Some Historical Perspective on Supreme Court Confirmations

Supreme Court

Rhodes College historian Timothy Huebner, author of a series of lectures on the Supreme Court, reminds us that 19th-century debates over the confirmation of Supreme Court justices were more contentious than what goes on today.  Here is a taste of his recent piece at The Washington Post:

But if our current nomination and confirmation process for Supreme Court justices is broken, as many have suggested, it is not because it has become more political than it used to be. Instead, history shows that the appointment process may actually be less political than it was during the 19th century. But transformations during the 20th century have gradually left politics and ideology as the main battleground in confirming judges, leaving the false impression that the process is far worse than in the past.

During the first century or so of the Supreme Court’s history, selecting and confirming judicial nominees was political and sharply contentious. From the start, presidents picked nominees whom they assumed generally agreed with their political philosophy, and some, such as Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln, even rewarded cronies with seats on the court. Unlike today, many nominees for the court lacked prior judicial experience. In fact, of the 57 justices nominated and confirmed between 1789 and 1898, 17 lacked substantial judicial experience at either the state or federal level. Instead, they were private attorneys, legislators or Cabinet secretaries. 

Read the rest here.

Do You Need Advance Tickets to Get Into the National Museum of African American History and Culture?

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Here is a taste of a recent piece at Smithsonian.Com:

Visiting Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) without timed-entry passes, or tickets, just got easier. The recently-announced 2019 guidelines mark a significant change for the museum, which has seen almost 5 million visitors since its historic 2016 opening. NMAAHC is open from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. every day of the year except for Christmas Day, December 25. The museum is free, but entry is governed by a system of timed-entry passes, or tickets. The new 2019 policies expand the hours visitors can walk in without timed-entry passes. Here’s how walk-up entry and the passes will work in 2019 and over the holiday season this month:

Read the rest here.

Springsteen Exhibit Comes to Freehold, New Jersey

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It is Bruce’s hometownMelissa Ziobro, a public history professor at Monmouth University, has curated an exhibit about Springsteen’s relationship with Freehold, New Jersey.  Read all about it at the Asbury Park Press.  Here is a taste:

The exhibit will be the largest drawn to date from the artifacts of The Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University. The unveiling will coincide with the Boss’ 70th birthday (Sept. 23, 2019) as well as the centennial of Freehold Borough.

The items on display will include personal scrapbooks handmade by Springsteen’s mom, Adele Springsteen, to alternate album covers never before seen by the public. E Street Band drummer Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez; early Springsteen manager Carl “Tinker” West; and “Born to Run” drummer Ernest “Boom” Carter are contributing oral histories for the exhibit.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Daniel Rodgers

9780691181592_0.pngDaniel Rodgers is Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. This interview is based on his new book As a City on a Hill: The Story of America’s Most Famous Lay Sermon (Princeton University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write As a City on a Hill?

DR: “City on a hill” is a phrase almost every American knows. They know its roots in the Sermon on the Mount. Many of them know that the leader of the Puritan settlement in New England used the phrase to describe the society he hoped his countrymen would build in their new world. They recognize “shining city on a hill” as a synonym for the United States that Ronald Reagan and his speech writers polished to perfection. A belief that they had been called to be a “city on a hill” for the world is said to have run through the entire course of American history, carrying the sense of mission and moral destiny that the Puritans had planted at the culture’s very beginnings.

I had taught the Puritan sermon from which the “city on a hill” phrase is drawn in just that way to generations of students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at Princeton. But like so many other historians and pundits I was wrong. After its writing in 1630, John Winthrop’s sermon dropped almost completely out of sight for three centuries. It was not understood as a founding document of the nation until the 1950s. And, most strikingly, what Winthrop meant by “city on a hill” was radically different from the meaning we routinely give the phrase now. Anxiety, not pride, was at its heart, together with an admonition to charity that we have let disappear from the core values of our political culture. How could changes this dramatic have happened? This book is an answer to that puzzle. It tells the story of a phrase and a text which have become so familiar that their unexpected twists and turns, their disappearance and revival, their radically shifting meanings, and their connections with the world beyond America have been all but forgotten.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of As a City on a Hill?

DR: The claim that Americans have always thought of themselves as “a city on hill” to the world is a myth, an invented tradition created during the struggles of the Cold War. The phrase and Winthrop’s sermon were not present at the nation’s foundation; they were revived in the twentieth century, filled with much more nationalistic meanings than they had carried before, and then injected into an imagined past as if they had been there all along.

JF: Why do we need to read As a City on a Hill?

DR: If we are to get an honest picture of our nation and our world we need a less mythic history of our past. The distinctive character of the American nation was not the product of Puritanism or of any single founding moment. It was not the product of an “exceptionalist” history. A great deal of the rhetoric of providential mission and destiny that saturated the American past was a variant on the nationalistic formulas of other nations. The meanings those ideas would carry in the United States were worked out through aspiration, argument, and contention. They are still under construction now. In our post-Cold War world, where no one nation can dominate the globe as the U.S. did in the in the generation after 1945, we need a more realistic and self-critical understanding of our history than Ronald Reagan’s remake of John Winthrop’s words can give us.

At the same time, there are forgotten themes in Winthrop’s sermon worth recovering. When Winthrop announced that “we shall be as a city on a hill” he did not mean that a future American nation would be an object of admiration to all the world. He meant that his social and religious would be visible: open to the eyes of everyone and nakedly exposed to its critics. Its burden was not to radiate its ideals but to try, as best as anxious and deeply fallible persons could manage, to live up to them. Winthrop injected a second strain in his “Model of Christian Charity” too: an insistence that the morals of market and trade would not be sufficient to the project. Sacrifice of private advantage for the public good, love for others, and care for the poor: all these were essential for the “city on a hill” that Winthrop imagined in America. Like the Puritans’ call for self-scrutiny, these, too, are worth remembering.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

DR: I did not imagine I might teach and write history until after I graduated from college. Like others of my student generation I was swept up in the civil rights movement, where I saw a nation changing some of its oldest and ugliest values right under our feet. I went from Brown University in 1965 into the VISTA program to join the “war on poverty.” When I realized that my real love was teaching, I knew I wanted to teach how social and cultural change occurred. History does not move in straight lines without swerves and interruptions. Its course is often crooked and surprising. Why does history sometimes jump its accustomed tracks, for good as well for bad? Many members of my generation thought the answer lay in the history of social movements, and they were not wrong. But I thought the deeper history was to be found in the ideas and ideals persons carried in their heads: in their efforts to make sense of and to change the shifting world around them. I have been writing and teaching about those themes ever since.

JF: What is your next project?

DR: After five books which have won more than their share of prizes, As a City on a Hill may be my last book-length project. But I love the essay form. I’ve written about radically changing ideals of work, about continuities and disruptions in political language and culture, about the transnational dimensions of U.S. history, about the dwindling place of the “social” in contemporary American ideas and culture and, now, about the lives of a “foundational” text. These all remain concerns of our current moment. We’ll see where they take me.

JF: Thanks, Daniel!

 

Bad Timing

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Today Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville issued a report chronicling its long history of racism, segregation, and slavery.  As I noted in my post this morning, this is a step in the right direction.

This evening I received an e-mail advertisement that the seminary took out with Christianity Today.  It reads:

Give now and help continue the legacy at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

At Southern Seminary, training men and women to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to megacities, rural areas, suburban backyards, and the people groups of the world is one of the most lasting donations you can ever make.

Give Now 

Every dollar you give this year-end to Southern Seminary goes directly to support over 5,500 students from all 50 states and over 70 nations preparing now for gospel ministry.

Join the legacy of Southern Seminary by giving to continue the task of theological education – for the thousands already here and the thousands more to come.

In addition, for every $25 or more donated to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary this year-end, you can receive a copy of Dr. Mohler’s newest book, Life in Four Stages.

Probably not a good day to be touting the Southern Baptist Seminary “legacy.”

*Christianity Today* Weighs-In on the Independent Baptist Sex Abuse Scandal

First Baptist Church

Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnut covers recent independent Baptist sex-abuse scandal as reported on Sunday by the Forth Worth Star-Telegram.  I tried to offer some historical context on this movement here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and I am happy to learn Shellnut found it useful for her piece.  Here is a taste:

Around 2.5 percent of Americans identify as independent Baptists, according to the Pew Research Center—more than belong to the Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, or Episcopal and Anglican churches. Yet independent Baptists, by design, are less familiar to outsiders than other Christian traditions.

For one, they lack a unified presence since individual churches largely operate on their own. The label can be used by a range of autonomous, Bible-believing Baptists (“fundamental” being a reference to the core doctrines of the Christian faith). Independent fundamental Baptist churches include those loosely affiliated in fellowships—more common in the North—as well as those whose pastors may share particular networks—more common in the South— Central Baptist Theological Seminary professor Kevin Bauder told Quick to Listen.

Additionally, many independent Baptist fundamentalists practice “second-degree separatism,” distancing themselves not only from “the world” but also from fellow Christians who do not share their fundamentalist beliefs, noted Messiah College historian John Fea, who researched 20th-century Protestant fundamentalism in America.

During the movement’s formation in the 1940s, and its growth in the decades following, voices such as Jack Hyles and Bob Jones contrasted with “neo-evangelicals” (think Billy Graham) as they remained committed to fundamentalism and separatism, Fea wrote.

These leaders and their institutions—Hyles-Anderson College and Bob Jones University—have come to represent a loose subset of independent Baptists sometimes referred to with capitals or an acronym: Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB).

Read the entire piece here.

The Civil Rights Movement as an Intellectual Movement

drum+&+spear+spear+5+store+signWe usually think of the civil rights movement in political, moral, and even religious terms, but we seldom think about it in terms of what historian Joshua Clark Davis calls a “movement for intellectual change.”  Here is a taste of his piece at Black Perspectives:

Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, is widely recalled as an unimpeachable moral authority, as a master orator, and as a fierce proponent of democracy. But how many Americans today recall him as the powerful intellectual that he was–the inveterate reader and theoretician that many of his contemporaries knew him as?

The same can be asked of the members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The organization’s members are recalled for the remarkable bravery and resolute moral clarity they displayed on the Freedom Rides, during Freedom Summer, and in Selma. SNCC members created a movement for social change, for moral change, and for political change. But how many of us acknowledge that SNCC also forged a movement for intellectual change? A short SNCC memo I recently came across forced me to reconsider this question.

“Dear Brothers and Sisters,” begins the undated letter from SNCC’s national office in Atlanta. “This is a copy of SNCC’s suggested readings …It is essential that every black person become aware of his/her history and become proud of that history. Let us hope that his pride will build a basis for the coming together of black people on an international as well as national level.”

The memo is followed by a four-page document listing nearly one hundred books divided into eight categories: History of Blacks in the United States; Contemporary Black Thought; Biographies of Famous Black People; Black Fiction; Books on Black Arts; African History; Contemporary African Thought; and Books of International Revolution.

Read the entire piece here.

Al Mohler’s Report on Slavery and Racism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

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Read it here.

Justin Taylor has summarized the 66-page report in a post at The Gospel Coalition:

The following 13 points constitute a summary of the findings in the 66-page report:

  1. The seminary’s founding faculty all held slaves.
  2. The seminary’s early faculty and trustees defended the righteousness of slaveholding.
  3. Upon Abraham Lincoln’s election, the seminary faculty sought to preserve slavery.
  4. The seminary supported the Confederacy’s cause to preserve slavery.
  5. After emancipation, the seminary faculty opposed racial equality.
  6. In the Reconstruction era, the faculty supported the restoration of white rule in the South.
  7. Joseph E. Brown, the seminary’s most important donor and chairman of its Board of Trustees 1880-1894, earned much of his fortune by the exploitation of mostly black convict-lease laborers.
  8. The seminary faculty urged just and humane treatment for blacks.
  9. Before the 1940s, the seminary faculty generally approved the Lost Cause mythology.
  10. Until the 1940s, the seminary faculty supported black education and the segregation of schools and society.
  11. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the seminary faculty appealed to science to support their belief in white superiority.
  12. The seminary admitted blacks to its degree programs in 1940 and integrated its classrooms in 1951.
  13. The seminary faculty supported civil rights for blacks but had mixed appraisals of the Civil Rights Movement.

I will try to read the entire report and make some comments later.  In the meantime, I think it is fair to say that this is a step in the right direction.  I am glad to see evangelical institutions coming to grips with this history.

I am reminded here of the theme of our latest episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast (Episode 43: “Reconciling the Church and Slavery”).

It Looks Like Thomas Jefferson Was Not the Only One to Cut Parts Out of the Bible

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I finally got around the processing this story and it is fascinating.  It looks like Thomas Jefferson was not the only one who cut parts out of the Bible.

Over at NPR, Michel Martin tells the story of an 1807 Bible for slaves in which 90% of the Old Testament is missing and 50% of the New Testament is missing.  The Bible is currently on display in the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C.  Here is a taste of Martin’s piece:

On display now at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., is a special exhibit centered on a rare Bible from the 1800s that was used by British missionaries to convert and educate slaves.

What’s notable about this Bible is not just its rarity, but its content, or rather the lack of content. It excludes any portion of text that might inspire rebellion or liberation.

Anthony Schmidt, associate curator of Bible and Religion in America at the museum, says the first instance of this abridged version titled, Parts of the Holy Bible, selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands, was published in 1807.

Read the entire piece here.

Help Bring John Wilson to *Englewood Review of Books*

Portrait of John Wilson

John Wilson

I am really glad to hear that Englewood Review of Books is growing and making a concerted effort to bring John Wilson aboard full-time.  Here is a letter from editor Christopher Smith and several other scholars, including historian Mark Noll:

As you might be aware, John has been employed with us at The Englewood Review of Books as Contributing Editor for the last six months. We have been delighted to have John on staff, and his work is already bearing fruit: He has identified excellent books to feature that would not otherwise have been on our radar; he found new reviewers to write for us (including Philip Jenkins); and he has thoughtfully written columns for our recent issues. John’s role with us is minimal at the present, but we would like to employ him in a greater capacity (ideally full-time) beginning as soon as possible in the coming year.

As friends and co-workers of The Englewood Review, we are delighted to announce that we are entering an exciting season of building capacity, extending our readership, and moving toward fiscal sustainability. The strategy we are developing will unfold over the next five years, and will include a new and more mobile-friendly website, publicity efforts to broaden our readership in churches and in academic settings, and partnerships with institutions that share our mission of cultivating the timely habits of reading and conversation.

Given that these plans will take some time to develop, and given that we don’t want to wait until they come fully to fruition to expand the scope of John’s work with us, we are initiating a fundraising effort to cover the interim cost of John Wilson’s employment. We plan to raise $250,000, which would cover the cost of about three years of John’s employment with us. We have set up a restricted fund devoted solely to compensating John for his work with us. These funds will not be used for any other initiatives of The Englewood Review of Books.
 
We know that you share our deep gratitude for the important work that John did over his two decades as editor of Books & Culture, and for his significant contributions to cultivating the breadth and depth of the Christian mind in recent years. And so, we invite you to celebrate John with us by contributing to this fund that will support his work over the next few years. This fund is hosted by Englewood Community Development Corporation, the parent organization of The Englewood Review of Books, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and any donations will be documented as tax deductible. (Specifically, any donations dated on or before December 31, 2018 can be claimed as deductions on your 2018 taxes.)  Contributions are welcome from individuals and institutions who desire to honor John’s work and help advance the mission of The Englewood Review of Books.

Please join us in celebrating John Wilson in this way.

Best History Tweets of 2018

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Over at Slate, Rebecca Onion picks the best historian Twitter threads of 2018.  Click here to read threads from Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Joshua Rothman, Beth Lewis-Williams, Kevin Kruse, Jenny Bann, David Walsh, Seth Cotlar, Keri Leigh Merritt, Heather Cox Richardson, R.L. Barnes, Kevin Gannon, and Joshua Clark Davis.

By the way, you can listen to interviews with Onion and Gannon on episodes of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  Onion was our guest on Episode 12 and Gannon was our guest on Episode 26.

James Fallows on Yesterday’s “Surreal” Oval Office Exchange

In case you missed it, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer had a showdown in the Oval Office with Donald Trump about his border wall.  James Fallows of The Atlantic called it “surreal.”

Fallows has two questions about what happened:

  1. “Did Donald Trump realize that Chuck Schumer was mocking him, to his face, with his ‘When the president brags he won North Dakota and Indiana, he’s in real trouble’ line?
  2. Did Mike Pence register any emotion whatsoever, during the 15-minutes plus of extraordinary exchange?

Read the entire piece here.  Read more Atlantic coverage of the meeting here.

 

Book Coverage is on the Rise

Book Reviews

As an author, I am happy to learn that media outlets are starting to devote a little more attention to books.  Sam Eichner tries to make sense of this rise in book coverage in an interesting piece at Columbia Journalism Review.  Here is a taste:

IF IT OCCASIONALLY FEELS like nobody reads books, anymore—that we are indeed witnessing the slow death of the literary novel, and the rapid decline of leisure readingand the steady increase of American non-readers—why is it that mainstream publications are writing more about them?

Since the beginning of 2017, The New York Times has continued to expand its already robust book coverage. More recently, New York announced that it would triple its book coverage. In October, The Atlantic launched a Books section and a newsletter, “The Books Briefing,” with plans for “additional products.” Even BuzzFeed is getting in on the action: in November, they launched an online book club, complete with an attendant Facebook group and newsletter.

For the Times and The Atlantic, the changes arrived at a moment of substantial growth for each publication as a whole.

Read the rest here.

Pennsylvania’s Pro-Life Evangelicals Call for Clean Air in the Commonwealth

Fracking

Rev. Mitchell Hescox is the CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network.  He lives in New Freedom, Pennsylvania.  In his recent piece at The York Daily Record, Hescox argues that pro-life evangelicals should be concerned about the bad air emanating from fracking sites and natural gas facilities in Pennsylvania.  Here is a taste of his piece:

As pro-life evangelicals, we have a special concern for the unborn.  We want children to be born healthy and unhindered by the ravages of pollution.  The Bible calls us to “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.  Rescue the weak and the needy” (Psalm 82: 3-4 NIV).  Certainly, preborn and new-born children are the most vulnerable among us. They deserve a quality of life that can only be assured when we uphold both our Christian beliefs and our Commonwealth’s Constitution:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

We’re not alone.  This year over 15,000 pro-life Pennsylvania Christians wrote to Governor Wolf and asked him to create sensible fugitive methane standards. Another 5,000 Pennsylvania pro-life Christians added their comments against the EPA’s ill-fated attempt to cancel new source methane standards nationally.

Read the entire piece here.

The “Bottomless Pinocchio”

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive in Rihad, Saudi Arabia,

The Washington Post Fact Checker has introduced a new dishonesty rating custom-made for the Trump era: the “Bottomless Pinocchio.” The newspaper says the new tier will be issued to politicians who “repeat a false claim so many times that they are, in effect, engaging in campaigns of disinformation.” In order to be awarded the Bottomless Pinocchio, the claims must have received three or four Pinocchios from the Fact Checker, and must have been repeated 20 times. Fourteen statements made by Trump already qualify for the list—no other politician has yet been given the dubious honor. In an article announcing the introduction of the new level, the  condemns Trump and says: “He is not merely making gaffes or misstating things, he is purposely injecting false information into the national conversation.” The most repeated falsehood so far, according to the Fact Checker, is Trump’s assertion that his tax cut was the biggest in history, followed by his exaggerations of the size of U.S. trade deficits.

Source