A Usable Past (Slackers' Edition)


Thaddeus Russell, author of the new Renegade's History of the United States, has a contrarian take on early American history titled "11 Freedoms that Drunks, Slackers, Prostitutes and Pirates Pioneered and The Founding Fathers Opposed." Here's the opening:

During the War of Independence a culture of pleasure and freedom blossomed in American cities. Non-marital sex, including adultery and relations between whites and blacks, was ubiquitous and rarely punished. Because divorce was unregulated, it was easily and frequently obtained, often by women. Brothels were legal and abundant and prostitutes were rarely prosecuted. Black slaves, Irish indentured servants, Native Americans, and free whites of all classes commingled extensively in saloons and in the streets. Pirates who settled in the port cities brought with them a way of life that embraced both general revelry and homosexuality. On nearly every block in every 18th-century American city, there was a public place where one could drink, sing, dance, have sex, argue politics, gamble, play games, or generally carouse with men, women, children, whites, blacks, Indians, the rich, the poor, and the middling. Rarely have Americans had more fun. And never have America's leaders been less pleased by it.

To the Founding Fathers the culture of personal liberty was a more serious threat to their project of creating an independent republic than the British Army….The Founding Fathers hoped that self-rule would cure Americans of their love of frivolities. A government of the people, John Adams argued, would make the people disciplined, stern, hard-working, and joyless—the qualities he most admired.

Read the whole thing here, or see a slideshow version here. Russell explains "Why I Got Fired From Teaching American History" here.