Would the Founders Have Recognized GOP Arguments Against Trump’s Removal?

Impeachment Image

As we enter the 2020 election season I have been trying to do more writing for local and regional outlets here in Pennsylvania. This morning I have an op-ed on the impeachment trial at LNP/Lancaster On-Line (formerly Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era).  Here is a taste:

Other Republican senators, including Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Pennsylvania’s own Pat Toomey, argued that Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president was “inappropriate,” but did not rise to the level of impeachment.

This last group of senators justified their acquittal votes in two ways.

First, some of them argued that the Founding Fathers would have opposed a partisan impeachment. (No House Republicans supported impeachment.)

This is not true.

In Federalist Paper No. 65, Alexander Hamilton, one of the most prolific defenders of the Constitution during the ratification debates of 1787-1788, predicted that impeachments would always be political. As a result, the Senate should always proceed with caution, prudence and wisdom.

Moreover, the framers of the Constitution would never have referred to an impeachment trial as “bipartisan,” since at the time of its writing there were no political parties in the United States.

The second way that this cohort of Republican senators justified their acquittal vote was by claiming that “the people” should decide whether Trump should be removed from office and this should be done when they cast their ballots during the November presidential election.

The Founding Fathers would not have recognized such an argument.

Read the entire piece here.

Lancaster Online Covers the *Christianity Today* Editorial Calling for Trump’s Removal

Trump and Bible

Here is Earle Cornelius’s piece, including remarks from Greg Carey and yours truly:

Greg Carey, professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, said Christianity Today’s editorial  offers cover for evangelicals who do not support the president.

“There have always been a reasonable number of conservatives and evangelicals  who haven’t approved of Trump,” he said. “Those evangelicals who don’t support Trump now can point … to an official institutional voice to say ‘See, it is possible to be an evangelical and to distrust this president.’ ”

John Fea,  professor of history at Messiah College and author of  “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump,” said Trump was not an early favorite among evangelicals in the 2016 primary elections.

He noted that the Christian Post, which now defends Trump, published an editorial in February 2016 under the headline “Trump is a scam. Evangelical voters should back away.”

But many evangelicals who once opposed Trump, now support him.

“Since then,” Fea said, “Trump has delivered for evangelicals. He has put the right people in the Supreme Court for them, he’s championed Israel, he has fought for religious liberty.”

Read the entire piece here.

Jess King: A Mennonite Running for Congress

This is not my district, but I live close to its borders.  I have written before about the way Christianity has been fueling the Democratic candidates for Congress in south-central Pennsylvania.  (Also see this post on Lutheran minister George Scott).

Here is another Washington Post piece on Jess King, a Mennonite who is fighting an up-hill battle against Republican incumbent Lloyd Smucker in Pennsylvania’s 11th Congressional District.

A taste:

LANCASTER, Pa. — Voters in the heart of Pennsylvania’s rolling dairy farms and Amish countryside have rarely seen a Democrat mount a competitive campaign for Congress — until now.

From all appearances, first-time candidate Jess King is giving freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker a fight to the finish in Tuesday’s midterm election in this heavily conservative district on Pennsylvania’s southern border.

Drawn by her Mennonite faith into a career of nonprofit anti-poverty work, King said she isn’t necessarily running against President Donald Trump.

For sure, she doesn’t like Trump, calling him inflammatory and divisive.

But, she said, she is trying to tap into issues where she and Trump voters can agree, whether on the need for health care, a level economic playing field or a government that is responsive to people, not corporate campaign contributions.

“That’s why we don’t talk about Trump so much because it’s not helpful, in that it becomes another element of the division, and shame is not a tactic that works,” King said in an interview in her bustling downtown Lancaster campaign office. “You know, to shame people into, ‘hey, you were wrong in your vote,’ or ‘hey, you should have done something else,’ or ‘hey, I think less of you.’ That doesn’t work, so we don’t do it.”

King, 44, is endorsed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and has gone toe-to-toe with Smucker in fundraising without accepting corporate campaign contributions or getting help from Democratic Party organizations.

Smucker, 54, acknowledges the race is competitive. Two polls in recent weeks have shown a single-digit race and Republicans are not disputing that finding. Still, Smucker says Republicans are getting engaged and happy with the last two years, and will vote to ensure the seat remains in Republican hands.

Last week, Vice President Mike Pence came to campaign and raise cash for Smucker, who began airing attack ads that King says are full of lies about her.

Smucker suggests she wants to legalize heroin and abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She doesn’t. He said she’s for open borders. She’s not.

The ads show Smucker in a plaid shirt, call him a central Pennsylvania native and suggest that “socialists” from San Francisco and New York are funding King’s campaign. King does not call herself a socialist and much of Smucker’s campaign contributions are from outside the district.

Read the rest here.


The Revitalization of Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Lancaster PA

Are you interested in revitalizing your city, town or neighborhood?  Thomas Friedman’s New York Time‘s piece on Lancaster, Pennsylvania is worth your time.  Here is a taste:

Can Lancaster’s successes be replicated?

Yes. Its problems are global and the strategies Lancaster has employed to resurrect itself are shared by complex adaptive coalitions I’ve visited all over. The organization Grinstein, the societal innovator, created, called Reut, is helping to catalyze some in Israel. I took him with me to Lancaster, and afterward he noted common features that all of these successful coalitions share:

1. They are mostly started and inspired by civic leaders with no formal authority, and not by politicians, and are driven not by party ideology or affiliation but by a relentless “what-works attitude.”

2. They all begin with a vision, strategy and benchmarks for rebuilding their community, which enable them “to harness each element of the community and mobilize their unique resources, and societal innovations, behind this vision. … We call this ‘extending the yoke.’ The longer yoke you have, the more horses you can have pulling the wagon — and in a community, the ‘yoke’ is the inspiring vision and the ‘horses’ are the business leaders, social entrepreneurs, local colleges, philanthropies, nonprofits and faith-based institutions.”

3. They understand that there are no quick fixes for regenerating a community, which is why civic leadership is so crucial — “because civic leaders can adopt a long-term view that transcends political tenures.”

And I would add one more: Not a single community leader I spoke to in Lancaster said the progress was due to technology — to microchips. They all said it was due to relationships — relationships born not of tribal solidarity but of putting aside tribal differences to do big hard things together in their collective interest. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

Read the entire piece here.  I wish Friedman would have said more about the role that LancasterHistory.Org and local religious communities are playing in Lancaster’s rise.

Lecture at Lancaster.Org

Yesterday I drove down to Lancaster, Pennsylvania for a lecture at LancasterHistory.Orgthe product of a merger between two historical organizations in Lancaster: The Lancaster Historical Society and the James Buchanan Foundation for the Preservation of Wheatland.  As I have written before, LancasterHistory.org has taken the name of a web domain and thus has a significant online presence, but the organization is housed in a new and very impressive building with a lecture hall, exhibits, a museum store, and a research library.

I am guessing that about sixty or seventy people came out for a late afternoon lecture on a beautiful central Pennsylvania Holy/Maundy Thursday.  I cut back on my standard “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” talk in order to leave more time for questions from the audience.  We had an interesting conversation about Jefferson’s prediction that religion would eventually disappear from American life, the words “In God We Trust” on currency, how to define “Christian Nation,” and the Treaty of Tripoli.  I even met a former student.  Sarah Huber took my United States survey course seven or eight years ago when she was a student at Messiah.  It was good to touch base.  I also met Jack Fischel, a retired Jewish Studies professor who teaches a course on the Holocaust at Messiah.

I have never had my speaking style described as “evangelical” before, but that was the word President and CEO Tom Ryan used to describe the lecture.  I am not sure what to make of this.

Thanks to Tom and Felice Ethun (Director of Education and Public Programming) for the invitation to speak.

Weekend in Gettysburg and Lancaster

I started off the weekend in Gettysburg where I visited the brand new (July 2013) Seminary Ridge Museum.  This is a must stop the next time you are in Gettysburg.  The museum, which is located on the campus of the Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg, is housed in a building that played a pivotal role on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg and served as a hospital in the months following the battle.  The museum has three floors, covering the first day of the battle, the care of the wounded in the Seminary hospital, and the role of religion and slavery in antebellum America.  I am currently writing a more extensive review of this museum.  Stay tuned.

Seminary Ridge Museum
Has nothing to do with the Battle of Gettysburg, but I couldn’t pass this pic up.  It is a Lutheran seminary after all

General John Buford’s View from the cupola on the morning of July, 1, 1863

A better view from the cupola

On Saturday I was in Lancaster, PA.  My daughter was playing in the MLK Kickoff Classic, one of the largest volleyball events on the East coast.  During breaks from the games, while Allyson bonded with her teammates, I wandered around historic Lancaster.  Last December I participated in a conference on the Conestoga Indian massacre of 1763, but I did not get a chance to make it to the Fulton Opera House, the site of the jail in which the Paxton Boys killed several Indians who were being kept there under the protection of the government.  Here are few pics I snapped at the site:

Site of the second phase of the Conestoga Massacre–December 1763

On Monday, we were still playing volleyball.  Our site was moved to Thaddeus Stevens School of Technology in Lancaster.  Not much early American history here (the school was founded in 1905), but there was a cool statue of Thaddeus Stevens.

Paxton Boys/Conestoga Massacre Conference Wrap-Up

Philadelphia awaits the arrival of the Paxton Boys

If you have been reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend, you know that I spent parts of Friday and Saturday in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at the McNeil Center mini-conference to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the massacre of 20 Conestoga Indians by a group of men known as the Paxton Boys.  You can catch up with the tweets at #paxtonconf

First, let me give a shout-out to the primary host of the conference. LancasterHistory.org is the product of a merger between two historical organizations in Lancaster: The Lancaster Historical Society and the James Buchanan Foundation for the Preservation of Wheatland.  This seems like a very unique venture. LancasterHistory.org has obviously taken the name of a web domain and thus has a significant online presence, but the organization is housed in a new and very impressive building with a lecture hall, exhibits, a museum store, and a research library.

The conference actually began at the Hans Herr House in nearby Willow Street, PA.  The Hans Herr House dates back to 1719. It is the oldest house in Lancaster County and the oldest original Mennonite meeting house still standing in the Western Hemisphere.  But more importantly for the purposes of the conference, the property is the home of a replica Native American longhouse.  The conference began with scholars and the general public gathering together in the longhouse to learn more about native American culture and dwelling places. Several members of the Circle Legacy Center in Lancaster and other members of the local native American community spoke to the audience from a stump in the middle of the longhouse.  It was good to share the weekend with these local native Americans.  They provided a necessary moral perspective on the murders that took place in December 1763 and they did not hesitate to let their voices be heard during the sessions.  This made the conference more than just a run of the mill scholarly event.

As a newcomer to the study of the Conestoga Massacre and the Paxton Boys, I learned a great deal at this conference.  In the first session, I was quite taken by Judith Rider’s (Mississippi State) paper on the material culture references in the pamphlet literature published in the wake of the Paxton riots.  For example, Ridner discussed how pro-Paxton writers used a reference to “The Looking Glass” to argue that the Pennsylvania Quakers, despite their claims to be plain, pious, and pacifist, were hypocrites. They refused to show mercy and love to the frontier settlers and were more than willing to take up arms to fight the Paxton Boys when it appeared that they would invade Philadelphia.

Late Friday afternoon there was a roundtable on the Paxton Boys that included Peter Silver, Dan Richter, and Jack Brubaker.  Silver discussed his Bancroft Prize-winning book Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed America. In the process he expounded on the transition from his Yale dissertation to his prize-winning book.  According to Silver, the dissertation was about “fear,” but the book was about “hatred.”  He also noted that the Paxton Boys’ attacks on the Conestoga Indians mirrored what many European settlers imagined an Indian attack on whites might look like.  Brubaker, the author of Massacre of the Conestogas: On the Trail of the Paxton Boys in Lancaster County, gave a blow-by-blow account of the massacres and showed how the story of what happened in December 1763 got “fouled up” by nineteenth-century “historians” and other writers who fabricated evidence.  Richter reflected on the place of the Paxton Boys and Conestoga massacre in recent historiography.  Most of the scholarship in the past few decades has focused on race.  He lamented the fact that none of the presenters at this conference were dealing with the massacre from the perspective of the Indians.  He also insisted that the events of this tragedy must be understood as an extension of Pontiac’s War.

Despite the threat of snow, the Saturday morning session on religion went forth as planned.  In what I thought was the best paper of the conference, Scott Gordon of Lehigh University offered some minor changes to the traditional narrative of the Paxton Boys based on his reading and translation of Moravian diaries. These sources offer a “counter-weight” to a story dominated by Philadelphia and provincial politics. Gordon argued (among other things) that the Paxton Boys had less of a beef with the Quakers in Philadelphia than they did with Edward Shippen, the magistrate in Lancaster city.

My paper dealt with the Paxton Boys as a “Presbyterian event.”  I argued that it is impossible to interpret the massacres as being motivated by religion.  We just don’t know enough about the Paxton Boys or the mysterious Presbyterian minister at Paxton, Rev. John Elder, to make this case.  However, the Paxton Boys and their grievances were a catalyst for Presbyterian political organization in Pennsylvania and the role of clergy such as Francis Alison and Gilbert Tennent in this mobilization.  My paper attempted to merge the ecclesiastical history of Presbyterians with the political history of the so-called “Presbyterian interest” or “Presbyterian party” that emerged in Philadelphia in 1764.

Finally, Barry Levy, a historian at the University of Massachusetts who is best known for his book Quakers and the American Family: British Settlement in the Delaware Valleydiscussed the use of the Old Testament in the anti-Paxton pamphlets.  Levy argued that the Bible was important in this entire affair and made some connections between religion and the formation of militias.  My favorite line in Levy’s paper went something like this: “One could argue that the Paxton Boys were the worst militia group ever assembled.”

In good McNeil Center style, about an hour was reserved in each session for conversation and questions. Since most of the audience were members of the general public, the questions and comments were pretty much all over the place.  One audience member in the front row asked me to explain the “Great Awakening” to him.  (After saying it was “interpretive fiction” I went on to offer a quick explanation). Many of the members of the native American community voiced their outrage.  Some waxed eloquent in their knowledge of local Pennsylvania military history.  Others tried to portray the Scots-Irish as immigrants sent to America by force for the sole purpose of killing Indians.  (Barry Levy did not let this guy get away with such an interpretation). It only took a few minutes of discussion in the longhouse before someone said the United States Constitution was modeled after the Iroquois confederacy.  Yet, despite some of these errors, essentialist interpretations, and misconceptions, I think it is important that we have more conferences like this.  Scholars need to work harder in making their arguments accessible to general audiences.  Some of the presenters did this well.

In conclusion, here were a few of the questions/issues that seemed to dominate nearly every session:

  • Why are the identities of the Paxton Boys unknown?  Was this a massive cover-up?  
  • If the Paxton Boys were motivated by religion, we cannot prove it.  All of the religious explanations of the murders come from anti-Paxton writers like Ben Franklin.
  • If religion was not the issue, what motivated the Paxton Boys to do what they did?
  • As Dan Richter noted at one point during the weekend, this conference revealed just how much we don’t know about this event.
It was a great weekend.  I was also glad to get to hang out a bit with Drew Hermeling, a Messiah College history graduate (2006) who is now working on a Ph.D in early American history at Lehigh.


Drew asked a very insightful question during the religion session and also showed justified outrage (though not in public) about how my last name was consistently mispronounced.  I was also thrilled to see another former student, Wayne Kantz (2003), at the session on Saturday morning.  Wayne teaches history at Manheim Township High School in Lancaster County.  Finally, it was good to make a connection with Tom Ryan of Lancasterhistory.org and some members of the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society

In the end, I left the conference inspired about the possibility of incorporating the Paxton Boys story into my ongoing research project on Presbyterians and the American Revolution. Stay tuned.

Conestoga Massacre and Paxton Boys Conference

Here is the information:

The “Paxton Boys” and the Conestoga Massacre: 250 Years Later
13-14 December 2013
Lancaster, PA

December 14, 2013 will mark the 250th anniversary of the Conestoga Massacre, a horrific landmark in the history of Pennsylvania and colonial North America. In lieu of a Friday Seminar, the McNeil Center will travel to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to commemorate the anniversary with a two-day mini-conference entitled “The ‘Paxton Boys’ and the Conestoga Massacre: 250 Years Later.”

The conference, which will begin at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, December 13 and conclude at 4:00 p.m on Saturday, December 14, will feature a combination of public programs and scholarly reconsiderations. Papers for two of the sessions will be precirculated. Among the presenters will  be John Smolenski, Angel-Luke O’Donnell, Judith Ridner, Jack Brubaker,  Daniel Richter, Peter Silver, Richard MacMaster, Scott Paul Gordon, John Fea, Barry Levy, and Leslie Stainton. Members of Circle Legacy Center, an American Indian advocacy organization, will also be an important  contributor to the proceedings. Sessions will be held at the Hans Herr House Museum, LancasterHistory.org, and the Ware Center of Millersville University. All are free and open to the public, but registration is required.

For more information, or to register for the conference, please visit: