Tuesday, August 31, 2010

This week, I was lame.

So I haven't got much to say for myself this time, except that I read a really good address on freedom of religion and I need to do better. My excuse is that I just started a new job and my brain is kind of fried. So, until next week...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Week 3 of Revolution Month

This is the first time I've run into anything by George Washington, so that has been fun. I've managed to misplace my book, so I can't look up everything I've read this week--and that wasn't much. Here's what I remember:

The draft and final version of the Declaration of Independence.

Some arguments about the Declaration, and a piece by Thomas Jefferson about it, laying out his thoughts for the next steps to be taken.

A couple of letters by John Adams--the famous one to his wife, saying that July 2nd would be celebrated forever, and another one.

A speech by George Washington to the troops when they were ready to revolt over lack of pay.

An essay describing the speech and the effect it had.

A letter from Washington to Congress about his desire to retire and his thoughts about the future, with special regard to the debts (moral and monetary) owed to the men of the army.

Now I'm done with the war and ready to move into debates over the Constitution. My particular goal is to read some of the Federalist papers, and, I suppose, the Anti-Federalist papers too.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Week 2 of the Revolution

I tried to tackle quite a bit of Revolutionary stuff this week. Besides some proceedings-type things from the Continental Congresses, here are some of the highlights:

"Remember the Ladies" letters between Abigail and John Adams. This famous letter from Mrs. Adams reminds her husband that as long as they're going to talk about independence, they ought to remember that women would like some too. Adams replied with a light-hearted attempt at fobbing her off, but I was surprised to learn that at the same time, he wrote another letter to James Sullivan pointing out that there was no real reason to exclude women from the vote.

Thomas Jefferson's 1774 essay "A Summary View of the Rights of British America," which was educational but I don't have much to say about it.

John Adams' 1776 piece "Thoughts on Government"--more of a letter than a real essay, but lays out a system of checks and balances and has a lot of good stuff to say.

At this point in my Founding America book, everything becomes a reaction to Paine's Common Sense, which of course I had never read. So I went and found it. It's not a difficult read at all, and has a lot of very good sense in it (although the first chapter attacks the English checks and balances system). If you're looking to read just some of the really important selections, this is a good one to include.

And I also read several more speeches from Native American leaders--I particularly liked one by Pontiac. Of course they were not concerned at all with all that independence stuff, but with the power struggles between the French, English, colonists, and themselves.

This week it's on to the Declaration of Independence and the war.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

There is way more Revolutionary stuff than I can manage to read.

There is no way I'm going to manage to even get a handle on the Revolutionary era in a month. But I'm trying. So this week I read:

The rest of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography. Who knew that he was such a lovable guy? Franklin is just fun to read. The autobiography actually doesn't even get close to the actual Revolution; it stops just as he's realizing that colonists and the English government are really not going to be able to get along no matter how much they talk. He has a lot to say about the corruption and arrogance of the English.

An interesting thing I noticed about Franklin was what a smooth operator he was. When faced with a problem, he liked to find a solution that made everybody happy without having to fight about it. One small example he gives is on a military expedition for the colony's defense. The chaplain complains about how the men never show up for daily prayers (which is required). Instead of punishing the men or anything else, Franklin suggests that the chaplain become steward of the rum ration and dole it out after the prayer meeting. Problem solved! He did stuff like that all the time.

Franklin often talks about how he got to be so agreeable. As a youth, he liked to argue and debate, but eventually realized that if he spoke more softly, he was much more popular--and got more support as well. This is a recurring theme (and a very 18th-century one); later in the book he describes a lawyer of his acquaintance, who loves nothing better than to dispute and argue. He says "He had some reason for loving to dispute, being eloquent, an acute sophister, and, therefore, generally successful in argumentative conversation...[but] in the course of my observation, these disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them."

Oh, for a Benjamin Franklin in today's political arena....

I also started looking through a book I picked up at Barnes & Noble, which is a collection of documents from the Revolution through 1789. It's huge, and I'd like to read all of it, but it will take me a long time. Baby steps! I started at the beginning with Thomas Hutchinson's Address of the Governor of January 6, 1773. This is a speech that really kicked off revolutionary fervor, as Governor Hutchinson calmly and reasonably explained to the Massachusetts Assembly the obvious (to him) reasons why Americans could not have a voice in Parliament. As the speech was reprinted in newspapers and plunged the colony into an uproar.

Benjamin Franklin had been living in England for 15 years by 1773, trying to work with the English government on behalf of America. The English persisted in believing Americans to be disloyal, despite all Franklin could do to persuade them otherwise. He published a humorous essay called "Rules by which a great empire may be reduced to a small one" in September of that year, pointing out that the way the English treated Americans was ideal for turning loyalists into revolutionaries. The time for humor was soon over, but this was before things got ugly.

Next up is an essay my Thomas Jefferson called "A summary view of the rights of British America." I bet it won't be so fun to read as the Franklin essay.

And for your enjoyment, here's a nice little revolutionary video for you.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Time to start reading about the Revolution!

I dropped the ball last week, but I'm back! This week wraps up a month of colonial reading, and we're moving on to the Revolutionary period. I'm going to call that 1750 - 1789.

In the last couple of weeks I've read a whole lot of very short things out of the Annals of America. I'll just list some of the more interesting bits:

Attempts to Christianize the Indians, by Jonas Michaelius, a Dutch Reformed pastor. This depressing essay discusses possible ways to convert the Indians, particularly taking the children away and raising them in white households. He is irked by the way this backfires because the families want their children back.

John Cotton's sermon On the Divine Right to Occupy the Land, which says that no one has any right to take over another people's land unless God tells them to, and how to tell which case you are in.

More cheerfully, there was the Forefathers' Song, a wry commentary on colonial life dating from about 1630.

About then I got bored with the early 17th century and moved up to 1693, to Increase Mather's essay on the Insufficiency of Evidence Against Witches. He and his son Cotton were deeply involved in witch trials, but Increase acted as a restraining influence. Here he asserts that the evidence for witchcraft must be at least as strong as for any other crime, and decries the methods of torture that were commonly used to force confessions and so on. He particularly attacks ducking (throwing people into the water to see if they would sink or swim) as a diabolical superstition.

Then I jumped up to the 18th century and read a few things by Benjamin Franklin, who acts as a breath of fresh air. I am getting quite fond of him. I read a newspaper essay called The Speech of Polly Baker, a fictional speech by a woman on trial for bearing illegitimate children (which wasn't actually illegal). Then there were some of his preliminary thoughts on a sort of union of some colonies, and an essay on educating the Indians, the gist of which was that the Indians seemed perfectly competent to educate themselves.

I also skimmed a couple of famous sermons: A Model of Christian Charity, which was something of a pattern for the Puritans to live by, and Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, which I'm still working on. I find old sermons extremely difficult to read.

So that's it for my colonial reading--now for some Revolutionary material. What have you read in the last couple of weeks?