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1774/2024: Loyalty then and Now

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

History Scholars versus David McCullough: The American Revolution

The post continues the examination of the multi-authored section of the Journal of the Early Republic (JER 41 Summer 2021) dedicated to David McCullough’s The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West. This new feature called Critical Engagements represents an attempt by the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR), the publisher of the journal to determine:

1. how his book would fare if it had been written as an academic book subject to peer review
2. what can academic historians learn from authors of such popular “airport” or “(white) Fathers’ Day” books about how to reach a larger audience.

In the previous post, I presented:

1. guidelines for general public speaking by Connecticut State Historian Walt Woodward
2. an example of the way to alienate the general public by telling (white) people their ancestors were monster.

Before delving into the analysis conducted by JER of McCullough, I would like to turn to a topic that highlights some of the issues involved – the American Revolution.


Lately we have heard a lot about our President being illegitimate. The loser of the election claims that the winner stole the election. This is an ongoing news story and may well be until the bicentennial of the election of 1824.

In the meantime, the legitimacy of the country itself is not at stake in the political machinations. Such considerations are not always true in the academic arena. It is not unusual for people to describe the United States as a country born in sin, perhaps, even two sins. Here one may observe the clash between wanting to alienate the general public versus wanting it to repent (and make amends).

Let me begin by going to the wayback machine for a post about a conference in 2013 called “The American Revolution Reborn.”  The post is from my blog Rebirthing the American Revolution (November 29, 2016) citing another publication about it:

The interview on October 27 was by senior editor Samuel Hughes. It appears in the November/December issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette and follows.

The question from the audience bordered on the subversive. It came during “The American Revolution Reborn,” a 2013 conference organized by Michael Zuckerman C’61, emeritus professor of history, and Patrick Spero G’04 Gr’09, librarian and director of the American Philosophical Society, which hosted the event. (The conference also yielded a book of the same title, co-edited by Spero and Zuckerman and published last month by the University of Pennsylvania Press.)

“Somebody—clearly one of the non-academics—got up and said, ‘Look, all of you are full of nuance, full of contradictions of prevailing wisdom, but what do you really think? Was the Revolution a good thing or a bad thing?’” Zuckerman recalls. “He was sensing that the mood was overwhelmingly disenchanted, anti-heroic, anti-nation-building, and he was getting a distinctly negative, sour take on the Revolution. He wanted to know, ‘After all this, do you think we shouldn’t have done it?’”

Eventually Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich offered a response, but she “refused to give a bottom-line judgment—said it was the wrong kind of question—and left him hugely unhappy.”

The disagreement continued after the conference ended. Peter Feinman … reported on it extensively in his New York History Blog.

“Peter’s a thoughtful, critical guy but ultimately a high-powered patriot,” says Zuckerman. “He was saying [meaning not my actual words], ‘We’ve got to save the Revolution. It’s an inspirational thing—and you guys are not helping the cause.’ He took the side of the person who had asked the question and accused the historians of pussyfooting, and said that’s why they don’t have any clout and why we have nothing to say to people beyond our own cloister. And people weighed in—most of them attacking Peter, because they were scholars, but everybody was quite righteous.”

A smile plays across Zuckerman’s face. “It was a great brawl, with no resolution.”

Zuckerman anticipated some of the very issues and concerns expressed by the JER editors.

Here is what I actually wrote about that incident in a blog shortly after the conference:

The issue of leadership became a crucial one in the conference proceedings at least as far as I am concerned. Non-academic J.F. Gearhart asked one group of commentators if they thought the American Revolution was a good thing. Is the world a better place because the American Revolution occurred? The pained look on their silent faces spoke volumes. The anguished mental gymnastics of the three visibly uncomfortable academics was reminiscent of an American President coming up with “What is ‘is.’” Finally Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Harvard University, managed to say (and I am paraphrasing), “There were some good things which came out of the American Revolution and some bad things.” Gearhart pressed her to provide a “net-net” rendering on the Revolution. She declined to do so and laughingly noted that her students want her to do the same. (American Revolution Reborn: Missing New York July 10, 2013)

The conference, without meaning to, exposed two critical issues. First how did 19th-century Harvard American historian George Bancroft become 21st-century Harvard American historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich? When did elitist Americans change from being proud to be Americans to looking like deer frozen in the headlights when asked if the American Revolution was a good thing?


As Michael Zuckerman reported, there was a response to my blog. Here is the comment by Michael D. Hattem, Associate Director of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, a co-founder of “The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History, author of Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution, and currently working on Memory of ’76.

I think you misjudged her reaction, which was less that of a “deer caught in the headlights” than of mild bemusement. I also think that you have totally misinterpreted the audience’s reaction, as well. The vast majority of the audience, who were academics, did not have their breath taken away by Ulrich’s pause or her response. Rather, they were stunned that such a simplistic and impertinent question would even be asked at a conference like that and they were silent because they were waiting to see how Ulrich would address it. To her credit, she addressed it quite diplomatically and respectfully (more so than I suspect some in the room would have done). As she said, it was the kind of question that is asked by undergraduates with little to no experience with academic history as a discipline. The first thing an undergraduate learns in a college-level history class is to avoid such generalizations because they can never convey the actual complexity of history. Think of how simplistic and unfair the perception is that anyone who won’t come right and make such a generalized statement as “The American Revolution was good” as being “apologetic anti-American” or having an apologetically “anti-American” view of American history. Now you didn’t make that claim but you described the public perception and I would hope you could see why historians would react in that way to such an anti-historical and anachronistic perspective. I think many academic historians (especially of early America) acknowledge the need for historians to expand their audience among the general public but not by prostrating ourselves at the altar of American exceptionalism or nationalism.

Hattem did not write in boldface. Notice the putdowns of the questioner and me. Notice also how somehow saying the American Revolution is a net good becomes prostrating oneself at the altar of American exceptionalism or nationalism. Hattem continued:

If you want a sanitized, nationalist view of the Revolution and an endless stream of hagiographies of the founders, you can read McCullough, Ellis, Brookhiser and the dozens of others who have cashed in on the reading public’s desire for this Whiggish view. However, if you want to understand the Revolution more deeply outside of a small handful of elites and high politics and to understand how it affected groups of people differently, and how people on the ground actually experienced the Revolution, then you need the academics that were in that room at the APS, because they don’t choose topics or write books based on potential sales. Your instrumentalist and utilitarian view of history is completely at odds with the modern profession, the notion of which is reinforced by your expectations of the conference, which, like most academic conferences, wasn’t meant to provide a thorough narrative of the topic but specialized analyses of important themes. Historians are more concerned with what the Revolution meant to the people who lived through it and its immediate aftermath than what it means to people today. The former is history, the latter is politics. Either knowing or consciously shaping contemporary meanings of the Revolution is beyond the purview of historical inquiry for early American historians.

How does Hattem know that my expectations for the conference were for it to provide a thorough narrative of the topic? There is nothing in the conference schedule that even remotely suggests such an outcome.  Since his current work is on the memory of the American Revolution over time and timed for the 250th anniversary of it, the idea that early American historians are not hoping to shape contemporary meanings of the American Revolution is suspect at best. I suggest his answer provides a casebook example of why academic historians may be regarded as elitists and of the challenge to be overcome to stop alienating the general public.


In this regard, it is interesting to note the change in the tone by Hattem a mere eight years later. On January 27, 2021, He was the speaker in a virtual discussion at the American Philosophical Society (APS) on the topic of his book “Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution. During the Q&A portion, I posed a question and he responded as posted on the APS website.

Q: I just received my copy of the current American Historical Review roundtable of Jill Lepore’s These Truths. This follows on the release of the 1776 Commission report by one president and cancellation by the incoming president. How do we go about creating a new national narrative today? (Peter Feinman)

A: I have thought about this question a lot in thinking about the contemporary relevance of my work and thinking about national memory [apparently no longer beyond the purview of early American historians]. My current project looks at the history of the memory of the Revolution in the 19th and 20th centuries and what I’ve found is that American history became politicized in a distinctly partisan way after 1800 and has been that way ever since. There has never been a time outside the window of the 1790s and early 1800s when there were not competing national narratives and memories. In other words, I do not think it is possible to create a new national narrative that could be widely accepted. Of course, one of the challenges there is that doing so would have to contend with the very powerful resilience of the Cold War-era memory that many American adults grew up with. All that said, I think we are currently in an important moment in the history of the memory of the American Revolution. Conflict over American history seems to ebb and flow along with the degree of political division in the country. Not unlike in the 1760s and 1770s, many Americans today are reconsidering the meaning and legacy of the Revolution. What is somewhat new is that many are calling for it to have no place in our collective civic and political cultures. I do not know if there is a way to create a national narrative with broad appeal in the present but I think that if it were possible it would require avoiding the two extremes we see so often currently of either seeing the Revolution as all good or all bad. What makes American history so interesting to me as a historian is its complexity and both of those extremes tend to flatten American history into two dimensions.

So he is thinking about it a lot … and providing a thoughtful answer. He recognizes the new phenomenon that there are Americans (Woke?) who think the American Revolution should have no place in our collective civic and political cultures. He rejects the view that the American Revolution should be seen as all good or all bad.

According to my notes, Hattem also was asked about what to do today given The New York Times Project 1619 and the (previous) White House 1776 Commission. He replied that he is not as indignant as he used to be [see his answer above from 2013]. He characterized both the 1619 and 1776 reports not as history but as memory construction. For Hattem, the American Revolution is part of the common inheritance for all Americans. We need to find a balance for this shared history which includes both horrible aspects and things which should be celebrated.

His answer reminds me a new development, not quite a trend, in these virtual presentations. I call it the 42 Minute Syndrome. After 42 minutes of being critical of the American Revolution, the speaker notes that there actually were some good things worth celebrating.  For example, consider the virtual discussion held December 20, 2021, at the Wilson Center on Thirteen Clocks: How Race United the Colonies and Made the Declaration of Independence by Robert G. Parkinson. At the end of his opening remarks, Parkinson showed a slide saying:



Parkinson noted what hadn’t happen before was any effort to make a new nation and new republican regime on a very different theory of citizenship. It sounds like he was saying these were good things even though his talk was not about them.

As Liz Covart summed up in her Ben Franklin’s World podcast discussion with Hattem on July 20, 2021, the new nation and political entity needed a new history to which all the different ethnicities could belong. Our familiar historical narrative originated in the effort to unite the populace into one people by creating a shared sense of the past.  Exactly right.

Let me close with my closing words about the American Revolution Reborn conference

There is a difference between challenging America to be great and simply constantly condemning it for its shortcomings. Academics haven’t learned to speak the language of patriotism when criticizing America. They should champion the journey the Founding Fathers began, rather than only criticizing them for failing to meet their 21st century moral standards.

Yes, the American Revolution was a good thing, but we can’t rest on our laurels.

Yes the American Revolution was a good thing, but there is more that needs to be done.

Yes, the American Revolution was a good thing, and with your help the journey the Founding Fathers began can be renewed for the 21st century.

The Thrilla in Manilla: Gordon Wood vs. Woody Holton on 1619

American Historians Battle for the American Revolution

The battle for the American Revolution continues. Since The New York Times threw down the gauntlet in August 2019, the war over the War has been engaged. This is not to say that the war had not broken out earlier. However with the publication of the 1619 Project the battleground has become clearer and more defined. The shortcomings of the 1619 Project have been the subject of previous blogs (The Battle between 1619 and 1776: The New York Times versus the History Community1619: The New York Times versus USA Today (and Hamilton), Happy 1619, Not July 4th, Birthday: All the History Fit to Print that the NYT Omitted).  These problems mainly concern 1619 itself, a year strangely absent from the public battle which has raged since the publication.

A case in point is the most recent showdown between the forces of light and darkness involving two prominent American historians:

Woody Holton, the McCausland professor of history at the University of South Carolina


Gordon Wood, the Alva O. Way university professor and professor of history emeritus at Brown University.

The venue was the Massachusetts Historical Society for a hybrid showdown on October 23, 2021. As befitting this heavyweight match, it was recorded and covered in the press.


The prefight fisticuffs began with a July 2, 2021, publication by Holton in the Washington Post entitled “The Declaration of Independence’s debt to Black America: When African Americans allied themselves with the British, the Patriots were enraged, and they acted.” In this first punch, Holton stated that “African Americans played a crucial, if often overlooked, role in their White owners’ and neighbors’ decision to declare independence from Britain.”

Holton makes his case by starting in Virginia in 1774, five months prior to the shooting engagement at Lexington and Concord.  In this instance, he meeting Holton was referring to was one by Africans who were pondering how to exploit the White conflict to obtain their own freedom. Holton contends that for the following year, the Africans pitched the idea to the British that the outnumbered British needed the numbers the Africans could provide. Eventually that argument prevailed and Lord Dunmore accepted African participation on the British side in exchange for emancipation.

The White response was much as it has been to Critical Race Theory [not Holton’s term}. It was one of fury. Indeed the fury was of such magnitude that it pushed on-the-fence White Americans to endorse the Patriot call for independence. According to Holton, the British kept their promise and resettled over 3000 Africans to Nova Scotia in 1783. As part of the Evacuation Day, November 25 commemoration [Thanksgiving this year], the Lower Manhattan Historical Association [LMHA, me included] will be celebrating it on November 24 this year.

That punch led to a counterpunch, On 1619 and Woody Holton’s Account of Slavery and the Independence Movement: Six Historians Respond on September 6, 2021, by

Carol Berkin, Baruch Presidential Professor of History, City University of New York

Richard D. Brown, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus, University of Connecticut

Jane E. Calvert, Associate Professor of History, University of Kentucky, and Director/Editor, the John Dickinson Writings Project

Joseph J. Ellis, Professor of History, Emeritus, Mount Holyoke College

Jack N. Rakove, William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies and Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, Stanford University

Gordon S. Wood, Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History, Emeritus, Brown University.

In this counterpunch, these warrior historians took aim at Holton’s support of the 1619 Project of The New York Times. They objected to the “unusual claim” that protection of the institution of slavery was the cause of the support for the Patriot side. By the time of Lord Dunmore’s proclamation, Virginia already favored the call for independence and were de facto operating on that basis. They cite the recent book by Mary Beth Norton, former president of the American Historical Association on 1774 to substantiate the claim that the colonists already were effectively independent.

Note: Norton’s book entitled 1774: The Long Year of Revolution actually is about 1774 whereas the 1619 Project is not at all about 1619 at all. If 1619 was a person, it could sue The New York Times for false advertising.

In this counterpunch, these heavyweight historians assert that the colonist independence movement had generated enough momentum prior to the events cited by Holton, sufficient to render his claims moot. They delivered another blow by introducing the phenomenon of the anti-slavery movement in Philadelphia in 1775. So not only is Holton wrong about the American Revolution being based on the goal of preserving slavery, it lead to the movement to abolish it. They close by citing three people who valued the words of the Declaration of Independence: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King.

That counterpunch led to a counter-counterpunch by Holton, The Specter of Emancipation and the Road to Revolution: A Rejoinder to Richard Brown et. al. on September 8. He stated that he was flattered and saddened by the previous article. He was flattered due to the prominence of the authors but saddened that they cannot see what was right before them as historians. He added one piece of new evidence: the 26th charge against King George in the Declaration that he had “excited domestic insurrections amongst us” meaning slave revolts [aka revolts by enslaved people]. He calls #26 “the capstone” based on the presumption that by point 26 people are still paying attention and as much as they did with #1.

Holton pushed the clock back to 1762 [not 1619] with the end of the French and Indian [Indigenous] War. At that time the colonists were content to be subjects of the British Empire; by 1774 they were not. What had happened in the interval? He claims that “one” of these factors was England’s cooperation with the colonists “slaves” [enslaved people]. “It was not the reason, but it was a reason.” The italicized words are from Holton.

He rejected the proposition that the colonists were already headed towards independence. He promised that his new book would supply the evidence for his “staged-based view of the road to independence.” He regretted that the distinguished professors responded to his 700-word Washington Post article to promote his upcoming 700-page book rather than wait for its publication. As a tactical move it seems shortsighted to expect everyone reading his column would remain silent until after the book publication.

Holton closed with a 1 in 26 and “a” and not “the” cause plea that called for the inclusion of slavery as a cause which makes one wonder what all the fuss is about. If he is not going to make slavery the defining cause of the American Revolution, then why the big fight?


The main event drew wide press coverage but did not live up to its hype. The history debate was covered by the Associated Press which made it unusual. It also assured more widespread national coverage than if simply covered by a local paper or a specialized newsletter.

According to the World Socialists, during the first part of the match, Holton was getting beat up for his former position on the Dunmore Proclamation as being the instigator of shift towards independence by White people. The World Socialists describe blow after blow being received by Holton as he admits colony by colony that Dunmore was not a factor in those areas. Gradually the impact of the Coercive Acts in 1774 pushed by Wood became a factor in the historical reconstruction of the path toward independence over one year before Dunmore.

At this point, Wood seemed to have Holton on the ropes historically although I am not quite sure all viewers of the recording would think so. The World Socialists cited this query from a viewer to a flummoxed Holton as the decisive moment:

“If it were the case that the defense of slavery was the major cause, or a primary cause, of the American Revolution, then why did the British possessions in the Caribbean, where slavery was even stronger, not join the revolution? Why did they remain the most loyal area of the empire?”

At that point, the debate about the American Revolution shifted to the political arena. According to the Hillel Italie (AP):

But midway through the 60-minute event the subject turned to The New York Times’ 1619 Project, the Pulitzer Prize winning series from 2019 that placed slavery at the center of the American narrative. The mood soon resembled less a spirited, but academic gathering than a court of law, with Wood on the stand.

According to William Hogeland, Slate, “The Historians Are Fighting: Inside the profession, the battle over the 1619 Project continues”:

It devolved into a long, loud sequence when a revved-up, happy-warrior Holton started fast-talking over and relentlessly haranguing a clearly irritated Wood, who was reduced to defensive sputtering.

Tom Mackaman, World Socialists, phrased it slightly differently:

Not even halfway through, Holton was given a lifeline by moderator Catherine Allgor of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Allgor moved the discussion to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the celebrity figurehead of the 1619 Project. Getting his cue, Holton went on the attack.

Suddenly it was a brand new ball game. The supposed history debate took a sharp turn for the worse and became a political mud wrestling confrontation. Holton said (AP):

“You are a founding father, Professor Wood, of a massive campaign of censorship. You’re not the most responsible, but the five of you are responsible. And that’s why, right now, I want to ask you to write another open letter to Sen. Cotton, and to Gov. DeSantis, and to all the other demagogues who are using your letter to ban the 1619 project, to say, ‘I am Gordon Wood, and damnit, I am not in favor of censorship.’”

The World Socialists described this turn of events as follows:

However, most of the hourlong debate was given over to provocations from Holton, who repeatedly accused Wood and other scholars who have criticized the New York Times ’ 1619 Project of being responsible for Republican Party efforts to censor it. Holton’s opposition to censorship is, to say the least, highly selective. While he opposes Republican efforts to censor the 1619 Project—as does the World Socialist Web Site —he denounces and would silence all criticism of the 1619 Project from left or scholarly perspectives, as his attacks on Wood made clear.

Hogeland succinctly described the change in debate as:

…intensifying a recent trend in modes of dispute among scholars of the founding period…. Venerable traditions of academic history haven’t usually included mano a mano contests on fine points of interpretation, held for the excitement of the baying crowd or, as in this case, the edification of decorous history buffs.

He calls them the “two pugilists.” This turn of events represents the future of American historians. As they leave the ivory tower and become participants in the Culture Wars/Civil War, they will increasingly ask or be asked to take a stand in that war such as on the 1619 Project. As a result, historians like Supreme Court judges will become partisans and lose their image of impartialness or objectivity [Note – “objectivity” has been designated a racist white characteristic which should not be imposed on non-white people.] Welcome to the brave new world of history mud wrestling. Are you ready?

This line-in-the sand and 1619 intrusion into everything becomes clear in the post-match interviews conducted by the AP.

During a telephone interview a few days later, Wood called the debate a “disaster,” said he was “blindsided” by Holton’s attack and that Holton was carrying out his role as “the primary defender” among historians of the 1619 project. Asked if he found any positive qualities in the series, which includes essays on politics, culture, criminal justice and religion among other subjects, he criticized it for encouraging a sense of “victimhood” and feeling “aggrieved” that he called understandable but ”self-destructive” in the long run….

 “I had no idea of what DeSantis was doing,” he said of the Florida governor, who has labeled the 1619 project “critical race theory” and backed the state’s board of education’s decision last summer to ban the book from classrooms. “It’s out of my hands. We can’t do our historical research … (worrying) that it might be misused by politicians.”

Speaking of politics, consider this description of Holton by the World Socialists:

Instead, Holton’s conception of the American Revolution is tailor-made to meet the present political needs of the Democratic Party. Unlike Beard, and much more akin to the old Jim Crow-era “folkways” social scientists, Holton claims to deduce the historical action of the Revolution by imposing on the past the identity categories of the present, particularly the racial ones. His “method” entails the deployment of what he calls “pieces of evidence,” carefully selected and ripped from their context, to prove his “point” and the disregarding of evidence to the contrary.

 Holton’s father is Linwood Holton, a Republican governor of Virginia who became a Democrat, and his brother-in-law is Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate in 2016. The family’s fortune is drawn from western Virginia coal mining, certainly one of the most exploitative industries in American history. These biographical facts may go some distance in explaining Holton’s fealty to the 1619 Project, which is central to the Democratic Party’s efforts to eradicate discussion of social class in the past and the present.

Welcome to the new reality. The past is only not past, it is the political mud wrestling arena present and future.


Guidelines Issued for the American Revolution 250th (July 1, 2021)

On July 1, the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) issued guidelines for the Semiquincentennial. These guidelines are not an official document as AASLH is not a government entity. However it does work closely with the Federal Commission. Also it is a national organization so it has its finger on the pulse of what is going on with state and local museums throughout the country.

As part of the release of the guidelines, John Dichtl, president and CEO, AASLH, conducted a virtual program with three contributors to the work of the organization:

Terry Brown, America 250 Foundation / National Park Service

Aimee Newell, Museum of the American Revolution / AASLH Small Museums Committee

Sara Cureton, Executive Director, New Jersey Historic Commission.

The session was more of a conversation than a workshop and should be considered a first step in a multi-year journey. I participated in the program and have download and read the guidelines. This blog combines information from both.

A Vision for the Semiquincentennial by John Dichtl

“(W)e have often struggled to live up to the lofty ideals expressed in our founding documents.”

For me, these words from the opening sentence of the guidelines are critical to the vision of the 250th. The Founding Fathers considered their creation to be an experiment. They knew the documents they wrote were not the final word. The Fifth Article (not to be confused with the Fifth Amendment) defined the Constitution as an open ended document. The Founders then immediately exercised their rights under that Article to pass ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights. They saw the creation of the country as the start of a journey and not something constituted in stone. We will be better served as country during the Semiquincentennial if we keep reminding ourselves that we are part of an ongoing journey and experiment rather than to limit ourselves to simpleminded judgmental pronouncements about people from 250 years ago. Our challenge is to continue the journey started on July 4, 1776.

Unfortunately Dichtl then limits the 250th in a way that will prove a challenge to history museums and organizations. He sets a target date of 2026, five years from now. The speakers did the same in the online session. The guideline points to July 4, 2026, in Philadelphia as the culmination of the project. Officially, it is the peak.

Speaking as New Yorker, July 4, 1776, is just the beginning of when things get interesting. From the famous toppling of the statue of King George III, to the Battle of New York/Brooklyn/Long Island, to the Battle of Saratoga, to the Clinton-Sullivan Campaign, to Benedict Arnold, to Rochambeau, to the Newburgh Conspiracy, and finally Evacuation Day on November 25, 1783, the action in this state really heats up after the culmination date of the Federal project. The proposed legislation passed by the State (not yet signed into law) has 2033 as the end date for our commission. Needless-to-say, other states similarly will want to remember events after July 4, 2026.

The date disparity could become a funding issue. At this point we do not know if the Federal Government will pull the plug on spending for the 250th on July 4, 2026 or not. I did raise this issue in the chat during the online session. The AASLH is aware of the concern. At some point, the issue of funding after July 4, 2026 may become an advocacy issue.

Fortunately Dichtl’s other vision is right on the mark. He calls this a “once in a generation opportunity to renew public engagement with history.” As part of the oral history, we should be interviewing people who participated in the Bicentennial and displaying objects from that celebration. Dichtl expresses the hope that “Through the stories we share, this anniversary can encourage patriotism and pride in American resilience while also fostering critical awareness of our faults, past and present.”  Amen to that. Let the journey continue.  He sees it as a transformational opportunity for the history community. Amen to that as well.

250 Years and Counting by Sara Cureton   

Speaking of the Bicentennial, Cureton begins her contribution with an anecdote about a meeting for the Semiquincentennial where she was the only one who remembered the Bicentennial. She reflected on the lessons from that anniversary as thinking of history as endlessly interesting and impactful. Good lessons to have learned for a state leader of an historical commission!

As a state commissioner, Cureton takes a local approach as well. She mentions the listening sessions held around the state with many different communities. She observes that our fellow citizens often are much more interested in the historic sites in their hometowns. That makes sense. We are physical beings so what we can see, walk by, and touch in our own lives and communities will be meaningful.

However, there is a problem here. During the Q&A, the question came up about communities that did not exist during the American Revolution. In New Jersey that might not be much of a problem but in New York too, before the Erie Canal was built (Bicentennial 2025), many communities today did not exist then. They may have descendants from the American Revolution living there now. They may have records of the first July 4 the community celebrated regardless of when and can track what the day meant to their community over time. As states, they have dates when the joined the country as a state and July 4 became their birthday too. Immigrants have dates of naturalization when July 4 became the birthday of their country. June 2, 2024, is the centennial of the Indian Citizenship Act when Indians gained the right to vote. There are different ways to connect to July 4, 1776, besides the physical and the biological.


With this section, the guide introduces five themes for the anniversary. It refers to the National Endowment for the Humanities, a funder, launching “’A More Perfect Union’: America at 250.” It “recognizes that very generation of Americans is tasked with improving this nation.”  The guidebook calls on every history organization in the United States to participate.  Even though the commemoration will be decentralized, the guidebook will enable you to be connected with thousands of other museums, historical societies, history departments, and classrooms across the country. OK, a little Chamber-of-Commerce boosterism is acceptable.

Theme: Unfinished Revolutions – There is still work to be done.

Theme: Power of Place – I always write that Nature sets the stage and humans write the play and then alter the stage. This theme relates to those ideas.

Theme: We the People – For me the key element in this theme is the right to vote. One might also add the equal opportunity to be able to vote in a reasonable way. For example, the aforementioned instance of Indians gaining the right to vote in 1924 is a marker of their citizenship as Americans and inclusion in We the People. The scant opportunity to actually cast their votes on huge reservations with few polling places and limited car ownership undermines that right.

Theme: American Experiment: This theme has a civics component in examining how local, state, and federal governments are constituted and by whom.

Theme: Doing History – How do we do history? The New York Times 1619 Project, the Donald Trump 1776 Commission, Critical Race Theory? Certainly how we do history is in the news.

I have a problem with these themes. Each one comes with five bullet points that the guidelines state the audience should consider in the programming by the local history organizations. The problem is these themes and bullet points sound like adult education classes or discussion groups at the local history organization, library, or classroom. There is nothing wrong with that but there is a very academic tone to the guidelines. It’s too dry to be inspiring. There is nothing about celebration. There should be more than a course in American History 250 at the local high school or community college. I miss the excitement.

Here is what is missing from the guidelines. I realize that they are a first step and could not cover everything.

State Commissions

The AASLH certainly is aware of the state commissions. It tracks the creation of them. There is still a long way to go. What exactly is a state commission supposed to do once it is created? One should keep in mind the wide variety in the range of resources available at the state level. For example, in New York, the Office of the State Historian consists of one person. If a voluntary commission is created, all the work is going to be dumped on that one individual. Fortunately the state legislators know that is problem so perhaps something will be done. I imagine each state will have its own story to tell about the practicalities of fulfilling the guidelines

Recommendation – A second guide should be created outlining on a more practical basis what a state commission should do and the resources required to it. I have my own ideas which I will not present here.

Recommendation – Communication mechanisms should be established (by the AASLH? By the Federal Commission?) so the state commissions can share experiences on a regular and routine basis.

State to State Collaboration and Cooperation

While the motto of the official commission seems to be “decentralization,” neither states nor local history organizations can go it alone. Think of the aforementioned Rochambeau as an event involving multiple states. Concomitant with Rochambeau is the journey of Cornwallis through states in the South leading to the showdown at high noon in Virginia.

Recommendation – Potential multi-state events should be identified and task forces created for them with the states who will be involved. Again communication mechanisms should be established.

Trips and Tourism

I did not notice anything about tourism and trips in the guidelines and discussion. Everything seemed to be geared to the individual history organization acting alone. Tourism will be an important part of the 250th. For example to stick with Rochambeau, there will be people who will travel the route from Rhode Island to Virginia. That means more than having a website or app. It means good old-fashioned mapping of routes including noting when the route actually is not a road today and may even be on private property. There is (or was) a NPS group based in Philadelphia that has been involved precisely in mapping the route. Now we are arriving at the next stage of transforming that information into a tourist experience.

Recommendation – A guidelines book should be created for the tourist departments of the states both for the intra-state responsibilities and inter-state ones. As someone who has created American Revolution programs visiting multiple sites in the Hudson Valley, Mohawk Valley, and Champlain Valley, I am very interested in this topic. People are going to want to travel to the sites where the events of the American Revolution took place.


Related to tourism is teacher education. Again I speak from experience as the trips noted above were for teachers. Unfortunately, the Teaching American History Grants have bit the dust. Perhaps they can be resurrected as Teaching American Revolution History Grants.

Recommendation – Revive the Teaching American History grants for the American Revolution. Work with the State Education Departments to create teacher training programs in each state based on the American Revolution and which will be available to teachers nationwide. Reaching out to national academic organizations needs to be part of the planning.

Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service

This NPS-commissioned study was commissioned years ago, I wrote several blogs about it in 2016-2018. The recommendations from the study never were implemented. Indeed over the past few years, the NPS focused more on survival than forging ahead.

Recommendation – Use the Semiquincentennial as an opportunity to implement the recommendations of the Imperiled Promise study so the NPS will be better prepared to fulfill its responsibilities during the project.

A final note must be made about the culture wars now more accurately described as America’s Third Civil War. Part of the story of the American Revolution is that it was our first Civil War. Now we live in a time when masks have weaponized, vaccines have been weaponized, and the American flag is a symbol of disunity. History organizations have no particular skill or expertise in navigating through this contentious time where more and more Americans regard July 4 as a day of infamy for which white people should repent.  We can anticipate as one more presidential election will occur before July 4, 2026, that the situation will only get worse.

During the Q&A on July 1, one person asked about disinformation, fake news and fake history and the pitfalls and landmines in divisive political times. Cureton’s response was that the political may be the biggest challenge in divisive times.  Exactly right. The Centennial occurred after the Civil War. The Bicentennial occurred after Watergate and Vietnam. The Semiquincentennial is occurring while America’s Third Civil War rages not yet like a California wildfire but potentially becoming one. The very event itself will be weaponized and exacerbate the situation. There is no guidebook for that.

Woke American Exceptionalism Is Still American Exceptionalism

American Exceptionalism (“A Union in the Interest of Humanity – Civilization Freedom and Peace for all Time.” ca. 1898, Donaldson Litho Co.; Library of Congress)

Woke American exceptionalism is still American exceptionalism. This realization occurred to me last week when I was watching a Woke presentation online and the term flashed in my mind. It wasn’t exactly a “eureka” or OMG moment as the light bulb clicked on. But it was a coming together of thoughts that brought order to chaos and helped me make sense of what has been transpiring in the culture wars especially recently.

Woke American exceptionalism is a derivative of standard American exceptionalism. America is still inherently different from all other countries but from a different perspective. It retains the Christian, Protestant basis. But it expresses not simply an “America First” value but an “America Alone.” In other words, it pronouncements often occur as if the rest of human history hadn’t occurred and that the only humanity that matters is the one here because we are exceptional.

Below are the examples that led me to this realization.


The American Revolution looms large in traditional American exceptionalism. We were God’s New Israel fighting Pharaoh for freedom. We were led by people of Providential inspiration who brought us to victory. We were born and constituted by sacred documents.

Not quite with Woke American exceptionalism. If anything it was the reverse which happened. The people who led the so-called Revolution and the documents they created are to be condemned as the products of a racist, sexist, imperialist people. The country they created far from being an example for the world completely failed to meet Woke standards.

So where does the United States in 1787 rate on the Woke scale of judgement?

How many multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious countries were there in the world in 1787?

Of those countries, how many declared their basis on the principle of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” or something similar even if it was honored in the breach?

Of those countries, how many had never occupied the land of another people?

Was what was exceptional about the United States in 1787 was that it existed in a world of multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious  countries of no slavery and freedom for all that included no conquered land and were in compliance with Woke standards?

Perhaps instead of judging the United States of 1787 based on Woke values today, it also would be appropriate to examine the United States in comparison to where the rest of the world rates on the Woke scale. Instead of simply condemning the United States for failing to live up to the vision expressed in 1776 and 1787, how many multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious countries even had such a vision then in the first place that they could fail to observe?


In the last few weeks, the toppling of the statues of slave-owners has accelerated. Founding Fathers who also owned people have been particularly targeted. In a previous blog, I wrote about the competing views of two New York Times op-ed writers (To Topple or Not to Topple Statues: The Battle between “Come Let Us Reason Together” versus “Abso-fricking-lutely!”). One, Bret Stephens, called for determining whether the person in question had helped advance the country towards the goal of creating a more perfect union. The other, Charles Blow, drew a line in sand: if you own people, then you should be toppled.

At the very end, after I had written the blog, a thought occurred to me. I added this ending before I posted it:

P.S. The damnatio memoriae (or “condemnation of the memory”) was tried in ancient Egypt on Queen Hatshepsut and King Akhnaton. Will we now have to erase the names of Pharaohs who had slave labor including Nubians and demolish their buildings or is that up to Egypt? What should we teach about these “abhorrent and depraved” people like Tut?

It was this comment that started me towards Woke American Exceptionalism a week later, to thinking beyond America. How many Pharaohs, Caesars, kings, and emperors didn’t own people? If George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are to be toppled, what does that mean for the non-American slave-owners? What does it mean for the tourist sites of many countries once tourism begins again? What does it mean for the holdings of museums? Are all slave-owners from all places from all times to be toppled or just the white ones?


The event that put the pieces together in my mind was a program “Whose Hero? New Perspectives on Monuments in Public Landscapes” by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience on June 24 and 26. I was only able to watch part of the initial program and it was a few weeks before I could see the taped version of it. The specific presentation in question was by Sally Roesch Wagner, the Executive Director, Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation (whom I know). She is from South Dakota. Her topic was mostly about Mount Rushmore. It has been in the news lately and will be the subject of a future blog.

Much of Sally’s presentation was information about Mount Rushmore, its design, its purpose. Then she strayed into not history or politics but to psychology. I will not repeat or summarize what she had to say about the heterosexual white male except to note her enjoyment in denigrating them for these expressions of power like Mount Rushmore. It was at that moment when I had my moment of clarity.

What I thought of was Abu Simbel.

Ramses II at Abu Simbel (Wikepedia)

You are looking at four giant-sized statues of a male. Unlike Mount Rushmore, the four personages are the same person, Ramses II, Pharaoh of the Exodus. He is a slave-owner who needs to be toppled by Woke standards. The Founding Fathers identified with the Israelites “who were slaves in Egypt” and sought to escape the yoke of Pharaoh as they did of King George III. It was while listening to Sally about Mount Rushmore that I thought of Ramses at Abu Simbel. Then I thought of the other Egyptians male rulers who had built giant statues to themselves. Then I thought about rulers of other lands like Mesopotamia. Kings (and Queens) build things. They build cities, temples, forts, palaces, irrigation systems, roads, and victory monuments and statues in their own honor.

We used to build things in America. From the Erie Canal to the Apollo Moon Landing, we were a society that built things. Only lately, meaning in the 20th century, did we start building edifices for each and every President called Presidential Libraries. In human history, it is hardly unusual for rulers to shout their praises to the heavens. Typically rulers commemorate themselves. In any event, listening to Sally talk about Mount Rushmore led to think about Abu Simbel and then to all the ways rulers have for millennia throughout the world build in their own honor.  Part of what is unusual about Mount Rushmore is that none of the people on the mount commissioned the work. Mount Rushmore is part of a larger story of the human experience. But then again, Woke American Exceptionalism isn’t interested in what people elsewhere have done, only what evil Americans have done.


Now that I was aware of Woke American Exceptionalism, I was prepared for it. I then watched an education program by the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). In that program, the presenter spoke about the use of the word “savages” to describe American Indians. He cited both primary sources and textbooks.

His references to “savages” immediately caused me to look beyond white Americans. Once again, Egypt was way ahead of us on describing people as subhumans who live like animals.

Lo, the miserable Asiatic,
He is wretched because of the place he’s in:
Short of water, bare of wood,
Its paths are many and painful because of mountains
He does not dwell in one place,
Food propels his legs,
He fights since the time of Horus,
Not conquering nor being conquered,
He does not announce the day of combat,
Like a thief who darts about a group.
(The Instruction to Merikare)

Just so you know I am not picking on the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians voiced similar views.

The Martu who know no grain
The Martu who know no house or town
The boors of the mountains…
Dresses in sheepskins,
Lives in a tent at the mercy of wind and rain
Does not offer sacrifice
He digs up truffles in steppe but does not know how to bend his knee
He eats raw meat. In life he has no house, in death he lies lot buried in a grave.
(The Marriage or Myth of Martu)

The uncivilized “other” has been around for a long time. Typically the “other” is portrayed in unflattering terms.

Here is an example from a World War I recruiting poster. Without the words, would it have occurred to you that Germans were the savage other?

The Hun versus Lady Liberty (Recruiting Poster


One of the lessons I was reminded of from Woke American Exceptionalism is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Science fictions fans are aware that First Contact and Close Encounters of the First, Second, and Third Kind can be fraught with danger (Columbus Day: Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Sooner or later, people with disproportionate power over another people tend to use it….and justify it on the basis that the foe aren’t real people as we are.

Finally, let’s not forget Christianity and Woke American Exceptionalism. Once upon a time, indigenous people throughout the world lived in peace and harmony with each other and nature. Then white people arrived and the Original Sin occurred. Now those people need to repent and restore the purity which once existed. It’s one of our oldest stories.

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.


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.


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!



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.”


(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.

(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.

(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.
            (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.

(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.

(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.
            (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.

(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.

(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.

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”