Abusing History: Original Intent, the First Amendment, and Religious Freedom (Part I): A Critique of Vincent Phillip Muñoz’s “The Original Meaning of the Establishment Clause and the Impossibility of its Incorporation”

History Chick in AZ

In 1946 Everson v. Board of Education borrowed Thomas Jefferson’s simple phrase, “a wall of separation between Church and State,” (1) to describe the meaning of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. While the memorable metaphor caught the public’s imagination it also provoked the ire of those who sought a more prominent role for religion in public life. Unhappy with the implications of this separationist interpretation of the Establishment Clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”), conservatives mounted a campaign aimed at undoing Everson. While they have been largely unsuccessful in achieving that goal, they have had some success in chipping away at the wall of separation. The power of the Establishment Clause has been brushed aside in recent years to make way for an ever more expansive interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause by the conservative Roberts Court (see Trinity). A fatal blow…

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Revisited Myth # 141: Colonial-era bread ovens were constructed outside the fireplace, to one side of the hearth.

History Myths Debunked

Above: 18th-c. New England fireplace with rear bread oven; below: Michie Tavern fireplace with right side oven.

This is more misunderstanding than myth, but Cindy Conte of Michie Tavern, Charlottesville, Virginia, asked me to address the subject, so I will! 

“The 18th-century hearth is one of the most romanticized and iconic images of colonial times,” writes Cindy Conte. “Early depictions feature a woman in colonial garb cooking over a roaring fire. Sadly, this romantic hearth cooking image has been stamped into our mindset as permanently as it has been inked into old history books. At least once every season a tourist will point to the bread oven which is tucked to the side of our fireplace and exclaim, ‘That has to be wrong. A person would get burned baking bread if the oven were placed there.’ Surely, they are thinking of that colonial woman, a roaring fire and possibly a…

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Review of “Being Nixon: A Man Divided” by Evan Thomas

My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

Being Nixon: A Man Divided” by Evan Thomas was published in 2015. Thomas was a writer and editor for over three decades at Newsweek and Time Magazine and served as visiting professor at Harvard and Princeton. He is the author of nine books including “Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World” which I read and enjoyed.

This ostensibly comprehensive, full-length biography is the product of significant research and is consistently fluent, fluid and eminently readable. And it proves far more balanced than I expected given its reputation for being too sympathetic to Nixon.

One question which proves difficult to unravel is whether this book intends to serve as a biography or a character study. During its early pages it feels firmly like the latter – exploring Nixon’s thoughts and actions and analyzing his personality. As the narrative approaches his presidency, though, it…

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Weekly History News Roundup

Slavery reparations issue refuses to fade awayConyers’ recent troubles should put an end to discussion


Trump’s bizarre call for a military parade… there have only been a handful in US history.


DNA shows darker skin in early Britons… tests indicate Cheddar Man to be different from previous theories


Charlottesville struggles to cover Lee&Jackson monumentsactivists are removing the shrouds each week


Congress votes to remove Jefferson’s name from Gateway to Westbill sent to Trump would rename the park “Gateway Arch National Park”


Shrouding our History




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Happy Birthday Uncle Billy

William T. Sherman was born on this day… in 1820.  Reviled by southerners to this day, nonetheless, Sherman stands as an American military icon.  His doctrine of total war has been tossed aside as an aberration, American military personnel have been paying the steep price for ‘partial war’ ever since.  Sherman realized that fighting a war in enemy territory meant not only facing the rival combatants, but also the hostile populace as well.  Sherman knew an army had to ‘Go Roman’ or go home, ” You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it”   

“My aim then was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them fear and dread us”


Sherman also hated politics and never blurred the line… between civilian and military authority,  “The carping and bickering of political factions in the nation’s capital reminds me of two pelicans quarreling over a dead fish.”   Several efforts were made to get Sherman onto a presidential ticket following the war, but he always resisted.  Unlike many of his peers, Sherman accepted his place as a soldier,  “I hereby state, and mean all that I say, that I never have been and never will be a candidate for President; that if nominated by either party, I should peremptorily decline; and even if unanimously elected I should decline to serve.”   

This proclamation has been quoted by politicians from Lyndon Johnson to Dick Cheney.

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Mr. Madison’s Mind

Historians are often baffled by James Madison… In 1787, there was no stronger voice for nationalism and strengthening the federal government; yet, by 1790 he was battling one-time ally, Alexander Hamilton over the very powers they helped create.  Madison had become an advocate of limited government in less than a Presidential term.  What happened?

With friends like these...

With friends like these…

Madison was the “Father of the Constitution”… and creator of the Bill of Rights-  the commonly held description of our most overlooked Founder.  We view this change in his political outlook as inconsistency, or even a problem.  This opinion hangs on the assumption that Madison was responsible for the final draft of the Constitution.  He authored the Virginia Plan, the radical framework that altered the course of the 1787 Convention.  Of the document produced in September, Madison said,  “It ought to be regarded as the work of many heads and many hands.”  Most historians assumed Madison was being modest- in fact, he was expressing his displeasure with the process.  Madison wanted a Federal government that could control the wildly inconsistent passions of state governments, but he did not advocate a massive consolidation of power.

Author of the Virginia Plan

Author of the Virginia Plan

Federalist #10 is Madison’s warning aboutthe dangerous passions that consumed state governments.  From 1784 to 1787 he toiled in the Virginia legislature, witnessing the worst governance(or lack thereof) he could imagine.  The Federal government he envisioned would temper these passions(and blunders)  and provide the regulation to help the Union move forward. Madison opposed Hamilton’s financial programs because he feared they brought the same economic passions driving policy in the states  into Congress. The very threat Madison looked to alleviate caused his split Hamilton.  Madison remained consistent to the end. 


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Santo Tomas Internment Camp

Pacific Paratrooper

Santo Tomas Internment Camp, aerial view.

Santo Tomás Internment Camp [STIC] was the largest of several camps in the Philippines in which the Japanese interned enemy civilians, mostly Americans, in World War II. The campus of the University of Santo Tomás in Manila was utilized for the camp which housed more than 4,000 internees from January 1942 until February 1945.

Over a period of several days, the Japanese occupiers of Manila collected all enemy aliens in Manila and transported them to the University of Santo Tomás, a fenced compound 50 acres (22 ha) in size. Thousands of people, mostly Americans and British, staked out living and sleeping quarters for themselves and their families in the buildings of the University. The Japanese mostly let the foreigners fend for themselves except for appointing room monitors and ordering a 7:30 p.m. roll call every night.

American flag draped over balcony of building as…

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