Tag Archives: U.S. History

On Princeton Battlefield

Here are some pictures from the Princeton Batttlefield. While not a large battle, it was a pivotal one of the Revolutionary War. It was the first time the Americans beat the Bristish in a full on, face-to-face battle. This and the battle of Trenton is said to have convinced the Americans that they could actually win, even though they were both small battles.

Washington looms large in the battle. The troops were already engaged, yet faltering when Washington arrived and he gallantly rallied the troops and renewed the attack leading them to within 30 yards of the British. This was the moment that sculptor Clark Mills captured in his statue of George Washington and his horse in Washington, D.C., dedicated in 1860.
The arch in the pictures above leads to the marker indicating that soldiers who fought the battle are buried nearby. The arch was originally part of a house in Philadelphia, built by the same architect who built the U.S. Capitol building. The arch was moved to Princeton and was part of a mansion on the east side of the battlefield. When that burned down in the 1950’s the arch was moved to this spot.

 Above is the Stony Brook Meetinghouse, built in 1724. It is just on the edge of the battlefield. During the war it was used as an infirmary for both sides.

Finally, this is the Thomas Clarke house, built by Thomas in 1772. It was used as a hospital during and after the battle. General Hugh Mercer died here.

It’s a War. People Die.

In the midst of every small town in the north, in a prominent spot, is a Civil War monument. Here is the one in Montrose, PA, where I attended a conference last week. A soldier stands atop a plinth, the base of which is surrounded by what look like tombstones, but are lists of the men who died in the “War of 1861-1865”, as the memorial calls it. The list is divided by county and also indicates how many men enlisted from each. This memorial was erected in 1876, when the absence of those men was still felt. They were brothers, sons, husbands, and fathers.  Montrose sent about 165 men to war, of which about 25-30 have their names on this list of the dead. Not listed, though, are the walking wounded, those who lived, but carried the marks, the injuries, the missing limbs, the lead mini balls in their bodies, who bore the sufferings of the nation in their person.

Holes were left in every town. Spaces left vacant by the deaths of men of the town. Future leaders, workers. Fellow citizens. Holes that were not filled til the whole generation joined them in death. Undoubtedly, Montrose, and every small town would have been better off with those men alive, filling those empty places. It would have been better if they had not gone to war…

But…they fought for a cause. “The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved” says the monument. Had Montrose, and every other Northern town, not sent their young men off to war, the Union would have dissolved. And slavery, which this town opposed, being a stop on the Underground Railroad, would have continued. But they did go to war. And the Union was preserved. And slavery was ended. Their sacrifice helped to exorcise the demons of this national subjugation of a race of men. How could they have not taken part in the war. Yet in war people die, even when you win.

And so it is in the church. We too are in a war. We too fight an enemy. It is a real war, even though the victory has been accomplished. And people die. People get injured. Some of the soldiers are debilitated, sometimes less, sometimes more, even when you are the victors. Are we to avoid the fight because there is danger, because some will be hurt, maybe even die? Is our safety and comfort more important than the battle that is being waged? Will we refuse to take our place on the line, and allow the forces of evil to gain a respite? No. For Jesus is Lord. And his Kingdom is come and coming. And God desires all to be saved. And he will do that through us, pushing forward his kingdom, declaring his glories.

It is a real war we are engaged in, with a real enemy. People will be hurt, be debilitated, be killed. But the Kingdom will continue. And the Kingdom is worth it.


Last month Christan Century’s Then & Now blog had an interesting post on the effect Reagan’s victory and Carter’s defeat in the 1980 election had on the resurgence of the “Religous Right” and the decline of “Progressive Evangelicalism.”

The 1980 presidential election represented a turning point in U.S. political history. The Reagan landslide heralded not only the Republican capture of the White House and a Republican Senate, but Carter’s defeat also signaled the eclipse of progressive evangelicalism in favor of a political agenda virtually indistinguishable from the Republican Party itself. 

This has had, of course, a pretty profound effect on Evangelicalism from that point on, with significant political and cultural effects as well.

I remember Carter (I was 7 when he was elected), but never heard of this other dimension of what was at stake in 1980.

Here is the link:   Jimmy Carter and the demise of progressive evangelicalism

Lincoln vs. Everett: A Public Speaking Smackdown


English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States. Latviešu: Abrahams Linkolns, sešpadsmitais ASV prezidents. Српски / Srpski: Абрахам Линколн, шеснаести председник Сједињених Америчких Држава. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


On this 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, we preachers and speakers are reminded of an important lesson.  Its what you say, not how long you speak.

Lincoln’s famed address, easily the most famous speech in American History, takes less than 2 minutes to speak.  Edward Everett, a local preacher well-respected for his oratory, spoke for two hours before Lincoln, and did so with great impressiveness.  But no one remembers he spoke, let alone what he said.  It was Lincoln’s day to shine!  Everett himself was impressed with Lincoln’s speech, saying, “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

Let preachers take note, we who often feel the need to fill a certain space of time when we preach.  Speak the message, and be done.  Thus did Father Abraham.

And here is the speech, short enough for a brief blog post, in case you haven’t read it yet today:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Drawing from the Bottom of the Barrel: 3 Things a Failed President Taught Me

In my previous post I wrote about Andrew Johnson, the man who became President after Lincoln was assassinated. Here I share what I learned from a reading of his life in Hans Trefousse’s biography of Johnson.

English: President of the United States of Ame...

English: President of the United States of America Andrew Johnson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Convictions can blind us. Generally, one’s strengths are also one’s weaknesses. Johnson’s stalwart, devil-may-care clinging to his beliefs, led him to act unilaterally in restoring the country as he thought should be done. Being sympathetic with the South, and not a supporter of the ex-slaves, he set a very low bar for re-admission to the Union. Actually he believed that the southern states never truly seceded at all since in his reading of the Constitution a state could not legally remove itself from the Union. So as long as they ratified the 13th Amendment and made a vague promise of loyalty, they could come back. Congress generally thought otherwise, and fought against the President. It was a confusing time, and I don’t claim to understand it, although I am looking forward to learning more as I read Grant’s biography. But it is clear to me that it was wrong for Johnson to claim sole authority to bring about restoration, ignoring the many opinions and ideas being circulated. He was certain he was right, and refused to consider the ideas of others. And the country suffered for it.

2)  How do we use the power we have? We all have beliefs and convictions. When do we stand by them “to the death,” and when do we compromise and strive to work with those who have other convictions or beliefs? As a pastor, I certainly have my non-negotiables, and many of these I share with the leadership of the church I serve. But beyond those, my responsibility is to lead with, not over, the lay leaders. I may have strong opinions about what we should do in a certain area, but so do my leaders. It is not for me to simply enforce what I want, even if I can. My calling is to work together with the leadership to find solutions and to make decisions. And the more crucial the decision, the more important that is. The future of our church, not unlike the future of the country, is not solely up to me to decide. Nor was it Johnson’s. And when you act as though it is your decision, you may find yourself impeached, just like Johnson.

Use the power you have, but don’t exceed it, not just for your own good, but for the good of the church too. Johnson, because of his bullheadedness, squandered the opportunity the country had to do Reconstruction right. Instead, the course was set for a future of continued racism, white supremacy, and Jim Crow.

The Senate as a Court of Impeachment for the T...

The Senate as a Court of Impeachment for the Trial of Andrew Johnson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3)  Integrity under fire, even when you deserve to burn. Andrew Johnson deserved to be humbled for his arrogance and his over-stepping, but he was acquitted of the charges brought against him in his impeachment. There was no evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors”. And everyone really knew that. But, drawing on that inner well of conviction, Johnson weathered the storm with integrity. He continued to do his job, did not strike back at his enemies, and kept the course he had always followed. After his generally failed presidency, he even had the wherewithal to get elected to the Senate again. That impresses me. Is that well of conviction in me strong enough to see me through adversity, deserved or undeserved, and keep me working for what I believe in?

I don’t want to do what Andrew Johnson did, and I don’t think I will.  But my certainty of that may be simply because I know I don’t have the strength of conviction that he had. Does that make me stronger? Or weaker?

Drawing From the Bottom of the Barrel: Lessons on Success from a Failed President

Andrew Johnson, Hans TrefousseSome years ago I embarked on the odyssey of reading a biography of every U.S. president. After watching a program on the American Revolution I was intrigued by the story of Benedict Arnold and got a book out of the library on his life. That led me to read a biography of George Washington. And I was hooked. Reading biographies teaches me much about history, but also about living and working in the world. I just finished Andrew Johnson, by Hans L. Trefousse, a well-written and readable biography of one of lowest ranked presidents. Andrew Johnson is famous for being the Vice President left with the daunting task of picking up the pieces after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and for being the first U.S. President to be impeached. While no one could have effectively followed Lincoln, one of our greatest presidents, Johnson did a really poor job of it. He deserves his low rank among our presidents because he squandered the opportunity to integrate ex-slaves into the nation. Instead he entrenched the racism that would yield the Jim Crow south that would reign until the Civil Rights era. Still, I learned a lot from reading about his life, and I do think of him more highly than some of the other presidents whose biographies I have read. I actually found much to admire about Johnson. One of the oddities of presidential history is that some great men have been mediocre, or even bad, presidents. It all depends on what they face, and how they face it. Johnson was a natural leader and an effective politician. He rose from poverty, not exactly to riches, but certainly to prominence, being first a renown tailor in Greeneville, Tennessee. He quickly moved into local political leadership and then served 10 years in Congress. He was elected Governor and then Senator. Through it all he consistently pursued economic responsibility and championed the cause of the farmer and tradesman, his people. Even at the federal level he stuck to that program even when he had much to gain by “compromising”. This won him the support of the people, something he always believed he retained, but also made enemies of many of his fellow Congressmen and Senators. Johnson became Lincoln’s second Vice-President because of his stalwart support of the Union even as the south seceded and the war began. He refused to go along with the South not because he was against slavery, for he was not, but because he believed the challenges the country faced could be solved by working within the Constitution. He was willing to defy most of his own state, at great personal danger, in this belief. Lincoln noticed and first installed him as Military Governor of Tennessee, and then made him his running mate for his second term. Not long after the election, and the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, Lincoln was assassinated and Johnson became President.

A political cartoon of Andrew Johnson and Abra...

A political cartoon of Andrew Johnson and Abraham Lincoln, 1865. The caption reads (Johnson to the former rail-splitter): Take it quietly Uncle Abe and I will draw it closer than ever!! (Lincoln to the former tailor): A few more stitches Andy and the good old Union will be mended! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have never really thought much about the challenges the country faced after the Civil War ended. What do you do after half the country has rebelled and then lost? How do you rebuild? What do you do with the rebel leaders? These are the difficult questions of Reconstruction. One of the great “what-if’s” of history is what if Lincoln had not been killed? What would he have done to rebuild the nation? No one really knows. But Johnson believed he knew. And he did it no matter what anyone else, even Congress thought. Next time we’ll look at the lessons I learned from Johnson, from this bottom-of-the-barrel President.