08 November 2016

The Founding

Since my last blog, we've decided to blog every other unit. That means this entry applies to the units on the Revolution and the Early Republic. That's a huge sweep of history, but one linked by the activity of the Founders.  All of our themes feature here, and are at least partially transformed by the stresses of Revolution and Independence. Again, I'll be suggesting articles for each theme.

The American Dream

I've decided to start with this topic because it comes up early during the Founding. Taxation upset Americans precisely because it touched on their economic aspirations. Colonists displayed their economic success by consuming British imports, such as tea or clothing. So it seemed as though Britain spurned American admiration by taxing precisely these goods. The first article addresses colonial imitation of Britain. The second talks about how they turned against British goods, organizing the first boycotts in history. After the Revolution, other Americans aspired to be self-sufficient farmers. The third link discusses the place of this idea in Thomas Jefferson's thought.





This is another topic that emerges during the later colonial period. Immigration became controversial as soon as it started to change, with Germans beginning to replace British Protestants in certain regions. Our first link covers a famous episode, in which Benjamin Franklin harshly criticized German immigration. Our second link covers the period's most famous immigrant, Alexander Hamilton. Though the Broadway musical celebrates this aspect of his life, he wasn't above carping about other immigrants. Hamilton neatly illustrates a surprising tendency of the immigrant experience, one's willingness to close the door after entering.




The topic of immigration has traditionally been bound up with that of exceptionalism, which takes the paradoxical position that America is different from other nations precisely because of its internationalism. But for this period, exceptionalists focus on the Declaration of Independence. Again, the focus is on American universalism, as discussed by the article below



When This theme is the second in a famous trifecta, the unalienable rights enumerated by the Declaration of Independence: "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". The first article discusses how that phrase was written and, more importantly, how it was read. The second article discusses the constitution's relationship to freedom, using James Madison as a case study.




The topic of freedom substantially overlaps with that of race, where slavery is still the main topic. Our first article talks about black soldiers, in both the British and American armies. The second addresses our Declaration's original paragraph on slavery, which Congress later struck from the final draft. Finally, the Declaration inspired northern states to abolish slavery, which is discussed in the third link.





Of all our topics, this is the one that comes up least during the founding. For all their talk of natural rights, the Founders strove to restrict suffrage to propertied men. But recently, there has been a trend to discover the beginnings of American democracy in elections surrounding the constitution's ratification. As the below article shows, property restrictions were temporarily waived.