James Madison, Father of the Constitution, March 16

March 16, 2009

Col. James Madison of the Virginia Militia, Citizen Soldier – National Guard image

Col. James Madison of the Virginia Militia, Citizen Soldier – National Guard image

James Madison was born on March 16, 1751 — date depending on which calendar you use.

Madison was one of our nation’s top two legislating presidents, on a par with Lyndon Johnson.  The essential ally for the creation of America, he is known as the Father of the Constitution for his work to shepherd that compact into existence.  A great ally of George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Monroe, and sometimes nemesis of some of these men, Madison campaigned for freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of the press his entire life.

Madison was delegate to the Virginia assembly, and wrote freedom of religion into the Virginia Bill of Rights.  He wrote the Memorial and Remonstrance defending religious freedom and opposing re-establishment of religion in Virgina, led the assembly to pass instead Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, helped settle the dispute over fishing and navigation in the Chesapeake, between Virginia and Maryland.  In league with George Washington, he convinced the Continental Congress to try to fix the Articles of Confederation with a convention in Philadelphia in 1787, then he hijacked the convention to write a new charter instead.  He wrote most of the Federalist Papers, with Alexander Hamilton, after John Jay was attacked and beaten by a mob.  He campaigned and won a seat in the First Congress, defeating the popular James Monroe who then became his fast friend.  Madison proposed and was chief sponsor of the 12 amendments to the Constitution that we now know as the Bill of Rights — two of the amendments did not win approval in 1791, but one of those did win approval in 1992 — so Madison wrote the first ten and the twenty-seventh amendments to the Constitution.

Electratig has a fine commentary on Madison and his birthday here, explaining the calendar shenanigans.

Go read the First Amendment, read a newspaper, and watch some news; say a prayer, and thank the stars and God for James Madison.

Hang George Washington . . .

March 16, 2009

. . . in your school.

George Washington, the porthole portrait by Rembrandt Peale

George Washington, the "porthole portrait" by Rembrandt Peale

I have a tie from the Save the Children Foundation, a picture drawn by a young child that shows a teacher in a classroom, with portraits of Washington, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt on the classroom wall.  Where have those portraits gone?

At Mount Vernon this past weekend, with more than 20 teachers at the seminar I attended, a significant majority of us remembered those portraits in our classrooms.  Most of us don’t have such portraits today.

The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, the group that saved Mount Vernon and operates it today, has  program to donate a large, canvas portrait of Washington to your school, the George Washington Portrait Program.  Two thousand schools have already received the framed portraits, and the program to distribute them, free of charge, to schools, has been extended.

Portraits come with an educational kit — a U.S. flag, flown at General Washington’s home, lesson plans for elementary schools, and a CD-ROM with information for middle and high schools.

Here are the instructions on how to request a portrait for your school.  Here is more information on the program. If you can afford to make a donation, feel free.

Portrait of George Washington, available free to schools, displayed on the grounds of Mount Vernon.  Photo, Mount Vernon Ladies Association

Portrait of George Washington, available free to schools, displayed on the grounds of Mount Vernon. Photo, Mount Vernon Ladies Association

George Washington wrote here: “Dear Dickey . . .”

March 16, 2009

Dear Dickey:
I thank you very much for the pretty picture book you
gave me. Sam asked me to show him the pictures and I
showed him all the pictures in it; and I read to him how
the lame elephant took care of the master’s little son. I
can read three or four pages sometimes without missing
a word. Ma says I may go to see you and stay all day
with you next week if it be not rainy. She says I may
ride my pony Hero if Uncle Sam will go with me and lead
Hero. I have a little piece of poetry about the picture
book you gave me, but I mustn’t tell you who wrote the

G. W.’s compliments to R.H.L.,

And likes his book full well,

Henceforth will count him his friend,

And hopes many happy days he may spend.

Your good friend,

George Washington

Letter to a very young Richard Henry Lee, from a very young George Washington

It’s one of the earliest samples of George Washington’s writing we have.  I don’t have a date for the letter, but it is likely to have been prior to 1743, when his father died.  This letter was probably written before George was 11.

Can you imagine George Washington as a giggling little boy? He was.  We have the letters to prove it. I like this letter simply because it offers a view of George Washington too rarely thought of or talked about.

Richard Henry Lee remained a friend of Washington’s until Washington died.   Lee was the man who made the motion at the 2nd Continental Congress that the colonies declare independence from England.   Lee was about a month older than Washington, born January 20, 1732.  He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and was President of the Continental Congress.

That these two men were childhood friends is a delightful little historical nugget.

Grant Woods painting illustrating Parson Weems telling the story of George Washingtons honesty.

Grant Wood's famous 1939 painting illustrating Parson Weems telling the story of George Washington's honesty. "Parson Weems' Fable" hangs in the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Grant Wood, the great American painter, couldn’t imagine Washington as a boy, either.  This painting, showing Parson Weems’s version of a story about Washington’s honesty that has not held up to scrutiny as accurate, shows the difficulty Wood expressed:  Washington is portrayed as a child with an adult, bewigged head — a homonculus.  The painting hangs in the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Maybe some of your troubling students will grow up good and honest, too.  Do we know what would push our students to be such model citizens?  Do we know what influenced Washington?

Adult influences in Washington’s early life were not so good as some might imagine.  His father died when he was 11.  At some point he became estranged from his mother, with her repeated accusations that all her children ignored her (to Washington’s great embarrassment).  Washington’s other great adult male influence was his half-brother Lawrence.  George was sent to live with his Lawrence, but Lawrence died in 1752, when George was turning 20.  Also, Washington got little direction from him after he went to sea with the British.

By the time he was 20, Washington was a military commander in the Virginia militia, making adult decisions and living in an adult world.  Where did his childhood go?  What was it that enabled him to pick himself up and aspire to greatness so often, in so many different ways?  What was it bent the twig of the childhood Washington, who grew into the great man the adult Washington became?

You can find this letter in William B. Allen’s George Washington, A Collection, 1998 Liberty Fund.  Liberty Fund wishes to spread these works as far as possible, and so has made the book available on-line.  It is loaded with materials great for DBQs in AP classes, and other readings that should inspire discussion by students and assignments from teachers that make students think.

He may not have chopped down a cherry tree, but Washington most certainly was a child.  What will our students make of this letter?

4 Stone Hearth, Bone edition

March 16, 2009

Oh, yeah, they call it the Ossa Edition.  Or OSSA Edition — but they are the Swedish Osteological Association, and we all know they mean bones.

4 Stone Hearth #62 is up at Osteologiska föreningen.

Great stuff, as usual.

And I mention it because Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub will host the next edition of 4 Stone Hearth.  No bones about it.

Since I am dense as a stone about some of the great issues this carnival involves, I’m hopeful there will be plenty of good, early entries . . .

The Four Stone Hearth is a blog carnival that specializes in anthropology in the widest (American) sense of that word. Here, anthropology is the study of humankind, throughout all times and places, focussing primarily on four lines of research:

  • archaeology
  • socio-cultural anthropology
  • bio-physical anthropology
  • linguistic anthropology

Each one of these subfields is a stone in our hearth.

Four Stone Hearth is published bi-weekly, Wednesdays in odd-number weeks. If you would like to host the carnival, please write to Martin Rundkvist.

If you would like to submit content to the next issue of the carnival, please write to the keeper of the blog in question [Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub] or to Martin. You are encouraged to submit other bloggers’ work as well as your own.

So, cook something up to bring to the next Four Stone Hearth.  It’s pot luck, the more stuff you bring, the more to share.  Please include a mention of Four Stone Hearth in your e-mail’s title. I get a lot of e-mail, and I hate to miss anything important.

In the interim, take a good look at FSH #62.   Several posts drive directly at the work scientists do with wonderful details about how they do it.  It’s a bit of a slog to follow me to this conclusion, but I was struck by the amount of work required, the careful ways these guys go about it, and the way the work itself rather exposes the paucity of grounding of pseudo sciences.  Science is under attack here in Texas, so I’m a little sensitive to that issue.  Give it a look.

I love a good carnival!

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