Category archives: History

What We Owe Winston Churchill-Liberty Itself

by Robert Morrison

January 26, 2015

I’m indebted to my good friend Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy for this excellent reminder of the 50th Anniversary of Winston Churchill’s funeral.

Fifty years ago, a great State Funeral was held in London for Winston Churchill. Britain’s Prime Minister in World War II, Churchill was the man who through the 1930s had been a voice crying in the wilderness against the rise of the Nazis (Nozzies). Then, when appeasement failed to stop Hitler, Churchill arose to fight him. President Kennedy would say: “He martialed the English language and sent it into battle.”

Half a century ago, Winston Churchill was laid to rest in a solemn ceremony in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The subject of Churchill’s faith—or lack thereof—has been discussed for almost as long as Winston himself has been discussed. And that’s a very long time. He first became famous escaping from a South African prison during the Boer War, just weeks before the year 1900 dawned. Young Churchill hated every minute as a POW and contrived to climb out of a bathroom window and escape. As some would say later, he leaped out of the “Loo” and onto the stage of history.

And what a performance. Winston Churchill’s life was the most documented human life ever lived. When I made that claim to some of our FRC interns several years ago, one of the brighter ones challenged me. What about Prince William? We have even seen his ultra-sound picture. Good point. But we don’t know what William thought about matters—from the age of seven. And we do know that about Winston Churchill.

He died at age 90, seventy years to the day after his famous father had died. His father was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Conservative Party government of Lord Salisbury. Lord Randolph Churchill had married a stunningly beautiful and sensuous American heiress. (Fans of PBS’s Downton Abbey will be familiar with the plan: British noble, down at the heels financially marries wealthy American beauty and, surprisingly, actually falls in love with her.)

Lord Randolph died in his forties. He may have suffered from tuberculosis of the brain, or, as some have suggested, from syphilis. Winston always expected to die young. Perhaps that accounted for his incredible energy.

During World War II, as Prime Minister, he was famous—or notorious—for sending out memos with red stickers saying “Action this Day” on them. He wanted a full report—on one side of a piece of paper, before sundown. Winston himself always worked two shifts. He would sleep late, work in bed before noon. And then every afternoon take a nap of 1-2 hours. By this method, he could go well into the wee hours of the morning.

He had almost no consideration for his staff. No holidays. No vacations. No breaks at all. He would smile mischievously at 10 or 11 pm and say “I shall need two young ladies tonight.” He meant as typists. He wore them out and roared at them if they ever got something wrong, failed to double-space everything, or dared to ask him to repeat something.

Now, he was forever chewing on a fine Havana cigar and he had a speech impediment. He could not properly pronounce the letter “S.” That, and the fact that he drank alcohol from the moment he awoke in the morning until well after midnight sometimes made it hard to make out what he was saying as he paced back and forth, dictating. His drinking led some to conclude, incorrectly, that he was alcoholic. “I’ve taken more out of whiskey than whiskey has taken out of me,” he said.

Those who knew him best knew that his whiskey and water was very weak. And it was probably true that it fueled his lightning imagination. [Don’t try this at home. The Lord makes only one such in a century!]

Standing atop the Air Ministry in London during an especially heavy bombing raid, Winston looked out on the city in flames. Suddenly and somewhat surprisingly, he turned to his young secretary and asked: “You’re not afraid, are you, Miss Holmes?” No sir, the intrepid young woman answered, “I could never be afraid with you, Sir.”

He had that effect on millions of people. His courage was contagious. After the war, a Polish survivor of the concentration camps said: “We didn’t have bread, but we had Churchill.”

That comment hurts me as an American. I want oppressed people around the world to say that of my President. When Ronald Reagan told the National Association of Evangelicals in 1983 they should not turn a blind eye to the “machinations of an evil empire,” those words rang around the world. Reagan never said the Soviet Union is an evil empire. He let the Communists howl in indignation. He let them scream in protest: “Reagan calls USSR ‘Evil Empire.” He hadn’t. But just like the demons, they knew who he was talking about. And they headlined it in Pravda and Izvestia. That’s how Natan Sharansky and other Jews and Christians in the Gulag found out what Reagan had said. Finally, an American president who gets it!

Churchill always got it. He denounced the Nozzie butchers from the first days. After barking at one of his subordinates, and hurting the young man’s feelings, he felt bad. He actually apologized and said: “I’m only fierce toward one.” It was Hitler.

Why do we keep bringing up leaders like Churchill and Reagan? Because they got it. They understood that regimes that started off persecuting Jews would soon come for the British and the Americans. They gave no encouragement to the appeasers of their day.

When I was young, we learned a song in school: Hail Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean. One of the lines in it is: “Thy banners make tyranny tremble.” Do our banners make tyranny tremble today? Or do they make tyranny comfortable?

President Obama heads the most anti-Israel administration in U.S. history. He has virtually ignored the deaths of tens of thousands of Christians while he bows to cruel Muslim rulers.

He is the leading protector of Iran’s Mullahs in the world. Shocking, but true. He shields Iran’s Mullahs from sanctions, even from the threat of sanctions.

Does anyone believe he would use military force to stop the Number One state-sponsor of terrorism from obtaining a nuclear weapon? He won’t even threaten to use economic sanctions. And he has long since given up any diplomatic sanctions.

Churchill’s weak predecessor, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, appeased Hitler only once—disastrously—at Munich. President Obama has appeased the Iranians every day for six years. All of this gravely threatens the cause of liberty throughout the world.

So, today, I thank God for the life and legacy of Winston Churchill. When, at the end of his life, his daughter tried to cheer him up as the weight of age and infirmity quenched his indomitable fire, she said to him: “I owe you what every British man and woman owes you: Liberty itself.”

Millions in Eastern Europe could say that today about the leadership of Ronald Reagan. Who will say that about today’s U.S. leadership? 

The Dreyfus Affair: One Historic Landmark for Jews in France

by Chris Gacek

January 16, 2015

Commentary magazine recently posted a powerful article entitled, “The Existential Necessity of Zionism after Paris.” They noted of the massacre in the Parisian kosher grocery that it “was not the beginning of a new threat to French Jews and the Jews of Europe.” Rather, the editors noted, it marked “the culmination of a decade of crisis. And it will not be the end.”

There have been tensions between Christians and Jews since the days of the early church. Thankfully, during the past century relations between most Christian denominations and Jews have improved greatly. Much of this change has been prompted by the growing Christian appreciation of and affection for Israel.

I am no expert on Franco-Jewish history, but I know that one major event that shook the foundations of French society and reverberates to this day was the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal that stretched from 1894 to 1906. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish, French Army captain, was convicted falsely of espionage and sent to solitary confinement on Devil’s Island in French Guiana for over four years. Eventually, Dreyfus was released and completely exonerated.

The Dreyfus Affair was a seismic event infused with anti-Semitism. Its impact on French society was at least one order of magnitude greater than Watergate was on the United States. Consequently, any consideration of the life of Jews in France must include the Dreyfus Affair and the treatment of Jews during World War II by the Vichy regime. Dreyfus is an elephant in the historical corner that colors all that came afterward.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Dreyfus Affair, Robert Harris’s historical novel,

An Officer and a Spy: A novel, makes the history exciting. (There are a number of good histories on the topic as an Amazon search will indicate.)

International religious persecution made itself clearly visible to us in the recent attack on the Parisian kosher store.  Last week, I posted a brief discussion of the Dreyfus Affair and its implications, a century later, for understanding anti-Semitism in France today.  Over the weekend, the John Batchelor Show posted its excellent interview of Robert Harris (An Officer and a Spy) by John Batchelor.  Listening to this 40-minute discussion is the best way get a sense of this event, its scope, and its lasting effects.  If may be found via this link to the iTunes podcast page (1/17/2015). 

The Miracle at New Orleans

by Robert Morrison

January 8, 2015

If you don’t believe in miracles, skip this page. If you don’t think America is an exceptional country, read no further. The story of the Battle of New Orleans, the Bicentennial of which we observe today, is a story of an almost unbelievably one-sided victory.

At this point two hundred years ago in the War of 1812, both Britain and the U.S. had failed repeatedly in attempts to strike a knockout blow. The Americans failed spectacularly in attempts to invade and occupy British Canada. We were driven out of Canada after humiliating defeats at Lundy’s Lane and elsewhere. At the commencement of the war, retired President Thomas Jefferson had said the conquest of Canada would be “a mere matter of marching.” It was not one of the Sage of Monticello’s better predictions.

Jefferson’s loyal lieutenant and successor as president, James Madison, had had to hightail it out of the White House in August, 1814, to avoid capture. Then, a powerful British amphibious force sailed up the Chesapeake almost unopposed and landed disciplined troops in Maryland. They marched overland and summarily defeated panicked local militia at Upper Marlboro, Bladensburg, and eventually even Washington, D.C.

While President Madison courageously rode into action against the invader (the only president ever to take up arms against a foreign foe), his equally brave wife, Dolley Madison, saved the famous Gilbert Stuart “Lansdowne”portrait of George Washington. As Dolley was evacuating the White House, Sec. of State James Monroe ordered clerk Stephen Pleasanton to throw some old government documents in a burlap sack and hurry them out of the embattled capital. Pleasanton did his duty. He took that sack in a wagon to Great Falls, Virginia, and thus we still have the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The British burned the White House, the Capitol, and the Library of Congress. The entire capital city might have gone up in flames but for a sudden hurricane that extinguished the flames. With the capital still smoldering, however, the mayors of Georgetown and Alexandria finally got an audience with the invading British Admiral, George Cochrane. “We’ve come to surrender our cities to you, Sir,” they bleated. “I’m not even going there,” harrumphed the haughty conqueror. (Liberal Georgetown and Alexandria have a long tradition of pre-emptive surrender!)

Adm. Cochrane instead went to Baltimore, where his attack failed. And the Star-Spangled Banner still waved above Fort McHenry. None of this would have helped, however, if the British had made good their invasion of Louisiana.

This was perhaps the gravest threat of the entire war. In Europe, Napoleon had at last been defeated and exiled. Now, Britain could turn her undivided attention to crushing the upstart Americans. To show their seriousness of purpose, they dispatched Gen. Sir Edward Michael Pakenham to join Adm. Cochrane and a huge force of 14,000 battle-hardened troops to wrest the entire Mississippi Valley from the United States. Pakenham was a seasoned soldier and the brother-in-law of Napoleon’s nemesis, the great Duke of Wellington. Among Sir Edward’s papers was a Royal Commission naming him as Governor of the Province of Louisiana. When, as expected, he overwhelmed the American rabble at New Orleans, Britain would hem in America on the North, the South, and the West.

All of this might have happened but for the flinty courage and iron will of Gen. Andrew Jackson. Known as “Old Hickory” to his troops (and not always fondly), Jackson was already a veteran of Indian wars and border conflicts with the Spanish. He bore a scar on his temple from a sword cut made by a surly British officer when he had been just a lad in South Carolina, during the Revolution. Jackson hated the British with a Scots-Irish fervor.

Gen. Jackson had been alerted to the British invasion by a local militia officer, Major Gabriel Villaré, one of the French Creole planters of Louisiana. Villaré had evaded British capture by diving through a window at his estate when the British barged in. Maj. Villaré then ran through the swamps to sound the warning.

Commanding Gen. Jackson quickly put the Crescent City under martial law, jailed a federal judge who defied his orders, and prepared to hold New Orleans against the expected assault. Jackson commanded a motley force of American regular army, half-wild Tennessee and Kentucky militia, and the Baratarian Pirates. These were French-speakers whom Jackson himself called “hellish banditti” The pirates were led by Jean Lafitte, who was fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, and English and who had offered his services—for a price, of course—to the redcoat invaders. The shrewd Jackson quickly accepted Lafitte’s offer of alliance. Add to this mix, the local “Gens du Couleur.” These were free black citizens of New Orleans. Their aid would prove indispensable and their example would help to tamp down any idea of slave rebellion in the state.

The British had expected the Americans to panic at the sight of their latest weapon, the Congreve rockets. These spectacular new sights on the battlefield had led Americans to throw down their weapons outside Washington as men and horses fled in terror. They reckoned without Old Hickory, who rode back and forth along his lines, exposing himself to enemy sharpshooters while calling out “these are terrors for children, men. Hold your ground!”

Hold it they did. And when the redcoats advanced toward the American breastworks, these “wild” frontiersmen let loose with devastating volleys. They had been trained to shoot, fall back, re-load, and shoot again with lethal accuracy. Gen. Pakenham and other top British attackers were killed in the onslaught. As related by famed historian, Robert Remini in his acclaimed biography of Jackson, “the destruction of the high command in one blow ‘caused a wavering in the column which in such a situation became irreparable.” The British suffered 2,037 casualties to the Americans’ 13 dead, 39 wounded, and 19 missing. British survivors would tell their American captors they had never faced an enemy who did not run away when hit by the new Congreve rockets.

In mere minutes, Britain’s hope of re-establishing its North American dominance faded. Jackson’s victory was celebrated in a Te Deum Mass in the Cathedral of St. Louis in New Orleans. Jackson, the staunch Presbyterian, obligingly attended that event and several society balls in his honor.

In Washington, D.C., late word arrived of the Treaty of Ghent. That document officially ended the War of 1812. It had been signed on December 24, 1814, in that Belgian city—three weeks before the Battle of New Orleans. That treaty essentially restored the Status Quo Ante—that is, neither side could claim a victory in the war.

Still, news of the “Incredible Victory” at New Orleans followed on the heels of the peace announcement. Not surprisingly, Americans tended to view the events as one and ever after claimed “bragging rights.” President Madison basked in new public esteem. As for Gen. Andrew Jackson, from January 8, 1815, until his death in 1845, Americans all knew who “The Hero” was.

Fifty Years After

by Robert Morrison

October 27, 2014

Every poll confirmed that the Republican nominee for President in 1964 was headed for a major defeat. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) had pulled off an amazing victory to gain the GOP nomination in San Francisco. He had soundly defeated such Eastern Establishment figures as Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R-N.Y.) and Gov. William Scranton (R-Penn.) Goldwater’s campaign for the nomination is seen today as the beginning of the modern conservative movement in politics.

The liberal media was determined to destroy Sen. Goldwater. They depicted him as the “mad bomber.” Their editorial pages ran hostile cartoons. One typical one showed him as a crazed trainman on a San Francisco cable car. “Streetcar Named Disaster” was the caption for that political cartoon, a reference to the play “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

Despite all this, and fully aware that he was about to make his national political debut backing a losing cause, actor and TV personality, and former union president Ronald Reagan went on national television to deliver a 29-minute speech titled: “A Time for Choosing.”

It’s worth watching this speech in its entirety. We see her a younger, edgier Ronald Reagan than we may be used to. He is angry but his righteous indignation is kept under tight control. He clearly believes that his friend, Barry Goldwater, has been savaged by the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign and by their willing accomplices in the press.

Reagan hammers home point after point, but he takes care to use stories to convey his message. My favorite line is about the Cuban exile who tells of his brutal mistreatment under Communist dictator Fidel Castro. When his American businessmen listeners remark how lucky they are to live under freedom, the Cuban says how lucky he is. “I had some place to escape to!” Reagan makes the point: If we lose freedom in America, there will be no place to escape to.”

I was too young to vote in 1964 and I missed this famous speech. In those days, you couldn’t DVR or TiVo TV broadcasts. But I certainly heard about Reagan’s amazing speech. It raised millions of dollars for the doomed Republican campaign. It was perhaps the only bright spot that fall for the outgunned GOP.

President Johnson carried forty-four states that fall and swept thousands of liberal Democrats into office on his coattails. Towns in Vermont and Kansas that had never elected a Democrat to any office at any level went with the Democrats that Election Day.

But within two years, the wheels were coming off the LBJ bandwagon. Within his own party, opponents to U.S. military involvement in Vietnam began to be heard. Inflation took off, leaving millions of Americans—especially retirees on fixed incomes and service members still enduring the military draft—falling further and further behind. By the time of the 1966 mid-term elections, scores of those Johnson had swept into Congress were swept out by voters.

In 1966, Ronald Reagan was elected Governor of California. He defeated liberal Democrat Pat Brown (father of the current Gov. Jerry Brown) by more than one million votes. Reagan served two highly successful terms as California’s governor.

His election as President in 1980 was still considered something of a long shot, largely because the liberal media continued to view him as “extreme” and “dangerous.” Reagan, however, never reacted angrily. He learned to keep his temper in check and use his well-developed sense of humor to puncture liberal shibboleths.

Still, it’s well worth remembering that it all began for Ronald Reagan this day in 1964, half a century ago. Reagan was what they call a conviction politician. Or, in more recent computer jargon, WYSIWYG—What you see is what you get.

Here’s an example: I attended a staff conference in the federal education department in 1985. Mrs. Patricia Hines had convened the meeting of Reagan appointees to decide on a policy to pursue about education. Of five options offered us by the career civil service employees, Mrs. Hines opened the meeting by saying: “Options number three and number five are off the table, but let’s look at one, two and four.”

Innocently, I asked why she had ruled out those two choices. As if she was gently chiding a slow student, Mrs. Hines said: “Numbers three and five are specifically condemned in the Republican Platform on which President Reagan was elected. This president may not be able to do all the things the Republican Platform recommends, but he will never do something the platform condemns. That’s basic to government by consent of the governed.”

I was embarrassed that I had not studied the Platform, but I was thrilled to be so corrected. Ronald Reagan believed that the people who nominated him and elected him had done so because they believed in him and trusted him to do what he said he would do. He would not break faith with them.

For thirty years—from this day in 1964 until that day in 1994 when  he wrote his dignified and moving letter telling us he had Alzheimer’s Disease, Ronald Reagan was the acknowledged leader of American conservatism.

I especially like the fact that he quoted Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in his 1964 speech:

The nation that prefers disgrace to danger is ready for a master—and deserves one.”

This quote reminds us that Reagan quoted the timeless wisdom of the Founding Fathers more than any of the four presidents who preceded him (and more, too, than any of the four presidents who have succeeded him.)

America’s leaders have disgraced us all too often in the tumultuous years since President Reagan left us. Strong majorities today tell public opinion pollsters our country is on “the wrong track.” There is deep cynicism about political leadership.

Studying Reagan’s career is not an exercise in nostalgia. It is a necessary task if we would seek to place our beloved country on a better course.

Columbus Day: A Time to Celebrate Religion in America

by Christina Hadford

October 14, 2014

Dedicating his voyage “In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ” and offering himself as an instrument of God, Christopher Columbus set sail into the great unknown on August 3, 1492. Approximately two months later — 522 years from this very week — Columbus’ great ship Santa Maria de Immaculada Concepcion approached the New World. Upon arriving to the shore, he knelt to the ground, raised his eyes to Heaven, and proclaimed, “Blessed be the light of day, and the Holy Cross we say; and the Lord of Verity, and the Holy Trinity. Blessed be the light of day, and He who sends the dark away.”

Christopher Columbus was a deeply pious man who structured his day around prayer and sacrifice. His true joy in discovering the Americas rested in this new opportunity to bring Our Lord’s love to his brothers and sisters across the world. Columbus’ legacy survived many trials and tribulations, and eventually fueled the formation of the great nation we live in today. Centuries later George Washington echoed Columbus’ faith-filled vision, proclaiming, “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.”

Although both men were driven by divine inspiration, they also saw religion’s pragmatic application. Social science data shows that religious practice, especially within an intact married family, is associated with a number of positive societal outcomes.

For example, studies show that religion promotes familial relationships. Religious attendance is the most important predictor of marital stability, and those in intact marriages who worship weekly were most likely to say they felt thrilled and excited during intercourse with their current sexual partner. Parents who attend religious services are more likely to enjoy a better relationship with their children and to be more involved in their children’s education. A father’s religious affiliation and religious attendance are positively associated with his involvement with his children in ways such as interacting one-on-one, having dinner with his family, and volunteering for youth-related activities.

Religious attendance is also associated with better education. Frequent religious attendance correlates with higher grades, lower dropout rates, greater school attachment, and higher educational aspirations. Overall, Students who attend church weekly while growing up have significantly more years of total schooling by their early thirties than peers who do not attend church at all.

Moreover, social science data shows that religious attendance boosts health. Greater longevity is consistently and significantly correlated with higher levels of religious practice and involvement, regardless of the sex, race, education, or health history of those studied. Young people who both attend religious services weekly and rate religion as important in their lives are less likely to engage in risky behavior, such as drunk driving, riding with drunk drivers, driving without a seatbelt, or engaging in interpersonal violence. They are also less likely to smoke (tobacco or marijuana) or drink heavily. Not surprisingly, religious affiliation and regular church attendance are among the most common reasons people give to explain their own happiness.

Clearly, religious practice is imperative for a strong and altruistic community. Among those who feel compassion for the disadvantaged, religious respondents are 23 percent more likely to donate to charities at least yearly and 32 percent more likely to donate monthly than are their secular counterparts. Religious people are also more likely to volunteer. They are 34 percent more likely to volunteer at least yearly and 22 percent more likely to volunteer monthly.

Unfortunately, religion, particularly Christianity, is being attacked in America today. Data shows the pressing importance of reinfusing religious practice into society for the sake of the well-being of our nation, no matter what the cost. As Christopher Columbus said, “No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Savior, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service.”

Full citations can be found in MARRI’s synthesis paper, “95 Social Science Reason for Religious Worship and Practice.”

Analyzing Tony Kennedy: My only Power Lunch

by Robert Morrison

October 8, 2014

Tony Kennedy had just been confirmed to a life appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court in late 1987 when I got an invitation to lunch from a lawyer in a well-respected Washington firm. John Connolly was a man I had never met. Mr. Connolly, I was informed, was Pat Buchanan’s brother-in-law. The message my assistant gave me was that this estimable gentleman just wanted to thank me for my efforts on behalf of Judge Robert Bork.

Earlier that year, we had been through a brutal confirmation battle. The good and decent Bob Bork, an eminent constitutional scholar, had been savagely attacked in the mass media.

Liberal activists had left no stone unturned or uncast in their hunt for anything to stop Judge Bork from being confirmed as President Reagan’s third Supreme Court nominee. They had failed to derail Chief Justice Rehnquist, though they slimed him. They never laid a glove on the beloved Justice Antonin Scalia. Everyone loves “Nino,” it seems.

But they were primed for Bob Bork. No sooner had President Reagan announced his choice on July 1, 1987 then Ted Kennedy burst onto the Senate floor with a scurrilous and scandalous attack. Thus was born “Borking.”His video rental records were ransacked by liberal activists — those famous advocates of privacy rights. Civil liberties proponents looked the other way as a Democratic senator demanded Judge Bork describe his religious beliefs while he was under oath.

I had prayed for Judge Bork. He was one of America’s most distinguished (Yale) professors of law and a most highly regarded judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Because he had criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling in the infamous Roe v. Wade case of 1973, Kennedy charged the judge with being anti-woman.

This was the first appearance of the “war on women” theme that liberals have been pushing. Ted Kennedy was a famous respecter of women, as all those whom he had pawed and preyed upon surely knew. In those years when he was posing as a champion of women, Kennedy and one of his Senate boys had even pursued women under the tables at one of Washington’s more fashionable eateries. I think it was a place called Mon Oncle, or some such.

Judge Bork had had to endure Ted Kennedy’s calculated rudeness as the Massachusetts lawmaker refused to call him anything but “Mr. Bork.” Bullying and berating, Ted grilled the judge about his ruling in an interstate trucking case.

I was in the Senate hearing room as Ted Kennedy, of all people in America, bored in on the fine points of interstate highway driving. Jimmy Carter’s campaigners had made sure in 1980 that all Americans knew that it was Kennedy who had abandoned a young woman to die of asphyxiation after he drove his car off a bridge at Chappaquiddick back in 1969.

I had hoped the Judge would stand up at the witness table and ask his Grand Inquisitor if it could be true: “Are you really questioning my judgment in a traffic safety case, Mr. Kennedy?” But the Judge was ever the gentleman and, like Aslan the Lion, he let himself be led to slaughter by these scampering tormentors.

The reward for my work was to be this “Power Lunch” with an honest Washington lawyer. I seem to recall it was the Occidental, at the Willard Hotel. I do not remember what I ordered for what was to be my only Power Lunch in thirty years, but I remember what Mr. Connolly taught me then.

Since deceased, this practiced Washington power attorney expanded on the choice of Supreme Court justices and what we as pro-life conservatives should seek in a nominee.

He had the highest praise for the recently-cast down Judge Bork. But he had this warning:

Bob Bork is so intelligent and so honest that he might have found a better constitutional basis for abortion. Remember, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee — under oath — that he had no opinion on abortion as such, he had merely done what many liberal constitutional scholars had done: He critiqued the Supreme Court’s reasoning in this case.

I knew John Connolly was right about those liberals who had criticized the opinion that Harry Blackmun had managed to cobble together with smelly gluepot and used string, rather like Mr. Dick’s Kite in Dickens’ David Copperfield.

Blackmun’s opinion was dismissed by a number of serious students of the Constitution, starting with Yale Law School’s John Hart Ely.

Ely was a famous constitutional law professor (and personally pro-abortion). Ely had said [Roe is] “bad constitutional law, or rather … it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.”

Then, there was this liberal’s analysis of Blackmun’s opinion in Roe that showed why even the liberal clerks at the Supreme Court were calling the ruling “Harry’s abortion.”

Archibald Cox’s liberal credentials could hardly have been better. He was virtually a legal advisor to the Kennedys. He had earned martyrdom among liberals when, as Independent Prosecutor in the Watergate Affair, he had been fired by then-Solicitor General Robert H. Bork. But even this distinguished Harvard Law professor dismantled Blackmun’s shoddy legal reasoning and even worse history:

Blackmun’s opinion, Cox wrote;

“fails even to consider what I would suppose to be the most important compelling interest of the State in prohibiting abortion: the interest in maintaining that respect for the paramount sanctity of human life which has always been at the center of Western civilization, not merely by guarding life itself, however defined, but by safeguarding the penumbra, whether at the beginning, through some overwhelming disability of mind or body, or at death.”

Cox further argued, as National Review publisher Jack Fowler tells us: “The failure to confront the issue in principled terms leaves the opinion to read like a set of hospital rules and regulations, whose validity is good enough this week but will be destroyed with new statistics upon the medical risks of child-birth and abortion or new advances in providing for the separate existence of a fetus… . Neither historian, nor layman, nor lawyer will be persuaded that all the prescriptions of Justice Blackmun are part of the Constitution.”

All of this was part of my post-confirmation luncheon and tutorial with John Connolly.

But then he went on to reassure me that it might all be for the best. “Bob Bork is a racehorse. We don’t need a justice on the Supreme Court who is a thoroughbred. We need a mule. We need someone like Tony Kennedy who will patiently pace along for twenty, thirty years. Just a mule who will pull the barge along the canal day in and day out. The U.S. Supreme Court is a dangerous place for someone like Bob Bork who views it as ‘an intellectual feast.’  Better an unimaginative plodder like Tony Kennedy. Better a mule than a racehorse.”

I learned a great deal in my Power Lunch with that good man, John Connolly. I wish he were still here. I would have pointed out to him the record of nearly thirty years of our “mule” on the Supreme Court.

The problem is this: When the mules get to the U.S. Supreme Court, they start thinking they are all racehorses. 

PBS’s “The Roosevelts”: Some Myths, Yes, But Some Welcome Surprises

by Robert Morrison

September 25, 2014

Steve Moore of the Heritage Foundation punctures some of Ken Burns’s myth-making in the latest PBS series, “The Roosevelts.” As this distinguished economist points out, unemployment throughout the decade of the 1930s averaged an eye-popping 15%. Even as late as 1941, as the country ramped up its defense spending and millions went to work in war industries, the unemployment rate was still 12%. On top of all this, the federal government vastly expanded its reach with a dizzying array of “alphabet soup” agencies — FCC, FDIC, FTC, WPA, PWA, PDQ (oops, that last one is a joke, folks).

Still, this 14-hour infomercial for Big Government Liberalism that bores Steve Moore to tears, I found fascinating. The folks at the government-funded PBS and the National Endowment for the Humanities were hardly going to do a documentary that trashed three of liberalism’s greatest heroes — Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

When we look at this series, however, we note that what the Ken Burns team does not celebrate is “lifestyle liberalism.”

Theodore Roosevelt bids fair to be considered the first “pro-family” president. He fretted about birth rates and divorce rates. He pored over the Census reports. He was sincerely concerned about family life. One of my favorite TR stories has him traveling by train to the West Coast. He stops at every whistle stop. He addresses the farmers who have brought their wives and children to see this “steam locomotive in britches.” He praises their bumper crops of wheat, corn, and soybeans, but most of all, he tells them, it is good to see a bumper crop of bright and healthy children.

Theodore and Edith’s large and bumptious family made the White House a never-ending source of amusement for Americans. When TR’s daughter by his first marriage, Alice, dropped out of school, took up smoking, and began to run with a fast crowd at Newport, the president threw up his hands. “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

The country chuckled over that typical example of Rooseveltian humor. But behind that jibe was this troubling question: “Mr. President — Whoever said you got to run the country?”

Theodore and his second wife, Edith, were a powerful example of marital fidelity, love, and mutual support. When Theodore, as an ex-president, was shot by a deranged would-be assassin, in the midst of his 1912 “Bull Moose” campaign, it was Edith’s prompt arrival at his Milwaukee hospital room that put everything in order. She fended off overeager well-wishers and importunate politicos. TR survived another decade.

Ken Burns is candid about the pain cause by Franklin Roosevelt’s infidelity to Eleanor.

He might have delved more deeply into this topic had he noted that Eleanor’s closing her bedroom door to her husband, after giving birth to six children, might have had something to do with Franklin’s straying. It’s not an excuse, but it is explanatory.

Closer to the truth may be the fact that Franklin needed, we might even say, craved gentle feminine companionship. Breakfast with Eleanor too often became a Morning Briefing as she gave him his “to do” lists for social uplift projects she found compelling.

Perhaps the best part of this series is the part I least expected: FDR’s religion is front-and-center. When President Roosevelt in August 1941 escaped the prying eyes of the White House correspondents, he was spirited away to a shipboard summit conference with Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The voyage aboard USS Augusta plowed through the stormy North Atlantic, a seaway infested with menacing German U-Boats.

Roosevelt’s son Elliot goes to meet Churchill in his stateroom on board the battle-scarred warship, HMS Prince of Wales. The son is eager to meet the man who had thrilled the world with his defiant speeches as London braved the “Nozzie” Blitz. “My father says you are the greatest man in the world,” Elliott tells the half-American Churchill. And he adds: “My father is a very religious man.”

Churchill already knows this. British intelligence has briefed the Prime Minister on FDR’s favorite hymns. It is these hymns that Churchill includes in the worship service he has carefully arranged. It is hard to imagine a summit of leaders that would include a Christian worship service today. But FDR is clearly most moved by the sight and sound of 6,000 American and British sailors singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” under the 15-inch guns of Britain’s greatest battleship.

Justice Felix Frankfurter, an FDR appointee to the Supreme Court, was Jewish and a leader of the American Zionist cause. He would tell President Roosevelt that the worship service on board the British battleship was the most thrilling moment for him.

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham adds this vital detail to the Ken Burns documentary: Following that on-deck worship service, the president tells his son: “We are Christian soldiers.” That liberalism’s greatest champion thought and spoke in such terms is amazing.

A few months later, Japan would attack the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor and America would be in the war alongside Churchill’s Britain and that troublesome partner, Josef Stalin’s USSR. Despite enormous pressures to avenge the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt maintained a tight control over U.S. war policy. He correctly directed the bulk of our war effort against Hitler Germany. Fully 85% of all allied war-making went to bringing down this greater menace.

U.S. troops went into battle equipped with the best armament and materièl this powerful nation could provide. Not neglected were their spiritual needs. FDR’s inscription in each pocket New Testament with the Psalms gave his endorsement to Bible-reading and inspiration.

I’m grateful as well for Jon Meacham telling us about FDR’s D-Day Prayer. Not only did the President of the United States lead the nation in prayer, in a White House broadcast that stressed the effort to “preserve our religion” among its liberating goals, Meacham says that the more than one hundred million Americans who heard that broadcast may have constituted the largest prayer meeting in our nation’s history.

Finally, there’s this revealing film clip. FDR’s death at Warm Springs, Georgia, on the eve of victory in World War II brings the untried Harry Truman to the White House on April 12, 1945. Commentators then and since have said: Roosevelt was for the people; Truman was the people. Harry is shown taking the presidential oath. As did George Washington and Abraham Lincoln before him, Harry Truman bends down and kisses the Bible.

Thank you, Ken Burns, for that, too!

Feeling our History

by Robert Morrison

September 12, 2014

Hurry, we’re late,” my wife called back to me. She was headed to the Midshipmen Store at the U.S. Naval Academy. A sale was on for Navy fan gear and we wanted to be well attired for the annual Army-Navy football game. I had the honor of accompanying my wife, then a Navy Captain and a commanding officer of the Academy’s health clinic.

Go on, I’ll catch up,” I called out, relishing the opportunity to stage my own little mutiny. I had seen a large cannon in front of MacDonough Hall just a few yards from the Mid Store. I was fascinated by the ding, the pronounced concavity in the mouth of that cannon. The plaque below told the story. I’m a slow reader of historical plaques.

As I ran my hand over that ding, I read how Lieutenant Thomas MacDonough had fired the cannon ball from his ship that had hit this naval gun and caused that depression in the mouth of this captured British cannon. Even more dramatic, Lt. MacDonough’s well-aimed shot had driven this very gun back on its carriage and had killed Commander George Downie, the British skipper of the HMS Confiance. That was a turning point in the Battle of Lake Champlain.

The Battle of Lake Champlain was fought two hundred years ago, on September 11, 2014. In our time, September 11th will be remembered, as it should be, for the horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93, brought down by heroic American passengers over Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

But the War of 1812 had its share of terror tactics, too. A Canadian writer, the late Pierre Berton, related the story of what happened when the American militiamen outside what was to become Chicago surrendered to Indian allies of the British. Six hundred Pottawatomie Indians, led by Black Bird, their chief, had pledged to let the captured soldiers and their families go free for a ransom of $100 each. Black Bird will not keep his promise.

At the wagon train, the soldiers’ wives, armed with their husbands’ swords, fight as fiercely as the men. Two are hacked to pieces, a Mrs. Corbin, wife of a private, had vowed never to be taken prisoner and…Cicely [a black woman, an enslaved person]who is cut down with her infant son. Within the wagons, where the [soldiers’] younger children are huddled, there is greater horror. One young Indian slips in and slaughters twelve single-handed, slicing their heads from their bodies in a fury of bloodlust.

[Pierre Berton, The Invasion of Canada: 1812-13, Penguin Books Canada, Ltd. Toronto: 1980, p. 254.]

Ransom? Beheadings? Woman and children slaughtered? Sounds like this morning’s headlines on ISIS. This was hardly an isolated incident. Such massacres on both sides were part of our country’s early history.

Knowing about such events in our past helps us cope with terrorism today. It’s not the first time we have faced such determined and bloodthirsty enemies. It won’t be the last.

What we need is to have a feel for our history. I have run my hand over that ding in the cannon’s mouth. I felt it. At the Lincoln Cottage in Northeast Washington, D.C., you can run your hand along the railing of the stairs that lead up to the room where President Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. Across the river at nearby Mount Vernon, you can mount the same stairs that George Washington descended when he learned that he had been elected the first President of the United States.

Through such experiences, we place ourselves in communion with all those Americans past and present who have taken the oath to defend the land we love. My wife and I have many times attended the Induction Day ceremonies at the Naval Academy. That’s the day when approximately 1,200 new “Plebes” arrive to begin their four-year period of instruction in military and academic subjects. On I-Day, the Plebes receive their immunizations; get extensive physical examinations, and haircuts. They are dressed in baggy uniforms called “whiteworks.” All their over-the-counter and prescription drugs are dumped in big piles. From now on, the Navy is responsible for their health and safety.

At day’s end, the Plebes and their parents gather in Tecumseh Court. “T-Court” is named for an enemy Indian chieftain we honor today for the fact he saved American prisoners from being tomahawked and scalped during the War of 1812.

Suddenly, over the massive columns of Bancroft Hall, four Navy jets thunder overhead, so low you can read the numbers on their fuselages. You can feel the roar in the pit of your stomach. It’s sound of freedom, they say.

And the Plebes raise their right hands and recite the Oath of Office. Many of their parents and many of us assembled as a cloud of witnesses will be in tears as these vibrant young people pledge their lives to protect and defend our Constitution.

They end their recitation of the Oath with the same words spoken by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and by every other commander-in-chief:

So Help Me God

You can run your hands over these words. They are engraved on a plaque affixed to the bulkhead (wall) in Bancroft Hall. You can feel your country’s history.

Wahoo, Terps!

by Robert Morrison

September 10, 2014

I just got back from an annual trek to Charlottesville to visit my dear old alma mater, University of Virginia, when O Say Can You See? It’s not the U.Va. football team, the “Wahoos,” who are the center of attention this weekend; it’s the University of Maryland’s Terps. Fear the Turtle!

I have to take my Cavalier hat off and cheer for Maryland for this wonderful way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of  “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” (Yes, they still spelled it the British way back then.) Francis Scott Key’s great poem was written to commemorate America’s victory in a “key” battle of the War of 1812. Key’s poem became better known as “The Star Spangled Banner” and in time, it became our national anthem.

Two hundred years ago this Saturday, September 13, 1814, the British had just come north from burning Washington, D.C. Admiral George Cockburn and Gen. Robert Ross had put the White House, the Capitol, and the Library of Congress to the torch. They were acting in reprisal for the American burning of Canada’s provincial capital of York earlier in the war.

British Gen. Robert Ross was especially zealous in his desire to crush the Yankees. Baltimore was then thought to be the real target of the invaders because it was a major port. The nation’s capital was still a small town. After demanding breakfast from an American farmer, the general was asked where he and his army were headed. “I will have supper in Baltimore, or in hell,” he said defiantly.  Shortly afterward, the General was shot and killed by an American militaman. File under: Pride goeth.

I especially like the fact that the Terrapins’ uniforms will feature an outline of Fort McHenry on the helmets and words from The Star-Spangled Banner on their helmets, jerseys, and pants. Wow!

I cannot help pointing out that you would learn more of your country’s history, more of patriotism, and more about the meaning of this Home of the Brave and Land of the Free by going to a Maryland football game than by taking an Advanced Placement U.S. History Course (APUSH). The producers of that mess of pottage seem to think that they are really serious scholars if they are able to tear down this country and the people who pay their salaries.

We are shocked at the idea of several hundred Unamericans said to be fighting for ISIS or other jihadists abroad. One of those, Douglas McAuthur McCain joins other misguided young men serving their country’s enemies.

Who were this young man’s high school teachers? What did they teach him? When and where do young people learn what it means to be an American?

Are they taught to read the U.S. Constitution?

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

Art. III, Sec. 3.

The Framers of our Constitution set a high standard of proof for treason. We have not had to prosecute many Americans in the past two hundred years for treason. But that does not mean it doesn’t occur. Fighting for ISIS is a pretty obvious case of treason.

Douglas McCain won’t have to worry about Eric Holder reading him his Miranda rights or having a pro bono lawyer take up his case. Young McCain was killed on the battlefield.

One of the lines on the uniform pants of the Terps says “Conquer we Must.” Well, I hope they win. The line is solely about football games, we will be assured.

But Francis Scott Key’s words were not about sport:

Then conquer we must

When our cause it is just

And this be our motto

In God is our Trust

With Bibles being banned at Walter Reed Hospital and burned at our military bases in Afghanistan, with Penn State University removing Bibles from housing, is it any wonder that some young people are hopelessly confused?

We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors among us,” wrote C.S. Lewis half a century ago.

I especially like the fact that the University of Maryland uniforms feature cursive writing for some of the lines from The Star-Spangled Banner. With the onset of Common Core, there is a push (APUSH?) to get rid of cursive handwriting. That’s reason enough to oppose this unnecessary and intrusive effort to have government control what is taught and what is thought.

I prefer Ronald Reagan’s idea: Ours is the only Constitution in the world that begins with three powerful words: We the People.

As long as we have the kind of enthusiasm and patriotism represented by the University of Maryland’s new football uniforms, and their fanatical fans, we will continue to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Go Terps!

August 24, 1814: Saving the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights from the Flames

by Robert Morrison

August 24, 2014

Professional football Hall of Famer Steve Largent liked to tell the story of his first real visit to Washington, D.C. He had been to RFK Stadium repeatedly when his Seattle Seahawks played our Redskins. As he rode in a cab to the Capitol in 1995, the newly elected Congressman from Oklahoma (R) marveled at all the huge government buildings he saw on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. “I wonder how many people work in those buildings,” he mused. “Oh,” his cabby said, “about half of them.”

Government workers in Washington had plenty of work to do on this date two hundred years ago. In the President’s House, First Lady Dolley Madison was supervising the emergency evacuation. During the War of 1812, most of our victories against Britain had come at sea, in ship-to-ship encounters or else on the Great Lakes. America’s army had repeatedly failed to conquer Britain’s northern dominions in Canada, but had managed to outrage the Canadians by burning their provincial capital of York, Ontario.

By 1814, it was payback time. A powerful British squadron sailed into Chesapeake Bay. Landing a strong contingent in Maryland, the redcoats marched overland. U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong was complacent about the threat to Washington, D.C. They are headed for Baltimore, he repeatedly told subordinates. Or maybe Annapolis.

President James Madison felt it his duty to join the troops defending the nation’s capital. The five-foot-four-inch, 63-year old commander-in-chief calmly mounted his horse and rode off.

Meanwhile, Charles Carroll of Maryland, a famed Signer of the Declaration and a leading Catholic layman, stopped by the Executive Mansion to warn Mrs. Madison of the British advance. She was all activity that day as the enemy defeated state militia forces at battles in Bladensburg and Upper Marlboro, Maryland. American troops were attacked with Congreve rockets. These newly developed weapons were not so deadly in themselves, and fairly inaccurate, but they served to panic the Yankees’ horses (and, truth be told, not a few inexperienced American militiamen.)

Dolley Madison had bravely remained behind to take care of last-minute details. She went from window to window with a spyglass, looking for the redcoats’ approach. She was determined to rescue Gilbert Stuart’s famous full-length portrait of President George Washington. The canvas painting had to be cut out of its frame.

At the State Department, a clerk was not one of those “half of them” — government workers who worked. On this fateful day, this clerk was all duty and all efficiency. As the National Archives website relates the story:

Secretary of State James Monroe rode out to observe the landing of British forces along the Patuxent River in Maryland. A message from Monroe alerted State Department officials, including a clerk named Stephen Pleasonton, of the imminent threat to the capital city and, also, to the government’s official records. Pleasonton “proceeded to purchase coarse linen, and cause it to be made into bags of convenient size, in which the gentlemen of the office” packed the precious books and records including the Declaration. A cartload of records was then taken up the Potomac River to an unused gristmill belonging to Edgar Patterson. Here the Declaration and the other records remained, probably overnight. On August 24, while the White House and other government buildings were burning, the Declaration was stored 35 miles away at Leesburg. The Declaration remained there at a private home until the British had withdrawn their troops from Washington and their fleet from the Chesapeake Bay.

Americans long remembered the British burning of our White House, our Capitol, and, shamefully, our Library of Congress. They held off burning the Patent Building only when a brave American, William Thornton persuaded them that it contained private property, a priceless record of inventions to benefit all mankind.

The mayors of Georgetown and Alexandria, Virginia, pursued the British Admiral for two days. When the harassed Royal Navy leader impatiently granted them an audience, they told him they wanted to surrender their cities to him. “I’m not even going there,” was the exasperated response of the man who burned Washington. True enough. He was headed to Baltimore. Georgetown and Alexandria are famous liberal bastions (ready then as now to surrender even before they are attacked.)

Stephen Pleasonton, however, is a great example of a government worker with a high sense of duty and the keenness and foresight to understand the inestimable value of the records that were given to him for safekeeping. We can all be thankful for the watchfulness and energy of Stephen Pleasonton, the dutiful government clerk. Now wouldn’t it have be wonderful if the IRS’s Lois Lerner had been as careful to preserve important government documents as Stephen Pleasonton was?

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