With Little Less Than Savage Fury

America’s first civil war took place during the Revolution, an ultra violent, family-splitting, and often vindictive conflict between patriots and loyalists

On April 22, 1775, three days after a British column marched out of Boston and clashed with militiamen at Lexington and Concord, the news—and the cry of Revolution!—reached Danbury, Connecticut, where 18-year-old Stephen Maples Jarvis was working on the family farm. Over the next several days, the young man would confront the hard, consequential choice between joining the rebel patriots or staying loyal to King George. He was not alone; all across the eastern seaboard, others were wrestling with the same dilemma. Read more »

July 4 In 1826

As Adams and Jefferson died, America came of age

The approach of the fiftieth birthday of the United States, in 1826, naturally animated the minds of Americans with thoughts of the nation’s past, the heritage they had received from those who had asserted and won independence, and the dwindling number of Revolutionary leaders who survived.

 
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Why We Hate To Love Judges

As the 2000 election made very clear, we are torn between revering judges and despising them. It’s in the nature of the job.

A judge, the old saw goes, is a lawyer who knew a governor (or a President or a senator). In most states, a judge is a lawyer who knows how to attract voters. Whatever the judge’s secret, the contempt underlying that catchphrase suggests the palpable disdain that tints our view of the whole legal system. We speak with scorn of the “courthouse gang,” meaning the petty politicians who loiter in the temple of justice. We like to think of judges as above all that, yet we continue to regard the administration of justice as a mere extension of politics. Read more »

The Jury On Trial

Is trial by jury the essential underpinning of our system of justice or—as more and more critics charge—a relic so flawed it should perhaps even be abolished? An experienced trial judge examines the historical evidence in the case.

The distinguished lawyer could not restrain himself. Even in the somber pages of the American Bar Association’s Tort & Insurance Law Journal late last year, his rage blazed and fulminated. Juries, he thundered, were more and more willing to accept scanty, insufficient evidence en route to awarding unmerited damages to undeserving plaintiffs. Read more »

Jefferson’s Paris

The ambassador from an infant republic spent five enchanted years in the French capital at a time when monarchy was giving way to revolution. Walking the city streets today, you can still feel the extravagant spirit of the city and the era he knew.

Paris is every day enlarging and beautifying,” Thomas Jefferson noted with satisfaction during his residence there as minister to France. The city under construction was a delight to Jefferson, the art patron and amateur architect. He had arrived in 1784, determined to commission the finest living artists to glorify the birth of the American republic. Lafayette, Washington, John Paul Jones, and other heroes of the Revolution were to be immortalized by David, or perhaps by Madame Vigée-Lebrun.Read more »

The Radical Revolution

For years people have argued that France had the real revolution and that ours was mild by comparison. But now a powerful new book says the American Revolution was the most sweeping in all history. It alone established a pure commercial culture—a culture that makes America the universal society we are today.

The French Revolution followed American independence by six years, but it was the later event that went into the books as “the Great Revolution” and became the revolutionary archetype. It is not only the contrast of the conspicuously greater political violence of the French Revolution that has led historians to play down the comparative radicalism of its American counterpart but the fact that the French Revolution swiftly became the model for radical political transformation.Read more »

Verdicts Of History I: The Boston Massacre

Even the worst offender, even the most unpopular cause, deserves a good lawyer. Our example is a passionate moment in Boston on the eve of the Revolution, when John Adams undertook to defend the hatred British soldiers who had fired into a Boston mob and created some “martyrs.” There are echoes of our own times in the trial that followed

“The Jurors for the said Lord the King upon oath present that Thomas Preston, Esq.; William Wemms, laborer; James Hartegan, laborer; William McCauley, laborer; Hugh White, laborer; Matthew Killroy, laborer; William Warren, laborer; John Carroll, laborer and Hugh Montgomery, laborer, all now resident in Boston in the County of Suffolk, … not having the fear of God before their eyes, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil and their own wicked hearts, did on the 5th day of this instant March, at Boston aforesaid withiRead more »

Our Two Greatest Presidents

Without doubt they were Washington, who walked carefully within the Constitution, and Lincoln, who stretched it as far as he dared

The myth and the reality of American history seldom come within shouting distance of one another. What the average American believes and what the historians would like him to believe about, let us say, the first winter in Plymouth, or the Boston Massacre, or Mrs. Bixby’s five sons, are two quite different things.

Ghosts In The White House

Discreet helpers have worked on the speeches and papers of many Presidents, but a nation in a time of trial will respond best “to the Great Man himself, standing alone”

It is assumed that the so-called “ghost writer” has become “a necessity of modern-day, high-speed campaigning.” Dorothy Thompson has said that ghostwriting “is so common today that one can almost say our thoughts are guided by ghosts.” Even a religious co-ordinator has been added to the White House staff. Recent demonstrations, however, have led some critics to long tor the Good Old Days when a President told his story in his own way.

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