HELENA, Mont.—There is an Irish revolutionary outside the Montana State Capitol. He is astride a horse and raising a sword. He is General Thomas Francis Meagher. The man was a hero of the American Civil War. He commanded a unit of brave Irishmen at Gettysburg. How he got there is the stuff of legend. Meagher was one of the leaders of an Irish uprising in 1848. Ireland was in shambles from famine and its greatest political leader, Daniel O’Connell, had died the previous year.
The uprising was timed on the 50th anniversary of the failed uprising of 1798. Like the earlier attempt, it failed. Meagher and his fellow young Irelanders were rounded up and tried by an occupying British force. He was sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. The sentence was then commuted to life at an Australian penal colony. Most of the young men shipped halfway around the world later managed to escape. Meagher made his way to a ship and on to San Francisco. Then on to New York. He met and wed a wealthy woman. When war broke out his new family connections earned him an appointment to lead union troops.
After the war the general was appointed territorial governor of Montana. Shortly thereafter he fell or was pushed from a paddle boat and drowned. His tale is told in the book the Great Shame. Judging by the others today taking pictures of his statue, I’m not alone in reading the book.
The current academic rage is to condemn the founding of our nation as racist and cruel and genocidal. We’re told Europe is a better model with its parliamentary systems. Long before the U.S. Civil War the United Kingdom banned the slave trade. Then the same government went about starving the next-door neighbor. The neighbor worshipped the same deity, looked like the ruling English (and is genetically almost identical) and all were subjects of the same crown. His/Her Majesty’s government was torturing colonialists in Africa as the Beatles were touring the USA. In between Ireland and Kenya, the Europeans twice engaged in the wholesale slaughter of world war. It would appear our founding fathers were men of their time as were the European colonialists who subjected the Mau-Mau, Boers and people of the Congo to unspeakable horrors. Middle America can see all of this quite clearly. The elites on campuses, in newsrooms and populating Hollywood are the blind. Which is why there is a divide of opinion when it comes to the president of the United States. Last week as media and political elites were bellyaching about presidential tweets sullying the Oval Office, I immediately thought about Monica Lewinsky. Donald Trump didn’t stain Mika’s dress. As I’m writing there is a TV clip airing in the background. Mika’s fiancé, Joe Scarborough, is making fun of the late Fred Thompson’s wife. In the old video, Mr. Morning Joe appears to call Mrs. Thompson a streetwalker. Trump didn’t call the future Mrs. Scarborough any such thing. He referenced cosmetic surgery. By definition chin work falls into the category of face-lift. So, Lefty, shut the heck up! There are far more serious stories in need of our attention. Is Trump stupid? While the media dog chased its tail, he was busy with his pen. The president can be crude but it appears he loves his country. When he was first becoming a household name in the middle of the 1980s, I visited his hometown with a consulting class. One evening our group wandered into a pub called Blarney Stone for dinner. The clientele was mainly working men. The kind of people the wealthy Trump associated with from his childhood on his way to gaudy wealth. He’s one of them. These are the same type of New Yorkers who voted in large numbers for William Buckley 52 years ago. “My country, right or wrong,” was their popular slogan of the time. Many of these men are descendants of Irish troops who fought with Thomas Francis Meagher. In between their families twice went back to Europe and saved civilization. We make fun of a lot of effete New Yorkers but there are quite a few who share flyover country values. Trump is their man.
Early Sunday morning I was reading a commentary from Byron York at Washington Examiner. He cited the long list of Trump opponents who tangled with the guy and then were “diminished”. This notion of media high dudgeon and preening shows us they’re talking only to themselves. The ink stained wretches long ago lost their moral authority. Barack Obama failed with healthcare. With stimulus. With North Korea. With Syria. With Libya. With debt. And with Russia and, yet. I get the impression the chattering classes would crawl over the tops of each other to birth his babies.
Like Meagher, Trump may be a rogue and a scamp but for many Americans he’s astride the horse, sword drawn and ready for battle.
This Fourth of July, look closely at one of those printed copies of the Declaration of Independence.
See it? The woman’s name at the bottom?
It’s right there. Mary Katherine Goddard.
If you’ve never noticed it or heard of her, you aren’t alone. She’s a Founding Mother, of sorts, yet few folks know about her. And some of America’s earliest bureaucrats did their best to shut her down. Same old, same old.
Goddard was fearless her entire career as one of America’s first female publishers, printing scoops from Revolutionary War battles from Concord to Bunker Hill and continuing to publish after her offices were twice raided and her life was repeatedly threatened by haters.
Yup, she faced down the Twitter trolls of 1776.
In her boldest move, Goddard put her full name at the bottom of all the copies of the Declaration that her printing presses churned out and distributed to the colonies. It was the first copy young America would see that included the original signer’s names—and Congress commissioned her for the important job.
Her fiery editorials, had, after all, set the tone for pivotal moments in the revolution.
“The ever memorable 19th of April gave a conclusive answer to the questions of American freedom,” she wrote in her Maryland Journal editorial after the start of the Revolutionary War. “What think ye of Congress now? That day. . . evidenced that Americans would rather die than live slaves!”
Until Goddard got the assignment from Congress to print and distribute copies of the Declaration, it was more like an anonymous internet post than a document of record.
Sure, there’s the famous original copy in Thomas Jefferson’s elegant penmanship.
Beautifully written, boldly stated, it was famously signed by the Founding Fathers on July 4th. But neither Americans nor the British saw that copy.
Instead, days and weeks later, they got a hastily-printed, mistake-laden, nearly anonymous document that was the 1776 version of the ALL CAPS EMAIL signed by PATRIOT1776. Signing your name to something like this was considered treason.
It was done on the night of that July 4, when the founders asked Irish immigrant John Dunlap to print 200 copies. The only names on it were John Hancock and secretary Charles Thomson, who was listed as a witness. It was read to troops on the front lines and a copy was sent to England.
But without all the names of the founders, the Declaration was less devastating.
Goddard’s edition changed that.
And by including her name at the bottom, “Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katherine Goddard,” she became a patriot worth remembering.
Goddard wasn’t always so bold declaring her name.
When she ran the Baltimore newspaper that her brother had abandoned, she used the gender-neutral M.K. Goddard.
She was also quietly named the first female postmaster in the colonies in 1775, running the busy and crucial Baltimore Post Office as well as a bookstore, printshop and newspaper. At the time, Congress was meeting just down the street from her office. So she was basically the pipeline for a lot of information during our nation’s founding years—her little shop was a combination Washington Post, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram from 1775 to 1784. (It’s now a Rite Aid.)
Goddard may have been an early version of The Post’s Katharine Graham, but she wasn’t the only woman who made history running America’s free press.
In 1739, Elizabeth Timothy took over the South Carolina Gazette after her husband died, also taking over his partnership with Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin said the Widow Timothy was far more skilled at business than her husband had been. “Her accounts were clearer, she collected on more bills, and she cut off advertisements if payments were not current,” Franklin said according to Kay Mills in A Place in the News.
Goddard eventually lost her job as publisher after her brother married and returned to Baltimore in 1784, taking over the Maryland Journal and ousting his sister.
But she was still the Baltimore postmaster, and ran that office with efficiency and aplomb for a total of 14 years until the newly appointed national Postmaster General moved to replace her with someone with no experience, one of his political pals.
U.S. Postmaster Samuel Osgood said he didn’t think a woman could handle all the travel associated with the job, that she didn’t have the, ahem, stamina. Remember, it’s a job she’d successfully done—along with publishing a newspaper and printing the Declaration of Independence—for more than a decade.
The folks who knew her were outraged and more than 200 merchants and residents in Baltimore sent the postmaster a petition asking to keep her in place. But Osgood held firm and though Goddard fought for reinstatement for years, it was to no avail.
She continued to run her bookstore in Baltimore until her death in 1816.
On this Independence Day, let’s also celebrate the story of a forgotten patriot who used the power of the press to help build this nation.
Independence Day arrives this year during a period of intense political polarization, anger and distrust, potentially jeopardizing the ideals for which the American Revolution was fought.
That’s a problem, but it also signals an opportunity. Nations benefit from the unifying effects of shared memories — especially if those memories reflect a commitment to ideals. The revolution was inspired by two such ideals: self-government and human liberty.
To understand the current importance of that claim, a good place to look is a speech by Abraham Lincoln—not by the president who emphasized the better angels of our nature, but by a largely unknown 28-year-old, speaking in 1838 before the Young Men’s Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois under the ambitious title The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.
Even as a young man, Lincoln was obsessed by founding principles, and as he would 25 years later at Gettysburg, he focused on the foundations of the American experiment in self-government.
The occasion for the speech was what Lincoln saw as a serious danger, not from abroad but from “amongst us.” Two weeks before, parts of the nation had reeled from a gruesome murder in St. Louis. As Lincoln put it:
“A mulatto man, by the name of McIntosh, was seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of the city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death; and all within a single hour from the time he had been a freeman, attending to his own business, and at peace with the world.”
Lincoln insisted that black lives matter. Decades before ratification of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and its equal protection clause, which followed the Civil War, Lincoln insisted on the equal protection of the laws.
But Lincoln had a broader claim, involving the importance of respect for the law, and of inculcating it in people’s hearts. That idea should “be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice.” He argued that reverence for the law, and for the rule of law, should become “the political religion of the nation” (the italics are his).
Lincoln had an even larger argument. To the Young Men’s Lyceum, he recalled the American Revolution itself, which he described as a bold effort “to display before an admiring world, a practical demonstration of the truth of a proposition, which had hitherto been considered, at best no better, than problematical; namely, the capability of a people to govern themselves” (again, Lincoln’s italics).
The American experiment in self-government was succeeding. But its future was hardly guaranteed. Lincoln worried over the emergence of a leader who “thirsts and burns for distinction,” who might “set boldly to the task of pulling down.” Lincoln described this as “a probable case, highly dangerous.”
At that point, Lincoln looked backward to the revolution itself. Writing 62 years after the Declaration of Independence, he argued that the time had come to move past the emotional fervor that animated the war effort and to cultivate reason instead.
Americans, he declared, should understand “the powerful influence which the interesting scenes of the revolution had upon the passions of the people as distinguished from their judgment.” Focused as we were on defeating Britain, “the basest principles of our nature, were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest cause—that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty.”
The problem was that “this state of feeling must fade, is fading, has faded, with the circumstances that produced it.” What was until recently a living history was starting to disappear, along with the people who had experienced it. Memories had dimmed.
In Lincoln’s account, passion “will in future be our enemy.” Reason, by contrast, “must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense.” Those materials must be molded into “a reverence for the constitution and laws.”
Lincoln delivered the Lyceum Address 179 years ago, which means that nearly three times as many years separate us from his remarks as separated those remarks from the Declaration of Independence.
To many of us, July 4 is more about fireworks, family and a day off than about shared national memories, or the capacity for self-governance or civil and religious liberty.
But with Honest Abe, let’s step back and focus on those things. For all the contemporary challenges, Americans retain them. Lincoln was right: They deserve our reverence.