Images of America: Mark Twain, Critical Patriot

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series American Images

Mark_Twain_by_AF_BradleyOur reactions to Images of America show us what we hold in common as Americans.

One thing we have in common is American literature. And no figure did as much to create a truly American literature as Mark Twain, writer, humorist, lecturer, and activist. So my pick today of a favorite image is a 1907 photo of Mark Twain. It’s one of the 100+ images in our gallery. But I selected Mark Twain more for his role as an ardent critic of American foreign policy than his role in literature. Would you consider him a patriot?

Critical patriotism is one of the 10 core values I write about in United America. A critical patriot is someone who criticizes U.S. policies out of love of country and the desire to have it live up to its high ideals. Critical patriotism can be thought of as tough love. It’s the opposite of blind-love patriotism–the my-country-right-or-wrong variety of patriotism. While many subscribe to this form of patriotism, it doesn’t qualify as a core value.

At first, Twain supported American expansionist policies, such as the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippines. As he put it in an 1900 edition of the New York Herald, “I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific … Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? … I said to myself, Here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American Constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves.”

But, he said, he learned that the real purpose was “to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem…. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” For the rest of his life he was an anti-imperialist and outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policies and the expansionist policies of other nations–to the point that some considered him to be unpatriotic.

Does a true patriot criticize government policies?

Do you believe “my country, right or wrong”?

If you criticize U.S. policies, do you do so out of love of country?

Evolution: Why are Republicans becoming creationists?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Evolution
An anti-Charles Darwin cartoon published in 1871.

An anti-Charles Darwin cartoon published in 1871.

Is science slowly—but inexorably—undermining religious explanations of the world?

It’s not—at least for Republicans. More Republicans today believe in the biblical creation story than Republicans did in 2009, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. Then, 39% of Republicans said that human beings and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time, while the majority (54%) said that humans (and other livings things) have evolved over time. Now, however, only 39% of Republicans believe in evolution, and 48% believe the biblical story. Why are Republicans becoming creationists?

Democrats and Independents have not changed their views since 2009. Then, about two-thirds of Democrats (64%) and two-thirds of Independents (67%) subscribed to the evolution explanation. Today, the proportions are about the same (67% and 65%, respectively). The shift in attitudes has occurred for Republicans, not for those of other political persuasions.

How can we explain the shift for Republicans? Pew analysts have wrestled with the question, which they reported in the Pew Fact Tank. One possibility is that Republicans in 2009 and Republicans today are different demographically. So, researchers looked at that question and found the demographic profiles are very similar, with the exception that today Republicans are a little older. Their religious and ideological profiles are also very similar.

Maybe the shift in opinion occurred only for the most religious Republicans. It turns out, however, that it didn’t. To the contrary, the shift towards creationism occurred mainly among less religious Republicans.

In short, we don’t know why more Republicans are becoming creationists. Perhaps it’s not one thing that explains the shift, Pew analysts say; it could be a bunch of little things that changed in such a way that it adds up to a big shift in opinion.

Why do you think more Republicans are creationists now than before?

Why haven’t the numbers changed for Democrats or Independents?

Have your views about evolution and creation changed over time?

Our Heroes: Who’s the most influential in world history?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Our Heroes
Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore. Photo for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore. Photo for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

This week, we’ve considered the latest Gallup survey of the most-admired man and woman living in the world. We expanded our focus to consider the most-admired man and woman since Gallup started polling about this topic in the 1940s. Today, we widen our focus to maximum view:

Who’s the most influential person in history?

Sitting American presidents usually take #1 in Gallup’s annual poll, and so it was no surprise to learn that Obama nabbed the top spot in the latest results. But as we discussed, Clint Eastwood also made the top-ten list for most-admired man. Hillary Clinton is, once again, the most-admired woman; and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made the top-ten list of women, as well. But “nobody”—that is, “none” or “no opinion,” actually took first space, getting more mentions than either Obama or Clinton. Looking over the past 60 years or so, Rev. Billy Graham is the most-admired man, and Queen Elizabeth II the most-admired woman.

But who’s the most influential in world history?

This seems like an impossible question to answer, and any attempted answer is certain to be controversial. But I did find two attempts: The 100: A Ranking Of The Most Influential Persons In History by Michael H. Hart, and Who’s Bigger? Where Historical Figures Really Rank by Steven Skiena and Charles Ward.

Hart’s top five are Muhammed, Isaac Newton, Jesus, Buddha, and Confucious. Skiena and Ward’s top five are Jesus, Napoleon, Muhammed, Williams Shakespeare, and Abraham Lincoln.

What’s your reaction to these lists of top-five most influential people in world history?

Do you agree with their lists, in whole or in part?

Is there anyone else you would have in the top five?

Libertarians: Do you know Sons of Liberty now—or then?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Libertarians
HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE REAL SONS OF LIBERTY? How many of these patriots can you name from their portraits? Answers are below. (All images in public domain, collage courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

HOW MUCH DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE REAL SONS OF LIBERTY? How many of these patriots can you name from their portraits? Answers are below. (All images in public domain, collage courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

How much do you know about the “Sons of Liberty”? Lots of Americans are making claims about these forefathers—but you may be surprised at how little is known about them. That’s true both now … and then.

FIRST: Take our visual quiz! How many of the 18th-century Sons of Liberty can you name from their portraits, above?

SECOND: Where are the new “Sons of Liberty” today?

Liberty—freedom from restraint—is an American value that goes back to the founding of the nation. The original Sons of Liberty were an underground organization, dedicated to opposing British rule and championing the rights of colonists to self-determination. The saying “no taxation without representation” and the symbol of the “Liberty Tree” hark back to this early time.

Are the Sons of Liberty alive today? That may sound like a sexist way to phrase the question. But, the large majority of libertarians today are mostly men—almost seven of ten, according to the just-released 2013 American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Almost all are non-Hispanic whites (94%). And, the majority is on the younger side: 62% are less than 50 years old.

Just looking at these basic demographics, today’s libertarians resemble the Sons of Liberty. But does the resemblance stop there? The original Sons of Liberty weren’t opposed to government. They were opposed to British rule, which had become more arbitrary and harsher over time. As historian David Hackett Fischer notes, they viewed liberty in “its classical sense of separation.” They also believed in the rule of law and the importance of government.

What do today’s libertarians believe? Mostly, it’s “hands off” for the government. A majority oppose increasing the minimum wage, according to the PRRI survey. Virtually all have a dim view of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare.) They oppose stricter environmental laws. They also oppose government restrictions on a host of social issues, as we’ll cover this week.

How many American subscribe to libertarian beliefs? Just 7% of American are strict libertarians, according to the PRRI poll, with and additional 15% who lean that way. In total, that’s just over two of ten Americans—yet libertarianism remains a strong thread in American history and politics.

Are you a modern-day “Son of Liberty”?

What do you think of their beliefs?

PLEASE, invite friends to read along with you and discuss this week’s series. Use the blue-”f” Facebook icons or the envelope-shaped email icons.

ANSWERS to the visual quiz: If you correctly named more than a few of these portraits, then you are a remarkable American historian! The correct answers are … TOP ROW, left to right: Samuel Adams, Benedict Arnold, John Hancock, Patrick Henry and James Otis. MIDDLE ROW, left to right: Paul Revere, James Swan, Alexander McDougall, Benjamin Rush, and Charles Thomson. BOTTOM ROW, left to right: Joseph Warren, Marinus Willett, Christopher Gadsden, Oliver Wolcott and Haym Solomon.

Valuable Objects: Missing photographs, missing memories?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Valuable Objects

Jennifer Pollard with photo of her great grandmotherAmericans today are the most photographed people in history. Smart phones and Facebook make it easy to capture daily images of our lives and share them. Go back a generation or two, however, and photographs are rare. Many are missing, representing gaps in the stories of our families.

Do you have a photographic gap in yours?

Here’s a story of one such gap: Jennifer Pollard’s family is from Barbados, the tiny island nation just north of South America. Jennifer participated in our recent group discussion on objects and the values they signify. She showed a photograph of her Great Grandmother Cecelia. This photo is a valuable object. But the missing photograph is one of her Uncle Arlington, one of her Great Grandmother’s 11 children. Seven immigrated to America, and her uncle was the first. As Jennifer told us, “He came through Ellis Island, and he started a dry cleaning business in New York.”

As she told her story, she reflected that the activity of sharing such valuable objects can be difficult. “You realize how many gaps you have about your family,” she said. “I did meet my Uncle Arlington and some of his siblings—but my regret is that I didn’t get to know them more and to meet those whom I didn’t get to meet. I wish that they had lived longer so I would have been able to learn more about them. … A part of me is missing because I don’t have a decent knowledge of my great aunts and great uncle.”

Arlington’s story is a classic immigrant story of people coming here to make a better life for themselves and their families. His example illustrates the values of achievement, hard work, and enterprise.

Do you have a story like Jennifer’s?

Is there a gap in your family knowledge?

What object would you use to tell the story of your values and how you got them?

Please, take a moment to add a Comment, below. And invite friends to read along. Use the blue-”f” Facebook icon or the small envelope-shaped email icon.

5th anniversary of OurValues: After 1,300 columns, can you guess our most popular subject?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series 5th Anniversary
Click the cover to visit the book's Amazon page.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Celebrate the 5th anniversary of with us this week. Founded in 2008, was created as an online experiment in civil discussion about tough issues. Thank you for being part of our 1,300 columns—and counting! I appreciate the thousands of readers, here and around the globe, who have made this project so successful.

This week, we’ll revisit some of our most popular columns, along with some staff favorites.

What’s the single most popular subject? Abraham Lincoln. We’ve had quite a number of columns about Lincoln. As the creator and regular writer of, I began marking this 150th anniversary year of Lincoln’s historic actions in 1863. In January, I wrote about Lincoln’s life-long struggle with depression—what at the time was known as “melancholy.” It’s a story of supreme resilience and transcendence.

Not only did my column quickly become the most-read post on—but it drew the interest of Lincoln scholar Duncan Newcomer. Within months, Duncan had become a regularly engaged reader and occasional writer himself. As a guest columnist, he wrote this week-long series on the 16th president that appeared in May.

That’s part of the power of—it draws a fascinating mix of people together, wherever they live. They contribute in various ways to this national discussion we are weaving, year by year. Together, we keep demonstrating that civility is possible in America.

Care to revisit the most popular column? Here it is in slightly edited form:

ABRAHAM LINCOLN is known the world over, but not for his lifelong struggle with chronic depression or “melancholy.” How did his mental struggles play into his life’s work? In his movie Lincoln, Steven Spielberg clearly shows scenes in which Lincoln seems to struggle with the chronic melancholy that affected his life. But the film underplays the central role of clinical depression in Lincoln’s life and how he managed it. Melancholy was the key to his greatness, says Joshua Wolf Shenk in Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness.

Lincoln’s bouts of depression were legendary among his confidants. These bouts were “just one thread in a curious fabric of behavior and thought that Lincoln’s friends and colleagues called his ‘melancholy’,” writes Shenk. “He often wept in public and recited maudlin poetry. He told jokes and stories at odd times—he needed the laughs, he said, for his survival. As a young man he talked of suicide.” His friends put him on a suicide watch, a rare reaction in those times. Melancholy was his companion throughout his life. “His law partner William Herndon said, ‘His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.’”

Lincoln was able to manage his struggle with depression by harnessing its energy for a high purpose. Indeed, the thought that he had a big role to play—however unclear it was at the time—gave him meaning and direction. The specific meaning of his life became clear. In 1854, Shenk writes, Lincoln entered the slavery debates “with a vigorous argument that slavery must be restricted as a moral, social, and political wrong.” This led, eventually, to the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment.

Did you know about Lincoln’s struggle with chronic depression?

Do you buy Shenk’s argument that it fueled Lincoln’s greatness?

What’s your all-time favorite article on

Please, leave a comment below:

One Thing: What 1 Thing defined your generation?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series One Thing

OurValues Defining Moments for American Generations Depression Vietnam JFK Assassination 9 11DOES each generation have One Thing—one big national or world event—that shapes and defines it?

Do events such as the Great Depression, the Vietnam War, the assassination of John Kennedy or the 9/11 terror attacks leave an indelible mark and define a generation’s worldview?

This week, we’ve seen that One Thing can be a transformative moment, ranging from a short video about conservation and paper towels to the monumental shift in perspective that astronauts and cosmonauts have when they view the earth from space. It can also be one’s singular strength or focus, such as the harmonica music of legendary Bluesman James Cotton. It can also be a warning that success is never based on just one thing, as the leaders of Zingerman’s know.

We’ve also seen that One Thing has many interpretations. One reader asked, “Is this the same as The Last Lecture? Trying to sum up everything in 1 place, or like Einstein’s search for a grand theory of everything?” Another reader said, “I like looking at lists of epitaphs and eulogies.” Journalists who write obituaries have to sum up a life in a headline or a first paragraph. It’s the one definitive thing.

It turns out that generations do have experiences in their “critical years” (childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood) that define and shape the rest of their lives, according to a just-published paper by Howard Schuman and Amy Corning.

They compiled data from surveys in seven countries, including the United States. For Americans, they examined the effects of the Great Depression, Vietnam, the JFK assassination, 9/11—and more. They examined the effects of comparable events in other countries.

Their conclusion: Certain events experienced in the critical years have “a disproportionate effect on memories, attitudes, and actions in later life.” So, maybe there is One Thing for certain generations

Do you have a singular strength or focus that is your One Thing?

What’s the One Thing that shaped your generation?

Please leave a comment below: