Don’t fall for the star-spangled voodoo history

September 14, 2014

Star-spangled Banner and the War of 1812 - The original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that would become our national anthem, is among the most treasured artifacts in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Star-spangled Banner and the War of 1812 – The original Star-Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that would become our national anthem, is among the most treasured artifacts in the collections of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Every school kid learns the story of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” or should.

During the War of 1812, Georgetown lawyer Francis Scott Key, stood aboard a British ship in Baltimore Harbor to negotiate the release of his friend, Dr. William Beanes, who had been taken prisoner while the British stormed through Bladensburg, Maryland, after burning Washington, D.C.  Key witnessed the British shelling of Fort McHenry, the guardian of Baltimore’s harbor.  Inspired when he saw the U.S. flag still waving at dawn after a night of constant shelling, Key wrote a poem.

Key published the poem, suggested it might be put to the tune of “Anachreon in Heaven” (a tavern tune popular at the time) — and the popularity of the song grew until Congress designated it the national anthem in 1931.  In telling the story of the latest restoration of that garrison flag now housed at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, Smithsonian Magazine repeated the story in the July 2000 issue:  “Our Flag Was Still There.”

It’s a wonderful history with lots of splendid, interesting details (Dolley Madison fleeing the Executive Mansion clutching the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, the guy who had introduced Dolley to James Madison and then snubbed them after they were married; the British troops eating the White House dinner the Madisons left in their haste; the gigantic, 42 by 30 foot flag sewn by Mary Pickersgill, a Baltimore widow trying to support her family; the rag-tag Baltimore militia stopping cold “Wellington’s Invicibles;” the British massing of 50 boats and gunships; and much more).

It’s a grand and glorious history that stirs the patriotic embers of the most cynical Americans.

And it’s all true.

So it doesn’t deserve the voodoo history version, the bogus history created by some person preaching in a church (I gather from the “amens”) that is making the rounds of the internet, stripped of attribution so we can hunt down the fool who is at fault.

We got this in an e-mail yesterday; patriots save us, there must be a hundred repetitions that turn up on Google, not one correcting this horrible distortion of American history.

Horrible distortion of American history

(The full version is a mind-numbing 11 minutes plus.  Some people have put it on other sites. )

Why do I complain?

  1. It was the War of 1812, not the Revolutionary War — there were 15 states, not 13 colonies.
  2. There was no ultimatum to to Baltimore, nor to the U.S., as this fellow describes it.
  3. Key negotiated for the release of one man, Dr. Beanes.  There was no brig full of U.S. prisoners.
  4. It’s Fort McHenry, not “Henry.”  The fort was named after James McHenry, a physician who was one of the foreign-born signers of the Constitution, who had assisted Generals Washington and Lafayette during the American Revolution, and who had served as Secretary of War to Presidents Washington and Adams.
  5. Fort McHenry was a military institution, a fort defending Baltimore Harbor.  It was not a refuge for women and children.
  6. The nation would not have reverted to British rule had Fort McHenry fallen.
  7. There were 50 ships, not hundreds.  Most of them were rafts with guns on them.  Baltimore Harbor is an arm of Chesapeake Bay; Fort McHenry is not on the ocean.
  8. The battle started in daylight.
  9. Bogus quote:  George Washington never said “What sets the American Christian apart from all other people in this world is he will die on his feet before he will live on his knees.”  Tough words.  Spanish Civil War.  Not George Washington.  I particularly hate it when people make up stuff to put in the mouths of great men.  Washington left his diaries and considerably more — we don’t have to make up inspiring stuff, and when we do, we get it wrong.
  10. The battle was not over the flag; the British were trying to take Baltimore, one of America’s great ports.  At this point, they rather needed to since the Baltimore militia had stunned and stopped the ground troops east of the city.  There’s enough American bravery and pluck in this part of the story to merit no exaggerations.
  11. To the best of our knowledge, the British did not specifically target the flag.
  12. There were about 25 American casualties.  Bodies of the dead were not used to hold up the flag pole — a 42 by 30 foot flag has to be on a well-anchored pole, not held up by a few dead bodies stacked around it.

You can probably find even more inaccuracies (please note them in comments if you do).

The entire enterprise is voodoo history.  The name of Key is right; the flag is right; almost everything else is wrong.

Please help:  Can you find who wrote this piece of crap?  Can you learn who the narrator is, and where it was recorded?

I keep finding troubling notes with this on the internet: ‘My school kids are going to see this to get the real story.’  ‘Why are the libs suppressing the truth?’  ‘I didn’t know this true story before, and now I wonder why my teachers wouldn’t tell it.’

It’s voodoo history, folks.  It’s a hoax.  The real story is much better.

If Peter Marshall and David Barton gave a gosh darn about American history, they would muster their mighty “ministries” to correct the inaccuracies in this piece.  But they are silent.

Clearly, it’s not the glorious history of this nation they love.

More:

Please share that voodoo, as you do so well!


Unintentional bogus history: Archduke Ferdinand assassinated! British lead assault on Damascus!

June 30, 2014

Santayana said it:  Those who don’t remember history, yada, yada, yada.

It almost turned Dada-esque over the weekend, when a Syrian television editor mistook a “history-as-it-happened” Twitter feed for actual events.

One reason to learn history, I tell students, is so that you cannot be jived by politicians and others who wish to persuade you falsely.  Add to that:  So you won’t be suckered by false news reports when you’re at the editor’s desk.

I wonder how many hoaxes get started this way?

Is that today's newspaper? Toronto Daily Star, June 29, 1914. Not today's edition.

Is that today’s newspaper? Toronto Daily Star, June 29, 1914. Not today’s edition.


Quote goof of the moment: Tom Paine didn’t say that; Edward Abbey did.

May 7, 2014

Oy.  You’d hope that the Rabid Right would learn after a few dozen of these errors that they should try to verify stuff before they claim events of history, or sayings of famous people are gospel — especially stuff involving our patriotic founders.

But, no.

Sometimes their failure to check sources can produce amusement, though, like this one which they misattribute to Tom Paine in propaganda supporting rent scofflaw Cliven Bundy and other land management issues:

Tom Paine didn't say that. Edward Abbey did.

Tom Paine didn’t say that. Edward Abbey did.

“The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government.”

Someone mildly familiar with Tom Paine and his life and other writings might suspect the supposed attribution from the start.  Paine was a great advocate of governments to protect the rights of citizens, especially citizens like him, who were often on the outs with popular opinion and avoided the Guillotine in France and mob violence in the U.S. only through interventions of government officials who told mobs the law did not cotton their wishes to see violence on Mr. Paine.

Wikiquote notes Paine didn’t say it.  A simple check would have found that.

But other sites claim it was written by Edward Abbey, the author of Desert Solitaire and The Monkeywrench Gang.

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

– Edward Abbey, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness (Vox Clamantis en Deserto) : Notes from a Secret Journal (1990) ISBN 0312064888

Why is that delicious?

The quote — the image above, for example — is being used by pro-militia groups who have defended Cliven Bundy’s trespassing on public lands in Nevada, and by Texans who, upset that they don’t have such a good target as massive Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holdings in Texas, have ginned up a faux controversy, claiming falsely that BLM is seeking to seize lands in Texas.

Edward Abbey?  He didn’t much like BLM, and he was particularly ticked off at the Bureau of Reclamation and the imposition of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River with the drowning of Glen Canyon.  Abbey’s disdain of federal land managers and grand dam schemes may have been exceeded only by his contempt for developers, miners and ranchers who took advantage of the desert for profit.

Would Abbey have supported Bundy’s overgrazing on public lands, or Texas Republicans scrambling to make a false issue to mismanage lands?  Oy.  Oy.  And oy.

See this brilliant poster at Americans Who Tell The Truth:

From Americans who Tell the Truth, Edward Abbey.

From Americans who Tell the Truth, Edward Abbey. Writer, ‘Desert Anarchist’ : 1927 – 1989 “The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chainsaws. It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it. Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.”

Wall of Fame (people and sites who got the cite right):

Wall of Shame (people and sites who got the cite wrong):


Dialogue in the early years of the Dark Ages

April 28, 2014

Poetry on current issues from Devona Wyant.  Wait; is it historic?

(Soldiers involved in the Desert Rock training exercise watching the mushroom cloud from the Dog detonation, Operation Buster-Jangle;  Coporal Alexander McCaughey, U.S. Army Photographic Signal Corps)

(Soldiers involved in the Desert Rock training exercise watching the mushroom cloud from the Dog detonation, Operation Buster-Jangle; Coporal Alexander McCaughey, U.S. Army Photographic Signal Corps) (Illustration added here)

Dialogue in the early years of the Dark Ages

“Old woman, are you awake? Tell my friend here
about the past like you told me. He don’t believe me.”

“What would you like to hear?
About the old forests that stretched for miles?
The wetlands that filtered and gave shelter?
The hundreds of species now lost?
Would you believe we once played outside
without sun block, without protective clothing?
Maybe you want to hear about what it was like
when you could worship as you believed or
not worship at all, without fear, without hiding,
without losing status, without losing your job.
I remember a time when you didn’t need papers
to travel, when you didn’t have your mail read.
I remember when your neighbors didn’t turn
you in if you said you hated a government policy.
I remember when you could gather to protest,
when you could speak out, write letters to the papers.
I remember when there were three classes, not
just the haves and have nots.
I remember when the very poor could
get help if they were very sick or if they were hungry.
I remember when we were considered a beacon of hope,
when we protected those who were oppressed.
I remember when every one could vote and each
vote was counted and mattered.
I even remember when people didn’t live in fear.”

“Are you putting me on Man? She lies! If all those
things were true, why are the old ones the only ones who know?
why isn’t it in the history books?”

“Young man, wait. I’ll be moving on soon or I may just
disappear as so many have. If you never see me again,
remember this at least.
Those who rule, not only make history, they invent it.”

Devona Wyant

Hey, it’s still National Poetry Month.  How are you celebrating? What poems are you reading?

An old woman who tells stories.  Photo by the Library of Congress.

An old woman who tells stories. Photo by the Library of Congress. (Main Reading Room)


Smoking out the bogus: Martin Porter’s “Four Principles of a Quotation”

March 25, 2014

Commenter SBH put me on to this interesting set of principles from a mathematician, on bogus quotes, and how to determine that they are bogus, and most important, how to avoid creating a bogus quote by stripping context or altering the text.

‘After all, a study I once read said something like 86% of all statistics cited in speeches are made up on the spot.’*

I looked up Martin Porter.  What are his principles of quotations?  Who is he, and why should we listen to him?

Mathematician Martin Porter, in the 21st century.

Mathematician Martin Porter, in the 21st century. Self portrait.

Turns out he’s a mathematician who works in algorithms to study language, and a founder of Grapeshot.  Along the way, he grew intrigued with trying to source a very famous quotation attributed to Edmund Burke (confess, you don’t really know enough about Burke to describe who he was, or why that quote might not be his, right? See Porter’s last principle).

Porter wrote an interesting essay about the experience, and about the wide abuse of the real Burke quote and what he’d learned.

At the end of the essay, he posed principles for quotations, two involving how we might hold the necessary skepticism that helps smoke out quotes that are bogus for one reason or another.

The other two, I confess, sometimes are difficult to follow.  One of my favorite statements from George Santayana, in the upper right corner of this blog, stands out of context (he wasn’t writing about history, really), nor have I read the entire book.  Porter proposes very high standards indeed: It’s not enough that the quote be accurately phrased and attributed appropriately to its creator; Porter wants the quote to be used in a similar context.  In his essay on the Burke quote, he notes Burke was talking of factions, but when Ronald Reagan used it, even getting the phrasing right, Reagan used it to talk about arming nations.  Porter suggests such a usage can lead us awry.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher, who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party. No, not the same Whig Party that produced Millard Fillmore in America.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher, who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party. No, not the same Whig Party that produced Millard Fillmore in America.

Porter is right, of course.

2014 is a federal election year.  Here in Texas we also have municipal elections in May — a lot of opportunities, to vote, a lot of campaigning, and a in that campaigning a stunning wealth of opportunities for people to misattribute quotes, or to invent whole new inappropriate contexts, twists, and diversions to accurate understanding.

We should heed Martin Porter better, perhaps.

Martin Porter’s four Principles for Quotations:

I therefore formulate and offer to the world the following Principles for Quotations, two for quoters and two for readers, which, if universally followed, would make an immense improvement to the reliability of the information available on the world wide web.

Principle 1 (for readers)
Whenever you see a quotation given with an author but no source assume that it is probably bogus.
Principle 2 (for readers)
Whenever you see a quotation given with a full source assume that it is probably being misused, unless you find good evidence that the quoter has read it in the source.
Principle 3 (for quoters)
Whenever you make a quotation, give the exact source.
Principle 4 (for quoters)
Only quote from works that you have read.

* You knew that one was bogus. Right?

More:


Ted Cruz shows off his ignorance of free enterprise history with bad joke on garage startups

July 22, 2013

Oh, come on, Ted Cruz!

It’s a snarky enough Tweet — and it would even produce a smile from me — if it weren’t so inaccurate, historically.

Robert Scoble Leads the Way into the HP Garage

Robert Scoble Leads the Way into the HP Garage in Palo Alto, California (Photo credit: bragadocchio) Could Ted Cruz find Palo Alto?

Businesses starting in garages?

It’s too early to tell, but the past five years probably haven’t been great for garage startups.  Not for lack of Obama’s trying, mind you.  But there’s no demand.

On the other hand, Reagan didn’t do anything to push garage startups, either.

The two most famous garage startups are probably Hewlett Packard, and Apple.  H-P got started in 1939 — FDR’s administration (how’s that for being 180 degrees wrong, Ted?)  Apple got going late in 1976, in the last months of the Ford administration.  It did well enough in the Carter years to be a player by 1980, the year before Reagan took office.

So Reagan had nothing to do with those two.

Other startups?

An odd little site ambitiously titled Retire @21 lists ten garage startups — both Apple, and H-P, and eight others; as listed at that site, in alphabetical order:

  1. Amazon — Jeff Bezos founded Amazon in his garage in Bellevue, Washington, in 1994, the Clinton administration.
  2. Apple — 1976 founding in Los Altos, California, by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs — Ford and Carter administrations.
  3. Disney — 1923 in Los Angeles by Walt and Roy Disney; Warren G. Harding was president until  his death on August 2, 1923; he was succeeded by his Vice President, Calvin Coolidge.
  4. Google — “As Stanford Graduate students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin started what’s now known as Google from Susan Wojcicki’s garage in September 1998.”  Clinton administration.
  5. Harley-Davidson — Founded in a garage in north Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1903, by William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson — Teddy Roosevelt’s first term.
  6. Hewlett-Packard — “In 1939, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded HP in Packard’s garage with an initial investment of $538.  Their first product was an audio oscillator and one of their first customers was Walt Disney, who purchased eight oscillators to develop the sound system for the movie Fantasia.”  Franklin Roosevelt’s second term.
  7. Lotus Cars — “In 1948, at the age of 20, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman started Lotus Cars by building the first Lotus racing car in stables behind The Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London. Chapman used a 1930s Austin Seven and a power drill to build the Lotus Mark I.”  In London — Truman in the U.S., but more rationally, Clement Attlee was Prime Minister in England, the Labour Party’s standard bearer.
  8. Maglite — Tony Maglica, a Croation who emigrated to the U.S. in 1950, made precision metal machines parts in Los Angeles, incorporated Mag Instrument in 1974 and released his first, signature flashlight in 1979.  Nixon and Ford were presidents in 1974; Jimmy Carter was president in 1979.
  9. Mattel — Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler incorporated in 1945, selling picture frames out of a garage somewhere in Southern California.  They used scraps from the frames to make doll houses, and found a whole new business.  FDR was president until April 12, 1945; Harry Truman succeeded to the office when FDR died.
  10. Yankee Candle Company — Michael Kittredge started making candles in his mother’s garage in South Hadley, Massachusetts, before he graduated from high school, in 1969, during the Nixon administration.  He moved out sometime in 1974.

Ten of the most famous garage startups — none of them starting in the Reagan administration.  Can Ted Cruz name a garage entrepreneur who started out in the Reagan years?  I doubt it.

Maybe more to the point, can he describe what the Reagan administration did that would have made the climate better for entrepreneurs?  Reagan’s administration was particularly lackadaisical about small business and entrepreneurs, on the best days, and outright hostile on the worst.  When Reagan’s first head of the Small Business Administration announced he was resigning and moving on, SBA staff held a massive going away party, without inviting the guy — he was that much disliked by the small business advocates.

I imagine these past five years have not been happy ones for small business startups.  Banks aren’t lending money, and investors want bigger ponds to fish in.  But there’s absolutely no accuracy to the comparison Cruz made in his Tweet.  Especially on the Ronald Reagan side, the Reagan years were good for General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, and other defense contractors, but not particularly good for garage entrepreneurial startups, as the list of the top such startups show.  They weren’t Reagan-era miracles.

Cruz probably doesn’t remember.  He was ten years old when Ronald Reagan assumed office.

Sen. Ted Cruz at a May 9, 2013, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration - New York Times photo by Doug Mills

Sen. Ted Cruz at a May 9, 2013, Senate Judiciary Committee markup on immigration reform — showing the same attitude he has shown to funding aid for small businesses and garage startups. New York Times photo by Doug Mills, via Dallas Morning News. During the markup the committee rejected Cruz’s proposal to make it tougher for immigrants to become citizens.

Please don’t forget it was Ronald Reagan who tried to kill ARPANET, and was stopped by young Congressman Al Gore, who argued it could someday be an “information superhighway.”  Cruz wasn’t out of high school, then.  Al Gore sneezes better business ideas and  better support for business startups than Ted Cruz ever will.

Starting out in a garage to build a giant company is a great concept, the later-20th century Horatio Alger story — but unrealistic, as Watts Martin explained at Coyote Tracks:

The romantic notion is the unknown garage startup, the Apple of 1977, but garage startups only succeed in industries that are garage-sized when they start. Once they do succeed, they’re not going to be mad enough to bet everything on futuristic visions—after all, now they have something to lose. You wouldn’t have caught HP or Dell or Microsoft announcing the iPad. After it was announced, Apple was roundly mocked in the press for it.

And the fact is, Republicans especially in this current Congress — including Ted Cruz — have been hostile to almost anything that would help a garage startup in a new field.  Bad economies do not produce a plethora of entrepreneurial success.  Only the tough survive.

Ted Cruz never meets an up escalator that he doesn't think about how to stop.

Ted Cruz never meets an up escalator that he doesn’t think about how to stop. Getty Images via NBCLatino

For example, Cruz has voted against almost every bill with a beneficial small business impact to come before the Senate since he was sworn in.  He’s voted against student loan relief — startups have relied on highly-educated and technically educated  new graduates for years.  Cruz voted against confirmation of small business advocate Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense.  Cruz voted to sustain the money sequestering that cut Small Business Administration loans and other aid to small businesses across the government.  Cruz voted against the Agriculture bill, with aid to small farmers.  Yeah, I know — he’s against regulation.  Can you name any garage startup that’s been stopped by the Dodd-Frank Act, or any EPA regulation?  No, they don’t exist.

The Tweet?  Not only does Cruz get the history dead wrong, it suggests he supports small business — and there’s no evidence of that on the record.  It’s a toss-away punch line for a stump speech — but in less than 140 characters it gets history wrong at both ends, and makes a mockery of small business and entrepreneur support from the federal government.

Ronald Reagan’s presidency wasn’t all that good for small, entrepreneurial startups; Obama’s hasn’t been that bad, especially if we subtract the anti-business actions of the GOP (odd as that is).  Cruz doesn’t remember, probably never knew, and he’s no big friend of entrepreneurs, either.

More:

http://twitter.com/obx4me/status/358616294561550337


Nope, Patrick Henry didn’t say that

April 8, 2013

More misquoting of “the Founders”:

For America misquotes Patrick Henry

For America’s poster featuring a quote falsely claimed to be from Patrick Henry.  The racial right wingers won’t tell you, but the painting is a portrait by George Bagby Matthews c. 1891, after an original by Thomas Sully.

It’s baseball season.  I love a pitch into the wheelhouse.

The radical right-wing political group For America — a sort of latter-day Redneck Panther group — invented this one, and pasted it up on their Facebook site this morning.

You know where this is going, of course.  Patrick Henry didn’t say that.  The poster is a hoax.

Your Hemingway [Excrement] Detector probably clanged as soon as you pulled the poster up.  Patrick Henry was a powerful opponent to the Constitution.

Opposed to the Constitution?  Oh, yes.  It helps to know a bit of history.

Henry was at best suspicious of the drive to get a working, central government after the Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution. While George Washington needed an interstate authority, at least to resolve disputes between the states, in order to create a commercial entity to build a path into the Ohio Valley, Henry was opposed.  To be sure, Washington was scheming a bit, with his dreaming:  Washington held title to more than 15,000 acres of land in the Ohio Valley, his fee for having surveyed the land for Lord Fairfax many years earlier.  Washington stood to get wealthy from the sale of the land — if a path into and out of the Ohio could be devised.  Washington struggled for years to get a canal through — seen today in the remains of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal from Washington, D.C., up along the Potomac River.

Henry was so opposed to the states’ working together that he refused to notify Virginia’s commissioners appointed to a commission to settle the fishing and title dispute to the Chesapeake Bay, between Maryland and Virginia especially, and including Delaware.  When Maryland’s commissioners showed up in Fairfax for the first round of negotiations, they could not find the Virginia commissioners at all.  So they called on Gen. Washington at his Mt. Vernon estate (as about a thousand people a year did in those years).  Washington recognized immediately how this collaboration could aid getting a path through Maryland to the Ohio.

Perplexed at the abject failure of Virginia’s government, Washington dispatched messages to the Virginia commissioners, including a young man Washington did not know, James Madison.  Washington was shocked and disappointed to learn the Virginians did not know they had been appointed.  He suggested the Marylanders return home, and immediately began working with Madison to make the commission work.  When this group settled the Chesapeake Bay boundaries and fishing issues, and Washington’s war aide Alexander Hamilton was entangled in a separate but similar dispute between New York and New Jersey over New York Harbor, Washington introduced Hamilton and Madison to each other, and suggested they broaden their work.  Ultimately this effort produced the Annapolis Convention among five colonies, which called for a convention to amend the Articles of Confederation.  The Second Continental Congress agreed to the proposal.

When the delegates met at Philadelphia, they determined the Articles of Confederation irreparably flawed.  Instead, they wrote what we now know as the Constitution.

Patrick Henry opposed each step.  Appointed delegate to the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, he refused to serve.  Instead, he was elected Governor of Virginia, and proceeded to organize opposition to ratification of the Constitution.  Madison’s unique ratification process, sending the Constitution to conventions of the people in each state, instead of to the state legislatures, was designed to get around Henry’s having locked up opposition to ratification in the Virginia Assembly.

Henry led opposition to ratification at the Virginia convention.  Outflanked by Madison, Henry was enraged by Virginia’s ratification.  Virginia had called for the addition of a bill of rights to the document, and the ratification campaign was carried partly on Madison’s promise that he would propose a bill of rights as amendments, as soon as the new federal government got up and running.  Henry sought to thwart Madison, blocking Madison’s appointment as U.S. senator, in the state legislature.  When Madison fell back to run for the House of Representatives, Henry found the best candidate to oppose Madison in the Tidewater area and threw all his support behind that candidate. (James Monroe was that candidate; in one of the more fitting ironies of history, during the campaign Monroe was persuaded to Madison’s side; Madison won the election, and the lifelong friendship and help of Monroe.)

When the new federal government organized, Henry refused George Washington’s invitation to join it in any capacity.  Henry continued to oppose the Constitution and its government to his death.

Consequently, it is extremely unlikely Henry would have ever suggested that the Constitution was a useful tool in any way, especially as a defense of freedom; Henry saw the Constitution as a threat to freedom.

There are good records of some of the things Henry really did say about the Constitution.  Henry regarded the Constitution as tyranny, and said exactly that in his speech against the Constitution on June 5, 1788:

It is said eight states have adopted this plan. I declare that if twelve states and a half had adopted it, I would, with manly firmness, and in spite of an erring world, reject it. You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your government.

In the same speech, Henry challenged the right of the people even to consider creating  a Constitution:

The assent of the people, in their collective capacity, is not necessary to the formation of a federal government. The people have no right to enter into leagues, alliances, or confederations; they are not the proper agents for this purpose. States and foreign powers are the only proper agents for this kind of government.

Probably diving into hyperbole, Henry portrayed the Constitution itself as a threat to liberty, not a protection from government:

When I thus profess myself an advocate for the liberty of the people, I shall be told I am a designing man, that I am to be a great man, that I am to be a demagogue; and many similar illiberal insinuations will be thrown out: but, sir, conscious rectitude outweighs those things with me.

I see great jeopardy in this new government. I see none from our present one. I hope some gentleman or other will bring forth, in full array, those dangers, if there be any, that we may see and touch them.

Anyone familiar with the history, with the story of Patrick Henry and the conflicting, often perpendicular story of the creation of the Constitution, would be alarmed at a quote in which Henry appears to claim the Constitution a protector of rights of citizens — it’s absolutely contrary to almost everything he ever said.

Perhaps most ironic, for our right-wing friends:  The quote on the poster above was invented as a defense against abuses of the Constitution by the right.  Wikiquote tracked it back to its invention:

The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.

  • As quoted in The Best Liberal Quotes Ever : Why the Left is Right (2004) by William P. Martin. Though widely attributed to Henry, this statement has not been sourced to any document before the 1990s and appears to be at odds with his beliefs as a strong opponent of the adoption of the US Constitution.

“History?” For America might say. “We don’t got no history. We don’t NEED NO STINKIN’ HISTORY!”

And so they trip merrily down the path to authoritarian dictatorship, denying their direction every step of the way to their ultimate end.

The rest of us can study history, and discover the truth.

More:


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,333 other followers

%d bloggers like this: