Your Views: Coming to terms with our national origins

Your Views: Coming to terms with our national origins
George Washington Mount Vernon’s estate. (Courtesy photo)

To the editor:

In his Aug. 25 column, “Telling the story of a complex past,” Rev. Ian Markham poses an achievement-versus-sin dichotomy underlying our country’s founding and rise to greatness. The sin narrative insists that slavery and segregation were central to our country’s history and today manifests in mass incarceration and other forms of socioeconomic oppression. Racism was, indeed, the principal driving force behind the American Revolution and the establishment of the United States.

American colonists had fought in the French and Indian War with great enthusiasm, eying with a desire to settle the lands beyond the Appalachians which Great Britain won from the French as a consequence of the war’s outcome. George Washington and other American founders and the volunteers who had fought in the war had been promised tens of thousands of acres beyond the Appalachians which King George III instead reserved for the Amerindians through the Proclamation of 1763, to avert a costly conflict with the Amerindian tribes.

Even Mount Vernon’s official site reluctantly acknowledges that “the ideological break with the mother country promulgated by the Proclamation Line of 1763, particularly for governmental leaders and Virginia’s landed gentry, served to push the colonies into rebellion in the following decade.”

Data from the first U.S. Census show that slavery had been common even in northern colonies and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s official site describes how it had embedded itself in the American colonies, becoming the basis for great wealth creation. Colonial Williamsburg further documents how Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench’s 1772 ruling in Somerset v Stewart threatened slavery’s continued existence, with many slaves understanding the ruling as effectively abolishing slavery. Some slaves in the colonies even invoked it to seek their freedom.

Not surprisingly, the American elite, plantation owners, shipping magnates – whose ships carried not only slaves but slave-produced goods – saw a break with Great Britain as protecting them from Somerset v Stewart being applied to Britain’s American colonies.

When U.S. slaves escaped to British North America, as Canada was known before the American Civil War, they were immediately recognized as full- fledged persons with rights, pursuant to Somerset v Stewart, very much in contrast to their status in antebellum America.

Because the King of England is considered the titular head of the Church of England, its American adherents, after the American Revolution, had to divorce from the church in Great Britain and establish in the newly independent United States the self-governing Protestant Episcopal Church. Nowhere is the tension between Markham’s achievement-versus-sin dichotomy more keenly felt than in the American Anglican Communion, which has one foot planted firmly in each of the contending tendencies.

On Aug. 4, a group of prominent historians met with President Joe Biden for two hours to warn him that the United States is closer to a civil war than is commonly realized, according to What these historians, owing likely to liberal leanings, do not seem to grasp is that a country cannot renounce the basis for its own founding and expect to endure because the basis will win out, especially for the United States, whose Constitution allows changes only via a supermajority unlikely to be attained.

Only a “fresh start” with a newly constituted new country, explicitly renouncing the United States’ “sin narrative” and embracing its “achievement narrative” but in a new national structure can escape Markham’s dichotomy’s otherwise ineluctable dilemma. Otherwise, we must accede to the United States having an inseparable achievement-and-sinful foundation, which public policy must, more than tolerate, honor.

-Dino Drudi, Alexandria