Get your political fix from an unrepentant political junkie.
“One of the most difficult things to teach about studying history is to realize that nobody lived in the past. They lived in the present. It was their present — it wasn’t ours. It was different from ours. It is important to remember that. They didn’t know how things would turn out. That is the hubris of the present. That somehow we are superior. We know so much more than those folks. In many ways they were superior to us.” — David McCullough at Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014
I never tire of studying the American Revolution and the founding of the republic. You might could think I would be numb from going over the same material every semester. Yes, to some extent and for some material. Ah, but I never tire of studying the American Revolution and early Republic. I am continuously amazed and humbled by their courage, sacrifice, and wisdom. This greatest American generation very possibly was not even aware of the monumental impact of their decision to separate from Great Britain and form a new nation. What precedent did they have? The Americans knew history. Revolts seldom resulted in a peaceful and cohesive society for the rebels. For reference, see modern Syria.
The American Revolution leaders were not brutal, bloodthirsty egomaniacs. One exceptional mark of the American Revolution was its moderation. Of course, violence erupted among the citizens. Then, it was quickly quelled. Of course, the war was bloody. The disciplined officers and soldiers kept their goal of independence in sight. Of course, some in power sought more than was deserved, but they created their own destruction. How easily the American colonial revolt could have ended as so many revolts do: unsuccessful and with great destruction to their own society.
As an American, it so easy to romanticize about our country’s beginnings. Isn’t that what celebrations are for? We celebrate all the goodness that is America!
What continues to amaze me is that the revolutionary Americans avoided the typical outcome of revolt for most cultures and countries, whose loss of humanity and civility were so great that they re-created the brutality and tyranny that they were so desperate to destroy. Each key leader and each key event in the American Revolution could have easily taken the Americans in the direction toward greed and human carnage. For reference, look at the French Revolution.
The American colonists, somehow through God’s grace and their own deliberate choices, avoided those excesses and focused on a society of morality and law. The two are not synonymous, and they knew that. Morality is an individual choice. Law is a civic consensus. The law can set a minimum requirement for social stability, but only the individual can make moral choices. This is another exceptional mark of the American Revolution and republic. The Great Awakening and the Enlightenment, like an alloy, merged the metals of Jonathan Edwards and John Locke and created a very strong new society. The two movements were opposites in their philosophical approaches to society and morality, but they ended up in the same place: individual freedom and responsibility. In more sacred language: free will and piety. A free, stable society depends on the moral individual, and the individual accepts the responsibility of living in a free, stable society.
“God save our American States!”
Click on this link to view a clip of the John Adams series, dramatizing the historic evolution of the Declaration of Independence: https://youtu.be/uNOTozVp_i4?list=LLVgEeXpmoh5KYyGFd3gbimg.
Here is an audio clip with visuals of Paul Harvey discussing what happened to the signers of the Declaration of Independence: https://youtu.be/Zw6sKtXDCZk.
The esteemed historian David McCullough speaks here on why the Founders were the Greatest Generation of Americans ever.