No, Virginia, There’s No Such Thing as President’s Day

washYup, there’s no such holiday as President’s Day – at least officially. It’s just Congress’ way of making Washington’s birthday fit a three day weekend.(Really – see Section 6103(a) of Title 5 of the United States Code).

Washington’s birthday was a major holiday in the U.S. long before the Civil War, it was formalized as a Federal holiday in the 1880’s, it took an act of Congress in the late 1960’s to muddle the waters.

There was a push to move holidays to the Monday schedule we now enjoy. Given the proximity of Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays, Illinois tried to roll Lincoln’s Birthday into the already celebrated Washington’s Birthday Federal Holiday.

Since this new holiday, giving us all a three day weekend in the middle of February, would celebrate two prominent former presidents, it was naturally enough labeled ‘President’s Day’.

Who would argue with a day devoted to Washington and Lincoln? Well, Virginia in the mid-1960s for one. The late unpleasantness between the States was only a hundred years passe and Virginia didn’t like the idea of a usurper from Illinois sharing the spotlight with its most visible son. Virginia blocked the proposed bill in the House of Representatives in the discussion stage. It never passed.

The third Monday of February was designated Washington’s Birthday, Lincoln’s Birthday remains as it was – a state by state optional holiday. It has never been a Federal holiday.

Interestingly, Presidents since the 1968 Act don’t seem in a hurry to correct those who refer to President’s Day, opting instead to embrace the all inclusive, let’s celebrate all the Presidents Day. As in, it’s a day celebrating all 44 of us (or does Grover Cleveland get to celebrate twice?), because, hey, all President’s are created equal.

It has become the equivalent of ‘every kid gets a trophy’ – except most kids deserve it. Take, for instance:

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Warren G. Harding, he gets a trophy even though he wandered around behind the bench picking daisies while the others played;

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William H. Harrison, he only showed up for two practices and one game, but he wanted to be there;

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John Tyler …. even though after election he was the other team’s most valuable player . . .

Could do this all day…. but that would be a waste of a nice, sunny, Washington’s Birthday . . .

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Odds and Ends from a Long Week of Bad History, Bad Law, Trolls, and …

“There are in this country, as in all others, a certain proportion of restless and turbulent spirits – poor, unoccupied, ambitious – who must always have something to quarrel about with their neighbors. These people are the authors of religious revivals.” ~ John Quincy Adams

 Some thoughts and impressions from quite the week:

battlefield-earth-02Tell me again why we need Religious Freedom Acts when the First Amendment is unchallenged and Scientology is not only accorded the same rights, privileges, and protections as all other religions, it was not summarily dismantled after the release of Battlefield Earth.

Obviously – to everyone not employed by Fox News, the law was drafted and enacted to allow people to do what Federal, State, and Local governments are estopped by the Constitution and 200 plus years of Supreme Court decisions from doing – use religion to discriminate against others.

This was explained perfectly by someone, somewhere in Indiana who proclaimed – “this law doesn’t discriminate against anyone … it just protects those of us who do.”  That, by the way, is genius. Continue reading

Don’t You Hate It When Someone You Haven’t Met But Dislike Turns Out to Be Nice and Funny . . . but still wrong?

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So, after getting ripped by Jon Stewart and the Comedy Central gang, Judge Anthony Napolitano did a most unusual Fox News commentator rebuttal – he promptly appeared on The Daily Show, ‘debated’ Jon Stewart and laughingly took his lumps in a Civil War Trivia Contest.

He was charming, funny, garrulous, and a good sport . . . and still drop dead, scarily wrong. Even when corrected by a three person panel of Civil War professors, he avowed, loudly but with great good humor, that Lincoln started the Civil War, imposed the tariff that was the real cause of the war; slavery was dying, had already been banned in Puerto Rico and Brazil, was not economically viable in the South;  yada, yada, yada.

So, I liked the guy. I actually agree with some of his libertarian leanings. I’d enjoy having a beer with the guy, probably five or six while we told each other how full of shit we were. It would be fun.

My problem, then? The reason I have a hard time listening to him complete a sentence on the Civil War? Well, that’s easy and takes only a quick perusal through the comments on the Daily Show’s posting – ‘I enjoyed the debate’, ‘Napolitano’s right, Stewart’s a commie, the professors liberal stooges’, and, scariest of all, ‘Wow, the Judge really opened my eyes.’

First, this was not a debate of opposing views. A debate would be something like, “Was Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus legal….”. What Stewart and the liberal stooge panel did was correct Napolitano’s history. I use the noun loosely here, because nothing Napolitano states so convincingly is remotely true. He gives himself deeper historical underpinnings for his politics, but that doesn’t mean any of it actually occurred.

buchaSecond, and apropos of nothing above, he’s the only person in the history of the world to give anything James Buchanan did, said, or thought any credence whatever.

Third, I cringe at the thought of the number of people getting their history from this very vocal faux historian and spreading their newly discovered knowledge.

Last, why didn’t I come up with the whole tell me I’m wrong and you’re a subversive who should be reported and vilified thing while I was in college and/or law school?

Memory Holes, Rectification, and Lincoln

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Nobody learn no nothing from no historyGogol Bordello, Ave. B

Last week Judge Andrew Napolitano went on a seven minute screed on Fox News. The object of his derision was Abraham Lincoln.

His admittedly ‘contrarian ‘ view of the 16th President was certainly that – unless you also view Lincoln as a combination of Idi Amin, Oliver Cromwell, and Colonel Kurtz.

Now, I have no problem whatever with someone legitimately questioning Lincoln or any other revered leader. None. Hell, I have a hard time with Lincoln’s suspension of habeas, though I can defend it even while the defense makes me queezy.

Napolitano’s take/opinion/assessment/analysis, however, is anything but legitimate. As far as I can tell, in a seven and a half minute diatribe he got exactly two facts right – Lincoln was president and there was a Civil War.

He began his diatribe by explaining that when Lincoln took grito-de-laresoffice slavery was dying, had already died “in Puerto Rico and Brazil.” Well, no. Not even close. Puerto Rico was still a Spanish possession in 1861, it ‘abolished slavery in 1872 – it took a rebellion in 1868 to force the new law and even then existing slaves had to purchase their freedom from their masters.

As for Brazil . . .

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… Brazil? He must have been referring to Brazil, Indiana, because Brazil the country was the last Western nation to abolish slavery . . . in 1888.

There were more, ah, misrepresentations that were as wrong, if not malicious, as they were effectively eviscerated by Jon Stewart and company.

Then, in a crescendo like finale, Napolitano announced that the war wasn’t even about slavery . . . it was about tariffs. The South was tired of paying tariffs that went directly into the pockets of Northern Bankers. (Wow, the amount of bile I just swallowed typing that). In this opinion the Judge joins a small club that includes Robert Rhett whose anti-tariff extremism was matched only by his pro-slavery extremism – he advocated, with heat, re-opening the African Slave Trade.

There’s a lot that can be said here, but I think the easiest, most direct and effective counter to this lie is this: in the Gettysburg campaign Lee’s forces seized dozens of blacks from Pennsylvania – most of them freeborn – took them back South and sold them into slavery. There is no record of them seizing any Northern bankers.

So, Napolitano pulled history out of the air, just made it up to fit some kind of 21st Century political framework on big government. Fine, who cares, easily debunked and Jon Stewart and his gang already ripped the guy.

Thing is, we in the U.S. have a fairly appalling grasp of history – ours or anyone else’s. Napolitano and Alex Jones (the Harry Turtledove of history) reach a disturbingly large demographic – a demographic that for the most part think they are being taught history.

I hear this crap and can envision hundreds of viewers going to work the next day gleefully filling their coworkers in on what a shit  Abraham Lincoln was. In less time than I wish to contemplate there’s a better than even chance that the number of people who believe Lincoln was the first American despot will bejohn_hurt_1984_i pushing the percentage of Americans who believe the Sun revolves around the Earth (26%).

Unabated, uncorrected, in the blink of an eye our history will be flushed down an Orwellian Memory Hole.

Trivia, Fantasy Sports, 150 Years from the Gettysburg Address

abe_480x360150 years ago today Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. The speech, about 270 words long (there are 5 versions, no one is really sure which one he gave) speaks for itself, and will forever do so.

I’ve been reading articles for weeks leading up to this day, most are arcane discussions of exactly where and how Lincoln wrote it; even more insufferably, exactly where he stood when he gave his two minute speech (some scholar spent years analyzing the photographs from the dedication of the National Cemetery on Cemetery Ridge and, in a five page article, explains that Lincoln was definitely 40 or so yards away from the spot marked at Gettysburg). 1384800895013-AP-Finding-Lincolns-Address

Maybe it’s our stat driven, fantasy baseball/football, trivia obsessed, re-enactor driven, ‘where, exactly, was my great-great-great grandfather’s regiment’, mentality but it seems that we are in a period of studying trees at the expense of even noticing the forest.

Lincoln was a last minute invite to the dedication, he sat through a two hour oration by the featured speaker, Edward Everett – who had asked for, and received – months of preparation. He was surrounded by fresh graves, men were still dying from their wounds in the hospitals around Washington, the townspeople of Gettysburg had only recently been relieved of the lingering stench of decomposition that had hung over them since July. . . and in roughly two minutes Lincoln made sense of it all. For then and now.

The words were and are what count. I memorized them when I was thirteen, there was a school wide competition, the finalists addressed an open soccer field, a group of teacher/judges stood alone at midfield.  A girl won, she had nailed the emotion while the boys yelled out the words.

As Ken Burns shows in his new documentary, the words are tough to memorize, but they stay with you and take on greater and greater meaning as one ages, experiences, empathizes.   They do not lend themselves to trivia.

 

 

Lincoln

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln came out yesterday in a few select cities that somehow did not include any in Connecticut – so a week to see it, hard to take after the fantastic reviews from the New York Times, Peter Travers, et al. In the meantime, I thought I’d take this opportunity to post a chapter from the second Hanlin book, a scene from November, 1861, it takes place in Washington . . . It is William’s one and only interaction with the President and comes a few weeks after William was forced to preside over the court martial of a New Hampshire private. The court martial is real, as is Lincoln’s actions and McClellan’s non-action.

I arrived at Mac’s house on H Street twenty minutes early, as behooved a Lieutenant Colonel summoned to attend to a Major General. It was a home appropriate for the Commander-in-Chief of the Nation’s Armies, brick, well appointed without being opulent. The Chases’ in miniature, with restraint – hardly a bad thing.

I was greeted at the door by a house servant, a welcome relief from self-important, self-appointed keepers of the Keeper of the Keys. I was escorted without comment to a comfortable reading room, lamps on low, a fireplace bright and crackling. I could easily have been home in Hartford. I envied, for the first time, Mac his position.

I snatched the latest Harper’s off a side table, Mac’s likeness, inevitably, on the cover. The Grand Review was covered as breathlessly as they would have the Second Coming. The illustrations, quickly done to meet deadline, were intricate, stirring, handsomely drawn and not the least bit accurate.

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