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My New Book!
My New Book!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

June 30, 2020: Patriotism’s Contested Histories: Francis Scott Key’s Anthem

[Later this year, my next book, Of Thee I Sing: The Contested History of American Patriotism, will be published in Rowman & Littlefield’s American Ways series. So this year’s July 4th series, I wanted to highlight a few of the contested histories of American patriotism that project includes. Leading up to a special weekend post on the book itself!]
On a historical context and predecessor that adds an interesting layer to our troubling anthem.
Thanks in large part to Colin Kaepernick’s protests and their linkage of the national anthem to questions of race and equality, a good deal of recent attention has been paid to Francis Scott Key’s largely forgotten third verse for “The Star-Spangled Banner” (to be clear, only the first verse is sung at most occasions). While music historians differ on exactly what that verse’s brief and somewhat oblique reference to slavery means, it seems pretty clear to this AmericanStudier—especially when coupled with Key’s also largely forgotten status as an early 19th century slave-owner—that Key was at the very least leaving enslaved African Americans out of his mythologized celebration of “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I’m already very much on record as not-a-fan of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and none of these close reading and historical contexts make me any more likely to belt out Key’s anthem (even if I could perform the notoriously challenging song).
Those aren’t the only contexts for Key’s song, however, and a very different one offers a distinct way to historicize and AmericanStudy the anthem. “The Star-Spangled Banner” wasn’t the first set of lyrics that Key had set to the tune of John Stafford Smith’s popular British work “The Anacreontic Song”—nearly a decade before, Key set to the same music his song “When the Warrior Returns” (1805), a tribute to Stephen Decatur and Charles Stewart, two military leaders returning to the U.S. from the 1801-1805 First Barbary War in North Africa. Originally published in the Boston newspaper the Independent Chronicle on December 30, 1805, “When the Warrior Returns” precedes the national anthem in more than just tune, especially in the line, “By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation” but also in the repeated closing couplet, “Mixed with the olive, the laurel shall wave/And form a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.” Clearly Key was not about a little recycling when it came to his patriotic song-composing efforts.
Remembering this prequel to “The Star-Spangled Banner” offers another and more important historical context, however. As I wrote last year for my Saturday Evening Post column, the War of 1812 itself can be analyzed less as a heroic defense of America from British invasion (which had largely comprised my limited understanding of it) and more as an international conflict closely tied to U.S. territorial expansion. Engaging those sides of the War of 1812 might also help Americans add the entirely forgotten Barbary Wars to our collective memories, since those Mediterranean conflicts (and especially the 1815 Second Barbary War) hinged on many of the same international, territorial, and nautical issues and debates that helped cause the strife with England. Which is to say, “The Star-Spangled Banner” didn’t just represent an evolving, Early Republic patriotic vision of American identity—it also and not coincidentally represented an extension and deepening of U.S. presence and influence on the global stage. George Washington might have warned his countrymen in his 1797 Farewell Address of “foreign entanglements,” but our national anthem reflects just how fully entangled we would become over the next couple decades.
Next patriotic post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other moments or stories of patriotism you’d highlight?

Monday, June 29, 2020

June 29, 2020: Patriotism’s Contested Histories: Ben and William Franklin

[Later this year, my next book, Of Thee I Sing: The Contested History of American Patriotism, will be published in Rowman & Littlefield’s American Ways series. So this year’s July 4th series, I wanted to highlight a few of the contested histories of American patriotism that project includes. Leading up to a special weekend post on the book itself!]
On why it makes sense to define a Loyalist as a patriot, and the limits of that perspective.
Perhaps the most controversial claim of my book comes in the first chapter, “The Revolution: Declaring and Constituting a Nation.” As I do in every chapter, I move there through examples from that time period of my four focal types of patriotism—celebratory, mythic, active, and critical—and when I get to the final/critical patriotism section, I start with a few examples of (I have to assume) a surprising community: Loyalists to England (or Tories, in the language of the time). I’ve long argued that it makes sense to see the Revolution first and foremost as an American civil war, and wanted to flesh out that idea further by thinking about how we might see Loyalists as expressing a critical patriotic perspective toward Revolutionary America. I focus on three particular figures: the Maryland landowner James Chalmers, whose 1776 pamphlet Plain Truth offered a Loyalist rebuttal to Paine’s Common Sense; the Mohawk Iroquois warrior and chief Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), who led Native American and Loyalist Anglo soldiers against colonial forces; and William Franklin, the Royal Governor of New Jersey and Ben Franklin’s illegitimate (but fully acknowledged) son.
William’s story is profoundly specific and individual, not only because of that fraught relationship to one of the Revolution’s most famous figures and leaders, but also and even more intimately because of how affected his relationship with his own son, (William) Temple Franklin. Temple was already apparently closer to his grandfather than his father as of May 5th, 1775, when Ben and Temple arrived in Philadelphia after having spent a good deal of time together in London; the Revolution, and specifically Temple’s role as a diplomat working on the colonies’ behalf, further strained William’s relationships to both his father and his son. But I would say that those personal details also reveal an overarching truth: no Loyalist would risk and damage all that William’s choices did (and that seems to have been the story time and again for Loyalists) if they did not believe that they were acting on behalf of their communities. William was imprisoned for two years due to his Loyalist beliefs, and when he was released he continued those efforts, organizing spies in New York City in opposition to the Revolutionary forces there. The latter actions seem to fall more within the category of treason (aiding a wartime enemy, etc.), but I think it’s impossible to separate them from William’s longstanding commitment to what he saw as the best future for New Jersey and the colonies.
“Colonies” is a key word in that final sentence, though—however we see William’s actions and life, there’s no way to describe him as a patriot to the United States of America. That’s not because the U.S.A. did not exist yet—in fact the Declaration of Independence opens with the frame, “A Declaration by the representatives of the United States of America, in general Congress assembled,” meaning that as of July 1776 at least the U.S. did exist—but rather because the America in which William believed and for which he fought and sacrificed so much would never have become the full political and national entity comprised by that phrase. Certainly for most of my book, it is the U.S. that is the subject of the patriotisms—critical and otherwise—that I’m analyzing, so I grant that in some important ways the patriotism of Loyalists has to be seen as separate from that overall topic. But as of the Revolutionary era, none of those concepts or communities were quite established yet (much less set in stone), and so I continue to think there’s great value in considering a variety of forms of American patriotism from that period—including the critical patriotism of Loyalists like William Franklin.
Next patriotic post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other moments or stories of patriotism you’d highlight?

Saturday, June 27, 2020

June 27-28, 2020: June 2020 Recap

[A Recap of the month that was in AmericanStudying.]
June 1: MassMediaStudying: CNN and Cable News: On the network’s 40th anniversary, a mass media series kicks off with the best and worst of what cable news can offer.
June 2: MassMediaStudying: William Leggett and Early Republic Journalism: The series continues with four NYC periodicals that illustrate an evolving Early Republic medium.
June 3: MassMediaStudying: Frederic Remington and Wartime Journalism: What happens when the pen and the sword work together, as the series writes on.
June 4: MassMediaStudying: The March of Time and Newsreels: An iconic newsreel series that helps us remember an under-appreciated early 20C genre.
June 5: MassMediaStudying: The Internet: The series concludes with the variations, limitations, and possibilities of journalism online.
June 6-7: MassMediaStudying: Joseph Adelman’s Revolutionary Networks: A special post highlighting a great recent scholarly book and the online event that featured it.
June 8: Portsmouth Posts: The Sheafe Warehouse: A series inspired by the Portsmouth (NH) waterfront kicks off with three generations of Sampson Sheafes in New England history.
June 9: Portsmouth Posts: The Navy Yard: The series continues with two famous products of the historic construction facility and one darker history also present there.
June 10: Portsmouth Posts: Thomas P. Moses: Two stages to and the broader meanings of a 19C Renaissance life, as the series rolls on.
June 11: Portsmouth Posts: Remembering the Marine Railway: The importance of remembering material culture histories, and why we need to go beyond them.
June 12: Portsmouth Posts: The Black Heritage Trail: The series concludes with three of the many educational stops along a historic path.
June 13-14: New England Historic Daytrips: A special weekend list of prior posts on many other New England historic and cultural sites.
June 15: American Horror Stories: The Scream Series and Meta-Storytelling: For Psycho’s 60th, a horror series kicks off with the benefits and drawbacks of meta-fiction.
June 16: American Horror Stories: Psycho, The Birds, and Defamiliarization: The series continues with horror, defamiliarization, and prejudice.
June 17: American Horror Stories: The Saw Series and Morality: Different visions of morality in/and horror films, as the series screams on.
June 18: American Horror Stories: Found Footage Films and Realism: The longstanding appeal, and the limits, of faux-realism.
June 19: American Horror Stories: Hostel, Taken, and Xenophobia: The series concludes with the horrifying xenophobia at the heart of two of the 21st century’s biggest hits.
June 20-21: Crowd-sourced American Horror Stories: One of my favorite crowd-sourced posts yet, featuring so many responses and nominations from fellow HorrorStudiers—add yours in comments!
June 22: BoschStudying: Harry: A series on characters from the Amazon original cop show kicks off with how the protagonist’s dark histories complicate his anti-hero status.
June 23: BoschStudying: Jerry Edgar: The series continues with the benefits of giving a supporting character more of an identity and stories of his own.
June 24: BoschStudying: Grace Billetts: A character comparison that can help us extend beyond the “grumpy commanding officer” type, as the series detects on.
June 25: BoschStudying: Irvin Irving: The most typecast of the show’s leads, and how fatherhood has helped him beyond that type.
June 26: BoschStudying: Maddie: The series concludes with my favorite character on the show, and one of the best kid-of-the-protagonist characters of all time.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. Topics you’d like to see covered in this space? Guest Posts you’d like to contribute? Lemme know!