Tag archives: History

Omigosh! Now Bill Clintons Bowing, Too!

by Robert Morrison

September 6, 2012

Not you, too, Bill Clinton! Thats what I wanted to yell when I saw this incredible scene on TV. Bill Clinton is shown bowing to President Obama at the Democratic National Convention.

It was bad enough when Barack Obama bowed to the odious King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in London just days after becoming president. That desert despot is one of the worst human rights violators in the world. Even our own State Department recognizes this much. There is no religious liberty in Saudi Arabia, their official reports have laconically statedfor years.

Americans dont bow. One of the most affecting scenes in our history occurred on April 4, 1865, in Richmond. For four years, Richmond had been the Confederate capital; it still smoldering from the fires set by retreating rebel soldiers. President Lincoln had waited four long and bloody years for this day. He had said: I want to see Richmond, and moved quickly to enter the Virginia city. An American flag flew over the State Capitol designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Accompanied only by his son, Tad, and a small detachment of sailors, the president walked to the Confederate White House and sat at the desk of Jefferson Davis. The Confederate president had fled the city less than forty-eight hours earlier.

Most white people stayed inside, behind shuttered windows. But free black people crowded around Father Abraham. One elderly black man knelt down in front of his Emancipator. No, Lincoln admonished him, this is not right. You should bow only before God and thank Him for your freedom.

This is a story that bears repeating. Americans should never bow to any foreign head of state. And we certainly can find more democratic ways to greet one another than bowing.

President John F. Kennedy faced an interesting situation in 1963. He was acutely aware that he was the first Catholic elected as our president. When he went to the Vatican to see the new PopePaul VIshortly after the College of Cardinals had elevated himKennedy knew what he should do. Normally, it is protocol for faithful Catholics to kiss the Popes ring, a sign of reverence for the man whom Catholics believe is the Vicar of Christ.

But President Kennedy recognized his role as constitutional leader of thisGreatRepublic. So he sat respectfully at the Popes right hand and did not bow. Later that year, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had the tragic duty of receiving mourners at her husbands funeral. When numerous royal heads of state came through the White House, draped in funeral black crepe, Mrs. Kennedy did not bow.

Granted, George Washington bowed to dignitaries on the balcony of New Yorks Federal Hall on April 30, 1789, when he was inaugurated. And he bowed to the tens of thousands of American citizens who came to witness the first taking of the presidential oath.

But Washington was mildly rebuked by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and other republicans for aping this monarchical practice. They preferred a simple handshake to put distance between our new experiment in self-rule and those royal courts of Europe.

Democrats used to understand this. Franklin D. Roosevelt never bowed. Confined to a wheel chair as he often was, it would really not have been possible. When FDR played host to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in June, 1939, he not only did not bow to the British monarchs, he made a point of serving them hot dogs and beans at a Hyde Park picnic! The royals loved it.

Jimmy Carter showed an appreciation of American history when he was inaugurated. Following the taking of the oath and a thoroughly forgettable Inaugural Address on January 20, 1977, President Carter got out of his limousine and walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to the reviewing stands in front of the White House.

Carter did this to emulate the famous Inaugural walk of President Thomas Jefferson in 1801. I applauded Jimmy Carter for this fine action. (Come to think of it, its the last thing he did that I could applaud.)

So, please, can we remember we are Americans? We bow only to God!

What, A Christian President? An Evangelical?

by Robert Morrison

April 13, 2012

You could almost hear the audible sighs of relief that went up in the suites in Washingtonand on Wall Street when Rick Santorum suspended his campaign for President. The reaction was quite familiar to me: I remember well how one of my college friends greeted the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. My friend, the owner of a Mercedes dealership in town, said: This is better than Reagan. Now, if you and your friends in the trailer parks of Manassas will just shut up about abortion and school prayer, we will have heaven on earth.

Well, we all have our religion, dont we? There was a time, however, when Republicans were not so antagonistic to Evangelicals. The untold story of the rise to power and prominence of James A. Garfield is one of deep devotion and special pathos.

Candice Millards Destiny of the Republic tells how Garfield was the surprising choice of the Republican convention in 1880. The party was torn between Stalwartssupporters of former President Ulysses S. Grantand Half-Breeds, those who sought modest reforms and who aligned with Maines charismatic James Gillespie Blaine.

Congressman James A. Garfield came to Chicago for the GOP convention determined to place in nomination the name of his good friend, Ohios U.S. Senator John Sherman. Shermans young brother, William Tecumseh Sherman, was credited with the Union victory in the Civil War. Republican delegates would clearly have preferred Gen. Sherman to his colorless brother, but Cump had cut them off: If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve. Ever since, thats what people mean by a Shermanesque refusal of candidacy.

Garfield dutifully placed in nomination his states favorite son, but Sen. Sherman soon proved to be a non-starter. When Grants Stalwarts were unable to win an unprecedented third term nomination for the Hero of Appomattox, and Blaine could not secure a majority, the weary delegates in that smoke-filled hall, beaten down by thirty-five ballots, turned in desperation to Garfield. He protested. Cast my vote for Sherman, he cried out, but his voice was muffled in the roar of approval for his name.

New Yorks wily Sen. Roscoe Conkling had led the Stalwarts for Grant, but he acknowledged Garfields victory and made the nomination unanimous.

Garfields war record was his strongest qualification in an era where Republican canvassers regularly waved the bloody shirt. During the war, young Gen. Garfield had been responsible for securing Kentucky for the Union. Lincolns secretary, 23-year old John Hay, once told visitors the president hopes to have God on his side, but he must have Kentucky. Many Americans thought the tall, broad-shouldered Garfield was heaven-sent for just that task.

Garfieldhad been a college president and a member of Congress. He had even been chosen as the Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Still, his unexpected nomination was surely that of a dark horse.

Tradition prevented Garfield from campaigning for president. But he could decorously welcome delegations of party faithful who trekked to his Mentor, Ohio farmstead. Garfield greeted one of these, a gathering of German-Americans. He delivered his remarks in flawless German, thus becoming the first candidate to offer a campaign address in a foreign language.

Easily elected, Garfield determined to reconcile the South without abandoning the newly freed black voters living there. He was insistent on equal rights for all.

Then, tragedy struck.Garfieldarrived atWashingtons Baltimore & Potomac railroad station onJuly 2, 1881in close conversation with his Secretary of State, James G. Blaine. A disappointed office seeker, Charles J. Guiteau, fired on the president, his bullet striking the 49-year old in the back. I am a Stalwart and now [Vice President] Arthur is president, yelled Guiteau as he was wrestled to the floor.

Soon, the fallen president was surrounded by doctors. Disregarding the pioneering work on antisepsis that had been introduced by Britains Dr. Joseph Lister, Dr. Willard Bliss bossily took over the care of the stricken Garfield. Bliss and other attending physicians probed the wound with unsanitary fingers and instruments.

The brilliant inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, volunteered to help locate the bullet. He used technology hed mastered in his invention of the telephone. He devised and successfully tested an induction balance. But Bliss was so sure he knew the path of the bullet, he would not permitBellto examine the presidents right side.

All through July and August of 1881, President Garfield wasted away as infection spread through his body. Finally, in September, he demanded to be taken to the seaside. A specially constructed train took Garfield to Elberon, on the Jersey shore.

To reach the seaside mansion that had been loaned to the presidents family, a thousand men worked through the night to lay railroad track. When the final approach to the home proved too steep, two hundred men pushed the presidents rail car by hand.

There, lulled by the ocean waves he loved, this brave Christian man died onSeptember 19, 1881. Once, during his long decline, Garfield asked a friend if he would be remembered in history. Better than that, his friend said, youll be remembered in the hearts of the people. And for some years, he was.

Im indebted to Candice Millard for the moving and beautiful story of a great man who never had the chance to become a great president. After a brief affair early in their marriage, James Garfield learned to cherish Lucretia for her strength and courage. Through the years, they were bound together in mutual love for their five living children and in shared grief for the two beloved little ones they had lost. Deeply repentant, Garfield even became a minister in the Disciples of Christ church, our only president to be ordained.

Perhaps most touching of all scenes in this powerful portrayal was the reaction of Washingtons black community to Garfields death. Many of these newly freed former slaves, still struggling to make a living, tore their best suits and dresses in strips to drape their modest homes in mourning black.

James Abram Garfield, war hero, scholar, able public servant, Evangelical, deserves a place in our hearts. Thanks to Candice Millards fine work, he has a place in mine.

March 22/23: 1775: Another of Those Spiritual Puns?

by Robert Morrison

March 22, 2012

Historian John Lukacs is one of Americas treasures. He has written extensively on our history and, especially, the history of World War II. As an emigre from Hungary, he brings a unique perspective to his writing. One of John Lukacss many excellent books is The Duel: The Eighty Day Struggle between Churchill and Hitler. The period May 10August 31, 1940, Lukacs writes, determined whether Hitler would win the Second World War.

What are spiritual puns? Thats Lukacss own phrase. He says there really are not coincidences in history. Instead, he calls them spiritual puns. The classic example he provides is this one. Early in the morning of May 10, 1940, Hitlers sleek, silent, black train suddenly changed directions. It had been proceeding noiselessly northward over specially constructed rails. No characteristic clickety-clack disturbed the rest of the sleeping Nazis as the train veered west. Hitler wanted to be on the Northwest frontier as his panzers broke through theArdennesForest and broke through French and Belgian lines. What American journalists had called the phony war would end that fine spring morning as German forces crashed through the democracies defenses in what soon became known as blitzkrieg, or lightning war.

Just a few hundred miles away, that day, Winston Churchill was being driven to Buckingham Palace to kiss hands and receive the seals of office as Prime Minister. There could hardly have been a worse time to come to power. Leaving the palace, Churchill accepted the congratulations of his body guard, Scotland Yard Inspector Walter Thompson. I just hope its not too late, he said somberly.

For us as Americans, how strange it must seem to read John Lukacss book and realize that our fate was being decided on that May day, too. Although no American was on Hitlers private train and no American was in the War Cabinet rooms where Churchill now presided amid clouds of tobacco smoke, we had a rendezvous with destiny. Our looming presence was felt that day. Hitlers train was code-named: Amerika.

Hitler and Churchill had never met. They almost met one day in Munich, Germany, in 1932. Churchill was there researching the biography of his great ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough. But Hitler, not yet in power, decided that Churchill was a washed-up old British politician, so why bother with him? Churchill had angered Hitler by his outspoken writings against the Nazis anti-Semitism. Churchill would live for another twenty years after walking over the bunker where Hitlers committed suicide.

The great eighteenth century English parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, never met Patrick Henry. And there is surely no parallel between these Christian lawmakers and those twentieth century warlords, Churchill and Hitler. But I was struck by what may be another of Lukacss spiritual puns. Burke and Henry shared a common Christian worldview. And we see that in two of their most famous addresses.

For more than a century and a half, American school children would be called upon to memorize parts of Burkes famous Speech on Conciliation. It was delivered March 22, 1775 in London. Also a favorite to be memorized by young Americans would be portions of Patrick Henrys Give Me Liberty speech, given at St. Johns Church, in Richmond, Virginia, March 23, 1775. There was a vast ocean separating them. The sentiments those two great friends of liberty expressed just hours apart made them almost brothers.

All Protestantism, even the most cold and passive, is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our northern colonies [New England] is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion. This religion, under a variety of denominations agreeing in nothing but in the communion of the spirit of liberty, is predominant in most of the northern provinces…The colonists left England when this spirit was high, and in the emigrants was the highest of all; and even that stream of foreigners, which has been constantly flowing into these colonies, has, for the greatest part, been composed of dissenters from the establishments of their several countries, and have brought with them a temper and character far from alien to that of the people with whom they mixed.

Here, Burke understands that these colonists came here for liberty. They were not about to submit tamely to the British yoke.

If Hitler had picked up a radiotelephone and put through a call to Winston Churchill from his private train car, it is doubtful they would have had anything to communicate in May, 1940.

United by the fear of the Lord and by their love of Liberty, Burke and Henry might have enjoyed an extensive conversation. Parliament ignored Burkes sage advice. The Prime Minister, Lord North, proceeded instead with a plan to subdue the Americans, to try to bayonet us into submission.

Happily, Americans did not ignore Patrick Henrys appeal.

Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Four years ago, I was privileged to take a class of Witherspoon Fellows to Williamsburg, Virginia, and there hear Richard Schumann, historical interpreter. My daughter, who was with child, and my law student son-in-law joined us. Mr. Schumann delivered Patrick Henrys most famous speech in its entirety. As he spoke, his voice rose in volume and tempo. At the conclusion, my daughter said her unborn child leaped in the womb. Now, thats my idea of a spiritual pun. Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Two Hours with Mr. Jefferson

by Robert Morrison

March 16, 2012

Historical interpreter Bill Barker returned to Annapolis last week for what he said was Mr. Jeffersons fifth visit to Marylands capital. The real Thomas Jefferson only came through four times. But in two hours, Barkers Mr. Jefferson character had us almost believing wed enjoyed the stimulating conversation of our former president. The role requires extensive study of the vast volume of writings about Thomas Jefferson and Bill Barker has mastered, it seems, all of it.

Without notes, without any props, or prompting, this Mr. Jefferson invited eight hundred Marylanders in the Key Auditorium of St. Johns College to imagine they lived in the world of 1812. It was a time when most humans traveled by foot—your own God-given two legs—at three miles per hour. The wealthy could afford horsesand they averaged four miles per hour.

Mr. Jefferson held forth on politics, his own eras and by sly inferences, our own. His election as president was not an easy thing in 1800. Under the Constitution as it was originally framed, the Electoral College selected the candidate receiving the highest number of Electoral Votes as president and the man with the second highest number as vice president. Provided, of course, that the presidential winner received a majority of the Electoral Votes cast.

In 1796, the first contested presidential election, the one to succeed the unanimously chosen George Washington, John Adams narrowly edged out Thomas Jefferson. They served, unevenly yoked, for four years.

In 1800, Jeffersons republican party was such a disciplined machine that it produced a tie in the Electoral College. President John Adams was defeated, that much was sure. Who would succeed him? Would it be Thomas Jefferson or his presumed running mate, Aaron Burr of New York. Burr could easily have settled the matter by stepping aside and urging his backers to stay with Jefferson. He didnt.

Our Jefferson character at the Key Auditorium related how the election of 1800 was then thrown into the House of Representatives. There, it required thirty-six ballots before Jefferson emerged victorious. Aaron Burr, for his finagling, earned the lasting distrust of all Jeffersonians.

Bill Barker spoke of this 1800 election and said that some at the time had suggested sending the contest to the Judiciary for decision. His audience roared with laughter as he asked, with a knowing aside: Who could ever come up with such an absurd notion?

I suspected then that our audience was filled with folks still sore at the outcome of Bush v. Gore in the U.S. Supreme Court. And I had to agree with Jefferson that the U.S. House of Representativesthat body closest to the peoplewould be the appropriate place to resolve such a contest. If only we could have gotten the election of 2000 to the House.

The question-and-answer period provided some new insights into the historical Thomas Jefferson. For example, I had not known that Jefferson recommended Benjamin Banneker to the builders of the new District of Columbia for employment. The reason this was significant is that Jefferson was taken to task in a polite but firm way by the inventor Banneker, a free black man, for some of his writings in his Notes on Virginia. In the only book he ever published, Thomas Jefferson advanced ideas of inferiority of black people to whites in some things. If some people today think white men cant jump, many whites then thought black men couldnt compute. Bannekers almanac and numerous inventions proved them wrong. Jefferson, to his credit, accepted Benjamin Bannekers rebuke with grace and even sent copies of the Banneker almanac on to his friends among the French scientific community.

Before we yell racist at Jefferson, we need to recall that some famous French philosophes thought all Americansblack, white, and Indianwere inferior, and even of smaller stature. Jefferson in Paris had refuted that notion by inviting the Americans at his dinner table to standall of the men were over six feet talland then asking their French guests to stand; each of the Frenchmen was considerably shorter.

A predictable question in this navy town was about Jeffersons decision as president to beach most of the fleet. He didnt back down, saying that he opposed standing armies and navies and thought they might even lead to builders of ships and arms combining to influence government. Imagine that: A military-industrial complex warned against one hundred fifty years before President Eisenhowers Farewell Address.

Mr. Jefferson did claim credit for sending the U.S. Navy and Marines against the Barbary Pirates. He was unwilling to pay tribute to these Muslim kidnapers and hostage takers.

But as soon as our Marines had taken the fight to the shores of Tripoli, and won, Jefferson brought them home again. He was not willing to engage in nation-building in Muslim lands. Thats worth considering. Might that prove too costly?

When we lived at the Naval Academy fourteen years ago, Bill Barker was a guest in our home overnight on New Years Eve. I remember teasing himslightly, for he is never really out of charactersaying he had every one of Mr. Jeffersons mannerisms and traits mastered except one.

Somewhat taken aback, Bill Barker asked what that was. You have a sense of humor, I replied. Thats because in fifty years of studying Jefferson, I had never read a joke attributed to the Sage of Monticello. Now, I think I was wrong. Because Mr. Jefferson never wrote anything funny does not mean he did not share witty asides in conversation, or that he did not fully appreciate wit in others. That counts as humor, too.

Bravo, Mr. Jefferson!



  • Jeffersons republicans were to become todays Democratic Party. Todays Republican Party can trace its lineage to Jeffersons opponents, the Federalists. Confusing enough?

March 5, 1770: Remembering the Boston Massacre

by Robert Morrison

March 5, 2012

A mob of colonists surrounded a small detachment of British soldiers in Boston on this day in 1770. Regular troops had been sent to the restive colonial city in 1768 to give force to Parliaments extraction of taxes from the people of Massachusetts. The young American men in the crowd taunted the jittery redcoats, calling them lobsterbacks, and provoking them. Soon, snowballs were lobbed. Some of these may have contained stones. Even without stones, however, hard-packed ice can be lethal.

In minutes, the embattled soldiers fired into the crowd. Several of the participants in the riot were killed on the spot. One of these was Crispus Attucks, a free Negro, who has long been recognized as one of the first martyrs to the cause of Liberty. Others, wounded, lingered for weeks. A line had been crossed: American blood had been shed on an American street.

Samuel Adams was quick to take advantage of this bloody outrage. He called for trials for the British soldiers. He agitated for citizen resistance to the taxes on tea and other goods. Adams regarded the actions of the British ministrythe parliamentary leadership that supported King George IIIs increasing demands upon American colonistsas unconstitutional.

Unconstitutional? Before the Constitution? Yes. Harvard graduate Sam Adams knew his English history and he was keenly aware of his rights. Englishmen claimed that their unwritten constitution had come down to them from the time of Magna Carta (1215) and that specific rights were recognized during Englands Glorious Revolution of 1688-89. Modern scholars often look to that Glorious Revolution as the precursor of our own American Revolution. Author Michael Barone has written perhaps the best popular study of that event with a keen eye to its import for Americans.

Family Research Council last week heard a fine lecture by author Ira Stoll on the role and influence of Samuel Adams, revolutionary. Stolls book, Samuel Adams: A Life, is careful to show how his faith was central in the life of a man who could justly be called Father of the American Revolution.

Sam Adams knew the part that memorial services played in the communal life of the Massachusetts colony, so he used the anniversary of the Boston Massacre to keep the spirit of liberty alive. Five years after the shootings, in 1775, Sam Adams presided over a gathering in Old South Meetinghouse. Dr. Joseph Warren gave the address as British officers entered. From the chair, Sam Adams invited them to take convenient seats. He wanted to give them no pretext for saying they had been ill treated by the colonists. When Dr. Warren finished his address, the British began to hiss.

Within months of that event, Dr. Warren would be killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and some of those British officers would desecrate the body by taking his head and presenting it to Gen. Gage as a war trophy. Such savagery kept many Americans from even considering reconciliation with the British Crown. And Sam Adams would be the first to remind them why they needed to be an independent republic.

Sam Adams brought his country cousin, John, into the Patriot cause, as well as the rich, young dandy, John Hancock. John Adams leaves a funny memoir of teaching his elder cousin to ride a horse. Townsman Sam, in his fifties, had never before mounted a horse. Soon, John noticed that Sam could not sit upright at dinner after a long days ride.

On Sunday Evening at Mrs. Dexters, where we drank Coffee & Spent an agreeable Evening, I persuaded him to purchase two yards of flannel which we carried to our Landlady, who with the assistance of a Taylor Woman in the house, made up Pair of Drawers, which the next morning were put on, and not only defended the Secretary from further Injury, but entirely healed the little Breach which had been beguna.

Nothing, at this point, could heal the Great Breach that was opening up between Great Britain and her American colonies.

Sam Adams worked with John in the Continental Congress. Delegates from the Middle and Southern states were amazed and pleased when Sam, famous as an old Puritan, moved to invite a local Anglican priest to open sessions of Congress in prayer. I am no bigot, Sam assured his fellow congressmen, saying he would willingly pray with any man who defended his countrys liberties. This move made a huge impression on the others. Because of his strong faith, and his conviction that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God, Samuel Adams could join with others in signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Thomas Jefferson was a close friend and ally to that brace of Adamses in Congress. Years after the Revolution, President Jefferson wrote to the older Adams, saying that his Inaugural Address of 1801 had been written with Samuel Adams in mind. It is the only presidential inaugural so dedicated to a single Patriot. Mr. Jefferson in 1824 told Daniel Webster: For depth of purpose, zeal & sagacity, no man in Congress exceeded, if any equalled Samuel Adams; & none did more than he, to originate & sustain revolutionary measures…

Much of Sam Adamss career is little known because he worked constantly and tirelessly, behind the scenes. Unlike Cousin John, whose correspondence with Abigail runs to five miles on microfiche, he left few written records of his vital work. Why? The stone carvers of the Cathedral at Chartres who left their work unsigned might give us a clue. They believed that God knew their works. Like them, for Sam Adams that was enough.


a John Adams to James Warren, Philadelphia, September 17, 1775, quoted in The Founders on the Founders, edited by John P. Kaminski, University of Virginia Press, 2008, p. 63

Ronald Reagans 101st: A Banner of Bold Colors or Tricky Pivoting?

by Robert Morrison

February 6, 2012

Ronald Reagan was what they call a conviction politician. He often described himself as a citizen in politics. And if you look at his long, successful life, you see only two eight-year periods of office holding: theCaliforniagovernorship (two terms) and the presidency (two terms).

Ronald Reagan did not play by the playbook described on the front page of Sundays Washington Post. The liberal voice of the nations capital headlined this thought:

Tricky pivot for Romney to the center.

Senior reporter Karen Tumulty led off the story with this:

The playbook for Republican presidential contenders goes at least as far back as Richard Nixon: Run hard to the right in the primaries; steer back to the center for the general election.

In other words, be as cynical as Nixon and take our advice: Sucker the voters of your own party into backing you. Then, once youve gulled enough of them to gain a first-ballot nomination at the convention, tack to the left to attract the broad middle of the electorate.

Reporter Tumulty did not list Ronald Reagan in her widely-read story because he did no such thing and, gee, he only won two back-to-back landslides, carried only 44, then 49 states, and won only a total of 1,014 Electoral Votes. Of course, reporter Tumultys friendly advice on tricky pivoting is given to candidates she would never back in any event.

Why didnt Reagan pivot? Why wasnt he tricky? I remember a staff meeting at the U.S. Department of Education early in his second term. Five different proposals were on the table for discussion. Well, we know we cant do numbers 3 and 5, said Patricia Hines, one of my favorite colleagues. Why not? I asked innocently. Because, she patiently explained to this slower student in the class, the platform on which Ronald Reagan was twice elected specifically condemned those policies. President Reagan may not be able to achieve all he endorsed in that platform, but he would never, never go against his platform.

I soon learned the high ideals and the deep commitments of the Reagan movement from Mrs. Hines and many other Reaganauts. We never called ourselves Reaganites. (Leave iting for the Trostkyites and the Castroites).

President Reagan had a strong sense that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. And it was not only dishonorable to pivot, or to engage in tricky maneuvers to gain that consent of the governed under false pretenses. Worse, it was corrosive of free government to do so.

Take Richard Nixon. Please. He came into office a staunch anti-Communist. He had waged political battles all his life against liberals and Democrats he accused of being soft on Communism. Then, in office, he abandoned Taiwan and flew to Red China. He toasted Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, wishing the bloody dictator a long life. Mao had shortened the lives of some 60 million Chinese.

Could there be a better example of bottomless cynicism? And how did that tricky pivot work out for Mr. Nixon? Did any of the liberals who applauded his unprincipled flight to Beijing vote for him or defend him against impeachment?

Or, take George H.W. Bush. As Reagans vice president, he had to convince some skeptical conservatives he had truly learned his lessons, and overcome his moderate background. Read my lips, no new taxes, Bush told cheering conservatives at his partys 1988 convention. Elected not by tricky pivoting or tacking to the center, but by emphasizing his differences with the ultra-liberal Michael Dukakis, the senior Bush raised taxes and split the Reagan coalition. Columnist George Will said Bush had turned a silk purse into a sows ear. That coalition of social, defense, and economic conservatives has not been reassembled to this day.

Writer Andrew Busch notes that Ronald Reagan quoted the Founding Fathers more than any of his four predecessors (Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter) combined. I would point out that Reagan also cited the Founders more than any of his four successors combined (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama).

Quoting George Will again, Ronald Reagan spoke to the future in the accents of the past. He was well-grounded. He didnt need fancy footwork or clever positioning. He knew who he was and what he stood for. And so did we.

Faith in God, faith in the America as A Shining City on a Hill, a deep and abiding love for the American people, and a determination not to give in to threats or blandishments. These were the sources of his strength. He called for a Banner of Bold Colors, not one of pale pastels.

Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair, said George Washington at the close of the Constitutional Convention. That, too was a Banner of Bold Colors.

Its not surprising that so many candidates today want to emulate Reagans success. Then they should reject tricky pivoting and tacking toward the Washington Post. Instead, let them rally to Reagans Banner of Bold Colors.

Family Research Council Senior Fellow Bob Morrison served in the Reagan Administration and is the author of Reagans Victory: How He Built His Winning Coalition. This book will soon be available in pdf and audio formats on this website.

Franklin D. Roosevelt: January 30, 1882

by Robert Morrison

January 30, 2012

We who hate your gaudy guts salute you

William Allen White

Republican William Allen White, editor of Kansas Emporia Gazette, was often exasperated with President Franklin Roosevelt, but he recognized his great qualities of leadership. Recently, one of the callers to a popular conservative talk show was especially angry at Newt Gingrich: Why, he said FDR was the greatest president of the twentieth century!

A highly acclaimed recent book, The Forgotten Man, by Amity Shlaes, argues that Roosevelts famous New Deal did not improve the stricken economy in the 1930s, and may even have slowed the recovery. Its a commonplace among conservatives to argueagainst the New Deals vast public works projectsthat it was really the military buildup leading into the Second World War that got us out of the Great Depression. But that leads us inevitably to look at FDRs wartime leadership. Columnist Pat Buchanan agrees with libertarian Ron Paul that we should never have entered the war against Hitler in 1941. Both of those gentlemen seem to have forgotten that it was Nazi Germany that declared war on the U.S.

As a conservative, I would not defend many of FDRs New Deal policies, although we should note that his Labor Secretary, Frances Perkins, the first woman of Cabinet rank, fought tirelessly to protect women from the hazards of coal mining, tunnel construction, and lumbering. Why? Because such jobs were hazardous to mothers. FDRs backing of union demands was always linked to a living wage for the working man. It was assumed he was working to support a wife and children.

Who does not admire the courage of a man who overcame polio? FDRs story of personal triumph over adversity inspired a nation whose economy was crippled. Times are bad now, to be sure, but we dont have to post armed guards on U.S. Mail Trucks. We are not seeing a hundred banks fail a day. And thank God we do not have 25% unemployment.

In the days before the 22nd Amendment, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president four times. Reagan thought the 22nd Amendment was a mistake. So do I.

Ronald Reagan used to enjoy telling historians and visiting Democrats that he had voted for Roosevelt every chance he got. When Sam Donaldson bellowed a question in his foghorn voice, asking Reagan if any of the economic mess he inherited was his fault, President Reagan smiled sheepishly and answered: Yes, for a long time, I was a Democrat. The puckish aside, the irrepressible humor covered Reagans savvy political strategy: He never criticized FDR.

Reagan was hostile to Big Government. FDR was Big Government. Reagan refused to forget the 100 million people trapped behind the Iron Curtain. Many conservatives blamed FDR for the abandonment of Eastern Europe to the Soviets. (Its an odd criticism coming from folks whose home team wanted to abandon Western Europe to the Nazis.)

Reagan campaigned against wasteful government spending, red tape, and higher taxes. The New Deal was awash in all of that. And yet, Reagan never attacked the man who embodied liberalism in his era.

Why not? I suspect it was because Reagan knew that not only he, but millions of his own supporters, had backed Roosevelt with enthusiasm. If your grandparents were Evangelicals or Catholics in the 1930s and 40s, the odds were they voted for FDR. If your family was Jewish or black, they almost certainly would have been Roosevelt loyalists.

Reagan wanted to keep the loyalty of these voters. His coalition contained major elements of the old Roosevelt coalition. Reagan even swiped some of FDRs best lines: This generation has a rendezvous with destiny. Many of those young Republicans who thrilled to those words were unaware Franklin Roosevelt had spoken them first.

If the greatest evil on the world stage in the first half of the twentieth century was Hitler and Nazism, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the leading opponent of that demonic regime. From the day that Hitler became Chancellor of Germanyon Roosevelts 51st birthday in 1933until their death twelve years later, the world was focused on a titanic struggle between freedom and tyranny. The outcome of that struggle was by no means assured.

Ronald Reagan gave his heart to FDRs fight against Nazism. Reagan volunteered for the military at the outbreak of the war. When poor eyesight kept him out of combat, Reagan made training films for the Army and raised millions in war bond drives.

It was doubtless that uncompromising stance against Hitler tyranny that made Reagan such an outspoken foe of Communist tyranny, the focus of evil in the second half of the last century.

Both men shared more than an aversion to tyranny. They shared a strong Christian faith.

When FDRs son Elliott boarded HMS Prince of Wales in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland in August, 1941, he informed Prime Minister Winston Churchill my father is a very religious man. Indeed, that Christmas, just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into the war, Churchill took up residence at the White House for three weeks.

FDR was worn out by Churchills late night sessions, fueled by tobacco smoke and whisky. But on Christmas morning, FDR insisted on prompt attendance at Foundry Methodist Church. I like to sing hymns with the Methodies, the President said, and besides, it will do Winston good. It did.

FDRs D-Day Prayer was broadcast from the White House on June 6, 1944. (Atheizers, hold your ears!) His Inaugural Day activities for his unprecedented fourth swearing-in in 1945 began with services at St. Johns Episcopal Church, across the street from the White House.

Conservative hero Winston Churchill appreciated FDRs leadership qualities. He would certainly find it strange to see us denigrating the man he called the Champion of Freedom. At the outset of the Second World War, Churchill said: If we open up a quarrel between yesterday and today, we may lose tomorrow. Good advice.

Of Shipwrecks and Debates

by Robert Morrison

January 26, 2012

Think of an iceberg and a ship. What comes to mind? The Titanic, of course. And if you dont mentally picture the greatest luxury liner in history with her stern in the starry, moonless sky, about to break up and go under, you havent been to the movies. Unfortunately, Hollywood created a thoroughly dishonest account of that night to remember. The image of a bribed ships second officer who deliberately shot panicked civilians is only one of the many offenses against the well-documented truths of that night one hundred years ago.

I was researching an American history book several years ago when the subject of the Titanic came up in the text. Although some 1,500 lives were lost, she was not the greatest maritime disaster in history. So, what was the greatest? In those pre-Google days, I had to go hunting.

I learned that the greatest maritime disaster was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff on January 11, 1945. That German vessel was evacuating terrified refugees from East Prussia. The Soviet Red Army was overrunning this Nazi territory, raping and murdering.

A Soviet submarine torpedoed the German ship and she went down with loss of 9,000 lives, mostly civilians, mostly women and children. The original name for the ship was to have been Adolf Hitler. Hitler, however, fearing the symbolism of any vessel bearing his name being sunk, had forbidden any such naming. So the vessel was named for the Nazi leader of Switzerland.

Ask any journalist what was the greatest maritime disaster and he or she would doubtless say Titanic. Thats understandable. Most Americans think the same thing. There will probably never be a movie made about the Gustloff sinking. Nine thousand lives lost in the midst of a horrific war are not as compelling a story as rich and famous people going down to their deaths on a clear night, with the sea like glass, near the end of a century of peace.

With compelling stories of the Costa Concordia shipwreck and gripping images of the great liner split open on the rocks, its not surprising that the news media focuses on a villain. It surely seems the captain of that stricken vessel is a villain. Id like to see more attention paid to the courageous divers who are searching the treacherous interior of the sunken ship. And Id like to see an interview with the Italian Coast Guardsman who ordered that ship captain to leave the safety of his lifeboat and get back on board his sinking ship to aid his passengers.

The day after Titanic went down in 1912, President Taft ordered the U.S. Coast Guard to take part in what became the International Ice Patrol. It continued for seventy years. In 1982, this boring but dangerous task was given over to satellite surveillance. When I spied a ball cap bearing the legend International Ice Patrol on its peak, I wasnt sure what it was. Then, it dawned on me: I had taken part in that iceberg patrol as a young enlisted man on board the Coast Guard Cutter Unimak.

Happily, dramatic stories of ships colliding with icebergs and sinking have been few since the Ice Patrol began. The Ice Patrol and later satellite surveillance have largely eliminated this seaborne terror. Eliminated as well has been most media attention. The amazing thing is not that a single great ship struck an iceberg and went down. The true miracle is that it hasnt happened again.

Im compelled to think of shipwrecks as I survey the current political stage. The news media are the last people who can give us a clear picture of reality. They are the last ones we should allow to vet candidates for the highest office in the land. Reporters set the parameters. They frame the questions. Like Uncle Walter Cronkite, they tell us thats the way it is.

Well, it aint. For example, Cuba is just 90 miles from our shores. The Islamist terror group Hezbollah is said have training camps there. Has there been a single question about Cuba in the dozens of presidential debates this year? Has there been a single question about Cuba in the fifty years of presidential debates?

Or, consider Quemoy and Matsu. These tiny fishing islands are a few miles away from the mainland of Communist China. They were the subject of fierce debate between Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. Nixon alleged that Kennedy was soft of communism because he was unwilling to commit U.S. troops to defend Quemoy and Matsu. Nixon pounded Kennedy on the campaign trail for weeks after they debated Quemoy and Matsu on television. Kennedy won that election, very narrowly.

Nixon was elected eight years later. And four years after that, Nixon essentially abandoned not only Quemoy and Matsu, but Taiwan itself. Nixons famous overture to Red China was hailed as a master stroke of diplomacy.

Nothing on Cuba. First Quemoy and Matsu loom large, then they disappear down the memory hole. Thats how unreal, how farcical, how unpresidential these debates are.

Sean Hannity says he looks to see blood all over the stage in these debates. And he thinks this is a good thing. I can tell Sean that blood on the floor or on deck is very slippery, very dangerous.

If we doubt the danger of these debates, we have only to consult the unfavorable ratings of some of the leading candidates. For the media, these debates are an ocean of good ink. When conservatives fight, the media will gladly hold their coats. But for many of us, these debates look increasingly like a shipwreck.

Winston Churchill’s Well-Documented Life: November 30, 1874

by Robert Morrison

November 30, 2011

Trip Dyer, one of the brightest of all our FRC interns, challenged me when I told his class I thought Winston Churchill’s life was the most documented human life ever lived. Trip thought that it was likely that the present Prince William’s life has been better recorded. He may have had a point there.

We certainly didn’t have photographs of Winston’s minutes after his birth—seven months after his parents’ marriage—on this day in 1874. But we know he was born not in his parent’s fashionable London flat. Instead, after his mother’s riding mishap that day, he came into the world early. He was born at Blenheim Palace, the ducal estate of his famous Marlborough ancestors. They were not nearly so famous then as they would become. Winston would write four great volumes on the great Duke of Marlborough, who had defeated the armies of Louis XIV and who was a central figure in England’s “Glorious Revolution” of 1688-89. Many American Founders looked to that revolution as their model for our own.

Winston was intensely proud of his noble English forbears. But he was just as proud of his American antecedents. His mother, Jennie Jerome, was a beauty from New York, whose tycoon father owned the New York Times. Jennie’s ancestor was said to be Pocahontas. That American princess married an Englishman and captivated the royal court of her own day with her beauty and wit.

Winston’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a reforming politician, a Tory democrat, who was on track to become Prime Minister before he rashly challenged his party leader, Prime Minister Salisbury. Like Icarus who flew too close to the sun, Lord Randolph fell from the post of Lord Chancellor of the Exchequer—second highest in the House of Commons, never to rise again.

All his life, Winston would be dogged by his father’s spectacular flame-out. He was haunted by his father’s ghost, too. When, during World War I, Winston was cast out of the government, people shook their heads and said: Like father, like son. Unsteady. Winston was given the blame for the disastrous Dardanelles campaign. Tens of thousands of British, Australian, and New Zealand troops died in a vain attempt to knock the Ottoman Turks out of the war. The movie “Gallipoli” shows the horror of that ill-starred campaign. But Winston’s plan was never put into being. He was the scapegoat of others who resented his genius and his willingness to take a risk so that the long, bloody stalemate of trench warfare could be ended. Winston even then had a gift for the gripping phrase. Britain’s Tommies, he said, could be better employed in a flanking movement around the German front than to “chew barbed wire in Flanders.”

Throughout the 1930s, his “wilderness years,” Winston went unheeded. He was a voice crying in the wilderness, warning of the “Nozzie” peril. Instead, Prime Minister Chamberlain came back from Munich, promising “peace in our time.” His piece of paper, with Hitler’s signature upon it, lasted less than six months.

President Obama famously pitched the bust of Winston Churchill into the snow days after his arrival in the White House. That’s perhaps another reason I admire Winston so. Once hailed as “a sort of God,” by Newsweek’s Evan Thomas, no one today can tell you what Obama said at Normandy, just two years ago. I can tell you what Winston did there 67 years ago. He demanded to go over with the first of the landing craft. General Eisenhower—the five-star Supreme Commander—could not order Prime Minister Churchill to stay behind. But King George VI could. And he told Winston that if he insisted on exposing his life to such danger, then he, the King and Emperor, would go ashore with him. Only then did Winston relent. He got his chance, though.

Just weeks later, he made it to Hitler’s impregnable Siegfried Line. That line bristled with guns and land mines. Winston approached it with his famous Havana cigar between his teeth. He flashed his inimitable “V” for Victory sign. Then, winking at staff and reporters, he urinated on Hitler’s line.

President Obama prefers the piddling protesters of Occupy Wall Street. Say, Mr. President, I’d be happy to trade a CD of Winston’s speeches for a copy of that iPod you gave the Queen that contained all of your speeches.

President Kennedy thought better of Winston. He made him an honorary American citizen. He praised him with memorable words. “He marshaled the English language and sent it into battle.”

Indeed, he did. He faced down the menace of Hitler and he rallied the Western democracies to stand firm against an Iron Curtain.

I must have read dozens of books about the well-documented life of Winston Churchill. Only one ever said he was a Christian. Inspector Tommy Thompson of Scotland Yard in “Assignment Churchill” was emphatic. Winston always identified with the least of his brethren. He always thirsted for righteousness. No one else offered such a testimony. But Tommy Thompson spent nineteen years as Winston’s bodyguard, ready to lay down his life for his friend at any moment.

Perhaps he knew something we did not.

Lincoln at GettysburgAnd Us

by Robert Morrison

November 18, 2011

We already know who the featured speaker at the Gettysburg Address Sesquicentennial will be. Organizers of this one hundred fiftieth celebration have asked President Obamatwo years ahead of 2013—to lead the list of distinguished Americans expected to commemorate President Lincolns immortal words, delivered November 19, 1863. Event planners must be assuming that Mr. Obama will be re-elected. It would be awkward, wouldnt it, to have him be the lead speaker if he has been defeated for office?

Well, awkward fits. President Lincoln went up to Gettysburg by train the afternoon before the cemeterys dedication. He tried to get some sleep that night, but revelers kept him up with their drinking and singing. The party atmosphere that prevailed in Gettysburg at that time was worse than awkward; it was ghastly. Lincoln seems not to have noted it.

Nor did he mind being asked merely to deliver some appropriate remarks. The President of the United States, the commander-in-chief of the greatest armies and navy this country had ever assembled, the Great Emancipator himself, was given only a secondary role in the ceremony. It reminds us of the story of Lincoln greeting an old friend from Illinois. The visitor expressed surprise that the nations leader should be blacking his own boots. Whose boots should I black, Lincoln asked humorously.

I have been to Gettysburg dozens of times. I never tire of seeing that battlefield and walking through that National Cemetery, that hallowed ground. I took scores of students there on field studies. I made a point always of having them join hands atop the monument to the 20th Maine Regiment, the unit commanded by Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

Chamberlains men were running out of ammunition on Little Round Top as the 15th Alabama Regiment charged that critical point. If the rebels succeeded, they would be able to mount cannon on that high point and rake the entire Union left. Chamberlain ordered his men, mostly Maine fisherman and lumberjacks, to fix bayonets and counter charge their foes. The Alabamians had never tasted defeat until that moment.

The 20th Maine monument is not like many of the others at Gettysburg. Rich, powerful Northern states like New York and Pennsylvania, erected grand memorial palaces in the post-war years to tell the world what their sons had done.

Southerners, stricken by defeat and poverty, nonetheless, dug deep into their pockets to erect the most moving tributes to the sons of the Lost Cause who died at Gettysburg. My great great Uncle Jonas Lipps survived that battle, and a dozen others, only to die in a Union prison camp at age 24.

The 20th Maine monument is most moving in its simplicity. It is made of cheap stone. Those Mainers were just fishermen and loggers, after all. Still, it touches something deep in our hearts. It was for just such menand their descendants—that President Lincoln carried on this great peoples struggle. He said it was not just a war for the present, but for a vast future.

I take inspiration from Lincolns words on that great dedicatory occasion. He finished his brief 272-word address saying this nationunder Godwould have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

We are engaged today in a great cultural clash, more protracted and more wrenching in many ways than even that civil war. For many in our national leadership, including President Obama, the fate of millions yet unborn is merely matter of constitutionally protected choice. Their lives, their yearning to breathe free, is a matter of no special concern to this administration. In fact, under Mr. Obamas health care law, the destruction of the millions of unborn children will proceed with government financial support.

In Lincolns time, the federal government was pledged to return runaway slaves to their owners. Only with Emancipation did that policy officially end. He said it most eloquently: Nothing stamped in the divine image was sent into the world to be trod upon. I have had the privilege this fall of seeing ultra-sound images of my grandchildren, twins stamped in that divine image. Their right to be is not above our pay grade.

I appeal to President Obama: Dont wait until 2013; go to Gettysburg now. Mr. President, you should seriously study Abraham Lincolns words and his principles. Lincoln always said he would not play the Pharisee. He would not impute to himself all righteousness. He had vast sympathy for others points of view. But he knew and he said that if slavery was not wrong, nothing is wrong. We know that if abortion is not wrong, nothing is wrong.

To protect life at its most vulnerable has always been right. In doing so, we must try to win over our opponents. To achieve this, we should remember Lincolns modest stand. He did not claim that the Lord was on his side: I am not at all concerned about that, for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lords side.

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