America @ 225.
July 4, 2001 1:07 AM   Subscribe

America @ 225. We're still working out all the kinks, but the "Gang of 50" keeps on chugging along. The Fourth of July for me is the day where we can extol the virtues of nationalism unabashedly...
posted by owillis (53 comments total)
... and we can also tell England "boo-ya! we kicked yo butts!" :)
posted by owillis at 1:08 AM on July 4, 2001

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American cousins!
posted by Mocata at 1:39 AM on July 4, 2001

happy colonial splitters' day (splitters! splitters!)

(and remember that in the 1770s, we were too busy subjugating India to spend too much time on our tax-dodging expats.)
posted by holgate at 2:07 AM on July 4, 2001

It was the cooking. Taxes just sounded more noble.
posted by dong_resin at 2:29 AM on July 4, 2001

Happy first birthday to Ethniklashistan, home of spicey food
posted by stbalbach at 2:44 AM on July 4, 2001

There was this kid in school named Waldek who was bright but messed up, always in trouble, always sad or angry or both. That he had blown a few fingers off with fireworks when he was small may not have been the whole reason for his unhappiness, but I'm sure it didn't help.

American parents: be sure to think before you get wasted and let chubby little fingers get hold of explosives and incendiaries tonight. Bombs are fun -- boy, are they fun! -- but you aren't going to destroy your kid's life by not letting him play with them.
posted by pracowity at 2:55 AM on July 4, 2001

The Fourth of July for me is the day where we can extol the virtues of nationalism unabashedly...

You mean just like every other day of the year, owillis? ;-j
posted by lagado at 5:52 AM on July 4, 2001

I Pledge Allegiance....

"In 1892, a socialist named Francis Bellamy created the Pledge of Allegiance for Youth's Companion, a national family magazine for youth ... Daniel Ford and James Upham, his nephew, owned Youth's Companion. One hundred years ago the American Flag was rarely seen in the classroom or in front of the school. Upham changed that. In 1888, the magazine began a campaign to sell American flags to the public schools. By 1892, his magazine had sold American flags to about 26 thousand schools.

The original Pledge was recited while giving a stiff, uplifted right-hand salute, criticized and discontinued during WWII. The words "my flag" were changed to "the flag of the United States of America" because it was feared that the children of immigrants might confuse "my flag" for the flag of their homeland. The phrase "Under God," was added by Congress and President Eisenhower in 1954 at the urging of the Knights of Columbus"
posted by jessamyn at 7:14 AM on July 4, 2001

I Pledge Allegiance....

"In 1892, a socialist named Francis Bellamy created the Pledge of Allegiance...blah blah blah

Yeah, the Flag Pledge is stupid and not very American. So?
posted by ljromanoff at 7:18 AM on July 4, 2001

Here's a different kind of flag for ya.
posted by muckster at 7:37 AM on July 4, 2001

225 Years, yeah, maybe we got something here...
posted by brucec at 7:38 AM on July 4, 2001

Oooh...anybody have a pre-WWII pic of kids giving the pledge? Bet that's creepy.
posted by frykitty at 7:38 AM on July 4, 2001

I have a friend who recently moved here from England. Last fall she took a course in American History at the university, and could barely make it through the Revolutionary War section. It seems she was taught in her high school that the American patroits were whiney snots who refused to accept the culture that mother England was trying to instill. The more they fussed, the more mother England tried to help. When the colonists finally got their guns, England simply walked away to let the colonists have it their way, as they weren't worth the trouble. Clearly the texts she was using here had it all wrong.

It took several in-class arguments with the professor before she realized that maybe what she learned wasn't quite true.
posted by ewagoner at 7:48 AM on July 4, 2001

45 of the most powerful words ever:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
posted by owillis at 7:49 AM on July 4, 2001

All too often undermined by little words like
"indecent", "probable cause," and "security."
posted by dong_resin at 7:57 AM on July 4, 2001

It took several in-class arguments with the professor before she realized that maybe what she learned wasn't quite true.

Well, the British are a bit sensitive about that. From

Note: Star Wars Rebellion is marketed in the United Kingdom under the name Star Wars Supremacy.
posted by ljromanoff at 8:07 AM on July 4, 2001

The original Americans were very noble and had some excellent aims. I wonder what they'd think if they saw America today.

Taxes, taxes, taxes, English music in the charts, taxes, taxes, quirky legal system and more taxes. Seems they just ended up creating a new version of what they were trying to get away from!
posted by wackybrit at 8:09 AM on July 4, 2001

It took several in-class arguments with the professor before she realized that maybe what she learned wasn't quite true.

Whereas what the professor was saying was.

Was he teaching the revolution with or without Tom Paine in it?
posted by Grangousier at 8:16 AM on July 4, 2001

Wow, 225, and America doesn't look a day over 200!
posted by trox at 8:38 AM on July 4, 2001

ok, i take the bait...

ewagoner - you might be surprised to know that we have stories about stupid americans and their strange biases too.

ljromanoff - that's probably because "rebellion" just isn't a popular word. it doesn't sound particularly "cool". while this might be a collective attempt to ignore america i think it's more likely that the word is used over there because it is popular, given your history (no offense, but surely you can see that your it's a lot more important to you than it is to us)
posted by andrew cooke at 8:43 AM on July 4, 2001

To clarify what I just said - I wonder at what historic truth might be. Paine seems to have a greater or lesser (or virtually nonexistent) role in the American Revolution depending on the taste of the person writing about him. And of course, people pay more or less attention to what their lecturers are saying.

I was certainly not taught other than that the Revolution was an armed uprising against British rule. I remember being taught (25 years ago) that one of the main factors in the Continental army's success in battle against the British was their disregard for the established Rules of War, but we were encouraged to admire the Colonials' ingenuity rather than be critical of their lack of "fair play".

I imagine that everyone has a different picture, though. That's the beauty of history.

That said, it wasn't a subject that was covered in depth in my history lessons. One that was was the uprising by Parliament against the crown in the mid-seventeenth century. At that time (early 80s) the current historical narratives covering this era had it as a Civil war (that is to say a war between two matched parties) and a Revolution (an uprising of the middle classes against the aristocracy), and within the latter camp were people who thought that the Diggers and Levellers (representing either the Working classes or a sort of proto-aracho-syndicalism depending on who you spoke to) were important and those who thought they were irrelevant. Everybody had their own evidence. Sometimes contradicting points of view used the same evidence. A lot of explanatory theories to cover one (relatively straightforward as history goes) historical event.

I don't actually know anyone who's touchy about the American Revolution (the Star Wars people probably thought that "SW Supremacy" would sell better). I know people who sometimes refer to the US as "The Colonies", but frankly that's just to wind Americans up. Given the legacy of British rule in India, across Africa and all points Eastwards there's relatively little in British rule in North America to be embarrassed about.

I'm just filling in until Holgate gets here, though.
posted by Grangousier at 8:54 AM on July 4, 2001

Andrew, I believe the word Rebellion is used in the movies, to describe stuff (I haven't seen them, believe it or not, but I assume it's a rebellion). So the fact that the word has been changed in Britain is probably due to concerns over the use of the word there, and not its popularity here.
posted by Doug at 8:56 AM on July 4, 2001

Andrew, et al. - no bait intended. I know what we're taught (or, in fact, what anybody is taught) about history is not in fact what happened in every detail. History is, of course, written by the victors.

As a former history teacher, I marvelled at how different her version of history was from mine. She is a very intelligent woman, but she was confused -- it was her first exposure to revisionism. It doesn't matter who's version was more correct.
posted by ewagoner at 9:00 AM on July 4, 2001

It's just that some people are "confused".

Sorry, I couldn't resist.
posted by Grangousier at 9:02 AM on July 4, 2001

I didn't say we don't know of the word - just that it's not "cool". if you were some kind of marketing person and asked what images the word "rebellion" brought to mind, i'd answer teenage girls smoking cigarettes. believe it or not, but american independence isn't a big thing here - neither +ve nor -ve (and incidentally, the word "independence" would be a lot more likely to conjure up images of the usa than "rebellion").
posted by andrew cooke at 9:08 AM on July 4, 2001

ewagoner - ok, sorry; i agree.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:17 AM on July 4, 2001

So in other words, July 4th has become something of a "let's josh England over being our former colonial masters" day.

I think we would be better off paying attention to the proximal causes of the rebellion -- which was in effect a protest movement which failed, through protests, consultations, emissaries, and non-violence to achieve its ends. In any social cause there will always be those who preach violence and those who caution against it. In 1776, violence seemed to be the only answer.

What would have happened to the civil rights movement had not the federal government listened to Martin Luther King Jr? Would Malcolm X have had a greater and violent impact on our history?

What would have happened to the labor struggles at the beginning of the twentieth century? Without laws establishing a minimum wage, a 40 hour work week, and abolition of child labor, would America have been gripped with a class war?

And what will happen now, in response to the protests over globalization? Given what has happened, and what happened from the Vietnam and No-nukes protests, I am not hopeful. I see a government which is becoming less responsive and more indiscriminate in its use of force and propaganda.
posted by LAM at 9:24 AM on July 4, 2001

(cue patriotism - of the true kind, which requires understanding and valuing the true implications & meaning of the principles & ideals that the USA was founded on)
Happy Birthday America! The one holiday without which we (Americans) may not be able to celebrate any others. Let freedom ring, indeed.
posted by davidmsc at 9:27 AM on July 4, 2001

Many Americans remained loyal to Great Britain and did not want to separate from the "mother country." They sere picked upon, booted out, scorned. But those future Democrats held on and now have their own liberal commmie party here.
posted by Postroad at 9:37 AM on July 4, 2001

roughly one-third of the americans supported independence. Jefferson saw that the paternalistic attitude towards the colonists was the thing they couldnt stomach the most. The penalty for treason (at least for irish rebels) was...gothic to say the least. Washington himself knew they would be strung up if they failed. The backlash was at least with reason. Some Quakers were interned but fairness did come into play. The part of my family that was here during the revolution were quakers but were not harassed even though they did not fight. They allowed the army to camp on their land for a few days. Even a pacifist can be a patriot. This is a matter of record with the D.A.R. (grandma was refused entrance not because her quaker relative did not fight, rather, the land they used was deeded to his brother thus negating the direct male ancestry as mandated by D.A.R. membership criteria.)
posted by clavdivs at 10:07 AM on July 4, 2001

(I'm actually on gardening leave, but still...)

As Grangousier suggests, the notion that high school kids in the US get taught anything other than a propagandised history of their nation's divinely ordained foundation is somewhat risible. But that's par for the course with any national myth: few French schoolkids learn of the atrocities documented in Simon Schama's Citizens. But hands up, anyone in the US given Samuel Johnson's Taxation No Tyranny to read for history class? Or taught about people like John Wilkes, who led the parliamentary campaign for the liberty of the colonies?

(One good way to appreciate how "life went on" even during the rebellion is to read of the orders that Franklin placed for books from London printers. And the fact that he received those books demonstrates, in part, the gripe of the London parliament: that the colonies were able to rely upon trade to and from Europe, under the protection of the British navy. And as Johnson noted: "Nothing dejects a trader like the interruption of his profits.")

That said, the War of Independence doesn't really get taught that much in the UK, because the 18th century isn't taught that much until you reach higher education: instead, the syllabus concentrates on Industrial Revolution and beyond, or ancient Britain (Romans. Vikings, Saxons, Normans). As is fitting when you consider that the war in the colonies was, although an embarrassment for Britain as a fighting force, a relative blip, considering the colonial expansionism in the Indies and the first explorations of Australia, and the concerns with the ancien regime in Europe. It was a fuck-up on a grand scale, but it was less of a fuck-up than the one made by Louis XVI. And it's a pity that it clouds the view of George III as a monarch, given that he was a breath of fresh air after the first two Hanoverians: a king who regarded himself more British than German, and who respected the traditions and culture of his country.

In some respects, self-determination was the realisation of the political ideas put into place by John Locke at the time of the "Glorious Revolution" in 1688. (Another monarchical fuck-up.) It was the second Whig revolution (or, if you like, the second English bourgeois revolution). And it was remarkable not only in its success, but that this time it was primarily ideological, rather than the unabashed merchant's coup of 1688: the arch-Lockean Jefferson, and more notably Hamilton with his tremendous ability to conceive of an almost Newtonian form of government, put into place a commonwealth that the political radicals of 18th-century England would have appreciated, were it not for the fact that it was done through an act of secession.

Neither side's simplified version of the events of the 1770s is particularly satisfying, at least if you're at all interested in the conflict of men and ideas. What the patriots achieved was nothing short of astonishing: what they left behind, in terms of their writings on government, was rightly an inspiration to those in France and across Europe. Whether their nation has lived (or ever could live) up to those ideals is another question.

(An aside: I wish I could have been in Whitby today for the protest march for independence from the US.)
posted by holgate at 10:28 AM on July 4, 2001 [1 favorite]

"Nothing of importance happened today."
- Diary of King George III, July 4, 1776.
posted by heather at 10:37 AM on July 4, 2001

And I don't think "supremacy" would go over too well in the US, either ...
posted by EngineBeak at 10:54 AM on July 4, 2001

heather: if only there had been... RevolutionaryBlog!

(Or, even better, General Wolfe Blog!)
posted by holgate at 11:03 AM on July 4, 2001

But hands up, anyone in the US given Samuel Johnson's Taxation No Tyranny to read for history class? Or taught about people like John Wilkes, who led the parliamentary campaign for the liberty of the colonies?

:::raises hand:::
posted by aaron at 11:09 AM on July 4, 2001

:::raises hand:::

well, that's a given ;)

(I'm actually reminded of the dinner that Boswell engineered -- as was his habit -- between Johnson and Wilkes.)
posted by holgate at 11:39 AM on July 4, 2001

Many Americans remained loyal to Great Britain and did not want to separate from the "mother
country." They sere picked upon, booted out, scorned. But those future Democrats held on and now have their own liberal commmie party here.

So the Democrats are Tories? It all makes sense now.
posted by thirteen at 11:55 AM on July 4, 2001

If we refer to the first war against England as the revolutionary war, what should we call the war against the Native Americans who were here first?
posted by keithl at 1:02 PM on July 4, 2001

I was taught (and I don't know where) that the complaints of the american colonists were low on the british list of things to be concerned with. king george was ill, lots of other stuff going on. the american colonies simply weren't worth throwing many resources at.

and I also understand that the real problem american colonists had was with their status *as* colonists. the boston tea party: no taxation without representation!

it's all about being treated as full british citizens. if the brits had been willing to give us a few seats in parlament, we would conceiveably be singing "God save the Queen" today....

>keithl: what should we call the war against the Native Americans who were here first

that would be properly referred to as "genocide". - rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 1:15 PM on July 4, 2001

Local NPR today had several experts discussing the Declaration of Independence as an historical, social, and literary document. One caller pointed out that it's quite an astonishing rhetorical device, beginning with general statements to which many would agree, listing grievances beginning with the least objectionable, and building to a crescendo of inevitability.

It may have been little noticed in Britain, but it was a revolutionary breaking point to say governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. The success of the American Revolution inspired the French, and together they inspired the wave of democracy that eventually returned even to Britain and extended voting rights to all.

The penultimate paragraph, addressed to the British people (since this thread seems to have leant that way), is remarkable in its prudent appeal to the necessity of war if that was the only option left, but the prospect of friendship were it offered.

Here's an excellent repository of original texts (including laws passed by Parliament, acts of the Continental Congress, and so forth). Certainly everyone should read Common Sense and the Federalist Papers; Madison's Notes on the Constitutional Convention are also remarkable in their honesty as a new framework for government was created from scratch.
posted by dhartung at 1:15 PM on July 4, 2001

One caller pointed out that it's quite an astonishing rhetorical device...

Oh, it is. If I end up teaching composition in an American college, it'll definitely be a sample text for 18th-century prose style. You get the personification of the colonists' grievances in the body of the king; the anaphora ("For he..."), and the invocation of Locke's Second Treatise of Government in the preamble: one of the foundation texts for the political settlement that brought William III, and then George I, to the throne. Which is why I suggested that it's actually the completion of a project that began with the 1689 settlement. For the previous century, England (and then Britain) had redefined the relationship between the monarchy and parliament, deeming the power of parliament to be that vested by the governed. The colonists, being unrepresented, could justifiably argue that any notion of vested consent was a nonsense:

For since it can never be supposed to be the will of the society that the legislative should have a power to destroy that which every one designs to secure by entering into society, and for which the people submitted themselves to legislators of their own making: whenever the legislators endeavour to take away and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge which God hath provided for all men against force and violence. Whensoever, therefore, the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society, and either by ambition, fear, folly, or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people, by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty, and by the establishment of a new legislative (such as they shall think fit), provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society.
posted by holgate at 2:13 PM on July 4, 2001

it's all about being treated as full British citizens. if the brits had been willing to give us a few seats in parliament, we would conceivably be singing "God save the Queen" today....

A historical note, when Ben Franklin went to England to negotiate with the British he was not there seeking any sort of representation in Parliament. In fact, the leaders back on this side of the Atlantic expressly told him not except any sort of deal that involved representation in Parliament. Because, as they saw it, Independence would be nothing more than tokenism; a way to mollify the colonists and then quickly forget their issues, which brings me to my second point...

Perhaps I was taught in the "new school" of US History or maybe it was because I went to a liberal thinking, private school, but I was taught that while the revolutionaries had noble ideals, the war was fought due to business concerns (the right to sell products produced in the colonies on the world market without British restrictions). They wanted to sell their stuff to other parts of the world other than Britain; the taxation without representation was not the real issue and mostly rhetoric, even at the time. As part of the exclusive trading deal with England the North American Colonies' tax rate was pretty favorable. I heard a few years ago that amount paid under the Stamp act per year was less than $1.00 and only affected those who bought select items, many of them were luxury goods. While a $1.00 was a lot back in the day, those who had to pay the stamp taxes were largely middle and upper class. Hence, most could easily afford the tax. So, it's no surprise to me that 1/3 supported England, 1/3 didn't care and just want to make money or go west, and only 1/3 supported the revolution. However, after the revolution started people got swept along in the hype, especially the lower and working classes, and the stuff about freedom and liberty took a front seat, help along by Thomas Paine’s writings such as Common Sense, to the right of a wealthy tea merchant to sell tea on the open market.

It would make sense for a large number of people to support England; after all it was England that had given may people in the colonies their status in civil society (note: Ben Franklin's son who was Governor of New Jersey was a Loyalist).

My take is that revolutionaries this that while they were racist and certainly hypocrites on may fronts, they did have noble ideas and ideals, and in my belief, expressed a great deal of universal truth in the Declaration of Independence. As Americas this holiday is not about thumbing our noses at England, although it is fun, but it's about celebrating the noble and universal truths of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. As well as, continuing to make sure that the rights and freedoms the revolutions fought so hard for are guaranteed to all Americans today, happy 225 USA!
posted by Bag Man at 4:07 PM on July 4, 2001

hmmm, the conspiracy of silence is broken. if we all talk to each other, maybe we can piece together what really happened, maybe we can learn the forbidden history of american independence.
posted by rebeccablood at 4:54 PM on July 4, 2001

Damn that holgate! I was going to bring up Locke's second treatise and its influence on the rhetoric of the Declaration (which it might be noted was preceded by state Declarations using eerily similar language) and feel all self-satisfied in doing so.

I agree with the notion of the Declaration as a phenomenal rhetorical device- it damn well had to be a phenomenal rhetorical device, charged as it was with helping birth this mythic notion of Nationalism. Both in England in the years after 1689 and of course in the colonies leading up to 1776 there was a great deal of agitation from the oppressed, the poor, the downtrodden for the institution of a genuine equality (an agitation that continued long after the Revolution- hence the eventual right to vote by women and blacks- except in Florida- as well as Labor Unions, et al). The upper class and outright wealthy that constituted the Founding Fathers needed to corral and redirect that populist rage against the "enemy" of Britain, lest they begin to suffer the wrath of angry mobs- or as Madison put it, "The role of government is to protect the opulent minority from the majority."

The Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and many other documents demonstrate that of principal concern to these men was formulating a strong central government (hence, Federalism; not to be confused with modern-day Federalism that's about "state's rights") that could be controlled by the wealthy few and thus control the majority from disturbing the gilded privileges of private property. Even the bill of rights wasn't in the original Constitution; rather, it was a sop to the "ignorant masses", the "great beast" of the people, to quiet them down and get them to accept this new Federal government. That's why 7 years after the First Amendment was passed they instituted the Sedition Act- rights were of little concern to them except their own, and in particular their right to property.

This is not to say that what the Founding Fathers and the common folk of America (and England!) were doing during these years wasn't a great step in the right direction for humanity. But there's no reason we can't also accept their flaws, limitations, and hypocrisies while applauding what they did right.
posted by hincandenza at 8:42 PM on July 4, 2001

grangousier- Washington was once a British officer. His actions in the wars where sanctioned by his superiors. If his actions offended the british generals, they would have removed him. Paine was the first pamphleteer to go against the king, his 'common sense' also captured washingtons mind, i think his role was important.

Lam-violence had broke out in 1775.

and did we forget Rosseau?

It was about business. Business means feeding people.
posted by clavdivs at 10:16 PM on July 4, 2001

Speaking from the side of someone who has actually done something for their country, I hope you morons realize how trite your arguments really are.

It's always fashionable to bash the current president and claim how bad America is.

If you truly believe this then move. Otherwise, realize that you are an unoriginal asshole riding the tides of continual popular critique.

The grass is always greener.
posted by ttrendel at 3:06 AM on July 5, 2001

thanks ttrendel.
posted by lagado at 4:09 AM on July 5, 2001

yeah, thanks. don't understand why I should move though.
posted by Mocata at 5:11 AM on July 5, 2001

The grass is always greener.

That's quite zen, if you think about it...

Always greener than what?
posted by Grangousier at 6:00 AM on July 5, 2001

If you truly believe this then move.

Screw that. Matt "Ezrael" Rossi puts it a lot better than I could in his rebuttal to the Love It or Leave It attitude.
posted by harmful at 6:27 AM on July 5, 2001

Speaking from the side of someone who has actually done something for their country, I hope you morons realize how trite your arguments really are.

Speaking as someone who has actually done something for my country, like vote, pay my taxes, and write to my congresswoman, I always find it exasperating when someone kneejerks. Especially when it is just a generalized kneejerk, as in this case, without any real context.
posted by LAM at 8:53 AM on July 5, 2001

It's particularly sad when "doing something for one's country" can be reduced down to the bare minimum essentials -- that which is a civic responsibility, that which is mandated by law and that which is the least glimpse of interest one can take in actually fulfilling the concept of "government by consent of the governed" etc. etc. Pathetic.
posted by Dreama at 9:38 AM on July 5, 2001

What an elevated discussion! Wow. If only such learned debates were held at higher levels! Oh well. I'm still with the Prez on this issue. As in, Yeah, what he said, whatever that meant. From Slate:

Well, it's an unimaginable honor to be the president during the Fourth of July of this country. It means what these words say, for starters. The great inalienable rights of our country. We're blessed with such values in America. And I—it's—I'm a proud man to be the nation based upon such wonderful values."—Visiting the Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C., July 2, 2001
posted by raysmj at 10:52 AM on July 5, 2001

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