Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The American Spirit of the Past

I have been thinking a lot about the American spirit of independence lately and it has caused me to explore and appreciate movies about life during the 19th Century. There are many movies that depict pioneer days and the values of people who lived during that time and many of them do a pretty good job of capturing the spirit that built our nation and made it strong. Here is what I have gathered so far:

-Almost the entire century was a time of positive expectations with a sense of impending progress. It was a time of hope, trust and benevolence. But these were not blind pollyanish hopes but the result of a conviction that man could improve his life and surroundings through hard work and independent thinking.
-Yet, nature is very harsh and deadly and it took a special attitude to survive in the wilderness without the aid of modern conveniences.
-People had to make, with their own hands, many of the things they needed for subsistence and this made them strong and tough but also more honest since they had to be honest with themselves about what they needed for survival.
-People were more civilized and respectful of other people because they realized that each man was a resource of knowledge and survival skills. This made them appreciate each other more and respect those among them who had shown some particular skill or ability. The good hunter or good carpenter was always prized by his contemporaries.
-They could more easily tell when they were being bamboozled by someone.
-They got more angry when they felt they were being bamboozled and/or taken advantage of. Because of this, they expressed that anger and acted upon it to the point of direct violence against a thief or charlatan. Yet, most often, this violence seldom led to more than a black eye or bloody nose...the important thing was that the blackguard learned his lesson or left town.
-This means they also understood that the thief and the charlatan were birds of a feather and they had no problem hating them with vigor because they understood how deadly such people could be and how their efforts made survival, which was already hard, even harder. This is frontier justice.
-They loved intensely and appreciated the value of those they selected as their wives, husbands, friends and partners.
-When nature threatened, they pulled together, not out of altruism but out of self-interest and once the threat was over, they went back to their individualized lives.
-They did not make disaster into a reason for sacrifice. They got angry at the idea of sacrifice and those who would require it...even preachers (This fact has been lost beneath the emergence of self-sacrifice as it is preached in modern times).
-When they made a decision they stuck with it and took responsibility for thinking and doing. So they thought more carefully and came up with firm answers that reflected a moral perspective.
-They respected knowledge and culture and sought to bring it to the wilderness in the forms of books and theatrical presentations, music, dances and other forms of socializing.
-As soon as organized society and division of labor formed, they took advantage of it but still were wary of those who would introduce paper money, debt and contract. As the saying goes, their word was their bond.
-They trusted farmers and felt they were more honest and they distrusted merchants and people who made a living off of the work of others such as speculators, bankers and lawyers.
-They didn't like being told what to do.
-None of this would have been possible without the Bill of Rights and the philosophy behind it which is individualism.

Remember these lessons as we work in 2011 to restore the honor, decency and work ethic of our ancestors.