The Past is Never Dead, Just Beaten Up a Bit

Not a Founding Father

This is just getting out of hand – though it is my fault for listening and reading sources that I know I should avoid like the plague.  A few months ago I wrote – somewhere – that everybody elected to Congress should be required to first take – and pass- a graduate level class in American History. (OK, I’ll accept proof that they  have read a cross section of seminal books on the subject, but that would require me to come up with a list, a method of verification, probably more safeguards, and that is a project for another day).

In any event, the, utter, ignorance of American History by people who should (a) know it as an integral part of their jobs; (b) do research before opening their mouths in a National forum (sure, I know it’s onerous, what with the Library of Congress being on-line along with a few other tidbits); (c) intrinsically understand that in today’s age what one writes or utters into a camera or microphone becomes inescapably eternal (unless one has the honest gall of Charles Barkley who claimed he had been misquoted in his autobiography  . . . then admitted he had not only not written it, he hadn’t read it . .  . of course he has no power aside continuously motivating the Boston Celtics by never failing to underestimate them); (d) lose the unmitigated arrogance of making up history – for whatever reason- and think nobody will notice, or if notice, care. (or, worse, stop spinning history like something out of 1984 or Robert Harris’ Fatherland to 
effectively change it to fit a personal/political agenda).

Andrew Jackson
Less Government?  Well, sure. as long as . . .

This is more than the State of Virginia approving a history textbook – based on Internet research- stating thousands of blacks fought for Stonewall Jackson, or the thousands still espousing – in every newspaper article, Facebook page, on line forum that allows comment – the ‘Civil War was about State’s Rights, not slavery’ theory (really?  What State’s Right, specifically – the Commerce Clause? Full faith and credit? Nullification?)
There has been a spate of high profile people citing history recently, each and every one of them so gut-clenchingly wrong as to be riotously funny if not offered in mind bending seriousness toward some political end.  Tea Partyer Michele Bachmann – who clearly has photos of the Republican high command in fellgante with a flock of sheep and the surviving Lollipop Guild members – had two winners last week: (1) the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to eradicate slavery. Quite a tarnish to their legacy: they defeated the greatest power of the age, formed the first democratic republic – without a model – but couldn’t quite get there on slavery?  How about the truth that any attack on slavery would have meant no America, no Constitution, perhaps the US would have evolved as a new Europe, crowded with countries, albeit with a common language; (2) she happily identified John Quincy Adams ( a favorite of mine) as one such Founding Father. . . .  founding foundling more like it, he was a week short of his ninth birthday when Dad signed the Declaration of Independence. . . . 
John Boehner, not so long ago, held up a copy of the Constitution on the floor and proclaimed his great, unabiding love for the sacred document (I’m sure with at least tears in his eyes) especially the memorable preamble he was moved to quote: “We hold these truths to be be self-evident”.  For God’s sake, those aren’t even the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence. (I can personally attest to the fact that knowing the opening lines* is a sure way of winning bets in bars).
Each and every person pining for a return to the “Jacksonian” ideals of democracy would do really well to actually read something of the man and the period.  ANYTHING.  Sure, they can cite his contempt for big government and Federal interference in, well almost anything . . . .  and completely miss the fact he incrementally increased the power of the executive branch to previously unthought of heights.  He never said “L’etat c’est moi’, but he could have without irony or artifice.  Oh, and when South Carolina decided they would nullify Federal laws they didn’t agree with, Old Hickory, standard bearer of State’s Rights, announced he would personally lead the Federal Army into South Carolina and put an end to it (and who would doubt any threat from this President?).

John Witherspoon, only active clergyman to
sign, President of The College of New Jersey
(now known as Princeton)

A little while back Mike Huckabee, just one of many trying to support the view the Founding Father’s founded the United States as a Christian country, brandished a list of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (written, need I add, by a renowned Deist, edited by another) (another aside – I have a mental picture of him waving it around ala Joseph McCarthy in front of the Wheeling Women’s Club . . . “I have here, in my hand, a list of fifty-six men . . .”) and unequivocally stated that most of them were ministers.  Well, I am reasonably sure most of them believed in God, and some were what today would be referred to as “born-again”, but ministers?  One. An extraordinarily interesting man named John Witherspoon.
So . . .  just stop, please.  I fear that half the people in this country are getting their history from AM talk radio, whose hosts repeat these ‘misconceptions’ then expand on them, exponentially.  I heard a rant on the Savage show late the other night while driving that pretty much managed to distort and outright get wrong the entire world history of the 1930s.  Events that never happened (then at least), wrong dates for others, astoundingly wrong context for still more – it was so breathtakingly erroneous I could not stop listening – even while feeling road rage build to almost unsupportable levels (“Really sorry, Officer, I may have run the bus of orphans off the road, I don’t remember through the red haze, but, hey, have you heard this crap?)

There’s no excuse for the misuse of history – and I’m not talking about interpretation – and it has to stop . . . . if Faulkner was right and “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” – and I know he is – it would be helpful to know it, wouldn’t it?

*  “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”


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