Friday, July 01, 2005

As I was Saying

You'll have to pardon me, I get carried away sometimes. Yesterday, for instance, in responding to the revelation that some important media mavens inside NBC News suppose the British Crown regarded some of our early presidents as the equivalent of Islamic terrorists.

That's just the kind of thing that sets me off, and I went on such a tear defending the Founders that I never got around to addressing how the British leadership regarded Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe (the only presidents to have taken part in the Revolution).

As difficult as it is to be patient with this sort of rascality, it's just barely possible that Williams' co-workers are sincerely ignorant or were seduced by the sirens of the current dominant school of anti-American historians, who have been luring every notion of American exceptionalism onto their rhetorical rocks.

The first thing to bear in mind is that the American rebels of 1776 thought of themselves as Englishmen upholding traditional rights of free Englishmen. Their political revolution was deeply conservative, like the Southern revolt of 1861.

And the American rebels had many sympathizers in the British military -- including the Howe brothers -- and many friends in the civil government, even among its top leaders. William Pitt commended the colonies for resisting the Stamp Act, and Edmund Burke's "Speech on Conciliation with the Colonies" once upon a time was memorized by American schoolchildren. Evidently this ended before the days when NBC news producers went to school.

These were no mere reflexive "root against the home team" types such as we have got a lot of in the U.S. today. Rather, men like Pitt and Burke saw in the American colonists the pure essence of British love of liberty, which they felt was threatened at home in England as well as abroad by an encroaching royalty. Burke, a true conservative, was able to distinguish among revolutions. He supported the American colonists when they stood up to the Crown, but he deplored the French Revolution -- the one that actually invented the word "terrorist" -- as antithetical to all good British, and human, virtues.

Indeed, there was much bitter feeling in Britain toward the Americans after the success of our Revolution. But it had the feel of a familial dispute, a sense of ingratitude in the heart of the mother country at her impudent children.

As for the crown itself, the anecdote is told by the painter Benjamin West that when he talked to King George III during the war, the monarch asked him what he thought George Washington would do if he prevailed. Return to his farm, West predicted -- accurately.

"If he does that," King George remarked, "he will be the greatest man in the world." When news of Washington's death in 1799 reached Europe, the British channel fleet, then at war with America's nominal ally France, paid honor to the president's memory.

Both John Adams (1785-88) and James Monroe (1803-06) served as ministers to Great Britain. Ask yourself if it would be thinkable for the United States to receive in official diplomatic reception Osama bin Laden or some other person it regarded as a current or recent terrorist against America. When Adams, formerly his subject, was presented to His Majesty at the Court of St. James as the first United States ambassador, the king, Adams reported to John Jay, "was indeed much affected, and I confess I was not less so." Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, met with British officials in London in the spring of 1786, while he was United States minister to France.

All of that hardly sounds to me like the way one behaves toward a terrorist enemy. But the solons of NBC perhaps know more about history than I do. I'd be curious to know their arguments.

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