Meet a President on President’s Day

It’s that time of year again – President’s Day! This is one of my favorite holidays because I get to ask random people about their most beloved President. I usually get an odd look, and some people even feel offended as if I’m probing into their political ideology. Usually, I get the following answers: Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. Almost like a game of Pokemon, I try to find people with rare favorites like James Buchannon or Andrew Jackson. My favorite President is by far Theodore Roosevelt and if you like to learn more about his extraordinary life click here, here, and here. These past few weeks have been heavy with posts on Presidents, and it is partially because of today’s holiday commemorating George Washington’s birthday. This is a special post because it marks my last Founding Father to report on – John Adams. I read John Adams by David McCullough and highly recommend it to understand this peculiar second President of the United States. Who knows, maybe after reading this, you’ll have a new favorite.

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John Adams was born in Quincy, Massachusettes on October 30, 1735, to a pious farming family. As a direct descendant of the original Puritans, Adams began his life steeped in a culture of morality and tradition. Adams did not care for his early schooling and at one point wanted to be a farmer – this was vetoed by his father, and he was sent to Harvard College in 1751. While in school, Adams excelled in his studies and eventually became a lawyer with a promising career in Boston. It was during this time that he met his future wife, Abigail Smith, and they would go on to have six children – two dying early in life. While in Boston, Adams became an active opponent of the Stamp Act and unfair taxation by the British Government. He would actually go on to represent the British Soldiers who were responsible for the Boston Massacre – believing in the justice of the court and eventually receiving massive publicity from the trial. His reputation as a sharp lawyer and proponent of liberty led to his election in the First and Second Continental Congress. He was responsible for pushing the government into a bicameral legislator and the final passing of the Declaration of Independence – Jefferson said that Adams was the “pillar of the Declaration’s support on the floor of Congress, its ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered.”

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With his success in the Continental Congress, Adams was elected Ambassador to Britain where he negotiated the final treaty ending the Revolutionary War in 1783. He became Vice President under Washington and took the Presidency himself as a Federalist in 1797. Adams’ Presidency could be best summarized as a placeholder for Washington’s policies. Adams was pro-British and supported Atlantic trade between the two countries; he prevented war with France and balanced a tightrope of European powers trying to take advantage of the young republic. In the end, Adams’ presidency was nothing to do backflips over. His personality while in office was prickly and somewhat aloof – preferring the opinion of his wife over his cabinet members. Adam loved to argue, and he was not one to sway with public opinion. He had a strong moral foundation, but an excessive paranoia of opponents which led to the Alien and Sedition Acts – limiting the inalienable rights of the citizenry.

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He was viewed by Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans as a tyrant. Adams lost his reelection and eventually went into retirement near his birthplace in Quincy. He would stay active in political opinion and eventually mend his friendship with Jefferson in later life. John Adams did not excel in the public eye and was always best suited for the intellectual backrooms of government. Although he had difficulties appeasing the masses, he became a role model in respects to morality which surpassed most Founding Fathers. Unlike the Virginian leaders, Adams was an abolitionist from birth and never owned a single slave. He corresponded with his wife with a love that was genuine and uncompromising. Adams was a modest and shrewd businessman – living without the suffocating debt ubiquitous for southern leaders. Adams and Thomas Jefferson would end up dying on the same day – the 50th Anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Adams is one of my “honorable mention” Presidents because what he lacked for social skills he made up for in reading and writing. He had a library of over 3,000 books and believed these words full heartedly…

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“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.”

Happy Presidents Day everyone! 

The Greatest Founding Father – Alexander Hamilton

Every 4th of July I get excited about cookouts, patriotic swimwear, and most importantly, Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers were the men who helped found the United States of America and are remembered mostly by their white wigs and stern portraits. Many of these influential members have been in the limelight recently via the popular Broadway play Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. This play motivated me to read about its main character, Alexander Hamilton; I thought it appropriate to use the same biography that inspired Miranda – Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow.

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Hamilton is most well known for his portrait adorning the 10 dollar bill and dying in a duel against the former Vice President Aaron Burr. Unfortunately, it was this duel that cost Hamilton his rightful place in high school textbooks – unexpectedly dying at the age of 49 allowed his enemies to perpetually smear his name and downsize his accomplishments. In opposition to history’s unfair treatment, I feel confident in declaring Alexander Hamilton the greatest Founding Father of all time. I’ve read the biographies of George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson – none of those great men matched Hamilton’s political accomplishments and moral fortitude.

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Hamilton was born as an illegitimate child on the island of St. Croix in 1757. His family life was far from ideal and he had to work extremely hard to rise up from the poverty that consumed his future prospects. He was a precocious child and by the time he was a teenager, merchants were noticing his work ethic and his magnificent writing style. Some wealthy families desired to sponsor Hamilton’s education – allowing him to move to the mainland and later enroll in what is now Columbia University in New York City.

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While studying at Columbia in 1774, Hamilton was taken under the wing of many revolutionary mentors who shaped his eventual desire to fight for American independence. Once the fighting did commence, Hamilton helped form local militias and was actually an artillery captain in several engagements: The Battle of White Plains, the Battle of Trenton, and the Battle of Princeton. Although he desired to be on the frontline, higher up officials later employed him as an aide-de-camp because of his writing skills.  His incessant work ethic caught the attention of George Washington who made Hamilton his Chief Staff Aide. As Chief Staff Aide to George Washington, Hamilton ran the Continental Army with his behind the scenes paperwork – Washington was the figurehead but Hamilton was the orchestrator.

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After the war, Hamilton took up a law practice and pushed more than any other Founding Father for the ratification of the Constitution. His famous Federalist Papers argued for a stronger central government and the states to be a united body. Once the Constitution was adopted, George Washington was elected President and he quickly nominated Hamilton as the first Secretary of the Treasury. As Treasury Secretary, Hamilton changed the United States forever by forming the first National Bank which took responsibility for state debts. This genius move forced the states to unify under the central government and showed foreign countries that America was a stable investment.

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It was Hamilton’s push for a stronger central government that drove his political opponents mad. Thomas Jefferson hated Hamilton and paid people to publish false reports that the Treasury Secretary was a monarchist and wanted to anoint a British King. This rift between Hamilton and Jefferson formed the first underpinnings for political parties in America. Hamilton was seen as a Federalist and Jefferson a Republican (no connection to the modern day party) – Federalists were stereotyped as the aristocratic class who were pro-British while Republicans were stereotyped as the agrarian class who were pro-French. Hamilton was accused of pocketing money from the Treasury Department and his reputation was constantly being smeared – all accusations were pursued by Congress but Hamilton was found completely innocent.

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The Federalists would be pushed aside by the Republicans when Thomas Jefferson was elected President; Hamilton at that time was seen as an evil adulterer, monarchist, and money monger. His political decline culminated with a duel with Thomas Jefferson’s Vice President – Aaron Burr. Hamilton purposely did not aim at Burr because he believed Burr did not wish to kill. Unfortunately, he was completely wrong. Hamilton died the day after -leaving his wife and seven children behind. A parade commemorating his death in New York City was said to be bigger than the funeral parade for George Washington.

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Alexander Hamilton is the Greatest Founding Father because in the words of Chernow, “No other founder articulated such a clear and prescient vision of America’s future political, military, and economic strength or crafted such ingenious mechanisms to bind the nation together.” Hamilton not only got his hands dirty with nation building but also kept his hands clean from owning slaves – he actually was a practicing abolitionist. I think this passage sums up his place as #1…

We have left behind the rosy agrarian rhetoric and slaveholding reality of Jeffersonian democracy and reside in the bustling world of trade, industry, stock markets, and banks that Hamilton envisioned. (Hamilton’s staunch abolitionism formed an integral feature of this economic vision.) He has also emerged as the uncontested visionary in anticipating the shape and powers of the federal government. At a time when Jefferson and Madison celebrated legislative power as the purest expression of the popular will, Hamilton argued for a dynamic executive branch and an independent judiciary, along with a professional military, a central bank, and an advanced financial system. Today, we are indisputably the heirs to Hamilton’s America, and to repudiate his legacy is, in many ways, to repudiate the modern world.
-Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton

How the West Won the Gun

Peanut Butter and Jelly. Chips and Dip. Simon and Garfunkel. Summer and Ice Cream. Americans and Guns. All these things go together and are culturally inseparable. The world knows that America is the land of gun loving-second amendment wielding-wild west winning red-blooded citizens. Americans view their own successful history tangentially with the success of the gun: single shot muskets in the Revolutionary War; Colt pistols in the western frontier; Winchester repeating rifles in WWII. Even my favorite movie during the holidays, A Christmas Story, details Ralphie’s unstoppable obsession with the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Guns are constantly in the news because they beckon polemic arguments. Just last week Donald Trump incorrectly stated that Hillary Clinton wanted to abolish the second amendment, and if that happened, the gun lovers would have to take matters into their own hands (source). I for one am not anti-guns. I believe people should have a right to own pistols and rifles designed for hunting. I do not believe that people should be able to buy assault rifles that can kill dozens of citizens in a matter of seconds. Guns to me are like pharmaceuticals-they have the ability to protect but some come with severe side affects. And like drugs, guns should be regulated to prevent excessive harm to the public-think Antibiotics vs. Heroin. Many of our conversations about guns today are myopic in their view related to their long history in America. Were Americans always so gun obsessed? Why does American culture and the gun fit together like peanut butter and jelly? I found the answers to these questions in The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture by Pamela Haag.

In 1756, a report found that the colonies’ “militia amounts to about 36,000 but not half that number are armed.” In 1776, the governor of Rhode Island wrote to George Washington that the colonists disposed of their arms due to feelings of security, that the colony was effectively “disarmed.” During the 18th and early 19th century, guns were made by gunsmiths. Gunsmiths would make one gun at a time per request and there was a high amount of skill required to complete the entire project. These early American guns were single-shot front loaders which were very heavy and not all that accurate. Since this type of gun was difficult to produce and limited in its capabilities, it was treated as a tool for people with specific needs-farmers, soldiers, Lewis and Clark expeditions, etc. The average Joe did not own a gun during this time. This would all change with Eli Whitney’s idea that he could make a gun with interchangeable parts.

Eli Whitney was one of the first gun manufacturers that made guns not with gunsmiths but with factory workers. Whitney was the forefather to Samuel Colt and Oliver Winchester who would begin their businesses in the mid 1800’s. Colt and Winchester are household names today but their businesses had very slow starts in the US. Americans simply did not see the appeal in semiautomatic rifles or handguns and in 1850, Henry William Herbert, one of America’s first sport-hunting writers, predicted that rifles would be obsolete by the end of the century. The Civil War kept the businesses temporarily afloat but afterwards, to stay in business, gun manufacturers used their factories to produce “sewing machines, horse carts, cotton gins, bridges, plows, mowers…” The only market that truly kept Winchester and Colt alive was the foreign war market. During the 1800’s, in South America, Europe, Mexico, and Asia, there was a huge demand for arms. The “American” gun only stayed out of bankruptcy because foreign nationalism required semiautomatic rifles. Colt and Winchester had to solve a problem, they had a ton of guns but little demand in America. How could they make a market?

Winchester and Colt were geniuses in marketing and they used the wild west as their primary medium. Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickok, Billy the Kid, Annie Oakley, Belle Star, Calamity Jane, and many others were incessantly written about in dime novels. These dime novels were written as truth but were only fictional stories where “virtue must triumph, vice and crime must not only be defeated, but must by painted in colors so strong and vivid that there is no mistake about it.” What was the quintessential weapon of all these western heroes? Not coincidentally…Colt and Winchester. In addition to the dime novels, Winchester was a prolific user of full color advertisements that showed harrowing scenes of men in action making “The Finishing Shot” with their repeating rifle. It doesn’t end there, Winchester sent 3,363,537 boys between the ages of 10 to 16 a written letter about their .22 caliber that could be used to earn Winchester “Sharpshooting Medals.” This form of marketing extended to all forms of print and media-including Winchester sponsored movies that flashed ads for their guns. Over 750 westerns were released between 1950 and 1960 with 8 of the top 10 prime-time television shows in 1959 being westerns. The gun had morphed from a tool of war to a sexy symbol of virtue over vice, freedom, and individualism. Like so many other products, the gun was marketed towards our emotions and Americans soon connected this 1900’s gun mystique with all guns throughout American history. The guns of the American Revolution, that were sparse and clunky, were now prolific and majestic tools of freedom-just like they were with the winning of the west. Fast forward to today, where gun manufacturers have no problem selling guns because it is as American as eating apple pie. The second amendment gave us the right to bear arms but Samuel Colt and Oliver Winchester gave us the desire to bear arms.

 

 

The Problem with America

To be honest, I think most American’s are mindless sheep that are constantly shepherded around by media, consumer culture, and politicians. A poll by Newsweek found that among 1000 Americans… “Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar (Reference).” My opinions concerning Americans are harsh because I am an extremely patriotic American who wants his country to prosper and be the best it can be. I love American History and have pride in how far America has come in advancing her citizens and the world in general. When asked what my nationality is I usually say that I am “American.” My love for my country led me to read Glenn Beck’s book Common Sense: The Case Against An Out-Of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine. I am not political and Glenn Beck wrote this book trying to be non-partisan. Glenn is a very outspoken guy when it comes to government power and throughout the book he has a heart attack over federal debt, the confusing tax-code, corrupt politicians, and the “cancer” of progressivism. While reading the book, I felt a mix of approval and disgust with Beck’s views on how to fix America. I agree with his views on reducing the national debt, reforming the tax code, and shortening politicians’ careers. I disagree with his views that global warming is a hoax and that progressivism is a cancer. The progressive movement is essentially a push by Republicans and Democrats to have the government control more of our money and redistribute it to state funded programs. Think Obamacare for Democrats and the military for Republicans.

The manner that Beck goes about explaining his common sense is by misrepresenting history and saying “Wake Up People” several times. First, he talks about the founding fathers and how they wanted small government and respected the constitution. In truth, Washington wanted a more powerful government and he was regularly accused of trying to become a king by wig wearing versions of Beck’s early ancestors. Also, he took several measures of executive action with the idea that the constitution didn’t have all the answers. Secondly, he bashes on my favorite president, Theodore Roosevelt, as an evil progressive-constitution hating man who set the country on the course of its current destruction. Roosevelt was president in a time when corporate greed was destroying America’s workers, environment, and political system. Without his progressive reforms we would not have any national parks, workplace safety, or corporate regulations. 

Beck doesn’t have it all wrong and besides him bashing Teddy I think he has the best intentions in trying to help America. The thing is, his approach is all wrong. Common sense is not to blame the government or corrupt politicians. Common sense is to blame the Americans who elected those politicians. Americans who think that political parties are out to help so they vote straight ticket. Americans who constantly reelect the same politicians who are a part of a congress that gets nothing done. Americans who don’t read or seek out information other then the nightly news and Facebook. Americans who think that one political party is completely wrong and that one political party is completely right. Americans who would choose material possessions and status over a healthy waist line and a critically thinking brain. Our screwed up government is just an extension of our complacency in this country for sloth and avarice at the individual level. The only thing you can control is yourself and by fixing yourself you can then extend help to others in your life. Ghandi said it best, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” That is my common sense and I think that we first need to have a foundation of morals, ethics, and wisdom before we can expect the same in our government. Don’t be a sheep, use your brain, and care for your country.