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The American Revolution: An Academic Perspective

WHERE ARE THE HEROES? (Washington Crossing the Delaware, Emanuel Leutze, 1851, Metropolitan Museum of Art)

This blog begins a series of conference reports. The series will include conferences I attended and conferences with abstracts posted on the web that I did not attend but know about and consider worth reporting on. In chronological order, the first conference is the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) held July 18-21 in Cambridge.

PRESIDENT’S PLENARY – CONSTITUTING THE UNITED STATES: LIVING IN THE WAKE OF REVOLUTION

The opening session was taped for C-Span. I missed the introductory remarks and the first presentation. Apparently Annette Gordon-Reid as president selected people who would address various aspects of the American Revolution rather than all the speakers addressing a common facet of it. There are no titles or abstracts for these presentations.

Kathleen DuVal, University of North Carolina

DuVal focused on the Cherokee Nation response to the American Revolution. The Cherokee sought to preserve their land as a free nation. They did so by adapting American and European terminology. Through such vocabulary and concepts, they portrayed themselves as an independent version of the United States. They were a nationally sovereign people with as of 1827 their own Constitution.

An earlier attempt to create a confederacy of Indian Nations had failed. In 1783, the Cherokee had sought to bring together in an alliance the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek. Part of the failure was due to the feeling by each Indian Nation that their own sovereignty would be threatened by such a grouping. The idea of the unity of the Indians as a single people was rejected.

When the Creeks violated Chickasaw land to scalp Americans, that action helped neither Indian unity nor Indian-American relationships. At that point, local concerns predominated. Eventually that would change when the American settlers arrived in numbers. For them, the Indians were a doomed people who should be cleared from the land so it could be civilized.

DuVal concluded by stressing that during the Early Republic, the Indian Nations were alive and existed as a viable concept. The Indian identity and nationhood have survived.

Rob Parkinson, Binghamton University

Parkinson took issue with Thomas Paine’s statement that the Revolution had succeeded. Specifically, the proof was the continued existence of slavery. He interpreted the debates at the formation of the country to favor union over the issue of abolition. Emancipation bills failed. The nationalist narrative blocked emancipation since blacks would not help the Union. They told Black Loyalist stories as proof while ignoring Black Patriot stories (as well as Indian Patriot stories). In this regard, he understands the subsequent Indian battles of future presidents Jackson and Harrison as a continuation of the American Revolution. Union talk trumped freedom talk. These were choices the American political leaders made in the political process of creating the country.

David Waldsteicher, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Waldsteicher also spoke on the issue of slavery to the point of even wondering how his fellow panelists were going to address the topic. During the American Revolution, the American leaders were concerned whether the slaves would be patriots or loyalists. We should recognize that blacks then were actors in their own right and forced their presence into the debate.

Waldstreicher sees emancipation in the North as an outgrowth of the American Revolution and the fight over state rights. The American Revolution and the Civil War are linked and both were civil wars. The Constitution hardwired slavery into the fabric of the newly constituted country without even using that word. With the expansion of the country the number of both free and slave states increased.

Waldstreicher cites two black people important for the telling of this story. The first was Phillis Wheatley for her anti-Stamp Act poem. As a woman and as a black she became part of the national debate. She placed the issue of slavery in the public arena during the American Revolution. The second figure was Frederic Douglas for his July 4 speech increasing interest in the subject. Celebrate the good and criticize what is missing.

For Waldstreicher the triumph and tragedy of the American Revolution is what was done and what was not. The myth of the Founding Fathers ignoring slavery should be replaced by recognizing their decisions did address slavery just not directly.

Kay Wright-Lewis, Howard University

Wright-Lewis introduced a personal dimension to the subject of slavery as a black person. She commented on the meaning of the Founding Fathers to her when she was growing up. In her historical research, she notes the persistent effort of the slaves to try to free themselves. The slave owners had made a calculated decision to perpetuate slavery. The land could not be cultivated by white people so black people were needed. That meant slavery. Nonetheless, she asks why the Founding Fathers did not take the step of abolishing slavery.

USEFUL REVOLUTION? TELLING THE REPUBLIC’S FOUNDING STORY IN ITS MOMENT OF PERIL

This session was dedicated to the topic of stories of the American Revolution that resonate today.

Philip Mead, Museum of the American Revolution

Mead, from the Museum of the American Revolution, reported that it had had 750,000 visitors since it opened on April 19, 2017. He called storytelling the most powerful form of persuasion. He asked if the American Revolution was ending. He did so because of the traditional equating of the American Revolution with heroism. He noted that one question that frequently arose with museum visitors was the complaint: where are the heroes?

Keep this comment in mind.

Rob Parkinson, Binghamton University

Parkinson, a repeat presenter from the President’s Plenary, stated that we are living in a dangerous time. Americans in power are sure they have the true identity. We must continue to tell the stories of the American Revolution and be ready to go for broke. We cannot afford to be scolds.

Note: I had a little trouble keeping up with my notetaking during this presentation so I did not get the full gist of what he said so my comments may not make sense.

Honor Sachs, University of Colorado

Sachs addressed the issue of how we present the past today. She volunteered that she is coming from an anti-Trump view but as a teacher she needed to check her opinions based on gender, sexual preference, and religion at the door.

Sachs said the calls for unity are wrong since they mean someone will be screwed.

She spoke of white nationalism and patriarchy.

She despaired that America walked away from the best solutions and options during the American Revolution with devastating consequences.

In-between, she made some comments that really struck home. They go to the heart and soul of the challenge of teaching the American Revolution today. She said it was hard to be an historian today. She sees teaching as a civic obligation. She does not want to teach despair. She embraces the narrative of hope. She sees the American Revolution as a story of possibility, as a moment when we at least tried to do the right thing.

During the Q&A, Sachs was asked about the teaching of civics. She said there was a deep-seated need to find heroes. Remember the complaint (above) by the visitors to the museum of the American Revolution: where are the heroes? College professor Sachs and Museum educator Mead both have honed in on the exact same problem confronting the country today.

Chernoh Sesay, DePaul University

Sesay focused on the African role in Atlantic history and the American Revolution. More work needs to be done in this area. He stated the easily overlooked truism that Africa is not a nation, it is a continent of nations, empires, and peoples. Revolutions occurred in West Africa too. We should examine the American Revolution from the vantage of Africa. Mentioning Crispus Attucks in the curriculum is not enough.

Serena Zabin, Carleton College

Zabin noted the tension between the past and the present that historians walk. As an example consider the notion of citizenship. Optimism does not mean denying the darkness. We need to write for the future and trust that the unknown future will need it. We need to have faith that what we write will matter someday.

No doubt I have not given full justice to these presentations. More could be written about each one. If there had been published abstracts for them I would have included them. This report is based on handwritten notes by a non-stenographer so I know I missed part of what was being said while I was writing.

In this final section to this long blog, let me address two considerations raised by these presentations – writing and heroes.

Zabin asks us to have faith that the writing of scholars will matter someday. Why not today? In the Q&A, Clifton Barry, Unpaid Labor org., expressed his optimism on race. He said he was emboldened by what scholars write for lay people meaning today. But scholars often do not write for lay people. In my blogs on the American Revolution Reborn conference (American Revolution Reborn: Missing New York), I reported on the disdain with which scholars view airport best-sellers. These are the history books non-scholars write for non-scholars that are purchased in airports and other retail outlets or online but that are not available at academic conferences. They tend to be about heroes and sell much better than academic books.

People have been voting with their wallets for stories of hope and heroes from even before the 2013 conference on the American Revolution Reborn to the American Revolution at the 2019 SHEAR conference. Why can’t scholars tell such stories? Do they think that would be compromising their academic integrity? Do they feel a professional obligation to tear things down? Do they feel a sense of righteousness when they undermine myths? How come in all these sessions on the American Revolution, no one came to praise it but only to bury it?

So let me end with the stories of optimism and hope that scholars may wish to consider. I do so knowing that undoubtedly scholars have considered them but these were not the presentations at these conferences.

1. How many viable same-race multi-ethnic republics were there in 1787? Remember Czechoslovakia? How about Yugoslavia? Do the Russians, Ukrainians, and Hungarians in the Ukraine get along? Rwanda? The list goes on. The United States in 1787 was a diverse country based on the standards of the times. The United States of America was not created to be the Diverse Peoples of America with 18 designated hyphens like Lebanon today. We were created to be e pluribus unum. How were these diverse peoples able to constitute themselves as a single country that could survive for centuries? Isn’t that an optimistic story of hope? (see American Revolution Reborn: Religion, Diversity, and E Pluribus Unum)

2. How many viable multi-racial republics were there in 1787? Cuba? Brazil? Sudan/South Sudan? Multi-ethnic and multi-racial South Africa? How are the European nations coping today? Do scholars really think that if slavery had been abolished that the newly freed people would have led lives just as white Americans did? Is that what happened after the Civil War? Is that what happened after all the civil rights legislation? Is that what is happening today? Would the world have been a better place today if the disagreement over abolition in 1787 meant there would have been no United States in the first place? Would black people have been better off in 1787 if the United States of the Confederacy had been created in the south as a separate country? There is a need to focus on the real world of what actually can be done at a given point in time. There is a difference between being in the ivory tower today and Philadelphia in 1787.

3. How many viable republics in 1787 or earlier were as large as the United States at its birth? I live near the Rye Tavern on the Boston Post Road where middle-aged non-athletic John Adams stayed as he rode his horse alone from Boston to Philadelphia. People today don’t even drive that route today save truckers or taking kids to college. And if they do drive it is more likely to be on the Interstate than U.S. 1. It isn’t as if George Washington had access to GPS or drones to track the movements of the British. Imagine if at SHEAR, everyone had to arrive by horse. There is a saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. I question whether we can really appreciate the impact of the sheer size of the proposed country on those who sought to create one centuries ago.

The countdown to the 250th anniversary of the birth of the United States has begun. There is a national commission. Some states are beginning to consider it. As soon as I finish this blog I am leaving for a meeting at the New-York Historical Society convened by the New York State Historian to discuss the state’s plans for the 250th. This meeting is one of a series of meetings he has had. My hope for this anniversary is that it is not simply a commemoration of battles and having big parades and fireworks. My hope is that we use this time to discuss the very issues raised in this blog and at the SHEAR conference. My hope is that we strive to continue the journey and not simply pass judgment on the past. My hope is that we recognize as the Founding Fathers did that the creation of the United States was an experiment. My hope is that we recognize that it is our turn now to make the experiment work even better.

July 14, 2019 = April 12, 1861 II: The Third Civil War Is Engaged

“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Donald Trump (Getty Images)

On April 12, 1861, South Carolina opened fire on the US garrison of Fort Sumter. The Civil War had begun. It would rage for years and hundreds of thousands of people would die. It wreaked havoc on the land especially in the South where most of the battles were fought. Most importantly, it would be remembered. In the North, many new peoples arrived subsequent to the war who had had no direct blood connection to it. By contrast, in the South, it remained predominantly Confederate and the blood connection endured.

The war itself was a long time coming. Perhaps the hostility had its roots four score and seven years earlier when a disparate group of diverse colonies first attempted to create a united political entity. Over the years and decades to follow, that unity was sorely tested. There would be compromises and political confrontations galore. The Union held but there were limits as to how long two houses could remain linked before they separated. After April 12, 1861, the question no longer was an academic one. The battle was engaged and it continues to be fought to this very day.

Move over Bastille Day, July 14 now marks the beginning of another war.  The storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, has been joined by July 14, 2019, the day an American President launched a tweet heard throughout the country if not the world. That day will be remembered as a day of infamy where the long-brewing culture wars finally spilled forth into an open (solely political so far) combat.

Back on October 9, 2018, I incorrectly predicted the onset of America’s third civil war (America’s Third Civil War: Kava-Noes versus Kava-Yeses). At that time I wrote the following about the war:

It may be said to have begun in the 1960s. At that time, baby boomer males could be drafted into a war they did not want to fight and baby boomer females could have babies they did not want to have.

It may be said to have begun on August 17, 1992, when Pat Buchanan delivered his “Culture War” speech to the Republican National Convention.

It may be said to have begun in 2008 with Sarah Palin’s rally cry “to take back the country.”

Regardless of the preliminaries, history may well record that with the contentious and close vote on October 6, 2018, of 50-48 between Kava-Yeses and Kava-Noes the battle was fully engaged. There is no turning back now. When Charles Blow writes an op-ed in the New York Times that “Liberals, This Is War,” he fails to recognize that for conservatives it has been war for decades and appointing a fifth Republican legislator to the Supreme Court is a long overdue victory.

[W] we have a president who feasts on divisiveness. There will be no “come let us reason together” in this administration. Far from it. Instead he will stoke the flames of hatred and rejoice in the dividing of America. Never have We the People had a president who is so antagonistic to the very idea of We the People. Never have We the People had a president who is so willing, eager, and ready to campaign on behalf of hatred. Never have We the People had a president who is so antagonistic to the very goal of e pluribus unum, a motto that has been abandoned by both national political parties and mocked by our president. But there should not be any surprise that our president promotes the division of the country. What else would you expect from Putin’s poodle?

I was nine months premature. Part of the reason for the change in circumstances is that we now are in a presidential election cycle where polls show the incumbent losing. If he was coasting  to another electoral landslide because of the world’s greatest economy and the greatest economy in the history of the United States, there would have been no need to play the both race card and the alien/ foreigner card. If he was an adult and had any self-control, there would have no need to play these cards either. He simply could have watched the Democrats tear themselves apart and feasted on the divided remains. But he is not an adult and he has no self-control. So as the 7th grade smart-aleck-dumb-aleck he simply blurted exactly what he knew was not supposed to be said in polite company. He said these words of hate precisely because he knew what the reaction would be both among the Democrats and the Trumpicans. He is back in the good graces of the alt-right, exactly where he wants to be.

The war will not be fought the same way as the Civil War was. There will be no armed conflicts between huge armies firing huge amounts of explosives at each other with many casualties and deaths…as least I do not think it will. At least for now, it is clear how the initial engagements of the war will be fought beside on Twitter, social media, and cable TV.

The Trumpicans will deploy two forces at its command and hold a third force in abeyance. One is ICE which was supposed launch wide scale roundups of illegal aliens the same day as the tweet that launched the war. Although that did not happen, one can expect this commander in-chief to more actively commit his forces to action in the future. Bonespur Boy missed the Vietnam War and now he is going to demonstrate that he has the faculties to command his forces against the alien foe that threatens the land.

Second, he will and already has deployed forces along the southern border. As to the situation there, he commented:

Many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they came from, and in far safer conditions.

This comment is eerily similar to the claim made by Confederates to this very day about the slaves from Africa. We are doing those people a favor even in slavery or prison camps or prison by providing a better way of life than they knew in their homeland.

It is worthwhile comparing the experiences of Abraham Lincoln, the first president of the Republican Party, with Donald Trump, the last nominee of the Republican Party before it became the Trumpican Party. When young Mr. Lincoln traveled down the Mississippi to New Orleans, he was sickened by what he saw at the slave auction there. By contrast, the young THE DONALD learned from his KKK father about “those” people and was fully ready to call for the execution of the Central Park Five. A Lincoln might be distraught watching a family torn asunder; now it is just another day at the office for current president.

Third, let us not forget the private militias. At the Panhandle political professional wrestling arena, THE DONALD asked the audience of deplorables how to stop the illegal aliens from crossing into the country. “Shoot’m” exclaimed a good ol boy to the laughter of the Trumpicans. How difficult would it be to raise a private militia in the Panhandle if asked for? How difficult is it to imagine after the 2020 elections, the loser calling for the militias to rally in the nation’s capital to protect him from the politically-correct-elitist-socialist-Deep-State removing him from office?

So what will the Democrats do in the current Civil War?

One action will be to counter the ICE raids. People were out if not in force, then at least to some extent, on Sunday, July 14, in opposition to ICE. Over time, one can expect the number of people involved to multiply. Over time, once can expect such confrontations to escalate in intensity. Over time, one can expect such confrontations to result in deaths. Next year marks the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre. Although the federal commission for the 250th anniversary is focusing on a Philadelphia extravaganza in 2026, events in the present may provide a more visceral connection to the events that led up to the July 4, 1776 (The American Revolution 250th: A Time to Heal or a Time to Divide?).

The second way the Democrats will respond will be legally. This means lawsuits, Congressional resolutions denouncing the racist President, subpoenas, and, yes, impeachment. The first vote has been tallied. There will be more to come.

True being a racist bigot deliberately seeking to permanently divide the country is not obstruction or collusion. No matter how sleazy and corrupt his cabinet, no matter how incompetent the President, no matter racist he is, these conditions were not part of the Mueller report. Whether or not the deliberate effort to permanently divide the country is a high crime and impeachable offense is another matter.

In any event, the battle is now engaged. The Rubicon has been crossed. The genii has been let out of the bottle. The die has been cast. There is no turning back now.

It will intensify culminating in Election Day 2020. There will be casualties. There may be another government shutdown. There will be an ongoing mostly non-physical warfare fought in Congress, in the Courts, and sometimes in the streets.  There are two major differences between this civil war and the preceding two. The first had George Washington and the second had Abraham Lincoln. This time around there is no national leader seeking to hold the country together. Combatants, to your corners. Death to We the People!

 

HEALTH CARE PROBLEM SOLVED

Just in case you forgot, July 16 was the due date for the new healthcare plan.  Here is what I wrote on June 19 (Iran Does Not Watch Fox: The Real World and the 2020 Elections):

There are a few simple tests to monitor his grasp of the real world, his willingness to operate it, and his success if he tries. We don’t need to wait to see how he deploys his campaign resources to know if he is operating based on real polls or his fake polls. We’ll know in a month because of health care.

“You’ll see that in a month when we introduce it. We’re going to have a plan. That’s subject to winning the House, Senate, and presidency, which hopefully we’ll win all three. We’ll have phenomenal health care.”

So claims the very stable genius who is the smartest person in the room and the only one who can solve America’s problems. … Now we have the target as surely as they did for William Miller on October 22, 1844 with the Great Disappointment. We know the date. July 16.

 Did it happen? Are you disappointed?

The American Revolution 250th: A Time to Heal or a Time to Divide?

Illegal Alien, Newspaper Reporter, Enemy of the People

Now that this year’s July 4th celebration is over, it is time to start looking ahead to the big one, July 4, 2026. That date marks the 250th anniversary of the declaring of the United States of America. It also is the bicentennial of the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third presidents. They had been part of a committee to draft the Declaration and became extensive pen-pals following their presidencies. At the time of their deaths on the 50th anniversary of the birth of the country there was only one possible explanation for it: divine providence.

The Founding Fathers regarded their creation as an experiment. They knew they were undertaking something never before undertaken on such a scale. They knew it might fail. To have reached the milestone of 50 years following a second war with Great Britain when the White House had been burned was something to celebrate. The idea that their handiwork would still be around 250 years after its creation and as a global superpower would have been considered science fiction fantasy had they known those terms.

But here we are approaching the semiquincentennial, not a word I had ever used before. I learned that word from the legislation passed on July 22, 2016, ‘‘United States Semiquincentennial Commission Act of 2016.”

SEC. 2. FINDINGS; PURPOSE.

(a) FINDINGS.—Congress finds that July 4, 2026, the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States, as marked by the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the historic events
preceding that anniversary—
(1) are of major significance in the development of the national heritage of the United States of individual liberty, representative government, and the attainment of equal and inalienable rights; and
(2) have had a profound influence throughout the world.
(b) PURPOSE.—The purpose of this Act is to establish a Commission to provide for the observance and commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States and related events through local, State, national, and international activities planned, encouraged, developed, and coordinated by a national commission representative of appropriate public and private authorities and organizations.

One wonders about the American Revolution events subsequent to July 4, 1776, a subject to which I shall return. Still, the breadth of the mandate is breathtaking. The phrase “planned, encourage, developed, and coordinated” raises multiple questions of how this national commission will operate on the local, state, and international level.

The commission will consist of members of both Houses, private citizens appointed by both Houses, and a chair selected by the President.

SEC. 4. ESTABLISHMENT OF COMMISSION.
(a) IN GENERAL.—There is established a commission, to be known as the ‘‘United States Semiquincentennial Commission’’, to plan, encourage, develop, and coordinate the commemoration of the history of the United States leading up to the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States.

Once again notice the drop dead date of July 4, 2026, as if nothing happened in the American Revolution afterwards. It is as if what is important are the events leading up to Philadelphia and then the story of the American Revolution stops. As it turns out, the legislative focus on Philadelphia is not by chance.

(d) MEETINGS.—All meetings of the Commission shall be convened at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to honor the historical significance of the building as the site of deliberations and adoption of both the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

This clause stresses that Philadelphia is to be the one and only location for the commission. No commission meetings are to be held in any other locations that were important to the American Revolution including for events prior to July 4, 1776 or subsequent to that date.

SEC. 5. DUTIES.
(a) IN GENERAL.—The Commission shall—
            (1) prepare an overall program for commemorating the 250th anniversary of the founding of the United States and the historic events preceding that anniversary; and Pennsylvania.
            (2) plan, encourage, develop, and coordinate observances and activities commemorating the historic events that preceded, and are associated with, the United States Semiquincentennial.
(b) REQUIREMENTS.—
            (1) IN GENERAL.—In preparing plans and an overall program, the Commission—
                        (A) shall give due consideration to any related plans and programs developed by State, local, and private groups; and
                        (B) may designate special committees with representatives from groups described in subparagraph (A) to plan, develop, and coordinate specific activities.
            (2) EMPHASIS.—The Commission shall—
                        (A) emphasize the planning of events in locations of historical significance to the United States, especially in those locations that witnessed the assertion of American liberty, such as—
                                    (i) the 13 colonies; and
                                    (ii) leading cities, including Boston, Charleston, New York City, and Philadelphia;

The general duties suggest an awareness that significant events occurred prior to July 4, 1776, that they were not in Philadelphia, and that the national commission is to work in some way with others who are commemorating those events. Specifically it recognizes that state, local, and private groups may develop plans and programs on their own initiative. Furthermore, the national commission may create committees to include representatives of these organizations. Specifically, the legislation calls attention to the 13 colonies and the big four cities besides Philadelphia. One would think therefore that one such committee would consist of the 13 state semiquincentennial commissions should the 13 states create their own commissions. Could such committees meet outside of Philadelphia or are they bound by the same restrictions as the national commission? Is there any role for the other 37 states plus various territories that are part of the United States? Are they part of the celebration of the American Revolution too?

(B) give special emphasis to—
                                    (i) the role of persons and locations with significant impact on the history of the United States during the 250-year period beginning on the date of execution of the Declaration of Independence; and
                                    (ii) the ideas associated with that history, which have been so important in the development of the United States, in world affairs, and in the quest for freedom of all mankind.

Needlesstosay, this special emphasis is extremely broad. First, the American Revolution from July 4, 1776 to November 25, 1783, when the British evacuated New York City, a local holiday until World War I now revived by the Lower Manhattan Historical Association, is ignored. Second, the legislation now opens the emphasis to people, places, and ideas who were significant to the history of the United States, its place in world history, and the global quest for freedom. Somehow this national commission is charged with identifying and blessing all those over a 250-year period. In New York where I live that practically means grab the text books for 7th and 8th grade social studies American history classes and go to the index….and then fill in the gaps for everything and everyone and everywhere overlooked in the official curriculum.

(c) REPORT SUBMITTED TO THE PRESIDENT.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of this Act, the Commission shall submit to the President a comprehensive report that includes the specific recommendations of the Commission for the commemoration of the 250th anniversary and related events.

This report was due on July 22, 2018. The commission had not even met by then (see below). One suspects the July 22, 2019, date will come and go without such a report having been prepared. As for the contents of these specific recommendations:

  (2) RECOMMENDED ACTIVITIES.—The report may include recommended
activities such as—
                        (A) the production, publication, and distribution of books, pamphlets, films, and other educational materials focusing on the history, culture, and political thought of the period of the American Revolution;
                        (B) bibliographical and documentary projects and publications;
                        (C) conferences, convocations, lectures, seminars, and other programs, especially those located in the 13 colonies, including the major cities and buildings of national historical
significance of the 13 colonies;
                        (D) the development of libraries, museums, historic sites, and exhibits, including mobile exhibits;
                         (E) ceremonies and celebrations commemorating specific events, such as—
                                    (i) the signing of the Declaration of Independence;
                                    (ii) programs and activities focusing on the national and international significance of the United States Semiquincentennial; and
                                    (iii) the implications of the Semiquincentennial for present and future generations; and
                        (F) encouraging Federal agencies to integrate the celebration of the Semiquincentennial into the regular activities and execution of the purpose of the agencies through such activities as the issuance of coins, medals, certificates of recognition, stamps, and the naming of vessels.

The report then is to include activities beyond Philadelphia. Even if state commissions had been created in the 13 former colonies, this report would be a major undertaking in itself.

There are a lot of moving parts to this endeavor.

SEC. 6. COORDINATION.
(a) IN GENERAL.—In carrying out this Act, the Commission shall consult and cooperate with, and seek advice and assistance from, appropriate Federal agencies, State and local public bodies, learned societies, and historical, patriotic, philanthropic, civic, professional, and related organizations.
(b) RESPONSIBILITY OF OTHER FEDERAL AGENCIES.—
            (1) IN GENERAL.—Federal agencies shall cooperate with the Commission in planning, encouraging, developing, and coordinating appropriate commemorative activities.

A great deal of communication will be required to make this project work.

SEC. 7. POWERS.
(a) HEARINGS.—The Commission may hold such hearings, meet and act at such times and places, take such testimony, and receive such evidence as the Commission considers advisable to carry out this Act.

Presumably they all are to be held in Philadelphia. One hopes that everyone participating in such hearings is in driving distance or Amtrak-northeast-corridor distance from Philadelphia.

There will be a time capsule.

(1) TIME CAPSULE.—A representative portion of all books, manuscripts, miscellaneous printed matter, memorabilia, relics, and other materials relating to the United States Semiquincentennial shall be deposited in a time capsule—
                        (A) to be buried in Independence Mall, Philadelphia, on July 4, 2026; and
                        (B) to be unearthed on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the United States of America on July 4, 2276.

Unfortunately the Federal Government at present cannot undertake any scientific studies to determine if that location will be underwater or not in another 250 years. (By coincidence see “A Rising Threat to History: Climate Change Is Forcing Preservationists to Get Creative in Rhode Island,” NYT July 9, 2019, print edition.)

There will be no public funding for the commission.

SEC. 9. EXPENDITURES OF COMMISSION.
(a) IN GENERAL.—All expenditures of the Commission shall be made solely from donated funds.

Some lucky non-profit will be selected to actually do the work.

(b) ADMINISTRATIVE SECRETARIAT.—The Secretary of the Interior shall, through a competitive process, seek to enter into an arrangement with a nonprofit organization, the mission of which is consistent with the purpose of this Act. Under such arrangement, such nonprofit organization shall—
            (1) serve as the secretariat of the Commission, including by serving as the point of contact under section 5(e);
            (2) house the administrative offices of the Commission;
            (3) assume responsibility for funds of the Commission; and
            (4) provide to the Commission financial and administrative services, including services related to budgeting, accounting, financial reporting, personnel, and procurement.

And then everything will end.

SEC. 10. TERMINATION OF COMMISSION.
The Commission shall terminate on December 31, 2027.

As one might expect, Philadelphia was a driving force in the adoption of this legislation.

In 2014, the Philadelphia City Council ordered a public hearing of the Committee on Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs to investigate “the impact and feasibility of Philadelphia” hosting the United States Semiquincentennial in 2026, among other events.[5] The following year a non-profit organization, USA250, was established in Philadelphia to lobby for federal government support of the United States semiquincentennial and establish Philadelphia as the host city for events surrounding the semiquincentennial observances.[6]  (Wikipedia)

The American Battlefield Trust has been named the commission’s non-profit partner to serve as Administrative Secretariat, tasked with preparing reports for Congress and helping raise funds for the anniversary observances.

Daniel DiLella, CEO and President of Equus, a leading private equity real estate fund, was appointed Chairperson of the Semiquincentennial Commission in April 2018. In May 2018, DiLella named Frank Giordano as the commission’s executive director. Giordano, who heads Atlantic Trailer Leasing in Philadelphia, led the rejuvenation of two formerly struggling Philadelphia institutions, the Philly Pops Orchestra and Union League club. (Wikipedia)

In the meantime, some activity has occurred at the state level.

Pennsylvania became the first state to formally begin planning for the anniversary in June 2018 when the commonwealth established the Pennsylvania Semiquincentennial Commission. Four months later, on October 17, Gov. Tom Wolf named Fresh Grocer supermarket magnate and philanthropist Patrick Burns to chair the state commission. (Wikipedia)

In 2018 and 2019, I attended the Massachusetts History Alliance conferences held at Holy Cross. While there I met Jonathan Lane, Massachusetts Historical Society. His job is the 250th in the state. Note he works for a non-profit and there is no state commission there. The Massachusetts dilemma is it cannot wait for 2026. The Boston Massacre (1770), the Boston Tea Party (1773), Lexington and Concord (1775), and Bunker Hill (1775) to name some prominent events all occurred prior to July 4, 1776. How will the national commission assist in the planning and development of these commemorations starting next year? What will the state of Massachusetts do?

In August 2018, the State of New Jersey launched its effort when Gov. Phil Murphy signed a measure that called on the New Jersey Historical Commission to create a program focused on the 250th anniversary of the independence of the United States as well as the creation of the state’s first Constitution. The law appropriated $500,000 to fund the historical commission’s planning for the 250th anniversary festivities. (Wikipedia)

Jonathan did tell me he attended a meeting in Philadelphia with about 30 people. According to a press release from American Battlefield Trust there was a meeting with the 33 members of the commission on November 16, 2018, in Philadelphia. I did not notice any additional meetings or events on its website about the commission.

In New York where I live, there is no state commission. Devin Lander, the New York State historian has held two meetings about the 250th. The first was in Saratoga, location of the battle in 1777 that has been called one of the critical battles of the 18th century. But it occurred after July 4, 1776. So did the iconic toppling of the statue of George III in lower Manhattan (July 9, 1776), the hanging of Nathan Hale (September 22, 1776), the Sullivan Campaign (1779), Benedict Arnold (1780), the Newburg Conspiracy (1783), Evacuation Day (November 25, 1783). The second meeting he called was hosted by the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies at Iona College named after a significant figure in the American Revolution. Additional meetings are expected.

In Westchester County, New York, where I live, the RW250 was formed in 2018. It is applying for 501(c)3 status. It has been holding lectures throughout the county about the American Revolution in the county. To the best of my knowledge, it is the only such organization in the state.

What does all this mean?

1. There will be a big event in Philadelphia on July 4, 2026. Of course, the city already celebrates July so it is not comparable to the Jamestown Quadricentennial which was a one-time event.
2. There will be some international events. Perhaps in London on the same day. Perhaps in Canada which we invaded. Perhaps in Paris which came to our aid after the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. Perhaps in China where the Statue of Liberty is a revered figure or maybe in Hong Kong.
3. What about multi-state events? How about the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in New York in 1775 by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold with the Connecticut and Massachusetts militias followed by the transport of the fort’s canons under Henry Knox to Boston? Or the Rochambeau Trail from Rhode Island to Virginia which already operates as a below-the-radar National Park Service Project?
4. What about multi-country events? How about the invasion of Canada, the evacuation to Canada, the evacuation to the Caribbean?
5. What about the rest of continental United States beyond the 13 colonies? What about the Spanish colonies? What about the Indian Nations?

At this point it is too early to know as the national commission is in its infancy even though the report was due last year with specific recommendations.

But there are larger issues of concern beyond simply commemorating events, places, and ideas of 250 years ago. How do we connect people today to them? How do we get all Americans to recognize July 4 as the birth of their country regardless of when they or their family first arrived here? The musical “Hamilton” shows that it can be done. To paraphrase, it famously asks of its audience “who will tell our story?” What America needs is not fireworks, tanks, and big extravaganzas. What we need are the stories of our birth as a country that can reknit the social fabric, that can bind us together from “California to the New York island,” and that can make us We the People. That is not the mandate of the United States Semiquincentennial Commission for the American Revolution. Where is our Lincoln to remind us of what happened twelve score and ten years ago?

America’s Third Civil War: Kava-Noes versus Kava-Yeses

America's Third Civil War: The Battle Is Engaged (Photo by Getty)

America has had three civil wars. The first one is over, the second one is still being fought, the third one is accelerating. What should be done?

America’s First Civil War: The American Revolution

The American Revolution was not simply American colonials versus the British military. There were plenty of Loyalists here. John Adams famously divided the American population into thirds including the “Go away and leave me alone” group. More likely the majority just wanted to be left alone on their farm and were only dragged into the conflict because of neighbors or occupying armies. Nonetheless, it was a war which split families and communities.

The resolution was comparatively simple. The losing side tended to leave. In New York, where I live, the upstate Loyalists tended to migrate further upstate until they were in Canada. In Westchester where I live in New York, Loyalist lands were confiscated, most conspicuously those of Philipsburg Manor along the Hudson. Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783, marked the departure of British troops and Loyalists from New York City. That departure was celebrated annually in the city especially by the Irish immigrants in the 19th century who loved saying goodbye to the British. The holiday ceased to be celebrated in World War I when the British became our allies. Recently the Lower Manhattan Historical Association (LMHA, I am on the Board), revived the celebration and successfully petitioned the New York City Council to rename a street by Bowling Green as “Evacuation Plaza.”

I am not as familiar with what happen to Loyalists in the South. There do not seem to be many statues by subsequent generations of Southerners honoring these fighting ancestors.

Given the popularity of princesses Diana, Kate, and Meghan, I think it is safe to say that the war with England-Great Britain-the United Kingdom has ended peacefully with no lingering hard feelings.

America’s Second Civil War: The War of Northern Aggression

The situation is not so pacific with America’s second civil war. That war continues to this very day. The violence is almost negligible but not non-existent. The bloodiest of all American wars has been redefined. A generation after the cessation of battleground confrontations, the war became the Lost Cause. In that guise it has developed an identity of its own as alternate facts can become gospel over time. The cause was aided by the release of America’s greatest movie based on percentage of the population reached and inflation-adjusted revenues. Gone with the Wind created the definitive image of America’s second civil war for generations to come just as The Ten Commandments did for the Exodus. While Charlton Heston portrayed a real figure in history and Clark Gable did not, Rhett Butler has become as real as Ben Hur.

There is no end in sight for ending America’s second civil war. The time has come to accept the truth expressed by Abraham Lincoln prior to the outbreak of violence: a house divided cannot stand.  The Sesquicentennial has come and gone and still the hostility lingers. The resolution to this enduring division cannot replicate the resolution to the first civil war: the losing side cannot sail off into the sunset separate from the lands of the winning side.

However, there is another way to separate the two comparatively geographically distinct political entities – CONFEDEXIT. The time has come to call an end to the experiment of uniting 13 colonies into one country. The time has come to recognize that except for rare moments like the American Revolution and the Second World War, the Union and the Confederacy have not been united. Despite the Exodus, Israel eventually divided into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. The time has come for the United States of America to follow that example and that of Czechoslovakia, Pakistan, the USSR, and Yugoslavia and divide into its constituent parts.

I proposed that We the People declare July 4, 2026, the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence to be the target date for CONFEDEXIT.  Let that day mark the official end to the American experiment and the formal recognition that we are a house divided and cannot stand.

The starting point for the Confederacy should be the Republican congressional districts in the original states of the Confederacy excluding any based on Cuban-American citizens. These districts form the natural basis for reviving the Confederacy. We must recognize that there were pockets of Federalists in the South in the second civil war. There were people who made the reverse decision Robert E. Lee made and who were loyal to the United States. In Virginia, they even broke away to form a new state. Starting with the Republican congressional districts within the Confederacy enables Unionist American citizens in the South outside those districts to remain part of the United States once the Confederate districts separate from it.

The Confederacy has the advantage of starting off with an already written constitution. Slavery has not been abolished. Women and 18 year-olds cannot vote. There is no income tax. There is no two-term limit on the president. Confederates now will have the opportunity to add the amendments they want and delete or revise the amendments they do not want. They should be able to hit the ground running with a fully-functional government by July 4, 2026.

The negotiations will not be easy. There is a lot to discuss. But despite all the obstacles, it should be possible for a clean break. The Union is just as willing to say good riddance to the southerners as the South is to Rise Again. And with a president who mocks and demeans Southerners as less worthy than northern elitists, the incentive to separate should be even stronger. With the world’s greatest negotiator at the helm, I am confident that CONFEDEXIT is doable by July 4, 2026, and the end of the second civil war finally will be at hand.

America’s Third Civil War: Kava-Noes versus Kava-Yeses

The third civil is different from the previous two.

It may be said to have begun in the 1960s. At that time, baby boomer males could be drafted into a war they did not want to fight and baby boomer females could have babies they did not want to have.

It may be said to have begun on August 17, 1992, when Pat Buchanan delivered his “Culture War” speech to the Republican National Convention.

It may be said to have begun in 2008 with Sarah Palin’s rally cry “to take back the country.”

Regardless of the preliminaries, history may well record that with the contentious and close vote on October 6, 2018, of 50-48 between Kava-Yeses and Kava-Noes the battle was fully engaged. There is no turning back now. When Charles Blow writes an op-ed in the New York Times that “Liberals, This Is War,” he fails to recognize that for conservatives it has been war for decades and appointing a fifth Republican legislator to the Supreme Court is a long overdue victory.

As with America’s first civil war, America’s third civil war will be intensely divisive at the local level. People who have known each other for years as best friends for life suddenly will morph into combatants. The family Thanksgiving meal will become a battleground. While it will be illegal for Kava-Noes and Kava-Yeses to marry, there is always the possibility that some of the guests will be from opposite sides of the divide. Any social engagement will run the risk of degenerating into a brawl. Hosts and hostesses will be obligated to do due diligence to ensure a peaceful event. College admission officers will need to scrutinize applicants carefully to maintain the purity of the campus. God forbid people from different sides should be assigned as roommates!  In short, people will constantly have to be on guard to make sure they know when it is safe to speak.

CONFEDEXIT will help end the third civil war but it is no solution. The proponents of the Kava-Noes and Kava-Yeses exist in every electoral district. A mass exodus as with the Loyalists in the first civil war is not possible. A geographic split within the United States is not possible even after CONFEDEXIT removes many Confederate Kava-Noes from the United States. In short there is no solution. Over time, people will vote with their feet to move to an area where they feel safe. That relocation will take time. In the meantime, the situation will remain tense everywhere.

Fortunately we have a president who feasts on divisiveness. There will be no “come let us reason together” in this administration. Far from it. Instead he will stoke the flames of hatred and rejoice in the dividing of America. Never have We the People had a president who is so antagonistic to the very idea of We the People. Never have We the People had a president who is so willing, eager, and ready to campaign on behalf of hatred. Never have We the People had a president who is so antagonistic to the very goal of e pluribus unum, a motto that has been abandoned by both national political parties and mocked by our president. But there should not be any surprise that our president promotes the division of the country. What else would you expect from Putin’s poodle?

5 Ways NYS Can Promote Its American Revolution Stories

New York has a great story to tell about its role in the American Revolution. In fact it has many great stories to tell, and many people are telling and struggling to tell those stories.

Given the plethora of sites in the state relating to the American Revolution and to the significance of the events which transpired here, one would think that the State basks in the greatness of being the home to so much that was so critical to the founding of our country. Think again. Continue reading “5 Ways NYS Can Promote Its American Revolution Stories”

The Half Moon and The Hermione: A Tale of Two Ships

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. So it goes for two ships and their diametrically contradictory paths through history.

The Half Moon is a full scale replica of the original Dutch ship of exploration sailed by Henry Hudson for the Dutch East India Company in 1609. The original Half Moon was the first European ship to document entry into what we now call the Delaware Bay and River, and to explore the Hudson River to its navigable limits.

The HermioneThe Hermione is a full scale replica of the French ship that brought LaFayette to America in 1780 and which joined Admiral de Grasse’s fleet for the Battle off the Capes on the lower Chesapeake and the siege at Yorktown. The ship then sailed to Philadelphia in 1781 where the Continental Congress visited and paid tribute to it. Continue reading “The Half Moon and The Hermione: A Tale of Two Ships”

Cultural Heritage Fail: The American Revolution in NYS

New York was an object of great importance during the American Revolution. At the kick off of the Path through History project in August 2012, plenary speaker Ken Jackson, Columbia University, criticized New York for its inadequate efforts to tell its story compared to what Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts are doing. He welcomed the opportunity that New York finally was going to get it right.

By coincidence, at the New York History community roundtable convened by Assemblyman Englebright several weeks ago in connection with his proposed New York History Commission, he began with a similar plea for New York to tell its story as well as those same states Jackson had mentioned 20 months earlier. He was particularly incensed over the new TV show Turn about America’s first spy ring set in the very community he represents. Continue reading “Cultural Heritage Fail: The American Revolution in NYS”

New York History And The American Revolution

In the first continental war, the French and Indian War, America fought with the British and against the French. That war was then followed by two others where “We the People” were not good, proud, loyal subjects of British king. We even allied with France against England. Imagine that!

The initial focus was on New York City. At that time, it was limited to southern Manhattan There the statue of King George would be toppled following a reading of the new Declaration of Independence in one of the iconic moments of the war. The remains of the statue would be smelted into bullets to be used against the King’s troops. Later, the sudden appearance of the British armada was a true “shock and awe” experience for the city. The Revolution was nearly nipped in the bud as a providential fog enabled Washington to cross the East River on August 29, 1776. Continue reading “New York History And The American Revolution”

New York History and the Birth of the Nation

Scholars divide time into periods in an effort to make history comprehensible, but when to draw the diving line can be problematical and historians often disagree where one period ends and another begins.

For the birth of the nation, I am using the end of the colonial period, roughly from the French and Indian War to the end of the War of 1812. The colonial era for me was the time of the settlement of the 13 colonies which would become the United States. That process began in Jamestown and ended approximately 130 years later in Georgia. Up until then individual colonies, notably New York, Massachusetts / New England, and Virginia, dominate the curriculum, scholarship, and tourism, with only passing references to the Quakers in Pennsylvania and the Dutch in New York. Continue reading “New York History and the Birth of the Nation”

The Mixed Multitudes of the Mohawk Valley

Peacefully sharing a space-time continuum does not come easily to our species. The challenge of doing so was played out in colonial New Amsterdam/New York in the 17th and 18th centuries especially from Albany and Schenectady westward throughout the Mohawk Valley.

There, and north to the Champlain Valley and Canada, multiple peoples who had not yet become two-dimensional cliches struggled to dominate, share, and survive in what became increasingly contentious terrain. Battles were fought, settlements were burned, and captives were taken, again and again.

By the 19th century, much of that world had vanished save for the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. By the 20th century, that world existed in state historic sites, historical societies and local museums, Hollywood, and at times in the state’s social studies curriculum. Continue reading “The Mixed Multitudes of the Mohawk Valley”