Tag Archives: United States

Historian’s Almanac for July 4, 2014


  July 4 being a holiday, I find myself with a little free time to think about why so many of my fellow citizens get excited.  July 4 is for many like all other holidays, an excuse to take a day off from their daily, and often boring, routine, to laugh, play, and eat without worrying about tomorrow.  For others, another holiday is but another opportunity to make money off the former.

Let us not forget that other group of our fellow citizens who are denied the enjoyment of leisure, because they must labor for “Ole Masssa,” helping him separate the more fortunate from their hard-earned money.  Holidays are for many just one more day in the daily struggle for survival.  An elderly gentleman who grew up in rural Mississippi during the first half of the 20th century told me that for him July 4 was just another day in the cotton field.

July 4 is an important day of remembrance in the life of American civil religion.  It is a day to celebrate and relive patriotic myths.  Much of what most Americans believe happened on July 4, 1776 is just that, myth.  It just didn’t happen the way our parents said it did.

The Continental Congress did not sign the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.  Yes, I know that seeing is believing and you have seen the painting by John Trumbull depicting the members of the Continental Congress signing the Declaration of Independence, but that is just an example of “putting a spin on the news,” 18th century style.  As historian David McCullough states in his Pulitzer Prize winning biography of John Adams, “No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia.”

The historical truth is that the Continental Congress voted on the colonies’ independence on July 2.  For those who want further proof, the PENNSYLVANIA EVENING POST reported:  “This day the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies Free and Independent States.”  History contradicts Jefferson and Adams, both of whom said the signing took place on July 4.  But we are not surprised to learn that those two honorable politicians were capable of telling a lie, or should I say, “correcting” the historical record?

John Adams expected July 2 would become the day for celebrating America’s independence.  In a letter to his wife Abigail, he expressed his belief that July 2, 1776 would be celebrated as the greatest moment in American history.  “It ought to be commemorated,” he wrote, “as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.  It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

As for Thomas Jefferson being the author of the Declaration of Independence, there is both truth and falsehood.  Jefferson received the commission only after both George Washington and John Adams refused it.  Jefferson was a great admirer of the English philosopher John Locke and “borrowed” much of what he wrote from Locke.  In fact, Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence sounded so much like Locke that James Madison commented “The object was to assert, not to discover truths.”

Pointing out that much of our traditions associated with July 4 are patriotic myths is not meant to in any way diminish the importance of our ancestors’ struggle for independence or their accomplishments.  The United States is not all that we would like for it to be, but we need only watch the evening news to be grateful that we live here rather than most parts of the world.

In closing, I wish to note a few other events that occurred on July 4 in past years.  Both Jefferson and Adams died on July 4, 1826, and James Monroe died on July 4, 1831.  The deaths of both Jefferson and Adams on July 4, 1826 were taken by many as a sign of God’s providence in the founding of the United States.  If that be true, then the fall of Vicksburg to Union forces on July 4, 1863 was a sign of God’s judgment on the Confederate States of America.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

Historian’s Almanac for November 2, 1213

Harry S. Truman (1884 – 1972), 1945 – 1953 the...

l would be negligent if I did not take time to comment on several notable historical events that occurred on November 2.  So, not wishing to be guilty of such a grievous offense, may I call your attention to the following?

On this date in 1884 that Harry S. Truman was born in the little town of Lamar, Missouri.  It was more than a month later that his parents, John Anderson and Martha Ellen Truman were able to agree on a name.  The county clerk, having grown tired of waiting, chose to register the new infant without any name.  A first name was not difficult to decide on.  “Harry” was to honor his maternal uncle, Harrison Young.  But what was to be little Harry’s middle name?

The dilemma facing John and Ellen was which grandfather to honor, his paternal grandfather, Anderson Shipp[e] Truman, or his maternal grandfather, Solomon Young?  Choosing one over the other would only complicate things Harry as well as his parents.

The solution was simple.  Harry’s middle name would be simply “S” for both grandfathers.  Thus it is technically incorrect to refer to the 33rd President of the United States as Harry S. Truman, since the “S” is not an abbreviation, but in fact his middle name.  However, since Harry S Truman always signed his name Harry S. Truman, so does everyone else.

Daniel Boone

It is the birthday of Daniel Boone, one of America’s great folk heroes, and a legend in his own time.  Boone fought for the British in the French and Indian War, as did George Washington, and against them in the American Revolution, as did Washington.  Daniel Boone was a consistent failure in every business venture he undertook, but a brilliant success and legend as a frontiersman.

Boone married Rebecca Bryan in 1856.  They had ten children.  One grandson became the first white man born in Kentucky.  Daniel Boone died on September 26, 1820, just a few weeks shy of his 86th birthday.  He was laid to rest next to Rebecca who died March 18, 1813.  Their graves remained unmarked until the mid-1830s.  “All you need to be happy,” said Boone, “is a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife.”

And finally, it is the anniversary of the first and only flight of the “Spruce  Goose,” the largest plane ever built.  Made of birch, not spruce, the monster plane has a baggage compartment large enough to hold two railroad boxcars.  It was the brainchild of Henry Kaiser and Howard Hughes.  Hughes piloted the plane on November 2, 1947, as it soared seventy feet above the earth for a distance of one mile in less than one minute.  Those who wish to see this aviation wonder will find it on display in McMinnville, Oregon.

To view a newsreel of the Spruce Goose’s only flight, click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGNyAd2uffg

Until next time be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.


Historian’s Almanac for October 28,2013

It was 51 years ago today, 28 October 1962, that the world did not come to an end, and we were granted a reprieve.  Thanks to President John F. Kennedy’s refusal to yield to those around him who were advising him to launch a preemptive strike on the Soviet Union, the world’s two super powers pulled back from the brink of a nuclear holocaust.  At no time in history, either before or since, has the world come so close to unleashing a fiery tempest on earth that would rival the cauldron of hell.

On October 14 pictures taken by U-2 spy planes verified the existence of Soviet medium range missiles on the island of Cuba, just 90 miles from the southern coast of the United States.  President Kennedy informed the American people of the danger in a nationwide television address on the evening of the 21st.  Two days later, on the 23rd, the president ordered a quarantine of Cuba.  Naval vessels were given orders to intercept Soviet ships en route to Cuba.  The following day the Strategic Air Command was put on the highest alert ever.  Nuclear war, and perhaps the end of civilization itself, appeared eminent.

There are various scenarios in literature of the world ending in some great fiery cataclysm.   In Norse mythology it is Ragnarök , the last battle marking the doom of the gods and the end of the world:  “Surtr will fling fire in all directions. Ásgarð and Miðgarð and Jötenheim and Niflheim will become furnaces. The worlds will burn and the gods will die. Men, women, and children will die, giants will die, monsters will die. Birds and animals will die. The earth will sink into the sea.”  Many Christians believe that there will be a great climatic battle between the armies of the Antichrist and the armies of the Lord.

The nuclear holocaust that appeared likely 51 years ago would have rendered the whole world like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  But it didn’t happen.  The dogs of war were not let loose.  Instead, Aleksandr Feklisov (alias Fomin), a AKGB operative based in the Soviet Embassy, met at the Occidental Restaurant with John Scali, an ABC News correspondent.  Together they worked out an agreement by which the crisis could be ended without either party loosing too much face.

On October 27, President Kennedy assured Khrushchev that the United States would not invade Cuba.  The following day, October 28, Nikita Khrushchev announced that he had reached an agreement allowing for the removal of the missiles.

On this day in 1886, President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.  The Hon. William M. Evarts gave the presentation address.  His longwinded and very boring speech was cut mercifully short when the sculptor, Frdéric Bartholdi, who was to pull the lever releasing the veil covering the statue, did so before Evarts finished.  The cheers from the crowed convinced Evarts the sit down.

In 1919 Congress enacted the Volstead Act providing for enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment which stated that “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”  Not until the present Congress have our elected representatives displayed such folly.

In 2009, Angela Merkel was sworn in for her second term as Chancellor of Germany.  Little did she know at the time that the American National Security Agency was listening in on her personal cellphone conversations.  Should she need to settle an argument with her husband over what he or she did or said on any given day or night, she need only check with the clerk on duty at the NSA, likely to be an inexperienced individual without a security clearance working for a private contractor.

It is the birthday of the English novelist Evelyn Waugh, who said, “There is a species of person called a ‘Modern Churchman’ who draws the full salary of a beneficed clergyman and need not commit himself to any religious belief.”

Until next time be good to all of God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

Historian’s Almanac for August 17, 2013

 It was on August 17, 1786 that one of America’s favorite folk heroes, Davey Crockett was born.  As a frontiersman, he earned the nickname, “King of the Wild Frontier.”  Davey Crockett’s achievements have been forgotten, like those of many frontiersmen in America’s history, were it not for two things, his death and a television series.

Crockett was elected three times to Congress, but lost his bid for reelection in 1832.  Somewhat bitter, he made a speech in front of the Madison County courthouse in Jackson, Tennessee, in which he expressed his anger at what he felt was a betrayal.  “Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me,” Crockett told his audience, “you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”   He did, where he died at the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, in his forty-ninth year.

Davey Crockett was a bigger than life hero in his own lifetime.  But it was the 1950s television series by Walt Disney that turned him into a legendary figure in buckskin suit, coonskin hat, and holding a long rifle.  Both the television series and the hit song, “The Ballad of Davey Crockett,” can be seen and heard today.

It was also on this day in 1877 the William Bonny, better known as “Billy the Kid,” shot Frank “Windy” Cahill.  Cahill was an oversized blacksmith who enjoyed bullying the seventeen year old Billy.  When Cahill called Billy a pimp, Billy called Cahill a son of a bitch.  The massive Cahill jumped on the much smaller Billy and began beating him.  Billy pulled a gun and shot Cahill, who died the day after. 

Billy discovered he liked killing, and soon earned for himself a reputation as a coldblooded killer.  His career came to an end on July 14, 1886, when he was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett.

And I must not fail to mention the birthday of Mae West, born Mary Jane West  1893 (d. 1980).  She was an actress, singer, playwright, and, but is best remembered as a Hollywood sex idol known for her witticisms:  “I’m no model lady.  A model’s just an imitation of the real thing.”  “When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.”

 Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.

Historian’s Almanac for August 6, 2013

 On this day in 1926, the first feature-length motion picture with sound, Don Juan, starring the immortal John Barrymore was being shown at Warner Theatre (a.k.a. Piccadilly Theatre) in New York.  A ticket cost $10.00, that’s approximately $130.00 in today’s dollars, to see the nearly three-hour-long spectacular.  The first motion picture with sound was actually shown at the Paris Exposition of 1900.

 It’s the birthday of Andy Warhol (1928-1987) known as the “Prince of Pop.”  Warhol was one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.  In 1961 a friend suggested that he paint something like a soup can.  He did. In 1962 Warhol had his first art exhibit in a gallery in Los Angeles.  He displayed 32 paintings of Campbell soup cans, one for each type of soup.  Warhol sold the entire set to an art dealer for $1000.  The dealer later sold the 32 small canvases for $15 million.  A signed, numbered, and authenticated print of a Campbell Soup can be purchased for around $1,200.  “An artist,” said Warhol, “is somebody who produces things people don’t need.”

 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law, thus turning the once solid Democratic South over to the Republican Party.

In 1945, the United States carried out what many consider to have been the greatest war crime of the Second World War.  A B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.  The debate over the motive for dropping the bomb, and a second one on Nagasaki just three days later, will never end.  The horror of it is vividly portrayed in John Hersey’s novel Hiroshima and in the graphic novel Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, a survivor.

Finally, while thinking about the anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, I was reminded of a USA program to explode an atomic bomb on the moon.  After the Russians launched their Sputnik satellite in 1957, American military leaders became fearful that the Russians might do to us what we did to the Japanese.  The result was a project called “A Study of Lunar Research Flights,” nicknamed “Project 119.”  It was intended to impress the Soviet leaders with America’s military might.  Physicist Leonard Reiffel was placed in charge of the project.  He was assisted by a graduate astronomy student by the name of Carl Sagan.  The event was to take place in 1959, but was abandoned, when someone suggested that it might possibly harm people on earth, other than the Japanese or Russians, we might assume.

Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.

Historian’s Almanac for Augusst 4, 2013

It is the anniversary of The Saturday Evening Post’s début as a weekly in 1821.  It continued publication until its demise in 1969, due in part to a successful lawsuit against the magazine for libel.  The suit claimed that an article in the Post alleged that Georgia Bulldogs football coach Wally Butts and Alabama head coach conspired to fix football games. 

Billboard Magazine introduced its “Hot 100” chart.  The first number one song on the Hot 100 chart was Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool.”  The oldest musician to occupy the number one spot on the Hot 100 was Louis Armstrong, born on this day in 1901.  Satchmo’s recording of “Hello Dolly” sold more than a million copies.  “There is two kinds of music,” said Armstrong, “the good, and the bad.  I play the good kind.”

A ban on all recordings by the Beatles went into effect on most radio stations in the United States in 1966.  The drastic action was taken in response to John Lennon’s comment that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. 

A twenty-two cent postage stamp honoring the Nobel Laureate William Faulkner went on sale at the post office in Oxford, Mississippi in 1986.  Ironically, Faulkner was fired as the postmaster of the same post office in 1924.   William Faulkner, who once said “Pouring out liquor is like burning books,” was named after his great-grandfather William Clark Falkner, who was gunned down in the town square of Ripley, Mississippi.

And finally these words from Faulkner:  “I decline to accept the end of man… I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among the creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.

Myths Presented as History

The Coming Revolution : Signs from America's Past That Signal Our Nation's Future, DR. Richard Lee

On a positive note, Richard G. Lee is a good writer, one who writes with passion.  I am not surprised to discover that he is a popular preacher and one who makes the rounds as a featured speaker at conservative pep rallies.  According to his own assessment of his accomplishments, he is a popular figure within the conservative evangelical subculture.  Honorary doctorates from such conservative organizations as Liberty University hang on his wall.  Frankly, he is a raising pop star among middle-class “God and country” patriots.

His most recent book, THE COMING REVOLUTION:  SIGNS FROM OUR PAST THAT SIGNAL OUR NATION’S FUTURE (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, 2012) is a good example of how the tradition of American civil religion can be easily mistaken for legitimate history.  Such books are perfectly harmless, even entertaining, so long as the reader keeps in mind that what is being presented as history is largely popular myth on the order of young George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. 

It would be futile for me to point out the numerous errors that occupy virtually every page.  Those who purchase and enjoy reading this and similar books are convinced that in some fashion or other the God of the Bible has orchestrated the history of the United States. They want to believe, contrary to all the evidence presented by trained historians, both Christian and non-Christian, that the so-called Founding Fathers were Christians consciously trying to create a Christian nation in the New World.  No amount of reason based upon solid scholarship will change their thinking.

As an anecdote to this and many similar books written by individuals with little or no formal training as historians, I recommend THE WHITES OF THEIR EYES:  THE TEA PARTY’S REVOLUTION AND THE BATTLE OVER AMERICAN HISTORY by Jill Lepore (Princeton University Press, 2010).  Dr. Lepore has an earned doctorate in American studies from Yale University, and is a Professor of American History at Harvard University.  Her scholarship has won for her the Bancroft Prize and the honor of being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.  She is not the author of popular historical fiction.  She holds the credentials that entitle her to write about American history.  She knows how to do historical research and recognize the difference between fact and fiction.

Other works I would recommend include THE FAITH OF THE FOUNDING FATHERS by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006), AMERICAN GOSPEL:  GOD, THE FOUNDING FATHERS, AND THE MAKING OF A NATION by Jon Meacham (Random House, 2006), THE MYTH OF A CHRISTIAN NATION by Gregory Boyd (Zondervan, 2007) and WAYWARD CHRISTIAN SOLDIERS by Charles Marsh (Oxford University Press, 2007).

I have observed elsewhere that the LEFT BEHIND series by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye are perfectly harmless, even entertaining, so long as the reader keeps in mind that they are science fiction novels loosely based on the biblical book of Revelation.  Likewise, I believe that books like THE COMING REVOLUTION by Richard G. Lee are interesting to read, so long as the reader keeps in mind that they are historical fiction, not history.

Where is My Stimulus Package?

My friend Harold is one of those “good old boys,” born, raised, educated, and working in the great state of Mississippi. He talks tough and looks every bit like the hard working man that he is.  When he asks how I or my family is doing, I know that he is sincerely concerned.  Just this past Friday, Harold emailed me about an opportunity he feared I might overlook.

“Just wanted to let you know,” he wrote, “today I received my 2011 Social Security Stimulus Package.  It contained two watermelon seeds, cornbread mix, a prayer rug, and ten coupons to KFC.  The directions were in Spanish.  Hope you get yours soon.”

I immediately fired off a reply thanking him for his concern and assured him that I would be on the lookout for an email from our generous Uncle Sam.  Since Harold’s last name starts with “M” and mine with “W,” it is not unusual for communications from our well-to-do uncle to reach Harold before they reach me.

It is possible, I suppose, that my Stimulus Package was sent by “snail mail,” and is therefore “in the mail,” as they say.  Uncle Sam is known for his thrift.  Some folks I know go so far as to say that he is “penny wise and dollar foolish.”  I’m not sure if I agree.  I always try not to be judgmental.  “Think before you speak.”  “Get your facts right.” That’s what I say.

Harold’s good news of an impending gift from our uncle does, however, present me with a bit of a dilemma.  Having given some thought to how I might make the best use of my Stimulus Package, I can see where there may be some problems.  “Don’t be caught day dreaming when the good fairy comes,” that is what granddaddy use to say.

What am I to do with the watermelon seeds? All of my land is in some sort of government land bank.  According to my accountant, I cannot plant anything on it.  If I do, I will lose my government check for the non-use of my productive land.  Right now it is growing a nice dependable “green” crop.  We all want to “go green” these days, as you know.

I do not want to appear unconcerned about the need for economic recovery.  So, I am willing to try out planting those watermelon seeds.  I will need, of course, some assistance from the government.  The soil will need to be tested for its suitability for growing watermelons.  I understand there is a government agency that will do that for me, free of charge. 

I will have to purchase some new farm equipment to actually plant and harvest the crop, assuming that all goes well with the weather, etc.  I am trusting that there will be some help in that area with tax write-offs, depreciation tables, and an interest free “small” business loan, etc. 

Also, I will have to assume that those troublesome federal agents will not try to interfere with my efforts to provide financial assistance for the needy Hispanic immigrants in my area.  Let us not have any of that shit about “illegal” immigrants.  If they are here, they must be legal.  Right?  The federal government won’t have let them in if they weren’t, would they? 

I might point out that we have a very nice Super Walmart nearby.  Since it opened a few years ago, all of those small local businesses that were charging such high prices have closed.  It may be true, as some liberal critics have charged that the abandoned buildings have made the town look more like a mini Detroit than Mayberry, but we must accept progress. 

There shouldn’t be any problem with my workers living off of the wages I pay.  The wages are, after all, determined by the market forces at play regarding illegal immigrant labor.  I do not wish to brag, or pat myself on the back, but picking watermelons in the healthy open air is much better for them than working long hours at either Walmart or a chicken plant.

Did I mention how competitive the watermelon market is at present? Watermelons of substandard quality are being brought in and sold at ridiculously low prices by Walmart and other mass marketers.  I must assume that Congress will authorize a suitable watermelon subsidy to cover my losses.  I do want to be patriotic.  I do want to do my part in the economic recovery, but as you know, no one wants to take risks these days, at least not until the economy recovers.

What the hell am I to do with the cornbread mix?  I am grateful that they did not just give me surplus cornmeal, flour, etc., like the government did in my granddaddy’s time.  But why should I have to add the water, mix it, and bake it at my own expense?  What does Uncle Sam think?  Just because he gets everything free—e.g., health insurance, full pension (even if he works only one day), travel allowance (or even a chauffeured ride to Walmart)—does not mean that I can afford to hire a cook.  It would make more sense to send me some sort of food stamps or a plastic card that I could use at Walmart to get my cornbread muffins already made and packaged.   Need I point out that more people would be employed by doing it that way?  What does it take to get those politicians in Congress to think?

Prayer rug?  Well, the wife has been praying a lot lately.  The house does need some work done on it, especially after that bad wind blew some shingles off of the roof.  I have applied for some of that government emergency aide, but FEMA seems to be dragging its feet on getting it to me.  When it comes in, we plan to not only repair the roof, but also replace the rug in the living room and remodel the kitchen.  You know what they say, “If the wife ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

As for the KFC coupons, ever since those Yankees bought the colonel out, God only knows where they get that stuff they call “chicken.”  It may come from Vietnam, bird flu virus included at no extra cost.  Besides, we eat catfish (also from Vietnam) and suck crawfish heads here in Mississippi.  Nothing brings the community together better than a good gospel sing and dinner on the grounds with fried chicken and catfish, boiled crawdads, and hushpuppies.

Our country is going through a difficult time.  Ever since FDR foisted his socialist New Deal on the nation, we have been burdened with high taxes.  When will people wake up and admit that if you force higher taxes upon the rich, there will be less wealth to trickle down to the needy?

Do not fear.  We will get through this econnomic slump, so long as they don’t mess with our Second Amendment rights.

Now where is that Stimulus Package?

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.