We leave Taylor’s work to understand this fully – this is not the story of Great Man, but the story of Some Guys. The political leaders and famous people who dominate our imagination are condensed to real size. They make dirty and horrible choices; they goof, grope, and weave their way through momentous moments alongside the extraordinary cast of lunatics, jesters and crooks that Taylor brings to life. A certain William Augustus Bowles appears before the British in a feathered turban to convince them that the Creeks, Cherokees and American settlers can be united in a campaign to drive the Spaniards out of Louisiana and conquer Mexico. He presented an ultimatum, vowing to invade Canada if the British did not support him. Aaron Burr ends his life after killing Hamilton with a plot to seize Spanish territory, possibly for his own new nation, and is captured and tried for treason, but not before fleeing a co- double-cross conspirator “disguised as an ordinary farmer, with a false beard. JosÃ© de GÃ¡lvez, inspector general of the Spanish crown in New Spain, suffered a nervous breakdown in 1769 while trying to subdue the border natives.” One night, GÃ¡lvez had sprang from his tent to announce a plan to “destroy the Indians in three days simply by bringing 600 monkeys from Guatemala, dressing them as soldiers and sending them against ‘the natives,” Taylor writes. “He then assumed, successively , the identities of Moctezuma, the king of Sweden, of Saint Joseph and finally of God. But none of them could defeat the Indians. Two years later, GÃ¡lvez returned to Spain and was in charge of American politics in so much as secretary in India.
“Carnival of Hell” – the phrase of one James Davidson, a Jackson-era emigrant on the lawless Mississippi border – is the best conceivable description for it all. American history for Taylor is both a horror and a farce. American colonies They are as many kidnapped Indigenous children thrown overboard and slaughtered for sport by settlers in Jamestown as they are capricious Puritans mating with pigs. “In 1642, authorities in New Haven suspected George Spencer of bestiality when a sow carried a piglet that looked like him,” writes Taylor. âHe confessed and they hanged Spencer and the unfortunate sow. New Haven also tried, convicted and executed the sadly named Thomas Hogg for the same crime. ” In American republics, the hardware required on the Bank of the United States, the Wilmot Proviso and the dawn of the industrial age share space with the death of Secretary of State Abel Upshur, who was accidentally killed during a public demonstration of a large naval gun called “the Peacekeeper” – and a tale of fierce competition between city firefighters. “If two or more businesses hit a fire, brawls broke out by priority, while buildings burned,” he writes. In Philadelphia, the rivalry between two companies, named after Washington and Franklin, became so intense that each partnered with ethnic gangs, “including the Notorious Killers, who preferred Washington to Franklin.” In December 1842, a false alarm triggered by the Washington drew the Franklin into “an ambush by several hundred enemies.”
When you put aside the romance of the powdered wigs and the prose of the eloquent slavers and genocidaires, this is mostly what there is – an incredibly stupid and cruel world that is both totally alien and immediately recognizable to us now, alive. in what is nevertheless an egalitarian world. point of view, the best America we’ve ever known. Are the historical archives and the historical trajectory we have followed a cause for optimism or despair? The answer, if we’re being honest with ourselves, is probably neither.
Some on the right like to say that America is a nation and not an idea. What they really mean by this is that America is, conceptually, the legitimate legacy of a particular segment of the country with a particular set of ideas about America. Their eternal debates on this subject with the liberals – which they tend to present as clashes between realism and naive idealism – are in reality debates between dueling idealisms. But the initial assertion taken in itself is more correct than false. First and foremost, America is a political entity – a material entity governed by a particular set of enduring institutions and populated by 330 million people inextricably linked here in our present. It is a field of contestation where our present – and our future – could be shaped for our benefit and for the benefit of all humanity. And this great competition is fully justified. It’s enough identity and purpose.