This populist study of recent speeches, films and published works reveals the many uses of America’s founding ideals.
Schocket (History and American Culture Studies/Bowling Green State Univ.; Founding Corporate Power in Early National Philadelphia, 2007) has sifted through reams of material, film and text over the last 15 years and even embarked on his own treks to national historic sites like Mount Vernon and Colonial Williamsburg for a firsthand look at how the American Revolution is presented to the masses. He sees the allusions to the Founding Fathers and revolutionary heroes in speeches by Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama and in best-sellers like David McCullough’s John Adams or PBS’s animated Liberty’s Kids as serving one of two points of view: An “essentialist” approach holds the memory of the founding myth as unchanging, true and knowable—i.e., the conservative approach. The “organicist” viewpoint maintains a more fluid approach, seeing America as an evolving theater of multicultural and feminist principles—i.e., the liberal approach. The mere mention of “founding fathers” seems to be a catchphrase for many essentialist notions, such as whiteness, gun possession, right-to-life, even Christian, while the Constitutional phrases “more perfect union” and “created equal” sum up many of the organicists’ tenets, such as dedication to equality and belief in progress. The discovery by DNA proof that Thomas Jefferson fathered children by his black slave Sally Hemings has blown open the neat-and-tidy mythology of the upright and incorruptible Founding Fathers and forced a reckoning with a more complicated, messy story. Schocket’s visits to such historic sites as the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum and Philadelphia’s private National Liberty Museum reveal the array of co-opting of the revolutionary messages. Along with Hollywood’s take, the author delves into recent Constitutional Supreme Court battles and the formation of the Minutemen and tea party movements.
Organized, accessible history for everyone.