Presidential Birthday Folly

 

Further proof that the trend of combining different commemorations into banker’s holidays… is truly foolish, look no further than Thomas Jefferson.

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Upon entering the executive mansion… citizens began petitioning him for the use of his birthday as a holiday, he gently reminded them, ‘The only birthday I ever commemorate, is that of our Independence, the Fourth of July.’

When a formal request arrived from the Mayor of Boston… Jefferson explained it like this,  “it is clear, disapproving myself of transferring the honors and veneration for the great birthday of our republic to any individual, or of dividing them with individuals, I have declined letting my own birthday be known, and have engaged my family not to communicate it. This has been the uniform answer to every application of the kind.”

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George Washington’s Farewell to His Officers

Presidential History Blog


The quintessential General

“An army of asses led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by an ass.”

The Quote and the Sentiment

British General Edward Braddock

The quote about asses (donkeys) and lions is frequently attributed to George Washington, but it is an ancient quote.  Sometimes it is attributed to Alexander the Great. Sometimes it is attributed to Aesop or just-plain-anonymous. It really does not matter who “coined” the phrase. George Washington definitely quoted it and adhered to its truths.

As a young Virginia militia officer assigned to the British Army, long before American independence was even a glimmer, George Washington learned first hand from his mentor General Edward Braddock, the importance of well-trained and disciplined army officers.

One of the earliest portraits of George Washington

When Washington became General of the Continental Army in 1775, a full fifteen years after his “first retirement,”…

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Review of “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama” by David Remnick

My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

David Remnick’s “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama” was published in 2010 and covers the 44th president’s life from his birth through his 2009 inauguration. Remnick is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and has been editor of The New Yorker since 1998. He began his reporting career at The Washington Post in 1982.

This 586-page biography is clearly the result of exhaustive research which included interviews with an impressive array of Obama’s family, friends, colleagues and competitors – as well as with Obama himself. Tracking his political ascent up to the presidency, this biography is a synthesis of the unique personal influences and public forces which shaped his character and catalyzed his extraordinary success.

The book’s first half reviews Obama’s ancestry, his childhood, schooling and pre-political career. While generally interesting, some of this coverage is dense and difficult to follow. The relative complexity of Obama’s youth…

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On Regret

John Adams asked an aging Thomas Jefferson… if given the magical opportunity to live his life again, could he accept the chance-  given all of the pitfalls: hindsight, fear, and regret weighing down on his mind…

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Jefferson’s optimism proved too much for tempered logic… it burned within his enlightened soul- he responded,

“You ask if I would agree to live my 70. or rather 73. years over again? To which I say Yea. I think with you that it is a good world on the whole, that it has been framed on a principle of benevolence . . . . I steer my bark with Hope in the head, leaving Fear astern.” 

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With liberty in tow, life is good… optimism such as this is often scoffed at in today’s culture- regret is a passion that drives many to cynicism and ultimately, irrelevance.  Jefferson still survives….

Foundation of our Foreign Policy

The current Presidential administration continues an aimless… and bewildering foreign policy- it should come as no surprise considering the diluted message the United States has sent the world following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  The fact that three successive Presidents have failed to show a unified American position in the world is a clear indication of a failure to understand our history.

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The Final Founder

The foundation of American foreign policy was set in 1823… and crafted by John Quincy Adams and James Monroe.  Tucked away in his annual message to Congress was a bold and profound statement about the global interest of the United States- supporting freedom.   Too many politicians and “analysts” dismiss ideology as unrealistic in the geopolitical sphere.  This “nuanced” approach has enfeebled our position in the world- we have lost our way.

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The Monroe Doctrine is not just about keeping Europeans out of North America… the ideological framework of the proposal is too often overlooked-

that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers. . . But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintain it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States. “

Constitutional Certainty

 

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Routine teaching about the US Constitution… instructs students that its genius is found in the fact that it can be changed.  This dogma can be traced to the influence of Charles Beard’s contention that it was purely an economic document, and well timed amendments rescued our republic from new world feudalism.  Such orthodoxy perfectly defines the problems with historical revisionism.  The need to redefine historical figures and events too often interferes with substantive analysis

The US Constitution has been amended 27 times… in 229 years.  Considering the first ten came as a package, followed by numbers 13-15 which eliminated slavery and its ramifications- 18&21 deal with the failed experiment of prohibition- 19,24. 26 are further extensions of civil liberties; our Constitution has been structurally altered eight times.  Far from an easily alterable document open to countless revisions, our Constitution has proven to be remarkably resilient through the course of history.  Appropriate additions were made to account for expanding civil liberties, but the amending process has prevented unnecessary changes from trifling interests.

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Once an opponent of ratification… Thomas Jefferson saw the importance of the stability laid down by the Framers:

“Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.”

“On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”

Words Matter- “Genocide” and United States Indian Policies

Despite the fraudulent efforts of academic hucksters likethe resoundingly discredited Ward Churchill  – there is still no evidence that the US government ever tried to infect American Indians with smallpox. The myth of the smallpox blankets stems from a British, not American plan- an unsuccessful plan all-the-same.  Churchill manipulates this myth into his misguided and perverse theory that the United States committed genocide against American Indians.  The core of his argument is the 1837 outbreak among the Mandan tribe near Fort Clark- according to Churchill, the US Army shipped quarantined blankets from St. Louis to Fort Clark and then distributed them to the Mandan.

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Human-to-human outbreak only.

 

Now about that pesky historical evidence-

  • Fort Clark was not a US military post- it was owned and operated by a private fur trading company.
  • There were no US military personnel within 800 miles of Fort Clark in 1837
  • There is no evidence of US Army blankets infected with smallpox at St. Louis(or any post.)
  • None of the witnesses- including an Indian Affairs agent – distributed blankets to the tribe.
  • All of the witnesses record the same event- a Mandan sneaking onto a steamer with sick passengers and stealing a blanket.  Churchill never acknowledges this event despite its prominence in the historical record.
  • Nearly all scholars agree- the 1837 outbreak was likely caused by human-human contact and not airborne transmissions from blankets(there is evidence of Mandans socializing with some of the infected passengers.)

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Too hip to do research

Hucksters have a story to sell and books to peddleeven if that means falsifying sources, fabricating evidence, and creating historical figures – all to push a political agenda.  There are still academics who defend him and see him as a hero of academic freedom. Protecting free speech and academic freedom is a noble(and necessary) endeavor, but Ward Churchill is a spurious choice for such an important cause.