How Our Revolutionary Majority Emerged in 1775
The Round Table enjoyed meeting — and listening to — our June speaker, Kevin Phillips. He is a man with a fascinating career. Decades ago, he wrote Our Emerging Republican Majority, one of the more prophetic books of the previous century. Since that triumph, he has turned to history with the same skepticism for generalizations and pontifications and found startling new insights in the joint past we share with Great Britain.
In a calm, almost matter of fact style, Mr. Phillips told us how he discovered that 1775, not 1776, was the crucial, even the decisive year of the American Revolution. He approached the data in the same hands-on way he had written the Republican majority book, going through province after province "like canvassing for an election." He soon discovered that the 13 colonies were very different entities. In New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and Delaware, there was a mixed bag of disagreeing, argumentative or indifferent groups. Adding to their disunity were a variety of religions. Georgia, worried about the warlike and populous Creek Indians, was also hesitant. Fortunately for the future of the United States, there were four other colonies, which Mr. Phillips dubbed "Vanguards." They were Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia and South Carolina. Their populations were almost all English, and they shared the same religion - Congregationalist in the North, Anglican in the South. They were the igniters of the Revolutionary fervor that began rising in 1774. In the North, they brought with them New Hampshire, in the South, North Carolina. Neither was "militant" like the Vanguards. But they soon contracted the enthusiasm for defiance and hostility to royal governors and local legislators who resisted the emotional surge. Soon impromptu provincial congresses and committees of safety and correspondence replaced British governance up and down the continent. Simultaneously, emboldened merchants found gunpowder in a search that reached from the Baltic to the Caribbean. It was, Mr. Phillips declared, a unique political realignment that left the British bewildered and floundering. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence simply ratified a nation that already existed, complete with a ruling congress and a national army.
The applause was so explosive, you might think we were back in fiery 1775, with its "rage militare." Chairman Dave Jacobs gave Mr. Phillips not one but two certificates, one saluting his lifetime contributions to our politics and our history, the other praising his vivid presentation of the essence of his startling book, 1775: A Good Year For Revolution.
At Last! Tom Paine Has a Library
The whereabouts of Tom Paine's bones remain an historical mystery but his hide-covered trunk, his wallet, eyeglasses and thousands of pages of his manuscripts, Common Sense, The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason, have finally found a home in a climate-controlled room in Iona College's Ryan Library in New Rochelle. This summer the college announced the creation of an Institute for Thomas Paine Studies. English Professor Scott Cleary, the Institute's director, said "We are the conservators of an American cultural treasure. We want to make these archives available not only to scholars, but to the general public."
All this is especially fitting because New Rochelle was Tom Paine's home town for the last years of his tumultuous life. He was buried there, but was not allowed to rest in peace. One dark night in 1819 his corpse was exhumed by British reformer William Cobbett and taken to England, where he hoped to make it the centerpiece of a monument that would galvanize the faltering reform movement. For the British establishment, barely recovered from their struggle with Napoleon Bonaparte's France, Tom Paine was close to the last person on the globe they were inclined to welcome, alive or dead. The corpse remained in Cobbett's attic until his death in 1835 and then vanished.
After Paine wrote his defense of the French Revolution, The Rights of Man, and dedicated it to George Washington, he was hounded out of his native England and became a French citizen. He was soon in even hotter water there. The Revolution spiraled into mass murder climaxed by the decapitation of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. Paine attempted to defend the king from this humiliating death, suggesting that he be sent to America. Tom's reward was a trip to the Luxembourg Prison where those who dared to speak their minds to the revolution's ruling madmen awaited an encounter with Monsieur Guillotine. Only the intervention of American Ambassador James Monroe saved Paine from Louis's fate.
Completely unglued, Paine wrote an insulting letter to President George Washington, blaming him for his ordeal. This venture into character assassination instantly made him the most unpopular man in America. When he finally returned to America in 1802, thanks to the kindness of President Thomas Jefferson, the refugee was denounced as a drunkard and an atheist (The Age of Reason attacked conventional Christianity, alienating true believers everywhere.) President Jefferson was abused with equal ferocity. Paine replied in kind, further infuriating his critics. There is a lot of history in the archives of the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies!
AHA — The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society
The AHA was founded in 2011 with the goal of restoring the first Secretary of the Treasury to the fame they feel he deserves, as the man who created the financial structure that launched America on the road to becoming a global commercial and manufacturing colossus. The organization now has 10 state and regional chapters that support their activities. This summer saw a veritable explosion of Hamiltonian history - 28 public events in two electrifying weeks.
They included a tour of the Alexander Hamilton Customs House, now the home of a branch of the National Archives and the Museum of the American Indian, during which the guests saw an original document signed by both Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Next was a memorial service in Trinity Church courtyard, beside Hamilton's grave, which is under restoration, and a visit to the Columbia University archives to see a special exhibit on Hamilton.
From the Round Table point of view, one of the most interesting events was our Tom Fleming's speech in Trinity Church on the anniversary of Hamilton's death. The title was "Alexander Hamilton Realist and Visionary," in which, among other things, Tom argued that Hamilton's vision of New York as the capital of the nation might have made Gotham into another London, the center of the nation's commercial and artistic world, as well as its politics. This might have prevented the New England-centered and Southern-obsessed "diseases in the public mind" that caused the Civil War. But Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, convinced that New York was an evil city in the grip of stock market swindlers, forced Hamilton to abandon this possible future in order to procure Virginia's support for the assumption of the states' revolutionary war debts - a key step in Hamilton's program. Washington DC became the new capital. It remained little more than a swampy village for decades, where politics was the only topic that anyone discussed - exacerbating the drift toward sectional confrontation.
C-Span filmed Tom's speech and several other events but has not broadcast them as of this writing. Meanwhile Tom can be seen on the church's website at http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/file/2225.
For those who want to learn more about AHA's doings, go to http://www.the-aha-society.com. If you need motivation, consider this: In March 2013, The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia commissioned a poll to determine the most valuable cabinet member ever to serve a U.S. president. From a list of 39 names that included Thomas Jefferson and other luminaries, Alexander Hamilton won going away.
A Forgotten Spanish Hero
September was Spanish heritage month. Thanks to the newsletter of the Crossroads of the American Revolution, a man who had not a little to do with winning our independence is finally getting some attention. We're talking about Juan de Miralles and we're willing to bet you never heard of him. A charismatic multi-lingual businessman living in Cuba, Miralles was designated by Spain's King Carlos III as his royal commissioner to the Continental Congress. He soon established at Charleston, S.C. a trade route from Havana and used his Cuban connections to supply the American army with sugar, flour, uniforms and guns. He also helped avoid an outbreak of scurvy in the poorly fed American ranks by supplying General Washington with quinine, of which Spain had a virtual monopoly, and Cuban limes, a great source of vitamin C.
Washington soon regarded Miralles as a friend, and helped him establish a profitable relationship with Robert Morris, America's premier merchant. Unfortunately, Miralles visited the Continental Army's Morristown encampment during the brutal winter of 1779-80, when the temperature sank below zero for weeks at a time. The Spaniard developed pneumonia. Despite the care given him by Washington's personal physician and by Martha Washington, he died in April 1780. He was buried with full military honors - the first foreigner in America's history to be given such a ceremony.
Remembering Pauline Maier
On August 12, 2013, the American Revolution lost one of its most distinguished scholars, MIT Professor Pauline Maier. She is best known for her landmark book, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. Not a few obituaries noted that the book reduced Thomas Jefferson's supposedly central role in creating the historic document. Among her many activities, Ms Maier served as an advisor to the American Revolution Center in Philadelphia. The ARC issued a statement in her honor, quoting her contention that the "American mind" played a hitherto unsuspected role in the declaration. The Broadside's editors thought it was so good, they are reprinting it here, verbatim.
"Nowhere was the ending of the old regime an end in itself; everywhere it was intimately connected with the founding of new governments that marked a more dramatic departure from the past than Parliament achieved in 1689 [the date of England's 'Glorious Revolution.'] John Adams assumed that independence and the founding of new governments were so closely tied, they amounted to the same thing. Congress's resolutions of May 10 and 15, 1776, linked them and so did state instructions that authorized their congressional delegates to vote for not only independence and foreign alliances - which they assumed were necessary for survival but impossible without independence, but also for a more permanent American confederation...
"Even before the issue of independence had been decided, discussion was under way on what rules and practices should prevail in a self governing republic. In Maryland, county meetings that endorsed independence also demanded that members of the provincial convention vote individually, not by county, that the convention's meetings be open to the public and that all votes be recorded and published 'with the proceedings, for the information of the publick regarding the behavior of their representatives.' Meanwhile coastal towns in Massachusetts argued that, since every man should have equal liberty and an equal right to representation in the legislature, the allocation of seats should be tied more closely to population...
"Whatever the details, however, the task of designing institutions, even the privilege of choosing deputies to form a government, was awesome since, as the Pennsylvania Conference of Committees reminded the people of that state, 'your liberty, safety, happiness and everything that posterity will hold dear to them, to the end of time, will depend on their deliberations'. And so the people helped turn a colonial rebellion into a revolution. As Paine observed years later in The Rights of Man, 'the independence of America, considered merely as a separation from England, would have been a matter of but little importance.' Independence acquired broad historical significance because it was 'accompanied by revolution in the principles and practices of governments .'"
Settling a Feud between New York and Pennsylvania without Gunfire
For some time Pennsylvania has accused the New York Public Library of pilfering their original copy of the Bill of Rights. It now looks as if the two states have agreed to a truce. Pennsylvania's governor, Tom Corbett, may have explained the real reason for the peace treaty: "We have avoided the tremendous cost of litigation and the uncertainty in a court of law." There were 14 original copies made in 1789, when James Madison pushed the 10 amendment package through Congress to satisfy his friend Thomas Jefferson and other critics of the Constitution. President Washington sent 11 copies to the states that had ratified the Constitution; two were retained to be sent to Rhode Island and North Carolina, when they ratified it. One was given to the Federal government.
New York's copy vanished in a 1911 fire in the state capitol building. As in most states, the copy was not treated with any special respect. It simply sat in a file, along with other documents of the period. Meanwhile the NY Public Library acquired its copy from the estate of a noted collector. A Philadelphia lawyer got into the act about six years ago. He convinced Pennsylvania's then Attorney General Tom Corbett that the collector had picked it up at a Philadelphia auction in the mid-1800s.
That was when the argument began. It has been settled by a split decision. Pennsylvania will get the document to display at the National Constitution Center during 2014, when we celebrate its 225th anniversary. It will stay there until 2017, then return to NY until 2020. After that they will share it for alternating periods.
What George's Books Are Selling for These Days
Last June, Sotheby's auction house sold seven signed books from George Washington's library at Mount Vernon. The total price for these seven rarities: $1.2 million. The seven were evidence of the wide range of Washington's interests. First came two volumes of Oliver Goldsmith's History of the Earth. Next came The Beauties of Swift by Jonathan Swift, then two volumes of Alain Rene Le Sage's The Adventures of Gil Blas. Next was a book by an author Washington knew well, the Marquis de Chastellux, about his travels in America - Voyages de M. de Chastellux dans l'Amerique Septentrionale, in two volumes. Chastellux had been a major general in the French expeditionary force. Finally was a book that shocked not a few religious folk, Joseph Priestley's Discourses Relating to the Evidences of Revealed Religion.
Startling News from The Journal of the Revolution
The Journal of the Revolution had a banner day in August. Early in that month, they had their first 10,000 plus readers. If they retain this momentum, they will have 4 million readers in one year! We told you about this new website in a previous issue. You can check into it at allthingsliberty.com. Later this year the editors, led by our 2012 book award winner Todd Andrlik, will publish a collection of the best articles from their leading contributors.
A Thoughtful Article We Should All Read
Our own Dr. Joanne Grasso has written an article about the importance of studying the American Revolution. Maria Dering, the custodian of our Facebook page, has published it in two parts. We urge everyone to take a look. It will make you proud - and more thoughtful - about our favorite subject. How can you beat that combination?
Our Speaker for October: John Nagy The Subject: The First American Traitor
John A. Nagy has become the acclaimed historian of the Revolution's amazingly varied spies and spy rings. In his new book Benjamin Church: Spy, he tells the story of America's first traitor. Tom Fleming, an early reader, says: "John Nagy has devoted his astonishing research skills to unearthing the truth about the least known and most dangerous spy in American history."
And a Word from Our Chairman
The Round Table will muster as usual at 6 pm on Tuesday, October 1 in The Coffee House Club at 20 West 44th Street, on the sixth floor, to continue our 53rd year. Also, as usual, we would like everyone's reservation in advance. The stamp-deprived can email our treasurer, Jon Carriel, at email@example.com.
Your most obdt svt,
David W. Jacobs