"HISTORY SPEAKS" BLOG

John Howland: How One Pilgrim’s Miracle Rescue Created One of America’s Greatest Family Trees

By Rick Chromey | November 9, 2023 |

 

Consider this diverse list of notable Americans:

  • U.S. politicians and leaders H.W., G.W. and Jeb Bush, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Sarah Palin
  • Poets Henry Waldo Emerson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Actors Humphrey Bogart, Alec and Stephen Baldwin, Chevy Chase, Anthony Perkins and John Lithgow
  • Childcare expert Dr. Benjamin Spock
  • Founder of Mormon religion Joseph Smith, Jr.

Amazingly, they are all descendants of a Mayflower immigrant named John Howland.

On September 16, 1620 a group 102 “pilgrims” (actually English separatists) immigrated to America on the Mayflower ship to begin a new life. Their desire was to create a biblical community in the new world and serve, teach and evangelize the Indians in the area. John Howland was among them, as a servant to John Carver.

It was 66 days and 2,750 miles of travail and trouble.

Storm after violent storm pummeled the pilgrims and tossed their ship helplessly upon the white-capped waves. One gale was so fierce it splintered their primary mast, a critical piece for the sail that propelled them through the waters. The crew managed to scrounge up a “great iron screw” to hold the massive mast together.

One night the Mayflower was caught in yet another raging Atlantic storm.

Howland was working the deck when a rogue wave suddenly swept him overboard. The night was dark. The rain relentlessly pounded the ship. The ocean foamed with large white-crested waves. And the wind howled. Howland gasped for air and struggled to keep his head above water in the freezing cold Atlantic. Fortunately, someone had witnessed his accident and the  Mayflower crew quickly rushed to the ship’s side to look for him.

It was a moment of deadly desperation. And every second counted.

As the Mayflower slowly slipped further away, Howland swam for his life and prayed to God to spare his soul. And then it happened. His hand sensed a rope! Howland grabbed the lifeline–which proved to be the trailing rope the Mayflower pulled behind the ship exactly for moments like this one.

All Howland knew was his prayers were answered. God had sent a miraculous lifeline!

Holding on for dear life, he was now dragged through the rough ocean waters. Between waves that drowned him, Howland screamed for help, praying now to be spotted. The darkness gave little hope but the crew somehow sighted the drowning Howland dragging behind their vessel. They quickly pulled him to the boat and safely back on deck. For the next several minutes Howland gasped for breath, spitting up salt water that had filled his lungs.

Evidently that night was not Howland’s night to die.

In fact, miraculously, the young Howland lived to tell the tale…and many more.

John Howland was among the men who signed the historic Mayflower Compact and helped found the Plymouth colony. He also survived the first winter when pilgrims died at a pace of one to two persons per day (over half of the colony did not survive to spring).

He married Elizabeth Tilley a few years later and fathered ten children.

And then those ten kids had more kids and their grandkids had more kids…and, well, you get the picture…a family tree was planted.

John and Elizabeth Howland founded one of the three largest Mayflower families and their descendants have been “associated largely with both the ‘Boston Brahmins’ and Harvard’s ‘intellectual aristocracy’ of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” Besides the descendants already named, there are even more, including country music artist Mary Chapin-Carpenter; U.S. Senators Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. and Sam Ervin; S.C.O.T.U.S Justice Robert Jackson; actors William Macy, Christopher Lloyd and Lillian Russell.

Millions, even billions of people, have been influenced by this single life…who somehow found a life rope in a tempest while drowning…then lived to change the world.

John Howland was also the last original adult pilgrim to die, at over 80 years of age. His tombstone reads “he was a godly man and ancient professor in the ways of Christ.” A pretty good epitaph for a life well lived…and a Mayflower miracle too.

It’s quite a pilgrim tale. And one worth sharing with your friends and family this Thanksgiving.

Flipping Horace Mann: How America’s Public School Pioneer Felt About Religious Instruction

By Rick Chromey | October 4, 2023 |

Horace Mann Founder of Free American Public Education“No person, then, in the whole community, could have been more surprised or grieved than myself at finding my views in regard to the extent and the limitation of religious instruction in our public schools attributed to a hostility of religion itself, or a hostility to the Scriptures, which are the “lively oracles” of the Christian’s faith.” (1)

Horace Mann, the pioneer of American free and public education. penned these words as part of an extensive “secretarial” report to the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1848.

Mann had battled for twenty years in his Massachusett’s public schools…over religious instruction.

But what many misunderstand today is Mann never argued against religious education in public schools. Rather, he preached against teaching one particular sect’s doctrines above all others. To understand Mann’s comments in 1848, we must remember Massachusetts was colonized by a specific Protestant religion (Puritan). This was not an uncommon rule for nearly all the states. Pennsylvania was Quaker. Virginia was Anglican. Rhode Island was Baptist. Georgia was Methodist. Maryland was Roman Catholic. Consequently, these colonies grew to favor and legally adopt their specific forefather’s doctrines as their state’s religion of choice.

This explains why the “united” States of America originally constituted beneath a banner citing freedom of religion.

The national Congress could not create a federal religion like each state had in place at our founding (because no state would’ve agreed to that idea!). Ironically, once federal “freedom of religion” (not “freedom from religion” as secularists today argue) was established, many states corrected their own constitutions in the early 1800s. For example, in Mann’s Puritan/Pilgrim Massachusetts…

  • Until April 21, 1821, the test of eligibility for public office was swearing an oath to believe in the highly sectarian, state-sanctioned Protestant (Puritan) religion.
  • Until March 10, 1827, all Massachusetts schools used their classrooms to proselytize children in the Protestant beliefs of their Puritan forefathers (even if the parents were not believers in that brand of Christianity themselves).
  • Until November 11, 1833, every Massachusetts citizen was taxed (by its constitution and laws) to support the Protestant religion, even if the taxpayers were of the Catholic, Muslim, or another faith.

It was within this Massachusetts religious context that Horace Mann worked tirelessly to reform “common” or public schools to be non-sectarian.

The problem wasn’t religion or even Protestant religion, for Mann. The problem was a specific brand of Protestant religion–once sanctioned by the state of Massachusetts as the only true religion.

One of the great myths propagated today about Horace Mann–by both the Christian and secularist–is that Mann desired to create a purely secular school, but that’s not true. In fact, it’s patently false. In 1827, the state of Massachusetts prohibited any sectarian education. The State wasn’t against teaching the Bible or its values, but rather promoting and proselytizing one sect or brand of Christianity exclusively. And there was reason to be concerned.

In Mann’s tours of his states’ schools, even twenty years after the prohibition of sectarian education, Horace still found “theological libraries,” and “oral instruction as strictly and purely doctrinal as any every heard from the pulpit or from the professor’s chair.”(2)  Mann even discovered that a catechism (devoted to propagating one particular sect of Christianity) was secretly being distributed among Massachusetts schools. Many schoolmasters refused to meet with Horace, even accept his offers for “needed assistance.”

Despite these religious power plays, Horace Mann still believed in using the Bible as a text to teach morals, values, history and other subjects.

In fact, he retained his own congregationalist Christian belief despite severe opposition from the religious people within his state. Mann wrote: “[In] regard to all affirmations or intimations that I have ever attempted to exclude religious instruction from  school, or to exclude the Bible from school, or to impair the force of that volume…always have been, without substance or semblance of truth.”(3)

“…That our public schools are not theological seminaries, is admitted. That they are debarred by law from inculcating the peculiar and distinctive doctrines of any one religious denomination amongst us, is claimed…” Mann continued, “But our system earnestly inculcates all Christian morals, it founds its morals on the basis of religion; it welcomes the religion of the Bible; and, in receiving the Bible, it allows it to do what it is allowed to do in no other system,–to speak for itself.”(4)

Horace Mann was no secularist and never advocated for a purely secular education.

To the contrary, he valued the Christian life and appreciated the Bible for its source of positive and productive morals, values and principles.

And until the 1950s, in a post-WW2 American culture, these Christian values and Biblical morals were taught widely in America’s public schools. However, in the early 1960s,, a left-leaning S.C.O.T.U.S. (without legal precedent) initiated the erasure of religion in our public schools by offering its “opinion” regarding removal of prayer (1962) and Bible reading (1963). The age of secular public schools was now in session.

It makes you wonder what Horace Mann would think of his public schools today? What would he think of a learning culture that has devolved into chaos, disrespect, violence, abuse and apathy?

What we see today is nothing more than the fruit of a secular school system that produced a secular graduate and citizen. Schools are just a microcosm of wider society. Do you like what you see? Would our Founding Fathers approve? Would Horace Mann endorse it?

Perhaps we should give Horace Mann the last word: “Again: it seems almost too clear for exposition, that our system, in one of its most essential features, is not only not an irreligious one, but that it is more strictly religious than any other which has ever yet been adopted.”(5)

 

 

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  1. Annual Reports of the Secretary of the Board of Education: 1845-1848 by Horace Mann (Boston: Lee and Shepard Publishers, 1891): 309. Downloadable at Google Books.
  2. Ibid., 307.
  3. Ibid., 311.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., 314.

America the Republic: Why We Were Never Constituted as a Pure Democracy

By Rick Chromey | August 15, 2023 |

Plato

Lately, there’s been a lot of chatter about our democracy or democratic  form of government. Some political commentators use fear to suggest our “democracy is in peril” if certain people from the opposing political party are elected. Unfortunately, this type of fear mongering has been around since America was constituted.

The problem with that critique? America was founded as a republic, not a democracy.

In fact the Founding Fathers were adamant that America was, is, and should never devolve into a democracy (where the majority rules). Listen to their words:

 

  • James Madison: Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

 

  • John Adams: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

 

  • Fisher Ames:A democracy is a volcano which conceals the fiery materials of its own destruction. These will produce an eruption and carry desolation in their way. The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness [excessive license] which the ambitious call, and ignorant believe to be liberty.”

 

  • John Quincy Adams: “The experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived.

 

  • Dr. Benjamin Rush: “A simple democracy . . . is one of the greatest of evils.

 

It’s clear our Founders were adamantly against a democratic rule of government.

That’s  because they were well-versed in history, including the writings of Plato. In Plato’s “Republic” (penned circa 380 BCE), Plato revealed the five stages of human government. These stages can individually last for long periods of time or they can be burned through in short order, depending on how the nation is constituted or re-constituted.

For example, since 1789–when America created its national constitution–France has re-constituted fifteen times. When Plato’s stages are laid against American political history, it would seem we traveled largely in the first two stages for most of our national life. However, we have quickly passed into the third and could move into the fourth. Let’s review Plato’s five stages of government or how a national politic is born, matures, devolves and dies.

STAGE ONE: “ROYAL AND ARISTOCRATICAL”

This government is both good and just. Virtue and hard work mark it. There’s a pursuit of truth and wisdom. The politicians and rulers are motivated by helping the people, even to the sacrifice of their own health and wealth. They rely upon history, religion, science and the arts to create a beautiful, positive and productive (royal) culture for all to enjoy.

STAGE TWO: “TIMOCRATICAL”

This government is still good, and often indistinguishable from Aristocratical, but its virtues now lean toward honor and fame. Some of the rulers enjoy the political limelight and are now swayed by either flattery (being loved) or fear (being hated). Some now have little experience “governing” or “leading,” because their “fame” created political opportunity. They never built a business, led an organization, managed a company or governed a state. As a result, these rulers are prone to greed, ambition and arrogance.

STAGE THREE: “OLIGARCHICAL”

With greed, government (the ruling class) quickly moves toward creating and keeping power. They write laws, draft orders and invent rules that benefit them (while appeasing the public–through entitlements–to think they’re governing to their benefit). Virtues are only useful to retain power. The rulers also create a new “ruling [political] class” based upon ignorance (uneducated) and inexperience, because such surrogates are easier to manipulate and control. The goal? To create two states (or classes): the rich and the poor. Government no longer fixes problems but creates them to keep the populace salivating for another handout or quick fix. National debt rises to pay for all the entitlements to keep the people satisfied.

 

STAGE FOUR: “DEMOCRATICAL”

At this point, the next rule of government rises: pure democracy. The people rise up and overwhelm the oligarchy by sheer numbers. This is when the State begins to die. Democracies never last. They can’t. Every man does what is right in their own eyes. It’s how kings rise (someone popular enough to mass the people). The national order devolves from unity (“e pluribus unum” or “out of many, one”) into disunity (“e unumus plurib” or “out of one, many”). Democracies are all about inclusivity and tolerance, but only if its beneficial or pleasurable to the majority. Plato wrote, ironically, that “tolerance is the last virtue of a dying society” because it produces the lowest forms of sexual debauchery, violence, profanity and greed.

 

STAGE FIVE: “TYRANNICAL”

It’s in this social, irreligious and political vacuum that the final stage is set for a true tyrant. This is when the king becomes a lover of power. That’s when the city-state melts into anarchy and chaos. Initially this individual is attractive to the populace. He makes lots of promises. He steals from the rich to give to the poor. He’s kind, benevolent and caring. He dismantles the former “ruling class” (to the pleasure of the people) and creates a clique of one (propped up by mesmerized supporters). He eliminates all political enemies...and that’s when he becomes rapidly “unpopular.”

But by now it does not matter. When the people murmur or protest, he eliminates them too. Eventually he eliminates all undesirables from his kingdom. Power is no longer a means, but the end. Tyrants also keep wars going…so their people always need a leader. Finally, tyrants enslave his own people to service his needs.

Was Plato right? And could he be describing America’s future?

If you review other “republics” throughout history, his insights are telling. The decline and fall of “republics” like Greece and Rome are our best examples…the greatest “republics” ever created by man…until America came along. What made our nation different from former republics is its mild use of “democracy” or “we the people” to keep the ruling class in check. Consequently, we have “separation of powers” in our government (legislative, executive, judicial), all controlled by “we the people.”

If America becomes an oligarchy or democracy or tyrannical, it’s because “we the people” let it happen.

We seeded our own destruction. We caused our own ruin.

When America was in revolution against the British, across the pond France was having it’s own revolution. But unlike the French Revolution, which chose to center it’s new constitution upon a secular state, America did the opposite. It penned a “declaration of independence” and constituted as a “nation under God” with liberties (freedom to speak, assemble, report, “church”), justice and equality for all Americans. Our Founders didn’t get these ideas from Plato or the Enlightenment, but rather from the Bible.

Our Founders knew a moral and virtuous populace was a good thing.

  • BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

 

  • GEORGE WASHINGTON’S: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

 

  • DR. BENJAMIN RUSH: “The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid on the foundation of religion. Without this there can no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments…The religion I mean to recommend in this place (America) is that of the New Testament.

 

  • JOHN ADAMS: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break through the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net…our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

 

For most of America’s history, even those of different faiths (other than founding Protestant Christianity) recognized the uniqueness and strength of a “freedom of (not from) religion.”

America was attractive to the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox, the Muslim and the Jew, the Buddhist and Hindu, because it respected their commitments to morality, values and a faith in a “higher power.” All faiths found a space to worship as they pleased in America.

America operated fairly well, although at times with some awkwardness, in navigating the assimilation of different faiths, but in general, always worked it out. What the Founders’ feared, however, finally happened in the 1960s as American took a step toward a new secular state. As atheists, in particular, and other irreligious and nonChristian groups, attacked the foundations of “Christian America,” they did so at the peril of collapsing the very “free” system they desired. The secularist didn’t want to assimilate, but dominate. They didn’t want to tolerate religion but eliminate it. Religion denounced their sexual lifestyles, critiqued their godless habits and prohibited their vile (and illegal) activities. The Founders also knew what would happen when America lost its religious moorings.

On the final day of the Constitutional Convention (September 18, 1787) in Philadelphia, a lady approached the highly-regarded Benjamin Franklin and inquired whether their constitutional meetings had produced a monarchy or a republic.

Franklin famously replied, “A republic…if you can keep it.”

And that’s the question, isn’t it? Can we keep our republic?

It begins by recognizing America was never created as a pure democracy and a republic founded upon “morality, virtue and religion.” At best, we are a “democratic republic” (with the emphasis upon “republic”). But if Plato’s stages are historically valid, America is already an oligarchy, and careening (if politicians of a certain party desire) towards a democracy.

But a pure democracy would be disastrous for America (and it’s unlikely we’d last another 20 years as one, given our state of present social, religious and virtuous decline).

America is too great to lose to a tyrant (either from within or from without).

But that’s coming…unless we change course and return to a more virtuous, moral and religious state. We need to rediscover and restore the America our Founder’s established. And as with any restoration process that will not be easy.

We must change our course or one this is clear: Our current generations will become America’s Final Generation.

The clock is ticking.

 

 

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SOURCES:

  1. Madison quote: Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison, The Federalist on the New Constitution (Philadelphia: Benjamin Warner, 1818), p. 53J
  2. Adams quote:  John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1850), Vol. VI, p. 484, to John Taylor on April 15, 1814.
  3. Ames quote: Fisher Ames, Works of Fisher Ames (Boston: T. B. Wait & Co., 1809), p. 24, Speech on Biennial Elections, delivered January, 1788; and Ames, Works, p. 384, “The Dangers of American Liberty,” February 1805.
  4. J.Q. Adams quote: John Quincy Adams, The Jubilee of the Constitution. A Discourse Delivered at the Request of the New York Historical Society, in the City of New York on Tuesday, the 30th of April 1839; Being the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States, on Thursday, the 30th of April, 1789 (New York: Samuel Colman, 1839), p. 53.
  5. Rush quote: The Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Buttereld, editor (Princeton: Princeton University Press for the American Philosophical Society, 1951), Vol. I, p. 523, to John Adams on July 21, 1789.
  6. Benjamin Franklin story:“America’s Bill of Rights at 200 Years,” by former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, printed in Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. XXI, No. 3, Summer 1991, p. 457.

 

John Quincy Adams: The Hell Hound of Slavery

By Rick Chromey | July 31, 2023 |

The Hell Hound of SlaveryIt’s one thing to be a “career politician.” It’s quite another to be so influential that your very presence commands respect, honor and adoration.

But John Quincy Adams was a “cut above the rest” type of man.

In fact, few American leaders have exceeded the contributions of John Quincy Adams, the lawyer son of Founding Father John and Abigail Adams. He served seven decades as a diplomat, senator (state and U.S.), representative, Secretary of State and sixth president of the United States.

Born July 11, 1767, Adams grew up in Massachusetts. Educated by his parents and private tutors, the young Adams read and translated the works of Plutarch, Thucydides, and Aristotle. But John Q. also read his Bible annually, in different languages and translations, spending an hour daily in Scripture study and meditation.

The Word of God, he once penned, was “his counsel and monitor through life.”

Adams authored a letter to his son in 1811, commending the habit of daily Bible reading, stating that “so great is my veneration for the Bible, and so strong my belief, that when duly read and meditated on, it is of all books in the world, that which contributes most to make men good, wise, and happy—that the earlier my children begin to read it, the more steadily the practice of reading it throughout their lives, the more…confident will be my hopes that they will prove useful citizens to their country, respectable members of society, and a real blessing to their parents.”

John Quincy Adams was still a child when his intellect and political talent was pressed into service for a young nation.

At 11 years of age, John Q., in 1778, accompanied his ambassador father to France, and later the Netherlands to learn the finer points of international relations. Three years later, living on his own, Adams served as a secretary for the American diplomat in Russia. Between 1785 and 1789, the teenaged Adams studied law at Harvard, eventually launching a legal career in Boston. Adams also became a prolific writer, publishing books, essays, articles, and letters.

In 1794, George Washington appointed Adams the Netherlands ambassador, followed by Portugal (1796) and Prussia (1797-1801).

He returned to the States in 1801 and was elected a Massachusetts’s senator. During this time he also served as a professor of logic, rhetoric and oratory for Brown and Harvard universities. In 1817, James Monroe drafted Adams as his Secretary of State.

John Quincy Adams was eventually elected America’s sixth president (1825-1829).

After office, he became a U.S. House of Representative for Massachusetts for nine terms (1831-1848). It was the first and last time (to date) a U.S. President retired to a lower national office.

But that’s because John Quincy Adams still had a fight to finish. And he literally died on the job attacking the evil of his age: slavery.

An ardent and outspoken abolitionist, Adams was nicknamed “The Hell-Hound of Slavery.”

His primary political adversary proved the Democratic Party, who did all it could to silence his barking. As the ruling party, pro-slavery Democrats shut down all discussions regarding the practice. Adams relentlessly battled their procedural “gag rules.” At one point Democrats tried to censure him, but nothing stopped Adams from arguing, with persuasive eloquence, against the slavery institution in America. In fact, he was the first to pitch a constitutional amendment to abolish it.

In 1841, Adams and Francis Scott Key helped liberate 53 enslaved Africans charged with mutiny on the La Amistad, a Spanish slave ship.

Adams gave a nine-hour defense for these slaves before the U.S. Supreme Court (at 73 years of age). In his rants against human bondage, he often pointed to the true root cause of the slave trade: Islam. For over a thousand years, Muslim slave markets captured, transported, and sold 180 million African slaves, shipping them all over the world.

Adam argued that Islam fundamentally hated the Christian religion (which preached liberty, equality, and justice). Consequently, it used terrorism, fear, and human slavery to keep Christian nations disrupted and divided. In his 1827 “Essay on Turks” Adams opined: “Such is the spirit, which governs the hearts of men, to whom treachery and violence are taught as principles of religion.”

In November 1846, John Quincy suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.

But it’s hard to keep a good man down. Adams fully recovered and returned to the House floor within a few months. A year later, on February 21, 1848, during a House vote, Adams (also known as “The Old Man Eloquent”) collapsed at his seat. Forty eight hours later he was dead. His reported final words: “This is the last of Earth. I am content.”

Word of Adam’s death spread quickly, thanks to the newly invented telegraph.

This created a national mourning unlike anything known before in America (death notices traveled much slower in those days). Adam’s funeral featured a processional of military units, senators and representatives, Supreme Court justices, President James Polk and his cabinet. Surprisingly, among his pallbearers were political opponents and senators John Calhoun (D-SC) and Thomas Hart Benton (D-MO). Calhoun was a slave owner, while Benton was a notorious political adversary.

And also among his pallbearers was a new congressman from Illinois: Abraham Lincoln.

A dozen years later Lincoln would become president over a divided nation and fulfill the “Hellhound of Slavery’s” lifelong dream to eradicate slavery in America.

To his dying day, Adams proclaimed his Christianity and affection for the Bible. He concluded: “In what light soever we regard it, whether with reference to revelation, to literature, to history, or to morality—[the Bible] is an invaluable and inexhaustible mine of knowledge and virtue.”

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.

Ambassador. Congressman. Senator. President. Abolitionist. Christian.

Now you know the rest of HIStory.

 

 

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SOURCES:

  • Life of John Quincy Adams, W. H. Seward, editor (Auburn, NY: Derby, Miller & Company, 1856), p. 249.
  • Letters of John Quincy Adams to His Son on the Bible and Its Teachings (Auburn, NY: Derby, Miller & Company, 1848), 7,  9-10, 20.

 

Alexis De Tocqueville: The French Man Who Saw America’s Past, Present and Future

By Rick Chromey | June 6, 2023 |

“[It’s] the most comprehensive and penetrating analysis of the relationship between character and society in America that has ever been written.”[1]

That’s how one historian described Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America; a work many consider among the most influential literary works of the 19th century.

Published in two volumes between 1835 and 1840, Alexis de Tocqueville analyzed the social and political life of early America.

Born in the wake of the French revolution, he was a diplomat, philosopher, historian and aristocrat. Initially he traveled to America in 1831 to study our prisons, but quickly found something greater underfoot.

Alexis de Tocqueville discovered America’s Christianity.

He penned: “Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country…”[2]

Alexis de Tocqueville observed how our “notions of Christianity and of liberty” were so intertwined it was “impossible to…conceive one without the other.” He noted in his travels how our Puritan forefathers immigrated and established both a “democratic and republican religion.”

He summarized how “religion in America…must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country…[imparting] a taste for freedom.”[3]

Alexis confessed his inability to “know whether all Americans [had] a sincere faith” but was “certain” that we fully accepted religion and all other institutions being connected. “This opinion,” he wrote, “is not particular to a class of citizens or a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.”[4]

Alexis de Tocqueville affirmed this thesis from a court case he observed in Chester County, NY (August 23, 1831). In this case, a witness admitted to the judge his atheism. In Alexis’ “enlightened” France, atheism was common and gave no concern in matters of integrity. And yet this American judge “refused his testimony” because atheism was reason to lose the “confidence of the court.” Alexis also documented a local newspaper’s report for how this judge was surprised to discover “a man living who did not believe in the existence of God…[and] knew of no case in a Christian country, where a witness had been permitted to testify without such belief.”[5]

Alexis de Tocqueville wasn’t alone in his perception of America’s Christian roots.

His traveling partner—Gustave de Beaumont—penned his own memoir known as the Marie ou l’Esclavage aux E’tas-Unis (1835). Beaumont documented over a dozen different sects of Christianity in early America and wrote: “Religion…is not only a moral institution but also a political institution … In the United States, the law is never atheistic … All of the American constitutions proclaim freedom of conscience and the liberty and equality of all the confessions…”[6]

Beaumont noted how the Massachusetts’s Constitution recognized “only Christians.” He cited how Maryland’s Constitution declared “all of the faiths are free” and gave legislature the power to tax “for the support of the Christian religion.” The Vermont Constitution recognized “only the Christian faiths” and mandated “every congregation of Christians [to] celebrate the Sabbath.” Pennsylvania required a belief in God as part of its citizenry. Beaumont further documented how most states demanded profession of Christianity to serve in public office.

Beaumont summarized: In general, anyone who adheres to one of the religious sects, whose number is immense in the United States, enjoys all of his social and political rights in peace. But the man who would claim to have neither a church nor religious beliefs would not only be excluded from all civil employment and from all political offices … but … would be an object of moral persecution of all kinds. No one would care to have any social relations with him … No one in the United States believes that a man without religion could be an honest man.”[7]

In 21st century America such religious fervor would be considered prejudicially extreme, even among the Christian faithful.

We’d never consider excluding someone from employment or political office if they were not Christian. Nor would we discount the court testimony of the agnostic or atheist.

But in early America—founded as a Christian nation–we did…and it was a preferred state of living.

Alexis de Tocqueville also opined on how America could lose our democracy and freedom.

It would happen, he said, in slow measures as Americans “in a restless search for…petty, vulgar pleasures” eventually numbed to its political “protective powers” who removed “autonomy… from each citizen.”

“It is …difficult to imagine,” de Tocqueville concluded, “how men who have completely given up the habit of self-government could successfully choose those who should do it for them…The vices of those who govern and the ineptitude of those governed would soon bring it to ruin and…revert to its abasement to one single master.”[8]

It’s why Alexis de Tocqueville’s unabridged Democracy in America should be required reading in America’s history classes. He documented, as an outsider, our Christian founding and deep religious fabric. He also offered a blueprint for how “we the people” could lose our cherished liberty and democracy.

Essentially, it’s how one French man saw America’s past…and future.

 

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NOTES AND SOURCES

[1] Robert Bellah, Self, Symbols, and Society: Classic Readings in Social Psychology, edited by Nathan Rousseau (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002): 322.

[2] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume 1 (New York: George Adlard Publishing, 1839): 307.

[3] Ibid., 304.

[4] Ibid., 305

[5] Alexis de Tocqueville, The Republic of the United States of America (New York: A.S. Barnes, 1851): 334.

[6] https://www.wnd.com/2017/07/religion-the-foretaste-of-politics/

[7] Ibid.

[8] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume 2 (New York: J.&H.G. Langley, 1840): 342.

America the Secular? Flipping the Script on the Founding of a Nation

By Rick Chromey | June 5, 2023 |

Secular AmercaSince the 1980s, it’s been a popular refrain to refer to America’s founding as secular in nature. Proponents of secularism often use selective quotes to promote their nonreligious agendas (1). Many Founding Fathers are now considered “Deist” (read: agnostic, atheist). These include heavyweights like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and George Washington.

Perhaps we should let America’s Founding Fathers speak to the nature of our national origin.

 

JOHN ADAMS: “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS: “In the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior. The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.”

PATRICK HENRY: “The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue, morality, and [Christian] religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.”

JOHN JAY: “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”

JAMES McHENRY: “Public utility pleads most forcibly for the general distribution of the Holy Scriptures. Without the Bible, in vain do we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions.”

GOUVERNEUR MORRIS: “There must be religion. When that ligament is torn, society is disjointed and its members perish… [T]he most important of all lessons is the denunciation of ruin to every state that rejects the precepts of religion.”

JEDIDIAH MORSE: “To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. All efforts made to destroy the foundations of our Holy Religion ultimately tend to the subversion also of our political freedom and happiness…Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government – and all the blessings which flow from them – must fall with them.”

DR. BENJAMIN RUSH: “I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am as satisfied that it is as much the work of a Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament.”

DR. BENJAMIN RUSH: “The only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government is the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible.”

GEORGE WASHINGTON: “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are.”

DANIEL WEBSTER: “Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens.”

NOAH WEBSTER: “The Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children under a free government ought to be instructed. No truth is more evident than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”

Other than Thomas Paine, who did subscribe to agnostic French Deism, the rest of the Founding Fathers were quite Christian in their lifestyles, values and beliefs. Heavyweight founders like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington all attended church (Franklin is buried at Christ Church in Philadelphia, PA). Several of the Founders were clergymen.

So no, America was not founded as a secular nation.

Rather America was designed to reflect “CHRISTIAN” ideals and biblical values, namely liberty, justice and equality for all U.S. citizens.

In post-Christian (secular) America, we are told (and sold) a different narrative by our modern-day history educators, politicians and media, but that doesn’t change the TRUTH.

Founding Father JOHN ADAMS even imagined a wholly CHRISTIAN nation in a 1756 diary entry: “Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. . . . What a Eutopia – what a Paradise would this region be!”

If America was founded as a secular nation (like France), it would’ve been evident in early America.

However, the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville discovered the opposite to be true in 1831.

He penned: “Upon my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country…”

Alexis de Tocqueville observed how our “notions of Christianity and of liberty” were so deeply intertwined that it was “impossible to…conceive one without the other.” He noted in his travels how our Puritan forefathers immigrated and established both a “democratic and republican religion.”

He summarized how “religion in America…must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country…[imparting] a taste for freedom.” Alexis confessed his inability to “know whether all Americans [had] a sincere faith” but was “certain” that we fully accepted religion and all other institutions being connected. “This opinion,” he wrote, “is not particular to a class of citizens or a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.”

In the early 1850s, there were some who wanted to introduce secular philosophy and values into America.

It provoked a Congressional Judiciary Committee to study the matter in 1854. This select committee investigated Founding documents, speeches, journals, biographies, reports and other writings. Their conclusion:

“Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle… In this age, there can be no substitute for Christianity… That was the religion of the founders of the republic and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants.

Of course, nearly 250 years after the fact, that hasn’t happened.

America is no longer a “Christian nation.”

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t once such a nation. Consequently, those who teach, dispute and promote a secular origin view for the United States of America are simply misguided. Unfortunately, many Americans, particularly younger generations, promote this national myth out of ignorance (and/or spite). It’s all they’ve heard or learned in their history education (which flipped this historic narrative in the 1980s).

This popular (and wrong) narrative reveals why a good history education demands humility, respect and openness. Sometimes we don’t need a novel, “new” truth to sell a book or push an agenda, but rather a revelation of an “old” truth to remind, guard and sustain “who we really are.” American Christians have always made room for those who believed differently, from the Jew to the Muslim, from the irreverent to the irreligious.

Yes, America the “secular” has become the reality of our day.

But it wasn’t the reality in 1776 or 1876 or even 1976.

The times might change, but the TRUTH always marches on.

 

 

 

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NOTES:

1. An excellent example of this “selective” quoting is by the liberal Center for American Progress. They lifted a quote from Article 11 of a treaty with Muslim Tripoli that stated “America…was not founded on the Christian religion.” It’s true this statement appeared in the treaty, but it was included to assuage and appease Muslims who were violently anti-Christian and anti-Jew. The phrase was to “politically” communicate that while America was a RELIGIOUS nation, there’s no official STATE religion. This was in effect, true. But even at the time there were those who opposed that language (“America not founded as a Christian nation”) in the treaty. The Secretary of War James McHenry, protested the language of Article 11 before its ratification. He wrote to Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott Jr., September 26, 1800: “The Senate, my good friend, and I said so at the time, ought never to have ratified the treaty alluded to, with the declaration that ‘the government of the United States, is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.’ What else is it founded on? This act always appeared to me like trampling upon the cross. I do not recollect that Barlow was even reprimanded for this outrage upon the government and religion.” 

2. John Adams Quote: Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XIII, p. 292-294. In a letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813.

3. John Quincy Adams Quote: John Quincy Adams, An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport at Their Request on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1837 (Newburyport: Charles Whipple, 1837), pp. 5-6.

4. Patrick Henry Quote: Patrick Henry, Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondence and Speeches, William Wirt Henry, editor (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891), Vol. II, p. 592, to Archibald Blair on January 8, 1799.

5. John Jay Quote: William Jay, The Life of John Jay (New York: J. & J. Harper, 1833), Vol. II, p. 376, to John Murray Jr. on October 12, 1816.

6. James McHenry Quote: Bernard C. Steiner, One Hundred and Ten Years of Bible Society Work in Maryland, 1810-1920 (Maryland Bible Society, 1921), p. 14.

7. Gouverneur Morris Quote: Collections of the New York Historical Society for the Year 1821 (New York: E. Bliss and E. White, 1821), pp. 32, 34, from “An Inaugural Discourse Delivered Before the New York Historical Society by the Honorable Gouverneur Morris, (President,) 4th September, 1816.”

9. Dr. Benjamin Rush Quote: Benjamin Rush, Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Butterfield, editor (Princeton, New Jersey: American Philosophical Society, 1951), Vol. I, p. 475, to Elias Boudinot on July 9, 1788.

10. Jedidiah Morse Quote: Jedidiah Morse, A Sermon, Exhibiting the Present Dangers and Consequent Duties of the Citizens of the United States of America, Delivered at Charlestown, April 25, 1799, The Day of the National Fast (MA: Printed by Samuel Etheridge, 1799), p. 9.

11. George Washington Quote: George Washington, The Writings of Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1932), Vol. XV, p. 55, from his speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs on May 12, 1779.

12. Daniel Webster Quote: Daniel Webster, The Works of Daniel Webster (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1853), Vol. I, p. 44, A Discourse Delivered at Plymouth, on December 22, 1820.

13. John Adams, Works, Vol. II, pp. 6-7, diary entry for February 22, 1756.

14. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume 1 (New York: George Adlard Publishing, 1839): 304-307.

The Big Switch That Wasn’t: The Dixiecrats, Race and 1964

By Rick Chromey | May 24, 2023 |

It’s known as “The Big Switch.” A historical moment when Southern Democrat politicians converted to Republicanism and refashioned the G.O.P. into a racist political party (according to their opponents).

In an heated Twitter exchange between Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Ortez (D-NY) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), this “big switch” was the grist of the Millennial Democrat’s argument.

The only problem? It’s not true.

But first a little historical context.

The general narrative of this “switch” is capsulized in a 2017 History.com article.[1] Once again, a Millennial writer documented how the Democratic Party–known for its historic racism–split in 1948 after Harry S. Truman (D-MO) first “introduced a pro-civil rights platform” into the Democratic Party. Strom Thurmond (D-SC) and a faction of Southern Democrats, consequently, bolted from Democrats to create the “States Rights” (Dixiecrat) party. The author then stated how Dixiecrats eventually converted to Republicanism–along with Thurmond–in 1964. Later, Nixon’s “southern strategy” and Reagan’s conservatism moved the Democratic “blue” South to become a firm “red” Republican in the 1970s and 1980s.

Consequently, Democrats routinely finger contemporary Republicans as “racists,” pointing to occasional neo-Nazi politicians (David Duke, a one-term Louisiana state legislator), obscure racist organizations (Patriot Front) and Confederate flag-waving MAGA types. In fact, just wearing MAGA clothing is considered “racist” by many individuals on the left.

It’s a strong and divisive narrative…but what’s the TRUTH?

First of all, the “Dixiecrats,” under Strom Thurmond in 1948), did leave the Democratic Party…but not for racial reasons.

The Truman Administration–following sixteen years of Franklin D. Roosevelt–further desired to federalize and centralize government. The Southern Thurmond “Dixiecrats” believed in traditional “states’ rights” and segregation. The Northern and Western Democratic Party in the 1930s and 1940s was more “progressive” politically. President Roosevelt’s fascination with the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and fascist government programs in Europe guided many of his domestic policies.

Consequently, the 1948 Truman-Democratic platform reflected more centralized and socialist government, thus angering and distancing Southern libertarians. That’s what really split the Democratic Party in 1948. In fact, in a political platform that boasted 4,256 words only 106 (2.4%) were devoted to civil rights (for the black or anyone else).[2] Even more surprisingly was how the party of slavery, segregation, Ku Klux Klan and Confederate secession was quick to pat itself on the back in 1948. In their summary on civil rights the Democratic Party proudly claimed it alone was “responsible for the great civil rights gains” and committed to “continuing its efforts to eradicate all racial, religious and economic discrimination.”

However, such 1940s political posturing was contradicted by a Jim Crow Democratic South that still lynched blacks, refused school, hotel, restaurant, transportation and restroom facilities to “coloreds” and rigged voting procedures to suppress the black ballot. Therefore, it’s hard to believe “great gains” were actually made by Democrats (as it was the GOP that continually battled for racial civil rights from its inception). The Democrat Harry Truman was allegedly an inactive participant in the Missouri KKK, and biographers often noted his latent racism against blacks, Jews, Chinese and Japanese throughout his life.[3] Meanwhile the Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt nominated a KKK member to the Supreme Court (Hugo Black), put Japanese-Americans into detention camps and refused to welcome black Olympians—including the famed Jesse Owens—to the White House.[4]

Nevertheless, the Dixiecrat exodus was more about progressive, fascist, socialism than segregation and black civil rights. In the end, despite predictions of a Thomas Dewey victory, the Dixiecrat exodus produced little gain. Truman won the 1948 presidency in a landslide electoral college vote while the Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond mustered an inconsequential 2.4% of the popular vote.[5]

Second, the Dixiecrats did NOT convert to Republicanism in 1964 (after Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act) as many contemporary historians and journalists suggest.

In fact, most of these racist libertarians returned to the Democratic Party after 1948 and became a significant voting block against civil rights and desegregation throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. According to one historical analysis, of the 1500+ racist “Dixiecrats” only Strom Thurmond and about a dozen others left the Democratic Party for the GOP (less than 1%). Furthermore, Thurmond didn’t switch parties until 16 years after Truman forced his hand to create his “Dixiecrat” party.

Third, Southern whites (the people, not the politicians) did vote more REPUBLICAN in post-1965 elections, but not for racial reasons.

Again, the Democratic Party was moving left, toward socialism, nonreligious/atheism and adopting liberal planks on abortion, women and gay rights. The Bible Belt South in the 1970s and 1980s became less racist as de-segregation and civil rights laws were enforced. Consequently, immigration to southern cities (Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Nashville, Charlotte) by northern and western GOP conservatives rearranged the voting demographic. Southerners are more conservative and that’s why dozens of Democrats switched parties. Did you know notable Republicans Trent Lott, Mike Pence, William Bennett and Rick Perry were all previously Democrat? It’s true. And race was not the reason they switched affiliations…it was due to liberal/socialist policies.

Finally, the Republican Party and its leaders have consistently denounced and resisted the “alt right” ultra-conservative racist organizations.

It’s why these racists formed their own political party in 2009 (The American Freedom Party). Republicans, historically, have always championed civil rights for the black and all ethnicities. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed thanks to widespread Republican support (who had proposed, ironically similar legislation in the Eisenhower administration). All Southern Democrats (including those Dixiecrats) voted against it. Oh, and David Duke? He only identified as Republican when politically expedient. Otherwise, he’s been in the Democrat, Populist or Reformed camp.

Ultimately Strom Thurmond isn’t the best example, but rather Robert C. Byrd (D-WV).

Byrd spent 62 years in public office. He served for over half a century at the national level, as a Representative and, later, a powerful Senator. The senior senator died in office (2010) at the ripe age of 92. Hillary Clinton called Byrd a “friend and mentor.” Barack Obama noted how “the arc of his life bent toward justice.” The press gave Byrd a surprisingly, blessed pass and ignored his racism.

That’s because Robert Byrd proved a quintessential post-WW2 Democrat. Originally a member and leader of the Ku Klux Klan in West Virginia (an affiliation he later disavowed), Byrd refused to fight in World War 2 because it meant serving alongside blacks. He routinely voted with other segregationists in the 1950s. As a senator, Byrd filibustered and voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He abstained his vote for the 1965 Voting Act. He also voted against the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice.

This same Robert Byrd then politically transformed from a known racist to a beloved mentor. How? Simple. He towed the party line…for nearly 57 years! It’s possible to argue Byrd didn’t lose his racism but rather, like most good politicians, shelved it. He enjoyed his power and position. It wasn’t the first time Byrd did what was necessary. In fact, the whole reason Byrd initially joined the KKK was for “political power.” To his credit, Byrd did leave the organization, but still it showed him to be a political opportunist. Once in national office, at least until 1967 (when being a segregationist went out of fashion), he retained his racist roots. Byrd told a reporter: “Don’t get that albatross [the KKK] around your neck. Once you’ve made that mistake, you inhibit your operations in the political arena.”[6]

Inhibit indeed.

It’s all politics. And it still is, for those who really listen close. It’s why we need to flip the script. We must tell the real story of what happened in 1948 and 1964.

The Republican Party didn’t change, but rather it was the Democratic Party’s transformation (becoming more progressively left) that split their party. The South was also fundamentally transformed by civil rights legislation led by Republicans, not Democrats, in Congress. We should also note that until Democratic “Great Society” welfare policies of the Johnson administration gave black voters an economic reason to vote “blue,” Black America was a Republican voting block.

Between 1865 and 1965, Black America backed Lincoln’s “Grand Old Party” (The G.O.P.). Notable Blacks like Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jackie Robinson were all Republicans.

So the “big switch” was neither big nor a switch.

It was the Democratic party in turmoil. It was a South being forced to end segregation and other civil rights abuses. It was the result of Republicans emigrating to Southern states post-1965 because it now reflected their more conservative values.

It was also about Southern politicians recognizing the writing on the wall…and their future in it.

This wasn’t their father’s (or grandfather’s) South anymore. It was a new day. And both Nixon and Reagan took advantage of it.

 

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[1] “How The ‘Party of Lincoln’ Won Over the Once Democratic South” by Becky Little, August 18, 2017: https://www.history.com/news/how-the-party-of-lincoln-won-over-the-once-democratic-south

[2] Read the 1948 Democratic Platform: https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/1948-democratic-party-platform

[3] Harry S. Truman’s racism was noted by historians and biographers. See “Truman’s Racist Talk Cited by Historian” (Seattle Times, November 3, 1991: https://archive.seattletimes.com/archive/?date=19911103&slug=1314805) and “The Best Kind of Bigot: Harry Truman and His Hatreds” by Eric Fettman (New York Post, July 3, 2003: https://nypost.com/2003/07/31/the-best-kind-of-bigot-harry-truman-and-his-hatreds/).

[4] “Why Was Jesse Owens Deprived of Presidential Recognition,” The Telegraph, May 27, 2016: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/race/how-america-snubbed-jesse-owens/

[5] The 1948 Presidential Election: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_United_States_presidential_election

[6] “The Democrats’ Lott”The Wall Street Journal. December 23, 2002:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1040607367889016753

John Ericsson: The Swede that Saved the Union

By Rick Chromey | March 22, 2023 |

John EricssonWhen it comes to America’s naval history, few had more influence on battleship design than a man named John Ericsson.

In fact, it’s a Swedish story better than ABBA.

Ericsson was a Swedish American who revolutionized steamship propulsion through his invention of the screw propeller.

He also invented the first submarine boat, self-propelled torpedo and torpedo boat. His innovations made large ships move faster and further, reimagining the use of navies in war. Thank God he was on our side.

Two of Ericsson’s most revolutionary naval ship designs were the USS Merrimack (1855) and the USS Monitor (1862).

During the Civil War, the Confederacy resurrected the de-commissioned Merrimack and transformed it into a iron-plated naval destroyer (renaming it the CSS Virginia). The Merrimack was a formidable foe in the water. The Union suffered great losses to this naval monster (including 16 war ships).

On March 8, 1862, the CSS Virginian sunk two of the Union’s best: USS Congress and USS Cumberland. It was a moment of fate. After all, the very next day the Union launched a new Ericsson designed warship named the USS Monitor—who immediately went to battle the Confederate’s CSS Virginia. After a four-hour battle, the Monitor eventually crippled and disabled the Virginia…permanently. The Monitor, surprisingly, suffered no damage. After that victory, the Union owned the coastal waterways. It just kept launching more Ericsson “monitor” ships.

On May 29, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge honored John Ericsson as the “great son of Sweden” and “a great American.”

But there’s something often missed in this story. And that’s Ericsson’s Swedish and religious heritage.

At one time, Sweden was one of the more religious nations on earth.

Influenced heavily by the Protestant Reformation, this Nordic country converted to Christianity. In fact their prominent and popular Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus (a.k.a. “The Lion of the North”) proved rather zealous for religious freedom and expansion. He is also credited with making Sweden a powerful force (politically and militarily) among the European nations of his day. His greatest notoriety was on the seas. Adolphus was an influential and noted naval commander known as the ”father of modern warfare.” During the Thirty Year Wars, his defense of Protestant Christianity inspired many Europeans to name their churches and societies after him, including Germany’s Gustav-Adolf-Werk foundation.

Gustavus Adolphus wanted to help colonize America with Swedes for the purpose of trade…and religion.

He desired to create another nation “made more civilized and taught morality and the Christian religion…[through] propagation of the Holy Gospel.” One of the skill sets Swedes brought to America was ship making and naval innovation—later incredibly helpful in naval battles with the British, French and Confederates.

The state of Delaware was where most early Swedes migrated…and Sweden continued to export into America not just its people, but Bibles, hymnals, and pastors. In the years leading up  to 1789, Sweden sent forty-one prominent clergymen who “laid the basis for a religious structure” in America. These Swedes built the first flour mills, ships, brickyards, and roads. They also introduced the sciences of forestry and horticulture. And they built nearly 2000 churches and schools.

Wherever a Swede landed on America soil, their first task (after building their own shelter) was to erect a place to worship and launch a school to train clergymen and teachers. They also continued to influence and innovate naval operations for a young nation.

John Ericsson was one of those Swedish descendants.

By the way, the Swedes were also abolitionist. They despised the slave trade.

John Ericsson was so committed to liberating slaves, he refused payment for his design of the Union warship the USS Monitor. “It was my contribution to the Union cause,” he told Lincoln, “…which freed 4,000,000 bondsmen (black slaves).”

Like all Swedish-Americans, Ericsson cherished America and its commitments to equality, justice and liberty.

He once penned: “I love this country. I love its people and its laws, and I would give my life for it.” In fact, a famous photo features skyscraper builders high above the New York skyline enjoying lunch. Although their identities remain a mystery, the Swedes claim at least two of them.

Lunch atop a skyscraper

It’s why we cannot forget John Ericsson. Nor should we dismiss the contributions of the Swedish that helped forge the American ideas of liberty, equality, and justice. Many nationalities contributed to the building of America, but few have given more than the Swedes.

It’s something to think about the next time you listen to ABBA, dine on Swedish meatballs or shop at IKEA.

Harlan Sanders: The Kentucky Colonel Who Made Chicken Finger-Lickin’ Good

By Rick Chromey | March 20, 2023 |

The story of the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken is one worth knowing.

Harlan Sanders (1890-1980) was a true late bloomer.

He was also a man who relentlessly refused to give up on his dreams. And later, even his own soul.

Sanders didn’t open his first restaurant until he was 40 years old, and then spent a dozen years before he launched his first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Salt Lake City (1952).

Sanders spent half his life in failure, poverty and dead ends.

The hard-charging kid from Henryville, IN struggled to keep jobs. He quit too soon. He got laid off.  And, occasionally, even fired. In one infamous tale, Sanders brawled with his own client in a courtroom. This heated moment ended his brief stint as a lawyer. One biographer noted the temperamental Sanders suffered from a lack of “self-control, impatience, and a self-righteous lack of diplomacy.” His focus was relentless. His energy was tireless. And he evolved into a raging, vulgar workaholic with a horrendous temper.

Sanders sold life insurance, worked the railroad and ferries, sold tires, ran a service (gas) station, and many other jobs to pay his bills. But it was his gas station that sparked a new idea. His travelers who stopped to refuel were also hungry to be fed themselves. Sanders developed a roadside grill that sold chicken, ham and steak dinners.

The famed food critic Duncan Hines once visited his Corbin, KY restaurant and penned in popular travel guide: “A very good place to stop en route to Cumberland Falls and the Great Smokies. Continuous 24-hour service. Sizzling steaks, fried chicken, country ham, hot biscuits.”  It was such publicity that created fresh opportunity and honor for Sanders. In 1939 he opened a motel next door. His governor named him a Kentucky “colonel.”

Sanders was 50 years old when he created his “secret” chicken recipe.

Then he spent the next two decades of his life building a brand and becoming the face of a new type of fast food restaurant. At 60 years of age, Sanders fully adopted the “Kentucky colonel” image. He changed his attire to all white, grew a goatee and, from that point forward, was known simply as “The Colonel.” For the next decade he lent that image to his company to create an iconic brand for chicken that was “fingerlickin’ good.” In 1964, he sold his business for $2 million dollars and put a price on his image going forward. The Colonel was rich and famous…but hardly happy. He was 73 years old and miserable.

So the elderly Sanders set about changing his life.

His reputation for a quick temper, vulgar (even racist) language and driving personality created both shame and guilt for the aging Colonel. Despite his millionaire status and famous mug, his business dealings brought no peace. He penned in his autobiography: “But all this while I knew I wasn’t right with God. It bothered me especially when I’d take the name of the Lord in vain. I did my cussin’ before women or anyplace. … I knew the terrible curse of cussin’ would probably keep me out of heaven when I died.”

The Colonel’s hard attitudes and forceful personality were initially softened by a new marriage to his long-time mistress Claudia in 1957. However he still spent the 1960s searching his soul to find true inner peace. His mother brought him up in a strict Adventist faith that only tortured him with guilt and shame. Sanders was looking for something different…something lasting.

In 1969, Sanders visited a revival service at The Evangel Tabernacle in Louisville, KY. On that night, his whole life changed (including his temper and profanity). The Colonel rekindled his religious faith, much like Johnny Cash, to embrace a simpler form of Christianity that finally exorcised his demons. On his 80th birthday, he and Claudia were baptized in the Jordan River. The couple faithfully attended church from that day forward. Among his friends were Billy Graham, Pat Boone and Jerry Falwell.

Sanders died ten years later at the age of 90.

His body laid in state at both the Kentucky capitol and the Kentucky Fried Chicken headquarters for thousands of people to pay their respects. Over 1,200 distinguished people and government dignitaries attended his funeral at Southern Seminary on December 20, 1980. By the time of Sanders’ death, there were an estimated 6,000 KFC outlets in 48 countries worldwide, with $2 billion in sales annually, but what his friends and family remembered most was his joy, love and peace.

Colonel Harlan Sanders.

A failed, arrogant, stubborn, vulgar workaholic who found the real “secret recipe” to life wasn’t in chicken but God.

And now you know the rest of HIStory.

Dred Scott: The Man Behind the U.S. Supreme Court’s Worst Decision

By Rick Chromey | March 6, 2023 |

Dred ScottMany legal scholars believe the Dred Scott decision was the worst opinion ever delivered by a U.S. Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes called it the Supreme Court’s “greatest self-inflicted wound.”

But why did it happen? Who was Dred Scott? And why should we know his story? 

DRED SCOTT was born a slave in Virginia in 1799. His slave owner took him to Alabama and eventually relocated to St. Louis, MO. Then Scott was sold to a U.S. army surgeon named Dr. John Emerson, who moved him to Illinois and later to the Wisconsin territory. At the time, both Illinois and Wisconsin territory were “free” (meaning slavery was abolished and illegal). But that didn’t mean it wasn’t practiced. Like today, many people do illegal activities in their private lives.

In 1837, Scott met and married Harriet Robinson–who was sold by her owner to Dr. Emerson. 

The Scott couple lived in “free” territory for two years (1836-1838), separated much of the time from their army surgeon master who the U.S. Army had transferred to the slave state of Louisiana. However, the surgeon eventually married and reunited the two families. Then they all moved to Missouri (another slave state). In 1843 Dr. Emerson died and the Scott family was passed in the will to his widow Harriet. That’s when things get messy.

The Dred Scott legal case originated in his desire to free himself and his family.

Scott first tried to purchase his freedom from his surgeon’s widow but was denied. So he took his matter to the courts. Dred Scott’s argument was simple: because he and his family had lived freely (separated from his master) in Wisconsin territory (where slavery was abolished and illegal) it meant he was technically freed at that time. And the rule of the day was “once free, always free.”

The first Missouri circuit court to hear the case agreed. Scott should be a free man. However the Missouri Supreme Court overturned that ruling in 1852. In doing so, the bench set a new precedent that a “slave” state did not have to honor a “free” state’s laws. A major part of their argument included the fact Dred Scott should’ve filed for his freedom when in Wisconsin and not Missouri. This was a legal application that Scott, for whatever reason (ignorance of the law or busyness), had not done.

Eventually the case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, who ruled 7-2 against Dred Scott.

It was a purely political and unprecedented decision by activist judges. After all, every one of  seven justices in the majority were pro-slavery Democrats appointed by Democrat presidents (the pro-slavery party of its day). The two dissenting justices were affiliated with the anti-slavery Whig/Republican parties.

This Supreme Court decision went further and stated, according to the U.S. Constitution, no African (black) was ever intended to be, nor could be, an American citizen.

Consequently, Dred Scott had no “standing” to even file a case. That right was exclusively only for citizens of the United States. Furthermore, the Court stated Congress had no authority to ban slavery in territories (nullifying the Missouri Compromise of 1820). Finally they noted that “due process” (5th Amendment) prohibited the government from even freeing slaves brought into federal territories from slave-holding states.

Essentially, Dred Scott (and all Blacks, who were now nearly all born natives in America) were viewed as pure property. This case had ramifications even for “free” blacks in “free states” who owned land and voted. In one single decision the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the natural born “rights” of a group of people, based purely on their skin color.  It was a crushing blow, not just for blacks (in slavery or not) but for the abolitionist cause to end slavery in America.

The Dred Scott decision was also the first step in the march towards Civil War (1860-1865).

But wait…this story still has more twists.

Who, for example, financed Scott’s legal case and footed his bills? It turns out the adult children of Scott’s original owner funded his legal bill. The kids of Scott’s original master became staunch abolitionists in the years after selling him to Dr. Emerson. Slavery was an evil of which they repented using their pocketbook.

But what happened next for Dred Scott, his wife and two daughters was even more amazing.

In a wild twist of irony, the Missouri widow who owned the Scott family remarried in 1850. Her new Massachusetts husband was a fiery and staunch abolitionist Republican doctor named Calvin C. Chaffee. In 1854 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for Massachusetts. Both the marriage and election happened years before the 1857 Dred Scott decision. As a result of that ruling, Scott and his family were returned to the new Mrs. Chaffee as she was still their owner. However, the new bride was now also an abolitionist like her congressman husband! She no longer believed in owning slaves and knew exactly what to do with Dred and his family.

Unfortunately, when she tried to emancipate Dred and his family, there were legal complications. To avoid the courts, Mrs. Chaffee deeded the Scott family to another Republican congressman named Taylor Blow (R-MO), who immediately freed Dred, his wife Harriet, and two children Eliza and Lizzie on May 26, 1857…just three months after this terrible Supreme Court ruling!

Dred Scott was a liberated man.

Unfortunately, his freedom on this side of eternity did not last. Scott’s life tragically ended sixteen months later due to tuberculosis. His body was returned to Missouri and interred at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis. That’s where most stories end, but in Dred Scott’s case he became more celebrated after his death.

In fact, to this day, there’s a long-standing tradition to place Lincoln pennies on his grave for good luck. That’s because the Dred Scott decision was the inspiration for Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, as well as the genesis for the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. In these constitutional amendments all the wrongs were corrected for Dred Scott and Black Americans. They were now all free from slavery, rightful citizens of the United States and able to universally vote.

But it all started with a man named Dred Scott.

And now you now the rest of HIStory.