Words Matter- Even on Twitter

Webster’s defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.”


Donald Trump’s insensitive Twitter jab at Elizabeth Warren…. was meant as a joke, but this President continues to alienate entire ethnic groups with his ham-handed use of social media.

The response to Trump’s clumsy play on words… is just as dangerous.  Our need to hyperbolize tragic events in history is desensitizing us to their historical importance.  Throwing around the word “genocide” and applying it to inapplicable events devalues the term over time.


Cherokee relocation and the subsequent loss of life on the “Trail of Tears” … was tragic and a regrettable chapter in American history.  It also casts serious doubt on the supposed “greatness” of Andrew Jackson.  Our government did not intend to wipe out the Cherokee.  There was no deliberate attempt to extirpate the culture.  Using the term “genocide” in this case only inflames misguided passions.


Finest Two Minutes


Lincoln thought he failed November 19, 1863…  obligatory applause from a damp crowd in Gettysburg offered him little consolation.  Lincoln had just followed a masterful two-hour speech from America’s greatest orator, Edward Everett.  The President sat down in his seat and commented to his friend, Ward Lamon, that the speech wouldn’t “scour” (would fail to clear away.)  He left Gettysburg concerned with the bad press and his message resonating.

The Chicago Times recorded, “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”


Edward Everett put the ceremony in the proper perspective:

“Permit me also to express my great admiration of the thoughts expressed by you, with such eloquent simplicity & appropriateness, at the consecration of the Cemetery. I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”


To honor Lincoln and his message at Gettysburg- James Madison Preparatory School presents Mr. Gordon Sheaffer-   “Lincoln at Gettysburg: Creating a New Nation”

Tuesday, February 12, 2019   7pm in the school cafeteria

Refreshments provided.



Can History be Popular?

Stephen Ambrose was not yet cold.. in his grave and critics were vindictively trampling on it.  Once respected and beloved, Ambrose spent his final days  defending his legacy from merciless attacks.  What had he done to precipitate such a demise?  Ambrose had written history books  people liked.


Plagiarism was the charge… and in academic circles it nearly amounts to a death sentence.  “Reporters” discovered instances in Ambrose’s  book The Wild Blue of passages that were “copied.”  He apologized, then clarified that he had not committed plagiarism, but had not cited the other book according to current academic standards.  Such a statement incited a witch hunt through his anthology for similarities with his source material.   Ambitious newshounds went as far as to dig through the deceased man’s doctoral thesis.  The ensuing maelstrom was a bizarre display of victimization of veterans, augmentation of little known authors, and academic lock step.  Only in the realm of academic history could peers admit to professional jealousy while openly advocating the ostracism of the envied.  No doubt some felt betrayed because Ambrose was one of them, trained at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under Professor William Hesseltine.  The attacks were too coordinated, the pressure too relentless for this to be merely writers promoting academic integrity.  Ambrose and the success he enjoyed had earned  the scorn of the multitudes of faceless academics who could only celebrate their publishing. 


Defining plagiarism is similar to explaining an IRS audit… everyone knows it’s bad, but only a few seem to fully comprehend it.  When explaining what Ambrose was accused of, his detractors usually clarify that he is guilty of “inadequate attribution.”  But, there is no doubt they say, this is plagiarism.  Ambrose presented history to the masses, not tiny conclaves of academics.  He found sources, utilized them, then cited them.  Inadequate attribution, essentially, is the proper use of quotation marks.  In academia they mean the world, to ordinary readers they mean ”he/she said.”  The writers cited by Ambrose should be grateful; appearing in an Ambrose bibliography exposes their books to millions of readers they had no chance reaching on their own.  Should he have directly quoted the passages in question, hindsight says yes,  but his works remain on the bookshelves of millions of Americans.  His detractors have only the internet to thank for their continued notoriety.

Stephen Ambrose wrote history books… for people who did not study it in college.  His books were never intended to be the definitive studies on any particular topic.  He never claimed as much.  Ambrose told stories and people were drawn to them.  Now that he is gone, the close-knit world of academia is using him as a cautionary tale to new students of history.  Ambrose does not deserve such treatment considering his significant contribution to American historical study.

Historical Revision and “Presentism”

Revisionists believe historical figures must be held accountable to our present beliefs and sensibilities.  Our progress and achievements must be the standard to which every person, past and present, is held. 

Such foolishness is partly to blame for the iconoclasm afflicting our culture today.  We are willing to destroy our past because men(and women) living then did not achieve what WE think they should have.

The late, great historian, Henry Steele Commager  cautioned the country about just such a phenomenon in 1951:

Commager in the 1940s

“Ideally, the past should be understood on its own terms. Historical events should be examined in the light of the standards, values, attitudes, and beliefs that were dominant during a given period and for a given people, rather than evaluated exclusively by current standards.”



Free Press and Fake News

Thomas Jefferson cautioned George Washington about the importance of a free press…. his words should serve as warning to citizens today…


“No government ought to be without censors, and where the press is free, no one ever will. If virtuous, it need not fear the fair operation of attack and defense. Nature has given to man no other means of sifting out the truth whether in religion, law or politics. I think it as honorable to the government neither to know nor notice its sycophants or censors, as it would be undignified and criminal to pamper the former and persecute the latter.”

America’s First Public University

The gall of Black Lives Matter to demand Jefferson’s likeness be removed from the University of Virginiaour first truly public university.



Irony so palpable it is nearly farcical…. students of all ethnicities and backgrounds on a campus literally built for them by Jefferson.

Jefferson believed in education for all of society:

“I feel … an ardent desire to see knowledge so disseminated through the mass of mankind that it may, at length, reach even the extremes of society: beggars and kings.”  1808


“This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind.”

The University of Virginia was his experiment and his dream of an educated citizenry…
“We wish to establish in the upper country of Virginia, and more centrally for the State, a University on a plan so broad and liberal and modern, as to be worth patronizing with the public support, and be a temptation to the youth of other States to come and drink of the cup of knowledge and fraternize with us.” 1800
To the confused children leading the preposterous protests in Charlottesville-   Jefferson is not your enemy- your successes and privileges can be attributed to his vision and guidance.

January 31, 1865: Passage of the Thirteenth Amendment

Almost Chosen People

After the fall elections in 1864 passage of the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery was inevitable.  In 1864 the Thirteenth Amendment passed the Republican controlled Senate with an overwhelming majority of 38-6.  In the House the Amendment failed 93-65, thirteen votes shy of the two-thirds necessary for passage.  In November the Republicans in the House gained 46 seats and would have a majority of 134 when the new House was seated.  Nonetheless, the Lincoln administration was eager to undertake another vote in the House when the old Congress came into session after the election.  Lincoln made direct emotional appeals to several Democrats in favor of the Amendment.   Favors and appointments were offered to Democrats who switched their votes.  The Amendment passed 119-56.  Black spectators cheered after passage and several members of Congress openly wept.  Here is the text of the Amendment:

Section 1.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a…

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