"A morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable."

— Thomas Jefferson

Recent Articles

Slavery, Gay Rights, and the Bible

Having announced his support for gay marriage, President Obama now faces the wrath of people who quote the Bible in opposition.

They have reason to be worried. A growing plurality of Americans accepts gay unions, and approval is strongest among the young. So, changes in law are probably inevitable.

But those who base their opposition on scripture should have a deeper cause for concern. Time and again, history has shown that people who cite the Bible as a reason to deny rights to others have almost always lost. Their arguments, in the judgment of posterity, have discredited them and their faith. Simply put, a static, selective reading of scripture has been no match for the dynamism of ever-expanding rights in America.

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Obama’s Evolving Position on Same-Sex Marriage Is Similar to Lincoln’s Evolution on Antislavery

Like Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, President Obama’s declaration that gay and lesbian Americans deserve a right to marry is a historic statement of principle, even though its practical policy implications are limited because the states, not the federal government, hold most of the power to define marriage.

Obama’s assertion that state-level prohibitions on same-sex marriage are morally objectionable but legally sound rings familiar to this Civil War historian. I can’t help but notice a close resemblance to the pre-Civil War views of millions of white Northerners (and perhaps more than a few white Southerners) on slavery. Northerners understood that the constitution protected slaveholding as a matter left to individual states, and for decades many had found this a comforting justification for their tolerance of an institution they knew should be intolerable. Slavery was a Southern problem, and as long as it could be kept a...

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Vice Presidential Nominees Must Be Plausible As President

As Mitt Romney slogs on toward the GOP presidential nomination, political talk is turning to his running mate. That discussion has focused on conventional political factors thought to dictate vice-presidential selection. Should Romney select someone from a large swing state or target a particular demographic? Should he focus on energizing his base or on appealing to independents? Some of those factors may come into play, yet the recent history of vice-presidential selection suggests that the key requirement for a running mate is whether he or she is presidential.

It’s curious that this threshold factor is often overlooked. Most recent presidential candidates have recognized that good politics, as well as good governance, requires choosing a running mate who would be a plausible president. Since 1976 presidential candidates from both parties have almost always chosen running mates who would be plausible as president.

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Rick Santorum and Fundamentalist Catholicism

Rick Santorum has cast his presidential campaign as a religious crusade and has made no apology for it. Satan is loose in the land, according to Santorum, and he has offered himself as the only man capable of exorcising the demon.

Santorum has surged in the polls among GOP voters precisely because he is so comfortable mixing politics and religion. He presents a stark contrast to Mitt Romney, who seems profoundly reluctant to talk about his Mormonism.

Yet despite putting his religious convictions front and center in his campaign, Santorum hasn’t been entirely candid about what those convictions are. He is hiding certain aspects of them in plain sight.

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