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The 1824 Bicentennial and the 1774 Semiquincentennial: History is Happening Now

1824 Elections (Wikipedia)

We live in historic times. I am not saying that because all times are part of history. We are at the confluence of multiple anniversaries both of which are being ignored. As reported on in previous blogs, this year marks the 250th anniversary of 1774. It is the anniversary of what became the First Continental Congress. It also was the beginning of what became America’s First Civil War. It was a time when Americans were asked to choose between Patriots and Loyalists. Families were divided.

Flash forward 50 years and the year is 1824. We were now approaching the 50th anniversary of the experiment. Would the large republic of multiple ethnicities and religions survive to reach our 50th birthday in 1826? Thomas Jefferson and John Adams still lived but barely. Founding Fathers, generals, and veterans were dying off. Think of how few people today from World War II still live to get some idea of what the country was experiencing then.

To top it off, in this time of uncertainty and fear of the looming chaos to come, we were having a presidential election with multiple sectional candidates that reflected how divided we were as a country. The two-party system was in a state of collapse. Would the country follow?

The Presidential Election of 1824: Lessons for Today

September 9, 2016

I first raised the issue of the 1824 bicentennial in a blog from 2016. I was writing about the annual SHEAR conference (Society for the Historians of the Early American Republic), July 21-24, 2016, in New Haven. The specific reason was a session on the book 1824 RECONSIDERED: A ROUNDTABLE ON DONALD RATCLIFFE, THE ONE-PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST: ADAMS, JACKSON AND 1824’S FIVE-HORSE RACE. Depending on how you count the candidates this time around, we have exceeded that number although of the candidates may be considered minor.

In the Q&A period, I asked what SHEAR’s plans were to commemorate the bi-centennial of the election of 1824 given the disarray/collapse of the current two-party system. I ended the blog with:

Maybe for the bicentennial of 1824 we should have a presidential election where candidates are entitled to their own facts and a public that doesn’t know better or how to think. Come to think of it, why wait?

At that time, I had not anticipated COVID, the COVID vaccine, or the attempt to steal the election. Nor did I realize that the 2024 election would be part of our Third Civil War and battle to determine whether we continued our journey/experiment to the 250th anniversary of the birth of the country. Still, all in all, I correctly anticipated what now defines the House of Representatives and the declaration by one candidate that if he loses again there will be another insurrection….and if he wins there will be divine retribution.

THREE-PARTY SYSTEM (Is America Ready for a Three Party System?)

December 5, 2022

The unsung 1824 Bicentennial is fast upon us. Soon it will be only a year away. The year has been a personal favorite of mine. It has been the subject of blogs since 2016.

The year marks the transition from the First Party System to the Second Party System. It was the end of the Virginian-dominated American Revolution era and start of the Jacksonian dominated one. The Federalists and the Republicans were out and the Whigs and Democrats would be in. The new system would last until the demise of the Whigs and the emergence of the Republicans under Lincoln. It also was a time of Senate giants like Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, and Daniel Webster.

Putting aside all the talk about the Civil War today, the squabbling over the Speaker position in the House of Representatives suggests we may be in for a de facto three party system in the next session of Congress.

America is not designed for a three-party system. In Europe and Israel, multiple parties are par for the course. After every election, the jockeying for power begins by the various parties. Which one can form majority? That is not the American way where the two-party system is sacred.

Until now. Right now the House of Representatives beginning in January [2023] is divided into three groups:

213 Democrats
182 Republicans
40  Freedom Party.

No one of the groups has the magic 218 votes needed to form a majority and elect a speaker. There has been talk of multiple ballots in an unprecedented situation. Perhaps Kevin McCarthy will deal for the position he has coveted. Perhaps he will drop out when he realizes he cannot win and a host of new candidates will emerge. Perhaps cross-party deals will be made. We are in uncharted waters.

Voters are concerned about jobs, inflation, the economy and the threat to democracy. By contrast the Freedom Party agenda consists of:

Relitigating the 2020 election
Investigating Hunter Biden
Investigating the House Select Committee
Impeaching Joe Biden.

None of these issues are on the radar of the Real Republicans.

In other words, even if McCarthy wins the battle to become Speaker, his problems are only just beginning.

All in all, this blog from 2022 has proved to be quite accurate. McCarthy did win the battle but his problems were just beginning. Soon he would be out not only as Speaker in the House of Representatives but out of the House all together.

The MAGAs would vigorously pursue their investigation agenda. So far they have nothing to show for it. But never say never, they keep trying and will continue to do so.

Now the governing of the House has become one where Democrats and Real Republicans have joined together to get things done. Through various mechanisms and procedural tricks of the trade, they have banded together to pass legislation. They even saved the position of the current House speaker to the chagrin of Marjorie Taylor Greene. Her attempt to chastise the wayward Republicans and remove Mike Johnson only revealed the limitation of power of the MAGA wing of the Republican Party. Each time Real Republicans and Democrats band together it becomes easier for the next time. The Democratic Minority leader is being hailed as the most powerful person ever to hold that position

The net result is the remainder of this Congressional term should be smooth sailing except perhaps in some committees/subcommittees.


The current three party system obscures the existence of a four party system. I live in the 16th Congressional District of New York, ground zero for the war between Regular Democrats and Woke or Progressive Democrats.

Full Disclosure: I have known George Latimer for many years. He has helped arranged funding for the education programs in IHARE. Most recently he declared August 18, 2024, Lafayette Day in Westchester County at my request for the bicentennial of Lafayette’s return visit to the United States in 1824-1825. It included one day in Westchester.

The primary battle between the incumbent Representative and the incumbent County Executive who seeks the position of the former has been hot and heavy. I am not going to cite chapter and verse of the positions of the two candidates on October 7 and the war against Hamas. I do, however, note, its importance to the primary confrontation. It is expressed in the language of political discourse, the funding for the two candidates, and the switch of voters from independent and Republican status to Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary.

Latimer is a traditional Democrat who rose up through the ranks in local, county, and state positions before assuming an executive position instead of a legislative one. During these times he has been practically everywhere at events and meetings and touts his personal experience as an Irish-Italian kid in a Black neighborhood in Mount Vernon where he grew up.

Bowman, by contrast, was a middle school principal from the Bronx who had no previous political experience before defeating a Democratic incumbent himself. He is a frequent guest on MSNBC which also differentiates him from his opponent.

This battle between the Regular Democrat and the Woke Democrat should not be viewed as the one and only battle between the Progressives and the Real Democrats. Given the time and money being spent to defeat Bowman in the primary, a victory by him would signify that the times they are a changing in this reliable Democratic district. And even if Bowman loses, one may anticipate more and more fissures in the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives if the Democrats prevail in the November elections.

In November, it will not only matter which party wins, but which wing wins: Regular Democrats, Regular Republicans, Woke, or MAGA. Even if there is no formal separation, the days of the two-party system in the House may be over.


Given this context, we can start to better understand some of the developments in politics and the arts occurring at the same time two hundred years ago.

The 1824-1825 tour of the Marquis de Lafayette provided a living link to the American Revolution for people in all 24 states.

The 1825 View from Fort Putnam painting by Thomas Cole provided hope that the forces of darkness (Benedict Arnold) surrounding West Point would be overcome and the journey would continue.

The writings of James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving extended the story of the country back to the colonial times of the French and the Dutch.

These national events in art, literature, and politics helped to develop a national sense of identity related to but in addition to the American Revolution.

In hindsight, we know, of course, that the country did not collapse following the 1824 election. That day of reckoning was delayed to the collapse of the Second Party system and the leadership of Abraham Lincoln who became the Republican President. We did divide into the Union and the Confederacy, a division which continues to divide us to this very day … without the large battlefield encounters on lands that became National Park Service sites.

At this point, it is too early to tell what will happen after this presidential election. Perhaps all one can say is that it will be ugly and plans for the 250th may need to be changed assuming you even have any.

1774/2024: Loyalty then and Now

Before turning the mere three-year anniversary of the insurrection by our Confederacy-loving former President, we should start at the very beginning. The semiquincentennial for the American Revolution really begins to take shape in 2024 even though 1774 does not get the attention of other years.

Last year ended with the spectacular Boston Tea Party on December16. Kudos to the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts for putting on a great show. In case you missed, you can watch it at

In the popular mind, the next big event is the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. The battle includes the famous “shot heard ‘round the world. It follows the equally famous ride of Paul Revere. All these events and sayings have become part of American mythology, part of the narrative taught in textbooks for many generations.

Now name an event from 1774? Unless you are a scholar or in the American history business in some way, there is a good chance your mind will draw a blank. As we shall see, it is the events of 1774 that may have more bearing on the events today than any other. For as it turns out, we will not only be commemorating them we will be reliving them. How we do so may well determine if we remain a country as we know it or if the third civil war succeeds whereas the first two failed.


The British did not take kindly to the events in Boston in December, 1773. It responded with what are known as the Coercive Acts or the Intolerable Acts, a good indication of how the colonists reacted to these new British laws.

First, the British wanted their money back. They wanted to be compensated for the tea destroyed and passed the Boston Port Act. The act closed the port of Boston thereby punishing all Bostonians whether they had participated in the Boston Tea Party or not. The closure was to remain until such time as full recompense was made.

Second, and more egregiously, Massachusetts lost its charter under the Massachusetts Government Act. Henceforth it was to be governed by the British government. Many officials now were to be appointees by the crown, Parliament, or the governor instead of elected by the people. Towns throughout the colony were circumscribed by being limited to one annual meeting.

Third, the Administration of Justice Act permitted trials of accused royal officials to be held in Britain or elsewhere in the Empire at the discretion of the royal governor to ensure such officials could get a fair trial not possible in Massachusetts. Exactly who would testify against royal officials in distant lands essentially rendered such trials irrelevant.

Fourth and finally, a new method was devised for the housing of British troops through the Quartering Act. The old policy in quartering troops had proved unsuccessful. Now other buildings could be used if suitable quarters were not available.

As one might expect, these coercive acts were considered intolerable.


The book 1774 by Mary Beth Norton covers this time including the colonial response to the British response to the Boston Tea Party leading up to the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775. Here is an excerpt from the book.

This book, by contrast, has been shaped by my long-standing interest in the Loyalists. Rather than viewing the months between December 1773 and April 1775 with the common implicit or explicit assumption that resistance leaders commanded a people largely unified around a radical agenda, it reveals many debates, disagreements, and disruptions that characterized the period in all the colonies, from New Hampshire south to Georgia.

This description highlights the fact that 1774 could be considered the first year of America’s first civil war as people were asked to take a stand as Loyalists or Patriots.

Instead of privileging the viewpoints of men like Samuel Adams and focusing almost exclusively on his province of Massachusetts, it gives voice to such moderate colonists as Joseph Reed and John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and details the disputes that rolled New York throughout the year. It pays attention to the opinions of colonial officials and others who sent regular reports to London about political circumstances in their colonies. It also analyzes the writings of the Loyalist pamphleteers, who first published their vehement dissents while the Continental Congress was in session in September, and examines how more radical authors responded to Loyalists’ arguments.

In short, as a scholar, Norton seeks to document from the written record exactly where the colonists stood. In particular, she notes the writings of the Loyalists to show that the colonists were not united in their approach.

I aim, in short, to include the views of all of those who participated in formal political discourse in the colonies in 1774, regardless of their gender, race, or place of residence. I sought evidence in a variety of libraries, from the National Archives of the United Kingdom to the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and many universities and state historical societies. The narrative has been constructed from the published and unpublished correspondence of political leaders and ordinary folk alike; from pamphlets and broadsides; from the official records of colonial governments and their revolutionary successors; and from newspapers with reports of local meetings and other activities, along with essays expressing a wide range of opinions. Because of the emphasis on formal political discourse, it devotes less attention to those who are often termed “the people out of doors,” although it does not exclude them entirely from consideration. As will be seen in the following pages, people who did not leave written records of their opinions nevertheless revealed their ideas through their actions. 


Take for example the Town of Rye, NY, where I live. According to Charles Baird’s History of Rye, the first recorded action of the inhabitants was a patriotic meeting at August 10, 1774. It was held in response to the closing of the port of Boston. At that meeting, the participants selected representatives to attend what would become the First Continental Congress scheduled for September 1. The chair of the meeting and one of the delegates appears to be the owner of the tavern now housing the Rye Historical Society. The meeting Sentiments and Resolutions expressed outrage at what had transpired and also loyalty to the House of Hanover.

To ensure that they were not misunderstood, a follow-up document entitled The Declaration of Loyalty was signed on September 24, 1774.affirming loyalty to the Crown. One of the signers was Abraham Bush who resided at the still standing Bush-Lyon Homestead. Thomas Lyon, from a collateral line and with a descendant in the Port Chester Historical Society today, did not sign. So here we have an example of if not brother against brother, at least cousin against cousin.

I refrain from quoting some of the more vociferous responses to these actions except to note they would be right at home on Twitter today.

Undoubtedly this sequence could be repeated for other communities in Westchester, in New York, and in other colonies. Before we declared our independence from Britain on July 4, 1776, the first civil war in America already was engaged.


So how should Rye and other communities in the county, state, and country, commemorate the signing of loyalty oaths in September 1774?

September 2024 will be right in the middle of a presidential campaign. One candidate already is compiling loyalty lists so federal government workers will be loyal to him. The other candidate calls the first candidate an existential threat to democracy and that the rule by law is on the ballot this upcoming election.

Students or adults engaged in mock debates on signing the loyalty oaths or not in 1774 easily will make the transition to the vote in 2024. Students and adults reading the newspaper accounts, pamphlets, broadsides, letters, sermons, etc., from 1774 as Mary Beth Norton did for her book will readily discern that the battle being debated in America’s first civil war corresponds to that of today in our third civil war.

To complicate the matter further, the celebration of the Lafayette Bicentennial for his return visit in 1824-1825 at the invitation will be underway precisely when these debates are being held. In September 1824 he was in New York, Brooklyn, West Point, Albany, Troy, Princeton, New Brunswick and Philadelphia among other places. Thus at the same time communities will be celebrating America’s victory in the American Revolution, we will be commemorating America’s division in the first and third civil wars with the fate of our country hanging in the balance over whether we even get to the 250th of July 4, 1776, in one piece.


The countdown for the 250th anniversary of the birth of the country continues. The work may have been suspended this past year but the clock did not stop ticking. As we transition from online to in-person meetings, the effort will shift as well. Online meetings probably will continue. They provide a logistically routine and cheap way to reach out on a statewide, regional, and even national level to large numbers of people involved in the 250th. Still there is a place for the in-person meeting especially for local events. And let’s not forget the social aspect of birthday parties either.

As we come out of hibernation, it is time for me at least to return to writing about what is going on in American history aided by the fact that I just turned in my manuscript May 31 for The Exodus: An Egyptian Story (Oxbow). So here are some thoughts about the American Revolution.

State Historical Administrators Meeting (SHAM)
The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH)

A major topic at the SHAM meeting was the preparations for the 250th anniversary in 2026. According to AASLH, one-third of the participants reported that their states have formed a 250th anniversary commission or officially designated another such entity to lead planning. That brings to a total of fourteen states have commissions. Action is being taken in Nebraska, North Dakota, and Texas. It would be interesting to correlate the states involved in the 250th and gaining the right to vote with the states which have changed their voting laws restricting those same rights. The AASLH reports that in Pennsylvania, the America250PA Commission is working with the national commission’s staff to develop a template that all states can use for strategic planning toward 2026 that will be synchronized with America250.

AASLH is developing another example of national guidance for what will be a decentralized, state-focused Semiquincentennial on the subject of historical themes. These themes will provide guidance to state and local history organizations. AASLH staff presented an overview of the themes at SHAM. It seeks feedback from many of the attendees on the draft which it produced with the help of teams of scholars, public historians, and other history practitioners. AASLH will publish the themes as part of a larger 250th planning guide on July 1, 2021, only a few weeks away. The National Endowment for the Humanities assisted in this effort by providing funding.

One final note concerns plans for regional collaborations among the states. Many events are not necessarily confined to current political boundaries. This kind of partnership will continue to be an important agenda item for SHAM for the rest of the year.


On February 4, 2021, Fraunces Tavern honored Mary Beth Norton, former president of the American Historical Association, for her book 1774: The Long Year of Revolution. The book covered the sixteen months from the Boston Tea Party to the Battles of Lexington and Concord that changed the course of American history. In her talk, Mary Beth explored the “long year” of the American Revolution, a time when once-loyal colonists began their discordant “discussions,” leading to the acceptance of the inevitability of a war against the British Empire.

During her online talk, I noticed that she used one word repeatedly that I was not expecting. The word was “debate” which I subsequently did mention to her. She constantly referred to the ongoing debates that the Americans were having about the issues of the day. American families, communities, and colonies were divided on what action to take. As we know, there were Loyalists and there were Patriots.

Listening to her talk about these debates gave me an idea for a 250th involving topics. What specifically were these debates about in 1771, 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775 leading up to the Declaration of Independence in 1776? What were the positions as the colonists approached separation? If you live in a community from colonial times you may be able to determine from church sermons, letters, and broadsides what the people in your community were arguing about.

Perhaps some of the national history organizations could assist in developing guidelines and sources for each year to debate these topics. Now as we are living through our third Civil War, it might be useful to learn what are communities said and why during our first Civil War. It certainly would be a way to connect the American Revolution with the present and to involve high school students as they debate the very issues that consumed their communities 250 years ago.


What are the signs, statues, cemeteries, and memorials related to the American Revolution in your community? Is there a database listing of them? Do they appear on your website and on the tourist websites? People will stop and take selfies at all of the above, but they need guidance to know that they are there.

It would be beneficial if the state maintained/coordinated the creation of such a database if one does not already exist.

As people scour their own communities in the search for such remembrances, it is an excellent opportunity to determine:

1. If any need repair or restoration work
2. If any need to be updated particularly signs as new information may be available and vocabulary has changed
3. If any new ones are needed to include people, places, or events which may have been overlooked in the past.

Potentially such an endeavor could be a big, so communities might want to collaborate in seeking funding to accomplish it in a standardized manner.


One final thought is the benefit of creating a speakers bureau. Again this would work best on a state level. The purpose here would be to be identify potential speakers in a searchable database based on the people, places, events, and topics related to the American Revolution. Why should individual historical societies have to reinvent the wheel? Perhaps at some point there could even be funding so such speakers could speak locally at historical societies/libraries/museums.

There is an advantage to have some speakers present online. Over the past year many of us have probably heard lectures online hosted by an organization far from us geographically. Once we return to in-person meetings, there still will be speakers and topics who can draw from a larger audience than a single historical society can draw. It may be worthwhile to have periodic talks done online then.

Isn’t there a way to have a speaker in-person as well as online? I am not exactly sure what the technology would be? Perhaps just having a laptop set a few feet in front of the standing speaker for online viewing. With slides it would be a little more complicated. Oh well, I am sure smarter minds than mine can figure something out.