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Why Can’t US History Work On Television?

It’s July 4th tomorrow, an important day – the most important? – for America, but one that’s been curiously untouched for the most part by movies or television. It’s not as if historical fiction/retellings are an unpopular genre in other media, so why don’t we see that much of it onscreen?

On the rare occasions when American history gets its day in the onscreen spotlight, it’s very likely that we’ll get something either overly earnest (Hi, HBO’s John Adams!) or worse still, overly airbrushed and generic (Hi, almost everything else!). There’s a strange tendency to not only rewrite history when bringing it to the screen, but to do so in such a way that makes it far, far less interesting than the reality of the whole thing. It’s understandable, I guess – there’s a remarkable amount of self-mythologizing in every nation’s history, with the reality of America’s past being particularly unpalatable for many (Or, in the case of some high profile political figures, particularly garbled) – but ultimately creates a loop of logic: By making historical programming more and more bland in order to appeal to as many people as possible because, historically, historical programming doesn’t appeal to that many people, the historical programming will be too bland to appeal to that many people. Thing is, there are two very obvious models as to how to approach authentic, yet entertaining, historical television shows, at least: The Daily Show, and the career of Sarah Vowell.

I’ll start with the more familiar of the two: What The Daily Show does very well is manage to turn truth into entertainment without sacrificing the harsh realities involved. Say what you will about the show’s (or, more appropriately, host Jon Stewart’s) increasing tendency to soapbox at the drop of a hat, but the show doesn’t back away from the parts of the news that aren’t immediately comedic, or avoid the difficult targets – It just works harder to find the humor in them, even when said humor is righteous anger dressed up with some puns and cultural references. Similarly, Vowell’s historical non-fiction (Assasination Vacation, The Partly-Cloudy Patriot, The Wordy Shipmates and Unfamiliar Fishes, each one highly recommended) takes a “just-the-facts” approach and tries to find the humor inside, feeling perfectly comfortable when there is none, knowing that there’s enough elsewhere – even when it’s to be found at her own expense – to round everything out.

(You may be familiar with Vowell’s name, but also have never heard of her – She was the voice of Violet in The Incredibles, and has done a lot of work for NPR, if that helps.)

That Vowell can make history both educational and entertaining in equal amounts without sacrificing either intent, and that The Daily Show can do the same thing (albeit for current day news, which has a little more relevance for and a little less reluctance from mainstream audiences) on television makes me convinced that someone can do the same thing for American history. Consider this a challenge, program makers: The History Channel needs another show worth watching; Brad Meltzer can’t do it all himself.

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Comments

  • http://twitter.com/ManuelWho Alejandro.

    All of that, it’s the same thing, at least they can try to make a uchronia.

    I don’t want to cause a flamewar, but i always have thought that is United States of America, because America is the continent ain’t the country.
    But that’s my way to think.

  • Lackshmana

    I don’t get what this article is saying.

    There isn’t much in the way of examples, and the few that are mentioned are not explained.

    How is John Adams comparable to The Daily Show? How are those shows related in terms of being about history? 

    It comes off as an incredibly forced mixing of criticism of historical inaccuracy in flims versus perceived accuracy in political satire of current events. With a random acknowledgement that there are shows/movies that are relatively accurate, but that they are somehow not good enough. 

    Additionally, it ignores the fact that The Daily Show is, as stated by its writers/producers/stars, a very inaccurate presentation of current events designed to be funny. That there is some truth to many of their criticisms doesn’t in some way make this an accurate portrait of the news. John Stewart goes out of his way to dispel the idea that anyone should take the show as a legitimate news program, or get their information from it.

    This whole article appears to be poorly thought out, with no clear point or position, and based on a lot of misconceptions about the chosen subject matter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Rugor Dave Robinson

    The first thing the History Channel needs to do is learn how to use the past tense.  Retelling historical events in the present tense is absolutely stupid.

  • Alex H

    Going for the snobby European angle on it – you Americans don’t have enough history yet, and a good chunk of the more famous things you do have paints the US is a less than favourable light.  Going to war to war to keep slaves, oppressing Native Americans etc.  Not to say that the rest of the world doesn’t have a dark past, but for the rest of the world, not only is most of it further in the past, but it can generally be pinned on a crazy monarch of some sort rather than a democratically elected government…

  • Jasonhage

    WOW horrible article in my opinion. It doesn’t give a clear point in my opinion.

    One movie, a mini-series, and a satire show. This does not give a balanced view. What about Gettysburg, Saving Private Ryan, The Pacific, Band of Brothers, America: The story of Us, 1776, etc.

    There are great stories out there from America’s past that could be mined. The push west, the gold rush, the Great Depression, the Colonies. This doesn’t include all our wars.

    Part of the problem is that most TV stations won’t do niche shows, the science fiction crowd has found that out the last few years. Stations are worried about numbers and not stories.

  • Jasonhage

    OH and love the picture from the Patriot as the picture, BUT the movie isn’t mentioned at all in the article…

  • http://www.graphicxtras.com Andrew Buckle

    How can history or events truly be captured by TV or film? – they can only capture the general gist of events. Even a 1000 page tome can only capture part of a historical day or part of an event and then there are the endless interpretations and different views of the same event. It is hard enough to work out what happens with the endless news 24 now, let alone events that happened 200 or so years ago.

    Also the actors, however good they are, are only acting out our interpretation of the feelings and actions of the time – I doubt if it is ever possible to be totally accurate – and if so, they would probably be too dull or unusual to watch for more than an hour or so. Also what was seen as important then might be totally ignored now, and vica versa. I’ve been reading a huge book on all the events of 1963 published in early 1964 and to me 1963 was the Beatles / Kennedy / Dr Who etc but the book gives the Beatles about 2 lines and mentions 100s of people who I’ve totally forgotten about.

    I quite enjoyed the John Adams – a President that I hardly knew anything about. Pity we can’t have a few similar shows here in the UK on some of our Prime Ministers of the period.

  • Mertwarson

    In my opinion, the biggest tragedy is that “The History Channel” is a misnomer. There’s very little actual history on it. Most of the time, it’s Alaskan truckers, loggers, UFO hunters, Bigfoot hunters, and pawn brokers. One has to look hard to find anything of historical value or interest on that channel.

  • http://twitter.com/tomdaylight tom

    Been watching “The Kennedys”. It’s excellent.

  • Mark J. Hayman

    Expect no better north of the border.  Canada’s “History” channel pretty much rebroadcasts the US fare, truckers, pickers, bigfoot, and all.  Like the “Weather” channel, which is 85% commercials and 10% golf and destination crap, History have lost whatever mandate they might have once possessed.  Granted, they probably can’t get the rights to the better PBS or BBC docs, and turning (back) into the 24-hour “World at War” network isn’t appealing, yet some balance must be possible.  Their answer is the “modern” CGI-laden pseudo-docs of the Greatest fill-in-the-blank Battles or the execrable 360 series, which are “history” for the thinking impaired.

    As to the main subject, the Ken Burns docs, though occasionally too precious and self-aware, are on the whole excellent, making me wonder why they’re not specifically mentioned in the article?  Based on his citations, the auther seems to desire nothing more than “edu-tainment”, which is rather sad.  History in and of itself is hugely entertaining; jazzing it up merely serves to distract from the subject.  I mean, I love the O’Toole version of “The Lion in Winter” but it counts only peripherally as history, which is the tendency of, well, all of the historical films I can recall.

  • Anonymous

    This article needed an editor. McMilan makes little effort to prove his point. Since he mentioned a single history-themed mini-series, he clearly did not do any research. “Overly airbrushed and generic” are not the terms I would use to describe HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon, Band of Brothers, Deadwood, John Adams, The Pacific and Boardwalk Empire or AMC’s Mad Men, all of which deal with American history. That description may be accurate for The Kennedys, I have not seen it yet. In fact, it is hard to find time to watch all of the quality history-themed programs.

    While I am a fan of The Daily Show, it is a satirical news program. A better example would have been the show History Bites, which took used mock news and entertainment programs to present historical events.

    However, it is true that The History Channel is an embarrassment and has little to do with history.

  • Liamkiller

    the fact that Deadwood was not mentioned or Mad Men certainly weakens this article, instead of saying there is effectively no US history programmes worth watching, why not demand more high quality ones in this vein!

  • Oraymond

    Speaking of the History Channel, I feel like the network should perhaps start explore its supposed subject matter, or change its name entirely.

    For every great series like America : The Story of Us (which, it should be remembered, is a South-African series), there seems to be an avalanche of Nostradamus-Biblefest-Armageddonning-with-the-Ufos crass programming, which sinks way below any level of academic respectability.  The fact that they call themselves the History Channel is insulting to anyone’s intelligence, especially when they revel in exposés as dramatic and irrational as ‘SOME people BELIEVE that such a catastrophy is NOT impossible…’ 

    But then again, they do not seem to be interested in History as much as the implied authority of its golden H…

    …it’s a chance there’s still a National Geographic channel, don’t you think?

    :)

    Olivier Raymond 

  • Anil Yossundara

    dude, i’m not from the US but here’s one.

    M.A.S.H

  • Joe S. Walker

    You haven’t read anything by this columnist before, have you?

  • Ravi311

    How in God’s name, by only reading the title, did I know who wrote this?  Does Graeme intentionally choose NOT to write about anything worthwhile?

  • Mike_o

    I agree that there is a lack of fiction about the American Revolution and the people involved, which is why I’m working on a big piece about it.

    That being said, Graeme McMillian has obvioulsy overlooked many of the works of authors such as David McCuollough, Gordon Wood, Joeseph Ellis and others who have taken on the subject.

    Also while not the most serrious takes on the subject Liberties Kids (available on Netflix) is a good example of television making history exciting, while still sticking to the facts.

    And claiming that US History as a whole can’t work on Television seems to avoid the fact that there has been a wealth of shows about everything from the Civil War through modern day (look at any of the Tom Hanks Produced mini series produced for HBO)

  • Jgjones

    it resally isn’t worth mentioned the  wealth of   entertainment that was based on US history  in many different genres… please  someone give thius guy an editor or  please just dont post whatever he writes  this guy  drags down what could be a good site. but he makes no real calims that can ever be backed up 9except in his head] and then when he cites examples  they are useless ones at best for the point he is  trying to put forth .. the best this about this article is that you know  who wrote it so you know to avoid anything  he writes next.– if you must let him write on this site please give him his own littkle  dank corner to stew in his own juices and  so the rest of us can avoid his stinkiong pustulating mess that he continues to write

  • Savonti

    Well, many countries had slavery, more than a couple still do, but not the point…

    Anyway, those “black marks” shouldn’t be shied away from. Yes we oppressed the Indians, we gave them blankets infested with disease uprooted them from their homeland, slaughtered their women and children.  It’s what conquering nations do, always have, always will we jsut find a more efficient way of doing it. There’s no need to be ashamed or hide or to put on rose colored glasses.

    Sadly we act like we are ashamed of it, so everything’s about world wars one and two. We’ve got plenty of history. We just seem to lack the balls to talk about it anymore…

  • Michael P

    Two reasons we don’t get much historical fiction on TV (outside of pay cable).

    One: History is back then. TV viewers don’t want back then, they want right now.

    Two: History is closed-ended. Networks don’t want closed-ended, they want open-ended.

  • 2000filmfan

    It’s an image of Mel Gibson from The Patriot (2000).

  • Matt

    The reason is simple: Hollywood is made up of a bunch of liberals and socialists. Of course they wouldn’t but US History in a good light.

  • http://twitter.com/tomdaylight tom

    History Television not the same as the History Channel, apparently.

    (Reading up on it, amused that the US establishment went to such lengths to ensure nobody in the US could see it…)

  • http://twitter.com/jephd jephd

    Right, avoiding the urge to point out that the US doesn’t actually have any real history, the Pacific, Band of Brothers, Boardwalk Empire, The Corner, Treme and Deadwood (also with any luck AMC’s new thing about the railways) all pop into my head without trying as US historical Drama’s that worked (I also quite liked John Adams). Considering that “historical drama” isn’t exactly a blockbuster genre anywhere, that’s seriously not bad going.  Also you seem to have the words historical and hysterical mixed up in your vocabulary.  “historical drama” doesnt need to “find the humour” as you keep insisting, that would make it “historical comedy”, “historical satire” or “hysterical drama” all of which are valid genres themselves but have little or nothing to do with your “point”.  Once again we’re left with an article that posits an extremely dubious hypothesis and then fails completely to confirm dispute or even vaguely discuss said hypothesis in the text.  Good work as ever Mr Mcmillan.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    One thing “going to war to … keep slaves”

    Which war was that?

  • Alex H

    Massive oversimplification I know, and I don’t claim to know much about the American Civil War, but the point is that although half a country went to War to abolish slavery, by definition, that means the other half went to war over their right to keep slaves.  As for WW2, there is also the Japanese internment camps.

    In general, it would seem that the media only regularly pictures a finite number of historical events: Wild West era, War of Independance, Civil War, World Wars, Prohibition, Kennedy/Moon Landings, Vietnam.   For the purpose of turning into modern dramas, they’re all pretty cut and dry issues, without any of the kind of over the top characters that media tends to go for. 

  • Lex

    The history channel had some big ‘story of us’ thing or whatever it was called with celebrities reciting ‘history’ by a ‘historian’ named Zinn who basically rewrites history and gets things completely wrong.

    That and the UFOS, Bigfoots, and history of drugs really makes the channel bad. Do are kids have to read about history? I guess so.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QKN5MHOI6VUFOYCTV5REK7M7A4 Jacob

    Slavery wasn’t one of the reasons for the Civil War, it’s abolishment was just an outcome. The tension was there, but nobody felt like fighting over it. And those times are picked because they’re key moments in American history. However, you can get a lot of really good stories out of those time periods. I can think of examples for several of the ones you mentioned.

  • http://cabezasdepescado.wordpress.com Carlos Nicolini

    I think John Adams is awesome. I don’t get what you’re trying to say with “overly earnest”, I think the tone of the story was just right, and the story itself was pretty demythologizing (I hope that’s an adjective).

  • PMV37

    If you want to talk about internment camps, nobody does internment camps like the Europeans.

  • keilj

    guess the guys who wrote this article never watched Deadwood

  • Franco

    History can be exciting if it’s dramatised well. Look at “Deadwood”.

  • lodger

    Nonsense. Abolition was never on the table as a plausible outcome until well into the war, and it was not abolitionists who fired the first shot. Southern states began seceding before Lincoln was even inaugurated, and to that point he had never proposed abolition, only that the Federal government had the power to regulate slavery in the territories. Unwilling to accept that, and fearful that Lincoln was a covert abolitionist, secessionists seized federal property, and fired on a U.S. supply ship, sparking the war.

  • Anonymous

    History is kind of like the school marching band. It is generally ignored, unappreciated, and even made fun of. All the while when it isn’t done right it is extremely noticeable. That is how a lot of Americans view it. The big “what does it have to do with me” phrase comes up a lot. So over the span of human history historical issues are often given only a brief look at or are redrawn to fit someone’s view of how it should have been. The end result is a public with a poor appreciation for it and an Entertainment Industry who can get by with shody work if they desire to even try.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/YJU6CYIVLUW5DMIRVH5PPQP4VE Hypestyle the Hype Man

    Ken Burns documentaries are incredibly informative and entertaining..

  • Coryjameson

    Couldn’t come up with a Transformers Themed essay/post, Graeme? Shame.

  • Mogadishu Jones

    Here’s an idea:  how about doing a tv series based on the Revolutionary War, only let’s do it like George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.”  You know, warts and all. 

     For those who aren’t watching (Why are YOU here?) “Game of Thrones” shows you all the joys of Medieval life.  Things like being murdered because you annoyed a nobleman.  Getting raped because you are a woman, and a Knight can do what he likes with commoners, et al.

    If I read you correctly, you want a “warts and all” accounting of US history brought to television.  And I am 100% in favor. 

    Let’s see Thomas Jefferson order a slave whipped for insolence, or murdered for trying to escape!  Jefferson raping his female slaves goes without saying as long as it’s on Showtime/HBO/Cinemax.

    I would sprain my fingers subscribing to cable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Little/783680370 Paul Little

    Heh. I loved the bit about being familiar with somebody’s name, yet also never having heard of them. TRICKY!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Little/783680370 Paul Little

    Zinn deserves more respect than you’re giving him.

  • Matthew Lane

    Oh oh oh, i can answer this one. Because Americans always like to be portrayed as the hero in any movie they make & the fact is that America in her own history, is the villain of the piece. American history is nothing but human right travesties, slavery, stupidity (which continues to this day), luddite behaviour, bigotry, genocide & torture… An then who glorifies there military industrial complex.

    Very hard to be the hero of the story, when your collective actions make you sound like the most evil, most cliched moustache twirling villain ever to stalk the pages of a comic book.

  • Matthew Lane

    because he never does.

  • Hysan

    I wondered why this article seemed to be proceeding from a false notion, then I realized who the author was. 

  • Anonymous

    Kate Beaton needs to be put in charge of the History Channel.  It’s that simple.

  • Hysan

    I’m going to guess he doesn’t do anything besides think “What can I write that will provoke a negative response and doesn’t force me to do any actual research?”

  • http://twitter.com/HoroscopeRaper Elias Algorithm

    As much as it makes its point (sort of), this article just comes off as really douchey.

  • demoncat_4

    sadly one reason history can not seem to work as it should on tv is other then the history channel devoted to it. the reasons history seems to come short is because of the short attention spans of tv viewers who  change ever y five minutes and also not wanting to think and have to then want to learn more about the history shown them.

  • Anonymous

    The Civil War was about federalism.. slavery was used as a tool in the battle. Would appreciate it if people not from here stop trying to lecture us on our own history.

  • Steely Dan

    Coalminds, please do us all a favor and tell us all (including Americans like myself who aren’t nearly as well as informed as you apparently are) just what other “federalist” issues the south was fighting in the Civil War. If slavery was just a small part of it, clearly you could articulate what the defining “federalist” issues of the time were that got the south so worked up that they actually seceded from the union. Be specific.

  • Gevan

    Maybe if Edward Herman didn’t narrate everything and put us to sleep.

  • Halfassedfilms

    Hahaha, watching John Adams now.   Still a great mini-series.   I seem to remember it getting epic ratings and critical response.   I’m sure the filmmakers are deeply depressed that Spinoff’s writer find its too “earnest”.  

  • Anonymous

    The military issue for one was huge. Taxation for another. The issue of slavery was not the right and wrong of it(since many Northerners despised blacks just as much as Southerners) but the right of the federal government to TELL the South to abolish it. Federalism. In fact the abolishing of slavery by Lincoln was just a military plot intended to sew dissent/chaos in the South. Look at Lincoln’s treatment of border states that sent back runaway slaves if you’re still so confusd on the issue.

    —–Original message—–

  • Brian from Canada

    Not true.

    John Adams and From The Earth To The Moon uses some fictionalization to tell the true story of people who did amazing things in American history.

    Band On Brothers and The Pacific are fiction based on historical events, but under the same umbrella you could include shows like Combat!, Rat Patrol, or any other story set in a war that covers real battles.

    Deadwood, Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men are NOT historical. They’re new fictions set against historical times with (sometimes) little to no relation to the actual history — particularly Mad Men, which those in the ad business of the time say is taken waaaay too far as to what was acceptable behaviour back then.

  • Brian from Canada

    The sad part about The Daily Show example is that it reinforces the image on top, not the prime example in between.

    What I mean by that is that Graeme asks for more programming like The Daily Show that injects humour into the real events to make it more lively — but that also turns out films like The Patriot, which go too far to fictionalize things to actually have the true history there.

    More to the point: History Channel/History Television in North America are not alone in dealing with historical events. There is PBS in the US, BBC USA, TVO in Canada, an NFB channel in Canada for documentaries… plenty of people pulling from the same pond.

    In order to expand that pond, you need to find something else to look at. And the reality is, that requires an intelligence that more writers don’t have. They don’t care about big movements unless someone else has done the research, which is why we have Band Of Brothers and The Pacific being based on books, inaccuracies and all. (John Adams is also based on books.)

    Or, we get romanticized “edgy” shows like Rome and Deadwood that ignore history for the sake of getting better viewers. (Mad Men also goes to that extreme as well.)

    What we really need is someone at the top willing to take a chance despite ratings. Then we need someone to offer that person at the top a story that will appeal to viewers of today — and not turn it into a soap opera like Wonder Years had been at times. (Young Indiana Jones is a prime example of how it can be done well too.)

    And NOT someone like Walt Disney who lets history be ignored. Davy Crockett wasn’t killed at the Alamo, he surrendered and was killed for being an enemy of Mexico.

  • Craterus

    That last statement about Crockett is based on a dubious account from a Mexican army officers memoirs published by a 3rd party a century after the fact. Really their is no evidence supporting that fact.

  • thesnappysneezer

    The Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in the South.

    Oh by the by, I remember watching an episode of Unsolved Mysteries in the 90s about the bullet that hit Lincoln, it had kkk carved into it but it was many years before they were formed. Unsolved Mysteries put forth the notion that members of the kkk from the future time traveled to the pasta and assassinated Lincoln, thus altering history to the world we live in now. Where is the TV mini series about this historical happening?

  • Anonymous

    Here’s a good example of what I was talking about

    ” The border states represented a serious dilemma for President Lincoln. Convinced they were the key to victory, he could not afford to alienate them with his emancipation policies, thus incurred the scorn of Radicals by FAILING TO ABOLISH border-state slavery until the 13th Amendment, passed in 1865. “Capitalization is mine.  I hope the point is simple enough for you to understand.http://www.civilwarhome.com/borderstates.htm

  • Dswynne1

    Actually, not true.  We like American heroes (Washington, Wyatt Earp, MacArthur, Edison, etc.) just as we like American villains (Jackson, Billy the Kid, Patton, Al Capone, etc.).  To paint a broad brush about what Americans like and hold dear shows your own ignorance and contempt towards Americans.  And point of fact, had the Europeans been truly enlightened, as they claimed to be, and not had gone to war against each other twice over land and resources, the US would not have become what you accuse it to be.  So, you may say that America is not all that is cracked up to be, but the Europeans should have known better, being around longer.

  • Dswynne1

    I thought VH1’a “Rock Docs” series are good examples of good programming…

    But really, I don’t mind fictionalize accounts of history, as long as the fiction does not butt heads with the actual account (i.e. Inglorious Basterds).

  • Matthew Lane

    Nope. You love american villains that you can point to & say “well he was fighting the government” or “he’s not really a villain, he’s just a crook.”

    but when you get to the attrocities which make up 90% of your history, you get all uppity. Europe knows its been shit & no one tries to defend it when it is shit. There are entire tv shows dedicated to europe being shit & everyones okay with that because they know its true… Not americans, they try to reinvent there history & where they can’t blame the other guy, they just ignore there own history… ala “the trail of tears” or treatment of black people in the 1940’s, or the recent global finincial crisis.

  • Matthew Lane

    oh and just as an FYI, you could try to turn it around and say well Europe is crap, in the hopes that i’ll try to defend europe. I’m not european mate.

  • Dswynne1

    And what are these 90 percent atrocities that you speak of, or are you simply regurgitating ignorance?  Slavery?  Civil War?  Racism?  Jacking indigenous peoples?  Military industrial complexes? The fact of the matter is that no nation on this Earth has ever been immune to such things.  But what set America apart is that we, unlike the majority of the nations on Earth, has the self-correcting mechanisms, called the “US Constitution”, in place that allows injustice to be rectified, something that has been uniquely American.  The US Constitution is a document that is designed to maximize individual liberties over the state, not the other way around.  Other nations do not have such charters of “negative liberties”, in which their country has dominion over the individual, such as regulating speech or the right to keep and bear arms.  But the most important aspect of the US Constitution is the right to redress past grievances based upon the rule of law, something that your country has adopted from the Americans, I bet.

    My problem with Europeans, in relations to Americans, is this tendency to expect Americans to feel guilty for what the US has and hasn’t done.  What they fail to understand is that we Americans could care less what the United States GOVERNMENT does, unless we as individuals are directly affected, such as taxes and conscription.  Americans are prideful of the nation because we do have the right to be individuals, so much so that we utilize the representative form of governance to make sure that the levers of power run smoothly, while the rest of us can tend to our own affair with confidence.  And when they don’t, we can peacefully transfer power from one political party to another (unlike the European model of governance that seem to transfer power from one group to another every other month, like Belgium or Italy it seems).  Being so individualistic is why there have been constant challenges to the status quo, such as the American Revolution, the Abolitionist Movement, the Progressive Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Human Rights Movement, the Green Movement, and all the smaller anti-establishment acts that have defined the Americans over the years.  And not ONE of these movements has not traveled across the world to be adopted–in part or whole–by someone or some group.  And you know why?  Because, my friend, there is always a person or group yearning to be free, ready to challenge the state, while using the US Constitution as the primer.  After all, why do you think the Fall of Communism occurred, and why the Arab Spring and European Summer is occurring now?

    And that’s why I find this article so poor.  It fails to realize that history’s strength is not about days and dates; it’s about the people who made the difference.  Who would have thought that a person of color could one day be a major political player of a Western, white-dominated nation, let alone lead it?  Colin Powell, shortly after the first Gulf War, gave an interview to to a member of the British press.  He was asked a question concerning the legacy he built up to get to where he could become the US Joint Chief of Staff.  And being the son of immigrants, he flatly said that had he been born anywhere else, he didn’t see himself being put into a position of authority.  You can’t say that about the Europeans, nor can you say that about Canada, Australia, New Zealand or anywhere else where a member of a minority could rise into a position of power over the majority.  And that is why we Americans are proud of our history, because we know that there is always an opportunity to be better in the next generation, in spite of ourselves.  And if you can’t understand that about Americans, then you shouldn’t speak as if you know anything about Americans, both bitter and sweet.

  • Dswynne1

    Other than location, what makes you different from a European?  Or even a Canadian?  Don’t speak about something you no very little about.

  • http://whatafy.com whatafy

    I did get anything from what columinst said. Maybe I’ll get used to his style. 

  • causticacrostic

    The Revolution is excellent

  • Anonymous

    Hate to burst your bubble, dude, but the Federal government NEVER told the South to abolish slavery (at least, not BEFORE the War).  In fact, the Federal government went out of its way to appease slave-holding states (Dred Scott Decision ring a bell?).  What the Feds did do, however, was to maintain a line west of the Mississippi River north of which slavery could NOT be imported.  Because of that limitation (which the South had willingly accepted), the South would eventually be outmaneuvered in Congress since, in November of 1860, there was only one territory that could legally permit slavery–the New Mexico Territory, comprised of modern New Mexico and Arizona, plus the southern tip of Nevada.  (The area we now know as Oklahoma was unorganized territory that had been set aside for Native American tribes.)  Even if the New Mexico Territory had been broken up into multiple territories for eventual statehood, the resulting territories would have been too small in terms of population to qualify for statehood (even today, the two states combined will have a total of 12 representatives in the House; as recently as 1960, the two had only a combined total of 4 reps).  It’s also worth noting that the whole reason we have Texas is because of slavery.  While people love to tell the story of the Alamo, what most folks don’t realize is that the “Texas patriots” fought the Mexicans primarily as a response to Mexico’s own aboltion of slavery.  The Americans (mostly from the South) had migrated into Texas with their slaves, much to the displeasure of the Mexican government.  When Mexico issued a decree that would have freed the Texas slaves and brought the province into line with the rest of the Republic, that proved to be the final straw for the slave-owning Texans.  Texas declared independence and 9 years later was admitted as a slave state.

    As to “the abolishing of slavery by Lincoln,” it was more of a propaganda effort designed to end British and French support of the CSA.  Both countries had abolished slavery decades earlier and Lincoln knew that many politicians in the two countries did not support slavery and the public was also anti-slavery.  The Emancipation Proclamation held NO legal weight in the “rebel-controlled” South–it had the same legal effect as if President Reagan declared that the Baltic States were fully independent nations (it might have emboldened Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian nationalists but the USSR would’ve simply given Reagan the proverbial finger, telling him to mind his own business).  (FWIW, the usual term is “abolition” not abolishing, and one “sows” dissent/chaos.  If you’re going to present yourself as knowledgeable on a subject, it pays to use the proper terminology.)

    Don’t forget that the taxation matter played a major part in the original “3/5″ rule.  The South had a LOT of slaves when the Constitution was adopted but if those slaves didn’t count towards the state’s total population, the states would’ve had much smaller House delegations (in 1793, for instance, slave states had 47 seats but would’ve only had 33 if slaves weren’t included; in 1833, they had 98 instead of 73).  The flip to that, however, was the fact that counting slaves as “full” people meant slaveholders would owe a lot more money.

    I’ll also note that you seem to be equating “slavery” with “racism.”  Contrary to what you might think, they’re NOT the same thing.  Southern Free Blacks (and yes, there were quite a few) were no better liked than the slaves and some, in fact, actually owned slaves (black slaveowners, however, were less likely to sell their slaves and were more likely to emancipate their slaves).  18th and early 19th century Americans in general disliked the Native Americans but they didn’t go out of their way to enslave Native peoples. 

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, but the EP didn’t free a single slave.  The document applied ONLY to areas “in rebellion”–it didn’t apply to areas under Union military control (whole areas are specifically exempted in the document), as well as the Union slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware.

  • Anonymous

    Well, perhaps if you hadn’t cherry-picked something to fit your bias, you might have a point.  Unfortunately, what you quoted is a summary of a longer piece that noted the fact that the Border States posed a problem for Lincoln.  Additionally, you might note that you’d earlier attacked the FEDERAL government for wanting to abolish slavery, but now you highlight the fact that it was just a FACTION of the government.

  • Anonymous

    In what way does that rambling mess attempt to counter my point that the Civil War was not fought due to slavery, and what functional difference do you feel there is between “abolition” and “abolishing”? I assume you aren’t actually trying to argue that abolish is the incorrect term, and are instead trying to make a point about idiotic semantic debates on message boards? Good god.

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