Sunday, July 6, 2008

don't know much about history

I have never liked the Fourth of July. I like fireworks, but I don't like pushing through crowds to get a good view of them. I don't feel particularly comfortable at pool parties. I didn't grow up in a family that barbecues or goes to "the lake." (We were in Oregon.) I see the Fourth as a holiday designed for extraverts, not me.

That's why the one and only thing I did this year to observe the holiday was the one thing that comes naturally to reserved introverts: I read the Declaration of Independence. And this time, I really read it and thought about it. I figured, it's probably one of those things I should do in my lifetime, so I might as well do it now. (It didn't hurt that it was a nice day on the patio!) My journalist mind kicked into gear as I tried to translate the 232-year-old text into simpler language (though Jefferson's own is beautiful enough), and when I got to the long laundry list of complaints about the king of England, I found myself wishing I'd paid more attention in my high school history classes. I wanted details.

"For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world ..."
"For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences ..."
"He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands."

Wow. I knew the colonists didn't like King George, but I guess I had never grasped the extent of the things he had done to try to suppress the colonies. I would love to know the specifics of what really happened to spur all those complaints. It would make a good HBO or Showtime miniseries, I think — I envision something sexy and violent and quasi-historical along the lines of "The Tudors."

I also found myself wondering what the British side of the story was. The Declaration of Independence is written in a highly persuasive rhetorical fashion, but what if an equally persuasive Brit were to write a rebuttal? What would it say? (Oh, I'm sure it's been done, and I am just not aware of it.) Benjamin Franklin had lived in London for a while and was an admirer of English royalty, I think. Did he have trouble signing the declaration?

And then, as I perused the list of names of men who had signed the document, I saw a familiar one from New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett. The same name as the fictional president on The West Wing, who also was from New Hampshire (but spelled his name with only one t). How did I not know that before?


Almamay said...

What a great idea! I should read it too as I'm just about to qualify as an English Solicitor (I'm a New Yorker who lives in London). Two weeks ago I was walking through the Temple in London where some of the barristers offices are and then took two young women who I was looking after for work experience. We went to the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand and I asked for a tourist leaflet so I could take the young women around. I found out that two men (can't remember their names) who were barristers from the Temple worked on drafting the American Constitution. I was surprised and proud of both my countries, I'm now both American and British.

If you want to know a bit more about the British version of the American Revolution watch The Madness of King George. Great film.

Anonymous said...

You ought to read the whole series of documents to get a feel for the whole history...The Articles of Association, The Article of Confederation, The Declaration, and Finally the constitution.

Anonymous said...

John Adams is a 7-part HBO miniseries that was on this last winter. I only saw the first two, but it might be what you are looking for. Stars Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.

Anonymous said...


I just had to drop in & let you know I saw your article in the Catholic Spirit, along with the gorgeous picture of you & Daniel. Your attitude & determination is amazing, its inspiring, & it really teaches us to give hope where hope is needed. You continue to be in my prayers & I wish you the best of days ahead. Fight Emilie Fight!!!
Much love,
Missy Leick

Rebecca said...

Great post. Great questions, too. I had never thought about a British rebuttal...

Christina said...

Thanks for sharing your reactions. I never would've thought to do that; wonderful idea!

I watched the HBO Mini Series John Adams (based on David McCullough's book) and I highly recommend it. (It definitely focuses more on the thoughts and motives of the colonists, rather than the Brits, but you do get a better feel for both sides.) I'm embarrassed to say, but I learned a lot of U.S. history, and the relationships behind the history-making events.

Anonymous said...

Oooo, I just went on a great Google search and had to stop myself from going deeper. That list is so impassioned! It makes me think of what some Iraqis might say about us, despite our best efforts. (There's a can of worms) Or what we said about Hussein. Now, what can we do about Mobutu. Dangerous post, Emilie! I need to go research! Oh, wait, playgroup time. See you shortly.

Laura S.

Anonymous said...

Oh Em, now I don't feel so alone! I don't know much about BBQ-ing either, but here in Hood River, if you don't BBQ, it's a fact that you keep to yourself and don't reveal, sort of like how it used to be if you were gay.

Did you know the title to the thread is a line from a Herman's Hermits song?

- Susanne