50 posts categorized "US History"

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

Today's the 150th Anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's famous, seminal address at Gettysburg.

Lincoln took a phrase from Jefferson's Declaration of Independence - "that all men are created equal" - and fixed it forever at the center of the aspiration of becoming American.


Ken Burns has a project, learntheaddress.org, encouraging Americans to learn Lincoln's address and to recite it. I think this is a super idea, a moving idea.

I have a bad cold right now so the recitation I added isn't as good as I hoped it might be!

Presidential beards

Presidents haven't worn beards in office since the late 19th Century.

Two presidents in the early 20th Century, Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft (the subjects of the new Doris Kearns Goodwin book I've started and will report back on), sported mustaches; but presidents have been clean-shaven since.


I'm thinking about this since watching a bit of the World Series on TV last month. I was impressed with the playoff beards of the Red Sox players, and they reminded me of the great presidential beards of the Civil War and post-Civil War era.

Arthur harrison garfield hayes

Wouldn't it be cool to have a coffee table book about playoff bears, presidential beards, or both?

Photo of Dustin Pedroia by Keith Allen, Flickr. Presidents clockwise from top left: Chester A. Arthur, Benjamin Henry Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield.

Three longer reads for where we are after General Solicitation Day

We are now living in the second day after General Solicitation Day. All trying to take stock of what has happened, and how the landscape is different.

And there is no shortage of media coverage! (Here, from a news angle, is a good overview from the Wall Street Journal: General Solicitation Brings Startups Capital, Risks. I was interviewed for this article and love the quote they got from me: "The government is doubling down on the idea that accredited investors can fend for themselves.")

PhotoBut today I wanted to call out three different, longer-form pieces of writing, each published within the last week. Each, in a different way, lends a deeper perspective on where we in the startup financing ecosystem are now.

Each will be a reference piece in the weeks and months to come.

1. Paul Spinrad's take on where we are, how we got here, and how all the different pieces fit together.

Here is an article that Paul Spinrad published on a PBS website: Online Platforms Give the First Public Look at Private Equity. As I said on Twitter yesterday, Paul's is the best written, broadest article yet on general solicitation and the changes to private financing rules.

Among the delights of Paul's well written survey are: an explanation of how public offerings came to be squeezed into a private exemption framework; the balance or contrast of considerations when approaching policy for accredited and non-accredited crowdfunding; and how private equity platforms are rolling out new features to facilitate the new rule set.

On Monday in GeekWire, I tried, not very effectively, to point out some of the new features on some of the leading online platforms. Paul's take on the same topic is far more accomplished. And that topic is only one facet of his survey.

2. Trent Dykes', Megan Muir's and Kiran Lingam's whitepaper on do's and do not's at demo days and pitch events.

This one, Demo Days, Pitch Events and the New Reg D, is controversial. I've had an earful from several people already on how this whitepaper may get one or another thing wrong.

But I greatly admire the ambition and timeliness of it. The question that the rest of us hem and haw about – am I automatically generally soliciting if I show up at a demo day or pitch event? - they tackle.

Whether or not you agree with the protocols and checklists they lay out, Dykes, Muir and Lingam are calling out the right factors to consider and giving laypeople the means to educate themselves about general solicitation.

3. The Gunderson law firm's comment letter to the SEC on the proposed Reg D rules.

This is a letter published on the SEC's received comments page, signed by a Gunderson partner, Sean Caplice.

There are a ton of comment letters on the proposed rules, none too few from big law firms.

What's remarkable about the Gunderson letter is that it provides answers to all 101 "requests for comment" posed by the SEC in its proposing release.

Most commentators either cherry pick which of the SEC's questions they want to answer, or skip the agency's questions altogether and comment from the perspective of the commentators' own agenda or frames of reference. For tackling all 101 requests for comment, and for that reason alone, I think the Gunderson comment letter is a touchstone. (Kudos to Joe Wallin for pointing the letter out to me.)

The inevitability of American independence

Just finished reading Revolutionary Summer, Joseph Ellis' new (published 2013), short, readable accounting of the political and military maneuvering of the Americans and the British, played out in the confines of Long Island and Manhattan in the middle of 1776.

Ellis' prose lacks the style and dramaturgy of David McCullough's 1776, a book that covers the same campaign but opens the action on the other side of the Atlantic, on the clacking London cobblestone streets where an incensed George III makes his way by carriage to Parliament to denounce the American insurgency. (Parallels to the contemporary vocabulary of the War on Terror are not subtle.)

I loved reading McCullough's book and bought extra copies to hand out to friends.

But I'd recommend the Ellis book, too. Revolutionary Summer may not be a treatment anticipating a screenplay, but its chapters are quickly paced and decorated with telling details (e.g.: Jefferson's obsession with preserving his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, before it had been edited by Congress; Franklin's canny, personal correspondence with Lord Howe). Though narrative in structure, Ellis' book as a whole has the feel of a reasoned essay. It's as if Ellis has summarized, for popular consumption, recent scholarship on the American Revolution, and has chosen to revisit key episodes in the year of the Declaration of Independence to throw into relief newer, more nuanced views on the significance of the military conflict.


Surprisingly, Ellis finds, or argues, that the social, cultural and political forces leading up to the decision of the Continental Congress in June, 1776, to declare independence from Great Britain, had a logic of their own that were not dependent on the prospects or performance of the Continental Army, hunkering down in New York.

Acknowledging that it was distinctly possible that the destruction of the Continental Army at the hands of the British and Hessians in 1776 would have altered the establishment of the United States (not posited by Ellis, but perhaps New York and New Jersey would have returned to the "protection of the Crown," or perhaps the British would have systematically occupied the northeastern seaboard?), Ellis nevertheless walks us through how various important and influential American patriots convinced themselves - each in different ways - that "the Cause" would inevitably triumph. Such belief was well-founded. Demography (the population of the States was doubling every twenty years, far outpacing population growth in England) and geography (the Howes would necessarily lose the war by winning it, as each successive occupation depleted the next occupying force) meant that the American states were not reversing their independent course.

The most interesting upshot of the "essay" is found in Ellis' last footnote:

"I solicited the opinions of four distinguished historians of the American Revolution in response to this question: Would the demise of the Continental Army and the capture of George Washington in 1776 have changed the outcome of the American Revolution? Edmund Morgan, Gordon Wood, and David Hackett Fischer all said no, though all agreed that the way the war played out would have been different. Ed Lengel, editor of the Washington Papers, disagreed on the grounds that Washington was indispensable and irreplaceable."

I hugely admire George Washington. McCullough's book about that summer, Ron Chernow's one-volume biography of Washington's entire life, and other books and stories I have read about the father of our country, all marvel over Washington's amazing physical courage and emotional stamina. If there are any persons with such character in American life today, they must be hidden among the military or business classes; there certainly are no such persons in our national political life.

I want to be really careful here as I warm up to pointing out that Ellis' treatment of Washington is . . . decidedly not hagiographic. No question Ellis cites Washington's physical bravery - he is among the last to evacuate Long Island in the tactical retreat to Manhattan; he exposes himself to British artillery; he must be forcibly led by subordinate officers off the open battlefield as British regulars advance within the range of a Russell Wilson pass - but he also allows that Washington was indecisive.

But Ellis also states that by the fall of 1776 Washington had come to appreciate that the Continental Army needed victories for psychological reasons as much or more than for tactical ones.

Along with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, the Howe brothers - Richard in charge of the navy, William in charge of the army and the overall commander in chief of British forces - end up being the main characters in Revolutionary Summer. A question I am going to take away from reading the book - or perhaps it is a working thesis to be tested by further reading - is whether the Howe's reluctance to crush Washington's army when the chances to do so presented themselves that summer, whether that reluctance was belatedly prescient: did the Howes also appreciate that that war might only be won in the hearts and minds of the American people?

Image: "the invasion fleet under Admiral Howe assembling in lower New York Harbor off the coast of Staten Island in the summer of 1776." Wikimedia.

Boots on the ground

At the beginning of a guided tour of the Buster Simpson show at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle yesterday, curator Scott Lawrimore used a striking metaphor to describe the commitment Simpson brings to his site-specific, environmentally-conscious art practice.

Simpson's practice, Lawrimore said, is "boots on the ground."


By which he meant: Simpson gets local; he looks people in the eye; he bothers himself with what is happening; he sticks around and joins the fray.

"Boots on the ground" as metaphor for not being above the consequences of your own interventions.

March on "This Town"

I'm looking forward to listening to some of the speeches from Washington DC today, either as they are broadcast while I'm at work, or else as rebroadcast later in the day.

Just as with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, King's I Have a Dream Speech has many phrases which resonate at all levels of art and philosophy.

The passage from King's speech I am taken with this week, here on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, is this:

'This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning: "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.'

It's the dependent clause, "If America is to be a great nation," that grabs you. King, like Lincoln, found, identified, fixed, called out that entrepreneurial and aspirational genius that sets America apart, makes the American experiment exceptional: the positive energy of our nation, what propels the society, is an expectation that we may actually, some day, realize, live and embody our own, radical, founding ideals.

6a01156e3d83cb970c019aff0d4361970d-580wiAs an American you embrace this existential uncertainty every time you sing the Star-Spangled Banner. "Oh say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?" It is an unanswered question.

Each generation of Americans is responsible for moving the ball forward, for calling ourselves to account on where our prejudices keep us from the standards we know are required.

Of late, I am thinking about the two journalists on NPR, who last week on air mocked a transgendered young person in transition for asserting her identity. Dr. King would not have stood for that and it should not be okay in America to do that.

Because my work has me dealing with angel investing on a daily basis, I'm aware, admittedly only late, that the rule set on who is allowed to invest discriminates against investors in same-sex relationships. That is shameful, shaming, and immoral, and it should not be okay in America to perpetuate that degrading double standard.

Washington DC is a silly, venal, superficial town - or at least that is the impression of it I am getting from reading "This Town" by Mark Leibovich, a celebration of being in the "in" crowd in DC by an author very much taken with his own insider status.

But I think that is okay. The political class, like the Hollywood class, probably has to reflect that kind of temperament to fulfill the functions they have.

Not okay is for the citizenry to be uninformed, indifferent, to act like consumers, to participate uncritically in the handover of the internet to a corporate few.

We have Lincoln's and King's voices to energize us and help us see that next plateau.

Citing sources on Twitter

Six months ago I blogged about the stream of fascinating photographs @BeschlossDC posts to Twitter (see Tweeting on behalf of Presidents who no longer can).

He's still tweeting and the photos remain top-notch.

But it's become harder for me to overlook Beschloss' apparent unwillingness to credit sources.


My friend, the US historian Mark Byrnes, tells me Beschloss has done work that is respected professionally, so one has to assume Beschloss knows better.

I now sometimes start to think about un-following @BeschlossDC, but, so far, end up thinking better of depriving myself of the wonderful selection of images; instead, I tweet back criticism or encouragement to do the right thing. It would be simple to set up a Tumblr or Blogger site and keep a running tally.

Robert Richards points out that Beschloss' Twitter profile now says a website, "incl sources of images," is to come.

Pictured, from @BeschlossDC: Truman and LBJ in 1965. It's remarkable that Michael Beschloss would have had both the access to the Presidents and the facility with camera equipment of the time to pull this photograph off. From the camera angle, we can infer that he was unusually tall for a child (he would have been 9 years old in 1965).

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