Blog Spotlight: Salt of America

Here’s something a bit lighter for your Tuesday.  I was poking around on the Internet looking for—well, I don’t know what—and I stumbled upon this charming little blog, Salt of America.  It has an “early Internet” feel in terms of layout, with a few banner or sidebar ads, and an archaic system for logging your ZIP code so the site can get sponsors.

Other than the ads for Mobil 1 engine oil and Campbell’s Soup, the site includes all sorts of articles and documents pertaining to rural living in the American past.  The site features a series of local and regional histories that explore the development of various American cities and States.  I’m particularly interested in checking out a two-part series on America’s first State to ratify the Constitution, Delaware (Part I, Part II).

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SubscribeStar Saturday: The Tedium of (Teaching) Slavery

Today’s post is a SubscribeStar Saturday exclusive.  To read the full post, subscribe to my SubscribeStar page for $1 a month or more.  For a full rundown of everything your subscription gets, click here.

A major part of American history was, of course, slavery.  As I typed that sentence, I nearly wrote “the unfortunate legacy of slavery,” though we’re still living that, just not in the way the race-baiters and social justice warriors claim.

But phrases like “the unfortunate legacy of slavery” have become incredibly cliched.  It and similar phrases (“slavery is our great national sin”) act as magic talismans, incantations that, when invoked, protect the speaker (presumably) from the ultimate curse, the label of “racist.”

Of course, slavery was wrong, and slavery is immoral.  It was our great national sin (paid for, as Lincoln pointed out in his Second Inaugural Address, with the blood “drawn by the sword” in the American Civil War).  It continues to have an “unfortunate legacy,” in that race-baiting charlatans continue to blame it for virtually every pathology in black American culture.

Dang it… I screwed up the incantation with that last bit.  I’d better kiss my job goodbye right now.

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Lazy Sunday XXXVII: Best of the Reblogs, Part II

Thanksgiving is almost here!  Regular readers will by now know of my love for Halloween, which is second only to Christmas in my heart.  But Thanksgiving is definitely up there in the Top Five, at least—sandwiched neatly between the former two, a brief taste of the Christmas togetherness and relaxation to come.

This week’s Lazy Sunday continues with some of my favorite reblogged posts.  As I wrote last week, one of the simple joys of blogging is making friends with other bloggers.  Maybe one day we can all meet up at some kind of blogging convention.

This week’s reblogs feature two from Practically Historical, a blog dedicated to historical topics, mostly American History.  The other is from Quintus Curtius, a classicist and world traveler (not to mention a former Marine) who writes beautifully about forgotten chunks of the distant past.  He revives the old tradition of the great antiquarians, much to our benefit.

  • Reblog: Lincoln and Civil Liberties” – This post is an examination of Lincoln’s decision to arrest pro-secessionist legislators in Maryland, in order to prevent the State from seceding from the Union.  He examines John Merryman, for whom the case Ex Parte Merryman is named, and notes Merryman was actively engaged in leading an armed militia in Maryland against federal authority.  Yikes!
  • Reblog: Quintus Curtius, ‘On Living Near the Ocean’” – This essay on the ocean really struck a chord with me.  Quintus Curtius is a strong writer, and his examination of the ways that people respond to living near the water are fascinating.  On the one hand, people enjoy the vigorous health of the salt air and good seafood, but maritime towns tend to be breeding grounds for shabbiness and dingy criminality (see also:  Myrtle Beach).  A worthy read.
  • Reblog: Practically Historical on the Electoral College” – Gordon Sheaffer of Practically Historical delivers again with an excellent examination and defense of the Electoral College.  He has a great takedown for the anti-EC crowd, who argue that individual votes are all that matter:  he argues that we should think of the EC like a series of baseball games.  Yes, the highest score wins individual games, but the wins are what matter.  A team can win ten games by one run each, while another team can win nine games by ten runs each; what matters are the wins, not the overall scoring.

That’s it for this week. Enjoy the fleeting glory of your weekend, and enjoy the short workweek!

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

TBT: The Influence of Christianity on America’s Founding

My high school American history classes are getting into the American Civil War—or the War of Northern Aggression, or the War for Southern Independence, or whatever you’d like to call it—this week, so we’ve been talking about beginnings a good bit.  The Civil War had deep roots that go back not just to the 1840s or 1850s, and not even to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

Indeed, the fundamental division dates back to the English Civil War in the 1648, when the Puritan Roundheads under Oliver Cromwell ousted and beheaded Charles I, and established the English Republic (which—the English having little taste for radicalism or dictatorships, fortunately collapses in 1660 with the restoration of the Stuart monarchs).  Loyalists to the king and the monarchical order were the aristocratic Cavaliers.  Those same Puritans of East Anglia settled heavily in Massachusetts following the Pilgrims’ famous landing at Plymouth Rock, and the Cavaliers—in body and spirit—dominated the tidewater plantations of the South.

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TBT: Lincoln on Education

This week’s TBT feature was also in last Sunday’s “Lazy Sunday XXIV – Education.”  With the school year in full swing, it’s always enjoyable to look back at the benefits of education—a reminder of why getting education right is so important.

Abraham Lincoln was largely self-educated, and he was motivated, it seems, by both a desire to improve his condition in life, and by a genuine love of learning.  As an avid reader myself, I can related to the anecdote (relayed below) of young Abe walking around with “a book in his hand or in his pocket.”

This little piece was an “Historical Moment,” a monthly feature for the Florence County (SC) GOP’s public events.  If I recall correctly, the FCGOP Chairman skipped over my segment in the program (presumably by mistake, but perhaps to save time), so while I wrote this brief talk for the September 2018 meeting, I did not deliver it publicly until the October meeting (it was published on this blog in September).

I hope you’ll find this adaptation of my talk enjoyable.  Here is “Lincoln on Education“:

We’re gathered here tonight to hear from members of and candidates for School Board; in that spirit, I’d like to speak briefly about education, particularly the education of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln.

From what I’ve read, Lincoln’s entire formal education consisted of around a year of schooling.  He would have a week or two here and there throughout his childhood in Kentucky and Indiana, and then return to working on the family’s farm.

Despite little formal education, Lincoln taught himself throughout his life.  He loved to read, and would read deeply on a variety of subjects, obtaining books whenever and wherever he could.  One of his contemporaries commented that “I never saw Abe after he was twelve that he didn’t have a book in his hand or in his pocket. It didn’t seem natural to see a feller read like that.”  When he sat for the bar exam, he’d read law books on his own time to prepare.

Lincoln also believed in education as a source of patriotism, morality, and self-improvement—what we might call “upward mobility.”  He was not a man who wanted to stay on the farm, and his self-education was a means to escape poverty.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to quote Lincoln at length from his 1832 speech “To the People of Sangamo County”:

“Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance, even on this account alone, to say nothing of the advantages and satisfaction to be derived from all being able to read the scriptures and other works, both of a religious and moral nature, for themselves. For my part, I desire to see the time when education, and by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise and industry, shall become much more general than at present, and should be gratified to have it in my power to contribute something to the advancement of any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate the happy period.”

Here we can see Lincoln’s belief that education lays the foundation for patriotism—we understand our freedoms better when we understood what they cost, and that others lack them.  We see, too, the power of education to teach us the virtuous and the good.  From that morality flows, as Lincoln said, “sobriety, enterprise, and industry,” the tripartite tools to improve our material conditions.

Patriotism, morality, and industry—these were the three benefits of education Lincoln espoused.  Coming from the man who wrote the Gettysburg Address, I think we should take Lincoln’s views on education seriously.

Memorial Day 2019

It’s Memorial Day here in the United States, which marks the unofficial start of summer.  More importantly, Memorial Day is a federal holiday set aside to remember veterans who have fallen in combat.  The United States observes two other days dedicated to veterans:  Armed Services Day, which honors those men and women currently serving in the armed services; and Veterans’ Day, which honors all American servicemen and women, living, dead, retired, active, etc.

We often hear encomiums this time of year about the numbers of men and women who have died to preserve our freedoms.  These tributes are, of course, true (and, one hopes, heartfelt), and are worth reiterating.

I end every year of my American history courses urging my students to remember how precious their patrimony is, and that liberty is a fragile thing that must be preserved.  I, too, mention the “men and women who gave their lives so that we might be free.”  I then follow that up with noting that, while they hear that sentiment expressed often, they now know (having completed a year of American history) how true it is.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to forget the magnitude of that sacrifice.  In an age where wars are so distant and remote they barely register for us anymore (remember:  we’re still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan), it’s easy to take our soldiers for granted.  It’s easier, still, to forget the sheer number of combat deaths—750,000 in the American Civil War alone.

To that end, I’ve elected to spare you any further pontificating, and present instead this Wikipedia entry on “United States military casualties of war,” which breaks down the numbers succinctly.  Yet even dry statistics and bar charts speak volumes.

God Bless America!

–TPP

Lazy Sunday II: Lincoln Posts

I’ve been out of town all weekend—thus yesterday’s very belated post—and it’s getting to the point in the academic year where all the craziness hits at once.  That being the case, I’m posting another one of these “compilation” reference posts to give you, my insatiable readers, the illusion of new content.  It’s like when a classic television show does a clip show episode:  you relive your favorite moments from the series (or, in this case, the arbitrary theming I foist upon you).

Today’s “Lazy Sunday” readings look back at my posts that pertain to President Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator (read the first “Lazy Sunday” compilation).  I noticed that I’ve been writing more about Lincoln over the past week (perhaps my quiet homage to the recently-completed Black History Month?), so I decided to compile, in one place, all of my Abraham Lincoln posts (at least, the ones I could find on this blog).

Without further ado, here are The Portly Politico‘s Lincoln Posts (in chronological order):

  • TBT: Happy Birthday, America!” – a reblog from the old TPP site, this post largely lets Lincoln speak for himself, as it features a full transcript of the Gettysburg Address.  Always good for patriotic goosebumps.
  • Historical Moment – The Formation of the Republican Party” – this short post was adapted from a brief talk I gave to the Florence County Republican Party.  The purpose of the meeting, I recall, was to focus Republicans on who we are as a Party and what we believe, so I thought it would be useful to give a brief introduction to the formation of the GOP.  As the first Republican President (although not the first Republican presidential candidate—that honor goes to John Charles Fremont of California, who ran in 1856), Lincoln obviously exercised huge influence on the young party.
  • Lincoln on Education” – another “Historical Moment” adaptation (I’m all about recycling material), I was supposed to deliver this moment before a forum of candidates for the Florence School District 1 race in autumn 2018.  I was all set to deliver it, but the FCGOP Chairman (accidentally?) skipped over me in the agenda, so I saved it until the following month’s meeting (again, why let good copy go to waste?).
  • Lincoln’s Favorability” – here’s one of TWO posts from last week about Abraham Lincoln.  I’m going to give Lincoln a rest after tonight—he worked hard enough during the Civil War—but this piece looked at an interesting Rasmussen poll, that shows Lincoln is massively beloved by the American people.
  • Reblog: Lincoln and Civil Liberties” – this post is a reblog from Practically Historical, the blog of SheafferHistorianAZ.  Sheaffer—a fellow high school history teacher—wrote a post detailing how Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeus corpus was, indeed, constitutional.

Happy Sunday!

–TPP

Reblog: Lincoln and Civil Liberties

One of the joys of blogging is the opportunity to read the work of other writers in the “blogosphere.”  Recently, I’ve been reading SheafferHistorianAZ‘s work at his blog, Practically Historical.  Sheaffer writes brief, pithy posts about various historical figures and problems, and seems to have a particular interest in both Abraham Lincoln and Dwight Eisenhower, two of my favorite presidents.

Yesterday, he posted a piece entitled “Lincoln and Civil Liberties” that touches on an interesting constitutional question:  did the Great Emancipator violate the Constitution when he suspended the writ of habeus corpus and arrested Americans without due process or the chance to see a judge?

Sheaffer argues that Lincoln was completely justified, as those arrested were actively seditious and traitorous.  He cites the case of John Merryman, the Marylander arrested for his attempt to spur Maryland to secede from the Union.  From Sheaffer (all links are his):

John Merryman was not an innocent victim… of government tyranny as portrayed by Chief Justice Roger Taney.  Merryman led a detachment of Maryland militiamen in armed resistance to troops in Federal service.  Taney was a partisan Democrat staunchly opposed to Lincoln and supportive of secessionist doctrine.  Ex parte Merryman is not legal precedent at all and cannot be cited as such- it is a political document designed to hinder Lincoln’s attempts to protect Washington and preserve the Union.  It was issued by Taney alone- scholars often make the mistake of assuming that the Supreme Court concurred with the ruling.

As Sheaffer points out, there is a trend in Lincoln scholarship that recasts the president as an out-of-control tyrant.  The most prominent figure in this revisionist school is probably Thomas DeLorenzo, and the idea has circulated broadly, even if it hasn’t penetrated the American psyche (remember, Lincoln enjoys a 90% favorability rating among Americans today).

No doubt the American Civil War expanded federal powers, and indelibly changed the relationship between the States and the federal government, in some ways to the detriment of constitutionalism.

Consider that, prior to the Civil War, many States assumed they could “opt out” of the Constitution, having previously “opted in” to it.  Lincoln argued that the Union predated the Constitution, and therefore could not be left; Daniel Webster earlier argued that the Union and the Constitution were “one and inseparable.”

Regardless, the American Civil War resolved by force of arms what could not be resolved in Congress or debating societies (of course, no political question is ever settled permanently).  After that, the States would never have quite the same leverage over the federal government (probably for the better, but perhaps for the worse in some ways), and would lose even more with the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment.

These are interesting questions to consider.  Sheaffer’s contribution to this discussion is sober and direct.