Madison and Original Intent

Joe Ellis explained the absence of serious Madison biographies… by proclaiming “he’s boring as hell” and that “only lawyers like him.” As previously stated, Ellis’s recent comments on the Framers and Original Intent cast doubt on the rigor of his scholarship- and these nuggets of wisdom only enhance the evidence of his misguided revisionism.


The revision Ellis is peddling holds that Madison and other Framers… rejected the doctrine of Original Intent on its face. The only empirical evidence supporting this notion is Madison’s oft quoted explanation for not publishing his notes on the Constitutional Convention.  Once established, the government continued to disappoint Madison, driving him closer to his friend Jefferson.  During his presidency, Madison undoubtedly supported Original Intent as he battled John Marshall and Congress for the soul of the Constitution. He feared the elasticity in the Constitution was being abused by ambitious demagogues- Madison wanted the power of government restrained- his original intent.

On Immigration

Jefferson discussed immigration to the United States in 1805:

“Shall we refuse the unhappy fugitives from distress that hospitality which the savages of the wilderness extended to our fathers arriving in this land? Shall oppressed humanity find no asylum on this globe?”


America was growing and Jefferson approved:

“We contemplate this rapid growth, and the prospect it holds up to us, not with a view to the injuries it may enable us to do to others in some future day, but to the settlement of the extensive country still remaining vacant within our limits, to the multiplications of men susceptible of happiness, educated in the love of order, habituated to self-government, and value its blessings above all price.”

A Pottsville minister’s letter to President-elect Abraham Lincoln – January 1861

Wynning History

In the dangerous days between the Election of 1860 and the presidential inauguration of Abraham Lincoln in March 1861, the United States of America was falling to pieces. Numerous Southern states were seceding from the Union and threats of a looming civil war grew by the day. Already, a standoff had begun in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina between secessionists and members of the US Army who had occupied Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter in 1860 Fort Sumter in 1860 – Library of Congress

As all of this intrigue took place and the secession crisis escalated, President-elect Abraham Lincoln and his team attempted to build a cabinet. Even this stoked controversy, as Republican politicos sought a place near the incoming 16th president in order to solidify their influence and demonstrate power.

Among the most unabashed in pursuit of a place in Lincoln’s administration was the infamous Pennsylvania political boss Simon Cameron. An already scandal-plagued senator from…

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Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Ball

Presidential History Blog

The mood of the country was vastly different in 1865 than in 1861.

The Difference Being…

…(at least in general essence), that in 1861, the country was nervous and frightened. Several Southern states already seceded, and the tensions at South Carolina’s Ft. Sumter were about to plunge the country into a real shootin’ war. Nobody wanted that – but it seemed that the events were out of anyone’s control.

For certain, no one would have predicted the four years of blood and battle and death of the cream of a generation, or the thousands of families left grieving, or the billions of dollars spent to abet that blood and death and grief.

But on Thursday, March 4, 1865 just about everyone knew that the end was drawing near. Yes, there would be more battles and blood and death. And grief. But it was going to end – sooner than later…

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Lincoln and Majority Rule

Abraham Lincoln succinctly explained the insanity of secession in his First Inaugural Address. The majority rules in our democratic-republic. Failure to accept this is not patriotism, it is anarchy.

“From questions of this class spring all our constitutional controversies, and we divide upon them into majorities and minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the Government must cease. There is no other alternative, for continuing the Government is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority in such case will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them, for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy a year or two hence arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it? All who cherish disunion sentiments are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this.

Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new union as to produce harmony only and prevent renewed secession?

Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible. The rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.”

March 4, 1861

“The Patriot” – A Lost Opportunity

Early in 2000, the Smithsonian Museum of American History announced… it would assist in the production of an epic film about the American Revolution starring Mel Gibson.  Historians, history buffs, and living historians were further enticed by the original script detailing the exploits of “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion.  Disappointment with “The Patriot” started early, as producers ordered a substantial rewrite of the script after researching the complex life of Marion.  Apparently, a slave-owning Indian fighter cannot be heroic in a major Hollywood production.  Gibson instead portrays an anachronism- a South Carolina plantation owner who allows free blacks to work his land; a rebel torn between his family and the American cause. The depictions of slavery in the film are at best, idealistic, and at worst, woefully inadequate. Slavery did not cause the American Revolution, as purported in the 1619 Project but viewers deserve a more realistic depiction, even in a work of historical fiction.


It’s as if a group of impressionable, idealistic college sophomores… sat down and scripted the American Revolution “as it should have been.”  Young women stand up and chastise their elders in town meetings, slaves struggle for freedom in the deepest parts of South Carolina, and the evil imperialist British forces commit mass murder similar to the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre of 1944.  This is an utterly ridiculous assertion made, rather ironically, by a German filmmaker. Had such an atrocity taken place, it would be seared into our national fabric.

There’s plenty of speechifying, Gibson’s slow boiling, hunky Heath Ledger, and adorable children- but the film is woefully short on history.  Couldn’t the Smithsonian have advised on more than just costuming?  Gibson’s rage is incapable of overwhelming such a careless script  (the same script that compares British soldiers to Nazis.)  The Hollywood community doesn’t have the courage to make a film about the complexities of American history.  We are either preached to with politically correct drivel like “Dances with Wolves,” or insulted with comic-book nonsense like this monstrosity.

History Wishes for the New Year

For History’s sake, I’d like to see…

  • The Thomas Jefferson Foundation focus on Jefferson scholarship and curatorial work, rather than Hemings family research
  • A national movement to protect historical monuments and memorials from vandals who would erase our past to suit their present
  • The New Eisenhower memorial generate an appreciation of his governing and military accomplishments
  • A Presidential inauguration
  • The current President leave office, and return to reality TV.
  • Congressional term limits
  • Repeal the 17th Amendment
  • Remove any and all politicians who would abuse their offices to undermine our democratic process
  • Normalcy in Washington
  • More substantive debates, less twitter
  • So-called “public intellectuals” praise America’s history, rather than apologize for it
  • Fewer history PhD’s, more public historians
  • Less angst over the Confederate flag, more effort at learning the history behind it
  • Andrew Jackson’s face on the $20 replaced with Clara Barton’s
  • Your continued readership and support……

Cedar Mountain Battlefield in Culpeper County, Virginia

M.A. Kleen

Walk the ground where “Stonewall” Jackson snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, in a short but bloody prelude to the Second Battle of Bull Run.

Click to expand photos

The Battle of Cedar Mountain (aka Slaughter’s Mountain) was fought on August 9, 1862 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks and Confederate forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in Culpeper County, Virginia during the American Civil War. In what was also known as the Battle of Slaughter’s Mountain, Confederates snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, resulting in 3,691 total casualties.

In July 1862, Union Maj. Gen. John Pope’s newly formed 51,000-man Army of Virginia was spread out in three corps across northern Virginia. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln had appointed Pope to lead this new army after Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan’s disastrous Peninsula Campaign earlier that summer, and Pope intended to distract…

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Inventing Christmas

For Readers, Writers, & Lovers of Historical Fiction

Before the 19th century, Americans had no unified vision of how Christmas should be celebrated or even if it should be celebrated at all. Communities may or may not have had their own ideas about what should occur on December 25 depending upon the heritage of the citizens. For those of German extraction, there may have been the tradition of a decorated tree and for the descendants of Dutch colonists, a December 5 (St. Nicholas Day) visit from Sinterklaas who left gifts may have been anticipated, but there was no one concept of an American Christmas. That began to change in the early 1800’s. Penne Restad, writing for History Today, cites several reasons for the shift to what we today think of as an American Christmas. Among those were the rapid changes brought about by industrialization, growing urbanization, advances in communication and transportation, immigration, and the trauma of the…

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Boston Tea Party in Perspective

Modern political activists invoke history… to justify and rationalize their activism- but often lose the real lessons of the events.  The Boston Tea Party was not a simple protest against taxation; it was a complex disagreement over duties, exemptions, tariffs, and trade balance.  Current political rhetoric cheapens the truly historic events of that December in 1773.

Samuel Adams called for action that winter… “Be in readiness in the most resolute manner to assist this town in their efforts for saving this oppressed country…”    Adams and the Sons of Liberty understood what was happening in Boston affected all the colonies- expressing the idea of country three years before it was declared.

The meeting on December 16 was the largest… political meeting to date.  Speakers came and went in a vain attempt to dissuade direct action- the leaders were waiting for a decision from the Royal Governor.  The speakers couldn’t go on all night- Thomas Hutchinson wasn’t going to indulge the Sons of Liberty-  Adams gave the prearranged signal for action.. “This meeting can do nothing more to save this country…”  

Disguises of all sorts were donned by the… Sons of Liberty that night.  Some wore feathers, others just heavy overcoats, their faces blackened with soot.  Whatever the method, the result was nothing short of historic- Samuel’s  cousin John Adams declared… “This destruction of the tea is so bold, so daring, so intrepid, and so inflexible, and it must have so important a consequence that I can’t but consider it an epoch in history.”