History News Network | On President’s Day Let’s Remember Lincoln for This

James Tuten writes: “Candidate Ben Carson pointed out in a debate that the comments section for online articles revel in mean-spiritedness. I agree with him. They inevitably disappoint me, make me cringe, even anger me. It is clear that many people do not begin to read pieces in a fair or open way. They have an opinion of the writer, the publisher, the topic or at least boxes to put them in and toward which they direct disdain, rage or worse, genuine hatred. Abraham Lincoln had the temperament to make it a practice to behave differently. Not always, but frequently he practiced mercy.”

I can’t think of a better way to honor Lincoln, and to hopefully inspire the rest of us to be more charitably toward others, particularly online!  It would make us better as individuals and the world a better place for all of us.


Source: History News Network | On President’s Day Let’s Remember Lincoln for This

“Review of Eric Rauchway’s “The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace” | History News Network

Robert Brent Toplin gives Eric Rauchway’s new book a thumbs up: “There are so many books in print about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s handling of the depression and war that it seems difficult to break new ground. Yet historian Eric Rauchway does just that in this intriguing analysis that combines familiarity with recent scholarship, impressive work in diverse archives, and original insights.”
Rauchway focuses on the relationship between FDR and Keynes and in particular the gold standard. As Toplin notes, the issues that FDR dealt with are still relevant today, especially as some on the Right are trying to return to the gold standard.

Read the entire review here: History News Network | Review of Eric Rauchway’s “The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace”

The Money Makers

“Thomas Jefferson is next target of students who question honors for figures who were racists” | Inside Higher Ed

“At University of Missouri and William & Mary, some place notes on statues honoring the author of Declaration of Independence, calling him a rapist and a racist.”

This is unfortunate. There is no comparison between Jefferson and the leaders of the Confederacy, who fought to preserve the institution of slavery.

To some, the fact that Jefferson was a slave holder is enough to condemn him. But we must look at the broader context of the world in which Jefferson lived. Yes, Jefferson was born into a world of privilege, largely built on the backs of slaves. But in this he had no choice. The institution of slavery was rarely questioned at this time. Jefferson will be part of a generation that will begin to challenge the assumptions and traditions of his native Virginia.

As a product of the Enlightenment, Jefferson embraced values that were antithetical to slavery (equality and freedom). It is clear from his writings that he was aware of the contradictions between his values and his ownership of slaves. It is a blot on his character, but we must remember that Jefferson’s social standing and income rested on this wretched institution. While not completely exculpatory, we must give Jefferson credit for being one of the first among his peers to question the practice. In his day, Jefferson was a radical, even if he was not as radical as we would have liked him to be. In the 18th century it was radical to question the institution of slavery.

In Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence, he included a clause that accused King George III of “wag[ing] a cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incure miserable death in their transportation thither….he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce…”  [full draft] Obviously, this did not sit well with his fellow Southerners (as well as some Northerners) and it was therefore deleted from the final draft.

Jefferson also wrote against the institution of slavery in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1782): “There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.”

Was Jefferson a racist? Yes, guilty as charged, but so was everyone else at the time. And even here, Jefferson was ahead of his time. While he saw them as inferior, he wondered if this was due to “the difference of condition, of education, of conversation, of the sphere in which they move.” (Notes on the State of Virginia) This is in sharp contrast to many of his fellow Americans who saw their inferiority as an intrinsic feature of their race.

There is another important difference between Jefferson and the Confederates. Jefferson articulated the very values that ultimately undermined the slavery. The language of the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”) provided the language and values to with which to attack slavery, and later all other forms of injustice.

The pursuit of liberty and equality was Jefferson’s raison d’ etre, even if he was unable to fully live up to those values. We should honor Jefferson for his noble contributions, as embodied most poignantly in the Declaration of Independence and the Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom. It is these values that we should think of when we see a statue of Jefferson.

“I trust that the whole course of my life has proved me a sincere friend to religious as well as civil liberty” (Jefferson, Letter to the Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1809)

Source: Thomas Jefferson is next target of students who question honors for figures who were racists | Inside Higher Ed

“In epic clash with George Will over ‘Killing Reagan,’ Fox News host Bill O’Reilly renounces journalism” – The Washington Post

If you haven’t seen the contentious exchange between the two conservative titans O’Reilly and George Will, it’s a must see!

In epic clash with George Will over ‘Killing Reagan,’ Fox News host Bill O’Reilly renounces journalism – The Washington Post

Here’s a review of O’Reilly’s latest book in his “Killing” series: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/160980

“What we can learn about the discovery of Thomas Jefferson’s chemistry lab at the University of Virginia” – Yahoo News

“Workers discovered the ‘chemical hearth’ partly designed by Thomas Jefferson while renovating the University of Virginia’s famous Rotunda.” Very cool!

Source: What we can learn about the discovery of Thomas Jefferson’s chemistry lab at the University of Virginia – Yahoo News

Jefferson's chemistry lab

“Did Jefferson Really Mean It When He Said Liberty Now and Then Requires the Shedding of Blood?” | History News Network

M. Andrew Holowchak challenges some popular interpretations of Jefferson’s contention that “[t]he tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
After reviewing Jefferson’s thinking on the relationship between the people and the government, he concludes: “The people ‘preserve the spirit of resistance,’ and that spirit of resistance in turn preserves their rights and liberties. Governors cannot be trusted.  Yet Jefferson did not always appeal to hyperbole or rebellion to make his point apropos of acting on behalf of preserving liberty. He recognized that once a constitution was in place, there would be a limited role for rebellion. He says to C.W.F. Dumas (10 Sept. 1787), ‘Happy for us, that when we find our constitutions defective and insufficient to secure the happiness of our people, we can assemble with all the coolness of philosophers and set it to rights, while every other nation on earth must have recourse to arms to amend or to restore their constitutions.’”

“Barack Obama, Whatever His Faults, Shouldn’t Be Criticized for Showing Empathy toward Iran” |History News Network

Walter G. Moss challenges those who criticize the President for showing empathy toward Iran. “Rather than empathy clouding the president’s judgment, as Herf maintains, it is (as I have argued elsewhere) an important characteristic of political wisdom. Contrary to much of our macho political rhetoric, it is not a sign of weakness. It does not prevent a realistic assessment of the “enemy,” but can enhance it. And most importantly, the diplomacy it forwards can help prevent, as the president insists in his American University speech, “the drumbeat of war.”

Was Jefferson a Pessimist?

This is the contention of Maurizio Valsania in his new book The Limits of Optimism. Anyone familiar with Jefferson would probably find this a dubious claim, including myself. It is an interesting thesis, but after careful examination of Valsania’s argument M. Andrew Holowchak, an expert on Jefferson, concludes: “Valsania’s Jefferson is a figure unrecognizable to one amply acquainted with Jefferson’s writings.”

Valsania’s thesis may be a dud, but Holowchak’s considered review of the book is worthwhile if you’re at all interested in Jefferson: History News Network | Review of Maurizio Valsania’s “The Limits of Optimism: Thomas Jefferson’s Dualistic Enlightenment (Jeffersonian America)”

Here is an excerpt from the review: “Valsania’s imprecise usage of language throughout the book lends itself to vagueness, or at least, ambiguity. Many times he seems to sanction a strong thesis—namely, every Jeffersonian utterance of optimism betrays plainly an equal (or nearly so) amount of pessimism. At other times, he seems to countenance a weak thesis—namely, utterances of optimism often (or sometimes) betrays plainly an equal (or nearly so) amount of pessimism. Valsania never unequivocally settles on one thesis or the other throughout the book—everything rides on him doing so—therefore, at day’s end, chary readers are confounded.”

The limits of optimism