Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Spun Out

It's time. Posting hereabouts had been tailing off for months (years?). I've drifted farther from the profession because of other interests and life in general--only so much time in the day and all that--and other interests have taken to dominating my time. Don't get me wrong--I still love history (more on that below), but I don't have it in me--and haven't for a while--to get into the big History debates and keep up with a field in which I'm not an official, gate-keeper approved practitioner. So I'm letting Spinning Clio spin down to stand still. Yet, while she'll lie dormant, I believe there is still some value in the ol' girl and I've taken the editorial liberty of putting what I think are the best posts "up front" and will allow her to exist for posterity.

As for me, while this blog has served its purpose, I'm still history blogging in a more focused way, over at Burgundians in the Mist. So if you're interested in things Late Antiquity/Early Medieval, please check it out.

Finally, my thanks to all who've come around and added their two bits. I'd especially like to thank Ralph Luker--the "History Blogfather"--and Sharon Howard--Keeper of the Carnivals--for all that they've done for history on the web.

Introduction to Historical Method: Index

Series originally posted in Summer 2005

Below you will find a 5-part series entitled Introduction to Historical Method. The bulk of the information was taken from the notes and readings of a course in Historical Methodology taught by Professor Donna T. McCaffrey at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. As such, Dr. McCaffrey deserves full credit for the majority of the information provided as well as for developing the main structure of the way the information has been presented. However, I have amplified some topics and added my own touches--such as providing all of the hypertext links--where I've seen fit.

Additionally, the section devoted to "The History of the Development of Historical Method" relies heavily on Gilbert Garraghan's A Guide to Historical Method, which was a constant reference both throughout Dr. McCaffrey's course and the consolidation of these posts. Additionally, two works by John Tosh--Pursuit of History and Historians on History--have been utilized.

Finally, I realize it is somewhat ironic that a work explaining the proper use of method and technique in the study of History does not itself include proper citation. Simply put, I decided that this was the best, most web-readable way to present this information.

Part 1 : What Is History
Part 2 : The Meanings of History
Part 3 : The History of Historical Method
Part 4 : Practicing The Historical Method
Part 5 : Certainty in History

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I like Medieval Women (Especially Queens)

Original post 3/7/2006

So, why does a conservative guy have an interest in medieval women's history? It doesn't immediately fit the stereotype, does it? I suppose that a negative assumption could be made that a conservative is interested in medieval women's history because he probably enjoys reading and writing about a time when women were "in their place," so to speak. But that would be a bad assumption if the historian you're talking about is me. I just like the period and--simply put--medieval women are a bit of a mystery (much like all women I might add...). Also, I have two daughters and I guess I'm always on the lookout for good historical role models! What particularly intrigues me is the way that those of the ruling class used their power--either subtley or overtly--to throw their weight around. Anyway, seeing as how the next Carnivalesque is of the Ancient/Medieval sort and that--since it is Women's History Month--the theme of the aforementioned carnival is going to be Medieval Women's History, I thought I'd throw a couple recommendations out there for those unfamiliar with the topic and also write a bit about the power of medieval queens.

Where to start?

For those with an interest in both women and Medieval History, why not start with a woman who did excellent Medieval History (including some dealing with Medieval women): Eileen Power. Her Medieval People is a fine jumping off point for anyone interested in the period and her Medieval Women is a compendium of some of her work in that area.

For a more updated overview of the topic, I'd recommend A Small Sound of the Trumpet: Women in Medieval Life by Margaret Wade LaBarge. LaBarge has done a fine job of summarizing and also offers a valuable list of sources in both notes and a short but good bibliography. For a more focused study on the intellectual and religious aspects of the lives of medieval women, I'd recommend Elizabeth Petroff's Medieval Women's Visionary Literature. I've read these two books cover to cover, and though some of Petroff's work can be a bit dry for my taste, both are valuable works. Additionally, more popular books on Eleanor of Aquitaine or Heloise and Abelard are out there, though I've never read them (mostly because both are such well-covered topics). Finally, one cannot forget the work of Christine de Pizan, a magnificent woman of her time whose writings have spawned many a scholarly work.

Medieval Queens

LaBarge's chapter on Medieval Queens in Trumpet, which focused on the societal and political role of queens from the 12th to the 15th century, was one of my favorites in the book. As LaBarge explained, the queens of this era did not have the same amount of power as that wielded by their "mothers" during the Late Antiquity/Early Middle Ages (EMA). To generalize a bit, queens during the EMA were one of a small number of influential advisors at court and thus had a greater advisory role to the king. During the High Middle Ages of the 12th-15th century, royal courts had become more complex and the influx of new officials tended to reduce the role of the queen in governmental matters.

Also by this time, the Germanic traditions of either portioning the kingdom amongst heirs or selecting the ablest heir to rule from a pool of royal relatives had evolved--some would say devolved--to the more linear method of primogeniture. Thus, in the EMA, if a king died with heirs still too young to rule, the queen would often serve as regent and de facto ruler until the heir(s) came of age. It was she who was faced with staving off the attacks of royal uncles against her progeny. (See the Merovingians, for example). She was the safeguard for the hereditary desires of her king. The importance of her role in these matter was reduced by the predictiveness and general acceptance of the practice of primogeniture. The previously commonplace internecine warfare between royal uncles and the heir apparent became less common within a kingdom. As such, there was no need for a mother to serve as a safeguard for her blood. Their legitimacy as heirs was accepted.

Thus, the primary importance of the Queen shifted from being a royal consort who could wield power in her own right to being the vehicle through which the royal blood was continued. Her womb was her most valuable commodity. Yet, an individual queen’s actual power still depended on her relative strength of position as king’s consort and her own personal power, which both tended to be greater the smaller the size of the royal court. Not to be forgotten was the large part that wealth--whether it be traditional wealth in the form of land or treasure or political wealth (connections, connections!!!)--played in establishing her regal gravitas.

The attractiveness of a queenly candidate lay in the priorities of her suitor. For example, Henry I of England made a political decision to marry Edith (or Matilda) of Scotland. She was of Anglo-Saxon extract and the Norman Henry hoped a marriage to her would solidify his legitimacy to the throne. Then there is the case of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was rich due to her holdings in the duchy of Aquitaine and was an attractive prospect to both Louis VII of France and Henry II of England, both of whom she married. (Here's where I have to mention Lion in the Winter--the original, not the remake--as an excellent and entertaining medieval movie.)

Although primogeniture reduced the likelihood that a queen would be appointed as regent, this did not mean that such a situation was necessarily avoided. Eleanor of Aquitaine and her granddaughter Blanche of Castile are both examples of strong women who served as effective regents who ably ruled their respective kingdoms while waiting for the heir to mature.

Conversely, some queens, such as Isabella of Angouleme, were wisely prevented from being appointed regents by royal councils. It was Isabella, who, after being denied the regency of her son Henry III of England, returned to France and decided to replace her ten year old daughter as wife of Hugh Le Brun, count of La Marche. She used her cache as mother of the King of England to obtain lands and lordships for her offspring by Hugh, which leads one to doubt that she would have had held the good of the Kingdom of England paramount had she served as regent. Still others were unsuccessful regents and managed to lose the stewardship of the kingdom. An example of this would be Margaret of Anjou, queen during the English civil war between the Yorkists and Lancastrians. Margaret may have fought bravely against rebellion, but she was also arrogant and suffered from a lack of political realism. She eventually died without a crown and penniless. These examples show that queens did still play an important political role, for good or ill.

The two sisters from Provence, Eleanor and Marguerite, who married Louis IX of France and Henry III of England respectively, provide examples of women who exhibited both the good and bad characteristics of the medieval queen. They could be gracious and compassionate, but they also put great stock in wielding their own power and upholding their rights as individuals and queens. Both often worked tirelessly on behalf of their sons and husbands, but were also extremely partisan. Marguerite used her position to try to exact revenge upon her political enemy Charles of Anjou while Eleanor persuaded Henry III to give gifts to a bevy of her associates.

The careers of these women point to the often dichotomous nature of having a woman with a strong personality wielding significant power. A strong queen coupled with a strong king could be a dynamic duo of regal power for a kingdom; a sort of royal dream team. However, if a king was not strong enough as compared to his ambitious queen, he may have found that the good of the kingdom had been sacrificed for the good of the queen and her followers.

Finally, LaBarge also gave two examples of contemporary idealizations of the medieval queen. One was in the form of the chess allegory (De Ludo Scachorum or De Moribus Hominum ed de Officiis Nobilium Super Ludo Scaccorum), written by Jacobus de Cessolis around 1300; the other was that of Christine de Pizan as outlined in her A Medieval Women's Mirror of Honor: The Treasury of the City of Ladies, written around 1400. (In fact, LaBarge prompted me to attempt to do a comparison of my own between these two works, which perhaps I'll delve into another time). Regardless of which ideal was to be upheld as the more accurate in the abstract, both were often difficult to uphold in reality. As a result, we are left with this final impression: for good or bad, the impact made by a medieval queen upon her kingdom, while often defined by the particular political environment in which she found herself, was primarily a function of the strength of her personality.

Christianity as a "Founding Religion" Disavowed: What DID the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli Say (and when did it say it)?

Originally posted 5/13/2005

In a February 3, 2005 piece entitled "Our Godless Constitution" posted on The Nation's web site (and subsequently included in their Feb. 21, 2005 issue), Brooke Allen called upon a bit of history, the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli, to buttress the "unreligious" side of the "separation of Church and State" debate. The use of history in political rhetoric is nothing new and, by this time, we should be well-accustomed to those on both sides of this debate pulling quotes, often selectively and sans context, to support their arguments. The point of this post is not to enter the weeds of the Church/State debate, but to delve deeper into a particular piece of history to discover if it warrants the mantle it has been given.

As chance had it, I was doing research in the historical era of the Barbary Wars when I came across Allen's column that cited a 1796 Treaty with the 19th century "terrorist" nation of Tripoli. According to Allen, this official document was unique and important because it expressly disavowed any relationship between the Christian religion and the U.S. government. As Allen wrote:
In 1797 our government concluded a "Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, or Barbary," now known simply as the Treaty of Tripoli. Article 11 [ed.- hyperlink mine] of the treaty contains these words:

"As the Government of the United not in any sense founded on the Christian religion--as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity of Musselmen--and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

This document was endorsed by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering and President John Adams. It was then sent to the Senate for ratification; the vote was unanimous. It is worth pointing out that although this was the 339th time a recorded vote had been required by the Senate, it was only the third unanimous vote in the Senate's history. There is no record of debate or dissent. The text of the treaty was printed in full in the Philadelphia Gazette and in two New York papers, but there were no screams of outrage, as one might expect today.
This was enough to persuade some historians, such as Ralph Luker, that, at least once, the U.S. had specifically stated there was a distinct wall between church (read: religion) and state. However, while I could not say upon first reading if any of the history cited by Allen was wrong, I did have a problem with the Allen's implication--supported by the observation that it was a "unanimous vote" with "no record of debate or dissent" and there were no public "screams of outrage"--that such widespread national acceptance of the Treaty indicated that the nation viewed itself as not being "in any sense founded on the Christian religion." Frankly, it didn't ring true to me and seemed to be an overreach.

Allen seemed to be dismissing much of the larger, practical and political context surrounding the Treaty--especially the sense of urgency felt by all who wanted to keep the young nation out of foreign entanglements and keep the commerce rolling--in an attempt to use the Treaty as an example of the Founders making a grand statement of America's irreligious ideals. I decided to look deeper into the history of the Treaty with the aim of filling in some of the spaces I believed Allen skipped. Admittedly, in this I was motivated by my own belief that the U.S. does indeed have a Christian heritage that was acknowledged as invaluable by the same men that Allen implied had said the opposite. However, while my initial motivation for further investigation may have been ideological, the result is a cautionary tale concerning the use of history as a rhetorical tool and believing historical facts used in contemporary context simply because they support our own ideological bent.

I began my search the way we web-savvy historians often do: I Googled "Treaty with Tripoli" and "Christian" and followed the first link, which led me to this essay, written by Jim Walker, which referenced the 1796 Treaty as support for Walker's larger argument that America was founded as a secular state.

According to Walker, Article 11 of the Treaty had also proven to him that the U.S. Government, as evidenced by an official document, had proclaimed it was not a Christian nation. Walker also provided additional details concerning the American Agent, Joel Barlow, who drew up the treaty:
The preliminary treaty began with a signing on 4 November, 1796 (the end of George Washington's last term as president). Joel Barlow, the American diplomat served as counsel to Algiers and held responsibility for the treaty negotiations. Barlow had once served under Washington as a chaplain in the revolutionary army. He became good friends with Paine, Jefferson, and read Enlightenment literature. Later he abandoned Christian orthodoxy for rationalism and became an advocate of secular government. Joel Barlow wrote the original English version of the treaty, including Amendment 11. Barlow forwarded the treaty to U.S. legislators for approval in 1797. Timothy Pickering, the secretary of state, endorsed it and John Adams concurred (now during his presidency), sending the document on to the Senate. The Senate approved the treaty on June 7, 1797, and officially ratified by the Senate with John Adams signature on 10 June, 1797. All during this multi-review process, the wording of Article 11 never raised the slightest concern. The treaty even became public through its publication in The Philadelphia Gazette on 17 June 1797.

So here we have a clear admission by the United States that our government did not found itself upon Christianity. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, this treaty represented U.S. law as all treaties do according to the Constitution (see Article VI, Sect. 2).

Although the Christian exclusionary wording in the Treaty of Tripoli only lasted for eight years and no longer has legal status, it clearly represented the feelings of our Founding Fathers at the beginning of the U.S. government.
I noted that Allen and Walker both relied on the same facts, with almost the same exact phrasing, to buttress their argument. Subsequent digging revealed other instances in which the Treaty, and Barlow's role in it, have been used to support the notion that, because there was no public outrcry against the treaty, there must have been widespread acceptance by the American people that the United States was, indeed, not a Christian nation. In fact, it would seem that the story surrounding the Treaty with Tripoli has become a sort of mantra for the church/state separatists. Thus, I came to believe that Allen's piece was simply a restatement of these historical "talking points."

While Allen and Walker were both factually correct, they did not provide some of the historical context surrounding the drafting and ratification of the treaty. In contrast, Rob Boston, who also wrote of the Treaty (in 1997) in a similar attempt to support claims identical to Allen and Walker, provided more historical context as to Barlow's more diplomatic, instead of contra-religious motivations for inserting the particular clause in Article 11.
While in Algiers, Barlow met Richard O'Brien, one of the first seamen captured by Barbary pirates. Barlow sought and won permission to send O'Brien to Europe to borrow money to pay the tribute, but on the way O'Brien's ship was captured by pirates from Tripoli. O'Brien, under Barlow's direction, used the time to negotiate the famous Treaty with Tripoli and forwarded it to Barlow for redrafting and approval.

On Nov. 4, 1796, Barlow concluded negotiations on the Treaty with Tripoli with Jussof Bashaw Mahomet, Bey of Tripoli. The treaty was forwarded to the United States. By the time it reached America, a change of administrations had occurred. President John Adams submitted it to the U.S. Senate for ratification.

In a brief note dated May 26, 1797, Adams wrote to the Senate, "I lay before you, for your consideration and advice, a treaty of perpetual peace and friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and subjects of Tripoli, of Barbary, concluded, at Tripoli, on the 4th day of November, 1796."

Unfortunately, no record of the negotiations leading to the treaty exist. It's not known how Article 11 found its way into the document. Other treaties negotiated at the same time with Algiers and Tunis do not contain similar clauses. This has led to speculation that the provision may have been inserted at the insistence of officials in Tripoli, who wanted some assurance that the United States would not use religion as a pretext for future hostilities.

The Muslim regions of North Africa would have had good reason to be concerned about this issue, given the centuries long conflict between Islam and Christianity. Muslim leaders resented their treatment at the hands of the officially Christian countries of Europe. Tripoli's leaders may have viewed the United States as a mere extension of "Christian" Great Britain and expected similar tensions over religion.

To be sure, Islam was considered an exotic religion to most Americans at this time. Although Jefferson celebrated the fact that his Virginia Bill for Religious Freedom extended its protections to "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, the infidel of every denomination," the fact is that Muslims were rare in 18th century America if there were any at all - and most Americans continued to view Islam as a strange, even sinister, faith.

For their part, North Africa's Muslims had little love for Christianity. In 1784, Barbary pirates captured the U.S. schooner Maria and took the crew and passengers to Algiers, where they were paraded through the streets and jeered as "infidels" before being imprisoned.

In 1793, Algerian pirates captured the cargo ship Polly, plundered it and imprisoned the 12-man crew. The Algerian captain informed the American captives they could expect harsh treatment "for your history and superstition in believing in a man who was crucified by the Jews and disregarding the true doctrine of God's last and greatest prophet, Mohammed."

Incidents like this underscore the current of religious tension between the United States and the Barbary region, but they do not prove conclusively that Article 11 was an attempt to mollify those pressures.

The reality is that no one is certain how Article 11 got into the Treaty with Tripoli. "It's an interesting question - why this was put into the treaty," says Robert J. Allison, a Suffolk University history professor who authored the 1995 book The Crescent Obscured: The United States and the Muslim World. . .[and whose] research did not turn up any definitive clues, but, he adds, "I don't think you can ascribe a treaty to any one author. There are too many interests at play. Whether it came from Barlow or Tripoli will remain unknown."
Thus, the "Christian" clause seemed to have an unknown source.

Further poking around brought me back to the Avalon Project at Yale, where I found a relevant excerpt concerning the provenance of the now-mysterious Article 11:

The translation first printed is that of Barlow as written in the original treaty book, including not only the twelve articles of the treaty proper, but also the receipt and the note mentioned, according to the Barlow translation, in Article 10. The signature of Barlow is copied as it occurs, but not his initials, which are on every page of the fourteen which is not signed. The Humphreys approval or confirmation follows the translation; but the other writings, in English and Spanish, in the original treaty book, are not printed with the translation but only in these notes.

It is to be remembered that the Barlow translation is that which was submitted to the Senate (American State Papers, Foreign Relations, II, 18-19) and which is printed in the Statutes at Large and in treaty collections generally; it is that English text which in the United States has always been deemed the text of the treaty. [ed.- the American State Papers, Foreign Relations, II were published in 1832, as can be seen from the title page].

As even a casual examination of the annotated translation of 1930 shows, the Barlow translation is at best a poor attempt at a paraphrase or summary of the sense of the Arabic; and even as such its defects throughout are obvious and glaring. Most extraordinary (and wholly unexplained) is the fact that Article 11 of the Barlow translation, with its famous phrase, "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion," does not exist at all. There is no Article 11. The Arabic text which is between Articles 10 and 12 is in form a letter, crude and flamboyant and withal quite unimportant, from the Dey of Algiers to the Pasha of Tripoli. How that script came to be written and to be regarded, as in the Barlow translation, as Article 11 of the treaty as there written, is a mystery and seemingly must remain so. Nothing in the diplomatic correspondence of the time throws any light whatever on the point

A further and perhaps equal mystery is the fact that since 1797 the Barlow translation has been trustfully and universally accepted as the just equivalent of the Arabic. Its text was not only formally proclaimed as such but has been continuously printed and reprinted as such; and yet evidence of the erroneous character of the Barlow translation has been in the archives of the Department of State since perhaps 1800 or thereabouts; for in the handwriting of James Leander Cathcart is the statement quoted above that the Barlow translation is "extremely erroneous"; and while the Italian translation of the Arabic text on which that endorsement appears, presents its own linguistic difficulties, largely owing to its literal rendering and its consequent non-literary character as Italian, it is none the less in essence a reasonable equivalent of the Arabic. Indeed, allowing for the crudeness of the original Arabic and the changes which always result from a retranslation, it may be said that a rendering of the Italian translation into English gives a result which is in general not dissimilar from the English translation of Doctor Snouck Hurgronje of 1930; and of course the most cursory examination of the Italian translation would show (assuming the Italian to be even an approximation of the Arabic), that the Barlow translation, as Cathcart wrote, was "extremely erroneous"; but nothing indicating that the Italian translation was even consulted has been found, and it does not appear that it was ever before 1930 put into English. Some account of the Italian translation as a document is given above.
With so many questions surrounding the provenance of Article 11, it seemed a flimsy foundation on which to build an argument. Assuming that the Treaty of 1796 originally included Article 11, I find it entirely plausible that the disassociation from the Christian religion was made to assuage the "Musselmen" who definitely held the power in the negotiation and didn't themselves refrain from alluding to God in this instance or others. Thus, it seemed to me, it was much more likely that the disavowment was included in the text of the treaty as a diplomatic maneuver and less likely that Barlow took the opportunity to proclaim the U.S. as an irreligious nation. Even if Barlow had a higher purpose, he did so unilaterally and it was doubtful that the language was inserted as some sort of statement of U.S. government policy.

As Walker had earlier explained, "the Christian exclusionary wording in the Treaty of Tripoli only lasted for eight years and no longer has legal status." For example, in the Treaty with Tripoli of 1805, Article 14 contains the following language:
As the Government of the United States of America, has in itself no character of enmity against the Laws, Religion or Tranquility of Musselmen, and as the said States never have entered into any voluntary war or act of hostility against any Mahometan Nation, except in the defence of their just rights to freely navigate the High Seas: It is declared by the contracting parties that no pretext arising from Religious Opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the Harmony existing between the two Nations; And the Consuls and Agents of both Nations respectively, shall have liberty to exercise his Religion in his own house; all slaves of the same Religion shall not be Impeded in going to said Consuls house at hours of Prayer.
To my eye, this section clearly called upon the familiar rhetoric of American religious tolerance to assuage "Musselmen" fears of holy war, but there was no claim that America was not founded as a Christian nation. In fact, variations of this clause showed up a few more times [see here and here] and none stated the U.S. was not founded as a Christian nation.

I concluded that the exclusion or inclusion of God in a Treaty had much more to do with the "facts on the ground" as interpreted by the parties involved in the Treaty making than in either or both making a philosophic or political statement. Thus, perhaps Boston was correct both in focusing on Barlow's role and on the American public's reaction (or lack thereof) to the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli.

However, whether or not Barlow did act unilaterally has been conveniently dismissed. Rather, what has been deemed important by the strict Church/State separation supporters was the lack of "evidence" of an outcry against the "official" disavowment of Christianity. Boston explained how subsequent arguments against religion and the state called upon the text of Article 11.
In the end, how Article 11 got into the Treaty is less important than the reaction it received in the United States. As Borden notes, "What is significant about the Tripoli treaty is ...its ready acceptance by the government. Not a word of protest was raised against Article 11 in 1797 ....Whatever their personal feelings on the question of religious equality for non-Christians in particular states, all concurred that Article 11 comported with the principles of the Constitution."

In the Senate, the treaty barely caused a ripple. According to The Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the United States Senate, the treaty was read aloud on the floor of the Senate and copies were printed for the senators. No discussion or argument about the document was recorded, and the vote in favor was unanimous.

In recent years, some "Christian nation" advocates have argued that Article 11 never appeared in the treaty. They base the claim on research conducted by a Dutch scholar, Dr. C. Snouk Hurgronje, published in The Christian Statesman in 1930. Hurgronje located the only surviving Arabic copy of the treaty and found that when translated, Article 11 was actually a letter, mostly gibberish, from the bey of Algiers to the ruler of Tripoli.

But Hurgronje's discovery is irrelevant. There is no longer any doubt that the English version of the treaty transmitted to the United States did contain the "no Christian nation" language. Article 11 appeared intact in newspapers of the day as well as in volumes of treaties and proceedings of Congress published later, including the Session Laws of the Fifth Congress, published in 1797, and in a 1799 volume titled The Laws of the United States. In 1832 Article 11 appeared in the treaty when it was reprinted in Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States 17891815, Volume 11- a tome that can still be examined today at the Library of Congress.

Furthermore, in Hunter Miller's definitive 1931 work on treaties, Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, he notes that "the Barlow translation is that which was submitted to the Senate is the English text which in the United States has always been deemed the text of the treaty." It's clear that the English version of the treaty, which Congress approved, contained the famous Article 11. Why the article was removed from the Arabic version of the treaty, who did it and when remains another mystery.
However, the Avalon project has the full extract of Hunter Miller's notes in which he discusses his examination of the original treaty.
The first to be noted is that which contains the original treaty. It is a book in the literal sense. There are fourteen pages of Arabic text; all of these are right-hand pages. In the Arabic order, the first of them is the "note" of the money and presents, mentioned, according to the Barlow translation, in Article 10 of the treaty; the second is the "receipt," also mentioned in that article, and this page, like the first, is sealed with the seal of the Dey of Algiers. Then come the twelve pages of the treaty; the preamble is on the first of these with Article 1; and there is one article on a page, except that the script on the page between Articles 10 and 12, is, as fully explained in the annotated translation of 1930, not an article at all. The last of those twelve pages has also the seals and superscriptions, of which there are eleven In all, including one for the Dey of Algiers. The fourteen pages of Arabic text are reproduced above in left-to-right order of pagination; but the twelve treaty pages come first and then the "receipt" and then the "note."

In the original treaty book, on the corresponding fourteen left-hand pages, each signed or initialed by Joel Barlow, Consul General at Algiers, is a purported English translation of the Arabic of the respective pages opposite.

It is the Barlow translation which is here printed following the Arabic text and in the same order, first the twelve articles of the treaty, then the "receipt" and the "note," after which is the approval of Col. David Humphreys, then Minister at Lisbon, dated February 10, 1797; as written in the original document.

The Barlow translation of the treaty proper is that which has been printed in all official and unofficial treaty collections ever since it appeared in the Session Laws of the first session of the Fifth Congress, in 1797, and in The Laws of the United States, Folwell ea., IV, 44-8, printed in 1799; but in those treaty collections, as, for example, in 8 Statutes at Large, 154-56, the "receipt" and the "note" (there called "notice") are omitted; and the first source of the texts of those collections was clearly a now missing copy, as is shown by the fact that they include a certification of the text as a copy; that certification is signed by Joel Barlow under date of January 4, 1797, and it is neither in the original document nor in the Cathcart copy, which is particularly described below.[ed.-further down he details his examination of the "Cathcart copy" of the treaty and notes differences].
Thus, as we continue to decipher the provenance of Article 11, those documents published well after the original treaty, such as the Annals of Congress or the American State Papers do not prove that Article 11 was original or even included in the Treaty at the time of its debate and signing. As to the Session Laws of the Fifth Congress (1797) and the The Laws of the United States (1799) mentioned by Boston, it is clear that these were based on Barlow's edition of the Treaty, which I would argue is of questionable veracity. Further, it seems that Boston has selectively taken from Miller's notes to support his argument without including points made by Miller that could call into question Barlow's credibility.

More digging on the web found reference to the Session Laws only in articles that put forth essentially the same argument made by Boston. Of these, the earliest was written in 1994 by William Edelen, who mentioned the Session Laws without providing a source and pointed to Folwell's 1799 edition of the Laws of the United States, which I confirmed existed by going here. Additionally, Boston himself pointed to another source, though it also seemed to selectively quote Miller's notes.

The bottom line is that a singular phrase--possibly belatedly inserted--in an obscure Treaty has been used time and again by those who claim that the Founders, particularly John Adams, proclaimed the U.S. to be a secular state. I think the historical "facts" are not so clear cut, as I have demonstrated, and thus it is much too thin a strand on which to hang an argument.

Yet, these "secularists" [forgive the overused label] relied heavily, and perhaps this is a more convincing point, upon the supposition that the public didn't react negatively to the Treaty with the Christianity-disavowing clause. Nearly every writer mentioned that the treaty was published in the Philadelphia Gazette (found here or here?) and 2 New York newspapers, but, other than Walker, who pointed to the Philadelphia Gazette on 17 June 1797, there was no scholarly citation to support the oft-repeated claim. This begged the question: Why are only these three newspapers cited? From whence did this claim originate? [I'd be interested to see if anyone could provide more contemporary proof of the claim. Unfortunately, I didn't (and don't) have access to those newspaper resources and, for the sake of continuing my investigation, I trusted the veracity of the claims, albeit reluctantly.]

In the end, without contrary evidence, I decided to accept, with reservations, that the 11th Article was indeed present during ratification and that it was published with nary a protest. The question that follows is: why no protest? Perhaps another (brief) explanation concerning the other, practical factors that may have contributed to a lack of an uproar is worthwhile.

It is important to consider the logistics of treaty making in the late 18th Century. If the Congress disliked the wording of the 11th clause, and they decided to strike it, the Treaty would have had to have been renegotiated. This would have included further delays as ships carrying messages crossed the ocean to and fro. Meanwhile, more U.S. ships would have continued to be vulnerable to pirate raids. It also must not be forgotten that there were American sailors being held hostage in Tripoli and their families were imploring the government to do something to return their loved ones home. With all that, it is safe to assume that President Adams, the Congress and the American people wanted the Treaty ratified and sent back to Tripoli as soon as possible. Thus, I believe that it is more believable that politicians and citizens viewed the Treaty for what it was--a practical document crafted to meet an urgent problem. If the U.S. had to "disavow" Christianity as a founding principle to a bunch of infidel "Musselmen," so be it: the crisis had been resolved and the sailors were coming home.

In the end, my investigation reminded me that reliance solely upon "the document" can lead to flawed conclusions, or at least conclusions with a flawed emphasis. That the Treaty contained the clause in official documents is irrefutable. Yet, as I think I've shown, to make what was essentially a throwaway line of questionable provenance contained within the 11th section of a relatively obscure treaty a key pillar in the argument that Christianity was disavowed as informing the founding of the U.S is more rhetoric than history. Once again, Clio was spun.

NOTE: I originally wrote a shorter and less-well researched post on this subject on February 11, 2005, but have since deleted that original post from Spinning Clio. However, if you're curious to see how this later piece compares to that first, I cross-posted the original at my personal blog here. Just remember, it's the equivalent of a rough draft!

UPDATE: Thanks to Ralph Luker for mentioning this post and for his comments. While I'm fairly certain we don't see eye-to-eye ideologically, I've always been impressed by his historical open-mindedness and willingness to revisit topics in pursuit of historical "truth," even if it may differ from his own preconceptions. Ralph also made a point I think important. I may have implied that Ralph agreed with Allen's article in its entirety when that wasn't so. As Ralph explained:
I disagreed with much of Allen's article. Underlying our founding documents is a long history of wisdom about human nature and human communities that led the founders to insist on a mixed system of checks and balances. Among other things, that wisdom traces back through a Calvinist sense of governance and human obligation to a biblical sensibility about human nature. Having said that, it still seems to me that the unanimous adoption of this language by the United States Senate in 1797 is remarkable and important to recall. It seems unthinkable that it might be adopted without objection in today's Senate.
Ralph also offered some of his own analysis
One of Marc's interesting findings is that the surviving Arabic version of the Treaty of Tripoli does not include the language cited above in the official versions of the Treaty as published in English. Rather, in the surviving Arabic version of the Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11 is "actually a letter, mostly gibberish, from the bey of Algiers to the ruler of Tripoli." It is otherwise described as "a letter, crude and flamboyant and withal quite unimportant, from the Dey of Algiers to the Pasha of Tripoli."* What Marc doesn't see, I think, is that, if the language of the published English version of the Treaty's Article 11 doesn't appear in the only surviving Arabic copy of the Treaty, that undermines his claim that the language is there only to assuage the Muslim rulers of north Africa. It appears to me that there's need for additional research on the subject.

* In fairness to Marc, neither of these characterizations of Article 11 in the surviving Arabic version of the Treaty of Tripoli is his own. The prejudicial language is from old secondary sources.
Ralph makes a valid point regarding the inconsistency of my argument regarding Article 11. To clarify this point, this piece was sort of a running commentary, so at first I took Article 11 to be original and came up with my pragmatic explanation based on this supposition. As Ralph correctly pointed out, if Article 11 did not exist in the Arabic, then there was no need to include the disavowment to assuage any Muslim fears. I failed to go back and properly explain this. Thus, if Article 11 existed in the U.S. but not the Arabic, then, as intimated by Walker, Boston, et al, Barlow probably inserted the language on his own for different purposes. Finally, I wholeheartedly agree with Ralph that further investigation should be done, particularly by someone who has access to the contemporary newspapers of the time.

The discussion that was prompted by Ralph's analysis of my post is also worth a read, particularly the points made by Oscar Chamberlain
I think there is an important distinction between the idea of a godless constitution and a constitution that is not Christian. There was a near universal belief in some sort of intelligence shaping the universe (too many examples of intelligent design, perhaps?).

However, it is very clear that a majority in the constitutional convention plus all those who supported the first amendment did not want the United States government to be designated as Christian, or any subdivision thereof.

This was not an anti-religious impulse, except perhaps for a few. I think that the majority recognized that an appeal to any religion beyond that to a vague supreme deity would have pernicious and divisive consequences.

Think about religious belief in the 1780s and 90s. Would a majority have accepted the United States enshrining Catholicism as part of its identity? I don't think so. Once they started dividing bad Christianity from good Christianity could they have agreed on anything without chaos and dissension marking the founding of the constitution?

Again, I don't think so. They understood that the more clearly the United States identified itself officially with any religion, that the more divisiveness they would cause. Thus, while the language in the treaty is strikingly and unusually frank, I don't think the belief it expressed was uncommon.
Oscar also provides further context, but his main point is worth remembering. Even if they consciously disavowed Christianity, the Founders certainly did not disavow religion itself as a key component of the foundation of the U.S.

Science versus Humanities

Originally posted 9/9/2004

A bit of a brouhaha developed some time ago as the result of a post by the blogger Michael Williams in which he questioned whether those who pursued careers in scientific fields could just as easily have chosen a career in the humanities, but the reverse is not true. William's post was prompted by an article, "Science for Smart, English for Dumb," by Eli Lehrer. Justin Katz has taken on the task of debating Williams, and the two have gone back and forth on the matter.

I think I can bring a unique perspective to this debate. I have a B.S in Engineering, currently do a lot of database management and am currently pursuing and M.A. in History. So, you see, I have a foot planted firmly in both camps. To properly discuss this, I'll use "ME" as an example. So let's crank up the way back machine, shall we?

I did well in high school, regardless of subject matter, generally. However, I was more proficient in the Humanities than in Math and Science. Why? I simply enjoyed them more, particularly History. But guess what. . . History didn't pay. Here's where I agree with Williams. I decided to pursue an Engineering degree and did so. I went to an fairly industry specific school, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and took extensive classes in Mechanical and Electrical engineering. Both obviously heavy on "science," and being familiar with both types of engineering required to be an adequate shipboard engineer. Yet, in which classes did consistently receive better grades? You guessed it, the Humanities, in this case English and History.

The course load at the Academy was heavy (averaged about 20 credit hours/quarter) because one year is spent at sea, training and working for slave wages as a "cadet." But I stray from my point. With at least 15 credit hours a quarter centered on science, and only 3 or so in the Humanities, the focus was obviously on the former. Given the goals of the school, it seems obvious that the Humanities Dep't. existed to provide the bare requirements for undergraduate education. Regardless of their relative unimportance in the overall realm of the Academy's educational manifesto, I embraced these courses and did appreciably better in them than in my harder, science based courses of my major. This could be because I liked them more, or because they were simply easier. Looking back, it seems like both would apply.

Why is this so? I think it's because the Humanities, especially at the undergraduate level, can lend themsevles to liberal levels of interpretation for student work. However, I also think that, as in my case, if students are interested in the topic, have decent reading comprehension and writing ability, then they will succeed. I guess I can say that I found humanities courses easier, but that may have more to do with me being more intrinsically interested in the subject matter than in any "intelligence" on my part.

Moving on, I've worked in the Engineering field now for 13 years. I started out applying my skills by working on ships, making beaucoup dollars and living life large. I then met the right girl, got married, and "came ashore," taking a job at a small engineering consulting firm in Rhode Island. I have since picked up computer skills, including a smattering of C++ and Delphi along with healthy doses of database administration skills. But this isn't a resume, merely an illustration of the point that I continue to enhance my scientific background. While still working, I decided to pursue my first love, and am currently striving for an MA in History. It is going well and I have come to appreciate the amount of thought and intellectual dexterity and depth required for a career in this particular branch of the humanities.

Given this as background, I think the essential point is that Humanities at the undergraduate level are not held to a high standard. The nature of subject matter results in a testing apparatus that leaves much open to interpretation, especially in these days of Literary Criticism (the bastardization of it, not the concept) and Post-Modernism that, though the latter is slowly fading away, still are firmly entrenched in the Ivory Tower. Conversely, the structural nature of the sciences and the fact that there is generally only one answer to any specific problem does not lend itself to such interpretation. Those who can learn the rules and apply them as they solve problems, succeed. This kind of structural intelligence is probably different than that required of the humanities. Neither is better, but the former is more measurable and quantifiable, thus trusted, while the latter's lack of measurables can lead to skepticism of quality.

Today's society offers more opportunity for immediate financial gain for those in scientifc fields as the results speak for themselves. The sciences all have nationally recognized standards. To be confirmed as qualified, a student or professional must pass a test. The test is, generally speaking, the same regardless of whether you graduated from Colgate, MIT or the University of Rhode Island. There are no similar, standard tests for the Humanities fields, to my knowledge. There is no way to quantify and compare. All qualification relies on reputation on the institution from which one graduated. There are no cold, hard facts to say "qualified," it's all based on perception formed by institutional reputation and subjective analysis of scholarly work.

Speaking now of the field of History in particular, to attain the highest degree, a PhD, requires one to basically sacrifice all life for a decade. After taking a year or two to get an MA, a PhD candidate must jump through the hoops of a particular program, usually embarking on independent study, serving as a lackey for his "advisor" by "assisting" him in teaching undergratuate courses, attending mandatory seminars and generally becoming indoctrinated into "the way we do things." All for about $10000 a year. Then it takes anywhere from 3-10 years to complete a Doctoral thesis. Gee, how could one resist? Obviously, money cannot be the motivating factor here. As a working man with a family, it is simply impossible for me to pursue a PhD after I receive my MA. That's OK and it's not really the point of this piece.

What is the point is that perhaps what is needed is for more "science" guys like me to cross the Rubicon and enter the Humanities, especially after we have put some years between our undergrad work and our current careers. In my courses, I have come across many students, either just out of undergrad or current teachers, who have never left the Academy and have a particular, often shared, view of the world. They don't realize that academia isn't the real world, and people who have worked, particularly those who have attained a level of professional success, can do a vital service by infilitrating those ivory towers, knocking down a wall or two and allowing in some fresh air. I've tried to do so, without stepping on toes and I think it is a necessity.

The Humanities aren't simply about being well-read or informed, more importantly, they help to hone skills of critical thinking. I don't mean logical thinking here, as can be found in the sciences, I mean critical; there is a difference. It's not about cultural snobbery, it's about better knowing ourselves as humans. It's about getting beneath the MTV/short attention span society and refusing to take everything at face value based on an image or conventional wisdom. It doesn't allow you to make assumptions about anything. Critical thinking doesn't have to be deconstructionist, it's most valuable contribution to society is that it can help to strengthen valued themes or institutions and the like. Once subjected to rigorous analysis informed by 2,000 years of Western Civilization and, now, Eastern and even Aboriginal if you wish "Civilization," cherished ideals such as religion or national history can emerge stronger. The Humanities are the certification societies of our culture. It's members just don't print out and send you a certificate. Yes, there is no concrete standard of measure or a priori concept. The Humanities deal with us, with Humans, and how we manifest what and how we think. Human is the root of the term, after all, and humans have Free Will, the great unknowable variable. No science has yet calculated a value for it.

Note: Originally posted here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Template: How to Get Historians Riled Up

Original post 3/31/07

Step 1: Some guy, a few thousand years ago, writes a lot of history, including a bit about some battle.

Step 2: Lots of people read the history and find that particular battle inspiring. Eventually, a pretty poor movie gets made about it.

Step 3: A comic book writer, er, "graphic novelist", using the movie mentioned in Step 2 as at least partial inspiration, creates his highly stylized interpretation of the same events. (Note: primary audience are teenage boys/young men).

Step 4: As a movie maker who has a background in horror films, (and who also saw how commercially successful another movie based on a "graphic novel" by the guy from Step 3 was) decide to make a movie based on that graphic novel (aimed at the teenage boys/young men) and not the more "historical" Step 1.

Step 5: Have a historian write the forward to the new novelization. Make sure the historian is routinely disparaged by many of his colleagues. Also be sure that the historian makes a few points about how some aspects of the film are, indeed, historical. This is important!!! It lays the groundwork for Step 7.

Step 6: With luck, the movie is popular with the simple-minded masses but receives mixed reviews from professionals (both critics and historians). Maybe it's because you left out that a bunch of actors were also involved? (Oh, not that kind of Thespian?)

Step 7: Watch as the long knives of Clio are drawn from scabbards and pointed at the guy in Step 5. At this point, a good old-fashioned--if only one-way--cat-fight ensues. (Reeowwrrr!) But who cares if its a one-way fight: lots of publicity is generated for the consumption of both the rubes and the thinking classes. (That means more money!)

Step 8: Continue to rake in millions from the unsuspecting public who just thought they were watching a sorta-historical, often campy, adaptation of a comic-book, er, "graphic novel" and didn't realize that it was really part of an ideologically driven conspiracy meant to instigate a new Crusade. (Or something like that).

Step 9: While counting money, thank all the people who actually took your simplistic comic-book-comes-to-life movie so seriously.

Step 10: Ask yourself: is there another sorta-historical comic book out there that could be a movie (or a series of them)? Can Step 5 historian write about it?

Series - French Canadians in the Civil War Era

Original post 6/22/2005

This was a 4 parts series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part4). The original introduction (also in Part 1) follows:

In "Non-Natives, the Military and 'Empire'," I wrote an elaborative commentary on a piece by Max Boot in which he proposed that illegal immigrants should be recruited for military service and in which he referred to some claims that mercenaries had caused the "fall" of Rome. I also mentioned another bit of Boot's "call to history," in which he wrote:
In the past, the U.S. military had many more foreigners than we do today. (During the Civil War, at least 20% were immigrants. Now it's 7%.) The British army, among many others, has also made good use of noncitizens. Nepalese Gurkhas still fight and die for the Union Jack despite not being 'culturally bonded' to it. No doubt they would do the same for the Stars and Stripes.
As it happens, I have done research on the French Canadian immigrants to New England during the Civil War era. Thus, prompted by a historian's natural desire to offer a historical example to compare and contrast with contemporary issues, I have decided to post my research in a series, beginning today.
What follows is a conflation of a traditional research paper with online links interspersed. Time prevents me from a thorough going-over, so any mistakes, misattributions or faulty citation (in short, "sloppiness") should be taken with a grain of salt. However, while I'm aware of some formatting inconsistencies, I ask that the reader pass over those: it's about the content, not the presentation. Nonetheless, it would be appreciated if legitimate oversights were brought to my attention. A final note: Boot wrote about illegal immigrants. To my knowledge, there was no such delineation between a "legal" and an "illegal" immigrant in the Civil War era. However, this is not to say there wasn't an idea of "desirable" versus "undesirable."

New Site - The Maine Journey: Experiences in Maine

Original post 1/11/09

For a couple years, I've been working off and on to complete a small side project. Today, I finally finished it up. I utilized the blog format to get it together, but it's not really a blog. Instead, it's more of a conventional web site, with a blog-style Comments section. I've explained why I chose to undertake this piece of history in the Introduction:
This website, The Maine Journey: Experiences in Maine, is a "virtual" reproduction of an actual field trip guide of the same name that was written and published for 7th Grade students from the towns of Etna, Dixmont, Carmel and Levant beginning in 1981. It was based upon the experiences of the students and staff during the 1980 Maine Journey as well as other information. The guide was written by Project Director Suzanne Smith of the Levant Consolidated School and Assistant Project Director Trudy Walo of the Etna-Dixmont school.

I moved to Levant, Maine in 1978 and attended the Levant Consolidated School in 1978/79. At that time, 5th grade students who lived in Levant then went to Caravel Jr. High School (now Caravel Middle School), which took 5th to 8th grade students from Levant and the neighboring town of Carmel (though Carmel had it's own 5th grade, too). Together, Carmel and Levant comprised MSAD (Maine Scholastic Administrative District) #23. The nearby towns of Etna and Dixmont comprised MSAD #38 and also shared a school. Both MSAD's were administered by the same School Superintendent.

Suzanne Smith began teaching at the Levant Consolidated School in September 1963 and was its principal for 30 years. She was not only the prime mover behind the Maine Journey, but also Director of the Levant recreation department. In this role, she did much to help my father obtain uniforms, bats and balls when he coached various youth baseball teams in the town. She cared about all facets of the lives of the kids of Levant and her interest in their lives continued well past the time they spent under her guidance. She was a regular attendee at the 8th grade and High School graduations of her Levant kids. Suzanne Smith passed away in June of 2005 (just a few days before her retirement). Shortly thereafter, I began to try to think of some appropriate way in which I could pay homage to this wonderful lady. That's when serendipity--or a larger force--lent a hand.

Though an engineer, I had always loved history and in 2003 I decided to pursue a Master's Degree in History at Providence College in Rhode Island (the state in which I currently live with my family). Shortly after Suzanne's death--as I was wrapping up my thesis work--I happened to be looking through some history books when I spotted my slightly tattered copy of the Maine Journey Field Trip Guide. Along with a flood of memories came a realization of the nature of the impact that Suzanne had on my life. I realized that her Maine Journey project was one of the significant educational experiences in my life. Further, I believe that the experience of traveling around the state in a school bus to learn about Maine life and history played a part in leading me towards a stint in the Merchant Marine and, eventually, to my going back to school for a history degree. As is so often the case, I never got a chance to thank her. Thus, I offer this small token of appreciation: A "virtual" Maine Journey.

The layout of this site is simple. I have reproduced--in the form of separate posts--the actual text and pictures from the guide as it pertains to a particular place that was visited--or was marked as a potential place to visit--during the Maine Journey. Please note that the original Maine Journey Field Trip Guide was written over 25 years ago and that many of the places visited and described (and prices charged!) back then have changed quite a bit. For instance, the paper industry in Maine has undergone immense change and most (if not all) of the original paper mills and Companies that were visited back in the 1980's have either closed down or have been swallowed up by larger companies. There are many listings with a "*", indicating they were not visited in 1980, which was the year prior to the publication of the guide. However, be assured that students did visit all of these places over the years.

On the right are relevant links to those sites. Some of the places have either undergone name changes or were incorporated into larger museums. Some simply ceased to exist. In general, I've made every effort to provide links to sites that I believe reflect the original places as much as possible. I've also taken the editorial license to remove references to specific people, phone numbers and addresses for points of contact that were originally provided in the Field Trip Guide.

In conclusion, "Thanks" to all of those educators and staff affiliated with the Maine Journey during its years of operation. The impact you had on innumerable students will not be forgotten. So, please feel free to leave a comment about these particular places or anything in general about Maine. Most of all: enjoy and learn.

A Positive Historical Baseline

Original post 3/30/2006

Peggy Noonan writes about immigration today. Her central point is that we are not doing a good enough job of explaining to the new immigrants the special and unique aspects of the U.S.
Because we do not communicate to our immigrants, legal and illegal, that they have joined something special, some of them, understandably, get the impression they've joined not a great enterprise but a big box store. A big box store on the highway where you can get anything cheap. It's a good place. But it has no legends, no meaning, and it imparts no spirit.
Noonan thinks that part of the fault lay with history teachers. In particular, those in secondary education.
Who is at fault? Those of us who let the myth die, or let it change, or refused to let it be told. The politically correct nitwit teaching the seventh-grade history class who decides the impressionable young minds before him need to be informed, as their first serious history lesson, that the Founders were hypocrites, the Bill of Rights nothing new and imperfect in any case, that the Indians were victims of genocide, that Lincoln was a clinically depressed homosexual who compensated for the storms within by creating storms without . . .

You can turn any history into mud. You can turn great men and women into mud too, if you want to.
That is true. No one is perfect, after all and when we focus on the unflattering characteristics and individual failings of historical figures in an attempt to make them more human, more like us, we sometimes obscure what brought them to our historical attention in the first place. And Noonan doesn't just blame the "nitwits" (as she calls them), those of us who engage in honest scholarship--" people who mean to be honestly and legitimately critical, to provide a new look at the old text" should also be aware of what we're doing.
They're not noticing that the old text--the legend, the myth--isn't being taught anymore. Only the commentary is. But if all the commentary is doubting and critical, how will our kids know what to love and revere? How will they know how to balance criticism if they've never heard the positive side of the argument?

Those who teach, and who think for a living about American history, need to be told: Keep the text, teach the text, and only then, if you must, deconstruct the text.
I'm sympathetic to her argument insofar as it relates to historical education at the elementary and, for the most part, the secondary school level. That's where we lay the historical groundwork and where we should avoid the overt or covert inculcation of historical cynicism into young minds. Leave critique's and deconstruction for the later years.

There is nothing wrong with first introducing a positive history to little kids who in today's day and age seem to not hear enough positive stories. In the grand sweep of our nation's history--although many things have "gone wrong"--I think most would admit that the U.S. has historically been heading in the right direction (I'm generalizing, not being deterministic). Recognizing this, we should establish a positive historical baseline from which older students can venture. When they get older, when they reach those teenage years when so many believe history is boring and their minds are looking for something new and exciting, that's when we should introduce them with "well, did you know this part of the story about such and such."

Introducing those historical shades of gray at a later age--when the kids are more able to deal with them--seems like a better idea than saddling youngsters with too much historical irony and cynicism. I think there's a way to positive way to contrast American ideals with America's historical reality. After all, every time the nation fell short there seemed to always be those in the background or in the minority who continued to strive to meet the ideals. America has not yet been a lost cause.

Lest we forget, most of us adults learned the nuances of our history only after we learned the "happy" basics that Noonan describes. I'd guess that many future historians came to love history in college because they enjoyed learning and discovering more details--good and bad--about the same old history that they thought they had already know. It seems like it worked for us. I'm not saying we should lie to the kids or focus on some triumphant narrative, but I think Noonan has a point. We should teach our kids to give their own nation and those who built it the benefit of the doubt. That's where we started and I'd say that historians have managed to do quite well.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

John Adams and the Problem of Contemporary Political Classification

Original post 7/12/08

NB: A version of this was first posted at Anchor Rising.

Providence Journal editorialist Ed Achorn had a piece yesterday on John Adams and recommended taking in the HBO mini-series that is now out on DVD (I hope to). Coincidentally, I had been thinking about Adams after listening to the Independence Day show of local radio talk-show host Matt Allen, during which he he read the entire Declaration of Independence and extolled the virtues of our great nation. (Full disclosure--contributors to another website I co-founded,, have a weekly spot on his show and occasionally are in-studio guests). The conversation was wide-ranging, and along the way he made an off-the-cuff remark along the lines that John Adams was a Democrat and Thomas Jefferson was a Republican.

Wha.....? I thought. I suspected it was based on the fact that Adams was a prominent member of the post-Revolution Federalist Party (along with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, incidentally), which advocated a strong central government. Given Matt's, shall we say, inclination against big government, I can understand why he'd think that anyone for a strong national government--no matter the time or place, I suppose--was akin to what we would call a contemporary, big government Democrat.

As it turned out, Matt was being a bit anachronistic--though knowingly so--by attributing the Federalist's desire to centralize power as the equivalent of today's conception of "big government." The one-off remark missed the historical context surrounding the rise of the Federalist philosophy of government (hey, it was a talk-show!), which was based on a belief that they urgently needed to strengthen and tighten the internal ties of their nascent nation so it could survive in a belligerent world.

As I discussed with Allen (briefly), Adams is considered by most conservatives to have been the first American conservative; one of their own, much less a Founding era Democrat! He wasn't interested in encroaching on the rights of the population or imposing arbitrary taxes or monetary redistribution or instituting a vast bureaucracy or creating programs to address every ill, whether real or perceived. In fact, neither were his political opponents, Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans. I guess the truth of the matter is that, in the Founding era, there really was no equivalent to the modern conception of a big-government Democrat. They came along with Woodrow Wilson and, later, FDR.

Here's some of that historical context I was talking about.

After the Revolution, it was becoming clear to many of the Founders that the Articles of Confederation simply didn't have enough teeth. The government they provided for was very weak and the particular interests of the various states trumped those of the nation to the detriment of all. European powers played the states off of each other and threatened to economically, or even militarily, divide and conquer the young nation. For example, on economic problem was the inability of the national government to place duties on imports. This was a key economic weapon against great powers like Great Britain who restricted imports from America. In 1781 Congress, under the Articles, asked the states for permission to enact duties, but all such actions required "unanimous consent" and--would you believe it--Rhode Island refused.

As for foreign affairs, with no national army, Great Britain made excuses for not abandoning their forts in the American west; with no navy, the Barbary Pirates attacked American merchant ships and put their crews into slavery; with no consolidated diplomatic "vision", virtually no national treaties could be signed (again, because of a high hurdle of approval) while individual states made their own treaties. The colonies had won independence together, but in their freedom, they were drifting apart as each state viewed itself as a sovereign nation. In reality, they were setting themselves up to be cherries ripe for the picking. The states had become their own worst enemies.

In the debate over the creation of a new government, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers to explain why the new Constitution, one that described a stronger central government than that of the Articles of Confederation, was required for a young and vulnerable nation. They were opposed by the Anti-Federalists, who argued against the centralization of power put in place by the Constitution. (Eventually, the Anti-federalist inspired Bill of Rights were thrown in as a compromise to get passage of the Constitution).

During this debate, Adams was in Great Britain, and was asked to hastily compile something to help convince the states of the wisdom of passing the new Constitution. His A Defence of the Consitution of Government of the United States of America helped elaborate further on the principles of the balance of power within government and how a more complicated government guided by laws was necessary to maintain the liberty so desired by the American people. (In this, he was informed by his own work as the chief personality involved in the drafting of the Massachusetts Constitution). A selection from Defence--in this case Adams' theory on the importance of property--is probably enough to show why many consider him a conservative:
Suppose a nation, rich and poor, high and low, ten millions in number, all assembled together; not more than one or two millions will have lands, houses, or any personal property; if we take into the account the women and children, or even if we leave them out of the question, a great majority of every nation is wholly destitute of property, except a small quantity of clothes, and a few trifles of other movables...if all were to be decided by a vote of the majority, the eight or nine millions who have no property, would not think of usurping over the rights of the one or two millions who have? Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty. Perhaps, at first, prejudice, habit, shame or fear, principle or religion, would restrain the poor from attacking the rich, and the idle from usurping on the industrious; but the time would not be long before courage and enterprise would come, and pretexts be invented by degrees, to countenance the majority in dividing all the property among them, or at least, in sharing it equally with its present possessors. Debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on the others; and at last a downright equal division of every thing be demanded, and voted. What would be the consequence of this? The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them. The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If "Thou shalt not covet," and "Thou shalt not steal," were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.
Sound like a modern day, "big government Democrat" (or "Republican" for that matter!) to you?

But it does get more complicated as we look away from political philosophy and towards actual politics. During Washington's first term as President, two factions emerged with different ideas and priorities as to how the new government should operate. Washington, Adams and Hamilton eventually identified themselves as Federalists, which wanted a strong army and navy, central banking (especially consolidation of state debt into national and the establishment of national credit), strong courts and also favored Great Britain in trade and foreign affairs. Jefferson and Madison would dub themselves Democratic-Republicans and they and their party opposed a strong central government, banking, a standing army--and especially navy--and looked to France for political and philosophical inspiration.

In reality, Washington mostly tried to stay above the partisanship. He was all about noblesse oblige and, as Father of the Country, he could pull it off (though he still came under some criticism for being too "kingly"). Hamilton was the heart-and-soul of the Federalist Party and leader of the so-called High Federalists, who, without pushing it too far, thought that Great Britain had the right idea with an aristocracy and all. For his part, as indicated above, Adams believed in the balance of power, but also in the necessity of a strong central government to facilitate the unification of the disparate colonies and factions when needed. Such was, according to Russell Kirk, Adams' "practical conservatism."

After the nasty election of 1796, Adams, who didn't get along with Hamilton and his allies, was a man very much alone as President. He was left to carve his own path during his single term. But with no allies in either party, he weathered a few crises (XYZ affair and the Quasi-war with France most notably) and served only one-term, losing to the popular Jefferson in the election of 1800 (sometimes dubbed the second revolution).

The legacy of John Adams is hard to encapsulate, and a scattershot blog post can't do him justice. But his writings and political philosophy as well as his determination in the face of personal unpopularity stand out for me. And I've got a soft spot because he managed to keep a foundering U.S. Navy afloat when so many, including Thomas Jefferson--who would later benefit from Adams investment in the Navy against the Barbary Pirates--wanted to sell it off. Adams believed in a strong national defense and strong financial institutions and a central government that could stand up to enemies "foreign and domestic." His idea of a strong national government was meant to deal with these issues, not to encroach into every aspect of Americans' lives.

ADDENDUM: Conservatives have long pointed to John Adams as the first prominent proponent of an American-style conservatism. Russel Kirk and Peter Viereck both wrote histories of American conservatism and each regard Adams as an American conservative touchstone. Many historians--Joseph Ellis, David McCullough and Richard Brookhiser come to mind--regard Adams as essentially conservative, too. They base their classification on Adams' on political thought as expressed in his voluminous writings.

The Encyclopedia Britannica offers a helpful and concise summary of Adams' political thought (the entry was written by Joseph Ellis):
Adams wished to warn his fellow Americans against all revolutionary manifestos that envisioned a fundamental break with the past and a fundamental transformation in human nature or society that supposedly produced a new age. All such utopian expectations were illusions, he believed, driven by what he called “ideology,” the belief that imagined ideals, so real and seductive in theory, were capable of being implemented in the world. The same kind of conflict between different classes that had bedeviled medieval Europe would, albeit in muted forms, also afflict the United States, because the seeds of such competition were planted in human nature itself. Adams blended the psychological insights of New England Puritanism, with its emphasis on the emotional forces throbbing inside all creatures, and the Enlightenment belief that government must contain and control those forces, to construct a political system capable of balancing the ambitions of individuals and competing social classes.

His insistence that elites were unavoidable realities in all societies, however, made him vulnerable to the charge of endorsing aristocratic rule in America, when in fact he was attempting to suggest that the inevitable American elite must be controlled, its ambitions channeled toward public purposes. He also was accused of endorsing monarchical principles because he argued that the chief executive in the American government, like the king in medieval European society, must possess sufficient power to check the ravenous appetites of the propertied classes. Although misunderstood by many of his contemporaries, the realistic perspective Adams proposed—and the skepticism toward utopian schemes he insisted upon—has achieved considerable support in the wake of the failed 20th-century attempts at social transformation in the communist bloc. In Adams’s own day, his political analysis enjoyed the satisfaction of correctly predicting that the French Revolution would lead to the Reign of Terror and eventual despotism by a military dictator.
By the way, Jefferson was decidedly pro-French Revolution, along with the rest of his party, the Democratic-Republicans. Ellis also wrote the EB entry forJefferson, which includes this bit about the Adams and Jefferson retirement correspondence:
The reconciliation between the two patriarchs was arranged by their mutual friend Benjamin Rush, who described them as “the North and South poles of the American Revolution.” That description suggested more than merely geographic symbolism, since Adams and Jefferson effectively, even dramatically, embodied the twin impulses of the revolutionary generation. As the “Sage of Monticello,” Jefferson represented the Revolution as a clean break with the past, the rejection of all European versions of political discipline as feudal vestiges, the ingrained hostility toward all mechanisms of governmental authority that originated in faraway places. As the “Sage of Quincy (Massachusetts),” Adams resembled an American version of Edmund Burke, which meant that he attributed the success of the American Revolution to its linkage with past practices, most especially the tradition of representative government established in the colonial assemblies. He regarded the constitutional settlement of 1787–88 as a shrewd compromise with the political necessities of a nation-state exercising jurisdiction over an extensive, eventually continental, empire, not as a betrayal of the American Revolution but an evolutionary fulfillment of its promise.

These genuine differences of opinion made Adams and Jefferson the odd couple of the American Revolution and were the primary reasons why they had drifted to different sides of the divide during the party wars of the 1790s. The exchange of 158 letters between 1812 and 1826 permitted the two sages to pose as philosopher-kings and create what is arguably the most intellectually impressive correspondence between statesmen in all of American history. Beyond the elegiac tone and almost sculpted serenity of the letters, the correspondence exposed the fundamental contradictions that the American Revolution managed to contain.

Conservatives Aren't "Whig"-ing Out

Original post 10/20/2005

Cliopatria has announced that they are hosting a symposium on Princeton historian Sean Wilentz's recent New York Times piece, "Bush's Ancestors." Wilentz's thesis is that
. . . neither conservatives nor liberals have fully recognized that the Bush administration's political and ideological recipe was invented decades before McKinley by a nearly forgotten American institution: the Whig Party of the 1830's and 40's.
He compares the rhetoric, ideology and party structure of the antebellum Whigs to that of modern conservative Republicans. Wilentz obviously knows the history of the era: he has published books and articles to critical acclaim. Yet, his purported examples of the common themes shared by modern conservative and antebellum Whig thought do not tell the whole story. Many of Wilentz's observations, while they are legitimate comparisons, could also just as easily be pointed to as rhetorical or philosophical inspiration for contemporary liberal, or Democrat, political thought. In fact, the rhetoric, ideology and philosophy of the Whigs erstwhile competition, the Jacksonian Democrats, could be shown to be inspirations for both contemporary parties.

Because Wilentz is so well published in this area, it is hard to believe that he is unaware of the common rhetorical and ideological strands--from various American political antecedents--that have been caught up, filtered and dispensed by either of the contemporary political parties. As such, though I hesitate to do so, I can only assume that Wilentz purposefully left out such evidence that didn't support his claim--though he doesn't explicitly state such--that the modern conservative owes more to the antebellum Whig party than to any other political organization in our nation's history.

In general, it is my belief that any attempt to make such a 1:1 relation between a modern political entity and a historical one is too simplistic. We are all inspired by various people or ideas: rare is the person who is either willing or able to exactly mirror a loved precedent. While Wilentz does not go so far as to assert such a thing--though he does attempt at the end of his piece to describe how antebellum Whig thought "evolved" into modern conservativism--the general reader could be left with the impression that today's conservatives are "just like" the antebellum Whigs. Wilentz should have taken greater care in making the comparison. He certainly has exhibited such an ability in his scholarship, past and present.

Those are my general thoughts on Wilentz's piece. What follows is a more detailed appraisal. While I certainly went into greater depth than generally is done on a blog, I in no way claim that the ideas expressed are my "final" ones. I welcome any suggestions or corrections wholeheartedly, as any good historian (PhD or not!) should.


First, it's helpful to remember that some of the tension between the Whigs and the Jacksonian Democrats grew out of the genuine belief of each that they were the true inheritors of the philosophy of classical republicanism as expressed in the writings and actions of the Founding generation. Marc W. Kruman's "The Second American Party System and the Transformation of Revolutionary Republicanism," (Journal of the Early Republic, Vol.12, No.4, p. 509-537.) explains much of this, though historians still debate the degree of how much, and from whom, the Whigs themselves derived their political philosophy. Kruman notes that
Although historians have often identified the Whigs as the heirs of the Federalist party, I am persuaded by Daniel Walker Howe’s contention that Whig ideology was an inheritance of Madisonian Republicanism, not Federalism. [For this he refers to Walker Howe's, The Political Culture of the American Whigs, (Chicago, 1979)]
Nonetheless, it is my understanding that many, if not most, former Federalists eventually became Whigs. The Whigs also attracted many former Democrats who had become disenchanted by Jackson (but more on that later). The transformation of John Quincy Adams from Federalist to Jeffersonian Republican to (briefly) Anti-Mason, to Whig illustrates the relative rapidity at which changes of party affiliation occurred during this era. However, even though people changed party affiliation, they tended to look to the same classical republican political philosophies as the core of their political beliefs. And even as individuals clung to these philosophical inspirators, the Whig and Democrat parties evolved by emphasizing some portions of their shared classical republican roots and discarding others.

Big Government

Wilentz's first attempt to illustrate the similarity between contemporary conservatives and Whigs is to compare today's conservative rhetoric concerning an "attack on big government" to that which the Whigs used against the Jackson Administration.
Modern conservatism rests on the proposition that Democrats and liberals thrive on a huge, wasteful federal bureaucracy that discourages individual initiative and lavishes public money on the liberals' shiftless political base. In his first Inaugural Address, Reagan denounced "government by an elite group," by which he unmistakably meant parasitic liberal Democrats.

In the 1830's and 40's, Whigs said much the same about the Jacksonians. They charged that President Jackson had established an executive tyranny, while Jackson's followers, as the Whig journalist Horace Greeley wrote, had turned government into "an agency mainly of corruption, oppression and robbery." In defiance of Jacksonian despotism, one North Carolinian declared in an 1835 editorial, the Whigs rallied "in defense of LIBERTY against POWER." The Whigs particularly objected, like Reagan and his successors, to federal regulation of business and financial matters. A typical Whig editorial from 1837 denounced the Democrats for warring on "the merchants and mercantile interests" in order to support federal power.
Later, Wilentz does provide an important caveat:
Of course, there are significant differences between the Whigs and today's conservatives. Governing in an age before giant private corporations, the Whigs saw federal spending on the nation's infrastructure as imperative to economic development.
It is that "significant difference" that makes all the difference in Wilentz's flawed comparison. Yes, the Whigs denounced government, but it was the particular government "ruled" by "King Andrew," whom they manifestly did not trust. To those who came to identify themselves as "Whigs," Jackson represented arbitrary, unchecked executive power.

Wilentz provides an important quote--"in defense of LIBERTY against POWER"--made by the Whigs. The Whigs took their name from the Sons of Liberty of the Revolutionary Era, who were much inspired by the Radical Whig English Commonwealthmen (see Bernard Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution). The central belief of all of these Whigs was the perpetual threat posed to liberty by the innately corruptive force of power. In the case of the Commonwealthmen, it was the King who wielded this power. Similarly, those of the Revolutionary Era, who eventually came to view the British Empire as a whole as dangerous, eventually came to believe that corrupt power was especially manifested in the person of the King (at first, they blamed Parliament). To the antebellum Whigs, it was "King Andrew" who they feared.

Jackson may not have supported a powerful Federal government, but he most definitely supported the idea that the executive--Jackson himself--should have the most power in that government. This was one of the main reasons that previously disparate political groups from the South and North coalesced to form the Whig party to oppose Jackson's Democrats. As Lynn L. Marshall explained in "The Strange Stillbirth of the American Whig Party,"
The key element in the formation of the Whig party was party organization, not ideology. There seems sufficient reason to assume that Whig ideology, in early infancy at least, limited itself to opposition to "executive usurpation," the negative issue implied in its choice of name and the focus of its electioneering efforts throughout the mid-1830's. One can hardly find another common ground between John C. Calhoun, prince of nullification, and nationalists like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, all of whom joined to establish the party. [The American Historical Review, Vol.72, No.2, p.445]
Politics can make strange bedfellows! To conclude on this point, the Whigs weren't anti-government so much as anti-Jacksonian government. They were perfectly comfortable in supporting internal public improvements funded by tax dollars--so long as they held the purse strings. To turn Wilentz's comparison around, I could offer that modern day liberals are like the Whigs: both oppose(d) what they perceive(d) as executive power run rampant in the person of George W. Bush and Andrew Jackson, respectively. I could also argue that the Democrats under FDR, when faced with the Great Depression, or LBJ and his Great Society owe a debt to the Whig proponents of public expenditure for public good. I don't intend to, but I'm fairly confident such an essay could be written (though I'm not sure if it would make the NY Times!)


Wilentz also compares Whig populism to modern day conservative populism, while implying that both are disingenuous. He had begun the piece seemingly taking liberals to task for viewing "contemporary conservatism as a rhetorical smoke screen intended to deceive the masses," but his later analysis indicates he may also (at least somewhat) believe this to be the case. As he explains:
Whig rhetoric departed fundamentally from the aristocratic hauteur and gloominess that old-line conservatives inherited from the defunct Federalist Party. On the political stump, the example of the buckskinned Whig congressman and Tennessee rifleman Davy Crockett was widely imitated. . . While they cast themselves and their rich supporters as just plain folks, the Whigs portrayed the Democrats as smooth-handed, Champagne-drinking, out-of-touch professional politicians. The appeals helped the Whigs win the presidency in 1840 with their famous "log cabin and hard cider" campaign, presenting their well-born presidential candidate, William Henry Harrison, as a plebeian hero who lived in a humble abode and drank the common frontiersman's brew.
There is a bit more to the story, though. As Paul Johnson explained:
Harrison campaigned as a rugged frontiersman, with his running mate John Tyler (1790-1862), a dyed-in-the-wool Virginian and states’ rights man who had been alienated by Jackson’s high-handed ways, being presented as an experienced and wily professional politician. So the Whig slogan was ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.’ The Democrats retaliated by ignoring Tyler and branding General Harrison, who liked his noggin-or rather his joram-as ‘The Log Cabin and Hard Cyder’ candidate. The Whigs turned this to advantage by holding ‘Log Cabin Rallies’ at which hard cider was copiously served. They also created an electorally effective image of the dapper Van Buren as an effete New York dandy, drinking wine ‘from his coolers of silver.’ [Paul Johnson, A History of the American People, p. 239]
Hugh Brogan also provides further insight:
. . . one of [the Democrats'] aggressive journalists, ignoring Harrison's genteel antecedents, wrote that he was unfit to be President, he should stay in his log-cabin with his tocacco pipe, his jug of hard cider, and his latch-string hanging out to let strangers in at the door. This snobbish remark was too much for the Americans. If the Whigs were the pary of log-cabins and cider, they must be the right party to vote for. Soon every Whig parade, barbecue and clambake...displayed log cabins borne aloft on sturdy shoulders. [Hugh Brogan, The Penguin History of the USA, p. 277]
Of course, Ol' Hickory, a plantation owner, and Martin Van Buren, probably the definition of a New York Cosmopolitan before there was such a thing (and hardly a "man of the people"), had both practiced this sort of rhetorical populism. The Whigs simply copied a tactic that had worked for their opponents. Wilentz fails to mention this inconsistency between Democrat rhetoric and reality. He then focuses on how modern conservatives have used this time-tested political tack:
Today's Republicans have repeated the makeover. In the 1970's, the conservative movement's adoption of the sunny-tempered Hollywood cowboy Reagan as its leader in place of the dour, bespectacled Barry Goldwater was the great breakthrough of modern conservative populism. Thereafter, the transformation of the Massachusetts-born patrician George H.W. Bush into a lover of pork rinds and of his Andover-, Yale- and Harvard-educated son into a rugged Texas pioneer extended the conservative populist theme. The Democrats, meanwhile, remain trapped in the public's image of them as effete "brie and Chablis" liberals.
Wilentz is correct, but omitting similar attempts made by modern Democrats (John Kerry-in hunting-camouflage; Michael Dukakis in an Abrams tank; the on-again, off-again southern accent of Hillary Clinton) gives a false impression, does it not? It's not only conservatives who strive to "relate" to "the people."


Wilentz makes the common charge that, just like contemporary conservatives, the Whigs were moralistic do-gooders who sought to impose their own version of morality on the public.
Today's Republican Party owes a great deal to its political alliance with resurgent conservative evangelical Christians, part of a wider conservative attack on liberals as the enemies of traditional morality. . .Upon enlisting in the Whig Party in 1835, Representative John Bell of Tennessee sounded like a forerunner of William Bennett, declaring that "we have, in truth, in the last 8 or 10 years, been in a continual state of moral war."

. . . The Whigs were drawn disproportionately from devotees of the enormous wave of evangelical revivalism known as the Second Great Awakening. Evangelicalism quickly led a minority of Northern Whigs into the crusade against slavery. But mainstream Whigs despised anti-slavery politics and were preoccupied by evangelically inspired efforts to enforce public morality with coercive temperance and Sunday blue-law campaigns. Democrats opposed these efforts, upholding the separation of church and state in order to prevent Congress, one Kentucky Jacksonian wrote, from becoming the "proper tribunal to determine what are the laws of God.
Daniel Walker Howe has written on this caricature of the "do-gooder" Whigs. In particular, he noted how the historiography indicates that Evangelicalism seems to have "mysteriously" changed from one century to the next.
The scholarship on the eighteenth century treats evangelical Christianity as a democratic and liberating force, whereas much of the literature on the evangelical movement of the nineteenth century emphasizes its implications for social control. Did some dramatic transformation of the revival impulse come about at the turn of the century? I would argue not; historians have concentrated on the "soft" and "hard" sides of evangelicalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, respectively, but both were consistently present. Evangelical Protestantism did not mysteriously mutate from a democratic and liberating impulse into an elitist and repressive one when it moved from the eighteenth to the ninetheenth-century. Austerity and self-discipline were present even in eighteenth-century evangelicalism; individual autonomy was asserted even in nineteenth-century evangelicalism. The problem is that our idea of social control, implying one person or group imposing constraints on another, is appropriate for some aspects of the reform impulse, such as the treatment of the insane, but not all. It does not take account of the embrace of self-discipline, so typical of evangelicals. [Daniel Walker Howe, "The Evangelical Movement and Political Culture in the North During the Second Party System," The Journal of American History, Vol.77, No.4, p.1220. Emphasis in original]
He further proposed that we "substitute the more comprehensive category of discipline for social control" to "better understand the evangelical movement and the continuities between its colonial and antebellum phases." (ibid., 1220) Walker Howe provided further useful insight:
Evangelical Christians were and are people who have consciously decided to take charge of their own lives and identities. The Christian discipline they embrace is both liberating and restrictive. Insofar as the discipline is self-imposed, it expresses the popular will; insofar as it is imposed on others, it is social control. The reforms undertaken by nineteenth-century evangelicals were typically concerned to redeem people who were not functioning as free moral agents: slaves, criminals, the insane, alcoholics, children, even--in the case of the most logically rigorous reformers, the feminisist--women. The goal of the reformers was to substitute for external constraint the indder discipline of responsible morality. Liberation and control were thus two sides of the same redemtive process. (1220)
Wilentz seems to imply that Whig, and by comparison conservative, promotion of morality is based upon a desire to have power over people and not out of any sense of moral obligation or genuine empathy. Walker Howe's more nuanced interpretation strikes me as closer to the mark. Wilentz seems to recognize this when, towards the end of his piece, he states that conservatives,
[b]y relying on the Southern version of evangelicalism, stressing personal holiness more than the do-good reformism of Northern evangelical Whigs and enlisting the Christian right in their culture war...have built a larger and more loyal political base than the Whigs ever enjoyed.
Thus, at first he implies that the Republicans "owe much to" (which seems to want to be read as "are just like," to me) Whig do-gooders, but then backs off a bit in his later analysis.

One final comment on this point: I take issue with Wilentz's characterization of conservatives as blaming the victims for their situation ["personal failure stems not from economic and social inequalities but from the moral failings of thriftless, heedless, lawless, libertine and lazy individuals - precisely the sorts of people (conservatives charge) liberals want to coddle with needless, destructive social spending."]. I cannot speak for every conservative, but the conservatives that I know and read generally think that 40 years of the Great Society have been a marked failure and that it's time for something new.

This is not something only conservatives have concluded, either. Lest we forget, it was Democrat President Bill Clinton who signed welfare reform. By stressing the value of work and family, conservatives hope to help people help themselves out of poverty. Welfare and the social safety net were intended to help people through rough times. These programs shouldn't go away, but they also shouldn't be a way of life. I know of no conservative who thinks we should cut all social welfare programs and let people fend for themselves. Thus, Wilentz's characterization is a caricature and is, frankly, unfair.

Wilenz's assertion that "mainstream" Whigs "despised anti-slavery politics" also conflates the difference between agreeing with the politics of abolitionists and agreeing with them philosophically on the immorality of slavery. No doubt, the majority of southern Whigs weren't for freeing the slaves, and many northern Whigs--who prized stability over chaos and uncertainty-- simply couldn't abide the thought of the sort of anarchy later caused by John Brown and his fellow abolitionists {This sentence was modified from the original due to correction from commenter, below--ed.}. But Wilentz's statement obscures the fact that the anti-slavery movement was beginning to take hold, and most rapidly in those districts and states politically controlled by the Whigs.

End of the Whigs

Wilentz pointed to the ultimate failure of the Whigs.
Fate was unkind to the Whig Party. Its first president, Harrison, took sick on his frigid Inauguration Day in 1841, died one month later and was succeeded by a Virginia ex-Democrat, John Tyler, whom some in the party considered to be no Whig at all. The other Whig elected to the presidency, Zachary Taylor, a retired general, lasted only slightly longer than Harrison, felled by an attack of acute gastroenteritis in 1850 after just 16 months in the White House. In between the Tyler and Taylor presidencies, the acquisition of vast Western territories from the war against Mexico led to severe wrangling over the extension of slavery, which neither of the major parties could handle. The Democrats wound up losing their anti-slavery Northern partisans in the 1850's and became dominated by Southern slaveholders. The Whig Party collapsed completely: its anti-slavery wing joined with the Democratic bolters to form the Republican Party in 1854; its Southerners either enlisted in the pro-slavery Democratic fold or floundered in vain attempts to restore sectional comity.
He is on solid ground here, but Wilentz doesn't see fit to compare the anti-Mexican War rhetoric of the Whigs to the anti-Iraq War rhetoric of liberals (or some of the so-called paleo-conservatives). Perhaps because it wouldn't bolster his larger thesis? Regarding the dissolution of the Whigs, I think some of Kruman's analysis is helpful:
By the 1850’s, then, party conflict had generated a political consensus that rooted out important aspects of revolutionary republicanism. Americans had increasingly come to accept the government promotion of economic development as the “republican” fears of the Democratic party dissipated and to rejoice in the political equality of white men as Whigs bowed to the exigencies of the electoral struggle. ("Second American Party System," 532)
Thus, the parties had come closer together on many issues, but this was obscured by the dominant issue of slavery. The tension eventually led to the sectional crisis and party mattered less than where one stood on slavery.

From here, Wilentz extrapolates that because the Whigs were so short-lived and relative failures, modern day conservatives don't compare themselves to them. No kidding! (Setting aside political parties, how many people regularly compare their actions and motivations to people that are generally regarded as failures? "I'm just like Millard Fillmore!") He points to how conservatives (here, he cites Karl Rove) compare themselves favorably to the Jacksonians in the belief that both stick up for the little guy.

Wilentz also makes a good point regarding Jackson's anti-business politics and how they don't align at all with what would be considered modern conservative economic policy. Yet, Wilentz's attempt to call Karl Rove out on this inconsistency--writing Rove's comparison between Jackson and modern conservatives "distorts the nature of contemporary conservatism's political achievements"--only serves to highlight his own. Wilentz's indignation at such inconsistencies would be more convincing if he himself hadn't so systematically omitted such exceptions when they didn't fit his template.

Any historian takes a risk when comparing the contemporary to the historical, and Wilentz should be applauded for doing so. However, I hope the few points I've raised can illustrate how history can be used to support diverse and often contradictory forms of contemporary opinion. History is important, it can teach us lessons that can help us make decisions about our future. But we have to be careful when attempting to draw too fine a comparison between what was then and what is now.

Most modern politicians and ideologues on the right, left and middle sincerely believe that they have a plan for steering our nation along the proper course. To help explain, promote and justify those plans, they look to our nation's past. Members of both parties are always cherry-picking favorite quotes from Lincoln or Truman or FDR or Kennedy or (especially) the Founders to help emphasize a particular point. Thus, when surveying the rhetoric of modern day politicians, one can conclude that, indeed, we are all Republicans, we are all Democrats and we are all Whigs, Federalists, Know-Nothings, Anti-Masons, Bull Moose (or is it Meese?), Free Soilers...