Category archives: History

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!

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.

July 28, 1914: The Great War Begins

by Robert Morrison

July 28, 2014

Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia this day one hundred years ago. Serbian army figures had been implicated in the assassinations of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his consort, Sophie, in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo just one month prior. The shaky, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire had issued a list of nearly impossible demands of Serbia. Surprisingly, Serbia agreed to almost all of these stringent demands.

Nonetheless, the Austro-Hungarian military high command wanted war, needed war. And the Austrians had been given a “blank check” by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. The unwavering support of Austria’s far more powerful ally was critical to Austria’s decision this day. Few could have imagined that Austria would risk war with its much smaller neighbor had it not had the German Army’s military might standing alongside.

That was because Serbia was under the protection of its huge ally, Russia. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia viewed himself as the leader of the Slavic peoples within and outside of his vast domain and Serbia was mostly a Slavic nation.

With Russia’s almost inexhaustible sources of manpower mobilizing for war against Austria-Hungary, Germany felt it had to move with lightning speed to counter this threat.

France, though republican and secularist, had aligned herself with Tsarist “Holy Russia” as a hoped-for counterweight to Germany’s 3:2 advantage in men and materièl. By threatening Germany with a two-front war — France in the West, Russia in the East, French military and political leaders had hoped to deter the Germans from going to war.

This intricate system of alliances and often-secret treaties contained all the combustible materials for a great explosion should diplomacy and military deterrence fail. On this day in 1914, they failed with catastrophic results.

Less than a week after Austria’s move, on August 1st, Germany declared war on Russia. Two days later, Germany declared war on France. Anticipating the need for a knockout blow against France before Russia’s huge manpower could be brought against the leading “Central” Power of Germany, Berlin’s High Command worked from the Schlieffen Plan.

This plan required the German Army to sweep into France and defeat the soldiers of the Republic in a lightning strike. “Let the last man on the right brush the [English] Channel with his sleeve,” they said of the great wheeling motion that would be required of their army.

The need for speed and the dictates of geography meant that Germany would have to drive her Army through little, neutral Belgium. Belgium’s independence and neutrality had been guaranteed by treaty Britain and Prussia (later Germany) since 1830.

Britain had an “understanding” with the French, what was termed an Entente Cordiale. Still, there was no formal treaty between the two historic enemies. With Belgium’s neutrality violated, however, Britain could not stay aloof from the continental struggle. No longer could she enjoy her “splendid isolation” from Europe’s quarrels.

English writer G.K. Chesterton would later write that there was never a chance that Britain would not go to war with Germany if the Kaiser’s troops invaded Belgium. But, because the ruling Liberal Party was financed largely by pacifist Manchester millionaires, Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey could not issue a blunt, unmistakable warning: If you cross the border into Belgium, we will go to war. Instead, Lord Grey confined himself to euphemistic phrases, like “England expects all parties will observe their engagements.”

Years later, from his Dutch exile, the ex-Kaiser would tell diplomatic historian Sir John Wheeler-Bennett that if he had known England would come into the war against him, he would never have allowed his generals to invade Belgium.

This may be a key lesson from the Great War: Pacifism doesn’t assuredly lead to peace. In the case of this cataclysm, pacifism may have led to war. When the British ambassador in Berlin brought word on August 4th of Britain’s Declaration of War on Germany to Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, the civilian head of the government cried out in anguish.

Bethmann-Hollweg simply could not believe Britain would go to war with Germany. Their royal families were even related by blood. Kaiser Wilhelm II was the petted grandson of Britain’s revered Queen Victoria. All of this, cried Bethmann-Hollweg, over “a mere scrap of paper!”

Philip Jenkins’s powerful new book, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade, may be the most important of the writings in the ocean of ink overflowing in this Centennial of the Great War. In it, we learn that Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, Chief of the German General Staff in the pre-war years, was seriously involved in the occult. And we know how Social Darwinism had seeped into the consciousness of war planners on both sides of this conflict. German planners believed in “Weltmacht oder Niedergang” (World power or decline), This belief neatly fit in with Darwin’s ideas of survival of the fittest.

We live in an age when pledges, vows, and commitments are viewed as “mere scraps of paper.” Candidates of both parties in the U.S., for example, pledged to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and move the American Embassy there. President Obama is the most recent leader who has failed to observe his engagements.

Marriage vows made before God and a cloud of witnesses are increasingly disregarded. “He betrayed his wife, he did not betray his country,” said one Congressman in voting against Bill Clinton’s impeachment. In opening himself and his country to blackmail by twenty hostile foreign powers, conducting an adulterous affair over an unsecure telephone line, Clinton betrayed his wife and his country. Before that, another president had vowed: “Read my lips, no new taxes.” When he broke that pledge, his Budget Director dismissed it, saying “those were just words some speechwriter gave him to say.” A mere scrap of paper? Nobel Peace Prize laureate Henry Kissinger explained in his book Diplomacy how America had had no more loyal ally than Taiwan — and then coolly proceeded to detail how he intended to betray that faithful ally. Politicians elected on a commitment to marriage seem unfazed by breaking their vows and “evolving” on this vital matter.

The German word for such actions is Realpolitik. It stems from Chancellor Bismarck’s view that “treaties, like piecrusts, are made to be broken.” The English translation of Realpolitik is dishonor.

At London’s Royal Albert Hall recently, the Kaiser’s great-great Grandson, Prince Philip Kiril of Prussia, asked the crowd of British Christians attending an Alpha Course convention for forgiveness. In an emotional appeal, Prince Philip, a Lutheran pastor, asked his fellow Christians to pray for Germany. He expressed his profound regret that his famous ancestor, the Kaiser, had not been closer to Jesus, and stronger to resist his generals’ pull to war.

We can certainly all join in prayer for a revival of Christian faith in all the nations that one hundred years ago this day were drawn into that hellish maelstrom of dcath and destruction we know as World War I. The true cause of that war is that men had forgotten God.

Revolution Then and Now

by Robert Morrison

July 14, 2014

The French Revolution began this day two hundred twenty-five years ago, July 14, 1789. Then, a mob in Paris stormed the grim royal fortress of the Bastille. When one of King Louis XVI’s counselors came to him at Versailles with the news of the bloody attack on this prison, the king asked: “Is it a revolt?” His aide answered: “No, Sire, it is a revolution.”

I had occasion to reflect on the French Revolution and on our own during a walking tour with three French students in my hometown of Annapolis this past weekend. We had started at the Alumni House of the Naval Academy Alumni Association. It turned out that this particular building had hosted a reception in 1824 for General Lafayette. The aged Marquis was on an extensive tour of the U.S. then, one where he was met with wild enthusiasm in all the 26 states he visited. This French nobleman was a hero of our American Revolution. In 1824, he was the last surviving general of our Continental Army (it helps when you get your commission at age 21!) We then proceeded to the grounds of St. John’s College, there we visited the Monument to the French Soldiers and Sailors buried there. They died fighting for our freedom.

There are many French connections to Annapolis. When Congress met in Annapolis in 1783-84, the Treaty of Paris was presented to our elected representatives for ratification. This treaty officially recognized American Independence and concluded our own Revolution. It was from the Old State House that Congress in 1784 dispatched Thomas Jefferson as our second minister to France. Upon arrival there, young Jefferson was asked if he had come to replace Benjamin Franklin. “I am Dr. Franklin’s successor,” Mr. Jefferson replied with becoming modesty, “no one can replace him.” Jefferson remained in Paris until 1789, leaving shortly after the Storming of the Bastille. He would long defend the French Revolution and his pro-French tilt would affect the destiny of our own republic. It would be Jefferson who, as president in 1803, would double the size of the U.S by his Louisiana Purchase—from France.

Taking my friends around the Naval Academy, they instantly recognized the French architecture. Ernest Flagg had been educated at France’s Beaux Arts school, and the USNA Chapel is a replica of France’s famous Hotel des Invalides. Below the Chapel is the Crypt of John Paul Jones. My guests also saw the obvious link to the Tomb of Napoleon, beneath the Invalides.

The Continental Navy’s Captain Jones, our first naval hero, sailed the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard into battle against Britain’s HMS Serapis. As his ship’s name (“Poor Richard”) indicates, Jones’s warship was a gift of the French. John Paul Jones died in France in 1792 and his body lay in a Paris cemetery for a century before being exhumed and returned to the U.S. for burial here. As a tribute, the entire French navy escorted John Paul Jones’s remains across the Atlantic in 1904.

Don’t forget the bone ships! [You can see a video here at minute 2:14.] The bone ships are an amazing collection at the USNA Museum. There, in subdued lighting, you can see highly detailed models of British and American fighting ships, all fashioned from beef bones, mutton bones, and even an occasional human bone. These precious works of art are two hundred years old and were crafted by French prisoners of war. They had been captured by the British during the wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, taken prisoner over a period between 1793 and 1815. These ship models almost seem to have been crafted of ivory they are so beautiful. And they speak volumes to us today about the souls of these tough French sailors who wanted to leave a legacy. We don’t know their names but we see the work of their hands and it tells us about their hearts.

As I guided my French friends around my town, pointing out the French connections to them, they were teaching me about the latest developments in France. They spoke of their immigration issues, their clashes on church and state matters, and, of course, of their fight to defend true marriage.

The French have been turning out hundreds of thousands of protesters in the Manif pour Tous (The Manifestation—we would say demonstration—for all.) The Manif grassroots supporters have come to Paris repeatedly, but they have even greater strength in the provinces. That great part of France, that enduring part of France, outside of Paris, is sometimes called la France profonde, the deeper France. Here, the resistance to the Socialist schemes of President Francois Hollande is rising.

One of my student visitors tells of the Vendee, his home region. During the French Revolution, that portion of Northwestern France rebelled against the bloody excesses of the Jacobins and their supporters in the Paris mobs. From 1793-1799 the revolutionary republican government put down their peasants’ revolt with extreme violence, with an estimated 200,000 victims. Documented stories of mass guillotining and drownings—even of children—shock us to this day.

The French are teaching us that abolishing marriage is only a part of the Left’s agenda. They speak of Le theorie du genre (Gender Theory) that will be incorporated into all school curricula.

We Americans should especially heed this danger. If we think counterfeit marriages can be limited to adults, limited to the few who would claim those privileges, we should think again.

Radicals are demanding the end of marriage. They say so on their website [www.beyondmarriage.org.] We know from past experience they will soon be demanding the right to teach all children they can marry persons of the same sex. After this will come, inevitably, the indoctrination of children into the false idea they can change their sex.

One reason the radicals want Common Core and are so intent on nationalizing all school curricula is so they can conscript all pre-school children into what President Obama calls “universal pre-K.” This is so he can bring about that “fundamental transformation of this country” that he promised in his 2008 campaign.

The French Revolution began this day in 1789 with great hopes:

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven.” So wrote the English

poet William Wordsworth. Soon, however, as the radicals leading the French Revolution began to crush religious freedom, to stamp out local governments, and sever the connections between generations, many Frenchmen, Englishmen, and even Americans had second thoughts. It was then that people said the Revolution was consuming its young. It’s time for us to remember the famous words of John Paul Jones: “I have not yet begun to fight!”

Common Core: “A Little Rebellion Now and Then”

by Robert Morrison

June 18, 2014

One of the factors that led to Congressman Eric Cantor’s recent defeat was his failure to recognize the threat posed by Common Core State Standards. His victorious opponent, David Brat, trumpeted his opposition to Common Core. And Brat struck a responsive chord among the voters of Virginia’s Seventh District. We could certainly call the first defeat in over a century of either party’s House Majority Leader “a little rebellion.”

It’s fitting that this little rebellion would get traction in the Old Dominion. It was Virginia’s own Thomas Jefferson who took a fairly relaxed view of Shays’s Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1786. Jefferson was then serving as our minister to France, but almost alone among the Founding Fathers, Mr. Jefferson did not take alarm at the uprising. “I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing. The tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

The entire episode of the grassroots rebellion against Common Core is an example of that spark that Thomas Jefferson never wanted to see quenched in us. “It is in the manners and spirit of the people,” he would write, “that a republic is preserved in vigor.” We don’t have to agree with Jefferson’s dismissive attitude toward Shays’s Rebellion. I don’t. And neither did George Washington or James Madison. Madison would become Jefferson’s most faithful ally and advocate.

We can look at Common Core as the ultimate expression of elite opinion about American education. Americans in this view need to be led, fed, directed, managed, cajoled, cosseted, and coerced—all for their own good. Instead of education reform welling up from the grassroots, it would be better, in the view of Common Core adherents, for the necessary changes to come from the top down. Grasstops will tell the grassroots what they need to know.

The Washington Post recently let the Common Core cat out of the elitist bag by publishing a front-page expose headlined “How Bill Gates Pulled Off the Common Core Revolution.” The story is red meat for the opponents of Common Core. It is replete with insider deals and hurry-up, get on board, this train is leaving the station hustle. The Common Core “revolution” so called has never been field tested, never been submitted to public debate, never fully explained, never honestly presented. It’s been a shell game from Day One.

And Common Core resisters have kicked up a fuss from Day Two. I want here to salute these Sons and Daughters (mostly Daughters, frankly) of Liberty. These are the grassroots activists who know what is going on in their local school districts. They know the Constitution and the laws. And they care about their children and, in many cases, their grandchildren. It was easy for sophisticated liberals to dismiss such folks generations ago as “little old ladies in tennis shoes.” Well, now those little old ladies are wearing combat boots.

First to feel the heat (if they didn’t entirely see the light) was the Republican National Committee. Despite the fact that some leading GOP Governors had fallen for the Common Core siren song, the RNC pulled back and passed an anti-Common Core resolution. That helped to legitimize opposition to Common Core.

Here, one is reminded of the French popular leader who sits happily smoking his Gauloise at a Paris sidewalk café. Seeing a massive demonstration headed for the National Assembly, he jumps up. “Those are my people, he says, I have to find out where they are going so I can lead them!”

For whatever reasons, the Republican Party will almost certainly see resolutions offered at its next Platform-writing session to condemn Common Core—and particularly to condemn the stealthy and dishonest way that it has been “pulled off.” States are perfectly free to reject Common Core, we are endlessly told. But if they do, they have no escape from that other terrible idea: No Child Left Behind. The Obama administration has cleverly contrived to let your state get off the rack of NCLB only by signing up for the Iron Maiden of Common Core. Then, the federal bureaucrats will generously let your state spend its own money.

When I served in the Reagan administration, I was given two weeks of “orientation” by Dr. Ed at the federal education department.  Dr. Ed had his Ed.D from Harvard and was a most intelligent, learned, and devoted public servant. He was also thoroughly liberal. Dr. Ed took me to each of the ten assistant secretaryships. Each day for those two weeks, Dr. Ed would assure me that the federal department spends “only 7% of the total education budget.” Just 7%, he repeated like a mantra. Dr. Ed was too diplomatic to say that surely I now understood that what Mrs. Schlafly and all those little old ladies in tennis shoes were saying about our beneficent federal department could not possibly be true.

I reflected on Dr. Ed’s wise counsel. But I recalled my dad’s wartime visits to India. He taught me how the mahouts train elephants there. It takes the mahout about two weeks to break the elephant to the master’s will. Up, down, backward and forward, left and right, the elephant in those two weeks is put through his paces. The mahout only weighs 7% of what the elephant weighs. But the mahout has a stick that he jams behind the elephant’s ear. And the elephant soon learns to do the master’s bidding.

That, Dr. Ed, is how the federal education department works.

And Thomas Jefferson’s great lieutenant, the “magnificent little Madison,” put the dangers in perspective when he wrote:

I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

As a veteran of the federal education department and a recovering bureaucrat, I am proud of America’s little rebellion against Common Core. Bill Gates almost pulled it off. But the Washington Post let everyone know how corrupting the influence of this powerful man has been. If you bribe the Governor of Virginia, you can get indicted. And the governor can get indicted. You are considered corrupt. But if you lavish money on all the governors to entice them to do your will, you are counted a philanthropist.

What the little rebellion over Common Core proves is that here, the people still rule. And it is heartening to see America rising.

President Obama’s Revolt Against American Liberalism

by Robert Morrison

June 13, 2014

What is not generally appreciated today is how far President Obama has taken the country from the roots of classic American Liberalism. It is one thing for conservatives and partisan Republicans to decry Mr. Obama’s rule by Executive Order, his governing by mandate. Such opposition, when principled, is what our system is designed to foster. “The business of the opposition is to oppose,” is the phrase that best describes a vibrant two-party democracy. The idea behind that is that it is in the give-and-take of open debate that the best policies for the whole country will be determined.

We know Mr. Obama actively dislikes open debate. He has declared broad areas of American public life off limits to debate. The climate change issue is “settled.” He and most fellow graduates of Ivy League law schools consider Roe v. Wade “settled law.” The late Sen. Arlen Specter (R-D-Penn.) went so far as to call that most unsettling ruling a “super precedent.”

Marriage is another issue the president considers now settled. No matter that the position upon which he was elected in 2008, and the position held by virtually all his Democratic opponents cleaved to in that contest is the position they have now abandoned. They’ve evolved, they tell us, and now that’s “settled.”

To understand how radically President Obama has departed from American Liberalism, we need only to compare his record with that of the U.S.’ most sustained, arguably most successful, example of liberal government.

Just as conservatives regularly invoke Ronald Reagan’s electoral triumphs, liberals look to the four election victories of Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR is their model for a genuinely popular activist government committed to liberal change.

But an important recent article in The New Republic by Robert Kagan brings us a startling quote from Roosevelt in 1941 that shows the stark differences between FDR’s American Liberalism and President Obama’s essentially European leftism.

The “institutions of democracy” would be placed at risk even if America’s security was not, because America would have to become an armed camp to defend itself. Roosevelt urged Americans to look beyond their immediate physical security. “There comes a time in the affairs of men,” he said, “when they must prepare to defend, not their homes alone, but the tenets of faith and humanity on which their churches, their governments, and their very civilization are founded. The defense of religion, of democracy, and of good faith among nations is all the same fight. To save one we must now make up our minds to save all.”

President Roosevelt was trying in the speech quoted above to prepare Americans for what he saw as an urgent necessity to defend democracy by fighting against Hitler and the Nazi menace.

The speech, however, stands out almost as a statue in a great museum illuminated by a sudden flash of lightning from a threatening storm outside: Notice what Franklin Roosevelt places on a par with men defending their own homes: “the tenets of faith and humanity.” And these are shown as foundational for “their churches, their governments, and their very civilization.”

Roosevelt was a religious man. His faith had deepened in his early bout with paralyzing polio. He doubtless saw his own rise to the pinnacle of American politics as a result of divine Providence.

In August, 1941, four months before the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt sailed aboard the USS Augusta to a secret rendezvous with Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The liberal Roosevelt braved death to meet with the conservative Churchill. Those chilly waters of the North Atlantic were infested with German U-boats. Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s warships would have been prime targets for sinking.

When FDR’s son Elliott went to see Churchill in his plush stateroom, aboard HMS Prince of Wales, anchored in the cold, black waters of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, he told the wartime Prime Minister “father thinks you are the greatest man in the world.” Elliott added “my father is a very religious man.”

Churchill already knew that. That’s why he chose the hymns that would be sung by thousands of British and American sailors in a joint worship service on board the Royal Navy battleship. Prince of Wales still bore scars from the recent pursuit and sinking of the great German warship, Bismarck.

The Prime Minister sang lustily if off key, joining his new American friend in “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” “Eternal Father Strong to Save,” and “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

Roosevelt was deeply moved and it shows in the old newsreels. He knew that Nazism was anti-Christian even as it was murderously anti-Semitic.

President Obama’s leftism derives none of its strength from these Christian sources. During the entire twelve years of FDR’s popular administration, there was never anything remotely like the ObamaCare Mandates that so menace religious freedom in America.

When he greeted the first Soviet ambassador to the U.S., Maxim Litvinov, FDR sternly lectured that atheist Communist about the need for greater religious freedom in the USSR. He thought, doubtless naively, that the grandson of a rabbi would understand how essential religion is to a healthy state.

Today, as we await the U.S. Supreme Court’s verdict in the Hobby Lobby case, we are concerned that the four liberal justices — Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan — will line up against the ideals of religious freedom that FDR and liberals of his era would have instinctively understood and respected.

Nor is it Christians alone whose freedoms are threatened under the Obama administration. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America shares our concerns with the HHS Mandate.

The [Obama] Administration’s ruling makes the price of…an outward approach [to our fellow Americans] the violations of an organization’s religious principles. This is deeply disappointing.

To our Jewish fellow citizens, whose religious freedom is also threatened by the Obama administration, we can only say: Amen!

Let us pray for a liberty-affirming result from the Supreme Court.

Leslie Morrison: World traveler. Life saver. Hero.

by Robert Morrison

June 12, 2014

I can still remember when Pop woke me up before dawn. Big news in the world: Stalin had died. I was just seven years old, but my dad interpreted the world for me. He had spent 17 years in the Merchant Marine; he sailed to every continent, visiting 47 countries in all. Whenever there was a story about a rare rhino in Africa or an unusual Boa in Brazil, or a shakeup in Russia, Pop could explain it all. He had been there.

Like most World War II vets, he never bragged about what he had done in the war. Only much later did I learn that he had made several dangerous crossings of the U-boat infested North Atlantic. There, if your ship went down, the other ships in the convoy had strict orders not to stop. Pop told us about the time his ship was sunk by a U-boat sixty miles due east of Durban, South Africa. With the ship sinking, Pop ran back to get his camera and took the only pictures of the lifeboats. Only a decade after he was gone did I learn from a surviving shipmate that Pop had run around the deck of the stricken freighter unlatching the pelican hooks that griped down the rubber boats. Had he not done that, his shipmate told me, most of the crew would have died. They could not have survived 18 hours in those frigid waters. Instead of talking about his role as a lifesaver, Pop always told us how nice it was to be put up in a five-star hotel for six weeks and to be able to play tennis daily with the South African women’s champion!

From the day Pop returned from the sea in 1952 until the day he died in 1998, we knew where he was every night of his life. He was the one we turned to when neighborhood bullies threatened. He taught me to defend myself and only call on him if my tormentor brought a gang or a knife to the fight. But if I had to call on Pop, the whole neighborhood knew to watch out.

My father taught me what it meant to be a man. Today, 48% of first-borns in America are born out-of-wedlock. Who will teach those dear children what it means to be a man?

And if the D-Day Landings had Failed?

by Robert Morrison

June 6, 2014

General Eisenhower had borne the burden of command for years. He smoked then. Some four packs a day. He had to deal with military prima donnas like Gen. George Patton and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. Critics in the press reminded readers that Ike had never commanded troops in battle before. He had to stroke the forever suspicious Soviets. And then, there were the Germans. Fully 85% of all the U.S. war effort was going into fighting the most formidable military force in history.

Ike prepared a short statement for use in case the D-Day landings had failed. It’s instructive in our time to look back at how this Supreme Commander planned to meet defeat. This statement was never used:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

Where might Eisenhower have learned such a lesson in leadership? He was a serious student of history, especially military history. He had been stationed near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as a young training officer during World War I. (He was considered so talented at training others that he could not be spared to go to the trenches himself.)

Clearly, Ike knew the record of the great Civil War Battle of Gettysburg. He knew how Gen. Robert E. Lee reacted to the disaster of Pickett’s Charge. Lee met the shattered remnants of Pickett’s division as they straggled back from their failed assault on entrenched Union troops at the Copse of Trees. Forever after, that bloody battlefield would be known as “The High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” His hat off, General Lee sadly met his beaten troops.

It’s all my fault,” their Marse Robert told his men on that sweltering July afternoon in 1863. He repeated the sentiment to a British observer, Col. Arthur Fremantle, and offered his resignation to the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis.

Ike knew that history. Happily, Gen. Eisenhower never had to issue a statement claiming responsibility for a military disaster. Once ashore on that bloody June 6, 1944, the Allied forces moved haltingly inland. The hedgerow country of Normandy proved to be a far greater obstacle than pre-invasion planners had reckoned. And the Germans stubbornly resisted.

The bocages were a series of barriers to tank and truck movements. These barriers were the result of a thousand years of farming and tillage by Norman peasants. In that decisive summer, they enabled the retreating Germans to make every kilometer count.

In the end, however, the gritty courage of American and Allied troops wore down German resistance. And the Americans brought to bear their almost limitless resources.

President Roosevelt had called America “the Arsenal of Democracy.” The results of wartime production show why that phrase so aptly captured America’s economic muscle.

British-born author Alistair Cooke in The American Home Front: 1941-42 related these stunning facts:

Britain trebled its wartime output between 1940 and 1945, a ratio surpassing both Germany and Russia, who doubled theirs, though Japan excelled with a fourfold increase.

And America? America stepped up its war output a staggering twenty-five times.

D-Day contains innumerable lessons in leadership and responsibility, in devotion to duty and in sacrificing for freedom. We certainly know that all of those men who left those landing craft under heavy fire that day did their duty.

In 1975, as Saigon fell to the Communists and Americans watched as their ambassador to South Vietnam was lifted by helicopter from the roof of our embassy, the U.S. flag tucked under his arm, President Ford said “this is not a day for recriminations.” Ronald Reagan countered, asking: “What better day?”

There are questions we can apply to our leadership today. For example, where was the Commander-in-Chief on the night of September 11, 2012, when our people were killed in Benghazi? We still do not know.

On a more prosaic level, we do not know who has been held accountable for the failure of the ObamaCare rollout. Or for that matter, who has claimed responsibility for the Election Day crash of Mitt Romney’s vaunted computer program, ORCA. That system had been touted as the answer to the Obama voter turnout machine.

As avoidance of responsibility and blame shifting become characteristics of our nation’s political and corporate life, more defeats and disasters become unavoidable. That’s why there is merit in studying the past.

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