America survived a decade of wrath in the 18th century – but can it now? By MAURIZIO VALSANIA



Analysis


Political rage: America survived a decade of anger in the 18th century – but is it possible now?

By MAURIZIO VALSANIA

04 December 2021
Saturday morning

(SitNews) – Americans have an anger problem.

People get angry with each other. They are angry with officials for shutting down parts of the company. Or for the opposite reason because they are not doing enough to curb the virus. Democrats are expressing their rage against Republicans. And Republicans treat Democrats not as naysayers, but as enemies.

Meanwhile, America’s founders have literally been lifted from their pedestal in a rejection of the history they represent. And, of course, a violent mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol in early 2021, trying to disrupt the most basic of American institutions, the peaceful transfer of presidential power.

But public rage and hysteria in America is nothing new. The 1790s were also a period of political violence.

During this whole decade, political opponents have launched themselves into the accusation of having lost true American principles. Just like today, illusion stood in the place of reality.

Despite this decade of rage, however, America has come together as a nation. Today’s country, filled with rage, may not end in the same way.

Strong passions, angry crowds

As a result of a whiskey tax in 1791, western Pennsylvania was burned down. Angry crowds torched buildings. Federal tax inspectors were beaten, stripped, tarred and feathered. A few people died.

The political discourse was also inflamed. The passions were strong. Articles appeared in the newspapers which portrayed President George Washington as a villain, a crook, the king of all flute players.

?? If ever a nation has been debauched by a man, the American nation has been debauched by WASHINGTON, ?? read the Philadelphia Aurora General Advertiser of December 1796. If a nation ever suffered from the improper influence of one man, the American nation suffered from the influence of WASHINGTON.

We could also hear the Virginians drinking until the toast ?? A quick death to General Washington. ??

Thomas Jefferson noticed that times had changed. He had seen warm debates and high political passions before, but never such levels of fanaticism:? Men who have been intimate all their lives cross the streets to avoid meeting, and turn their heads in another way, lest they be forced to touch their hats, ?? he wrote in June 1797.

America with the family

As a historian of the early days of the republic, I suggest that if Americans have always been so angry and ready to crack, it’s because they care ?? at least on some level, at least instinctively. Popular discouragement and disillusion would be much worse.

They might not admit it, but Americans care because America is like family ?? and in the family, passions are strong.

This is not sentimentalism: Americans have long defined themselves as family. They did it from the birth of the republic.

A quick read of the Constitution shows that the nation was never treated as a contract between strangers, an agreement that could be broken in the short term. He was conceptualized as an expansive family, a living organism, the truest embodiment of “We The People”.

At the end of the 18th century, the drafters of the Constitution regarded affection as the hallmark of the American experience; but the main problem for them was to build and maintain affection.

Don’t listen, said supervisor James Madison, the unnatural voice that tells you that the peoples of America, bound as they are by so many bonds of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family ; can no longer continue the mutual guardians of their mutual happiness; can no longer be fellow citizens of one great, respectable and flourishing empire.

During the Revolutionary years, it was relatively easy. An outside enemy, the British, was enough of an incentive for Americans to love each other.

With independence gained, things got blurry. Alexander Hamilton, the most famous among the framers, was uncomfortable: ?? On the same principle that a man is more attached to his family than to his neighborhood, to his neighborhood than to the community in general, the people of each state would be likely to feel a stronger bias towards their local governments than towards the Union government.

To stay together

Designing practical methods of stimulating attachment and countering rage was the great challenge of the 1790s. As government professor Emily Pears points out, 18th-century political leaders suggested three main approaches to achieving this.

The first was to build a better federal administration that could deliver personal and material benefits to its citizens. Providing funds for infrastructure, creating effective networks for commerce, or levying fair taxes would eventually gain people’s attachment.

The second was to form shared cultural practices. Making citizens feel that they have the same political values, and that there is a common history and tradition of which they are a part, would generate pride and camaraderie. Symbols like flags, songs, toasts or parades would help develop these bonds.

The third was trying to increase participation. By voting, citizens would come closer to each other and to their representatives. Participation would strengthen bonds, thereby fostering affection.

Can the center hold?

It is not yet known whether any of these three approaches is still viable today.

The first, the utilitarian approach, depends on the leaders ?? ability to address issues of social justice and inclusion: who are the beneficiaries of the federal government? Who are its citizens?

The second, the cultural approach, is obviously tainted on the “other side” ?? of national history, slavery. The question is inevitable: whose story, what traditions are Americans talking about?

And the third, the participatory approach, is discouraged by the very people who put up the obstacles. Is there a way to get rid of gerrymandering and other barriers to full representation?

And yet, finding strategies that would strengthen emotional bonds is crucial for any nation. Especially today. The rage is mounting. Eventually popular discouragement and disillusionment can come.

The family will be shattered.The conversation

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