Tag archives: History

Reagans Favorite Sign: Hes Old But hes Cute

by Robert Morrison

November 17, 2011

A glittering panel was assembled this week on Washingtons EYE Street, the home of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). They had come to discuss Ronald Reagans career in the movies and how that influenced his political life. Before Reagan, people asked: How can an actor be president? After Reagan, people recognized his joke: How can you be president if you havent been an actor?

The panel was chaired by Politicos John Harris. He led off by telling the 40-50 attendees that he graduated from high school in 1980 and cast his first presidential vote in 1984. Mr. Harris was too tactful to mention that it probably wasnt cast for RR. Thats OK, 59% of the votes cast that year were cast for the Gipper; he carried 49 states.

The panelists included NBC News Andrea Mitchell, ABC News Sam Donaldson, former White House Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein, and, of course, former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) Dodd left the Senate in January to assume the presidency of the MPAA. I counted one likely vote for President Reagan of the five panelists. Fair and balanced.

Sen. Dodd was most charitable. He spoke of having gone to the White House early one morning for a meeting. The night before, President Reagan had lost the Louisville debate to challenger Walter Mondale. Fritz even got a baseball bat from his admirers in the press titled The Louisville Slugger. Dodd expected to find Reagan down in the mouth, or at least tired.

Not at all, Dodd said. The president was bright-eyed and chipper, greeting him by name and offering him coffee and Danish. It was then, Dodd said, that he learned in politicsas in the moviespresentation is everything. Indeed.

Andrea Mitchell described going to the De-Militarized Zone in Korea with Reagan.

There, at one of the flashpoints in the Cold War, North Korean Communists had built a phony village with happy peasants supposedly enjoying the good life in the Workers Paradise. (All those workers villages were so paradisiacal they had to have barbed wire around them to keep out the starving stooges of Wall Street.) She tweaked one later famous GOP president when she said Reagan looked over the DMZ with binoculars, from which he had carefully taken off the lens covers. What do you see, reporters wanted to know. It looks like a Hollywood back lot, but not as important, Reagan jibed.

Ken Duberstein said it was true that Reagan learned lessons in the impact of taxation on economic activity in Hollywood. It was not just that it didnt pay him—the king of the B moviesto make more movies when he was taxed at the rate of 91 cents of every dollar he earned. Reagan was a wealthy man. He could afford not to make another oat burner Western.

Reagan realized then that when he passed up more movies, the ticket sellers, ushers, popcorn vendors, cameramen, make-up ladies, and a host of other workers lost work, lost opportunities to realize their dreams.

Most of the members of the Screen Actors Guild are people youve never heard of and who may make one or two movies a year. They are the thousands of non-stars who love being a part of Hollywood. These folks elected and re-elected Ronald Reagan president of the Screen Actors Guild seven times. He was genuinely loved by the SAG members.

And it was for them that he went to bat when Communists tried to take over Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s. (Ronnie! Come back! Theres no term limit for SAG president!)

Sam Donaldson was almost glowing in his praise of Reagan the Performer. Sam looks wonderful. Tall and narrow as a rake, he still has that same foghorn baritone with which he used to bellow hostile questions as President Reagan. He described Reagans classic putdown of President Jimmy Carter in their only 1980 debate. Carter unleashed a withering attack on Reagan the Right Wing Reactionary, grimly reciting a barrage of charges against his affable, smiling opponent. Instead of a Dan Quayle, rabbit-in-the-headlights look, Reagan aw shucks-ed him. There you go again. Yes, by this time, the country was very tired of the increasingly shrill Carter.

Sam didnt mention his famous trip to the Kremlin with President Reagan in 1988. In Saint Catherines Hall at a grand state luncheon with Gorbachev and the entire Soviet politburo, Sam glowered at the president.

Who eez zat man, ze one looking at Reagan wiss such an evil look, one Russian asked author Edmund Morris. Oh, thats just Sam Donaldson. Hes a reporter, a thorn in Reagans flesh. The atheist Russian asked for a translation of that unfamiliar term. Ach! We wood say hes a splinter on Reagans a__.

Ken Duberstein noted that President Reagan never put his nose in his briefing books when traveling in the limousine. He knew it meant a lot to people who had come out, sometimes waiting for hours, just to see him. He made a point of making eye contact and waving with them all.

One older lady in Connecticut carried a sign: We loved you in the Knute Rockne Story, but more in the White House. She was referring to Reagans most famous movie, where he played dying football hero, George Gipp. Two hundred thousand people had come out to Notre Dame to see Reagan and Pat OBrien when that movie was first released.

Thats my second favorite sign, the President told Duberstein. The Chief of Staffs question, inevitably, was: OK, Mr. President, what was your favorite sign?

Reagan winked: The one that young cheerleader at Ohio State held up: Hes old but hes cute!

He was more than that: He was old but courageous. When he visited Moscow, he jumped out of his limousine and waded into the crowd at the citys famous shopping district, the Arbat. The Secret Service nearly had heart failure. The Russian people mobbed Ronald and Nancy. The KGB began pushing, shoving, and kicking their own people away. This was the same outfit that had arranged the shooting of the Pope, that had doubtless supplied the plastic explosive the IRA used in their attempt to kill Margaret Thatcher.

Here was President Reagan fearlessly moving among them.

I drafted a letter for President Reagan one time when I worked for him at the U.S. Department of Education. I wrote if we dont teach phonics to our children, I fear that the rising generation will lack the essentials of literacy. Barely an hour later, the approved draft was back on my desk. Circled in red was that phrase: I fear that…

In the margin was this note: This president has concerns. He has no fears.

That was twenty-five years ago. Those words inspire me still.

A Father’s Quest for Justice

by Rob Schwarzwalder

November 7, 2011

Major media outlets are reporting the remarkable story of a French father’s 29-year quest for his daughter’s killer, a quest that has resulted in the arrest of a man who committed the murder.

For three decades, Andre Bamberski pursued the rapist and murderer of his then-14 year-old daughter Kalinka, Dieter Krombach. After offering a reward for his capture, Krombach was abducted from Germany and brought to France, where he had been convicted in absentia of causing a wrongful death in 1995. Krombach, 76, will spend the next 15 years in jail, should he live that long.

Andre Bamberski is awaiting trial on charges of kidnapping. Perhaps this is appropriate. But what father cannot help but admire Andre’s dogged determination to see the man who assaulted and killed his daughter brought to justice? To refuse to accept anything less than punishment for the monster who took his daughter’s life?

History is a relentless master,” said John F. Kennedy. “It has no present, only the past rushing into the future.” History is relentless, in part, because men like Andre Bamberski refuse to let it elide quietly into memory. That’s why Dieter Krombach is now in jail. To borrow a phrase from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, “Here endeth the lesson.”

Roosevelts to France!

by Robert Morrison

October 27, 2011

I thought of President Theodore Roosevelt as I attended a wreath-laying ceremony in Annapolis recently. We were observing the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknowns at St. Johns College. Those unknowns are not American soldiers and sailors but those of France who died fighting for our freedom in the War of Independence. Theodore Roosevelt cared deeply about such things. As president, he presided over the return of the remains of John Paul Jones from France.

And he was more than willing to have his own body buried in France. Yes. Former President Roosevelt went hat-in-hand to the White House in 1917. There, he almost begged President Woodrow Wilson to let him go to France to fight against Germany.

Wilson demurred, saying it would be too dangerous to let a former President of the United States be captured or killed in combat. I would be more than willing, T.R. told his long-time adversary, to have my epitaph read: Roosevelt to France.

Wilson didnt turn T.R. down then. He said to his faithful aide Joe Tumulty after his rival left the presidential office: Theodore is like a big boy. Hopeful, T.R. said he thought the professorial Wilson might relent.

Today is Theodore Roosevelts birthday. T.R. is getting beaten up a good bit among conservatives these days. His embrace of national health care when he ran as the Bull Moose (Progressive Party) candidate for president in 1912 is seen, with some justification, by President Obama as an early endorsement of his own takeover of one-sixth of the nations economy.

T.R. was wrong about that. He referred in 1912 to his own Progressive ranks as the usual assortment of reformers, do-gooders, and, of course, the lunatic fringe. With humor, T.R. gave us that wonderful phrase.

Still, Theodore Roosevelt might justly be called the first pro-family president. He pored over Census reports. He was appalled by rising divorce rates and declining birth rates. He cared deeply about the American family. He constantly held up the role of mothers and fathers as important to the nations well-being. He honored marriage.

His own role as husband and father endeared him to the nation. T.R.s lively brood was the youngest First Family in decades. Coming into the White House at just 42, in the wake of a beloved presidents assassination, Theodore reveled in the power of the presidency. He was the first to make The White House the official name of the Executive Mansion. He put it on the stationery. Edith Kermit Roosevelt was a most lovely and amazingly patient First Lady. She had to be.

T.R. was forever leading the family on romps. He would interrupt Cabinet meetings to retrieve a stray snake that his impish boys had let loose on the stuffed shirts. He would promptly usher official visitors out of his office to make time for his six children at the end of a hard days work.

If Abraham Lincoln was the first president to invite black men to the White House for meetingsand give respectful ear to the advice of the great abolitionist editor Frederick Douglass, Theodore Roosevelt was the first to have a black man to dinner. The almost universally respected Booker T. Washington, president of the Tuskegee Institute, came to advise President Roosevelt on what was then called the color line.

So vitriolic were some Democratic Senators in denouncing the presidents courteous gesture that T.R. felt he had to go down to Mississippi to mend political fences. He accepted an invitation to go bear hunting. His hosts were unable to scare up any proper game for the New Yorker president. So, they collared a sickly black bear female and tied her to a tree.

Refusing to do anything so cowardly as shoot a trapped beast, T.R. put his footand his rifledown. Washington Post cartoonist Cliff sought to poke fun at the episode, saying Roosevelt was drawing the line in the South. He meant it about race.

But readers took it up as a comment on the sportsmanlike conduct and tender heart of their beloved Teddy. Soon, the whole world knew the story of Teddys Bear. Today, we remember our 26th president in the Teddy Bear. (I actually think we might make this a symbol of our pro-family movement. Teddy would surely approve.)

Former President Roosevelt never got to fight in France. The vindictive Woodrow Wilson made sure of that. But all of his sons fought bravely in World War I. The youngest, Quentin, was shot out of the skies over German-occupied territory in Northeast France. He was buried with full military honors. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was seriously wounded in that war and was honorably discharged with a full disability. In World War II, this cousin of the Commander-in-Chief, FDR, volunteered and was among the first to land on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Medal of Honor winner, died of a heart attack just days later. He is buried in France beside his younger brother. In the end, for American freedom and the cause of justice in the world, it was indeed: Roosevelts to France.

Carpooling with George Washington

by Robert Morrison

August 26, 2011

Commuting to Washington, D.C. can be nerve-wracking on the best of days. But when the hour-long commute drags on for more than two hoursas it did this week on the day of our earthquakeit might be especially trying. Motorists are not happy campers when traffic approaches gridlock downtown in the Capitol.

I go slightly out of my way, however, to drive daily down Pennsylvania Avenue. I count it a privilege to pass by the stately Capitol dome with its Statue of Freedom standing proudly on top. The Capitol was planned by George Washington. Hard to believe now, but there were no great domed buildings in America when His Excellency opted for a Roman architectural style. His favorite play was Cato, an English tragedy about a great Roman champion of republican virtue.

As trying as the drive on earthquake Tuesday might have been, the way was eased by my carpooling with George Washington. Ive been listening to Ron Chernows Pulitzer Prize-winning book-on-disk, George Washington: A Life. Its a wonderful book and the latest of some seven hundred Ive been able to read during fifteen years of commuting.

Chernows Washington is a full-blooded figure. He has faults, to be sure, but his virtues shine forth. Chernow describes Washingtons incredible bravery. Young Col. Washington dashes into the teeth of battle during the French & Indian War. He even rushes into a hail of bullets, slashing with his sword against the muskets of British regulars to keep them from shooting their allies, the heroic Virginia militiamen.

Washington studiously avoids all boasting of his military exploits, but in a private letter to his brother Jackie, he notes that he had two horses shot out from under him on the Pennsylvania frontier and four bullet holes in his coat following the 1755 battle that left nearly 700 British and Virginia militiamen dead. It was the worst defeat British arms had suffered in the history of North America. Washington organized the retreat after the death of Gen. Edward Braddock. He even ordered his wagons to drive over Braddocks grave so that Indians would not find it and desecrate the body.

Ron Chernow follows Washingtons life where the evidence leads. We wince when we read that the young Washington sold recalcitrant slaves for shipment to the West Indies. Thats where the expression sold down the river comes from. And its terrible to read that he hanged two deserters from his Virginia militia company. Washington was a stern taskmaster. He expected to be obeyed. But everyone respected him for his justice and growing humanity.

Chernow gives us Washingtons religious views. You would not find him leading prayers, as Gov. Rick Perry recently did. But neither would he spurn public expressions of fidelity and duty to God.

Chernow writes:

However ecumenical in his approach to religion, Washington never doubted its signal importance in a republic, regarding it as the basis of morality and the foundation of any well-ordered polity…For Washington, morality was so central to Christianitys message that no man who is profligate in his morals or a bad member of the civil community can possibly be a true Christian.

If Washingtons constant suspicion that he is being cheated is a character flaw, it is mightily tempered by seeing what Washington did with his vast wealth.

George and Martha Washington never turned away beggars at their doorstep. Let no one go away hungry…provided it does not encourage them in idleness.

Who would have thought George Washington was the original compassionate conservative? FRC has been highlighting Real Compassion on our website to show how

Christians can make a difference in their own communities. The German poet Goethe, a Washington contemporary, once said that if each one sweeps his own doorstep, the world would be clean.

Washington spent countless hours as a Vestryman for Christ Church, in Alexandria, and for Truro parish in Fairfax. In those times, the Vestry was the committee of Christian laymen who looked after widows and orphans, who helped the indigent get back on their feet. But they were expected to get back on their feet. It was no charity to keep them dependent and subordinate.

During the great welfare reform fight in Washington of 1994-1996, former radical Adam Walinsky came to FRC. This ex-speechwriter for Robert Kennedy said he didnt agree with most of our social agenda, but he did agree with us on welfare reform. If you dont think welfare harms the morals of a family, just consider the English royal family.

Thats a stunner. George Washington considered the English royal family, too. He found it increasingly difficult to pledge his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor to the English royals who governed so foolishly and were so careless of their American colonists rights and liberties.

Washington chafed at British royal red tape. He hated the Proclamation of 1763 that declared the Trans-Appalachian West off limits to colonial expansion. King George III had not risked his regal neck fighting on that frontier. Who was he to bar settlement of it?

Washington also denounced British mercantile regulations. In his efforts to reduce his dependence on slave labor, Washington began growing wheat at Mount Vernon and marketing fish. He created a small fishing fleet on the Potomac. The best salt for preserving fish came from Lisbon, Portugal, but British regulations forced him to buy inferior salt from Liverpool.

Ill join with my conservative friends in denouncing federal intrusions and usurpations. We dont need, for example, a wasteful and unconstitutional federal education department. But youll never see me denouncing Washington. I have too much reverence for our Founding Father for that.

Ron Chernows book is 903 pages long. The audio version is 33 discs long. I expect to be carpooling with George Washington for weeks to come. Im honored to be in his company

U.S. Coast Guard: The Lifesavers—4 August 1790

by Robert Morrison

August 4, 2011

Youll always be proud when you hear them play that tune, said Boatswain Mate Chief Clarence Ward Hollowell to the graduates of Lima 74. We were getting ready to march out of boot camp at Cape May, New Jersey.

That had to have been the most miserable, cold, diseased thirteen weeks of my life. When we first arrived, in the middle of the night, they shaved our heads, made us strip down, and put our civilian clothes, our shoes, any watches or rings, in cardboard boxes and address them to our home of record. All the while they were screaming at us and banging on steel trashcans with baseball bats. I would have climbed into that box if I could.

But at the end, Chief Hollowell was right. Wed always be proud when we hear the Coast Guards March, Semper Paratus (Always Ready), played.

We’re always ready for the call,

We place our trust in Thee.

Through surf and storm and howling gale,

High shall our purpose be,

Semper Paratus” is our guide,

Our fame, our glory, too.

To fight to save or fight and die!

Aye! Coast Guard, we are for you.

I am deeply grateful for the years I spent, enlisted and officer, in the Guard. It shaped my thinking. Not just about the military, but about life in general.

Recently, the pro-lifers in a Midwest state told me they regarded their governor as a friend. If we can get a bill through the legislature, we can usually get him to sign it, they said. They thought of him as a great improvement over his liberal predecessor. And, by that standard, he was.

I told my friends that when I was in the Coast Guard, we were always willing to give CPR to someone who washed up on the shore. If their friends managed to pull them through the pounding surf to our Lifesaving Station, we would surely give them coffee and donuts and a warm blanket.

But the reason people respect the Coast Guard is that they go out into the storm. They take risks. I compared the passive friendliness of that Midwestern governor with a genuine hero like Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. He never held back as a Congressman or Senator in Washington.

Inaugurated just last January, hes already championed bills in Topeka that would require abortion facilities at least to maintain no less than the safety and cleanliness standards that we demand of veterinary clinics and beauty parlors. He wants to cut off funding to Planned Barrenhood.

Sam Brownback moved without delay. And he didnt wait for his friends in the legislature to pull a bill through the body. He waded right in. Sam Brownback is always ready to save lives. Semper Paratus, Governor!

When I served in the Reagan administration, I was impressed, as every veteran was impressed, with the presidents great respect for the military. Under Jimmy Carter, we had been forbidden to wear the uniform of our country in the nations capital. When Reagan swept Carter out of office, he ordered us to wear our uniforms; we obeyed with pride.

All of us who worked for Ronald Reagan knew he had been a lifesaver. He rescued seventy-seven people when he worked as a teen lifeguard on the Rock River in Illinois. We were expected to know that number. That was part of being a true blue Reaganaut.

It was entirely fitting that this lifesaver would be the most pro-life president we ever had.

Saving lives changes your life. Ask anyone in a pregnancy resource center or a law abiding sidewalk counselor. It makes you know you have lived to a purpose. You are forever grateful. You know what the Hebrews meant when they wrote in the Talmud: He who saves one life, it is as if he saved the world entire.

On this 221st Birthday, I salute the U.S. Coast Guard, the Lifesavers.

Like a Pistol Shot at Lincoln Cottage

by Robert Morrison

April 15, 2011

I was furiously scribbling notes as author James Swanson lectured last night at the Lincoln Cottage. He was speaking about his wonderful new book, Bloody Crimes: The he Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincolns Corpse. The room was filled with listeners paying rapt attention as the sun set over the home where Abraham Lincoln drafted the Emancipation Proclamation. Last night was the anniversary of Lincolns assassination in 1865. One year ago, I was at the Newseum, also taking notes as James Swanson lectured on his earlier book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincolns Killer.

It should be clear I am a great admirer of this writers work. But in his lecture, Swanson offered an observation that stunned me as much as if he had fired John Wilkes Booths bulldog derringer above our heads:

He said: I regard Thomas Jefferson as the biggest hypocrite in American History.

What a terrible statement. And worse, the audience members nodded their approval of this stunning statement. From the Obama stickers proudly displayed on most of the newer luxury cars in the parking lot, I knew this was a pretty liberal crowd.

My first response to James Swanson, this serious Lincoln scholar is that Abraham Lincoln didnt think that. Lincoln said this:

All honor to Jeffersonto the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, where it continues to stand as a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression.

If the Great Emancipator thought that, it might be worthwhile to know why. Young Thomas Jefferson was distraught when fellow delegates to the Second Continental Congress cut out of his draft of the Declaration of Independence a stinging indictment of King George III. The king had repeatedly vetoed colonial attempts to end the African Slave Trade. Jefferson told Franklin his draft had been mutilated.

Jefferson didnt stop there. As a congressman, he offered an amendment that would have banned slavery from all U.S. territory west of the Appalachian Mountains. That bill failed by just one vote. Heaven itself was silent in that awful moment, Jefferson later wrote in anguish.

It wasnt a total loss, however, The Northwest Ordinance did pass Congress and it did contain a ban on slavery north of the Ohio River. But the failed Jefferson measure was far more extensive than even this great charter of freedom.

Jeffersons only book, Notes on Virginia, was published while he served as our ambassador in France. In it, Jefferson denounces slavery as tyranny, as a school for tyranny that corrupts the slaveholder as much as it debases the slave. Jefferson argues powerfully that slavery is morally wrongand tells us he trembles for his country when he reflects that God is just and His justice cannot sleep forever. [It should be candidly admitted that Jefferson also introduces some of the worst language on racial differences in this book. Decades later, black inventor and author Benjamin Banneker took Jefferson to task for these writings, and rightly so.]

Still, in the Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson tells us, almost as an aside, that Northerners though they have few slaves among them, are great carriers of slaves to others.

Lincoln surely had read those words. They are chilling. Jefferson does not morally condemn his northern countrymen, but we should all know what his terrible words mean.

William Wilberforce campaigned for twenty years to get rid of the Slave TradeJefferson called it that execrable trafficin the British Empire. Jefferson fully supported his efforts.

The film Amazing Grace shows Wilberforce standing on the dcck of the slave ship Madagascar. He tells Londoners that this ship left West Africa with six hundred slaves and arrived in the British West Indies seven weeks later with only two hundred slaves surviving.

The worst Southern plantation in the bondsmans two hundred fifty years of unrequited toil could not have written such a record of horror. Novelist Patrick OBrien has his famous Captain Jack Aubrey respond to teasing from his best friend Stephen Maturin that Lucky Jack is getting fat. You know I cant swim here, Stephen, these are slave waters.

What does that mean? It means the slave traders regularly threw overboard living and dead Africans—and the sharks gathered.

This is what they call the horrors of the Middle Passage. Those were not Southerners manning those slave ships. They were Yankees from New England.

Reading those words, Lincoln would have known they were true. This is doubtless why, Lincoln, almost alone among Northern men, never plays the Pharisee. He is not self-righteous in his opposition to slavery.

Jefferson the President urged Congress to move early to ban the Slave Trade. In one of the unfortunate compromises necessary to gain ratification of the Constitution, Congress had to wait twenty years from adoption to ban the African Slave Trade.

President Jefferson in December 1806 called upon Congress in his State of the Union Message to act and act soon. Dont wait until January 1, 1808, he pleaded. Pass the ban now so that slave ships will not even start for America if they know they will arrive after the cutoff date.

Jefferson denounced the Slave Trade as a violation of the human rights of unoffending Africans. That is the strongest anti-slavery language used by any president prior to Abraham Lincoln.

And it inspired both Lincoln and the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Douglass honored Jefferson and powerfully quoted him, saying one hour of American slavery was worse than all the ages of British oppressions.

Yes, it is true that Jefferson failed to free the nearly two hundred human beings he held in slavery throughout his long life. Monticello was deeply in debt and Jefferson was unable to extricate himselfas the Great Washington had donefrom the serpents coils.

When I took our many FRC interns to Monticello for years, I would stand on Mr. Jeffersons lawn and make the point that George Will was wrong. Thomas Jefferson lived as free men ought to live, Will famously wrote. No, I would say, John Adams lived as free men ought to live. He never freed his slaves because he never had any.

Still, I honor Jeffersons memory as the man who powerfully taught us all why slavery was wrong, and who banned the African Slave Trade.

My question to James Swanson and to those pleasant folks chatting over wine and cheese at Lincoln Cottage is this:

If Thomas Jefferson was a hypocrite for denying two hundred human beings their inalienable right to liberty, what are we when every day in America we deny three thousand human beings unborn children—their right to Life?

O Moody Tearful Night—April 14-15, 1865

by Robert Morrison

April 15, 2011

Author James L. Swanson could not have chosen a better place, a better time to discuss his wonderful book, Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincolns Corpse. He appeared last night on the anniversary of Lincolns assassination at the Lincoln Cottage, located on the grounds of Washingtons Soldiers Home. This beautifully restored Victorian summer home was a refuge for Abraham, Mary, and Tad Lincoln for three summers1862, 1863, and 1864while they occupied the White House. They first sought quiet and solitude there following the death of their beloved 11-year old son, Willie.

James Swansons book is a gem. He takes us on the long, last mournful way of the Lincoln Funeral Train throughout its 1,600-mile journey from Washington to Springfield.

Even for many of us Civil War buffs and Lincoln students, Swansons book is a goldmine of information. With a novelists keen eye for detail, Swanson even takes us behind the scenes in the White House as the autopsy is conducted on the presidents 64 body. Skilled surgeons take out his brain. Weighing it, they are surprised to find it is of normal size. The author doesnt like Mary Lincoln much. Swanson details her irrationality, her extravagant grief, her grasping for money, and the fact that she never comes out of her darkened room for the funeral, or even to view her husbands embalmed body.

We are there at the train station early on the morning of Friday, April 21st as the body of the slain president is escorted from the Capitol where it had lain in state. It was Lincoln who decreed that the Capitol dome should be completed, despite the fiery trial of civil war, as a symbol of Union. Philip Reid had been a slave when he showed architects and builders how carefully to uncrate the Statue of Freedom. By an Act of Congresssigned by Abraham LincolnPhilip and all his black brothers and sisters in the capital were free when that 19-foot statue was finally raised to the pinnacle.

We can almost hear the hissing of the locomotive and see the jets of steam cover the tracks as they lift the presidents coffin onto the special train. It is decorated with flags of the Union, with the presidential seal, and with black crepe. Waiting for his fathers coffin to be brought on board is the smaller coffin of Willie, the Lincolns 11-year old son whose body rested in Oak Hill cemetery for the past three years.

One million Americans viewed Lincolns body as it wended its way home. Seven million came out to lay flowers on the tracks and to watch, hat in hand, as the presidential train passes by. Nothing like this had ever happened in America before. It was as if the entire North had come out to weep and mourn for the first president to be assassinated. They wept as well for the three hundred fifty thousands soldiers in blue who had died defending the Union. Those soldiers and their surviving brothers gave their commander-in-chief the name Father Abraham. They also gave him their votes in 1864.

Swanson describes the progress of the funeral train as a ribbon of flame spooling out across the land.

James Swanson not only gives us a loving and heartbreaking picture of the Lincoln Funeral Train, he also brings Confederate President Jefferson Davis back from the dead and may single-handedly rescue him from obscurity.

The author challenged his Lincoln Cottage audience to consider America in 1858, just two years before the meteoric rise of Illinois Star of the West. If Americans had been asked to guess who the next president would be in 1858, Sen. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi would not have seemed a dark horse. West Pointer, hero of the Mexican War, outstanding Secretary of War, Congressman and Senator, Davis had traveled extensively in the North and was respected throughout the Union.

But Jefferson Davis had also demanded a federal slave code for the territories. When Northern anti-slavery men refused that demand, first the Democratic Party broke up, then the Union itself was put in mortal danger.

Our hearts are engaged for Jefferson and Varina Davis as their beloved son Joe falls from a porch at the Confederate White House in Richmond. Jeff, Jr., the little boys brother, cries out in anguish: but God will not wake Joe. That was 1864. Imagine what a wrenching experience it must have been to order the evacuation of Richmond a year later, and leave your sons body behind.

Varina Davis comes through as a true Southern lady, faithful, brave, and intelligent. She supports her husband loyally. Never does she embarrass him, as poor unstable Mary Lincoln repeatedly does Abraham.

When federal troopers finally capture Jefferson Daviss fleeing party of thirtyhe once had thousands in his entouragehe is subjected to gross indignities. By this time, Lincoln has been dead for two weeks. Instantly, despicable lies spread throughout the country: Davis has been taken prisoner dressed in womens clothes. Vengeful President Andrew Johnson stands by as Jefferson Davis is taken to Fort Monroe.

Might this bad mans malice toward one actually have saved Daviss life? We know that many embittered Southerners revered Robert E. Lee and blamed Jefferson Davis for their defeat. And theres a good case for that idea. Swanson informs us that two hundred people were lynched in the North for gloating at Lincolns death. Might there have been even more in the South who hated Davis?

Daviss dignity in captivityand his rage at being manacledwon him respect North and South. He soon became a martyr to the Lost Cause. His wifes tireless efforts to free him bore fruit in 1867.

Swansons book gives us Daviss long life after Appomattox. Its an amazing American story. Daviss train trip as a frail old man elicits an overwhelming outpouring of emotion in the South. He was manacled for us, is the sign on his train.

Swanson tells us he is a Lincoln man through and through and in this, his loving tribute to the Lincoln Funeral Train, he certainly proves it. But he shows that you can love and revere Lincolns memory and still respect Jefferson Davis.

I never before had such respect for the man who was described by Sam Houston as cold as a serpent and proud as Lucifer. Swanson does give us more than a hint of the great issues that led to 620,000 American deaths. When Jefferson Davis is urged to head for Texas to continue the rebellion, he says he cannot go through his home state of Mississippi. Every Negro in the state knows me, he tells his fellow Confederates. For sure, the former slaves knew him as a kindly, Christian man.

But the fact that they would readily turn him over to Federal forcesand he knew thatproves that slavery was hardly the positive good for black people that John C. Calhoun and his successor Jefferson Davis said it was. Lincoln had demolished that line of argument. Though volumes have been written to prove the good of slavery, Lincoln said, but we seldom see a man seek the good of it by becoming a slave himself.

James Swanson in this excellent book, and in his earlier work, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincolns Killer, gives us a vivid portrait of those tumultuous times. The Civil War Sesquicentennial on which we are embarked commemorates the 150th anniversary of those defining days. James Swansons work is indispensable. He takes us through that moody, tearful night of the Lincoln assassination and beyond.

Musings on Bachs Birthday

by Robert Morrison

March 21, 2011

I was researching a U.S. history book several years ago when I read about Gov. Nelson Rockefeller shaking hands with the 110-year old Henry Herndon in Indiana in 1968. Rocky was very excited. You could have given him Venezuela and the billionaire would not have been as happy. The reason?

The governor was told that Henry Herndon shook hands with Abraham Lincoln. Rocky went around for days telling everyone he met: Hey, fella, shake hands with me. I just shook hands with a man who shook hands with Abraham Lincoln.

I mentally filed that not away. Nice to know. Interesting comment, too, on American politics. When Lincoln shook hands with Henry Herndon, he was no longer the poor lad born in the log cabin. By that time, Lincoln was a successful lawyer from Springfield, Illinois.

But he was no Rockefeller. Yet, Lincoln won his first bid for national office—and the richer than Croesus Rockefeller was defeated, not once, but twice.

It was only several weeks later that it all dawned on me: Hey! I shook hands with Nelson Rockefeller in 1971. Which means I shook hands with the man who shook hands with the man who shook hands with Abraham Lincoln.

But Lincoln shook hands with J.Q. Adams, who shook hands with George Washington, his father John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Monroe and James Madison.

History buff that I am, I really got excited about this.

This led me to speculate that I might be similarly linked to Johann Sebastian Bach. Today is Bachs birthday. Bach spent his life as a humble kappelmeister in Germany. I think he must have walked everywhere he went. He never realized that he was a great genius.

He was a great husband and father. Two wives (he was once widowed) bore him some twenty children. Many of them went on to distinguish themselves in the world of music, too. Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, Johann Christian Bach are only two of his distinguished progeny.

Columnist George Will says that the angels play Bachs music around the Throne of God (but when they get off on their own, they jam with Mozart!) I dont know about any of that, but it is true that Bachs music opens up a world of devotion to us. He finished every composition with the Latin words: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam—to the Greater Glory of God.

How much better our world would be if we all did our work with that dedication in mind.

Maybe then people would read what we write or consider what we accomplish 260 years after we are gone.

Bach has never really been gone. His music went out beyond the galaxy on board the U.S. Pioneer X space probe. What if Extra-Terrestrials hear it and come to Earth asking us: Take us to your Kapellmeister.

Might John Adams have shaken hands with King George III when he was our ambassador to London? And might the King have shaken hands with the London Bach, Johann Christian Bach, who of course shook hands with his father, old Johann Sebastian?

Oops. Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. Kings didn’t shake hands in those days. And besides, Johann Christian died in 1782, before John Adams arrived in London.

So this hands-on exercise stops with George Washington, Franklin and Jefferson. Perfectly fine. (Unless I can somehow make another connection between John Adams and J.C. Bach).

Now, there was my beloved professor at U.Va., Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, who shook hands with Winston Churchill, who shook hands with the whole world!

I shared my Lincoln handshake story with my doctor friend aboard the USS Lincoln. He has assured me that no matter how vigorously any of these worthies shook hands, there would be no DNA remaining to pass on.

May be. But there is a sense of how connected we all are. More important than any of these is our connection to our Lord. And His to us through His son, Jesus Christ.

Race and Liberty in America, Jonathan Bean

by Kyle Forti

February 7, 2011

Jonathan Beans Race and Liberty in America addresses the role race has played in the history of the United States. It develops the conjunction of race and ideas of liberty by compiling a diverse survey of pieces from Americas earliest days to the present. Bean takes advantage of the perch that the year 2011 offers and allows history to speak for itself as these issues were (and most currently are) queried. As a result, this is a book likely to appeal to a wide audience as has already been evidenced by the praise it has received from critics on both sides of the isle.

From page one, Bean leaves very little doubt that Race and Liberty in America is not a partisan book, nor one advocating a conservative or liberal ideology. Rather, his thesis and emphasis is to track the classical liberal tradition and its response to slavery and other race issues by offering an excerpt from each period in American history. To do this, Bean fills each chapter by citing journalists and authors, pastors and activists, political leaders and businessman. He scopes-out the structure of the early anti-slavery movement, on into the Republican Era, through color consciousness, the Roosevelt years, and classical liberalisms involvement in the Civil Rights Era.

As Bean prefaces most of these historical markers, he weaves in the definitive ways in which the American idea of liberty so affected the outcome of racial tensions in every season of note. The last part of the book takes the observations of the past and then turns to the role race and liberty will, in coming years, follow in the United States.

Ultimately Race and Liberty in America provides insight into what was central to the progress made by the classical liberal tradition and its critique of slavery and race in recent history. Bean effectively ties together the chronological flow of history and parallel flow of ideas that went along with it. It is because of this approach that Bean is able to thoroughly identify and investigate those concepts that played the most significant role in streamlining race and liberty in America: individual freedom, Christianity and Judaism, the Constitution, colorblindness, and capitalism.

Bean seeks to move beyond placing trust in political parties for the answers to the questions that yet remain, but rather encouraging citizens to once again seek out the basic questions for themselves: What is race? Why should government define race as it chooses? Why are immigrants available for other benefits not with other citizens? Why is government involved in the race business at all?

Bean poses these challenging questions as well as sobering, provocative statements: If race is a fiction, then it is a fiction worth disposing of because it has done far more harm than good. Race and Liberty in America maintains distance from the distractions of todays political debate by providing a comprehensive framework on the issues of race and American liberty in which to properly gain knowledge and move forward.

May 10th—World Freedom Day

by Robert Morrison

May 10, 2010

Left wing folks are forever proclaiming world days for this and that. World AIDS day is December 1st. Earth Day, of course, is April 22nd. Id like to propose May 10th as World Freedom Day.

Thats the day in 1940 that Hitlers panzers crashed through weak French defenses and began a powerful drive that would bring them into Paris itself in less than six weeks. The German army had bled and died for four years in World War I, unable to achieve that goal. The world was stunned by the speed and ferocity of the Wehrmachts attack in 1940.

So what has this to do with World Freedom? It so happens, in a coincidence that historian John Lukacs calls a spiritual pun, that Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of England also on May 10th. He was, in a sense, the last man standing.

Exhausted, disheartened, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign that fiery May 10th. He had seen his hopes for appeasement go up in smoke. He had been dragged with great reluctance into declaring war against Hitler on September 3, 1939.

Chamberlain had followed that half-hearted move with months of a phony war in the West while Hitlers forces crushed the brutalized Poles. Hitler was determined to wipe out Polish resistance. His dive bombers pulverized beautiful Warsaw. The brave Poles fought fiercely, but their outmoded equipment was no match for Hitlers Luftwaffe. He had even equipped his Stuka dive bombers with sirens on their wings—to sow terror among the panicked civilians he made his special targets.

But instead of striking boldly into Germany across a weakly defended border while Hitler was busy murdering Poles, Chamberlain contented himself with dropping leaflets on Germany. Once, when a Royal Air Force bombardier failed to cut the twine that bound a bundle of leaflets, he was reprimanded. That heavy bundle might have hurt someone on the ground—in Germany.

When Chamberlain thought he might get to Norway first and head off a threatened invasion of that neutral Nordic country by Hitler, he boastfully told the House of Commons Hitler has missed the bus. Hardly a war cry. Hitler rallied and beat the British to Norway, marching almost unopposed into Oslo. Hitlers shock troops invaded—behind a German oom-pah band. Chamberlain was doomed. A clamorous debate in the House of Commons revealed that he had lost critical support in the ruling Conservative Party.

Forced into resignation, Chamberlain would have preferred handing off to his equally appeasing Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax. The King and Queen, the majority of the Conservative Party, and the entire British Establishment vastly preferred Halifax, too. But Halifax recognized that, as a Member of the House of Lords, he could not effectively direct a government whose Cabinet sat in the House of Commons. In an outdoor meeting in the garden of No. 10 Downing Street, Halifax took himself out of contention. For once, he later wrote, Winston was silent. The Prime Ministers red leather box would come to him, almost by default. Winston had been in the political wilderness for a full decade. He was now sixty-five years old. Many people in England—and America—thought his time had passed.

I felt was if I was walking with destiny, Churchill later wrote, that all my previous life had been but a preparation for this hour and trial. Soon, Churchill would preside over the Miracle of Deliverance we know as Dunkirk. There, over a week in late May, more than 340,000 British and French troops were evacuated, saved from destruction by the rampaging German army. The English Channel, normally stormy year `round, was a smooth as a mill pond. Halifax had asked for a National Day of Prayer. Churchill, still unsteady in the saddle, had to give in to him on that.

Leaving all their equipment behind them, the evacuating troops clambered aboard warships, fishing boats, ferry boats, sailboats, anything in England that could float. When they came home to Old Blighty, their island home, they refused to act whipped. They were cheered as if they had won a great victory. Behind them on the beaches of France was all their equipment.

Throughout that summer of 1940, Churchill rallied the British people with his stirring rhetoric.

Invasion seemed imminent. Then, in July, the German air force began its raids. They would come almost every night for nine months. Blitzkrieg killed 60,000 civilians in Britain in World War II.

Still, Churchill remained defiant. There would be no truck or parley with Hitler. Halifax hopes for a negotiated settlement would be quietly voted down then cast aside. In defeat, defiance, was Churchills watchword, In victory, magnanimity. It would be five long years until total victory. Churchill and Britain would survive. He would walk over the charred remnants of Hitlers bunker in occupied Berlin.

Americans that summer of 1940, separated by 3,000 miles of ocean, watched all this in wonder. Britain had seemed so weak, so decadent in the 1930s. But when the life of the nation—and the freedom of the world—was at stake, Winston Churchill spoke to the hearts of the people. As President Kennedy would later say: He marshaled the English language and sent it into battle. Today, May 10th, which deserves to be memorialized as World Freedom Day, we Americans can thank God for the life and work of Winston Churchill. He saved our freedom, too.