Monday, April 28, 2008

Happy Birthday, James Monroe

Today marks the birthday of the fifth President of the United States -- James Monroe. President Monroe's signal accomplishment was the issuance of the Monroe Doctrine (a document that bears his name, but was actually authored by his Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams).

Monroe is also noteworthy for helping expose Alexander Hamilton's adulterous scandal with James Reynolds and (more commendably) being one of the only soldiers wounded at the pivotal battle at Trenton.

What do you think of Monroe's legacy?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Should we Abolish the Electoral College?

Presidents of the United States are not elected by popular vote, but rather by the states of the Union. Each state selects individuals designated as "electors," who then vote on the next President. These electors constitute the "Electoral College."

All fifty states now allow the people to elect the electors. What this means is that individual citizen voters are not casting their ballots directly for the candidate of their choice. Instead, they are voting to select electors committed to their candidate.

If you're confused about what the Electoral College is, let the folks at SchoolHouse Rock explain it to you...

The Electoral College was originally designed to empower the states and to guard against "mob rule." Many critics today are asking if it has outlived its time.

Historian H.W. Brands says that it has. Brands calls the Electoral College "anachronistic" and argues that it's time for it to go.

Political commentator and scholar Larry Sabato takes a more moderate tack. He says we should MEND the Electoral College and not end it.

What do YOU think?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Washington Takes the Oath of Office

I really like how HBO showed the awkwardness and nervousness of the principal characters present at George Washington's swearing-in as President of the United States.

When Washington adds "so help me God" to the presidential oath, those watching this scene truly understand why. It wasn't a political ploy to appeal to Christian voters - not then and not now. As courageous as Washington was in war, he was genuinely troubled by this responsibility he was undertaking. He did not feel himself adequate to the role, and was deeply concerned he would fail. And he knew that failure would not only wreck his reputation, it could also doom the nation. To steal a phrase from the movie Apollo 13: "Failure [was] not an option!" So, Washington placed his fate and that of the United States in the hand of Providence. "So help me God" was indeed an understandable thing to say.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lexington & Concord

Today (April 19) marks the opening of the American Revolution - the central contest in the making of the United States of America.

It was on this day that British soldiers and armed colonists engaged in their first, serious contest of arms. Ray Raphael, author of A People's History of the American Revolution has pointed out that other stand-offs between colonists and British redcoats had transpired before Lexington. But Lexington was the flash pin. It was the engagement that triggered the war.

For a neat video on the "Shot Heard Round the World," go here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Robert Morris - The "Mr. Money Bags" of the Revolution

Robert Morris was one of the most crucial individuals in the American War for Independence. Without Morris, it would have been very difficult for Congress and General Washington to sustain the war effort against the British.

Watch this video (hosted on YouTube) from historian Stanley Louis "Stan" Klos on Robert Morris...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Michael Barone on England's Glorious Revolution

What was the influence of England's "Glorious Revolution" on America's War for Independence? Watch these video excerpts from Michael Barone as he discusses the influence of England's "Glorious Revolution" on America's Founders...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Lehrer News Hour Interview with Gordon Wood

One of the most celebrated scholars of the American Revolutionary era is Gordon Wood. In surfing the Web, I came across an interview with Gordon Wood - an interview conducted on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

Follow this link for an interview with renowned historian Gordon Wood.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Death of American History

Thanks to materialism, consumerism, and postmodernism, our nation is sliding deeper into collective apathy and amnesia, when it comes to the study and understanding of its own history.

For a great article on this subject, follow this link to a piece by Brad Hart over at the excellent American Revolution blog.

For a discussion of postmodernism's effect on history, check out this link - which features Australian scholar Keith Windschuttle's remarks at a debate on "History, Truth, and Postmodernism." Windschuttle is the author of The Killing of History.

And, finally, for a great AUDIO resource...check out this link, which features Amy Orr-Ewing, a brilliant theologian, who refutes the postmodernist claim that "We cannot know history." Though her remarks focus on Christian history, her arguments apply to history in general. I highly recommend you listen to her presentation.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Reenactor Videos

See a demonstration of Canadian militia volunteers from War of 1812 era fire volleys...

And then (while not specifically Revolutionary War), this is a really neat video that shows how an attacking army had to advance through withering volley fire on a defensive formation. I would hate to be in the front ranks.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Hollywood Bids Farewell to Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston, one of Hollywood's leading legends of the 1950s and 60s, is dead. Heston was one of America's cultural icons, famous for his Academy-Awarding performance in the chariot-racing epic Ben Hur (my favorite Heston film!) and his turn as Moses in the perennial favorite The Ten Commandments (shown every Easter on TV for years!)

Why am I posting a tribute to Heston on this site? Because Heston twice portrayed one of the leading figures of early 19th century America -- Andrew Jackson.

Heston starred as Jackson in The President's Lady (1953), a movie based on the love affair between Jackson and wife Rachel.

Here's a Susan Hayward promo clip for her role with Heston in The President's Lady...

And Heston later appeared as General Jackson in The Buccaneer, a film starring Yul Brynner as pirate Jean Lafitte. (Heston fans will also remember Brynner as Pharoah Ramses in The Ten Commandments).

Take a few moments to pray for the family of Charlton Heston - and, if you can, get a hold of one of these two classic films and do some reminiscing.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Was George Washington a Great General?

How would you rank George Washington as a general? He lost more battles than he won, and he had an occasional habit of leaving his flanks unprotected. He also could be temperamental at times.

But could anyone else other than George Washington have pulled off an American victory in the Revolutionary War?

No, says Edward Lengel, author of General George Washington, a military biography of America's first general (and later first President).

Lengel argues that Washington may have been only a mediocre battlefield tactician. Indeed, his battlefield record is "mixed." But, says Lengel in the lecture linked below, as an administrator, political general, and moral leader, George Washington was unmatched.

What Lengel points out is that there's more to generalship than battlefield tactics. Generals like Napoleon Bonaparte, Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, and George S. Patton may have been wizards on the battlefield, but that's not all there is to being a general. And this was especially true for the Continental Army in the American Revolution.

This is why Michael Lee Lanning, author of The Military 100, ranks George Washington as the most influential military commander in all of world history! Lanning admits that Washington's high ranking isn't due to battlefield brilliance, but rather to overall generalship - and the indispensable role that Washington played in winning America's independence.

For my own part, I think General Washington's battlefield tactics are sometimes UNDER-rated. It's true that Washington left his flanks unguarded at times, and that he periodically failed to properly reconnoiter the field. However, when pressed to the wall, Washington's brilliance came out.

For one thing, Washington was a masterful escape artist - as was seen in Long Island and just after Trenton (and before Princeton). He was the "Houdini" of the Revolution! For another, Washington was spectacular in sewing seeds of deception in his enemy - through espionage (he was America's first spymaster) or through clever maneuvering. And finally, Washington was audacious when he needed to be - such as at Trenton.

Most importantly (and even those critical of Washington's generalship concede this), George Washington was the most determined leader of the American cause. It's hard to imagine a more desirable concept for the leader of an army that was perpetually outnumbered, ill-equipped, inadequately trained, and poorly paid -- and up against the mightiest empire in the world.

The United States of America is here today, because of General George Washington.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Man on the $10 Bill

About the time of the passing of Ronald Reagan, there was a brief groundswell of support for putting the image of our 40th President on the $10 bill. You can read an article about that here.

Now, let me make two points from the outset...

First, though this proposal is still out there, it is no longer being seriously considered. In a way, this is "old news," and it's not likely to come back anytime soon. Still, there are some, including and especially the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, who have not given up. On its web page, the Reagan Legacy Project asks its supporters in Congress to "vote for and support the legislation to put Ronald Reagan on the $10 bill."

Second, I am among those Americans who actually looks back on the Reagan era with fondness. Yes, I admire Ronald Reagan. Apologies to my Democrat friends and readers, but I think Ronald Reagan was a great President, and that he should be honored.

Those disclaimers having been given...

I strongly oppose dumping Alexander Hamilton from the $10 bill. And what's more, I regret that the brief controversy that flashed back around 2004-2005 over the proposal of putting Reagan on the $10 didn't inspire greater public awareness of Hamilton's legacy.

It is arguable that Ulysses S. Grant has outlived his welcome on the $50 bill and it's also reasonable to ask whether the man responsible for one of America's darkest hours - the tragic "Trail of Tears" - should be on the $20. But, there's NO reason to jettison Hamilton from the $10. That this was even seriously suggested is troubling.

Ronald Reagan himself would not be comfortable with the idea of dishonoring a Founding Father, and I therefore think it would be highly inappropriate to do so in his name. Hopefully, those still calling for this change will remain outside the spotlight and this proposal will not rear its head again.


For more on Alexander Hamilton, I recommend checking out the "Alexander Hamilton Patriot" blog.

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