The verdict of history can be hard to overturn, even when patently unjust. Luke Mayville, postdoctoral fellow at the Center for American Studies at Columbia University, is a young scholar pursuing his own version of the Innocence Project. The beneficiary of his researches is John Adams, who despite his revolutionary bona fides and his manifold services to the new nation, was tagged a “monocrat” and a reactionary apologist for aristocracy by Thomas Jefferson and his partisans. Mayville’s fine first book, John Adams and the Fear of American Oligarchy, almost completely clears Adams of these old, but remarkably persistent, anti-democratic charges.
On the centennial of Lincoln’s birth, February 12, 1909, Booker T. Washington delivered an important speech before the Republican Club of New York City. His “Address on Abraham Lincoln” deserves to be better known. Not only does it provide an astute assessment of the Great Emancipator’s virtues and legacy, but it demonstrates the ability of a talented statesman to deploy the memory of Lincoln to meet pressing needs of the moment.
The abolitionist newspaper founded by Frederick Douglass was called the North Star, after the direction of travel taken by runaway slaves. As his fame and influence grew, Douglass became a living version of that guiding light (and the newspaper was eventually renamed Frederick Douglass’ Paper). Like Polaris, he was the brightest star in the constellation of the 19th century.
Can the U.S. House of Representatives elect a non-member to the Speakership? Disgusted by the dysfunction in Congress, some are suggesting this is constitutionally possible. Connor Ewing, in this space yesterday, asserted the only thing standing in the way is “over two centuries of legislative practice to the contrary.” (Editor’s note: Ewing’s latest, written in reply to Schaub and National Review’s Matthew Franck, is here.)
The death last month of Leonard Nimoy reminds me of the time when Nimoy’s great character, Mr. Spock, met Abraham Lincoln. It was in 1969, in the third season of Star Trek, and the episode was called “The Savage Curtain.”
A bizarre race of rock-like creatures, the Excalbians, stage “spectacles” with other life forms, to study the effects on them and to glean their philosophies. They reincarnate history’s bad guys and pit them against two creatures who have wandered into their ken, the captain of the starship Enterprise, James T. Kirk, and Spock, the Enterprise’s science officer.
Team Evil is an assemblage of ruthless conquerors: Genghis Khan, Zora of Tiburon, Kahless the Unforgettable (said to be “the Klingon who set the pattern for his planet’s tyrannies”), and Colonel Green, a charismatic master of deceit responsible for the genocide of 37 million people in World War III (and a clear stand-in for Corporal Hitler). They have been promised their hearts’ desire—power—if they win.
How persistent is memory, politically speaking? Machiavelli argued that “the memory of ancient liberty,” possessed by republican peoples, is tenacious, presenting an obstacle for a ruler bent on tyrannizing those long used to self-government. In chapter 5 of The Prince, he counseled harsh measures like wiping out the entire population as the only sure mode to exterminate the remembrance of things past. Instead of Carthage-scale eradication, the society in The Giver has found a new mode—seemingly kinder and gentler—by which to neutralize memory, thereby creating a pliant citizenry.