Thursday, December 4, 2008

One Revolutionary Joe Six Pack’s Evaluation of the Origin of American Liberty

The Historian, David Hackett Fischer gives us this account of another earlier American History scholar, Mellen Chamberlain, who was doing research about the origins of the American Revolution. Fischer decided it was important enough to put on the first page of the introduction to his great book that defined and described American cultural values, Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America’s Founding Ideas, 2005, Oxford University Press.

In 1843, Chamberlain was interviewing Captain Levi Preston who was a 91 year old New England Yankee who had actually fought on April 19, 1775, the day poetic legend tells us of that famous “Shot heard ‘round the world”. Here is how Fischer recounts the interview.

Chamberlain: Captain Preston, what made you go to Concord to fight?

Captain Preston: What did I go for?

Chamberlain: Were you oppressed by the Stamp Act?

Preston: I never saw any stamps and I always understood that none were ever sold!

Chamberlain: Well, what about the Tea Tax?

Captain Preston: Tea Tax? I never drank a drop of that stuff. The boys threw it all overboard!

Chamberlain: But I suppose you had been reading Harrington, Sydney and Locke about the eternal principles of Liberty?

Captain Preston: I never heard of these men. The only books we had were the Bible, the catechism, Watt’s Psalms, and hymns and the almanacs.

Chamberlain: Well, then, what was the matter?

Captain Preston: Young man, what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we always had been free and we meant to be free always! They didn’t mean that we should.

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