Who Said It? (3/3/2014)


Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural (March 4, 1865) Photo Courtesy of the Library of C0ngress

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural (March 4, 1865) Photo Courtesy of the Library of C0ngress


Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865)

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

Complete text at Avalon Project- Yale Law School

The greatest inaugural address in American presidential history? Hard to argue for another.

Here are some more resources to explore Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address from the National Endowment for the Humanities Edsitement website.

And you can rad more about Lincoln and the Civil War in Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents and Don’t Know Much About® the Civil War


Don't Know Much About the American Presidents (2012) (From Hyperion and Random House Audio)

Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents (2012)
(From Hyperion and Random House Audio)

Who Said It? (2/24/14)

Georgia Ordinance of Secession (Approved, Tuesday, January 29, 1861)


The question of “Confederate heritage” has been raised once more in the latest dust up over the Confederate flag. It comes from Georgia where a “vanity” or special license plate features the Confederate battle flag, as the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

The state of Georgia has released a new specialty license tag that features the Confederate battle flag, inflaming civil rights advocates and renewing a debate on what images should appear on state-issued materials.  The new specialty tag has stirred a clash between those who believe the battle flag honors Confederate heritage and those, particularly African-Americans, who view it as a racially charged symbol of oppression.

Atlanta Journal Constitution

Since this issue once more raises the question of “Confederate heritage,” code words for why the Civil War was fought,  it presents an opportunity to revisit exactly why the state of Georgia decided to secede from the Union in January 1861.  This is also a good example of doing some primary document reading as called for in the Common Core.

Here is the opening paragraph of the Georgia Ordinance of Secession:

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic. This hostile policy of our confederates has been pursued with every circumstance of aggravation which could arouse the passions and excite the hatred of our people, and has placed the two sections of the Union for many years past in the condition of virtual civil war. . . . The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party . . .  is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. While it attracts to itself by its creed the scattered advocates of exploded political heresies, of condemned theories in political economy, the advocates of commercial restrictions, of protection, of special privileges, of waste and corruption in the administration of Government, anti-slavery is its mission and its purpose. By anti-slavery it is made a power in the state.

Text of Georgia Secession Ordinance January 29, 1861 Source: The Avalon Project-Yale Law School

The text concludes by setting a price tag on slavery and raising the specter of the threat to Southern wives and children:

Because by their declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property in the common territories of the Union; put it under the ban of the Republic in the States where it exists and out of the protection of Federal law everywhere; because they give sanctuary to thieves and incendiaries who assail it to the whole extent of their power, in spite of their most solemn obligations and covenants; because their avowed purpose is to subvert our society and subject us not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives, and our children, and the desolation of our homes, our altars, and our firesides.

This is Georgia’s stated reason for its “Confederate heritage.”

Virginia and the Lovings-Then and Now

Image from http://www.supremecourtus.gov/ US gov't

Source: Supreme Court of the United States


We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect.
-U.S District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen (Decision on Virginia Ban on Same-Sex Marriage February 14, 2014)

Last week, a federal judge in Virginia overturned Virginia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.

The decision by Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the Federal District Court in Norfolk, Virginia relied on the Supreme Court decision made last year in United States v. Windsor which ruled that the federal government must provide benefits to same-sex couples married in states that allow such unions. Judge Wright Allen opened her 41-page decision with a quotation from Mildred Loving who successfully challenged Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage in 1967.

Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. . . . I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about. – Mildred Loving, “Loving for All”
Public Statement on the 40th Anniversary of Loving v. Virginia (June 12, 2007).

I wrote about the Lovings and their case in this June 2013 post.

In 1967, the Lovings’s Supreme Court victory over the state of Virginia ended bans on interracial marriage in America. Will Judge Wright Allen’s decision against Virginia in 2014 have similar repercussions?

Judge Wright Allen’s decision included this statement:

A spirited and controversial debate is underway regarding who may enjoy the right to marry in the United States of America. America has pursued a journey to make and keep our citizens free. This journey has never been easy, and at times has been painful and poignant. The ultimate exercise of our freedom is choice. Our Declaration of Independence recognizes that “all men” are created equal. Surely this means all of us. While ever-vigilant for the wisdom that can come from the voices of our voting public, our courts have never long tolerated the perpetuation of laws rooted in unlawful prejudice. One of the judiciary’s noblest endeavors is to scrutinize laws that emerge from such roots.

This ruling also referred to the “due process” and “equal protection” clauses of 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Read more about the 14th Amendment from the National Constitution Center.

Since the Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality last year, the number of states with legal same-sex marriage has grown to 17 plus the District of Columbia, and court challenges to same-sex marriage bans are underway in several other states, including Oklahoma and Utah. The Washington Post published this graphic map of the current state of marriage equality in the United States.

It is NOT Presidents Day. Or President’s Day. Or Even Presidents’ Day.

So What Day Is it After All?

Okay. We all do it. It’s printed on calendars and posted in bank windows. We mistakenly call the third Monday in February Presidents Day, in part because of all those commercials in which George Washington swings his legendary ax and “Rail-splitter” Abe Lincoln hoists his ax to chop down prices on everything from mattresses and linens to SUVs.

But, really it is George Washington’s Birthday –federally speaking that is.
The official designation of the federal holiday observed on the third Monday of February was, and still is, Washington’s Birthday.

I wrote My Project About Presidents in 3rd Grade when I was 9. Even then I was asking questions about history and presidents

I wrote My Project About Presidents in 3rd Grade when I was 9. Even then I was asking questions about history and presidents

But Washington’s Birthday has become widely known as Presidents Day (or President’s Day, or even Presidents’  Day). The popular usage and confusion resulted from the merging of what had been two widely celebrated Presidential birthdays in February –Lincoln’s on February 12th, which was never a federal holiday– and Washington’s on February 22.

Created under the Uniform Holiday Act of 1968, which gave us three-day weekend Monday holidays, the federal holiday on the third Monday in February is technically still Washington’s Birthday. But here’s the rub: the holiday can never land on Washington’s true birthday because the latest date it can fall is February 21, as it did in 2011.

There is a wealth of information the First President at Mount Vernon.

Washington’s Tomb — Mt. Vernon (Photo credit Kenneth C. Davis 2010)

 Read More About the creation of the Presidency, Washington, his Life and administration in DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT® THE AMERICAN PRESIDENTS



Who Said It? (1/6/14)


George Washington, “First Annual Message to Congress” (“State of the Union”), January 8, 1790.

Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness


Nor am I less persuaded, that you will agree with me in opinion, that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness. In one, in which the measures of government receive their impression so immediately from the sense of the community, as in our’s, it is proportionately essential. To the security of a free Constitution it contributes in various ways: By convincing those who are entrusted with the publick administration, that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people: And by teaching the people themselves to know, and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; between burthens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience, and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of society; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness, cherishing the first, avoiding the last, and uniting a speedy, but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws.

Complete Text: The Avalon Project- Yale Law School


President George Washington first established the practice of reporting to Congress once a year. Washington gave his first annual message—what is now known as the State of the Union—to Congress on January 8th, 1790. He addressed Congress in person in the Senate Chamber of Federal Hall in New York City (the temporary seat of government at that time).


Who Said It? (12/23/13)

“I urge the prompt enactment of legislation which will provide for primary elections throughout the country.”

Woodrow Wilson,  “First Annual Message” (December 2, 1913)

Thomas Woodrow Wilson 28th POTUS(1918) Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Thomas Woodrow Wilson 28th POTUS(1918) Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

I turn to a subject which I hope can be handled promptly and without serious controversy of any kind. I mean the method of selecting nominees for the Presidency of the United States. I feel confident that I do not misinterpret the wishes or the expectations of the country when I urge the prompt enactment of legislation which will provide for primary elections throughout the country at which the voters of the several parties may choose their nominees for the Presidency without the intervention of nominating conventions. I venture the suggestion that this legislation should provide for the retention of party conventions, but only for the purpose of declaring and accepting the verdict of the primaries and formulating the platforms of the parties; and I suggest that these conventions should consist not of delegates chosen for this single purpose, but of the nominees for Congress, the nominees for vacant seats in the Senate of the United States, the Senators whose terms have not yet closed, the national committees, and the candidates for the Presidency themselves, in order that platforms may be framed by those responsible to the people for carrying them into effect.

Source: Woodrow Wilson: “First Annual Message,” December 2, 1913. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29554.

Wilson’s first message to Congress was fairly unremarkable in what he said. But his method of delivery was significant. In 1913, Wilson delivered the annual “Message to Congress” –later known as the State of the Union address– in person. He was the first President to deliver the annual message in person since Thomas Jefferson abandoned the practice in favor of a written message in 1803.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born on December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia.

Read more about Wilson, his life and his Presidency in Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents–

Don't Know Much About the American Presidents (2012) (From Hyperion and Random House Audio)

Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents (2012)
(From Hyperion and Random House Audio)


Who Said It? (12/16/2013)

Thomas Jefferson “Confidential Letter to Congress” (January 18, 1803)

“The Indian tribes residing within the limits of the United States, have, for a considerable time, been growing more and more uneasy at the constant diminution of the territory they occupy…”

Thomas Jefferson, third president (Source: White House)

Thomas Jefferson, third president (Source: White House)


The Indian tribes residing within the limits of the United States, have, for a considerable time, been growing more and more uneasy at the constant diminution of the territory they occupy, although effected by their own voluntary sales: and the policy has long been gaining strength with them, of refusing absolutely all further sale, on any conditions; insomuch that, at this time, it hazards their friendship, and excites dangerous jealousies and perturbations in their minds to make any overture for the purchase of the smallest portions of their land. A very few tribes only are not yet obstinately in these dispositions. In order peaceably to counteract this policy of theirs, and to provide an extension of territory which the rapid increase of our numbers will call for, two measures are deemed expedient. First: to encourage them to abandon hunting, to apply to the raising stock, to agriculture and domestic manufacture, and thereby prove to themselves that less land and labor will maintain them in this, better than in their former mode of living. The extensive forests necessary in the hunting life, will then become useless, and they will see advantage in exchanging them for the means of improving their farms, and of increasing their domestic comforts. Secondly: to multiply trading houses among them, and place within their reach those things which will contribute more to their domestic comfort, than the possession of extensive, but uncultivated wilds.

Source: Monticello- “Jefferson’s Confidential Letter to Congress”

On December 20, 1803, in the Sala Capitular of the Cabildo, France signed the transfer documents formally transferring the Louisiana Territory to the United States. The ratification of the Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States and opened up the continent to the continued westward expansion of the nation. (Source National Parks Service)

The Louisiana Purchase was formalized on December 20, 1803 in The Cabildo in New Orleans.


That exchange formalized the acquisition of the territory Jefferson had discussed in his letter to  Congress nearly one year earlier requesting $2,500 to fund the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

“In Depth” on Book TV with Kenneth C. Davis

On November 4, 2012, New York Times Bestselling author Kenneth C. Davis sat down for a comprehensive three-hour interview with C-Span’s Book TV.

The interview, which included questions from callers and via e-mail, covered Davis’ career as a writer spanning more than 20 years. In the interview, he discussed his approach to writing history in such books as Don’t Know Much About® History. He also described his background, growing up in Mt. Vernon, New York, how he became a writer, and his early work, including his first book, Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America, which discussed the rise of the paperback publishing industry and the impact of books on American society.

Davis also described the success of his “Don’t Know Much About®” series, with its emphasis on making history both accessible and entertaining while connecting the past to the present.

Watch the video here.

Don’t Know Much About® the “War on Christmas”

"in the interest of labor and morality"

“in the interest of labor and morality” (1895: Image Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print)


It’s that time of year. Cue the lights, decorations, music.… and the “War on Christmas.

Proclaiming a secular assault on the religious significance of the holiday has become a seasonal staple, just like the Macy’s Parade with Santa Claus. During the past few years, the so-called “War on Christmas” has become a perennial favorite of conservative broadcasters and the religious right. Their basic premise: Christmas is under attack by Grinchy atheists and secular humanists who want to remove any vestige of Christianity from the public space. Any criticism of public displays devoted to religious symbols –mangers, crosses, stars — is seen by these folks as part of a wider attack on “Christian values” in America. Mass market retailers who substituted “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas” are also part of the conspiracy to “ruin Christmas.”

It’s a red meat issue that is good for ratings and book sales. But the fact is, an increasingly secular America celebrates more than just Christmas at this time of year — so “Happy Holidays” is not only appropriate, it makes good business sense. And in fact, most religious displays are not banned. Courts simply direct that one religion cannot be favored over another under the Constitutional protections of the First Amendment. Christmas displays are generally permitted as long as menorahs, Kwanzaa displays and other seasonal symbols are also allowed.

In other words, the “War on Christmas” is pretty much a phony war.  But where did this all start?

The first laws against Christmas celebrations and festivities in America came during the 1600s –from the same wonderful folks who brought you the Salem Witch Trials — the Puritans. (By the way, H.L. Mencken once defined Puritanism as the fear that “somewhere someone may be happy.”)

“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

–From the records of the General Court,
Massachusetts Bay Colony
May 11, 1659

The Founding Fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were not a festive bunch. To them, Christmas was a debauched, wasteful festival that threatened their core religious beliefs. They understood that most of the trappings of Christmas –like holly and mistletoe– were vestiges of ancient pagan rituals. More importantly, they thought Christmas — the mass of Christ– was too “popish,” by which they meant Roman Catholic. These are the people who banned Catholic priests from Boston under penalty of death.

This sensibility actually began over the way in which Christmas was celebrated in England. Oliver Cromwell, a strict Puritan who took over England in 1645, believed it was his mission to cleanse the country of the sort of seasonal moral decay that Protestant writer Philip Stubbes described in the 1500s:

‘More mischief is that time committed than in all the year besides … What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used … to the great dishonour of God and the impoverishing of the realm.’

In 1644, Parliament banned Christmas celebrations. Attending mass was forbidden. Under Cromwell’s Commonwealth, mince pies, holly and other popular customs fell victim to the Puritan mission to remove all merrymaking during the Christmas period. To Puritans, the celebration of the Lord’s birth should be day of fasting and prayer.

In England, the Puritan War on Christmas lasted until 1660. In Massachusetts, the ban remained in place until 1687.

So if the conservative broadcasters and religious folk really want a traditional, American Christian Christmas, the solution is simple — don’t have any fun.

Read more about the Puritans in Don’t Know Much About History and America’s Hidden History.  The history behind Christmas is also told in Don’t Know Much About® The Bible.

Don't Know Much About History (Revised, Expanded and Updated Edition)

Don’t Know Much About History (Revised, Expanded and Updated Edition)

Don't Know Much about the Bible

New York Times Bestseller America's Hidden History

New York Times Bestseller
America’s Hidden History

Who Said It? (12/9/2013)

George Washington, “Last Will and Testament” (Dated July 9, 1799)

Washington's Tomb at Mount Vernon (Photo: Kenneth C. Davis)

Washington’s Tomb at Mount Vernon (Photo: Kenneth C. Davis)


Upon the decease <of> my wife, it is my Will & desire th<at> all the Slaves which I hold in <my> own right, shall receive their free<dom>. To emancipate them during <her> life, would, tho’ earnestly wish<ed by> me, be attended with such insu<pera>ble difficulties on account of thei<r interm>ixture by Marriages with the <dow>er Negroes, as to excite the most pa<in>ful sensations, if not disagreeabl<e c>onsequences from the latter, while <both> descriptions are in the occupancy <of> the same Proprietor; it not being <in> my power, under the tenure by which <th>e Dower Negroes are held, to man<umi>t them. And whereas among <thos>e who will recieve freedom ac<cor>ding to this devise, there may b<e so>me, who from old age or bodily infi<rm>ities, and others who on account of <the>ir infancy, that will be unable to <su>pport themselves; it is m<y Will and de>sire that all who <come under the first> & second descrip<tion shall be comfor>tably cloathed & <fed by my heirs while> they live; and that such of the latter description as have no parents living, or if living are unable, or unwilling to provide for them, shall be bound by the Court until they shall arrive at the ag<e> of twenty five years; and in cases where no record can be produced, whereby their ages can be ascertained, the judgment of the Court, upon its own view of the subject, shall be adequate and final. The Negros thus bound, are (by their Masters or Mistresses) to be taught to read & write; and to be brought up to some useful occupation, agreeably to the Laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, providing for the support of Orphan and other poor Children. and I do hereby expressly forbid the Sale, or transportation out of the said Commonwealth, of any Slave I may die possessed of, under any pretence whatsoever.

Source: The Papers of George Washington Complete text


George Washington died on December 14, 1799.

Between ten and eleven at night on December 14, 1799, George Washington passed away. He was surrounded by people who were close to him including his wife who sat at the foot of the bed, his friends Dr. Craik and Tobias Lear, housemaids Caroline, Molly, and Charlotte, and his valet Christopher Sheels who stood in the room throughout the day. According to his wishes, Washington was not buried for three days. During that time his body lay in a mahogany casket in the New Room. On December 18, 1799 a solemn funeral was held at Mount Vernon.

Source: “The Death of George Washington”  Mount Vernon Estate