March 16, 1751, James Madison born

March 16, 2019

James Madison, by Walker Hancock, 1976. Statue from the James Madison Building of the Library of Congress. Architect of the Capitol photo.

James Madison’s birth on March 16, 1751, gets no attention as a federal or state holiday. Journalists usually mark the date with a week of festivities around the date, honoring Madison’s deep dedication to the principles of free press and open government, including his authoring and passing the First Amendment.

Madison’s chief notoriety comes from his work organizing the Philadelphia convention and working to ratify the U.S. Constitution — sometimes he’s called the Father of the Constitution. He also served as Secretary of State in Thomas Jefferson’s administration, and served two terms as President, including the War of 1812.

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Popular music as music history, or just plain history

February 20, 2015

Old Jules rambled on about Johnny Cash and Loudon Wainright III, and their differing versions, in different eras, of “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry.” Then discussion got into Johnny Horton.

Old Jules’s blog is always a good read.  Go see for yourself.

Cover of Jimmy Driftwood's

Cover of Jimmy Driftwood’s “Wilderness Road,” the first bluegrass and/or country album I owned; my father bought it from the remainder pile at a record distributor in the 1960s. He didn’t much like it, and it took a while to grow on me. Driftwood’s music is preserved by historians in Arkansas, now.

It got me thinking.  I posted in comments there:

Nice to find someone who remembers Johnny Horton.

My oldest brother went drinking with Horton in Twin Falls, Idaho, my brother claimed, after a performance. He was a great fan ever after.

I liked Horton’s performance on “Battle of New Orleans.” Wasn’t until the 21st century that I learned that song was written by Jimmy Driftwood, who taught 8th grade history before he turned to songwriting full time. Worse, Driftwood wrote it in the 1930s.

Thank God libraries keep old music around.

Ever hear Moby’s “Natural Blues?” Turns out he cribbed (“sampled”) the vocals from tracks Alan Lomax recorded somewhere in the South much earlier, “Trouble So Hard,” by Vera Hall.

Well, there you go.

Here’s the audio from which Moby sampled, Vera Hall singing “Trouble So Hard.”

And for the record, Jimmy Driftwood’s version of “The Battle of New Orleans.”  History teachers, do you find it accurate?  Do you use it in class?

Johnny Horton’s version, done for an 8th grade history class:


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, more than 150 miles from the ocean; Fort McHenry is not on the ocean, but across the harbor from the Orioles’ Camden Yards ballpark.
  8. The battle started in daylight. Bombardment continued for 25 hours.
  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 Francis Scott 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.

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This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

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CBS’s short history of the flag at the Battle of Baltimore, Fort McHenry, and the new replica flag

September 16, 2013

Francis Scott Key beholding the still-flying Star-spangled Banner, after the Battle of Baltimore, 1814.  1912 painting by Edgar Percy Moran, Wikipedia image.

“By Dawn’s Early Light”: Francis Scott Key beholding the still-flying Star-spangled Banner, after the Battle of Baltimore, 1814. 1912 painting by Edgar Percy Moran, Wikipedia image.

Short videos often pack a heckuva punch for history classes.  Here’s one from today’s CBS “Sunday Morning,” with Charles Osgood reporting on the creation and flying at Fort McHenry of a replica of a flag that flew there 199 years ago on September 14 — the inspiration to Francis Scott Key for his poem, “The Star-spangled Banner.”

<iframe frameborder=”0″ width=”480″ height=”270″ src=”//www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/x15schq” allowfullscreen>
Star-Spangled Banner flies again at Fort McHenry by cbsnews

Star-Spangled Banner flies again at Fort McHenry by cbsnews

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-star-spangled-banner-yet-waves-anew/

Published on Sep 15, 2013

CBS News video: Star-Spangled Banner flies again at Fort McHenry – Applying the same techniques used nearly two hundred years ago, a team of quilters created an exact replica of the flag that flew over Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812, the same flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen our national anthem. Charles Osgood reports.

This is history that most of my juniors didn’t know.  It’s not history we’re supposed to teach, but it’s history they are accountable for on Texas tests.  A short video like this one at a key spot can boost scores on the state tests — and, though I’ve not been victimized by them yet, the new end-of-course tests probably assume juniors know this stuff, too.

I hope CBS keeps this piece available for history teachers, especially through 2014 and the 200th anniversary of the battle, and Key’s writing of the poem.

[Text of CBS news story here, in case video stops working.]

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Fort McHenry today:

Aerial view of Fort McHenry, at the mouth of Baltimore Harbor, clearly show the star design that made it more defensible from ground attack. During the Battle of Baltimore, British troops were not able to land and get close to the fort.  Image from the office of the Governor of Maryland, via the National Park Service

Aerial view of Fort McHenry, at the mouth of Baltimore Harbor, clearly show the star design that made it more defensible from ground attack. During the Battle of Baltimore, British troops were not able to land and get close to the fort. Image from the office of the Governor of Maryland, via the National Park Service


Monument to brevity: Remembering William Henry Harrison

April 4, 2013

(There are a few minutes left in April 4, at least in the Central Time Zone.  Bad day for posting, here.)

William Henry Harrison died on April 4, 1841, 31 days after his inauguration as president of the United States.

Perhaps during the cold and rainy inauguration, perhaps from a well-wisher, Harrison caught a cold. The cold developed into pneumonia. The pneumonia killed him.

William Henry Harrison, circa 1813, painted by Rembrandt Peale.  Naitonal Portrait Gallery

William Henry Harrison, circa 1813, painted by Rembrandt Peale. National Portrait Gallery

Harrison, a Whig, was the first president to die in office. His vice president, John Tyler, was a converted Democrat who abandoned the Whig platform as president.

Harrison won fame pushing Indians off of lands coveted by white settlers in the Northwest Territories. Harrison defeated Tecumseh’s Shawnee tribe without Tecumseh at the Battle of Tippecanoe, then beat Tecumseh in a battle with the English in which Tecumseh died in the War of 1812.

Schoolchildren of my era learned Harrison’s election slogan: “Tippecanoe, and Tyler, too!”

Congress voted Harrison’s widow a payment of $25,000 since he had died nearly penniless. This may be the first example of a president or his survivors getting a payment from the government after leaving office.

In the annals of brief presidencies, there is likely to be none shorter than Harrison’s for a long time. As you toast him today, you can honestly say he did not overstay his White House tenure. Others could have learned from his example.

This is an encore post, from 2008; new links added.

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Walt Kelly: “met the enemy, and he is us”

April 23, 2011

Walt Kelly's Pogo cartoon, from Earth Day 1971

Walt Kelly's Pogo daily cartoon strip, from Earth Day 1971

Walt Kelly’s little cartoon possum Pogo turned out to have been a sage observer, and adviser, for much of the 20th century.  This classic cartoon, on the second Earth Day, in 1971, well summarizes the problems of pollution, making historical allusion to that famous message from Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry after the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812:  “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

It is a mark of what the internet lacks that I could find just one quick copy of this cartoon on my first search.  All of Kelly’s work should be available, but it’s largely missing from internet searches.  I’m sure this is still under copyright, but I haven’t yet found the information.

_____________

Oh, of course:  The line is too good to have been used just once.  Kelly used the idea for the quote in the forward to a book in the 1950s, and used it on a poster for the first Earth Day.  The famous comic strip followed in 1971.


Star-spangled voodoo history

July 16, 2009

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.

(Hey, Dear Reader; this post got an update many months later — you may want to check it out for better links and more information.)

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 cannot 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:

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