About

The HP is led by R. Sós, an independent scholar and freelance writer living in the historic present.  Interests include long walks in Puritan New England, the application of the Second Amendment to the armed forces only, and the state of the 33-state Union.

The Historic Present – Why We’re Here

You have found The Historic Present! Here’s what it’s about.

I’m a freelance writer. I write for textbooks, workbooks, and a million other things for K-12 American history publishers. Not long ago I was working on a job that included the usual short passage on the differences between North and South on the eve of the Civil War. The instructions were pretty standard: cover northern industrialization v. the southern plantation system, rapidly expanding northern population v. stagnating southern population, the fight to control the western territories. But included in the laundry list was this phrase: “Northern indifference to slavery.”

This got my goat. It triggered memories of reading much the same thing in my own American history textbook when I was in high school, this bland, dampening, yet incendiary claim that before the Civil War “no one cared” about slavery. Northerners didn’t care, I had read; they were just as prejudiced against black people as southerners, they never saw slavery so they didn’t care about it.

When I read that stuff as a teen, I bought it. It seemed like a shame, but what could you do? No one had cared. Everyone in America before 1861 was either pro-slavery or neutral, turning a blind eye. The shame I felt about this was alleviated a little by the Civil War that followed. Somehow, despite everyone’s indifference to slavery, slavery had somehow ended. It was a lucky break.

This take on the  north and slavery was just one of the many letdowns that made American history my least favorite subject. American history was a parade of disappointments: killing Native Americans and taking their land; enslaving black Americans; the celebration of corruption that was Reconstruction; Jim Crow; Japanese internment camps; Little Rock; escalation in Vietnam—and then my history book stopped. (Even though I was in high school from 1981-1983. The 1970s were so full of trouble, such dangerous political ground, that early 80s textbooks didn’t know how to safely touch it yet.)  All the good things we Americans were supposed to stand for were lies. We never stood for liberty and equality, and justice for all. That was the message I got from American history.

But after this depressing initiation, I eventually came to a different understanding of American history. It started when, as an adult, I read Angel in the Whirlwind, by Benson Bobrick. That book taught me that there were real ideals in the Revolutionary period, that people really lived up to. Encouraged, I started to read more and more American history. It was too late to get my Ph.D. in American history; I had already gotten one in Comparative Literature. But I earned a technical degree in colonial American history over the next 10 years, focusing in particular on 17th-century New England.

By the time I was 40, I was a committed American historian. I was a convert. It’s like the man who knows that magnesium is the secret to the universe: all wisdom came from American history. It’s not that I had learned that American history was the story of happy, happy times and total integrity. The killing and enslavement and oppression were all still there. The difference was that while I, like many other Americans, had previously seen those failings as cynical proof that America was indeed a lie, I now saw them as just that: failings. Failures to live up to the real ideals that this country was really, actually founded on. Ideals that we can and must be proud of.

All the good things in our history have come from Americans who said, You know, this may happen all over the world, but it’s not supposed to happen here. America is supposed to be different, and by God, I’m going to see that America is different. I’m not going to live with slavery. I won’t accept school segregation. I won’t keep women from voting. I am not going to allow the president to be above the law. In America, the press is free. In America, there is habeas corpus. Americans don’t torture. Americans don’t build giant fences to keep out immigrants.

Hey, we’re Americans! We are Americans. All of us. Everyone living in this country. And that means we all have a responsibility to live up to the ideals this nation was founded on. No matter our race, gender, sexuality, nation of origin, native language, economic class, political affiliation, age, religion, or anything else, we are bound and obliged and privileged to make sure the ideals America was founded on are alive and well.

America was founded not by a few wig-wearing white men, but by every American who signed on to the principles of the new nation that was born during the Revolutionary War. All Americans are Founders. Those wig-wearing white men duking it out at Independence Hall took a chance on the average American out there in New Jersey or Georgia or Massachusetts being in sympathy with some very radical ideals of liberty, equality, and justice. Those famous men founded their hopes in the average American, and her devotion to justice and freedom.

So all Americans are Founders of this nation. But we have to keep founding it, over and over, every generation. Because it is unique. Liberty, equality, and justice for all goes against human nature. A nation founded on those ideals is always in danger of tripping, failing, and giving up. We must always do justice to those difficult ideals and principles for which we stand.

So here is my blog. Its purpose is to inspire the people who read it and comment on it by looking at our history and exploring the issues that crop up continually in our democracy. I also hope to explode a few myths along the way, and start a conversation about American history that helps, in its small way, to keep the flame of liberty alive in this country.

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14 Responses to “About”

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Hello. It’s good to be you. Please visit my bog. I tried to talk about this fact that we are all Americans in my post “Say It Loud.” I would be honored if you would share a comment.

Thank you.

I like your perspective. The United States is a great nation founded on great ideals, but (yes) there have been some disappointments and failings. We’re a country of flawed human beings after all.

Amen!

As a nation we are surely not faultless. We have made many mistakes but the greatness of this country is that we can continually rise above these mistakes. Even the fact that we have the freedom to talk about them, and, more importantly, vote for our leaders based on their performance, is testimony to the fact that this is the greatest country in the world.

Hi Lori

I thought about your interest in the state of the 33-state Union, while I was reviewing a new book that is coming out this month by Lewis E. Lehrman of the “Guilder-Lehrman” institute. It is called Lincoln at Peoria and focuses on his Peoria speech denouncing the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. This is a great window into what he calls the turning point for Abraham Lincoln (which arguably might be called a turning point in US and even World History.) It is a great read and I would love to hear your thoughts on it if you get a chance to take a look at it!

Keep on fighting to change the perspective of those of us who were raised on that bizarre mix of propaganda and wishful thinking! Thanks, love your enlightening facts, they led me to a few tidbits to share in my own writing.

I appreciate your views, and I agree that liberty is something that needs constant defending and eternal vigilence to uphold. However, Florida wasn’t a state back then. As a historian you should know this. And we are NOT a democracy. We are a republic. Why does the Constitution guarantee a republican form of government not a democratic one? We democratically select our representatives in our republic. that is the extent of democracy in our nation. This is a point of utmost importance. Democracy always fails. “there was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” John Quincy Adams. I do love the fact that you separate our failings from being an inherently flawed union. this is a point of extreme importance that the public schools fail to teach. But consantly referring to our union as a democracy has given people today a favorable view on a failed concept.

Indeed Florida was not a state; my inference is that the Founders reached out to everyone with their idea, and I extrapolate the future U.S. out of the contemporary scene. Still, it’s worth calling out.

I myself don’t subscribe to the democracy v. republic argument; to me it seems academic. If the basis of a republic is democratic representation, further distinctions agaisnt democracy seem non-essential. But I would love to have other people voice their opinions on it.

Comment appreciated, but I would of course tend to disagree with the importance of the difference. As would our fouding geneation who were much more educated than I at history and the human tendency for despotic leadership. Of course we are all human and imperfect so maybe the history of democracy will change. And I will be proven wrong. Of course the lifespan of a republic has also proven to be a short one! :)

What a great blog. I am not a “Historian” but the subject of American history has always fascinated me. Yours is one of the more fascinating blogs I have come across. Of all places, it was referenced in “naked Capitalism”
I have found that much of what my children learned about American History(as part of “Social Studies” may well have been factually correct but the facts tended to be “enhanced” by the authors’ views. Those views now form the lens through which that generation sees this country.

Please keep up the good work and continue to fascinate me.

PS – I also enjoy the wonders of northern New England

Thanks, AlBea! We’re happy to have the referral from a fellow blog.

Hi I also like your perspective on history which matches my own. Working on my masters in history and ran across your blog while researching the Pequot War. Loved your essay btw and would like to cite it with your permission You have indeed inspired me, so much so that I’m thinking of trying to publish one myself with some of my course essays.

Thanks–cite away!

Like you, I am a freelance writer who happens to be working on the biography of the descendent of an Ulsterman,living between 1766 and 1861 who became one of the original signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico.

Researching this incredibly tumultuous time in American (world) history, from the ‘French-Indian Wars’ to the ‘Civil War’, I’ve found that most historians have asked us to suspend credulity in the ostensible interest of simplicity. They reduce complex human relationships and political events to facile binary arguments (we vs. them) that portray our ancestors as two-dimensional actors as waxen as their representation in museums.

Thank you for bringing them alive – warts and all.

julie

Early Social Security recipients were reluctant to accept SSDI. I think it was insinuated in these articles that didn’t want to accept “charity”. I am sure I read in another article about food baskets being given to those who no longer worked, but needed food. These supposedly came from SS.

Have you ever found any reference to the food baskets in your research? I have tried to do computer research concerning the food baskets, but I haven’t found any reference to them.

I would appreciate any information you might pass my way. Thanks, Jo


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