April 19, 1775: Battle at Concord Bridge

April 19, 2014

Battle at Concord Bridge, April 19, 1775; National Guard Heritage Painting

Battle at Concord Bridge, April 19, 1775; National Guard Heritage Painting by Dominick D’Andrea.

For a story of the battle, and why the National Guard considers this part of its history, check out this story by Amelia Meyer at the National Guard Educational Foundation.

More:


Anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride, in the middle of National Poetry Month 2014

April 16, 2014

This is mostly an encore post.  Is there a good reason Paul Revere made his ride in the middle of National Poetry Month

Teachers, I’m posting this a couple of days early.  You may want to get copies of the poems for your U.S. history and literature classes. 

You may want to note that the Boston Marathon is traditionally run on Freedom Day in Massachusetts — the day that commemorates the ride of the patriots’ warning that Gen. Gage’s army was on the move, and of the battles at Lexington and Concord, the next day. 

_____________

April 18 and 19. Do the dates have significance? Paul Revere's ride, from Paul Revere House

Among other things, April 19 is the date of the firing of the “shot heard ’round the world,” the first shots in the American Revolution. On April 19, 1775, American Minutemen stood to protect arsenals they had created at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, against seizure by the British Army then occupying Boston.

April is National Poetry Month. What have we done to celebrate poetry?

What have we done to properly acknowledge the key events of April 18 and 19, 1775? Happily, poetry helps us out in history studies. Or it can do.

In contrast to my childhood, when we as students had poems to memorize weekly throughout our curriculum, modern students too often come to my classes seeming wholly unaware that rhyming and rhythm are used for anything other than celebrating materialist, establishment values obtained sub rosa. Poetry, to them, is mostly rhythm, certainly not for polite company, and never for learning.

Poetry has  slipped from our national curriculum, dropped away from our national consciousness.  No national test adequately covers poetry, not in English, not in social studies — certainly not in math or science.

That is one small part of the reason that Aprils in the past two decades turned instead to memorials to violence, and fear that violence will break out again. We have allowed darker ideas to dominate April, and especially the days around April 19.

You and I have failed to properly commemorate the good, I fear. We have a duty to pass along these cultural icons, as touchstones to understanding America.

So, reclaim the high ground. Reclaim the high cultural ground.

Read a poem today. Plan to be sure to have the commemorative reading of “Paul Revere’s Ride” in your classes on April 18 or 19, and “The Concord Hymn” on April 19.

We must work to be sure our heritage of freedom is remembered, lest we condemn our students, our children and grandchildren to having to relearn these lessons of history, as Santayana warned.

Texts of the poems are below the fold, though you may be much better off to use the links and see those sites, the Paul Revere House, and the Minuteman National Historical Park.

Read the rest of this entry »


Quote of the moment: Useless men a Congress? Not John Adams, but Peter Stone who said it

October 1, 2013

It’s a great line, an almost-Mark Twain-ism that makes people of all political strips smile.  It’s attributed to John Adams:

I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm; and that three or more become a Congress!

There’s a problem: John Adams didn’t say it.

It’s a line from the 1969 Broadway musical comedy 1776!

The character John Adams in the play said it.  It’s art in pursuit of history, but it’s not really history.

Playwright Peter Stone, Theatrical Rights image

Playwright Peter Stone wrote the witticism attributed to John Adams.  Theatrical Rights image

We should more accurately attribute it to the play’s book’s author, Peter Stone.  What John Adams did not say about Congress, Peter Stone wrote.  Such wit deserves proper attribution.

Especially on a day when the U.S. Congress appears to be not only a collection of useless people, men and women, but useless people bent on destruction of our national institutions.  Congress has fallen down on the job, failing to play its vital, Constitutional role of appropriating money to run the government.

Stone’s mention of “law firms” gives away the quote’s origins being much later than Adams — Adams died, as you know, on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.   “Law firms” is 20th century language.

In an era of law firms so big the people in them cannot comprehend their size, such a statement might emerge.  The distaste with lawyers in the Stone quote also doesn’t ring to the times of the American Revolution.  Good lawyer jokes probably existed then, but they didn’t really rise until the lawyerly pettifogging of the 19th century — see Dickens’ Mr. Bumble in Chapter 51 of Oliver Twistor the entire text of Bleak House, for examples.  Law firms in 1776 simply did not exist as large corporations, but more often as an office of an individual lawyer, or two or three.  Mark Twain joked about Congress, but a joke about both Congress and lawyers probably was rare before 1910.  (I am willing to be disabused of this idea, if I am wrong . . . comments are open.)

Wikiquote’s rapid improvement provides us with a good check on whether Adams said it — Wikiquote points us clearly to Peter Stone instead.

Stone died in 2003, much underappreciated if you ask me.  Stone might be said to be among the greatest ghost speechwriters in history based on 1776! alone,  creating lines for John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson — three of the greatest authors and (sometimes reluctant) speakers of their day, and of all history.  Stone’s plays include Titanic and Two by Two, his screenplays include Charade, Arabesque, Mirage, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Father Goose.  (The first two of those movies favorites of mine solely for the scores by Henry Mancini.)

1776! plays in revival in California’s Bay Area, at A.C.T. (see reviews from both the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Chronicle, linked below).  One might wish Congressmen today would see the play.  In 1776 the colonies in rebellion were unsure what to do next; the Declaration of Independence was not a foregone conclusion.  The amazing collection of men — unfortunately no women — who populated the Second Continental Congress were predisposed to find ways around their differences, to make wise policies, and to keep things functioning.  Rather than shut government down, they carefully instructed individual governments in the states to make preparations to operate without infusions of cash or policy direction from the Crown, even before deciding independence made sense.  In short, they were dedicated to making things work.

Ironic that so many remember Peter Stone’s slam of Congress as incompetent, when the rest of his play book demonstrates that particular congress of men took quite an opposite view of life, and created a model for leadership we marvel at today.

More:

This is an edited encore post, sadly made salient today by Congress’s inaction on required spending bills.

Photo from the San Francisco Chronicle: Jarrod Zimmerman, as Edward Rutledge, makes a passionate appeal to delegates of the Second Continental Congress in the Tony Award-winning musical

Useless men? Funny quip, but the Second Continental Congress was far from a group of useless men thrown together. Photo from the San Francisco Chronicle: Jarrod Zimmerman, as Edward Rutledge, makes a passionate appeal to delegates of the Second Continental Congress in the Tony Award-winning musical “1776,” coming to ACT. Photo: Juan Davila

 


Anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride, in the middle of National Poetry Month

April 18, 2013

This is mostly an encore post.  Is there a good reason Paul Revere made his ride in the middle of National Poetry Month

_____________

April 18 and 19. Do the dates have significance? Paul Revere's ride, from Paul Revere House

Among other things, April 19 is the date of the firing of the “shot heard ’round the world,” the first shots in the American Revolution. On April 19, 1775, American Minutemen stood to protect arsenals they had created at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, against seizure by the British Army then occupying Boston.

April is National Poetry Month. What have we done to celebrate poetry?

What have we done to properly acknowledge the key events of April 18 and 19, 1775? Happily, poetry helps us out in history studies. Or it can do.

In contrast to my childhood, when we as students had poems to memorize weekly throughout our curriculum, modern students too often come to my classes seeming wholly unaware that rhyming and rhythm are used for anything other than celebrating materialist, establishment values obtained sub rosa. Poetry, to them, is mostly rhythm, certainly not for polite company, and never for learning.

Poetry has  slipped from our national curriculum, dropped away from our national consciousness.  No national test adequately covers poetry, not in English, not in social studies — certainly not in math or science.

That is one small part of the reason that Aprils in the past two decades turned instead to memorials to violence, and fear that violence will break out again. We have allowed darker ideas to dominate April, and especially the days around April 19.

You and I have failed to properly commemorate the good, I fear. We have a duty to pass along these cultural icons, as touchstones to understanding America.

So, reclaim the high ground. Reclaim the high cultural ground.

Read a poem today. Plan to be sure to have the commemorative reading of “Paul Revere’s Ride” in your classes on April 18 or 19, and “The Concord Hymn” on April 19.

We must work to be sure our heritage of freedom is remembered, lest we condemn our students, our children and grandchildren to having to relearn these lessons of history, as Santayana warned.

Texts of the poems are below the fold, though you may be much better off to use the links and see those sites, the Paul Revere House, and the Minuteman National Historical Park.

Read the rest of this entry »


‘Twas the 18th of April in ’75 . . . (Paul Revere’s Ride, 243rd anniversary)

April 18, 2013

The annual reminder:

Paul Reveretonight’s the anniversary of his famous ride.

John Copley's painting of Paul Revere

Paul Revere, 1768, by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)

John Copley painted all the bigwigs of revolutionary Boston, including this portrait of the famous horse-mounted alarm before he turned older and grayer.

And as April 18 is the anniversary of Revere’s ride, April 19 is the anniversary of the “shot heard ’round the world.”

Both events are celebrated in poetry; April is National Poetry Month. This could be a happy marriage for history and English classrooms.

Teachers, this is your cue to break out the Longfellow and Emerson and Whitman, and tie them together in the thread that runs from the French and Indian War clearly through the American Civil War, and we might hope, to today.  Give the kids some culture to get their mental juices flowing for the tests.

National Poetry Month 2013 poster

More:


Quote of the moment: What John Adams DID NOT SAY about Congress

November 15, 2012

It’s a great line, an almost-Mark Twain-ism that makes people of all political strips smile.  It’s attributed to John Adams:

I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace; that two are called a law firm; and that three or more become a Congress!

There’s a problem: John Adams didn’t say it.

It’s a line from the 1969 Broadway musical comedy 1776!

The character John Adams in the play said it.

Playwright Peter Stone, Theatrical Rights image

Playwright Peter Stone wrote the witticism attributed to John Adams.  Theatrical Rights image

We should more accurately attribute it to the play’s book’s author, Peter Stone.

What John Adams did not say about Congress, Peter Stone wrote.  Such wit deserves proper attribution.

Mention of “law firms” gives away the origin’s being much later than Adams’s — Adams died, as you know, on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.   “Law firms” is 20th century language.

A day after Fulbright & Jaworski LLC announced a merger with Norton Rose, one might almost wish that law firms would be just three people.  Norton Rose Fulbright starts out with 3,800 lawyers in 55 offices around the world.  [Conflict of interest note:  My spouse works at Fulbright & Jaworski.]  The distaste with lawyers in the Stone quote also doesn’t ring to the times of the American Revolution.  Good lawyer jokes probably existed then, but they didn’t really rise until the lawyerly pettifogging of the 19th century — see Dickens’ Mr. Bumble in Chapter 51 of Oliver Twistor the entire text of Bleak House, for examples.   Twain joked about Congress, but a joke about both Congress and lawyers probably was rare before 1910.  (I am willing to be disabused of this idea, if I am wrong . . . comments are open.)

Wikiquote’s rapid improvement provides us with a good check on whether Adams said it — Wikiquote points us clearly to Peter Stone instead.

Stone died in 2003, much underappreciated if you ask me.  Stone might be said to be among the greatest ghost speechwriters in history based on 1776! alone,  creating lines for John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson — three of the greatest authors and (sometimes reluctant) speakers of their day, and of all history.  Stone’s plays include Titanic and Two by Two, his screenplays include Charade, Arabesque, Mirage, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Father Goose.

More:


We’ve seen ships like Romney before . . .

October 22, 2012

. . . and we should be forewarned.

Seriously.  There once was a great battleship named HMS Romney.  What did it do?

HMS Romney was a 50-gun fourth rate of the Royal Navy. She served during the American War of Independence, and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in a career that spanned forty years.

“Fourth rate” means “good” in this case  — more guns, but still a ship-of-the-line.

Did it help Americans out?  No.

Launched in 1762, the Romney spent most of her early career in North American waters, serving on the Newfoundland station, often as the flagship of the commander-in-chief. The ship was involved in the tensions leading up to the American Revolution when she was sent to support the Boston commissioners enforcing the Townshend Acts in 1768. Her actions involved impressing local sailors, confiscating a vessel belonging to John Hancock and providing a refuge for the unpopular commissioners when rioting broke out. She remained in American waters for part of the ensuing war, but towards the end operated in European waters after the French entry to the conflict.

After heckling American patriots, the Romney had a checkered career for another 20+ years.

[After the American Revolution] The Romney was laid up in ordinary or under repair for most of the subsequent years of peace, but returned to active service on the outbreak of war with Revolutionary France. She was in the Mediterranean supporting Lord Hood’s occupation of Toulon in 1793, and remained there for several years. During this time she captured the 44-gun French Sibylle. The Romney briefly returned to North America and then served in the Red Sea. Assigned to blockade the Dutch coast, the Romney ran aground in November 1804 while sailing to join the fleet off Den Helder. She broke up after attempts to float her off failed.

Ran aground?  Sounds rather like the end of the administration of George W. Bush, doesn’t it?  Oh, more than you might suspect.  Capt. John Colville tried to save the ship as it broke up, losing a few men. Eventually the Dutch rescued the British sailors, and in an act of kindness, allowed them to return to their country:

As was standard practice, Colvill was subsequently tried by court martial aboard the Africaine on 31 December for the loss of his ship. The court acquitted him, his officers and his men of all blame.[15] The court found the cause of the accident to be the thick fog and the ignorance of the pilots. The court required the pilots to forfeit their pay, barred them from piloting any of His Majesty’s Ships, and imprisoned them for a time in the Marshalsea.[16]

The total loss of life in the wreck was between nine and eleven men.[2][14]

“Thick fog and ignorance of the pilots.”  But no one in command was found to blame.  Ship lost, a handful of men lost (bad accounting kept the total from being clear?), but the muck-a-mucks escaped liability.

I don’t like that story one bit.

The loss of the Romney, Man-o-war, October 5, 1805; painting by Richard Corbould in the National Maritime Museum (Britain)

The loss of the Romney, Man-o-war, November 1804; painting by Richard Corbould, 1805, in the National Maritime Museum (Britain)

 


American naval hero John Paul Jones died in Paris, July 18, 1792, lost in obscurity

July 18, 2012

This comes directly from the Library of Congress’s “Today in History” site – you should subscribe if you don’t already:

John Paul Jones
John Paul Jones,
photograph of an engraving,
between 1895 and 1915.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

John Paul Jones, naval hero of the American Revolution, died in Paris on July 18, 1792. Born John Paul in Scotland on July 6, 1747, he apprenticed at age thirteen to a shipowner and sailed to Barbados. Owing to problems on another voyage to the West Indies (in 1773 he killed a sailor during a mutiny in Tobago, claiming self-defense), he fled to Virginia and changed his name—first to John Jones, and later to John Paul Jones.

Jones was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Continental Navy in December 1775 and the following year was commissioned a captain. His achievements at sea during the war were spectacular. Jones distinguished himself in action in the Atlantic Ocean during 1776 and 1777 in command of the naval ships the Alfred, the Providence, and the Ranger, taking many British ships as prizes.

John Paul Jones's home
John Paul Jones’ home in Fredericksburg, Virginia,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer, circa 1920-1950.
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959

On September 23, 1779, Jones achieved his most famous victory off the coast of England. With his flagship the Bonhomme Richard, which he had renamed in honor of his patron Benjamin Franklin, and accompanied by four other vessels, Jones engaged the British merchant fleet led by the Serapis in heavy combat for over three-and-one-half hours. During the battle, Jones answered the enemy’s demand that he surrender with the immortal words, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

After heavy losses of life on both sides, the British surrendered. Jones and his crew left their sinking ship and transferred to the captured Serapis. Congress passed a resolution thanking Jones and he received a sword and the Order of the Military Merit from King Louis XVI of France.

John Paul Jones held no further appointments in the United States Navy, but he served as rear admiral in the Russian Navy under Empress Catherine II of Russia from 1788-90. After his discharge, he resided in Paris in obscurity until his death and was buried in an unmarked grave. More than a hundred years later, the remains of the Navy’s first hero—lionized for his brilliant naval career, were identified and brought back to the United States with a full naval escort. His body is interred in a marble crypt, modeled on Napoleon’s tomb, in the chapel of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Statue of John Paul Jones
Statue of John Paul Jones,
Washington, D.C.,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer, circa 1920-1950.
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959


Anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride, in the middle of National Poetry Month

April 18, 2012

This is mostly an encore post.  Is there a good reason Paul Revere made his ride in the middle of National Poetry Month

_____________

April 18 and 19. Do the dates have significance? Paul Revere's ride, from Paul Revere House

Among other things, it is the date of the firing of the “shot heard ’round the world,” the first shots in the American Revolution. On April 19, 1775, American Minutemen stood to protect arsenals they had created at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, against seizure by the British Army then occupying Boston.

April is National Poetry Month. What have we done to celebrate poetry?

What have we done to properly acknowledge the key events of April 18 and 19, 1775? Happily, poetry helps us out in history studies, or can do.

In contrast to my childhood, when we as students had poems to memorize weekly throughout our curriculum, modern students too often come to my classes seemingly unaware that rhyming and rhythm are used for anything other than celebrating materialist, establishment values obtained sub rosa. Poetry, to them, is mostly rhythm; but certainly not for polite company, and never for learning.

Poems slipped from our national curriculum, dropped away from our national consciousness.

And that is one small part of the reason that Aprils in the past two decades turned instead to memorials to violence, and fear that violence will break out again. We have allowed darker ideas to dominate April, and especially the days around April 19.

You and I have failed to properly commemorate the good, I fear. We have a duty to pass along these cultural icons, as touchstones to understanding America.

So, reclaim the high ground. Reclaim the high cultural ground.

Read a poem today. Plan to be sure to have the commemorative reading of “Paul Revere’s Ride” in your classes next April 18 or 19, and “The Concord Hymn” on April 19.

We must work to be sure our heritage of freedom is remembered, lest we condemn our students, our children and grandchildren to having to relearn these lessons of history, as Santayana warned.

Texts of the poems are below the fold, though you may be much better off to use the links and see those sites, the Paul Revere House, and the Minuteman National Historical Park.

Read the rest of this entry »


Happy 254th birthday, Alexander Hamilton!

January 11, 2012

Today, January 11,  is Alexander Hamilton’s birthday — had he lived so long, he’d be 254 years old today!

Alexander Hamilton on the U.S. ten dollar note - Guardian image

Alexander Hamilton on the U.S. ten dollar note - Guardian image

But of course, the bullet from Aaron Burr’s gun cut Hamilton’s life short, after the duel in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton died of the wound on July 12, 1804. He was 47 years old.

Had Hamilton survived the duel, would he have been elected president? Some people think so. In any case, Hamilton’s wise management of the new nation’s finances, and his establishment of the idea that government should have a working bank, and that good government is a key to economic success of a nation, leave a great legacy for the nation, and the world.

Hamilton’s portrait adorns the U.S. $10 bill.

Read Hamilton’s biography from the U.S. National Archives’ feature on “America’s Founding Fathers/Charters of Freedom” exhibit:

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton was born in 1757 on the island of Nevis, in the Leeward group, British West Indies. He was the illegitimate son of a common-law marriage between a poor itinerant Scottish merchant of aristocratic descent and an English-French Huguenot mother who was a planter’s daughter. In 1766, after the father had moved his family elsewhere in the Leewards to St. Croix in the Danish (now United States) Virgin Islands, he returned to St. Kitts while his wife and two sons remained on St. Croix.

The mother, who opened a small store to make ends meet, and a Presbyterian clergyman provided Hamilton with a basic education, and he learned to speak fluent French. About the time of his mother’s death in 1768, he became an apprentice clerk at Christiansted in a mercantile establishment, whose proprietor became one of his benefactors. Recognizing his ambition and superior intelligence, they raised a fund for his education.

In 1772, bearing letters of introduction, Hamilton traveled to New York City. Patrons he met there arranged for him to attend Barber’s Academy at Elizabethtown (present Elizabeth), NJ. During this time, he met and stayed for a while at the home of William Livingston, who would one day be a fellow signer of the Constitution. Late the next year, 1773, Hamilton entered King’s College (later Columbia College and University) in New York City, but the Revolution interrupted his studies.

Although not yet 20 years of age, in 1774-75 Hamilton wrote several widely read pro-Whig pamphlets. Right after the war broke out, he accepted an artillery captaincy and fought in the principal campaigns of 1776-77. In the latter year, winning the rank of lieutenant colonel, he joined the staff of General Washington as secretary and aide-de-camp and soon became his close confidant as well.

In 1780 Hamilton wed New Yorker Elizabeth Schuyler, whose family was rich and politically powerful; they were to have eight children. In 1781, after some disagreements with Washington, he took a command position under Lafayette in the Yorktown, VA, campaign (1781). He resigned his commission that November.

Hamilton then read law at Albany and quickly entered practice, but public service soon attracted him. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1782-83. In the latter year, he established a law office in New York City. Because of his interest in strengthening the central government, he represented his state at the Annapolis Convention in 1786, where he urged the calling of the Constitutional Convention.

In 1787 Hamilton served in the legislature, which appointed him as a delegate to the convention. He played a surprisingly small part in the debates, apparently because he was frequently absent on legal business, his extreme nationalism put him at odds with most of the delegates, and he was frustrated by the conservative views of his two fellow delegates from New York. He did, however, sit on the Committee of Style, and he was the only one of the three delegates from his state who signed the finished document. Hamilton’s part in New York’s ratification the next year was substantial, though he felt the Constitution was deficient in many respects. Against determined opposition, he waged a strenuous and successful campaign, including collaboration with John Jay and James Madison in writing The Federalist. In 1787 Hamilton was again elected to the Continental Congress.

When the new government got under way in 1789, Hamilton won the position of Secretary of the Treasury. He began at once to place the nation’s disorganized finances on a sound footing. In a series of reports (1790-91), he presented a program not only to stabilize national finances but also to shape the future of the country as a powerful, industrial nation. He proposed establishment of a national bank, funding of the national debt, assumption of state war debts, and the encouragement of manufacturing.

Hamilton’s policies soon brought him into conflict with Jefferson and Madison. Their disputes with him over his pro-business economic program, sympathies for Great Britain, disdain for the common man, and opposition to the principles and excesses of the French revolution contributed to the formation of the first U.S. party system. It pitted Hamilton and the Federalists against Jefferson and Madison and the Democratic-Republicans.

During most of the Washington administration, Hamilton’s views usually prevailed with the President, especially after 1793 when Jefferson left the government. In 1795 family and financial needs forced Hamilton to resign from the Treasury Department and resume his law practice in New York City. Except for a stint as inspector-general of the Army (1798-1800) during the undeclared war with France, he never again held public office.

While gaining stature in the law, Hamilton continued to exert a powerful impact on New York and national politics. Always an opponent of fellow-Federalist John Adams, he sought to prevent his election to the presidency in 1796. When that failed, he continued to use his influence secretly within Adams’ cabinet. The bitterness between the two men became public knowledge in 1800 when Hamilton denounced Adams in a letter that was published through the efforts of the Democratic-Republicans.

In 1802 Hamilton and his family moved into The Grange, a country home he had built in a rural part of Manhattan not far north of New York City. But the expenses involved and investments in northern land speculations seriously strained his finances.

Meanwhile, when Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in Presidential electoral votes in 1800, Hamilton threw valuable support to Jefferson. In 1804, when Burr sought the governorship of New York, Hamilton again managed to defeat him. That same year, Burr, taking offense at remarks he believed to have originated with Hamilton, challenged him to a duel, which took place at present Weehawken, NJ, on July 11. Mortally wounded, Hamilton died the next day. He was in his late forties at death. He was buried in Trinity Churchyard in New York City.

Image: Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Post mostly borrowed, with express permission, from Mr. Darrell’s Wayback Machine.

Remember to watch for progress on “The Alexander Hamilton Mixtape,” a hip-hop version of Alexander Hamilton’s life by Lin-Manuel Miranda, seen here performing Aaron Burr’s soliloquey, at the White House.


Washington crossing the Delaware – a slightly different view

December 26, 2011

Past in the Present has this wonderful, terse post up:

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Unless you’re a Hessian.

Passage of the Delaware, by Thomas Sully (1819). Now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Passage of the Delaware, by Thomas Sully (1819). Now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

  1. Hessian?  Do my students know what he’s talking about?
  2. What is the other famous painting of this event?
  3. Considering how famous that other painting is, isn’t it almost tragic this one isn’t more famous?
  4. Considering #3, how many other great paintings of U.S. history sit in museums, or in government buildings, waiting to be discovered?  Maybe bloggers could help, by finding those paintings, photographing them, and posting the photographs.

More:


Quote of the moment: John Adams, celebrating the 2nd of July

July 1, 2011

“The Second Day of July 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. . . . It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776

1776 filled the calendar with dates deserving of remembrance and even celebration.  John Adams, delegate from Massachusetts to the Second Continental Congress, wrote home to his wife Abigail that future generations would celebrate July 2, the date the Congress voted to approve Richard Henry Lee’s resolution declaring independence from Britain for 13 of the British colonies in America.

Two days later, that same Congress approved the wording of the document Thomas Jefferson had drafted to announce Lee’s resolution to the world.

Today, we celebrate the date of the document Jefferson wrote, and Richard Henry Lee is often a reduced to a footnote, if not erased from history altogether.

Who can predict the future?

(You know, of course, that Adams and Jefferson both died 50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1826.  In the 50 intervening years, Adams and Jefferson were comrades in arms and diplomacy in Europe, officers of the new government in America, opposing candidates for the presidency, President and Vice President, ex-President and President, bitter enemies, then long-distance friends writing almost daily about how to make a great new nation.  Read David McCullough‘s version of the story, if you can find it.)

Update, July 4, 2013: You may want to check the updated version of this post, with more links, and even more history.


Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775

June 17, 2011

Barely two months after the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Concord (April 19, 1775), British regulars attacked American colonists holding high ground near Boston, at Bunker and Breed’s Hills.  The Library of Congress carries a suitable-for-the-classroom description of the events, with links to resources:

Battle of Bunker Hill
Battle of Bunker Hill,
E. Percy Moran, artist,
copyright 1909.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

On June 17, 1775, American troops displayed their mettle in the Battle of Bunker Hill during the siege of Boston, inflicting casualties on nearly half of the British troops dispatched to secure Breed’s Hill (where most of the fighting occurred).

Map showing the action at Bunkers-Hill
A plan of the action at Bunkers-Hill, on the 17th. of June, 1775…,
By Sir Thomas Hyde-Page, 1775.
Map Collections

Approximately 2,100 British troops under the command of General Thomas Gage stormed Breed’s Hill, where colonial soldiers were encamped. In their fourth charge up the hillside, the British took the hill from the rebels, who had run out of ammunition. After suffering more than 1,000 casualties during their attacks on Breed’s Hill, the British halted their assaults on rebel strongholds in Boston. The last rebels left on the hill evaded capture by the British thanks to the heroic efforts of Peter Salem, an African-American soldier who mortally wounded the British commanding officer who led the last charge.

When George Washington assumed command of colonial forces two weeks later, he garnered ammunition for Boston troops and secured Dorchester Heights and Bunker Hill.

Several speeches in the American Memory collection African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907, contain references to Peter Salem, the former slave and hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill:

Mr. Everett has described Peter Salem, a black man, and once a slave, as having been among the most prominent and meritorious characters at the battle of Bunker’s Hill. Indeed, the historical painting of that scene, by Col. Trumbull, an eyewitness, done in 1785, gives Peter Salem , with other black patriots, a conspicuous place. One of the latter is thus commemorated:

“To the Honorable General Court of the Massachusetts Bay: The subscribers beg leave to report to your Honorable House (which we do in justice to the character of so brave a man), that, under our own observation, we declare that a negro man, called Salem Poor, of Col. Frye’s regiment, Capt. Ames’ company, in the late battle at Charlestown, behaved like an experienced officer, as well as an excellent soldier. To set forth particulars of his conduct would be tedious. We would beg leave to say, in the person of this said negro, centres a brave and gallant soldier. The reward due to so great and distinguished a character, we submit to the Congress.”
Cambridge, Dec. 5, 1755.

“A Reading on Slavery, from the Early Presidents.”
Opinions of the Early Presidents, and of the Fathers of the Republic, upon Slavery and upon Negroes as Men and Soldiers.
Prepared for the Celebration of Washington’s Birthday at Lyceum Hall, Salem, February 22, 1863.
African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907

Learn more about the Battle of Bunker Hill in American Memory:

Spirit of '76
Spirit of ’76, American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, 1905.
The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920


June 7, 1776: Politics, heavy lifting and Richard Henry Lee

June 7, 2011

Thomas Jefferson got much of the glory, and we celebrate July 4.

We might learn about how politics works, and who does the heavy lifting, if we remember the full history.

Richard Henry Lee by Charles Wilson Peale

Richard Henry Lee by Charles Wilson Peale (wikimedia)

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia rose in the 2nd Continental Congress to propose a resolution calling for a declaration of independence of the thirteen colonies, from Britain.

Lee came to Philadelphia as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774, and was reappointed to the Second Continental Congress.

On June 7, 1776, Lee proposed a resolution which read in part:

Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

He had returned to Virginia by the time the Declaration of Independence was drafted and approved on July 2, but he signed the document when he returned to Congress.

Lee served as president of the Second Continental Congress (November 1784 to November 1785), and after the formation of the United States, as U.S. Senator from Virginia.  In the Senate, he was President pro tempore.

Richard Henry Lee's resolution calling for a declaration of independence - National Archives

Richard Henry Lee's resolution calling for a declaration of independence - image from the National Archives


Remembering April 18 and 19: Paul Revere’s Ride, and the “shot heard ’round the world”

April 18, 2011

This is mostly an encore post.

April 18 19. Do the dates have significance? Paul Revere's ride, from Paul Revere House

Among other things, it is the date of the firing of the “shot heard ’round the world,” the first shots in the American Revolution. On April 19, 1775, American Minutemen stood to protect arsenals they had created at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, against seizure by the British Army then occupying Boston.

April is National Poetry Month. What have we done to celebrate poetry?

What have we done to properly acknowledge the key events of April 18 and 19, 1775? Happily, poetry helps us out in history studies, or can do.

In contrast to my childhood, when we as students had poems to memorize weekly throughout our curriculum, modern students too often come to my classes seemingly unaware that rhyming and rhythm are used for anything other than celebrating materialist, establishment values obtained sub rosa. Poetry, to them, is mostly rhythm; but certainly not for polite company, and never for learning.

Poems slipped from our national curriculum, dropped away from our national consciousness.

And that is one small part of the reason that Aprils in the past two decades turned instead to memorials to violence, and fear that violence will break out again. We have allowed darker ideas to dominate April, and especially the days around April 19.

You and I have failed to properly commemorate the good, I fear. We have a duty to pass along these cultural icons, as touchstones to understanding America.

So, reclaim the high ground. Reclaim the high cultural ground.

Read a poem today. Plan to be sure to have the commemorative reading of “Paul Revere’s Ride” in your classes next April 18 or 19, and “The Concord Hymn” on April 19.

We must work to be sure our heritage of freedom is remembered, lest we condemn our students, our children and grandchildren to having to relearn these lessons of history, as Santayana warned.

Texts of the poems are below the fold, though you may be much better off to use the links and see those sites, the Paul Revere House, and the Minuteman National Historical Park.

Read the rest of this entry »


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