This week we discussed the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. While the particular grievances have come and gone, Jefferson’s preamble is deservedly remembered. In 1765 the colonists talked of ‘English liberties,’ and protested on that basis. In the Declaration, however, we see the concept of universal human rights enunciated. The colonists were not fighting to be English, but in a sense to be more human. While Jefferson was a deist and not a Christian, he is clear to point out that these rights are universal because they originate in the fact that we are created by God. In class we discussed how these ideals have shaped our nation.
Many in the world, rightly or wrongly, accuse us of meddling, not minding our own business, and so on. Whether this charge is just or not can be debated. What we can trace back to the Declaration, however, is that we seek in some measure to spread our ideals not because they’re ours, but because we believed that they belonged to all. Are we right about this crucial assertion? Clearly the words of the Declaration not only reflected, but also molded and shaped our self perception as a nation.
Again, this does not mean that we have always done this, or done it well, or at the right times, places, and so on.
We wrapped up the fighting of the war this week as well, and focused on the crucial battles of Saratoga and Yorktown. To help cement the impact of these battles we did a card game activity, where the rules and structure of the game give an advantage to the ‘favorite.’ However, I hoped that the students would discern that the underdog had certain advantages as well:
– They could afford to play more recklessly, since they had less to lose– If they got lucky or could bluff their way to 1 big success, they could simply fold (i.e. retreat in orderly fashion) and wait until the end of the game — until time ran out.
Many of you may have seen an action movie where the lone hero has to fight his way into a compound, boat, or some other such structure. Despite being outnumbered, miraculously he kills the bad guys and escapes. Along with Hollywood escapism at work, our hero does have one advantage. Every person he sees on the boat he knows immediately is a bad guy. He can shoot first, ask questions later. Because the bad guys are so numerous, chances are nearly every person the bad guys see in the shadows is on their side. They hesitate and give the hero the advantage, showing how their numbers work against them at least in some ways.
I could easily stretch this analogy too far, but British failures at Saratoga and Yorktown show the great difficulty the British faced winning the war. How could they solve the problems that created the war in the first place through violence? The situation between England and their colonies from 1764-1775 craved a political response that the British proved unable to provide. Victory through violence therefore required an absolutely crushing military defeat, and this mean they would have to take chances to achieve it. Both times they did this, it backfired mightily upon them. To add to their problems, Americans could afford to take chances occasionally because their victories would mean so much more than British ones. England’s political bungling in the decade prior to the war prepared the way for their defeat. I touch on some of these issues in this post on whether or not generalship can be “clutch” or not here.
Next week we will begin our unit on the Constitution and our mock Supreme Court Activity. Many thanks for all your support,
Here is the song supposedly played by the British at their Yorktown surrender: