Gettysburg Address: Halloween Edition

Hmmm, that is not quite the version I remember.  Speaking of zombies however, I have no doubt that the real Abraham Lincoln would have laughed at the following scene from the Bob Hope movie The Ghost Breakers (1940): (more…)

Published in: on October 31, 2011 at 5:45 am  Comments Off on Gettysburg Address: Halloween Edition  
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The Intriguing Saint Thomas More

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic, and I thought our Almost Chosen People history mavens might enjoy it.)

The figure of Saint Thomas More intrigues Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and has ever since his death.  Why is that?

1.  A Man for All Seasons-Saint Thomas More was all of these things:  a saint, a politician, historian, a lawyer, a judge, one of the leading intellectuals of his day, a witty jokester, a good family man, Chancellor of England, one of the most gifted writers of Latin or English, political theorist, inventor of a literary genre (utopias), dissident, martyr.  He crammed many lives into one life, and we continue to marvel at this.

2.  Nice guy-So many great figures in history are completely unapproachable,  evil or downright weird.  More on the other hand is the type of boon companion we would wish for, and a dinner guest to be dreamed of.

3.   Drama-More’s life, and his death, are full of endless drama, and would have made a great Shakespeare play.  Shakespeare may actually have had a hand in the play Thomas More, which, mirabile dictu considering it was written under Bad Queen Bess, treats Saint Thomas More with great respect.

4.    Contrast-King Henry VIII has come down in English history as a crowned monster, which is unusual since he initiated the Reformation in England which ultimately triumphed.  As a result of the negative attitude towards Henry, his victims have been generally treated generously by English historians and chief among these is Saint Thomas More.  Here are the words of Sir Winston Churchill on More:

“The resistance of More and Fisher to the royal supremacy in Church government was a heroic stand.  They realised the defects of the existing Catholic system, but they hated and feared the aggressive nationalism which was destroying the unity of Christendom.  They saw that the break with Rome carried with it the risk of a despotism freed from every fetter.  More stood forth as the defender of all that was finest in the medieval outlook.  He represents to history its universality, its belief in spiritual values, and its instinctive sense of otherworldliness.  Henry VIII with cruel axe decapitated not only a wise and gifted counselor, but a system which, though it had failed to live up to its ideals in practice, had for long furnished mankind with its brightest dreams.” (more…)

Published in: on October 30, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Intriguing Saint Thomas More  
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Long Ago

Something for the weekend.  Long Ago, a song written for a Confederate veterans reunion in the 1920s, sung by Bobby Horton, who has waged a one man campaign to bring the music of the Civil War era to modern audiences.  The song is a poignant reminder that though youth and strength fade, courage and honor do not.

Published in: on October 29, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Long Ago  
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Andrew Jackson Petitions Congress

The National Archives is really a great treasure, and it’s fantastic to have such a valuable resource so close to where I live and work.  Of course I’ve set foot in the place twice in ten years, so I haven’t exactly utilized the institution as much as I should have.  Then again, the first time was me and my wife’s first date, so at least it has served a useful purpose in the limited number of times I’ve used it.

Last week I had the opportunity see some of the documents that they don’t have on display.  These are real treasures to behold.  One such item was a petition sent to Congress in 1803 by a Tennessee farmer.  This individual submitted a claim for a tax refund for taxes paid on his stills after a fire destroyed much of his supply.  The petitioner: Andrew Jackson.  Here is the text of that letter:

The Honourable the Senate, and House of Representatives in Congress Assembled.

The remonstrance of Andrew Jackson, of the State of Tennessee, sheweth that on the first day of December, Seventeen hundred and Ninety nine, your remonstrant, obtaind liscence, to work Two Stills, for the space of One year, from the said first day of December, One Still Capacity One Hundred & Twenty Seven Gallons, the other Seventy Gallons, that on the night of the first Monday of June Eighteen Hundred, the Still House of your remonstrant, was Consumd with fire, with upward of three Hundred Gallons of whiskey, and the said Stills rendered entirely unfit for use, and of no value, and were never made use off after in the distillery of your remonstrant, your remonstrant paid up the Tax due to the first monday in June, which was about six months, and was of opinion (and that founded on reason and Justice) that the duties would cease to exist, at the period, of time, the Stills were rendered unfit for Service, these Ideas, Corresponded, with those of John Overton Esqre, Supervisor for the District of Tennessee, thro whom your remonstrant applyd for relief, furnishing him with due proof of the distillery, being burnt, and the Stills rendered unfit for Service, (which proof is hereto annexd, and transmited) having no doubt but the Secretary of Treasury, would direct, the Account to be Credited, for the Tax becoming due, after the said first monday of June, as the Supervisor had examind the proof, and allowd a proportionate, deduction, which will appeas by the Supervisors endorsement, on the back of the (Duplicate) Affidavits, your remonstrant had no doubt, but a power to grant relief, in such Cases, was lodgd in the hands of the Secretary of the Treasury or in some other department, of the Government, he could not believe that the United States would draw Money, from the misfortunes, of her Citizens, and neglect to lodge that Necessary power in the hands of Some officer, of  Government, to grant relief, where Justice required it, with these impressions, your remonstrant, rested satisfied, that the Secretary of Treasury, upon a view, of the proof, would exercise the power, which Justice so imperiously required, and have directed, a Credit as before Stated, But now So it is, that the Collector has Calld for the Tax accrued, after the first monday of June as aforesaid, with threats of distress,— your remonstrant Compelld to pay the sum demanded, which is inconsistant with Strict honesty, and Justice, and now prays that a General law, may be passd, granting relief to all persons situated as your remonstrant by Compelling the Collectors to refund, when they have Collected the duties accruing, on Stills after they have been rendered unfit for use in manner aforesaid; and your remonstrant as in duty bound, Shall &c. &c.

His petition was denied.

This letter, by the way, was found by pure happenstance.  The archives hold just about every available document sent to Congress, and there are tons of letters that nobody has ever seen, and there are potentially more letters like this sent by people who would go on to great fame.  After all, nobody knew at the time that Andrew Jackson would one day achieve national fame.  Another letter, this one kept on display, was sent by a nine-year old Cuban boy who wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt.  Among other things, the boy asked the president to send him a ten dollar bill for he had never seen one.  That boy was Fidel Castro.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Published in: on October 27, 2011 at 10:11 am  Comments Off on Andrew Jackson Petitions Congress  
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How to Lose Blog Readership

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic and I thought our Almost Chosen People readers might get a kick out of it.)

There are plenty of tips on the internet on how to build a blog audience.  Here are some tips on how to lose a blog audience:

10.  Be nitpicky-If someone deigns to leave a comment on your blog, make certain to correct their grammar, pick apart their argument ruthlessly over minor points and never, absolutely never, address the main point they are making.

9.    Never explain-If you want to post on the Albigensian Crusade, jump right into the subject and give no explanatory background.  If your readers are ignorant on the subject, tough.

8.     Ignorance Doesn’t Matter-Just because you are bone ignorant on a subject doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion!  Jump right in and let your readers sort things out.  Life is too short for research and fact checking.

7.      Use your blog as a substitute for therapy-Scream at your readers if you are feeling miserable, and lose your temper over small matters with your commenters.  You will feel better and that is all that counts.  If no one reads your blog, that is a small price to pay.

6.       Spellcheck?-Spellcheck and concerns about grammar are for dweebs.  If your readers worry about such things, who needs them! (more…)

Published in: on October 25, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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History of the Lincoln Penny

President Theodore Roosevelt hated US currency and coins.  Actually he hated what he considered to be the lack of artistic merit of the designs on the currency and coins.  As part of his overhaul of the currency, the Lincoln penny was born.  In putting Lincoln on the penny TR was breaking with a long-standing tradition that no person appear on regularly circulating US coins but rather idealized personifications of  concepts such as liberty.  The new pennies were issued on August 2, 1909, the centennial year of Lincoln’s birth. (more…)

Published in: on October 24, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on History of the Lincoln Penny  
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Lessons to Learn

As we observe the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it is all too easy in studying battles, strategies, emancipation, political conflicts, to lose sight of the fact that those going through this immense struggle were individuals like us.  The video above, with photos of Confederate soldiers, helps remind us of what just an immense tragedy the Civil War was for the loved ones of every soldier who fell in that war.  Virtually every soldier was loved by some one, and usually many people:  parents, siblings, friends, other relatives, and a wife or girlfriend.  It is fitting and proper that we study the war, but we must never lose sight of the human suffering behind what we study.  Many of the men in the photos in the video above doubtless died of illness or battlefield wounds far from family and loved ones.  It is for us to draw meaning from why they fought and what they died for. (more…)

Published in: on October 23, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lessons to Learn  

945 Years Since the Norman Conquest

Hattip to my co-blogger Tito at The American Catholic for bringing to my attention the beautiful video above that animates the Bayeaux tapestry which tells the story of the Norman conquest of England in 1066, a pivotal moment in English, and hence American, history.

The Norman conquest opened England to French influence and changed the English language through wholesale importation of French and Latin words into the tongue.  William the Bastard, in more ways than one, Duke of Normandy and, after Hastings, King of England, the ablest soldier of his day, bequeathed to his successors a centralized monarchy which helped England to become a power in Europe, and developed institutions which would guide English life for centuries.  The importance of the day of battle at Hastings for English history cannot be overstated. (more…)

Published in: on October 19, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Father Francis P. Duffy: War and Humor

“If you want an example of how you ought to worship God, go over to the 69th.  You’ll see hundreds of sturdy men kneeling on the ground hearing mass.”

               Father Francis P. Duffy in a letter to Cardinal Farley

A recent National Guard video on Father Francis P. Duffy.  I have written about Father Duffy here.  His courage as a chaplain with the Fighting 69th made him a legend in his own time.  However courage was only one of his virtues.  Just as appreciated by the young soldiers he helped shepherd through the hell of trench warfare in World War I France was his sense of humor.  Here are a few samples:

Amongst the sturdiest and brightest of our recruits were two young men who had recently been Jesuit Novices. I amused one Jesuit friend and, I am afraid, shocked another by saying that they were exercising a traditional religious privilege of seeking a higher state of perfection by quitting the Jesuits and joining the 69th.

The newcomers are not yet accustomed to the special church regulations relieving soldiers of the obligation of Friday abstinence. Last Friday the men came back from a hard morning’s drill to find on the table a generous meal of ham and cabbage. The old-timers from the Border pitched into this, to the scandal of many of the newer men who refused to eat it, thus leaving all the more for the graceless veterans. After dinner a number of them came to me to ask if it were true that it was all right. I said it was, because there was a dispensation for soldiers. “Dispensation,” said a Jewish boy, “what good is a dispensation for Friday to me. I can’t eat ham any day of the week. Say, Father, that waiter guy, with one turn of his wrist, bust two religions.”

I asked one of the men how he liked the idea of going to confession to a priest who cannot speak English. “Fine, Father,” he said with a grin,  “All he could do was give me a penance, but you’d have given me hell.” (more…)

Published in: on October 18, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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“I thank God that I served as a sergeant and army  chaplain in the First World War. How much I learned about the human  heart during this time, how much experience I gained, what grace I  received.”

Pope John XXIII

The seventh in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.   The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here,  here and here.  Throughout his life Kipling constantly returned to one theme in his poetry and prose:  the common British soldier.  Kipling did not romanticize them, being far too aware that they were merely fallible humans like the rest of us, and often the products of the school of hard knocks with many rough edges about them.  However, he also recognized their virtues:  courage, endurance, good humor and a willingness to place their lives at jeopardy for the rest of us.  He never forgot the men who lived at the sharp end of the stick and who often got the short end of the stick from the society they protected.    His poem Tommy  brilliantly encapsulates this wretched ingratitude:

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
 O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
 But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
 The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
 O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
 For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
 But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
 The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
 O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
 Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
 But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
 The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
 O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
 While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
 But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
 There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
 O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!



Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Tommy  
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