Monday, December 24, 2007

Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of...Eggnog?

The Christmas season has had a long association with an assortment of delicious treats. Everything from candycanes to gingerbread men have delighted the palettes of generations of Americans. One of the most popular items during the Christmas season is eggnog. There is little doubt that numerous American families will gather together today and tomorrow and ring in the holidays with a tall glass of rich eggnog. But just how "Christmassy" and American is eggnog?

Eggnog did not take long to make its first appearance in America. At Jamestown, John Smith mentioned how popular the drink was for the settlers during the Christmas season. Though not celebrated in the same fashion as today, Christmas still provided the Jamestown settlers with an excuse to drink "grog." Grog was colonial slang for any beverage containing rum. The word was eventually changed to "nog."

In a recent article on colonial Christmas, historian Jeff Westover explained the role eggnog played in colonial Christmas traditions:

"Eggnog was one of the most common holiday traditions of Colonial America. Before there were Christmas trees, before there was Santa Claus, and long before there was ever a national holiday called Christmas there was the annual tradition of eggnog.

Eggnog definitely has ties to old England and the time-honored tradition of wassail. Though different from wassail, which used fruits as a base, eggnog's consistent ingredient has always been eggs. But aside from the eggs and milk or cream, eggnog of the 18th century could contain any manner of wine, beer, ale or other spirits. Spices, most notably nutmeg, were also constants.

George Washington's recipe called for one quart of cream, one quart of milk, a dozen eggs, one pint of brandy, a half pint of rye, a quarter pint of rum and a quarter pint of sherry. He was famous, especially after the Revolutionary War, for holding festive Christmas gatherings featuring his unique brand of eggnog."

So as you are celebrating Christmas with your family and you serve yourself a tall glass of delicious eggnog, remember that you are in good company. Americans since the beginning have done the same.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Colonial Hanukkah

As we have discussed in previous postings, colonial society gave little attention to the celebration of Christmas. For various reasons, Christmas was seen in a very different light than it is today. It was not celebrated by the vast majority of Americans, but instead was often seen as a pagan holiday.

Early colonial America was not exclusively the domain of Christians. We know that literally thousands of immigrants from Europe carried a vast assortment of religious practices with them to the New World. One group that is often forgotten are the colonial Jews. Though far from a majority, the Jewish population was spread throughout colonial New England. What is most remarkable about the Jewish population was their devotion to the ideals of the American Revolution. Many of them embraced John Winthrop's preaching that America was to be "a city on a hill." For them, America's quest for independence was reminiscent of David's quest to establish Jerusalem.

A decent number of Jewish soldiers fought in the revolution with the Continental Army. In fact, rumor has it that General George Washington first learned of Hanukkah while at Valley Forge. The rumor states that General Washington was intrigued by a private's odd looking candlestick. Upon questioning the private, Washington learned of the Jewish holiday known as Hanukkah. Washington is said to have been so impressed that he later paid this same private a visit after the war.

The American Revolution also brought new meaning to the celebration of Hanukkah. After all, Hanukkah reminded the Jews of the Maccabean revolt, and of the rededication of the Jewish temple. The revolutionary revolt seemed to fit nicely into the Hanukkah celebration, and the American cause for independence became a passionate desire and battle cry for many Jewish Americans.

***On a personal note, may you all have a wonderful and safe Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. I will be leaving town for a few days to celebrate with my family but I look forward to an exciting 2008, not to mention many more postings on the greatest period in all of history...THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION!!! A special thanks to all the contributors of this blog (Lindsey Shuman, Brian Tubbs, Steve Becknall,David Mabry, and "Uncle" Fred) for all you contribute. I look forward to seeing you (and your most excellent postings) next year!***

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Religion of the Founding Fathers

This posting is inspired by the comments made in the Huckabee posting below. Raven mentioned that he is opposed to the notion that the Founding Fathers were Christian men. Obviously this is a very popular and controversial topic, so I am expecting this post to be a lot of fun. I look forward to what you all have to say.

In his book The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (which I happen to believe is the best source on this issue), author David Holmes has created a religious test of sorts that I feel is very applicable. Holmes states that, "An examination of history cannot capture the inner faith of any man. But in the case of the Founding Fathers of the United States, readers can use these four indicators to locate the founders on the religious spectrum with some confidence." Holmes has devised a four-point test that I believe is very helpful in understanding the religious nature of the Funding Fathers. These four points allow us to put the faiths of the Founding Fathers into perspective. The points are:

1. Church Attendance
2. Approach to the Sacraments and Ordinances
3. Level of Church Activity and Involvement
4. The Type of Religious Language Used

Using these four criteria, Holmes states where each of the Founding Fathers ranks on the religious spectrum. First off, it is important that we recognize the role that the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening played in shaping the religious beliefs of colonial America. As Daniel Walker Howe states in his epic book What Hath God Wrought, religious ideology, especially Christian ideology, was very different during the colonial era than it is today. By looking at these four points, we can determine to what degree deism and Christianity influenced the individual.

There is of course many other factors than these simple four points, which shaped the individual beliefs of our Founding Fathers. These points, however, can help us see the impact of deism and Christianity on the individual. A deist would be more likely to attend church less frequently, would strongly oppose sacraments and ordinances, would have a low level of church involvement, and would use very neutral religious language when referring to deity. An orthodox Christian, however, would be the exact opposite. With that said, let us look at several of the Founding Fathers using the test provided by Holmes.

George Washington: Obviously Washington is the most popular of the Founding Fathers, and there is a great deal of religious myth that surrounds him. There is perhaps more written on the religious views of Washington than any other Founding Father. His legacy has been used by secularists and religious zealots alike, in order to shape their respective agendas. But what were his religious beliefs? Here is what Holmes states:

1.) Church Attendance: Washington, though not as devout as the typical orthodox of his day, did attend church with some regularity, and as Holmes states, “held organized religion in high regard, and was known to pray privately.”

2.) Approach to the Sacraments and Ordinances: Washington was known for regularly leaving church services before any and all sacraments. Washington strictly refused to partake in any other religious ordinances.

3.) Level of Church Activity and Involvement: Washington was a vestryman in both the Anglican and Episcopal churches, but was never confirmed in any church. Washington strongly opposed any orthodox allegiance to any one church, and remained a non-ordained, non-confirmed churchgoer.

4.) Religious Language Used: Washington’s religious vernacular was mixed with Deist and Christian phrases. Though he regularly referred to deity as “Providence” and “the Grand Architect” Washington also used the words “God” and “Christ” on a regular basis as well.

So where does Holmes rank Washington? He calls him a “Christian Deist.”

Thomas Jefferson

This one is almost too easy. Jefferson attended very little church, he never participated in sacraments and ordinances, was never ordained or confirmed (in fact he believed such practices were morally reprehensible), and his religious language was VERY common for a Deist (just look at the Declaration of Independence where Jefferson uses phrases like "Providence" and "Nature's God"). Jefferson also regularly denied the divinity of Christ, but referred to him as "the greatest philosopher." In his Bible, Jefferson even removed all references to Jesus being a savior figure.

Holmes states, and I strongly agree, that Jefferson was a non-Christian Deist. This one is pretty easy.

Benjamin Franklin
Franklin is an interesting figure. He donated a large amount of money to virtually every religion in Philadelphia and even attended most of them. Franklin, however, was never confirmed, nor did he participate in sacraments and ordinances of any church. Franklin even states in his autobiography that he denies the divinity of Jesus. Holmes also calls Franklin a Deist.

So where are the Orthodox Christians? Here is just a small list:
Patrick Henry
Samuel Adams
John Jay
Martha Washington
Charles Carrol
Elias Boudinot
John Q. Adams

And Christian Deists? Here again is another small list that Holmes mentions:
George Washington
Abigail Adams
Alexander Hamilton
John Hancock

And here is Holmes's list of non-Christian Deists:
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
James Monroe
John Adams
Benjamin Franklin
Thomas Paine

Ok, let the debating begin!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Huckabee and the "Clergymen" Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Last October, during a Republican Presidential debate, candidate Mike Huckabee made the following comment, which has caused quite a stir on several historical blogs:

"When our founding fathers put their signatures on the Declaration of Independence, those 56 brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen, they said that we have certain inalienable rights given to us by our creator, and among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, life being one of them."

I have been intrigued by the numerous responses to this event on various historical blogs that I follow. The Boston1775 blog has witnessed an intense debate over this issue. From what I've been able to gather, most historians are in complete disagreement with Huckabee's statements, and have been piling on him ever since. The general consensus amongst historians that I have read is that only 1 out of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence was a clergyman (John Witherspoon). Huckabee's campaign manager, Ed Rollins, has argued that, "at least 26 of the people that signed were ordained ministers." Rollins was able to come to this conclusion by including signers that simply participated in Bible groups as ordained ministers.

Though I am not fond of mixing politics with history, I think this is a unique chance to look at how history influences political thought. Clearly Huckabee has been trying to appeal (and he has done a successful job if I might add) to the Christian Conservative Right. I am reminded of just how polarizing religion has become in America when I read the words of John Meachem in his book, American Gospel. Meachem stated:

"There is a vast and growing literature about the Founding Fathers...and a steam of strong scholarship about the problem of church and state. Yet because faith is such an emotional subject for both believers and nonbelievers, discussion of the question of religion and public life can often be more divisive than illuminating. Secularists reflexively point to the Jeffersonian 'wall of separation between church and state' as though the conversation should end there; many conservative Christians defend their forays into the political arena by citing the Founders, as though Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Franklin were cheerful Christian soldiers."

The current trend in American politics seems to follow exactly what Meachem has stated. Now the respective supporters of secularism and religion are jockeying to see who can most effectively twist history for his/her benefit. Do you believe that this is what Huckabee is doing when he claims that "the majority" of signers were "clergymen"?

I would reccomend that you all check out the boston1775 piece, and that you also check out this article on the ongoing Huckabee history saga.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Defending the Founders

This is a video I put together for YouTube a while back. In light of the debate taking place in another thread here, I felt I needed to post it. In spite of their faults and shortcomings, the Founding Fathers were great men - the likes of which the United States has not seen on the national stage of leadership since. They deserve our honors and our accolades. I offer this video in their defense and in tribute to them.

If there are some here who believe I am waving the flag too much or honoring our heritage too much....I make no apology for doing so.

America's Jubilee

President John Quincy Adams, the Republic’s 6th executive chief, awoke around 7:00a.m. to a rainy, but sunny day in the nation’s capital. The thermometer read 78 degrees, and the clouds looked as though they would soon disappear. Today was going to be a beautiful day. After a brief breakfast, the President met with his cabinet in the Executive Mansion and then made his way via the Presidential carriage to the capital building. A large procession, complete with military escort, trumpeters, cavalry, and a military band accompanied the President. An energized crowd gathered to watch the spectacle, eager to commence the day’s festivities. After all, today was no ordinary day. Today was America’s Jubilee: July 4, 1826!!!

"America's Jubilee" was arguably the most festive July 4th our country has ever celebrated. Parades, festivals, dances, etc. were held all throughout the infant nation in celebration of America's 50th birthday. Even the legendary Marquis de Lafayette was welcomed back with the highest of pomp and circumstance. A countless number of songs and poems were written to commemorate this landmark day. Here is one of my favorite that I found on an old broadside. The poem was written by a woman from Philadelphia named K.A. Ware:

The deeds of our heroes, their courage sublime,
Have long been the pride, and the theme of our story
And their triumphs shall mark the divisions of time,
And be hallow’d as the Epochs of National glory!
On this festival Day,
Our glad homage we’ll pay
To the God of the Pilgrims! who lighted their way,
And ne’er shall his flame on our altars decline,
Till earth shall to chaos her empire resign!

As the festivities commenced and the congregations assembled, two aristocratic patriots were about to cross the ultimate threshold between this world and the next. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of the most important figures of the American Revolution, would expire on the very same day...America's Jubilee.

Of course it would take some time for the news of their deaths to spread across the countryside, but when it did Americans were left in shock. for Jefferson and Adams to die on the 50th anniversary of American independence was almost too surreal to believe. As one historian put it, "It was as if god himself had put his final stamp of approval on the great American experiment."

America's Jubilee is one of those rare instances when divine fate seemed to sweep across the nation like a wildfire. Even Jefferson, who was never one for divine intervention or religious rhetoric, seemed to get caught up in the spirit of "America's Jubilee." In one of his last letters to John Adams, Jefferson seems to support the notion that America's destiny was sanctioned by deity. In almost prophetic form, Jefferson wrote:

"We shall have our follies without doubt. Some one or more of them will always be afloat. But ours will be the follies of enthusiasm, not bigotry. Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both. We are destined to be a barrier against the returns of ignorance and barbarism. Old Europe will have to lean on our shoulders and hobble along by our side, under the monkish trammels of priests and kings."

America's Jubilee is one of those stories that is both captivating and mindboggling. I'm amazed that it hasn't received more attention by the historical community.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

217 Years Ago

On this day, 217 years ago, the Bill of Rights became law. This was the culmination of literally decades of struggle dating back all the way to the Declaration of Independence. After eight years of bloody conflict, combined with several more years of civil discontent, the United States had finally created a system of laws that proctected individual liberty. James Madison, the origonal mastermind of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, was able to push this document to the forefront of governmental affairs. For the longest time most of America's early leaders wanted nothing to do with a Bill of Rights, but Madison would not take no for an answer. His political genious and tireless effort finally got the Bill of Rights to be accepted. This document has maintained some of our basic freedoms (more or less) for over two centuries.

Death of George Washington

All week, I kept telling myself that I was going to post a note about this on December 14. Then, December 14 came and.....well....I forgot. So, please forgive my being a day late on this, but...

Yesterday, December 14 is the anniversary of the death of George Washington, the father of our country. In the days that followed, Americans awoke to the news that they would have to press on without their greatest leader.

If you'll pardon the borderline hero worship, I have studied George Washington extensively. And, in spite of his flaws (slavery being the biggest), I truly believe George Washington was the greatest statesman this nation has ever known. And I think that, without Washington, the United States of America would have never come to be.

He was the indispensable man - and he remains the greatest of all Americans.

If you haven't checked out Mount Vernon in a while, take a look at their website. And the next time you're in the DC area, stop by. They've made a lot of changes to the estate, and it's definitely worth some of your time to visit.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Documentary of the French & Indian War

We often forget just how important the French & Indian War (7 Years War) really was in shaping the American colonies. So many of the struggles of the French & Indian War paved the way for the American Revolution. In a way, the French & Indian War laid the groundwork for the future to revolution to come. PBS recently did a documentary on the French & Indian War. Here is a video about it:

The Market Revolution in Jacksonan America

I realize that this posting may seem like it doesn't belong on a blog of the American Revolution but hear me out. The Market Revolution (or Capitalist Revolution) is one of the newest and most groundbreaking historical events in recent years. The idea was proposed by Charles Sellers, a professor of American history and author of the landmark book "The Market Revolution." In this book, Sellers explains how American society in the early parts of the 19th century evolved from a localized neighborhood economy to a thriving capitalist society. This change completely revolutionized American society at virtually every level. Cultural and religious ideals were changed, along with the concept of labor. Instead of seeing labor as a necessary evil (which most of our Founding Fathers believed), labor was seen as a blessing from god. Many common people found themselves able to climb the social ladder by working hard and making lots of money (which was very uncommon in the 18th century).

So why do I bring this up? Because the American Revolution was the catalyst that allowed these changes to take place. Instead of seeing the American Revolution as a war between "patriot and loyalist" or "the oppressed rebels and the evil empire," we should strive to understand it as a social revolution. Historian Gordon Wood suggests that the American Revolution was the most successful revolution in world history because it changed political, governmental, social, cultural and religious norms. The colonists were not fighting an "evil" nemesis, but instead were fighting for changes to their social structure (even though many of them never realized it).

We must stop the ridiculous notion that the American Revolution was a war against "evil" oppression. Yes, the British oppressed the colonists to a certain degree, but let us remember that the American colonies were the most prosperous place on earth for the common man. There was more freedom and equality to practice religion, embark on business ventures, or protest in those small colonies than anywhere else on the planet.

The Market Revolution became one of the major changes that these colonists created upon winning their independence. The Market Revolution established the ideology of the American Dream, and helped propel the United States to the front of world affairs.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Informal Book Review: "American Creation" by Joseph Ellis

In recent years, Joseph Ellis has become one of the foremost historians of the American Revolution. His books have been nominated for an array of awards, "Founding Brothers" receiving the Pulitzer Prize. His biographies of Washington and Jefferson have been highly praised as well. His newest book, "American Creation" covers many of the difficulties that the infant American nation faced at the conclusion of the war. As we all know, the United States from 1783-1789 was governed by the Articles of Confederation, which made governing the states in a cohesive manner very difficult. In this book, Ellis covers the issues of the Articles, along with a number of other problems the early American republic faced.

The book was quite entertaining. For those of you that have read Ellis, you know how enjoyable his writing style is. I have to say, however, that I found his book to be somewhat of a repeat of his other works, especially "Founding Brothers." I was expecting to read something that was groundbreaking, but instead found myself reading about stuff I already knew. Clearly this book is written for an audience that has little or no understanding of the American Revolution (I.E. The American public in general!).

My final grade for this book is a B. It was fun to read, but not very enlightening. Certainly this is not another Pulitzer Prize nominee, but it is also not a terrible read.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Boston Massacre: Brilliant Propoganda or the Genuine Article

Of the many events prior to war with Britain, the Boston Massacre is one that receives a lot of attention. Yet this "massacre" only claimed the lives of five citizens (interestingly enough, a recently freed slave of Native American and African American decent, a man named Crispus Attucks, has been labeled as the first casualty of the American Revolution for being the first to die at the Boston "Massacre").

The painting above was done by one Paul Revere (I'm sure we all recognize that name) at the request of Samuel Adams. Revere's origional work was actually done as an engraving, not a painting.

The "Massacre" created such a stir in Boston that many citizens demanded that the soldiers responsible be shot at the same location of the citizens. What is interesting about the Boston Massacre is the fact that John Adams came to the defense of the soldiers. He stated that defending the soldiers in court was one of the noblest things he ever did in his life.

So my question is this: was the Boston "Massacre" a genuine slaughter or was it politically spun into one of the best pieces of revolutionary propaganda? As for me, I side with Propaganda!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

New HBO Series! I Can't Wait!

I'm sure many of you have already heard that HBO has finished production on their newest series entitled, "John Adams." The series is produced by Tom Hanks and is based on David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize winning book "John Adams." John Adams is played by Paul Giamatti, while Abigail Adams is played by Laura Linney. Click here to see the official website for this upcoming series.

Here is the official preview for HBO's "John Adams":

George Washington Biographer

An interview with historian Richard Brookhiser regarding his biography of George Washington:

Friday, December 7, 2007

220 Years Ago

Sorry for not writing in a while...I've been sick. It's good to be back.

As we all know, December 7 is a day that will forver live in infamy. The entrance of the United States into World War II was a landmark day for this nation, one that must never be forgotten.

As important as Pearl Harbor was in American History, the date carries an even older significance. 220 years ago the United States was convulsing from within over the issue of government. Many within the Constitutional Convention had suggested that the Articles of Confederation be rejected, and a new government created. As we all know, that new government was established with the Constitution. What is often forgotten is the fact that the states still had to ratify the document. On this day, 220 years ago, Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution of the United States of America. This was a pivotal moment because nobody was sure how Delaware would vote (especially with the aftermath of Shays's Rebellion). In the end, Delaware UNANIMOUSLY ratified the Constitution, ushering in America's new Constitutional government.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Ben Franklin, Success Guru

If Ben Franklin were alive today, he would probably be a popular presence in the self-improvement market. He would likely be a favorite at self-help and personal development conferences and a regular bestselling author in the inspirational section of your local bookstore. Don't believe me?

Well, if there's anything incorrect about what I'm saying, it's that I might be LIMITING Dr. Franklin. He would probably also have bestsellers in the religion section, science section, and politics sections of the bookstore. Franklin would be a regular on Oprah, Dr. Phil, and Meet the Press. In short, Ben Franklin would probably be just about everywhere.

Here's an article I wrote a while back on Ben Franklin as America's first success expert. Let me know what you think of the article - and of Dr. Franklin.