We the Teachers

William Penn Introduces Popular Sovereignty, and Pennsylvanians Ask for More

portrait-of-william-penn-1When William Penn was given a large tract of land in North America from the English crown, he decided to found a settlement based in his Quaker principles of freedom of conscience and the equality of men. His original design for the government of Pennsylvania, the 1682 “Pennsylvania Frame of Government,” is remarkable for its time in its granting of religious toleration to all monotheists and its allowance that Christians of any sect be officeholders. His plan also made careful rules for the administration of justice and provided for an elected assembly that would vote on taxes to be levied. Although Penn retained a veto power for himself and successive governors, he had opened the way for colonists to undertake a degree of self-rule.

Thus encouraged, Pennsylvanians began to press for adjustments to Penn’s plan that, they argued, better suited their circumstances. In October 1701 Penn agreed to grant a revised “Charter of Privileges . . . to the Inhabitants of Pennsylvania and Territories.” This document served as a constitution for the colony until the time of the Revolution. It specified particular rules for the election of Assembly members and for its meeting times. It allowed for the local election of nominees for coroner and sheriff, with the Governor choosing among the offered candidates, and it restricted the Governor’s power to grant licenses, intervene in the justice system, or seize property. It stipulated that any changes to the charter must be approved by “the Governor for the time being and six parts of seven of the Assembly met.” But Penn insisted on making the allowance for “liberty of conscience” irrevocable even by this super majority.

The Frame of Government is part of the story of the growth of liberty in the American colonies.  As the occasion for disputes between Pennsylvania colonists and their British governing authority, it is also part of the story of the growing independence of the colonies.

An Early Law for Religious Toleration

Large_Broadside_on_the_Maryland_Toleration_ActProvisions for religious toleration began to enter the laws of the American colonies as early as mid-17th century. The first law granting a degree of religious freedom was passed by the Maryland General Assembly of Freemen in April 1649. It was supported by the proprietor of the colony, Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore, a Catholic who wanted to protect Catholic settlers in the colony from persecution. Religious toleration was already practiced in the colony, since the Calverts had encouraged Protestants as well as Catholics to settle there. Yet passage of the Toleration Act now seemed urgent given events in England, where Parliament had recently executed Charles I and instituted Puritan rule. The specific provision for toleration was preceded by a long list of penalties for blasphemy, perhaps, as some historians have suggested, to blunt the novelty of the key passage:

And whereas the inforceing of the conscience in matters of Religion hath frequently fallen out to be of dangerous Consequence in those commonwealthes where it hath been practised, And for the more quiett and peaceable governemt of this Province, and the better to pserve mutuall Love and amity amongst the Inhabitants thereof. (5) Be it Therefore also by the Lo: Proprietary with the advise and consent of this Assembly Ordeyned & enacted (except as in this psent Act is before Declared and sett forth) that noe person or psons whatsoever within this Province, or the Islands, Ports, Harbors, Creekes, or havens thereunto belonging professing to beleive in Jesus Christ, shall from henceforth bee any waies troubled, Molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof within this Province or the Islands thereunto belonging nor any way compelled to the beleife or exercise of any other Religion against his or her consent, soe as they be not unfaithfull to the Lord Proprietary, or molest or conspire against the civill Governemt established or to bee established in this Province vnder him or his heires.

John Winthrop’s Vision of a Commonwealth Based in Charity

429px-John_Winthrop_lithograph_004In 1630, before or during the trans-Atlantic voyage made by a group of Puritans who were chartered under the Massachusetts Bay Company to plant a new colony in New England, the Governor they had elected—John Winthrop—wrote and delivered to them a lengthy sermon on Christian charity. His aim was to prepare them for the life they would soon share in their outpost in the wilderness, which would demand of them mutually supportive labor.

Winthrop’s careful and logical discourse can be read as an exposition of Biblical texts on civic virtue. He emphasizes both justice and mercy in social behavior, finding logical grounds to extend charity toward one’s neighbors. It is hard to locate in his speech an endorsement of the individualist quest for wealth that is said to have grown out of Puritan theology. Instead, Winthrop emphasizes the covenant with God that binds the Puritan community together and that justifies their joint agreement on a form of government:

We must bear one another’s burdens. We must not look only on our own things, but also on the things of our brethren. Neither must we think that the Lord will bear with such failings at our hands as he does from those among whom we have lived.…When God gives a special commission he looks to have it strictly observed in every article…

Thus stands the cause between God and us. We are entered into Covenant with Him for this work. We have taken out a commission. The Lord has given us leave to draw our own articles.


A Step Toward Self-Government: The Founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Today is the 385th anniversary of the Cambridge Agreement signed by the shareholders of the Massachusetts Bay Company.


A depiction of the three lead ships in the Winthrop fleet, painted around 1880 by William Halsall.

The first English attempts to plant colonies in the New World were managed by landed gentry such as Sir Walter Raleigh, who was given an undefined grant of land in America by the Queen Elizabeth I, in effect a license to send adventurers there to claim and settle what they could, returning to the crown a portion of any gains reaped through mining or other enterprises. Raleigh’s attempts between 1584 and 1587 failed, in part  because, like others of his courtier class, he lacked the funds to sustain it. Beginning in 1606, the English crown began granting the right to form colonies in the New World to joint-stock companies—groups of private investors, many of them merchants, who were willing to undertake the expense and risk of these enterprises.  The colony of Virginia and a series of others were planted by this means.

Those who underwrote the founding of Massachusetts made an arrangement for the government of the colony that earlier joint-stock companies had not. A group of Puritans within the Massachusetts Bay Company pledged to travel to and settle in the new colony if given the charter to carry with them. By buying out the other shareholders, those who were actually going to live in the colony insured that they retained control of the colony‘s management. This was an unintended first step toward self-government in America; the royal charter they were given, which became colonial Massachusetts’ constitution, stipulated that the colony be governed by “one Governor, one Deputy Governor, and eighteene Assistants of the same Company, to be from tyme to tyme constituted, elected and chosen out of the Freemen of the saide Company . . . .” On August 26, 1629, the group of Puritans undertaking the voyage met in Cambridge to sign a legally binding agreement. 


Woodrow Wilson Asks Americans to Remain Neutral on War in Europe

The First World War began one hundred years ago this month. In the first four days of August 1914, Germany declared war on Russia, France and Belgium, prompting Great Britain to declare war on Germany late on August 4. A few hours earlier, the US had declared its neutrality in the conflict.

President Woodrow Wilson explained his reasons for remaining neutral in a message to Congress on August 19:

The people of the United States are drawn from many nations, and chiefly from the nations now at war. It is natural and inevitable that there should be the utmost variety of sympathy and desire among them with regard to the issues and circumstances of the conflict. Some will wish one nation, others another, to succeed in the momentous struggle. It will be easy to excite passion and difficult to allay it. Those responsible for exciting it will assume a heavy responsibility, responsibility for no less a thing than that the people of the United States, whose love of their country and whose loyalty to its Government should unite them as Americans all, bound in honor and affection to think first of her and her interests, may be divided in camps of hostile opinion, hot against each other, involved in the war itself in impulse and opinion if not in action.

Such divisions amongst us would be fatal to our peace of mind and might seriously stand in the way of the proper performance of our duty as the one great nation at peace, the one people holding itself ready to play a part of impartial mediation and speak the counsels of peace and accommodation, not as a partisan, but as a friend.


French heavy cavalry march to war in August 1914.

I venture, therefore, my fellow countrymen, to speak a solemn word of warning to you against that deepest, most subtle, most essential breach of neutrality which may spring out of partisanship, out of passionately taking sides. The United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name during these days that are to try men’s souls. We must be impartial in thought as well as action, must put a curb upon our sentiments as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another.

American neutrality would not last. Beginning in early 1915, Germany used submarines to blockade shipping to Britain and declared that even ships from neutral countries would be targeted. By 1917, attacks on Atlantic shipping had stepped up, threatening American vessels. The US severed diplomatic relations with Germany on February 3, 1917 and declared war on Germany two months later, on April 6.

Two Male Assists to the Women’s Suffrage Movement

PamphletFrontPageProgressivePartyPlatform1912On this day in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, effectively granting women the vote. The original Constitution had given the individual states the power to set the qualifications for suffrage. This power was limited by the Fifteenth Amendment, which stipulated that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Women’s rights activists, especially Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who drafted a Constitutional amendment granting women suffrage, had seen it as a logical corollary to suffrage for freed slaves, but had failed to get sufficient Congressional support.

Beginning in 1910, a succession of western states began to grant women full suffrage. This movement accelerated with the rise of the Progressive Party in 1912. The Progressive Party Platform pledged to push for women’s suffrage:

The Progressive party, believing that no people can justly claim to be a true democracy which denies political rights on account of sex, pledges itself to the task of securing equal suffrage to men and women alike.

640px-President_Woodrow_Wilson_portrait_December_2_1912Although the newly formed third party and its candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, lost the presidential election in 1912, the Democrat who took office—Woodrow Wilson—was persuaded by 1918 to back the cause. Many people credit Carrie Chapman Catt, then head of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), with winning key political support when her organization publicly backed US entrance into World War I. NAWSA’s move reassured many who had feared women’s political attitudes would change the nation’s politics. Wilson responded with a tribute to women’s support of the war effort in his 1918 State of the Union message:

And what shall we say of the women,—of their instant intelligence,
quickening every task that they touched; their capacity for organization
and cooperation, which gave their action discipline and enhanced the
effectiveness of everything they attempted; their aptitude at tasks to
which they had never before set their hands; their utter self—sacrifice
alike in what they did and in what they gave? Their contribution to the
great result is beyond appraisal. They have added a new lustre to the
annals of American womanhood.

The least tribute we can pay them is to make them the equals of men in
political rights as they have proved themselves their equals in every field
of practical work they have entered, whether for themselves or for their

Wanting to settle the suffrage issue before it could become a point of contention in the elections of 1920, Wilson pushed Congress to act. In 1919 the necessary two-thirds majority in both houses had been achieved, making it possible to submit the amendment to the states for ratification. The three-quarters majority of ratifying states was achieved when Tennessee voted to approve the amendment on August 18, 1920.

The Supreme Court Ruling that Led to Nixon’s Resignation

Richard_M._Nixon,_ca._1935_-_1982_-_NARA_-_530679Forty years ago, on August 9, 1974, President Richard Nixon became the only chief executive in our history to resign mid-term. He did so two weeks after a Supreme Court ruling that his secret tapes of Oval Office discussions be handed over to a Justice Department-appointed special prosecutor who was investigating White House involvement in a 1972 burglary of Democratic presidential campaign headquarters. Within days of this ruling, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon. A week later, the newly released audio tapes showed Nixon to have been deeply involved in the cover-up of the Watergate break-in. Anticipating that the full House would approve the articles of impeachment, triggering a Senate trial, Nixon decided to step down.

In its decision in United States V. Nixon, the Supreme Court first cited Marbury v. Madison, reaffirming “that it is the province and the duty of this Court ‘to say what the law is’ with respect to the claim of privilege presented in this case.” Then it examined Nixon’s claim of executive privilege. While granting that the public interest requires that the President be able to discuss matters of state in secrecy with his advisors, the Court refused to privilege private speech of the Chief Executive that could show his involvement in criminal activity:

The President’s need for complete candor and objectivity from advisers calls for great deference from the court. However, when the privilege depends solely on the broad, undifferentiated claim of public interest in the confidentiality of such conversations, a confrontation with other values arises. Absent a claim of need to protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets, we find it difficult to accept the argument . . . .

In designing the structure of our Government and dividing and allocating the sovereign power among three co-equal branches, the [Framers] sought to provide a comprehensive system, but the separate powers were not intended to operate with absolute independence. To read the Art. II powers of the President as providing an absolute privilege as against a subpoena essential to enforcement of criminal statutes on no more than a generalized claim of the public interest in confidentiality of nonmilitary and nondiplomatic discussions would upset the constitutional balance of “a workable government” and gravely impair the role of the courts under Art. III.


The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, 50 Years Later

On the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which led to a vast escalation of the US involvement in Vietnam, we reprint the following post:Gulf_of_Tonkin_location_wikiCommons

During the Kennedy administration, the US became minimally involved in a civil war in Vietnam, sending military advisors to assist the South Vietnamese in countering efforts, supported by North Vietnam, to unify Vietnam under a communist government.

Unlike the event that triggered large-scale military involvement in Korea—the invasion of the south from the northern part of a divided country—the episode that triggered a gradually escalating US military involvement in Viet Nam could be described as an isolated attack. North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the US Destroyer Maddox, on August 2, 1964 in the Gulf of Tonkin off North Vietnam.  Attacks reported to have taken place on the Maddox and another Destroyer, the Turner Joy, on August 4 appear not to have taken place, although this was not known for certain at the time.

President Johnson announced the attacks in a television address to the American people on the night of August 4. The next day he sent Congress a request for “a resolution expressing the unity and determination of the United States in supporting freedom and in protecting peace in Southeast Asia.”

Congress passed a resolution on August 10, now known as the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, stating that the United States was prepared to use “all necessary steps, including the use of armed force,” as the President determined, to defend states in southeast Asia asking for assistance.

In the light of more recent history of US military intervention overseas, the last paragraph of Johnson’s message asking for the resolution makes interesting reading:

The events of this week would in any event have made the passage of a congressional resolution essential. But there is an additional reason for doing so at a time when we are entering on 3 months of political campaigning. Hostile nations must understand that in such a period the United States will continue to protect its national interests, and that in these matters there is no division among us.

Senator Taft Compares the North Atlantic Treaty to the Monroe Doctrine

SenRobertTaftThe North Atlantic Treaty, creating the defense alliance of NATO, was signed in April 1949, but required Senate ratification. The vote for this came in July. Senator Robert A. Taft—the effective leader of the Republican Party in the Senate—announced his intention to oppose the treaty and, after it passed, made another speech criticizing it. One can read the speech as an example of the isolationist, “fortress America” approach to foreign policy that leaders like Taft and former President Hoover espoused. Many viewed Taft’s view as outmoded by the post-World War II reality of an expansionist Soviet Union, and the isolationist character of Taft’s thinking helped defeat his runs for the Republican presidential nomination in 1948 and 1952. However, Taft’s speech merits reading for the contrast he draws between the North Atlantic Treaty and the Monroe Doctrine, an earlier assertion of the US intent to defend its foreign interests against any attempt by a major power to expand its empire. Taft’s critique details how much further the United States would now go to protect allies, as well as how much firmer the commitment we were now willing to make.

Lincoln’s View of Reconstruction in July 1864

Abraham_Lincoln_seated_Feb_9_1864_slideshowIn July of 1864, the Civil War was in its fourth summer, its end point uncertain but its enormous cost in human life painfully clear. The Union Army had not yet achieved the decisive victory that would insure the vindication of Lincoln’s understanding of the Union as unbreakable. And the people of the North were questioning the war’s human cost. Looking ahead to the fall presidential election, Lincoln thought it unlikely that voters would return him to office, and he expected that his Democratic opponent, if elected, would begin negotiating peace on Confederate terms–probably allowing slavery to continue and implicitly or explicitly acknowledging the right of individual states to nullify federal law or withdraw from the Union at will.

Hence we can infer that a bill pushed through Congress by radical Republicans just before it adjourned for summer recess seemed to Lincoln intemperate and impractical. The Wade-Davis bill tried to predetermine the policy for the reconstruction of the South that would follow a Union victory in the war. It would have stipulated that only those who could swear an oath that they had never given aid to the Confederacy be allowed to vote in the reconstructed states. It would also have required any state readmitted to the Union to have abolished slavery. Lincoln had shown through the Emancipation Proclamation that he now saw the abolition of slavery as a necessary outcome of the war, but he wanted that abolition to be made permanent by Constitutional amendment, and securing the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the Thirteenth Amendment through the House of Representatives was proving difficult. Lincoln pocket-vetoed the Wade-Davis bill, but he went on to issue on July 8 a proclamation explaining this action, in which he said he was

unprepared, by a formal approval of this Bill, to be inflexibly committed to any single plan of restoration; and . . . I am also unprepared to declare, that the free-state constitutions and governments, already adopted and installed in Arkansas and Louisiana, shall be set aside and held for nought, thereby repelling and discouraging the loyal citizens who have set up the same, as to further effort; or to declare a constitutional competency in Congress to abolish slavery in States, but am at the same sincerely hoping and expecting that a constitutional amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the nation, may be adopted . . . .

On July 18, Lincoln issued a letter evidently intended for the Confederate leadership but refraining from addressing them as such, lest he imply their political legitimacy. Instead, he advised those “To Whom It May Concern” that he would entertain and consider “Any proposition which embraces the restoration of peace, the integrity of the whole Union, and the abandonment of slavery, and which comes by and with an authority that can control the armies now at war against the United States.”

Did Emma Lazarus Read a Letter Washington Wrote to LaFayette?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Independence Day, several documents well worth reading come to mind. You may wish to read Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence, which on our site shows the words that would be deleted from the final version in italics, and the words that would be added in brackets. You might also read Calvin Coolidge’s speech in observance of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration—one of our collection of 50 Core Documents. But today your faithful blogger is  returning from a month spent with her French goddaughter Camille, a young person born in America who feels love for our country along with her love for and loyalty to France. So let us instead consider one of several warm letters written by George Washington to the Marquis de Lafayette. This one, of June 25, 1785, shows Washington congratulating his friend on his safe return to France after a visit back to the young American republic whose independence he had helped to secure. It also shows Washington’s healthy priorities. Although America’s supreme leader in wartime, he writes to his friend that he will now speak of peace. This passage draws on language from the Sermon on the Mount while prefiguring that in Emma Lazarus‘s famous poem, which became the inscription on our State of Liberty—itself a gift from our friends in France. Vive les deux Républiques!

As the clouds which overspread your hemisphere are dispersing, and peace with all its concomitants is dawning upon your Land, I will banish the sound of War from my letter: I wish to see the sons and daughters of the world in Peace and busily employed in the more agreeable amusement of fulfilling the first and great commandment, Increase and Multiply: as an encouragement to which we have opened the fertile plains of the Ohio to the poor, the needy and the oppressed of the Earth; any one therefore who is heavy laden, or who wants land to cultivate, may repair thither and abound, as in the Land of promise, with milk and honey: the ways are preparing, and the roads will be made easy, thro— the channels of Potomac and James river . . . .

Lincoln Defines the American Understanding of Equality

Abraham-Lincoln-profile_1850sOn June 26 in 1857, Abraham Lincoln spoke to an audience in Springfield, Illinois to refute a speech given there two weeks earlier by Stephen Douglas. The speech could be seen as a rehearsal for those he would make the following summer as he debated Douglas while campaigning for the Illinois Senate seat. But it already makes a powerful argument against Douglas’ strategy for handling the sectional divide over slavery.

Denying that slavery was inconsistent with fundamental American principles, Douglas championed “popular sovereignty” as a solution to the confrontation between pro- and anti-slave forces that arose each time a western territory made application for statehood. In his recent speech, he had reaffirmed his confidence in this plan despite the violence that had raged in Kansas prior to the referendum there that was supposed to decide whether that state would be slave or free. He also endorsed the Supreme Court decision, made in March 1857, on the case of Dred Scott, a slave who had been transported by his master into a free state and who contended that he had become free during his residence there. Judge Taney had authored the decision which ruled against Scott, and in it he addressed the attitudes of the Founders regarding slavery, given their principle, articulated in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal. ”

According to Lincoln, Taney’s claim, to which Douglas agreed, was that the famous statement on human equality had been only a rhetorical tactic. Douglas had in fact said in his speech that they were speaking of British subjects on this continent being equal to British subjects born and residing in Great Britain.”  Lincoln identified an obvious problem for pro-slave forces with such an argument: it would mean that many white immigrants to the US were not covered by the declaration of human equality. More important, he emphasized the destructive thrust of an argument that denied human equality as the basis for our system of Constitutional government. What Americans would be celebrating a week hence, on the Fourth of July, was a revolution born of a conviction that the Founders fully embraced: All men are created equal. Although Americans had not been prepared to fully realize the principle in their civic life at the Founding, it was true and implied a fully attainable goal, because its import and application were very specific. The Founders

. . . did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal–equal in “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This they said, and this meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. The assertion that “all men are created equal” was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, not for that, but for future use. Its authors meant it to be, (and) thank God, it is now proving itself, a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism. They knew the proneness of prosperity to breed tyrants, and they meant when such should re-appear in this fair land and commence their vocation they should find left for them at least one hard nut to crack.



Hamilton Explains the Compromises of the Constitution

hamiltonNew York was the eleventh state to ratify the Constitution. Its ratifying convention met between June 17 and July 26, 1788, at roughly the same time that Virginia and New Hampshire were holding conventions. When these three conventions began, the approval of at least one more state was needed to make the Constitution the law of the entire country. In his detailed discussion of the nationwide ratification debate, Gordon Lloyd notes that “New York, in many ways, was at the center of the ratification controversy.”  It was there that the most vigorous newspaper debates took place, and it was Alexander Hamilton of New York who originated the idea of writing The Federalist to explain and defend the provisions of the new constitution. Although Hamilton had left the Constitutional Convention early due to frustration over objections to a strong central government, once a final document was approved, he threw his support behind it. His advocacy was critical to New York’s decision to ratify. One of the most notable speeches made in the course of the nationwide ratification debate was made by Hamilton on the second day of argument in the New York Convention, June 20. Answering criticisms made by John Lansing and Melancthon Smith, Hamilton insisted on the inadequacy of the existing Articles of Confederation. He then went on to explain how the document written in the Philadelphia convention was the product of necessary and reasonable compromises between large and small states and between Northern, commercial states and Southern states whose economy was based on slave-labor agriculture. As he explained to his fellow delegates,

The natural situation of this country seems to divide its interests into different classes. There are navigating and non-navigating States. The Northern are properly the navigating States; the Southern appear to possess neither the means nor the spirit of navigation. This difference in situation naturally produces a dissimilarity of interests and views respecting foreign commerce. It was the interest of the Northern States, that there should be no restraints on their navigation, and that they should have full power, by a majority in Congress, to make commercial regulations in favor of their own, and in restraint of the navigation of foreigners. The Southern States wished to impose a restraint on the Northern, by requiring that two thirds in Congress should be requisite to pass an act in regulation of commerce. They were apprehensive that the restraints of a navigation law would discourage foreigners; and, by obliging them to employ the shipping of the Northern States, would probably enhance their freight. This being the case, they insisted strenuously on having this provision ingrafted in the Constitution; and the Northern States were as anxious in opposing it. On the other hand, the small States, seeing themselves embraced by the Confederation upon equal terms, wished to retain the advantages which they already possessed. The large States, on the contrary, thought it improper that Rhode Island and Delaware should enjoy an equal suffrage with themselves. From these sources a delicate and difficult contest arose. It became necessary, therefore, to compromise, or the convention must have dissolved without effecting any thing.


McGovern Criticizes the Carter Doctrine

800px-George_McGovern,_c_1972South Dakota Senator George McGovern, although spectacularly unsuccessful as a Democratic candidate for President in 1972, offered articulate critiques of American foreign policy even after his attempt at national leadership failed. An article McGovern wrote for The Atlantic Monthly in June 1980 shows his willingness to pick apart what he sees as the simplistic thinking of a president from his own party, Jimmy Carter.

By 1980, Carter’s earlier call for a foreign policy based in support of human rights rather than in regard for American interests had been thwarted by a variety of intransigent geopolitical conflicts, notably the rise of a religious nationalism in Iran that contested the rule of the American-backed Shah. After the Shah was deposed, Carter’s decision to admit him to the US for medical treatment provoked a violent reaction in Tehran, where the American embassy was seized and over 60 Americans taken hostage. When the Soviet Union seized this moment to invade Afghanistan, Carter reacted in the manner of earlier presidents presiding during the Cold War, issuing a new doctrine declaring American determination to protect its interests in the middle east: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”  McGovern criticized Carter for returning to a policy governed by Cold War calculations. He spelled out a number of concerns—“local, regional, and internal to the Soviet Union”—to which, he said, the Carter administration was now “indifferent, caught up as it was in the excitement of unveiling its new doctrine”:

It was almost as if, when the Soviets moved into Afghanistan, we were relieved to find ourselves freed from the complexities of Third World nationalism and the Islamic revival and back on the comfortably familiar turf of a bipolar Cold War world. Once they heard the call of the Carter Doctrine, the Iranians would naturally forget about the shah, the Arabs would forget their differences with Israel, our allies in Western Europe and Japan would gratefully follow our lead, and all would join with us in a grand alliance against Soviet aggression. Now the unwelcome “lesson of Vietnam”–as Daniel Yergin put it, “that ‘fundamental designs’ may be illusory and that global implications may be secondary to local issues”–could also be cast aside. Americans could be patriots again, without bothering to make the troublesome distinction between patriotism and jingoism.

FDR’s D-Day Prayer

At a crucial moment in theFDR-300x200_radio-mike struggle to defeat Nazi Germany, Franklin Roosevelt dispensed with more conventional wartime rhetorical forms and resorted to a public prayer. “My fellow Americans,” he began, “Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far. And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer.”

Roosevelt’s prayer movingly evokes the urgency and uncertainty of the moment we remember as D-Day. Of course, his prayer expressed all the themes that he would have put into a rousing wartime speech, but it couched them in a form that implicitly acknowledged the contingent hopes of men amid a large historical struggle. It bespoke a kind of humility in the face of enormous odds, and the insufficiency of mere human effort to achieve success in a struggle against worldly powers threatening decent human life. It prepared Americans to endure the long struggle ahead, as Allied forces would fight to take and hold each square foot of Nazi-occupied Europe. Asking the Creator to guide American soldiers, he said:

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

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