Writing Archives

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

February 16, 2006

I need a new noun

I need a new noun.
One that won't make me stick.
One that will help me write.
Not stare at this brick.

Sorry Huey.

I was wrestling with a revision to chapter three back in early February, and tonight is the first chance I have had to think about it since starting the new gig. (Gig goes well: lots of work, lots of fun, lots of good challenges, and they seem to like me and my work.)

As usual for me, the problem is one of organization. I have a mess of interesting stories to tell about civil religion and the margins of the religious settlement between 1801 and about 1820. I am having trouble putting those little stories and moments together into a coherent narrative that both makes a valid internal point and also connects up to the chapters before and after it.

One of the recurring themes is folks who believe that for the good of the nation, national government or at least national leaders should accomodate policy to religious obligations (halt Sunday Mails, for example) or frame national concerns in a religious context (call for days of prayer and fasting during the War of 1812). Jefferson, Madison, and an odd coalition of folks disagree.

What do I want to call the folks who want to see more religion in the national and state governments? I was using Sabbatarians for them, but I am talking about more than just the Sabbath. Most of them are Calvinists, but not all of them are and there are some mighty strong Calvinists who think that religion is too important to let government interfere with it. I thought about calling them Providentials, but that sounded too much like an insurance company. I thought about Formalists, but that word has a very specific meaning and extensive connotations in both law and philosophy, and I don't want to confuse Ashbel Green with the postbellum legal thinkers who ticked off Louis Brandeis.

I hope that if I can come up with a new word and framework for these guys, then I will be able to hook them together in several of my anecdotes and short moments, and thus create a coherent internal framework for the chapter.

But I need a new noun
one that one's make me sick . . .

Posted by Red Ted at 08:54 PM | TrackBack

February 04, 2006

Methodists and Slavery

Sometimes the thing to do when figuring something out is to hash it publicly.

The following long paragraph came out of the draft chapter three. My advisor did not like it because its points were banal or repeated the arguments in the other parts of that sub-section. I need a better "so what" for the anecdote.

The Methodist Church similarly emphasized interactions with other religious groups, and regularly defended itself against the charge that it was undermining civil order. The Methodists had most of their early growth in the upper South, especially on the Delmarva peninsula. During the 1780s and 1790s Methodist itinerants regularly pressured their hearers to manumit their slaves, appealing to civics and Christ in equal measure. The 1784 Conference that formed the Methodist Episcopal Church as a distinct denomination separate from the Church of England passed an anti-slavery provision in its initial discipline, but opposition from the Deep South made them table it. Anti-slavery Methodists tried again in 1796, to similar opposition. The 1800 General Conference called for an anti-slavery address to be published to all the local circuits – an action that led to immediate and violent opposition in the lower South. The 1804 and 1808 Conferences backed away from the issue, officially making slavery a matter of local and not national discipline. As Francis Asbury famously commented, "I was called upon to suffer for Christ's sake, not slavery's." The Methodist Episcopal Church continued to grow, and grow rapidly, but after 1800 it no longer appealed to African-Americans in the Deep South, who overwhelmingly allied themselves with the Baptists. Methodists did, however, retain their access to white Southerners. The various conferences went on to pass their own disciplinary rules about slavery, with Northern and some upper South conferences banning or restricting it, the Deep South saying little on the question.
So, where do I want to go with this?

I have a following paragraph talking about local v. national institutions, and the importance of local prejudices and local styles even within the centralized and national Methodist Church. That is fine, but that point will get its power from the conclusion to the slavery paragraph. And where do I want to take that slavery paragraph?

I think that this anecdote wants to go to a discussion of the informal boundaries of the American Religious settlement and the difficult distinction between civic morality and personal morality. I will refer to those, but they are points that I make elsewhere as well. I have spent the morning hashing around looking for something more to say.

I think the point to make is that the norms of American civil religion were set primarily through cultural and social power, not political power or legal strictures. I will write it that way and move on - if I get too badly stuck on this point I will just cut the whole Methodist bit and go on.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:15 AM | TrackBack

January 27, 2006

Is that the new three or the old three?

During the blog hiatus I was working on chapter two of five, which had a serious logical problem in it. The first half was tight, well argued, and compelling. It told an important story and came to a resounding finish. On about page 35. The second half was no good at all.

So, I took the metaphorical cleaver to chapter two of five, and suddenly found that I had completed chapter two of six, and that chapter three of six now needed work. That new chapter then got expanded and rearranged, and then sent to my advisor earlier this month.

He does not like it - it has some clever ideas but the transitions need to exist and I need to explain what I am doing before I go off to be clever. So, I am working on a precis of the chapter, boiling about 55 pages down into about six paragraphs (intro, conclusion, 4 body paragraphs for the 4 sections of the argument.)

Not surprising, it takes a lot of thinking. And, not surprisingly, I find myself doing almost anything rather than do that hard work. I am not yet at the point of polishing the copper cookware as a way to avoid writing. I don't think I will get that far. But I do need to figure out my plans. More below the line.

Chapter 3 of six has four major sections. There is a discussion of religious groups in the two decades after 1800; a discussion of Thomas Jefferson, The Danbury Baptists, and Jefferson's invocation of geography instead of Providence; the story of the sabbath mails controversy of 1810-1817; and a look at James Madison, the midwestern constitutions written between 1810 and 1819, and James Monroe's Burkean civil religion where he invoked the founders and the Constitution to fight sectional splintering during and after the Missouri crisis.

The challenge is to make sure that I have a clear argument for each section, and then to tie the four sub-arguments together into a single argument about the changing nature of American civil religion between 1801 and 1820.

And so to think.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:34 PM | TrackBack

October 26, 2005

One paragraph precis

I went ahead and did it.

Chapters 3 and 4 had covered the same story and the same years, with one looking at the common law, the other at benevolent organizations.

I smushed them together and then cut them apart chronologically, breaking in 1828. Chapter 3b now looks at the search for commonalities, chapter 4b looks at how the commonalities splintered when put into practice.

New precis below the fold.

One paragraph Precis
My dissertation, "Civil Religion, Religious Groups, and the Early American Republic" is about how Americans created a multi-denominational civil religion that could compel citizens to good behavior without coercing obedience to any state church. The founding generation were all Christians or post-Christian Deists who appealed to Providence but chose not to define the nation in religious terms. More, while several states defined themselves as Christian Republics, none maintained that identity for long. By the 1820s, Americans had turned to civil Providence, treating the Constitution as Scripture and promising each other that the nation would prosper if only it held to its founding documents. Presidents served as high priests of American civil religion, using public pronouncements to frame the issues of the day, and claiming that the test of a nation was its ability to secure the civil and religious liberty of its citizens. Meanwhile, many Americans claimed that the nation shared a common Christianity, which they located in benevolent organizations, the doctrine that Christianity was part of the common law, and the civic faith that enforced oaths and good behavior. This common Christianity splintered and fell apart after 1828 because of arguments over Sunday Mails, Masons, and even the words of the Bible. This splintering accelerated in the 1840s under the pressures of Catholic immigration and sectional disagreements over slavery. By the 1850s, Evangelicals, liberals, Catholics and the other major groups of American Christians gave up on trying to appeal to or even define a common Christianity and instead resolved to live in a fully pluralist nation. Religion mattered, but civil religion took precedence in public life.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:24 PM | TrackBack

October 08, 2005

Colon or Semi-Colon?

I wonder which version of this sentence I should use?

These quiet Connecticut Sabbaths could prove surprisingly peaceful and attractive: European visitors who were accustomed to a more social holiday were struck by its democratic nature rich and poor alike stopped working and joined together and by its moral influence.

These quiet Connecticut Sabbaths could prove surprisingly peaceful and attractive; European visitors who were accustomed to a more social holiday were struck by its democratic nature rich and poor alike stopped working and joined together and by its moral influence.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:15 AM | TrackBack

August 17, 2005

Online Writing Exercises

The Phantom Professor is running a very useful exercise. She is doing an online writing workshop, giving some reading assignments and then asking people to submit the first line of a short work.

I submitted the lead line for a children's book about the day that Elder Son and I went to see the Penn Relays.

Daddy and I went to see the runners.
J. thinks I could write kids books that are better than most of what is out there. So far my first drafts are boring - but if first drafts were not meant to be long and boring then God would not have given us metaphorical chainsaws to trim them with.

Posted by Red Ted at 03:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 16, 2005

Licorice 8

A new vignette from the story of Susan and the PoD.

They alternate which church to go to on Sunday. On even weeks they go to her church, and sit in long rows on the hard benches and listen to a sermon. Today is an odd Sunday, so they are going to his church. He is dressed in shades of black, as always. She is wearing her white church dress, with the big hat his mother made for her. She dabs a drop of anise behind each ear.

"Are you ready?"

"Yes, you?"

He picks up the bag with the tambourines and the trumpet.

Afterwards, she always wants a cigarette. She is flushed, and the jumpy rhythms of the choir are still twitching in her legs and shoulders. He is calm again, solid, the movement he had embodied just a few minutes earlier gone.

He looks down at her. "Are we staying for the supper?"

"Do you want to?"

"No, I think I want to lie down."

"You like the supper at my church."

"I don't get as tired, no, I get a different kind of tired at your church. I eat then to make my brain stop."

She smiles.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:21 AM | TrackBack

July 30, 2005

Chapter 2 to bed

Well, the changes to chapter 2 are now in bed. I will let it sit for a few days, then read the conclusion again, then send it off.

And so to work on job applications, and to think about chapter 3.

In other news, I wrote a draft of a kids book about the boys and I taking the dog for a walk. It is what the big toddler would call "a boring book" but I will work on it.

I just need to remember to bring the camera with me for the next few walks so that I can make some draft illustrations.

Posted by Red Ted at 02:07 PM | TrackBack

July 22, 2005

Writing update and SHEAR

I have fallen off my older pattern of trying to write a paragraph or so every morning as a way of getting the writing started. I think I might want to get back to that - it did speed me up (as long as I did not spend too much time looking for something to write about.)

I got a fairly tight chapter 2, started working on structure of 3 again, then went back to 2 for a prose polish. I think I may have found a way to make the second half of 2 connect with the first half - focus the introduction and transitions on a conclusion that presents James Monroe as a semi-Burkean, preserving the revolution and passing it on to later generations. If I can then tie that to the idea that there are three distinct moments in the evolution of civil religion in the 1790s, 1801-1812, and 1812-1820s then I think I can avoid the problem of having a premature conclusion during the Revolution of 1800.

In other news, the SHEAR is in Philadelphia. Many of my peers from gradual school are teaching, writing, and being good professional historians. I am one of the few to have kids. It balances out.

And so to a panel on church and state in the early republic.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:22 AM | TrackBack

July 08, 2005

Slow writing week

It has been a slow writing week, both for the blog and for the dissertation.

I am busy pounding my way through a retelling of Revolution of 1800 and its effects on American Civil Religion. The earlier draft was condemned by my advisor for containing good ideas buried under dead, repetitive prose.

He was right. I think I had tried to start that section half a dozen times, given up, and just pasted the various introductions together as if they were a subsection.

So, I scrapped it and am rewriting from scratch. It goes slowly.

And now to go re-read Wigger's book on Methodists to see if the comparison I am making in this paragraph is accurate.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:27 PM | TrackBack

June 16, 2005

Think Piece for Chapter 3

I have been wrestling with the conceptual framework for the new chapter three.

This is going to be a think piece where I try to figure out what I want to argue by explaining myself to an audience of general readers using conversational language. It may ramble, and it may make no sense, but if it helps me figure out how to frame things then it will have done its job. Some folks figure out what they think by explaining it to another person, some by writing a letter to a relative. I write blog posts.

Chapter three is about the interactions between law and civil religion, especially in blasphemy trials, in the notion that christianity is a part of the common law, and in state constitutional provisions limiting the right to give testimony in court to people who express the correct religious opinions.

The whole thing touches on two powerful but somewhat fuzzy notions.

The first is civil society, what some folks called the Commonwealth ideal. This holds that every society has a knowable common interest - almost like Rousseau's General Will. Government is a social compact instituted by men in order to carry out this common interest. Government can give special privileges, sharing the powers of the state with people or more commonly with organizations, and it should do so only because and only to the extent to which these privileged organizations are also serving the common good. The most common instance of these special grants is charters of incorporation, which were generally passed by special act of the local legislature until sometime in the mid 1830s when general incorporation acts were passed. Even then, special acts tended to be more favorable than general incorporations, and state legislatures continued to pass special acts until the 1840s and 1850s when most state constitutions were amended to prohibit all special charters.

There is an extensive historiography of these commonwealth charters, starting with Handlin and Handlin writing in the 1950s, continuing with the work of the legal-economic historians of the 1960s and 1970s, and it is still live today in work by folks like Johann Neem.

Furthermore, civil society - that society created by the civil compact - contains a very important law and order or social control aspect. Locke argues that people enter the social contract and move from natural law to civil law in order to protect themselves and their property. This protection is provided by law. Anything that undermines the law or the respect that people have to the law is a danger to civil society.

For many people in the early nineteenth century, religion supported the rule of law and was a crucial component of civil society. Americans generally repudiated the strong form of Christendom, the notion that a nation must share a single unified state religion if it is to maintain coherence, but they still responded to the weak form, in which a nation must share a set of common religious values in order to maintain coherence. They dropped sects, but retained a fondness for Christianity in general. Religion did not simply provide a common bond between citizens. Religious teachers taught morality, and everyone praised the civic nature of religious faith. A proper religion taught the being of a god and of a future state of rewards and punishments. This added a Divine sanction to the laws that governed daily life. You might be tempted to take advantage of your fellow citizens if there was no watchman around, but the knowledge that sins in this world would be punished in the next might still deter you. It is God as Big Brother, always watching and always judging.

Anything that undermined popular belief in God as Big Brother inherently undermined civil society. And, anything that undermined the shared beliefs and values that tied people together also undermined civil society.

What I want to examine in more detail are changes in the idea that Christianity is a part of the common law, and in the operation of that idea, and, more broadly, changes in the way that people imagined the connection between religion and civil society. That latter is, of course, civil religion. But I am trying to write about aspects of civil religion as a way to avoid the whole conceptual mess of defining and explaining civil religion. There is no single or simple civil religion, but there are a lot of aspects of civil religion.

What I am not sure is whether I should try to define the idealized community that goes along with the realm of civil society - christendom lite if you will. I spent much of yesterday thinking about it, and I am still feeling mighty nebulous. Right now I am going with the theory that if you can not explain what it is you want to talk about, then remain silent.

This chapter is about the intersections between civil society and religion, what was once called civil religion. That term has been defined and redefined so many times now that I use it as a general term for all the interactions between the religious and the civil. But, three aspects of civil religion seem to be very prominent in the materials I want to discuss this chapter: civic faith (religion constraining officials, oathtakers, and people who participate in the mechanisms of law and government), social control (keeping the lower orders from running amok), and legitimation (explaining why the society is structured the way that it is.) The thing to remember as I write this chapter is that many of the things that I want to take as givens - christian republicanism for example - were actually heavily contested during this era. Everyone agreed that there should be some mutually beneficial interaction between religion and civil society, and that government as the organization created to protect and preserve civil society had to take recognize the role that religion should play. But, within that recognition of an overlap, there was incredible disagreement about how to most efficiently manage the overlap. Madison said the best thing you could do for religion was to get government out of the religion business. Lyman Beecher agreed with him so long as folks were talking about state support, establishment, or the endorsement of a given sect or denomination. But, Beecher disagreed with Madison about the measures that government should take to preserve common Christianity. Beecher wanted the sabbath mails halted, Madison probably wanted them to continue.

So the case studies in this chapter are the notion of a christian nation, the notion that christianity was part of the common law (blasphemy trials, etc.), the problem of oaths as a moment where the religious is pressed into the service of the state, and sabbath rest. I will use those studies to examine civic faith, social control, and legitimation, all of which are aspects of civil religion.

Good, NOW I can write. I have a 40 page draft and another 5 pages on Sabbath mails that I can plug into the draft, and I should be able to use this framework to create a fairly tight 50 to 60 page draft chapter.

The scary thing is that I spent two, no three days, wrestling with the above rambling and discursive statement.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:57 PM | TrackBack

June 14, 2005

Chapter 2 away !

Dear advisor,

Attached is the May draft of Chapter 2 (a couple of weeks late.)

It is at the point where I have absolutely no idea if my connections, transitions, and foreshadowing make any sense.

I hope it is quite good, but I just don't know anymore.

And so to work on the new chapter 3.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:55 AM | TrackBack

June 02, 2005

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 24, 2005

But does it suck?

Well, I finished the first pass on the new second half of the new chapter two. I go from the 1790s to 1817, talking about infidel clauses, Presidential invocations of Providence, Sabbath mails, and the Episcopal-Reformed debate in New York State. I have no idea if the conclusion ties it all together, but that is what revisions are for.

In other news, I pulled my calf AGAIN, this time while walking the hound about half a mile from home. The second half of that walk was much slower than the first half, yep. The really frustrating thing about the calf pull and the lack of running is that, right on schedule, 10 days after my last run I got a cold. I am convinced (and this may be a self-fulfilling prophecy) that I get no colds when I run regularly, regular colds when I am not running.

I hear the call of sudafed and errands.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:15 PM | Comments (1) | 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.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:53 PM | TrackBack

April 27, 2005


John Cheney, the Temple Basketball coach, likes to teach his players that everything starts with footwork; if they can get their feet in the right place then the game becomes easy.

This is a lesson that works both in sports and in life, which is I suspect part of why he spends his mornings screaming about footwork.

This morning I had a moment of good sports footwork. (I also wrote very slowly before going running, a sign of bad life footwork.) I went for a run, the first one since Saturday. I was feeling good, running slowly, and decided to up my mileage to a whopping mile and a half. I did it.

It was a good run.

Sometimes, in a good run, the mind separates into two distinct Joycean streams of consciousness. One is the body monitor, checking pacing, stride, breathing, and yes, footwork. The other looks at the world around, or thinks about problems, or wanders aimlessly.

Today the leaves were that bright green of spring, and they reminded me of the bright green spring leaves along my favorite dirt road back in Virginia. That was a 3 mile run up a dirt road to a mountaintop reservoir, where I turned around and ran back down the rolling hills. It was a great run, and when I was in good distance shape I did it as speedwork. In the springtime the leaves simply glowed with an incandescent bright green that SCREAMED about rebirth and new possibilities. I was reminded of that road as I ran today, and I miss having a body that could run those distances.

The other stream of consciousness was focusing on footwork, since I have found that footwork controls how my knees feel, and my knees are the limiting factor in my running. The following gets a little technical and perhaps a little boring.

One way to breakdown and explain running form is to focus on footstrike, the point on the foot where the foot first contacts the ground on each stride. Runners also generally expand the term to refer to the overall motion of the foot and ankle on each stride. I find that I have five possible footstrikes, and that two of them work best for me.

To find your own footstrikes and strides, run barefoot in the grass without thinking of your mechanics, then look down and notice what your feet are doing. Try going at different speeds and notice how the footstrike changes.

For me, I can footstrike

  • on the front-middle of the ball of my foot, the sprinting stride,
  • on the center-back of the ball of the foot, which is my best stride for knee maintenance,
  • dead in the middle of the foot,
  • at the front of the heel of the foot, my most efficient stride
  • at the back of the heel of the foot, the strike most people use when walking and the only strike that is commonly in front of your center of gravity.
I find that my biggest mechanical problem is that my ankles roll inward, putting lateral stress on the knee. The best way to keep the ankle straight is to strike at the back of the ball of the foot, then let the rest of the foot come down until the heel lands, then roll forward and push off the ball of the foot again. This keeps the ankle straight. In addition, the knee is bent throughout the strike and stride, so that the muscles of calf and thigh help take the impact of each stride. Of course, it also means that the muscles are doing more work each stride, and as a result it is a less efficient more tiring stride than some of the hell-rolling options.

The next best is to strike at the front of the heel - the natural point when running on grass. This is a very efficient strike and does very well with the little shuffling old-man strides I have to take these days. It lets the foot roll forward and then push off, instead of levering on the ball of the foot, and it works well with using your oblique muscles to swing the hips a little forward and back on each stride, putting your core to work for motion and not just for stabilty. But, it encourages my ankles to roll inward, and so I do not let myself use this stride.

I want to try to connect my two Joycean streams of consciousness from this morning, to suggest that the mental effort of keeping my legs in good form, my breathing regular, and my pace constant somehow shaped my memories of running up and down the rolling dirt roads of Virginia. It did not, or rather anything I could say would be forced and contrived. It will be a writing day today, as I discuss the Sabbatarian movement of 1810-1817, the U.S. mails, and civil religion. I will try to keep my mind on my grammar, and on clarity, and on keeping the paragraphs to the point. That, I suppose, is my writing equivalent of good footwork.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:19 AM | TrackBack

April 16, 2005

Prince George's Petition

I checked, and according to Google this one is not yet on line. Since I wanted to type it in for my own reference, and since it is trival to cut-and-paste from Wordperfect to the blog, I give you the most signed and most distributed petition during the 1785 debate (scroll down to VA) over the Virginia General Assessment (failed) and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (passed.)

Petition copied from Thomas Curry, The End of Christendom, pp 123-4

NOTE - this was written before they invented spelling. I kept the 18th-century spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.

Prince George County Petition, November 28, 1785
Petitions can be found in Religious Petitions Presented to the General Assembly of Virginia, 1774-1802 (Virginia State Library, microfilm, 3 vols)

To the Honourable, the Speaker and Gentlemen of the House of Delegates The petition of the Inhabitants of Prince George County Humbly Sheweth That whereas it hath pleased your Honourable House to publish a Bill obligeing the Inhabitants of this Common Wealth to pay the Teachers of the christian Religion, and have requested their opinion concerning it; Your petitioners therefore do most earnestly declare against it: believing it to be Contrary to the Spirit of the Gospel, & the Bill [of] Rights. Certain it is, that The Blessed author of our Religion supported & maintained his Gospel in the world for Several hundred years, not only without the aid of civil power, but against all the powers of the Earth. The Excellent purity of its' precepts, & the unblamable Behaviour of its Ministers (with the devine Blessing) made its Way thru all opposition: nor was it better for the church when Constantine first established Christianity by human Law, tho, there was Rest from persecution. But how soon Was the church overrun with Error, Superstition and Immorality. How little were Ministers then like what they were before either in principle or purity? but it is said that Religion is taking it's flight, & that Deism, with it's bainfull Influence is spreading over the State; If so, it must be owing to other causes and Not for want of Religious Establishment. Let your laws punish the Vices and Immoralities of the times, and let there not be wanting such men placed in authority who by their pious Examples shall recommend Religion: & by their Faithfullness shall scurge the Growing Vices of the age: Let Ministers manifest to the World that they are Inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon them that office: that they seek the Good of mankind, and not worldly Interest: let Their Doctrine be scriptural & their Lives upright; then shall Religion (if Departed) speedily return, and Deism be put to open shame & it's dreaded Consequencies speedily removed.
But what valuable purpose would such assessment answer? would it Introduce any More useful and faithful Men into the Ministry? Surely not, those whome devine Grace hath called to that work, will esteem it their highest Honour to do his pleasure: on the contrary, it Might call in many Hirelings whose cheif Motive would be temporal Interest. that religious Establishment & Government are Linked together and that the latter cannot stand without he former is soemthing new: Witness the State of pennsylvanie wherein no such Establishment hath ever taken place: Their Government stands firm, & which of the neighbouring States hath better Members, of brighter Morrals & more upright Characters.
That it is against our bill of Rights, which sayes all men by nature are born equally free, so that no person in this Commonwealth shall enjoy exclusive privileges or emoluments, except for services rendered to the state, shall not those then who are not professors of the christian Religion, who are in the state at the passing of this Bill, and others who have been Invited since by the benefit held out, when they shall be obliged to support the Christian Religion, think That such an obligation is a Departure from the Spirit and meaning of it.
Finally, if such Tax is against the Spirit of the Gospel, if Christ for Several Hundred years, not only without the aid of civil power, but against all the powers of Earth and Hell supported it; if Establishment has never been a Means of prospering the Gospel: if no more faithful Men would be introduced into the Ministry by it: if it would not revive decay'd Religion and stop the Growth of Deism: or Serve the purpose of Government: and if against the bill of Rights: which your petitioners believe: they trust the wisdom and uprightness of your Honourable House will leave them Intirely free in Matters of Religion and the manner of supporting its Ministers: and they shall ever pray . . .

Posted by Red Ted at 12:28 PM | TrackBack

March 30, 2005

Out take from chapter 1

The wife tells me that this analogy was more precious than useful. It has been pulled from the current draft, which makes it blog fodder:

To use another food analogy, a trifle is created by layering sponge cake, cream, booze, fruit, and then all of these again into a single complex dish. You can describe a trifle in these general terms, but to fully describe any particular trifle it helps to at least summarize the layers in their correct order. And, just as an infusion of brandy can change the nature of the lower layers of cake and cream, so too did the more recent layers of the British religious settlement reconfigure the base on which they stood.
At least she let me keep the apple pie metaphor two paragraphs above the trifle.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:20 PM | TrackBack

March 17, 2005

Limited Blogging

My blogging energy has been going to a discussion about religion and the early republic in comments over on Brad's weblog. I have a think piece on the way that will address part of these questions more fully, and that will probably get rewritten and worked into my conclusion.

Otherwise, well, I re-wrote the introduction and am making another pass through the chapter on religious establishments. The introduction was spotty, but parts of the middle are quite good. I did like the bit where I compared the American religious settlement to an apple pie, the British to a rum-soaked trifle (the yummy dessert, not the little thing.)

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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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August 26, 2004

Whither Christendom?

I am digging back into chapter one, my discussion of state sovereignty and religious establishments. Last night, while I was thinking about how exactly I wanted to frame my argument about the relationship between religious belief, state formation, and inalienable rights, I stumbled on Allen Brill's explanation of the Darla Wynne Case in Great Falls, South Carolina.

Allen links to the decision by the 4th circuit, one of the more conservative circuit courts, and also to a narrative of the events that led to the case by Darla Wynne.

Ms Wynne had a perfectly reasonable request to make at her town council meeting; she wanted extra law enforcement at a stop sign where crack dealers were harassing motorists. When she arrived at the meeting the commissioners noticed that she had Wiccan bumper stickers. Things went downhill from there: when she stood to speak they asked about her religion and did not let her make her point; they have always started meetings with a prayer, those meetings always mention Jesus Christ, and when she stopped bowing her head during those prayers (after going to five or six meetings without getting a chance to deliver her petition) they began to harass her further. I just skimmed her account, but it appears that her property has been repeatedly vandalized - 20 to 50 tires slashed, pet animals killed, etc - the town officials and police have made a policy to deny her all permits and condemn her at all inspections, she is being harassed, intimidated, and yelled at. All because she has Wiccan bumper stickers and asked the town council to either use a generic theism in their prayers "giving thanks to the almighty" rather than "giving thanks to Jesus Christ" or at least ask members of other faith traditions to rotate in giving the prayers. In short, because she has unusual religious beliefs she has been denied her rights as a citizen, denied the protection of the law, and become a target of government rather than a member of society.

So, she sued the town for its policy of using its opening Christian prayer to intimidate and coerce. The 4th court opinion above is very solid and very straight-forward. It repeats the court consensus on ceremonial religion, as laid down in Marsh and Allegheny, namely that while legislative meetings may open with prayer and government may provide funds for civic ceremonies that include religious elements, official prayers and displays can not provide any sectarian preference and can not systematically exclude or drive away people because of their religious belief. i.e. You can have a chaplain or open with prayer, but those chaplains should not all be from the same sect and that prayer must be inclusive - a generic "God" is OK but Jesus, the Mother, and Adonai are all sectarian phrasings that should be avoided.

The 4th circuit is repeating the legal consensus, a consensus that many commentators attack for being internally inconsistent but that I argue is close to the founders' intentions: they did not want to see sectarian preference, did not want religious-political conflict for control of government, but did think that religious belief led to better magistrates and better society -- especially a belief in some future reward and punishment.

Ceremonial deism has been attacked because it turns the divine from an Awesome spectacle to a banal recitation, but there is a long acceptance of ceremonial deism as a workable compromise between free conscience and civil religion. Newdow's argument in the Pledge was an attack on that consensus, arguing that belief in the divine is itself a sectarian belief that should not be allowed. His arguments convinced Justice Thomas, who mentioned in passing that if the court had accepted the case and if it had followed its precedents involving the 14th amendment, then he would have agreed with Newdow. They did not convince those who try to argue that atheism is itself a firmly held belief about divinity, and that the state should remain agnostic about belief, supportive of citizens who wish to practice faith.

I bring Newdow in because Wynne's experience turns on the same questions: What, exactly, is religion in general? What, exactly, is sectarian religion?

Several members of the Great Falls council tried to argue that they were expressing "just plain religion" or religion in general: God is Jesus, so when we pray to Jesus we are praying to God and she should pray with us because there is only one God. (paraphrase) In that locality, before Darla Wynne moved to town, they could reasonably believe that they lived within a religious consensus. They almost certainly did not, but Wynne's experience shows why none before her had publicly challenged the local assumption of consensus and uniformity, and so they could tell themselves that everyone agreed.

We like to tell ourselves that the United States has always been a land of movers and mixers; everyone comes from somewhere else. Certainly colonists moved around, Jacksonians moved around, the antebellum South was a constant hive of relocations and resettlements. And with that mixture of place came a mixture of experience, one of the most common comments made by people who moved to Ohio, Kansas, or California was that people came from all over, and mixed, and saw how each other thought, spoke, and worshiped.

At some point we lost that mobility, or we lost it in pockets. There are now towns in the South and the Midwest where everyone who lives there was born there; people move out but they don't move in. It is not merely a rural condition, think of all the neighborhoods in Philadelphia and the other cities where people spend their lives within blocks of where their parents or grandparents lived. We put down roots as a nation sometime between the Civil War and the Great Depression, or rather, despite the massive waves of migration that started then and still continue, there are and always will be little eddies in the stream where people live like peas in a pod, all alike.

I titled this rambling rant Whither Christendom for a reason. Emperor Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, replacing pagan gods and emperor worship. The Romans had long held that the only thing that tied their empire together was that all worshiped the same gods - you did not have to believe, but you had to partake in the civil rituals, and to do otherwise led to things like the Judean revolt. Constantine took this imperial policy and combined it with the new and successful Jewish heresy. Now the empire was Christian, Christianity was no longer a subversive religion but the bulwark of the state, and the state would only be secure so long as all belonged (or at least publicly attended) the new faith.

The tie between church and state continued, and through the Reformation we continued to define the boundaries of the state by the boundaries of the church; if you owed allegiance to a prince you also attended whatever church he chose, and Anglicans and Englishmen were the same thing. Even with the changes of the enlightenment, some of that thought continued and some of that thought shaped early American definitions of their states. South Carolina was one of many to include a formal establishment of religion; they dropped their state establishment by the 1790s but retain a strong sense of homogeneity as a source of social strength. (An aside, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, founded as a colony for religious freedom, explicitly restricts office holding to people who acknowledge "the being of a God, and a future state of rewards and punishments.")

However, the new nation defined its religious establishments and religious tests in broad, theistic terms. Pennsylvania makes a good example - "the being of a God" (emphasis added). What matters on the state level is that people believe in something, not that they all believe in the same thing.

And so, the 4th circuit is absolutely right to overturn Great Falls, and the town is absolutely wrong to continue to appeal. But, seeing social strength in outward consensus just like Constantine did, and defining themselves around the God rather than a God, they will continue to appeal, they will continue to lose, and the scare mongers on the religious right will probably moan about religion being forced out of the public square.

Religion still defines the borders of a state, that is part of what the conflict with Al Quaeda and the islamofascists is all about. The difference is that we define our state around the dual notion that religion is a good thing, and religion need not be uniform, while they are pursuing their own version of Christendom (Islamdom?), with one sect imposing its version of religion on all of society just as the town fathers of Great Falls are trying to pressure Darla Wynne into either converting or moving out.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:22 AM | TrackBack

August 11, 2004

Oof Dah

Dear Advisor,

Attached is a complete draft of the beast, less introduction and conclusion which are not yet written.

Chapter 1 - 61 pages plus 4 pages of notes
Chapter 2 - 63 pages plus 8 pages of notes
Chapter 3 - 59 pages plus 15 pages of notes, 4 page appendix
Chapter 4 - 49 pages plus 12 pages of notes, 6 page appendix

The first two chapters still need to be thickened and notes added.

Have a good weekend. I am off to revise my syllabus.

Posted by Red Ted at 04:44 PM | TrackBack

August 05, 2004

Reading the whole thing

So, yesterday I printed out the entire monster and since then I have been reading and scribbling, working to make sure that the four chapters talk to one another.

Chapter one is thin, I know that and have plans for further research. But it does move along nicely.

Chapter two needs its notes fixed and needs a bigger discussion of Sabbatarians. But it moves along nicely.

Chapter three bogs down, and is also the most polished of all the chapters. It is also a very different piece than the others - explaining what benevolent organizations are while the other chapters make arguments about what laws and civil religion meant.

Chapter four put me to sleep. This is a bad sign.

And back to chapter four.

Posted by Red Ted at 02:16 PM | TrackBack

July 28, 2004

Federal Reserve on Civil Religion

I have been wrestling with the chapter on civil religion over the last few weeks, most recently on a section discussiong what happened when civil religion met the Jacksonian party system.

I was thus amused to see that the St. Louis Federal Reserve has a short article on civil religion and prosperity. They focus their analysis on fear of hell, on eternal punishments and not on eternal rewards, but that does seem to be a reasonable proxy for their test. They find a high correlation between low corruption and high prosperity, a moderate correlation (correlation coefficient .34) between fear of hell and low corruption.

One of the problems that Americans wrestled with during the early nineteenth century was how to balance individual religious freedom - something that everyone praised - with the social consequences of religious belief. Antebellum Americans, as Tocqueville pointed out, felt more comfortable when surrounded by people who feared that their actions on this world would be judged after death.

The section I am having trouble framing discusses the interaction between political parties, civil religion, and politicized religion, something that appears in national politics today in a way unlike the abstract correlations of the Federal Reserve article or, for that matter, of Tocqueville's analysis. The problem comes in the details - the point of my dissertation. Everyone agreed that a more religious society would be a better society; they differed on how best to achieve that religious society. More, one person's attempt to build a common Christianity that all could agree on was another's sectarian imposition.

So, how do I want to tie the Anti-masonic movement of the 1820s, Clay and Jackson in the 1830s, Frelinghuysen and Catholics in the 1840s, and frame it all in a few powerful pages?

And back to work.

Posted by Red Ted at 04:12 PM | TrackBack

July 14, 2004

Civil Religion and Oaths

I have not gotten much work done this week. I blame poor sleep and rainy weather, but it is getting frustrating. Part of the slow pace is because I am wrestling with something that I am not quite sure what it is doing in the current draft. I am very unlike, say, Heather Corinna who has been cranking out 20 to 50 pages a day for months (you GO girl!).

Basically, the section discusses civil religion in the context of social control - people are less likely to do wrong in situations where they have sworn not to do that wrong. In other words, oaths of office or oaths to tell the truth in a court of law are enforced by two means, one secular and the other eternal. In this world, we can require officials to post bonds for the performance of their office, or prosecute them for misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance, or impeach them from office. In this world we can prosecute someone for felony perjury for telling a lie under oath. But, say the folks who like civil religion, those penalties are not sufficient. People will only do the right thing and tell the truth if they believe that there will be eternal consequences for their actions here on earth, and if they swear a specific oath reminding themselves of what those consequences are.

I want to use oaths of office and oaths in court as a tie between the religious settlement - religion in the form of laws and constitutions - and civil religion as practiced every day. I am just having trouble phrasing the connection.

My common fault when I am not quite sure what to say is to say something that is almost right, then say something else almost right, and again, and again - like firing a birdshot at a hard target in the hope of getting at least one pellet where it needs to go.

And, of course, I have been sleeping poorly so I am having trouble parsing my stuff to figure out what I need to say, what is bloated verbiage, and what is a nice idea but not needed for the argument.

And back to work. With any luck this little think piece will get me over this stupid block. Otherwise, I cut the entire four page section and keep going without it.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:38 AM | TrackBack

July 13, 2004

Buddy can you spare a name?

Eugene Volokh points out an incredibly bad Missoury State Supreme Court Decision. Comic book artist Todd McFarlane used the name Tony Twist for a villain in his Spawn comic books. Tony Twist is also a semi-famous hockey player - I had never heard of him before, but it appears that the comic book character's name was copied from the real person. The hockey player sued and won.

Volokh wrote a very good amicus curae brief that, I was amused to note, made extensive use of Robert A. Heinlein, both as an author who used real people's names for fictional characters and as a real person who appears as a fictionalized character in other people's work (although, in the work cited, the Robert Anson character was supposed to be RAH while in the comic book case the artist is arguing that the villain was NOT supposed to be the hockey player.

My followup thought was more personal. I sometimes contemplate writing fiction, although I am a slow distractable writer and I have all I can handle with the monster. Still, I do expect to write it again someday. If this ruling holds, would I have to do due diligence on all my character names to make sure that they are not the same name as someone who could reasonably claim to be famous? We all have our 15 minutes of fame after all.

I hope it will be overturned, but considering the success that rent-seeking entities have had with copyright law lately, including the Sonny Bono steal-from-the-future-in-the-name-of-the-past Copyright Extension Bill, I worry.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 28, 2004

A chapter here, a chapter there

A chapter here, a chapter there, pretty soon you are talking about a lot of pages.

I ran the revised 5 chapter version past my advisor last week. He got back to me over the weekend, and after further review I am moving back to a four chapter organization.

I am not getting rid of the new chapter, instead I am folding a lot of the material from the previous chapter into it. If it had been 1,2,3,4 and then 1, 2a, 2b, 4, 5 where 2a looks liked the bulk of the previous 2 and 2b is the coda expanded, now I am looking at 1, 2b, 3, 4 where the concept for the second chapter is the concept for 2b, but much of the material will be drawn from 2a and revised to fit the organization and assumptions of 2b.

Was that completely obscure?

No wonder it takes me a long time to get anything done - I spend weeks writing, then tear it down and do it again, and again, and again ...

Posted by Red Ted at 02:19 AM | TrackBack

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

June 22, 2004

Dear Advisor

Dear Advisor

Attached are four chapters, some polished and some still with splinters, totalling about 180 pages.

I am off to work on the fifth of my five chapters. Have a nice weekend.

oh, and YAY ME.

p.s., if I can get this last chapter clean by Friday noon I get to go to the shore for the weekend, otherwise I get to spend the weekend finishing it and starting my introduction and conclusion.

Posted by Red Ted at 03:40 AM | TrackBack

June 21, 2004

Blivet 2b

Well, right now chapter 2b, the new chapter 3, is a blivet. (1)

I need to go back through and check for consistency in my argument -- did I say one thing on page 12 and the opposite on page 24? I also have to make sure that I sourced things properly, and expand the footnotes, and see if I can thicken the evidence, and all those other wonderful things that separate a draft from something you can show around.

Still, it is 40 pages all in a row - even if it is still a blivet. (It also stole a few pages from the overly long chapter right after it and the overly busy chapter right before it. Which should help both of them.)

Blivet - 10 pounds of shit in a 40 page draft 5 pound bag.

Posted by Red Ted at 06:31 AM | TrackBack

June 14, 2004

Civil Religion

Well, after being not very productive the tail end of last week, and then spending the weekend doing everything but writing, I get to buckle back down to the new chapter 2b.

I am writing about civil religion and the tensions between civil religion and freedom of conscience. Today I get to write up blasphemy cases, reading through NY. State v. Ruggles and Updegraph v Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to figure out exactly what Chancellor Kent and friends meant when they claimed that Christianity is part of the Common Law.

What this means is that I have spent the last week or so thinking about common law and relationg common law to legal formalism to daily experience. I am glad that I am not a lawyer.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:05 AM | TrackBack

June 09, 2004

Eep Eep, a new chapter!

Well, it is official.

Chapter two has now calved.

J wants me to call them 2a and 2b so that she can keep track of what I am working on. I am leaning towards simply renumbering the whole thing. Of course, I name my chapter files by the core point of the chapter and then the year and month that I worked on that particular draft: so right now I am making my first pass through the new chapter 2b and it is stored in file Civil200406. I think of them as Civil, Ally, Orgs, and so on and only use the numbers when talking to other people.

And back to bashing my way through natural law, common law, and the law of nations.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:31 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 04, 2004

Another draft down

Well, the current pass through chapter four just ended. YAY.

I still have three separate conclusions fighting for control of the end of the draft, but I will fix that in a couple of weeks when I come back to it. For now, the words are down on paper. Now I get to walk away so that I can read them critically when I go to review them.

And so to print out chapters two and three for their next polish. It never ends.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Where is that confounded bridge?

I am a fast reader with good retention. This is normally a good thing.

It is a bad thing at times, however, because it means that I never developed good study habits in high school or even as an undergraduate. I struggled my first few years in grad school because I did not know how to take reading notes. Heck, I still don't take very good reading notes.

That lack of note-taking has bitten me in the butt in the past, it is getting me again this week. Sometime in the mid to late 1990s I read several items that suggested that low-church evangelicals competed with educated ministers coming out of the Congregational/Presbyterian/Episcopal tradition by arguing about who was best equipped to combat "infidelity" - Painite freethinkers. The educated men argued that they had the background to refute appeals to the Bible; they had the languages to talk about source texts; they could confound any appeals to authority. The low-church folks argued that they spoke the vernacular; they could respond to a quick critical attack on revelation with a quick response in the same idiom; they were common folks and could talk to common folks in language that would be easily understood.

I hit that basic premise several times, enough times that I thought it was common knowledge that did not require footnoting or careful records. And, of course, it is not common knowledge -- far from it. Most of the historiography on the low-church guys focuses on their appeal to Democratic values and individual conscience, or on the theological controversies that dominated the American religious scene from the 1790s through the 1830s.

And so, after a couple of days of checking my notes, my photocopies, and my personal library, I had to write the embarrassing footnote that says, in effect, "I know I read this but I don't know where."

Posted by Red Ted at 09:44 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 02, 2004

Sleep and anti-Catholicism

I did not sleep well last night. I got it from both ends.

I was tired around 10:00, but not sleepy. Then, a little later, I got the pre-palpitation feeling that means that I will have trouble getting my heart steady enough to sleep. Perhaps I could have fallen asleep, perhaps not. Instead of trying I let myself rattle until almost 2:00am. I then woke at 4:00 to pee, flushed, and this disturbed the toddler.

The toddler was up and down from 4:30 onward. Luckily J's alarm is at 5:30am and she took him for half an hour letting me get some more nap.

Needless to say, I am a bit out of it today - and we are going out tonight so I will have to be coherent to sit through a festival of choirs. I do think I get a nap.

Meanwhile, I am struggling to sharpen my discussion of anti-Catholicism in the 1830s and 1840s. I set things up with Lyman Beecher, who accuses the entire RC church of engaging in the sort of political dictation that four bishops did to selected Democratic politicians last week. I then move on to discuss Bishop Hughes and Protestant-Catholic spats in the 1840s.

My problem comes because while LB was one of the guys who kicked off the 1830s and 1840s wave of anti-Catholicism, he did so while using mainstream rhetoric. In contrast, James Breckenridge argued that the RC church was always and everywhere destructive of civil liberty, Mariah Monk was making up sex scandals about a Montreal convent, and the hard-core anti-Catholics were quoting Revelations and applying it to Rome.

So, is Beecher a hard-core anti-Catholic or is there a meaningful difference between the folks who say nasty things in nice language and the folks who say nasty things in nasty language? I recall that the Civil Rights movement decided that while there was little moral difference between the folks who used hate speech to terrorize "niggers" and the folks who used patronizing speech to devalue "nigrahs", the latter could be embarrassed into changing their public positions and therefore there was a meaningful tactical difference that the movement could exploit.

In any case, I think I can turn the two paragraphs on Bibles in the schools into two sentences. And that might help me make my point forcefully enough.

It is hard to write with a head full of moss.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:38 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 26, 2004

James Joyce

This is an anecdote on page 151 of Stephen King, On Writing. I found it both funny and painfully true.

If "read a lot, write a lot" is the Great Commandment -- and I assure you that it is -- how much writing constitutes a lot? That varies, of course, from writer to writer. One of my favorite stories on the subject -- probably more myth than truth -- concerns James Joyce. According to the story, a friend came to visit him one day and found the great man spawled across his writing desk in a posture of utter despair.

"James, what's wrong?" the friend asked. "Is it the work?"

Joyce indicated assent without even raising his head to look at the friend. Of course it was the work; isn't it always?

"How many words did you get today?" the friend pursued.

Joyce (still in despair, still sprawled facedown on his desk): "Seven."

"Seven? But James . . . that's good, at least for you!"

"Yes." Joyce said, finally looking up. "I suppose it is . . . but I don't know what order they go in!"

Posted by Red Ted at 10:07 AM | TrackBack

Bloom and King

I took a study break this afternoon and read the writing chapters of Stephen King's On Writing - I did not even look at the biographical chapters.

Much of what he said, I already knew but it is still good to hear again: write at the same time every day, write a lot and don't worry about quality until after you get it down, read a lot in order to write well. Other things were new to me, including the very sensible formula that 2nd draft = 1st draft -10%. I, like King, add words when revising. I need to remember to take word counts. Of course, I am also struggling with structure and evidence far more than a fiction writer has to, and this means I have gone through many more drafts than the 2 drafts plus proofreading that he recommends.

My current audiobook is Harold Bloom's How to Read Well. So far I am just into the first chapter; I disagree with almost everything he says; and I have learned a lot from it already. This is the sort of work that makes me discover things by inspiring me to shout "wrong, wrong, all WRONG" at the speaker, and then articulate what exactly is so very wrong.

What is bugging me is that Bloom assumes that one reads alone and that one reads in order to learn oneself better. It is a somewhat solipsic view of the practice, and he takes potshots along the way at the crude historicists who "assume that everything we do is predetermined by our surroundings."

What I have discovered from these few minutes of Bloom is that I do not read to discover myself, or at least not in the functionalist enlightenment way that he recommends. Instead I read so that I may talk about what it is that I have read. Knowledge, all knowledge, is social. The fun of a book is not simply in turning the pages and examining the words but in chewing on them and doing things with them - and the biggest thing we do with those words is to hash them out with other people. You can do this explicitly in a college classroom or a reading group or even a literary blog, or you can do it implicitly the next time that something you say or think or do is influenced by something that you read. But, for me, at the end of the day a book is social, not solitary. Or, more precisely, reading is a solitary pleasure with social consequences.

I will continue listening to Bloom - he crafts some fine sentences and he makes me mad enough to think. Expect to hear more rants about him over the next few weeks.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:58 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 25, 2004

Darnton Moment?

I have been revising chapter four for the last few days, thus the light blogging. Yesterday was spent in the library, and while reading or skimming through some 13 books and a few journal articles I came up with some useful thoughts. I will sketch them out here, then go grab a yellow pad, a pen, and the printout of the previous version of this chapter and start scribbling.

There is a moment in the early 1840s when things change. I know it, other historians know it. We are not sure how to explain that change. This is not technically a Darnton moment - that would be when a historian digs through the archives and finds something that the people of the time found powerful and compelling and that the historian simply does not understand, I take the term from Darnton's essay "The Great Cat Massacre" in his book of the same title.

While not quite a Darnton moment, it does share with his example the fact that I know there is something important going on and I am not quite sure how to explain it.

Details below the fold

I am writing about religious groups in the nineteenth century. I argue - correctly - that things changed in the 1840s. I am struggling with how best to characterise that change. I know that the World Evangelical Alliance is important. I know that the 1845 schisms over slavery in the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Baptist Triennial Convention are important. I know that the 1844-6 argument in the Presbyterian church about whether to rebaptise converts to Presbyterianism from Catholicism is important. I know that the influx of Catholic immigrants, and the militancy of John Hughes of New York City are important. And, I know that the Oxford movement, Horace Bushnell's Christian Nurture, geology, Mormonism, Unitarians, Universalists, Spiritualists, and Millerites are also important. Finally, I know that the debate over Temperance shared characteristics with the debates over slavery, Hopkinsian theology, and the Evangelical Alliance.

It was a time of flux.

I am not quite sure how to characterize and explain that flux. I thought about using categorization theory, wrote that up, and discarded it. I thought about focusing on ultra-ism, wrote that up, and discarded it. I thought about focusing on Catholics, or slavery, or the Mexican War, and discarded those. All were incomplete; all were instances where the historian was forcing a theory or structure onto events of the past, fitting some and distorting others.

So, having whined about it here, I think I get to take my coffee and my yellow pad and go sit on the porch and mull.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:35 AM | TrackBack

May 19, 2004

Declare Victory and Go Home

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is declare victory and go home.

What do I mean?

I have spent the last three days struggling with three, and finding myself coming up with all sorts of procrastinations while I refuse to write in it. I finally bashed out something that will almost hold together, but it needs more editing.

I did not want to do that editing.

So, I put it to one side, declared victory and went home. I will do an edit pass through chapter four then come back and revise two, three, and four in a single bold pass.

I also dropped an email to my advisor asking his opinion on the extra library research and the tables full of number crunching.

So, on to chapter four. Looks like I get to finally do a library run to dig up some history of the YMCA, and I also get to once again dig into the Temperance movement and the "two wine" theory of alcohol in the Bible. More on that later, in its own post.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:15 AM | TrackBack

May 18, 2004

To dig or not to dig?

To dig or not to dig, that is the question.

Not in the garden - I dug in the garden after dinner and planted my new Amber Queen rose.

To dig in the library and then revise the end of chapter three, that is the question. Let me explain.

The end of chapter three involves some number crunching. I am arguing that changes in benevolent organizations and the 1837-38 schism in the Presbyterian Church discredited the notion of a common Christianity. I suggest that many people pulled away from interdenominational benevolent organizations and turned to denominational publishing and missionary societies. This is not news, heck people in the 1860s were writing about the change.

But, I do have some nice time series for the major interdenominational benevolent organizations, and I did some simple number crunching - deflating with a couple of different deflaters, checking the per-capita figures, dividing by GDP to get a footprint index - and then tied that number crunching to my argument about changes in the 1830s.

The number crunching would be a lot more persuasive if I had data for all those various denominational societies. That data was published in various annual reports. But, collecting it means a lot of library time. I think I can get most of what I need in Princeton Theological Seminary, St. Charles Boromeo Theological Seminary, the Presbyterian Historical Society, the Baptist Historical Society, and Princeton University Library, all of which are within a couple of hours of me. For some of it I might have to go to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA, or to the Southern Baptist Historical Society down at Baylor, or to the Methodist Historical Society at Wake Forest (I think - I have their location in my notes.) It will be a LOT of work even without doing long-distance travel.

I need to look at those numbers for the final book, but I hope to duck out of the research for the dissertation.

I will re-read that section of chapter three tomorrow and then decide.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:59 AM | TrackBack

May 14, 2004

Sore legs and sore head

My quads are sore today, perhaps because I went running yesterday. I will run again tomorrow, if I can manage it around participating in the community flower planting day. If not, then Sunday will be good enough - right now the challenge is to keep my knees healthy, not to build up wind and muscle fitness, so I don't have to run every day or even every other day.

My head is also sore. I am wrestling with a tricky problem in chapter three. I will go below the fold to write up what it is that I think I want to argue - I find it incredibly helpful to use the blog to explain the points I am trying to make in my work prose.

The basic problem that I have is that I see two clearly defined trends in the early nineteenth century; I want to argue that they are connected; and I am having trouble connecting them.

Both trends involve a movement away from strict religious doctrines and towards feel-good religion. This is not a new trend for me to notice. Goofs like Laurence Moore wrote about it. Ann Dougless also wrote a very smart book based on not enough evidence and made a similar argument (she looked at Unitarians and then wrote about all Protestants, so the book itself is not so useful).

The first trend is revivals. As American religion went to a revival pattern and as revivalists engaged in a remarkable churching of the American people, they used techniques of steam religion and social pressure to teach a simpler, more positive, and more optimistic faith. Basically, they told people that their salvation or damnation was not eternally decreed before time began and it was not dependent on a lifetime of faith and works; instead a person was told that they had to make an immediate decision for heaven or hell, that this decision would matter, and that their eternal fate hung in the balance and would be decided RIGHT NOW. It was a very effective way to induce emotional conversions. It also emphasized the human ability to choose God over God's power in overcoming sin. Some folks liked this and did it, a few disliked it and opposed it, and from that tension the Presbyterian church schismed. This is not new stuff.

The second trend is providential and is new. I argue, based on my reading of the primary sources, that in the early 19th century most Americans rejected the old Providential covenant which had promised that the nation would prosper if it heeded God's will and would be punished if it fell from God's path. Instead they accepted only the positive half of that deal - the nation would prosper because God had blessed it. The first half, the negative half, involved identifying and rectifying national sins, and that meant pointing fingers and engaging in a blame game, one that divided religious groups from one another. So they dropped that -- think about the reception that Falwell and Robertson got when they blamed 9/11 on American sexual practices.

The notion of providential blessings continued - that is after all the desire in the ritual exclamation "God bless the United States of America" which appears in some public rituals and almost every State of the Union Address. But, what happened in the early 19th century, was that the blessing came to be undeserved or barely deserved.

So, how do I connect the decline in negative providence with the increase in steam religion? That is what I am wrestling with at the moment. My current thought is that both notions downplay both the power of sin and God's transcendent role in the universe. If a person can choose God over sin, then free will is effectively greater than original sin, and while theologians may insist that it was only Christ's atonement that gave free will that power, still at the end of the day Arminian soteriology encourages people to emphasize their decisions and to downplay God's power.

Similarly, the decline in Providence involved a sort of wishing-away of national sin. If God will bless or punish according to a nation's actions, and he is always invoked as blessing the future, then clearly the nation is relatively sinless. Humans may be asked to choose future courses that will meet with Divine favor, but no matter what we choose we are told that there will be a carrot at the end of the road, and that the stick has been misplaced and will never be applied.

My writing challenge is thus to add these discussions of sin and human ability to the text, to square the fact that the folks who embrace post-Calvinist versions of revival theology are also folks who insist that the nation must pursue certain courses in order to maintain Providential favor, and then create a crescendo in Providential discourse that will coincide with the schisms in the Presbyterian Church and the American Bible Society in 1835-7. That last is the sticking point, although the crash of 1837 might give me the window that I need.

And back to writing - this think piece helped.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:01 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 06, 2004

Commentaries on the Constitution

I am constantly amazed at the primary documents that various groups and volunteers put onto the web - it saves me a surprising amount of time on library runs. Today's discovery is Joseph Story's 1833 Commentaries on the United States Constitution - a three-volume work that he wrote in his spare time between being Supreme Court Justice and teaching Law School.

It was the standard American reference on Constitutional law for the rest of the 19th century.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:26 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 05, 2004

Two to bed

Well, the revision of chapter two just went back into storage to fallow.

I had planned to spend two weeks doing rough construction on the chapter. It took me a month, both because I got distracted with car shopping and grading papers and because I did more than just rough construction of the new argument.

The chapter is now at a state where I can't see what is wrong with it - so I will put it aside while I work on something else and then see what I actually said after I forget what it was I was intending to say. I hope that makes sense - it is very easy to write words that you think make a clear point when really all they do is remind you of the somewhat fuzzy point you were thinking of when you wrote them. It is a regular failing among undergraduates, and it is a writing fault that I remain prone to. So, I fix it by putting things aside and then looking at them after they have grown cold or at least a bit chilly.

The exams are ready - will proof them tomorrow but for now I get to grade the last homework and come up with preliminary discussion grades before Friday's final. Teaching really is a time sink, but it is also fun.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:53 AM | TrackBack

April 30, 2004

Framing a Chapter

People, family members mostly, ask me why the dissertation is taking me so long. I explain that I have trouble framing my arguments, and they don't quite understand what I mean by that.

I am in the middle of revising chapter two yet again, let me review some of the ways I have tried to structure this story.

The chapter was always going to be about how American notions of religion and the state changed between the Revolution and Constitution that is the subject of chapter one and the rise of the national benevolent societies that are the subject of chapter three. It is a transition chapter talking about life after the Revolution.

I forget how I first tried to handle this. The bit I remember is that I decided to frame the chapter in terms of Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin. The three guys were together at the Declaration, they were together in France in 1786, and while Franklin went home and helped with the Constitution, Jefferson and Adams watched the early days of the French Revolution from Paris and London respectively before coming home and taking up major positions under the new Constitution. More, the conflict of the 1790s featured a religious war between the Trinitarian supporters of Unitarian Jefferson and the Trinitarian supporters of Unitarian Adams, both of whom were explained by their supporters in terms of their civil religion.

More, I was thinking at the time that the book that would grow out of this dissertation would be something that undergraduates could read to get a handle on the transition between the late colonial era and the late antebellum era, the long version of the Early American Republic. So, I explained the French Revolution and its relationship to American politics. This was in part a think piece helping me figure out these events, but it was also an attempt to meld political history with sweeping intellectual history.

The experiment failed - I bogged down in the politics and did not dig enough into the ideas.

So, I cut out the details and wrote it again framing it solely in terms of Jefferson. That worked so so, but it still did not cohere well. Jefferson was strong in the beginning and reviled in the end, but somewhat missing in much of the middle section. I had a long discussion of Burke and Paine, a good discussion of Jedediah Morse and the Illuminatti hooplah, and an extremely awkward reading of Joseph Story and the Girard Will case of 1844.

The current attempt at the chapter is focusing more on Joseph Story - thus the recent reading in JS. I am going to be looking at the conflict between two Republicans, Jefferson and Story, both of whom were Unitarians but who held completly different understandings of American Civil Religion.

I will work out the basic tenets of civil religion and then show how the two men tried to handle the contradictory aspects of those tenets - everyone believes that religion is a matter of reason and conviction and that beliefs can not be adjusted in response to force and violence (paraphrasing Mason and Madison), but many people also believe that because there is a relationship between religious beliefs and future actions, that people and society have a meaninful interest in the private religious beliefs of other people and especially of magistrates.

So, I am now coming up with the third or fourth, depending on how you count, different major swing at the same material. Each is better than the previous - more clearly written, more thickly sourced, more coherently argued. But, each takes a great deal of time.

My only hope is that the final dissertation will be solid enough that it will not take TOO long to turn it into a book. But I know that the book process will also take FOREVER.

And back to work, revised 20 pages today.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:20 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 20, 2004

The Return of Three

While I was grading papers my advisor was going over the latest chapter three. His conclusion: better but not yet good enough. I need to sharpen my prose; I need to mention the depression of 1837-1842; I need to make clearer tables with better explanations; I need to discuss the depression of 1837-1842 in my section on the finances of benevolent organizations; and I need to trim 10 pages.

All in all, a good review in that nothing there requires major changes and in that I had slapped the tables together to see if they made any sense. It should be a fairly straightforward set of revisions.

I still intend to do some rough carpentry on two, then decide if I should polish three or four next. I have fallen behind a little - I try to have something new to give my advisor just as quickly as he gets things back to me.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:48 AM | TrackBack

April 07, 2004

Hurrah for Four

I sent chapter three off to my advisor on Sunday. As I was writing that email I got chapter four back from him.

The good news: the chapter is finally coherent enough that he can figure out and discuss the argument. The not as good news, he misread the argument which means that I need to make some of my transition points clearer, and he disagrees with my choice of ending position. His suggestion is stronger, but will require more research on something that I have not found a lot of useful stuff on. So, there is a research trip in my future - does the YMCA even have a historical society?

Still, it is nice to be crawling towards completion. Next up is some rough carpentry on chapter two, then to revise four again. But first I have to finish prepping class for this afternoon and then grade a stack of papers and homework.

Posted by Red Ted at 07:03 AM | TrackBack

April 03, 2004

Incipient Oof Dah

Chapter three looks pretty good. I rewrote the introduction, tacked several pages of tables and commentary onto the conclusion, revised my transitions, played up a sub theme, and more carefully defined civil religion.

I will give it a once-more-over tomorrow then send it out.

Chapter two is next, and it is a bit of a mess. It is also badly written and structured as a story and a caboose. I might take the caboose and combine it with other material on civil religion to make a short stand-alone chapter. In fact, that is a very good idea.

I hate good ideas, they always mean more work.

Posted by Red Ted at 04:16 AM | TrackBack

April 02, 2004

Revising Three

I am reading over my revised chapter three to see just how badly I confuse the reader and just how clearly I make my arguments about civil religion.

Along the way I need to decide how specifically to engage with the Roy Moore's of the world. Moore, if you remember, is the Alabama justice who put a shrine to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state courthouse and justified his action by arguing that American law is founded on Christianity.

The interesting thing to me is that Moore used broad almost deist language in making his claims - any religion is Christian religion - and that he combined this broad language and a collection of secular quotes about religion and the law with a text for the Ten Commandments that used the King James translation. He argued that Christianity in General was bound into our legal traditions, and he then exemplified this general Christianity with a sectarian idol.

I argue in chapter three that benevolent organizations - the American Bible Society and so on - were tangible exponents of Justice Joseph Story's argument that Americans shared a common Christianity in general. And, of course, these benevolent organizations were unable to wish sectarian differences away. Even the Bible Society split after Baptists complained about the translation of the Greek word Baptism in Bibles being created for use in India and Burma. If you can't agree on the Bible, you can't agree on doctrine.

And so to read myself as critically as I can.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:20 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 30, 2004

Precis and Argument

I am once again revisiting chapter three.

My second reader wanted me to more clearly articulate the chronological changes and my argument about benevolent organizations, denominations, and common Christianity.

I went through once and revised my transitions to better foreshadow what would come and to play up the notion that common Christianity inspires people to differentiate themselves from the mainstream, and that through cooperation and competitive emulation the broad sphere of Christian action expanded.

Now I think I get to sit down with a yellow pad and sketch out the bare bones of what I think I am arguing, then compare that bare bones to the blocks of text, then write a brief precis.

As I go through this exercise I see what the second reader means, despite all my work I do still have problems with the chronology and organization of this chapter.

And so it goes.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:32 AM | TrackBack

March 18, 2004

Incipient Oof Dah

Last night around 11:00 I finished the penultimate edit pass on this version of chapter four. Over the weekend I will do some footnote checking and revise a couple of paragraphs, then I will give it a once-over for clarity and coherence and send it out.

I am behind, but at least I am working again.

And so to revise the argument of chapter three - there is some promising material in there if I can form it into an argument.

I write slowly, too slowly. I rewrite my work: far too often I have to throw out hundreds of hours of effort and start over. But, in the end, some of the final product is pretty good.

Or so I keep telling myself.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:49 AM | TrackBack

March 17, 2004

Laying Seige

My advisor comments from time to time that my writing is ponderous for I lay seige to every point or paragraph, building entrenchments, advancing revetments, and eventually encircling my point and pounding it into submission.

I do tend to get distracted by proving my minor points, perhaps a reaction to my tendency as an undergraduate to make provocative asides in footnotes even if they distracted the reader from my real argument.

I was reminded of this as I worked on chapter four this morning, for while much of it is pretty good my conclusion is still ponderous and repetitive. Conclusions are hard.

I try not to lay seige to my points, and sometimes I succeed, but ever and again I get bogged down defending an assertion.

This just in: writing is hard.

And so to check some footnotes.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:01 PM | TrackBack

March 03, 2004

Hark, what pen through yonder day doth break?

Well, I returned all the student papers and exams and homework tonight.

For the next four days all I have to do is write (and prep class, and take my share of baby time.)

I have not written in almost 3 weeks - it will be nice to do it again.

I wonder what I was working on?

ps, pardon the fractured Shakespeare

Posted by Red Ted at 08:23 AM | TrackBack

January 29, 2004

Rhetorical Whiplash

Right now I am suffering from rhetorical whiplash. It has been a reading day and I have read about 200 pages of 1834 legal briefs from the Abner Kneeland blasphemy case, about 150 pages of a crappy Star Wars novel, and both volumes of Tom Paine's Rights of Man so that I could write a more coherent answer to a student question. I also listened to about an hour of Tolkein Fellowship of the Ring on audiobook - thus the Tom Bombadil post below.

They are four completely different ways of using language, five if you count the very different rhetorical styles of the two lawyers I waded through. My head spins.

For the first two, Abner Kneeland was tried for blasphemy in Boston in 1834 for printing a cheap newspaper that challenged Christian verities, including the standard atheist mocking of the virgin birth and a forthright declaration of Kneeland's own disbelief in God: "The Universalists believe in a God, which I do not."

In his defense, Andrew Dunlap writes:

But if the defendant, who does not profess a belief in Christianity, is to be condemned, what shall be said of those, who, professing a belief in Christianity, have employed much coarser language when attacking the beliefs of their fellow christians? If all the violations of the laws of decency and propriety of manner in religious controversies, are to be punished, your Courts must be multiplied, and their whole time will be occupied with corrections of the virulence of religious quarrels, to the entire exclusion of all other business. I hold in my hand a volume ... This work though undoubtedly written, by a divine of unsullied reputation, is nevertheless composed with such a particularity of description, that I should at this day, offend the modesty of any audience, by reading the passage referred to. ..."
Over and above the substance of his argument, notice the form - Dunlap has a comma marking every pause in his delivery. He produces long, multi-point sentences, all building to a complex conclusion. I chose not to include any of his digressions or commentary. Let me just say that Dunlap spoke for three days while defending Kneeland from a 60-day jail sentence, and that this is one of his clearer and less referenced paragraphs.

In reply, the prosecutor, S.D. Parker, used a more cadenced prose, and a more accusatory tone.

It is not my intention to follow the gentleman into those fields of fancy and declamation where he so gracefully sported to the admiration of all those who heard him. Were it in my power to show a tenth part of the learning he has so profusely spread before you, or to rival the thunder and lightning of his oratory, I would not be tempted on this occasion, (especially when you, gentlemen, already are so much exhausted by following him,) to display the flowers or fruits of my reading, nor the extent and brilliance of my talents. We are not here for personal contest or exhibition. I am engaged in a business far too grave and important in my own estimate, to allow the amusing myself or others with rhetorical flourishes, historical narrations, declamatory harangues, splendid eulogiums, or lofty flights of the imagination. I am here to place before you, as men, as husbands, as fathers, as christians, and as Jurors, a most serious and shocking charge against that aged man now here to answer for it to the offended law. I am here in the name of all the Christian people of this Commonwealth to place before you the laws of this land, and the proofs of his guilt, and to require of you a solemn, sincere, just and true Verdict, whether upon that law and that evidence he be guilty of the foul offence charged upon him or not guilty thereof. It is a solemn hour to him, it is a solemn hour to us all who are engaged in the serious and highly important business of this investigation and trial. If he be acquitted upon this law and evidence, it may also prove a fatal hour to thousands of human beings, young and old, male and female, married and single, rich and poor. If such obscene and scandalous attacks upon religion, being proved, are to escape unpunished, the acquittal under such circumstances will be construed into an unlimited licence to repeat and multiply such impious and disgusting publications; and the innocence and virtue, the faith and happiness of countless multitudes of human beings may be sacrificed without check or limit at the altars of folly, infidelity and crime.
That particular paragraph goes on for another page and a half. The good news about wading through this stuff is that if you slow down to a subvocalized pace, where you can read the words out loud to yourself, then the superfluity of clauses and examples becomes rhythmical, almost hypnotic. Despite his disclaimers Parker is just as rhetorical as Dunlap, but his rhetoric is an aggregation of paired adjectives, often with no direct relevance to the point of his sentence but attempting to add weight and social pressure to his call for conformity in published materials.

After 4 hung juries - the jury in the first trial hung within 10 minutes with 11 wanting to convict and one refusing to do so - Kneeland was finally convicted and served his time. This was the last blasphemy prosecution in the U.S. Looking back on the day, what hit me was the style of the rhetoric. Especially because over lunch for relaxation I was reading a Star Wars by the Numbers novel. None of the dialogue was particularly awful, but none of it was any good either. "They were just the usual feckless types that the Bounty Hunter's Guild sends out. Its easier to walk around a pile of nerf dung than step right into it." Lets just say that I took an hour for lunch and digestion, and got through 200 pages of this while half-drowsing.

We ran some errands around dinner time, and I listened to about a tape of FOTR. I don't have a hardcopy handy, but we are all familiar with Tolkein's prose. This was the tail end of the barrow wights up through the singing song in Bree. Tom Bombadil was talking in rhyme, Frodo found unexpected courage while facing barrow wights, and they had their misadventure in the Prancing Pony in Bree with Frodo singing a song and falling off the table. Rhyming prose, thick description, careful depictions of the way that light touches the land, and all of it produced through repeated editing and polishing. LOTR is a heck of a lot of words, written in Tolkein's spare time, but he had enough time to polish and revise greatly - unlike everything else I read today - and that polish shows.

Then, after dinner, I read book 1 of Paine Rights of Man and skimmed book two. There we had a fourth completely different form of rhetoric. Paine is a bucket of cold water to the face. From book 1, chapter 1:

I am not contending for nor against any form of government, nor for nor against any party here or elsewhere. That which a whole nation chooses to do, it has a right to do. Mr. Burke says, No. Where then does the right exist? I am contending for the rights of the living, and against their being willed away, and controlled and contracted for, by the manuscript assumed authority of the dead; and Mr. Burke is contending for the authority of the dead over the rights and freedom of the living. There was a time when kings disposed of their crowns by will upon their death-beds, and consigned the people, like beasts of the field, to whatever successor they appointed. This is now so exploded as scarcely to be remembered, and so monstrous as hardly to be believed. But the parliamentary clauses upon which Mr. Burke builds his political church, are of the same nature.
Paine, like everything else but the junk novel, was written to be read aloud. But Paine's reader is not a lawyer in a courtroom or an academic reading to his friend in the garden; it is a shop worker reading to his fellows while the labor at their trades, or it is a store of metaphors and images to be used by a street-corner orator or tavern radical. Paine is preaching subversion and rebellion, while both the lawyers I read earlier that day were trying to cry down Paine's legacy while still staying true to their own ideals of state and society. Tolkein, together with his deep compassion and essential humanism, also celebrated an organic society unlike Paine's cry for an eternal present.

So I have an American Jacksonian and a Whig arguing about whether a lecturing atheist is a threat to the republic, a hack science fiction novel, a medievalist writing fairy tales and rhymes, and an itenerant radical trying to overthrow the standing order. No wonder my head is spinning.

This was long, but it may have helped me get a handle on some of my work reading.

Oh, and for the record, it was not a very productive day. I should have finished the book of briefs instead of bogging down after 200 pages.
EDIT - punctuation, and I am sure I missed some.

Posted by Red Ted at 11:35 AM | TrackBack

January 23, 2004

Citizen Genet

I am wrestling with how best to tell the tale of Edmond Charles Genet, the young Frenchman who came to America in the spring of 1793 to try to bring the United States into revolutionary France's war with Britain and Austria. My earlier draft went into great detail about Genet; I find him fascinating. Within six months he went from the hero of two nations, cheered in both, active in both, to being a pariah in both. You have to work to get both George Washington and Maximillian Robespierre to declare you persona non grata, but Genet managed.

I need to check to see if there is a recent biography of him. There must be. If there is not, perhaps I will write one. ... hmm, I see four books written between 1928 and 1946, mostly focusing on his diplomatic mission, a monograph on the Genet mission from 1976, several masters essays, and a 1969 microfilm edition of his papers. Genet's life beteen 1793 and his death in 1834 goes on my list of possible future projects.

Here is the section I am cutting out of the current chapter. The prose is adequate, though a bit rhetorical and a bit purplish.

The French Revolution arrived in the United States in April of 1793 in the form of a young well-spoken man. Edmond Charles Genet, known by his revolutionary salutation as Citizen Genet, was the representative of that French republic that had been created after the king was deposed. The winds were a potent omen of Genet's future, blowing him off course on his initial journey so that he landed in South Carolina rather than his intended destination of Philadelphia. He set foot in Charleston on April 8th, about two weeks after the United States learned of the French regicide. Genet was friendly with the Gironde and shared their romantic expansionism and their belief in an international revolution that would free people everywhere to partake in their innate rights. He hoped to bring the United States into an alliance with its sister republic, and he did his best to bring the United States into the existing war. After landing in Charleston Genet tarried for a few days, issuing letters of marque and reprisal to four privateers which would be manned by American sailors and arranging with the French consul in Charleston to set up a prize court. On April 18 Genet left for Philadelphia so that he could officially be received by the United States Government. Genet chose to travel by land, calculating that the enthusiastic reception he had received on the docks of Charleston might well be repeated along his journey. He calculated correctly, for every village and hamlet along the 28 day journey turned out to cheer the personification of the French Revolution. His trip was a grand progress and not a simple journey. When Genet arrived in Philadelphia on May 16, he was greeted with an even more enormous festival. The American Revolution had engaged in a few moments of dramatic public theater, but only in a few. The French Revolution had used political theater at every instant, from dramatic confrontations to formal set pieces. The king had his long tradition of pageantry and spectacle, and the French Revolutionaries countered with their own pageants, their own stylized gestures. Genet brought this theatricality, this sense of making grand gestures and of playing to the balconies, with him to Philadelphia.

Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton and the other American leaders were very familiar with the politics of personal presentation. Their accustomed venue was not a street full of cheering citizens but a drawing room or other circumscribed site. The American cabinet tried to decide what to do with this flamboyant and charismatic Frenchman. They had a good idea of his intentions, having quickly heard of the privateers and of his attempts to raise a force of American soldiers to spread the principles of the French Revolution to Louisiana, Florida, and Canada. They soon learned from Genet that he also wished the United States to liquidate its debt to France as quickly as possible and to enter into new treaties of commerce and amity. While the cabinet deliberated on Genet and worked out a policy towards the new French republic, Philadelphians competed with one another to fete the French Revolution and its ambassador. Genet used the politics of personality and the politics of theater to pressure the cabinet. The most visible and influential expression of this Revolutionary support was the network of Democratic-Republican clubs.

During the 1790s it appeared that other aspects of the French Revolution had followed Jefferson across the water, especially the political clubs that had done so much to radicalize French politics. The Philadelphia Democratic-Republican club was formed in May of 1793 as part of the American celebration of Citizen Genet and, through him, the French Revolution. The Democratic clubs were modeled in part after the Jacobin clubs, in part after the clubs for socializing and discussion that were already popular among men of the era. Democratic societies sprung up all across the nation to hear the news from France, and to discus the principles of the French and American Revolutions. They were largely debating clubs and celebratory societies, but they were debating and celebrating radical politics and radical republicanism. Similar Jacobin clubs and corresponding societies had appeared in England, Belgium and most of Europe in 1792 and 1793, and the American clubs appeared to be similarly radical. They were formed amid widespread approval of the French Revolution. Despite the hesitations caused by the regicide and the September massacres, many Americans in 1793 still addressed one another as citizen and some even wore the red Phrygian caps that symbolized sans-cullote radicalism. Support for the French Revolution was not limited to future radicals: Reverend Jedediah Morse of Charlestown, Massachusetts, preached several sermons praising the revolution as a continuation of the American revolution. Later, in 1798, Morse would lead the crusade against the French Revolution and against enlightenment ideals. In 1793, however, radicals and conservatives alike saw France catching contagious liberty from the United States, and Americans praised themselves for their good example. It appeared that the American Revolution had shown a light unto all the world, and that others were attending to it. The Puritan vision of creating an exemplary commonwealth that all would follow was realized in a republican form in the early 1790s. It was only realized for a brief moment before events proved to Americans that the French Revolution was different from their revolution.

In America, political leaders were vigilant against any Americanization of French radicalism and any attempt to extend the logic of the American Revolution into current politics. They feared an American commune, and they feared that backwoods farmers would constitute that commune. Backwoods radicalism in the Fall of 1793 coincided with a plague crisis in the capital, fears fed on fears, and a rural tax revolt and a few debating clubs took on the aspect of a serious challenge to the legitimacy of the Federal government. The yellow fever epidemic of September 1793 killed 3,000 to 4,000 people in a city of about 40,000. It was a devastating scourge, and a terrifying scourge. Those who could, fled the city. Those who could not flee, prayed, mourned, and did what the could to ease their neighbors' suffering. Congress adjourned to the suburb of Germantown, but little business was done. In the midst of this calamity Philadelphians heard that Western Pennsylvanians had gone from protesting the excise tax and threatening the tax collectors to forming mobs and in one instance seizing the house of a tax collector. In the midst of the panic induced by pestilence in the capital and war abroad, this back-country insurrection appeared to be the first step in a second, more radical, American revolution. Frontier unrest in Massachusetts had sparked one constitutional reaction, and the Pennsylvania rebellion appeared to be a direct frontier challenge to the authority of the new federal government. More, the frontier rebels were speaking the same language that the men now sitting in Congress had themselves used against British rule, and the rebellion was being reported in a city where people were wearing red caps to show their support for the French Revolution and for the ideals of liberté égalité and fraternité. Washington and the cabinet members felt that the nation was being drawn into the worldwide wars and the worldwide revolution. Hamilton organized and Washington himself led a force of 15,000 militia across the Alleghenies to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. The rebels, who had never been as organized or intransigent as Philadelphians had feared, never contested Washington's advance. He arrested a few of the leaders, and then marched back home again. The leaders were tried for treason and acquitted. Chastised by the experience, they curtailed their political activities. Jeffersonian leaders who had been accused of encouraging the rebels quickly disavowed any connection.

Citizen Genet failed in his mission. Washington and the cabinet chose to interpret neutrality more strictly than Louis XVI's government had done in 1775 and 1776. They forbade French privateers from basing themselves in American Ports. They blocked Genet's plans for a land conquest of the West, and although they did accelerate some of the debt repayment they were otherwise unhelpful in the matter of commercial treaties. Genet had gotten the impression from Jefferson that much of the cabinet would have preferred closer ties with France, and certainly the cheers of the crowds convinced him that the American people favored the French Revolution. He burned his bridges by demanding that the United States agree with his plans, and then threatening to appeal directly to the American people if his demands were not met. Genet threatened a radical revolution in the United States if it did not become a client state of the French Revolution. This was too much even for Jefferson, and the cabinet refused the demand, revoked Genet's credentials, and leaked his threats to the nation. Genet had misjudged the cabinet, and he had misjudged the nation. American much preferred Washington to Genet, their cabinet and elected officials to the Constituent Assembly in France, and their rule of law to the imperial demands of revolutionary necessity. Genet's failure discredited the French Revolution for many and encouraged Americans to think of France as a threat and not as a friendly nation. It predisposed them to look for French attempts to subvert other nations according to the demands of revolution and of necessity. Genet never returned to France. He was recalled by the Jacobins following their coup in the summer of 1793 at about the same time that his credentials had been rejected by the United States government. Genet retired to private life rather than re-crossing the Atlantic, and settled in the Hudson river valley. There he married the daughter of New York governor Henry Clinton. Genet's story had a happy ending, although far from the ending he had anticipated when he left France.

EDIT - corrected references, added a paragraph that had been in a different place in the out-takes file.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:31 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 16, 2004

Molasses spill

Someone spilled molasses in my brain today, for it is slow and sticky and not going anywhere.

It has been a day for erranding, and puttering, and trying to write but only getting a couple of sentences, and it has been a day for being readily distracted.

Off to do some reading for the changes I want to make to one of my stories. In an earlier draft of four I told the tale of the schisms in the Baptist and Methodist churches over slavery. The first time I told that story, I told it as part of what I called a crisis of categorization as mid-century American Protestants lost track of how to sort one another. That conceptual framework did not work and has been scrapped, taking with it several months of work.


Now I am trying to plug the story of the Baptist and Methodist schisms into my narrative towards the end, and arguing that despite their internal quarrel, both Northerners and Southerners were able to cooperate on other matters. So, I have to prove that post 1846 these folks were talking about one another and working with one another. That is research I have not yet done, but I should have enough materials lying around for me to go quote hunting.

I really do have trouble framing my arguments, and this is the sort of situation it leaves me in.

And so to read Peter Cartwright and the boys.

Posted by Red Ted at 03:32 AM | TrackBack

January 15, 2004


It never fails.

Send something out, and an hour later I get a good idea about how to improve it.

I laugh at myself.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:13 AM | TrackBack

Oooh, more drafts!

I just emailed the revised chapter four to my advisor. It is a short chapter, 35 pages plus appendix and notes, but it is contained and coherent. At least, I hope it is contained and coherent - I am piss-poor at reading my own writing.

Now I get to do something similar to chapter two. That also has a bad framing section at the beginning, an interesting bit of intellectual history in the middle, and a coda about Christianity in the common law. I took a chainsaw to the middle narrative last month - there was some stuff there that was fascinating on its own but not necessary for the story I am telling. Now I get to write down my loose notes on how to frame the introduction before moving on to the conclusion.

I seem to be writing backwards this time - concluding a chapter, then working out a middle narrative, then writing an introduction as the very last stage. It is an odd way to think, but it helps to know where I am trying to get to.

ObPolitics - a month or so ago Wesley Clarke criticized the Bush administration's war planners because they thought forwards and not backwards - he argued that they started with what forces can we get to the gulph, then planned how they could defeat Saddam Hussein's army, and then left the postwar settlement to other branches to handle. Clarke argues that what they should have done was start by asking what conditions they wanted on the ground at the end of the conflict, and worked backwards from there to the war planning. I found it a plausible argument, perhaps because it fed into my preconception that the Bush administration is a batch of political hacks who make decisions based on short-term concerns and pandering to the base without ever checking their assumptions or worrying about the long-term consequences of their actions.

Errands today - little man has a heart murmer so he gets to see the pediatric cardiologist. I had one when I was his age, many kids do, and I suspect it will be one of those "check it and then watch it and then all will be well" sorts of things that pop up in modern medicine.

EDIT - little man has a relatively common variation in one of his heart valves. It is perfectly safe, it creates a slight turbulence and murmer in his pulse, and we get to check it again in a year.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:21 AM | TrackBack

January 14, 2004

Writing and planning

It has been a day for writing - scribbling on four and typing in changes - and for planning the nitty-gritty for next semester.

I know I am going to be using a class blog next semester.

I know that this class blog will be linked to my usual static web page with the syllabus, paper topics, and so on.

I know this because the syllabus was due at the department at the start of this week even though classes at Suburban Comprehensive University do not start until Tuesday of next week. Now I have to figure out exactly how I will implement my class blog.

I have in the past created web pages for other professors where they used an html table to direct students to lecture notes for that day's classes. Some of these have been pretty fancy - with digitized images and study questions for each lecture - others have been plain blue tables.

Instead of sharing lecture notes that way, I intend to blog my teaching notes. I know I will blog my simple outline. I do not know if I will blog my entire 2-page set of cryptic teaching notes - I really do write those for me. I know I will blog a couple of paragraphs explaining what I thought we did that day. And, and this is why I am using blog software, I know I will be using haloscan comments to let the kids continue the discussion.

I also know some things I am not going to do. I am not going to put the kids' full names on the web page - the way the national student privacy laws work, they can list themselves but I can not list them. I will encourage them to sign comments firstname-last initial, with any email address that they read regularly. I have told them that participation in electronic comments will count towards their discussion grade - and that means that I have to be able to identify who commented.

I am currently leaning _against_ adding the students to the blog as assistant bloggers. This is a survey taught for sections of 35, and 35 co-bloggers is a LOT of noise. And, while I am requiring weekly writing from them - two papers and eleven 200-word homeworks, this is not technically a writing-intensive class. (Trust me, when I teach a writing intensive class the kids get finger cramps - a dozen 2 page papers, a 10 pager, and exams; or a 5 pager and a 30 pager) What this means is that I do not feel the need to have the kids post their work online and then have a set of study groups who all review and comment on each other's assignments. That sort of public bulletin board is da bomb for writing 101, not so for history intro.

What I will do is let them know that if they want to create their own personal writing pages, I will link to them from the sidebar, and will accept any writing they do on those forums as part of discussion grade. I am pretty sure that if I do not require regular writing, most of them will not do any regular writing; the grading load from opening the class webspace should be minimal. I do not intend to require a journal for the class - I will in some other classes but not in this survey. On the other hand, if they volunteer to post their weekly homework on a public space for other students to read - that would be a very good thing.

Of course, I do not yet have an account on the university's servers. I will build some of these web spaces on my hard drive or on other unix servers that I do have access to in order to debug them, then on Tuesday I will ftp everything over to its new homes.

As I build the spaces I will think some more about how I intend to use them. All I know for sure is that things will change over the course of the semester.

And so to do household chores. Such fun.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:06 AM | TrackBack

January 12, 2004

Writing Day

Today is a writing day. I have been terribly distractable; it is as if I would rather do anything than write. Well, almost anything - I still have not deferred a dangling clause to go scrub the bathroom.

I am typing up the material I wrote over the last few days to try to fix chapter four. I have a new, simpler argument. I find it sort of boring, but boring can be good. I am having trouble making myself do the grind of getting the words down. So, I shall whine about my lack of productivity, and then use said whine to kick my own butt.

And back to William Ellery Channing, Lyman Beecher, and the Unitarian controversy of the 1820s.

It looks like I will have to cut one of the sections that most amused me because of its contrast to present stereotypes. During the 1820s a few Unitarians were aggressive proselytizers, sending missionaries to Kentucky, Ohio, and other strongbeds of evangelicalism in order to convert the poor misguided fools to "truly Biblical" religion. We just don't see that missionary zeal any more, which is why jokes like the following are funny.

"I got the Unitarians mad at me again. Last night they burned a question mark on my lawn."

One of the fun things about doing history is seeing how organizations change, and how perceptions of those organizations also change.

And yes, that was a bigoted religious joke. I shall either apologize, or make countervailing bigoted jokes about several other denominations in order to prove my impartiality.

Posted by Red Ted at 09:33 AM | TrackBack

January 07, 2004

Loss of Faith

I have lost the Faith Once Delivered to the Saints.

No, not quite that way.

In August, I ran up to Princeton and did some photocopying at the Princeton Theological Seminary - nice folks, good library. One of the documents I photocopied was Lyman Beecher's 1823 sermon "The Faith Once Delivered to the Saints." I also typed the money paragraphs into my word processor.

I can not find my photocopy - I can find other documents from a trip to PTS later that week, I can find my reading notes where I remind myself that I made the photocopy, I found some old teaching evaluations that I had been looking for, but I can NOT find that copied sermon.

And I need it.

Bingo - took a break from ranting, searched again, and found it.

I found the Faith Once Delivered to the Saints hiding underneath my router. Now that sounds like a headline from Landover Baptist if I ever heard one. It was sneakily just under some photocopied manuscript letters from Charles Hodge, which I have now filed properly.

The only good point to this whole debacle is that my office is now a lot tidier than it was this morning.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:11 PM | TrackBack

January 06, 2004

Nothing like a Waah

There is nothing like a good Waah.

I decided that I am currently incapable of composing in the word processor. So, I went downstairs, sat in the comfy chair with a yellow pad, and began to work out what to do for the next bit I have to write. Lo and behold, I have a plan!

Tomorrow I get to go to the library and photocopy some William Ellery Channing. Such fun!

Tonight I get to read Lyman Beecher, also fun!

It beats staring at the wall wondering why I can't write. Trust me.

Edit - three cheers to the Crossroads Project at UVA - they had the Channing essay online and saved me a drive to Philadelphia.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:40 AM | TrackBack


I have been frustrated again over the last few days - I am trying to write and finding it impossible to focus or to keep my attention within the document. I am not sure what to do about my lack of focus - is it a sign of a problem with the document, a problem with the project, or a problem with the writer?

Posted by Red Ted at 08:01 AM | TrackBack

January 03, 2004

Whats in a chapter anyway?

A month ago, I was telling hiring comittees that I had all chapters of my dissertation drafted and that I needed to do some revising.

As of this morning, chapter four has calved into chapters four and five. I am cutting out a mess of the stuff that did not fit into chapter four and putting it aside. I will put together a new final chapter with a much simpler, somewhat Hegelian, structure. Then I will go over the outtakes and either write them up or cut them entirely. It should work, but it will take a bit of writing.

I feel like I am going backwards sometimes.

Posted by Red Ted at 02:13 AM | TrackBack

January 02, 2004

And so to work

It has been fun working at half-speed for the last few days. I took most of yesterday off, I relaxed, I have been reading some fiction and watching some movies on DVD. I have been taking more baby duty and letting J catch up on the work she has brought home so that she could get off for the holidays.

Now I have to get back into the grind.

The hardest part about vacations has always been coming back to work. When I was younger and drunker, I joked that I needed a vacation to recover from my vacation. Things are not as bad, but I do have to return to my highly productive anxiety levels.

The holidays (winter carnival) are stressful for many reasons - expectations of joy, dark skies, close contact with family, alcohol use, recapitulating a year with its inevitable mixture of success and failure - one of the many stresses is the stress of getting back to work.

It is worse for Americans, who stress ourselves. It is also bad for slackers like myself, who only get work done when under a certain amount of pressure.

And so to crank out syllabi

Posted by Red Ted at 09:23 AM | TrackBack

December 27, 2003


Well, after writing that crank below I tried to go to bed, could not sleep, came up and wrote myself out agonizing over whether I should drop the whole thing and go get a straight job. I finally got to bed between 2:30 and 3:00 am. The baby woke at 6:00, but J took him and let me sleep in. Love that woman.

I am sticking it out for now, but I am also wrestling with a combination of mad, frustrated, and angry.

My current thought is that I did a piss-poor job of framing four. If I can revise my story, the ending is still strong. If I have a better story, it will be easier to write something that is not codswallop.

As I look over the other chapters, I am pretty good at telling a simple story. I am pretty good at the (easy) process of spotting something important. I am not so good at explaining why that something actually matters. I am, based on my record, piss-poor at framing a broad sweeping argument. I am also apparantly piss-poor at figuring out if my own words are any good. I knew that the argument in four was weak but I had thought the weak point was around page thirty, and not the first five pages.

Writing is hard.

Posted by Red Ted at 08:12 AM | TrackBack

Chapter four sucks

Feh, I got comments back on chapter four.

My work was not good - I make no coherent argument, the arguments I make are not sustainable.

Feh, I thought I had done an ok job.

The introduction and framing are the weak point in that chapter. I had a good idea; I am having trouble making it work.

I think I need to set up a phone call to talk about it, right now I am depressed and can not sleep.

Note to self, don't read email late at night.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:11 AM | TrackBack

December 17, 2003

Multiple personality chapter?

So far in the last two days I have decided that chapter two is bloated but useful, that chapter two has some really good material in it, and that chapter two is full of crap. At the moment I am leaning towards all of the above - in other words I am in the process of looking at what I argued, looking at some new material that I intend to work into it, and working up a newer tighter argument.

Right now I need to think hard about the relationship between oaths of office, state churches, individual religion, and religious establishments.

Where early modern European states tended to have their nationality defined by state church rather than by fixed borders or governmental agencies, the United States defined their membership by oaths of loyalty. Loyalty oaths are fuedal - you swear allegiance to a lord as part of a reciprical exchange of duties - but these oaths were sworn to a document.

I want to argue that state constitutions replaced state churches as the establishment that defined the terms of the "nation" - so the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania consisted of all who had sworn the Pennsylvania loyalty oath, and all who had been born in the Commonwealth after it became a Commonwealth. That argument hinges on loyalty oaths. But, loyalty oaths predate 1776 by a lot. And, while I want to argue that religion was both depoliticized by the Revolutionary establishment and enlisted in support of oaths, I can find gobs of English case law discussing the tie between religion and the state using oaths as the place where the two combined: No religion, no binding oaths; no binding oaths, no secure government.

So, right now my ideas are just a mess. I think I am onto something good about changes in the relationship between religion and society on the state level, and I think I can make a good argument that the counter-enlightenment of the 1790s reshaped the revolutionary settlement. What I need to do a better job of is clearly, precisely, and correctly describing the before and after moments.

Thinking makes my brain hurt.

And so to bed.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:35 AM | TrackBack

December 12, 2003

Introductions are hard

The hardest part about writing a paper is the introduction. I have spent the second half of this week revising about six pages at the top of chapter 4. I need to lay out my argument for the chapter, set up the starting position, and get into the narrative all while keeping my reader interested.

I think I finally finished that section. The rest of the chapter is tighter; I just have to go through and make sure that my argument is properly signposted.

Oddly enough, I find that I work best if I tell myself that the alternative to doing the work is going out and running an errand or other task that I also do not want to do.

Today's task is fixing the headlight on the Honda - J. is tired of driving a pediddle. I could fix it myself - I fixed a headlight on my old Chevy years ago. I could run it to the dealer. I could walk down the street to our neighbor who runs a garage in his garage, (that either makes no sense, or is completely obvious). That latter choice is probably the best choice, but it means introducing myself to him. And introductions are hard.

Meanwhile, back to Temperance.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:13 PM | TrackBack

Oof Dah

Once I got through the introduction, the rest of four was already pretty tightly argued.

I cut about 7 paragraphs, wrote three or four more, and revised all my transitions.

Now it looks pretty sharp. I will let it sit for a few more days while I start working on chapter 2, then re-read it and send it out. I might make J read chapters soon - she has agreed to read every chapter once and this might be the most useful time for it.

I am just very happy that I got 4 revised before exams come in. I feel ahead of schedule, and that makes me feel very nervous - as if I have missed something vitally important.

And now I get to go do errands.

Did I mention that I despise running errands? No? Well I do.

Posted by Red Ted at 01:25 AM | TrackBack

December 07, 2003

Ooof Dah

I finished the first pass at grading today. It took longer than it should have - I was very unproductive last week because of insomnia, but at last all of the papers have been read, marked up, and given provisional grades.

Now I get to re-read them in order of provisional grade, in order to make sure that I was not giving C's when grumpy and A's right after dinner. But I can do that tomorrow; it is much quicker and less draining than the initial read and comment.

Now J reminds me that we still have dinner pots and pans ALL OVER the kitchen.

We have a nice division of labor. I do the dishes, and she reminds me that they need to be done. (1)

And so to chores.

(1) That was phrased for humor. We actually split the household work about 60/40. I get the dishes, trash, vacuuming, heavy lifting, cat box, dog walking, car maintenance, groceries, and yardwork. J gets laundry, bills, correspondence, floors, household shopping, and most of the baby driving. We share cooking, the dishwasher, and baby care.

Feh, looking at that list I am tempted to steal her shoes and lock her in the kitchen. I must have missed some of her chores.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:43 AM | TrackBack

December 04, 2003

Writing Templates

I am not a good writer: I have trouble formulating my ideas, I ramble, I get discursive, I describe when I should be arguing. I also write for a living. It is a tricky combination.

I find that I have to struggle with my structure, and one of my more powerful writing tools is to build a set of bullet points laying out my argument. I then break a chapter into running headers with one header per bullet point. Each running header, has its own little introduction, body, and conclusion. If I do it correctly, the 60 page chapter is compelling, tightly argued, and coherent. If I do it poorly, and I often do, then all the running headers want to be second and the chapter bloats and becomes unreadable. So, I tear it down and begin again. It takes me a lot of time to write anything worthwhile.

Via Kevin Drum I see that folks are making fun of the Texas "educational miracle" for lowering its testing standards and then declaring victory. One of the things that folks are snarking is the five paragraph essay, a tightly structured piece with an introduction, three supporting points, and a conclusion. In its strict form, the topic sentences for the body paragraphs form the entire introduction and conclusion, and each body paragraph also has exactly three supporting statements.

This is the first time I have ever seen that particular writing template defined. Oddly, however, I have had students ask me if I was expecting them to use a five paragraph essay. This is because I push the students to: lay out an introduction where they say what they are going to say; write a series of body paragraphs where they make a point, introduce evidence, and explain that evidence; and then build to a conclusion where they take their initial premise and show how they have expanded or improved it. Of course, I also tell them to brainstorm, then write the body, then conclude, and finally write their introduction.

The problem with the five point paragraphs, I think, is that there is mechanical structure and then there is a structured argument. The five point paragraph, or any other mechanical rules for construction, work because they simplify decision making and provide a model. Five structured points is a wonderful improvement over the stream-of-consciousness that many kids write with. To see what I mean, go to new.blogger.com and click on some of the recently updated blogs. At least one will be nongrammatical stream of consciousness; it will be unreadable. And, if the mere fact that there is a structure makes something bad, then all sonnets must be contrived and therefore worthless. In other words, structure often improves our creativity by restraining some excesses and forcing us to think about what we are doing. There are oddities to the five paragraph essay - I was taught to use two pieces of evidence for every point, footnote anything after that, and ALWAYS explain your evidence - but as a writing tool it is no worse than being told to learn to write sonnets.

But, a well crafted essay will also show structure from paragraph to paragraph just as a sonnet will advance an idea through the three rhymed subsections. Some people can take the lead sentences of their paragraphs, copy them down, and have an outline of their entire argument. Others take an outline and turn each bullet into the topic sentence of a paragraph. In both of those cases, the crucial structure is not that there are bits of evidence all proving the main point but that the ideas in the paragraphs build upon one another to lead to a conclusion. On many of the current crop of papers I complained that their paragraphs, while good, could be shuffled without changing their paper in any appreciable way. That is a sign of a poorly structured argument.

So, if the Texas schools, and other schools, are telling their kids that the strict five paragraph essay is the only way to write, then they are doing a terrible disservice to their students - especially if they are grading on form rather than content. However, having a few standard paragraph structures is a perfectly reasonable writing technique, and writing to fit a template is one valid way of breaking students from writing rambling messes.

The challenge for the schools, and for the poor folks in business or education who inherit the students from these Texas schools, is to remind the kids that structure is only one part of effective writing. Once they have the knack of tying a paper together, they need to work on argument, on grammar, on originality, and on ways to throw a curveball. Just because you have learned to write sonnets does not mean that you should only write sonnets from then on. I do think that the problem with a five paragraph essay is not the tool, it is that lazy teachers, distracted administrators, and poorly conceived exams have led the Texas schools to confuse means and goals.

Posted by Red Ted at 12:21 PM | TrackBack

November 24, 2003

Monday, Monday

That was a particularly incoherent thought yesterday.

Let me explain it a little farther, and in the process I will get a start on my think piece. One of the things that I write about is church and state. At the start of the nineteenth century many people followed Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story's lead when Story claimed that the First Amendment to the US constitution meant that the federal government could neither provide aid to any particular sect, no special grants for Presbyterians, nor provide aid for any general classification of Christianity, no federal equivalent to South Carolina's special status for Protestants. What Story said the US could do was support "Christianity in general," what others called the broad common principles of Christianity, without favoritism to any sect or subvariety.

The modern answer to this, of course, is that there is too much variety in Christendom for this to work. To use a classic 19th century example, if you protect the common Sabbath by preventing all work on Sunday, what does this mean for 7th-day Baptists who rest on Saturday, spend Sunday morning in worship, and then go about their business? Story ignored that, as did the people in the benevolent movements that spread over the country after the War of 1812. They simply asserted a common Christianity, claimed that they agreed in "all the important particulars" and were very careful never to name these particulars.

I link this claim, and its collapse, to the evolution of the Providential promise. National Providence, modeled on the deals between God and Israel in the Hebrew Bible, asserts that if a nation obeys God's wishes, then god will reward them, while if they avoid God's claims, they will be punished as a nation. While Christians generally deny personal Providence - in fact the Gospel of Matthew is pretty clear that personal success is negatively correlated with holiness - they often invoke general or national Providence. The classic American example comes in John Winthrop's Model of Christian Charity where he asserts that God has made a covenant with the Puritans, if they obey God's wishes they will be made into a great nation, if they disobey they will fade into ignomony. And, to raise the stakes, Winthrop asserts that all the eyes of the world are upon them; they are a "city on a hill" and their success or failure will be followed by similar success or failure everywhere else.

The Puritan notion of Providence came as a two-part deal: do well and be rewarded, do poorly and be punished. The interesting thing, for me, is that in the early 19th century we dropped the second part of that. A majority of Americans all over the country denied the claims of judgemental Providence, and Congress backed them up. There are a lot of examples, the famous one was the Sunday mails.

State law prohibited work or travel on Sundays except in cases of charity or necessity. In the early 19th century the travel restriction was increasingly under fire, people who travelled to services said they were travelling for charity, but then they stayed and were social afterwards - they blurred the lines. Many wanted to travel for pleasure, go on excursions, rather than sit listening to Puritan-style sermons all day. Immigrants, especially from Continental Europe, saw the day as a chance to relax with their families, often in parks or promenades or beer gardens. And, of course, rowdy artisinal culture had long seen Sunday as the day for recreations: ball games, contests, and just a wee bit of drink. (Monday, St. Monday, was the semi-official day off while folks recovered from their hangovers)

Starting in the War of 1812, the US mail began to travel on Sundays. The constitution is very clear that the US Mail can not be halted by state law; the post is an enumerated power. Mail coaches made noise coming into and out of town. The annoyance grew during the 1820s as the post road network expanded. It was made even worse in the mid 1820s when a new regulation stated that any time the post arrived, the post office had to open for an hour so folks could get their mail - even on Sunday morning. This was even more disruptive, and folks began to petition.

There had been one petition campaign against Sunday mails in 1813, with most of the petitions invoking Providence and warning that a decision made to aid the war effort would end up losing America the war. Congress repudiated Providence, cited expediency, was polite to the petitioners, and the mails continued. In 1828 Lyman Beecher formed the General Union for the Protection of the Christian Sabbath and started a new petition campaign. Some but not all of these petitions cited Providence. Congress again said no. The House cited expedience and apologized for disturbing the petitioners. The Senate cited expedience and scolded the petitioners for daring to involve Congress in deciding a religious question.

After a new round of petitions, all calling for an end to Sunday mails in strictly secular terms and many of them complaining about the Senate report, the House issued another report. Curiously, the same guy who had authored the Senate report a few months earlier had moved to the House and now authored (it was actually drafted by a friend of his) a new report. This new report claimed that Sabbatarian petitioners were trying to get Congress to decide on a contested matter of religious doctrine, pointed out that it would be a very bad idea to set the precedent of having a legislative body decide religious matters and then impose that decision on the nation, and concluded by using a reductio ab absurdim to claim that the Sabbatarian petitioners were starting down a slippery slope that would end with a re-creation of the old British establishment: mandatory attendance laws, only one sect to preach, those preachers paid out of tax revenue, and thought police to punish those who disagreed with the national orthodoxy. He saw Protestant Popery, and condemned it.

That was long. The point, for these purposes, is that the nation rejected the notion that they had to perform certain actions in order to receive Providential blessings. Or, more precisely, they rejected the notion that they would be punished if they did not follow the 4th Commandment. They wanted Providential blessings, they rejected Providential punishment.

We can write a wonderful sermon condemning the nation as a batch of self-indulgent children who want the goodies but not the work. We should also remember that the reason that Jackson, most of Congress, and Richard Johnson who chaired those committees and signed those reports denied the Providential requirements was that they did not want politicized religion. If the nation accepts as national policy that we will be punished for not following the "right" religion, then it becomes a matter of compelling national interest to choose the "right" religion. We choose that religion either by abdicating the choice to some religious body, forming a strong establishment of religion, or by having our magistrates and legislators decide what the national religious practices will be. That will soon lead to sabbath laws or no sabbath laws, strict or loose sabbath, attendance laws or no attendance laws, long sermons or short sermons, sermons condemning alcohol or sermons condemning strikes, all becoming matters to be handled in election campaigns. No one wanted to go there.

So, while we retain the belief in positive Providence, the blessings, and we call for those blessings any time a magistrate uses the traditional "God bless the United States of America," we reject negative providence for the same reason that the Jacksonians rejected it - we don't want any group to gain exclusive control and we absolutely do not want to politicize religious beliefs.

Despite the best efforts of folks who agreed with Joseph Story, Christianity in general became an ideal that was only powerful when invoked but not defined. People could claim that all agreed, but they could not come up with a legislated plan of action without raising worries about precedents and renewed establishments of religion.

What I need to do in this think piece is tie Providence to my thoughts about the rise of a self-identified Evangelical movement in the 1840s, a rise that with Sidney Mead I tie to Charles Hodge of Princeton and his theology of Unity in the Spirit. I need to check what Hodge says about historical Christianity, the act of publicly stating that Christ was the Messiah, as compared to the church invisible, the international and interdenominational community defined as those who are saved and will go to Heaven. The two overlap but are not identical, and Hodge urged practical unity between individuals on the basis of shared membership in the Church Invisible while at the same time urging them to forego all attempts to reconcile their worship practices or theologies - for to do so would mean that someone would be giving up a sincere belief solely for fellowship, and Hodge thought doctrines were more important than fellowship.

I want to tie Unity of the Spirit into the decline in negative Providence, probably on the basis that since good people should disagree about sincerely held doctrines, it would not be appropriate to call for any detailed national acts in fulfilment of any divine covenant. But, I need to re-read Hodge and think some more.

Thanks, I needed this think piece. I hope it was comprehensible.

If you are interested in learning more about the Sabbath Mails controversy, the easiest resource to find is Richard Rhodda John, Spreading the News. John wrote a very good history of the US Mails in the Early American Republic and has a good chapter on this. He has a better journal article, but that is harder to get to outside of a University Library. If you are a glutton for punishment, email me and I will send you more references.

Posted by Red Ted at 10:37 AM | TrackBack

November 23, 2003

Busy day

We went to a wedding today. We drove 2 and a half hours, were there for about five hours, and drove back.

It was good to see J's extended family. She had forgotten to tell them she was pregnant; she got teased for keeping things quiet.

On the drive back I started thinking about Providence, the Texas Taliban, and chapter four. I intend to work up a think piece on Providence to help me figure out what to do with it in chapter four. I think that I might be able to extract my discussions of common Christianity, Providence, and Unity of the Spirit and put it together as a good article for Journal of the Early Republic or Journal of Church and State. Professionally, I need a good article. I have been looking for something I could extract from the dissertation. Right now, I am too tired to write it up. (Coffee while driving, then an idea to write down, and now here I am, rattling.)

And so to try to be sleepy

Posted by Red Ted at 11:40 AM | TrackBack

November 19, 2003

Wet day

It has been a wet day. The morning was moist, about an hour ago thunderstorms blew in.

The rain makes me sleepy. Actually, to be more precise, falling air pressure makes me sleepy. If I start to nod off, the barometer is sure to be dropping.

I am in a lull between chapters. I was to spend today grading old homework. I got some graded. I prepped class for tomorrow although it will need more work. I baked corn muffins (easy, I need to do that more often). I drove J to and from work twice (she came home when they had a gas leak in their building). I hit the library and the bank, but am still behind on my mail and my book orders. In a few minutes we will go fetch the second car from the cleaners. It has, in other words, been a slow moving day with errands and a nap.

I sprint and I drift, I sprint and I drift. Today I drifted. Tomorrow I get to sprint again until Thanksgiving - papers come in the Tuesday before Turkey Day and I want to get chapter four revised before then.

I still want to take a week off, play Everquest, read novels, bake cookies, and otherwise turn into a fat slug. But, I often want that.

And so to fetch the wife.

Posted by Red Ted at 04:46 AM | TrackBack

October 06, 2003

Licorice - Revised and Extended

"Not everyone likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice." J and I use "licorice" to refer to most forms of kinky sex. I felt the urge to write an erotic story without using any potty language. I revised the earlier sections after Twiddlybits gave some commentary. If I add anything more it will just go up as Licorice (Number) with a link to this entry.


The bell tinkled. Susan walked into the store and looked around. The place was dim and gloomy; rich scents came out of the dusky corners and from the display cases: chocolate of course, but below that licorice and anise tantalized her. Hints of anise, of cinnamon, and of vanilla lurked like dust motes in the air. She inhaled, carefully tasting the air and savoring its promises.

A long glass counter ran along the right side just inside the door. Shelves within the case held the ordinary confections: chocolate bark, and raspberry creams, and all the many variations on nuts and caramel. She stepped farther into the room, her head turning as she looked farther.

To the left, in the crowded clutter of the open space were a couple of small tables, looking unused and unwanted, crowded by spinning racks with boxes of salt water toffee and presentation chocolates. She went past these as well.

Towards the back of the store, deepest in the gloom, were the real treasures. This was an old case; the wood was black and glossy as if it had been old even when it was first constructed. The licorice was here. Little papers held the squares of red and black licorice, the licorice creams, drops of dusky jelly. Sleeves of anise cookies rested before the counter. Swinging above it, drying in the air like twisted sausages, were ropes of red, and black, dusted with sugar. The air here was thick, redolent. Her nose wrinkled, responded to the acrid bite, to the drying sugar, to the seeds and oils trapped in the candies.

She pressed her hands against the case, leaning forward. The tip of her tongue extended and, gently, pointedly, licked her upper lip. She inhaled again, closing her eyes to concentrate on all the odors.

"Can I help you?"

He was tall and thin and dusty and, somehow, twisted like the ropes of licorice that swayed from the motion of his recent passing. He stood still behind the counter, looking at her.

"Yes, I want ... I want to buy some licorice."

"We have licorice here." He coughed lightly; perhaps it was a chuckle, perhaps it was dried sugar in his throat.

She smiled.


The bell tinkled. Susan stood up from the little table in the back room. She walked through the curtains into the space behind the two counters. There were three of them there, standing towards the front of the room. Two were standing at the front case, looking at the chocolates and the creams, picking and choosing, speculating aloud about what they might be buying. The third wandered aimlessly, turned a white rack, looked at the dried out cookies, the boxes of toffee.

Susan began to fill orders for the first two, taking out three of these, four of those, weighing out the chocolates and putting them into little boxes and bags. While she did this, she watched the wanderer. He was thin, as she was, and looked distracted. He glanced at the back counter, then quickly looked again at the rest of the room. She rang up the order, took money, handed over change. The two left; she could not have said if they were men or women, all she had seen were the pointing fingers, the greedy voices. He was different: still here, still moving in a sort of Brownian motion through the space to the left of the door. He must have just come in at the same time as the other two; he did not leave with them, had not talked to them. They were not together after all. He was alone, except for Susan and the store.

She swung up the gate between the two counters, walked forward. He turned, surprised by her silent presence. His eyes darted to her, to the counter, to the ceiling above the back counter, and back to her again.

She smiled at him.

"Can I help you?"

"Do you sell, erm," He looked at the floor. "Licorice here?"

"Oh yes, we sell licorice. We have all kinds of licorice here. Follow me."


They sat at a small white table in white wooden chairs. She was thin, pale, blonde. Her hair hung back to her collar. He was older, thinner, and grey. He looked like he had been hung up to dry, and while drying had gathered dust in all the crevices of his face and clothing. Even his voice was dusty.

"Let me pour you some tea."

He stood, crossed to the stove, poured water from the kettle into a small blue-grey teapot. He busied himself gathering cups, spoons, and honey. She sat and watched him. The smell of the tea began to spread around the cluttered little kitchen.

He poured into two plain white teacups, placed them on saucers on the table. She took hers in her hands and brought it to her nose. She inhaled, concentrating, then turned and looked at him with raised eyebrows.

"I smell tea, black tea, and licorice root, and ... something more?" Her voice was a soft alto.
"That's most of it. There are some rose hips, a little lemon zest."
"It smells nice."
"Add honey, honey goes well."

He sat. They sipped their tea. His voice was still dry and dusty.

"So, how long has it been?"

"Since I first walked in here? Years. Time seems to stop when I am behind those counters: every moment is just right and every moment is forever."

"And do you still feel the same way?"

She looked at him, and smiled.

"I think so, yes."

"And now what will you do? Summer is almost over."

"I thought about it. State is close, and I could still work here weekends. But I think I want to get farther away."

"You had a lot of offers."

"Yes, I did. I think I will go East. They have the food chemistry, and the writing program. I will be better prepared when I come back."

"I will miss you, but your young man should be able to take over for you."

She smiled again. "My young man? He belongs to you, or to the back counter more than he does to me." She paused, then continued.
"I will miss that back counter."

"Yes, I know."

She looked at him, at the wedges and angles of his face, at the lines in his cheeks. He was ageless, without race, grey, brown and dusty. His clothing smelled of licorice. The powder he worked with had gotten into his clothing, into his skin. It was part of him now. She loved that about him.

She stood.

"I need to go, I have to finish packing, I have to tell State I won't be coming."

"Come back before you leave. Please."

"Of course." She smiled again.

She went out through the curtain. He heard the bell tinkle as the door opened and then closed. In the air disturbed by her movement he could smell licorice.


It was hot. The line in the bookstore snaked back from the ringing cash registers. Students held books, and bags, and little plastic baskets full of books and notebooks, pencils and pens. The woman in front of him was short and thin. Her blonde hair fell to the collar of her white dress, parted in the middle of her head. She was wearing an unusual perfume; he could smell licorice. They bumped as the line lurched forward.

"Sorry, lost my balance" He was apologetic, curious to see her face.
She smiled up at him.
"It's ok. It is crowded here."
She had a thin face, grey-blue eyes, strong cheekbones. Her voice was low and husky, surprising in such a small woman. Her hair was yellow and blonde and grey all shaded together, but her face was young, the eyes plain and unmarked. She wore no makeup.

He looked at her basket, hoping to see something he could use to continue the conversation. Several slim volumes of poetry were lying on top of the textbooks. He recognized psychology, and the great big textbook for introductory chemistry.

"Do you read a lot of poetry?"
"Yes, I do. I love to see words used precisely."
"I do also. Do you have any favorites?"
"I am taking the English romantics this fall. But I read all sorts. I like to read about desires and compulsions."
She looked at his eyes as she said this. Her voice dropped even lower on the last words.

Later, his friends came over to him.
"Did you get her number?"
"No, but she got mine."


He made little names for his students to help him remember which name went with which face. Susan Blonde-in-White was sitting at the front left of the class again. She was wearing a dress. She always wore a white dress. This one was short sleeved and showed a little leg; it was still very modest. The other women in the class were all dressed more casually. Susan was always very formal and she always sat very still. He could feel her eyes on him as he chatted with the students at the front right, by the door.

The bell in the tower on the other side of the quad rang the hour. He took a deep breath and began the class. He explained what they would be covering today. He drew on the board. He began to question them about the reading, and to elaborate on their fumbling answers. She sat upright and watched him teach, her pen in her hand.

After he worked through the first reading he told them to re-read the next item. While their heads turned down he walked over to the left side of the room. Her notebook was full of fine copperplate handwriting. He had never seen her pen move.

He continued to teach. She remained still and silent, watching straight-backed in her chair. He caught himself moving to the left again, and making eye contact with the front left part of the class. He forced himself to shift back to the right and look at the others.

He asked a question, and another. Hands rose, always the same hands. Susan sat very still. The sunlight had crept across the floor and onto her feet. She had slim ankles.

He paused, class was almost over now. He turned and asked her a question, ignoring the waiting hands, wanting to see what she would do. She smiled, took a breath, and answered. Her voice was low but clear. He was glad of that; so many of the skinny little women were mumblers and then he had to repeat their words to the class. She spoke on. He noticed in surprise that she was speaking in paragraphs. Most undergraduates, many professors, never mastered that skill. She finished. He raised an eyebrow, gestured with his hand. She continued to speak, elaborating her first answer. He had moved towards her as she spoke, to hear better. Partway through the paragraphs he realized that he had forgotten what he was going to ask next, had forgotten how he had planned to wrap up the class. He was very close to her now.

He tore his eyes away. She finished speaking. He managed to say a few words, to praise her thoughts, to lurch towards a wrapping point. Class ended in the usual shuffle of bags and papers. She smiled at him on her way out. As she left, he could smell licorice.


She smiled as she poured, looking at him more than at the two glasses. The liquor glistened in the tumblers, then turned white as she poured the water. She raised her glass, extended her tongue to the surface, inhaled the aroma. He held his glass in both hands but did not look at it. His eyes glanced from her to the room and back to her again.

She put her glass down and spoke.

"Aren't your friends having that party tonight?"
"We should go."
"I know. They have been bugging me about no longer seeing them. They don't know what to make of you."

She smiled.

"I am not sure what to make of me either. I think of myself as a series of straight lines, but it seems that most other people see me as a spiral."

He frowned at her, then looked down at his glass. He raised it to his lips, sipped.

She raised her glass again, inhaled the vapors again, then drank. He could see her swirling the white liquor around her mouth before swallowing. She opened her mouth and inhaled, savoring the lingering aroma of licorice.

Later he looked at her and spoke.
"Lets have one more before we go."

She raised her eyebrow.
"Are you sure. We still have to get dressed you know."

He reached past her to the bottle, lifted it, and filled the glasses again.


"Is the Prince of Darkness blowing us off again?"

"He said he would come."

"Yeah, he always says he will come. He might be coming, but he sure ain't coming here these days."

They chuckled at this.

"Man, that boy is whipped."

"What does he see in that little white chick anyhow?"

"Don't ask me. I think she look like Caspar the Ghost's grandma. So pale, wearing those little white dresses all the time. She always smells like medicine or something. But he takes one look at her and its like, BAM, nobody home."

"Maybe he likes the blonde thing?"

"Naw, if that was it he could still be going with Gina. Now there is a woman who wiggles when she walks."

"Heck, she ain't really blonde. Gina she get her hair from a bottle an her tits from the plastic store."

"Who cares where she got 'em, they sure are big enough."

"Hey, look who just walked in"

"Yo, Prince of Darkness! We ain't seen you since forever."

"Hi guys.
"Do you guys know Susan?"

Posted by Red Ted at 12:42 PM | TrackBack