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Thursday, April 21, 2005


Several companies have begun producing university level lecture courses on a series of topics. The Teaching Company, Recorded Books and Barnes and Noble all have superior products. B&N's Portable Professor has recently released Patriots taught by Joseph Ellis, author of Founding Fathers and American Sphinx. It's excellent.

Focusing on the years between 1760 and 1826, Ellis examines the reasons for the success of the new nation. It's the first war of a colony for its independence that was successful. Our revolution differed in many respects from others. Typically, the overthrow of the government was followed by a bloody purge of those who had been power and their supporters. This did not happen in the United States.

Many of the potentially divisive issues were settled by debate, not bloodshed -- although the one issue they were unable to resolve, slavery, was to cause massive loss of blood in less than a century later.

The population of Virginia at the time of the revolution was barely that of present day Wilkes-Barre, PA, yet we would be hard pressed to find as many people of the character as came out of Virginia. There might be several reasons for that. One is that we were isolated. Europeans could not have traveled as widely or consorted as easily. Class was not as dominant as in Europe. People could rise from the "bottom" on their merits more readily.

The Founders were aware of their place in history and took great efforts to preserve their thinking. John Adams asked Abigail to buy a binder to store all his letters, Thomas Jefferson invented a machine that would make perfect copies of what he wrote down, and Washington hired numerous people to record events. Most of them were agnostics who had little hope for immortality other than through a written record of their actions. Their place in history was important.

Some interesting trivia. The words American and democracy were considered pejorative. People identified with regions, e.g., one was a New Englander, and those who espoused democracy were seen as advocating mob rule.
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