Heart of the Matter

At the heart of historical revisionism is distrust… a lack of faith in previous interpretations of the historical record.  This blog has bitterly observed the crass consumerism and intellectual vanity that often drive outlandish revisions in our history.  But, a closer examination reveals the true divide between revisionist and traditionalist- trust.

Maybe there's hope

Maybe there’s hope

As historians rush to laud Alan Taylor’s new revisionof the American Revolutionary movement, the distrust is laid bare.  If revisionist historians refuse to come out and proclaim all previous work wrong, then there must be a lack of trust.  Was Gordon Wood trying to deceive us when explaining how radical our Revolution was?  Did Dumas Malone wish to hide Jefferson’s feelings on slavery and freedom?  Was Edmund Morgan deliberately distorting history when explaining racial diversity in Colonial Virginia?  All revisionists will say is that works like Taylor’s are now “the standards.”   To hell with what came before…

Unite us, David

Unite us, David

There is no mass historical conspiracy to disregard… races or classes of people.  Gordon Wood should be read in first year graduate courses and beyond.  In their zeal to legitimize controversial interpretations, revisionists like Taylor and Annette Gordon-Reed propagate the distrust of these noteworthy predecessors.





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Say it ain’t so Joe

Historians can say the darndest things…  the profession has been sullied by superfluous tales of alleged sexual dalliances, rumors, and tabloid style conjecture.  It’s open season on the Founding Fathers, the more outrageous the interpretation, the more air time and book sales can be generated.    The current crop of historians, struggling to carve themselves a slice of relevance, is degrading the profession to the point where the messaging more closely resembles Morton Downey Jr. than Dumas Malone, Edmund Morgan, or David McCullough.   Say something crazy, but say it often and say in LOUD !  



Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph Ellis… is known to stretch the truth about his past, but his scholarship is considered sound and his storytelling compelling.  Recent comments Ellis made during the tour for his latest book cast doubt on his judgement, if not his scholarship.  Ellis blasted the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United vs. FEC with highly partisan and poorly worded hyperbole.  Comparing Supreme Court cases to the Scott vs. Sanford ruling of 1857 makes for an interesting sound byte, but unless supported by relevant evidence(beyond Ellis’s political leanings) it is a dubious historical comparison intended to shock rather than enlighten.  He goes on to attack the Heller vs. DC ruling of 2009 as a scurrilous attempt by Conservatives to force the doctrine of Original Intent upon an unwitting society.  Ellis has a political axe to grind with supporters of the 2nd Amendment- his reputation as an historian providing a thin veil of legitimacy to his misguided partisanship.  He’s screaming that Original Intent is wrong and damaging our society- all the while, his new book stays on the best seller lists.

Trust me, I'm a professor

Trust me, I’m a professor

Joe should remember the words of his supposed hero–

“On every question of construction let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or intended against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.” Thomas Jefferson



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Leave Madison Alone

Joe Ellis explained the absence of serious Madison biographies… by proclaiming “he’s boring as hell” and that “only lawyers like him.”   As previously stated, Ellis’s recent comments on the Framers and Original Intent cast doubt on the rigor of his scholarship- and these nuggets of wisdom only enhance the evidence of his misguided revisionism.

Never far apart

Never far apart

The revision Ellis is peddling holds that Madison and other Framers… rejected the doctrine of Original Intent on its face.  The only empirical evidence supporting this notion is Madison’s oft quoted explanation for not publishing his notes on the Constitutional Convention.  Once established, the government continued to disappoint Madison, driving him closer to his friend Jefferson.  During his presidency, Madison undoubtedly supported Original Intent as he battled John Marshall and Congress for the soul of the Constitution.  He feared the elasticity in the Constitution was being abused by ambitious demagogues- Madison wanted the power of government restrained- his original intent.

What have your wrought, Joe?

What have your wrought, Joe?

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Would He Belong?

Would Dwight D. Eisenhower be welcomed in today’s Republican party?… Today’s GOP- dominated by fiscal Conservatives like the so-called “freedom caucus;”  scrawny descendants of  Do-Nothings of the 80th Congress   who obstruct, protest, and bloviate over the slightest Federal spending.  The insistence on labeling government programs as “entitlements” will give these rank amateurs undue influence in policy making.  Programs like Social Security, GI Bill, unemployment insurance, the interstate system, Civil Rights and the National Parks are all seen as drains on our government and in need of outsourcing.

Let’s build interstates

Eisenhower oversaw the expansion of all these “drains” and expanded so-called entitlements ….  and had a very different view of governing:

In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. In all those things which deal with people’s money, or their economy, or their form of government, be conservative.”


Ike’s domestic policy was bold and equitable in the face of … the traditions of his party.  Sadly, such a leader would be expelled by today’s Republicans–  no longer the party of Lincoln. 


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Delegating Made Easy

Old Fuss and Feathers

Winfield Scott’s Vera Cruz campaign stands… as one of the great military expeditions in all history.  He severed ties to his base of supplies, traversed the rocky mountain paths to Mexico City, and battled outbreaks of yellow fever to storm the Halls of Montezuma and conquer the Mexican capital.  In London, the Duke of Wellington proclaimed, “Scott is lost!”  when he learned of the bold move from the coast.  By the end of Summer 1847, the Iron Duke had changed his mind declaring Scott the, “greatest living soldier, unsurpassed in military annals.”

Was there a greater military analyst?

As brilliant as Scott’s strategy was… he had extraordinary tactical support, especially from his talented company of engineers.  The victory at the battle of Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847 opened the door to the Valley of Mexico.  Often called the Thermopylae of the West, Cerro Gordo featured a treacherous march around the Mexican lines over a tiny mountain trail.  Scott’s army was able to flank the Mexican forces because of the bravery and skill of his engineers.  Major Robert E. Lee commanded a talented group that included Captain George B. McClellan, Captain Joseph E. Johnston, and Lieutenant PGT Beauregard.    Names that become iconic figures in the Civil War cut their tactical teeth during Scott’s masterful campaign.

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Weekly History News Roundup

Framers intended President to take a salary… Trump’s promise is not historically sound


Trump visits the Hermitage… Comparisons to Jackson are still being made


Park Service cuts affecting Philadelphia… Franklin Print shop and Declaration House to close this year


Yale’s removal of Calhoun name sparks interest... Minnesota considers changing lake name


Historians struggle to shape Obama’s legacy... partisanship stands in the way of scholarship


Old Hickory rolling over



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Facts in Five

Election of 1948 edition


  • Democrats briefly courted Dwight D. Eisenhower to challenge Truman for the nomination.  The Republicans were talking with Douglas MacArthur during the same period. 
  • Truman’s support for  NAACP legal efforts combined with his executive order desegregating the military caused the Southern Democrats to splinter and nominate Dixiecrat, Strom Thurmond.
  • Liberal Democrats rejected Truman as well- they nominated Henry Wallace as the Progressive party candidate.
  • Dewey’s lackluster campaign was best summed up by the poorly crafted message- “You know that your future is still ahead of you.”
  • As election day arrived, only Truman was convinced of his victory- many on his staff had already accepted other jobs. 


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