Mary Beth Writes

The photos are all from Franc Garcia, who took them in Kenosha last week. Thank you, Franc.

Part I.

The American War of Independence was won, or more aptly stated “ended,” at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781. I’m sure you knew that because a couple months ago I asked Len, “When did the Revolutionary War end?” and he looked at me with astonishment that neither he nor I knew. Not even the year.

We were pretty sure it was over but lately one isn’t completely sure if any of the wars are over yet.

George Washington and his Continental Army plus our ally Comte de Rochambeau (isn’t there a chocolate hazelnut candy named something like Rochambeau?) and his French soldiers were parked north of NYC. The British general in NYC was William Clinton and Clinton wasn’t sure what the Americans and French were going to do next. GW wasn’t sure either, which is how you can tell a real war from a war movie. Movies make wars look as if people know what they are doing when that is so seldom the truth.

The Americans and French asked a French naval general – Comte de Grasse (I wonder if his family owned the enslaved ancestors of Neil de Grasse) to come up from the French West Indies where he was parked, to help them. De Grasse was Admiral over a fleet of warships accompanying a fleet of merchant ships on their way back to France. He got the GW-Rochambeau message and headed north. He left the merchant ships in Cuba and then sailed the warships up the coast of the American colonies until he encountered British ships headed into Chesapeake Bay. De Grasse brought with him 500,000 silver pesos collected from Cuban citizens to help the Continental army buy supplies and pay soldiers.

Just mentioning that because did you know Cubans helped us win our war for independence?

Chesapeake Bay is a HUGE body of water. The length of the bay from its headwaters where the Susquehanna River empties into the bay, to the outflow of the bay into the Atlantic, is 200 miles. The same distance as Green Bay to Chicago. Big.

Those incoming British ships that De Grasse and his sailors found were led by Sir Thomas Graves. Graves was on his way from England to relieve General Cornwallis, a British general overseeing the building of a naval fort at Yorktown.

Graves and his sailors fought de Grass and his mighty French warships – and de Grasse won. Notice this: the beginning of the final battles of the Revolutionary War was a naval battle completely fought between France and Britain.

General Cornwallis, at the fort-under-construction site, realized he just lost his ride home. A French navy was arriving instead. Time to leave by the backdoor.

Except by now GW and Rochambeau had unparked their armies and marched them south. Cornwallis and 7000 British soldiers were now blockaded by those French warships in front of them plus 7000 American and French fighters behind and around them. They battled two weeks until they surrendered. One of the last battle losses of Cornwallis and the Brits was to an American column under the leadership of, ta-da, Alexander Hamilton.

The Treaty of Paris that would officially end the American Revolutionary War would not be hammered out and signed until 1783 - two years down the road.

Part II. WHERE Wise people and historians mutter darkly, “If you think the war was brutal, wait to you see how peace will go.”

Our American Constitution was not invented, written, and signed until 1789; there were EIGHT years between Cornwallis’ surrender and the institution of “We the People…” Those years were confusing, chaotic, dangerous – and our infant nation barely survived.

What I’m about to write is said way too simply, but that’s why you read me, right? (If you are, in fact, actually reading this.)

Our nation launched from war into statehood under the governing auspices of the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were rules and principals that mostly depended on the voluntary support and contributions of the states. There were very few federal level mandates and there was no federal tax. Representatives from states were elected or appointed depending on how that state wanted to do this, so the representatives skewed heavily to rich, white landowners. Most of them cared mostly about shoring up their own wealth and preserving the status quo of their pals.

This meant, of course, that in national situations and emergencies there was no army, no money, no authority, and very little power to address anything complicated.

Consider:

1. The war had been fought by American soldiers who had been promised pay - but most had not been fully paid. They were back home trying to farm, and they needed cash. They wanted their war wages, but there was no federal money, so they felt as if they had been cheated by rich men who used them and then abandoned them. They were right.

2. Almost all the cash to run the war had been lent to us by European nations who, as part of the Treaty of Paris, expected repayments. But there were no federal taxes so there was no money with which to pay them back. Not even the interest on those loans. The US was defaulting on international loans.

3. Because the US was defaulting, European trade allies would no longer trade on credit. If they sold something to US businesses, they wanted cash. There was very little cash anywhere.

4. Big city businessmen needed cash to buy goods from Europe, so they now required cash payments from smaller businesses and farmers. There was very little cash anywhere.

5. The national representatives responded to this crisis by printing more money but the money was nearly worthless because nothing backed it up.

6. Some states tried to collect taxes. Often they did this by putting the squeeze, not on the big businessmen and international traders, but on small farmers. When those farmers couldn’t pay their local taxes, the county would kick the farmer and his family off the land, repossess it, and sell it to people who did have money.

A Massachusetts farmer named "Plough Jogger" said this at a public meeting: “I have been greatly abused, have been obliged to do more than my part in the war, been loaded with class rates, town rates, province rates, Continental rates, and all rates ... been pulled and hauled by sheriffs, constables, and collectors, and had my cattle sold for less than they were worth ... The great men are going to get all we have, and I think it is time for us to rise and put a stop to it, and have no more courts, nor sheriffs, nor collectors nor lawyers.”

7. Also, and this is hugely relevant to the history of the US - our government claimed land that belonged to native people and then sold that Indian land to investors for cash. This was how much of the US government was funded through the 1780s and into the 1790’s. This was viewed as a practical way to raise federal revenues. George Washington used this financial strategy/AKA land theft a lot.

We are ready to talk about Shay’s Rebellion. In 1786 and 1787 American Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays led 4000 angry, frustrated men (many of them farmers or farm hands) in a protest against economic and civil rights injustices. Shays was a farmhand from Massachusetts; he had served in and eventually been wounded in the Continental Army.

In 1787 Shays' rebels marched on the federal Springfield Armory in western Massachusetts with a plan to seize its weaponry and then overthrow the government.

The federal government didn’t have the money, army, or power to stop this rebellion. Eventually the governor got rich men to fund an opposing army. They put down the rebellion and took over the Armory themselves – although it was a federal site and they were state.

Shay’s Rebellion was a half-year long organized uprising of ordinary, angry folks who felt cheated from justice. The danger and chaos of it was the last straw. Leaders reluctantly convened what would be a year-long effort to invent, write, hammer out, argue over, and ultimately approve the American constitution. Nothing about this process was easy. In the end, it passed by just a few votes.

 

Part III

Nothing about American history is sacred except for this humbling truth that democracy was invented by people for people. Our Founding Fathers were as complicated, sometimes exploitive, casually, and fiercely racist as the Koch brothers, as Bernie Sanders, as Joe Biden, as us. There were brilliant men and they were calculating, self-serving power grabbers. Often the same guy was both.

A friend asked me today how I am doing and what she meant is how are we all getting through this ugly August. Through the assaults against George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake. Through the Climate Crisis weather of the derecho in Iowa, the hurricanes in the south, the mind-numbing fires in the west, the ‘can’t come back from this’ melting of glaciers. The lying of Trump and the entrenched ugly support of his fellow Republicans. It astounds us because this is not the way of the Republicans we we knew.

And this pandemic? I’m think I’m more anxious about Covid now than back in March. Death, chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, and a damaged heart? This is a terrible sickness.

Which brings me back to 18th century.

We, as humans and as Americans, have been in hard times with incompetent leadership, deadly epidemics, a dissolving economy, and racism as a strategy to prop up power. This is what we came from. This is what we have always lived through and fought against. Large, on-going protests led by saints and idiots have always been our moving edge.

This is not comfortable. This is not easy. But this is exactly the challenge and the work of being American. Change comes when Americans don’t revere anything but an opportunity for their kids to live in a fairer and more just society.

I’m tired. I’m disgusted. I’m mad.

I’m also interested and respectful.

This is exactly where we came from. This is exactly who we are.

Much of this information is available in most history books. I ordered, for a mere $8 (I think), this excellent and very readable book that I highly recommend.  "These Truths, A History of the United States" by Jill Lepore.  Lepore teaches at Harvard. This book includes stories of women, of POC. It is not a tale of White Men and What They Did. It is everything we learned and forgot but this time put into a perspective of all of us.  

 

Comments

Did they teach me this in high school American history? Could I really have forgotten all this? Most likely I was taught some watered down white-washed version. Thank you for sharing this. It is both terrifying and reassuring.
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks for reminding me to cite the book I'm reading! I included that info after the last photo.
Leonard's picture

At the time of the American Revolution, most of the world was openly skeptical that it was anything more than a rabble, and sensible rule could only come through monarchy. George Washington was worried about the same thing, and wrote upon hearing about Shay's Rebellion, "What is the cause of all these commotions? When and how will they end?” There is a long account this (and the connection to the 2nd Amendment, about the Right to Bear Arms) here: https://consortiumnews.com/2018/02/16/the-rights-second-amendment-lies-2/ This is an excerpt from what looks like a pretty good book by Robert Parry, America's Stolen Narrative

During the last week or so, you have been on my mind, although we don’t know each other. Kenosha is roughly right in the middle of where you live and where I live in Illinois. It’s shocking and devastating what’s happening. It’s incredible and heart-breaking. Your history review was enlightening.

When do we come out the other end? It is discouraging to realize we began as a struggling citizenry against power-grabbing, white rich men. And here we are, in a cyclic, stuck, repeat (perhaps learning a little about ourselves, along the way). These United States have only felt 'united', when fighting a common enemy, as in WWI and WWII. Even now, with our common enemy being Covid19, we find ourselves divided. Ordinary, angry folks denied justice, led to Shay's Rebellion. And now? Angry Black Americans and white allies are fighting for freedom, equality and justice. And many of our elected leaders ask, 'What's all this commotion about'? Do we ever learn? Or are we stuck in a human history loop of repeating our past - perhaps taking baby steps forward in our evolution as an aware, caring, people? People today, are upset at none-peaceful, destructive, protests. Liberty, Justice, Freedom - have never just been given away. In our struggle to become the United States, sides were taken, folks fought, properties were destroyed. Lives were lost. But the fight wasn't for everybody's freedom. Now? Is it time for liberty and justice for all? And if not now - when? There are many woke, caring individuals, small groups - even large groups. But we, as a nation, are not whom we claim to be. That awareness hurts, at a very core level. And, at the end of the day? We will persist. And repeat.

Thank you, my friend. Patricia/Fl

So much in here Mary Beth...I learned a LOT...love the Shays rebellion part ...to me it says we are built for big change...like reparations for black descendants of US slavery or, yes, defunding the police and depopulating prisons. We need big change...we’ve done this before.
Mary Beth's picture

I have nothing negative to say about the brave women and men of our armed forces, past and present. But it seems to me the most remarkable defenders of democracy have been and continue to be protesters. There's more to consider here, but hey, it's Labor Day - and it wasn't the Armed Forces who won the 8-hour working day, work safety laws, abolishing child labor. It wasn't soldiers who lobbied and won the right to vote for women and for African-American citizens. (well, actually the Civil War won that right, but we know how that turned out.) It wasn't American soldiers who got us out of Vietnam.

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Advent Light 11/28/2020

Tomorrow, Sunday, is the first Sunday of Advent. 

So first of all, like I said before, I’m preaching. I think you can listen to the whole service starting at 9:30AM, if you go to https://www.uniteduuc.org/ .  There is usually a link there that you have to click, when you click it, it says something about YouTube, so click that link, too. Otherwise, by Monday (maybe earlier, I don’t know who does this or when) it will show up on YouTube at United Unitarian Universalist, Waukesha, and my name.

Preaching, Cheating, Thanking & Eating

I am preaching this coming Sunday at my church. I think if you check our website Sunday morning (11/29) between 9:20 and 9:30 - the URL for the service will be there. The November theme for UU’s  is Healing, so that’s what I am preaching about. https://www.uniteduuc.org/

The Gales of November

Today is November 10th which is the 45th anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. (Listen to the song here!) 

11/6/2020 Wow! It's happening!

I wrote this yesterday: “I’m all over the place. How about you?”

Today I’m: “I think I lost weight last night and it was some of the heaviness of persistent stress.”

It’s happening, Friends. Yes, we all know nothing will be sensationally simple going forward. Right now, the Senate is where it was pre-election. (Though hold on, Stacey Abram’s Amazing Georgia is having TWO senate races in January.)

Several things NOT about the election 11/3/2020

(Unripe tomatillos are beautiful.)

Today I am sharing some thoughts not about the election.

I plan to have very strong feelings once the winner of the presidential election, plus the many down-ballot contests, are known. If there is craziness and violence and civil uproar, I will care right away.

But right now, while we don’t know, I don’t want breathless reporting on how dry the paint is.

We've got a few more hours. 

Remembering Stuff

“I’m getting so old. I just can’t remember anything anymore.”

Okay, I understand and accept that forgetfulness is weird and awkward. We talk to someone about this movie and that house repair and that small restaurant from which we ordered amazing food a few weeks ago and it feels as if we are talking with 95% of the words we used to know. What was that guy’s name? Where did I read that really powerful thing about political strategy now?

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