Author archives: Robert Morrison

America’s Inauguration: A Retrospective—Honest John Adams, Coming and Going

by Robert Morrison

January 15, 2009

Our redoubtable second President, John Adams of Massachusetts, was inaugurated in Philadelphia on March 4, 1797. He followed two terms of the man revered as “Father of Our Country.” The bald and portly Adams was short, but powerfully built. Rising to the occasion, he wore a ceremonial sword for his swearing-in. Some of the senators sniped. “His Rotundity,” they called the man who was a genuine hero of the revolution. Adams, like Washington before him, attributed American independence to “the justice of their cause, and the integrity and intelligence of the people, under an overruling Providence which had so signally protected this country from the first.” While professing no religious ties himself, he said “a decent respect for Christianity [is] among the best recommendations for the public service.” In his diary, Adams later noted that the people who watched him take the oath were weeping. “[W]hether it was from grief or joy, whether from the loss of their beloved President [Washington], or from the accession of an unbeloved one…I know not.” Still, John Adams presided over the first peaceful transfer of political power. This was another of Washington’s great gifts to the nation. Four years later, in 1801, the defeated John Adams did not attend President Jefferson’s inauguration in the new capital of Washington, D.C. He left the vast, empty President’s House-in whose cavernous East Room First Lady Abigail Adams had hung her laundry-before dawn. He took the early coach home to the Bay State. Biographer David McCullough tells us that Adams was not the sore loser history thinks he was. He simply wasn’t invited to Mr. Jefferson’s inauguration. Even in this, however, Adams again made history. This was the first time the government had changed hands in a contested election, the first time the “ins” voluntarily stepped “out.” John and Abigail Adams were the first First Family to live in the President’s House. Leaving, John offered this prayer: “I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house, and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but wise and honest men every rule under this roof.”

America’s Inauguration: A Retrospective—”The Sacred Fire of Liberty”

by Robert Morrison

January 14, 2009

George Washington was keenly aware that he “walked on untrodden ground.” Everything he did would create a precedent, for good or ill. He had to borrow money to make the journey from his beloved Mount Vernon to New York City, where the new government made its temporary headquarters. Washington’s inaugural route was a great celebration. He passed under flowered bowers, past cheering throngs, and saluted by thirteen white-clad maidens, each one representing one of the original states. Thirteen strong rowers conveyed the new President across the river from the Jersey shore to New York. The Federal Building in lower Manhattan had been specially refurbished by Maj. Pierre L’Enfant, a French immigrant, for the occasion of the first Presidential Inauguration. It would be held on April 30, 1789.

Washington did not wear the blue and buff uniform he had worn as commander of the Continental Army. He had been firm in resigning his military commission to Congress meeting at Annapolis more than five years earlier. Instead, he wore a new brown suit, made for him from American fabric by American tailors.

With our recent flap about prayers at a Presidential Inauguration in mind, it’s interesting to speculate on what today’s atheizers-those people who want to impose their atheism on the rest of us—-would make of Washington’s Inauguration. Appearing on the balcony before a large crowd, Washington added to the Presidential Oath of Office four significant words. They don’t appear in the oath as it is written in the Constitution. But every President since George Washington has followed his leading: “So help me God.”

Then, in the full view of a cloud of witnesses, Washington kissed the Bible.

Inside Federal Hall, Washington delivered his Inaugural Address. He openly prayed to God as “that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect” Washington asked God for “his benediction [which] may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves…” Even the precious gifts of Independence and free government Washington attributed to the hand of Providence. In fact, he spoke of “the sacred fire of liberty” being entrusted to Americans.

That sacred fire is now handed down to us. With the Inauguration of Barack Obama, we have the forty-fourth President in direct line from George Washington. Ours is the oldest constitutional government in the world. Yet we still recognize that our government is what Washington called it: an experiment. And it needs our prayers and our earnest efforts to sustain it.

Remembering Richard Neuhaus

by Robert Morrison

January 14, 2009

Richard Neuhaus offered many lapidary phrases to enliven our public debates. He’s credited, of course, with the influential book, The Naked Public Square. His title and his arguments have influenced the views of many religious and political thinkers for a generation.

We see evidence of the ceaseless demand for such nakedness in the silly lawsuit filed to prevent prayers from being offered at President Obama’s Inauguration later this month. We see it more menacingly in the offhanded godlessness of the new Capitol Visitor Center, whose vast empty spaces are almost literally a naked public square. Rev. Neuhaus warned of what might come to fill that space if religiously derived principles were ruled out of order. Public life would not remain a vacuum. Predictably, we have seen that void filled with political correctness and unprincipled concessions to what can be termed soft jihadism.

Consider the case of Georgetown University. Some time ago, we saw a celebration of Georgetown’s $15 million Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding with a full-page, four-color ad in The Washington Post. Georgetown’s great old Gothic spires topped by the cross were depicted under a night sky in which the Crescent Moon and five-pointed star of an ascendant Islam stood out most starkly.

Meanwhile, Georgetown’s law faculty went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court with a lawsuit challenging the Solomon Amendment. That law requires that institutions of higher education which accept federal funds must permit military recruiters to have access to students. Georgetown profs joined thousands of others from the nation’s leading universities in protesting this requirement. They were outraged by the U.S. military’s “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy on homosexuals. The Supreme Court slapped down their suit by a vote of 9-0. The best law professors in the nation had crafted an appeal so devoid of merit that it could not even command the assent of Justices Breyer and Ginsburg.

Still, no one asked Georgetown profs how they could deny our Armed Forces while welcoming on their campus Saudi Arabia’s Prince Alaweed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. After all, have the Georgetown Hoyas ever inquired about the status of homosexuals in the Saudi military? It’s safe to say, the Saudi authorities don’t ask; Saudi homosexuals don’t tell. And Georgetown doesn’t care.

The public square, when stripped of its Judeo-Christian raiment, will not long remain naked. We need only consult French and British police, many of whom fear to enter some neighborhoods in their largest cities. There, shari’ah holds sway.

Perhaps my favorite Neuhaus formulation is the phrase “welcomed in life and protected in law.” That was his way of describing the goals of the pro-life movement. We want a country where unborn children are, indeed, safely born and provided with the protections of law before and after birth.

There has been, frankly, too much emphasis on “creating a culture of life” as a precondition to passing protective laws. This lets half-hearted politicians neatly off the hook. Father Neuhaus certainly recognized the need for legal protections. He marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma, where all the freedom demonstrators needed legal protection. Dr. King himself famously pointed to the need for protective laws: “I know a law cannot stop a racist from hating me; but it can stop him from lynching me. And his chances of learning to love me are a lot better if he has not lynched me first.” Lynching was stopped in this country because federal law led to federal protection. The law led the culture.

That idea leads to the second function of the law: its teaching function. The inauguration of President Barack Obama would have been inconceivable had not Dr. King and Richard Neuhaus and so many others marched for the passage of good and just laws-laws that taught all Americans that it was wrong to judge our fellow Americans by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character.

There is nothing wrong and everything right with a culture of life. It can only be wrong if we argue that we must first create a culture of life before we can pass protective laws. Unless the laws teach us that life is to be protected, children will not be welcomed.

When young Pastor Neuhaus was marching with Dr. King, I was a college student at the University of Virginia. I had been shocked to find that though the University was de-segregated, the city of Charlottesville was not. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964-that

great charter prayed and labored for by Dr. King and Fr. Neuhaus-passed Congress overwhelmingly, a small number of Charlottesville’s restaurants and swim clubs resisted integration. Overnight they became “private clubs.” Anyone with five dollars and a white face could join one of these “exclusive” clubs. Some of my fellow students brazenly showed off their membership cards.

That bravado soon faded. Within a single year, all of those segregated clubs had folded. The good people of Charlottesville refused to patronize them. Membership in them was considered an indecent thing to do. Because the law taught us that racial discrimination was wrong, the racists quietly folded their tents.

It is not clear that such would have been the reaction if America in those days had had a naked public square. Richard Neuhaus was a leading clergyman even then, but his efforts to support Dr. King were joined by millions of believers, clergy and lay people alike. America’s great achievement in civil rights would have been impossible without them and without the religiously grounded motives upon which they acted.

So, we should understand Richard Neuhaus’ powerful formulation. Shall unborn children be welcomed in life? Yes, pray God they will be so welcomed. But they are more likely to be welcomed if they have not been slain first. The protection of law will teach all of us to extend that welcome. “Welcomed in life,” of course, “and protected in law.”

That is the legacy from my friend Father Richard Neuhaus that I will cherish. May he rest in peace in the richly adorned public square of Heaven.

When in Doubt

by Robert Morrison

December 30, 2008

I remember the scene clearly. It was the first time I’d ever fired a weapon. It was March, 1969, in Cape May, New Jersey. Our Coast Guard recruit company was banging away at the targets. Some of the fellows in Lima 74 were actually in the “butts,” a sheltered trench, where they strained at the lines to haul the heavy padded targets up and down to mark the points where we had hit our marks.

We had been thoroughly trained in range safety by our demanding boot camp company commander. He was Boatswain’s Mate Chief Clarence Ward Hollowell, of Hopewell, Georgia. Chief Hollowell was loud and profane. He would occasionally march into our squad bay in the middle of the night and give us “a white tornado.” That’s when he’d pull all the sheets and pillow cases off our racks, turn over everything, and order us to clean it all up in five minutes.

At first I thought this middle aged man from the Georgia piney woods would be a cartoon version of a southerner. His pot bellow protruded over his Coast Guard belt buckle. He bellowed at us while keeping his coffee mug grasped tightly in his hand. He was always threatening to jack ammonia. Who, I asked my mostly New York and New England bunkmates, was this Jack Ammonia? A Louisiana recruit helped with a translation: “Jack them on you. Demerits, you fool,” he drawled. And if you got too many demerits, you could be kicked out of Chief Hollowell’s Lima 74 company.

I soon learned that media images of southerners were wrong. Chief Hollowell was certainly rough on our black and Hispanic fellow recruits. And we’d all look around in consternation as he came into the squad bay roaring “Knives! Knives!” None of us had a knife. They’d all been confiscated. Only with some help, again from the rebels, did we realize the Chief was calling for Recruit Nieves, a Puerto Rican. Yes, the Chief was rough on the minority recruits because he was rough on all of us. He was one of the hardest and fairest men I’ve ever known.

Our first day on the range was one of excitement and anticipation. Most of us were city boys and suburban kids. Even though we’d been field stripping our M-1 rifles since our first week in boot camp, we had never fired them, or any rifle.

We were banging away at the targets. Beyond the butts, was the Atlantic Ocean. Any bullets that missed the targets would go out to sea. The area had been well marked off as dangerous. There were red buoys. There were radio announcements broadcast on the channel all boaters monitored in those days. All nautical charts contained “Notice to Mariners” warnings: Live Fire Area: Keep Out.

So, it was surprising when above the din we heard Chief Hollowell bellowing out: “Cease fahr! CEASE FAHR!” When we didn’t respond quickly enough to suit him, he brought his swagger stick down on my neighbor’s rifle with a resounding THWACK! When we had all gone silent, the Chief yelled above the wind and the waves: “When ah say cease fahr, ah mean CEASE FAHR!  Are yew peepul idiots?”

He saw how puzzled we all were. (We were out there, after all, in obedience to his orders.) With his swagger stick, he pointed out to sea. “Don’t you peepul see thet?” he demanded.

We strained and saw on the horizon a tiny white triangle. It might have been a sail. It might have been the superstructure of a tanker. It was hardly discernible. It must have been five miles out, far out of range of our rifles.

We are th’ Yew-nited States Coast Guard, men. We are the life savers. Thet maht be hyoo-man lahf out there. Yew don’t take a chance when hyoo-man lahf is at stake. Yew give it every benefit of the doubt.”

No, Chief Hollowell never took a chance where human life was concerned. We were all E-1s then, Seaman Recruits. Chief Hollowell was an E-7, Chief Petty Officer. And none of us then thought the protection of human life was above our pay grade.

The Ice and the River on Christmas Night

by Robert Morrison

December 26, 2008

This week, almost all of us will join with our families for Christmas Eve services. We will gather in our family circles on Christmas Day to exchange gifts, to sing carols of joy for the newborn King, and to share Christmas dinners at over-laden tables. This is a good thing to do. And while we are mindful of those who are alone at this time of year, the vast majority of us will be surrounded by our loved ones. We will hopefully be able to put aside the cares of the day, of the preceding weeks. Little thought will be given, or even should be given to the bad economic news of recent months, to political woes, or even to wars and rumors of war.

This precious freedom was not a cheap gift. In this country, the freedom to worship, to speak, freedom from want, and freedom from fear were bought dearly. And that challenge was taken up again and again throughout our history. It is being met today in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the skies, and beneath the seas.

We’re often told that it is too bad we do not have more people engaged in the fight to defend faith, family, and freedom in this country. Far too many, we understand, take for granted all the freedoms we were purchased at a high price.

We could always use more volunteers, more generous supporters, more Christian friends praying that we will make wise use of our resources. We, too, pray that we will make a strong case for the independence and integrity of the church and the family when we are confronted in the public square.

Tonight, though, we should thank you, the few who read this message, who pray, and who lead in your churches and communities. We should have more, but we should always be grateful to the Lord for what we have.

General George Washington could certainly have used twice or three times as many troops when he entered the boats on that ice-choked Delaware River on Christmas Night, 1776. He had with him only 2,400 men. They were freezing. They were wet. Many were sick. Many marched with bleeding feet wrapped in rags, leaving bloody footprints in the snow.

If America had had a military draft in 1776, we could have raised a Continental Army truly worth of the name. We would have seen 300,000 young men called to the colors.

But General Washington crossed the Delaware with less than one percent of that number. Yet, his prayers were answered. With that little band, he bought America’s freedom, he saved a continent.

So to you, our little band of friends and supporters, God bless you. We thank each one of you for your steadfastness, for your generous backing, for your availing prayers. We could achieve nothing without God’s favor and your help. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

The Palace and the Stable

by Robert Morrison

December 23, 2008

It was not too many years ago that all milk in this country came from dairy farmers who milked their cows by hand. To go into a dairy barn in winter was to enter a place of peace and warmth. I remember how my Uncle Bill stripped off his coat, even his shirt, to milk the cows on his Connecticut farm.

I thought of that scene in the dairy barn when my wife and I visited Versailles in France. Queen Marie Antoinette liked to play the role of milkmaid. King Louis XIV built that palace as a monument to his own greatness. He may have styled himself the Sun King, but his palace was freezing. In all their portraits the kings and queens of France are draped in magnificent furs. Fur was the foundation of France’s colonial empire in North America. Rich beaver, mink, and, especially, snow-white ermine pelts were brought back to France from Canada. Those furs in the elaborate portraits were not just for show.  Surrounded as those royals were by gold, marble, and fine crystal, they nonetheless lived in a frigid atmosphere. As much as it delights the eye, all that gold was cold.

At this time of year, we celebrate the birth of the King of Kings. But our Lord Jesus was born in no great palace. However exalted such a birthplace might have been, such palaces were death traps. Many of those little princes of France died of pneumonia. No. our Lord was born in a lowly stable. And we believe that baby Jesus was surrounded at his birth by oxen, donkeys, and other farm animals. His birthplace must have been warm and secure.

Our Heavenly Father knows what we need. He knew where to place His only begotten Son that He might be kept warm and safe. There, in that rude stable, nurtured by His loving Mother, with faithful Joseph the Carpenter standing watch, the Christ Child came into our world.

Jesus’ birth is the most important thing that ever happened in this world. God’s Word became Flesh. Jesus came to conquer sin and death. He came to give us forgiveness of our sins that we might live with Him forever. Compared with this incomparable Truth, what is the significance of princes of finance or commanders of armies, of kings and queens, of presidents and prime ministers? Jesus is Lord. That is the Good News we need. It is the Good News we have received.

About that French Revolution

by Robert Morrison

July 15, 2008

When Chinese Communist Chou En-lai was asked his opinion of the French Revolution, he replied: “It is too soon to tell.” Edmund Burke had no such hesitation, as my colleague Michael Fragoso shared with us. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was another Briton with few doubts.

In 1989, Mrs. Thatcher went to Paris for the G-7 conference. President Francois Mitterrand had decided to use the summit to showcase the bicentenaire of the French Revolution. Reporters flocked to Mrs. Thatcher to get her impressions of the event. What did she think of the French Revolution, they probed. “It resulted in a lot of headless corpses and a tyrant,” the Iron Lady replied. But surely Madame would agree that the French Revolution began the long march toward human rights, non? “Certainly not! That began with Magna Carta,” Mrs. Thatcher replied firmly. For this act of resistance, Mrs. Thatcher was consigned to the second row of dignitaries at the Notre Dame festivities. Still, she may have had the last word. As Britain’s gift to France on the two hundredth anniversary of their revolution, Mrs. Thatcher presented a leather-bound first edition of Charles Dickens’ immortal Tale of Two Cities.

Gingrich’s Co-Author, Bill Forstchen, to speak at Family Research Council

by Robert Morrison

July 11, 2008

Newt Gingrich is a man of ideas. And one of his best ideas was to team up with Bill Forstchen to co-author what they call “active history.” The two idea men have developed the best historical novels I’ve ever read. The literary quality of their work is outstanding. It would be hard, for example, to top the dramatic story of Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Little Round Top on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. But Gingrich and Forstchen’s fictionial treatment of this story is even more compelling! What Gingrich and Forstchen are trying to do is exactly what Bill Bennett wants to do with his non-fiction histories of the U.S.—to re-ignite a love for America’s past and to share the story with millions of the young who will inherit this last best hope of earth. Bill Bennett calls America’s story “the second greatest story ever told.” I agree.

And Gingrich and Forstchen have made a great contribution to stimulating interest in America. FRC is honored to have Dr. Bill Forstchen as our guest lecturer next week.

Please take a mid-summer break from spiking gas prices and nutty reverends and join us for Dr. Forstchen’s Witherspoon Lecture: Lincoln, Lee, and Leadership: Lessons for Today. It will delivered be at noon on Wednesday, July 16th, in FRC’s Media Center, 801 G St. NW, across from the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro. Lunch will be provided.

William F. Buckley, Jr.: A Tribute

by Robert Morrison

February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, Jr., was my first conservativeand I didnt like him much. With his arched eyebrow and flickering tongue, with his $50 words, I thought he was the perfect picture of a snob. I thought his brand of politics would never attract a national following.

As a young college student, I watched him on TV. I wasnt buying his labored defenses of constitutionalism that he said justified some in resisting integration. I was strong for civil rights and he was against civil rights. Or at least thats what I thought at the time.

When my hero Hubert Humphrey took to the Senate floor to defend the great Civil Rights Act of 1964, I laughed when he said if any part of that great charter ever led to racial quotas or set-asides, he would eat the page of the Congressional Record on which the bill was printed. I hope Hubert liked Tabasco sauce.

Buckley had warned us. And he warned us of many other things, too. Like Communism.

Perhaps it was because Buckley was such a great man of faith himself that he understood instinctively that Communism was, in the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, atheism with a knife to your childrens throats.

I laughed, too, when Buckley ran for Mayor of New York City in 1965. He ran against the liberal knight, John V. Lindsay. Buckley realized he never stood a chance, saying that if he won hed demand a recount.

Later, when Lindsay switched parties and became a Democrat, his staffers asked me what the Mayor of New York could do for me in my own race for state Assembly. Knowing how my Long Island neighbors despised the limousine liberal Lindsay, I said: Mayor Lindsay could denounce me by name. The devil didnt make me say that; William F. Buckley, Jr. did.

When Buckley debated Governor Ronald Reagan about giving away the Panama Canal, I invited my fellow Coast Guard officers to watch it on TV. As we gathered in the Officers Club, I assured them that Buckley clean up the floor with Reagan. At that time, I happened to agree with Buckley that the U.S. ought to give away the canal. I agreed with California Senator Hayakawa who said we stole it fair and square.

What we saw instead was Ronald Reagan at the height of his powers. I switched parties and positions on the spot. I became a Reagan man. And Bill Buckleywrong as he was on the canalbecame one of Reagans best boosters. My Coast Guard buddies never asked for my political advice again.

Perhaps my favorite Buckley quote is the one that summed up his political philosophyand mine. It wasnt just because he was a Yale man that he put down Harvard so memorably. He said: I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University. He was, after all, a good democrat.

He would have agreed with Edmund Burke: Individuals are foolish, but the species is wise. William F. Buckley, Jr. understood that ideas have consequences. And he did his best to advance the ideas of faith, family and freedom. He did it with wit and energy. God rest ye, Merry Gentleman!

Politics ain’t beanbag

by Robert Morrison

February 7, 2008

News report: On Tuesday, McCain’s delegates at the West Virginia convention swung over to support Huckabee at the last minute in a successful maneuver designed to deprive Romney of a victory.

This convention tactic is as old as conventions. Abraham Lincoln’s supporters employed it in Illinois in 1856. We can read about it in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent “Team of Rivals.” She shows how Abraham Lincoln’s political allies did exactly the same thing in Illinois in 1856. They knew Lincoln could not get the Senate nomination, so they threw their support to Orville Browning to block a rival. Lincoln got the support of that Senator Browning in his 1858 race against Steven Douglas.

We need to remember that politics ain’t beanbag.