George Washington: No military junta, no king; an example we can all follow

December 23, 2016

This is a mostly encore post, emphasizing George Washington’s astounding ability to draw from history just exactly the right lesson, and then set the example that makes history.

Washington, though having never attended college, was an inveterate reader, and a sharp student of history.  Early he read the story of the great Roman, Cincinnatus, who made the Roman Republic great with his refusal to lust for power.  Cincinnatus twice was named Dictator, and both times resigned the commission rather than personally profit as others did — after saving Rome both times, of course.

In his own life, Washington also twice cast off the mantle of top leader, once when he resigned his commission as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army when so many assumed he would just keep on, and add the title of “King of America;” and the second time when, as president, he stepped aside and retired, leaving the leadership of the nation up to the Constitutional processes that had never before been tried successfully in any nation.

Washington’s resignation from the army command came on December 23, 1783 — such an important anniversary usually gets lost in preparations for Christmas, so I’ll post it a bit early.  In your holiday toasts, lift a glass to George Washington, who gave us civilian rule, an end to monarchy, and an example of responsible leadership making way for peaceful succession.

In 2007, I wrote:

On December 23, 1783, Commander of the Continental Army, Gen. George Washington resigned his commission, to the Continental Congress sitting in Annapolis, Maryland. Washington modeled his actions on the life of Roman general and patriot Cincinnatus. (See especially this site, the Society of the Cincinnati)

 

John Trumbull painting of Washington resigning his commission

John Trumbull’s painting of Washington resigning his commission; one of eight great paintings hanging in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol

Washington had been thought to be in a position to take over the government and declare himself king, if he chose. Instead, at some cost to himself he personally put down a rebellion of the officers of the army who proposed a coup d’etat against the Continental Congress, angered that they had not been paid. Washington quietly asked that the men act honorably and not sully the great victory they had won against Britain. Then Washington reviewed the army, wrapped up affairs, journeyed to Annapolis to resign, and returned to his farm and holdings at Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Because Washington could have turned into a tyrant, it is reported that King George III of England, upon hearing the news of Washington’s resignation, refused to believe it. If the report were true, George is reported to have said, Washington was the greatest man who ever lived.

Washington’s resignation set precedent: Civilian government controlled the military; Americans served, then went back to their private lives and private business; Americans would act nobly, sometimes when least expected.

From the Library of Congress American Memory site, “Today in History”:

George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army on December 23, 1783, in the senate chamber of the Maryland State House in Annapolis, where the Continental Congress was then meeting.

Although the British had recognized American independence with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, British troops did not evacuate New York until December 4. After the last British ships left the harbor, Washington bid an emotional farewell to his officers and set out for Annapolis. On the journey south he was met with throngs of well-wishers paying him tribute for his role in the nation’s military victory over Great Britain.

Washington left Annapolis at dawn on December 24 and set out for Mount Vernon, his plantation on the Potomac River in Virginia. He arrived home before nightfall on Christmas Eve, a private citizen for the first time in almost nine years.

The Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis.

The Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis.

Maryland State House, Annapolis, Maryland
William Henry Jackson, photographer, circa 1892.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920

When Washington visited The Maryland State House in 1783, the structure was incomplete and suffered from a leaking roof. By 1786, when representatives from Maryland and Virginia meeting at the State House rallied support for the movement to remedy defects in the Articles of Confederation, construction of a new dome had begun. Today, the building begun in 1772 is the oldest state house still in legislative use.

Located at the mouth of the Severn River on the Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis was settled in 1649 by Puritans who moved there from Virginia. The town was known in the seventeenth century as Town of Proctor’s, Town at the Severn, and Anne Arundel Town before it was named for Queen Anne in 1695. It is home to the U.S. Naval Academy and to St. John’s College, founded in 1696.

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

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

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Remember April 19, 1775: Battle at Concord Bridge

April 19, 2016

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. The phrase, “shot heard ’round the world,” was first heard on July 4, 1837, at the dedication of the Concord monument.

More:

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

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


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

April 18, 2016

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

Teachers, you may want to get copies of the poems for your U.S. history and literature classes.
I like to go through the poem again on the anniversary of the event, with students taking one verse each. It builds vocabulary (try it, you’ll see), and it gives an opportunity to discuss how history threads run long; this poem was written in 1860, when the “hour of darkness and peril” was a different war, not against Britain, and not concentrated along the nation’s Atlantic coast.

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.

American history does not have a rude bridge at Concord commemorated, without the ride of the patriots the night before to warn the colonists. Though its history may run aft agly, “Paul Revere’s Ride” celebrates particular characteristics of Americans who make history.

Plus, 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.

Was there a time when poetry inspired a nation to save itself?

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 »


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 »


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