“1776” And All That

I had spent several DECADES – first as a politics and history instructor, and since particularly 2017 as an author – trying NOT to approach our U.S. history in the later 1700s and early 1800s as some sort of costume drama. It is a time that has become smothered in legend and misunderstanding. Yet it was, of course, like every other historical epoch, always about people as varied and complex, as questioning, as contradictory, as self-interested, as imperfect, and indeed as lost at times, as are we ourselves.

[“The Declaration of Independence,” painted by John Trumbull. Original in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Photo by me, Windham, New York, 2020.]

The U.S. was in 1776 also a much smaller country in terms of population than it is today. However, it was from that start always composed, like today, of some percentage of people who disliked the status quo, others who wanted nothing at all to change (and were determined if need be to sit on those less fortunate in order to keep change from happening), and others – perhaps most – who did their best just to survive. It was NEVER just “one thing.”

Most importantly, it was NOT as static a society, nor as homogeneous, as that man in the White House from 2017-2021, and various other propagandists (often clearly white supremacists), have tried to convey, and the new president is rightly trying to deal with that:

The era was so much more than the notions pushed by those who today seek to portray it as some (white supremacist) pageant of morally untouchable three-cornered hat and breeches wearing gentlemen and bonnet-attired ladies sighing behind fans. Indeed the previous president’s depth of knowledge of the U.S. independence conflict and the early years of independence itself appears to have been obtained largely from watching, and basically stopped with, particularly the first two episodes of “Schoolhouse Rock!” – a 1970s educational cartoon TV series aimed at pre-teens that was meant to serve as an entertaining introduction to that history. His idiotic and deliberately polarizing 4th of July 2020 address at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, is one ugly example of that.

[1776, by David McCullough. Photo by me, 2019.]

Most importantly, what that former president and his seditionist allies stood (and stand) for is NOT “the spirit of 1776” in the sense of progress that many – but again, not all – Founders sought and hoped to see.

Rather they were and are the heirs more accurately of the secessionists of “1861” – which is why so many of them are so comfortable with, and so proudly wave, the Confederate battle flag.

[A 1797 mid-Atlantic Ocean excerpt from Tomorrow The Grace. Paperback. Photo by me, 2021.]

As you probably know I am now writing a new novel that follows on from that 2019 one just above. Again partly it encompasses life in and figures from those years of early U.S. independence. To write about the United States of 1776-1820 while living under that president’s ignorance, relentless mischaracterization, and attempted manipulation of that period for his own propagandistic purposes, had been a battle in its way all its own. I feel with “Dear Leader’s” electoral defeat and the failed insurrection, as if a heavy weight has been lifted from my creative shoulders.

Many of you reading this I know are not Americans, and some of what I write in this post may seem unfamiliar to you. What you have seen in particular of the last four years and especially of that electorally defeated president’s attempt on January 6, 2021 to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power that has occurred EVERY four years since 1797 brought clearly to the surface an ugly side of the U.S. that sadly has always been there, but has often not been much seen outside of America; in fact many Americans themselves, prior to mass communication, did not see it much either. Allow me perhaps to put it this way: You too have, regardless of where you live in the world, reactionaries and those who live in your countries who wish to return to some imagined “golden era” in your national past as well, and you may know too of the civic damage fantasists such as those may cause.

The impeachment charge of “insurrection” directed at the defeated president for his part in orchestrating an assault on the U.S. Capitol that could only have had first president George Washington…

…turning our Army against it, (which is the apparent object, unless Congress can be compelled into an instant compliance) has something so shocking in it, that humanity revolts at the idea. My God! What can this Writer have in view, by recommending such measures? Can he be a friend to the Army? Can he be a friend to this Country?…

…spinning in his Mount Vernon tomb, is to be sent to the United States Senate today, where he will be tried starting we are told on February 8. Whether he is convicted or not (two-thirds of senators – 67 out of 100 – must vote to convict him, so he may not be given his remaining apologists in that body), a sad and destructive four years in American history is over. History, though, never ends, of course.

Have a good Monday, wherever you are. 🙂