A 3-Minute Speech With A 148-Year Impact

On Thursday November 19, 1863 — 148 years ago this day — in the small, war-battered Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln delivered the renowned “Gettysburg Address.”

The occasion was the dedication of the battlefield cemetery which was to be the final resting place of more than 6,000 casualties from the fierce fighting that took place from July 1 – 3 that year. The Civil War Battle of Gettysburg proved to be the decisive turning point of that great war; Lincoln’s brief speech proved to be a turning point in the development of this great nation.

Lincoln was a man of great personal courage, drive, vision, and oratorical skill, and a savvy-enough politician to know that his speech which extolled not merely the dead, but the sacred cause they died for, had certain political risks. But he delivered the speech because he felt that it was necessary.

In a day and age when orators were valued for the lengths of their speeches, Lincoln’s address was a mere jot; it lasted less than 3 minutes. Some of those present were unimpressed by the speech, and there is a popular tale that claims the speech was scorned by the audience, but there is no evidence that this was so. True, one can find editorials written after that day which criticize the speech, but these were from distinctly anti-Lincoln papers. The vast majority of pieces written about the speech were decidedly positive. The renowned orator Edward Everett who preceded Lincoln that day, said to Lincoln, “I wish I had come as near to capturing the meaning of today in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

The United States survived that war as a stronger nation, and one that was more truly free, though there was and is more work to be done.

In September of 2003 I visited the Lincoln Memorial with a colleague. He took the time to read both the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address which are carved into the stone walls on the memorial. After he had finished he observed: “Maybe if I knew more history, I wouldn’t despair so much for the present.” And I have to think that in times such as these it is more important than ever to look back upon Lincoln, his vision, his courage, and remember that there is reason to be hopeful for our future. Always.

I know you’ve read it and heard many times before, but I think it does bear repeating:


Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

— Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln’s message remains meaningful even to this very day.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

If I turn my enemy into my friend, have I not slain my enemy?

— Lincoln


More books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any other figure in American history except, perhaps, Benjamin Franklin. My own small collection of Lincoln books runs to 17 volumes, some fairly hefty. In 1992, Garry Wills published Lincoln At Gettysburg about Lincoln’s most famous speech. This treatment started something of a trend, and subsequently several historians have published books devoted to just a single one of Lincoln’s speeches or proclamtions. Herewith, my own sampling:

Lincoln At Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, Garry Wills; Simon & Schuster, 1992: ISBN: 0671769561

This is a detailed history of Lincoln’s speech and its impact. Wills includes analysis of the speech from the perspective of 19th Century oratorical standards, and he discusses the effect of Lincoln’s brief and concise style upon later oratorical trends. The other speeches delivered at Gettysburg that day are included in the extensive appendices.

Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural, Ronald C. White, Jr.; Simon & Schuster, 2002: ISBN: 0743212983

White examines Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and assesses its unique place among all of Lincoln’s speeches; it was, as Frederick Douglass observed, “more like a sermon than a state paper.” This relatively short book (about 200 pages) is by no means the last word on this important speech, but White provides an interesting and thought provoking contribution to the discussion of Lincoln’s speeches.

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End Of Slevery In America, Allen G. Guelzo; Simon & Schuster, 2004: ISBN: 0743221826

Guelzo received the Lincoln Prize for his 2000 biography of Lincoln. This work, despite its rather glib subtitle, is by no means so simple as to assume that Lincoln’s proclamation actully itself ended slavery. Indeed, Guelzo looks carefully at the politics which influenced the proclamation, and the results, both political and social, which the proclamation produced.

Lincoln At Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President, Harold Holzer; Simon & Schuster, 2004: ISBN: 0743224663

Because Lincoln’s speech at Cooper Union in February 1860 has faded from modern memory, Holzer felt it was time to give a book-length treatment of the speech which Lincoln and his contemporaries identified as the one that gained him his party’s nomination. The speech contains many well-known Lincoln quotations, but its overall importance is given its due in the entertaining and enlightening work. I like Holzer’s emphasis on Lincoln’s political courage in carrying his campaign platform into New York City and the heart of his rival William Seward’s strong home base. (I obviously admire Lincoln’s political courage.)

The “Real” First President? Washington, Of Course!

In yesterday’s posting I offered:

SOMETHING TO PONDER: who really deserves to be known as “The First President of The United States of America?”

Is it George Washington, who served as the first president under the present Constitution? That’s what is usually said, and with excellent reason: George Washington was indeed the first chief executive of The United States, for no such position existed under The Articles.

But what about the first holder of the office of President to serve a full term after The Articles were ratified in March of 1781? Or, for that matter, what about the first holder of the office after The Articles were ratified, whether or not he served a full term? How about the man who held the title when The Articles were adopted in 1777? Consider as well the first holder of the title “President” when the United Colonies became the United States? And, while every American school child knows of George Washington, who were these other folks?

I would be most neglectful if I failed to offer up the names in question.

The first holder of the title “The President Of The United States In Congress Assembled,” who served a full term after the ratification of The Articles Of Confederation And Perpetual Union, was Maryland’s John Hanson, whose name sometimes shows up as a trivia contest spoiler in answer to “Who was the first president of the Unites States?”

Hanson is offered as the “first” because he was the first holder of that title to use it in official correspondence with other nations. But note that Hanson and the others above were each president of Congress, and not an executive of any sort, and not at all “president” in the sense we know the office today. The President of Congress was basically a super-committee-chair, who managed the meetings of Congress (and therefore had some power in setting the agenda) but whose position was more akin to the modern Speaker Of The House, though less powerful, actually. As I say, the office had no executive powers. (Look at the title itself: a president *presides*. Before the United States adopted its present tripartite government, no notion of executive function was associated with the title of president. The framers of the present constitution, in fact, struggled with what to call the chief executive of the new government: some favored “Consul,” after the highest office in the Roman Republic [and upon which our presidency was modeled] while others suggested “First Minister.” Finally, the more egaliterian-sounding “President” was selected, suggesting an office of lesser potency than the Constitution gave it [can you say “spin”?] And in a rare linguistic evolution, the word grew in importance to mean most any chief executive [rare because words’ meanings more often decline in importance in common usage.])

But Hanson was the third holder of the title “The President Of The United States In Congress Assembled” to serve after The Articles were ratified. Samuel Huntington of Connecticut served at the time that Maryland ratified The Articles and at last made them the binding constitution of the Land.

South Carolina’s Henry Laurens was President at the time that Congress approved The Articles, 15 November 1777. He later spent time imprisoned in The Tower Of London as a traitor when the ship upon which he was sailing to Europe was captured by the Royal Navy. Though he was acting with diplomatic status, Britain did not recognize it. He was redeemed in an exchange of British and American prisoners after Yorktown. Laurens was traded for General Cornwallis, which shows how highly the British valued him at the time. After he was freed, Laurens served in the peace talks ending the Revolutionary War, though his son – a great friend of Alexander Hamilton – was killed in a skirmish during the relative lull between Yorktown and the final peace.

And last, but not least – and I am sure you know this one – the first person to hold the title of President at the time The United Colonies transformed into The United States, by means of an unprecedented declaration of independence, was none other than John Hancock, whose big, bold signature (“I want fat George to be able to read it without his glasses!”) on The Declaration Of Independence is so familiar that folks to this day use “my John Hancock” as slang for “my signature.”

So there are a few of history’s footnotes. More food for thought.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Always do more than is required of you. — George S. Patton

The United States Get A Government: The Articles Of Confederation

If you learned all your American History in an American high school, this subject was probably glossed over in a paragraph or two, being seen as either unimportant or embarrassing. Who wants to know that these United States stumbled and very nearly fell before they truly took off on their path to world prominence? Or to admit that this virtuous and temperate nation played fast and loose with its creditors, and little adhered to the very alliance by which it was born? Then again, what child matures to adulthood without its adolescent errors? And, more, what erring youth ever so quickly righted its faults?

It was on this date in 1777 that the Continental Congress formally adopted The Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the newly formed United States of America (final ratification would not be completed for another three and a half years.) Most importantly, The Articles provided for a perpetual union; this idea shows up no fewer than six times in The Articles, including right in the preamble. The Articles clearly envisioned the growth of the new nation, and allowed additional colonial territories to be admitted to the union if nine of the original thirteen colonies gave consent. There was an explicit exception to this clause: Canada was to be permitted to join the United States automatically whenever she might choose to!

The articles provided for a notably weak central government, for the colonists feared creating a new King, and they placed the key powers with the states. Within a decade the manifest problems with the Articles would prompt a call for a major revision of them, which in turn led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

One aspect of The Articles which proved to look good in principle but which turned out very poorly in practice was widespread limitations on time in office. With the aim to keep any one man or group from acquiring significant power, the limitations for service were quite short, and very restrictive as to repeat service: three years for the delegates to the unicameral Congress, one year for the President, and no office holder could immediately follow himself or his successor in that office. The authors of The Articles believed that such restrictions would ensure that no one gained significant power (largely true, in fact) and thereby would ensure “good” government (which turned out to be untrue.) The frequent turnover of officials meant that at any given time, only a few members of the government were experienced (imagine running a major corporation with 66% of the management being newhires!) The result was that The Articles government was barely functional. Foreign powers despaired of accomplishing anything with the new nation. A Spanish diplomat observed that European nations delayed and stalled to gain advantage, while America simply delayed and stalled.

Perhaps worse still for the long-range prospects of the country, the newly organized United States were particularly bad about repaying the massive war debts they had accrued during the revolution, because the central government had no power to tax, only to request funds from the individual states. This inability to tax was designed to keep the central government quite weak, and it was successful in attaining that goal. Too successful. In London, John Adams noted that America was not taken seriously in Europe, save among a few intellectuals; from Paris, Thomas Jefferson observed that he had been unable “to discover the smallest token of respect for the United States in any part of Europe.” The reason? Bad credit.

The United States still owed France for the tens of millions of pounds that were borrowed during the revolution, some of which was never repaid (the rapidly deteriorating political situation in France at that time being a convenient excuse to avoid the obligation, though amends were later made by the United States’ powerful support of France through two World Wars.) Ironically, the United States were better about settling up with all other creditors, though it was France and France alone who made the revolution possible with her generous loans and outright gifts. More than 70% of the money borrowed to fund the American revolution was French (the Americans disliked the notion of collecting taxes to support their war, and preferred to borrow from European allies, much to France’s understandable dismay.) It would take Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury, to set the new nation on a sound financial footing by honoring its debts, but by that time France’s own revolution was in full swing – a revolution in part fomented by the financial strain the American Revolution had put upon France’s treasury – and France’s revolutionary government was quite uncertain and quite unpredictable.

Frequent turnover and turmoil, plus bad credit seriously reduced the effectiveness of the United States government under The Articles. Even with these significant debilities, however, much was accomplished under the Articles of Confederation, including the peace treaty with Britain ending the Revolution and recognizing full independence.

Perhaps the greatest, most enduring accomplishment under the Articles was the Great Northwest Ordinance which organized the territory that became the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Importantly, The Ordinance provided for the establishment of new states that would become co-equal with the original thirteen. Such a granting of equal power to newly settled lands was unprecedented in history, and represents a key contribution of the Articles government to the current form and character of the United States.

And the Ordinance also left an indelible mark upon the American landscape. The newly organized lands were to be surveyed and divided into parcels of square miles and sub-parcels of quarter square miles (“quartersections.”) This division of the land is clearly visible from the air when one flys over the old Northwest Territory, and it’s also apparent in some of the unimaginative yet descriptive road names one finds in, say, Michigan: Five Mile Road, Six Mile Road and so forth.

This parceling out of the land was so useful, and so successful, that it was carried on into the lands of the Louisiana Purchase, and so a vast swath of the United States displays, when viewed from the air, a regular, square, and very extensive pattern of roads and property lines. Though as you head north or south, about every ten miles you’ll encounter a small east/west jog in the otherwise straight road: the surveyors had to adjust for the longitude at regular intervals.

Though the Articles of Confederation lasted barely ten years, they paved the way for America as we know it today. And though the Perpetual Union that the Articles established was sorely tested in the 1860’s, it nevertheless endured, and does to this day, in large measure because Abraham Lincoln and his supporters took the notion of Perpetual Union very seriously. We still have our mile-square real estate lines, and we still have our Union and its government. I appreciate the landscape, and I cherish these United States.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything.
You’re a leaf that doesn’t know it’s part of a tree.

— Michael Crighton

SOMETHING TO PONDER: who really deserves to be known as “The First President of The United States of America?”

Is it George Washington, who served as the first president under the present Constitution? That’s what is usually said, and with excellent reason: George Washington was indeed the first chief executive of The United States, for no such position existed under The Articles.

But what about the first holder of the office of President to serve a full term after The Articles were ratified in March of 1781? Or, for that matter, what about the first holder of the office after The Articles were ratified, whether or not he served a full term? How about the man who held the title when The Articles were adopted in 1777? Consider as well the first holder of the title “President” when the United Colonies became the United States? And, while every American school child knows of George Washington, who were these other folks?

Think about it …

Remembering Veterans On Armistice Day

AT 11:00am on 11 November 1918, an armistice took effect which effectively ended World War I – or “The Great War” as it was then known. The world had never seen carnage on such an immense, global scale. So great were the number of the dead that Europeans basically abandoned the ancient traditions of open mourning, of donning black and retiring from society for a term, because virtually every family had lost someone, and so much ritual mourning could not be sustained, neither emotionally nor economically.

Too, the world had never seen valor on such a scale; a mere parade would not do to honor the people who had served in “The War To End All Wars.” And so throughout the world, a day of remembrance was instituted. In the United States it was originally called Armistice Day. But the hopeful epithet, “The War To End All Wars,” has proven too hopeful, and as we well know, many, many wars followed, including the far vaster enormity of World War II. In the wake of that conflict and others, the United States renamed the holiday “Veterans Day,” to include ALL who have served.

While we do rightly deplore war, it is nevertheless still a human reality, and I am deeply grateful to those who have served in the military and uniformed services. For all that some conflicts may stir political and social upheaval, and for all that some conflicts may seem unwise, nevertheless, those who serve do so for all of us, and they do also merit our gratitude. We in America have what we have today because our forebears not only wrote about freedom: they fought for it.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas


Guns of August, Barbara W. Tuchman; Ballentine Books, 1994 ed.: ISBN: 034538623X

Absolutely EssentialL

Tuchman’s history of the start of World War I was first published in 1962. It was re-issued in 1994 on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the start of that War. This book has been called “the best history book ever written.” Masterfully researched and documented, it is as scholarly as any such work need be, yet it retains a readability — and excitement — that makes it as entertaining as any fictional thriller. Even after the passage of 50 years, this book remains essential reading for those who wish to learn about World War I.

The First World War, John Keegan; Vintage, 2000: ISBN: 0375700455

A Must

I am of the opinion that anything by Keegan is worth reading (I’ve not been wrong yet, to my way of thinking.) This is a highly readable and complete account of World War I from start to finish. Perhaps the best one-volume coverage of that war we have.

Of Interest:

In 2004, on the 90th anniversary of the start of World War I, there was a remarkable amount of publishing activity. All the following are good, but these are not aimed at the casual reader.

Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?, David Fromkin; Knopf, 2004: ISBN: 0375411569

In this minutely researched volume, Fromkin answers his title question. The result is the well-known tragedy of a war that many wanted, but from which none saw the ultimate outcome. I must confess that though this book was well-regarded in the review I read in August 2004, I find it fairly tedious in its presentation. Scholarly, to be sure. But not an entertaining read.

Cataclysm: The First World War As Political Tragedy, David Stevenson; Basic Books, 2004: ISBN: 0465081843

This one-volume history of World War I is complete and as scholarly as can be, but at times the reading feels a bit too much like slogging along with those foot soldiers of the era, knee-deep in mud and growing ever wearier. Still, it is worth the effort, because Stevenson offers some fresh insights which offer a new perpective on the well-known truisms about World War I.

The First World War, Hew Strachan; Viking Adult, 2004: ISBN: 0670032956

Strachan’s one-volume distillation of his unfinished trilogy on World War I, this effort has many of the same virtues and limitations that I identify in Stevenson’s book: it is not “popular history” (whatever that might really be) and so it is not light reading. But it is likewise worth the effort.

The First World War: To Arms, Hew Strachan; Oxford University Press, 2003 ed.: ISBN: 0199261911

This is the first volume of a yet-to-be-completed trilogy about World War I. Strachan is a foremost authority on that war, and this book is a definitive account of the build-up to World War I. It is, however, so thorough and so comprehensive that it can be both daunting and — at times — almost tedious.


It was 73 years ago this very day that the Nazis finally dropped all pretense and declared open warfare on Germany’s Jewish minority. After five years during which greater and greater legal debilities were placed upon the Jews by the Nazi government, all the masquerade of legality was dropped and mob violence was unleashed with the infamous Kristallnacht, or “Glassnight”, the night of shattered glass. The name derives from the smashed windows of Jewish homes and businesses, but also has a sense of breaking glass to release something, in this case the fury of bigotry.

Thousands of Jewish shops, offices, and places of business were looted and burned; tens of thousands of Jews were arrested and deported to concentration camps “for their own safety.” At least a hundred Jews were killed by the mobs than night – the actual number is likely to have been far greater – and thousands were brutally beaten or raped. No one was prosecuted for either vandalism or murder, but rapists, perversely enough, were prosecuted by the Nazis; in their racist ideology, a rapist risked contaminating the Aryan purity of German blood, and could not be tolerated!

The situation for germany’s Jews rapidly worsened after “Kristallnacht.” Jews and other “inferior races” were deported in vast numbers to labor camps and death camps. Their property was confiscated – in some cases to help pay for the damages wrought in Kristallnacht! Though these people were still tax-paying German citizens, they were stripped of all rights and protections; as Harald Wertmuller noted, “because ALL Germans wished it so.”

By the time the Nazi regime had embarked upon its program of the subjugation of all Europe, no further question of laws nor of rights arose. They had power, and they had precedent within the nation and state of Germany. Some six million Jews and six million Gypsies, Slavics, homosexuals, cripples, insane, chronically ill, and other people labelled “Undesirable” perished in the Nazi death camps. One can understand the label “Holocaust,” “all-consuming fire.”

Kristallnacht was not authorized by any law, though burdensome legal restrictions had already been emplaced upon German Jews; it was sufficient for the legally elected government to simply ignore the mob barbarity. Kristallnacht was an almost inevitable outcome of a government which progressively debased and disenfanchised its own productive citizens.

I am deeply thankful that we in the United States of America have our Constitution, which – though it irritates many – specifically protects against an unrestrained tyranny of the majority. Letting the majority have its way without limit looks pretty good … until you find yourself in the minority.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Terrorists! Terrorists EVERYwhere!

“Please to remember The 5th of November,
The gunpowder treason plot.
I see no reason Why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.”

— English nursery rhyme

Consider the NEWS FLASH: an insidious terrorist plot, by reactionary religious fanatics, to destroy the legislature and assassinate the chief executive by means of a powerful explosion is discovered and, thankfully, foiled before it could be carried out. In the wake of this near disaster, thousands are arrested, a suite of new laws is enacted greatly reducing the rights of suspected terrorists and vastly increasing the powers of the police and judicial forces, and governmental properties are fortified and barricaded from the streets.

This may sound as if it were ripped from today’s headlines, but it happened four centuries ago in England during the early reign of King James the First and Sixth. A coterie of zealous English Catholics under the nominal leadership of Guy Fawkes (aka Guido Fawkes) smuggled some 36 barrels of high-grade gunpowder into the cellars below the chambers of Parliament. The plan was to ignite this cache of explosive during the full parliamentary session which was scheduled for the 5th of November 1605. The king and all key members of government would be present.

Because of amateurish bungling by several plotters (one man warned his brother-in-law to stay away from Parliament on the 5th!) the plot was revealed just hours before it was to have been carried out. The reaction was swift and ruthless.

The plotters allegedly intended to destroy the English government in order to re-establish England as a Catholic kingdom. They possibly planned to install a prominent English Catholic nobleman as king; the vague nature of the plans led to many arrests among the Aristocracy. Matters were rather muddied as to who might be involved. Though there were relatively few practicing Catholics among the English peerage, there were large numbers of the nobility who made outward signs of adherence to the Church of England, but who were possibly secretly clinging to the Old Faith. Suspicions, accusations, and mistrust continued to cloud the issue for many years after the plot was exposed.

King James himself was permanently shaken by the event, and he is said to have never felt completely at ease in London ever after. (Of course James, as a Scot, may have had other reasons for this as well!) One timeless result of the Gunpowder Plot may well be The King James Version of The Bible. Needing to standardize the text that would be read in the state-sponsored Churches, and to be sure it was correct for both religious and political purposes, James convoked a commission of England’s most prominent theologians to draft a new and standard English translation of The Bible. Though there are textual difficulties with the resulting scripture, the King James Version is a landmark in the development of the English language and of English literature.

Another possible legacy of the plot is Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Macbeth. Written in 1606 and first performed before the Royal Court, Shakespeare’s shortest drama emphasizes many topics near to the interest of the Scottish King James: witchcraft, treason, the legitimacy of the descendants of Banquo upon the Throne of the Scots, the triumph of the righteous. In the famous porter’s scene – a bit of comic relief in an otherwise blood-soaked play – there are references to the gunpowder plot, albeit somewhat coded. Michael Wood explains in Shakespeare that contemporary audiences would have understood the references: “Here’s a farmer, that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty” would recall the fact that the condemned Jesuit Henry Garnet had used the alias Farmer, while the next line, “come in time; have napkins enow about you; here you’ll sweat for’t.” would invoke the image of the faithful collecting the blood of a beheaded martyr by dipping cloths into the gore on the scaffold as a sort of talisman; the scene is replete with similar references as Wood relates. In his marvelous Will In The World, Stephen Greenblatt goes into even greater detail on this interpretation.

Macbeth was written to charm and flatter a Scottish King, on an English throne, and to reinforce in the public’s mind his proper legitimacy in a time of great strain and stress for King and Country.

The trials of the plotters were hasty affairs, and the usual rules of evidence and testimony were discarded due to the extremely pressing urgency of the plot against the government. Convictions were needed rapidly. Torture was employed – contrary to English law – and full confessions were obtained. Fawkes and several accused co-conspirators were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, and to have their bodies burned. These executions were carried out with maximal cruelty, ensuring the greatest torment and potential deterrent effect. As was the practice in that day, the executions were conducted in public with mobs of jeering spectators hurling abuse and more at the convicts.

After the furor had died down, the 5th of November was declared a day of thanksgiving and celebration, with bonfires and other festivities, including the hanging in effigy of the eponymous Guy Fawkes. The tradition persists to this day, though the reasons for it are probably very far from the minds of the revelers.

In closing, there is a final question that has never been satisfactorily resolved: was there really a vast plot at all? Adam Nicolson in his excellent book about the creation of The King James Bible, God’s Secretaries, (U.S. title) notes that it is possible that an organized and coordinated plot never existed. Alice Hogge, in her book God’s Secret Agents, considers the plot to have been genuine, but that its scope and scale were enormously exaggerated by those who wished to crush any opposition within England.

Jamie Rawson
Flower Mound, Texas

Confusion now hath made his master-piece. — Macbeth II:iii


Several fairly recently published books discuss The Gunpowder Plot. In light of current history, there is renewed interest in the crucial episode in early modern British history. Many of the recent books about William Shakespeare address this topic:

Shakespeare, Michael Wood; Basic Books, 2003: ISBN0465092640

Will In The World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt; W. W. Norton and Company, 2004: ISBN 0393050572

Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare, Clare Asquith; Public Affairs, 2005: ISBN: 1586483161

Each of these books is well worth the reading. I like Wood’s account as delightfully readable, thorough, and entertaining all the while. Greenblatt goes into far greater depth in textual analysis than does Wood, but he never gets tedious or dry. I heartily recommend both. Asquith, however, is definitely for the specialist. Her thesis is fascinating, but I feel she falls into the trap of perceiving everything as being explained by her radical theory. All the same, a thought-provoking book.

Other worthwhile books include:

God’s Secretaries: The Making Of The King James Bible, Adam Nicolson; Harper Collins, 2003: ISBN: 0060185163

God’s Secret Agents: Queen Elizabeth’s Forbidden Priests and the Hatching of the Gunpowder Plot, Alice Hogge; Harper Collins, 2005: ISBN: 0060542276

Both of these books are well written. God’s Secretaries is not the most comprehensive treatment of its subject – there are many weightier tomes on the topic – but it stands out as a thorough, highly readable account of the key points, and places these within the larger political and historical mood of the time.

God’s Secret Agents is a must. It is the first full overview of the people and events in the last half of the 16th Century which led to the pivotal Gun Powder Plot. Hogge draws heavily from material that has only recently been available for research such as secret state papers and transcripts of secret trials. Well worth reading.