The Author’s Corner with Carli Conklin

The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding EraCarli Conklin is Associate Professor at The University of Missouri School of Law.  This interview is based on her new book, The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era: An Intellectual History (University of Missouri, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era?

CC: I had long wondered why Thomas Jefferson would choose a phrase as seemingly vague as “the pursuit of happiness” to be included as one of only three unalienable rights he specifically listed in the Declaration of Independence. That the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” was left untouched throughout an otherwise lengthy and quite detailed drafting process only further piqued my curiosity. I began to wonder if “the pursuit of happiness” had been left untouched because it was so clearly-defined and widely-accepted among the Founders that it required no editing or if it had been left untouched because it was so vague as to have no specific or controversial meaning to the Founders, at all.

In their later writings, Jefferson and John Adams both claimed that the Declaration was not intended to be a statement of new ideas. Taking my cue from them, I began exploring old ideas–key strands of thought that were most influential at the Founding: English law and legal history; the history and philosophy of classical antiquity; Christianity; and the Scottish Enlightenment’s focus on Newtonian Science. These strands of thought, while conflicting in their particulars, nevertheless converged at a place of particular meaning. That place of particular meaning was the late-eighteenth understanding of “the pursuit of happiness.”

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era?

CC: Far from being a glittering generality or a direct substitution for property, “the pursuit of happiness” had a distinct meaning to those who included the phrase in two of the eighteenth-century’s most influential legal texts: William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69) and the Declaration of Independence (1776). That distinct meaning included a belief in first principles by which the created world is governed, the idea that these first principles were discoverable by man, and the belief that to pursue a life lived in accordance with those principles was to pursue a life of virtue, with the end result of happiness, best defined in the Greek sense of eudaimonia, or human flourishing.

JF: Why do we need to read The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era?

CC: Today, we continue to invoke our unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness in a wide variety of settings. The right to “the pursuit of happiness” shows up everywhere from music and movies to U.S. Supreme Court cases, with a bewildering array of meanings attributed to the phrase. This work clarifies the meaning of the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness by placing the phrase within its broader eighteenth-century legal and historical context. The methodology behind this exploration highlights not only the interdisciplinary depth and breadth of the Founders’ intellectual world, but also the unexpected places where a variety of these influential, eighteenth-century schools of thought converged.

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

CC: Throughout college, I pursued my love for English and education while remaining interested in law. I was particularly fascinated by the ideas that are embedded in our laws and how those laws—and the ideas undergirding them–change over time. Following my graduation from Truman State University, I learned of the University of Virginia School of Law’s dual degree program in American legal history. I still vividly remember the excitement I felt as I read the program description—it was everything I had ever wanted to study! I am happy to say that I could not have found a more welcoming and intellectually invigorating home for the study of early American legal history. As an early American legal historian who views scholarship as an extension of teaching, I remain so grateful for the outstanding education I received from Truman State University in teaching pedagogy, critical thinking and analysis, and the close reading of texts and the fantastic education in law and American legal history I received at the University of Virginia, first under Barry Cushman and Charles W. McCurdy in the J.D./M.A. program and then when I returned to Virginia to work under Prof. McCurdy again for my Ph.D. It has been a true joy to work in this field.

JF: What is your next project?

CC: I am fascinated by how our legal use and understanding of “the pursuit of happiness” has changed over time. I am currently working on a project entitled The Pursuit of Happiness after the Founding: Case Law and Constitutions. This project explores the use of “the pursuit of happiness” in key legal texts from 1776 forward, including constitutions and court cases at both the state and federal levels.

JF: Thanks, Carli!

Partisanship and Publishing the Declaration of Independence

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Over at Age of Revolution blog, Emily Sneff of the Declaration Resources Project writes about the partisan fights over the publication of the Declaration of Independence in the early republic.  Here is a taste of her piece:

The tradition of publishing the Declaration annually on July 4 dates much further back, however. In fact, it appears that the first printer to republish the Declaration of Independence on July 4 with the intention of marking the anniversary was also the first printer ever to publish the Declaration: John Dunlap. He and David C. Claypoole included the text on the front page of The Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser (Philadelphia, PA) on July 4, 1786, the tenth anniversary. By 1801, republishing the Declaration of Independence in newspapers on or around July 4 was a trend on the verge of becoming a tradition and an expectation. The Telegraphe and Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, MD), for example, first included the Declaration by request on July 4, 1799, and republished the text annually through 1806. Before 1801, only a handful of newspapers printed the Declaration in any given year. In 1801, at least twelve newspapers printed the text in late June or early July; by 1806, that number more than doubled. As the individual who requested that the Telegraphe print the Declaration in 1799 wrote to the printer, “you have it in your power to gratify all without displeasing any, by giving it a place…” But, as last year’s tweets proved, even a text as intrinsic to our national identity as the Declaration can become polarizing. The 1801 uptick in July 4 newspaper printings, for example, coincided with a tense moment of political transition, and crystallized in part because of the association between the new President and the Declaration.

Read the entire post here.

The Paragraph on Slavery That Thomas Jefferson Cut From the Declaration of Independence

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Ben Railton has a nice blog post on this here.

A taste:

In this July 4th, 2015 piece for Talking Points Memo, my second-most viewed piece in my year and a bit of contributing bi-monthly columns to TPM, I highlighted and analyzed the cut paragraph on slavery and King George from Thomas Jefferson’s draft version of the Declaration of Independence. Rather than repeat what I said there, I’d ask you to take a look at that piece (or at least the opening half of it, as the second half focuses on other histories and figures) and then come back here for a couple important follow-ups.

Welcome back! As a couple commenters on that post noted (and as I tried to discuss further in my responses to their good comments), I didn’t engage in the piece with a definitely relevant historical context: that the English Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, had in November 1775 issued (from on board a warship anchored just off the Virginia coast) a prominent Proclamation both condemning Virginian and American revolutionaries, declaring martial law in the colony, and offering the prospect of freedom to any African American slaves who left their owners and joined the English forces opposing them. A number of slaves apparently took Dunmore up on the offer, and so when Jefferson writes that “he [King George] is now exciting these very people to rise in arms among us,” he might have been attributing the idea to the wrong Englishman but was generally accurate about those English efforts. Yet of course Jefferson’s misattribution is no small error, as it turns a wartime decision by one English leader (and a somewhat unofficial one at that, as it’s not at all clear to me that Dunmore had the authority to make such an offer nor that the Crown would necessarily or consistently have upheld it) into a defining feature of the relationship between England and the colonies.

Read the entire post here.  I have really been enjoying Ben’s blog “American Studies.”

When the Declaration of Independence Came to Exeter, New Hampshire

Exeter

Historian Jessica Lepler writes: “Exeter’s residents thought they were King George’s subjects twelve days longer than Philadelphians.”  In her piece at Common-Place, Lepler tells the very interesting story of a first edition copy of the Declaration of Independence printed in 1776 by John Dunlap.  Here is a taste:

The Dunlap broadside (the broadside) on display during Exeter’s American Independence Festival was “discovered” in 1985 in the attic of the Ladd-Gilman House. The house was built in the early eighteenth century and was the home of the politically prominent Gilman family. During the Revolutionary War when Exeter was the state capital and a booming inland seaport, the house served as the treasury. In 1902, the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Hampshire acquired the house from the Gilman family. The society, a hereditary organization composed of the eldest male descendants of New Hampshire’s commissioned officers who served in the Continental Army and Navy, named it Cincinnati Memorial Hall. In this clubhouse, members gathered for meetings and brought with them artifacts from the revolutionary era for a kind of grown-up show-and-tell. Some of these objects had been passed down in their families; others were acquired over time. The collection grew: political cartoons, swords, furniture, rare books, original drafts of the Constitution complete with handwritten notes, an eighteenth-century purple heart, and portraits of revolutionary leaders by famous artists. Despite the value of the items at Cincinnati Memorial Hall, the collection was unorganized and record-keeping haphazard. The society, however, knew it owned valuable artifacts. In 1985, the society hired a local electrician to install a security system, which required attic access. Local lore suggests that the electrician’s assistant “discovered” the broadside in a stack of old newspapers serving as insulation. The society, in turn, argues that the broadside was “rediscovered” by a member during an inventory of the items stored in the attic inspired by the electrician’s need for access. Regardless of who should be credited with finding the document, it quickly became clear that this piece of paper was worth quite a lot of money. By selling the broadside, the society could afford to repair and restore the rest of its collection, including the Ladd-Gilman house and Folsom Tavern.

The society had stumbled upon a bounty, or at least the members and appraisers thought so. The society reached out to leading sellers of historic documents and rare books. Most valued the broadside at around $500,000 (adjusted for inflation to 2017, that would be about $1.1 million). This is probably a low estimate given the more than $2 million sale price of the copy discovered and sold just a few years later.

The price tag, however, proved inconsequential. As the society prepared to send the broadside to auction, the state of New Hampshire intervened. It turns out that, in legal terms, the mystery of who found the broadside matters a lot less than who lost it. Did a member give it to the society during the show-and-tell meetings sometime after 1902? Or was it the original copy—the one sent to the Committee of Safety by Hancock that arrived on July 16, 1776—hidden in the attic of the state treasury? In 1776, after all, the broadside was not a rare, valuable piece of old paper; it was treason. If the Gilmans hid the broadside in their house in the 1770s, it was never theirs to convey to the society. It was technically state property. And the state of New Hampshire wanted it back.

Read the rest here.

 

Jane Calvert on John Dickinson

The University of Kentucky is running a great piece on Jane Calvert, the planet’s foremost expert on John Dickinson.  As many of you know, Dickinson was the author of Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767-68), a response to the Townsend Acts.  Though he was the primary author of the Articles of Confederation, he refused to sign the Declaration of Independence.  It’s a great story from revolutionary America and Calvert tells it well.

Read the piece here.

Or watch:

 

Masur: Abraham Lincoln Salvaged the Thomas Jefferson “We Desire from the One Who Lived”

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Rutgers University historian Louis Masur argues that Abraham Lincoln took a document written by a Virginia slaveholder and used it to advance a free society.

Here is a taste of his piece at The American Scholar:

It took Lincoln to salvage the Jefferson we desire from the one who lived. Lincoln grounded his understanding of the nation on the Declaration of Independence and argued time and again that the phrase all men are created equal included blacks. “All honor to Jefferson,” proclaimed Lincoln. The Declaration “set up a standard maxim for free society . . . constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere.”

Lincoln embraced gradual, deliberate change and exemplified that approach. He too had believed in white superiority: “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. … There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together.” Lincoln supported colonization, though he realized it was not possible on a large scale. He always hated slavery, but as president refused at first to act against the institution or make provisions for whites and blacks to live peacefully in freedom.

The Civil War compelled Lincoln to bring Jefferson’s maxim of a free society to fruition. We can watch him change his mind over time. He moved from saying he could not attack slavery where it existed to freeing slaves in Confederate areas not under Union control, and then advocating for a 13th Amendment abolishing it throughout the United States; he shifted from embracing colonization to authorizing the enlistment of black soldiers; he stopped believing that blacks could not attain political equality and, in the last speech he ever gave, publicly endorsed black suffrage. Thinking about Lincoln, civil rights activist and historian W. E. B. Du Bois exclaimed, “I love him not because he was perfect but because he was not and yet triumphed.”

Read the entire piece here.

What Happens When You Tweet the Declaration of Independence in the Age of Trump?

This.

Apparently Trump supporters are worried the the “liberals” at National Public Radio are trying to foment a revolution by tweeting the words of the Declaration of Independence.

There are a lot of things to say here, but I will refrain for now.  It does seem clear that some of those upset with the words and phrases tweeted did not realize that these were the words of the Declaration of Independence or did not care to do the simple research that would confirm this.  As a historian and educator this worries me the most.

 

The 100 Other Declarations of Independence

MaierBy this point you are probably getting sick of July 4th posts.  But I have at least more for you before we put them aside for another year.

In 1997, the late Pauline Maier taught us that the Declaration of Independence signed in 1776 was one of many such “Declarations of Independence.”  Her book American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence explored the nearly 100 state and local “declarations” that were written during 1776.

Rutgers University history professor David Greenberg recalls Maier’s work in his piece “America’s 100 Other Declarations of Independence.”

Here is a taste:

Colonists expressed this newfound conviction in the “declarations of independence” that Maier discovered. A handful of these were self-consciously drafted in the same spirit as the Declaration we know today—proclamations issued by Virginia or New Jersey that formally disavowed British rule as a prologue to establishing their own constitutions. Others were simply enunciations of the sentiments of bodies that lacked formal political power but wished to take part in a conversation occurring across the colonies. Several came in the form of instructions issued by colonial legislatures to their congressional delegates, who had assembled in Philadelphia and were by the spring of 1776 taking up the question of independence. The state and local proclamations were meant to contribute to—to be in conversation with—the grand debates and discussions taking place in Philadelphia.

The everyday colonists’ declarations of independence from Britain give evidence that they considered the work of their appointed delegates to be of consummate importance. Assertive as they were in challenging the king, they deferred to what one town called “the well-known wisdom, prudence, justice, and integrity of that honourable body the Continental Congress.” Their conception of democracy was predicated on a regard for and trust in their chosen leaders. And the leaders, in turn, had regard for the will of the people. As one delegate to the Continental Congress put it, Congress wouldn’t call for a formal split until “the voice of the people drove us into it,” since “without them, our declarations could not be carried into effect.”

The documents that the people drafted exhibited a striking consistency in their reasoning and language. In place of Paine’s sweeping calls for a new age of mankind, colonists offered detailed, particular, pragmatic reasons for severing their bonds with Britain. The “declaration” was a familiar form, a genre, with roots in British politics, and colonists emulated past declarations, especially the English Declaration of Rights of 1689, which had justified the deposition of King James II. Following this form, colonists enumerated the specific wrongs committed by King George, citing mainly the offenses of the last two years—especially the Prohibitory Act of 1775, which blockaded American ports—and not the longer train of incidents dating to the 1760s. Also common to most of these documents was the claim that the call for separation was a last resort—a step taken only because the king had rejected their previous entreaties and no alternatives remained.

Read the entire piece here.

“Fresh Takes” on the Declaration of Independence

FT Quote

Harvard’s Declaration Resources Project asked some high-powered historians to re-read the text of the first printing (Dunlap broadside) of the Declaration of Independence and write a short response.  They are good.

Contributors include Zara Anashanslin, Johann Neem, Peter Onuf, Robert Parkinson, Alejandra Dubcovsky, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Steven Pincus, Kathleen DuVal, Caitlin Fitz, Sara Georgini, Andrew Shocket, and Annette Gordon-Reed

See their quotes here.

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Was the Declaration of Independence a “Plea for Help?”

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This is the title of Ishaan Tharoor‘s Washington Post interview with historian Larrie Ferrerio, author of the recent Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It.  (Check out my review of this book at Education and Culture).

The idea of the Declaration of Independence as a “plea for help” will not sit well with many Americans today, especially on the Fourth  of July, but this does not make it any less true.  I explored this issue a bit in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction?.  Here is an excerpt:

Most would agree that the Declaration of Independence was not a theological or religious documents, but neither was it designed predominantly to teach Americans and the world about human rights.  Americans have become so taken by the second paragraph of the document that they miss the purpose of the Declaration as understood by the Continental Congress, its team of authors, and its chief writer, Thomas Jefferson.  In the context of the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence was just what it claimed to be–a “declaration” of “independence” from England and an assertion of American sovereignty in the world.Revised

Historian David Armitage has argued convincingly that the Declaration of Independence was written primarily as a document asserting American political sovereignty in the hopes that the newly created United States would secure a place in the international community of nations.  In fact, Armitage asserts, the Declaration was discussed abroad more than it was at home.  This meant that the Declaration was “decidedly un-revolutionary.  It would affirm the maxims of European statecraft, not affront them.”  To put this differently, the “self-evident truths” and “unalienable rights” of the Declaration’s second paragraph would not have been particularly new or groundbreaking in the context of the eighteenth-century British world.  These were ideals that all members of the British Empire values regardless of whether they supported or opposed the American Revolution.  The writers of the Declaration of Independence and the members of the Second Continental Congress who endorsed and signed it did not believe that they were advancing, as historian Pauline Maier has put it, “a classic statement of American political principles.”  This was a foreign policy document.

The writers of the Declaration viewed the document this way.  In an 1825 letter to fellow Virginian Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson explained his motivation behind writing it:

“when forced, therefore, to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our jurisdiction.  This was the object of the Declaration of Independence.  Not to find out new principles or new arguments, never before thought of…but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take.”

John Adams, writing five years after he signed it, called the Declaration “that memorable Act by which [the United States] assumed an equal Station among the nation.”  Adams’s son, John Quincy, though not a participant in the Continental Congress, described the Declaration as “merely an occasional state paper. It was a solemn exposition to the world of the causes which had compelled the people of a small portion of the British empire, to cast off their allegiance and renounce the protection of the British king: and to resolve their social connection with the British people.”  There is little in these statements to suggest that the Declaration of Independence was anything other than an announcement to the world that the former British colonies were now free and independent states and thus deserved a place in the international order of nations.”

Here is Ferreiro:

We typically look at the Declaration of Independence as a document written to King George III by the American people, stating why we wanted to become an independent nation. That’s what we tell each other when we celebrate the Fourth of July.

Brothers in ArmsBut when you look at what happened in 1776, it was clear George III had already got the memo that the Americans wanted to be independent. And when you look at the writing of the Founding Fathers, they make it very clear that they knew they could not fight Britain by themselves. They knew that the only countries that had the motivation and the military and naval capabilities to defeat Britain were France and Spain. And the only way they could join on the Americans’ side was if they knew this was not simply a battle of colonists with their mother country to get a better deal. They only would come to our aid if they saw that we were fighting as a sovereign, independent nation against a common adversary.

The Declaration was specifically written for that purpose, and both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson said this — they were quite clear in their writings. Thomas Jefferson took those ideas and made a document for the ages, a truly enlightened document that read out many of the ideas of the time on what constitutes the rights of the state and the people. But at the core it was a cry for help. The first considered action by Congress after the Declaration was approved was to put it on a ship so it could reach the courts of France and Spain.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Happy Independence Day

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I wanted to get this post up before midnight. Why?  Because July 2, 1776 is the actual day that the Continental Congress voted to declare independence from Great Britain.  July 4th, as historian Joseph Ellis points out in today’ Los Angeles Times, is the day Congress sent the Declaration of Independence to the printer.

Ellis explains:

On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote two letters to his beloved Abigail exuberantly reporting that history had been made: One day earlier, the Continental Congress had voted to declare American independence from the British Empire. Henceforth, Adams predicted, July 2 would be celebrated by every generation with parades, speeches, songs and what he called “illuminations.” He got everything right, even the fireworks. But he got the date wrong.

Or perhaps we get the date wrong. The widespread assumption is that the Fourth of July is the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, the actual moment the founders pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to the Great Question of Independence.

The popular musical “1776” dramatically depicts a signing ceremony on the Fourth. And the iconic painting “Declaration of Independence,” by John Trumbull, a version of which hangs in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, is often captioned “July 4, 1776.”

But neither the musical nor the caption is historically correct. Trumbull’s picture depicts the moment on June 28 when the committee that drafted the declaration presented its work to John Hancock, chair of the Continental Congress. The play’s signing ceremony is theatrically compelling, but it never happened.

There was no singular moment when all the delegates signed the document. Most put pen to parchment on Aug. 4. (It had taken some time for the final draft to be “engrossed” — formally hand-copied.) Some signatures were added as late as November.

So why do we celebrate the Fourth? Because that is the day the declaration was sent to the printer, who then put that date on the top of the document, copies of which were distributed throughout the colonies and beyond. It became the date that readers then, and Americans ever since, recognized as the anniversary of American independence, even though nothing of historical significance actually occurred on that day.

By all rights, Adams’ choice, July 2, makes more sense. That was the day independence was officially decided and declared: “A Resolution was passed,” John told Abigail, “without one dissenting Colony ‘that these united Colonies, are, and of right ought to be free and independent States….’ ” The revolutionary lightning struck at that moment, and the publication of the Declaration of Independence two days later was merely the thunderous aftermath, the sound following the fury.

Read the rest here.

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?”

frederickdouglass01Every year someone calls our attention to Frederick Douglass’s famous sermon “What, to the American Slave, is your 4th of July.” (As they should). Douglass delivered this sermon on July 5, 1852 in Rochester, New York.

Here is a small taste:

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”

But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

Over at The New Yorker, David Remnick offers a new take on the sermon in the age of Donald Trump.  Here is a taste:

Frederick Douglass ended his Independence Day jeremiad in Rochester with steadfast optimism (“I do not despair of this country”). Read his closing lines, and what despair you might feel when listening to a President who abets ignorance, isolation, and cynicism is eased, at least somewhat. The “mental darkness” of earlier times is done, Douglass reminded his audience. “Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe.” There is yet hope for the “great principles” of the Declaration of Independence and “the genius of American Institutions.” There was reason for optimism then, as there is now. Donald Trump is not forever. Sometimes it just seems that way.

Chaplin vs. Cruz: Part 2

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As far as I can tell, this is the first thing I have read from Joyce Chaplin since Ted Cruz attacked her on Twitter.  As I have now said a couple of times, I hope she will write something to put this all to bed.  On the other hand, I would fully understand if Chaplin does not want to open herself up to more attacks.

Here is a taste of Joanna Walter’s Guardian piece:

Fighting broke out in Britain’s American colonies on 18 April 1775, at Concord, Massachusetts. On 4 July 1776, Congress issued the Declaration of Independence. British forces did not surrender until 1781, after the battle of Yorktown, in Virginia.

In 1783, representatives of King George III met in Paris with Americans including founding fathers Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Representatives of France and Spain also signed the United States of America into formal, internationally-recognised existence.

Chaplin said: “The Declaration of Independence was necessary but not sufficient. The American patriots knew that they needed international assistance to win the war. Even before [4 July] 1776, they sent a diplomatic envoy to Paris – foreign aid and recognition were top priorities.”

She declined to comment on the tone of Cruz’s criticism and his more personal points, saying: “Personal attacks cannot alter the historical record.”

On the history, she added: “Before they recognised the US, the French referred to the Americans as “insurgents” … not citizens of a separate nation … the full spate of recognitions only came after the treaty. Those who recognised the US before were demonstrating antagonism to Great Britain.”

The 1783 Paris treaty formalised the boundaries of the US: north of Florida to the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi.

“The treaty … in terms of law created the US as one nation among others,” Chaplin said. “By relinquishing claims to the US, Britain also gave force of law to its territorial boundaries, which had not been clear before, from anyone’s perspective …There is scholarly consensus on this.”

She called 4 July 1776 “a first step” on the road to national independence.

Asked if the US now owes it to the rest of the world to stick with the Paris climate deal, Chaplin said that accord was the culmination of centuries of quid pro quo.

“If we turn our backs on the rest of the world now,” she said, “when climate change requires all hands on deck, we are denying centuries of cooperation in a community of nations.”

As linked above, I wrote about this here.

A few more thoughts:

  1. The conservative backlash is very revealing.  Most of it comes from political pundits who, like Cruz, see this as another chance to pounce on so-called liberal Harvard professors.
  2. Cruz and the conservatives, as I wrote in my original post, are incapable of seeing the nuance on this issue because they cannot see Chaplin’s remarks as anything other than politically motivated.  (And yes, Chaplin opened herself up to this critique by making the connection between Paris 1783 and Paris 2017. This is a stretch. It is not as sensitive to change over time as it should be). This is why we need more historical thinking in our schools and in our society.
  3. In reality, the creation of the United States was a very complex process that included the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, the years under the Articles of Confederation, the Treaty of Paris (international recognition WAS essential), and the Constitution.  When this complex history is subordinated to contemporary politics, any attempt to understand the past in all its fullness stalls.
  4.  Twitter is no place to deal with these complex issues.
  5. Anyone who wants to really explore these issues should begin here:  David Armitage, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History; Eliga H. Gould, Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire; Larrie Ferreiro, Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It.  This is a start.  Feel free to add new works in the comments or via Facebook and Twitter.  Let’s turn this unfortunate incident into an opportunity for learning more about the American Revolution.
  6. Some of the conservative stuff written in defense of Cruz is simply hogwash. This was especially the case with Jay Cost’s piece at The Weekly Standard.  I like John Haas’s take on Cost at his Facebook page.  Here is a taste:

Jay Cost–who knows a thing or two about US history, btw–has weighed into the Twitter kerfuffle that’s erupted between Senator Ted Cruz (a Harvard grad) and Joyce Chaplin (a Harvard historian)…

They both have some of the truth here. If Cruz is insisting that the war was necessary to get Britain to the table, that’s obviously true–but it’s also nothing Chaplin denied. Cruz and his followers are assuming that if Chaplin didn’t mention it, she must be denying its importance. That’s silly. (If Cruz is going further, as many of his followers seem to be going, and is saying our “total victory” over GB allowed us to just dictate terms to them, well, no. There’s such a thing as “total war” I suppose (it’s meaning isn’t entirely clear, but people say it); there is “unconditional surrender”; but I don’t know what “total victory” is.

Chaplin is also correct that without international recognition, you’re not a nation yet. That’s why the Confederate States of America was so eager to gain recognition. Just ask the Basques about that.

As for Cost: This isn’t his finest hour. He makes six points:

1) The Treaty of Paris was bilateral, US and GB, not multilateral. Sure. But now every nation with relations with Great Britain knew the US was now no longer its colonial possession, and was free to treat us as sovereign without incurring the wrath of Great Britain. Point to Chaplin.

2) “The Treaty was a recognition of the facts on the ground, which were that, after their defeat at Yorktown, the British had no chance of reclaiming their American colonies.” A very weak point from Cost. Better to say Britain had no interest in reclaiming the colonies, not “no chance.” As with the US and Vietnam, if GB had really determined to fight that war all out, who knows what might have happened. They were nowhere close to “defeated.” They just lost interest.

3) He says there was no international community. Well, no UN, but sure, there was a community of nations that generally respected each others’ nationhood, accepted their delegations, made treaties with each other, etc.

4) “Insofar as the international community did exist, it was on the side of the United States.” Irrelevant.

5) Also irrelevant.

6) “Chaplin’s logic leads to ridiculous propositions. Did the ‘international community’ sanction the Glorious Revolution of 1688? Of course not. But, per Chaplin’s logic, Queen Elizabeth II is not the legitimate monarch of Great Britain . . .” This is just dumb. The international community did sanction 1688 by treating William & Mary as legitimate. But more important, it wasn’t really a “revolution,” much less a civil war; it was a major assertion of Parliamentarian authority and a change of monarch. Not at all comparable to our Revolution.

Cost calls Professor Chaplin “pathetic,” “ridiculous,” and “embarrassing.” He should probably apologize. But he won’t. It’s the #AgeOfTrump

More Constitutional Craziness from David Barton

Here is the latest logic from David Barton‘s “Wallbuilders Live” radio program:

  • The Constitution does not mention God
  • The Declaration of Independence mentions God four times
  • The Constitution is “part two” of the Declaration of Independence
  • Thus the writers of the Constitution did not have to mention God again because they already mentioned God in the Declaration.

Listen:

There is absolutely no evidence for anything Barton says here.  He is making this up.  The idea that the founders believed the Constitution was a natural extension of the Declaration of the Independence in the way Barton describes it ignores everything that happened between 1776 and 1787.

I challenge Barton to show me any member of the Constitutional Convention who made the connection between the God-language of the Declaration of Independence and the lack of God language in the Constitution in the way Barton suggests.

I suggest Barton read the following books:

Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic

Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution

Michael Klarman, The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution.

These books all do a nice job of explaining the complicated relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

So I guess I am one of these “brainless” professors Barton talks about.  Actually, he has called me worse .

I am also still waiting for Barton to apologize for this.

For a different approach to the religious dimensions of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution check out Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

FOUND: A New Parchment Copy of the Declaration of Independence

national treasure

Read all about it at The New York Times.  Harvard University professor Danielle Allen discussed her find yesterday at the Yale University conference honoring Bernard Bailyn. She thinks the mid-1780s parchment was copied by order of James Wilson.

Here is a taste of Jennifer Schuessler’s story on the find:

Archival research doesn’t get much more exciting than the 2004 heist movie “National Treasure.” Nicolas Cage, playing a historian named Benjamin Franklin Gates, discovers a coded map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Globe-spanning intrigue ensues — accompanied, offscreen, by a tsunami of eye-rolling by actual historians.

But now, in a bit of real-life archival drama, a pair of scholars are announcing a surprising discovery: a previously unknown early handwritten parchment of the Declaration, buried in a provincial archive in Britain.

The document is the only other 18th-century handwritten parchment Declaration known to exist besides the one from 1776 now displayed at the National Archives in Washington. It isn’t an official government document, like the 1776 parchment, but a display copy created in the mid-1780s, the researchers argue, by someone who wanted to influence debate over the Constitution.

It may not hold the key to a Masonic conspiracy, as in “National Treasure.” But its subtle details, the scholars argue, illuminate an enduring puzzle at the heart of American politics: Was the country founded by a unitary national people, or by a collection of states?

“That is really the key riddle of the American system,” said Danielle Allen, a professor of government at Harvard, who discovered the document with a colleague, Emily Sneff.

That riddle has bedeviled American history, from debates over Southern secession to calls to abolish the Electoral College today. And it was the burning question in the mid-1780s, when the American experiment was at risk of falling apart, and the push for a federal constitution, creating a strong national government (with, crucially, the right to tax), gained steam.

The new parchment will hardly end the argument. But it “really shifts our understanding in how the nationalist position emerged,” Ms. Allen said.

It remains to be seen what scholars will make of the discovery, which will be announced on Friday at a conference at Yale. A paper, posted online, runs through a wealth of textual and material evidence supporting the claim that the document, while found in Britain, was created in America in the 1780s. Ms. Allen and Ms. Sneff’s conference presentation will focus on their leading candidate for person behind it: James Wilson, a Pennsylvania lawyer and one of the strongest nationalists at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, who probably commissioned the parchment.

Some historians who have previewed their research are impressed.

“The sleuthing they’ve done is just remarkable,” said Benjamin Irvin, an associate professor of history at the University of Arizona and the author of “Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty,” a 2011 study of the Continental Congress. The identification as American, from the mid-1780s, he added, “looks pretty watertight.”

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Richard Brown

Self Evident TruthsRichard Brown is Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus at the University of Connecticut. This interview is based on his new book, Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War (Yale University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Self-Evident Truths?

RB: I wrote Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War because I wanted to understand how men who declared “all men are created equal” could launch a nation that maintained slavery and other forms of privilege: religious, gender, and class especially.  Was the Declaration simply a fraud, or was the founders’ statement of equality intended seriously–and if it was serious, to what extent was that goal realized?

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Self-Evident Truths?

RB: SelfEvident Truths argues that providing equal rights was a goal for some in the founding generation; but existing customs and institutions blocked realization of equal rights. Moreover the commitment to individual rights included a commitment to heritable private property, which was and remains a barrier to the actual possession of equal rights.

JF: Why do we need to read Self-Evident Truths?

RB: People need to read Self-Evident Truths so as to understand the founding of the United States, its history, and our own times. People need to comprehend how the ideal of equal rights was created and the extent to which Americans have, or have not, made equal rights a reality.

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

RB: I became committed to the study of American history as a college sophomore because I believed it would help me understand American society, its trajectory, and my place in it.

JF: What is your next project?

RB: During my career I have moved back and forth between close, microhistorical studies and broad interpretive works, sometimes–as in Self-Evident Truths–combining the two.  In my next work I plan to narrate and analyze the great fire that in 1811 destroyed most of Newburyport, Massachusetts, and the separate trials ten years apart wherein two teen-aged brothers were convicted and sentenced for arson, one to five years in prison, the other to death.

JF: Thanks, Richard!

Yet Another Reason Why Evangelicals Should Be Wary of David Barton’s Pseudohistory

ba98f-david-barton

David Barton’s Wallbuilders radio show is now referring to Barton as “America’s premiere historian.”  On today’s show his co-host Rick Green played a speech Barton gave at his  Dallas Pro-Family Legislators Conference.  (It is unclear when this conference was held).  During the speech Barton attacked me again.  Here is what he said (highlights are mine):

When you look at the Declaration, every single right set forth in the Declaration had been preached from the American pulpit prior to 1763. It’s a fun thing to do.  Read the Declaration sometime and look at it as a list of sermon topics. See if you could come up with Bible verses for all those rights.  Because that’s what they did. We’ve got the old sermons from those days to show you how the Declaration was built out of the pulpit.

So, that’s prior to 1763. Then when you get the Declaration itself it was largely based on the writings and John Locke. Richard Henry Lee said that they copied the Declaration from Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.

I have long said that Two Treatises of Government, John Locke in that work cited or referenced the Bible on 1,500 occasions. Two Treatises is about an inch thick and about 400 pages long.

An article came out last year by an academic named John Fea who just mocked me and said, “How stupid is Barton? There are only 121 references in there.” And it’s on a Biblical worldview website. So, it’s out there.  

So what I’ve been doing the last several months is I’ve gone into John Locke’s Two Treatises and I have documented every time he quotes a Bible verse. The deal with John Locke is he didn’t always tell you he was quoting a Bible verse because everybody knew it back then.

If I said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” Most of us would say, “That’s John 3:16.” If I said that to the guy on the street they wouldn’t know what I was talking about.  They don’t know John 3:16. Well see, here’s a Biblical worldview guy who didn’t recognize Bible verses throughout John Locke’s piece.

So, I’ve already documented that 1,500- way over. It’s an embarrassment for a Biblical worldview academic to not recognize the Bible.  But that’s a difficulty we have now.

OK, where do I begin?  Here are a few points:

  1. My name is pronounced “Fee-ah.”  It rhymes with the female names “Mia” or “Tia.”
  2. David Barton puts the following sentence in quotes and attributes it to me: “How stupid is Barton? There are only 121 references in there.”  I challenge him to connect this quote with my name.  He will not be able to do it because I never said these words.
  3. David Barton claims that I have written an article arguing that there are only 121 references to the Bible in John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.  I have never written such an article.  In fact, I am not on record anywhere–either at The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog, in a published book, or elsewhere–claiming that there are 121 references to the Bible in John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government. Frankly, I have never really been interested in this question and I am too busy to read Locke and count the number of Bible verses. (Maybe one day I will have the time). Yet Barton has criticized me at his conference, on his radio show, and on the transcript of the radio show on his Wallbuilders website.  The fact that Barton has not only mentioned this falsehood, but has put my words in quotation marks, is especially disturbing.  I spend a lot of time with my students teaching them the proper use of quotation marks.
  4. I am glad that Barton considers me a “Biblical worldview academic.”  At least he is not questioning my Christian faith.  I don’t really describe myself using the phrase “Biblical worldview academic,” but I will take it.  It is good to know that Barton still sees me as part of the fold. 🙂
  5. I am glad to see that Barton now believes that the “Declaration itself was largely based on the writings of John Locke.”  I always assumed he believed that the Declaration of Independence was based directly on the writings of the Bible.
  6.  I don’t know how many Bible verses are in Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, but Barton obviously thinks it is important.  Why?  Because if Locke was indeed the primary influence on Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence (a premise, by the way, that could be debated), then it is absolutely essential for Barton to show that Locke’s biblicism was somehow transferred to the words of the Declaration. Barton’s entire ministry at Wallbuilders depends on it. Let’s remember that Barton is not a historian. He is a politician who practices what the historian Bernard Bailyn once called “indoctrination by historical example.”  He is not studying Locke to advance general knowledge or even to help us better understand Locke in his 17th-century context.  He is doing this because he is trying to convince his followers that the Declaration of Independence is a Christian document.  And if he can prove that the Declaration of Independence is a Christian document then he can tell his followers that the United States was founded a Christian nation.  And if he can prove that the United States was founded as a Christian nation he can convince his followers that we need to “return” to such a place. And if he can do that, he can more easily advance his political agenda as a GOP operative.

I am going to stop there.  I have critiqued Barton’s work many times (including the idea that the Declaration of Independence was “built out of the pulpit”).  You can read some of those critiques by clicking here.  I have also addressed the relationship between Christianity and the founding in my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

I should also add that all of my critiques of Barton’s work are based on actually things that he has said and written.  As a fellow “Biblical world view” guy I would ask him to give me the same courtesy.