Tag Archives: Ann Coulter

Our civilized, God-fearing, English-speaking Revolution

Ann Coulter must have a real beef against popular uprisings.  Last fall we looked at a column in which she argued that mass upheaval ran against the grain of American history.  Now she’s contrasting the radical, bloody, atheistic French Revolution with our law-abiding, orderly, religious one.

I think she’s correct to draw the distinction.  In many ways, the American and French Revolutions were qualitatively different.  But I would quibble with her over a few points.

Edmond-Charles Genet, the ambassador from Revolutionary France who whipped up a ruckus in the U.S. By Harper & Brothers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For one thing, when the French Revolution did erupt, it was pretty popular among large segments of the American population.  After all, the Democratic-Republican Societies openly celebrated Bastille Day, and cheering crowds greeted Citizen Genêt when he arrived in the U.S.  One reason for this enthusiasm was the Republicans’ conviction that the French Revolution was part of the same movement begun in 1776, a conviction embraced by their spiritual figurehead, Thomas Jefferson.

Second, let me reiterate something I’ve suggested before in comparing the two revolutions.  The Americans didn’t keep the guillotines running around the clock during their struggle for independence, but that doesn’t mean it was a bloodless affair.  The Tories who suffered lynchings, floggings, confiscation, and exile would probably argue that the American Revolution was rather savage indeed.  Washington and his subordinates managed to keep the Continental Army on a fairly tight leash, but militiamen and partisans weren’t always so restrained in dealing out violence.  And if we consider the war between Indians and whites that coincided with the contest between America and England, the French Revolution doesn’t always look all that cataclysmic by comparison.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the American Revolution meant different things to different people.  Some Patriots were content to define it as a separation from Britain and monarchy.  Others had more radical ambitions.  Independence was a chance to redefine the nature of American politics and society—to empower popular legislatures, to eliminate the deference that characterized the colonial world, and to alter the status of women and blacks.  For some Americans, the Revolution rolled right on after the ratification of the Constitution, supplied with the momentum of its own ideology.

It’s not that Coulter’s portrait of the Revolution is wrong; there’s a good deal of truth to it.  The problem is that it’s incomplete.  You could fundamentally disagree with her about the American Revolution and its legacies, and both of you could still be correct because the Revolution was itself a sometimes contradictory affair.  Even the participants and their heirs never completely agreed on what it all meant.

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Filed under American Revolution, History and Memory

Disorder–an occasional American pastime

I don’t think Ann Coulter thought this one through.

Contrary to all the blather you always hear about how lawless street protests and civil disobedience are part of the American tradition — “what our troops are fighting for!” — they are not. We are an orderly people with democratic channels at our disposal to change our government.

The very reason we have a constitutional republic is because of a mob uprising. Soon after the American Revolution, Shays’ Rebellion so terrified and angered Americans that they demanded a federal government capable of crushing such mobs.

For nearly 200 years, Americans understood that they lived in a country capable of producing bad politicians and bad policies, but that it was subject to change through peaceful, democratic means. There was no need to riot or storm buildings because we didn’t have a king. We had a representative government.

Well, Americans haven’t always been as docile as she’s making out.  The Whiskey Rebellion, the pro-French mobs of the 1790’s, the New York draft riots, the labor upheavals of the Gilded Age and afterward, the suffragette protestors of the Progressive Era, Coxey’s Army, the numerous and sometimes overlapping movements of the 1960’s…public uproar has been woven pretty deeply into the fabric of American life, and it’s always been a source of divisiveness.  Witness, for example, the contrasting attitudes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson toward Shays’ Rebellion. Washington: “Are they nuts?!”  Jefferson: “Oh, sweet!  A revolt!

What really surprised me, though, was this sentiment: “This is what our Constitution was designed for: to use the force of the federal government to uphold the law when the states couldn’t (Shays’ Rebellion) or wouldn’t (segregationist Democrats).”  A die-hard conservative pundit cheering on the “force of the federal government.”  You don’t see that every day.

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Filed under History and Memory