It’s a wonderful town! I’m looking forward to my trip to New York, as I haven’t been there in thirteen years.
Tell me what you think: Frank Sinatra or Gene Kelly? I’m a Kelly girl, myself. (We’ll just leave the unfortunate Jules Munchin out of this contest.)
See you at NYU next Tuesday for lunch, and at the Columbia Early American seminar that evening. I’m very much looking forward to my visit, which was coordinated by Zara Anishanslan at the College of Staten Island, Eric Herschthal at Columbia, and Nicole Eustace at NYU. (Eric has been writing for Slate lately–have you seen his latest on Governor Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment? I especially liked his commentary this summer about why popular histories of the American Revolution ignore the current scholarship. He writes:
Ah, but Eric: who wants to chuck that book into Dad’s Christmas stocking? Most Americans prefer to hear the same twice-(or two-hundred times) told tales, fairy tales that reassure them that men were once virtuous, that the Revolution was for liberty, that God was in his Heaven, and that women, children, and enslaved people knew their places and hewed to them cheerfully. As John Adams wrote in the late spring of 1776 at the same time he was on the committee charged with drafting the Declaration of Independence, “Depend upon it, sir; it is dangerous to open So fruitfull a Source of Controversy and Altercation, as would be opened by attempting to alter the Qualifications of Voters. There will be no End of it. New Claims will arise. Women will demand a Vote. Lads from 12 to 21 will think their Rights not enough attended to, and every Man, who has not a Farthing, will demand an equal Voice with any other in all Acts of State.”
These pop histories make arguments I haven’t seen scholars of the Revolution make in years. Implicit in all of them is the notion that the founders’ professed ideas of liberty and equality truly rallied colonists to their cause. It’s a comforting thought, but one that flies in the face of the latest research. For most of the war, the majority of colonists probably wanted nothing to do with the conflict, an argument emphasized at a recent Penn conference of leading scholars. Battlefield successes and Britain’s heavy-handed tactics may have boosted the patriots’ appeal, but it’s misleading to call their cause genuinely “popular.” To gain supporters, local patriot leaders often relied on fear and intimidation, not appeals to hearts and minds. In most towns, for instance, patriots created vigilante groups, called Committees of Safety, that forced colonists to take loyalty oaths, swearing to turn in anyone deemed suspicious. During the war, in other words, colonial America may have felt more like the Soviet Union than a free and open republic.
Whaddya think this is–a democracy or a truly representative republic? Fuhgeddaboutit! See you in the big city. I’ll be wearing my cowgirl boots and a smile.