Why We Still Care About America’s Founders

Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Rick Atkinson for The New York Times. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain deep-discount subscription information, please click here.

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Despite their flaws, their struggle continues to speak to the nation we want to become.

In 1770, in what became known as the Boston Massacre, British soldiers opened fire on angry colonists, killing five.

There’s a lot to dislike about the founding fathers and the war they and others fought for American independence.

The stirring assertion that “all men are created equal” did not, of course, apply to 500,000 black slaves — one in five of all souls occupying the 13 colonies when those words were written in 1776. Nor was it valid for Native Americans, women or indigents.

Those who remained loyal to the British crown, and even fence-straddlers skeptical of armed rebellion, were often subjected to dreadful treatment, including public shaming, torture, exile and execution. In a defensive war waged for liberty and to secure basic rights, the Americans invaded Canada in an effort to win by force of arms what could not be won by negotiation and blandishment — a 14th colony.

And yet, the creation story of America’s founding remains valid, vivid and exhilarating. At a time when national unity is elusive, when our partisan rancor seems ever more toxic, when the simple concept of truth is disputed, that story informs who we are, where we came from, what our forebears believed and — perhaps the profoundest question any people can ask themselves — what they were willing to die for.

What can we learn from that ancient quarrel? First, that this nation was born bickering; disputation is in the national genome. Second, that there are foundational truths that not only are indeed true, but also, as the Declaration of Independence insists, “self-evident.” Third, that leaders worthy of our enduring admiration rise to the occasion with acumen, grit, wisdom and grace. And fourth, that whatever trials befall us today, we have overcome greater perils.

The American Revolution was not a war between regimes or dynasties, fought for territory or the usual commercial advantages. It was an improvised struggle between two peoples of a common heritage who, over decades, had been sundered by divergent values and conflicting visions of the world.

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Here’s  a direct link to the complete article.

Rick Atkinson is the bestselling author of major works of narrative military history, including The Guns at Last Light, The Day of Battle, An Army at Dawn, The Long Gray Line, In the Company of Soldiers, and Crusade. His latest work, The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, was published by Henry Holt & Company (May 2019).

 

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