Category Archives: Profiles

Biographical commentary on famous people – of note – and maybe not so.

The most interesting woman that ever lived…

An international object of desire, Mata Hari was a dancer, a spy, and everyone who knows about her casts her in a different light. She’s been described as a courtesan, a feminist, an espionage wannabe, and a victim of the military’s need to create an enemy. Regardless of how she was seen at the time, Mata Hari had a need to live a life constantly on fire. She threw herself towards excitement, which was her undoing in the end. Ted Brandsen, the choreographer and the director of the National Ballet explained:

What fascinated us is the story of a woman with an incredible lust for life and a powerful instinct to survive, and to reinvent herself and to transform herself. She had a lot of horrible things happen to her and she managed to somehow give a spin to it and find her way out.
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Meeting with Barry Goldwater taught him a lesson…

“You’ve been there before, right?”

The driver’s question shook the candidate out of his reverie.

The young man didn’t make a habit of using a car service, but with his campaign manager in a meeting, other workers putting up and repositioning signs and his wife needing the family car, a limo was the best way to ensure the candidate arrived at this important meeting on time.

“Excuse me?”

“You’ve been there before, right?”

“Nope… first time!” Continue reading

Edwin M. Stanton, Would-Be Dictator

Engraved portrait of Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln’s secretary of war

It would seem, from his commentary about others, that Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, had an inflated concept of his own abilities and a diminished view of the abilities of others. He was definitely not a practitioner of the Christian virtue of having a meek and humble spirit (James 4:6). He quite often spoke abusively of Lincoln and others in the administration. He referred to Lincoln at one point as “the original gorilla.” After becoming Secretary of War his disposition toward Lincoln did not improve. At one point he said to Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, “Well, all I have to say is, we’ve got to get rid of that baboon at the White House!Continue reading

Crockett: Not Yours to Give

~ Prologue ~
One day in the House of Representatives, a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The Speaker was just about to put the question when Mr. Crockett arose:

Mr. Speaker — I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this house, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him.
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George Washington: America’s Most Indispensable Veteran

He left us a legacy of wisdom in what he said as well as what he did.

An engraving of George Washington from 1859.

To honor America’s vision along with those who served to protect it, we should remember how that vision was put into words as well as actions by perhaps our most indispensable veteran—George Washington.

Washington was essential to our revolution’s success, the creation of our Constitution and the precedent of how to govern under it. Perhaps most telling of the latter is the fact that he voluntarily stepped down from power out of principle, which King George III said made him the man of the age.

Washington knew his efforts were a means to an end—maintaining liberty. We would profit by reflecting on his words and whether the vision we act upon today reflects that vision or distorts it. Continue reading

Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s History Lessons

King understood the nation’s challenges as part of a continuous narrative. Today, a narrow view of America’s past could imperil its future.

On March 25, 1965, at the conclusion of the brutally consequential march from Selma to Montgomery, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered a speech titled “Our God Is Marching On!” He spoke to a crowd of twenty-five thousand people on the grounds of the Alabama state capitol, in view of the office window of the segregationist governor George Wallace. The address is not among King’s best-known, but it is among the most revelatory. King argued that, in the decade since the bus boycotts in that city, a new movement had emerged and an older order was starting to fall away. Continue reading

Charles Dickens, America & The Civil War

If you look at lists or letters or diaries mentioning reading material from the mid-19th Century in America, you’ll likely find a book or two by British author Charles Dickens – if that reader enjoyed novels. Popular on both sides of the Atlantic, Charles Dickens penned numerous short tales, serialized stories, and novels during his life, many delivering commentary on social struggles, reform movements, and life’s dark side through entertaining stories.

I’d always wondered about Dickens’s tales, had read an excerpt or short story here and there in high school and college classes, and realized his stories were popular during the Civil War with soldiers and civilians. However, it wasn’t until 2016 when I had a book-signing at Riverside Dickens Literature Festival that I got brave and started really exploring these stories. I wasn’t disappointed… So far, I’ve enjoyed reading or listening to several unabridged stories by Dickens – including Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol, and (currently) A Tale of Two Cities. Film adaptions have introduced me to Our Mutual Friend and David Copperfield, and I hope to enjoy those books in the future too.

This year, as I was preparing for another year at Dickens Festival, I wondered what Charles Dickens thought about the American Civil War and his views on the American struggle for abolition and social reforms. Continue reading

Swain: What I Can Teach You About Racism?

CHALLENGE: A lesson in life and commitment to a better future.

Let me tell you how my story ends: I become a tenured, award-winning professor of political science at an Ivy League university, and then at one of the leading universities in the South.

Now let me tell you how my story begins: I grow up in rural Virginia, literally dirt poor.

I drop out of school in the eighth grade and have three children by the time I’m 20.

I consider myself to be a reasonably modest person, but even I have to admit that’s quite a journey.

How did I do it? Continue reading

William Mack Lee – Body Servant of General Robert E. Lee

He stayed with General Lee throughout the war and until the day Lee died in 1870. Mack said of General Lee after his death “I was raised by one of the greatest men in the world. There was never one born of a woman greater than General Robert E. Lee, according to my judgment. All of his servants were set free ten years before the war, but all remained on the plantation until after the surrender.”

General Lee left Mack $360 in his will, which Mack used to go to school and started 14 churches. He became an ordained Missionary Baptist minister in Washington, DC

Thomas Paine, Political Activist and Voice of the American Revolution

Paine’s Pamphlet “Common Sense” Inspired the Patriot Cause

Thomas Paine was an English-born writer and political activist who became, shortly after his arrival in America, the leading propagandist of the American Revolution. His pamphlet “Common Sense,” which appeared anonymously in early 1776, became wildly popular and helped sway public opinion to the radical position of splitting from the British Empire.

Paine followed up by publishing, during the bitter winter when the Continental Army was camped at Valley Forge, a pamphlet titled “The American Crisis,” which urged Americans to remain steadfast to the patriot cause. Continue reading

Harry Truman – AMERICAN

Harry Truman was a different kind of President. He probably made as many, or more important decisions regarding our nation’s history as any of the other 32 Presidents preceding him. However, a measure of his greatness may rest on what he did after he left the White House.

The only asset he had when he died was the house he lived in, which was in Independence, Missouri. His wife had inherited the house from her mother and father and other than their years in the White House, they lived their entire lives there.

When he retired from office in 1952 his income was a U.S. Army pension reported to have been $13,507.72 a year. Congress, noting that he was paying for his stamps and personally licking them, granted him an ‘allowance’ and later, a retroactive pension of $25,000 per year. Continue reading

When Charles Dickens fell out with America

Photography was in its infancy in the 1840s. These portraits date from 1860

On his first visit to America in 1842, English novelist Charles Dickens was greeted like a modern rock star. But the trip soon turned sour, as Simon Watts reports.

On Valentine’s Day, 1842, New York hosted one of the grandest events the city had ever seen – a ball in honour of the English novelist Charles Dickens. Continue reading