Chestertown, Maryland Blogging and a Salute to Ben Franklin


I am involved with two liberal arts colleges founded in the revolutionary era. One of these is Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and founded in 1783 where I’m on the Board of the Clarke Center.
The other is Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland founded in 1782. At Washington College, I am on the Advisory Board of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.
If you are a history junkie and want to read a new blog launched by one of Washington College’s recent graduates, John Bohrer, check out Revolutionary College Blog.
I try to get to both colleges as often as possible, and this morning I find myself blogging at “Play it Again Sam’s,” the central town funky coffee shop where the locals hang out and tell me who they think REALLY should have won in the recent local primaries — but that’s not the topic today.
What is in part the topic is a fascinating book of which I am only in the first fifty pages — and which I recommend to you. Pick up and read Stacy Schiff’s A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America.

Stacy Schiff is the author of Vera which won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 2000, and Saint-Exupery, which was a finalist for the 1995 Pulitzer Prize.
Put the Pulitzers aside. Schiff just won the $50,000 George Washington Book Prize, which is administered by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience (CVSCSAE for short. . .just joking) in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Last year, Ron Chernow won the first George Washington Book Prize for his masterful Alexander Hamilton.
I met Schiff briefly Thursday evening after a lecture she gave at Washington College titled “Dr. Franklin’s French Adventure.” It was an absolutely delightful and fascinating lecture about the personalities who cobbled together America’s eventually winning hand in the American revolution. Franklin’s status as the world’s most famous man — from his scientific contributions — bumbling around in Paris with a manner and style often crude, but not rude, provided the bridge for French affections for the American cause which also happened to coincide with France’s geostrategic appetite for rivalry with the British.
I really need to get the Starr Center or Stacy Schiff to allow the posting of her fascinating lecture and will work on that in the nooks and crannies of other obligations I have right now.
The other surprise Thursday evening — when I was thoroughly exhausted after two major events featuring George Soros on Wednesday and then a most-of-the-day conference on U.S. strategy towards Iran — was an impressive and exotic performance by the United States Army’s Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.
I didn’t even know that the military had such a unit of musicians whose uniforms, drill, and patriotic music recall America’s revolutionary days.
If you are height/weight proportionate and slim to medium build, there is an opening with the Fife and Drum Corps for a “snare drummer.”
They were fun to watch and hear — and they certainly kept me awake and stirred up enough to not let physical exhaustion knock me out before I heard Stacy Schiff’s oration on Franklin, John Adams and their time in France.
I have some other disjointed reflections and comments this morning. Just want to get them out there.
First, I am working on a major national policy forum that will be taking place in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, 27 September. The New America Foundation/American Strategy Program will be helping the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton — run by the indefatigable Anne-Marie Slaughter — launch a new contribution to the nation’s national security debates from the Princeton Project on National Security.
This meeting is by invitation only, but if any readers would like an invitation to this conference, I am happy to arrange that. You must email me directly with your full name and any affiliation, and your RSVP must be firm. if your plans change in any way, you need to let me know. The email address to write to is
On other fronts, keep a watch out for a significant speech by President Bush next Tuesday. He will be addressing U.S. foreign policy — but according to reports which have reached me, he will also be setting some potentially new contours for American engagement in the Israel-Palestine two state process. My own expectations are low regarding the President’s comments, but we should wait and see what he suggests in his speech. I know that some people who strongly embrace the need to move forward a two-state Palestine/Israel solution within the administration have been working to get the President to address this. Let’s see.
Also, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be arriving next week in New York to speak at the UN. He is a troublesome player and threatening much when it comes to geopolitical stability in the Middle East. I sometimes get the sense that he and Iran’s Republican Guard are inviting attack which would help them consolidate power inside Iran. But he’s complicated and his comments this next week will be important to hear. Mitt Romney should have saved his fire power for Ahmadinejad rather than blasting former Iran President Mohammed Khatami who — if there is ever a tilt back towards reason over religious fundamentalism and zealotry — will be one of the allies in that cause.
President Bush and Condoleezza Rice were quite right to issue the visa to Khatami. The real “audience” for that decison was not Americans — but rather Iranians, who got to see what a politically liberal culture provides in the way of tolerating dissent and alternatives (though that culture is not in healthy shape here).
More later. I’m working on an energy/global warming project today as well as the Princeton Project conference. But anyone driving through Chestertown may see me fishing for catfish and striped bass in the Chester River while taking my breaks.

— Steve Clemons


3 comments on “Chestertown, Maryland Blogging and a Salute to Ben Franklin

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  3. JohnStuart says:

    In the years I spent at Fort McNair serving on the faculty of the National War College, few things warmed the cockles of my heart more than strolling across the great lawns of our campus as the Old Guard, in full Revolutionary War regalia, paraded and practiced.
    The delicate sounds of the fifes and the tri-corned hats against the backdrop of the river and the long rows of towering two-hundred-year-old trees was powerful symbolism.
    Symbols don’t usually work well with me to stir patriotism, but I confess to three exceptions:
    #The Old Guard in full kit;
    #The simple Fourth of July celebrations in the small town in Upstate New York where I have a lovely old farm that dates from the 18th century; and
    #A real army bugler playing “Retreat” as evening falls, the flag is lowered on a military base, and everyone who is outdoors stops, turns toward the flag, and salutes (in uniform) or places hand-on-heart if not.
    All three embody both simplicity and tradition.
    They are non-partisan.
    They bring people together rather than push them apart.
    Our President’s appeals to patriotism fail on all these counts.


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