Just for the Record: I Did Not Organize the Wheaton Consultation on Evangelicalism

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Someone just sent me this blog post.

Here is the pertinent part:

As for what happened at Wheaton College where the pro-Trump evangelicals walked out, that event was organized by John Fea, who chairs the History Department at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, in central Pennsylvania. Last year he wrote about how Trump threatens to change the course of American Christianity – where he talked about “court evangelicals” who “like the attendants and advisers who frequented the courts of monarchs, seek influence.”

Read the entire post here.  I was not there.  I wasn’t invited.  I had nothing to do with it.

But I did write about it.

What if College Classes Had Corporate Sponsors?

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What if the 700 Club sponsored a university course on Comparative Religion?

As universities become more and more corporate, writer Suzanne Fernandez Gray wonders what it might look like if academic courses eventually get corporate sponsors.  Read her very funny piece at McSweeney’s.

Here are a few of my favorites:

A-H 350 TWENTIETH CENTURY ART

Sponsored by Hobby Lobby

Through lectures, readings, discussions and research, this course examines major issues raised in art and criticism from 1900-1999. Students will learn that Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers are definitely just flowers, and that Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ is proof of the collapse of American morals and the need for prayer in public schools.

 

JOU 532 ETHICS OF JOURNALISM

Section 001: Sponsored by Fox News Network

Section 002: Sponsored by CNN

An examination of ethics in the media. Students will reason through issues that arise in the practice of journalism like how to cut off the mic when an opposing guest’s argument gets too credible and how to draw fancy charts to make nonsensical points look like facts.

PS 440 THE PRESIDENCY

Sponsored by Koch Industries

This course explores the political genius of the 45th President of the United States through his relationships with foreign leaders like Little Rocket Man, Mad Alex and The Dopey Prince, while also demonstrating the ineptitude of those who hate America, including Cryin’ Chuck, Sneaky Dianne Feinstein and Pocahontas. Part of the class will be devoted to the President’s tweets and how people in the fake news media, including Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd, Psycho Joe Scarborough, Little George Stephanopoulos and Dumb as a Rock Mika can’t pull anything over on the man Sen. Orrin Hatch recently called a better president than Lincoln or Washington.

RS 130 INTRODUCTION TO COMPARATIVE RELIGION

Sponsored by The 700 Club


Comparative study of major world religions of which there is only one: Christianity. Students will explore the merits of the Spanish Inquisition and learn how something similar should be implemented in the U.S. in the interest of national security, only with Evangelicals in charge instead of Catholics. Course fees cover a field trip to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY where students will be able to see a diorama of dinosaurs aboard an exact replica of Noah’s Ark.

Read them all here.  Enroll now! 🙂

The Penn Slavery Project

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Students at the University of Pennsylvania have been exploring the university’s connection to slavery through the Penn Slavery Project.  The Daily Pennsylvanian reports on how things are going.

Here is a taste of Giovanna Paz’s piece, “New findings from Penn Slavery Project show how U. benefited financially from enslaved labor“:

The students unearthed evidence that implicated several leading figures, such as Robert Smith, a prominent architect for the Academy and a slaveholder, as having substantial involvement in the slave trade. There is also significant evidence that the University had considerable knowledge of the connections, which included a campaign soliciting funds from a number of wealthy donors, many of whom owned slaves. 

Perhaps the most explicit evidence that Penn documented and was aware of connections to the slave trade involved Ebenezer Kinnersley, an early professor of the Academy who worked alongside Penn founder Benjamin Franklin. Kinnersley was reimbursed by the University from 1757 to 1770 for the work done by his enslaved person on campus.

“These funds are coming directly from people who are benefiting from the slave labor and the exploitation of enslaved bodies and the University was aware,” College senior and PSP member Caitlin Doolittle said during the presentation. “None of this is happening in a vacuum. They are not ignorant to the fact that these people are slaveowners.”

For two semesters, a group of undergraduate students has explored Penn’s ties to the slavery and the slave trade. Throughout the process, the students used material from local, online, and University archives. 

Read the entire piece here.  Also check out this recent piece at The Progressive.

James Comey and Reinhold Niebuhr

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A lot has been made of James Comey’s interest in the public theology of Reinhold Niebuhr.  We have written about it here and here and here and here.

Over at The Conversation, Penn State’s Christopher Beem continues to explore Niebuhr’s influence on Comey.  Here is a taste of his piece, “What Comey learned from the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr about ethical leadership“:

Of course, many will find all this beside the point. Many Republicans and Democrats are deeply angry with Comey.

For all their disagreements, both sides believe that while Comey paints himself as a person of moral rectitude, when confronted with extremely hard choices, he handled them badly, and our nation is still reeling from the effects.

For these Americans, Comey’s book not surprisingly conveys an air of sanctimony. But even if that’s true, it serves only to bring home a very Niebuhrian point: that while we humans strive to make the world a better place, and while we must, in Jesus’s words, look first for the mote in our own eye, we will not always succeed. We cannot always escape the worst parts of ourselves.

That decidedly Niebuhrian point is worth remembering. More to the point, at this particularly contentious moment in American political history, we, as Americans, can and should take from it this equally Niebuhrian reminder: that in this regard, Comey is not one jot different from any one of us.

Read the entire piece here.

Evangelical = “One who believes the Good News about Jesus Christ”

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Herbert Chilstrom

This definition of evangelicalism does not come from David Bebbington, but from Herbert Chilstrom, the first presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

As Chris Gehrz shows us in his recent piece at The Anxious Bench, the word “evangelical” has a long history:

Chilstrom’s spiritual forebears ultimately seized the term not only from their “Romish” antagonists, but from other Protestants. “The newly self-identified Lutherans,” writes Diarmaid MacCulloch of late 16th century Germany, “took over the once-general Protestant label ‘Evangelical’ to describe their Churches, just as the non-Lutherans were monopolizing the name ‘Reformed.’”

It was such Lutheran churches that Philipp Spener hoped to reform in 1675, when he lamented the spiritual deadness of “our Evangelical church, which according to its outward confession embraces the precious and pure gospel, brought clearly to light once again during the previous century through that blessed instrument of God, Dr. Luther, and in which alone we must therefore recognize that the true church is visible…”

This leads Gehrz to wonder whether American evangelicals have “kidnapped” the term:

In a sense, Chilstrom is absolutely right. Even many of those participating in last week’s “evangelical consultation” at Wheaton College — the “evangelical Harvard” — fear that their cherished word has been taken over by a particularly noxious political movement. “When people say what does it mean to be an evangelical,” complained convener Doug Birdsall of the Lausanne Movement, “people don’t say evangelism or the gospel. There’s a grotesque caricature of what it means to be an evangelical.” What Fuller Seminary president Mark Labberton calls the “crisis of evangelicalism” has been “caused by the way a toxic evangelicalism has engaged with these issues in such a way as to turn the gospel into Good News that is fake.”

And yet… even if Birdsall and Labberton could somehow bring evangelicals back to the Evangel in such a way that they renounce the culture warring of the Religious Right, wouldn’t Chilstrom still feel like his term had been kidnapped? Wouldn’t any leader of an avowedly “Evangelical” mainline church want to contest the notion that other Protestants — but not him — have a high view of Scripture, recognize the centrality of the Cross, seek conversion, and practice evangelism and social action?

Read his entire piece here.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “White House Rushes to Defense of V.A. Pick Under Fire”

Washington Post: “White House vows to fight for VA nominee facing allegations of misconduct”

Wall Street Journal: “Global Stocks Extend Slide After Treasurys Hit 3%”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Hate messages flood wrong Pa. golf course after ‘racial’ incident makes national headlines”

BBC: “Iran rejects Trump-Macron nucelar proposals”

CNN: “New allegations against embattled VA nominee”

FOX: “Trump bid to end DACA ‘unlawful,’ new applications must be processed, rules Bush-appointed judge”

Alan Jacobs: Christian Intellectual

jacobsCheck out David Michael’s piece on Baylor humanities professor Alan Jacobs.  A taste:

Early in his career, Jacobs experienced what might be called an extended crisis of audience, a crisis he recalled when I interviewed him in February. At the time a professor of English at Wheaton College, an evangelical school outside of Chicago, he was publishing scholarly work within his field but was increasingly devoting time to writing essays and theological pieces for Christian magazines and journals. Switching back and forth could be disorienting, and he spent several years debating and praying about which audience he should focus on. “At one point, I just had an epiphany: You don’t get to choose.You’re gonna have to write for your scholarly peers, and you’re gonna have to write for your fellow Christians because you have things to say to both audiences. So, that means, you gotta learn to code switch.”

Since making that decision, Jacobs has published 15 books on literature, technology, theology and cognitive psychology and has written for such disparate publications as The American Scholar, First Things and Harper’s. His résumé is nine pages long without his book reviews (approximately 75) or online writing (hundreds of articles and blog posts). It calls to mind David Foster Wallace’s comment about John Updike: “Has the sonofabitch ever had one unpublished thought?”

Jacobs is now 59 and teaches humanities at Baylor University, a Baptist school in Waco, Tex., with the delightful motto “Pro Ecclesia, Pro Texana.” He has kind eyes beneath mantis-like glasses and a warm, mischievous smile framed by a trim salt-and-pepper beard. He looks and dresses less like an academic than a middle-aged middle manager at a tech company—which is to say, both cool and not.

In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, Jacobs grew concerned over what he was witnessing. “I was watching the country come apart. I felt that, across the board, there was this failure to think. There was also a failure of charity, and I wanted to address that.”

So he quickly wrote How to Think: A Guide for the Perplexed, a short and engaging book that offers strategies for thinking more clearly and charitably at a time when the media fosters agitation and discourages thinking. The New York Times columnist David Brooks called it “absolutely splendid.”

Read the entire piece here.  See our posts on Jacobs’s work here.

Who Did You Thank in Your Ph.D Dissertation Acknowledgments?

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The Boss has yet to make it into the acknowledgments section of one of my books, although he is mentioned in *Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump*

This does not come close to the greatest acknowledgments section of all time (a story we broke here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home), but it is interesting.  Jennifer Polk, a history Ph.D who now runs the website Beyond the Professoriate, thanked her favorite band in her doctoral dissertation. She is now asking others to share any unusual words of gratitude from the acknowledgment page(s) of their dissertations.

Inside Higher Ed has the story here.  See the Twitter response to Polk’s request here.

I should also come clean here.  (This is not the first time I have written about this at the blog).  I thanked a fictional character in the acknowledgements of my first book.  His name was Jayber Crow.

Rethinking the History Survey Course

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Steven Mintz of the University of Texas has some good ideas to get more students engaged in the study of the history through the required survey course.  Here are some of them:

  • Thematically Organized Surveys: One striking example at the University of Kentucky focuses on citizenship: historical controversies over the rights of immigrants, voting rights, marriage rights, and other rights.
  • Interdisciplinary Clusters: Georgetown, UCLA, and the University of California, Berkeley are experimenting with paired and team-taught courses that combine the insights of a variety of disciplines on a topic (the 1960s, for example) or problem (climate change).
  • Career-Aligned Pathways: The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley redesigned the pathway through the biomedical sciences to emphasize professional identity formation, with students taking a history course in the history of disease and public health, a literature class on the literature of pain and illness, a philosophy course on medical ethics, and an art history class on representations of the body. The University of Texas at Austin has an introductory-level course on the history of engineering.
  • Inquiry-Driven Approaches: The University of Michigan’s History 101, which focuses on the question “What is history?,” offers an overview of the approaches historians have taken to studying the past and how they analyze and interpret historical sources and uncover the meaning of history for life today. My own inquiry-driven US history survey course focuses on solving historical mysteries, wrestling with troubling moral dilemmas rooted in history, interpreting a wide range of historical sources (artifacts, architecture, fashion, film, hairstyles, maps, naming patterns, paintings, photographs, and political cartoons, among others), and responding to such questions as “What if?” and “How do we know?”

Read the entire piece at AHA Today .  Of course no discussion of innovative approaches to the history survey course is complete without considering the work of Lendol Calder.  Lendol has been talking and writing about these matters for years.

The “Non-Court Evangelicals”

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Here is a taste of Nancy LeTourneau’s Washington Monthly piece: “The Status Anxiety of White Evangelicals“:

The question becomes: how much of this is about Christianity and how much is about whiteness?

It is important to note that not all white evangelicals are reacting to change this way. A group that John Fea calls “non-court evangelicals” met last week in Illinois to discuss the future of evangelicalism. One of the speakers was Dr. Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Theological Seminary (disclosure: where I earned my master’s degree). His speech resonated with a theology that takes an entirely different view than the one we hear so often from the likes of Robert Jeffress, Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, and Jerry Falwell, Jr. He acknowledged that evangelicals are at a moment of crisis, but it is historical, not recent.

Read the rest here.

Wheaton Consultation Organizer Says Meeting Was Not Anti-Trump

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Last week the Christian Broadcasting Network reported that several people walked out of a meeting of evangelical leaders at Wheaton College because of its “crazy Trump-bashing.”

One of the organizers of the meeting, Darrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary), rejects CBN’s report.  Here is a taste of a recent piece at The Christian Post:

While Bock detests the notion that the meeting was an “anti-Trump” conference, some speakers and presenters at the conference expressed their dismay with the president and with today’s American evangelicalism.

Journalist Katelyn Beaty, who live-tweeted the first day of the conference, quoted Alexander as saying: “How could white Christians mourn the deaths of the Charleston Nine but politically support a presidential candidate who appeals to the ideology held by the Charleston murderer?”

According to Beaty, Chicago pastor Charlie Dates stated during the meeting that “American evangelicalism has not been able to separate itself from the perks of white supremacy.”

“We are discussing all that from a variety of angles,” Bock said when asked about the tweets. “What tweets are snapshots. A quote by itself without a context doesn’t actually help you understand what is going into that remark and that concern. You are getting small snippets of the whole thing into which not only were the points made, the points were responded to.”

“I think what the meeting shows is that there are still a whole array of conversations with people in the group and some with people outside of the group and not necessarily represented in the group that we very much want to have and seek to pursue,” he added.

Read the entire piece here.

Cal Thomas Rips the Court Evangelicals

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Cal Thomas is a conservative columnist and a veteran of the Moral Majority.  After he left the Moral Majority he co-wrote a book describing his experience with Jerry Falwell Sr.’s organization.  It is titled Blinded by Might: Why the Religious Right Can’t Save America(I wrote about Thomas and his co-author Ed Dobson in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).

Thomas supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election.  Yet he cannot seem to stomach the court evangelicals‘ criticism of other evangelicals, particularly those who met at Wheaton College last week.  Here is a taste of his most recent column:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24)

The verse refers to money, but in light of today’s debate about the unaccountable devotion many Christian leaders have for President Trump it is not a stretch to apply it to their relationship with him.

Last week at Wheaton College in Illinois a number of Christian pastors and leaders gathered to discuss the future of “evangelicalism” in the Trump era. Some who were not there claimed it was a forum for Trump-bashing, some who were in attendance disagreed.

There is a conceit among some conservative Christians that God is only at work when a person they voted for is elected and that the rest of the time He must be attending to other countries. “God showed up,” said Franklin Graham following Trump’s election. Scripture states that all authority comes from God and that “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord like channels of water; he turns it wherever he wants.” (Proverbs 21:1)

That means that God also must have “shown up” when Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and every other president was elected. The Almighty does, in fact, have a different agenda than us earthlings and sometimes He puts up leaders to judge people for their wicked behavior.

Read the rest here.

Morning Headlines

New York Times: “Pure Carnage’ in Toronto as Van Driver Kills at Least 10”

Washington Post: “After Trump intervenes, Senate panel narrowly endorses Pompeo”

Wall Street Journal: “Nafta Proposal on Foreign Investments Jolts Energy Firms”

Harrisburg Patriot-News: “Investigators say lawmaker violated policy against retaliation. Why wasn’t he punished?”

BBC: “Toronto police quiz van attack suspect”

CNN: “Trail of destruction in Toronto”

FOX: “Coons earns bipartisan praise for ‘courtesy to a friend’ during Pompeo meeting”

Donald Trump and Witch Hunts

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Donald Trump has said multiple times that the Robert Mueller investigation into his presidential campaign’s relationship with Russia is a “witch hunt.”  The use of this phrase invites historical analysis.  I took a crack at such analysis last May.

In the latest issue of Perspectives on History, American Historical Association president and veteran early American historian Mary Beth Norton provides some historical analysis of her own.  Norton is the author of In the Devil’s Snare: The Witchcraft Crisis of 1692.

Here is a taste of her piece, “An Embarrassment of Witches: What’s the History behind Trump’s Tweets?“:

WITCH HUNT!”

That’s how President Donald Trump’s tweets tend to refer to the investigation led by Robert Mueller into possible collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia.

Except for modern adherents of the Wiccan religion, people today do not believe in witchcraft—and Wiccans do not believe in the sort of witchcraft that became the subject of prosecutions in early modern Europe and America. The consensus among historians now is that witches did not exist in the past, and so by employing the term “witch hunt,” the president is implying that he is as innocent today as were the persecuted “witches” of centuries ago.

He is assuming, probably correctly, that Americans today understand his phrase in exactly that way. Anyone raised or resident in the United States has surely heard of the most famous “witch hunt” in American history, that which occurred in Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1692–93, named for the town in which the trials occurred: Salem. Indeed, many high school students today must read Arthur Miller’s famous 1953 play, The Crucible, which effectively used the vehicle of the Salem trials to comment on the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations of the 1950s, which had ensnared Miller and many of his acquaintances. Even though Miller changed many historical details to make his points—for example, turning the elderly John Proctor into a younger man and the child Abigail Williams into a femme fatale who seduces him—his image of the trials retains its hold on the American imagination.

Read the rest here.

Call for Papers: Newberry Library Seminar on Religion in the Americas

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From Religion in American History:

2018-2019 Academic Year

CALL FOR PROPOSALS

Submission Deadline: June 1, 2018

The Religion and Culture in the Americas Seminar explores topics in religion and culture broadly and from interdisciplinary perspectives including social history, biography, cultural studies, visual and material culture, urban studies, and the history of ideas. We are interested in how religious belief has affected society, rather than creedal- or theological-focused studies.

The Seminar provides an opportunity for scholars to share works-in-progress, and we encourage papers that use new methods, unveil archival discoveries, or need feedback in preparation for book and journal article publication. The seminar will meet on selected Fridays during the academic year, 3-5 pm, at the Newberry Library in Chicago, Illinois.

To submit a proposal, please visit our webform at https://www.newberry.org/seminar-proposal-form and upload a one-page proposal, a statement explaining the relationship of the paper to your other work, and a brief CV.
Applications will not be accepted via email.

If you are not at present interested in giving a paper but want to receive papers and participate in the discussion, please read our Registration Information found online. The Newberry is unable to provide funds for travel or lodging for presenters and respondents, but can assist in locating discounted accommodations.

For further information about Newberry seminars, please email scholarlyseminars@newberry.org

https://www.newberry.org/newberry-seminar-religion-and-culture-americas

The Religion and Culture in the Americas Seminar is co-sponsored by Albion College, the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Wheaton College.

The Seminar’s organizers for 2018-2019 are: Kathleen Sprows Cummings, University of Notre Dame; Karen Johnson, Wheaton College; Malachy McCarthy, Claretian Missionaries Archives; Rima Lunin Schultz, Independent Scholar; and Kevin Schultz, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Teaching “Remember the Ladies”

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Abigail Adams

Over at The Panorama, Texas State University history professor Sara T. Damiano reflects on teaching women’s history in the era of the American Revolution. She gives particular attention to Abigail Adams’s famous “Remember the Ladies” letter.

Here is a taste:

The well-known exchange between Abigail and John Adams offers a pithy example of opportunities foreclosed for women during the revolutionary era. On March 31, 1776, Abigail urged John to “Remember the Ladies” and to “not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands” because “all men would be tyrants if they could.” Two weeks later, John brushed off Abigail’s “saucy” admonition, stating, “I cannot but laugh.” He maintained that men “have only the Name of Masters” and that surrendering this “would completely subject Us to the Despotism of the Peticoat.”[ii]

As a teacher, I am tempted to play up this exchange between Abigail and John. It seemingly stands in for the revolution writ large: Despite some women’s urging, the Founders failed to “Remember the Ladies.” And, it captures undergraduate interest. Particularly in my upper-level women’s history courses, students admire the spunk and assertiveness of Abigail Adams, whom they see as articulating an early version of modern feminism.

Yet, especially in light of my contribution to the October joint issue of the William and Mary Quarterly and the Journal of the Early Republic on “Writing to and from the American Revolution,” I worry about my role in facilitating such views of the American Revolution and Abigail Adams. If we aim to teach students to analyze the foreignness of the past, then we undercut our work by focusing only on the quest for “rights.” Doing so arguably flattens other aspects of historical actors’ lives and even marginalizes those individuals who were not necessarily thinking in terms of “rights.”

Read the entire piece here.

 

George Washington Did Not Like Military Parades

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Trump was quite enamored with the 2017 Bastille Day military parade in Paris (via Creative Commons)

I got to know Lindsay Chervinsky a few years ago during my stint as a visiting fellow at Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.  Her book project, “The President’s Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution,” is going to make a big splash when it appears in print.  She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University.

Last week Chervinsky published an excellent and timely piece in The Washington Post titled “Why George Washington rejected a military in his honor (and why Donald Trump should, too).

Here is a taste:

This year, on Nov. 11, the federal government will throw a parade to celebrate the nation’s military past, including period costumes and reenactments from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War and both world wars. To accompany the soldiers and veterans, the air will be filled with many generations of military planes. The parade is intended to proclaim U.S. military dominance, rather than the typical somber reflection at the cemetery. A White House report admits that the cost for the celebrations could exceed $30 million.

The significantly expanded parade comes at the request of President Trump, in an effort to one-up the Bastille Day celebration he witnessed last July in France. By celebrating current military strength, rather than honoring veterans’ service, the parade breaks with a long tradition of civilian leadership dating back to President George Washington.

Washington, the first in the pantheon of American military heroes to become president, refused pomp and circumstance as the trappings of monarchy, not a virtuous republic. If the parade occurs, it will demonstrate Trump’s contempt for civilian authority and flout the established governing norms of the republic.

On Oct. 24, 1789, President Washington entered Boston on the back of a large white stallion. This visit was the first time he had returned to the city since the Continental Army had liberated it from the British fleet in March 1776. Washington could have ridden into Boston a conquering hero with full fanfare — parades, feasts, military demonstrations, fireworks, cannons and countless toasts.

Instead, the day before his arrival, Washington pleaded with Gov. John Hancock to limit the celebrations. He then informed Maj. Gen. John Brooks, commander of the Middlesex Militia, that he would not review the militia or observe any special military maneuvers. As a private man, he could only pass down the line of troops assembled to greet him. There would be neither military parades nor any military operations for the newly inaugurated civilian leader.

Read the entire piece here.