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Tecumseh—Resistance Giving Meaning To Defeat And To Life

(This is the final part of the Texas Liberal series Four For The Fourth—Alternatives To Accommodation And Assimilation.) 

Few better dramatize the concept of resistance than the great Chief Tecumseh. (1768-1812)

Tecumseh refused accommodation or assimilation with encroaching whites. He thought he would be better off dead than accepting these things. In this he spoke for himself, for his Shawnee tribe and for other unified Native American tribes he led into battle against Americans before his death in the War of 1812.

Tecumseh is distinct from the first three figures in this series. Frances Perkins and Barry Goldwater saw politics as the path to change. They were looking for the reigning society to accept new ideas. Thomas Paine, though willing to fight, imagined a better future and was not inherently looking for war.

Tecumseh reached the point of wanting war. He wasn’t really looking for a better future. Tecumseh wanted war knowing he might lose. He understood that settlers would be hard to displace. He wasn’t looking for revolution. He was looking for a worthwhile way to die. He was seeking a way to lose that gave value to his life and to the life of his people.

What does the principled individual do in a valueless society?  What does the reformer do who sees that her cause won’t be won in her lifetime? What did an American slave do who saw he was going to live the rest of his life in bondage? What response could be offered by the Native American who saw his people victims of genocide?

Tecumseh’s first response was to want nothing to do with settler culture. He wore only native clothes and would not drink alcohol. Feelings about the prevailing culture ranging between unease and revulsion are understandable to many on both the left and the right. The pull of separatism is often there. Separatism can be a form of resistance.

Tecumseh’s second response was to fight. He chose to fight regardless of the prospect of victory. It wasn’t suicide. He would have liked to send the white man back to Europe. He simply understood the chances.

We all have ways to fight back. We can do so regardless of what we think our chances for success. Finding the right strategy of resistance after defeat is the one way something of hope can be salvaged. Sometimes you can’t help but lose. What is within your power is how you respond to defeat. 

All the subjects in this series have shown there are always honorable and meaningful options in responding to a world not of your own making. These options will require hard work. They may even be dangerous in extreme situations such as resisting genocide. But they are there.

July 6, 2007 Posted by | Four For The Fourth, Political History | 3 Comments

Thomas Paine—The Real Deal

(This is the fourth part of the Texas Liberal series Four For The Fourth—Alternatives To Accommodation And Assimilation.) 

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)was a genuine revolutionary. He was revolutionary in politics, in society and in religion. 

The difference between Paine and the first two subjects of this series is clear. Unlike the reforms and changes in direction fought for by FDR’s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins or by Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, Paine wanted a completely new order of affairs.  

In politics, Paine’s wrote his pamphlet Common Sense only two years after arriving in the United States from Britain. Common Sense circulated among large numbers of the literate population in America. It performed a task as important as military victory. It moved people’s minds towards accepting the concept of revolution. 

In society, Paine was ardently opposed to slavery. It’s often said men like Thomas Jefferson should be viewed in the context of their times on slavery. Yet through men like Paine the moral information that slavery was wrong was part of the public debate. On slavery, Jefferson and others choose to listen to different voices and competing arguments.

In religion, Paine was a skeptic. This skepticism argues Susan Jacoby in Freethinkers—A History of American Secularism caused Paine to be shunned in his own lifetime and ignored after his death as one the great American Founding Fathers.

While Paine helped make the American Revolution, he risked his life in France by speaking out against excesses of the French Revolution. He was not for revolution for its own sake. He managed well the fine line between strong convictions and losing one’s way to pure ideology or moral certainty.

That Paine understood this line can be seen in an observation he made about the French Revolution as qouted by Jacoby. Said Paine, the “intolerant spirit of church persecutions had transferred itself into politics.”

Thomas Paine was the real deal. His mix of revolution and restraint is an enduring model for those willing to imagine a different and better future.                 

July 6, 2007 Posted by | Books, Colonial America, Four For The Fourth, Political History | 4 Comments

Barry Goldwater—Secret Liberal Crush

(This is the third part of the Texas Liberal series Four For The Fourth—Alternatives To Accommodation And Assimilation.) 

The late Senator Barry Goldwater  (1909-1998) of Arizona was a man ahead of his time. Ahead of his time with right-wing policies that would prove to be of great harm to the nation. And, the focus here, ahead of his time politically as an early advocate of a brand of conservatism that ended up ascendant in the nation. 

(What a difference in this regard between Senator Goldwater and another soundly defeated Presidential nominee, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. It matters so much the era one is born into. Goldwater’s day came and McGovern’s day has not.)

Not a reformer in the sense of the previous subject of this series, FDR’s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, Goldwater was willing to lose now to win later. He did not need to work well with others to reach his goal.

Also, the changes Perkins wanted were in some part driven by and in large part enabled by the crisis of the Depression. Goldwater ran for President in a time of prosperity.

Goldwater’s 1964 loss to Lyndon Johnson was one of the greatest landslides of all time.

While he wouldn’t have won a Presidential nomination if completely in the wilderness, Goldwater’s Sunbelt anti-tax individualism was not a winning ideology at the time. However, this did not lead Goldwater to retreat from his views. He ran his race in 1964 and he was still in the Senate as a strong conservative in 1980 when Ronald Reagan, a Sunbelt anti-tax individualist, won the White House.

The leader who sticks to seemingly out-of-the-mainstream beliefs even after defeat may be a kook or a prophet. Or both. Any ideologically committed person can understand Goldwater.

I’ve always had sympathy for Martin Luther King’s assertion that in a sick society it is the maladjusted person who may be most mentally well. If elected Goldwater might well have had King jailed for treason. Yet I see in Goldwater the same qualities and passions that drive many people of strong convictions to do brave things.

The fact that Goldwater saw much of his vision prevail leaves me with an admiration I can admit only to close friends, and, now, to readers of blogs.

July 4, 2007 Posted by | Four For The Fourth, Political History | 4 Comments

FDR’s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins—Conservative Liberal

(This is the second part of the Texas Liberal series Four For The Fourth—Alternatives To Accommodation And Assimilation.)

Frances Perkins(1882-1965), the first woman to serve in a Presidential cabinet, helped chart Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and was a champion of the initial passage of Social Security

As Labor Secretary, Perkins served as a reformer close to the center of power. Like many reformers, Perkins could in some ways be termed conservative. She did not embrace the most radical solutions proposed to end the Great Depression. 

Perkins’ mix of imagination and practical experience is a hallmark of the successful reformer. Before working in government, she worked with the poor at Jane Addams’ Hull House in Chicago. Perkins worked in the 1920’s for New York Governor Al Smith. Smith advocated an expanded place for government in the lives of citizens and is viewed as a “founding father” of the New Deal.

Perkins had an understanding about the lives of the poor. She knew government could help if America could begin to imagine government in that role.

Progress in politics, and in many aspects of life, is often a product of imagination. In the case of the New Deal, imagination got a strong push from the demands of the Depression.

Frances Perkins engaged in a mild form of resistance to the prevailing society. She sought to use existing tools of power in a new way. It is often these more mild reforms that are most effective. The kind of change Perkins embraced was in many ways meant to protect America from its free market excesses. 

That said, Perkins’ view that government had a duty to help those most in need was revolutionary in its implications for those who got the help.   

July 3, 2007 Posted by | Four For The Fourth, Political History | 1 Comment

Independence Day Alternatives To Accommodation And Assimilation

This Independence Day week, Texas Liberal will run a series of posts I’m calling “Four For The Fourth—Alternatives To Accommodation And Assimilation.”

I’m going to discuss four Americans who chose paths other than “going along to get along.”    

As the week progresses, the historical figure I write about will be a person who followed a more radical course than the individual featured the previous day.          

Tomorrow, I’ll start by writing about Franklin Roosevelt’s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins. Perkins imagined a government with an expanded conception of the value of every human being.

Wednesday, I’ll feature former Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Goldwater stuck to his principles over time, even after defeat, and saw the political system remade somewhat in his image.

Thursday’s post will consider Revolutionary hero Thomas Paine. Paine wanted a complete change in how Americans were governed.

Finally, on Friday I’ll write about Tecumseh. Tecumseh thought he was better off dead than living under the control of whites.

A message of this series is “There are always other options.”   

Thanks for reading Texas Liberal. 

July 2, 2007 Posted by | Four For The Fourth, Political History | 1 Comment