A BRIEF AND BROKEN MINI-HISTORY OF AMERICA – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

America was born bankrupt. We won a war we shouldn’t have won and created a country without any funding or industry. That’s the good part. The rest of it, not so much.

The United States is named that because we didn’t start out as a country. We were 13 colonies, all lined up against the Atlantic Ocean. The original thirteen were  New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.


The thing we had in common was original colonization by England, The French had Maine and the Spanish had Florida. All the rest were added after we became a “single” nation. Thus the United States because, in theory, our Constitution turned us into a single nation: “E Pluribus Unum,” or one from many.

Technically, we are one country. We pay taxes to a central government. The fifty stars on the flag represent all current states. The original 13 colonies are commemorated by a stripe (thirteen stripes) on that flag.

From a cultural and historic point of view, there are huge differences between the fifty states. Texas, for example, was its own country before we took it from Mexico.

California also belonged to Mexico and many of its oldest residents are descendants from the Mexican gentry who stole the land from the Native Americans who already lived there. It’s important to remember that North America was not an uninhabited empty space waiting for Europeans to come and take over.

Nor were the original residents white or English-speaking. The language of California and Texas was Spanish, plus the dialects of Native Americans. English came later. Many languages have been spoken here and still are.

At some undetermined moment in time, pre-Americans decided that if they weren’t going to be allowed to be “real” Englishmen (and vote in Paliament), they might as well do their own thing. A lot of the bruhaha came out of Boston with the infamous tea party et al. We always were a rowdy bunch.

We tried a loose confederacy. It didn’t work. We needed a central government, an army, a navy. An economy other than importing slaves. Money that would be accepted everywhere. (Early on, each state issued its own currency.) Schools, libraries, and industry waited in the wings.

The Constitutional Convention was attended by leading figures from each colony, each of whom had his own ideas about building a country. As a group, they were intelligent, well-educated, and wealthy.

And now, enter slavery.

The North imported Black people from Africa, then sold them to Southern slave traders. Despite rumors to the contrary, there were slaves in the north. But the northern states also had a strong group of abolitionists. Although importing slaves made some people fabulously rich, it wasn’t the basis for an expanding economy. Even families who built their fortunes on slavery weren’t willing to admit it.

The south had other ideas. They had an almost entirely agrarian lifestyle. Slaves were how they managed their huge plantations. If there weren’t slaves, how could they manage to be so rich and powerful? They might have to work! They might have to pay their workers, an idea so shocking to southerners that they would not join the union if slavery was not allowed.

The battle of slavery vs. abolition began before the revolution. The south was wedded to slavery. By the years before the Revolution, the north was getting ready to move on to an industrial economy.

Then came America’s deal with the devil. We did not foresee a union that didn’t include the south, so we enabled slavery.  Which everyone knew was wrong, including the southerners. But money speaks louder than principals as we all have discovered in recent years.

Our Founding Fathers knew that ultimately, there would be a civil war. How do we know they knew it? Because they wrote about it in their diaries and letters. They talked about it and wrote down the conversations. John and Abigail Adams were strong abolitionists. For years, Abigail Adams would not live in the White House because slaves had built it.

We won the revolution but lost everything else.

Battle of Lexington and Concord revolution

A trace of our multi-colonial origins exists. State Governors have a lot of power in their domain. The government of each state is a mirror of the national government. Also, every state in the U.S. has its own little army, the State Militia. Mostly they are used to manage natural catastrophes and rioting. Sometimes we lend our troops to other states who need help. They aren’t always armed, either. They fight fires, save people from drowning, work as medics.
The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard are national — the U.S. armed forces.

FREE WITHOUT BENEFITS


The people who were freed from slavery were supposed to get some land, a mule, and a few cows so they could build their own communities, but these attempts were sabotaged. They stayed in the south and were effectively slaves, but without the benefit of getting housed and fed. Jim Crow filled in for official slavery and when that stopped working, black people moved north in the hopes of building a better life.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Somehow, in the course of years, we also put through a Civil Rights amendment that was supposed to finally put an end to Jim Crow laws and the oppression of Black people. That didn’t quite work out either. Some things are better, many are just the same, a lot is worse.


Question: If our Founding Fathers were so smart, how come they didn’t see that slavery would come back to bite us in the ass?

Answer: They knew it was wrong and knew that it would result in a civil war. They could keep slavery and form a stronger nation, or eliminate slavery and end up with two weak countries, one slave, one free. They chose what they thought was the lesser of the two evils.


It wasn’t the lesser evil. Long term, it was the greatest evil. It has twisted and corrupted our country from day one. Until we come to terms with our deeply racist past, we will never be at peace.

The Right Thing went head-to-head with The Bottom Line. The Right Thing lost. Imagine that!

Meanwhile, back in the Blackstone Valley, the American industrial revolution was aborning. In December 1789, just as the Constitution was passed, Samuel Slater Slater’s Mill was up and running. It was the first successful water-powered cotton-factory in the United States.

Mills grew along the Blackstone from Worcester to Providence, then sprouted by the Merrimack in Lowell, and eventually, throughout New England. Wherever the rivers ran, mills and factories followed.

75-Train-NK-014a

Photo: Owen Kraus

By the early 1900s, the Blackstone River in Massachusetts was grossly polluted. In 1971, the Blackstone River was labeled “one of America’s most polluted rivers” by Audubon magazine. It was a low point for the region. We’re still cleaning up.

72-Heron_145

As for slavery, it’s illegal. But low-end employees of corporations are in no better position than slaves. They work for almost nothing and if they get laid off, their payoff is nothing.

We have a very long way to go.

12 thoughts on “A BRIEF AND BROKEN MINI-HISTORY OF AMERICA – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

  1. Pingback: A Lesson In History – Marilyn Style | sparksfromacombustiblemind

  2. Fascinating! I wish I’d had someone like you to teach me history. I’d have paid attention. I’m going to re-share this post. It’s excellent and might provide perspective for people about the whole racist thing. I still maintain that, as a great grandchild of Mormon Pioneers, we had too many of our own persecution fires to put out to be trying to subjugate another race. Were there racists and bigots among the Mormons? Sure. There are those in any group you can name. Still. (to my possibly flawed) knowledge, Utah – being one of the last in the ‘Union” did not embrace slavery. Did the black person have a tough time (in the Church)? Sure. Not excusing it, thinking had to catch up with reality. The LDS Church strives to emulate Christ. Christ, to my knowledge, did NOT discriminate against anyone. So finally the Mormons realized their hypocrisy in keeping black people ‘down’ (from key roles in the Church) and stopped all that nonsense. Equality came to the church and has stayed there. Are there flaws in the thinking still? Sure. The Church (sadly) isn’t led by Christ, but by MEN. Humanity will always have flawed thinking. We’re not perfect. But overall I’m under the impression that Utah remained a place black people could come and be allowed to settle and be free. Maybe that’s wrong. If so, let me know.

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    • It takes time for everyone to catch up. I think we could all cope better if we felt people WERE trying to catch up, but the current world is such a mess. You know, my mother always said the fascists would be back. I never believed her, but she was right. She said haters never went away. They would just hide for a while and then out they would come.

      Jews are generally very liberal — except for those who aren’t., I was horrified to discover some of “my” people were Trump-supporters. Shocked. Can memory be THAT short?

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    • I wish I’d had someone like me to teach history. I was lucky in that I had a fabulous 11th grade English teacher who actually taught us, the “brainy bunch” — GRAMMAR, which apparently none of us knew because no one ever taught us grammar. Probably because they didn’t know it either. Dr. Silver did know it and somehow, he made grammar fun. Imagine that!

      And then there was Dr. Pfeiffer who made PHYSICS fun. And there wasn’t a pun he didn’t jump on. He made us laugh!

      But History? What history? We learned what they called “civics” which was how the government was supposed to work, but history? Until college, there were just plays about Pilgrims and Indians. Gads.

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  3. You are so good at explaining historical facts Marilyn. A good thing as these days either it isn’t taught or people are not interested. “It was a long time ago. It’s got nothing to do with me.” but of course it has everything to do with the way we live now. My education today was to learn about the 3/5ths Compromise.
    I appreciated the taster yesterday.

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    • I tend to forget that people may know their own country’s history, at least in general terms, but if you don’t live here, you don’t know anything except that there was a revolution and we don’t have a parliament. Even if you DO live here, you probably know nothing that really happened. Our “history” books date back to the 1940s and I’m not even sure public schools teach history anymore. I didn’t learn any of it in school. I should have been a history major. I aced every test and never had to open a book. I already knew it. But I.

      History never ends and we have had a series of truly great history authors in the past 50 years. If you are interested, you can study it forever and never run out of things to learn. Doris Kearns Goodwin lives near us and she is the ONE person on earth Garry wants to invite for dinner. She’s also a wild-eyed Red Sox fan and between writing about the revolution and Lincoln, she writes about baseball. Such a remarkable woman. And there’s David McCullough who wrote the book about John Adams on which PBS’s mini-series about John Adams is based.

      There are some historical novelists who really write real history, just adding a story around which to wrap the history. So many. Connie Willis who is a grandmaster of Sci-Fi (I think she’s won every award at least twice). She writes time travel stories. They are taking modern historians with modern people dropped in for perspective. Other books by her are really funny. She wrote two books about the London blitz — “Blackout” and “All Clear” and they are amazing.

      Right now, though, I’m reading her least funny book called “Doomsday” which is about a modern historian dropped into the beginning of the Bubonic Plague in England. Not at all funny and I don’t know why I’m reading it again. It was grueling the first time and probably will be equally grueling now. More, probably. But I needed to dig into this stuff again. I need to learn something.

      I will send you a couple of her books if you have a Kindle. Do you? Let me know. Sending paper would take a generation. You could read them on a computer, but I have trouble reading on a computer.

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      • I do have a Kindle. I find it very handy for reading in bed or on the bus when I used to go places. I do love “real” books but I barely have room for the ones I already have so I think most of my fiction will be in Kindle form in the future. I’d enjoy reading those two books about the blitz.
        You would have been an excellent history teacher had you decided to go that way. When I was at school our history curriculum was a bit of everything. In primary school it was British history and the making of Australia, explorers, convicts, rum rebellion and every farm implement ever invented it seemed like. In high school it was wars and revolutions France, Russia, America, World Wars and Vietnam.. I suppose we touched on the Korean War but I don’t recall much from that. I found most of it interesting. History does begin yesterday so trying to teach modern history when the world is changing so fast would be a lot to keep up with but people don’t seem to retain information. I wonder if in twenty years there will be Covid-19 deniers?

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