Thursday, January 31, 2008

Franklin the Cynic

Biographer Walter Isaacson, author of the highly acclaimed book Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, was recently interviewed by NBC's Katie Couric regarding the life of America's "most accessible Founding Father." In the interview, Isaccson was asked how Franklin might respond to many of the current events of our modern world. With regards to politics, Isaccson stated that Franklin would be quite cynical of the Bush Administration:

"Franklin would be disgusted with the Bush/Cheney Administration. I have no doubt that he would reveal his criticism for the way Bush has responded to terrorism by taking us to's not that Franklin disapproved of war, but I think he would be upset at the direction of U.S. foreign policy over the past 30 years. Nobody understood foreign policy better than Franklin."

In addition, Isaacson pointed out the fact that of all the Founding Fathers, Franklin would be the most comfortable in the 21st century. There is little doubt that Franklin would be a devout supporter of the internet (he'd probably have several blogs), not to mention the plethora of media outlets that exist. Not only would Franklin be the most comfortable Founding Father in the 21st century, but we'd be the most comfortable with him. As Isaccson states:

"you can't really imagine touching George Washington on the shoulder. In fact one guy at the Constitutional Convention did and he never quite recovered from it because Washington was so mean to him afterwards. But Franklin is one of those people who, you know, you can, you can imagine having a beer with him after work and showing him how a Palm Pilot or a Blackberry worked or show him a business plan. Or making jokes about, you know, Clinton scandals or Bush's foreign policy. And he, he's just very real."

One can only imagine the thoughts and feelings that Franklin would have regarding 21st century America. We can, however, rest assured that Benjamin Franklin would have plenty to say, of course employing his traditional witty Cynicism.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

John Meacham and American Religion

Author John Meacham discusses his book American Gospel and the role of religion in American history (particularly the American founding).

Monday, January 28, 2008

Did Betsy Ross Design the First Flag?

The contributions of women during the American Revolution (and in virtually every other era of history) have often been overlooked or obscured thanks in part to the chauvinistic trends of early historiography. Despite such trends, the occasional feminine hero has emerged from this hazy background to claim her rightful place alongside other fellow revolutionaries. Women like Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison and "Molly Pitcher" are remembered in countless paintings, monuments, and history books for their contributions to the "cause of liberty."

Arguably one of the most popular female figures of the American Revolution is Betsy Ross. In fact, the Betsy Ross House and Memorial in Philadelphia is one of the most visited tourist attractions in all of Philadelphia. We of course remember Ross as the original designer and creator of the first American flag in 1776. In fact, the first American flag is rarely referred to as the "Flag of '76" but is instead known as the "Betsy Ross Flag."

But just how true is the history of the Betsy Ross story?

As the legend states, Betsy Ross, who had recently lost her first husband in the war, received a visit from none other than General George Washington, who admonished Ross to create a banner of "thirteen stripes and thirteen stars." The stars were to be in a circular pattern, to symbolize the fact that, "no colony would be viewed above another." The legend goes on to state that as soon as George Washington's boots stepped out her front door, Betsy Ross set about making the first American flag.

Case closed, right?

Not so fast. Unfortunately there exists little to no primary sources to prove or dispute the Betsy Ross story. In fact, the only evidence we have to defend the Betsy Ross story comes from Ross's grandson, William Canby. Ross supposedly related her story to Canby (who was eleven at the time) while on her deathbed. Canby then waited another 30 years before publicly announcing the story in a paper to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (click here to read a copy of Canby's paper). By then, roughly 100 years had passed since the alleged visit between General Washington and Betsy Ross.

Though the story cannot be 100% confirmed, it is important to remember that it also cannot be rejected. To be certain, Betsy Ross and her first husband had established a semi-successful upholstery business in Philadelphia. If George Washington had commissioned Ross to make the flag, perhaps he learned of her business while attending the Continental Congress. Skeptics argue that there is little likelihood that Washington would have visited Ross in 1776, due to the fact that he was extraordinarily busy with managing the Army.

Despite the controversy, Betsy Ross (and the flag she allegedly created) are likely to remain shrouded in mystery for generations to come. Perhaps the mystery is what makes the "Betsy Ross Flag" so intriguing. After all, the thought of a lonely and patriotic widow, bravely piecing together America's colors is as American as the treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. But that's a story for another day.

Friday, January 25, 2008

America's First Memorial

On this day, in 1776, the Continental Congress authorized the first American war memorial in history. It was dedicated to Brigadier General Richard Montgomery who was killed during the failed attack on Quebec the previous year. It was also at this battle that Benedict Arnold was wounded.

Due to his exemplary leadership and bravery in battle, Montgomery was honored with the highest recognition the nation could afford him. The monument, which symbolizes Montgomery's bravery and intellect, was adorned with a plaque which reads:

This Monument is erected by the order of Congress 25th Janry 1776 to transmit to Posterity a grateful remembrance of the patriotism conduct enterprise & perserverance of Major General RICHARD MONTGOMERY Who after a series of successes amidst the most discouraging Difficulties FELL in the attack on QUEBEC 31st Decbr 1775. Aged 37 years.

Though obscured by years of progress, this monument, which still stands today at New York City's St. Paul's Chapel (directly across from where the World Trade Towers once stood), stands as a memorial to all Americans of the bravery of not only Montgomery, but of all Americans who fought and died in the American Revolution. Though virtually forgotten by the majority of the American populace, Montgomery retains a special spot in the pantheon of great American generals.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

John McCain and America's Christian "Origins"

In a recent Republican debate, Senator John McCain was asked if he agreed with a recent poll which stated that 55% of Americans believe the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation. McCain responded by stating, "I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation." McCain went on to say the following:

"I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles … personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith, but that doesn’t mean that I’m sure that someone who is Muslim would not make a good president."

In response, the Jewish Defense League chided McCain's remarks, reminding him of the religious freedoms protected in the Constitution. The Muslim American Society also responded with harsh criticisms for the Arizona Senator, stating that such a reckless statement is not only hurtful, but also found nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. McCain was reminded of Article 6, Section 3 of the Constitution, which states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

In the past, McCain has stated that his favorite Founding Father was John Adams. Perhaps he should revisit some of the comments Adams had in regards to the founding of this nation. After all, it was Adams that stated, “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."

To read the entire article that criticizes McCain for his statements click here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

John Adams: The HBO Countdown

Here's another trailer for the upcoming HBO miniseries John Adams. I am not a subscriber to HBO, but I think I'm going to have to sign up for this!

Joseph Ellis, The Obama Campaign, and Early American Politics

A couple of days ago, renowned historian Joseph Ellis wrote a piece in the Los Angeles Times that seeks to defend Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. In the article, Ellis argues that Obama's message (which claims to unite Americans across party lines for change), should not be attacked by partisan politicians as being unAmerican. Instead, Ellis argues that Obama's message is as American as apple pie:
The watchword for all the founders was not "the people" but "the public," which they understood to mean the collective interest of the citizenry, more enduring than the popular opinion of fleeting majorities. The great evil, they all agreed, was "faction," which meant narrow-minded interest groups that abandoned the public in favor of their own sectarian agendas, or played demagogue politics with issues in order to confuse the electorate

Though clearly against the agendas of political parties, Ellis does recognize the fact that even the earliest politicians of this nation (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, etc.) were also divided by political difference. Ellis argues, however, that such a division was the result of specific political ideology in regards to a specific issue, as opposed to the current system where parties divide out of mutual disdain. Ellis sites the farewell address of George Washington, along with the First Inaugural Address of Thomas Jefferson as evidence to support his claims. In both documents, Washington and Jefferson (two men with very different political leanings), urged their constituents to reject political loyalties, which they believed created a false sense of patriotism. In his Los Angeles Times article, Ellis argues that to criticize Obama for rejecting many of the accepted partisan beliefs of modern politics is not only foolish but against the historical precedent of this country.

To read Ellis's article in the Los Angeles times click here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Day

Being that today is Martin Luther King Day, I thought it appropriate to mention him on this blog. Though the American Revolution precedes him by almost 200 years, the contributions, legacy and memory of Martin Luther King can be tied to many of the ideals of the revolution itself.

In his most famous speech, which is arguably one of the greatest speeches in American history, King mentions the Founding Fathers as "the architects of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence," and how they had signed a "promissory note" that guaranteed equal rights for all citizens. Though paying homage to the legacy of the Founding Fathers, King does not shy away from mentioning that America (and the Founders indirectly) had "defaulted" on their promise of freedom.

Though this speech relates specifically to the 1960s Civil Rights movement, I think it would be unwise to negate the role of the American Revolution, and its ideology of freedom and slavery. After all, these ideals shaped future events for generations to come.

Here is King's "I Have a Dream" Speech:

Friday, January 18, 2008

Edmund Morgan Discusses Benjamin Franklin

Historian Edmund Morgan talks about the Founding Fathers, in particular Benjamin Franklin:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"Damned Lobsterbacks" and the Boston Massacre

The evening of March 5, 1770 was like any other evening in colonial America...well...almost. As young Private Hugh White of the British Colonial 14th Regiment took his post in front of Boston's custom house, one wonders if he sensed the impending doom that would shortly come. As the evening progressed, young Private White was met by his superior, Captain John Goldfinch, and the two men "exchanged in pleasant conversation." The conversation was to be interrupted, however, by the intrusion of a young local apprentice named Edward Garrick. Garrick accused the soldiers of several misdeeds, all of which were ignored by the British soldiers. Angry that his accusations were being swept aside, Garrick attacked the men through obscenity, calling the British soldiers, "a bunch of damned lobsterbacks." This insult was apparently sufficient provocation to cause Private White to strike Garrick on his head with the stock of his musket.

Upon seeing and hearing this altercation, scores of Boston citizens rallied to defend the young Garrick. As we all know, tensions were high to begin with, and the people of Boston did not need much provocation to start a riot. In literally minutes, the crowd gathered to roughly 300. Seeing the possibility of a riot, Captain Thomas Preston sent reinforcements to help support Private White and the other soldiers present. The crowd had already surrounded white, backing him up all the way to the customs door. As the other British soldiers arrived to help White, several were knocked down by the crowd, which caused the British soldiers to fix bayonets.

As the crowd continued to grow, more and more Bostonians joined in the chorus of obscenity that was directed to the British. Chants of "damned lobsterbelly" and "fight you wretched, damned lobsterbacks" brought the level of tension to its ultimate crescendo. As the snowballs, oysters, and insults continued to be hurled at the British (who were, quite frankly, having a very difficult time getting organized), several soldiers began to point their muskets at the crowd. This new sign of force caused even more snowballs to fly, and harsher insults to be shouted. Seventeen-year-old Samuel Maverick dared the soldiers to do their worst. "Come on and fire you damned lobsterback!" The rest of the crowd also joined in, yelling "Fire, Fire, FIRE!!!"

As we all know (even though the specifics are greatly debated), the British fired into the crowd, striking 11 random people. Young Samuel Maverick was instantly killed, along with four other Bostonians.

In the weeks after the "massacre," several of young Samuel Maverick's closest friends decided to join the movement for revolution. Many of them joined the army as soon as possible (most of them were under the age of 16). When asked why he had joined, the young William Greenwood (a friend of Samuel Maverick), stated "to kill those damned lobsterbacks."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Founding Fathers Would Vote For...

Ok, so I realize that I am guilty of posting the most non-scholarly postings of them all. I guess that I am the black sheep of the blog for this, but oh well. My question to you all is hardly historical, but I think it will provoke some fun mind work. Who, in your opinion, would the Founding Fathers vote for in the presidential election of 2008? I realize that this is an impossible question to answer. The Founders never dealt with Islamic terrorism, global warming, illegal immigration, healthcare reform, and all of the other issues of the 21st century. With this in mind, PLEASE refrain from giving me your scholarly B.S. as to why this question is bogus. I KNOW that it is bogus! I just want to have some fun. Also, where do you think the Founding Fathers would stand on the major issues of our day?

Ok...let the arguing begin!

Slavery Petitions for Freedom

I was talking with a group of friends last night about the early history of this country when somebody made the statement that, "the Founding Fathers protected slavery because they knew no better." I was not surprised by this comment. It seems that most Americans have embraced this delusional belief as American doctrine. We simply hate to admit that our country (like all the rest) have skeletons in the closet.

Being the loudmouth that I am, I was unable to remain silent, but instead tried to explain a few things I have learned over the years. I showed my friend my copy of Gary Nash's book Race and Revolution, which has a number of primary source documents from slaves. I explained that literally thousands of slave petitions were sent to the various colonial officials, all demanding immediate emancipation.

And there are literally thousands of documents from slaveholders, which prove the fact that these colonials had a perfect understanding of the evils of slavery. Thomas Jefferson even stated that, "If there is a just god in heaven we will pay dearly for what has been done to the Negroes."

To make the idiotic claim that the colonial generation knew no better is both foolish and irresponsible. I understand the need for Americans to cherish their history. I am in total agreement with that. But there is no excuse for attempting to obscure our misdeeds. When we learn the TRUE nature of our history, the more noble it becomes.

I have attached one of the thousands of slave pateitions for you all to read. It is one of my favorites, because it proves that the slaves were anything but ignorant of the sweeping winds of revolution:

Boston, April 20th, 1773.

Sir, The efforts made by the legislative of this province in their last sessions to free themselves from slavery, gave us, who are in that deplorable state, a high degree of satisfaction. We expect great things from men who have made such a noble stand against the designs of their fellow-men to enslave them. We cannot but wish and hope Sir, that you will have the same grand object, we mean civil and religious liberty, in view in your next session. The divine spirit of freedom, seems to fire every humane breast on this continent, except such as are bribed to assist in executing the execrable plan.

We are very sensible that it would be highly detrimental to our present masters, if we were allowed to demand all that of right belongs to us for past services; this we disclaim. Even the Spaniards, who have not those sublime ideas of freedom that English men have, are conscious that they have no right to all the services of their fellow-men, we mean the Africans, whom they have purchased with their money; therefore they allow them one day in a week to work for themselves, to enable them to earn money to purchase the residue of their time, which they have a right to demand in such portions as they are able to pay for (a due appraizement of their services being first made, which always stands at the purchase money.) We do not pretend to dictate to you Sir, or to the Honorable Assembly, of which you are a member. We acknowledge our obligations to you for what you have already done, but as the people of this province seem to be actuated by the principles of equity and justice, we cannot but expect your house will again take our deplorable case into serious consideration, and give us that ample relief which, as men, we have a natural right to.

But since the wise and righteous governor of the universe, has permitted our fellow men to make us slaves, we bow in submission to him, and determine to behave in such a manner as that we may have reason to expect the divine approbation of, and assistance in, our peaceable and lawful attempts to gain our freedom.

We are willing to submit to such regulations and laws, as may be made relative to us, until we leave the province, which we determine to do as soon as we can, from our joynt labours, procure money to transport ourselves to some part of the Coast of Africa, where we propose a settlement. We are very desirous that you should have instructions relative to us, from your town, therefore we pray you to communicate this letter to them, and ask this favor for us.

In behalf of our fellow slaves in this province, and by order of their Committee.

Peter Bestes,
Sambo Freeman,
Felix Holbrook,
Chester Joie.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New Connecticut (Vemont) Declares Independence

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. 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 to the efforts of Ethan Allen and his "Green Mountain Boys," Vermont was perfectly positioned to declare its independence.

Origionally named New Connecticut, the state adopted the name Vermont, which is an inaccurate translation of the French phrase "green mountain."

Vermont was also the first state to draft a 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 to women. Despite their incredible efforts to gain independence, Vermont was not recognized by the United States, and remained its own nation until 1792.

The origional flag of Vermont was the same flag that was used by Ethan Allen and the 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.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Informal Book Review: The Grand Idea

I apologize for my absence. I have been off visiting family and doing a little winter fishing. Anyway, while I was gone, I had the chance to read an interesting book that I wanted to bring to your attention. It is entitled, The Grand Idea: George Washington's Potomac and the Race to the West by Joel Achenbach. The book discussed the years between George Washington the General and George Washington the president. For roughly six years, Washington remained at his Mt. Vernon estate, and like most elite people, contemplated where to invest his money. Like most Virginians, Washington was extremely interested in the newly acquired western lands, and maintained throughout his life that the west was the future of the infant nation. The author also sheds light on the colonial myth that virtually all Virginians believed in...that the Potomac River stretched all the way to the Pacific Ocean. George Washington (along with Thomas Jefferson) strongly supported this belief. Washington went as far as to buy a tremendous amount of western land where he believed the Potomac would lead. Too bad he didn't trust his surveying talents. Maybe then he would have avoided this mistake.

The book is an easy read. It is not extremely entertaining, but will keep the readers attention. Overall I give the book a B.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Secret Life of von Steuben

Having listened to the ongoing debate over homosexuals serving in the military, I felt that this would be an appropriate topic to post.

History teaches us that Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben was a Prussian soldier who came to America and inspired massive improvements to the Continental Army at Valley Forge. What is often forgotten, however, is why von Steuben came to America in the first place. If you dive into his military history, one can easily foresee a bright future for von Steuben in the Prussian Army. So why help the Americans?

What is "conveniently" left out of the history books is the fact that von Steuben left the Prussian Army because of accusations that he was a homosexual and that he regularly had sexual relationships with young boys. As a result of the allegations, von Steuben decided to find work as a soldier elsewhere. Thanks to the help of Benjamin Franklin (who greatly embellished von Steuben's credentials) von Steuben was given the responsibility of training the Continental Army while at Valley Forge.

Von Steuben was accompanied to Valley Forge by his "handsome" 17-year-old secretary, which added fuel to the speculation that he was indeed a homosexual and a boy lover. A few of the men in the Continental Army were even leery of von Steuben, feeling that he had homosexual leanings. Needless to say, this made things difficult for von Steuben, especially in the sexually intolerant 18th century.

Despite a huge language barrier and the homosexual allegations (which most historical consensus agrees is probably true), von Steuben was effectively able to instill a high level of discipline into the Continental Army, which greatly improved their performance on the battle field.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Paine Publishes "Common Sense"

232 years ago, an unknown and obscure former sailor and schoolteacher published one of the biggest blockbuster pieces in American political history: Common Sense. Thanks in part to a personal letter of reccomendation from Benjamin Franklin, the 39 year old Thomas Paine made his way from his native England to Pennsylvania. Once there, Paine was overcome by the rapid wave of revolution that was sweeping the American countryside. Despite this wave of revolutionary fervor, however, Americans were still (for the most part) reluctant to declare their independence from Britain. As one historian put it...

At the time Paine wrote "Common Sense," most colonists considered themselves to be aggrieved Britons. Paine fundamentally changed the tenor of colonists' argument with the crown when he wrote the following: "Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America. This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither they have fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still."

We cannot overemphasize the role that Paine's Common Sense played in shaping the views of the American colonists. By July of 1776, Common Sense had been read by roughly 1/3 of the American population (a huge number for the colonial era). His work sold 500,000 copies in a year's time, propelling Paine to the vanguard of American revolutionary politics. It is not a stretch of the imagination to proclaim Common Sense as the 47 pages that changed America.

What I find disturbing, however, is the fact that Paine's Common Sense is vitrually unknown and unread today. In a recent survey, only 24% of American had heard of Common Sense and even less had read it. Maybe somebody should explain to the public that Common Sense was the colonial world's Harry Potter. Maybe then they would give it a chance.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

George W vs. George W

While surfing the net, I found an interesting website that depicts a mock debate between George W. Bush and George Washington. It is based on George W. Bush's second inagural address and George Washington's farewell address. I realize that this is hardly a scientific or historical account, but it is still interesting. I think the author makes some interesting comparisons. Anyway, here is the website where you can read the script of the alleged debate. Enjoy!

Washington Delivers First Ever State of the Union Speech

Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution states that the President of the United States is required to...

"...from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient;..."

On January 8, 1790 President George Washington delivered the first ever State of the Union address. His address was highly anticipated by virtually everyone in Congress, since nobody was quite sure how the Executive branch was to work. In his speech, Washington clearly stated his administration's expected course of action. With a tremendous amount of help from Alexander Hamilton, Washington dedicated his administration to strengthening the federal government. One of Washington's primary goals was to strengthen the national defense by creating a standing army (an idea that was very unpopular at the time). Washington suggested that one of the primary goals of the federal government was to "provide for the common defense."

I have attached a copy of Washington's first State of the Union address below. It is a wonderful document, and I encourage you to take the time to read it. Enjoy!

State of the Union
George Washington
January 8, 1790
Federal Hall, New York City

Fellow Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

I embrace with great satisfaction the opportunity which now presents itself of congratulating you on the present favorable prospects of our public affairs. The recent accession of the important state of north Carolina to the Constitution of the United States (of which official information has been received), the rising credit and respectability of our country, the general and increasing good will toward the government of the Union, and the concord, peace, and plenty with which we are blessed are circumstances auspicious in an eminent degree to our national prosperity.

In resuming your consultations for the general good you can not but derive encouragement from the reflection that the measures of the last session have been as satisfactory to your constituents as the novelty and difficulty of the work allowed you to hope. Still further to realize their expectations and to secure the blessings which a gracious Providence has placed within our reach will in the course of the present important session call for the cool and deliberate exertion of your patriotism, firmness, and wisdom.

Among the many interesting objects which will engage your attention that of providing for the common defense will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is on e of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies.

The proper establishment of the troops which may be deemed indispensable will be entitled to mature consideration. In the arrangements which may be made respecting it it will be of importance to conciliate the comfortable support of the officers and soldiers with a due regard to economy.

There was reason to hope that the pacific measures adopted with regard to certain hostile tribes of Indians would have relieved the inhabitants of our southern and western frontiers from their depredations, but you will perceive from the information contained in the papers which I shall direct to be laid before you (comprehending a communication from the Commonwealth of Virginia) that we ought to be prepared to afford protection to those parts of the Union, and, if necessary, to punish aggressors.

The interests of the United States require that our intercourse with other nations should be facilitated by such provisions as will enable me to fulfill my duty in that respect in the manner which circumstances may render most conducive to the public good, and to this end that the compensation to be made to the persons who may be employed should, according to the nature of their appointments, be defined by law, and a competent fund designated for defraying the expenses incident to the conduct of foreign affairs.

Various considerations also render it expedient that the terms on which foreigners may be admitted to the rights of citizens should be speedily ascertained by a uniform rule of naturalization.

Uniformity in the currency, weights, and measures of the United States is an object of great importance, and will, I am persuaded, be duly attended to.

The advancement of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures by all proper means will not, I trust, need recommendation; but I can not forbear intimating to you the expediency of giving effectual encouragement as well to the introduction of new and useful inventions from abroad as to the exertions of skill and genius in producing them at home, and of facilitating the intercourse between the distant parts of our country by a due attention to the post-office and post-roads.

Nor am I less persuaded that you will agree with me in opinion that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. In one in which the measures of government receive their impressions so immediately from the sense of the community as in ours it is proportionably essential.

To the security of a free constitution it contributes in various ways - by convincing those who are intrusted with the public administration that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people, and by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; between burthens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of society; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness - cherishing the first, avoiding the last - and uniting a speedy but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws.

Whether this desirable object will be best promoted by affording aids to seminaries of learning already established, by the institution of a national university, or by any other expedients will be well worthy of a place in the deliberations of the legislature.

Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:

I saw with peculiar pleasure at the close of the last session the resolution entered into by you expressive of your opinion that an adequate provision for the support of the public credit is a matter of high importance to the national honor and prosperity. In this sentiment I entirely concur; and to a perfect confidence in your best endeavors to devise such a provision as will be truly with the end I add an equal reliance on the cheerful cooperation of the other branch of the legislature.

It would be superfluous to specify inducements to a measure in which the character and interests of the United States are so obviously so deeply concerned, and which has received so explicit a sanction from your declaration.

Gentlemen of the Senate and House of Representatives:

I have directed the proper officers to lay before you, respectively, such papers and estimates as regard the affairs particularly recommended to your consideration, and necessary to convey to you that information of the state of the Union which it is my duty to afford.

The welfare of our country is the great object to which our cares and efforts ought to be directed, and I shall derive great satisfaction from a cooperation with you in the pleasing though arduous task of insuring to our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient, and equal government.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Dollar Bill

Our Founding Fathers have become icons of American culture. You see their monuments all across this nation's landscape. In Washington D.C., South Dakota, Virginia and other locations, our Founders are immortalized in marble and stone. Even the very money we use every day pays homage to several of these important heroes. Though each of these various monuments have their own unique story, I want to focus on the one that is perhaps the most overlooked: our dollar bill.

Have you ever wondered where all that stuff on the dollar bill comes from? Why there are so many strange letters, pictures, etc.? The dollar bill has a tremendous amount of symbolism and history to it. Chances are that your average dollar bill looks like the one above (unless you have one of the new ones). The format for this type of dollar bill was created in 1957, and has been the longest standing design in American history. The paper money that comes to us from the various mints across the nation is, in reality, hardly paper. The average dollar bill (and other bills for that matter) is actually a linen/cotton/silk blend, which has proven to stand the test of time. Just think about how long a dollar bill can actually last. Pretty incredible for a piece of "paper." The various blue, red, and green fibers make it tremendously hard to duplicate. Even the type of ink used for our money goes through a rigorous process.

During the Second Continental Congress, the delegates commissioned a 7-man committee (Including Benjamin Franklin to come up with a national seal, emblem and motto. The committee began its work in 1776, but quicky came to a screeching halt, since the delegates were unable to agree on anything. The only thing that came out of the committee was an idea for the all-seeing eye, which is now a part of our dollar bill. Many people today believe this to be an inspiration of Freemasonry. The only problem with that theory is that the committee members did not come up with the idea of the Pyramid. In fact, the idea of the pyramid came from Charles Thomson and William Barton. Both men liked the idea of using Egyptian symbolism, and quickly attached the all-seeing eye to the Pyramid. They also came up with the idea of the eye hovering unattached, to signify that America's quest was not quite complete. One of the most interesting symbols which Thomson and Barton created is the fact that the western side of the Pyramid is shaded. This was to be symbolic of the fact that the western half of America was yet to be explored. The eye (which was created by the committee of Franklin, Jefferson, etc.) was a symbol for God's ever watchful presence. The phrase "Annuit Coeptis (above the pyramid) means "He [God] has favored our undertaking." A close look at the base of the pyramid will show several Roman numerals (MDCCLXXVI) which give us the number 1776, the year of American independence. The phrase "Novus Ordo Seclorum" means "New Order of the Ages." All of these symbols were finally accepted on June 20, 1782 and were later incorporated onto our money in 1935.

Due to the fact that the committee was only able to come up with the all-seeing eye is important to note, because it signifies that our emblem is not entirely inspired by the Founding Fathers, and that it was CERTAINLY not inspired by masonic beliefs. Both Thomson and Barton were never a part of the Freemasons, and gained their inspiration purely from their love of Egyptian history. This is important, because the early American republic took many pieces of Roman, Egyptian and Greek civilization and incorporated it into our nations culture (one look at Washington D.C. proves this point. The capital building is very Roman in structure, and the Washington Monument is an Egyptian Obelisk).

***It is also worth noting that the all-seeing eye on the dollar bill is actually George Washington's eye. Sure he is a far cry from God himself, but who cares.***

The image of the bald eagle has also become synonymous in our day with American virtue. It is present on virtually every national monument and national cemetery. For most, the eagle is the undisputed symbol of American independence. Our Founding Fathers however, had a completely different interpretation and sentiment. The early Founders (including Franklin, Jefferson and Washington) were against the idea of an eagle as the national symbol. Franklin actually wanted the rattlesnake to be used as the national symbol. He wanted it because he believed a rattlesnake was unique to only America, and because rattlesnakes have no eyelids (meaning they are forever vigilant). Many scientists of the 18th century believed that the Rattlesnake never slept, making it even more vigilant. Franklin even suggested that the Rattlesnake never strikes unless attacked, signifying America's will to avoid conflict unless attacked first. It was also believed that the Rattlesnake could be brought back to life if it was cut up and its pieces assembled and buried before midnight (a strange 18th century belief). Franklin believed this was significant because it appealed to the unity of the States (he used this analogy in his earliest political cartoon "Join or Die"). Franklin hated the eagle, calling it "a despicable vulture of the sky." In fact, the Rattlesnake had a lot of significance for the founding generation. It was present on several flags, including the first Naval Jack and the Gadsen "Don't Tread on Me" flag. After the Rattlesnake was shot down, Franklin switched to the wild turkey, claiming that it was "the most virtuous of all birds."

The bald eagle was later accepted, because it wears no crown, dominates the sky, and is not afraid of a storm. A closer examination of the eagle reveals that he is clutching 13 arrows and 13 olive branches. The olive branches are symbolic of America's eternal quest for peace, and the arrows are symbolic of America's readiness to fight. The phrase above the eagle "E Pluribus Unum" means "Many now one" signifying the hope for American unity. The eagle is also not holding on to the shield, which is symbolic of America's independence, and the fact that she can stand on her own. There is also a cloud of 13 stars hovering over the Eagle, which represent the 13 colonies.

To call the number 13 unlucky is sort of un-American. For example:
-The first colonies numbered 13
-13 colonies signed on for independence
-There are 13 stars above the eagle
-There are 13 steps on the pyramid
-There are 13 letters in the Latin phrase ANNUIT COEPTIS
-There are 13 stripes on the U.S. flag and eagle's shield
-There are 13 olive branches (each olive branch has 13 pieces of fruit attached to it.
-There are 13 arrows

Masonic conspiracy theorists maintain that the number 13 is indicative of the devil, and that it also represents the path to a new world order. As you can see, however, there is a much simpler interpretation...the 13 States!

This symbol, which is on the front of the dollar bill, is significant in many ways as well. First off, the scale symbolizes the government's responsibility to maintain a balanced budget, and to be ever-responsible for the people's money (Like that ever happens today!) The key symbolizes the key of the treasury, which is to be always secure (yeah right). There is also the masonic marking of the square, which is to signify exactness in America's finances.

Many people believe these to be masonic symbols that are somehow "magical" or "covert," and that the Founding Fathers were brainwashed by masonic teachings. In reality however, this is not all that accurate. In Colonial America it was common for people to be a part of several social clubs, and the Freemasons are just one of the many that existed in that era. For example, Benjamin Franklin started a group called the Junto, and Washington was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati. The Masons were simply another gentlemen's club of the time, which proved beneficial in the post-enlightment era of early America. They were not a "secretive" society that had an agenda to create a new world order. They were simply another way for colonists to gather and socialize (and get drunk). It is worth noting that many of these groups (including Freemasons) suffered from a dramatic drop in membership when the radio and television were invented. In other words, people found other things to do. Popular culture will always teach that the Freemasons were the keepers of a secretive or unique society, and that their rituals trace back thousands of years. History however, teaches that there is no concrete evidence OF ANY KIND to support this claim. They were simply one of the many social clubs of the time.

There is one final symbol worth mentioning. The phrase "In God We Trust" that is so very controvercial for many Americans today actually came long after the Founding Founders. In fact, the Founders rarely used the word "God." Instead they used words like "Providence" and "Divinity." The phrase "In God we Trust comes at a later time. In fact, the phrase has its roots in the post Civil War era. It is similar to how the phrase "One nation, under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. Many people make the mistake of thinking that these phrases have been a part of our nation since the beginning. That is simply not true. In fact, the motto that our Founding Fathers embraced was one simple word: liberty.

So the next time you pull out a dollar bill, remember that it's not merely a piece of paper, but a piece of history as well.

Friday, January 4, 2008

1800: The First REAL Presidential Election

Hello everyone! Sorry for being absent so long. Christmas break and moving to a new apartment have kept me very busy.

As I was watching the Iowa Caucus last night (yes, I have no life and no boyfriend, so I was relegated to watching the Iowa Caucus of all things) I started wondering about presidential elections during the colonial period. As we all know, George Washington was the unanimous choice for president in both of his terms. There was simply nobody that could match his credentials. In 1796, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the candidates. For the most part, the election was very timid. Neither candidate really got involved (which was common of 18th century politics).

In 1800, however, Jefferson and Adams clashed on virtually every issue and fiercely sought the office of the presidency. For Jefferson, the presidency was a quest to get America on the "right" track. In his mind, the Federalists had taken too much control from the people. In many ways, Jefferson's rhetoric sounds very familiar to one Barack Obama.

Adams, on the other hand, believed that the Federalists were indeed on the right track, and that he had led the nation adequately in his first term. the passage of the Alien & Sedition Acts (which many have compared to our current Patriot Act), earned Adams a negative reputation from the Democratic-Republicans.

After a very lengthy campaign, Jefferson emerged victorious. Federalists screamed foul, since Jefferson had only won the election thanks to the 3/5 Compromise. In fact, several northern leaders demanded a reelection. Jefferson himself faced a difficult challenge of surpassing Burr for the presidency (who had received just as many votes in the 1800 election since elections were done very differently in those days). Here is how the voting broke down by state:

In the end, Jefferson emerged as the candidate for change, and the election of 1800 went down as the first REAL election in American history.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Congress Passes the Tory Act.

On this day in 1776, the Continental Congress passed the infamous (but often forgotten) Tory Act. The act was designed to reveal with citizens, particularly those of prominence, still remained loyal to Great Britain and King George III. The bill also called for the disarming of any and all citizens loyal to the British crown, and even suggested that individuals of "particular prominence" be imprisoned (which is what happened to Benjamin Franklin's son William).

The History Channel's website has an interesting article on the Tory Act. Here is a segment of some of the more important parts:

The act called on colonial committees to indoctrinate those "honest and well-meaning, but uninformed people" by enlightening them as to the "origin, nature and extent of the present controversy.” The Congress remained “fully persuaded that the more our right to the enjoyment of our ancient liberties and privileges is examined, the more just and necessary our present opposition to ministerial tyranny will appear.”

The lengths Congress and lesser colonial bodies would go to in order to repress Loyalists took a darker tone later in the act. Listing examples of the “execrable barbarity with which this unhappy war has been conducted on the part of our enemies,” Congress vowed to act “whenever retaliation may be necessary” although it might prove a “disagreeable task.”

In the face of such hostility, some Loyalists chose not to remain in the American colonies. During the war, between 60,000 and 70,000 free persons and 20,000 slaves abandoned the rebellious 13 colonies for other destinations within the British empire. The Revolution effectively created two countries: Patriots formed the new United States, while fleeing Loyalists populated Canada.

The hectic nature of the colonies in 1776 reveals just how polarizing the revolution had become. With thousands of colonials fleeing for "safer" ground, one can gain a sense of how the revolution created extreme apprehension and fear for the average citizen. After all, nobody was sure how this was going to turn out. It's only natural that some would seek to remain loyal or flee for safety.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Joseph Reed and the New Year's Mutiny

On this day in 1781, 1,500 soldiers from the Pennsylvania Line--all 11 regiments under General Anthony Wayne’s command--insisted that their three-year enlistments had expired, killed three officers in a drunken rage and abandoned the Continental Army’s winter camp at Morristown, New Jersey. It was the largest collective mutiny of the war. There is little doubt that much of the cause for mutiny rested with the fact that Morristown had been an extremely harsh winter camp.

The soldiers made their way to Philadelphia, where they hoped to be able to negotiate a deal with Congress. In the end, Congressional President Joseph Reed granted roughly 200 of the men their discharges, while the others were given furloughs.

Though it may seem idiotic that Reed and Congress took no disciplinary actions against the men, we should remember that their actions probably saved the Colonial Army from completely disintegrating. Reed's decision to "give in" to the mutineers was not only extremely wise but extremely essential. The winter of 1781 was no time for argument. Reed's decision was one of those rare moments that is often forgotten in history.