Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/2/2020, Part I: It’s “Know Your American History Day”! [Corrected!]

Good Morning, America!

The Ethics Alarms countdown to the Fourth—you know, that racist holiday celebrating white supremacy?—begins today, one of the truly epic dates in our history. Of course, those who find history upsetting because it makes them feel”unsafe” don’t know any of this stuff, making them pretty much useless citizens with their ability to understand current events stuck at an infantile level.

  • On July 2,  1776, The Second Continental Congress, assembled in Philadelphia, formally adopted Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence from Great Britain. The vote was unanimous, with only New York abstaining. Of course,  Richard Henry Lee was Robert E. Lee’uncle and a slave-holder, so we really shouldn’t remember him or his significance to our nation’s independence.

Never mind.

  • On July 2, 1839, enslaved Africans on the Cuban schooner Amistad mutinied, killing two crew members and seizing control of the ship, which had been transporting them to be slaves on a sugar plantation. This set in motion a series of events that ended with  the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, with only one dissent, that the Africans had been illegally enslaved and had  exercised a natural right to fight for their freedom.  Massachusetts Congressman  John Quincy Adams,  the sixth president of the United States from 1825 to 1829 who, like his father, was a passionate foe of slavery, served on the Africans’ defense team. With  financial assistance of abolitionists , the Amistad Africans were returned to their homes in West Africa.

They never teach this story in schools, but your kids can read about it here.

  • On July 2, 1863, during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, with the fate of the Union and the United States hanging in the balance,  Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia tried to break through the line of General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac at both Culp’s Hill and Little Round Top. There were so many strange twists and turns that day that it is fair to say that only luck prevented July 2 from marking the end of the nation as we know it, and from preserving slavery at least a little longer. The Union was lucky, for example, that the officer in charge of the The 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment defending the far end of the Union line at Little Round Top was not a regular military man, but a Bowdoin history professor, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. When it appeared that all was lost, and his troops were about to  be overwhelmed by Alabama soldiers because the 20th was out of ammunition, Chamberlain improvised, and duplicated a tactic from ancient Roman armies.  He ordered a downhill bayonet charge, the only such maneuver in the Civil War. It saved the day, as the startled Alabama troops surrendered.

Meanwhile, the First Minnesota Regiment was sacrificing itself, as I described here, in one of the great moments of heroism in U.S. military history.

  • On July 2, 1964, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the historic Civil Rights Act in a nationally televised ceremony at the White House. Johnson famously used all of his vaunted political skills to threaten, cajole, and horse-trade his way to the law’s passage through Congress.If you haven’t yet listened to the preserved phone conversations he had with various Southern Democrats, you should.

Only eight months after the assassination of President Kennedy, the crude-talking President from Texas was able to accomplish what the Northern liberal Kennedy may never have been able to pull off.

Not all of the momentous events in our history  occurring on July 2 have been positive. 

  • On July 2, 1881,  Republican President James A. Garfield was shot by Charles J. Guiteau in a railway station in Washington, D.C. only four months into his promising administration. Guiteau was a disbarred lawyer and thoroughly insane.

Garfield was one of the most brilliant men ever elected President, and he would have survived the attack if he hadn’t been killed by his doctors.

  • On July 2, 1937, American aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Frederick Noonan disappeared in their Lockheed aircraft as Earhart attempted to become the first woman to fly around the world. Their bodies were never recovered, and what happened to Earhart, who was already a celebrity, has never been conclusively proven.


18 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/2/2020, Part I: It’s “Know Your American History Day”! [Corrected!]

  1. Excellent history lesson…

    However, Richard Henry Lee wasn’t Robert’s father, that was Major General Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee.

    • I searched and searched to find the answer to that.I kept getting defferent answers. Here’s a drirect quote from one: Q. Is Richard Henry Lee related to Robert E Lee? A. Among his six children was Robert Edward Lee, later the famed Confederate general during the American Civil War: I even looked for family trees. I had always thought RH Lee was RE lee’s uncle, and wrote it that way. Then I thought: Better check. That was my mistake.

      Thanks. I fixed it. But I’m ticked off at the web.

      • You’re welcome. Don’t feel too bad, though. I read a biography of “Light-Horse Harry” not too long ago so it was fresh in my mind. If I’d had to web-search it, I might have made the same mistake.

        But it just illustrates how the internet can mislead us about American history if it can’t get a basic relationship fact correct.

    • The Richard Henry Lee family had a funny dynamic. There were six sons, and the eldest, “Colonel Phil” was the executor of their father’s estate. He spent about 15 years undermining the terms of the will and distributing money with an eye dropper. The second, Thomas, was considered the most able of the brothers. He spent the prime of his life watching Phil. Fortuitously, Phil died in 1775, freeing up the family to provide two brothers to the Continental Congress and two more to the diplomatic corps.

    • See the post about the Times and Democratic party tweets, Bob. The Democratic Party called the Fourth that, hence my sarcasm. And I think it is vital that responsible and ethical Democrats as well as others speak out and make the party see that there are consequences, and that it is playing with dynamite. The current “movement” is calling for the removal of Mt. Rushmore, honors to the Declaration’s author and other signers. The Times’ 1619 project falsely claimed that the colonists seeking independence were primarily motivated by a desire to preserve slavery. Just ignoring this storm and assuming it will blow over, I think, is an existential mistake.

      • Mt. Rushmore doesn’t need my defense–or yours–at this time. For now my Dem friends and I want to celebrate the Fourth. They’re going to read the Declaration, at my suggestion. We’re celebrating toe birth of our Nation, not white supremacy. Why not give the culture wars a day of rest.?

  2. They never teach this story in schools, but your kids can read about it here.

    I can assure you that in the state where this happened, we learned about it!

    It was a standard part of our history lesson in the fifth grade. We even took a field trip to visit the Old State House, where the trial took place (and also saw a two headed cow…), and also visited Mystic Seaport, where they were building a full size replica at the time.

  3. Pingback: Celebrate July 2 | Ethics Bob

  4. I never saw the story of the Amistad taught in public schools, but I once designed a museum family day around an exhibit of the Hale Woodruff Amistad murals (from Talladega College). I researched the incident heavily, and put together a project based on Adams’ involvement that I tried and failed to influence a Kipp charter school to teach. It was truly great material.
    The failure to teach such stories (and even to suppress them, is tragic and destructive.
    Another story I keep coming back to these days is the Julius Rosenwald/Booker T Washington collaboration that ultimately led to Rosenwald, president of Sears and Roebuck, creating the Rosenwald Schools project with the Tuskegee Institute after Washington’s death.
    These stories defy the narrative, therefore it is preferable to suppress them rather than to share them.

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