Thursday, February 25, 2010

How Important is a Resume?

When you read an article or book on history or listen to a speech, how important is a resume? How important is it that the person have a certain degree or set of degrees from a certain school? Does it matter how many previous books she has written or how many awards he has received? What role do (or should) "credentials" play in whether a person is worthy of our respect and esteem?

I explored these questions in an article I just wrote for American Creation on the subject of academic elitism. Let me know what you think.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Did President Washington Lie in Office?

According to a CNN/Opinion poll released today, 3 out of 4 Americans believe Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both lied to the American people while serving in office.

The poll results highlight Americans' deep cynicism, especially when it comes to politics and Presidents. But is it fair to apply this cynicism to George Washington, the man Parson Weems idealized in the cherry tree legend as the boy who couldn't "tell a lie"? So much for that, I guess. And so much for "Honest Abe." Most Americans will have none of that. Nope, for them, our first President and our sixteenth President lied through their teeth, while serving in office!

Rather distressing, to say the least, given Washington's strong desire to maintain a reputation of integrity. "I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man," the first President once said.

While it's reasonable to conclude that most people (dare I say "all" people) will lie at some point in their lives, I find it somewhat troubling that we so easily believe the worst in people, especially individuals who did so much for America.

This kind of poll reminds me of the surveys during the Bill Clinton sex scandals. You remember those? The polls that said "all Presidents cheated on their wives." Yeah, that's right. There were surveys showing that large portions of the American public actually believed that most, if not all, of our Presidents committed adultery!

The fact of the matter is that all Presidents are not alike. Some Presidents are more decent and honorable than others. Some Presidents are more honest than others. And some Presidents are more admirable and noble than others. George Washington would be such a President -- a man worthy of our respect and esteem. A man who deserves better than this CNN poll.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Put Washington's Birthday Back Where it Belongs!

Forty years ago, you rarely heard the name "Presidents' Day." Now, of course, we read drivel like the following over at the website eHow: "Presidents' Day is more than just a day off from work. It's a holiday that gives us a chance to think about the lesson we an learn from the lives of those who have attained the highest office in the United States" ("How to Understand the Meaning of Presidents' Day," eHow).

Excuse me while I try to settle my stomach down. It wouldn't be so bad, were it not for the fact that so many people believe this garbage. Because, as the eHow article demonstrates, the United States of America has pretty much lost ALL understanding of what the February holiday is SUPPOSED to be about.

The travesty began in 1968, when Congress passed the Monday Holidays Act. Prior to that piece of legislation, there were nine federal holidays celebrated on specific dates. Each year, they would fall on different days of the week. That was too confusing and not worker-friendly enough for congressional tastes, so they decided to "improve" the situation.

With the Monday Holidays Act, Congress shifted four holidays (George Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans' Day) to designated Mondays in their respective months. Veterans' groups cried foul (justifiably so), and got Veterans' Day moved back to November 11, recognizing its origins as a day inspired by the armistice which ended World War I.

Once Washington's Birthday was dislodged from its actual birthday, the day simply became another day off work, a capstone to a three-day weekend. Advertisers began to use the term "Presidents' Day." And, well, the rest is history.

Today, Americans should take a cue from the veterans. They should cry foul!

And Congress and the states of the U.S. should move Washington's Birthday back to where it belongs.....on his birthday!!!

That means that, each year, the United States government (and all state governments) should recognize February 22 as a holiday to honor George Washington, the father of our country.

The February 22 holiday should recognize George Washington....and ONLY George Washington.

Anyone who says that George Washington doesn't deserve his own holiday is surely deprived of something we call "common sense." Anyone with a functioning brain should recognize the enormous contributions George Washington made to the United States and the fact that, without Washington, there likely wouldn't even be a United States today. Washington deserves every bit the moniker "Father of his Country."

It's only been since the Monday Holidays Act that people have begun to question this, now alleging that other Presidents warrant similar attention. Well, first, some Presidents shouldn't get ANY attention. And second, Washington isn't just being recognized for what he did as President. The purpose of his holiday was to recognize him for all of his accomplishments.

Chances are, though, that this wrong will not be righted. Too many people are used to hearing and saying "Presidents' Day." And people frankly love having three day weekends.

And, because of those two things, George Washington's legacy will continue to diminish each and every year.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Was Early America's Most Prominent Episcopalian Really a Deist?

**The following is an article I wrote for the Anglican Church section of Suite101 Protestantism.**

Was George Washington a Deist?
Examining One of America's Most Famous Episcopalians

No study of famous Episcopalians would be complete without examining the faith of George Washington. Yet of those who have studied George Washington and his Christian faith, many claim that America's most preeminent Founder was more Deist than Christian. Was George Washington, the most famous Anglican in American history, really a Deist?

Was George Washington Even Religious?

Presidential biographer William A. DeGregorio says religion factored "very little" into Washington's life (DeGregorio, William A. The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents. Barricade, 2001). Pulitzer Prize winning author Joseph Ellis similarly downplays Washington's faith, arguing that the nation's first President was “never a deeply religious man" and saw God merely “as a distant, impersonal force, the presumed well-spring of what he called destiny or providence" (Ellis, Joseph. His Excellency George Washington. Vintage, 2005). Does this characterization of Washington square with the historical record?

***The rest of this article can be found at "Was George Washington a Deist?" - a feature piece in the Protestantism section of

Friday, February 12, 2010

Abraham Lincoln: Champion of America's Founding

In honor of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, let us briefly consider our nation's sixteenth President and one of the Founding Fathers' greatest cheerleaders. Yes, Abraham Lincoln was not a Founding Father, and this site concerns itself mainly with the period in American history that predates Mr. Lincoln's. But Lincoln counted himself as one of the Founders' strongest champions.

In an 1856 speech in Bloomington, Illinois, the future President declared: "Let us revere the Declaration of Independence!" In another speech that same year, he called the Declaration "the immortal emblem of Humanity." That these were not mere rhetorical flourishes is evidenced by Lincoln's numerous tributes to America's Founding Fathers and their founding documents.

It may seem difficult for people in this postmodern age to grasp, but Lincoln's very conception of the United States of America was based on its founding principles.

In The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, historian Richard N. Current wrote: "Lincoln passionately believed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United of the United States. To him, these documents were not merely historical relics; they embodied fundamental ideals, ideals in the process of realization, ideals that formed the basis for his political thinking."

Says writer Lewis Lehrman: "Mr. Lincoln had steeped himself in the history of the Founding. He understood both its politics and its purpose. And he worried that its meaning had been lost on a generation that associated it only with fireworks and celebrations." One wonders what he'd say of today's generation?

Lincoln faces critics today on primarily two fronts. On the one hand, some charge that Lincoln was a racist who never really believed in civil rights or had any real problem with slavery. He was, according to this view, "forced" into emancipating the slaves. This view of Lincoln is frankly both shallow and cynical.

Abraham Lincoln was a man of his times. From within the paradigm of his world (mid-1800s Illinois), he could not conceive of a future America, in which blacks and whites would enjoy racial equality and harmony. That is true, but he was nevertheless deeply troubled by slavery and sincere in his opposition to it. And, given the benefit of his eventual and very real friendship with Frederick Douglass and seeing firsthand the valor of African Americans in the Civil War, Lincoln's views on race evolved to the point that he was remarkably foresighted for a man of his generation.

The other criticism of Lincoln is that he was a tyrant who trampled on the rights of the southern states. Neither time nor space will allow me to get into the aspects of the Civil War, but let me say this. Abraham Lincoln's pro-Union perspective, which led him to forcibly resist southern secession, was consistent with that of former Presidents Andrew Jackson and George Washington. Were Jackson and Washington tyrants?

Abraham Lincoln was not a perfect man. He was, after all, a human being. And all human beings are flawed and imperfect. But Lincoln did aspire to values and principles greater than himself. For Lincoln, the greatness of the American people would come only with a reliance upon the values enshrined in their heritage.

Sure, Lincoln believed in the future. Yes, Lincoln didn't want any society stuck in the past. But Lincoln didn't believe progress required the jettisoning of core beliefs and values deeply embedded in America's founding. On the contrary, he felt that the success of America rested on its ability to carry forward those principles.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lincoln!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Blizzard of 1772: The Washington Area's Worst Snowstorm?

"Snowmageddon" is what Barack Obama has called the blizzard of 2010! And the blizzard of 2010 is indeed the worst winterstorm the Washington, DC area has suffered through in recorded history. But, apparently, the blizzard of 2010 isn't the worst ever. That "honor" may go to the blizzard of 1772, an event recorded in the diaries of both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

The blizzard of 1772 reportedly blanketed the entire mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, New York, Baltimore, and what is now Washington, DC. Given the lack of official records from that period, we have only scattered diary accounts and newspaper records to go by. But if these accounts are any indication, it was quite an event!

According to York County, Pennsylvania records, entire deer herds were destroyed by the blizzard. And both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington put the accumulation at over three feet. They were apparently trapped in their homes!

While the one-two punch of 2010's blizzard (the second punch is currently being felt in the region) may be just as bad, we at least have the benefit of technology to help us cope. Imagine being in the days of Jefferson and Washington, where there was no Internet, no Weather Channel, no weather satellites, no paved roads, and no snow plows.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

General Washington on Gays in the Military

If history is any indication, General George Washington would not be pleased with the current rush to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in America's armed forces. But it seems no one in the Obama administration is listening.

Following the lead of President Barack Obama, America's top two Defense Department officials called today for an end to the military's ban on open homosexual conduct. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both said that it was time to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the United States armed services.

General George Washington, America's first military leader, disagreed. It would have been interesting to have General Washington present for the same hearing. I wonder if Congress would even listen to him, though, given the growing momentum for change.

Washington's position on gays serving openly in the military was seen in March 1778, with the case of Lieutenant Frederick Gotthold Enslin. Enslin was courtmartialed 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..."

While some may argue that Washington's primary concern was with Lieutenant Enslin's aggressiveness or breach of protocol, it's more likely that the Continental Army Commander-in-Chief found Enslin's homosexual conduct itself to be "detestable" and a danger to unit morale and cohesion.

Does this make General Washington homophobic? Was our nation's first general an intolerant bigot?

While it would appear that the current policy's days are numbered and that change is indeed coming, I think it would be a mistake to dismiss Washington too quickly. Washington was a man of his times, but we make a grave error if we assume that Washington's times were, in all respects, inferior to our own.

It's true that the United States has enjoyed progress since the late 1700s on many fronts, including the rights and privileges of women and racial minorities. In those areas, we should recognize progress. And, frankly, had Washington lived through all the years of American history, a very compelling argument could be made that he would've evolved and grown WITH the country in terms of his attitudes on racial and gender equality. Washington, after all, changed his views on race in the course of his own life. His trajectory was clearly in the direction of ending slavery and embracing the rights of African Americans.

But the issue of gays in the military is somewhat different. Washington didn't order Enslin's dismissal, because he saw the man has being socially or genetically inferior. He dismissed Enslin, because of the man's actions and how those actions affected the army as a whole. What's more, for Washington, there was something moral at stake. This wasn't a case of social elitism. For Washington, it was a matter of proper conduct and moral behavior.

Indeed, it was Washington who issued another order, forbidding cursing in the Continental Army and challenging his men to conduct themselves as "Christian soldiers." For Washington, moral conduct was fundamental to the success and value of the army. A good soldier was an effective soldier, and a good army was a powerful army. When you allow immorality into the army, you poison its cohesion and effectiveness. That appears to have been Washington's perspective. And that is what lay at the root of his dismissing Enslin.

Lest you think I'm overplaying Washington's sense of morality, recall that, as President, he echoed a similar theme in his Farewell Address. In that speech (published and not delivered), Washington declared that "religion and morality" were "indispensable supports to political prosperity."

I understand that the issue of gays serving openly in the armed forces is a very sensitive and highly emotional one. And I know that, for some, it's difficult to see it as anything but a matter of rights. Nevertheless, I think we should be cautious, before we jettison the wisdom and example of our nation's first (and arguably noblest) military leader.

Mark Steyn Takes on Multiculturalism

While the subject matter of this video clip isn't directly tied in with the American Revolution, I felt it provocatively addresses the larger concept of cultural values, forcing us to confront the question of whether some cultures are morally and politically superior to others. This is a relevant debate, as the whole reason why many people are interested in the American founding is because they want to explore the values that shaped American culture specifically and western culture generally.