[To follow up Monday’s Patriot’s Day post, I’m going to steal my title from Glenn Greenwald’s great book and briefly highlight five genuinely and impressively patriotic past Americans, one per post-contact century. Please nominate your own choices to contribute to a collectively patriotic weekend post!]
Today’s genuinely patriotic American is Quock Walker.
I wrote a lot about the Revolutionary period’s African American slave petitions for freedom, of which Quock Walker’s is one of the most famous, in the blog post linked at his name above, and won’t repeat all those specifics, or my sense of why those petitions embody the best of what the Revolution and its ideas and ideals meant and have continued to mean in American culture and identity, here.
But I will take things one step further, and ask this: what if we thought of Walker, and his fellow petitioners, as among the Founding Fathers (and Mothers)? After all, the Declaration and Constitution were (as we’ve long acknowledged) based on existing ideas and writings, given new American form. And that’s exactly what Walker and his peers and supporters did with their petitions, taking the Declaration’s and Revolution’s language and ideas and bringing them to powerful, eloquent, vitally American life.
Walker’s case is credited with helping end slavery in Massachusetts (a complicated question as they always are, but it contributed for sure). Using the Declaration to end part of the national tragedy with which it was intertwined? That’d be plenty patriotic enough on its own terms. But if we go bigger, if we see Walker and his peers as true Founders, among the most genuinely and impressively Revolutionary Americans, then our whole legacy of patriotism has a different, and even more inspiring, point of origin. Works for me.
Next nominee tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?
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