Thomas Paine…Still Common Sense in 2014

Good evening everyone,

One of the remarkable things about my current job is that I have easier access to 18th century life than most folks. I can walk into the print shop right off Duke of Gloucester Street and purchase print materials that were in circulation in the Revolutionary period, including copies of the Virginia Gazette, period artwork, and of course, pamphlets on political philosophy. In January of 1776, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was first printed in the colonies. It quickly became and still remains one of the most influential and controversial political works ever printed. Thomas Paine was one of the most famous Enlightenment-era political philosophers, and his works added a British voice to the growing Patriot movement as the Revolution got underway. Obviously his works continue to be the source of debate and continue to shape the modern political climate…a true testament to the perceptive nature of his writing. Paine tapped into problems that continue to plague our country, and individuals on both the left and right routinely cite his works to justify their positions in the 21st century. 

Of course, I can not in good conscience write as an authority on Thomas Paine or an authority on Common Sense, but I challenge anyone to read Common Sense and not find political parallels between 1776 and 2014. It is part of my job after all to expose guests to the fact that the Founding Fathers were dealing with issues that have not gone away. The characters may have changed, but the story is the same. Paine sat at the center of political philosophy in an era of radical ideas and put forth a truly inspiring document that I believe will always remain a topic of political discussion.

Common Sense can be separated into four parts dealing with the design of government and the English Constitution, monarchy and hereditary succession, the present state of American affairs, and America’s present ability/potential. Even in his introduction, he writes out a wonderful piece of modern political strategy…

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”

If you say something loud enough for long enough, people will begin to believe you…

In his first section, Paine lays out a model for the rise of government that would be often repeated by the likes of James Madison…

“But as nothing but Heaven is impregnable to vice, it will unavoidably happen that in proportion as they surmount the first difficulties of emigration, which bound them together in a common cause, they will begin to relax in their duty and attachment to each other: and this remissness will point out the necessity of establishing some form of government to supply the defect of moral virtue…Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.”(3-5)

Since men are not angels and society can not sustain itself after it expands beyond a certain point, government at some level is a necessary evil.

Most of the middle portion of Common Sense deals with the fact that there is a king in Great Britain (George III), a fact that Paine does not find pleasing at all. After he refers to monarchy as the “Popery of Government,” he states that the current structure of the British government is confusing at best…

“The nearer any government approaches to a Republic the less business there is for a King. It is somewhat difficult to find a proper name for the government of England.” (28)

On the one hand you have the King and members of the House of Lords. All of those positions are filled in most cases by hereditary descent. On the other hand you have the House of Commons. Those positions are filled by elections. Is it a Republic? Is it a Monarchy? Is it a Constitutional Monarchy? Many people used many different names to describe the British government and the relationship between the King and the Parliament. After all, as Paine says…

“For the fate of Charles the first, hath only made Kings more subtle—not more just.” (11)

When he turns his attention the the present state of America, he makes some interesting statements and some bold predictions…some are spot on and some are unfortunately not…

“For this Continent would never suffer itself to be drained of inhabitants, to support the British arms in either Asia, Africa, or Europe.” (37)


“And by a plain method of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully.” (39)

Anyone check the debt clock recently???

“But the most powerful of all arguments is, that nothing but independence i.e. a continental form of government, can keep the peace of the continent and preserve it inviolate from civil wars.” (51)

Wrong, though we did only have the one Civil War, but it was pretty bad.

“Ship-building is America’s greatest pride, and in which, she will in time excel the whole world.” (65)


“The more men have to lose, the less willing are they to venture. The rich are in general slaves to fear, and submit to courtly power with the trembling duplicity of a Spaniel.” (71)

There’s a good one for the other 99% crowd.

People from Glenn Beck to Christopher Hitchens have made Paine a focus of their careers, and just in these few snippets from Common Sense you can see how both modern Democrats and Republicans can draw from that document to support their positions. Of course Paine did not have a crystal ball to gaze into the political climate in 2014, but issues like the budget, economic policy, foreign affairs, the military, and education were as relevant in 1776 as they are today. I truly believe that a study of 18th century politics would allow many to gain a different perspective on the nature of American politics today. Hopefully many individuals who come see me at Colonial Williamsburg will leave with an understanding of the similarities between Thomas Paine’s world in 1776 and their world in 2014.

Good night,


P.S. I must state that the above post represents my own personal opinion and does not in any way reflect the opinion of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation or its affiliates.

Review: Don Higginbotham – The War of American Independence

Good evening all,

As a military historian, I’ve always been fascinated with those points in history when diplomacy fails and humans descend into the nasty business of killing one another. Since I’ve been working with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, naturally the American Revolution is solidly in my mind each and every day. I have been literally inundated with new information since I began there, but there are a few books on the Revolution that someone with even a passing interest in the conflict should read at least once in their life. One of those books has got to be Don Higginbotham‘s The War of American Independence: Military Attitudes, Policies, and Practice, 1763-1789. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977. Higginbotham was one of the most influential military historians of his day, an expert on George Washington, and a champion of the “new” military history. The War of American Independence remains, in my opinion, one of the best overview histories of the war in existence. As the title implies, Higginbotham approaches the war from numerous angles, devoting chapters to the military origins of the war, the home front, economic implications, the Continental Congress, the French etc.

Of course, any general work on the Revolution focuses in part on Virginia’s impact in shaping colonial attitudes at that time, “It was a Virginian who served as first president of the Continental Congress, a Virginian who commanded the American army, a Virginian who introduced the Congressional resolution for independence, and a Virginian who wrote the Declaration of Independence.” (85) Williamsburg at that time was the capital of the colony and many of the men you read about in history books spent a good deal of time in the city during the Revolution. Virginia was the largest, wealthiest, most heavily populated colony of the thirteen, so naturally the Old Dominion had a great deal of influence over its sister colonies.

More importantly than that, however, Higginbotham expertly highlights the American Revolution as one of the foundational conflicts that began to define the “American Way of War.” He devotes extensive time to the internal problems between militia and regulars, the guerrilla war, the Continental Navy as a commerce raiding organization, and George Washington’s various command issues. In summarizing the difference between the British Army and the Continentals, he includes several anecdotes from British soldiers, “William Carter, a British participant, called the riflemens’ sniping “an unfair method of carrying on a war”; while another redcoat described the frontiersmen as “the most fatal widow-and-orphan makers in the world.” (103)

Another important aspect of this book is the focus on the war in the South. Growing up in school, the American Revolution went a little something like this…

Taxes – Declaration of Independence – War Was Bad for a While – Valley Forge – Yorktown – America

Of course this leaves out a wealth of information and is overly simplistic, but you get the point. The war in the South included the dark depths of military conflict in colonial America, including instances of brother fighting brother in what was truly the first large-scale civil war in American history. You have all the colorful characters on both sides, Lord Cornwallis, Banastre Tarleton, Francis Marion, Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, Andrew Pickens, and Thomas Sumter running around in an area where loyalties were sharply divided and battle lines were not always neatly drawn, “East of the Santee, where disaffection was rampant, Marion roamed at will; and, as Cornwallis told Clinton, “the indefatigable Sumpter is again in the field…beating up for Recruits with the greatest Assiduity.” (362-363) I believe the British influence in the colonies at that time helped foster an uneasiness for standing armies, which perhaps explains why desertion was an issue and why many men preferred to fight in irregular units for a short period of time closer to their farms and families. Whatever the reason, the war in the South from 1780-1781 is often neglected and even more often under-appreciated for its contributions to both the Revolution in particular and the American Way of War in general.

By virtue of what I do for a living, I cannot help but search for connections to the modern world in a book like this, and because the subject matter is so varied, there are similarities everywhere. In particular, Higginbotham routinely addresses a vital group of people in the American Revolution that not many people are happy with in 2013…Congress. I particularly enjoyed the final chapter, which dealt with the myriad problems surrounding the Constitutional debates. I was very pleased to find out that two Virginians refused to sign the Constitution because they believed it delegated too much power to the federal government, “(Elbridge) Gerry, along with (Edmund) Randolph and (George) Mason of Virginia, were the only members present who failed to sign the Constitution on September 17. But Gerry alone specifically gave “the general power of the Legislature…to raise armies and money without limit” as a reason for his not signing. I’m sure if Patrick Henry were there that day, he would have done the same.

So if you are someone looking to find out more about the American Revolution on a large-scale and you are trying to find a good overview history, then go out and buy this book immediately. I doubt any modern historian can effectively communicate the vast scope of the war in such readable language. Don Higginbotham was truly a master of his craft and a historian of the highest order. He will be sorely missed.

As an aside before I go, here is a little parting shot from Mr. Archibald Maclaine of North Carolina…”Will we be such fools as to send our greatest rascals to the general government? We must be both fools and villains to do so.” (461)

Good Night,


The Long and Winding Road…To The British Crown

In the Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg, there is the Grand Ballroom, a room that was added on to the palace in 1752 under Lieutenant-Governor Robert Dinwiddie. In the Grand Ballroom, there are four coronation portraits…

King George III of the House of Hanover

Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

King Charles II of the House of Stuart

Queen Catherine of Braganza

King George and Queen Charlotte are in the Grand Ballroom because they were the reigning king and queen during the American Revolution. King Charles and Queen Catherine are there because they were relatives of Lady Charlotte Stewart, the wife of the last Royal Governor of the British Colony of Virginia, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore. These four portraits together provide an interesting insight into the process of becoming king or queen of England. It is not always such an easy process. Between the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 and the rise of George III in 1761, three different royal houses from three different countries claimed the English throne. This is a brief exercise in British Monarchical History, one that intends to highlight the sometimes-confusing process of choosing a sovereign.

Let’s begin with Charles II…

After the English Civil War and the Interregnum, the House of Stuart regained the English throne in 1660 during the Restoration. The English Civil War was fought over many issues, parliamentary redress of grievances, parliamentary/royal power, property rights, and the hotly contested issue of religion. Catholic v. Protestant. I will establish a rule for those of you who do not have a particular interest in British history…In England, after the English Civil War, being Catholic is not a good thing, especially if you’re trying to become king. You’ll see what I mean…

Charles II rises to the throne in 1660. About a year into his reign, he marries Catherine of Braganza. Catherine is from Portugal. What’s the principal religion in Portugal??? You guessed it…Catholicism…Uh-Oh…

Needless to say, there is some opposition to all of this, but it doesn’t come to a head until a few years later. After Charles dies, the line of succession goes to his younger brother James, who becomes James II of England. When James became king, he was married to Mary of Modena, an Italian Catholic. Strike two. Oh, did I mention James had also converted to Catholicism??? Strike three.

Amidst growing tensions between Catholics and Protestants and a fear that James would rule as a Catholic absolute monarch and restore Catholicism as the premier religion in England, several Protestant nobles and members of Parliament looked for a solution.

One of James’ daughters, Mary, had married William of the House of Orange-Nassau in 1677. William was a Dutchman, and so he was very, very Protestant. Several Protestant nobles asked him if he would like to become King of England, and of course he did, so he came to England with an army and King James…fled in exile to France. 

So now we have William III and Mary II on the throne in England. William and Mary. After them, the crown went to Mary’s younger sister, Queen Anne. But after Anne passed away in 1714, the line of the House of Stuart had ended, since Anne’s only son had died in 1700. Due to the Act of Settlement in 1701, the line of succession went all the way over to the House of Hanover, who were Anne’s closest living PROTESTANT relatives. Over 50 Roman Catholics had a better claim to the throne than the person who followed Anne as monarch of England…George I of the House of Hanover.

Now, Hanover was (and still is) in Germany, and King George I, the King of England, spoke many languages, just not English. In fact, he spent more time in Hanover than in England during his reign…as King of England. His son, George II, was born in Hanover as well, but George III, George II’s grandson, was born in England, spoke English well, and since George III every king or queen to rule over the United Kingdom has been born on the British Isles. 

So that’s how we get from Charles II to George III. 100 years, several wars, three ruling houses, and a host of new laws, all in the fight to secure a Protestant line of succession on the English throne.

Are you confused yet???


Gettysburg and Counterfactual History

“It’s all now you see. Yesterday won’t be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago. For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago; or to anyone who ever sailed a skiff under a quilt sail, the moment in 1492 when somebody thought This is it: the absolute edge of no return, to turn back now and make home or sail irrevocably on and either find land or plunge over the world’s roaring rim.”               – William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust (1948)

With this passage, William Faulkner placed before his readers an issue that has survived in the Southern mind since the Battle of Gettysburg. It is a beautifully-written piece of counterfactual thinking, better known as the “What if…” view of history. Many armchair and barroom historians love to play this game, and the Civil War is often the topic at hand because it resonates so deeply with Americans even to this day. Faulkner placed his readers in that mindset, even for an instant, allowing them to envision a history in which the climatic moment in the Battle of Gettysburg still hung in the balance. All of the parameters are the same, but the outcome has not yet been decided. From that point, you can let your mind run wild and change the story to suit your agenda, which is what many people do when they’re afraid to accept history as it occurred…

What if Pickett’s Charge broke the Union line on Cemetery Ridge? How does that change the outcome of the battle/campaign/American Civil War?

Now, once you have established a counterfactual line of thinking, you can really take off…

What if Stonewall Jackson was still alive? What if J.E.B. Stuart beat George Armstrong Custer and attacked the Union position from the rear as designed? What if Robert E. Lee crushed Meade’s army right then and there, and proceeded toward Washington?

Faulkner has given you all of this, and of course it can be applied to any moment in history and it will serve its purpose. But that’s as far as it gets. As fun/interesting/amusing as it may be to play this game, the fact remains that Pickett’s Charge will never succeed, and the Confederacy will never win the Battle of Gettysburg or the Civil War for that matter. But that’s not why Faulkner did this. He did it because he understood that once the war was over, the South became part of the United States again. Brothers who fought against each other one day began living with each other the next. Southerners took stock of what the war had cost them, and what it would cost them in the future. Because the Civil War happened the way it did, and because we became one nation again, the memory of those events will haunt Americans’ minds until our history is over. 

Some people see counterfactual history as a means of making light of American history. A coping mechanism that helps us face the darker periods in our past. By pretending it happened another way, we can place hope in our future. Perhaps that’s why wars are often the backdrop for counterfactual discussions. It helps many Southerners cope with failure. It helps many Northerners understand the war from a different perspective. A perspective of the brother who lost rather than the brother who won. They’re still brothers, but one has the trophy and the other has the bloody nose. 

That’s why Faulkner wrote the way he did. He understood the Southern mind perhaps better than any novelist in the history of American Literature. Counterfactual history lets you go back so that you can eventually move forward. After you consider your history from every other conceivable angle, you must eventually realize that no matter how many times you try to change it, the reality of the event will always be there. After all, if you can change it, then it’s not history.


Bobby Jones, The South, and Golf

Good evening everyone,

Tonight, I’d like to venture back into the world of sports and write on two things that have had a profound influence on my life…the South and Golf. Being from Virginia, the South part was largely inescapable, and considering the family that I was born into, golf was equally inescapable, My great-grandfather, grandfather, father, and several uncles and cousins all play(ed) golf, and as I grew older I picked up the game as well. After my baseball days were done, I found it was much easier to play golf by yourself then look to form a pickup baseball game, so I dedicated more of my free time to becoming a better golfer.

During my graduate studies, I began to notice how sports and golf in particular shaped Southern culture and how golf was influenced by Southern culture. I see that trend continuing to this day. Keep in mind, up until this past April, a man named Bubba was the Masters Champion. ;)

Personally, I don’t see how you can bring up golf in the South and not mention Bobby Jones. He is arguably one of the greatest golfers to ever play (if you ask me, he IS the greatest), and unquestionably the greatest amateur golfer of all time. Perhaps the most special thing about Bobby Jones is that he never won a penny from playing golf. Not one red cent. That’s especially unique considering Tiger Woods was the first “Billion-Dollar Athlete” when you combine his tournament winnings and his endorsement deals. Of course, Bobby Jones never had to worry about making a living from golf. His family was rather well off, and while he was winning all of those golf tournaments as an amateur, he was getting a rather good education…

B.S. – Mechanical Engineering – Georgia Institute of Technology – 1922

A.B. – English Literature – Harvard College – 1924

Law School – Emory University – 1926 (Passed the Georgia State Bar Exam after 3 semesters)

So, in between his schooling, he was playing against (and beating) the top professional golfers in the world. Then, in 1930, he accomplished a feat that has never been duplicated; he won all four major golf championships in the same calendar year. (Back then, the four “majors” were the British Amateur, British Open, U.S. Open, and U.S. Amateur) Then, at the ripe old age of 28, he retired from competitive golf to practice law and raise a family. It was only after retiring that he began earning money from the sport as an instructor and equipment designer.

After he retired, Bobby Jones made a more lasting impact on the game then he did while he was a player. He helped design and produce the first matched set of golf clubs for the everyday player, he starred in several instructional videos that would often be shown before feature-length films, and he set fashion trends in the sport largely dictated by the warmer Southern climate. Aside from all of this, Bobby Jones’ greatest contribution to the sport was his role in designing the Augusta National Golf Club and in forming the Masters Tournament, which is still the most prestigious, most-watched golf event every year. Just like every child dreams of hitting the game-ending, walk-off, grand-slam home run to win the World Series, so every young golfer dreams of making the final putt to win The Masters. The course was Bobby Jones’ homage to St. Andrews, a salute to the place where the sport began. A place where they have played golf since people thought the world was flat. Bobby Jones took that mindset and laid it against the towering pines and blooming azalea bushes in Augusta, Georgia, on a piece of land that was once an exotic plant farm. The Masters is held every spring to symbolize the annual renewal of nature, and the tournament and its location serve as a lasting testament to Bobby Jones and what he meant to golf.

Now I know some of you who are reading this have never picked up a golf club in your life. You may never have known who Bobby Jones was or how he influenced the game. If that is the case, then perhaps you can consider how influential athletes have shaped different sports, sports in which you participate. As far as this writer is concerned, Bobby Jones brought Scotland to the South, and he helped to make golf an American sport. He did not take it from the place from whence it came, but he demonstrated a profound respect for the game and did his utmost to preserve its legacy in Augusta, Georgia and throughout the South. 

Take care,


The Transition Period

I deposited my first check today…

My first, full-blown, bona fide full-time work check. It was in interesting feeling, one that I certainly have never experienced before. You see, I have been in school the majority of every year since 1991. 2012 was the first year that I spent more time out of school than in school. This naturally implies that I have never had a full-time job…until I came to Colonial Williamsburg. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked. I’ve held various jobs since I was 8 years old, and paying jobs since I was 13. These have included the following: drug store soda fountain waiter, junior interpreter, video production assistant, landscaper, painter, camp counselor, concession stand operator, tutor, etc. Plenty of job opportunities, just no full-time job. I never understood what it meant to be on the “job market” until his past year when I worked part-time while trying to find a full-time job. Despite all of the inherent and unforeseen setbacks, I have managed to find a position that puts my degree(s) to good use and allows me the opportunity to further enhance my knowledge. I have been lucky. but making that transition from job prospect to full-time working stiff is not always easy.

Let this post serve as a friendly reminder to all those who are or have been in my exact situation. Success is linked to hard work, inspiration, and perseverance. Finding a new job may require moving, changing addresses, renting moving equipment, dealing with parental/roommate issues, parting with beloved items that no longer serve a viable purpose, making accommodations for pets, long-distance travel, not to mention potentially dealing with home, pet, life, health, auto, and disaster issues.

For those of you who are reading this, I want you to succeed, really I do. Just remember that the road may be long and hard, but it can be worth it. Just keep in mind what you are willing to sacrifice in order to get the job you want. Luckily, I knew what I wanted and what it meant for me and my family. In the end, the juice was worth the squeeze.

Understanding the South in the 21st Century: Questions on an Ambiguous Region

In an age when the world is seemingly spinning faster and faster, when the news cycle operates at an increasingly rapid pace, and when information is at the tips of everyone’s fingers, the question of what constitutes a region becomes ever more complex. As a Southerner, I have recently struggled to define what makes a region within my country. Certainly, the South must still exist within the borders of the United States, but the problem of the South is and has always been the struggle for an accurate and consistent definition. Many of our greatest writers and historians have offered opinions of the South, and they have been as divergent as the number of secret fried chicken recipes and special barbeque sauce combinations that populate the cities and towns of this amorphous area. It is a region marked by events that have shaped other parts of the country in equal measure, but for some reason those events have had an unnaturally long impact on the South. The continuing ambiguity of the region with which I most closely identify is the impetus for this exercise.

            The South has always existed in some form or another, and can be found in the photographs, letters, journals, pamphlets, novels, and textbooks littered throughout the libraries, archives, and classrooms of our nation. The South has produced some of our greatest historical figures, and has been the muse for some of our greatest writers and practitioners of the arts. The South has most assuredly been marked by frequent military action, even from its earliest days. There was the South of Smith and Rolfe, the South of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Marion, the South of Jackson, Tyler, Taylor, Lee, Stuart, Ashby, and Mosby. These military men, however memorable, only constitute a section of this region’s extensive history, a history that has taken the interest of writers like William Gilmore Simms, Nathanael Beverley Tucker, John Pendleton Kennedy, James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Tennessee Williams, Margaret Mitchell, and Harper Lee. Each individual has in some way found inspiration in the South and has chosen it as their avenue of expression.

            Despite the collective history of over 400 years of an English-speaking presence in this region, it does precious little to shed light on the South at a time that those aforementioned individuals could not have constructed in their wildest dreams. How could these men and women envision a region held together by wireless communication, a nation built on the foundation of software code? In the global context, will the South eventually simply cease to exist? Will it become assimilated into the ever-changing definition of what makes America what it is? Or is it the fact that our nation is divided along such lines a necessary element of what makes our country what it is? Is the fact that the South does exist an integral piece of the reason why America exists?

            These are the questions that test my mind. It seems to me that some folks in our country simultaneously recognize and despise the South. In an age when we needlessly continue to define people primarily by the color of their skin, we also define people by the way they talk, how much money they make, what car they drive, who they vote for, where they work, and what they do on the weekends. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, the content of one’s character should be the primary basis for judgment, not the elements of natural development which are beyond one’s control. A Southern man had the courage to stand up to the persecution he faced from other Southerners, and he paid the ultimate price for his beliefs. His actions and the actions of those who opposed him make the task of defining the South in the 21st century infinitely more difficult.