Wednesday, May 5, 2010


(Note: This was written a couple of years ago, but the theme came back to to me when I heard someone complain about President Obama's inaugural speech opening the door to "more government.")

Although it doesn’t compensate for having her so far away, one of the advantages of our daughter’s move to distant Massachusetts is the opportunity it provides us – as a part of our visits – to be history tourists. On a recent sojourn Anna guided us to the home of John and Abigail Adams and (in fulfillment of a desire I’ve had since childhood) to Concord Bridge, site of the “shot heard round the world” that began the war-fighting part of the American Revolution.

As we were visiting these and other places in the Cradle of Liberty, I was reading Gordon S. Wood’s “The American Revolution.” Ironically, at the same time, the news was filled with items regarding the “Tea Party” movement. On one radio interview program, a self-described Tea Party member, in explaining the tenets of the movement, said that (among other things) the party was “against government.”

Now, it probably isn’t fair to use the utterance of one person as a foil for the point I want to make, but the comment does, I think, underscore what is to a large extent driving this movement.  The (unformed?) rhetoric coming out of “every tea party lawn concert and misspelled sign regatta” seems to suggest that the Revolution was fought to establish either a militia or a society of anarchy. In fact, the Revolution was fought to establish, precisely, a government.

Over two hundred years later, it is just as stirring to read accounts of the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention as it is to follow the cliff-hanger exploits of the rag-tag but disciplined colonists taking on the regimented redcoats. The purpose and goal of both (the conventions and the battles) was to form a government.

The “limited” or “expansive” nature of this government has been debated from the beginning (i.e. in the Federalist – Anti-Federalist Papers), and will continue to be debated, but it is a government. If today some Tea Partiers consider it too “big,” where were they when President Bush oversaw the largest increase in the federal budget since FDR? (Perhaps Glenn Beck speaks for them: “People will ask: Where were you when George Bush was spending? It doesn't matter. I'm here now.”)

I’m a liberal, you may be conservative (and it may be downright impossible to change each other’s minds), but I agree with conservative commentator George Will: “The government we have did not come about overnight, or by accident, or by conspiracy. Middle-class Americans who are the articulate complainers about it are the principle benefiters from it.” And, Gordon Wood adds, “The emergence of a rambunctious middling (middle class) democracy was the most significant consequence of the American Revolution.”

It was the genius of the Founders to establish a government to make this possible.

photo: Concord Bridge today

Books on the Revolution and the Constitution are, of course, legion. Some I've enjoyed recently are: "The American Revolution," by Gordon S. Wood; "The Great Rehearsal: The Story of the Making and Ratifying of the Constitution of the United States," by Carl Van Doren; and "1776," by David McCullough.

1 comment:

Joseph G. Crippen said...

As always, well said.