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Best wishes to all my American readers for a happy Independence Day. I hope all, wherever they are in the world, have a happy Fourth of July.

May it be enjoyable, yet peaceful.

And may it be spent in good company, with excellent food and summertime beverages.

This year, Americans have channelled the spirit of Brexit:

The US Department of the Interior has a great little video (the length of a television advert) with beautiful photos of the American landscape from sea to shining sea as well as of those who fought to keep the nation free:

Below are a few reflections and facts about the American colonies’ fight for independence and the country they built.

Happiness

Since the late 1970s, the notion of personal happiness became a priority first in American society then elsewhere in the Western world.

The Declaration of Independence, adopted on July 4, 1776, contains the following text (an amendment by the Committee of Five of Thomas Jefferson’s initial sentence):

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ——

Read it carefully.

Karl Denninger at Market Ticker points out (emphasis in the original):

I note that the Founding Fathers, wise men that they were, recognized this as they called out in the Declaration of Independence the fundamental human right to the pursuit of happiness.

Nowhere is attainment of happiness mentioned, nor can it be assured, and for good reason — it’s mostly in our heads!

The Declaration of Independence does not guarantee happiness, only the pursuit thereof.

Life and liberty, on the other hand, are the bedrock of the document and the ideals behind the new nation.

It is ironic and sad that, today, life (abortion, euthanasia, murder) and personal liberty (constantly eroded) take second place to a misplaced and misguided idea of the achievement — rather than the pursuit — of happiness, which is impossible in a fallen world.

Freemasonry and the Founding Fathers

If only history were taught academically and disseminated publicly the way it was in 1976, the year of the Bicentenary, which I remember well.

Everything was much more straightforward then.

Over the past 20 years, aided by the Internet, every revisionist kook — ‘Christian’ and secularist — is coming out of the woodwork to denounce the Founding Fathers who made such painstaking efforts to give the world the United States of America.

I say ‘world’, because, by now, someone from nearly every country on earth has been able to settle there.

But I digress.

Much has been made by certain religious Americans about Freemasonry’s role in the independence effort.

It is difficult to know what books and websites are telling the truth. By now, we may never know. With the passage of time come more biased perceptions and selective evidence.

One interesting webpage on the subject is called ‘Freemasonry and the American Revolution’. Highlights follow.

On one Founding Father and President:

Thomas Jefferson was not a Freemason
nor was he part of any Illuminati Conspiracy

While there were a lot of Masonic lodges in the colonies, few Masons led the independence effort:

While some Freemasons joined the Revolutionary cause, the vast majorities of American Revolutionaries were not members of the Masonic fraternity. Important Revolutionary leaders like Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, John Adams, and Patrick Henry were not Freemasons. Of the fifty-six signers Declaration of Independence only eight or nine can be shown to have been Freemasons.[4]

On George Washington’s commitment to the Masons:

While Masons shamelessly promote George Washington’s membership and sometimes allege his persevering zeal for the Masonic fraternity, his commitment to the organization is unclear. In 1798 Washington wrote to a Reverend Synder, “to correct an error you have run into, of my presiding over the English Lodges in this country. The fact is I preside over none, nor have I been in one more than once or twice in the last thirty years.” As early as 1780, Washington called Freemasonry “Child’s Play” and subsequently announced to a committee of right worshipfuls of King David’s Lodge, that it was not agreeable to him to be addressed as a Mason. When Washington retired to private life, Freemasons Andrew Jackson and Edward Livingston were two of the three men to vote AGAINST Congressional resolutions giving thanks to this great man. It is unclear whether the third man was also a Mason.[5]

The essay says that Benjamin Franklin was cagey about his membership.

General Lafayette joined the Masons only after the Revolutionary War. He seemed sceptical of them during a trip to New York City:

To-morrow, I am to visit the schools; I am to dine with the Mayor; and in the evening, I suppose, I am to be made VERY WISE by the Masons.

The traitor Benedict Arnold was a Freemason.

The article says that in early America, the Masons were somewhat divided post-independence. Those who supported independence sided with the Founding Fathers. Many others wanted to retain a certain primacy that harked back to England:

The American Revolution had a profound impact on the America’s Masonic lodges. It should come as no surprise that many American Masons were swept up in the spirit of non-Masonic giants like Thomas Jefferson. However, Freemasons were inherently ideologically opposed to the egalitarian beliefs of America’s revolutionaries. After the war was over many Masons, who had benefited from strong ties to the English Monarchy’s hierarchical and class oriented structure, worked to create ‘a new hierarchical order’ which could preserve and promote exclusive membership privileges in a country without a ruling monarch.

I have no opinion on this. It was the most thought-provoking piece of historical research I’ve seen, and it seemed worth citing.

Freemasonry or not, there is always a pecking order. Every society, even the most ‘egalitarian’, has one.

Christianity and independence

Another contentious subject today — an era where the vast majority of Americans have plenty of creature comforts to hand and every citizen has free access to the democratic process — is whether the Revolutionary War and subsequent independence were biblical.

A number of Protestant pastors today think Romans 13 should be obeyed at all costs. These are men who live comfortable lives. They are firmly middle class. They do not know what it was to live in the American colonies.

Anyone who thinks American independence was unbiblical, disobedient or ill-advised should move to Canada.

Yet, notice that these pastors keep appearing like the proverbial bad penny, establishing their churches in the United States and making a living off of the American people.

If the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 were not destined, respectively, to achieve and maintain independence, the British would have won. Of that, we can be sure.

Let us now look at a webpage from a history about the early United States, ‘III. Religion and the American Revolution’. Excerpts, a summary and graphics follow.

Although the essay does not mention it, the 18th century was the era of the First Great Awakening:

World events at the time of the First Great Awakening

George Whitefield, a great preacher in the First Great Awakening

The powerful preaching and widespread revivals were important in the life of colonial America and no doubt influenced how the settlers viewed the British. Not all were anti-British. However, the more vocal supporters of British rule had to either keep their views quiet or move. Some Loyalists — pejoratively called Tories (bandits) — went back to Britain and others settled in Canada.

‘Religion and the American Revolution’ says that clergy were similarly divided.

I have read elsewhere that some clergy supporting independence cited Acts 5:29 (when the temple leaders tried to forbid the Apostles from preaching):

29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.

In any event (emphases mine):

The Revolution strengthened millennialist strains in American theology. At the beginning of the war some ministers were persuaded that, with God’s help, America might become “the principal Seat of the glorious Kingdom which Christ shall erect upon Earth in the latter Days.” Victory over the British was taken as a sign of God’s partiality for America and stimulated an outpouring of millennialist expectations–the conviction that Christ would rule on earth for 1,000 years. This attitude combined with a groundswell of secular optimism about the future of America to create the buoyant mood of the new nation that became so evident after Jefferson assumed the presidency in 1801.

Jonathan Mayhew, D.D. Pastor of the West Church in Boston . . .

Jonathan Mayhew (1720-1766) was born in the colony of Massachusetts. He was a Congregationalist minister who took strong exception to the Anglican Church:

Jonathan Mayhew considered the Church of England as a dangerous, almost diabolical, enemy of the New England Way. The bishop’s mitre with the snake emerging from it represented his view of the Anglican hierarchy.

Mayhew asserted that resistance to a tyrant was a “glorious” Christian duty. In offering moral sanction for political and military resistance, Mayhew anticipated the position that most ministers took during the conflict with Britain.

A Presbyterian minister from New York, Abraham Keteltas (1732-1798):

celebrated the American effort as “the cause of truth, against error and falsehood . . .the cause of pure and undefiled religion, against bigotry, superstition, and human invention . . .in short, it is the cause of heaven against hell–of the kind Parent of the Universe against the prince of darkness, and the destroyer of the human race.”

Peter Muhlenberg (1746-1807), a Lutheran pastor from Pennsylvania who served in the Continental Army and later as a congressman, was the foremost ‘fighting parson’:

The eldest son of the Lutheran patriarch Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, young Muhlenberg at the conclusion of a sermon in January 1776 to his congregation in Woodstock, Virginia, threw off his clerical robes to reveal the uniform of a Virginia militia officer. Having served with distinction throughout the war, Muhlenberg commanded a brigade that successfully stormed the British lines at Yorktown. He retired from the army in 1783 as a brevetted major general.

The Scottish-born president of Princeton University, John Witherspoon (1723-1794), a PresbyterianJohn Witherspoon minister, was dubbed the most ‘political parson’ of the Revolutionary period. He represented New Jersey in the Continental Congress and, as such, was a signatory to the Declaration of Independence:

As president of Princeton, Witherspoon was accused of turning the institution into a “seminary of sedition.”

Religious inscriptions were common on Revolutionary flags and banners, such as the one below:

https://web.archive.org/web/20060821143457/http://www.loc.gov:80/exhibits/religion/f0307s.jpg

Its saying is still used today where Americans oppose bureaucracy and the Deep State.

Incidentally, the Quakers suffered a schism. Those who wanted to join the Revolutionary effort broke away from their pacifist brethren and became known as the Free Quakers. They built their own Free Quaker meeting house in Philadelphia.

Conclusion

Unlike the French Revolution and the Bolivarian liberations of various South American countries from Spain, the American Revolution was well rooted in the Bible and Christian preaching. The other two were purely secular.

Any country which turns to God will receive His merciful blessings.

However, based on the nature of its independence effort, tied as it was to scriptural and Christian support, the Great Republic has survived this long because of Americans’ enduring faith in the Almighty.

Long may it remain so.

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Church and state averypoliticalwomancomIn response to ‘Christian objections to President Trump’, the author of Pacific Paratrooper wrote in to ask:

Isn’t there a division of church and state?

The short answer is that the First Amendment protects religious freedom and prohibits the establishment of a national church and state churches. It was Thomas Jefferson who wrote of the ‘separation between church and State’ in 1802 in a letter to the Danbury Baptists. They were concerned about their tax money supporting the Congregational Church, the state church of Connecticut at that time.

There is more to the story, detailed below.

However, Conservapedia tells us that there was a constitution that had a division of church and state (emphases mine below):

A phrase close to “separation of church and state”, but used for malevolent purposes and expanded to name education, does appear in Article 52 of the constitution of the Soviet Union (1977): “In the USSR, the church is separated from the state, and the school from the church.”[6]

The First Amendment

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Conservapedia makes the argument that the First Amendment has its origins in the Bible:

The protection for free speech was largely motivated to safeguard the preaching of the Bible. Several passages in the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, support a right of free speech, including Numbers 11:26-30 (Moses allowed free speech by declaring, “If only all the people of the LORD were prophets!”);[1] Mark 9:38-41 (admonition by Jesus not to stop strangers who cast out evil in his name).

George Washington’s farewell address

In his farewell address of September 19, 1796, George Washington said:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men & citizens. The mere Politican, equally with the pious man ought to respect & to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private & public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the Oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure–reason & experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

Ronald Reagan’s address to the Alabama State Legislature

Nearly 200 years later, on March 15, 1982, Ronald Reagan addressed the Alabama State Legislature:

And I know here that you will agree with me that standing up for America also means standing up for the God, who has so blessed our land. I believe this country hungers for a spiritual revival. I believe it longs to see traditional values reflected in public policy again. To those who cite the first amendment as reason for excluding God from more and more of our institutions and everyday life, may I just say: The first amendment of the Constitution was not written to protect the people of this country from religious values; it was written to protect religious values from government tyranny.

What Jefferson said

In 1801, a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut wrote Thomas Jefferson to ask about about their tax money supporting the Congregational Church, the state church of Connecticut at that time.

On New Year’s Day 1802, Jefferson replied, in part:

I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

Connecticut did not change this mandate until 1818. That year, their constitution finally stated:

Article VII. Section 1. It being the duty of all men to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the Universe, and their right to render that worship in the mode most consistent with the dictates or their consciences, no person shall by law be compelled to join or support, nor be classed with, or associated to, any congregation, church, or religious association; but every person now belonging to such congregation, church, or religious association, shall remain a member thereof until he shall have separated himself therefrom, in the manner hereinafter provided. And each and every society or denomination of Christians in this State shall have and enjoy the same and equal powers, rights, and privileges; and shall have power and authority support and maintain the ministers or teachers of their respective denominations, and to build and repair houses for public worship by a tax on the members of any such society only, to be laid by a major vote of the legal voters assembled at any society meeting, warned and held according to law, or in any other manner.”

Jefferson worshipped in Capitol building

Atheists are fond of quoting Thomas Jefferson and have adopted him as their secular hero. However, three days after Jefferson wrote his ‘separation between church and state’ letter to the Danbury Baptists (italicised emphasis in the original here, purple emphases mine):

he attended church in the largest congregation in North America at the time. This church held its weekly worship services on government property, in the House Chambers of the U.S. Capitol Building. The wall of separation applies everywhere in the country even on government property , without government interference. This is how it is written in the Constitution, this is how Thomas Jefferson understood it from his letter and actions, and this is how the men who wrote the Constitution practiced it.

Worship in the Capitol ended only after the Civil War. Therefore, it lasted for five decades.

Conservapedia provides more examples of Jefferson’s support of Christianity in government:

David Barton, Founder and President of WallBuilders, states that Jefferson voted that the Capitol building would also serve as a church building, praised the use of a local courthouse as a meeting place for Christian services, urged local governments to make land available specifically for Christian purposes, set aside government lands for the sole use of religious groups, assured a Christian religious school that it would receive “the patronage of the government”, proposed that the Great Seal of the United States depict a story from the Bible and include the word “God” in its motto, and agreed to provide money for a church building and support of clergy. And that like support of religion by the federal government militates against the extreme separatist position.[26]

The Bible and American government

Conservapedia tells us that God is mentioned in all 50 state constitutions.

Until the 1960s, the Bible had a pre-eminent place:

in government, jurisprudence [11] and in over 300 years of American education[12][13].

Every new president has made a religious reference in his inaugural address. Dwight D Eisenhower wrote his own prayer. Dr Jerry Newcombe compiled a list of all of these references for the Christian Post just before Donald Trump’s inauguration. (He, too, mentioned God — more than once.) Here are a few:

1. George Washington said, “It would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe….”

3. Thomas Jefferson prayed to “that Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe.”

6. John Quincy Adams quoted Scripture: “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh in Vain.”

7. Andrew Jackson referred to “the goodness of that Power whose providence mercifully protected our national infancy.”

16. Abraham Lincoln stated, “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.”

24. William McKinley declared, ” Our faith teaches that there is no safer reliance than upon the God of our fathers.”

25. Theodore Roosevelt thanked “the Giver of Good who has blessed us.”

32. Harry S. Truman referenced “that all men are created equal because they are created in the image of God.”

Dr Newcombe rightly concludes:

The atheists are the Johnny-come-latelies. Demands to ban God and the Bible from the Inauguration should be denied.

Interpretation

It is not surprising that many Americans and other people around the world now think that Christians in the United States are being unreasonable when they lament that the Ten Commandments have been removed from county courthouses along with Christmas crèches on government property.

I grew up with these displays. No one ever had a problem with them, other than the occasional crank.

However, all that changed in the 1960s. In addition to Madalyn Murray O’Hair‘s successful case against school prayer which effectively banned it — along with Bible readings — in state schools, the Supreme Court under Earl Warren dramatically changed the way all of us view the First Amendment (emphases in the original here):

Jefferson simply quotes the First Amendment then uses a metaphor, the “wall”, to separate the government from interfering with religious practice. Notice that the First Amendment puts Restrictions only on the Government, not the People! The Warren Court re-interpreted the First Amendment thus putting the restrictions on the People! Today the government can stop you from Praying in school, reading the Bible in school, showing the Ten Commandments in school, or have religious displays at Christmas. This is quite different from the wall Jefferson envisioned, protecting the people from government interference with Religious practice.

Therefore, one could make the case that over the past 50 years, America has been drifting in practice towards a Soviet-style restriction on Christian displays, the Bible and prayer outside the home on government property.

If you think I am exaggerating, stories have been appearing in local newspapers and conservative websites over the past 12 years about teachers who have taken Bibles away from children silently reading them during lunch hour. There was an instance in Texas in 2003 I remember where the teacher took a child’s New Testament away at lunch hour and threw it in the wastebasket. He was not allowed to retrieve it.

In June 2016, WND published an article about a school in Palmdale, California, where a seven-year-old got his classmates interested in the Bible verses and stories his mother gave him every morning. The mother intended for her son to have religious encouragement during the day. She was not attempting to proselytise. However, the child was so thrilled by these verses that he couldn’t help but share them with others at lunchtime. It wasn’t long before his friends asked him for copies of the verses and stories. One girl who received a story showed it to the teacher, commenting on its beauty:

Then, however, C [the boy] was reprimanded by his teacher in front of the whole class, twice, and told to stop talking about religion or sharing his mother’s notes, and he went home in tears, Liberty Counsel said.

Even as the crowd of students asking for the after-school Bible notes grew, on May 9, Principal Melanie Pagliaro approached Zavala [the mother] and demanded that the notes only be handed out somewhere beyond school property.

With the school not satisfied with only the banishment, Liberty Counsel said, “a Los Angeles deputy sheriff knocked at the door of C’s home, demanding that C’s note-sharing cease altogether because ‘someone might be offended.’” …

The letter to the district said Liberty Counsel, “having reviewed the above facts, district policies, and applicable law, it is clear that the actions of the district staff in this instance, in prohibiting voluntary student religious expression during non-instructional time; then completely banning such student expression from school property entirely, and finally calling the police to report the same are simply unconstitutional.”

“These actions must be disavowed and reversed, to avoid liability for civil rights violations,” the letter said.

It gave the district a deadline for responding of June 1, which was ignored.

I think this will change — somewhat — over the next four years. While the Ten Commandments might not make a comeback in courthouses, Christmas crèches are likely to reappear. And teachers might start to lay off students sharing the Bible at lunchtime.

Tomorrow: Religious persecution and state churches in American colonies

As Inauguration Day is on Friday, January 20, what follows is a history of how the day developed and what happens when an incoming or re-elected American president takes his oath of office.

The date

As I was researching this topic, it was interesting to note that George Washington was sworn in at the end of April and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in January. Why?

In September 1788, once nine states had ratified the Constitution, March 4 was set as the day when the US government began operations. If March 4 fell on a Sunday, the swearing-in was done privately with a public taking of the oath on Monday, March 5.

By an act of Congress, elections were held in November or December starting in 1792. In 1845, the date was changed to early November.

George Washington was not sworn in until April 30, 1789. This was because of a bad winter.

From that point through the 19th century, extra time was needed to tabulate votes and for the incoming president and his administration to travel to the capital. The first time this became an issue was in 1860. History.com tells us:

the lengthy lame-duck period caused problems such as in the aftermath of the 1860 election when seven states left the Union during the long “Secession Winter.” President-elect Abraham Lincoln had no power to act, and outgoing President James Buchanan took no action, leaving the issue for his successor.

With the expansion of rail travel in the middle of the 19th century followed by the advent of motor vehicles in the early 20th, transport time was greatly reduced. Technology such as the telegraph and, later, the telephone made communications easier.

Incidentally, Rutherford B Hayes had the first telephone installed in the White House:

The long delay between election and inauguration, once necessary, turned into a nuisance.

The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States scrapped March 4 in favour of January 20 for the president and vice president. Congress would begin their sessions earlier, on January 3. The amendment also has contingency provisions in cases where there is no president-elect.

Even this was problematic. History.com explains:

The 20th Amendment didn’t take effect until October 1933, after the long lame-duck period once again proved problematic. With the U.S. in the throes of the Great Depression, incoming President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to wait four months to implement his New Deal while uncertainty further roiled financial markets. January 20 first served as Inauguration Day in 1937 when Roosevelt was sworn in for a second term.

When January 20 falls on a Sunday, the swearing-in is held privately with the public inauguration taking place on Monday, January 21.

Inauguration locations

As Washington, DC was not yet designated as the nation’s capital the first presidents gave their inaugural addresses in either New York or Philadelphia.

In 1790, George Washington selected the area of land which became known as the District of Columbia, made up of parts of Maryland and Virginia. Columbia was the poetic name for the United States and was a well known term at that time.

Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president, gave both of his inaugural addresses at the United States Capitol in DC, the location generally used for inaugurations, albeit with some exceptions. When renovations were being done on the Capitol building, James Madison was sworn in at the Old Brick Capitol building in 1817. In 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was sworn in for his last term of office at the White House, possibly for health reasons.

Prayers

Although prayers have been a part of the inauguration ceremony since George Washington became the first president, they became more formalised in 1937, FDR’s second inauguration.

FDR began the tradition of a prayer service held on Inauguration Day prior to the swearing-in ceremony. Today, a national prayer service takes place the day after the inauguration at the National Cathedral.

Bible

A Bible has often been used when the president takes the oath of office. George Washington used one in 1789. We do not know if he used one for his second inauguration. Records are unknown for the next several presidents.

John Quincy Adams took his oath on a law book in 1825. Although Martin Van Buren was sworn in on a Bible in 1837, the trail goes cold for his successors until 1853, when Franklin Pierce used a law book.

Abraham Lincoln used a Bible for both his inaugurations.

Although there were some exceptions afterwards, mostly when vice-presidents assumed office after a president’s death, the Bible became more commonplace for the oath with Ulysses S Grant’s second inauguration in 1873. The tradition continues today.

Other daytime events

After the inauguration ceremony, a number of other events take place.

Congressional luncheon

A Congressional luncheon is held which the president, vice-president and their guests attend. This tradition began in 1953 — Dwight D Eisenhower’s first inauguration — and leaders from both the House of Representatives and the Senate are present.

Presidential procession to the White House

This tradition, started by Jefferson on his second term, involves a public procession down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House.

Presidents have walked or ridden in a vehicle. Weather and security issues determine both. Where more recent presidents walk, it is only for part of the way, because of security concerns.

Inaugural parade

With Jefferson’s second inauguration, a parade became part of the afternoon activities.

In Jefferson’s day, this was part of the procession to the White House. He was accompanied by musicians and shipmen from the Washington Navy Yard on horseback.

For the next few inaugurations, an open house was held at what was known as the President’s House.

By the time Andrew Jackson was inaugurated in 1829, so many people were at the open house. Over time, the public reception at the White House gave way to the parade.

By 1837, Martin Van Buren’s parade began the evolution of the event to what we recognise today. Horse drawn floats became part of the festivities. Ten years later, an official committee began organising the parades, something which continues today.

In 1885, Grover Cleveland was the first president to have a reviewing stand, primarily to review the military troops passing by.

1865, Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration, was the first year when blacks appeared in an inaugural parade. Women were not part of the parade until 1917. The 2009 parade — Obama’s second inauguration — featured the first openly lesbian and gay participants.

The parades sometimes last all afternoon. It is up to the incoming president to give his preference to the committee.

Inaugurations past and present

Mashable has a great collection of photos, invitations and videos of inaugurations from the 20th century. Don’t miss it. You will find it fascinating.

Enjoy reading five little known facts about earlier presidents in Dr Larry Schweikart’s article for Townhall.

Inaugural ball

The US Senate website has an excellent history of the inaugural ball.

George Washington’s sponsors held one for him and his wife Martha in 1789 one week after the inauguration.

However, it was only in 1809, that the ball became an inaugural tradition. James Madison took office that year. His wife Dolley hosted a gala event for 400 guests. Tickets were $4 each — a princely sum in those days.

In 1833, Andrew Jackson attended two balls. In 1841, William Henry Harrison attended three.

In the mid-19th century, ball organisers wanted one venue large enough to accommodate everyone. James Buchanan was inaugurated in 1857 and had one huge event in a temporary purpose-built ballroom:

Food purchased for Buchanan’s ball included $3000 worth of wine, 400 gallons of oysters, 500 quarts of chicken salad, 1200 quarts of ice cream, 60 saddles of mutton, 8 rounds of beef, 75 hams and 125 tongues.

The next two were held in government buildings: Lincoln’s (1865) and Grant’s (1869). Grant’s didn’t go too well, because the north wing of the Treasury Building didn’t have enough room for dancing. For his second inauguration in 1873, a purpose-built structure was erected as it had been for Buchanan. Unfortunately, that also was a disaster. The weather was so bitter that the decorative caged canaries froze to death. The guests were also inconvenienced by the cold. The structure had no heat and the supplies of hot drinks quickly ran out.

Between 1885 and 1909, balls were held in the Pension building.

In 1913, the tradition stopped and would not be revived until Harry S Truman’s inauguration in 1949.

Woodrow Wilson (1913, 1917) thought they were an expensive and unnecessary intrusion into the solemnity of the inauguration. Warren G Harding (1921) agreed to a large party for his inauguration. Calvin Coolidge (1925), Herbert Hoover (1929) and FDR (1933, 1937 and 1941 [none in 1945]) went down the charity ball route.

Following Truman’s example, Eisenhower planned on one inaugural ball in 1953, but demand for tickets was such that a second one was held. For his 1957 inauguration, there were four. John F Kennedy attended five in 1961. Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Nixon also had inaugural balls.

Jimmy Carter eschewed them for modest parties in 1977. However, Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy attended inaugural balls. In 1997, Bill Clinton attended an all time high of 14. George W Bush’s inaugurations were celebrated at eight balls in 2001 and nine in 2005. Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2001 had ten official balls.

First ladies and inaugural balls

Business Insider — of all places — has a great historical overview of first lady ballgowns and trivia. Ladies will particularly appreciate the full-size photographs of the gowns.

Controversy — Jefferson’s first inauguration

We tend to forget that election results have often been fraught throughout US history.

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation has a fascinating account of his first inauguration in 1801. In a strange parallel to 2016, Jefferson wrote during the campaign of 1800 (emphases mine):

our campaign will be as hot as that of Europe, but happily we deal in ink only; they in blood.” He said the nation’s newspapers were “teeming with every falsehood they can invent for defamation.”

John Adams ran for re-election that year on the Federalist ticket. He:

was labeled a monarchist; Vice President Jefferson was called an atheist; both candidates were declared enemies of the Constitution.

The electoral college provided no relief, either:

Adams was defeated but Jefferson did not win the presidency. Instead, he tied with Aaron Burr, his Republican running mate. The Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1804, would change the process for electing the president and vice president by directing the states to vote separately for each; in 1800, however, the fact that nearly all Republicans recognized Jefferson’s place at the top of the ticket counted for little. The election would be decided in the House of Representatives, where members of the Federalist majority worked to block Jefferson’s election by backing Burr.

Seen in that light, Donald Trump had an easy time of it.

It took 36 ballots over eight days in the House of Representatives before Jefferson had the majority of votes.

The same controversies we are seeing today were also present in 1800 and 1801:

The bitterly contested campaign and the drawn-out election process, plus the predictions of resistance to the new administration and whispers about the possibility of civil war

Jefferson took the opportunity to craft an inaugural speech about national unity.

He walked to the Capitol dressed simply in a suit. His predecessors, Washington and Adams, had put on finery and been transported by carriage. Jefferson preferred to look like ‘a plain citizen’.

The Senate chamber, where he took his oath of office, was packed. The moment was made all the more difficult because:

Noticeably absent was Adams, who had left town in the middle of the night. Jefferson was sworn in by Chief Justice John Marshall, his distant cousin and a staunch political foe.

He gave his address, in part:

“Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle,” Jefferson maintained, and said Americans were, in truth, “brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists.”[4]Though few people actually heard Jefferson’s address, which one observer said was “delivered in so low a tone” as to be barely audible, the sentiments were not lost.

A spectator who was present, Margaret Bayard Smith, was highly impressed:

This day one of the most amiable and worthy men [has] taken that seat to which he was called by the voice of his country.

Afterwards, Jefferson had dinner, but not with legislators. He returned to the boarding house where he had been staying and ate with his fellow boarders. He lived there for two more weeks, until March 19, at which time he moved into the President’s House.

Donald Trump’s plans

Carrying on from Jefferson’s 1800 campaign, 2016’s was no better.

The New York Times was one of several media outlets publishing hit pieces on Donald Trump. On May 16, political pundit Charles Krauthammer told Fox News:

It looks as if the Times had 50 interviews, spent a lot of money and time, knew it didn’t really have a story, came out exactly with…a story that was nuanced, interesting, but there was nothing scandalous about it.

If this is the best that the Times and the press can do trying to create scandal around Donald Trump, it’s time to plan for the inauguration.

And here we are.

Trump appears to have taken another page out of Jefferson’s notebook. Washington’s WTOP radio reported in December:

The theme is very simple,” Trump inaugural chairman Tom Barrack told ABC News. “The idea is to have a cross cut of harmony of America and normal Americans that reflects on them, not on the power and prestige of this man.”

Trump is also cutting down the number of inaugural balls to three:

“The balls are kind of a confusing quagmire because the states themselves have their own celebratory events,” Barrack said. “We’ll have basically three balls. Two in the [Washington] Convention Center, one called the Commander in Chief ball, which is a traditional military ball. And then we’ll have a series of private dinners.”

It’s a stark contrast from recent inaugurations. Obama attended 10 inaugural balls and former President George W. Bush attended eight inaugural balls to celebrate their first inaugurations.

“This is a workman-like inaugural. This is not a coronation,” inaugural committee spokesman Boris Epshteyn said. “And you’ve seen some inaugurals in the past that maybe did seem like a coronation. Again, it’s every president’s choice. This president wants to get to work.”

The Commander in Chief ball will include guests from law enforcement, firefighters, other first responders and the military.

Just before Christmas, Trump tweeted:

Trump supporters agree, according to the New York Post:

The “blue-collar billionaire” will have a day that’s more befitting the working-class base that put him in the White House: one without fanfare or celebrities or fancy couture (although his wife, Melania, will most certainly be dressed to the nines). Call it the People’s Inauguration, one that celebrates the ordinary American, and that suits his fans just fine.

“They could have zero entertainment at the inauguration, and I really don’t think for one minute that it would matter,” said Leslie Rossi, of Youngstown, Pa., a state that shocked the nation when it switched from blue to red on Election Day.

Even before the election, the Trump International in DC was sold out:

Some lucky Trump supporters managed to get tickets to the swearing-in ceremony.

On January 14, Trump tweeted:

RSBN, which started in Alabama in 2015 and has now relocated to DC, will be providing a live feed of the inauguration. Knowing them, they will broadcast as much of the day as they can:

Newsweek has a full list of events from January 19 through to January 21.

The weather is looking less promising than it did a week ago, but at least the temperatures will be manageable.

Former undercover police officer James Copenhaver has a detailed analysis of what those attending should expect on the day with regard to security.

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