Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The American Citizens Handbook: Part 3

In our society today there are two groups of people that are worshiped: celebrities and athletes. Magazines, news columns, even TV networks are dedicated to telling every little detail of these peoples' lives for our personal entertainment. They are placed on pedestals for all of America to see and revere. There was a time however when very little thought was given to these types of individuals, instead our country regarded people of intelligence, creativity, and ingenuity as those to look up to, those to honor. In 1900 the Chancellor of New York University, Henry Mitchell MacCracken, developed a plan to honor those Great Americans in our nations history. Individuals were nominated by the public and elected by a board. An individual could not be nominated unless they had been dead for at least 10 years and by 1922 that had been expanded to 25 years. The idea behind this was that their impact on our history has to have been studied and understood over a period of time, sometimes those impacts can take decades to be truly seen.  

A memorial colonnade was built on the grounds of the then New York University, today it is Bronx Community College, where the bronze busts of 98 Americans are currently on display. As individuals were nominated and then elected a sculptor was selected to create the bust of each candidate. Also as individuals were elected they were placed into various categories which helped in creating a structure to the Hall of Fame. When you think about a sports hall of fame the athletes are generally admitted in the category of their position, so in the same manner an individual that was entered into the Hall of Fame of Great Americans was placed into one of the following categories.

Humanitarians, Social and Economic Reformers
Engineers and Architects
Physicians and Surgeons
Missionaries and Explorers
Lawyers and Judges
Business and Philanthropists
Artists, Musicians, and Actors

The popularity of the Hall of Fame went far beyond what many expected. The national press covered the election process, historians say people would debate on who should be nominated, many say the Hall was even mentioned in "The Wizard of Oz" when the munchkins tell Dorothy "You will be a bust, be a bust, be a bust in the Hall of Fame." Sadly after NYU left the campus abruptly in 1973 the funding and notoriety of the Hall of Fame died with it. Donors and support were hard to come by and there it current sits, in obscurity  Luckily the city put some money forth to renovate the facility and maintain it however very few people today know the colonnade even exists and even fewer go to visit it. I desperately wish I had the resources or connections to restart this project. I truly believe that if the funding could be gathered, and with the advent of social media, it could be popular again. The public and media would love to watch and cover an event that honored Great Americans of our past. I truly believe that bring this back to relevance would open people's eyes again to our history and culture. The first ballot could include such Americans as:

Martin Luther King Jr
John F Kennedy
George S Patton
Dwight D Eisenhower
Henry Ford
Robert Frost
Douglas MacArthur
Jonas Salk (he has until 2020 till he can be entered)
John Steinbeck
Ernest Hemingway
Harriett Tubman
Langston Hughes

Who else do you think should be nominated to the next ballot for the Great Americans Hall of Fame?

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: A List of Values
Part 3: The Hall of Fame of Great Americans
Part 4: Documents
Part 5: Conclusion

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Valentine's Day Present

I have the wonderful joy of currently raising a 17 month old son. My wife and I could not be happier or prouder of the way our little guy has turned out so far. He consistently brings laughter and joy to our lives and like I'm sure most parents say he is incredibly smart. I can't wait till he gets old enough that and we can take him to such great museums and battlefields as well as great cities of history like Boston and Washington D.C.

In light of that my wonderful wife got me for Valentine's Day a gift that will aid in my pursuit of making my son a fan of history and specifically early American history like I am. Other not exactly toddler age age type books I will nonetheless be reading them to my 17 month old son tonight. 

The following is a link to one of the books I got which I would highly recommend for your children. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Journey to Liberty: Treaty of Paris (1763)

Our road to independence was not an overnight coup or even an ever changing revolution, it was a journey with ups and downs that spanned nearly 20 years. Sandwiched between two Treaty of Paris' the American colonist were a new people, not exclusively English, German, or Dutch but American. As this new world expanded and grew it became more and more evident that being only a colony of a greater empire would not sustain itself. This very long series titled "Journey to Liberty" starts today and will take us through the next 20 years of how resentment grew, anger boiled over, and eventually revolution was declared. Our journey as an American people is important and must never be overshadowed by modern events or overlooked by any social or philosophical ideal. Our Journey to Liberty is one that speaks to us all, defines us all, and helps us understand what our present and future will hold. It reminds us of our destiny, it reminds us of our purpose, and it tells the rest of the world that we are different and proud of it.  Our path to freedom was paved not by ungrateful colonists upset over taxes, not by simple farmers wanting to be left alone, and not by founding fathers who were seeking selfish ambition. Our freedom, our independence was gained by a people who believed that "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," and England was instead placing the heavy hand of monarchy and parliament upon them. Our nation is founded upon the great principle that "all men are created equal" and the history behind how we came to be a nation like that is crucial to understand. So we start, 250 years ago, and begin to see the wheels of discontent turn toward separation from Great Britain.

The year 1763 was a pivotal year in the formation of our American Republic. It was 250 years ago today that the peace treaty was signed between Great Britain, France, and Spain which ended the Seven-Years War or better known in North America as the French and Indian War. This treaty not only changed the landscape of North America but set in motion the events that would lead to American Independence.

European countries over the previous century had been scrambling for control of lands in North and South America as the need for natural resources grew. While Spain and Portugal mainly fought for land in the South it was Great Britain and France that were fighting for land in the North and by the mid-eighteenth century some of the richest of all the land that both countries were fighting over was the Ohio Valley. Wealthier American colonists, especially those in Virginia such as the family of George Washington, had been speculating along the Ohio Valley region and had money heavily invested in expanding and growing it. At the same time France started building forts in the area to secure what they believed was their right to do because it was their land. A stalemate had begun and someone was going to have to break it. After various attacks took place in 1754 and 1755 led by non-other than George Washington, General Braddock and others, action was necessary by the British army. In lite of the defeats that occurred there was little interest in England to fight the French for territories in North America. However in 1756 England finally declared war on France which began the Seven Years War. France saw success at first with the help of Indian allies in the region yet by 1757 England, led my William Pitt, and borrowing heavily to finance the war effort, saw success because Pitt viewed the situation as an opportunity to vastly expand the British Empire. Pitt even paid American colonies for raising troops to fight against the French. Eventually Spain joined on the side of the French but it was little help. With the help of Prussia as an ally in Europe, England continued to see victories and so they trained their eye on French and Spanish territories all over the world. After the fall of Montreal in 1760, fighting all but stopped in North America but continued in Europe. The war officially ended with the Treaty of Paris which was signed on February 10, 1763.

Why is this war and the ending of this war so important in the history of our American Revolution? How is it that we can look back to the events of the French and Indian War and its aftermath and see the wheels of revolution start to turn? It has a lot to do with what had been happening in the colonies over the last century and what changed with how England dealt with the colonies afterward. "It would be a mistake to overstate the independence of families from the social milieu, both local and regional." (Lemon, Colonial American in the Eighteenth Century, "Colonization: 1490s-1770s", p.131) Since the first settlers landed in the New World there was no assistance from the mother country, they were left to fend for themselves, they had to work together with the people around them, and rely on each other physically, socially, and politically. Even the Mayflower Compact, our peoples' first governing document speaks to their independent nature, and although they give recognition to the King of England their laws and governance were to be left to their own accord.
"In the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience."
The basic colonial government started at the top with a Governor appointed by the British Crown, from there you had his council and then the elected Assembly. As the population grew and the economy expanded the power of the elected Assembly grew as well. The colonists would drink to the King of England but with him and his army far away to enforce their will there was a major disconnect in what it meant to be a British citizen and a colonist. With those sentiments the Governors had trouble administering their authority or implementing British laws without the cooperation of the colonists. "By the mid 1700s American political ideas became apart of a "great tradition of the eighteenth-century commonwealthmen, the radical Whig ideology that arose from a series of upheavals in seventeenth-century England - the Civil War, the exclusion crisis of 1679-81, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688." (Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause, p.51) All these factors led to a citizenry who were accustomed to self-government. Each colony elected officials who would levy taxes, create colonial budgets, and maintain order. To all of the sudden be forced to take orders from the British Parliament and Crown on matters that for over a century they had controlled for themselves was a difficult pill to swallow. It is true they always considered themselves loyal British subjects but this was not England and the rules were different, they had been since the Pilgrims first landed here to settle. However by the mid-1700s the British Government failed to see it the same way and wanted to implement their will upon the people.

As the French and Indian War commenced in the mid 1750s the separation between the colonies and the mother country was evident. Written sometime in the 1820s by William Wells, grandson to Samuel Adams, he spoke of the events before and during the French and Indian War stating, "The events of the war, and the government mismanagement (since the first colonists came here)... prepared the people for the struggle which was to rend the colonies from the mother country. The press commenced the discussion of popular rights, and no doubt many speculative minds calculated the probable fate of America at some future date as a separate sovereignty." (Carr, Seeds of Discontent, p.315) Clearly the path to creating a new nation was being paved since the first settlers landed here in the late sixteenth century however it took something major to push them over the edge. As the British started to maintain a standing army in the colonies for the first time ever, limit the expansion west (which was one of the key purposes in fighting in the French and Indian War as far as nearly all the colonists were concerned), and begin direct taxes that the colonists had never seen before or approved it becomes quite evident that the colonists were getting pushed closer to that edge. As we will examine in the coming years one decision after another by the British, forced the American colonists to rise up and stand against injustice, eventually getting to the realization that their destiny would be to create a new "Nation, under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

History in Film: Ironclad

I'll say one thing for the movie Ironclad, its graphic and bloody. I'll say another thing, it was definitely trying to be something else other than a real account of the siege of Rochester Castle. The movie starts off telling the story of the civil war waged in England resulting in the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. What followed became known as the First Baron's War which lasted for two years. There are elements of the siege which hold true in the movie. The biggest would be the burning of the pigs underneath the keep of Rochester Castle. This holds to historic fact and key element of the war that I'm sure most British people remember best. I really felt the movie was working extra hard to recreate the movie King Arthur in a different yet similar setting. A single moral hero and his amoral group roughnecks try and save the day against barbarism and tyranny. Sounds like King Arthur to me. There is no evidence I could find of Templar Knights fighting at the castle, in addition history tells us that nearly 100 men were defending the castle yet the movie only depicts around 20.

As a man it was a fun movie to watch; simple plot, lots of action. Paul Giamatti as King John and Brian Cox as Baron William d'Aubigny help to solidify the film with their superb acting although at times I felt Giamatti was overdoing it. Overall I probably would not recommend the movie however if you would like other opinions than my own than I encourage you to read The Armed Historian Blog who gives a wonderful critique and even links an additional critique within his blog.

Entertainment Value - 3.5 out of 5
Historical Accuracy - 2.5 out of 5

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Our Nation Divided: French Intervention

The Confederacy was not stupid, from the beginning they knew that the Union army had the power of manufacturing and extensive transportation to secure them the armament necessary to win a war. In order for the South to be victorious they needed the either the French or the English to intervene and recognize the Confederacy. The South was going to need their manufacturing to produce weapons necessary to win and were hoping cotton could be their leverage. Lincoln recognized this potential scenario and worked hard at keep European sentiments on the side of the Union. In fact one of the biggest reason Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation was to secure European support because they had ended slavery decades ago. In a blog titled "Foreign Intervention during the Civil War", from President Lincoln's Cottage Blog the author references an article in Harper's Weekly in July 1862 which talks about how the English Parliament and the French Emperor were debating the idea of getting involved in the American conflict. Europeans had far more in common with the Southern states then the North, this had been true since the American Revolution. Europe would have been pleased probably to see the United States split in two, however in reality the European powers found it morally difficult to support the Confederacy because the centerpiece of their way of life was slavery and Europe could not support it publicly  Behind closed doors however many diplomats stated the elite of France and England supported the Confederacy.

The threat of foreign intervention was echoed in a letter published in The News York Times dated February 3, 1863. The correspondent writes "Thus I may tell you to-day that the indications are for intervention." This is the very thing the North feared and the South was waiting for. France finally felt they were in a better position to support the separation of the United States after the results of the Battle of Fredericksburg. They believed that "separation in the United States is final." The correspondence indicates that a deal was made with "Mr. Slidell", who was the South's minister to France, "for a large quantity of cotton, will ask the American Government for facilities for getting it out, promising, at the same time that no contraband of war shall be introduced in exchange, and if the American Government will not consent to this, they will take it by force." On February 3, 1863 the United States was on the edge of war with France if they tried to break through the Northern blockade. Luckily thanks to diplomatic talks this possible crisis was averted, but the aspects of foreign intervention was an important part of the Civil War and should not be overlooked. 

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