Scottish Philosopher David Hume – Ideas Influencing the Declaration of Independence and Constitution

For twenty some years I recorded 10 volumes of Daily Notes that rehearsed events of the day.  Recently by happenstance my wife was perusing Vol. I.  Curiosity aroused I read the opened page and found this Daily Note:  “Did some banking and now plan to try t0 understand David’s Hume’s attack on rationalism and induction”   (3/17/1983 –  p.34)  This Note recalled my awareness of the 18th century Scottish philosopher David Hume that came  six decades prior when taking a sequence of graduate courses in the History of Philosophy.  I recall my appreciation as a young student finding Hume refreshingly radical.  What caught my attention was  Hume’s stance in the debate regarding knowledge and its relationship with rationalism and empiricism. Experience and the evidences of the senses, in Hume’s view, is the basis for belief and drawing of conclusions.  Western philosophy had been dominated, as I had become aware, with Platonic ideas.  Justification for knowledge, Platonism argued, is by reason rather than the senses. Eternal truths, or Forms, we discover by reason,  “they are eternal, necessary, and unchanging”.  Knowledge is based on the foundation of Innate Ideas inborn in the mind and not received from experience. The occasion for the referenced Daily Note was teaching a course in Problems of Philosophy when wrestling with Hume’s thought first encountered thirty years prior. David Hume is an important figure in the history of philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment.

Recent  reading included Arthur Herman’s:  How the Scots Invented the Modern World,  a history of the Scottish Enlightenment of the 18th century.  Divided into two parts the narrative rehearses sequentially the leading contributors to the Enlightenment followed by the spread of those ideas to the Western world.   Herman stresses the impact of the Enlightenment ideas of democracy and literacy that sparked the American Revolution and framing of the American Constitution.  Scottish Philosopher David Hume served as harbinger  for an American worldview supporting government committed to freedom, justice, and equity.  Hume had faith in social progress while recognizing its limitations that civil society was moving from slavery to freedom.  “Freedom (however) is always ambiguous.”   The experimental method of reasoning led Hume  into moral subjects such as justice, obligations, and benevolence.   True liberty involves not only individual rights but also personal obligations.  Hume concludes:  “liberty is the perfection of civil society  . . . . . (but) authority must be acknowledged as essential to its very existence.”




Battle of Antietam and Aftermath – Emancipation Proclamation and Shifting War Aims

Recently published is Michael Korda’s  historical biography –  Clouds of Glory:  The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee.  The biography provides an admiring portrait 0f Lee.  Korda writes Lee’s “strengths  were his courage, his sense of duty, his religious belief , his military genius, his constant search to do the right, and his natural and instinctive courtesy .”  After the Civil War Lee ascended the pantheon of American history as legend and admired hero but a least understood legend.  Korda writes to disentangle Lee from the myth and “take the marble lid off the Lee Legend to reveal the human being beneath”. (ipad 1838)  Clouds of Glory provided an interesting and stimulating read. What drew my particular attention was the Battle of Antietam and Lee’s responsibility, in Korda’s view, for what proved for the Confederacy a fateful stalemate.

The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under Lee’s leadership after a succession of battles  cleared Virginia of the Union Army of the Potomac.  Wishing to capitalize on his success Lee crossed the Potomac  River into the United States and Maryland.  Lee’s bold maneuvering, however, ended with  his retreat from Maryland after the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.

Throughout Korda’s biography regarding Lee’s human characteristics and military leadership are discussed.  Both character and leadership suggest his responsibility for the fateful stalemate at Antietam.  As a gentleman Lee did not force his will on subordinates to “avoid confrontation”.   The author observes trenchantly:  “A great man’s actions are indeed determined, if not foreordained, by his character – not necessarily just the faults in his character, but sometimes, even more tragically, the virtues.  Lee was a gentleman, and the need to behave like a gentleman  was perhaps more important to him than anything else, perhaps even victory”.  Lee “possessed every quality of a great general except the ability to give a direct order to his subordinates and ensure they were obeyed.”  (ipad 1536 – 37; 1225)

Lee’s motivation for invading Union territory was logistical, political, and offensive strategic.  Logistically war ravaged northern Virginia needed gathering food and provisions from bountiful Pennsylvania or Maryland..  Politically a decisive  Confederate victory would favor a Democratic victory in the fall elections.  The war weary North might in that case  be amenable to peace negotiations.  Maryland as a slave state might provide recruits and  provisions for the Confederate forces.  Offensive strategically Lee planned to flank the enemy north of Washington making mandatory for Union forces to protect Washington. This would free Richmond, the Confederate capitol,  from danger.

Federal forces of 90,000 under Maj. Gen. George B McClellan marched on Frederick outflanking Confederate forces. Forced to retreat to Sharpsburg Lee took a defensive position behind  nearby Antietam Creek with the back to the Potomac.  Korda discusses Lee’s fateful misreading of the situation. Concentrating  forces is the first rule of warfare.  Lee divided his army into thee columns and Jackson’s forces into thee columns. Operating in enemy territory communication between Confederate forces was doubtful.  Lee, Korda concludes, had overconfidence in his troops. “The battle of  Sharpsburg into which he had been forced was at best a costly if heroic stalemate, in which neither side could claim victory,  Lee escaped by the skin of his teeth.”  The retreat of Lee across the Potomac into Virginia “gave Abraham Lincoln the ‘victory’ he desired before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation — Whether Lee wished it or no, the war now no longer just about whether the Federal government had the right to coerce Virginia by armed force, as Lee saw it; the issue was slavery.  He had inadvertently brought about a shift in politics that by a supreme irony, was exactly what John Brown had sought to achieve in raiding Harper’s Ferry.”  (ipad  1838)

(Blog 1/3/2013 Emancipation Proclamation Sesquicentennial where I commented that the Emancipation Proclamation as a war measure that freed only those slaves in Confederate areas as of Jan.1, 1863.  My argument:   “Paradox – Abraham Lincoln freed no slaves in the particular – but as a result freed all.”

“THE PARTHENON ENIGMA” – The History of Historical Interpretations

An article in the New Yorker (4-14-14) drew my attention.  DEEP FRIEZE,  presented by Daniel Mendelsohn,  is a critique of another historian’s scholarship.  Since the Enlightenment, he notes, the Parthenon is interpreted as “designed to represent everything we have wanted both ancient Athens and our own liberal democracies to be:  the pure expression of  a rational, humanistic worldview”.  As such the Parthenon  and Athens  are seen as representing the birthplace of democracy and leading to the modern concept of democracy.  The  Parthenon’s “beauty and proportion has come to represent our political ideals and model for civil architecture.”

Mendelsohn presents his critique of historian Joan Breton Connell’s recently  published: “The Parthenon Enigma”. Connell’s controversial thesis posits that twenty-five centuries has hopelessly misinterpreted the Parthenon’s meaning and in fact, it is “unbearable to imagine on a building regarded as the “‘icon of Western art'” represents the story of human sacrifice reflected in Athens’ founding. She makes an analysis of the Parthenon’s frieze.  Mendelsohn notes: the frieze is “three feet high,  five hundred and twenty-four feet long.  The frieze represents an immense procession featuring more than six hundred participants–human, animal, and divine”.  With the frieze itself, Mendelsohn states, “she shows herself to be adept at interpretive gymnastics that frieze theorists have excelled at from the start.”  She holds that a pediment sculpture is that of a  river god who was the father-in-law of Erechtheus .   Mendelsohn concludes:  “To insinuate, that depictions of Erechtheus’  daughters are evidence of darkly barbaric culture of virgin sacrifice is a risible misrepresentation”. Daniel Mendelsohn’s New Yorker article presents an example of Historiography, or the history of historical interpretations.  He underscores that the “Parthenon’s history can reflect the prejudices and predilection of its historians”.

Attending graduate school at the University of Minnesota in the late Sixties and early Seventies I was influenced in large degree by David Noble.  He taught American Studies,  a new social science discipline at the time.  Noble, a respected teacher and noted historiographer, taught, among several subject areas, American Intellectual History.  As a student in  Noble’s American Intellectual History sequence as well as his guidance of my personal readings  shaped one  direction my study and teaching would take. A most influential reading under his guidance was Thomas Kuhn’s influential and controversial: “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”(1962). Kuhn elaborated scientific revolutions resulting in “paradigm shift” accompanied by a shift in world view.  “Paradigm Shift” today is a term in common English usage.

Some years later my research resulted in a historiography study of Reconstruction titled: “The Freedmen’s Bureau and the Problem of Reconstruction History”. One conclusion drawn was: “Each era intellectual history makes clear, perceives  the world in terms of thought patterns or block structures, which give coherence to reality.  Paradigms, changing almost imperceptibly in response to complex forces within reality, control the judgment of an historian no less than contemporaries.  The historian depends on his/her perception of verity and moral certainty which gives meaning to the his/her life.  The inability of honestly objective historians to shake biases and prejudices is easily diagnosed by the historiographer.  Historians possess their own value systems; therefore, moral judgment upon the past is unavoidable.  The historian’s struggle is an objective comprehension of the past.  It is an obligation, therefore, to deliberate the judgments upon the past which are most compatible with convictions.   The same duty devolves upon the historiographer when critiquing the bias of historians.”


Fourteenth Amendment — context for contemporary issue relating to citizenship and voting rights

The relationship between state citizenship and national citizenship was unclear in the Constitution.  The Fourteenth Amendment in 1868,  contains a “citizenship clause” which establishes the nation as one body of citizens of one nation without question.  The Dred Scott decision of 1857 recognized two classes of citizens – the citizens naturalized by Congress, and whites who were recognized as state citizens.  State citizenship was primary – a state could make persons citizens of a state but not of the United States.  The Fourteenth Amendment altered the control of citizenship in the United States.  To be a citizen of a state an individual need only reside there.  State control over citizenship had ended.

The landmark Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case had held that African-Americans, slave or free, could not be citizens of the United States. Dred Scott was an African-American slave taken by his owners to the free states and Fort Snelling  in the Minnesota Territory. Scott suing for his freedom had his case dismissed.  The court held it had no power to consider slavery in the territories acquired after formation of the United States.  Anti-slavery and abolitionist sentiment and agitation in the free states against the court’s ruling served as catalyst for the Civil War.

The battle over the right to vote is a continuing issue.  The Supreme Court in August of last year invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act of  1965.  Section 4 held that 9 states were covered under laws of “preclearance”. Nine states with a history of discrimination and hindering voting rights had to “preclear” changes in voting laws with the Department of Justice. Six of those nine states immediately began to move forward  with voter restriction laws hindering access to the polls if the voter was without a Voter ID,  or Photo ID.  Such state voting laws have adverse effect virtually disfranchising many of the most vulnerable,  including the poor, elderly,  students, and minorities.  Chief Justice Roberts speaking for the conservative court majority (5-4) stated that the discrimination of 40 years ago are old facts not related to the present  Discrimination has changed dramatically and substantially.  Congress, Roberts suggested, is free to enforce oversight where the right to vote is at risk withy using contemporary data, not forty year-old data.  Such possible action,  however, has small chance with the current Congress.  Whether discrimination has changed “substantially and dramatically ” in the past 40 years is subject to critical evaluation. The struggle for free unhindered access to the voting booth is part of the ongoing struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.





The American women’s hockey team tearfully stood on the podium wearing their silver medals. Rather than placing their silver medal victory in a sportsmanship relationship with that of gold they begrudged their own victory. They did not cross the oceans to Zochi  to return home without the anticipated gold medal.

Seventy years ago in our varsity dressing room our coach  displayed the motto:  WIN WITHOUT BOASTING – LOSE WITHOUT EXCUSES.  This motto can shape a sportsmanlike approach when participating or observing athletic activities.  There were, no doubt, women hockey teams participating in the Olympic games who would celebrate at the victory podium wearing  a silver medal. The motto, it seems,  has applicability in our lives in general manner.   



Recently my reading included Stephen Greenblatt’s Pulitzer Prize Winner The SWERVEHow the World BECAME MODERN. The book jacket announces Greenblatt’s work as “A RIVETING TALE Of The Great Cultural Swerve Known as the RENAISSANCE”. Reading the book reminded me of several themes encountered in my reading and studies. Greenblatt tells how a humanist book hunter Poggio Bracciolini discovered in a monastic monastery Lucretius’ ON THE NATURE OF THINGS.  Lost for more than a thousand years THE SWERVE and its return to circulation changed the course of history shaping the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein, and – in the hands of Thomas Jefferson – leave its trace on the Declaration of Independence. (book jacket)

Greenblatt has a succinct summary of Lucretius’ thought. Lucretius believed, Greenblatt explains, “that nothing could violate the laws of nature. He posited instead what he called a “swerve” … an unexpected, unpredictable movement of matter. The reappearance of his poem was such a swerve, an unforeseen deviation from the direct trajectory – in this case, toward oblivion – on which that poem and its philosophy seemed to be travelling. When it returned to full circulation after a millennium, much of what the book said about a universe formed out of a clash of atoms in an infinite void seemed absurd. But those very things that first were deemed both impious an nonsensical turned out to be the basis for the contemporary rational understanding of the entire world. What is at stake is not only the startling recognition of key elements of modernity in antiquity, though it is certainly worth reminding ourselves that Greek and Roman classics, largely displaced from our curriculum, have in fact definitely shaped modern consciousness. More surprising, perhaps, in the sense, driven home by every page of THE NATURE OF THINGS, that the scientific vision of the world – a vision of atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe – was in its origins imbued with a poet’s sense of wonder. Wonder did not depend on gods and demons and the dream of an afterlife;  in Lucretius it welled up out of a recognition that we are made of the same matter as the stars and the oceans and all things else. And this recognition was the basis for the way we should live our lives . . . the culture in the wake of antiquity that best epitomized the Lucretian embrace of beauty and pleasure and propelled it forward as a legitimate and worthy human pursuit was that of the Renaissance.” pp.7-8

Somee years ago I wrote an essay tracing the recovery and contribution of Greco-Roman classical antiquity to the Renaissance and, subsequently, to “how the world became modern”.  A brief but relevant section of that essay relates to Greenblatt’s SWERVE. He makes frequent note of the recovery of the classics to Western thinking. That recovery, I suggest, is A GRADUAL CURVE AND RESULTANT CURVE.

” ‘Lord Acton wrote many years ago, in 1906, that ‘next to the discovery of the New World the recovery of the ancient world is the second landmark that divides us from the Middle Ages and marks the transition to modern life’.  This statement is true in the sense that the humanists rediscovered the classical value placed upon man in his individual uniqueness. A fascinating, profound but exceedingly difficult work was written relevant to this theme and is titled: Classical Heritage and Its Beneficiaries: ‘From the Carolingian Age to the End of the Renaissance’. We are indebted to it’s author, R. R. Bolgar’s thesis maintains that from the age of Charlemagne to the end of the Renaissance each age adopted certain elements of the classical heritage that were conducive to the slow rise of Western civilization. The Renaissance generation of humanists finally exhausted the teaching potential of that heritage when it rediscovered the essential classical value of the individual in his personal uniqueness. During the eighth century a Latin grammar curriculum was established to foster education and banish ignorance. The ninth century used Latin for the church and the art of writing; the quest for knowledge flourished. The tenth and eleventh centuries used the classics essentially for legal land medical information. Scholastics of the twelfth century basically neglected the classics with their theological endeavors. In the fifteenth century, development of classical studies occurred, when the rising Italian cities grafted Byzantine Greek and its cultural heritage to Western knowledge, and ‘uncovered the last secrets of the classical heritage’. ‘The Renaissance, Bolgar continues, ‘revealed to an amazed world those elements in classical poetry, history, and speculation bore on the personal life. Humanism became equated with the free and full development of the individual . . . The humanists of the Renaissance, altered their attention, from the traditional concern for logic and rhetoric, typical of scholasticism and early humanism to the more fruitful practice of imitation of the classics.” (emphasis mine)

The Renaissance and humanist endeavor may be seen as bringing to light the implications of classical antiquity and the concept of human freedom as Stephen Greenblatt demonstrates in THE SWERVE:  HOW THE WORLD BECAME MODERN.


By happenstance viewing computer files  “Disc 1  Family photos 1958 to 1985 – Christmas 2007”  appeared on the screen. The theme:  THE CIRCLE OF LIFE – ENCIRCLED BY GRACE was the message shared with our children. This holiday season respect and empathy ought be given to the diversity of cultural and religious heritages of all in a multicultural-multinational society. All can resonate, perhaps,  in terms of their own cultural and spiritual context to FAMILY PHOTOS  –  THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.  

“Disc 1 Family Photos                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Christmas 2007

Memories come to mind while downsizing our family slide connection to DVD format, 916 photos on four discs dated 1958 to 1985.  Picture taking time is usually a time of positive family experience. A quarter century of Bartling family photos suggests a theme similar to Disney’s animated film The Lion King. THE CIRCLE OF LIFE.  A man and a woman marry, founding a family – children arrive – baptisms – infant years – school years – friendships made – holidays celebrated religious observances – graduations – camping and vacations – new beaus and courtship – engagements – weddings   – grandchildren and cousins – extended family relationships – reunions – grandparents and great-grandparents – uncles and aunts – the passing of loved ones. Family if a school for character and the microcosm of society. How meaningful then that our family is ENCIRCLED BY GRACE.  GRACE coming that first Christmas as God’s incarnate love will always as in our family’s past encircle your family in its future CIRCLE OF LIFE.  With love to our children and grandchildren for sharing our generation’s CIRCLE OF LIFE.  – Pater et  Mater Familias”


A scripture read at a recent service came from the prophet Malachi. His name means my messenger. Malachi warns (4: 1-2a) that the day of the Lord is coming. On that day evil will be destroyed like stubble in a fire, when “the sun of righteousness” will shine on those who fear God. Our Monday morning study group shares views regarding the scriptures to be read at the following Sunday service. What followed was a discussion as to what evil might be suggested to be like stubble to be burned in a fire? That led to describing and naming egregious symbols of inhumanity perpetrated against fellow humans.

The seventy-fifth anniversary of Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass”, November 9, 1938 , associated as part of the Holocaust the study group saw as “symbol of inhumanity”. Kristallnacht was the pogrom resulting in broken glass strewn about – an assault against Jews agitated by Nazi Storm Troops, SS, and the Hitler Youth. The populace were encouraged to join the rampage destroying businesses and property of the Jews. Motivation was revenge and reprisal for the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a seventeen year old German Jewish youth. Instigated by Nazi officials locals targeted Jewish homes and business, 30,000  were sent to concentration camp, 1777 synagogues were burned, homes, schools ransacked and demolished, 7,500 businesses destroyed.

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, recently a few days ahead of the anniversary called “Kristallnacht “one of the darkest moments in German history” and urged her countrymen to “ensure no form of anti-Semitism is tolerated”. She cautioned against the dangers of anti-Semitism violence on “The Night of Broken Glass”.  It is “almost inexplicable” she noted, “but also the reality that no Jewish institution can be left without police protection”. (The Times of Israel)


Rabbi Arthur Green, professor of religion at Brandeis University, lauds his teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel, the “towering religious figure of American Jewry in the post-war era”,  for providing reason for not blaming God for the Holocaust, 1938-1945.

Rabbi Green writes regarding his teacher.  “Hershel, whose mother and sisters had died in Warsaw/Treblinka, felt it was too easy to blame God for the holocaust. The failure, he insisted, was essentially a human one. It was human beings, transgressing what he insisted was religion’s most essential teaching – the creation of every person in God’s image – who had brought about the unimaginable degradation of their fellow humans. Our task, Hershel insisted, was not that of reconstructing religion but of rebuilding humanity. If humanity had failed, the only thing to do was to be more human and to show others how to be more human.

He (Heschel) liked to tell the Hasidic tale of Rabbi Raphael of Bershad who invited a group of his disciples to come and share with him in a ride in his coach. ‘But there is not enough room!’ a disciple cried out. ‘The rebbe will be crowded.’ The master replied: ‘Then we shall have to love each other more. If we love each other more, there will be room for us all.’ Heschel understood that all of humanity rides in that coach, one that can be either the divine chariot of God or the crowded, sealed railway car. The choice, he insisted, is a human one, and we who have escaped the terrors of hell are here to help all our fellow humans make that choice.”


Fifty years ago the16th street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed killing four African-American girls, among them Denise McNair, 11. THE LUTHERAN (10/13) commemorates  this tragic event with an article:  Remembering BIRMINGHAM: Lutheran pastor was leader in the civil rights movement.  Joseph Ellwanger, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church “was teaching an adult Bible study and Chris McNair, Denise’s father, was leading children’s classes when they heard the explosion.  A messenger delivered the news that Denise was a victim”.  The McNair’s asked Ellwanger to participate in the services of the three girls and to lead in Denise’s private committal service. Recently the Ellwanger and McNair couples attended a service remembering the four girl’s lives. (We were clergy colleagues)

16th Street Baptist Church was bombed on Sunday, Sept 15th, 1963 by “racially motivated terrorism”. This proved to be the key turning point in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Ellwanger was the only white pastor among the local clergy to meet with Martin Luther King who came to Birmingham in January 1963 to “organize a campaign to confront the violence and racial segregation”.  Birmingham Project C (“confrontation”) challenged segregation and racism with lunch-counter sit-ins, marches confronting city hall authority, and segregation in shopping practices .  By April the campaign was loosing energy but revived when children were given the opportunity to march. As to why they wished to march Ellwanger observed: “They said, ‘We want to march for our freedom and for everyone’s”.  In May over a four day period the youth walked downtown to discuss with authorities unjust  segregation practices. Ellwanger notes the youth were instructed in Christian non-violent practices and “refrain from violence of fist, tongue and heart . . .  They had a clear understanding that this was the movement for justice and truth that God had called them”. Leaving their classrooms  and meeting at 16th Street Baptist Church, filing out of church 1000 children marched. The initial march was stopped by order of the head of police, “Bull Connor”, with fire hoses and police dogs to ward of the children. News and pictures of the Children’s March received worldwide attention. Ellwanger concluded:  “I have no doubt the Children’s March and deaths were a significant chapter in bringing the Civil Rights Act of 1964  . . . In the face of racist action the amazing thing was the strong reaction of the Gospel, faith in God who will see us through not with vengeance but compassion.”

I was pastor of a town-gown pastorate  from 1961-1963 in a church adjacent to the campus of Auburn University. it is in this context that Ellwanger and I shared ministry. Two particular examples of our relationship follow. They are taken from a piece written several years ago.  It can be accessed on this site’s home page as FRED’S STORY.Title of the retrospective is: SHAPED BY HISTORY: Living in the deep South during the Civil Rights Revolution. Learning to distinguish between American Ideal and Reality.

“My installation was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, October 4, , 1959. In preparation for the service, I was asked to send invitations to Missouri Synod clergymen in Alabama. Without any thought of the distinction between black and white parishes.  I sent the invitations to all pastors . . . Ellwanger was a white pastor  of a black congregation in Birmingham.  Ellwanger, rightly so, responded to the invitation by bringing with him members of his congregation’s laity. Shortly before the service began agitated ushers came into he sacristy and told me several black gentlemen were in the vestibule waiting to be seated. They asked me what should be done. I suggested they be seated in the back pew. What a pity that such a question and such an answer was necessary to address the situation.” On another occasion Pastor Ellwanger invited me to  serve as Bible topic discussion leader at a black youth retreat at what is today Concordia College Selma.  “Ellwanger served as organizer and director of the youth retreat. One afternoon our entire group of some fifty youth and two white pastors went on a long walk into the countryside. Our objective was to visit a farm of a successful black farmer to demonstrate what results from hard work and self-sufficiency . . . After visiting the farm we walked along the highway and came across a field where the remains of Civil War  breastworks were clearly visible. Continuing our walk along the highway we were suddenly stopped by police officers. They obviously knew Pastor Ellwanger  and his leadership with black youth. They inquired with a phrase clearly suggestive of Jim Crow realities and tactics of intimidation and fear:  ‘What is this (N-word) march all about?’ They put pastor Ellwanger in the police car and took him to police headquarters in Selma for grilling and harassment. Later that day they released him.”

Joseph Ellwanger was a real mentor in shaping my Yankee lack of understanding through my personal experiences of  Jim Crow’s reality of racial, social, cultural, and political racism supported by custom and law.


Symbols, other than in human form, reflect the values of an age.  McClung Fleming’s “Symbols of the United States:  From Indian Queen to Uncle Sam” is an illustration of the importance of Symbol as reflection of the values of an age. (Archives – Wintherthur Museum). Between the years 1755 to 1850 some of these symbols were used and the time periods of their use overlapped.  The Indian Princess, the Neo-classical Plumed Goddess, the American Liberty, Columbia, Brother Jonathan, and Uncle Sam–each suggests something about the society in which it was popular, the rise of American nationality, and the major values associated with America. My interest focuses primarily on the symbol Columbia because it best illustrates the value nexus of pre-Civil War America. Columbia first appeared in the 1730’s, but by 1810 it had changed in meaning. An unknown artist, in 1810, showed Columbia holding an American flag in the left hand, placing a wreath upon the marble bust of Washington, crushing the British Crown beneath her feet. Columbia appeared everywhere in the Pre-Civil War Era symbolizing first, liberty, and secondly, Columbus’ voyage. The voyage from Europe represented Europe as the quest in a radically new world, the promise of finding earth’s first paradise in the East by the general movement westward. Columbia represented the fulfillment of history by a return to Eden. The promise of finding earth’s original paradise in the East necessitated a movement to the West to complete the full circle leading to the Eden somewhere in the East. Columbia, however, came to mean in the Pre-Civil War Republic the belief in liberty. Liberty and Columbia soon fused into American liberty–an image of the Republic’s great historic mission with its great moral ideal. Columbia as symbol suggested the quest for national solidarity, a society built upon morality, and a nation with a unique world mission.