Founding Fathers Blog

The Shot Heard ‘Round the World

April 19th, 2012

On April 18, 1775, the British General Gage decided to send 700 British soldiers to march on April 19, to Concord, Massachussets, to capture two prominent rebels: John Hancock and John Adams, who were hiding in that area. He was also determined to capture the munitions and guns that were then assembling in Lexington.

Joseph Warren, an American Patriot, heard of these plans and so he alerted two speedy couriers to watch for his signal and ride to warn and alert the Minutemen in those towns. The riders were Paul Revere and William Dawes. They were joined by Dr. Prescott. Revere was arrested, his horse confiscated, and he was released. So he actually got to Concord too late. But Dr. Prescott gave the warning that “the British are coming!”

(You should read again the poem by Longfellow, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” It is historically inaccurate in many details, but it remains Longfellow’s most popular poem. By the way, did you know that Longfellow’s home in Cambridge, MA, was used by George Washington and his headquarters for a while during the Revolutionary war?)

When the 700 soldiers arrived in Lexington, there was some agitation among the citizens. Then by the local bridge, a shot was fired (on April 19th). No one knows to this day who fired that shot, but it has become known as ‘the shot heard ’round the world’ becauses it was the first real battle of the Revolutionary War. In the melee that followed, 3 redcoats and 2 minutemen were killed.

Hancock and Adams were not found by the British. Paul Revere arrived and was sent by Hancock to return to his original hiding spot and retrieve some of Hancock’s important papers.

The British re-grouped and began to march back to Boston. All along their trek back to Boston, the American Minutemen and farmers marched along with them, hidden in the forest. They kept up the attack all the way back to Boston. Ninety minutemen were killed by the return fire, and 250 redcoats were killed by the colonials. It was considered a disaster by the British.

I remind you of this part of our history, because it seems to me that it may be time for another ‘shot heard ’round the world’ to rescue our nation from wars in distant lands, entangling alliances, lost respect, reduced morality and reliance on God, and an overwhelming crushing burden of debt. I don’t mean that literally. but some movement or idea that will move like a shot and affect the citizens of this country.

It seems to me that we need a return to honoring the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. These are the principles on which most of our history and governmental system were at first based. I believe we need some more minutemen and visionary leaders like John Hancock and John Adams.

Like William Keiper stated:  “I am much more optimistic that we can make our way by initiating powerful change at the individual rather than the institutional or governmental level.”  (Life Expectancy, 2011, page 83).

George Washington – You’re Quite a Character

March 31st, 2012

When someone remarks:  “Tom, you’re quite a character,” it can be good or not so good. That phrase falls under the 10th usage of the word ‘character’ in the Webster’s Dictionary. Used that way it conveys to the mind that such a person is one who attracts attention because he is different.

George Washington did attract attention because he WAS different. In addition, George Washington was a “man of character.”  Meaning he had moral strength. Most of his strengths were developed by him because of his self control. He worked at becoming a man of character.

In his youth, George recognized that he had several shortcomings or character flaws. For example, he had a troublesome temper. He learned early on that his temper could control him or he could control his temper. He made the conscious decision that he would control his temper.

He was determined to take control of his character in many other ways as well. He was extraordinarily successful in this project for control of the attributes of his disposition and personality.

As I was attempting to write this article, I decided to list a few of the distinguishing character traits demonstrated by the Father of Our Country. Here are a few I jotted down randomly: Honest, humble, patient, resourceful, loyal, courteous, brave, intelligent, determined, reverent, open-minded, decisive, civil, courageous, committed, trustworthy, modest, clean, obedient to authority, and he possessed an overwhelming sense of rectitude, morality and goodness. And that’s just my short list!

Thomas Jefferson said of Washington: “Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every condition, was maturely weighed, refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity (blood relationship), of friendship or hatred being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, good, and a great man.”

I am going to break with my usual disinclination to recommend books (other than “Founding Fathers–Uncommon Heroes,” by Steven W. Allen) and tell you that you should acquire and read “Being George Washington” by Glenn Beck, 2011.

“Being George Washington” is a marvelous book telling and teaching you how George became such a model of excellence. And it accomplishes this through amazing accounts of George’s life–not through preaching, chastizement, or sermonizing–but by gentleness and with new information. It’s not difficult to read and it is quite enjoyable.

Get it, read it, enjoy it, and you’ll soon be on your way to improving your own character.||

The Battle of Trenton — Did You Know?

March 19th, 2012

I’m sure you’re familiar with the miraculous march to the Battle of Trenton on Christmas Night in 1776. Everyone loves that beautiful painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. He was on his way to stealthily approach that city where the major force of the Hessian soldiers were encamped, along with the British.

Although we love that painting, it is technically not correct in all its details. For example, George Washington never would have stood up in such a precarious position while crossing that river with its ice floes floating so swiftly. And at that date there was no American flag as so prominently positioned in the boat.

I hope you are acquainted with some of the facts surrounding the Crossing of the Delaware, the march toward Trenton, and the almost hopeless fight being taken by the colonials to the British. You should know that none of the American soldiers died in the battle itself, although two of them died tragically from the march, being frozen to death.

For more on this battle and its miraculous outcome, and the following battle of Princeton, I invite you to read the accounts in “Founding Fathers–Uncommon Heroes,” by Steven W. Allen, at pages 62-66.

By this article, I just wanted to alert you to the acts of two of the other American heroes of the Revolution. Young men who also took part in that battle along with General George Washington.

James Monroe, at the age of 18, was a lieutenant in that division which attacked the barracks of the Hessian soldiers abiding at Trenton. Their success in this part of the campaign allowed the Americans to completely take over those barracks inhabited by the Hessian soldiers. That capture included new provisions of food, amunition, and clothing which were important for the woefully destitute American soldiers.

Monroe was severly wounded in his shoulder in this attack. Monroe would most likely have died from his wounds, if a doctor had not been near the scene of that tragic injury. Monroe would have bled out. However, the doctor provided the necessary medical attention to allow Monroe to survive.

James Monroe, of course, went on to become the fifth President of the United States of America from 1817 to 1825. He is remembered for his Monroe Doctrine which enables the U.S. to come to the aid of any country in the western hemisphere which is threatened by an outside source.

Another young man, Alexander Hamilton was the captain of the New York Artillery Company involved in that battle. He partly led the company of soldiers and their canon as they were transferred across the Delaware river and became an essential part of the attack on the Hessian headquarters. Imagine the dangers of that trip transporting the canon and soldiers accross that turbulent river and marching another 9 miles to Trenton. And then positioning the troops for the capture of the Hessians and their supplies.

After that battle, Alexander Hamilton came to the attention of his Commander of the United Colonial Army. Hamilton became the personal secretary to General George Washington, and served him as such during the war from 1777 to 1781.

Hamilton then went on to become a member of President George Washington’s initial presidential cabinet, when he acted as the first Secretary of the Treasury in 1789. Hamilton resigned his position in Washington’s cabinet in 1795, ironically due to personal financial problems.

At the end of his second term as President, George Washington asked Alexander Hamilton to help him prepare his famous “Farewell Address” for when he left office. This Farewell Address was once required reading for members of Congress. It probably still should be. You should find a copy of this address and read it. In it, among many other important items of advice, Washington described religion and morality as indispensible supports of our framework of government.

Aaron Burr challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel on account of what Hamilton had published concerning Burr’s incapacity to act as a leader of government, among other things. The duel took place on July 11, 1804. Hamilton was shot and died the next day. Some witnesses to the duel claimed Hamilton fired at Burr at an intentionally high angle, in order to purposefully miss the man. But Burr shot directly at Hamilton. Aaron Burr eventially died in disgrace.

Those are just a couple of other uncommon heroes who were instrumental in the founding of the United States of America. It is important to know about the character, wisdom and foresight of these Uncommon Heroes.

John Adams: “That Book Hasn’t Yet Been Printed!”

January 30th, 2012

The family of one of my clients who has passed away, are in the process of settling the estate and distributing personal items including jewelry, paintings, objects d’art, furniture and books. This is an interesting process and in many families can lead to disputes and disagreements. It can even divide a family if they let it.

I counsel my clients to remember these are only “things.” And Things should never be as important as good family relationships. That’s what the parents would have wanted.

As I thought about books being divided and distributed among several of the children, I reflected on one of my favorite books. It’s an old book–not really very elegant. It had been one of my grandfather’s favorite books. When “Granddaddy” passed away each of his grandchildren got to choose a bok from his magnificent library.

The book I chose had made an impact on me. I have read it several times. Each time I read it–or even notice it on my bookshelf, I think pleasant thoughts about my Granddaddy, even though he’s been gone for nearly 50 years.

Also when I think of books, I recall a statement made by Abigail Adams to John Adams when they were moving into a new residence in Boston. John suggested that one of the rooms in the house on Battle Street (which incidentally was referred to as the “White House”) would serve adequatelly as his study. He agreed he wouldn’t attempt to cart in his whole library, only the books he should need. Abigail responded that the books he didn’t need had yet to be printed !

John Adams not only loved to need new books and read books, he also wrote a very important set of books.

John was the minister to England, instructed to negotiate a treaty of commerce with Great Britain after the close of the Revolutionary War. Congress was scheduled to meet to amend the Article of Confederation, which had proven to be inadequate. Since John was in London on assignment, he couldn’t attend the Constitutional Convention. He was experienced in drafting such documents and was even the author of the Massachussetts State Constitution soon after the Declaration of Indepencence was adopted. John had even been instrumental in the adoption of that Declaration.

John Adams wanted to take part in this Constitutional Convention. Feeling desparate to accomplish something useful, even though he couldn’t be there, John Adams made a monumental decision. He would write a book!  A book about the need for a strong independent executive, two separate legislative bodies, and an independent judiciary.

John wanted to have his book ready in time for sonsultation by the delegates to the Convention. Miraculously Adams’ book about government principles was available in the United States by spring of 1787.

It proved to be a valuable asset when the Constitutional Convention first met on May 25, 1787. This two volume set was titled “A Defence of the Constitutions of the Government of the United States of America.” One historical scholar noted: “Even a glance at the records of the Federal Convention will show that Adams’ book was used as a repertory by many speakers, who found in it a confirmation of their views [with] historical illustrations and precedents.”

Adams thought of his country, the United States of America, as a city on a hill, as described in the Book of Matthew, in the Holy Bible. It was to be an example, a light, to the whole world. He loved the nation he had been heavily involved in creating. He loved its governing fundamentals. He understood that there is only one way for a nation to live under the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the institutions of the U.S. Constitution. That is it’s people must love them. To love them we must know them.

The principles of our country are capable of reaching and protecting every human being–and ennabling them because they participate in the rules. Then to know and understand about these principles is to love them. To learn about them you must be brought there. That’s what Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison did with their essays: The Federalist Papers. That’s what John Adams did with his “A Defence of the Constitutions of the Government of the United States of America.

Books can still bring us there. Learn to know them. Learn to love them. God Bless America.

Thomas Jefferson – Are You Ready For Some Football?

November 30th, 2011

Thomas JeffersonJust the other day I was walking past the TV and I noticed there was a college football game on. The game was between the University of Miami, Florida, and the University of Virginia. I didn’t get to stop to watch the game, and I don’t know who won.

But it did give me cause to think “I wonder how many of those watching this game know anything about the beginnings of the University of Virginia?” Did you know that the original buildings and campus at Charlottesville, were designed by none other than Thomas Jefferson? Jefferson wanted the State of Virginia to be able to provide an outstanding college education for those citizens who desired an education. He made this a project of his retirement years, after he had completed two terms as President of the United States of America, and until his death on July 4, 1826 (the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence).

As an architect he designed the buildings, their size and configuration. As a scholar he designed the methodology for the instruction and classes of the students and professors. Jefferson himself was the first President of the University. His friend, neighbor and fellow patriot, James Madison, followed Jefferson as President of the United States, and then as President of the University of Virginia.

Besides being a lawyer, a farmer, a horseman (the best in Virginia at the time according to George Washington), a U.S. President, Secretary of State, Minister to France, an author, a scientist, musician, and author of that immortal Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was a brilliant architect. He probably would have enjoyed football, but that had yet to be invented.

In addition to the buildings of the University of Virginia, Jefferson, of course, designed his mountaintop home, Monticello, which is Italian for ‘little mountain.’ When you visit Monticello, you will be impressed by his design, his other inventions on display there, his love for beauty, his admiration of some past and current leaders, and his passion for learning.

But did you know that Thomas Jefferson also designed the Capitol building at Richmond, Virginia, the home of his friend and neighbor, President James Monroe, and improvements for the mansion called Montpelier, the home of another friend and neighbor, and former U.S. President, James Madison? You would be well advised to visit each of these places if you should have an opportunity. They will teach you much about our Founding Fathers and their times.

Jefferson was a man of great talents, learning, skills, and ability. On his tombstone, which Jefferson also designed, he wanted to be remembered mainly for three of his accomplishments. He directed that the following words be inscribed on the obelisk which now marks his grave at Monticello: “Author of the Declaration of Independence; of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom; and Father of the University of Virginia.”

Freedom from tyrants, freedom of religion, and freedom for higher education.

Now think about Thomas Jefferson, and go enjoy that football game.

Constitution Day

September 18th, 2011

I realize we don’t celebrate this day like we do the 4th of July, but nonetheless I am surprised at how little people seem to know about it.

On September 17, I asked 7 or 8 of my friends and acquaintences a few simple questions. (Notice they weren’t all ‘friends’ or you would have expected them to be as patriotic as I am.)

The people I asked were young or old, white or black, educated or not so educated, as a sampling of our population. One of those was even an ex-Congressman.

I asked what happened on this day in American history that would be significant. (Notice that I gave them a clue as to what the day would have to be about-American history.)

Not one of those approached had any idea what I was talking about.

So I explained that on this day (September 17) in 1787 our Constitution was signed by the People’s representatives in a Constitutional Convention.

So I followed up with a question: “how many signed the Constitution on that date?” No one knew. The guesses ranged from 9 to 22.

They were all surprised when I told them the document was signed by 55 delegates.

Did they know why it was approved unanimously? No, they didn’t even know it had been adopted by all the delegates present.

So I explained that Benjamin Franklin asked them all to put aside their remaining doubts and questions and adopt the final draft by a unanimous vote…and to support it when they returned to their individual States. This they consented to do.

Then I asked if they knew which of the Founding Fathers opposed the Constitution as then drafted.

None knew that Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson believed that the Constitution did not protect the individual citizen enough, and so they fought for a “Bill of Right” to be added.

Much more could have been asked and added to the discussion. But I think you get the message.

We have forgotten our own history. And we don’t know much about the Constitution.

No wonder we have the problem facing the nation today that we have.

Have you read it (the Constitution) lately?

The Constitution: “What? A Half a Bar of Soap?”

September 7th, 2011

Constitution Day is coming up on September 17. The Constitution of the  United States was unanimously (at the request of Benjamin Franklin) adopted by the People of the United States, through their representatives to the Constitutional Convention on that date in 1787.

Fifty-five wise and noble men put their all into the creation of that immortal document. Among these wise men, two were indispensable, or absolutely essential to its adoption. Without George Washington, the Father of Our Country, and James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, our U. S. Constitution would never have been created.

As Virginians, these two were neighbors, and very good friends. They were alike in many ways. They both had large land holdings in Virginia. Neither of them had any children of their own. Both married beautiful young widows who each had children by their prior marriage. (Isn’t that ironic that The Father of Our Country, and The Father of the Constitution, never had children of their own?) Both of these men were well respected for their courage, wisdom, industry and integrity. They both became great leaders and U. S. Presidents.

But they were oh so different!

George Washington was tall, strong and very much an outdoorsman. He was about 6’4″ tall and weighed about 215 – 225 most of his adult life. He was a good dancer, a gracious host, and of course, a beloved leader and President. He was an astute businessman, managing fisheries, wineries, carpentry shops, and raising sheep and horses at Mount Vernon. He was a military hero in the French and Indian War, as well as the Revolutionary War. And he set a valuable precedent as our first national President.

On the other hand, James Madison was short, small and weak in stature. At about 5’4″ he was one foot shorter that Washington. James never weighed much more than 100 pounds. Some of his friends said he wasn’t much bigger than “a half a bar of soap.” He left much of his duties of entertaining to his charming wife, Dolley Madison. James was a good marksman and wanted to do his duty as a soldier. However, he was weak and even sickly much of his life. His stint as a military man under the leadership of Patrick Henry in the “Orangemen” convinced him that soldiering wasn’t good for his constitution. He went to college to become a lawyer, although he never practiced law. Through reading and study he became a fountain of knowledge, especially relating to history and government. He became a nation builder.

Without George Washington’s attendance and careful leadership, it is likely that the Constitutional Convention of 1787 would have failed–or perhaps may never have even come together. It was because of his attendance, many of the States made certain that leaders from their State would attend.

And without James Madison’s knowledge, preparation and guidance, the Constitution, as we know it, could not have been designed, and would never have been shepherded through to its adoption. The Virginia Plan, written and presented by Madison, became the basis for our Constitution. And he was instrumental in creating the Great Compromise which insured its approval.

We, as a nation, owe these two Founding Fathers an immense sense of Gratitude. The United States Constitution.

Have you read it lately?

Was John Hancock a Smuggler?

August 2nd, 2011

We celebrate Independence Day in America on July 4. And rightly so, since that is the day that the official document creating our Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, in effect making America a new nation. Independent from Great Britain, and all other nations on the earth.

While we remember this day with celebrations and festivities, did you know that only 2 members of that Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence on that date? It’s true. Only the President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, and the secretary signed their names on July 4, 1776. Then the formal document was sent out to be “engrossed”, or printed by hand in beautiful clear graphic letters by a professional in that business.

Congress reconvened on August 2, 1776, and at that time John Hancock and the remainder of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence added their signatures on that date. It is a beautiful document. When John Hancock placed his “John Hancock” on the parchment, he signed in extra large style, commenting that he wanted King George to be able to read his name without the requiring the use of spectacles. He was brave. This was treason. They all signed a death warrant.

John Hancock was a very wealthy merchant at the time. He owned real estate, ships, businesses, and a “long wharf” in Boston Harbor. His office for his shipping, import and export business was located at the outer end of Long Wharf. When his ships would come into the harbor and dock at the wharf preparing to be unloaded, John Hancock had a regular practice. When the duty officers, or tax collector for the goods to be unloaded from his ships, would arrive, John would invite the duty officer to his office at the far end of the wharf for a refreshment, or a drink. Then he would engage that officer in consuming conversation while the goods would be unloaded from the ship and disappear into the city, without paying the tax to be imposed.

At the appropriate time the tax collector would disengage from the conversation and return to his inspection, only to find that the ship was mostly empty. Of course, the authorities became aware of this practice. On one occasion, the authorities from the Crown stopped and boarded, then confiscated John Hancock’s favorite ship, the Liberty, while it was still at sea. They charged John Hancock with several crimes. He hired his close friend and fellow Harvard College alum, John Adams, an attorney, to defend him. John Adams, through shrewd legal motions and arguments, convinced the Judge in Admiralty to listen to his grievance, and the judge decided to postpone the case. The crown must have been afraid that John Adams and John Hancock would prevail at court, and have the burdensome duties declared “unconstitutional.” The Judge never reconvened the case.

John Hancock didn’t have to pay the fine that was threatened to be imposed. The fine which was to be attached, would have taken most of John Hancock’s vast estate. Hancock was never found guilty of the offenses charged against him. But he also never saw his ship, The Liberty, again. The British kept it. Imagine Hancock’s thoughts as he later read the account of the talk given by a fellow patriot from Virginia, Patrick Henry. “Give Me Liberty, or give me death!” John Hancock was a brave man, a wealthy man, and a true patriot.

Thomas Jefferson – What Would He Think of Our Country Now?

July 1st, 2011

It would be interesting to hear what Thomas Jefferson would have to say about his country now, 235 years after he penned his immortal document, The Declaration of Independence. I believe in some ways he would be pleased. In others he would be chagrined and very disappointed.

Tom would be disappointed to see what has become of our political system and electioneering. The backbiting, the half-truths, the promises made just to get elected. Then the broken promises. He experienced some of that when he was President, of course. He was slandered by James Callendar when Jefferson refused to include James as a member of his group of advisers in his cabinet.

Tom would be dismayed at the total size and cost of government now. When he was President, he eliminated the deficit, reduced the cost and burden of government, and did away with many taxes and unneeded government workers. At the same time he doubled the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase and removed the threat of the Barbary pirates with the new navy.

Tom, the inventor, would love our modern technology. His “laptop” consisted of a portable wooden desk on which he drafted the Declaration of Independence with a quill pen. His only “mouse” was the one who ate his cheese before breakfast. Tom would have to have an IPAD, and IPHONE, and an Apple (computer). He would love to travel by car, train and plane to see his beloved America.

Tom would be disturbed by how coarse and uncivil our public discourse has become. He believed Americans should always be bettering themselves, culturally, educationally, and civilly. And not debasing themselves with lewd and profane words and situations.

Tom’s three favorite freedoms were the rights of the citizens as described in his Declaration of Independence (have you read it lately?), the freedom of Religion as promoted by his bill in Virginia, and freedom of Education as illustrated by his newly created University of Virginia at Charlottesville. You may recognize these feelings because of what he directed to be engraved on his tombstone. These were the accomplishments for which he wanted to be remembered. These were written on his grave marker when he died on the 50th anniversary of the unanimous acceptance of his Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826.

George Washington and the Book of Proverbs

August 24th, 2010

As I was teaching an adult Sunday School class about the Old Testament book of Proverbs, it struck me how similar the maxims in that book are to the maxims by which George Washington learned penmanship.

By the way, a proverb is a short popular saying, usually of unknown and ancient origin, that expresses effectively some commonplace truth or useful thought, adage,  or saw.

In 1745 George was tutored by a teacher from France who supervised his practice of penmanship. George transcribed from dictation what were known as the “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” as a method of mastering his proper penmanship. He would hear and write these Rules over and over again.

This improved his penmanship while at the same time instructing him in proper manners and comportment. This repeated exercise made a permanent empression on young George. He was taught how to treat others in social situations  and he learned important moral virtues.

 These rules were so unmistakenly exemplified in George Washington’s life that biographers have regarded them as a formative influence in the development of his character.

Let’s compare just a few of these maxims with some of those contained in the Book of Proverbs as given by King Solomon.

Rule: “Take all admonitions thankfully in what time or place soever given. . .”

Proverb: “Despise not the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary of His correction.” (Proverbs 3:11)

Rule: “Honour & obey your natural parents Altho they be poor.”

Proverb: “Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.” (Proverbs 23:22.)

Rule: “A man ought not to value himself of his achievements or rare qualities of wit, much less of his riches, virtue or kindred.”

Proverb: “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger and not thine own lips.” (Proverbs 27:2.)

And there are several other good comparisons. Maybe we should bring back the methods of learnig character and behavior in the manner that Washington was taught. Perhaps it would do the young good to learn texting by using some of the maxims of the Proverbs.

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