Marbury v. Madison, 1803

2018-02-16T23:52:02+00:00 February 19, 2018|HH 2018|

When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous and terror to evildoers.” —Proverbs 21:15

Marbury v. Madison, February 24, 1803

Many Americans believe that the overwhelming power of the United States Supreme Court is a fairly recent phenomenon. The far-reaching authority of the Court, however, has developed incrementally, beginning with the John Marshall Court in the early 19th Century. Article III of the Constitution established the powers of the third branch, extremely limited and clearly defined. The meeting places of the Justices were more like back rooms and small enclaves compared to the Congress, in the early days. The magnificent Supreme Court Building today looms over the corner of 1st Street in Washington, D.C., symbolic of the primacy of law and the power of nine black-robed justices to determine the meaning of the Constitution and the moral principles that govern our society.


The U.S. Supreme Court building under construction in 1932


The U.S. Supreme Court building in 1935, the year of its completion

The power of the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of laws began with a decision rendered on February 24, 1803 in Marbury v. Madison. Bitterness, recrimination, lying, back-stabbing, and threats characterized the election of 1800 between former best friends and nonpareil Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. The candidates themselves perched above all the mudslinging during the campaign, remaining at home and waiting for the results, while their supporters did all the dirty work. When the results were in, the incumbent, Adams, who lost the election, swiftly created new federal judgeships and began filling them with Federalist partisans. He thus hoped to extend his party’s power through the judicial branch into the uncertain political future. They became known as the “midnight judges” since they were appointed mere days and hours before the inauguration of Jefferson.


John Adams (1735-1826)


Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

One of those loyal Federalists, William Marbury, had been appointed by President Adams as a Justice of the Peace for Washington, D.C. His sealed commission, however, did not arrive before the inauguration, and the new Secretary of State, James Madison, refused to deliver it. Marbury sued to get a writ of mandamus (a writ requiring that “a duty prescribed by law be performed.”) The case went to the Supreme Court for adjudication.


Plaintiff: William Marbury (1762-1835)


Defendant: James Madison (1751-1836)

During the delay of the Marbury case, the new Congress, controlled by the Jeffersonian Republicans, repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801, and the circuit judges authorized under its provisions were dismissed. The case was complicated even more by the fact that the Chief Justice John Marshall (Jefferson’s cousin, but a staunch Federalist), had been appointed during the last months of the Adams administration, so was virtually a “midnight judge” himself! On top of that, he was also the outgoing Secretary of State and had failed to deliver Marbury’s commission in the first place.

In the opinion for the Court, Marshall held that Marbury was entitled to his commission and that Madison had withheld it from him wrongfully. Mandamus was the appropriate remedy at common law, but was it available under Article III of the Federal Constitution? They compared the original Judiciary Act of 1789 which had authorized the use of mandamus with the Constitution itself. Marshall declared that the Judiciary Act itself violated Article III of the Constitution and was therefore invalid. Thus, Marbury did not get his commission. But at the same time, an act of Congress was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, for the first time, and the power of judicial review established.

“The case remains one of the fundamental judicial opinions in American constitutional history. It correctly assessed the role of the judiciary in maintaining constitutional limitations on legislative actions; it provided a rationale for subjecting statutes to constitutional examination, it commanded judges to abide by constitutional norms, and it recognized the limited jurisdiction of all federal courts.” —Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court, p.522


John Marshall (1755-1835), 4th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1801-1835)

Join Us in Washington, D.C.!

Join us April 23-27 in Washington, D.C. for the Heart of American History Tour as we visit some of the most iconic sites of our nation’s capital, including the Supreme Court Building where we will discuss the origins of law and the syncretism that has characterized our legal system.

The Birth of Cotton Mather, 1663

2018-02-09T18:53:15+00:00 February 12, 2018|HH 2018|

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” —Ephesians 6:12)

The Birth of Cotton Mather, February 12, 1663

Born the grandson and namesake of two of the most famous Puritan preachers of the 17th Century, founders of the “Puritan oligarchy,” and son of the most influential preacher of the second generation New Englanders, Cotton Mather would carry on the Calvinist orthodoxy of them all and exceed them in cultural influence, intellectual productivity and pastoral ministry right up until his death in 1728. Yet historians remember him for only one thing — his supposed role in the trial and execution of witches and innocents in Salem in 1692. What was his true legacy?


Cotton Mather (1663-1728) in 1727
Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society

Cotton was the oldest of nine children of Increase Mather, pastor of North Church, Boston. Increase and his three brothers were all Puritan ministers in England; one was an independent. Cotton’s father preached for fifty years, to fifteen hundred souls, most Sundays. Cotton entered Harvard at age 12 and mastered Greek, Hebrew and Latin. In time he assisted his father and eventually replaced him as pastor.

Cotton Mather worked an average of sixteen hours per day, not counting the occasional all-night prayer vigils. Unlike his father, Cotton put great energy into pastoral ministry — visiting the sick, catechizing the church children (and his own fifteen!); he led Bible studies and counseled. By the end of his life he could count more than four-hundred published works, including sermons, catechisms, translations and creeds for Indians, medical guides, biographies, histories, scientific works, and ministerial advice. He admired his father and grandfathers almost to idolatry and deferred to his father even when he disagreed with him. An avid reader like his forbears, he added to the Mather family library which totaled more than seven thousand volumes, the largest private library in the colonies — larger than Harvard’s.


Increase Mather (1639-1723)

He was not an ivory tower intellectual, however. Cotton wrote very practical works on rearing children and put them into practice in his own family. He did not seek political influence and avoided involvement with the political controversies of his times. Pastor Mather bemoaned the spiritual declension of New England and preached mighty sermons against profligate ways and disinterest in spiritual things. Historians like to cite Mather as one of the most accomplished of the New England preachers of “jeremiads.” Cotton Mather’s magnum opus was published as Magnalia Christi Americana commonly referred to as the Magnalia. He showed, in historic terms, the providence of God in his church and in the colony since 1620. It is one of the greatest of primary sources for New England history. Yet historians cannot get past the “Salem witch trials.”

In 1792, in the seaport town of Salem, Massachusetts, hysteria erupted due to accusations of witchcraft by a group of teenage girls. Witchcraft carried a capital sentence since Massachusetts Colony, under the strong influence of the Congregational Churches, held to the ideals of biblical law. The girls accused many local, mostly elderly, people of various manifestations of “satanic” behavior. A number of them were personal enemies of the children’s families, involved in land disputes and similar proceedings. The court violated its own traditional grounding principles of the requirement of two or three witnesses to a capital offense, and also allowed for the acceptance of “spectral evidence” against the accused. A great miscarriage of justice resulted, with the execution of twenty people on the word of single witnesses, those adolescent girls, influenced by a heathen slave from the Caribbean.


Title page from Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana, Published in London in 1702


An 1892 lithograph offers a fanciful representation of the Salem Witch Trials

The Mathers viewed the manifestation of Satanic-inspired events in Salem as evidence of God’s judgement on New England for its sins. They called for repentance, prayer and fasting. In the end, Increase — more than any other minister — helped put an end to accepting spectral evidence and the capital trials, though not until after the execution of twenty and the jailing of many more. The ministers played no role in the actual trials by the civil authorities.


Mather Tomb in Copp’s Hill


Copp’s Hill Cemetery, Boston

Cotton Mather saw himself as a great sinner but lived a life of repentance, devoting himself to serving Christ and serving others. Although he was a brilliant theologian, scientist, preacher and father, he was practical and persevering, and a man of prayer. John Adams suggested that the Mather family, Cotton especially, were the true Founding Fathers.

Save the Date!

Visiting the Mather family graves on Historic Copp’s Hill is a highlight on our Freedom Trail day in Boston. Final details are in the works and registration opens soon!

Queen Elizabeth II Becomes Britain’s Monarch, 1952

2018-02-05T17:12:29+00:00 February 5, 2018|HH 2018|

“And He changeth the times and the seasons: He removeth kings, and setteth up kings: He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.’ —Daniel 2:21

Queen Elizabeth II Becomes Britain’s Monarch, February 6, 1952

Knowing the names and a few details about your ancestors often brings a special satisfaction or pleasure to your family. Outside immediate kin, however, others typically show little interest in your genealogy. When your family happens to be the British Royal family, the Windsors, it seems like the entire English-speaking world pays attention to every detail of the family tree and personal lives. On February 6, 1952 King George VI died in his sleep at the age of fifty-six and, not having a male heir, was succeeded by his daughter, Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth II still reigns — the longest-ruling monarch in England’s storied history.

An Overview of Queen Elizabeth’s Family Line

The Royal family’s name of Windsor did not exist prior to 1917. In 1840 Queen Victoria married her first cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which then became the official family name of the British monarchy until the eldest of Queen Victoria’s nine children became Edward VII in 1901. His son, George V, changed their name to Windsor to distance themselves from association with Germany in the midst of the First World War (besides, who would want their abbreviated last name S-CaG?). Upon the death of George V, his older son, Edward Prince of Wales, ascended the throne. King George had estimated his son would forfeit his positon within a year. It only took eleven months.


Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Queen Victoria and their nine children

Edward was a man of low morals and an embarrassment to both the Royal family and the leaders of the British dominions. In 1936 he abdicated the throne to marry a twice-divorced American woman, Wallis Simpson, in 1936. His younger brother, the Duke of York, became George VI, providentially a man of solid character and patriotic fortitude, who helped Britain survive the darkest days of the Second World War. England is a constitutional monarchy; Parliament makes the laws but the monarch symbolizes the history and tradition of the throne, representing the nation before foreign dignitaries and the world. In WWII, King George met with Prime Minister Winston Churchill on a regular basis, forging a friendship that helped get England through the War. King George also visited the troops on foreign battlefields like North Africa and Normandy. The Royal family stayed in London during the blitz, denied themselves customary luxuries, and identified with the suffering people of England.


King George VI with Winston Churchill

As King George’s health declined, he began grooming his elder daughter Elizabeth to succeed him on the throne. Upon his death in 1952 she became Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Several years prior, Queen Elizabeth had married Prince Phillip of Greece and Denmark, who gave up his titles, adopted the name Mountbatten, and received the title Duke of Edinburgh. He converted from Greek Orthodox to Anglican; after all, his wife is the head of the Church of England. Elizabeth II has proven an able and popular Queen, and now serves as the longest-reigning monarch in England’s history. She is also the longest-reigning female head of state.


Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Philip the Duke of Edinburgh at her coronation ceremony

Queen Elizabeth’s personal life seems to have been exemplary, quite the opposite of most of her children, three out of four of whom have divorced and otherwise scandalized the Royal Family. The Queen also has made statements over the years that reflect the Christian heritage of her nation, though she typically remains “above politics” and rarely comments on “social issues”.


Queen Elizabeth II in 2015

When Queen Elizabeth dies, her son Charles will accede to the throne, hopefully a better man than his namesake predecessors of the 17th Century.

The Tet Offensive in Vietnam War Begins, 1968

2018-01-29T17:42:12+00:00 January 29, 2018|HH 2018|

“There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” —Proverbs 6:16-19 (ESV)

The Tet Offensive in Vietnam War Begins, January 30, 1968

The United States had gotten involved in Vietnam in the early 1950s after the French, who had dominated the region for many years, were defeated by the indigenous communist forces known as the Viet Minh. The Cold War between the Western nations and the Communists of Russia and China spanned the globe. American foreign policy dictated trying to keep small countries from succumbing to international communist aggression and it appeared that Vietnam was ripe to fall into the Red orbit. Thus, the United States backed anti-communist forces of South Vietnam with weapons, money and influence during the Eisenhower years. Under Presidents Kennedy, and, especially, Johnson, American support for the South Vietnamese government and army (ARVN) increased exponentially and included troop commitments.


Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) in the Oval Office, 1964

As the war muddled along, factions in the North Vietnamese political system argued over the best strategy for victory. The most aggressive militarists gained the upper hand and planned a sweeping strategy to destroy the ARVN forces, kill as many Americans as possible, and bring the government to their knees in one campaign. They organized the local communist peasant cadre in the South (Viet Cong) to join with the North’s regular trained army, in a three-phase offensive to be launched during the celebration of the Vietnamese New Year celebrations — Tet. Although U.S. Intelligence suspected some large military effort, the Americans and their allies were not prepared for the size and coordination of the attack which launched on January 30, 1968.


Johnson awards the Distinguished Service Cross during his visit to Vietnam in 1966

80,000 communist troops struck on the first day, 84,000 more on the second. They attacked one hundred towns and cities as well as American fire-bases, and six major targets in the capital city of Saigon, including the American Embassy. Using mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, and carrying AK-47s, the initial assaults were beaten back. No line broke, and no South Vietnamese units defected — an initial failure for the aggressors. By the end of the first phase of the offensive, the communist forces had lost about 45,000 killed. It cost 11,000 ARVN casualties and just under 9,000 Americans, with about 1,500 killed. By the end of the third phase, the North Vietnamese high command had to call off the disastrous Tet Offense which had cost them massive casualties.


Civilians in Cholon, the heavily damaged Chinese section of Saigon, sort through the ruins of their homes in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive conflict

The Tet offensive was a total military failure for the communist Viet Minh. Nonetheless, the American press turned it into a North Vietnamese victory before the American people by providing breathless and dramatic, near or on-the-scene reporting via television. The pictures of slaughter and mayhem were brought into American homes night after night on the daily news. The stories they chose to tell and the images that reinforced their message, made the television editors the architects of historical interpretation. There is no such thing as objective reporting. They report, they decide, what they want the people to believe. Because the government had lied often about the war, the power of the press trumped anything that Washington might say to mitigate the criticism.


An American couple watches Vietnam War media coverage from their living room

The selective coverage of the North Vietnamese “Tet Offensive” animated the anti-war movements of America, and put decisive pressure on the Congress and the President, by bringing the war to the living rooms of America. President Johnson replaced the commander, General Westmoreland, but did not survive the political blowback from the results of the battle, and decided not to run for President again. Although militarily, the destruction of the Tet Offensive seemed like the beginning of the end for the communists, it proved rather the beginning of the end of the Democratic Party ascendency in the Executive branch, and the radicalization of the anti-war movement in the U.S.


General William Westmoreland (1914-2005)

The Death of Sir Winston Churchill, 1965

2018-01-22T18:54:26+00:00 January 22, 2018|HH 2018|

“Assuredly, the evil man shall not go unpunished, but the descendants of the righteous will be delivered.” —Proverbs 11:21

The Death of Sir Winston Churchill, January 24, 1965

The history of the world is but the biography of great men,” wrote Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle. He was articulating the widespread belief that certain historical characters — through their leadership, wisdom, political power, or transcendent skills — influenced or shaped history in decisive ways. Although that theory fell in to disuse and abuse in the past century, one can hardly deny that there are elements of truth in the idea. Scripture demonstrates that certain individuals were raised up by God to glorify Him in particular ways that determined — from a human perspective — the direction of history. Moses, the Pharaoh, King David, Nebuchadnezzar, among numerous others, illustrate the point. I would suggest that Winston Churchill’s influence on the 20th Century made a decisive difference in the direction of the world history.


Blenheim Palace, Churchill’s ancestral home and the place of his birth

Winston Churchill’s parents followed a pattern of benign neglect in his early years, leaving his entire early training to his nurse, and, upon his reaching school-age, entrusted him wholly to boarding schools. Churchill, nonetheless, remained devoted to his egotistical and profligate parents throughout his life. After completing military training, he pursued a life of adventure and danger in India, Cuba, Sudan and South Africa. Just prior to the First World War, Winston Churchill entered politics, serving in several offices including First Lord of the Admiralty. Falling from political favor, he served briefly in the trenches in France with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. At the end of WWI he helped redraw the map of the Middle East.


Winston’s parents — Lord Randolph Churchill and Lady Jennie Jerome


Winston Churchill at age 7


2nd Lieutenant Winston Churchill of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars in 1895

Churchill spent a decade in political exile, though serving as a back-bencher. Because his parents had squandered his inheritance, Churchill made his living through writing books and articles, the sum of which by the end of his life totaled fourteen, several of them multi-volume works. His magisterial The Second World War and History of the English Speaking People became instant classics. His many speeches have been compiled into collections and published as books and pamphlets.


Churchill on a lecture tour of the United States in 1900


Winston Churchill in 1904

On the day Hitler’s German armies invaded France and the Netherlands, Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister of England and was replaced by sixty-nine-year-old, cherubic-faced, Winston Churchill. No peaceful turn-over of power has had greater consequences. Few men in history have been faced with darker times or more daunting circumstances. Faced with a triumphant German army racing through France, with the British armies back-peddling in defeat, a cabinet and ministry that was counseling compromise and negotiation with Hitler, and with no allies on the horizon, Churchill delivered his first speech to Parliament on May 13, 1940. He noted the coming “ordeal of the most grievous kind,” and promised them he had nothing to offer them but “blood, toil, sweat, and tears.” They were thus put on notice that there would be no compromise with, or surrender to, the evil enemies of freedom — perhaps it was not the speech they were hoping for.


The Battle of Omdurman in 1898 where Churchill took part in a cavalry charge

He reiterated to the country on June 4 that:

“[W]e shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills . . . ”


Winston Churchill in 1941

His rhetoric steeled the backbones of the English people in their darkest hour. In the end, by God’s providence, the Royal Navy and private seamen rescued their army from the beaches of Dunkirk, they sacrificed their air squadrons and won the Battle of Britain in the air, and in “God’s good time” crossed the Channel and defeated the enemy in France and Germany.


Winston Churchill giving his famous “V” sign, May 1943

After an up-and-down post-war political career, Churchill died at the age of ninety-one, in 1965, mourned by his nation and all those who understood his incredible stand that saved the Allied cause in the Second World War.