Author archives: Robert Morrison

Conservatives Should Resolutely Oppose Common Core — And so Should Liberals

by Robert Morrison

October 15, 2014

Conservatives and liberals should oppose federal usurpation of power that is known as Common Core State Standards.

The entire history of this education “reform” effort has been one of stealth and deception. In this Townhall column, FRC Senior Fellow Bob Morrison, an official of the federal education department under Ronald Reagan, argues for returning education policymaking to state lawmakers, locally elected school boards, and parents. That’s where the Founders and President Reagan thought decisions about education should be made. That’s where the Constitution placed education.

When a liberal Republican Congressman asked to meet President Reagan to discuss the “future of the education department,” the Gipper noted in the margin of his daily schedule: “I hope it doesn’t have one.” President Reagan’s note was written in his own handwriting, in cursive script. Common Core educrats want to dispense with teaching cursive writing — yet another reason to oppose it!

Analyzing Tony Kennedy: My only Power Lunch

by Robert Morrison

October 8, 2014

Tony Kennedy had just been confirmed to a life appointment on the U.S. Supreme Court in late 1987 when I got an invitation to lunch from a lawyer in a well-respected Washington firm. John Connolly was a man I had never met. Mr. Connolly, I was informed, was Pat Buchanan’s brother-in-law. The message my assistant gave me was that this estimable gentleman just wanted to thank me for my efforts on behalf of Judge Robert Bork.

Earlier that year, we had been through a brutal confirmation battle. The good and decent Bob Bork, an eminent constitutional scholar, had been savagely attacked in the mass media.

Liberal activists had left no stone unturned or uncast in their hunt for anything to stop Judge Bork from being confirmed as President Reagan’s third Supreme Court nominee. They had failed to derail Chief Justice Rehnquist, though they slimed him. They never laid a glove on the beloved Justice Antonin Scalia. Everyone loves “Nino,” it seems.

But they were primed for Bob Bork. No sooner had President Reagan announced his choice on July 1, 1987 then Ted Kennedy burst onto the Senate floor with a scurrilous and scandalous attack. Thus was born “Borking.”His video rental records were ransacked by liberal activists — those famous advocates of privacy rights. Civil liberties proponents looked the other way as a Democratic senator demanded Judge Bork describe his religious beliefs while he was under oath.

I had prayed for Judge Bork. He was one of America’s most distinguished (Yale) professors of law and a most highly regarded judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Because he had criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling in the infamous Roe v. Wade case of 1973, Kennedy charged the judge with being anti-woman.

This was the first appearance of the “war on women” theme that liberals have been pushing. Ted Kennedy was a famous respecter of women, as all those whom he had pawed and preyed upon surely knew. In those years when he was posing as a champion of women, Kennedy and one of his Senate boys had even pursued women under the tables at one of Washington’s more fashionable eateries. I think it was a place called Mon Oncle, or some such.

Judge Bork had had to endure Ted Kennedy’s calculated rudeness as the Massachusetts lawmaker refused to call him anything but “Mr. Bork.” Bullying and berating, Ted grilled the judge about his ruling in an interstate trucking case.

I was in the Senate hearing room as Ted Kennedy, of all people in America, bored in on the fine points of interstate highway driving. Jimmy Carter’s campaigners had made sure in 1980 that all Americans knew that it was Kennedy who had abandoned a young woman to die of asphyxiation after he drove his car off a bridge at Chappaquiddick back in 1969.

I had hoped the Judge would stand up at the witness table and ask his Grand Inquisitor if it could be true: “Are you really questioning my judgment in a traffic safety case, Mr. Kennedy?” But the Judge was ever the gentleman and, like Aslan the Lion, he let himself be led to slaughter by these scampering tormentors.

The reward for my work was to be this “Power Lunch” with an honest Washington lawyer. I seem to recall it was the Occidental, at the Willard Hotel. I do not remember what I ordered for what was to be my only Power Lunch in thirty years, but I remember what Mr. Connolly taught me then.

Since deceased, this practiced Washington power attorney expanded on the choice of Supreme Court justices and what we as pro-life conservatives should seek in a nominee.

He had the highest praise for the recently-cast down Judge Bork. But he had this warning:

Bob Bork is so intelligent and so honest that he might have found a better constitutional basis for abortion. Remember, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee — under oath — that he had no opinion on abortion as such, he had merely done what many liberal constitutional scholars had done: He critiqued the Supreme Court’s reasoning in this case.

I knew John Connolly was right about those liberals who had criticized the opinion that Harry Blackmun had managed to cobble together with smelly gluepot and used string, rather like Mr. Dick’s Kite in Dickens’ David Copperfield.

Blackmun’s opinion was dismissed by a number of serious students of the Constitution, starting with Yale Law School’s John Hart Ely.

Ely was a famous constitutional law professor (and personally pro-abortion). Ely had said [Roe is] “bad constitutional law, or rather … it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.”

Then, there was this liberal’s analysis of Blackmun’s opinion in Roe that showed why even the liberal clerks at the Supreme Court were calling the ruling “Harry’s abortion.”

Archibald Cox’s liberal credentials could hardly have been better. He was virtually a legal advisor to the Kennedys. He had earned martyrdom among liberals when, as Independent Prosecutor in the Watergate Affair, he had been fired by then-Solicitor General Robert H. Bork. But even this distinguished Harvard Law professor dismantled Blackmun’s shoddy legal reasoning and even worse history:

Blackmun’s opinion, Cox wrote;

“fails even to consider what I would suppose to be the most important compelling interest of the State in prohibiting abortion: the interest in maintaining that respect for the paramount sanctity of human life which has always been at the center of Western civilization, not merely by guarding life itself, however defined, but by safeguarding the penumbra, whether at the beginning, through some overwhelming disability of mind or body, or at death.”

Cox further argued, as National Review publisher Jack Fowler tells us: “The failure to confront the issue in principled terms leaves the opinion to read like a set of hospital rules and regulations, whose validity is good enough this week but will be destroyed with new statistics upon the medical risks of child-birth and abortion or new advances in providing for the separate existence of a fetus… . Neither historian, nor layman, nor lawyer will be persuaded that all the prescriptions of Justice Blackmun are part of the Constitution.”

All of this was part of my post-confirmation luncheon and tutorial with John Connolly.

But then he went on to reassure me that it might all be for the best. “Bob Bork is a racehorse. We don’t need a justice on the Supreme Court who is a thoroughbred. We need a mule. We need someone like Tony Kennedy who will patiently pace along for twenty, thirty years. Just a mule who will pull the barge along the canal day in and day out. The U.S. Supreme Court is a dangerous place for someone like Bob Bork who views it as ‘an intellectual feast.’  Better an unimaginative plodder like Tony Kennedy. Better a mule than a racehorse.”

I learned a great deal in my Power Lunch with that good man, John Connolly. I wish he were still here. I would have pointed out to him the record of nearly thirty years of our “mule” on the Supreme Court.

The problem is this: When the mules get to the U.S. Supreme Court, they start thinking they are all racehorses. 

PBS’s “The Roosevelts”: Some Myths, Yes, But Some Welcome Surprises

by Robert Morrison

September 25, 2014

Steve Moore of the Heritage Foundation punctures some of Ken Burns’s myth-making in the latest PBS series, “The Roosevelts.” As this distinguished economist points out, unemployment throughout the decade of the 1930s averaged an eye-popping 15%. Even as late as 1941, as the country ramped up its defense spending and millions went to work in war industries, the unemployment rate was still 12%. On top of all this, the federal government vastly expanded its reach with a dizzying array of “alphabet soup” agencies — FCC, FDIC, FTC, WPA, PWA, PDQ (oops, that last one is a joke, folks).

Still, this 14-hour infomercial for Big Government Liberalism that bores Steve Moore to tears, I found fascinating. The folks at the government-funded PBS and the National Endowment for the Humanities were hardly going to do a documentary that trashed three of liberalism’s greatest heroes — Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

When we look at this series, however, we note that what the Ken Burns team does not celebrate is “lifestyle liberalism.”

Theodore Roosevelt bids fair to be considered the first “pro-family” president. He fretted about birth rates and divorce rates. He pored over the Census reports. He was sincerely concerned about family life. One of my favorite TR stories has him traveling by train to the West Coast. He stops at every whistle stop. He addresses the farmers who have brought their wives and children to see this “steam locomotive in britches.” He praises their bumper crops of wheat, corn, and soybeans, but most of all, he tells them, it is good to see a bumper crop of bright and healthy children.

Theodore and Edith’s large and bumptious family made the White House a never-ending source of amusement for Americans. When TR’s daughter by his first marriage, Alice, dropped out of school, took up smoking, and began to run with a fast crowd at Newport, the president threw up his hands. “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

The country chuckled over that typical example of Rooseveltian humor. But behind that jibe was this troubling question: “Mr. President — Whoever said you got to run the country?”

Theodore and his second wife, Edith, were a powerful example of marital fidelity, love, and mutual support. When Theodore, as an ex-president, was shot by a deranged would-be assassin, in the midst of his 1912 “Bull Moose” campaign, it was Edith’s prompt arrival at his Milwaukee hospital room that put everything in order. She fended off overeager well-wishers and importunate politicos. TR survived another decade.

Ken Burns is candid about the pain cause by Franklin Roosevelt’s infidelity to Eleanor.

He might have delved more deeply into this topic had he noted that Eleanor’s closing her bedroom door to her husband, after giving birth to six children, might have had something to do with Franklin’s straying. It’s not an excuse, but it is explanatory.

Closer to the truth may be the fact that Franklin needed, we might even say, craved gentle feminine companionship. Breakfast with Eleanor too often became a Morning Briefing as she gave him his “to do” lists for social uplift projects she found compelling.

Perhaps the best part of this series is the part I least expected: FDR’s religion is front-and-center. When President Roosevelt in August 1941 escaped the prying eyes of the White House correspondents, he was spirited away to a shipboard summit conference with Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The voyage aboard USS Augusta plowed through the stormy North Atlantic, a seaway infested with menacing German U-Boats.

Roosevelt’s son Elliot goes to meet Churchill in his stateroom on board the battle-scarred warship, HMS Prince of Wales. The son is eager to meet the man who had thrilled the world with his defiant speeches as London braved the “Nozzie” Blitz. “My father says you are the greatest man in the world,” Elliott tells the half-American Churchill. And he adds: “My father is a very religious man.”

Churchill already knows this. British intelligence has briefed the Prime Minister on FDR’s favorite hymns. It is these hymns that Churchill includes in the worship service he has carefully arranged. It is hard to imagine a summit of leaders that would include a Christian worship service today. But FDR is clearly most moved by the sight and sound of 6,000 American and British sailors singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” under the 15-inch guns of Britain’s greatest battleship.

Justice Felix Frankfurter, an FDR appointee to the Supreme Court, was Jewish and a leader of the American Zionist cause. He would tell President Roosevelt that the worship service on board the British battleship was the most thrilling moment for him.

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham adds this vital detail to the Ken Burns documentary: Following that on-deck worship service, the president tells his son: “We are Christian soldiers.” That liberalism’s greatest champion thought and spoke in such terms is amazing.

A few months later, Japan would attack the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor and America would be in the war alongside Churchill’s Britain and that troublesome partner, Josef Stalin’s USSR. Despite enormous pressures to avenge the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt maintained a tight control over U.S. war policy. He correctly directed the bulk of our war effort against Hitler Germany. Fully 85% of all allied war-making went to bringing down this greater menace.

U.S. troops went into battle equipped with the best armament and materièl this powerful nation could provide. Not neglected were their spiritual needs. FDR’s inscription in each pocket New Testament with the Psalms gave his endorsement to Bible-reading and inspiration.

I’m grateful as well for Jon Meacham telling us about FDR’s D-Day Prayer. Not only did the President of the United States lead the nation in prayer, in a White House broadcast that stressed the effort to “preserve our religion” among its liberating goals, Meacham says that the more than one hundred million Americans who heard that broadcast may have constituted the largest prayer meeting in our nation’s history.

Finally, there’s this revealing film clip. FDR’s death at Warm Springs, Georgia, on the eve of victory in World War II brings the untried Harry Truman to the White House on April 12, 1945. Commentators then and since have said: Roosevelt was for the people; Truman was the people. Harry is shown taking the presidential oath. As did George Washington and Abraham Lincoln before him, Harry Truman bends down and kisses the Bible.

Thank you, Ken Burns, for that, too!

Feeling our History

by Robert Morrison

September 12, 2014

Hurry, we’re late,” my wife called back to me. She was headed to the Midshipmen Store at the U.S. Naval Academy. A sale was on for Navy fan gear and we wanted to be well attired for the annual Army-Navy football game. I had the honor of accompanying my wife, then a Navy Captain and a commanding officer of the Academy’s health clinic.

Go on, I’ll catch up,” I called out, relishing the opportunity to stage my own little mutiny. I had seen a large cannon in front of MacDonough Hall just a few yards from the Mid Store. I was fascinated by the ding, the pronounced concavity in the mouth of that cannon. The plaque below told the story. I’m a slow reader of historical plaques.

As I ran my hand over that ding, I read how Lieutenant Thomas MacDonough had fired the cannon ball from his ship that had hit this naval gun and caused that depression in the mouth of this captured British cannon. Even more dramatic, Lt. MacDonough’s well-aimed shot had driven this very gun back on its carriage and had killed Commander George Downie, the British skipper of the HMS Confiance. That was a turning point in the Battle of Lake Champlain.

The Battle of Lake Champlain was fought two hundred years ago, on September 11, 2014. In our time, September 11th will be remembered, as it should be, for the horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93, brought down by heroic American passengers over Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

But the War of 1812 had its share of terror tactics, too. A Canadian writer, the late Pierre Berton, related the story of what happened when the American militiamen outside what was to become Chicago surrendered to Indian allies of the British. Six hundred Pottawatomie Indians, led by Black Bird, their chief, had pledged to let the captured soldiers and their families go free for a ransom of $100 each. Black Bird will not keep his promise.

At the wagon train, the soldiers’ wives, armed with their husbands’ swords, fight as fiercely as the men. Two are hacked to pieces, a Mrs. Corbin, wife of a private, had vowed never to be taken prisoner and…Cicely [a black woman, an enslaved person]who is cut down with her infant son. Within the wagons, where the [soldiers’] younger children are huddled, there is greater horror. One young Indian slips in and slaughters twelve single-handed, slicing their heads from their bodies in a fury of bloodlust.

[Pierre Berton, The Invasion of Canada: 1812-13, Penguin Books Canada, Ltd. Toronto: 1980, p. 254.]

Ransom? Beheadings? Woman and children slaughtered? Sounds like this morning’s headlines on ISIS. This was hardly an isolated incident. Such massacres on both sides were part of our country’s early history.

Knowing about such events in our past helps us cope with terrorism today. It’s not the first time we have faced such determined and bloodthirsty enemies. It won’t be the last.

What we need is to have a feel for our history. I have run my hand over that ding in the cannon’s mouth. I felt it. At the Lincoln Cottage in Northeast Washington, D.C., you can run your hand along the railing of the stairs that lead up to the room where President Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. Across the river at nearby Mount Vernon, you can mount the same stairs that George Washington descended when he learned that he had been elected the first President of the United States.

Through such experiences, we place ourselves in communion with all those Americans past and present who have taken the oath to defend the land we love. My wife and I have many times attended the Induction Day ceremonies at the Naval Academy. That’s the day when approximately 1,200 new “Plebes” arrive to begin their four-year period of instruction in military and academic subjects. On I-Day, the Plebes receive their immunizations; get extensive physical examinations, and haircuts. They are dressed in baggy uniforms called “whiteworks.” All their over-the-counter and prescription drugs are dumped in big piles. From now on, the Navy is responsible for their health and safety.

At day’s end, the Plebes and their parents gather in Tecumseh Court. “T-Court” is named for an enemy Indian chieftain we honor today for the fact he saved American prisoners from being tomahawked and scalped during the War of 1812.

Suddenly, over the massive columns of Bancroft Hall, four Navy jets thunder overhead, so low you can read the numbers on their fuselages. You can feel the roar in the pit of your stomach. It’s sound of freedom, they say.

And the Plebes raise their right hands and recite the Oath of Office. Many of their parents and many of us assembled as a cloud of witnesses will be in tears as these vibrant young people pledge their lives to protect and defend our Constitution.

They end their recitation of the Oath with the same words spoken by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and by every other commander-in-chief:

So Help Me God

You can run your hands over these words. They are engraved on a plaque affixed to the bulkhead (wall) in Bancroft Hall. You can feel your country’s history.

Wahoo, Terps!

by Robert Morrison

September 10, 2014

I just got back from an annual trek to Charlottesville to visit my dear old alma mater, University of Virginia, when O Say Can You See? It’s not the U.Va. football team, the “Wahoos,” who are the center of attention this weekend; it’s the University of Maryland’s Terps. Fear the Turtle!

I have to take my Cavalier hat off and cheer for Maryland for this wonderful way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of  “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” (Yes, they still spelled it the British way back then.) Francis Scott Key’s great poem was written to commemorate America’s victory in a “key” battle of the War of 1812. Key’s poem became better known as “The Star Spangled Banner” and in time, it became our national anthem.

Two hundred years ago this Saturday, September 13, 1814, the British had just come north from burning Washington, D.C. Admiral George Cockburn and Gen. Robert Ross had put the White House, the Capitol, and the Library of Congress to the torch. They were acting in reprisal for the American burning of Canada’s provincial capital of York earlier in the war.

British Gen. Robert Ross was especially zealous in his desire to crush the Yankees. Baltimore was then thought to be the real target of the invaders because it was a major port. The nation’s capital was still a small town. After demanding breakfast from an American farmer, the general was asked where he and his army were headed. “I will have supper in Baltimore, or in hell,” he said defiantly.  Shortly afterward, the General was shot and killed by an American militaman. File under: Pride goeth.

I especially like the fact that the Terrapins’ uniforms will feature an outline of Fort McHenry on the helmets and words from The Star-Spangled Banner on their helmets, jerseys, and pants. Wow!

I cannot help pointing out that you would learn more of your country’s history, more of patriotism, and more about the meaning of this Home of the Brave and Land of the Free by going to a Maryland football game than by taking an Advanced Placement U.S. History Course (APUSH). The producers of that mess of pottage seem to think that they are really serious scholars if they are able to tear down this country and the people who pay their salaries.

We are shocked at the idea of several hundred Unamericans said to be fighting for ISIS or other jihadists abroad. One of those, Douglas McAuthur McCain joins other misguided young men serving their country’s enemies.

Who were this young man’s high school teachers? What did they teach him? When and where do young people learn what it means to be an American?

Are they taught to read the U.S. Constitution?

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

Art. III, Sec. 3.

The Framers of our Constitution set a high standard of proof for treason. We have not had to prosecute many Americans in the past two hundred years for treason. But that does not mean it doesn’t occur. Fighting for ISIS is a pretty obvious case of treason.

Douglas McCain won’t have to worry about Eric Holder reading him his Miranda rights or having a pro bono lawyer take up his case. Young McCain was killed on the battlefield.

One of the lines on the uniform pants of the Terps says “Conquer we Must.” Well, I hope they win. The line is solely about football games, we will be assured.

But Francis Scott Key’s words were not about sport:

Then conquer we must

When our cause it is just

And this be our motto

In God is our Trust

With Bibles being banned at Walter Reed Hospital and burned at our military bases in Afghanistan, with Penn State University removing Bibles from housing, is it any wonder that some young people are hopelessly confused?

We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors among us,” wrote C.S. Lewis half a century ago.

I especially like the fact that the University of Maryland uniforms feature cursive writing for some of the lines from The Star-Spangled Banner. With the onset of Common Core, there is a push (APUSH?) to get rid of cursive handwriting. That’s reason enough to oppose this unnecessary and intrusive effort to have government control what is taught and what is thought.

I prefer Ronald Reagan’s idea: Ours is the only Constitution in the world that begins with three powerful words: We the People.

As long as we have the kind of enthusiasm and patriotism represented by the University of Maryland’s new football uniforms, and their fanatical fans, we will continue to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Go Terps!

The View from my Adirondack Chair

by Robert Morrison

August 29, 2014

I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Labor Day Weekend. I’m getting a head start today by having lunch in my back yard with a good friend.

Working from home has its decided benefits. It’s been a good and productive week for me. (I hope my boss agrees). My friend and I will be sitting in my favorite birthday gift — my new Adirondack chairs. This very American invention seems to symbolize peace, order, creativity. Sitting side-by-side with a friend, in animated conversation, is one of life’s joys.

But there is a certain bittersweet quality to these days. We have never had a nicer summer in Maryland. Blue skies, low humidity, picnic suppers at the sea wall in Annapolis, watching red sails in the sunset, enjoying a summer of peace.

Yet the world has seemingly never been in worse shape, but here at home, peace is precious. The Mideast is exploding. War between Israel and Hamas brings condemnation — as usual — of those who are defending themselves from terrorists. From Gaza, Hamas has been tunneling under the Israeli primary schools and staging rocket attacks on their hospitals. The French have an old expression for this: “This animal is very wicked; when you attack it, it defends itself.”

The president this week announced to the world: “We have no strategy yet for dealing with ISIS.” Truth be told, this president has no strategy yet for dealing with ISIS, Iran, the PLO, Russia, or China, or Boko Haram. Not since Jimmy Carter’s uncertain course has the Ship of State been so obviously adrift.

I had the honor of interviewing President Carter’s own choice for Ambassador to the Soviet Union. Malcolm Toon had been a thirty-year diplomat. He told me in 1982 that the only time in his career that he feared for the United States was when Carter was president. “I had never seen the Soviets so contemptuous of American weakness,” Amb. Toon told me then.

President Bush erred, badly, in saying he had looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and had seen “a good man.” He looked into the Russian strong man’s soul, Mr. Bush announced. Russian dissident writer Vladimir Bukovsky spoke to a Victims of Communism Dinner shortly thereafter. Asked about George W. Bush’s statement, Bukovsky deadpanned, with his lugubrious Slavic intonations: “I have looked into eyes of many KGB agents. I have never found it a particularly soulful experience.”

It took years for George Bush to gain a better understanding of Putin and his conduct. But at least he got it. Not so this administration. Vice President Joe Biden related how he had told Putin “I don’t think you have a soul at all.” This prompts one to ask: Is there a Nobel Prize for Jackassery?

The Obama administration’s UN Ambassador, Samantha Power, is famous for her evoking of “Soft Power,” whatever that is. But in the UN this week, she declaimed that the Russians had to stop “lying” about their activities in Ukraine. Why, Madame Ambassador, must they stop lying? Are you going to invoke Soft Power against them? Liberalizing Czech Communists tried Soft Power in 1968. The Kremlin crushed that Prague Spring under the tank treads of their T-34’s. So much for Soft Power.

We in America can thank God for our safety — and thank the U.S. military, too. There’s a quote — probably misattributed to the great English writer George Orwell — that says “people sleep safely in their beds because rough men are ready to do violence in their behalf.”

What the U.S. military does is not violence. The U.S. military has always been a force for peace. When obliged to use force, even deadly force, it is not engaged in violence. The “authorized use of deadly force” is what distinguishes legitimate and civilized nations from those — like Russia under the Communists, like the Nazis in Germany, like Hamas, Iran, or ISIS today — whose use of force is always violence, never legitimate.

Every Sunday, my wife and I join in prayers at Chapel for the families of young Americans who have died the previous week defending us. We thank God for the sacrifice of these heroes. They are not rough men ready to do violence. But they are brave men, capable men, men and women ready to defend our peace, our freedom, our laws and our Constitution, with their very lives.

To my friends and dear readers enjoying this last breath of summer may I share this poem?

The Last Rose of Summer

Tis the last rose of summer,

Left blooming alone;

All her lovely companions

Are faded and gone;

No flower of her kindred,

No rosebud is nigh,

To reflect back her blushes,

Or give sigh for sigh.

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!

To pine on the stem;

Since the lovely are sleeping,

Go, sleep thou with them.

Thus kindly I scatter,

Thy leaves o’er the bed,

Where thy mates of the garden

Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,

When friendships decay,

And from Love’s shining circle

The gems drop away.

When true hearts lie withered,

And fond ones are flown,

Oh! who would inhabit

This bleak world alone?

August 24, 1814: Saving the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights from the Flames

by Robert Morrison

August 24, 2014

Professional football Hall of Famer Steve Largent liked to tell the story of his first real visit to Washington, D.C. He had been to RFK Stadium repeatedly when his Seattle Seahawks played our Redskins. As he rode in a cab to the Capitol in 1995, the newly elected Congressman from Oklahoma (R) marveled at all the huge government buildings he saw on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. “I wonder how many people work in those buildings,” he mused. “Oh,” his cabby said, “about half of them.”

Government workers in Washington had plenty of work to do on this date two hundred years ago. In the President’s House, First Lady Dolley Madison was supervising the emergency evacuation. During the War of 1812, most of our victories against Britain had come at sea, in ship-to-ship encounters or else on the Great Lakes. America’s army had repeatedly failed to conquer Britain’s northern dominions in Canada, but had managed to outrage the Canadians by burning their provincial capital of York, Ontario.

By 1814, it was payback time. A powerful British squadron sailed into Chesapeake Bay. Landing a strong contingent in Maryland, the redcoats marched overland. U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong was complacent about the threat to Washington, D.C. They are headed for Baltimore, he repeatedly told subordinates. Or maybe Annapolis.

President James Madison felt it his duty to join the troops defending the nation’s capital. The five-foot-four-inch, 63-year old commander-in-chief calmly mounted his horse and rode off.

Meanwhile, Charles Carroll of Maryland, a famed Signer of the Declaration and a leading Catholic layman, stopped by the Executive Mansion to warn Mrs. Madison of the British advance. She was all activity that day as the enemy defeated state militia forces at battles in Bladensburg and Upper Marlboro, Maryland. American troops were attacked with Congreve rockets. These newly developed weapons were not so deadly in themselves, and fairly inaccurate, but they served to panic the Yankees’ horses (and, truth be told, not a few inexperienced American militiamen.)

Dolley Madison had bravely remained behind to take care of last-minute details. She went from window to window with a spyglass, looking for the redcoats’ approach. She was determined to rescue Gilbert Stuart’s famous full-length portrait of President George Washington. The canvas painting had to be cut out of its frame.

At the State Department, a clerk was not one of those “half of them” — government workers who worked. On this fateful day, this clerk was all duty and all efficiency. As the National Archives website relates the story:

Secretary of State James Monroe rode out to observe the landing of British forces along the Patuxent River in Maryland. A message from Monroe alerted State Department officials, including a clerk named Stephen Pleasonton, of the imminent threat to the capital city and, also, to the government’s official records. Pleasonton “proceeded to purchase coarse linen, and cause it to be made into bags of convenient size, in which the gentlemen of the office” packed the precious books and records including the Declaration. A cartload of records was then taken up the Potomac River to an unused gristmill belonging to Edgar Patterson. Here the Declaration and the other records remained, probably overnight. On August 24, while the White House and other government buildings were burning, the Declaration was stored 35 miles away at Leesburg. The Declaration remained there at a private home until the British had withdrawn their troops from Washington and their fleet from the Chesapeake Bay.

Americans long remembered the British burning of our White House, our Capitol, and, shamefully, our Library of Congress. They held off burning the Patent Building only when a brave American, William Thornton persuaded them that it contained private property, a priceless record of inventions to benefit all mankind.

The mayors of Georgetown and Alexandria, Virginia, pursued the British Admiral for two days. When the harassed Royal Navy leader impatiently granted them an audience, they told him they wanted to surrender their cities to him. “I’m not even going there,” was the exasperated response of the man who burned Washington. True enough. He was headed to Baltimore. Georgetown and Alexandria are famous liberal bastions (ready then as now to surrender even before they are attacked.)

Stephen Pleasonton, however, is a great example of a government worker with a high sense of duty and the keenness and foresight to understand the inestimable value of the records that were given to him for safekeeping. We can all be thankful for the watchfulness and energy of Stephen Pleasonton, the dutiful government clerk. Now wouldn’t it have be wonderful if the IRS’s Lois Lerner had been as careful to preserve important government documents as Stephen Pleasonton was?

From Annapolis: A Capitol View

by Robert Morrison

August 22, 2014

I recently celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of my thirty-ninth birthday by climbing to the top of our Old State House in Maryland. The gracious capitol building dates from the 1770s and is the oldest legislative building in continuous use in America. This Old State House was the scene of many important events in U.S. history. General Washington came here to meet with Congress in 1783. He wanted to resign his commission to the civil authorities from whom he had first received it. This noble action would make him, King George III of England said, “the greatest man in the world.”

Previous victorious commanders — like Caesar, like Cromwell — had used their military renown to establish dictatorships. Washington’s model was Cincinnatus, the Roman general who had been called from his plow to defend the republic.

Thomas Jefferson had been in the Old Senate Chamber that cold winter’s day in December 1783, when Washington appeared before a tearful body of legislators. Congressman Jefferson had in fact drafted the response that the President of Congress, Thomas Mifflin, would give to Gen. Washington.

Intentionally, the Members of Congress remained seated while His Excellency stood before them. They wanted to emphasize the fact that their new nation was a republic. In England, when the King delivered his Speech from the Throne, Members of Parliament would stand before their seated Sovereign. America would be different; we would be a Novus Ordo Seclorum — a New Order of the Ages.

Climbing to the top of the Old State House affords a commanding view of the little seaport town of Annapolis. You can walk the entire city in an hour. You can go to City Dock, to Middleton Tavern, still serving dinners as it has since 1750.

Doubtless Alexander Hamilton and James Madison dined there in 1786 when they convened their Annapolis Convention. These young men (Madison at 35 was senior to Hamilton, just 31) had hoped to bring together delegates from all the newly united States to try to repair the defects of the Articles of Confederation. Only five states were represented and their twelve delegates could do little more than to issue a call for a general convention to meet the next year in Philadelphia. It would be called upon to revise the frame of government to “enable the United States in Congress assembled, effectually to provide for the exigencies of the Union.” But these young Framers would wholly overhaul the government. They gave us the Constitution, which all officeholders and members of our armed forces swear (or affirm) they will preserve, protect, and defend.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had climbed these very stairs to the top of the Capitol dome in 1791. By that time, they had split with Hamilton’s faction in the new federal government and were intent on forming a new political alliance, joining Southerners with Northerners who opposed Hamilton’s financial plans and his centralizing of power. Jefferson and Madison’s new political party would be called the Republicans, but they were in fact the ancestors of today’s Democratic Party. (Today’s Republicans date from 1854 and descend, mostly, from Hamilton’s Federalists.)

I am mindful as I climb in the footsteps of Jefferson and Madison to the top of the dome that they were also two of our leading advocates for religious freedom. Jefferson had introduced the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in that state’s legislature in 1779. It took James Madison’s skillful advocacy and legislative savvy to guide that historic measure to successful adoption in 1786.

Today’s world needs the wisdom of Jefferson and Madison more than ever.

In our own time, our State Department has collaborated with Islamic factions in Iraq and Afghanistan to produce unworkable constitutions that effectively deny religious freedom. “Nothing shall by done by this government that is repugnant to Islam,” say the clauses that our advisers placed in the constitutions of these two countries. These are lands and peoples our brave soldiers sacrificed to liberate. The present chaos we see throughout that Bloody Crescent derives in no small part from the simple fact that these people believe you should murder your neighbor if he leaves Islam. Or even your own child.

From the top of the Old State House, you can clearly make out the steeples of St. Mary’s Catholic Church and St. Anne’s Episcopal Church. The Methodist and Presbyterian churches can also be seen. Across the way you can see the majestic dome of the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel.

Beyond that dome is the newer Jewish Chapel, an architectural jewel and a house of worship that honors the contributions of U.S. Navy Commodore Uriah Philips Levy.

Here in Annapolis, you can walk from one of these cherished religious sites to another, each one standing apart from the other, but every one united in its respect for its neighbors’ rights. We need less bowing to desert despots and more candid talk. “Let facts be submitted to a candid world,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in our own Declaration of Independence. The fact is, those who murder their neighbors because they worship differently never have and never will enjoy true democracy. [When 89% of German voters affirmed Adolf Hitler as their Fürer in 1934, their votes didn’t express democracy, they killed it!]

Madison explained the link between civil and religious freedom most cogently in Federalist 51. He showed how religious freedom forms the foundation for political freedom:

In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects.

The view from this Capitol dome helps one to consider how much of Jefferson and Madison’s wisdom is being disregarded today.

Our foreign policy — conducted by both parties — routinely ignores religious freedom. Our U.S. State Department has forgotten the strong beliefs of Jefferson and Madison, who were also two of our most eminent Secretaries of State!

Domestically, the Union that Washington called “sacred” is being subverted by ObamaCare. Under this most perilous measure, the religious freedom of Americans has been threatened as it has not been threatened since 1786. Under ObamaCare, the states cease to be states and become instead mere branch offices of the federal HHS Department.

In an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson struck out the word Subjects and inserted the word Citizens. Our National Archives celebrated this important emendation with a press release on July 4, 2010, the very year that President Obama signed the legislation that will make us Subjects once again.

It took two years of patient petitioning with my State Senator, an honorable Democrat, to make that climb to the top of the Old State House dome. I’m glad I persisted. I pray I never forget the Capitol view it gave me.

Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly: America’s Own Iron Lady

by Robert Morrison

August 13, 2014

I was being pressed by the bright and persistent students at Grove City College last year. They wanted to know what President Reagan thought about the question of men marrying men. I had been invited to be a guest lecturer at the Center for Vision and Values annual conference honoring the achievements of our fortieth president.

I was prepared to talk about my hero’s courageous stance against an Evil Empire and its 27,000 nuclear missiles, all targeted on us. So, the students’ fixation on the marriage issue took me aback. I was tempted to answer with wisecrack: President Reagan didn’t have to think about that — lucky guy. But as earnest as these young people were, I realized it would not do to be flippant.

Then, I remembered Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly’s heroic stand against the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — and the fact that Ronald Reagan became the first Republican candidate for president since 1928 to publicly oppose the ERA. He had been admirably briefed by Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly.

Mrs. Schlafly was a Harvard-educated and Washington University Law School-trained attorney. She had done her homework about the ERA. She led a spirited campaign of American women to resist the siren song of the ERA. In the 1970s, many of the mostly male Members of Congress and male state lawmakers were afraid to stand up to strident feminists. They feared crossing self-proclaimed women’s spokespersons who threatened: “We’ll remember in November.”

Not Mrs. Schlafly. She feared God and no one else. She waded into the controversy. She exposed the hidden agendas of radical feminists who had crafted the ERA. It would mean abortion on demand. It would force all of us as Americans to pay for this slaughter of innocents with our tax dollars. It would result in women being drafted and ordered into combat if America ever had to resort to the military draft. And, yes, it would doubtless force all jurisdictions in the country to recognize as marriages of the coupling of persons of the same sex.

All of these social troubles would have sprung from the ERA as unwary legislators opened that Pandora’s Box. In the 1970s, both parties, the TV networks, the “prestige press,” business and labor groups, academic and law organizations, and far, far too many church and civic groups fell in line behind the ERA.

That formidable correlation of forces only served to spur on the indefatigable Mrs. Schlafly. She relished the chance to make a goal-line stance and save the country she loves. She inspired in her grassroots supporters a vibrant sense of the enormous issues at stake. Nothing less than the country she loved was in peril.

When Mrs. Schlafly’s effort kicked into high gear, the ERA had already been ratified by more than thirty of the necessary thirty-eight state legislatures. As was said of the Battle of Waterloo, this was “a near run thing.”

In Britain in those years, another strong woman came on the scene. Mrs. Margaret Thatcher won the leadership of a Conservative Party that had lost its way. The Tories were a party that offered the British electorate not a choice, but a mere echo of the pale pastel socialism of the ruling Labour Party. Mrs. Thatcher had the right stuff. She was a formidable figure in British politics and, soon, she became Britain’s strongest Prime Minister since Winston Churchill. Her Soviet adversaries called her the “Iron Lady.” Like Churchill, she made Britain great. And as Churchill said — in a phrase he coined — Mrs. Thatcher’s Britain could “punch above her weight.”

The movie “Iron Lady” was, to me, unbearable. I ejected the DVD and mailed it back. But I did value the remarkable movie trailer. That clip shows the talented Meryl Streep as Mrs. Thatcher, being coached on how to speak, how to move audiences.

It’s a valuable lesson in moving a public here, too. My own wife, a distinguished veteran of the U.S. Navy for thirty years, knows how to address a crowd and so does Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly.

I confess I have not always agreed with Mrs. Schlafly. She backed that solid champion of Midwestern Republicanism, Sen. Robert A. Taft, for president in 1952. No one could budge me from my enthusiasm for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. I wore my “I Like Ike” button to school. I was in second grade.

Phyllis Schlafly never had to raise her voice to raise concerns. She never had to equal the stridency of the radical feminists to make her points convincingly. In many ways, Mrs. Phyllis Schlafly is America’s own Iron Lady. And I am proud on this significant day in her life, to salute her.

I loved that boy. I hated that deed:” Della Reese

by Robert Morrison

August 13, 2014

She was on a late night talk show in 1977. Actress Della Reese was being interviewed by Johnny Carson on NBC’s Tonight Show. I thought I was seeing a re-run because the host and Miss Reese were talking about the hit TV series, Chico and the Man.

This was shortly after the suicide of Freddie Prinze, the talented comedian who starred in the series. But, no, they came around to the subject. And Johnny, predictably, went on and on about the comic genius and the great tragic loss of Freddie Prinze. Della Reese spoke authoritatively and with finality. “I loved that boy, I hated that deed.” She would go on to become a familiar fixture in millions of American homes as “Tess,” the motherly figure in the popular series, Touched by an Angel.

I identified strongly with what this sensible woman said at the time. A few years later, I was tasked at the U.S. Department of Education with working on suicide among youth. As a project officer during the Reagan administration, it was my responsibility to study this troubling issue in American society. As part of my duties, I had a briefing book given to us by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta.

That large binder included suicide rates for many ethnic and demographic groups in American society. At that time, I was familiar with the rates for various sub-groups, from Ashkenazi Jews to Zuni Indians.

When I thumbed through the binder, I noted that the suicide rate for Black women was exceedingly low. Almost zero. Could this be a misprint? I called CDC to check on the figures.

We’ve noticed that too,” said the desk officer in Atlanta, “we call it the BFPF.”

What’s that?” I pressed.

The Black Female Protective Factor — they’re very religious.”

Suicide experts going back to Emile Durkheim in the Nineteenth Century have noted the correlation between religiosity and suicide. Those who regularly worship have far lower suicide rates than the unchurched.

Those who join clubs and activities, too, are far less liable to take their own lives. So Volunteer Fire Departments, Rotary, scouting, 4-H, Anglers’ Clubs, etc., can be lifesavers as well.

In the Nineteenth Century, French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville studied American society and institutions. In his classic Democracy in America, Tocqueville wrote about Americans’ “genius for association.” We love to join clubs, it seems.

We cannot read of tragic suicides — like that of Robin Williams this week — without wondering why. One reason may just be the active efforts to suppress religion in America. How can it hurt to get rid of public prayer and open acknowledgment of God? Increased suicide rates is one way it hurts.

Let’s pray that Americans gain a greater understanding of the value to all of society of religious freedom. It used to be said: “The family that prays together stays together. “That was true in the 1950s. It’s true now. It might also be said: Blessed is the Nation whose God is the Lord.

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