Ah, Millard Fillmore, doubtless the most obscure of American presidents. As far as most Americans are concerned, everything in the above video could have been true. For a somewhat, hopefully, more factual look at our thirteenth president, go here.
War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things, the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice—is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.
The above quotation from John Stuart Mill, British Member of Parliament,writer and philosopher, is frequently bandied about the internet, usually in an inaccurate form. The quote is taken from an article that Mill wrote for Frasier’s Magazine and which was published in February 1862. It is entitled The Contest in America, and here is the full text of the article: (more…)
A stirring rendition of Wearing of the Gray, sung by The Wolfe Tones, an Irish group usually known for singing Irish rebel music.
Perhaps the most informative diary written in the Old South was that kept by Mary Boykin Chesnut, wife to James Chesnut, US Senator from South Carolina and during the war a Confederate General and aide to General Beauregard and President Davis. Her diary is filled with intelligence and wit and is a treat to read. Here are a few selections: (more…)
The news is currently filled with reports of Democrat state senators from Wisconsin on the lam in my home state of Illinois in an attempt to prevent a quorum in the Wisconsin state senate and stall action on Governor Scott Walker’s public employees union bill. Fleeing from a legislative chamber to prevent a quorum from being formed and stall legislation is a tactic probably as old as legislative chambers. In 1841 Illinois Representative Abraham Lincoln was involved in such an attempt. (more…)
One of the more interesting aspects of the conflict between Jefferson and Adams is how little difference it made in the long run in American history, except, perhaps, for an early establishment of the two party tradition. For all Jefferson’s partiality to France, when he was in office he steered a strictly neutral course. The economic development of the country was little changed by the switch in parties in power. The battles over internal developments that marked the conflicts between Democrats and Whigs, were matters for a later time when expansion and technological progress brought them to the fore. The Alien and Sedition Acts which loom large in the below video:
involved less of principle and more of politics. Jefferson, for example, was in favor of prosecutions of federalists under state sedition laws in states which his followers controlled.
As Jefferson and Adams found when they began an increasingly friendly private correspondence in 1812, the two old revolutionaries agreed on far more than they differed, and I would argue that their differences were usually more theoretical than practical, as both demonstrated in their presidencies. (more…)
One hundred and fifty years ago Abraham Lincoln was getting close to Washington as he traveled there to be sworn in as our sixteenth president. On February 22, the birthday of Washington, he stopped at Independence Hall in Philadelphia and made a brief speech on the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers were the political lodestar for Lincoln all of life, so his remarks on this occasion are of special interest: (more…)
Most lists of great American presidents have two names at the top: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. There is some debate as to which should be first. If it were possible to ask Lincoln his opinion, I have little doubt how he would respond based upon the closing of a speech that he gave to the Washington Temperance Society in Springfield, Illinois on February 22, 1842: (more…)
The video above from the magnificent John Adams series depicts the first inaugural of George Washington. Washington for me is the standard by which all our other presidents are judged. Without him of course, in all likelihood, there would be no United States as the American Revolution would have been lost without him to lead the starving, ragged Continentals to an against the odds victory. In turbulent times he then led the nation for the first eight years under the new Constitution, setting the nation firmly on a course of prosperity, growth and expanding liberty. A statesman like Washington comes to a people once every few centuries if they are fortunate, and we had him precisely when we needed a leader of his calibre most.
Would that our other presidents, with the exception of Lincoln, had possessed a fraction of his ability to lead and his wisdom to chart a sound course. I also wish that our other presidents had one of his minor traits: brevity. Here is his second inaugural address in its entirety: (more…)