Yesterday in my United States History to 1865 survey course, I lectured on the colonial responses to the Stamp Act. I also use this lecture to introduce students to the Whig vocabulary of the Founding Fathers. I try to historicize words like “power,” “liberty,” “slavery,” and “tyranny.”
When I talk about “power,” I note that Whig political thinkers believed that power was not only the antithesis of liberty, but it also had an encroaching dimension to it. In other words, British Whigs, and by extension the American founders, believed that those with power will always want more.
In order to illustrate the encroaching dimension of power, I use a line from Bruce Springsteen’s song “Badlands”:
Poor man wanna be rich
Rich man wanna be king
And a king ain’t satisfied
Till he rules everything
Sometimes I even sing the lyric.
Usually this part of the lecture is met with blank stares. The same thing happened today. My students just don’t appreciate The Boss.
But when when I returned to my office later in the day I received an e-mail from a student. It read: “This is totally non-history, but what’s the name of that song you referenced today in lecture?”
My day was made!