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Lynne Cheney is a very gifted writer. She is, of course, the “2nd Lady” (wife of Vice-President Dick Cheney). But she is also a distinguished scholar with impressive credentials, including a Ph.D. in British Literature. She served as the Chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 to 1993 and is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Over the past six years she has published a series of very good children’s books on topics in American history.
When Washington Crossed the Delaware is subtitled “A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots.” With a clear, direct narrative, Ms. Cheney sets the scene of the beleaguered American army which had been driven from New York and forced to retreat through New Jersey into Pennsylvania. She talks about how desperately the Americans needed a victory – in order to give everyone some hope that they could eventually defeat the British. She mentions Tom Paine, who marched with the American army as they retreated through New Jersey and includes the famous line he composed on the march, “These are the times that try men’s souls. . .”
The paintings that accompany Ms. Cheney’s text are wonderful. The illustrator was able to visit the site of the crossing, consult with local historians and witness a winter re-enactment of the crossing. The attention to detail shows. You can feel the cold. Your eye is involuntarily drawn to the figure of Washington, warming himself by a fire on the New Jersey shore of the river.
After the army is assembled, you can see Washington’s impatience and determination as they set out towards the Hessians soldiers who have occupied Trenton. He had hoped to attack before sunup, but now would be attacking shortly after dawn. The narrative mentions that both 19-year-old Captain Alexander Hamilton, and 18-year-old Lieutenant James Monroe took part in the crossing and the attack on Trenton. Monroe was badly wounded leading a charge against the Hessians, when they managed to get two of their cannon into operation. Hamilton went on to be a signer of the US Constitution and served as Secretary of the Treasury under President Washington. Monroe would be elected our fifth President in 1808.
Following the surrender of the Hessians at Trenton, Washington continued his offensive by launching an attack on the British regulars a few miles northeast of Trenton at Princeton. In that battle, Washington personally rallied his troops and led them to within thirty yards of the British lines. It is miraculous that he survived the volleys of musket fire, but when the British line broke, he joined in the pursuit.
The twin victories at Trenton and Princeton lifted the spirits of the Continental Army and patriots throughout the colonies. For the first time, the American army had defeated British regulars (and German mercenaries) on the field of battle. There would be many more battles and several years of trials, but the character and commitment of General Washington were brilliantly displayed.
Perhaps the best part of this book is that although it is pitched towards elementary students, the story will appeal just as much to older students. First graders will be captivated by the full-page color illustrations and enjoy having the text read to them. Third/Fourth graders will probably be able to read it for themselves. Each two-page spread includes a quotation from an eyewitness/participant in the battle.
- Rob Shearer, Publisher
PS: You have to love the picture of Lynn Cheney with a group of students on the back cover!
PPS: I’ll have a complete review of We the People in another newsletter.
These seven biographies have one thing in common. Nope, they’re not all Presidents (see Benjamin Franklin). They were all written and illustrated by the incomparable Cheryl Harness. There is a different unity of purpose achieved when the illustrator is also the author of the text in a book. Harness is a master of both crafts. She tells a very good story – clear and straightforward, with an instinct that helps her to select the anecdotes and incidents that are intrinsically interesting and character-revealing about her main subject.
In George Washington, Harness shows Washington as a frontier surveyor, Virginia planter, commander of the militia, and quiet delegate to the colonial legislature. She shows the moment at which the Continental Congress selected him to command the Continental army, with the famous founding fathers looking on as a he addresses them, reading from his notes. She shows him crossing the Delaware, seated, cold and grim-faced as he is rowed across to New Jersey, gambling his small army in a surprise attack. Then she shows him in September of 1783, at the end of seven years of war, saying goodbye to his officers at Queen’s Head Tavern in New York after the last British warship had sailed away with the last of the British troops. Four years later, he reluctantly leaves Mt. Vernon and heads for Philadelphia to preside over the Constitutional Convention. It took another ten years, until the spring of 1797 before he could return to live at Mt. Vernon year-round. The last picture Harness gives us is of Washington, aged 68, in December of 1799 out riding through the fields of Mt. Vernon, making his rounds. The chill resulted in a cold which worsened and led to his death on December 14, 1799. This is an excellent biography. Text is written at a 5th-7th grade level and those are the ages who will enjoy the detailed pictures and notes the most, though older readers could learn much from the text as well.
You can tell that Harness feels a certain affection for John Adams by reading her introduction:
“In the nation’s capital, the sun glitters on stone monuments to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. John Adams was every bit as brave as the former and as brilliant as the latter but there is – at this writing – no such monument for him. Perhaps this is fitting, because stone is cold, and he was anything but. The United States is a proper, living monument to intense, cranky, warm, heart-on-his-sleeve John Adams – America’s champion.”
Her drawings are, as usual, wonderful. There is a full-page portrait of Adams (is he smiling or smirking?). There are pictures of his families house in Braintree and of Adams as a boy skipping school and hiking to a hill overlooking Boston harbor. The developments in Massachusetts that brought Adams to the forefront are retold in a simple summary. In a delightful format (made possible my Adams’ lifelong, affectionate correspondence with his wife, Abigail) each page has at the bottom a line from a letter – usually one from Abigail on one page and one from John on the other. There are several wonderful pictures depicting Adams diplomatic mission to France during the Revolutionary war (where he served alongside Franklin – and was accompanied by his young son, John Quincy). The political triumph of Adams’ life was his service for eight years as George Washington’s trusted vice president (Thomas Jefferson was secretary of state). When Washington’s term ended, Adams was elected as the second President of the United States (with Jefferson as HIS vice president). The political tragedy which followed was his estrangement from Jefferson leading to their fiercely fought election contest of 1800, in which Adams was defeated for a second term and Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States. Harness concludes with several pages depicting the Adams living in retirement back in Massachusetts, in a house they named Peacefield. Twelve years after their bitter election contest, Adams wrote a letter to Jefferson and began a fourteen year correspondence in which the two old friends and then rivals became friends again. Adams lived long enough to see his son John Quincy elected President in November of 1824, though he was unable to attend the inauguration in March of 1825. On July 4th, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – Adams died quietly at his home in Massachusetts.
Thomas Jefferson, in Harness’s tale is a tall, gangly, red-haired, brilliant Virginia planter, with piercing eyes transfix your attention in the portrait Harness has produced. She dwells a bit on the contradictions of the author of the Declaration having owned slaves – and repeats the historical gossip that Jefferson was the father of his slave Sally Hemings six children. It’s possible that he was – but I don’t think the matter is (or probably can be) settled conclusively. Harness does an excellent job depicting Jefferson’s child- and boyhood in colonial Virginia and the excitement he felt as a student in Williamsburg. The death of Jefferson’s wife in 1782, towards the end of the revolutionary war (and of three of his young children as well) had a profound effect on him – captured and poignantly portrayed by Harness. Jefferson departed in 1784 for Paris with one of his two surviving daughters (eight year old Polly) and a 14-year-old slave, Sally Hemings. After the ratification of the Constitution, Jefferson stayed on in Paris until 1789. Just as the French Revolution was breaking out, he returned home to serve as George Washington’s Secretary of State. He resigned at the end of Washington’s first term. In the election of 1796, he finished second to john Adams, and thus became Vice President. He and Adams differed sharply on many things, mostly and more and more about France. Adams (and his supporters in New England) were angry with the French and appalled by the excesses of the Revolution there. The expected war with France. Jefferson and his supporters felt that the United States should continue it’s alliance with France, in spite of the Revolution (even with its excesses) He expected war with England. The presidential election of 1800 saw Adams vilified as an “insane monarchist,” and Jefferson denounced as “an atheist and a revolutionary.” Jefferson was the first president to be inaugurated in Washington DC. For eighteen years he had been a widower, and his housekeeping at the executive mansion was “eccentric.” His scientific bent and natural curiosity led him to champion the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the dispatch of a “Corps of Discovery” under Lewis and Clark to explore the vast wilderness. After the conclusion of his second term in 1809, Jefferson returned to Monticello where he continued to collect books and scientific instruments. The last few years of his life he spent much time on the establishment of the University of Virginia – and in the renewed correspondence with his old friend and rival, John Adams. He and Adams both died on July 4th 1826.
Ben Franklin is a rich subject for Harness’ palatte, from his days as a printer and continental postmaster to the Continental Congress, the Court of Louis XV in France, and the Constitutional Convention. Franklin’s warm, wry visage is evident everywhere. The text and the images communicate strongly his role as the kindly grandfather of his country.
Abe Lincoln’s life has so many colorful anecdotes that it merits two books from Cheryl Harness. The first (Young Abe Lincoln: The Frontier Days, 1809-1837) covers his childhood and life until 1837 – in the wilderness of Kentucky and Illinois, on a flatboat on the Ohio and the Mississippi, keeping store, electioneering and finally moving to Springfield to begin his law practice in 1837.
The second volume on Lincoln (Abe Lincoln goes to Washington 1837-1865) begins with his life in Springfield, one term as a US Congressman, and his eventual election in 1860 as President of the United States. It is a remarkable story with a number of vivid and striking scenes: Lincoln dancing with Mary Todd at a formal ball in 1839, Lincoln debating Douglas in 1858, Lincoln traveling by train to Washington in March of 1861 (under threat of attack by secessionists); Lincoln and his wife at the bedside of their son Willie, who died in February 1862 at the age of 12; Lincoln as he looked the day of the Gettysburg address; and finally Lincoln’s funeral train on its journey back to Illinois.
Finally, Harness has chosen a delightful subject (dee-LIGHT-ful!) in Young Teddy Roosevelt. She does an excellent job of depicting and describing his remarkable childhood and the personal handicaps (especially his struggle with asthma) that he had to overcome – as well as the personal tragedies that he faced – especially the death of his wife and mother just a few days after the birth of his first child. Teddy’s remarkable political career (New York State assemblyman, New York City Police Commissioner, United States Civil Service Commission, under-secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York) is covered as well as his exploits out west on his cattle ranch and his service with the rough riders in the Spanish American war. The book ends with his inauguration as president in the fall 1901 following the death of President McKinley. One hopes that Harness will follow this volume up with one on Teddy’s equally remarkable career as president from 1901-1909.
Any or all of the nine Harness biographies can be ordered directly from Greenleaf Press:
George Washington, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
The Revolutionary John Adams, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
Thomas Jefferson, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin, by Cheryl Harness – $17.95 (HB)
Young Abe Lincoln, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
Abe Lincoln Goes to Washington, by Cheryl Harness – $7.95
Young Teddy Roosevelt, by Cheryl Harness – $18.00 (HB)
Today’s Lebanon Democrat carries a story claiming that Tennesseans should “thank a sixteenth century pope” for an extra day’s grace on property taxes this year.
Last-minute Tennessee taxpayers will get a little bit of help this year from an unlikely source – a 16th-century pope.
Property taxes usually come due on Feb. 28, but with 2008 being a leap year, that deadline is pushed back a day to Feb. 29, the day added to the calendar every four years, as the result of a 1582 decree by Pope Gregory XIII, when he instituted the calendar that bears his name.
While its nice to see a daily newspaper acknowledging that everything isn’t MTV, Youtube, and current events, it would be even nicer if they’d spend 10 minutes using the internet to do some elementary fact-checking. Pope Gregory XIII is not responsible for giving us the practice of adding a leap day in leap years. The author of that innovation was Julius Caesar.
The Julian calendar was a significant reform instituted by the Julius Caesar in 46 BC. Julius had spent a year in Egypt and hadn’t wasted ALL his time with Cleopatra. The Egyptian astronomers demonstrated to him, convincingly, that the calendar year was actually 365.25 days long. It was Julius’ idea to regularize this observation into a calendar that was 365 days long and added one day every four years.
Julius got it almost right. The calendar year is almost 365.25 days long. Its actually 365.2425 days long. That slight difference accumulated over time under the Julian calendar, and by 1582, the dates of the equinoxes and solstices had shifted by 10 days. This was especially troubling to the church when it came time each year to calculate the date for Easter. So Pope Gregory instituted a calendar reform in 1582 that dropped 3 leap days every 400 years. Under the Gregorian Calendar, century years are NOT leap years unless they are divisible by 400. And to correct the drift of the calendar in the 1600 years from Julius Caesar to Pope Gregory XIII, the Church decreed that in 1582, October 4th would be followed by October 15th.
Protestant countries thought this was a popish plot and refused to go along – for about 170 years. Britain and the British Empire finally adopted calendar reform by an act of Parliament in 1750. Parliament gave everyone two years to prepare for the adjustment. By the New Style Act of 1750, Wednesday September 2, 1752 was followed by Thursday, September 14, 1752. George Washington (and many others) adjusted the date on which they celebrated their birthdays, in order to accurately reflect when they really were celebrating the anniversary of their birth. Washington was born on February 11th, 1732. When the calendar was adjusted in 1752, he adjusted his birthday 11 days as well and ever after celebrated it on February 22.
Russia, being neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, wanted nothing to do with such shenanigans. The Czars were never persuaded. It took the Russian Revolution and a communist dictatorship to reform the calendar in Russia. Wednesday January 31, 1918 was followed by Thursday, February 14, 1918.
Historians of the 17th century & 18th centuries, when trying to synchronize dates and correspondence between various catholic and protestant countries have been known to go mad.
Irresistible footnote: The “October Revolution” in Russia occurred on October 25, 1917 – in Russia. It was actually November 5, 1917 everywhere else in Europe.
But don’t thank the Pope for an extra day before your taxes are due this year. Thank Julius Caesar.
We have a new product to offer to students of American History. As part of my own fascination with politics, I did quite a bit of background research for the 2006 elections. It’s the silly season once again, and I’ve updated the chart. Lot’s of folks locally have seen me referring to it as I have talked or done political commentary, so I’ve decided to make it available to a wider audience. This is an information rich chart. On three landscape pages, it shows the composition of both houses of Congress by party and all 43 Presidents of the US, with official photographs, terms of office, and vice presidents. The information is laid out chronologically and will print on three sheets of paper.
The chart can be read in a number of interesting ways. The left hand column shows the total number of members of the House of Representatives. Watching that number grow from 65 in 1789 to 435 now is a great way to get a feel for the expansion of the US. At the same time, the count of Senators grows from 26 to 100.
The two columns showing party totals always have the majority party’s number highlighted in red. Watching the red numbers flip from one column to the other let’s you read at a glance when political parties have suffered a reversal of fortune and lost (or gained) control of the House or the Senate.
The right hand columns depict the terms of the presidents. The brilliance of the American Republic’s achievement in providing for the orderly, peaceful transfer of power from one President to another every four or eight years is much more vivid when laid next to the simultaneous congressional history. You can also see which Presidents enjoyed the backing of Congress and which were at odds with it.
What you are buying is a 3-page eBook (PDF). Printing is allowed for personal use (not for sale or distribution). A color printer is recommended. The cost is $8.00 and the product can be purchased and downloaded from Greenleaf.
Professors and practitioners of history will tell you that the only way to really understand historical events or historical figures is to read original sources. If you want to know about Luther or Lincoln, your best course of action is to read what they wrote – unfiltered if possible, in the original editions if you can, and in their own handwriting best of all.
Part of my lifelong fascination with Martin Luther came from the marvelous year I spent poking around in the archives of the State of Hesse in Germany, where many of Luther’s letters are preserved. Holding in my hands a stack of letters written by Luther made the Reformation real in a way that nothing else ever could.
Two unique books appeared this year which skillfully incorporate the benefits of tangible, original documents. The first is Lincoln: The Presidential Archives. The second is David McCullough’s 1776: The Illustrated Edition.
The new Lincoln book is the one that came to my attention first. It was published in September of this year. Chuck Wills is an accomplished author and he does an excellent job outlining Lincoln’s life and political career in nine chapters. The text is interspersed with hundreds of photographs and shots of newspaper headlines and front pages. But what really sets this book apart is the inclusion of facsimile reproductions of original documents. About a dozen are included, each on a tinted separate heavy-stock sheet slipped into a translucent pocket at the appropriate place in the books narrative. With the chapter discussing Lincoln’s boyhood and education, there is a reproduction of a page from his “sum book.” In the chapter on his marriage and young family, there is a reproduction of his marriage license to Mary Todd. In each case, holding an original document (even it is only a well-crafted facsimile) makes the historical account richer, nearer, more tangible and provokes a more visceral, emotional response. It makes Lincoln much more real, much less abstract. The text is written on an adult level (though certainly not too advanced for high school students), and many students will need some help in absorbing and understanding the historical documents, but I can’t think of a better way to introduce students to the raw materials of history and historical research. For anyone with a historical sense of who Lincoln was (and the text and photographs will give it to you), seeing a flyer for a play at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865 and then seeing the “wanted” poster issued in the manhunt for Lincoln’s assassins produces a profound effect. For anyone with an interest in Lincoln, I highly recommend this book – especially if your students have an interest in understanding how historians conduct their research. Note: 2008 will be the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. I know its a cliche to study Lincoln around President’s Day, but 2008 will be a special year. Here’s a list of the historical, facsimile documents included in the book:
- a leaf from Lincoln’s string-bound childhood sum book
- Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln’s marriage license, 1842
- Patent application submitted by Lincoln in 1849
- 1860 campaign banner for the Republican ticket
- First letter carried over the plains by the Pony Express with the news “Lincoln elected,” November 8, 1860.
- Letter from Mary Todd to Abraham sent during her tour of New England in the fall of 1862
- Lincoln’s original handwritten copy of the Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863
- Telegram from New York City to Lincoln with news of the Draft Riot, July 13, 1863
- Telegram from Sherman to Lincoln presenting him with Savannah as a “Christmas gift,” December 25, 1864
- Telegram from Lincoln to Grant encouraging him, February 1, 1865
- Poster advertising “Our American Cousin” to be performed at Ford’s Theater April 14, 1865
- Broadside offering rewards for the capture of Lincoln’s assassins
Click on the books title, Lincoln: The Presidential Archives, here or in the text above to order directly from Greenleaf Press. The price is $40.
The second book of this type is 1776: The Illustrated Edition by David McCullough, just released from the publisher this October. I LOVED this book when it first came out. The narrative focuses on a single year and takes us month by month, week by week, often day by day through the events of the remarkable year. McCullough has won two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award. He’s a brilliant writer and historian. His historical books read almost like novels and are perfect examples of the importance of the maxim, “above all, tell a good story.” With a new introduction by David McCullough, 1776: The Illustrated Edition brings 140 powerful images and 37 removable replicas of source documents to this remarkable drama.
In 1776, David McCullough told the story of the greatest defeats, providential fortune, and courageous triumphs of George Washington and his bedraggled army. In 1776: The Illustrated Edition, the efforts of the Continental Army are made even more personal, as an excerpted version of the original book is paired with letters, maps, and seminal artwork. More than three dozen source documents — including a personal letter George Washington penned to Martha about his commission, a note informing the mother of a Continental soldier that her son has been taken prisoner, and a petition signed by Loyalists pledging their allegiance to the King — are re-created in uniquely designed envelopes throughout the book and secured with the congressional seal.
Both a distinctive art book and a collectible archive, 1776: The Illustrated Edition combines a treasury of eighteenth-century paintings, sketches, documents, and maps with storytelling by our nation’s preeminent historian. Like the Lincoln book, the inclusion of facsimile originals makes everything much more real. For your students, the original sources are a way to help them understand the rich reality of the past. For any history buffs among your family and friends, this would make an excellent gift. The hardcover, slipcased edition with source documents is $65, but worth every penny. Click the title anywhere in the review to order direct from Greenleaf.
With pencil sketches and watercolor washes, Dan Brown does an excellent job of capturing the life and times of Dolley Madison – beginning when her husband was Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson and continuing through his own Presidency.
The particular incident related here is historically accurate and significant. When the British marched on Washington DC in 1814, Dolley had to flee and the British burned both the capitol and the President’s residence. The charred sandstone walls of the house survived, and when the interior was rebuilt, Dolley had the exterior white-washed to cover up the smoke and soot stains on the stones. Hence, the “White” house.
We should all be grateful to Dolley as well for saving George Washington. In the President’s residence (remember, it wasn’t the White House yet), was a life-size portrait of George Washington which had been painted by Gilbert Stuart (see picture at left). Although the soldiers guarding the President’s residence had fled, Dolley refused to leave until the portrait was taken down and removed from the residence to a place of safety. Thanks to Dolley, the painting survived.
What an amazing idea! Give students the opportunity to read the words of historical figures themselves! These are wonderful resources. Along with each figure’s own words are photographs, prints, paintings, and artifacts to bring each period to life.
This is a wonderful way to bypass the filters of modern historians and textbooks and find out what these guys said themselves!
The selections are arranged chronologically (what a wonderful idea!). For example, after a chapter on Adams youth and early career, there are some fascinating selections from Adams’ participation in the Continental Congress of 1775 and 1776. NB: It was Adams who nominated George Washington for commander-in-chief of the continental army.
After this come letters from the period of Adams’ service in Europe as a diplomat, Ambassador to Great Britain, the first Vice President and then the Second President.
I highly recommend these books, and am hoping they will continue to bring out additional volumes. Hardback, 144 pages. Reading level is junior high and up.
Publisher, Greenleaf Press
Director, Schaeffer Study Center