What was the American Revolution?

This past February I got to give a lecture to some middle schoolers at a Christian school on a topic of my choice within the field of history.  I chose to discuss the founding period of our nation, which was a very fun topic to study and then speak about.  I am putting my notes up here both for my own safe-keeping and in the event than anyone else might find them interesting.  I haven’t edited them from lecture format, so bear with the unpolished nature of the writing. What was the American Revolution? What I would like for us…

Reflections on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Picking up on my last post, one thing I have enjoyed about our walks to the Lincoln Memorial is that it has given me the opportunity to meditate more closely on the text of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I think this may be my favorite political speech in history. Three features I have noticed: 1) Lincoln connects the Civil War with both America’s past and America’s future: at the beginning of the speech he clams the Civil War is the testing point of the democratic ideals of 1776, and then at the end of his speech he sees the war as…

Scattered Thoughts on Lincoln, Ellis, Racism, and the Cross

Several times since moving to D.C. Esther and I have walked down to the Lincoln Memorial. Each time I take the time to read the speeches that are etched in the walls, the Gettysburg Address and his second inaugural address. Its a very moving exprerience, and reminds me of the third chapter of Ellis’ Founding Brothers, “The Silence,” which I read shortly before moving here. The silence he is referring to is the failure of any Northern or moderate Southern delegates to speak up against the pro-slavery arguments of delegates from the Deep South in Congressional debate in 1790. Benjamin…

George Washington

My study this summer took a very unexpected turn into American political history, but the phase is wearing off. In a final burst of interest, I finished off Ellis’ Founding Brothers this morning (which is one of the most well-written books I have ever read in my life), and took particular notice of his chapter on George Washington. What struck me most about Elli’s portrait of Washington was Washington’s sincere willingness to give up power, which I take to be both his finest personal quality and greatest service to our nation. What made Washington great, in my opinion, beyond his…

Conclusions on Madison as President

I received an email after my last post suggesting that although Madison’s accomplishments in the drafting and ratification of the Constitution are often noted by historians, his service to our country as President is often under-appreciated. Having persevered through the last few chapters of Ralph Ketcham’s biography today with a special eye on this question, I would have to agree that Madison was an above average President, and that many of the common criticisms of his Presidency are unfair. First, Madison is often said to have radically changed his views throughout his political career, and especially while serving as President….

Ketcham’s Madison biography and Ellis’ Founding Brothers

In my continued venture into American political history, I have been working my way through Ralph Ketcham’s biography of James Madison. I have really enjoyed it and learned a lot from it. In particular, I have enjoyed the chapter on the debates over ratification of the Constitution. Not only is it fascinating to see how this discussion played out, but I am finding it a great way to learn about our system of checks and balances and why it works so well. I am once again impressed with how narrowly success (in this case ratification) was achieved. The book’s main…

Biographies and American History

I am really on a biography kick lately, especially about people in American history. Esther calls this “my flavor of the week.” Two people I would really like to read a good biography on: 1) James Madison. Because he was such an incredibly important founding father (the primary author of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and a major contributer to the Federalist Papers), yet often neglected in favor of people like Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson. He was also a two-term Secretary of State who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, and a two-term President who oversaw our first war after the…

Finished McCullough’s John Adams

A few minutes ago I finished David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, which I had been hacking away at, off and on, since December. A couple of times I feared I would never finish, but with school over I was able to crank through the last big section more easily and finally cross the finish line. I love that feeling of satisfaction when you have finished a significant book! If I were to begin discussing all that I learned, enjoyed, and appreciated in the reading of this book, this post would probably be longer than my post on Abraham Lincoln,…

Great Book

I am currently reading James L Swanson’s Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer and heartily recommend it. Its one of those books you simply cannot put down, because it is so intense. Its based on tons of historical research, so its very accurate – everything in quotations, for example, comes from an actual historical document. So there is minimal embellishment. And yet it is far more exciting than most fictional novels I have read. The actual moment of Lincoln’s execution, for example, he slows down and spend several pages discussing everything that was going on in the theater during…

Abraham Lincoln

Yesterday for my day off, I went to Borders, ordered a large coffee, and, in connection with my recent interest in biographies, read James M. McPherson’s Abraham Lincoln. There are a host of books on Lincoln being published this year (because it is the 200th anniversary of his birth), but McPherson’s stood out to me because it is concise – at 65 pages, it can be read in one sitting. But despite its brevity I found it very informative, and I found more joy and fascination in reading it than I can express. At the risk of sounding overly praising…