My Book Bag: A Royal Experiment

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About a year ago, my friend, Elna, wrote a book review that piqued my interest. Based on that review, I added A Royal Experiment (titled differently in the UK) by Janice Hadlow to my “to read” list this year and purchased it on Amazon with some Christmas money. It was indeed a great read, and I am happy to recommend it to you. Elna’s review is excellent. I encourage you to read it.

This book is about the private lives of King George III and his children. King George was the “tyrant” to which Jefferson referred in the Declaration of Independence, and my love of American history naturally traces back to English history. This book clocks in at 617 pages – not counting the notes, etc. It was lengthy, but Ms. Hadlow is an excellent storyteller and the book is enthralling. I read it in about five weeks – with a brief pause to read two other books.

King George’s father, King George II, was not a good husband or father, nor was his father before him. Their families would have made perfect guests on one of today’s talk shows. King George III learned from the mistakes of his parents and desperately wanted to have a happy, normal family of his own. Therefore, when he chose to marry Charlotte, he did so with the plan of remaining faithful to her, even though they had barely known each other before their arranged marriage took place. They made a good team, each striving to make their home a happy one. They worked together to give their thirteen children a proper education. King George did the unthinkable in his day – he would get on the floor and play with his children!

The thing that struck me most was the fact that even though King George did his best to behave himself, to live uprightly, it was not enough. His boys grew up to be serial philanderers and adulterers. King George IV made known to all that he had a mistress and would not part with her even after his marriage to his bride, Caroline. Naturally, they soon separated and remained so permanently, dragging their only daughter, King George’s granddaughter, through much sorrow in the process. Meanwhile, George’s daughters struggled in their roles, wanting to marry, but having difficulty finding the right man. Several of them led lonely, unhappy lives. Others found love late in life, but it was not the love that they had hoped for. Scandal plagued the family when Sophia, one of the younger daughters, bore a child out of wedlock. And ultimately, the insanity that claimed King George’s mind also revealed his own adulterous appetites.

The lives of King George and Charlotte reminded me of the passage in Matthew 12 and Luke 11, where Jesus says that the unclean spirit leaves a man, then returns later find the house swept and garnished, and brings seven other spirits with him. No matter how much “reform” we put upon ourselves, no matter how many rules we establish in our personal lives, only Christ can make a true difference. Do people benefit from moral living? Of course they do, King George and Charlotte did enjoy benefits from living according to biblical principles, but only the power of Gospel can change hearts. In our own power, we can only be good for so long before something slips. In King George’s case, it was his mind that left him, something he definitely had no control over.

If I had ever entertained any delusions of grandeur about the Royal family, I do no longer. This book shatters the image that royalty has it all. In fact, I pity them. I am very glad to be just an average American.

The secret to having a happy family is really no secret: it is by God’s grace alone.

Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. ~ Psalm 127:1

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My Book Bag: The Killer Angels

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I first read about the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, when it was referenced in a biography of Robert E. Lee called Clouds of Glory. Since reading that biog, my curiosity about the Civil War has been piqued. I’ve decided to read as much about the Civil War as I can. My daughter, Lauren, will not be surprised to hear that I have two large books on my “to read” list this year that relate to the Civil War (The South Was Right! and Stonewall Jacksonin case anyone is curious). When I saw this book for sale at a cute bookstore Terry and I visited on our recent getaway, I couldn’t resist buying it. Once I started it, I couldn’t put it down.

The Killer Angels has been the most historically accurate fictional book that I have read. Mr. Shaara worked long and hard to see both sides of the Civil War so he could portray both sides as simply men trying to do the right thing. Neither side was the “monster”. As a southerner, who is used to seeing the South demonized, I found this refreshing.

The Battle of Gettysburg came alive like never before in the pages of this book. You could feel the tension and suspense even though you know the ending of this famous battle. Mr. Shaara allows you to hear the voice of Lee, Buford, Chamberlain, Longstreet and others who, before, were simply names on a page. Yes, their words are fiction, but the words and actions portrayed seem accurate according to what I have read about these men. The author did his best to stay true to their real personalities. After reading this book, I am now quite interested in Lawrence Chamberlain, a professor from Maine and a lieutenant colonel for the Union, who’s leadership contributed to the North’s great victory.

While I am true southerner at heart, I can honestly say that I am thankful the North won the Civil War. I am glad that we are “United”. I merely contend that a war should have never been fought; Lincoln should have worked harder at listening to the South’s complaints and finding a peaceful solution.

However, a war was fought, and it has left its mark upon thousands of families, upon our history, and upon the many battlefields across our land. If you’d like to take an exciting trip back in time and witness the Battle of Gettysburg, you can get a front row seat in Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels.

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My Book Bag: Johnny Tremain

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I have had Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes on my “to read” list for ages. I first saw it in my mom’s 6th grade English classroom when one of her students left it there one weekend. I was about in 5th grade then, and I remember that the tiny print and thick paperback were daunting. I recently found a copy of this Newbery Medal winner at Goodwill and decided to finally cross it off my list.

Johnny Tremain is a young apprentice silversmith living in Boston at the start of the Revolution. An accident changes his life and thrusts him into an important role at the beginning of the revolution. Lots of familiar names and places appear in the pages of this book, most notably, Paul Revere. Ms. Forbes does a great job at painting the villain as exceptionally evil.

I enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t quite as good as another Newbery winner set in the same era, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. However, Johnny Tremain does bring the revolution to life and paints Boston in living color. It provides historical information in an interesting way.

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My Book Bag: A Brilliant Solution

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I purchased A Brilliant Solution by Carol Berkin for my Kindle back in July. Kindle books are not my favorite format to read and I rarely use that app on my iPad. Out of sight, out of mind. Before long, I’d moved on to other books and forgotten about this one. In an effort to get my reading life more organized, I gathered all of the books that I had not finished (including Kindle books) and began completing them one by one.

I was very happy I picked this book back up. I found this concise telling of the “inventing of the American Constitution” (as the subtitle reads) very intriguing. Her description of the primitive times made me appreciate the physical sacrifices these men made to create a brand new government. My only disappointment was that Ms. Berkin did not include any information on how the Bill of Rights came to be added.  Other than that, this is a great place to learn about the writing of the Constitution.

Since I finished reading The Real Lincoln, I was fascinated to read that states’ rights were an issue even in the 1780’s. It was startling to read that Madison and Hamilton pressed the delegates to allow the national legislature the right to veto any state law. (p. 98) I am happy that that did not make it into the final version of the document.

The founders were concerned about possible future abuse of the government they were creating, and tried to put up safeguards against such. But Benjamin Franklin was optimistic about the future. He believed that “despotism, when it came, would be the result of the innate corruption of the people themselves.” (p. 163) I give a hearty amen to that! Are we not seeing a reflection of the people in the leaders we have chosen? In the end, the men realized that no government is perfect, and no other men would be less fallible than they to create a government. They moved forward in an act of faith in Providence.

Ms. Berkin does her best to bring each character in this historical drama back to life. Quirky personality traits and styles of dress and manners are included with each man to help the reader keep them separate in his mind; which is a difficult task for fifty-five men, many about whom there is very little known, and some of whom had similar names. There were several “Williams” and two Charles Pinckneys! At the end of the book, there are brief biographies of each of the men, which makes a nice reference guide. Also included in the appendix is copy of the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.

I had always credited James Madison with the actual wording of the Constitution, particularly the preamble. While Madison certainly had a strong hand in the writing of this document, it was actually a peg-legged man named Gouverneur Morris of the Pennsylvania delegation who styled the words which we now enjoy.

On the story of President Washington’s inauguration, Ms. Berkin writes: “Scores of New Yorkers assembled in churches, where they heard their ministers ‘implore the blessings of Heaven on the nation’. Coming out of church, they saw the clouds dissipate and the sun shine brightly, a sign to many that the heavens had responded to their request.” (p. 197) May it be so today, as well.

This is not a drab book of political jargon. It is a story of a few men and their courageous undertaking. It’s a story of men who argued – oh yes! – but ultimately came together for the good of the future.

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My Book Bag: The Real Lincoln

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I love history. I loved it in school. I believed that I was familiar with the Civil War. However, when I read Clouds of Glory, a biography of Robert E. Lee, I began to question what I had been taught in school. I realized I had never read an account of the war from the South’s perspective. It became clear that my history textbooks, while written from a Christian world view, were also written from one point of view: Lincoln’s.

Thomas DiLorenzo shatters the popular view of the Civil War and of the man, Lincoln.

Chapters include the following:

Lincoln’s Opposition to Racial Equality
Why Not Peaceful Emancipation?
Lincoln’s Real Agenda
The Myth of Secession as “Treason” (Don’t miss “Lincoln’s Spectacular Lie” in this chapter!)
Was Lincoln a Dictator?
Waging War on Civilians
Reconstructing America: Lincoln’s Political Legacy
The Great Centralizer: Lincoln’s Economic Legacy
The Costs of Lincoln’s War

After reading  The Real Lincoln, I have a brand new view of this age old subject. This book carefully demonstrates with charts, newspaper articles, and quotations that the Civil War I thought I knew about was not the war my southern ancestors lived through.

For example, I’ve always wondered why the South didn’t try to negotiate with Lincoln, to find a peaceful solution? This is a good question. Eleven other countries had peacefully ended slavery prior to 1861, beginning with Argentina in 1813. (p.50). Mr. Di Lorenzo makes this valid point: “The man whom master historians would later describe as one of the master politicians of all time failed to use his legendary political skills and his rhetorical gifts to do what every other country of the world where slavery once existed had done: end it peacefully, without resorting to warfare. That would have been the course taken by a genuine statesmen.” (p. 52)

The South had every right to secede peacefully from the Union. Is this not what we had wanted from England in 1776, but could not attain? Our founding fathers never intended for the new government to become the colossal monstrosity that they themselves had fought against. Long before Fort Sumter, New England wanted to secede three times: 1803, 1807, and 1812. They ultimately did not do it, but at the time, their right to secede was never questioned, merely the reasons for it, which were varied. (pp. 93-100)  Likewise, “Jefferson Davis appointed a peace commission whose mission was to travel to D.C. in March of 1861 (before the attack on Fort Sumter) and offer to pay for any Federal property on Southern soil, as well as the southern portion of the national debt. Lincoln refused to even see them or acknowledge their existence.” (p.121) The South was never allowed the right that New England had had in the early 19th century.

Lincoln put into effect many executive orders, much like modern Presidents have done. He closed newspapers that disagreed with him. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus (unconstitutional). He sent Union officers to imprison any northern Congressmen, like Mr. Clement L. Vallandigham of Ohio, who had Southern sympathies. And the list goes on.

Lest you think Lincoln despised the mistreatment of blacks, think again. Lincoln said in a debate with Stephen Douglas on August 21, 1858, “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races…” “I…am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.” (p. 285) Just imagine a politician saying this today! He would be hanged from the nearest tree! Yet, these are the words of “The Great Emancipator”.

And what about racism? I grew up in the South. I’ve had to hang my head in shame at being born into a former part of the Confederacy, the hated “slave-owning South”. Yet, interestingly enough, the “benevolent North” is a myth! Alexis de Tocqueville noted that racism was actually worse in the north than the south. (p.46) Hundreds of northern men fled to Canada or paid others to take their place in conscription after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Before this, men thought they were fighting to preserve the Union; the proclamation made the war about freeing the black man. They wanted no part of it.

The one good thing that came of the war was the end of slavery. But at what cost! “The monetary costs of the war alone would have been enough to purchase the freedom of every last Southern slave (and give each 40 acres and a mule.)” (p.275).

The highest price of the war? The shredding of states’ rights: “The loss of states’ rights is important because it meant that the people, as citizens of their respective states, would no longer be sovereign; the federal government would be.” (p.264)

Look around at our America today. The states get millions of dollars annually in subsidies from the Federal Government — as long as we’re being good. (Read: Doing what D.C. says) If we, the people in our respective states, decide to do something differently, then they threaten us with removal of their aid. The transgender bathroom issue? Out of our hands. Abortion? Not for us to say. Same-sex marriage? We must bow to the will of the all-mighty men in D.C.

And it all began with Lincoln.

People in both the north and south owe a debt to men like Lee, Jackson, Stuart, Longstreet, Davis and a host of Confederate soldiers who were willing to fight, not to keep their slaves, but to keep their rights. I wish they had succeeded.

If you love history, if you love the truth, you’ll read The Real Lincoln.

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My Book Bag: Emma

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I am privileged to have friends all over the world. I am blessed in particular by the friendship of Jared and Elna Smith in the United Kingdom. I’ve never met them, but because of the world wide web, we have listened to Bro. Smith’s sermons, read their blog posts, and my husband has even chatted with Bro. Smith on the phone. Through that friendship, we made the acquaintance of Bro. Adam Nixon, a British preacher living in Italy. We had the great honor of meeting him in person when he came to America to preach for us in January of 2015. I look forward to one day meeting the Smiths in person as well.

Elna has a very interesting blog where she shares her “views and reviews”. She was able to visit the home of Jane Austen, the famous British author, and wrote about it. In a conversation regarding  that blog post, Elna was a bit surprised to hear I’d never read an Austen novel. I have tried many times to read Pride and Prejudice, but just couldn’t get into it. Love stories are not my favorite type of novel, and like most older literature, Austen’s books seem to be slow starters. Elna suggested that I try reading Emma, the Austen classic that she likes best. It just so happened that I had started reading that very book some months back, but it was a free Kindle version that was not very well done,  so I forgot about it. I did recall finding the main character, Emma Woodhouse, to be quite humorous and relatable. On my birthday, I picked up a real copy of Emma and promised myself I would finally read a Jane Austen novel.

I found this book to be very entertaining. While Ms. Austen does use the old style of saying things in a rather round-about way, I quickly fell in pace with her writing. Emma Woodhouse is a young lady who lives with her widowed father. Her favorite hobby is that of a matchmaker, but, she seems to be slightly askew in her thoughts as to who is interested in whom. She befriends a young woman of lower social status in an effort to help her in life and love. Emma’s attempts at helping her friends find love will ultimately lead her to finding it herself, but not without some bumps along the way.  I would love to share more, but I do not want to spoil it for anyone who has not had the pleasure of reading Emma.

I am very happy with myself for achieving this particular goal this summer. I am glad I have become acquainted the regal Jane Austen and I do believe I will pick up another one of her books in the near future.

Elna said jokingly that I could not visit England until I had read at least one Jane Austen novel. Well, I suppose I should get my passport and pack my bags! Mission accomplished!

And what a delightful mission it was.

With love,

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My Book Bag: Clouds of Glory

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Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee. Just reading the title gives you a thrill of excitement and anticipation at what lay in the pages of this recent biography written by the distinguished historian, Michael Korda. And these pages do not disappoint.

As a native of the South – Arkansas, to be exact – I must admit that I have never boasted that I was a daughter of the Confederacy. The facts of the Civil War, as I knew them, were shameful indeed. The South fought to keep human beings in bondage all for the purpose of their own financial success and security. Who could be proud of that? In my early years, I bore the weight of responsibility for the actions of my state ancestors, and therefore I was not proud but in fact, I proudly decried their error.

But those feelings, while not eradicated by the reading of this biography, were certainly tempered. Through these pages, Mr. Korda describes a very different leader of the Army of Northern Virginia than I had imagined from that facts as I knew them. To know the battles, politics, and the famous names of the Civil War is to know only half of the story. To know the people through their letters, journals, and close friends is to know the story in total.
Mr. Korda shows that Robert E. Lee was a deeply religious man. His own father, Henry “Lighthorse” Lee was a friend of George Washington, and was present on the day that Cornwallis surrendered his army at Yorktown. However, he was also an unstable man, and in many ways, a highly dishonorable man. Robert E. Lee spent his lifetime trying to be everything his father was not: secure, hard-working, faithful, disciplined and honest. He succeeded.

When the war between the states seemed imminent, Robert E. Lee of all men was most troubled. He hesitated to take up arms against the nation he loved. “Save in defense of my native State, I never desire again to draw my sword,” Lee said. And he meant it. He would never attack the Union, unless the Union attacked his beloved Virginia. Lee had developed a personal interest in Napoleon Bonaparte while serving as the President of West Point. Had he not spent hours reading about Napoleon and his manner of waging battle, the Civil War would never have lasted as long. Lee’s strategy and skill rivaled that of Napoleon and has been studied by military training schools world-wide.

I had always heard that the Civil War was not about slavery, it was about a state’s rights, but I viewed this as an excuse. As I walked through life with Lee, albeit 150 years after the fact, I can see more clearly what that statement means, and in particular, what it meant to Lee. He believed that while slavery was, in fact, abominable, it was God who must end it; and he believed the end of slavery was in sight. In fact, the U.S. ended the importation of slaves in 1808. Many slave-owners treated their slaves with love and kindness, and felt them to be part of the family. Lee himself never bought a slave. He inherited them through his father-in-law’s estate, but immediately went about to educate them (which was a violation of Virginia law) so that they could be released. It is true that he had a low view of what the black man could accomplish, and felt that he should never be allowed to vote or obtain citizenship, but this view was not uncommon in the era in both North and South. He felt that slaves should be sent back to Africa once slavery was abolished. A view that, Mr. Korda points out that no one in the country, not even the “benevolent” North viewed the black man as equal to the white man. My own reading of Lincoln reveals that the President himself wanted blacks to be sent back to Africa also. It did not take long for me to see that the lines between right and wrong were rather blurry in the 1860’s. Do we free the slaves? And if we do, what will become of them with no education, property, or rights? Do we send them back to Africa? How? Do we continue to let slaves exist in the South and slowly integrate them into free society over time? These are the important issues at stake. Lee felt that each state should have the freedom to choose its own course. This is what angered the South; this is what forced Lee to take up his sword against his own army: the state’s freedom to choose. Lee was not necessarily hopeful that the Confederate States of America would exist permanently. He hoped that the war would prove the South’s strength, forcing Lincoln to come to the bargaining table, permitting the state to keep its rights within certain boundaries. Unfortunately, it did not happen.

Mr. Korda takes you on a journey, back in time, back to Virginia. You can feel the heat of the sun in summer and the dampness in autumn. You can feel the jostling of Traveller as he gallops, you can smell the gunpowder in the air, see the clouds of smoke, and sense the fear at the array of soldiers in blue with the Stars and Stripes whipping in the wind at Gettysburg. You will see the bond between Lee and Stonewall Jackson, a soul-mate-in-arms, and the stinging pain of losing him after the battle of Chancellorsville. When you visit the battle of Gettysburg, you can follow the battle with maps, and see how a southern victory would have been won had Jackson not died. You will also walk with the Lee through his own tragedies in the war: the capture of his wounded son as a Union prisoner; the itinerant life of his ailing wife and daughters as thy allude their captors; the loss of his wife’s beloved Arlington; the death of his daughter, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren; the humiliation, and the powerful dignity, of his surrender to Grant; and the return to Richmond after his defeat. You will see it all, as much as Lee will permit us. You will see that sometimes the great men lose. But as Lee demonstrates to us so vividly across the centuries, even in loss we can live nobly, trust God, and work for Him until our final breath.

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