Category archives: History

America’s Inauguration: A Retrospective—Franklin D. Roosevelt: “The Only Thing We Have to Fear…”

by Robert Morrison

January 17, 2009

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March 4, 1933

Not since Abraham Lincoln’s first Inauguration in the secession winter of 1860-61 had a President come to power in such a crisis atmosphere. President Herbert Hoover was thoroughly thrashed in the 1932 election. He won just six states (out of forty-eight) and a mere 59 Electoral Votes. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Governor of New York, had racked up an invincible 472 Electoral Votes. Roosevelt’s mandate was deep and broad. His fellow Democrats had rolled over their opponents in elections for Congress, Governorships, state legislatures. There were even candidates for Recorder of Wills in Sleepy Eye County, Minnesota who were eager to grasp FDR’s coattails.

As the winter deepened, so did the economic crisis. President Hoover was increasingly desperate. Banks were failing daily. The government had to put armed guards on U.S. Mail Trucks. Then, just days before the Inauguration, the President-elect faced an assassination attempt while riding in an open car in Miami. FDR was unhurt, but he calmly ordered the Secret Service to take the mortally wounded Mayor of Chicago to a hospital.

When Roosevelt finally took the oath in Washington, all eyes in the nation were on him.

His rich baritone rang out: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” His words were like an electric charge running through the country.

Many of his policies were wrong. Many failed. Still, Roosevelt’s indomitable confidence, his commanding presence, his unquestionable courage are what made millions of Americans love and support him. They honor his memory to this day.

FDR’s confidence was not in himself alone. He concluded his inspiring address with these words: “We humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us. May He guide me in the days to come.”

Thus did the nation’s most liberal President conclude this First Inaugural Address. He alone would deliver three more Inaugurals.

America’s Inauguration: A Retrospective—Lincoln’s Sacred Effort

by Robert Morrison

January 16, 2009

March 4, 1865

The Capitol dome now finished; it was topped by a 19-foot Statue of Freedom. Those young black men who first muscled that statue into storage were slaves in the District of Columbia. But by the time they hoisted her into position atop the Capitol, they were free. Four long and bloody years had accomplished this much, and so much more. Not all the President’s hearers had come to applaud. John Wilkes Booth can be seen in grainy photographs of the event.

President Lincoln, defying all expectations (including his own), had been powerfully re-elected the previous November. Four years after appealing to “the better angels of our nature” to avoid civil war, 620,000 young Americans had fallen in a war of brother against brother.

Suddenly, at noon on that overcast Inauguration Day, the sun broke thought the clouds. Seeing victory in sight, Lincoln sounded no note of triumph, gave no hint of self righteousness. The war came, he said, and it was a judgment of heaven upon north and south alike. God could have given the victory to either side, many times. But it was not His perfect will. It would be our task, the President said, “to bind up the nation’s wounds.” He continued: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.”

The seven hundred and one words of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address have been carved in stone in his memorial. Every American should read them every year. After the ceremony, Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist orator and editor, went to the President’s House. He wanted to shake Lincoln’s hand. He was the first black man invited to a Presidential Inaugural. Barred from entry by an officious policeman, Douglass simply climbed through an open window. Lincoln spotted him in the receiving line and called out to him: “There’s my friend, Douglass.” The President asked for his opinion of the speech, and Douglass replied: “It was a sacred effort.” And so it remains. Just weeks later, Abraham Lincoln would belong to the Ages.

America’s Inauguration: A Retrospective—Abraham Lincoln: An Oath Registered in Heaven

by Robert Morrison

January 16, 2009

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March 4, 1861

Wheezing old General Winfield Scott, gouty but doughty, was determined. The hero of a score of battles since 1812 would not let rebels disrupt the inauguration of the first Republican President. Virginia-born but Army-bred, great Scott stationed sharpshooters on the roofs of all the prominent buildings along the inaugural route. If anyone tried anything, Scott thundered, he would use his cannon to “manure the Virginia hills” with their bodies.

Scott’s brave show worked. Abraham Lincoln’s path to power was unimpeded. Lincoln rose before the as-yet-uncompleted Capitol building. As he spoke, seven states had already declared themselves out of the Union. They had set up their own rival government in Montgomery, Alabama. Lincoln weighed his every word. If he came down too strongly, he could tip Virginia and Maryland against the Union—and then the nation’s capital would itself be surrounded. But if he did not take a strong enough stance, his own supporters would be disheartened.

Holding Lincoln’s stovepipe silk hat on that Inaugural stand was his defeated rival, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, the Democrat. Another Democrat, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, author of the infamous Dred Scott decision, would administer the oath. Taney had said “the black man has no rights which the white man is bound to respect.”

Lincoln appealed to reason. Secession, he said, was illegal. And it was impossible. A husband and wife can get a divorce, but how can sections of the same country separate? He spoke eloquently of those “mystic chords of memory stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone.” He urged his “dissatisfied fellow-countrymen” not to take the momentous step of civil war, reminding them: “You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect, and defend it.’” Finally, he called upon “the better angels of our nature” to avert the looming catastrophe. Those better angels would not abandon this troubled land—despite four long and bloody years of fratricidal conflict.

America’s Inauguration: A Retrospective—Andrew Jackson: King Mob?

by Robert Morrison

January 16, 2009

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March 4, 1829

Do you think the campaign we’ve just witnessed was too long? How about a four-year long campaign? Do you think it was too dirty? How about charging one candidate with being an adulterer, bigamist, and killer? And calling his opponent a pimp? That’s how long and how bad the campaign of 1824-28 was. Ever since the House of Representatives chose Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to be President—and Adams promptly chose a defeated rival, Henry Clay, to be his own Secretary of State—backers of Andrew Jackson howled “Corrupt Bargain!” And they kept howling for four long years. To his enthusiastic supporters, Jackson was, simply, the Hero. He had won the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, saving Louisiana and the West, and really saving the young country from the British. For the four years of his single term, President John Quincy Adams lived in the shadow of Jackson’s inevitable triumph. Jackson championed democracy. His opponents feared “King Mob.” Adams’ backers, though not Adams himself, circulated all the old rumors of Jackson’s 1791 marriage to Rachel Robards, a woman whose divorce was not final. They circulated the infamous Coffin Handbill, showing nine black coffins with the names of men the hot-tempered Old Hickory had killed, in duels, or as an iron-willed military commander. Jackson’s people responded with the wholly false charge that John Quincy Adams had procured a young American virgin for the lecherous Tsar of Russia when Adams was our ambassador. Talk about ugly!

President Jackson’s demeanor on the day of his Inauguration, March 4, 1829, could not have been more dignified. He wore mourning black, in honor of his recently deceased wife. On seeing the newspaper accounts of her long-ago sin, Jackson’s beloved Rachel had suffered a heart attack and died. He would blame Henry Clay to his dying day—and hate him for it.

Jackson bowed to the inaugural crowds, but their conduct was not so dignified. They mobbed the President’s House, backwoodsmen with muddy boots standing on damask covered chairs to get a glimpse of their idol. Jackson’s friends had to form a flying wedge to keep the rescue the new President and keep him from being crushed by his admirers. Bowie knives cut souvenir tassels from elegant draperies.

Nothing we’ve yet seen of Obamamania has equaled the raucous first Jackson Inaugural.

America’s Inauguration: A Retrospective—Thomas Jefferson: Americans “Enlightened by a Benign Religion”

by Robert Morrison

January 15, 2009

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March 4, 1801

Thomas Jefferson would wear no ceremonial swords to his simple swearing-in ceremony. He would ride in no stately coach-and-six, as President George Washington had enjoyed. “Mr. Jefferson,” as the simple Virginia republican preferred to be called, took breakfast at his Washington boarding house with all the other diners on Inauguration Morning, 1801. Then, he walked to the still unfinished Capitol, where he took the oath of office. He was the first President to take office in the new national capital. He was the first sworn in since the death of George Washington in 1799. Jefferson spoke in a barely audible voice (he was never the orator John Adams or Patrick Henry had been). Still, his listeners appreciated the way we soothed the ruffled feathers of a hard-fought election campaign. “We are all Republicans; we are all Federalists.” Jefferson had been elected only after weeks of balloting in the House of Representatives when the Electoral College failed to designate a clear winner. He spoke of religious liberty as one of the great achievements of the young republic. He and his close friend James Madison had blazed that trail with their work on the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom fifteen years earlier, in 1786. Now, Jefferson described God as “an overruling Providence [who] delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter…” He closed his inaugural address with a question: “[W]ith all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens-a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” These wise words can certainly be treasured by us two hundred years later, when national administrations of both parties are planning to add trillions to the national debt that will weigh down our children and our children’s children. Another point jumps out from Jefferson’s first inaugural address: It’s pretty hard to square his words about God’s “overruling Providence,” His delight in our happiness here and hereafter, with the scurrilous charges thrown at Jefferson during the 1800 campaign. It’s hard to see this man as an “atheist” of any kind.

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.

May 10, 1940: The Day When Western Civilization Was Saved

by Robert Morrison

May 10, 2007

Adolf Hitler and his top Nazi cohorts rode through the night on the Fuhrer’s special train, code named “Amerika.” In the pre-dawn hours, the train quietly changed course, heading west to take its passengers to the jumping off point for what would become the German army’s stunning blitzkrieg through Belgium, Luxembourg and France.

On this same day, in London, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain went to Buckingham Palace to resign his office. There was some last-minute hesitancy on Chamberlain’s part, based on the powerful German offensive in France, but he was persuaded to go ahead with his plans to give up his post. King George VI asked Winston Churchill to form a new British government. Churchill later said: I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been in preparation for this hour and this trial.”

As Americans, we can celebrate this tenth of May as the day when Western Civilization was saved. Churchill knew the stakes. He warned the British people what would happen to America and the world if Hitler won: “If we fail, the whole world, including the United States, and all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister and perhaps more prolonged by the lights of a perverted science.”

They did not fail.

This Day in History/Quote of the Day

by Family Research Council

January 9, 2007

On this day in 1776 Thomas Paine anonymously published his pamphlet “Common Sense,” setting forth his arguments in favor of American independence. “Common Sense” advocated independence for the American colonies from Britain and is considered one of the most influential pamphlets in American history. Credited with uniting average citizens and political leaders behind the idea of independence “Common Sense” played a remarkable role in transforming a colonial squabble into the American Revolution. At the time Paine wrote “Common Sense,” most colonists considered themselves to be aggrieved Britons. Paine fundamentally changed the tenor of colonists’ argument with the crown when he wrote the following: “Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America. This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither they have fled, not from the tender embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from home, pursues their descendants still.”

QoD: If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands? Comedian Milton Berle. On this day in (DELETED) a woman who probably deserved a few extra hands let alone sainthood was born, my Mom.

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