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Obras de Robert G. Parkinson


Conhecimento Comum




In order to align the states into a united front against the British, the founders tried everything, but race worked best. That is the premise of Thirteen Clocks, a reworking of The Common Cause by Robert G. Parkinson. This book is tighter, shorter and sharply focused on the racist hypocrisy of the founders. It covers the 15 month period from the British attacks in Lexington and Concord to the publishing of the Declaration of Independence. It is a story of fumbles, slick marketing, racial fear-mongering, and blatant hypocrisy. And a miracle that a new country could come of it all.

The situation in the 1770s was amorphous. The colonies bickered and fought with each other, over boundaries and territories among other things. States were laying claim to zones clearly within other states, not even contiguous to them, for example.

People in every state believed negative stereotypes of those in other states, and they stuck to them, even if they had never been to those states or ever met anyone from them. Everyone else was a joke in the 13 colonies.

Northerners had the reputation of being neurotically strict religious fanatics, while southerners had the reputation of lazy plantation owners, living off slavery, for example. Getting them together at a Congress, let alone having them agree to a united plan of action, required all kinds of compromise that few were happy with.

Ben Franklin described the prospects 20 years earlier in 1754, this way: They had “different forms of government, different laws, different interests, and some of them different religious persuasions and different manners.” It seemed as though there was hardly a natural unifying element among them outside of taxation without representation.

But King George came to their rescue, Parkinson says. In a series of gigantic blunders, he managed to unify America against the British. Parkinson calls it “Hard work, selective remembering and collective forgetting” to get the colonies to fight together instead of against each other.

First off, the British attacked in Lexington and Concord. This had the immediate effect of insulting and infuriating the colonists. Being attacked by your own government is a good way to build resentment and rebellion. Plus, the failure of the British to regain clear control set the stage for even less co-operation and more antagonism going forward.

Next, the Crown ‘s representatives, the governors, moved to co-opt black slaves into siding with them. They offered freedom and self-government, as well as arms. Armed black men were an existential threat as bad as anything that 1770s settlers could even imagine. A century and a half of enslaving them was a lot of baggage for whites, and they were already dealing with runaways and insurrections on a daily basis. They didn’t need the king fanning that fire. Their response was to increase runaway slave patrols.

The governors also went after the native Indians, who had been treated like dirt by the colonists right from the start. They would likely prove to be vicious allies for the British. The colonists considered the natives amoral and subhuman. They could shoot them at will and for sport, without any repercussions. Whites had every reason to fear a backlash after 200 years of that.

There was also Canada, not part of the 13 colonies, which could provide forces to the British. Nobody wanted Canadians poking their noses in to an American fight. Just more people to fear.

And finally, King George, being German himself, was found to be hiring German mercenaries from various duchies and kingdoms on the continent. They were to occupy and pacify the colonies. They were shipping over by the boatload, even if no one had seen one.

The founders turned these things into slick memes: merciless savages, domestic insurrectionists and foreign mercenaries became a daily thought, complaint and fear of all the colonists. There was constant talk of “our helpless women and innocent children,” unready for the slaughter that was coming if not already underway, though again, no one had actually seen one. As Ben Franklin happily proclaimed, “Britain has found means to unite us.”

The big irony is that the founders claimed to be creating a country in which all men are created equal, and have a long list of innate natural rights, while at the same time refusing any rights to non-whites. Natives who predated the settlers by thousands of years and blacks imported for their unpaid labor could not hold citizenship in the land of the free. Washington would not have blacks in his army, given the choice. All the talk of rights and equality was confusing, even to Congressmen. This is because the major players like Jefferson, Franklin and Madison had spent the past couple of years instilling fear of the Other. For the founders, swapping out the high-minded principles of rights, representation and consent for the much more visceral survival and fear was the winning ploy. The colonies just had to get used to it. They did.

Thomas Jefferson (who wrote the Declaration) was typical of the genre. Here he lambastes the king as promoting this tyranny “by prompting our negroes to rise in arms among us; those very negroes who (he hath from time to time) by an inhuman use of his negative (veto power) he has refused us permission to exclude by law;
“by endeavouring to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions of existence;
“by transporting at this time a large army of foreign mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy so unworthy the head of a civilized nation.”

Incredible that he could say those things with a straight face.

Franklin, no slouch on the racist front, complained 25 years before the Declaration of Independence that his Pennsylvania was rapidly becoming a “Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion…The Number of purely white People in the World is proportionately small…I could wish their Numbers were increased.”

So Congressmen could be forgiven if they suddenly found themselves defending positions the Declaration and later the Constitution were clearly against. But the timing was right; it all worked out perfectly. The (white) German mercenaries were welcomed as new citizens. The native Indians continued to be slaughtered, and blacks were denied any rights other than being the personal property of white people. Americans reinforced the fears of both of them in their vicious stereotypes and caricatures, which of course the country is still dealing with on a daily basis, as non-whites remain fair game.

There is a kind of subplot to Parkinson’s Thirteen Clocks. It is about the mass media of the day – the newspapers. There were 33 of them in the colonies, almost all of them leaning patriotic as opposed to loyalist. They were four-man operations, with the printer as editor and publisher. They were weeklies, and needed a minimum of 700 subscribers to be profitable.

All the printers sent each other copies of their papers so that others could reprint stories from them. They called this the exchange, and it filled a huge gap because there were no reporters, and a printer in Boston could not possibly know what was happening in Virginia without it. Plus, he could not fill the four pages (folded out of one sheet) they all needed to produce every week. So while physical distribution by horse-drawn wagon was slow, once papers hit the streets, everyone knew the same things from north to south.

It was crucial enough for the governor of one state to seize the presses of a printer and try to use them for his own positions, much like military coups’ first stop is a takeover of the radio and tv station today.

Parkinson has read all the articles in all the papers (on microfilm). He notes their differences and commentary, describes their delivery routes, and colors his history with stories of the printers who made them the social media network of the era. The staggering hypocrisy of their role in uniting the colonists was not simply central, it was crucial. The founders (Franklin himself was a printer) played up to the printers as needed, if necessary, hanging out in the print shop to get their stories told.

The main point of the book is that whining to the king about unfair treatment such as taxes from loyal subjects is absurd beside the outrageous rights violations those same colonists perpetrated on nonwhites, not only with impunity, but with pride, satisfaction and privilege. That the founders themselves worked so hard to make this the centerpiece of their drive for independence while singing their own praises over everyone being equal is a sham of historic proportions, making Thirteen Clocks a valuable work. It puts a lot in perspective.

David Wineberg
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DavidWineberg | Apr 12, 2021 |




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