Friday, September 25

Planting Churches, Schools, and Liberty

Samuel Doak crossed over the Appalachian Mountains to the Tennessee wilderness in 1777 and became one of the most renowned men in the history of the western frontier. He had studied at Princeton and then served on the faculty of the college, and been ordained by the energetic Hanover Presbytery of Virginia. Loving an educated ministry, the settlers of the Watauga region welcomed Doak with open arms.

Shortly after he arrived he happened upon some men who were felling trees, “Learning that he was a minister, they requested him to preach to so many of them as could be assembled immediately. He complied, using his horse for a pulpit and the shady grove for a sanctuary. They entreated the preacher to tarry long with them. He yielded to their entreaty, and this led to his permanent settlement among them.” It would be the first of seven churches he would plant in the region. Doak built schools with the same industry with which he pioneered churches. In 1783 he secured a charter for a classical school--the first literary institution of the West, which would eventually become the mighty University of Tennessee.

On this day in 1780, a few days before the famous Revolutionary War battle at Kings Mountain, the local militia had gathered at Sycamore Shoals to prepare for the engagement. Before the men marched into the pages of history, Doak was asked to speak to the men and say a prayer over them. He spoke beyond the immediate occasion and captured what some have called the “American spirit,” that broader sense of the divine destiny of the nation. It is not hard to picture the faces of these buckskinned warriors, many standing with their families, hearts stirred by the power of the pastor’s words:

“My countrymen, you are about to set out on an expedition which is full of hardships and dangers, but one in which the Almighty will attend you. The Mother country has her hands upon you, these American colonies, and takes that for which our fathers planted their homes in the wilderness—our liberty. Taxation without representation and the quartering of soldiers in the homes of our people without their consent are evidence that the Crown of England would take from its American subjects the last vestige of freedom. Your brethren across the mountains are crying the Macedonia unto your help. God forbid that you shall refuse to hear and answer their call—but the call of your brethren is not all. The enemy is marching hither to destroy your homes. Brave men, you are not unacquainted with battle. Your hands have already been taught to war and your fingers to fight. You have wrested these beautiful valleys of the Holston and Watauga from the savage hand. Will you tarry now until the other enemy carries fire and sword to your very doors? No, it shall not be. Go forth then in the strength of your manhood to the aid of your brethren, the defense of your liberty and the protection of your homes. And may the God of justice be with you and give you victory.”

And then with hats removed and heads bowed, each family huddled tightly together, the men heard Doak pray a prayer that men destined for battle would quote for generations to come. He then led them in lustily singing an old Celtic battle Psalm. With “The Sword of the Lord and Gideon” as their battle cry and the lilt of the Psalter pacing their hearts, the “Tennessee Volunteers” decisively defeated the British forces in sixty-five minutes.

Wednesday, September 23

Sunday, September 20

Courage in Office

Although the nomination and election of the dark-horse James Garfield surprised many Americans, the nomination of Chester A. Arthur (1830-1886) as Vice-president was even more of a shock. Many a citizen feared the worst when Garfield died with three and a half years of his term remaining. And for good reason.

Arthur, who loved fine clothes and elegant living, had been associated with the corrupt New York political machine for almost twenty years. In 1878 he had even been removed from his post as Collector of the Port of New York by President Ruherford Hayes, who had become alarmed at his misuse of patronage. In spite of his questionable record, Arthur was nominated Vice-president—largely to appease the powerful party establishment.

Thus, when Arthur became President on this day in 1881, following the assassination of President Garfield, there was every expectation that the free-wheeling spoils system that had reigned in New York would be firmly established in Washington. But Chester Arthur fooled everyone—friends and enemies alike—somehow the responsibilities of that high office seemed to transform this corrupt petty politician into a man sincerely dedicated to the good of the country.

Courageously he established his independence by vetoing a graft-laden rivers-and-harbors bill, by breaking with his former machine cronies, and by vigorously prosecuting members of his own party accused of defrauding the Government. And, most important, instead of a spoils system, he supported a Federal Civil Service based on competitive examinations and a non-political merit system.

By his courageous acts Arthur won over many who had first feared his coming to power, but he lost the support of the political bosses. Although he was not an inspiring leader of men, he earned the nation’s gratitude as the champion of the Civil Service system.

Friday, September 18

Effort and Means

Born into slavery, Booker T. Washington literally pulled himself up by his own bootstraps to become one of the most articulate and influential educators in the nation. Founder of the Tuskegee Institute, author of a number of books, and popular speaker, he always emphasized the importance of education, hard work, and self-discipline for the advancement of African-Americans.

Washington became a celebrity, much in demand as a speaker and lecturer around the country and as a consultant and confidante to powerful politicians and community leaders. Though he was criticized by some because he refused to use his influence for direct political agitation, he had obviously begun the long process toward the reconciliation of long sundered communities and races.

He was asked to deliver an address at the Cotton States’ Exposition on this day in 1895. The invitation was noteworthy in and of itself since his audience would include both white and black Southerners. As a result, his speech received enormous attention throughout the country—it helped galvanize public opinion in favor of black self-improvement.

Thus, he argued in that famous speech, “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress. There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all. If anywhere there are efforts tending to curtail the fullest growth of the Negro, let these efforts be turned into stimulating, encouraging, and making him the most useful and intelligent citizen. Effort or means so invested will pay a thousand percent interest. These efforts will be twice blessed—blessing him that gives and him that takes. There is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable: The laws of changeless justice bind oppressor with oppressed; And close as sin and suffering joined, we march to fate abreast.”

Washington had already instilled his philosophy of hard work, competence, and community-mindedness in thousands of students all across the country who were making a substantive difference in the welfare of African-American families, churches, neighborhoods, and businesses. And now, that message was going out to the entire nation, thus ushering in a new era of civil rights for all Americans.

Thursday, September 17

Fond Farewell

By the time he delivered his Farewell Address to his cabinet in Philadelphia on this day in 1796, George Washington had already served two terms and did not wish to serve a third. His once immense popularity had dwindled dramatically due to his fiercely partisan "Federalism" and his simultaneously paradoxical opposition to the formation of political parties—which were emerging nonetheless. In addition, he was tired of being lampooned in the political press.

He had his most trusted aide, Alexander Hamilton, to draft a kind of manifesto for his greatest concerns and deepest convictions. He considered its message so important that he had the full text published in newspapers around the country two days later so that it would reach a much wider audience. The address warned against foreign involvements, political factions, and sectionalism in the strongest possible terms.

It sounded a distinctly conservative tone, “Toward the preservation of your government and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts.”

But perhaps most remarkably, the address promoted the cultural benefits of the Christian faith, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.” Indeed, the addressed warned, “The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

The Farewell Address was a sober message from the "Father of the Nation," all too often quoted yet almost never heeded.

Monday, September 14

Forgotten Stanzas

The War of 1812 was fiercely raging when Francis Scott Key, a Washington attorney was sent to the British naval command to secure the release of a prisoner when the fleet began to bombard the placements of American fortifications in Baltimore at Fort McHenry. Key had to watch in agony, wondering if his nation could possibly withstand such a barrage.

Though the battle raged through the night, the American defenses stood firm. The sight of the flag still flying over the fort the next morning inspired the young lawyer to pen the immortal words of the Star Spangled Banner—on this day in 1814.

Later it was set to a popular English hymn tune, Anacreon in Heaven, and it became a standard in the patriotic repertoire. Congress officially confirmed it as the national anthem more than a hundred years later, just before the First World War.

Though the first verse of the anthem is quite well known—sung at the opening of most political and sporting events—the other verses are almost entirely forgotten:

O! say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming:
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming,
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there:
O! say, does the star-spangled banner still wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mist of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam—
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is the band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country would leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave!
And the star-spangled banner in triumph cloth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the foe’s desolation;
Bless’d with victory and peace, may our heaven rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just—
And this be our motto—“In God is our trust!”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Sunday, September 13

Parish Picnic


"Government is but a tool. If ever we come to the place where our tools determine what jobs we can or cannot do, and by what means, then nary a fortnight shall pass in which new freedoms shall be wrested from us straightway." --Henry Cabot Lodge

"There is no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you." --Will Rogers

"The most terrifying words in the English language are, I’m from the government and I’m here to help." --Ronald Reagan

"The intelligent man, when he pays taxes, certainly does not believe that he is making a prudent and productive investment of his money; on the contrary, he feels that he is being mulcted in an excessive amount for services that, in the main, are useless to him, and that, in substantial part, are downright inimical to him. He sees them as purely predatory and useless." --H.L. Mencken

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future upon the capacity of each and every one of us to govern ourselves, to sustain ourselves, in accordance with the Ten Commandments of God." --James Madison

"The Constitution is not an instrument for government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government—lest it come to dominate our lives and interests." --Patrick Henry

"I tell you true, liberty is the best of all things; never live beneath the noose of a servile halter." --William Wallace

Saturday, September 12

Roger Sherman

A Yankee cobbler who taught himself law and became a judge and a legislator, Roger Sherman (1721-1793) helped draft four of the major American Founding documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

Sherman had almost twenty years experience as a colonial legislator behind him when he arrived on this day at the First Continental Congress—a week after it had convened in 1774. He quickly won the respect of his fellow delegates for his wisdom, industry, and sound judgment. John Adams called him “one of the soundest and strongest pillars of the Revolution.” In Congress Sherman was one of the first to deny Parliament’s authority to make laws for America, and he strongly supported the boycott of British goods. In the following years he served with Jefferson and Franklin on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, and on the one that drafted the Articles of Confederation. He also served on the maritime committee, the board of treasury and the board of war—all of first importance to the Revolution.

A Puritan of simple habits who performed all tasks with thoroughness and accuracy, Sherman gained more legislative experience in his years in Congress than any other member; by the time he left he was perhaps the most powerful—and most overworked—of congressmen.

Sherman’s greatest contribution—and the best known—was the “Connecticut Compromise” he proposed at the Constitutional Convention: by proposing that Congress have two branches, one with proportional, one with equal representation, he satisfied both the small and the large States, providing a solution to one of the most stubborn problems of the Convention. In Connecticut he defended the Constitution, writing articles in the New Haven Gazette, and helped win ratification in January 1788. Connecticut was the fifth State to ratify.

Sherman was the oldest man elected to the new national House of Representatives. In the first Congress he served on the committee that prepared and reviewed the Bill of Rights Amendments. By coincidence, the year that the Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution, Sherman was elected Senator—so that the man who conceived the “Connecticut Compromise” had the opportunity to represent that State in both of the legislative branches that he helped to create.

On the iPod

Wednesday, September 9

Quo Vadis?

Henryk Sienkiewicz (pronounced sane-kay-vitz) was an international phenomenon a century ago--at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. He was trained in both law and medicine. He was a respected historian. He was a successful journalist. He was a widely sought-after critic and editor. He was an erudite lecturer. And in addition to all that, he was an amazingly prolific and wildly popular novelist--selling millions of copies of his almost fifty books in nearly three hundred editions in the United States alone.

He wowed the world with his grace, his learning, his courage, his depth of character, and his evocative story-telling. His writing includes some of the most memorable works of historical fiction ever penned--ranking with the likes of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Samuel Johnson.

It was an unlikely destiny for a passionately ethnic novelist from the isolated, feudal, and agrarian Podlasie region of Poland to fulfill. Born in 1846, he lived during one of the most tumultuous periods of Central European history. Ideological revolutions, utopian uprisings, base conspiracies, nationalistic movements, and imperialistic expansions wracked the continent in the decades between the fall of Napoleon and the rise of Hitler. Wars and rumors of wars shook the foundations of social order to an extraordinary degree. His own nation was cruelly and bitterly divided between the ambitions of the Prussian Kaiser and the Russian Czar. The proud cultural and national legacy of Poland was practically snuffed out altogether--all the distinctive aspects of the culture were outlawed and even the language was fiercely suppressed.

Sienkiewicz became a part of the underground movement to recover the Polish arts--music, poetry, journalism, history, and fiction. He used the backdrop of the social, cultural, and political chaos to reflect both the tragedy of his people and the ultimate hope that lay in their glorious tenacity. He was thus, a true traditionalist at a time when traditionalism had been thoroughly and systematically discredited the world over--the only notable exceptions being in the American South and the Dutch Netherlands. As a result, his distinctive voice rang out in stark contrast to the din of vogue conformity. Thus, his novels not only introduced the world to Poland, they offered a stern anti-revolutionary rebuke in the face of Modernity’s smothering political correctness.

His massive Trilogy, published between 1884 and 1887, tells the story of an ill-fated attempt to save his homeland from foreign domination during the previous century. When they were first released in the United States, the books became instant best-sellers. They made Sienkiewicz a household name--so much so that Mark Twain could assert that he was the first serious, international writer to become an American literary celebrity. Even so, the Trilogy did not achieve for him even a fraction of the acclaim that came his way with the publication, in 1898, of Quo Vadis?--a fictional portrayal of the events surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It was nothing short of a phenomenon. It was the first book the New York Times dubbed a “blockbuster,” and became the standard against which all future mega-best-sellers was judged.

On this day in 1905, Sienkiewicz saw his brilliant career capped when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

Wednesday, September 2

Yearning for Boring

In his masterful novel The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane traced the effects of war on a single Union soldier, Henry Fleming, from his dreams of soldiering, to his actual enlistment, and through several battles of the all too uncivil War between the States. Unhappy with his dull, quiet, and boring life at home on the farm, Fleming yearns to somehow earn glory and renown for his heroic achievements in battle. After he enlists however, he discovers that a soldier’s life consists of two parts futility, one part confusion, and one part terror. Set at the battle of Chancellorsville—though it actually remains unnamed in the story—the young idealistic soldier is forced by the dumb certainties of experience to become a hardened realistic veteran. And in the process, he comes to the difficult realization that boring is actually a virtue not a vice.

The reality is that boring is what most people are actually yearning for—they just don’t know it. Boring is having no people to see, no tasks to accomplish, no expectations to meet, no pressures to deal with—it is the ideal adventure. People go halfway around the world to find a secluded beach or a remote cabin or a mountain chalet, just so they can do nothing. It is dull people who have to be stimulated constantly. Something has always got to be going on.

Most modern men and women are addicted to the razzle-dazzle. We want wow. And we want it now. Our whole culture, from popular entertainment to corporate management, is predicated on the idea that our lives ought to be defined by a frenetic go-go-go sense of busyness. There is no time to reflect. No time to think. No time to do anything at all except be busy.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Somehow, Stephen Crane realized over a century ago what we are still struggling to come to terms with. He realized it too late to wrench his life away from the precipitous decline of debauchery—though his novel remains a morality tale, a steadfast warning for us. He sold an abridged version of The Red Badge of Courage to the Bachellor-Johnson Syndicate for ninety-dollars on this day in 1894, and it first appeared in the Philadelphia Press about a month later.

Within five years of his greatest achievement, Crane was dead. Suffering from several tuberculosis attacks and a general physical collapse due to his heavy drinking and dissolute lifestyle, Crane was just twenty-eight years old. In his journal he had scratched out a few final words just a day before. Though it was destroyed along with all the rest of his effects, an orderly at the sanitarium reported his last desperate cry, “Oh, to find rest, sweet repose. Why must we grind out our lives in search of vain glories when all that is wanted is home?”