Thursday, November 19, 2009

Casimir Pulaski, Polish Cavalry Officer in Our Revolutionary War

On November 6, President Obama signed an interesting bill, HJ Res. 26. It proclaimed Casimir Pulaski, a high-ranking Polish nobleman (1745 – 1779), an honorary citizen of the United States. He is only the 7th honoree holding this title. The others are William Penn and his wife Hannah, Lafayette, Winston Churchill, Swede Raoul Wallenberg, who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, and Mother Theresa.

In Poland, Pulaski fought in many campaigns, plots, and insurrections to try and liberate his country from domination, predominantly the Russians.

He was a fugitive from Europe, arriving here to commence a very distinguished reputation as a noted cavalry officer. Saving George Washington’s life at the Battle of Brandywine is attributed to him.

He followed our war into the South, where he fought in tough battles, including Charleston and Savannah, where he was mortally wounded in 1779.

I’m not sure that Pulaski is generally that well-known all across the country, so I was amazed how many places and events are named after him. The list is quite extensive, including counties, some cities, schools, highways, and festivals.

Pulaski is an excellent example of the committed role foreigners played in our Revolution. Lafayette and the French of course come to mind immediately.

Locally, I often notice names assigned to highways, bridges, and other public venues. Generally, I don’t recognize the names at all. They deserve more publicity. The have all contributed in some major way to be commemorated. It’s very fitting that Pulaski has been.

The President and this bill are a good fit. He calls Chicago home. The city has a very large number of Polish Americans; they exert considerable influence politically and culturally. They regard Pulaski as one of their own. –Renata Breisacher Mulry

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Friends of 1776 Holiday Wish List

With Christmas and all the other celebrations just a few weeks away, a lot of people think about gifts, friends, family, travel … I hope a lot of pleasant things.

Friends of 1776 isn’t going to be left out.

So I’ve prepared a short list, what else, for your consideration and approval. Please add your personal wishes to our Web site. We are interested.

Let’s start with a few gift suggestions, books and movies / DVDs. (All citations appear at end of post.)

Obviously, a lot of books are available of interest to Friends of 1776. Many have been mentioned here before. Some are quite long, well-researched, quite scholarly. They may not be so easy to read. They often have excellent notes and bibliographies.

Here are the selections: Berkin’s A Brilliant Solution, on the formation of the American Constitution, and Kitman, The Making of the Prefident 1789, a very humorous, irreverent retelling of Washington’s first Presidential campaign. You can obtain these books with confidence that they will make good gifts.

Selecting movies / DVDs was more difficult. There is not all that much out there. I had to stretch our interest quotient quite a bit. Keeping in mind that perennial favorite, HBO’s John Adams, in conjunction with the original book, McCullough’s John Adams, three movies are suggested. All have broad appeal, lasting interest, and excellent production.

One is Amazing Grace, the biography of the British abolitionist William Wilberforce and his decades-long struggle to finally end British slave trade. In the United States, it affected how we conducted our slave trade for decades longer.

Another is that stunning remake of The Last of the Mohicans, with Daniel Day Lewis, set at the time of the French and Indian War (1757), which defined the colonies as geographical areas. This war was the foundation of our independence only twenty years later.

That bright, patriotic musical 1776 brings out effectively the many differing attitudes about independence at the 2nd Continental Congress. There was no uniformity of opinion. This movie also hints at the danger facing those who considered independence at all. This movie would make a nice gift for all ages and backgrounds.

For holiday travel, a popular pastime, consider the following: a trip to scenic Virginia, touring the homes and lands of important men in our Revolution, in addition to those of the Founding Fathers. It’s significant that of the first nine presidential terms, eight were filled by Virginians!

Now for some wishes of longer duration. Many military campaigns of our Revolution had unique locations, strategies, and outcomes. Not all were victories by any means. I would really wish that Friends of 1776 was the sponsor and organizer of a military history lecture series for the American Revolution. Of course, lecturers from the Pentagon, West Point, the Department of Defense, etc. are very welcome. But we don’t need t be greedy. Here in the proximity we have the huge Marine base Camp Pendleton and there’s plenty of talent there!

When was the last time you were in a bookstore and you really could talk books with the seller? In a book chain, are you kidding? If you have such a store, treasure it, because economic forecasts for these are always dismal.

How about a wish-bookstore, “U.S. History in Print”, well-located, smallish, its owners not dependent on it for their living expenses, or else this store will fail. But millions of well-pensioned retirees are entering the market now, so the time may actually never be better.

I don’t recommend locating and competing with an academic bookstore; students do not have money for buying books, not even for those they have to buy. I’d rather locate it in a smaller city a little off the beaten track. That’s where you’ll find browsing interest, time, and money!

Hopefully, U.S. Constitution Day (September 17, 1787) will be considered as a national holiday (as already suggested in a previous post).

A very personal wish: that Friends of 1776 holds an annual meeting, maybe around George Washington’s birthday, with lots of input, good company, and probably a speaker. All of our Founding Fathers, with very few exceptions, were very active in social activities, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t copy them.

And as a final wish, in this world today, a lot more freedom and democracy, and a lot less poverty and illness.

It’s going to be 2010.

It’s time. – Renata Breisacher Mulry

History Holiday Gifts 2009 - Shop early and Save


A Brilliant Solution: inventing the American Constitution. Carol Berkin. A Harvest Book, Harcourt Inc. 2002. 310 pp.

The Making of the Prefident 1789. Marvin Kitman. Grove Press. 1989. 358 pp.

Amazing Grace. 2007. Michael Apted, Director. Movie.

The Last of the Mohicans. 1992. Michael Mann, Director. Movie.

1776. Released in 1972. Peter H. Hunt, Director. Movie.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Your Most Outstanding Revolutionary War Personality? Mine is John Hancock

Some months ago, I was interested in which Founding Father you considered the greatest. My choice was John Adams. This may have come as a surprise, but his intellect and perseverance to the cause of American independence was unparalleled. Your responses didn’t agree with mine at all.

It’s time for another questionnaire. Just which Revolutionary War personality is your favorite? Let’s omit the Founding Fathers because the results would be badly slanted. Otherwise, your choice could be from any colony or background. Giving a reason for your choice would add a great deal.

My selection is John Hancock, without hesitation.

What, you protest, that incorrigible smuggler, making himself the richest man in Boston in the process?

Let’s not forget that smuggling was a well-established component of the colonial economic system. It was anti-British, anti-tax. Hancock always drove the British nuts.

In fact, one of Hancock’s smuggling adventures can be considered a smoldering cause of the American Revolution. In response to his ownership and operation of the wine smuggler “Liberty”, aptly named, the British sent troops to Boston (1768).

Hancock was all-business, all the time. It helped define him. He was, in my opinion, a completely contemporary man. He would have fitted right in with the CEOs of today. I don’t think of him as a man of memorable speeches or resounding patriotic words. For me, he was always a man of action.

His personality left things to be desired. He had a colossal ego, great ambition. Is this bad? Most powerful men have these qualities. I like his raw courage. He was always on the run from the British. He was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. That made him a traitor.

Maybe it’s stretching a point, but you could consider him America’s first President. At the 2nd Continental Congress in 1776, he was the President of that Congress. He had a great deal of authority. But he never became President of the United States.

His antipathy towards Washington as commander-in-chief was not just completely unfounded. Washington had no real track record. The little he had was less than distinguished. Besides, Hancock, in typical fashion, considered himself a far better choice. This man was no shrinking violet. I like his confidence.

He went on to become governor of Massachusetts for nine terms. The great unrest of farmers in that state around 1786, the Shay’s Rebellion, was a wake-up call against uncontrolled taxation and rural hardship. When Hancock was reelected with a new, sympathetic legislature in 1788, I think he did a smart thing. He pardoned Shays and instituted a series of fiscal reforms, not a complete solution but a start.

The proposed Constitution was a real dilemma for Hancock, and I think he handled it as you would expect, considering the personal business aspect. Hancock was no Federalist; far from it. He was persuaded though to support the Constitution when he was promised a Bill of Rights (to curtail its power) and a federal office. The latter obviously would improve his financial profile.

Hancock did not live long enough (1793) to influence the pivotal financial years of the early republic after 1789. But I think his contribution would have been based on sound business practices, a solid tax code, no huge deficits and a social program which requires that everyone contributes.

Is that all wishful thinking? – Renata Breisacher Mulry

Friends of 1776 on Facebook