Oh, Felicia, you’re something else.

I’m working on some other posts (in between being mama bear) right now and something that keeps coming to the forefront of my mind is an experience I had with a Canadian acquaintance I was friends with on Facebook. I’d posted something about the Confederate battle flag (it’s been awhile, so I forget what) and she lit into me like a bat outta hell with her righteous indignation.

Anyway, I’m sitting here chuckling at something she said to me before cutting the conversation short with a good unfriending (which was rather like the trash taking itself out since clearly she didn’t want an answer to her points). She said that her evidence proving how slavery was the only issue, how everything was about that and yadda, yadda, yadda was that when she “visited the South” she didn’t see any slaves’ graves.

I don’t know who goes on vacation to another country and spends that time looking for 150 year old graves but let’s run with this for a second. She is probably right BUT not neccessarily for the reasons she thinks. There are certain things she forgot to factor in:

First, the war decimated the South. In the areas where there was fighting a lot got destroyed and this includes graves. It was especially common for any graves that looked recent to be dug up by Union soldiers just in case some sneaky southerner was trying to hide their valuables or other supplies. Putting aside issues of whether it is moral to steal or destroy every bit of food possible that belongs to civilians, or to dig up dead bodies, often failing to properly rebury them after the fact, the bottom line is a lot of graves were disturbed.

Second, last I checked gravestones don’t typically read: John Doe, white man. Or Jane Doe, slave. Or whatever or however she expects to know for a certainty the color of who is buried where.

Third, gravestones surviving to this day from that period tend to belong to the very lucky or the very wealthy. I’ve enjoyed genealogy research since my teens and I know of gravestones for ancestors of that period on about… Just to estimate… One in twenty ancestors. Several more I’ll be able to find information on where the grave yard is that they were buried but when I go there I find that most of the graves are unmarked so I can be sure if my ancestor is buried there or, if so, which grave is theirs. My ancestors weren’t by and large working class farmers who didn’t have money for things like slaves or fancy burials. Am I supposed to be offended by their lack of grave marker?

Fourth, most slaves probably got what in the modern day would be considered a sub par burial. Slavery, as a whole, is a black mark on our history and it’s a shame it wasn’t eradicated earlier. You will never, ever find me attempting to justify slavery with excuses about how they were somehow benefiting. I don’t believe that and I’m not going to undermine my points or my credibility with such despicable logic.

What I will state and will stand by is that the war involved MORE than slavery and that proving slavery isn’t moral (no shit, Sherlock) has absolutely nothing to do with what was or wasn’t the meaning behind the flag.

You can argue over what the war was about. You can argue about how many who flew the flag were slave owners. You can argue about how best we should treat the flag in the modern day. What you cannot logically argue is that the burial customs of a particular demographic is proof positive of the symbolism behind something unrelated to burial. It doesn’t work.

Bye, Felicia.

A Trump Impeachment? Unlikely.

I’ve heard people throwing the term “impeachment” around a lot lately in reference to Trump’s presidency. I understand why many think that’s some sort of safeguard against presidential abuses because that was the Founders’ intent, but the fact is it isn’t. That’s especially the case now.

The power of impeachment was given to the legislature by our Founders as a means of removing presidents, vice presidents, or other federal officials guilty of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” (U.S. Constitution. Art. II, Sec. 4). There are also procedures for impeachment of state level officials, but we don’t need to get into that here. The important thing to understand is it’s up to the House of Representatives to start the proceedings in committee, vote to impeach (indict) the accused, and then it’s up to the Senate to convict. Got it? Good.

The House has only voted to impeach presidents twice in our nation’s history. The Senate has NEVER voted to remove a president.

Andrew Johnson ran as part of the National Union party for his presidency. He was also in the Democratic party at different other times in his career. The House attempted impeachment twice. The second time it passed the House but failed the Senate. Republican majorities both times.

‘Bill’ Clinton was impeached by the House in 1998 for perjury and obstruction of justice. The Senate chose not to convict so he wasn’t removed. As most of us know, Clinton was a Democrat. The majorities in Congress at the time? Republican.

Many believe Nixon was also impeached. While he was threatened with it (as many others have been), Nixon chose to resign before the question of impeachment was decided by the House. Maybe he would have been, maybe not. It’s thought that had he not resigned Congress would have impeached him so I’ll go ahead and mention that he was a Republican. The majorities in Congress at that time? Democrat.

I hope you’re seeing a trend here because there is one. The instances where our Congress has come the closest to removing a president has been when the Congressional majorities were of a different party than the president. Partisan politics pervade our government with nearly everything. On something that can so drastically affect their next elections you can bet parties will vote in their own best interests and that means not impeaching a president from their own party.

Remember during the Republican primaries when numerous Republicans spoke out against Trump? Remember when he got the nomination and all of a sudden most of those Republicans fell into line and supported him? It’s incredibly unlikely enough will turn against him to successfully impeach. That would be political suicide.

Of course I could be wrong, but I think the chance of impeachment with a Republican majority is microscopic. About the only chance would be if Democrats got the majority in the next cycle and even then I’d be surprised. We have never impeached a president even when people widely thought there was reason to do so. A lot would have to change for it to happen.

Changes Are Coming

Since starting this blog I’ve had a new baby, moved, this country has had a majorly controversial election, and a myriad of other things have occurred that have made me either lack the time/energy to post or make me want to delve more into a modern political arena than I really wish this blog to get caught up in. I’ve felt burnt out and fed up and it’s resulted in not doing much on the blog.

But I have been thinking about where I want things to go. I’ve come to the conclusion that because my time to work on the blog is so erratic I’m going to disable commenting on posts. It’s not fair to legitimate commenters to wait months to have their comments approved and it’s also frustrating that every time I log in with the intention of working on the blog my time gets used up wading through hundreds of spam comments. It is tedious and prevents me adding much of real value to the site. For similar reasons, the forum is coming down. I’ve had it in maintenance mode for months while I considered the options and I really think this is best. I want to focus what time and energy I have on content, not moderating spam.

With that in mind, I’m sure the holiday season is going to sidetrack me a bit more but in the coming months expect to see new articles and a new design geared more towards the information only mentality and making that information easier to sift through.

Thanks for understanding!

Thoughts on the Boston Massacre

The following was originally posted by me on TBOH’s Facebook page, but I felt like it was something I wanted to archive here as well.


 

On March 5, 1770 in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, frustrations between government and civilians came to a head.

“Redcoats” had been stationed in Boston, lodging in the homes of civilians, in response to the colonials resistance to the Townshend Acts. Many of these redcoats were good men who joined the British army to defend their country or sought to make a living when their prospects otherwise were dim. Many of the colonials were good men who had grown frustrated with what they considered the government’s abuse of power which the redcoats were there to enforce.

That day in March, colonials were harassing the redcoats out of frustration and the redcoats were overwhelmed and feeling cornered. Whether they were confused or just hit a breaking point, the soldiers ended up firing into the crowd and five civilians died. Nine redcoats were arrested. Trying to prove that the colonies could do the right thing and ensure justice, John Adams and Josiah Quincy defended the soldiers in court and were able to get them acquitted.

Over two centuries later, it’s still hard to say who was right and who was wrong. No doubt good men suffered on both sides and both sides had not so good men. To the colonials, even a redcoat who was otherwise a good person was not to be trusted because he was there enforcing laws that were unjust. Either way, the events of that day were dubbed the “Boston Massacre” and contributed greatly to the eventual American Revolution.

Right now in this country we have a portion of our civilians frustrated by government abuses, abuses often occurring at the hands of those they are supposed to be able to count on to “serve and protect.”

Perhaps most police are good people, though civilians get frustrated by their enforcing laws that are unjust or the fact that some abuse their power and seem to get off with mere slaps on the wrist.

Likewise most civilians are good people and wouldn’t harm a police officer. Police officers can’t always determine who might though and distrust civilians just as they themselves are distrusted.

Who is “right”? Maybe everyone, maybe no one. The Boston Massacre was important because it was the result of systemic injustice that reached a boiling point because it was not addressed and fixed earlier. It doesn’t really matter whether the redcoats were justified in shooting that day and it doesn’t really matter if the civilians who died were good men or criminals. To their friends and families it mattered. To the courts it mattered. To society what mattered was that there was a larger problem that needed to be fixed and hadn’t been.

Right now there are major problems with our justice system, problems with being ensured due process or that our constitutional rights are protected. Does it matter to society whether the people involved in certain events are good people or criminals? Whether they mean well or meant to abuse power? Or even who is right? No, not really. It matters to their friends and families, but what matters to society is taking steps to ensure that this is addressed so that more people don’t suffer.

Take off the rose colored glasses. Stop drawing lines in the sand as if everyone on one side is an angel and on the other devils. Start looking at the reasons these issues keep coming up. Look at what we can do to fix the problems in the system itself. Find ways to hold people accountable for their actions regardless of whether they were a uniform or not. Learn from history for once.

What does the Confederate battle flag mean to you?

I received an email from a young lady who is working on a research paper for school and had a few questions for me on this topic. With her permission, I’d like to share her questions here, my response, and open it up for others to add their thoughts as well in the comments.

Her email, name omitted:

While looking around for sources for a research paper, I found your site. I found it very interesting and helpful, and wondered if you could answer a few questions about my topic for me.

My topic is this: “What does the Confederate flag (the battle flag) mean to Southern Americans today?”.

My questions are:

1) The main opposition to the flag seems to be for racial reasons. Do you think that African Americans take offense at the flying of this flag, and why?

2) What does the flag mean to you, personally?

3) Do you think that it is a symbol of a dead cause, or do you feel that the principals for which the South fought are still alive today?

If you could answer any or all of these questions, I would greatly appreciate it, however, if you do not have the time, I completely understand.

My response:

I’m happy to give you an answer to your questions as far as my own thoughts/perspective on the matter. I’m glad to hear the site has been useful to you.

1) The main opposition to the flag in the modern day is racial, yes. I think most who take offense do so because they have been given a tainted narrative about the war. They, as most of us, have been taught that the war was all about slavery and the southern whites were determined to keep
blacks enslaved. Given such a story, I don’t think anyone can blame them for opposing the flag. The problem is there is more to the history than that and we can’t start erasing history because we’ve been conditioned to believe it something it wasn’t. Nobody was perfect, there was certainly
slavery and there were plenty of bad people on either side, but those of southern ancestry (of all colors) are being asked to give up our heritage based on a lie and that’s not okay.

You may be interested in checkout out the work and writings of H.K. Edgerton. He runs the website southernheritage411.com and is a former president of the Asheville, NC NAACP chapter. He is one of the most vocal African Americans who are speaking up on behalf of the flag and don’t want it removed from southern culture. Here is a recent headline that involved him:
https://www.rawstory.com/2016/05/bystanders-break-up-bizarre-scuffle-between-angry-kkk-members-and-black-pro-confederate-activist/

2 & 3) I’m a Virginian, and that impacts my answer more specifically than just being a southerner. Our ancestors thought of themselves not as Americans first, or even as Confederates first, but first as Virginians (or whatever other southern state) and other earthly allegiances came second to that. Virginia was not as attached to slavery as some of the deep south. My own ancestors were farmers and as a genealogy buff I can tell you that next to no one in my family owned slaves at the time of the war. I can think of maybe two instances among dozens of ancestors… one was a single slave that it looked like was inherited and she just lived with the family, the other being a more distant family that owned several but nothing like the sprawling plantations we are led to think about. Most of my family owned none. A fellow Virginian, Robert E. Lee chose to free his slaves (inherited also, not purchased) at the beginning of the war when the south was actually winning whereas Ulysses S. Grant chose not to do so until the war ended. So I think just on that topic alone there are a lot of misconceptions about how people here viewed slavery.

The fact of the matter is our founding fathers didn’t all agree as far as having a loose collective of states who governed themselves versus a strong central power. Our Constitution left most things in the hands of the individual states but by the mid 19th century the federal government had already taken more liberties than many could stand. Through politics in the federal government, where the South was at a disadvantage, the South had been given the tax burden of the entire country. We paid most of the taxes and many northern industries were given subsidies using that tax money. Lincoln stated that they couldn’t let the south go because they couldn’t afford to lose the revenue. Charles Dickens, looking upon the war from England, wrote that slavery as a cause was “specious humbug” and that the war was a “fiscal quarrel.”

When Virginia ratified the Constitution, our ratification specifically included a clause that we reserved the right to leave the union if down the road we determined that the power was being abused. We determined that, we left as we had a legal right to do, and the federal government
chose to fight to retain us regardless of our wishes. Politicians and others in “union” states were arrested to prevent secession from spreading. It all became this big power struggle of whether they could force a union or whether we were still free people. I think that’s one of the most insulting things about the common claim about the war being over slavery and being just so the wealthy could keep their wealth. These people are saying that my family fought and died not for something that they believed in, but because they were the foolish pawns of rich men. What part of that really makes sense? We had cousins travel back here from what is now West Virginia to fight with us and died in military prison after being captured… Do these people pushing this narrative really think they chose to come back here and leave their families at risk in West Virginia all for the sake of some rich plantation owner keeping their slaves? In what universe does that make sense?

What the battle flag — and remember that’s what this flag being fought over was, a flag the men designed and chose to fight under, not an official flag of the Confederate government — means to me is a symbol of how much my ancestors valued their freedom. They fought and died because
they believed they should have a right to determine who governed them rather than allowing themselves to be controlled and taken advantage of, just like my ancestors who fought in the American Revolution. The difference is that one set of ancestors won their war and the others lost
but that doesn’t change what they valued enough to fight (and in some cases die) for. I don’t think the desire for freedom will ever be a dead cause. The Confederacy is dead, but that was more something that mattered to politicians who were concerned about political borders, tax revenues,
military prowess, whatever. I don’t really care whether there is a “Confederate States of America” in existence. I just care about honoring a cause that is tied to this land and these people, and I do think those principles are alive today. They are pretty universal among anyone who prefers freedom to safety or however you want to phrase it. People find different ways of pursuing it, find different ways of explaining it, but the cause is the same.

It’s a shame, to me, that so many people get caught up debating points that don’t really affect that and start wanting to criticize each side for how “wrong” they are. That’s exactly the type of division that was intended by whoever it was brilliant enough to come up with this flag drama. I think a lot of people are passionate about it and that passion makes them handle matters in ways that are more detrimental than anything.

What are your thoughts for her?

Early Elections and the Development of Political Parties

After the recent primary craziness, I’ve seen a lot of comments pertaining to choosing between the lesser of evils among candidates and whether or not third party nominees are worth your vote. I think it’s time to take a look at the history of our voting system and how we got to this point of choosing between Republicans and Democrats.

Some may not realize that our method of electing Presidents has changed a bit over time. I remember the Electoral College being a major topic around the Bush/Gore election and the debate always seemed to be “this is how it’s always been” versus “we need a fairer system.” Not knowing any better, it was easy for me to assume that because we have had the Electoral College from the beginning that we have also had this party system from the beginning. That’s the first thing I want to make clear here, that the electoral college versus popular vote debate is a separate issue from how and why we have two parties dominating our political system.

The Original Constitution

At the founding of this country we did not operate with a party system as we recognize it today. There were political parties (like the Federalists) but that didn’t determine who ran. Being a part of a political party didn’t necessarily mean anything more than just having a label to quickly and easily summarize your beliefs. There were no running mates – the candidate with the most votes became President, the candidate with the second most became Vice President. Each elector had two votes so they could essentially place a vote for both positions. In the event of a tie, the House would choose. If even the House’s vote resulted in a tie, then the Senate became tie breaker. (See Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution to read more.)

In our first Presidential election in 1789, George Washington and John Adams both ran and are considered widely as representing the Federalist party. Washington got the most votes and so was elected President, though you’ll be hard pressed to find anything saying Washington considered himself part of the Federalist party. Adams got the second most and so became Vice President.[1] In the third election, when Washington declined to serve a third term, we saw more variation in the candidates, the main ones being John Adams (Federalist), Thomas Jefferson (Democratic-Republican), Thomas Pinckney (Federalist), and Aaron Burr (Democratic-Republican). It’s not to say these groups didn’t have in mind a specific one of their own for President and another for Vice President, but it was set up in such a way that securing one position didn’t mean that party secured the other. It also means that if they had many candidates from their party running the votes could be split resulting in someone else completely winning. So we see that the parties weren’t really relevant when it came to who could be a candidate and there wasn’t truly a party system as we know it today.

In his Farewell Address, Washington specifically addressed the party system and cautioned against it (emphasis mine):

“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”

The Twelfth Amendment

As time passed, the political climate of our young country drove more and more of our leaders, even founders themselves, to stick to their parties. Trying to get their candidates in office with the original voting procedure proved problematic and so it seemed imperative to change things.

The Twelfth Amendment held slight changes for the electoral process and was passed by Congress on December 9th, 1803 and then ratified June 15th, 1804. This came primarily as a solution to issues surrounding the 1796 election where Jefferson was able to secure Vice President because the Federalists weren’t united in their voting for Vice and then again in the 1800 election with the Jefferson/Burr tie. It required that one vote be given for the President and one vote be given for Vice President. It also changed how many candidates the House and Senate could choose between when serving as tie breakers. Although it’s been a near thing, the House of Representatives hasn’t actually decided the outcome of an election since 1824. However, it’s important to note that if there was ever enough of a tie that would mean that the lowest population states would have equal power as the highest population states in the election outcome.

Back on topic, the Twelfth Amendment created the party ticket we have come to expect with one person put forth as President and another put forth as Vice President. This is partly because there were concerns that a President from one party and a Vice President from another (as happened with President John Adams and Vice Thomas Jefferson) would result in difficulties working together… though some might contend that is a good thing and in truth the Vice President has limited powers anyway unless the Vice has to take over the role of Presidency for some reason. Perhaps that was the real rub, the idea that their candidate could win President but then by some fluke of poor health, assassination or whatever else the position could end up in the hands of their opponents. It also prevented that pesky problem of votes getting split among a party to their own detriment.

By this time, so soon (relatively) since the warnings of Washington, elections had taken a partisan turn making them eerily similar to what we see today.

One Fish, Two Fish…

Certainly in recent memory the two main parties have been Democrat versus Republican and many seem to feel that it’s inevitable that one of those two are the only possible winners. I wonder if people realize that it has not always been these two or if they think that Democrat versus Republican is just a renaming of the two original groups that seemed to emerge. In fact, we have had Federalist presidents, Anti-Federalist, Democratic-Republican, Democratic, National Republican, Whig, and Republican. While these names sound familiar to each other, the platforms of parties have varied and developed substantially over the years. There have also been other parties that, while not winning a Presidential election, did win electoral votes in many states – parties you’ve probably never heard of like Constitutional Union, People’s/Populist Party, Progressive, States Rights Democratic (“Dixiecrats”), and American Independent.

In truth, we as a people could choose any party we wished and it doesn’t have to be one of the main two. The real upper hand that they have, beyond just the power in general of being incumbents, is the fact that Republicans and Democrats get federal funding for every Presidential election and have since 1976. This involves millions of dollars to each which go to contribution matching and funding of their national conventions, conventions that are run by whatever rules those parties decide on. Though minor party candidates have qualified for this funding before, it’s more difficult for them and some have challenged whether the setup of this funding and the party requirements is even Constitutional.

Have we somehow forgotten, though, that we live in the age of the internet? We are not confined to ignorance and now more than ever any party should have an equal shot if the people have the backbone to vote their conscience rather than continuing to subscribe to “lesser of two evils” and “third parties are wasted votes” mentalities.

Geographical and Cultural Differences

One of the excellent observations made by Washington in his Farewell Address was that:

“In contemplating the causes wch may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern, that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by Geographical discriminations–Northern and Southern–Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavour to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views.

One of the expedients of Party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions & aims of other Districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies & 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.”

Isn’t that what we have seen repeatedly in our past? Yet, as Washington adds, “[w]ith slight shades of difference, you have the same Religeon, Manners, Habits & political Principles. You have in a common cause fought & triumphed together–The independence & liberty you possess are the work of joint councils, and joint efforts–of common dangers, sufferings and successes.” Remember this is the same man who welcomed Muslims and who exact beliefs on Christianity remain mysterious. This was not an insistence that we are solely a Christian nation or that we must all agree on controversial topics, but a reminder that our disagreements only divide us so much as we let them. If we managed to learn how to mind our own business and not attempt to control others we might even run out of things to argue about. At least, argue as much about.

[1] http://www.270towin.com/1789_Election/

Too many are being robbed of their history.

I have a hypothetical question for you. What if I told every white person in America the following:

Your ancestors were all Irish.

They all came over during the Great Potato Famine.

The Irish were discriminated against, so as such they were all poor workers and mistreated by the rest of society.

This was so prevalent that your ancestors suffered here that all historical variations of the United States flag should be offensive for you.

Further research serves no purpose because their lives were terrible and it would only reinforce the terrible history your people have had here.

The best thing you can do now is demand that no one of another race speak of the Potato Famine, even if they mention things like how not all Irish came over during the Great Potato Famine or despite your skin color you might not be of Irish ancestry at all. Any such comments just show their ignorance and they have no right to comment on any of this.

Sound absurd yet? Of course it does… but that’s because it’s common knowledge that not all white Americans are Irish (or not fully), that not all Irish came over during the Great Potato Famine, not all lived in the areas where they suffered discrimination and even when they did, many Irish rose above that to become successful. Common knowledge is such a tricky thing.

In the United States there are entire sections of our populace who are being denied their heritage and often don’t even realize it. They’ve heard the run of the mill version of events so many times that they think that must be that and there isn’t really much more to be said. When we don’t know our past, it’s easier to be manipulated and controlled. It’s so frustrating too when you know there is more to it than the “common knowledge” but it’s near impossible to explain it to people because they have heard so many times a different version of events. They are being cheated, they are being lied to, and that misinfo is being used to further subjugate them… often by the very people who claim to be trying to help raise them up. If it’s not yet entirely obvious, I speak primarily of the African Americans here. There were atrocities, there were hardships, but there was much more than just suffering.

When I named this website “Take Back Our History,” I wasn’t just talking about white people. I want to encourage and enable everyone to learn more about the lesser known aspects of their history and keep the memory of that alive. Whatever place your heritage holds in the big picture of American history, I want to encourage you to carve out an area for yourself and say, “This is what people should know. This is worth the time and energy to know.” I often write more about topics relating to my own heritage of Scot and Irish (who have been here since before the Great Potato Famine, thank you very much. Lol) because that’s personal to me but this space isn’t just for that. If I can help enable or provide a space for you to discuss more topics beyond that, then I want to because every single person in this country deserves to have the history and culture of their people preserved, whatever that might be. If it ever feels like your heritage doesn’t matter, your origins don’t matter… that’s all the more reason to make sure it gets remembered.

Don’t just accept that because you look Irish your ancestors came here to escape potato famine.

The Faith of the Founding Fathers, Part II: George Washington

As mentioned previously, I want to show you the true spectrum of beliefs and acceptance of other belief systems during the Revolutionary War. Yes, many of our founding fathers were Christians but that doesn’t negate the wide array of beliefs and opinions they held. If you haven’t read the last post, check out Part I: Thomas Paine and Benjamin Rush.

I had originally meant to make each post about two founders, but I got a little sidetracked with this one!

George Washington

I believe Washington came as the greatest surprise to me as the rest I either knew little about or already knew their beliefs. I think legends like that of young George Washington and the cherry tree give us this idea of a man who was quite devout, yet that doesn’t seem to apply to him in the way some would think. I ended up going down quite the rabbit hole of research when I got to him, making a post entirely devoted to him seem appropriate.

There is so much material about Washington and so many opinions, but I came to the conclusion that there are a few quotes which quite aptly summarize his attitudes.

From my readings, Washington regularly attended church and did at different times take Communion. However, in his own writings and speeches you’ll notice that he sticks to words like “God” or “Providence,” acknowledging a supreme being without throwing his support behind a specific denomination or even, really, a specific religion. There is one letter attributed to him containing “Jesus Christ” but it seems to have actually been written by an aide on his behalf and is not Washington’s chosen wording. He supported religion and supported having faith in God, clearly believing in a higher power but without supporting a national religion or manner of religious observance. There is a lot of guesswork where people have claimed one thing or another about him but nothing I’ve read seems conclusive and certainly nothing conclusive from Washington himself.

Washington’s religious beliefs were as much a mystery to others of the time as they are today. Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Asa Green that when the clergy addressed Genl. Washington on his departure from the govmt, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Xn religion and they thot they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However he observed the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice. Rush observes he never did say a word on the subject in any of his public papers except in his valedictory letter to the Governors of the states when he resigned his commission in the army, wherein he speaks of the benign influence of the Christian religion.

I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets & believed himself to be so, has often told me that Genl. Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did.”[1]

On Other Beliefs:

Much easier to ascertain is Washington’s thoughts on religious diversity and being open to differences in religious beliefs. He repeatedly spoke in favor of welcoming other faiths, preferring to judge people on how they acted rather than which religion they professed. In 1779 an anonymous writer referred to Washington as:

“…strictly just, vigilant, and generous; an affectionate husband, a faithful friend, a father to the deserving soldiers; gentle in manners, in temper rather reserved; a total stranger to religious prejudices, which have so often excited Christians of one denomination to cut the throats of those of another; in his morals irreproachable; he was never known to exceed the bounds of the most rigid temperance; in a word, all his friends and acquaintance universally allow, that no man ever united in his own person a more perfect alliance of the virtues of a philosopher with the talents of a general” (emphasis added).[2]

In a letter from George Washington to Tench Tilghman regarding the purchase of an indentured servant/slave, he speaks of welcoming any religion or nationality to Mount Vernon. ‘Palatine’ was a term for certain German immigrants and ‘Mahometans’ was referring to Muslims.

“I am informed that a Ship with Palatines is gone up to Baltimore, among whom are a number of Tradesmen. I am a good deal in want of a House Joiner & Bricklayer, (who really understand their profession) & you would do me a favor by purchasing one of each, for me. I would not confine you to Palatines. If they are good workmen, they may be of Assia, Africa, or Europe. They may be Mahometans, Jews, or Christian of any Sect—or they may be Athiests—I woud however prefer middle aged, to young men. and those who have good countenances & good characters on ship board, to others who have neither of these to recommend them—altho, after all, the proof of the pudding must be in the eating.”[3]

In another instance, Washington wrote to the Presbyterian Ministers of Massachusetts and New Hampshire (also called the first Presbytery of the Eastward) in response to a letter they had written which included a complaint that the Magna Carta (Constitution) of the United States ought to have contained “Explicit acknowledgement of the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent.”[4] Ever the “old fox” as noted by Jefferson, in his response to them Washington wrote:

“The tribute of thanksgiving which you offer to “the gracious Father of lights” for his inspiration of our public-councils with wisdom and firmness to complete the national constitution, is worthy of men, who, devoted to the pious purposes of religion, desire their accomplishment by such means as advance the temporal happiness of their fellow-men—and, here, I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe that the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction. To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation, respecting religion, from the Magna-Charta of our country.”[5]

In all his actions and words, Washington seems a man who judged people by their choosing to live a virtuous life and having a sincere set of religious beliefs, not by what those beliefs happened to be.

 


 

[1] Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). Vol. 1. 2/12/2016. <http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/800>

[2] Baker, William Spohn, 1824-1897. Early Sketches of George Washington: Reprinted With Biographical And Bibliographical Notes. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott company, 1894. < http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006785149>

[3] “From George Washington to Tench Tilghman, 24 March 1784,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-01-02-0174 [last update: 2015-12-30]). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 1, 1 January 1784 – 17 July 1784, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992, p. 232.

[4] “From George Washington to the Presbyterian Ministers of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, 2 November 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-04-02-0193 [last update: 2015-12-30]). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 8 September 1789 – 15 January 1790, ed. Dorothy Twohig. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993, pp. 274–277.

[5] Ibid.

Why bother studying history?

When I was a kid I became interested in genealogy. Some of my most treasured belongings are these surveys my mom and I put together and sent to all of my grandparents asking them to list their parents, grandparents, childhood stories and other family history information. Some of my grandparents didn’t bother, thinking I really wouldn’t be interested in it. The irony is that the one grandparent who took the most time to fill it out with information and stories was also the one who issued this caution: Be careful of looking in the past. You might find a horse thief.

I think sometimes when people talk about studying history or learning about their ancestors they have this mindset where it’s all about bragging rights. They want to find out they were descended from a president or royalty or who knows what else. They have these rose colored glasses on and aren’t so interested in the stories of five generations who lived in poverty but worked hard or maybe the story about the great-great-grandfather who grew up in a poorhouse and was always bitter and mean from such a rough childhood. They don’t want to know about the grandmother whose husband forced her to drink turpentine to cause an abortion because he didn’t want another mouth to feed. These are stories of real life and, yes, a sample of the things I learned when I began to look at my own family’s history. Is it all warm and fuzzy? No, but I don’t regret knowing it. I don’t regret understanding what they went through that made them who they are and eventually led to me. I’m okay with them not being a president. I’m proud to come from stock that endured so much and managed to carry on.

Also when I was a kid I learned about history from my school textbooks and what movies and books I was introduced to. For the most part nobody in my family had an interest in history (though that developed after I became interested and was constantly rattling on about some historical fact or event I’d learned about). That early introduction to history was… flat. Lifeless.

We learned about Plymouth and the first Thanksgiving… but they kinda scanned over the parts about introducing diseases to the Native tribes and just how those tribes were steadily pushed out of their land.

We learned about the American Revolution… but not about the internal struggle of the founding fathers regarding whether or not to rebel. It was portrayed as this simple decision because of taxation without representation and they didn’t really explain the thoughts of the American Loyalists or what was going on in the British parliament.

We learned about the Articles of Confederation, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We didn’t learn that the states still considered themselves separate and many states like Virginia even specifically stated in their ratification of the Constitution that they reserved the right to leave the union of states if they so desired in future.

We learned about slavery… We learned that the slaves were black men, women and children that had been brought over from Africa. We learned that it was the South that owned them and profited from the trade. We learned that the slave-owners were all rich white people and that the South was full of this huge, sprawling plantations with hundreds of slaves each. Of this paragraph, every single sentence is half-truths.

That’s what we have been taught though. A series of half-truths which give us an incomplete big picture and yet that big picture is what most of the nation judges each other by.

Everyone is being cheated of their heritage. Everyone is being cheated of understanding where they are from, why their family ended up where it was, what made their grandparents and great-grandparents the sort of people they were.

Start turning over rocks and looking at information you haven’t looked at before. You might find your own horse thief. You might find sadness and pain in that history. Then again, you might find something else too. You might find out that your ancestors were survivors, facing terrible odds and coming out of it the other side. You might find that they fought for something you hadn’t known they fought for, or that the reasons for it weren’t the reasons you’d thought they were. History isn’t pretty. Never has been, never will be. It is full of the very best and the very worst of people. It is full of atrocities. It is full of hate and pain and loss. It is also full of joy and triumph and kindness. Don’t deprive yourself of the one just because you’ll also find the other.

What sparked your interest in history? Were there topics you were uneasy with reading about or things you hoped not to find? What changed your mind? (Or has it?)

Stop the finger pointing — both the Union and the Confederacy were full of racists.

I have this pet peeve when it comes to discussion of the War of Southern Secession and it is the people who finger point saying that such and such person or group was racists as if that ad hominem somehow settles everything there is pertaining to the war. Newsflash for the unaware: the entire United States was FULL of racists. It was ingrained in the culture and it was wrong but it was there nonetheless. It was in the South, it was in the North, it was in the East, it was in the West. It was everywhere.

Some common finger pointing statements:

There were few slaves in the North. Typically pointed out by people who are anti-Confederacy.True, but the majority of northerners still treated people of color as sub-human. Additionally, many made money off the slave trade even after getting rid of their own slaves because their issue with it wasn’t slavery itself but having to be in near proximity with people of color.

Many of the slaves in the South were treated well and didn’t wish to leave their owners after being freed. Typically pointed out by people who are anti-Union and usually when they are feeling defensive. This is quite subjective but there is evidence to support it as well. However, no matter how well you are treated being a slave means your life decisions are in the hands of someone else.

Neither of the above statements prove that either side had the moral superiority when it comes to slavery. I can think of racist southerners as well as southerners who went out of their way to free the slaves they had inherited before abolition because they felt it was immoral. I can think of abolitionist northerners but I can also think of northerners who didn’t want slavery to end, owned slaves of their own, thought people of color sub-human, and/or were known to abuse their slaves. The fact is that there were crappy people then and there are crappy people now and none of the above means a thing when it comes down to a discussion of the war. The stereotypes hurt everyone.

If some of the above is all you know to say when debating the war it’s time to do some more research and come up with some legitimate talking points.