Colonial Period

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a speech given by Rob Shearer at Lipscomb University on Dec 3rd, 2011
part of a Limited Government Seminar sponsored by the Lipscomb University College Republicans

My topic today is the birth of liberty in Europe.

Well, it was born in Europe wasn’t it?

Every generation thinks it was the first to discover sex, so I guess every nation believes it was the one to discover liberty.

I hope to shatter a few illusions this morning. I want to broaden your horizons.

I am going to boldly assert that as young healthy American college students there are a number of things that you believe that aren’t true. Just as a fish never really notices the water, all of us, are usually oblivious to what Emmett Tyrell calls the Kultursmog.

Let me start with three small observations:

  1. the world did not begin in 1492
  2. human nature has not changed.
  3. progress is a myth

The one assertion you can confidently make about human nature over the course of 4,000 years of recorded history is that it has not evolved. In fact, it would be difficult to prove that human nature has appreciably changed.

I would challenge you to read the literature of the ancient world, or the medieval world, or the renaissance or the reformation. If you do, I think you’ll find something surprising. The thoughts, emotions, desires and aspirations of those people will be instantly recognizable and understandable. In truth, they are just like us.

Read the Bible. Read the Hymn to Aton by Pharaoh Akhnaton. Read the Epic of Gilgamesh. Read Homer. Read Augustine. Read Chaucer.

The people they describe are JUST. LIKE. US.

And they aspired to liberty – individual liberty, political liberty, JUST. LIKE. US.

We didn’t invent the idea of liberty.

It has a long pedigree, with roots back into the ancient world.

And the record of European history, of Western Culture, shows some remarkable periods in which political liberty was achieved.

We are the heirs to that rich European culture.

Our ideas about religion, philosophy, politics, and government have all come to us directly from Europe or through Europe.

But the development of liberty in western culture has followed a long and tortured path. It has not been the steady path of progress. There have been fits and starts. Achievement and decay.

It was anything but inevitable.

Now there is a school of history that believes that the course of history is pre-ordained, and unfolds by inexorable laws.  Macaulay, Hegel, Marx and Calvin all have one thing in common. They all believe in predestination.

Calvin… well, let’s leave Calvin out of this. He gets enough grief as it is. I don’t wish to trouble him this morning.

Thomas Babington Macaulay was the great Whig historian of 19th century Britain. For Macaulay, all of recorded human history was simply documentation of the unfolding idea of freedom which came to its fulfillment in that best of all possible representative constitutional, representative governments – 19th century Britain.




Hegel is the great German philosopher of the 19th century. For Helgel, all of recorded human history was simply the record of the unfolding and developing idea of freedom, which, by way of the dialectic, revealed itself in ever more refined and perfect fashion until it reached its culmination in 19th century Germany.




Marx believed that all of recorded human history is simply the clash of economic classes and forces and that the course of history was certain and determined and would inevitably lead to the overthrow of each imperfect intermediate form of government  until history was fulfilled in the workers’ paradise of a true communist state where the private ownership of capital would be abolished, and rule by the dictatorship of the proletariat. He thought that this would inevitably happen first in the most industrialized nations of the 19th century: either Britain, Germany, or the United States. Such a revolution, of course, could never occur in the less developed more rural nations on the edge of Europe or outside of European civilization. Certainly never in a country as backward and agricultural as Russia (where they still had serfs when Das Kapital was written!)

We laugh at the naiveté of these historians now… and think them parochial for advancing their own nations as the high point of history.

And then, of course, we’re guilty of the same thing.

We order the past to show how several thousand years of history were but prologue to the inevitable and pre-ordained emergence of the American republic.

This notion of history (quite widely and popularly held) is why many of the American historians of my generation have gone out of their way to attack the virtues of the founders.

The truth is, the founding of the American Republic is a remarkable and rare event in history.

Let me reassure you that I admire and revere the founders of the United States. I believe that Washington, Adams, Jefferson, & Franklin were remarkable and praiseworthy men.

But I want to suggest to you this morning that the founding of the American Republic was not as original as we sometimes think… nor was it inevitable.

So let me go back to the western European history and highlight places where Liberty appears.

But first, let me point out that Liberty & Law are inextricably intertwined.

Liberty is not license or lawlessness.

In fact, there can be no liberty without a recognized body of law (Hobbes & Locke had much to say about this, but let me come back to them later.)

Liberty depends upon a shared, recognizable concept of law – natural law.

Liberty and natural law are intertwined.

The notion that there is a natural moral law that is intrinsic, built-in to the universe, and discoverable is an idea with a long pedigree. It was something the Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans all agreed upon. They might have disagreed with each other over who was the author of this law, or over some of the particulars, but they all agreed and acknowledged that natural law was an objective fact.

The birth and expansion of liberty has deep roots. It is a long tale.

Now of course, modern Europeans have abandoned the idea of natural law – just as they have abandoned the notion of objective truth. This doesn’t mean that either have ceased to exist – only that the Europeans have ceased believing in them.

But a belief in natural law and a devotion to discovering, or at least outlining, its details is a central part of the story of liberty in western culture.

But natural law by itself does not generate personal liberty, or political liberty.

Personal, political liberty depends upon the notion that natural law limits the actions of everyone in society.

Tyranny, despotism, oligarchy, aristocracy all are antithetical to liberty, because they all believe that there are some people who are not obligated to obey natural law.

Liberty is achieved to the extent that the wealthy, the privileged, the aristocrats, the king and his officers are all forced to obey, equally the natural law.

So long as there are some people who are above the law, liberty is curtailed.

When all are equal before the law, there is liberty.

THAT idea as you might imagine took a long time to succeed.

To achieve liberty, you must limit government. You must limit the king. You must limit the kings officers.

And they’d rather NOT be limited or held accountable, thank you very much – so they resist.

The struggle to achieve liberty then is a struggle to limit government – not to throw off the natural law, but to bring everyone under the law.

Let me outline for you briefly some highlights in the history of the struggle to achieve liberty – the struggle to limit government

It is useful to remind us how costly the struggle has been, how much patience and perseverance it has taken to guard the spark and flame over long centuries, and how irregular the course was. The many setbacks are a useful reminder to us that the unfolding of liberty was anything but inevitable.

In the ancient world, you can do no better than to make a comparative study of the political history of Israel, Greece, and Rome – coincidentally, the three streams of political thought & philosophy which lie at the heart of western European culture.

And in all three you find a curious sequence of events. The unfolding of liberty is not a linear tale of progress. Israel is ruled by Patriarchs & Judges, then by Kings. The kings (as prophesied) are more oppressive in their rule than were the judges, and to make matters worse the Kings, over time get progressively worse, not better! In fact you could argue that a graph of the political history of Israel has a downward slope – the opposite of progress.



Well, let us turn to Greece. The political history of the Greek city states is rich and varied. And the Greeks give us the democracies of the city-states like Athens, Corinth, and… Sparta? Wait. How many of you saw The 300? The Spartans represent a strand of Greek culture that values honor and the battle-skills of well-trained soldiers far above liberty. And over time, which strand of Greek culture came to dominate. Did the Greek city states gradually merge into a larger, representative political union? No, in fact the Greek city states either succumbed to their own demagogues and tyrants, or in the end they were conquered by Alexander and his Macedonian phalanxes, and came under what can only be described as a military dictatorship.

How would you graph liberty over the history of ancient Greece?

And now, let us turn to Rome.

The Romans achieved remarkable stability in their government and successfully pacified and governed the entire Mediterranean world – the pax romana. And Rome was a republic. The republic held elections for the office of consul every year. And the Roman republic achieved political stability by dividing political authority – not just between two co-equal consuls, but between consuls and senators and a host of other prominent officials.

But what happened to Rome? How do we explain/ what answer do we give to Gibbon’s great historical work titled The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? (published in 1776, by the way – this is called foreshadowing)?

Actually, I think Gibbon’s work asks the wrong question. It’s not really even all that very interesting a question. He thought the answer was that Christianity had undermined the old Roman virtues and weakened Rome. I think that’s a preposterous answer by the way. But Gibbon work asks the wrong question.

The much more interesting, much more important question is “Why did the Roman Republic fail?” Not the Empire, the REPUBLIC! Why did Rome cease being a Republic and become an Empire.

The peak of Roman civilization is during the days of the Republic. When the Republic fails and Rome becomes an Empire it is a sign that things have already gone badly wrong. The Roman Emperors were not nice men. That fact is masked for us, because in the movies they always speak with British accents and seem refined and cultured. But they were not nice men. Almost every single one of them was a general and owed his title to the backing of the army. The ugly truth (seldom spoken) is that the Roman Empire was a military dictatorship. And like many military dictatorships, the most frequent method of regime change was a military coup. Roman Empire is a misnomer. It was not so much the Roman Empire as it was the Roman Banana Republic – 500 years of military dictatorship.

So the real, important question to be asked of Roman history is not why did the Empire fall, It’s why did the Republic fall? Why did it cease to hold elections and turn into a military dictatorship?

I challenge you to take up the study of Roman history. The answer to that question is fascinating, and frightening.

I could say much about the Middle Ages and the Germanic kingdoms that succeeded Rome. Here again, our nomenclature is misleading. Rome was not conquered by the Germanic tribes. The Germanic tribes had no kingdoms of their own. They were homeless. They crossed the frontier of Rome (the Danube River) as illegal immigrants. And the hollow and rotted out shell of the Roman Empire collapsed under the weight of their migrations.

And in one of the great ironies of church history, barely a century after the urban, lower-class persecuted Christian church had succeeded in converting the Roman aristocracy, Rome was conquered by pagan barbarian tribes and it would take several more centuries for the conquered Roman Christians to convert their Barbarian masters.


Much could and should be said about the development of law and liberty in medieval and renaissance Europe. The struggles of the 12th & 13th century led to The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, and of the Liberties of the Forest – a radical notion that the king was bound by the law.

That notion was more prominent in the late Middle Ages and then was rejected by the monarchs of the 16th & 17th centuries who claimed to rule by direct authority from God. England went through a civil war and ten years of military dictatorship sorting that out. The result brought the king’s back under the authority of the Magna Charta and the law. One could argue that Locke, Hobbes, and the Glorious Revolution were a recovery and revival of early medieval notions of kingship.

But I want to come back to that bit of foreshadowing I spoke of before. I don’t want to steal the thunder of the next figure, but I want to make an important point about the connection between liberty in the United States and liberty in Europe.

I mentioned that Gibbon published The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776. His work typified the ongoing study of the ancient world which had been revived in Europe at the end of the middle ages.

At the end of the Middle Ages came a period of time dubbed the renaissance or rebirth because of a widespread movement which sought to revive the ancient world. Across European culture, for several centuries, there was an intense interest and devotion to studying Greece and Rome. It began with a revival of languages and literature. It spread to a revival of artistic styles and subjects. The protestant Reformation itself fits organically into this cultural preoccupation with reviving the classical world. This fascination with the ancient world persisted for several centuries. It was the exact opposite of our modern notion of progress. Renaissance men did not believe that everyone who had lived before them was stupid and insignificant. Rather, they believed that the wisdom of the ancient world had been tragically lost and that it could and should be rescued and revived. The motto of the Renaissance was “ ad fonts” – back to the sources.

The culture of the 18th century, the 1700s in America was still the culture of the Renaissance, with an emphasis on studying the classics of Greece & Rome. The culture of the Enlightenment and the rejection of authority and the past was just developing in Europe – but not yet in North America. The colonies were not on the cutting edge of cultural trends. They were a cultural backwater, lagging behind and maintaining the attitudes and culture of earlier centuries.

And what model did the American colonists turn to when they wished to establish a new form of government, independent of the British monarchy? They consciously chose the form and features of the Roman Republic – with an eye towards avoiding its deficiencies, but with a thoughtful recognition that it had governed the Roman World successfully for 500 years.

And so I would assert that the founding of the Roman Republic is the last expression and accomplishment of the spirit of the Renaissance. It looks backwards to the ancient world for guidance and wisdom. The renaissance began with language and literature and spread to the arts. The spirit of the renaissance, when applied to the problems of the church produced the upheavals of the protestant reformation.

And then finally, the renaissance results in the revival of ancient political thought and forms and the founding of the American republic.

The American revolution looks back to the ancient world. The French revolution is a horse of a different color. Its spirit is almost the antithesis of the renaissance. It rejects all past authority. It treats all ancient authority with suspicion and contempt. The proximity in time is misleading. They not the expressions of the same cultural movement, they are the antithetical expressions of two separate and opposite cultural movements.

So. The origin of Liberty in Europe took us back to ancient Rome, via the Renaissance.

And the cautionary part of that tale is that each expression of liberty which I have mentioned was not marked by a slow, steady progressive improvement. Rather in Israel, in Greece, in Rome, in the Middle Ages there are brief, compressed, miraculous expressions and instantiations of Liberty. But they do not last. They decay, they decline, they rot. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowy. But they do not build upon each other brick on brick, course on course.

The course rather is a sawtooth pattern. Liberty is achieved… and then begins to fade, and often seems to disappear – until another generation comes along and is miraculously empowered to create a culture, a movement, a political nation where liberty becomes real.

May your generation be such a miraculously empowered generation. Because we do not need progress. We need a renaissance of liberty. We need a revival of liberty.

Thank you.

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It will be some time before we are able to get these printed, but in the meantime we wanted to make them available to anyone who is interested. You can browse online here or download a .pdf to your own computer. You can even print your own copy if you’d like.

Our history study packages are typically designed for use in one semester, so now’s the time to order for the new year. Break out of the textbook box. Give your children real stories about real people. Reclaim history for them and for yourself.
Greenleaf Press 2010 Retail Catalog

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Peter the Great, born 1672, Tsar of Russia 1682-1725

Below, I have linked in a sample chapter from my current writing project, Famous Men of the 18th Century.

Like the previous Famous Men books, this one will include about 30 short biographies of key figures whose lives will collectively, tell the story of the period from 1700-1800. The target audience is students in the 6th-11th grades. In our scope and sequence, we’d recommend parents use this book with their sixth or seventh graders, and then again in the junior year of high school.

Comments and feedback will be most appreciated. This chapter began as part of the original series by Poland and Haaren, but if you compare their text with mine, you will see that I have made large alterations and added a great deal of additional material.

My target is to finish these chapters by the end of next summer. I’m looking forward to taking a crack at the American founders as well as key figures from Britain and France. Though I must confess that I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how interesting Peter and King Charles XII of Sweden have turned out to be.

– Rob Shearer

Famous Men-18th Peter the Great

There’s never been a shortage of children’s books on the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving, of course. But over time, fashion and political correctness have influenced how the story is told and what details are included, emphasized, or omitted. I’m happy to report that some of the recent titles are returning to a more straightforward account that recognizes the Pilgrim’s deep faith in God and their practice of setting aside a day of thanksgiving to thank and honor Him for His specific care and provision as they reaped a bountiful harvest before heading into their second winter in the new world. I’m pleased to highlight three such books.

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas goes the furthest of the three. Squanto is usually afforded a small but significant role in the traditional account. He arrives after the terrible dying-time of the first winter and moves in with the Pilgrim settlers and teaches them how to farm and fish. But Squanto’s story is itself a remarkable example of the providence of God. Squanto was kidnapped by European sailors in 1608, taken to Spain, and sold as a slave. But something remarkable happened at the slave auction. Squanto was purchased by a group of Spanish monks who devoted themselves to redeeming and freeing as many slaves as they could. The monks taught Squanto Spanish, and told him about God. They encouraged him to trust God. After five years in Spain, the monks arranged for Squanto to travel to London where they had made an arrangement with an English merchant who promised to help Squanto find his way back to Massachusetts. In 1618, Squanto, now aged 22 sailed back across the ocean to his home. When he reached the site of his village, it was deserted. A neighboring tribe told him the sad news that his entire village had perished in an outbreak of sickness. For two years, Squanto lived with the neighboring tribe. Then came word from one of the braves that a group of European families had arrived and built a small settlement where Squanto’s tribe used to live. Squanto went to visit them and greeted them in English. He told them his story of kidnapping and slavery, his redemption in Spain, and his return with the English fishing fleet. The Pilgrims told Squanto their story – leaving England seeking a place where they could worship God and serve Him. Squanto told the Pilgrims he would come and live with them and teach them how the Indians farmed and fished. Governor Bradford told Squanto that his story was like the story of Joseph – taken from his home and sold into slavery. And then Joseph was used by God to save a whole nation from starvation. The final third of the book tells (and shows) the story of Squanto helping the Pilgrims culminating in the celebration and Thanksgiving given to God by the Pilgrims and by Squanto in the fall of 1621.

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving
is a hardback, 32 pages. It is available for $9.99 directly from Greenleaf Press.

Squanto’s Journey by Joseph Bruchac tells Squanto’s story in his own voice. Bruchac is a Native American and his text is clear and sparse – tinged with understandable sadness, but not bitterness. Squanto has endured kidnapping, slavery, long absence and the loss of his entire tribe to sickness. And yet he remains friendly towards the Pilgrims and seeks earnestly for peace. The illustrations are beautiful, with the bright orange, yellow, and brown shades of a New England fall.

Squanto’s Journey is a paperback, 32 pages. It is available for $6.00 directly from Greenleaf Press.

110609_2004_Squantoandt4.jpgPilgrim Cat
by Carol Peacock is a delightful take on the Pilgrim story inspired by an encounter the author’s daughters had with a present-day cat at Plimoth Plantation, the living history museum in Massachusetts. There were eleven girls on the Mayflower, and there were cats. From these tidbits, Peacock weaves a story that certainly might have happened. If my daughters are any guide, the cat will certainly capture children’s attention and imagination and provide an opportunity to study the story of the Pilgrims with an intriguing twist. The cat, named “Pounce” is both a companion and a comfort through the “dying time” of the first winter. With a litter of kittens, Pounce is quite happy sampling tidbits under the table at the first Thanksgiving.

Pilgrim Cat is a paperback, 32 pages. It is available for $6.95 directly from Greenleaf Press.

Don’t forget our classic Thanksgiving titles: the Landmark Landing of the Pilgrims, N.C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims, and Samuel Eaton’s Day .

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

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Just published last month! National Geographic has added another title to their outstanding series of photo-books which use re-enactors to depict early American history. 1776: A New Look at Revolutionary Williamsburg
joins earlier titles 1607: Jamestown; 1620: Mayflower; and 1621: Thanksgiving. I hope they will do a companion book on 1775: Lexington & Concord, but perhaps it’s just as well that this volume was published first. Most Americans are unaware of the large role that Williamsburg and Virginia played in the American Revolution. Williamsburg was the capital of the Virginia Colony, of course. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry all spent considerable time there. All three were members of the colonial legislature which met there. Henry and Jefferson were both governors, elected after the colony declared its independence.

This large-format picture-book is divided into five major sections, with an introduction and an afterword. Part one is a section describing the founding and growth of Williamsburg as the capital of the colony of Virginia. Part two recounts “A New Spirit” and describes the opposition to British rule which grew in the 1760s and had its dramatic high point in Patrick Henry’s speech denouncing the Stamp Act in 1765. Part three is titled “Revolution” and begins with the attempt by the Royal Governor Dunmore to seize the powder reserves of the militia from its storehouse in Williamsburg. It concludes with the passage of the “Declaration of Rights” (written by George Mason) by the Virginia Convention in June of 1776.

Part four describes “The City at War.” Patrick Henry, the first popularly elected governor, replaced Lord Dunmore. The militia assembled and remained camped on the green lawns of Williamsburg, protecting the colonial government from attack by British troops. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson was elected governor and the capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond. Part five, “A Hard-Won Victory” describes the arrival of British troops under Benedict Arnold, who sailed by Williamsburg up the James River and sacked Richmond in January of 1781. Arnold retreated through Williamsburg and was then joined by General Cornwallis and his larger body of troops in June. By the end of the summer, Cornwallis had moved his army to Yorktown, about ten miles away from Williamsburg and was soon besieged there by American and French forces under Washington and Lafayette. In October, Cornwallis surrendered.

This volume, like the previous three from National Geographic, makes excellent use of historical settings and dedicated re-enactors who take great pains to get all of the details of their clothes and possessions correct. Colonial Williamsburg is a 300 acre park where the foundation has very carefully restored original buildings from the colonial era. There is something about these stunning color photographs which makes the events much more real. The faces of individuals in the crowd forces us to realize that these were ordinary real people – and that the iconic events of the American Revolution were felt by individuals from all stations of life.

There is a great deal of attention paid in the text and photographs to the ways in which colonial life and the events of the Revolution were experienced differently by the slave community in colonial Virginia. Rightfully so. Without lapsing in a predictable political correctness, there is a refreshing honesty in reporting the reality of the institution of slavery. The tension between the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Declaration of Rights is also noted.

Along with the other titles in this series, National Geographic is doing a fantastic job of making early American history accessible to younger readers. The publisher lists the target age group for this book as “8-12.” The text seems to me to be pitched a little bit older. I’d estimate more like 10-15, but the pictures will certainly grab the attention of younger readers. The content is far more engaging than the accounts in the standard textbooks. I’d certainly recommend this for students up through grades 8 or 9.

1776: A New Look at Revolutionary Williamsburg is a hardback, 48 pages. It is available for $17.95 directly from Greenleaf Press by clicking on any of the links in this review.

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

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Franklin truly was a genius. He set an example for American ingenuity and advances in science that inspired generations of entrepreneurs and self-taught inventors.

This is the latest title in the excellent series of titles from Chicago Review Press which also includes George Washington for Kids, The American Revolution for Kids, and Abraham Lincoln for Kids.

The subtitle on this volume follows the same formula as the others, “His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities.”

The book is, first of all, an excellent illustrated biography of Franklin – whose life is perhaps the most remarkable of all the founding fathers. Part 1 – “As a Young Genius” provides us with Franklin’s family history. His father was a Puritan, who left England in 1683 and migrated to the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Boston. Benjamin was born in 1706, the 12th of fourteen children. Ben grew up in colonial Boston. He was a bookish lad, but didn’t much like school. At ten he apprenticed to his father as a soap and candle-maker. This he apparently hated even more than school. At twelve, his father decided to apprentice Ben to one of his older half-brothers, who was a printer. Ben liked work in the print shop, but hated working for his brother. In 1723, at the age of seventeen, Ben slipped away from Boston without a word to his family or his parents. There are five activities for this section: Grow Crystal Candy; Shoot a Game of Marbles; Pour a Bar of Soap; Dip Candles; Hasty Pudding.

Part 2 – “A Young Man of Promising Parts” follows Ben’s move from Boston to New York and then to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia he found work in a printer’s shop, but was ambitious to establish his own business. In 1724, he sailed for London with a friend, thinking he had the backing of the Royal Governor of Pennsylvania. Sadly, the Governor had misled Ben with a promise of a letter of credit. The truth was, the Governor had no credit to lend. Ben went to work for a printer in London. In two years he had saved enough to return to Philadelphia. Back in Philadelphia, two more years of hard work finally enabled Ben to start his own business. In 1729, he published the first issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette. Most of the articles were written by Ben. There are three activities for his section: Create Your Own Paper; Make a Leather Apron; Start a Junto.

Part 3 – “Any Opportunity to Serve” details the twenty years in Franklin’s life when he worked as a printer, and author, and then, towards the end as a natural scientist and inventor. The short version is that the print shop prospered and Franklin got rich. His newspaper sold well, and when he added an annual Almanac, it proved very popular and quite profitable. By 1750, Franklin had invested in other print shops in New York and New Jersey, he was perhaps the largest manufacturer of paper in the British Empire, and he had invested wisely and profitably in real estate. During the 1740s he became the official printer of the colonial government of Pennsylvania. He founded the American Philosophical Society. He was appointed postmaster. He organized the Militia Association and the Union Fire Company. He was also attracted to the preaching of George Whitefield and intrigued by the revival then sweeping the colonies known as the “Great Awakening.” He befriended Whitefield and became his publisher, though he never was personally converted to Christianity. By the end of the decade, at the age of 45, he decided to retire from his business ventures and devote himself to further education, exploration of the natural world, and writing. His investigations and publications on electricity made him famous in Europe as well as the colonies, and he was awarded honorary degrees by both Yale and Harvard. There are four activities for this section: Design and Print an Almanac Cover; Create Charged Cereal; Roll that Can; Fly a Kite.

Part 4 – “A Firm Loyalty to the Crown” In the 1750s, Franklin wrote and published dozens of essays, most of them devoted to promoting the development of the American Colonies. He predicted the population would double every twenty years, and that there were many fortunes to be made. He was appointed one of two joint deputy postmasters for all the North American colonies – a task he undertook with energy and enthusiasm. During the French and Indian War, he again organized the colonial militia and was elected Colonel of a 1,000-man regiment. Ben and his eldest son, William, traveled to the frontier and supervised the construction of forts. In 1757, the Pennsylvania legislature sent him to London to negotiate with the Penn family over amendments to the colonial charter. Franklin found himself a celebrity in London – well known from his writings and his experiments with electricity. In 1761, Franklin attended the coronation of George III. After five years in London, Ben returned home to Philadelphia. He stayed only a year, and then was sent back to London a second time to request the King and Parliament end the rule of Pennsylvania by the Penn family. He was to spend the next ten years in London, representing not only Pennsylvania, but eventually being named agent for New Jersey, Georgia, and Massachusetts. He was in London when Parliament passed the Stamp Act, and also when, after violent opposition, they repealed it the next year. He stayed in London through the rest of the decade, and then on into the 1770s. When Boston radicals dumped tea into the harbor rather than pay a tax imposed by Parliament, Franklin was summoned to appear before King George’s privy council and listened for more than an hour while he and the colonists were denounced and insulted. He worked with William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, to introduce a measure whereby Parliament would voluntarily renounce any authority to impose a tax on the colonies’ internal trade. Pitt’s proposal was rejected. Shortly thereafter, Ben left London and returned to Philadelphia – the city he had left eleven years before. There are two activities for this section: Dig into Your Family Tree; Play a Glass Armonica.

Part 5 – “Snatching the Scepter from Tyrants” When Franklin arrived in Philadelphia, he learned that while he’d been at sea between England and America there had been a battle between the British Regulars occupying Boston and the Massachusetts Militia at Lexington and Concord. A day after his arrival, Franklin was elected as a delegate from Virginia to the Second Continental Congress, which was already meeting in Philadelphia. The next spring, he was appointed to the committee to draft a Declaration of Independence. In the fall, he was commissioned by the Congress to travel to Paris and seek an alliance with the French. In Paris, Franklin found he was a much a celebrity as he had been in London a decade earlier. In 1778, he met Voltaire who proclaimed himself one of Franklin’s admirers. Franklin not only worked towards a formal, open alliance with the French, he also worked quietly on many of the practical needs of the colonial government and the continental army. After Washington forced the surrender of Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown in 1781, Franklin (along with Adams, John Jay, and Henry Laurens) helped to negotiate the treaty with Great Britain which recognized the independence of the colonies. There are three activities for this section: Make Fancy Shoe Buckles; Cook a French Feast; Learn French Words and Phrases.

Part 6 “Something Fit to end With” Ben stayed on in Paris until 1785, when he was succeeded as the United States Ambassador to France by Thomas Jefferson. His sojourn in Europe this time had lasted for nine years. In May of 1787, Pennsylvania sent Franklin as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. At the age of 81, he was the oldest delegate. It was Franklin who nominated George Washington as the presiding officer over the convention. It was Franklin who was instrumental in crafting the compromise between large states and small states that was solved by creating both a Senate and a House of Representatives. After the ratification of the Constitution, Franklin’s last cause was the abolition of slavery. He was already president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery. He urged the new Congress of the United States to end slavery, but his appeals were ignored. In April of 1790, at the age of 84, Benjamin Franklin died surrounded by his children and grandchildren. Thus ended a remarkable life which began as a younger son of an English Puritan emigrant to Boston and included a decade of service in London and a decade in Paris. There are four activities for this section: Design a Turkey Seal for the United States; Make a Barometer; Make a Walking Stick for Your Gout; Cast Franklin’s Rising Sun.

Aside from being an excellent biography of Franklin, this book (like all of the Chicago Review Press titles in this series) is unique in its incorporation of practical, hands-on activities for kids. The publisher indicates the text is written for students in grades 3 through 6, and that’s certainly the age range that most of the activities will appeal to – but I suspect that even junior high and high school students will find the biography of Franklin an excellent introduction to his impressive and varied accomplishments.

Ben Franklin: American Genius is a paperback, 128 pages. It is available for $16.95 directly from Greenleaf Press by clicking on any of the links in this review.

– Rob Shearer, Publisher

Other books from Chicago Review Press in this series:

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We sometimes forget that, in pre-Revolutionary America, the religious landscape was dominated by churches that rested on legal establishment: the Congregationalists in New England, and the Episcopalians in New York, Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. What exactly did legal establishment mean? It is so far removed from our own experience that we may not realize what an intensive role the government playing in administering the churches.  the state collected tithes (which all citizens were legally required to pay, whether they attended the established church or no). The state also laid out new parish boundaries, subsidized new church construction, maintained parish properties, paid clergymen’s salaries, hired and fired them, and even took measures to suppress dissenters. Baptist preachers, for example, were sometimes jailed and beaten. Yes, here in America! Finally, in many states, government positions were limited to church members – there were religious tests for office.

[. . .]

[a] key to success on the frontier is that you have to be there. You have to be willing to sacrifice the comforts of the settled cities in order to minister among rough people living rough lives. As a rule, the established clergy were not willing to do that. In the state-supported churches (and in wealthier churches generally), the training for pastors was a long, expensive process that led to a chronic shortage of clergy, thus giving them considerable bargaining power over salary and location. Many simply refused to go to the unsettled frontier areas.

By contrast, the Methodist circuit preachers became a legend on the frontier. They traveled constantly, virtually living in the saddle.

– Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth , pp 263-264

She has some fascinating statistics that show that the rate of religious affiliation in the US has increased since the revolution, while at the same time, the “market share” of the older mainline churches has been decreasing since the First & Second Great Awakenings. The 19th century was the Age of Methodism. The 20th century has been the Age of the Baptists (with pentecostal/charismatics coming on strong towards the end of the century). During this entire time, while the number and percentage of Americans who indicate that they are affiliated with a church has increased, the numbers of Congregationalists, Episcopalians, & Presbyterians has been declining.

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It’s done! Finished, edited, proofed and approved. And we have copies on the shelves!

The sequel to Famous Men of the Renaissance and Reformation.

Rather than reprinting Famous Men of Modern Times (which is a bit uneven in both tone and selection), we have made the decision to complete the Famous Men biography series with four new books:

  • Famous Men of the 16th & 17th Century (Queen Elizabeth to Louis XIV) – available now
  • Famous Men of the 18th Century (Isaac Newton to Robespierre) – 2010
  • Famous Men of the 19th Century (Napoleon Bonaparte to Mark Twain) – 2011
  • Famous men of the 20th Century (Teddy Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan) – 2012

The 17th century was an age of religious wars and revolutions. The French had seven civil wars of religion from 1570-1590. The German Empire had a religious civil war from 1618-1648. The English had a civil war from 1642-1649. It was also the century in which the English and French settlements were founding colonies in North America at Jamestown, Plymouth, Boston, & Quebec. But learning the wars will not convey to students what the times were like. Biographies will. Twenty-eight key individuals are profiled in chronological order:

Birth Crowned Death




Catherine de’ Medici



Henry of Navarre (Henry IV)



Elizabeth I


Sir Francis Drake


Sir Walter Raleigh



James I


Matteo Ricci


William Shakespeare


John Smith





Gustavus Adolphus


Samuel de Champlain




Cardinal Richelieu



Charles I


Oliver Cromwell



William Bradford



John Winthrop


Blaise Pascal




John Milton


Johannes Vermeer



Charles II



Jan Sobieski



William of Orange (William III)


John Locke


Johan Pachelbel



Louis XIV

I am particularly pleased with how the chapters on the colonial founders turned out. John Smith (Jamestown), Samuel de Champlain (Quebec), William Bradford (Plymouth), and John Winthrop (Boston) all have incredible and fascinating stories. A simple comparison of their backgrounds and their reasons for leaving England and France will give students far more understanding about the founding of the colonies than any textbook can.

I also enjoyed greatly retelling the events of the English Civil War, the Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. These events (with a number of larger-than-life characters) were critical in shaping the political ideas of America’s Founding Fathers – whose stories I am looking forward to telling in Famous Men of the 18th Century.

I’ve also included accounts of the lives of artists (Rembrandt, Vermeer), a musician (Johan Pachelbel), and writers (Shakespeare & Milton) so that students will become acquainted with more than just the political history of the times.

The reading level is targeted on upper elementary/jr. high, but even older students and adults will find much here that gets left out of the textbook accounts.

Famous Men of the 16th & 17th Century is 28 chapters, 228 pages and retails for $17.95, directly from Greenleaf Press.

Get ’em while they’re hot off the press!

– Rob Shearer, (author and) Publisher

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winthropI’ve just finished drafting a short biography of John Winthrop for my next book, Famous Men of the 16th & 17th Century. The biographies begin with Queen Elizabeth and will end with the death of Louis XIV in 1715.

This has been a difficult chapter for me to write, and taken longer than I expected. I have developed an admiration for Winthrop, even if I have not been able to muster a great deal of affection. If I had known him, I might have liked him – but on the whole he seems to have had a very serious bent. Luther did too, but Luther had a playful, mischievous side to him that I greatly appreciate. I can find no hint of mischief in all of Winthrop’s writings.

Still, he is a man to be admired.

Part of the difficulty in writing about him is having to explain the culture and institutions within whose bounds he operated. He is an Englishman of the 1600s. Further, he is Puritan in his religious convictions. Further, he is from a moderately well-off, connected family from the Stour Valley in Suffolk. And he was a lawyer. I hope you get my drift.

Reasons to admire him? There are many.

His family – when he died, he had six surviving sons. The oldest was 48, the youngest barely a year old. Winthrop was widowed three times, twice before he was 30. He and his third wife were married for 29 years and had raised four sons together when she died. Winthrop, a widower at 59, married for a fourth time, and had a son who was just a year old when he died.

His leadership / perseverance – He joined the Puritan company who were planning to plant a colony in the new world in 1629 and was almost immediately elected governor. He organized a fleet of 11 ships and 700 colonists who sailed for Massachusetts just six months later.

His moderation – As governor he sought to reconcile embittered parties who came before him with legal disputes. He knew what a great freedom the Puritans had achieved by being granted a charter that allowed the colony to govern itself – without a royal, appointed governor.

His resolve – The life of the colonists was harsh, and challenging. Mortality was quite high – over 50% for many years. Threatened by disease, starvation, Indian attacks, and on occasion by internal quarrels, Winthrop persevered in seeing the colony grow and prosper. It had a population of over 15,000 when he died in 1649 – nineteen years after the first 700 had crossed the Atlantic in the Winthrop fleet.

Some may think the cases of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson are damaging to Winthrop’s reputation, but the original sources do not reflect badly on him. I would argue that Williams’ banishment from Massachusetts was not so harsh as later historians wish to portray it. In fact, after settling in Rhode Island, Williams and Winthrop maintained a friendly correspondence and sent each other gifts from time to time.

Anne Hutchinson is another matter altogether. I believe that the popular story of Hutchinson as an early feminist and a martyr for toleration and religious freedom can only be described as a great historical fraud. She has been adopted by those pursuing modern ideologies for their own reasons. In the record, it is clear that she was as intolerant (if not more so) as the Puritans of Boston. She was, in fact, agitating and organizing a faction in the church at Boston in an attempt to have one of the ministers dismissed and her brother-in-law appointed in his place. She claimed to know “by direct revelation of the Holy Spirit” who were truly elect and who were not. She charged that only Rev. Cotton and Rev. Wheelwright (her brother-in-law) were true ministers of the gospel and that all the other ministers of Massachusetts were preaching a false “covenant of works.” Had she succeeded, she would have gladly seen Winthrop banished from the colony.

Well.. chapter 18 is now drafted. The page count stands at 163. I have to finnish finding illustrations for these last few chapters. I have seven more to draft myself, and three to edit from the original Famous Men of Modern Times. Time to push on. . .

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1776. The vote for independence, and the public reading of the Declaration.

From the HBO John Adams series.

Adams was the leading proponent. Franklin was the vote-getter/strategist. Jefferson drafted the soaring prose.

Take a moment and savor. Watch it with your children. Give thanks to God for the Founders.


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