Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thomas Jefferson and his Hair: Can Jefferson's Hair Unlock Some of History's Mysteries?

Thomas Jefferson died in 1826, yet it's possible that some of his hair survives to the present day. Those who claim to own hair from Thomas Jefferson include the Library of Congress, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello. If the hair owned by these organizations is indeed Jefferson's, then we have access to the actual DNA of Thomas Jefferson himself. Could that mean we may unravel some of history's mysteries surrounding our nation's third President, including solving the paternal question of Eston Hemings (Sally Hemings's son) once and for all?

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation claims to have “15 samples of hair purported to be Thomas Jefferson’s, from various family provenances." The Foundation, however, cautions that "it is impossible for us to know if these are what they purport to be.” Likewise, the Jefferson hair at the Academy of Natural Sciences comes from 19th century lawyer and hair collector Peter Arvell Browne. Some question whether it's really Jefferson's hair, but Browne apparently collected samples from the first 12 Presidents (all of which are now held by the Academy. Perhaps the strongest claim lies with the Library of Congress, which has three cuttings. These cuttings were received in the early 19th century from none other than Martha Randolph, who wrote on the envelope: "My dear father Thomas Jefferson."

Even if the Jefferson hair samples are authentic and even if the owners give them over for scientific research, genealogy expert Dick Eastman says we shouldn't get our hopes up. Says Eastman: "If we assume the hair is really that of former president Thomas Jefferson, any Y-chromosome DNA extracted would be identical to the DNA samples already obtained from Jefferson's other close male relatives." In other words, says Eastman, the hair samples give us "absolutely no new information." (See "Could Jefferson Hair Sample Provide New DNA Information?" by Dick Eastman)

Regardless of whether the DNA information can bring us new, groundbreaking information, it's still cool (at least to this history buff) that we have ready and literal access to a piece of our third President, a man who helped fashion and shape the United States of America.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Truth About George Washington's False Teeth

A subject that has long fascinated Americans of every age is that of George Washington and his false teeth. Standing at over six feet tall with a lean, muscular body, George Washington embodied physical toughness and rugged strength. He successfully fought off many illnesses in his life, but one area of his physique that showed serious wear and vulnerability was his mouth. Washington had terrible dental health.

Tooth decay was, of course, a serious problem prior to modern era advances in dentistry. Not surprisingly, Washington fell victim to this malady. Unfortunately for Washington, it was a particularly painful and debilitating struggle. In his magisterial biography Washington, Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Ron Chernow writes that Washington's problems were "so severe as to be incapacitating and affected his life in numberless ways."

Over the years, Washington lost one tooth after another. By the time he became President of the United States, he had a single tooth of his own remaining. To compensate for this, Washington required dentures. Contrary to popular belief, Washington's false teeth were not wooden. According to Chernow, Washington's dentures consisted of "natural teeth, inserted into a framework of hippopotamus ivory and anchored on Washington's one surviving tooth." Chernow says that the myth of Washington's false teeth being made of wood stems from the "gradual staining of hairline fractures in the ivory that made it resemble a wood grain."

Washington's dentures painfully distorted his mouth and facial features. The need to so often set his jaws a certain way and tightly close his mouth probably enhanced his tendency to keep a tight rein on his words and emotions. That he lived with pain and discomfort every day undoubtedly bolstered his work ethic, sense of discipline, and dogged persistence. I will leave it to psychologists to more fully explore the ramifications and consequences of George Washington's false teeth, but it's safe to say that they did have an impact on him and thus, at least indirectly, on our nation as well.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas in Colonial America

Many Americans today are uncomfortable with overt religious themes associated with Christmas, often preferring "holiday parties" or rather vacuous greetings like "Have a Happy Holiday." As awkward as Christmas may be today, it was perhaps even more offensive in the 17th and 18th centuries, for reasons explained by early history blogger Rebekah Brooks in an excellent article on the subject...

"When Christmas Was Banned in Boston"
by Rebekah Brooks

When the Puritans came to the New World in 1620, they brought with them their strict ways, their religious views and their distaste for Christmas. Although Christmas was widely celebrated in Europe as a Christian holiday marking the birth of Jesus Christ, Puritans saw it as a false holiday with stronger ties to Paganism than Christianity. Known for being pious and reserved, Puritans also took a dislike to the drinking and dancing associated with the holiday.

To continue reading, click on "When Christmas Was Banned in Boston" to be taken over to Rebekah Brooks' excellent blog on "The History of Massachusetts."

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Is Barack Obama the Fourth Best President? Obama Says His Accomplishments Rank Higher Than Those of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson

In what many analysts are calling a stunning display of hubris, President Barack Obama says he would put his record up against any President with the "possible exception" of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. In an interview with 60 Minutes, the President said: "I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history."

Obama's boast is understandably drawing scorn from the blogosphere. After all, the current President of the United States is ranking his accomplishments as greater than those of Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and just about every other President. Obama allows for the "possible exception" of Lincoln, FDR, and LBJ.

Since this blog is focused on the American Revolution and Founding Era, I will withhold commentary on how Obama ranks against Ronald Reagan (who led the USA to victory in the Cold War), Dwight Eisenhower (who gave us the Interstate Highway System), and Teddy Roosevelt (Panama Canal, Great White Fleet, helping end the Russo-Japanese War, etc.). Instead, I will briefly comment on Obama's claim that his accomplishments rank higher than those of our founding era Presidents, including James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington.

Ranking the Presidents

First of all, most presidential historians agree that it takes 20 years of separation and reflection before one can even begin to accurately assess a President's place in history. That means it's way too early for us to fully grasp George W. Bush's legacy in American history as well as Bill Clinton's. And it's naturally way, way too early to talk about Obama's legacy. Of course, with some Presidents, a comparison is easy. I have no problem with Obama saying he's accomplished more than James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, or Franklin Pierce. Such comparisons are easy. But to place himself, at this stage of his presidency, against Madison, Jefferson, Washington, or even John Adams is a bit presumptuous, to say the least.

Comparing Obama With Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison

President Obama led the nation through a massive overhaul of its health care system, ordered the assassination of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, and ended America's troop presence in Iraq. Additionally, Obama has pushed through several social policy changes popular with his progressive base, such as ending "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) in the armed forces. Most of Obama's record is still hotly debated and much of the changes he's pushed through could be reversed or significantly modified in the next several years.

By contrast, the United States stands pretty solidly on the accomplishments of our founding era Presidents. Madison led the nation successfully (albeit painfully) through the War of 1812. Jefferson gave us the Louisiana Purchase and the first President Adams avoided war with France during a very fragile time for the  United States. And then there's George Washington, who basically fleshed out the U.S. government that had been but a blueprint on parchment. While Obama may not be impressed with Washington's accomplishments, the first President created the Cabinet, supported the economic policies of Alexander Hamilton which solidified the nation's financial health, kept the nation at peace with Great Britain, put down the Whiskey Rebellion, steered the nation toward neutrality in foreign affairs (thus preserving America's identity as a separate power), and established the two-term precedent for American Presidents.

Of course, I've only scratched the surface with our founding era Presidents. In fact, I barely even got into the accomplishments of Madison and Jefferson. For Obama to essentially dismiss them, along with George Washington, shows incredible hubris. And it may show something else that's even more troubling. For a sitting U.S. President to show such little regard for the American founding era and its iconic heroes like Washington calls into serious question his grasp of the fundamentals of American government and the very heart of our nation's heritage. Forgive me for being political, but I simply can't vote for such a President.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Newt Gingrich's Favorite Founding Father

In this video clip, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich shares his favorite Founding Father. Gingrich is of course seeking the 2012 Republican Party nomination for President of the United States. By suggesting this video, I am not endorsing Mr. Gingrich. If someone has a clip from any other presidential candidate, including incumbent President Barack Obama, discussing his or her favorite Founding Father, I will gladly post that as well. Mr. Gingrich's favorite Founder is...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Legend of Lydia Darragh in the American Revolution

Who is Lydia Darragh? Like Betsy Ross, the story of Lydia Darragh (also spelled 'Darrah' and Darrach') is wrapped in legend, and some of the facts are difficult to differentiate from the myths. One thing we do know is that Lydia Darragh, an Irish immigrant to America, would become a popular symbol of heroism and courage in America's War for Independence.

Born in 1729 in Dublin, the future war hero married William Darragh, a son of an Irish clergyman and tutor to Lydia's family. Several years after their marriage, the Darraghs immigrated to America, taking up residence in Philadelphia. Lydia Darragh became a widwife, helping other women through childbirth and giving birth to nine of her own (four of whom died in infancy).

When General William Howe's British army occupied Philadelphia in late September 1777, Philadelphia residents loyal to the American cause, such as Lydia Darragh, resorted to clandestine means to frustrate the British war effort. Even though Darragh and her family were Quakers, their eldest son served with the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment. The American cause and the Continental Army clearly had their sympathies. During the British occupation, Lydia Darragh reportedly eavesdropped on British officer conversations in and around her home, and then sent coded information through British lines to the Americans as best she could. The details of Darragh's activities are difficult to pin down, as the main source of information is Ann Darragh, Lydia's daughter, who told the stories years after the events. Unfortunately, some of Ann's accounts don't jibe with other records from the Revolutionary War period, calling many of them into question.

The stage for Lydia Darragh's most famous alleged exploit was when General Howe personally occupied the home of her neighbor, John Cadwalader, making it his residence. The British then asked the Darraghs to vacate their home, making it available for British officer meetings. Lydia Darragh protested, saying that she'd already sent two of her children away and that there was nowhere for them to go. In her appeals to General Howe, she encountered a second cousin from Ireland, Captain Barrington, who served with the British army. Barrington's intervention is what apparently allowed the Darraghs to remain in their home, provided they set aside space for officer meetings and accommodate officer requests (such as retiring early when sensitive meetings were to take place). According to her daughter, Ann, Lydia Darragh used this arrangement as an opportunity to provide General Washington with much needed intelligence.

On December 2, 1777, Lydia received a request that she and her family retire by 8 o'clock, to make way for an important meeting. She pretended to go to sleep, but instead listened to the soldiers through the door, learning that the British planned to make a surprise attack on the Continental Army camped at Whitemarsh on December 4. As the meeting wrapped up, Lydia returned to her bedroom and feigned sleep as a British officer by the name of Major John Andre knocked three times. On the third knock, she answered and Major Andre informed her that the meeting was over and they were leaving her home.

The next morning, Darragh was granted permission to leave the city to buy flour. Her real plan, however, was to get the intelligence she gathered into American hands. According to Ann Darragh, Lydia gave the information to an American cavalry officer. According to Elias Boudinot, the Continental Commisary of Prisoners, Lydia found him while he was dining at the Rising Sun Tavern and gave him a "dirty old needle book" which contained hidden a "piece of paper rolled into the form of a pipe shank." That piece of paper, says Boudinot, contained the information of British plans to attack Washington's army on December 4.

Whatever the specifics, it does seem evident that Lydia Darragh played a key role in the American Revolution in December 1777 by warning General Washington (somehow) of a surprise British attack, allowing him to be fully prepared for it. For this reason, it is fair to regard Lydia Darragh is indeed a hero of the American Revolution.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Foundation for Writing Great Essays on the American Revolution

Those who want to make writing American history essays, including Revolutionary War essays, a painless exercise need the right mindset, focus, and tools. With these things in place, you have the makings of a great history essay. Writing history essays can, in fact, be a breeze. Here are three things, I believe, will insure you have the right foundation in place. Do these three things and your essay on the American Revolution will be off to a great start.

Understand the "Big Picture" of the American Revolution

You've heard the saying: "Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees." That applies to essay writing. Your essay will probably be focused on a particular aspect, personality, battle, or event in the Revolutionary War. But in order for you to properly address that aspect, you must understand the Big Picture. George Washington was not the greatest battle tactician (he actually lost more battles than he won), but he had an amazingly thorough grasp of the overarching, strategic challenges facing both the British and the thirteen colonies. It was this "Big Picture" perspective that enabled him to lead the ill-equipped, under-fed, poorly clothed, (at first) inadequately trained American Continental Army to eventual victory over the most efficient and best trained army of the world. By understanding the basics of the Revolutionary War, you'll be able to address the issues within your essay in the proper context, giving them their due attention and weight.

How do you do this? Set aside 30 minutes to one hour. And in that time, read through Wikipedia's overview of the American Revolution, along with about 3-5 websites or articles that address the timeline of the American Revolution. Get a handle on the key figures of the Revolutionary War, the major events, and the general chronological order of the conflict.

If you want to take this to the next level (time-wise), then head to your local library or over to Amazon and check out The Complete Idiot's Guide to the American Revolution by Alan Axelrod or US History for Dummies by Steve Wiegand (and read the American Revolution section).

Clarify Your Teacher's or Professor's Expectations

Years ago, I had an employer that impressed upon me the critical importance of understanding the "conditions of satisfaction" when taking on a work project. If you are given an assignment (whether in school or on the job), it's imperative that you understand what the person giving the assignment expects of you. To put this in blunt, academic terms: What specifically will it take for you to get an 'A'?

The best way to find this out is to ask. Set an appointment with your teacher/professor and ask: "What specifically are you looking for in this essay? What do I need to do in order to get an A?" Chances are that you'll hear something about research, argumentation, sentence construction, etc., etc. Write all that down. Ask as many questions as you need until you understand exactly what's expected of your essay on the American Revolution.

It's also a good idea to document this meeting with your professor or teacher. That way, if there's a problem later with your grade, you can go back to the professor/teacher with your notes. And, in the worst case scenario, you have notes from that meeting that you can take to the principal, dean, administrator, or whomever. Hopefully, that won't be necessary and you shouldn't expect that. But it's always good to have documentation.

Identify the Grader's Personality and/or "Hot Buttons"

Don't kiss up or be insincere. I want to make that clear from the outset. But it's always a good idea to know something of the person who will be grading your paper, presumably your teacher/professor. What do you know of his/her personality, interests, style, tastes, etc.?

Remember that essays are different from math worksheets or multiple-choice tests. With the latter, there's little wiggle room. The standards are clear. With essays, there is a degree of subjectivity. While most professors and teachers have some kind of rubric to make their grading as objective as possible, there will always be a level of judgment and discretion that seeps into the grader's mind. It's inevitable.

Your task is to find out what the grader is looking for. If your teacher/professor is a "get down to business" type, then don't waste a lot of space in your essay with ramblings and such. If he or she is looking for stories, anecdotes, illustrations, and such rather than tedious statistics or boring academic prose, that's good to know too. If your teacher/professor has a low opinion of Thomas Jefferson, and you decide to write an essay singing his praises as the greatest American in U.S. history, then you had better make your essay persuasive and (preferably) as non-offensive as possible to the one grading it.

These three things will give you the right foundation for a great essay on the American Revolution. The rest is up to you. Future posts will address some more intermediate and advanced tips for writing great Revolutionary War essays.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Experience the Wonder of the First Permanent English Settlement in Jamestown

Think history is boring? Take a trip to Jamestown. Anyone who visits the Jamestown settlement with an open mind and makes an honest effort to understand what those English settlers faced in 1607 will come away with a new appreciation for history. And that's why a trip to Jamestown may be just what your school or family needs.

History teachers and parents who want their kids to better appreciate history have to compete today with iPods, cell phones, television, and Facebook. Yet a person, no matter her age, can't help but be impressed with the adventure our ancestors endured at the Jamestown 1607 settlement. This is what makes a trip to the Jamestown settlement such a potential life-changing event. I remember the first time I went with my grandfather many years ago. I was a young child, absolutely enthralled by the ships and the fort and all that was there. And while I can't remember all the details of that distant memory, I remember how it helped shape my love for history from that day forward.

Those who visit Jamestown can likewise experience the story of America's beginnings, for it was at Jamestown that England established its first permanent colony in the New World. Sponsored by the Virginia Company, a group of 104 men and boys began the Jamestown settlement in 1607 on the banks of Virginia's James River.

Those who visit Jamestown today can take in the various exhibition galleries and learn about life in the 17th and 18th centuries. The community suffered terrible hardships in its early years, but survived, thanks in part to the leadership of John Smith. Their endurance made them the first permanent English settlement in the New World, which could not be said of the two previous ill-fated attempts in Roanoke.

Today at Jamestown Settlement, the story of these survivors is told through gallery exhibits, film, and costumed historical interpreters who describe and demonstrate daily life in the early 17th century. Visitors can board replicas of the three ships that sailed from England to Virginia in 1607. It's these ships that I remember the most from my youthful trip. You can also explore life-size re-creations of the colonists' fort and a Powhatan village.

If you're looking for a place to visit where history can truly come alive, Jamestown is one of the best places to experience.

Monday, August 22, 2011

George Washington vs. Napoleon Bonaparte: Who is the Deadliest Warrior?

One of my favorite TV shows is "The Deadliest Warrior," a documentary series aired on Spike TV. Now in its third season, "Deadliest Warrior" stages match-ups between elite soldiers and/or great military leaders to see who would be "the deadliest." In one of the most recent episodes, the "Deadliest Warrior" team analyzed a hypothetical contest between two of history's most famous generals: George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte.

"Deadliest Warrior" was originally created by Michael Scebknlz and produced by Morningstar Entertainment. Production responsibilities now rest with 44 Blue. It has aired since 2009. Thus far, the show has staged match-ups consisting of pirates, ninjas, samurai, Spartans, knights, Roman gladiators, Green Berets, Navy SEALS, and more. They've also zeroed in on specific individuals, such as Genghis Khan, Shaka Zulu, Saddam Hussein, Joan of Arc, and more.

To determine whether the ruthless master of warfare, Napoleon Bonaparte, could overwhelm the persistent and innovative Washington, the "Deadliest Warrior" production team interviewed experts, staged weapons demonstrations, and put together intense and highly complex mathematical simulations. To compensate for the fact that virtually anything can happen in one battle, "Deadliest Warrior" usually runs 1000 simulations for each contest. In the case of Washington and Napoleon, they ran it 5000 times. And the results were very close. In fact, they were the closest thus far in any match-up. To see who won....

For whatever it's worth, I have to agree with the outcome. What do YOU think?

Monday, July 04, 2011

How John Adams Believed America Should Celebrate Independence Day

John Adams believed America's birthday should properly be set at July 2. He had a point, as that was the day Congress voted for independence. Instead, America's birthday will forever be associated with July 4, the day Congress approved Thomas Jefferson's eloquent masterpiece (albeit with some "mutilations" as Jefferson described it). Putting all that aside, however, it is worth noting on this Fourth of July how John Adams said we should celebrate Independence Day.

In a now famous letter to his wife, Abigail, the future second President of the United States wrote of Independence Day...

"I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

Sunday, July 03, 2011

George Whitefield's Influence on the American Revolution

Rev. David R. Stokes, a minister, columnist, and author of The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America, explores the legacy of George Whitefield and the influence he and other Great Awakening evangelists had on the American Revolution....

"The American Revolution and the DNA of Faith"
by David R. Stokes

Many of the Continental Army volunteers who were listening to the sermon in Newbury, Massachusetts’s Old South Church couldn’t help but focus on the pulpit itself. It was September 1775, and the church had recently gained fame because the bell in its clock tower was cast by Paul Revere, who had just months before made a name for himself on horseback. But some of the citizen-soldiers listening...[continue article]

Monday, June 20, 2011

Vacation Planning for Lovers of History

The summer has arrived, which means history lovers can start thinking about vacation planning. There are many wonderful places to visit that have plenty of appeal for those of us who enjoy early American history. These places include Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, Historic Mount Vernon, Boston, Philadelphia, and so much more. For those of you planning a summer vacation with history in mind, I offer the following article for your enjoyment...


How To Enjoy A Unique Vacation That Is Filled With History
By Jack Bulker

Looking for a different idea for your vacation this year? Trying to figure out where a good place would be to go and you feel like you are running out of fun and different ideas? Then why not consider taking your holidays to a place of historical value? Even if you have children vacations to where there are historical sites to visit can be a lot fun and filled with a lot more action than one might imagine.

On top of that they are also very educational. Believe it or not, if you have children they will truly enjoy trying to imagine the scene of a battle or watching an actual reenactment of a battle or some other historical moment in history. Going somewhere that has a lot of history brings history to life and it's far better than reading about it in history books.

When you start planning for this, sit down with your family members and figure out what time in history, within limits, that you and your family might be interested in experiencing. Do they prefer the Civil War era over the Revolutionary era. Do they prefer all of American history over World history. Would they prefer the times of World War II or the wild west? All of this is important so take note. It will make deciding on a location a lot easier.

After you have done this try and choose one or even two of the different eras that they showed the most interest in and then do some research on different places to go that have things that are associated with these time periods. For instance if the Revolutionary War is of great interest then consider a place like Philadelphia. For those that love the Civil War consider Wilmington Delaware or Gettysburg or Washington DC that has tons of historical museums that should please everyone.

Find out when there will be different events in the locations you are interested in visiting so that you all can experience living history through reenactments, festivals or other types of demonstrations that have historical basis.

Get in touch with different historical societies to find out more about the area and how you can enjoy the history and get involved with it. Make sure to ask when are the months that have less tourists but they still offer the same historical events. This way, you will be able to ask more of your own questions of any guides there might be on tours you mike take. With less people you will be able to receive more personal attention.

Make sure that whatever you plan to see that you find your lodging close to where the historical sites are. You might even want to see if they have campgrounds near the area so that you can get a better feel for what it was like living in the area back in the day.

Another good thing to do is to book yourselves a room at a historical bed and breakfast at your destination. These will not only great places to stay with great service but generally will be decorated in the style of the period and who knows, maybe the room you book will be one that good old George Washington slept in on one of his many journeys.

For more free Travel Information download Jack's Free Travel & Holiday Information Pack at and join thousands of other people planning and booking their next holiday!

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Article Source: How To Enjoy A Unique Vacation That Is Filled With History

Monday, June 06, 2011

Sarah Palin on Paul Revere: Did Paul Revere Warn the British?

Americans love a good laugh. And picking on public figures is often a source of great laughs. Not surprisingly, when a public figure serves up a delicious gaffe, we are all too eager to pounce on it. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin provided such an opportunity for amusement when she said recently that Paul Revere "warned the British" and implied that he rang some bells as part of his warning. Here is a video excerpt of Palin's gaffe...

First, let's all agree that Palin's off-the-cuff remarks demonstrated she had only a vague understanding of the events surrounding Boston in April of 1775. She had only a very shallow understanding of Paul Revere and what he did. Then again, this could be said of the vast majority of Americans today. It can also be said of the vast majority of American politicians today. I shudder to think how many of our elected officials (be they at the national or state level) would pass a basic American history test.

With that in mind, let's get some perspective on this. All politicians say dumb things from time to time. Unfortunately, certain public figures have been branded in the media and, as a result, the public consciousness as especially dim-witted and their misstatements tend to get the most press. Sarah Palin is in this category. As is former Vice-President Dan Quayle and, to some extent, former President George W. Bush. (That all three of these individuals are Republicans should give the reader a hint as to the bias of the mainstream news media. Obviously, Fox News stands as a huge exception to that bias). In reality, virtually all public figures (Republicans and Democrats) have verbally blundered in the course of their time in the limelight. Here are three examples from Barack Obama....
  • "The reforms we seek would bring greater competition, choice, savings and inefficiencies to our health care system." –President Obama at a Health Care Roundtable, Washington, D.C., July 20, 2009
  • "I've now been in 57 states — I think one left to go." -Then Senator Barack Obama on the 2008 presidential campaign trail
  • "On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes -- and I see many of them in the audience here today -- our sense of patriotism is particularly strong." -Then Senator Obama at a Memorial Day campaign stop in 2008
I don't share that list to pick on Obama. My point is that Obama has largely escaped public ridicule for these gaffes. It's hard to imagine the media being nearly as generous with Palin, had she made statements along these lines. So, let's agree on two things...1) All public figures make gaffes, and 2) Certain public figures, such as Palin, get unfairly disproportionate news coverage for their gaffes.

That being said, Palin's comments on Revere were indeed a blunder. And she has only compounded the mistake by trying to defend it...

Joel Miller, author of The Revolutionary Paul Revere, probably sums up this entire episode best by saying Palin "should have been humble and admitted she got the story wrong." She truly has only herself to blame for the ridicule she is now receiving. Yet Miller's assessment also holds the mirror up to our own culture. That we invest so much time and pleasure in the mistakes of others is not something for which we should be proud. According to Miller, it's "unattractive" and "prideful" that we engage in such typical "high-vaulting and jumping down [the] throats" of those who make mistakes. Yet such is the culture we have become. And we have only ourselves to blame. And there aren't many Paul Reveres out there today to warn us of the consequences coming down the road.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Vision of America's Founders

Say what you will about America's Founders, the men had incredible vision. It's no small thing to start a new nation. Yet, that's precisely what they did. Critics of the Founders allege that that these men more or less stumbled into a war for independence, driven primarily (some of the more extreme critics say "solely") by their selfish, economic interests. Contrary to what these critics argue, the heart of the American Revolution was not greed, but rather a vision for freedom and liberty.

I'm not so naive as to suggest that personal interests had no bearing on the American Revolution. Personal interests have played a role in all of history's conflicts and great movements. The Founding Fathers were quite realistic about the nature of human beings. George Washington once observed: "Few men have virtue enough to withstand the highest bidder." And James Madison explained that "if men were angels, no government would be necessary." Human beings are, by nature, flawed and self-centered. The Bible, a book that all of America's Founders were familiar with, teaches that we are all sinners fallen short of a holy God (Romans 3:23).

The genius of the United States of America is not that our nation is free of sin, greed, or corruption. No nation is free of those things. The genius of our Founders and the greatness of our nation rests on the fact that it carefully "checks" and "balances" the selfish and competing interests of its people, while challenging us to aspire to noble ideals and principles.

There is no nation in the world quite like the United States. Flawed? Definitely. Perfect? Far from it. But it is a nation whose underpinnings and institutions encourage the very best in its people and constantly call its citizens to greatness. There is much we can learn from the vision of those who built America and shaped it for a great destiny.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

What Were The Real Causes of The American Revolution?

When people consider the causes of the American Revolution, the slogan "No Taxation Without Representation" comes to mind. And so does the Boston Tea Party (1773), the Stamp Act (1765), and those "Sons of Liberty" tarring and feathering British officials in the streets. For many people, the American Revolution is seen as the byproduct of colonial unrest over unfair taxation. This is a very shallow understanding of the War for Independence. British efforts to restrict trade, control the colonial economy, arrest expansionism, restrain colonial dissent and protest, and station troops in North America all contributed to a rising tide of discontent that led to war. What was at stake ultimately wasn't how much in taxes colonists were willing to pay, but rather the fundamental issues of freedom and self-determination.

"No Taxation Without Representation"

The most famous slogan of the colonies leading up to the American Revolution was "No Taxation Without Representation." The fact that this slogan endures today shows the power of good public relations. Words - coined effectively and succinctly - have staying power! The power of slogans notwithstanding, when people conclude that the War for Independence was about taxes, they forget these simple facts:

  • The most burdensome and controversial tax levied on the colonies was the Stamp Act of 1765, which was repealed in 1766 (nine years before military hostilities broke out and ten years before independence was declared)
  • The last major tax which preceded the war itself was the Tea Act of 1773, which represented a paltry tax on British tea in North America -- so paltry, in fact, that British tea (taxed as it was) was still cheaper than smuggled Dutch tea
  • When the Second Continental Congress enumerated the specific grievances in the Declaration of Independence, they listed "imposing Taxes on us without our Consent" as Number Seventeen!

Clearly, if taxes were the main cause of the American Revolution, the war would have started sooner than it did, and the Founding Fathers would've thought to list it higher up in the list of grievances in the Declaration of Independence.

So, if not taxes, what then?

Self-Government: The Real Issue Behind the War for Independence

With the conclusion of the French and Indian War and the ascension of King George III to the throne, the British government shifted its economic policy toward her North American colonies. Prior to the Seven Years War (or "French and Indian War" as it was called in North America), the British were content to allow the colonies to more or less govern themselves. After the French and Indian War, things changed.

The British extended their mercantilistic policies of trade restrictions and economic control, and began to directly tax the American colonists for the first time. In response to domestic tensions, they stationed more troops, undermined the authority of colonial assemblies, and ultimately imposed martial law in New England (and threatened to do so elsewhere). By the 1770s, it was clear that the British no longer respected the tradition of American self-governance.

The cause of the American Revolution was best summed up by militia volunteer Levi Preston. Interviewed over 50 years after the events of the Revolution, Preston gave the following explanation for the American Revolution: "What we meant in going for those redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn't mean we should."

Recommended Reading

For more on this important subject, read the Declaration of Independence, Common Sense, and a previous blog post "What Led to the American Revolution?"

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Five Diorama Ideas: Possible Historical Diorama Projects for Students, Hobbyists, or History Buffs in General

This is a slightly revised version of an article I wrote for Suite101 a couple years back. The diorama ideas cover American history in general, not simply the American Revolutionary period, but I thought my readers here might be interested nonetheless.


Five Diorama Ideas: Possible Historical Diorama Projects for Students, Hobbyists, and History Buffs in General

American history is an exciting subject, especially for those able to put themselves into history. Those who dislike history have never captured the ability to immerse themselves in it, instead seeing the past as a frustrating array of names and dates. Getting past that misconception is one of the important keys in capturing a love for history (or getting one's child to love history), and dioramas are a great tool in achieving this.

A diorama is a miniature scene, depicting an episode or setting from the past. It's kind of like an artificial, three-dimensional "snapshot" of the past, and it can be a compelling way for someone to connect with history.

To make a diorama, you will need:
  • cardboard box or sturdy container of some kind
  • dollhouse dolls or miniature figures
  • miniature trees, rocks, and other outdoor objects
  • dollhouse furniture (depending on your diorama)
  • modeling clays
  • miniature animals
  • paints
You should also check out this great diorama starter kit from Amazon and ask a local hobby store employee for anything else you might need.

What follows are five suggestions for exciting dioramas depicting events and settings of American history. Whether you are a history buff, hobbyist, or history student, these suggestions for dioramas should get your creative juices flowing. They are:

1) The Drafting of the Declaration of Independence

Your diorama will feature the committee appointed by the Second Continental Congress to draft the Declaration of Independence. There were five delegates on the committee -- three of which are household names (Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson). This scene can be depicted with a wooden or plastic surface, painted and/or 'treated' to resemble a colonial hardwood floor. You will then need a colonial desk and at least two chairs. Sitting should be Thomas Jefferson, pen in hand preferably, and also the elder statesman Benjamin Franklin. John Adams can be standing, peering over Mr. Jefferson's work.

2) Lewis & Clark

For this scene, you need two principal explorers (Lewis and Clark obviously) and perhaps a couple individuals accompanying them (Sacajawea perhaps). Have them standing on a rock cliff overlooking a valley, peering through a telescope into the distance. Backgrounds are key here. Attention to detail in the painting will be critical. You will need to use a combination of miniature trees, rocks, cliff-like facades, and paints to create the effect.

3) GIs Around a Sherman Tank

Show a squad of US infantry gathered around a Sherman tank in World War II, taking a brief respite from the action of the day. Have three or four sitting on the tank, with several others leaning against it or sitting around the perimeter. You'll need grass, dirt, stone, and good painting for the backgrounds. To add to the effect, you could have a smoldering German Panzer in the background. Put some dead bodies around as well.

4) World War I Trench Warfare

This will take some elaborate planning, but it's one that will look absolutely awesome when you're done - provided it is of course done right. Not only that, but it will showcase one of the most interesting and significant aspects of the Great War -- life in the trenches. Your diorama should feature soldiers living along a trench line, in various modes from sleeping, watching through the periscope, eating, and so forth. The rest of the diorama (working our way forward from the trench) will be "No Man's Land" with barbed wire, dead bodies, shell holes, debris, etc.

5) USS Monitor v. CSS Virginia

How about a diorama featuring the most important naval battle in US history - the Civil War fight that signaled the end of wooden ships and the rise of the modern navies? This was the fight that pitted the CSS Virginia (the raised and retrofitted USS Merrimack) against the "cheesebox on a raft" (otherwise known as the USS Monitor), the first warship with a movable turret.

Dioramas are time-consuming and can be very tedious. For more information on how to do them effectively, you should check out Sheperd Paine's How to Build a Diorama. The reward of dioramas, however, makes them worth it - provided, of course, they are done right. Good luck.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Revolutionary War Genealogy: A Case Study in Research Using Free Resources

So far, I've been able to trace my paternal ancestral line back to the early 1800s, with a general idea about my relatives during the Revolutionary War. Given that I'd like to find out more, I've taken a particular interest of late in genealogical research. I came across this case study over at, which I thought might be of interest to my readers.


Genealogy Research Using Free Internet Resources - A Case Study

By Linda Altman

Using free genealogy resources available on the internet, we will determine that the Abraham Labar married to Ann Marie Lange is not the same individual as Col. Abraham Labar of Revolutionary War fame.

Previous Genealogy Research Performed

The following information has already been determined by prior research. Abraham Labar was born in 1752 and died on 24 January 1814. He was married to Anne Marie Lange and they resided in Upper Bethel Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. Using this information as Abraham Labar's unique identifiers, we can separate him from other men with the same name in the same location.

The Quest:

According to the information provided, Abraham Labar is the correct age to have been able to serve in the Revolutionary War. In this case study, we did not use any for fee websites. Instead we resorted to online research techniques that include the use of search engines, free genealogy websites that offer transcriptions of records, and websites from state archives.

The first place we looked for Abraham Labar, is in the US census. 1790 is the year we will start searching. This is the first federal census taken in the US. You can expect to find the names of the head of household and a listing of other residents, by gender and age. Our quest for Abraham Labar shows the following 2 records located in 1790 US census, Upper Bethel Township, Northampton County:

  • Abraham Labar household: 3 males aged 16 and over, and 7 females.
  • Margaret Labar household: 3 males aged 16 and older, 3 females. Margaret is probably a widow.

We continue our search to the 1800 census. This census contained the same information as the 1790 census, however the age categories are expanded. We found 1 entry of interest:

  • Located in 1800 US census, Upper Bethel Township, Northampton County, Abraham Labar, aged 45 or older, 1 female aged 45 or older.

This is most likely the same Abraham Labar listed above; at 48 years of age his information fits.

There are other places to look for genealogical records other than the US census. We expanded our search to the Pennsylvania State Archives. Their ARIAS database reveals 5 records of interest:

  • Abrm. Labar, Lieutenancy: Northampton, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Company, Captain Henry Allhouse, 4th Class, 16 May 1780, inactive duty militia.
  • Col. Abraham Labar, 5th Battalion, PA Militia, September 1776 to May 1777.
  • Abraham Labar, no rank specified, 5th Battalion, 4th Company, Captain John Long, 1 May 1782.
  • Col. Abraham Labar, 5th Battalion, 1777-1780.
  • Col. Abraham Labar, accounted for £ 310.10.0, entrusted to him September 1776 for recruiting the flying camp. [Flying camps were a special battalion of PA line troops].

These records show that there are 2 different Abraham Labars, serving from the same area of Pennsylvania. Which one is the man we are looking for?

Our last stop in our research is DAR online lookups. The DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) has a record for Col. Abraham Labar that is of great importance.

  • Col. Abraham Labar, born in Delaware before 1750, Colonel from PA, no pension, Died in PA after 1777. His wife is Margaret Gordon.

This Col. Abraham Labar, contained in the DAR records, is most likely the spouse of Margaret Labar, listed in the 1790 census above. In addition this rules out that the Col. Abraham Labar, is not the ancestor of my client. Here is why:

Abraham Labar (1752-1814), married to Anne Maria Lange, would only have been about 24 at the onset of the American Revolution. This is very young to have obtained the rank of Colonel by 1776. Abraham Labar, the subject of our research, is married to Anne Marie Lange, not Margaret Gordon.

There is no way to determine if Lt. Abraham Labar from above is the man we are looking for, however, we can rule out that he is NOT the same individual as Col. Abraham Labar, because he could not serve in 2 separate units, with 2 separate ranks at the time.

These records clearly indicate that there were 2 men named Abraham Labar from Upper Bethel Township. In depth research will completely identify the Abraham Labar of our research as a separate and distinct individual from the Col. Abraham Labar listed in the records above.

© 2008 Linda Altman and Southern Genealogy. All rights reserved.

Linda Altman is a writer and researcher with 10 years of genealogy research experience. Her company Southern Genealogy, specializes in Census research, and families of the southeastern US, in particular, North Carolina families. Other areas of expertise include passenger lists, Native American research, and New England family research. This article may be reprinted as long as this entire box and copyright are included with it.

Article Source:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Old Letter From Martha Washington Turns Kansas

The people of Concordia, Kansas have something rather extraordinary to talk about. It seems a letter penned by the First Lady, as in the very first First Lady, has turned up in their small, little town of 5,700 people. The letter was written by Martha Washington in 1793, during her husband's presidency, and somehow made its way over the years to rural Kansas.

To read more about this very interesting story, click on the following link...

Friday, February 25, 2011

History Channel War of 1812 Documentary Waves The Flag

THE HISTORY CHANNEL® PRESENTS: THE WAR OF 1812 is a must-have for anyone that's remotely interested in early American history. The DVD box set includes the following programs:
  • FIRST INVASION: THE WAR OF 1812, which portrays a young United States "on the brink of annihilation" just 30 years after its independence
  • SAVE OUR HISTORY: THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER, which takes viewers through a history of the American flag and the poem that became America's national anthem
  • THE BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS, which covers General Andrew Jackson's lopsided and crucial victory over the British in 1815, weeks after the War of 1812 had officially concluded
  • Special Features, including a behind-the-scenes look at First Invasion and an episode from Extreme History on surviving in an 1812 battleship.
The real prize in this boxed set is the documentary First Invasion: The War of 1812. The documentary, which first aired on The History Channel in 2004, portrays a young United States of America "on the brink of annihilation" as it battles the largest and most powerful empire on earth. The clearly pro-American documentary chronicles primarily the final phase of the war, focusing almost exclusively on the British sacking of Washington, the assault on Fort McHenry, and the climactic encounter at New Orleans.

First Invasion tries to tie in the infamous "September 11" date by pointing out that British warships were descending on Baltimore and Fort McHenry, backed by an invading army, in the month of September 1814. To the Americans besieged in Baltimore and to a young attorney named Francis Scott Key, the assault on Ft. McHenry, coming on the heels of the capital being overwhelmed, was every bit the "September 11" of that generation.

Critics say First Invasion is far too pro-American, and that it ignores or downplays other elements of the War of 1812. Well, First Invasion is indeed guilty of "US spin" (as one critic called it). I'm not sure this is necessarily wrong, though. Michael Moore is famous for turning out documentaries that advocate a certain point of view and "spin" facts accordingly. While I'm not necessarily a Michael Moore fan, I don't have a problem with documentarians coming at their subject with a perspective or viewpoint. In this case, the makers of First Invasion clearly are Americans and they are patriotic. Or at least they are appealing to patriotic Americans. Not a problem, as far as I'm concerned.

Is it accurate? Yes, the documentary is very accurate. It points out that American looting and burning in Canada is what set the stage for the British torching public buildings in Washington. The film also acknowledges some of the expansionist greed that was behind some of the US politicians who supported the war. Nevertheless, the film very correctly points out that the United States was fighting for its viability as a free nation, if not its independence altogether. In many respects, the War of 1812 was a second war for independence with Great Britain. Losing the conflict would have been disastrous to the United States.

Of course, the United States was hardly prepared for the conflict. When war was declared, the U.S. had only 7,000 scattered soldiers under arms and roughly 16 warships. It could not strike directly at Great Britain, even though the Mother Country was distracted by Napoleon. So, the US had to invade Canada, which it did in 1812. And that didn't go too well. Before long, the US was rocked back on its heels, facing invasion from several fronts. And that's where First Invasion picks up.

If you haven't seen the film, I highly recommend you pick up a copy at your local bookstore, order it online from this link, or try to borrow it from your local library.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jefferson Books Found

It's a history scholar's dream come true! Dozens of Thomas Jefferson's books were found at Washington University in St. Louis. Some of the books include hand-written notes from the third President. You can read more about this news story at the following link...

Thomas Jefferson was, of course, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the third President of the United States, and the founder of the University of Virginia.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Horatio Hornblower DVD Series Takes Viewer Back to the Age of Sail

Many years ago, as an 8th grader, I was assigned to read a literary novel. When I asked my parents for a recommendation, my dad suggested C.S. Forester's classic Horatio Hornblower series. He knew I liked military history, and thought C.S. Forester's literary masterpiece would be perfect. He was right! The book I chose was Beat to Quarters, and I could hardly put it down. Shortly thereafter, my dad introduced me to the movie Captain Horatio Hornblower, starring Gregory Peck. I ended up watching that film more than a few times! And, over the next few years, I read more of C.S. Forester's novels as well as those of Alexander Kent.

You can imagine then my excitement, when A&E debuted the Horatio Hornblower television movies, featuring Ioan Gruffudd as the title character. At the time, Gruffudd was a relative newcomer to acting, but has since gone on to star in The Fantastic Four films. In addition to Gruffudd, the cast included Robert Lindsay, Jamie Bamber, and Paul Copley.

If you haven't yet seen the award-winning A&E Hornblower films, you should order the HORATIO HORNBLOWER COLLECTOR'S EDITION from Amazon without delay. The Collector's Edition features all eight movies, where you can watch Hornblower rise from midshipman to ship's commander. It's awesome swashbuckling naval adventure!

The Hornblower movies ran from the late 1990s to the early 2000s on A&E, and then, due to apparent budget issues, further production was set aside. In interviews, Gruffudd has said he's interested in bringing them back, but it appears that may be a long time coming, if at all. Until then, you need these movies in your collection.

The Collector's Edition comes with an exclusive interviews, filmmaker commentaries, bonus programs, interactive features, photo gallery, and more. Order now.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What if George Washington Had Never Been Born?

What if George Washington had never been born? What if the "father of our country" was someone else? Would the French and Indian War have started? Would the Continental Army have defeated the British under someone else's leadership? Would someone else have successfully thwarted a military coup at Newburgh? Would a different general refused opportunities and requests for supreme authority? Would the Constitutional Convention been successful without his authoritative presence? And who would have been the first President of the United States?

George Washington and the French and Indian War

Would the American Revolution have taken place, absent the French and Indian War? Most historians would probably say "no," as the French and Indian War (aka "Seven Years' War") accelerated the cultural and political divide between the colonies and the Mother Country. Without the French and Indian War, Britain's treasury would've been in a much healthier position in the 1760s. Thus, it's unlikely Britain would've felt compelled to levy as many taxes on the colonies or station troops in North America.

Since George Washington was right in the thick of instigating the French and Indian War, it's tempting to conclude that the Seven Years' War might never have occurred. Thus, some might wonder if Washington was at least indirectly responsible for the Revolutionary War happening in the first place.

While the young, eager, and inexperienced Washington did indeed stumble his way into a skirmish that led to the French and Indian War, the nature in which that skirmish took place and the way in which tensions were already mounting between France and England leads one to believe that the French and Indian War was inevitable. It's going much too far to conclude that Washington was solely responsible for starting the war or that the war never would've happened without him. In the case of the French and Indian War, George Washington rode events more than he drove them.

George Washington and the American Revolution

As with the French and Indian War, George Washington was incidental to the American Revolution starting. Sure, he helped fuel tensions against the Mother Country from his estate in Virginia and seat in the House of Burgesses. Sure, he co-wrote The Fairfax Resolves. Sure, he was part of the First and (initially) the Second Continental Congress. But, as with the French and Indian War, he rode events more than driving them. The American Revolution would've happened, even if George Washington had never been born.

That's not to say, however, that the American Revolution would've been a victory for the Americans, had Washington not played his part in it. Yes, the Revolutionary War would've happened, but once it broke out, strong leadership was needed to see it through to a successful conclusion. And it's difficult to imagine who else could've provided that leadership other than George Washington.

Had Washington not been alive, the Continental Congress would've had to consider the likes of Artemas Ward (health issues), Israel Putnam (age and health concerns, a stroke in 1779 ended his career), Charles Lee (issues with competence, character, and loyalty), John Hancock (an impressive signature and trader, but an effective general only in his imagination), or Horatio Gates (an ambitious, conniving opportunist who showed his true colors at Camden). Their best choices would likely have been Philip Schuyler or Richard Montgomery, but neither of these men were optimal choices. Some of my readers may be thinking Benedict Arnold (who, aside from the whole treason thing, was an excellent leader), Nathanael Greene, or Henry Knox, but these men flourished under Washington's guidance and mentoring. The scenario we're considering is 1775, not later in the war, when either Knox or Greene would've been an able replacement to Washington.

Even though Washington's generalship in the Revolutionary War produced mixed results, he excelled in the areas that mattered most. His character was unimpeachable, thus he could be trusted with the army and the authority given him. He was brave, thus earning the just respect of his men and inspiring them to similar acts of courage. He was a superb strategist, in that he quickly grasped the nature of the "long game" and the need to keep his army in the field and not risk it in too many grandiose, stand-up engagements. He knew when he had to have a victory, such as a Trenton, and when to cut his losses, such as Germantown.

It's very difficult to imagine any other person leading the Continental Army to victory over the British Empire in the American Revolution.

George Washington and the Revolution's Aftermath

Washington's indispensable nature becomes truly evident in the closing years and immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War. After Yorktown, what little public sentiment there was to support the war effort began to quickly evaporate, leaving Washington's army in the field with poor supplies, inadequate pay, and broken promises. Washington didn't dare support the dissolution of his forces, because that would remove any pressure on the British to grant American independence in the peace negotiations he knew were taking place in France. Washington therefore had the dangerous and unenviable task of keeping an increasingly frustrated, desperate, and disillusioned army in the field.

Washington knew when to be harsh in his discipline and when to make concessions. And he knew when to risk his own reputation and possible safety. His performance at Newburgh is the stuff of legend. Can anyone possibly imagine someone else other than George Washington pulling that off?

What's more, when Washington was essentially offered the keys to the government and the ability to become a dictator, he refused. Would Horatio Gates have refused? Would Charles Lee have refused?

Without Washington's character, fortitude, and calming presence, the American Revolution would likely have degenerated into civil unrest and a military dictatorship. The dream of freedom and a republican form of government would've been stillborn.

George Washington and the Constitutional Convention

In terms of the actual content of the Constitution, Washington's participation at the Constitutional Convention was more symbolic than substantive. The members of the Convention understood Washington would likely be the first Chief Executive, so the way they hammered out the executive branch of government was likely influenced by this realization. In terms of actual discussion and debate, Washington said very little. It is certainly conceivable, though, that the Constitution would've been very close in content and composition to what it was, had Washington not been present.

Ratification of the new Constitution or the very fact that the Convention happened in the first place are different matters altogether. Washington was instrumental in laying the groundwork for Americans understanding that a stronger government, than the one provided for the Articles of Confederation, was necessary. And his attendance at the Constitutional Convention did much to allay fears and concerns that a monarchy or dictatorship was being erected in Philadelphia.

After the Constitution was signed, Washington lent his name and prestige to support ratification of the document. It's unlikely the Constitution would've been ratified, had Washington been absent from the Convention or had he declined to support it.

George Washington and the First Presidency

Ask the average American what George Washington did as President and you will get a smattering of answers, most of them sparse. There is the impression that George Washington was more a figurehead than a substantive leader, and that his contributions as President were minimal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

President Washington created the Cabinet, appointed the first Supreme Court, presided over the adoption of the Bill of Rights, kept us out of a renewed (and costly) war with Great Britain, put down the Whiskey Rebellion, and supported the economic policies of Alexander Hamilton which were necessary to get the United States on a sound financial footing. He also supported moving the capital of the nation to its present location, and took an active part in its initial designs. Most historians rank Washington as at least our second or third greatest President, falling behind only Abraham Lincoln and sometimes Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Washington was Indispensable

When you consider all that George Washington did for the United States -- and didn't do (such as becoming dictator or king) -- one has to agree with the late Washington biographer James Thomas Flexner, who wrote that George Washington was "the indispensable man."

Remove George Washington from history and you remove quite possibly the very existence of the United States of America and most certainly its nature and identity as the world's leading superpower and the greatest republic the world has ever known.


For more on George Washington, check on the latest biography Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow.

Monday, February 07, 2011

What Would Francis Scott Key Think of Christina Aguilera?

Multiple Grammy Award winning artist Christina Aguilera made a whopper of a mistake as she sang America's national anthem prior to the kickoff of Super Bowl XLV. Following along with Aguilera's song last night, I recall thinking, "That doesn't sound right." My wife caught it just as quickly, saying, "She screwed up."

Sure enough, Aguilera fumbled the line "O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming" by singing instead "What so proudly we watched at the twilight's last reaming." Backstage, Aguilera was reportedly "devastated" by the error.

She released a statement after the game saying, "I can only hope that everyone could feel my love for this country and that the true spirit of its anthem still came through."

I'll give Aguilera credit for her enthusiasm and heart, which certainly came through in her rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" last night. (Though I personally prefer a more traditional, straight-up singing of the national anthem). Nevertheless, when you're tapped to sing the nation's most famous song on the biggest sports night of the year, you'd think that a professional musician would study and rehearse enough in advance to give an error-free performance. As the Marines are fond of saying: "Proper prior planning prevents poor performance."

As to what Francis Scott Key would've thought, that's hard to say, but one can certainly imagine him in the stands last night, shaking his head and thinking: "That's not what I wrote."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kevin Baker Offers a History Text For Visual Learners

Novelist Kevin Baker brings his flair for storytelling as well as his renowned research skills to bear in America: The Story of Us, the companion book to the HISTORY series of the same name. (HISTORY is now the name, of course, of what was The History Channel). Baker, a longtime columnist for American Heritage magazine, gives readers a visually-driven journey through American history. While some tradition-minded folks may object to what they perceive as the superficiality of the work, Baker's efforts will probably draw more interest in American history than what other more traditionally-crafted history texts might.

The publisher was kind enough to send me a copy for review, and I found it to be an easy read. It's not the kind of text that a scholar or hardcore researcher would use, but it provides a good overview of our nation's history.

Baker paints a generally positive picture of the American nation, though he doesn't shy away from the darker aspects of its history. He places the birth of America in the desire of white immigrants to escape European feudalism and establish a "New World" that would allow them to "rise as high as their talents and tenacity might lift them." This noble enterprise, of course, was tragically marred by the, at times, brutal repression of Native Americans and the barbaric exploitation of African slaves. Yet, for all its weaknesses, flaws, and struggles over how to properly treat people of various races, both genders, and the like, the American Dream remains a cherished ideal. Baker approvingly quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote of "the last and greatest of all human dreams."

Baker's coverage of the American Revolutionary period is fair, albeit somewhat shallow. This is understandable for a survey of American history, yet America: The Story of Us still leaves readers with the popular (but mistaken) impression that the American Revolution was mostly about taxes. That is simply not the case.

America: The Story of Us does an excellent job of pointing out that the infamous Dred Scott decision handed down by the United States Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Roger Taney, was completely inconsistent with the vision and spirit of the Founding Fathers. In that decision, which Baker calls "the most disruptive decision in Supreme Court history," Taney wrote that people of African descent were "beings of an inferior order" who "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." This staggering decree was, as Baker correctly points out, a "willful misreading of history" on the part of Taney and the racist Supreme Court.

As Baker writes, free African Americans in the original United States "had the right to vote in ten of the 13 states, owned property, spoke in public meetings, and sued in court." This explains why Abraham Lincoln so forcefully (and correctly) declared that the Founding Fathers put slavery on "the course of ultimate extinction," never intending to endorse or preserve in the long term what they all regarded as evil.

For those interested in a broad overview of American history, Kevin Baker's America: The Story of Us is a good investment. If you're looking for something scholarly and in-depth, you may wish to look elsewhere.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Planning a Trip to Boston? Check out These Boston Attractions

History buffs know that Boston, Massachusetts is one of the more significant locales in early American history. If you're planning to visit Boston sometime this year, either for business or pleasure, don't miss the opportunity to see some of Boston's significant historic sites.

Here's a great article I came across on some must-see sites in Boston...


"Boston - Top 10 Tourist Attractions"
By Leslie Reitman

A Boston vacation can mean different things to different travelers.

Whether you are visiting this city for the first time, the tenth time or if you are a local resident, there is always something to do.

A couple of factors to first consider are the time of year you are visiting, the weather, and the age of other travelers with you. Most activities listed are open year round. However, some of the activities that involve water may be closed for part of the winter, and if open may be a bit chilly for some.

Here are arguably the  top 10 tourist attractions in Boston.

1. Duck Tour

 This tour takes you around the city in a land and water vehicle. You will learn interesting facts about the city as your guide drives you around town. Then, you see Boston from an entirely different perspective as your vehicle floats into the Charles River.

2. New England Aquarium

Visit marine life in many forms at this great aquarium. There is lots to see and do for all ages here.

 3. Whale Watching

 There a few companies that offer whale watches (one is through the aquarium). Most all companies guarantee that you will see whales or they will give you a free ticket to come back for another try.

4. Walk the Freedom Trail

 Take a step back in time and learn about the people and places that made Boston famous in the American Revolution. You can take a self guided tour with a Freedom Trail map or you can find many different, knowledgeable guides who will take you on a guided tour.

 5. Visit Faneuil Hall

This old, historic marketplace was a gathering place for many politicians and colonists back in the day. Now, you can visit the marketplace and stroll around the surrounding stores. You will find many local street performers in and around the area. You will also find great food, fun and souvenirs here.

6. Eat in the North End

This area is one of Boston's biggest Italian neighborhoods. The restaurants and atmosphere are wonderful.

7. Ride The Swan Boats

These boats are found in Boston Common and grace the waters of the area. Anyone who has read Trumpet of the Swan will be familiar with these boats.

8. The Museum of Science

This museum has some incredible exhibits. Visitors of any age will enjoy learning something new about planets, gravity or electricity- to name a few- at this hands on museum. The museum also has an IMAX theater.

9. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

This museum boasts the art collection of Ms. Gardner. She was one of Boston's well to do residents in the 1800s and was friendly with John Singer Sargent, the painter. You will find some of his work as well as that of famous European artists there. The Italian architecture of both the courtyard and museum are beautiful

10. Visit Newbury Street

This area has some of the best Boston shopping. You can stroll throughout this street and some of the surrounding streets for great fashion, accessories and home accents.

Certainly, with the many things to do in this city, there is a Boston attraction or Boston event for everyone.

Visit the Lets go to Boston website for more information on these and many other activities.

Article Source: Boston - Top 10 Tourist Attractions