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February 15, 2011



The ink spilled by Mr. Ross in the tedious passage you have quoted reminded me of the ink referenced by Orwell:
"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink."—George Orwell

Old Dominion Tory

Gobsmacked. Just utterly gobsmacked. Such overreaching. Such wretched analysis.
Has Mr. Ross ever heard of something called the New England town meeting? Does he have a grasp of the nature of much of the debate regarding the Constitution's ratification? Has he ever spent time reading Mercy Otis Warren?
The fact of the matter is that, in so many ways, American political culture already was strongly democratic before the Revolution. The wartime constitutions of many states were quite democratic in nature, and, as the moving of many state capitals from Tidewater to the Fall Line (e.g., in Virginia and New York) demonstrated, there already was competition between "the saltwater quality" (and what an odd term) and inland citizens.
Ross is selective about who he mentions as the embodiment of the men who led the Revolution--i.e., "Washington, Madison, Jefferson, and Patrick Henry (of that last choice, I'll say more below). He has to be, of course, because, if he cast his net wider, he would have had to run the ol' blue pencil through that meandering bit of "analysis."

Alexander Hamilton, for example, was, as Adams so famously put it, "the bastard son of a Scotch pedlar." His rise to high station was due to his brilliance, his hard work, and, yes, his charm. Since he grew up in Braintree, John Adams *might* be termed "saltwater quality," but "saltwater farm quality" would be closer to the mark. Put another way, Adams came from a prominent family, but he was no grandee.
Declaring Patrick Henry some sort of Tidewater aristocrat is laughable on its face. First, he knew something about immigrants, as his father had emirgrated from Scotland. He was born in Hanover County (about five miles from Richmond) and was elected to the House of Burgesses from Louisa County, which borders Jefferson's Albemarle. Later, he lived in the area now known as "The Southside," and he was heavily invested and deeply interested in western lands.
Politically, Henry was an ardent opponent of the Established Church and, later, a fiery critic of the Constitution--on the grounds that it was too aristocratic and the Presidency could evolve into a monarchical institution.
It's enough to make you question the entire book--not just this strained bit of writing.


Well done, Mr. P.

I'm reminded of the fact that the surrender document Washington signed at Ft. Necessity in 1754 included an admission that Washington had murdered Jumonville during his May attack on that French scout and his party. Washington signed the document even though it was in French and he didn't speak or read the language. I understand this caused him a considerable amount of embarrassment later on.

And if it's a case of Washington and his fellow landed toffs vs. the many-headed, what price Alexander Hamilton? Maybe not a frontiersman, but certainly a self-made Scot.

Fortunately, I'm sure that like me, when you feel Catton withdrawal, you are able to reach across to your permanent collection to get a fix.


I will defer to you gentlemen on the fine points of historical analysis here. But I do like "saltwater quality"! And "mere muscled axe-wielding oafishness," ain't bad, either.

Old Dominion Tory

Irish Elk: In this context, in the service of making a howler of a point, both phrases come off as just plain overwrought. Where the heck was his editor?

Mr. P

This is where I wish we all lived within what a friend of mine used to call "weaving distance". What he meant was that you needed to live close enough to your friends so you could enjoy an evening of talking about things like this and drinking and then you could just tack gently from left and right and eventually find your front door.

Insincerity really is, I think, at the root of this effusion. Ross was just phoning it in, trying to make much of little. By this time in the story Rogers is a man whose time has come and gone--and no amount of verbiage about his thinking "continentally" and "imperially" (his Northwest Passage gambit) hides the fact that he was looking for the big score--as were other Founders, but just with land deals closer to home.

Great point about the New England town meeting. I was thinking about that in context of the "Jacksonian Democracy" comment--mine as well as Ross's. Because in reality the founders even in 1776 were shy of the people in the raw, in unadulterated democratic form. Not as much as later, when the high hopes and spirit of sacrifice that suffused the year 1776 degenerated into the profit taking hoarding of 1778. Indeed, Washington did look down on the lesser sorts, though the war certainly taught him to respect their mettle. And Henry was an odd addition to the usual roster of top Founders.

As far as painting Washington as the established, lofty aristocrat, read John Ferling's Setting the World Ablaze, his comparative study of Washington, Jefferson and Adams--all men, according to Ferling (and I agree) who felt as condescended to by London as Rogers felt condescended to by Philadelphia and New York, and whose appetite for rebellion was fueled, deep down and essentially, by their desire to distinguish themselves--and the gnawing realization that that was impossible if the remained mere "colonials".

Hamilton, yes, Hamilton. He comes up from nothing and ends up branded as an elitist. He fights for eight years against the British and is accused of being a Monarchist (yeah, I know, that one was largely his fault--he thought he could actually speak his mind candidly in what he saw as a brain-storming session). But he certainly was one of the "saltwater taffy" or whatever Ross calls him--yet he traveled farther up the social scale that Rogers ever dreamed.

There is so much more; you all brought up great facets of the subject. This is why I haven't really been able to leave this era in my reading for going on seven years now. Though I did just start Christopher Hibbert's Cavaliers and Roundheads--and what do I find? Parliament and the King locking horns over taxes.

Old Dominion Tory

There's a new book on the English Civil War that a historian friend of mine recommends, "The Noble Revolt: The Overthrow of Charles I" by John Adamson. Published in 2009, it received rave reviews in the UK.

Old Dominion Tory

As to Ross, it seems that, in the end, he couldn't bear to leave Rogers as he truly was: as a talented soldier, whose better days were well past him and whose choices and personality consigned him to the sidelines of this great new conflict and the greater story, that of the United States, that was about to open.
So, he had to make him something Important. So, he tried to transform him into a proto-Jacksonian figure, the herald of the Democracy that would topple the Aristocracy, the harbinger of What Was to Come.
In the end, he failed in that task, and, in doing so, brought his entire book and his status as a historian into question.

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