Monday, September 25, 2017

The amendment that never made it into the Bill of Rights

"The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States."

- Article 1, Section 6, Paragraph 1 of the original Constitution

The Bill of Rights was the first ten amendments to the Constitution ...

So most people in this country today have heard of the Bill of Rights, and how it consisted of the first ten amendments to the Constitution - although many who once knew this have since forgotten in the years since they left high school. Here's the part of the story that your history classes might not have taught you, about the amendment that never made it into the Bill of Rights.

United States Bill of Rights

Thursday, September 7, 2017

A review of David Starkey's “Elizabeth”

Queen Elizabeth the First

The most powerful queen in English history

Elizabeth the First may well be the most powerful queen in English history, because she held actual political power in a way that most later queens of England did not. Victoria and Elizabeth the Second had their power limited by the British Constitution to a degree that Elizabeth the First did not. All of them had to contend with Parliament, it is true; but the monarchy still had real power in the years that we today call the "Elizabethan Era." This power was all the greater when the state religion was still under royal control. Just years before this, you see, the church had actually been under the control of the Vatican in faraway Rome. But her father's divorce from his Catholic wife had brought him the ire of the Catholic Church, and led to England's conversion to the new Protestant faith - a faith led by the monarch personally during the lifetime of Elizabeth.

King Henry the Eighth, Elizabeth's father

Monday, August 28, 2017

The First Amendment: Protecting freedom of speech and freedom of the press

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

- Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in a statement often misattributed to Voltaire (although the author rightly viewed this as an accurate paraphrase of Voltaire's sentiments)

The first thing many people think of about the Constitution

The Constitution is filled with passages that are of the utmost importance to this country, from separation of powers in the original Constitution to the Bill of Rights in the amendments. But if I were asked which passage may be the most important to the majority of Americans, my vote might well go to this part of the Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." (Source: First Amendment) This is the Constitution's famous First Amendment, and it is indeed the first of the ten amendments that make up our modern "Bill of Rights." It is also the first thing that most people think of when they talk about what's important to them in the Constitution, since the rights that we have are easier to visualize than abstract concepts of separation of powers and checks & balances. (Although these things are vitally important, too, as I detail in another post that I wrote elsewhere.)

United States Bill of Rights

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and the right to "petition the government"

The bedrock of American political life today may be the parts about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. These are both forms of a larger concept called "freedom of expression" - one in the spoken form, and the other in the written form. (Although I'm sure that sign language and other gestures would also be considered to be "freedom of speech" under this constitutional definition, and free expression on the Internet has long been held to be included under this amendment as well.) The right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances" is another specific form of this freedom of expression, which is usually written down on paper and other hardcopy material. But it is also sometimes found in the Internet form that I have mentioned as well; and it is well that this freedom of expression (in all of these forms) is protected by the First Amendment. It has been codified as a general principle in all political communication throughout this country - and other communication, for that matter.

Martin Luther King giving his "I Have A Dream" speech, 1963

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Impeachment is an important check even when it's not used

"Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office."

- President Richard Nixon, in the Oval Office at the White House, on August 8, 1974

Richard Nixon

Impeachment alone doesn't remove presidents ...

In the entire history of the United States, only two presidents have ever been impeached, which were Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Richard Nixon was never actually impeached by either house of Congress. He was, however, credibly threatened with it during the Watergate scandal, and thus forced to resign in this way. It takes both houses of Congress, you see, to remove a president from office. Thus, when the Senate refused to remove Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton during their impeachment trials, the fact that they had been impeached by the House of Representatives to start this process had only a symbolic value. They had to be convicted by the Senate after this to be actually removed from office.

Andrew Johnson

Bill Clinton

... although one president resigned under the threat of impeachment (and subsequent removal)

It is thus one of the ironies of presidential history that both of the impeachments of an American president in our history failed to remove their intended target, while the only president ever to be forced out of office did so only under threat of it. Besides making the point about how both houses of Congress have to be on board with this to pull off a successful removal (as with Nixon), there is one other point to be made here about the power of impeachment, which is that it doesn't have to be actually exercised to fulfill its intended purpose - the mere threat of it (when made credibly) is the only thing that has ever removed a president from office (so far, at least).

White House

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A review of PBS's “Henry Ford” movie

"A lot of guys have had a lot of fun joking about Henry Ford because he admitted one time that he didn't know history. He don't know it, but history will know him. He has made more history than his critics ever read."

- Will Rogers, comedian

An interesting anecdote about Henry Ford

During the lifetime of Henry Ford, a newspaper once called him an "ignorant anarchist" (or words to that effect), which would have been a fairly serious charge at that time. Henry Ford not only disputed this with considerable umbrage, but he sued the newspaper for libel and defamation, and managed to actually win the suit. When he was put on the stand during this trial, the opposition set out to prove his ignorance by asking him questions about his knowledge of history. Paraphrasing the conversation they had, the opposition asked: "Do you know anything about the Revolution?", and he said yes. "Do you know when it was?" "Yes," he said, "it was in 1812." The opposition seized on his error, and said: "Don't you know that there wasn't any revolution in 1812? Had you forgotten that this country was born in a revolution in 1776?" "Yes, I suppose I'd forgotten that." He was grilled with high school questions like this for several days, and his lack of formal education showed; but he won the libel suit anyway. The jury basically said that he might be ignorant, but he was no anarchist. More to the point, he actually became more of a folk hero after the trial than before, seeming more like a common man, and gaining the admiration of millions.

Henry Ford

There are many ways to be intelligent

Henry Ford may not have known anything about history, and I obviously would not agree with him when he said that "History is more or less bunk" - I am, after all, a history blogger, who has written about history extensively; and I am very invested in the importance of history. Nonetheless, I think that it would not be fair to call Henry Ford "ignorant," this man who knew so much about cars and business. When it came to machinery, assembly lines, and business generally; the man seems to have been a true genius; and if you'd talked to him about these things, you would have seen that he was a tremendously smart individual. But much like certain people I could name today (but won't at this time), this elitist newspaper had no respect for practical intelligence; and went out and praised thinkers to the exclusion of praising doers. The satisfying thing about this story was seeing their attacks on his education backfire on them - instead of permanently humiliating him, it created sympathy for him among the public. Suffice it to say that it was probably the least scandalous thing that anyone could have printed about him, and it had the opposite effect of making him a sort of folk hero - a humorous effect that must have been satisfying for Ford.

Henry Ford and Barney Oldfield with a racing automobile

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Chaos in Cuba: Communist revolution, Bay of Pigs, and a close call with nuclear disaster

Historians have dedicated much attention to the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early sixties, and for good reason - it was the time in our history when the world came closest to nuclear war, which was a dramatic event worthy of serious attention from both historians and the general public. Less visible, however, is the communist revolution that rocked Cuba during most of the fifties; and the "Bay of Pigs" incident that was fairly prominent in the minds of both sides during the later crisis. It is not often that these events are covered together, since any one of these things is a complex topic in its own right; but these events in Cuba would nonetheless seem to be linked together (at least somewhat); and by more than just their closeness in time and place. The common theme running through all of them would seem to be the great worldwide struggle known as the "Cold War" - a war that was fought in Cuba ferociously during these tumultuous times, and which had importance far beyond the island itself on more than one occasion.

Picture from the Cuban War of Independence, 1898

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A review of Alistair Cooke's “America: A Personal History of the United States”

" ... these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved ... "

- The American Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776)

The British writer George Bernard Shaw is supposed to have once told a joke about the relationship between Britain and America. "The United States and Great Britain," he said, "are two countries separated by a common language." We argue about how to spell words and how to pronounce them, I think, and the "common ground" between us can sometimes be a battleground. All kidding aside, though, there is something special about the relationship between our two countries; and our shared English language could just be the most obvious manifestation of this extreme closeness. In ways that we sometimes take for granted, I think, we understand each other's humor and share each other's values. Our love of democracy and liberty, furthermore, is a characteristic that is somewhat rare in the world; and though it is found abundantly in both countries, it is not often found elsewhere to the same degree.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt meets with Winston Churchill aboard the HMS Prince of Wales - Atlantic Charter, 1941

The divide between the Americans and the British

Our culture is much the same, I think, and our view of the world is identical in many ways. But there are some differences between us that cause us both to misunderstand the other at times. It is somewhat unfortunate that my fellow Americans, for example, sometimes see the British as stuffy and unemotional (perhaps even snobbish), while the British sometimes see Americans as unsophisticated rubes who can be impetuous (and even obnoxious). I suspect that these differences have their origins in the fact that our histories diverged somewhat after the American Revolution, when the colonies declared that "all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved" (in the words of our Declaration of Independence). Thus, we have some significant differences between us, it is true; but these differences are not insurmountable. Thus, the BBC made this series about the history of America in 1973. This series was hosted by the famed journalist Alistair Cooke. This series attempted to explain us Americans - and I am an American, as you may have guessed - to our valued brethren in Britain. Thus, it helped to bridge the occasional gap of misunderstanding that sometimes pops up between us. (Although the misunderstandings are still pretty minimal even without this, and we are still a common family that gets along well most of the time.)

Alistair Cooke, the series presenter

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A review of “Korea: The Forgotten War” (Timeless Media Group)

So I recently finished watching "Korea: The Forgotten War," which is a five-hour series from Timeless Media Group. (Not to be confused with other documentaries having the same title - there seems to be at least one other series with this name out there, which I have not seen.) This popular title is entirely correct, of course, that Korea is a "forgotten war"; but this title may be stretching it a little by calling it "the forgotten war." Many wars have been forgotten, I think; from Ancient Greece's "Peloponnesian War" to the Boer Wars in South Africa. (Many more, I think, will be forgotten in the future.) But there are worse features in a documentary than a little exaggeration for the purpose of creating interest, and this documentary has a number of redeeming features that help to compensate for this weakness. (It has many other weaknesses besides this title, to be sure; but with the dearth of media options on this topic, one hasn't the luxury of being picky about the storytelling quality.)

This series is best entered with low expectations

To be sure, the five-hour length of this documentary is part of what recommended it to me in the first place. After comparing many documentaries on the Korean War (and I searched the Internet for a number of them), I came to the conclusion that this was the longest one that I could find. (I am not aware, at least, of any others on this topic which have a comparable runtime; although if you know of any, I'd appreciate it if you left a comment below about it.) The filmmakers are to be commended for attempting to tell this story for television here, and the amount of time that they're willing to dedicate to this topic is a rarity in the world of documentaries, if not entirely unique. There are problems with this documentary, though, that necessitate going into it with somewhat lower expectations. This documentary doesn't have very high production values, for example, and the music leaves something to be desired. (It is a bit melodramatic at times, you see, and even anti-climactic.) The narration is not very well-written, either, and the delivery of the narrator doesn't really do anything for the series. Viewers used to the high production values of Ken Burns' "The Civil War" or the British series "The World at War" may find this series a disappointment in (at least some) ways.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Berlin Blockade: The first crisis after World War II

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an IRON CURTAIN has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in some form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow."

- Winston Churchill, in his "Sinews of Peace" address, given in Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 1946

The wartime alliance against Nazi Germany

This might seem a strange way to begin a post about the Berlin Blockade, but politics makes for strange bedfellows. There are few bedfellows more strange, as it turns out, than the United States and Soviet Russia. During World War II, they had been allied (somewhat ironically) in the struggle against Nazi Germany. Now they distrusted each other greatly (although the distrust wasn't all that new, in the grand scheme of things), almost as much as they had distrusted their common enemy, the Nazis. After the war was over, you see, they were supposedly working together to undo Nazism; but the people of this time had reason to wonder if this was actually happening. The Soviets had made several promises in the postwar peace treaties that they were now breaking, and they weren't exactly tiny promises. They'd promised freedom to the several countries in Eastern Europe (which the Soviet troops were now occupying), and the Soviets pledged that they would "remove their troops soon." But there was a problem with this, since the troops were still there; and freedom wasn't exactly high on the Soviets' priority list.

Red Army raises Soviet flag in Berlin after taking the city, 1945

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A review of David Starkey's “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”

Warning: This post contains some mature themes in it. Although I have tried to discuss them tastefully, there's no way to take them out of this story - it's Henry the Eighth, after all.

The three things you're not supposed to talk about at a party (and they're all here)

It's been said that there are three things that one should not talk about at a party - sex, politics, and religion. The story of Henry the Eighth is, at once, about all of these things - a story that began as being about marriage and intimacy, but ended up as a story about state religion and world geopolitics. It changed England from a Catholic country to a Protestant country, and had massive repercussions for generations to come.

King Henry the Eighth

Friday, May 26, 2017

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A review of PBS's “Dolley Madison” movie

Most women who marry heads-of-state seem forever destined to languish in obscurity. They are usually known by those who study their husbands' lives, but few are ever fortunate enough to escape the shadows of their husbands. They seem relegated to some kind of second-class status in the history books, unfortunately, and the role that they play in the success of their husbands' administrations is too often forgotten by history. Dolley Madison is a fortunate exception to this pattern, and one surmises that if PBS did something about her life without a comparable film about her husband's life, they must consider her pretty important (and rightly so). Their neglect of her husband James Madison strikes one as somewhat strange, I must admit, since he is the Father of the Constitution and a prominent Founding Father. Nonetheless, it is fortunate that they did not treat his wife with the same neglect that they treated him, and there is enough in this film (I think) about both individuals to satisfy fans of either one.

Dolley Madison

Monday, May 15, 2017

Learning the basics of Ancient Greek from a book

It took me three and a half years to read this

For three and a half years, I have read C. A. E. Luschnig's "An Introduction to Ancient Greek: A Literary Approach," 2nd edition - some 280 pages of it. Specifically, I read it from 28 September 2013 through 13 May 2017, at which time I completely finished it. I did so completely from a book, and never had the benefit of a classroom, a professor, or a native speaker - or even a recording of one, for that matter! I've never heard so much as one hour of audio of the language, even from non-native speakers, and this made it somewhat daunting at times. It may have increased the difficulty level in at least some ways, and I don't recommend it to others unless other options are not available (as they were not for me). It was a long process that was sometimes tedious (though usually not at all so), but I'm nonetheless glad that I read it. It's given me access to the world of Ancient Greece, and may one day give me access to various parts of the Bible in the original.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The conservative who liked philosophy

It's a funny thing about philosophy majors - none of them knew they wanted to major in it when they were kids. The reason is actually quite simple: With a few possible exceptions somewhere, none of them even knew what philosophy was when they were growing up. Even after graduating, many are hard-pressed to give you a good definition; because philosophers themselves argue about it until they're blue in the face (and I exaggerate only slightly). As kids, their confusion about it must be even greater.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A review of “A History of Japan” (by R. H. P. Mason & J. G. Caiger)

How did the Japanese become so successful?

This might seem a strange way to begin a blog post about Japan; but in the politics of Islamic terrorism, some have claimed that a Western-style democracy would not work in most Islamic countries, because their values and beliefs are so dramatically different from those found in the West. A liberal friend of mine in college made this argument to me; and I pointed out to him that people had once said the same thing about Japan - which was another culture where suicide was glorified for religious reasons, and used as a deliberate tactic in wartime. People in the West would not have predicted that Japan would modernize as well as it did; and yet it became one of the world's great economies, with its economic success deeply rooted in Western-style democracy and free-market capitalism. How did the Japanese become so successful, it might be asked; when countries in the Islamic world languish in such poverty, and even factional conflict?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A review of Michael Wood's “Story of England”

Michael Wood, the series presenter

England is the dominant part of the United Kingdom today

Even a cursory look at the British population will show that the dominant part of the United Kingdom is England, since more than 80% of its people reside in England. (That's according to the country's last census in 2011.) The rest of them are often lumped together into the term "Celtic peoples"; which come from the Celtic regions of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Each of these peoples has a long history of conflict with England, and the fact that they almost always speak English today (not to mention their smaller numbers, in comparison with the English) all testify to the degree that they were conquered by England. This is, of course, a major factor in British society today, and a painful situation for many a Celt.

Did prior series from the BBC cover English history too much (and Celtic history too little)?

It may have been England's predominance over internal British affairs that caused a prior series from the year 2000 - namely, Simon Schama's "A History of Britain" - to focus mainly on England in its political history, rather than to try to cover everything else in the British Isles. A number of Celts felt somewhat neglected by the larger Simon Schama history, and so the BBC made a few other series that focused more on Celtic history - such as Fergal Keane's "The Story of Ireland," Huw Edwards' "The Story of Wales," and Neil Oliver's "A History of Scotland". While these series may have served to pacify some of the Celtic audiences for the BBC, it is ironic that the BBC eventually decided to go back to English history (at least temporarily), and make another series about England - which is, of course, Michael Wood's "Story of England," the topic of this post.

King Henry VIII, the only person to be mentioned by name in an episode title

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

States' rights: The ongoing debate

"Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort."

- Article 3, Section 3, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution

States' rights was a major issue in the Civil War

In the 1860's, the United States fought a bloody civil war with itself, where 624,000 Americans (more than half a million people) died in a major rebellion. Slavery may have been the root cause of the Southern states' desire for secession, but the "states' rights" arguments were the ones they used to try and prove their legal right to do so - a "right" that they believed they were entitled to. Regardless of whether they were right or not (and I believe they weren't myself), they were symptoms of a deep-rooted debate within American society over states' rights, which had roots going back far before the Civil War and into the Constitutional Convention - perhaps even to the Declaration of Independence. States thought they had the right to nullify federal laws, and considered themselves as independent nations bound into a mere league of nations, rather than mere provinces of a larger nation. They saw the "United States of America" much like we see the "United Nations" - a collection of independent nations that work together when convenient, and which would never surrender their sovereignty when they work together.

Confederate dead at Antietam, 1862

People were willing to fight and die for their views on the subject

When the United States was no longer perceived to be useful to the Southern states, they believed they had the right to secede from it, and win that secession by bloodshed. The Northern states believed with equal fervor that they had no such right to secede, and were willing to suppress this by bloodshed. Thus both sides were willing to fight and die for their own view of states' rights, and a bitter civil war was fought partially over that divisive issue about the role of states. (Although I should acknowledge that there were other factors at work here, and there are other root causes of this war.) The debate continues in full force today (although without the "bloodshed" part), as we continue to define the role of states in the Union. Thus, a closer look at how "states' rights" works might be useful here; answering what responsibilities states have to each other, what rights they still retain at this time, and what advantages they derive from the Union in the 21st century.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A review of “The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization” (PBS Empires)

So I once read a book history of Ancient Greece, and I've even been learning the Ancient Greek language since 2013 (as some of you already know). I'm almost done reading my intro textbook on the subject, actually, and so I've spent many hours studying this topic over these past few years. (Update, 2017: I actually finished reading the intro textbook recently.) Nonetheless, I actually learned a lot from this three-hour TV program on this topic; since it is well-researched, well-presented, and it interviews the experts. I've gotten pretty deep into their culture already through these language exploits, but I nonetheless learned much from this documentary, and not just because it shows pictures of the actual places and artifacts from the time. (Although it does do plenty of that, and supplements my reading with the visuals.)

Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens

So how did I learn something from this, you might be asking? What was it that was so new to me that my textbooks hadn't shown me this information before? Why was it that I learned something from a medium that is usually brief, and occasionally superficial?

Greek statesman Cleisthenes

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Reflections on learning about history of Ancient Egypt

In 1799, one of Napoleon's soldiers discovered a mysterious stone in the Nile Delta, during the French campaigns into Egypt that year - a stone that would prove the key to Egyptology and its modern practice. The mysterious object was the Rosetta Stone, and it bore an inscription in three different languages - Egyptian hieroglyphics, a later form of the Egyptian language called "Demotic," and an ancient variety of Greek that was well-known already to Europeans. Although this soldier didn't know it then, this trilingual inscription would allow a young scholar named Jean-Francois Champollion to decipher the script when he reached adulthood, since he was only nine years old at the time that his fellow Frenchman discovered this.

The Rosetta Stone

The Napoleonic campaigns in general - and the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone in particular - ignited a wave of true "Egyptomania" back in Europe, which grew into the modern discipline of Egyptology. Many great discoveries have been made in this area by archaeological digs at various sites, and some of these have uncovered information that was not known to anyone for centuries. Perhaps because of this, the discipline of Egyptology is sometimes considered a subfield of archaeology - a field broad enough to include sites from Greece to Rome to China to Central America. This classification points out that the excavations done in Egypt are just some of the many across the world that attract the attention of archaeologists; and there is truth in this claim. Nonetheless, the study of Egyptology encompasses more than just "digging in the dirt", and embraces written records as well; with languages whose grammar must be seriously studied and understood before a proper and complete history of the Egyptian past can be written. Thus, the Europeans classify Egyptology as a philological discipline (or in other words, a "linguistic" discipline); and the controversy over its classification continues today.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The complicated legacy of the “Three-Fifths Clause”

"Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons."

- Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution (later changed by constitutional amendments, as I will describe in detail later)

It appeared on the surface to be one kind of racism, but in reality was another ...

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A review of Ken Burns' “Jazz” (PBS series)

An opinion from a longtime fan and (amateur) musician ...

I should preface this review by saying that I am a longtime fan of jazz music, as well as a longtime fan of both history and the Ken Burns documentaries about it. I freely acknowledge that I am not an expert on music history (jazz or otherwise), and do not consider myself to be a true musician - much as I would like to call myself by this distinguished title. I have played piano for a long time, it is true, and I have played jazz (and other styles) by ear; but I am neither a professional musician nor particularly talented in my performance, and consider myself only an enthusiastic fan with a sometime musical hobby. That being said, I am entitled to my opinion about it as much as anyone else, and so offer this review to any who might enjoy it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Japanese American soldiers in World War II

Japanese American children pledging allegiance to the United States in 1942, shortly before the internment started

Japanese American soldiers served with great distinction in World War II

Most Americans today have heard the story of Japanese American internment in World War II (at least in outline form), which was unquestionably one of the sadder episodes in this country's history (at least in the last century). But most Americans have not heard of the story of the Japanese American soldiers in World War II, who served with great distinction in the war. This is a part of the story that our schools have not told as well, and so I thought I'd venture to offer some coverage of it on my blog here. (This necessarily involves some background about the story of Japanese internment, I should note here; but I intend to focus this post on the military contributions of the Japanese American soldiers.)

"Instructions to all persons of Japanese ancestry," under Executive Order 9066

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A review of PBS's “The Gold Rush”

The California Gold Rush is one of those events that tends to have been heard of by the public, but is often overlooked by popular historians today for a number of reasons, among them that it is partially an economic story, and thus considered less "sexy" than the more "traditional" topics of politics and the military. Nonetheless, the Gold Rush is a monumental event in the history of America which had massive repercussions on the history of the West, causing the rapid colonization of California by White immigrants (and a handful of Chinese immigrants), and creating the ethnic mix that California is so known for today - since it is a race relations story as much as it is anything else, fraught with interest for anyone interested in American history. (But more on the particulars of that later.)

Sutter's Fort - California, 1849 (not to be confused with Sutter's Mill)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A review of Andrew Marr’s “Modern Britain” series (1901-2007)

I should preface this review with an up-front disclaimer, which is that I am not a citizen of Britain - I am an American citizen who has never been to the British Isles, and my ancestors haven't lived in Britain for more than a hundred years - although I do have ancestors from various parts of the British Isles, I should note here, who emigrated to the United States over a period of centuries (with some branches arriving at one time, and some branches at another). Thus, I have often felt rather British in my heritage; and this feeling is shared by many Americans of all ethnic origins, because of the cultural similarity between our two countries. (And I'm not just talking about our speaking the same language, although that does help - as George Bernard Shaw once joked, we are two countries "separated by a common language.")

Winston Churchill

Monday, January 9, 2017

Top 18 reasons to vote in the Congressional elections (if you so choose)

"The essence of Government is power; and power lodged as it must be, in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse."

- James Madison, in his Speech to the Virginia Convention on December 2, 1829

United States Capitol, the building where the Congress meets

The elections for the president have always gotten more attention than any other in this country, and it is well and good that they do so - the president has an enormous amount of power that needs to be watched, no matter who's president; and I do not wish to downplay the importance of this when I comment on American elections here.

The White House

Of equal importance, though, is what happens with the Congressional elections; because the legislature has a great deal of power entrusted to it as well; and it is well that we pay it some attention if we want to influence what happens in Washington.

Capitol Dome

In that spirit of clarifying what our Constitution says about Congressional power here, I thought I'd quote from the most relevant section to our current topic, to give you a sense of how important the Congressional elections really are to us in this country.

Constitution of the United States

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

So what exactly are the “midterm elections,” anyway?

"The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six years, and each Senator shall have one vote."

Article 1, Section 3, Paragraph 1 of the Constitution (later changed by the Seventeenth Amendment from "chosen by the Legislature thereof" to "elected by the people thereof")

The Constitutional Convention, 1787

The elections for the president of the United States of America have always gotten more attention than any other in this country. This is not surprising, given that the presidency is the only office that the entire country can vote on; and as Alexander Hamilton once said, any individual serving as the president, "from the entire circumstance of his being alone, [is] more narrowly watched and more readily suspected" (Source: Federalist No. 70, with an alternate version saying "from the very circumstance of his being alone"). Your typical member of Congress can put the blame for their own actions on someone else, in other words - usually their fellow members of Congress - more easily than the president can, because they are not watched as closely as a single powerful individual (like the president) is. It is thus natural that the elections for the presidency (held every four years) would be watched more closely than any other elections.

Alexander Hamilton

Two-year term for the House of Representatives

Nonetheless, the elections for the United States Congress are still of importance to this country - as is testified by the part of the Constitution about the powers of the Congress (Article 1, Section 8, to be specific; which has 18 clauses in it); so these elections are held more frequently than the elections for the presidency are. The Constitution actually specifies a shorter term of two years for the members of the House of Representatives at the national level. This means that for this house of Congress, in practical terms, the whole lot of them are up for re-election every two years; and not just every four years (as it is for the presidency). I should note that half of these elections for Congress are held simultaneously with the presidential elections, with the ballot being the same one used to vote for the president. The other half of them are held at the midway point between the two presidential elections (hence the popular name that they have of the "midterm elections," since they're in the middle of the four-year term of the president). The next one is in November of 2018; so if you do want a say in who your Congressman or Congresswoman is, next year is your next chance to get it.

Constitution of the United States of America

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