08 November 2010

Wordless Wednesday - The Alleghenies by Train

This mountaintop wind farm actually spans several mountaintops.

The fiery gold of fall.

Christmas Tree Farm - Which tree will adorn your house this season?

04 November 2010

Sunrise in the Alleghenies

There is nothing quite like sunrise in the mountains. Watching the flickering shadows as the sun plays among the trees on the mountaintop as the earth wakes up. A country gentleman is standing on his front porch raising his coffee cup in greeting to the passing train. Even though it is nearly November, the occasional mountain peak is still showing their magnificent shades of red and gold. The sun glinting sideways across the deep red leaves makes them look almost plum...”purple mountain majesties.” The gold leaves haven’t yet lost their brilliance and still look like fire when the sun hits them.

I love to ride the rails. You travel through country that you might not otherwise see. There are what feels like miles and miles of coal cars parked on one of the side tracks high up in the mountains like bales of hay stacked up on the back 40 and leaving no doubt that the mine is nearby and there is still coal in these hills.

Then every once in a while you round the bend, quite literally, and the terrain opens up a little bit and there is a town, one of many you’ll encounter on your meanderings. The first thing you notice the tall, white steeple in the middle the church and the center of life in this remote community. Small little communities like those read about in history books, but that few people today will ever experience. Life here can be hard, but like so many who have come before them, these are people of faith who will find their way through.

We’ve wandered away from the river. You can tell it’s ready for winter. The water is low, waiting to be replenished by the winter snows. In some places there is almost no water. Here the water is still and so clear that you can see the riverbed, just a trickle. Snow and then spring can’t come to soon.

05 October 2010

The Joys of Moving

Country Girl in the City is now in new digs, still in the city, but new digs. My apologies for being offline so long, but I had forgotten what a black hole comes with moving. I did a big purge of all my stuff to the benefit of the Salvation Army and the local VA hospital. It feels good to give and it feels good to have less clutter. The VA donation was the hardest. I am a true bibliofile, but my books couldn't have gone to better home. Now all I have to do is get unpacked. I'm making great progress, but am about boxed out. Then it's on to making some new duds for winter. (Where did the summer go?!) I picked up a couple of nice pieces of fabric on an expedition with mother last week and can't wait to get them all sewn up!

I haven't unearthed the research material for "Meet the Signers" yet, so it may be a couple of weeks before I continue that series, but be on the lookout for some other shorter pieces in the meantime.

16 September 2010

Great Reads - Morris Philipson's Somebody Else's Life

I'm not quite sure what to say about this book except. read this book! It's not often that I come across a piece of fiction that has me sitting on the edge of my seat and leaves me wanting more. Somebody Else's Life did just that. It's the story of two people finding each other and... the end. Philipson doesn't wrap the story up in a nice neat little bow. He leaves it hanging off the edge of a cliff. The first thing I did upon finishing it? I called a college friend of mine (who also happened to be the author's daughter) and asked her when the sequel was coming out. The story just couldn't end where it did. What happened to them?

I own two copies. A hardback (boy was that hard to find, and it's even signed) that never leaves my sight and a paperback for reading so I don't wear the nice copy out! It's safe to consider this my favorite book.

09 September 2010

Great Reads - John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

I was late getting on the band wagon with this one, but am very glad that I finally did. I tend to shy away from books (and movies) that get this much press so early. Berendt tells the real story of a murder in Savannah very much like a story. This is not the dry, recitation, that seems to appear so often in a work of nonfiction. Savannah, a beautiful city off the beaten path, provides the backdrop for a tapestry of well-rounded, eccentric characters that call it home. It's obvious that the natives took Berendt into their confidence and made him one of their own.

If you like character driven stories, you'll love Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. If you don't think you like character driven stories, but want a taste, you'll love Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

02 September 2010

Worth the Price of Admission - Sliding Doors

Another British flick, are you sensing a theme here, I ventured to the theater out of curiosity more than anything else. The premise just seemed so ridiculous. How good could a movie be chopped up in pieces shift back and forth between parallel stories involving the same characters and still make sense? The answer turned out to be fantastic. The filmmakers used simple techniques to weave the parallel stories together seamlessly shifting from one to the other back again. I didn't get lost once. And as an added bonus, John Hannah (you may remember him from Four Weddings and a Funeral). Sliding Doors is another example of a good story, well-told and well worth the price of admission.

29 August 2010

Meet the Signers - Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania

Benjamin Franklin was born 17 Jan 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts to Josiah Franklin and his second wife Abiah Folger. Franklin had 7 half brothers and sisters and 8 older siblings and a younger sister. Josiah was a soap and candle maker. Benjamin was apprenticed to his father for a couple of years, didn’t like the work, and at the age of 12 was sent to his half-brother James’s to learn printing. He remained in James’s printing house until 1723. He wrote under the pseudonym, Silence Dogood, for the New England Courant, his brother’s newspaper and took over publishing the paper when James was jailed for offending the authorities.

At the age of 17 Franklin ran away to Philadelphia. He lived and worked in London from 1724 to 1726 then returned to Philadelphia. By 1728 he had set up his own shop a friend. In 1730 Franklin entered into a common law marriage with Deborah Reed, took over publication of the Pennsylvania Gazette, and became the official printer of Pennsylvania. He would go on to become the official printer for Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland.

Franklin's accomplishments were great and varied. He started a subscription library, created Poor Richard’s Almanac, founded the American Philosophical Society, and was instrumental in Philadelphia’s first police force, fire department, and street department.

While he himself had little formal education, in 1743, he proposed an educational academy that would lead to the founding of the University of Pennsylvania. He received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, the College of William and Mary, and Oxford. He was a free mason and a member of the Royal Society.

Franklin was also renown for his scientific prowess. Among his inventions are the Franklin stove, bifocals, a flexible catheter, and a duplicating machine. Famous for his lightning experiment where he flew a kite in a thunderstorm, his scientific studies didn't end there. He was the first to study the Gulf Stream and pioneered the diagnosis of lead poisoning.

Think he was finished? Guess again. Franklin was also active in politics. Among the political offices he held were Philadelphia postmaster, deputy postmaster for the colonies, member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, president of Pennsylvania, member of Continental Congress. Between 1765 and 1776 he was London where he served variously as Agent of Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. In late 1776, he returned to Europe. This time as minister to France. He would return home to Philadelphia in 1785. In 1787 he was the oldest delegate to the Constitutional Convention and served as president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.

Benjamin and Deborah Franklin Tombstone

Franklin had three (3) children. His eldest son, William, born in 1731 was illegitimate. He had two (2) children with his wife Deborah. The eldest, a boy named Francis, was born in 1732 and died of smallpox in 1736. The youngest was a girl named Sarah born in 1743. Sadly, Franklin was forced to miss Deborah’s funeral. She died in December 1744 following a stroke; her husband was in London. Franklin died 17 April 1790. He and Deborah are buried in the Christ Church cemetery in Philadelphia.

26 August 2010

Great Reads - Allen Drury's Come Nineveh, Come Tyre

If you're looking a scary book to read, this is it. In Come Nineveh, Come Tyre, Drury paints a picture of what would happen to our democratic government if the communist party were to come to power. Many of the scenarios Drury weaves had a strong sense of realism for me. I could see events just like this unfolding in this country and Americans finding themselves in an unexpected and very unwelcome predicament. And then what would happen to this democratic experiment? Drury leaves the answer to that question up to the reader.

22 August 2010

Meet the Signers - Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania

Gounerneur Morris was born 30/31 Jan 1752 at Morrisania, Westchester County, New York in what is now the Bronx to Lewis Morris II and his second wife Sarah Gouverneur. Lewis and Sarah had 5 children and Lewis had several children with his first wife, Sarah’s aunt, Katryntje Staats.

Morris graduated King’s College in 1768 at 16 and began law training under William Smith, Jr. He received his maste’s degree from King’s College in 1771. By October of that year he had entered the New York bar.

Morris was a constitution creator. He played a key role in the development of New York’s state constitution, is generally credited as writing the US Constitution, and drafted France’s initial constitution during the French Revolution.

The American Revolution was hard on the Morris family. His mother and two of his sisters remained loyal to the crown. One of his half-brothers was a British officer. But Gouverneur wasn’t alone in choosing independence; his half brother Lewis signed the Declaration of Independence. Morris represented New York at the 1778 Continental Congress before moving to Philadelphia in 1779. Morris wouldn’t return to the family estate in New York for two decades. He went into business with Philadelphia mogul, Robert Morris (no relation). In addition to their business ventures Gouverneur and Robert would establish a national bank on 7 January 1782.

Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia, Morris suffered a severely broken ankle in a carriage accident that required his left leg be amputated. The ever upbeat Morris seemed to take his misfortune in stride. As a bachelor, the wives of colleagues and friends tended to Morris during his recovery. The man noted for a having a way with the fairer sex got his first taste of heartbreak, falling for the very married Elizabeth Plater.

Morris would attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787 as a delegate from Pennsylvania. After the Constitution was ratified, he went to Europe to attend to his business affairs and in the end unofficially attended to governmental interests as well.

France was gearing up for a revolution as Morris became the US Minister to France in 1792. He is lucky he wasn’t guitoinned with the royal family. In addition to providing advice to the royal family, Morris was instrumental in planning their failed escape from France. France proved to be a tough station for Morris as he once again found heartbreak after an affair with Adelaide Fileul, Comtesse de Flahaut (“Adele”).

Morris's signature as it appears on the United States Constitution

When he returned to America, he went to New York and reached Morrisania in December 1798. He entered the US Senate as a Senator from New York in 1800. It is unclear whether he was appointed or elected. He retired from politics in 1802, but not from public service. ”In 1807, Morris accepted an appointment by the state to a planning committee charged with creating a street plan that would control New York City’s future growth…..the result was the logical and eminently practical north-south east-west lattice we know today, extending from what was designated 155th Street in Harlem to the base of Manhattan at Houston Street.” (Miller, p. 196). In 1810, Morris was named to chair the commission to build the Erie Canal. They were unable to get federal funding for it so the state of New York financed it. Construction began 1817.

It was during this time that Morris finally settled down. The object of his affection was Anne Carey (“Nancy”) Randolph. Nancy was a Virginia gentlewoman and the object of scandal and derision. She was forced to leave her sister’s house after being accused of killing her out-of-wedlock child fathered by her finance (her brother-in-law’s brother). It is alleged that the infant’s remains were found. Speculation was that the child was actually her brother-in-laws: he demanded a trial…he was innocent. This was in 1792. She remained with the Randolph’s until 1805, when she was forced to leave. She eventually ended up in New York. Morris invited her to become his housekeeper at Morrisania. They were married on 25 December 1808 and on 9 February 1813 Nancy gave birth to a son, Gouveneur Morris II.

Morris died 6 Nov 1816. He was 64. Nancy died in May 1837 at age 62. In 1841, Gouverneur Morris II had his parents and some of the older Morris’s moved to the cemetery at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, a church he had had built in his mother’s honor.

12 August 2010

Great Reads - Allen Drury's Advise and Consent

I got started reading Allen Drury novels in high school when my Dad gave me Anna Hastings, the tale of a young journalist in Washington, DC and I was hooked. Advise and Consent is one of a series of seven books centered around the same characters on Capitol Hill. Drury takes readers through the professional and personal trials and tribulations of high ranking politicians and their loved ones. All of the books in the series are well written, but Advise and Consent seems to be the one that I return to over and over. The fact that one of his main characters, Bob Munson, Senate Majority Leader is also the senior senator from Michigan is just gravy.

05 August 2010

Great Reads - Alan Taylor's American Colonies

I didn't realize what I was getting when I picked up Alan Taylor's American Colonies. As a history buff, with a title like that, my purchase was a no brainer, but what I wasn't expecting was his truly unique approach. If you're looking for a book about the colonies or the birth of a nation, look elsewhere. Taylor looks at the whole of the North American continent interweaving the colonial activities of the British, the French, and the Spanish so that the reader gets a sense of the three pronged approach that led to the settlement of North American by Europe. We learn about all of this stuff in school -- the American Revolution, French fur traders in the Northwest Territory, and the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs in Mexico -- but most are unable to relate these events to each other.....Taylor not only does this, he does it very well. Think you know your American history? Give American Colonies a read, a guarantee you'll learn something new.

29 July 2010

Great Reads - Katherine Graham's Personal History

Anybody contemplating writing a memoir needs to read Katherine Graham's Personal History. I almost passed on this 600+ page memoir, it seemed excessive for an autobiography....who remembers that many details of their life. Of course, most of us haven't lived a life like Mrs. Graham's. It was published during my Watergate phase, so I picked it up anyways, figuring I'd read a few chapters then skip to the WoodStein sections. Instead, I found myself captivated by the extraordinary life of this woman, from girl to Washington institution. Graham has told the story of her life as just that a story, and she's told it with an objective frankness not usually found in an autobiography. This reader found herself turning each page and wondering just exactly what was going to happen next. Don't pass this up just because you don't like memoir; I'm glad I didn't. It is well worth the time.

26 July 2010

Meet the Signers - Jacob Broom of Delaware

Another signer from humble roots that would start a political dynasty was Jacob Broom. Broom was born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1752 to James Broom and Esther Willis. James was blacksmith, who also did well trading in real estate, silver, and gold. Esther was a Quaker.

With his skills as a mathematician and as a penman, Jacob became a surveyor. Among his many projects, Broom drew the map used by General Washington at the Battle of Brandywine. As the son of a Quaker, Broom took little part in the revolution, but played an active role in the development of the state of Delaware. A few of his many roles include Burgess and Chief Burgess of Wilmington, Assessor, state legislator, and the first postmaster of Wilmington.

Broom owned a machine shop, built the state’s first cotton mill, mined iron ore, played a role in the building of the Brandywine Canal, and chaired the first Board of Directors of The Bank of Delaware. He was a also a land developer. [sidebar – the DuPont family purchased their lands from him].

On 14 December 1773 Broom married Rachel, the daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Pierce. Jacob and Rachel would have eight children. Two of their boys would grow up to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. One of their grandsons would run for president in 1852 as the Native American (aka Know Nothing) party candidate.

Broom died 25 Apr 1810 in Philadelphia at the age of 58. He is buried in the Christ Church Cemetery.

22 July 2010

Great Reads - Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series

Hot summer days. It's that time of year again. When the only sensible activity is one that doesn't require much movement. Whether you prefer to be propped up under a tree, sprawled in the sunshine on the beach, or just smack in front of the a/c, a Stephanie Plum adventure is just the way to go. Stephanie is a fly by the seat of her pants bounty hunter. The situations that she encounters stands her mother's hair on end and has her sometimes boyfriend, Trenton cop Joe Morelli, guzzling antacid. Her mentor in the bond enforcement game, Ranger, has her listed as an entertainment expense in the Rangeman budget and occasionally puts her on staff to keep her safe. Light and funny, Janet Evanovich has put together an entertaining cast of characters and situations to keep readers laughing out loud. I'm not sure which book is my favorite. Nor can I answer the ever present question....Morelli or Ranger? Can you?

19 July 2010

Meet the Signers - Richard Bassett of Delaware

The son of a tavern keeper, Richard Bassett was born 2 April 1745, at Bohemia Ferry, Cecil County, Maryland to Michael and Judith Bassett. Michael Bassett would abandon his family and Judith would send Richard to be raised by a relative, Peter Lawson.

Bassett was educated in Philadelphia, studied law under Judge Goldsborough of Maryland, and received his license to practice law in Dover in 1770. In September 1775, he became a captain in the Kent County Cavalry. After serving the state constitutional convention and serving in both houses of the state legislature, Basset resigned his senate seat in 1793 to the first Chief Justice of the State Court of Common Pleas.

On March 3, 1801 President John Adams appointed him US Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit, which served Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, making him one of the group of “midnight judges” whose judicial seats were eliminated with the repeal of Judiciary Act. Instead of returning to the bench, Bassett became Governor.

Bassett was considered wealthy for his day with homes in Dover and Wilmington, Delaware and Bohemia Manor, Maryland (p. 201). Initially, his property was maintained through the use of slave labor; however, Bassett freed his slaves and then hired them as laborers.

He died 15 September 1815 and is best remembered for his contributions to the development of his chosen church; he was a Methodist. I found no information on his wife and only one mention of any children. His daughter Ann married Senator James A. Bayard and one the early political dynasties was born; two of Bassett’s grandsons and a great grandson would also become senators.

12 July 2010

Meet the Signers - George Read of Delaware

Delegation leader, George Read was born 18 Sep 1733 in Cecil Co., MD to John Read and Mary Howell. John emigrated from Dublin, Ireland after the death of his fiancé and was one of the founders of Charlestown, Maryland. Mary’s family emigrated from Wales to Delaware. John and Mary moved their family to New Castle, New Castle Co., Delaware while George was still a boy.

Read was educated at Chester, Pennsylvania and the Rev. Francis Alism’s Academy in New London, also in Pennsylvania. Read went to Philadelphia, studied law under John Moland, and was admitted to the bar in 1753. Not long after being admitted to the bar, Read returned to New Castle.

One author describes him, “In person, he was tall and slender with a finely moulded head and features, which while refined, were yet expressive of strength, and eyes that were brown and lustrous. In manner he was dignified, and though very reserved, courteous and agreeable. In dress he observed the nicest punctilio of a day nicer than our own in matters of attire [Conrad, History of the State of Delaware, p. 946]”.

On January 11, 1763 he married Gertrude Ross Till, a widow. Gertrude was the daughter of the Rev. George Ross, rector of Immanuel Episcopal Church, one of the oldest Episcopal churches in America and sister to Declaration of Independence signer, George Till. Their children included four sons and a daughter.

Read was a career politician. He served as Delaware’s District Attorney, was member of the first and second Continental Congresses, presided over Delaware’s constitution convention in 1776, and was on the Delaware legislature council, among other posts. Read signed the Declaration of Independence although he opposed it.

In 1782 Read was appointed Judge of the Court of Appeals in Admiralty by the Confederation Congress. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1789, but resigned his seat in 1793 to accept the post of Chief Justice of Delaware, a position he held until his death on September 21, 1798. Read is buried at the Immanuel Episcopal Church in New Castle.

11 July 2010

Worth the Price of Admission - This Is It

Nobody was more surprised than I was when I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I had avoided it for a couple of reasons. I don't consider myself a Michael Jackson fan not that I didn't enjoy dancing the night away to his music in my younger days. I was fearful of what a tribute movie might mean. While I am saddened by the loss of a favorite celebrity and I feel for their families and friends, most often I wish we'd simply let people rest in peace once they've past. This movie celebrates his art and craft and takes even casual fans on a delightful walk down memory lane. Thanks to those who persuaded me to go; I'm glad I didn't miss it.

28 June 2010

Meet the Signers - Gunning Bedford, Jr. of Delaware

The Bedford’s were one of the colony’s oldest families having crossed the pond in 1621 to settle at Jamestown. Over time they would find their way north to Philadelphia, where Gunning was born to Susannah Jacquett and Gunning Bedford in 1747, the fifth of their 11 children.

Bedford received his university training at the College of New Jersey (which would become Princeton). His roommate was one James Madison, Jr. of Virginia. Bedford was the valedictorian of the class of 1771. By the time he graduated from college, he had married Jane Ballareau Parker. Parker was the daughter of Benjamin Franklin’s partner and the public printer for New York colony, James Parker.

After graduation, Bedford returned to Philadelphia to study law under Joseph Reed and was admitted to Pennsylvania bar. By 1779, Bedford had moved to Delaware, living in Dover and then moving on to Wilmington. He would adopt the tag Junior so as to avoid confusion with his cousin, Gunning Bedford. Cousin Gunning served as a colonel in the Revolution and went on to become the Governor of Delaware.

Bedford, Jr. was a career politician, and here we thought that was a new calling, serving in the state legislature, state council, Continental Congress, the Annapolis Convention, the Constitutional Convention (aka the Federal Convention) of 1787, two turns as a member of the Electoral College and Delaware’s Attorney General. At the Constitutional Convention he issued a challenge to the “big” states, “Do you worst.” In 1789 he was appointed as the first Judge of the United States for the District of Delaware where he served for 23 years until his death on March 30, 1812. He is interred at the First Presbyterian Church in Wilmington.

10 May 2010

Meet the Signers - John Dickinson of Delaware

John Dickinson was born November 8, 1732, in Talbot County, Maryland to Judge Samuel Dickinson and his second wife Mary Cadwalader. About 1739 Judge Dickinson moved his second family to Kent County, Delaware and this is where John grew up. The Judge left his eldest son Henry in charge of his Maryland lands and his daughter Elizabeth was already married. These are John’s half siblings. It seems clear that John had a brother named Philemon, but I have found disagreement as to whether this was an older or younger brother.

Dickinson studied law under prominent Philadelphia attorney, John Moland before going to Middle Temple in London, where he spent three years, to finish his legal training. An attorney by trade, Dickinson spent a great deal of time tending to the political issues of both the Colony and the foundling nation. Beginning in December 1767, he published a series of twelve letters that have come to be known as “the Farmer’s Letters,” in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. In these letters Dickinson discussed those things that he considered to be a threat to the colonies, taxation being the prominent issue of the day. It is due to his skill with the pen that he becomes known as “the Penman of the Revolution.”

On the 19th of July 1770, John Dickinson married Mary Norris in a quiet civil ceremony, much to the dismay of some of Mary’s strict Quaker relatives and church members, who were put off by the fact that Dickinson, while a Quaker, wouldn’t set foot in the Meeting yet Mary agreed to marry him anyways. They had met while Dickinson was attending to the estate of Mary’s father, prominent Pennsylvanian politician Isaac Norris in 1776. They had five children, but only two daughters survived, Sarah and Maria.

Dickinson made his professional life in Philadelphia, but continued to hold strong ties to the lands he inherited in Kent County. History has found him active in the politics of both states. Among his many and varied posts he served as a delegate from Pennsylvania to the second Continental Congress in 1776, an officer in the Pennsylvania militia, and as a private in the Delaware militia (he turned down a commission as a brigadier general), and a delegate from Delaware to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. For a brief period in 1782 he was the elected chief executive of both Pennsylvania and Delaware.

History has also found him to be a bit of an enigma. Here was a man who whole-heartedly believed that independence wasn’t the answer; that reconciliation could and would be achieved. Even as he was drafting the Articles of Confederation, Dickinson was holding out hope that the King would right the grievances of the colonies. When it became clear that war was unavoidable; he accepted a colonelcy in the Pennsylvania militia. After independence had been declared; he played a significant role in the development of not only the Constitution of the United States, but also the constitutions of the states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. He also lent his name and support to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. According to their website, Dickinson is the first college founded in the United States.

There is also speculation that he may have penned the first American patriotic song, set to the tune of “Hearts of Oak” by William Boyce. Dickinson called it “a song for American freedom.” Among the tune’s more memorable lines is “by uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.” The refrain goes something like this:

In freedom we’re born, in freedom we’ll live,
Our Purses are ready.
Steady, Friends, steady.
Not as slaves, but as freemen our Money we’ll give.

Dickinson spent the last 20 years of his life living as a private citizen in Delaware, splitting his time between his house in Wilmington and the family farm in Kent County. He died February 14, 1808 and is interred on the grounds of the Friends Meeting House, Wilmington. Thomas Jefferson wrote, a few days after his death, “A more estimable man or truer patriot could not have left us; His name will be consecrated in history as one of the worthies of the Revolution.”

29 April 2010

S. 3217 - Financial Regulations

It's being billed as banking and financial reform, but like so much else, we seem to be going about it backwards. There's all this talk about "too big to fail" and how do we keep the financial situation of the last couple of years from recurring. Perhaps the answer is not how do we prop them up so that they don't collapse but to bust them up. If they're that closely related that when one falls they all fall, isn't that a pretty good sign that there's collusion going on. And wouldn't that collusion indicate that these "megabanks" are running afoul of the country's antitrust laws?

As to the apparent delaying tactics being used to not open debate on the bill, grow up. I've been following the debate, unedited by the media, on C-SPAN and have yet to hear anything that could not properly be handled by an amendment. You're grown ups, stop throwing a temper tantrum and get on with it. Your toddleresque antics are not moving us forward.

27 April 2010

Immigration - Is there an answer?

Immigration has been hotbed issue my entire life, but it seems to be taking on a renewed urgency. Is this a result of 9/11? Have we become so fearful of everyone that the pendulum is trying to swing back towards isolationism? And what is the answer?

I've heard some ideas recently on this issue that bring fear to my heart. One is requiring the police to question anyone who looks like they don't belong and if they cannot present the appropriate documentation then they're arrested. We are melting pot; how do you tell if somebody doesn't belong? How is this different from racial profiling? And as added bonus, if the police don't, they can be sued.

Another is sending our military troops to patrol our boarders.

Is this freedom?
Are we to become prisoners in our own country?
Is this what is going to bring down this great experiment in democracy?
Is there an answer?

26 April 2010

Meet the Signers - Convention Secretary, William Jackson

William Jackson was born March 9, 1759 in Cumberland, England. He immigrated to Charleston, South Carolina upon the death of his parents and was raised by Owen Roberts.

Jackson’s military service began early when he was appointed as a cadet to the 1st South Carolina Regiment in June 1775. A quick study he was commissioned as an officer in May 1776. At the age of 20 he was appointed aid to Major General Benjamin Lincoln and was promoted to captain on October 9, 1779. Because of his staff assignment Jackson’s promotion allowed him to hold rank as a major. Jackson was captured at the siege of Charleston on May 12, 1780. He was paroled to Philadelphia and was exchanged on November 9, 1780. After completing his parole, Jackson left the field of battle and became secretary to Washington aid, Lt. Col. John Laurens. An appointment from Congress as special Minister to the Court of France to negotiate the shipment of war supplies from Europe followed. Upon his return from Europe, Jackson became the Assistant Secretary of War, a position he resigned upon the end of hostilities.

He would be in and out public service for the rest of his career. After leaving the military, Jackson settled in Philadelphia and studied law under William Lewis but wouldn’t be admitted to the bar until June 9, 1788. In May 1787, he applied for and was granted the position of Secretary of the Constitutional Convention beating out one of Benjamin Franklin’s grandsons. After a return to business and law and another stint in Europe, Jackson became secretary to the first President of the United States. On November 11, 1795 he married Elizabeth Willing, daughter of one of Philadelphia’s most successful merchants. He served two presidents as the surveyor of customs for the port of Philadelphia before retiring from public service and becoming the editor of The Political and Commercial Register.

He died December 17, 1828 in Philadelphia and is interred at the Christ Church Cemetery. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth, and four of their six children, Ann Willing, Caroline, William, and Mary Rigal. Elizabeth died August 5, 1858 and was buried next to him at the Christ Church Cemetery.

19 April 2010

Meet the Signers - Convention President, George Washington

George Washington was born February 22, 1732 to Augustus “Gus” Washington and his second wife Mary Ball in Virginia. His father died when Washington was just eleven; his mother never remarried. His half-brother Lawrence, who had married into one of the colonies most prominent families, became a paternal influence on Washington. Washington received many opportunities at a young age due to his brother’s in-laws, among them becoming a surveyor of the Virginia frontier and later his post in the adjutancy corps.

Washington was discouraged from joining the regular British military on the grounds that he didn’t have the connections to make a successful career out of it. With his surveying background and knowledge of the Virginia frontier, the Virginia militia was fortunate to acquire his services. He served the Virginia militia well and when revolution came would be perfectly poised to become commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. During his surveying and militia days Washington was also amassing land, but would not have much time to devote to agriculture until much later.

Thwarted early in love, he had the unfortunate luck to fall passionately in love with his best friend’s wife, Washington would finally meet his match in Martha Dandridge Custis. Martha was a widow with two young children who had married into another of Virginia’s most prominent families. With his marriage at the age of 27 came a great deal of responsibility, Washington became guardian to his bride’s two children and their extensive inheritances in addition to Martha’s and his own holdings. While he and Martha had no children of their own, Mount Vernon was always full of family including scads of nieces and nephews.

Surveyor, Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, President of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, President of the United States, and Virginia planter, George Washington had a very varied career, but after two terms as President, he fulfilled his promise to Martha to leave public life and they returned to Mount Vernon to live out their days. Washington died December 14, 1799. Martha followed him on May 22, 1802. They are interred on the hillside at their beloved Mount Vernon.

12 April 2010

Meet the Signers - James Madison of Virginia

--> I thought it would be fitting to start our journey with the man generally known as the Father of the Constitution, James Madison, Jr. Madison was the son of Virginia planter, James Madison, Sr. and Nelly Conway. Born in March 1751, I found some discrepancy as to the actual date, at his grandparents in Port Conway, King George County, Virginia. Madison was raised at Montpelier, Orange County, Virginia. When it came time for the young James to go to university, his father felt that he would be better served by the College of New Jersey at Princeton than by Virginia’s College of William and Mary.

A lawyer by training, politics became his career. By the age of 25 Madison was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. A mere 5 years after graduating Princeton he wrote Virginia’s new constitution. He was a young man on his way up.

Madison was in his mid-thirties when he helped put together the Constitutional Convention of 1787. A young man, unmarried, still living off an allowance from his father, who in just a few years managed to garner the respect of both Thomas Jefferson and General George Washington as well as be a principal player in creating a new nation. While Madison was neither a formidable fellow, at 5’2” he was short even by the standards of his day, nor an engaging public figure; Madison still proved to be a powerful force. His strength lay in his ability to plan, see both sides of the issue, and quietly persuade others that his ideas would work. A master of what would come to be known as the “back room deal,” Madison arrived in Philadelphia for the start of the Convention several weeks early. He used the time to scout out the hall and to think strategically about the issues and potential compromises. He even went to so far as to develop a seating plan for the meetings. As other delegates began arriving, he took the time to get to know those he didn’t already know, sound everybody out about where they stood on certain issues, and plant the seeds that would spring forth during the Convention debates.

--> Madison would continue in politics and served in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1794 Madison would meet his match in a young widow, Dolley Payne Todd. They would marry later that same year. It’s fitting that such a remarkable man should marry such as unique woman. As Madison continued to rise in national politics; Dolley kept pace. In 1801 Madison became Secretary of State to President Thomas Jefferson. As Jefferson had already lost his beloved wife and his daughters had not yet been introduced into society; Dolley stepped in to both introduce Jefferson’s daughters to Washington society and serve as the White House hostess. In 1808 Madison was elected President. During Madison’s two terms as President, Dolley would begin defining the role of First Lady. After his presidency, Madison and Dolley returned to Montpelier and on June 28, 1836 President Madison died at the age of 85. Dolley returned to Washington after Madison’s death, where she lived in the (now) yellow house on the northeast corner of Lafayette Square until her death on July 12, 1849. They are both interred at Montpelier in Virginia.

05 April 2010

Meet the Signers - Springtime in Philly

In the spring of 1787, with the Articles of Confederation crumbling, 55 gentlemen, from 12 of the 13 states gathered in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These gentlemen had the blessing of the current Continental Congress to review the Articles of Confederation and recommend changes that could be made to the Articles that would enable the states to remain united. Four months later they emerged with the Constitution of the United States and a new political experiment was underway.

Over the course of the next several months, I'll introduce you to the 40 men who signed our Constitution. Yes, 40. The Secretary of the Convention signed the Constitution of the United States as a witness to the signatures of the 39 delegates who actually signed the Constitution they helped create. He was hired by the Convention to keep a record of the proceedings. His name was William Jackson and you'll meet him in "Meet the Signers - Convention Secretary," which I expect to be the fourth installment of this series.

There are the names you will expect to find....Washington, Franklin, Madison, and Hamilton. While others are conspiculously absent... Jefferson and Adams, both of whom were in Europe negotiating for support for their cause. And then there will be those, like William Jackson, that most of us have never heard of before. People always talk about the Convention, the compromises, the documents themselves; let’s take a different approach. Let’s meet the signers.

11 March 2010

Research and more research, but what fun

Meeting the Signers is turning out to be quite a task. I took on the role of Constitution Week Chairman for my DAR chapter (http://www.darchciago.org) in part because the meeting minute would be fairly easy for me. So last August, I sat down at the computer on a rainy afternoon and started writing. First it was women's suffrage. Check. On to civil rights. Hold everything. I'm boring myself to tears. This stuff has been done to death. I needed a new approach and after much brain racking decided it would be interesting to take a look at the constitution by taking a look at the lives of the men who signed it. My "Meet the Signers" series was born and is turning out to be quite the research project. As it turns out, this is the stuff that gets my creative juices flowing.

25 February 2010

Henry Hudson and the Voyage of 1609

September 3, 2009 marked the 400th anniversary of the beginning of Henry Hudson’s discovery of what is now known as the Hudson River. As I began looking for material to learn about the man, every source I turned to said the same thing. Hudson appeared to have sprung nearly full formed as a ship master and very little is known about the man, his career prior to his first turn as master in 1607, and when, where, and how this mysterious seafarer perished. Nobody is even sure what he looked like. The portraits of him that exist were produced from memory after he failed to return from the voyage of 1610.

This much we know. Henry was married and had three (3) children. How? One of the conditions of Henry being made master of the 1609 voyage was that his wife, Katherine, and their three (3) children had to live in The Netherlands until his return. The British Henry had been hired by the Dutch East India Company to find a Northeast Passage and after only two (2) voyages had already established a reputation for disobeying his charter and going in search of an elusive Northwest Passage.

The voyage of 1609 would prove to be no different. Hudson and his crew, aboard the Half Moon, set off in search of a Northeast Passage to India and Asia on March 25, 1609. When ice covered seas put a halt to northeast search, Hudson did an about face and headed west.

One of Hudson’s crew, Robert Juet, kept a journal that has survived. This transcription comes originally from Book III of Purchas His Pilgrimes, by Samuel Purchas.

“September 3 Misty in the morning until 10 o’clock, then it cleared and the wind came to the south southeast, so we weighed anchor and sailed northward. The land is very pleasant, high and bold. At three o’clock in the afternoon we came to three great rivers. So we sailed along to the northernmost, thinking to enter, but a shallow bar prevented us. Then we tacked to the southward and found 2, 3 and 3 ¼ fathoms until we came to the southern side of them where we had five and six fathoms, and anchored. We sent out boar to take soundings and they returned an hour and a half later having found no less water than four, five, six and seven fathoms. So we weighed anchor, went in, and anchored in five fathoms with a mud bottom. We saw many salmon, mullets and large rays. The latitude is 40 [degrees] 30 [minutes].”

In 1610 Hudson finally received a contract to embark on a voyage for the Northwest Passage. Unfortunately, he would not return from the journey. A mutiny occurred, not his first, and Hudson was abandoned by his crew. Nobody knows for sure what happened to him, but his chances for survival were not good.

24 February 2010

Casimir Pulaski, American Patriot

On 20 June 1977 Illinois passed an act creating the state holiday of Pulaski Day to celebrate American Revolution veteran Casimir Pulaski, to be the first Monday in March.

Casimir Pulaski was born between in March sometime between 1745 and 1747 in Poland. He was the son of one of Poland’s highest-ranking jurists. In 1768, Russia invaded Poland and Pulaski, his father, both of his brothers, and at least one cousin joined the effort to repel the invaders. It was in defense of his native homeland that he first showed signs military genius. He was the only member of his family to escape death and a Russian prison. He did not escape with his reputation in tact. When he was accused of treason and sentenced to death, Pulaski fled Poland for Turkey. When Turkey negotiated an end to their hostilities with Russia he was forced to leave there. By the time of American independence he was living in France, but exactly when he arrived in France is unknown.

With a letter of introduction from Benjamin Franklin, Pulaski came to Philadelphia in the summer of 1777 and enlisted in the Continental Army as a volunteer. After the Battle of Brandywine and with Washington’s blessing Congress appointed him to command the cavalry as a brigadier-general on 15 Sep 1777.

When the army retired to winter quarters at Valley Forge, the cavalry retired to Trenton, NJ. There was no rest for the cavalry; Pulaski embarked on a training and exercise program for his troops to get them into fighting shape. Frustrated by the limitations of his command, he was resigned his post cavalry commander and returned to the main army at Valley Forge in March 1778 after just five months of service.

Pulaski proposed the formation of an independent corps consisting of light horse (cavalry armed with lances) and light infantry. Washington and Congress accepted his proposal and Pulaski’s Legion was formed. The Legion would not spend another full winter in New Jersey. About 3 months into winter quarters, they were tasked with moving south to support the efforts around Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. This was the first long distance march by an American fighting force. During the Siege of Savannah, Pulaski was fatally wounded. He died aboard the Wasp on 15 October 1779. He was in his early-mid 30’s. There is some dispute over where he was interred. Some historians say that he was buried at sea; others, on a plantation outside Savannah.

Over 200 years after his death, Pulaski finally became a US citizen when, on 6 November 2009, President Obama signed a joint resolution of Congress granting him citizenship.

22 February 2010

The Lost Art of Debate

Something became painfully clear to me as I was watching the Senate debate on the proposed health care reform bill the weekend before Christmas. There was no debate. The only thing I can tell you about the proposed legislation from the two hours of senate debate that I watched is that it provides for the federal government to absorb any increased costs to the state of Nebraska for Medicaid. The major parties spent the majority of their debate time slinging mud at one other, complaining, and in some cases campaigning, while the lesser parties appeared to have been excluded completely. It was a very disheartening sight. I tuned in not expecting to have anything resolved, but to hear both sides of the issues with the participants speaking intelligently and understandably. Perhaps I've simply been reading too much Allen Drury.