Woody Holton’s piece on George Washington’s moral journey (February 2012) is too short to prove his thesis. It provided insight into “Father” George’s early machinations, but little is presented to show that he became a moral person. What I remember most about Washington are the shocking revelations in Marvin Kitman’s 1970 book, George Washington’s Expense Account, about why Washington refused a salary during the Revolution: He asked Congress to cover his expenses and submitted bills totaling much more than the salary that was offered. Kitman called him the “father of the padded expense account.” I am grateful for Holton’s new look at Washington’s land acquisitions, but I am far from persuaded that George changed as he aged.
Did James Madison truly stand out at the Constitutional Convention, as Richard Brookhiser contends (December 2011)? The “Father of the Constitution” was not selected to serve on several key committees, and his proposals were often turned down. Although Madison introduced the Bill of Rights, he didn’t believe the amendments were necessary. He argued for a strong national government in The Federalist Papers, but under the influence of Thomas Jefferson, he later supported states’ rights. Perhaps Madison can be seen as the father of modern-day politics for waffling and for easily being swayed by more powerful men.
Fort Wayne, Ind.
In the February 2012 issue, Washington is a liar, a thief and a cheat; John Quincy Adams is a corrupt conniver; America is a historically and pathologically violent country; Attica, vigilantes and lynching define American justice; and the traitor Aaron Burr deserves rehabilitation because he’s now found by some to be “more complex.” Whew! It’s getting difficult for the readers of American History to pay the subscription price and carry the guilt complex of the editors.
Commander T.R. Dussman Jr., USN (ret)
Virginia Beach, Va.
I thoroughly enjoyed your interview with Steven Pinker on why America historically is more violent than Western Europe (February 2012). I would like to ask Pinker how World Wars I and II and the Holocaust fit into his thesis. While asking him, I would do my best to resist the urge to grab him by the throat and shake him.
Spring Lake Heights, N.J.
As a longtime history teacher, I agree with some of Sam Wineburg’s critique of how history is taught in American schools (December 2011). But I disagree with his assessment of “decontextualized test questions.” That format, he says, “is extremely taxing on human memory.” Of course it is, and it is good for students to experience this because it promotes “thinking flexibly,” identified by Professor Art Costa as one of the top 16 habits of mind used by successful people. As to his statement that “every student has access to computers,” Mr. Wineburg is sorely misinformed. If he would like to send my middle school 1,100 laptops, I will be more than happy to remove the antiquated tools that I am currently forced to use.
Peter M. Blankfield
Your story on the first Purple Heart (December 2011) was well intended, but it contains errors about the number of recipients of the Badge of Military Merit. Daniel Bissell, William Brown and Elijah Churchill were not the only soldiers to receive the badge. My research at the National Archives for the Military Order of the Purple Heart has uncovered at least three additional recipients, and future research may find even more.
Peter Bedrossian, program director at the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, says there may have been more than the original three recipients of the Badge of Military Merit. Incomplete and inconsistent records, however, make it difficult to provide a definitive statement.
In “What Are Lincoln’s Words Worth?” (December 2011), 1929 was given as the year Congress created a commission to design a memorial for Abraham Lincoln. The correct date is 1867.
In “Vigilante Justice” (February 2012), the city where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus was misidentified as Birmingham, Ala. The city was Montgomery, Ala.