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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Constitutional Convention

The U.S. Constitution is considered a work of art and has served as a blueprint for governing a democracy for more than 200 years. Washington served as president of the 1787 Constitutional Convention that drafted the document, but as Joseph Ellis explains, he was “simultaneously the most important person at the Constitutional Convention and the least involved in the debate that shaped the document that emerged.” (p. 177).

While debates raged on state vs. federal rights, executive, legislative and judicial powers, as well as other issues, Washington participated only once – on the last day. He supported a revision that reduced the number of constituents in a congressional district from 40,000 to 30,000, probably to go on the record as more than just a signer of the document.

Delegates were sworn to secrecy, so not much is known about how Washington felt about the document. In a letter he wrote a day after the Convention ended, he wrote: “. . . What will be the General opinion on, or reception of it, is not for me to decide, nor shall I say anything for or against it – if it be good I suppose it will work its way good – if bad it will recoil on the Framers.” (p. 179)

The document is admired to this day for its artful simplicity.

For more on the Constitution, try these books:

The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution
by David O. Stewart

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitutionby Kevin Gutzman

Dark Bargain: Slavery, Profits and the Struggle for the Constitutionby Lawrence Goldstone

Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution
by Carol Berkin

Friday, July 27, 2007

Summer Gardening

Want to know what to plant around a patio that doesn’t attract bees; how to prune leggy roses to get more blossoms at the bottom; or the correct time of year to move lily bulbs? For answers to these and other questions, you can visit a Neighborhood Plant Clinic at the library branches below. Each year, Fairfax County Master Gardeners make themselves available at community locations to share their expertise. But if you can’t get to your local library branch when the experts are there, here are a few resources that may help you improve your green thumb:

Tending Your Garden: A Year-Round Guide to Garden Maintenance
by Gordon Hayward
Down and Dirty by Ellen Zachos
Complete Home Gardening by Miranda Smith
New Garden Book by Scott Aker
Butterfly Gardening: Creating Summer Magic by The Xerces Society

July 28 and August 4 from 10 a.m. – noon at the Kings Park Library
July 30 and August 6 from 6:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. at the Pohick Regional Library
July 31 and August 7 from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Pohick Regional Library
August 4 and August 25 from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library

Neighborhood Plant Clinics. The Fairfax County Master Gardeners Association gives tips and strategies. Cosponsored by the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service. Adults. No registration is required.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Washington and the Indians

By the time Washington became president, Indian tribes had already lost a good portion of their lands as more and more settlers pushed west. According to Joseph Ellis in His Excellency: George Washington, the new president respected his former adversaries and wanted to find a way to protect them from further losses.

His policy was to try to create several Indian “homelands.” He agreed with his Secretary of War, Henry Knox, who believed the independent tribes should be treated as foreign nations: “Indians being the prior occupants possess the right of the Soil … To dispossess them … would be a gross violation of the fundamental Laws of Nature and of the distributive Justice which is the glory of a nation.” (p.212)

Washington wanted to avoid the removal of Indians that occurred 40 years later — the famous "Trail of Tears." In 1790, Washington hosted a charismatic Creek chief named Alexander McGillivray and 26 other chiefs for several weeks treating them to “official dinners, parades and diplomatic ceremonies.” The result was the Proclamation of 1790, an executive order that banned private or state encroachment on land reserved for the Indians.

But, Washington finally had to give up his vision. The Georgia legislature defied the treaty and sold 15 million acres to speculators known as the Yahoo Companies. Washington was forced to send military expeditions to quell Indian uprisings even though he complained “They, poor wretches, have no press thro’ which their grievances are related; and it is well known, that when one side only of a Story is heard, and often repeated, the human mind becomes impressed with it insensibly.” (p. 213-214)

His words would ring true for more than a century.

For more on American Indians during Washington’s era, see:

The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1608 – 1814
by John Grenier

The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America
by Colin Calloway

Chronicle of the Indian Wars: From Colonial Times to Wounded Kneeby Alan Axelrod

A Spirited Resistance: The North American Indian Struggle for Unity, 1745 – 1815 by Gregory Dowd

Friday, July 20, 2007

Fantastic Fiction

If you enjoy fantasy, but can’t get hold of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this weekend, feel free to try some of these World Fantasy Award winners:

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

The Facts of Life by Graham Joyce

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin

Do you have some favorite alternatives to Harry Potter? Let us know.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Alexander Hamilton

One of the major decisions George Washington made when he became the first president of the U.S. was to appoint Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. According to Joseph J. Ellis in His Excellency: George Washington, our first president quickly discovered that he had inherited a “messy mass of state, domestic and foreign debt.” The U.S. didn’t have a great credit rating at the time.

Hamilton, who had been Washington’s aide-de-camp, studied the ledgers for three months and then produced a 40,000-word document, Report on Public Credit that summarized the new nation’s financial problems and suggested solutions. The National Bank he proposed led to a long debate in Congress about federal vs. state powers.

In a 13,000-word rebuttal to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Randolph, who argued the federal government didn’t have the constitutional power to set up a national bank, Hamilton reaffirmed an argument Madison had actually made three years earlier that “the necessary and proper” clause in the U.S. Constitution implied powers to the federal government beyond the explicit powers specified in the document.

Of course the tug-of-war between states and the federal government exists even to today, but Hamilton’s argument helped Washington justify what he probably wanted to do — put the country’s finances in the hands of the federal government.

For more on Hamilton, try these books:

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton: A Life by Willard Randall

Alexander Hamilton, American by Richard Brookhiser

Hamilton’s Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debtby John Gordon

Friday, July 13, 2007

James Bond Returns

According to a July 10, 2007 Associated Press article ("Bond, James Bond, Returning in Book Form"), a new Bond book will be published in 2008 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of author Ian Fleming’s birth. The new book, Devil May Care, is penned by Sebastian Faulks, author of Birdsong and Charlotte Gray. The book, to be published by Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group, is set during the Cold War in a series of exotic locations, similar to Fleming’s original Bond novels.

“My novel is meant to stand in the line of Fleming's own books, where the story is everything," said Faulks. Fleming, who died in 1964, launched a series that has endured for 40 years with such well-known authors as Kingsley Ames and John Gardner contributing novels over the years.

If you’ve only seen the movies, you might want to read some of Fleming’s originals. As with many novels, the books are better on the page than on celluloid. Here’s a few to try:

Casino Royale (1953)
Moonraker (1955)
From Russia With Love (1957)
Goldfinger (1959)
Thunderball (1961)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)

Are you a Fleming fan? Which do you think is the best of the original Bond adventures? Let us know.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

George Washington, First Architect

While Thomas Jefferson is often praised for his architectural contributions at Monticello and the University of Virginia, George Washington also valued architecture as a unique expression of his identity.

This may be why Washington’s home at Mt. Vernon is considered the most copied house in the nation. Not only the man, but his home has come to symbolize the enduring quality of the republic. Today, you will find Mt. Vernon’s stunning two-story porch on banks, restaurants, motels, as well as many private residences.

A replica was built at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and Franklin D. Roosevelt asked that elements of Mt. Vernon be incorporated in the new Washington National Airport (now Reagan National Airport) in 1939. For more on Washington’s love of architecture and design, see the online exhibit, George Washington Architect, on Mt. Vernon’s Web site.

As part of the library’s All Fairfax Reads initiative and the selection of His Excellency: George Washington, there are several events planned at Mount Vernon in September, including an early American marketplace and sightseeing cruises; a visit from the “Godspeed,” the ship that brought the first settlers to Jamestown; and music, readings and a ceremony at the Slave Memorial. For details, see the library's Web site.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Fairfax Stories

If you’re a local history buff and live in Fairfax County, you may want to get hold of Fairfax County Stories: 1607-2007, a recently published anthology of essays on our history. As part of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the public was invited to submit original writings on local historic events over the past four centuries. A panel of judges selected 30 essays to be included in the book. Topics range from “The Ghost of Keene Mill School” to “Nike Missiles in Fairfax County,” “Fairfax County’s Most Famous Duel,” and “Suffragists at the Occoquan Workhouse in Lorton.”

The 260-page book is now on sale for $10 from the Maps and Publications Center, Fairfax County Government Center, Suite 156, 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax; 703-324-2974, TTY 711. Shipping and handling will be charged for books delivered by mail. The book is also on order and will eventually be available at all Fairfax County Public Library branches.

The best resource for Fairfax County history is the Virginia Room located on the third floor of the Fairfax City Regional Library. The Virginia Room maintains a collection rich in regional history and genealogy, as well as local and state government information and legal resources. A particular strength is Confederate Civil War military history. Other resources available for use are: maps, an extensive photographic archive, manuscripts, local newspapers, and rare books.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Washington and the Declaration of Independence

As Joseph Ellis explains in His Excellency: George Washington, the founding fathers took their time in drafting the Declaration of Independence. Armed conflict between British troops and the colonists had actually begun 15 months before John Hancock sent Washington his personal copy on July 6, 1776. An original fragment of the broadside Washington received resides in the collection at the Library of Congress. Washington had the document read to his assembled troops on July 9, 1776 in New York. Later, they destroyed a statute of King George III at the foot of Broadway and Bowling Green and used the metal to make bullets.

For more on the Declaration of Independence, browse these items:

The Declaration of Independence: A Global History by David Armitage

Origins and Ideologies of the American Revolution by Peter Mancall (DVD)

The Three Documents That Made America read by Terry Bregy and Sam Fink (CD)

American Ideals: Founding a “Republic of Virtue” by Daniel N. Robinson (CD+book)

America Declares Independence by Alan Dershowitz

If you haven’t already, check out the library’s All Fairfax Reads selection,
His Excellency: George Washington.