Placing John MacArthur’s decision to open his church in historical context

MacArthur

Get up to speed on this story here.

Messiah University alum Morgan Lee interviews historian Daniel Williams for Christianity Today’s “Quick to Listen” podcast. Here is a taste:

Lee: Thoreau’s vision of civil disobedience, and even that of the Civil rights movement, was primarily nonviolent. Was there a turning point of people thinking that protest was dominantly nonviolent? Or was there a time when protest was just seen as inevitably becoming more violent?

Daniel K. Williams: The whole idea of political protest is something that I’m not sure was conceivable to people in the early church in the way that it is today. I think in the New Testament, the way that these stories were told was part of a package of proclaiming Jesus as the sovereign Lord over all of the earth. And Caesar, as well as every other king, of course, was far below that.

That was the framework. It wasn’t the idea that the government of Rome needed to be challenged or changed. It was rather that the government of Rome had no legitimate authority over Christians, except for that authority that God had given to that power. And so that’s the framework in which I think Christian martyrdom occurred for the first few centuries.

Thoreau had a very different framework. His was the framework of the new American Republic and the idea that this is a government that has been created contractually. It’s a Lockean framework. Well, if that’s your framework, at what point did nonviolent protest take hold instead of violence?

And I guess I would say that with the American Revolution, it started nonviolently. The early demonstrations in the 1760s and even very early 1770s against British power were not directly violent. They involved a lot of petitions, pamphlets, street theater, and that sort of thing. And violence only developed.

And I guess I would say the same thing with Thoreau. He was an advocate of nonviolence and he believed that this could be done nonviolently. Within a decade, others like John Brown thought differently over the same issue and most of the rest of the country was beginning to think differently.

There, of course, are those who’ve drawn a firm line between nonviolence and violence. And there’s, of course, a strong Christian tradition on that side. One could look at the Quakers and find many examples of creative ways to nonviolently challenge slavery or other injustices.

For others, it’s been a less firm line. And many people started out as advocates of nonviolence—Frederick Douglass would be one example—who then became willing to accept at least one form of violence. Sometimes people would differentiate and say they might accept state violence through war, but not necessarily private violence around the lines of John Brown.

Read the entire interview here.  I would disagree with Williams on one point here. The coming of the American Revolution in the 1760s and 1770s was actually very violent.

Thinking historically about Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech

Trump Rushmore 3

A lot of conservatives liked Trump’s speech on Friday night. I am told that The Wall Street Journal gave it a positive review.

I commented on the speech here, but I thought I would say a few more things about Trump’s use of history. My comments are in bold.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you very much.  And Governor Noem, Secretary Bernhardt — very much appreciate it — members of Congress, distinguished guests, and a very special hello to South Dakota.  (Applause.)

As we begin this Fourth of July weekend, the First Lady and I wish each and every one of you a very, very Happy Independence Day.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Let us show our appreciation to the South Dakota Army and Air National Guard, and the U.S. Air Force for inspiring us with that magnificent display of American air power — (applause) –and of course, our gratitude, as always, to the legendary and very talented Blue Angels.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

Let us also send our deepest thanks to our wonderful veterans, law enforcement, first responders, and the doctors, nurses, and scientists working tirelessly to kill the virus.  They’re working hard.  (Applause.)  I want to thank them very, very much.

COMMENT: Over the weekend Trump claimed that 99% of the nation’s COVID-19 cases were “totally harmless.” This claim was even debunked on Fox News. What does this say about his real view of the “scientists working tirelessly to kill the virus.”

We’re grateful as well to your state’s Congressional delegation: Senators John Thune — John, thank you very much — (applause) — Senator Mike Rounds — (applause) — thank you, Mike — and Dusty Johnson, Congressman.  Hi, Dusty.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  And all others with us tonight from Congress, thank you very much for coming.  We appreciate it.

There could be no better place to celebrate America’s independence than beneath this magnificent, incredible, majestic mountain and monument to the greatest Americans who have ever lived.

COMMENT: Mount Rushmore is a majestic place. I would like to see it one day. It was also built on Lakota land. Earlier in my career I had a student who did a summer internship at Mount Rushmore. As someone who wanted to tell the truth about the nation’s past, she would often mention the Lakota connection during her tours. Needless to say, she took a lot of criticism from visitors who did not want to be confronted with such history. But this must be part of any conversation about this monument. It is part of what it means to live in a democratic society.

Today, we pay tribute to the exceptional lives and extraordinary legacies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt.  (Applause.)  I am here as your President to proclaim before the country and before the world: This monument will never be desecrated — (applause) — these heroes will never be defaced, their legacy will never, ever be destroyed, their achievements will never be forgotten, and Mount Rushmore will stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: Anyone who teaches American history will always talk about the legacies of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. They are not under threat. They will be taught based on what they did with their lives–what they said, how they behaved, and how they led. Trump will be judged the same way.

AUDIENCE:  USA!  USA!  USA!

COMMENT: This transcript comes from the White House. This is why the chants are included.

THE PRESIDENT:  We gather tonight to herald the most important day in the history of nations: July 4th, 1776.  At those words, every American heart should swell with pride.  Every American family should cheer with delight.  And every American patriot should be filled with joy, because each of you lives in the most magnificent country in the history of the world, and it will soon be greater than ever before.  (Applause.)

Our Founders launched not only a revolution in government, but a revolution in the pursuit of justice, equality, liberty, and prosperity.  No nation has done more to advance the human condition than the United States of America.  And no people have done more to promote human progress than the citizens of our great nation.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: Trump is right. July 4, 1776 is important and should be commemorated. Some of the ideals that drove the Revolution were the same ideals that led to the abolition of slavery.  On the other hand, these ideals were not consistently applied to all people. Morally, July 4, 1776 has a mixed legacy. Any history teacher who does not embrace this kind of complexity is not doing her or his job. Watch:

It was all made possible by the courage of 56 patriots who gathered in Philadelphia 244 years ago and signed the Declaration of Independence.  (Applause.) They enshrined a divine truth that changed the world forever when they said: “…all men are created equal.”

COMMENT: Again, what does “all men are created equal” mean in 1776 and in the larger context of the American story? This is a wonderful way of exploring American history with students. This is a conversation we are having in our history classrooms and one that needs to be taking place more regularly in American life.

These immortal words set in motion the unstoppable march of freedom.  Our Founders boldly declared that we are all endowed with the same divine rights — given [to] us by our Creator in Heaven.  And that which God has given us, we will allow no one, ever, to take away — ever.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: Americans have always been good Whigs. We have always put faith in the kind of progress Trump describes here. (I am reminded of Paul Tillich’s definition of faith as one’s “ultimate concern”). But this “march of freedom” has not been “unstoppable” for all Americans.

And let’s talk about rights and God. Jefferson and many of the founders believed that our rights come from God. But they rarely connected this general statement with specific rights. This leads to questions that are more theological than historical. For example, does the right to bear arms come from God? Was Jefferson right when he said that rights–all rights–are “endowed by our Creator?” Again, let’s have this conversation–perhaps in our churches.

Seventeen seventy-six represented the culmination of thousands of years of western civilization and the triumph not only of spirit, but of wisdom, philosophy, and reason.

COMMENT: I have no idea what this means.

And yet, as we meet here tonight, there is a growing danger that threatens every blessing our ancestors fought so hard for, struggled, they bled to secure.

COMMENT: Not really. Many of Trump’s political opponents also root their arguments in America’s founding ideals. American socialists often grounded their arguments in such ideals.

Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.

COMMENT: How widespread is this “merciless campaign?” Has Trump magnified it because he needs an issue to run-on in November? It sure seems like it. Who is “wiping out our history?” Has Trump ever visited a history classroom? The idea that our children are indoctrinated should be offensive to classroom teachers who train students to think critically about their textbooks and the world.

AUDIENCE:  Booo —

THE PRESIDENT:  Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our Founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.  Many of these people have no idea why they are doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing.  They think the American people are weak and soft and submissive.  But no, the American people are strong and proud, and they will not allow our country, and all of its values, history, and culture, to be taken from them.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: The fact that Trump does not talk about the tearing-down and defacing of Confederate monuments is revealing. He never mentions them during this speech. It leaves us to wonder if Trump believes that it is time for these monuments to go. But today, without a script in front of him, we saw the real Trump. He tweeted: “Has [NASCAR driver] Bubba Wallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest rating EVER!” This seems like a defense of the Confederate flag. This tweet is much more fitting with the Trump administration’s pronouncements on race than anything he said in this speech.

According to his evangelical Christian press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Trump is neutral on the Confederate flag.  Watch:

And as long as we are talking about Bubba Wallace, perhaps Trump should try to understand why an African American NASCAR driver, or any African American for that matter, might be alarmed when they see a rope tied into a noose. This tweet not only illustrates Trump’s utter failure to empathize with others, but it also shows that he knows nothing about the history of the nation he was elected to lead.

AUDIENCE:  USA!  USA!  USA!

COMMENT: And the crowd goes wild!

THE PRESIDENT:   One of their political weapons is “Cancel Culture” — driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees.  This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and our values, and it has absolutely no place in the United States of America.  (Applause.)  This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty, must be stopped, and it will be stopped very quickly.  We will expose this dangerous movement, protect our nation’s children, end this radical assault, and preserve our beloved American way of life.  (Applause.)

In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance.  If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished.  It’s not going to happen to us.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: Is cancel culture a problem? Perhaps. But here Trump is just playing to the base for the purpose of stoking their fears.

Make no mistake: this left-wing cultural revolution is designed to overthrow the American Revolution.  In so doing, they would destroy the very civilization that rescued billions from poverty, disease, violence, and hunger, and that lifted humanity to new heights of achievement, discovery, and progress.

COMMENT: Again, many of the protesters are drawing from American ideals. Some are not, but many are.

To make this possible, they are determined to tear down every statue, symbol, and memory of our national heritage.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Not on my watch!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  True.  That’s very true, actually.  (Laughter.)  That is why I am deploying federal law enforcement to protect our monuments, arrest the rioters, and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  Four more years!  Four more years!  Four more years!

THE PRESIDENT:  I am pleased to report that yesterday, federal agents arrested the suspected ringleader of the attack on the statue of Andrew Jackson in Washington, D.C. — (applause) — and, in addition, hundreds more have been arrested.  (Applause.)

Under the executive order I signed last week — pertaining to the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act and other laws — people who damage or deface federal statues or monuments will get a minimum of 10 years in prison.  (Applause.)  And obviously, that includes our beautiful Mount Rushmore.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: What is often missing in this debate over the tearing-down of monuments is the fact that it is illegal. It is destruction of property. This was wrong during the American Revolution and it is wrong today. I understand the anger and the violence–it is an American tradition. But conversations about which monuments should stay and which ones should go need to take place with the help of historians and public officials.

Our people have a great memory.  They will never forget the destruction of statues and monuments to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, abolitionists, and many others.

COMMENT: I hope they won’t forget this. It is the responsibility of historians to make sure that this does not happen. It is also our responsibility to contextualize this moment in our history.

The violent mayhem we have seen in the streets of cities that are run by liberal Democrats, in every case, is the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism, and other cultural institutions.

Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that were villains.  The radical view of American history is a web of lies — all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition.

COMMENT: “Extreme indoctrination?” “Hate their own country?” Again, he needs to get a better sense of what is happening in public school history classrooms around the country. I doubt he will get such a perspective from his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a woman who has never attended a public school and endorses policies that undermine them.

This movement is openly attacking the legacies of every person on Mount Rushmore.  They defile the memory of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.  Today, we will set history and history’s record straight.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: Trump could have made this point with an appeal to complexity. But he doesn’t understand complexity. Historical complexity does not win him votes.

Before these figures were immortalized in stone, they were American giants in full flesh and blood, gallant men whose intrepid deeds unleashed the greatest leap of human advancement the world has ever known.  Tonight, I will tell you and, most importantly, the youth of our nation, the true stories of these great, great men.

COMMENT: Again, complexity.

From head to toe, George Washington represented the strength, grace, and dignity of the American people.  From a small volunteer force of citizen farmers, he created the Continental Army out of nothing and rallied them to stand against the most powerful military on Earth.

COMMENT: Generally true, although I’m not sure the Continental Army wins without France.

Through eight long years, through the brutal winter at Valley Forge, through setback after setback on the field of battle, he led those patriots to ultimate triumph.  When the Army had dwindled to a few thousand men at Christmas of 1776, when defeat seemed absolutely certain, he took what remained of his forces on a daring nighttime crossing of the Delaware River.

They marched through nine miles of frigid darkness, many without boots on their feet, leaving a trail of blood in the snow.  In the morning, they seized victory at Trenton.  After forcing the surrender of the most powerful empire on the planet at Yorktown, General Washington did not claim power, but simply returned to Mount Vernon as a private citizen.

COMMENT: Perhaps Trump could learn from Washington’s humility.

When called upon again, he presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and was unanimously elected our first President.  (Applause.)  When he stepped down after two terms, his former adversary King George called him “the greatest man of the age.”  He remains first in our hearts to this day.  For as long as Americans love this land, we will honor and cherish the father of our country, George Washington.  (Applause.)  He will never be removed, abolished, and most of all, he will never be forgotten.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: The good folks at Mount Vernon interpret Washington in all his complexity.

Thomas Jefferson — the great Thomas Jefferson — was 33 years old when he traveled north to Pennsylvania and brilliantly authored one of the greatest treasures of human history, the Declaration of Independence.  He also drafted Virginia’s constitution, and conceived and wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a model for our cherished First Amendment.

COMMENT: True.

After serving as the first Secretary of State, and then Vice President, he was elected to the Presidency.  He ordered American warriors to crush the Barbary pirates, he doubled the size of our nation with the Louisiana Purchase, and he sent the famous explorers Lewis and Clark into the west on a daring expedition to the Pacific Ocean.

He was an architect, an inventor, a diplomat, a scholar, the founder of one of the world’s great universities, and an ardent defender of liberty.  Americans will forever admire the author of American freedom, Thomas Jefferson.  (Applause.)  And he, too, will never, ever be abandoned by us.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: All true about Jefferson. He was also a slaveholder and probably raped his slave Sally Hemings.

Abraham Lincoln, the savior of our union, was a self-taught country lawyer who grew up in a log cabin on the American frontier.

The first Republican President, he rose to high office from obscurity, based on a force and clarity of his anti-slavery convictions.  Very, very strong convictions.

He signed the law that built the Transcontinental Railroad; he signed the Homestead Act, given to some incredible scholars — as simply defined, ordinary citizens free land to settle anywhere in the American West; and he led the country through the darkest hours of American history, giving every ounce of strength that he had to ensure that government of the people, by the people, and for the people did not perish from this Earth.  (Applause.)

He served as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces during our bloodiest war, the struggle that saved our union and extinguished the evil of slavery.  Over 600,000 died in that war; more than 20,000 were killed or wounded in a single day at Antietam.  At Gettysburg, 157 years ago, the Union bravely withstood an assault of nearly 15,000 men and threw back Pickett’s charge.

Lincoln won the Civil War; he issued the Emancipation Proclamation; he led the passage of the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery for all time — (applause) — and ultimately, his determination to preserve our nation and our union cost him his life.  For as long as we live, Americans will uphold and revere the immortal memory of President Abraham Lincoln.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: Again, mostly accurate. Of course Lincoln was also a white supremacist, a war-mongerer, and a believer in government solutions to American problems.

Theodore Roosevelt exemplified the unbridled confidence of our national culture and identity.  He saw the towering grandeur of America’s mission in the world and he pursued it with overwhelming energy and zeal.

As a Lieutenant Colonel during the Spanish-American War, he led the famous Rough Riders to defeat the enemy at San Juan Hill.  He cleaned up corruption as Police Commissioner of New York City, then served as the Governor of New York, Vice President, and at 42 years old, became the youngest-ever President of the United States.  (Applause.)

He sent our great new naval fleet around the globe to announce America’s arrival as a world power.  He gave us many of our national parks, including the Grand Canyon; he oversaw the construction of the awe-inspiring Panama Canal; and he is the only person ever awarded both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He was — (applause) — American freedom personified in full.  The American people will never relinquish the bold, beautiful, and untamed spirit of Theodore Roosevelt.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: True. Roosevelt was also an imperialist, nativist, and white supremacist.

No movement that seeks to dismantle these treasured American legacies can possibly have a love of America at its heart.  Can’t have it.  No person who remains quiet at the destruction of this resplendent heritage can possibly lead us to a better future.

COMMENT: Very few people want to “dismantle” the legacy of these men. But we can point out their flaws and still “love America.” There is a difference between “history” and “heritage.”

The radical ideology attacking our country advances under the banner of social justice.  But in truth, it would demolish both justice and society.  It would transform justice into an instrument of division and vengeance, and it would turn our free and inclusive society into a place of repression, domination, and exclusion.

They want to silence us, but we will not be silenced.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: This is rich coming from such a divisive president. Also, who is “us” here.

AUDIENCE:  USA!  USA!  USA!

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you very much.

We will state the truth in full, without apology:  We declare that the United States of America is the most just and exceptional nation ever to exist on Earth.

COMMENT: Is America exceptional? Yes. It is exceptional for all kinds of reasons, including the fact that right now it is the only country (with perhaps the exception of Brazil) that still does not have COVID-19 under control. Is it the most “just” nation “ever to exist on earth?” Maybe. But the bar is pretty low. Again, let’s have this conversation outside of the culture war framework.

We are proud of the fact — (applause) — that our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and we understand — (applause) — that these values have dramatically advanced the cause of peace and justice throughout the world.

COMMENT: Was the United States founded on Judeo-Christian principles? This is a contested idea. I wrote a book about it. Has the United States advanced peace and justice throughout the world? Yes and no. But these kinds of answers are not useful in a political rally.

We know that the American family is the bedrock of American life.  (Applause.)

COMMENT:  I agree. But it is hard to hear this from the guy who separated families at the border and put kids in cages.

We recognize the solemn right and moral duty of every nation to secure its borders.  (Applause.)  And we are building the wall.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: Are we building the wall?

We remember that governments exist to protect the safety and happiness of their own people.  A nation must care for its own citizens first.  We must take care of America first.  It’s time.  (Applause.)

We believe in equal opportunity, equal justice, and equal treatment for citizens of every race, background, religion, and creed.  Every child, of every color — born and unborn — is made in the holy image of God.  (Applause.)

COMMENTS: This is true. But it is also code for “All Lives Matter.”All Lives Matter Cartoon 2

We want free and open debate, not speech codes and cancel culture.

We embrace tolerance, not prejudice.

We support the courageous men and women of law enforcement.  (Applause.)  We will never abolish our police or our great Second Amendment, which gives us the right to keep and bear arms.  (Applause.)

We believe that our children should be taught to love their country, honor our history, and respect our great American flag.  (Applause.)

We stand tall, we stand proud, and we only kneel to Almighty God.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: Actually, this last couple of statements contradict the earlier remarks about free speech, tolerance, and rights.

This is who we are.  This is what we believe.  And these are the values that will guide us as we strive to build an even better and greater future.

COMMENT: Again, who is “we”?

Those who seek to erase our heritage want Americans to forget our pride and our great dignity, so that we can no longer understand ourselves or America’s destiny.  In toppling the heroes of 1776, they seek to dissolve the bonds of love and loyalty that we feel for our country, and that we feel for each other.  Their goal is not a better America, their goal is the end of America.

COMMENT: We have seen these references to American destiny before. When acted upon, the pursuit of American destiny has never gone well for people of color or the poor.

AUDIENCE:  Booo —

THE PRESIDENT:  In its place, they want power for themselves.  But just as patriots did in centuries past, the American people will stand in their way — and we will win, and win quickly and with great dignity.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: We will see if Trump’s people stand in the way of anything in November. I wonder what “winning” looks like here.

We will never let them rip America’s heroes from our monuments, or from our hearts.  By tearing down Washington and Jefferson, these radicals would tear down the very heritage for which men gave their lives to win the Civil War; they would erase the memory that inspired those soldiers to go to their deaths, singing these words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic: “As He died to make men Holy, let us die to make men free, while God is marching on.”  (Applause.)

They would tear down the principles that propelled the abolition of slavery in America and, ultimately, around the world, ending an evil institution that had plagued humanity for thousands and thousands of years.  Our opponents would tear apart the very documents that Martin Luther King used to express his dream, and the ideas that were the foundation of the righteous movement for Civil Rights.  They would tear down the beliefs, culture, and identity that have made America the most vibrant and tolerant society in the history of the Earth.

COMMENT: Trump is right. Many of the founding principles eventually contributed  to the end of slavery and did inform the Civil Rights movement, but I am not sure what Trump means by “tear apart documents.”

My fellow Americans, it is time to speak up loudly and strongly and powerfully and defend the integrity of our country.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  USA!  USA!  USA!

THE PRESIDENT:  It is time for our politicians to summon the bravery and determination of our American ancestors.  It is time.  (Applause.)  It is time to plant our flag and protect the greatest of this nation, for citizens of every race, in every city, and every part of this glorious land.  For the sake of our honor, for the sake of our children, for the sake of our union, we must protect and preserve our history, our heritage, and our great heroes.  (Applause.)

Here tonight, before the eyes of our forefathers, Americans declare again, as we did 244 years ago: that we will not be tyrannized, we will not be demeaned, and we will not be intimidated by bad, evil people.  It will not happen.  (Applause).

AUDIENCE:  USA!  USA!  USA!

THE PRESIDENT:  We will proclaim the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, and we will never surrender the spirit and the courage and the cause of July 4th, 1776.

Upon this ground, we will stand firm and unwavering.  In the face of lies meant to divide us, demoralize us, and diminish us, we will show that the story of America unites us, inspires us, includes us all, and makes everyone free.

We must demand that our children are taught once again to see America as did Reverend Martin Luther King, when he said that the Founders had signed “a promissory note” to every future generation.  Dr. King saw that the mission of justice required us to fully embrace our founding ideals.  Those ideals are so important to us — the founding ideals.  He called on his fellow citizens not to rip down their heritage, but to live up to their heritage.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: Totally agree. Now let’s see Trump lead us in this direction. Until then, this is empty rhetoric. At this stage of his presidency these words have no meaning. Again, this speech must be considered in the context of the entire Trump administration. It is going to take more than a speech to win back public trust.

Above all, our children, from every community, must be taught that to be American is to inherit the spirit of the most adventurous and confident people ever to walk the face of the Earth.

Americans are the people who pursued our Manifest Destiny across the ocean, into the uncharted wilderness, over the tallest mountains, and then into the skies and even into the stars.

COMMENT: Let’s remember (again) that “Manifest Destiny” was an attempt to drive native Americans from their land in the name of God and progress.

We are the country of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Frederick Douglass.  We are the land of Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill Cody.  (Applause.)  We are the nation that gave rise to the Wright Brothers, the Tuskegee Airmen — (applause) — Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Jesse Owens, George Patton — General George Patton — the great Louie Armstrong, Alan Shepard, Elvis Presley, and Mohammad Ali.  (Applause.)  And only America could have produced them all.  (Applause.)  No other place.

We are the culture that put up the Hoover Dam, laid down the highways, and sculpted the skyline of Manhattan.  We are the people who dreamed a spectacular dream — it was called: Las Vegas, in the Nevada desert; who built up Miami from the Florida marsh; and who carved our heroes into the face of Mount Rushmore.  (Applause.)

Americans harnessed electricity, split the atom, and gave the world the telephone and the Internet.  We settled the Wild West, won two World Wars, landed American astronauts on the Moon — and one day very soon, we will plant our flag on Mars.

We gave the world the poetry of Walt Whitman, the stories of Mark Twain, the songs of Irving Berlin, the voice of Ella Fitzgerald, the style of Frank Sinatra — (applause) — the comedy of Bob Hope, the power of the Saturn V rocket, the toughness of the Ford F-150 — (applause) — and the awesome might of the American aircraft carriers.

COMMENT: I don’t see how people can praise such a speech. It is full of contradictions. First off, many of the people Trump mentions here would no doubt be outspoken critics of the Trump presidency. (Although we will never know for sure, of course). Second, these men and women all applied American ideals in different ways. After spending the entire speech articulating a very narrow view of the Revolution’s legacy, Trump makes an empty appeal to diversity here.

Americans must never lose sight of this miraculous story.  You should never lose sight of it, because nobody has ever done it like we have done it.  So today, under the authority vested in me as President of the United States — (applause) — I am announcing the creation of a new monument to the giants of our past.  I am signing an executive order to establish the National Garden of American Heroes, a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live.  (Applause.)

COMMENT: My thoughts on this.

From this night and from this magnificent place, let us go forward united in our purpose and re-dedicated in our resolve.  We will raise the next generation of American patriots.  We will write the next thrilling chapter of the American adventure.  And we will teach our children to know that they live in a land of legends, that nothing can stop them, and that no one can hold them down.  (Applause.)  They will know that in America, you can do anything, you can be anything, and together, we can achieve anything.  (Applause.)

Uplifted by the titans of Mount Rushmore, we will find unity that no one expected; we will make strides that no one thought possible.  This country will be everything that our citizens have hoped for, for so many years, and that our enemies fear — because we will never forget that American freedom exists for American greatness.  And that’s what we have:  American greatness.  (Applause.)

Centuries from now, our legacy will be the cities we built, the champions we forged, the good we did, and the monuments we created to inspire us all.

My fellow citizens: America’s destiny is in our sights.  America’s heroes are embedded in our hearts.  America’s future is in our hands.  And ladies and gentlemen: the best is yet to come.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  USA!  USA!  USA!

THE PRESIDENT:  This has been a great honor for the First Lady and myself to be with you.  I love your state.  I love this country.  I’d like to wish everybody a very happy Fourth of July.  To all, God bless you, God bless your families, God bless our great military, and God bless America.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

 

Politically Motivated Violence Was Wrong During the Stamp Act and It Is Wrong Today. The Christian Right “Historians” Must Reckon With This

boston-stamp-act-riot-1765-granger

Everyone knows that the American Revolution was born through violent protest. Yes, the colonies fought a war that secured their liberty, but they also engaged in civilian violence in major British-American cities well before the outbreak of war.

Here is Peter Oliver, a Boston judge, describing the situation in Boston during the August 1765 Stamp Act riots. It comes from his 1781 book Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion:

The Mob, also, on the same Evening, broke into the Office of the Register of the Admiralty & did considerable Damage there; but were prevented from an utter Destruction of it. They also sought after the Custom House Officers; but they secreted themselves– these are some of the blessed Effects of smuggling. And so abandoned from all Virtue were the Minds of the People of Boston, that when the Kings Attorney examined many of them, on Oath, who were Spectators of the Scene & knew the Actors [participants], yet they exculpated them before a Grand Jury; & others, who were Men of Reputation, avoided giving any Evidence thro’ Fear of the like Fate. Such was the Reign of Anarchy in Boston, & such the very awkward Situation in which every Friend to Government stood. Mr. Otis & his mirmy-dons, the Smugglers & the black Regiment, had instilled into the Canaille that Mr. Hutchinson had promoted the Stamp Act; whereas, on the Contrary, he not only had drawn up the decent Memorial of the Massachusetts Assembly, but, previous to it, he had repeatedly wrote to his Friends in England to ward it off, by showing the Inexpedience of it & the Disadvantages that would accrue from it to the English Nation, but it was in vain to struggle against the Law of Otis, & the Gospel of his black Regiment. That worthy Man must be a Victim; Mr. Otis said so, & it was done.

Notice the destruction of property. Notice the corrupt politicians who protected the lawbreakers. Also notice that members of the Boston clergy–the “black Regiment”–fueled the mobs. (I am assuming that the “black regiment” mentioned in Oliver’s account was indeed a reference to the ministers). Today, the Christian Right activists who use the past to justify their present-day political policies have used the phrase “black-robed regiment” to describe Oliver’s “black regiment.” Pseudo-historian David Barton believes we need a revival of this so-called “black-robed regiment” in order to restore America to its Christian foundation. So if you want to support a group of evangelical ministers who endorsed the destruction of property, violence, and looting in the name of God and liberty, you can join here. (Also check-out J.L. Bell’s take on the “black-robed regiment.” He thinks Barton made it all up).

Here’s more from Oliver:

Such was the Frenzy of Anarchy that every Man was jealous [suspicious] of his Neighbor & seemed to wait for his Turn of Destruction; & such was the political Enthusiasm that the Minds of the most pious Men seemed to be wholly absorbed in the Temper of Riot. One Clergyman of Boston, in particular, who seemed to be devoted to an Abstraction from the World, and had gone through an Existence of near 70 Years, reputedly free from both original Sin & actual Transgression, yet by the perpetual buzzing of Incendiaries at his Ear, being inquired of, as an Oracle, what ought to be done by the People? He uttered his Decision with this laconic Answer: “Fight up to your Knees in Blood.” Never could the exclamation of Tantaene animis celestibus irae (“do the heavenly minds have such great anger”) be more just than on this Occasion. 

Once again, we see the Boston clergy endorsing the violence. More from Oliver:

The Secretary of the Province also, who was appointed a Stamp Master, was attacked, and his House much damaged. He was carried to the Tree of Liberty by the Mob & a Justice of the Peace provided to swear him; & there he was obliged, on pain of Death, to take an Oath to resign his Office. This Tree stood in the Town & was consecrated as an Idol for the Mob to worship; it was properly the Tree ordeal, where those whom the Rioters pitched upon as State delinquents, were carried to for Trial, or brought to as the Test of political Orthodoxy. It flourished until the British Troops possessed Boston, when it was desecrated by being cut down & carried to the Fire ordeal to warm the natural Body. It would have been lucky for the Soldiery had it continued to give a natural Warmth as long as it had communicated its political Heat; they then would not have suffered so much by the Severity of a cold Season.

Here is the Boston Gazette from 19 August, 1765:

Early on Wednesday Morning last, the Effigy of a Genltemen sustaining a very unpopular office, viz. that of St___p Master, was found hanging on a Tree in the most public Part of the Town, together with a Boot, wherein was concealed a young Imp of the D___l [Devil] represented as peeping out of the Top.–On the Breast of the Effigy was a Label, in Praise of Liberty, and denouncing Vengeance on the Subvertors of it–and underneath was the following Words, HE THAT TAKES THIS DOWN IS AN ENEMY TO HIS COUNTRY–The Owner of the Tree finding a Crowd of People to assemble, tho’ at 5 o’clock in the Morning, endeavoured to take it down; but being advis’d to the contrary by the Populace, lest it should occasion the demolition of his Windows, if nothing worse, desisted from the Attempt.

The Diversion it occasioned among a Multitude of Spectators, who continually assembled the whole Day, is surprising; not a Peasant was suffered to pass down to the Market, let him have what he would for Sale, ’till he had stop’d and got his Articles stamp’d by the Effigy. Toward’s dark some Thousands repaired to the said Place of Rendezvous, and having been taken down the Pageantry [the effigy], the proceeded with it along the Main Street to the Town-House, thro’ which they carried it ,and continued their Rout thro’ Kilby-Street to Oliver’s Dock, where there was a new Brick Building just finished; and they, imagining it to be designed for a Stamp-Office, instantly set about demolishing it, which they thoroughly effected in about half an Hour.

This passage shows a peaceful protest that quickly becomes violent and destructive.

Here’s more from the same Boston Gazette article:

In the mean Time the High-Sheriff, &c. &c., being apprehensive that the Person of the then Stamp-Master, and his Family, might be in Danger from the Tumult, went and advised them to evacuate the House, which they had scarcely done, making their Retreat across the Gardens, &c. before the Multitude approach’d Fort-Hill, continuous thereto, in order to burn the Effigy, together with the Timber and other Woodwork of the House they had demolish’d. After setting Fire to the Combustibles, they proceeded to break open the Stables, Coach-Houses, &c. and were actually increasing the Bonfire with a Coach, Booby Hutch, Chaise, &c. but were dissuaded going so far by a Number of Spectators present, tho’ they burnt the Coach Doors, Cushions, &c. But it seems, not having yet completed their Purpose, they set about pulling down a Range of Fence upwards of 15 Feet high which enclos’d the bottom of the Garden, into which having enter’d, they stripped the Trees of the Fruit, despoiled some of them by breaking off the Limbs, demolished the Summer House, broke the Windows in the Rear Part of the House, enter’d the same, went down the Cellars, and help’d themselves to the Liquor which they found there in the Silver Plate that the House afforded, none of which however was missing the next Day, altho’ scatter’d over various Parts of the House.  They then destroyed Part of the Furniture, among which was a Looking Glass said to be the largest in North-America, with two others, &c.

Here is a taste of an August 30, 1765 letter from Thomas Hutchinson to Richard Jackson. Hutchinson was the Lieutenant Governor of the colony of Massachusetts:

In the evening whilst I was at supper & my children round me somebody ran in & said the mob were coming. I directed my children to fly to a secure place & shut up my house as I had done before intending not to quit it but my eldest daughter repented her leaving me & hastened back & protested she would not quit the house unless I did. I could not stand against this and withdrew with her to a neighboring house where I had been but a few minutes before the hellish crew fell upon my house with the rage of devils & in a moment with axes split down the door & entered. My son being in the great entry heard them cry damn him he is upstairs we’ll have him. Some ran immediately as high as the top of the house to be employed there. Messages soon came from one after another to the house where I was to inform me the mob were coming in pursuit of me and I was obliged to retire through yards & gardens to a house more remote where I remained until 4 o’clock by which time one of the best finished houses in the province had nothing remaining but the bare walls & floors. Not contented with tearing off the wainscot & hangings & splitting the doors to pieces they beat down the cupola or lanthern and they began to take the slate & boards from the roof & were prevented only by the approaching daylight from a total demolition of the building. The garden fence was laid flat & all my trees  & c. broke down to the ground. Such ruins were never seen in America. Besides my plate & family pictures, household furniture of every kind, my own childrens’ and servants’ apparel they carried off about L900 sterling in money & emptied the house of everything whatsoever except a part of the kitchen furniture not leaving a single book or paper in it & have scattered or destroyed all the manuscripts & other papers I had been collecting for 30 years together besides a great number of public papers in my custody.

Final thoughts:

  1. When many Americans today remember white colonials engaging in acts of looting and destruction, they call such behavior “patriotic.” When African-Americans do the same thing today, white people say it is a violation of law and order. (Of course any such historical analogy must also be examined in the context of the rest of American history and the ongoing debates over “liberty” and “order” beginning with the debates about American identity that played-out in the 1790s).
  2. As I wrote in the title of this post, the violence was wrong then and it was wrong now. (There was a time when one might get charged with treason for making such a statement).
  3. If Peter Oliver is correct, evangelical ministers encouraged the violence. (If Oliver is not correct, then today’s entire “Black-Robed Regiment” movement falls apart, or at the very least needs to come-up with another name, due to a lack of historical evidence). Today, when evangelical ministers condemn the violence in American cities and extol Trump’s law and order approach, they are also condemning an important part of their own religious history and the history of the American Revolution.
  4. Learn more in my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.

The Author’s Corner with Robert Churchill

The underground railroad and the geography of violenceRobert Churchill is Associate Professor of History at the University of Hartford. This interview is based on his new book, The Underground Railroad and the Geography of Violence in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write The Underground Railroad?

RC: When writing my first book on the militia movement, To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant’s Face, I came across some abolitionist responses to the rendition of Anthony Burns from Boston that argued that the state militia, rather than assisting Burn’s master in carrying Burns back to slavery, should have used force to release Burns and protect his liberty. Once the book was done, I began to read about the Underground Railroad, a movement by which I had long been fascinated, but which I realized I knew little about. Clearly Underground activists dedicated themselves to defying the law, in some cases by armed force, in support of what they saw as the higher cause of human freedom. How, I wondered, did the inhabitants of the North respond to this movement? How did those responses change over time?

As I began to read primary accounts of Underground operations, it became clear to me that violence was at the center of this story. Fugitives from enslavement fled the systemic violence embedded in the system of slavery and in the South’s culture of honor, a particular culture of violence that I refer to as the violence of mastery. That violence followed fugitives into the North, wielded by slave catchers who asserted a right to use whatever violence they saw fit to capture fugitives, intimidate sympathetic bystanders, retaliate against Underground activists, and carry African-Americans back to slavery.

How then did Northern residents and communities respond to this violence, which many found shocking and culturally alienating? It seemed to me that understanding these responses offered insights into the way the Underground Railroad operated and also into the politics of the fugitive slave issue and into the growth of sectional alienation. And the more I looked, the more it became clear that those responses followed a clear geographical pattern.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Underground Railroad?

RC: The Underground Railroad argues that the movement operated within a cultural geography of violence in which different regions of the North offered very different responses to the presence of fugitives and to the intrusions of slave catchers. These regions exhibited different cultural norms governing violence, and Underground activists adapted their organization and methods to these norms.

JF: Why do we need to read The Underground Railroad?

RC: The book offers insights into two questions that have bedeviled historians. It explains the remarkable regional variation in the organization and operation of the Underground movement. Historians have long noted the discrepancy between stories of tightly organized, stealthy nocturnal operations in some times and places and accounts of a much more open, even boastful approach in others. My analysis of the geography of violence explains these variations across time and place, and illuminates the Underground Railroad as a living organism responding to local stimuli. The focus on violence also explains why the sectional conflict over fugitive slaves proved so explosive and alienating. Shared norms of violence are fundamental to building and a sense of community. In discovering just how different their norms governing violence were, the North and the South began to view each other as fundamentally different peoples.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RC: I have known since high school that I wanted to be a history teacher. History just made sense to me, and I realized from tutoring my peers that I could explain it to others in a way that made it comprehensible. After college, I enrolled in a Masters in Teaching program and received certification as a public secondary school teacher. I then joined the faculty of Longmeadow High School in Longmeadow, MA. After four years, I decided that I wanted the chance to engage history on a deeper level, so I returned to graduate school and received my Ph.D. in early American history from Rutgers University.

JF: What is your next project?

RC: The Underground Railroad describes a process of sectional alienation. This leads to a fundamental question: given that by 1860 both the North and the South had in essence given up on each other, why did the project of peaceful secession fail? This is a question that rarely gets addressed in the narrative of American history, in which war seems to follow naturally from secession. But clearly there were some, and perhaps many, in the North who were willing to contemplate parting with the South. What deprived this option of a hearing? And, given the South’s actions during the secession winter of 1860-1861, was peaceful secession in fact their objective? In answering these questions, I hope to undertake a much more complete assessment of Northern public opinion than has been offered up to now, and I hope to investigate where peaceful secession stood vs. the lure of a “short victorious war” in the preferences of Southern policy makers.

JF: Thanks, Robert!

When Trump Tweets about “Civil War”

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Donald Trump recently tweeted court evangelical Robert Jeffress’s remarks about impeachment:

As historian Nicole Hemmer writes today at CNN, it is one thing for loud-mouth apocalyptic preachers like Jeffress to invoke civil war, and quite another thing for the President of the United States to do so.  Here is a taste of her piece:

Trump has continued to encourage violence during his presidency, as when he spoke before police officers in 2017 and told them “please don’t be too nice” to the “thugs” they arrest.

Trump’s exhortations to violence are not new, but they are almost certain to increase in the weeks and months ahead as the impeachment inquiry advances. Painted into a corner, his presidency under threat, Donald Trump will do what he has done in the past: double-down on appeals to his base and attacks on his enemies. And since those attacks are targeted and specific, they are especially dangerous.

In recent days, he has appeared obsessed with treason and spying. He charged the whistleblower in the Ukraine case with both, and Monday morning, suggested that Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, should be arrested for treason.

That is not a neutral statement coming from the President of the United States. It is alarming on its own, given the seriousness of a treason charge. But it also does not exist in a bubble. Last week at a private event, Trump intimated that anyone who shared information with the whistleblower was a treasonous spy and alluded darkly to consequences: “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? With spies and treason, right? We used to handle them a little differently than we do now.”

We used to execute them.

President Trump may not explicitly be calling for the murder of his political enemies, but he has stepped right up to the line.

Read the entire piece here.

The Perpetrators in 36 Cases of Violence and Assault Invoked “Trump”

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Here is a taste of an ABC News report:

…a nationwide review conducted by ABC News has identified at least 36 criminal cases where Trump was invoked in direct connection with violent acts, threats of violence or allegations of assault.

In nine cases, perpetrators hailed Trump in the midst or immediate aftermath of physically attacking innocent victims. In another 10 cases, perpetrators cheered or defended Trump while taunting or threatening others. And in another 10 cases, Trump and his rhetoric were cited in court to explain a defendant’s violent or threatening behavior.

Seven cases involved violent or threatening acts perpetrated in defiance of Trump, with many of them targeting Trump’s allies in Congress. But the vast majority of the cases — 29 of the 36 — reflect someone echoing presidential rhetoric, not protesting it.

ABC News could not find a single criminal case filed in federal or state court where an act of violence or threat was made in the name of President Barack Obama or President George W. Bush.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner With Kelly Ryan

RyanKelly A. Ryan is Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Professor of History at Indiana University-Southeast.  This interview is based on her new book Everyday Crimes: Social Violence and Civil Rights in Early America (New York University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Everyday Crimes?

KR: When I was researching my first book, I ran across records of abused wives in the revolutionary era and early republic who had the courage to report their husbands to a local justice of the peace. I was surprised by the activism of these women as we know that reporting abuse often leads to greater violence. I wondered about the resistance of slaves and servants –  two other groups categorized as legal dependents – and whether or not they had more or less success in stymying the violence of their masters. Focusing on these groups and newly freed African Americans from the colonial era through the early republic allowed me to get a glimpse of whose voices were privileged and the many ways that legally and socially subordinated individuals fought for their human and civil rights in a society that did not value them as highly as their social superiors.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Everyday Crimes?

KR: Everyday Crimes argues that the resistance of wives, servants, slaves, and free African Americans to violence expanded their human and civil rights.  Although it was dangerous to contest assaults, legal and social dependents obtained greater access to legal rights to sue and offer testimony, expanded divorce and separation options, saw alterations in slave codes, and the emergence of emancipation statutes.

JF: Why do we need to read Everyday Crimes?

KR: In the past few years, our society has grappled with whose voices are privileged in cases of assault and murder. Everyday Crimes shares stories of the victims of violence and the ways our legal and social system indemnified some prosecutors of violence from condemnation. It’s important for Americans to understand how our history is a legacy that continues in the modern era, even as African Americans, women, and children have access to civil rights. We must keep searching for ways to better protect Americans and prevent violence.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

KR: Like most historians, my interest in history stems from amazing teachers in high school and college. Maryknoll High School in Honolulu, Hawaii had passionate instructors of United States, European, and Asian history who taught history as a way of understanding our modern world. I was interested in a great number of things when I arrived at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia as a first year student, but the history professors there, most importantly Lawrence Levine and Howard Smead, made history relevant to everyday life and taught with such great joy. It was infectious. Moreover, I felt that history allowed me to continue focusing on my love of art, anthropology, and literature because all are sources of inspiration and research for historians.

JF: What is your next project?

KR: After 15 year of being a professional historian, I have so many stories connected to sexuality and violence in early America that I have not been able to tell as part of my previous scholarship.  I’d like to bring more of a biographical focus to the men and women who have encountered our criminal justice system. I’m really interested in sharing some of the information I’ve gathered about how early constables and police have been victims of and prosecutors of violence. I also have two forthcoming chapters in planned series edited by other scholars in the Routledge History of American Sexuality and the Cambridge History of the American Revolution.

JF: Thanks, Kelly!

Loyalism in the Age of Revolutions (#AHA19)

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Matt Lakemacher of Woodland Middle School on Gurnee, IL is doing yeoman’s work from the floor of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago.  Here is latest.  Enjoy!  (Read all of Matt’s posts here).  –JF

I wrote a research paper last semester on the ways in which evangelical women used religion to interpret and defend the American Revolution.  I included a section on Phillis Wheatley, but rather than rekindle the debate here over whether or not she was an evangelical, I’ll save that for my post on Saturday’s session, “Who is Evangelical?  Confronting Race in American Christianity.”  The original plan for my paper had been to include Loyalist women, whose evangelical faith led them to the opposite position, but space and time constraints forced me to narrow my focus to Patriots only.  Thus, I was thrilled to see two sessions titled “Loyalism in the Age of the Atlantic Revolutions” on the agenda today at AHA19.  Both sessions were arranged by AHA President Mary Beth Norton.

I’d be remiss at this point to not put a plug in for my graduate program, which is offered through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, in cooperation with Pace University.  The program offers K-12 history teachers, such as myself, the chance to earn an MA in American History online for a fraction of the cost of most graduate programs, and best of all, the lectures are all led by preeminent historians in their respective fields.  The professor of my course last semester on women and the American Revolution was none other than Carol Berkin, who chaired the second session today on new research.

Timothy Compeau started that session off with his paper “Retributive Justice? Loyalist Revenge and Honorable Manhood in the American Revolution.”  It offered a fascinating look at the ways in which Christian virtue and masculine honor culture were in conflict during the Revolutionary Era and how this acutely affected Loyalist men.  According to Compeau, these men provide an excellent window into studying that culture.  He pointed out how Patriots specifically attacked the manhood of Loyalist men, such as when Alexander Hamilton claimed that Samuel Seabury was impotent or when Thomas Paine wrote that Tories were unfit to be husbands or fathers.  He also explained how due to the war, Loyalist men were limited in the ways that they could respond to such questions of honor.  Many chose Christian responses of forgiveness and restraint, out of necessity if not desire.  But some did find ways to square the use of retributive violence with their Christian faith.  In the end, many Loyalist men were able to claim that their choice had been the more masculine one, as it took greater manhood than the Patriots had to suffer all the indignities that were forced upon them.  As Compeau succinctly put it, “by defending the Crown, loyal men gained nothing put honor.”

Elite, white, Loyalist women of the Delaware River Valley were the focus of Kacy Tillman’s paper and she brought up names that were familiar from my own research, such as Grace Growden Galloway and Elizabeth Drinker.  Tillman sought to parse some of the differences among such Loyalist women.  Some were what she called active Loyalists, others were passive Loyalists.  Some assumed the label while others had it attached to them.  And many of them were Loyalist by association, be it familial, religious, or both.  Tillman’s thesis was that all of these women faced violations of their bodies and their writings (“stripped and script,” as the title of her paper aptly put it) as a result of their Loyalism.  One of the things she noticed in her research was that one can learn just as much from what these women didn’t write than what they did.  Perhaps that’s why I had such difficultly using those sources for my own paper.  “It’s hard to read for silence,” Tillman said.  “But we have to be able to do so when reading the letters of Loyalist women.”

James Sidbury rounded out the session with some words of reassurance related to my own experience in researching Loyalists.  He started off his talk by defending the truism that history is often written by the winners, but then qualified that observation.  “There’s been a whole lot written about the Revolution,” he said.  “It’s inevitable that something is going to be written about [Loyalists].”  His paper focused on the Black Loyalists from Nova Scotia who helped found the colony of Freetown in Sierra Leone.  Those colonists, while remaining loyal to the British Crown, led an uprising against the company that ran the colony and attempted to create an autonomous enclave within the colony by using many of the Enlightenment ideals of rights and governance they had learned in Anglo-America.  As Sidbury’s talk made clear, despite the Nova Scotians’ embrace of some American ideals, the new United States explicitly excluded non-whites from political participation.  Thus, it makes sense that monarchical government still held much ideological appeal for Black Loyalists in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions.

Thanks again, Matt!

The Author’s Corner with Aaron Sheehan-Dean

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Aaron Sheehan-Dean is Professor of History at Louisiana State University. This interview is based on his new book The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War (Harvard University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War?

ASD: Several years ago, I was invited to write an essay for edited collection on violence in different Civil Wars (Greek, Russian, Finnish, etc.).  The US Civil War was supposed to provide a nineteenth-century example against which the classic civil wars of the twentieth century could be compared.  I expected a challenging but manageable, essay-length project.  Instead, I wrote 20,000 words and realized I had generated more questions than answers.  How exactly did participants in the war balance violence and restraint?  Under what conditions did violence escalate or diminish?  How did the guerrilla war and the regular war intersect?  What kind of violence was committed against non-combatants, women in particular?  Most of the previous answers to these questions have considered only one side of the story – the Union’s – and it seemed to me that any complete answer would have to consider the perspectives and experiences of people on both sides.

JF:  In 2 sentences, what is the argument of  The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War?

ASD: The Civil War was both violent and restrained. This strange mixture of malice and charity derived from the fact that Northerners and Southerners crafted competing moral explanations for how they waged war.

JF: Why do we need to read The Calculus of Violence: How Americans Fought the Civil War?

ASD: One of the great appeals of teaching and writing on the Civil War is the huge audience interested in this part of the past.  My hope is that that community of readers will join me in using the history of the US Civil War to think about how we wage war today.  Given that I began this project in 2010, it was clearly influenced by reporting about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  History does not offer easy to follow guides to behavior, but by resuscitating the debates among Civil War Americans about what kind of conduct they accepted in war and what they rejected, it may help us to approach our own actions with greater awareness.  In democracies, the army is an extension of the people and regular citizens as well as soldiers need to think seriously about the moral ramifications of military actions.  Participants in the Civil War did this – Confederates argued with Federals, Republicans argued with Democrats, women argued with men, enslaved people and free people of color argued with slaveholders and army officers.  All these arguments help us see the contours of the conflict in a way that illuminates questions we should continue to ask about our conduct today.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

ASD: After college I worked on Capitol Hill for US Senator Carl Levin (I am originally from Levin’s home state of Michigan).  During my time there, I began reading more history and also giving tours of the US capitol.  These projects gradually merged until I could only give tours when I could take two hours and lead people through the nooks and crannies of the building (this was pre-9/11 when a staff pass would enable access to the Senate and House floors and almost every part of the capitol).  I found that I enjoyed talking about the American past more than I enjoyed the policy work I was doing as a staff member and so applied to graduate school.  I am still trying to find a classroom as remarkable and captivating as the capitol building but I continue to love the daily process of helping students understand the past and what it means to them.

JF: What is your next project?

ASD: Last Spring, I gave a series of lectures at the University of Florida which will become a short book, entitled Rebels at Home, Rebels Abroad: War and Sovereignty in the Nineteenth Century. The project contextualizes the US Civil War around the other ongoing civil and national conflicts of the mid-century: the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Polish Rebellion of 1863, and the Taiping Rebellion. Americans at the time were familiar with all these events and the ways they spoke about them shaped how they understood their own conflict (and vice versa). The US Civil War, as we are now learning, did not happen in a vacuum (no war ever does) and these concurrent conflicts structured how people around the world conceptualized what was happening in North America.

JF: Thanks, Aaron!

Historian: A Lack of Trust in Social Institutions, Social Structures, and Each Other Leads to More Lethal Violence

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Randolph Roth teaches history and sociology at The Ohio State University.  Over at the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail (originally published at The Washington Post), he offers a glimpse of his recent research on social trust and violence.

Here is a taste:

When we lose faith in our government and political leaders, when we lack a sense of kinship with others, when we feel we just can’t get a fair shake, it affects the confidence with which we go about our lives. Small disagreements, indignities and disappointments that we might otherwise brush off may enrage us — generating hostile, defensive and predatory emotions — and, in some cases, give way to violence.

This may be rooted in our biology. Primate studies have shown that apes and monkeys secrete more of the hormones that cause or facilitate aggression, and less of the hormones that deter aggression, when their tribes experience political instability, faction fighting and struggles for dominance.

People who suffer from dangerous forms of mental illness, who have experienced severe reversals in their lives or who have suicidal thoughts are most vulnerable when these feelings course through society, as Adam Lankford describes in “The Myth of Martyrdom.” They are more likely to lash out, as we have seen in case after case of mass murder.

Some mass killers have written manifestos. Yet the relationship between trust and homicide is seldom so explicit. Everyday murderers don’t stop to cite distrust of government or their fellow citizens as a reason they killed. Few homicides are motivated directly by political conflict or political feelings, anyway. But the link between trust in government and homicide rates is evident everywhere, across centuries.

In England, for instance, 60,000 voting rights demonstrators gathered in Manchester in 1819 to demand the right to elect their own representatives in Parliament. They were viciously attacked by militiamen on horseback wielding sabers. Eleven people were killed outright; countless others were wounded. The homicide rate in England and Wales doubled over the next five years, and it remained high throughout the years of agitation for voting rights. But when the Second Reform Act passed in 1867, enfranchising propertyless household heads in urban areas, the homicide rate fell suddenly by half; and when the Third Reform Act passed in 1884, enfranchising propertyless household heads in rural areas, the rate fell suddenly by half again. Empowerment, inclusion and faith in government mattered.

The same patterns appear throughout American history. Homicide rates (which reflect violence between unrelated adults and do not include domestic violence or war casualties) dropped dramatically after the Revolution, as the new nation developed institutions in which people could put their faith and as Americans developed a sense of patriotism and belonging.

By the early 19th century, although murder remained more common on the contested frontiers and in the slave-holding South, the North and the mountainous regions of the South — from Appalachia to the Ozarks — had some of the lowest homicide rates in the world. (About 3 per 100,000 persons per year, which is low even by today’s standards and considering their lack of modern medicine.) That changed when reverence for political leaders declined in the wake of the Mexican War and homicide rates doubled or tripled — 15 years before the Civil War and Reconstruction made things worse.

Read the rest here.

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The Author’s Corner with Donald Mathews

Altar Cover.jpgDonald Mathews is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  This interview is based on his new book At the Altar of Lynching: Burning Sam Hose in the American South (Cambridge University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write At the Altar of Lynching?

DM: In preparing to write a sequel to Religion in the Old South, I realized that lynching and religious participation in institutions, collective action, and media were increasing at the same time. I discovered an article by a former minister’s wife, Corra Harris, defending the lynching of a laborer called Sam Hose in 1899. At about the same time I was asked to write an essay on why I [born in Idaho] wrote about religion in the South. The short answer was, I realized: “Because my grandfather was lynched for defending a black family from being lynched.” He wasn’t exactly “lynched,” to be sure, because he survived a beating that damaged his brain, soul, and wealth. My father, however, remembered the event as a “lynching” and his family lived with the psychological fallout from my grandfather’s encounter with American populism and violence. Christians had seized him at prayer and destroyed his life. I thought I should think about Harris’s defense of violence within the context of her religious life and that of people like her.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of At the Altar of Lynching?

DM: Religion enveloped the burning of Tom Wilkes: participants lived it, they shouted it, they enacted it in a grotesque carnival of violence and celebration. Tom Wilkes was not Christ, but his burning as Sam Hose was supposed to resolve matters far beyond and above homicide and rape: black equality, black autonomy, black defiance: His burning was thus a sacrifice to the savage god of White Supremacy.

JF: Why do we need to read At the Altar of Lynching?

DM: “Need” is subjective and I find it difficult to tell anyone what they need. I do invite them

* To understand the historical background of violence against African Americans;

* To understand the religious character of segregation as Lillian Smith understood it;

* To understand how the culture of White Supremacy criminalized black people, used sex and gender to create lies about American society and blacks, and how popular white religion was caught up in those lies;

* To think about how people of African descent condemned the lies told about them, how they were so alienated from the white-controlled “criminal justice system” built on those lies that they could see the execution even of those who were actually guilty of capital crimes as “crucifixions”;

* To understand why W E B Du Bois and concerned white clerics thought of lynching as “crucifixion”;

* To understand how the human compulsion to make signal acts as meaningful as possible even when they are illegal reveals the human capacity for making religious even the most heinous acts imaginable.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

DM: In college I was always interested in American history; I can’t explain the why of that. In seminary, I was transfixed by the implications of two things Helmut Richard Niebuhr said in class: 1) The first question to be asked when addressing ethical issues, he noted, was “What is/was happening?” 2) When we think of the meaning of the Cross and crucifixion, he once said, we have to sift that meaning through the “Gas ovens. . .” That second comment is one of the most penetrating observations I have ever heard. The first one was prelude. I have to add, I suppose as confession, that I fully understand the homiletic style of my writing. Gene Genovese in a passing conversation once asked me partially in jest, partially in criticism, “Are you ever going to stop preaching?” I answered as I laughed, “No. I guess not.” He replied, “I didn’t think so.” And we went off to a seminar at the National Humanities Center.

JF: What is your next project?

DM: I hope to think about how the memory of violence against a loved one or family member affects those who struggle with its effects. There is a growing number of important books or articles on the memory of lynching, and I need to read as many as I can and come to terms with them. I suspect this is an article, but it could be a small book. I had thought to follow up on an article I wrote about the suicide of a Methodist minister in 1910 as a way to get inside the traumas of “modernity” and I may still do that.

JF: Thanks, Donald!

Another Court Evangelical Doubles Down on Trump’s Charlottesville Remarks

Over at the Federalist, a writer named Daniel Payne has a piece titled “Trump Spoke Truth About ‘Both Sides’ In Charlottesville, And The Media Lost Their Minds.”  As the title suggests, this piece defends Trump’s remarks on Tuesday and seems to have no problem with his attempt to put the white supremacists in Charlottesville on equal moral footing with the counter-protesters.

Read it here.

I should also add, using Payne’s words, that American manufacturing leaders and an ever-growing number of GOP leaders have also “lost their minds.”

I understand the defense of Trump’s comments.  Yes, there were problems on “both sides.”  The counter-protesters engaged in violence.  It takes two to tango.  I condemn the violence on all sides.

But when the President of the United States takes to the bully pulpit in response to the arrival of white supremacists in an American city and says that “all sides were to blame” he misses the point.  He fails to see what happened in Charlottesville–the arrival of a group of white supremacists denouncing African Americans and Jews– as part of the larger context of race in America.  When one takes a longer view of what happened on Friday night and Saturday, it seems clear that the white supremacists represent something–racism–that has plagued this country from its birth. Yes, in the past those who have protested against American racists were violent at times.  During the 1850s there was a big debate over how to effectively oppose slavery. Many condemned violent approaches.  But the anti-slavery forces of that era all believed that the greatest moral issue was the ending of this immoral institution.  Any wrong-headed or destructive violence in the cause of abolitionism was always understood in this larger moral context.

Trump, Payne, and other defenders seem incapable of moral nuance here. Perhaps this kind of black and white thinking and the failure to grasp any degree of moral context and complexity explains why so many court evangelicals and writers like Payne are still defending Trump’s comments.  Or maybe its’ just politics.

Whatever it is, court evangelical Eric Metaxas has come out in support of the Payne piece and Trump’s comments.

Metaxas again

 

 

“A suit of tar and turkey-buzzard feathers”

samuel-seabury-1729-1796-granger

Samuel Seabury

The Monmouth County, New Jersey Committee of Observation and Inspection REALLY didn’t like the pamphlet Free Thoughts on the Resolves of the Congress.  The author of the pamphlet was listed as “A.W. Farmer,” a pen name for Westchester, New York Anglican minister Samuel Seabury.  Some of you recognize Seabury from the musical “Hamilton.”

Here is a taste of the Committee’s minutes from March 1775:

At an early meeting of said Committee, a pamphlet entitled Free Thoughts on the Resolves of the Congress by A.W. Farmer, was handed in to them and their opinion of it asked by a number of their constituents then present.  Said pamphlet was then read, and upon mature deliberation unanimously declared to be a performance of the most pernicious and malignant tendency; replete with the most specious sophistry but void of any solid or rational argument; calculated to deceive and mislead the unwary, the ignorant, and the credulous; and designed no doubt by the detestable author to damp that noble spirit of union, which he sees prevailing all over the Continent, and if possible to sap the foundations of American freedom.  The pamphlet was afterwards handed back to the people, who immediately bestowed upon it a suit of tar and turkey-buzzard’s feathers; one of the persons concerned in the operation justly observing that although the feathers were plucked from the most stinking fowl in the creation he though they felt far short of being a proper emblem of the author’s odiousness to every advocate for true freedom.  The same person wished, however, he had the pleasure of fitting him with a suit of the same materials.  The pamphlet was then in its gorgeous attire, nailed up firmly to the pillory post, there to remain as a monument of the indignation of a free and loyal people against the author and vendor of a publication so evidently tending both to subvert the liberties of America and the Constitution of the British Empire.

Apparently violence was not only directed toward other human beings during the American Revolution.  It was also directed to pamphlets!

Hofstadter: “American politics has often been an arena for angry minds.”

Nashville 2

With Freedom Rider Rip Patton in Nashville

Over at The New Republic, Jeet Heer reminds us that “America Has Always Been Angry and Violent.”  He offers this history lesson in the wake of the shooting of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others in Alexandria, Virginia last week.

Here is a taste:

The notion that Americans are particularly angry today has become a rote talking point in the political press, repeated year after year. In 2011, after Representative Gabby Giffords was shot by a mentally ill man, NBC’s Mark Murray wrote, “If one word summed up the past two years in American politics, it was this: anger.” In 2007, George Will wrote in The Washington Post, “Americans are infatuated with anger.” In 1996, in her book The Angry American, George Washington University political scientist Susan Tolchin described an epidemic of “voter rage.”

But long before any of these writers, amid Barry Goldwater’s demogogic presidential campaign, the great historian Richard Hofstadter began his classic 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” thus: “American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers… But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind.”

Hofstadter was exactly right—not only about the anger in the mid-’60s, but also that it was “far from new.” We are not, as Podhoretz and Pelosi suggest, living in a especially or uniquely dangerous moment. Incendiary political speech and political violence have been pervasive in U.S. history.

“What is impressive to one who begins to learn about American violence is its extraordinary frequency, its sheer commonplaceness in our history, its persistence into very recent and contemporary times, and its rather abrupt contrast without our pretensions to singular national virtue,” Hofstadter wrote in the introduction to American Violence: A Documentary History, the 1972 collection he co-edited with Michael Wallace. It shouldn’t surprise us that a colonial settler society that wiped out the Native American population, imported slave labor, and relied on vigilante violence to police newly incorporated territories should be prone to political violence. Reading through Hofstadter and Wallace’s book, one is reminded anew that American history has consisted of slave revolts and their violent crushing, race riots, labor clashes, and assassinations.

Read the entire piece here.

I first read Heet’s piece while traveling throughout the South on a Civil Rights bus tour where we learned a great deal about Martin Luther King’s theory of non-violence from several veterans of the movement who tried to order their lives around this principle. During a conversation with Freedom Rider Rip Patton in the Nashville Public Library, one of the participants on our tour asked Patton how to introduce the principles of non-violence to the students she teaches.  This participant, obviously moved by what she had heard and seen all week, prefaced her remarks by saying that she was convinced that King’s philosophy of non-violence best represented the teachings of Jesus Christ.

I am not a pacifist, but I was also struck by the non-violent philosophy of the leaders and activists of the Civil Rights Movement. I often wrote about it in my daily posts.  As Rip Patton spoke that day he referenced several passages from the Bible.  One of those passages was Romans 12:2:  “And do not be conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  Rip said that this verse was one of several Bible passages that motivated him to join the movement as a college student.

Romans 12:2 is one of the most counter-cultural verses in the New Testament.  I got the sense that the verse had layered meanings for Rip.  First, the “world” was no doubt the world of white supremacy that he had lived through in segregated Nashville.  He would no longer allow himself to be “conformed” to this unjust world.  This required action on his part.

But I also think Rip would say that the “world” of Romans 12:2 was defined by violence and anger.  As a Christian he could not “conform” to this world.  He would pursue a course of counter-cultural transformation–a path that was good and acceptable and the perfect will of God.  This course was defined by non-violence.

Heet and Hofstadter are correct.  American history has always been characterized by violence.  But it seems that the God of the early Civil Rights movement was calling its participants to something higher.

As I wrote this post I also thought about Martha Nussbaum’s recent National Endowment for the Humanities Jefferson Lecture on the limits of anger as a political and social emotion.  Here are some of my tweets from that lecture:

Nussbaum: The ancient Greek democracy had an anger problem. Just like modern democracies. #JeffLec17 #humanities

Nussbaum: Ancients raged a “cultural struggle” against anger, seeing it as destructive to democratic institutions. #jefflec17 #humanities

Nussbaum: We should resist anger in our political culture. This is not easy. Many feel anger is needed for justice. #JeffLec17 #humanities

Nussbaum: “Killing the killer does not restore the dead to life. Pain for pain is an easy idea, but it is a false lure. #JeffLec17

Nussbaum: We go wrong when we permit retributive thoughts to convince us that inflicting pain in the present corrects the past. #jefflec17

Nussbaum: Hard to get our head around complicated truths. Easier to incinerate the witch. #JeffLec17 #humanities #anger

Nussbaum: Fear feeds payback. Obliterating wrong-doers makes us feel better. Even just wars decline into payback & bloodthirst. #JeffLec17

Nussbaum: King gets busy turning retributive anger into work and and hope. #jefflec17 #humanities #mlk #anger

Nussbaum: Democracy must give up empty & destructive thought of payback. Move toward a future of regal justice & human well-being #JeffLec17

Nussbaum: Malcolm X was wrong to criticize King’s rejection of retribution. #Mlk #JeffLec17 #humanities #MLK

Nussbaum: Retributive desires are like the wild beasts in writings of Lucretiius. Anger is powerful, but always gets out of hand. #jefflec17

Nussbaum: History teaches that we always destroy ourselves when we allow ourselves to be governed by fear and anger. #JeffLec17#humanities

 

Historicizing Violence Against Members of Congress

Congress

Yale historian Joanne Freeman reminds us that violence against members of Congress has a long history in the United States.  In a recent op-ed at The Washington Post, Freeman takes us back to the contentious decades before the Civil War.

Here is a taste:

When House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and four others were shot during baseball practice at a park in Alexandria, Va., on Wednesday morning, it was the third incident of violence involving legislators in recent weeks, and by far the most extreme. On May 24 in Montana, only hours before being elected to the House, Greg Gianforte “body-slammed” Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs for asking a question about health-care policy. Five days later, during an immigration policy protest in the Texas House, Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) caused a scuffle when he confronted Latino members of the chamber about protesters in the gallery.

This is hardly politics as normal in America. But it’s not unprecedented. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, legislative violence was far more common. State legislatures and Congress sporadically erupted into violence. Lawmakers assaulted each other during debate — in one case in Arkansas, resulting in a death. And occasionally, aggrieved citizens assaulted lawmakers.

During the 1840s and 1850s, Congress was ground zero for legislative violence because it was the epicenter of the nation’s fraught slavery debate. In those two decades alone, there were scores of violent incidents in the House and Senate, including shoving matches, fistfights, guns and knives drawn, canings and the occasional mass brawl.

Read the entire piece here.

Covart’s American Revolution Reborn Recap: Part 4

In her recent recap (4 of 6) of the recent American Revolution Reborn conference at Penn, Liz Covart covers the session on violence and the American Revolution.  The panel featured Michael Zuckerman, Zara Anishanslin, Denver Brunsman, and David Hsiung.  Here is a taste of Covart’s coverage:

Biggest Takeaway: The American Revolution is a compelling story that never goes away. However, scholars need to find ways to work the violence of the Revolutionary War into their narratives. 

Biggest Question: How can historians get at and understand the violence of the American Revolution?

Panel Summary:

Anishanslin urged historians to grapple with how colonists experienced, saw, and witnessed the Revolution. Anishanslin believes that material culture offers the best way to understand and interpret the violence of the war; most Americans get their history from historic sites not archives. Americans will better understand that the War for Independence was a bloody, violent civil war if historians and museums can discuss how material culture contains the violence of the war.

Brunsman found that the British Royal Navy impressed tens of thousands of men and yet experienced a low rate of desertion: 7% during the Napoleonic wars. Impressed men stayed in the Navy because of naval discipline, the danger of the high seas, and the fact that sailors took pride in their work. However, the American Revolution caused desertion rates to double to 14%; most sailors deserted within the first year of their service. Brunsman attributed higher desertion rates to longer periods in American ports & ideology; sailors did not want to fight their American brethren.

Read the rest here.