Trump, Porn, and the Coarsening of Culture

 

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

Trump and his wife.  He allegedly cheated on her with a porn star

I have spent a lot of time at this blog challenging the idea, popular among conservative evangelicals, that we should elect candidates who promise to “restore” or “return” America to its supposedly Judeo-Christian roots.  I have been critical of politicians and others who want to “reclaim” a Christian golden age that may never existed in the first place.  Trump’s phrase “Make America Great Again” is extremely problematic, both from a historical perspective and an ethical perspective.  We can’t go back.  We may not want to go back.

Yet I sometimes find myself in agreement with conservative Christian cultural warriors when they talk about the coarsening of America culture.  I am thinking, for example, about the kinds of public discourse, violence, and sex that we tolerate on our television screens.  The bar for what is acceptable behavior in public has lowered significantly in recent decades.  Our kids are exposed to unhealthy images–on television, at the theater, at school, on their computers and phones, and on their video games– at a much earlier age than I was.  I don’t think I am engaging in nostalgia here.  Anyone who has watched the culture develop over the course of the last couple of decades cannot miss this.  Even if you disagree with my use of words and phrases such as “unhealthy” or “acceptable behavior” or “coarsening” to describe these changes, you would still have to admit that things on this front have changed over time.  In my view, they have declined over time.

Let’s take pornography.  I think a lot of people, whether religious or not, would agree that porn has a negative effect on American culture.  I am guessing that one does not have to be an evangelical Christian to conclude that pornography degrades women, destroys families, teaches young people (who are watching it in increasing numbers via the Internet) an unhealthy view of sex, and leads men to throw away their money.

As if it wasn’t already easy enough to become addicted to porn, we now have a President of the United States who is in a legal battle over an adulterous affair he had with a porn star.  Stormy Daniels is everywhere.  Last weekend CNN reporters covered her stripping at a Florida men’s club.  I imagine that her free porn videos online are going viral. I am sure Stormy has been a great boon for the industry.  Like it or not, she is now part of the political mainstream.  A porn star may have found her way onto the pages of American history textbooks.

I think there might be lessons here for two groups of people.

First, and perhaps most obvious, are the court evangelicals.  Frankly, I was appalled when Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, tweeted:

Stormy Daniels, a porn star, is “irrelevant?”  Trump’s playboy lifestyle and strong connections to the porn industry have made a porn star a household name in America.  I am sure Jeffress has counseled people who are addicted to porn.  I am sure he knows about families that have been torn apart because of porn.  I am sure he knows about men who have squandered away their savings or ran up massive credit card debt on Internet porn sites.  How could a pastor say that Stormy Daniels is irrelevant?

I ask the same question of the other court evangelicals, especially Tony Perkins, the champion of “family values” who gave Trump a “mulligan” on his affair with Stormy Daniels.  Is Perkins’s vision so narrow that he does not see the consequences of Trump’s sin on the culture at large?  I thought guys like Perkins wanted to clean-up the culture, not give a pass to a guy who brought a porn star into the center of public life.

But I also have a word here for all of my secular friends who think that evangelicals are obsessed with sex.  Many secular liberals, especially folks on college campuses, will be quick to condemn Trump’s relationship with a porn star.  I am glad to see that they have managed to find their moral footing on this issue.  But where have they been before Stormy Daniels came on the scene?  Why aren’t they working with evangelicals to curb pornography?  Is there common ground here?  It seems that only the most extreme libertarian can look the other way when they encounter the negative effects that pornography has had on our social institutions.  Rarely does one hear a college professor talk about the coarsening of our culture.  Perhaps they do not want to be labeled Puritans or Fundamentalists.

Maybe it is time to talk once again about virtue–the kind of common morality that the founding fathers believed essential to the preservation of a healthy republic.  Whatever you think about the founders, their flaws, and their failure to live-up to many of their ideals, they did believe that the survival of a nation was impossible without at least some kind of moral core.  It is hard to play the identity politics card on this one.  The negative effects of porn impact people of all races and classes and both genders.

American citizens will have robust debates over issues such as abortion or the nature of marriage, but I hope that they can find common moral ground on something like pornography.

The fight against pornography was once a Christian Right issue. But if reform is going to happen on this front it will now need to be led by religious and non-religious anti-Trumpers.  The court evangelicals have lost all moral authority to speak on this issue.  The next time I hear a pro-Trump evangelical leader condemn porn I will respond this way.

The Author’s Corner with Jeanne Abrams

abrams comp final (004)Jeanne Abrams is a Professor, University Libraries at the University of Denver. This interview is based on her new book, First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role (NYU Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write First Ladies of the Republic?

JA: It was actually my last book, Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health, which sparked my interest in the way our inaugural first three ladies carved out a role for themselves in the political life of the early American republic. Revolutionary Medicine examined the lives of George and Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James and Dolley Madison from the perspective of sickness, health, and medicine in their era. In the process of writing that book I gained a deeper appreciation for the role these formidable and path-breaking women, Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison, played in the grand experiment which transformed America from a colonial outpost to an independent nation.

JF: What is the argument of First Ladies of the Republic?

JA: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison, the three “first” First Ladies of the United States, invented the position without a roadmap to follow to accommodate the demands of a new republican government. Although they had to walk a fine line between bringing dignity to the position and distancing themselves from the courtly styles of European royalty that were seen as inimical to the values of a republic, these three spirited women, who in their time could not even vote or hold office, exercised intelligence and initiative to play a substantial role in the nation’s early political life.

JF: Why do we need to read First Ladies of the Republic?

JA: First Ladies of the Republic demonstrates that the creation of the United States was not only a male enterprise. Although they were constrained by the customs of their era, elite women like the inaugural First Ladies played a substantial role in the nation’s early political life. All three helped shape the nation’s political culture and were able to transcend boundaries between the private and public sphere. The lives of these three extraordinary women intersected on many occasions, and they learned from one another as the brand new position of First Lady evolved. Moreover, though most historians have looked at male and female socio-political roles in their era as a binary divide, I argue that it is more useful to view the manner in which they operated together with their presidential husbands as members of a family unit. For early members of America’s governing elite, political life was often a joint cooperative undertaking, an effort in which they participated actively as part of a close-knit family circle. The three First Ladies were all deeply committed to the public good and the principles of independence and liberty which had first emerged in Revolutionary America and continued to develop in the early national period, but at the same time, they also worked to burnish the public images of their presidential spouses and advance their family interests.

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

JA: As a freshman in college many decades ago, I had to write a paper on American Loyalists in the American Revolution for a history class. I paid a visit to the New York Historical Society, and too my astonishment and gratitude, I was handed a box of letters written by Loyalists in the 1760s and 1770s. I couldn’t believe I was holding historical documents from two centuries prior in my hands, and the experience launched my on the road to becoming an historian. That fateful day, I immediately fell in love with primary sources, and it is a love affair that has endured to this day.

JF: What is your next project?

JA: I am now working on a book manuscript about the European journeys of John and Abigail Adams and how their time abroad influenced their increasing admiration for their home country of America and commitment to the republic of the United States.

JF: Thanks, Jeanne!

The Founding Fathers and Gun Laws

CornellI have been waiting for Fordham University historian Saul Cornell to weigh-in on guns and the Second Amendment in the wake of the Parkland shooting.  In this piece at “The Conversation” he suggests “five types of gun laws the Founding Fathers loved.”

They are:

  1. Registration
  2. Public Carry
  3. Stand-your-ground laws
  4. Safe storage laws
  5. Loyalty oaths

See how Cornell develops these thoughts here.

And then go read his A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America.  Cornell is the National Rifle Association’s worst nightmare.

 

“Passion of the Christ” Sequel to Feature Jesus Helping Founding Fathers Establish America

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The Babylon Bee continues to deliver the satire.  A taste:

HOLLYWOOD, CA—According to industry sources, director Mel Gibson’s highly anticipated sequel to The Passion of the Christ will center around the resurrected Jesus traveling to the Western Hemisphere to help the Founding Fathers establish the United States of America—God’s chosen nation.

Read the rest here.

Today the Founding Fathers Were Invoked…

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For their ability to carry a tune

For not “envisioning career politicians

For having tensions with the free press

For believing in the right to bear arms

For not making racist, bigoted, and depressing remarks

For supporting and “educational vision” centered on “local control.”

For having their pictures replaced by pictures of football players

As radicals

For making sure we were a republic and not a democracy

For writing a Constitution that distributed power between the states and the federal gvoernment

For respecting the rights of conscience

And we could go on.  The Founders are invoked every day.   Isn’t it time we invest in American history so that when we do invoke the Founders we do so responsibly?

Religious Freedom in Historical Context

RagostaOver at Religion Dispatches, Frederick Clarkson interviews John Ragosta, the author of Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed (University of Virginia Press, 2013).  January 16th is Religious Freedom Day.

Here is a taste of the interview:

Clarkston: What’s most striking to me about the Virginia Statute is the part that reads: “…all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

Jefferson emphasized that the bill was meant to protect everyone, including as he later wrote, “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” This idea–that one’s religious identity should be neither an advantage nor a disadvantage under the law–seems to be as relevant today as it was then.

Ragosta: Absolutely. The Statute was intended to create a free market of ideas, including religious ideas. Religion would thrive based not on government decisions but on what people believed and chose to support–the “voluntary principle.” The result was an explosion in religious ideas and denominationsand religious leaders were held responsible to their congregants rather than the government. Some conservative ministers who had initially opposed separating church and state admitted that it was the best thing that ever happened to the church.

People sometimes assume that if you want to keep religion out of government and government out of religion you are against religion; Jefferson suffered the same attack. But he and his evangelical supporters wanted a strict wall of separation between church and state–and yet [they] believed that there would be a vibrant religion on the “other” (non-government) side of the wall.

At the same time, while belief is completely free from government regulation and government cannot directly regulate the free exercise of religion, government can pass “neutral” laws (not targeted at religion) which may happen to be inconsistent with a person’s beliefs.

Jefferson used the obvious example of child sacrifice or a law which prohibited the slaughter of lambs when the military was in short supply of wool uniforms. The best modern example is laws against racial discrimination: While many people insisted that interracial dating or marriage violated their religion, the Supreme Court, in the 1983 case of Bob Jones University v. United States, rightly refused to grant an exemption to anti-discrimination laws based on religion.

This is exactly what is at issue in the claims for exemptions from laws dealing with LGBTQ rights. Government cannot tell a church that it must marry gay people (that would be a direct regulation of religion), but government can say that if you want to run a business (using public streets, public utilities, police and fire protection, etc.), you cannot discriminate against customers based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. Of course, if people don’t like particular laws, they can be changed, but Jefferson was very clear that you can’t use religion or religious freedom to claim an exemption from an otherwise valid law.

Read the entire interview here.

Christ Church in Alexandria is a Church, Not a Museum

George_Washington_memorial_-_Christ_Church_(Alexandria,_Virginia)_-_DSC03516In case you have not heard, an Episcopalian church in Alexandria, Virginia is taking down a plaque memorializing George Washington.  When Christ Church opened in 1773, Washington owned a pew.  He attended the church whenever he was in town to conduct business.  It is located about nine miles from Mount Vernon. Washington also served as a vestryman in the church.

According to this piece in The Washington Times, Christ Church will also be removing a memorial marker dedicated to another famous parishioner: Robert E. Lee.

Here is a taste:

While acknowledging “friction” over the decision, the church’s leadership said both plaques, which are attached to the front wall on either side of the altar, are relics of another era and have no business in a church that proclaims its motto as “All are welcome — no exceptions.”

“The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques,” the church leaders said in a letter to the congregation that went out last week.

The decision was also announced to parishioners on Sunday.

The backlash was swift, with the church’s Facebook page turning into a battleground. Some supporters praised the church for a “courageous” stand, while critics compared leaders at the Episcopal church leaders to the Taliban or the Islamic State.

Read the entire piece here.

Let’s remember that Christ Church is a functioning congregation.  If the leadership of this congregation believe that people will be offended by commemorative material related to Washington or Lee, or if they believe that these plaques will somehow hinder the advancement of the Gospel in their midst, then the materials should definitely be removed from the sanctuary.  Finally, I am not sure political figures or military generals belong in a church sanctuary.  I would say the same thing about the American flag.

I am also glad to see that the church will be creating a separate space where the commemorative items can be explained and contextualized:

The new display location will be determined by a parish committee. That location will provide a place for our parish to offer a fuller narrative of our rich history, including the influence of these two powerful men on our church and our country,” she said in the email. “We look forward to this opportunity to continue to learn more about our own history and find new ways to introduce it to the wider community.

Read the statement from the Senior Warden of Christ Church here.

Today the Founding Fathers Were Invoked…

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For have views equivalent to the Alt Right

For defending a free and vigorous press

For not including the right to own semi-automatic weapons in the Declaration of Independence

For not allowing religious tests for office-holding

For making sure that religious freedom would not be trumped by tyranny

For founding the United States on Judeo-Christian values

For establishing a representative republic

Because their works being rewritten by leftists

For creating a political system that makes it difficult to pass laws

For being in debt up to their eyeballs

For understanding the right to bear arms as something different from the right to bear “modern-scary” assault weapons

For leaving behind a legacy of the institutional protection of people’s civil liberties

And we could go on.  The Founders are invoked every day.   Isn’t it time we invest in American history so that when we do invoke the Founders we do so responsibly?

The Author’s Corner with Gordon Wood

41-mB7iaBXL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgGordon Wood is Professor Emeritus of History at Brown University. This interview is based on his new book, Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (Penguin Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Friends Divided?

GW: I had just edited three volumes of writings of John Adams for the Library of America and planned to write a book on Adams. My editor at Penguin-Random House, Scott Moyers, asked, why not write on both Adams and Jefferson?  The suggestion was intriguing and that’s how the book began.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Friends Divided?

GW: The two patriots, Adams and Jefferson, could not be more different. They represent the strains of conservatism and liberalism in American life, and yet they became friends, divided friends who reconciled late in life.

JF: Why do we need to read Friends Divided?

GW: I think reading the book will give a reader a heightened idea of the difference between conservatism and liberalism in our culture. It will also show why we Americans ultimately have come to honor Jefferson and not Adams.

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

GW: I originally intended to join the foreign service, but three bizarre years of  experience in the USAF convinced me that I would not enjoy working for the government; so instead I applied to graduate school to study history, which I had always been interested in.

JF: What is your next project?

GW: I am not sure what my next project might be. I first have to go on a book tour to promote this book.

JF: Thanks, Gordon!

Were the Founding Fathers Deists?

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Tom Paine

If I had a dime for every time I heard this….

Over at the blog of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, political scientist Mark David Hall argues that the reports of founding father deism are largely exaggerated.  I made a similar argument in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

Here is a taste of Hall’s piece:

Given the numerous, powerful, and clear claims that that the Founders were deists, it is striking that there are few instances of civic leaders in the era openly embracing deism or rejecting orthodox Christian doctrines. In 1784, Ethan Allen published Reason: The Only Oracle of Man, the first American book advocating deism. The book sold fewer than two hundred copies, and after its publication Allen played no role in American politics.

A decade later, Thomas Paine published a defense of deism entitled The Age of Reason, but he was born and raised in England and lived only twenty of his seventy-seven years in America, so one can reasonably ask if he should be counted as an American Founder. Paine wrote and published his volumes in Europe, and when he returned to America in 1802 he was vilified because of them. These cases suggest that whatever attraction deism had among a few elites, expounding such views in public was quite imprudent.

We know from private letters and diaries that Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams rejected basic Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and the Incarnation. However, with a few minor exceptions they came to regret, they kept their heterodox views far from the public’s eye.

George Washington, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton are regularly referenced as Founders who embraced deism. Yet to my knowledge no writer has ever produced a public or private letter, journal entry, or text showing that these men rejected orthodox Christianity or embraced deism.

Before proceeding, we should note that if deism includes the idea that “God set the world in motion and then abstained from human affairs,” then one could argue that not one of these men was a deist, as all of them spoke or wrote about God’s intervention in the affairs of men and nations. Washington, for instance, referred to “Providence” at least 270 times in his writings. It is likely that Allen and Paine referred to God’s intervention in human affairs merely for rhetorical purposes, but there are good reasons to believe that even Founders who rejected some tenets of orthodox Christianity, such as Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson, continued to believe in miracles.

By my count, then, there are exactly two Founders—Allen and Paine—whom we may confidently label “deists.” And one of the two is arguably not an American Founder.

Read the entire piece here.  HT: Jonathan Rowe

Today the Founding Fathers Were Invoked…

founding-fathers-strip

For never imagining that Americans would demand the right to hunt turkeys

For giving Congress the power to tax

For making “archetypal contributions” to the United States

For their desire to protect and defend local militias

For bestowing freedoms on us

For rejected the idea of standing army

For believing that a free press served as a “watchdog over those in power

For having wisdom to take ideas from the Greeks and Romans

For being unable to predict the existence of AR-15 rifles or the Internet

For being unable to imagine a president who constantly switches residences

For declaring the “all men are created equal

And we could go on.  The Founders are invoked every day.   Isn’t it time we invest in American history so that when we do invoke the Founders we do so responsibly?

The Bible and the Constitution

reading-the-bible-with-the-founding-fathersIn a recent article at The Hill, American University political scientist Daniel Dreisbach reminds us that the Bible was important in the framing of the United States Constitution. (See his visit to the Author’s Corner here).  I appreciate Dreisbach’s work.  Many friends who take a more secular approach to the ideological origins of the Constitution have asked me what I think about Dreisbach’s views on the Bible and the founding.  Frankly, I think his book Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers is excellent for what it does, namely showing that the Bible should not be neglected as a source of inspiration and ideas for many of the founding fathers.   In his interview with me about the book, Dreisbach wrote:

I contend that the Bible had a significant, yet often overlooked, influence on the political thought and discourse of the American founding and, therefore, it should be studied alongside other influences on the founding generation, such as British constitutionalism, Enlightenment liberalism, and classical and civic republicanism.  The book examines the extensive and diverse uses of the Bible in the political discourse of the founding era, combining careful historical research, elementary political theory, and biblical interpretation.

I imagine that Dreisbach has no problem with the idea that the Bible was one of many sources that informed the thinking of the founding fathers.

Here is a taste of Dreisbach’s piece at The Hill: “Liberty under law was always rooted in biblical principles.”

Legal commentators have pointed to additional examples of the Bible’s influence on specific constitutional provisions, including provisions on cruel and unusual punishment, the number of witnesses required in cases of treason, affirmation in the alternative to an oath, and corruption of blood.

Although the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 readily conceded that the document they wrote was imperfect, there was a consensus that it was the best that could be framed under the circumstances. And some, such as Benjamin Rush, “believed the hand of God was employed in this work,” just as surely as “God had divided the Red Sea to give a passage to the children of Israel.”

Even the skeptic Benjamin Franklin, while disclaiming that the Convention’s work was “divinely inspired,” remarked that he could not conceive such a momentous achievement as framing “the new federal constitution” without it “being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent and beneficent Ruler.”

Commentators today may disagree that the Constitution was a product of Divine Providence or that it contains elements informed by Christianity, but the Bible was undisputedly among the intellectual sources that influenced the founders. Acknowledging the Bible’s often-neglected contributions to the founding project enriches our understanding of the nation’s great constitutional experiment in republican self-government and liberty under law.

As I argued in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction, the Bible was important to the founding generation.  I was particularly interested in how the Bible was used, but Driesbach’s work goes much deeper and reveals just how much the eighteenth-century was saturated with biblical ideas.  Of course how that history is used today raises a very different set of issues and questions.  This is part of the reason I wrote a followup to Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? titled Why Study History?

Today the Founding Fathers Were Invoked…

founding-fathers-strip

For owning slaves

For their support of anthem protests

For providing quotes that Roy Moore can use to advance his political career

For fearing that the electoral college would lead to only a few states deciding a presidential election

For reducing corruption by establishing a balanced government

For fighting a revolution based on moral values

For protecting free speech

For their love of beer 

For bringing “the understanding and reality of life” to government

For establishing a stable democracy

For “kneeling” during the playing of “God Bless the King” in 1776

For their biblical literacy

For believing that God was offended by sin

For sacrificing their lives for the cause of independence

For believing in “robust, open debate

For there “aversion to weaponry

And we could go on.  The Founders are invoked every day.   Isn’t it time we invest in American history so that when we do invoke the Founders we do so responsibly?

No Mike Pence, Jefferson Did Not Say That

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Over at Time, Olivia Waxman offers some tips on how to avoid making the same mistake Mike Pence did the other day on Fox & Friends when he claimed that Thomas Jefferson said “Government that governs least governs best.”

Here is a taste of her post:

Jefferson was a skilled writer — he was the author of the Declaration of Independence, after all — but the ability to sum up his worldview in one sentence was not one of his “many talents,” as Berkes puts it. A sentence that seems to encapsulate his whole philosophy is likely the work of someone else.

On the other hand, Ben Franklin was, which can make his fake quotations particularly difficult to dope out. “He tended to be quite pithy [and] he tended to be quite concise, which is not something that was typical of the other people in that Founding generation, so that’s not helpful,” says Kate Ohno, associate editor of the Franklin Papers. For him, it’s the subject matter (or anachronistic word choice) that can be a giveaway. “He was an intellectually curious guy who was interested in everything, but he tended to focus more on the practical than the theoretical. He tends to address specific problems that he sees in society.”

But there are always exceptions, Ohno adds; for example, in a volume she’s editing at the moment is the Franklin quote, “I am of opinion that there never was a bad peace, nor a good war,” which defies the specificity rule.

And that’s all the more reason to think twice about a great quotation.

So how can you find what the Founding Fathers really said? Searching the Founders Online (the National Archives’ online database of their papers) is a good place to start.

Read the entire piece here.

Today the Founding Fathers Were Invoked…

founding-fathers-strip

For their fear of a president like Donald Trump

For creating three branches of government

For opposing gerrymandering

For trying to protect the country from the tyranny of the majority

For instituting a way to amend the Constitution in order to protect the states

For growing weed

For being “living men” and fallible humans

For separating church and state

For protecting intellectual property

For owning slaves

For opposing a bipartisan political system

For opposing the idea of secession

For standing up against a tyrannical government that is not unlike the one today that is trying to end DACA

For believing that we are all created equal

For committing crimes of slavery and genocide

For promoting literacy

And we could go on.  The Founders are invoked every day.   Isn’t it time we invest in American history so that when we do invoke the Founders we do so responsibly?

What the Founding Fathers Read

founders

I just learned about Greg Specter‘s Duquesne University course titled What the Founders Read at the Pedagogy & American Literature Studies blog.  It looks great.  Here is a taste of his post on the course:

This semester I’m teaching What the Founders Read. The class is a 200-level literature course and it is cross-listed with Political Science. I had one goal when I began designing the course: make sure that the Founders would run. I made several tactical choices about the focus of the class and the works that I included. I made sure to include Hamilton; I made sure to play that up in the course description. I included works like The Federalist Papers in order to meet the needs of the course’s cross-listed audience. Many of these choices altered my initial vision for the course. As I began planning the day-to-day trajectory of the course, I felt the class leaning towards what the Founders (and Lin-Manuel Miranda) wrote—not what they Founders read. I began to see nothing but problems the foundation of my class. Honestly, I started to rue even thinking about planning and teaching the class. I still find it a challenge to write and think about this course…

In light of the narrow topic of the course’s primary readings, I sought to assign additional resources that introduced a variety of perspectives. Given the topic of the course, the content is largely white and male—a direct result of the topic proposed. I sought to mitigate this limited focus by including a unit on the correspondence of Abigail and John Adams, plus a unit on the poetry of Phillis Wheatley. Still, the women included in the course can be seen as defined in relation to their connection to the Founders. I wanted to include additional voices and perspectives in this class. This is a 200-level course with a lot to cover. I did not want to add a wealth of secondary materials, but it would be irresponsible in a course like this not to include current critical conversations related to the Founders. I tried to reach a middle ground on this issue in two ways. First, I wanted the course to have a component that focused on public scholarship: pieces that were easy to read, models of writing for a general audience, but still rigorous. I selected works from popular media, blogs, podcasts, and other sources.

I tried the best that I could to include a diversity of voices and perspectives in the class, especially regarding scholarship by women, but I need to do better. In selecting readings and podcasts I added as many voices as I could. In day-to-day course meetings I try to be aware of which voices I emphasize from our readings. I try to point out these disparities in class discussion. Though the course doesn’t emphasize assigned secondary readings directly from journals or books, I want students to come away from the class aware of the ongoing critical conversations– like those that inspired the Women Also Know History initiative. In selecting the assigned pieces I made sure to select works that could act as conduits to additional secondary sources. I also created a Twitter list that could be a student resource.

Read the entire post here.

More on the Bust of Richard Stockton

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Last week we published a post on Stockton University‘s decision to remove a bust of Richard Stockton from its library.  Stockton was a New Jersey revolutionary and signer of the Declaration of Independence.  The bust will be replaced with a more thorough exhibit that will apparently deal with Stockton as a slave holder.   Read our post here.

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell offers his own thoughts on the remove of the Stockton bust.

Here is a taste:

This month brought news that Stockton University in New Jersey has removed a bust of Richard Stockton (shown above) from its library. The reason was not, however, because his iconic status in the state rests on a shaky legend of stoic suffering at the hands of the enemy.

Rather, the university removed the bust because Stockton owned slaves. Those people are documented in his will, in which the judge said his widow Annis could free them if she chose. (I’ve found no evidence she did so. Their son Richard owned slaves as an adult, as did their daughter and son-in-law, Dr. Benjamin Rush—even though he advocated for an end to slavery.)

As a public university, and one founded to provide more opportunities for students who don’t have advantages in our society, Stockton University has good reason not to glorify someone who participated in slave-owning even while championing liberty for gentlemen like himself.

At the same time, I don’t see how removing Stockton’s bust will fix that contradiction when the institution is still, you know, named Stockton University.

The school started in the 1970s as South Jersey State College and evolved through Stockton State College, Richard Stockton State College, and the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey before becoming Stockton University in 2015. Has the Stockton name developed enough of its own legacy to leave the judge behind? Does Stockton’s documented interest in higher education (as a trustee of Princeton College) make him a good namesake for a university despite his other behavior?

Good questions.

Read the entire post here.

Today the Founding Fathers Were Invoked:

founding-fathers-strip

For owning slaves

For creating a Supreme Court that would exercise “judgement” and not “its will.”

For “casting the die” in the “direction of equality.”

For establishing civilian control of the military.

For writing the Second Amendment

For opposing slavery

For inspiring conservatives

For “knowing what they were doing” when they wrote the First Amendment

For inspiring gun toting and Bible thumping

For teaching us to live with our differences

For being biblically literate

For opposing hate

And we could go on.  The Founders are invoked every day.   Isn’t it time we invest in American history so that when we do invoke the Founders we do so responsibly?