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Posts Tagged ‘American Revolution’


Question mark with US flag behind itAmerica has plenty of problems: state to state, north to south, sea to shining sea. I’m not divulging any state secrets, here. No need for a list of issues—plenty of other blogs and news outlets are only too happy to thrust them upon you.

I allude to something perhaps more sinister: a collectively accepted lapse in national attentioin and memory regarding our nation’s fundamental beginnings. Yet we all take great pride, a profoundly uncultivated zeal, in celebrating July 4th as our “Independence Day.”

Reveling in a glorious fireworks display is arguably an American rite-of-passage. We take for granted that at some point our children will be taught what the fireworks mean in their classrooms and history books. I wouldn’t wager so much as a dollar on that.

26% — that’s one in four — Americans don’t know what country we declared our independence from. I’m not a drinker, but these recent poll results give me reason to contemplate the necessity.

When asked when—what year—only 31 percent of adults younger than 30 said 1776, while 59 percent between 30 and 44 got the question right. Americans 45 to 59 were most likely to know the year: 75 percent got it correct. 65 percent of men got the answer right while only 52 percent of women did.

Here’s the stunner: 9% of college graduates were uncertain as to what country America declared her independece from; 2% of those graduates mentioned countries other than Great Britain.

Pathetic? Pathetic isn’t strong enough a word. It is entirely unsurprising, though. Had these two basic facts of our history been added to broadcasts of American Idol I’d bet those numbers would be much improved. Do I really need to spell it out? I think the indictment can be extracted without much effort.

Only 28% of Americans say they have read the Constitution, and 14 percent say they’ve read most of it. I will grant you that it’s not exactly a page turner and the language used is hard for us to assimilate today, but the resources available for learning about this incredibly important document are copious.

The results above come from a study conducted by the Center for the Constitution. They also revealed that respondents 18 to 24 years old claimed they understand the Constitution much less than older people; they also said the Constitution doesn’t affect them on a day-to-day basis. Wow. Really?

Need more proof that Americans are far more about hot dogs, burgers, and fireworks than knowing why we have this holiday?

42% of Americans attribute a Marxist slogan to James Madison. I’d be surprised if 10 oercent of them actually knew who James Madison was (here’s a gimme: he is considered to be the father of our Constitution, wrote over a third of the Federalist Papers, and also served two terms as President in the early 1800’s). Madison was no communist.

The Bill of Rights Institute recently commissioned a new poll and their results do little to provide confidence in the fideltiy of American knowledge of their own country or principles. The communist slogan, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” is thought by the aforementioned 42% to be part of our founding documents; 1 in 5 Americans think these very words are in the Bill of Rights!

Just for fun try strapping this on: 55 percent of Americans don’t recognize that education is not a First Amendment right. Staggering.

Seriously.

The founders believed education to be critical to the new nation’s success, but they didn’t write it into the Constitution. But they knew that an uneducated populace was surely a death blow to such a fragile political experiment as ours. John Adams wrote “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.” Wouldn’t he be dismally disappointed today.

That beer habit is looking better and better.

Every cake should have icing, and here’s mine: I have heard that every so often, say every 5-10 years, somebody takes the first paragraph from the Declaration of Independence, verbatim, and sends it around in the guise of a petition. Not surprisingly many of those presented with the opportunity to sign it regard the ersatz petition as subversive to America. I have searched and haven’t found hard proof of this, but given the above surveys it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to learn it was true.

In complete fairness I submit the obvious, that these polls and surveys are not conducted or given to all citizens—these are but representative samples of the populace. Given that, what does it say about the overal civic underpinnings of our citizenry? Frankly, not much.

For many July 4th is just another day off work, yet another paid holiday for civil servants, municipal workers, and bank employees. The capitalist machine gears up to sell barbeques, hot dogs, hamburgers, beer, soda, ice chests, and paper plates and napkins with patriotic motifs. I have yet to see any retail outlet selling framed copies of the Declaration of Independence, not so much as a t-shirt with a slogan like “1776 — We made Britain our bitch!” Lots of bald eagle and Liberty Bell knick-knacks and sparklers, though.

Where is the deep, resonant echo of our revolutionary past? Where is the reverence and idealogical spirit that instigated an event unrivaled in history? We stood up to what was then the world’s greatest, best trained military force and wore them down . . . with unquestionable help from, as George Washington said “the hand of Providence.”

What does it say about how debilitating political correctness has become that we allow someone to bring suit in court to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance; to remove “so help me God” from a sworn oath in court; to have blithely turned over all our leverage as knowlegable citizens to special interests and politicians who are far more interested in their own welfare than that of the country?

It’s one thing to stand up straight, chest out, and proudly declare “I am American.” But do you know what that means? Do you know the answers to the basic questions below:

Two of the original founding fathers died on the same day—July 4, 1826—within hours of one another, 50 years to the day which we publically proclaimed independence? (I’ve used both their names within this post)

What are the first ten amendments to the Consititution called? (it has been mention in this post too)

True or False: The Declaration of Independence begins “We the People . . .”

True or False: George Washington used the phrase “Four score and seven years ago” in his first inaugural address as President.

True or False: The Constititution of the United States begins “When in the course of human events . . .”

Some quick facts . . .
• The Second Continental Congress adopted a formal declaration of independence from the crown on July 2nd, 1776. Debate and alterations to the document ensued through the 3rd and the morning of the 4th. We officially became the United States of America on the 2nd of July.

• Thomas Jefferson was not the sole author of the DOI. He did do the bulk of the work, but John Adams and Benjamin Franklin had a lot to say about it. Franklin was responsible for the phrase “self-evident” in the opening paragraph.

• You might think Jefferson was the first signer of the declaration. It was actually John Hancock. The document was signed by most of the members on August 2. The last signature was applied five years later in 1781.

Every country has its sunshine patriots, as well as its zealots. The further we allow our history to fade into obscurity the weaker we become as a nation. Clad in the armor of facts and knowledge we can reclaim the power that has been siphoned from us for so long. We have long gained strength from the diaspora of other countries, helping them to use our truly exceptional freedoms to piece their dreams and families back together, to achieve in America what their country of birth actively denied them. We can regain global respect and admiration as we had in the early 19th century—but to do so we need to understand the precious value of the soil beneath our feet, not trample on it with utter disregard. We need each other more than we realize. Time may indeed make more converts than reason, but do we have that luxury anymore?

May God Himself visit tender mercy upon this land, and help us understand and appreciate the perfection in our imperfect union as the founding fathers did. May he imbue our youth with the tempest of patriotic love for country, and the elders with the accountability to teach them. May he provide us with the strength to keep our enemies at bay and our true brethren at heart.

And may God Bless the United States of America.

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Bronze plaque from WWII Memorial in Washington D.C.
A veteran of World War II, he served in the Pacific Theater of Operations, eventually arriving in Okinawa, Japan, as thousands of troops did, just before the Enola Gay would drop her well-kept secret on Hiroshima. Having fought unimaginably hard to help take strategically important islands and atolls he bore witness to barbary which only mankind could unleash upon one another. He watched men die all around him.

Some sixty years later he would be traveling through Payson, Arizona, and encounter a group of youths entirely discourteous and disrespectful to those around them—assuredly a clash of generations but a bitter reminder of how faded our thoughts have become concerning those men who fought to bring wrong to right.

Mr. DeMayo would later show his daughter something he wrote down shortly after that encounter: “Before I went to combat I found a reason for putting my life on the line—to preserve the next generation. Had I known what their character was going to be, I would not have been nearly so eager to put myself in harm’s way.”

This had bothered me for quite some time. My father had served in Europe (as I note below), and yet I have never probed about his war experience. I do know he had no love of Paris at that time, but I won’t repeat his description of it here as it was a long time ago and likely not indicative of Paris today. But Mr. DeMayo’s words resonated with me, and not in a pleasant way.

When my son and I go to a ball game and the national anthem is played—I get choked up most every time. I stand and applaud with thousands of others each time they recognize men and women who are currently in service to our country—and yet that is pitifully short of proper gratitude for what they sacrifice; it is wholly shameful to my father, grandfathers, Mr. DeMayo, and every other soul who has worn the stars-and-stripes on their shoulder. I felt like I needed to let this man, my father, and posthumously, my grandfathers know that while we are an almost disgracefully quiet majority we indeed value and are deeply grateful for what they have done for us and our beloved country.

I assure you, we vastly outnumber the reckless, disrespectful few.

Below is the letter I wrote to Mr. DeMayo, now 85-years-old. It is perhaps a small whisper amid the din of everything else in our lives . . . but it is heartfelt.


If Hell is, as philosophically defined, the impossibility to reason, then war is the horrific struggle to bring logic to chaos, to try and strike a noble balance between the casualty of misguided power and the just cause of Natural Rights.

Mothers lose their sons and daughters; children their mothers and fathers. In answer to any question of rectitude of man’s nature one must fully consider the sacrifice, the indescribable purging of soul and spirit both sides of the familial unit endure. Is the greater iniquity that of loss to families, or to that of a higher cause if all ideals are dissolved for more transient, impermanent matters?

My father and both grandfathers served during World War II: dad in Europe in a support capacity with the Army, and both grandparents as airmen who flew over the coast of Normandy on D-Day. I know precious little about my father’s military stint outside his old tattoo and Army-issue rifle. I knew nothing of my grandfathers’ participation in the invasion until well after they both passed. None of these men spoke of war with us. I would bet that had we asked, once adjudged to be of proper age, they would have answered each and every question, however sparingly.

Neither I nor my brother has served in the military. This fact, I certify, does nothing to diminish our consummate respect for those who have served. My approbation and heartfelt gratitude extend to all who have answered their nation’s call to duty. Sadly, I know there are people bold—and egregiously wrong enough—to call themselves citizens, who detest or ostracize those who served on their very behalf. To marginalize any man or woman who has served, in any capacity, in any conflict, is surely a moral stain, a melancholic blight, an act of untenable turpitude.

To the degree which our children are inoculated against these conflicts is an indication that we, as a collective, are blithely willing to let them repeat the same mistakes, to declare the value of history as a zero sum, and to inflict dishonor upon those who participated—in short, an act of impersonal despotism.

On December 4, 1776, the man who penned Common Sense, a pamphlet which arguably lit a tinderbox of patriotic passion under an increasingly lethargic colonial population, published his follow-up, The Crisis. With the patchwork army badly dispirited, haggard, and ailing, and after a solid string of defeats since the prior August, Loyalists were all but rejoicing the ultimate demise of independence; once stalwart patriots were absconding to the British side in droves; the public sentiment toward the cause as a whole had taken on the figurative stench and staleness of a rotting carcass. Just across the Delaware river, opposite Trenton, New Jersey, the exhausted army scattered into several encampments as a brutal winter begun to settle in. Enlistments were expiring for almost half the soldiers and more were deserting every day. Thomas Paine, in concert with a stirring, impassioned plea from Gen. George Washington, managed to help rekindle the barely glowing ember of patriotism and respect for the men, and restore faith and vigor amidst a dubious public. His essay started with the most appropriate statement of gravitas:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

My point to all this, Mr. DeMayo, is that while I understand your incisive resentment regarding post-war sentiment of returning vets, I am bothered, moreover, moved to declare, with the utmost urgency and exertion, that I am not one of the pathetically oblique. As surely as Providence guides my heart I can attest that I am not singular, but rather representative of millions who are equal in my discernment—proof exists not in me alone, but in your venerable daughter as well.

I cannot, with any imaginable veracity, begin to comprehend the horrors you have experienced at the nadir of humanity’s violence and Death’s remorseless culling. I have seen grass die and leaves fall; I have witnessed the quiet passing of my grandmother; but I have never known the adrenalized anguish of comrades and friends falling in the wake of God’s own thunder. I cannot conceive the encumbrance of such demons, resolved to claw at my soul and tatter my dreams until my last breath. Such corruption of hope and splintering of faith in man can only be assuaged by our better angels, but only if we are receptive to them.

I genuinely respect your opinion, Mr. DeMayo, and will—as your daughter would attest—fight with every and any gift in my arsenal for your deserved right, your suitably justified prerogative to hold fast to your convictions, regardless of my perspective. Most importantly I owe you, my father and grandparents, and every man who served with you, a debt I could never possibly repay.

It may be impossible to mend the hearts of those put in harm’s way, but it is entirely proper and fitting that we should—if I may step into Lincoln’s words for a moment—take increased devotion to that cause, to those soldiers, who gave their last full measure of devotion for our mutual benefit. It is, indeed, far above my poor power to add or detract to the atrocities you and other veterans have suffered.

My work here is arrived at a most sincere, if deficient conclusion: Thank you for your service, sir. My benediction is delivered as not just any obtuse citizen, but as a grateful American.

Sincerely,
J.W. Nicklaus

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Book cover for The Liberty Bell by Gary NashLiberty. One word—an idea, really. One which doesn’t simply process in our brains to bring context to a sentence or meaning to the words around it, but more implicitly resonates and travels deeper into our cores, where every stirring notion of patriotism simmers. One word that immediately evinces two striking icons of the American essence: the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty.

As Gary Nash conveys in The Liberty Bell we long ago dismissed the idea that these icons were mere objects showered with our jingoistic ardor, but rather we have imbued them with a kind of reverence and love only the vestment of our souls could provide.

Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim liberty thro’ all the land to all the inhabitants thereof.” Daresay a solid number of Americans know these words as inscribed upon the bell, but perhaps more telling might be how many don’t know the passage, or only know the names Pass and Stow from the movie National Treasure. Nash’s scholastic approach to relating the Liberty Bell’s history leaves little doubt of its staggering relevance and gravitas as an enduring icon of our cherished founding principles.

Professor Nash moves sure-footedly from the pre-bell story through its period of actual use and into the larger, almost epochal journey through generations who venerated the Liberty Bell as a symbol of our democratic culture. Unless you are a historian (or history buff) you may not have known the State House Bell (or Old Bell), as it was known until around 1835, was removed from its tower in Philadelphia in 1776 and hidden in another town for fear the British, who came to occupy the city, would have melted it down for ammunition.

Many citizens don’t know of the bell’s near demise—along with the old Pennsylvania State House—in 1816, under a “Gothic mist of ignorance and vice”; just two of the rich, significant historical allegories Nash relates. Schoolchildren were inculcated with fabricated, emotionally charged stories of its use on July 4, 1776—a stigma which actually aided the tocsin in its rise to almost ephemeral reverence.

A generous amount of the book is allocated to seven separate trips the bell made over a 35-year span. If there is a singular quibble I have about the book it would be the amount of detailed information given about each and every trip—every stop, how many people showed up, etc. Without doubt there is value to such data, and in this case it serves to highlight the increasing popularity of the relic and how it served to bolster patriotism at crucial times when it was needed. I view this (very minor) discontent on my behalf as indicative of my wanting to learn the next piece of lore or passionate affect upon a new generation.

Appropriately, an in-depth look at the anti-slavery movement and the chimer’s role in it exposes the reader to many instances in which liberty was pronounced and exercised within close proximity to the bell, often at the expense of slaves.

A story from 1851, involving 33 blacks and five whites, furnished the reverberating overtones for caustic feelings from slaves being brought to trial in Independence Hall, mere steps from where the bell hung. Fugitive slaves had escaped into Lancaster County and these thirty-eight people defended them during what was termed the “Christmas riot” in which a Maryland slaveowner had pursued one of his own fleeing slaves and got caught in the turmoil and was killed. Abolitionists extolled the group as following the example of “Washington and other American heroes” in 1776. But outside Independence Hall a crowd of whites called for justice and punishment for those responsible for the killing and for “taking the lives of men in pursuit of their recognized and rightful property.” The Leviticus proclamation on the bell would seal its fame and its catapult into the world of causes—in a most moral and vitally important way.

Nash has given a beloved, if muted, icon a solid, well-researched biography, one which puts right generations of embellished legend and sets into a proper framework the genuine gift to American the Liberty Bell has become. Iconic history at its sonorous best.

As always I thank Rhonda Sturtz and the New York Journal of Books for procuring a copy of this book for review. Thanks also to Yale University Press for the review copy.

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Independence Hall looking up with statue and cloudsJanuary 2011 has already given us our first senseless tragedy, one which has played out upon the national stage not only because of its utter brutality but also due to its actions having been interwoven upon the loom of politics, perhaps a textbook example of what the Germans would call realpolitik.

As I understand it, the gunman in the Tucson, AZ shootings said he was set off because he didn’t like a congresswoman’s reply to his question “What is government if words have no meaning?”

I was asked for my thoughts on that very question, which I give below.

In the 1760’s, Parliament decided it was time for Americans—still subjects of the crown—to help with the cost of their defense. Boston merchants especially, had grown fat upon the largesse of natural resources around them without the onus of heavy taxation. Trade between the colonies and Britain had massive benefits on both sides of the Atlantic.

But American merchant-bankers and small shopkeepers were not the least bit keen on things like the Stamp Act, Coercive Acts, or the Tea Tax. Though in truth, the Tea Tax was notably insignificant, but the wealthy elite held all the power among the local political bodies and they exerted every means at their disposal to decry the taxes and feed the burning embers of treason and sedition.

The crown used its influence and legislative power in an attempt to raise revenues, chiefly to cover the ballooning cost of defending the colonies from insurgencies at their borders. What it wound up doing was raising the ire of those same merchant-bankers in the colonies—men with voices and pens dipped in the intellectual inkwells of Harvard and other prestigous institutions. These men used words to make impassioned pleas to Parliament . . . and to stir the unrest of the working class.

Government derives its power from ideas, from the abstraction of concepts kneaded by concerted thought and productive debate. When it fails to do so we are obligated, even duty bound, to do what is necessary to bring it in line with our wishes: “That when any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government … as to them shall seem more likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.”

Winston Churchill once said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried.”

Greeks in Athens and Sparta had slightly different forms of democracy, but when Persia threated their freedoms they fought intensely to protect those ideals they cherished. King Xerxes tried every way possible to conquer the Greeks but learned the hard way that democracies don’t fight until a truce is signed—they fight until unconditional surrender. Not only was Persia defeated, but Xerxes’ actions resulted in unifying what had been, up to that time, a nation of individual city-states.

Democracies fight to protect ideals given form by words, but given meaning from something much closer to the heart.

Government is given its meaning, its very power, by the people. Words and politics are often deaf to each others ears, but it is upon the citizen to make its government an instrument to his or her benefit. It is a blessing of Providence, and of men devoted to a belief in Natural Rights and Liberties, that we can use words to elevate our own impassioned discourse, and to convey the full measure of our devotion or disenchantment.

Words clench at our throats and nourish our hearts; they arrest and attest; they badger and bind. Government can be an instrument of evil and wickedness, or it can be to a society’s credit and pride. But government will never give meaning to words, nor should words give pretense to instilling more worth to government than it deserves.

We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to their children in perpetuity, to set forth the best words we can, to construct our ideals in a manner of positive consequence so that our government is reflective of our better angels, and therefore more deserving of God’s grace and blessings.

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Book cover for Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers Providence has its signature upon everything of value, tangible and intangible. The founding fathers, especially George Washington, firmly believed its “guiding hand” was akin to a protectorate, ensuring all the proper people were aligned with Time and Events to conceive a new country of unequaled freedoms.

Indeed, Providence brought these men forth, men of stoicism and intellect, of passion and courage. What we are indoctrinated with in school only scratches the surface of the story history has to tell us. Our founding fathers secure our deserved approbations for their words and deeds, yet we are released from our institutions with precious little knowledge about a matter of equal importance to their historical fame—their humanity.

One can scarcely give thought to Adam without including Eve—they may be considered the First Parents. One without the other is inconceivable. He needed her softness and guile; she, his strength and security. One gave ballast to the other. We know how that story ends, of course—through the parable we are implored to consider the dynamics of man and woman; perhaps more pointedly, the mystical enchantment of love.

The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers brings to our purview the affections and influences of the wives, mothers, sisters—and yes, lovers—of six American founders. Our historical culture is such that we tend to exalt the men and relegate the influential women of their lives to mere footnotes, if mentioned at all but in passing. Thomas Fleming does eloquent service to these deserving, effectual ladies.

Probably the most sonorous is the yet undecided controversy regarding Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. If you’re looking for an ultimate confirmation of yes or no, you won’t find it here. You will encounter plenty of information—claims, counter-claims, denials, and withdrawals—emanating from both camps. Fleming does a brilliant job of providing historical evidence via oral and written accounts. This reviewer was explicitly taught that Jefferson had absolutely taken his mulatto slave Sally Hemings as a lover and sired children with her. As with much of what is fobbed off as history in our textbooks, much of the true evidence, pro and con, is left unmentioned, leaving no room for genuine discussion and—gasp!—learning. Left to the accelerated pace of teaching many students are exposed to ivory tower versions of history. Mr. Fleming’s salient prose gives much needed grist for the mill. To any person interested, even intrigued, by early American history, the arguments presented are worth the price of the book alone.

Ample time is given to revealing sentiments regarding Jefferson and his wife, Martha. I’ve known of Jefferson as a towering political figurehead, but never have I known of his painfully romantic nature. The man adored his wife, and considered only the briefest of dalliances well after her death when he encountered Maria Cosway in Paris many years later.

An almost untouchable icon, George Washington is sometimes intimated as having been quite the ladies man. Our revered national hero is shown to have been acutely susceptible to Cupid’s touch in regards to Sally Cary Fairfax. But he was also prone to fits of temper, a congenital facet of his character inherited from his mother, Mary Ball Washington. General Washington was oft rumored to have taken other women as lovers, but again Fleming provides a rich well of documentation which only serves to solidify the contrarian idea that he was deeply devoted to Martha Custis Washington, his wife. Martha, in fact, was often with her husband as he traveled during his command of the Continental Army.

But we are invariably drawn to the potentially scandalous nature of men in power. The sheer use of the word Intimate in the title is enough to arouse prurient curiosity. Was Ben Franklin the subtle political and feminine provocateur he’s said to have been? Was Alexander Hamilton, born of a mother with a seemingly insatiable sexual appetite, equal to her misgivings? Who was more responsible for bringing America through the War of 1812: James or Dolley Madison? And were Dolley Madison and Martha Wayles Jefferson “pimped out” as their husband’s political detractors would claim? Each of these men are drawn for our posterity by Flemings’ deft style. Their backgrounds and accounts of events which surrounded their ascendancy are intricately woven together with their loves and peccadilloes to flesh out their heretofore almost ignored humanity.

It is no stretch of rationality to pronounce women as equally important in examinations of our history (dare I say history overall). The social standards of the time shut women out of leadership roles, yet we are repeatedly shown—as if we need to be—that without their support and counsel these men may quite possibly have manifested a different kind of history for us. These ladies were removed from the direct harshness of the political limelight, but their involvement on the periphery, and directly upon their husband’s lives and hearts, was as important to the fathers’ emotional well-being as any stroke of the pen they may have used to induce history. In many instances their influence and support had direct impact upon politics, both national and international.

In the interest of personal disclosure, this reviewer is an unabashed fan of Abigail Adams. This section of the book was something I looked very much forward to. Having read David McCullough’s John Adams, I was hoping to come away with some fresh insights. Those are present, if muted by comparison. To be fair Fleming has a much wider net to cast in exploring the amorous sides of our vaunted founders. The casual reader may not know much of what McCullough told, so to that end the section dedicated to the Adamses is easily capable of standing on its own. Much can be gleaned from the intimate correspondence between the couple during their years separated by an ocean in the cause of independence. In case you’re wondering, I still adore Abigail.

Throughout, Fleming’s prose is, most often, beautiful. There are times, however, when he teeters on the cusp of being inaccessible. I consider myself to have a decent vocabulary, and there were a few times I needed to consult a dictionary. I consider this an advantage as it lends itself to expanding my love of the language. But for someone looking for a fundamentally simple read, they may find the book frustrating on occasion. The subject matter deserves—really, requires—respectful handling and meticulous care. Sheer vocabulary aside, his pen does nothing in the least to diminish this highly intelligent, thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing read.


Once again I’d like to thank Ted Sturtz at the New York Journal of Books for his help in securing a copy of Intimate Lives for me to review, and to Harper Collins for providing the copy. The book was provided solely in exchange for the purposes of reviewing.

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Schoolhouse Rocks "I'm Just A Bill"

I’d wager that most of my readers are old advanced enough to remember Schoolhouse Rocks. One of my all time favorites, and perhaps one of the catchiest of all was part of the America Rocks series, which included the telling of how a Bill becomes Law. Keep reading . . . I have that gem posted somewhere, but you’ll have to read through this post to find out where!


Our friend Bill is found leaning against the door of the House of Representatives. He seems glum and listless. Let’s see what transpires:

Li’l Sam: Hey Bill, what’s goin’ on?
Bill: *sighs deeply* I’m feelin’ blue, Sammy. A little down. Maybe I’m bi-polar, you know, like Congress.
Li’l Sam: *scratches his head* Umm, what?
Bill: That’s a joke, son! I’m throwin’, but you ain’t catchin’!
Li’l Sam: Sorry, I just don’t . . .
Bill: Aww, hell. Forget about it. Doesn’t really matter anyway.
Li’l Sam: What’re you bummed out about?
Bill: *rubs his nose and sniffles* I just finished reading an article in The History Channel magazine. Enough to drive a man to drink I tell ya! But I can’t, really, being paper and all.
Li’l Sam: *stares blankly*
Bill: Absorption, boy! Don’t you pay attention at school?
Li’l Sam: Well, I . . .
Bill: Don’t feel bad, Sammy. Believe me, you’re not alone.
Li’l Sam: Whaddya mean?
Bill: It’s enough to break my heart, kid.
Li’l Sam: Must have been some article, Bill.
Bill: You ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie.
Li’l Sam: *raises a finger and begins to speak*
Bill: I know. You don’t get it. *sighs again*
Li’l Sam: Not really.
Bill: This article was titled Who Cares About The American Revolution?
Li’l Sam: We learned a little bit about it in school!
Bill: “Little” being the key word, I’m sure.
Li’l Sam: I don’t remember much, though.
Bill: Color me shocked.
See, this group took a national survey back in 2009 to see what Americans knew about the Revolution. You know, what got us here.
Li’l Sam: We fought Britain over lack of representation in Parliament, right?
Bill: Not bad kid. In a roundabout way, you’ve got a grasp on the underlying fuse that was lit. But get this. . .
The survey revealed that Americans “highly value, but vastly overrate, their knowledge of the Revolutionary period.”
They found that 89% of adults—that leave you out, son—felt they could pass a basic test on the American Revolution.
Li’l Sam: Wow! A lot of people must know a lot about it, then.
Bill: Whoa! Slow down, Speed Racer!
83% failed the test. Eighty-three percent!
Li’l Sam: *drops his mouth open*
Bill: Tell me about it. I’m right there with ya, Sammy.
Li’l Sam: That’s bad!
Bill: You’re gettin’ ahead of yourself, kid. Listen to this:
Half of all adults surveyed believed the Civil War, The Emancipation Proclamation, or the War of 1812 occured before the Revolution. See what reality TV will do to ya, Sammy?
Before the Revolution! Are you f****ng kidding me!
Li’l Sam: But the Revolution began in 1776.
Bill: *slumps harder against the door* No, it began in 1775, actually. We declared independence in 1776. Where did your teacher say the first shot of the Revolution was fired?
Li’l Sam: Umm, in Lexington, I think.
Bill: Good boy!
Li’l Sam: Followed by a battle in Concord, Massachussets, right?
Bill: Careful son, you’re stepping on my despair.
Li’l Sam: *stares again*
Bill: *waves him off*
Bill: Here’s another punch in the face:
More Americans polled knew that pop singer Michael Jackson sang Beat It than the fact that the Bill of Rights is part of the United States Constitution.
Li’l Sam: *smiles brightly* I like Michael Jackson! He did Billie Jean, and Thriller, and Remember The Time . . .
Bill: Are you finished?
Li’l Sam: *nods quietly*
Bill: Good. Don’t let it happen again. Now where was I . . .
Oh yeah—One third . . . You paying attention, Sammy?
Li’l Sam: Uh huh!
Bill: One third of the adults who took the survey did not know the right to a jury trial is covered in the Bill of Rights. Thank God for Perry Mason and Judge Judy, huh? At least they know it exists.
Li’l Sam: Who’s Perry Mason?
Bill: A TV lawyer.
Li’l Sam: Like on Law and Order?
Bill: *another sigh* Yeah, kind of. I’m almost done, son. I know you’re quickly approaching your attention span limit. So here’s yet another mind numbing result:
Sixty percent of Americans could correctly identify the number of children in reality-TV show couple Jon and Kate Gosselin’s household (eight), but more than one-third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place.
Li’l Sam: They don’t like each other now.
Bill: Who?
Li’l Sam: John and Kate.
Bill: You’re killin’ me, kid.
Li’l Sam: Sorry.
Bill: Last one, then you can go play in the street . . .
From a list of major battles, two-thirds of Americans could not correctly name Yorktown as the last major military action of the American Revolution.
What does this say about us? What hope do I, or you for that matter, have if we don’t understand what led us here?
Li’l Sam: I dunno.
Bill: You’re consistent, I’ll give you that.
Li’l Sam: Thanks!
Bill: You’re welcome. Thanks for cheering me up, kid. *does a face palm*
Li’l Sam: See ya, Bill!
Bill: Maybe not!

If you’re even remotely interested you can see the test results, or even take the test yourself at the site for the American Revolution Center. In case you’re wondering, yes I have taken the test and no, I didn’t cheat. I was tempted to on the last question, but didn’t. Here are my results:

And if you read through the whole post, then you’re entitled to the following:

  • A small site I created a few years ago which speaks to our Constitution and the underlying principles we Americans cling to yet know precious little about: That Which Defines Us
  • The actual Schoolhouse Rocks episode I’m Just A Bill. Go ahead. Be nostalgic. This is good nostalgia :^)
  • If you go here (the last page of my Constitution project) you can find a short video with Morgan Freeman and an all-star cast reading aloud the Declaration of Independence. Have your speakers turned up and maybe a tissue handy.
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    john_and_abigail

    He’d been sent as ambassador to Holland for the yet-to-be and very much struggling United States of America. The Continental Army, under the beseiged leadership of General George Washington, was trying desperately to find its collective ass with both hands—Congress had long since stopped paying the soldiers, supplies were either scarce or not to be had at all, and between defeats and abandonment the rank-and-file were becoming thinner by the day.

    John Adams was hustled off to Amsterdam to convince the Dutch king that the American fight for independence was worth Danish backing. He’d been told it would be a tough argument, but his newborn country desperately needed a healthy infusion of money and arms, if both could be had. Benjamin Franklin was already firmly entrenched in France with the objective of trying to woo the French Court to our side as well. At least he had the built-in advantage of the French and British hating each other. The Dutch were really too self-absorbed to get involved in any international conflicts. Adams basically got the short straw. It had been Adams’ passionate arguments in the courtroom and on the floor of Congress that earned him passage overseas.

    But of passions he had no more profound than for his wife, Abigail. John Adams fiercely loved America. He’d spent a great deal of time and energy supporting the cause for independence. But the person he was most devoted to over anyone else was his wife. When he wrote to her he referred to her as “Dearest Friend,” his “best, dearest, worthiest, wisest friend in the world”—while to her, he was “the tenderest of husbands,” her “good man.” John considered Abigail his equal. She was very well read, and equally passionate about her values and beliefs; both shared a steadfast commonality in pursuing independence from the British crown.

    During one bleak point, amongst news of the “Boston Massacre” and royal needling with things like the Stamp Act, there were calls for attempts at reconciliation with Britain. Abigail set pen to paper when a petition was circulated in Braintree in support of reconciliation:

    I could not join today in the petitions . . . for a reconciliation between our no longer parent state, by a tyrant state and these colonies. Let us separate, they are unworthy to be our brethren.

    While traveling through New York en route back to Boston, John purchased two copies of a small, anonymous pamphlet that had recently been published and had been causing quite a stir. He kept one copy and sent the second to Abigail.

    It was titled Common Sense.

    John and Abigail spent four years apart while he was in Europe. They never became accustomed to the distance. In their letters to each other they repeatedly and fervently stated how very much one longed for and needed the other. To be away from somebody so elegantly but firmly woven into your soul is hardship enough, but can we today truly begin to imagine how incredibly difficult it must have been in the late 1700’s? We have cell phones, airplanes, and e-mail today. In their time correspondence took months to cross such distances, and many times never made it at all.

    Abigail, and their daughter Nabby, eventually sailed for Europe to join their husband and father, but only after Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. Abigail was deathly horrified of travel by sea and many times had pleaded with John to return home. He desperately wanted to, but he had finally secured Dutch recognition of America as a sovereign, independent country and also procured loans which were still sorely needed. This sudden success resulted in his presence being needed in Paris, alongside Thomas Jefferson and an ailing Benjamin Franklin. They were to work together on what became the Treaty of Paris. As an interesting aside, Congress sent specific instructions stating they were to follow the wishes of the French during deliberations. As it turned out, all three were absolutely outraged that so much blood would be shed and such hardships faced only to become puppets to another throne. So they did as they saw fit, which history later shows us worked greatly to our advantage.

    Throughout their separation both Abigail and John suffered physically as a result of the distance. But both believed so strongly in the cause of freedom they placed themselves secondary to its germination and care. Upon once again being rejoined on the outskirts of France, they found great contentment and happiness in one anothers company. While Jefferson and Franklin often fell ill, Adams’s own health was more robust than ever, thought in large part as a result of being with the woman he so dearly cherished. John not only had his daughter and wife with him, but also his oldest son, John Quincy. While Abigail often bemoaned the seemingly interminable passing seasons in Massachusetts without her “good man,” the four of them en famille had paid dividends far beyond what she’d ever dreamt possible. She’d supported her husband from afar and held both he and her beloved America in the same stead. After some time in France, especially during winter when snow was falling upon the Parisian countryside, she would become sadly homesick, having once written to her sister Mary that it “looked so American.” “What a sad misfortune it is,” she added, “to have the body in one place and the soul in another.” Now she missed her country, but was with her best friend and husband.

    John Adams’s contribution to the founding fabric of our nation is not nearly as predominant in our education as those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or Abraham Lincoln; indeed, all great leaders and icons in their own right. John Adams had, on many occasions, been accused of great self-puffery and outright vanity, yet he also retained the admiration and respect of men such as Jefferson and John Jay for his sharp mind and unwavering dedication to the cause of freedom. His two most profound loves he clearly served his life for—Abigail and America.

    Inarguably, neither can be said to be “light and transient causes.”


    Happy Birthday America! A toast to our Republic . . . “if we can keep it.”

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