Saturday, September 23, 2006

America trivia

My former professor and mentor, Diana, sent me the most interesting reading material. Considering I am a history major (as was she), I found it quite fitting that the subject of the Summer 2006 edition of Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society's magazine is titled "Founders". The entire issue is devoted to little known truths about the founding of America. Nine notable historians of the Revolutionary Era presented their views of the founding of America. What I read was fascinating but not surprising, I only wish this was the history taught to young people in their first history courses in high school.

I chose History as my major because the subject fascinates me. I love reading about it, debating it and entertaining new ideas. The one thing about History is that it's constantly being revised, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As I wrote in a research paper a few semesters ago, revisionism is good when new facts come to light to shed more perspective on an event or individual. Revisionism is not good when it hides certain truths and facts in order to prevent one or more groups from being offended.

We are taught to believe America was founded by a small group of wealthy intellectuals and while these men like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock certainly contributed greatly and deserve their place in history, they weren't the only contributors. The ordinary person contributed just as much if not more to the turning of the tide in America. There were many important ordinary people involved in the Revolution. Women were crucial to the Revolution as it was they who boycotted English made goods, kept America running, and women kept the soldiers going at Valley Forge by cooking, doing laundry, gathering firewood and nursing the sick and injured. There was also Agrippa Hull, a black slave who fought for the patriots and Thomas Peters, a former black slave who fought with the British. Both former slaves fought for freedom but they chose different paths to it. Then there was Joseph Brant, a native American who convinced his tribe to fight with the British because he believed that the Americans would take their land and way of life. And then Nancy Ward, a Cherokee ceremonial chief who sided with the Americans and believed the only way the Cherokee would survive was by conceding land and peace to the Americans, even though she believed this might be certain end to the Cherokee way of life.

And then there was the "forgotten revolution". The first true and successful overthrow of British tyranny in America came in Worcester, Massachusetts when in the wake of the Boston Tea Party, British Parliament decided to enact a series of acts (called the "Intolerable Acts" by Americans), which revoked certain provisions of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter of 1691. These acts included outlawing town meetings which could only be held at the discretion of the King's appointed governor, local officials like sheriffs and judges would no longer be elected but appointed by the Crown, and jurors would no longer be elected, but appointed by the Crown. The people of Massachusetts got fed up and basically shut down the government. Thousands of patriot militia around the state marched on their towns and unseated Crown appointed officials. By fall 1774 the people of Massachusetts had overthrown the Crown appointed government and taken back their state.

Also discussed is the question of whether or not the Constitution was the result of a shortage or excess of Democracy. There is excellent writing proposing theories on both sides. The Constitution was an experiment in Democracy that went right, even with all its flaws. What keeps it going after so many years is simply amazing to me. Perhaps it's the sheer will of the people to be free and the fear of what could happen if we just once, give up our freedom, we will never get it back. Ultimately the Constitution isn't just a document, it's more than that, it is a set of ideals and beliefs. Isn't it interesting, that just a set of beliefs could so strongly unite a nation for over 200 years?

And there's something interesting most folks don't think about. When the founding fathers met in Philadelphia to hash out the Declaration of Independence, they eventually removed hundreds of words from Jefferson's original document. John Adams would not concede to South Carolina's wish that the wording related to slavery be removed. And because the votes had to be unanimous, without South Carolina, the Declaration would never have passed. Ben Franklin worked to convince John Adams that a Declaration not mentioning slaves was better than no Declaration at all and that this was a start and it could be improved upon later. John Adams didn't want to concede but he did. He had to. So while the Declaration of Independence is criticized because of what it didn't contain, it's important to understand what it did contain. The Declaration was the beginning, it was the first document to truly unite the people in their stance against tyranny. We owe a great deal of thanks to the men who spent so many months debating it and the men and women who fought for its ideals not just on the battlefield but in their towns, cities, homes, schools, and churches.

If you think about it, history is a fascinating subject. What could be more interesting than learning about one's past? The history of our country is constantly evolving with the discovery of new facts and the debate of ideals. I think perhaps next to mathematics, reading, and english, history is the most important subject kids should be learning in public schools. And I mean real history, not this chopped up PC crap we see in public school (and many college) textbooks. If we are to preserve America's heritage and liberty and freedom, then it is important the truth be told. No matter how hard it might be to learn the truth, it must be told. This historian plans to do just that.

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