In honor of Independence Day, Connor and Brittany talk about some of their favorite stories to come out of the Revolutionary War era and the founding of the United States.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: So first of all, happy Independence Day.
Connor: You know, as they say, treason is the reason for the season.
Brittany: I love that. That was not where I thought you would go with that, but I like it So, aside from my birthday, which actually happens to be your birthday as well, right? this is my favorite holiday, and yes, I do consider my birthday to be a holiday, but there’s nothing better to me than grilling eating some cheeseburgers, which are my favorite food, watching fireworks and celebrating the day. Our founders decided to perform the Ultimate Act of Rebellion and sign a document. It is, as they said, mutually pledging their lives, fortune and Sacred Honors in order to live independently and to, you know, say no to the tyrant King George. So that is always just, I mean, our country’s founding is an incredible story, and we have done a fair amount of episodes related to some topics that have to do with the Revolutionary War. I don’t know that we’ve ever simply talked about the Revolutionary War, but in honor of the holiday, I thought we could share some of our favorite stories, maybe favorite stories or lessons we can take out of it. So, yeah, I wanna just talk about all things Independence Day related and Revolutionary War. So, what do you think, Connor? What are some of your favorite Independence Day stories?
Connor: You know, one of my favorite, things to think about when it comes to this holiday is first to actually read the Declaration of Independence. Yes. I mean, if this day is Independence Day, guys take like literally 10 minutes and just sit down and read the dang thing. When was the last time you did that? Okay, so there, take some time this weekend. You know, if you’re listening to this a few days after you still got time, every day is a good day to read the Declaration of Independence. But one of the things that I like thinking about when it comes to this celebration of this nation’s, once upon a time independence, I feel like, we’re a nation of dependence now, but anyways, is to read the grievances. Okay? This is an interesting exercise because here, the founders, of you know, right, the what do they call themselves? The delegates, to the convention, they were working on this declaration, they knew that if they were about to rebel against the greatest superpower on Earth at the time, they had to make a case for it, right? They couldn’t do this lightly. And as part of that, they wanted to establish the reasons for which they were doing what they did. Here, everyone here world is why we are declaring independence. Okay? So you read that list, you read their list of grievances, and I’m not gonna give any, away. Now, if you don’t have any top of mind of what they were, again, go read it and go pay attention to some of these reasons. But as you do it, I want you to think about how it compares to today. I want you to think about if those grievances apply today. If some of ’em, that’s fine. Are there other grievances today that are way worse? Things the government is doing restrictions on freedoms and so forth that are worse? And it’s an interesting exercise that I love doing at least every year around this time, is like, if those guys rebelled and threw off their government for these grievances, what are we doing today and how have we tolerated the government that we have? So, just a fun little mental exercise I like to do, just to think about where we’ve gone astray and how much work we need to do.
Brittany: I wanna add something else to that, I think they should read. And I’ll put this in the show notes. the American Crisis by Thomas Payne is probably my favorite work. So it’s technically a speech, right? It’s not an essay. I might have that wrong. and it’s, I’m actually gonna read the opening paragraph, just because I want, I wanna inspire you to read more, but I like to read this. Every Independence Day, Gets me really riled up. So these are the times that try Men’s Soul, the Summer Soldier, and the Sunshine Patriot will in crisis shrink from the service of their country. But he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman tyranny like hell is not easily conquered. Yet. We have this consolation with us that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. So I won’t read the whole thing, that’s just a teaser, but that is one of my favorite things ever written. And I think it’s one of the most important things to read at this time, because it was written, let’s see, December in 1776, and the de declaration was signed in July. So that was peak you know, that’s when things were just really heating up on that. I don’t know if you’ve read that. I’m sure you’ve read that before I read it.
Connor: American Crisis. So this is a collection of articles, you know, as a pain, wrote common sense. It was, yes, very popular, very successful pamphlets.
Connor: Yep. And so that really helped shift public opinion in favor of independence. And so then Payne continued writing and these pamphlets, this collection became the American crisis. And, some of these essays were so, persuasive that, General George Washington, who later became the first president, he in particular, found the first essay that you were just reading from. So inspiring that he ordered that it be read to the Troops at Valley Forge. And I’m not gonna say a lot about Valley Forge, but if you don’t know what they were facing at Valley Forge, what the conditions were like, what they were eating just to survive, there’s a lot of very interesting things to learn about Valley Forge. So go look it up. Go even just the Wikipedia article. Go find a video, go learn about Valley Forge, and then you’ll understand a little bit of why General Washington, you know, was so moved by what Brittany just read and more that’s in Payne’s essay and wanted the troops for all the suffering they were going through to be moved by those words, and to make the suffering worth it for them to be committed to the cause. it’s a very important series of, it’s a very important part of the revolution when George Washington is really trying to keep people’s spirits up, right? Because things were very hard, people were really struggling. And that I think is another thing that I like thinking about is the sacrifice involved in this, in giving us this country in throwing off, you know, the shackles of King George and the Brits is the sacrifice of how hard it was. I mean, certainly, of course, people died and that happens in a war. But for those who survived like conditions were very poor, it was very hard, especially for the soldiers. And so you can see in those words of Tom Payne where he is really trying to say like, these are the times, you know, that will determine whether you are actually a patriot or not. And as hard as it is, as challenging as the circumstances are you kind of a Fairweather friend of freedom? In other words? Yep. You know, just when things are easygoing, oh yeah, I support freedom, right? Or are you really committed to the cause? And so learning about some of the people involved, not, I mean, it’s easy to like, oh, George Washington and like the people at the top, but there are books out there and there are resources online where you can learn about just the average person, what they were going through, some of the untold stories of the revolution, and the people who lived through it and maybe didn’t have a name that we remember, you know, 250 years later. But we’re also influential in playing their part. And this was impacting so many people. So I like to think of like, who do we owe a debt of gratitude to, right? Who do we owe? Whose shoulders do we stand on, to have some of the freedoms that we do, albeit freedoms that are being challenged and reduced increasingly? But nonetheless, you know, to live in this country and for it to be structured the way it was by its founders, we owe a lot of people a debt of gratitude. So I think it’s good for us to keep that in mind on a day like this, that, as you will agree, Brittany, we all love our fireworks and hotdogs and everything like that, but we can’t let the message get lost for what this holiday is really about and why it should matter to us like today and every day.
Brittany: Absolutely. And it’s not about blind patriotism, right? It’s about civil disobedience, the things we talk about all the time, standing up for what we know is right when the government does abuse that. But one side note I wanna get back to, cause you talked about the people we should remember that maybe, maybe don’t get a lot of credit. And one thing I loved that my constitutional law teacher always taught me was to remember the founding mothers. And as we talk about, I’m not, you know, a crazy third-wave feminist, but I loved this because Abigail Adams, for example, is hugely integral or really important to our founding. She actually had a lot of sways. She was, well, John Adams was in France. She was here kind of convincing the other founding farmers like to founding farmers. That’s a restaurant in DC founding fathers to give, rights to slaves and to women. So, cause remember in the beginning, they didn’t have those rights. So I love that my professor used to say this because while the men went off to war, the women had to run the farms and tend to the children. So everybody had their job. It’s like specialization, right? Everyone had their role, they played in the revolution. And I, that always really struck me, hard cuz if you’ve ever watched the movie John Adams, which is probably a little bit too, probably not for kids, I haven’t seen it in a long time, but I think it’s a little bit too gory. Yeah. But they really show the things Abigail Adams had to endure while John Adams was off, you know, creating a country, helping to create a country. So I think it’s reme important to remember the wives of the founding fathers.
Connor: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. and also building on something we said previously, I think of, you know, Tom Payne and these pamphlets, I think of how integral the printing press was to open
Brittany: Yes, that’s the point.
Connor: These pamphlets were so important in helping people understand not just the official narrative, from, you know, the king and what they wanted. In fact, it’s really interesting, early in America, there was a lot of this tension as people, were trying to establish their own newspapers. And there were a lot of like licensing and permitting laws that really prevented people from setting up their own newspapers. And so even just freedom of speech and having the ability to print what you wanted and to say things that the king and the government didn’t want you to say was something that they had only been experiencing in the recent years. And you know, leading right up to the revolution because the government was making them, was suppressing the ability for them to, you know, print and say what they wanted and to dissent. And so the timing was perfect for the proliferation, the spread of these printing presses of these newspapers, of all these opinions to just start circulating like crazy and challenging the established ideas of the established order. And so I really like to think about the bravery of the people who were being outspoken, right? This is how I kind of see myself, I imagine you as well, Brittany, like saying speaking truth to power. Yes. Right? Challenging, corruption, pointing out problems saying that is wrong, right? Our ability to do that I think is an important part of our heritage. And the revolution wouldn’t have happened frankly without the Tom Paynes of the world, speaking out and using their power of persuasion, learning how to write well, risking their, I don’t know, their livelihood, their reputation, right? Because when they were saying a lot of these things, they were angering a lot of people, right? Not everyone loved Tom Payne. I mean, you had a ton of loyalists who did not like the rebellion and they thought that they were all traitors. And so it’s hard to put yourself out there. It’s hard to speak truth to power cuz power’s gonna punch back you know? And power has a lot of support, people who think that you’re doing something wrong for disobeying and speaking out. And so, I like to think of the pamphleteers, you know, today we have bloggers and journalists and YouTubers and you know, everyone with a platform who wants to speak out and share their opinion. It still takes bravery. And so I like to think of those brave people back in the day who got the ball rolling for us.
Brittany: You actually bring up another good point and you remind me of another good point. And it goes back to the pamphlets, but not just speaking truth to power, but arguing amongst each other. So nowadays it takes two seconds to write something you may regret five minutes later on the internet. Maybe you have too much emotion and you are trying to make a point, but you call somebody stupid instead of actually making a point. I’m saying this from personal experience, I’ve done it but with the pamphlet, you had to actually think things out, right? And the anti-Federalists papers and the Federalist Papers are a good example of this where you had people arguing about the structure of our future government, but they had to make their points concise and clear, right? Especially if you’re gonna print it, this isn’t a cheap thing. So you had to make sure that what you were saying was well thought out and well constructed and convincing, written in a very persuasive way. So I think it made dialogue between people who even disagreed better than it is today because you put more quality effort into it. And so you’d have to argue back and forth, but sometimes the pamphlet wouldn’t get printed for weeks later, right? So you had to work really hard to be like writing this essay arguing with another guy. And we’ve lost that. I think because of technology it’s made it so easy, which is great, that’s helped us in a lot of ways, but I don’t think it helps us construct our words and our thoughts as well as the founding fathers did. so that’s one thing that I just kind of thought about what you said. I think that was an important part as well.
Connor: One thing that as you were just speaking that was prompted for me was thinking about how the revolution was only one step. And I don’t even wanna say it was the first step cuz there was a lot that led up to the revolution to give these guys the knowledge and the principles and the courage, to make the action that they did. So by no means was the revolution a first step. It was a continuation of you know, a path that they had been on, for years prior. And but there are also steps to follow. And it’s one thing to revolt. I think what we see in our society today is plenty of people who want to tear down the existing order. Especially when you literally look at people like last year, especially who were tearing down statues, right? Because they objected to, you know, systemic oppression or white supremacy or all these, you know, nonsense things that were claimed. And so there are people who want to tear things down in a revolution, right? You’re revolting against the existing order. You want to tear down those power structures, you want to tear down, corrupt authority, right? But I think one of the things that I think about, especially cuz I, I kind of do this is my full-time job is it’s all well and good to tear something down, but you have to know what needs to be built up in its place. Yeah. Right? it’s easy for anyone to stand by and be like, oh, that’s wrong, right? That’s bad. I don’t like that. It takes a little bit more, or frankly, a lot more to put the thought and the effort about what needs to, what needs to be replaced with. In fact, John Adams, he would write to his wife Abigail all the time, right? You mentioned kind of the Women of the Revolution.
Brittany: My dearest friend. Yep.
Connor: So, John, Abigail was like his closest confidant and they would write a ton of letters back and forth, and we have a lot of those preserved. You can write.
Brittany: A whole book who links to it.
Connor: Yeah. And so, you know, John Adams had his own problems. We’ve talked in the past about the Alien and Sedition Act. When John Adams became president, he was, did many things wrong and frankly violated parts of the constitution that he had, been working so hard to support. No one’s perfect, including John Adams, but earlier on, as a lot of these things are happening, and as the French Revolution then is happening, he’s talking to his wife Abigail in these letters about, look, it’s so easy for people to tear things down, but where are the people who are gonna build up in its stead and the people who know what needs to be built up in the right way. And he says this at few points in his life, it’s a recurring theme that he was observing back then that, you know, when the revolution starts, of course, everyone wants to jump on, you know, everyone wants to shoot a red coat right? Like, let’s go join the war. And especially when the tide was turning and things were winning, then of course there’s a saying that success has many fathers, right? Because once success happens, everyone is eager to take credit and be a part of it. But in those early days, right? It, it’s hard. And not everyone is willing to join unless it looks like it’s likely. And so, you know, it’s easy to kind of jump on the bandwagon. Let’s revolt, let’s tear down. You tear down a statue, and everyone wants to come and stomp on it and spray graffiti, but who’s gonna stick around and build the right things in its place? And so a parting thought for all of us listening, including you and me, Brittany, I think is for the year ahead, right? How can we declare our independence how can we preserve the freedoms that these people fought so hard for? What are we gonna build, where people around us are revolting, where they’re trying to tear down existing orders? What can we do to build in place of the things that do need to be dismantled? and I think that’s a good question for all of us to think about. So Happy Independence Day, Brittany. Happy Independence Day to all of you. And until next time, we’ll Brittany, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.