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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Early Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations

A Textbook Example of
Christian Neutrality


With Thanksgiving just around the corner I thought that this might be an appropriate way to embrace the theme of the season. As we all know, Thanksgiving has become an extremely important event in American culture. For the religious and non-religious alike, Thanksgiving brings opportunities to recognize our nation's good fortune and a communal hope in its future prosperity. For many devout Christians, Thanksgiving takes on an additional measure of significance as a day in which praise is rendered to God for our nation's continued happiness. And make no mistake, the practice of giving thanks is as American as apple pie. Even our founders got in on the action.

And what exactly did these early Founding Fathers think of celebrating a national day of thanksgiving? While they certainly did not celebrate Thanksgiving in the same manner as we do today, a few of our earliest presidents did decree that certain days should be set aside and dedicated to national prayer and thanksgiving. Here are a few of those early presidential proclamations:

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789 -- October 14, 1789 to be exact -- has been lauded by Christian nation sympathizers for decades as proof positive that America's first Commander-in-Chief was a devout believer in Jesus Christ. And while I am in 100% agreement with their assertion that Washington was a devout man of faith and prayer, I also recognize that the historical record -- as it applies to Washington's religion -- is far from concrete in labeling him a devout Christian.

Let us look at the Thanksgiving proclamation itself for additional evidence on Washington's faith. First off, most anti-Christian nation advocates routinely point out the fact that the actual author of the proclamation was not President Washington, but William Jackson, the President's personal secretary. And while it is true that Washington did not himself pen the proclamation, it is reasonable to assume that he read and gave consent to the document's contents, thus the actual authorship of the piece has little to no relevance. What is relevant, however, is the wordage that was chosen to pay homage to God. Does Washington actually invoke the blessings of the Christian God as so many Christian nation apologists insist? Below is a copy of Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation:
WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requefted me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of thefe States to the fervice of that
great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our fincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the fignal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the courfe and conclufion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have fince enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to eftablish Conftitutions of government for our fafety and happinefs, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffufing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleafed to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in moft humbly offering our prayers and fupplications to the
great Lord and Ruler of Nations and befeech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private ftations, to perform our feveral and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a bleffing to all the people by conftantly being a Government of wife, juft, and conftitutional laws, difcreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all fovereigns and nations (especially fuch as have shewn kindnefs unto us); and to blefs them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increafe of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind fuch a degree of temporal profperity as he alone knows to be beft.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand feven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington
As noted in bold above, Washington's proclamation contains five specific references to deity. Contrary to what many anti-Christian nation advocates claim, the document is clearly religious in its content and purpose. However, does it support the Christian nation's assertion that Washington was a devout Christian? I would argue that it does not. Washington's "God talk" is both extremely neutral and noticeably absent of any typical Christian references. With that said, it is more than clear from this document and others that Washington was a man of faith. What TYPE of faith is the real question we must endeavor to answer.

This same neutral "God talk" can also be found in the thanksgiving proclamations of President James Madison. In both his 1814 and 1815 proclamations, Madison, like Washington, urges Americans to give thanks to God but does so in a very unitarian tone. In Madison's 1814 decree he writes:
The two Houses of the National Legislature having by a joint resolution expressed their desire that in the present time of public calamity and war a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States as a day of public humiliation and fasting and of prayer to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessing on their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace, I have deemed it proper by this proclamation to recommend that Thursday, the 12th of January next, be set apart as a day on which all may have an opportunity of voluntarily offering at the same time in their respective religious assemblies their humble adoration to the Great Sovereign of the Universe, of confessing their sins and transgressions, and of strengthening their vows of repentance and amendment. They will be invited by the same solemn occasion to call to mind the distinguished favors conferred on the American people in the general health which has been enjoyed, in the abundant fruits of the season, in the progress of the arts instrumental to their comfort, their prosperity, and their security, and in the victories which have so powerfully contributed to the defense and protection of our country, a devout thankfulness for all which ought to be mingled with their supplications to the Beneficent Parent of the Human Race that He would be graciously pleased to pardon all their offenses against Him; to support and animate them in the discharge of their respective duties; to continue to them the precious advantages flowing from political institutions so auspicious to their safety against dangers from abroad, to their tranquillity at home, and to their liberties, civil and religious; and that He would in a special manner preside over the nation in its public councils and constituted authorities, giving wisdom to its measures and success to its arms in maintaining its rights and in overcoming all hostile designs and attempts against it; and, finally, that by inspiring the enemy with dispositions favorable to a just and reasonable peace its blessings may be speedily and happily restores.

Given at the city of Washington, the 16th day of November, 1814, and of the Independence of the United States the thirty-eighth.
JAMES MADISON
And Madison's Proclamation of 1815:
The senate and House of Representatives of the United States have by a joint resolution signified their desire that a day may be recommended to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity as a day of thanksgiving and of devout acknowledgments to Almighty God for His great goodness manifested in restoring to them the blessing of peace.

No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of Events of the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States. His kind providence originally conducted them to one of the best portions of the dwelling place allotted for the great family of the human race. He protected and cherished them under all the difficulties and trials to which they were exposed in their early days. Under His fostering care their habits, their sentiments, and their pursuits prepared them for a transition in due time to a state of independence and self-government. In the arduous struggle by which it was attained they were distinguished by multiplied tokens of His benign interposition. During the interval which succeeded He reared them into the strength and endowed them with the resources which have enabled them to assert their national rights, and to enhance their national character in another arduous conflict, which is now so happily terminated by a peace and reconciliation with those who have been our enemies. And to the same Divine Author of Every Good and Perfect Gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land.

It is for blessings such as these, and more especially for the restoration of the blessing of peace, that I now recommend that the second Thursday in April next be set apart as a day on which the people of every religious denomination may in their solemn assembles unite their hearts and their voices in a freewill offering to their Heavenly Benefactor of their homage of thanksgiving and of their songs of praise.
As noted in Washington's proclamation, Madison's tone is noticeably neutral and intentionally sensitive in recognizing ALL brands of faith.

And while Washington and Madison's presidential proclamations are clearly absent any clear Christian language, it is worth pointing out that President John Adams' proclamation of 1798 for a "Day of Fasting and Humiliation" (not Thanksgiving) does contain specific Christian wordage that cannot be applied to any other belief system:
I have therefore thought fit to recommend and I do hereby recommend, that Wednesday, the 9th day of May next, be observed throughout the United States as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens of these States, abstaining on that day from their customary worldly occupations, offer their devout addresses to the Father of Mercies agreeably to those forms or methods which they have severally adopted as the most suitable and becoming; that all religious congregations do, with the deepest humility, acknowledge before God the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation, beseeching Him at the same time, of His infinite grace, through the Redeemer of the World, freely to remit all our offenses, and to incline us by His Holy Spirit to that sincere repentance and reformation which may afford us reason to hope for his inestimable favor and heavenly benediction.
For the complete text of President Adams' proclamation, click here.

As is obvious above, Adams' petition to "the Redeemer of the World" is clearly a Christian petition and cannot be applied to any other religion. So this must mean that John Adams was a devout orthodox Christian, right?

Well, not so fast. Several years later, Adams admitted to a friend his regret in issuing what he saw as an ultra-orthodox declaration of Christian piety, which he believed cost him the election with Thomas Jefferson. Adams writes:
The National Fast, recommended by me turned me out of office. It was connected with the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which I had no concern in. That assembly has allarmed and alienated Quakers, Anabaptists, Mennonists, Moravians, Swedenborgians, Methodists, Catholicks, protestant Episcopalians, Arians, Socinians, Armenians, & & &, Atheists and Deists might be added. A general Suspicon prevailed that the Presbyterian Church was ambitious and aimed at an Establishment of a National Church. I was represented as a Presbyterian and at the head of this political and ecclesiastical Project. The secret whisper ran through them “Let us have Jefferson, Madison, Burr, any body, whether they be Philosophers, Deists, or even Atheists, rather than a Presbyterian President.” This principle is at the bottom of the unpopularity of national Fasts and Thanksgivings. Nothing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion.

~John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812. Old Family Letters, 392-93; taken from Hutson’s The Founders on Religion, 101-02.
And while the founding generation -- the earliest presidents in particular -- did strive to maintain a neutral prose when recognizing deity, it would be a dire mistake to assume that such declarations are evidence of a desire for secularism to thrive over religion. Even if the language is noticeably absent any specific Christian references, the fact remains that ALL of these proclamations do call for the national recognition of the role of providence in America's prosperity. Such a petition appeals to Franklin's declaration of an American "public religion" and Jefferson's belief in "the Laws of Nature."

So, no matter which side of the fence you fall, try to remember that giving thanks to whatever it is you believe in is a time-honored tradition in this nation. Whether you are a person of faith or not, Thanksgiving provides us all with at least one day to be a "glass is half full" person. And thank God/Allah/Yahweh/L. Ron Hubbard for that!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"From the Halls of Montezuma, to the Shores of Tripoli"

Happy 235th Birthday to the
United States Marines!!!


On this day in 1775, the United States Marine Corps was born. Members of the Continental Congress, seeing that war with Britain was on the horizon, drafted a resolution calling for the establishment of "two battalions of Marines to be raised." The Continental Congress, gathered at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, ratified the resolution, which officially commissioned the Continental Marines "for the protection of the American colonies and to fight for independence at sea and shore." It was John Adams, the chief supporter of the bill, who pushed for the ratification of this resolution. As a result, it is Adams who should be given special recognition as being the "father" of the Marine Corps.

Here are some interesting tidbits of history on the Marines and their role in the Revolution from the History Channel's website:
Serving on land and at sea, the original U.S. Marines distinguished themselves in a number of important operations during the Revolutionary War. The first Marine landing on a hostile shore occurred when a force of Marines under Captain Samuel Nicholas captured New Province Island in the Bahamas from the British in March 1776. Nicholas was the first commissioned officer in the Continental Marines and is celebrated as the first Marine commandant. After American independence was achieved in 1783, the Continental Navy was demobilized and its Marines disbanded.

In the next decade, however, increasing conflict at sea with Revolutionary France led the U.S. Congress to establish formally the U.S. Navy in May 1798. Two months later, on July 11, President John Adams signed the bill establishing the U.S. Marine Corps as a permanent military force under the jurisdiction of the Department of Navy. U.S. Marines saw action in the so-called Quasi-War with France and then fought against the Barbary pirates of North Africa during the first years of the 19th century. Since then, Marines have participated in all the wars of the United States and in most cases were the first soldiers to fight. In all, Marines have executed more than 300 landings on foreign shores.
For more information on the birthday of the U.S. Marines click here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jefferson's "Tree of Liberty" Quote in Context

This past week Americans witnessed the beautiful miracle that is a democratic election. And though many on the left are probably unhappy with the results, all Americans should be proud of the fact that in this nation we can have a safe transfer of power from one person to another without a single shot being fired or a single life being lost. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest blessing of living in America.

Over the past few months, however, we have witnessed a great disturbance in the collective political discourse of this nation. The fires of political partisanship has led to an inferno of overheated, hate-filled demonstrations of pretended patriotism aimed at "securing" America's "true" glory no matter the cost (some have even suggested revolution as a viable option).

In the wake of this public discourse one infamous and stirring quote has made its way back onto the public stage: enter none other than Thomas Jefferson.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson -- who was then living in France -- wrote a letter to his friend William Smith. In the letter Jefferson wrote the following words, which have, from time-to-time, been quoted to affirm the rights of the people to rebel against one's government:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.
Simple enough, right? Well, not quite. And while Jefferson's "tree of liberty" quote has become a favorite of many who oppose the current direction being taken by the Obama Administration, the quote has an important and often forgotten context.

As mentioned before, Jefferson was still living and working in France in 1787. At the time, Jefferson was deeply concerned about some of the proposals for the new United States Constitution -- particularly the role of the executive branch, which he saw as being far too powerful. In addition, Jefferson believed that the recent rebellion in Massachusetts -- which became known as Shays' Rebellion -- had heightened the fears of the American elite, causing them to throw their weight behind a stronger executive government. Shays' Rebellion was essentially an armed rebellion against taxes being levied at Massachusetts farmers. It's leader, Daniel Shays -- who had served as a soldier during the American Revolution -- used the legacy of the American Revolution to garner support for his cause. As a result, scores of patriotic Massachusetts men, most of whom were farmers themselves, resurrected the legacy of the "liberty tree" to fight the perceived injustices of the newly created government. As a result, America's governing class -- and yes, it was a class -- believed that a strong centralized government was the only surefire way to ensure America's future security.

For Jefferson, this was a textbook example of how partisan passions could cloud judgement, creating an atmosphere of panic and fear. As Jefferson states in his letter to William Smith:
Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it's motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms
Simply put, Jefferson understood Shays' Rebellion to be a common and important component of republican government. Without it, the people could not be effectively represented and the communal "lethargy" would eventually destroy the nation. On the flip side, however, Jefferson also notes that the people are rarely if ever well informed on all issues. It is this communal ignorance -- Jefferson emphasises ignorance and not wickedness -- that Jefferson believed the government must endeavor to remedy. He continues:
The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them.
The remedy is not suppression or rejection of public discontent, but rather persuasion and public discourse.

So would Jefferson support the current public dialogue? There's a good chance that he would. We can debate whether or not he would like the current rhetoric of the conservatives/liberals but I think it's hard to deny that Jefferson would be pleased to see the outpouring of public interest.

With that said, I doubt Jefferson would support actual blood being shed on the proverbial "Tree of Liberty." After all, enough blood has been lost thanks in part to this often misunderstood quote. It was Timothy McVeigh, the convicted Oklahoma City bomber, who was so very misguided by his poor understanding of Jefferson's words. On the day he chose to murder 168 of his fellow Americans, McVeigh was wearing a shirt that carried Jefferson's infamous words:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.
May we ALWAYS remember to be cautious with the history we fail to understand!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Remember, Remember the 5th of November...

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

Probably few Americans are aware of the significance of November 5th or of Guy Fawkes Night: a celebration to commemorate the failed attempt made by Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators to blow up the English Parliament in 1605. As a devout Catholic, Guy Fawkes hoped that his actions would end the discrimination of Protestant England towards Catholics. From that day forward, the 5th of November was commemorated by British citizens with the burning in effigy of Guy Fawkes, along with a celebration of God's providence in protecting their Protestant King.

In colonial America, Guy Fawkes Night was celebrated as "Pope Day" (or "Pope Night"). Young men from New England would traditionally construct large wagons (with figures of the Pope, the Devil and other Catholic figures, along with unpopular British governing officials all to be burned in effigy), which were drawn throughout the public streets for all to see. The young men would even dress up and petition the affluent of the city for money which was used for getting drunk and having a "splendid supper." As Historian J.L. Bell (of Boston, 1775 fame) points out on his 5th of November website:
In the mid-1700s, the 5th of November was one of Boston’s most popular holidays. On that day, apprentices and young men paraded through town with giant effigies of the Devil, the Pope, and current political scapegoats, demanding coins from householders and passersby.

At nightfall, Boston’s North End and South End gangs met in the middle of town and brawled. The winners hauled away the other side’s paraphernalia and burned all the effigies in a festive bonfire. In 1764 the event became so violent that a young boy was killed, his head crushed by a wagon wheel.

In the decade that followed, the 5th of November processions became closely linked to the town’s protests against Parliamentary taxes. That political conflict led to the American Revolution. Ironically, the Revolutionary War ended up doing away with the 5th of November holiday in America.
In essence, "Pope Day" became yet another example of how Colonial American bred a culture of anti-authoritarianism. Pope Day evolved to become not only a day to mock Catholicism but a day to also express disgust with colonial (particularly British) government.

In addition, it is interesting to note how "Pope Day" gave birth to many of the traditional Halloween customs that are still in practice today. As Mr. Bell points out above (and throughout his website) the tradition of children running though the streets in costume asking for money, treats, etc. was most certainly a common practice on the 5th of November.

With that said, let us not forget the origins behind this anti-Catholic celebration. Guy Fawkes became, for many colonial Americans, the perfect scape goat for all their anti-Catholic rhetoric. The following poem helps to capture at least a portion of that popular anti-Catholicism:

A penny loaf to feed the Pope
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A fagot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

When Did Dirty Campaigning Begin in America?

Today is election day! As we are all aware, every two years in this grand nation of ours citizens invoke their right to elect the candidates to office whom they feel best represent their views, hopes and goals for the future. It is a time-honored practice that we as a nation have enjoyed (to differing degrees of course) for more than two centuries.

And as is the case with these election cycles, negative ads have become a staple item on the menu of American political dialogue. Virtually every candidate for almost every office up for grabs in today's election has engaged in some form of "mud-slinging" towards his/her opponent. Whether it takes the form of automated phone calls, mailed letters, television commercials or radio sound bites, this election has, for the most part, been like those of recent history: a dog fight.

With that said, we still see candidates who either deny their personal participation in negative campaign tactics or who claim to soar above such trivial and hostile banter. They claim to be invoking the extinct heritage of long ago, when Americans could somehow set aside their partisan politics and focus exclusively on the issues at hand. Oftentimes we see these same individuals calling upon the legacy of America's founding fathers as "evidence" of their innocence. These candidates state they (and their cause) are on the side of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, whose purity and grace transcended political division, giving rise to an era of cooperation and contentment that our generation's political circus is incapable (or unwilling) to rekindle.

And though I am not a fan of today's 24/7 political media blitz and the constant bombardment of campaign ilk every election cycle, I think there is a grave misunderstanding as to the nature and history of American politics. We seem to be under the delusion that this "dog-eat-dog" street brawl style of campaigning is something new. It's not...and not even our blessed, holy, infallible founders were exempt from it.

210 years ago, at the turn of the century, two of the biggest players in the American Revolution exchanged blows over some of the same issues that still occupy us to this day. John Adams, the incumbent who had taken the Federalist reigns from the great George Washington, squared off with his on-again, off-again, on-again Virginia friend, Thomas Jefferson. Contrary to what we are often led to believe, this contest was incredibly fierce and oftentimes took a very negative tone. For example, when the Adams camp learned of Jefferson's desire to thwart the Federalists they accused Jefferson of plotting to destroy the very fabric of society by eliminating god from American life. As one broadside stated:

The attacks didn't stop with mere broadsides. Having discovered some of Jefferson's personal religious declarations that could prove problematic to his campaign, the Adams camp went on the offensive. In his infamous letter to the Reverend William Linn in 1800, Jefferson stated, "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." Along with this declaration, Jefferson went on to state the following about Christianity:
Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half of the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.
Needless to say, such comments proved to be extremely distasteful to the American populace, who actually believed that a Jefferson election might actually lead to:
Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest [being] openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood and the nation black with crimes.

And:

Female chastity violated [with] children writing on a pike.
Even Martha Washington succumbed to the propaganda, telling a clergyman that Jefferson was "one of the most detestable of mankind and a threat to our way of life." (Gee, you NEVER hear that kind of stuff about our current leaders!).

To capitalize on these comments, the Adams campaign took swift action. Acting as if they had been handed a gift from the divine, Adams' men pounced Jefferson in the public arena, accusing him of being "an enemy to his country and his God." Steven Waldman, author of the book Founding Faith sites a poem that was used against Jefferson throughout the campaign:
I am the first of men in the ways of evil,
The truest, thriftiest servent of the Devil;
Born, educated, glory to engross
And shine confess'd the Devil's Man of Ross.
Here's three to one I beat even him in pride;
Two whores already in my chariot ride.
(Founding Faith, 170).
But the fight was far from one-sided. To counter the Adams onslaught Jefferson decided to take off the gloves. On one public occasion, Jefferson called Adams, "a hideous hermaphroditical character with neither the force and firmness of a man or the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." (David McCullough, John Adams, Pp. 500). But Jefferson didn't stop there. Taking advantage of President Adams' foolish Alien & Sedition Acts (a law that essentially tried to make it illegal for people to speak or publish anything negative about the president) Jefferson created the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, in which Jefferson claimed that:
The several States composing the US. Of America are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government…and one of the Amendments to the constitution having also declared, that the powers not delegated to the US. by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people, therefore the act of Congress…are altogether void and of no force.
As election day drew closer, President Adams found himself in a political mess that virtually consumed him. The Democratic-Republicans (Jefferson's clan) had effectively used the Alien & Sedition Acts to brand the President as a tyrant by calling them, "the most abominable and degrading Executive act that could fall from the lips of the first magistrate of an independent people." In an effort to demonstrate just how "tyrannical" the Adams Administration had become, Jefferson called on renowned pamphleteer James Callender, a long-time enemy to the Federalists who had attacked the likes of Alexander Hamilton by exposing his affair with Maria Reynolds to the public. This time, Callender was to turn his sights on the president himself. In his popular pamphlet, The Prospect Before Us, Callender pulled out all the punches by boldly proclaiming that John Adams had become a miniature version of King George III:
The reign of Mr. Adams has been one continued tempest of malignant passions. Indeed, the president has never opened his lips, or lifted his pen without threatening and scolding; the grand object of his administration has been to exasperate the rage of contending parties to culminate and destroy every man who differs from his opinions.
The Federalist response to Callender's "treason" was swift. Callender was quickly jailed in Richmond and sentenced by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase to five years in prison. In consequence, Callender quickly became a poster boy of sorts for the Jefferson campaign. Callender's imprisonment illustrated to the common man just how far Adams had gone. In essence, Callender became Jefferson's 19th century version of "Joe the Plumber."

In the end, the Alien & Sedition Acts helped to solidify the popular message of the Democratic-republicans, which in turn led to the election of their beloved Thomas Jefferson(even if he was an evil, godless man whose reign would surely lead to rape, murder, etc.). The popularity of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, combined with the "mud-slinging" efforts of James Callender and Jefferson himself, helped to ensure the demise of the Adams Administration. But the election was close...VERY close. See for yourself:

In the aftermath, Federalist supporters were devastated. Alexander Hamilton (one of Jefferson's biggest rivals) made the claim that a Jefferson presidency would surely usher in an era of violence unprecedented in American history, in which the guillotine of France would replace the civility of American republicanism (Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 429). Former First Lady Abigail Adams wrote to her husband stating, "'What an inconsistency,' said a lady to me today, 'the bells of Christ's Church ringing peals of rejoicing for an infidel president!'"

But somehow America survived. After all, here we are 210 years later. And while many things have changed over those two centuries, other things have stood the test of time...namely our tradition of crazy, over-hyped political partisanship. Yes, some may feel that an Obama presidency is a surefire catalyst for fascist, socialist, Marxist, Stalinist, Nazi, communist totalitarianism, while a Tea Party regime is sure to bring about racist, homophobic, idiotic, psychotic, leadership. But in the end all of this rhetoric is just that: rhetoric. Is there really any difference between the crap we hear today and the crap our beloved founders threw at one another? Not really. The only difference is that we're inundated with more of it today (thanks Fox News and MSNBC).

So the next time you drink the Chicken Little Kool-Aid and freak out over the possibility of the sky falling because the "other team" has won political power, remember that we've been down this propaganda road many times. If we can survive the "HORRIFIC" tyranny of John Adams and the "DISASTROUS" atheism of Thomas Jefferson, I'm pretty sure we'll be ok in the here and now. In conclusion, check out the following videos. They do a wonderful job of capturing some of the fear that surrounded the election of 1800: