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"Avoid becoming the draftsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body . . ."

I am indebted to my friend Richard B. Bernstein (the Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law of New York Law School, and the Lecturer in Political Science,Skadden, Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies, City College of New York) for this story that Benjamin Franklin told Thomas Jefferson:

"I have made it a rule, whenever in my power, to avoid becoming the draftsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body. I took my lesson from an incident which I will relate to you.

When I was a journey man printer, one of my companions, an apprenticed hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself.

His first concern was to have a handsome sign-board, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words: John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells hats for ready money, with a figure of a hat subjoined.

But he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments.

The first he showed it to thought the word hatter tautologous, because followed by the words makes…
Recent posts

Professor Norman D. Brown: A Grad Student's Appreciation after Four Decades

Norman D. Brown (1936-2015; Ph.D., history, UNC; Professor of History in the Department of History, University of Texas at Austin for 48 years) was my mentor as a graduate student in the History Department of the University of Texas at Austin from 1973 to 1975. While I then moved on to the University’s law school, failing to finish my M.A. thesis, I stayed in touch with Norman. He inspired me to continue to pursue history . . . and to finish my thesis, which I did, finally, in 1986, on the topic of Governor Dan Moody’s legislative program in the late twenties, which figures into the story this book tells.
During my time in the History Department, I saw Norman from two vantage points. First, I graded papers for his "Old South" and "New South" classes. Norman was an exemplary teacher of undergraduates, low key, well organized, and plain spoken. I recall students saying, “He makes it so easy to take notes!” He requir…

"We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges...."

I understand that many of the words issued daily by 45 are bluster; but I am, I acknowledge, troubled by 45's attack today on the judiciary of the nation, specifically the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And I am heartened that John Roberts leapt to defend that Court of Appeals and all federal jurists, stating: "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them." He added, on Thanksgiving Eve, that an "independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for." I wholeheartedly agree.

What most Americans may not know is that John Roberts is not "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court." Rather he is "CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES." My first published article (1983 - and I believe I was the first to really write about this, thanks to a great law librarian who was at UT Law School ba…

Happy Thanksgiving everybody....

Thanksgiving is a key national holiday and important moment in the year for all Americans to give thanks….a 2003 article explores the largely unknown history:
"MOST AMERICANS KNOW the story of the First Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims, who had been persecuted in England and were unhappy in Holland, sailed to the New World and established a colony in Plymouth, Massachusetts. With the assistance of local Native Americans, the Pilgrims hunted turkeys and planted corn. When their crops were harvested, they celebrated the First Thanksgiving, and Americans have been commemorating the day ever since. . . . While this may be the common understanding today, no one would be more surprised at these modern-day beliefs than the Pilgrims themselves. . . ." Andrew F. Smith, The First Thanksgiving, 3 Gastronomica no. 3 at 79 (2003). In this excellent article, the author shows that the Puritans had numerous days of thanksgiving and did not remember any special "First" one. The reason we h…

“Trust me, I’m a Historian” — Part 1

My brother just gave me the t-shirt in the attached photo, and it reminded me that one of the goals of my blog is to explore "Why history? and perhaps more specifically "Why legal history?"

I want to start broadly and simply, with the first question. . . . then I will proceed to get more "granular."

So, to begin, history--its research and its writing and the reading of it--is of fundamental importance, more and more, because the discipline requires its practitioners to footnote their work.

A book or an article by a historian is generally trustworthy, or at least highly worthy of respect and consideration, because in its footnotes (in articles) and endnotes (in books) the author cites the evidence relied upon for the statements made in the writing.

That is not to say that footnoting makes a text ipso facto reliable; but it is a huge step in that direction, the mere act of providing the author's sources.

The point for the moment is: the reasonably literate or…