Context for Historic Monuments is Subjective

Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington DC has submitted a list of Federal monuments in her city which should be “removed, relocated, or contextualized.” She recently formed a commission to study this highly contentious issue. These recommendations come at a crucial time in our analysis of American remembrance.

Bowser’s commission actually lists the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial along with statues to Franklin, Mason, and Jackson.

The National Park Service provides appropriate context where possible, including exhibits at the Washington and Jefferson sites. Further contextual additions are clearly subjective undertakings, likely not to include proponents of maintaining such sites. Reasonable voices are being disregarded as discourse is thrown out the window. Not all historians support such haphazard attempts at political correctness. They need to be heard.

Our collective ride down the slippery slope of misguided historical revision continues.

August 27, 1917: President Wilson Responds to the Peace Plea of Pope Benedict

Almost Chosen People

Eventually President Wilson would incorporate parts of the peace plan, go here to read about it, Pope Benedict proposed on August 1, 1917 in his Fourteen Points Peace Plan, but on August 27, 1917 Wilson formally rejected the Pope’s Plan:

AUGUST 27, 1917

To His Holiness Benedictus XV, Pope:

In acknowledgment of the communication of Your Holiness to the belligerent peoples, dated August 1, 1917, the President of the United States requests me to transmit the following reply:

Every heart that has not been blinded and hardened by this terrible war must be touched by this moving appeal of His Holiness the Pope, must feel the dignity and force of the humane and generous motives which prompted it, and must fervently wish that we might take the path of peace he so persuasively points out. But it would be folly to take it if it does not in fact lead…

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Arnold’s Treason: 240 Years Later – August 30, 1780

Emerging Revolutionary War Era

On August 30, 1780, Benedict Arnold fully committed to treason by accepting the final terms presented by Sir Henry Clinton regarding the plot to turn over the fortifications at West Point to the British. Arnold’s reply to a letter written on July 24 by Clinton’s adjutant-general and chief intelligence officer, Major John Andre, was the result of over a year’s worth of on and off negotiations between the two parties. At times it had appeared to Clinton and Andre that Arnold’s defection would not be as useful as they had hoped. The American general could not obtain a field command and could only offer intelligence that was of little value or already known. However, when Arnold assumed command of the fortifications in the Hudson Highlands, including West Point, in early August, the possibility of using his services to strike a crushing blow to the American cause became a reality.

Andre Maj…

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Madison on Separation of Powers

Events of recent weeks necessitate a reminder from Madison on the appropriate division of power in Washington.

In Federalist 47, he emphasizes: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

The threat of tyranny exists even in a Government chosen by the people. Electoral victory is never a blank check awarded the victor. The Constitution possesses mechanisms to guard against this: “There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates… if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powersDiversifying the voices heard in government not only helps to prevent one point of view from becoming too strong, but also promotes the affirmative goal of democratizing governmental decision-making”

Our government functions best when both branches acknowledge the equitable division of authority and seek common ground. The demagoguery required to dismiss the legitimate claims of Congress is a distortion of the trust granted the Executive with our vote.

Carnegie and Protecting Wealth

Andrew Carnegie rationalized his notoriously low wages… in a speech dedicating one of his 2,800 libraries in Pittsburgh in 1895;

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“The plan suggested does not commend itself as justifiable or wise, because there are higher uses for surplus wealth than adding petty sums to the earnings of the masses. Trifling sums given to each every week or month – and the sums would be trifling indeed – would be frittered away, nine times out of ten, in things which pertain to the body and not to the spirit; upon richer food and drink, better clothing, more extravagant living, which are beneficial neither to rich nor poor.”

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Never trust a man who owns a castle 

Carnegie’s view of working class struggles… is as cruel as it is ignorant.  His description better fits what the upper class did with surplus wealth– there is nothing wrong with a family man wanting better clothes for his children, or a sturdier roof over his head.  Carnegie’s philanthropy must be observed with a critical eye.

Essential Civil War Reading

  • Battle Cry of Freedom, by James McPherson.  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this is the best one volume account of the War told by its greatest storyteller.  It traces the conflict from Free Soil to the assassination of Lincoln in an authoritative voice that has yet to be rivaled.
  • To the Gates of Richmond, by Stephen Sears.  Only Sears could encapsulate the quagmire of McClellan’s Peninsular campaign into a single, eminently readable volume. The book brilliantly weaves multiple story-lines from common soldiers all the way to the Commander-in-Chief-  Sears proves there is no greater authority on the McClellan/Lincoln feud.
  • No Better Place to Die, by Peter Cozzens.  The rare book that definitively recounts the battle, while bringing humanity to the brave men who fought it.  Cozzens’ tactical knowledge is matched only by his exhaustive research into hundreds of primary sources.  No finer battle study has been produced- Stones River is no longer a forgotten battle.
  • Gettysburg; The Second Day, By Harry Pfanz.  No man knew Gettysburg better, Dr. Pfanz’s book is the definitive study of July 2, 1863.  By focusing on the pivotal day of the battle, Pfanz brings the sacrifices of the men into clearer perspective.  Far too much ink has been spilled on Pickett’s charge, Pfanz shows us  the battle was truly won the day before.
  • The Iron Brigade, By Alan Nolan.  More than a unit history, Nolan’s book is military history at its finest.  By tracing the unit through primary sources, from its Commanders to the private soldiers, Nolan’s book provides a rich and exciting narrative.  The detailed description of battles with the legendary Stonewall Brigade set the book apart.  This book is the standard all subsequent unit histories are measured.
  • Joshua Chamberlain: A Hero’s Life and Legacy, by John Pullen.   The perfect companion to Pullen’s regimental history of the 20th Maine, this biography of its legendary leader stands the test of time.  Pullen separates myth from fact in recounting Chamberlain’s heroic military service.  Like any great biographer, Pullen finds the man in the midst of hyperbole and legend.
Soul of a lion

Bristoe Station Battlefield in Prince William County, Virginia

M.A. Kleen

A chance to inflict a devastating blow on their opponent turned into a disaster for Confederates at this Northern Virginia historic site.

The Battle of Bristoe Station was fought on October 14, 1863 between Union forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren and Confederate forces commanded by Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill in Prince William County, Virginia during the American Civil War. The battle resulted in approximately 1,920 total casualties and was a tactical Union victory, although Union forces ultimately withdrew and the Confederates destroyed the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.

Bristoe Station was a stop on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, an important rail line running north-south from Alexandria, Virginia to Gordonsville. It formed the northern half of the only rail link between the Union and Confederate capitals at Washington, D.C. and Richmond. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate armies sought to…

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George Clinton: VP 4 and Maybe 5

Presidential History Blog

Everyone knows John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, VPs 1 and 2. Some know Aaron Burr, VP 3. But George Clinton?

George Clinton’s Qualifications

George Clinton (1739-1812) was a New Yorker from upstate, considered among our Founding Fathers (perhaps minor, but still worthy) who performed excellent service to both his country and to New York.

Gov. Clinton hosted GW’s first dinner as President.

Having served in the French and Indian War, he returned to Ulster County, read law, and began a career in public service. By his mid-thirties, he was elected to represent New York at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where he met George Washington and formed a lifelong friendship.

No hat – but different uniform!

By 1777, he was elected Governor of New York – one of seven terms, still a NY record. Despite serving in his gubernatorial capacity, he had another hat, as a Brigadier General in the…

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Criticism from Former Presidents

Barack Obama is being hailed as the first former President to bluntly criticize a sitting Executive publicly. While his words at the Democratic National Convention were frank, they are far from the most biting commentary ever recorded.

During Wilson’s bid for reelection in 1916, none other than Theodore Roosevelt shared a rather harsh opinion of the sitting President in a typed letter to a government official:

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His conduct in Mexico, his conduct in the face of Germany, and his conduct in the face of the hyphenated Americans at home, stamps him as being, on the whole, the most wretched creature we have had in the Presidential chair…”

Tell the country how you really feel, TR.

Defense of the Electoral College

Madison and Hamilton created the Electoral College for specific reasons… and suppressing minority voters was not one of them.  Plurality is part of the Federal electoral process, but integrated to meet the needs of federalism.  States matter in our compound republic.  Madison wanted them involved in the process of choosing the executive.

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Madison said,  “The executive power will be derived from a very compound source.  The immediate election of the President is to be made by the States in their political characters.  The votes allotted to them are in a compound ratio, which considers them partly as distinct and coequal societies, partly as unequal members of the same society.” – Federalist #39

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Hamilton saw the dangers in misguided passions leading the electorate astray,  “The choice of several, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of one who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place” – Federalist #68

Think of the electoral vote this way…  In the 1960 World Series, the New York Yankees outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 55-27  and out-hit the hapless Pirates 91-60.  Using the rationale of plurality as demanded by the national popular vote crowd, the Yankees were clearly world champs that year.  But runs are integrated into games, and in 1960, the Pirates won 4 games, the Yankees 3.  Runs and hits are part of a process, but the process integrates all parts of the sport into choosing a winner.