Posts tagged with: history

jeopardy cartoonWe Americans are rather ignorant about religion. We claim to be a religious folk, but when it comes to hard-core knowledge, we don’t do well. The Pew Forum put together a baseline quiz of religious knowledge – a mere 32 multiple choice questions – and on average, Americans only got about half of them right. A few sample questions (without the multiple choice answers):

  • Which Bible figure is most closely associated with leading the exodus from Egypt?
  • What is Ramadan?
  • In which religion are Vishnu and Shiva central figures?
  • What was Joseph Smith’s religion?

Who scored best? Atheists and agnostics. Yeah. (more…)

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Thursday, April 3, 2014

american heroIn a fascinating essay in Mosaic, Charles Murray examines the spirit of innovation in America. He asks,

As against pivotal moments in the story of human accomplishment, does today’s America, for instance, look more like Britain blooming at the end of the 18th century or like France fading at the end of the 19th century? If the latter, are there idiosyncratic features of the American situation that can override what seem to be longer-run tendencies?

The author of Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, Murray amassed data from virtually all of human history, across cultures and in vast categories of human endeavor. He believes that there are patterns to innovation, creativity and advancement, and that certain cultural standards support and encourage this, while others degrade it. Murray makes the case that America is floundering, if not fading, when it comes to innovation and invention. (more…)

william-taft-speechIn a wide-ranging discussion of the Progressive Era in her new biography of Calvin Coolidge, Amity Shlaes quotes a striking excerpt from a little-known speech by President William Howard Taft.

Given in the middle of the 1912 election, in which Taft competed (poorly) against Woodrow Wilson and former President Teddy Roosevelt, the speech focuses on the predominant themes and schemes of his opponents, handily highlighting their limits.

In a particularly snappy swipe at Roosevelt, who had just recently split from the Republican Party, Taft notes that despite various efforts to form new parties, any rumbling therein is largely driven by the “promise of a panacea,” a top-down fantasy “in which the rich are to be made reasonably poor and the poor reasonably rich, by law.” Instead, Taft argues, we should seek solutions that “bring on complete equality of opportunity,” unleashing individuals and communities to work, create, and collaborate. The bones of civilization are not built, first and foremost, by the bidding of the policymaker’s baton. (more…)

Blog author: ehilton
posted by on Wednesday, March 6, 2013

(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

Artist: Michael C. Hayes

Artist: Michael C. Hayes

Joan of Arc

1412-1431
The Maid of Orleans

Young Joan, by any account, had a plain beginning to an extraordinary life. Until the age of 12 or so, she was the daughter of a farmer, who learned farming and household skills from her parents.

Her native France was involved in what is typically referred to as the Hundred Years War with England, but the French had broken into factions that complicated the resistance against the English invasion. It was during this tumultuous period that Joan began to hear voices and see visions of various saints and angels, urging her to support Charles VII as the true leader of France. This meant, for Joan, that she cut her hair, dressed as a soldier and led Charles’ rag-tag troops into battle.

Further, Joan sought to reform the men’s life in camp: kicking out prostitutes, urging the men to pray, attend Mass, and refrain from looting. While Joan was recognized as a leader in battle, she was not armed, preferring to carry a banner with Jesus and the fleur-de-lis on it.

While Joan was able help Charles VII regain control, she became the focus of a Burgundian conspiracy and was eventually betrayed, arrested and burned at the stake. Various sources claim that she was found guilty of witchcraft, heresy, and even immodest dress (for wearing men’s clothing), but the Burgundian forces which opposed the rule of Charles VII brought her unifying spiritual leadership to an end. However, Joan had achieved the goal she believe God had enjoined her with: bringing Charles back to the throne as the rightful ruler of France.

History remembers Joan of Arc as a young woman of deep spiritual devotion, bravery, and an undeniable passion for serving God and country.

For detailed information about Joan of Arc, visit the Joan of Arc Archive.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Thursday, February 7, 2013

ServingGodAndCountry2

I frequently noted in the field, how chaplains – to a man – sought out front line action. And I assume that was because, as one put it, at the time: ‘There is where the fighting man needs God most – and that’s where some of them know him for the first time. – U.S.M.C. Commandant A.A. Vandegrift, 1945

The last two decades has seen a surge in interest in popular historical study of America’s role in the Pacific and Europe during World War II in films and books but little to no individual attention has been given to the role of military chaplains. There were never enough chaplains to serve American soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen, but as Dorsett points out those that served found innovative and courageous ways to reach the men. “They can’t say that the church forgot them, when they were called into service and henceforth in their lives they will forget the church,” declared Lutheran Chaplain Edward K. Rogers. “They may forget the church and God, but the church and God’s pastors or priests did not forget them.” Chaplains were integral to America’s victory in Europe and the Pacific. This is the argument put forward in Serving God and Country: US Military Chaplains in World War II by Lyle Dorsett.

Outside of the famous four U.S. Army chaplains who sacrificed their lives to save fellow military and civilian men when the transport Dorchester sank in 1943, there is very little popular historical assessment of the enduring role of chaplains in the war and how they helped shape a post-war society. Chaplains broke new ground when it came to racial desegregation in training classes and contributed to greater ecumenical understanding between churches, denominations, and synagogues. “The clergy integrated well and became pioneers in the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces before President Harry S. Truman’s executive order 9981 of July 1948,” declared Dorsett.

Integration of ideas and practical ecumenicsm also flourished. For example, some Protestant pastors, while well educated, previously may have had limited interpersonal contact with other traditions and faiths like Judaism or Catholicism. As one chaplain pointed out, “It was harder to speak ill of one’s faith when that person was a friend.” Chaplains also had to be trained in the basic rudiments of other faiths in order to offer proper religious counsel for servicemen.

Undeniably, the United States on the eve of Pearl Harbor in 1941 was remarkably less secular than today. Chaplains or “chappies” were, with very few exceptions, Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Jewish. Parents, especially mothers, were comforted by the fact that their sons had professional shepherds to guide them in the field and throughout their military service. World War II was the first American conflict where published images, especially from the Pacific at bloody battles like Tarawa, would relay disturbing images to Americans at home. Chaplains were pressed to the limit on both fronts of the war, but the savage fighting of the Pacific island hopping campaign tested military chaplains to minister in what many combatants called “the depths of hell.” “By their patient, sympathetic labors with the men, day in and day out and through many a night, every chaplain I know contributed immeasurably to the moral courage of our fighting men,” added Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. (more…)

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gadsden_flag.svgAmerica, for the obvious reasons, holds strong ties to Europe. But it is a country that has primarily been associated with a distinctness and separation from the turmoil and practices of the continent. In his farewell address, George Washington famously warned Americans about remaining separate from European influence and declared, “History and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.” Class strife, conflict, and instability already long characterized the European fabric at the time of the American Revolution. Likewise, many American colonists already thought of themselves as free and distinct before the revolt. At the time of the revolution, some 400 wealthy noble families controlled Great Britain. America had an aristocracy for sure, but it was much more merit based than Europe. It embodied a more egalitarian spirit, local communities were culturally connected and would have been suspicious of attempts at centralization. So obviously countless problems ignited and there was a fanning of flames when the Crown started making decrees and commands of the American colonists.

I have a copy of Sam Gregg’s Becoming Europe, which is next on my reading list. The recent calls for gun control and the curtailing of 2nd Amendment Rights out of Washington immediately reminded me more of the American – European divide. I’d point you to Gregg’s work for the formative economic study on our evolution towards European democratic socialism, but I want to make a few short observations on the topic, which might be beneficial to expand on after I read Becoming Europe. (more…)

Given all the reassessment going on today about conservatism and its popularity and viability for governing, I recommend picking up a copy of The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland Tucker, III.

The author is Chief Executive Officer of Triangle Capital Corporation in Raleigh, N.C. Over the years, I’ve highlighted how Coolidge’s ideas relate to Acton’s thought and mission. And while I’ve read and written a lot about Coolidge, I knew next to nothing about John W. Davis. Davis was a lawyer, ambassador, and Solicitor General of the United States who hailed from West Virginia. He argued 140 cases before the Supreme Court. As the Democratic presidential nominee in 1924, he was also Coolidge’s election opponent.

Davis believed strongly in limited government and economic freedom. He criticized the policies of the New Deal saying, “Whether business is better today than it was yesterday, or will be better or worse tomorrow than it is today, is a poor guide for people who are called upon to decide what sort of government they want to live under both today and tomorrow and for the long days after.”

I reached out to the author to ask him some questions about his book and about the ideas and significance of Coolidge and Davis. Below is the interview:
(more…)

Mark Summers, a historian in Virginia, wrote two articles for Religion & Liberty on faith issues in the American Civil War. Summers wrote about the evangelical revival that swept through the Southern armies and then in a subsequent 2011 issue focused on the Catholic Church in the Civil War.

The articles were meant to draw attention to the 150th anniversary of the conflict. I wrote more about the R&L project in my own PowerBlog post back in December. Read the articles by Summers. They are well researched and very good. Below is a June 11 audio clip of Summers discussing Catholics in the Civil War on the Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick:

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Just a note: Summers is referred to as a “Catholic historian” during the interview, but he is in fact Presbyterian.

I just read the introduction to Amity Shlaes’s forthcoming biography, Coolidge: Debt, Perseverance and the American Ideal. She has been very gracious in taking an interest in the work I have been doing on Coolidge and my recent Acton commentary on the 30th president.

Shlaes was interviewed in the Fall 2007 issue of Religion & Liberty about her book The Forgotten Man. I quickly realized in my own research there is no biography that captures Coolidge’s deep relevancy for today given the mammoth federal debt and the centralization of federal power. Coolidge took limiting federal power and its reach seriously.

Without naming names or titles, many of the Coolidge biographies in print are simply sub par. That will change with the release of her biography and this is a book that needs to be out now. There is no release date set in stone to my knowledge or I would offer it up to readers of the PowerBlog.

In the introduction, it is clear just how well Shlaes understands Coolidge’s leadership on economic issues and his emphasis on thrift. I love that she played off her title The Forgotten Man by calling Coolidge “The Forgotten President.” I’ve certainly noticed in my own talks when I go out and discuss Coolidge that so little is known about him.

In her introduction, Shlaes brilliantly draws out comparisons of Coolidge with George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, John F. kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. Some of her insightful comparisons I would never have highlighted on my own. Shlaes is a gifted writer and I foresee this book being very influential with the ability to transform contemporary thinking about our national government.

One of the things that draws me to Coolidge is his appreciation for the past. He was a very modern president who oversaw great technological advances and an America that was modernizing at a rapid pace but he always reminded the people of who they were and the great heritage that gave birth to the American ideal. “If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it,” declared Coolidge.

One of my favorite books is The Word of Life by Thomas C. Oden. In the introduction to that book Oden quotes Henry Vaughan’s “Retreat:”

O How I long to travel back,
and tread against that ancient track! . . .
Some men a forward motion love,
But I by backward steps would move.

If Coolidge had heard those words, which is quite possible, I feel he would have loved them.

The Washington Post’s editorial page reminds us that today is the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s address at Westminster Hall, London. The speech, famous for its “ash heap of history line,” was Reagan’s challenge to the Soviet Union’s very legitimacy and pointed to its hollow core. Reagan’s great strength was not just America’s military posture against the Soviets, but that he truly made the Cold War a battle of moral ideas. It was a decisive pivot away from America’s policy of containment.

We probably forget now that 195 of the 225 Labour MP’s boycotted his address, which simply put, was a scathing indictment of Soviet communism. Margaret Thatcher toasted the president that evening at 10 Downing thanking him “for putting freedom on the offensive where it belongs.”

PowerLine has an excellent ten minute clip which I have posted below: