1752: The Year of the Missing 11 days

“It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on September 2, and not have to get up until September 14.”

Benjamin Franklin celebrating the elimination of 11 days in the switchover in 1752 from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar.

February 29, seems like an appropriate date to discuss the Gregorian Calendar.  The Julian Calendar, implemented by Julius Caesar, had been a striking advance for its day, placing the Roman calendar on a solar, rather than a lunar basis, and being only 11 minutes off in the solar year, a strikingly accurate estimate for the time.  However, eleven minutes added up as the long centuries passed, and by the sixteenth century the calendar and the seasons were ten days out of whack, which was important to the Church in regard to the calculation of Easter.  The Gregorian Calendar implemented by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 eliminated ten days from the calendar and instituted the February 29 leap year, ever four years, to compensate for the extra six hours between 365 days and the solar year which adds up each year.  Three leap years are skipped every four centuries in years which are divisible by 100 but not divisible by 400.  The Gregorian Calendar is off by 26 seconds each year which results in an extra day every 3,323 years. (more…)

Published in: on February 29, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on 1752: The Year of the Missing 11 days  
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The Rifleman and Job

 

From the second episode of The Rifleman television series entitled Home Ranch, first broadcast on October 7, 1958.  Lucas McCain and his son are taking possession of their ranch outside of North Fork that McCain purchased in the first episode.  Agents of a local cattle baron, who has been using the range of the abandoned ranch, burn down the house on the property in order to force McCain to sell the land to the cattle baron.  His ten year old son Mark, in despair, says it looks to him as if the Lord is dead set against them ever owning a ranch.  McCain responds by telling his son the story of Job.  Director Sam Peckinpah loved the Book of Job, and would often recite verses from it when he encountered bumps in the road during his life.

Published in: on February 28, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Rifleman and Job  
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1812 Overture

 

 

Something for the weekend.  Tchaikovsky’s  1812 Overture.  Written in 1880 to commemorate the victory of Russia over Napoleon, its composition was due to the fact that the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, commissioned by Tsar Alexander I in thanksgiving for the victory, was nearing completion.  As it happens Tchaikovsky did not think much of what would become his most famous piece, writing that it was noisy and lacked all artistic merit and was written by him without love.  Oddly enough, it has become associated in this country with the Fourth of July, as I have heard it performed on several Independence Day celebrations.

Although it has been endlessly parodied, “the cereal that’s shot from guns”, I have always liked it.  Listening to a great piece of music like this, I wonder if the below humor piece does not possess a rare insight: (more…)

Published in: on February 27, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on 1812 Overture  
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Risen: A Day Without Death

 

(I posted this at The American Catholic, and I thought the film mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

 

My bride and I saw the movie Risen in Kankakee, Illinois last Sunday at the Paramount Theater in downtown Kankakee.  The Paramount Theater is a well maintained movie palace that was built in 1931.  Sitting in its wide seats and viewing its art deco adornments, one is transported back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when attending movies was an event, and people did not expect to see films in cramped, one size fits all characterless shoeboxes.  By popular request, this review of the movie Risen will contain only minor spoilers, below the fold.  I highly recommend the film, and I thought that I would give the film some historical background that may enhance the enjoyment of viewers. (more…)

Published in: on February 26, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Risen: A Day Without Death  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: John Adams

John-Adams-Quote-Religion-and-Morality

Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue; and if this cannot be inspired into our people in a greater measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies. You cannot, therefore, be more pleasantly or usefully employed than in the way of your profession, pulling down the strong-holds of Satan. This is not cant, but the real sentiment of my heart. Remember me with much respect to your worthy family and to all friends.

John Adams, letter to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776

Published in: on February 25, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: John Adams  
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Jefferson on the History of the American Revolution

 

 

On August 10, 1815, Thomas Jefferson set pen to paper to respond to John Adams’ letter to him of July 30, 1815.  Go here to read that letter.  Jefferson was no more optimistic than Adams that a true history of the American Revolution could be written:

 

 

On the subject of the history of the American revolution, you ask Who shall write it? who can write it? and who ever will be able to write it? nobody; except merely it’s external facts. all it’s councils, designs and discussions, having been conducted by Congress with closed doors, and no member, as far as I know, having even made notes of them. these, which are the life and soul of history must for ever be unknown. Botta, as you observe, has put his own speculations and reasonings into the mouths of persons whom he names, but who, you & I know, never made such speeches. in this he has followed the example of the antients, who made their great men deliver long speeches, all of them in the same style, and in that of the author himself. the work is nevertheless a good one, more judicious, more chaste, more classical, and more true than the party diatribe of Marshall. it’s greatest fault is in having taken too much from him. I possessed the work, and often recurred to considerable portions of it, altho’ I never read it through. but a very judicious and well informed neighbor of mine went thro’ it with great attention, and spoke very highly of it. I have said that no member of the old Congress, as far as I knew, made notes of the discussions. I did not know of the speeches you mention of Dickinson and Witherspoon. but on the questions of Independance and on the two articles of Confederation respecting taxes & voting I took minutes of the heads of the arguments. on the first I threw all into one mass, without ascribing to the speakers their respective arguments; pretty much in the manner of Hume’s summary digests of the reasonings in parliament for and against a measure. on the last I stated the heads of arguments used by each speaker. but the whole of my notes on the question of independance does not occupy more than 5. pages, such as of this letter: and on the other questions two such sheets. they have never been communicated to any one. do you know that there exists in MS. the ablest work of this kind ever yet executed, of the debates of the Constitutional convention of Philadelphia in 1788.? the whole of every thing said and done there was taken down by mr Madison, with a labor and exactness beyond comprehension. I presume that our correspondence has been observed at the post offices, and thus has attracted notice. would you believe that a printer has had the effrontery to propose to me the letting him publish it? these people think they have a right to every thing however secret or sacred.

The last sentence is perhaps a fitting rebuke to those of us looking over the shoulders of Jefferson and Adams as they drafted these private missives.  However, History is not bound by the division of public and private, and men who are at the forefront of great events cannot expect that historians will allow good manners to overcome the necessity to ferret out all available knowledge.

Published in: on February 24, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Jefferson on the History of the American Revolution  
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John Adams on the History of the American Revolution

John Adams often groused that the true history of the American Revolution would never be written.  Considering this, it is somewhat surprising that he did not undertake the task himself.  He had ample time after his Presidency, and his lively and copious correspondence indicates that age had not lessened his skill with a pen.  It is possible that he simply viewed it as an impossible task, as he indicated in a letter to Thomas Jefferson on July 30, 1815:

 

 

 

Dear Sir                                                                                                                                                                                  Quincy July 30th 1815

Who shall write the history of the American revolution? Who can write it? Who will ever be able to write it?

The most essential documents, the debates & deliberations in Congress from 1774 to 1783 were all in secret, and are now lost forever. Mr Dickinson printed a speech, which he said he made in Congress against the Declaration of Independence; but it appeared to me very different from that, which you, and I heard. Dr Witherspoon has published speeches which he wrote beforehand, and delivered Memoriter, as he did his Sermons. But these I believe, are the only speeches ever committed to writing. The Orators, while I was in Congress from 1774 to 1778 appeared to me very universally extemporaneous, & I have never heard of any committed to writing before or after delivery.

These questions have been suggested to me, by a Review, in the Analectic Magazine for May 1815, published in Philadelphia, page 385 of the Chevalier Botta’s “Storia della Guerra Americana.” The Reviewers inform us, that it is the best history of the revolution that ever has been written. This Italian Classick has followed the example, of the Greek and Roman Historians, by composing speeches, for his Generals and Orators. The Reviewers have translated, one of Mr R H Lee, in favour of the declaration of Independence. A splendid morcell of oratory it is; how faithful, you can judge.

I wish to know your sentiments, and opinions of this publication.  Some future Miss Porter, may hereafter, make as shining a romance, of what passed in Congress, while in Conclave, as her Scottish Chiefs.

Your friend durante Vita2

John Adams

(more…)

Published in: on February 23, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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George Washington and the Standing Miracle

Today is the 284th birthday of the Father of our Country, George Washington.  The above video from the musical 1776 depicts John Adams asking the Secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson if he stands with Adams or the opponents of Independence.  Thomson responds that he stands with the General, George Washington.  Throughout 1776, Washington is an unseen presence but a powerful one.  As Congress considers the question of Independence, Washington’s messages to Congress paint a gloomy military picture.  Each member of Congress knows that if they declare Independence, only Washington and his ragtag army stand between them and a hangman’s noose.

Washington was always blunt, albeit respectful, in his messages to Congress.  It was his task to somehow hold together an army paid in worthless currency, dressed in rags, often barefoot, ill-fed and hastily trained.  For eight long years, while the American economy largely collapsed due to a blockade, he pulled endless rabbits out of his tri-corn hat to keep his army in being for yet another day.  He did this while respecting the civilian leadership of the new nation, a leadership that often seemed feckless and impotent.  He did this while confronting the mightiest empire in the world that controlled the seas and deployed a superb army.

At periods during the Revolution Washington led his army with a skill that excited the imagination of the world.  After the Trenton-Princeton campaign, Frederick the Great, King of Prussia and the foremost general of his day, wrote,  “The achievements of Washington and his little band of compatriots between the 25th of December and the 4th of January, a space of 10 days, were the most brilliant of any recorded in the annals of military achievements.”  I certainly agree with this and Washington fully earned the nicknames bestowed upon him by his British adversaries:  “the fox” and “the old fox”.  However, what excites my admiration most about Washington during the American Revolution was that he kept the Continental Army alive, and made it a formidable force.

In his farewell order to his victorious Continental Army George Washington wrote:

A contemplation of the compleat attainment (at a period earlier than could have been expected) of the object for which we contended against so formidable a power cannot but inspire us with astonishment and gratitude. The disadvantageous circumstances on our part, under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverence of the Armies of the U States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle. (more…)

Published in: on February 22, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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John Adams: Washington’s Ten Talents

 

“The History of our Revolution will be one continued lye [sic] from one end to the other. The essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin’s electric rod smote the earth and out sprang General Washington. Then Franklin electrified him… and thence forward those two conducted all the Policy, Negotiations, Legislations, and War.” 

John Adams, letter to Benjamin Rush, 1790

John Adams was a very great man, but he could be somewhat petty at times.  This pettiness came to the fore when he considered that other men, particularly George Washington, would loom larger than him in the history of the American Revolution and its aftermath.  In a letter to Benjamin Rush on November 11, 1807, he remarked upon what he considered to be Washington’s ten great talents:

Self taught or Book learned in the Arts, our Hero was much indebted to his Talents for “his immense elevation above his Fellows.” Talents? you will say, what Talents? I answer.

1. An handsome Face. That this is a Talent, I can prove by the authority of a thousand Instances in all ages: and among the rest Madame Du Barry who said Le veritable Royaute est la Beaute.

2. A tall Stature, like the Hebrew Sovereign chosen because he was taller by the Head than the other Jews.

3 An elegant Form.

4. graceful Attitudes and Movement:

5. a large imposing Fortune consisting of a great landed Estate left him by his Father and Brother, besides a large Jointure with his Lady, and the Guardianship of the Heirs of the great Custis Estate, and in addition to all this, immense Tracts of Land of his own acquisition. There is nothing, except bloody Battles and Splendid Victories, to which Mankind bow down with more reverence than to great fortune. They think it impossible that rich Men especially immensely rich Men, Should Submit to the trouble of Serving them but from the most benevolent and disinterested Motives. . . . Such is their Love of the Marvellous, and Such their Admiration of uncommon Generosity that they will believe extraordinary pretensions to it and the Pope Says, Si bonus Populus vult decipi, decipiatur. Washington however did not deceive them. I know not that they gave him more credit for disinterestedness, than he deserved, though they have not given many others so much. (more…)

Published in: on February 21, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on John Adams: Washington’s Ten Talents  
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Yankee Doodle and The World Turned Upside Down

Something for the weekend.  Yankee Doodle, seems appropriate in the weekend before Washington’s Birthday.  Originally sung by British officers to disparage American troops who fought beside them in the French and Indian War, it was seized upon by Patriots, given endless lyrics, and cheered the patriot troops and civilians during the eight long years of the Revolution.  After Lexington and Concord it was reported by Massachusetts newspapers that the British were suddenly not as fond of the song:

“Upon their return to Boston [pursued by the Minutemen], one [Briton] asked his brother officer how he liked the tune now, — ‘Dang them,’ returned he, ‘they made us dance it till we were tired’ — since which Yankee Doodle sounds less sweet to their ears.”

At Yorktown when the British troops marched out in surrender, they looked at the French troops, doing their best to pretend that the American troops did not exist.  The Marquis de Lafayette, commanding the Continental Light Infantry Division, was outraged and ordered his bands to strike up Yankee Doodle.  Startled by the outburst of music the British turned and faced the Americans who had outlasted and defeated them in a very long War.  It was appropriate that the British bands were playing a popular ditty, The World Turned Upside Down. (more…)

Published in: on February 20, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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