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Campaign 1800’s: Hermaphrodite raised on hoe-cakes

A footnote: I love this video but they join the “War on Context” with the snarky “try cracking a history book” at the end as – while they are exactly correct that foul things have been said in the name of campaigning through history, they get a Village Square rap on the knuckles for doing some major cherry picking.

First of all, we should note that the Jefferson and Adams campaign was ultimately the first election in human history with a peaceful transition of power from one party/group of people to another… let’s just say given the unique feat they were undertaking, it’s not that hard to imagine that tensions ran high. The standard way to handle it up until then was with bayonettes. Read all »

Happy Constitution Day

Quoting my friend Lea: “we the people”. not us and them. we are all the people who have to work together in order to form a more perfect union. happy constitution day.

To celebrate, I’m going to actually re-read it (and I might try to throw in the Bill of Rights).

Tea parties, God & government all in one blog post. Oh my.

Having personally met the first person sent to prison for the crimes surrounding the Watergate break-in – the delightful, humble and wise Bud Krogh – I know that you can’t paint people with too broad a brush. So here are some words you might find meaningful whichever side of the aisle you find yourself on? Or maybe these are words you might find challenging, no matter what side of the aisle? Well, either way, here goes: Chuck Colson, of Watergate infamy and now a widely read Christian writer, on the rising populist anger as expressed in the tea party:

… The inevitable consequence of all of this should deeply trouble Christians, who, of any segment of our society, understand the necessity of a strong government. The Bible teaches that God ordains government, appoints leaders, and requires obedience so that we might live peaceable lives. Why is this? God recognizes that even a bad government is better than no government. No government leads to chaos and mob rule. When order breaks down, justice is inevitably undermined. As Augustine of Hippo argued, peace flows from order, and both are necessary preconditions to the preservation of liberty and some measure of human dignity and flourishing.

This is why great leaders of the faith throughout history have held government in such high esteem. Some, such as John Calvin, considered the magistrate the highest of vocations…

“The tea party movement may have a lot of traction in America today, but it makes no attempt to present a governing philosophy. It simply seeks an outlet – an understandable one – for the brooding frustrations of many Americans. But anti-government attitudes are not the substitute for good government.We should be instructing people enraged at the excesses of Washington and the growing ethical malaise in the Capitol to focus their rage at fixing government, not throwing the baby out with the bath water.

We Christians are to be the best citizens, praying for our leaders and holding them in high regard, even as we push for the reforms desperately needed to keep representative government flourishing. Only when we funnel frustrations into constructive reformation can we expect a government that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

(Photo credit and – as is often the case when we find a good article – thanks to Lea, Queen of All Things Internet.)

“You must pardon me, for I have grown not only gray but blind in the service of my country”: George Washington and our civilian-controlled military

John R. Miller writes in Sunday’s New York Times about how George Washington played a key role in forming the cherished American principle of civilian control of our miliary (thanks to Luke for finding this):

On March 10, an anonymous letter appeared, calling for a meeting of all officers the next day to discuss the grievances. Within hours came a second anonymous letter, in which the writer, later revealed as Maj. John Armstrong Jr., an aide to top Gen. Horatio Gates, urged the troops, while still in arms, to either disengage from British troops, move out West and “mock” the Congress, or march on Philadelphia and seize the government.

When Washington learned of the letters, he quickly called for the meeting to be held instead on March 15 – to give time, he said, for “mature deliberation” of the issues. He ordered General Gates to preside and asked for a report, giving the impression that a friend of the instigators would run the show and that Washington himself wouldn’t even attend. He spent the next few days planning his strategy and lining up allies.

But just as the meeting of approximately 500 officers came to order, Washington strode into the hall and asked permission to speak. He said he understood their grievances and would continue to press them. He said that many congressmen supported their claims, but that Congress moved slowly. And he warned that to follow the letter writer would only serve the British cause.

The officers had heard all this before – the letter writer had even warned against heeding Washington’s counsel of “more moderation and longer forbearance.” The crowd rustled and murmured with discontent. Washington then opened a letter from a sympathetic congressman, but soon appeared to grow distracted. As his men wondered what was wrong, Washington pulled out a pair of glasses, which even his officers had never seen before. “Gentlemen,” he said, “you must pardon me, for I have grown not only gray but blind in the service of my country.”

The officers were stunned. Many openly wept. Their mutinous mood gave way immediately to affection for their commander.

Real leaders consider how to minimize the coarser aspects of human nature to lead; Opportunists want to grow the coarser aspects of human nature to gain power.

George Washington was a real leader:

“One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.”George Washington’s farewell address

These days we elect a lot of opportunists.

Maira Kalman: Never Let it be said that Americans were Afraid of color

In her New York Times “And the Pursuit of Happiness” blog, Maira Kalman treated us on New Year’s Day to By George. The picture above is her take on Mt. Vernon. Since I’m highly partial to George Washington, his 110 Rules of Civility, and spirited colorful art, this was bound to wow me. If you don’t get all the way to the end, know that this will come out as a book in October. I’ll see you at the bookstore…

(Hat tip to Eagle-Eye Luke.)

The Civility Project at U.Va.

The Village Square has always been all about George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation. We have found them wise and often a bit witty. We have a hard copy of the rules in a little red book we have more than a few times read at our Dinner at the Square events.

I just had a wonderful opportunity to talk with University of Virginia’s Ted Crackel about The Civility Project at U.Va., which will release a revised list of rules, in the spirit of Washington’s original. It is particularly wonderful that students are putting together the list. You can actually submit ideas for rules on their website: The Civility Project: George Washington Meets the 21st Century.

This isn’t any ole vanilla re-do of Washington’s rules, however. It’s got gravitas:

The Civility Project will be undertaken with organizational guidance from The Papers of George Washington, a Founding Fathers project based at the University’s Alderman Library, and with the inspiration of Judith Martin, who writes the nationally syndicated Miss Manners column in the Washington Post.

Martin and Theodore J. Crackel, editor-in-chief of the Papers of George Washington, met in 2005 when both were being honored at a White House ceremony. So when the Washington Papers staff recently discussed the idea of basing a project on our first president’s famed “Rules of Civility,” Crackel knew right away whom he wanted to enlist.

“I am absolutely delighted to have Judith Martin working with us on this effort,” Crackel said, noting that the columnist will play an active advisory role. “We in the project and the students involved couldn’t have a better adviser.”

We probably won’t sleep nights waiting to hear the results…

John Stuart Mill: “Exchanging error for truth”


“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind…The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it…If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: If wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error…We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”

Photo credit.

Wall Street Journal: Divided We Stand

patrick-henryLast weekend, The Wall Street Journal hosted a serious look at just what America dividing apart might look like. In Divided We Stand, Paul Starobin (author of After America: Narratives for the Next Global Age) writes:

The philosophical tie that binds these otherwise odd bedfellows is belief in the birthright of Americans to run their own affairs, free from centralized control. Their hallowed parchment is Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, on behalf of the original 13 British colonies, penned in 1776, 11 years before the framers of the Constitution gathered for their convention in Philadelphia. “The right of secession precedes the Constitution the United States was born out of secession,” Daniel Miller, leader of the Texas Nationalist Movement, put it to me. Take that, King Obama.

Today’s devolutionists, of all stripes, can trace their pedigree to the “anti-federalists” who opposed the compact that came out of Philadelphia as a bad bargain that gave too much power to the center at the expense of the limbs. Some of America’s most vigorous and learned minds were in the anti-federalist camp; their ranks included Virginia’s Patrick Henry, of “give me liberty or give me death” renown. The sainted Jefferson, who was serving as a diplomat in Paris during the convention, is these days claimed by secessionists as a kindred anti-federal spirit, even if he did go on to serve two terms as president.

The anti-federalists lost their battle, but history, in certain respects, has redeemed their vision, for they anticipated how many Americans have come to feel about their nation’s seat of federal power. “This city, and the government of it, must indubitably take their tone from the character of the men, who from the nature of its situation and institution, must collect there,” the anti-federalist pamphleteer known only as the Federal Farmer wrote. “If we expect it will have any sincere attachments to simple and frugal republicanism, to that liberty and mild government, which is dear to the laborious part of a free people, we most assuredly deceive ourselves.”/blockquote>

“Let a thousand flowers of religion bloom, they will not hurt us.”

founding-fathers-handsFrom Bob Edwards Weekend, interview with historian Simon Schama, on his recent book The American Future: A History:

The bet that America’s founding fathers made about religion in the 1st amendment when they passed the provision that Congress shall make no establishment with respect to religion and when Jefferson and Madison got through one of the most amazing documents in all American history the “Statute of Religious Toleration” the bet was made was that religion would flourish, that it would prosper, that it would bloom on the strictest possible condition: That you never made heterodoxy, someone else’s religion, a crime. You couldn’t prosecute someone for infringing on what other people took to be religious orthodoxy, you couldn’t lock them up. And from that moment, the founding fathers who were mixed in their degrees of devotion. (Jefferson didn’t think that Jesus was the son of God (but he believed he was a great moral teacher, others were more conventional.) But from that moment on, America flew a flag in my view of very great moral grandeur. It committed itself to toleration as a source of civil union. Let a thousand flowers of religion bloom, they will not hurt us. As Jefferson said very movingly, another person’s religious beliefs “neither break my leg or pick my pocket.” That was a majestically brave thing to say. And the first amendment stands. I wish that our wars in places where they rub up against theocracies like with the Taliban weren’t simply viewed as a matter of pragmatic national security. I’m all for charging the ramparts waving on Jefferson’s statute on religious toleration. We should take comfort and a sense of moral decency from that.

All about Abe


President Obama, recalling last night an apt story about Lincoln, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth, at an event in Springfield Illinois:

It was here nearly 150 years ago that the man whose life we’re celebrating today… bid farewell to this city that he had come to call his own. And as has already been mentioned, on a platform at a train station not far from where we’re gathered, Lincoln turned to the crowd and said:

“To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.”

And on this night, surrounded by all of you, I share his sentiment. But looking around this room at so many who did so much for me, I’m also reminded of what Lincoln once said to a favor-seeker who claimed that it was his efforts who made the difference in the election.

Lincoln asked him “so you think you made me President?”

Yes, the man replied “under Providence I think I did.”

“Well,” said Lincoln, “it’s a pretty mess you got me into. But I forgive you.”

So, for whoever thinks you’re responsible for this, we’re taking names.

We must disenthrall ourselves


Historian Eric Foner on Bill Moyers Journal commenting on Abraham Lincoln’s presidency on the occasion of the upcoming 200 year anniversary of his birth:

… when he becomes president, he realizes that he’s going to have to rethink his assumptions. You know, he says in his great message to Congress in December 1862, “We must disenthrall ourselves.” Unchain ourselves literally and from our old ideas. And the “we.” We. He includes himself as part of that “we.” “We’ve got to slough off our own assumptions and think anew,” he says. And so it’s that strong moral compass but willingness to listen to criticism and think anew that I think is the characteristic that leads him into greatness.

Liberty of Conscience: A fundamental American plumb line

From Noah Feldman’s Divided by God:

The revolutionary American idea that the people were sovereign profoundly disturbed the old model: How could the state establish the religion of the sovereign if the sovereign people belonged to many faiths? The framers rose to the occasion. For the first time in recorded history, they designed a government with no established religion at all.

… The early republic was religiously diverse in that it was inhabited by several different Protestant denominations. This “multiplicity of sects,” as James Madison brilliantly realized, ensured that no one denomination had the capacity to establish its own state religion at the national level.

… The dominant idea organizing church-state relations in the framers’ era was the liberty of conscience, understood to protect religious dissenters-representing the religious diversity of the time-against compelled taxation to support teachings with which they disagreed.

…In America, the establishment of religion by the government came to be seen as posing a fundamental danger to the liberty of conscience by threatening dissenters with the possibility of coercion. The constitutional guarantee of nonestablishment sought to protect conscience from coercion by guaranteeing a division between the institutional spheres of organized religion and government.