Magazine article Humanities

Creating the American Character

Magazine article Humanities

Creating the American Character

Article excerpt

"I've always been interested in beginnings, in traditions, in how things got started," Michael Barone tells NEH Chairman Bruce Cole. A respected political commentator, Barone has been doing play-by-play on the American political game for more than three decades. But with his new book, Our first Revolution: The Remarkable British Upheaval That inspired America's Founding Fathers, Barone excavates the seventeenth century and England's Glorious Revolution. He locates the roots of the American Constitution in the settlement that accompanied the transfer of the English throne from James II to William of Orange: the right to representative government, the right to keep and bear arms, the right against self-incrimination, and right to trial by jury.

Barone also regards William's willingness to oppose Louis XTV of France's territorial ambitions as the genesis of England's commitment to opposing expansionist regimes. "William's rule helped set the tradition in the 1690s, one that continued through the eighteenth century, of opposing expansionist tyrannical powers. That anti-tyrannical foreign policy has been a British policy, and an American policy, in the three hundred years plus since this event," says Barone. Given their common political heritage and ideals, Barone thinks it only natural that the United States and Britain would later join forces to oppose dictatorships with a penchant for territorial aggrandizement.

The most lauded of those partnerships continues to be the AngloAmerican alliance of World War II. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's new seven-part film, The War, explores the American side of that experience. Rather than focusing on the friendship between Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt or the barbarous nature of the Nazi regime, The War delves into the experience of average Americans-the soldier that goes off to fight, the family left behind to worry, the community mobilizing for victory. …

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