Why Study American History?

The answer for me is pretty simple, I have just always found it compelling. I think now, in today’s divisive and confrontational American Culture, it is more interesting than when I was a student. There are new and vibrant narratives arising from the tombs of “original scholarship”, narratives that develop history from diverse perspectives rather than traditional American “Exceptionalistic” interpretations. The interesting thing about that is that the new narratives still point to America as exceptional. Not in the sense that I was taught, which was there was a group of men who drew “divine profound philosophy” from a sacred mountaintop and gathered a leaderless group of colonies together and successfully revolted against the most powerful nation in the world. But that there were a group of disjointed British Colonies, without a common set of codified laws, or united government; nor any kind of organized militia, fleet, or manufacturing capacity; citizens that began slowly to come together through the freedom of assembly and expression that existed precisely because there was not a centralized American government and in defiance of British restraints.

So I was taught about the Founders and what they did and said, not much about the 99.9% of the rest of the people, nor how they evolved from vastly different life styles and emerging cultures to choose to unite and fight for freedom. Freedom from what they feared the most….slavery to Great Britain. Learning how they looked past their own internal terrible slavery contradiction until it exploded. Learning how they united in a world with no instant messaging, or broadcast media, but with home spun presses, whose pages were mostly local until a horseman would carry it to another press in another town to be included in the next printing.

It is fascinating to me to read about the birth of the sons of liberty in one New York town and how this concept on unity swept slowly through ununited colonies and then ebbed as the stamp act was repealed only to rise again and spread throughout the colonies and across the Atlantic to Great Britain, France and even Italy and how this passion for freedom rose in the hearts and minds of citizens throughout the Western World. And also to learn about the town meetings, non importation committees, largely women, who restricted the sale of British goods as a protest to onerous taxation. How the Boston Tea Party was actually a quiet,last resort and self policed resistance.

It was the 99.9% that empowered the Founders, not the other way around. Studying them is where the action is and I am thrilled to find that the new and emerging scholarship is delving through the written legacies from those times and bringing them to light. For what was achieved was the beginning of government not of Kings and despots and religion but of the rule of law. The rule of law structured to bring all the points of view of citizens to the table, to prevent the rule of the few, and to enable shared (compromised) agreement of the many.

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