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Brian Patrick Cork is living the Authentic Life

brian cork remembering David Herbert Donald


NEW YORK (AP) – David Herbert Donald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the Civil War and American South whose expertise on Abraham Lincoln brought him a wide general audience and reverence from his peers, has died.

I saw that heading this morning and was immediately struck by mixed feelings of nostalgia and sadness.

I first heard Lincoln historian David Herbert Donald lecture while an undergraduate at Radford University.

A ferocious and passionate writer, Donald passed away at eighty eight. And, he packed a lot into those years. A professor emeritus at Harvard University, Donald won Pulitzers for biographies of abolitionist Charles Sumner and novelist Thomas Wolfe. But his books on Lincoln became his legacy. Presidents from John F. Kennedy to the first George Bush summoned him for lectures and fellow scholars acknowledged his prominence.

An award was even named after him – the David Herbert Donald Prize for “excellence in Lincoln studies.” The first honoree in 2005 was, of course, Donald himself.

My guy has always been Thomas Jefferson. However, Dr. Donald was brilliant at drawing comparisons and contrasts amongst our country’s Presidents (with an obvious emphasis on Abraham Lincoln) that ran parallel to current events. He was apparently working on a character study of John Quincy Adams at his death. As we all know, (that particular) President Adams might be considered one of those ‘other’ or footnote-only caliber White House denizens. Yet Donald would have found a unique and likely thought provoking way to draw a correlation between something President Adams did that was relevant to Lincoln, or something they both had accomplished, or wanted. If you care about that type of nuance or “Jeffersonian” (parallel) thinking, it’s endlessly fascinating.

For more along this line of thinking, please consider my prior post: Barack Obama and the Jeffersonian Model.

Donald published his first Lincoln book in 1948, and kept at it for more than 50 years, going back on repeated vows to move on to another subject. His books included “Lincoln at Home,” a study of his family life, and “We Are Lincoln Men, (a personal favorite of mine) – both worthy essays about Lincoln’s friends and associates.

“Lincoln,” a single-volume biography of the president, came out in 1996 and became so popular that presidential candidates Bill Clinton and Bob Dole both claimed they were reading it (it’s certainly in my own library even I am not as yet a presidential candidate). NOTE: Clinton I can see actually drawing some form of inspiration from it. I am, however, skeptical about that poor little Mr. Dole. In any event, years later, when customers at the Lincoln Memorial bookstore would ask for a good biography, Donald’s book was recommended.

Donald, the grandson of a Union cavalry officer, was not a Lincoln man in his early years. Born into a farming family in Goodman, Mississippi, he fancied himself a musician before some odd twists landed him elsewhere. He majored in history and sociology at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi. After graduation, Donald hitchhiked to Indianola, Mississippi, where he was interviewed for a job as a high school band teacher, a position funded by sales from a Coca-Cola machine.

This is my favorite passage from an interview he tolerated with the Associated Press in 2005:

“The man who interviewed me told me I could have the job and I went to gather whatever I had and started to follow him out of his office,” Donald recalled. “He said, ‘You forget your hat.’ And I said ‘I don’t wear a hat.’ And he said, ‘You teach in my school, you’ll wear a hat.’ So I didn’t take the job.”

So… Donald looked instead at graduate schools. His academic adviser at Millsaps was too busy to help, so Donald wrote his own recommendations and was accepted into the University of Illinois. Years later, he visited the school and had a chance to see his records.

“I looked into my admissions file and it said, ‘Admit this man. He has excellent letters of recommendation.”

If you know me, you understand why I am drawn to professional people that see the world in their own terms. The latter quote always made me think of Captain James T. Kirk and his Kobayashi Maru.

Just roll with me on that.

I will leave the best insights into Donald’s brilliant work to other historians and writers of greater merit than my own. However, he had a great impact on me and my views in terms of how two people can look at the same subject and yet understand it in completely separate ways, while drawing strong direction from the exercise. That is both Jeffersonian (my view), and important in critical decision-making.

For example:

Some reviewers faulted Donald for insisting on “the essential passivity” of Lincoln, while an interpretation that The Washington Post’s Jonathan Yardley found contradiction positing the president’s “determination and vigor” in carrying out his decisions.

For decades after Lincoln’s death, writing on the president was dominated by nonhistorians, such as poet Carl Sandburg, who wrote a best-selling, lyrical and famously unreliable biography. Donald helped literally transform Lincoln studies into a professional discipline.

A mentor of Donald’s encouraged him to write about Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon. “Lincoln’s Herndon” began as a dissertation and became Donald’s first book, published in 1948, with an introduction, ironically, from Sandburg.

During his aforementioned AP interview, Donald outright dismissed recent theories that Lincoln was gay or chronically depressed. Donald also acknowledged that he, too, had, over time, changed his feelings about Lincoln.

“When I started out, I wasn’t interested in Lincoln, and frankly found him a tiresome old fellow who was rather long-winded, told too many stories, was kind of a rough, frontier sort,”

“As I grew older, I realized the jokes and stories he told were really very funny and they always had a point to them. And I watched the way he worked with people and what an extraordinarily adept politician he was. … He was much more sensitive and human than I had thought before.”


Donald’s reputation grew throughout the next few decades as he carefully picked apart the Lincoln myths dear to poets, dreamers and politicians. In such classic essays as “Getting Right With Lincoln’‘ and “The Folklore Lincoln,” he noted Lincoln’s transformation from laughing stock to saint upon his assassination – and, the efforts of both Democrats and Republicans to claim him for their parties.

Thank you for helping us all to think, argue and change our minds Professor Donald.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork


Barack Obama and the Jeffersonian Model


Back in 2007 we discussed the Jeffersonian Model here.

Over the weekend we learned that President Barack Obama (through “The White House”) has suggested or requested; likely demanded that the current CEO of General Motors, Rick Wagoner, resign (does this mean President Obama will also suggest his replacement?).

It’s worthwhile to address the question whether Obama is viewing the deployment of his policies from the Jeffersonian perspective:

In the Jeffersonian model, the President often tries to expand his powers outside of the ones denoted in the United States Constitution. There are five presidents considered by many Political Scientists and Historians to be the main contributors to the expansion of the powers of the Executive Branch in the United States. These include: Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

I am reasonably confident that American history offers a favourable view of each of the these leaders. However, something is “niggling (this is a decidedly English term)” in the back of my head, and my radar is up. I suspect that a good government, like any good business, needs to be flexible in reflection of circumstances. However, the terms reactive as opposed to proactive are in my head (This is consistent with my business coaching approach).

I am only setting this thinking into motion this morning.

More on this shortly as I address this line of thinking in future posts.

Although this effort could be fraught with danger, feel free to chip in.

More later.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork


The Jeffersonian Model


The Jeffersonian model is a deviating philosophy of presidential conduct in which the President tries to expand the powers of his office beyond the denoted powers of the executive branch in the U.S. Constitution. First exhibited by Thomas Jefferson, the model is a philosophy of the use of the presidential powers.

There is an element of the heterodox implied within this view.

In the Jeffersonian model, the President often tries to expand his powers (extension of the will?) outside of those denoted in the United States Constitution. There are five presidents considered by many Political Scientists and Historians to be the primary contributors to the expansion of the powers of the Executive Branch in the United States. These include: Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and, Franklin D. Roosevelt. At some point, certainly as of this date, it can be argued that Bill Clinton could be added to this list.

Jeffersonian Presidents tend to test the limits of the denoted powers of the President as provided by the U.S. Constitution to more implied powers of the office. Each of the five major Jeffersonian Presidents expanded the office of the Executive Branch in different ways.

Historically, Jeffersonian Presidents tend to be the favored candidates in both Presidential Elections and Re-Elections. As can be noted from FDR’s four (4) terms in office, though their work is often controversial, Jeffersonian Presidents are among the most influential, and fondly remembered, of the Presidents of the United States.

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

brian patrick cork


Being Jeffersonian, Part II


For background, please see “Being Jeffersonian, Part I”, by brian-patrick cork, dated 02/09/2007.

In politics, Jefferson was by no means an anarchist, as his enemies alleged. But, far more than his Federalist political opponents (and many modern conservatives), he had confidence in the ability of individuals to govern themselves. The “essence of a republic,” he wrote, is a system in which individuals “reserve to themselves personally the exercise of all rightful powers to which they are competent,” delegating other powers to their “representatives, chosen immediately, and removable by themselves.” Shortly after becoming president, he wrote Joseph Priestley that he envisioned Americans as acting “under the unrestrained and unperverted operation of their own understandings,” thus proving to the world “the degree of freedom and self-government in which a society may venture to leave its individual members.”

Because government is, as Jefferson stated in the Declaration, “instituted among men” for the express purpose of “securing” natural rights, it was a fundamental principle of Jefferson’s political philosophy that no government could legitimately transgress those rights. For law to be binding, it must not only proceed from the will of properly authorized legislators but also be “reasonable, that is, not violative of first principles, natural rights, and the dictates of the sense of justice.”

In an 1816 letter, Jefferson observed: “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him; every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of society; and this is all the laws should enforce on him; and, no man having a natural right to be the judge between himself and another, it is his natural duty to submit to the umpirage of an impartial third.” He added, “when the laws have declared and enforced all this, they have fulfilled their functions, and the idea is quite unfounded, that on entering into society we give up any natural right.” Two years later, in a report he prepared as chairman of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, Jefferson included in his syllabus of the basic principles of government, “a sound spirit of legislation, which, banishing all arbitrary and unnecessary restraint on individual action, shall leave us free to do whatever does not violate the equal rights of another.”

Equally fundamental to Jefferson’s political philosophy was his constitutionalism. Realizing that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground,” Jefferson stressed the importance of written constitutions, scrupulously adhered to, as well as popular participation and vigilance over government to keep its power from being abused. To do so peaceably, without recourse to revolution, it was vital to maintain what Jefferson called the “chains of the Constitution”—such devices as federalism, the separation of powers, bills of rights, and provisions for amendment—”to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power.”

In political economy, Jefferson’s thought began with the right to property, which he understood to be part of the natural right to pursue happiness. As he put it in 1816, the right to property is founded “in our natural wants, in the means by which we are endowed to satisfy those wants, and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the equal rights” of others. He argued that extra taxation of the wealthy would transgress natural right: “To take from one, because it is thought that his industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry or skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it.” Jefferson’s views on political economy are especially interesting, for they changed over time in a way that rebuts the conservative charge: that a Jeffersonian, believing in reason and nature, would naturally drift toward coercion and collectivism. In fact, Jefferson moved toward an ever more consistent philosophy of liberty. Abandoning his early, classical agrarianism (the naive belief that farmers are the only productive and “virtuous” members of society), he came to support market capitalism as a derivative of his theory of rights.

Specifically, he embraced the fairly thoroughgoing free-market ideas found in the Treatise on Political Economy, written by the French anti-mercantilist philosopher Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy. De Tracy made clear that the productive value of the trader or manufacturer is equal to that of the farmer. He also defended the right of industrious persons to seek profits as “rewards for their talents,” and viewed commerce generally as the “fabric” of society. Jefferson was so enthusiastic about this treatise that he undertook the task of translating it into English, so that it could be used as the basic economics text in American universities.

Jefferson’s Legacy

In many areas of his thought other than politics, Jefferson could be quite unsystematic. In ethics, for example, he believed in an innate “moral sense” that guided persons to be benevolent—a naive and idealistic assumption about human nature that may, in part, explain Jefferson’s trust in the capacity of individuals to govern themselves. But in his political philosophy, in his advocacy of limited government and eternal vigilance to keep its power safely in check, Jefferson was remarkably consistent throughout his public life—from the time of his authorship of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to the time of his death on July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years later. Significantly, in his last letter he wrote of the document’s importance: “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.”

brian patrick cork


What’s All This About?

"What am I looking at?", you might wonder.

Lots of stuff.

Meanwhile, here, I discuss events, people and things in our world - and, my (hardly simplistic, albeit inarticulate) views around them.

You'll also learn things about, well, things, like people you need to know about, and information about companies you can't find anywhere else.

So, while I harangue the public in my not so gentle way, you will discover that I am fascinated by all things arcane, curious about those whom appear religious, love music, dabble in politics, loathe the media, value education, still think I am an athlete, and might offer a recipe.

All the while, striving mightily, and daily, to remain a prudent and optimistic gentleman - and, authentic.

brian cork by John Campbell

photos by John Campbell


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