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.

President’s Day

February 7th, 2012

I was asked to give a presentatio about our Founding Fathers to an advanced placement Senior High School Government class just a few years ago. It was only a couple of weeks before their school calendar showed a vacation day called Presidents Day.

So I asked the class “What is Presidents Day all about?”

The most common response from the students was “just another reason to have a holiday–a three day weekend.” When I persisted in wanting to know which President to honor the most common response was “it doesn’t matter. Choose your favorite President, or honor all of them.” These are honor students now.

“Do you mean it could be President Garfield, or Truman, or Carter?” I asked.

“Yes, of course,” they replied, almost in unison.

When I told them of the reason for Presidents Day they were unaware and a little surprised. I told them when I was in high school we honored President Abraham Lincoln on his birthday, which is February 12–two days prior to Valentine’s Day. And then we honored President George Washington on his birthday which is February 22.

These two Presidents were considered by most historians to be our two greatest presidents, I explained. When I asked them why, they came up with the answer that one was our first President who valiantly fought the Revolutionary War. The other won the Civil War which kept the Union together.

I asked the class: “could there be any other reason to validate their greatness?” With some coaching, it became apparent that their greatness also was because of their character.

Character is defined as “the complex of mental and ethical traits marking a person; moral excellence.”  Abraham Lincoln is often referred to as “Honest Abe,” and George Washington is remembered for his words: “I cannot tell a lie.” They were honest. To be honest is to be free of deception, truthful, genuine and marked by integrity.

So we decided in that class that honesty in our leaders is a desirable quality of character. We have had some presidents who fell a little bit short of that character trait. For example, Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon and Bill “it depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is” Clinton. Both of them did some good things as President. However, both left stains on the office of president.

It seemed to us that Presidents of this Country should be good examples of great character and honesty. It amazes me that some voters today seem to be of the opinion that character doesn’t really matter as long as they get the job done. Look what’s happened to our Country with that attitude.

Anyway, several years ago it was determined that we as a Nation, needed a day to celebrate civil rights–not “the Bill of Rights”–but civil rights. So Martin Luther King’s birthday in January was chosen as our “Civil Rights Day.”

Well, we didn’t have any extra days to take off from work, so it was decided to join Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays into one commemoration and call it Presidents Day. So you see, Presidents Day was intented to continue to honor Abe Lincoln and George Washington. But todays generation doesn’t really know that.

Personally, I believe we should make Civil Rights day an honorary day, but not a paid holiday. We should instead continue to honor the character and the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. We truly need something to remind us that character is important and honesty is to be expected in a national leader. Remembering the characters of these two Presidents would go a long way in that regard.

I think we should put those two Presidents back into their own birthdays, separate from a Presidents Day. Let them each have their own birthday honored again. Honestly!

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.

Christmas with George Washington

December 18th, 2011

Christmas tree

Christmas with George Washington

When you are visited by someone as admired and revered as George Washington, you tend to get speechless, reserved and a little discomfited. That’s how we were when George came for Christmas.

We were saved because we knew George and Martha were good hosts, and so were very likely to be good guests as well. We prepared a customary Christmas dinner to be served in our dining room. So there was turkey, ham, roast beef brisket, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, salad, and Kari’s famous orange rolls. Then, for dessert, Linda’s mouth watering Christmas cheesecake.

We learned that around a dinner table, George was not disinclined to share accounts of his magnificent life experiences. He first shamelessly praised the kitchen staff, Linda, Kari and Steve– on the sumptuous meal, and asked for more dessert.

Then he went on to remark that he and Martha had welcomed many guests over the years at their home at Mount Vernon. But had never had quite as fine a spread as we had presented to them this Christmas. George always was very polite and complimentary.

He told of one occasion when he and Martha ate a meal alone together at Mount Vernon, and he commented to her that he believed that was the first time they had dined alone in more than 15 years. They were always welcoming company, even some strangers to their dinner table.

He then told us how he and Martha met. After his heroics in the French and Indian War, he was on his way, traveling to Williamsburg to meet with the Governor. (By the way, he was never braggadocious, but was very humble and circumspect in his explanations.)  On his way he was invited to stop and dine with Mr. Richard Chamberlayne, a friend. A certain recent widow by the name of Martha Dandridge Custis was also a visitor at the Chamberlayne home that afternoon. She was the loveliest widow in all of Virginia.

They were mutually pleased on their first meeting and would fall in love with each other. George stayed longer that he had anticipated and had to spend the night at the Charmberlayne’s. As did Martha. They enjoyed a nice meal together–but not quite as nice as the one they presently attended.

Several days later, George visited Martha at her home (which ironically was known as the White House Plantation. George never got to live in the President’s Mansion, the White house, although he chose the spot where it would be built.) At this second meeting George and Martha became engaged. He told us some of the details of their wedding on January 6, 1759.

George went on to boast about how Martha had been so supportive of him all of their married life. It was obvious he loved her very much. She even visited him, and stayed a few weeks during that terrible winter at Valley Forge. She encouraged George to attend the Constitutional Convention as was requested by James Madison. This eventually led to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, and to George being elected unanimously to the 1st national presidency.

George shared several accounts of incidents during his life when he knew he had been protected by the “hand of Providence.” Including one battle in the French and Indian War when he had two horses shot out from under him and found four bullet holes through his coat. There were also many such incidents during the Revolutionary War when he was aware of such protection. He acknowledged more that 57.

George told of when he was sworn in as the first U.S. President–he was uncomfortable, not certain he could actually carry out his new duties properly. So after recitation of the oath of office, with his hand on the Bible, he spontaneously added the words “So help me God!”

He could feel the direct assistance of Heavenly help all during his administration. He was thankful for the maxim he learned as a youth: “work to keep alive in your breast that little spark of light we call conscience.” When he left office, he left this counsel: “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

George was a quietly religious man who love the Savior. He was thrilled to see the growth in knowledge, technology, and the many new comforts that had come into our life. He believed these were all as a direct result of the courage the Founding Fathers showed in creating a country based on liberty, freedom of religion, and individual accomplishment, not government interference.

Both he and Martha were overjoyed to witness our preparations and decorations in celebration of the birth of the Christ Child. They loved the soft Christmas music, the lights, ribbons and banners, the smells of Christmas treats, and the gifts under the Christmas tree. And they could feel our love, for each other, for the country, and for the Savior of all mankind.

Merry Christmas George . . .and Martha!

Christmas with Thomas Jefferson

December 10th, 2011

Christmas tree

Earlier I proposed that we consider what it would be like to have a Founding Father as a Christmas guest. (See Christmas with Benjamin Franklin.)

A most interesting visitor for our Christmas Celebration would be Thomas Jefferson. He would love our home. He was an architect. Have you been to his home, Monticello?

I’m afraid he wouldn’t like our wide winding staircase which you see as you enter our home. He believed staircases should be narrow, with taller steps, and out of the way, not obtrusive. They should be functional and not a showpiece for the home as they were in the South. Other than that he’d like our home design–master bedroom, quiet and away from the children, whose rooms were situated upstairs. Children were to be seen and not heard.

He would really love our air-conditioning–cool in summer–warm in winter. No need for the air to have to flow across the bed, as it did in his bedroom at Monticello with the alcove bed he designed. And the lighting everywhere, wow.

Jefferson loved books (“I cannot live without books”), so he’d want to see my library. My study is upstairs. There are 3 walls of bookshelves–all full. He would wonder “who is this Abraham Lincoln, for whom you have a whole shelf of books?”  He would want to relax in my overstuffed “La-Z-Boy” reclining and swiveling chair. (He had his own overstuffed chair with candles on the armrests for reading, and a revolving bookstand he invented, so that he could read as many as four books at a time.)

He would be tickled to have his feet massaged by my electric foot messager. He’d be captivated by my big screen television located in my study, and he’d want to know all about television itself. I’d have to explain remote controls–for the TV, the overhead fans, the radio/CD player, and even the model cars!

Jefferson was an inventor. He loved gadgets. He made up a house full of them for himself–things like dumbwaiters and lazy susans. He’d have to know all about my laptop computer (Oh, if I’d had that for writing the Declaration of Independence!) the cell phones, the iPad, the iPhone, and even the electric pencil sharpener.

He would see my big Unabridged Webster’s Dictionary on its separate stand, and that would cause him to notice some books nearby, including books written by me. And my copies of Jefferson’s “The Life and Morals of Jesus” and “The Jefferson Bible.” He’d be pleased that I knew about that private side of his life.

Describing his book: “The Philosophy of Jesus” he would point out that it is proof indeed that he is a “Real Christian” and not an infidel as some have claimed. He would be truly happy that we were celebrating the birth of Christ.

I’d offer to play him some Christmas music from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He would love their music, and be astounded at the clarity of the sound when the Choir was not even in the room. Jefferson was a musician himself, you know. But Tom would wonder what was this Choir with such beautiful music. They weren’t around during his lifetime. I would explain they were “America’s Choir.” A choir established by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This Church was founded in 1830, shortly after his death in 1826. They were referred to as Mormons because in addition to the Bible, they believe in another book of scripture abridged by a prophet in America whose name was Mormon, and it is called The Book of Mormon.

I would tell Jefferson about when this 350 member Mormon Tabernacle Choir was visiting  Washington, D.C. on a tour around the New England States. They stopped at the Jefferson Memorial (I’d have to show him pictures because he’s never seen it). The Choir began singing “America the Beautiful” on the steps of the Memorial. When they concluded singing, a Park Ranger asked them for their authorization to sing at that location. When they couldn’t show any authorization, the ranger issued them a citation. But soon this ranger’s immediate supervisor appeared and rescinded the citation. He noted: “this is America’s Choir– they are welcome to sing on the steps of this Memorial at any time!”

I would then play for Jefferson that Choir’s rendition of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” or “Silent Night.”  I believe Tom would be truly touched by the beautiful music along with the lights and decorations.

Then we’d return to the kitchen (inside the house, aren’t you concerned about fires?) and share some Christmas treats. He would love Christmas today. The beauty, the conveniences, the music. What’s not to love with all these new inventions?

Merry Christmas, Tom!

Benjamin Franklin for Christmas

December 6th, 2011

Christmas tree

It’s December. I got to thinking, there isn’t a whole lot written
about how our Founding Fathers actually spent their Christmas
Holidays. My imagination started working overtime wondering how
they would react to our own Christmas Celebrations.

What if some of our Founding Fathers skipped right from their own
family Christmas gathering and appeared at one of my own?  Let’s
just surmise and pretend, with our thinking cap in a prominent
position on our heads. Take Benjamin Franklin for example.

Benjamin Franklin would be a lot of fun as a guest. He loved
people, feasts, and celebrations. He would be at home with our
family gathering. He would genuinely love my 3 daughters, my
grandchildren, and would be especially fond of my wife’s homemade
Christmas Cheesecake. He’d like it so much he would ask for
seconds–maybe even thirds.

Ben would want to see how we kept it so fresh and cold. It was
baked yesterday, after all. I’d show him our Sub-Zero side by
side refrigerator/freezer and he’d be amazed. “Do you mean to
tell me that these appliances were invented to take advantage of
what I learned in that big thunderstorm when lightning was
attracted to the key on my kite’s string? And you keep lightning
right in the walls of your own home, and plug some wires from
this refrigerator directly into ‘outlets’ to access it?

Ben would be overjoyed to see all the Christmas lights (again due
to electricity), and he would love the sound of music coming from
the speakers of our sound system (Ben was a musician, you know.
He played the violin, guitar, and even his own invention, the
Armonica–a favorite of Beethoven). An armonica is a series of crystal glasses containing water, turned with a teasel, and played with a finger on the rims of the glasses.

While showing Ben our home, he would be interested in those
‘wagons’ kept in an indoor ‘garage’ for our convenience and
safety. He’d want to go for a ride in that ‘SUV.’  He’d be most
interested in how the car’s battery operated. Stored electricity.
And comfort. Travel was very difficult for Ben when he served as
Postmaster General and had to travel, even in inclement weather
in the Colonies. He resorted to telling outlandish stories about
horses and oysters, to crowded rooms at the Inn, especially on
one trip to Rhode Island, just so he could get himself a seat
comfortably near the fire!

But most of all, I think, Ben would be pleased to know that we
remember the real story of Christmas. Ben was a God-fearing man.
He had created a “Project for Moral Perfection” which he followed
all of his life. One of his goals in that project was to strive
for the humility which characterized Jesus Christ’s life. Ben
said if he did so, he would “probably be proud of my humility!”

Ben believed in Christ and in the Resurrection. In his own
personal epitaph he claimed his body would be raised “to appear
in a new and more elegant editions, Revised and corrected by the

Merry Christmas, Ben.

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.

Ben Franklin — Mind Your P’s and Q’s

October 24th, 2011

Benjamin FranklinA few years ago my wife, my son and I traveled in New York State. One small town we stopped at was Palmyra, near the “Finger Lakes.” In that town there is now a restored place of business known as “The Grandin Press and Print Shop.” The owner of that shop had the most advanced printing press of the times in 1830. It was not much different from the printing press on which Benjamin Franklin printed his “Poor Richard’s Almanac” in the 1750’s. The printing press may have been somewhat improved, but the actions required by the printer was nearly the same.

It was fun, educational and interesting to see this print shop and envision Benjamin Franklin as a young printer. The shop had reproductions of not only the press, but also the cases (don’t call them drawers) to hold the letters which would be individually manually placed in the press to create the handbill, newspaper, advertisement, or book pages to be printed.

These cases were about 2 1/2′ X 3 1/2′ and about 4″ deep as I recall. In other words, they were quite large. They were divided into small spaces to hold the actual pre-molded metal letters to be transferred to the press for the printing job at hand. These cases were stacked in a holding form about 6 to 10 feet from the press itself.

There were as many cases in the shop as would be needed for different printing styles or fonts. For each font there were two cases. The case higher on the rack, or uppercase, was to hold the capital letters, the one underneath it on the form would hold the regular or smaller letters. Hence the terminology “upper case” for capital letters, and “lower case” for regular letters. These terms, upper case and lower case, originated in the early days of the printing press used with movable type in letterpress printing.

When someone was typesetting (laying out the letters, know as composition) they would pull out two cases which were the same font, but one case would be the larger capital letters the printer would use to start sentences, names, as well as the punctuation, and so on. The other case would be the smaller letters.

When the printing was to be composed, the printer or apprentice, would move the proper cases to a nearer table or stand, which usually was angled from the back to the front to allow easier access to the proper letter, be it upper or lower case. An apprentices task was to disassemble, and redistribute the used type to the relevant cases. That was known as “dissing”, which seems to have taken on a new meaning today. Lazy apprentices sometimes mixed up the used letters so they would have to be reviewed and replaced into the right box from time to time.

As you can well imagine, these letter cases were quite heavy and unwieldy. Most printers assistants (which is how Ben started out) would carry one case at a time, with both hands. Oh the trouble if you should happen to drop a case and mix up the letters! What you may not know, is that Benjamin Franklin was such a good athlete, and such a strong young man, he would usually carry both cases at one time, balanced on each hand. And he rarely dropped a case.

Yes, Ben was an athlete. He was a wrestler and a great swimmer. No he didn’t participate in organized sports such as baseball, basketball or football — they had yet to be invented.

When Ben was learning to be an apprentice or printer’s assistant, he had to be reminded to “watch your p’s and q’s.” Those letters were close to each other in the font form and they were very similar. A ‘p’ had it’s long stroke on the right side, while a ‘q’ had the long stroke on the left side. The compositor takes the letter block from the compartments and places them in a composing stick, working from left to right and placing the letters upside down with the ‘nick’ at the top, and then sets the assembled type in a galley. So a compositor is essentially working letters upside down and backwards.

Therefore the printer, or his assistant, had to use care not to pick up the wrong letter. That’ where that old saying comes from. “Mind your P’s and Q’s.”

If you are traveling in upstate New York, you will find it interesting to stop in Palmyra and visit the Grandin Press and Print Shop. Such a visit will help you understand printing as it was in Benjamin Franklin’s time. You will understand more about Ben the printer.

One of the most interesting things Ben printed as a young printer was his own epitaph. You can find this in The Benjamin Franklin Autobiography. Although this epitaph wasn’t actually used on his gravestone when he died, I know you will appreciate the language he used. In it you can not only see Ben’s cleverness as a writer, but also get a view of his belief in Christ and the resurrection.

It reads like this:

The body of
B. Franklin, printer
(like the cover of an old book,
Its contents torn out
And stripped of it lettering and gilding)
Lies here food for worms,
But the work will not be lost;
For it will (as he believed) appear once more
In a new and more elegant edition,
Revised and corrected
By the Author.

[Founding Fathers–Uncommon Heroes, page 34-34]

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