Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

The Glorious Fourth

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Let me start out like this–it is always something of an omen (of what, I’m not sure) when Sunday morning starts out with Beethoven and not with Bach. 

I’ve been sick as anything for two days–I’d LOVE to have a recording of how my class went on Friday; it’s a three hour, one day a week thing, and I think I might have been blithering.

Anyway, I’ve been sick for two days, and I’m still more sick than not, but I suppose it’s a better sign than it might be that the Beethoven is the 3rd and not the 9th, or, God help us, the 5th.

Maybe I’m just panicking.  The problem with conking out for a couple of days is that there ends up being a lot of work needing to be done.

But let me start out by address–ack, I AM sick, I can’t remember the name–anyway the comment that said that schoolchildren should not learn that the American Revolution started on July 4, 1776 with the issuance of the Declaration of Independence, because this is “not true.”

Is that the case?  Is it “not true” that July 4, 1776, when the Declaration was issued, was when the American Revolution started?


It’s perfectly true.

And how do I know that?

I know it because the men who made that Revolution said that’s when it started, and that is the date from which they forever afterward pegged the existence of the United States as a nation.

The attempts to date the Revolution from various occurrences in 1775–the shot heard round the world!–is like trying to date WWII from Hitler’s occupation of the Rhineland or his annexation of Czechoslovakia.

It’s almost certainly the case that the one set of incidents (occupation, annexation, shot heard, etc) made the next set of incidents (actual war, actual revolution) almost inevitable, that is not the same thing as saying that those incidents were the actual start of the actual war that followed.

The reason lies partially in that “almost”–as it turned out, in both cases, war did follow.  But in neither case was it inevitable that war should follow. 

Over the long course of the British Empire, there were many periods where such incidents occurred in one colony or another, many of them far more violent than anything that happened here in 1775. 

I am, at the moment, reading about one of them–the Indian Mutiny, which was exponentially bloodier and more violent than anything that happened here even during the Revolution, and occassioned much more complete loss of control of the colony than anything that would happen here until we actually one the contest.

If the British had mopped up the “incidents” and reasserted control, the shot would not have been heard around the world for long, and we would not now be talking about an American Revolution, because no such Revolution would have occurred.

The July 2nd/July 4th thing I find more egregious, because it’s part of what I think of as the “we’re too smart and sophisticated to believe in fairy tales” school of how to teach American history to schoolchildren.

I’m not saying that the person who posted that comment here is of that school, but that I’m fairly sure his or her teachers were–or if not her teachers, then their teachers.

The problem with it is varied and multiple.

There is, of course, the fact that if independence had been voted but never proclaimed, the vote wouldn’t have mattered a damn–but I think there’s a better case to be made for the inevitability of Revolution after the vote than after 1775.

The larger issue is the fact that the men who were actually there, and who voted for independence in the first place, didn’t date the Revolution from the 2nd.  They dated it from the 4th. 

Why, exactly, should I take the backdating reconfigurations of modern historians–or, worse yet, modern textbook writers–over the plain testimony and continued support of the people who actually fomented the revolution in question?

Not only was July 4 celebrated as the day Revolution actually started–Revolution, not revolt in the hopes of getting British concessions, which was one other thing the events of 1775 might have resulted in–but it was celebrated with much more fanfare and public passion than anything we’ve ever seen in our lifetimes.

One of the most distinct memories I have of reading any piece of literature is a scene from Henry James’s The Bostonians, where Olive and her feminist allies take time out from their attempts to stage a sexual revolution to march around their little house in Cape Cod with sparklers proclaiming the wonders of the Glorious Fourth. 

Maybe it’s just that I can’t imagine the Feminist Majority Foundation doing that today.

Relegating the July 4th date to a silly fairy tale that is of no real importance anyway does a lot of bad things.  First, it’s not historically accurate–and it’s certainly not “the truth.”   Second, it leaves those schoolchildren unable to penetrate vast parts of our culture that have not gone away. 

And third, and most important, it is one of those things working to obliterate that culture.

And yes, I know a lot of people would like that culture obliterated–it’s all racism, sexism and homophobia anyway, and the Revolution was just about a lot of rich white guys trying to protect their property, and–well, you know the drill.

But those things aren’t the truth anyway, and it giving them to sixth graders as if they were you do something with immediate ramifications:  you raise generation after generation of citizens who see no reason why THEIR money should go for supporting THOSE people–after all, what do we have to do with them?

I hear a lot these days on the subject of how awful we’ve become since the Great Depression, when we were all willing to pull together and help each other out through the bad times.

But the Generation that lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War was taught all those silly fairy tales about the national story, and came out of it as one people, all Americans together.

The bottom line is this:  you can have a national story that every schoolchild learns, and a national story that will recruit those schoolchildren into a defense of their own culture.

Or you can have every man, woman, and child for him and herself.

For what it’s worth, Charlou said a lot when she was here, and I still don’t know which of the fourteen things a day she posted she was supposed to be right about.

So I’ll just let that one go.

And go make more tea.

Written by janeh

January 29th, 2012 at 10:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'The Glorious Fourth'

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  1. Me too. The proclamation changed things. For one, it burned some fairly serious bridges. (There’s a bunch of Washington correspondence with British officers willing to fight on the American side–if we just take back the Declaration. Same thing happens with some British peace commissioners.) And it was understood to be THE date within the lifetimes of the people who signed it.

    As for “the 18th of April, ’77” it is worth noting that the Declaration would be a historical curiosity of the sort which litters European history–the German Constitution of 1848, for instance–if a bunch of people hadn’t fought for eight years and won. And those people were often poor, sometimes black and every now and then women and Native American.

    So yes, part of the national saga, and yes we need one. Try to find Austro-Hungary or Yugoslavia on your maps. And need I remind anyone that what we are now witnessing in Europe is what happens when people are placed under one government who do not regard themselves as one people?

    We will have hard times again, and probably soon. If we are not one people, why should those not immediately threatened not cut the safety line? They will, after all, probably never have heard that dead white male Franklin warn that “if we do not hang together, we shall certainly hang separately.”

    Nothing against those Tea Party “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. But there was another of the same vintage showing a snake in 13 segments, with the motto “Unite or Die.”


    29 Jan 12 at 2:16 pm

  2. OOPS! ’75, of course.


    29 Jan 12 at 2:17 pm

  3. The Boston Teaparty and the ride of Paul Revere remind me more of the Watts Riots then of a revolution. And the 4th of July was marked by celebrations during the early 1800s. They would know!

    Speaking of the role of culture, I’ve done some reading in Australian history (not nuch, its boring).

    Australia became a country in 1901. Prior to that, it was 6 separate colonies. Historians say that before WW1, people would sway “I’m from Melbourne” or “I’m from Victoria”. After WW1, they started saying “I’m from Australia”.


    29 Jan 12 at 5:30 pm

  4. Yeah. I’ve listened to an account of an early important Australian cricket match with a complaint that an official was a “Victorian.” It took me a while to realize that they didn’t mean he was old-fashioned, but that his colony biased him. In America, “the United States” was a plural noun in 1860. (“The United states are…”) By 1865, it was a singular noun. “The United States is…”)

    Fully agree about the Tea Party, the Stamp Tax Riots and the Boston Massacre–except that the Tea Party was pretty respectful of private property–but give Paul Revere and the Minutemen full credit: they were formed up in companies, armed, under officers and taking casualties, and that’s war.

    Between the American and French Revolutions, the Dutch will throw out the House of Orange and Belgium will cast out the Habsburgs, but in both cases it turned out no one would actually fight, so the “revolutions” went away. (Valmy was a real shock in some quarters.) Same thing with Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion here. Plenty of people are willing to kill someone for a cause, but that’s only civil disorder or homicide. It’s not a war until people will risk dying for it.


    29 Jan 12 at 7:52 pm

  5. Those who chose evolution and not revolution – eg Australia and Canada – mark WW I as a major landmark in the development of an indepdendant national identity – last time we fought at foreign orders or agreed that we’d go to war because another country did. Even if that other country was the UK. Of course, certain members of the population have been looking for another major power to cozy up to ever since, generally the US!

    Anyway, common cultural myths are essential, whether they’re common views on WW I or the hiring of Scottish schoolteachers to teach PROPER spelling in the face of American immigrants with their improper spelling or the conviction that it’s quite OK to have armed forces as long as they mostly do is peacekeeping.

    I used to disagre strongly with those who argued that myths were powerful, but in the cases of national myths, I can see that they are. And not always in a bad way. Newfoundlanders are generally poor, but generous, hardworking, caring people with a talent for music.

    There are a few other myths, but I’ll leave them out. And do myths create stereotypes, which lead to lazy thinking about other people?


    30 Jan 12 at 8:07 am

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