Sunday, December 30, 2007

Slave Trade Banned 200 Years Ago on January 1

The New York Times has run an article that expresses a sobering and important point: In spite of our nation's fascination with anniversaries, "one significant milestone has gone strangely unnoticed: the 200th anniversary of Jan. 1, 1808, when the importation of slaves into the United States was prohibited."

During the Constitutional Convention, a tragic (but "necessary," some say) compromise was reached that allowed the slave states of the newly formed United States of America to continue dealing in the international slave trade.

The slave trade represented the worst of the slave system. Even some slaveowners recognized this, which led them to argue vociferously against it. Southern slave owners from James Madison to George Mason expressed disgust for the slave trade, which profited from the exploitation of African victims snatched away from their families due to war, misfortune, and/or outright kidnappings. These victims would then be shipped in dreadful conditions into the very bowels of the international slave industry. It was a reprehensible practice.

And yet...the slave states of the Deep South, particularly Georgia and South Carolina, depended on slavery - and, by extension, the slave trade.

The Upper South (slave-holding, but uncomfortable with the slave trade and the expansion of slavery) and the North (increasingly opposed to slavery) compromised with their Deep South counterparts on both the slave trade and also on representation in Congress (the North allowed the slave states to count 3/5 of their slaves for the purposes of congressional representation). The slave trade compromise left the slave trade in the hands of the individual states until 1808.

By 1807, all of the states, except South Carolina, had stopped dealing in the slave trade. Congress stepped in and (using its new constitutional authority) banned the trade -- a ban that would take effect New Year's Day, 1808.

The ban on the slave trade was the first major step taken by the United States government against the institution of slavery. And for that reason, it is an anniversary worth remembering.


A great film that depicts the horrors of the African slave trade is Steven Spielberg's masterpiece Amistad. If you haven't seen it, check it out!

Rare Copy of Declaration of Independence Found

According to an article from, a rare copy of the Declaration of Independence, America's founding document, has been discovered in a side hallway of the US Supreme Court building.

This rare copy was one of only 200 early copies made of the original 1776 document, principally authored by Thomas Jefferson and then "mutilated" (Jefferson's word to describe the modifications done to it) by the Second Continental Congress.

The copy, dated to 1824, was found in 2003 and has been made available for viewing since 2006. It's quite a story. Follow this link to read all about it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Battles of Trenton and Princeton

As I write this blog entry, it's December 27, 2007. Two hundred and thirty-one years ago this week, George Washington and the Continental Army had just defeated the Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey -- a worthy Christmas present for the infant United States.

And Washington was now struggling to keep his army from disintegrating due to expired enlistments as well as inadequate pay and provisions.

General Washington was working to keep his army together, while eluding a determined counterattack by British General Lord Cornwallis. Washington would survive Cornwallis' pursuit and score another upset victory at Princeton.

The battles of Trenton and Princeton (and the maneuverings of December 1776 and January 1777) would prove to be the most important campaign of the American Revolution (barring perhaps Yorktown).

Anyone who doubts this should consult David Hackett Fisher's masterful Washington's Crossing...

...and for those wanting to know just how tenuous the War for Independence was going into the New Jersey campaign, pick up a copy of David McCullough's bestselling 1776.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Was George Washington a Christian?

Whether people say George Washington was a Deist, Christian, or somewhere in between has a LOT to do with the individual's political persuasion. Often, it has little to do with the facts.

Well, Peter Lillback decided that there are enough OPINIONS about George Washington's religious faith. Lillback decided to stick to the FACTS. And in his book, George Washington's Sacred Fire, there are LOTS of facts - hundreds of pages of facts.

I've read through this book - and, believe, me, that's saying something. Reading Lillback's George Washington's Sacred Fire is like wading through a small library!

I hesitate to cut to the bottom line of Lillback's conclusion, because doing so will likely cause some would-be readers to dismiss Lillback. This would be a serious mistake.

Get yourself a copy of Peter Lillback's George Washington's Sacred Fire - and learn the TRUTH about George Washington's religious faith.

Founders on Religion

Allow me to recommend an excellent review of Faiths of our Founding Fathers by David Holmes. The review is written by Brad Hart and can be found at the excellent American Revolution Blog site, which you should check out if you haven't already.

For a more conservative perspective on this subject, you may want to check out...

Why Study the Founding Fathers?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Patrick Henry: Voice of Thunder

According to legend, when Patrick Henry finished giving his "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech, a man in the audience leaped forward and demanded to be buried on that very spot upon his passing. Whether the legend is true, it does illustrate the reality of the hypnotic, mesmerizing effect Patrick Henry had on his audiences.

Patrick Henry was a backwater Virginia Burgess, a more or less failed businessman, and a mediocre attorney (at least in terms of depth and training) who used his oratorical prowess to vault himself to the front ranks of Virginia's political leadership in the Revolutionary era.

If only we had some video or audio recordings of Henry's speeches, wouldn't that be something?? But, alas, we can only measure his greatness as an orator by reading the words of his speeches and reading of the effect they had during that time. Of course, that information is enough for us to conclude that Henry deserves the title "Voice of Thunder" and was a leading influence in early American history.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Publishing the Founders' Papers

Efforts to annotate and publish the papers of our Founding Fathers continue - but not as fast as some historians and lobbyists would like.

According to an article in the online edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune, experts have been "laboring since the Truman administration to compile and annotate the letters, correspondence and documents of George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson" to the tune of "about $58 million" over the last three decades alone.

Yet, there's still much to do, particularly with the writings of John Adams and George Washington. The latter was our most prolific writer.

Follow this link to read more about it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Top Ten Gift Ideas for Civil War Buffs

Again, this isn't directly related to our topic area (although some do extend the "founding era" to the Civil War), but here's an article I wrote last year that might interest you.

"Top 10 Gift Ideas for Civil War Buffs"

I know....I know...I need to write "Top 10 Gift Ideas for American Revolution Buffs," but (sadly) there aren't as many. But...

I did write this article over at Suite101, which recommends some great books on early American history.

You can also check out the "Great Books on American History" and "Movies About History" blog sites for other gift ideas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Washington Medal Auctions for $5.3 Million

A medal that symbolized the bond between George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette has sold at auction for $5.3 million. Follow this link to read all about it.

Civil War Era Blogs

This is a little bit beyond our topic range here, but....

Here are some blogs on the Civil War era that you should check out:

Civil Warriors

A. Lincoln Blog

Abraham Lincoln Blog

The Civil War by

Civil War History: The Blog Between the States

and finally....

TOCWOC -- The Order of Civil War Obsessively Compulsed - Informed Amateurs Blog the American Civil War

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Guide to Revolutionary War Movies

Sadly, there haven't been that many movies depicting events of the American Revolution. If, however, you have an American Revolution history buff on your Christmas list, follow this link for some suggested movies.


The Forgotten Declaration

Surf on over to Suite101 American History to check out an excellent article by Roger Saunders on that first Declaration from the Continental Congress - the one preceding the Declaration of Independence.