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Monday, 14 March 2011
The Soldiers Parson
Although military chaplains did not exist in an ‘official capacity’ there were instances of clergymen following their flocks into the field during the American Revolution. James Caldwell, also known as “The Fighting Chaplain” was a Presbyterian minister who served with the Continentals as both an army and militia chaplain. Following his graduation in 1759 from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), Caldwell became the pastor at the Elizabethtown Presbyterian Church. His church was burned to the ground by Tories in 1780 setting him on the path towards a new purpose.
Caldwell’s reputation among the troops quickly became legendary following the Battle of Springfield. According to the Library of Congress’ website Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, “At the battle of Springfield, New Jersey, on June 23, 1780, when his company ran out of wadding, Caldwell was said to have dashed into a nearby Presbyterian Church, scooped up as many Watts hymnals as he could carry, and distributed them to the troops, shouting ‘put Watts into them, boys.’”
Tragically the clergyman and his wife were both killed before the war ended. Elizabeth Caldwell was struck down by British gunfire during the Battle of Connecticut Farms. It was reported that she had been shot through the window of their home as she sat with her children on a bed. The circumstances over this “accidental shooting” were disputed. James’ death was equally tragic as he was shot by a Continental sentry after refusing to allow the inspection of a package. The sentry, James Morgan, was hanged for murder after rumors leaked that he had been paid to assassinate the chaplain. With the untimely death of both parents, the nine orphaned Caldwell children were raised by relatives and friends of the family.
Sunday, 13 March 2011
Back to business
I think I’ll give the Tea Party folks a break. “Blog or Die” is supposed to be about real substance, not political commentary. Like my fellow Civil War bloggers who are crusading against the myth of Black Confederates, I will continue to call the TP out for butchering the Revolution. For now, let’s move on…
This week I delivered my latest feature for Patriots of the American Revolution on the 1804 Alexander Hamilton- Aaron Burr duel. The article came in just under 4,000 words and presented five components: 1. the background on the strained relationship between Hamilton and Burr, 2. the events that set the duel in motion, 3. the eyewitness account from the attending physician, 4. the post-duel affect on Burr’s public life, and 5. the anti-dueling movement which arose. I included a sidebar with “The Code Duello” under which duels were conducted.
Most folks will be surprised to know that neither men were strangers to dueling, especially Hamilton. His son Philip had been killed three years earlier in a match against George I. Eaker after he and a friend engaged in “hooliganish behavior” in Eaker’s box at Manhattan’s Park Theater. Hamilton had also been the principal in ten shot-less duels from 1770-1779. These included matches against William Gordon, Aedanus Burke, John Francis Mercer, James Nicholson, James Monroe, and Ebenezer Purdy. He acted in the role of second at three other challenges.
By analyzing the accounts, I cannot help but think that Hamilton entered this duel thinking that his adversary would not fire. Without giving away all the details, I will say that there are a number of perplexing questions. Hamilton was a highly regarded military man and Burr was known as being a poor shot. Yet Hamilton shoots high, misses, and tragically dies while Burr manages to hit his target in a manner that mortally wounds. Hamilton's demeanor leading up to the duel is also odd. One item that I did not discuss in the article is the last letter penned by Hamilton. According to the Massachusetts Historical Society:
Alexander Hamilton’s 10 July letter to Theodore Sedgwick of Stockbridge, Mass., is perhaps more notable for what it does not contain, rather than what it does. Writing only hours before he met Aaron Burr on the dueling grounds in Weehawken, New Jersey, Hamilton never mentions his deadly assignation to Sedgwick, nor suggests in any way that this could be his final letter. Instead, Hamilton briefly informs Sedgwick, a fellow Federalist and Massachusetts judge, of his distaste for politics and his negative views of current talk regarding the secession of the New England states and democracy in general. Hamilton writes: “... our real Disease ... is Democracy, the poison of which by a subdivision will only be the more concentrated in each part, and consequently the more virulent.”
Here is the letter in its entirety:
New York July 10. 1804
My Dear Sir
I have received two letters from you
since we last saw each other -- that of the latest date being
the 24 of May. I have had in hand for some
time a long letter to you, explaining my view of the
course and tendency of our Politics, and my intentions
as to my own future conduct. But my plan embraced
so large a range that owing to much avocation, some
indifferent health, and a growing distaste for
Politics, the letter is still considerably short of
being finished -- I write this now to satisfy you,
that want of regard for you has not been
the cause of my silence --
I will here express but one
sentiment, which is, that Dismembrement of our
Empire will be a clear sacrifice of great positive ad-
vantages, without any counterballancing good;
administering no relief to our real Disease; which
is Democracy, the poison of which by a subdivision
will only be the more concentrated in each part,
and consequently the more virulent.
King is on his way for
Boston where you may chance see him,
and hear from himself his sentiments --
God bless you
Why didn't Hamilton mention the duel? Perhaps he felt it was a private affair at the time. Maybe he was so used to participating in shot-less duels he felt this one would be equally uneventful. In reading his words, they (in my opinion) come off as sounding frustrated and cynical. He confesses a “growing distaste for politics.” Of course this is only speculation as no one will ever know what he was really thinking the night before he died. You can view a hi-res image of the letter here.
I will post a PDF of the article once it runs in PAR. In the meantime, here’s a YouTube link to some of that substance that I was talking about.
Friday, 11 March 2011
Continuing on yesterday’s theme about the dangers of debating with historical quotes, another issue that has spread like wildfire across the Internet is the dissemination of faked or fabricated quotes. This deplorable practice is perpetrated in one of two ways: either the user extracts a section of a much larger statement in order to use it out of context, or they simply invent something that they believe ‘sounds’ like the intended author would have said.
I cannot believe how many misquotes exist on the Internet. Making matters worse, people don’t take the time to validate their information and simply copy and paste these quotes again and again. Whether it’s a case of ruthlessness or laziness, the results are the same. Here are some examples:
This fake quote from John Adams is used repeatedly on atheist’s sites all over the web:
This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it!!!
What Adams actually wrote (in context):
Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!" But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell. – John Adams, quoted from Charles Francis Adams, ed, Works of John Adams (1856), vol. X, p. 254
Here is a fabricated quote from Thomas Jefferson:
The Christian god can easily be pictured as virtually the same god as the many ancient gods of past civilizations. The Christian god is a three headed monster; cruel, vengeful and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites.
Positive Atheism Magazine did their homework before re-quoting this one and contacted the folks at the Thomas Jefferson Library in an attempt to find a source for this statement. Their reply:
The Jefferson Presidential Library has searched for the following alleged quotation and cannot find it within their collection of known and verified Jefferson writings. Therefore we think this quotation is probably a forgery and recommend its removal from all quotes collections.
Finally here is one of the most popular misquotes from Benjamin Franklin:
Lighthouses are more useful than churches.
The closest anyone has found to this statement is an excerpt from a letter that Franklin wrote to his wife on July 17, 1757. It was originally printed in a footnote on page 133 of Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin (1818). After describing a narrow escape from shipwreck he added:
The bell ringing for church, we went thither immediately, and with hearts full of gratitude, returned sincere thanks to God for the mercies we had received: were I a Roman Catholic, perhaps I should on this occasion vow to build a chapel to some saint, but as I am not, if I were to vow at all, it should be to build a light-house.
So the next time you are Googling the Internet in search of words of wisdom from the Founding Fathers, double check your sources and if they are not available, don’t quote them. There are a lot of credible books out there that contain this information and I highly recommend using them in place of the web.
Thursday, 10 March 2011
What did he say?
Over the last week my friend Richard Williams and I have been sharing a spirited debate about the Tea Party Movement. One of our discussions deals with the Founding Father’s intent in regards to religion and government (Read Here). You may notice that Richard loves to use quotes. I sometimes use quotes too, but over the last few days, I have come to the conclusion that they simply don’t work by themselves in support of an argument. Why? When a quote is used in isolation simply to defend one’s view against another, there is no context or time reference. It has been literally cut from its place and time or origin and pasted into another. Most of the time this renders the quote moot.
Just like us, people throughout the course of history have changed their minds and evolved. What is said today, may contradict what is said tomorrow. If you were to quote Abraham Lincoln’s views on slavery early in the Civil War, and then quoted him on the same subject after, you would get two completely different perspectives. Same with the Founding Fathers, their memoirs, letters and publications are full of contradictions and hypocrisy. Quoting complex individuals like a John Adams or Thomas Jefferson in isolation can be dicey at times. These were brilliant men who lived in an "Age of Enlightenment" and penned thousands of papers. They were also constantly re-evaluating the world around them.
Our current debate deals specifically with the establishment of the country’s foundation and what did the Founders believe at that time. Richard contends that the Founders established a Christian nation, while I believe the concept of a 'Christian nation' goes against the very essence of what they were trying to accomplish. Here are two examples of quotes that Richard offered and my counter-quotes. I have added the source information for reference:
Richard’s: “The practice of morality being necessary for the well being of society, He [God] has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain. We all agree in the obligation of the moral principles of Jesus and nowhere will they be found delivered in greater purity than in His discourses.” – Thomas Jefferson to James Fishback (1809)
Mine: “Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” – Thomas Jefferson to Virginia Baptists (1808)
Richard’s: “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.” – John Adams to Thomas Jefferson (1813)
Mine: “The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. …It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.” – John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787-88)
So were they for or against establishing America as a Christian-Nation? In this case both quotes contradict one another. One could dispute the time context, in which case the older quotes (mine) would be accurate as they are closer back to the country’s founding. However, you could counter-argue that both men grew to embrace the concept in which case the newer quotes (Richard’s) are plausible. My point is that you can quote and counter-quote people again-and-again and still not know what they were truly thinking. One quick search on the Internet reveals hundreds of pages of historical quotes, which have been isolated and manipulated to support all kinds of agendas. Christians, atheists, conservatives and liberals all have websites that reprint the Founding Father’s words for and/or against their cause.
So who is right and who is wrong? I think the answer is – it depends…
Tuesday, 8 March 2011
Next piece for PAR
I am researching material for a piece for Patriots of the American Revolution magazine about the infamous Alexander Hamilton – Aaron Burr duel. In addition to the event itself, I am including a sidebar that outlines the proper rules of engagement for dueling. Burr is someone that I know very little about and I am looking forward to learning about his life after the duel. What was it like to be the man who killed Alexander Hamilton? Burr’s adversary has always been a perplexing character to me and at first glance, personifies the stubborn “alpha-male” who is incapable of standing down. I wonder if this is true. Two of Hamilton’s peers, Ben Franklin and George Washington both opposed the practice of dueling. Franklin referred to duels as a “murderous practice” adding that “they decide nothing” and Washington urged his officers to refuse any challenges during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately these opinions were lost on their colleague who was mortally wounded and died on July 12, 1804.
The end of the article will deal with the after-effects of Hamilton’s death on the public’s conscience. Many people are unaware of the anti-dueling movement that arose from his death. Hamilton’s father-in-law attended a church in Albany where Pastor Eliphalet Nott gave a sermon that was reprinted in a tract titled A Discourse, Delivered in the North Dutch Church, in the City of Albany, Occasioned by the Ever to be Lamented Death of General Alexander Hamilton, July 29, 1804. Two years later, a minister named Lyman Beecher delivered an anti-dueling sermon later re-printed in a pamphlet as The Remedy for Dueling, which was distributed by the Anti-Dueling Association of New York. Both clergymen were more successful in spreading their message than their predecessor, the Reverend Mason Weems, who had published a fiery pamphlet titled God’s Revenge Against Dueling prior to the Hamilton-Burr match. In this sense, Hamilton’s death helped to bring about the end of dueling in America.
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