It’s hard to explain my deep interest in the American revolution and our nation’s founding years. Certainly, my interest and knowledge of American history (and world history, for that matter) is not limited to the 18th century. I have a strong passion (some might even say lust) for history that extends beyond the simple quest to acquire historical information—I want to understand the interconnectivity between the eras, the people who shaped them, and the lives of those who lived through them.
When you grow up southern, history seaps into your soul as you’re nursed on Civil War stories. Yet, I never quite understood why southerners prattle endless about that conflict while the American revolution received little mention. Over the last year and a half, nearly all my alloted reading time has been devoted to the periods preceding, during, and immediately following the American revolution. As such, I have have a very good understanding of the dynamics that created our nation.
The revolt againt Britain was not a unified motion by the colonies and many citizens and politicians preferred to dissolve the coalition once the colonies achieved their independence. Many of the individual colonies’ political agenda items were negotiated so that the United States would not flounder in those first critical years. As such, the Civil War was the bloody embodiment of disagreements begun before we’d even won American independence from Britain. (To be overgeneralized and glossing: strong central government vs. states’ rights).
When I lived in Philadelphia, I’d snag a coffee and scratch out postcards while seated in the gardens that surround the site of Benjamin Franklin’s house and print shop (just south of Market). I’d walk past brownstones wondering who had built or first inhabitated them. I was disconnected from the past—I considered the founding fathers quaint and noted the landmarks attached to them as interesting “tourist traps.”
One morning I nearly fainted when I rounded the corner of the Carpenter’s Hall to see Benjamin Franklin sitting on a small bench. An actor of course, but for a moment, looking forward and back, I was completely unsure of my place in the physical world. History came alive, quite literally. Sometime soon after, I began a ritual of only walking through the middle arch on the western side of Independence Hall on my way to and from work. I took great comfort knowing the men who carved out history had, in fact, walked those streets, sat in those gardens, and inhabitated those brownstones.
JIG. 2006. Sadly, I can no longer walk freely under those arches at my whim since 9/11.
I am in awe of the truly great acts achieved by the common person during that period in our history. The more I read, the more I feel bound to Philadelphia in part as my sense of adoration and inspiration is heightened when I am surrounded by those “tourist traps”. None of the founding fathers (cue inspiring orchestral piece) could have even grasped the magnitude that their actions would have upon the future of our country. Surely, they dreamed and some of them wrote volumes to prop and steady the fledgling union, but could they have imagined this?
I’ve declared I’ll read biographies on every single US President. I’ve read one on Washington, Adams (in addition to three 20th century presidents), and am currently reading Alexander Hamilton’s biography by Chernow. While not a President, I would argue no other individual contributed more to the foundation of our government. His careful interpretation of the Constitution (Federalist Papers co-authored with James Madison and John Jay) in addition to his economic plan is astounding. The Federalist Papers and the Congressional documents/reports he submitted during his tenure as Treasury Secretary continued to be cited by legislative and judicial bodies well into the 2oth century.
My declaration demands I read a book on Jefferson. I now cleave towards Hamiltonian ideals and loathe Jefferson. I will read at least one Jefferson biography and I will respect Jefferson’s contributions, but I shall never gain an appreciation for his personal character and integrity, of which, I state, he had none. The following two presidents (Madison and Monroe) played instrumental roles carving out a dissenting political party with Jefferson. I respect their collective insight that the nation would need multiple parties to represent the people. Hmmm.
By reading through, I’ll gain the understanding I seek. We are a nation of common citizens and who can aspire to and obtain great achievements. I do not believe the best days of our country are behind us. Yet, our nation is only as strong as we are willing to participate and ensure its integrity. I am reminded of a blog I wrote in January ( https://wovensunshine.wordpress.com/2007/01/18/civic-duty-and-democratic-processes/ ).
This leads me to my last thought. My neigbhors have all commented on the flag I choose to fly on special occasions. I post the colonial stars and strips with great purpose. I support this country and the ideals that are its foundation. I honor the dead who obtained its independence, the generations since who have sacrificed to maintain that union, and rights it has afforded me as a citizen.
I will not fly the American flag until our troops come home from Afganistan and Iraq in something other than body bags. I have the right to do so because of those men who created those rights for themselves and the future generation. That is what I celebrate today— those inalienable rights that are secured for me—for you and every citizen of this country by the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Happy Independence Day.