Category archives: History

In Patrick’s Footsteps

by Robert Morrison

March 17, 2014

I was just going along for the ride. My good wife had always wanted to go to Ireland. Since I didn’t speak Irish, and since I didn’t have any known Irish ancestors, I wasn’t sure why I should go. Still, since it meant so much to my beloved spouse and since it was our thirtieth wedding anniversary, I thought I should go along with her.

We flew into Shannon. Immediately, we had a wrinkle. Lots of wrinkles, actually, since our airline lost our bags. Happily, my missus had planned an extra day in the little town of Ennis prior to the start of our scheduled tour.

We rushed to the local department store to buy some extra clothing for what we expected would be a 10-day stay. Everywhere, the people were amazingly friendly. So we decided to take a walking tour of Ennis. It was not known as a tourist spot, but tour guide Jane O’Brian could make any stop interesting.

With her freckles and long red hair, she seemed my idea of Irishness. She started by asking each of us for our Irish roots, our connections. Most in our group of ten listed relatives who had come from Ireland to America in the 19th century. My wife named her grandfather, Jim Daugherty, a good Irish name. When Jane got to me, I said I had no Irish roots. “Well, where are your people from,” she pressed. “Denmark,” I said, thinking it might be more diplomatic to avoid all those Germans in the family tree. “Ah, sir,” she smiled, “the Danes founded Waterford, Wexford, and Dublin. You’re home!” Well, from that moment, I felt at home.

Throughout our Irish vacation, we traveled the West and saw the sights. It was the greenest and cleanest place I’d ever been. They actually have “Tidy Village” contests in Ireland, so proud they are of their neat whitewashed cottages with their thatched roofs.

Everywhere we went, we saw large cemeteries from the Nineteenth Century Potato Famine. These there were for those who never survived to immigrate to America. The Celtic crosses speak to the deep Christian roots of this ancient people. Our guides put special emphasis on the term potato of the famine. That was because, they told us, there were plenty of other grains produced by Ireland in those years of the 1840s. But absentee English landlords required that those grains be shipped to England in fulfillment of prior contracts.

Thousands of Irish immigrants booked passage aboard ships to America. Many of these were so unhealthy that they were called “Coffin Ships.” Many an Irish village celebrated their departing sons and daughters in parties that differed little from the famous Irish wake. They doubted they would ever see one another again.

The soil of the West is so thin that it can barely support vegetation. English conqueror Oliver Cromwell complained in the 1650s that these counties contained “not enough soil to feed a man or to grow a tree to hang him on.” Cromwell is not, needless to say, a local hero.

Our guide tells us that Ireland was historically too poor to afford “modern” agricultural techniques. Thus, their beef cattle were grazed only on mineral-rich grass. Now, Irish beef is the most prized in Europe. (I can attest that Ireland had the best beef I have ever tasted. And the best fish, lamb, and pork, too. As well, the best potatoes, bread, and butter. I have the numbers on my scale to prove it!)

The best part of our Irish trip was to stand in a sixth century church in Glendalough.

Ireland gives you this sense of the Church Eternal. They have survived invasions by Danes, by Vikings, by English, and other barbarous raiders bent on destruction. Just to see these ruins, these ancient walls, is to realize what Jesus meant when he said “the gates of hell” will not prevail over His Church.

When we got to Dublin, the only big city on our route, we ran to O’Connell Street, the major thoroughfare. I wanted to see the General Post Office, the scene of the famous, failed Easter Rebellion of 1916. Entering the impressive classic facade, we saw postal clerks dispensing stamps and taking in packages. Could this be the place where the British fired artillery point blank? We asked an aged guard — a squat fellow who looked for all the world like Archie Bunker — if this was the scene of “the Rising.”

Ah, sure,” said Joe, as he pointed to a bullet hole still visible in the high window. We asked Joe what he thought of the idea of a Royal Visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth II. It was a question raised by some of our fellow American tourists. Joe answered with a fierce look. “The French had the right idea about monarchs,” he said, drawing his finger across his throat.

Then, Joe pointed outside to the bustling commercial street named for Irish patriot, Daniel O’Connell. “Look up and down the street,” he gestured, “you’ll see German flags and Swiss flags, American flags and Chinese flags, but you’ll never see that Butcher’s Apron anywhere in Dublin,” he said. He meant Britain’s Union Jack. (Shudder)

Actually, the Queen did visit Ireland, in 2011. And in general, the visit came off without any untoward incidents. But Irish national feeling is still strong.

They say the Irish are “drunk on history.” With my love of history, it was like discovering a new planet. I went on a history bender. I gained a much deeper appreciation of my own beloved America by understanding the struggle of millions of Irish who came to join us in the Great Republic.

Visiting Ireland, I finally understood my late friends, Joe Barrett and Mike Schwartz. They had actually led demonstrations against Queen Elizabeth II when she came to the White House in 1992. I was inside the gate, holding my little Union Jack of welcome. Joe and Mike were protesting outside. They were two of the strongest pro-lifers whose ancestors hailed from Eire. They gave me the strength to carry on, even when all looked grimmest.

When my wife and I saw the Book of Kells at Dublin’s Trinity College, our guide was Dervla, She is a highly educated Irishwoman of decidedly liberal views. She made that clear from the start. “We’re not so much interested in what the monks were writing, but in the marvelous artistry of their illuminations,” She was literally praising the letters while ignoring the spirit that lives through those brilliantly illustrated Gospel pages that date from 800 AD.

My wife looked at me as if to say: Don’t make a scene, please. I didn’t. But I did marvel that Dervla could lead tours of this ancient treasure and miss the testimony of Christian faith and fidelity that they represent. I was reminded of a quote from Martin Luther about scholarly unbelievers: “They behold these wonders like a cow staring at a new door.” The Book of Kells is alone worth a trip to the Emerald Isle. Everything else is pure joy.

Churchill’s March 5, 1946 Iron Curtain Speech: A Lesson for Today?

by Robert Morrison

March 6, 2014

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, on this day in 1946. His phrase — “an iron curtain has descended across Europe” — was seen by some as the beginning of the Cold War. But Churchill wanted nothing more than to rally the democracies to take a strong stand, a united stand for their own freedom.

Churchill understood Russia’s great suffering during World War II. More than twenty million Russians, Ukrainians, and other peoples of the then-USSR had perished in what they called “the Great Patriotic War.” Churchill certainly wanted no new world war.

His message was essentially the same that wise American presidents from George Washington to Ronald Reagan had spoken of — peace through strength. With President Harry Truman on the same stage, the honored world statesman said:

From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness. For that reason the old doctrine of a balance of power is unsound. If however [the Western democracies] become divided or falter in their duty and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all.

Last time I saw it all coming and I cried aloud to my own fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention. Up till the year 1933 or even 1935, Germany might have been saved from the awful fate which has overtaken her and we might all have been spared the miseries Hitler let loose upon mankind. There never was a war in history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe. It could have been prevented in my belief without the firing of a single shot, and Germany might be powerful, prosperous and honored today; but no one would listen and one by one we were all sucked into the awful whirlpool. We surely must not let that happen again.

Because President Truman and the Western European allies heeded Churchill’s timely warning then, we were spared a Third World War. With American leadership from both political parties, programs like the Marshall Plan and military and political institutions like NATO brought us together in time to save freedom and peace.

What we have seen in recent years is the very opposite of what Churchill counseled. President Obama ceremoniously tossed Churchill’s bust out of the Oval Office. With it, into the snow, went much of Churchill’s wisdom, too.

In his first week in office, Mr. Obama flourished his pen and affixed his left-handed signature to an Executive Order closing the U.S. Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This was so ordered within one year. “So let it be written! So let it be done!” [Sound the trumpets.]

And nothing happened. I have never thought it was a good idea to close Gitmo. But if the President of the United States so commits his administration to a policy — and then so clearly fails to follow through, he invites contempt. He broadcasts weakness. Five years later, Gitmo is still open.

Former Sec. of State George Schulz was once asked what was the most important foreign policy decision made by his chief, President Reagan. Without hesitation, he said: “The firing of the air traffic controllers.” Reagan hated firing those hard-working government employees, but he knew that federal law forbade such strikes. He appealed to the controllers to return to work. They refused. He fired them.

Even the secret police of the Soviet Union took notice. With Reagan, said the KGB, “words are deeds.” With President Obama, the world has learned, words are words.

Russian President Putin has not brought down the Iron Curtain across Eastern Europe. But every move Mr. Obama has made in five years toward Russia has telegraphed American weakness.

From the adolescent stunt of Hillary Clinton’s red “reset” button in early 2009, to Mr. Obama’s behind-the-hand comment to Dmitri Medvedev “Tell Vladimir I can be more flexible after the election [of 2012],” the message has been one of irresolution and confusion.

Reagan built up the U.S. military in order to deal with the Soviets from a position of strength. He was able in 1987 to sign the biggest arms reduction treaty with Gorbachev in world history.

It’s worth saying again: Ronald Reagan signed the biggest arms reduction treaty – INF — in world history.

Did that get Reagan the Nobel Peace Prize? Of course not. President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for oratory. For words.

Everything that Reagan, Thatcher, the Pope, Lech Walesa, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and others achieved in the 1980s is at risk today.

Churchill had words for that, too. Noting the failure to back their words with strong actions, Churchill warned the democracies not to “resume the follies which had nearly cost them their lives.”

Churchill’s “Iron Curtain Speech,” delivered this day in 1946. It’s well worth reading.

Ronald Reagan and the Bible: “Rock on which our Republic Rests”

by Robert Morrison

February 7, 2014

It came up again this week as I was preparing for an FRC radio interview: What to say about President Reagan’s faith, especially in a week when his 103rd birthday coincided with the annual Congressional Prayer Breakfast?

Well, President Reagan used his remarks at the 1983 Prayer Breakfast to announce his Proclamation of the Year of the Bible. Clearly, the participants at that long ago breakfast were happy to hear this good news. Just as clearly, the atheizers and the cultured despisers of religion were unhappy. It was too much mixing of church and state to their taste.

Even so, President Reagan held firm. He never wavered in declaring that:

the Old and New Testaments of the Bible inspired many of the early settlers of our country, providing them with the strength, character, convictions, and faith necessary to withstand great hardship and danger in this new and rugged land.

He even went on to quote President Andrew Jackson in his own. Jackson had said the Bible is “the Rock on which our Republic rests.” Jackson was the first president of the modern Democratic Party, the man most associated with building a powerful political movement that embraced millions of immigrants, especially Irish and German refugees fleeing tyranny abroad.

Many of these new Americans were Catholics and some were Jews. But they came here yearning to breathe free and hoping to avail themselves of the religious, civil, and economic freedoms that America even then afforded.

Reagan’s proclamation quotes Abraham Lincoln’s words about the Bible.

There could be no more fitting moment than now to reflect with gratitude, humility, and urgency upon the wisdom revealed to us in the writing that Abraham Lincoln called “the best gift God has ever given to man … But for it we could not know right from wrong.”

In early 1983, the American economy was still in deep distress. The “malaise” of Jimmy Carter’s failed policies was still being felt in the workplace, the offices, and factories of a recovering nation. Unemployment was still at 10% and inflation had not yet been brought under control.

Many of the atheizers and liberals carped that the President of the United States had, or ought to have, more important things on his mind than proclaiming a Year of the Bible.

Take U.S.-Soviet relations, they said. Why, Reagan has not even met with his Soviet “counterpart,” the ruler of the Communist Party of the USSR. President Reagan was too polite to lecture these editorial writers that he had no Soviet counterpart. He was the constitutionally chosen leader of a great Republic. He had won almost 44 million votes in a free and open election. The ruler of the USSR had been unanimously chosen by Communist Party delegates who were responsible to no one except the Communist Party.

Instead of a political science lecture, however, on the essential differences between a free country like America and the Soviet Union holding all its Captive Nations behind the Iron Curtain, Reagan deflected critics with humor.

How can I meet the Soviets when they keep dying on me?

Looking back on 1983, that long ago Year of the Bible, we can note some interesting events.

  • President Reagan addressed the nation in March of that year to announce his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Critics jumped on it and said it was dangerous and wouldn’t work. They called it “Star Wars” to show their contempt. Reagan didn’t mind: He knew Americans loved the Star Wars movies and readily identified the Soviets with the bad guys in the movies.
  • Reagan spoke in March to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and warned them not to turn a blind eye to “the machinations of an evil empire.” He only used that term once. He never said the USSR was that evil empire. But the next day, in Moscow, the Communist editors of Pravda and Izvestia exploded in rage, charging him with labeling the Soviet Union with those “provocative” words. Deep in the bowels of the GuLAG, the Soviet slave labor system, prisoners read of Reagan’s words and took heart. They excitedly tapped out the words “evil empire” on plumbing pipes. Finally, an American president gets it, they said to each other.
  • In September, the Soviet Union shot down a straying civilian jet liner, Korean Airlines Flight 007. All 269 passengers and crew of the unarmed aircraft were murdered in cold blood. Throughout the West, liberals feared Reagan would use this as his pretext for a war with the USSR. Reagan exercised amazing restraint, using the shoot down as an occasion for closing Soviet consulates and tightening the screws of his economic boycott. But he had the grim satisfaction of letting the world see the Russian bear as it truly was—with teeth and fangs bared.
  • One month later, President Reagan ordered U.S. forces to liberate tiny Grenada from Soviet-backed Cubans and homegrown Communists. The Caribbean island nation was only 1/10 the size of Rhode Island, but its 100,000 residents, most of them black, greeted the American troops ecstatically. They blessed the Americans for their new-found freedom. In this short, successful, nearly bloodless campaign, Reagan disproved the idea that Marxism was a “historic inevitability.” Leonid Brezhnev had proclaimed: What we have, we hold. Reagan thought otherwise.
  • Also in October, 1983, the U.S. economy turned the corner. Job creation began to pick up robustly. Inflation had come way down. The economic indicators all started to show healthy signs of recovery. Reagan joked that his friends could put “egg on their faces and go to their Halloween parties as liberal economists.” The Reagan recovery that began in October 1983 lasted until October 2008—a quarter century of prosperity.

Secular scholars, of course, will laugh at the notion that President Reagan’s Proclamation of a Year of the Bible had anything to do with any of these favorable events in our nation’s life. Let them laugh. God laughs, too. He laughs his enemies to scorn.

Why World War I?

by Robert Morrison

February 7, 2014

World-renowned scholar George Weigel addressed a large gathering at Washington’s elegant Mayflower Hotel last night. The biographer of Pope John Paul II spoke on the approaching Centenary of the outbreak of World War I. That struggle consumed some twenty million combatants’ lives and even more, twenty-one million, of non-combatants. Think of any of the mass movements—especially violent mass movements—of the past century, and we can see their origins in the 1914-1918 catastrophe. Winston Churchill had prophesied that the wars of peoples would be far more terrible than the wars of kings. So this one proved to be. Describing bombing cities from the air, shelling cathedrals and universities from railroad cars, using poison gas against defenseless troops huddled in fetid, rat-ridden trenches, strangling enemies with naval blockades, or sending women and children to the bottom of the ocean with torpedoes, Churchill said the only depths of savagery not plumbed by the rulers of  “civilized” Europeans were cannibalism and torture. And these, Churchill ruefully wrote, were not employed only because they were not found useful.

Weigel, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, delivered the William B. Simon annual lecture in a polished style and with a thorough mastery of the literature. And there will be a Lusitania hold of new books on the Great War, as evidence of Europeans’ keen interest. They follow World War I with the same avidity and intensity that Americans show for the Civil War.

From the unresolved issues of this war, and from its most uneasy Armistice and dispiriting Paris Peace Conference, we can see the origins of Communism, Nazism, pan-Arabism, Islamism. The attempts to counter or contain these “isms” can be seen in the League of Nations and its successor body, the UN.

Zionism and the British Balfour Declaration of 1917 that promised a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine were given a great boost by the exigencies of this vast struggle. Britain needed the help of Jewish troops in the Mideast and Jewish supporters at home and in the U.S.

George Weigel is strongest where the conventional historians are weakest: He shows how the collapse of religious authority contributed to the breakdown of comity among nations, neighbors not loving, but deeply hating neighbors. He described a sorrowful scene where the College of Cardinals assembled in Rome in September 1914. A German Cardinal said to his brothers, “I hope no one will talk of war.” His Belgian counterpart shot back: “I hope no one will talk of peace.”

Neutral Belgium had been that summer overrun by the Kaiser Wilhelm II’s troops and the world was shocked by the atrocities German soldiers committed. The mercurial Kaiser  had once urged his soldiers to play the Hun, and the Hun they soon became in Western eyes. “The Rape of Belgium” was said to be the inevitable result of the Germans’ avowed policy of shrechlichheit (frightfulness).

Weigel described the previous century’s philosophies that had taken the place of religious commitment in a Europe once known as Christendom.

Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” evolutionary doctrine was translated into Social Darwinism. Germans adopted this view of nature “red in tooth and claw” as they demanded their own “place in the sun.”

Not content with colonial expansion, Germany’s Kaiser soon began to view the Japanese as a racial threat. He coined the term “the Yellow peril.” Even fellow Europeans were seen in racial terms as Slavs and Latins began to be described by pseudo science and eugenics as lower orders of humans. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche notoriously said “God is dead” and substituted for Him the “will to power” of the Super Man, or Ubermensch. A great blond beast, remorseless and irresistible, was the ideal. Again, Germany’s famous institutions of higher education promoted the idea of Weltmacht oder niedergang (a stark choice of world power or decline).

These same universities had given rise to German Higher Criticism, which immersed words of Holy Writ in an acid bath of skepticism.

So, why? We will see oceans of ink on the Who, What, Where, When, and How of the Great War. We will all go a long way to Tipperary for answers. But George Weigel firmly locates the WHY of the First World War in the 1983 Templeton Address by a Russian Nobel Prize Laureate. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn told us why this Cataclysm of Western Civilization happened. It happened because “Men have forgotten God.”

This writer was led to faith by the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Chaplain Garland White, Preaching to a Free Richmond

by Robert Morrison

February 4, 2014

Georgia Planter Robert Toombs was determined never to break up the family of one of his slaves, but when he received into service young Garland White; he may have realized that his entanglement with the “peculiar institution” had already involved him in the breakup of a black family. Garland White was just ten when he was prepared for sale further South. Garland’s mother Nancy wept as the boy was taken from his home Northwest of Richmond, Virginia, and sold to Robert Toombs.

Toombs went on to become a prominent Georgia politician, serving as a Whig in the U.S. House of Representatives. His close political ally, Rep. Alexander Stephens (Whig-Georgia) also formed a friendship with an Illinois Whig, Rep. Abraham Lincoln. Although he opposed the Mexican War, which many Northern “conscience” Whigs opposed, as well, Toombs was an unapologetic defender of slavery. He once bragged on the floor of the U.S. Senate that he would take his property into any Northern state and would “call the roll of his slaves in the shadow of the Bunker Hill monument.” Few words could have inflamed his Northern opponents more. Robert Toombs’ roll of slaves would be missing one trusted and confidential servant, however. Garland White took flight to Canada and freedom in 1860.

And when Lincoln was elected President of the United States in November, 1860, Georgia Senator Robert Toombs urged the Southern states to secede from the Union. He resigned his seat in the U.S. Congress with a powerful speech in which he said: “We want no negro equality, no negro citizenship; …and as one man [we] would meet you upon the border with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other.”

Despite his brilliant mind and his eloquent oratory, Toombs was passed over for president of the new Confederate States of America because, it is generally accepted, of his serious drinking problem. Nonetheless, he was chosen as the Confederacy’s first Secretary of State. In that capacity, he was a standout in the small circle of advisors to Jefferson Davis, named as head of the provisional C.S.A. Almost alone among the leading secessionists, Toombs warned Davis not to attack Fort Sumter, the federal installation in the harbor of Charleston, S.C. He said:

Mr. President, at this time it is suicide, murder, and will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet’s nest which extends from mountain to ocean, and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal.”

Toombs lived to see his prophetic words come true. The deeply divided North rallied to the flag once Fort Sumter was attacked.

Meanwhile, Garland White in Canada watched all this with mounting excitement. He very early offered his services to carry arms for the Union, but was initially rejected. Lincoln’s administration was concerned for the loyalty of slaveholding Border States — Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. And many of the white troops from Northern states like New York, Ohio, and Illinois were openly voicing their opposition to “fighting for the negro.” For war Democrats, the watchword was “The Union as it was and the Constitution as it is.” They would vocally oppose any move to make the Civil War an Abolition War.

Abolition leader Frederick Douglass loudly denounced the policy of excluding black troops from the Union ranks. We were good enough to fight for General Washington, he said, why aren’t we good enough to fight for General McClellan? How long can we continue this life-and-death struggle with one arm — he called it memorably “Uncle Sam’s sable arm” — tied behind our back?

By 1863, with the Emancipation Proclamation in effect, the Lincoln administration threw off all restraints and began vigorously recruiting black troops. Garland White, now the pastor of a African Methodist congregation in Toledo, Ohio, threw himself into the effort. He helped enlist the Twenty-Eighth Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry and soon was serving as its chaplain.

In 1864, the 28th Regiment joined the Army of the Potomac in the siege of Petersburg. This was the final chapter in the Union assault on Richmond. An ingenious plan to blow a giant hole in the rebel breastworks was brought forward by Pennsylvania coal miners serving in the Union ranks. They dug a long tunnel and filled it with explosives. The huge blast they set off was the greatest explosion to that point on the North American continent, and it could be heard twenty-two miles away in Richmond, the Confederate capital.

Desperate to take advantage of the momentary opportunity to end the war, Gen. Meade ordered the 28th Regiment to advance toward the giant crater the blast had created. But knowing they faced certain death, black soldiers of the 28th asked Chaplain White to write to their families and tell them they died bravely fighting for the Union.

Chaplain White would return to his hometown of Richmond. This time, he would enter the city as a free man in the company of his fellow Freedmen of the 28th. With the fall of Richmond on April 2, 1865, a dramatic scene occurred. Bruce Levine’s Fall of the House of Dixie picks up the thread:

White thrilled to “the shouts of ten thousand voices” celebrating liberation on the streets of the former Confederate capital. Black men and women gathered around him, urging him to speak, and so he did: he “proclaimed for the first time in that city freedom to all mankind.”

Prof. Levine continues:

As White stood in the street, trying to take it all in, an older woman approached him and asked his name, his birthplace, and the name of his mother. When he had answered all her questions, she quietly informed him that “this is your mother, Garland, whom you are now talking to, who has spent twenty years of grief about her son.”

It was in Richmond in 1775 that Patriot leader Patrick Henry had cried out: “Give me Liberty or give me Death!” Now, ninety years later, many a soldier in the 28th U.S.C.T. had received his liberty, only to be given death in the crater. Nonetheless, their sacrifice made possible this tender mother-and-son reunion, and the reuniting of many a family broken up by slavery.

In this Black History month, we can reflect on the importance of the church, the pastors, and the faith of Americans of all races as a powerful force in the reunion of our divided land. May that prove as true for our future as it was in our past.

Religious Freedom Day: January 16, 1786

by Robert Morrison

January 16, 2014

Today’s commemoration of Religious Freedom Day is important because of what a state legislature did in the early republic. This day in 1786 saw the final passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The bill had worldwide influence. From that time to this, it represents the height of Enlightenment thinking on the crucial role of religious liberty as the solid foundation of a free state.

Thomas Jefferson had first introduced the bill in the Virginia General Assembly in 1779. But the Commonwealth of Virginia was then in the throes of the War of Independence, and British invaders were threatening the state. Action was delayed on this measure until 1785 when Jefferson’s friend and closest political ally, James Madison, skillfully moved the measure through the legislature.

Reporting by letter to Mr. Jefferson, who was by this time America’s Minister to France, Madison said — in his quaint eighteenth century spelling — that it would “add to the lustre of our country.” Jefferson fully agreed and delightedly had the Statute translated into French for full distribution on the continent of Europe. The influence of this document spread far and wide.

Jefferson had offered this bill as a way of establishing religious freedom. We need better to appreciate what was meant by that word. In every civilized country during the time of Jefferson and Madison, parliaments and royal courts established the country’s religion. The “established” Church of England was the only church legally recognized throughout the British Empire and the only one supported by taxes. The best that dissenter Protestants, Catholics, and Jews could hope for in England was toleration.

Toleration meant that you could practice your religion, mostly in private, without harassment from royal authorities. Public celebration of the Catholic Mass was illegal in England. Catholics, Jews, and dissenting Protestants were ineligible to vote, to hold office, or even to serve as a commissioned officer in the Army or the Royal Navy. A religious test was required. Those who were unwilling to pledge even a nominal allegiance to the King’s Church of England were disqualified.

France, our ally in the Revolution, was no better. There, the Catholic Church was established and Protestants and Jews had no civil rights. Holland was perhaps the most enlightened country in Europe, but even for the liberal Dutch, toleration was the guiding principle.

When the great patriot George Mason drafted Virginia’s Declaration of Rights during the Revolution, he first included in it language supporting the broadest “toleration” for all religions. Young James Madison, in his modest and self-effacing way, had persuaded Mason instead to use the phrase “free exercise of religion.” It was Mason’s document that Jefferson used as a reference in writing the American Declaration of Independence.

Madison had no stronger ally in the fight for the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom than Elder John Leland, a leader of the Old Dominion’s Baptists. These evangelical Protestants had been brutally mistreated under the colonial government of Virginia. Their refusal to tell Church of England clerics where they would preach and to whom they would preach landed a number of Baptist preachers in jail.

In establishing religious freedom for the first time anywhere in the world, the Virginia Statute said that our worship of our Creator was a matter between us and our God. It said we had a duty to worship but the manner and means of that worship were a recognized right of conscience. It freed citizens from paying taxes to support churches they did not attend and doctrines they did not believe. None of the peoples’ rights as citizens would be infringed because of their membership in a particular church body, synagogue, or other “religious society.”

Finally, the Virginia Statute stated in emphatic terms that it recognized the power of succeeding legislatures to amend or repeal portions of the Statute. The authors nonetheless asserted that should any part of the Virginia Statute be diluted or repealed, it would be a violation of a fundamental human right.

The importance of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom cannot be overestimated. Its spirit breathes in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — also a handiwork of James Madison. In the nineteenth century, millions of European immigrants would be drawn to our shores in the knowledge that in America, their faith would be respected and their right to free exercise of religion protected.

Here lies Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia,” reads the epitaph on the Founder’s grave marker. He wrote it himself. Modestly, he added no word about two terms as president, or a long string of offices and titles conferred upon him. Those were gifts of the people to me, he explained, but these were my gifts to them.

Today, America’s religious freedom is in the gravest danger since 1786. The HHS Mandate will force millions of us to aid in the destruction of the inalienable right to life. It violates our consciences and threatens our free exercise of religion.

Our own State Department, forgetting the legacy of two of our ablest Secretaries of State — Jefferson and Madison — has pressured constitution writers in Iraq and Afghanistan to establish Islamist states in which the rights of religious minorities are nowhere respected nor are their lives secure. No wonder our efforts in those strife-torn countries have come to naught.

There’s nothing new under the sun,” said President Harry Truman, “just history we haven’t learned yet.” His words should serve as a warning and a spur to his successor in the White House and the diplomats at State. Even if they have not learned our history, we must remember it.

ObamaCore: Not his Signature Achievement

by Robert Morrison

January 3, 2014

We all know that ObamaCare is the president’s “signature achievement.” The media keeps telling us so. I don’t know what my own signature achievement might be, but I’m certainly happy it’s not a “screwed up” (his own word) launch of a health care takeover.

Less well known, but equally botched, is the so-called Common Core state education standards. Defenders of this federal power grab howl when critics call it “ObamaCore.”

Not fair. This didn’t start under President Obama, they say. True. And anyway it’s voluntary, they say. Not so true. It’s only voluntary if the states want a chunk of their own money back from the tight-fisted federal education department.

The reason it is fair to call it ObamaCore is because it is the fulfillment of President Obama’s pledge to “fundamentally transform this country.” Like ObamaCare, ObamaCore reduces the states to mere local branches of the federal government. It strips them of their rightful authority under the Constitution. It turns citizens into subjects.

Speaking of signatures though, an incident at my local hospital reminded me recently that ObamaCore really roils Americans at the grassroots. A young hematology technician approached me as I rolled up my sleeve to give blood. She slipped in the needle and asked if I’d heard they were going to drop cursive writing from elementary school curricula. Yes, I had heard something about that, I quickly volunteered. She then proceeded to fill me in. This young professional woman was livid. My blood started to boil, too (not always the best thing when they’re trying to draw it.)

Why would Common Core proponents want to get rid of cursive handwriting? Well, we won’t need it anymore, they assure us. Everything will be done on iPads, iPhones, and word processors. We have to get hip and get moving into the Twenty-first Century, they tell us.

This incident was most revealing. Out in the country — away from Washington, D.C. and its perennial fights over money — people are really agitated about Common Core. The dropping of cursive writing is just one element, but it’s an important one. We all sense this, even if we cannot give all the reasons why.

Let’s start with the Founding Fathers; it’s always a good idea. Benjamin Franklin was the most inventive genius this country ever produced. Yes, he was even smarter than Bill Gates. Let’s look at Benjamin Franklin’s signature. It’s a work of art.

Surely, the man who was a printer, who set type and who made his living not writing in cursive, might have been dismissive of his signature. But his signature is bold and assertive. It obviously is meant to be an expression of Benjamin Franklin himself.

George Washington’s signature tells us here is a man to be reckoned with. Although personally humble, and although he did not sign the Constitution with the same oversize flair that John Hancock employed when signing the Declaration of Independence, there is yet a solidity and an integrity about Washington’s signature that suggests it will last as long as the Rock of Gibraltar does.

Thomas Jefferson affixed his signature to tens of thousands of letters in his lifetime. He wrote with a speed and dexterity that is stunning to us today. His letters—of which he carefully kept copies to keep critics from “twistifying” his words — proceeded like a Niagara from his mountaintop retreat at Monticello. Founding Father Benjamin Rush would say that he and John Adams thought for us of the revolutionary generation.

Lincoln thought out intellectual problems, too, by writing. There seems to have been something in the mechanical process of handwriting that enabled this deeply introspective man to work out the most difficult challenges of statecraft by his writing. As a stimulus to thought, Lincoln’s handwriting expressed logic, eloquence, and vast power. Douglas L. Wilson refers to his craft as Lincoln’s Sword. His words have a biblical cadence and a musical allure.

Microsoft’s founding genius, Bill Gates, is urging us to swallow all of Common Core. But this admittedly clever man recently confessed that he had made a big mistake with Crtl-Alt-Delete. That awkward sequence of keystrokes was something the tech whiz says he messed up. He has not told us whether he also messed up in his large donations to President Obama’s campaigns.

I’m hoping my grandchildren will be media savvy and fully able to negotiate whatever technical devices are yet to be developed. But I also want them to know the joy of writing and the importance of their signatures as an expression of their own immortal selves.

Is all of this precious heritage at risk from eliminating cursive writing? Maybe not. But this change is not hopeful. And it can serve us as a synechdoche — that is, a part that truly represents the whole.

We know this much: Those who today grasp for ever more crushing power over 317 million of us Americans have done nothing thus far to earn our trust.

Washington in Annapolis: “The Greatest Exit in American History’ December 23, 1783

by Robert Morrison

December 23, 2013

The day will doubtless pass quietly in Maryland’s capital. Christmas shoppers will crowd onto Generals Highway, mostly unaware that its name comes from General Washington’s visit to this little town two hundred thirty years ago. Still, General Washington’s resigning his commission in Annapolis deserves to be remembered.

It was the final scene of the American Revolution. Congress had been meeting for months in Annapolis, working on ratification of the Treaty of Paris. That was the signed and sealed document by which Great Britain would officially recognize our Independence. The final great military clash of the war, the Battle of Yorktown, more than two years earlier, had resulted in an American victory with the indispensable aid of thousands of French soldiers and sailors.

A tall and powerful figure in the saddle, Washington was described by his fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, as the best horseman of the age. Washington had ridden all the way from New York to Annapolis for this occasion, his journey interrupted by countless tributes and toasts. Many of the towns through which he passed saluted his arrival with booming cannon and ringing church bells.

Now, nearing the holidays, Gen. Washington had one last duty to perform before returning to his beloved Mount Vernon plantation for Christmas Eve. Washington spent four days in Annapolis in a round of dinners and receptions. The night before his resignation was spent in dancing. He was a superb dancer and the ladies of what was called “first fashion” wanted to dance with him. He danced every dance.

The General entered the Old State House to appear before Congress. The members made a point of remaining seated; there would be no bowing to Washington, as if he were a monarch. Instead, His Excellency bowed to them. It was his way of showing his deference to the civilian authority that he had obeyed faithfully throughout his eight years as Commanding General of the armies and navy of the United States.

Jefferson, a member from Virginia, especially appreciated this in Washington. Years later, he would reflect: “The moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.”

Washington was not abandoning the country he loved. He commended the nation to “the protection of Almighty God” and asked Him to keep those who governed America in His “holy keeping.” Washington’s hands shook as he pronounced the words. A cloud of witnesses recorded the scene in letters and diaries. And the Maryland Archives proudly preserves his handwritten speech. Yet, today, some historians persist in telling us Washington was not very religious.

Perhaps no other military figure in American history deserves such acclaim. Most of Washington’s battles were defeats. Yet, Washington held the Army and the Union together with his firm leadership.

Author Richard Brookhiser tells this remarkable story of Washington’s steadying presence, not at a great victory, but at a planned and carefully staged retreat. A Rhode Island veteran of the Continental Army described the scene. You can tell the men were on the verge of panic, but:

There was only one bridge over the stream, and as his unit was hurrying across it, he saw that Washington had posted himself on the other side, to oversee the retreat. All the while there was an artillery duel going on between the British and the Americans on the other side of the creek. As he crossed the bridge, [the teenage soldier] was jostled against Washington’s boot and the flank of his horse. He remembered — 50 years later — that the horse was as firm as the rider and seemed to know that he was not to quit his station. What the man did not say is that, at the moment of contact, he also knew this because Washington’s presence gave him a sense that all was not chaos, that the battle was under control,

Before Annapolis, some of Washington’s young officers pleaded with him not to surrender his commission to Congress, but to seize the reins of power. The country was adrift, they said, and the hard-won prize of Independence was in jeopardy as the economy languished and foreign states — including Muslim hostage takers along the Barbary Coast of North Africa — held American liberties in contempt.

I cannot act, Washington firmly replied, the people must act. But, Your Excellency, his worried young aides retorted, the people do not understand how bad things really are. Unmoved, Washington answered with that same firmness he had shown at the bridge, at a hundred bridges: “The people must feel an evil before they can see it.”

It’s worth considering as we face another critical period in our country’s life. At home, ObamaCare threatens basic freedoms as no other measure has in 230 years, especially religious freedom. Abroad, hateful regimes that murder missionaries and imprison pastors are bent on obtaining nuclear weapons. Americans are certainly feeling the evil.

Our task is to remember that steadfastness of Washington at the bridge. He showed his respect for constitutional principles when he freely surrendered his commission to those from whose hands he had received it. King George III, once his bitter foe, said if he does that then he truly will be “the greatest man in the world.” And historian Joseph Ellis calls it “the greatest exit in American history.”

In USNA’s Tecumseh Court — Bite Army!

by Robert Morrison

December 13, 2013

One of the reasons I don’t plan to move out of Annapolis is that I can probably never find another town where you get fireworks four times a year. (OK, maybe I could move to Disney World.) This past week, the Naval Academy Brigade of Midshipmen celebrated Spirit Week outside Bancroft Hall with a rousing pep rally in Tecumseh Court.

The Mids are hoping to extend their streak against West Point to twelve straight wins in the classic Army-Navy football game. This year, the Mids are taking extra precautions to keep their mascot — Bill the Goat — from being kidnapped by the Cadets of the U.S. Military Academy. In past years, the Army’s Black Knights have had the pleasure of getting Navy’s goat.

But this year, Navy is protecting Bill the Goat. (Actually, both Bills; there are two official Navy goats). To prevent any raiding of goats, Navy is hiding Bills the Goats and not letting anyone know where. They’ve posted a guard dog to alert everyone to any attempts made to liberate the Navy goats. In this case, the watchword is not just Beat Army — it’s Bite Army!

I’d suggest that Navy hide Bills the Goats at nearby Fort Meade. That’s also where the National Security Agency (NSA) is located. We could all rest assured that ex-NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, won’t spill the Navy’s beans. At present, Snowden is snowed in. In Moscow.

Goat snatching and Mule bashing are all a part of the great traditions of our service academies. So, too, is another T Court event: The Induction Day ceremony that each summer brings to the Academy about 1,200 new Midshipmen. (Yes, the young ladies are called Midshipmen, too.) They come from every state in the Union and from a number of foreign nations, too. The foreign Midshipmen are excused from taking the Oath of Office.

It’s a moving and powerful scene. The “Plebes” crowd into the vast expanse of T Court. They’ve had their hair buzzed (or cropped for the ladies) and been issued baggy new “white works” as uniforms. They have been medically tested vaccinated.

For the five years my wife, a Navy captain, and I attended this ceremony, she would remark how young they all looked. Finally, I pointed out the Plebes’ parents sitting in the bleachers and noted how young they look.

Navy jets (if they aren’t grounded by the sequester) storm overhead. You feel the roar of their engines in your gut. They call it “the sound of freedom.”

And then the Plebes take this Oath of Office:


Having been appointed a Midshipman in the United States Navy, do you solemnly swear (or affirm) that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?

There is hardly a parent who witnesses this ceremony who is not in tears. Many of the Plebes, likewise, are tearful. For good reason. Added to all the normal emotions of a son or daughter going off to college is this sobering thought: The oath they have just sworn, the step forward they have just taken, could be the first step toward a patriot grave.

Inside Bancroft Hall is the Memorial to hundreds of Naval Academy graduates who laid down their lives that we might live in freedom. From across College Creek, on a hill, the crosses and Stars of David in the cemetery bear silent testimony to the importance of the oath these Mids are taking.

This is the Oath taken by tens of thousands before the Class of 2017. It is the Oath that binds — and must bind — all the members of our all-volunteer military services.

There is currently a controversy over this Oath. The atheizers have succeeded for the time being in having “So Help Me God” dropped from the Oath as administered at the U.S. Air Force Academy. No one is forced to swear to any belief he or she does not hold. The Constitution of 1787 banned religious tests for all federal offices. But what the atheizers are demanding — and too often getting — is official atheism. They want to suppress our constitutionally protected free exercise rights.

George Washington was not only the first president; he was also the first Commanding General of the armies — and the navy — of the United States. Before he took his own Inaugural Oath as president, Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. For four months, Washington attended every session of the gathering, mostly in silence. It was the greatest tutorial in political philosophy, history, law, and economics ever held on this continent.

So when he took the Oath as President of the United States on April 30, 1789, it is no small matter that he added to the constitutionally prescribed Oath of Office four words.

So Help Me God

Washington understood the importance of oaths. In his Farewell Address to the Nation, he asked: “Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths?” If George Washington could do that, so can every other officeholder in America.

Our Constitution — Ordained and Established Legally!

by Robert Morrison

December 13, 2013

Michael Farris is the Chancellor of Patrick Henry College and the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He has offered an amazing analysis of the ratification — let me call it what the Framers called it — the ordination and establishment of our U.S. Constitution. Everyone who calls him or herself a constitutional conservative should read Mike Farris’ compelling legal and historical research.

Farris quotes popular contemporary historian Joseph Ellis’ recent book, Founding Brothers, in which Ellis endorses the view that the adoption of the Constitution was procedurally marred. Ellis notes that that under the Articles of Confederation, which was our only American legal frame of government in 1787, the consent of all thirteen state legislatures was required in order to amend the Articles themselves.

Since the Constitution explicitly states that it will go into effect upon approval of only nine of the thirteen states, it is argued by many historians that the Framers somehow got around this requirement of the soon-to-be-superseded Articles of Confederation. Further, some historians also maintain that the choice of state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures is also evidence of the Framers pulling something of an extra-legal coup d’état.

Making this case, many historians have argued that the Framers were right to do this because the Rhode Island legislature, for one, was controlled by radicals who opposed any changes that would strengthen the central authority of the Union. These historians cite the unflattering nickname that Little Rhody was given in the 1780s — Rogue Island. Thus, it is maintained, unanimous consent of the state legislatures was impossible.

The Framers were therefore forced to work around the Articles of Confederation and make a pragmatic move to get the new Constitution adopted. In effect, they say, the Framers finessed legality itself in doing what they knew had to be done.

Note that I distinguish between the Founders and the Framers. All the Framers can justly be called Founders, because they helped to establish our constitutional order and our new republic. But not all Founders are Framers. Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, and John Hancock are some of the famous Founders, and great patriots, too, who did not take part in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia from May to September 1787.

Farris sets out to show that Ellis is wrong. I think he does a brilliant job of showing that (1) the Confederation Congress approved of the process of sending the newly drafted Constitution to the states for consideration and (2) the individual state legislatures approved the idea of convening ratification conventions in each state.

Mike Farris shows that, even if belatedly, the state legislatures of North Carolina and Rhode Island fell into line and approved the calling of state conventions whose sole task it would be to approve (or possibly disapprove) the new Constitution.

In doing this extensive legal and historical research, Michael Farris has done a vitally important thing. In my constitutional law classes, in my American history and political science classes at University of Virginia, and in my graduate studies in communications history at University of Washington, I was taught the Ellis line. I just assumed that the Framers at some point had to make a pragmatic decision in order to keep the ship of state from going up on the rocks.

Michael Farris’ important article reminds me of what the Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln did in his careful dissection of the Framers’ work on slavery. Lincoln in 1859 and early 1860 studied not only the constitutional provisions related to slavery, but also the actions of many of those Framers who went on to sit in our first Congresses under the Constitution.

Lincoln was seeking to prove that Congress did have the power to restrict slavery in the territories, that the Framers acting as elected Members of Congress, took part in re-adopting the famed Northwest Ordinance of 1787. That far-reaching measure was one of the major achievements of Congress under the Articles of Confederation.

Lincoln showed that when the First Congress elected under the Constitution sat in New York, it reaffirmed the Northwest Ordinance’s ban on all slavery in the old Northwest Territory.

Lincoln was not trying to gain recognition in some prestigious law review article. He incorporated his penetrating analysis into his famous Cooper Union Address, delivered in New York City in February 1860. Lincoln did the research that Chief Justice Roger B. Taney failed to do when he wrote his infamous decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). In that 7-2 ruling, Taney said the federal government had no power to prevent slavery spreading into all the territories. Lincoln refuted Taney masterfully. Many historians credit the Cooper Union Address as his strongest bid for the Republican nomination for president in 1860.

And Michael Farris, I believe, has refuted a horde of progressive historians who have taught us that pragmatism was the pole star of the Framers, that they were right in taking extralegal steps in order to achieve their worthy objectives.

Why does any of this matter today? ObamaCare is why. Every day, we see President Obama’s administration issuing new ukases and diktats relating to one-sixth of the U.S. economy. In the guise of fixing a national problem of uninsured persons, the president is daily achieving his stated goal of “fundamentally transforming this country.” A fundamental transformation means the constitution is being termited. Every day, President Obama and his radical appointees are taking actions unauthorized by the Constitution and antithetical to the Rule of Law.

The states, under ObamaCare, will become mere branch offices of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. That is why a majority of states rushed into federal court to try to block this seizure of power.

The ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts that said the individual mandate is constitutional because Congress has the power to tax us is, of course, an absurdity. It’s a dog’s breakfast of an opinion.

Every advocate for ObamaCare bitterly denied that the penalty for not enrolling the Mr. Obama’s exchanges, or having other government-approved health care insurance, was a tax. They denounced opponents of the legislation for even suggesting that this was the largest tax increase in U.S. history. “It’s not a tax,” President Obama told a television interviewer. Period.

But if it is a tax, then the Constitution explicitly states that all revenue bills must originate in the House of Representatives. This one originated in the Senate.

What Michael Farris has done in his excellent research is to reassure all Americans that the Constitution we received, the Constitution that was — the words have an almost religious meaning — ordained and established — still must be our pole star of legitimacy.

The new book, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865, by James Oakes, shows convincingly how careful President Lincoln and the Republicans in Congress were to achieve emancipation only through fully legal and constitutional means. These included the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment.

The Progressives, with their belief in a living Constitution, really are trying to force on us what Jefferson called “a thing of wax.” They pull and shape our basic document into any form they need, in order to achieve the pragmatic goals they want.

No wonder Speaker Nancy Pelosi looked incredulously at the man who asked her whether the health care takeover was constitutional. For someone who has been making it up as she goes along, for decades, Speaker Pelosi must have thought the man was speaking Greek.

Congratulations to Michael Farris for this indispensable contribution to our understanding of the Constitution the Founders — all of them — gave us. It is a jewel of inestimable worth.