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Thursday, 1 October 2009
Just opened...

Today I started reading a book by Gary Wills titled "Negro President" Jefferson and the Slave Power. It has been sometime since I read a book for pure pleasure and I am REALLY looking forward to doing so. Unfortunately the newspaper that I periodically write book reviews for is undergoing budget cuts. (Those of you who were expecting reviews, I ask that you please remain patient as I have a great working relationship with the editor and will most likely be back in the future when their resources for freelancers are restored.) As a result, I am going to take some ME time and simply read for fun.

Last Christmas I snagged a hardback copy of this title at a used bookstore to add to my ever-growing collection of books on Thomas Jefferson. There is no other individual in our nation's history as brilliant or complex as TJ and I remain in awe of this man. Anyone familiar with my work with The Jefferson Project knows that I have a newfound fascination for examining the difficult issue of slavery and Jefferson - not only in regards to how Jefferson himself viewed race relations - but also how we today, as people of different colors reflect on his views.

According to Amazon, Wills' book is "a richly detailed study of the United States' tragic constitutional bargain with slavery, and meanders through the lives of several key figures in antebellum American history along the way." This includes issues surrounding the influence of slavery in the U.S. between 1790 and 1848.

In addition to Jefferson, fellow Founder John Quincy Adams and federalist/abolitionist Timothy Pickering also play major roles in this study. The underlying conflict here is a key component in the Civil War. That is the political struggle between Northern versus Slave-State powers which began at the time of Jefferson and erupted with the South's secession. Although I have no intention of working with this material in any formal capacity, I hope to gather some new insights to share with you here.

Beyond the subject matter, "Negro President" looks to be an enjoyable read. Gary Wills is a tremendous historical writer. He won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, which describes the background and effect of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

This past summer I read Joyce Appleby's Thomas Jefferson and I have been casually working my way through The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography and Public and Private Letters. It will be nice to read something that I can wrap my little brain around. I am also planning a trip back to Monticello in the fall to photograph the leaves and check out the new Visitor's Center. Perhaps this time I will have a different perspective as I walk Mulberry Row?

I will say that I am entertaining the notion of (someday - off in the future...) writing a lengthy piece on Jefferson's experiences here in Fredericksburg where, at an establishment known as "Weedon's Tavern," he met with his political contemporaries in 1777 and agreed to author a bill for religious liberties in America.

Today, the Religious Freedom Monument stands proudly as a testament to that event. Jefferson himself proclaimed this bill to be one of his three proudest achievements, alongside authoring the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia. In fact, these three accomplishments are the only ones that he deemed worthy enough to inscribe on his grave marker at Monticello.

BONUS: Gary Wills discussing this book on NPR’s Tavis Smiley Show LISTEN HERE

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 12:02 PM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 1 October 2009 3:09 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Mosby the Republican?

This week I have been busy researching and writing a piece on John Singleton Mosby for a client. To be completely honest, I was not all that familiar with the man, although I have spent some time with Mosby historians at the Gray Ghost Winery and I am familiar with his famous raid in March of 1863 when he captured three high-ranking Union officers at Fairfax Courthouse, including Brigadier General Edwin H. Stoughton.

From what I gather, Mosby is one of those “larger than life figures” whose military contributions are still debated by experts to this very day. I asked my friend Eric Wittenberg of his thoughts on the legacy of “The Grey Ghost.” He stated that Mosby’s contributions were, in his opinion, more of a psychological deterrent and nuisance, and less of a tactical benefit in the grand scheme of things.

In January of 1863, Major General J.E.B. Stuart tasked one of his most gifted scouts, First Lieutenant John Singleton Mosby, with forming and leading a new group of southern horsemen known as the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry. Acting under the permission of General Robert E. Lee, and in accordance with the Confederate Congress’ Partisan Ranger Act of 1862, this group was christened “Mosby’s Rangers.”

Throughout the course of the Civil War, “The Grey Ghost” and his men continued to make life miserable for Union suppliers and couriers. Despite never taking part in any major engagements, their reputation continued to spread across the Old Dominion. Following the South’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865, Mosby begrudgingly disbanded his troops, vowing to never surrender formally.

Ironically “The Grey Ghost” went on to become a Republican campaign manager in Virginia for future President Ulysses S. Grant. With regard to his background with the Confederacy, Mosby wrote, “I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery — a soldier fights for his country — right or wrong — he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in...The South was my country.”

This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Mosby’s life as his postwar politics did not sit well with many of his peers. I liken this to James Longstreet’s participation in the Republican Party and the backlash that he experienced. As a result, I am now interested in Confederate officers who chose to enter the political sector following the war and especially those who gravitated toward Lincoln’s party. I hope to explore this topic in more detail as time permits and invite your thoughts on the subject.

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 10:21 AM EDT
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Monday, 28 September 2009
TJ Today

I have been participating in some online discussions posted over on The Jefferson Today blog dealing with the featured topic of Church and State. This is the official online community of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and directly tied to the Monticello website. Their ABOUT states the site is “a forum where scholars, public figures, and the general public can debate and interpret Thomas Jefferson’s ideas...” I am really enjoying the exchanges and hope to become a topic primer someday.

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 11:09 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, 28 September 2009 11:14 AM EDT
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Sunday, 27 September 2009
A blast from my past

A year ago I was interviewed for an upstart Christian publication that has since gone under. To be honest, I had forgotten about the article until today when I received an apologetic email from the publisher (citing the lack of subscription sales for the magazine's closure) along with a transcript of the piece. I am very sorry that this periodical was unable to survive the fledgling economy and it would be a shame to disregard their efforts...

Q: What came first in your life: your love for writing; your passion for the Civil War; or your faith?

A: I would have to say my faith first, but not always foremost. I wish I were one of those people who always had strong ties to the church. However, I was a lazy believer who grew up as a casual Catholic and only became a passionate Protestant in my adult life. I was baptized and raised in the Roman Catholic Church in western Pennsylvania. My mother was a Baptist and my father was a Lutheran. Both converted to Catholicism as young adults and attended St. Margarets of Scotland in Greentree, a suburb of Pittsburgh. As a youngster, I went to Mass on Sundays and attended religious education classes (CCD). I had my First Holy Communion and Confirmation and also participated in the church-sponsored scouts program. Unfortunately, when I graduated from high school, I stopped attending Mass altogether. My wife on the other hand was an active Presbyterian and we were married