Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Claremont Institute: New World, Old Myths

Europe of the Middle Ages held certain myths concerning the native inhabitants of the "New World." Charles C. Mann, writing for The Claremont Institute, argues that little has changed...

The Claremont Institute: New World, Old Myths

George Washington's Mount Vernon - Two New Facilities Opening October 27, 2006

Mount Vernon is getting a 21st century facelift! Read all about it...

George Washington's Mount Vernon - Two New Facilities Opening October 27, 2006 - Columnists: Lambert: What's the punishment?

An article that confronts the controversy of amending the U.S. Constitution regarding marriage, flag desecration, and so forth... - Columnists: Lambert: What's the punishment?

...Mr. Lambert argues, my misquoting the First Amendment slightly (you'll see what I mean when you follow the link) that the "Founding Fathers were clear that government not muck in religion." Is he correct? Were the Founders really "clear" on that?

Friday, July 28, 2006 - Blacks who fought in Revolutionary War recognized - Jul 21, 2006

An important article highlighting one of the forgotten aspects of the Revolutionary War... - Blacks who fought in Revolutionary War recognized - Jul 21, 2006

Should We Revere "Racists"?

A caller to a C-SPAN special on George Washington that aired a couple of years ago, castigated the show’s on-air guests for remembering the nation’s first President as everything except what he "primarily was" - a “slave owner.”

An on-line poll, conducted within the last few years by The History Channel, asked respondents which American patriot they thought was worthy of their highest admiration. This survey question drew many posts dripping with contempt for George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the rest of America's early statesmen. The primary line of attack: These men were slave owners, and Americans today should be ashamed to pay them any respect or honor.

These are but two examples of what has become a chorus of contempt and condemnation sung by scholars, students, politicians, judges, talk show hosts, authors, and everyday Americans concerning the sins of our nation's past. This refrain is based on the premise that the Founders were (at best) flawed and ignorant or (at worst) racist and sexist. Consequently, now that our nation has stamped out the vile institution of slavery and ended formal racial segregation, many believe it is time to turn our backs to the past and march forward into the future, free from any romantic notions of nostalgia.

What should our view be of the Founding Fathers? After all, were they not a group of white male colonial leaders who collectively tolerated slavery and, in some cases, actually practiced it? Isn't America better off to leave them in the dustbin of history and continue its progression toward a society that respects men and women as equals regardless of race, color, or ethnic origin? Answering these questions requires us to consider deeper, more fundamental questions regarding our Founders and our nation's origins.

What did the Founders mean when they declared "all men are created equal"?
The fact that slavery was an entrenched institution during the founding era is beyond debate. Yet it was against this backdrop that Thomas Jefferson penned the now famous words in our Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…"

What about men and women of African descent? Were they "created equal" with whites? Were they "endowed" with "unalienable rights"?

Conor Cruise O'Brien, a renowned biographer of Thomas Jefferson, writes:

It is accepted that the words 'all men are created equal' do not, in their literal meaning, apply to women, and were not intended by the Founding Fathers (collectively) to apply to slaves.

The late civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy agreed: "The only logical conclusion that modern blacks can draw from [the Founding and slavery] is that their forefathers were not regarded as 'men' by the white founders of this country."

Ironically, these conclusions, accepted today by a growing majority of Americans, are almost identical to the position taken by Stephen Douglas, the "Little Giant" of Illinois and lifelong rival of Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln asserted that the word of the Declaration of Independence applied to people of African descent as well as whites, Douglas responded that “the signers of the Declaration of Independence never dreamed of the Negro when they were writing that document."

Abraham Lincoln defied his opponent to find "one single affirmation from one single man" during the founding era that stated "the Negro was not included in the Declaration of Independence." Douglas could not.

Lincoln's position was that the existence of slavery during the founding era was not an indicator of the Founders' support for it. According to Lincoln, the Founders never saw slavery as consistent with the principles they enshrined in our heritage.

Rather, the Founding Fathers overwhelmingly deplored slavery and considered black Americans to be included in the Declaration's creed. Said Lincoln: "The fathers of this government expected and intended the institution of slavery to come to an end. They expected and intended that it would be in the course of ultimate extinction."

His view is ignored or rejected in today's classrooms and in the media, but it was this very viewpoint that sustained his ultimately successful campaign to rid the nation of the evil institution he so ardently despised. But while Lincoln's argument was compelling, was it accurate?

Consider that in Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence, the Virginian added the following as one of the many deplorable examples of the conduct of King George III:

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere …Determined to keep a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.

This portion of Jefferson's draft was removed from the final document in order to appease delegates from the Deep South. Nevertheless, it clearly refers to the victims of the African slave trade as "men," thus indicating that Jefferson included both blacks and whites in his earlier reference to "all men."

James Madison, another leading Virginian at the time of the nation's founding and widely considered the "Father of the Constitution" is even clearer on this matter. In one of his many condemnations of slavery, Madison declared: "We have seen the mere distinction of color made in the most enlightened period of time, a ground of the most oppressive dominion of man over man." Note that last part again: man over man.

Why then did slavery exist if the Founders hated it so much? The sad truth is that slavery was an accepted institution in most of the world prior to the American Revolution. By the time Britain had colonized North America, slavery had become an integral part of the nation's heavily agricultural economy and culture. Many generations of white colonists grew up with slavery as much a part of their society as farming or horseback riding. Many simply didn't take the time to assess it for the evil that it was. This all, however, began to change with the Declaration of Independence.

With the Declaration, the United States became the first nation officially dedicated to the revolutionary ideal that all human beings are created equal. And it was this precept that led to what many historians consider "the Opening of the American Mind." John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, described the changing views of Americans toward slavery and race relations in a 1788 letter to the president of the Society for the Manumission of Slaves. Jay wrote that prior to the Revolutionary War, most Americans were "accustomed to the practice and convenience of having slaves, that very few among them doubted the propriety and rectitude of it." However, as the Revolution unfolded with colonists clamoring for equal rights and justice, Jay observed that the denunciations by some of the institution of slavery began to prevail "by almost insensible degrees." It soon became quite apparent that slavery was entirely inconsistent with the ideals and principles of the United States.

None of the prominent Founders defended the institution of slavery on moral grounds. And most began to speak out against it, at the conclusion of the American Revolution, including many who actually held slaves. And they didn't just talk.

In 1787, the pre-Constitution Congress forbade slavery in the Northwest Territory. The First Congress (under the new Constitution) later affirmed this ban.

By 1798, every state had outlawed the importation of slaves within its borders. When South Carolina later reopened the slave trade in 1803, Congress intervened and outlawed it nationally in 1808.

By 1804, seven of the original thirteen states had abolished slavery itself.

Unfortunately, while the Founders collectively spoke against and took action against slavery, many of them don't escape the judgment of history so easily. Some Founders, such as Abraham Baldwin and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, were supporters of the institution, though they were in the minority.

Furthermore, the Founders were collectively too optimistic about slavery's natural demise. They truly believed that, once the slave trade was banned (hence, the fierce debate over this portion of the Constitution in convention) and the economy became more industrial, the institution would die off. They saw it surviving for only a few more decades.

In part, their hopes were correct. Slavery did wane following the American Revolution and the livelihood of African Americans was modestly enhanced. These positive developments, though, were quickly reversed in the Deep South once the cotton gin became more popular and the founding generation passed from the scene. On this score, these men of usually remarkable foresight were found lacking and deserve their due criticism. Thomas G. West, author of Vindicating the Founders, writes: "The Founders' hopeful sentiments [concerning the demise of slavery] proved to be a delusion."

Exactly how harsh our criticism of the Founders should be is the focal point of today's debate. Historians like Paul Finkelman, who blast the Constitution as a "covenant with death," believe the judgment of history should be rather severe. Others, such as Professor West, take a more forgiving view of the Founders, especially in light of their tremendous sacrifice and devotion to the overall cause of freedom -- a cause that ultimately led to the very historical milestones that critics of the Founders typically praise.

In the end, the truth of the biblical lesson of "sewing and reaping" is undeniable. The Founders of America will, in our history books, forever reap the consequences of slavery by being branded in our national psyche. One can only hope, however, that this view of the Founders will not obscure the legacies of those men who did take the right stand during the difficult and formative years of our nation. What’s more, let us hope the dim view of our past, on the part of many critics, will not lead to the demise of the very founding principles upon which so much progress against racism and injustice has been made.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Was George Washington a "Deist"?

When confronted with today’s controversy over religion and morality in the public square, conservative evangelicals often argue that the Founding Fathers were God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians who saw the United States as a divinely ordained “shining city” in the New World. The Left counters that the most prominent Founders were Deists, and that the Constitution was a purely secular document, which, with the addition of the First Amendment, erected a high wall of separation between church and state.

In the midst of this culture war, no Founder’s life and legacy is as bitterly contested as our nation’s revolutionary leader and first President, George Washington. He has been called everything from “indifferent to religion” to a Deist to a “warm Deist” (whatever that means) to a “lukewarm Episcopalian” and finally (most often by our side) a God-fearing, Bible-believing Christian. These characterizations, which have been part of a now 200-year debate over Washington’s religious faith, led biographer Richard Brookhiser to observe: “No aspect of his life has been more distorted than his religion... For two centuries, Washington has been a screen on which Americans have projected their religious wishes and aversions.”

While no respectable historian has accused Washington of being an atheist (at least in recent years), a large number of mainstream scholars (perhaps even most of them) reduce Washington’s religious beliefs to be little more than a utilitarian submission to some mystical, abstract conception of “Providence” (a favorite word of Washington’s).

According to historian and biographer Joseph Ellis, George Washington saw God “as a distant, impersonal force, the presumed well-spring of what he called destiny or providence.”

That Washington saw God as the “well-spring” of “providence” is not contested by this author. The evidence for that is overwhelming. But George Washington himself would have objected to any characterization of God as being “distant” or “impersonal.” In 1789, a reflective Washington wrote:

When I contemplate the interposition of Providence, as it was visibly manifested, in guiding us through the Revolution, in preparing us for the reception of a general government, and in conciliating the good will of the People of America towards one another after its adoption, I feel myself oppressed and almost overwhelmed with a sense of divine munificience.

As a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and later of both the First and Second Continental Congress, Washington supported resolutions for and participated in days of prayer and fasting. As the Commander-in-Chief during the war, he made clear his support for prayer and submission to God through the appointment of Army chaplains and his ordering mandatory church attendance for the men under his command. As President, he signed the first official Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in U.S. government history, declaring it the “duty of all nations” to “acknowledge” and “obey” the “Supreme Being.”

In his First Inaugural Address, he emphasized this duty of acknowledgment and submission, saying:

No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.

Washington did not see God as some abstract, detached entity to which we owed little more than symbolic or ceremonial acknowledgment. For Washington, God was real, active, and worthy of our worship and obedience.

Washington also understood humanity’s proper posture before God to be one of humility. Washington personalized this ethic at an early age, when he copied out his famous “Rules of Civility,” which included the following injunction in Rule #108: “When you speak of God, or His attributes, let it be seriously and with reverence.”

For this reason, he never played politics with his faith. In fact, Washington worked hard to stay above the religious battles in his day. He spent his public life working for unity. As the late Henry Cabot Lodge, a Washington biographer and famous statesman in his own right, explained, the first President “was as far as possible from being sectarian, and there is not a word of his which shows anything but the most entire liberality and toleration. He made no parade of his religion, for in this as in other things he was perfectly simple and sincere.”

This, however, did not stop Washington from expressing repeatedly his fervent wish that Americans would embrace God, worship God, and obey God. “The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in [the American Revolution],” he wrote Declaration of Independence signer Thomas Nelson, “that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”

It is beyond dispute that George Washington practiced a sincere faith in God. To argue or imply otherwise flies in the face of established historical facts, not the least of which are the voluminous writings of Washington himself.

Washington’s self-discipline and high moral character are the stuff of legend. It is not necessary for this article to prove that Washington was a moral man. However, can we see his moral character as a manifestation of his faith?

A clue that Washington’s morality was more than mere Stoicism is found in one of his famous “General Orders” issued at Valley Forge in 1778: “To the distinguished character of patriot, it should be our highest glory to laud the more distinguished character of Christian.”

It is clear that Washington associated proper conduct with Christian principles of morality. It is therefore not a stretch to conclude that Washington’s own moral compass was set according to the Christian teachings he had grown up on.

How a person faces their prospective death is another indicator of where one stands in relationship to his or her faith. According to Lodge, Washington “regarded death with entire calmness and even indifference” and was helped in this “by his religious faith.” According to family and friends, when death came in 1799, Washington made sure his final affairs were in order and that his wishes for funeral arrangements were to be honored. Once those assurances were given, he met his end with utter peace.

We cannot know for certain anyone’s heart other than our own, and sometimes even that is problematic. However, based on overwhelming evidence (of which this article merely scratches the surface), it is beyond question that George Washington believed in God and was a man of reverential worship and prayer. The assessment of many historians that Washington was a Deist, no matter how often it is repeated, is demonstrably false.

America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln by Mark A. Noll. Oxford University Press, 2002
Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington by Richard Brookhiser. Simon & Schuster, 1996
The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations by James H. Hutson. Princeton University Press, 2005
George Washington by Henry Cabot Lodge. Cumberland House, original published 1898 (new edition 2004)
George Washington’s War: The Forging of a Revolutionary Leader and the American Presidency by Bruce Chadwick, PhD. Sourcebooks, Inc., 2004
God and the Oval Office: The Religious Faith of our 43 Presidents by John C. McCollister, Ph.D, W Publishing Group, 2005
His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis. Knopf, 2004
Martha Washington: An American Life by Patricia Brady. Viking, 2005
Prayers of our Presidents by Jerry MacGregor and Marie Prys. Baker Books, 2004
Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington by his Adopted Son, George Washington Parke Custis by George Washington Parke Custis. Originally published by Derby & Jackson in 1860. Republished by American Foundation Publications, 1999.

 Letter from Nelly Parke-Custis discussing Washington’s faith, found at Wallbuilders website.
 George Washington Masonic National Memorial.
 The Papers of George Washington.
 Mount Vernon.
 John Remsberg’s analysis of Washington’s Christianity.
 John Gano biography.,john.htm

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

America's First Success Guru

One of the most dramatic trends in business over the course of the last century has been the explosion of publications, seminars, television programs and entrepreneurial endeavors all touting the art and science of "success." Yet despite the enormity of today's success industry, few of its greatest stars, including the popular Zig Ziglar and Anthony Robbins, can equal the immense reputation enjoyed by North America's earliest promoter of success principles. A printer by trade, America's first success guru was a man of many talents and achievements. And his name remains one of the most widely recognized today.

Born the fifteenth of seventeen children, Benjamin Franklin was nearly penniless when he ran away from home. Yet, he rose to become a leading inventor, philanthropist, publisher, revolutionary, thinker and American statesman. During his lifetime, Franklin made more contributions to American (and, for that matter, European) society than virtually any of his contemporaries. Among his many accomplishments, Franklin started The Philadelphia Gazette, discovered electricity, charted the Gulf Stream, conceived of Daylight Savings Time, invented the catheter and Franklin Stove, founded America's first member society, started the first fire department, created the first fire insurance company, and published the first political cartoon in America. Ben Franklin was also one of the first people to encourage the eating of citrus fruits and tout the advantages of fruit in maintaining gums and skin. Oh, and he also signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

One of Franklin's best-known contributions to early America was Poor Richard's Almanack. First published in 1732, Poor Richard's Almanack provided both weather forecasts and pithy sayings. Selling more than 10,000 issues a year, Franklin's work became a hugely popular publication on the principles of success -- a forerunner to such modern classics as Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People and Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Franklin is still known for his wit and wisdom, much of which has survived through the generations to become popular cliches. Phrases such as "A penny saved is a penny earned" are well known. Yet for those who might be tempted to suspect that Franklin's work is best left in our history, here are three Franklin maxims that, even today, can form the foundation for success in any field or endeavor.

"Plough deep while sluggards sleep."

"Remember that time is money," wrote Franklin in Advice to a Young Tradesman, Written by an Old One. This was, in fact, one of the recurring themes in Franklin's writings. Franklin understood the critical importance of time management, not only from the standpoint of personal accountability and efficiency, but also with the knowledge that it was the one equalizer on the playing field of life. Some people may enjoy advantages in health, social status, money or fame, but everyone has the same amount of time in a day. To Franklin, the enemies of success were idleness and "sloth." The key to wealth and happiness, according to Franklin, is to rise early in the morning, not "squander time," eschew procrastination, and be proactive. "Drive thy business," writes Franklin. "Let not that drive thee."

"A little neglect may breed mischief."

The continuation of this maxim is: "For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost; and for want of a horse, the rider was lost." Attention to detail. It's one of the most important rules in business, and yet it is astonishing how often we forget its importance. How many resumes have been discarded because of a typographical error? How many letters have been unopened because of a misspelled name on the envelope? How many packages have not been delivered because of one wrong number in the zip code? How many marriages have fallen apart because of one spouse's neglect of the "little things" in the relationship? How many business meetings have gone awry because of minor glitches in logistics? The questions can go on forever. Franklin's advice to remember the details is well taken, especially for today.

"Energy and persistence conquer all things."

Not only did Franklin live out the truth of this maxim in his own life, he would see it with his own eyes years after he had penned it. The American Revolution pitted a rag-tag "army" of farmers, planters, tradesman and students against the largest expeditionary force in the history of the British Empire. Britain's army was better trained, better equipped and better organized. Yet the colonists persisted in their fight against the English Crown; and, under the tenacious leadership of George Washington, defied the odds. The very existence of the United States of America is a testament to the power of persistence. Just as it fueled the fire of the American War for Independence, it can bring fulfillment of your personal goals and dreams as well.
Sometimes, the best lessons for our future can be found in the pages of our past.


For more on this subject, read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, available in most bookstores and at

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