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.


Misquoting the founders, still: Jefferson didn’t say banking is the end of America

May 20, 2015

He may have believed something similar, but Jefferson did not say this:

Quote, maybe edited, falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson; gathered from Twitter, 2015

Quote, maybe edited, falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson; gathered from Twitter, 2015

I’m not sure who originated the poster.  They probably had good intentions.

But turn to the Monticello website, the scholars who track Jefferson’s words most closely, in February 2012.

Quotation: “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

Sources consulted:

  1. Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Digital Edition
  2. Thomas Jefferson: Papers collection in Hathi Trust Digital Library
  3. Retirement Papers

Earliest known appearance in print: 19941

Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Thomas Jefferson: see above

Status:  This exact quotation has not been found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson.  It may be a mistaken amalgamation of the author’s comments in the above 1994 reference with a real Jefferson quotation.  Jefferson wrote in 1825 to William Branch Giles of “vast accession of strength from their younger recruits, who having nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76 now look to a single and splendid government of an Aristocracy, founded on banking institutions and monied in corporations under the guise and cloak of their favored branches of manufactures commerce and navigation, riding and ruling over the plundered ploughman and beggared yeomanry.”2  Chomsky’s 1994 book quotes Jefferson’s 1825 letter to Giles and then comments that “[Jefferson] warned that that would be the end of democracy and the defeat of the American revolution.”

Jefferson didn’t like the idea of the marriage of banks, rich people and control of government policy.  Jefferson scholar Anna Berkes commented at the Monticello site:

Yes, I’ve quoted this letter myself above – I’m seeing that quote a lot lately. The full sentence as it appeared in Jefferson’s letter is, “I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and to bid defiance to the laws of their country.” The letter was first published in Ford’s Writings of Thomas Jefferson in 1892 (see http://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t3pv6bn68?urlappend=%3Bseq=93 – the edition you link to is a 1904 commemorative edition of Ford), and the polygraph copy is also online: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.mss/mtj.mtjbib022651.

Anna Berkes
February 29, 2012 – 4:24pm

In any case, it’s not the end of our democratic republic yet! Get out there and organize, and vote.

Jefferson always offered good advice.

Jefferson's advice on quotes found on the internet

Jefferson’s advice on quotes found on the internet


Quote of the moment: H. L. Mencken, on Christians and Christianity, and trouble

May 18, 2015

Stolen wholesale from WIST:

The trouble with Communism is the Communists, just as the trouble with Christianity is the Christians.

HL Mencken2H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) American writer and journalist [Henry Lewis Mencken]
“Mr. Mencken Sounds Off,” interview, LIFE Magazine (5 Aug 1946)

You recall, Mencken was the guy who wrote the Millard Fillmore Bathtub hoax in the first place, right?

Mencken held forth in Baltimore, a city that could probably use a newspaper columnist with Mencken’s ability to find corruption and fault in most good things — just to make people think.

You may disagree with Mr. Mencken, of course.  But if you do, tell us in comments:  What do YOU think the trouble with Christianity is?

Found on eBay: H. L. Mencken in bronze, as a bookend -- with a stein of beer and the Statute of Liberty.  Asking $595 for it.

Found on eBay: H. L. Mencken in bronze, as a bookend — with a stein of beer and the Statute of Liberty. Asking $595 for it. Beer and liberty. Mencken probably would have approved. How many of these were made? By whom?


Quote of the moment: Calvin Coolidge, on building America: “Look to service, not selfishness”

March 3, 2015

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States (elected vice president in 1920, and succeeding to the presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding).  History.com image

Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States (elected vice president in 1920, and succeeding to the presidency upon the death of Warren G. Harding). History.com image

Referring to progress in the U.S. after World War I, Coolidge said:

With peace has come prosperity. Burdens have been great, but the strength to bear them has been greater. The condition of those who toil is higher, better, more secure than in all the ages past. Out of the darkness of a great conflict has appeared the vision, nearer, clearer than ever before, of a life on earth less and less under the deadening restraint of force, more and more under the vitalizing influence of reason. Moral power has been triumphing over physical power. With peace has come prosperity. Burdens have been great, but the strength to bear them has been greater. The condition of those who toil is higher, better, more secure than in all the ages past. Out of the darkness of a great conflict has appeared the vision of a nearer, clearer than ever before, the  [of] life on earth less and less under the deadening restraint of force, more and more under the vitalizing influence of reason. Moral power has been triumphing over physical power. Education will tend to bring reason and experience of the past into the solution of the problems of the future. We must look to service and not selfishness, for service is the foundation of progress. The greatest lesson that we have to learn is to seek ever the public welfare, to build up, to maintain our American heritage.

Candidate for vice president Calvin Coolidge, “America and the War,” 1920

Digging a little deeper, I discover that the first part of this quote also appeared in Coolidge’s Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 27, 1919, when he was  Governor of Massachusetts.  Knowing a good turn of words when he wrote it (I’m assuming he didn’t have ghost writers then), he used the same words in making phonograph recordings of speeches to be distributed in the election campaign of 1920, before radio was available to carry speeches to voters.  I have made minor corrections in the transcript, from the earlier text and the audio delivery.

According to Talking History, the 78 rpm record and audio version were saved and made available by the Library of Congress.

You may want to listen to Coolidge say the words himself. Mp3  RealPlayer


Quote of the moment: FDR on government shutdowns

February 24, 2015

One wag, who didn’t want to discuss things after all, referred me to President Franklin Roosevelt’s message to the National Federal of Federal Employees (NFFE), of August 16, 1937 (from the American Presidency Project at the University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB)).  The wag asked me to confess that FDR was anti-union, and that Wisconsin Gov. Scott “Ahab” Walker had acted in Roosevelt’s path in Walker’s assaults on the unions of policemen, firefighters and teachers in Wisconsin.

I demurred, and pointed out instead that Walker went after the unions despite their having NOT struck, that Walker refused to bargain in good faith, or bargain at all.  I pointed out that Walker had failed in his duty, in the view of FDR.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1936 (Checking to see whether, when and where FDR said that; Robert Reich says he did.)

It’s a good way to send wags packing on Twitter, I’ve learned.  They don’t like to read or think, and they certainly don’t want anyone pointing out that they may have misinterpreted something. Anything.

NFFE had invited Roosevelt to speak at their Twentieth Jubilee Convention; Roosevelt sent a letter declining the invitation. In declining, Roosevelt noted he opposed strikes by government employees.  No doubt there is more history there that deserves our attention.  We can get to it later.

Here’s the meat of FDR’s letter:

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that “under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government.”

What do you think Roosevelt would have made of the current and last “do nothing” GOP blocs in Congress?  (Or should we say “blocks?”)

Doesn’t this describe Republicans in Congress today?

” . . . intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.”

Is it too much to ask Republicans in Congress to be at least as loyal to the U.S. as the unionized government employees who pledged not to shut down the government?

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Quote of the moment: Gen. Patton’s oddly non-profane explanation of profanity

February 18, 2015

Lt. Gen. George Patton with the signal corps, July 11th 1943, Sicily. (General George Patton Museum) - See more at: http://ww2today.com/10th-august-1943-general-george-s-patton-slaps-another-soldier#sthash.dVuHaPeg.dpuf

Lt. Gen. George Patton with the signal corps, July 11th 1943, Sicily. (General George Patton Museum) – See more at: http://ww2today.com/10th-august-1943-general-george-s-patton-slaps-another-soldier#sthash.dVuHaPeg.dpuf

  • When I want my men to remember something important, to really make it stick, I give it to them double dirty. It may not sound nice to some bunch of little old ladies at an afternoon tea party, but it helps my soldiers to remember. You can’t run an army without profanity; and it has to be eloquent profanity. An army without profanity couldn’t fight its way out of a piss-soaked paper bag. … As for the types of comments I make, sometimes I just, By God, get carried away with my own eloquence.
    • Remark to his nephew about his copious profanity, quoted in “The Unknown Patton” (1983) by Charles M. Province, p. 184 (here, via Wikiquote)

One:

One glorious summer, after a couple of months of Scouting, I signed on to do air pollution research for several weeks in the field, in and around Farmington, New Mexico.  Hours were long, and the driving between sampling sites was more than 120 miles a day, between Farmington and Teec Nos Pos, Arizona.  Driving through the desert, passing the Shiprock every day, is rough duty, but somebody had to do it.

My mother’s brother, Harry Stewart, lived in Farmington.  Weekends I was royally dined and liquored, and got the opportunity to meet Uncle Harry’s friends, who included C. M. Woodbury, then city manager of Farmington.  Woodbury’s exploits on the golf course provided constant entertainment.  His opinions about having to measure air pollution from the Four Corners Power Plant and the then-under-construction San Juan Generating Station gave me great insight into local views on regional and national issues, as the Clean Air Act wended its way through Congress.

Woodbury had been an aide of some sort to General George Patton in Europe, as I understood it.  Sadly, I never did get back to Farmington to debrief him in detail about World War II, a loss of information that still stings from time to time.  I think he was with the 752nd Tank BattalionWoodbury retired in 1976.

The movie, Patton, still played in theaters, and one Sunday, over dinner, conversation turned to great leadership and whether I thought Patton was such a leader.  I hadn’t seen the movie.  I didn’t know much about Patton.  I asked what a definition of a good leader might be.  Uncle Harry and Woodbury settled on this criterion:  A good leader is someone whose followers will go to hell and back for her, or him.  Why did Patton inspire that sort of followership, I asked.

Woodbury rambled on about Patton getting gasoline for his tanks and trucks on a run through German lines that became legendary, and was portrayed in the movie.  He talked about how Patton’s troops always could count on a good, warm meal when they got a break from battle.  He talked about how proud every soldier was to be a part of that unit under Patton’s command.  He stopped, his eyes welled up and a tear, or maybe more, rolled down his cheek.

“We would have gone to hell for Patton because we knew he would have gone to hell for us. And he did.”

William Manchester once noted that, in battle, soldiers don’t die for great causes.  They fight to defend and save the friend to the right and the friend to the left.

It would have been interesting to know Patton.

Two:

We moved to Texas in 1987. Texas is a culture shock, I think, regardless where one comes from, even sometimes if one comes from Texas.  We moved directly from Cheverly, Maryland, outside of Washington, D.C.

Describing the conservative, goody-two-shoes aspects of Texas culture of that time can’t be done in shorthand.  A couple of examples:  Duncanville at the time had about 35,000 residents, and 44 churches.  Bordering Duncanville were three or five megachurches, among the largest in the nation, which drew heavily from Duncanville residents.  It was rare to meet someone who wouldn’t ask early in any conversation, “And where do you go to church?” A great, personal and close relationship to Jesus is expected to be a feature of any “normal” person’s life in Texas.  The day I drove out of Utah, I remember thinking as I rose above the fog heading up Parley’s Canyon that I would probably never again live in a place where it was so difficult to get a drink with dinner.  Then we moved to Texas.  On the surface, and often below the surface, Texans worked hard (and still do) to demonstrate that they are straighter than Mormons, and blessed because of their lack of sinning.  We don’t need to get into the ironies and incongruities of country music, Dallas culture and other now-well-identified sins of the Bible Belt.

Let’s just say, profanity was not something one publicly assented to.

I came down here to work with American Airlines, which was headed at the time by Robert Crandall.  Crandall’s use of profanity was legendary among AA executives and workers — executives, especially.  Crandall ran a tight operation with high expectations of worker achievement, especially in competition with other airlines.  “Competitive anger,” Crandall called it — and he expected all employees to demonstrate that, in appropriate, customer-serving, money-making ways.  Failures were noted, and often enough one might expect to be in a meeting with Crandall where an explanation of how and why things went wrong would be cut off with an expletive-filled dressing down that both made the victim subject understand the nature and severity of the error and pledge never to make that nor any other error ever again.

Talking about these events later, witnesses almost never said anything about the profanity.  Living in Texas where profanity was thought to make even strong men faint and swoon, Crandall’s expletives were considered instead indications of the importance of his thought, and speech, and markers that he was to be listened to.  I remember one young MBA rattled by the profanity; he left the company within a few weeks, and he wasn’t even the subject of the discussion.  But among others, especially successful managers and executives, discussion of content of meetings focused on the subject of the meetings, what was said about that subject, with unconscious excising of the profanity.

One famous meeting involved cutting costs, and the subject was security for a warehouse in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Complaints about the cost for security the previous year led the local manager to beef up fences, get rid of the security company, and get dogs to roam the area at night.  Crandall pushed harder, and discussion turned to whether it would be even cheaper than dog food to get a sound system that would randomly play the sounds of big, vicious dogs’ barking instead.  I wasn’t in that meeting, but I heard several different accounts, all of them noting the boss’s exploration of options others might not think of, and how hard it was to please him — but not one story that included any comment about profanity, which I learned had laced the entire episode and probably made it memorable to everyone within earshot. And so they’d retell it. A remarkable piece of effective corporate communication.

How does one gauge when and whether profanity is necessary, or effective, in communication?

In one project, we videotaped Crandall talking on company issues and what he expected in the leaders the company hired as managers.  In several hours of video, I don’t recall a single time we had to retape, or edit, any profanity out.  Crandall turned off the profanity when it might pose a problem.  People who know him outside the company often express surprise that he’d ever use such language.

I sometimes wondered if Crandall was a reincarnation of Patton in at least some small way.  But Crandall was born in 1935, and Patton died in 1945.  Reincarnation is not the answer.

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Quote of the moment, for politics at the end of 2014: Ebenezer Scrooge, “darkness is cheap”

December 23, 2014

Roberto Innocenti, Scrooge on a dark staircase

Ebenezer Scrooge, up a dark staircase; “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” Illustration by Roberto Innocenti, via HornRimmedMagpie

Quote of the moment (an encore post for the season, with a bit of context thrown in later):

Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1

I think of that line of Dickens’s often when  I read of the celebrations of calumny that pass as discourse in Republican politics these days. Although, with the 2008 renewing of Limbaugh’s contract, it may no longer be true that his particular brand of darkness is cheap.

Cheap or not, darkness remains dark.

John Leach, Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want

Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want, the products of his stinginess (drawing by John Leech, 1809-1870)

 

Drawing by John Leech (1809-1870), to illustrate Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Work in the public domain (available at WikiSource).

Here is the sentence Dickens put before the quote, to add a little context; Scrooge was climbing a very large, very dark staircase.

Half-a-dozen gas-lamps out of the street wouldn’t have lighted the entry too well, so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge’s dip.

Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.

Speaking of darkness, a longer excerpt from Dickens’s story:

‘Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,’ said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, ‘but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?’

‘It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,’ was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. ‘Look here.’

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

‘Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!’ exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

‘Spirit! are they yours?’ Scrooge could say no more.

‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!’

‘Have they no refuge or resource?’ cried Scrooge.

‘Are there no prisons?’ said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses?’ The bell struck twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.

A Christmas Carol, Stave 3

Christmas is a festival to celebrate light, what many Christians call “the light of the world?” If so, let us work to stamp out the darkness which the unrepentant Scrooge so dearly loved.

Darkness may be cheap, but it is not good.  Light a candle, and run into the darkness, spreading light. We need more light.

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