Tags Posts tagged with "Founding Fathers"

Founding Fathers

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As I sit here, writing my column on election eve, I can feel — or imagine I can feel — the nervousness of a nation on the threshold of the unknown. More than perhaps any other midterm election, this one has come to epitomize the turbulent and contradictory forces pulsating within America today. One thing is certain, however. The day after the election, we will still be living with those same forces: racism, income inequality, foreign affairs and the role today of the Constitution written more than two centuries ago.

Seemingly just in time, although he explains that he started the book two years before President Trump was elected, Joseph J. Ellis has written about these same subjects by sharing the conflicting viewpoints of a quartet of our most admired Founding Fathers. Remarkably they concern these same issues, and hence Ellis states in “American Dialogue: The Founders and Us” that he is writing about “ongoing conversations between past and present.” He even labels chapters “then” and “now” lest the specific themes of his dialogues and how they relate to today are not clear. Our Founding Fathers not only argued among themselves, they argue across more than 240 years, speaking to us in the present — and in a way reassuring us that the dialoguing is not ruinous but rather an asset of our democracy.

So much for our current concern about a divided country.

The four founders are Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington and James Madison. Ellis describes Jefferson’s contemptible views on race as he grew older, insisting as he did that the two races could not live together and that blacks could never be equal to whites. This after a younger Jefferson wrote that “all men were created equal,” and denounced slavery. But as we know, he benefited from many slaves at Monticello in Virginia and sired multiple children with his slave, Sally Hemings. Certainly he struggled with the whole issue of race but did little to try to ameliorate the problem. He might have banned the spread of slavery to the Louisiana Purchase that he so brilliantly acquired in 1803, or sold some of it to compensate slave owners for freeing their slaves or even have provided a safe haven for freed slaves to live there. He did none of that.

In their final 14 years through 1826, Jefferson and Adams exchanged letters regularly, arguing not only for their time but consciously for future Americans to be able to read their deliberations. Jefferson held a romantic notion that economic and social equality — not between the races, however — would come to be the natural order of American life. Adams realistically insisted that “as long as property exists, it will accumulate in individuals and families … the snowball will grow as it rolls.” Adams believed that government had a role in preventing the accumulation of wealth and power by American oligarchs. The Gilded Age of the late 1800s proved Adams right, as the unbridled freedom to pursue wealth essentially ensured the triumph of inequality. So has our own age. We have an endemic, widening gulf. What should be the role of government at this juncture in our democracy?

Madison — who orchestrated the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and the ratification, wrote many of The Federalist Papers and drafted the Bill of Rights — changed dramatically from a staunchly held belief in federal supremacy to one in which states and the federal government shared sovereignty, thus allowing future residents to interpret the Constitution according to a changing world.

Washington famously warned against foreign adventuring in countries of little threat to the United States. It was almost as if he could see Afghanistan and Iraq over the horizon.

Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of several books about our early history, believes that history helps us understand the present. We can see the same arguments going back and forth that somehow sound an optimistic chord.

And what does he see as the ultimate fix? A great crisis would certainly unite us, he suggests, perhaps even that of evacuation of the coasts with rising seas. He also thinks mandatory national service would help, not necessarily from the military aspect but toward some form of public good.

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These days, with the chaos in politics, it is no wonder that many people are showing a renewed interest in our history and the goals of our Founding Fathers some 240 years ago that define who we want to be today. Many residents seem surprised by the significant role our Long Island area played in the Revolutionary War and are delighted to learn about the Culper Spy Ring that was centered in Setauket and led by Benjamin Tallmadge, a resident. “TURN: Washington’s Spies,” the AMC cable series now in its fourth and final year, has done much to popularize the spy story, speaking to our past.

All of which serves to bring history to the fore. This is a good result because history is part of the glue that defines a community and strengthens its roots. Since we at the newspaper believe this, we run regular columns by local historians telling our history, and we have now just finished a full-length film, “One Life to Give,” as I have previously mentioned, about how the Culper Spy Ring started. Its premiere is scheduled for Sept. 17.

Now there is more good news to make us proud of the place in which we live. In a refreshing show of bipartisanship, two of our congressmen, Democrat Tom Suozzi of Glen Cove and Lee Zeldin, Republican of Shirley, have introduced legislation in the House to bestow upon the George Washington Spy Trail national historic status.

The spy trail is essentially Route 25A, the road that was used by the spies during the war to travel behind enemy lines between Long Island and New York City, gaining vital intelligence about the British and their troop movements and strategy. Long Island was an occupied territory, the breadbasket of food and supplies for the British, who were headquartered in New York City. All along the trail’s about 50-mile route was the high-wire danger for the spies of being discovered and hung. Indeed, the British trapped Nathan Hale, whose purported last words were about his one regret being that he had but one life to give for his country.

Washington well knew the enormous debt he owed to the spies, and to honor them he traveled in an elegant coach along the 25A route after the war in slow, celebratory fashion from Great Neck to Port Jefferson — then known as Drowned Meadow — staying at the inn owned by one of the spies, Austin Roe of Setauket.

But at that time the purpose of his trip was known only to the tiny band of spies. Spies were then thought of as lowly deceivers by the people and not at all cloaked in the glamour of James Bond.

So these courageous, remarkable men — and women, like Anna Strong — took their secret to their graves for fear of being ostracized by their countrymen. And Washington kept their secret. Only in the middle of the last century were papers discovered by historians that revealed the bravery of the Culper Spies. Today, there are original letters written by Washington to the spies, with an addition on one by Benjamin Tallmadge, that can be viewed at the library of Stony Brook University. They were bought by Old Field resident Henry Laufer and donated to the university for that purpose.

The spy trail is the result of an intense effort over some 20 years by Gloria Rocchio of Stony Brook and the North Shore Promotion Alliance to bring awareness of this historic road and its role in American history. A total of 26 signs, which they secured and installed, depict Washington’s coach and line his route.

A national historic designation, under the auspices of the National Park Service, would not only honor these heroes but also perhaps bring federal grant money, and not insignificantly promote tourism to help our economy.

So the Culper Spies live on and continue to serve.

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Watch out, Madison Avenue! People everywhere are gunning for your jobs.

Well, maybe people don’t want advertising and marketing jobs, but they do want to express themselves in ways guaranteed by the Constitution. How could the Founding Fathers have known that the war with words, on words and of words would require an ability of people on both sides to understand that each of them has a right to speak?

The Women’s March, the day after the inauguration, was a spectacle. People from around the nation, indeed the world, took considerable time to write, design and share signs about any and every issue important to them.

People are searching for the words to share their convictions.

One sign read, “Without Hermione, Harry would have died,” referring to the brilliant friend of Harry Potter whose smarts helped Harry survive despite numerous murderous attempts by Voldemort.

Another sign suggested, “So bad, even introverts are here.”

The president’s hair, a subject for television discussion well before the commander in chief left for the White House, made it onto several signs, with “We shall overcomb,” offering one of many toupee moments.

Whether the Trump administration recognizes or addresses it, we are a nation divided and, no, that’s not a statement about the size of the crowd at the inauguration. Who cares? If not a single person attended the inauguration, do you know what we would be calling Donald Trump? President.

I understand that and so do all those people writing signs, discussing the future direction of the country and arguing over the internet. I know Trump and his team seem disillusioned with the media. The president can’t stand the way he’s covered, but plenty of past presidents no doubt could relate to his discomfort.

Trump has tried to ostracize the media, going straight to the people with his creatively spelled Twitter messages.

One woman used Trump’s penchant for direct messages with a sign saying, “Tweet women with respect.”

Trump continues to make the argument about the number of people who voted for him. Can someone please tell him he won the election?

By walking side-by-side in marches, people aren’t sitting comfortably at home typing angry computer messages: They’re sharing their views and are traveling to see people “in real life.”

This is not — to borrow from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” — “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” These are people sharing a message they hope others and, in particular, the administration, hears and understands.

Trump didn’t get to the White House propelled by the hopes of these sign makers. He won the votes of millions who believed in him.

He wants to make America great again. He and his voters have red hats to prove it. That’s great and maybe the sale of red hats will be sufficient to create more jobs, just as his office has increased the sale of poster boards, crayons, markers and block-lettering kits through these marches.

No doubt, Trump, his team and many other Americans will come up with great slogans and catchy one-liners to offset the marchers’ messages.

What will bring us together? Maybe there’ll be a moment similar to the one in the movie “Miracle,” which was about the improbable Olympics victory by the United States hockey team at Lake Placid in 1980. As these players bonded, they learned that they weren’t playing for their schools but, rather, were representing their country.

The Founding Fathers may have created a slogan that’s hard to top: We the People.

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I’m going to blend the holidays, and make a naughty and a nice list of those things for which I’m thankful. I’ll start with the nice.

I’m thankful for inspirational teachers. Every day, some teachers devote so much time and energy to their work that they ignite a passion for learning, a curiosity or a determination in their students that has the potential to pay dividends for decades. An inspired student reflects and emanates an educational light that, in turn, can have a multiplier effect, encouraging their siblings, their friends and even their parents to learn and grow.

I’m thankful for the police who patrol our streets and who protect and serve us. They can and do tackle everything from delivering a baby on the Long Island Expressway to racing toward reports of someone with a weapon.

I’m also thankful for the firefighters, who rescue people trapped in burning buildings and who suffer through cold wind, rain and snow while doing their job.

I’m thankful for all the soldiers who, regardless of which president is in office, accept their responsibility and protect America’s interests wherever they serve.

I’m thankful for the scientists who dedicate themselves, tirelessly, to the pursuit of basic knowledge about everything from quarks and neutrinos, to the researchers who are on a mission to cure cancer, to understand autism, or to defeat fungi or viruses that threaten the quality and quantity of our lives.

I’m thankful for the sanitation workers who appear during the wee hours of the morning, clear out our garbage and move on to the next house.

I’m thankful for the First Amendment. I’m grateful that our Founding Fathers decided we have the right not to remain silent. Our constitution guarantees us the kind of free speech that allows us to express our views, even if those opinions are contrary to those of our government or our neighbors.

OK, here’s the nasty list.

I’m thankful for the Internet, which prevents anyone from being wrong about anything, ever. Well, information on the Internet may also be inaccurate, but who cares? If it’s there and we repeat it, at least we’re echoing something someone else wrote, even if that person is an 8-year-old who is just learning to type and is posting something that looks like it could be right.

I’m thankful for all those people who honk at me when I don’t hit the accelerator the moment the light turns green. They remind me I should be efficient for all of our sakes and that I could be doing something much more important, like looking up stuff on the Internet rather than sitting at a light.

I’m thankful I can roll my eyes in my head. How else could I deal with those events around me that I find insufferable, from listening to our political leaders rip into each other to engaging in arguments with people who know better and can show me all the information they use to back up their arguments on the Internet.

I’m thankful for the rain and the cold and the snow. OK, so this is in between a naughty and nice one, because I believe varied weather presents something for everyone. Sure, people don’t tend to like it when the temperature falls too far, but I enjoy the cold. Besides, the winter provides a contrast to seasonable weather.

Finally, I’m thankful for prognosticators of all types, including the recent ones who seemed so sure of themselves about the results of the election. They are a reminder that sure things don’t exist in any arena, even those with a preponderance of pontificators.

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Ray Calabrese and Mayor Margot Garant smile with Thomas Jefferson. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Thomas Jefferson will watch over Village Hall visitors in the future, thanks to a donation from the Calabrese family.

“Much to my surprise, there’s nothing for the public viewing of anything of Thomas Jefferson — no statue, no bust, no painting,” Ray Calabrese said at the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees meeting Monday night. “So I decided to do something about it.”

To applause from the audience, he presented Mayor Margot Garant and the board with a painting of Jefferson, the original of which he said was done by Rembrandt Peale in 1805, halfway through the president’s tenure.

Garant said the portrait would hang above the stairs so that as people go between the first and second floors, “they’ll see Thomas.”

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Village ready to kick off parade and fireworks on July 4

Antonio Febles, 3, and sister Sofia Febles, 7, from Port Jefferson Station get into the spirit despite the rain at the Port Jefferson Fire Department’s July 4 parade last year. Photo by Bob Savage

Port Jefferson is going to be a sea of red, white and blue on Saturday, July 4.

To kick off the day, the Port Jefferson Fire Department will hold its annual Independence Day parade, rain or shine.

The event will start at 10 a.m., with participants marching down Main Street from the Infant Jesus Church at Myrtle Avenue to the harbor, turning left on West Broadway toward Barnum Avenue, and then finishing at the firehouse on Maple Place.

According to the PJFD, roads along the parade route and participant lineup areas will be closed at 8:15 a.m. that day, including Main Street going as far south as North Country Road; Reeves Road; and High Street between Main and Stony Hill Road. Detour signs will direct drivers to the ferry and downtown area.

Later in the day, weather permitting, Port Jefferson Village will continue its annual tradition of setting off fireworks between its East and West beaches in a salute to the nation’s freedom and its Founding Fathers.

The free fireworks show will kick off at 9 p.m.

A resident parking sticker is required to park at the village beaches.

The fireworks are also visible from the neighboring Cedar Beach on Mount Sinai Harbor.