Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Founding Father Who Was Almost Forgotten



Sixty years ago, John Marshall was as well-known as Lucille Ball. Schools took his name, and absorbed his judicial accomplishments into their curricula.

Then, something happened. In the swirl of history, Marshall’s presence was diluted. Now, most people either have never heard of him, or, they mistake him for General George Marshall.

John Marshall Home

Photo by Kenneth Garrett. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership

John Marshall was the equivalent of a Founding Father with a variegated career of public service. George Washington influenced him to become a Virginia congressman; after that, he was a diplomat, secretary of state, and John Adams’s choice for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court: a tenure that would last 34 years, the longest in history.

Written for children, American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States was a collaboration with my mother. It was commissioned by The John Marshall Foundation in Richmond to raise Marshall’s public profile.

When he became Chief Justice in 1801, the Court met only a few days per year. That was how Marshall’s cousin Thomas Jefferson, who loathed him, wanted it.

But Marshall had other ideas for the trajectory of the Court… and democracy.

John Marshall Statue

Photo by Kenneth Garrett. Copyright Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership

And so, by the time of his death in 1835, the Court had a pro rata share of power and influence, equivalent to the Executive and Legislative branches of government. Marshall had also honed the judiciary into a prototype of justice that was revered and replicated all over the world.

American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States
by David Bruce Smith; illustrations by Clarice Smith
Belle Isle Books
Book Available for Purchase at www.hallowedground.org.

Celebrate Constitution Day



The average lifespan of a modern constitution is 17 years. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution has lasted 227 years since its signing on September 17, 1787. We have the oldest still in effect constitution in the world.

Today on National Constitution Day, we honor James Madison, Father of the Constitution and Architect of the Bills of Rights, for his leadership in the Constitution’s creation. The individual freedoms and rights we enjoy today are direct reflections of Madison’s tireless work and vision.

Photo courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation.

Photo courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation.

These ideas, the framework that became the U.S. Constitution, emerged from Montpelier, Madison’s lifelong home located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains along this corridor that is part of the Journey through Hallowed Ground. Imagine the 35-year-old Madison, a committed patriot dedicated to the ideals of the Revolution. He spends months at Montpelier reading about ancient republics and confederacies, trying to glean why they failed, and what America could do differently to succeed. While the thirteen colonies had won their independence from England, the emerging young nation could not function under the Articles of Confederation. Madison recognized this dilemma and developed the plan for addressing America’s ills.

Madison and the other founders, who were part of that hot, summertime debate in Philadelphia we now call the Constitutional Convention, are presented to us sometimes today like demigods—due with good reason to the ideological enlightenment that guided their discourse, friendships, and politics. It was this intellectual foundation that fashioned a linchpin in the axles of liberty and allowed the young United States to move from an experiment to the great country we know today.

However, it would be naïve to claim that our liberty, then and now, has been easy. After all, the Constitution was written “to form a more perfect union.” It was not perfect when created, and while it has become “more perfect” over the past two centuries, changes have often been hard won through petition and protest. We cannot ignore that a truly representative system of government was not achieved until women and African Americans entered the voting booths in more modern history.

Nevertheless, with only 27 amendments, the Constitution has proven its ability to withstand the test of time. It is the Constitution that binds us together as Americans—not where we are from, the color of our skin, or our religion.

The many voices and opinions found in today’s debates seem like fuel for anarchy. Yet time and again, out of those many opinions comes one voice—one people, under one Constitution and one rule of law—which continues to be heard as distinctly American.

The United States of America is an example to the world that a free people can indeed govern themselves. But, power demands responsibility. If we want to pass on liberty to future generations, we must ensure that each generation understands the roles and responsibilities of American citizens, including how our government works. To quote Madison “The people will have the virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom…So that we do not put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.”

James Madison’s Montpelier is rooted in this far-reaching vision and a deep commitment to the ideals of the Constitution. We invite you to join us for a visit to learn more about James Madison and his vision of America. Happy Constitution Day.

Rowe, courtesy of The Montpelier Foundation.

Photo courtesy of Kenton Rowe and The Montpelier Foundation.

Student Engagement with the Living Legacy Tree Planting Project



The Living Legacy Tree Planting Project is a massive undertaking that the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership launched in 2010. By planting one tree for each of the 620,000 fallen Civil War soldiers, we will be creating the first national memorial for the most defining time in our nation’s history. Though the planting of such a large number of trees is monumental in its own right, from my perspective the most looming aspect of this project includes our educational outreach initiatives.

From the outset, we knew that this memorial needed to honor each of the fallen as an individual—what better way to do that, we thought, than by encouraging students around the country to research the soldiers’ lives and share them with the world on an interactive map? Through a collaborative relationship with Ancestry.com and Fold3.com, we are working with youth as they use primary source documents to examine soldiers from their own communities. By learning about these men, history—both local and national—comes alive for the participating researchers. As they get to know “their” soldier, students make connections between their lives and those that came before them, ultimately allowing them to understand that this war impacted every single American.

This hands-on, student-driven approach to education has been proven to be one of the most effective and life-changing ways to teach. Students working on similar projects frequently see an increase in test scores, become more civically engaged as adults, and associate themselves as lifelong learners. To date, we have partnered with over 300 students in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Vermont in the gathering of information on nearly 800 soldiers. Additionally, over 5,000 facts, images, and stories have been uploaded to Honor Wall pages hosted by Ancestry.com’s affiliate site, Fold3.com.

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Thanks to a grant awarded by the Virginia Geographic Alliance, we were able to convene numerous teachers and professors from around the state, along with industry leaders like ESRI, to a summit last October hosted at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. During this meeting, we worked to identify some of the specific needs the education component of Living Legacy must address, including geo-literacy and introductory GIS-skills. Though many of the professors were skeptical about our intentions, they all commented on how impressive it was to hear that many teachers are already successfully incorporating GIS (geographic information systems) into their elementary classrooms. From this summit, the first batch of student researchers were born, many of whom attended our planting ceremony at the historic Bliss Farm in Gettysburg National Military Park to see “their” soldiers’ tree.

Following the teacher summit and successful round of initial student research, we teamed up with Ancestry.com and Fold3.com to offer a teacher professional development seminar in January 2014, led by Senior Directors Brock Bierman and Gordon Atkinson and Genealogist Amy Johnson Crow. During this daylong session, participants learned genealogy research best practices and ways to engage their students in Living Legacy soldier research.

IMG_2246Using these experiences as a launch pad, last week we were awarded funds from Ancestry.com to develop a standardized curriculum. Known as Living Legacy In a Box, this material will be designed specifically to connect primary source-based genealogy research and local history to other subject areas, such as geography, STEM, and the language arts. During the pilot stage of implementing Living Legacy In a Box, we aim to reach 30 teachers around the country, with a target of 2,000 student researchers. If you are interested in bringing this groundbreaking program to your school, let us know. It has been an incredible start to this amazing living memorial project and I am eager to bring it to more schools, more teachers, and more students over the next couple of months.