Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.
Jamestown, 1607-2007: Preparing for America's 400th Birthday
Starting in May, the 400th anniversary of the first British settlement in America at Jamestown, Virginia got under way.
The Godspeed, a $2.6 million replica of one of the three ships that carried the first settlers to Jamestown in 1607, sailed to six East Coast ports to generate interest in the "America's 400th Anniversary" commemoration. Its first stop was along the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia, only several blocks from this writer's home. In fact, it has special meaning for me because I was a freshman at the College of William and Mary--located only several miles from Jamestown--in 1957 when Jamestown's 350th anniversary was celebrated. It marked the first visit as queen to the U.S. by Queen Elizabeth II.
Governor Timothy Kaine of Virginia said, as the Godspeed set sail, that:
Today is the beginning of 18 months of commemoration of a moment not just critical to the history of Jamestown or Virginia or even America, but we begin to mark a moment that altered the path of the entire world and of human history.
He noted that American traditions of free enterprise, representative democracy and cultural diversity began at Jamestown.
Thirteen years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, a group of 104 English men and boys made the four-and-a-half month voyage to the banks of the James River to form a settlement in Virginia. Their goal of making a profit from the resources of the New World for the Virginia company's shareholders in London quickly took a back seat to pure survival as they confronted the harsh realities of their life in their new home.
The new Godspeed is 88 feet long with a 7-foot draft and a 71-foot mainmast. The ship has three masts with six square-shaped sails made of Oceanus cloth. The mainmast flies the historic British flag from the era, which combined the English Cross of St. George with the Scottish cross of St. Andrew. The hull has been decorated in a red and white diamond pattern, with a red and white half-diamond pattern on the beakhead. Erich Septh, master of the Godspeed, says, "The hull shape requires a greater sail area and the sails can be operated together or individually. It very closely recreates the Godspeed."
The original Godspeed set sail from London on December 20, 1606, for a four-month journey across the Atlantic Ocean. The operation was financed by the Virginia Company of London, a start-up venture with a business model based on extracting profits from the New World. With an initial stock offering of 10 pounds and 12 shillings, investors knew that the company was a high-risk proposition. The memory of Sir Walter Raleigh's disastrous "lost Colony" was still a fresh memory, and England's record of failure served to bolster its image as a third-rate colonial power. Yet the promise of gold and silver--instant wealth--proved to be an almost irresistible force.
The Susan Constant was the flagship of the Virginia Company's expedition, carrying 71 people. It was armed with cannons for protection against pirates, leading the way for the other two ships, the Godspeed, which carried 52, and the Discovery, which carried a mere 21. Unlike Raleigh's expedition, this voyage would include no women. About half of the passengers were gentlemen, members of the upper class who were seeking adventure and riches.
"The men had come to the enterprise with a range of motives, and their hopes and fantasies would have run likewise," writes historian David Price. "Most of the travelers were on board because they--like the Virginia Company itself--expected quick treasure."
Historian Samuel Eliot Morison writes that,
The colonists owned no property; they were working for stockholders overseas. Twice a day the men were marched to the fields or woods by beat of drum, twice marched back and into church. They led an almost hopeless existence, for there seemed to be no future. . . . No empire could have developed from a colony of this sort. . . . The first factor in the transition was tobacco. Its value for export was discovered in 1613 when John Rolfe, who married the Indian princess Pocohontas, imported seed from the West Indies, crossed it with the local Indian grown tobacco, and produced a smooth smoke which captured the English market. Virginia then went tobacco-mad; it was even grown in the streets of Jamestown.
Beyond this, reports Morison,
. . . the institution of private property was the second factor that saved Virginia. When, after seven years, the terms of the Company's hired men expired, those who chose to stay became tenant farmers and later were given their land outright. This made a tremendous difference. As Captain John Smith put it, "When our people were fed out of the common store, and laboured jointly together, glad was he who could slip from his labour, or slumber over his taske, he cared not how; nay, the most honest among them would hardly take so much true paines in a week, as now for themselves they will doe in a day." By 1617, a majority of the hardy, acclimated survivors were tenants. Within ten years tenant plantations extended 20 miles along the James River, and total European population of Virginia was about a thousand.
A third factor that ensured the success of Virginia was political, in the broadest sense. Captain John Smith put it, one sentence: "No man will go from hence to have lesse freedome there than here." In the English conception of freedom the first and most important was "a government of laws, not men." The Company ordered Governor Sir George Yeardley to abolish arbitrary rule, introduce English common law and due process, encourage private property, and summon a representative assembly. This assembly would have power with the appointed council, to pass local laws, subject to the Company's veto.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who is serving as honorary chair of the national Jamestown commemoration, declares that,
The system of government that we have today was an outgrowth of those early settlements, and so I thought the anniversary was a worthy reason to try to remind citizens of our history. In the United States today, public schools have pretty much stopped teaching government, civics and American history. It gets tossed in occasionally, but it's no longer a major focus for children. That's a great concern to me because I truly don't know how long we can survive as a strong nation if our younger citizens don't understand the nature of our government, why it was formed that way, and how they can participate and should participate as citizens. That's something you have to learn. It just isn't handed down in the genetic pool.
The present effort to replace the teaching of our traditional culture and literature with "multiculturalism" and the attacks upon the work of "dead white males" that is implicit in this assault upon the so-called traditional "Eurocentric" curriculum overlook one important fact: the United States has a culture of its own, and it is this American culture that has attracted men and women of every race, nationality and religion. They have come to our shores for something we had and they did not. Few have been disappointed.
What is this American culture that has been so appealing? In his thoughtful book America's British Culture, Russell Kirk, one of our foremost men of letters, points out that contemporary America is a product of the long evolution of law, governmental structure, religion, philosophy and literature of the large Western world and, more particularly, Great Britain, through which this Western culture in its British form reached the New World.
Dr. Kirk notes that,
So dominant has the British culture been in America . . . from the 17th century to the present, that if somehow the British elements could be eliminated from all the cultural patterns of the United States, why, Americans would be left with no coherent culture in public or private life.
In four major fashions, Kirk points out, the British experience, for more than a dozen generations, has shaped the United States.
In Kirk's view,
The first of these . . . is the English language and the wealth of great literature in that language. . . . The second . . . is the rule of law, American common law and positive law being derived chiefly from English law. This body of law gives fuller protection to the individual person than does the legal system of any other country. The third of these ways is representative government, patterned upon British institutions that began to develop in medieval times, and patterned especially upon "the mother of Parliaments" at Westminster. The fourth . . . is a body of mores, or moral habits and beliefs and conventions and customs, joined to certain intellectual disciplines. These compose an ethical heritage . . .
The very language of our current discussions about the law--the "rights" of the accused, the "right" to privacy, the presumption of innocence, "equality" under the law--all are derived very specifically from the British experience, and can be found in no other legal tradition.
The English common law, Kirk writes,
. . . gives to those who come within its jurisdiction privileges unknown in civil or Roman law, where generally the interest of the State looms first. Under the common law, for instance, a defendant cannot be compelled to testify if he chooses to remain silent; he is saved from self-incrimination. A complex series of writs, under common law, has made access to justice relatively easy for the individual. No person may be imprisoned without a warrant, and the accused must be tried speedily. . . . In European civil law . . . the accused person was presumed to be guilty as charged by a prosecutor; the judge determined the issue to be settled in a case at law. . . . But under the common law of England, the plaintiff and the defendant, or the prosecutor and the defendant, are regarded as adversaries, on an equal footing . . . the judge remains neutral. A defendant in a criminal case is presumed to be innocent unless the evidence proves him to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The English common law is founded upon the assertion of the supremacy of law. As Bracton and other medieval scholars in the law expressed it, even the king himself was "under law." And when the colonists declared independence, it was not to be free of English law, but, quite to the contrary, because the government in London had denied them their traditional rights as Englishmen.
Thus, the First Continental Congress' Declaration and Resolves (Oct. 14, 1774) declared that
. . . the respective colonies are entitled to the common law of England, and more especially the great and estimable privilege of being tried by their peers of that vicinage, according to the course of that law.
The patriots were asserting their claim to enjoy what Edmund Burke called "the charted rights of Englishmen"--not the abstract claims of perfect liberty that would be asserted 15 years later in France.
The chartered rights went back to the Magna Carta. In his Commentaries on the Laws of England--an American edition of which was published in Philadelphia in 1771-72--William Blackstone found in the Magna Carta the expression of three absolute rights: life, liberty and property. He traced back to the Great Charter the doctrine of due process of law. The ancient right to trial by a jury of one's peers was closely examined by Blackstone. American colonists cited Blackstone for authority that no tax might be imposed upon them, constitutionally, without the act and consent of their own legislature.
The fact that the majority of present-day Americans cannot trace their individual ancestry to England bears little relationship to the British nature of American culture. Russell Kirk argues that:
Two centuries after the first U.S. census was taken, nearly every race and nationality in the world had contributed to the American population, but the culture of America remains British. . . . The many millions of newcomers to the U.S. have accepted integration into the British-descended American culture with little protest, and often with great willingness.
Sadly, our schools have moved away from teaching our history. In 1991, for example, the Social Studies Syllabus Review Committee of the State of New York issued a report embracing the notion of "multicultural education" rejecting "previous ideals of assimilation to an Anglo-American model." Professor Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., a member of the Syllabus Review Committee, strongly dissented. He declared:
The underlying philosophy of that report, as I read it, is that ethnicity is the defining experience for most Americans, that ethnic ties are permanent and indelible, and that the division into ethnic groups establishes the basic structure of American society and that a main objective of public education should be the protection, strengthening, celebration and perpetuation of ethnic origins and identities. Implicit in the report is the classification of all Americans according to ethnic and racial criteria.
Professor Schlesinger points out that America's language and political purposes and institutions are derived from Britain: "To pretend otherwise is to falsify history. To teach otherwise is to mislead our students." He adds that:
. . . The British legacy has been modified, enriched and reconstituted by the absorption of non-Anglo cultures and traditions as well as the distinctive experiences of American life.
Dr. Schlesinger concluded by asking his colleagues:
. . . to consider what kind of nation we will have if we press further down the road of cultural separatism and ethnic fragmentation, if we institutionalize the classification of our citizens by ethnic and racial criteria and if we abandon our historic commitment to an American identity. What will hold our people together then?
Since those days, things have accelerated in this negative direction, as much of our current debate over immigration illustrates. In many schools, bi-lingual education has replaced the teaching of English to newcomers. In most schools, the teaching of our history has been downgraded. If we do not transmit our own history, culture and values to our students--particularly to those who have come from other places with other traditions and values--what future can we foresee for the American society?
The 400th anniversary of America's beginnings at Jamestown should provide us with a much-needed impetus to review our teaching of history and our transmission of American culture and values to the next generation. After all, it all really began at Jamestown in 1607.
One Woman's Unique Journey--A Political and Social History of Texas
Marjorie Meyer Arsht, now 91, has led an extraordinary life. Her new memoir, All the Way from Yoakum (Texas A & M Press), tells the story of a remarkable woman who became a leading light in Houston and Texas politics as one of the founders of the modern Republican Party of Texas. In a long life filled with both tragedy and joy, she remained steadfast in her determination to make a contribution.
Former President George H. W. Bush said this of Marjorie Arsht:
As President of the United States, I was privileged to meet kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, and even a few dictators and despots along the way. But I'm not sure any of them compared to Marjorie Arsht, a life force in Texas politics for as long as I can remember. Marjorie was a true pioneer, opening doors for women, and for Republicans-a rare breed in Texas before she came along. However, until I read All the Way from Yoakum, even I did not fully understand what Marjorie was about. In this revealing, funny and poignant memoir, Marjorie shares all the joys and heartaches of her remarkable life, proving what Barbara and I already knew: this girl from Yoakum is truly a Texas legend.
In 1914, Marjorie Meyer was born in the small town of Yoakum, Texas. She writes that:
Yoakum today remains much as it was when my parents arrived, an unpretentious little South Texas town, located 35 miles south of Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio. Over the last half-century, the population of approximately 4,000 souls has remained relatively constant. The town reflects that same measured pace of living it enjoyed through its past.
Marjorie's was one of the few Jewish families in Yoakum:
No Jewish house of worship ever existed there, and only two or three Jewish families ever lived in Yoakum at one time. On the holy days of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, my father took me to Houston or San Antonio. . . . The tradition of both my parents' families . . . was distinctly Reform. . . . Many of the old traditions, such as dietary laws and ritualistic circumcision, were no longer considered mandatory . . .
Growing up in Yoakum, Arsht recalls,
For a couple of reasons, I think it was possible for me to remain largely unaware of prejudice against Jews. One is that our practice of Reform Judaism did not appear markedly different from the variations of religious practice common to Christian denominations. The other is that I often went to church services with my friends. If I were spending the night at someone's house on Saturday night, I would go to church with her and her family on Sunday morning. I frequently accompanied my friend Nina Vance, a Presbyterian, to her Wednesday night prayer meeting. (Later Nina founded and for many years directed Houston's distinguished Alley Theater.) Also, while in high school, I went to the Catholic convent for music and French lessons, often attending a Catholic Mass. The diversity of religious experiences helped me develop the tolerance necessary to understand that the basis for all religions is essentially the same.
A prodigy at school, Marjorie, in a much more flexible educational era, graduated from high school at fourteen and entered Rice Institute, as Rice University as then called. She arrived in Houston, where family members, who owned Foley Brothers department store, welcomed her. "On my first day at Rice," she reports,
I was scared to death. I knew the names of the buildings from a map in the catalogue. Besides Lovett Hall, where I stood, there were only a few structures--the biology building, the chemistry building, a dormitory for boys, and Cohen House, which looked like a home. Uncle George and Aunt Ester Cohen, my father's sister, together with Uncle George's sister, Gladys, had given Cohen House to Rice Institute in honor of their mother and father, Agnes and Robert I. Cohen of Galveston. It still serves as the faculty club.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rice at 18, Marjorie was on her way to graduate study at the Sorbonne in Paris. Before leaving Texas, she had been given strict orders to visit her paternal grandfather's relatives in Strasbourg:
When my grandfather, Achille Meyer, was born in Wolfsheim, a suburb of Strasbourg, the province was German. . . . More observant of Jewish ritual than my family, they had prayers and candles and the "breaking of the bread" on Friday night. . . . We visited Wolfsheim as promised and discussed the war clouds looking over Europe. I knew that trouble was brewing because clairvoyant Jews were already seeking refuge in Paris. But, for me, war seemed so remote as to be almost unimaginable.
When Germany marched into Poland on September 1, 1939, a date that was also the first anniversary of Marjorie's marriage to Raymond Arsht, she remembers that,
Our thoughts, of course, were for my relatives, who were in grave danger. . . . Very early in the war, the Germans overran Strasbourg, that charming city of joy and laughter. Poor, sturdy Gustave was shot in the street as a hostage; his wife, Sarah, and two daughters went to concentration camps. Storm troopers invaded Arthur's home and shot him, Francine and their daughter in cold blood. Their son was swimming and escaped, but was later killed in a railway accident. Mathieu Dreyfus, a diabetic, died in the south of France from a lack of insulin. We didn't know then that Andrew and Paulette, with their infant daughter Danielle, had been hidden by a French farm family in their barn. At the time, I felt we would never see them or Strasbourg again.
After returning from Paris, Marjorie entered a master's degree program at Columbia University. She taught school in Yoakum and, after her marriage, moved to Houston. She was active as a member of Temple Beth Israel, the oldest Reform congregation in Texas, and was a firm opponent of Jewish nationalism, arguing that Judaism was a religion of universal values, not a nationality, and that Americans of the Jewish faith were Americans by nationality and Jews by religion, just as their fellow citizens were Presbyterians or Methodists or Catholics. Her views led her to a leadership position in the American council for Judaism, which promoted her classical Reform philosophy.
It was as president of Temple Beth El's Sisterhood that Majorie was led to her role in Texas politics. Each year, one of the programs was reserved for public affairs and featured a speaker. In 1960, two years before her tenure, Majorie
. . . noticed in the temple bulletin that the next program would present a Republican, Bob Overstreet, and a Democrat, Wally Miller, both of whom were candidates for the Texas legislature. At the time, the Republican Party in Texas was so small that a state convention could have been held in almost anyone's living room. I had been voting Republican for many years, ever since President Roosevelt took the U.S. off the gold standard when I was in school in France. I had watched then, with horror, as the value of my money declined by more than a third overnight. Before I went to Europe, I had been too young to vote, but when I returned, my first residential vote was cast for Wendell Willkie. . . . My father had been a Democrat's Democrat. He fed me the Constitution at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Arguments and debate were in my blood, along with my father's philosophy that no opinion is worth having if it can't be defended or promulgated. By the time I became president of the Sisterhood, my father's conservative Democrat philosophy had become the Republican Party platform.
After hearing Republican Overstreet and Democrat Miller, Marjorie made her first political contribution, a check to Overstreet for five dollars. "That one check put me on what few lists existed at the time," she states.
Bob Overstreet lost his election, as did every other GOP candidate at the local level. Texans had become accustomed to voting for Republicans nationally, but they remained Democrats at the state level. They contended that a two-party state wasn't needed because Texas actually had two parties, one liberal and one conservative, all within the Democratic Party, of course. . . . I received call after call to help with one project or another. I became a Republican activist at the local level.
The formation of the John Birch Society in 1958 and the controversy it engendered caused Marjorie to contribute an article to The Houston Press. Her thesis was:
Concern over the Birch Society should force everyone to examine the reasons for its birth. People who support it are reacting to the sharply leftward trend of government policies. . . . Extremism breeds extremism. Such a problem existed after the War Between the States, when Southerners, having no recourse against the abuses of Reconstruction, formed the Ku Klux Klan. All such organizations eventually fall into disrepute because they are extra-judicial. We should address ourselves to reclaiming balance in our institutions and public policies in order to negate the impetus for creating groups such as the John Birch Society.
After her article appeared, Marjorie was called by Bob Overstreet who said that, "John Tower saw the editorial you wrote and asked me to bring you to Austin next week to meet him." Tower, then in the midst of his run for the U.S. Senate, began using Marjorie's arguments in addressing all questions posed to him about the Birch Society. Writes Marjorie:
That association with John Tower was the beginning of a lifelong friendship, and I became an integral part of every one of the Tower campaigns, holding high-level volunteer positions. In 1961, Tower, the little professor from Wichita Falls, defeated the very conservative, crusty West Texan rancher William Blakely, with the help of liberal Democrats who wanted to purge their party of conservatives.
In 1962, Marjorie ran as a Republican for the Texas state legislature. She received the endorsements of all three Houston newspapers, the Press, the Post and the Chronicle, as well as The Informer, then Houston's leading black newspaper. The Informer told its readers that "Mrs. Arsht is a Republican and a conservative, but not a squinty-eyed reactionary. . . . She stands for sound, responsible two party government in Texas."
Of the election results, Marjorie states,
I received 48.9 per cent of the vote countywide, which was amazing. West of Main Street, I ran ahead of the governor. Part of my platform had been a plea for single-member districts. Had such lines been drawn at the time, my life might well have taken an entirely different turn.
Recalling the political atmosphere in Texas at that time, Marjorie points out that Republicans were traditionally less conservative than many Democrats and the party was opposed to segregation, which many Democrats embraced. Slowly, right-wing Democrats began to join the Republican Party, creating conflict between "Old," more moderate and racially inclusive Republicans, and "new," far more conservative members.
In 1963, Jimmy Bertron, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party--who Marjorie calls one of "us"--called:
"Marjorie, I don't want it generally known just now, but I'm moving to Florida. I think I've found a good replacement for us, so we could get a head start in warding off a takeover of the chairmanship in a special election. Would you bring some of our precinct people together to meet him?" Marjorie asked, "Who is it?" "His name is George Bush. His wife's name is Barbara. They're newcomers to Houston, and you're going to love them." An evening reception at the Arsht home represented the beginning of George Bush's campaign for county chairman.
It also was, Marjorie declares,
. . . the beginning of a long and rewarding friendship. Since then I have repeatedly been asked, "Did you have any idea at that time that you were dealing with someone who would eventually become President of the United States." My answer has always been the same: "The Bushes were charming. We were very pleased but the fact is we were merely looking for a county chairman. And we were delighted that we felt we had a winner."
When George Bush ran for the U.S. Senate in 1964 against Ralph Yarborough, Marjorie was asked to host a dinner for black Republicans at her home, something unprecedented in Texas at that time. Her description of that event paints a picture of a society undergoing dramatic change, with Marjorie herself at the forefront:
On the evening of the dinner, Craig Peper said to Raymond Arsht, "I want to tell you who is coming this evening" (a few years later I completely identified with the movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner") "George Bush has invited a black lawyer from Washington and some of his professional black friends in Houston for dinner tonight. It should be an interesting evening." Ray looked as though he were speaking a foreign language, and then he turned to me, "Have you lost your mind?" Then he looked toward the front of the house, "Do you realized the front of this house is all glass? "Without waiting for me to answer, he moved to the front to draw the draperies, and then realized that wouldn't really do any good since it was summer and still light outside. I turned to explain to Ray who the other guests were so he would know there were others of our friends also involved. "Do they know who's invited" When I nodded, he said with a pained smile, "So I'm the only one surprised?" I nodded again.
Around that time the doorbell rang, and the Bushes came in with their elegant, tall, handsome guest, Grant Reynolds. Ray's innate good manners prevented our guest from knowing he was in a state of shock. As the others entered, another unforeseen circumstance caused Ray to shed his bewilderment. Although I had decided on a buffet dinner, I had not anticipated the response of Harold Brown, my black chauffeur and bartender, and Annie Turner, my cook. They were totally baffled. They had never served a black person as a special guest in a white family's home before and both suffered a kind of "brain paralysis." One guest asked for a Bloody Mary, and when Ray saw Harold reach for a small wine glass, he knew that he had to help behind the bar, which took his mind off the guests milling around the lanai.
There is, of course, much in the memoir about Marjorie's private life, her happy marriage to Ray, who was active in the oil business, and the tragic loss of her oldest daughter Margot, to a virulent form of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), which also took the lives of two grandchildren. Her two surviving children, Alan and Leslye, have been the joy of her life, along with her grandchildren.
After her husband's sudden and untimely death, Marjorie discovered that a series of business reverses had placed her in a fragile economic situation. She went back to teaching, then into real estate. At the same time, Texas Governor Bill Clements named her to the board of Texas State University, an historically black institution in Houston. She made friends with another member of the board, Maurice Barksdale, a black Republican from Ft. Worth who was an authority on public housing. He was named Deputy Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by President Reagan and in 1983 Marjorie, then a 69-year-old grandmother, went to Washington as his speechwriter.
In 1988, Marjorie was selected as a delegate from Texas to the Republican National Convention that nominated George Bush for president. Bob Schieffer on CBS interviewed Marjorie as the oldest delegate but, she notes, "I heard later that another woman was really older than I but had not given her correct age on the form."
Writing in The New York Times, (Nov. 10, 1988), Maureen Dowd points out that:
Mrs. Arsht first introduced George and Barbara Bush to local political leaders in her living room twenty-five years ago. . . . Marjorie Arsht talked approvingly of the next Secretary of State . . . "Jimmy Baker grew up here. . . . I knew him when he was in short pants."
This book is a moving account of Marjorie's life. This writer has known Marjorie Arsht for nearly fifty years and much of the material reveals sides of her life previously known to few outside her immediate family. It is, beyond this, a document of historical significance, portraying an era of tremendous change and transformation, particularly in the South. All of us can truly draw inspiration from this story. *
"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." --Daniel Webster