Thursday, February 11, 2016

Evaluating Presidential Candidates

Every election cycle, I see several questionnaires or surveys circulated that tell you which presidential candidate you are most like, or which one you are most closely aligned with, or where you fall on the political spectrum.

While a candidate's ideology is an important consideration when judging candidates, there are two other areas that are often overlooked.

Overall, there are three areas of criteria a voter should consider when judging candidates in general:

Ideology
This includes the candidate's stances on issues, specific policy positions, political philosophy, etc. Where do they stand on the Right-Left spectrum? Or the libertarian-authoritarian spectrum? Have their positions changed over time. If so, why?

Character
What are their key traits? Looks for traits such as honesty, integrity, and commitment. How do they treat others? What kind of language do they use - not just their words, but their tone and attitude, even their body language?

Skills and Experience
These include their management and leadership experience, their domain knowledge in areas such as governance, law, legislation, foreign affairs, economics, etc., and also their education level and background. It also includes their life experiences - where did they grow up? What unique perspectives can they bring to the office? What life experiences (public or private) most shaped their life?

Many more examples from each area could be given. How are their communication skills? Can they set goals, investigate problems and new ideas? Can they appropriately structure a problem in order to solve it, and communicate those solutions?

Can they ask good questions, and interpret and evaluate new information? Can they share, critique, and test ideas at different levels?

You get the idea. There's much more to a candidate than their ideology. And, these three criteria are really broad. In fact, they overlap a lot.

For example, their ideology often stems from their skills and experiences. The more one knows about a subject the more informed their position will be. But, unfortunately, we have seen too many candidates form opinions that are not backed up by authoritative evidence or based on research and reliable data.

In some ways, one's character can be reflected in their skills or experience. An experienced candidate will be more likely to have the integrity to consider issues objectively, listen to others, be considerate, passionate, bold, and and firm on certain issues. They know when to act impulsively and when to slow down and work rationally.

One's ideology can be influenced by their character. It can take character to take a particular policy stance. One's character can often be judged in part by their stances - what is important to them, their goals, and vision for society or the way they think things "ought to be."

Good decision-making skills often require good character and knowledge of a topic. But, good leaders don't always have to be the experts. Rather, a trait of a good leader is to be a judge of character in others, and to know how to seek out the experts in order to make an informed opinion.

Now, some may say that it isn't really fair to judge someone on their character. Isn't it unfair to judge them on such a personal level? After all, do we really know the person? Have we sat down with them face to face?  How can someone really say they know a candidate's character? Well, we can't; but the best evidence of their character is their prior actions and performance.

When it comes to weighing these three areas, one's character is most important. Their skills and experience are next, and ideology is the last consideration of the three. For example, I would rather elect someone who was honest and trustworthy than someone I agree with 100% on policy issues. In fact, there has never been a candidate that I agree with 100% on every issue. But, there have been candidates who I can trust to make appropriate decisions.

One last thought - it takes character to be a judge of good character. I think as our society in general declines in moral standards and conduct, we'll see a proportionate amount of decline in the moral character of our elected officials. Keep that in mind as you vote this election season.

Now, take a few moments to judge the following candidates based on these three criteria. How do they measure up? What additional information do you need to effectively weigh them against these criteria?

  • Jeb Bush*
  • Ben Carson*
  • Chris Christie*
  • Hillary Clinton
  • Ted Cruz
  • John Kasich
  • Martin O'Malley*
  • Marco Rubio
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Donald Trump
  • Jim Webb*
*Dropped out since first declaring candidacy

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Millennial's Manifesto

While I fall into the age category of being a "Millennial," I first cringed at identifying myself as one. After all, I don't share a lot of the stereotypes of a Millennial (whatever that means, right?).

Before going further, here are some great resources from Pew Research to bring you up to speed on Millennial demographics:

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/03/19/comparing-millennials-to-other-generations/

Like most Millennials, I am between ages 18-35. My wife and I were both in our late 20s when we had our first child. We do not own a house. I had difficulty finding a job after college and so I do not have a job related to my undergraduate degree.

But, I differ in a few keys ways. I'm married (or rather, I married relatively early). I participate in organized religion. I am debt free and I am working on an advanced degree.

We Millennials been accused of feeling entitled, of being anti-social, and technology addicts. Now, I don't pretend to speak for all Millennials; but as one of them, I'm entitled to some latitude in vindicating and explaining ourselves.

Already, I've used the one word used most often to describe us - "entitled." We have been branded as the entitlement generation (perhaps with a little accuracy.) But, there's more beneath the surface - things the current statistics can't explain or describe.

Millennials are just trying to pursue the American Dream. What's so wrong about that? We just interpret the idea of what "the American Dream" means in different ways than past generations.

But, when it comes to work, we are disenchanted by the back-breaking hours of our parents' generation. We don't want to be rich now, but we do need our basic needs to be fulfilled (ever heard of Maslow?). Why put in 60-70 hours a week for 40 years, just to enjoy the last 20 years of our lives? Why not just work 40 hours a week and enjoy all 60 years?

Thus, Millennials' emphasis on health and activity. We know we'll be living a long time, so we also know we'll be working a long time. We want to be able to enjoy those years in good health.

We are also tech savvy if you haven't noticed. While one of our generation's vices might be our over-use of technology for entertainment purposes, we have a keen sense of its power to improve our lifestyle and productivity. We'd rather have the latest phone in our pocket and the latest software on our device than have a fancy sports car. It is our generation's way of getting around.

More importantly, we've become frustrated with and confused at complex social and economic systems - health care, stock markets, public education, higher education, and cultural rituals like college admissions and the job interview/application process - all are systems that are supposed to be helping us rather than hurting us. So, it's not that we feel we deserve certain privileges, but that we just want things to work and be simple. Why shouldn't these things be designed to benefit everyone, rather than a few?

We are not politically apathetic. Rather, we are disillusioned with the current system and the two major parties. (Hey, our boots may be new, but this isn't our first rodeo!). We've quickly realized that neither party has the capacity to enact any real meaningful change. We are very much concerned about the state of the nation, as well as local issues. We simply struggle to find organizations that promote our values in a way that is meaningful to us.

We do want families and children, we just want to be stable enough to enjoy family life and provide for our children. Sure, we might mature a little later than previous generations, but we still want to be functioning adults. Perhaps some of us just need a little more help in adjusting to adult life.

Millennials have been at the front lines of the recent libertarian-streaked movement against police brutality. When it comes to our attitude towards authority, it's not that we don't trust authority figures, it's just that we have high expectations for them. These authority figures also include teachers and doctors. After all, our parents taught us that these are important people in society and as such we expect them to fulfill their roles. We want to be able to trust authority figures, but are disappointed when we can't.

We don't have the same notions of "equality" as our parent's generation. Equality is not a threat to us or our way of life, and we are skeptical of those who try to artificially fix the system in the name of equality. We want to be free to treat others equally and are more accepting of those who differ from us. In fact, an increasing percentage of us Millennials belong to minority groups, so we get it.

We're already beginning to get a glimpse of the post-Millennial generation. Those born shortly after the 1995 "cut-off" year are those just entering college now. They probably don't remember September 11, 2001 (think about that really hard for a moment). Those older Millennials born in the early 1980s probably have two or three children now. You think Millennials are hard to deal with? Believe me, this new generation scares us as much as our generation scares our parents.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Kingdom of Noise

I recently began taking lessons to learn to play the great highland bagpipes. While some may think this is a noisy and obnoxious instrument, I find I am drawn to and inspired by its humming drones and emphatic notes. Perhaps it is simply my Scottish ancestry manifesting itself. But, I think there's more to it than that.

Music is used to express oneself. So, it follows that the instrument of choice is often a reflection of one's expressions. The pipes are an elegant instrument, used anciently for battles and funerals. True to their original intent, the pipes express some of the most poignant human emotions associated with those events - sorrow, longing, courage, joy, and enthusiasm.

"There is no music in hell, for all good music belongs to heaven." 
- Brigham Young
To properly explain and expound on the concept of the Kingdom of Noise, there must first be a distinction made between noise and music

After the first performance of "Messiah" the composer Handel responded to a compliment, saying, "My Lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them - I wish to make them better."

Music uplifts, inspires, cultivates, moves, awakens the senses, wholesome passions and public emotions. In contrast, noise deafens, dulls, depresses, destroys, downplays, demonizes, and decays all that is good and wholesome. 

Therefore, there is no music in hell - only noise. 

To the natural man - the guilty conscience - real music may seem like noise. That is because they are living in a state of hell, in enmity with God and man. They will only hear noise or rather hear noise that they mistake to be music. They must change their view of themselves and the world in order to hear real music. 

To those living in a state of faith, hope, and charity - heaven on earth - even simple noises can become music to the ears or the heart. I specifically remember a time when I was a young boy. I was in my room digging loudly through a bucket of Legos when my dad called me from below the balcony. I came out and with a smile he said, "That's music to my ears." He told me to keep playing with them. 

The world is full of noise and it is becoming increasingly louder. And it's all part of the Adversary's plan or scheme. After all, how can we possibly hear the subtle whispering of the Holy Ghost over the shrill noises of the day? Loud concerts, cars, computers, TV, video games, movies, gossip, cell phones, the list goes on. When we remove or reduce these things from our lives, we are better able to hear the Holy Ghost and the sweet music brought by the Spirit. But, any time we add to the noise, we are building the Kingdom of Noise, a vassal state to Satan's Kingdom. 

During the Lord's earthly ministry as recorded in the New Testament, He calmed a storm by the simple words, "Peace, be still." Again, to demon-ridden minds clouded by dual consciousness, he had but to speak, "Peace, be still."

Oh, how we could use the same admonishment today. Be still. Be reverent. Slow down. Take the time to think, to listen, and to hear the music around us.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Slow Death of the Utah Republican Party

In this debacle surrounding SB54 and CMV, things are quickly reaching a boiling point. Will the UT GOP choose deep change on its own terms, or slow death by an increase in voter apathy and a continued decrease in membership?

A few years ago, I left the Republican Party when the door was open. Now, just when I think I'm ready to come back, I find the door being slammed shut. This makes me sad, not because of a lost opportunity for me, but because I clearly see a lost opportunity for the party. I'm beginning to realize the party is actually closing the door on itself. 

Robert E. Quinn, an organizational change expert, in his book Deep Change, stated, "Organizations are coalitional. The dominant coalition in an organization is seldom interested in making deep change. Hence, deep change is often, but not always, driven from the outside." 

While Quinn's research in organizational change may inform the party leadership's behavior, this issue is not a dichotomous battle between the party and the state, between the "inside" and the "outside." There are many competing coalitions involved - the state, the voters (no matter their affiliation or ideology), and the party's officers at various levels. In reality, the dominant coalition just has to meet a new and wider set of expectations.

But, without those who vote for Republican candidates (whether in the primary or general election) the party effectively ceases to exist. So, voters demands and wishes ought not to be ignored. But the party need not lose control either. 

As long as die-hard Republicans are framing this issue as a one-or-the-other debate, they will prolong the battle and perhaps never reach a favorable resolution. So, which will it be? Change from within? Or a coercive change from the outside? Either way, the process will be painful. So, which one is more likely to help the party maintain its integrity and viability?

Deep change can be painful. It requires us to challenge closely-held assumptions and creates uncertainty. But the choice of deep change over slow death brings more rewarding outcomes and opportunities than can otherwise be anticipated.

I hope the Utah Republican Party chooses wisely. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Definition(s) of Marriage

The recent Supreme Court decision (or lack thereof) has prompted many to think that the issue is settled once and for all. In reality, only one side of a multi-faceted debate has won a battle, and no one has won the war yet. There are still many issue to be resolved. Its unfortunate that people think the issue is settled only because they now have what they wanted - regardless if a majority is still left with many more unanswered questions than there were before. The issue still has the potential to tear our society to pieces if it is not truly resolved.

We all want equality in marriage. No one is asking for certain marriages to be treated differently than other marriages; such a demand has never been voiced to my knowledge by anyone involved in the public discourse.

The real question is - how do (or should) we define marriage? I don't mean from a religious or moral point of view. I'm talking about a public policy point of view. Why is government involved in marriage in the first place? Should the government be involved in it? All sides of the debate are asking the government to be involved in defining marriage in varying degrees, in various ways, and for various ends. Some want states to decide. Some want the federal government to decide. Some want courts to decide. Others want legislatures to decide.

The root issue is that we as a society can't agree on a definition of marriage, just like we can't agree on a definition for "education" or "freedom" or "security". The roots of this conversation go back much further than the modern gay rights movement.

This is not a matter of choosing between one definition or another. It is narrow- and simple-minded to think that we must choose between only two definitions of marriage; the issue is much more complex than that. There are more than two definitions of marriage being thrown around in this debate. In fact, I suggest there are six competing and overlapping definitions, each supported by different arguments that are emphasized by different camps. Each definition may have virtue in its own right, but each leaves some gaping holes in its implications.

Definition #1: Marriage is a purely romantic/sexual relationship. We should be free to marry who we love.

This definition outright ignores children's role in the marriage relationship, and turns the focus to adult pleasure. It also assumes that government is preventing someone from loving another. Let's not pretend that we need government's permission to love or to publicly state our commitment to another person. Any couple can do that without the state's permission. What advocates of this definition are really looking for is for the government to legitimize their lifestyle, so that they cannot be refused certain services or accommodations.

But, if we accept this definition, then why can someone not love more than one person at a time? Government discriminating against polygamous people is just as bad as government discriminating against homosexual people. We must ask ourselves, why is the government in the love business at all? The vagueness of this definition only shows that there must be more to marriage than love or sexual fulfillment. Lastly, this definition does not even require a sexual relationship - only a mutually-agreed-upon relationship, as these two men in New Zealand demonstrated. Unless we invite the government into our bedrooms (heaven forbid) government cannot control the degree to which marriage is a sexual relationship. Anyone who accepts this definition of marriage must also logically and legally accept the actions of these two men.

Definition #2: Marriage is a partnership between two adults, and is formed strictly as a means to achieve certain economic ends.

An economic model is a compelling argument. But, then, can a daughter and father marry if they find it economically and mutually beneficial? What about two brothers? Again, this definition ignores the raising of children, especially when it is economically unwise. It also ignores sexuality, which every other definition takes into account. Surely, marriage ought to have a sexual aspect to it, or at least an emotional aspect. In short, we should all know that marriage (and by extension, family) is about more than just money.

Definition #3: Marriage is designed for the creation and rearing of children.

The strongest argument supporting this definition is the fact that only heterosexual couples have the potential to have children (homosexual couples must invoke a third party to produce a child). Yet, it's not a requirement for a married couple to have kids, nor are you required to be married if you happen to have kids. So this argument isn't really about marriage. And while homosexual couples can't exclusively produce children, they can certainly raise them.

So, this definition leaves us squabbling over what kind of sexual relationship - homosexual or heterosexual - is better for raising children. The jurors of sociology, psychology, and family science are still out on this question. Research has not proven the superiority of one over the other. So, should we be leaving government to experiment with children by adopting untested ideas and parading them around as sound public policy? Public policy should be based on sound and time-tested empirical research, not fads or public opinion. Gay marriage is a fad, not in the sense that it is temporary (its definitely here to stay) but that it is untested and new as a government policy.

Religion is also cited when using this definition, But, remember, I'm not talking about religion here. I'm talking about public policy, which certainly has an interest in the raising of children - otherwise, why have public schools, or child protection services? The fact that those who oppose this definition do not consider the welfare of children is more than a little concerning.

Definition #4: Marriage is a government-granted license, like a business license or drivers license, that brings with it certain rights or privileges for the involved parties.

This has been the history of marriage in the last few centuries. As our modern world has become more complex with legal and financial benefits, governments have granted certain privileges to those who are married, supposedly in order to promote replacement population growth and economic stability. But, these rights, such as who receives one's insurance and tax benefits, should naturally belong to everyone and are not inherent in a marriage relationship; they ought not to be granted by government alone. This definition also has the potential to violate religious freedom under the First Amendment. If a church wants to define marriage other than as it is defined by the state, the government would be violating that church's rights. Under this definition, a church cannot issue a marriage license that does not conform to the state's definition.

Definition #5: Marriage is a natural human right that government should protect by granting to everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Again, this places the emphasis on adult rights, instead of responsibilities. And, it is entirely without precedent. Marriage itself has never been an explicit constitutional right (as have free speech, or trial by jury); but instead, governments for centuries have granted certain rights to those who are married (see Definition #4), such as tax benefits. Marriage should certainly be a freedom, but not a right.

Definition #6: Marriage is a religious institution - like baptism - that should be left for religions to determine.

While this libertarian approach seems to address the concerns of Definition #4, it does not address how rights that would traditionally be associated with marriage should be transferred between adults. If marriage is not the mechanism to transfer these rights or benefits, what is that mechanism? It would be left up to legislators and courts to determine this mechanism, leaving a very messing and cumbersome democratic process to fill in the gaps. It also ignores government's responsibility in promoting the interests of children (the future generations) and stable family units, thus undermining the advantages of Definitions #2 and #3. Society would view "marriage" as optional. Many European countries have tried this route in order to preserve religious freedom. But, we've seen dramatic demographic changes in these countries that have a direct impact on economic growth and security.

Conclusion

My purpose in writing this post is not to argue for one definition over another. Rather, I leave some food for thought for the reader to digest. Namely, recognizing these differing definitions begs certain questions:

Does a sovereign state have the right to adopt only one of these definitions, to the exclusion of all others? Or can a state adopt whichever one they want?

Must a definition be adopted by court edict? Or can a people collectively decide which definition they prefer? Perhaps different definitions lend themselves to different means of implementation.

Can the government re-define what it means to be a husband? A father? To be a mother or wife? Conceivably, yes, but we better be careful if we attempt to do so. We are opening a Pandora's Box of socio-economic upheaval if we do so without caution and without regard for future generations.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

On The Rock My Fathers Planted - Part III - The Antebellum South

The Duncans in Tennessee

Tennessee can be divided into thirds - West Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and East Tennessee - three "Grand Divisions" that are geographically, culturally, economically, and legally distinct regions.

West Tennessee includes the coastal plains and Mississippi River valley; Middle Tennessee is made up of the Highland Rim and the Nashville Basin; while East Tennessee includes the Cumberland Plateau and the Blue Ridge area of the Appalachian Mountains. Middle Tennessee was a common destination of settlers crossing the Appalachians from Virginia in the late 18th century and early 19th century, as exemplified by the Duncan families of the 1780s and 1790s.


Through the 1820s and 1830s, John and Mary Ann Duncan lived in the area of McMinnville in Warren County in Middle Tennessee. They had four sons - William born in 1820, John born in 1822, Patrick Lafayette born in 1825, and Samuel born 1828 - and one daughter - Ginsey Permelia, born 1824. William and John were given the traditional family names. Patrick was given the middle name Lafayette in remembrance of the young French general and life-long friend to General Washington.

In December 1831, another young French aristocrat named Alexis de Tocqueville traveled through Middle and West Tennessee on a tour of the United States to study the phenomenon of "democracy in America". As the youthful de Tocqueville passed through Tennessee, hundreds gathered in order to get a glimpse of the European noble who had come to visit the backwoods of a then-backwoods nation. 

In his journal, de Tocqueville observed the political culture of Tennessee at the time:
"Two years ago the inhabitants of the district of which Memphis is the capital sent to the House of Representatives an individual called David Crockett, who had received no education, could read only with difficulty, had no property, no fixed dwelling, but spent his time hunting, selling his game for a living, and spending his whole life in the woods. His competitor, who failed, was a fairly rich and able man."
de Tocqueville offered many other anecdotal observations of the lives of settlers in the Ohio and Tennessee River Valleys - observations that offer us insights into what the lives of the Duncans in Tennessee might have been like. He wrote:
"We passed through the whole breadth of Kentucky, going from Louisville to Nashville. We also passed through the greater part of Tennessee, going from Nashville to Memphis on the banks of the Mississippi. These two States seemed to us very like one another in many respects. 
The country is covered with hills and shallow valleys through which a multitude of little streams flow; it is a land of natural, but uniform, beauty. In both States the ground seemed still almost entirely covered by forest. At distant intervals a line of fencing, some burnt trees, a field of corn, some animals, a cabin made of roughly shaped tree trunks put on top of one another indicated some denizen's isolated home. One hardly sees any villages. The cultivator's houses are scattered in the midst of the woods. Nothing is more unusual than to see a brick house in Kentucky; we did not see ten of them in Tennessee. Except for Nashville.
The interior of these dwellings show up the master's laziness even more than his poverty. There one finds a fairly clean bed, some chairs, a good gun, often some books and almost always a newspaper, but the walls are so open to the day that the outside air comes in on every side.
In the North there is a look of cleanliness and thoughtfulness in the ordering of the smallest houses; here everything seems sketched out, everything left to chance; one would say that the inmate lived from day to day with the most carelessness of the future. 
In the parts of Kentucky and Tennessee through which we passed the men are big and strong; they have a national physiognomy, and an energetic look. By no means like the inhabitants of Ohio, who are a confused mass, a mixture of all the American races, they on the contrary all come from a common stock and belong to the great Virginian family. So, too, they have much more than any other Americans we have yet met that instinctive love of country, a love mixed up with exaggeration and prejudices, and something entirely different from the reasoned feeling and the refined egotism which bears the name of patriotism in almost all the States of the Union.
Almost all the farmers we saw, even the poorest, had some slaves."
He continues, almost describing what one might imagine could have been John Duncan's young family in 1831:
"After passing a fence of roughly shaped wood, not without the risk of being devoured by the owner's dogs, one reaches a cabin whose walls a fire can be seen crackling on the hearth; one pushed open a door hung on leather thongs and having no lock; one enters a sort of savage hut which seems the refuge of every misery; there one finds a poor family living with the leisure of the rich.
As you come in, the master of the house gets up, and receives you with pressing hospitality, but he is careful not to go himself to get what you need; in his mind it would be degrading to him to serve you. It is a slave who pokes the fire to warm the traveler; it is a slave who gets his clothes dried and brings him the food he needs. The master watches and his gestures direct his servants' work; he does nothing himself. If he opens his mouth, it is to call his dogs or to tell of some of their bold feats. There is no farmer in Kentucky or Tennessee so poor but can represent a fine example of the country gentlemen of old Europe.
Nothing in Kentucky or Tennessee gives the impression of such a finished society; in that respect these two States are essentially different from those newly peopled by the Americans of the North, in which one finds the germs of the high civilization of New England.
But yet they are by no means still rustic folk; there is none of that simplicity bred of ignorance and prejudices ... which distinguish agricultural peoples in the least accessible places. These men nonetheless belong to one of the most civilized and rational peoples in the world. Their manners have nothing of rustic naivete. The philosophic and argumentative spirit of the English is found there as in all America.
There is an astonishing circulation of letters and newspapers among these savage woods. We traveled with the mail. From time to time we stopped at what is called the post office; almost always it was an isolated house in the depths of a wood. There we dropped a large parcel from which no doubt each inhabitant of the neighborhood came to take his share. I do not think that in the most enlightened rural districts of France there is intellectual movement either so rapid or on such a scale as this in this wilderness."
He then continues with a commentary on slavery in the American South:
"In Kentucky and Tennessee slavery has immense effects on the character and habits of the masters: it halts the industry of the inhabitants, and prevents emigrants from outside from contributing theirs. But it presents no threat to the future of the colonists. The black population is so much smaller than the white, and it always will be so more and more. That is due to natural causes which can be easily demonstrated.
In Kentucky and Tennessee no crop requiring a very great number of slaves is cultivated; ...on each small holding lives a white family with a very small number of slaves; one does not see, as in the [Deep] South, hundred of slaves cultivating the land of one white man. Moreover Kentucky and Tennessee were peopled by poor emigrants who could not have assembled a great number of slaves on any one property even if the type of cultivation had made it easy to do so. In Kentucky and in Tennessee the masters live all the year round on their land. They direct their slaves' work and the poorest work with them themselves.
That then shows that it would be possible to do without slavery. Public opinion in these two states seems entirely to support this view. But slavery is an evil whose roots go so deep that it is almost impossible to get free from it after its fatal influence has been noticed as before it was appreciated.
It would be absurd to want to pass judgment on a whole people after spending a week or ten days among them. So I can only trust to hearsay.
The inhabitants of Kentucky and Tennessee are well known throughout the Union for their violent habits; if what were told in the country is true, they seem to deserve that reputation; they say that quarrels often lead to bloodshed, and that elections seldom pass off without knife-blows given and received.
Various reasons which are not impossible to define, must have combined to give the inhabitants of Kentucky and Tennessee the character attributed to them. The first is the climate; it has always been that passions have been hotter in the South than in the North. The second is slavery, a common factor for all the inhabitants of the South and one that modifies their national character in the same way. The habit of uninhibited command gives men a certain feeling of superiority which makes them impatient of opposition and irritated at the sight of obstacles. Slavery makes work a dishonor; it makes the whole white race a leisured class for whom money loses a part of its value and who seek their pleasures elsewhere in the resources of society and the pleasures of pride, a sort of aristocracy which is not guided at all by the sort of legal honesty of trading peoples, but which has its values of convention, its fine feelings and its point of honor. The Americans of the South are brave, comparatively ignorant, hospitable, generous, easy to irritate, violent in their resentments, without industry or the spirit of enterprise. 
That is the whole story of the inhabitants of Kentucky and of Tennessee. They are men of the South, masters of slaves, but rendered half savage by solitude and hardened by the miseries of life."
Slavery was indeed a defining characteristic of Tennessee lifestyle, and of the South in general. During the 1830s, many settlers in Tennessee moved southwest to settle in Texas, which at the time was part of Mexico. These settlers brought with them the contradictory values of freedom and slavery. The Mexican government had outlawed slavery, but the American settlers that flowed into Texas asserted their right to own slaves. Among the settlers from Tennessee was Sam Houston, former governor of Tennessee, and David Crockett - the aforementioned trapper, explorer, and politician who moved to Texas after his service in Congress. Unable to resolve the issue peacefully, Texans declared independence from Mexico in 1836 and war followed. Crockett died heroically at the siege of the Alamo, but the Texan rebels eventually defeated the Mexicans. For several years, Texas existed as an independent state, until it was annexed by the United States in 1845, sparking the Mexican-American War. At the end of the war in 1848, Texas was admitted to the Union as a slave state. Settlers continued to pour into Texas and slavery maintained its hold on the American South.

However, the Duncan family seems to have largely resisted the calls to move to Texas - at least for now. John Duncan's family remained in Middle Tennessee from 1820 through the 1860s. As for the issue of slavery, I am uncertain when or where the Duncans acquired slaves, but they almost certainly had some as was typical with most white Tennessee land-owners of the time. But, as will be seen shortly, not all Tennesseans agreed on the issue of slavery or rebellion.

In July 1841, John and Mary Ann's oldest son, William, married Artimishie Rust, a daughter of John C. Rust, another transplanted Virginian from the Leesburg area. John and Mary Ann's only daughter, Ginsey married William Lusk in September 1841. Their second son, John, married Martha Locke in 1847. John and Martha are pictured below:

In 1842, William and Artimishie had a son, Patrick Henry - no doubt named after the famous Virginia patriot and governor, and hinting at the fact that Virginia's roots and revolutionary sentiment still remained strong in the family. 

In July 1844, William's father, John, died in Tennessee at the age of 49, two weeks after William and Artimishie's second son, John Lycurgus, was born. In August that same year, John and Mary Ann's third son Patrick Lafayette married Sarah Rust (Artimishie's sister), further strengthening the ties between the Duncan and Rust families of Tennessee. Patrick and Sarah eventually moved from McMinnville to Nashville.

Mary Ann, widowed at age 39, lived with her son Patrick and Sarah after John's death. Mary Ann's parents, William and Virginia "Jennie" Martin lived in Warren until their deaths in 1866. By and large, the Duncans lived prosperously and peacefully in Warren County, Tennessee during this time.


The War of Northern Aggression

But, that peace would not last for long. The War Between the States set in motion events that brought immense changes to the Duncan family in Tennessee. In the years following the Civil War, the descendants of John and Mary Ann Duncan were scattered all across the American West, with few of them remaining in Tennessee.

Through the 1840's and 1850's the issue of slavery in the United States grew to a boiling point. By 1860 the enslaved population of Tennessee had nearly doubled to over 283,000 (about 25% of the state's population of 1.1 million before the Civil War) with only 7,300 free African Americans in the state. While much of the enslaved population were concentrated in West Tennessee, planters in Middle Tennessee also used enslaved African Americans for labor.

In November 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president of the United States. His election was nearly guaranteed by the disintegration of the Democratic Party during its attempts to nominate a candidate. The favorite, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, was an abhorrence to Deep South Democrats. So the Democratic Convention adjourned without nominating anyone. Different elements of the Democratic Party then chose their own candidates – John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, who represented the Deep South Democrats, and Stephen A. Douglas, who represented the Northern and border-state Democrats. The Constitutional Union Party, comprised of former Whigs and other factions who took a neutral stance on slavery, nominated John Bell of Tennessee as its candidate.

Bell - a native of Nashville - was the same age as John Duncan. Bell had served in the state legislature representing Nashville, and later became Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and was perhaps the most notable politician from Tennessee at the time.

In December 1860, the crisis erupted when South Carolina seceded from the Union, claiming the states' rights had been violated by the federal government and the issue could no longer be solved peacefully. Several other Southern states (including Texas) soon followed suit, and began organizing a Confederate government.

However, most Tennesseans initially showed little enthusiasm for breaking away from a nation whose struggles it had shared for so long. In February 1861, fifty-four percent of the state’s voters voted against sending delegates to a secession convention.

With the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861, however, followed by President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to coerce the seceded states back into line, public sentiment turned dramatically against the Union. 

Historian Daniel Crofts records:
Unionists of all descriptions, both those who [eventually] became Confederates and those who did not, considered the proclamation calling for seventy-five thousand troops "disastrous." Having consulted personally with Lincoln in March, Congressman Horace Maynard, the unconditional Unionist and future Republican from East Tennessee, felt assured that the Lincoln administration would pursue a peaceful policy. Soon after April 15, a dismayed Maynard reported that "the President's extraordinary proclamation" had unleashed "a tornado of excitement that seems likely to sweep us all away." Men who had "heretofore been cool, firm and Union-loving" had become "perfectly wild" and were "aroused to a phrenzy of passion." For what purpose, they asked, could such an army be wanted "but to invade, overrun and subjugate the Southern states." The growing war spirit in the North further convinced southerners that they would have to "fight for our hearthstones and the security of home."

In May, Tennessee's governor Isham Harris began military mobilization, submitted an ordinance of secession to the state legislature, and made direct overtures to the new government of the Confederate States of America, located at the time in Montgomery, Alabama.

In a June 8, 1861 referendum, East Tennessee remained firm against separation, while West Tennessee returned an equally heavy majority in favor of secession. The deciding vote came in Middle Tennessee, which went from 51 percent against secession in February to 88 percent in favor in June.

No doubt, William (and his brothers John, Patrick, and Samuel) was among these voters. At this point, we can only speculate which side of the issue they found themselves on. Did they support succession in reaction to Lincoln's heavy-handed militarization and the federal government's abuses? Or, did they support a unified body of states that should seek a democratic and systematic approach to the issue of slavery?

Having ratified its succession by popular vote, Tennessee became the last state to officially withdraw from the Union (and was the first state re-admitted to the Union on July 24, 1866). Virginia was also split on the issue of succession. In May 1861, voters in 50 northwestern counties decided to break from those in the south and east to form a new state - West Virginia - that was admitted as the 35th state in the Union in June 1863.

Many people in East Tennessee were still firmly against Tennessee's move to leave the Union. The East Tennessee Convention, which met at Knoxville in May 1861, consisted of 29 East Tennessee counties and one Middle Tennessee county that resolved to secede from Tennessee and form a separate state aligned with the Union. They petitioned the state legislature in Nashville, but they denied their request to secede and then sent Confederate troops under Felix Zollicoffer to occupy East Tennessee to prevent secession. Many East Tennesseans engaged in guerrilla warfare against state authorities by burning bridges, cutting telegraph wires, and spying.

Many battles were fought in the state—most of them Union victories. The Civil War, to a large extent, was fought in cities and farms of Tennessee—only Virginia had more battles than any other state.

William's son, Patrick Henry and John Lycurgus, enlisted in the Confederate Army almost as soon as war broke out in the summer of 1861. It's likely that their uncles John, Patrick Lafayette, and Samuel, or even father William also participated in the war. There are no records of where they were located during the war, but the war soon came close to home. 

In February 1862, Federal troops under command of General Ulysses S. Grant entered Tennessee to engage Confederate troops coming from the South. Grant's troops and the United States Navy captured control of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. and soon reached Nashville. Union troops held off the Confederate counterattack at Shiloh in southwest Tennessee in April of the same year.



One month after the Battle of Shiloh, on May 24, 1862, William's wife, Artimishie, died. She left behind several children, including three year-old William Martin Jr.. Perhaps William (and others) remained behind to take care of the family after Artimishie's death, while Patrick Henry and John Lycurgus continued their service in the military. 

In 1863, William remarried to a Nancy Elkins and had at least one more child, whom they named Jefferson Davis Duncan, after the Confederate president. Perhaps William's loyalties had turned towards the Confederacy, if they had not already?

The capture of Memphis and Nashville in 1862 gave the Union control of most of West and Middle Tennessee. Control was confirmed at the Battle of Stones River near Murfreesboro (between Warren and Nashville) in early January 1863.

After Nashville was captured (the first Confederate state capital to fall) Andrew Johnson, an East Tennessean from Greeneville, was appointed military governor of the state by President Lincoln. Johnson governed Union-controlled Tennessee until his election as Lincoln's vice-president in November 1864. The military government abolished slavery in the state under the authority of the Emancipation Proclamation. Union troops occupied much of the state through the end of the war. The long occupation depleted resources and contributed to a breakdown in the social order in many areas.

It is not known how many slaves were owned by the Duncans, but they undoubtedly had at least a handful before the war. Some time between the Union occupation and the end of the war, what slaves were owned by the Duncan family were freed. 

But, the Confederates continued to have a foothold in East Tennessee despite the strength of Unionist sentiment there. The Confederates besieged Chattanooga in early Fall 1863 but were driven off by General Grant in November. Many of the Confederate defeats can be attributed to the poor strategic vision of General Braxton Bragg, who led the Army of Tennessee from Shiloh in 1862 to Confederate defeat at Chattanooga in 1863.

In May 1864, a Union army under General Sherman's command began its "march to the sea" in a devastating campaign  from Chattanooga, through Atlanta to Savannah, effectively splitting the South in two.


The last major battle in Tennessee came when the Confederates invaded in November 1864 and were checked just south of Nashville, where they were totally destroyed by Union troops under General Thomas in December. The Confederate army in Tennessee had been finally defeated and Tennessee came under complete Union control.

To add to the grief, Patrick Lafayette's wife (and Artemishie's sister) Sarah Rust died in January 1865 at the age of 36, leaving Patrick with 5 children under age 18.

In April 1865, the Confederate Army in Virginia under the command of Robert E. Lee surrendered, followed by the remnants of the Confederate army in North Carolina under General Johnston. The war was over, and Tennessee had been left devastated. The Duncan family struggled to piece together their lives in the aftermath of the war.   

In 1868, Patrick Lafayette married the youthful Sarah York and together they moved westward to Texas (taking his younger children with him), where they started another family. Supposedly, Mary Ann went with her son Patrick to Texas, where she died in 1877. But, I have been unable to confirm this. Patrick Lafayette lived in Texas until his death in 1886.

In the few years following the Civil War, William and his oldest sons - Patrick Henry and John Lycurgus - remained in Tennessee. They soon found that Tennessee had little to offer to a family so profoundly affected by the Civil War. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

On The Rock My Fathers Planted - Part II - Independence and Westward Expansion

Indian Wars and Revolution

In 1755, during the French and Indian War, General Braddock launched a campaign from northern Virginia against the French Fort Duquesne in the Ohio country. George Washington, just 23, being an experienced frontiersmen and military officer, accompanied Braddock as aide-de-camp.

Braddock attempted to recruit Native American allies from those tribes not yet allied with the French, but this proved mostly unsuccessful; he had only eight Mingo Indians with him, who served as scouts. A number of Indians in the area, notably the Delaware leader Shingas, remained neutral. Caught between two powerful European empires at war, the local natives who were committed to their lands could not afford to be on the side of the loser - Braddock's success or failure would influence their decision. 

Despite its bravery and courage, Braddock's expedition failed. The French, with the aid of several other Indian tribes, withstood the British attack. For the next several years, native tribes sided with the French. But, although the British may have lost the battle, but they won the war in 1763 and the Ohio River Valley fell into British hands when the French withdrew from North America entirely. But, the Indians that still lived in that valley had already been turned against the British - now the lone European power in North America. To make matters worse, colonists began settling West of the Appalachians (although settlement was technically illegal due to the Proclamation of 1763and relations between the natives and Americans grew tense. 

At this time, "only four roads crossed the Appalachian Mountains, one from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, another from the Potomac to the Monongahela River, a third through Virginia southwestward to Knoxville, Tennessee, and the fourth through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky." (Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, 51). Around 1772, William Duncan III's son, John Pekin Duncan and his family started along the third road, heading southwest towards Tennessee. The Duncans settled in what is today the Scott and Russell counties of southwest Virginia. John Pekin's brother, Rawley, went with them and settled near Dungannon, Virginia, where he established Duncan's Fort. Rawley lived there until his death in 1786.

Two years later, in 1774, Governor Lord Dunmore of Virginia mustered the Virginia militia to finally repel the Indians from western Virginia, in response to a number of attacks on settlers by Mingo Indians. Among the volunteers listed in the 1st Militia Roster of the Clinch River area was John Pekin Duncan. That September, John Pekin was attacked by a band of natives led by "The Great Mingo" - an Iroquois warrior also known as Chief Logan. According to one account, John Pekin and two others, "went out (from Moore's Fort) to visit a pigeon trap about three hundred yards distant from the fort, and were fired upon by Logan's warriors. John Duncan was shot dead, but the other two, whose names are not given, reached the fort unhurt." 

Besides his widow, John Pekin Duncan was survived by three known children, Martin Duncan (born 1759) who chose William Cowan as his guardian at a court held for Washington County (adjacent to Russell County) on June 20, 1780, and William (born 1761) and John Pekin Jr. (born 1763), who on August 15, 1780, chose as their guardian, Melcher Oyler. By the time they received legal guardians, the three Duncan boys were well into their teens. Some might wonder why six years had elapsed before guardians were chosen, but in early days on the frontier, the distance and dangers from remote settlements to the court house delayed many legal actions.

Many others were killed or wounded in the skirmishes that occurred on the frontier. Despite the losses and Lord Dunmore's unpopularity, Dunmore "had done Virginia a big favor by organizing an offensive into the Ohio country by Virginia militia. The Virginians goaded Shawnee, Ottawa, and other tribes into what became Lord Dunmore's War, which ended with the Indians defeated. They ceded hunting rights in Kentucky to the Virginians and agreed to unhindered access to and navigation on the Ohio River. Within six months, the Transylvania Company sent out Daniel Boone [also a veteran of Braddock's campaign in 1755] to blaze a trail through the Cumberland Gap to the bluegrass country of Kentucky." (Ambrose, Undaunted Courage). 

The victory over the natives allowed Virginians to solidify their claims to the western lands once Independence was declared in 1776But, the success of Dunmore's war was soon overshadowed by the coming revolution. The eyes of Virginia were on Massachusetts and Philadelphia, as the Bostonians poured tea into the Boston Harbor, and their native son - Thomas Jefferson - attended the Continental Congress.

As soon as they were old enough, John Pekin's sons, William and John Pekin Jr. joined the war against the British (I am not sure if Martin joined them or not). It is uncertain how much they were involved in the war. They probably did not have much time to see any action as the British surrendered to the Americans in 1783, when they were just out of their teenage years.

Westward Expansion

Now that the war was over, and being no longer banned by the Proclamation of 1763, Virginian settlers turned westward to the expansive Ohio and Tennessee River valleys (West Virginia at this time had not yet separated from Virginia). Kentucky was a popular place for Virginians to settle. Virginia laid claim to all the lands west to the Ohio River, and Virginia law and legal precedent still ruled this territory, even after becoming its own state in 1792. Here, there was plenty of land and opportunity and with it - freedom. 

By 1790, Tennessee had an estimated population of 36,000 when it was organized as a territory by Congress. In 1796, Tennessee was admitted as the 16th state in the Union. Tennessee is known as the "Volunteer State," a nickname earned during the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee, particularly during the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815.

After their military service in the Revolution, the brothers Martin, William, and John Pekin Jr. moved West across the Appalachians some time between 1780 and 1785, and settled in Tennessee and Kentucky - consistent with Westward migration patterns of the time. 

In 1779, two settlers and explorers - John Donelson and James Robertson - with several other families journeyed from Washington County, Virginia (adjacent to Russell County) towards the Tennessee River, which they followed down until they reached the Cumberland River in central Tennessee. There, they established a settlement called Nashborough which later became Nashville. Donelson's daughter, Rachel, married Andrew Jackson - hero of the Battle of New Orleans and the 7th president of the United States.

It was likely this same trek that inspired the Duncan brothers to leave the Russell County area between 1780 and 1785 and move southwest towards Nashville, where they eventually settled in Robertson County, Tennessee (named after James Robertson). 

During the 1780s, the three Duncan brothers were married, and had several children through the 1790s and 1800s. Martin married Elizabeth Wright, and William and John Pekin Jr. married sisters - Elizabeth Spiller and Lydia Spiller respectively. The Spiller family had moved from northern Virginia in the late 1760s to the Robertson County area, where their father, Warrenton Spiller died around 1770. The Robertson, Donelson, Spiller, and Duncan families were among the early settlers of middle Tennessee and southwest Kentucky.

The Fog of History

Now we get to a point in the story that gets murky - what I like to call the "fog of history". Most of the 1800 and 1810 Census records for Tennessee have been lost. Many of Kentucky's vital records have been lost, or were simply never recorded. For example, civil authorities in Kentucky were not required to records births and deaths until 1852! Many other records before 1850 are sparse. But, we are fairly certain that Martin, William, and John Pekin Jr. moved from Virginia to Tennessee and Kentucky some time before 1795 (it is uncertain where they went to first, but they might have gone to Robertson County first (following the Donelson-Robertson trek) where they met the Spiller family, and then continued migrating north to Logan County and then eventually Illinois). 

The three families at some point lived in Logan County, Kentucky, where William's wife Elizabeth Spiller died in 1814. William died in 1817, leaving behind his three daughters, and two sons - John born 1795, and Samuel born 1797. Both sons were living near Logan at the time of their father's death in 1817, but were likely born in Robertson, County. 

Martin, and his wife Elizabeth also settled in southern Illinois where Martin died around 1827. Their descendants largely remained in Illinois and Kentucky.

John Pekin Jr. and Lydia supposedly secured a home in Tennessee near the great soldier and patriot Andrew Jackson, with and under whom their sons John Pekin III, Martin, Warren, James, Abraham, Riley, William, and Thomas all served. Some accounts claim that John Pekin Jr. was with General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, but there is no solid evidence of this. John Pekin Jr. would have been about 52 years of age at the time of the Battle. However, we at least know he served in the military because his wife, Lydia, went to court to claim her husband's war pension in 1841. John Pekin Jr. died in 1834 in Illinois, just northwest across the Ohio River from Kentucky. Lydia died in Illinois in 1843.

Many of the descendants of John and Lydia remained in southern Illinois. However, one of their sons - James, born 1794 in Robertson, Tennessee - was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while in Illinois. Pictured below, he migrated west with his family in 1848 where he died in Bountiful, Utah in 1874. James is my great-great-great-grandfather's first cousin.


In 1817, William's estate was divided among his children after his death. It is yet uncertain if his children remained in the area, owing to the "fog of history". But, I believe that their son, John, about 22 years of age, likely sold and/or took his share of his father's estate and with that small fortune, made his way about 100 miles southeast to McMinnville in Warren County, Tennessee to make a new start. There, he met Mary Ann Martin. They were married about 1819.

Mary Ann Martin was born on February 4, 1805 to William "Rock" Martin and Virginia Bradford, who moved from North Carolina in the early 1790s. Virginia Bradford was a great-granddaughter of Richard Bradford - a wealthy plantation owner in central Virginia whose family migrated south to settle western North Carolina in the 1750s. William or "Rock" was also one of the early settlers of the Warren County area, sharing a name with Rock Island, which is now a state park along the Rocky River in eastern Middle Tennessee. The "Rock" Martin house still stands in McMinnville, Tennessee.

Most of the 1820 Tennessee Census records were lost, but enough of it survived for us to know that John and Mary Ann were living in Warren, Tennessee in 1820. Their first child, William, was born January 11 of that year.