Culturally a nation is its memories. How a nation conveys its history from generation to generation is critical to the cohesion of the group. Nations are not always race or ethnicity-based. All nations need a commonality to continue to survive.
Without the stories of the nation’s past, our life and thought dissolve. They become a meaningless unrelated rush of events. Without them, we cannot meld into a harmonious society. To help us to dwell harmoniously we must retain the ability to reflect our history. Our history must be recorded accurately. It is the only way to have a national identity.
We should recognize that America has always been a land of hope. America is a place of aspiration. It is the pace on earth where people are free. America is the place where people are allowed to live without interference. It is the place where if you can imagine it, build it, and sell it; you can prosper from the sweat of your brow. It where everyman can; if he believes, strives and achieves.
America inspires people, both young and old, rather than dispirits them. In America we allow people like Howard Zinn to express themselves freely. We are strong enough to overcome the marred distortions of people who hate, whether through envy, malice or cultural bigotry. Our willingness to allow, no, to promote critical thought is the reflection of American greatness.
Disease, disagreement, freedom and process
The purpose of history is to link what has come before to what is yet to come. America began with an encounter between Europeans and American Indians. Disease played a central role. Disease probably was the single most important factor leading to the reduction of various indigenous peoples after contact. It seems likely it was not the cruelty of Spanish rule.
It seems far more likely the epidemic spread of Old World diseases caused the decline. These diseases include smallpox, measles, and malaria. The people of the Americas had no natural immunity to them.
The relative success of English colonization had a source. The British contact was a haphazard collection of uncoordinated private undertakings. But these people brought with them the English political system’s checks and balances. They brought the common law, and a penchant for enterprise and commerce.
How Europeans became Americans
The purpose of history is all the human stew to have the flavor of its ingredients. Englishmen became Americans over time. They exhibited an openness to experiment and a can-do optimism. We come from stock willing to take a fresh look at things. Americans were starting from no authority save reason.
We need to remember the debate about the Declaratory Act (1766). In it the English Parliament asserts its power over the colonies. They said it hinges on “sharply divergent ideas: about the proper place of America in the emerging imperial system, about the meaning of words like self-rule, representation, constitution, and sovereignty. It was a genuine debate, in which both sides had legitimate arguments.”
We are instructed by the disputes between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. As members of the first cabinet they had divergent views regarding the legitimate functions of the federal government. We should take away they did so with an awareness that “as in many of the most bitter struggles, there was something to be said for, and against, both positions”. What do you think? Can we learn something from our history? Maybe we could if we learned our history again.