When one member of the House of Representatives tried to impeach Thomas Jefferson

I’ll bet you didn’t know that in 1809 Josiah Quincy (MA), the only Federalist in Congress, tried to impeach Thomas Jefferson. His attempt failed by a vote of 117 to 1.

Andrew Fagal, associate editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson at Princeton, tells us more in his recent piece at The Washington Post. Here is a taste:

On Jan. 25, 1809, Quincy rose to denounce the president as he had done numerous times in the past. This time was different, as Quincy alleged that Jefferson had failed to carry out his duties as chief executive. The president’s “high misdemeanor,” according to Quincy, was that he kept Benjamin Lincoln, the customs collector for the port of Boston, in federal office despite the man’s protestations that he was too old, and too feeble, to do his job. In 1806 Lincoln had written to Jefferson proposing to resign his office, but Jefferson asked him to stay on until he had appointed a successor. The president did so to nominate Henry Dearborn, his friend and the secretary of war, to this important position before his eventual retirement to Monticello. Jefferson wanted to reward his longtime ally with the Boston collectorship, but first, he needed to keep the long-serving Dearborn in the War Department until the foreign crisis with Great Britain over trade restrictions and the impressment of American sailors was resolved.

Quincy saw it differently, alleging that Jefferson unfairly allowed a federal official to be paid a $5,000 annual salary “for doing no services.”

Quincy’s motion received intense pushback in the floor debate that followed, as both Democratic-Republicans and Federalists objected to it. Seventeen Congressmen in total spoke against even considering the resolution, a high number for any House debate at the time. Thomas Gholson, an administration ally from Virginia labeled Quincy’s impeachment attempt as a “ridiculous proposition” while William A. Burwell, Jefferson’s former private secretary now a Virginia Congressman, referred to the ploy as something out of “Gulliver’s Travels.”

Read the entire piece here.

Here is your Thursday morning court evangelical update

More and more Republicans are implying that it is time to move on from this election and admit defeat. I wish more would step up and proclaim Biden president-elect so that the country can move forward, but most of them seem more concerned about party loyalty than what is good for the nation right now. Many are probably afraid that Trump will somehow exact some kind of revenge if they dare speak out against his claims of widespread voter fraud. Others are worried that if they criticize Trump it will hurt the Republican cause in the two Georgia Senate run-offs on January 5. If Trump voters don’t show-up for that run-off election, and the the Democratic candidates (Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock) win, the Democrats will gain control of the U.S. Senate.

Let’s check-in if anything has changed among the court evangelicals. Remember, I have used this term to describe the pro-Trump evangelical leaders who regularly visit the White House for photo-ops with the president and to supposedly advise him on policy matters. Based on this definition, I am not a Biden court evangelical. I have never been to the White House. Nor do I expect to be part of some kind of Biden faith-advisory council! 🙂 )

The folks at the Falkirk Center at Liberty University is still pushing voting fraud. Today they interviewed Rudy Guiliani:

Today in my Pennsylvania History class we continued our conversation about the Whiskey Rebellion. We talked about how George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Federalists believed that the followers of Jefferson and the members of the Democratic-Republican societies they established in the west were a threat to American ideals. But many of these societies were articulating their grievances against Hamilton’s excise tax on whiskey in very American ways. In other words, they were appealing to the principles of the American Revolution, particularly the resistance to the 1765 Stamp Act.

Washington condemned the whiskey rebels and their societies as threats to national unity, but despite all Washington’s well-rehearsed concerns about partisanship he was not above the fray. He wanted national unity on his terms. He failed to understand that in the 1790s there were two visions of American identity among the people and these visions were at odds with one other.

I thought of this again as I read a Falkirk Center tweet from Ryan Helfenbein. He wants to “proclaim Christ and defend America.” Whose America?

At one point in this video, David Barton, a self-proclaimed historian, suggests that Donald Trump’s tweets about election fraud should be taken seriously as a legitimate primary source. One of the first things we teach history students at Messiah University is how to evaluate sources. Barton is treating the Trump claim of election fraud in the same way he treats the American past. He collects stories about supposed fraud, adds them up without any larger context, and claims something happened. When he engages with the past he collects quotes from the founding fathers, adds them up without any larger context, and claims America is a Christian nation.

Eric Metaxas is encouraging people who are “losing hope that Trump can pull this off” to stay the course. He continues to speak with a sense of certainty that Trump will win this election. He also says that “Fox News has gone over to the dark side” and even implies that Fox is now working with George Soros. Then he tells his audience that he, Eric Metaxas, is now one of the only sources of honest news out there right now.

Metaxas says the Democrats are trying to steal the election and “there is nothing more disgusting” than this. Apparently at Metaxas’s prayer meeting on voter fraud the other night some guy blew a red, white, and blue shofar.

Robert Jeffress wants to make sure he is not misunderstood. He is still a court evangelical:

Gary Bauer is fighting the good fight as he sees it. He apparently has some disagreements with Twitter about Trump’s recent tweet.

Tony Perkins is still sowing seeds of doubt among his followers:

I am not sure Trump is doing much “leading” right now.

Pray “that the clergy of all denominations from one end of the continent to the other may intercede with the Lord of Hosts to dispose the minds of the people to obedience”

At first glance, one might think this quote came from one of Donald Trump’s court evangelicals.


The quote in the title of this post comes from a member of Congress in 1792 who went by the pseudonym “a sanctified friend of aristocracy.” He was advocating for a national day of fasting, prayer, and humiliation to convince the whiskey farmers in Western Pennsylvania to obey the recently passed Whiskey Tax.

In my Pennsylvania History class this semester we are reading Thomas Slaughter’s book The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution. Here is the full passage (pp.130-131):

It seemed clear that “the fate of the excise law will determine whether the powers of the government of the United States are held by an aristocratic junto or by the people.” Instead of responding to the flood of petitions against the excise that filled the halls of Congress, the members of that body “very improperly” handed them over to “an executive officer [i.e. Alexander Hamilton] who was the occasion of the injury, and was very interested in supporting it.” Now instead of repealing the law, a “sanctified friend of aristocracy” in the Congress advocated a national day of fasting, prayer, and humiliation “that the clergy of all denominations from one end of the continent to the other may intercede with the Lord of Hosts to dispose the minds of the people to obedience.” The arrogance of such a proposal infuriated opposition writers. Who were these aristocratic politicians to presume such a condescending attitude? Where was a recognition of republic principles, of the equality among men, for which the Revolution was fought? It now seemed that at least some who “passed under the name of federalists” embraced the Constitution only “because they looked on it as a promising essay towards a system of anti-republican orders and artificial palances.” These Federalists asserted their right to rule over the nation of farmers because they were “men of wealth and opulence, who could buy and sell the whole ragged race of whiskey drinkers twenty times over.” The question of th excise, friends of liberty warned, “is not longer between federalism and anti-federalism, but between republicanism and anti-republicanism.”

Of course Donald Trump used Christianity to suppress protests this summer in the same way that this Federalist congressman tried to use a day of fasting and prayer to keep the whiskey rebels in line. These rebels were men and women who invoked the spirit of the 1776 against what they believed to be an unfair tax levied upon them by eastern Federalists. To quote Slaughter, the opponents of the Whiskey Tax “resolved…that the law discouraged agriculture, fell most heavily on the newly settled areas, ‘especially upon the western parts of the United States,’ and was particularly discriminatory against citizens of the ‘laborious and poorer class,’ who were the consumers of cheap, domestically produced alcoholic beverages.”

I told my students that whenever the government starts talking about “law and order” or making Americans “obedient,” they will usually uncover some kind of religious or biblical argument.

I was reminded again of this passage in Slaughter when I saw this:

This is an all-star cast of court evangelicals. They will pray for a Trump victory on Sunday night. One of them might actually pray that “the Lord of Hosts… dispose the minds of the people to obedience” by convincing them to vote for Donald Trump.

Why is the GOP rushing the Barrett confirmation? The answer is simple: the Democratic coalition is growing

Another great piece at The Atlantic by Ron Brownstein. I find him to be the most astute political analyst working today.

Here is a taste:

Nothing better explains the Republican rush to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court than the record crowds that thronged polling places for the first days of early voting this week in Georgia and Texas.

The historic number of Americans who stood in long lines to cast their ballot in cities from Atlanta to Houston symbolizes the diverse, urbanized Democratic coalition that will make it very difficult for the GOP to win majority support in elections through the 2020s. That hill will get only steeper as Millennials and Generation Z grow through the decade to become the largest generations in the electorate.

Every young conservative judge that the GOP has stacked onto the federal courts amounts to a sandbag against that rising demographic wave. Trump’s nominations to the Supreme Court of Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Barrett—whom a slim majority of Republican senators appears determined to seat by Election Day—represent the capstone of that strategy. As the nation’s growing racial and religious diversity limits the GOP’s prospects, filling the courts with conservatives constitutes what the Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz calls “the right-wing firewall” against a country evolving electorally away from the party.

And this:

Jefferson’s irritation in the early 19th century may most closely resemble the frustration building among Democrats, as the GOP races to seat Barrett before an election that could provide Democrats with unified control of government, perhaps resoundingly. In the 1800 election, Jefferson ousted Adams, and his Democratic-Republican Party took the House and the Senate, beginning a quarter-century of complete political dominance. But in a long lame-duck session after their 1800 defeat, Adams’s Federalists passed legislation substantially expanding the number of federal judges. Adams, much like McConnell now, worked so tirelessly to fill those positions that Jefferson privately complained he had “crowded [them] in with whip & spur.” (Separately, Adams and the Senate rushed to confirm John Marshall as the Supreme Court’s chief justice after the Federalist in the job resigned weeks after Election Day.) Even “at 9 p.m. on the night of March 3, 1801, only three hours before officially leaving office, Adams was [still] busy signing commissions,” wrote James F. Simon in his book What Kind of Nation.

Mark Silk: “Trump’s 2020 religious attack on Biden harks back to 1800”


Here is Mark Silk at Religion News Service:

In case you hadn’t heard, last week President Donald Trump attacked his presumptive Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, on religious grounds. “No religion,” declared Trump. “No anything. Hurt the Bible. Hurt God. He’s against God.”

It’s been 220 years since the religion card was played so bigly in an American presidential campaign. The precedent is more apt than you might think.

The election of 1800 pitted the incumbent president, John Adams, against his old-friend-turned-bitter-rival Vice President Thomas Jefferson. In the two-party system that had emerged in the 1790s, Adams was the Federalist, Jefferson the Democratic-Republican. The Federalist case against Jefferson centered on charges that he was a “Jacobin,” a radical on the order of the French revolutionaries he had admired since serving as American ambassador to France in the late 1780s.

In a series of newspaper articles published in 1798, Alexander Hamilton attacked those revolutionaries for trying to “undermine the venerable pillars that support the edifice of civilized society,” not least by “the attempt … to destroy all religious opinion, and to pervert a whole people to Atheism.”

Hamilton claimed that Jefferson was, like them, an atheist who, with the help of fellow American Jacobins, would pursue the same agenda if elected. In the words of another Federalist writer, the choice was clear: “GOD—AND A RELIGIOUS PRESIDENT … [or] JEFFERSON AND NO GOD.”

And this:

Unlike Trump, John Adams did not himself attack Jefferson for irreligion. And unlike Biden, who called Trump’s attack “shameful,” Jefferson did not publicly respond to the attacks. As he wrote to James Monroe, “As to the calumny of Atheism, I am so broken to calumnies of every kind … that I entirely disregard it.”

Read the entire piece here.

The analogy is not perfect, but there are certainly similarities. Trump’s words about Biden play upon white evangelical fears over the decline of “Christian America.” Similarly, anxiety over the secular assault on America’s Christian political institutions played a predominant role in the presidential election of 1800. Adams was a New England Federalist who defended the idea that republics only survive when built upon the moral foundations of Christianity. Jefferson, Federalists believed, was most responsible for allowing infidelity to flourish in America.

Jefferson had the support of frontier, largely uneducated, evangelicals–such as Methodists and Baptists–who shared his commitment to religious liberty. It is noteworthy that the religious liberty-loving ordinary farmers supported that supposed “anti-God” candidate.

The Federalists, mostly members of the educated classes, called attention to Jefferson’s heretical beliefs: Jefferson did not believe in the Trinity, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, or the divine inspiration of the Bible. He was not the kind of leader who should be the president of a Christian nation, the Federalists said, and they were prepared to stage an intense political campaign to discredit him before the American people.

The attacks on Jefferson’s supposed godlessness were relentless. William Linn, a Federalist minister from New York, chaplain of the House of Representatives, and a former president of Queens College (today Rutgers University), opposed Jefferson’s candidacy because of the vice-president’s “disbelief in the Holy Scriptures…his rejection of the Christian religion and open profession of Deism.” Linn feared that under Jefferson’s rule, the United States would become a “nation of Atheists.” Linn made clear that “no professed deist, be his talents and acquirements what they may, ought to be promoted to this place [the presidency] by the suffrages of a Christian nation.” He even argued that the act of “calling a deist to the first office must be construed into no less than rebellion against God.” For Linn, the evangelical choice was clear. If the people were to choose “a manifest enemy to the religion of Christ, in a Christian nation,” it would be “an awful symptom of the degeneracy” of America.”

Upon hearing that Jefferson was elected, frightened New England evangelicals thought that the new president’s henchmen would soon be coming to their towns and homes on a mission to take away their Bibles.

Court Evangelical Tony Perkins: “Donald Trump is the best president Christians have ever had.”


Of all the court evangelicals, Tony Perkins talks the most about the contractual relationship between Donald Trump and conservative evangelical Christians.  Perkins supported Ted Cruz in the 2016 GOP primaries, but now he is all-in for Trump.

But Perkins has been clear about one thing: if Trump stops delivering on the issues he and other evangelicals hold dear, the president can expect to lose evangelical support in 2020.  So far that is not happening.

In a piece republished at Life News, Perkins calls Trump “the best president Christians have ever had.”  Perkins may be right, assuming that one defines “Christians” as political identity group of white,  right-wing, Christian nationalist, evangelical culture warriors.

There is nothing in Perkins’s piece that we haven’t seen before.  It all comes down to abortion and religious liberty.  I critiqued this two-pronged approach to politics in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

But this time around I was struck by how court evangelicals claim that they “didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office.”  Here is Perkins:

Christians, the president repeated, “have never had a greater champion — not even close — than you have in the White House right now. Look at the record,” Trump urged. “We’ve done things that nobody thought was possible. We’re not only defending our constitutional rights, we’re also defending religion itself, which is under siege.” That’s important, he argued, because “America was not built by religion-hating socialists. America was built by churchgoing, God-worshiping, freedom-loving patriots.”

And those patriots, President Trump insisted, are the ones being attacked. “Faith-based schools, charities, hospitals, adoption agencies, pastors were systematically targeted by federal bureaucrats and ordered to stop following their beliefs,” he pointed out. That all changed when his teams at HHS, Justice, and Education got involved rolling back the waves of hostility aimed directly at men and women of faith. “The day I was sworn in, the federal government’s war on religion came to an abrupt end,” he said. “My administration will never stop fighting for Americans of faith,” Trump vowed. “We will restore the faith as the true foundation of American life.”

Maybe that, as Pastor Jentezen Franklin prayed, is what believers appreciate most about this administration. “…America didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office,” he said, bowing his head. “It did not need a professional politician in the Oval Office. But it needed a fighter and a champion for freedom. Lord, that is exactly what we have.” And more than that, I thought, as I watched pastors lay their hands on the president, we have a fighter who isn’t ashamed of the people he’s fighting for. After all, when was the last time you saw a president of the United States from either party surrounded by faith leaders in a completely public and unscripted prayer? It’s rare, I assure you.

On that last sentence:

Obama Prayer

OBama praying

OBama in prayer

Bush prayer

Bush project prayer


I know Hillary has never been president, but this was too good to pass up

I am not sure if Perkins would count what is happening in these images as “public prayers.”  But I am reminded of Matthew 6:6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

But I digress.

So what do the court evangelicals mean when they say “we didn’t need a preacher in the Oval Office?” They seem to be suggesting that they don’t need to have a person of Christian character in the office as long as he is delivering on Christian Right policy.  The court evangelicals are essentially saying that Trump’s character–the lies, the misogyny, the narcissism, the demonization of enemies–don’t matter.  “Sure he is a rough dude, and we don’t like some of his tweets, but look what he is doing for us!”  Or “At least he’s not Hillary!” (Christians are not supposed to hate, but they sure hate Hillary).

The court evangelicals have every right to think about politics in this way.  They are free to ignore Trump’s many indiscretions because he is delivering on the things they hold dear.  But if they are going to take this route they need to stop appealing to the Founding Fathers.  These framers of the Constitution understood that the leader of the United States needed to be a person of character.

Here is James Madison in Federalist 57: “The aim of every political Constitution is or ought to be first to obtain rulers, men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society, and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous, while they continue to hold their public trust.”

Supporters of Donald Trump must ask if he has the “wisdom” to lead us, the commitment to the “common good” (not just his so-called “base”), and the character to make us a more “virtuous” people. If the president does not measure-up in these areas, the founders believed that he should not be leading the American republic.

Here is Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 68:

Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. 

“Low intrigue” and the “little arts of popularity.”  It almost sounds like Hamilton wrote this with Trump in mind.

According to the Founding Fathers, Trump is unfit for office.   The court evangelicals are supporting an unfit president and breaking with the views of the men who supposedly founded a Christian nation.  But look at the bright side: at least we get to say “Merry Christmas” again!

How to Build a History Course Around “Hamilton: An American Musical”


Reeve Hutson of Duke University explains how to do it.  Here is a taste from his piece at Panorama:

To my surprise, Hamilton proved a wonderful foil for studying the Revolutionary era—because the students love it; because it’s so good as a musical; and not least because it’s so bad as an interpretation of the Revolution. Those of you who have heard or seen the musical know just how many problems are contained in it: the belief in American exceptionalism; the assumption of a natural, already-existing American nation that pre-dated the Revolution; the faith in American national innocence (with the prominent exception of slavery and the subordination of women); the association of American-ness with upward social mobility; the notion that the Revolutionary movement was singular and united; the assumption that the story of the Revolution was the story of the “founding fathers”; the belief that the Federalists embraced what we twenty-first-century audiences would recognize as “democracy” (again, except for the disenfranchisement of women and people of color).

Read the entire piece here.

Utah Senator Mike Lee’s Failed Attempt at American History



Over at Politico, Utah Senator Mike Lee, the author of a new book on the Anti-Federalists titled Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government, warns against using history to “seek out confirmation for our pre-existing beliefs.”  He then goes right ahead and uses history to seek out confirmation for his pre-existing beliefs.

His article “How the ‘Hamilton Effect’ Distorts the Founders” calls us to remember the Anti-Federalists, those men who opposed the ratification of the United States Constitution.  Lee paints a picture of the United States Constitution as a “compromise” between Federalists and Anti-Federalists” and argues that Alexander Hamilton was not in favor of “big government.”

Here is a taste:

It’s understandable why progressives would imagine Hamilton as their partisan, Big Government comrade. But this understanding of Hamilton is based on a deeply distorted image of him.

Call it the “Hamilton Effect”: Twisting history to suit one’s ends, willfully ignoring and ultimately erasing it when it stands in your way.

If we knew our history—the true and complete stories of how our nation came to be—we’d know how to fight back against the progressive agenda. And we’d be a lot less likely to accept its overreach.

Our Constitution was the result of a brilliant compromise between the Anti-Federalists and the Federalists—between those who championed a divided and limited but strong central government, and those who feared that almost any central government would expand its authority at the expense of individual liberty and state autonomy. During the debates surrounding the Constitution’s drafting and ratification, the doubts, skepticism, and outright fear of what it would bring ultimately made the document stronger and more just.

We are the beneficiaries of the Great Compromise between those two factions, but too many of us don’t fully understand or appreciate that fact. And that is because history, over time, tends to remember only one side of the argument, crowding out dissenting voices and obscuring the full story of the American experiment.

Most of us, for example, are never presented with the arguments raised by the Anti-Federalists, who opposed the Constitution’s ratification based on concerns that it would vest too much power in the federal government and thereby imperil liberty. And just as disturbing, many of the Federalists have been mischaracterized as early advocates of big government. Some have tried to portray the founders as proto-progressives, even though the founders lived a full century before there was anything even resembling a “progressive.”

Read the entire piece here.

A few thoughts:

First, I agree with Lee when he says the Anti-Federalists do not get the attention they deserve.  This is largely because they lost the ratification debate.  It was close in some states, but they eventually lost and the Constitution was ratified. On this story I highly recommend Saul Cornell’s The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828.

Second, by calling the Constitution a “compromise” between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, Lee can conveniently affirm his present-day states-rights position and not appear to be challenging, like the actual Anti-Federalists did, the very existence of the Constitution.  This makes for a shrewd political move since Lee has strong connections to the Tea Party movement, a conservative political movement that prides itself on defending the Constitution. The very fact that Lee has to do this dance means that he is using the past for political purposes and does not really care about doing history.

Third, since Lee is a Mormon who supported Ted Cruz in the 2016 election, he might be interested in knowing that there were some Anti-Federalists who opposed the United States Constitution because it did not mention God. Here is what I said about these Anti-Federalists in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction:

While Anti-Federalist opposition was always more political than it was religious, many Anti-Federalists rejected the Constitution because it did not make any appeals to God. Even some statesmen who were prone who were prone to give their support to the Constitution on political grounds wondered why the framers had not made the slightest mention of God in drafting the document.  The writings of these constitutional skeptics present an interesting dilemma for those today who want to argue that the Constitution was a Christian document.  In the eighteenth century it was those who opposed the Constitution who made the strongest arguments in favor of the United States being a Christian nation.

When Luther Martin reported on the events of the Constitutional Convention to the Maryland state legislature, he could not help including some editorial comment about the way that the convention handled the question of religion.  According to Martin, “there were some members so unfashionable as to thin, that a belief of the existence of a Deity, and of a state of future rewards and punishments would be some secuirty for the good conduct of our rulers.”  For Martin, the United States was a “Christian country” and the Constitution should “hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.”

One of the more scathing critiques of the godlessness of the Constitution came from William Petrikin, an Anti-Federalist from Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Writing under the pseudonym “Aristocrotis,” Petrikin attacked the framers of the Constitution as elitists who preferred a refined religilon of “nature” over a religion of “supernatural divine origin.”  In doing do, he sounded a lot like a twenty-first century working-class evangelical complaining about the so-called secular liberal elites who had no respect for the Constitution.  The difference, of course, was the Petrikin was attacking the U.S. Constitution and the men who framed it.  Using stinging sarcasm, he argued that the framers believed that the Christian religion was the religion “of the vulgar in this country” and its “precepts are…so rigid and severe, as to render it impossible for any gentleman of fashion or good breeding to comply with them in any sense, without a manifest violation of decorum, and an abandonment of every genteel amusement and fashionable accomplishment.”  Petrikin did not stop there.  He chided the members of the Constitutional Convention for denying a belief in God, the “immortality of the soul,” the “resurrection of the body,” a “day of judgement,” and a “future state of rewards and punishments.”

Anti-Federalists especially attacked Article VI because it placed no Christian qualifications on officeholders.  “Samuel,” an Anti-Federalist from Massachusetts, worried that the lack of a religious test for office would mean that “Pagan” or a “Mahometan” might serve the country in the “most important trusts.”  “A Watchman,” writing from western Massaschusetts, feared that the Constitution opened a door for the “Jews, Turks, and Heathen to enter into the publick office, and be seated at the head of the government of the United States.”  A “Friend of the Rights of the People” also feared the possibility that “a Papist, a Mohomatan, a Deist, yea an Atheist” might be elected to the “helm of Government.”  And a New York Anti-Federalist, writing under the name Curtopolis,” was particularly harsh on Article VI because he feared it would allow the following kinds of people to serve in the national government:

“1st Quakers, who will make the black saucy and at the same time deprive of us the means of defence–2dly, Mahometans, who ridicule the doctrine of the trinity–3dly. Deists, abominable wretches–4thly, Negroes, the seed of Cain–5thly Beggars, who when set on horseback, will ride to the devil–6thly, Jews & c. & c.  It gives the command of the whole militia to the President–should he hereafter be a Jew, our posterity may be ordered to rebuild Jerusalem.

I am not sure if Senator Lee is willing to endorse this kind of Anti-Federalism. (His connections to Ted Cruz might be relevant here).  I guess I will need to read his forthcoming book.

Fourth, I agree with Lee when he says that Alexander Hamilton could never have imagined the kind of “big government” we have today.  I would take this idea even further.  The founding fathers could not have imagined most of what happens in the United States today–that includes political partisanship, rampant individualism, corporate capitalism, etc…  This is why we need to be careful when we appeal to them in order to promote this or that agenda.

Fifth, Hamilton believed in an active, centralized government modeled after Great Britain.  His view of government was fundamentally different from the one the country was experiencing under the Articles of Confederation.  Hamilton’s belief on this front deserves more than the mere caveat that it gets in Lee’s article.

Sixth, when we use the phrase “big government” today we usually associate it with progressive reforms such as those put forth by so-called “progressive” presidents Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson.  We also think about Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal or the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson.  Some of us might associate “big government” with Ted Kennedy’s late twentieth-century vision for the nation.  Of course one can also trace activist government back to the Radical Republicans of the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877).  These Republicans used the full power of the federal government in a failed attempt to integrate the South in the wake of the Civil War. In the end, states rights triumphed over these “big government” humanitarian efforts and the racist South managed to uphold their way of life for another hundred or so years.

I hope Lee’s book, unlike this article, acknowledges that history is complicated and does not easily fit the molds of our political preferences.

The Author’s Corner with Michael Klarman

jacket-image-framers%27-coupMichael Klarman is Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. This interview is based on his new book, The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution (Oxford University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write The Framers’ Coup?

MK: I have been interested in the Founding for a long time because I teach a few weeks on the making of the US Constitution in my Constitutional History class.  There is no one-volume history of the entire Founding period—from the flaws in the Articles of Confederation, through the conflict over monetary and fiscal policy in the states in the mid-1780s, through the Philadelphia convention, the state ratifying conventions, the intellectual and political struggles between the Federalists and Antifederalists, and the making of the Bill of Rights (which, of course, was added a couple of years later).  My initial idea was to write a short volume for the Oxford University Press series on inalienable rights.  But as I got into the primary sources, the book got longer and longer, mainly because I thought there was some virtue to being comprehensive if this was to be the “go-to” one-volume history of the topic.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Framers’ Coup?

MK: In two sentences, here’s the argument: The Framers wrote a constitution that was more nationalist (that is, shifting power from the state level to the federal level) and democracy-constraining than most Americans expected or wanted. I see myself as addressing a two-part puzzle: (a) Why was the Philadelphia convention so unrepresentative of opinion in the nation; (b) how did they convince the country, in a fairly democratic (for the time) ratifying process, to approve a document that was so constraining of populist influence on the national gov’t?

JF: Why do we need to read The Framers’ Coup?

MK: I think anyone who is interested in the making of the document that still frames our system of government today would be interested in this book. People will be surprised, I think, to realize how much the ratifying contest resembles ordinary politics as we still experience it today: people pursuing their own narrow interests, attacking the character of their adversaries, engaging in political shenanigans, etc.  And there are lots of colorful stories about some of the characters we identify as our most prominent Founding figures: Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Patrick Henry, etc.

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

MK: So I am more of a law professor than a historian.  I’ve taught in law schools—first the University of Virginia and then Harvard since 2008—for thirty years.  I only got interested in history after law school.  I spent three years in Oxford doing a D.Phil. in British labor/labor law history.  When I started teaching at U VA Law School in 1987, I got interested in Constitutional Law and then Constitutional History.  And both my teaching and my scholarship ever since have been in those areas.   I mostly teach and write about how the Supreme Court in American history has tended to reflect the sociopolitical context of its times and how the Court’s decisions, in turn, affect that sociopolitical context.

JF: What is your next project?

MK: I’m going to take a year or two off from writing.  Then I will probably tackle one of two projects, or perhaps both.  I’ve always wanted to write a book about the history of race in America as told through the lens of baseball (and perhaps other sports).  That would marry two of my great passions in life: race and baseball (I am a huge Red Sox fan).  The other project would be a book on the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, taking a detailed look at how they were enacted, what people thought they would accomplish, and how they have been interpreted by courts over time.

JF: Thanks, Michael!

Joanne Freeman on *Hamilton: The Musical*

Yale’s Joanne Freeman is one of the best scholars of Alexander Hamilton in the business.  Anyone interested in the infamous Hamilton-Burr duel at Weehawkin, New Jersey on July 11, 1804 must read her Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic.  She also edited the writings of Hamilton in the Library of America series.

Freeman recently saw Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash Broadway show Hamilton.  Here is a taste of her review at Slate:

…Miranda has taken some liberties for clarity and flow. Time is condensed and historical events are shifted in time; for example, the presidential election of 1800 didn’t lead to the Burr-Hamilton duel, nor did Hamilton’s son Philip fight a duel before that election. Big-name characters take the place of lesser-knowns: Burr, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison didn’t solicit Hamilton’s 1798 adultery confession. Representatives Frederick Muhlenberg, James Monroe, and Abraham Venable did. Some events are invented: John Adams didn’t fire Treasury Secretary Hamilton, who resigned under Washington in 1795, but this invention handily explains Hamilton’s opposition to fellow Federalist Adams’ bid for re-election as president in the election of 1800, highlighted later in the play.

Such creative license makes sense, particularly given that Hamilton is not a formal work of history. It’s a play centered on one man’s rise and fall, framed to enhance the qualities that made him notable. Even so, Miranda’s telling of that life contains a remarkable amount of historical fact, even concerning policy debates that hardly seem suited to the Broadway stage, let alone a musical. The creation of a national bank, the Neutrality Proclamation of 1793, the “dinner deal” that moved the United States’ capital south: All receive their due in rap battles and ballads. Part of Washington’s Farewell Address is quoted—or rather sung—verbatim. Indeed, quotes from Hamilton’s writings are sprinkled throughout the show. One of the play’s many achievements is its blend of an inclusive present with a historical past that is rooted in fact.
In many ways, Miranda’s Hamilton is also true to life, propelled by the same driving ambitions, rough edges, and loose-cannon character as his historical counterpart. Much like the real Hamilton, he’s a committed nationalist who fears the riotous upset of revolutionary France and strives to give the new nation a market-driven commercial future. Jefferson, in contrast, is depicted as a Virginia-centric slaveholder singing the praises of agrarianism. In Miranda’s telling, Hamilton is forward-looking and Jefferson clings to a pastoral slavery-bound past.
And here is Miranda talking Hamilton on Jimmy Fallon:

Ben Carp Reviews Lin-Manuel Miranda’s "Hamilton"

I have been waiting for this musical ever since I saw (via You Tube) Lin-Manuel Miranda in this performance at The White House:

Hamilton” is now playing at the Public Theater until May 3. Good luck landing a ticket.  All the shows appear to be sold out.  It is coming to Broadway in July.

So for now I am going to have to experience the show vicariously through Brooklyn College historian Ben Carp’s review at Common-Place.  Here is a taste:

The historian’s craft is on full display here.  In “The Room Where It Happens,” James Madison, Hamilton, and Jefferson hash out the famous 1790 compromise to locate the capital on the Potomac but have the federal government assume state debts.  Yet as Aaron Burr (in his role as sometime narrator) tells us, we don’t actually know what went down, because no one else was in the room.  Later, Eliza Hamilton burns her letters rather than leave for posterity her opinions about Hamilton’s adultery.  She even sings about leaving the narrative.  Books, letters, and printed pamphlets recur as props, and they are constantly in motion: the characters read news of Laurens’s death, Hamilton’s attack on Adams, and his sordid confessions about Maria Reynolds.  Families try to love one another across distances.  As a historian I’m used to flipping through archival materials, so this dynamism was something of a treat.  On the front of the Playbill, the tagline reads, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” and in a number toward the end, the actors confront the idea that history isn’t static—storytellers might vary, and the differences among them actually matter. Audiences will thrill to Miranda’s interpretation, but they are still offered the idea that different interpretations are possible, and that the historical record leaves gaps for the imagination to fill.  If you’re like David Brooks (who saw the same performance I did), you may fall in love with Hamilton all over again (and is it just me, or does “The Hamilton Experience” remind you of “The Girlfriend Experience”?), but the show leaves room for many other reactions.

Race plays an interesting role in the show.  Ben Brantley found it “appropriate that the ultimate dead white men of American history should be portrayed here by men who are not white.”  In an interview, Leslie Odom, Jr. (who plays Aaron Burr), said, “In the first two minutes of this show, Lin steps forward and introduces himself as Alexander Hamilton, and Chris [Jackson] steps forward and says he’s George Washington, and you never question it again.” And while it’s true that the performances are unquestionably fitting, they also raise interesting questions.  In the show, the only white cast members (as far as I could tell) were either ensemble players (one of whom played the Loyalist minister Samuel Seabury) or Bryan D’Arcy James, who plays King George III to hilarious effect.  (“When push comes to shove / I will kill your friends and family / To remind you of my love.”)  In other words, on stage the whites represent monarchical authority, while the revolutionaries (men and women) are played by people of African, Latino/a, and Asian descent.  This show is, then, about revolutions past and future (and Miranda did acknowledge in the New Yorker that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were on his mind when the cast sang, “Rise up!”)…

…On the subway ride home, I saw a group clutching a Playbill from the show and discussing excitedly whether certain events in it were accurate.  I smiled.  It’s a good thing Hamilton is moving to Broadway for a longer run.  More audiences for this show could well mean a broader audience for other good histories, too.


The Author’s Corner with Jonathan Den Hartog

Jonathan Den Hartog is Associate Professor of History at the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, Minnesota, where he is also Chair of the History Department. This interview is based on his new book, Patriotism and Piety: Federalist Politics and Religious Struggle in the New American Nation (University of Virginia Press, January 2015).

JF: What led you to write Patriotism and Piety?

JDH: As a graduate student, I became fascinated by the early republic: so much about American life was determined not in the years of the War for Independence but in the decades after the Constitution was ratified. It became clear to me that understanding the place of religion in American life required extending the story from the Revolution into the early national period. Within that story, the Federalists had a role that had not really been examined satisfactorily. The Federalists were one of the first American political parties and counted many Revolutionary leaders among their numbers, including Washington, Adams, Hamilton, and Jay, as well as state-level figures such as Elias Boudinot, Caleb Strong, Timothy Dwight, Jedidiah Morse, and Henry William De Saussure. As a group, their understanding of the place of religion in the new republic needed to be better understood.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Patriotism and Piety?

JDH: The book argues that the decades after the American Revolution were a time, not of religious uniformity and consensus, but of intense conflict over what would be believed and how religion would relate to the state and federal governments. In this milieu, Federalists worked creatively to advance a vision of a public religiosity; in so doing, their activities and outlooks passed through three phases: Republican, Combative, and Voluntarist.

JF: Why do we need to read Patriotism and Piety?

JDH: Readers of the Way of Improvement blog might want to read it in conversation with John’s Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? More generally, readers should pick up the book to encounter narrative history that describes individuals in the early republic wrestling with important questions that still vex us today about the place of religion in public life and how best to advance claims about ultimate reality in the public realm.

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

JDH: My love for American history was nourished by parents who encouraged me to read and teachers who were simultaneously engaging and demanding. As a college undergraduate, the study of American history opened my eyes to how my experiences were shaped by the traditions I was participating in. That intellectual awakening galvanized my desire to share similar experiences with students and readers.

JF: What is your next project?

JDH: In researching Patriotism and Piety, one figure I spent time with was John Jay–he actually is the central figure for chapter 1. I discovered that he had produced much more material than could be covered in a single chapter and that Jay was a very significant figure who has received much less attention than he deserves. So, I am currently writing a study of Jay’s ideas and politics.

JF: Looking forward to hearing about it. Thanks Jonathan

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

On Writing a History of the American Bible Society–Update #8

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

Since I spent a good part of the weekend in Philadelphia and traveling to New Jersey in preparation for a week in the archives, my work on the American Bible Society (ABS) project was limited this past weekend.  

I did, however, manage to get in three or four hours of reading through some of the early ABS-correspondence of Elias Boudinot, the ABS’s first president and its most ardent promoter. He was the George Washington among the organization’s many “founding fathers.”

Most of the letters I read and processed were exchanged between September 1815 and May 1816.  Though Boudinot was bed-ridden due to a battle with a bad case of gout, he still played an active role in bringing delegates from the various Bible societies in the United States together in New York in May 1816.  He main correspondents during this period, in preparation for the delegates meeting, were William Caldwell and William Jay.  Caldwell was the Secretary of the New York Bible Society and would serve as the host of the delegates convention.  Jay was the author of a memoir extolling the virtues of such a society that was published just prior to the New York meeting.

Since Boudinot could not travel to New York for the May meeting, he appointed Joshua Wallace to stand in his place.  In a letter written in early May, Boudinot gave Wallace a very detailed instructions about how to call the meeting to order and how to make sure that the delegates achieved the desired result–a national Bible society that would eventually be named the American Bible Society.

Boudinot’s letters reveal a very interesting mix of political Federalism, nationalism, and Biblical prophecy.  More on this latter.

On Writing a History of the American Bible Society–Update #7

John Jay was the first Vice President of the ABS

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

After a disappointing Thursday, Friday turned out to be a rather productive day of work on my history of the American Bible Society (ABS) project.  I spent most of the day reading and organizing things in preparation for a week in the ABS archives.  This required skimming hundreds of pages of essays written in the 1960s by ABS historians and librarians.  These essays, which are kept in about forty blue three-ring binders in the ABS library, are full of primary source material that will be useful to my work. (They have been digitized and made available to me). I now have a pretty clear sense of what sources I need to examine during my visits to the ABS and what sources I can read from home.

I also continued my work on the founders of the ABS.  I have decided to limit the “founders” of the organization to the delegates from local Bible societies who were present at the May 1816 meeting in which the ABS was founded, the first group of officers, and the first Board of Managers.  Last night I tried to identify the political affiliations of these founders and found an overwhelming number of Federalists, men with Federalist ties, and former Federalists (National Republicans).  I was glad that this effort proved successful.  I now think I can make a very strong argument that the founders of the American Bible Society were Christian nationalists.

Stay tuned.