Friday, November 22, 2013
Responding to the call that afternoon was Officer J.D. Tippet, an 11-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department. Tippet was also a U.S. Army veteran, a husband and a father of three children (at the time ages 14, 10 and 5).
According to official police reports, along with reports issued by the Warren Commission, Tippet responded to a radio call to help set up a perimeter around the central Oak Cliff area, just outside where President Kennedy had been shot. While in route to the area, Officer Tippet pulled alongside a pedestrian who resembled the vague description of the gunman that had been provided just minutes prior. According to witness reports, Officer Tippet opened the door of his patrol car and exchanged words with the man. Just seconds later, witnesses stated that the man suddenly drew a handgun and fired three shots at close range, all of which struck Officer Tippet in the chest. The gunman then approached Officer Tippet, who had fallen from the first three shots, and fired a final round into his head. Officer Tippet was dead before help arrived.
Shortly thereafter, responding Dallas police officers took a young man named Lee Harvey Oswald into custody. It was reported that Mr. Oswald was "acting suspiciously" when approaching units arrived in the area. After finding his gun and obtaining positive witness identification that he was indeed the shooter, Dallas Police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald for the murder of Officer J.D. Tippet.
It wasn't until later that police officers and Secret Service personnel were able to piece together the facts and conclude that Oswald was indeed the man who had assassinated President Kennedy. Had it not been for the quick response and thinking of Officer J.D. Tippet, who stopped Oswald just 20 minutes after having shot Kennedy, Oswald might have had the serious chance of fleeing from Dallas before being caught.
Kudos to a forgotten hero who gave his life but in the process caught one of the most notorious villains in American history.
Tour of Service: 11 years, 4 months
End of Watch: November 22, 1963
The Speech He NeverHad the Chance to Deliver
The death of President Kennedy rocked a nation that had already endured (and would yet endure) a number of struggles, ranging from the death of Martin Luther King to the horrors of the Vietnam War.
But why was President Kennedy in Dallas to begin with? That is a question that often goes overlooked.
Though he had not officially announced his reelection campaign, President Kennedy had, in the weeks prior to his Dallas trip, laid out an introductory plan of sorts that would eventually culminate in his bid for a second term. At the end of September, President Kennedy traveled west, speaking in nine different states in less than a week. During his visits, President Kennedy highlighted his plan (which was to become a large part of his reelection plan) to focus on natural resources, renewable energy, education, world peace proposals, an aggressive conservation agenda, and further plans for space exploration.
During these initial trips, President Kennedy expressed to his closest advisers his belief that victory in both Florida and Texas would be essential if he hoped to win a second term in the White House. As a result, further visits to both of those states were scheduled for the future. President Kennedy was particularly concerned about a growing number of extremists, especially in cities like Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, where were beginning to pose resistance to Democrat strongholds (even U.S. Ambassador and former presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson had been assaulted earlier in September while delivering a speech in Dallas). In addition, the trip was meant to resolve some issues that had come up between opposing factions within the Democratic Party in Texas. For the President and his advisers, the trip to Dallas, which was sure to be the first of many to the Lone Star State, was a no-brainer.
Of course, the rest of the story is known by virtually every American. President Kennedy met an untimely demise while making his way to Dealey Plaza. Once there, the President planned to make the following speech. Below are some of the words of the Speech that John F. Kennedy was never able to deliver. They highlight some of the "coming attractions" that we never got to see. You can read the speech in its entirety by clicking here:
There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternatives, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable.
But today other voices are heard in the land --- voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest single threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.
About 70 percent of our military assistance goes to nine key countries located on or near the borders of the Communist bloc --- nine countries confronted directly or indirectly with the threat of Communist aggression --- Viet Nam, Free China, Korea, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Greece, Turkey, and Iran. No one of these countries possesses on its own the resources to maintain the forces which our own Chiefs of Staff think needed in the common interest. Reducing our efforts to train, equip, and assist their armies can only encourage Communist penetration and require in time the increased overseas deployment of American combat forces. And reducing the economic help needed to bolster these nations that undertake to help defend freedom can have the same disastrous result. In short, the $50 billion we spend each year on our own defense could well be ineffective without the $4 billion required for military and economic assistance.
Our foreign aid program is not growing in size; it is, on the contrary, smaller now than in previous years. It has had its weaknesses, but we have undertaken to correct them. And the proper way of treating weaknesses is to replace them with strength, not to increase those weaknesses by emasculating essential programs. Dollar for dollar, in or out of government, there is no better form of investment in our national security than our much-abused foreign aid program. We cannot afford to lose it. We can afford to maintain it. We can surely afford, for example, to do as much for our 19 needy neighbors of Latin America as the Communist bloc is sending to the island of Cuba alone.
I have spoken of strength largely in terms of the deterrence and resistance of aggression and attack. But, in today's world, freedom can be lost without a shot being fired, by ballots as well as bullets. The success of our leadership is dependent upon respect for our mission in the world as well as our missiles --- on a clearer recognition of the virtues of freedom as well as the evils of tyranny.
That is why our Information Agency has doubled the shortwave broadcasting power of the Voice of America and increased the number of broadcasting hours by 30 percent, increased Spanish language broadcasting to Cuba and Latin America from 1 to 9 hours a day, increased seven-foid to more than 35 million copies the number of American books being translated and published for Latin American readers, and taken a host of other steps to carry our message of truth and freedom to all the far corners of the earth.
And that is also why we have regained the initiative in the exploration of outer space, making an annual effort greater than the combined total of all space activities undertaken during the fifties, launching more than 130 vehicles into earth orbit, putting into actual operation valuable weather and communications satellites, and making it clear to all that the United States of America has no intention of finishing second in space.
This effort is expensive --- but it pays its own way, for freedom and for America. For there is no longer any fear in the free world that a Communist lead in space will become a permanent assertion of supremacy and the basis of military superiority. There is no longer any doubt about the strength and skill of American science, American industry, American education, and the American free enterprise system. In short, our national space effort represents a great gain in, and a great resource of our national strength --- and both Texas and Texans are contributing greatly to this strength.
Finally, it should be clear by now that a nation can be no stronger abroad than she is at home. Only an America which practices what it preaches about equal rights and social justice will be respected by those whose choice affects our future. Only an America which has fully educated its citizens is fully capable of tackling the complex problems and perceiving the hidden dangers of the world in which we live. And only an America which is growing and prospering economically can sustain the worldwide defenses of freedom, while demonstrating to all concerned the opportunities of our system and society.
My friends and fellow citizens: I cite these facts and figures to make it clear that America today is stronger than ever before. Our adversaries have not abandoned their ambitions, our dangers have not diminished, our vigilance cannot be relaxed. But now we have the military, the scientific, and the economic strength to do whatever must be done for the preservation and promotion of freedom.
That strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions --- it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations --- it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.
We in this country, in this generation, are --- by destiny rather than choice --- the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of "peace on earth, good will toward men." That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago, "except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
The Gettysburg Address, which wasn't even meant to be the primary speech of the day (the Honorable Edward Everett had prepared a two-hour discourse to commemorate the occasion), has been rightfully praised as a landmark moment in the already stellar legacy that was Lincoln's presidency. Even 150 years later, the words of his short speech stir our deepest emotions of patriotism and respect for those who give "their last full measure of devotion" in the service of their country.
Below are the words to the Gettysburg Address. Take a couple of minutes today to reflect on them. As you will see for yourself, there is only one major flaw in the speech. Lincoln stated that, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here."
He couldn't have been more wrong.
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but we can never forget what they did here. It is fur us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have this far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.And for your listening and viewing pleasure:
Monday, November 18, 2013
It is from this horrible incident that we draw the metaphor, "drinking the Kool-Aid," because the victims of this terrible tragedy drank a poisoned concoction that combined Kool-Aid and cyanide.
Virtually all of us see Jonestown for what it ultimately was: a horrific cult whose membership had been brainwashed by their evil leader, Jim Jones. Most of us would like to think that we would be intelligent enough to avoid becoming members of such an organization. After all, only "crazy people" join cults, right?
The members of the "Peoples Temple" (this was the official name of Jim Jones' movement) came from all walks of life. Though it is true that the majority of its members came from blue collar roots, the Peoples Temple also had members who were employed as doctors, teachers, bankers and even a couple of lawyers. Simply put, Jim Jones' message appealed to a wide range of people from all walks of life.
And who could blame them? Here are just a few of the more popular teachings of Jim Jones (keep in mind, Jones founded his organization in 1955 and many of these beliefs were cutting edge for the day):
-God wanted racial integration and for all people to be treated equal.Not exactly the ranting of a madman, right!?!
-Poverty and hunger are unacceptable to God and should be eradicated by any true disciple of Jesus Christ.
-We should all live together and attempt to establish a Utopian society that is free of social status, hunger and poverty.
-We are to be "in the world" but not "of the world," meaning that true disciples will band together, regardless of race, and work to shed the evil ways of the world.
-All men are created equal under God, and deserve the chance to fully develop themselves as they see fit.
So why then did the Peoples Temple movement degenerate into utter chaos and downright madness? This has, of course, been a topic of conversation for many sociologists, psychologists, historians and theologians for nearly four decades, and it will likely continue for many more in the future. Obviously we have to recognize the leadership abilities of Jim Jones and his capacity to persuade his flock as being a major contributing factor, but at the same time we cannot give him all of the credit. Why is is that people, intelligent and dim-witted, get sucked into groups like these? Do such groups exist today? How do you recognize them? Might we unknowingly be members of such groups right now? All of these questions are worthy of consideration.
According to the research of Dr. Janja Lalich and Dr. Michael Langone, two Ph.D. Professors of Psychology who have studied the characteristics of cults in great detail, it can be difficult to conclusively pin down a cult, since many organizations (even businesses, musicians and professional athletic teams) exhibit cult-like behaviors or have cult-like followings. With that said, they do provide a few key characteristics that all cult organizations seem to have in common. They are:
1.) Excessive, zealous and unquestioning commitment to a leader, who is not accountable to anyone in the organization (and in some cases society at large).Dr. Ron Rhodes, an Evangelical minister, essentially agrees with the assessment above, but simplifies what he sees as cult-like behaviors into 6 key attributes: Authoritarian leadership, exclusivity, isolationism, fear of being "disfellowshiped," threats of satanic attack, and opposition to critical thinking. In essence, both the scientific perspective of professional psychologists and the appraisal of religious leaders are in agreement on this matter.
2.) Mind-altering practices (i.e. meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, debilitating work routines) used to suppress doubt about the group and its leader.
3.) Leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, feel, etc., and defends it with severe punishments for violation of these new rules.
4.) The group becomes elitist, claiming special or exalted status for its members and leaders over the rest of humanity. This creates an "us v. them" mentality in which members of the cult see outsiders as undesirable and potentially dangerous.
5.) The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends and purpose justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members participating in activities that most would deem reprehensible or unethical (i.e. suicide bombing).
6.) Leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and control its members.
7.) The group becomes preoccupied with bringing in new members.
8.) The group is preoccupied with making money.
9.) Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group or group-related activities.
Personally, I agree with the assessments mentioned above. In my estimation, all cults exhibit these attributes. I do not, however, believe that we should liberally apply these categories to all alleged cults. In fact, I believe that the term "cult" is used far too freely in the world today and in reality, very few organizations can and should be considered true cults.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) I have seen how the term "cult" can be applied in a wanton and reckless manner. Whether it be Pastor Robert Jeffress' accusation during the Romney campaign or the Reed Smoot hearings in which many members of Congress made the same allegations, the term "cult" is oftentimes employed as a "scary word" to invoke shock more than being a true appraisal of an organization's actual behavior.
With that being said, and instead of arbitrarily pointing fingers at which groups are and are not cults, I believe that a far better way to learn from cults like Jonestown is to focus on the behaviors of the individual as opposed to the group as a whole. Too often we lump people in with others simply by their association with a group or cause. And though it is true that association can tell us a great deal about an individual, it is a far too simplistic method of understanding why people do what they do. After all, most followers of the Jonestown community were good, honest and sincere people who left long before the Peoples Temple ventured down the path of the insane.
What I am ultimately trying to say is this: instead of labeling a group or organization as being cult-like, perhaps the correct course of action is to assess the behaviors of individuals (and certainly assess our own behaviors by looking inside ourselves) to determine if they are cult-like. For example, a devout follower of liberal or conservative politics, who cannot or will not even consider the opinions of those who do not share his/her views, is, in my opinion, drinking the Kool-Aid every bit as much as his/her Jonestown counterpart. Does this make the Democratic/Republican Party a cult?
Or take the example of my faith, which as I have mentioned above has been accused of being a cult on numerous occasions. To be certain, there are Mormons out there (I know many of them) who esteem their leaders as demigods, who become elitist in their views, who believe that only fellow Mormons will be saved in heaven, etc., etc., etc. They are, however, the exception and not the rule. Most Mormons are free thinking, non-elitist and at least try their best to accept all people and views. They come from different walks of life and have differences of opinion (i.e. Mitt Romney v. Harry Reid). They participate in many different types of activities, jobs and trades (everything from Quarterback Steve Young to lead singer Brandon Flowers of The Killers).
And it's not just faith traditions that could be (at least according to the guidelines listed above) considered cult-like. Take for instance many atheists, who esteem the writings of Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. above all others. Many will become elitist in their world view, never questioning the "doctrines" of atheism as prescribed by science. They see their world view as being THE WORLD VIEW and all others are either diluted in their thinking or too stupid to reach their level of "enlightenment."
Of course, I'm not suggesting that Democrats, Republicans, Mormons or atheists are cults, but I am suggesting that many of their respective followers are often very cult-like in their world view and behavior. They drink the "Kool-Aid" of their respective "creeds" every bit as much as the Jonestown dead.
I think my point here is clear (or at least I hope it is). Though cult-like organizations certainly exist and need to be opposed, they are few and far between. What is far more prevalent is the existence of cult-like individuals, who adopt absolutist mentalities about their respective positions, creating an "Us v. Them" mentality in the process. They fully drink the Kool-Aid, oftentimes unaware of the poison that exists therein. They allow personal pride, peer pressure and cognitive dissonance to convince them that their way is THE WAY. And these cult-like people are everywhere: in business, politics, religion, science, etc. The key to guarding against this plague is to recognize the poison that exists in every single batch of Kool-Aid. As Author Robert Anton Wilson put it:
Only the madman is absolutely sure.
Such is the case with two-term U.S. Presidents. For whatever reason, history shows that most (though certainly not all) two-term presidents experience their greatest difficulties during the second half of their time in office. In this respect, President Obama's struggles are hardly unique. In fact, they are relatively mild in many respects. Let's take a look at some of the struggles that have plagued many of our nation's presidents who have had the luxury of serving two terms:
George Washington: Yes, as hard as it may be to believe, even America's "indispensable man" as John Adams called him, faced difficulty and scorn during his second term. As our nation's first president, if fell to Washington to set many of the precedents that the infant U.S. Republic would be required to adopt. One of these precedents had to do with economic security and prosperity. In the wake of the American Revolution, the U.S. faced an important crossroad: align its economic and trade interests with the French, who had, of course, been incredibly helpful during America's fight for independence, or, as crazy as it sounded to many, side with Great Britain, their former enemy and mother country. Long story short, Washington, at the urging of Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, sent Chief Justice John Jay to London to negotiate a deal that created an economic alliance between England and the United States. What became known as the "Jay Treaty" proved to be an incredibly important and successful economic alliance that dramatically benefited both the United States and Great Britain. As Historian Joseph Ellis points out in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Founding Brothers:
The Jay Treaty, in effect, bet on England instead of France...as being the hegemonic European power of the future, which proved prophetic (136-137).And though it proved to be a long-term blessing, the Jay Treaty was not popular among the American populace. Protests and rebellions broke out over what many saw as a "sell out" to their former enemy. Even Thomas Jefferson called the Jay Treaty "the downfall of the American Republic." For Washington, the criticism over the Jay Treaty was a low point that, in many respects, forced him out of politics once and for all. Even America's greatest hero, who repelled scorn like Teflon, was not above reproach.
Thomas Jefferson: In December, 1807, President Thomas Jefferson, who had enjoyed a relatively peaceful and prosperous first term in office, received news from his British and French ambassadors that troubled him greatly. The on-again, off-again, on-again conflict between France and Britain had reached a boiling point, placing American trade interests at risk. Napoleon made it clear that he would stop any American merchant ship bound for British shores, and the British made the same threat for any ship bound for France. This, of course, angered American merchants who stood to lose a great deal from this European conflict.
Instead of attempting to defend American shipping interests or trying to negotiate some sort of a deal with Britain and/or France, Jefferson (through Congress) passed the Embargo Act, which essentially grounded all American trading. For President Jefferson, who saw the Embargo Act as "a means for keeping our ships and seamen out of harm's way," the move proved to be the greatest blunder of his presidency. Jefferson believed that the Embargo Act would put pressure on both the French and British economy, who both benefited and enjoyed the goods that came from American commerce. Jefferson was wrong. British and French merchants simply went elsewhere throughout Europe to make up for the difference. In the end, the only loser was the United States. Needless to say, American merchants held Jefferson responsible for the blunder.
Ulysses S. Grant: Though President Grant suffered from the loss of some of his supporters, his quest for a second term proved to be relatively easy. As the hero of the Civil War, Grant held tremendous appeal and despite some allegations of corruption within his cabinet, most Americans believed the President deserved a second term. Once inaugurated for the second time, however, President Grant faced quite the storm. The Panic 1873, which was sparked by the fall of the Northern Pacific Railway, sent ripples throughout the American economy. Grant's ignorance of economic policy only exacerbated matters and led to a 5-year industrial depression. In addition, the ongoing scandals and allegations of corruption within his cabinet grew to an unprecedented level. And though Grant was never implicated (and was likely never involved) in most of the corruption that plagued his cabinet, the brunt of the responsibility fell at his desk. Grant's second term in office proved to be extremely problematic and highly ineffective.
Woodrow Wilson: At the conclusion of the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson saw an opportunity to create an international coalition that could prevent the atrocities that had nearly crippled Europe from ever happening again. The League of Nations, which Wilson vehemently believed was in America's best interests, became an important cause during his second term in office. The only problem is that Republicans in Congress opposed American membership in the LoN and favored neutrality. Wilson campaigned passionately in favor of American involvement in the LoN. He tirelessly toured the country, giving speeches and working out compromises with members of Congress. Wilson worked so hard that he eventually had a stroke in September of 1919, which dramatically limited his ability to defend his position on the LoN. Unfortunately for Wilson, Congress voted against joining the League of Nations; a failure that Wilson believed would plunge Europe into war yet again. He proved to be right.
Harry Truman: As the man who coined the phrase, "The Buck Stops Here," Truman was forced to swallow the very difficult pill that was the Korean War during his second term in office. The escalation of the conflict, which eventually led to nothing more than a glorified stalemate, was laid almost exclusively at Truman's feet. Truman's passionate belief that the "world must be protected from the evils of Soviet communism" convinced the President that the cost of war was worth the price and loss of life. Truman's decision to remove General Douglas MacArthur, a decision that was extremely unpopular with the American public, caused the President's approval ratings to plummet. The frustrating stalemate in Korea, which led to the deaths of over 30,000 American troops, proved to be too much for Truman, who saw approval ratings as low as 22% during his second term in office.
Lyndon Johnson: It was on Johnson's watch that American involvement in the Vietnam War was escalated to an unprecedented level. Johnson, who like many previous presidents, believed in the "Domino Theory" (the notion that if one nation fell to Communism others would as well), felt that American involvement in Vietnam was essential for the containment of Communism. As the body count began piling up, Johnson eventually came to see his insistence on victory in Vietnam as an unavoidable curse that plagued his second term. As he stated:
I knew from the start that I was bound to be crucified either way I moved...if I left that war and let the Communists take over, then I would be seen as a coward and my nation would be seen as an appeaser, and we would find it impossible to accomplish anything for anybody anywhere on the entire globe.Richard Nixon: Watergate. Need I say more?
Ronald Reagan: With his absolute annihilation of Walter Mondale in the Election of 1984, President Reagan appeared to be sailing calm seas during his second term in office. In the summer of 1985 all of that would change. The sale of illegal arms to Iran and the funding of Nicaraguan Contras became a scandal that Reagan was never able to shake. The Iran-Contra Affair became a black stain on a presidency that had, for the most part, been seen as a success. Reagan's second term also brought with it a $1 trillion dollar increase to the national debt. This was an additional black eye for a president who had insisted that "Reaganomics" would reduce the national deficit.
Bill Clinton: As the first president in over 50 years to leave behind a debt surplus, most would think that Clinton's second term would be a celebrated success. Only one problem: Monica Lewinsky. As we all know, the President was ousted in front of the entire world for being a liar and a cheat. The Lewinsky scandal eventually led to the Clinton Impeachment Hearings, which were a tremendous blemish and embarrassment on a presidency that had otherwise been successful. As Clinton himself later stated: "I fought two battles during my presidency: a political and a personal. I won the former but lost the latter."
George W. Bush: With his successful bid for a second term secure, President Bush believed that the success of the military surge in Iraq would prove to vindicate his decision to take the nation to war in that part of the world. He was wrong. In addition, federal response to Hurricane Katrina, which proved to be highly ineffective, fell at the feet of President W. And if this wasn't enough, the financial collapse and subsequent bailout of 2008 let to George W. Bush receiving the lowest approval rating numbers of any standing president in American history.
Of course, not every two-term president faces difficulties. And it is just as certain that one-term presidents face severe trials as well. But for whatever reason, the "Second-term Curse" seems to be a real phenomenon. One can only wonder what would be the legacy of Abraham Lincoln had he served a complete second term. Perhaps he wouldn't be seen as the hero he is today.
In the end, the "Second-term Curse" proves that President James K. Polk (arguably the most successful one-term president ever) may have been right when he said: "If you cannot accomplish everything you want as president in one term, then perhaps you aren't fit for the job."
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Of course, most of us recognize that our Founding Fathers were, in the end, humans, but too often we shy away from shedding too much light on some of the more serious mistakes they made. It is far more preferable to esteem these men as marble demigods whose images grace our currency. This isn't to say that we should refrain from paying homage to our nation's founders. I for one strongly believe that the generation that brought us the likes of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, etc. could easily be labeled as the "Greatest Generation" in all of American history (sorry, WWII vets. I still love ya!).
And there are plenty of pundits who are more than willing to point out where they believe our Founding Fathers went wrong. For example, Glenn Beck, America's favorite whack-job, believes that the gravest error made by our nation's founders was to not clarify the language of the Second Amendment. HBO's Bill Maher believes that the greatest mistake made by the founding generation was that they should have extended the separation of church and state even further. And Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, believes that their greatest mistake was not establishing term limits for Congressmen.
And though I can see how all three men arrived at their respective conclusions, I vehemently disagree with them all. The language of the Second Amendment, the separation of church and state, and congressional term limits are small potatoes when compared to the biggest mistake our Founding Fathers made.
During the Constitutional Convention, James Madison noted an important observation that he and virtually every other delegate had made. He claimed that of all the difficulties separating Northern and Southern states, slavery was by far the biggest. It was the elephant in the room that nobody wanted to address specifically, but also nobody could ignore completely. Southern concern for preserving their "peculiar institution" led to more discord than any other issue that came before the Convention.
To make a very long story short, the Convention eventually agreed to a compromise that was later enshrined in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons (my emphasis).Without even affording them the dignity of calling them what they were, all Black slaves (referred to here as "all other persons") were to be counted as 3/5 of a person in the national census. The reason was simple: Southern leadership, who were more than aware of the North's superior population numbers, feared that they would be misrepresented in Congress. Counting all Black slaves as 3/5 of a person, however, would even the odds and afford the South greater representation. This, along with the Constitutional protection of slavery, helped to ease Southern concerns. Their "property rights" were now protected by federal law.
And they were right.
What became known as the 3/5 Compromise ended up having a dramatic impact in the South's ability to enforce their will on the whole of the infant American nation. The first major example of how the 3/5 Compromise effected national politics was the Presidential Election of 1800. In that election, Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams by only 7 electoral votes. And though Jefferson managed to win a few key states in the North, The Electoral College map clearly shows the first of many divisions that would separate the North and the South:
As the votes were counted, Northern politicians quickly realized that without the 3/5 Compromise, Jefferson would have been defeated. The fact that slaves were being counted as part of the South's representation (without having any actual say in their government) had given Jefferson the victory; an ironic historical reality considering the fact that Jefferson himself kept 300+ souls in bondage to himself.
Later elections would have the same results. The election of James Madison in 1812 and Martin Van Buren in 1836, were also determined in large part by the South's inflated electoral numbers that were caused by the 3/5 Compromise.
And it wasn't just in presidential elections that the 3/5 Compromise left its impression. Renowned historian Gary Wills contends that the 3/5 Compromise impacted a great number of historical events in the early republic:
Without the 3/5 Compromise, slavery would have been excluded from Missouri...Andrew Jackson's Indian removal policy would have failed...the Wilmot Proviso would have banned slavery in territories won from Mexico...the Kansas/Nebraska bill would have failed...and the likelihood of Civil War would have been dramatically reduced.It is a cruel irony of history that the South's ability to exert its will, especially with regards to protecting slavery, was a self-inflicted wound that our Founding Fathers brought upon the infant American republic. How much damage could have been averted is impossible to determine. The historical sin of "presentism" should prevent us from making such speculations. But what is certain (with and without the lens of hindsight) is that the 3/5 Compromise was a tremendous blunder on the part of our nation's founders. It is an ugly skeleton in the American closet that should be seen for what it was: a terrible attempt to pacify a nation that was determined to keep its Black brothers and sisters in bondage in the "Land of the Free."
Monday, November 4, 2013
This morning I read an article by Medieval historian Ramon Agustin Lopez entitled, "Consumption of Meat in Western European Cities During the Late Middle Ages." On the surface, this article probably seems cut-and-dry. After all, everyone knows (even those who've never studied Medieval history) that the typical peasant diet was lacking when it came to the basic nutritional needs required for the human body. This conclusion, however, is not as correct as we may think. In his article, Dr. Lopez contends that while the typical Medieval diet was certainly not as healthy as it could have been, the culturally accepted notion that peasants starved or had little to eat is not as true as we may think.
To be certain, the Medieval world did not fully understand how the human body processed food, nor did they recognize which foods contained the beneficial proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, etc. that humans need. This nutritional deficiency, however, was not the result of a lack of food but rather a lack of maintaining a balanced diet. As Dr. Lopez points out, over 80% of Medieval peasants enjoyed "more than sufficient portions of protein" in their daily meals. The primary source of this protein came from mutton, which was generally seen as the meat of the lower classes. Nobility and other elites of society usually consumed beef (in rather large quantities), while the peasantry consumed the flesh of sheep.
In addition, Medieval peasantry consumed a large portion of beans, peas, eggs and lentils, which also augmented their protein intake. In fact, the typical English peasant could expect to enjoy a rather bountiful table. The average daily meal for such a person usually consisted of 2-3 pounds of bread, 8-14 ounces of protein (usually from mutton, eggs, or beans and fish in the coastal regions), and 3-6 pints of ale. Vegetables and fruits were a seasonal and regional product.
Of course, none of this takes into account the occasions in which famine, disease or climate effected the abundance of food. To be certain, the Medieval world faced such difficulties on a reoccurring basis. But when times were good (or at least "normal"), the typical Medieval family was not as deprived of nourishment as we may think.
The problems that resulted from the typical Medieval diet were usually related to contamination and a lack of nutritional diversity. Most peasants stuck with a few basic foods for reasons of convenience. Life was busy and tough enough without having to worry about providing a variety of options on the dinner table. In addition, the problem of contamination was always present. As I stated in a previous blog post, most bread (especially the bread of the peasantry) was made from rye, which was often contaminated with Ergot. And while preservation practices were rather sophisticated and successful (especially in the late Middle Ages), the threat of contaminated water, meat, etc. was always looming. Dysentery, food poisoning and other ailments were always a reality.
Aside from the practical realities that governed the Medieval diet, a number of cultural customs regarding food were also of great importance. As was common during this time, the Catholic Church enjoyed a great deal of influence over many aspects of Medieval life, and meal time was no exception. The liturgical calender was littered with a plethora of feast and fast days, each of which dictated what could or could not be consumed. In most areas, meat was forbidden for approximately 1/4 of the calender year, while all animal products (to include eggs, dairy, meat, etc.) were prohibited during Lent (fish being the only exception).
Dr. Lopez's article goes on to discuss how Medieval meal practices and customs eventually influenced many of the modern world's dinner and holiday practices. The idea of eating together as a family at a communal table has its roots in Medieval times.
What I find equally fascinating (but is not mentioned in Dr. Lopez's article) is how European culinary practices changed with the discovery of the "New World." The introduction of corn, potatoes, sugar, tobacco, etc. completely revolutionized the European dining experience. We cannot underestimate the importance of this reality. In fact, Europe witnessed a dramatic spike in procreation at the dawn of the discovery of the New World. Added calories and a diversity of food options certainly contributed to this growth in population.