Thomas Fleming, RIP

FlemingI just learned that historian and writer Thomas Fleming passed away this week.  He was 90-years-old.

At Boston 1775, J.L. Bell reflects on his life and work.  Here is a taste:

Inspired by advice he received early on to write four pages a day, six days a week, Tom completed more than fifty books in all. The best-selling title was probably Liberty!: The American Revolution, based on the P.B.S. television series. But his own studies of the Revolutionary War covered everything from a single battle in New Jersey (The Forgotten Victory) to Yorktown (Beat the Last Drum) and beyond (The Perils of Peace). 

Tom also wrote on other periods of American history, he wrote historical fiction, and he wrote books for younger readers. In 2010 I got to attend a staged reading of a play he had composed decades earlier about Dr. Joseph Warren and Dr. Benjamin Church.

I never met Tom Fleming, but I will always appreciate him and his work.  He wrote a very kind blurb for my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.   I checked my e-mail archives today and found an e-mail that Fleming wrote to Jana Riess, the book’s editor at Westminster/John Knox Press.

Fleming wrote:

Dear Jana Riess:

John Fea was good enough to send me a copy of his forthcoming book, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? I’ve read it and am deeply impressed. Here is a comment you may want to use.

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation explores this controversial question with remarkable objectivity — and admirable scholarship. This is a book that every intelligent reader should have in his library.

Thomas Fleming

Author of The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers

RIP.  You can read another obituary here.

Does *Civilta Cattolica” Fully Understand Catholic-Evangelical Relations in America?


Several years ago I participated in “Catholics and Evangelicals for the Common Good,” a dialogue held at Georgetown University between evangelicals (Ron Sider, Michael Gerson, Stephen Monsma, Richard Cizik, Glenn Stassen,  David Neff,  Cheryl Sanders, Rick Warren, Brian McGraw, Shirley Mullen, Tinothy Shah, Galen Carey, and others) and Catholics (Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, E.J. Dionne,  Thomas Banchoff, John Borelli, John Carr, Kathleen Caveny,  John DeGoia, Leslie Tentler, and others)

I entered the conversation as it was winding down.  In fact, I think I only attended the last two sessions of the multi-year dialogue.  At one point I gave a paper on the history of evangelical political engagement.

But despite my limited involvement, I left this working group with much hope about how evangelicals and Catholics could work together to make a more just and good society where all of us can flourish.

The papers presented during this four-year dialogue will be published in a forthcoming volume.

I thought about my participation in this dialogue when I read Father Drew Christiansen‘s critique of the recent Civilita Cattolica editorial that tried to define Evangelical-Catholic relationships in terms of a theocratic attempt to promote some kind of Christian nation.

Here is a taste of Christiansen’s piece:

Evangelicals have helped the Catholic Church at the highest levels. After St. John Paul II’s 1987 visit, the Billy Graham Association was the Vatican’s backdoor conduit to the Catholics in North Korea. Pope Francis’ meeting this year with U.S. President Donald Trump was made possible by American evangelicals after they met Catholic officials at the National Prayer Breakfast.

I like to think that my encounters with evangelicals are akin to those of Pope Francis, who asked a blessing of Pentecostals in his native Argentina and forgiveness for persecution from the 800-year-old Waldensian Church. Evangelicals are fellow Christians with whom we are companions on the way. We enjoy relations of mutual esteem, collaboration and even, as I remember Cliff Benzel, Bob Seiple and Andrew Natsios, of deep Christian fellowship.

Of course, Catholic-evangelical relations are not always or uniformly characterized by the kind of professionalism and Christian amity I have described. In some places most of the time and in others from time to time, there are troubled relations. For some years, for example, local World Vision policies in Latin America and Ireland were obstacles to smooth relations. Some Latin Catholics are still suspicious of “las sectas” and vice versa. U.S. bishops have sometimes had to remind evangelicals of Catholic sensitivities and Catholic parishioners of their ties to the local dioceses or Catholic Relief Services.

I myself confess to having felt constrained when I testified to the United Nations on “Christianophobia,” because, while proselytism is central to evangelical life, I had to note that in majority Muslim countries it can become an occasion for persecution of historic Christian communities.

Problems arise when those on either side, or both, force their partisan issues into social ecumenism or apply their political infighting skills to it. Activists need to be reminded of Blessed Paul VI’s counsel, “From Christians who at first sight seem to be in opposition, as a result of starting from differing options, (the church) asks … an attitude of more profound charity which, while recognizing the differences, believes nonetheless in the possibility of convergence and unity.”

Read the entire piece here.

Princeton Seminar 2017: Day 3


The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History “Colonial Era” teachers seminar (aka the “Princeton Seminar“) is rolling along.

This morning in the lecture hall we finished our discussion of colonial Virginia. I made the connection between mercantilism and tobacco culture and challenged the teachers to consider the social and cultural influence of tobacco on race, social structure, gender, and labor in the seventeenth century colony. We ended this lecture with an examination of Bacon’s Rebellion.

Midway through the morning session we turned to colonial New England.  We did a lot of background work today.   My lecture developed along these lines:

  • The settlers of New England were Christians
  • The settlers of New England were Protestant Christians
  • The settlers of New England were Calvinist Protestant Christians
  • The settlers of New England were English Calvinist Protestant Christians

We then discussed Winthrop’s idea of a “City Upon a Hill” and how Puritan theology influenced politics and regional identity in Massachusetts Bay.  On Thursday, when we return to New England, I am hoping to say a few words about social life in the region, drawing heavily from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Good Wives.

The teachers spent the afternoon with master teacher Nate McAlister.  He continues to work with the teachers on their lesson plans and the use of primary documents.

After dinner we all headed over to the Princeton Cemetery.  I gave a very brief lecture at the graves of the early Princeton presidents–Aaron Burr Sr., Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, and John Witherspoon.  For some reason the grave of Aaron Burr Jr. got more attention than it has in years past. 🙂

We will be in Philadelphia tomorrow with George Boudreau!


Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Round 2 for Health Bill After a No Vote”

Washington Post: “Senators begin health-care debate — but even they don’t know where it will lead”

Wall Street Journal: “Health Debate Rolls On After First Option Fails”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “30,000 Pa. residents lose food stamps over federal work requirements”

BBC: “France wildfires force massive evacuation”

CNN: “Senate rejects repeal and replace”

FOX: “REPUBLICAN GRIDLOCK: Senate blocks plan to repeal ObamaCare”

Court Evangelical Support For Kushner May Be More Than Just Political


Earlier today we published a post on the court evangelical’s support of Jared Kushner as he testified before Congress this week.

Over at The Washington Post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey points out that many of these court evangelicals like Kushner because he is an orthodox Jew.

Here is a taste of her piece:

While there is a deep divide in the Southern Baptist Convention over whether pastors should continue to vocally support Trump, several Southern Baptist pastors continue to support the president. Jeremiah, a pastor of a Southern Baptist megachurch in California, said that Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who are Jewish, may have been chosen by God to help Christians.

“It’s just like God to use a young Jewish couple to help Christians in the United States, defend their rights, and secure their religious freedom for now, and for subsequent generations,” Jeremiah wrote in his statement.

Moore said that many evangelicals feel “a connectedness” to Kushner’s Orthodox Jewish faith because it’s so “seamlessly integrated in his life. ”

Many white evangelicals have warm attitudes toward Jews because they believe God has set them apart as chosen. White evangelicals rate Jews more positively than any other non-Christian religious group, but Jews rate white evangelicals least positively among Christian groups, according to the Pew Research Center.

Read the entire piece here.  I wonder if the court evangelicals believe that Donald Trump’s “Presbyterian Christian faith” is “seamlessly integrated in his life.”

John McCain Is Not The First Senator To Return To Washington With A Brain Tumor And Cast An Important Vote

ENgleCheck out James Fallows’s piece at The Atlantic on former California Senator Clair Engle and his heroic vote to end a Senate filibuster that cleared the way for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Few of today’s politicians or political writers have even heard of Clair Engle. I had to learn his name, in grade school civics courses in California, because he was one of our state’s two U.S. senators. (No one will remember the other: Thomas Kuchel, pronounced keekle, a Republican who succeeded none other than Richard Nixon as senator when Nixon became vice president under Dwight Eisenhower.) Engle was a Democrat, the first Democrat to win a Senate seat in California in the 20th century. While in office he was known mainly for supporting California-related public works programs, and for flying his own airplane all around to see constituents, including through the vast, rural Second District that made up most of the northern part of the state and that he had represented as a congressman.

Then in the summer of 1963, when Clair Engle was 51 years old, a generation younger than John McCain today, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and underwent surgery. Within six months, he was partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Within a year of his diagnosis, in the summer of 1964, he was dead, at age 52.

But in those final few months, Clair Engle chose to do something remarkable—in fact the main thing for which he is now known.

Read the entire piece here.

Was Obama Right When He Said Americans Cling to Guns and Religion?


Courtesy of Vimeo via Creative Commons

Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnut reports on a new Pew study that helps us to quantify the relationship between evangelicals and guns.

Here is a taste:

One of past President Barack Obama’s most infamous quotes was his 2008 campaign trail comment on small-town citizens that “cling to guns or religion.” New research identifies how many Americans actually favor both.

Two out of five self-identified white evangelicals own a gun, higher than any other religious group, according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center. Four out of five have fired one.

But only a quarter of white evangelical gun owners are members of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and more white evangelicals actually want US gun laws to be more strict than less strict. (A plurality are satisfied with the status quo.)

Pew gave CT an exclusive look at the religious breakdowns behind its recent comprehensive report on firearms (which excludes air guns such as paintball, BB, and pellet guns).

Read the rest here.

Scaramucci’s Deleted Tweets

MoochTrump’s new Director of Communications is deleting his old tweets:

Full transparency: I’m deleting old tweets. Past views evolved & shouldn’t be a distraction. I serve @POTUS agenda & that’s all that matters

— Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci) July 22, 2017

Unfortunately for Scaramucci and Trump, it is hard to delete the past.

Read his old tweets here.  It appears that at some point Mr. Scaramucci had a “road to Damascus”-type conversion to the views of Donald Trump.

It is also worth noting Scaramucci’s announcement that he will be deleting these old Tweets may have created more of a “distraction” than if he left them out there.

The Court Evangelicals Back Kushner

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

The court evangelicals have remained largely silent about the President’s moral indiscretions and tweets. But when the President’s son-in-law and adviser testifies before Congress about possible Russian ties, the court evangelicals come out of the woodwork.

ABC News reports:

A host of Christian leaders, from South Carolina Pastor Mark Burns to Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., have been taking to Twitter and releasing statements voicing their support for Kushner as he spends two days speaking with congressional investigators on Capitol Hill.

“I’ve known Jared for many years. He’s a man of integrity, character, and a great, personal friend,” wrote Paula White, a gospel preacher and Trump friend who prayed at Trump’s inaugural. “(E)nough-is-enough,” she wrote.

Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. blasted the “endless attempts by the media to keep the fake Russia collusion story alive— solely to obstruct the president’s agenda” in a statement Monday.

“In Jared Kushner, they’ve picked the wrong fight. I don’t know a more competent person. He is brilliant and he is a man of the highest integrity,” Falwell wrote.

Kushner insisted Monday that he had done nothing improper during the campaign as he met with members of the Senate intelligence committee for nearly three hours behind closed doors. He’s set to meet with lawmakers on the House intelligence committee Tuesday.

Read the rest here.

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 2


Today the teachers got a tour of early American Princeton

Monday was a long and busy day at the Princeton Seminar.

We began with a morning of lecture and discussion about how we should think about “colonial America.”  I tried to get the teachers to think historically about the colonies and try to rid themselves of a Whig-centered interpretation of the period.  In the process we spent a lot of time talking about the difference between a “civics” approach to the past and a “historical thinking” approach to the past.   I challenged the teachers to try to understand the colonial American past on its own terms and, at least for a week, pretend that the American Revolution never happened.

I also introduced the teachers to what has been called “The New Indian” history.  What might our understanding of colonial America look like if we examine it from the perspective of native Americans?  I focused this lecture around three concepts: “Facing East” (Dan Richter), the “Indians’ New World” (James Merrell), and the “Middle Ground” (Richard White).

Finally, we got started with a lecture on the colonial Chesapeake and tried to make sense of why so many people starved to death in the early years of Jamestown.  We will be finishing this discussion today by carrying the Virginia story through Bacon’s Rebellion.

In the afternoon, Nate McAlister introduced the teachers to their lesson-plan assignment. Every teacher needs to pick a primary source from the colonial era and write a lesson that they can use with their students.   It is always fun to see the documents that they choose and the lessons that they design.

After dinner we split into two groups and got a historical tour of Princeton.  My tour guide, Leslie, was excellent.  She took us through Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, the home of Albert Einstein, the home of Richard Stockton (Morven), and the Princeton Battlefield Monuments.  We got caught in the middle of a thunderstorm while visiting Einstein’s house, but Leslie pushed us through.  There we were–standing outside of Morven in the pouring ran listening to Leslie expound upon the life of Stockton.  These teachers are real troopers!

About half of us ended the night at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room at Princeton’s Nassau Inn.  This is the place where the Princeton Seminar goes to solve all world problems. Tonight was no exception!

Looking forward to day 3!  Stay tuned.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “What to Watch For as Senate Meets to Vote on Health Care”

Washington Post: “Trump team weighs options for replacing Sessions”

Wall Street Journal: “Trump Chides GOP Senators Ahead of Health-Care Vote”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Taxes, college grants, worker pay: How Pa.’s budget debacle may impact you”

BBC: “Israel removes holy site metal detectors”

CNN: “GOP senators poised to vote on health care”

FOX: “TRUMP BLASTS POST President asks if Bezos-owned newspaper is a ‘lobbyist weapon'”

An Interview with Allen Guelzo


Over at History News Network, Erik Moshe interviews Gettysburg College historian Allen Guelzo.

Here are Moshe’s questions:

What books are you reading now?

What is your favorite history book?

Why did you choose history as your career?

What qualities do you need to be a historian?

Which historical time period do you find to be most fascinating?

Who was your favorite history teacher?

What are your hopes for world and social history?

Do you own any rare history or collectible books? Do you collect artifacts related to history?

What have you found most rewarding and most frustrating about your career?

How has the study of history changed in the course of your career?

If you could sum up world history in one word, what would that word be?

Why’d you pick it?

What are you doing next?

Read Guelzo’s answers these questions here.  (Spoiler alert #1: He is writing a “big book” on Robert E. Lee with Knopf.  Spoiler alert #2: The word he used to sum world history is “depravity.”)

Michael Kazin on the Fate of Presidents Who Didn’t Win a Majority of the Popular Vote


John Quincy Adams

I have said it many times here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home: historians cannot predict the future.

But they can provide much needed context.

That is what Michael Kazin of Georgetown University does in his recent Washington Post op-ed “No matter what he does, history says Trump will never be popular.”

Here is a taste:

…American history is clear: Presidents who’ve lost the popular vote don’t win popular support.

The four previous presidents who finished second in votes cast all struggled to convince Americans that they were doing a good job. Each battled the perception that his victory was undemocratic and illegitimate; each soon lost the confidence of his own partisans in Congress and led an administration that historians regard as a failure. Each faced an uphill struggle to keep his base happy and mobilized while also reaching out to the majority, which preferred policies his voters detested. Most, like Trump so far, did not even try to square that circle.

Only George W. Bush seemed to escape this fate, for a time. But his temporary success had more to do with the acclaim he received after the attacks of 9/11 than anything else he accomplished in office. And this crisis-induced honeymoon didn’t last: During most of his second term, Bush’s rating stalled far below the 48 percent of the vote he had won in 2000, when half a million more Americans preferred Al Gore.

The three other presidents who lost the popular vote all lived and governed in the 19th century. None managed to overcome his initial political deficit or to enact any of the major policies he desired. In the 1824 election, John Quincy Adams drew just 31 percent of the popular vote. The conditions of that contest have never been repeated: Adams was one of four candidates, all of whom nominally belonged to the same party, the Democratic-Republicans. Because no man won an electoral-vote majority, the decision fell to the House of Representatives. Adams triumphed, largely because he agreed to appoint Henry Clay, one of his erstwhile rivals, as secretary of state. Andrew Jackson, whose popular-vote count had easily topped that of Adams, screamed that his rivals had made a “corrupt bargain”; if citizens accepted it, he charged, “they may bid farewell to their freedom.”

Read the entire piece here.

When Is Springsteen Coming to Broadway?


Michael Riedel reports at the New York Post:

Bruce Springsteen fans eagerly await ticket information for his gig this fall at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre. I know, because not a day goes by when I don’t hear from them.

Sources say that Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns the Kerr, is getting a little nervous: The company passed on some plays to make room for the Boss and would like to get things rolling. But Springsteen, 67, seems to be in no rush to make his Broadway debut. He’s putting together his act and will make an official announcement when he’s good and ready.

“It’s not like he needs to crank up the publicity,” one source says. “I think tickets will sell out in about 30 seconds.”

As The Post reported in June, Springsteen plans to perform five shows a week for eight weeks. He wants to appear in a cozy setting — the Kerr has just 975 seats — as opposed to the huge arenas he sells out all over the world.

His show, sources say, will reflect the intimacy of the Kerr. He’ll be reading from “Born To Run,” his best-selling memoir, and picking up his guitar from time to time to illustrate a point or a moment from his life with one of his songs. (Sounds like an evening at the 92nd Street Y to me.)

Read the entire piece here.

Apparently This Guy Does Not Like My Take on the “Court Evangelicals”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the National Day of Prayer event at the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington D.C.

This Columnist is an Apostate. America was Founded as a Christian Nation. And what is the alternative to Nationalism?–Globalism, the precursor to the One World Government of the Antichrist. I praise God for those Christians who support President Trump, in spite of all his indiscretions. Barack Obama and the Democrats are Anti-Christs, seeking a godless, Socialist, Secular Humanist TYRANNY, and the End to America as Founded.   (Source)

In the Last 7 Days the Founding Fathers Were Invoked…


For their commitment to the separation of church and state

For their concerns about the abuse of power

For their belief in a free press

For their support of term limits

For their support of a minimum wage

For their defense of the right to bear arms

For their opposition to corporations

For their belief in self-government

For their dreams

For instituting a system of checks and balances

For their opposition to tyranny

Their hatred of the poor

For their support of health care

For their fear of big government

For their knowledge of the Bible

For their belief that members of Congress should represent the wants of their constituencies

For their defense of free speech

For their criticism of vast quantities of wealth

For the belief in free trade

For supporting whistleblowers

For their love of beer

For their working-class backgrounds

For their belief in an amendment process

For their appeal to a Judeo-Christian God

For laying the foundation for a diverse country

Yes, we need good history!