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Queen Elizabeth and the American Revolution 250th

It's not a movie or TV series. It's the real thing. (USA Today)

Queen Elizabeth dominated the news for several days if not longer. For a brief moment, the world saw Great Britain at its best. We saw its palaces, churches, and chapels. We watched its processions. We witnessed its people stand patiently in astonishingly long lines for hours on end for their turn to glimpse and pay their respects to their Queen. Truly it was an inspiring series of days that highlighted the good with which people are capable. Perhaps once could say it was Great Britain’s finest hour since its last finest hour in far more troubling times.

Simultaneously, I was attending two history conferences in New York State with sessions devoted to the American Revolution 250th. The first was in Buffalo where the annual national conference of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) was held partially in person with a separate on-line conference to follow. The second was the annual state conference of the Association of the Public Historians of New York State (APHNYS) held this year in Kingston.

During the American Revolution, Kingston was a settlement burned by the British as part of the ill-fated campaign of John Burgoyne to sever the states. At that time, Buffalo was located beyond the range of American colonial settlement. The Seneca who lived there were allies of the British even to the point of fighting their fellow Haudenosaunee Oneida who were America’s first ally. As part of the conference, I signed up for an optional tour of the OnÖhsagwË De’ Cultural Center better known in English after the English name of the famed Roman orator.

The unexpected juxtaposition of these events provided an opportunity to think historically and politically about them.

AMERICAN REVOLUTION 250TH

Obviously during the American Revolution, the British were our enemy. Even as we honored the life of the British Queen at her death, we remember that here in New York, an iconic symbol of the American Revolution is the toppling of the recently-installed statue of King George III at the Battery in lower Manhattan.

We also recall the prison ships offshore in the Hudson River where arguably more Americans died at the hands of the British than did on the field of battle.

We remember the city where we were meeting as a city the British had burned. The burning of this one-time capital of New York State was a preview to the burning of the national capital in the next round of conflict between the two countries.

We remember that for seven years, the British occupied the city of New York. They continued to do so throughout the war even past the fighting at Yorktown. The reason George Washington spent more time during the American Revolution in New York than in any other state was precisely because of his fear that the still-present British might try something. We should remember Benedict Arnold in that context.

And finally we remember when at last after seven years, the British evacuated the city on November 25, 1783. Loyalists including Africans who had fought on behalf of the British left for Canada. The day would be become a holiday enthusiastically celebrated in New York City into the 20th century.

Eventually, of course, the United States and the United Kingdom became friends and allies. Their culture became intertwined with our culture. From Sherlock Holmes to 007 to the Beatles to Middle Earth to Harry Potter, it often became difficult to determine where one culture began and the other ended. (Americans would not wait patiently for hours on end without a squabble for anything yet alone a funeral procession.)

One driving force in this new-found friendship was the sharing of a common enemy – Germany in World War I, Nazi Germany in World War II, and the Soviet Union in World War III, the Cold War. In this face of common enemies that threatened us, the bloody differences of the American Revolution and the War of 1812 become secondary, part of the past we could move beyond. Now the same issue faces the members of the British Empire now Commonwealth.

THE QUEEN IS DEAD: WHY SHOULD I MOURN?

In the United States, Frederick Douglass famously asked what the Declaration of Independence should mean to him. Yet despite the horrors of slavery in the United States, he never abandoned his American identity. A similar situation arises now for individuals and countries which once were part of the British Empire but are no more or which have the British monarchy as the nominal head of state but contemplate leaving.

Prince Charles recently experienced some of this feelings in his own visits to the lands/islands of the British Empire. Undoubtedly, once the hoopla of the Queen Elisabeth funeral fades, as King Charles III, he will have to face the new world order within the lands once ruled by Great Britain. He will have to deal with the human cost of imperial rule. The numbers vary tremendously from the 18th-century conflict with the United States and the 19th and 20th century conflicts with the global colonies. The differences in firepower from the former to the latter and between the British and their foes led to the deaths of far more people than in our American Revolution.

Similarly, there was a vast difference in the economic relationships. Back in the 18th century, the United States had little to plunder in comparison with other parts of the Empire especially the sugar from the Caribbean. The opportunity for exploitation was limited.

So today when individuals and countries challenge the British legacy, they have ample grounds to do so. We are at the beginning of a process that may or may not end in healing. As king, there are limits to what Charles III can do. Even beyond his institutional power, he lacks the international appeal of his children and their spouses. Nonetheless, collectively they have an opportunity to re-cast the relationship between the countries of the former British Empire. Whether they will try and whether they will succeed if they do try remains to be seen.

PAKISTAN

As the United States entered the global arena, it found it had shared interests with the Mother Country. Those interests continued to develop and strengthen over the course of the 20th century. It reached the point that one took for granted that the American President would attend the funeral for the Queen whose country fought us twice.

A new enemy may bring together the countries of the British Empire in ways no one anticipated. Pakistan was part of the Crown Jewel of the Empire, the Indian subcontinent that caused the Suez Canal to be built. Unfortunately, Pakistan has been in the news for all the wrongs reasons in recent weeks as well. The unimaginable damage and destruction from flooding makes sheer survival the number one challenge for country. Other parts of the former British Empire especially islands similarly are facing catastrophes on an unprecedented scale.

Truly it may be said in a time of climate change, we are all in this together. While not everyone has heard and absorbed the message, the high temperatures, droughts, and floods make it increasingly necessary for people both to live in the real world and to work together. Just as We the People learned to live with and become partners with our former adversary, so too it will become necessary for the countries of the former British Empire to learn to work together. I predict that when we celebrate the declaration of our independence from Great Britain, the latter will participate in the ceremony just as the President of the United States did in the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. One hopes that in the face of this new global threat, the same will be true for the lands Britain ruled and the country that ruled them.

Sense of Place versus the Ivory Tower: The American Revolution 250th

Saratoga County has a funded American Revolution 250th Commission

There are multiple ways through which one can approach the American Revolution. In this blog. I wish to address the sense of place in contrast to the ivory tower. The sense of place approach draws on the fact that we are physical beings with a sense of touch. Being connected to the land, a community, and place in history is important. If you ever have as seen a person make an effort to take a picture of history marker all by itself, then you know what I mean.

Whereas sense of place programs are based on the place where it happened, the ivory tower program is not. It does not even need to be in-person except for the fact that we are physical beings and the need to be in contact with other people is essential to who we are. That being said, an ivory tower conference can be anywhere. Think of how many conferences on peoples from around the world and in ancient times can be held at a location far removed from where those people live or lived. American Revolution conferences frequently are held in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia because of their role in the American Revolution and they have colleges and historical organizations without attendees visiting a fort or a battlefield.

In this blog, I wish to cover three current sense of place programs and one ivory tower program:

1. Fort Plain Museum American Revolution Conference in the Mohawk Valley last month which I did attend
2. Fort Ticonderoga Seminar on the American Revolution in September which I am planning to attend
3. Battle of Saratoga “America’s Turning Point,” the new 250th commission created by Saratoga County about a battlefield where I have had multiple teacher programs in the past
4. Unrepresented Voices of the American Revolution, an ivory tower conference in Boston which I was unable to attend and which was not on-line.

FORT PLAIN MUSEUM CONFERENCE     

For this conference, I am going to draw on the conference report written by Nancy Spannaus of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society. I met her at the conference and did not know she would be writing a ten-page summary of the presentations. Wouldn’t it be great if someone did that at all history conferences? To read her report click here.

The conference did tend to focus on the military and the bus tour was to sites where American Revolution battles were fought. Although the Oneida, America’s first ally, and the Seneca were involved in these battles no presenters were from these or any Haudenosaunee people. There will be a conference this fall on William Johnson.

The conference is an extraordinary event. In boxing terms, Norm Bollen and Brian Mack of the Fort Plain Museum are punching above their weight. In addition to creating this annual conference and tour off the beaten trail, they have successfully created on-line book store focusing on the American Revolution. They have ambitious plans for expanding the museum and are dedicated to bringing tourists into a part of the Mohawk Valley people tend to drive through without stopping. They deserve a great deal of credit for what they have been able to accomplish. One hopes that if the National Commission gets it acts together and if there is a viable New York State commission and if there is real funding including for events after 1776, they will get the institutional support they deserve. The small communities would benefit enormously from increased tourist visitation.

In the meantime, the conference organizers plan on following the timeline. Each year’s conference from this point forward will focus on the events of that year 250 years ago. I have suggested that approach in a couple of blogs and of the need for national history organizations to help show the way but so far to no avail.

FORT TICONDEROGA CONFERENCE

Fort Ticonderoga is holding its 18th American Revolution Conference this September (they prefer the term “seminar”). The fort itself recently passed its own bicentennial as a non-fort site when William Ferris Pell purchased it in 1820. In olden days, I attended conferences there in a giant (heated) tent. I then watched the construction/archaeological excavation of what is now the Mars Education Center, a sign of the money that has been behind some of the changes with more to come.

The conference this year is overwhelming military. There are sessions about tactical prowess, raids, armed camps, and imperialism. Women are present but in a military context:

“Jane McCrea, Women and War: Gender and Violence in the Revolution’s Northern Front”

“The Infamous Conduct of a few Abandoned Miscreants”: Sexual Violence committed by Continental Soldiers towards American Women.

Fort Ticonderoga does conduct battle re-enactments. For example, this weekend:

Battle Reenactment: 1759 Siege of Carillon

 Don’t miss the epic two-day 1759 Siege of Carillon Battle Reenactment, July 23-24, as Fort Ticonderoga recreates this dramatic 1759 battle for the first time since 2011! Through a combination of demonstrations, vignettes, and battle reenactments, visitors will experience the British advance for Lake George, pushing through stiff French resistance to gain a foothold upon the previous year’s battlefield, overlooking the French-held fort. Become immersed in this 18th-century siege; featuring the constant roar of cannon, beginning on the actual day French guns began firing from Fort Carillon in 1759.

 Each day tells a different story as visitors see the burning fuse of the Fort’s destruction, the final French sortie at the British lines, and evacuation by water in an action packed Sunday.

A sense of place is very much a part of the American Revolution and French and Indian War programs at Fort Ticonderoga.

SARATOGA

Saratoga is different from Forts Plain and Ticonderoga in that it is a battlefield and not a fort. In fact it isn’t even in Saratoga today. In the past IHARE has had weekend Teacherhostels/Historyhostels at the location as well as including it as part of a more extended program on Forts of the Empire State. Outside the town visitor center there was/is a statue to Solomon Northup but back then his name did not mean anything to me.

The IHARE program combined talks on the Battle of Saratoga and its place in the American Revolution. Then we would walk (and drive) the grounds of the battlefield itself. I ended with a canal/river cruise not because it was directly related to the American Revolution but because it was a nice way to end the program. We disembarked from Schuylerville after visiting the NPS Schuyler House and climbing the Arnold-less Victory Monument.

As best I recall, The National Park Service did not have an annual Battle of Saratoga conference comparable to those at Forts Plain and Ticonderoga.

However, things may be changing for the American Revolution 250th. The County has just launched a program called “America’s Turning Point” in recognition of the battle there.

Never before in world history had a British Army surrendered until October 17, 1777 when General John Burgoyne and his army, cold, starving, and battered from their defeat at the Battle of Bemis Heights, surrendered to General Gates and his Patriot army at Saratoga in what is now known as the Turning Point of the American Revolution.

As part of the effort, the County has created an appropriately numbered commission of 13 people. The Commission will be responsible for making it happen. Members include the County Historian Lauren Roberts – Yes, Saratoga County is one of the New York State counties with an historian! Various other representatives from the history community are included on the Commission. Politicians are not ignored either: Town of Saratoga Supervisor, Town of Stillwater Supervisor where the battlefield is located, Saratoga County Administrator and the Chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. I hope one of the remaining two openings will be filled by a teacher or someone from a school system.

The Commission launches its public face this July 19th through 24th with a tent at the Saratoga County Fair. There will be a parade August 7th in Schuylerville and a living history teacher workshop October 28th. To support this effort, the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors committed $150,000. This is in one county! Clearly Saratoga is hitting the ground running now in 2022 and not waiting for the state or federal government to get their acts together.

Massachusetts Historical Society: Underrepresented Voices of the American Revolution (July 14-15, 2022)

The lead up to the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence offers an opportunity to highlight the latest scholarship on underrepresented voices of the American Revolution. This conference will bring together scholars to explore the broad themes associated with those not traditionally considered in discussing the American Revolutionary Era. Additionally, this conference will serve both scholars and K-12 educators by providing a platform to consider how the classroom serves as a key site of historical representation. Teachers will be invited to attend the traditional academic sessions, and scholars in turn will be invited to participate in a concluding teacher workshop at the end of the conference (July 16).

As the title of the conference suggests, this conference by America’s oldest historical society is not one based on a sense of place. It is an intellectual conference intending to give voice to those voices not traditionally heard. I was unable to attend the conference in Boston in-person and it was not on-line. The settings for the conference were an historical society and college in Boston, a quite different setting from the forts and battlefields in the New York State programs.

The panel sessions attest the fulfillment of the vision stated above. It includes sessions I would have like to have attended and I don’t know if any of the presentations will be available to non-attendees. The Massachusetts Historical Society does have a robust schedule of programs on an ongoing basis and does an excellent job of making the recordings available on line.

To illustrate the focus of conference, here are the non-military sessions:

1. Underrepresented Voices in the Archives
2. New Perspective on Loyalism – there will be a NYC Loyalist militia presentation at Fort Ticonderoga
3. The Non-Human Revolution
4. Gendered Loyalties
5. Imperial Borderlands – there will be a borderlands presentation at Fort Ticonderoga
6. Southern Revolution Worlds – it is not about white people
7. Claiming Exodus: Jews, Black Protestants, and Revolutionary Religious Freedom
8. Indian Sovereignty and the Revolution – earlier this week I participated in a two-day NMAI webinar specifically on the subject of Indian Sovereignty but not on the Revolution
9. Reconsidering Revolutionary New England.

If the schedule had been different or the Boston conference was available online, I would have attended both the sense of place and ivory tower American Revolution events. I wonder how many other people would have attended both. We may have a “failure to communicate” here. During the 250th, it is easy to imagine a slew of silo events and programs speaking to separate audiences who do not interact. One group will not be current with scholarship and the other will ignore the fact that a real war was fought at real places that can be visited today.

The Meanings of Independence: A Conference by the American Philosophical Society

This review of the state of the American Revolution 250th continues with a free conference held by the David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society.

The conference aims to be unlike a traditional scholarly conference. Instead of scholars presenting scholarly papers to a scholarly audience, we hope to bring together public intellectuals, scholars, leaders of cultural organizations and government agencies, and other thought leaders who have an interest in the Revolution and its commemoration in 2026. We plan to draw a large in-person and online audience that represents this cross-section of individuals along with members of the public and educators. Our hope is that by bringing this diverse group of people together, attendees may be able to network with others and perhaps lay the foundation for collaborations that will bear fruit in 2026.

In the session entitled “Slavery, Race & Revolution” the following paper was presented with printed copies available to the registrants.

“’Cruel war against human nature itself’: Understanding the American Revolution’s Impact on Slavery within the Context of Imperial Governance” by Holly Brewer (University of Maryland)

The importance of this paper is the effort to place the American Revolution within the context of the British imperial system. Britain had 40 colonies and slavery was legal in all of them [Note – other presenters used other numbers.] The slave population reached 80% in some cases. Yet as we know, only 13 colonies rebelled.

Brewer examined the legal policies regarding slavery throughout the empire. She referenced a project which now can be accessed at Slavery, Law & Power.

SLP (Slavery, Law, and Power) is a project dedicated to bringing the many disparate sources that help to explain the long history of slavery and its connection to struggles over power in early America, particularly in the colonies that would become the United States. Going back to the early English Empire, this project traces the rise of the slave trade along with the parallel struggles between monarchical power and early democratic institutions and ideals. We are creating a curated set of documents that help researchers and students to understand the background to the fierce struggles over both slavery and power during the American Revolution, when questions of monarchical power, consent to government, and hereditary slavery were all fiercely debated. After America separated from Britain, the United States was still deeply influenced by this long history, especially up to the Civil War. The colonial legacies of these debates continued to affect the course of politics, law, and justice in American society as a whole.

The following day the session on “Contesting Power & Authority in the Age of Revolutions” again with printed copies available to the registrants included:

“Sigenauk’s War of Independence: New Indian Leadership and the Struggle for Autonomy in the Revolutionary Borderlands” by John Nelson (Texas Tech University)

Sigenauk is probably not a name familiar to most students of the American Revolution. One reason is because of the variations in his name in the French, Spanish, British, and American sources. His very inclusion in multiple archives attests the multiple peoples both Indian and European with whom he came in contact both peacefully and violently. He challenged British authority in the Great Lakes region and dealt with factions among his own people. He reminds us of the geographical range of the American Revolution beyond the eastern coastal area, a theme to which other presenters would return. Whereas the previous paper sought to place the American Revolution within the context of the global British Empire, this one situates it among the range of peoples present in the interior of the continent and of the need to know their names, that is, not make blanket stereotypical assumptions about the positions of two-dimensional beings but to recognize that individuals and peoples need to understood in their own right.

The final paper I saw that day was

“the disagreeable situation in between the Civil in the Military’: Prisoners of War and Local Governance in the American Revolution” by Susan Brynne Long (University of Delaware).

This paper focused on one of the more disagreeable aspects of war, in this case, the prisoners of war. The traditional focus on battles often obscures what happens afterwards. Both sides took captives. This paper was not about the infamous prison ships in New York harbor that caused more deaths than the battles but on the reverse, the prisoners held by the Americans. The people captured by the Americans tended to be scattered among small isolated communities which acted on their own or under conflicting authorities.

One particular area of interest to me not in this presentation is for the prisoners who chose to remain here after the war. I am referring to the Hessians held in ethnically-German areas in Pennsylvania. They intermarried, became patriotic Americans, and created descendants with conflicting stories to tell about their ancestors being on the wrong side on the birth story of the country they now call home.

Opening Keynote: Meanings of Independence

This one hour and 12 minute session can be viewed by clicking here. The participants included:

Scott Stephenson (President and CEO, Museum of the American Revolution)
Anthea Hartig (Elizabeth MacMillan Director, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution)
Christy Coleman (Executive Director, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation)
Moderator: Patrick Spero (Librarian and Director, Library & Museum of the American Philosophical Society)

The questions posed by the moderators to the panelists included:

When you think of the Declaration of Independence what one word comes to mind?

One answer by Anthea Hartig that stood out for me was considering the meaning to people outside the United States. I would add that when we think of the image of the country as a city on a hill that eyes of the world are on, the words Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1776 never occurred to John Winthrop in 1630 when he wrote them. Like thinking of the many colonies of Britain which did not revolt, we would be remiss in our attempt to understand the Declaration if we ignore its impact on the rest of the world as well as to generations to come in the United States.

She also noted the concerns raised by teachers vising the National Museum of American History over what they are allowed to teach now given state regulations.

What does success for 2026 look like?  

Hartig drawing on her inner Benjamin Franklin replied a democracy if you can keep it. In this regard the 250th faces a challenge the Centennial and Bicentennial did not. This anniversary is occurring as our latest civil war threatens to tear the country apart.

As Christy Coleman said in response to a question from the audience, the framers did not expect their creation to last for 250 years. In response to the moderator question, she mentioned Spanish and Sephardic Jews as people who have been let out of the narrative. She added that there is nothing wrong with talking pride in what the founders accomplished while simultaneously recognizing not to stop there. In her answer to the previous question she noted the wonderful concepts at our founding and referred to the American experience as a journey meaning not a fixed point in time.

The next day began with a panel on Experiences of Revolution with:

Adrienne Whaley (Director of Education and Community Engagement, Museum of the American Revolution)
Lauren Duval (The University of Oklahoma)
Michael Galban (Curator for the Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan State Historic Site) [unable to attend]
Moderator: Robert Parkinson (SUNY Binghamton)

This two hour session is available online by clicking here.

Again, I am not recapping the entire session but highlighting some ideas that stood out to me.

Richter observed that there were multiple wars of independence. By this he meant that besides our American Revolution there were multiple Indian nations also seeking independence from European rule. Other presenters expressed the same idea.

Whaley brought up the importance of telling stories through individuals. She returned to that theme in the Q&A by commenting that teachers on the ground are hungry for these stories as are their students. She said our stories are civics meaning they touch on ideals as well as personal lives. Since we are a storytelling species, it seems logical to me that one of the most effective ways to reach the public will be through stories about individuals. People relate to stories.

The Q&A raised some pertinent questions:

1. Where is military history? – this theme has been raised before in my blogs and will be again so I am just noting that it was asked for now.
2. What resources will be available in 2026? – this topic was the subject of a previous blog on the state of the National Commission. It will be addressed in a forthcoming blog on a report just issued by the AASLH on the state of the 250th.

Whaley responded with the critical point of the challenge to smaller organizations that do not have the resources to get their message out. I have mentioned this concern several times as well. I will return to it in a blog on a national history organization census just completed by AASLH. It highlights the number of small volunteer history organizations throughout the country.

3. A community college teacher commented that she was shocked at what must be happening at the k-12 level given the knowledge of her students.

The next session was War and the Revolution. The panelists were:

David Waldstreicher (The Graduate Center, CUNY)
Rebecca Brannon (James Madison University)
Kieran O’Keefe (George Washington University)
Moderator: Brendan McConville (Boston University)

The one hour and thirteen minute session can be viewed here.

There are multiple points of interest to recount from this session.

1. the participants in the American Revolution referred to it as a civil war.
2. the local fighting was often out of control of the national armies.
3. the question of the impact of photographs [the internet, disinformation] was asked if that technology had existed [as it did during the Civil War].
4. the shock of the French fleet appearing in New England as our allies to people who remembered the French and Indian War.
5. the issue of how do we (northerners) include the South in the story?

This last item is one of particular interest to me. Typically people refer to marginalized peoples in the national narrative as told by white men. What this simplified vision ignores was that in the 19th century these white men tended to be from Massachusetts — does the word “Harvard” ring a bell — so there were plenty of white men left out of or minimized in the “Harvard” version of the American Revolution.

The next session was The Revolution Beyond its Borders with panelists:

Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy (Saunders Director, Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello)
Kathleen DuVal (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Ashli White (University of Miami)
Moderator: Eliga Gould (University of New Hampshire.

The one hour and five minute session can be viewed here.

Duval noted that boundaries were not clear then. 13 was not yet a magic number and there was no sea-to-shining-sea country. The frequently-overlooked Spain had increased its colonial holdings and defeated the British in battles such as at Mobile and Pensacola. She, too, observed that multiple wars of independence were occurring including among competing Indian nations. The maps that show only a sliver of the continent in 1783 are deceptive.

Duval presented other information that is directly relevant. Spain and the Indians now had a joint enemy – the need to stop the “plague of locusts.” She said the Cherokee national leaders also wanted to be recognized as a nation.  They were aware of the actions taken by the United States. She quoted Onondaga Clear Sky in 1794:

… we are of the same opinion with the people of the Unite States. You call yourselves free and independent. We as the ancient inhabitants of this country and the sovereigns of tis soil say we are equally as free as you or any nation of nations under the sun.

One could add that recent Supreme Court decisions attest the continued issue of authority and the tribal nations. As a reminder the centennial of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 provides a needed opportunity to revisit the questions of sovereignty (What Are You Doing for the Indian Citizenship Act (1924) Centennial?  August 6, 2021). Personally, I would welcome a conference on this topic.

O’Shaughnessy commented on the academic blind spot to doing military history. In so doing, we ignore the significance of a counter-insurgency. One implication of his observation is that if we recognized our own origins in a successful counter-insurgency we would be more likely to recognize its effective potential elsewhere today. Along those lines he compared the failure of the people who told LBJ and King George III that their respective wars were being lost: these leaders only heard what they wanted to hear.

Both O’Shaughnessy and White commented on role of the Caribbean. Why didn’t they rebel too? What about the future revolutions in France and Haiti? One might add the revolt in Jamaica. Another consideration is not just the Loyalists who evacuated New York on November 25, 1783, for Canada, but the southern evacuations to the Caribbean. While we focus on the settlers from England in the 1600s we tend to overlook the settlers from Barbados to the Carolinas and that the Caribbean was their homeland.

At this point, I raised a question in the Chat function about the presenters’ use of the term “America” to mean the United States. Don’t scholars from Central America and South America also use the same word without limiting the meaning to the United States? That led to additional comments in the Chat about when “America” was first used to refer solely to the United States. One registrant referred to a speech in the Nova Scotia Gazette published on May 2, 1775 on this usage. Another chimed in that is interesting that Canadians used the term this early. Another traced the reproduction of the speech back to a London newspaper.

The next-to-last session of the conference was education oriented: Commemorations and Classrooms. The panelists were:

Cindy MacLeod (Superintendent, Independence National Historical Park)
Shaquita Smith (Social Studies Curriculum Specialist, School District of Philadelphia)
Ismael Jimenez (Social Studies Curriculum Specialist, School District of Philadelphia)
Robert Allison (Revolution 250/Suffolk University)
Moderator: Kyle Roberts (Associate Director of Library & Museum Programming, American Philosophical Society)

The one hour and seven minute session can be viewed here.

MacLeod observed that people think history is names, dates, and places. I note this observation is frequently made. On the one hand, it contributes to the high trust people have in museums and organizations presumed to present names, dates, and places. On the other hand, it can be boring too. MacLeod alluded to this perception with her call to make history come alive. As just noted we are a story-telling species hungry for stories about individuals. Does the name Hamilton ring a bell?

Smith put a physical dimension to history. Don’t just put textbooks in front of students. Visit museums. See artifacts. I would add visit the actual sites which was the basic theme of IHARE’s Teacherhostels/Historyhostels.

Smith deplored the current battle with the internet. Students go online first. They do not know how to fact check. They do not know how to analyze multiple sources. We are not winning the battle.

Jimenez reiterated the point: to students history is facts and dates. He added the many Americans could not pass the citizenship test which is an indictment of our education system. His students are shocked that the BOSTON MASSACRE was five deaths – more than that can occur at a high school [or July 4 parade] today! His Philadelphia students do not know why the local professional basketball team is named the 76ers. He sees America as unraveling and the need for a new narrative. He states we are not winning the conversation with older adults on history research. Given the emphasis by the national commissions on celebrating the 250th in Philadelphia mentioned in previous blogs, these comments by a Philadelphia teacher on the disconnect between his students and the American Revolution are disturbing.

Allison was just as disturbing. History is an inquiry into the past but we are not doing a good job of informing the public. He pointed out that 8th grade may be the last time students learn about American history in a school environment. He does not say so, but what exactly are the thinking skills in an 8th grader anyway? The maturation process continues to age 25 on average but the cutoff for history classes requiring thinking is at age 13!

In the Q&A, some of the comments were:

1. what do we do when we are not a wealthy history museum?
2. scholarship is not trickling down
3. getting a state commission passed for the 250th is difficult and there are grudges in the state history community (Jonathan Lane, Massachusetts)
4. historians do not necessarily know how to talk to people (meaning non-academics).

Closing Keynote: Reflections on the Past; Ideas for the Future

Alan Taylor (University of Virginia)
Mary Beth Norton (Cornell University)
Moderator: Serena Zabin (Carleton College)

The one hour fifteen minutes session can be viewed here. Each panelist spoke separately followed by a Q&A.

Norton recalled that on her first visit to the Yorktown battlefield it was a Civil War site. Now it has become an American Revolution one. She also recalled her own pioneering work on women in the American Revolution and noted that the segregated study of women exists. As for her own students at Cornell, they would have been Loyalists!

Taylor joined the chorus of scholars realizing that we are not connecting that well with the general public. He said this was a fraught moment for the Republic. Historians need to contribute positively to overcoming the danger. He said the assumption that the next generation of Americans could be shaped through government mandates has created a burden for teachers. He, too, noted that the national myth is unraveling and he didn’t know what to do. Most distressing, don’t you think to hear this from a leading American historian?

In response to the question of the moderator, Taylor elaborated on his presentation above. He said scholars need to listen and not just tell people which is a turnoff. The other side doesn’t expect us to listen to them since to them we are elitists. Compromise was not possible. Purism has become the goal … and it can get worse.

One question from the audience was a statement: if you wanted to have the South in the Union then the United States had to have slavery, an issue noted in a previous session (above).

That statement about slavery is historically accurate but unacceptable to many people today. As we get closer and closer to 2026, more and more people will say the Great Compromise that made the Constitution possible should have been rejected – the compromise with slavery should not have been accepted. We should have been “pure.” It would have been better if the country had failed and divided into its constituent parts. Then there would have been no Civil War since the Union and the Confederacy already would have existed. Then the third civil war would not be fought today since the red and blue states already would have been divided into the Blue and Grey countries.

So far at least, all the planning for the 250th, however meager it may be, is still based on our being a single country in 2026.

Controversy at the United States Semiquincentennial Commission

Semiquincentennial Commission (Wikipedia)

In my last blog, I began to explore the current situation regarding the American Revolution 250th.  I laid out certain parameters and begin to write about them one-by-one. The response was pretty good as I think the history community wants to know what is going on with the 250th.

However, my proposed sequence has been upset by an expose on the fighting at the national level about the event. The article will be published in Philadelphia Magazine in the July issue as “The Battle for America’s Birthday.” I was sent a web link to the online version posted on the magazine’s website June 27, 2022, with the title “The Ugly Philly Centric Feud at the Center of America’s 250th Birthday Celebration” by David Murrell. The article was a shock which is why I am sharing it with the history community

BACKGROUND

Readers of my blogs generally are aware that Congress established a national commission in 2016 called the United States Semiquincentennial Commission. Since that time, the Commission has operated generally below the radar. Few people have had much contact with it or know what it has been doing.

So far the primary consideration for history organizations has been that it will be the dispenser of funding through the conduit of state organizations. This is partially why the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) has been so adamant about tracking and promoting the creation of state commissions throughout the country. Besides being a good idea anyway, they will be essential for federal funding at the state and local level.

Two national concerns have been expressed by me and others in relation to this approach.

First, the Commission has an expiration date following the July 4, 2026, celebration. For many states, such as in New York, the 250th anniversaries of events in our states will just be beginning then. For example New Yorkers only toppled the statue of King George III after the Declaration was read in what is now lower Manhattan. The British then occupied the city for seven years until Evacuation Day on November 25, 1783. In other words, the Commission concludes just when the story is accelerating.

Second, many American Revolution events are not bound by state boundaries today. Think of Rochambeau’s March from Rhode Island to Virginia involving nine states and opportunities to work with France today. Note – a sixth generation descendant of Rochambeau already has visited the Odell House in Westchester County where I live, the site where the decision was made to march south instead of trying to evict the British from New York City. The state-based approach is not geared to multi-state events.

In short there were a lot of questions about the operation of the Commission even before this article appeared.

THE PHILADELPHIA ANNIVERSARIES

In 2011, Andrew Hohns founded USA250. It was and is a non-profit dedicated simultaneously to a nationwide celebration of the 250th and that it be based in Philadelphia, his city. He envisioned not simply a party but a massive investment worthy of a summer Olympics. Instead of sports venues, the funding would be directed towards infrastructure improvements and historical preservation with longterm benefits. He estimated a minimal budget of $2.5 billion but would have preferred $20.26 billion. Clearly he thinks big!

Philadelphia certainly seems to be a worthy choice for an historic anniversary celebration. It is where the Declaration of Independence was written, approved, and declared. It has buildings and a bell from that time. It hosted the Centennial in 1876, the Sesquicentennial in 1926, and the Bicentennial in 1976 which some of the readers of this blog may have attended. The Centennial cost $300 million in current dollars and had an attendance of 10 million people equal to 25% of the population of the country. Imagine 80 million people pouring into Philadelphia today! How would they travel to the city and around the city? Where would they stay? What would they see?

It is reasonable to understand why a local Philadelphian would dream big about 2026, but that is not the same as operating a national history commission today.

SEARCHING FOR A COMMISSION PARTNER

In 2014, the USA250 had a fulltime executive director. It had provisional funding commitments from major corporations like Walmart and Johnson & Johnson. As a private non-profit, it seemed on its way to bigger and better things. So when the Commission began in 2018 to search for the official non-profit partner, Hohns expected his entity would be the chosen one.

Wrong. Instead the Commission chose the American Battlefield Trust. I get their emails. It does just what its name suggests – it seeks to acquire, restore, and maintain battlefields. Traditionally these battlefields are from the Civil War. There is nothing in its history that would suggest it is the right organization to steer the celebration of the 250th either in Philadelphia or nationally. Apparently, the organization soon realized it and bowed out. This led to the creation of the American250 Foundation and it and not the USA250 remains the partner as of today.

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY

The article details the members of the voluntary Commission. The appointees tended to be white males as one might expect even in the Obama era. They also tended to be from Pennsylvania. Then in 2019, the aforementioned America250 Foundation was created as a non-profit tasked with running the day-to-day planning for the 250th. According to the article the story of the American250 Foundation is not a pretty one. This foundation operates without effective supervision, no one is in charge, has contentious on-line meetings where the mute button is used prominently, awards non-competitive contracts to “consultant” friends, to say nothing of a sexist and toxic work environment. And this was only with the first $20 million of federal funding. Naturally, there have been lawsuits.

In 2021, Anna Laymon who had been executive director of the federal commission of the women’s suffrage centennial, took the position of Vice President of programming and planning. She had heard that the American250 Foundation “had a reputation for being a total disaster” as quoted in the article.  She soon learn the warnings were justified as detailed in the article as well.

According to Commissioner Noah Griffin who had been appointed by House Speaker Nancy Peolosi, “The whole thing has basically been a sham.”

Rene Burchard who was hired in April 2020 as the chief administrative officer without there being a coherent organization to administer, said absent leadership changes at the Federal Commission, “I do not see any way that this is going to be what the vision was in the beginning.”

Later in 2021, Joe Daniels who had been the CEO of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City (and on my NYC distribution list), became CEO.

According to the article Hohns worries that the Semiquincentennial risks being still born years before it’s even set to begin. That comment signifies a lack of concern for the events prior to July 4, 1776, as well as afterwards. I guess the Boston Tea Party and Lexington and Concord are not part of Hohns thinking either. There is no sense of addressing what the national narrative should be for the 21st century. There is no sense that what increasingly is understood as America’s first civil war is relevant today as we fight the third one. Who knows if there even will be a united United States of America with the current 50 states on July 4, 2026, anyway?

My suggestion that Joe Biden name George Bush and Barack Obama as co-chairs of the federal commission seems better and better. For now, local and state organizations should think about Plan B. Nationally, it seems like we are on the Titanic with the iceberg dead ahead in broad daylight and we are aimed at it.

Day 4 The House Select Committee and the American Revolution 250th

Don't throw ketchup on my wall! - The true testimony of President Harrison Ford

The actions of the House Select Committee have ripple effects beyond the simple “who done it?” investigations. Before turning to its meaning for the American Revolution 250th, I must digress to an image from the sixth and most recent session. When you heard the story of the President of the United States grabbing for first the steering wheel of the car and then the clavicle of the Secret Agent sworn to protect him, what images crossed your mind?

The first image that came to my mind was not of the immature child-president who throws ketchup on the wall but the heroic President Harrison Ford in Air Force One. He memorably says “Get off of my plane” as he dispatches the Russian foe who had been aided by a traitor Secret Service agent. The other image was of Clint Eastwood wrestling with a renegade Secret Service agent who placed loyalty to the President over loyalty to the Constitution in Absolute Power. I know The Godfather was mentioned numerous times by commentators. When I wrote my first political thriller blog back on January 3, 2021, I had no idea what was to happen.

JIMMY STEWART

Another movie image which has been mentioned was the comparison to Jimmy Stewart in Day 4 of the hearings. The actual person testifying was Rusty Bowers, Republic Speaker of the House of Representatives in Arizona. He came across as a tall dignified taciturn person who delivered the plain-spoken truth. His delivery was to the point of the questions posed to him. He spared no one and nothing in his answers.

Bowers did prove the value of bringing a gun to a gun fight rather than a plastic spoon as the Democrats do. One of his exchanges involved Rudy Giuliani, one the people sure to be indicted by the Department of Justice for his role in the insurrection. Giuliani professed to have information about voter fraud in Arizona. Bowers calmly replied words to the effect of “Show me the evidence.” Bowers called for Giuliani to present the names of the alleged fraudulent voters. Needless to say, Giuliani never provided such evidence because there is no such evidence.

This exchange illustrates the exact technique Democrats should deploy against every claim of a stolen election. Democrats should be challenging every individual Trumpican to “show me the names” every time any of them say the election was stolen. Then they should repeat the charge the next day. Everyone who claims the election was stolen and who is an elected official or running for office should be challenged every day to “show me names” until they shut up or decide to name names as Trump did twice in Georgia.

Bowers elicited two unexpected responses in his exchange with Giuliani. The first is the destined to be repeated in legal and political circles for years to come:

We’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence.

The second is one that has been overlooked as far as I can tell. The President then urged his lawyer to comply with the request of Bowers. Why did he do that? Did he think that Giuliani really had such evidence and that it would be routine to provide it? In other words, had he fallen for his own con and convinced himself that such evidence really existed? Was he completely susceptible to every claim Giuliani made whereas he repeatedly rejected the words of Barr and everyone else who told him truth? I think a case can be made that by that time he had drunk his own Kool Aid and had become a permanent resident of Coo Coo Land.

One other comment of Bowers stands out for non-legal reasons. Bowers believes the Constitution is “divinely inspired.”

I do not want to be a winner by cheating. I will not play with laws I swore allegiance to.

For Bowers to be asked to violate his oath to this sacred document was “foreign to my very being.” Even though Donald Trump asked him to violate his oath to the Constitution, Bowers still said he would vote for Trump in 2024 (although he apparently hopes he has an alternative in a robust primary).

Back home, local papers reported on the reaction to the testimony by the Republican Speaker of the House.

Thank Rusty Bowers, but remember these Arizona politicians who tried to thwart democracy
Laurie Roberts Arizona Republic June 21 2022

On one hand, Bowers has been the recipient of cheers in the airport for standing up to Trump. In Arizona the politicians who were complicit in the fake electors scheme and who support Trump’s effort to steal the election denounce him as a RINO. As we just saw in elections last night in Colorado and Mississippi, in some districts at least there still are enough Republicans to outvote Trumpicans in primaries. We will have to wait and see if Arizona is an insurrection state that will rig the vote in 2024.

AMERICAN REVOLUTION 250th CELEBRATION/COMMEMORATION

In a blog on the American Revolution 250th (American Revolution 250th Update June 24, 2022), I wrote about “Foundations of Independence Protest and Communication in Revolutionary America, 1770-2020” conference by Iona College and the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies. I reported that one concept gaining traction is to view the 250th as a time of commemoration and not celebration. There is a need to include the negative aspects of the American Revolution that have been marginalized. What is not clear is why living in a society that can face negative aspects in its history and revise a national narrative is not cause for celebration as presenter Zara Anishanslin, University of Delaware, had suggested. Exactly how many countries do this anyway – expand this national narrative to be more inclusive? The story of the American Revolution should be contextualized. It would be disappointing if the 250th ended up only being a series of parades according to one speaker.

One hopes that part of the contextualization will include comparing the United States at its birth with the rest of the world. How many large multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious countries with no slavery and where all adults could vote and live freely based on their sexual orientation were there in 1776 or 1787 or today? How much did the Declaration of Independence contribute to the very words and ideals later expressed in subsequent social and political movements?

At this point I am drawn to the comments of Bowers. He referred to the Constitution as “divinely inspired.”

Did any of the presenters as this conference share that perception?
Do academics have any sympathy, empathy, or sensitivity for Americans who share such views?
Are academics more likely to refer to the shortcomings in the American Revolution? That America was born in sin? That America needs to redeem itself?

As best I recall, in all the conferences I have attended online or in-person or lectures I have heard both by individuals and history organizations including national ones, there is no one who is reaching out to people who think the Constitution is divinely inspired. My prediction is that the 250th will be weaponized into another culture war conflict between the Woke who disparage America and the Trumpicans who abuse it with the people on Team Normal being ignored.

American Revolution 250th Update

Is there a place for a "divinely inspired" Constitution in your 250th?

I have returned from the American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley conference run by the Fort Plain Museum and am preparing for the July 4 parade by the Lower Manhattan Historical Association. This seems like a good time to catch up on what has been going on in the world of the American Revolution 250th.

There are four different tracks to consider:

1. American Revolution scholarship – this refers to academics talking to academics about their work on the Revolution.
2. 250th Institutional Conferences – these are meetings which may or may not involve academics but are primarily geared to the institutions which will be offering public programs in conjunction with the 250th or are teaching it in k-12 schools.
3. 250th Public Conferences (and programs) – the Mohawk Valley conference I just attended is an example with presentations by scholars to a general public audience.
4. Tours – these are physical events involving American Revolution sites such as the bus trip as part of the Mohawk Valley program.

This blog will begin to survey some of the programs which I have attended in person or online within this rubric.

AMERICAN REVOLUTION SCHOLARSHIP

One example of this type of program is the “Foundations of Independence Protest and Communication in Revolutionary America, 1770-2020” by Iona College and the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies. I mention it because this past weekend besides Juneteenth there also was short symposium by the Thomas Paine Historical Association and ribbon-cutting for their building approximately one mile from the Iona campus.

Some of the topics discussed and the subsequent Q&A touched on areas which may of interest to the general public:

1. the lack of press coverage then of British atrocities on prisoner of war ships
2. the differences in speed in the dissemination of information then versus today
3. classification of death as due to lunacy and not suicide which was a criminal act as a way for the family to maintain the estate – the position of coroner was an unpaid lawyer and not a doctor who participated in a money-making scheme for the crown.

This blog is not intended to report the entire conference proceedings but sometimes certain items really caught my attention in unexpected ways. One technique employed by presenter Jacqueline Reynoso was to give students a packet of curated newspaper articles on the failed military campaign to capture Quebec at the onset of hostilities. The students then followed the news as the colonists did one article at a time but without knowing the ending. Needless to say, the same teaching technique could be used for the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The newspapers provided the students with the opportunity to think through, speculate, and explore contingencies.  In the Q&A, mention was made of students enjoying the actual touching of replica newspapers versus the more sensory removed digitized newspapers.

Even though this was an academic conference, in the plenary, Zara Anishanslin, University of Delaware stated there was a need to tear down the walls between the academy and the public including historical societies if we are to survive. She also mentioned the often-repeated warning of Benjamin Franklin about our having a republic if we can keep it. These words are eerily relevant as only a few days ago Judge Luttig in his testimony to the House Select Committee claimed there was a clear and present danger resulting from the unprecedented constitutional crisis in the attempt to overthrow the government which had occurred. He warned that it could be repeated in 2024 with 2020 ending up as only a trial run. It is quite possible that the focus of historical attention may shift from the American Revolution period of winning our independence to the period immediately afterword in preserving it. George Washington stepping down from power as a military leader and then as president may become a figure of importance for what happened after 1783 beyond what happened before then.

Anishanslin ended her talk on images of Betsy Ross and Lady Liberty with a musket by urging the audience to think about how we use art and architecture to celebrate, a reminder of how fast images become national given the change in technology.

Lauren Duval, University of Oklahoma, added that the 250th presents a moment to include scholarship on the memory of the American Revolution and an opportunity to reshape how we remember it. On paper the sentiment seems valid. The challenge is how exactly the scholars are to do this without becoming caught up in the culture wars.

That challenge was expressed during the Q&A when the question was asked if it is possible to tell an honest story of the American Revolution that is still celebratory. Anishanslin replied that it is a more exciting story by expanding it. True but here is where the words used and way it is done is critical to determine whether or not the audience will accept the changes to the narrative being expressed by the scholars.

AMERICAN REVOLUTION CELEBRATION/COMMEMORATION

The conference session on the 250th highlighted this challenge. One concept gaining traction is to view the 250th as a time of commemoration and not celebration. There is a need to include the negative aspects of the American Revolution that have been marginalized. What is not clear is why living in a society that can face negative aspects in its history and revise a national narrative is not cause for celebration as Anishanslin suggested. Exactly how many countries do this anyway – expand this national narrative to be more inclusive?

New York State historian Devin Lander observed that New York should not just congratulate itself for the abolition of slavery in 1827, Seneca Falls, and Stonewall. Instead it should ask itself why these events needed to happen in the first place. The story of the American Revolution should be contextualized. It would be disappointing he said if the 250th ended up only being a series of parades.

One hopes that part of the contextualization will include comparing the United States at its birth with the rest of the world. How many large multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious countries with no slavery and where all adults could vote and live freely based on their sexual orientation were there in 1776 or 1787 or today? How much did the Declaration of Independence contribute to the very words and ideals later expressed in subsequent social and political movements?

At this point I am drawn to the comments of Arizona State House Speaker Rusty Bowers. In the fourth session of the House Select Committee hearings, he referred to the Constitution as “divinely inspired.”

Do any of the presenters as this conference share that perception?
Do academics have any sympathy, empathy, or sensitivity for Americans who share such views?
Are academics more likely to refer to the shortcomings in the American Revolution? That America was born in sin? That America needs to redeem itself?

As best I recall, in all the conferences I have attended online or in-person or lectures I have heard both by individuals and history organizations including national ones, there is no one who is reaching out to people who think the Constitution is divinely inspired. My prediction is that the 250th will be weaponized into another culture war conflict between the Woke who disparage America and the Trumpicans who abuse it with the people on Team Normal being ignored.

New York City Council Endorses Donald Trump for President: This Isn’t an April Fools Joke

NYC Public Design Commission calls for toppling statues of slave-owner Ramses II at Abu Simbel (Wikepedia)

In a stunning and surprising move the Public Design Commission in New York City voted to endorse Donald Trump for the presidency in 2024. Amazingly, this action was taken three years before the election. It occurred in a jurisdiction that voted overwhelmingly against him in both 2016 and 2020. One might legitimately wonder why the Commission is so eager to encourage people to vote for Trump.

To answer that question, one should consider two facets of the puzzle: the historical and the political. The decision by the Commission to remove the statue of Thomas Jefferson from the Council chambers is both a political issue for the election itself (and possibly the 2022 Congressional elections as well) and an historical one as America prepares for the 250th anniversary of the signing of a document Jefferson wrote at the birth of the country.

NEW YORK AND THE 250TH ANNIVERSARY

During the 2021 legislative session, the New York State Senate and Assembly authorized the creation of a state commission for the 250th. Besides the obvious historical reasons for such a commission, as a matter of procedure, federal money for the 250th will be distributed through state commissions. Therefore it behooves states to create such commissions.

The bill is waiting for the Governor signature. Under the previous Governor, bills like this one tended to linger until the fourth quarter when they would be authorized. As an example, the bill for the quadricentennial of the non-New York 1619 event was not finally signed until 2020, meaning after the anniversary had occurred. A commission was to be created perhaps to be made public in March, 2020. That also was the time of covid, so in the end there never was a 1619 Quadricentennial Commission in New York.

A similar delay will not occur here. The new Governor obviously is quite busy right now including preparing for her own election campaign in 2022. I have been told that she soon will sign the bill. It definitely is to her advantage to own the 250th as New York was very involved in the American Revolution and in its continued legacy.

In some ways, there is no rush. While the Federal program is gearing towards 2026, things in New York will just be getting started then and will continue until Evacuation Day, November 25, 2033. In fact, the first big event in New York occurred just after July 4, 1776. The event is the toppling of the statue of King George III on July 9, 1776, at Bowling Green, just a few blocks from City Hall and the city council chambers.

So the first big event in New York as part of the 250th will be the response by New Yorkers to the reading of the Declaration of Independence. Undoubtedly this will be a big tourist event. The toppling of the statue will be re-enacted. Perhaps there will even be a convoy to Connecticut where the metal from the bronze statue became bullets for the Patriot army. The only one missing from this Declaration event will be Thomas Jefferson. He will be missing because:

“Jefferson embodies some of the most shameful parts of our country’s history,” said Adrienne Adams, Queens, co-chair Black and Latino caucus, New York City Council.

One possible disposition of the statue under discussion is to the New-York Historical Society. However in response to that suggestion current New York State Assemblyman Charles Barron said:

“I don’t think it should go anywhere. I don’t think it should exist. I think it should be put in storage or destroyed or whatever.”

The physical removal of Thomas Jefferson from the New York City Council chambers is easier than cancelling him from the American Revolution and its legacy. The legacy of the Declaration continued on in the efforts to end slavery in the United States. The legacy of the Declaration continued on in the efforts of white women to gain the same rights as white men. The legacy of the Declaration continues on to this very as an ideal by which to measure ourselves and to bend the arc of history. But not in the New York City Council. Will it cancel George Washington too?

THE POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS

Why do I say the action of the Public Design Commission in New York City is an endorsement of Trump? I certainly do not mean to suggest that the individual members of the Commission support him or want other people to vote for him. I am saying that their actions encourage people to vote for him. The Commission has taken a stand in the culture wars. Not everyone agrees with that decision or supports that side in the culture wars.

At this point there is no reason to pretend that we are not a divided country. We are an intensely polarized country. Masks have been weaponized. Vaccinations have been weaponized. 1619 has been weaponized. The American flag itself has been weaponized. People who fly it or show it or have it painted on a truck are presumed to have a particular political and cultural point of view. In an article entitled “A Fourth of July Symbol that May No Longer Unite”( NYT 7/3/21), the issue of the connection between the flag and a political party was raised. Peter Treiber, a farmer who has a flag painted on his potato truck, often is presumed to have political views which he does not share. He is concerned that the left has all but ceded the flag to the right.

Joe Biden, of course, embraces the flag. But in the Democratic Party, he is the remnant of the dying past and not the wave of the future. One should always keep in mind that he is the only Democrat who could have defeated Trump in 2020 and at this point is the only Democrat with a chance of beating him in 2024. There is no Plan B. Whether Democrats understand that or not is problematical. Whether the Woke care or not is even more problematical.

One should understand the Woke actions of the Public Design Commission in this light. For those toppling, removing, cancelling or whatever Thomas Jefferson, the joy and satisfaction may be fleeting. At the same time the Commission was taking this action, columnist Tom Friedman appeared on CNN. First he appeared on Anderson Cooper and then portions of the interview were replayed by Don Lemon. Clearly they understand the importance of the message Friedman is delivering: “Our next presidential election could well be our last as a shining example of democracy (September 29, 2021, print).

Friedman did not really say anything new, only more emphatically and with greater urgency. His recent op-ed piece asked “Have We Reshaped Middle East Politics or Started to Mimic It? (September 15, 2021, print). We now have Sunnis and Shiites where an “epidemic of tribal political correctness from the left served only to energize the tribal solidarity on the right.” His thinks Democrats are digging themselves into a hole and should stop digging. He defines American as a center-left to center-right country. By contrast the politically-correct-Woke-Progressives are all left all the time. And they communicate in an elitist derogatory manner. Whereas Trumpicans claim the Joe Biden presidency is illegitimate, the Woke claim the country of the United States is illegitimate born in original sin. Far from accepting the advice of Friedman to tone it down, they will instead double down.

The political consequences for the Woke assault on the legitimacy of the United States will be detrimental to the Democrats. It did not help them in 2020 Senate and House elections. The Virginia governorship is at risk this year. It will not help Democrats in the 2022 elections. It already is taken for granted that the Democrats will lose the House of Representatives. Then the January 6 Committee will be replaced by the first of the impeach Joe Biden committees. At the moment the 2020 presidential candidate loser is going like gangbusters within his own party and chomping at the bit to declare his candidacy for 2024. He can smell the blood in the Biden polls.

In the meantime, America’s third civil war rages on. It is being fought at the local level in school districts throughout the country. School Board members are seeking protection. Covid has enabled parents to see online what is being taught in the schools. People can relate to 1619, systemic racism, critical race theory, and diversity-equity-inclusion in their own communities. They can see which party waves the American flag and which does not. They can see which party praises the Founding Fathers and which party topples them. There are plenty of online venues where these issues are being discussed. The front-page headline of my local paper today (October 24) is “Are schools making progress on diversity?” Parents already are voting with their feet to remove children from republic schools and to recall school board members. They are energized.

These issues go right to the gut of voters. America’s greatest con artist can fake being a patriot, the Woke cannot. One should keep in mind that regardless of the vote in 2024, roughly half the country will not accept the results or even agree on the results. The only real issue is what happens then.

The NYS American Revolution 250th Commission: A Big Step Forward

Co-sponsors New York State Senator Shelley Mayer and Assemblymember Carrie Woerner

The New York State American Revolution 250th Commission took a big step forward on June 8, 2021. The New York State Assembly and Senate unanimously passed A4742B/S04410-C the “New York State Two Hundred Fiftieth Commemoration Act.” The bill now goes to the Governor for signing along with a slew of other such bills typically passed in the waning days of the session. Based on precedent, one should not expect a signing until possibly December with some negotiating carrying forward into January. That is what happened with Four Hundred Year Commission for 1619. It finally was signed into law in January 2020 with some changes particularly to the makeup of the Commission before becoming a COVID casualty.

The bill passed this year is a vast improvement over the original bill proposed last session that I wrote about in a previous blog. By tracing the iterations of the bill one can observe how the sausage is made. My understanding is that there were some difficult behind the scene discussions over the specific terms of the bill as will be seen below. It still remains to be seen

1 What bill the Governor will actually sign?
2 Who will be appointed to the Commission?
3 What funding will be provided to implement the vision of the legislation?

In this blog I wish to focus on the Commission, the Indian Nations, and the State Historian through the multiple versions in the 2021 session.

COMMISSION

The original Commission in 2020 consisted of 31 individuals, an unwieldy number. In the first iteration in 2021, the following were removed from the Commission:

1. New York State Military Museum Director
2. Saratoga National Historical Park Superintendent
3. Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership Director
4. Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor Director
5. Maurice D. Hinchey Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area Director
6. Niagara Falls National Heritage Area Director
7. Association of Public Historians of New York President
8. Preservation League of New York State Chairperson
9. Humanities New York Board member.

Instead, a new section was inserted whereby the Commission would “coordinate and consult” with these organization as well as other similar organizations in the “development, planning, promotion, and coordination” of 250th activities. This change creates a more manageable Commission while opening it up to contacting a wider range of organizations.

The new Commission now was to consist to twenty people. Since the reduction of 31 by 9 leaves 22, there appeared to have been a typo. I did point this out to the bill sponsors. While in one version the correction was made to show 22, this discrepancy became moot. The number of members then was reduced to 13, an even more manageable number. Although the number remained at 13 in the final version, the composition of the 13 changed drastically.

To try to track the Commission changes is challenging. It reflects the behind-the-scene wrangling that occurred. One significant change involved the Indian Nations. In the 2020 bill:

a duly designated representative from [each of?] the Cayuga Nation, the Oneida Indian Nation, the Onondaga Indian Nation, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, the Seneca Nation of Indians, the Shinnecock Indian Nation, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, the Tonawanda Band of Seneca, and the Tuscarora Nation;

were part of the 31-member commission. Then in 2021, they were moved to non-voting members of the Commission. At that point the ten regional economic development councils and the commissioner of Empire State Development totally dominated the 13-memebr Commission.

Subsequently the Indian Nations were removed from their observer status on the Commission as well and a new section was added:

The commission shall coordinate and consult with, on a government to government basis, with the Cayuga Nation, the Oneida Indian Nation, the Onondaga Indian Nation, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, the Seneca Nation of Indians, the Shinnecock Indian Nation, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, the Tonawanda Band of Seneca, and the Tuscarora Nation.

Presumably the Commission also will consult on a government-to-government basis with England, Canada, France, Germany, and Poland too.

The State Historian also was removed from observer status to becoming a voting member of the Commission.

Another big change was in dropping a representative from each of the ten regional economic development counsels from the Commission. The head of Empire State Development is on the Commission so there was no need for each of regions to be represented individually. But with the Indian Nations, REDCs, and various organizations removed from the Commission, who is left after the Commission Chair, Department of Education, Empire State Development and the State Historian?

three members shall be appointed by the governor, two members shall be appointed by the temporary [she is still temporary?] president of the senate, two members shall be appointed by the speaker of the assembly, one member shall be appointed by the minority leader of the senate and one member shall be appointed by the minority leader of the assembly, to the extent practicable, these appointments shall include a representative from each of the ten regional economic development councils;

Don’t worry. I am not going to go through the configurations that led to this clause. Now at least the appointees and with professional background from the 2020 bill makes sense. Originally, an appointee had to be a “local government historian, academic historian, museum professional, social studies teacher or professor, tourism professional, archeologist, anthropologist, or [have] other expertise in the field of New York state history and/or historic preservation. Now the qualifications for being an appointee was revised to include “professor,” a positive change. This section about qualifications made no sense to me either without “professor” in the 2020 bill or with “professor” in the 2021 bill. Since all the members were heads of various organizations, there seemed to be no rational purpose in specifying the professional background of the appointees. Now all those organizations have been removed and replaced by political appointees.

There is an opportunity here at least for the Commission to be a history-based one rather than a political-bureaucratic based one. With the 400-Year Commission, the members were selected but the press event never materialized due to COVID so their names were never made public to the best of my knowledge. Those people might provide a precedent for gauging the membership of this new commission. If you know you there were, I would appreciate learning their names.

It is quite possible that as with the 400-Year Commission, the Governor will request more control over the Commission before signing the bill into law. The number on the Commission and the number appointed by the Governor may both change. Undoubtedly there will be more wrangling to come and we may not know the results for months.

COMMISSION ACTIVITIES

What is the Commission actually supposed to do? Here are some relevant clauses about is activities.

1. coordinating forums across the state to seek ideas from the public on the commemoration including how New Yorkers, Americans and those from other countries may celebrate such anniversary;
2. coordinating with civic, educational and heritage organizations to develop public interest and involvement in the planning and development of the commemoration;
3. promoting and encouraging educational outreach programs using media and technology including electronic communications to achieve national and international impact;
4. coordinating the planning of commemorative events for all interested communities throughout the state;
5. inviting other interested states and nations to participate in programs and events for the commemoration;
6. coordinating and promoting the holding of meetings, conferences, seminars and conventions in interested communities using such anniversary as an attraction and theme;
7. seeking funding from private individuals, foundations and corporations to support capital improvements, preservation and conservation needs associated with events and sites commemorating such anniversary;
8. coordinating and cooperating with state entities and tourist promotion agencies, as defined in article five-A of the economic development law;
9. coordinating and cooperating with local, state and federal entities including those relating to heritage area promotion and any federal commission created to participate in planning and development of such anniversary observance.

And if that was not enough, the legislation this year added:

coordinating and promoting the holding of community engagement and educational events in interested communities using such anniversary as an attraction and theme.

Putting the raising of funds aside, who is supposed to do all this promoting and coordinating throughout the state? If you answered the Office of State History, you would be right. “Office” is a euphemism for one person, the State Historian, Devin Lander. The bulk of these activities mean the work he has do to do all by himself.

THE STATE HISTORIAN: WHO IS GOING TO DO THE WORK?

Can the State Historian do what the bill lists as the activities of the Commission? Consider the example of Erika Sanger, Executive Director of the Museum Association of New York (MANY). She just announced a series of fall programs in the ten regions of the state used by MANY. Combined they entail twenty days of travel. Add a spring program and the total is forty days or 8 work-weeks. Now add a statewide conference and the time required to plan all these events and significant portion of the work-year already is locked up.

But regional meetings are not sufficient. The regions are big and attendance is skewed towards where in a region a meeting is held. For example in the Hudson Valley, the lovely Wallace Center in Hyde Park, Dutchess County frequently is used. It is neither the demographic nor geographic center of the region as I first pointed out in the regional Path through History kickoff meeting held January 25, 2013. The attendance reflects that location (I speak from experience). The Mid-Hudson Valley REDC ameliorates that shortcoming by scheduling county meetings for the funding process.

There are 62 counties in the state. One person from Albany cannot hold 62 meetings multiple times per year. However, the division of the state into the ten regions as multiple statewide organizations do provides a solution. The Office of the State Historian needs ten regional assistants. These ten individuals for the American Revolution 250th could be based in the regional offices of the NYSOPRHP or REDC. They would hold county meetings, regional meetings, as well participate in state meetings.

That still leaves a lot do.

The Commission will be consulting with other states such as Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and from Rhode Island to Virginia.

The Commission will be consulting with other countries as noted above.

The Commission will be consulting with AMC. When it four-season show “Turn” on the spy ring in New York aired, Virginia advertised on every show to come to Virginia and see where the Revolution occurred. New York did not advertise at all. We should not make the same mistake when the 250th anniversary of the events depicted in the show occurs. This time we should be ready with advertisements and events so viewers can visit the actually sites of the events they just watched on TV.

Let’s keep in mind that while the 250th is going on there will be other history anniversaries as well

2024 Bicentennial of the return of Lafayette
2024 Centennial of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
2024 Centennial of the Indian Citizenship Act
2025 Bicentennial of Erie Canal
2027 Bicentennial of New York’s “Juneteenth,” 38 years before Texas.

According to the bill’s mission statement:

The legislature further finds that the 250th anniversary and the years proceeding it offers great opportunity to educate and inspire the people of the state to increase recognition and appreciation of New York’s role in the American Revolution and subsequent civil rights struggles as well as the complex nature of the state and nation’s history with regards to 8 the ideals of liberty and freedom. Therefore, it is the intention of the legislature to establish a commission for planning and development for the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution in New York state to take place in coordination with the national celebration.

If we are serious about fulfilling that mission, then we need to be serious about the staff and funding required and not let it become another Amistad Commission (The New York State Amistad Commission: Do Black Lives Matter?, January 18, 2016).

AMERICAN REVOLUTION 250th

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.

DEBATING MARY BETH NORTON, Former President AHA

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.

SIGNS, STATUES, AND MEMORIALS

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.

SPEAKERS BUREAU AND CALENDAR

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.

History Legislation Update

New York State Capitol (New York Senate)

The State budget has been passed. There is light at the end of tunnel. The world is opening up. What better time to look at history-related legislation and see what has happened during the lost year! Below lower are various bills identified by their Senate number and a description. The major new one concerns the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution. Some of the older ones relate to anniversaries from 1619 to Juneteenth.

S9031 American Revolution 250th Commission

This proposed bill has been in the Senate Rules Committee since October 5, 2020. Creating this Commission is a prerequisite for federal funding which will be funneled through state commissions. The bill provides detailed definition of terms and the specifications of 31 people identified by function or position for the commission. The people include

– Commissioner of the Commission
– Commissioner of the Department of Education
– President of Empire State Development plus representatives of the ten regions
– Director of New York State Military Museums
– 5 directors of heritage parks and areas
– 9 representatives of various Indian Nations
– Humanities New York
– Association of Public Historians of New York State
– Preservation League of New York State.

Responsibilities include but are not limited to:

– conduct historical, economic, and cultural studies
– conduct education programs
– make recommendations on heritage organizations, historical signs, and monuments
– protect and promote the heritage resources.

There will be federal funding and funding from the State as well one presumes. The expiration date for the Commission is December 31, 2033. That date means the last major event probably will be Evacuation Day, November 25, 2033 in lower Manhattan. Just when events in Massachusetts will be wrapping up, events in New York will be taking off. These include the Battle of Saratoga, the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, Benedict Arnold, Rochambeau, and Evacuation Day. New York will be observing the 250th for years to come. What should we be doing now for the pre-July 4, 1776 250th?

S6948 400 Years African-American History Commission

As the 250th Commission heads towards likely approval at some [because it is required to obtain federal funding], it is worth considering the status of the 400 Year commission for 1619. That proposed commission has been the subject of several blogs already (Slavery Quadricentennial: The 400 Years of African-American History Commission). It was finally signed into law on February 16, 2020, about six months after the August 2019 anniversary. Apparently the now-15 Commissioners had been chosen and it was only a question of arranging the photo-op to announce the launching. We all remember what happened in March 2020. Suffice it to say the 400 Year Commission is on hiatus. The original expiry date was pushed back from June 1, 2020 to June 1, 2021 which is in a few weeks. So far there is no indication of pushing back the date again. I do have a copy of the Memorandum of Support from sponsor Senator Comrie from February 2020 when I stopped by his office in Albany. That document was marked up to shift the expiry date to June 1 2022. However the New York State Senate website still has June 1 this year so time is running out.

S8598 Juneteenth Public Holiday

This bill was signed into law last July 22, 2020, shortly after the events in Tulsa. So next month will be the first observance of it in the State as a public holiday. Whether it is a public holiday like New Year’s Day, Christmas, and Thanksgiving or like Flag Day or Lincoln’s Birthday, and George Washington’s Birthday remains to be seen. This date refers to an event in Texas and not New York.

SXXXX 1827 Bicentennial 1827 Commission

Speaking of New York, the bill I initiated and helped write for the bicentennial in 2027 of the end of slavery in New York State never made it to the Senate (1827 Freedom Bicentennial Commission Covid-19 Casualty… This Year). It appears to have been a casualty of the Covid pandemic and has vanished from sight.

It should be noted that there are other upcoming anniversaries with state-wide implications including the return of Lafayette (1824) and the Indian Citizenship Act (1924) worthy of remembrance and celebration. These are in addition the bicentennial of the building of the Erie Canal (ongoing, culminating in 2025) and the centennial of the New York State Council of Parks created by legislation adopted on April 18, 1924.

S3951 Civic Education Fund

This bill was vetoed on December 13, 2019. I respectfully submit that given the insurrection on January 6, 2021, there is a desperate need for civics education in the state and the country. There is an urgent need to revisit the issue of civics in the school curriculum.

By coincidence, as I am writing this blog, I received an email from the Preservation League of New York State containing Preservation updates on State legislation. I include two bills below.

Support for Legislation Relating to Operations and Preservation of the National Historic Landmark New York State Canal System Memorandum of Support A.7044 (Buttenschon)/S.5958 (May) 

We commend the New York Power Authority and New York State Canal Corporation for their ongoing restoration, maintenance, and stewardship of our National Historic Landmark canal system. This bill supports their work while providing important consistency for those who use the canal, whether for recreation, tourism, or commercial purposes.

Read our support letter here.

Support to Make Mandatory Quarterly Meetings of the Canal Recreationway Commission
Memorandum of Support A.7045 (Buttenschon)/S.5959 (May)

The Canal Recreationway Commission currently meets subject to the call of the chairperson. By setting a regular quarterly meeting schedule, this bill will establish consistency and give the Commission the tools to focus on important future planning efforts to support our Canal System and chart a new path forward, supporting our National Historic Landmark Canal System’s ability to leverage the economic benefits of tourism, recreation, and commercial use now and into the future.

Read our support letter here.

This brief review of some history-related legislation shows that the time of the advocacy hibernation is over and the history community needs to think about how to organize for legislative action and what action it would like to see.