Winter Reading 08′

A handful of us get together and pick a history book to read during the winter time. This year, the book was Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose. Below I have included a handful of my favorite quotes organized in different themes throughout the book. Sorry for it being so long, but the book is 500 pages!

18th Century American Culture — “People in the late eighteenth century were helpless in matters of health. They lived in constant dread of sudden death from disease, plague, epidemic, pneumonia, or accident. Their letters always begin and usually end with assurances of the good health of the letter writer and a query about the health of the recipient. Painful as the death of an honored and admired father was to a son, it was a commonplace experience.”

— “Thus ended Meriwether Lewis’s scholarly career. What had he learned? No enough Latin to use the language in his extensive later writings, nor any other foreign language. Not enough orthography ever to be comfortable or proficient with the spelling of English words—but, then, he lived in an age of freedom of spelling, a time when even so well read and learned a man as Jefferson had trouble maintaining consistency in his spelling.” — “Jefferson, believing that the taming of the horse had resulted in the degeneracy of the human body, urged the young to walk for exercise. Lewis took his advice and became a great hiker, with feet as tough as his butt. As a boy and young man, he went barefoot, in the Virginia manner. Jefferson’s grandson claimed not to have worn shoes until he was ten. According to Jefferson, the young Lewis hunted barefoot in the snow.”

Slavery — “No man did more for human liberty than Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and of Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom., among other gifts to mankind. Few men profited more from human slavery than Jefferson.” — “Profitable as it was to him, Jefferson hated slavery. He regarded it as a curse to Virginia and wished to see it abolished throughout the United States. Not, however, in his lifetime. He said that his generation was not ready for such a step. He would leave that reform to the next generation of Virginians, and was sure they would make Virginia the first southern state to abolish slavery. He thought the young men coming of age in postwar Virginia were superbly qualified to bring the American Revolution to this triumphant conclusion because, as he said, these young men had ‘sucked in the principles of liberty as if it were their mother’s milk.’ — “Of all the contradictions in Jefferson’s contradictory life, none exceeded this one. He hoped and expected that the Virginians from the generation of Lewis and Clark would abolish slavery—even while recognizing that anyone brought up as a master of slaves would have to be a prodigy to be undepraved by the experience. And it should be noted that, as far as can be told, he said not a word about his dream that young Virginians would lead the way to emancipation to precisely those young Virginians he knew best, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.” — “Lewis could no more escape the lord-and-master attitude toward black slaves than Clark could—or, come to that, than Jefferson could (Jefferson also sold slaves and separated families). No wonder Jefferson could write, ‘I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.’”

Leadership / Exploration — “Lewis had the frontiersman’s faith in his rifle. As long as a man had his rifle, ammunition, and powder, he would take on anything the wilderness could throw at him.” — “It was remarkable for Lewis to propose a co-command. He did not even have to add a lieutenant to the party, and most certainly did not have to share the command. Divided command almost never works and is the bane of all military men, to whom the sanctity of the chain of command is basic and the idea of two disagreeing commanders in a critical situation is anathema. But Lewis did it anyway. It must have felt right to him. It had to have been based on what he knew about Clark, and what he felt for him. — “Lewis and Clark had not been together in seven years, but even before they met their partnership was flourishing, their trust in each other’s judgment complete. There were no perils in divided command for this pair.” — “For the next seven years, only Dearborn, Jefferson, a clerk or two in the War Department, and Meriwether Lewis and William Clark knew that, as far as the army was concerned, Captain Lewis was in command of the Corps of Discovery, with Lieutenant Clark as his second-in-command. For the men of the expedition, it was Captains Clark and Lewis, co-commanders. That was all that counted.”

Finally, there was one quote that summed up my greatest reflection from this book: the cost of success. If you aren’t familiar with history, Lewis ended up committing suicide a few years after the expedition. How could someone who had accomplished so much give up on his life? This is something that I will always remember and keep in the back of my mind.

“Lewis was leading a very heady life. At thirty-three, he was the most celebrated man in Philadelphia, a city world-renowned for its celebrated men. He was the protégé of the president. Balls and testimonials were held in his honor, the biggest in the nation’s capital. He had been generously rewarded by Congress, praised by the leading scientists of the day, appointed governor of the biggest territory of the United States, and was the center of attention wherever he went. His prospects could hardly have been better. It was, perhaps, too much success too early in life. There were, perhaps, too many balls with too many toasts.”

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Founder of Communion Wine Co.