Sunday, January 25, 2009

Foreigners Who Served in the American Revolution

The American Revolution wasn't all about white male British subjects lifting up arms against the British Crown. In addition to women and African Americans whose contributions were indispensable, many foreigners cast their lot with the Founding Fathers and the Continental Army.

Roger Saunders, the Feature Writer-Columnist for American History at, wrote an excellent article on "Ten Foreign Men Who Played a Part in the American Revolution."

You can read the article by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why the Controversy Over Religion at the Inaugural?

Why the Controversy Over Religion at the Inauguration?
An Interview on "Bob Burney Live," WRFD, 880 AM, Columbus, OH (January 20, 2009)

The controversy over religion at the inauguration continues. That controversy ranges from the inclusion of "so help me God" at the end of the presidential oath to whether there should be prayers offered at the inaugural event.

Yesterday, I was interviewed by guest host David Stokes (sitting in for Bob Burney, host of "Bob Burney Live," a Columbus, Ohio based talk show). David Stokes is the pastor of Fair Oaks Church in Fairfax, Virginia (and, as such, is my former pastor) and is also a radio talk show personality in his own right, serving as primary host for "David Stokes Live." You can read more about him at his website.

This was my very first radio interview, so it wasn't mistake-free on my part. At one point, I tried to say "high, thick wall of separation between God and government" and it came out -- well, it came out a mess. At another point, I asserted that Washington "requested" the Bible to be sworn in on at his inauguration. To be fair, I don't know that to be true. I meant to say that Washington "utilized" the Bible and jumbled it up with "a Bible was requested for Washington's inauguration."

Those errors (and a few jitters) aside, I thought the interview came out well. You can download it by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Chief Justice Roberts and the Presidential Oath

You have to feel a little bad for Chief Justice John Roberts. The fumbling of the presidential oath between incoming President Barack Obama and Chief Justice John Roberts lies squarely on the shoulders of the Chief Justice.

Not only is it the Chief Justice's responsibility to lead the new President through the oath, but it's also his responsibility to correctly administer the oath.

And yet Chief Justice Roberts incorrectly prompted the new President. Things got off to an awkward start when the Chief Justice and the incoming President seemed to be talking at the same time, as the Chief Justice asked Obama if he was ready. And things didn't get any better after that.

The presidential oath includes the phrase "that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States," but Roberts stuck "faithfully" at the end of the sentence instead. It created an awkward moment for Obama and for the inaugural event itself.

Now, let's show a little grace here. Tens of millions of people were watching and it was the first inauguration for Roberts as Chief Justice. It was an unfortunate error, and it's one he probably feels terrible about.

I know I've made my share of mistakes. So far, though, none of them had tens of millions of people around the world watching. :-)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

So WHAT if GW Didn't Say "So Help Me God"?

In a just a few days, Barack Obama will follow in the foot steps of previous Presidents from George W. Bush to George Washington and take the oath of office to become President of the United States. Will Obama say "so help me God"? There are many who hope he doesn't. And these same people claim that he shouldn't because (so they say) neither did George Washington.

What???? George Washington didn't say "so help me God"!?? That's their claim, and many of them are downright obsessed about it.

In addition to my writings here, I am a contributor to the blog American Creation, a group effort at discussing and debating the religious dimension to the origins of the United States.

One of the ongoing debates at American Creation is whether George Washington said "So Help Me God." A few AC contributors have become quite taken with this subject, increasingly believing that George Washington did NOT add "so help me God" at the end of his presidential oath. You can read up on the debate here and here.

And now Peter Henriquez, a George Mason University history professor, has added his two cents to the debate with an article titled "'So Help Me God': A George Washington Myth That Should be Discarded."

***See USA Today article: "No proof Washington Said 'So Help me God' - Will Obama?"***

Now, I'm the first to say that we should be honest in our portrayals of history, but I must admit a great deal of frustration at the agenda-driven nit-picking that's going on here.

Was George Washington a Man of Faith & Prayer?

Let's first understand what's really going on here. There's absolutely no question that George Washington sincerely and unequivocally believed in God and prayer. Any historian that questions this no longer deserves to be called a historian.

What's more, it's obvious to anyone with the slightest shred of objectivity and the barest knowledge of early American history that George Washington repeatedly called on the American people to ALSO believe in God and practice prayer.

One only needs to read Washington's circular letter to the states (after his resignation as General-in-Chief in the American Revolution), his First Inaugural Address, his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, and his Farewell Address to see the man's sincere faith in Providence and prayer.

If Washington had been an atheist or agnostic and religiously-motivated people had crafted a "so help me God" myth to make him into something he wasn't, THEN I would be much more sympathetic to this new revisionist effort. But, this is not the case. What we're dealing with here is the proverbial equivalent of a dispute over whether a lion can run 50 or 55 mph.

So, these claims that Washington didn't say "so help me God" at the first presidential oath are NOT driven by any desire to 'set the record straight' concerning Washington's religious faith.

Did Washington Ask for God's Help?

The next angle these revisionists take is that having "so help me God" as an official part of the presidential oath violates the Constitution -- and saying Washington added the words undercuts the Constitution.

First of all....let's get the history straight here. George Washington not only asked God for help at his inauguration, but he also asked the American people to pray for the nation and turn toward God with obedient hearts! Don't believe me? Read Washington's First Inaugural Address for yourself.

Even if George Washington didn't formally add "so help me God" to the oath, he most certainly expressed that very sentiment in his Inaugural Address...

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those 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; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence.

Hmmmmmmmm....sounds kind of like Washington was asking for God's help. At least, that's how it sounded to me. And that's how it would sound to just about anyone, unless the person doesn't WANT Washington to believe in God.

Oh, and did you catch that first sentence and its implication? In case, you didn't, read it again....slowly....

"Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe..."

Now, what does Washington mean by "first official act"? Is he JUST talking about his Inaugural Address? Or is he perhaps talking about the overall inaugural ceremony? Call it a stretch, but isn't the OATH of office at least PART of an incoming President's first official act?

And this leads me to my last point....

The Cynic's Guide to Oral Tradition

It's true that we have no DIRECT evidence (in terms of sworn eyewitness accounts and such) that George Washington actually said "so help me God" at the end of his oath. We DO have INDIRECT evidence of this -- not the least of which would be decades of generally accepted historical tradition.

Herein lies a concern....we have become so cynical in our review and examination of past events that we sometimes (especially in matters of religion, it would seem) DEMAND - that's right, DEMAND! - absolute, 100%, scientifically-verifiable PROOF of something, before we believe it.

If that's going to be our standard, what happens to history? In fact, what happens to oral history? I'll tell you what's gone!

Why apply this standard if it's not necessary? And, if you're GOING to apply it, then be consistent -- and apply it to every area and across the board! And watch what happens to the study of history as a result.

The bottom line here is that no one can 100% prove (one way or the other) whether George Washington said "so help me God" at the end of his presidential oath. But we DO know that there is a historical tradition (dating back to the 1800s) that says he did. And....we know that saying "so help me God" was customary in western traditions. And...most importantly...that the phrase characterizes Washington's attitude toward Providence and faith.

This isn't really about whether Washington said "so help me God." This is really about atheists, agnostics, and other like-minded activists bitterly wanting to drive God and any reference to God out of the public square. THAT is what this is about.

Thankfully, President-elect Barack Obama isn't playing ball with that agenda. He has put a stop to some of this foolishness for now, by formally asking the Supreme Court Chief Justice to add "so help me God" to the oath.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Take the Quiz!

Monday, January 05, 2009

How Were Women Treated in Early America?

How were women treated in colonial America? How should the nation today evaluate the legacy of the Founding Fathers, when it comes to women? Can American women take a measure of pride in their nation's heritage?

I tackle these (and other) questions in an article published at Suite101 American History titled: "How Were Women Treated in Early America?" I hope you'll check it out by clicking here.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Originalism v. Activism

Happy New Year to all my readers! I'd like to kick off 2009 on this blog by posting on the issue of constitutional interpretation.

"Originalism" -- "Strict Construction" -- "Original Intent" -- These buzz words stir enormous controversy in political, cultural, and legal circles. The vast majority of law schools teach an interpretative approach more in keeping with judicial activism (though tempered by precedent to varying degrees). Most judges on the bench likewise reflect an activist approach, albeit some are more activist than others. This all begs the question...

How should judges interpret the Constitution or any law for that matter?

The following is a discussion on the issue, featuring two Supreme Court Justices. One is Stephen Breyer, a man rightly regarded as a judicial activist and Antonin Scalia, who champions strict constructionism.

While it's true that the authors of our oldest laws (such as the Constitution) couldn't foresee everything and while there were disagreements even among the original authors, it is very hard to escape Scalia's logic that a judicial branch not grounded in the language and original meaning of the laws it interprets makes the judiciary a policy-making branch of government.