Sunday, December 17, 2017

John Adams During the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765

John Adams in 1762
In 1765 John Adams was a young lawyer struggling to make ends meet. When the Stamp Act shut down the courts, he wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Obviously, it caused him personal and financial pain. That showed in his diary. He said the Stamp Act was an “enormous engine, fabricated by the British Parliament, for battering down all the rights and liberties of America…In every colony, from Georgia to New Hampshire inclusively, the stamp distributors and inspectors have been compelled by the unconquerable rage of the people to renounce their offices.”[1]

And, it wasn’t just upper-class citizens who protested the Stamp Act. “The people even to the lowest ranks, have become more attentive to their liberties, more inquisitive about them, than they were ever before known or had occasion to be.”[2] No matter what their profession, Americans were up in arms about the negative effects of the Stamp Act. “Our presses have groaned, our pulpits have thundered, our legislatures have resolved, our towns have voted; the crown officers everywhere have trembled.”[3]

From the tone alone, it sounds as if John Adams is already a rebel, or poised to cross the line.

There was a significant principle at stake. One the colonists would repeatedly invoke over the next decade. Adams said if the colonies accept this tax, “if this authority is once acknowledged and established, the ruin of America will become inevitable.”[4] The real fear. The unspoken concern was that if the colonies were to lie down and accept the tax, more taxes would soon follow. Once the precedent was set, what was there to stop Parliament from taxing the water they drink, or the air that they breathe?

At present, everything was in disarray. The courts were shut down, the probate office was closed-up, and the customs house was shuttered. No one was able or willing to decide what should come next. “The executive courts have not yet dared to adjudge the Stamp Act void, nor to proceed with business as usual, though it should seem that necessity alone would be sufficient to justify business at present.”[5]

The date was December 18, 1765.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Modern Day Heroes: John Wayne

John Wayne in The Comancheros - 1961
John Wayne was the original movie tough guy.

He rode a mean horse. He carried a shotgun and a brace of pistols, and in most of his movies, he was pretty good with his fists, which meant he could punch out the bad guy’s lights without working up a sweat. 

Too bad his parents saddled him with a girl’s name. Marion Morrison[1] wasn’t a good name for a movie star. Especially, if he planned on specializing in tough guy roles.

Johnny Cash could very well have lifted the idea for "A Man Named Sue" from John Wayne’s life story. I have no doubt that name turned Wayne into the tough son-of-a-bitch that he became.

Not too long ago, another bad ass named David Morrell wrote a short book about John Wayne.[2] And, let me assure you, David knows a thing or two about tough guys. If you don't recognize the name, David is the man who wrote First Blood. That book unleashed John Rambo on the world. 

Johnny Rambo was a Vietnam veteran, who suffered from PTSD. In the book, Rambo got pushed a little too hard by a local sheriff because he had long hair. All I can tell you is big mistake. Rambo took out most of that town before he got taken down. 

John Wayne came from the same stock as John Rambo. 

He didn't take shit. From anyone.

I crossed paths with David Morrell back in the late 1970s when he taught Classical American Literature at the University of Iowa. The only grudge I hold against David is that he made me read Moby Dick.

If you never read Moby Dick, it’s this crazy ass book that rambles on and on for hundreds of pages about sperm. (snicker! snicker!) Or, more realistically about the sperm from a sperm whale. Only it wasn’t sperm. It was the white, waxy goo the sailors extracted from the whale’s head.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Santa Claus Pagan Origins of Everyday Christmas Traditions and Beliefs

By O. M. Spencer

The Christmas Tree
The angels in the Gloria in Excelsis have probably given us the best definition of Christmas, "On earth peace, good-will toward men." This Christian idea of Christmas, with its love, charity, and for­giveness, has probably found its most strik­ing realization in the Julafred, or Yule-peace of the Scandinavians — a custom, though ancient as the Runic stones, still existing in Sweden, by virtue of a Christian baptism, as a Christian institution. Extending from Christmas-eve to Epiphany, and solemnly proclaimed by a public crier, any violation of the Yule-peace is visited with double or treble punishment. The courts are closed; old quarrels are adjusted; old feuds are forgotten; while on the Yule-evening the shoes, great and small, of the entire house­hold, are set close together in a row, that during the coming year the family may live together in peace and harmony.

To this pacific, Christian conception of the Christmas-time not a few pagan elements have been added, which are clearly traceable, as we shall see, to the old German "Twelve Nights" and the Roman Saturnalia. Hence its mirth and festivity, its jesting and feasting, its frolic and license. The decoration and illumination of our Christian churches recall the temples of Saturn radiant with burning tapers and resplend­ent with garlands. The "Merry Christmas" responds to the "bona Saturnalia," and our mod­ern Christmas pres­ents to the dona amicis.

During the Sat­urnalia, which were intended to symbolize the freedom, equality, and peaceful prosperity of the golden or Saturnian age, all labor was suspended. The schools were closed; the Senate adjourn­ed; no criminal was executed; no war proclaimed. Slaves exchanged places with their masters, or, seated at the banqueting tables wearing badges of freedom, jested with them familiarly as their equals.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Preview: 1963 - Life at the Speed of Sound

When I first began kicking around the idea of writing a book about the events of 1963, the only sure thing that came to mind was the assassination of JFK. But the more I examined what happened that year, the more it struck me, 1963 was a pivotal year in modern history. It was the year that launched the sixties. It marked the end of our national innocence. It began a new era in the Civil Rights movement. The FAB 4 forever changed our perceptions of music, reality, and inner consciousness.

If you were alive in 1963, you're likely to remember three stand out events. The assassination of JFK, the beginnings of Beatlemania, and a rebirth of the Civil Rights Movement.

When JFK was assassinated, it was like the magic candle that lit up the nation was forever blown out. It opened our eyes to the evil around us. In those few short moments at Dealy Square, a lone gunman stole our innocence. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. polarized a generation of black activists like no one else could. His "I have a dream" speech, delivered at the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs catapulted him into the national limelight. He went from being a "black" leader, to being an "American" leader. The next day, JFK praised King's speech and the movement. The FBI had a different take on King. They designated him the most dangerous "nigger" in America. Attorney general Bobby Kennedy, authorized a series of wiretaps on King that would stay in effect until after his assassination.

Music brought the Civil Rights movement home to the youth of America. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and a host of other musicians provided the background music to the March on Washington.

More than anyone else in the sixties, the Beatles changed everything. They brought a generation of youth together. 

Several years after their arrival in America, John Lennon would proclaim the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus." That line caused him a shitload of bad publicity, but he was definitely on to something. 

Kids around the world had had enough of the stodgy 1950s. They were tired of adults, politics, war, and parents telling them what to think, how to dress, and how to act.

Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and other folk singers sang about political injustice and the coming revolution. The number one album in the country that year, The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan, contained no fewer than six protest tunes.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Review: If You Can Keep It, The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty by Eric Metaxas

If You Can Keep It, opens with a look at Benjamin Franklin just after the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The proceedings had been held behind closed doors - intentionally, to keep rumors from leaking out. Curiosity ran high. People lingered on pins and needles - wondering what the Convention had wrought.

     An old woman pigeon-holed Benjamin Franklin as he walked through the door. She asked him what the delegates had given the country. Franklin didn't need any time to think. Without a pause, he responded - "a Republic" - "if you can keep it."
     Franklin's response most likely baffled the woman. "If you can keep it..."
     The obvious response, would have been, "What's the catch?" "What do you mean?" or, "Why? Is there some chance we could lose it?"

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Killing Billy the Kid

Billy, the Kid
From The Authentic Life of
Billy, the Kid by Pat Garrett - 1892
Billy, the Kid, was nothing but a little squirt. He stood something like five foot, four inches tall (some say five foot, eight—he must have been wearing stilts when they said that), weighed about 140 pounds, and had a stringy muscular body. His hair was a sandy, brownish blond, and according to friends—he was a bit of a jokester, except when he was holding his pistol.

The only picture we have of him, shows a kid with a lopsided face, holding a shotgun by his side. But, that can’t be right. By all accounts, the Kid was a real ladies man. They liked him as much as he liked them, so that picture can’t be accurate. It’s more likely the Kid had a boyish smile, that broke into a wide, childlike grin when he was spinning a yarn.

And, by all accounts, the Kid laughed a lot. According to Sheriff Pat Garrett, Billy ate “and laughed, drank and laughed, talked and laughed, fought and laughed and killed and laughed.”

And, that brings us to his real passion—six-guns, and shooting irons!

When he had his gun out—the Kid was deadly serious, and a sure shot.

New Mexico Governor, Lew Wallace, said Billy was “forked lightning with a shooting tool.” The Kid told him he never used a gunsight to take deliberate aim. “I just point my finger at what I shoot at, that’s all.” As he said the words, Billy raised his hand and pointed at the governor.

“Bang! Bang!”

The Kid let his finger do the talking.

Wallace continued.  "He simply permitted his forefinger to rest along the barrel of his pistol, and then, instead of attempting to point the pistol at his mark, he pointed his forefinger at the target, pulling the trigger with his middle finger.”

The idea was when a guy points his finger—it’s instinctive. Think back to the days when you played cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers as a kid. Did your bullet ever miss its mark?

Of course, it didn’t—and neither did Billy’s.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: The Deal: Churchill, Truman and Stalin Remake the World by Charles L. Mee, Jr.

An interesting look at the beginnings of the Cold War. Strangely enough, Truman and Churchill come off as archvillains and Stalin as the good guy.

Could it be true?

"Churchill was to say, 'It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the first bomb fell....' The United States Strategic Bombing Survey said after the war, 'Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.' 
It was no longer necessary to drop either the bomb-as-weapon or the bomb-as-doomsday-machine on Japan. However, if the weapon were not dropped on Japan, the doomsday machine could have no psychological effect on Russia. 
The bomb was therefore dropped on Japan for the effect it had on Russia—just as Jimmy Byrnes had said. The psychological effect on Stalin was twofold: the Americans had not only used a doomsday machine; they had used it when, as Stalin knew, it was not militarily necessary. It was this last chilling fact that doubtless made the greatest impression on the Russians."