Passing of Bernard Bailyn

Last week, legendary historian of colonial America Bernard Bailyn passed away at the age of 97, making his own voyage into the next life.  Blogger buddy Gordon Sheaffer at Practically Historical wrote a brief but effective tribute to Bailyn earlier this week.

As Sheaffer wrote Monday:

No other scholar impacted the study of the American Revolution more than Bailyn. His masterwork, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, continues to challenge readers 50 years after it was published. Bailyn was able to express the unique qualities of American civilization without politicizing the history with talk of exceptionalism.

I have not read—to my great shame and discredit—The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, but I have read Bailyn’s The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction, a much shorter work that serves as an introduction to a larger study on the settlement of British North America.  The book is so good, and gives such a flavor for the various peoples that settled in the original thirteen colonies, I once assigned it as summer reading for my very first AP US History class back in 2011.  It’s an accessible book, but it was a bit much for rising high school sophomores.

That said, I’ve been searching for my copy this morning in my classroom, without any luck.  Hopefully it will turn up soon.  My dad and I were talking about Bailyn’s death, as there was a small bit about it in the newspaper, and he expressed interest in reading it.  I also wouldn’t mind rereading it, as I haven’t done so in nearly a decade.

Even so, bits of it stick out to me.  Near the end of the book, Bailyn briefly explores the odd religious sects, mostly German, that came to the colonies.  I distinctly recall him writing about a self-proclaimed prophet or sage living in a cave in Pennsylvania.  There were multiple sects and utopian movements and cults and denominations popping up in British North America during the First Great Awakening, which reached its peak sometime in the 1740s and greatly influenced the American Revolution.

In an age of toppling statues and lurid efforts to erase our national history and faith (to be replaced with… what?), Bailyn’s works take on increased importance.  Let us hope he isn’t summarily cancelled like everything else that is good, decent, and doesn’t inherently hate America.

Lazy Sunday XXXVII: Best of the Reblogs, Part II

Thanksgiving is almost here!  Regular readers will by now know of my love for Halloween, which is second only to Christmas in my heart.  But Thanksgiving is definitely up there in the Top Five, at least—sandwiched neatly between the former two, a brief taste of the Christmas togetherness and relaxation to come.

This week’s Lazy Sunday continues with some of my favorite reblogged posts.  As I wrote last week, one of the simple joys of blogging is making friends with other bloggers.  Maybe one day we can all meet up at some kind of blogging convention.

This week’s reblogs feature two from Practically Historical, a blog dedicated to historical topics, mostly American History.  The other is from Quintus Curtius, a classicist and world traveler (not to mention a former Marine) who writes beautifully about forgotten chunks of the distant past.  He revives the old tradition of the great antiquarians, much to our benefit.

  • Reblog: Lincoln and Civil Liberties” – This post is an examination of Lincoln’s decision to arrest pro-secessionist legislators in Maryland, in order to prevent the State from seceding from the Union.  He examines John Merryman, for whom the case Ex Parte Merryman is named, and notes Merryman was actively engaged in leading an armed militia in Maryland against federal authority.  Yikes!
  • Reblog: Quintus Curtius, ‘On Living Near the Ocean’” – This essay on the ocean really struck a chord with me.  Quintus Curtius is a strong writer, and his examination of the ways that people respond to living near the water are fascinating.  On the one hand, people enjoy the vigorous health of the salt air and good seafood, but maritime towns tend to be breeding grounds for shabbiness and dingy criminality (see also:  Myrtle Beach).  A worthy read.
  • Reblog: Practically Historical on the Electoral College” – Gordon Sheaffer of Practically Historical delivers again with an excellent examination and defense of the Electoral College.  He has a great takedown for the anti-EC crowd, who argue that individual votes are all that matter:  he argues that we should think of the EC like a series of baseball games.  Yes, the highest score wins individual games, but the wins are what matter.  A team can win ten games by one run each, while another team can win nine games by ten runs each; what matters are the wins, not the overall scoring.

That’s it for this week. Enjoy the fleeting glory of your weekend, and enjoy the short workweek!

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

Lazy Sunday XXXVI: Best of the Reblogs, Part I

Last week’s posts had me diving into the blogs of some good friends.  Friday’s post featured blogger and musician friend fridrix’s Corporate History InternationalWednesday’s post looked at the writings of another blogger friend, Bette Cox.  And I daily read the blogs of photog (Orion’s Cold Fire) and Nebraska Energy Observer.  Indeed, one of the joys of blogging is discovering other bloggers’ work (I almost forgot Gordon Scheaffer‘s excellent history blog, Practically Historical).

In the spirit of these intrepid citizen journalists and commentators—and the cheeky fun and intellectual grit of their blogs—I thought I should pay homage to the posts that, when I’m struggling with writer’s block, helped me slap together some daily content.

I’ll be presenting these posts in chronological order in which I initially reblogged them, so if you don’t show up these week, Internet Friends, don’t worry; you’ll make it up here eventually!

  • Reblog: The Falling Down Revolt” –  This post examined photog’s “The Falling Down Revolt” essay, one of the most trenchant pieces I’ve read this year.  The issue that photog address is what dissident blogger Z-Man calls “anarcho-tyranny“; that is, the state in which all manner of violent and property crimes occur unmolested, but law-abiding citizens get the shaft.  The tiniest infraction gets convicted if you’re the average American citizen, but if you’re an illegal immigrant or a welfare-moocher of a certain background, you skate.  Police are ineffective at catching the real bad guys, so they ding you for rolling through a stop sign with no traffic on the road, or the government comes after you because you’re eight bucks short on your taxes.

    That situation leads to frustration among society’s straight-man.  Why do rule followers get the brunt of the state’s terrible force, but criminals blatantly break the rules, and get off scot-free?  It’s a recipe for an awakening.

  • Reblog: New White Shoe Review for You” – This piece reviewed fridrix’s review of a book about Wall Street during the Progressive Era of the early twentieth century.  It’s a fantastic review, and I recommend you check out it and fridrix’s other writings at Corporate History International.
  • Reblog: Of Grills and Men” – One of the most important bloggers in both the manosphere and the traditional Christian Right today is Dalrock.  I featured Dalrock on one of my lists of excellent dissident writers.  The occasion for this post was the infamous Gillette ad in which men were portrayed as toxic abusers and advocates of kid-on-kid violence.  Yeesh!  Get woke, go broke, as they say.

That’s it for this week.  Enjoy the waning hours of your glorious weekend!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

May We Never Forget

Today’s Number of the Day from pollster Scott Rasmussen is a poignant 9/11 memorial:  204 New York City firefighters have died due to illnesses from that fateful day.  That’s in addition to the 343 NYFD firefighters who gave their lives on September 11, 2001 (the NYFD maintains a list of “line of duty deaths” dating back to 1865; deaths 809 through 1151 were the result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks).  Rasmussen also notes that 2977 people died in the attacks.

Read More »

Remembering 1519

The start of the school year always means the start of the grand narrative of American history.  It dawned on me some years ago that, over the course of roughly 180 days, I undertake an annual, oral retelling of the story of the United States.  One day, I plan to record my lectures, taking the best bits, and compiling them into a lengthy podcast series.  After that, I’ll never have to teach again!

Regardless, the story always starts the same:  a brief overview of the pre-Columbian Americans (what we used to call “Indians,” and more clumsily “Native Americans”), followed up with Spanish exploration from Christopher Columbus through Hernan Cortez and on.

A major part of those early lessons is the encounter of the bloodthirsty Aztecs and the gold-mad Spaniards.  Students love the story of the advanced Aztecs, sacrificing humans to ensure the sunrise, and the arrival of the fiery-haired Cortez and his ragtag band of conquistadors and buccaneers.

Read More »

McClay & Sheaffer on American History

It’s been a history-packed week for yours portly.  Tuesday morning my History of Conservative Thought students and I continued our examination of Edmund Burke, the great Member of Parliament and godfather of Anglosphere conservatism.  Burke foresaw the radical nature of the French Revolution well before the guillotining began.

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to substitute a colleague’s summer course, Terror and Terrorism, a popular course he’s run for several summers now.  Students in that course read excerpts from John Jacques Rousseau’s Social Contract (PDF, the same one the students read, in part), a political philosophy perhaps the polar opposite of Burkean traditionalism.

Rousseau’s theory of the “general will” is, I would argue, responsible for the radicalism of the French Revolution—which wrought the Bolshevik (Russian) Revolution, the Maoist revolutions of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and on and on.  There’s a reason one of my Conservative Thought students claims that “the French Revolution was the first Communist revolution,” by which he means it contained within it the collectivist ideals of Rousseau’s general will.

But I digress.  In the spirit of all that historical musing, I thought I’d recommend two pieces I’ve read recently about the historian’s craft, and the dangers of applying a progressive lens to our understand of the past.

The most recent piece is a post from Practically Historical, entitled “Expunging Our Past.”  Gordon Sheaffer‘s pithy historical posts are enlightening and engaging, and fits with an argument he makes in this post:

“History should be popular.  Our past must be understood by the citizenry- historical studies targeted only at academics cannot be how we measure the discipline.  There is a way to make history insightful and enjoyable.”

Amen!  One of my great frustrations while in graduate school was the ponderous relativism inherent in the jargon-laden, hyper-focused monographs we were forced to read.  I certainly acknowledge the usefulness and necessity of thoroughly researching a small corner of our historical experience, but what happened to the grand, sweeping histories of the eloquent generalist?

When I was a younger man, I relished reading accessible (but, nevertheless challenging) works of history, especially broad overviews of a time period or nation.  It’s fascinating to learn about the minutiae, to be sure, but a good historian should be able to give the broad strokes and the colorful details.

But the real point of Sheaffer’s piece is that the progressive revisionists are attempting to reduce American history to a Marxist (and Manichean) story of class struggle.  That trend dates back to Progressive Era historian Charles Beard, who famously argued that the Constitution was merely an economic arrangement that benefited the wealthy Framers, protecting their wealth and privilege at the expense of the common man.

Archfiend (and political scientist, not historian) Howard Zinn continued that theme in the popular-but-inaccurate A People’s History of the United States, which has sadly been adopted in many school districts across the country as an American history textbook.  Zinn presented American history as a procession of plutocrats exploiting the working people and racial minorities for personal aggrandizement, rather than the rich tapestry of hard-working yeoman and laborers who really built the country under the protective auspices of the Constitution.

Just as Burke was the antidote to Rousseau, so historian Wilfred McClay serves as a corrective to the partisan excesses of Zinn.  He’s written a new textbook, Land of Hope, which strives to be a “well-written and appealing history of the United States that, while being informed by the best scholarship, does not lose sight of the big picture about our nation’s admirable and exceptional history.”

McClay argues that without a proper foundation in our own nation’s history, we are unable to govern ourselves.  Quite true:  I would argue that a large part of our current national discontent and brutal culture war is that we have two very different visions of America.  The one is an America that is strong, liberty-loving, fair-minded, and great; the other is of an America that is exploitative, prejudiced, greedy, and callous.

That’s why I’ve long argued that simply requiring students to take an American history course to graduate from high school and/or college isn’t enough to move the needle.  It does no good if the course is a collection of progressivist pabulum or a crash-course in victim studies.  There’s no guarantee your high school history teacher—likely certified from a progressive education program—will actually teach American history fairly or accurately, much less your community college adjunct.

There are a ton of choice tidbits in this interview McClay gave to Encounter Books, the publisher of Land of Hope, but here’s a good excerpt on Zinn:

Encounter: Howard Zinn said that his goal in writing A People’s History of the United States was to create a “quiet revolution” in our understanding of American history. Did he succeed in that endeavor?

McClay: Yes and no. He succeeded in unsettling many aspects of the consensus in which American historical writing was embedded. He did this to an astonishing degree, particularly since he was not himself a historian. But he did not succeed in providing a substitute account of American history that goes beyond simplistic melodrama. Most honest historians will acknowledge that, even if they are sympathetic to Zinn’s leftist politics.

Encounter: Why was Zinn’s account so popular?

McClay: It is engagingly written, and gives a simple-minded, moralistic, account of the past as the struggle between the white hats and the black hats, the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. For some people, including many Americans who have felt disillusioned by our national flaws, this has been irresistible.

He also rails against the AP US History exam, which used to the “gold standard,” as he puts it, but which has suffered due to constant “tinkering with the exam, and interjection of themselves into what teachers actually teach in AP courses.”  I teach APUSH, and what McClay writes is absolutely true.  It’s bad enough teaching to a test every year—you don’t have the opportunity to luxuriate in the warm waters of historical detail—and it’s worse when the College Board tries to alter the exam every five minutes.

To close, one more powerful quotation from McClay:

Students should learn that history is not merely an inert account of self-explanatory details, but is a task of reflection that calls to our deepest sense of our humanity. And learning our history, the history of our own country, is part and parcel of learning who we are, and learning about the society of which we are already a part.

Again, I say, amen!