My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is just what I wanted. An American history that is even-handed and thorough, yet doesn’t bog me down so I can never get the overall gist (such as telling all the details of every campaign that was fought during the French-Indian wars).
Also it is so clearly written and engaging that it is my breakfast reading and I often have to hurry through my remaining routine because I was too caught up in the book to keep track of time.
A few things I have learned about American history:
- I already knew that John Paul Jones “had not yet begun to fight.” What I didn’t realize was that the scrappy Scotsman took the naval fight to the British during the Revolution. Yes, believe it or not, he was attacking British towns! Now that is spunk!
- An incident and quote I’d never heard: When Benjamin Franklin witnessed a hot air balloon ascension in Paris, one of the witnesses asked him what practical use it was. “The most practical man on earth answered simply: “What is the use of a new-born baby?”
- I never realized that slavery was a big issue from the founding of our country onward. I mean to say, I knew it was a big issue coming up to the Civil War, but somehow when they’re teaching kids about their country’s history they don’t start out talking about how the Founding Fathers had to make concessions right from the start so the states would all band together into a country. Fascinating and it makes a sad underlying theme to our country’s first 100 (almost) years.
- Andrew Jackson was already on my black books for his treatment of the Cherokee Nation and rejection of the Supreme Court when they tried to enforce fair treatment as per their judgment. (Didn’t he coin the phrase, “You and what army?” Followed by, “Oh, right. I have the army.”) Then I read how he sent the country into the Panic of 1837 because of his unreasoning hatred of the Bank of the United States, followed by his destruction of same. He had to go through two secretaries of the Treasury before appointing Roger B. Taney … who we will hear from later for further infamy. Then Jackson left Martin Van Buren holding the bag. I now only have one good thing to say about Jackson which was that the “shoot” in his eyes allowed for no breaking up of the Union, even though he was sympathetic to the slave holders.
- Frederick Douglass — who knew this guy was such a fire eater? Wow! I knew of his famous book which is one I mean to read someday. But he’s in there mixing it up, refusing to back down, even teaching President Lincoln that although a black colony in South America sounds like a progressive, good idea, it is actually just as bad as slavery since these black men are Americans and have the right to live in their homeland. He was such a brilliant logician that he’d leave no one with a leg to stand on.
- I already admired Abraham Lincoln as a hero. I now can admire his powerful intellect, diplomacy, and good heart even more. I am struck more and more by the similarities between the fight against slavery and the current day fight against abortion. I especially liked this argument from his debates with Stephen Douglas:
“Although volume upon volume has been written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it by being a slave himself.”
- Raised a Kansan, it was a shock to move to Texas and hear the Confederacy justified by the argument of “states’ rights.” This was a new idea and one I didn’t cotton to, though I grew resigned to hearing about it. Now having raised a generation of Texans, this argument still comes up (yes folks the Civil War can still start arguments between family members). So this was fascinating and also made me laugh.
The most important aspects of the Confederate constitution were, however, less obvious. For a movement that claimed states’ rights, their constitution allowed no state the right to emancipate slaves. No state could even be admitted to the Confederacy from the old Union unless it agreed to maintain slavery always. And, a stunning development: the drafters of this constitution debated and emphatically rejected a passage that would have recognized a right of a state to secede from this Confederacy.
— I’m about 2/3 of the way through so will probably have more revelations as I go —