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Monday, April 15, 2024

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American History

By James Paul Jr., South Dennis

To the Editor:

Your recent Review & Opinion column was an outstanding piece of journalism! It challenged the reader to study American history and assess and rank our nation’s leaders.

The only reason we have a Presidents Day holiday to begin with is because of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln – both born in the month of February.

The American revolt against the British monarchy began long before actual war occurred – The Boston Tea Party, Lexington and Concord, the convention in Philadelphia – that led to the ringing of the Liberty Bell on July 4, 1776. And other events too numerous for a short letter to the editor. As the victorious Army General and the first President, George Washington will always stand as a colossus. He and his fellow founders set up a government devoted to individual liberty, popular sovereignty, a system of checks and balances against tyranny, equal justice under law – all under the guidance of a divine providence.

George Washington also informed his fellow founders that the United States would remain neutral concerning European wars. He said to Europe, “Since you guys are often at war with each other, don’t ask us to pick a side – because we’re not going to.” That incredibly wise policy lasted until Woodrow Wilson deployed troops for World War I. Please note Europe is still at war – Russia/Ukraine. If ‘what is past is prologue’ is true, then one can suppose there will always be war in Europe. Very sad indeed.

The aforementioned liberties did not apply to all Americans until the election of Abraham Lincoln. When the southern states seceded from the United States and formed their own country, it was a matter of time before a vicious civil war broke out. During that war, Lincoln wrote and released the Emancipation Proclamation. With the determination of Grant and Sherman, Lincoln won that war, freed the slaves and became a martyr. Like Washington, another colossus.

None of the early presidents had an easy row to hoe. Everything was either won on the battlefield or through tough international diplomacy. The influence of Thomas Jefferson during these early, difficult times can never be overstated. Like some presidents, his “off-the-field” accomplishments eclipsed his presidency. He was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, secretary of state and mentor to the two presidents who succeeded him – James Madison and James Monroe.

James Madison was vital to founding the country – as the primary author of the Constitution. He also wrote the Bill of Rights. He was a member of Congress and Jefferson’s secretary of state. As president, he won the War of 1812 – thus saving the very nation he helped to found!

Let’s pause for a minute and ask this question – why is international warfare unheard of in the American hemisphere? Huge question!

New Jerseyans can love the fact that James Monroe fought at Trenton and Monmouth! He was wounded and cited for valor! He negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon Bonaparte in Paris and he was secretary of war for James Madison. His time in office (1817-1825) is referred to as “The Era of Good Feelings.” With popularity off the charts, he ran unopposed for his second term. He is most famous for the Monroe Doctrine.

On Dec. 2, 1823, James Monroe strode into the Capital and told the U.S. Congress (and Europe) that the United States of America would not tolerate any colonial-style warfare or foreign political oppression in the entire American hemisphere! At that time, many former colonies had declared independence and others were planning to. They followed our example and set up constitutional republics. President Monroe let them know they would never be alone – that democracy would rule!

We abandoned the wisdom of Washington’s neutrality toward Europe. But we have clung to the Monroe Doctrine and an entire hemisphere lives without the ravages of war. For me, we’re batting 500! Not bad!

When I vote in general elections, I never vote for an obvious small-ballot. There are always big things that need to be accomplished. I vote for who I think has the vision and intelligence to know these big things and the determination to do something about them.

JAMES PAUL JR.

South Dennis

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