Keep the Tree of Liberty refreshed

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

libertytreeThese words from the Declaration of Independence are familiar to most Americans (I hope). They’ll be prominent in the media and during Fourth of July celebrations this week. Some may even read the next few sentences.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

But few will read the rest of this paragraph:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

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Moon landing anniversary

When I was a kid, I was a great fan of the U.S. space program. I kept newspaper clippings of all the launches. I vividly recall watching the moon landing on TV from my living room at Kincheloe AFB in Michigan (Ok, I was coming off a night shift, so I missed the actual landing!!)

Today is the 43rd anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s famous stroll. I hope my grandchildren will be able to witness the first Mars landing, by a privately-funded venture, in their lifetime.

Watch the landing in Google Earth.

Independence Wasn’t Won on the Fourth

We’ll all celebrate July 4 as the day America gained our independence from Great Britain.

Except that this is not true.

The Continental Congress actually declared independence on July 2, which is why John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that from that day on “the Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival." 

We celebrate July 4 as Independence Day because that’s the day the Congress approved Thomas Jefferson’s master work, the Declaration of Independence.

But a document, no matter how lofty and inspiring the words, doesn’t make anything so. The truth is that it took more than six long years of bloody war for the United States to win independence.  Remember, the fighting actually began a year before the Declaration.

America actually won her independence on Oct. 19, 1781 when Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.

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America’s First ‘War of Choice’

As far as I know, there isn’t a book entitled “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the War of 1812.” There should be. This week marked the 200th anniversary of the beginning of that conflict, yet there has been barely a mention in the news media about it.

A cursory look at the background and history of the War of 1812 gives you a clue why. Despite being later billed as America’s Second War for Independence, it was no such thing. The War of 1812 was America’s first “war of choice,” notes Jefferson Morley. Richard Hofstadter, one of America’s most notable historians, called it a “a ludicrous and unnecessary war.”

It was instigated by the rabble-rousing of politicians and Congressman, who historians labeled “war hawks,” who wanted to conquer Canada and subjugate the Native American nations on the western border of the United States.

The alleged casus belli for war was the impressment of U.S. sailors by the British. Yet the British ended that policy five days after war the United States declared on June 18. And the first major American military action wasn’t at sea, but on land, an attempt to conquer Canada.

All three attempts on Canada were utter and complete failures, primarily due to the ineptness and incompetence of the American commanders, but also because many of the state militias, to their credit, refused to invade another country.

If someone were to write a politically incorrect guide to the War of 1812, it would include some of these points as well:

Impressment was a common practice of the Royal Navy, especially during wartime, and most men impressed were taken off British merchant ships. But the practice was also used by the Continental Navy during the American Revolution.

The Battle of New Orleans, the most famous battle of the war which made Andrew Jackson a national hero, was fought after the peace treaty had been signed.

Both the French and the British harassed American shipping during the Napoleonic Wars. In fact, in the early 1800s, other war hawks were clamoring for war with France.

By European standards of war, the United States lost because the British burnt our capital.

The first attempt by a group of states to secede from the Union occurred during the war – in New England.

The treaty of peace did not mention impressment, the alleged cause of the war, or involve any territorial changes. It was basically a status quo ante bellum (return to the state of things before the war.)

The Guilford County Courthouse flag, popularly thought of as having flown at that Revolutionary War battle in North Carolina, actually was probably a state militia flag used during the War of 1812.

 

Further reading:

America’s First Neocon War
Happy Birthday, War of 1812
War of 1812 on History.com

The First American Flag

Today is Flag Day. According to tradition, Betsy Ross sewed the first United States Flag, 13 red and white stripes with 13 white, five-pointed stars in a circle on a blue canton. But there is little historical evidence to back up that story.

Some sources (here and here) believe that our first flag was actually designed by – are you ready for this – a Congressman, Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey.

While there are no historical records of the design, this is the most common depiction.

640px-Hopkinson_Flag.svg

Six-pointed stars were commonly used on flags of that period, including Gen. George Washington’s headquarters flag throughout the War for Independence.

There’s also an historic l record of the bill Hopkinson gave Congress for his design. One of the reasons I like this story is that his fee was a keg of ale (or wine). There’s no record he was every paid, however. So on Flag Day, I will hoist one for Francis Hopkinson.

The Revolution continues

On Independence Day 2009, I can’t think of any better words to write than to quote the Founders …

“The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution. (John Adams)

“If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.”  (Thomas Jefferson)

“The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.” (James Madison)

… and even Abraham Lincoln.

“If by the mere force of numbers a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might, in a moral point of view, justify revolution.”

Which is another way of saying:

“The tree of Liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” (Thomas Jefferson)