Tag Archives: History

Book Review: “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris

The great thing about reading Edmund Morris is two-fold: he presents extremely thorough research with a enjoyable reading style that makes one feel like they are reading fiction. As a friend put it, it’s like reading a novel, not a biography. It doesn’t hurt that Theodore Roosevelt lived a life that makes easy picking for any biographer.

The first in Edmund Morris’ three part biography of the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt lived a life full to the brim. Born sickly, he had overcome physical ailments and “built courage by ‘sheer dint of practicing fearlessness.'” Indeed, his life reads in a crescendo that leaves other men wanting:

  • Published author at 18, of “The Naval War of 1812,” a classic that would go on to find a place in the textbooks for both US and British naval academies.
  • Married at 22, father and widower at 25, husband again at 28.
  • Acclaimed historian and New York Assemblyman at 25.
  • North Dakota ranchman at 26
  • Candidate for New York City Mayor at 27
  • Civil Service Commissioner of the United States at 30
  • Police Commissioner of New York City at 36
  • Assistant Secretary of the Navy at 38 (and author of the plan that defeated the Spanish in Manila under Admiral Dewey)
  • Colonel of the First U.S. Cavalry, the “Rough Riders”  and a war hero at 39 (yes, he left a near cabinet level position to ride in the cavalry)
  • Governor of New York two weeks short of his 40th birthday
  • Vice President at 42…

And that’s just in the first book. Making his living as a working writer, Roosevelt read over 20,000 books and writing fifteen of his own, not to mention speaking French and German, developing and maintaining relationships with numerous leaders in fields scientific, intellectual, and philosophical. His mind was a steel trap and his life steam engine, gaining speed and momentum.

He was a man who was a lifelong learner, knew no bounds to his interests or abilities, and never stopped trying to reach further. Although born to priviledge, Theodore took nothing for granted, and he took every advantage he could to work, read, exercise, challenge himself, and expand his reach. It’s an example that inspires me, and it’s one we could all use.

In a day where people talk a lot and actually do less, Roosevelt reminds us of the power of action, of doing, and that it is those who do that make a difference.

If you’re looking for a readable biography of one of our most colorful presidents, before he was president, pick up Edmund Morris’ “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.”

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Tonight’s books, courtesy of the Salt Lake County Library

Word. Got a couple good looking books from the library tonight. It’s within walking distance, so if I put the kids in the stroller and take them with, I get new books to peruse and read, the kids pick out some new books, and I get at least a modicum of exercise….if just.

The books? I’ll spare you the fun ones and just share the more interesting of the titles.

How about you? What have you started reading this week?
(And, yes, I admit it: I also picked up sundry novels of low brow sci-fi and fantasy…but who’s keeping track?)

“The Constitutional Origins of the American Revolution” by Jack P. Greene

Map of the British colonies in North America, ...

Image via Wikipedia

Time for a segment of “A moment in obscure history.” This time, we’re looking at the constitutional dispute that resulted in the American Revolution.

Since sometime in 2009, the Tea Party movement has lead a revival of interest in the US Constitution.  Senator Mike Lee summed up why the increased interest of late during the release of his new book , The Freedom Agenda: Why a Balanced Budget Amendment is Necessary to Restore Constitutional Governmentmany of our problems today stem from when the “federal government started ignoring those Constitutional boundaries about what Congress is supposed to be doing.”

Suddenly, propelled by Glenn Beck, books like The 5000 Year Leap , a right-wing conservative’s guide to the making of the federal constitution, “leaped” to the Amazon best seller list (it’s now listed at 2,615 overall and the top 100 under “Politics”). While it provides only a simple, somewhat white-washed, and superficial vision of the US Constitution, no amount of increased attention in our federal constitution is too little.

“Where does the Constitution,” goes the rallying cry, “give the President and Congress the authority for the laws they are passing?”

Neither the revival, however, nor questioning the constitutionality of the federal laws, is unique in history. In fact, it was a dispute over the constitutionality of a central government’s actions that lead to another major event in our country’s history: the American Revolution.

"The fruit of half a century of research and reflection, Greene's masterly book restores legal pluralism and constitutional controversy to their proper place among the causes, course, and consequences of the American Revolution." - David Armitage, Harvard University

In his short, and dense, review of the century and a half leading up to the American Revolution, The Constitutional Origins of the American Revolution, Jack P. Greene postulates and examines that evidence that the American revolution did not erupt purely as a simple dispute over “taxation without representation,” but rather that such rallying cries emerged after decades of disagreement on who justly had the right to legislate for the American colonies

Whether the king-in-Parliament, the ultimate source of statute law in Great Britain, could legislate for British colonies overseas was the ostensible question in dispute, but many other related and even deeper legal issues involving the nature of the constitution of the empire and the location of sovereignty within the empire emerged from and were thoroughly canvassed during the debate.

(From Constitutional Origins, p. 1)

It was only after the conflicting opinions of metropolitan Britain and that of the colonists failed to be reconciled that open warfare broke out in 1775, and it was why the decision to broach the topic of and ultimately pursue independence from Great Britain was so cautiously and tentatively pursued. The colonists considered themselves British subjects, citizens, not vassals and secession was not a choice they relished.

They saw themselves as part and partial of the British Empire. Indeed, as one Virginia lawyer at the time phrased it, they might be “subordinate to the Authority of Parliament,” but only “in Degree” and “not absolutely so.” (p.78).  As free men and

As free-born Britons, the colonists assumed, they could not be subjected to any but what Bland referred to as “a constitutional Subordination” to the parent state.

(From Constitutional Origins p. 78)

This political cartoon (attributed to Benjamin...

This political cartoon (attributed to Benjamin Franklin) originally appeared during the French and Indian War, but was recycled to encourage the American colonies to unite against British rule. From The Pennsylvania gazette, 9 May 1754. Abbreviations used: South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and New England. This is a somewhat odd division: New England was four colonies, and Delaware and Georgia are missing. Image via Wikipedia

The nature of this “constitutional Subordination” was such that the colonists readily accepted the authority of Parliament in certain areas, but balked at the idea of taxation, seeing it as beyond Parliament’s authority. “Indeed, considerable evidence suggests that the colonists’ strong initial impulse was to exclude Parliament from all jurisdiction over the domestic affairs of the colonies.” (p.79) Like our modern idea of the federal government, the states concern themselves with their domestic activities while the federal government’s most basic responsibility is national security.

Interestingly, from a historical perspective, we start to see the first signs of federalism in the disputes between the colonies and the home country.

Further,

[s]o long as Parliament confined its regulations to “restrictions on navigation, commerce, or other external regulations,” they reasoned, the ‘”legislatures of the colonies” would be “left entire”and “the internal government, powers of taxing for its support, and exemption from being taxed without consent, and [all] other immunities which legally belong[ed] to the subjects of each colony agreeable to their own particular constitutions” would thereby, according to the “general principles of the British constitution,” remain “secure and untouched.”

Sound familiar? If you hear the foreshadowing of the federalism that would be later inscribed into the US Constitution, there’s a reason. It was rooted in the relationship between Great Britain and its far-flung colonies.

If, during the last couple years, you’ve found yourself at all more interested in the federal constitution and the limitations it places on the federal government, I urge you to look at the role constitutions, and constitutional disputes, played in leading to our own American constitution.

It’s a great read, if a bit scholarly, and evidence that whether a law is constitutional is not a new question, but actually may be  at the very root of the American experiment and its origins in the American revolution. The American revolution was not, nor is it today, an obscure moment in history, but rooted in obscure legal disputes between the colonies and mother country, long predating the Stamp Acts and the Boston Massacre.  It began  as a constitutional dispute between the central government in London and the British colonies in America.

Understanding why the colonist went to war, how they got there, and the legal battles that preceded the battlefields can be useful in understanding why the Founders drafted what they did–into the Declaration of Independence and into the federal constitution–and what those words mean to us now, even in the midst of our own constitutional disputes.

Pick up The Constitutional Origins of the American Revolution by Jack P. Greene from Cambridge University Press, 2011.

(h/t Patrick Charles, who introduced the book to me, and  Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic)

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In California, anything is possible…maybe even “Fat History Month.”

Sometimes, laws don’t make sense. They’re the result of an agenda forced on the majority by a loud and influential minority. The law doesn’t reflect good public policy, just a successful lobbying effort.

California‘s recent dictate to schools to teach the benefits of gays and lesbians to history is one such law. If people thought the Utah legislature’s micromanagement of civics lessons was a little myopic and, well, unnecessary, then this is even more so.

The state has become the first in the nation to require textbooks and history classes to cover the contributions of gay, lesbian and transgendered Americans.

A good friend of mine, known to the world by her nom de plume Salt H2O, put it sarcastically well:

As a former four eyes who was bullied for her glasses I would like to push for ‘eyesight impaired’ history. I don’t want a whole month. I’d just like it to be pointed out in text books the great people of this nation who wore corrective lenses.

Another group that should be up in arms over SB 48 are the obese. Fat kids get teased at an earlier age than homosexuals, and there are exponentially more fat people than homosexuals in our country.  We need Fat History Month to appreciate the metabolically challenged that contributed to this great country so that our fat children will not get bullied because they have a hankering for a Twinkie.

via My Soapbox: Fat History Month.

Maybe she has a point. Certainly President William Howard Taft might get a page or two in the fat metabolically challenged history book. Weighing in at well over 300 pounds when he left office, there is no doubt that he would qualify to “fit” the requirements.

But wait, you say. He’s already well reported in history. He served as President of the United States, an Ohio Supreme Court justice, a US Circuit Court judge, as Governor of the Philippines, and Secretary of War under Theodore Roosevelt, not to mention Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and the only former President to administer the oath of office to another President. He was a very accomplished man.

And he was, at 5’11” and 290 pounds when he took office, very much in the obese category.

Why must history be revised and taught according to the gender, sexuality, race, or, for that matter, weight categorization? Why not just teach the history that matters, the history that affects us, and leave it at that? Leave out the classifications that label people, and let them be what they are: humans being humans, for better or for worse.

It should not matter if that human was white, black, gay or straight, skinny or fat, male or female. If that person has affected history, teach it.

And, in the meantime, spend more time in schools focusing on the skills that actually matter and that are being forgetting in the culture wars and agendas pushed by minority groups. I’m talking math, reading, writing, and science. It won’t really matter what people think about sexual orientation if they get to college and can’t write, or read, a complete sentence…if they can get in, at all.

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Guest Post: “John Adams: From Boston to Guantanamo to DOMA” by Michelle Mumford

John Adams: "the man who at certain point...

Image via Wikipedia

Recently, the Honorable Monroe G. McKay, Senior Judge on the United States Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, addressed a group of young lawyers at the Utah State Bar’s annual Law Day luncheon on the theme of “The Legacy of John Adams, from Boston to Guantanamo”. Judge McKay recited a number of instances throughout history where lawyers have taken on noble yet unpopular causes.  He reminded lawyers that there will always be opportunities to do the right thing.  I found Judge McKay’s remarks especially poignant in light of the recent failure of the Atlanta law firm of King & Spalding to honor its commitment to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Continue reading