Mistaken assumptions of liberty from '1776' to 2013

A theme in this dramatization reflects mistaken modern assumptions about the nature of the American Revolution. Photo: Howard Da Silva and William Daniels as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in "1776"

OHATCHEE, Ala. July 9, 2013 — Did you watch any of the musical comedy 1776 on 4th of July evening?

It would be vain to fact-check a film about the American War for Independence inspired by a Broadway musical. There are some dialogue gems in the script when actual letters and statements by the Founders are quoted, and that Molasses to Rum song provokes thought on the North and South’s mutually guilty relationship to slavery.

But a historically-themed movie – especially a musical – is, after all, not necessarily focused on telling the details of a true story so much as it is imparting sentiments about that story. This, in fact, is what makes the medium of film such a powerful influence on culture.

It is not likely that anyone takes seriously the messages of a 1972 film that features John Adams and Benjamin Franklin dancing and singing about “sexual combustibility.” There is, however, a theme in the dramatization that reflects mistaken modern assumptions about the nature of the American Revolution.

The plot centers on John Adams and friends trying to persuade the Continental Congress to vote for the colonies’ independence from Great Britain. In one scene, John Dickinson and fellow antagonists break into song, praising themselves with rather sacrilegious “Hosannas” for being “cool, conservative men” of great wealth who oppose independence because they dance “To the right, ever to the right / Never to the left, forever to the right.”

Legend has it that the oft-paranoid President Nixon requested that his producer friend Jack L. Warner cut that musical number from the film because it seemed to mock conservatives and Warner obliged – possibly also for the reason that Warner worried that the minuet looked a bit too silly. The scene was not restored until twenty years later.

When the minuet fades, after a biting exchange with John Hancock about owning property, a poor, strapping youth from the Continental Army talks about how nice it would be to borrow money from one of those gentlemen.

Of course, the terms “right” and “left” to define conservative and liberal didn’t appear until the legislative aisles of the French Revolution. But historical anachronism aside, the impression given is that opponents of liberty vs. supporters of liberty were entrenched in a good ol’ case of class warfare.

How ironic it is to portray property ownership as the root of a dependent spirit.

“Political revolutions against legitimate authority are not normally led by the dominant economic and social class of society,” write William J. Cooper, Jr. and Thomas E. Terrill in the first volume of their history of the American South. “Yet in the colonial South men of great wealth were revolutionaries.”

This includes George Washington, the Southern gentleman farmer who remains the richest U.S. president to date.

There was ample land ownership in Colonial America, and most Americans were farmers. “The instant I enter on my own land, the bright idea of property, of exclusive right, of independence exalt my mind,” wrote Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur in his Letters from an American Farmer. “No wonder we should thus cherish its possession, no wonder that so many Europeans who have never been able to say that such portion of land was theirs, cross the Atlantic to realise that happiness.”

A history professor once defined the distinction between American and European thinking in terms of how they view wealth. An American with a pioneering mindset sees someone with wealth and wants to become like him. A European, with a mindset molded by ages of feudalism, sees someone with wealth and wants to take it away from him.

There is less and less of such a distinction these days, however. Within our complex tax code, for instance, is the federal estate tax, intended by some for “preventing the concentration of wealth in the hands of a relatively few powerful families.”

This was the very tax at the root of the United States v. Windsor case recently decided by the Supreme Court. Yes, the ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

Edith Windsor initiated a lawsuit to essentially work towards federally sanctioning a byproduct of the sexual revolution all because she was unable to claim the federal estate tax exemption upon the death of her lesbian partner.

If making legal and financial life easier for same-sex couples was the true goal, one would think homosexual activists would be campaigning to liberate America from the current tax code rather than from a traditional covenant that is based on biology as much as faith.

But that is a hard mission to pursue when one mistakenly believes that a primary purpose of the American government is to redistribute wealth from those “cool, cool, considerate men” like John Dickinson … and John Hancock … and Thomas Jefferson … and George Washington.

If liberty is redefined to mean that morality and sustenance come from manipulating national bureaucracy, it is a sorry bondage indeed.

 

Amanda Read is a columnist for the Communities at The Washington Times. Trained as a historian, skilled as a writer, and aspiring to be a filmmaker, Amanda investigates the ideas behind contemporary culture and politics. A professional writer and researcher, she is also a Christian homeschool graduate, unconventional college graduate, military daughter, and eldest of the nine Read children at Fair Hills Farm. Find more of her work at www.amandaread.com.


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Amanda Read

Amanda Read is a columnist for the Communities at The Washington Times. Trained as a historian, skilled as a writer, and aspiring to be a filmmaker, Amanda investigates the ideas behind contemporary culture and politics. A professional writer and researcher, she is also a Christian homeschool graduate, unconventional college graduate, military daughter, and eldest of the nine Read children at Fair Hills Farm. Find more of her work at www.amandaread.com

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