Mike Pence’s Irresponsible Use of History

Ross

In case you missed it, Vice President Mike Pence wrote an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal calling for Democratic Senators to show “courage” in the form of a willingness to “stand up” and “reject” the “partisan impeachment” of Donald Trump.

Pence invoked John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Profiles in Courage.  In chapter six of that book, Kennedy praised the apparent courage of Senator Edmund Ross (R-Kansas).  During Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial 1868, Ross broke with the Republican Party and voted against removing Johnson from office.  Pence wrote, “Ross was determined to render a fair judgment, resisting his own party’s stampede.”

But there is a major problem with Pence’s historical analogy.  University of Texas historian Jeremi Suri explains at CNN:

[Pence’s] account is historically dishonest on every count and it reveals the contortions the White House is willing to perform to protect its power at all costs — precisely the attitude that helped to trigger impeachment in the first place. When a president and his closest advisers pathologically lie to the public, and Pence’s article is yet another example, how can the American people (and our allies) believe anything coming out of the White House? How can a president lead when he has violated all foundations for public trust?

n this op-ed, Pence has distorted basic American history and civics into Soviet-style propaganda, where the facts are intentionally turned upside down. Numerous historians have written about President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, and Senator Ross’ role in his trial — including Manisha SinhaBrenda Wineapple, David Greenberg and David Stewart. They all agree — and no serious historian disagrees — that Ross intended to vote for Johnson’s conviction, but suddenly changed his mind. Ross did not experience an epiphany of conscience or a surge of courage. Evidence suggests he was bribed.

Read the entire piece here.

This piece by David O. Stewart is also worth considering.

Not Since the Kennedys

Melania

It appears that Catholicism has returned to the White House.

One of the things we learned during the Trump visit to the Vatican is that Melania Trump is Catholic.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports at The Washington Post. 

A taste:

After she met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, first lady Melania Trump confirmed a little-known fact about her faith: She is Catholic. And she described the visit with the leader of the Catholic Church as “one I’ll never forget.”

While President Trump referenced his Presbyterian identity during the campaign, her faith did not come up. He and the first lady were married in 2005 in an Episcopal church in Palm Beach, Fla., where their son Barron Trump was later baptized.

The church’s rector performed a traditional Episcopal wedding service, according to the Palm Beach Daily News. “The bride walked down the aisle carrying only an ancient rosary, not to Lohengrin or Wagner, but to a vocalist singing Ave Maria in an exquisite soprano voice,” the local newspaper reported.

Her spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham confirmed in an email that Melania Trump identifies as Catholic, but Grisham did not respond to questions about whether the first lady attends Mass regularly at a specific parish and whether the first family are current members of a church. The first lady, who became a U.S. citizen in 2006, grew up in what is today Slovenia, which has been heavily influenced by Catholicism.

During their visit to the Vatican on Wednesday, the pope blessed the first lady’s rosary beads, and the two had a lighthearted conversation about what she feeds her husband. She spent time in front of a statue of the Madonna at the Vatican’s children’s hospital and laid flowers at its feet.

Read the rest here.

 

Jill Lepore on Presidential Debating

nixon-kennedy

Check out Harvard historian Jill Lepore’s long-form piece in The New Yorker.  Here are the money paragraphs:

The real trouble is deeper and wider. Political argument has been having a terrible century. Instead of arguing, everyone from next-door neighbors to members of Congress has got used to doing the I.R.L. equivalent of posting to the comments section: serially fulminating. The U.S. Supreme Court is one Justice short of a full bench, limiting its ability to deliberate, because Senate Republicans refused to hold the hearings required in order to fill that seat. They’d rather do battle on Twitter. Democratic members of Congress, unable to get the House of Representatives to debate gun-control measures, held a sit-in, live-streamed on Periscope. At campaign events, and even at the nominating Conventions, protesters have tried to silence other people’s speech in the name of the First Amendment. On college campuses, administrators, faculty, and students who express unwelcome political views have been fired and expelled. Even high-school debate has come under sustained attack from students who, refusing to argue the assigned political topic, contest the rules. One in three Americans declines to discuss politics except in private; fewer than one in four ever talk with someone with whom they disagree politically; fewer than one in five have ever attended a problem-solving meeting, even online, with people holding views different from their own. What kind of democracy is that?

And this:

How to argue is something people are taught. You learn it by watching other people, at the breakfast table, or in school, or on TV, or, lately, online. It’s something you can get better at, with practice, or worse at, by imitating people who do it badly. More formal debate follows established rules and standards of evidence. For centuries, learning how to argue was the centerpiece of a liberal-arts education. (Malcolm X studied that kind of debate while he was in prison. “Once my feet got wet,” he said, “I was gone on debating.”) Etymologically and historically, the artes liberales are the arts acquired by people who are free, or liber. Debating, like voting, is a way for people to disagree without hitting one another or going to war: it’s the key to every institution that makes civic life possible, from courts to legislatures. Without debate, there can be no self-government. The United States is the product of debate. In 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention agreed “to argue without asperity, and to endeavor to convince the judgment without hurting the feelings of each other.” The next year, James Madison debated James Monroe for a congressional seat in Virginia. By the eighteen-thirties, debating classes were being offered as a form of civic education.

Read the entire piece here.

Word of Kennedy’s Assassination Reaches the Boston Symphony Orchestra

From Upworthy blog:

President Kennedy was a transformational leader, and it’s hard to imagine what it felt like to hear of his assassination 50 years ago today. Kennedy was shot as the Boston Symphony Orchestra was about to begin its regular Friday afternoon concert. When word of his death reached the hall a few minutes later, the audience was already seated, oblivious to the world-changing events happening in Dallas.

In a powerful — and stunningly level-headed — decision, the orchestra’s music director, Erich Leinsdorf, sent librarian William Shisler to get the music for the funeral march from Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony. Shisler quickly distributed the music onstage, letting the musicians know what had happened.

This recording, from WGBH in Boston, begins when Leinsdorf takes the stage to announce the terrible news to the audience and captures the BSO’s heart-rending performance of the Beethoven symphony — a work they found out they were playing only minutes before.

JFK at Gettsyburg

It has been a very full week for history buffs.  This week we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  I thus found Diana Loski’s piece at The Gettysburg Experience particularly relevant reading on this Saturday morning.  She describes John Kennedy’s visit to Gettysburg in March 1963.  Here is a taste:

…Since Caroline was not as interested as her parents; and, in the days before seat belts and car seats were required, she grew restless during the drive. She was soon relegated to ride in the other car. The President and First Lady drove on, with their guide, down Seminary Ridge, and disembarked at the North Carolina Memorial near the site where many Confederates stepped off for Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863. The monument was one of Sheads’ favorites, and JFK took a moment to read the inscription on the block behind Gutzon Borglum’s magnificent sculpture. He commented to his guide that he hadn’t known that one in four of all who fell at Gettysburg was a North Carolinian.

The First Couple took a few moments to gaze across the mile-wide field of Pickett’s Charge, then returned to the convertible to continue on their tour. They also got out to take a closer look at the Virginia Memorial, also on Seminary Ridge, and took a long look at the statue of Robert E. Lee atop Traveller – on the spot where the general watched the famous charge at Gettysburg.

The Kennedys drove to Little Round Top, through Devil’s Den, and stopped at the Wheatfield – where the Irish Brigade had fought. Sheads showed the President where his ancestor’s regiment, the 28th Massachusetts, had placed their monument at the Stony Hill area. On the monument are the words “Faugh a Ballaugh!” the motto of the famed Irish Brigade. Sheads had recently learned the meaning of the Gaelic phrase and, ever the teacher, he asked the President if he knew the meaning of the words. “Sure I do,” Kennedy replied. “It means ‘Clear the Way’.” It is not known if Colonel Sheads told the President, but fighting against the Irish Brigade in the area was a Confederate colonel from South Carolina with the same surname. He was John Doby Kennedy from South Carolina, a colonel in General Kershaw’s brigade at Gettysburg. He survived the war, and, like the President, made a name for himself in politics.

Tell Your JFK Assassination Story

Where were you (or someone from your family) on the day JFK was assassinated? I was not alive, but my father was a twenty-two year old contractor working on a roof somewhere in North Jersey when someone on the ground yelled out the news. Work stopped for the day.

In commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination, the New York Public Library wants to hear your JFK story. Go to their Facebook page and fill out the form.

Michael Kazin on Inauguration Speeches

FDR’s 1st Inaugural Address (1933)

Georgetown historian Michael Kazin reminds us that “inaugural addresses rarely foretell what a president will accomplish in office.”

Here are a few great lines from inaugural addresses that did not really pan out in real life.

Thomas Jefferson (1801): “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”

Abraham Lincoln (1861):  “We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933):  “First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only think we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

John F. Kennedy (1961): “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any  price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Check out Kazin’s piece to learn how the flourishing rhetoric of these speeches failed to measure up to the reality that these president’s would face in the four years that followed.

Martin Luther King’s Second Emancipation Proclamation

In today’s New York Times, David Blight and Allison Scharfstein call our attention to a May 1962 document that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to John F. Kennedy calling for a “second Emancipation Proclamation” to outlaw segregation in the United States.  The document has been largely overlooked by historians and scholars.

Here is a taste:

Citing hundreds of legal precedents, especially Harry S. Truman’s military desegregation order in 1948, as well as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and, of course, the Emancipation Proclamation, the document demanded that the powers of the executive office be used to eliminate all forms of discrimination.
“The time has come, Mr. President,” it declared, “to let those dawn-like rays of freedom, first glimpsed in 1863, fill the heavens with the noonday sunlight of complete human dignity.”
Kennedy balked, however, at the opportunity to issue the second Emancipation Proclamation and noticeably avoided all centennial celebrations of emancipation. While he did issue an executive order banning discrimination in federal housing in November 1962, and introduced an omnibus civil rights bill a few months later, the demands of the second Emancipation Proclamation were not fulfilled until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Though King’s manifesto failed to spur a second Emancipation Proclamation from the White House, it was an important and emphatic attempt to combat the structured forgetting of emancipation latent within Civil War memory.

This Week’s Patheos Column: "John F. Kennedy, Rick Santorum, and the Separation of Church and State"

In case you haven’t heard, John F. Kennedy’s view on church and state makes Rick Santorum want to throw up. Yes, you read that correctly. This weekend in an interview with George Stephanopolous, Santorum stood behind an earlier campaign statement in which he said that he almost vomited the first time he read Kennedy’s September 12, 1960 speech to a group of southern Baptist ministers in Houston.

What was it about JFK’s speech that made Santorum so nauseated? According to the former Pennsylvania senator it was Kennedy’s statement: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”

Since this statement prompted such gastronomic discomfort for Santorum, it is worth looking closely at how Santorum interpreted that line from Kennedy’s speech and what exactly Kennedy meant when he uttered it.

Read the rest here.