He shook me again and shouted, “It’s the state health law!”
In the mid-1950’s I spent the summer working in my uncle’s drug store in Levi, Arkansas. A woman came in, asked for water, drank it and left. My uncle ran over to me, grabbed me by the lapels and, shaking me, shouted, “Don’t you ever do that again! If a Negro comes in, you put what they want in a paper cup and take it down to the end of the counter to give it to them! It’s the state health law!”
Some slaves got their freedom with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. All slaves got their freedom with The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865. After 90 years, Arkansas State law still required discrimination. Why?
The United States is a great country. How could this have happened? We can look at our history and feel proud about our successes. One of our greatest successes was Louisiana Purchase – doubling our size without firing a shot at a foreign enemy. Echoes from the past tell us that, when the United States faced the choice of which road to take, we sometimes took the road to failure. You could argue that the persecution of the Loyalist during and after the Revolutionary War, the ratification of the Constitution and the Civil War turned out to be mistakes.
The US Constitution was written by and for the colonial power elite. It didn’t work well when it was written and the government was small. With the Civil War, government got larger and the Constitution served us even less well. This story of the Road to Failure ends in April 1861. There is an epilogue that jumps to today and evaluates the question of how to handle a failed government.
The government of the United States, legislative, executive and judicial branches, are in disarray. Congress, as a whole, gets very low approval ratings. Many believe that their representative, one out of 435, may be OK, but the rest of the crowd is thought to be a bunch of bums. The president, from either party, struggles to get a 50% approval rating.
The history of the United states is exciting and unique. It is filled with heroes and villains. Shelby Foote’s writings about the Civil War are like “music for the eyes.” Barbara Tuchman brought history to life in her more than ten books on a broad range of historical settings. The rest of us struggle to show to others why we passionately feel about history. To show you my passion for history I would like you to listen to echoes from the past. These echoes speak more eloquently than I. These echoes will tell us why we diverted from the path of a great people. Why for years we ignored the pleas of those who wanted no more than the recognition of their rights under the Constitution.
War is a native part of our ancestry. I do not mention the sorrows and triumphs of General Washington at places like Valley Forge and Yorktown. These are too well known by every American. But I do mention Margaret Corbin. Her husband was killed fighting the British at Fort Tryon in 1776. Margaret took over the cannon and continued the fight until her arm was nearly torn off and her breast mangled by grapeshot. Through the journals of Baroness De Riedesel, wife of the German Major General Frederick Adolf Riedesel, we have a ringside seat to the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. How many of us care that Private Christopher Smith, an American Loyalist serving in the British General De Lancey’s Brigade, was sentenced to receive 1,000 lashes in 1778 for stealing two oxen and a cow? These stories make up the fabric of America in the 18th century. If we want to feel what was going on during these times, we should care. If we want to know how we came to be, we should care.
It was estimated that one-third of the colonist were Patriots, one-third were neutral and the remainder were Loyalist. This may not be important except that in the treaty that ended the Revolution, we promised to compensate the Loyalist for their confiscated property. We broke that promise. Great Britain (like the US and Cuba in the 1960s) retaliated economically. The US went into what some historians called the “crucial period.” The states were in turmoil. Shays’ Rebellion in the North represented the common farmer everywhere. The nation, and the business classes in the coastal centers, needed relief. The business classes got their relief with the US Constitution of 1788. But the common citizen, whom some say would not have voted for the Constitution if they had a chance, received no relief.
The next seventy years presented us with tremendous, and sometimes daunting, challenges. We doubled the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase. We showed our mettle in the War of 1812. Even though we had a wealth of political intelligence in Congress we could not solve the slavery problem. The ideas that made up Manifest Destiny propelled us into belligerent relationships with our neighbors, the Mexicans, and the First Americans. Echoes from the past tell us that there were obvious alternatives to some of the poor choices that we made. And these echoes could be a beacon for today.
Some politicians are great statesmen. Some are, well, just politicians. Almost all politicians try to be great. Take George H.W. Bush with his “Read My Lips!” declaration. He was sincere about no new taxes when he was campaigning for the presidency. Once he became president, taxes were raised. Many famous, and no so famous politicians say one thing on the campaign trail or in the debates and do something quite different when they are in the seat of power. I admit, they are not always the opposite. For instance, campaigning for Congress, Abraham Lincoln consistently promoted protective tariffs. This would benefit the manufacturers in the north and harm the farmers in the south. Campaigning in the north, Lincoln was in favor of abolition of slavery. When he was sitting in Congress, he submitted a plan to keep slaves in the District of Columbia.
Echoes from the past tries to convey what our ancestors were thinking about and what they did. I do not try to resolve the conflict between thinking and doing – I just want to bring this to light so that we can see that the conflict is not easily resolved. Even today it is difficult to distinguish between motivation and action. In today’s world of investments, it is said that two things drive the stock market: fear and greed. Many times individuals will not know what their motivation is. For instance, back in the colonies, we might assume that patriotism was a prime motivating factor for the colonist, because it is so important to us today. A city of 10,000 would be large for the colonist. Year after year they would have an epidemic that would sweep the city, killing 300 to 500 husbands, wifes and children. An epidemic of this proportion would be unthinkable today – so we do have time to think of patriotism. If we look at our origins, at the trials and tribulations we went through, we might better perceive “the good, the bad and the ugly” of our situation today.
Boston, Massachusetts, the most important port in colonial British-America, was named after Boston, County Lincolnshire, the second most important port in early England. When you mention Boston, England to most Americans they get a quizzical look on their face. The political/societal model established for the Hanseatic Boston has no relationship to the 21st century Boston, County Lincolnshire, England. (The Hansa was an European commercial union that bridged the trading world between the Vikings and the development of stock markets in Northern Europe. For a fuller treatment of the Hansa, see Economic Revolutions cited at the end of Chapter 1.) As with Boston, England. The political/societal model of Revolutionary Boston, Massachusetts has no relationship to today. The Port of Boston has slipped from number one in importance to some place behind the Port of Tacoma, Washington. While England moves toward devolution, America remains stuck with the idea that the center of power lies in Washington, D.C.
Did the United States create such a perfect union in 1788 that there is no need to evolve to a more perfect union? In the 20th century the Soviet Union was formed, and dissolved. By the 21st century the United Kingdom was “devolving.” Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales had their own parliaments. Scotland was even talking of independence. The sign of a great country is its ability to change. In the Epilogue we will discuss alternatives presented by our foreign brethren.
I hope that you enjoy the book!
Unpublished work © 2011 John Taylor