Signers & Stuff

Our Fourth of July Books

It’s Fourth of July, and a great excuse to highlight the three books we’ve written associated with American History. Ready? Grab your red, white and blue-striped cupcake and Budweiser and let’s jump in, shall we?

Now out in paperback!

Now out in paperback!

Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence. This is the grand-daddy of them all. First published back in 2009, the book features short mini-biographies on the 56 men who signed that famous document in August 1776. Oh, you thought it was signed in July 1776? This is why you need the book!

Also out in paperback!

Also out in paperback!

Signing Their Rights Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the U.S. Constitution. The follow-up to the bestseller. We knew we had to write this one as soon as we heard someone remark, “I didn’t know the Constitution had signers!” Well, it did. Thirty-nine of them, in fact, and the story of that hot, torturous summer is at least as good as the story behind the summer of ‘76.

A delightful little hardcover!

A delightful little hardcover!

Stuff Every American Should Know. Here’s a slim, tiny book suitable for gift-giving or stocking-stuffing that touches upon a small assortment of factoids about American history. People love to give this book to kids, but we happen to think grown-ups enjoy it too. Learn about flags, patriotic songs, and Geronimo. Yes, Geronimo.

***

Photo sent in by an alert fan browsing at a B&N in Charlotte, NC.

Photo sent in by an alert fan browsing at a B&N in Charlotte, NC.

One last thing: the editor behind this trio has since left the publisher to go his own way, but I’ll never forget the day we met for lunch and he opined that these books are awesome because, at the very least, “they’re books people have an excuse to talk about once a year, and you can’t say that about many books.”

Over the years, those words have proved prescient. People love talking about the signers this time of year. Here’s just a sampling of this year’s crop of news articles referencing our book:

A lovely story in The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass.: A quick-and-dirty interview I did with a reporter.

Cool piece in The Wilmington Star, NC.: Didn’t know they had done a story until our publisher sent the link.

Nice interview I did with Radio America: I was on the road when they called but we managed to speak. The sound file is embedded below…

Another groovy podcast: This one comes with a longer article on the vote for Independence at a separate page.

Great Tampa Bay Times article on a relative of Signer Elbridge Gerry, the father of gerrymandering: This piece first ran in 2014 but they re-published it in light of the recent Supreme Court decision.

Delightful piece in the Omaha World-Herald that recommends our book to help celebrate the holiday.: Just don’t get BBQ sauce on the pages.

So there you go. A great assortment of stories and coverage that brings a smile to our faces and proves our editor right once again!

Happy Fourth!


Icepop image by Nick Torontali via Unsplash.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your collection of free ebooks, go here. Thanks!

Happy Declatution of America Day!

The long Fourth of July Weekend feels like a good time to run this essay, which Denise and I wrote for Newsday back in 2012.

The problem with American history is that Americans keep making more of it. Citizens can't really be expected to know it all, right?

At least, grown-ups can't. 

It seems clear that Americans expect young people to know the fine points of U.S. history and civics, or else no one would get so up in arms when yet another embarrassing study reveals how few American youngsters know, say, the number of stripes on the U.S. flag. And Americans righteously sneer when Miss USA candidates fail to identify the vice president of the United States. 

So, our list is growing: Kids and beauty-pageant contestants should have a good grasp of American history and civics.

And public officials, right? Certainly those who would deign to represent We the People in Congress should know some elementary points regarding American government.

Which is why elected officials, would-be officeholders on both sides of the aisle, and even the media who cover them, who confuse the words of the Declaration of Independence for the U.S. Constitution ought to be ashamed of themselves. (When this happens, we like to say that the person has made a “Declatution” error.)

But Americans tend to go easy on the rest of the populace who aren't children, politicians, bombasts or beauty-pageant contestants. After all, one might argue, in a nation of immigrants, who or what decides what citizens should know about being American?

Well, in no small part, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, does. Each year, the hundreds of thousands of people -- 694,193 in 2011 alone -- who are sworn in as new Americans are required to take a citizenship test. To prepare, they feverishly cram down 100 factoids. Of those 100, applicants will be asked 10 in an oral exam. To pass, citizen-applicants must answer six correctly.

The questions are challenging. We dare say most "natural born Citizens" -- who, according to Article II, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution are eligible for the presidency -- wouldn't be able to answer most of them without a refresher course. The questions include: What's the "rule of law"? Name one of the authors of The Federalist Papers. Name two Cabinet-level positions. (Answers: Everyone must obey the law; James Madison, Alexander Hamilton or John Jay; anything from the secretary of Agriculture to the secretary of Labor or the attorney general.)

The resulting irony of the great American citizenship test is that new Americans are often better educated about certain aspects of American-ness than those of us who came by our citizenship the easy way.

Does that matter? Some people would describe such questions as trivia -- good for board games but not really critical for day-to-day participation in American life. And doesn't lobbing trivia at each other kind of, um, trivialize the greatness of the American experience?

Yes and no.

When we do book signings these days, the most enthusiastic visitors to our table are not adults but kids who gleefully announce that they've read our "grown-up" books on the founders and they're excited to know a thing or two about William Floyd or Button Gwinnett or John Morton or Stephen Hopkins, all of whom are largely forgotten signers of the Declaration of Independence.

The parents of these children stand proudly and awkwardly by as we and their progeny talk about how cool it is that the real birthday of United States is July 2, not July 4. How cool is it that George Washington was "president" of the Constitutional Convention, which wrote the framework for our government, and then went on to become the "real" president? The passion of those kids delights us, just as the parting shots of their parents sadden us: "He/she puts me to shame."

We hear you, mom and dad. Once you were that little kid. You dug citizenship, you dug America, but somewhere along the line, it became not so compelling. You, like so many of us, decided that it wasn't important to know the little stuff, anyway. It was more important to get the gist, the broad strokes. When politicians argue about the Constitution, no one expects you to follow them word for word, letter by letter, article by article, right? Isn't it enough to just "sort of" know what they mean and, by extension, to trust that they do? 

We beg to differ. As the elections in November near, a lot of insufferable people are going to be telling you what it means to be an American. Don't take their word for it. Arm yourself. It always helps to get out, learn what you can, think for yourself and thus be more properly prepared to peg a blowhard when you hear one.

And in a lot of ways that starts with the geeky stuff. Like, why do we have an Electoral College? And what are the salient differences between our founding documents?

Yes, we know: History is complex, and those deckle-edged books in libraries look so long and tedious. And yes, it takes time to grasp the often complex underlying themes of American history, and to parse the multitude of different interpretations -- but it's always OK to start with the fun stuff. As kids and thousands of new Americans would tell you, what appears to be trivia isn't always trivial. Sometimes, it can be a gateway to deeper learning. It pays to take some time to get to know your nation a little better, from the Charters of Freedom to the Purple Mountains Majesty.

So if we may, some suggestions:

Commit to that lifelong learning this Independence Day. Make it fun. When you're slapping burgers on the grill or hoisting a brew, you can be quizzing your brother-in-law on the origins of our bicameral legislature. If you need help finding appropriate materials, let your librarian, local bookseller or your kids guide you. Our great national summer holidays can be a jumping-off point, too: What are the origins of Memorial Day? The Fourth? Labor Day? When do we celebrate Constitution Day? (Yes, people do.)

If nothing else, a commitment to learning about American history will serve you in good stead this election season. 

The next time you hear a politician quote from the hallowed Declatution -- "We the people, who hold these truths to be self-evident, as we form a more perfect union to establish life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness . . . " -- instead of thinking to yourself, "Yeah, I sort of get what you mean," you'll think, "Nice try, buddy -- you sort of won't get my vote until you work harder."


Happy Flag Day! Meet the Flag Guy®!

June 14th is Flag Day in the United States, the day Americans celebrate the day in 1777 when Congress adopted the stars and stripes as the nation’s official flag. Educators use to day to teach kids (and adults) about flag history, etiquette, and display.

Because of kind of books we write, my wife and I have met a lot of people over the years who are immersed in some facet of U.S. history. Al Cavalari is the proprietor of The Flag Guys®, a company in upstate New York that makes and sells a vast quantity of flags. Today I’m sharing 2010 interview with him.

Thanks for visiting, Al. Can you tell us how and why you became a vendor of American flags?

Funny you should ask. I bet most people can not name the exact day, time and place they got into their line of work. I can. It was January 25, 1981 on Rt 207 in New Windsor, NY. That is the day that 52 Americans arrived on American soil for the first time after 444 days in Iranian captivity. Little old New Windsor, NY, was pleased and honored to have the bragging rights of being the first town in the US of A to welcome home these fellow citizens who had been taken hostage when our embassy was taken over.

I happened to be home for two weeks on a visit from Germany, where I had lived for four years after college. I worked there as a waiter, construction worker, and a nurse's aid. My father is a lawyer and after the Bicentennial in 1976 he thought it would be fun to be a flag dealer. So he became one for fun and kept a small supply of flags that he sold out of his law office. The hostages were to land at Stewart Air Base due to its proximity to West Point, where they would stay for some R and R. The President lands here also when he visits West Point.

New Windsor, NY, 1981.

New Windsor, NY, 1981.

As you can see from the photo, it was a great day for flag waving. I stood out on the street and sold stick flags. That was my start. After I returned to the US for good a couple years later, I continued to dabble in flag sales as a way to make side money. The more I worked at it, the more business I got. The more business I got, the more time it demanded. You know the drill. I still have some customers from back then.

Which flags are popular for Flag Day these days? Is it is the 50-star flag, or are there other ones that are popular with Americans?

The most popular category is of course 50-star flags of all types. Below that, I bet it is a toss up between military and historic flags with maybe historic flags having the edge. Historic flags are a real niche for The Flag Guys. The Gadsden flag has really taken off the last couple of years due to its popularity among the Tea Party folks. Many people even call it "The Tea Party Flag" because they are unaware of its existence as a Revolutionary War flag from 1775.

It was through my flag business that I became an ardent history buff. Early on, I became interested in The War Between The States from my customers who are reenactors. From there, I got deeper and deeper into all American history to the extent that I am working on a quest to visit the birthplace, home, and grave of every US President and Signer. I can't get enough, especially of our founding period, and intend one day to live in Philadelphia, where I go now quite a bit.

Do some Americans need to be reminded it is Flag Day?

Yes. When I was growing up, this holiday was not on our radar all that much. I have noticed more of an awareness of this day over the last 5 years or so. Locally, a town clerk has made it a cause and the paper editorializes about it. I like the notion that it is a day all about honoring and respecting our flag. The Elks have always been very involved in Flag Day. They do wonderful programs around it.

It’s believed Hopkinson chose six-pointed starts because they figured prominently in his family coat of arms.

It’s believed Hopkinson chose six-pointed starts because they figured prominently in his family coat of arms.

Because of my New Jersey background, I'm biased in favor of the flag designed by Declaration Signer and New Jerseyan Francis Hopkinson. Can you tell us briefly how you came to sell this flag? Is it a popular seller?

The credit goes to Earl Williams, a fellow member of the North American Vexillological Association, an organization made up of flag scholars and enthusiasts. My connection to Earl and the story of my producing The Hopkinson Flag really began with our mutual involvement with NAVA. I tell the story of Earl and the Hopkinson flag here. Back in the early nineties, he contacted us with the suggestion that we produce this flag. Like most people, I had never heard of Francis Hopkinson. Earl had done a great deal of research about him and his involvement with the creation of our flag. Over many months, Earl gradually made me see that the story is compelling and that a version of what could have been Hopkinson's flag deserved to be offered. Early on in my business, I took suggestions for new and interesting flags seriously and still do. Many of the historical flags I offer have come from requests. So I took a chance and produced a batch. It is a popular flag, though I would not say it is a widespread seller. It does have a devoted following, including a Hopkinson descendant.

How can Americans learn more about how to display and care for their flag?

The flag questions we get come in two categories. One is flag etiquette. I really appreciate it when people care enough to want to do right by Old Glory. Every professional flag dealer I know provides that kind of information. I have an extensive flag etiquette page that deals with all kinds of flag questions that folks ask me. The other category I always get questions about is what I call "tech support." How do I install this? Or how do I attach a flag to a pole? That kind of thing. For those issues, I recommend you check out my "how to page."

By the way, just so you know, I’ll be flying my Hopkinson flag today. Thanks for joining us.

Thank you a million for asking me. I've enjoyed it!


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your collection of free ebooks, go here. Thanks!

LAST DAY! The $2.99 Special NOOK Price for Signing Their Lives Away ends today!

I hate to interrupt what is no doubt an amazing holiday weekend for you. Just a quick reminder that we at Casa D’Agnese-Kiernan are running two specials this week.

The first ends today. The special Nook $2.99 ebook price for Signing Their Lives Away ends today, so grab it while you can. Carpe that freaking diem.

Snag the deal here.

Quick reminder: Signing Their Lives Away tells the stories of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. I think it pairs nicely with summer, frosty brews, a slab of ribs, a beach umbrella, and a red-white-and-blue muumuu. Get your patriot on.

Meanwhile—if you need another reminder: Denise’s book is still on sale for $3.99 through the end of May. Yay.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks!

NOOK Sale: Signing Their Lives Away ebook is on sale for $2.99!

2019-4-19-11-STLA-Memorial Day Sale.png

Our publisher just let us know that our bestselling book, Signing Their Lives Away, is on sale. The special Nook ebook price is $2.99, so if you’ve been meaning to check it out, now is the time.

The deal is supposed to start tomorrow, but I just checked, and the new price is up as of TODAY, May 20th. The deal i supposed to run through Memorial Day weekend, and end late on 5/27. If you are traveling or have plans for the holiday weekend, don’t take a chance. Carpe that freaking diem.

Snag the deal here.

Quick reminder: Signing Their Lives Away tells the stories of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence. I think it pairs nicely with summer, frosty brews, a slab of ribs, a beach umbrella, and a red-white-and-blue muumuu. Get your patriot on.

Meanwhile—if you need another reminder: Denise’s book is still on sale for $3.99 through the end of May. Yay.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks!

Listen to My Interview on The Jim Bohannon Show

Photo by  Israel Palacio  via  Unsplash

Last week was really fun, doing promotion for the release of the paperbacks of our two history titles, Signing Their Lives Away and Signing Their Rights Away. I thought I’d share this one interview I did with veteran broadcaster Jim Bohannon. It was a late-night, call-in talk show, something I’ve never done.

If you’re interested, I show up at the 39:33 mark and run until 1:19:00, almost a full hour. “Jimbo” asked great questions, and was a good host to work with. I had to stay up way past my bedtime to record this! Let me know if you can tell I was zonked.

As always, you can investigate what the books are about at this page.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

One Last Video—and Thanks for Watching!

I’m sharing another short video that we shot for a work-in-progress documentary about the lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Before we jump in, just a reminder that you can find out about the two new paperbacks at one of the links right here.

The goal of our video project was to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. In this installment, we’re visiting the birthplace of Signer Arthur Middleton. Today Middleton Place is a stunning and thoughtful tourist destination located in Charleston, South Carolina. Well worth visiting if you’re ever in the area.

Just reminder: The road trip URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

I hope you like it. We have a few more videos to share but we haven’t made them public yet. I’ll post them when they’re released. Thanks for watching.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Day 3—and Another One of My Videos!

So anyhoo—I’m back with another of the videos we shot looking at the lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. I know, I know: you’re dying to check out our two new paperbacks on the men behind these founding documents. Grab them at one of the links right here.

The goal of our video project was to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. This time around, we’re visiting the birthplace of Signer Thomas Lynch Jr. Today Hopsewee Plantation is a tourist destination located in Georgetown, South Carolina.

Just reminder: The road trip URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

I hope you like it and are moved to visit Hopsewee. It’s a lovely place, run by great people who are dedicated to its preservation.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese