Tag archives: History

75 Years Ago Today: A D-Day Prayer

by Chris Gacek

June 6, 2019

Seventy-five years ago this morning, 73,000 Americans, 61,715 Britons, and 21,400 Canadians crossed the English Channel and landed on five beaches in the French province of Normandy, northwest of Paris. Twenty-three thousand airborne troops were dropped behind enemy lines.  The massive scale of the logistical operation supporting the invasion is almost beyond comprehension. (See this article by Stephen Green.)

In less than a year, these forces would be in the heart of Germany along with the armed forces of the Soviet Union. Many, many tens of thousands would be killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.  Many of the Americans who lost their lives are buried in Europe in beautiful cemeteries maintained by the United States government. One of those cemeteries is the Normandy American Cemetery which President Trump will visit today.

For those of us who were not alive then, it is hard to imagine what it must have been like to live through the events of that day relying solely on AM radios for news. Fortunately, some of the news bulletins of that morning beginning around 3 a.m. can be still be heard. This recording imparts so much information and context for the events of that day. 

On that evening, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the nation. America already knew that the invasion was underway. That was not the main purpose of the president’s remarks. Rather, he spoke to the nation to pray for the men who were now in peril and to ask God for martial success. 

Roosevelt wrote a beautiful prayer and read it with such clarity, eloquence, and calm energy that it takes little imagination to understand why he was such a potent political figure. Yesterday, in Portsmouth, England, President Trump read excerpts of it as part of the D-Day commemoration attended by the Queen of England, many European heads of state, and 300 survivors of the invasion who were honored guests at the ceremony.

Here is the prayer that President Roosevelt delivered on the evening of June 6, 1944: 

My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas — whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace, a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.


30 Years After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, China Still Oppresses Its People

by Arielle Del Turco

June 4, 2019

Thirty years ago today, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army fired into crowds of its own people—thousands of student-led protestors calling for a more democratic government. This marked a brutal end to the pro-democracy demonstrations that had been going on for weeks in Tiananmen Square.

While estimates suggest that several hundred to thousands of people died that day, an official death toll has never been released.

Fast forward to today and Chinese officials continue to dig their heels in and defend the actions taken by the Communist party which has come to be known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe cited the government’s actions in this incident as “the reason the stability of the country has been maintained.”

However, denial of past wrongs is the least of China’s problems.

The events at Tiananmen Square merely reflected the willingness of the Chinese Communist Party to put their ideology above the welfare, freedom, and even the lives of its own people. This sentiment has continued to grow within the Chinese government, and it has had tragic consequences for Chinese residents—especially those who wish to choose and live out a faith not approved by the communist regime.

China’s decades-long crackdown on Christians is continuing and it’s only getting worse.

The main targets of China’s campaign against Christianity are those who attend “underground” churches not registered with the government. In 2018, an estimated 100,000 Christians were arrested; most of these arrests were followed by short-term detention.

Last year, the Chinese government started a “thought reform” campaign to promote “Chinese Christianity.” The plan includes “retranslating and annotating” the Bible to find similarities with socialism. This is essentially an attempt to use Christianity as a platform to advance the communist party. Churches and believers who refuse to compromise their faith this way will likely face consequences. Rural underground churches have been forced to close and their members sent to labor camps.

The churches that seek and attain approval from the state don’t fare much better.

A variety of oppressive restrictions are forced upon state-sanctioned churches. Minors are banned from entering churches. The online sales of Bibles are blocked. Even the Catholic Catechism is censored. This April, Chinese authorities prevented several state-sanctioned churches from holding worship services and warned Christians not to participate in Easter celebrations.

While the suppression of Christianity is concerning, Christians aren’t the only victims of the Chinese government’s disapproval.

In China’s Xinjiang province, approximately one million Uyghur Muslims are detained in “re-education” prison camps, where they are subjected to torture and indoctrination by the communist party. Even within the last year, China has continued to add buildings to these camps—presumably with the intention of detaining more Uyghurs.

China is continually using technological advancements to crack down on Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Facial recognition technology—fixed to the entrances of supermarkets, malls, and police checkpoints every few hundred feet—is used to track Uyghurs as they go about their day.

China has also been accused of harvesting organs from its Uyghur population as they try to profit from their brutal human rights abuses.

In light of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, none of these human rights violations and religious freedom concerns should be a surprise. In Tiananmen, the Chinese government made clear that they wouldn’t tolerate any ideas that question the political ideology of the state.

Freedom of expression and freedom of religion are deeply connected—and the Chinese government feels threatened by both.

Just like China’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989, today China cracks down on its religious minorities.

The trend of worsening religious freedom violations and increasing attacks on free speech in China tells us this isn’t an issue that’s going to resolve itself.

As we remember the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre today, we must also remember and pray for those who are continuing to suffer under China’s repressive regime.

Congress Does Something Right! (And it’s bipartisan, too.)

by Robert Morrison

November 1, 2013

The bitter joke around the country these days is that, while President Obama’s approval ratings are the lowest they have been, Congress’ approval rating is lower than the Taliban’s. Well, there’s good reason for that. Most of us approve of what the House is doing and are angry at what the Senate is doing. Or, we love what the Senate is doing and loathe those crazy folks in the House. The key to all that loving/loathing is not what we think of Congress, per se, but what we think of our own representatives and senators.

But today, I want to salute Congress — both parties — for doing something right. They have just installed a bust of Winston Churchill. It was a special project of Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio). Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined in the praise at the ceremony.

And John Kerry, the longtime U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (D), is certainly right to point out that is may seem strange for the British Prime Minister to be so honored in the same Statuary Hall where our great revolutionary, Sam Adams, is honored. But, as Sec. of State Kerry says, it is right to do it. Sam Adams stood for liberty. He was willing to pledge to his fellow Signers of the Declaration of Independence his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor.

Winston Churchill, before and during, and after World War II, pledged his life, his fortune and his sacred honor to the cause of freedom. In 1938, he stood in the British House of Commons to warn his countrymen of the false dawn of hope represented by then-Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s “historic” meeting with Hitler at Munich.

Churchill was then out of power and certainly out of favor with his party’s leaders. No one wanted to hear that “peace in our time” — as Chamberlain called his agreement with Hitler — was a mirage. “We were offered a choice of war or dishonor;” Churchill told a disbelieving parliament and people, “We have chosen dishonor and we will have war.”

In less than one year from the day he pronounced those grim words, Britain was at war with Hitler’s Germany.

Churchill almost never went to church. When in 1940 an Anglican vicar greeted him at a national prayer service, he told Churchill the Prime Minister he would like to see him come back and to call him “a pillar of the Church.” Churchill, leaving early, lighted his cigar and told the vicar “you may call me a buttress of the Church; I support it, but from outside.”

Even so, Churchill knew his people. And he knew his American cousins. When he had had delivered that famous address in Commons on the Czech crisis of 1938, he used biblical language.

I do not grudge our loyal, brave people, who were ready to do their duty no matter what the cost, who never flinched under the strain of last week — I do not grudge them the natural, spontaneous outburst of joy and relief when they learned that the hard ordeal would no longer be required of them at the moment; but they should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies:

Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.”

What strikes me about this passage — from the Book of Daniel Chapter 5 — is Churchill’s generosity toward his errant fellow citizens. He clearly loves the British people—even though he thinks they are wrong to cheer Chamberlain’s dishonorable sellout.

This is an important lesson for us today. We have always thought ObamaCare was wrong. We have always opposed it. And yet, the American people twice have chosen Barack Obama to lead them. We must not now be found to be exulting in the misery of millions who voted for this president and who have been so cruelly deceived.

But they should know the truth.

Churchill did not always say the popular thing, but he said the necessary truth. And he said it with Christian charity — even when he may not have shared his countrymen’s Christian faith.

It will be vitally important for us and the causes we champion not to engage in that ignoble exercise known as schadenfreude. That German word means “taking enjoyment from the sorrows of others.”

Millions of our fellow citizens are suffering from the shock and disappointment of the “debacle” of the ObamaCare rollout. Many of them voted for this administration and for its supporters in Congress. We can take no joy from their distress.

Churchill was able to unite his country and lead it against the most monstrous tyranny the world had known — Hitler and his Nazis — because he never said “I told you so.” Everyone knew he had told them so.

When some young supporters wanted to drive out of public life the “guilty men” who had appeased Hitler and allowed him to grow strong, Churchill said no. “If we open up a quarrel between yesterday and today, we shall lose tomorrow,” he wisely said.

Thus, some of the worst appeasers of the 1930s became staunch warriors against Hitler and Nazidom in the 1940s.

Even today, when this administration is failing so clearly at home, and when its policy of appeasement is so evidently collapsing abroad, Churchill offers us wisdom we can apply in our own time. 

Home with Honor—The POWs Return: March 8, 1973

by Robert Morrison

March 8, 2013

This date forty years ago deserves to be credited to Richard Nixon as a signal achievement of his presidency. On this date, more than 500 American POWs returned home with honor from North Vietnam.

Richard Nixon had promised the American people in 1968, when he ran for president, that he would end American involvement in the Vietnam War. He pledged to bring our troops home, to repatriate our POWs, and to achieve “Peace with Honor.”

Nixon won that election. The day he took the oath as President, we had 535,000 troops in South Vietnam. We were suffering hundreds of casualties a week. And the Lyndon Johnson administration was still arguing with the North Vietnamese about the shape of a negotiating table in Paris.

Four years later, President Nixon took the oath for a second time. By 1973, American forces had been drawn down to just 25,000 troops in South Vietnam. Our South Vietnamese allies were defending themselves. The U.S. still supported them with air, sea, and financial aid. But U.S. casualties were very few in what was to that point America’s longest war

Nixon had accomplished much. Not that the media was inclined to give him any credit for it. [Or, I confess, young Democrats like me.]

Richard Nixon did not forget our POWs. Our men had been subjected to inhuman torture for years in what they humorously called “The Hanoi Hilton.” Ever afterward, those Vietnam POWs would remember their experience, not with bitterness, but with gratitude for the country that did not forget them.

Ex-POW Jack Fellowes spoke often of his experiences in captivity. I remember him addressing a forum at the U.S. Naval Academy. “I don’t know who’s talking of our torture as breaking us. I saw a good many of us bent a lot.” That was typical of the thumbs up attitude of our heroic men. John McCain famously described the Hanoi Hilton as “not one of those where they put a chocolate on your pillow at night.”

My closest association with the honor and courage of these men came from my friendship with the late Admiral William P. Lawrence. This famous Navy aviator was a top student and an all-American football player at the Academy. With classmate Ross Perot, he developed the Academy’s Honor Concept for Midshipmen.

As a Navy test pilot, he broke records. He became the first man to fly Mach-2 (twice the speed of sound). A slight heart murmur kept him out of the Mercury astronaut program, but not out of danger.

Shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, Bill Lawrence was subjected to brutal treatment as a POW for more than five years.

In this Washington Post story, we learn:

[On parachuting out of his stricken jet, he landed in a rice paddy.] [H]ostile farmers took him and tossed him into a pen with a 400-pound hog.

At the prison, he helped form the tapping-coughing-sniffing communications system that kept the otherwise isolated captives in contact with one another. When the Communists discovered the system, they pitched Adm. Lawrence into a dank, tin-roofed cell. Prisoners called it “the Black Hole of Calcutta.”

During the next two months, he developed heat sores. For nourishment, he competed with enormous rats for scraps of bread.

Rats? Hogs? Few of us can even imagine surviving such treatment, much less writing poetry in our heads while undergoing beatings.

Admiral Lawrence later became the Poet Laureate for his beloved home state. He titled his memoirs, Tennessee Patriot.

I appreciated the Admiral’s connection with the Volunteer State especially when, one Sunday morning, I spied him sitting quietly on the bench outside the Naval Academy Chapel. He was waiting for his driver. I slipped in next to him and he asked me what I was working on. He was always genuinely interested in others.

I told him about my research in U.S. history, the Jackson Era. The Admiral proceeded to talk in detail about Andrew Jackson, how he was responsible for naming the state and other amazing details of Old Hickory’s life. Everything he told me proved correct and made it into the book I was then working on.

When Admiral Lawrence died in 2005, he was buried at the Academy with full military honors. His grave is at the highest point of land in the USNA Cemetery. How fitting for this high-flying son of Tennessee! And how fitting that we now have the USS William P. Lawrence defending our freedom.

Washington & Lee: Saving the Union

by Robert Morrison

February 1, 2013

Whenever we hear that term—Washington & Lee—we probably think of the distinguished Virginia university. Dubyanell it’s often called by those who love it. And the term brings to mind two of the Old Dominion’s famous sons—George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Lee modeled his life and his career on the man his father had eulogized as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

After he surrendered to Gen. Grant at Appomattox in 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee received many offers of employment. One of these was from an insurance company that promised to pay him $50,000 a year if he would be their president. When Gen. Lee demurred, saying he knew nothing about insurance, the company’s recruiters tried to reassure him that they only wanted his name, that he would be a figurehead president. The former commander of Confederate armies smilingly declined, saying if his name was worth $50,000 a year, he would take good care of it. Instead, Gen. Lee accepted the presidency of Washington College at $5,000 a year. And his inspired leadership transformed the sleepy little school into a pioneer in education. That’s why it’s known today as Washington & Lee University.

My Washington & Lee today is another partnership, a lifelong relationship between Gen. George Washington and his slave, William Lee. Historian David Hackett Fischer’s excellent book, Washington’s Crossing, relates many amazing facts of that near-disastrous year of 1776.

One of the stories that has greatest appeal to me is how the Continental Army nearly broke apart in a huge riot. It was in the Cambridge camp, outside Boston. Virginia backwoodsmen arrived to join the army. Their fringed buckskin jackets suggested frontier roughness. But their frilled white shirts announced that these Virginians considered themselves gentlemen and they expected the deference due them as gentlemen. Some of these Virginians were, like His Excellency, Gen. Washington, the owners of slaves.

They soon collided with Col. John Glover’s Marblehead regiment. Many of Glover’s men were hardy New England sailors. Among their number were free men of color. Seafaring Massachusetts had long included black sailors among its sons. This made Massachusetts more “democratical” from the start.

Fischer’s account is chilling: “Insults gave way to blows, and blows to ‘a fierce struggle’ with ‘biting and gouging.’ One spectator wrote that in less than five minutes more than a thousand combatants were on the field. Americans from one region began to fight Americans from another part of the country, on a larger scale than the battles at Lexington and Concord [emphasis added].”

Omigosh! Now Bill Clintons Bowing, Too!

by Robert Morrison

September 6, 2012

Not you, too, Bill Clinton! Thats what I wanted to yell when I saw this incredible scene on TV. Bill Clinton is shown bowing to President Obama at the Democratic National Convention.

It was bad enough when Barack Obama bowed to the odious King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in London just days after becoming president. That desert despot is one of the worst human rights violators in the world. Even our own State Department recognizes this much. There is no religious liberty in Saudi Arabia, their official reports have laconically statedfor years.

Americans dont bow. One of the most affecting scenes in our history occurred on April 4, 1865, in Richmond. For four years, Richmond had been the Confederate capital; it still smoldering from the fires set by retreating rebel soldiers. President Lincoln had waited four long and bloody years for this day. He had said: I want to see Richmond, and moved quickly to enter the Virginia city. An American flag flew over the State Capitol designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Accompanied only by his son, Tad, and a small detachment of sailors, the president walked to the Confederate White House and sat at the desk of Jefferson Davis. The Confederate president had fled the city less than forty-eight hours earlier.

Most white people stayed inside, behind shuttered windows. But free black people crowded around Father Abraham. One elderly black man knelt down in front of his Emancipator. No, Lincoln admonished him, this is not right. You should bow only before God and thank Him for your freedom.

This is a story that bears repeating. Americans should never bow to any foreign head of state. And we certainly can find more democratic ways to greet one another than bowing.

President John F. Kennedy faced an interesting situation in 1963. He was acutely aware that he was the first Catholic elected as our president. When he went to the Vatican to see the new PopePaul VIshortly after the College of Cardinals had elevated himKennedy knew what he should do. Normally, it is protocol for faithful Catholics to kiss the Popes ring, a sign of reverence for the man whom Catholics believe is the Vicar of Christ.

But President Kennedy recognized his role as constitutional leader of thisGreatRepublic. So he sat respectfully at the Popes right hand and did not bow. Later that year, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had the tragic duty of receiving mourners at her husbands funeral. When numerous royal heads of state came through the White House, draped in funeral black crepe, Mrs. Kennedy did not bow.

Granted, George Washington bowed to dignitaries on the balcony of New Yorks Federal Hall on April 30, 1789, when he was inaugurated. And he bowed to the tens of thousands of American citizens who came to witness the first taking of the presidential oath.

But Washington was mildly rebuked by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and other republicans for aping this monarchical practice. They preferred a simple handshake to put distance between our new experiment in self-rule and those royal courts of Europe.

Democrats used to understand this. Franklin D. Roosevelt never bowed. Confined to a wheel chair as he often was, it would really not have been possible. When FDR played host to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in June, 1939, he not only did not bow to the British monarchs, he made a point of serving them hot dogs and beans at a Hyde Park picnic! The royals loved it.

Jimmy Carter showed an appreciation of American history when he was inaugurated. Following the taking of the oath and a thoroughly forgettable Inaugural Address on January 20, 1977, President Carter got out of his limousine and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to the reviewing stands in front of the White House.

Carter did this to emulate the famous Inaugural walk of President Thomas Jefferson in 1801. I applauded Jimmy Carter for this fine action. (Come to think of it, its the last thing he did that I could applaud.)

So, please, can we remember we are Americans? We bow only to God!

What, A Christian President? An Evangelical?

by Robert Morrison

April 13, 2012

You could almost hear the audible sighs of relief that went up in the suites in Washingtonand on Wall Street when Rick Santorum suspended his campaign for President. The reaction was quite familiar to me: I remember well how one of my college friends greeted the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. My friend, the owner of a Mercedes dealership in town, said: This is better than Reagan. Now, if you and your friends in the trailer parks of Manassas will just shut up about abortion and school prayer, we will have heaven on earth.

Well, we all have our religion, dont we? There was a time, however, when Republicans were not so antagonistic to Evangelicals. The untold story of the rise to power and prominence of James A. Garfield is one of deep devotion and special pathos.

Candice Millards Destiny of the Republic tells how Garfield was the surprising choice of the Republican convention in 1880. The party was torn between Stalwartssupporters of former President Ulysses S. Grantand Half-Breeds, those who sought modest reforms and who aligned with Maines charismatic James Gillespie Blaine.

Congressman James A. Garfield came to Chicago for the GOP convention determined to place in nomination the name of his good friend, Ohios U.S. Senator John Sherman. Shermans young brother, William Tecumseh Sherman, was credited with the Union victory in the Civil War. Republican delegates would clearly have preferred Gen. Sherman to his colorless brother, but Cump had cut them off: If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve. Ever since, thats what people mean by a Shermanesque refusal of candidacy.

Garfield dutifully placed in nomination his states favorite son, but Sen. Sherman soon proved to be a non-starter. When Grants Stalwarts were unable to win an unprecedented third term nomination for the Hero of Appomattox, and Blaine could not secure a majority, the weary delegates in that smoke-filled hall, beaten down by thirty-five ballots, turned in desperation to Garfield. He protested. Cast my vote for Sherman, he cried out, but his voice was muffled in the roar of approval for his name.

New Yorks wily Sen. Roscoe Conkling had led the Stalwarts for Grant, but he acknowledged Garfields victory and made the nomination unanimous.

Garfields war record was his strongest qualification in an era where Republican canvassers regularly waved the bloody shirt. During the war, young Gen. Garfield had been responsible for securing Kentucky for the Union. Lincolns secretary, 23-year old John Hay, once told visitors the president hopes to have God on his side, but he must have Kentucky. Many Americans thought the tall, broad-shouldered Garfield was heaven-sent for just that task.

Garfieldhad been a college president and a member of Congress. He had even been chosen as the Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Still, his unexpected nomination was surely that of a dark horse.

Tradition prevented Garfield from campaigning for president. But he could decorously welcome delegations of party faithful who trekked to his Mentor, Ohio farmstead. Garfield greeted one of these, a gathering of German-Americans. He delivered his remarks in flawless German, thus becoming the first candidate to offer a campaign address in a foreign language.

Easily elected, Garfield determined to reconcile the South without abandoning the newly freed black voters living there. He was insistent on equal rights for all.

Then, tragedy struck.Garfieldarrived atWashingtons Baltimore & Potomac railroad station onJuly 2, 1881in close conversation with his Secretary of State, James G. Blaine. A disappointed office seeker, Charles J. Guiteau, fired on the president, his bullet striking the 49-year old in the back. I am a Stalwart and now [Vice President] Arthur is president, yelled Guiteau as he was wrestled to the floor.

Soon, the fallen president was surrounded by doctors. Disregarding the pioneering work on antisepsis that had been introduced by Britains Dr. Joseph Lister, Dr. Willard Bliss bossily took over the care of the stricken Garfield. Bliss and other attending physicians probed the wound with unsanitary fingers and instruments.

The brilliant inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, volunteered to help locate the bullet. He used technology hed mastered in his invention of the telephone. He devised and successfully tested an induction balance. But Bliss was so sure he knew the path of the bullet, he would not permitBellto examine the presidents right side.

All through July and August of 1881, President Garfield wasted away as infection spread through his body. Finally, in September, he demanded to be taken to the seaside. A specially constructed train took Garfield to Elberon, on the Jersey shore.

To reach the seaside mansion that had been loaned to the presidents family, a thousand men worked through the night to lay railroad track. When the final approach to the home proved too steep, two hundred men pushed the presidents rail car by hand.

There, lulled by the ocean waves he loved, this brave Christian man died onSeptember 19, 1881. Once, during his long decline, Garfield asked a friend if he would be remembered in history. Better than that, his friend said, youll be remembered in the hearts of the people. And for some years, he was.

Im indebted to Candice Millard for the moving and beautiful story of a great man who never had the chance to become a great president. After a brief affair early in their marriage, James Garfield learned to cherish Lucretia for her strength and courage. Through the years, they were bound together in mutual love for their five living children and in shared grief for the two beloved little ones they had lost. Deeply repentant, Garfield even became a minister in the Disciples of Christ church, our only president to be ordained.

Perhaps most touching of all scenes in this powerful portrayal was the reaction of Washingtons black community to Garfields death. Many of these newly freed former slaves, still struggling to make a living, tore their best suits and dresses in strips to drape their modest homes in mourning black.

James Abram Garfield, war hero, scholar, able public servant, Evangelical, deserves a place in our hearts. Thanks to Candice Millards fine work, he has a place in mine.

March 22/23: 1775: Another of Those Spiritual Puns?

by Robert Morrison

March 22, 2012

Historian John Lukacs is one of Americas treasures. He has written extensively on our history and, especially, the history of World War II. As an emigre from Hungary, he brings a unique perspective to his writing. One of John Lukacss many excellent books is The Duel: The Eighty Day Struggle between Churchill and Hitler. The period May 10August 31, 1940, Lukacs writes, determined whether Hitler would win the Second World War.

What are spiritual puns? Thats Lukacss own phrase. He says there really are not coincidences in history. Instead, he calls them spiritual puns. The classic example he provides is this one. Early in the morning of May 10, 1940, Hitlers sleek, silent, black train suddenly changed directions. It had been proceeding noiselessly northward over specially constructed rails. No characteristic clickety-clack disturbed the rest of the sleeping Nazis as the train veered west. Hitler wanted to be on the Northwest frontier as his panzers broke through theArdennesForest and broke through French and Belgian lines. What American journalists had called the phony war would end that fine spring morning as German forces crashed through the democracies defenses in what soon became known as blitzkrieg, or lightning war.

Just a few hundred miles away, that day, Winston Churchill was being driven to Buckingham Palace to kiss hands and receive the seals of office as Prime Minister. There could hardly have been a worse time to come to power. Leaving the palace, Churchill accepted the congratulations of his body guard, Scotland Yard Inspector Walter Thompson. I just hope its not too late, he said somberly.

For us as Americans, how strange it must seem to read John Lukacss book and realize that our fate was being decided on that May day, too. Although no American was on Hitlers private train and no American was in the War Cabinet rooms where Churchill now presided amid clouds of tobacco smoke, we had a rendezvous with destiny. Our looming presence was felt that day. Hitlers train was code-named: Amerika.

Hitler and Churchill had never met. They almost met one day in Munich, Germany, in 1932. Churchill was there researching the biography of his great ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. But Hitler, not yet in power, decided that Churchill was a washed-up old British politician, so why bother with him? Churchill had angered Hitler by his outspoken writings against the Nazis anti-Semitism. Churchill would live for another twenty years after walking over the bunker where Hitlers committed suicide.

The great eighteenth century English parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, never met Patrick Henry. And there is surely no parallel between these Christian lawmakers and those twentieth century warlords, Churchill and Hitler. But I was struck by what may be another of Lukacss spiritual puns. Burke and Henry shared a common Christian worldview. And we see that in two of their most famous addresses.

For more than a century and a half, American school children would be called upon to memorize parts of Burkes famous Speech on Conciliation. It was delivered March 22, 1775 in London. Also a favorite to be memorized by young Americans would be portions of Patrick Henrys Give Me Liberty speech, given at St. Johns Church, in Richmond, Virginia, March 23, 1775. There was a vast ocean separating them. The sentiments those two great friends of liberty expressed just hours apart made them almost brothers.

All Protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies [New England] is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion. This religion, under a variety of denominations agreeing in nothing but in the communion of the spirit of liberty, is predominant in most of the northern provinces…The colonists left England when this spirit was high, and in the emigrants was the highest of all; and even that stream of foreigners, which has been constantly flowing into these colonies, has, for the greatest part, been composed of dissenters from the establishments of their several countries, and have brought with them a temper and character far from alien to that of the people with whom they mixed.

Here, Burke understands that these colonists came here for liberty. They were not about to submit tamely to the British yoke.

If Hitler had picked up a radiotelephone and put through a call to Winston Churchill from his private train car, it is doubtful they would have had anything to communicate in May, 1940.

United by the fear of the Lord and by their love of Liberty, Burke and Henry might have enjoyed an extensive conversation. Parliament ignored Burkes sage advice. The Prime Minister, Lord North, proceeded instead with a plan to subdue the Americans, to try to bayonet us into submission.

Happily, Americans did not ignore Patrick Henrys appeal.

Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Four years ago, I was privileged to take a class of Witherspoon Fellows to Williamsburg, Virginia, and there hear Richard Schumann, historical interpreter. My daughter, who was with child, and my law student son-in-law joined us. Mr. Schumann delivered Patrick Henrys most famous speech in its entirety. As he spoke, his voice rose in volume and tempo. At the conclusion, my daughter said her unborn child leaped in the womb. Now, thats my idea of a spiritual pun. Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Two Hours with Mr. Jefferson

by Robert Morrison

March 16, 2012

Historical interpreter Bill Barker returned to Annapolis last week for what he said was Mr. Jeffersons fifth visit to Marylands capital. The real Thomas Jefferson only came through four times. But in two hours, Barkers Mr. Jefferson character had us almost believing wed enjoyed the stimulating conversation of our former president. The role requires extensive study of the vast volume of writings about Thomas Jefferson and Bill Barker has mastered, it seems, all of it.

Without notes, without any props, or prompting, this Mr. Jefferson invited eight hundred Marylanders in the Key Auditorium of St. Johns College to imagine they lived in the world of 1812. It was a time when most humans traveled by foot—your own God-given two legs—at three miles per hour. The wealthy could afford horsesand they averaged four miles per hour.

Mr. Jefferson held forth on politics, his own eras and by sly inferences, our own. His election as president was not an easy thing in 1800. Under the Constitution as it was originally framed, the Electoral College selected the candidate receiving the highest number of Electoral Votes as president and the man with the second highest number as vice president. Provided, of course, that the presidential winner received a majority of the Electoral Votes cast.

In 1796, the first contested presidential election, the one to succeed the unanimously chosen George Washington, John Adams narrowly edged out Thomas Jefferson. They served, unevenly yoked, for four years.

In 1800, Jeffersons republican party was such a disciplined machine that it produced a tie in the Electoral College. President John Adams was defeated, that much was sure. Who would succeed him? Would it be Thomas Jefferson or his presumed running mate, Aaron Burr of New York. Burr could easily have settled the matter by stepping aside and urging his backers to stay with Jefferson. He didnt.

Our Jefferson character at the Key Auditorium related how the election of 1800 was then thrown into the House of Representatives. There, it required thirty-six ballots before Jefferson emerged victorious. Aaron Burr, for his finagling, earned the lasting distrust of all Jeffersonians.

Bill Barker spoke of this 1800 election and said that some at the time had suggested sending the contest to the Judiciary for decision. His audience roared with laughter as he asked, with a knowing aside: Who could ever come up with such an absurd notion?

I suspected then that our audience was filled with folks still sore at the outcome of Bush v. Gore in the U.S. Supreme Court. And I had to agree with Jefferson that the U.S. House of Representativesthat body closest to the peoplewould be the appropriate place to resolve such a contest. If only we could have gotten the election of 2000 to the House.

The question-and-answer period provided some new insights into the historical Thomas Jefferson. For example, I had not known that Jefferson recommended Benjamin Banneker to the builders of the new District of Columbia for employment. The reason this was significant is that Jefferson was taken to task in a polite but firm way by the inventor Banneker, a free black man, for some of his writings in his Notes on Virginia. In the only book he ever published, Thomas Jefferson advanced ideas of inferiority of black people to whites in some things. If some people today think white men cant jump, many whites then thought black men couldnt compute. Bannekers almanac and numerous inventions proved them wrong. Jefferson, to his credit, accepted Benjamin Bannekers rebuke with grace and even sent copies of the Banneker almanac on to his friends among the French scientific community.

Before we yell racist at Jefferson, we need to recall that some famous French philosophes thought all Americansblack, white, and Indianwere inferior, and even of smaller stature. Jefferson in Paris had refuted that notion by inviting the Americans at his dinner table to standall of the men were over six feet talland then asking their French guests to stand; each of the Frenchmen was considerably shorter.

A predictable question in this navy town was about Jeffersons decision as president to beach most of the fleet. He didnt back down, saying that he opposed standing armies and navies and thought they might even lead to builders of ships and arms combining to influence government. Imagine that: A military-industrial complex warned against one hundred fifty years before President Eisenhowers Farewell Address.

Mr. Jefferson did claim credit for sending the U.S. Navy and Marines against the Barbary Pirates. He was unwilling to pay tribute to these Muslim kidnapers and hostage takers.

But as soon as our Marines had taken the fight to the shores of Tripoli, and won, Jefferson brought them home again. He was not willing to engage in nation-building in Muslim lands. Thats worth considering. Might that prove too costly?

When we lived at the Naval Academy fourteen years ago, Bill Barker was a guest in our home overnight on New Years Eve. I remember teasing himslightly, for he is never really out of charactersaying he had every one of Mr. Jeffersons mannerisms and traits mastered except one.

Somewhat taken aback, Bill Barker asked what that was. You have a sense of humor, I replied. Thats because in fifty years of studying Jefferson, I had never read a joke attributed to the Sage of Monticello. Now, I think I was wrong. Because Mr. Jefferson never wrote anything funny does not mean he did not share witty asides in conversation, or that he did not fully appreciate wit in others. That counts as humor, too.

Bravo, Mr. Jefferson!

  • Jeffersons republicans were to become todays Democratic Party. Todays Republican Party can trace its lineage to Jeffersons opponents, the Federalists. Confusing enough?

March 5, 1770: Remembering the Boston Massacre

by Robert Morrison

March 5, 2012

A mob of colonists surrounded a small detachment of British soldiers in Boston on this day in 1770. Regular troops had been sent to the restive colonial city in 1768 to give force to Parliaments extraction of taxes from the people of Massachusetts. The young American men in the crowd taunted the jittery redcoats, calling them lobsterbacks, and provoking them. Soon, snowballs were lobbed. Some of these may have contained stones. Even without stones, however, hard-packed ice can be lethal.

In minutes, the embattled soldiers fired into the crowd. Several of the participants in the riot were killed on the spot. One of these was Crispus Attucks, a free Negro, who has long been recognized as one of the first martyrs to the cause of Liberty. Others, wounded, lingered for weeks. A line had been crossed: American blood had been shed on an American street.

Samuel Adams was quick to take advantage of this bloody outrage. He called for trials for the British soldiers. He agitated for citizen resistance to the taxes on tea and other goods. Adams regarded the actions of the British ministrythe parliamentary leadership that supported King George IIIs increasing demands upon American colonistsas unconstitutional.

Unconstitutional? Before the Constitution? Yes. Harvard graduate Sam Adams knew his English history and he was keenly aware of his rights. Englishmen claimed that their unwritten constitution had come down to them from the time of Magna Carta (1215) and that specific rights were recognized during Englands Glorious Revolution of 1688-89. Modern scholars often look to that Glorious Revolution as the precursor of our own American Revolution. Author Michael Barone has written perhaps the best popular study of that event with a keen eye to its import for Americans.

Family Research Council last week heard a fine lecture by author Ira Stoll on the role and influence of Samuel Adams, revolutionary. Stolls book, Samuel Adams: A Life, is careful to show how his faith was central in the life of a man who could justly be called Father of the American Revolution.

Sam Adams knew the part that memorial services played in the communal life of the Massachusetts colony, so he used the anniversary of the Boston Massacre to keep the spirit of liberty alive. Five years after the shootings, in 1775, Sam Adams presided over a gathering in Old South Meetinghouse. Dr. Joseph Warren gave the address as British officers entered. From the chair, Sam Adams invited them to take convenient seats. He wanted to give them no pretext for saying they had been ill treated by the colonists. When Dr. Warren finished his address, the British began to hiss.

Within months of that event, Dr. Warren would be killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and some of those British officers would desecrate the body by taking his head and presenting it to Gen. Gage as a war trophy. Such savagery kept many Americans from even considering reconciliation with the British Crown. And Sam Adams would be the first to remind them why they needed to be an independent republic.

Sam Adams brought his country cousin, John, into the Patriot cause, as well as the rich, young dandy, John Hancock. John Adams leaves a funny memoir of teaching his elder cousin to ride a horse. Townsman Sam, in his fifties, had never before mounted a horse. Soon, John noticed that Sam could not sit upright at dinner after a long days ride.

On Sunday Evening at Mrs. Dexters, where we drank Coffee & Spent an agreeable Evening, I persuaded him to purchase two yards of flannel which we carried to our Landlady, who with the assistance of a Taylor Woman in the house, made up Pair of Drawers, which the next morning were put on, and not only defended the Secretary from further Injury, but entirely healed the little Breach which had been beguna.

Nothing, at this point, could heal the Great Breach that was opening up between Great Britain and her American colonies.

Sam Adams worked with John in the Continental Congress. Delegates from the Middle and Southern states were amazed and pleased when Sam, famous as an old Puritan, moved to invite a local Anglican priest to open sessions of Congress in prayer. I am no bigot, Sam assured his fellow congressmen, saying he would willingly pray with any man who defended his countrys liberties. This move made a huge impression on the others. Because of his strong faith, and his conviction that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God, Samuel Adams could join with others in signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Thomas Jefferson was a close friend and ally to that brace of Adamses in Congress. Years after the Revolution, President Jefferson wrote to the older Adams, saying that his Inaugural Address of 1801 had been written with Samuel Adams in mind. It is the only presidential inaugural so dedicated to a single Patriot. Mr. Jefferson in 1824 told Daniel Webster: For depth of purpose, zeal & sagacity, no man in Congress exceeded, if any equalled Samuel Adams; & none did more than he, to originate & sustain revolutionary measures…

Much of Sam Adamss career is little known because he worked constantly and tirelessly, behind the scenes. Unlike Cousin John, whose correspondence with Abigail runs to five miles on microfiche, he left few written records of his vital work. Why? The stone carvers of the Cathedral at Chartres who left their work unsigned might give us a clue. They believed that God knew their works. Like them, for Sam Adams that was enough.

a John Adams to James Warren, Philadelphia, September 17, 1775, quoted in The Founders on the Founders, edited by John P. Kaminski, University of Virginia Press, 2008, p. 63

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