THE TIMES, THEY AREN’T A-CHANGING

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

  Alexander Hamilton

As my brother so sadly attested last week, smoke seems to be everywhere in the West this summer.  We have cut one vacation short and cancelled another altogether due to smoke.  It is a tragedy all around, not only from an environmental perspective but the impact it has on people who lose all of their belongings and the small businesses who count on tourism to subsist.  With that in mind, we have just been grateful to have a roof over our heads and Dash the Wonder Dog to keep us entertained.  The extra time at home has also aided my mission of slogging my way through Ron Chernow’s tome, Alexander Hamilton, the book that inspired the hit Broadway musical.  Weighing in at 832 pages, it has been a daunting task because most of my reading is done in bed at night.  Sometimes I’ll read for an hour or so but many nights I find that after three pages I’m slumped over and snoring.  That said, I’ve finally completed it and in an odd way, have found some solace in its pages during this politically turbulent time.  The following are some highlights from the post-Revolutionary period that seem strikingly familiar:

 

  • During the 1790’s the Federalists and Republicans came to view each other as serious threats to the country’s future, resulting in partisan animosity that was at fever-pitch for much of the decade.
  • Partisan warfare divided families in every state. It also broke up friendships, perhaps most notably and poignantly the friendship between the revolutionary collaborators Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
  • Both parties exhibited hostility against recent immigrants who were believed to be supporting the rival party.
  • The partisan conflict of the 1790s brought sex scandals to widespread public attention. (Both Hamilton and Jefferson were touched by the latter.)
  • Newspapers were established by both parties in order to slant the news to reflect their positions.  Ironically, Hamilton, the premier Federalist, founded the New York Daily Post which is now the longest continuously published newspaper in America and is decidedly conservative.
  • Large and unruly anti-government crowds gathered in the capital city, and in 1793 “threatened to drag President Washington out of his House, and effect a revolution in the government.
  • The election of  Thomas Jefferson in 1800 was remarkable for several reasons but most notably that it ushered in the first peaceful transition of power after one of the most acrimonious decades of political backstabbing and infighting.
  • In 1813, Jefferson, in retirement, looking back on the 1790s, recalled that the “public discussions” in this decade, “whether relating to men, measures, or opinions, were conducted by the parties with animosity, a bitterness, and an indecency, which had never been exceeded. All the resources of reason, and of wrath, were exhausted by each party in support of its own, and to prostrate the adversary opinions.”  Imagine if they had social media back then.  Who knows where our country may have drifted?

          Thomas Jefferson

I avoid most news accounts these days because I find it too stressful.  I’ve gone from being a news junkie to eating junk food instead.  But reading Hamilton has made me less anxious about today’s conflicts.  I realize that as bad as things are right now, we have gone through worse and come out the better for it.  Somewhere out there is our Thomas Jefferson.  Despite his personal shortcomings, he managed to bring the country together, soothing both parties and accomplishing a sound economic and social foothold for our new country.

All we have to do until “our Jefferson” arrives, is not let the smoke get in our eyes…or blown up our keisters.

 

 

When Did ‘Independence Day’ Become the ‘4th of July’?

by Bob Sparrow

Founding

Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin

Ahhh, the 4th of July – warm weather, baseball games, parades, old glory flying, fireworks, barbecues and beer. Who doesn’t love that? The neighborhood I live in has made this day a very special one from the time our kids were very small. We’ve had parades where the kids decorated their bikes in red, white and blue streamers. We’d go to the local school grounds and taught the kids to play softball until the year that they taught us. We’d play horseshoes and go swimming. We’d barbecue burgers and hot dogs, have a few cold beers (not the kids!) and when it got dark we launched some fireworks.

We thought it was the perfect 4th of July, and it probably was, but it wasn’t the perfect ‘Independence Day’. Nary a word was spoken about the courage of George Washington, the eloquent writing of Thomas Jefferson, the legal leadership of John Adams, or the many talents of Benjamin Franklin. And with all the media we’re surrounded with today, I’m betting that you don’t hear much about these heroes this week as we prepare for what is suppose to be a celebration of what these, and many other courageous men and women, did to create this incredible country.

It’s curious how we’ve personified virtually every other holiday we celebrate with characters, from Father Time to Santa Claus, but we’ve actually taken the Independence‘characters’, our Founding Fathers, out of our Independence Day celebration and relegated it to just a date.  It would be like instead of calling it Christmas, we’d just call it ’25th of December’, or instead of Easter we’d call it the ‘first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox’; OK, maybe we’d keep that one as Easter.  Independence Day is many American’s favorite holiday, but it’s because of the aforementioned activities not because we spend much time recalling and recognizing the deeds of the truly amazing people who founded this nation.

I suspect part of the reason for our lack enthusiasm over celebrating as the victors of the Revolutionary War, is that we don’t see England as our enemy anymore. In fact, they are, arguably, our strongest ally, but back in the day, they were not so very nice to us and they were particularly pissed when we told them to take their taxes and tea bags and put them where the sun don’t shine.

GeorgeIII

King George III

King George III, king of England at the time of our revolution, was a particularly annoying bastard – you can read some of our grievances with him in the actual Declaration of Independence, which, by the way can be printed on two typewritten pages – sans signatures. Maybe this year, you could print it out and read it during the barbecue, preferably before ‘beer thirty’. You might also mention that our Founding Father’s were not only courageous, but were very intelligent and interesting people. To wit:

–       George Washington, who is the only US president never to run for president, was elected twice by a unanimous decision of the Electoral College (He got every vote!) – popular vote was not used in those days. As president, he refused to be paid. But, he was also the richest president in history, with total assets in excess of $500 million in today’s dollars.

–       Thomas Jefferson publicly opposed slavery, even though he owned slaves his entire adult life and had 5 children with his slave, Sally Hemings.

–       John Adams died on the same day as his rival Thomas Jefferson on July 4th, 1826, the 50thanniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

–       The multi-talented Benjamin Franklin could speak 6 languages: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Latin . . . and English

–       Our first secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton was shot and mortally wounded by Vice President Aaron Burr in one of the most famous duels in American history.

–       Patrick Henry, an attorney, had many people who had nothing to do with a case visit his court hearings just to hear him speak; he was that good of a public speaker.

–       Benedict Arnold, the famous traitor, was a General in both the American and British armies – some say at the same time.

I hope you all have a great 4th of July, but I also hope that you also make it a great ‘Independence Day’ and remember those who, nearly 240 years ago, gave us the freedoms that we so enjoy to this day.