Monday, January 21, 2013

Celebrating the Life of Martin Luther King Jr

For most people it is fairly easy to remember this day each year as kids are home from school and the post office is not delivering. However the holiday goes by for many without reflecting on the purpose. Martin Luther King Jr is one of the most influential individuals in American if not World history. His work toward social equality in the nation was vitally important and key step toward "this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'" (King, "I Have A Dream" Speech, 1963) The following timeline of his life was brought to my attention by the people at I was more than happy to share it when I saw how simple and visually appealling it was and hope that everyone will share it with friends and family in an attempt to better educate the citizens of this country on this great man who impacted this great nation.

MLK Infographic

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Best Inaugural Addresses in U.S. History

Every January 20th someone is set to take the oath of office as President of the United States and as our country looks to this individual for guidance and direction for our country and we look toward their inaugural address to help us understand what direction we will be heading. Over the past couple centuries the citizens of this country and the world have heard many speeches and many of them say the same basic things we hear from all great politicians. However there are seven inaugural addresses that stand out among all others, both because of circumstances by which they were given and the individual who delivered them. As always I have placed these in chronological order rather than any specific order of importance.

1) George Washington - First Inaugural Address - 1789: The inauguration address is not something mandated by the constitution or any law, it was something created, and like many other Executive Branch traditions, our first President of the United States George Washington is who to thank. Washington was not much for giving speeches and shied away from them at all costs however it is no surprise he recognized his new role and stepped up to give direction and understanding of what to expect. You must place yourself in the time period and realize that many people in the world saw absolute power corrupt absolutely and anyone who takes the reigns of power in a country usually takes advantage of that power. Washington's first inaugural address conveyed a humble attitude toward taking on such an important task that the "voice of my country" had given him. He knew he had to easy the people minds that the revolution was not fought for no reason. He was holding fast to the guides of the Constitution and even mentions the need for the passage of the Bill of Rights. He spoke about, "the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people." Truly there was no one greater at this time in our country to take on the task of being our first leader, our President then George Washington. 

2) Thomas Jefferson - First Inaugural Address - 1801: The election of 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson has gone down in history as one of the bitterest, most divisive in American history. As Jefferson came to the podium on March 4, 1801 he was President of a country whose government changed hands from Federalist control to Republicans and the people were deeply divided politically. Jefferson knew this transfer of power must be handled carefully or the Union could fall apart. 
"But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. I know, indeed, that some honest men fear that a republican government can not be strong, that this Government is not strong enough; but would the honest patriot, in the full tide of successful experiment, abandon a government which has so far kept us free and firm on the theoretic and visionary fear that this Government, the world's best hope, may by possibility want energy to preserve itself? I trust not. I believe this, on the contrary, the strongest Government on earth. I believe it the only one where every man, at the call of the law, would fly to the standard of the law, and would meet invasions of the public order as his own personal concern. Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question."
Jefferson's speech was the first real inaugural speech to receive widespread public attention and set a precedent for the style in which future Presidents would follow. Jefferson's speech helped in healing the bitter feelings which came about thanks to the election. 

3) Abraham Lincoln - Second Inaugural Address - 1865: The Civil War had ravaged this country for four years and the end was finally in sight. Abraham Lincoln had won reelection and now the need for reconciliation was paramount to the future of our reunited nation. He knew that the burden of reuniting this broken country rested on his shoulders and with that in mind delivered his most important speech. 
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the fight as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
"Despite being in a position of great strength, Lincoln 'held out the olive branch to the defeated Confederacy at a time when very many people in the North were vowing to exact vengeance,' said H.W. Brands, a professor of history and government at the University of Texas at Austin" (CBCNews, Retrieved 1/18/2012) Sadly Lincoln would not be able to fulfill that peace and bring this country's pain to a quick and decisive end. One month later Lincoln was assassinated and the job of mending the country's wounds fell to his ill-equipped Vice-President Andrew Johnson.   

4) Theodore Roosevelt - Only Inaugural Address - 1905: One of the great and most fiery orators in our nation's history, TR only was given one opportunity for an inaugural address as his first term as President was not due to an election but rather the death of President William McKinley. As the twentieth century was dawning the United States was stepping into a new position on the world stage, as a global leader. TR recognized this and believed it the United States' responsibility to step willingly into this role. It was a new era for American politics and you can see that in his inaugural address.  
"Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither. We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with the other nations of the earth, and we must behave as beseems a people with such responsibilities. Toward all other nations, large and small, our attitude must be one of cordial and sincere friendship. We must show not only in our words, but in our deeds, that we are earnestly desirous of securing their good will by acting toward them in a spirit of just and generous recognition of all their rights. But justice and generosity in a nation, as in an individual, count most when shown not by the weak but by the strong. While ever careful to refrain from wrongdoing others, we must be no less insistent that we are not wronged ourselves. We wish peace, but we wish the peace of justice, the peace of righteousness. We wish it because we think it is right and not because we are afraid. No weak nation that acts manfully and justly should ever have cause to fear us, and no strong power should ever be able to single us out as a subject for insolent aggression."
Theodore Roosevelt's speech was one of the first to ever highlight the importance of foreign affairs. The speech demonstrates the transition this country was going through in the early twentieth century and how a leader like TR was willing and able to help this nation move in the right direction. 

5) Franklin D. Roosevelt - First Inaugural Address - 1933: Few economic crises in the world could possibly match that of the Great Depression which was sparked by the stock market crash of 1929. FDR's voice at this time was not one of an economic guru, banker, or long-time politician but rather as a father speaking to his children. As the nation was facing the most difficult economic situation it has ever seen, FDR was there to reassure his children, the American people, that he was there to help. He spoke of how with a little trust in him this economic crisis could be solved. 
"This is a day of national consecration. And I am certain that on this day my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days."
Franklin Roosevelt was seeking a new kind of Presidency as he was facing a new kind of crisis. He spoke of seeking "broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency" and demanded "action and action now." Reporters wrote of tears streaming down the face's of those in attendance as his speech ended. Before people in the country saw little hope for the country's future however FDR was going to be the savior of America. 

6) John F Kennedy - Only Inaugural Speech - 1961: The election of John F Kennedy marked the beginning of a new era, a new generation was stepping into the presidency and the old was stepping away. Although it was not the first inaugural event televised, Harry S Truman's was actually the first, it was the first which captured the nation's attention, as a young energetic President who wanted the word to "go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage - and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world." Kennedy was now the leader of the free-world, the spokesman for democracy and he had to at this moment make sure Communist Russia understood his position of strength and resolve. Refusing to wear an overcoat despite the bitter cold temperatures, JFK challenged the nation to step up as a society in order to create a better tomorrow. 

"In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."
Many try to tout Kennedy as this great champion for liberal Democrats however his rhetoric is much more conservative in thought. Kennedy's appeal lies in his conviction of right and wrong not partisan politics. At times he seemed like a conservative and then on the other hand he called himself a liberal. Kennedy shows in his inaugural speech that he speaks for the American people as a guardian of freedom and liberty which no other form of government will ever be allowed to take away here or anywhere else in this world. This inaugural address was meant not just for the American people but for all democratic nations in the world. 

7) Ronald Reagan - First Inaugural Address - 1981: Since the death of Kennedy in 1963 the United States was having difficultly in trusting their leaders. Johnson led the country into the Vietnam War, Nixon left office in disgrace, Ford was an un-elected President, and Carter was... well he was Jimmy Carter and at the end of his term we were in a deep economic crisis. In steps in the cowboy, Ronald Reagan, a former actor, and a man who is both genuine in what he says and charismatic in how he says it. Expectation were pretty high for Reagan who was known for giving an excellent speech, and he did not disappoint. He laid out his agenda for the country and put everyone on notice that a "new beginning" had arrived. 
"The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades. They will not go away in days, weeks, or months, but they will go away. They will go away because we as Americans have the capacity now, as we've had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom. In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden. The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price."

You would almost assume that listening to his perspective on government his plan was to do away with the federal government altogether however it was completely the opposite. "It's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work - work with us, not over us; to stand by our side; not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it." Reagan  believed that since the days of the New Deal the federal government was taking on too much responsibility to solve the problems in society and it resulted in the economic crisis they were in. Reagan inspired a country who had not been inspired much since Kennedy. 

All these Presidents had one thing in common that sets them above the rest, charisma. This trait allowed them to speak to the heart of the American people all during an important epoch in our nations history. However these speeches were only the first step, they then had to execute. All these men saw their daunting task ahead of them and immortalized their legacy not in these great inaugural speeches but the actions they took while in office. Fancy speeches come and go but the deeds by which you are judge will last from here to eternity. We should thank God for having been provided these men at the right time in history to lead us into a new stage or a new era of our country that in the wrong hands could have led us to ruin. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

John Adams' Note on the Gaspee Affair

I've mentioned this before but John Adams is in my top five favorite Presidents so anytime I see him in the news it peaks my interest. Thanks to Boston 1775 I found John Adams is making the news with a recently discovered letter of his dated December 26, 1772 which is being auctioned today. The note reads:

“Boston Dec 26 1772 We are all in a fury here about the Dependency of the governor and the Dependency of the Judges, the Commission for trying the Rhode Islanders for Burning the Gaspee. I wonder how your Colony happens to sleep so securely in a whole skin, when her sisters are so worried and tormented!I am with much respect your old Friend& humble servant
JOHN ADAMSWM ELLIOT+ The Fools call it the Independency of the Gov[erno]r, Judges etc”
Adams is referring to a significant event in our path to revolution and independence that often gets overlooked. The HMS Gaspee had been patroling off the coast of Rhode Island for some time boarding vessels and confiscating cargo without recourse or reason. Anger throughout the Rhode Island area was growing so when the ship ran aground on June 9, 1772, as a result of a local vessel baiting the ship into shallow water, the people had their chance for revenge. As news spread quickly to Providence a plot was hatched to loot and burn the ship. Fifty-five men led by John Brown arrived at the HMS Gaspee, came aboard and captured the crew and captain; leaving them on shore to watch as the ship was looted and burned. In the article by John Howell from the Warwick Beacon local historian Henry Brown explained the nature of the letter. "“I believe this note from John Adams to William Elliot was in response and in part to the announcement to appoint a commission... to inquire into the destruction of the Gaspee.” Adams was obviously not a big fan of this commission being formed to possibly try the men who burned the Gaspee. In reality the local courts showed no favor toward the Royal Navy and especially the captain for his previous actions and no member of the attack was ever convicted.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

History in Film: The Conspirator

Since getting Netflix last month I have had the opportunity of watching tons of movies I have not seen. This has afforded me the opportunity again to starting reviewing historically focused films. Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Robert Redford "The Conspirator" was a compelling movie about the trial of Mary Surratt who in real life was convicted for conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln. The movie focuses on Frederick Aiken the attorney who was assigned to defend her in front of a military court.

Frederick Aiken was a Union soldier and lawyer who was pushed by U.S. Senator from Maryland Reverdy Johnson to represent Mary Surratt. Despite his protests Aiken continued with the trial and although he originally felt contempt for Mary Surratt, he soon had compassion for her and although he was never sure of her innocent he believed she deserved a fair trial. The movie seemed to assume that Mary Surratt was being falsely accused and was clearly innocent. As I watch these types of movies I always have to remind myself that they are trying to make money off this film, a villain has be created to fight the hero. Watching the trial frustrates you at times because of how they seem to have predetermined her fate without hearing any real evidence. You end up actually hating the military commission who is in charge of the trial. You especially begin to hate Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, played by Kevin Kline. Kline is easily one of my favorite actors and he shows why in this film. His portrayal of Stanton captured what many in the North where thinking and feeling about any even closely associated with the assassination of Lincoln. Through some various research I believe this film did a great job at historical accuracy about the story of Surratt's trial. The film also did a wonderful job at placing you in the time period, making you believe you were in the nineteenth century.

This is actually the first major film completed by the American Film Company whose goal is to create appealing films that hold on to historical accuracy at the same time. This can be a difficult task in today's film watching public but "The Conspirator" actually does a great job at doing both. I look forward to more of their films in the future. I encourage you to read a review written in HNN (History News Network). It highlights AHA (American Historical Association) members who screened the film and gave their thoughts on its entertainment factor and historical accuracy. One thing that is brought up that I adamantly disagree with is there argument that the film lacked accuracy when it failed to mention slavery anywhere within the film. What they seem to be missing is that this is a small story within a much greater context that is the Civil War. Slavery was a major factor in the conflict however telling this story the way they did does no take away from big picture. It does not make people simply forget about slavery and the horrors it comes with. Just because I tell someone a funny story about something that happened to me does not mean I have to mention my one-year old son randomly in the conversation. He is one of the most important things in my life but I do not have to insert him in every topic I bring up to prove that. His importance in my life is not diminished, even slightly. Overall I it's a great article that highlights the historical accuracy of the film and how pleased most of the members were with its outcome.

Entertainment Value - 3.5 out of 5
Historical Accuracy - 4.5 out of 5

Friday, January 11, 2013

Worst Flu Outbreaks in World History

It seems to happen every year in the fall and winter months here in the United States, sickness. The realization that the common cold effects everyone this time of year is obvious, and we do everything humanly possible to prevent our cold from getting worse. The flu seems to break itself open at some point every year and no matter how affordable or easily accessible the flu vaccine is the outbreak still seems to occur. Typical years we hear very little about the flu outside our local school systems and neighbors commenting on how it's "getting around." Then, every once in a while the news reports on a major outbreak spreading throughout the country; the death toll in young children and the elderly climbing, and doctors offices and hospitals inundated with visits for medication and treatment. National Flu Outbreak 2013

These pandemics historically occur three to five times every century since around the sixteenth century with some of them fairly mild and others far more severe. Many people claim the first ever flu epidemic was recorded by Hippocrates in the fifth century B.C. "According to Chamseru however, a French physician in the eighteenth century, the 'Cough of Perinthus', as Hippocrates called it, could have encompassed several diseases." (Martin and Martin-Grenel, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol 12, No 6, June 2006, p 978) Which means that it probably was not an influenza breakout but rather multiple types of diseases spreading through the region. The next recorded instance of influenza, or simply called the flu, occurred in 212 B.C. by the historian Livy, who claimed an infectious disease spread through the Roman Army. A famous sixteenth century doctor known as John Keys was the first to create a detailed description of flu, which he called 'Sweating Sickness.' (Avian Birds Flu, As the definition of influenza and its known symptoms become public knowledge we can begin to examine our first ever truly recorded pandemic of the flu. This list was compiled based on a full list of flu pandemics that have occurred in history. Based on various lists that were found from various sources I narrowed it down to simply 7 of the Worst Flu Outbreaks in History.

1) The First Recorded Flu Epidemic of 1580 - The word Influenza comes the Italian phrase "influenze del freddo" or "Influence of the Cold" in English. This phrase was first developed during the outbreak that occurred in 1580. There is not a lot of reliable information available on this flu epidemic other than to say that is started somewhere in Asia Minor and spread to Africa, Europe and eventually the New World. The spread of the virus however can possibly be attributed to Spanish troops sent by Philip II to fight the Dutch. (Pyle, The Diffusion of Influenza, p. 24). It is believed that only about one twentieth of the population avoided infection.

2) The Westward Moving Flu of 1781-1782 - The emergence of Russia in European affairs thanks to Peter I is believed to have been one of the leading reasons why this flu spread so quickly in the eighteenth century. It is believed the flu originated there or possibly in Far East Asia around early 1781, however because of Peter I efforts to expand relations, communication, and transportation to Europe the flu found a quick route to the rest of the world. It is believed that nearly three fourths of Europe was infected within the first eight months of 1782. Some historians believe that although the sickness was minor those with respiratory problems had greater difficultly and the death toll is therefore possibly in the hundreds of thousands. (Hays, Epidemics and Pandemics, p. 171) 

3) The Russian Flu of 1889 - As the transportation revolution spread throughout the world and railroads stretch across continents the speed by which influenza spread grew faster as well. In the spring of 1889 a new influenza virus began around central Asia or Ruusia. By the fall and winter of 1889-1890 it moved quickly through Russia, into Germany and the rest of Europe and the first reported cases of influenza hit the United States in December 1889. The virus continued to circle the globe reaching South America by early 1890 and Australia by mid 1890. In all it is estimated that nearly 1 million people died and with the origin yet again coming from the Far East it added to the misnomer that foreigners, specially those from that region, are filthy people in need of being civilized. 

4) The Spanish Flu of 1918 - "1918 has gone: a year momentous as the termination of the most cruel war in the annals of the human race; a year which marked, the end at least for a time, of man's destruction of man; unfortunately a year in which developed a most fatal infectious disease causing the death of hundreds of thousands of human beings. Medical science for four and one-half years devoted itself to putting men on the firing line and keeping them there. Now it must turn with its whole might to combating the greatest enemy of all--infectious disease." (Journal of American Medical Association, Dec 1918) Soldiers from around the world were returning home at the end of 1918 after going through the deadliest war in human history. Nearly 16 million lives were lost as a result of this four year conflict and everyone, on both sides, was overwhelmed with too much death. Sadly as they returned home hoping for peace all they were to find was more death, in fact more than the entire Great War ever produced. A modern day British team of researchers believed they have nailed down the source of the virus to a military hospital in Etaples, France in 1917. From there the virus easily spread through the ranks of different military groups from around the world who transported the virus back to their home countries when returning from war. Since newspapers in Europe and the United States had been reporting death and destruction for years they were hesitant to report the initial death tolls of the flu. However in Spain the papers freely published how the flu was effecting their people which gave way to the pandemic being deemed the "Spanish Flu." The first cases of the virus in the United States have been traced back to Haskell County, Kansas in January 1918, within only a matter of months the virus had made it to New York City. The virus affected the United States so badly that the life expectancy of the average individual dropped by nearly 10 years. What made this influenza pandemic unique to all others before and since was who was affected by it. Typically the first and only casualties during flu epidemics were children and the elderly, those with weaker immune systems, however the Spanish Flu did the opposite. The greatest amount of deaths were seen by those between the ages of 20-40, healthier individuals. To this day no one completely understands why this occurred. There is so much history and so many books dedicated to this flu pandemic that killed nearly 50 million people, close to 3% of the worlds population. I encourage you, if your interest in this pandemic is peaked, to check out and check out their twitter account @1918FluArchive. 

5) The Asian Flu of 1957 - As this flu outbreak began many recognized that a pandemic was possible because of how devastating it was to those over the age of 65. Based on the name alone it's clear that the virus found its origins in Asia. Overlooked by many in the government and the medical profession Dr. Maurice Hilleman, a microbiologist at Walter Reed Hospital, played a crucial role in preventing the Asian Flu from doing extensive damage here in the United States. Watch this clip on the History of Vaccines website and hear Dr Hilleman explain how he discovered that a pandemic was coming. Although the vaccine was only available in limited supply by the end of 1957, his quick action probably saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. As Hilleman predicted the virus found its path in the United States when children returned to school. It spread so rapidly that health officials saw little need to quarantine individuals. Although the effect of this virus was no where close to that of 1918 outbreak it infected close to 25% of the U.S. population and killed nearly 2 million globally.   

6) The Hong Kong Flu of 1968 - Little improvement had been in made since 1957 in handling influenza epidemics. In mid-July of 1968 the first signs of the flu were spotted in Hong Kong. By the end of the month the virus popped up in Vietnam and Singapore. Over the next two months it spread to India, Australia, Europe, and the shores of California. Unlike other fast moving flu pandemics this virus had a low mortality rate. Overlooked by many around the world, the first source to break the possibility of an influenza pandemic was The Times in Great Britain. Similar to the virus seen in the 1957 outbreak where it mostly effected the elderly, it was a milder version, The death toll however still reached nearly 1 million people. Another reason many attribute a reduction in mortality rates from this pandemic than we saw in previous ones, is the vast improvements in medical care and antibiotics. 

7) The Swine Flu of 2009 - As medicine and medical treatment improved over the next 40 years the expectation that one would die from a flu virus diminished dramatically. Localized epidemics had always been reported in the media every so often however a true pandemic of influenza had thought to be impossible in this day and age. I remember this year well when the term "swine flu" spread throughout the country. The government quickly tried to get health officials to term it an H1N1 virus to prevent pork prices from bottoming out but the term stuck, if you were sick you had the swine flu. I even remember that year my mother-in-law getting very ill for a couple days and whether she officially had it or not we all kept saying that's what she had. The first flu case was reported in April of 2009. Within days the CDC was working on a vaccine and by the end of April the U.S. government declared it a public health emergency. A total of 74 countries reported being affected by the virus and the vaccine at first was in limited supply available only to those at high risk, however because of modern medical advances and the quick response of government officials the mortality rate was very low. It is estimated between 43 and 89 million people were infected globally but only around 250-500 thousand died.   

Many more influenza outbreaks occurred throughout world history and some could have arguably been added to this list yet I limited it to Simply 7. I found it interesting while looking through the various flu pandemics that the virus typically found its way from Asia in the spring time and worked its way around the world throughout the summer but the real danger began during those fall and winter months. I'm sure every few years, similar in some ways to this year, we will hear about how the flu is spreading quickly and is a danger to the public. All we can do however is pray that we never seen one like the Spanish Flu of 1918 that wiped out tens of millions of people.  

Thursday, January 3, 2013

History Links: Digital History

Historical websites are the backbone of my internet searching on a daily basis. Sure I visit and various news websites but if I am in a bored mood or need a short-term distraction I am looking to read something on history. One of those sites I like to visit and has a ton of value especially for students and teachers is Digital History at

Supported by the College of Education at the University of Houston this website lays out simply and effectively various sources on American History. One of my favorite functions on the website is the timeline which gives an easy way to search all of American History by era and breaks down the search into four subcategories: Media, Documents, Textbook, and Teaching. Beyond the timeline are various categories which are smartly designed and allow for quick searches on different topics that can be fun to read and few websites offer. 

Digital History has partnered with some of the top  resources out there in order to create this extensive database of historical information. I highly recommend this website for anyone that is researching a topic of American History or simply looking to browse around and read something new and interesting.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Thomas Jefferson and the Mammoth Cheese

New Year’s Day for so many people means a fresh start, new beginnings, and a chance to revive all those goals you always put on the back burner throughout the years. For Thomas Jefferson in 1802 it meant receiving a giant wheel of cheese.

Elder John Leland from Massachusetts was a strong supporter of Thomas Jefferson’s Presidency in 1800 after having gotten to know him in Virginia some years back. He persuaded the people of Cheshire, Massachusetts to send the new President a gift in “honor of his republicanism and his support of religious liberty” (, retrieved 1/1/2013). The idea of the gift turning into a gigantic wheel of cheese was announced by Leland from his pulpit in the summer of 1801. Preparations were quickly under way to determine the various materials and construction needed to make the cheese. A modified cider press was built in order to house the gift. From all around the area people arrived into town on July 20, 1801 with pails of curb from an estimated 900 cows. After it was completed the cheese was said to be between 1200 and 1400lbs, four feet in diameter, and nearly fifteen inches thick; also engraved in the cheese was a quote which stated “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”

It took several weeks for the “Mammoth Cheese”, as one reporter named it, to reach the capital and news of the giant cheese spread throughout the Northern states and eventually the entire country. When it arrived in Washington D.C. it was presented to President Jefferson on January 1, 1802 and Leland praised him “for the singular blessings that have been derived from the numerous services you have rendered to mankind in general.” Jefferson cordially accepted the gift and thanked the people of Cheshire, even cutting the town off a slice. He even later penned that it was “extraordinary proof of the skill with which those domestic arts which contribute so much to our daily comfort are practised by them.”

Aside from an interest piece of random history about the President and cheese this story is actually connected to a large element of our nation’s identity. The cheese was presented by a preacher who was celebrating Jefferson for his beliefs on religious freedom because of our persecuted this denomination had been in the past. Jefferson did not tolerate a government or people bullying another sect for the way in which they worshipped and believed. Jefferson, on that very same day that he received the Mammoth Cheese, wrote a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut. A paragraph from that letter shaped the debate of religion and government in this country forever.
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”
Although this paragraph and the debate behind it is an interesting one to discuss what I find more fascinating is how a 1200lbs wheel of cheese shaped the debate of Church vs. State in this country for the last 200+ years. 
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