Thursday, May 16, 2013

Abbé Weems?

After the breach with Great Britain, Americans wanting to become Episcopalian clergy were refused orders unless they took an oath of allegiance to the British crown. The famous Parson Weems, author of the children's life of Washington ("I cannot tell a lie"), was frustrated enough as a 25-year-old Episcopalian theological student to be willing to be ordained in the Catholic church. Below is the letter from Weems and his friend and fellow divinity student Edward Gant seeking advice from Benjamin Franklin:
No 170 Strand. July 9th 1784
Not having the honour to be known to your Excellency we should preface this with an Apology, but as it relates to a subject of public and Important Concern, we hope your Excellency will excuse form and Ceremony.
We are Natives of America and Students of Divinity, having no form of Episcopal Ordination in our own Country we Came to England more than a twelvemonth ago for Orders and have been all that time Soliciting the Arch Bishop but in vain. his Grace will not ordain us unless we will consent to take the Oath of Allegiance. Mr. Chase a Friend of ours advised us to write to your Excellency and acquaint you with the Deplorable Condition of our Church. Waving all Pathetic Discription, permit us to assure Your Excellency that of Sixty Churches in our State (Maryland) there are upwards of thirty vacant.
Romish Orders are Good. We shall take it as a great favour done to our selves and state if your Excellency will inform us as soon as possible whether we can take Orders in France.
Be pleased to Let us know very particularly what Oaths we must take and what Tenets we must subscribe. If the ArchBishop of Paris will ordain Us we will come over most Chearfully. Your Excellency will add to the Obligation by giving us a Speedy Reply. Mr. Adams has invited us to go over to Denmark, but the Orders from Denmark are not so Good as we wish them to be. We have the honour to be Your Excellency’s Most Obedient humble Servants
Mason Weems
Edward Gant
Endorsed: Edd. Gant July 9. 1784
Grant Wood, Parson Weems' Fable, 1939.
Oil on canvas, 38 3/8 x 50 1/8 inches. Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas. 1970.43.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The paradox of consevative radicalism

In every country, conservatives harken back to their nation's origins. For most nations, that origin is a mythical foundation: Romulus founding Rome, Moses and Joshua founding Israel, the sun goddess Ameterasu founding Japan. When Americans turn to their founding for ultimate values, they find a revolution. So we have the unique situation in this country of the most conservative citizens also being the most radically anti-authority and anti-government. This is why the Federalists felt that we should hearken back to the British constitution, with its ancient roots (after all, a "revolution" is literally a return to the beginning). Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, thought we should have a revolution every couple of generations; felt the French Revolution had to be defended at ALL COSTS ("rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated. Were there but an Adam and an Eve left in every country, and left free, it would be better than as it now is"). There is a purity in such an outlook, but it does not do much to promote a comfortable life. It is no accident that the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, when he was apprehended, had a tee shirt on with Jefferson's statement, “Occasionally the tree of Liberty must be watered with the blood of Patriots and Tyrants.” That's pure Trotsky and Lenin, isn't it? I'll take Adamsite Federalism, or better still Monrovian National Republicanism. All honor to Washington!

Providence cardinal virtues

Nice the way the streets in Providence are named after virtues and positive goods: Hope, Benevolent, Benefit, Charity, Faith, Prudence, Justice, Clemence. The city's preeminent figure, slave-trading merchant and statesman John Brown, lived on Power Street.