How could John Adams be so wrong about the Fourth of July?

July 2, 2015

“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

Surely John Adams knew that July 4 would be Independence Day, didn’t he?

In writing to his wife Abigail on July 3, John Adams committed one of those grand errors even he would laugh at afterward. We’ll forgive him when the fireworks start firing.

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.

Continental congress DSC_0607

Scene of the crime — Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Second Continental congress approved the resolution to declare the colonies independent from Britain – (Photo credit: diablodale)

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.)

(Yes, this is mostly an encore post.)

More, and Related articles:

The Lee Resolution.

The Lee Resolution, passed by the Second Continental Congress on July 2, 1776 – Wikipedia image (Wait a minute: Are those numbers added correctly? What are they?)

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Madison, Clay and Huxley: June 29 is a day of passings

June 29, 2015

Three great historical figures passed on June 29 — and I’ll wager there are others, but I stumbled on these three in the past day.

  • James Madison, Father of the Constitution, and our fourth president
  • Henry Clay, who many including himself thought should have been president
  • Thomas Huxley, the scientist perhaps best known for his spirited defense of evolution theory and Charles Darwin against an ungrateful Bishop Samuel Wilberforce

Historian Michael Beschloss noted Madison’s passing:

Madison was born in 1751.

Henry Clay falls into that history between the founding and the Civil War, when he won the name “the Great Compromiser” for his ability to put together agreements and laws that patched things up for a while — holding the south in the union, but not giving in to expansions of slavery, for example.  Clay wanted to preserve the union, but he wanted full support from citizens in all corners of the nation. He wrote words perhaps relevant to political contretemps of today:

I implore, as the best blessing which Heaven can bestow upon me upon earth, that if the direful and sad event of the dissolution of the Union shall happen, I may not survive to behold the sad and heart-rending spectacle.

“On the Compromise Resolutions,”
speech before the U.S. Senate,
February 5 and 6, 1850,
The Life and Speeches of Henry Clay (Littleton, Colorado: Fred B. Rothman, 1987), 2: 664.

Henry Clay died June 29, 1852, perhaps within weeks of this photo:

Henry Clay, photo by Mathew B. Brady between 1850 and 1852; Library of Congress archives.

Henry Clay, photo by Mathew B. Brady between 1850 and 1852; Library of Congress archives.

There’s a longer article on Clay’s amazing life and achievements at LOC’s “Today in History.” The Library of Congress also gives a brief summary of Clay’s history:

Republican Senator from Kentucky, 1806-1807, 1810-1811; Congressman, 1811-1814, 1815-1821, 1823-1825; U.S. Secretary of State, 1825-1829; Whig Senator, 1831-1842, 1849-1852; Democratic Republican candidate for President, 1824; National Republican candidate for President, 1832; Whig candidate for President, 1844.

Clay was born in 1777.

Thomas Huxley’s passing, on June 29, 1895, earns a spot on the calendar of events at Smithsonian.com

Thomas Henry Huxley, a British biologist and firm believer in evolution, dies at age 70. The greatest defender of Darwinism in Britain, he once said,

“The deepest sin against the human mind is to believe things without evidence.”

Thomas Henry Huxley, in an 1871 drawing by Carlo Pellegrini for Vanity Fair.

Thomas Henry Huxley, in an 1871 drawing by Carlo Pellegrini for Vanity Fair.

Huxley’s quote is one more indictment of people affected by the Dunning Kruger effect, something I just became aware of yesterday.  Yes, I need to source it better.

Upon reading Darwin’s big book, Origin of Species, Huxley wrote Darwin on November 23, 1859, one week after the book was published:

I finished your book yesterday. . . Since I read Von Baer’s Essays nine years ago no work on Natural History Science I have met with has made so great an impression on me & I do most heartily thank you for the great store of new views you have given me. . .
As for your doctrines I am prepared to go to the Stake if requisite. . .
I trust you will not allow yourself to be in any way disgusted or annoyed by the considerable abuse & misrepresentation which unless I greatly mistake is in store for you. . . And as to the curs which will bark and yelp — you must recollect that some of your friends at any rate are endowed with an amount of combativeness which (though you have often & justly rebuked it) may stand you in good stead —
I am sharpening up my claws and beak in readiness

  • Letter of T. H. Huxley to Charles Darwin, November 23, 1859, regarding the Origin of Species

Huxley, born in 1825, lived 70 great years in science.

Who else died on June 29 whom we should remember?


Key part of Burwell decision: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets”

June 25, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in King v. Burwell.  The decision issued on June 25, 2015. Image from Newsworks (who is the artist?)

U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in King v. Burwell. The decision issued on June 25, 2015. Image from Newsworks. [Continued search for credit information on this image turned up this caption; artist is Dana Verkouteren of Associated Press] “This courtroom artist rendering shows Michael Carvin, lead attorney for the petitioners, right, speaking before the Supreme Court in March. King v. Burwell, a major test of the Affordable Care Act, could halt health care premium subsidies in all the states where the federal government runs the insurance marketplaces. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)

In all the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Burwell case today, you’d be lucky to learn what the Court actually said.

Here are the key paragraphs of the majority’s decision (links added here), as written by Chief Justice John Roberts:

Reliance on context and structure in statutory interpretation is a “subtle business, calling for great wariness lest what professes to be mere rendering becomes creation and attempted interpretation of legislation becomes legislation itself.” Palmer v. Massachusetts, 308 U. S. 79, 83 (1939). For the reasons we have given, however, such reliance is appropriate in this case, and leads us to conclude that Section 36B allows tax credits for insurance purchased on any Exchange created under the Act. Those credits are necessary for the Federal Exchanges to function like their State Exchange counterparts, and to avoid the type of calamitous result that Congress plainly meant to avoid.

*    *    *

In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined—“to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan.

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter. Section 36B can fairly be read consistent with what we see as Congress’s plan, and that is the reading we adopt.

The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is

Affirmed.

Go read the rest of the 47 pages (in the .pdf from the Supreme Court), if you wish to be well-informed.  The case probably isn’t at all what’s being reported in most venues.


June 25: Virginians fly flags to commemorate statehood, and Col. Van T. Barfoot

June 24, 2015

June 25 is Virginia Statehood Day.  The U.S. Flag Code urges Americans to fly the U.S. flag on the statehood date of their states.

Virginia is counted as the 10th state, by virtue of the Virginia ratifying convention’s having voted to ratify the U.S. Constitution on June 25, 1788 — over the strong objections of Gov. Patrick Henry, and with the skilled legislative work of James Madison.

The Constitution became effective upon the ninth state’s ratification, but Virginia, being the largest state in the union at the time, was considered a make-or-break vote.

June 25 is the last U.S. flag flying date in June 2015.

So, Virginians: Fly your U.S. flags on June 25, as Col. Van T. Barfoot did every day until his death.

From the Washington Post: Retired Col. Van T. Barfoot, a Medal of Honor recipient, and his daughter Margaret Nicholls lower the flag outside Barfoot's home in the Sussex Square subdivision in Henrico County, Va., in 2009. Barfoot died March 2 [2012] at a hospital in Richmond. He was 92. (Photo by Eva Russo/AP)

From the Washington Post: “Retired Col. Van T. Barfoot, a Medal of Honor recipient, and his daughter Margaret Nicholls lower the flag outside Barfoot’s home in the Sussex Square subdivision in Henrico County, Va., in 2009. Barfoot died March 2 [2012] at a hospital in Richmond. He was 92. (Photo by Eva Russo/AP)”

You may remember the story of Col. Barfoot. As a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, he flew Old Glory every day. In 2009 his Henrico County, Virginia homeowners association complained, ordered him to stop flying the U.S. flag and take down his flag pole, erected in violation of HOA “curb appeal” rules.

Col. Barfoot refused.  Eventually the public outcry, including pressure from President Barack Obama, got the HOA to back down.  Obama said Barfoot was a good example, and had earned the right to fly Old Glory.

Barfoot had a particularly compelling case to fly the flag. Barfoot was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in Italy, against German troops, in 1944.  The Washington Post explained: 

Early in the war, he participated in the Army’s invasion of Italy. As his unit moved inland, the soldiers took up defensive positions near Carano.

On May 23, 1944, Col. Barfoot was ordered to lead an assault on German positions. He went out alone and crawled to within feet of a German bunker.

According to his Medal of Honor citation, he tossed a grenade inside, killing two Germans and wounding three others. He then moved to another bunker nearby and killed two more German soldiers with his submachine gun while taking three others prisoner. A third machine gun crew, watching Col. Barfoot’s methodical assault, surrendered to him. In all, 17 Germans gave themselves up to Col. Barfoot.

In retaliation, the Germans organized a counterattack on Col. Barfoot’s position, sending three tanks toward him.

Col. Barfoot grabbed a bazooka grenade launcher and stood 75 yards in front of the leading tank. His first shot stopped it in its tracks. He then killed three of the German tank crew members who had attempted to escape.

The other two tanks, witnessing the destruction, abruptly changed directions, moving away from Col. Barfoot. Returning to his platoon, he helped carry two wounded U.S. soldiers almost a mile to safety.

Commending his “Herculean efforts,” Col. Barfoot’s citation praised his “magnificent valor and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire.”

Col. Barfoot served in the Korean War and later in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. His other military decorations included the Silver Star; two awards of the Legion of Merit; the Bronze Star; three awards of the Purple Heart; and 11 awards of the Air Medal.

So, Virginians, would it inconvenience you much to fly your U.S. flags today — in honor of Col. Van T. Barfoot, as well as in honor of your state’s entry into the Union?

What do we do to deserve the loyalty and service of such men?


Early history of EPA: Pesticides regulation and DDT

June 24, 2015

This is an excerpt from EPA’s official shorthand history, online since the 1990s.  I include this part here, dealing with the EPA’s famous regulation of the pesticide DDT, because I refer to it and link to it in several posts — and because over three different administrations, the URL has changed several times.  I fear it will one day go dark.  Here it is for history’s sake, found on June 24, 2015 at http://www2.epa.gov/aboutepa/guardian-epas-formative-years-1970-1973#pest.

Opening to the entire piece; links to subsections go to EPA’s site:

The Guardian: EPA’s Formative Years, 1970-1973

EPA 202-K-93-002
September 1993
by Dennis C. Williams

Table of Contents

The section on DDT hearings and regulation:

Pesticides and Public Health

Unlike the air controversy, which erupted after the agency’s establishment, EPA’s creation coincided with the culmination of the public debate over DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane). A chlorinated hydrocarbon, DDT proved to be a highly effective, but extremely persistent organic pesticide. Since the 1940s, farmers, foresters, and public health officials sprayed it across the country to control pests such as Mexican boll weevils, gypsy moths, and pesky suburban mosquitoes. Widespread public opposition to DDT began with the publication of Rachel Carson’s influential Silent Spring. Reporting the effects of DDT on wildlife, Carson demonstrated that DDT not only infiltrated all areas of the ecological system, but was exponentially concentrated as it moved to higher levels in the food web. Through Carson, many citizens learned that humans faced DDT-induced risks. By 1968 several states had banned DDT use. The Environmental Defense Fund, which began as a group of concerned scientists, spearheaded a campaign to force federal suspension of DDT registration–banning its use in the United States. Inheriting Department of Agriculture (USDA) pesticide registration functions, under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) of 1964, EPA was born in the midst of the DDT storm.

In January 1971, a tribunal of the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia ordered Ruckelshaus to begin the process of suspending DDT’s registration, and to consider suspending its registration immediately. At the end of a sixty-day review process, the administrator reported that he had found no good reason to suspend DDT registration immediateIy. It and several other pesticides–including 2, 4, 5-T (Agent Orange), Dieldrin, Aldrin, and Mirex–did not appear to constitute imminent health threats. This action infuriated many environmentalists.

By 1971, the Environmental Defense Fund had mobilized effective public opposition to DDT. The furor created by Ruckelshaus’s refusal to stop DDT use prompted many to look for sinister political motivations. Some suggested that Mississippi Congressman Jamie Whitten had used his position as chairman of the agricultural appropriations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee to make Ruckelshaus conform to the interests of the agrichemical lobby. While actually, Ruckelshaus took his cautious stance for less menacing reasons.

At its creation, EPA not only inherited the function of pesticide registration from USDA, but also the staff that served that function. The USDA economic entomologists who designed the pesticide registration process in the first place preached the advantages of effective pesticides and minimized discussion of debatable health risks. The same staff that had backed USDA Secretary Clifford Hardin’s earlier claim that DDT was not “an imminent hazard to human health or to fish and wildlife” 8 provided Ruckelshaus with the same counsel.

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring led to banning DDT and other pesticides.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring led to banning DDT and other pesticides.

Between March 1971 and June 1972, American newspapers reported both sides of the pesticide debate. Some articles recalled the glory days when pesticides saved thousands of lives in World War II; how they had increased agricultural productivity and allowed relatively few farmers to feed the world’s growing population; and how the most besieged insecticides, such as DDT and Mirex, had little human toxicity. Other journalists praised alternative approaches to pest management such as biological controls (predator introduction, sterile males, and pheromone traps), integrated controls (crop rotation and carefully delimited pesticide use), and refinement of other, less persistent chemicals. Some reported the near panic of Northwestern fruit growers facing beeless, and therefore fruitless, seasons. They attributed the lack of pollinating insects to pesticide use.

Throughout the spring of 1972, Ruckelshaus reviewed the evidence EPA had collected during the agency’s hearings on DDT cancellation and the reports prepared by two DDT study groups, the Hilton and Mrak Commissions. Both studies suggested that DDT be phased out due to the chemical’s persistent presence in ecosystems and noted studies suggesting that DDT posed a carcinogenic risk to humans. In June, he followed the route already taken by several states he banned DDT application in the United States. Though unpopular among certain segments of EPA’s constituency, his decision did serve to enhance the activist image he sought to create for the agency, and without prohibitive political cost.

The DDT decision was important to EPA for several reasons. While it did not stop the debate over what constituted appropriate pesticide use, DDT demonstrated the effect public pressure could have on EPA policy decisions. It also made very visible the tightrope act a regulatory agency performs when it attempts to balance the demands for protection of human and environmental health against legitimate economic demands. Furthermore, EPA’s decision set a precedent for regulatory decision-making. As an advocate of the environment, Ruckelshaus and the agency chose to risk erring on the side of protecting human health at the expense of economic considerations–a course that would bring the agency under heavy criticism before the end of its first decade.


Chess games of the rich and famous: Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry

June 18, 2015

Fry and Laurie go back a lot farther than you may have expected.

Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry play chess in Fry’s rooms at Cambridge. Chessbase.com photo

Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry play chess in Fry’s rooms at Cambridge, 1980. Chessbase.com photo

Stephen Fry’s Wikipedia entry explains, Fry “secured a place at Queens’ College, Cambridge, where he studied English literature. While at university, Fry became involved with the Cambridge Footlights, where he met his long-time collaborator Hugh Laurie. As half of the comic double act Fry and Laurie, he co-wrote and co-starred in A Bit of Fry & Laurie, and took the role of Jeeves (with Laurie playing Wooster) in Jeeves and Wooster.”


June 15: Should we fly the flag for Arkansas statehood?

June 15, 2015

Arkansas statehood day is June 15 — Arkansas became the 25th state in 1836. Arkansas residents fly their U.S. flags today in commemoration of the event, the 179th anniversary.

U.S. and Arkansas flags fly at the State Capitol; image from the Arkansas Secretary of State.

U.S. and Arkansas flags fly at the State Capitol; image from the Arkansas Secretary of State.

But I see in news reports stories about how the actual law passed a couple of days earlier, though news didn’t get to Arkansas until about July 4.  Is June 15 the real Arkansas statehood day?

What say you, Arkansas historians? Can you explain it?

We’re flying our flags anyway, for National Flag Week, which is celebrated the week in which Flag Day occurs, June 14.

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