Clio Archives

May 14, 2007

July 27, 2006

Van Buren to Ritchie

Martin Van Buren to Thomas Ritchie
Washington, January 13, 1827

This is the famous letter proposing an alliance between the "planters of the South and the plain republicans of the north." Van Buren is arguing that in the absense of partisan conflicts, sectional conflicts will tear the nation apart.

I am using this letter in my on-line course. I found that there is no transcription of the letter available on line for us to copy. So, I got my hands on a photocopy from the microfilm, transcribed it for my writers, and am now putting it up here as well.

Why? This is an important document and it needs to be online somewhere, if only on my little web log.

Spelling modernized, most abbreviations expanded, grammar and punctuation left alone. (Van Buren was a very regular speller - so I did not make many changes other than a few honour to honor and so on.)


Martin Van Buren to Thomas Ritchie
Washington, January 13, 1827

Dear Sir,

You will have observed an article in the Argus upon the subject of a national convention. That matter will soon be brought under discussion here & I sincerely wish you would bestow upon it some portion of your attention. It was first suggested to me by the Vice President, he & Mr Ingham & Penn are the only persons, with whom I have as yet conversed. They think it essential. It will be an important improvement & should be fully and deeply considered. The two papers in the city of N. York devoted to Mr. Clinton's views, the Statesman & Enquirer, are you see out against it. Their motive is obvious. It would interfere with Mr. Clinton's object which (however appearances may at some times indicate) depend upon it, is the Presidency at the Next election. I have no political intercourse with him, but this I know confidently, altho' I do not wish to be quoted for it.

The most of his friends think his choice a bad one & would prefer that he should give it up. But they cannot persuade him to do or at least will not succeed in doing it, till it is too late to make a successful retreat. When I speak of Noah as the friend of C, I presume I tell you nothing new; an intelligent & constant observer of his movements cannot be in doubt upon that subject. His entanglement with Mr. Clinton, produced by his embarrassments & a belief that our defeat in 1824 was permanent has destroyed his influence at home altogether. Had he frankly stated that he could not oppose Mr. Clinton for any reason, the circumstance would have been overlooked. But the course he has seen fit to adopt has produced a very general impression upon the Republicans of the state, that he has been treacherous to them which it will take a long time to efface; this has been a source of great regret to me, he has some excellent points and I sincerely hope he may get over it. This paper as well as those few others in the state exclusively devoted to him (that not being the case with most of the Old Federal papers), will exhibit for a long time to come the impress of his politics, viz lamentable and extreme variableness. On the part of the Republican presses you will witness a mild but steady and firm head leading constantly to the great object in view. For myself I am not tenacious whether we have a congressional caucus or a general convention, so that we have either; the latter would remove the embarrassment of those who have or profess to have scruples as to the former, would be [fushends] perhaps more in unison with the spirit of the times, especially at the seat of the war Pennsylvania & N. York. The following may, I think, justly be ranked among its probable advantages. First, It is the best and probably the only practicable mode of concentrating the entire vote of the opposition & of effecting what is of still greater importance, the substantial reorganization of the Old Republican Party. 2nd Its first result cannot be doubtful. Mr. Adams occupying the seat and being determined not to surrender it except in extremis will not submit his pretension to the convention. Noah's real or affected apprehensions upon that subject are idle. I have long been satisfied that we can only get rid of the present, & restore a better state of things, by combining Genl. Jackson's personal popularity with the portion of old party feeling yet remaining. This sentiment is spreading, and would of itself be sufficient to nominate him at the Convention.
3rd The call of such a convention, its exclusive Republican character, & the refusal of Mr. Adams and his friends to become parties to it, would draw anew the old Party lines & the subsequent contest would reestablish them; state nomination alone would fall far short of that object. 4th It would greatly improve the condition of the republicans of the North & Middle States by substituting party principle for personal preference as one of the leading points in the contest. The location of the candidate would in a great degree, be merged in its consideration. Instead of the question being between a northern and Southern man, it would be whether or not the ties, which have heretofore bound together a great political party should be severed. The difference between these two questions would be found to be immense in the elective field. Altho' this is a mere Party consideration, it is not on that account less likely to be effectual, considerations of this character not unfrequently operate as efficiently as those which bear upon the most important questions of constitutional doctrine. Indeed Genl Jackson has been so little in public life, that it will be not a little difficult to contrast his opinions in great questions with those of Mr. Adams. His letter to mr. Monroe operates agt. him in N York by placing him in one respect on the same footing with the present incumbent. Hence the importance, if not necessity of collateral matter to secure him a support there.
5thly It would place our Republican friends in New England on new & strong grounds. They would have to decide between an indulgence in sectional & personal feelings with an entire separation from their old political friends, on the one hand, or acquiesce in the fairly expressed will of the party, on the other. In all the states the division between Republicans and Federalists is still kept up & cannot be laid aside whatever the leaders of the two parties may desire. Such a question would greatly disturb the democracy of the east. N. Hampshire I think it would give us the victory; in all New England it would give them trouble, keep them employ'd at home & check the hopes of their friends elsewhere.
6th Its effects would be highly salutary in your section of the union by the revival of old party distinctions. We must always have party distinctions and the old ones are the best of which the nature of the case admits. Political combinations between the inhabitants of the different states are unavoidable & the most natural & beneficial to the country is that between the planters of the South and the plain Republicans of the north. The country has since flourished under a party thus constituted & may again. It would take longer than our lives (even if it were practicable) to create new party feelings to keep those masses together. If the old ones are suppressed, Geographical divisions founded on local interests or, what is worse prejudices between free & slave holding states will inevitably take their place. Party attachment in former times furnished a complete antidote for sectional prejudices by producing counteracting feelings. It was not until that defense had been broken down that the clamor against Southern Influence and African Slavery could be made effectual in the North. Those in the South who assisted in producing the change are, I am satisfied, now deeply sensible of their error. Every honest Federalist of the South therefore should (and would if he duly reflected upon the subject) prefer the revival of old party feelings to any other state of things he has a right to expect. Formerly, attacks upon Southern Republicans were regarded by those of the north as assaults upon their political brethren & resented accordingly. This all powerful sympathy has been much weakened, if not destroyed by the amalgamating policy of Mr. Monroe. It can& ought to be revived and the proposed convention would be eminently serviceable in effecting that object. The failure of the last caucus furnishes no argument against a convention nor would it against an other caucus. The condition of things is essentially different. Then the south was divided, now it is united. Then we had several parties now we have in substance but two & for many other reasons. Lastly, the effect of such an nomination on General Jackson could not fail to be considerable. His election, as the result of his military services without reference to party & so far as he alone is concerned scarcely to principle would be one thing. His election as the result of a combined and concerted effort of a political party, holding in the main, to certain tenets & opposed to certain prevailing principles, might be another and a far different thing.
But I forbear, I have already spun out this letter to an unconscionable length. The little acquaintance I have with you scarcely justifies me in making this communication. But I write to you in strict confidence a confidence inspired altogether by your public course. You will not be so unjust as to suspect me of the small design of withing only to be civil, when I say that there is not another man in the union [who] can render as much service to the cause in which we are engaged as yourself. The lamentable State of the press, must have occurred to you more frequently than to myself. If I were to ask you to name me another editor who fully understands & duly appreciates the importance of the great principles we contend for, without the establishment of which our success would dwindle into insignificance – Where would you find him? & yet the press is the great lever by which all great movements in the political world must be sustained. Let me then repeat my request, that you will bestow upon this point all the attention you can afford. If it is successfully carried through, there is no limit to the advantages that would result from it. The principal opposition is to be apprehended from the friends of General Jackson's erroneously supposing that there is no danger of the nomination falling upon another. This can and must be obviated.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:21 PM | TrackBack

April 08, 2006

Multiculturalism and Idealism

Blog it to get it out of my head.

I was reading Diane Ravitch's book The Language Police, well skimming it really, and I was struck by something she said about history and history standards.

As she presents them, the history standards that Gary Nash and the crew at UCLA put together for the National Council on History in the Schools are built around cultural equivalence. They open with the paradigm of "three worlds meet" and explain how Native American, African, and European people and beliefs all became part of the new nation. This, sez Ravitch, is a very good way to approach the history of the various people who lived and live in North America, and if that is what we mean by the History of the United States then it will do.

But, she argues, what if the history we want to teach is the history of the ideas that formed the nation. Those ideas did not grow directly out of North America or Africa, but instead grew out of the European Enlightenment and English common law. If we are teaching the history of the nation-state, then shouldn't we give primary focus on the history of the ideas that formed the nation state?

I am writing a high school history course - part of why the blogging has slowed down is that I feel restrained when talking about collaborative work while I will write endlessly about my own personal work. But, I think I can break the academical wall of silence on this one because I am blogging away at a background issue.

I decided to follow the NCHS standards and to start my class with the three worlds meet paradigm. And yet, I have as one of the stated goals of the course, that we will be teaching critical citizenship - the goal is that students will understand the ideals of the American nation so well that they will use those ideals to judge past, present and future people and leaders against those American ideals. An ambitious goal, I admit, but you gotta aim for something.

What Ravitch misses in her op-ed style dichotomy between cultural equivalency and the history of the nation state is that these ideals never existed in a vacuum. They were accepted and articulated by particular people in particular places and then used to help them solve particular problems. And, as these ideas were used and phrased, they had consequences. People from other backgrounds encountered these ideas, adopted them, and used them themselves.

Furthermore, accepting that there the people who form the United States came from three continents and many nations and languages in each continent, does not mean that all have had exactly the same and equal impact on the nature and future of the nation. Far from it. Ideals are tied into power, and power is never equally distributed. When we examine the spread of ideas and ideals, we are examining the actions of particular people, and the consequences of those actions across power boundaries. George Washington warned that the British Empire was planning to reduce the American colonies to the status of "the Blacks we Rule over with such arbitrary Sway." Washington later advertised for the slaves who had run away from his plantation to promised freedom with the British Army. In both cases, Washington was using the language of liberty and power, expressing enlightenment ideals, and mediating between people and customs from many different groups.

That was incoherent - which makes sense because this blog post is a brain dump before I get back to work on how to write about these things without getting caught up in answering Ravitch. The point I am groping toward is that we need to remember that
1, people came from many different cultures, continents, and backgrounds.
2, the nation of the United States is unusual because its founding documents are grounded in the language of enlightenment radicalism and British country politics.
3, this language and these ideals have never existed in a vacuum, but have always been internalized and expressed by particular people
4, particular people mediate their language and ideals across unequal power boundaries, creating a middle ground of mutual accommodation but creating it in a way that favors the people who hold power.

If I can keep that tension between multiculturalism and the ideological basis of the American experiment going, I think I might just create a pretty darn good history class.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:32 AM | TrackBack

March 29, 2006

History through a spyglass

I am reading Kevin Phillips new book, American Theocracy and am enjoying it in a critical and non-believing sort of way.

I have not gotten all that far in, and have already been struck by the myopic focus on oil. Myopic, no, targetted. Things may change once I get farther in, but so far a former Nixon official and the man who coined the term "sun belt" is telling the tale of electoral realignment between 1960 and 2005 solely in terms of oil and industry, without a single mention of race or civil rights.

That seems a bit, well, incomplete.

We will see if the rest of the book improves.

EDIT - he does talk about race as part of his discussion of religion. He asserts that only about a third of the electoral re-alignment since the 1960s has been related to race, and that the other two thirds are religious and cultural. Then he discusses the religious and cultural in great depth.

Fuller review on the reading log.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:52 PM | TrackBack

March 10, 2006

When Standards go Wrong

I was working with state history standards again today, and I went and double checked one of them.

Arizona 1SS-E20. Describe the aims and impact of the Western expansion and settlement of the United States, with emphasis on:
PO 3. the American belief in Manifest Destiny, including how it led to the Mexican War

Now, maybe I read too much of Freehling’s Road to Disunion and Holt’s Political Crisis of the 1850s but I normally teach my undergraduates that manifest destiny was a partisan issue, not a widely held belief. Or rather, it was a Democratic Party issue that the party was pushing hard during an era when it won a lot of national and statewide elections. Did most Americans believe that they had a manifest destiny to go to the Western Shore? Well, remember that President John Tyler started talking about annexing Texas because he wanted to create an issue that would break apart the Whig party (that had kicked him out) and the Democratic Party (that he had rejected because he thought Andrew Jackson was behaving like a dictator.) He got the idea because Abel Upshar and a batch of folks in the deep south were worried that Texas might emancipate in order to receive foreign aid from Britain.

Manifest destiny, on the other hand, was Polk’s campaign platform in 1844 after it became clear that Tyler had opened up the can of western worms.

I argue that western expansion was driven by the politics of slavery, but remember that a batch of very smart Whigs were pretty darn sure that they could win elections by arguing that westward expansion would undermine American economic development, and that the future of the nation was in the cities of the east and not the wastelands of the West.

This is rambling - a sure sign that I need to stop working and go to bed. But that simple darn assertion in the Arizona standards bugs me because, well, it reverses things. Westward expansion created an ideology of manifest destiny, not the other way around.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:06 PM | TrackBack

November 11, 2005

Armistice Day

On the eleventh hour
of the eleventh day
of the eleventh month

the guns stopped.

The world has never really recovered from the war that started when Franz Ferdinand had a bad day.

And today is a good day to remember, and to think on it.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:12 AM | TrackBack

November 04, 2005

Friedman on the 1st generation

I was reading Lawrence Friedman's A History of American Law and came across a lyric passage about the judges who effectively created the American legal system at the start of the nineteenth century: John Marshall, Joseph Story, James Kent, Lemuel Shaw, and the rest.

They were, at their best, far-sighted men, impatient with narrow legal logic. Marshal, Gibson, and Shaw could write for pages without citing a shred of "authority." They did not choose to base their decisions on precedent alone; law had to be chiseled out of basic principle; the traditions of the past were merely evidence of principle, and rebuttable. Their grasp of the spirit of the law was tempered by what they understood to be the needs of a living society. Some were conservative men, passionately attached to tradition; but they honored tradition, not for its own sake, but for the values that inhered in it. And they became famous not because they stuck to the past, but because they worked on and wtih the living law. Most of the great judges were scholarly men; a few were very erudite, like Joseph Story, who could stud his opinions with acres of citation a thing Marshall tended to avoid. The great judes were creative, self-aware, and willing to make changes.
Friedman, A History of American Law, 135.
I was struck by the passage both for its language - Friedman ventures into the grand style himself - and for its pertinance to the twenty-first century debates about the traits required for a Supreme Court Justice. As others have pointed out before me, even conservative founders believed in a living Constitution.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:38 PM | TrackBack

October 26, 2005

Gluttons for Punishment

I am applying both to history positions around the country and "straight" jobs around Philadelphia. I have noticed some oddities in both job searches. Academia is a small world - you never know if the idiot who just applied to your department may not, five years from now, hold the fate of your favorite graduate student in their hands. So, academic job searches tend to be polite. Even the folks who get dinged normally get a letter telling them sorry.

The other big difference is the nature of the application. Straight jobs ask for a resume and perhaps a couple of paragraphs of cover. They get a lot of these, zoom through, and hire. Academic jobs ask for a serious letter, a vita, letters of recommendation, and sometimes other materials as well. The gluttons for punishment in the title are a university whose committee requested: cover letter, vita, recommendations, teaching portfolio, and a writing sample.

I think I am going to be mailing them about 100 pages.

At least I got a new 1 paragraph dissertation precis out of the process.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:18 PM | TrackBack

September 19, 2005

The $10,000,000 questions.

I am going through a lot of the job search stuff, looking for a position near J's job that will let us shift the household budget from a flood of red ink to either black ink or a trickle of red.

Along the way I have been reading a fair bit of job search literature, researching careers, and so on.

One of the exercises I came across was the 10,000,000 question. Imagine that the red leprechaun just gave you $10,000,000 that you can only spend on yourself. No giving it away, no bailing out the extended family. Just you. What do you spend it on?

My gut answer was
1, pay off the debts.
2, move to a bigger house in a better school district and get the books out of storage.
3, be an independent scholar.

Oh, and I would probably get back into gaming.

The question comes with a parallel, what would you do if the green leprechaun gave you an additional $10,000,000 that could only be spent on other people?

Now, depending on if you define family as self or other, one of the two leprechauns would get tapped for educational trusts for the kids and their cousins, for a retirement supplement for J's dad, and to make sure that my folks have all the medigap they need.

For the rest, I would spend it to get primary documents into the community colleges and liberal arts schools, and from these places into the local high school AP programs. I am not sure if I would want to fund digitizing well-known documents like the Early American Imprints or if there would be more bang for the buck from making manuscripts, collected papers, and the like into easily searched, easily used, widely dispersed documents, but that is the way I would go.

What does this exercise tell me - something that I literally had not articulated about myself an hour ago? It tells me that I need to chase down the projects doing digital history, and that I need to see if I can put together a grant proposal to do more of it. I have strengths in history, in information technology, and in bridging the gap between academic geeks and computer geeks. I would probably be happier working on the data-production side of academia than I would running regressions and building web pages for a random finance/insurance/real-estate firm.

And so to write some cover letters.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:35 PM | TrackBack

August 29, 2005

Sudden Change

We often hear that we live in an era of constant and sudden change. I was reminded of this when reading John Leland this morning, and now give you some of his thoughts.

It is now fifty-nine years since the independence of the United States was declared. In this length of time the inhabitants have increased from three to fourteen millions. The changes that have taken place are innumerable. Sixty-five years ago I was old enough to observe the face of things, and see what was going on: had I been in a dead sleep the sixty-five years, and were not to awake, such a change has taken place in the face of the earth, in architecture, in all the arts, in costume and regimen, and in the forms of religion, that I should doubt whether I had awakened in the same world. The love of money, sexual correspondence, diseases and death, however, remain stationary.
John Leland, Appendix to Autobiography, July 4, 1835.
Works of Elder John Leland (New York, G.W. Wood, 1845) pp 39-40.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:19 PM | TrackBack

July 14, 2005


I was working on James Madison's civil religion this evening and found something that reminded me why I should not read the news.

When I do read the news, I get angry, very angry, at the current administration. I then want to go off and read more, and write more, and vent that anger.

But I do not have the time away from writing to do that, not and finish. So I try to sublimate the anger.

Anyhow, I was working with Madison and found the close of his final annual message. This is the sort of document that, IMO, reveals the political cleavages in America today. I read this, and if I posted it on someplace like The Washington Monthly Kevin Drum would read it as a biting indictment of BushCo. If these same words were posted on one of the republican apologist sites like Powerline, they would take it as a rollicking endorsement. Then again, they have decided that since they like having their backs pissed on it must be raining.

Madison below the fold.

And may I not be allowed to add to this gratifying spectacle that I shall read in the character of the American people, in their devotion to true liberty and to the Constitution which is its palladium, sure presages that the destined career of my country will exhibit a Government pursuing the public good as its sole object, and regulating its means by the great principles consecrated in its charter and by those moral principles to which they are so well allied; a Government which watches over the purity of elections, the freedom of speech and of the press, the trial by jury, and the equal interdict against encroachments and compacts between religion and the state; which maintains inviolably the maxims of public faith, the security of persons and property, and encourages in every authorized mode the general diffusion of knowledge which guarantees to public liberty its permanency and to those who possess the blessing the true enjoyment of it; a Government which avoids intrusions on the internal repose of other nations, and repels them from its own; which does justice to all nations with a readiness equal to the firmness with which it requires justice from them; and which, whilst it refines its domestic code from every ingredient not congenial with the precepts of an enlightened age and the sentiments of a virtuous people, seeks by appeals to reason and by its liberal examples to infuse into the law which governs the civilized world a spirit which may diminish the frequency or circumscribe the calamities of war, and meliorate the social and beneficent relations of peace; a Government, in a word, whose conduct within and without may bespeak the most noble of ambitions - that of promoting peace on earth and good will to man.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:36 PM | TrackBack

June 02, 2005

Rum and Lemonade

Dr. Curmudgeon wonders "what exactly was the accident with the rum and lemonade? Is that some kind of New Hampshire cocktail?"

Very close - the intended cocktail was wine and lemonade, but French grabbed the wrong decanter. Full story below the fold.

French himself was a second tier New Hampshire politician and lifelong Mason. He ended up as the head of the American Masonic order in the 1850s and 1860s. He served as Clerk of the House of Representatives in the 1840s and 1850s, then after switching his allegiance from Democrat to Republican he served in the city public works during the civil war. I forget the details, but recall that he was constantly working with Lincoln about the civil defenses of the capital during the Civil War. French grew up in New England Congregationalism and flirted with reform, including taking a Temperance Pledge, before returning, as did many of his contemporaries, to drinking and smoking in the 1850s and 1860s. He ended up drifting into the Unitarian Church, the least doctrinal and most works-oriented of the mid-century religious choices.

Things to notice:

  • French presided over a temperance meeting but drank wine and had rum readily available in his house.
  • Some temperance advocates wanted to focus on all alcohol, while French and many early temperance reformers were more interested in social control - the whiskey epidemic - than in the more expensive tipples.
  • French resents the crusading temperament common among New England reformers.
  • French is deeply concerned that he might be a heretic: he rejects the specific proposals made by the mainstream clergy, but still grants them a large dose of moral authority - like modern secular jews who define Judaism by the most Frum Orthodox standards.
All italics are in the original, and were almost certainly underscores in the manuscript diary.

Donald B. Cole and John J. McDonough [ed]
Benjamin Brown French
Witness to the Young Republic:
A Yankee's Journal, 1828-1870.

University Press of New England, Hanover NH, 1989.

June 2, 1831.
".... Went to ride with Pierce this morning. Was in at the State Temperance meeting, took the chair as Vice President, came home and drank a glass of rum by mistake, thought it was wine, & poured it into a tumbler full of Lemonade. Pierce quizzed me for it very much. Never mind, I shall pay him one day. Temperance is a glorious affair -- if it be not intemperately followed. There are men in the world who never ought to have been unclouted -- they are children in years. One of this class made a motion that foreign wines should be debarred access to those throats which are so often stretched in the cause of temperance. How very ridiculous; those very wines, if they could be generaly used in the community would do more to promote the cause of Temperance than 10,000,000 speeches from grown-up babies. I wish the Temperance cause well with all my heart, but I fear the imprudence of the Reverend Clergy will upset it all -- they are the most imprudent class in the whole community, the orthodox clergy I mean, they think everything must be driven -- not so -- men may be coaxed but not driven. I fear I am getting to be a heretic. Is there a hereafter? I believe there must be; it cannot be that we are to end when this tenement of clay becomes uninhabited. If so what motive could have caused our existence. But on this serious matter I grow sleepy, & it's after 10. I am for bed." p 19

Posted by Red Ted at 08:41 PM | TrackBack

Tennessee 1796

Seeing as how much of the recent History Carnival was about the use and abuse of civil religion in the 1790s, I decided to post another dissertation outtake. Having spent several hours trying to figure out how to get the following paragraphs into the narrative, I will replace them with a single sentence and move on.

I hate it when that happens. But we cut the ones we love.

Tennessee 1796 below the fold, footnotes removed. And yes, Tennessee still has both a religious test and a disavowal of all religious tests.

Tennessee wrote the most striking constitution [between 1790 and 1815], affirming the rights of conscience, denying any religious test for state office, and requiring office holders to affirm the existence of God and of future rewards and punishments. The Tennessee Constitutional Convention met in Knoxville on January 11, 1796, after the French Revolution had turned anti-American but before the Illuminatti crisis. Immediately after choosing officers and setting procedures they agreed to write a declaration of rights and then a Constitution, and proceeded to transform themselves into a committee of the whole to discuss the matter. After about a week of debate they agreed on their Bill of Rights, including an outright ban on religious tests for state office and the statement that "men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences." They then went on to meet in committee of the whole again while they wrote a frame of government. Finally, they met as a convention to ratify and modify their committee work. On February 2, during this final approval, George Doherty from Jefferson county proposed that "No person who publicly denies the being of a God, and future rewards and punishments, or the divine authority of the old and new testament, shall hold any office in the civil department in this state." Doherty's proposal passed by acclamation. Landon Carter of Washington County, who had been a floor manager during the revision process, then moved that the reference to the Testaments be struck out. This proposal led to a roll call, which Carter won 27 to 25. The convention immediately adjourned, several hours ahead of schedule, as was common after votes involving religion and the state. Later that week the test and a couple of other added statements were bundled into a new article, miscellaneous provisions, and the convention proceeded to wrap up affairs.

To the modern eye, the actions of the convention in January and February are completely antithetical. They agreed "That no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this State" with no debate. A month later, they approved a test that would have restricted office holding to Christians, a test very like the one that North Carolina maintained until the middle of the nineteenth century. The Journals of the convention are scanty, but they do suggest that most of the men in Knoxville saw no initial conflict between their February test and their January rights. The earlier liberty of conscience was a statement of inalienable rights, the later test a matter of civil religion. Carter's amendment, then, was a debate about what beliefs are necessary for good government, what gives civic faith its compelling power. Doherty looked to scripture, with the implication that revelation led to moral behavior and that the state could press the contents of the Bible into service as required. Carter moved a Deist civil religious test: even Tom Paine agreed in the being of a God and in future rewards and punishments. Carter and a bare majority of the delegates argued that the God of nature was sufficient to compel good behavior, in effect stating that the idea of a divine being was more important than the details, words, or promises made by that divine being.

Religion and government overlapped in the Tennessee Constitution, with government putting religion to work to ensure good behavior from office holders. The easy acceptance of Doherty's proposal suggests that the men in the room came from homogenous religious backgrounds. Most if not all were Protestants, at least in formal affiliation, all read the Bible as scripture. Anyone who accepted "the divine authority of the old and new testaments" must accept the common tenets of morality and must therefore be a good republican. In addition, by turning to the Bible alone Doherty attempted to avoid all denominational conflict over what teachings were best suited to teach moral behavior. His civil religion would have required the Bible, and would have trusted that the Bible would be enough. What Doherty's proposal did not address was the extent to which religious men of good will, each reading the same scriptures, could come to radically different conclusions about the best way to organize republican government. And, more to the point, men who agreed on the basic premises of republican government could accuse other Christians of holding opinions that would subvert the state.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:52 AM | TrackBack

May 17, 2005

Franklin Pierce

I have spent much of the evening trying to make sense of Franklin Pierce.

I know that I am not alone, and that many of us spend our time trying to figure the guy out. Most of the blogosphere is well aware that Frank was the 14th president of the U.S., that he came from New Hampshire, that he was a dark horse candidate elected on a late ballot as a pro-Southern Democrat from New Hampshire, that he was widely derided during the campaign as being the "hero of many a well fought bottle" because of his disastrous experience as a Brigadier during the Mexican-American War, and that he is widely considered one of the worst American Presidents.

He is confusing to me because of his religious beliefs. A New England Episcopalian, he chose to affirm rather than swear his oath of office. Unusually for Democrats (and political hacks, he qualified as both) his public pronouncements show a complicated sense of civil religion and national providence. Unlike the simple-minded triumphalism of James K. Polk et al, and unlike the civic Providence of Jackson, Harrison, and Taylor (so long as we hold to the Constitution, then the nation will prosper and be blessed), he called forward a sense of national frailty and contingency, a national providence that might not be granted for the future. His term as high priest of American Civil Religion thus looked far more like James Madison and John Quincy Adams than like his contemporaries. The closest similarity is Abraham Lincoln, and yet the two men's Gods, biographies, and backgrounds are mightily different. About the only thing they had in common was a sense of humor.

Then again, humor is tied to an awareness of pain, so perhaps it is not so surprising that the two mid-century advocates of contingent Providence were also much funnier than Buchanan, Fillmore, Polk, or the rest of the crew. For that matter, I have trouble imagining Andrew Jackson teasing his friends the way that Pierce teased Benjamin Brown Finch after the accident with the rum and the lemonade.

Pierce's public pronouncements are more explicitly and conventionally religious than most of his contemporaries. He emphasizes the power of God's Providence. Unlike most of his contemporaries, however, he ties Providential blessings to the proper performance of national duties. The nation is not entitled to good times, but must act properly in order to prosper. He phrases these national duties in one of those sentences that make undergraduates stop reading (see below the break), but he phrases them as a compact grounded in a national obligation to act morally.

Thanks - blogging this helped me make enough sense out of Pierce and the later guys that I should be able to go write up the actual focus of this subsection, James Madison and the Providential meaning of the War of 1812.

EDIT - Dr Curmudgeon helps clear up my confusion about Pierce's religious affiliation. The secondary source with the scanned texts of the annual addresses had him marked as an Episcopalian, so I went with that. I wonder if Carwardine Evangelicals and Politics or Holt Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party mention Pierce's religious affiliation.

Franklin Pierce, 4th2nd Annual Address (State of the Union), December 4, 1854, penultimate paragraph.

We have to maintain inviolate the great doctrine of the inherent right of popular self-government; to reconcile the largest liberty of the individual citizen with complete security of the public order; to render cheerful obedience to the laws of the land, to unite in enforcing their execution, and to frown indignantly on all combinations to resist these; to harmonize a sincere and ardent devotion to the institutions of religious faith with the most universal religious toleration; to preserve the rights of all by causing each to respect those of the other; to carry forward every social improvement to the uttermost limit of human perfectibility, by the free action of mind upon mind, not by the obtrusive intervention of misapplied force; to uphold the integrity and guard the limitations of our organic law; to preserve sacred from all touch of usurpation, as the very palladium of our political salvation, the reserved rights and powers of the several States and of the people; to cherish with loyal fealty and devoted affection this Union, as the only sure foundation on which the hopes of civil liberty rest; to administer government with vigilant integrity and rigid economy; to cultivate peace and friendship with foreign nations, and to demand and exact equal justice from all, but to do wrong to none; to eschew intermeddling with the national policy and the domestic repose of other governments, and to repel it from our own; never to shrink from war when the rights and the honor of :he country call us to arms, but to cultivate in preference the arts of peace, seek enlargement of the rights of neutrality, and elevate and liberalize the intercourse of nations; and by such just and honorable means, and such only! whilst exalting the condition of the Republic, to assure to it the legitimate influence and the benign authority of a great example amongst all the powers of Christendom.
This is, of course, a HUGE difference from Lincoln's sense of contingency, "with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right." Not only was Lincoln a much better writer, his civil religion also emphasized that we all believe that we are right, and all that we can do is hope that we are indeed correct in this belief as we continue to do the best we can, knowing that no prayer will be answered fully.

EDIT - correct the ordinal on the annual address.

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April 20, 2005

Odd companions

What do these four folks have in common?

Arthur Wellesly, Duke of Wellington
Emperor Francis Joseph I
Adolf Hitler
William Jefferson Clinton

All are biographies sitting on my "read me" shelf after my most recent trip to the library.

So far I am 180 pages into volume 1 of Ian Kershaw's 2 volume Hitler. April seems to be biography month.

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April 19, 2005

Hasty Pudding

When did the American Revolution begin?

The political contest became a shooting war on April 18-19, 1775.

Where did the fighting begin?

Lexington and Concord

Who won?

The British won the early skirmishes, the Patriots won the day.

Who fought?

The British had sent the elite companies - light infantry and grenadiers of the force occupying Boston on a quest to seize powder that the shadow government had stored at Concord. They were met by the minutemen.

What is a minuteman?

A militia man who obeys the orders of the shadow government organized around the committees of correspondence and the Continental Congress, not the Governor or the official instruments of government.

What happened the next day?

On April 19, 1775 the militia/minutemen from all over Eastern Massachusetts had converged on Boston and beseiged it. Estimates range as high as 20,000 men in arms surrounding the city, "as thick as hasty pudding."

Mind the music / Watch the step / And with the girls be handy!

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March 07, 2005

Name of the Day

Name of the Day:

Victory Birdseye
A delegate from Onondaga county to the 1821-22 New York State Constitutional Convention. He appears to have spoken five times, and served on one committee.

I would guess that this is either a man born in or around 1783, or a man born to a proto-evangelical household. My money is on the former.

I do like early 19th-century names.

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February 08, 2005

Staring at George

On Monday I ran up to Princeton to do some research. It was my first time using Princeton University's rare books room, and I had a good trip. I read six books, took notes, and was able to thicken my research.

The reason I wanted to blog the trip is that the reading room in Firestone Library is a great big space with great big windows. Hanging over the door is a huge - it looked to be 8 feet tall - Charles Wilson Peale portrait of George Washington. It is a great picture.

So, there I was, frantically typing away on my laptop as I summarized the debates of various state constitutional conventions (New York 1846 went from not-in-the-dissertation to an expected three pages). Every time I wanted to take a break, I looked up at George. George looked down on us all, although I think he was a little fonder of the woman next to me who was working with a beautifully illustrated medieval book. (Later I told her I was jealous because her book had better pictures. She told me she was amazed at how fast I typed - transcribing 19th century political debate goes fast, especially because I trust myself to fix the spelling later.) Then I went from admiring George back to writing up debates and trying to make sure that I had remembered to type the commas that the 1780 Massachusetts convention seemed to use every third or fourth word.

This is starting to ramble. I just wanted to comment that the really cool thing about doing history is that you find yourself in a situation where, just going about your business, you get to look up and admire one of the more famous pictures of George.

Oh, and if you look carefully at that picture you will see that George, who was admired in his day for being a well built man with an attractive body, comes from the pre-steroid and pre-weightlifting era of strong torsos and small arms. There is a marked difference in physical types, a change that has really kicked in quite recently, say since the 1980s.

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December 06, 2004

Exam question I might ask

I might just ask this one:

Who would win a steel cage death match between Thomas Jefferson and Catherine Beecher?
OK, between their ideas - Catherine Beecher would beat up TJ in real life, despite being a much smaller person. (She lifted weights; he was shy and afraid of personal confrontations.)

The concept is promising, but the question needs work.


Who would win a steel cage death mathc between the ideas of Catherine Beecher and the ideals of Thomas Jefferson? If you want to, you may write your essay in the form of ringside commentary. Assume that the match was held in 1850.

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November 16, 2004

Thanksgiving Shopping

I was looking for the missing item for our Thanksgiving table, but I can't find one for sale.

The traditional Thanksgiving story, the one celebrated in school plays and popular culture, involves pilgrims in big hats with buckles and indians in feather hats getting together to eat a feast of squash, venison, game, and corn, with the turkey standing in for the venison and game.

That story leaves out the crucial third participant in the Pilgrims' settlement, their starving time, and their rapid turn from starvation to prosperity - the smallpox virus that had wiped out the New England Indian tribes shortly before the Pilgrims landed. Prospective European colonists knew of this virus, and both the Pilgrims and the Puritans who followed them a few years later took the epidemic as a signal sign of God's Providence, a signal that God wanted them to settle on this land for He had thoughtfully cleared its inhabitants and left their farms and sometimes houses for the new migrants to take over.

Anyhow, I want to get a plush smallpox to put on the table as part of the ritual - it has as much right to be there as the silly hats.

But alas, both ThinkGeek and Giant Microbes have no smallpox plushies. They have other goodies - including ebola, sleeping sickness, bookworms, and ulcers - but no smallpox. I had really wanted a smallpox.

Perhaps I can find someone artistic and commission a smallpox and perhaps also a cholera and some typhoid or polio?

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November 11, 2004

Armistice Day

Today is Veterans' Day, Armistice day for most of Europe. On this day in 1918, at 11:00 am local time, the Great War ended on the western front. The implications of that war are still working through the world, although I suspect that in another ten years or so I will be able to say that we have moved past the world created by that war.

Last year I posted the story of my Grandpa Louie, a true story told in a tone of sad almost maudlin regret.

I am still deciding what I want to say about the day this year.

Posted by Red Ted at 06:41 AM | TrackBack

November 09, 2004

Ralph Luker on Clio's Commandments

Ralph Luker over at Cliopatra shares with us The Decalogue of Clio as prepared by George Tindall.

Clio's Decalogue: The Commandments of the Muse

I Thou shalt smite the Philistines hip and thigh with thy first sentence. This is the First Commandment.

II Thou shalt love the active verb with all thy heart, with all the soul, and with all thy mind, and thou shalt have no passive verbs before me; the present tense, moreover, is an abomination unto the muse.

III Thou shalt not take the names of thy cast in vain, for the muse will not hold that one guiltless who faileth fully to denominate and clearly to identify in relation to the subject all persons or incidents, be they Zora Neale Hurston, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, or the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee. Only after thou hast performed this ceremony of purification mayest thou use familiar terms like unto Hurston, Lamar, or The Duel to the Death.

IV Remember the footnote, to keep it holy. In thy text shalt thou labor thy subject, but neither discuss thy documents nor yet thy methodology. Footnotes were made for scholars and not scholars for footnotes; yea, verily, the greatest is not the writer who citeth the most obscure document, nor yet the one who pileth Ossa upon Pelion.

V Honor thy chronology, to keep it straight, and put thy time clause first, that thy days may be long upon the printed page.

VI Thou shalt not kill thy reader, neither with the dangling participle, nor the split infinitive, nor with string of prepositional phrases, nor yet with adjectives and adverbs.

VII Thou shalt not commit adulteration, neither with slang nor with jargon, yea though the words be favored of thine instructors.

VIII Thou shalt not covet thy source's prose, imagery, or purple passage, nor anything that is thy source's, for lo, thou canst say it better thyself. Thou mayest quote only to season thy store, and that in fear and trembling.

IX Thou shalt not bear false witness, nor pass judgment upon mankind, nor yet pardon any man or woman for anything; thou mayest seek the reason for error but neither the excuse nor the blame. Vengeance is mine, saith the muse.

X Thou shalt not steal thy reader's attention by using "this" for "the," nor "the" for "a," neither shall thou employ negations. Neither a "no"-er nor a "not"-er be; but rather an accentuator of the positive; in this respect shalt thou do as these commandments say do and not as they, alas, do.

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November 08, 2004

17 >> 19 (for prose style)

Tomorrow's class will be reading parts of the Beecher/Grimke debate. As I was reviewing Catherine Beecher's explanation for why women should not participate in politics I noticed that she made a point that had earlier been made by John Winthrop in his "Model of Christian Charity." However, Winthrop said it much much better; Catherine Beecher puts me to sleep.

John Winthrop:

GOD ALMIGHTY in his most holy and wise providence, hath soe disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poore, some high and eminent in power and dignitie; others mean and in submission.
Catherine Beecher
It is the grand feature of the Divine economy, that there should be different stations of superiority and subordination, and it is impossible to annihilate this beneficent and immutable law.

Both of them get longwinded as they explain their point, but Beecher is just a polysylabic babble while Winthrop is at least writing in the rhythms of the king's English. Or, better yet, Beecher makes her point with adjectives, Winthrop with nouns.

Full paragraphs below the fold.


GOD ALMIGHTY in his most holy and wise providence, hath soe disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poore, some high and eminent in power and dignitie; others mean and in submission.

The Reason hereof.

1 Reas. First to hold conformity with the rest of his world, being delighted to show forth the glory of his wisdom in the variety and difference of the creatures, and the glory of his power in ordering all these differences for the preservation and good of the whole; and the glory of his greatness, that as it is the glory of princes to have many officers, soe this great king will haue many stewards, Counting himself more honoured in dispensing his gifts to man by man, than if he did it by his owne immediate hands.

2 Reas. Secondly that he might haue the more occasion to manifest the work of his Spirit: first upon the wicked in [Page 34] moderating and restraining them: soe that the riche and mighty should not eate upp the poore nor the poore and dispised rise upp against and shake off theire yoake. 2ly In the regenerate, in exerciseing his graces in them, as in the grate ones, theire love, mercy, gentleness,
temperance &c., in the poore and inferior sorte, theire faithe, patience, obedience &c.

3 Reas. Thirdly, that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knitt more nearly together in the Bonds of brotherly affection. From hence it appears plainly that noe man is made more honourable than another or more wealthy &c., out of any particular and singular respect to himselfe, but for the glory of his creator and the common good of the creature, man. Therefore God still reserves the propperty of these gifts to himself as Ezek. 16. 17. he there calls wealthe, his gold and his silver, and Prov. 3. 9. he claims theire service as his due, honor the Lord with thy riches &c.--All men being thus (by divine providence) ranked into two sorts, riche and poore; under the first are comprehended all such as are able to live comfortably by their own meanes duely improved; and all others are poore according to the former distribution.

It is the grand feature of the Divine economy, that there should be different stations of superiority and subordination, and it is impossible to annihilate this beneficent and immutable law. On its first entrance into life, the child is a dependent on parental love, and of necessity takes a place of subordination and obedience. As he advances in life these new relations of superiority and subordination multiply. The teacher must be the superior in station, the pupil a subordinate. The master of a family the superior, the domestic a subordinate--the ruler a superior, the subject a subordinate. Nor do these relations at all depend upon superiority either in intellectual or moral worth. However weak the parents, or intelligent the child, there is no reference to this, in the immutable law. However incompetent the teacher, or superior the pupil, no alteration of station can be allowed. However unworthy the master or worthy the servant, while their mutual relations continue, no change in station as to subordination can be allowed. In fulfilling the duties of these relations, true dignity consists in conforming to all those relations that demand subordination, with propriety and cheerfulness. When does a man, however high his character or station, appear more interesting or dignified than when yielding reverence and deferential attentions to an aged parent, however weak and infirm? And the pupil, the servant, or the subject, all equally sustain their own claims to self-respect, and to the esteem of others, by equally sustaining the appropriate relations and duties of subordination. In this arrangement of the duties of life, Heaven has appointed to one sex the superior, and to the other the subordinate station, and this without any reference to the character or conduct of either. It is therefore as much for the dignity as it is for the interest of females, in all respects to conform to the duties of this relation. And it is as much a duty as it is for the child to fulfil similar relations to parents, or subjects to rulers. But while woman holds a subordinate relation in society to the other sex, it is not because it was designed that her duties or her influence should be any the less important, or all-pervading. But it was designed that the mode of gaining influence and of exercising power should be altogether different and peculiar.

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October 31, 2004

What to Expect on Election Day

On Thursday I explained to my Tuesday-Thursday class what they should expect to see on election day. I will explain it to my Monday-Wednesday class tomorrow. I will explain it to you faithful few readers now.

What do we expect at election day?

I know I intend to get up early and head over the the local party's newspaper office to pick up my ballot. I have made plans to meet a few friends there, and after a few drams we will head down to the polls together - about twenty of us. I know we will be singing on the way; those campaign ditties are both annoying and addictive earbugs.

At the polls there should already be quite a crowd, with partisans of both parties watching the polls. I always enjoy casting my ballot - standing up, proving my identity, making my mark on the rolls, and then placing my voting slip into the ballot box. My friends and I always give a cheer as each of us pops the paper in the box - a sort of warm fuzzy.

I know the party tells me that real men vote the straight ticket, and only cowards and scabs will scratch out one of their names and write my own in, but I am not all that happy with the incumbent county commissioners and intend to scratch. I say a real man makes up his own mind, and does not give blind and total allegiance to any party. I have not decided if I will bring a scratched ballot in my pocket, and hide my changes, or if I will make a point of scratching out the offending name. I suspect the latter, but we will see how many whips show up at the polls.

I will be taking the rest of the day off, and plan to spend it down at the polls watching the box, watching for that group of recent immigrants that the other party is going to try to slip past us, and watching out for that mob of goons who stole a ballot box in the next town last year. I am not a violent man, but I can identify people. At the end of the day we will probably head to the tavern for an oyster supper - our own local tradition.

The returns will come in over the telegraph around 10:00, so we will be back to the newspaper office to check the numbers. It should be a full day.

What - we are not in 1850 anymore?

Bother. It was going to be good fun.

Seriously, after going through a variation on the above rant - class is largely improvisatory theater for me - I urged the students to take not of the election day rituals: who is watching, who is checking, who is politicking at the gate, in what ways does the ritual of the vote reinforce civic identity, etc. Many of my students will be voting in Philadelphia, which is expected to be a zoo. I will be voting at the end of the block, 7 houses down. I might vote in bathrobe and carpet slippers just because I can.

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October 27, 2004

New Homework Question

I thought of this one today - it is not on the syllabus but it might well go on for next semester.

The historical drama network has put out a call for new proposals for telemovies about American history. Write me two paragraphs presenting your proposal. The first is the precis of a true historical event, as you would tell it on the screen. The second is your explanation of why this particular story would provide compelling television while conveying useful historical information.
My (skeleton) answer below the fold.

I would tell the tale of Benedict Arnold, starting from the invasion of Canada in 1775 and ending with his life in London and career as a Brigadier in the British Army. We would open with Arnold's heroics at the gates of Quebec, then set up his position amid the honor-obsessed officers in the continental army. The first half of the show would end with his role at Saratoga, both disobeying orders and winning the battle. The second half of the movie would show his quarrels about honor and precedence, his decision to surrender his garrison to the British, the random chance that led to Major Andre's arrest, and the events that followed from that arrest - Arnold's flight, Andre's execution, and the cult of Major Andre that developped in the Continental Army. We would end with a brief review of the later lives of the major players.

This would be compelling television for several reasons. I would present it as an Aristotelian tragedy, with Arnold destroyed by the same character traits that made him great. It would be compelling as anti-history, for how dare we show a heroic side to a person whose name is still an insult. Finally, it would show the audience the importance of honor in the early 18th century; given the popularity of Michael Shaara's work on Gettysburg, New Gingrich's Civil War histories, or the recent success of movies like Gladiator and Master and Commander, American audiences want to see tales of honor-obsessed military figures. The lasting historical impact that people would take away would be twofold. On the obvious level, they would be reminded of the near-run aspect of the American Revolution, of the divided loyalties of many Americans, especially people in the middle colonies, and of the importance contingent moments in shaping larger events.

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September 21, 2004

Heinlein and Cheney and Bush, Oh My

Let me see if I can make this one hang together. I fear that I am tilting at a straw man, but it is an important straw man.

In To Sail Beyond Sunset, and elsewhere for that matter, Robert Anson Heinlein complains about "revisionist historians" who, starting in the 1960s, went forth to re-tell the events of the past so as to make the United States out to be the villain - no matter what. He puts these words into the mouth of a character during the Spanish American War, and she then complains that while the war itself was fought on behalf of democratic rebels in Cuba, these revisionist historians have re-told the tale into one of imperialism and occupation, thus distorting "what really happened."

Lynne Cheney, both during her time as chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities and as a prominent spokeswoman for reform in history education, has repeatedly argued that the purpose of history is to tell American's positive stories about their past. The discipline creates a collective memory and identity, and she wants that identity to emphasize the good things about the nation. There are subtleties - this is a brief review of her position - but that is one of her major arguments.

A month or so ago George W. Bush, a man noted more for his firm opinions than for his intellectual curiosity, was giving a speech in the Philippines. During this speech he made some reference to America's long-standing commitment to democracy and democratic government, something that he hoped the nation would bring to Iraq just as it had brought it to the Philippines. He was booed, and it was obvious that he had no idea what he had said that was so offensive.

The answer, of course, is that after the United States stumbled into possession of the Philippines in 1898 we went ahead and colonized them, running the country for our benefit. Some American politicians called on the nation to "Christianize" the Philippines, conveniently ignoring that the islands had been Catholic before there was a permanent settlement in North America. More importantly, there had been a democratic insurgency in the Philippines just as there had been in Cuba. After praising that insurgency and its goals, the United States proceeded to impose its own rulers and policies on the nation, and then to fight a long bloody guerilla war against that very same democratic movement, finally quelling it for a while. After the Second World War the Philippines did become an independent nation, but even today they are living with some of the side effects of the long guerrilla war against first Spain, then the United States, then Japan.

Heinlein suggests that telling that story is "revisionism" and is bad for the nation. It is revisionist, in the sense that one of the things we do as historians is look for places where earlier accounts have gotten it wrong, and revise the story to match new data, new questions, or new perspectives. The revised account had better be well grounded in the facts - if not then it is fiction or wishful thinking - but just because it disagrees with the official story at the time of events does not mean that the official story was correct. In the case of the Philippines, the irony is that Mark Twain condemned our actions at the time, and that Heinlein is a huge fan of Mark Twain.

And, while Cheney is right that a good historian, especially on the elementary or high school level, must provide students with a compelling account of national identity and national meaning, she misses the fact that praise alone is meaningless. If you ever had a boss or a teacher who responded to all questions about how things were going, how good your work was, and so on by saying "fine fine, its great, you're doing great baby." - every single time, regardless of what you had given them - well, you quickly conclude that they have NO IDEA what is good or bad. Worse, you have no idea which parts of your work need to be improved, which are already strong. In contrast, someone who explains to you what you are doing well, what is weak, and what needs to be improved will help you grow as a person and as a worker. Historians provide that sort of feedback to a nation. And while it is important that we identify and celebrate national ideals and that we point out moments where those ideals mattered, we also have a duty to point out moments where our actions fell short of our ideals, and to show how and why we dropped the ball.

Otherwise, we end up in the position that George W. Bush was in during that speech - where we say something stupid, or offensive, or do something with poor consequences, because no one told us that the nation had been less than perfect. The school of hard knocks lets us learn from our mistakes. Education lets us learn from other people's mistakes - a far less painful process. If we blind ourselves to those mistakes we have to find things out anew every generation.

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June 25, 2004

Every generation has its heros on the pop charts

I have been reading a lot of state constitutions this week while working on my discussions of sovereignty and civil religion. I do like reading the old state constitutions, and I do like that they remind us that the founders were trying to figure out how to make things work; just as the United States Constitution is not Athena - it did not spring forth, fully grown, the brow of Madison - so too were state constitutions constantly made and remade over the years.

What is bugging me is that as a statement of philosophy I do believe that we can not privilege 1776 or 1787 or 1789 to the point where we can stop our reading there. In fact, by looking at what the second generation did about religion I am making my only dig at the straw-man of the ultra-originalist who does not want to believe anything that Gouvernor Morris was not thinking of as he arranged the various clauses. What people did in the 1800s mattered, so does what they did in the 1840s and 1850s.

What is bugging me is that while I want to argue that the states followed the lead of the Federal Government in depoliticizing religion and using basic law to make sure that electoral battles could not become proxies for religious war, in the half-century after the Civil War most states (every state I have checked so far, but I am still early on in it) added God talk to the preambles of their Constitutions. The talk is fairly consistent from state to state: several states re-wrote their Constitutions "thanking Almighty God for the blessings of liberty which He has bestowed upon us" or, in the case of Virginia in 1901, "with gratitude to God for His past favors, and invoking His blessings upon, the result of our deliberations."

What does it mean for modern church-state jurisprudence that the second generation of Americans moved to depoliticize religion, while the post-Civil War generation (North and South) moved to add language thanking God for liberty?

My current thought is a vague memory that the same folks who tried to get a Christian Nation amendment through the U.S. Senate also worked on the state level and lobbied every state Constitutional Convention. My followup thoughts are that this language must have seemed sufficiently apolitical as not to be a threat - all the states also forbid religious tests or preferences for one sect over another. My final thought at the moment is a little snarky: after the Civil War I can see people, North and South, interpreting the War as a Providential test and judgment and thanking God for their liberties as a result of this Providential test. It means assuming that you know God's Providence - something Lincoln refused to do but that ministers North and South did throughout and then after the war - but the late 19th Century had that much self confidence.

My final thought is that the God that made it into the state Constitutions in the late 19th century is an awfully abstract Deity. This is more than the ceremonial theism that some commentators see in the various invocations of the Divine that we find scattered through American government on its various levels, but it is also a LOT less specific than, say, Roy's Rock with its sectarian presentation of civil religion.

As I said, I am thinking on this. This post is a think piece to help me figure out what to do and how to handle this question.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:29 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 31, 2004


Belle Waring at Crooked Timber writes about the Alanis Morisette song Ironic.

Much as I enjoyed reading the post and its comments, I find that I still do not understand irony. I persist in using it in its simple mode, the mode used by historians: irony is unintended consequences that undermine our intended desire. As such, history is commonly written in the ironic mode; we explain the situation that a person or group faced, figure out what actions that they took to meet that situation, and then explain how these actions were more or less successful and how they led to other, unexpected or at least unintended consequences.

Thus, to use a modern US example, Lyndon Johnson's Community Action Programs were intended to reach out to new voters, politicize people who were excluded from the political system, and build the democratic base. The program, as executed, ended up politicizing people who did not like Johnson and competed with the existing members of the Democratic coalition, thus undermining his political base without adding new voters. Johnson and his staff had not thought out the consequences of his program.

If you took away our unintended consequences, most historians would not be able to write.

Some fiction authors also use the term in this way. Belle and her commenters talk about Oedipus Rex and King Lear; my example comes from a mediocre science fiction author, Spider Robinson, and his short story, "God is an Iron."

The story tells of a man who walks into an apartment and finds a woman in the process of committing slow suicide through overdosing on electronic stimulation of her pleasure centers. The overdose consists not of extra stimulation, but of removing all time limits on the pleasure; she is sitting in bliss as she starves to death.

Our hero saves her, destroys the stimulation equipment, nurses her back to health, and convinces her that she does not have to commit suicide. At the end of the story she finally gets around to asking him who he is and why he has done this, and most of all how he got into her locked apartment.

He gives a long spiel about unintended consequences and argues that God acts through the ironic mode so extensively that he should be considered an Iron - one who committs irony. Then he explains how he got there:

It turns out that our hero had come in to burgle the place.

I love this short story; it is also a chapter in a really bad novel that I read once and regretted finishing. Is that combination ironic? It is to the extent that liking that short story convinced me to finish the novel.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:48 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 26, 2004

Stalin and GWB

This is an unfinished thought. Perhaps by blogging it I will get a better handle on it.

Locke, Paine, and the contract theorists suggest that it is morally impossible for a population to freely bind themselves and their posterity to slavery; while it is possible to freely elect a despot, that despot can not be hereditary for by creating a hereditary despot this generation will have infringed on the rights of the generation not yet born.

But, what do you do when a population freely elects to create a government that you, an outsider with some level of power and control over them, do not approve of? It is an old chestnut in political science, one that generations of undergraduates have written little think papers on, but it is a chestnut because it is a very real question - to what extent should a free population have the ability to choose a bad or even disastrous course of action?

So where do GWB and Uncle Joe come in?

I taught the early Cold War last week. At the end of WWII Stalin had an absolute commitment to preventing any future German invasion of Russia/USSR. They had done it in 1917, devastated the country, and killed millions. They had done it in 1941, devastated the country, and killed tens of millions (about 25,000,000 Soviet citizens died in the war, two thirds of them civilians). He did not want to see the third act. So, he expanded the Soviet Union Westward, expanded Poland Westward, and made sure that the minor states along his border would not serve as a stepping off point for any future invasion.

This desire received great power approval at Yalta, where the Big Three agreed that the states of Eastern Europe would have democratically elected governments, and that they would conform their foreign policies to that of the Soviet Union.

In 1946, when Poland and Hungary and the other Eastern nations began to hold elections, anti-Communists and, more importantly, anti-Russians won the elections. Faced with a choice between keeping his word about democratic elections and keeping these states closely within the Soviet orbit, Stalin chose to subvert democracy and use force to impose Communist governments against the will of the inhabitants. Those governments remained in place until the collapse of the Brezhnev Doctrine in 1989-91. The inhabitants of these countries generally regarded their government as illegitimate, as dominated by outsiders, and as a very bad idea. They rejected it as soon as possible, with Hungary in 1956 and Poland in the 1980s both creating their own democratic challenges to Communism.

In Iraq right now, we are at some level engaged in trying to install a liberal democracy based on human rights, individual self worth, free elections, and an open and mobile society. Many of the people in Iraq, perhaps most of them, would prefer a government that does not fulfill the full range of human rights, feminist rights, open speech, and the other components of our current understanding of a liberal democracy. So, to what extent should the Coalition of the Willing use either military force or occupation pressure to force Iraq to conform to a liberal ideal?

The differences between the two cases are legion, starting with the fact that we believe that liberal democracy is a very good thing and doctrinaire communism is a very bad thing. But, at some level, both are driven by thoughts of false consciousness - the belief that people are misinformed and if only they knew better they would act as we wish they would act. False consciousness is not limited to Marxists, although Marxists have long used it to explain why working classes vote against socialist government.

Jefferson, for example, never considered that most Americans in 1796 preferred John Adams and the Jay Treaty over Thomas Jefferson and ties with France; instead he argued that they had been misled by "priestcraft" and a "reign of witches" then distracted by the "frenzy" of the X.Y.Z. affair and otherwise misled by a conspiratorial aristocratic elite. If they were free of superstition and frenzy, then they would prefer TJ, and so he must continue.

I do not know to what extent Stalin was a true believer in Stalinist Communism and to what extent he was a true believer in paranoia, personal power, and Russian dominance of the USSR. One could easily imagine the case of a person who truly believed that Communism was the best possible form of government and who worked to impose it by force on Poland, Hungary, and other nations for their own good, just as every day we see brave and dedicated people in Iraq who do believe that democracy is the best possible (or least terrible) form of government and who work to make it possible in Iraq.

I do support the movement to liberal democracies over the world. I worry that any attempt to impose them by force will, if badly done, look like Stalin in Hungary. And yet, without some use of force, we cede control to the people who are willing to use violence to institute personal rule, ethnic domination, or islamofascism.

But, there is a difference between imposing outside rule and convincing people that our idea is the best idea. As Jefferson put it when talking about religion, force may make a person a hypocrite, it can never make him a better man. Instead reason and conviction are the only lasting ways to change people's minds about their essential beliefs.

So, GWB and Stalin are alike in that both GWB's policy of using force to create a democratic Iraq and Stalin's actions using force to create Communist satellite states can be seen as an outside power using the logic of false-consciousness to impose a regime that the outside power approves of. If it is done well, the inhabitants of the regime will go along with it. If it is done badly, or ham-handedly, then it will undermine the legitimacy of the new regime.

So let us be careful.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:56 AM | TrackBack

April 16, 2004

Exam questions I won't be asking

Here is one I won't be asking, at least not in this format:

Who would win a steel cage death match between the Enlightenment and Nationalism for the title of "Most influential modern intellectual movement"?
Your answer should be in the form of ringside commentary.

... And the Enlightenment reaches back and, YES, hits Nationalism with empirical evidence, now that's a heavy blow. Nationalism staggers, it backs up, and WHAM, here comes Nationalism with emotional attachment to the state, OUCH, and it was followed up with, yes, a string of folk tales. One after another. Those brothers sure are looking Grimm. The Enlightenment is looking confused, YES, it is searching for rational explanations behind each narrative, there it goes, off into the corner chasing the folk tales. And look at this, here comes Nationalism, it has snuck up behind the Enlightenment while it chased down evidence, and OOF, it has jumped on the Enlightenment's back and is piggy-backing on centralized government and rational bureaucracy. Oh, it hurts to have your best weapon used against you like that. But wait, the Enlightenment turns, and, YES, it undercuts Nationalism by applying universal criteria to the state, and now Both are down. Its a bloodbath in there let me tell you ...

Luckily, it is a steel cage match, so Pietism can not show up with a metal folding chair.

Why yes, I am a history geek. Why do you ask?

Posted by Red Ted at 12:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 12, 2004

Mussolini on Fascism

Digging around the net for a primary document to read in class, and a little confused about Italian fascism, I found this translation of Mussolini's own definition of his political philosophy.

It is one thing to read that fascists exhalted the role of the state, it is another to read the words in which they did so:

The Fascist State , as a higher and more powerful expression of personality, is a force, but a spiritual one. It sums up all the manifestations of the moral and intellectual life of man. Its functions cannot therefore be limited to those of enforcing order and keeping the peace, as the liberal doctrine had it. It is no mere mechanical device for defining the sphere within which the individual may duly exercise his supposed rights. The Fascist State is an inwardly accepted standard and rule of conduct, a discipline of the whole person; it permeates the will no less than the intellect. It stands for a principle which becomes the central motive of man as a member of civilized society, sinking deep down into his personality; it dwells in the heart of the man of action and of the thinker, of the artist and of the man of science: soul of the soul
I am glad I found this - fascism had been a term tossed around without clear definitions and, despite or perhaps because of Benito's pompous, abstract, and preachy tone, this gives a good feel for why the movement was so popular and for why it was so very very dangerous.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 31, 2004

Why the Great War?

I just finished writing up lecture notes for this afternoon's class on The Guns of August - I am stealing Barbara Tuchman's title for my class lecture. One of the students commented last month that their previous (high school) history classes tended to skip over World War One and focus on World War Two. I am going the other way. We have three lectures on the events of 1914-19 (The Guns of August, The Great War, Reds) and two for the Second World War (Gathering Storm, Second World War). Why? I do believe that the first was the more significant conflict. It destroyed the 19th century empires, approved Nationalism as the dominant justification for state organization, and opened the door for Communism. The second war, despite its far greater human cost, was in many ways the second act of a three act play.

When I cover the great war in US surveys students have trouble imagining the network of interlocking alliances and mobilization schemes that led first one and then another Great Power to declare war, much less do the grasp the joy that came with the declarations of war. Why go dancing in the streets at the thought of marching off?

The answer, of course, is that for many people in 1914 War meant a brief clash of arms, some marching, and a return home covered in glory. There had been a great many short wars, most of them victorious colonial wars, and no one imagined what was to come.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:24 AM | TrackBack

March 24, 2004

So when is the modern anyhow?

Later today we will talk about optimism at the end of the nineteenth century.

The text labels the period 1850-1880 the Age of Optimism, 1880-1914 is the Belle Epoque. Both are marked by a mainstream opinion of, well, optimism and faith in progress. Both are eras of planning and systemized knowledge - these were the years when academic social science departments developed and when social scientists began to try to improve and alter the condition of urban residents.

And, these are also years that can be labeled modern, especially the period from 1880 or so to 1940 or so. The problem with the word Modern is that it has too many meanings and sub-meanings. On the one level modern means right now. On the other hand, modern refers to several points during the past when people who were doing things used the word for "right now" to describe what they were doing at the time. So we have modern literature from the late 19th century onward, modern architecture in the 1920s, modern art with Picasso and the boys, and so on.

Today's class is about the Age of Optimism, and I keep wanting to talk about modernity as I do so. I should resist that urge and keep the focus before 1880, but I use optimism to set up the Great War and I feel the need to argue that the prevailing tone from 1850 to 1920 was optimistic, with a constant undercurrent of pessimism and despair especially from the artistic worlds.

To my mind, the predominant culture of the turn of the twentieth century was an attempt to grapple with, for lack of a better word, modernity. On the one hand this was done by mastering knowledge - if we can measure it, study it, we can know it, and if we do it professionally rather than like the enlightenment dilletantes, we can use this knowledge to shape the world. The Enlightenment has long long legs. On the other hand there was an attempt to accomodate to modernity by denying some aspects of it, whether the brutal medieval fantasies of fiction, the movement to gothic architecture, or the rise of therapeutic culture that attempted to alleviate the stresses of urban living and rapid transition. Jackson Lears calls this second aspect anti-modernism in No Place of Grace but it is modernism all the same.

Modernism as such belongs next week when we do the turn of the twentieth century, but I think I will talk about it twice.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:56 AM | TrackBack

March 10, 2004

Culture Heros

As a followup to the below I was thinking about nations defined by culture. Often that culture is embodied in particular people, real or mythic, who we refer to as culture heros. These are the people who define what it means to be part of a group or a nation.

So who are the American culture heros?

Off the top of my head I come up with:

  • The founders, especially the elites who wrote well and held national office
  • The Pilgrims - in principle though not in any of their details, and mostly because they gave us the notion of Providence and of being a chosen nation.
  • The frontiersman - Daniel Boone or Leatherstocking. These folks were rare, but the image of the heroic individual with axe, gun, and family heading west to carve a home from the "wilderness" is a powerful image.
  • Horatio Alger - or really his characters, who despite the rags to riches were really rags to middle class. Andrew Carnegie really was rags to riches, but Carnegie is no longer a culture hero.
  • Populists. I don't want to name William Jennings Bryan here, but there is a recurring motif of identifying or searching for the man who will speak truth to power and who will defend the interests of the little guy against those of wealth and privilege. How we define the little guy, or wealth and privilege, will vary, but the culture hero of the populist is regularly invoked.
  • EDIT Dagwood Bumstead - it is the only reason that explains why the guy is so popular. I suppose we could include Homer Simpson, a Dagwood for the 1990s, but I eat more sandwhiches than I eat donuts and pie, so I am still a Dagwood at heart.

There are more, but these came to mind. I am struck by the extent to which my list is dominated by fictional types or by fictionalized representations of real people. Is this a bit of "Myth and Symbol" American Studies? Should I have more real people on the list?

And so to finish prepping class.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:44 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack


Later today I will be teaching a class on National Unification in Europe in the third quarter of the nineteenth century - Italian and German Unification, and the change from an Austrian Empire to the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Both changes are wrapped around in nationalism, a conservative nationalism unlike the radical nationalism of 1848. In the same years, in 1861 to be precise, the majority of the citizens of the United States responded to an attempt to split the union with revulsion and with a determination to maintain the honor and integrity of the nation - North as well as South were nationalists in the American Civil War.

But what exactly is nationalism? What does it mean to be a member of a nation? The United States is easy, but goofy, for we are a nation defined by allegiance to a written document and a set of principles contained in that document. If you swear loyalty to the Constitution, renouncing any allegiance to any foreign prince or potentate (I know, they changed the oath recently, but I like the old one) then you are an American.

In contrast, European nationalism has long been defined by culture and language more than by allegiance to a political system.

Now I am going to get muddy as I wrestle with the points I will be making in class in a few hours.

Although members of all countries become citizens by being born within a set of territorial boundaries, I do think that there is more to a nation than a group of folks born within the same bit of land. Furthermore, the ideal types I just laid out are not exclusive. Helen commented a couple of days ago about walking past the American embassy in Stockholm on a cold winter day and having the Marine sentry smile and wave at her. For her, that smile and wave, that casual friendliness, is a crucial part of American culture. "That one gesture made my morning. Sometimes it makes me want to cry when I think about how friendly Americans can be. I waved back and smiled, feeling great that one Marine had made my heart warm just a little bit."

The point of the anecdote is that while the American nation is defined by ideas as much as by territory, the people who live within these borders have worked out a culture and a set of assumptions. More, contra Huffington, the American culture is like the English language - it accepts all sorts of loan words and loan concepts and works them into the mass. We have a closed strain in our thought, the minds of the Pat Buchannons of the nation show it, but we also have an openness and a willingness to embrace outsiders and foment change. We grumble about it, because change is always hard, and yet we live in a dynamic society and would feel stifled without some of those freedoms.

The point I seem to be groping towards is that nationalisms can be inclusive and exclusive, they can be like English with its hordes of loan words or like French where a national committee vets every new expression before approving its use. Free trade in words, like free trade in goods, benefits those with the vibrant and growing position - as we feel threatened we shut down access to our culture.

Nationalism is, at essence, the assertion that some group of people have something in common. It is a claim of unity. That unity can be ideological - the US Constitution - or geographic or linguistic or cultural. Strong nationalism, like German and Hungarian nationalism in the late 19th century, combines several of these aspects. And, nationalisms tend to be inclusive about the things that don't matter, but very jealous about the things that appear to threaten their core unity.

Thus while Americans are friendly, grinning fools some would call us, we do not define ourselves as the nation of friendly people. Similarly, while most Americans speak English and all immigrant groups move away from their old tongue and towards English within two generations, we are not defined as the folks who speak a dirty hybrid of Old German and Middle French with loan words from everywhere. Thus nativist impulses in America tend to founder because they are an attempt to redefine the nature of the nation. If we tolerated a change from a Catholic to a Protestant nation we can absorb a great many Muslim or Deist or Hindu immigrants so long as they accept the norms of our national civil religion (see extended entry).

In contrast, a nation defined by its state church, state language, or common culture has a much harder time accepting and integrating immigrants, and immigrants have less of an incentive to assimilate to the norm. Thinking about it this way, I am no longer surprised that many in Europe are terrified about Muslim migrants from Turkey and Algeria and elsewhere, terrified about imperial English taking over the language, terrified about American mass media taking over their culture, and both terrified and intrigued by the possibility of creating an essential unity among Europeans to replace the essential unity found within the various nations of Europe.

And, for this afternoon, it reminds me why the Magyars in the late 19th century were so jealous about other ethnic groups trying to cut into the national space that they had made for themselve within the Hapsburg Empire.

I think I can work up some good class questions from this rant, thanks guys.

Anti-Catholic civil religion in the extended entry.

Why yes, this is a bigoted quote. It comes from Lyman Beecher, A Plea for the West, 1833 - a sermon that inspired mob riots and that kicked off the rise in American anti-Catholicism before the American Civil War. For the le plus change, le plus la meme chose department, replace Catholic with Shiite and see if it affects the discussions about the future of democratic rule in the Middle East.

Oh yes, and note that Beecher is making his argument about the Civil consequences of religious belief - American civil religion generally holds that so long as a religious supports peaceful relations and the rule of law it is a valid religion, so if you want to destroy your enemy you have to prove that they are a threat to the republic, not just folks who pray with the wrong accent.

Did the Catholics regard them selves only as one of many denominations of Christians, entitled only to equal rights and privileges, there would be no such cause for apprehension while they peaceably sustained themselves by their own arguments and well doing. But if Catholics are taught to believe that their church is the only church of Christ, out of whose inclosure none can be saved, - that none may read the Bible but by permission of the priesthood, and no one be permitted to understand it and worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, - that heresy is a capital offence not to be tolerated, but punished by the civil power with disfranchisement, death and. confiscation of goods, - that the pope and the councils of the church are infallible, and her rights of ecclesiastical jurisdiction universal, and as far as possible and expedient may be of right, and ought to be as a matter of duty, enforced by the civil power, - that to the pope belong the right of interference with the political concerns of nations, enforced by his authority over the consciences of Catholics, and his power to corroborate or cancel their oath of allegiance, and to sway them to obedience or insurrection by the power of life or death eternal; if such, I say, are the maxims avowed by her pontiffs, sanctioned by her councils, stereotyped on her ancient records, advocated by her most approved authors, illustrated in all ages by her history, and still unrepealed, and still acted upon in the armed prohibition of free inquiry and religious liberty, and the punishment of heresy wherever her power remains unbroken; if these things are so, is it invidious and is it superfluous to call the attention of the nation to the bearing of such a denomination upon our civil and religious institutions and equal rights? it the right of self-preservation, and the denial of it is treason or the infatuation of folly

Posted by Red Ted at 11:28 AM | TrackBack

March 01, 2004


I am grading blue books today. Such fun. I graded homework earlier, and I still have to do the second pass on the papers (otherwise the folks who got graded before lunch get a full letter grade lower than the folks who get graded after lunch.)

I started reading identifications. So far I have one that was just plain sad - a gamish of names and dates as every ruler and every conflict between 1500 and 1815 was thrown into a single identification. I won't reproduce that, I don't find those funny.

What I DID find funny was this:

Jean Jacques Rousseau was one of the most sexiest men of the enlightenment.

You can see what the student was trying to say, but it calls to mind those wonderful Spinal Tap distinctions about the fine lines between "sexy" and "sexist", between "clever" and "stupid."

Especially because nine out of ten women surveyed thought that JJR was not in the least bit sexy.(1) The tenth was his teenaged housekeeper, who he forced to sleep naked with him, but when he was tried for fornication outside of marriage because of how he treated his female help, JJR won the case by claiming that the prothesis he wore to treat his urinary tract problems made it impossible for him to have sexual relations. Now THATS sexy. Yep.

(1) Department of Unverifiable Statistics, Journal of Irreproducable Results, May, 1492.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:24 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 24, 2004

3 Individuals

We are writing the final exam today. The kids submitted questions, and I am taking their questions and my notions and putting together a list of six essay questions for them to prepare outlines for. Two of the questions will be on the exam, and they will write about one of them. It is my standard format for a blue-book exam.

As expected, one student came up with a question that I was able revise into the sort of question that you can easily spend hours discussing in a bar or on the internet:

We talked about "great man" history. If you were asked to name the three most important and influential individuals - rulers, scientists, philosophers, or other - in Europe between 1600 and 1815, who would you name? Why these three and not others?

My answer is below the fold.

Off the top of my head, I say:
Isaac Newton
Louis XIV

The last was the only tough decision. I think that the French Revolution was very important, but which one individual would you hang the entire revolution on? I could have picked J.J. Rousseau, or the Duke of Orleans, or Lafayette, or Robespierre. I picked Mirabeau because he was the iron rod that stiffened the Third Estate and pushed them to become the National Assembly rather than being sent home.

If I had changed the start date to 1500, the list would have been Martin Luther, Louis XIV, and John Locke. And no, I am not sure why adding Luther transformes Newton into Locke.

And so to work on the exam.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:11 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 05, 2004

Wisdom from the Gouv.

Gouverneur Morris, in 1800 following Jefferson's victory in an election even tighter than Bush-Gore, suggested to his fellow Federalists what role they should play now that a dangerous visionary had come into power:

Nil desperandum de Republica is a sound principle. Let the chair of office be filled by whomsoever it may, opposition will act as an outward conscience, and prevent the abuse of power.
It is a good line and, as Richard Brookhiser points out, it suggests that "parties will develop a morality of partisanship, keeping each other honest."(1)

Reading that, I paused to consider recent Congressional history. Between Clinton's impeachment, gerrymandering on both sides but more aggressively by Republicans, and the recent decision by the Congressional Republican leadership to exclude Democrats from conference committees between the House and Senate, I wonder to what extent the morality of partisanship is persisting and, more importantly, how it might be returned.

Michael Holt argues that 19th century politics were all about the next election - as long as everyone thought they had a reasonable chance next time, winners did not go overboard nor did losers despair, for they might well change places in two years. If once politics could be seen as a game of Irish stand-down - I hit you in the ear and knock you over, you hit me in the ear and knock me over, we both hit as hard as we could, and afterwards we go get drunk together - now it appears to be closer to a mugging, where the first blow is followed by a boot to the ribs or a boot to the head if you think you can get away with it.

I don't have a good remedy - I feel rather like Bill Bennet only with different vices when I decry the breakdown of morals this way. The answer may lie in districting and gerrymandering - current districting law suggests that it is more important to have exactly the same number of people in each district than it is to have districts that align with natural borders or subsidiary political borders. I wonder how the gerrymanders would change their shape if they were forced to be drawn along county and municipal boundaries, and if the increased competition in many districts would outweight the relative disfranchisement of people in the districts with 101 people as compared to those with 99?

But I do like that Gouverneur Morris quote, and I am enjoying Brookhiser's little biography.

(1)Richard Brookhiser, Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris -- the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution, (New York: Free Press, 2003) p 167. The Latin translates as "Do not despair of the Republic".

Posted by Red Ted at 06:17 AM | TrackBack

February 02, 2004

History of Bibles

I commented to the class last week that Protestantism is effectively dependent on the printing press. Why? If people are to learn their faith through sola scriptura, they have to have a scripture available for them to read.

Inspired by the post below, I dug up the American Bible Society's History of the English Bible. As the passing mention of "Jehovah" on page three reminds us, a Bible translator has an awesome duty, for their decisions about how to render obscure texts will create the words and images with which millions of people will imagine the Divine.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:48 AM | TrackBack

January 20, 2004


I like the start of a semester. It is a happy time with a bright future.

I spent this afternoon at Suburban State University getting my ID and my parking pass and getting ready for my first class tomorrow. I got to walk around a new campus, with friendly helpful people, on a bright sunny but cold winter day.

Then after I came home I sketched out what I plan to talk about. It will be a standard first class: introduce myself, explain the syllabus, explain the difference between Western Civ and Modern Europe, lay out the class narrative, discuss what it is that historians study.

I know I have blogged about planning the class before, but let me say a couple of words about Western Civilization and Modern Europe. I forget if I blogged this already, and it did not come up in a site search. Both courses cover the same general region and the same general era, but the two classes are very different in purpose and structure.

Western Civ was invented at the University of Chicago and Columbia University at the beginning of the 20th century as part of the reaction by American intellectuals to the flood of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. These professors were terrified that the flood of immigrants - poor peasants, largely Catholic and Jewish - were going to swamp the native born elite and the descendents of Protestants from Northwest Europe. They drew on their heritate of Protestant republicanism and argued that this particular cultural heritage was essential to civilization, that the germ of society had passed from the Greeks to the Romans to Northwest Europe to the United States in an unbroken succession, and that as torchbearers for civilization they had a moral duty to insist that people conform to their ideals or accept second-class status. This is a reductionist view, seeing cultural elites desparately fighting a rearguard action against what they saw as the march of proletarian doom, but it works well enough for me to use it tomorrow in class. I will double check Joan Rubin's good book on Middlebrow culture before class and Jackson Lears on No State of Grace, but I am pretty comfortable with this interpretation. Western Civilization is the story of art, ideas, all that is best and brightest, and the story of elite culture as it was transmitted to the 20th century Americas. It has widened since then, obviously, but there is still a strong focus on art, literature, and written culture.

Modern Europe, by contrast, is the history of the people who live in a region of the world. It leaves out North America as much as possible, but includes Turkey and the Ottoman empire. If the story of Western Civilization is the forward march of progress as it moves Westward across the Atlantic, the story of Modern Europe is the steady shrinkage and final disappearance of the Ottoman Empire as new empires and nations emerge in Central Europe and move Eastward. Modern Europe talks about the growth of democracy and nationalism, as does Western Civilization, but there is less focus on elite culture, less focus on art and literature, and it discusses all FOUR of the major religious families of Europe, talking about Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims rather than privileging Protestants.

The class at Suburban State is listed in the syllabus as Western Civ, but they normally teach it as Modern Europe and that is how I intend to teach the class.

And so to run errands and then fetch the baby. Sausage and peppers for dinner tonight.

Posted by Red Ted at 03:43 AM | TrackBack

January 15, 2004


Edwin Burroughs and Mike Wallace Gotham, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) is a great big book - 1326 large pages full of small type. I have been reading it, a chapter or two at a time, for months now. I finally finished it.

What can I say - it is a perfect Pulitzer winner: it has a simple chronological structure, tells a narrative of urban growth and class tension, and is so clearly written that the reader is drawn along rather than being confronted by the prose. I liked it, I recommend it to anyone who lives in New York City and anyone who wants a nice big book to read in.

I have been reading several other books alongside of Gotham, and it will be nice to start finishing some of them more quickly.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:55 AM | TrackBack

January 10, 2004

Trains and Stations

The final thing I learned on my trip to the AHA was something I should have known: following 9/11 30th Street Station in Philadelphia lost its parking. I was running late and chose to drive in rather than taking a commuter line and then a subway. Half the time I saved by driving was spent looking for parking. I finally went to a garage, after realizing that I had mis-read their prices the first time and they were only expensive instead of being unconscionable. After that the train ride was easy.

I like the old train stations. Both 30th-Street in Philadelphia and Union Station in Washington DC are marble temples of transportation. They have the high vaulted ceilings, the artwork and moldings. They show layers of different uses as the buildings were adopted from steam to diesel and electric, and the spaces were adopted from Victorian to modern business.

Union station is cleaner than 30th street. The walls are more polished, the light is brighter. It is also more finished - there is a food court and some yuppie shops. The space has been gentrified - I don't know if it is used by commuters, or tourists, or folks who work in the local buildings, but it feels like a mall only with trains instead of anchor stores, and great vaulted marble ceilings instead of a box in the middle of an asphalt moat.

30th street is, while less pretty, more impressive. The main hall at 30th street is still used entirely for trains - it is a big open space. At one end of the space there is a WWI memorial to the employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad who died in that war. It is an impressive statue, a great tall grey-black winged angel ascending into heaven while holding a dead soldier. In its space at one end of the hall, framed by the marble, it is, not a memento mori, but a reminder of the sacred as it looms over people going about their daily business.

30th Street is an early 20th-century building, but in many ways it looks back to the Victorian era. It certainly falls within the long nineteenth century. Trains are sexy, and nostalgic, and romantic. They are falling out of favor in the US as trucks and planes and barges take the traffic from them. American trains never focused much on passenger traffic, and outside of the Northeast corridor Amtrak is mostly a money-losing tourist trap. One of the good things about living in the corridor is that I can, by foot and rail, get from my house to every city center from Boston to Washington, and nap along the way. (Well, I drive the mile to the commuter rail station, but I could walk it if I wanted to.)

And so to write.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:00 AM | TrackBack


I spent a day at the American Historical Association meetings yesterday.

I had one interview, and I went down for one day. I decided that I was not close enough to done for me to participate in the resume drops and blind interviews, and that while the lectures and panels were interesting they were not interesting enough to keep me there for several days.

It was fun. The interview went so-so, perhaps because I was the 8th half-hour interview they had done that morning, and the last, and they were getting twitchy, perhaps because I had a headache all day and was low-energy. I doubt I will make it from the cut of 16 to the cut of 3, although since at least two other folks from the same graduate program were interviewing for the same position the odds are pretty good that one of us will make it. Ah well.

I schmoozed with some friends, which was good. I really do need to get this writing done, it is just hard - I block, or I write crap, or I am unable to frame an argument. At least I got some writing done on the train going down. I really am getting sick of being almost done. I often feel like a half-cooked muffin, all soggy and dispirited.

I also sat in on a panel discussion on the job search process, and got some good suggestions about how to craft a better teaching portfolio.

It was a good trip.

Now to post about the train ride.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:56 AM | TrackBack

January 08, 2004


Annie, at the Same River Twice, writes a nice blog. Today she writes about sneaking into college bookstores to see what the kids have been assigned - always good fun. In fact, I often chose my fourth undergrad class that way - pick the books then worry about the time and the professor.

Her comments don't work, so here is my reply to her:

You can also surf college textbooks virtually, although without the pleasure of running your fingers over the books and opening them to read a few paragraphs from the middle.

Search for syllabi - most colleges have some of them on line.
Then check the catalog for your local library to see which of the interesting books are available. I do a lot of my book browsing that way - with an amazon or a google window open on the left and the library catalog open on the right.

ps, email if you want a reading list (grin)

Posted by Red Ted at 09:53 AM | TrackBack

January 07, 2004

Out of Context

We have to be careful when quoting things from out of context. For example, the following paragraph from Lyman Beecher "The Faith Once Delivered to the Saints" sounds at first like a rebuke to the Ralph Reeds of the world.

It is equally manifest, that christians should not attach themselves, exclusively, to any political party, or take a deep interest in political disputes.
No party is so exclusively right, as to render it safe for any man to commit his conscience to its keeping, and act implicitly according to its dictation. Nor can any party, in a popular government, be sufficiently secure from change, to render it safe to identify with it the interests of religion. Besides, if christians enter deeply into political disputes, they will be divided, and one denomination arrayed against another, in their prayers and efforts; and one christian against another, in the same church. A spirit of party zeal creates also, a powerful diversion of interest and effort from the cause of Christ; creates prejudices in christians one against another; and, in the community, against the cause itself. It annihilates spirituality of mind; prevents a spirit of prayer, and efforts for revivals of religion; and renders christians the mere dupes and tools of unprincipled, ambitious men.

But, when we read the entire sermon and remember its context, we see that Beecher was arguing that evangelical religion was the religion of the Old and New Testaments, that it was required for proper civil life, and that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had a compelling interest in limiting Unitarian access to the official establishment - the established churches should be evangelical and evangelical only. He phrased his argument in these terms as a way to encourage low-church Methodists and Arminians to cooperate with high-church Calvinists. For Beecher, as for Joseph Story and many other religious formalists in the 1820s and 1830s, it was perfectly permissible to create a civil religion or favored status for Christianity, or even for one flavor (the "right" flavor) of Christianity so long as no particular church or denomination was favored over others.

In contrast, in the twenty-first century, most Americans would be unwilling to create an evangelical establishment, or a liberal establishment, or even a generic Christian establishment. Where Beecher swam in a sea of Protestant Christianity and worried about which denominational fish might devour the rest, and where a generation later swam in a sea of Christians and worried whether the Catholic or Protestants would devour the other, we swim in a sea of different faith traditions and want all of them respected, none of them endorsed.

The language remains remarkably similar, but the objects of analysis have shifted from particular sects to general families to entire faith traditions. Without an awareness of the context of the earlier language, we can easily quote a person contrary to his own intentions. Beecher would likely have been skeptical of Ralph Reed, tied as he and his organizations are to one particular political party, but he might well have helped Falwell organize the Moral Majority, organized around a non-denominational set of faith and moral policy claims despite being dominated by people from one particular group of Baptists.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:21 AM | TrackBack

January 04, 2004

Scary Old Men

We went to see Return of the King last night - the first time we have had a baby-free date in months. Our thanks to Brother in Law & his fiancee who covered when our baby sitter had a family crisis. I want to write down a few words about the movie to figure out what was bugging me about it.

Any time you convert a book to a movie, you have to make changes. Lord of the Rings is a LOT of words, many of them description, and it was a terrific effort to translate it to the screen. They made some changes that worked - combining Arwen and Glorfindel in the first movie. They also made some changes that made no sense - the Warg attack in the second movie, the entire Arwen subplot in the second and third movies. What I want to talk through is a subtle but crucial change in style - it might just be that some things can not be filmed properly. Let me explain.

One of the recurring themes in the book is grand old men: Gandalf, Saruman, Theoden, Denethor and, although he has a smaller role in the book, Elrond. Grand old men are hard to film, or at least hard to film convincingly. Peter Jackson et al weakened Saruman, Theoden and Denethor as they simplified them for the screen. This is not hard to understand, for all three characters are rooted in patriarchy and hierarchy while modern movies are rooted in populism lite.

Theoden in the book mourns "A father should not have to bury a son." In the movie, he mourns that "A father should not have to bury a child." It is a small difference, but subtle. In the movie, Denethor is half-mad from the beginning. In the book, Denethor is a kind man, a stern man, and a troubled man all at the same time. Gandalf warns Pippin that Denethor is of the old blood, and can see much that is hidden. After Pippin is forced to tell the tale of the fellowship to Denethor, according to Gandalf's restrictions on what he may or may not tell, Gandalf consoles him that it is not so easy to be stuck between two terrible old men. Denethor is attractive - he prepares the city, he mourns his losses, he is old but stern wearing mail beneath his dress clothes and carrying a sword along with his rod of office. In the movie, they had to cut and they had to simplify, and in the process they made Denethor weak. The clash between Gandalf and Denethor becomes a clash between the strong who would fight and the weak who will not prepare, and not a clash between one who will gamble all on a risky play and one who will trust to the old ways and, when those fail and their vision is overwhelmed by the strength of the foe, falls into despair. There was a similar simplification of Theoden and Wormtongue, with the movie presenting Theoden as simply possession while in the book it was a subtler web of words and weakness around the grand old king.

Many of the changes that bug me were probably made because the audience of today is rooted in the lite populism of movies - poor folks are good, rich folks are villains, our hero will always be kind to the historically oppressed, racists and villains are one and the same, and so on. In the mythology of the modern movies, all hierarchy is bad and the hero will be one who seeks to over turn a static order; we celebrate the rogue who will not conform.

Tolkein's book is a celebration of organic society against the leveling future of war, machinery, and despair. This is most apparent in his section on the Scourging of the Shire, which the movie trimmed for space, but it appears as well in Gondor and in Rohan. Tolkein's characters swear oaths and fulfill them, Merry and Pippin insert themselves into the feudal hierarchy, and a crucial oath between Frodo and Smeagol shapes both their futures. Frodo has moral authority because of his class position as well as his role as ringbearer, and the grand old men also bear a charisma built on age, wisdom, and status.

I have some more thoughts inspired by the movie, but this is too long and I need to write some real stuff. More on this later.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:42 AM | TrackBack

December 29, 2003


We have had this house since August. Yesterday I finally got around to installing the flagpoles on the front.

The impetus for this little moment of home improvement was that I got a couple of flags for Christmas: a Navy Jack and a Culpepper militia flag. I want to get myself a Serapis flag at some point. I like Revolutionary War flags; I like old flags; heck I like flags.

The previous owner of this house had bolted two flagpole brackets to the cast iron railing. He took his brackets with him. I have been unable to find a bracket that fits the holes drilled through the iron. So, I kludged it. I cut a small piece of wood, bolted that to the railing, screwed a flagpole bracket onto the wood, and we are good to go. It feels solid - there is some wiggly of the flagpole in the bracket but none of the bracket or the piece of wood. J wants the wood painted black, so now that I have proved the concept I will cut two more pieces of wood, paint them, and set up brackets on both sides of the house.

I plan to fly one US flag, often in historical variants, and one other flag - militia flag, state flag, perhaps a sports or college flag.

I like Revolutionary era flags. Since the 1950s change from the 48-star to the 50-star flag, official US flag etiquette is that any flag that was ever official, is a valid flag. So, I fly my reproductions. Or I will - they need a different flagpole. I will get another pole later this week since the home supply stores don't have what I want.

As I have been putting together brackets and shopping for new flags, I have been reminded of the subtle differences between the Navy Jack and the Confederate battle flag. The two flags express overlapping sentiments: both are declarations of independence, both celebrate a violent localism, both were flown in celebration of white, male liberties. But, one has a regional and a racial subtext and the other does not.

Lets start by reminding ourselves of the timetable for the Civil War. Without this chronology, the war makes no sense.

  • The deep South - the tier of states running from South Carolina to Texas - seceded after Lincoln was elected and before he was inaugurated. They seceded in order to defend slavery.
  • After Fort Sumpter, Lincoln called for volunteers. Most Union soldiers at the start of the war fought to preserve the union.
  • The upper South - North Carolina and Virginia and most states Westward - seceded only after Lincoln called for troops. They were stuck between the two sides, neutrality was not an option, and most of these states decided that they would not fight to put down a secession.
  • The upper South provided the most soldiers and suffered the most losses, whether in absolute terms (Virginia) or in proportion to their population (North Carolina). Many of these men fought because their home states were being invaded. Kentucky tried to stay neutral and joined the Union only after the Confederacy invaded it.
  • During the course of the war, first with ad hoc decisions, then with the Emancipation Proclamation, and finally with the 13th Amendment, slavery was abolished. What had started as a war to preserve the union became a war to destroy Slavery. So, if you will, slavery had started as a distinctly Southern issue - it was why the secessionists wanted to secede - and by 1865 it was a heavily Northern issue - if only to punish the South for having started the war.
  • After the war, Jubal Early and others created a myth of the lost cause, celebrating the soldiers, claiming that the war was a noble but futile effort made by a glorious aristocracy in defiance of the grinding masses of the North. Early argued that the war's crucial battles were fought in the East, that the North only won because of numbers, that Southern soldiers and Southern generals were godlike, and that race was irrelevant to the war. He got just close enough to the truth for his lies to be powerful.

Why does this matter for flags?

From the 1870s through the 1940s, the mainstream understanding of the war was the Lost Cause. Parts of that understanding still persist, if only subtly. Look, for example, for Civil War movies without any black characters - even in the background. Look for people who emphasize glory and honor, which were indeed important, and then claim that this was all. And, of course, look at the two meanings of the Confederate Battle Flag.

The confederate battle flag - square for the army, rectangular as the naval jack - is a strong symbol. Visually and heraldically it is much stronger than the stars and stripes - the US flag stands for some wonderful things, but the design is cluttered. This strong symbol, through the alchemy of the lost cause, has come to stand for the soldiers who fought and not the voters who seceded. It takes the decisions of that portion of Southern men who fought because their states were being invaded and makes them stand for the whole of their society. It is an attractive symbol if you are Southern; there is much to admire in a group of people taking up arms to defend their community from invasion.

In contrast, Confederate national flags - the Stars and Bars, the Bonnie Blue Flag, or the second and third national flags - are political flags. They are not nearly as strongly displayed and have a connotation more closely tied to secession and slavery while the battle flag symbolizes the men who fought and all the reasons - from defending slavery to defending their homes to being drafted - why they fought.

The battle flag is such an attractive symbol that following Brown v Board of Education it was hauled out of storage. Flags were printed, flags were waved, flags were hung over state capitals, and the battle flag was inserted into a number of Southern state flags. In every case, anti-integration political leaders - elected and unelected - were tying their state resistance to federal rights law to an earlier generation's defiance against invasion. And, like the Civil War, their actions were inspired by race, and often carried out under nobler language. Their basic argument was that it is more important for decisions to be made locally than it is for citizens to have equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal freedom from fear.

What this means is that the battle flag has two completely different sets of meanings.

For some, especially white Southerners, the flag refers to a stubborn localism - the notion that a community should set its own standards, mind its own business, and that if young men want to drink whiskey and go hunting, or engage in any other rituals of young adulthood, they should do so. It celebrates the male, the independent, and the rural. It is a vote against the nanny state.

As such, the battle flag is a powerful symbol. A few African Americans from the rural south have adopted that flag in those meanings.

For others, especially African Americans, the flag refers to a willful disregard of rights, and to the systematic use of violence and fear to deny fellow citizens the chance to exercise their liberties. It is a symbol of terror, and of hate. The flag's use as cover for acts of racial hatred overwhelms any other message that people might want to convey through it.

Indeed, if you add words like "heritage not hate" to that flag, the overarching meaning that many people are likely to take away from it is that you are now lightly disguising your racism rather than bragging on it, something that infuriates those who mean the flag as a sincere expression of regional accent, regional food, and rural free-thought.

Just as the Nazis demonized a perfectly reasonable Indian design when they adopted the swastika, so too have secessionists, lost cause advocates, and anti civil rights forces taken a flag that once symbolized a stubborn localism and turned it into a symbol for hatred. The difference is in degree, and it is such a big difference that I almost did not make the comparison, but the process is similar. If you had a family relic dating from before 1920 and displaying a swastika, would you show it?

Today, people argue about what moment in time the battle flag celebrates. Does it refer to the guys from VA and NC who went to war because their state was being invaded? Does it refer to the guys all across the south who did not want to see their black neighbors granted full citizenship? The answer, of course, is both at once and many other meanings as well. Flags are complicated and powerful.

Next time you get into a flag discussion, sketch out the navy jack and ask how that differs from the battle flag. If someone flies a battle flag in defense of localism and good-ol-boy rural independence, ask why they do not fly a Culpepper militia flag (also a Southern symbol).

The answer, I think, is that the South has largely forgotten the American Revolution except in Eastern VA and parts of the Carolinas. They have not forgotten the American Civil War. And, even though the men who fought in 1861 were descended from and used many of the same words and ideas as those who fought in 1775, the people of 2003 seem to be frozen in more recent time. Or, it may be that they see the American Revolution as the North's war. We do, after all, celebrate Bunker Hill and the Boston Massacre, the turning points are Saratoga and Valley Forge, and Nathaniel Green and the Southern campaign are largely forgotten outside of Camden SC and Greensboro NC. Other than some confused stories about Francis Marion and the Carolina feuding war, the Revolution that we remember is a war that was fought elsewhere and celebrated elsewhere, just as non-Texans don't really think about San Jacincto or most other battles from the Texas insurrection. A person in Alabama, or Mississippi, or Tennessee can visit a Civil War battlefield, hears of re-enactors, and sees a monument to the war outside of every county courthouse. There is a much thinner physical memory of the Revolution, even in the original thirteen colonies.

Let us assume, for the moment, that it is a good thing for people who celebrate rural values and value their independence to have a good colorful symbol they can fly. Let us also assume that it is bad manners if not threatening to display a symbol that has in the past served as code for hate, oppression, and violence. How do we square this circle?

The first time I thought about this, in the mid 1980s, I suggested to some of my students who had the flag on their cars for the first meaning and were appalled to discover that they were also conveying the second meaning, that they should consider displaying the battle flag in conjunction with the flag of the African National Congress. That suggestion produced a stunned silence, followed by what I think was the realization that perhaps there had been some racial content to their earlier display but might have been a reaction to the socialism of the ANC.

For now, my best suggestion is to push the Culpepper flag or some of the other Revolutionary era flags as alternatives.

I was looking through historical flag catalogues last night, looking for a Serapis flag with the red white and blue stripes. I turned to the Civil War era flags and discovered something about myself; I will never fly a Confederate flag: not the battle flag, not the Stars and Bars, not even the Bonnie Blue Flag that had previously been used by the independent Republic of West Florida. I get a gut revulsion at the thought of displaying them.

So, I won't. I will continue to show other nineteenth century flags - I do want the one Fremont carried on his explorations in the 1840s.

Perhaps I am being hypocritical, asking people not to fly something that I refuse to fly. But, I think that there is always value in encouraging people to articulate their motives and make considered choices.

EDIT, Howard Dean a few weeks ago made some clumsy words saying the very smart thing that Democrats need to figure out how to appeal to guys "with Confederate flags in the back of their pickups." His point was that the Democrats need some way to counteract the Republican use of symbols and culture. Perhaps the thing to do will be to look back again to the Revolutionary moment - the principled defense of local customs, the celebration of the rule of law against the rule of men, and an appeal to virtue and the common good of the people against those whose luxury, dissipation, and self-interest would disrupt the republic.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:00 AM | TrackBack

December 23, 2003

Heading Out

Heading out for the holidays in an hour or so.

Expect no blogging until this weekend.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:50 AM | TrackBack

December 15, 2003

Good News!

The good news is that I made another short list (a "long short list" but still).

The "I need to think about it" news is that the job is in urban Alabama.

But, I think I will spend the $150 or so to interview - have to get myself to the conference, talk for half an hour, and head home. At least I can day-trip it.

Did I mention yet that history hiring is goofy?

Posted by Red Ted at 10:31 AM | TrackBack

December 11, 2003

Waving that bloody rag

One of the things that fascinates me is memory, as we take things that happened in our past and reconstitute them into narratives. Another thing that fascinates me, and the likely subject of my next project, is personal presentation and physical charisma. I was thinking about a moment when these two things came together, and I find that I can not work on my real stuff until I explain. The following anecdote will likely be the frontspiece to a future article on personal appearance and physical charisma among nineteenth-century clergymen.

John Mitchell Mason of the Associate Reformed Church was a big man. He was above average height, thickly built, and running to fat. He had a florid complexion and a face like a bulldog. He was one of the more distinctive and distinguished men in New York City. Mason was also a remarkably hard worker: at various points in his career he would be: the complete faculty of a theological seminary, chancellor of Columbia University, pastor of a large congregation, editor of a magazine (writing over half the words himself), and a major controversialist. For one brief moment in the 1810s he was doing all these things at the same time before overwork and exhaustion caught up with him. At the time of our story, Mason was simply a major pastor, the leading minister in the ARC (an American version of Scottish Calvinism), and on the board of Columbia.

Mason was also very political, on the Federalist side. The politics of the 1790s were far more divisive than anything we have seen lately, with Jeffersonians accusing the Federalists of misleading the nation, using war to divert people from domestic problems, and running roughshod over the Constitution, individual rights, and state rights by controlling all parts of the Federal government. Federalists, meanwhile, were convinced that the Jeffersonians were the American expression of the Jacobins who had created the Terror and performed all the worst excesses of the French Revolution. They claimed, and UltraFederalists probably believed, that Jefferson was an atheist, an infidel, and that a victory by the Jeffersonians would lead to blood and fire.

At one point between 1798 and 1812 - I have not yet tried to pin it down farther, but from internal evidence I suspect 1800 - the United States was contemplating an alliance with Bonaparte's France. Mason, a staunch Federalist, was opposed to the alliance. Many of the young men of New York City were violent Jeffersonians and thought that the alliance would be a good idea. Mason let it be known that he would be giving a sermon about the alliance on the forthcoming state fast day. One of these young gentlemen let it be known, in turn, that he would be in attendance with a walking stick, and if Mason turned from his text to talk partisan politics, this young man would pull him off the pulpit and give him a thrashing right there at the front of his church. As I said, passions ran high.

As Philip Hamburger argues most recently, the claim that ministers should not involve themselves in politics is usually a very political claim itself. People who disagree with those ministers argue that they should keep politics out of the pulpit. Ministers who want to speak claim that it is their duty to discuss on all aspects of morality, that national policy is one place where people act on moral questions, and that they have a duty to point out those aspects of policy which bear on public morality. The Jeffersonians tried to shut up Federalist clergy when they preached political sermons, the clergy argued that it was their duty to point out the Providential dangers and moral sin of voting for an avowed infidel.

On the day of the sermon, the young man did attend and sat in the front row with his cane upon his lap. Mason gave a perfectly reasonable Fast-day sermon, but partway through he interrupted himself for an apostrophe, a statement not directly connected to the main stream of his argument. The gist of the apostrophe was that the treaty was a bad thing and should not be pursued. Paraphrased from memory, Mason said "Lord, grant us pestilence in our cities and disease among our crops, ruin our trade and sink our ships, let us experience the loss of our sons at sea, let us feel the wailing of teeth on our frontiers, but save us, Oh Lord, from that worst of all possible evils, an alliance with Napoleon Bonaparte."

Mason was excited as he said this - so excited that his blood pressure rose and he burst a vessel in his nose so that blood streamed down his face. Without losing the pace of his comments and without losing the thread of his apostrophe, he reached into his pocket, picked up a pocket-handkerchief, mopped the blood from his face, and continued to speak. At the end, he made an oratorical gesture not remembering that he still held the handkerchief in his hand, and as his hand rose above his head it appeared the he was waving a blood-stained flag.

Mason finished his sermon without being interrupted. Afterwards someone asked the young man why he had not fulfilled his vow to cane Mason at the head of his church. "Well," he said, "I had intended to. But when I saw Mason waving that bloody rag above his head while delivering that terrible apostrophe ... I was quite unmanned and just sat there."

That at least, with failings because I typed it from memory rather than digging out the source, is the story that someone who had been in the congregation told to Philip Schaff in 1840 when Schaff was collecting anecdotes about Mason. The remarkable thing to me is that, some 40 years after the speech, the observer not only claimed to remember the words spoken (I suspect some paraphrasing) but also remembered very clearly the role that the bloody handkerchief played in this little drama. A single dramatic gesture was remembered for 40 years.

The interesting part about this story, for me, is the Jeffersonian who was "unmanned" by Mason's gesture and language. Something in Mason's appearance awed and intimidated his audience. What I want to do in my next project is explore the role that appearance played in encounters like this.

For now, I wanted to tell a story. And so I did.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:39 AM | TrackBack

December 08, 2003

Interview prep

I have a job interview later today. It is a phone interview with a comprehensive university (MA level) on the West coast.

They sent me a set of interview questions last week - every candidate gets the questions early, that way there are no surprises. I like it - it helped me figure out what to say. It also meant that I spent many hours this last week reviewing their web site, figuring out what slate of classes I should propose to teach, and spinning my slow writing progress into a promise of future scholarly brilliance.

How do you convince a group of strangers, over the phone, that you will: bring honor to their institution, produce students who are excited about taking more history classes, and be fun to go to lunch with?

Later today, I get to see if I can handle a phone interview. So far I have gotten half a dozen interviews while job searching. I have not yet made it past the cut of 12 to the on-campus visit.

I really want this job - it is in many ways a perfect fit for my desires. Wish me luck.

Academic hiring is just plain weird.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:39 AM | TrackBack

Interview done

I just got off the phone after an interesting hour with the folks on the West Coast.

I think I did well, but it is hard to tell.

They want sample syllabi by Jan 1. They will meet in Mid January and issue call backs in late January.

The more I talk with them, the more I want the job. But, the odds are against me so I can't let my hopes get too high. The most important thing I can do is get the dissertation DONE. The first step towards that is getting through Tuesday's class so I can get my free time back.

And so to walk the hound, then to finish final read-through and finish writing the exam.

(I was too nervous to get much done earlier this afternoon)

Posted by Red Ted at 05:54 AM | TrackBack

December 02, 2003

Civil War

We finished the sectional crisis and fought the Civil War today.

I was a little light on the American Civil War, but we will finish the war on Thursday. I am now only about 10 minutes behind schedule.

What I focused on today was the disparate Northern and Southern responses to the events of the sectional crisis. I showed, using Bleeding Kansas and Bleeding Sumner, that the Republicans went from a batch of people in the 1860s equivalent of tinfoil hats to the major opposition party because Pro-slavery Democrats in Kansas and Preston Brooks in Congress visibly demonstrated everything that the Republicans had been warning about. They abused the law to maintain minority control over majority desires, and when challenged they used force to get their way. It now appeared plausible that there was a conspiracy against liberty by slave-owners, and Republicans mobilized on the basis of anti-slavery (limiting the power of Southern slaveholders, especially Democrats) where no one had been able to get a Northern majority while pushing abolition (free the slaves, build a society based on human equality).

In the end, the deep South lost an election and seceded. In fact, during the summer of 1860 fire eaters had promised to secede if Lincoln won the election. The interesting question about the coming of the war, for me, is the timing. Not just "why did the civil war happen in 1860 and not earlier?" but also "why did the Deep South secede BEFORE Lincoln could be inaugurated?" This latter question comes with the followup of "Why did the Deep South secede to protect slavery even though the Republicans repeatedly insisted that slavery was purely a state matter that the national government should stay out of?"

The answer to the second question is that both sections decided that the other had dropped all notions of fairness, of the proper relationship between majorities and minorities in a democracy, and of good faith conduct. The Whig party had died early in the Deep South, the American or Know-Nothing party had never created much of a foothold outside of Louisiana, and so in 1860 the current crop of politicians only had experience with a one-party system. In a one-party system, by and large, there are no second chances. Once someone gets control of the state government then they have control until the next major political realignment - which could be decades.

I argue, based on the work done by Michael Holt and others, that the Deep South wanted out before Lincoln took power because they found the following sequence of events not just plausible but inevitable:

  • Republicans win Presidency and Congress
  • Republicans appoint their partisans to post offices and patronage positions across the South
  • Partisan appointees start newspapers and begin to organize a Southern Republican party.
  • Southern Republicans make a class-based appeal to poor whites and non-slaveholders.
  • Southern Republicans use the same slave-power argument that had worked in the North to marginalize the old Southern political elite.
  • Class politics in the South lead to a temporary victory by a Republican coalition of poor whites and patronage appointees

  • Republicans in state government emancipate slaves, tax slavery out of existence, or otherwise destroy the institution.

Now, any outside observer will tell you that this scenario is pretty far-fetched. For it to work, the Republican party would have to maintain national dominance long enough to build strong state parties in the South. It is far more likely that if Southerners had worked to discredit the claims of anti-slavery rather than proving those claims, that the Republicans would have collapsed and gone away just as the Know-Nothings and Whigs had. Political parties were fragile. Slaveowners in the upper South convincingly argued in their secession conventions that Republican rule would pass, that the party system would contain their anti-slavery efforts, and that seceding because you lost an election was like cutting off your arm because your gloves were dirty.

In the Deep South, no one believed in second chances, and out they went. The Deep South seceded to protect slavery, pure and simple.

From there I ran through the standard narrative of Fort Sumpter, Call for Volunteers, Upper South secedes because it will not put down secession. We talked briefly about why Civil War soldiers fought, then I reviewed the weapons and tactics of the war. On Thursday we will talk about race and the Civil War, the odd way that emancipation took place, and Reconstruction after the war.

I want to close with a contemporary political comment, one I did NOT make in class but have been making, tangentially and incoherently, on this blog. The crucial factor in the collapse of the Second Party system and the coming of the American Civil War was firstly, the loss of all distinctiveness between Whigs and Democrats, which led to the Whigs being replaced by the Know-Nothings, and secondly, the loss of all regular political conflict within the deep South, which led Southerners to secede after they lost an election because they could not imagine ever getting another chance at power if they stayed in the union.

If you have been keeping half an eye on politics the last few years, the parallels should be obvious and frightening. Ralph Nader and the Green Party made an argument in 2000 that looked very like the argument made by Know-Nothings in 1853: the two parties are essentially alike, we need to throw the bums out, and our single focus idea is more important than the false issues that the standing parties have been arguing over. There are differences, of course, the most obvious being that 1, anti-Catholic bigotry is no longer mainstream behavior while environmentalism is fairly mainstream and 2, that it worked for the Know Nothings and did not work for the Greens.

There are differences between 2000, and 1853 - most obviously that George W. Bush and his advisors know their politics and, rather than continuing a me-too process of homogenization between political parties (Uniter not a Divider) they instead pursued sharply partisan political policies. These may not have been wise, they were certainly divisive not uniting, and that was the point. After three years of GWB, no one will buy the argument that the two political parties are a batch of interchangeable partisan hacks.

The other parallel is more disturbing. To some extent - not irrevocably yet - the split between "Blue" and "Red" states is mirroring what went on in the Deep South and Upper North in the 1850s. They are becoming one-party states. And, the trend is for one-party domination to extend, in part because people are changing the customs of partisan conflict. Two-party politics work because the basic procedures are devised along the same basic principle of the cake-cutting thought experiment. If you and I want to cut a piece of cake into two even slices, and both of us are greedy, the only wise thing is to have one of us cut and the other choose the slices. In political terms, people set up rules of the game that they are willing to abide by regardless of whether they are ahead or behind at that point in time. So, roll call votes take place within time limits, electoral districts are rearranged only after the US Census, and so on.

At the moment the Republican National Committee are being the worst offenders. The challenge is to rebuild notions of political due process; the danger is that we will get into a tit-for-tat escalation until, someday soon, twentyfirst-century Americans will contemplate drastic action rather than accepting the results of an election they are sure to lose.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:21 AM | TrackBack

November 28, 2003

Time and Planning

I wasted $100 today. Actually, I wasted it about a week ago, but today I found out that I had done it.

I am applying for jobs. It costs me about $40 to apply by FedEx. It costs me about $12 to apply by US Priority Mail. It costs me about $6 to apply by US regular mail. This is for my application, my documents service, the surcharge for mailing chapters, and so on.

I lost track of time, got distracted by cranking on the revised chapter 3, and then fell into the drift between sprints of work. I also spent some time being depressed: "why should I apply, I can't even write a chapter." So, I missed two deadlines and came down to the wire on four more.

Then, when I was frantically digging through my papers to find my teaching evaluations for last semester, I found two more letters that had been written but not mailed! I seem to have had a serious self-destructive streak going earlier this month.

So, I got the job letters out. But, I spent too much on them. I have burned more relationship points. And, having blown my discretionary fund on FedEx, it looks like I get a much smaller set of presents this year.

Ah well. At least one of the jobs that went out at the wire looks like a very good match.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:31 AM | TrackBack

November 17, 2003

Founders and Presidents, History and Memory

It appears that, according to a pretty decent looking quiz, of all the founders I most resemble George Washington.

Which Founding Father Are You?

Invisible Adjunct is Hamilton. This ties into something I was thinking about last night after reading Jake at Political Aims talking about Ronald Reagan's legacy.

Several people have compared Reagan with past Presidents of the U.S., and one of the more common comparisons is between Reagan and Andrew Jackson. The two have a fair number of things in common: both were derided as dunces by their foes; both were smart politicians; both introduced controversial economic policies; both presided over a boom while in office but had their vice presidents first succeed them and then lose after one term because of an economic crash; both were strong nationalists; both believed in shifting decisions from the federal to the state government wherever possible. Finally, both were controversial in their day because of their response to law and the Constitution. Jackson played fast and loose with the balance of powers during Indian removal and the Bank War; Reagan presided over the adminstration during Iran-Contra.

What struck me the most about the two men, however, was the difference between their immediate and their eventual legacies. Let me explain. Jackson was censured by the Senate for his actions during the bank war. After Jackson left office, his partisans worked for years until they were able to remove that censure from the official record; they wanted to vindicate his name. Reagan was not censured, but his partisans have worked for years after Reagan left office, trying to name a federal building in all 50 states after him, contemplating adding him to Mt. Rushmore, and otherwise turing RR into an omnipresent visual and aural icon.

When I introduce Jackson to the students, the first thing that comes up is Indian removal. Regardless of what other things they learn about Jackson, they keep coming back to the Trail of Tears. Some students call it genocide, I call it ethnic cleansing, but people in the 21st century are appalled by it. Indian Removal smells bad today; it smelled bad at the time as well. Jackson had a clearly defined choice and took the more expedient rather than the more moral option. Joe Ellis suggests that Jackson was trying to undermine support for South Carolina Nullification by pandering to the other Southern and Wester States, but Jackson still made this moral decision.

The tragedy of Indian Removal came in two parts. In the first part, state governments with assistance from the Federal governments systemattically undermined Indian self-government and pressured the indians into selling out at a loss, trading improved land in the East for less land, unimproved land, in what is now Oklahoma. The Yazoo River Delta is some of the best farmland in the world; Oklahoma is not nearly that good. The second part, the migration, is what everyone remembers. The migration was poorly planned and poorly supplied. Indian leaders wanted to rest before starting the trip, U.S. Army officers in charge of the migration agreed, and the late start meant that they did not arrive in Oklahoma until long after snow fell. About a third of the Cherokees died during that march. Other tribes also had terrible losses during the migration, and all the South East tribes had their autonomy, governance, traditions, and viabilty devastated by the removal process. Indian removal killed about 30,000 Indians, and I know people who don't know much history but, literally, froth at the mouth when condemning Jackson as a genocidal murderer.

How does this relate to Reagan? Jake Rosenfeld links to a NYT article by Frank Rich suggesting that people are becoming more and more aware of Reagan's lack of response to the AIDS crisis. Like Jackson, Reagan made a moral decision knowing that there were better alternatives. He ignored AIDS and hoped it would go away when he could have dramatically slowed the progress of the disease by starting an awareness campaign. Face it, it is hard to catch sexually transmitted diseases; you have to be amazingly intimate before the disease can jump the body barrier. Prevention works, not perfectly, but it works. Reagan knew that, and decided to ignore AIDS and hope it would go away. Over 50,000 Americans died of AIDS during Reagan's administration; Reagan's silence meant that many people caught the disease who would have been spared if there had been better public health policies.

Just as we hold Jackson culpable for both the policy decision to pursue Indian Removal and the deadly implementation of that policy, so too will future generations hold Reagan culpable for the policy decision to ignore AIDS and the deadly consequences of that willful ignorance. If Jackson can be called genocidal for killing 30,000 Indians, what does that make Reagan and his 50,000? I will not get into the details to which we can blame U.S. public health policy in the 1980s for the pandemic in Africa, I do suspect that the disease would have gotten loose there eventually, but even today, in 2003, Reagan fans are effectively spreading AIDS by refusing to share the most effective public health measures. That too is part of the Reagan legacy.

We condem the British officials who worsened the Great Hunger in Ireland because, according to their ideology, the best thing to do was let starving Irishmen find work in the free market. 4,000,000 of 8,000,000 Irish died or emmigrated, over a third of the missing died of hunger or exposure. We should condemn American politicians and officials who are still worsening the AIDS pandemic in Africa because, according to their ideology, abstinence is the only acceptable way to prevent sexually transmitted disease. I do not know how many millions will die, or will die early, because of this policy, but the numbers dwarf the Great Hunger.

So when people make their lists of the great presidents of the 20th century, Reagan will go on that list just as Jackson goes on the list for great presidents of the 19th century. Both men: led a wartime conflict (1812, Cold War), refocused the Federal government, presided over a dramatic political realignment, and promulgated policies that can readily be interpreted as mass murder.

We think twice these days before slapping Jackson's name on things. There was a movement to take AJ off the $20 during the last makeover. I happen to believe that AJ should stay on the money; I would be very cautious about sending my children to Andrew Jackson Elementary School. When people try to slap Reagan's name on things, we need to ask the same questions about moral decisions and moral consequences that we ask about Jackson.

Try putting this appositive phrase after Ronald Reagan's name on the next federal building: Ronald Reagan, the mass murder who presided over the end of the Cold War. Do you still want a batch of Washington party hacks to slap that name on your building?

Posted by Red Ted at 09:30 AM | TrackBack