Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


McCormick Freedom Museum Road Show

By Shawn Healy
The McCormick Foundation announced today that the Freedom Museum will move from our physical location on Michigan Avenue in Downtown Chicago to an expanded outreach program for students, teachers, and the general public. We will expand upon the public and student and teacher programs we already offer, and add new initiatives like a summer institute for teachers, a graduate course beginning in the Spring of 2010, and classroom programs where museum educators visit Chicagoland classrooms to extend our inspiring message of freedom through the lens of the First Amendment.

Additionally, we intend to explore operating a mobile museum that will incorporate content from our existing exhibit and bring these features directly to schools, communities, and public events throughout the region.

Fanning the Flames will continue to come your way with thrice weekly postings about local, regional, national, and global freedom-related issues. Also, Freedom and the First Amendment in the News subscribers should expect a continuation of our regular digest of mission-related current events.

This new initiative is still in its developmental stages, and many more details will emerge in the coming months. I'll be sure to share this information with our loyal readers in the weeks ahead.

To read today's press release about the Freedom Museum transition, please click here.


First Hundred Days in Full Bloom

By Shawn Healy
As President Barack Obama completes just his eighth day in office, political observers from near and far catch a glimpse of his style of governance and what he seeks to accomplish during his first term. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt, there has been intense focus on the president's first 100 days in office, and comparisons with Obama are appropriate given the gravity of the situation he faced upon assuming control. There is nothing magical about the number 100, for it stands as a numerical marker of the honeymoon period an incoming president typically enjoys with Congress and the public at large.

The success of these honeymoons are predicated on a number of variables, including the scale of the incoming president's agenda, the size of his electoral mandate, the partisan composition of Congress, and his public approval rating. For Obama, the forecast is favorable on all fronts. His agenda is indeed expansive, beginning with a second stimulus package that may exceed costs of $1 trillion. Coupled with significant revisions in troop allocations to Iraq and Afghanistan, along with promises to reform health care and support renewable energy alternatives, President Obama has a full plate.

His early actions are indicative of his ambitions. During his first week in office, Obama, via executive order, set in motion the closure of the controversial detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, reformed the interrogation process used against suspected terrorists, opened access to presidential records, and ended the ban on funding to overseas organizations that enable abortion and other forms of family planning. He is poised to sign the Lilly Ledbetter bill which will enable women and other members of minority groups to press for legal recourse in cases of pay discrimination, and met yesterday with Republican congressional leaders in an attempt to build bipartisan support for the aforementioned stimulus package.

Obama's electoral mandate was reasonably large, as he earned 53% of the popular vote to Senator John McCain's 46%. This translated into an Electoral College landslide, with Obama besting McCain 365-173. We have not witnessed these margins since then Vice President George H. Bush defeated Governor Michael Dukakis by 8% and rolled in the Electoral College 426-112.

Unlike Bush 41, Obama also enjoys expansive majorities from his own party in both houses of Congress. In the Senate, Democrats outnumber Republicans 56-41, with two Independents caucusing with them, and the still unseated Al Franken from Minnesota poised to give Obama 59 Democratic votes in the upper chamber. It is important to note that 60 votes provides a filibuster proof majority, meaning Democratic unity plus one Republican defector would create a streamroller over the minority party. Jimmy Carter was the last president to preside with a filibuster-proof majority of 61 senate votes.

In the House, Democrats control more seats than their Republican counterparts ever did during the heyday of the Gingrich Revolution of the 1990's. The 257-178 Democratic majority falls one vote short of their tally as Bill Clinton came into office in 1992. It goes without saying that Democrats can enact their agenda without a single Republican vote, even weathering some significant defections. One word of caution, however: Keep an eye on the so-called "Blue Dog Democrats," a coalition of 61 fiscally conservative Democrats who may grow weary of the deficit-inflating implications of the stimulus package and other elements of Obama's agenda.

Finally, Obama moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with sky-high approval ratings. According to a composite average calculated by Real Clear Politics, Obama holds a 63.3% approval rating, with only 20% giving him the thumbs down, an astounding 43.3% split. Simply stated, these heights have not been explored by an incoming administration since the soaring days of JFK and Camelot.

My survey of the political landscape complete, it is important to raise the issue of presidential skill in working with Congress to achieve his desired ends. Many a president has entered office with favorable indicators and proceeded to squander this political capital shortly thereafter. Bill Clinton is a recent example, and Jimmy Carter's tenure should spur caution for those who have already penciled in Obama for a second term. He might instead look to Ronald Reagan, who did not even enjoy a majority in the House, yet worked hand-in-hand with Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neil to enact expansive tax cuts and deregulation.

Based on Obama's cordial meeting with congressional Republicans yesterday, Obama is off to a solid start, even if he failed to earn their votes.


American Creation

By Shawn Healy
Joseph Ellis, historian and author of American Sphinx, His Excellency, and Founding Brothers, takes yet another stab at the roots of this country in American Creation. This 243-page book covers the 28-year period between 1775 and 1803, bookended by the shots fired at Lexington and Concord on one end, and the Louisiana Purchase on the other. Four familiar characters star in the plot: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Incidentally, they would go on to serve, in order, as our first four presidents.

Ellis tackled this subject while encountering questions in public about the Founders’ intent in creating the Electoral College in the aftermath of the disputed 2000 presidential election, along with the perceived mediocrity of the candidates, Bush and Gore. Why, many asked, can’t we instead choose between men and women of the caliber of Adams and Jefferson?

The author seeks a middle ground in response to these inquiries, for this generation tends to be either deified or dismantled, and each conclusion, Ellis suggests, is in error. The Founders too advantage of the enormous opportunities that history presented to them, effectively engaging in trial by error, and succeeding more often than not. As becomes clear across the pages, however, is that these men were not without blemishes, and that some of their actions had devastating consequences for their contemporaries and posterity.

Adams role in American independence has been historically understated, but David McCullough’s 2001 book, and HBO’s recent film series, restored the Massachusetts leader to his colonial luster. He was pivotal in the initial move toward independence and helped shaped the state constitutions that emerged from the revolutionary abyss. Later on, he would serve as Jefferson’s foil when the Virginian jockeyed for ideological control of the national agenda, beginning when each served Washington, Adams as Vice President, and Jefferson as Secretary of State.

Washington’s claim to fame lies in his improbable leadership of the colonists’ successful military campaign against the all-powerful British Army. His instinct to stay on defense, elongate the war, and maintain coherence to a continental force lacking in provisions, unity, and often commitment, are the ingredients of his legend. Moreover, Washington’s ability to see the potential in and willingness to delegate to inexperienced generals by the names of Greene, Knox, Gates, and Steuben, helped push his vagabond over the top in an 8-year campaign.

Washington’s retirement from the military and return to civilian ranks forever set the standard of separation between pen and sword, but his political mechanizations after the fact are notably less celebrated. He was instrumental in the push to alter and eventually scrap the Articles of Confederation, with the Constitution taking its place, and of course seeing the document through its first iterations.

Madison’s principle authorship of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in well known, but Ellis manages to shed new light on the deliberations, namely his behind-the-scenes work toward the establishment of proportional representation and more fundamentally, a stronger central government. He was also instrumental in setting the stage for ratification, not only through the Federalist Papers, which were marginally important at the time, but lend clarity toward contemporary interpretations of the Constitution. His manipulation of ratification attendance rolls, and ability to count votes, saw the document through in his native Virginia, undoubtedly a bellwether state.

Shortly thereafter, Madison did an about-face, teaming with Jefferson to lead the charge against a strong, centralized national government. They manipulated the levers of the Washington Administration in pursuit of their causes against a National Bank and official neutrality between the warring British and French. The two connivers lost on both fronts, but planted the seeds of the first political party, known then as the Republicans, which confusingly would morph into the modern-day Democratic Party.

Adams’ narrow defeat of Jefferson in the Electoral College in 1796 set the stage for the first partisan succession four years later when the Virginian would turn the tables. Jefferson’s opportunistic land grab in the form of the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleonic France for a mere $16 million set the stage for imperialistic expansion, even if it contradicted the central tenets of his Republican beliefs, namely executive deference to Congress.

In the process, Jefferson failed to address the issue of slavery, a sin that can be spread across the revolutionary generation. This was not an oversight, but instead a calculation that emancipated slaves could not live side-by-side with whites. By refusing to ban slavery in the newly acquired territories, Jefferson created the self-described “firebell in the night” which would doom his successors, namely Lincoln, to civil strife.

The Founders’ other major blemish lies in its violent, selfish relationship with the Native American peoples who populated the continent that American citizens would soon conquer. To George Washington’s credit, he actually negotiated to protect the territorial sovereignty of Native American lands, but he simply could not stem to flow of settlers toward to these desirable locales, leading to disappointment, dishonestly, and for the Native American people, wanton destruction and extermination. Jefferson also failed on this front in the context of the Louisiana Purchase, envisioning fertile lands for displaced Native Americans in the way, but refusing to give them statutory force.

In total, the accomplishments of the Founding Generation cannot be cast aside, gross violations to basic human dignity considered. Ellis’ balanced approach to these influential men is welcome in an era when they are either worshiped or condemned. We can learn from their mistakes, revel in the fact that they often made the most of a blank canvass, and rose to the occasion when it mattered most. When we pull Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Adams down from the heavens and up from eternal damnation, we see them and their contemporaries for what they were: human revolutionaries who set this nation on a course for greatness coupled with tragedy, but ultimately an entity that would stand the test of time and serve as a model for the world.


Silent No More

By Shawn Healy
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Kettleman declared the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act passed by the Illinois legislature in 2007 unconstitutional. He deemed it a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, a backdoor attempt to lend legal credibility to prayer in public school classrooms.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office defended the bill, may appeal to a higher authority, namely the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. Based on my own legal analysis and that of First Amendment Center senior scholar Charles Haynes, there stands a fair chance of Gettleman's decision being overturned, as similar laws have withstood judicial scrutiny.

An interesting footnote in the case is the fact that Governor Rod Blagojevich vetoed the legislation, claiming it was unconstitutional. Both the Illinois House and Senate proceeded to take matters into their own hands, and overrode the since criminally-charged governor.

As I reported last spring, the House actually passed legislation to return school prayer to its previous state in Illinois public school classrooms, making the decision voluntary by school district rather than a statewide mandate. It failed to emerge out of committee in the Senate.

We present this issue at the Freedom Museum within an exhibit called "Close to Home." In allowing visitors to weigh in on the controversy, we have elicited strong, salient opinions on both sides of the issue. This case, and our experience in framing it within our museum, cement the fact that the very meaning of the First Amendment remains a contested concept worthy of public discourse, and I fully expect that those who wish to enable prayer and reflection in statewide public schools have only been momentarily silenced.

We await the next chapter in this close to home controversy.


Unlikely Lineage

By Shawn Healy
In taking the oath of office this afternoon, Barack Hussein Obama, became our 44th, and perhaps most unlikely, U.S. President. His speech that followed was somber, yet soaring. It provided hope to the estimated 2 million people gathered on the steps of the Capitol and the National Mall, and the 3/4 of Americans who watched it live on television, yet prepared us for the daunting challenges that lie ahead. In the process, he invoked the language and spirit of the 42 men who served as Commander-in-Chief before him.

He thanked President George W. Bush for his eight years of service to the nation, and also for his generous cooperation during the recent transition period. President Bill Clinton was seated behind the podium, and one can't help but recall the similar promise of change he brought 16 years ago when our nation faced similar economic calamity.

Conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan seems like an unlikely comparison, but he too entered office at a time of great self-doubt for the nation. Through his eloquent confidence in the greatness of America, he foresaw and delivered better days ahead. It was a sunny yet chilly day like this one in 1980 when Reagan envisioned "morning in America."

President Obama is at heart an idealist, and is often compared to President John F. Kennedy for his youth, intellect, and ability to inspire a new generation of leadership to take the reins. Kennedy asked Americans to consider what they could do for their country, and Obama championed the American soldier, for "we honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all."

We are in the midst of the greatest economic downtown since the Depression, and Obama invoked the optimism and resolve of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who told us the "only thing to fear is fear itself." In echoing FDR's call for "bold, persistent experimentation," Obama brushed aside those "...who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage."

Perhaps a second New Deal is in the making.

Obama tethered his campaign to his Prairie State predecessor, Abraham Lincoln. He kicked it off on the footsteps of the Old Statehouse in Springfield where Lincoln delivered the "House Divided" speech, build his Cabinet in the mold of Lincoln's "team of rivals," even replicated the 16th President's journey by train to the nation's capital. It was on Lincoln's Bible that Obama took the oath of office, and although Obama does not face the perils of Civil War, his challenges are nonetheless daunting, and he is right to draw upon the uncommon wisdom of a relatively inexperienced politician and lawyer who like himself adopted the State of Illinois as home.

Obama referred repeatedly to our nation's founding documents crafted by the likes of Madison, Jefferson, Adams and Washington. When our very existence as a nation is threatened, Obama contended, "...America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents."

At the close of his speech, Obama paid homage to the Father of Our Country, George Washington. "In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

'Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).'"

Ultimately, Obama's place in history as the first African-American president is secure, but one cannot ignore the struggles of previous generations to make today's ascension a possibility. Although he did not invoke the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., directly, Obama did use language that mirrored the "I Have a Dream" speech uttered on the opposite end of the National Mall from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963: "This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

On this day, the son of an Kenyan goat herder, of mixed racial heritage, with a Muslim middle name, and of modest means became the leader of the free world. Regardless of where we stood on Election Day two and a half months ago, our nation is better for the peaceful and historic transfer of power that occurred at noon on January 20, 2009.


Share My Inauguration

By Shawn Healy
The McCormick Foundation, the sole funding source of the McCormick Freedom Museum, is funding a trip to Washington for 24 Chicago 5th and 6th graders to document and witness Barack Obama's elevation to the presidency. A web site has been created to host their observations and capture the videos they record. An excerpt from the press release issued by the Foundation follows:

As part of our commitment to strengthening our free, democratic society by investing in children, communities and country, we provided an education grant to Frazier Preparatory Academy to help send 24 5th and 6th grade students to our nation’s capital to engage in history. Dubbed the “DC 24,” the students will attend Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration and witness American history as it unfolds.

During their four-day journey to Washington, D.C., the students document their experiences via a series of “blog” and video posts on a new website,, powered by the McCormick Foundation.

The McCormick Foundation believes in the power of people. When people become active, involved and informed about their communities and their own government, our nation prospers. So we are asking citizens of all ages to visit and join the dialogue by sharing what this inauguration means to them. Please consider sharing your story and asking your friends to do the same by forwarding this information and posting to your Facebook page, if you have one.


...So Help Me...GONE?

By Shawn Healy
In the midst of the tremendous build-up for President-elect Obama's inauguration next week, Michael Newdow, the California atheist who challenged the constitutionality of the "under God" provision of the Pledge of Allegiance, has entered the church-state arena once more. He claims that when Obama takes the presidential oath of office, with the prompting of Chief Justice John Roberts, he will utter the words "so help me God" upon conclusion, thereby violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The presidential oath is embedded within Article II, Section 1, Clause 8, and reads as follows: "I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Notice that any reference to a supreme being of any sort is notoriously absent. Moreover, Article 6, Section 3, prohibits any form of religious test for federal office.

Popular myth portrays George Washington as the standard-bearer of the "so help me God" language inserted at the end of the oath, but historians dispute this claim. Lacking any evidence that the Father of the Country made this reference, they instead credit Chester Arthur, who took the oath on September 22, 1881, and according to the New York Times, made these famous four words both famous and controversial.

Newdow's case is complicated by the case law in the area. One must begin with the question of whether or not he has standing to sue, as he was denied on this front in the aforementioned Pledge of Allegiance case given that he does not have parental custody over his daughter. In this instance, the more recent Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation decision dismissed a suit challenging Establishment Clause violations by the executive branch, and by implication this also applies to the judicial branch as only Congress is implicated on these grounds. In his lawsuit, Newdow actually targets Roberts of the judicial branch, so this distinction is important.

If Newdow's claim is deemed worthy of consideration, the Lemon Test enters the fray once more. The three-pronged test reads as follows:
1. The statute must have a secular purpose.
2. Its primary effect can neither advance nor inhibit religion.
3. The statute cannot foster "excessive entanglement" with religion.

In this instance, as articulated above, we are not even dealing with a statute, but instead a historic add-on to an oath cemented in our foundational document. However, ceremonial celebrations of religion have been addressed by the Supreme Court, most importantly in the 1983 case Marsh v. Chambers. The facts center on the Nebraska legislature and a daily prayer at the beginning of activities each day delivered by a paid chaplain. A long-serving member of the chamber filed suit, and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed this practice an Establishment Clause violation.

The Supreme Court took the case on appeal, and overturned the ruling by a 6-3 margin. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote for the majority, and cited history as the primary justification for the continuance of legislative prayer, for the Continental Congress, followed by the First Congress, engaged in a similar practice. Indeed, the latter body institutionalized prayer three days before adopting the language of the Bill of Rights. Moreover, given that the Nebraska legislature was composed of adults, and that the prayers were invoked merely in the country's Judeo-Christian tradition, this was not a "real threat," but instead a "mere shadow."

The minority thought otherwise, led by Justice William Brennan, who found the Nebraska prayer in violation of all three rungs of the Lemon Test. He contended that state-sanctioned prayers violated the separation of church and state, along with the principle of neutrality. Additionally, it infringed upon an individual's right to conscience, threatened the "essential autonomy of religious life," "trivialized" religion through its intermixing with government affairs, and stirred religious tensions in this arena.

I would argue that there is certainly a distinction between the Marsh and most recent Newdow case, and this centers on the act that the latter practice is not legally institutionalized. In a sense, by stating "so help me God," Obama and his predecessors are exercising their religious freedom, as this is also protected by the First Amendment. In my mind, this is little different than president's tendency to say "...and God bless America" at the end of major speeches. He is not obligated to do so, but tradition, and perhaps his religious faith, dictates these actions.

Newdow's lawsuit will likely fall on deaf ears, but Obama's speech will be heard by tens of millions. Regardless, that the First Amendment enters the fray at this historic moment is yet another indication of the timelessness of the freedoms it protects, and as a result, the controversies it propagates.


A Burris in Their Saddle?

By Shawn Healy
I wrote last week about the continued controversy surrounding former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris' appointment to the U.S. senate by since-impeached Governor Rod Blagojevich. Burris' fate should be decided soon, maybe even today, and this post touches upon both the legal underpinnings of this ongoing power struggle, along with the movement to remove the accused governor from office.

According to sources within the Senate, Burris may learn about his fate as early as today. Officials there are considering the authenticity of his appointment without the signature of approval from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. It is possible that he will be seated "without prejudice," allowing the body to reexamine his credentials at a later date when the Blagojevich brouhaha dies down.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the Majority Whip, said yesterday that his Democratic colleagues intend to find a resolution to the matter before long, instead of anticipating an appointment from Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn should he be elevated to the governor's mansion.

In a probing editorial yesterday, the Chicago Tribune laid out three scenarios where Democrats in the Senate could continue to contest the legal authenticity of the Burris appointment. This includes dismissing a precedent set in 1969 where a New York Senator was seated on the grounds that he was elected by state voters, the fact that the criminal charges surrounding Blagojevich center on the very senate seat in question, and finally, that the elevation of Burris by the criminally accused governor is nothing more than "lulling," or the concealment of a crime.

Beyond this meandering legalese lies the impeachment of Illinois' 40th governor for the first time in the state's 190-year history. The Illinois House voted 114-1 last Friday in favor of sending impeachment articles in the Senate (Representative Milt Patterson stood as the lone "no" vote). Proceedings on this front are set to begin on or around January 26 as the Senate meets as a judicial body with the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court presiding, and a two-thirds vote necessary to convict and remove Blagojevich from office.

There is no telling how long the latter process will take to play out, but in an ironic twist, Blagojevich himself will preside over the start of the Senate's session on Wednesday as newly-elected members are seated. Just another day in this sad soap opera otherwise known as Prairie State politics.


American Lion

By Shawn Healy
As the Bush years come to a close, and the Obama Administration takes shape, it is fitting to look to the past for reasons of both assessment and guidance. Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham does just this in American Lion, a compelling biography of Andrew Jackson, our nation's seventh president. The author enters waters that have been traveled many times before, but offers intimate details into "Old Hickory's" personal life that helps unravel a complicated man and consequential presidency.

Like Obama, Jackson came from humble beginnings. A self-made man and lawyer, Jackson served his country honorably, often taking orders as general and executing them beyond expectations (and defined parameters, for that matter). His military fame was forever cemented at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, a victory that came after the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812. Like Obama's opponent this past November, Senator John McCain, Jackson rode his war exploits to a lifetime in public service and elected office.

Some quarreled with the highly personal tone of the just-completed campaign, but 2008 had nothing on 1828, Jackson's second, but first successful, run for the White House, where his wife faced repeated attacks for committing polygamy by wedding Jackson before her first marriage was annulled. Jackson ultimately prevailed over the incumbent John Quincy Adams, but Rachel Jackson died shortly after the triumph, casting a melancholy tone on Jackson's eight-year tenure as president.

Jackson's enemies schemed behind his back almost immediately, as he faced fire for the alleged extramarital exploits of a cabinet member (He was the first president to rely heavily upon his so-called "Kitchen Cabinet"), not to mention the disloyalty of his Vice President, John Calhoun, who plotted a path toward his own triumph via mutiny. The scheme was ultimately foiled, but Calhoun would emerge during Jackson's second term as a Senator and the chief architect of nullification, where a state could refuse to obey federal laws they detested. If forced to comply, Calhoun's South Carolina threatened recession. Jackson ultimately called his bluff, but not without tense moments and the threat of force. Lincoln would look to Jackson's speech to Congress on the subject some 28 years later when trouble brewed once more in the Palmetto State.

Jackson was also a man of contradictions, for he saw himself as the champion of the individual citizen, yet owned slaves (roughly 150), and negotiated the violent and lethal removal of Native American tribes from the Southeastern United States. He refused to enforce a Supreme Court verdict siding with the Cherokee's, and saw no harm in congressional prohibitions of petitions to end slavery, and later the implementation of the "gag law," where abolitionist tracts were barred from the mail.

Our current financial crisis finds parallels in the Age of Jackson. He famously took on the Second Bank of the United States, removing its deposits and vetoing the renewal of its charter to the chagrin of its congressional champions. Jackson saw the Bank as an incubator of political corruption, and thus acted preemptively. For these bold actions, he was censured by the Senate, a tag he worked furiously to remove in the waning days of his presidency. Shortly after leaving office, a financial panic ensured. The causes of the crisis are the grist of historical debate, yet it goes without saying that Jackson should share at least a portion of the blame. Sound familiar?

Despite his many blemishes in the arena of race relations, at heart, Jackson was a product of the masses. Indeed, he was arguably our first popularly-elected president as his victory came on the heels of universal male suffrage. He also oversaw the evolution of our current party system, where nominees bearing competing partisan platforms actively seek the popular vote. The modern-day Democratic Party took root during this time, though its ideals and sectional reach relate more to the modern-day Republicans. Henry Clay, the venerable Kentucky statesman, was Jackson's primary opponent for re-election in 1832, and proceede to create the Whig Party, the Democrats' primary opposition for the next two decades.

Jackson was a resolute leader who acted upon his own intuition and rarely looked back upon making a decision. The current occupant of the White House is often described in similar terms, yet the two left office on entirely different terms. Jackson's hand-picked successor, Vice President Martin Van Buren, won by a narrow margin and "Old Hickory" walked into the sunset wildly popular and vindicated. George W. Bush, by comparison, was a wreath of thorns to the Republican standard-bearer in 2008 and leaves office with the lowest public approval ratings in recorded history.

Jackson presided over the expansion of presidential powers like none of his predecessors. He wielded the veto pen as a policy weapon, whereas in the past it was used sparingly when acts of Congress were deemed unconstitutional. He threatened and used military force at his own volition, and demanded compliance from Cabinet officers, making them oracles of his own preferred policies. As the only man in America elected by all of the people (through the Electoral College), Jackson saw himself as a national father, and American citizens his children. Each of these decisive power grabs was in his mind taken on behalf of them and thus justified.

Jackson was revered by many of his contemporaries, and history has vindicated him amongst his foes. His successors looked to him frequently for guidance during perilous times, including Lincoln, both Roosevelt's, and even Harry Truman, who went so far as a build a statue of Jackson outside the county courthouse in Missouri where he served as judge. Through this day, Democrats hold annual Jefferson-Jackson dinners, basking in the historical lineage of men who used the party apparatus to grow their office, and by extension, the nation. The outgoing Bush and the soon-to-arrive Obama should take note of Jackson's triumphs and travails, for the political dramas of our time tend to take greater shape across the ages.


Backroom Brawling

By Shawn Healy
Happy New Year, and welcome back to our analysis of the theatrics surrounding state government, and by implication national affairs, in the Land of Lincoln. As of my last writing, the impeachment proceedings against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich had begun, and they have continued in the interim, although delays have ensued over the use of evidence gathering during the federal investigation that produced the criminal complaint brought against him on December 9th.

These details aside, it is likely that the panel will soon produce a recommendation for consideration by the entire state house (UPDATE: a draft report was circulated on Thursday, with a possible vote in the full House on Friday). If impeached, a trial would ensure in the state senate, where the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, Thomas R. Fitzgerald, would preside. As you may have heard, Blagojevich's potential replacement, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, predicts that the ordeal will be over by Lincoln's bicentennial next month, but this represents at best an educated guess from a man with more than a little skin in the game.

On the criminal investigation front, the process has trudged forward slowly with testimony by affected figures, including incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has asked for an extension in his duty to produce indictments against Blagojevich and his former Chief of Staff John Harris. Fitzgerald is also attempting to release edited transcripts of the notorious phone conversations between Blagojevich, his the Chief of Staff, and potential suitors in his pay-to-play schemes.

As for now, Blagojevich remains governor, and he proceeded last week to use his powers to name a replacement to President-elect Obama's senate seat. He elevated former state attorney general and perennial gubernatorial candidate Roland Burris to the position, but Secretary of State Jesse White has refused to certify the appointment. This has provided limited legal cover for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to refuse to seat any individual appointed by the tainted governor. Burris has already appealed twice to the state supreme court to force White to act or consider Blagojevich's appointment official through bypassing this formality.

Reid is relying on his interpretation of the Constitution, which in Article One, Section Five, reads: "Each house shall be the Judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications of its own members..." Yet Article One, Section Three, sets the requirements of office for the Senate at 30 years of age, residency in the U.S. for the past 9 years, and currently living in the state which he or she will represent. Burris is 72 and a lifelong resident of Illinois, so he is qualified by all measures. Moreover, Blagojevich remains governor and is charged to the duty to fill a vacated senate seat. By implication, then, both Reid and White appear to be standing on thin January ice (Update: On Wednesday, responding to pressure from President-elect Obama, Reid opened the door for Burris' seating once his appointment is officially certified).

An interesting side note enters the equation here, too, for Blagojevich set the dates for a special election to fill the vacated House seat of the aforementioned Emanuel. This was certified by White, and the primary will transpire on March 3rd, followed by the general election on April 7th. This apparent contradiction further weakens the case of those who claim Burris' appointment is illegitimate, as the governor acted according to the law in each instance.

A broader assessment of the situation shows that Blagojevich called called the collective bluffs of those who dared him to make the senate appointment. In naming the African-American Burris, he brought local congressman and former Black Panther leader Bobby Rush into the fray, who claimed that denying Burris a seat would constitute "lynching" in the last "plantation" of politics, the United States Senate (Obama was the only African-American member). Also interesting to note is the fact that Obama himself supported Burris is his quest for governor back in 2002, a race where Blagojevich defeated him in the Democratic primary and went on to win the general election that year, and again in 2006.

It is likely that Burris will assume his coveted Senate seat before long, and he may or may not be tainted by the baggage that is Blagojevich. Regardless, his tenure is a brief one, as he would stand for re-election in 2010, and the race for his seat will undoubtedly heat up by this summer. Illinois residents may have been stymied in their ability to replace Obama via special election (the state house and senate never acted despite initial statements of support in the affirmative), but they will have a voice before long, and perhaps this related soap opera surrounding the Prairie State will soon turn to re-runs.


Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at