Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Trenton Day!

In addition to wishing my readers a very Merry Christmas, I also want to join blogger Brad Hart in extending a warm "Happy Trenton Day" greeting as well.

Christmas Night 1776 was perhaps the most important night of the American Revolution. While Saratoga is considered the major "turning point" of the American Revolution, there perhaps would not have been a Saratoga at all, were it not for Trenton.

General Washington literally breathed new life into the Revolution with his victory over the Hessians at Trenton on the morning of December 26, 1776 (after an audacious crossing of the frozen Delaware and bitterly cold march the night of December 25). Without that victory, the American Revolution may well have fizzled in the winter months of 1776-77.

For more on this, read Brad Hart's excellent article: "Don't Forget Trenton!"

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Richard Dreyfuss Talks Civics

According to actor and activist Richard Dreyfuss, the American people are losing their ability to think and their interest in careful, thoughtful discourse. Because of that, the window of potential for our nation - for civilization itself perhaps - is closing.

Here is an interview with Richard Dreyfuss from the Mike Huckabee Show. The interview aired a week before the recent presidential election...



And here's a panel discussion with Dreyfuss on the same subject...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Revolutionary War Veterans Not Embraced Like Today

Say what you will about the America's faults, but our nation has learned to appreciate and embrace our veterans. While there's still more we could do, and while our nation still makes mistakes, we generally embrace and appreciate our veterans today. Sadly, this was not the case so much after the Revolutionary War.

Revolutionary War veterans were discharged from their service with little to no tangible guarantee of pay. In fact, during the war, the Continental Army was routinely ill-paid and ill-equipped. Bitterness and unrest over poor conditions led to serious problems, even a few uprisings, in the ranks.

There were many reasons for the young nation's failure to adequately care for its Revolutionary War veterans, but the two leading culprits were:

1. An Economy is Disarray
2. A Weak Central Government

Both of these problems would, in time, be addressed. But they were addressed too late for many war veterans.

For more on the Continental Army and our Revolutionary War veterans, read Veterans: Revolutionary War from Answers.com and check out these Amazon resources...







Saturday, November 08, 2008

Myths About the Founding

Was the 3/5ths Compromise crafted by racist slaveowners in an effort to dehumanize African Americans? Was the Constitution inspired by the Iroquois? Many Americans today would answer "yes" to both of these questions, due to the "politically correct" revisionist history we've seen since the mid-20th century.

The facts are far different, as Dinesh D'Souza points out in an excellent op-ed titled "Myths About the Founding." I hope you'll read it.

D'Souza correctly argues that the Founders deserve great credit for "a constitution that enshrined the noble principles of liberty and equality under the law."

Check out D'Souza's article (see link above) and, if you get a chance, pick up a copy of his uncompromising What's So Great About America?


Friday, November 07, 2008

History in the Hands of "The Dumbest Generation"

Teenagers and young adults today make up the "Dumbest Generation" in American history, according to author Mark Bauerlein. Bauerlein is the author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30).

Controversial and provocative he may be, but Bauerlein makes some very good (and troubling) points in this interview....



If you're a fan of history like myself, you've got to be troubled by the fact that history's memory is in the hands of this next generation.

**Editor's Disclaimer: As a former high school history teacher, I can say that there are EXCEPTIONS to what Mr. Bauerlein is saying. Some teenagers are very sharp and motivated. But, as a whole, this rising generation represents a crisis for America.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Think the 2008 Election was Nasty?

Well, the 2008 presidential election is over. While it seemed longer than most, I'm not sure it was any nastier. Past presidential elections were far nastier, says Heather Whipps, writing for LiveScience.com.

In her article, Whipps points out (correctly) that the 1800 presidential election between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams made the McCain-Obama contest look like a Girl Scout cookie sale competition. She writes that the duo "traded slurs that would put today's genteel candidates to shame."

You can read the complete article here.

For my thoughts on Obama's historic victory, click here and here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Columbus Day - Should it Stay or Should it Go???

Perhaps the most controversial holiday on our calendars, Columbus Day was officially created by Congress in 1971 (but celebrated by many states and by presidential proclamations since 1892).

The day honors Christopher Columbus, the man who best publicized the discovery of the New World to the old one, on the date (October 12) that Columbus' crew first sighted land.

The legacy of Columbus is a hotly debated subject. Over at American Creation (a very comprehensive group blog on the American founding), Brad Hart poses the question: "Should We Celebrate Columbus Day?"

"Yes!" says David Sprecace, writing last year in a Denver Post op-ed titled "Columbus Should be Celebrated." Sprecace argues that "Columbus possessed admirable qualities, of which all Americans can be proud." He explains:

Even by his detractors, he is seen as a skilled sea captain of the highest order. He challenged the conventional thought that the Earth was flat, seeking to "reach the east by going west," an idea to which the scientists of the day were forcibly opposed. He challenged the Aristotelian philosophy of science that had guided scientists for centuries in favor of the newer philosophy of science that placed observation in a primary role of analysis. He supported the heliocentric concept of the solar system with Galileo, Copernicus and Kepler before it became known by that name. In capitalistic spirit (admirable in the eyes of most Americans), he sought glory, wealth and a title of nobility by opening new trade routes to China and Japan.

Sprecace sidesteps Columbus' atrocities, saying that the Italian explorer (who actually sailed for Spain) has become a "scapegoat for perceived European sins."

These "perceived European sins," however are a wee-bit more than perceptions, and were regarded as rather serious by some of Columbus' own contemporaries.

The Court of Spain appointed Francisco de Bobadilla to review and oversee the situation in the Indies. From 1500 through 1502, Bobadilla conducted a rather thorough investigation of Columbus' work as viceroy and governor, and his report resulted in Columbus being returned to Spain in chains and briefly imprisoned. Though Columbus would have his freedom restored, he was forever stripped of his authority. His reputation, during his lifetime, would never recover.

But, in the centuries following his death, his reputation was revived, with the focus being on his courage and achievements as an explorer - his brutality largely forgotten. Until recently.

In the last couple of decades, a renewed spotlight on Columbus' record has called the appropriateness of "Columbus Day" into question.

In the opinion of THIS author, the full record of Christopher Columbus should be acknowledged. And while the discovery of the New World is, in my opinion, worthy of a national holiday, the brutality practiced by Columbus while governor in the Indies, is most certainly NOT.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Captain Kirk on the US Preamble

This is possibly one of the corniest episodes of "Star Trek," and there were quite a few corny episodes. :-) But if you want to hear Captain James T. Kirk recite the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution and explain its meaning to the inhabitants of a distant planet, well then....here's the clip for you.



Yes, it's corny and campy, but it's "Star Trek." What do you expect?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Weren't the Founding Fathers "Community Organizers"?

The recent Republican National Convention took some shots at Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's experience as a "community organizer." In particular, Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin slammed Obama's experience, while defending her own qualifications to be Vice President (and possibly President). Here is that excerpt:

Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown.

And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves.

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities.


In other words, Palin's experience as smalltown mayor counts as experience much more than Obama's time as a "community organizer." Yet hold on a moment. What does that say about some of our past leaders?

Well, Bonnie Fuller, writing in The Huffington Post, has accused Palin of "dissing" Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and our Founding Fathers. Fuller writes:

Has anyone just stopped for a second to reflect on the fact that Sarah didn't just diss Barack Obama, Rosa Parks and the thousands of other community organizers when she derided the Democratic presidential nominee's experience?

Hello! How about the founding fathers. I watched those guys portrayed in the recent and excellent HBO series, John Adams. It sure looked to me like the American Revolution began with a whole lot of grassroots community organizing done by dedicated private individuals focused on trying to build a better political system to benefit their fellow members of the Thirteen Colonies.


Whether Barack Obama's experience as an Illinois community organizer counts as worthy experience for his presidential resume is beyond the purview of this blog. I write on the American Revolution era, after all. If you want my political views, go to my personal blog. But...

I do want to address whether Fuller is correct about Palin's remarks...

Did Sarah Palin inadvertently discredit our Founding Fathers?

Just to clarify...Palin made these comments in response to her own experience and qualifications being attacked by the Democrats and some in the media. So, she was speaking on the defensive. What's more, Palin isn't saying that it's bad to be a community organizer. She's simply arguing that it's not executive experience, and that it therefore shouldn't be held up as a qualifier for the presidency.

Okay, that's what she's saying. Would the Founders agree?

First, I think it's a mistake for the Republicans to emphasize "executive experience" instead of "leadership experience." By emphasizing the former, the Republicans are putting a prerequisite on the office that the Founding Fathers did not. Not to mention that Sarah Palin has more "executive experience" than John McCain, which was on my mind the whole time during the Republican National Convention. If "executive experience" is the ultimate qualifier for the presidency, then Sarah Palin is more qualified than John McCain. Is that the message that the Republicans want to convey?

If not "executive experience," what did the Founders expect in a President?

The answer is LEADERSHIP experience. With this in mind, legislative experience, military experience, and (yes) community-organizing experience (on a proportionately large scale) CAN qualify someone for the highest office of the land.

For example, George Washington demonstrated his leadersip experience and qualifications during the American Revolution. Prior to that, he was a Virginia legislator, plantation owner and business man, and hero of the French and Indian War. After the Revolution, he presided over the Constitutional Convention - a parliamentary role, but a critical one. No one questioned Washington's experience, because he hadn't been a governor.

John Adams didn't even have military experience to fall back on. And like Washington, Adams had no experience as a governor. He was a legislator and (yes) a community organizer. He was also an ambassador.

I could go on. In terms of founding era qualifications, it seems that the American people expected their Presidents to be proven leaders.

This is the way Americans today should evaluate the presidential candidates. Does Sarah Palin's experience as mayor and governor qualify? Sure it does.

And then there's John McCain. His only "executive experience" was as commander of an air squadron. This is hardly at the level of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, or other military figures who took the White House. But few question McCain's qualifications to be President. Why? Because McCain has demonstrated leadership experience during his time in the US Senate.

What about Barack Obama's community organizing experience? Well, by itself, probably not. But is it a good start? Definitely. And if someone takes their experience as a community organizer and then builds on that to become a national leader, then that's something worth looking at. And I think that's where Obama is right now. Whether he'll make an effective President remains to be seen, but he has positioned himself as a national leader. That much is certain.

This post isn't intended to take sides in any kind of partisan way. The truth is that all four of the top contenders for President and Vice President have demonstrated leadership experience, and this is how we should evaluate them, when we make our choice in November.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Fife & Drum Demonstration at Williamsburg

Take a few moments to enjoy a Fife & Drum Corps. performance at beautiful Colonial Williamsburg....

Friday, August 15, 2008

John Paul Jones and the Raid on Whitehaven

John Paul Jones was America's most celebrated naval hero in the Revolutionary War. This video from YouTube talks about Jones' raid on Whitehaven...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Six-Star General

The highest ranking general in the United States Army is.....dead. Only one person holds the rank, and he is no longer alive - and hasn't been for quite some time. But the rank is official. No one alive has ever held the rank at the time of his (or her) service. And this will probably never change. What am I talking about????

Well, the highest possible rank in the US Army is "General of the Armies of the United States," a rank considered in the 1950s for retired (but still living) five-star General Douglas MacArthur. Had the idea gone through, MacArthur would've received a sixth star! For various complications, MacArthur declined the promotion, and the proposal was scuttled.

But, in the 1970s, the proposal was revived - not for MacArthur (who died in the 1960s), but for a general who died at the close of the 1700s! You guessed it...


George Washington


During the American Revolution, Washington was titled "General and Commander in Chief" and held the equivalent rank of a Major General (who wears two stars). When the Quasi-War with France erupted, President John Adams named Washington as the commander of a newly formed American army - to protect the nation in case of a French invasion (which never came). Washington was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General (a three-star position).

Washington died in 1799, but no one outranked him, until World War I. In that conflict, John J. Pershing was given a fourth star. And in World War II, several leaders were given a fifth star - including Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Marshall.

In the 1970s, Congress appropriately moved to remedy this situation. No one, they reasoned (correctly - in my opinion) should ever outrank America's FIRST general. So, they created the position of "General of the Armies of the United States" - a six star general rank. And they posthumously promoted George Washington to the position.

To this day, George Washington is the only person in US history to ever hold this rank. And he, of course, only holds it in death.

Will we ever have a LIVING six-star general? Probably not. And if we do, will they give George Washington a seventh star? :-)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Alexander Hamilton's Anglo-American Vision

Alexander Hamilton and his Vision of an Anglo-American World

For most of the 20th century, the world looked the way Alexander Hamilton would have wanted it to look. The United States, supported effectively and solidly by Great Britain, led the free world. Indeed, the Anglo-American friendship of the United States and the British Empire (later Commonwealth) dominated much of western culture, policy, and trade from the mid-1800s through the end of the 20th century.

The collapse of the Soviet Empire in the late 1980s and early 90s, which ended the Cold War, set in motion a "New World Order" - a multilateral world, in which the rules of economy, warfare, and culture began to rapidly change. And in the midst of this "New World Order," Europe has increasingly reorganized itself as a cautious friend and indirect economic competitor with the United States.

What's more, Asia (particularly India and China) has emerged as a mammoth presence on the international scene, threatening to overwhelm the Anglo-American order Mr. Hamilton would have loved. This all, of course, doesn't even begin to address the fact that nations such as Russia have reasserted themselves into the mix.

Where does all this leave us? And what would Alexander Hamilton have thought? And what would he do about it, were he on the scene today?

Hamilton's America

Let there be no mistake. Thomas Jefferson fought Hamilton's economic policies, during President Washington's administration, but Hamilton won the war.



It's true that results were a little more clouded in the short term. Hamilton got the National Bank (later defeated by Jefferson admirer Andrew Jackson) and the assumption of state debts, but Jefferson won the hearts of the South and the West. Hamilton's immediate popularity and influence receded, while Jefferson's climbed -- all the way to two terms as the President.

Indeed, Alexander Hamilton thoroughly self-destructed in a series of ethical and egotistical missteps that cost him his prestige, split the Federalist Party, and helped defeat John Adams in the election of 1800. Not only that, but Hamilton's personal rivalries (especially with one Aaron Burr) would cost him his life.

In spite of Hamilton's political demise, he was indisputably successful in the long term. Like William Jennings Bryan, the three-time (and always unsuccessful) presidential candidate of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Hamilton's mark was made more in social and legislative change than in electoral success.

For example, Hamilton got his national bank, and though it was ended by President Jackson, it lives on - at least partially - in the Federal Reserve Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and so on. In addition, Hamilton wanted a flexible "construction" (i.e., interpretation) of the U.S. Constitution. He got it. Even Jefferson, the super strict constructionist, became a practical loose constructionist, when Napoleon sold him Lousiana. (Of course, not even Hamilton would be pleased with the extreme 'loose constructionism' we see today).





Hamilton had a vision, and it was straightforward. He wanted to make the United States an economic power-house. Hamilton understood the economic strength translates into military power, national security, and international influence. To that end, he set himself upon the task of rebuilding (really, building) America's economy after the Revolutionary War and reestablishing (really, establishing) America's international credit.

Lewis Lehrman of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History writes:

No one who has read carefully into the history of state and congressional legislative irresponsibility, and studied the catastrophic inflation of the era of the Articles of Confederation, can fail to be astonished by the economic prosperity set off by the Hamiltonian economic plan of the new republic.

But fashioning a strong American economy depended ultimately, Hamilton realized, on several key decisions. Among them was a commitment to free market capitalism and a strong trading relationship with Great Britain. Each of these policies rankled the Jeffersonians, especially the one about Britain. For the Jeffersonians, an economic friendship with Britain was tantamount to betraying the French and undermining what the American Revolution was about (namely independence from Great Britain).

But as Lehrman explains:

The first Secretary of the Treasury thought Anglo-American entente indispensable to protect our vital commercial interests, not to mention his respect for the centrality of the hegemonic British navy, which, after 1815, insulated the young nation from the threat of entanglements and dismemberment by the competing great powers of Europe.

The United States effectively pursued a policy of neutrality (which was, off and on, a default preference in trade for Britain) until the War of 1812. After the War of 1812, the U.S. and Britain each recognized that further violence was futile and counter-productive. In the decades ahead, they would forge a friendship that Hamilton would've welcomed.

The Anglo-American Modern World

During the 1800s, the Anglo-American alliance was loose, but effective where it needed to be. Britain and the U.S. both agreed that a Latin America, free of French and Spanish influence, was in their best interests. Thus, the Monroe Doctrine, articulated by the Americans, was enforced by the British navy.

In the 20th century, the Anglo-American friendship was much more formalized, with other nations, such as France, eventually joining in. By the mid-20th century, the United States and Britain led the western world (with the US assuming the primary leading influence).

Author Walter Russell Means explores the role of America and Britain in the 20th century with his book God and Gold: Britain and America and the Making of the Modern World.



You can read a Claremont Institute review of God and God by clicking here.

What about China, India, and the "Decline" of Anglo-American Dominance?

Asia is rapidly emerging, especially the nations of China and India. Would Alexander Hamilton be alarmed? Should we be?

Not according to commentator John Stossel. In a Townhall.com opinion piece, Stossel writes:

It is certainly true that China's economy is expanding dramatically -- 10 percent last year. The Chinese build factories like crazy to pump out the inexpensive exports we Americans love to buy. To do that, Chinese producers have to purchase oil, steel and lots of other commodities. The new demand drives prices up.

And as the Chinese and other people get richer, they improve their diets and eat more meat, putting pressure on world food prices.

So media handwringers suggest we should worry about the poor becoming rich.

Actually, we shouldn't. It would be a sad world if one person's economic success depended on another's failure?


Hamilton would probably agree with Stossel's economic idealism, but if we were to take a cold, Machiavellian look at the picture, we would be tempted to say: "Yeah, but this is Business." In other words, the United States (looking at it like Machiavelli would) is a "Business" - and it's a business losing ground to China and India. Right?

In fact, it's also losing ground to Britain. A report commissioned by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg shows that New York could be supplanted by London as the world's preferred financial center. This would not be good for the American economy, though it would certainly help the British. But this is a subject for a different article.

The truth is that a Hamiltonian America has little to fear from Indian and Chinese prosperity. Why? Because a Hamiltonian America is a capitalist America fully committed to commerce, industry, technology, and opportunity. And such an America sees a rising China and India as new opportunities -- not as threats.

It's a Jeffersonian America that sees China and India as a threat. Some of my conservative friends will be offended by this, pointing out that Jefferson favored smaller government, states' rights, and so forth. This is only partly true (though it's mythically popular). Again, too much for this article. Look for a future analysis of Jeffersonian ideals. For now, by "Jeffersonian America," I refer to those Americans frustrated with a changing social order and who are suspicious of Big Business and "greedy" investors.

First, liberal economic policies, which include minimum wage laws, onerous regulations, and high taxes are partly to blame for all this. These are among the reasons why so many jobs have been shipped overseas and why American manufacturing has lost its position of dominance. But....

All is not lost. The United States can still continue as a major force in technology, information, investment, and trade - if, that is, the politicians don't mess things up.

George Mason University economics professor Alexander Tabarrok explains: "As India, China and other countries become wealthier, companies will increase their worldwide R&D investments." Tabarrok cites "pharmaceuticals, new computer chips, software and chemicals" as examples of R&D expenditures.

"Most importantly," says Tabarrok, "as markets expand, companies and countries will put to work the greatest asset of all for the betterment of mankind: brain power."

Stossel concedes that, in the short term, "richer Chinese and Indians bid up the prices of things." But, he cautions, that's just "the beginning of the story," since "increased demand and higher prices create opportunities for entrepreneurs." That means, if we're ready, American entrepreneurs.

As Tabarrok and Stossel see it (and as Hamilton would certainly have seen it), a more prosperous Asia is good for America -- if (and it's a big 'if') the United States is allowed to take advantage of these expanding markets and opportunities.

****************

The Hamilton image is courtesy of...


Founding Fathers information

Monday, July 21, 2008

Gays in the Military

Gays in the Military: What General Washington Had to Say

Conservative columnist Star Parker has written a provocative article asking what the nation's first general would think of allowing homosexuals in military service. In her article "Gays in the Military: What Would George Washington Think?", Parker laments that the values of our nation are being diminished. Citing the public's growing acceptance of gays in the military, Parker writes:

The culture war is like the recipe for boiling a frog. If you drop it in hot water, it jumps out. But if you drop it in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, you get frog soup.

Concession by concession, traditional values are being pushed, inexorably, to the margins of America.

It's a sign of this moral war of attrition that each battle is fought with less and less attention to what it means to the overall war.


Many, of course, see no problem with America's increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians (and their lifestyle). Parker wonders what General George Washington would think or say. Fortunately, the answer is available, for those willing to confront it.

First, let's set aside the ridiculous claims (by some) that George Washington was himself gay. There is no scholarly basis for these claims. They are (at best) attempts to associate a beloved figure with a controversial lifestyle in order to advance its acceptance. At worst, it is historical revisionism deserving of no more respect than graffiti on a bathroom wall. While there is strong, circumstancial evidence that George Washington was sterile, there is no evidence that he was anything but heterosexual.

What about gays in the Continental Army? What would General Washington have to say about that?

In March 1778, Lieut. Frederick Gotthold Enslin was courtmartialed and dismissed from the Continental Army for "attempting to commit sodomy, with John Monhort a soldier" and "for Perjury in swearing to false Accounts."

In a report dictated apparently by Washington and copied out by his staff, the general's feelings are made clear. "His Excellency the Commander in Chief approves the sentence and with Abhorrence and Detestation of such Infamous Crimes orders Lieutt. Enslin to be drummed out of Camp tomorrow morning..."

It is remotely possible that General Washington only "detested" Lieutenant Enslin's aggressiveness or breach of military protocol, but this is unlikely. It's more reasonable to assume that Washington's finding of Enslin's behavior as "detestable" was in keeping with mainstream opinion of that day. Virtually all the colonies and later states had laws on the books against sodomy until the mid-twentieth century, when they began to be phased out or challenged in court. Finally, in 2003, the US Supreme Court invalidated all remaining anti-homosexuality statutes.

Some historians have argued that the Baron de Von Steuben was gay. Would General Washington have forfeited the services of von Steuben if this were true and his homosexuality were known? It is hard to say, since the Prussian drillmaster was indispensable to the training and strengthening of the Continental Army.

It is reasonable, in my opinion, to assume that General Washington found homosexual conduct unnatural, distasteful, and immoral. But it's also possible that, given the right circumstances, he would be amenable to the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on the books currently for our armed services.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Leadership Qualities of George Washington

Leadership Qualities of George Washington

Without question, George Washington stands in history as one of its greatest leaders. How many leaders could have pulled off what General George Washington did in the American Revolution? Under Washington's leadership, the ill-equipped and typically outnumbered Continental Army endured countless hardships and many disappointments and yet it came out on top! In addition, Washington helped navigate the infant United States through its most formative years, refusing opportunities for dictatorship, championing civilian authority over the armed forces, presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and serving as the nation's first President of the United States. There's never been an American leader quite like George Washington!

Washington's Military Leadership

Washington's record of military leadership began in the French and Indian War, a conflict he helped ignite. While his eagerness, ambition, and lack of experience got him into trouble (such as at Fort Necessity), other qualities emerged which would foreshadow George Washington's rise to greatness. These qualities included:

  • Toughness - Washington was, in every respect, a rugged frontiersman from an early age. He endured hardship on the frontier and survived several health challenges, including a major bout with dysentery. Washington was as hardy and downright "tough" as they came.   
  • Persistence - A lesser man would've resigned himself to failure and ignominy after the terrible debacle at Fort Necessity. Not Washington. He politically and painstakingly maneuvered his way back into the war as a member of General Braddock's staff, which gave him an opportunity at personal redemption and to showcase the next quality of his leadership....
  • Incredible bravery - Washington repeatedly exposed himself to danger, at one point even charging his horse between lines of his own men who were mistakenly firing volleys at one another! During Braddock's infamous march and defeat, Washington was among the only mounted officers to emerge unscathed. Four bullet holes in his uniform and two dead horses were ample testimony to his courage and providential protection.
  • Organization - Following Braddock's defeat, Washington was posted in western Virginia to protect citizens from Indian attack. Though these years were frustrating for him, Washington had to contend, on a regular basis, with matters of supply, morale, discipline, and communication. He developed critical experience in organizing and managing troops under his command. 

By the time of the American Revolution, George Washington was widely respected as a proven soldier, charismatic leader, and accomplished military expert. In spite of his actual record as a battlefield commander (which included one minor skirmish victory and one embarrassing loss), Washington was the perfect choice for command of the Continental Army.

In the course of the American Revolution, Washington's qualities of personal bravery, toughness, and organization shone through, as did his mixed record in actual battlefield command. He had a tendency to leave his flanks exposed and, at times, tragically failed to reconnoiter the ground. Nevertheless, he maintained a firm grasp on the overall strategic situation and ultimately achieved success.

Washington's generalship during the Revolutionary War has been scrutinized by pundits and scholars, who often regard him as a mediocre tactician. They point out that he lost more battles than he won. Richard Brookhiser, author of Founding Father and George Washington on Leadership, argues (correctly) that war is "not the World Series." Says Brookhiser: "It's not the best out of seven."

Brookhiser is right. Washington was an extraordinary leader, regardless of his battle record. Brookhiser is not the only one who has written on Washington's leadership. James Rees, the executive director of Mount Vernon, published a similar book recently. George Washington's Leadership Lessons is a good primer on leadersip and an excellent introduction to Washington's greatness as a leader.

Washington's Political Leadership

As the war entered its final years, Washington dealt with enormous fatigue in the ranks of his army. That his troops were underpaid (if at all) and poorly supplied took its toll in morale, creating dangerous situations of unrest. Washington's charismatic presence, moral strength, and political maneuvering kept the Continental Army from rebelling against the weak civilian government and the Revolution degenerating into civil unrest.

After the war, Washington was called upon to head the Constitutional Convention. His presence was indispensable to the document's ratification. And then as U.S. President, Washington navigated the nascent country through turbulent waters, positioning it to become eventually the world's leading superpower.

Washington's Moral Leadership

Washington's greatest leadership quality was probably his high moral character. In spite of the opportunity to seize dictatorial power during and at the end of the war, Washington refused. Even when it seemed that seizing full power would be the only way to keep the Continental Army from revolting, Washington forcefully declined and maintained his support for the official government of the United States. When the peace treaty with Britain was finally sealed, Washington resigned his commission in December 1783, formally handing control of the military to the United States Congress. It was one of the very few times in history that a person with such immense power voluntarily walked away from it.

Years later, Washington was of course called back to service as President of the United States. And yet again, Washington voluntarily gave up power by declining to seek a third term as President. Sadly, the years of service to his country took a toll on his health, and he died roughly a year and half after retiring to Mount Vernon.

The character of George Washington remains his greatest quality and it was fundamental to setting the United States on the right path.

Washington's Legacy

It's hard to picture the United States of America existing today, without George Washington being at the center of its birth. So many things in our founding period could've gone terribly wrong, but they didn't, because Washington was there to lead the nation in the right direction. Remove Washington from the picture, and the picture gets very dark indeed. George Washington was truly the indispensable man.

In your opinion, how great a leader was Washington? And what qualities made him so?

Editor's Note: This post was revised February 9, 2011, to incorporate new content. Originally, it was written simply to recommend some leadership books focusing on Washington, but in light of some feedback, I edited it to include more content. Additional information on Washington can be found by reading my blog post titled "Important Facts About General George Washington."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Colonial Music

Colonial Music

Music was a key part of colonial culture. Of course, that can be said about any period in history. Music inspires emotion, shapes moods, reflects values, and influences socio-political views. Consider the impact of jazz, Elvis Presley, "The Beatles."

In church life, you can often tell what kind of congregation you're dealing with, just by observing their choice in music for Sunday morning worship. If it's all hymns, you can bet you're dealing with a dyed-in-the-wool, traditional, conservative (often rural) congregation that's dominated by baby boomers and senior citizens. If the music is more contemporary and upbeat, then so is the congregation.

Not surprisingly then, music deeply influenced colonial American culture. The Colonial Music Institute explains:

Understanding the music that early Americans chose to sing and play gives us a better understanding of the colonists themselves. Their music included ballads, dance tunes, folk songs and parodies, comic opera arias, drum signals, psalms, minuets and sonatas. Such music came mostly from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Italy, France, and Africa, and it was played on whatever instruments were handy.

The most popular instruments in colonial America were the violin (the most popular) and the flute. The piano was rapidly coming on the scene. According to the Colonial Music Institute, there were actually quite a few other instruments available at the time, including "drums and trumpets, trombones and french horns, 'cellos, violas da gamba, clarinets, oboes and bassoons, glass 'armonicas, hammered dulcimers, [and] organs."







Dance was of course wildly popular. George Washington was an exceptional dancer, leaving more than a few ladies swooning. The YouTube video below features a dance set to a colonial theme...



For more on the music of early America, click here and check out the following resources on early American culture...


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Spying Methods in the American Revolution

Spying Methods in the American Revolution

The American Revolution was one of the most significant wars in modern history. The Revolutionary War wasn't simply significant for establishing the United States or for helping bankrupt and inspire the French Revolution. It was also pivotal in ushering in new technologies, innovations, and strategies in warfare. One of the most important innovations in warfare that the Revolution helped bring about was spying.

And...the man perhaps most responsible for this innovation was none other than General George Washington.





General Washington's espionage strategy is one of the factors that contributed to American victory over the British in the Revolutionary War. And it is an aspect of the war thoroughly examined by author Alexander Rose in George Washington's Spies.





In an article for American Heritage magazine, Thomas Fleming elaborates:

It is commonly understood that without the Commander in Chief’s quick mind and cool judgment the American Revolution would have almost certainly expired in 1776. It is less well known that his brilliance extended to overseeing, directly and indirectly, extensive and very sophisticated intelligence activities against the British.

Ruluff McIntyre puts it even more plainly in an article for Early America: "The misinformation machine created by George Washington was critical to the winning of the Revolutionary War."

At the beginning of the war, America's spying methods were rather "amateurish," writes John Reed for the Valley Forge Historical Society. By 1777, says Reed, spying gained greater finesse.

Are there lessons for America today? In my opinion....yes. One of the reasons the United States has struggled in its Middle Eastern policy generally and in Iraq specifically as been faulty or limited intelligence. The US has simply not done an adequate job in penetrating some of the world's cultures, and, in some cases, has badly mismanaged its intelligence gathering strategies.

General Washington understood how critical accurate intelligence was for his army and how important it was to provide faulty intelligence to the enemy. Yet another example of how learning lessons from the past can help us in the present and the future.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The 2nd Amendment and the Right to Bear Arms

The Second Amendment and the Right to Bear Arms:
Was the Supreme Court Right in its 5-4 Ruling to Guarantee Individual Gun Rights?


Recently, the US Supreme Court affirmed gun rights in a historic decision. In a narrow 5-4 decision, the High Court held that the Second Amendment "protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home."





Gun control activists have been swift to condemn the Court decision as a return to the days of the Wild West. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley mocked what he saw as the Court's endorsement of everyone having a gun as a means of protection. If that's what they want, said Daley, "why don't we do away with the court system and go back to the Old West?"

Justice Stephen Breyer sharply criticized the majority decision, arguing that there is "no untouchable constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep loaded handguns in the house in crime-ridden urban areas."

Of course, can we ASSUME that gun control reduces violence?





Best question from the above video...."If someone breaks into your house, would you rather have a gun or a telephone?"

Roger Saunders, the Feature Writer-Editor for American History at Suite101, says that it's critical to ascertain the Framers' intent when it comes to the 2nd amendment. And he agrees with the Court's ruling. Says Saunders: "I believe the Framers were trying to say that the Militia could not be infringed by the Federal Government and that the individuals right to bear arms also had this protection."

According to Glenn Beck, the subject of the right to bear arms shouldn't even be up for debate. The debate was settled, argues Beck, at the founding of our nation.





What do you all think? Was the Court's decision in step with the Founders' intent? Does the Founders' intent matter?

Monday, July 07, 2008

More American Revolution Movies Coming?

Why aren't there more American Revolution movies? Sure, there's the occasional made-for-TV movie, like The Crossing (about George Washington's audacious attack on Trenton when the Revolution was at one of its lowest points). And of course, there's the recent HBO Films' miniseries John Adams, based on David McCullough's Pulitzer-winning bestseller. But...what about the Big Screen?


The Bad News


The reason there aren't more American Revolution movies (or history movies in general for that matter) is that the Big Screen is skewed toward younger viewers. As Shannon Dortch wrote a few years ago in American Demographics: "For the most part, the [movie] industry has placed its bets for 40 years on the people most likely to go to the show--teenagers and young adults."

Movie studios, by and large, know they can churn out Saw X or Alien v. Predator IV or Napoleon Dynamite or The Girl Next Door -- and make a ton of cash from the 15-24 demographic. (Oh, if there were only a way to turn the Titanic with Leonardo Decaprio into a sequel). But will these same viewers (who dominate the movie-going demographic) pay money to see Founding Fathers in wigs debate the Constitution? Unlikely.

That's bad news for history buffs, because...well...young people just aren't that interested in history - unless it's a love story with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DeCaprio on a sinking ship or Russell Crowe taking care of business as a gladiator in Ancient Rome.

This is why Hollywood doesn't produce more American Revolution films - at least not for the Big Screen. There just aren't enough movie-goers willing to pay money for them. Yeah, there's the rare exception, like Mel Gibson's The Patriot. But, come to think about it, that's about the ONLY exception. (Al Pacino's mid-1970s Revolution was a flop and doesn't count).


Good News....Maybe


The good news comes on two levels. First, there IS interest in American Revolution movies (as well as Civil War movies, World War II movies, etc.) in the living rooms of older Americans. What this means is....television. That's right, there's a market on TV for history films. Witness the success of HBO's John Adams as proof.

The good news doesn't stop there, however. The film industry is changing. Like everything else, it is become more niche-oriented, appealing to specific, targeted segments of the population.

And making movies is becoming more cost-effective, provided that studios don't have to bank on Big Name marquee stars. This is why you're seeing more low-budget, independent features achieving mainstream distribution.

Here's an example. Consider Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce's courageous fight against slavery. It appealed to African Americans, evangelical Christians, and history buffs. Niche appeal. And was made fairly cost-effectively. It wasn't a low-budget movie, but it was not a high-cost blockbuster either. We can probably expect more Amazing Grace type movies in the coming years, even on the Big Screen.

And who knows? Maybe....eventually...we'll see George Washington leading the Contintental Army to victory...while we sit in an air-conditioned theater, munching on popcorn. Hey, it's a dream! One can hope.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Justice Scalia on 60 Minutes

60 Minutes did a very interesting profile of controversial Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In part 1 (which you can watch below), Scalia defends his judicial philosophy of originalism. (You can watch the other parts at YouTube).

For my own part, I must heartily endorse Scalia's reasoning. If you allow for courts to redefine the meaning of the Constitution, then the document ceases to be a constitution. It becomes merely a platform for the judiciary to make policy for the nation.

Scalia has been a stalwart champion for keeping the judicial branch of government in its place - that of interpreting the law (within set boundaries of interpretation) - and deferring to the legislative branch of government the RIGHTFUL perogative of making and changing laws.

Constitution over International Law

According to Justice Antonin Scalia, the Constitution of the United States supercedes international law. Thus, if an international court ruling or international law conflicts with the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Constitution prevails - at least insofar as the United States is concerned.



There are many today who would disagree with Justice Scalia on this point, yet if the Founding Fathers could be resurrected, they would NOT be among them. The Founders would be 100% for national sovereignty.

What Happened to the Losers?

After Yorktown (1781), the Treaty of Paris (1783), and the evacuation of the British from New York (1783), the United States of America became a reality. The victors got themselves a new nation. But what about the losers? What happened to them?

"They went back to England," you say?? Well, not so fast. Many of the "losers" weren't from England. They were Americans.

MSNBC and the Today Show did a special on what these Loyalists did immediately after the war - and did so by profiling their descendants. It's a very interesting piece, and it features the great-great-great-grandson of the notorious (depending on your point of view) Benedict Arnold.

Click here to watch the piece and check out the accompanying article.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Price (Really) Paid by the Signers

Every year about this time, an email is circulated that is titled "The Price They Paid" (or usually something close to that). It eloquently reveals the painful sacrifices made by the signers of the Declaration of Independence. There have also been speeches made, sermons preached, and plaques produced based on these inspiring sacrifices. The only problem is...

It's not true.

Did many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence pay a price for their courage? Absolutely. In fact, all of them paid a price - to some degree or another.

But it is not necesary to exaggerate their sacrifices in order to herald them as heroes.

Here is a link to snopes.com, which cites and then debunks the essay in question.

Nancy Rubin Stuart on Mercy Otis Warren

When people think of influential women in the founding era, Abigail Adams immediately comes to mind (and rightly so). And then names like Martha Washington and Dolly Madison also emerge. But after that, the average American - well, the average American interested in history, I should say - begins to scratch his or her head.

Well, the truth is, there were several women who played an important role in shaping early American thought and culture. And historian Nancy Rubin Stuart is intent on helping us to remember and honor one of them.

Stuart is the author of The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Founding of a Nation. The book is a biographical tribute to Mercy Otis Warren, an extraordinary woman in an extraordinary time.





Perhaps Warren's most noteworthy accomplishment was her three-volume History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution. (It was noteworthy as well for offending John Adams).

The Beacon Broadside has featured a piece from Nancy Rubin Stuart titled "Remembering a Founding Mother on July 4, 2008," which you can read here.

One may quibble with Stuart's politics, who (in her article for The Beacon Broadside) describes the Bush administration as one "that favors the wealthy over the ordinary man." Nevertheless, her insight on Warren is well worth your time.

Soon, the Bostonian Society will feature online a lecture by Stuart, that was recorded on June 17. The lecture features portrayals of Warren by actresses Barbara Delorey and Patrice Hatcher and a presentation by Stuart on her research.

Foreign Founding Fathers

Sure, you've heard of the Marquis de Lafayette and perhaps "Baron" Von Steuben, but did you know that there were several foreigners who came to the colonies during the American Revolution? And these foreigners, in some cases, played a pretty significant role in shaping early American history.

Roger Saunders, the Suite101 American History writer-editor, has written an excellent piece titled "America's Foreign Founding Fathers."

Follow the preceding link to read Roger's article and then check out Roger's blog on the American Revolution by clicking here.

Washington's Boyhood Home Found

George Washington's Boyhood Home Found -- From Time.com

(WASHINGTON) — The archaeologists were delighted to at last find the remains of George Washington's boyhood home but got stumped when they looked for evidence of the cherry tree and rusty hatchet.

"This was the setting for many important events in Washington's life," David Muraca, director of archaeology for The George Washington Foundation, announced Wednesday.

To continue reading the article, click here.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Questioning a Candidate's Patriotism


In a speech Monday in Independence, Missouri, Senator Barack Obama (D-Illinois) defended his patriotism and promised he wouldn't question the patriotism of anyone else.

"I have found, for the first time, my patriotism challenged – at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears about who I am and what I stand for," Obama said. "I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine."

Since this blog is about the founding era, I will withhold my thoughts on Senator Obama's patriotism. Instead, I want to politely point out that the attacks on Senator Obama are pale compared to those flung back and forth during presidential elections in the early part of our nation's history.

During George Washington's presidency, rival Cabinet members Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson employed paid and unpaid surrogates to hurl constant barrages of vicious accusations against each other. Washington almost refused a second term due to the mudfest, and chided his Cabinet members repeatedly to essentially grow up.

Things didn't get better upon Washington's retirement. The election of 1796 was rather unpleasant, and the election of 1800 was downright nasty. Thomas Jefferson was called everything from an atheist to a traitor, while John Adams was mocked and ridiculed as a befuddled "monarchist." (Oh, and as David McCullough points out, to be called a "monarchist" back then was like being called a "communist" in the 1950s).

Campaign vitriol is indeed nothing new, nor is questioning another's patriotism. It goes back to the beginning of our nation's history. This isn't to say that mudslinging is good for America. Just that it's been around for a while.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Disney's Swamp Fox

Do you remember Disney's "Swamp Fox" TV series? It was based on the exploits of Continental militia hero Francis Marion, who was the inspiration behind Mel Gibson's character in "The Patriot." Here's a YouTube video featuring a couple of scenes from the series...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bring Back George!

Not George W. Bush, but George Washington! That's right, some folks at Facebook want to reelect the first President, making him the successor to George W. Bush. Do you agree?

If so, click here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

New Book: "George Washington's Secret Navy"

George Washington, the first commander-in-chief of the first American army, was committed to the idea of civilian control of the armed forces. But when in the Fall of 1775, he recognized the need for a navy - a navy he knew Congress would never approve - Washington ignored that commitment and created a navy anyway. He just didn't bother mentioning it to Congress.

This is the premise and theme of James L. Nelson's new book George Washington's Secret Navy: How the American Revolution Went to Sea. Nelson is the author of Benedict Arnold's Navy.

I just got myself a copy of this book - and it looks like I'll enjoy it. I'll let you know more as I read through it.

Revolutionary War Era Shipwreck Found

A twenty-two gun British warship lost in 1780 has been found. It's quite the story, and you can read about it here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

American Creation

If you haven't visited the new blog - American Creation - you need to head over that way soon.

The American Creation looks at the founding of the United States from a cultural, specifically a religious, angle. There are several contributors to the blog, including yours truly.

To head over, just click here.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Revolutionary War Chaplains

Priests went to war with armies as far back as ancient times. And this tradition has been a part of America's history from as early as the French and Indian War, when a young militia colonel named George Washington complained for "want of a chaplain."

General Washington and the Continental Army instituted a chaplain corps. during the American Revolution to help bolster troop morale and insure that the religious needs of the soldiers were met.

During the first few years of the war, the nature of the chaplaincy was a bit disorganized - as were quite a few facets of American military life. The first major step in establishing an organized chaplaincy came in 1776, when Congress approved one chaplain per regiment. General Washington ordered that the regimental commanders "procure Chaplains accordingly" and that the chaplains be "persons of good Characters and exemplary lives."

In 1776, Congress set the pay rate at "thirty-three Dollars and one third pr month." And in 1782, Congress passed a resolution that fixed chaplain pay to the rank of major.

Virtually all Revolutionary War chaplains were Protestant, reflecting the dominant nature of Protestantism in colonial America. There were two Roman Catholics in the Chaplain Corps. Over the years, the Chaplain Corps. has become increasingly diverse, reflecting the changing nature of America's population.

For more information on chaplains in the Revolutionary War, click here.

And...I am working on a novel about a Revolutionary War chaplain. It's only in the idea stage, and has been in the idea stage for a couple years now. Any creative help you'd like to provide would be welcome. :-)

New Book Explores French & Indian War Campaign

Pennsylvania’s Forbes Trail:
Gateways and Getaways along the Legendary Route
from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh


A new family travel guide has been published as part of the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania's Forbes Trail: Gateways and Getaways along the Legendary Route from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh tells the story of the Forbes Campaign, one of the most dramatic and significant chapters of the French and Indian War.

The 208-page illustrated guide to the trail is written by Burton R. Kummerow, Christine H. O'Toole and R. Scott Stephenson and edited by Laura Fisher, with a preface by Fred Anderson (Taylor Publishing / July 2008).

According to the publisher's news release, the book "takes an engaging approach, combining gripping history with tools to help contemporary travelers discover historic sites, the great outdoors and family attractions along the trail today."

"It's really two books in one," says Laura Fisher, editor. "We're telling a little-known but fascinating and important historical tale, including the actual locations where young George Washington, British General John Forbes and their men struggled to make headway – and identifying places people can visit and relive these events today. Great modern-day family and outdoor activities are included as well, making this book a comprehensive guide to history, travel and adventure along the Forbes Trail."

I personally have not been able to review a copy of this book, but it sounds interesting. Here's a link to it on Amazon for your convenience...



Pennsylvania's Forbes Trail is the official Signature Project publication of Pittsburgh 250, a year-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of Pittsburgh, which was named by General Forbes immediately after the capture of Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio. Pennsylvania's Forbes Trail is published by French and Indian War 250, Inc., a non-profit organization spearheading the national commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War. The book was made possible by the Colcom Foundation. For more information visit www.forbestrail.org, www.frenchandindianwar250.org and www.imaginepittsburgh.com.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bill Moyers Interviews Thomas Paine Biographer

Thomas Paine was America's first bestselling author and one of the earliest radicals in American history. Click below on the YouTube video to watch Bill Moyers interview author Harvey J. Kaye about his book Thomas Paine and the Promise of America...

David Letterman's Take on "John Adams"

David Letterman has a little fun at the expense of the HBO miniseries John Adams...

Video Tribute to the Declaration of Independence

Watch this video on the Declaration of Independence. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the video features actors (including Michael Douglas, Kevin Spacey, Whoopi Goldberg, Mel Gibson, etc.). It's pretty well-done. Check it out...

Richard Norton Smith on George Washington

Historian Richard Norton Smith speaks about George Washington....

Monday, June 02, 2008

Harry Jaffa vs. Jeremiah Wright

The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, in a 2006 sermon at Howard University, declared: "Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run!"

Of course, Wright has said quite a few other, shall we say, "colorful" things about America before and since those remarks. Jeremiah Wright's America is a nation founded on and still committed to racism and greed. And he sees very few redeeming qualities in America.

In the course of this year's presidential campaign, Democratic candidate Barack Obama has tried (with mixed results) to distance himself from Rev. Wright, his 20-year spiritual mentor. One effort to do so was a famous speech on racism and America's legacy that he gave in March. In it, Obama said that the Constitution of the United States (and America overall) was "stained by this nation's original sin of slavery." Lindsey Shuman posted a link to the speech (and a few comments) at the American Revolution Blog site back in March. You can find it here.

Conservative author Harry Jaffa, a Distinguished Fellow at the Claremont Institute, has written a response to Wright and Obama. It's titled (appropriately) "God Bless America." (Those familiar with Rev. Wright's more controversial remarks will understand). I recommend you click here to read it. And then let us know what you think.

Brad Hart on Peter Lillback's "George Washington's Sacred Fire"

Brad Hart, the co-founder and one of the principal bloggers for the American Revolution Blog, has written a partial analysis of Peter Lillback's George Washington's Sacred Fire. You can find it here.

While I don't fully agree with Brad's comments, his analysis is well-written (as always).

And it also gives me another opportunity to plug Lillback's book. If you haven't picked up a copy of Lillback's George Washington's Sacred Fire, I highly recommend it.

Elitism, Bias, and David McCullough in the Study of History

Do you remember when John Adams by David McCullough first hit the bestseller list? I do. And, being a fan of that era of history, I was probably one of the first to scoop up a copy. And I remember telling a friend of mine - a university professor friend of mine - that I was enjoying John Adams.



I was surprised to hear his sneering over the phone, as my friend - my university professor friend - had very few good things to say about "popular" history writers like David McCullough. McCullough, my university professor friend explained to me, was not a "REAL historian."

Looking back, I am amazed that my scholar friend had the patience to walk me through this position. After all, HE was a scholar, an academic, a university professor, an esteemed member of enlightened academia. And I....well...I was a member of the proleteriat class - at least intellectually speaking. Why, I only had a bachelor's degree (at the time) and my friend, well, he had a P....H.....D. Yessir, HE was the REAL deal! Me? Well...at least....I could read.

That conversation served up (for me) a real serious dose of academic elitism. And it was crystal clear to me that David McCullough, as terrific a writer and researcher as he is, will never shake off the snobbery of his critics. Why?

I think it boils down to two reasons...

1) Academic Elitism

Academic elitism, according to Wikipedia, is essentially "the view that only someone who has engaged in serious scholarship has anything worthwhile to say on any given topic." Of course, those truly in the "academic elite" category are likely to cringe at my citing Wikipedia - for any reason - but I doubt very many people would question that definition.

Due to such elitism, bestselling historical writers like the late Stephen Ambrose and the Pulitzer winner David McCullough are routinely dismissed in the historical scholarship community.

Indeed, one historian, writing for Slate, dismissed McCullough's 1776 as "vapid mythmaking." He derided it as a "rousing, feel-good tale of how George Washington led a ragtag crew of continental soldiers into their fateful battle for independence." And as I read those words, I couldn't help but scream, "What's wrong with a rousing, feel-good tale about George Washington leading a ragtag crew of continental soldiers into their fateful battle for independence??!!!"



To be fair, this writer did concede that academic historians write too much for themselves - and that their writing has become rather....boring. He was more sophisticated than using the word "boring," but that's what he meant. And he's right.

The "academic elites" excel at making history boring, whereas people like David McCullough should be credited (by EVERYONE - especially those "jargon-clotted" academics) for making history fun, interesting, and (yes) ALIVE! McCullough is making FANS out of history - and that's a good thing! For that, McCullough should be praised - since if McCullough's dreams come true (dreams he has publicly expressed), it will mean MORE young people pursuing historical studies in high school and college.

Nevertheless, academic elitism is deeply entrenched in our universities - no matter how many bestsellers McCullough turns out or how many young people he inspires.

2) Liberal Bias

I know my left-of-center readers will get mad at me for using the term "liberal bias," but I have to call it like it is! The truth is that the more "elite" of the academic elites in the field of historical studies are....well....liberal. Let's be honest.

I can hear you asking: "Are you saying that only liberals have elites?" Well, the truth is that conservative elites don't tend to be in academia. (If you want to find conservative elites, head to Wall Street or to the high-brow country clubs. But don't look for them in the universities).

In the world of academia, conservatives (those right of center in today's political, religious, and cultural discussions) tend to believe that historical scholarship is open to anyone willing to work hard and engage in ethical and critical research.

(This isn't to say that there aren't some conservative cranks out there. Trust me, there are. But conservatives aren't barring the door to historical scholarship. You don't typically find conservatives checking ID cards and academic papers before letting people in the door).

The reason, I think, isn't so much that liberals are engaged in a conspiracy to take over America. Liberals are no more interested in advancing their agenda than conservatives. I don't mean "liberal bias" in any kind of sinister way. What I think is at work here is that there's a fundamental difference in worldviews.

Some examples of this...

I don't know David McCullough's politics. My hunch is that he's a moderate Democrat of the Hubert Humphrey era. (Some of my readers may know more about this. If so, chime in). If I'm right, then McCullough is a centrist - liberal on some issues, but somewhat traditional in his general view of America. I consider this a good thing. A healthy thing. But, alas, my liberal readers and friends will disagree. And that's my point!

David McCullough believes it's healthy and desirable to celebrate our heroes. His 1776 is a clear celebration of George Washington, which the writer for the left-leaning Slate derides. Liberals pooh-pooh this, believing it better to emphasize previously disadvantaged or dispossessed sectors of society.

For my own part, I believe we can do both. And, I think, McCullough would agree. BUT...I would add (and I believe McCullough would agree with this too) that there are REASONS why certain individuals rise to the top of society. There are reasons why history has traditionally focused on leaders like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, and Martin Luther King. Among those reasons is the fact that the people (including some of those disadvantaged groups) CHOSE to FOLLOW those leaders.

And this brings us full circle. Historians like Ray Raphael are wrong to protest the celebration of figures like Washington. Why? Because the masses that Raphael CLAIMS to represent in his work celebrated Washington. That's right. Washington didn't impose himself on the people of America. The people of America embraced Washington.

It's not just the celebration of heroes over groups that separates conservatives and liberals in history, but also the celebration of certain ideas. Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States is a favorite of many liberals, because Zinn gives a full, gut-wrenching condemnation of America's past (something fashionable in most left-of-center circles). By contrast, Thomas G. West's Vindicating the Founders is ridiculed, because West dares to contextualize and defend the Founders over sins for which the Academic Left has long since pronounced guilt and shame on America's heritage.



And, finally, there's the whole debate over the nature of truth itself. Liberals tend to be more sympathetic to the notion that truth is relative and that much (some say most) of history is unknowable. You just don't find that many postmodern relativists in conservative circles.

Bringing this to a conclusion, I have to tell you that my friend (my university professor friend) changed his mind on McCullough. He called back a couple weeks later to tell me that he was wrong about John Adams. He was, indeed, impressed with McCullough's research and analysis. I was surprised. A scholar with humility. It told me that there was still hope.

Indeed, with writers like David McCullough out there, there is still hope.

Monday, May 26, 2008

David McCullough Praises Library of Congress

Award-winning historian David McCullough praises the Library of Congress in a speech after being named a "living legend"...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Getting Shot by a Musket


What was it like to be shot by a musket? I'm going to assume that none of my readers have had that experience. If so, do tell. Should be an interesting story. But, assuming no one has been shot with a musket, I ask the question again -- What must it have been like to be shot by one?

The most common weapon of the American Revolution was the smoothbore flintlock musket. The advantage to the target is that a smoothbore musket isn't very accurate. If you're the target, your chances of being missed are much greater than if you were in, say, World War II and coming under fire from a machine gun. But...

The advantages pretty much end there. To give you an idea...the Brown Bess British musket was 75 caliber and the Brits used a 69 caliber ball. If hit by one of these 69 caliber balls, it would hurt. A lot.

A musket ball didn't cut its way into you. It smashed through skin, bone, and muscle - and sometimes would then bounce around even more inside your body (doing even greater damage). If you were fortunate, the musket ball would pass clean through you - a simple in-and-out flesh wound, perhaps damaging some nerves and muscle tissue. But if it impacted bone, you were in trouble.

Of course, once wounded, your problems were only beginning. You would need medical care. And medical care in the Revolutionary War wasn't exactly...well...good. This wasn't the fault of the practitioners (not in most cases anyway). Medicine simpy hadn't developed to a point that it could adequately keep up with the diseases, hardships, and injuries of the Revolutionary War period. For a good overview of the medical problem, go here.

Getting back to that accuracy issue...the tactics of the day took the musket's limited range and accuracy into account. This is where volley lines and bayonets come in. A mass of soldiers standing shoulder-to-shoulder firing their muskets in a unified direction helped compensate as did the bayonet. If you feared getting hit by a musket ball, getting impaled by a bayonet was even less appealing.

Of course, if you were fortunate enough to escape battlefield injury during the Revolutionary War, you weren't "out of the woods" yet. Far more soldiers died of hardship and disease than on the battlefield. That's right. If musket balls and bayonets didn't get you, there was still something like smallpox to take care of business.

It's hard to find an upside to life in the Revolutionary War period. As historian David McCullough has repeatedly reminded us, life was hard in that time period. Today, we tend to see this era through romanticized paintings. But we need to guard against the assumption that things were easier or better.

I thought this Memorial Day weekend would be a good time to remind us all of that fact.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Battle Road 2008 Tower Park

Some great footage from a Revolutionary War reenactment...



This was apparently posted on YouTube by a fellow Revolutionary War blogger. I'd like to put a plug in for his blog. You can find it here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dancing With the Stars...er...Colonials

Not exactly Dancing With the Stars, but hey, this is an American history site, you know...

America, Islam, and the Middle East

Michael Oren is a historian, author and Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. He is also the author of Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present.

Here is an interview I came across on YouTube. I personally am not a fan of Pat Robertson. (To those readers who are, I mean no offense, but my posting this interview is not an endorsement of Pat Robertson or the 700 Club). Still, the interview is worthy of being posted.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Revolutionary War Toy Soldiers


Do you collect toy soldiers? Revolutionary War era toy soldiers are not as popular as Civil War toy soldiers. In fact, American Revolution era toy soldiers are not as high in popularity as most other eras. World War II toy soldiers, medieval era toy soldiers, and ancient era (Greek and Roman) toy soldiers tend to be particularly popular for collectors and wargamers.

According to The Toy Soldier Company, toy soldiers can range from 1/2" to as large as 12" - the most popular being in the area of 2-3" high.

The Toy Soldier Company says that the 2-3 inch scale (better known as the 54mm or 1/32nd scale) provides toy soldiers "big enough to have a good deal of detail, yet small enough to allow you to play with lots of them in a small space." The second most popular scale, according to the toy company, is "HO scale," which is very popular with train enthusiasts and wargamers.

The Toy Soldier Company features several playsets from the American Revolution era, which can be viewed here.

The company Crossroads Diecast (from which I got the above picture) has a set of Revolutionary War era figures here.

You can also shop for American Revolution era toy soldiers on Ebay and Amazon.

For my own part, I loved playing with toy soldiers as a kid. Now that I'm a mature, responsible (ahem) adult, I would love to collect toy soldiers, but it's an expensive hobby. Besides, I wouldn't know where to put them. Still, the boy in me can't resist occasionally dreaming of one day having an elaborate case full of toy soldiers from various eras of American history - especially my favorite era, the American Revolution.

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Benjamin Franklin Success Quotes



Benjamin Franklin was one of the first "success gurus" in American history, as the above video and this article show.

People looking for sound wisdom on how to make and save money, advance in their careers, and/or succeed in business would do well to study Ben Franklin.

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