Module 1F – The American Revolution (For Sports Fans)

Module 1F – The American Revolution (For Sports Fans)


>>MARK HORGER: The last major historical event, I want to talk a little bit about. before we actually get to the 19th century, is the American Revolution. And for our purposes we don’t need to spend a lot of time on wars, and battles, and politics. But one of the things that we will discuss at length, when we get to the 19th century, is the influence of the idea of nationalism and national identity, on work, and sport, and play, and recreational behavior. So I want to make a few points about the cultural influence of the American Revolution, and some ways in which it had an impact on styles of recreational cultural deep into the 19th century. The American revolutionaries justified the legitimacy of their revolution to themselves and to the world, with a body of political ideas that historians discuss under the rubric of republicanism. Republicanism is a means of expressing the idea of a government, the political legitimacy of which comes from dually elected representatives rather than from say, a king. And republican ideals were the basis on which the revolution was fought and justified. They had a significant influence on what kind of public culture the founders tried to build into the new nation, once they actually had a new nation on their hands in the 1780’s and 1790’s. And so let me make a few points about the political values of republicanism, and some ways in which they had a long cultural influence in the United States into the 19th century. The basic premise of republicanism, as understood by the founders, was the idea that the ideal public actor, the ideal citizen, and the voter from whom political legitimacy must be generated, was someone who was capable of exercising what they would have called public virtue – capable of thinking in terms of the public good, and therefor voting for representatives capable of legislating in the name of the public good. Because they were economically independent, because they were not dependent on their livelihood on others – when you hear the founders use the word independence, you should hear the root word. You should hear the word dependent, and the state of not being dependent. And the American revolutionaries believed that, individuals such as that: male landowners who had economic independence from property, or from an ability to meet a tax-paying requirement, represented the ideal political actor. For example, the founders, if they had been asked directly: “Why don’t children vote? Why don’t women vote? Why don’t slaves and indentured servants vote? Why don’t wage earners vote?” Those are all categories of person who they believed lacked the economic independence necessary to exercise public virtue in the public square, in the Polly. And these were the ideas that the American Revolutionaries used to justify their revolution against English political authority. And one of the consequences of this is that the founders spent a great deal of time and effort, trying to build, in the early years of the American Republic, trying to build a public culture that they believed lived up to those ideals. For example, here we have an image of George Washington, which you may notice is on the plain side, in much the same way that the John Winthrop image was on the plain side. You have probably never encountered a picture of George Washington smiling. This was kind of on purpose. And the founders spent a great deal of the early history of the public, of the republic; being aware they were setting precedent the first time they did anything. And they went out of their way to set a relatively plain influence on public culture. And, a classic example of this is: one of the first things they argued about, during the first Washington administration, was what to call the President of the United States when you encountered him on the street. Should he have a title? The job of President of the United States was itself an executive job that had been built around the perceived strengths and weaknesses of Washington. And so they had an argument about: What do you call him if you see him? The Vice President, John Adams, argued that the Presidency ought to have a title of some kind. Not your Royal Highness, not something that you would call a king, but there ought to be some authority vested in the office itself, separate from the person of George Washington, that should be invested in some kind of nomenclature. That view lost out and that view was essentially shouted down on the grounds that it would elevate the presidency to the status of aristocracy and that idea of simplicity won out and to this day, you refer to the president of the United States as “Mr. President”. To this day, he wears a common business suit. It’s probably nicer than a suit in your closet, but the President of the United States does not wear a hat, he doesn’t carry a scepter, does not have any military epaulettes on his shoulder which Washington certainly could have had if he’d chosen to have them because he was a general. He is called mister as a cultural choice. In the early days of the American republic, the founders worked hard to establish that kind of plain, simple, virtuous; they would use the term “public virtue” or “public culture”. This had some influence on patterns of recreation and public culture. One of the consequences of this is that well into the 19th Century, it was common to see Americans use words like aristocratic or aristocracy kind of as an insult or as a swear word and in the first half of the 19th century to attack something as aristocratic, was to essentially try to label something as un-American. The founders in the aesthetic choices that they made in the early republic, created a public culture that privileged to certain kinds of recreational aesthetic. There were several states, particularly in the Northern portion of the United States in the early republic period of the late 1700’s and early 1800’s that outlawed thoroughbred horse racing on the grounds that it was aristocratic. That’s one example of a recreational pattern that was influenced by this kind of culture of republican simplicity that the founders attempted to build in to the aesthetic of public life. Well into the 19th century you will see Americans thinking of aristocracy as a swearword and an insult, even when it doesn’t bear any obvious direct relationship to the premises’ of aristocracy. You will see simplicity perceived as a national virtue and one of the things we’ll see a great deal of in the 19th century as we begin to talk about the emergence of a variety of sports and recreational patterns is the relationship between individuals investing identity and value in a sport and concepts of nationalism. One of the points you want to keep in mind about American nationalism in the 19th century as an idea as a concept and as a culture is that one strain of American nationalism that the founders managed to lay down in the public culture was the idea of the American nationalism as compared to England, and as compared to Europe, should have a simplicity, it should have a plainness , should have some kind of relationship to public virtue in a way that the founders would have used that word to indicate political legitimacy

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