Posts tagged with: American history

laughton-465-(1)1Today marks the 152nd anniversary of the Gettsyburg Address, the speech given by Abraham Lincoln after the battle which left 7,000 American soldiers dead and 40,000 wounded.

Given its power and permanence, it may seem strange to memorialize it by pointing to an obscure comedy film from the 1930s. But it’s one that stirs all the right sentiments.

In Ruggles of Red Gap, the great Charles Laughton plays Marmaduke Ruggles, an English manservant who has been gambled away by his master (a duke) to a pair of unsophisticated “self-made” millionaires from America (Egbert and Effie). Ruggles sails to the New World, settles in with his rambunctious new employers, and hilarity ensues. (more…)

FLOW_EXILEIn the various discussions surrounding the Acton Institute’s film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a common response has been to call into question the basic notion of Christians existing in a state of “exile.”

The general complaint is that it’s somehow hyperbolic, given the privileged position of the modern West in the scope of human history. From here, things typically descend into detailed historical debates about the realities of America vs. the Middle East vs. the Roman Empire vs. Babylonian rule, and so on.

But as Russell Moore now helpfully points out, such a critique assumes a false definition of “exile” that most simply misses the point.

Exile has nothing to do with some temporal decline from this earthly rule to that — in our case, from some nostalgic memory of a “Christian nation” to the present “post-Christian” dysphoria. “The political and cultural climate of America does not make us exiles,” Moore reminds us, and such a perspective “just continues the triumphalist rhetoric of the last generation.”

Indeed, Christians have never been “at home” in America: (more…)

declaration-facts-wideToday in The Federalist, Acton director of research Samuel Gregg looks ahead to Pope Francis’ American visit. Gregg, of course, cannot predict the future, but he can respond to others’ speculation; in particular, he takes issue with Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs, in America magazine

argued that another old-style Jesuit—Pope Francis—will be coming to an America uninterested in virtue, mired in consumerism, and fast becoming a hyper-individualistic society obsessed with rights.

Turning on the television soon confirms there’s some truth in Sachs’ analysis. Witness the relentless advertising that tells you that you’re not fully human unless you have the very latest whatever. Yet materialism and consumerism are just as widespread in, for instance, social-democratic Western Europe, klepocratic Russia, Communist China, and crony corporatist Latin America. Hence, it can hardly be described as a particularly American problem.


It’s interesting to debate and share idea like freedom of speech, religious liberty or entrepreneurship. Helping folks in the developing world create and sustain businesses if exciting. Watching women who’ve been victimized by human trafficking or their own culture find ways to support themselves and their families is wonderful. But none of this happens without rule of law.

Rule of law is not “sexy.” It doesn’t get the press of a brilliantly successful NGO. There are no great photo ops of folks picketing in front of the Supreme Court with signs touting rule of law. But virtually nothing can happen without it. (more…)

history textWhat do these things have in common: Gloria Steinem, Yiddish theater, Gospel of Wealth, U.S. Fish Commission, the cult of domesticity and smallpox? They are all highlights of American history for Advanced Placement (AP) high school students. AP classes are typically for college-bound students, and considered to be “tougher” classes. The College Board administers AP classes in high schools, and is releasing its American history framework effective this fall.

Here are some things students won’t see: the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln (other than a brief mention of his Emancipation Proclamation), or the “Greatest Generation” of World War II. Instead, students will learn:

  • “European exploration and conquest were fueled by a desire for new sources of wealth, increased power and status, and converts to Christianity”
  • “With little experience dealing with people who were different from themselves, Spanish and Portuguese explorers poorly understood the native peoples they encountered in the Americas”
  • “The resulting [American] independence movement was fueled by established colonial elites”
  • “The idea of Manifest Destiny, which asserted U.S. power in the Western Hemisphere and supported U.S. expansion westward, was built on a belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority”


jeff20th Century historian Dumas Malone praised Thomas Jefferson as the exemplar of liberty. “To all who cherish freedom and abhor tyranny in any form, [Jefferson] is an abiding hope that springs eternal,” declared Malone. Jefferson crafted our creed as Americans and once wrote, “Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and inalienable rights of man.”

In the April issue of Carolina Journal, I review Long Journey with Mr. Jefferson. You can read the review on page 20 of the issue in PDF form. The book, which is a biography of Dumas Malone, was an enlightening read on a scholar who spent decades studying Thomas Jefferson. His six-volume biography of the author of the Declaration of Independence, titled Jefferson and His Times, spanned from 1948-1981. Malone received the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 and Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.

While I haven’t read all of Malone’s volumes, the biography piqued my interest because of the complexity of studying Jefferson and the lengthy duration Malone spent on one man. One of the points I made at the end of the review was the stark contrast Malone provides to an American society that is becoming increasingly ignorant of not just its history, but the meaning and nature of our rights. Studying Jefferson is essential. It’s a great introduction into the whole ethos of the limiting of state power and especially elevating an important truth, that governments gain their legitimacy by their ability to protect the rights that predate government.

Amity Shlaes

Amity Shlaes – Graphic Novelized!

In November of last year, we had the privilege of welcoming bestselling author Amity Shlaes for a visit here at the Acton Building while she was in Grand Rapids to speak about Calvin Coolidge at Grand Valley State University’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. Aside from being a fine author of some very thought provoking books on history and economics, she’s a delightful lady, and it was a pleasure to have an opportunity to make her acquaintance personally. At the time, she was very excited about a project that she had been working on which was soon to be released to the public – a graphic novel adaptation of her best-selling book, The Forgotten Man. Her enthusiasm for the project was infectious, and I’ve been looking forward to its release ever since. (You can pre-order a copy of the book, which is set to be released on May 27.)

But how does one take a nearly 500 page hardcover book that revisits the economic history of the Great Depression and translate it into a visual presentation on the printed page? It wasn’t a simple process. Paul Rivoche is the artist who worked with Shlaes on the project; in this interview at Graphic Novel Reporter, he describes how the original book was reworked in order to create a compelling visual story:

The original book was nonfiction and of course not at all structured to be a graphic novel. It’s an economic history of the New Deal/Great Depression era, described from an alternative viewpoint. It has a huge cast of characters — all real people — and discusses many abstract ideas. To make it work as a graphic novel, we had to find a new structure for the same material; we couldn’t follow the exact arrangement in the print book. For example, there are many jumps in location in the real-life story we tell, and all these characters coming and going. In prose, it worked because you imagine it in your head, stitching it together, following the steady guidance of the author’s voice. In comics form, the same thing was disorienting. We learned that if the visuals change too fast, without enough explanation, the reader easily becomes confused when dealing with such complex events, all these different scenes and faces. To solve this, we decided to introduce a “framing story” using a narrator, Wendell Willkie. In telling the story, he guides us — at times directly, and in other scenes we hear his voiceover narration in captions. Also, we had to make the story as visual as possible, not all “talking heads,” which make for dull comics. Instead, we highlighted interesting locales: the Hoover Dam, the great flood of 1927, Willkie’s famous debate, and many others. In every scene we aimed to introduce as much movement, action, and characterization as possible.

The full interview has more detail on the project; After the jump, you can listen to an August 2012 Radio Free Acton interview with Amity Shlaes on her then-forthcoming biography on Calvin Coolidge.