The upcoming transfer of power in the United States will be a time with much pomp and music, with people singing along to "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America," but "Hail to the Chief" remains instrumental, even though there are lyrics, as sung by the Mormon Tabernacle. And if we sang those lyrics, we'd be missing its origin as a song to celebrate Roderick Dhu, or Black Roderick, a fictional medieval Scottish outlaw, which was re-written a number of times before becoming the song that Julia Tyler, wife of President John Tyler, requested for presidential entrances. [more inside]
Before Pinterest and Evernote and Tumblr, there was the humble commonplace book, a space for gathering and reflecting on ideas, quotations, observations, lines from poems, and other information. "How and Why to Keep a Commonplace Book" is a brief introduction to a venerable tradition of idea curation. [more inside]
State of the Union Machine allows you to mix previous State of the Union speeches from Obama's pre-State of the Union tour, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in differing ratios to make something new, courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation.
"If I was to die, today or tomorrow, I do not think I would die satisfied till you tell me you will try and marry some good, smart man that will take care of you and the children"
Author Jon Meacham has a new book out on Thomas Jefferson. It is reviewed in the New York Times: Cultivating Control in a Nation’s Crucible
But this book does not address its principal concern, power, until Jefferson has accrued some. When it comes to the force that he wielded as a slaveholder, Mr. Meacham finds ways to suggest that thoughts of abolition would have been premature; that it was not uncommon for white heads of households to be waited on by slaves who bore family resemblances to their masters; and that since Jefferson treated slavery as a blind spot, the book can too.[more inside]
The Declaration of Independence is perhaps the most masterfully written state paper of Western civilization. As Moses Coit Tyler noted almost a century ago, no assessment of it can be complete without taking into account its extraordinary merits as a work of political prose style. Although many scholars have recognized those merits, there are surprisingly few sustained studies of the stylistic artistry of the Declaration. This essay seeks to illuminate that artistry by probing the discourse microscopically -- at the level of the sentence, phrase, word, and syllable. The University of Wisconsin's Dr. Stephen E. Lucas meticulously analyzes the elegant language of the 235-year-old charter in a distillation of this comprehensive study. More on the Declaration: full transcript and ultra-high-resolution scan, a transcript and scan of Jefferson's annotated rough draft, the little-known royal rebuttal, a thorough history of the parchment itself, a peek at the archival process, a reading of the document by the people of NPR and by a group of prominent actors, H. L. Mencken's "American" translation, Slate's Twitter summaries, and a look at the fates of the 56 signers.
Maira Kalman does it again, with a beautifully illustrated blog post about her visit to Mr. Jefferson's Monticello. [more inside]
WWJD (Which Words Jefferson Digested) Some Flash
Thomas Jefferson so wanted to fix what he thought was wrong with religion that he rewrote the Bible. He went through and cut out the parts that he liked most and pasted it to a fifth volume. He cut out Miracles. He cut out the Christmas story. He cut out most of the Easter story. Resurrection is gone. Wikipedia. previously
The Mammoth Cheese of Cheshire was the most unusual gift ever given to a President of the United States. In the aftermath of the "Revolution of 1800", the eccentric Baptist preacher John Leland decided to celebrate the presidency of Thomas Jefferson by convincing the predominantly Baptist farmers of Cheshire, Massachusetts to create a giant 1,235-pound block of cheese as a monument to small-"r" republicanism and religious freedom. [more inside]
Founding fathers quotations about religion. Sick of hearing fundie pundies say "the US was founded on a vision of Christianity"? Let TJ and the crew speak for themselves.
Sneering at President John Adams as "querulous, Bald, blind, crippled, Toothless Adams" got Ben Franklin's grandson arrested under the Sedition Act of 1798. Federalists like Adams and Alexander Hamilton used the Sedition Act to muzzle highly aggressive elements of the press. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison fought back -- and won. Understanding this early power grab by the U.S. executive branch helps put recent events into historical context. The struggle itself has been part of the United States of America since the beginning, and anyone working to fight Cheney and Ashcroft's unconstitutional assault happens to be in pretty good company. Happy Fourth of July.