“The Founding Fathers: Demigods or scoundrels?” – LA Times

Some words of wisdom from the preeminent historian Joseph J. Ellis: “once we get past seeing the founders as cartoon-like characters, all kinds of lights go on along the line between then and now. Is the paralysis of the current federal government a function of the political architecture the founders designed, which is now anachronistic, or more a product of our own making? Does our own failure to arrest the catastrophic consequences of climate change help us understand why the most gifted political leaders in American history could not put slavery on the road to extinction? Does our enhanced awareness of the depth and resilience of racism in our own time modify our posture toward its virulence within the founding era? At a historical moment when the term ‘political leadership’ has become an oxymoron, how do you explain its flowering at the founding? Such questions constitute a serious conversation across all ages that is blissfully bereft of nostalgia, condescension and utopian delusions. If the founders were not flawed, they would have nothing to teach us. And they do.”

Read the entire article here: The Founding Fathers: Demigods or scoundrels? – LA Times

The Many Uses of Thomas Jefferson: “Once a Liberal Icon, Jefferson’s Now Claimed by Both Left and Right” |History News Network

Who owns Jefferson? The historian Andrew Burstein examines the many uses and abuses of Jefferson’s legacy in our nation’s ongoing culture wars. He concludes: “Distortion of the historical Jefferson reminds us that people believe what they want to believe. Our democratic politics actually depends on a mass psychology that advances through artful manipulation. We may protest the “long train of abuses” (to quote from the Declaration) that attach to statements made in Jefferson’s name; but he continues to occupy a privileged position as we converse with the past and seek to reconcile it, somehow, with our relatively disorganized present. Whoever “owns” Jefferson (or the collective founders) takes themselves to be inheritors of America’s essential ideals.” Read the entire article here:

History News Network | Once a Liberal Icon, Jefferson’s Now Claimed by Both Left and Right.

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11 Freedoms That Drunks, Slackers, Prostitutes and Pirates Pioneered—and the Founding Fathers Opposed | Alternet

Thaddeus Russell investigates an interesting part of American history that is often ignored. He argues that the Founding Fathers disapproved of the revelry on display in eighteenth-century America. “On nearly every block…there was a public place where one could drink, sing, dance, have sex, argue politics, gamble, play games, or generally carouse with men, women, children, whites, blacks, Indians, the rich, the poor, and the middling. Rarely have Americans had more fun.”

I have not read the book, but his summary at Alternet is noteworthy. However, to come to his conclusion it seems that he has relied too heavily on John Adams and on Puritan leaders to make his case. It would have been more accurate to say “some early U.S. leaders.”

11 Freedoms That Drunks, Slackers, Prostitutes and Pirates Pioneered—and the Founding Fathers Opposed | Alternet.

A Renagade History of the US

History News Network | Why the Founding Fathers thought banning Torture Foundational to the US Constitution

Juan Cole writes: “We know what the Founding Fathers believed. They believed in universal rights. And they believed in basic principles of human dignity. Above all, they did not think the government had the prerogative of behaving as it pleased. It doesn’t have the prerogative to torture.”
Read the full article at:

History News Network | Why the Founding Fathers thought banning Torture Foundational to the US Constitution.

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History News Network | The Founding Fathers Would Be Appalled at the Government’s Declining Support of Science

It is unfortunate that most Americans are unaware of how important government support of science and technology was to the Founding Fathers. I have not read Tom Shachtman’s book Gentleman Scientists but it’s on my list of must reads. At a minimum, I hope this book is successful in bringing attention to this important subject. If any of you have read it please let me know what you think.

History News Network | The Founding Fathers Would Be Appalled at the Government’s Declining Support of Science.

The Founders and the Enlightenment

Fred Anderson Responds to Charges that the New AP U.S. History Course is a Liberal Plot to Indoctrinate Students in Anti-American Revisionist History

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The anthropologist Peter Wood wrote an article last week on the History News Network (“Why Conservatives Are Up in Arms at the College Board’s Advanced Placement Course in History”) charging the College Board with politicizing the new Advanced Placement History standards. He claims that the new standards are “a radical interpretation of American history—one in which figures such as Franklin, Jefferson, and Madison play a drastically reduced part.”

Fred Anderson, a professor of History at the University of Colorado, participated in the creation of the new standards. In a new article, he challenges Wood’s interpretation of the new standards. Instead of politicizing the course, Anderson explains, they “hoped that future AP students would emerge from the course not just with a fund of facts at their disposal, but knowing how to ask productive questions about the past, and understanding why historical arguments must be governed, always and only, by the evidence.” And concludes that “Dr. Wood’s tortured reading of the Framework and his blanket denunciation of academic historians suggests that he, too, might pause to reflect on the values of rigor, impartiality, thoroughness, and intellectual honesty that were, in the end, all we hoped to foster.”

I admit, I find the charges that historians are “out to deconstruct American claims to exceptionalism” troubling. Historians are not in the business of myth-making and most teachers would rather teach their students history not myth. The kind of black and white thinking that only admits of two choices (either we are perfect or we are malevolent) is dangerous. To indoctrinate our children in myths of perfection is to create a culture of arrogance and stagnation. We should learn from our mistakes, not ignore them. The willingness to admit mistakes and learn from them is not un-American it is what makes America great.

“Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive.” JFK Presidential Library and Museum