colonial citizen what their definition of "patriotism" "liberty" "freedom" or "independence" was, they would give a very different answer than somebody who has lived in our modern world. Our concepts about God, religion, politics, freedom, equality, society, gender and America have all changed. It's about time people understood that.

Morristown: An Equal to Valley Forge

Most of us are aware of the stories that surround Valley Forge. The horrible winter camp of 1777-1778 claimed the lives of roughly 2000 men. Suffering from hunger as much as they were disease, Washington's Army was even forced to eat the leather from their shoes. Joseph Plumb Martin comments that the British could have tracked the Continental Army by simply following the blood trails left from the barefoot soldiers.

Apart from the suffering, one of the principal reasons that Valley Forge is seen with such intense historical fervor is because that winter can be seen as a turning point in the war. Benjamin Franklin's efforts to gain French support were about to be solidified, and Friedrich Baron von Steuben had installed new discipline to Washington's army.

In contrast, the winter camp at Morristown in 1780 receives less attention. The winter of 1780 has been recorded as the coldest of the entire American Revolution (not to mention one of the coldest recorded in American History). In terms of suffering, Morristown equals Valley Forge. Though more men died at Valley Forge, the winter of 1778 was mild compared to 1780. It was while at Morristown that Washington learned that the French aid had primarily gone to the Caribbean, causing the Commander-in-Chief additional panic. It was also at Morristown that Benedict Arnold, Washington's former comrade was court martialed, causing additional psychological and emotional strain. Though Valley Forge receives most of the attention, let us not forget Morristown. It was just as important (and trying) as was Valley Forge.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Romans 13 and the American Revolution

Most historians would agree that our Founding Fathers (and a large majority of the colonial public) were very apprehensive about actually breaking from Britain. In reality, most of the protests during the early years of the Revolution (the Stamp Act protests, Boston Tea Party, etc.) were acts of protest not rebellion. The fact of the matter is that most people were reluctant to embrace independence until 1776, and even then, many still had reservations.

One of the interesting facts that allude to this comes from the debate over Romans chapter 13. Both the British and the colonists repeatedly read the words of this chapter, which states that rebelling or overthrowing a government was sinful in the eyes of god (or at least that is how it was interpreted back then). Countless numbers of preachers gave sermons on Romans 13, begging the people to keep with the laws of god and reject the idea of overthrowing government. As one historian put it, “under the Framers' understanding of Romans 13, the American Revolution was not an act of anarchy or rebellion; rather it was an act of resistance to a government that violated the Biblical purposes for which God had ordained civil government.”

Several other preachers, however, suggested that since the king was the ultimate source of divine governmental power, then he should be embracing Romans 13 as well. American colonists were quick to realize the hypocrisy that existed in the King, since they felt he was denying the colonists their legal rights. By understanding scripture in this way, more and more colonists felt justified in embracing independence.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Natve American Wars: A New Perspective

For centuries the historiography of the American Revolution has focused primarily on the colonial perspective. We teach and learn about the revolution from a viewpoint that often neglects to mention the opinions and motivations of others. Don't get me wrong, I still maintain that teaching the "traditional" historiography of the American Revolution (i.e. The Stamp Act, Boston Tea Party, Lexington & Concord, etc) is extremely important. For this post, however, I would like to deviate from the traditional history we all know so well.

When one takes an in-depth look at the American Revolution from the perspective of Native Americans, a very different and unique history comes to light. Looking specifically at the wars of Native Americans we see that this conflict was longer and more intense than we once thought. Traditional historiography teaches that the American colonies first endured the 7 Years War (or French & Indian War) from roughly 1754-1763. Following this war, America was again gripped with the war of independence from 1775-1783. A period of peace was then disrupted with the War of 1812, which lasted roughly from 1812-1815.

Now, if we forget the traditional historiography and see the same time period from the perspective of Native Americans, a different story emerges. Let us begin in 1754 with the French & Indian War. Native American tribes were divided on the issue of loyalty. Some favored France while others favored Britain. In the end, as we know, Britain emerged victorious and began a policy with the Native American tribes that greatly damaged relations. As a result, Pontiac's Rebellion in 1763 irrupts. At the conclusion of Pontiac's Rebellion, other Indian uprisings occur throughout the frontier, which last until the American Revolution. With the American Revolution, Native American tribes again choose sides (many fighting for the British) from 1775-1783. At the conclusion, Native tribes were again treated to less than favorable treaties and practices that kept tensions high. As a result, further war came about. From the conclusion of the American Revolution to 1794 the former colonies were forced to deal with the Chickamauga Wars. In the north, other tribes began the Northwest Indian War from 1785-1795. At the conclusions of those conflicts, other smaller wars were fought on the frontier. During the War of 1812, the famous Indian warrior Tecumseh initiated the Creek wars, which let to the infamous battle of Tippecanoe.

So what am I getting at? Look at the dates. What we think of as SEPARATE wars from an American perspective could actually be seen as one long continuous war from the perspective of Native Americans. Look again at the dates:
French & Indian War: 1754-1763
Pontiac's Rebellion: 1763-1766
Smaller Frontier Wars: 1766-1773
American Revolution: 1775-1783
Chickamauga Wars: 1779-1794
Northwest Indian War: 1785-1795
More Frontier fighting: 1800-1810
Tecumseh & Creek Wars: 1812-1814

From the perspective of Native Americans, this is one long war, which they had been fighting even before the French & Indian war. Perspective is an interesting thing huh!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Book Review: "Race and Revolution" by Gary Nash

I realize that this is not a new book, but I still think it deserves some mention. I read "Race and Revolution" a few years back while I was still in my undergrad. It is one of the most insightful books I have ever read. The book completely changed the way I think about slavery and its significance during the American Revolution. We are often taught in high school that colonial society was somehow ignorant of the horrors of slavery, and that slaves themselves were too ignorant to know anything else. This complete falsehood is addressed in Gary Nash's book. The book is small (only 150 pages or so) but provides ample evidence to defend its claims. There are also several primary source documents that Nash added at the end of his narrative.

I would reccomend "Race and Revolution" to anyone interested in the history of the American Revolution. It is an essential part of our nation's past that needs to be told. I give this book 5 stars!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Presidential Elections and the 3/5 Compromise

During the Constitutional Convention, James Madison noted an important observation he had made. He claimed that of all the difficulties that separated Northern and Southern states, slavery was by far the biggest. As we all know, the founders of the American Republic sanctioned a 3/5 compromise to the Constitution. This compromise guaranteed the Southern states greater representation in Congress by counting slaves as 3/5 of a person. Essentially, this meant that the South would have a larger say in government at the expense of its slave population (which of course was not allowed to vote).

Northerners saw this as misrepresentation. Their feelings were that since slaves could not vote, they should not be counted amongst the general population of the South. In essence, the North felt cheated by the hypocrisy of the South's demand for greater representation, especially since the representation came at the expense of slaves.

The effects of the 3/5 Compromise became evident at election time. In the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams by only 7 electoral votes. The election was clearly divided by the slavery issue. The north had predominantly gone with Adams, while the South sided with Jefferson. As the votes were counted, Northern politicians quickly realized that without the 3/5 Compromise, Jefferson would have defeated. The fact that slaves had been counted as part of the South's representation had given Jefferson the victory. Later elections would have the same results. The election of James Madison and Martin Van Buren would all be influenced by the 3/5 Compromise.

It is worth noting that the South owed a tremendous political debt to a large chunk of the population they chose to keep in bondage.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Relic of the Revolution

A little over a year ago, this flag from a Connecticut regiment of colonial soldiers, was auctioned off in New York for $17.4 million. The origional owners of the flag were the decendants of a British soldier that captured the flag over 220 years ago. Upon his return to England, the flag became a family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation. It wasn't until 2006 that the decendants of this British soldier decided to auction off the flag at an American aution. The flag, which has been exceptionally cared for, is one of the best conditioned flags of the revolutionary era. If you look closely, you can still see a blood stain left from a colonial soldeir that was either killed or wounded. This certainly brings the reality of the American Revolution (which can often be forgotten in the study of history) to life. The anonyous bidder has stated that he plans to sell the flag to the Smithsonian in the near future.

Jefferson-Jackson Day

As we are all aware (and often detest), the presidential election for 2008 is picking up steam. I read just the other day (and was not aware of this) that the Democratic Party hosted its annual Jefferson-Jackson Day in Iowa this past week. It has become a very old tradition in which the Democratic Party hosts a dinner and celebration in honor of the memory of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson (oh, and they try to raise a bunch of money as well). In contrast, the Republican Party hosts a Lincoln Day dinner, which has the same goals.

I think it is interesting (and probably not a bad thing) that the memory of our great leaders of the past are commemorated. What I wonder about though is what Jefferson, Jackson (and we might as well throw Lincoln in here) would think about it. Thomas Jefferson said on many occasions that he hated political parties and that he would rather go to hell than join one. Lincoln had comments that were similar (sorry everyone, I realize Lincoln does not fit into this blog's topic and niether does the Democratic/Republican campaign of 08. I am just trying to bring to light the fact that we still use these men today for our own agendas).

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

George Washington's "Navy"

In late 1775, as the fires of revolution and war were becoming hotter each day, General George Washington commissioned two small schooners (named "Lynch" and "Franklin"), to patrol in and around Boston Harbor, and to harass the British whenever possible. This small "fleet" of ships eventually included four additional boats, which were officially commissioned by General Washington as the first "armed Vessels" of the "United Colonies of North America." In essence, this small fleet of ships became America's first Navy.

Washington himself financed the six-ship fleet out of his own pocket. Knowing that this small rabble of a Navy could never stand up to the mighty arm of the British, Washington requested that a unique banner be flown by each of these six ships. At Washington's request, this "white flag, with a green pine tree, and the inscription, 'An Appeal to Heaven'" became the official banner of the "Washington Navy." In addition, Washington ordered that all crewmen of these ships be dressed in an green and white uniform.

Interestingly enough, this fleet lasted throughout the duration of the Revolutionary War, carrying out a diverse number of assignments and playing a number of different roles in the process.

Don't Forget James Otis

When we think about great writers of the American Revolution, the obvious name that surfaces to the top is usually Thomas Paine. Rarely is the name James Otis on that list. Unfortunately, this important and influential man is often forgotten. While there can be no doubt that Thomas Paine is the Revolution's premiere writer, and that "Common Sense" was THE blockbuster piece of the time, we should not neglect to give James Otis the credit he deserves.

During the early years of the revolution (roughly from 1763-1774), James Otis was at the vanguard of colonial rebellion. It is Otis that is given credit for the infamous phrase, "taxation without representation is tyrrany," an important piece of political propoganda during the Stamp Act. Otis became the major distributior of patriotic colonial literature during these years. His intense passion for the "glorious cause" was often seen as mental instability. John Adams even suggested that Otis be locked up for his obvious insanity.

Otis, however, was not insane. His extreme devotion was based on a strong distrust of the British imperial agenda in the colonies. Otis always maintained that the colonies should be left alone, or war would be the result. It should be remembered, however, that Otis was not a strong advocate for independence. He simply believed that the colonies should be loosely governed and that they should keep their allegiance to the crown.

The legacy of James Otis, though overshadowed by others, should be remembered as one of the most important factors during the early years of the revolution. It is thanks to Otis that many of the early fires of revolution recieved the kindling they needed.

Monday, November 5, 2007

SAR Honors Lafayette

A videotaped tribute to one of the true heroes of the American Revolution

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The American Revolution: A Blessing for England?

Is it possible that the American Revolution was just as beneficial (if not more beneficial during the 19th century) for Great Britain? In his book "Rise and Fall of the British Empire" author Lawrence James devotes an entire chapter to this assertion. He claims that during the years immediately following the war with the American colonies that Britain reaped huge rewards.

For the British, the reality of parting ways with its former American colonies was better than most expected. Trade between the two nations actually increased after 1783, particularly cotton exports, which augmented from 15.5 million pounds in the 1780’s to 28.6 million pounds in 1800 (James, 119). Along with an increase in trade, the British Empire benefited by not having to pay for the protection of its American colonies, which had proven very costly in the past. American colonial independence also added a measure of credence to Adam Smith’s assertions that the American colonies were more of a liability than an asset. In his book Wealth of Nations, Smith pointed out that colonies were beneficial to empire, so long as control could be maintained. The American colonies, however, had become “less in the view and less in the power of the mother country,” and were therefore a liability

The reality of the post-war period was that the American colonists needed the British more than the British needed the colonists. As James points out in his book:

“Naturally there were alarms about the commercial consequences of a break between Britain and America,” but those fears subsided as British experts came to the realization that the infant American republic, 'could not survive economically without Britain'” (119).

The fact that the United States joined in an economic accord with thier former rivals is also indicative of how powerful the British economy really was. This economic agreement between America and Britain (known as the Jay Treaty) helped to deliver the former colonies from economic ruin (not to mention the fact that it made Britain a lot of money). As Joseph Ellis points out in his book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, “The Jay Treaty, in effect, bet on England…as the hegemonic European power of the Future, which proved prophetic” (136-137).

Often we look at the American Revolution from the perspective of the colonists. When we take a step back, however, and examine the revolution's impact on everyone involved, we can see just how "revolutionary" the American Revolution really was. Not only did it benefit the colonies, but it also greatly benefited Britain.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Merry Colonial Christmas

The Christmas season will soon be upon us, so I thought that a posting on this topic would be appropriate. The bright and joyful holiday we celebrate as Christmas, arguably the most popular holiday in all of America, was seen in a very different light by colonial America. Instead of lavishly decorating the town and cheerfully celebrating the holiday spirit, those of America's early years took a very indifferent stance towards Christmas. As historian Nicole Harms put it,

"Christmas in colonial America did not resemble the brightly lit festivities we celebrate today. In fact, many colonial religions banned celebrations of the holiday, claiming that it was tied to pagan traditions. The New England Puritans passed a law in Massachusetts that punished anyone who observed the holiday with a five-shilling fine. The Quakers treated Christmas Day as any other day of the year. The Presbyterians did not have formal Christmas Day services until they noticed that their members were heading to the English church to observe the Christmas services. This sparked the Presbyterian Church to start services of their own."

There can be little argument that many of the festivities we use to commemorate Christmas are deeply rooted in pagan tradition. In today's society this is hardly noticed, but in Colonial America it was a well known fact, which turned many Christians off to the holiday. It wasn't until the mid to late part of the 19th century that Christmas took on a central role in American holidays. For literally centuries, Christmas was a quasi-holiday, often ignored by the masses. Christian churches were less zealous to see it celebrated than they are today. There is no doubt that the spirit of Christmas has evolved right along with our nation.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Washington the Warrior

I know this alreay aired last year, but I hear that the History Channel will be airing it again in December:

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Book Review: "Revolutionary Mothers" by Carol Berkin

I wanted to give some kudos to Carol Berkin for her book, "Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence." This was not only an entertaining read, but was also extremely insightful. I've always been interested in women's history (particularly in the colonial era) and this book is one of the best.
Berkin's analysis begins with a brief overview of the social/cultural norms of women during this period. She then explains how the American Revolution helped to change many of those norms. Berkin focuses on how women engaged in various activities that helped the war effort, but also mentions a few of the a-typical contributions made by women. For example, Berkin tells of how some women seduced the British, and how Washington used women as spies. Berkin also mentions the contributions made in actual battle by a few women, when the occasion arose.
The best part of this book is that Berkin focuses primarily on the common woman. Though she mentions women like Abigail Adams and Martha Washington, they seem to take a back seat in this book (which is a first). Berkin also brings up the contributions of Black women to the cause.
Overall, this was an excellent book that I would reccomend to anyone that enjoys the history of this time period. I promise you will enjoy it!

Native American Influence on the Constitution

Recent scholarship on the history of the early American republic has uncovered some interesting insights into what influenced the establishment of our nation. One of the most interesting studies in recent years has to do with the influence of various Native American tribes on the Constitution. Certainly there is no doubt that numerous factors influenced the creation of the Constitution. It is unlikely that only one source or influence was at work. With that in mind, I think it is worth mentioning what some historians have been discussing when it comes to Native American influence on the creation of the Constitution. Here is a short quotation from James Mann, one of the leading writers on this topic:

"So vivid were these examples of democratic self-government [from colonial Indian history] that some historians and activists have argued that the [Indians'] Great Law of Peace directly inspired the American Constitution. Taken literally, this assertion seems implausible. With its grant of authority to the federal government to supersede state law, its dependence on rule by the majority rather than consensus and its denial of suffrage to women, the Constitution as originally enacted was not at all like the Great Law. But in a larger sense the claim is correct. The framers of the Constitution, like most colonists in what would become the United States, were pervaded by Indian images of liberty"