Remarkable Restraint

Abraham Lincoln could have curried much political favor in the West had he ordered the executions of 303 Dakota Sioux – Instead, he reviewed each case.

Despite the crushing defeat at Second Bull Run, the horrific carnage of Antietam, and the political fallout of issuing the Emancipation proclamation Lincoln still listened to the facts of the 303 condemned to hang in the Minnesota Sioux uprising of 1862.

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Lincoln pardoned all but 38 of the defendants.  Nearly 800 white settlers had been slaughtered in the uprising, and the public demanded retribution.  Lincoln was not going to allow these murders to go unpunished, but he was determined to use his pardoning power judiciously.

General John Pope encouraged his Commander-in-Chief to order all 303 hangings, sighting the popularity of such a decision on the Minnesota frontier.  Lincoln famously responded,

“I could not hang men for votes…”

 

 

 

TV Review- History Channel's "Washington"

Historical documentaries have changed forever. Reduced attention spans have spelled the end of the wistful images and genteel music of the Ken Burns style of documentary making. Now, actors and live action fill the time between the insight provided by “experts.” The word of historians apparently ring hollow, so the new style also interjects opinions from biographers, celebrities, and even former Presidents.

Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s production of “Washington” exemplifies this new breed of historical documentary. British stage actor, Nicholas Rowe, has the unenviable task of humanizing the marble face of George Washington. The purpose of this production is to present the Father of our country, “warts and all.” The production values are commendable and most of the actors do justice to their historical characters. All of the historic vignettes are competently staged, though do not rise to the level of a Hollywood production. It is not too hard to imagine what an extra episode could have contributed, as large segments of Washington’s career are passed over. Too often, the depictions rely on the performances, which are acceptable, but not necessarily moving.

A diverse collection of scholars is assembled by Kearns-Goodwin. Joe Ellis, Jon Meacham, Joanne Freeman, and Alan Taylor provide valuable insights into 18th century American life, as well as Washington’s complicated character. Ellis stands out as the authoritative voice among the academic contributors. Colin Powell’s insights into military logistics, strategy, and leadership are especially valuable. Bill Clinton’s contributions are surprisingly pedestrian, his presence must be seen as promotional. To emphasize Washington’s slave-owning, Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Annette Gordon-Reed are called upon to explain these experiences, though both offer plenty of digression. The most interesting contributor is “biographer,” Alexis Coe. She’s recently written an irreverent biography of Washington and served here as a co-producer. The producers must have seen her value in appealing to millennials.

It is most satisfying to see the History Channel producing content about history again. Despite the cinematic limitations and inconsistent insights, “Washington” does make for three nights of enjoyable viewing.

Stalin Takes Over at Yalta

“It was not a question of what we would let the Russians do, but what we could get the Russians to do.” Future Secretary of State James Byrnes commented on the Yalta conference which began on February 4, 1945.

Most historians now agree that Yalta… is where Stalin exerted his will upon the European continent.  Theories abound as to how this came to pass- Roosevelt’s illness, Churchill’s weariness, Soviet agents posing as American diplomats (Alger Hiss)- regardless, the Soviet Union came out of the conference a world power.  Byrnes’ observation was optimistic to say the least…

What seemed at the time to be reasonable compromise… laid the foundations for the Eastern Bloc.

Big Three
  • Free elections in Poland- clearly stacked in Stalin’s favor, the exiled Polish government in London stood little chance against the Provisional Communist state built by the Red Army in 1945.
  • Red Army occupation of eastern and central Europe was accepted- and despite assurances to Churchill of peaceful intentions, Stalin told Molotov, “Never mind. We’ll do it our own way later.”
  • The Red Army would occupy half of Germany including the entirety of Berlin. The seeds of the Cold War are planted out of what was thought to be military expediency.

Bring Back Washington's Birthday Celebration

There is something absurd in our generic observances of “Presidents Day.” Do we truly wish to venerate Warren Harding, Zachary Taylor, and Franklin Pierce? Should Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump really be exalted in our collective memory?

President’s Day is a workplace convenience contrived by the government to limit available vacation days in February. Lincoln’s assassination necessitated observance of his birthday, yet it also caused the government to view Washington’s birthday as expendable.

The limited observance of Washington’s birthday has diluted his resonance in our national consciousness. Our understanding of his historic contribution to the national story cannot be told by “woke” children regurgitating foolish drivel from Howard Zinn.

George Washington is the essential man in our history. Without him, there would be no United States. His birthday should be celebrated and his legacy should be taught to our future generations. It is time to do away with President’s day.

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?”

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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.”

Trump has Jackson's Worst Traits

Trump’s advisors insist he is the second coming of Andrew Jackson. Never mind that Trump has no record of public or military service, the similarities are portrayed as real and historic.

Such claims are ludicrous when measuring the commendable aspects of Jackson’s life. Military heroics and public service are glaring holes in the Trump resume.

However, both men struggled with insecurities and turned to conspiracy theories to explain away their inadequacies.

Trickery and Hickory
  • Jackson convinced himself, and thousands of his supporters, that the election of 1824 was stolen from him by a “Corrupt Bargain” between winner John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. Despite evidence to the contrary, Jackson’s refusal to accept the Constitutional results altered our history.
  • Trump is unwilling to accept the fact that he did not win the popular vote in 2016. He and his supporters are trying to perpetrate the falsehood that millions of illegal votes were cast for his opponent. He has offered no evidence to support this claim.

Insecure delusions compelled both men to attempt to rewrite history- satisfying their unchecked narcissism.