2014 Session 2 History 217–From Jamestown through the American Revolution

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Welcome to NIAHD’s 2014  Session 2 Pre-Collegiate Summer Program Journals for History 217 “From Jamestown through the American Revolution”

This site is the collective journal of high-school juniors and seniors who are currently participating in or have participated in the National Institute of American History and Democracy’s Pre-Collegiate Summer Program. The program, a three-week academic course “From Jamestown through the American Revolution,” is taught “on site” at the numerous museums and historic places in central and southeastern Virginia.

Below you can start reading the most recent journal entries or you can start browsing entries for a particular class using the links on the menu.

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The Power of the Gentry

During the 18th century in American colonies such as Virginia, government intervention was at it’s lowest. Aside from basic laws about stealing, murder, and some stranger ones like being required to Church, the government could force you to do very little. Despite, this, one could not call it a time of unprecedented freedom, at least compared to today. This is because of the immense power that the ruling gentry had. Although not of royal blood, they effectively served as the aristocracy of Virginia. They were the ones with political and economic power, and therefore the ones you had to be most mindful of in those days.

The term “gentry” itself was a holdover from Britain where they had similar social stratification. Gentry only referred to those who had amassed vast quantities of wealth, and did not refer to those of royal blood, although they were certainly often treated like royalty. They almost all amassed fortunes via the mass plantation of tobacco. While indentured servants had once been used to toil in the fields, African slaves gradually replaced them, as it was easier to have control over a people disoriented and unfamiliar with their surroundings.  Although undoubtedly wealthy, their main power came from their literacy and access to books. The ability to be learned and know of the law of your country and news of the world’s affairs. Indeed, the gentry seemed to be quite proud of this ability. one planter noted that “It is a shame for a gentleman to be ignorant of the laws of his country and to be dependent on every dirty pettifogger,” while it was “commendable… for a gentlemen of independent means not only [not] to stand in need of mercenary advisers, but to be able to advise his friends, relations, and neighbors of all sorts.” (Roeber, 34) Despite their heavy wealth, the gentry tried to present themselves in a noncommercial nature, as they often saw the idea of commercial exchange as beneath them. They would send gifts to merchants in Britain and refer to them and other clients as “friends” rather then business partners. (http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Gentry_in_Colonial_Virginia) The gentry would also often host large feast and festivals to impress upon their neighbors and show just how much power and wealth they had. They would also sometimes attempt to compete with one another to curry favor from the lower classes by offering credit to those in need and offering favors. The gentry were also the ones most often voted into political office, which gave them a great deal more power then the average worker or merchant in Virginia.

 

William Byrd was one of the wealthiest people of his time

William Byrd II was one of the wealthiest people of his time

One can see the incredible power the gentry had in the form of William Byrd II. Byrd was one of the most wealthy land owners in all of Virginia, with an estate of over 176,000 acres. (http://www.shmoop.com/colonial-virginia/william-byrd-ii.html) Perhaps more than anyone else he was a great example of the style of the ruling gentry of the time. Arrogant, haughty, and wielding extreme power over others. One can most obviously see this in the example of the slaves who were of course forced to perform their master’s desires at all times. However, this was almost equally true of the women of this time period as well. The women of this time period were often looked down upon by men.  Women were seen as illogical, and irrational, ruled by their own emotions. William Byrd once wrote that “Female passions require to be managed sometimes, to confine them within bound and keep, them like a high-mettled horse, from running away with their owner.” (Treckell, 137) Values such modesty, meekness, and piety, were above all valued. Still, women were expected to have major control over how the house was run. However, William Byrd refused to delegate even those powers. He quarreled with his wife continuously over issues he deemed none of her business. One can perhaps reflect on Mr. Byrd’s state of mind when one sees in his diary all references to his family as “my wife” or “my child”, a very dehumanizing way of looking at others. It seems possible this lack of authority and a desire for it was often taken out on the one people most powerless in this society the slaves. Mr. Byrd describes often how his wife Lucy would often vent her anger onto the family slaves. This cycle of hierarchical violence was perhaps similar to most societies of time, but comes across as abhorrent to most people today.

 

William Byrd offered his wife Lucy very little freedom

William Byrd offered his wife Lucy very little freedom

The gentry of Virginia were some of the most powerful men of their time. With the immense fortunes they had amassed they made it almost impossible for anyone else to reach a similar status of wealth and power as them. They did face harder times during the revolutionary war, where scuffles with poorer whites over land and wandering livestock became more commonplace due to the increased social unrest. (http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Gentry_in_Colonial_Virginia) Yet despite this the ruling gentry would remain the reigning power after the Revolution and well into the mid-ninetieth century, where the destruction of slavery would finally tear down the system through which they supported themselves. Without a doubt, the power the gentry wielded defined much of early American history.

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Dunmore’s Promise of Emancipation: A Chance for Victory Lost

During the mid 1770s, the British government, as well as all who represented it, were growing increasingly unpopular. Yet despite this, the Royal Governor of Virginia popular for some time.  The Lord Dunmore had, after all, Led attacks on neighboring Indian tribes in 1774. In March of 1775, he was praised by a patriot convention for his “truly noble, wise and spirited Conduct on the late Expeditions against our Indian Enemy.” (Free Virginians, 275) Yet overnight this popular image of Governor Dunmore changed. He decided to give the key to the local militia’s gunpowder to the British army and ordered them to seize it due to the increasing unrest of the times. This act enflamed colonist passions who saw it as a imposition on their liberty and ability to defend themselves, as well as a punitive measure to prevent them from rebelling. However, this paled in comparison to the reaction people would have to what Lord Dunmore would try next.

In order to restrain the unruly colonists and restore order, The Lord Dunmore sent a message to the House of Burgesses saying that if any senior British officials were harmed, then Dunmore would “declare freedom to the slaves and reduce the city of Williamsburg to ashes.” This spooked anyone who was a free white person in those times. Fear of slave revolt and the Africans taking revenge on their brutal masters was held by most everyone of the time. While many slave-holders managed to fool themselves into thinking that their slaves enjoyed working for them, most at least knew unconsciously that the slaves were not happy, and considering their numbers could easily overpower their white masters if they got their hands on weapons. Threatening to unleash a slave revolt was the ultimate way of threatening the more unruly colonists into line, while at the same time poking at the hypocrisy of those who were calling for liberty only for themselves. This threat provoked some men from the countryside to come to the city to protest, while others pleaded with them not to demonstrate for fear of Dunmore carrying out his word. Although most companies chose to back down, one decided to march towards Williamsburg despite the concerns of others. At this time several slaves presented themselves to the Governor to offer service, which Dunmore refused, but did say that if this company attacked he would accept their requests.

The Lord Dunmore was originally a popular governor until his threat of Emacnipation

The Lord Dunmore was originally a popular Governor until his threat of Emancipation

While at first the decision to threaten freedom of the slaves seemed like a strategically sound threat, it had begun to work against the Governor. He had intended the threat to keep the peace, and while thus far that had been the case, tensions between the Governor and Patriots were at the highest they’d ever been. One newspaper, the South-Carolina Gazette, scolded him for the “monstrous absurdity that the Governor can deprive the people of the necessary means of defense at a time when the colony is actually threatened with an insurrection of their slaves. ” (Free Virginians 149) Matters were made worse by the news of the battle at Lexington and Concord and rumor that there was an emancipation bill being proposed in parliament. Some even claimed that the new incoming governor for South Carolina would free the slaves as soon as he arrived. When a widespread slave conspiracy was found in Pitt, Craven, and Beaufort counties of North Carolina, many began wondering if the British officials had not been involved in the plot.  And as general insurrection spread, so did the fear that Governor Dunmore might enact his promise regardless of whether an official was harmed. However, by this same token, as a confrontation became more inevitable, it gave Lord Dunmore and the British a distinct advantage. Freeing the slaves and using them to outfit Royal and Loyalist regiments would give a tremendous numerical advantage to the Loyalist cause. James Madison admitted privately to a friend that tampering with the slaves  was “the only part in which the colony was vulnerable” and that they should “fall like Achilles before the hands of one who knows that secret.” (http://www.blackloyalist.info/john-murray-lord-dunmore)

 

Despite the many fears the colonists had they were ultimately not realized. Although the Governor did eventually fulfill on his promise, he only did so in the most limited of ways. He quietly began offering to accept fugitive slaves from different into the fleet he was assembling to fight the patriots. Although he did welcome any slaves regardless if they belonged to a loyalist or patriot master, it only applied to those who managed to make it to his fleet. The punishment for those caught in the act was working in the lead mines, a virtual death sentence. Indeed, when published in the papers, they often warned of what fate would await them should they be caught. (http://www.blackloyalist.info/john-murray-lord-dunmore) Because of this only a small minority of slaves chose to  follow Dunmore, and before long he found his new fleet surrounded on all sides by patriot militia. The issue of encouraging slave insurrection had become a rallying cry for many in South, with Patrick Henry proclaiming it showed King George as a “tyrant rather than a protector of his people” and that the only sound response being a “immediate, clear, and full Declaration of Independency.” (http://www.blackloyalist.info/john-murray-lord-dunmore) A resolution proclaiming Virginia’s independence was unanimously ratified on June 29, 1776. Lord Dunmore soon found himself forced to retreat northward and give up dominion of Virginia.

 

While far from a majority, many slaves made their way to Lord Dunmore's fleet and enlisted in the British Army

While far from a majority, many slaves made their way to Lord Dunmore’s fleet and enlisted in the British Army

Upon retrospection, one might wonder what had gone wrong with Dunmore’s plan. Arming the slaves was certainly dangerous for those slave holding patriots. However, by forcing the slaves to first make their way to his fleet to find freedom, Dunmore made so that slaves first had to make a perilous journey if they wanted liberty. So dangerous was the journey, and so uncertain was the idea of Dunmore actually fulfilling his promise, that most chose not to try and escape. If Dunmore had instead proclaimed emancipation for all slaves, it would have proved a rallying cry that would have led to at least thousands of Africans siding with the British, in hopes of maintaining their emancipation. By trying to moderate his position, it proved to be the undoing of Lord Dunmore and the Loyalist cause in general. Had the Governor but let the people go, the entire war might have ended much differently.

 

 

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       The Declaration of Independence Source: http://www.founding.com/the_declaration_of_i/

The Declaration of Independence
Source: http://www.founding.com/the_declaration_of_i/

Callie Folke

           Most people have pride in their country. It’s natural to feel some sense of alliance with your countrymen, despite the fact that nobody has ever met every single person in their country. This is due to the fact that everyone living in that country have one thing in common: they all live under the same government. Specifically, in the United States, we all live under the rules stated in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Notice how I did not mention the Declaration of Independence. This is because although that document is extremely important, it does not have any legal power. The problem is that a lot of people will often romanticize the Declaration and the men who wrote it and take everything it says as a law.  This is not particularly a good thing to do because when you romanticize history, you tend to ignore the bad parts.

The biggest example of romanticism in history is the fact that most Americans look at Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and especially Thomas Jefferson as saints. They most certainly were not. All three of them owned slaves at some point in their lives, even Franklin. While this does not discredit what they did for the founding of the United States, it does put a serious damper on the whole “worship them like gods” mentality that a lot of people have. This state of mind developed shortly after the Revolutionary War. “Jefferson became a Christlike figure whose ‘disembodied spirit was…upborne by the blessings of ten millions of Freemen’ in a fanciful Fourth of July ascension (Maier 190).” They are being equated with Jesus and it just doesn’t work. They didn’t die for anyone’s sins. They’re not (arguably) the sons of god. They’re just a group of men who wanted to make a new nation. “ Not enough people realize that, and I personally hate the glorification of them.

The Declaration of Independence also gets romanticized frequently. It is seen as the absolute declaration of human rights. To me, it is just a well-written paper that makes a good quick read. I do feel of sense of patriotism when I read it because it is the document that turned Great Britain on its head, but we didn’t really have a government back then, and even when our current government was adopted, the congress never put any aspects of the Declaration into the Constitution. To boil the Declaration down to its simplest form, it is merely a list of crimes that King George had committed. In fact, the Declaration is incredibly hypocritical when it comes to women and children, and people who know about history know that “The Declaration of Independence was, in fact, a peculiar document to be cited by those who championed the cause of equality (Maier 192).” This is especially true when you consider the deleted paragraph about slavery. In this paragraph, Jefferson accuses the king of waging “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither (Jefferson).” While it is true that the king allowed the purchase of slaves, Jefferson and the rest of the southern gentry were practitioners of this heinous crime against humanity. Had the congress included this passage, there would have been more pressure for slavery to be abolished, and if they didn’t abolish it, they would have been hypocrites in a different way. There really was no way for them to win because they were all raised in a culture of slavery. It’s all they’ve ever known and it is really hard to break away from something that you’ve grown up with, even if you realize that it’s wrong. The fact that they left this critical problem for someone else to solve proves that the Declaration does have flaws and so do the men who helped write it.

Despite the fact that the Declaration is hypocritical, it still has many values written in it that people today can learn from. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security (Jefferson).” This is a very famous line, but it is almost never applied. I believe that this is a line that should be paid more attention to, especially as it becomes more and more relevant to our society. As the government becomes more corrupt, we as the people should ensure that they do not allow things to go as far as they did in the Revolution. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants (Jefferson).” This was not in the Declaration, but it is a quote of his and I believe that this is the direction our country is heading in. So the Declaration is still relevant and we as a country can learn from it, but it does not have any legal weight.

To conclude, the Declaration should not be romanticized, nor should any of the people who were involved in the war. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from it or take its words to heart. We should learn from it, and we should read it a lot. It serves as a reminder for who we are as a people and where this country came from, both the good and the bad. That’s something I believe more people should know. It’s why I study history; so I can learn from the past and ensure that I don’t make the mistakes our ancestors made.

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Romanticism

       The Declaration of Independence Source: http://www.founding.com/the_declaration_of_i/

The Declaration of Independence
Source: http://www.founding.com/the_declaration_of_i/

Callie Folke

           Most people have pride in their country. It’s natural to feel some sense of alliance with your countrymen, despite the fact that nobody has ever met every single person in their country. This is due to the fact that everyone living in that country have one thing in common: they all live under the same government. Specifically, in the United States, we all live under the rules stated in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Notice how I did not mention the Declaration of Independence. This is because although that document is extremely important, it does not have any legal power. The problem is that a lot of people will often romanticize the Declaration and the men who wrote it and take everything it says as a law.  This is not particularly a good thing to do because when you romanticize history, you tend to ignore the bad parts.

The biggest example of romanticism in history is the fact that most Americans look at Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and especially Thomas Jefferson as saints. They most certainly were not. All three of them owned slaves at some point in their lives, even Franklin. While this does not discredit what they did for the founding of the United States, it does put a serious damper on the whole “worship them like gods” mentality that a lot of people have. This state of mind developed shortly after the Revolutionary War. “Jefferson became a Christlike figure whose ‘disembodied spirit was…upborne by the blessings of ten millions of Freemen’ in a fanciful Fourth of July ascension (Maier 190).” They are being equated with Jesus and it just doesn’t work. They didn’t die for anyone’s sins. They’re not (arguably) the sons of god. They’re just a group of men who wanted to make a new nation. “ Not enough people realize that, and I personally hate the glorification of them.

The Declaration of Independence also gets romanticized frequently. It is seen as the absolute declaration of human rights. To me, it is just a well-written paper that makes a good quick read. I do feel of sense of patriotism when I read it because it is the document that turned Great Britain on its head, but we didn’t really have a government back then, and even when our current government was adopted, the congress never put any aspects of the Declaration into the Constitution. To boil the Declaration down to its simplest form, it is merely a list of crimes that King George had committed. In fact, the Declaration is incredibly hypocritical when it comes to women and children, and people who know about history know that “The Declaration of Independence was, in fact, a peculiar document to be cited by those who championed the cause of equality (Maier 192).” This is especially true when you consider the deleted paragraph about slavery. In this paragraph, Jefferson accuses the king of waging “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither (Jefferson).” While it is true that the king allowed the purchase of slaves, Jefferson and the rest of the southern gentry were practitioners of this heinous crime against humanity. Had the congress included this passage, there would have been more pressure for slavery to be abolished, and if they didn’t abolish it, they would have been hypocrites in a different way. There really was no way for them to win because they were all raised in a culture of slavery. It’s all they’ve ever known and it is really hard to break away from something that you’ve grown up with, even if you realize that it’s wrong. The fact that they left this critical problem for someone else to solve proves that the Declaration does have flaws and so do the men who helped write it.

Despite the fact that the Declaration is hypocritical, it still has many values written in it that people today can learn from. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security (Jefferson).” This is a very famous line, but it is almost never applied. I believe that this is a line that should be paid more attention to, especially as it becomes more and more relevant to our society. As the government becomes more corrupt, we as the people should ensure that they do not allow things to go as far as they did in the Revolution. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants (Jefferson).” This was not in the Declaration, but it is a quote of his and I believe that this is the direction our country is heading in. So the Declaration is still relevant and we as a country can learn from it, but it does not have any legal weight.

To conclude, the Declaration should not be romanticized, nor should any of the people who were involved in the war. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from it or take its words to heart. We should learn from it, and we should read it a lot. It serves as a reminder for who we are as a people and where this country came from, both the good and the bad. That’s something I believe more people should know. It’s why I study history; so I can learn from the past and ensure that I don’t make the mistakes our ancestors made.

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“Question Everything”

Early eighteenth century Virginia was once dominated by the First Families of Virginia and the upper gentry, but now during the mid-eighteenth century traditional order is being challenged.  A social conflict arose when such groups such as Baptists and women’s liberation movements started to challenge the ideas of the time.  A revolution was brewing not only against Great Britain but against the social norms of the day.  America as a country today was founded on the ideas of questioning authority and the women’s and Baptists movements were the first forms of this questioning of authority.

The first example of this questioning of authority involves the Baptists.  An evangelical revitalization was taking place in the American Colonies known as The First Great Awakening.  The First Great Awakening led to changes in the way Americans viewed and

sbclogoregistered

Symbol of the Baptists.
Image – http://www.bluemountainbaptistchurch.org/clientimages/49227/sbclogoregistered.jpg

understood God, themselves and the world around them.  “The social conflict was not over the distribution of political power or of economic wealth, but over the ways of men and the ways of God.” (Isaac – 346)  The reason many farmers and their families decided to join this Baptist movement is because the converts were given an opportunity to break free from the confines of the tough life of early to mid-eighteenth century Virginia.  These converts were able to escape the “harsh realities of disease, debt, overindulgence and deprivation, violence and sudden death.” (Isaac – 353)  The Baptists above all believed in equality they addressed each other as “Brother” and Sister”, this idea of equality ultimately eliminated the class society that the gentry and the First Families of Virginia preferred.  “The tight cohesive brotherhood of the Baptists must be understood as an explicit rejection of the formalism of traditional community organization.” (Isaac – 355)  Another radical aspect of the Baptist movement was in direct contrast to the First Families of Virginia and the gentry, “was the inclusion of slaves as “brothers” and “sisters” in their close community.” (Isaac – 361)  The Baptist movement was a revolt against the traditional system but more importantly it set precedence for an effective system of values to be established and maintained within the ranks of the common folk. (Isaac – 358)

Another example of a social change and another questioning of authority movement involve the gentry daughters during the revolutionary era.  Before the Revolutionary War women of the gentry were expected to marry into the other gentry of their class.  Marriage before the war was that of an economic investment rather than an investment of love.  Gentry Fathers would push their daughters to marry into another very wealthy, influential family in order to maintain the upper-class and make sure the family would maintain its prominence.  During the revolutionary era “parents rejected the authoritarian model of child rearing in favor of one that prepared children to make their own informed moral choices.” (Kerrison – 30) This care-free attitude by parents was unheard of during the times of Robert

This treatise written by John Locke, influenced parental changes during the revolution.Image - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6b/LockeEducation1693.jpg

This treatise written by John Locke, influenced parental changes during the revolution.
Image – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6b/LockeEducation1693.jpg

“King” Carter and William Byrd II.  Daughters for the first time ever “relied on their own judgment to choose their husband; consequently, love and sexual attraction began to figure more prominently than parental preferences in the selection of a spouse.  The example above clearly shows how social movements are becoming more prominent and social norms are being questioned.

Early eighteenth century Virginia was dominated by the First Families of Virginia and the upper class gentry and their traditional class system style of order.  In the mid-eighteenth century The First Great Awakening came along and then the Baptists led an evangelical revolt against the gentry and the First Families of Virginia.  Finally, traditional gentry’s parental practices were questioned by the revolutionary era daughters who used their own judgment to make moral choices.  America as a country today was founded on the ideas of questioning authority and the women’s and Baptists movements were the first forms of this questioning of authority.

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Challenging Traditional Order

As the Virginia colony began to loosen its ties to Great Britain, a disparate culture formed. Virginia was no longer merely a clone of Britain but a revolutionary place of its own: a place where new ideas took root and old ones were questioned. While early eighteenth-century Virginia had adopted many aspects of British society, such as a powerful ruling elite and accompanying stratification, new social movements arose, especially Baptism during the First Great Awakening and an early attempt at women’s liberation. Baptism and women’s liberation in particular distinguished America from the other British colonies and would later define the U.S. as a country hospitable to those who seek change.

vc006368

eighteenth-century rural baptist church
http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/images/vc006368.jpg

During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth-centuries, poorer farmers sought liberation from a society dominated by a prominent aristocracy. The gentry were characterized not only by their vanity and haughtiness but also by their deference to Britain and the Church. Evangelists perhaps rightfully saw the incongruity of a lavish lifestyle with devotion to Christ. Many religious dissenters had a revelatory experience in which they recognized their sinfulness. Such was the case of James Ireland. Ireland was a prominent man of “genteel origin” in Frederick County notable for his general conviviality and joyous dancing (Isaac 345). Since demonization of the gentry was common among dissenters, Ireland antagonizes a gentlemanly acquaintance as a “countenance….as bold and daring as satan himself” (Isaac 346). In contrast to the overbearingly proud gentry, the Baptists were typically almost monklike. The average Baptist was an emaciated figure clutching a Bible who farmed a small plot of land in the backcountry. The Baptist dissension was not only a revolutionary social movement but also the creation of a new social subset. The denunciation of “superfluous forms and Modes of Dressing” created a classless society of yeomen farmers who wished to escape the “gentry-oriented social world” (Isaac 353). The Baptists sought equality, which was far from present in a world dominated by the likes of the Byrds and the Carters. These simple people, on the other hand, referred to each other as ‘Brothers’ and wished to separate themselves from the trivial outside world of rank and primacy. Truly, these evangelical Baptists embodied many of the democratic ideals embraced by Americans today. While the preeminent families of Virginia were continually trying to rise in stature and authority by competing against their peers, Baptists were creating an egalitarian, supportive community of fellowship (Isaac 354). Perhaps if the competitive lifestyle of the Anglican gentry had become representative of the Colonies as a whole, America would have become very much reminiscent of eighteenth-century Great Britain. Luckily, however, groups such as the evangelical Baptists greatly valued the principles of democracy and a society by the common man for the common man, not by and for the aristocratic elite.

lucy1_big

Lucy Parke Byrd, infamously oppressed by her husband, William
http://www.faculty.virginia.edu/SlaveSouth/images/lucy_byrd/lucy1_big.jpg

Another significant eighteenth-century movement was women’s liberation in the form of literature. Not long after it was customary for familial patriarchs to suppress their wives into complete and utter deference, revolutionary advice authors began advocating for women’s liberation from their constricting role as homemaker and subordinate to the husband. This new literature coincided with a sudden change in women’s roles in society. Fathers began to influence marriage less and less as women saw their lives as “largely the consequence of [their] own choices….not merely as a product of the power of others” (Kerrison 32). Female heroines were relatively unforeseen characters in literature until the eighteenth-century, when they embodied the wits, self-righteousness, and pride that all women began to strive for in spite of the supposed male authority. These female heroines were the idols of Betsey Ambler and Mildred Smith, two young Virginia sisters. To demonstrate the conflicting feminine ideals of the time, The Virginia Magazine gives the example of two completely different reactions to the same scandalous affair of Rachel Warrington that Ambler vividly described in her diary. Camilia Warrington, Rachel Warrington’s sister, was very angry that Rachel had quite possibly tarnished her own status, social standing, and marriage prospects, while Suzannah Riddell, her patron, warmly embraced her and stood by her despite the possibility of a lower social standing (Kerrison 40). Of course, status was entirely an invention of the upper class gentrymen as competition; undoubtedly Warrington was concerned about a marriage prospect’s image of her, now that it had been supposedly tarnished by her sister’s affair. Riddell, however, embraced the ideals of new feminine literature in which the woman is self-righteous and carefree as to how others perceive her. The eighteenth-century women’s movement further separated the vast majority of society from the Anglican virtues of competition and social standing imposed by the upper echelons and contributed to the perception of America as a place free from the trivial European class system.

The eighteenth century social movements of Baptism and women’s liberation were profoundly influential from pre-revolutionary society on. Baptism laid out the foundations of American society as an egalitarian democracy on the frontier, defiantly standing against the status-driven and Anglican gentry. The women’s liberation movement brought a more progressive stance to feminine virtues by presenting women not as servants to their husbands and fathers, but as passionate warriors of morality and equality between the sexes. Now America to-be was coming into its own as a place for those who seek change, and these movements certainly enlivened the colonial landscape as it became a place of great dynamism and disparity of thought.

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Whigishness in Williamsburg
When talking to merchants in colonial Williamsburg, one of the stories several of them repeated were of tourists asking “Don’t you wish you lived in the colonial period?  Everything was so simple back then, and they wore such pretty dresses…”  Obviously I’m paraphrasing, but the gists of the interpreter’s responses were that they would have hated living in the colonial era.  Pretty dresses and fancy swords were only for the 1% of the 1%, and would not make up for living in a society with large class and racial divisions.   But we romanticize our past, and these preconceptions we have led to errors in our analysis of it. Romanticism leads us to adopt the “Whig” interpretation of history: “to praise revolutions provided they have been successful, to emphasize certain principles of progress in the past and to produce a story which is the ratification if not the glorification of the present” (Butterfield via Cronon 1).  In short, we think of the people as the past as patriots, and glorify the causes and motives behind the American revolution.  Our knowledge of the past will never be 100% accurate because we can never be sure of conclusions drawn from artifacts, primary sources have bias, and how we interpret history changes with our modern day views.

Dr. Dave Brown showed us items found in the remnants of what was believed to be a slave quarter during his introductory archaeology presentation.  Among these was a raccoon baculum, in ordinary English what you could call a raccoon penis bone (shown on the right, image from Wikipedia).  It would have belonged to a slave, but the meaning it held for the slave is up to debate.  Since the bone is associated with reproduction, a male slave may have worn it to represent his virility.  When Dr. Brown mentioned this theory to one of his classes, a student who enjoyed hunting raised his hand and said “I know what that is for!  You use it to stir your coffee!”  I’m paraphrasing again, but this argument showcases one of the hardest parts of archaeology.  Do we assume the bone was a simple tool, or a symbol in the slave culture?  Finding artifacts leads archaeologists to make assumptions that can be completely off, leading us to make up inaccurate stories about a culture.  And we see objects through lenses of our present experiences; we know that often bones could be used as symbols, so we assume that was the slave’s intent for keeping it.  Or we see it as a tool used still today, and try to give it the same purpose in the past.  Either way we could be wildly misinterpreting evidence.

According to Dr. Carl Lounsebury, archaeology may also raise more questions than we can answer, and sometimes we will just have to accept the fact that we cannot come to an answer at all, instead of making one up that could be possibly wrong.  At the Walker House dichotomy preformed on one of the roof rafters, window styling, and use of machine and hand-made nails all point to it being one built in the early 1800’s, probably between 1805 and 1820.  But 1790 is inscribed in the brick of the house’s left chimney, which initially led architectural historians to believe that was the true year the Walker House was built.  Drawing easy conclusions from the inscription lead them to make a mistake- proving how in history, all evidence needs to be taken into account to reach the correct answer.  And often not all of that evidence is available to us.  Further inspection of the Walker House led to a more accurate estimate of its origin, but we still can not know the day it was built.

The Walker House- 7/27/14 by Jo Weech

Both Dr. Brown’s and Dr. Lounsebury’s stories prove how difficult it is to analyze artifacts, and how we can make completely wrong assumptions about them and therefore past events.  If archaeological evidence is flawed then due to our interpretation of it, should we turn to written documents for the truth?  Rachel Hermman’s essay, “The ‘tragicall historie’: Cannabalism and Abundance in Colonial Jamestown,” debates whether or not cannibalism may actually have occurred in Jamestown.  There are five primary sources addressing cannibalism during the starving time.  George Percy’s accounts should be the most accurate, as he was the only writers present in the fort during the winter of 1610-11.  But this account can be discredited, since it was in his best interests to make the winter seem as desperate and out of control as possible to justify his own failures to remedy the situation as the governor.  Smith also wrote of cannibalism in Jamestown, although he was not present and would have wanted to make it look like the colony fell apart after he left.  Also Smith was known to be a braggart who embellished upon his stories, changing them years after events occurred.  The lesser known Virginia Company’s account did report the same stories as Smith and Percy, but with variations.  And Gates wrote an account claiming the cannibalism never occurred at all, as a way to defend Jamestown so that investors did not worry they were losing money on a failing venture.  All together, these sources provide a different stories- did cannibalism occur or not?  The recent archaeological finding of the skull of a young girl dubbed “Lucy” at the Jamestown sight bearing knife marks seems to support the theory that cannibalism did occur.  But this skull could also have been bearing the marks of a brutal murder, which seems unlikely due to the incisions on the jaw and cheek bone.

The “Lucy” Skull, with blade marks visible on the forehead.                Source: Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, May 1, 2013

Either way, the stories told by Hermann’s essay and Lucy’s skull are excellent example of the struggles in deciding what historical evidence is accurate.  Our country would rather believe that it was not founded by cannibals, and that our revolution led to a society where all men were created equal.  In reality our was nation born with half the population in slavery.  The Lemon Project, started by William and Mary in 2009, was begun to recognize the college had “owned and exploited slave labor from its founding to the Civil War; and that it had failed to take a stand against segregation during the Jim Crow Era” (wm.edu).  William and Mary is now working to discover the details of the slaves who worked at the college.  Previously, the college omitted mention of slavery in its history because it did not want to recognize such a terrible institution existed at the college.  By turning a blind eye, the college left out an integral part of their history.  Now that story is being rediscovered because of the emphasis today of recognizing the horrors of slavery, and rediscovering African American history that we tried to wipe from our memories.  Because of our changed societal values, we are retelling the story of William and Mary from a new perspective, from that of the slaves.  This is an example of how current societal values change how we view and what we focus on of history.  Another story told by Dr. Brown was of a sheriff and his son visiting an African American woman in the mid-1900s.  Automatically our group assumed that the sheriff was visiting her because she was in trouble, excluding the unlikely possibility that they may have been friends, because we think of all the racial relations of that era under the umbrella of slavery.  After all, the sheriff brought his son with him, so perhaps the visit was purely social.  Our current societal values can lead us to see new sides of history, but can also lead us to close off others.

Historiography, the study of history, has been around for centuries.  A new way of analyzing history, Progressive history, emerged in the 19th century.  Progressive history includes Herbert Butterfield’s novel, The Whig Interpretation of History, which calls to light how we glorify our past.  It also includes Charles Butterfield’s new interpretation of the American Revolution, that our revolution was not about which country was ruling the colonies, but about who specifically was ruling the colonies, the gentry. So why does our understanding of Jamestown, early American history, and the American revolution matter so much today?  Who cares if not all of our facts are right, and why does the NIAHD program focus on historiography?

In the past century, American has become a world power.  And our revolution has been an inspiration for revolutions around the world, those in Latin America and France, even before we became a major military and global force.  Ideals written in our constitution are now echoed around the world- so isn’t it important to understand what these ideals meant in the first place?

Source: BBC News

The might the US carries in politics and our international power has inspired recent articles comparing us to the Roman Empire.  However, in recent years, conflicts for resources, political stalemates and inaction, economic deficit, and an education system falling behind the rest of the world has lead historians to draw parallels between flaws in our country and the flaws that occurred during the fall of the Roman Empire.  Growing global criticisms of the American government and lifestyle has led us to question our status, and if the ideals our nation was founded on are still present in our country today.  So we have been trying to discover the lives our the founding fathers and the real “truths” behind them in a way to better understand our country today.  We look for validation, that the founding fathers really were saintly figures, to justify our country.  New understandings of how we view history have deflated our romantic bubble, causing us to come to terms with the idea that our American revolution was one driven by economics and just freedom, and that our first presidents and colonists were ordinary men with flaws.  I believe these realizations are necessary for realizing that our country needs to change- obviously, something isn’t working if our government had to be shut down.  I don’t want to get political, but the purpose of history really is to have knowledge to help us today.  And by realizing that our country started our flawed we can more easily see that it is still flawed now, instead of running around yelling “MURICA!!!” and feeling superior as we caw like eagles.  Once we recognize there are problems we can then move forwards to remedy them.   We like to paint people of the past in a better light because it makes us feel better about our own origins.

So by understanding history we can understand ourselves, and then how to improve ourselves, which is why studying the past is so important.  And to try to get the best, most truthful measure of history, we need to understand historiography and why we make the assumptions about the past that we do.  But we will always interpret something wrong- whether it is the date on a house, the purpose of a raccoon baculum, or the true nature of the people who founded our nation.  No matter what we do, we will never get the full picture, because we cannot have all the facts of what happened in the past, nor can we accurately interpret artifacts and documents with 100% surety, and the way we view history changes with current circumstances.

Works Cited

Cronon, William. “Two Cheers for the Whig Interpretation of History.” American Historical Assocation. American Historical Association, Sept. 2012. Web. 01 Aug. 2014

“The Lemon Project.” William & Mary. William & Mary, n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2014.

Dr. Brown and Dr. Lounsebury

Rachel Hermann’s article

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“We’re Not Boston”: An Examination of the Motivation of 18th Century Virginians to Support the American Revolution
Political oppression is a lofty motive for revolution: it explains away the cause and often excuses all but the most heinous of crimes committed in the name of escaping it. This is the motive which Americans like to remember their revolution for, but it must be remembered that the motives for the revolution are varied and far from uniform. In Virginia, the first colony to secede from the British Empire, political oppression did exist, it’s use as an excuse for revolution was eclipsed by the desire of the First Families of Virginia to reclaim their lost economic power and the fear of potential Indian and slave revolts.
The one incident which was pointed to as the principal cause for Virginian secession was the seizure of gunpowder from the Williamsburg armory by Lord Dunmore. However, Dunmore did hold the authority, as leader of the militia, to place the gunpowder wherever he pleased, and Virginians were for the most part aware of this simple hierarchy. In fact, Woody Holton explains that “By dawn on the morning the powder was removed, most of white Williamsburg gathered on the town green near the governor’s palace… returning to the green, [a delegation of town notables] persuaded the crowd to disperse. Williamsburg lapsed into ‘perfect tranquility.’ But then, a Report was spread by his Excellency throwing out some threats concerning the slaves.” (Holton, 275). Therefore, it is established that the people of Williamsburg were irate over the confiscation of “their” gunpowder, but the incident hardly produced the revolutionary fervor which threats to arm the slaves did. Holton elaborates that this threat was especially worrying due to the growing friendship between the slave population and the Indians in the years since the conclusion of the Seven Years War, indicating that “White Virginians became especially alarmed about their slaves during Pontiac’s Rebellion. For the first time in recent memory, Indians spared lives of blacks at the settlements they attacked… militia lieutenant William Fleming told Governor Fauquier in July 1763, ‘should it be productive of an Insurrection it may be attended with the most serious consequences.'” (Holton 272)
An additional tributary to the revolutionary fervor was the channeling of the FFV’s resentment and frustration over their lost economic power. The FFV originally would arrange for and profit from the selling of tobacco overseas, but this role became more and more diminished until the merchants became almost entirely Scottish. According to Dr. James Whittenburg, a professor of history and department chair at the College of William and Mary, “Scotch” was at the time used frequently as a derogatory term or insult, even by men such as Thomas Jefferson, who is generally depicted as being accepting and tolerant. The FFV believed the Scottish to be cutting in on their trade and came to identify that interference with British government allowing the citizens of the mother country to compete in the colonies, but not vice versa. The FFV would jump at the chance to make an even larger profit on their tobacco, and freedom from this mercantilist system of trade would constitute a satisfactory change in their eyes no matter how it was achieved. Common planters followed suit in this anger and discrimination, indicating a widespread frustration not with the political autocracy under which they toiled, but instead the systematic economic stifling of Virginia businesses. By the time of the revolution, the largest pottery kiln in America belonged to William Rogers and was only approximately 30 feet by 30 feet, meaning the kilns were not large enough, let alone numerous enough, to provide for an entire society or make the profit which Virginians were longing for. They repeatedly rebelled against the Navigation Acts which kept them in economic servitude to Britain, even risking fines or whipping for smuggling (Roger’s Ware pieces were discovered in the Dutch colony of St. Eustacia). This flouting of British laws constituted an economic rebellion in and of itself, and when Lord Dunmore threatened to release hell and war upon the Virginians, this pre-existing anger at British laws found another outlet and provided an extra reason for revolt.
Study of the origins of the American Revolution is largely based on the idea that the British did not represent Americans, and were oppressing them politically. Yet the Americans had lived underneath royal governance for more than a century without issue. In the birthplace of the rebellion, Virginia, political oppression was simply an opportune motive which was co-opted to make the cause for independence more credible; the real reasons for the colonists’ revolt lie in their distaste for British interference in their financial affairs and threatening to unleash different social classes against each other.
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Materialism and Symbolism: Imported Goods in the Colonies on the Eve of Revolution

During the late 17th to mid 18th century, the thirteen American colonies were expanding in their population, size, and wealth. Massive tobacco plantations and widespread land speculation in Virginia led to a sudden growing population of those with excess money and a desire to show it. Consumerism and the desire for imported and manufactured goods was on the rise in this period, however as the tensions began to grow between the colonies and England’s ever-tightening mercantilist hold over them, the colonies began to rebel against the English authority by using manipulating their materialistic tendencies against the crown. Through the period immediately preceding the American Revolution, material goods and the importation and exportation of those goods were used in new ways, firstly as a political power chip and secondly as symbols of ideas and metaphorical concepts as opposed to their strictly material uses.

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In the new consumerist culture rich with imports from England, a plethora of fabrics, fashions, and goods became available and dispersed in the colonies. Photo taken by myself.

As the wealth of the population grew and the standard of living steadily rose, there developed a heightened demand for consumer goods, specifically those imported from England. For those with the money to spend on luxuries and conspicuous consumption, importing things from Europe such as household goods, supplies like stone or brick for home design and décor (Nelson House tour), or detailed Mantua dresses were visible symbols of wealth and status (Colonial Williamsburg shop tour). Even those of lesser income were becoming more prone to purchasing goods at stores rather than making the goods themselves. Things that were once entirely out of the question for production in the home, such as vibrant or diverse fabrics and leatherwear, were now easily available in all “quality, collours, patterns, and fashions” (Martin, 203). The colonists enjoyed the availability of imported, manufactured goods, however there was a slowly growing resentment of the English control of their trade. In the mercantile economy, American manufacturing and industry was severely stunted and prevented from expanding into markets other than those of England and the American farmers and tradesmen were quickly noticing that their society’s sudden reliance on imported goods was not working in their favor.

The leading point of tension surrounding the importation of goods that the colonists had become accustomed to were the numerous regulations and taxes being placed on the colonies from the King. England’s objective was to preserve the mercantilist structure of their economic relation with the colonies and attempt to maintain control over the colonies’ exports and imports. Americans were, in many cases, forbidden from manufacturing many different commonplace goods and materials, such as ceramics and glass, and instead being forced to rely solely on imports from Britain. However, as the regulations grew, some adventurous merchants and craftsmen began their own underground businesses to create the goods that would otherwise be purchased from England (Poor potter tour). These businesses, while small in nature, helped add fuel to the flame of colonial indignation against England that was growing steadily with each new act. In addition to running illegal businesses to rebel against English regulations, the colonists also soon developed the idea of a boycott, or non-consumption. The colonists found that “through the denial of consumer goods,” they were able to obtain a political voice and recognition by the English government in a way they had not been able to before the current zeitgeist of consumerism and materialism  (Breen, 92). Non-consumption was not always successful; for instance, the attempt at resisting via non-consumption during the Townshend Acts ultimately proved useless and accomplished very little (Breen, 91). However, it was through the denial of imported goods that the American colonists began to forge a sense of control over their own consumerism and, by extension, a sense of being able to actively fight back against the English laws and taxes being suddenly and gratuitously imposed upon them.

In a subtle yet bold act of rebellion, several sheep were kept in the colonies to provide wool despite strict laws against them to preserve England's control of wool distribution to the colonies

In a subtle yet bold act of rebellion, several sheep were kept in the colonies to provide wool despite strict laws against them that were made in order to preserve England’s control of wool distribution to the colonies. Photo taken by myself

But consumer goods and the eventual denial of those goods were not strictly used by colonists to solely represent the objects themselves. It was in this period that the objects being imported from England and the objects manufactured or owned at home began to develop a symbolic purpose rather than a simply economic one. During the events of the Boston Tea Party, organized by the Sons of Liberty, over 340 chests holding nearly 45 tons of tea was thrown overboard into the Boston Harbor in retaliation to the Tea Act, yet another disliked tax imposed on the colonies. However, this act and the reasoning for it can be viewed on a deeper level then simply colonial dissent and violent resistance. Tea was a staple of English culture and something that was widely adopted by the colonies as it became readily accessible through importation. During the events of December 16th, 1773, it can be said that the tea that was thrown overboard was symbolic of the colonies (or at least the Sons of Liberty) attempting to rid themselves of English influence through the destruction of an item so strongly associated with England. During non-consumption, things such as cloth also gained a symbolic element to them, with “homespun” materials being produced once again in the home instead of being purchased in stores (Breen, 90). The colonists used the homespun material as a symbol of their refusal to be submissive to British rule and regulation. While the materials they were making were arguably inferior to those that could have been purchased in markets or imported from England, it was the nationalistic symbolism associated with it that gave homespun fabrics their return into colonists’ lives.

The usage by Americans of consumer goods as not only a political power but as symbol of ideas and ideologies still continues to this day. It can be seen in many different aspects of modern day life, such as boycotts of companies or corporations whose owners make their controversial views public. In a much larger national issue, it can be often seen that gun rights groups or activists against gun control regulations use the concept of a gun as a symbol of their rights as Americans, rather than focusing on the actual usage of the item. In these ways, the ideas and methods first implemented by colonists in the creation of the nation are still very much alive and continue to be used in modern politics and social discussions.

In the period of heightened tensions between the American colonies and England immediately preceding the revolution, consumerism and material goods were prevalent through the colonies and played a large role in the politics of the time. Through non-consumption and the secret manufacture of illegal goods, the colonists were able to work against the increasing English laws and taxes being created to preserve England’s mercantilist relationship with the colonies. It was also in this period that consumer goods became used a symbols of the colonies’ rebellion and could be used to represent more than the objects were technically worth, which is a political strategy still commonly used in modern day.

“Boston Tea Party.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 29 July 2014.

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The Hypocrisy of Freedom

       These most famous words, are the basis of our nation, they ring true with a passion heard almost no where else and they still are not equal to all. These most powerful words are:

The presentation of the Declaration of IndependenceTrumbull, John. Deceleration of Independence. 1817. Oil painting. N.p.

The presentation of the Declaration of Independence
Trumbull, John. Deceleration of Independence.
1817. Oil painting. N.p.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” -The Declaration of Independence

However the meaning that the founding fathers put into this document is not the meaning that remains today. Their idea of equality was not the same as the modern one that has become popular sentiment. This hypocrisy was not limited to the Declaration of Independence. For to these powerful white men these ideas were representations of their moral rights and liberties; for everyone else these were not rights, nor liberties, but further exclusions from equality.

        The most evident sources of hypocrisy comes from the Declaration of Independence. One specific example is “ that all men are created equal,” (Declaration of Independence). This is hypocritical because the founding fathers almost all owned slaves, especially Jefferson who “drafted” (Maier 184) this historic work of literature. The expression that “all men are created equal” is contrary to almost every single value of the institution of slavery. This is because the only way slavery can be maintained is by one group being constantly below another, in this case based on race. A majority of the founding fathers owned slaves and yet one of the most famous phrases ever penned is “all men are created equal” (The Declaration of Independence).

        A slightly less common example is that slaves did not consent to being slaves, or as the founding fathers phrased their own refusal to be “slaves” to Britain, government “[derives] their just powers from the consent of the governed” (The Declaration of Independence). Slaves are “governed” by their masters without their consent, which is another case of slaves being excluded from the rights that are supposed to be for all men.

        Another occurrence of supreme hypocrisy comes from the belief “that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers”  (The Declaration of Independence). The founding fathers expressly state that they have the right to destroy government and start over, and yet African Americans can not overthrow their owners who are more restrictive than any government of the time could ever attempt to be. The slaves and former slaves are expected to

         The second most evident occurrence is for the speech given at Saint John’s church by Patrick Henry on March 23, 1775: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” (Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775). That he had the audacity to compare British rule to slavery and he was willing to die in order to be free of the King’s rule, and yet he himself owned slaves. As one of the major fears of Virginians of the time was a slave uprising; their view of themselves as slaves rising up against unjust masters is the highest form of irony and hypocrisy that can be imagined. Not only did they have substantially more freedom than any actual slave would possess, but they could not be bought, sold, separated from their families against their will, or beaten on anothers whim. They were free just not free enough.

This is the most famous painting of Patrick Henry.Matthews, George B., and Thomas Sully. Patrick Henry. 1891. Oil on canvas. United States Senate. Web.

This is the most famous painting of Patrick Henry.
Matthews, George B., and Thomas Sully. Patrick Henry.
1891. Oil on canvas. United States Senate. Web.

       The phrase, “give me liberty or give me death” (Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775) was said intending to refer to refer to the American struggle against the British, yet the words apply just as well if not better to the plight of the enslaved African Americans. These words inspired patriots to fight for their right to start a new country. They also could mean not for Americans to rise against the British, but for slaves to rise against their masters. It could actually be considered a small miracle that this speech did not cause widespread slave uprisings.

         All this is not to say that the founding fathers were not great people who ought to be remembered. Instead this is to say that their greatness should be taken with a grain of salt (or possibly a bag of salt). They truly did found our nation and without them who knows where we would be. This does not mean that their racist beliefs and the hypocrisy regarding the ideals of freedom should be overlooked. To the contrary, their very flaws are what makes them human. Even though today slavery is considered horrible (and rightly so) at the time it was virtually impossible to be upper class without a free labor force that can not quit. As the time period’s standards dictated that owning another human being was fine because those of African descent were viewed as inferior to those of european descent. This was not right, some of the founding fathers admitted that they felt it was wrong and yet economically there was no viable alternative. While they wrote and said all their lofty ideals they were disenfranchising a majority of the population by not giving them the same rights and liberties that they themselves were fighting for.This disenfranchisement is the great hypocrisy that polluted the ideals of the founding fathers.

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