Sunday, February 24, 2013

David Barton Steps In Yet Another Mess

Read about it here.

George Washington and Religion at the Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, VA

John Fea tells us about it here. With, among others, Jeffry Morrison and Mary V. Thompson. Good stuff.

Ed Brayton on the Barton v. Frazer Debate

Read Ed's thoughts here.

How Ghastly Were the Beginnings of European America?

Alan Taylor reviews Bernard Bailyn's new book here.

David Barton Responds to Gregg Frazer

@ World here. And check out Gregg Frazer's rebuttal below.

Two More From Thockmorton

On the Jefferson-Barton controversy. Here and here.

Got an American History Question?

John Fea tells us about the esteemed group of orthodox Christian historians and public intellectuals who have been assembled to answer David Barton questions.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Here's to George Washington and all True Heroes!

According to the Gregorian Calendar, George Washington was born on this day (February 22) in 1731. (Though smarter people than me have pointed out this isn't necessarily super clear). George Washington has been called the indispensable man in American history. It's a moniker that he well deserves. Without George Washington, there would likely be no United States today. (See "What if George Washington Had Never Been Born?")

It became fashionable in the 20th century (and remains so in many circles today) to downplay the importance of "great men" in favor of the contributions of everyday people. Historians like the late Howard Zinn championed this revisionist take on history. What historians like Zinn (and I'm being kind not to put that word in quotation marks when it comes to people like Zinn) fail to acknowledge, however, is that it was the common people who elevated folks like Washington to hero status. The American people respected, adored, and followed George Washington. They made Washington a hero, and rightly so. George Washington was the greatest leader in American history, and arguably one of the greatest leaders in all of world history. This isn't because of some Grand Conspiracy of "Elites." It's because the people of Washington's day were smart enough to recognize a man of high character and immense significance when they saw him. In a very real way, "historians" like Zinn (sorry, I can't resist the quotation marks any longer), when they slander and diminish "great men" like Washington, are insulting the common people - the very people they claim to speak for!

As I point out in my latest blog post over at the American Revolution and Founding Era blog (see "George Washington: Mightiest Name on Earth"), George Washington was not perfect. He had his flaws and his sins -- just as we all do. But if we can't consider George Washington a true, genuine hero, then heroism has no meaning. And those people who've become so cynical that they can no longer respect heroes (not even heroes like Washington), well, such people are in a very sorry state indeed. They are to be pitied, but they must certainly not be followed.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Washington's Birthday Reconsidered

Over at the Boston1775 blog John L. Bell has posted an interesting article which is titled,
Washington’s Birthday at Washington’s Headquarters. It contains this ironic tidbit:
[February 22, 1732] is the date America finally settled on as the anniversary of George Washington's birth. And shortly before the Bicentennial the federal government established its Washington’s Birthday (Presidents’ Day) holiday as the third Monday in February, which  can never [my italics] be the 22nd.
But this is not the whole story as Bell points out in his earlier blog of February 19th. Washington's birthday was actually recorded as being February 11, 1731 O.S. (Old Style).

The British had thought the Gregorian calendrical reform of 1582 to be some sort of Papal plot and stubbornly refused to abandon their conventional Julian calendar until September 2, 1752 O.S. As Virginia was still an English colony at the time, Washington was actually born on a date set by the Julian calendar.  To complicate matters further, the Julian year began in March instead of  January, so Washington was recorded as being a born a year earlier.

A hat tip to the comment posted by JMS for alerting me to the Boston1775 article.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Part of Frazer's Response that World Didn't Print

World Magazine edited what is quoted below from Gregg Frazer's response to David Barton's book on Thomas Jefferson:
I find it curious on one hand and telling on the other that he refers to my arguments as “inconsequential.”  It is curious because, since I wrote in response to the theme of a chapter of Barton’s book, that suggests that the subject of his own chapter is inconsequential.  One cannot help but wonder why he wrote it.  
It is very telling that he characterizes the fact that he used several incorrect quotes and others out of context as “inconsequential.”  He says that it is the goal of beating back “the secularist progressive movement” – the cultural battle – that is “important.”  I agree with his goal, but I believe that methods matter and that we must stand upon facts if we want to have any credibility and to be worthy of anyone’s attention.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Congressman Moves to Dump Presidents' Day

Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) has moved to dump Presidents' Day and favors legislation calling for George Washington's birthday to be celebrated on his actual birthday, February 22. Presently, Washington's birthday is celebrated on the third Monday of February and is commonly called Presidents' Day.

See February 15, 2013 article, Legislation to restore Washington's Birthday reintroduced.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

1493--After Columbus Came

Click here for an absolutely spellbinding John Batchelor Show interview with Charles C. Mann, author of 1493, the followup to his excellent 1491, after and before the European invasion of the New World.


 Among the gems:

 ---The Mason-Dixon line delineates exactly the northern limit of the anopheles mosquito, and therefore malaria. The white European indentured servants tended to die from it; the African slaves had a level of immunity to it. The slave plantations tended to be the more successful; the slave economy grew by natural selection. The same thing happened in South America; south of a certain point in Brazil, say Uruguay and Argentina, black slavery was rare.

 ---It was looting, then working, the silver mines of the Andes that opened China to the Europeans--until then, the West had very little the Chinese were interested in trading for. The city of Cerro Rico, in what's now Bolivia, grew to 150,000 people, bigger than London.

 ---Along with fossil fuels and iron/steel, the Industrial Revolution required one more thing---rubber, for belts and gaskets. The Amazon saw dictatorships arise upriver; occasionally the West had to send gunboats to assure the supply of this essential key to prosperity.

 ---Europe got a taste of sugar along the eastern Mediterranean during the Crusades. The most suitable place to grow it themselves turned out to be the Caribbean, and black slavery, again because of malaria, is the most cost-effective way for entrepreneurs to man the sugar trade, away from the prying eyes of more conscientious Europeans, who ban slavery on their home turf.

---And no potatoes, no popery!  Listen to the whole thing...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

GWash's 1st SOTU

January 8, 1790
Federal Hall, New York City

A taste:

"To the security of a free constitution [education] 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."

Alexander Hamilton is credited with composing most of it, but as was Washington's custom with such things, he wrote the final draft over in his own hand, so it can be said that the final product was indeed George Washington's.

All 7 pages can be viewed here.

Monday, February 11, 2013

America's Own Investiture Controversy

By John J. Pilch, Ph.D
Georgetown University
Guest Blogger

Once independence was achieved, the mode of Church governance until then would no longer do. Clergy in the English colonies of America had previously been subject to the Vicar Apostolic in London. To continue this arrangement, or to put the new country under the Roman Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, would only confirm American suspicions about the loyalty of American Catholics. American Catholics wanted an independent spiritual leader.

On June 9, 1784, Rome appointed John Carroll as Prefect-Apostolic of the Catholic missions in America. Rome made this decision in part because it wanted to please Benjamin Franklin, who had warmly recommended John Carroll for the position. The two were good friends ever since their unsuccessful effort to win Canada to the American cause in 1776.

Pius VI [1717-1799]

"Prefect" rather than "Bishop" seemed to Rome a good compromise response to the American anti-prelacy sentiment. John Carroll was less than pleased. A Prefect had limited powers and depended upon the Roman Congregation of the Propaganda of the Faith which claimed jurisdiction over the Catholic "missions" in America. This ran the risk of confirming American suspicions. But when the clergy persuaded him that this less-than-perfect solution was at least a first step, he accepted the position in a letter dated February 27, 1785.

Three subsequent events convinced the clergy and laity that American Catholics needed and would not suffer any harm from having a Bishop. Serious problems arose with some laity in New York which Carroll's limited powers as Prefect could not handle; religious freedom became more general and more real in State legislation and ultimately in the Federal Constitution; and Episcopalians consecrated a Bishop for their Church in November, 1784, with no untoward results.

In March, 1788, the priests drew up a petition to Pope Pius VI in which they recognized the need for a Bishop with full independent jurisdiction and they asked for permission, at least for the first time, to choose him themselves.

The Pope concurred. "For the first time only, and by special grace," the Pope allowed the priests in America to decide the town in which the diocese should be located and to elect the Bishop from their number.

On May 18, 1788, the priests selected Baltimore as the diocese because most priests and Catholic laity resided in the region, and it was geographically well situated for communication with the other colonies. Twenty-four of the twenty-six priests assembled voted for Carroll as Bishop. The Pope sent his approval in his letter of November 6, 1789, but noted that future Bishops would be chosen by the Pope "in all future vacancies."

Full story here. See also our Mark DeForrest's recent post on Bishop Carroll's prayer for America here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Puritans and republican political practice

Historian Thomas Kidd has a post over at exploring the relationship between the Puritans and the development of American republican political practice:  Puritans:  The Original Republicans? As Kidd notes, while long identified with democratic theory and practice, Puritanism provided a Reformed approach to civic life that had strong republican overtones as well.

Monday, February 4, 2013

John Locke, the Law, & the Law-Giver

From The Reasonableness of Christianity,
as Delivered in the Scriptures

by John Locke

Guest Blogger

[This passage has been coming back @ me lately.  Even though "natural lawyers" such as Su├írez and Grotius argued that even if there is no God, the "natural law" would still have force, Locke realized the limits of reason and thereby of philosophy.*  Without the power and authority of a "law-giver," men are like, whatever.  There's a reason there's no hymn called "Onward Kantian Soldiers," and why "The Internationale" resides on the ash heap of history.

And besides, it's always good to have an excuse to take a peek into the "Reasonableness" and Locke's writings in general.  Outside of the Bible itself, it's hard to think of much philosophical stuff even partially known by even a fraction of the general public as Locke was in America at the Founding.  Paragraph breaks are added for readability.---TVD]

Next to the knowledge of one God; maker of all things; “a clear knowledge of their duty was wanting to mankind.” This part of knowledge, though cultivated with some care by some of the heathen philosophers, yet got little footing among the people.

All men, indeed, under pain of displeasing the gods, were to frequent the temples: every one went to their sacrifices and services: but the priests made it not their business to teach them virtue. If they were diligent in their observations and ceremonies; punctual in their feasts and solemnities, and the tricks of religion; the holy tribe assured them the gods were pleased, and they looked no farther. Few went to the schools of the philosophers to be instructed in their duties, and to know what was good and evil in their actions. The priests sold the better pennyworths, and therefore had all the custom. Lustrations and processions were much easier than a clean conscience, and a steady course of virtue; and an expiatory sacrifice that atoned for the want of it, was much more convenient than a strict and holy life.

No wonder then, that religion was everywhere distinguished from, and preferred to virtue; and that it was dangerous heresy and profaneness to think the contrary. So much virtue as was necessary to hold societies together, and to contribute to the quiet of governments, the civil laws of commonwealths taught, and forced upon men that lived under magistrates.

But these laws being for the most part made by such, who had no other aims but their own power, reached no farther than those things that would serve to tie men together in subjection; or at most were directly to conduce to the prosperity and temporal happiness of any people.

But natural religion, in its full extent, was no-where, that I know, taken care of, by the force of natural reason*. It should seem, by the little that has hitherto been done in it, that it is too hard a task for unassisted reason to establish morality in all its parts, upon its true foundation, with a clear and convincing light. And it is at least a surer and shorter way, to the apprehensions of the vulgar, and mass of mankind, that one manifestly sent from God, and coming with visible authority from him, should, as a king and law-maker, tell them their duties; and require their obedience; than leave it to the long and sometimes intricate deductions of reason, to be made out to them. Such trains of reasoning the greatest part of mankind have neither leisure to weigh; nor, for want of education and use, skill to judge of.

We see how unsuccessful in this the attempts of philosophers were before our Saviour’s time. How short their several systems came of the perfection of a true and complete morality, is very visible.

And if, since that, the christian philosophers have much out-done them: yet we may observe, that the first knowledge of the truths they have added, is owing to revelation: though as soon as they are heard and considered, they are found to be agreeable to reason; and such as can by no means be contradicted. Every one may observe a great many truths, which he receives at first from others, and readily assents to, as consonant to reason, which he would have found it hard, and perhaps beyond his strength, to have discovered himself. Native and original truth is not so easily wrought out of the mine, as we, who have it delivered already dug and fashioned into our hands, are apt to imagine.

And how often at fifty or threescore years old are thinking men told what they wonder how they could miss thinking of? Which yet their own contemplations did not, and possibly never would have helped them to.

Experience shows, that the knowledge of morality, by mere natural light, (how agreeable soever it be to it,) makes but a slow progress, and little advance in the world. And the reason of it is not hard to be found in men’s necessities, passions, vices, and mistaken interests; which turn their thoughts another way: and the designing leaders, as well as following herd, find it not to their purpose to employ much of their meditations this way.

Or whatever else was the cause, it is plain, in fact, that human reason unassisted failed men in its great and proper business of morality. It never from unquestionable principles, by clear deductions, made out an entire body of the “law of nature.”

And he that shall collect all the moral rules of the philosophers, and compare them with those contained in the New Testament, will find them to come short of the morality delivered by our Saviour, and taught by his apostles; a college made up, for the most part, of ignorant, but inspired fishermen.

Full text here.

*See also Kretzmann, N., on Aquinas' Summa contra gentiles on the limits of unassisted reason and natural theology, p. 39 in the text and p. 51 in the PDF.