The St. Croix Review

The St. Croix Review

The St. Croix Review speaks for middle America, and brings you essays from patriotic Americans.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:05

Letters from a Conservative Farmer: The Last Deal

Letters from a Conservative Farmer: The Last Deal

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an Associate Editor of the St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

No one knew it at the time.

The first news I had of it was one November afternoon when I saw Joe coming across the fields from the west and I hailed him. He came in holding a broken chain from a saw in his hand.

What're you doing?

I asked as I set a cup of tea before him.

Logging with Angus.

He smiled.

Boy, he's got some great "shine!"

His eyes were shining.

We got a deal. The storekeeper supplies the grub and gas, and when he sells the logs in spring we divvy the profits.
How much is Angus cutting?

He looked down at his cup.

He's the swamper, so he doesn't have to do much yet. Besides, he has to take care of the Boy.

The swamper cuts the skid trail to get the logs out. I understood the deal now. Angus was the most plausible con man I had ever known, far famed for talking men into partnerships in which the partner did all the work and there wasn't much profit at the end. I could see how this was going: Joe was in the woods all day and then Angus fobbed him off with a glass of "shine" at the end of the day.


he said, taking out a small notebook.

The storekeeper showed me how to tally the logs. You measure inside the bark.

I turned the pages. He'd sure felled a lot of trees, all measured and tallied.

Quite a job,

I said, returning the notebook.

You know the price of logs?
I sold pine last spring for $100 a thousand. But most of yours is spruce and hemlock.
Yeah, but there's a lot of it.

After he left I thought about him. He was a Newfie - what Canadians call Newfoundlanders - happy go lucky, a good worker but easily led astray, as with the "shine." A fisherman, he'd come ashore to work in the woods so he wouldn't be separated from his wife and kids. God help him in the hands of Angus.

We didn't own a vehicle, so sometimes, when the storekeeper was going to Sydney, I'd go with him to get supplies, and thus we were driving together one morning in late January. Cape Bretoners are even more reticent than most country people, especially around strangers, but it was just my outsider status that attracted the storekeeper - he could tell me things he'd never reveal to another Cape Bretoner. I asked him about the deal with Angus and Joe, and he was quite frank about it.

It started about 30 years ago, not long after I bought the store. Angus's wife died and left him with the Boy, born retarded. Children's Aid helped him out. I think nowadays it's $100 a month. Whatever it was over the years, it was just enough for the two of 'em. Summers he picked up a little here and there, but when winter came he had to dip into the grocery money for liquor and tobacco and such. So he came to me with a deal - I disremember what it was, I've done so many deals with him over the years. I'd furnish the grub and so on, he'd do the work, and we'd split the profits.

He looked over at me.

You know Angus. He got somebody else to do the work, they drew their rations, and somehow in the end there wasn't much profit.

He shook his head.

The first few years, Angus skinned me. Skinned me. But over the years I learned, and I guess now we're about even. I'm probably the only man on the island can say that.

I thought about deals and how common they used to be before the war when the only credit for country people was in the hands of storekeepers, the great powers in the old countryside. We talked about it.

Money was mighty scarce then and people paid their bills with just about anything: oysters and eels and cod, herring, too, and smelt. Hand-hewn railroad ties, pulpwood, firewood, logs, ax handles, hand-knit socks and mittens and sweaters.

He was silent, seeming to savor the things.

If you made the deal with a woman, it was simple, cut and dried, but with men it was different, I don't know why. Maybe because men take pleasure in rolling words on their tongues, doing great things just with words. Men have leaned on my counter and described the fattest oysters, the biggest cod, the tallest trees, and everything was perfect, something to dream about. And there they stayed, in dreams. . . . I don't know if I can explain what I've always felt about deals. It isn't the money, it's the dream, of piles of sound straight logs, of nets full of shining herring, and the way I see it the sun is shining and the light shows up things as they really are, perfect, a dream of perfect things that's more than the things themselves. Can you understand that?

he asked earnestly.

Oh yes. It's an old dream and you're not the first man to have had it.

A week later I got a note in the mail from the storekeeper.

Meet me tomorrow at 10 at the end of your lane with the team. I have to see Angus.

It is impossible to drive into Angus's because the lane is impassable. The road went past our mailbox for a half-mile and there was the lane.

The storekeeper climbed into the box on the sleds and I asked what was up.

He told me Laverne (Joe's wife) turned up in the store two days ago to get supplies and made a fuss about all the trees Joe had felled and how much money was being paid for lumber, and how she was determined on her rights: no more hamburger and stew meat, she wanted steak and TV dinners. He sighed.
I give 'em good grub - but steak and TV dinners!

When we turned into Angus's lane he said he'd sent a note to Angus to go to the woods and check. The house was a substantial two-storey farmhouse, very dilapidated now. He was tearing up the porch to burn in the stove, so we had to watch our step.

Angus was sitting in front of the kitchen range, his feet in the oven, wearing a sheepskin-lined overcoat patched with masking tape. He amazed me, as he always did; charming, gracious, speaking in a precise baritone, in the midst of squalor but seeming to be detached from the scene. He spoke at once.

I suppose Laverne stirred you up, eh? Somebody told her the price of logs and she's been calculating ever since. Well, it's true. Even with the snow I could see it. It's the primest stand of timber I've even seen, and Joe's done a fine job. There's plenty more to fell. It goes on and on.

He flung his arms wide.

I had never before seen the storekeeper at a loss. He stared at Angus for a long moment and then he asked about the lay of the land.

I've seen worse. And I've seen a lot better, too. It's a long haul, too. I don't think a tractor could do much.
A bulldozer?

the storekeeper said. Angus shook his head.

You don't want a made road.
A tree farmer then. . . . I'll see what I can do.

Pausing at the door, he asked if Angus knew Laverne? Angus smiled and blew a kiss at him. He said:

A lady of great charm.

We went out laughing, but I could see the storekeeper was preoccupied, and he only absently thanked me when I left him at his truck.

The winter wore on. Joe felled trees, Angus gave him a glass of "shine" at the end of the day, and Laverne drove the storekeeper to distraction. He remained his imperturbable self, however, and that sharpened her resentment, so she hectored Joe for continuing to work for two schemers when anyone could see he'd never be paid. In April, when his cousin at the Strait offered him a job on his trawler, he gave up the woods and left Laverne to break the news after she got the last groceries. She also told the storekeeper they would expect a prompt settlement. Of course, he said, with his best storekeeper smile, just as soon as we get those logs out.

He had been working on that with no success (as I would learn much later). Then he got a break. An Indian from a Reserve on the other side of the island who owed him a big bill was complaining about his money troubles when he said

Now the bloody finance company is after my tree farmer, the only thing I got to make money with.

Next day the Indian began work, keeping his machine in the heart of the unfrequented Backlands. He even took the precaution of bunking there, knowing his house would be watched. Unfortunately, he had to use the Grand Narrows ferry to get on the peninsula, and once the investigator talked to the ferrymen, it was just a matter of driving the roads, looking for a pile of logs. Still, he hauled out a lot of wood, or so it would seem to anyone who hadn't seen what had been cut.

The storekeeper sold the logs at once to the mill at Mabou, and several big truckloads were hauled away. I saw them, and they were the largest loads of logs I've ever seen. What they amounted to only the storekeeper and sawyer knew, and he forgot it as soon as he sawed the logs. He stopped in the store one day when I was there and asked the storekeeper if he knew

. . . a hard bottle blond from hereabouts wanted to find out the tally on some logs I bought off you a while back.
Could describe some of my relatives

the storekeeper answered with a smile.

Had a devil of a time getting rid of her. Told her you were such a horse thief I wouldn't dare buying anything off you anyway.

The storekeeper laughed but said nothing.

Laverne tried the direct approach next. Going to the store on Friday evening, the busiest time of the week, she staged a loud scene. After the second time, the storekeeper sent a note to Joe's cousin at the Strait. Very early one morning we were returning to the house from the stable, carrying the milk pails, when Joe drove up.

I just got off the boat. The storekeeper wants to see me right away. I want you to back me up.
Just let me strain the milk.
I wouldn't be any help backing him against the storekeeper, but I was curious.
This better be the payoff

he muttered several times as we drove the five miles into town.

The storekeeper was just opening up, but he relocked the door after us and led us to his desk in the back, setting a chair for Joe. I leaned against the wall. The storekeeper started off praising Joe for all the work he had done, and then he leaned across the desk, and still speaking pleasantly, only very slowly and distinctly, he said,

Angus doesn't own the land where you felled those trees. That's Crown land. Those trees were stolen. If Lands and Forests found out, you, me, and Angus would be fined for everything we were worth and sent to jail. That's the God's honest truth. Just ask around about Angus. He hasn't felled a tree on his own land for years - he skinned it years ago - but he's sold pulp and lumber every year. That's why we had such a hard time getting a tree farmer in there, and that's why we can't take out any more logs. Do you see?

Joe nodded, scared to death.

All right. Look.

He took a pile of slips from the drawer and rendered Joe an accounting of his expenses: $1957.43 for groceries, cigarettes, gas, oil, spark plug, three replacement chains.

And I fed Angus and the Boy all that time, too. I hardly made a cent on that deal. But because I appreciate the work you did, and because the way things are you can never be paid for all those trees you felled, I'm going to give you this

handing him two crisp $100 bills.

Are we quits?

They shook hands.

One other thing . . .

the storekeeper said, his hand on Joe's shoulder as they started for the door.

I know you won't be able to keep this a secret from Laverne. And women don't seem to understand what we have to go through to make a living on this godforsaken island. But if you want to keep out of jail, don't let her say a word!

One summer day three years later we were driving back from Sydney in his truck when I mentioned what he called "My Last Deal" - Angus and Joe and his family were long gone from the Backlands.

So that's why you had trouble hiring a guy with a tree farmer?
Trouble! I was amazed at how far Angus's reputation spread. Nobody would touch it. There wasn't much said, things like "You think I'm crazy?" til one day a fella in Aberdeen said his machine cost $38,000 and he knew damned well what would happen if he got caught hauling Angus's logs. I was damned lucky with that Indian.

Instead of stopping at our lane he drove on to the end of the road and Angus's lane, now full of brush. There was a junked car rusting away there. The storekeeper looked around and finally said, sort of moaning,

My Waterloo!

I laughed and he had to smile, I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd gone into those woods and seen logs scattered all around, maybe as many as were hauled out, slowly rotting into the ground. I couldn't tell him because I know that whatever he says now, he's a dreamer, and when he dreams he sees the trees as he must have seen them in the vision he had when Angus first described them to him: the white snow lying on the land in long levels and smooth curves, the dark trunks rising straight before him, up and up to their wide spreading crowns, green in the last light of a darkening winter day. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:04

Understanding Exodus

Understanding Exodus

Jo Ann Gardner

This article has been adapted from Jo Ann's book, Seeds of Transcendence: Understanding the Hebrew Bible Through Plants. She can be reached through her website:

The biblical Book of Exodus can be summed up in one word: freedom! The narrative describing the physical release of the Israelite slaves from bondage is a blockbuster, far beyond anything Hollywood could dream up: a large jostling crowd rushes onward, 600,000 men, in addition to women, children, livestock (Moses, done bargaining with the waffling Pharaoh, declares that "not a hoof shall be left behind!"), and even tag-along riff-raff take advantage of the general chaos. Behind them, gaining ground, driving forward, are the well-armed forces of the Egyptian army. In a thrilling moment, Moses holds out his arm with his raised rod (invested with divine powers), splits the reed-filled sea, and the Israelites cross over onto dry land. Then God, observing events, locks the wheels of the pursuing Egyptians' chariots so they cannot follow, the sea fills in (Moses, as instructed, has reversed the water) the entire army drowns, and euphoria follows with the Song of the Sea to the Lord who has delivered Israel. Curtain.

Not yet by a long shot. For although its physical redemption is complete, Israel's spiritual redemption lies ahead.

There are signs this will not be easy, for even before they have been freed, the slaves appear weak, constitutionally incapable of contemplating independence from their masters:

Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness" (Exodus 14:12).

But there is to be no turning back on this journey, only forward up to their Promised Land, despite whatever difficulties the people encounter. On the eve of their departure from Egypt, they committed themselves to follow a momentous course, one that defines them as a people, a nation, entirely independent from the alien culture in which they have sojourned for over 400 years. They have been instructed in the rituals of observing the first Passover and from that day onward (to this day) they were to remember that God had delivered them from bondage. It was to be a clean break with everything new, even a different calendar, one that is now linked to the slaves' future as freed people living in their own land with its own agricultural realities rather than on the flooding of the Nile as it was in Egypt.

God knows their weaknesses. To toughen them up, He has deliberately chosen the long, arduous trek around by the Sea of Reeds and thence out to the desert wilderness, instead of the much shorter route along the Mediterranean Coast, a journey of about two weeks rather than forty years! An endless vista of rock-strewn ground and rising, jagged stone mountains: the desert provides a dramatic setting where God will have time to teach His children the rudiments of a new spiritual order so that they will be fit, in every sense, to enter the Land. A landscape that challenges at every turn - in striking contrast to the relatively smooth course along the coast - will force them to draw on inner strength to survive. They are, however, far from there. Now the lack of water, edible plants, and grazing ground for their sheep and goats, taken for granted in Egypt, utterly destroys their sense of triumph at the Reed Sea.

Every stop in their travels exposes their inadequacies. The conditions of surviving in the desert, entirely outside their experience in the lush land of Egypt where their needs were provided for by others (slaves' provisions, to be sure, but at least dependable) are difficult, but the people's lack of will, their undeveloped spiritual state, is even worse. Mentally and emotionally they are still slaves, showing extreme anxiety at every turn of events. Their refrain, when faced with hardships, is not to try to overcome them, but to complain, always hitting the same theme: you should have left us in Egypt where we knew what to expect rather than bringing us to die in the wilderness.

At Marah (meaning "bitter"), only three days into the desert, they complain about finding bitter water. God responds with compassion and instructs Moses to sweeten it with a stick (a shepherd trick based on certain salt-precipitating woods that he would have known about), but in return He expects something from them, their first lesson. His straightforward "fixed rule" is to do what is upright in His sight, give ear to His Commandments, obey His Laws and He will protect them (Exodus 15:26). Since they have been instructed so far only to remember the Passover, God is not yet demanding very much from them, although this first lesson will be hard to learn. He knows they are still unformed, still children, far from adulthood, and in need of His protection. From the very beginning He has protected them in their journey by displaying His presence in a marvelous pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.

In the Wilderness of Sin, a month after the Exodus, when they complained bitterly of hunger, the people had learned another important lesson: to gather God's heavenly provision of manna for six days, but just enough for each day, trusting that God would provide them with a double portion on the sixth day to eat on the seventh day - no reason given. The hungry Israelites pay no attention to this direction about only harvesting a day's worth of bread and not leaving any leftovers to rot, with the result that these became infested with maggots and stank by the following morning. It is clear that the people do not yet trust in God; perhaps they think there will be no more manna from heaven so they'd better store some for the future. Even after they have seemingly repented and followed Moses' instructions, and even when they have been told that the meaning of the double portion on the sixth day is because the seventh day will be a day of rest, a "holy Sabbath of the Lord" - a cessation of activity modeled on God's own rest from His labors of creation - and that leftover grain on this occasion will not decompose as it does on other days, still, they do not trust in God to provide for them. Learning from experience that God fulfills His promises if they fulfill their obligations, the Israelites finally obey Him, and in this way Sabbath observance was instituted.

Three months into their journey, the Israelites have reached the foot of Mount Sinai. This is where their leader Moses, then a simple shepherd, had received his mission from God to rescue his people from their travail in Egypt. We expect that something momentous will occur at this holy place in the wilderness where, stripped of all distractions, heaven and earth seem to meet. We are not disappointed.

Through a series of miraculous events, the entire people, men and women together, actually hear the voice of God speaking to Moses and they are transformed. All their complaints are forgotten in the grandeur of the experience, in the awe-inspiring surroundings at the mountain of God. They have heard the divine voice, and accepted the covenant to forge a wholly new way of life. From mainly passive recipients of His compassion, they are given the chance to become active participants in a divinely ordained order, one far more complex and demanding than anything they have ever known.

From a casual reading, the rest of Exodus is a disappointment, seemingly obsessed with relentless details for building a moveable sanctuary where the people can worship God during their desert travels. The directions come directly from God to Moses, are repeated by Moses to the people, and are then carried out. These details include not only a listing of the building material ordered by God for the people to offer as gifts, but how they are put together, where the articles are placed, and who will make them. As someone remarked, "Now we go to the hardware store."

But is this so?

When we understand that the Architect's design is inspired by the idea of erecting a structure where His presence will be felt, then we begin to appreciate the supreme importance of this undertaking. Distinctions between what we consider spiritual and holy and what we regard as earthly and common disappear:

Make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. Exactly as I show you [Moses] - the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings - so shall you make it. (Exodus 25:8-9)

Viewed in this way details count because they are invested with a meaning that transforms their physical being. The undertaking's importance gains impact as its details are meticulously repeated. Extreme care and planning has gone into this project, as it would with any attempt to create a sense of sacred space.

This great divinely inspired plan and its execution, the introduction of the artisans who do the actual work (we witness the memorable Bezalel, hammering a seven-branched menorah from beaten gold), and Moses' apparent satisfaction in a job so splendidly carried out (he blesses the workers), is a moving testimonial to the Israelites' growing spiritual awareness. All that energy devoted to an undertaking beyond their material needs (no grumbling) and of such magnitude, has profound implications.

Descended from semi-nomadic shepherds of rude culture who, nevertheless, succeeded in passing on God's blessing and promise to them, enslaved for hundreds of years in a strictly pagan culture which must have rubbed off on them, then emerging from this experience still slavish in their mentality, they have begun to learn that they must earn God's protection by their own exertion and by His rules. The successful construction of the sanctuary and Tabernacle, when understood within this context, is a thrilling accomplishment. The Exodus is the beginning, not the end, of their journey to freedom. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:04

Magna Carta and American Law

Magna Carta and American Law

Nicholas D. Ward

This essay was presented at a meeting of the Daughters of the Barons of Runnemede, a lineage society for female descendants of the Magna Carta sureties. Nicholas D. Ward has been a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C. specializing in trusts and estates and fiduciary litigation for over forty years. His various legal writings have been cited by the D.C. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of New Jersey. A few years ago he had occasion to cite Magna Carta in a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, but the case was decided upon other grounds.

We are here today preparing for the 800th anniversary of the issuance of the original 1215 issue of Magna Carta. It is most fitting and proper that we do this for Magna Carta has loomed large in the history of both the United Kingdom and the United States. While to our cousins their constitution is famously known as an "unwritten constitution" because it consists of not only the Great Charter, but also of the Petition of Right of 1628, the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, the Bill of Rights of 1689 and the Act of Settlement of 1701, they tend to wonder why Americans make such a big deal of Magna Carta. Even in 1689, when the House of Commons asserted that James II had broken the contract of his governance, the Lords said while the contract might be a most liberal and rational concept they could not find it in the laws of England. Americans, however, have always preferred to look to a written source, in this case our Constitution, as a source of their rights. Perhaps this is reflected in the old saying "the French fought for revenge, the British fought for glory, and the American's fought for souvenirs."

But we may yet wonder how Magna Carta came into its glory. It was not called the Great Charter in the 13th Century because of its significance, but because of its size to distinguish it from its companion Charter of the Forest (1217). After all, as J.C. Holt has reminded us:

In 1215 Magna Carta was a failure. It was intended as a peace and it provoked war. It pretended to state customary law and it promoted disagreement and contention. It was legally valid for no more than three months, and even within that period its terms were never properly executed.

In August 1215, the Pope declared it void as having been obtained through force and threatened excommunication for any who adhered to it, and King John resumed his fight with his Barons which was terminated mercifully by his death in 1216. Nevertheless, Magna Carta was reissued in 1216, 1217, and adopted as law in 1225 by Henry III when he came of age, with a reduction in the number of chapters from 64 to 37. It was subsequently reissued and confirmed in 1237, 1267 and in 1297 and countless times in the following two centuries. Along with the Charter of the Forest, it remained in place in the next centuries when many of its features were developed by statute and the courts, until the Tudors, when it was largely ignored. Perhaps after the War of the Roses it may be supposed that the realm craved the stability of a strong, central government.

The Great Charter was inspired by feudalism as that system was refined in England by the Conqueror. Under feudalism the King has no peer and is answerable only to God for his transgressions. But he has an agreement with his barons that in exchange for their fealty he will govern in accordance with law and custom, which is embodied in his coronation oath. All the medieval kings, until William and Mary in 1689, signified their consent to so govern by an oath to govern by the laws of Edward the Confessor, whose death in 1066 precipitated the feud between Saxon King Harold and Norman Duke William, leading to the Battle of Hastings. With King John came the Angevin greed for money that made a mockery of feudal custom and of the king as a feudal lord. Magna Carta was an attempt to require King John to cease his abuse of the feudal incidents that produced his income by a grant to them, in a carefully defined list in writing, of his feudal obligations and to swear to govern by them. The provision that the Sureties were given the right to levy war on King John should he not abide by the terms of the Charter was part of the feudal custom that when the lord would not honor his obligations to his vassels, the vassels were legally entitled to force their feudal right by arms. But that clause was removed from the later re-issues of the Charter.

Magna Carta was not a National Document; it was a feudal document aimed at the restoration of government according to established feudal usages. It did not create Parliament, it only regularized the summoning of a great council. It did not establish the principle that there could be no taxation without consent and representation; it merely stated that the baronial great council must give its consent to extraordinary feudal aids and scutages. When the council consented to the levying of a scutage it meant only that the barons agreed that a campaign was warranted and that therefore scutage could be collected from those who preferred not to provide knights' service. But no baron was bound by the great council's consent to scutage; he could always supply his quota of knights.

It did not guarantee trial by jury, nor did it embrace such other modern legal principles as habeas corpus, equality before the law, or due process of law as it now functions. Chapter 39 simply provided that legal judgment must precede execution. Law of the land meant custom and accepted law. From this much later in the middle ages came due process of law.

The importance of Magna Carta was due chiefly to its enunciation of the fundamental principle that there was a body of law above the King - that the King is, and shall be, below and therefore subject to the law. Here was spelled out the belief that the King was not absolute, but was under the law of the land. Magna Carta is not the source of limited monarchy - that came with Parliamentary control over the King. But Magna Carta was adaptable, and that was its greatest and most important characteristic.

The Great Charter was a living idea and a lively one, and it helped build up two cardinal constitutional principles - government by agreement, or contract, and the rule of law. It also suggested that the barons would abide by majority rule. For four hundred years the form and tenor of Magna Carta provided an undefined and all-embracing authority that took the place of a constitution.

After the Tudors and the Reformation, William S. McKechnie notes that:

The political leaders of the seventeenth century discovered among its [Magna Carta' s] chapters every important reform which they desired to introduce into England, disguising revolutionary projects by dressing them in the garb of the past."

In the early 17th century Sir Edward Coke, rival to Sir Francis Bacon, used the writings of Sir John Fortesque's De Laudibus Legum Angliae (c. 1470) and Sir Thomas Littleton's Tenures (c. 1480) in his Second Institute on Magna Carta, posthumously published in 1642, to create a myth of Magna Carta as the origin of English liberties. His view of history was "flat" in the sense, as Holt suggests that he "had to assume that the past was like the present" and "was derived from the continuous unchanging element of fundamental law." His interpretation of Magna Carta is viewed as considerably flawed by scholars today. But he created the myth that is still with us of the greatness of the Charter.

As Holt suggests:

Coke was seeking the continuous thread in English law. He was concerned with precedent, with principles and judicial decisions which in his view indissolubly linked his world with the past.
. . . Magna Carta was an affirmation of fundamental law and the liberty of the subject.

Coke assumed that English liberty existed from the earliest times, but when he asserted that the Charter re-established ancient rates of relief he was misled. Thus his attribution of the rights of the subject and Parliament to Magna Carta created the "myth" of Magna Carta, an interpretation of it which gives it qualities which the men of 1215 did not intend, but that was precisely the document's potential. The Parliaments of the 17th Century pushed the envelope as to their liberties, often in marvelous parlance. In the Apology of the Commons in 1604, in which the Commons asserted that their privileges and liberties were their rights and due inheritance they stated:

The prerogatives of princes may easily and do daily grow; the privileges of the subject are for the most part at an everlasting stand. They may be by good providence and care preserved; but being once lost, are not recovered but with much disquiet.

In the Petition of Right (1628), the Commons, relying on Magna Carta, asserted that no aid shall be levied by the King without the goodwill and assent and authority of Parliament. They claimed that their consent to taxation was required; that Edward III had granted due process of law before judgment and later, in the Bill of Rights (1689), declared rights and liberties of the subject when settling the succession of the Crown. While Magna Carta was not mentioned in this latter Act, the reach of its myth was that the rights and liberties of the subject were stated in a fashion which suggested the antiquity of the same. In particular, the Bill of Rights states that James II, acting pursuant to his prerogative powers, when suspending and dispensing the law, was acting illegally.

By the end of the 17th century the supremacy of King in Parliament was established, and in it sovereignty lay. The Whigs now relied upon another basis to support the rights of Parliament, namely, natural law as enunciated by John Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government, published after the Glorious Revolution.

Holt's explanation of how the Whigs moved beyond Coke is insightful. He states:

The contrast between Coke and the Whigs could be carried much further, for Coke did not and could not partake of the powerful element of natural law in the Whig interpretation which underpinned their emphasis on individual liberty. Natural law, an essential component of the Whig interpretation, was, as we shall see, lethal to the survival in England of the common-law attitudes typified by Coke. Moreover, Coke and the Whigs differed in their methods. The essence of Whig history was to read the present back into the past and to interpret the past in the light of selected themes: the growth of liberty, the development of Parliament and, within Parliament, of the House of Commons, the growth of "nationhood," and so on. The Whigs turned to history not to justify the present; Locke's Second Treatise did that for them; but to explain how the present had evolved. Coke's object was quite different. He was not primarily concerned with writing history or interpreting the past. His aim was to call in the past in order to support his argument about the present."

But as Americans were to discover, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was not for export.

The King was restrained by Parliament in governing England, but the King retained his prerogative through his Council to govern in territories. Territories, when made part of the realm, are represented in Parliament, but territories in dominion status are not so represented. A conquered territory retains its laws until they are changed by King in Council; but territories acquired by descent, such as Scotland, retain their laws until changed by the King in Parliament. The American colonies were founded under the prerogative power of King in Council and deemed acquired by conquest. Acts of Parliament would have no applicability to the colonies unless named in the Act, thus, the King in Council (Lords of Trade which governed the colonies) could legislate for the American colonies. Recently Nelson has noted that when Parliament asserted a right in the times of James I and Charles I to regulate American fisheries these Kings wielded their prerogative to insist that the colonies were not subject to parliamentary governance. Coke had, however, a hand in the drafting of some of the early American charters in which he had written that the colonists were to be regarded as Englishmen who:

. . . shall have and enjoy all liberties, franchises, and immunities, within any of our other dominions, to all intents and purposes, as if they had been abiding and born, within this our realm of England, or any other of our said dominions . . .

as stated in the Charter of Virginia (1606). Later charters contained similar statements, some referencing Magna Carta, New England (1620), Massachusetts Bay (1629), Maryland (1632), Connecticut (1662), Rhode Island (1663), Carolinas (1663) and Georgia (1732). Coke's interpretation of the rights of Englishmen afforded by Magna Carta proved most congenial to the new American climate.

But there was a problem. While not all agreed that:

. . . the colonists going to America took with them the common law and Parliamentary enactments up to the date of their migration; but they consistently agreed that no acts of Parliament subsequent to settlement extended to any colony unless the Act specifically named the colony.

But notwithstanding these Magna Carta references in the early charters, by the time of the Glorious Revolution when these charters were being re-examined, the King (William III) refused to extend Magna Carta to the colonies because that would equate colonists with Englishmen and guarantee them the same rights and liberties and that the King was not going to do. Lovejoy states:

The Glorious Revolution may have liberalized the English constitution and permitted Parliament to clip the wings of the Crown, but the imperial constitution for overseas dominions had changed very little.

Since the rights of Englishmen had evolved by then since the founding of these colonies the King may be spotted as having a point i.e. the colonist rights were only those they possessed at emigration.

Further trouble, however, developed thereafter when later charters of the Carolinas contained references to the 17th Century Parliamentary legislation.

But a collateral effect of a reliance on Natural Law to justify the source of liberties resulted in the irrelevance of precedence and the ancient law. Holt suggests that the radicals took up Magna Carta as a basis for complaint against both King and Parliament, who could in their eyes be just as tyrannical as the King. And this view eventually came to America. As Holt said:

. . . The fight was not in defense of law and Parliament against the King; but for the rights of the colonists against both King and Parliament. Both for the radicals in England and for the Americans the chief value of the Charter lay in the fact that it was a concession, which had been granted or confirmed in the past; it was, as it had always been, a fault in the armour of authority. And just as the Charter was claimed by the English Radicals as a natural birthright, so in America some of its principles came to be established as individual rights enforceable against authority in all its forms, whether legislative, executive or judicial, whether represented by Crown, governor or council; or later by state and federal government.

The Americans blended natural law with the ancient rights of Englishmen. Holt suggests that:

One of the issues which led to the War of Independence was the Crown's refusal to abandon in America those prerogatives which had already been destroyed in England (in 1689).

Curiously, however, Nelson seems to claim just the opposite, that the Americans claimed the King could by his prerogative disregard the Acts of Parliament and relieve the Americans from the operation of such Acts. But the King no longer possessed such a prerogative, notwithstanding his retention of it in the 1690s when reexamining the colonial charters. And since the English Acts, such as the Bill of Rights, did not apply to the colonies, except in the Carolinas, neither King nor Parliament acknowledged America's claims to these transformed rights in the ancient constitution. Blackstone, in his Commentaries (7th ed., 1775), further pointed out that the common law did not apply in the colonies. Most of the colonies, in fact, developed their own law while giving a certain amount of lip service to the common law, yet when it came to taxation and regulation, claimed rights as beneficiaries of English law.

Since sovereignty lay with the Crown, restrained by Parliament, Members of Parliament were never therefore representatives of the districts from which they served. But in America this was different. Colonial charters permitted representative assemblies, and without a sovereign or enobled aristocracy, the colonists came to see sovereignty to lie in the people whom their elected officials would represent. By the Revolution, Americans were contending for what they perceived were the rights of Englishmen which had been granted to them by the mother country. Many of their early documents referenced Magna Carta, and after the promulgation of the doctrine of natural rights in the late 17th century, they saw themselves entitled to all the rights of a free people, without regard to the niceties of how they were viewed by the King and Parliament.

If sovereignty lies with the people, then the legislature is not supreme. Thus in America we have opted for judicial supremacy rather than Parliamentary supremacy as a means of adhering to that higher law. The common law lawyers of England had developed the idea that the common law was the embodiment of the ancient constitution and that, notwithstanding Parliament, the common law could shape an act of Parliament that might otherwise tend to run afoul of the common law. Sir Thomas Moore in 1535 rested his defense on an Edward III statute that proclaimed that "if any statute be made to the contrary of Magna Carta that shall be holden for none." Coke, in Bonham's case (1610) stated that a court can hold legislation invalid because it contravenes higher law. Our notions of judicial review have a long history, yet notwithstanding Bonham's case, not one of the new American state constitutions made any provision for judicial review as a means of assuring compliance with the fundamental law. This came later with Chief Justice Marshall in Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137 (1803).

As Magna Carta acquired an ever-wider application to more of the population than the freemen of 1215, it nevertheless was perceived as a limit on government action, but not curiously when Americans debated whether to adopt the Constitution of 1787, which did not contain a Bill of Rights. The supporters of the Constitution explained that since sovereignty lay with the people and the people had granted certain limited powers to the federal government, the people needed no specific limitations on their government because they had not granted their government plenary powers, but rather enumerated powers. As Hamilton stated in Federalist No. 84, "Here in strictness, the people surrender nothing; and as they retain everything they have no need of particular reservations." While they lost that argument, we do have the Ninth Amendment which provides:

The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

This is the opposite of Magna Carta, which is a grant from the sovereign to the people, in so many words. Nevertheless, Magna Carta represents an articulation or a prelude to an enumeration of rights that both our countries share, notwithstanding the scholars' efforts one hundred years ago to demote Magna Carta to the dustbin of out-moded and forgotten feudal history.

Since I was dragged to the U. S. Supreme Court by my opponents, you might be amused to hear how Magna Carta made it into my Brief. D.C. Law invalidated a testamentary gift to a clergyman or religious organization if made in a Will executed within 30 days of death, a so-called mortmain statute. My firm represented the Catholic Archbishop, a legatee, and another firm represented the Baptists, because the testatrix was hedging her bets. The collateral heirs relied upon the mortmain statute. We contended the mortmain statute denied equal protection of the law under the Fifth Amendment inasmuch as charities were not precluded from taking bequests similarly timed. To combat the notion that testamentary freedom is not a natural right, but a mere statutory right, we cited Magna Carta chapter 26 which recognizes an ancient testamentary freedom that after debts to the King are paid and the wife and children's share satisfied, the testatrix is free to bequeath to anyone. Since the D.C. Court of Appeals had held the statute unconstitutional on equal protection grounds, the heirs sought a nondiscretionary appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which resulted in a 5 to 4 victory for us when the Court held that a statute applicable only to the District of Columbia is not a statute of the United States within the meaning of the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

But I would like to share with you another basis for the lasting significance of Magna Carta. Ever since Marx and Engels spread a gloss on the interpretation of history as a class struggle with their convoluted dialectic materialism, the Communists and fascists have envisioned the future as better because it will be different, not simply new and improved, but transformationally different. Perhaps this approach started with the French Revolution where the old order was abolished in the name of a better order. Rights were created out of whole cloth and evaporated with every new wave of radicals. Contrast this with our Angle-American tradition where revolutions we have had, yes, but in what name? In the name of restoring the commonwealth to one more closely following the ancient, higher law. And even when new ideas are proposed:

It is no unusual device for innovators to render their reforms more palatable by presenting them disguised as returns to the past.

This must also be distinguished from the Mohammedan revolutionaries who wish to return to sharia law, which unlike the common law and natural law, has not evolved for the benefit of an ever-expanding class of beneficiaries. Think about it. Nearly all the revolutions from King John and his Barons (1215), Simon de Montfort and Henry III (1258-1264), Edward II and Edward III (1327), Richard II and Henry IV (1399), Henry Tudor and Richard III (1485), the restoration of Charles II (1660), and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when William and Mary replaced James II, were conservative revolutions aimed at restoring the government to conduct itself more in keeping with the ancient, but evolving law. And so it was with the American Revolution. New ideas on the location of sovereignty and further extensions of freedom, yes, but whence cometh the idea? Britain had abused these rights of Americans who wanted to put things back the way they were supposed to be. In a new society, yes, but based on the ancient laws and customs to which they perceived they were entitled and upon the imperatives of natural law, but not to some new wild ideas from who knows where. It is accordingly with this thought that I submit to you we all must glorify in the preservation of Magna Carta in this 800th anniversary year. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:04

Pope Francis on the Academic Concept of Gender

Pope Francis on the Academic Concept of Gender

Thomas Martin

Thomas Martin is the O. K. Bouwsma Chair in Philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Along with his fellow colleagues who are dedicated to the study of the Great Books, he teaches the works of Plato, Aristotle, and G. K. Chesterton.

Pope Francis recently came under attack in The Daily Beast in the article "Pope's Shocking Hitler Youth Comparison," by Candida Moss and Joel Baden, for comparing "gender theory" with Hitler's educational policies, both of which are as destructive to human beings as the possibility of a nuclear war.

Pope Francis said:

Let's think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings. . . . Let's think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.

In using the term "gender theory," Moss and Baden claim Pope Francis is denouncing the academic theory that "sees gender identities as a spectrum rather than as binaries."

Moss notes that while the point may "seem" only academic, its ramifications are not, as the idea of gender exists on a spectrum. This means that although there is set identity based on the biological sex of a person as a man or a woman, there is a whole range of sexuality within the male and female genders.

This theory is crucial to how a person identifies itself, and the recognition that gender exists on a spectrum has provided part of the intellectual foundations for both LGBTQIA advocacy and women's rights.

In fact, there are currently 58 options on a sliding spectrum of gender, as identified by ABC News (currently accessible on Facebook) for assessing one's identity. Here are some examples: Agender, Bigender, Cisgender Female, Cisgender Man, Gender Questioning, Trans Man, Trans, Trans Person, Transgender female, Two Spirit, etc., etc.

Moss and Baden lament that, given Pope Francis' comparison, he can no longer be perceived as a liberal, because he is appealing to the conservative element of the Catholic Church.

We are caught in black and white thinking when trying to attach a political label to Pope Francis.

The idea of someone being a liberal currently means to cut oneself off from objective moral standards that hinder a person from doing whatever he feels is right in his own eyes, so long as it does not hurt others. Whereas, a conservative is a person who wants to conserve the ways of the past, which are out of tune with the ever-evolving personal values of modern society.

Is it possible that the words of Pope Francis are beyond politics, academic theorists, and the mandates of popular opinion?

Pope Francis is better understood as God's steward of creation, entrusted with preserving the sanctity and dignity of the human person.

The Pope rightly calls "gender theory" an ideology, which, much like Marxism and Nazism, is an academic theory forwarding an idea of man as an accident, lacking an inherent nature, who falls into being a creature of his own making, made in his image of choice, or who is a social construct - a product of the forces of his political-social-economic environment.

What Pope Francis states is not surprising for anyone familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is the reliable source for the Pope's seemingly "shocking statement" directed at gender theory, which is as destructive to man's nature as nuclear warfare is to nature:

Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in different ways. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator's generosity and fecundity: Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. All human generations proceed from this union. [Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2335] *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:04

Abraham Lincoln, Part II

Our Mission Is to Reawaken the Genuine America Spirit . . .

Abraham Lincoln, Part II

Barry MacDonald, Editorial

Abraham Lincoln, American Statesmen Series, XXV, by John T. Morse, Jr., Editor. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., copyright, 1893 and 1899, Volume I.

Abraham Lincoln, American Statesmen Series, XXVI, by John T. Morse, Jr., Editor. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., copyright, 1893 and 1899, Volume II.

John Hay, American Statesmen, Second Series, V, by William Roscoe Thayer. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., copyright 1915.

I believe most Americans are decent - we are not pervasively racist. I believe that babies are born wayward, needing guidance towards goodness by a mother and father, spiritual faith, and cultural institutions - all of which a healthy society provides.

Most Americans are decent, but the population is large enough to produce quite enough perversity in words and behavior to keep the media busy. That's part of the problem with modern media: the perversity of the few is magnified instantaneously to give an impression that the whole nation is full of trouble - when it's not.

I wonder whether it's wise for politicians to hold polls and focus groups as supremely important as they do. Do these instruments measure or lead public opinion? People need to be led as they tend to be wayward. Politicians should rise above the influence of polls and seek to guide public opinion themselves. I believe too many politicians take their cues on which issues to espouse from polls - so the timid are following the wayward.

There are so many lessons to learn from the life of Abraham Lincoln. His presidency was a turning point after which the federal government became much more powerful with positive and negative results. On the negative side he did pave the way for less scrupulous leaders to wield too much power - if such power could be gathered once it could be gathered again. John Morse describes Lincoln's growing influence:

. . . as his knowledge and his judgment grew, his modesty and his abstention from interference likewise grew. He was more and more chary of endeavoring to control his generals. . . . this was in part due to the fact that the war had now been going on long enough to enable Mr. Lincoln to know pretty well what measure of confidence he could place in the several generals. He had tried his experiments and was now using his conclusions. Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Thomas, Hancock, and Meade were no longer undiscovered generals. . . . The President and the country were about to get the advantage of this acquired knowledge. . . . For the future his occupation is rather to keep a broad, general supervision, to put his controlling touch for the moment now here, now there. He ceases to appear as an individual contestant; his personality, though not less important, is less conspicuous; his influence is exerted less visibly, though not less powerfully. (Morse, Vol. II, pp. 210-211.)
Temporarily the great republic was under a "strong government" and Mr. Lincoln was the strength. Though somewhat cloaked by forms, there was for a while in the United States a condition of "one-man power," and the people instinctively recognized it, though they would on no account admit it in plain words. In fact every malcontent knew that there was no more use in attempting to resist the American President than in attempting to resist a French emperor or a Russian czar; . . . he was sustained by the good-will and confidence of a majority of the people, which lay as a solid substratum beneath all the disturbance on the surface. . . . that there was a real master in the United States is a proposition which many will consider it highly improper to make and very patriotic to contradict. None the less, however, it is true, and by the autumn of 1863 every intelligent man in the country felt that it was true. Moreover, it was because this was true, and because that master was immovably persistent in the purpose to conquer the South, that the conquest of the South could now be discerned as substantially a certainty in the future. (Morse, Vol. II, pp. 208-209.)

Abraham Lincoln possessed a keen intellect and a penetrating moral sensibility that has pointed America permanently in a humane direction. John Morse describes how he formulated his acceptance speech upon his nomination by the Illinois Republicans for the U.S. Senate:

. . . he was ceaselessly turning over this matter in his mind; and frequently he stopped short to jot down an idea or expression upon some scrap of paper, which then he thrust into his hat. Thus, piece by piece, the accumulation grew alike inside and outside of this head. . . . When at last the composition was completed, he gathered a small coterie of his friends and admirers, and read it to them. . . .
"If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do and how to do it. We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object and confident promise of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. 'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved, - I do not expect the house to fall, - but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new, - North as well as South."
As the reader [Lincoln] watched for the effect of this exordium he only saw disapproval and consternation. His assembled advisers and critics, each and all save only the fiery Herndon [his law partner], protested that language so daring and advanced would work a ruin that might not be mended in years. Lincoln heard their condemnation with gravity rather than surprise. But he had worked his way to a conviction, and he was immovable; all he said was, that the statement was true, right, and just, that it was time it should be made, and that he would make it, even though he might have "to go down with it;" that he would "rather be defeated with this expression in the speech . . . than to be victorious without it.". . .
It is not without effort that we can now appreciate fully why this utterance was so momentous in the spring of 1858. By it Lincoln came before the people with a plain statement of precisely that which more than nine hundred and ninety-nine persons in every thousand, especially at the North, were striving with all their might to stamp down as an untruth; he said to them what they all were denying with desperation, and with rage against the asserters. Their bitterness was the greater because very many, in the bottom of their hearts, distrusted their own painful and strenuous denial. No words could be more unpopular than that the divided house could not permanently stand, when the whole nation was insisting, with the intensity of despair, that it could stand, would stand, must stand. Consequently occurrences soon showed his friends to be right so far as concerned the near, practical point: that the paragraph would cost more voters in Illinois than Lincoln could lose without losing his election. But beyond that point, a little farther away in time, much deeper down amid enduring results, Lincoln's judgment was ultimately seen to rest upon fundamental wisdom, politically as well as morally. For Lincoln was no idealist, sacrificing realities to abstractions; on the contrary, the right which he saw was always a practical right, a right which could be compassed. In this instance, the story goes that he retorted upon some of those who grumbled about his "mistake," that in time they "would consider it the wisest thing he ever said." In this he foretold truly; that daring and strong utterance was the first link in the chain of which a more distant link lay across the threshold of the White House. (Morse, Vol. I, pp. 117-120.)

We can discern again Lincoln's courage, forthrightness, and skill in making moral distinctions in his address at Cooper Institute, New York City, on the eve of his election to the presidency:

If slavery is right, all words, acts, laws, and constitutions against it, are themselves wrong, and should be silenced, and swept away. If it is right, we cannot justly object to its nationality - its universality; if it is wrong, they [southern slave holders] cannot justly insist upon its extension - its enlargement. All they ask, we could readily grant, if we thought slavery right; all we ask, they could as readily grant, if they thought it wrong. Their thinking it right, and our thinking it wrong, is the precise fact upon which depends the whole controversy. Thinking it right, as they do, they are not to blame for desiring its full recognition, as being right; but, thinking it wrong, as we do, can we yield to them? Can we cast our votes with their view, and against our own? In view of our moral, social, and political responsibilities, can we do this?

Beyond Abraham Lincoln's eloquence, courage, and intelligence was his humaneness, his magnanimous nature. He was fair-minded and generous with people, even under sever provocation. William R. Thayer relates the observations of his personal secretary John Hay:

The rush of office-seekers began on the first day of Lincoln's administration and continued, with slight fluctuations, until the last afternoon of Lincoln's life. Nicolay [his other personal secretary], Hay, and others near the President tried to screen him from this drain on his time and strength; but he would not be screened. He felt that as the Head of the Nation belonged to the whole people, he ought to be accessible to every one. He understood, also, the value of hearing opinions, though only in a moment's talk, from every quarter, and he could usually get something, if it were only a quaint phrase, even from cranks.
". . . although the continual contact with importunity which he could not satisfy, and with distress which he could not always relieve, wore terribly upon him and made him an old man before his time, he would never take the necessary measures to defend himself," says Hay. . . . "Henry Wilson once remonstrated with him about it: 'You will wear yourself out.' He replied, with one of those smiles in which there was so much of sadness, 'They don't want much; they get but little, and I must see them.'". . .
"Upon all but two classes," Hay adds, "the President made the impression of unusual power as well as unusual goodness. He failed only in the case of those who judged men by a purely conventional standard of breeding, and upon those so poisoned by political hostility that the testimony of their own eyes and ears became untrustworthy. . . . The testimony of all men admitted to his intimacy is that he maintained, without the least effort or assumption, a singular dignity and reserve in the midst of his easiest conversation." (Thayer, Vol. I, pp. 184-188.)

Abraham Lincoln's magnanimity even extended to those who sought to supplant him, as was the case with Salmon P. Chase:

The loyal secretary [Hay], on returning from a visit to New York, told the President of the evidence he had seen there of the conduct of Secretary Chase "in trying to cut under" for the Republican nomination. Mr. Lincoln said, "it was very bad taste, but he had determined to shut his eyes to all these performances; that Chase made a good Secretary, and that he would keep him where he is; if he becomes President, all right! I hope we may never have a worse man. I have all along seen clearly his plan of strengthening himself. Whenever he sees that an important matter is troubling me, if I am compelled to decide it in a way to give offence to a man of some influence, he always ranges himself in opposition to me, and persuades the victim that he [Chase] would have arranged it very differently. It was so with Gen'l Frmont, - with Gen'l Hunter, when I annulled his hasty proclamation - with Gen'l Butler, when he was recalled from New Orleans, - with the Missouri people, when they called the other day. I am entirely indifferent to his success or failure in these schemes, so long as he does his duty as the head of the Treasure Department. (Thayer, Vol. I, pp. 201-202.)

We need to remember and honor Abraham Lincoln because he was one of the wisest and noblest leaders we have had - and he rose from the harshest of conditions on the American frontier. I will end this essay on Lincoln with anecdotes from John Hay. Not only was Lincoln humane, he was quite human, and humorous:

The President came in last night in his shirt and told me of the retirement of the enemy from his works at Spottsylvania, and our pursuit. I complimented him on the amount of underpinning he still has left, and he said he weighed 180 pounds. Important if true." (May 14, 1864.)
A little after midnight as I was writing those last lines, the President came into the office laughing, with a volume of Hood's Works in his hand, to show Nicolay and me the little caricature, 'An Unfortunate Bee-ing'; seemingly utterly unconscious that he, with his short shirt hanging about his long legs, and setting out behind like the tail feathers of an enormous ostrich, was infinitely funnier than anything in the book he was laughing at. What a man it is! Occupied all day with matters of vast moment, deeply anxious about the fate of the greatest army of the world, with his own plans and future hanging on the events of the passing hour, he yet has such a wealth of simple bonhomie and good fellowship that he gets out of bed and perambulates the house in his shirt to find us, that we may share with him the fun of poor Hood's queer little conceits." (April 30, 1864.) (Thayer, Vol. I, pp. 198-199.) *
Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:01

Summary for April 2015

The following is a summary of the April-May 2015 issue of the St. Croix Review:

Barry MacDonald, in "Abraham Lincoln, Part I," writes about Lincoln's character and times.

Allan Brownfeld, in "As Extremism Grows Among Europe's Muslim Immigrants, There Are Lessons to Be Learned from America's Melting Pot" distinguishes two factors in our schools that have helped us assimilate foreign-born children - English and an attitude of "proud to be an American" - let's not lose the attitude; in "Family Breakdown: One Important Cause of Many of Society's Ills," he recalls Daniel Patrick Moynihan's warnings about the "tangle of pathologies" that would flow from single-parent families; in "There Is a Growing Danger That Police Are Being Made Scapegoats for Larger Racial Problems That Society Ignores," he cites as a problem the destructive character of black inner-city culture; in "A New Look at the Declaration of Independence," he reviews Danielle Allen's book, Our Declaration, and reactions to it; in "Urging Jews to Flee France Is Calling for a Posthumous Victory for Hitler," responds to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's appeal to French Jews following a terrorist attack.

Mark Hendrickson, in "The FCC Versus Internet Freedom," shows why the FCC's proposed regulation of the internet is so terrible; in "Elizabeth Warren Is Right (Sort Of)," he exposes how the progressive Sen. Warren's policies to aid the middle class are already doing harm; in "The EU's Nightmare in the 'Hotel California'," he sees Europe's situation - big government disease - and foretells, in chilling detail, what's going to happen; in "Kim Kardshian, Ronny Porta, and Other Beautiful People," he writes about beauty that is not shallow.

Herbert London, in "The Foreign Policy Failures of 2014," outlines a world in chaos, and President Obama's abdication of leadership; in "A Strategy for the Middle East," he proposes a NATO-like alliance of Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait opposing ISIS and Iran, with the U.S. and, even Israel, offering assistance; in "Netanyahu Should Be Honored, Not Boycotted," he responses to the Israeli Prime Minister's address to the Joint Session of Congress; in "Post-structuralism as National Fantasy," he cites example from literature, campus politics, and foreign policy where our leaders reject obvious reality in favor of pretended truths; in "Hezbollah and Its Quandary," he reveals Hezbollah's precarious situation.

Paul Kengor, in "Here's the Guy Rudy Is Talking about: Frank Marshall Davis, Communist Party No. 47544," backs up the former mayor of New York City - President Obama was influenced in his youth by a Communist; in "'It Was a Real Killing Field' - Remembering Iwo Jima," he writes of his conversation with Bill Young, a Marine who fought in the battle; in "Remembering Roe: A Forgotten Warning from Ronald Reagan," he quotes from a speech given in 1987.

In "Does the Faith of Presidents Matter?" Gary Smith poses questions, and shows how faith did prompt many presidents to govern as they did.

Thomas Martin, in "A Teacher's Morning," uses Plato's allegory of the cave to consider his students' use of modern media.

Dave Winnes tells how he came to his profession, the evolution of the trade, and the differing types of management he encountered, in "Americans at Work: Mechanical Engineer."

Jigs Gardner, in "Letters From a Conservative Farmer: Owly Bob," describes a character who came by the area on occasion, and the responses he got from the locals.

Jigs Gardner, "Writers for Conservatives 54: The Flow of Life," describes . . . And Ladies of the Club, a novel about the activities of a woman's club in a small Ohio town from 1868 to 1932.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:01

Letters From a Conservative Farmer: Owly Bob

Letters From a Conservative Farmer: Owly Bob

Jigs Gardner

Jigs Gardner is an Associate Editor of the St. Croix Review. Jigs Gardner writes on literature from the Adirondacks, where he may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

I was sitting with the storekeeper on a bench in his backyard, drinking beer. I had finished mowing his field, the horses were standing in the shade switching their tails at flies, and it was time for a rest and a chat.

"Do you know a guy I often see along the road fishing? Big guy, tall, barrel chest. Somebody said he was called Two-gun."

"Oh, yes. Two-gun."

"Why's he called that?"

"Big mouth, always spouting off. Steer clear of him - he's owly."

"Owly? What's that supposed to mean?"

"You don't know? I thought Americans knew everything."

"Cut it out. What does 'owly' mean?"

"Hang around Two-gun and you'll find out."

That was all I learned from the storekeeper - then.

I had seen him fishing at the Cove on my way to town, and also on the road to the sawmill a couple of times, and the last time I had stopped the horses and asked how the fish were biting.

His only answer, with a sweeping gesture, was, "I'm enjoyin the beauties of Mother Nature!"

I laughed and drove on.

On the way home from the storekeeper's that day, hauling the mowing machine on the wagon, I saw him at the Cove. I stopped, asked about the fishing again, but his attention was fixed on an eagle that had just landed on a tree across the Cove. Pointing to it he proclaimed, "The monarch of the skies!" An eccentric of some sort, I thought, as I started the horses; maybe that's what "owly" means.

The following Friday evening, just after dark, a car drove in. I turned on the porch light and opened the screen door. It was Two-gun, wearing a jacket and tie, all spruced up, a formidable figure, and behind him was a wizened old man wearing a windbreaker and a railroad man's cap. Two-gun took the kitchen by storm. "Hello! The House!" he bellowed. "God bless all here!" He shook my hand, shook Jo Ann's, and sat at the head of the table. "My friend, Richard Matheson," waving at the little old man at the end of the table.

When anyone enters your house in Cape Breton you immediately pour him a cup of tea and offer him a slice of bannoch if you have it, otherwise cookies will do. I went to the stove for the tea while Jo Ann got out the cookies.

"I'm Bob Morrison, down from Sydney to pursue the finny tribe and have some fun."

I knew what "fun" meant in Cape Breton spoken with relish like that: drink and plenty of it. When we first came I had innocently let it be known that I made beer and wine, and we had been plagued by alcoholics, so now I never offered anyone a drink. But they seemed content with tea and cookies; in fact, Bob cleaned the plate and asked for more.

The conversation was largely about people on the peninsula, mostly scandalous rumors, the usual countryside talk. Bob dominated the conversation, but Richard maintained a persistent running argument about someone who'd promised to get a bottle but hadn't, while Bob insisted that he hadn't promised a bottle, but said he'd try to get one. We did learn that Bob worked at the steel mill in Sydney, had a wife and two children, but spent most weekends on the peninsula, fishing and hunting, but from the way they spoke of their endeavors, mostly stories about missed opportunities and disasters, I gathered that these things were really only excuses for jolly weekends of general carrying on. This was an old story on the peninsula: bums from Sydney came to the area because it was wilder, sparsely populated with the Canadian equivalent of hillbillies and you almost never saw a Mountie there. I had encountered men like that over the years - they were always curious about our beautiful farm in the depths of the empty Backlands - and I kept out of their way, but Bob seemed a happy-go-lucky version and they didn't stay long, perhaps an hour, and we enjoyed the visit. We had friends here and there, but they were mostly farmers and woodsmen, not people who would come by for an evening visit.

Thus began the first year of our friendship with Bob Morrison, a year of Friday evening visits of an hour or so, maybe twice a month, and every visit was more or less like that first one, with two exceptions. Once they brought along a woman Margaret MacNeil, in whose house Richard had a room. She was remarkable for her aloof reticence - she hardly said ten words - and her appearance. She looked amazingly like an aged Dragon Lady from the old "Terry and the Pirates" comic strip with her dyed black hair, her long cigarette holder, her heavily powdered face and vivid lipstick.

(Parenthetically, I had a funny conversation with a friend when we were dismantling a barn some years later. Margaret MacNeil had just died and my friend noted it. I said the only time I had seen her she looked like a black widow spider, to which he replied that she was "a handsome woman in her day," and I answered, "We were all good looking in our day." After a long moment he said, smugly I thought, "Some of us were, and some of us weren't.")

The other exception was the night he came alone with a schoolbook he had found in a derelict shack, an anthology of the poetry taught in schools a century ago. Bob wanted me to read some aloud because, he said, "You got the education to bring out the poetry." I turned the pages, looking for the sort of poem I thought he'd like, lots of resonance and spirit: "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," Tennyson's "Blow, Bugle, Blow," a couple of ballads, "Invictus," Blake's "Tiger," "O Captain, My Captain." I put all my expression into it, and he seemed to love it.

Our half-mile lane was blocked by snow, so we didn't see him in the winter. The next summer he turned up, along with Richard, on a Friday in April, and we didn't see him again until the beginning of June, on a Saturday afternoon, and ever afterward we saw him only on Saturday afternoons. I hadn't thought about it, but on Fridays he was fresh from Sydney, all dressed up, and dissipation had not yet taken its toll. Now all the Friday clothes were gone, replaced by shabby country clothes, and Bob himself, unshaven with bloodshot eyes, was a different man. He'd drive in, alone or with Richard or someone else, and stay for lunch, and it was obvious from his raucousness that he'd been drinking, though I wouldn't say he was drunk. It was obviously a demotion, a diminution in respect, when we descended from Fridays to Saturdays.

Bob drove in one day with a new pal I had never seen before, horribly obsequious, who kept calling me "Sir." I was working in the shop filing a six-foot crosscut saw while Bob prowled around the shop and the other guy asked questions about how the forge worked. Finally Bob asked for a bottle of my wine. I told him we served it only at meals. He muttered something and kicked about the forge. I went on filing. Bob said in a surly tone, "You think you're hot stuff, don't you?" Holding the file poised over the saw, I looked straight at him and said quietly, "Is this how you got the reputation of being owly?" By then, I had figured out its meaning. He couldn't look at me. "Ah, to hell with you," he weakly grumbled as he slouched out. Mr. Obsequious was distressed. "Oh, sir, don't mind Bobby, sir. That's the drink talking. You know Bobby's got a heart of gold, sir."

I thought that was the end, but a week later I was asleep on the couch in the living room with a mild case of flu, when the blanket was pulled away from my head and I woke to behold Bob, his dirty pants held up by baling twine, no shirt, looking as if he'd just crawled out of a coal mine. "John, gimmie some wine."

"Oh Bob, I'm sick, go 'way."

Jo Ann was 80 yards away at the barn, but she recognized Bob's car and headed for the house. We were still arguing when she walked in and ordered Bob out. She was standing by the door, and as he went out he deliberately brushed hard against her.

We didn't see him again for three years. We were running a hostel then, and sometimes hitchhikers would get a ride in. It was after supper, guests were sitting out on the porch, and I was washing the dishes. A vehicle drove in with a hosteller, and Jo Ann went to sign her in. The driver opened the screen door. It was Bob, utterly changed. The barrel chest had dropped to his waist, and he looked old and haggard. "Hi, Bob. What's new?"

"I retired, John." There was a pause, and then he said, very lugubriously, "I'm dyin', John."

"What?" What is it?"

"I'm dyin' o' loneliness," again very plaintively.

I laughed so hard I dropped a plate. "See what you done?" he said happily. By the time I had picked up the plate, he was gone, pleased with his small success, no doubt, but wary of pushing his luck. That was our last encounter. Over the next few years I heard about him occasionally. Tolerated when he was in his prime, now he found it very difficult to find a berth. Finally he tried to move in on some of the crabby old pensioners, squatting in shacks along the back roads, living from one glorious drunk each month to the next, but he got short shrift there. Last I heard he was living in his car, parking in the overgrown lanes to heat coffee over a campfire.

Once again I had mown the storekeeper's field, and once again I was sitting on a bench drinking beer with the storekeeper as the horses stood in the shade, switching their tails at flies.

"I wonder what happened to Two-gun last winter. Last I heard he was living in his car. He couldn't've been doing that in the winter."

"He stayed here."


"Oh, not in my house. There's a little building not much more than a shack, out behind the barn. We used it when we were rebuilding after the fire."

"You told me to stay away from him, told me he was owly."

"Well, I didn't have him here in the house. His wife kicked him out, you know. And no one would put up with him. . . . you've got two cabins empty all winter, you could've put him up."

"Like hell!"

The storekeeper smiled. "You entertained him in your house, you told me how he liked poetry, how funny he was."

"That's before I knew how owly he was."

"Oh yes he was owly all right - but he was a human being."

"You amaze me."

"The feeling is mutual."

We laughed.

A year or so later I got an envelope in the mail from the storekeeper. Inside was a clipping from the obituary column of the Sydney paper with notice of Robert Morrison's death. He was survived by his wife and two children. Also in the envelope was one of the storekeeper's billheads, and on it he had written "Now let God judge him."

I folded the billhead and stuck it in my wallet. And there it remains, its worn creases showing where it has been unfolded and folded again and again. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:01

Americans at Work: Mechanical Engineer

Americans at Work: Mechanical Engineer

Dave Winnes

The "Americans at Work," series, in the words of the workers themselves, explains their jobs, their motivations, and their satisfactions.

My first paying job, at 11 years old, was as a paperboy. In a medium-sized town, I delivered to a route of about 100 customers in a neighborhood of neat front yards and setback sidewalks. On Friday nights and Saturday mornings I would attach a moneychanger to my belt (gas station attendants had them) and go door-to-door carefully making change with pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters while dropping their coins into my changer. The subscription fee was 40 cents (60 cents with select magazine subscriptions). A few of the better-off customers would pay a whopping $1.60 for the whole month's subscription at a time. And every Saturday morning after collection, I would have to go downtown to the newspaper office to pay my bill for papers sold that week.

During high school I left the paper route to work at the newspaper office. Before the days of Human Resources I walked through a back entrance into the print shop and asked the foreman, whom I had never met, if there was work available. He looked me over for a few seconds (I knew his son from high school) and said to come back Monday and they'd have work for me. My after-school job was to tear down the day's master pages to be ready for the next day's fill of news and ads. This was during the last years of the linotype machine and master pages were still built line by line with lead cast type. From master page forms I would pull out cast lead news type column by column and drop it by chinks into a bucket. When the bucket was full I would push it over to an open-top vat of molten lead (650 degrees F) where the janitor dumped it. I learned to read the day's news in upside-down-mirror-image characters about as fast as I read normal print (which isn't very fast).

In our family it was assumed, though never expressed, that all of us children would do best by attending college, even though neither of our parents possessed college degrees. From my earliest awareness of vocational choices, I had a somewhat vague notion of being an engineer, not from any clear prompting I can discern even now, but perhaps, taking cues from the prevailing cultural winds, by matching my performance in math and science with this field. As I have realized over the years, I am only modestly mechanically inclined - not one of those who would tear an engine apart or build a transistor radio. But the cerebral component of engineering was my strength. So engineering became my chosen field. Other than my father as an engineering technician I knew of no one in that generation of extended family and friends who was an engineer.

In college, I eventually settled on mechanical engineering as my major. I graduated in 1974 with a bachelor's degree. Among my job stints during college summers I worked for my hometown's electric power department (they had their own power plant) finding and number-coding all of their utility poles and being teased by my friend's father about the way the town spent their tax dollars. I would ride my bike (a Schwinn 10-speed) to the day's site area to find the poles in backyards and alleys and then pedal to the office to tabulate my day's findings.

In my upper class summers I was an engineering intern with a crane manufacturer. In this job, much of what I did was drafting, before CADD (computer-aided design and drafting). Most engineers there had drafting boards instead of reference tables standing opposite their desks. Every morning we learned to mechanically square our two mounted rulers (called straightedges) on the board to insure they were exactly horizontal and vertical before starting the day's work. We sharpened the leads of our mechanical pencils with sandpaper and went to the supply room to ask a clerk for issues of new lead and paper.

Upon graduation from college in 1974, among several engineering job offers, all in the range of $12,000 per year, I settled on a job at a manufacturing firm in the Minneapolis area. What influenced my choice? Nearness to some family members and deep interest in a start-up Christian church located there. My job was to design mufflers - for any engine-driven vehicle or machine except automobiles (trucks, tractors, dozers, loaders, portable generators, etc.). How loud was the engine? How quiet did the exhaust noise need to be? How many decibels of noise energy did the muffler need to remove? How much backpressure (flow resistance) could the muffler impose? This was clearly a niche job where most of the design technology was learned on the job.

My first boss, who held the title of Engineering Manager, was the best boss I ever had. His approach fit an understanding of management that no longer exists. He took responsibility for his charges, and with a compassion and human interest that I have never encountered since. He led by conscientious example, before the days of HR-controlled management rules and writing your own reviews. During my interview, he was delighted to learn that I played a musical instrument. It was significant to him that a potential hire have outside interests so as to be well-rounded. (I played my French horn while he sang at another employee's retirement.)

My years at this job established me as a fair but not stellar engineer. I did manage to be listed as one of several co-inventors on five muffler-specific design patents and rose one corporate ladder rung to become an engineering supervisor. The early years coincided with the advent of EPA noise regulations (hence quieter mufflers). The later years saw the incorporation of catalytic converters into non-automotive exhaust systems. While working with catalytic converters, one of our VPs returned from a visit to Japan and wrote of the use of "paradium" as a catalyst. We realized he was writing about palladium but spelled out the Japanese attempt at pronunciation. The report circulated company-wide before the spelling was corrected.

Three notes of interest from these years: one, the last original family-member CEO retired (the company began in 1915); two, the company went public (NYSE-listed) and we gained that mysterious and feisty new customer to please - the shareholder; and three, the department named "Personnel" morphed into "Human Resources." Isn't that a humiliating name to employees? "Our company has many resources at its disposal, some of which are human." Overall, especially in hindsight, I have much respect for this company and its wariness of certain trendy corporate management fads, many of which could be counterproductive when not managed wisely. Management as a whole took a healthy, balanced degree of responsibility for its employees. My salary rose through the years slightly ahead of industry average; I was adequately compensated as an engineer.

Twenty-four years into a career as a muffler design engineer, our family made a unanimous decision, as if compelled, to move out of the city, and immerse ourselves in country living. In this there was a sense of leading, of calling, and it came to fruition only after much seeking and pondering. Once we moved, it became clear that the children (seven altogether) wanted to establish a dairy farm. This they have achieved famously, starting with an abandoned farm having no barn, today milking 50 cows in a swing-8 milking parlor. As the dust of this move settled (along with some soul-searching) I was back in engineering, finding work as an acoustic test engineer for a Fortune 500 commercial air conditioning company. We gathered noise data on commercial air conditioning equipment, conduction tests in incredible state-of-the-art reverberant rooms and semi-anechoic chambers. This work lasted for five years, until my job was eliminated in one of many corporate reorganization exercises.

Since 2009, I have been working as a part-time staff engineer at a small commercial air conditioning manufacturer, doing product noise testing and maintaining performance test stands.

The contrast among these three companies is striking. The first one was transitioning from a small family company to a corporate entity. It still valued personal integrity, and there was a sense of personal contribution and genuine positive feedback. The second did not have these traits. Management, particularly upper management, seemed arrogant and overbearing. Managers at every level no longer had (or were expected to have) a sense of care for their charges; there was far more a sense of everybody being on their own, each one striving to survive his next performance review. At all levels, the employee's first goal had become making sure his/her back was covered. I must clarify that this company was filled with good and very capable people; but the ability to connect, sympathize, and encourage was mostly stripped by the management style. Of course these observations are not separate from the trajectory of our culture in the last forty years. The third company, where I am now, is a youthful and enthused, with ragged edges, and still with a feeling of family.

From walking four blocks to work at my first job, I now drive fifty miles to get to my current place of work. Our home - the farm - is somewhat remote: our mailbox is one-and-a-half miles from our house, and paved highway is a distant two miles.

As a last observation, I must comment on that mother of all workplace game-changers: the personal computer and all things electronic. In 1974, I entered a workplace of pencils and pens, drafting boards, drawing vaults, slide rules (I had to use one for my final college exams), and secretaries. There was no voicemail; if you weren't at your desk, why, the secretary would answer your phone! Two large central computers, one for accounting and one for engineering, served the whole company. Today all of that is obsolete, except for the few secretaries serving company officers, and they are called anything but secretaries. Every workstation (a term coined because of the PC) has a PC, without which no office function could exist. As an engineer, the data manipulation I can do is orders of magnitude faster, and I do much more of it. Current industry-standard test procedures have evolved such that they could not be executed without computerized calculations. The personal computer has conquered and redefined the workplace. Access to information has exploded, but the overall merits of this evolution are not automatically positive, and are subject to much debate elsewhere than in this essay.

My dream from childhood was simply to marry and raise a family. That was the essence of my earliest aspirations. Vocation, I presumed, would work itself out. And it has, in a way in which this simple dream is being bountifully fulfilled. My vocational story has not been primarily about career achievement. As I have hinted, this sojourn, with its vocational particulars, has been spiritual at the core and I can say in my 61st year that the journey thus far - not without difficulties - has been rich and blessed by a sense of care, oversight and provision far beyond my own doing. *


Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:01

A Teacher's Morning

A Teacher's Morning

Thomas Martin

Thomas Martin is the O. K. Bouwsma Chair in Philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Along with his fellow colleagues who are dedicated to the study of the Great Books, he teaches the works of Plato, Aristotle, and G. K. Chesterton.

Walking out of my office into the hallway of Thomas Hall at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, I see seventeen students lining the hall before class. All but one of them is fiddling with a smart phone, texting, or watching a movie piped through high-end headphones. No one notices me.

I go down the steps to meet my Philosophy 188 class, The Meaning of Life. At the bottom of the steps there is the same girl who has been seated there all semester. She is coloring in a princess costume on what looks to be a Barbie doll - Monday she was playing solitaire, and last Friday she was fingering away to someone on her smart phone.

I enter my classroom to a dozen, or so, of my twenty-five students thumbing away at their phones. They speed up because class starts in two minutes, and they will be forced off-line for fifty minutes.

Today we are reading Plato's Allegory of the Cave, which depicts a form of education in 375 B. C., the start of formal schooling.

Imagine people chained to a wall - they have been there since childhood ("they are like us") - looking at the opposite wall upon which shadows are cast. There is a fire behind the prisoners, and between the fire and them is a ledge upon which men walk holding cut-out figures to create the shadows on the wall at which the prisoners, who cannot turn their heads, are staring. The men behind them talk, so the shadows are connected with voices. To pass time, the prisoners see who can remember the order of the shadows and award prizes to those who are correct. Obviously, there is no one to verify the sequence of events or if the shadows have anything to do with reality, but it is the only reality the prisoners know.

One day, a prisoner's chains break, and he is free to turn around. The firelight hurts his eyes, but with time, he sees the men holding up the images, and hypothesizes the cut-outs are copies of the real figures on the wall.

He eventually is pulled out of the cave into the blinding sunlight, where, after his eyes adjust, he sees reality.

The allegory is the movement of the soul upward, from the thoughtless acceptance of images projected on a blank wall by the thought-controllers, to the wisdom that comes with the direct knowledge of reality outside the cave.

The students in class today see the allegory is comparable to the visual images of televised media [with advertising!], including the auditory accompaniment of politicians, teachers, ministers, priests, parents, etc., who control the sights and sounds - while fueling the fire - that reach the captive minds of those who can't unplug from whatever is titillating the eyes or stimulating the ears, thus adding up to a smoke-filled picture of a gullible mind.

Socrates uses the allegory to show the state of affairs between ignorance, opinion, and knowledge. Knowledge of reality is in the sunlight; opinion is the haze of shadows; and ignorance is the state of darkness into which all men are born.

Opinion easily holds sway over the multitude who lack the necessary self-control to disconnect from the events streaming 24/7 ad infinitum in cave land.

Class ends and the students, many of whom are back to fingering phones or talking to their smart phone, make their way to the door.

I walk out into the hall bustling with students - mostly quiet - reattaching to a variety of screens, eager as spelunkers gasping for fresh air.

I almost trip over a student lodged on the third step hunkered over some device, as I make my way to the second floor marked by a head-phoned student seated in a chair watching a music video.

Before I enter my office, I turn to a girl who, to my surprise, says, "I love you."

She is on her iPhone, of course. *

Wednesday, 16 December 2015 12:01

Does the Faith of Presidents Matter?

Does the Faith of Presidents Matter?

Gary S. Smith

Gary Scott Smith is a fellow for Faith and Politics at the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania He is the author of Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush (Oxford University Press, 2006) and Religion in the Oval Office: The Religious Lives of American Presidents (Oxford University Press, 2015). The essay is republished from V & V, a web site of The Center for Vision & Values.

Last month we celebrated the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, two presidents whose deep but somewhat unconventional faith has evoked great debate. Does the faith of presidents truly matter? Does it significantly affect how they think, live, and govern? Concluding that it does not, most biographers have treated presidents' religious convictions as no more important than hobbies such as collecting stamps or playing golf. Many other Americans, however, have considered the faith of presidents as either a cause for celebration or alarm. While Christians often campaigned vigorously and voted in droves for candidates who shared their faith, their foes warned that the dangerous religious views of other presidential aspirants made them unacceptable for the nation's highest office.

In the presidential campaign of 1800, Federalists denounced Thomas Jefferson as an infidel who would subvert the nation's Christian foundation. Rumors spread that, if elected, Jefferson would use public funds to entice civil servants, teachers, military officers, and even ministers to either ignore religion or teach secularism. After Jefferson won, these claims prompted many Federalists in New England to bury their Bibles in their gardens so that his administration could not destroy them.

In 1908, Theodore Roosevelt assured apprehensive prospective voters that William Taft's Unitarian faith did not disqualify him from being president. Twenty years later, fundamentalist Protestants argued that Democratic candidate Al Smith's Catholicism made him unfit to be president. Despite John F. Kennedy's assurances that he would be guided by the Constitution and his conscience, not the pope, his Catholic faith was as controversial in 1960 as Smith's had been in 1928.

Jimmy Carter's affirmation that he was born again baffled and frightened many Americans as did George's W. Bush's assertion that Jesus was his favorite philosopher. Many worried that their decisions would be based on what they perceived God wanted them to do rather than on the advice of their cabinet and the nation's strategic needs.

Are these concerns justified? Does the faith of presidents truly affect how they govern? Does it help shape their perspectives, policies, actions, and decisions? The answer depends on which chief executives we are discussing. The faith of some presidents (such as Kennedy, ironically) mattered little. The faith of many others, including Hoover, Carter, Bush, and surprisingly Jefferson, strongly influenced their political philosophy and policies.

Although it is impossible to disentangle the personal religious convictions of presidents from their use of religion to serve partisan political purposes, many of them were more deeply religious and had more vibrant personal devotional lives than most scholars have recognized. Presidents use religious language and engage in religious practices to win public approval and gain political advantages. Therefore, we must judge whether their faith is authentic by examining their private correspondence as well as their public pronouncements and evaluating the testimonies of those who knew them best. We must also assess their statements and behavior before, during, and after their presidencies.

Their religious practices - frequent church attendance, prayer, and reading of the Bible - close relationships with some religious groups, regular use of religious rhetoric, and particular policies all testify that their faith was important to many chief executives. Most presidents have worshipped consistently to continue their life-long practice, seek divine guidance, set a good example, or to please prospective voters. Almost all presidents have extensively used moral and biblical language to console grieving Americans, provide assurance in times of crisis, celebrate religious holidays, and promote particular policies.

The faith of many presidents has also helped shape their policies and determine their decisions. Numerous other factors - strategic considerations, national security, party platform commitments, campaign promises, political philosophy, relationships, and reelection concerns - affect their decisions. Nevertheless, their religious commitments have strongly affected the policies many presidents adopted. Religious beliefs helped inspire George Washington's quest to guarantee religious liberty, Jefferson's to ensure peace, and Abraham Lincoln's to end slavery. Their Christian convictions helped prompt William McKinley to declare war against Spain and take control of the Philippines, Theodore Roosevelt to establish national parks, Woodrow Wilson to devise the Treaty of Versailles, Herbert Hoover to reform prisons, and Franklin Roosevelt to remedy the ills of the Great Depression. Harry Truman's decision to recognize Israel, Dwight Eisenhower's attempt to reduce armaments, Carter's quest to promote human rights, Ronald Reagan's crusade to crush Communism, Bill Clinton's efforts to resolve international conflicts, George W. Bush's support for faith-based initiatives, and Barack Obama's policies on poverty were all motivated in large part by their faith.

Has the faith of presidents affected them and their administrations positively or negatively? The answer to this question depends largely on how individuals view the religious convictions and policies of particular presidents. However, when people's faith gives them confidence, assurance, comfort, and inspiration, it is generally beneficial. People's faith often stimulates them to be more compassionate, generous, and hopeful and supplies a constructive blueprint for bettering society. Moreover, the faith of presidents has often greatly aided them in carrying out their demanding duties and serving as the nation's pastor-in-chief during crises and calamities.

Faith has played a very important and often controversial role in the lives of American presidents from George Washington to Barack Obama. Although the Founders wisely separated church and state, religious belief and politics have often been inextricably joined and will undoubtedly continue to be. *

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