A Civil War Veteran Speaks about Confederate Monuments

Over the last few weeks, many opinions have been voiced about the removal of monuments and statutes to many Confederates in New Orleans and other Southern Cities.  Emotions run high as each side of the issue tries to make their point.  Cries of “liberal madness” and “we are denying history” as well as “we are sanitizing history” have risen.  But what did the veterans of the Civil have to say about monuments being raised up in the south to their former enemies?

In the December 29, 1887 issue of the National Tribune, the weekly newspaper of the veterans’ organization the Grand Army of the Republic, a writer known only as E. N. N. writes a letter to the editor with the title, “Plain Language.”  I have included a link to the entire article, but I have excerpted several paragraphs below.

“Becoming more bold, the ex-rebels began to raise monuments, in the form of names of hotels, places of business, etc., in honor of those who had been prominent as leaders in the rebellion. This being permitted, they next raised monuments of stone to those ‘heroes.’ No one objecting, except feebly, occasionally, they began to demand that those who fought to preserve the Nation must not do anything or say anything that could remind the rebels that they had been defeated, lest it hurt their tender feelings.”

“If this Nation is to be permanent, treason must be made odious! Traitors must not be permitted to live in the United States. As soon as one does or says anything against the Union, he should be expelled from the Nation. Every monument, sign or token raised, printed or painted in honor of treason and rebellion, or of any traitor, must be utterly destroyed, or we cannot feel safe or secure.”

“Old veterans of the South, you fought well, and surrendered as brave men. You now claim fealty to the Union; then let yours be the hands to gently remove those monuments and hide them where mortal eyes will never see them again. There is no necessity for you to grovel in the dust and say you were wrong when you were fighting to destroy the Nation—no necessity for you to condemn your leaders—no reason why you should not continue to have Reunions; but, if you really care for the perpetuation of this Republic, destroy as early as possible every trace of anything that in the faintest degree is in honor of rebellion.”

“We who fought for and against the Nation are the ones to make the Union perfect. You who wore the gray, do your duty as citizens of this Republic; destroy the idols raised in honor of rebellion or disunion, and join hands with us in the purification and perpetuation of our home—the United States of America.”

Emotions will continue to run high on this issue, but I thought it was important to hear the words of someone who fought to preserve the Union and how they felt about the monuments being erected.

Special thanks to my friend Jerome Kowalski for tipping me off about this article.

The National Tribune, December 29, 1887, Page 2

That Quintessential Word of Life: Hope

A Sermon Preached by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

Rt. Rev. Dr. Derek Browning

The following sermon was preached by the Rt Rev Dr Derek Browning, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sunday, May 21, 2017.  The text the sermon was based upon is Genesis 9:1-17; Acts 17:22-31.  Rev. Dr. Browning uses this text to present a sermon on the theme of hope, not just for those assembled but for the world.  Special thanks to Jane Bristow, Communications Assistant of the Media Centre of the Church of Scotland, for providing the text of the sermon.



Word of Life – Hope

Genesis 9:1-17; Acts 17:22-31

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.[i]


Emily Dickinson’s poem captures something of the fragility and persistence of that quintessential Word of Life: hope. In the gale, in the storm, in the chilliest land and on the strangest sea, hope, like a tiny bird perches in the distraught soul, singing the wordless song of hope, singing without ceasing.

That is surely what hope is. Fragile, but never, ever giving up. Fragile but resilient. Hope tells us that God does not give up; God does not let go. God finds different ways in different times to stir God’s people and make them question and wonder and think and disagree and act.

By the eve of All Saints, 1517, Martin Luther was ready to act. His unease with many of the practices of the medieval Roman Catholic Church had grown over years. Frederick the Wise of Saxony, a man of simple and sincere piety, had devoted his lifetime to making Wittenberg the Rome of Germany, a depository of sacred relics. He had a tooth of St Jerome, four pieces of St Augustine, four hairs of the Virgin Mary and three pieces of her cloak. He had a piece of Christ’s swaddling clothes, one wisp of straw from the manger, one of the nails from the crucifixion, a piece of the bread from the Last Supper and, with a prophetic nod to the Church of Scotland emblem, a twig of Moses’ burning bush. “Those who viewed these relics on the designated day and made the stipulated contributions might receive from the pope indulgences for the reduction of purgatory, either for themselves or for others….These were the treasures made available on the day of All Saints.”[ii]

We have our relics too. Somewhere in 121 George Street there is an umbrella reputed to belong to Thomas Chalmers. Students at St Andrews University at graduation are capped by the Chancellor with a piece of cloth said to have been taken from the breeches of John Knox. Edinburgh has something similar. Knox was a man with an extensive wardrobe apparently.

Luther acted, and reacted, and the Christian world has been reacting and reacting ever since that event when Luther reportedly posted his Ninety Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. I’d wondered about re-enacting the scene this morning, but nailing Ninety Five copies of the Blue Book to the glass doors of St Giles seemed a little too daunting.

The creation story of the flood ends not in destruction but in hope, and the rainbow is a sign of God’s hope. The Noah story is about despair and hope. It is a parable of condemnation and redemption; of rejection and welcome. God’s judgement is overridden, the floods abate, and a hopeful creation emerges out of the chaos and judgement. Hope comes.”[iii]

Humanity is often without hope. Hope depends entirely on a move from God. God resolves to stay with, endure and sustain our world, notwithstanding our brokenness. God takes as God’s ultimate vocation not judgement but affirmation.

God makes an irreversible commitment and says, “Never again”. On this basis the rainbow sign is established. The bow is a promise. If the bow is remotely a weapon, it is an undrawn bow. God will never again be provoked to use the weapon of total destruction against humanity. The arc of the bow is rooted in the earth but reaches up to heaven, connecting us in a bridge of mercy, and grace, and hope. The God Who is revealed here remains willing to accept hurt to keep hope alive. Hope will never be cut off because of us; hope continues despite us.

Just along the River Forth a new bridge is being built. Faith and love, through hope, are in the business of connecting worlds. We are in the business of building bridges of hope, not walls of exclusion and judgement and separation. If our churches need walls and roofs and foundations, let them also have doors and windows that can be opened. Let them have tables where people can be welcomed and fed, and stories of sadness and joy, fear and hope be shared.

Hope for the poor, hope for the rich, hope for the squeezed middle, hope for the Syrian and Palestinian, hope for the Jew and the Muslim, hope for the Unionist and Nationalist. Hope for the young man contemplating suicide because he cannot accept himself for who he is. Hope for the mother whose perinatal depression has robbed her of the joy of her new-born child.

What does the body of Christ look like in the light of the rainbow? What would it mean for our Church, every Church, to put God’s rainbow at the hopeful heart of all that we say and think and do?

I was in the Assembly Hall a few months ago recording the voice-over for the 360 degree photography project for Mission and Discipleship. I noticed in the Lord High Commissioner’s Gallery the stained glass window behind the throne. It has three parts: on its left an image of the nativity scene; on its right an image of the body of Jesus being loaded into the tomb by Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus. In the middle is Christ in majesty, with the Judgement Book open upon His knees; but He is seated on a rainbow. There is a rainbow of hope in the heart of the General Assembly Hall.

We could do with a few more rainbows in the Church. Jesus might want you for a sunbeam but I suspect He is rather partial to rainbows too. The rainbow is a symbol of hope; a symbol of our remembering God. It is a central message of God’s love and hope to us and to all God’s children. It is a challenge to those who make decisions in General Assembly, and Westminster, and Holyrood, and White House and Kremlin. It is a challenge in Damascus and Jerusalem. It is a challenge in Brexit and Indy2. We need to debate our future, but we must create it in hope.

In the days ahead in our General Assembly, and beyond them in the General Election, hope will remain an inconvenient challenge. Each one of us has our agenda; each one of us has our world-view, and our blind-spot. If God’s rainbow of hope is set within our hearts and homes, our Hall and Church, our community and country, it will be a profound challenge. We may be broken up or we may be broken down because of our prejudice and ignorance and partisanship and unwillingness to collaborate, and our swiftness to judge.

The Church needs to become a porous community within our nation. Through our sometime brokenness, from our porous Church, with its open windows and doors, the light and the rainbow of hope will arc out into the world. Our hope is to become an example of what is possible when people agree that wealth and poverty, age and gender, race and sexuality, strength of faith and strength of doubt are not barriers but bridges; not storm clouds of judgement but rainbows of hope.

Hope is not the fluffy option; a wistful, hand-wringing exercise for the incurably unrealistic. There is a cancer alive in our world today. It can be heard in the voices of those who feel they have been ignored. It can be seen in the faces of those who no longer find a place at the table, in public life and in church life. It can be seen in some aspects of populism that see a vote as a protest without considering the consequences. It can be seen in the rise of extremism which is filling the spiritual and ethical places of life where some educational and political philosophies have spent so much time defining what they are not and what they are against, and failing to make clear what they are, and what they are for. It is heard in fake news and alternative facts; aren’t they what we used to call lies and deceit? All these, and more, are there to be seen and heard in our often bleak world. We should be coming in – with our message, God’s Word of Life that is Hope.

The world is in transition, it always is. We are not watching its collapse but its recreation. The Church is in transition, it always is. An American colleague has said the Church is not dying; it is reforming. John Cleese said in the film Clockwise: ‘It’s not despair I mind; it is hope I can’t stand.’ Hope challenges our fatalism, which is why it is so unsettling.[iv]

Paul, preaching in the Areopagus in Athens, seeing the altar to the unknown god, tells the crowd of the God He knows, revealed in Jesus, making all people one nation, who also seek after God, “in the hope that they might feel after Him and find Him. Yet He is not far from each one of us.”

Hope, a Word of Life. As Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi wrote, “All I know is that the greatest achievement in life is to have been, for one person, even for a moment, an agent of hope.”[v]

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


[i] Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems, p116

[ii] Roland Bainton, Here I stand: Martin Luther p71

[iii] Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, p80

[iv] ibid p23

[v] Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World, p270

Louisiana Governor Landrieu on the Removal of the Confederate Monuments

Just hours before the statue of Robert E. Lee was removed from its tall pedestal in New Orleans, Governor Mitch Landrieu gave a speech outlining the reasons why the Lee statue, and others, was removed from the landscape of New Orleans.  Governor Landrieu traces the history of these monuments and the reason they were erected in the first place and he reminded us that New Orleans has no monuments to the role it played in the slave trade.

I would encourage you to read the entire speech but here is an excerpt (emphasis is mine):

But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture.

America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp.

So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans.

So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission.

There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it. For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth.

As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”

So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other.

So, let’s start with the facts.

The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.

First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy.

It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.

Read the rest here

May 21, 1863: Organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Battle Creek, Michigan

The Seventh Day Adventist Church was officially organized on May 21, 1863 in Battle Creek Michigan with 3,500 members.  Today the church consists of more than 20 million members in more than 81,000 churches.

The official teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination are expressed in its 28 Fundamental Beliefs. This statement of beliefs was originally adopted by the General Conference in 1980, with an additional belief (number 11) being added in 2005

Seventh Day Adventist doctrine resembles Trinitarian Protestant theology, with premillennial and Arminian emphases. Adventists uphold teachings such as the infallibility of Scripture, the substitutionary atonement, the resurrection of the dead and justification by faith alone, and are therefore often considered evangelical. They believe in baptism by immersion and creation in six literal days.

The Church in the Public Square

A recent Executive Order signed by President Trump attempted to roll back the way churches, and church ministers, involve them in the public square.  The Johnson Amendment states that if I, as a minister, endorse a particular candidate or a particular political party, I am in violation of the tax-exempt status afforded to my church by the government of the United States.

In my almost 15 years of ministry, I have never endorsed a candidate by name or a political party, nor do I believe that is the place of the church to do so. However, I do believe that the church has a role, and responsibility, to shape policy and the discussion in the public square and that my friends, does not violate anything.

There is a difference between politics and partisanship, the Gospel was, and is, very political.  The church has a voice that needs to be heard in the public square, but that voice does not include the endorsing of candidates.

Over on the Ethics Daily Blog, Pastor Matt Sapp of the Heritage Fellowship in Canton, Georgia asks this very same question about the role of the church in the public square.  Here is a little excerpt from the article.

But a larger question remains: What is the appropriate way for churches and religious leaders to engage the political process? What’s the mission of the church when it comes to engaging and influencing government and public policy?

My answer: We are to be prophetic witnesses to what a world governed by kingdom principles looks like.

The prophetic mission of the church is to call the world to a new and higher standard of justice – a standard not of fairness, but of generosity.

The prophetic mission of God’s people extends back thousands of years. Isaiah’s challenge to lawmakers is 2,700 years old: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless” (Isaiah 10:1-2).

It has been the mission of God’s people to sound the call to justice at least since then.

Read the Rest Here

Midweek Meditation: Four Marks of the Church

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42

There exist many different types of churches from house churches to the so-called “mega church.”  Regardless of the size, the authentic and growing church will share some marks or characteristics in common.  Countless books have been written on the subject of church growth but sometimes a quick look at the scriptures, especially the Book of Acts, will provide all of the information necessary.

The Book of Acts is the history of the early church.  Not a chronological history with dates and names, but the writer of Acts gives a glimpse of the struggles of the early church and how they overcame them.  Early on in Acts, the author shares what have become known as the Four Marks of the Church.

  1. They devoted themselves to the Apostolic Teaching. Now I know this may make some of you’re a little nervous and it might even smack a little of tradition but just relax a little. What the writer of Acts calls “Apostolic Tradition” we can call the scriptures.  We need to dwell on the scriptures and make them a part of our lives.  It is nice to read the devotional material and what not, but the scriptures are what we need to dwell on.  I am not a believer that the scriptures are inerrant, but they can speak to us if we listen.  As a church, and as individuals, our lives should spring forth from these pages but also leave room for the movement of the Holy Spirit to influence us as to how they should be applied in our lives.  Our faith life will grow if we nurture our relationship with scripture on a daily basis inside and outside of the church.
  2. They devoted themselves to fellowship. This is more than just the fellowship hour after church. As the church, and as individuals we need to be invested in people. Faith is all about relationships, relationships with God and relationships with other people.  Relationships require investments, and that takes time and energy, we need to work at it. A mark of authenticity and vitality in a congregation is the quality of peoples’ relationships and then their efforts to include others in those relationships.  How open is the congregation to new people?  Are they made to feel welcome?  If there a follow-up to their visit?  These are all important questions to ask.  Devotion to fellowship means a nurturing of the habits of hospitality not just to those inside the church but those outside the church as well.  If the congregation is nurturing this concept of hospitality, then people are made to feel at home and will become part of the family.
  3. The devoted them to the breaking of the bread. It does not matter how often communion is served in the church be it, four times a year, once a month, or every week, communion should feed the congregation and the spiritual life of the members. There is a richness in the offered in Christ’s broken body and shed blood which is the promise of the Gospel that is shown in more than words. Jesus took the bread and broke it, and gave it to those with him.  He called this broken bread his body that he shared with those with him.  The example is not that we are just to share our food with others but that we are to share our very lives with them.  We are to break ourselves open and share ourselves with others inside and outside of the community.
  4. They devoted themselves to prayers. A mark of authenticity and vitality is how the congregation is involved in prayer. If prayer is just something that happens on Sunday during the worship service the community will not be vital nor will it be authentic. “They devoted themselves to prayer” this is not a causal this but a way of life.  Do we pray for the church?  Do we pray for the leaders of the church?  Do we pray for each other?  Not just in bad times but also in the good times.  Prayer, like the other three marks, is important not only in the life of the congregation but the life of us as individuals.

Our growth in faith and our growth as a church community only comes through God’s grace, but these marks of the authentic and vital church, serve as ways of nourishing the church and making the ground fertile for that grace to work.

Finding Lost Family

One of the programs I like to watch is a program on The Learning Channel called “Long Lost Family.”  The premise of the show is quite simple, a family member is in search of another family member that they have either never met, or it has been many years since they have last seen each other.  More often than not, it involves an adoption and either a sibling is searching, or a child is searching.  Like most things on television these days, it always ends with a teary reunion of sorts.

Recently, I have had my experience with finding long lost family members.  This had nothing to do with adoption but rather distance and will take a little time to explain.

My maternal grandparents had each been married before their marriage.  Each spouse had died and left each of them with three children.  My grandfather had one boy, and three girls and my grandmother had three girls.  After their marriage, they had four additional children, all girls, together and I am a descendant of one of those children.  Over the years the family, for a variety of reasons, had lost touch with the three kids of my grandfather’s first marriage until several years ago, when through a chance conversation over lunch, we were reunited with a cousin that we had not had contact with since the 1970’s.

But the search for any relatives from one of the other girls, Frances, always seemed to come to a dead end.  She was divorced from her first husband and married to another man whose last name was the only piece of information we had, and this had come from an obituary from the 1970’s.  Search after search on Ancestry brought up nothing at all for information until last week.

While looking for information on another relative, I came across the family tree of someone who had some of the same people in her tree that I had in mine and low and behold one of them was Frances.  The disappointing part was she only had the same information that I had about Frances, birth date, and place but no record of death. A family story laced her death at some time in the late 1970’s around 1974.

But what this tree had that I did not have one mine was a complete listing of France’s children and in some cases their children.  So I started a search to find a living relative, and this brought me to Facebook.

Armed with necessary information from the tree that I found, as well a census information, I was able to determine where this one particular person was born and where they had gone to high school.  So I searched Facebook for someone with that name, and that had gone to high school in that same city.  Bingo, I got a hit.  I felt like I was in an episode of “Long Lost Family.”  I sent a Facebook message and a friend request, and then I waited.

The next day I received an answer to my message, and it was my first cousin once removed. After literally 20 plus years of searching, we had found the long lost family members and started sharing all sorts of stories about her particular branch of the family.

What a joy it is to connect with relatives no matter how distant they are.  It also shows that no matter the road block, perseverance in genealogy work eventually pays off.  One little bit of obscure information will lead to another piece that leads to another part.

There has been a lot of negative things written about social media and what it is doing to society, well for this writer, social media led me to find family members that I had been searching for, and that makes all of the nonsense worth it.

OTD: May 6, 1890, The Mormon Church Officially Renounced Polygamy

Polygamy was practiced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for much of the 19th century here in the United States.  The history of the Church will show that between 20 and 30 percent of the members of the LDS Church practiced polygamy or “plural marriage” between 1852 and 1890.

The private practice of polygamy was instituted in 1830 by LDS founder Joseph Smith, and the public practice of plural marriage by the church was announced and defended in 1852 Orson Pratt, who was a  member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, at the request of church president Brigham Young. The practice was very controversial in society as well as in the LDS Church itself.  At one time the Republican Party made reference to the practice as “the twin relics of barbarism—polygamy, and slavery.”

For more than 60 years the LDS Church and the United States were at odds over the practice.  The Church claimed they had the right based on their understanding of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution granting the Church the freedom to practice their faith without interference from the government.  It has been suggested that the Utah War of 1857-58 was specifically over the issue of polygamy and designed to expose a weakness in President James Buchanan’s approach to both polygamy and slavery.

In 1862, the United States Congress passed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, which prohibited plural marriage in the territories but despite the law, many church members continued to practice polygamy citing freedom of religion. In 1890, church president Wilford Woodruff issued a Manifesto that officially terminated the practice of polygamy. However, this did not dissolve plural marriages that were already in existence but it improved relations with the United States, and Utah was admitted as a state in 1896.

Plural Marriages continued until a second manifesto was released in 1904 when church president Joseph F. Smith disavowed polygamy before Congress.  After this public denunciation, several smaller groups split off from the LDS Church to maintain the practice of Plural Marriage.  The Mainstream LDS Church has gone out of its way to distance themselves from these splinter groups and has a statement on their official website saying that “the standard doctrine of the Church is monogamy.”

Author Interview with Spencer McBride

Spencer W. McBride, PhD, is a historian and documentary editor at The Joseph Smith Papers. A specialist in the history of the American Revolution and the early American republic, McBride frequently writes and speaks on the evolving role of religion in American political culture. He lives in Salt Lake City. Follow Dr. McBride on Twitter @SpencerWMcBride Follow this link for more information and to purchase the book Pulpit and Nation.

What was the reason that led you to write Pulpit Nation?

The foundation for Pulpit and Nation was my doctoral dissertation. As a doctoral student, I set out to discover the actual roles of religion in the American Revolution and the process of state and national formation that followed. I read numerous diaries of early American clergymen and the lay men and women who sat in their congregations, as well as church records (including vestry minutes), sermon notebooks, and an assortment of other records in archives up and down the Atlantic seaboard. While conducting this research, I became fascinated with the curious interrelationship that I encountered: the political utility of religion and the religious utility of politics. I wrote this book in part to enable readers to understand the power, limitations, and lasting implications of early national leaders using religion (with clergymen as their partners) as a tool for political mobilization.

Without giving away too much of the content, what is the main argument in Pulpit Nation?

During the American Revolution and in the era that followed, early national political leaders strategically allied with the country’s religious leaders in an effort to forge a collective national identity among Americans. In part as a result of this alliance, religious expression was common in the political culture of the founding era, but it was often as much the calculated design of ambitious men seeking power as it was the natural outgrowth of a devoutly religious people.

Why should people read Pulpit Nation?

People should read this book because it demonstrates that while religion mattered in the founding of the United States, its role was different than what most people think it was. The ongoing debate about America’s founding as either a “Christian” or “secular” nation remains a common theme among politicians, pundits, and certain segments of the general public despite scholars’ warnings against such overly-simplistic constructs. But in Pulpit and Nation I examine the history of religion in early American politics in all of its complexity, free from the constraints of the ideologically narrow and historically problematic “Christian Nation” debate. The result is an elucidation of how religion’s relationship to American power structures appears when we delve into the motives behind the religious utterances of men seeking to mobilize the public to one cause or another. In short, this book is helpful to any who want a fuller context for the roles religious language, symbolism, and persons played in the politics of the Revolutionary era.

Of all of the people in the book, who is your favorite and why?

I think that it is impossible for me to pick a favorite, but for me Bishop James Madison is  easily one of the most fascinating. He chose to spy for the American cause by smuggling documents from England in his luggage, navigated the Revolution on the faculty at William and Mary, and after independence supported the disestablishment of the episcopal church even as he served as a bishop therein. In Bishop Madison, we see the attempt to blend religious belief with enlightenment philosophy that was occurring throughout the country in the life of one man.

When did you decide to become an historian?

I loved history from an early age. When I entered college I declared history as my major and never looked back. I not only enjoyed reading well-written and deeply-researched history books, but aspired to contribute to the field myself. I think that my desire to be a historian was fueled in part by my study of the Enlightenment, particularly the optimistic notion that if we can understand how the world came to be as it is, we can better understand the path forward to make it as we would like it to be. Like any profession, being a historian has its rough moments. But on the whole, I really love what I do!

What are you working on next?

I currently have several projects in the works, but the one that I am the most excited about is a book on Joseph Smith’s 1844 presidential campaign. This little-known campaign—which ended in the first assassination of a presidential candidate in American history—illuminates several of the political obstacles to universal religious liberty in the United States during the 1800s, as well as today.

Confederate Monuments: History or Hate

Yes, the headline is intentionally provocative as is the issue at hand.

I am not usually one that jumps on the bandwagon for the latest cause or subject but since I have some pretty strong feelings on the subject I thought I would add my voice to the debate on the issue of the removal of the monuments to Confederates in the South and other places.

I have heard the argument that removing these monuments is denying history, but I disagree, if we needed monuments to teach history, or to even remind us of the past, we would not be able to walk around cities like Boston or Philadelphia for the sheer number of monuments that would be necessary for all of the events that happened in these two cities.

History can be taught, and remembered, in context, without any monuments or statues for the collective memory of the nation is how we learn history.  Monuments, by their very nature, are designed to glorify a particular person or event, and if that person or event should not be praised, then there should not be a monument to that person.  For example, I have searched the internet and have found no references to pictures of Adolph Hitler in Germany, but they certainly do not deny their Nazi history.  I also recall that after the fall of Communism in Russia a concerted effort was made to remove statues of Lenin and Stalin, and I do not think Russians deny their history by the removal of these monuments.

As a living historian, I will admit to a little bit of romance when it comes to the Civil War, brother against brother, and all that.  I get that there is some nobility in fighting for what one believes in, and granted by this definition the founders of the United States were traitors, which is true, the difference is self-government was granted at the close of the Revolutionary War, this was not the case at the end of the Civil War.

If we wish to be accurate about our history, then we need to call the leaders of the rebellion what they were, and that is traitors to the United States of America.  Now before you go and get all righteous about Confederate being granted veterans status and what not, I do not buy that argument for a second.  These men took up arms against their country and by that very definition are traitors, if they were not, why did President Johnson pardon those 1868?

The pardon document reads in part:

Now, therefore, be it known that I, Andrew Johnson President of the United States, by virtue of the power and authority in me vested by the Constitution and in the name of the sovereign people of the United States, do hereby proclaim and declare unconditionally and without reservation, to all and to every person who, directly or indirectly, participated in the late insurrection or rebellion a full pardon and amnesty for the offense of treason against the United States or of adhering to their enemies during the late civil war, with restoration of all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws which have been made in pursuance thereof.

A pardon does not mean that the crime was not committed, it means the guilty cannot be prosecuted for it.  Treason still happened, and we do not glorify treason.

Monuments have their proper place in the wider context of the history of the Civil War, and that begins with telling the truth about what the war was fought over.  All one needs to do is read the various Documents of Secession to realize the overarching issue was the right of white people to own black people.  I have also heard the argument that many of our founding fathers owned slaves, and this is true; however, they did not take up arms against their country to try and prevent slavery from ending as did the leaders of the Confederacy.  Sure, the Civil War is a very complicated time in our history, but if we hold to the statement that the war was not about slavery then we are not telling the truth about our history, in fact, we are rewriting it.

Shortly after the shootings at the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina, an effort was begun to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the North Carolina State House.  The flag was flying as part of a memorial to those who gave their lives in the war, but for many that particular flag has come to be a symbol of hatred and because of that, the time had come for it to be removed.  The meaning of symbols change over time, although in my opinion that flag has always stood for oppression, and this one certainly had changed.  When they symbol has lost its original meaning and is now being used as a symbol of hate and oppression, it just cannot be used any longer.

Our history is very complicated and the further away from the actual events the more complex it becomes.  One cannot tell the history of the Civil War without telling the story of slavery in the United States.  And one cannot memorialize the leaders of the rebellion without telling the whole story of what they were, traitors, and what they were advocating slavery.