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“The Best Earthly Inheritance” Our Founders Bequeathed

Every July much is said about the blessings of liberty, the meaning of the American Experiment, and the price of freedom. But this year we also mark the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and, on August 10, of the arrival of the news of this world-altering decision in London.

Benjamin Franklin is said to have advised his fellow patriots of the potential consequences of challenging the British Empire and its king: “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” While each of the 56 British subjects who affixed their names to the Declaration risked life, fortune, and sacred honor, none may have risked as much as the delegate from Maryland, Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

At the time of the signing, Charles Carroll was the wealthiest man in the American colonies. The risk he took in siding with the cause of independence was acknowledged to be substantial, both in material terms and in his social standing as one of the most prominent citizens of Maryland. In his book, Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary, biographer Scott McDermott recounts that when John Hancock asked Carroll to sign―and Carroll responded, “Most willingly”―a bystander commented, “There go a few millions.”

And just to make sure that everyone, including King George III, knew which of Maryland’s many Charles Carrolls was the signer, he proudly added the words “of Carrollton” (his Frederick County estate). Thus, history remembers him as “Charles Carroll of Carrollton.”

Carroll is unique among the signers for more than just his wealth. He was, in fact, ineligible to vote or to hold public office when he was chosen by the Maryland Convention as a delegate to Congress to approve the Declaration on its behalf. Maryland’s early Toleration Act granting religious freedom had been overturned in 1692, so Catholics could not vote, hold public office, worship in public, or freely educate their children in their faith.

Carroll’s participation in the War of Independence was motivated by his firm belief in natural law and rights, government by consent of the citizens, and freedom of religion. The Catholic minority in the British American colonies recognized in the cause of liberty the path to equality under law.

Carroll strongly supported and collaborated with George Washington during the war, influenced the crafting of the Maryland and the U.S. Constitutions, and served as the first senator from the new state of Maryland. His public life was long, and he was a giant figure through the early decades of the 19th century. Looked up to as an elder statesman and symbol of national unity, at his death in 1832, the Baltimore American called him “the last of the Romans”―a reference to the classical prototype of the generation who built the new but maturing Republic.

Charles Carroll’s brief testament to the America he would leave behind was written on a parchment copy of the Declaration, dated July 4, 1826. He wrote in the style of a man educated in the 18th century, but behind the formality is a stark humility and a simple message intended for today:

“Grateful to Almighty God for the blessing which, through Jesus Christ our Lord, he has conferred upon my beloved country, in her emancipation, and upon myself, in permitting me, under circumstances of mercy,…to survive the fiftieth year of American Independence, and certifying by my present signature my approbation of the Declaration of Independence adopted by Congress…, and of which I am now the last surviving signer, I do hereby recommend to the present and future generations the principles of that important document as the best earthly inheritance their ancestors could bequeath to them, and pray that the civil and religious liberties they have secured to my country may be perpetuated to the remotest posterity and extended to the whole family of man.”

As we celebrate many historic anniversaries of our freedom this year, and the legacy of each of America’s founders, let us also “remember Carroll’s sacred trust…and all [who slumber] with the just.”

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Portland Schools Need Radical Change, Not Just a New Superintendent

Portland school superintendent Carole Smith abruptly resigned in July, after nine years on the job. She was originally planning to retire next June, but the release of an independent investigation into the district’s inept handling of contaminated drinking water caused her to speed up her departure.

The school board immediately announced a national search for a successor, and the rest of the story is predictable. After months of searching, finalists will be scrutinized in a detailed public vetting, and someone will be signed to an expensive contract. The new leader will enjoy a short honeymoon and then gradually sink into the bureaucratic quagmire of school politics.

Amidst never-ending arguments about school transfers, graduation rates, and a myriad of other issues, buyer’s remorse will set in. Eventually the superintendent will resign and the process will begin anew.

This is the way we’ve been doing things for decades, usually with disappointing results. We could take a different path. But first we have to admit that if system results are disappointing, we need to change the system, not the people.

Large urban school districts are inherently dysfunctional. Teaching is a distributed service; the learning takes place student by student, classroom by classroom. When measured in terms of students, teachers, money, and facilities, there are millions of moving parts. The notion that a single bureaucrat in the central office can design the optimal system to satisfy all customers is a fantasy.

The system itself needs radical change, and the single most important reform Portland could pursue would be to redesign how the money flows.

Right now, tax dollars go to the district, regardless of results. Students are assigned to schools like factory widgets and few families have other options. The suppliers of service have all the leverage, while consumers have almost none.

A better option would be for the district to seek legislative approval of Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs). The ESA concept is simple: Parents who are dissatisfied with the government school assigned to them can opt to have most or all of the per-student money that would have gone to that school for their children deposited instead in personal accounts managed by the state treasurer. The funds in each account become property of the family and may be used for a variety of educational services, including private education, home schools, online learning, and tutoring.

Ideally, any money left over at the end of a school year would remain in the account, available for future use. This would encourage wise stewardship of those funds. If the account still had money at the time the student graduated from high school, it could be used for college tuition or technical training.

Distributing school funding through consumers rather than providers would instantly change the balance of power. High-cost union contracts would have to change. Parents would need to be satisfied. And market discipline would replace ineffective top-down management.

Most parents would probably not use ESAs. It’s likely they are satisfied with their neighborhood school and wouldn’t want the hassle of shopping around. But the mere fact that they could use an ESA would create incentives for teachers and administrators to behave differently. When suppliers of a service know that 100 percent of their customers have the means to shop elsewhere, they focus on satisfying those customers.

Carole Smith was neither the worst nor the best Portland school superintendent in recent memory; she was just part of the conveyor belt of socialism that defines generic government education. Stopping the conveyor belt would be a good first step toward liberating students and improving educational achievement in Portland.


This article originally appeared in the July 2016 edition of the newsletter, Oregon Transformation: Ideas for Growth and Change.

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Freedom in Fiction: Ida Elisabeth

Ida Elisabeth had every reason to leave her husband. He was foolish, immature, irresponsible, and unable to change. She couldn’t respect him. She had never really loved him. When he had an affair with another woman, it was her chance to leave and take the children―and no one blamed her.

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Sigrid Undset placed Ida Elisabeth in her own contemporary 1930s Norway, a period of escalating social change prior to the Second World War. People spoke skeptically of the beliefs and assumptions of previous generations, doubting that conventional ethics would outlast their lifetime. Socialist-type welfare policies were becoming popular in noncommunist Western countries. Democratic governments, responding to the demands of the electorate, promised citizens more and more―and supplanted many social roles formerly played by spouses, families, local communities, and private charities. The modern world was unfolding―uneasily.

In a key conversation, Ida’s older mentor muses about the rise of the modern welfare state and Norway’s path to unsustainable public debt:

“…[T]he qualities which put a man in power and those which make him feel responsibility are not necessarily associated, nor do they necessarily exclude each other,” [he said.] “…We had an institution here in Norway in the saga times which was called debt-servitude. When a man had incurred more debts than he was able to pay, he could hand over his children to his creditors, and they had to work as thralls until they had earned enough to cover their father’s indebtedness. I don’t believe children are told anything about this debt-servitude in the schools nowadays. But they’re destined to experience it.”

Ida Elisabeth nodded: “They won’t have a good time, those who come after us.”

“No. And…[w]ill those who come after us be content to bear all the burdens which we still feel it our duty to shoulder? To help all that neither can nor will help themselves?…Especially when the young are aware that the old have taken upon themselves to determine, that they should come into the world, and when they should come, and how many should be put into the world to take over the burdens when they themselves are no longer able to bear them.”

In Ida’s time, the modern welfare state was already detaching individuals from reliance on those around them. While the state-run systems―“almshouses,” etc.—seemed streamlined, efficient, and economical ways of relieving people of the need to personally care for others, the underlying philosophy of utility was already becoming disturbing.

Ida’s friend wonders what will obligate future generations to honor the debts of their forebears, if people no longer believe that other human beings―just like themselves―possess innate and inalienable value? In the modern world, no one needs to be bothered with others any more than they think is reasonable, children come into the world solely at the convenience of adults, and family bonds may be broken at will. Who will decide what price is too high to meet the needs of the elderly, the sick and disabled, and those who cannot “pull their full weight” in society? (By the end of the decade in which Ida Elisabeth was published, these questions had begun to bear bitter fruit in Germany. In the novel, these musings were still largely theoretical.)

As the novel plays out, “big government” (or the welfare state) appears to be a symptom (or symbol) of another, more subtle disease: the human decision to put one’s own needs and desires ahead of the call to serve others, relinquishing individual responsibility to a nameless, faceless state. The genius of Ida Elisabeth is the connection made on the level of the heart between decisions made within personal relationships and a philosophy of self-centeredness that paves the way for far-reaching social change and loss of respect for human beings.

But the novel isn’t about government. It’s a love story of a mother and her children, her husband, and the man “who should have been.” When Ida Elisabeth falls in love with a man who shares her wishes and desires, she is forced to confront a struggle of conscience that is hard for the postmodern reader to accept. Ida tries to reconcile her mind and conscience with cutting herself off forever from family members from whom it once seemed right to separate.

While she is not a religious person and does not base her decisions on what is left of Norway’s conventional morality, Ida cannot fully agree with her secular friends that it is best to abandon those who couldn’t possibly make her feel fulfilled. “We at any rate can’t watch people drowning because they can’t swim, and not care,” she says. Her fundamental choice is between a “happy ending” and the needs of her family. Her choice determines their futures, her character, and her understanding of the meaning of life.

One of the lessons Sigrid Undset teaches so adeptly in her fiction is the step-by-step nature of discernment: Decisions made today may need to be adjusted tomorrow, because mercy has claims as well as justice. Undset deprives the reader of an easy ending because real life is often difficult. Happiness does not always appear in the form for which we wish. Deep human longings, passions, hopes, and personal needs may clash with what we know in our hearts must be done. The mysteries of life can’t be shoehorned into simplistic answers to complex problems. Codependence is not a virtue; “tough love” is a necessary, difficult road. But once Ida Elisabeth decides not to abandon the source of her sorrows to the public almshouse (so to speak), the way begins to become clear―a road of thorns for her at first, but a path of light, understanding, reconciliation, and peace.

Ida Elisabeth is a novel to be pondered with an open mind and heart―and more than a few good tears.

Celebrating the “Christopher Columbus” of School Choice, Milton Friedman

School choice has entered a new world. Because Americans are increasingly vocal about providing parents with the ability to choose their children’s schools, states are adopting broad-based school choice initiatives. Those successes can be attributed to various individuals, groups, and campaigns nationwide. However, it is school choice’s “Christopher Columbus” who deserves recognition for starting this movement more than 60 years ago.

In 1955, the yet-to-be Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman introduced his vision of school choice as a way to improve the quality of American education. His idea was simple: Give parents access to their children’s public education funding, rather than require they attend the government (public) schools nearest their homes.

“Governments could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on ‘approved’ educational services,” Friedman wrote in 1955. “Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum on purchasing educational services from an ‘approved’ institution of their own choice. The educational services could be rendered by private enterprises operated for profit, or by non-profit institutions of various kinds. The role of the government would be limited to assuring that the schools met certain minimum standards such as the inclusion of a minimum common content in their programs, much as it now inspects restaurants to assure that they maintain minimum sanitary standards.”

Because of vested interests in the education arena, including powerful public school teachers unions, Friedman’s suggestions were ignored. And, as a result, the cost of public education doubled while its academic performance stayed the same. As Friedman noted, that should come as no surprise because that’s exactly what monopolies do: They offer a product of similar, if not worse, value at a higher price than normally would be allowed if they had to compete in the free market.

But those days are over. Many states are broke, preventing them from dropping more money out of airplanes over public schools. And many parents are fed up, wondering why their kids are underperforming or unmotivated in K-12 schools and unprepared for their college courses and future careers.

Because of that sentiment and cash crunch, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, named after Milton and his wife Rose, we now see over half the states with one or more school choice programs, consisting of vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, individual tax credits and deductions, and Education Savings Accounts.

Oregon is behind the curve, with no significant private school choice programs―yet. But widening charter school and online school options hopefully will soon lead to more school choice for all Oregon children. The most promising possibility here involves an update of Friedman’s original voucher idea, now seen as the “rotary phone” of the school choice movement. The school choice “smart phone” is now Education Savings Accounts. ESAs give parents and students even more choices, while replacing the old “use it or lose it” funding mechanisms with a market system. This system allows parents to shop for educational services and use their savings toward future educational needs of their children.

Limited Education Savings Account programs now exist in several states, and Nevada is on the verge of implementing a near universal ESA program that soon could be available to all its K-12 students. If achieved, this will be seen as the realization of Milton Friedman’s 60-year-old vision of full school choice for every child, at least in one state with more to follow.

But Friedman’s vision was not for school choice to be just another government program. He wanted to see school choice fundamentally change the way public education operates from its current structure that supports government schools and the adults who work in them, to a better model that empowers parents. He argued that if both rich families and poor ones could receive government funding when their kids use public schools, then both rich and poor should be able to receive that same funding to make educational choices outside the government school system.

It took America more than 60 years to reach today’s environment in which parent empowerment in education is celebrated more than ridiculed. Moving forward, around the country and especially here in Oregon, we should celebrate the new world that the school choice movement’s “Christopher Columbus” opened up for us.

Milton Friedman died in 2006. For the ten years since, Cascade Policy Institute and more than one hundred other organizations around the world have celebrated what has become known as Friedman Legacy Day each year on or around his birthday, July 31. This year marks the last such formal celebration. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which has sponsored these events to honor and reflect on the life and legacy of its founder, has announced that on the day of this year’s final formal celebration, Friday, July 29, it will unveil its new name and new strategic plan designed to move Milton Friedman’s school choice vision even more effectively into the future. Please join us as we celebrate both the man and his vision, and as we look forward to many more children getting the quality educations they have been so long denied in our one-size-fits-all government school system.


A version of this Commentary first appeared in Cascade Business News on what would have been Milton Friedman’s 100th birthday, July 31, 2012. Steve Buckstein wrote about Friedman’s ties to Portland in The Oregonian the day after he died in 2006.

Freedom in Film: Follow That Dream (1962)

What may be the funniest movie about personal initiative and limited government? Look no further than Follow That Dream (1962), a rollicking pro-freedom comedy starring Arthur O’Connell and Elvis Presley.

Elvis plays Toby Kwimper, the young adult son in a family that gets just about every possible government entitlement benefit; and his dad (O’Connell) is proud of it. When overbearing bureaucrats make them angry, what does the Kwimper family do? They swear off their benefit checks, build a homestead on an empty beach in Florida, and start a small business. With several subplots, Follow That Dream shows off Elvis’s deadpan comic ability. He outwits the mafia, cunning social workers, and (most) adolescent girls with equal aplomb.

Suitable for family viewing, the movie delivers a victory for ordinary folks over the powers that be. It’s full of jokes about welfare-state attitudes, zoning laws, and government “looking out for you.” In the climactic courtroom scene, a judge praises the American spirit of enterprise, initiative, and voluntary community.

As Pop Kwimper puts it, sometimes there just gets to be too much government, and a person wants to move someplace without all those regulations. If you’ve ever felt that way after a frustrating encounter with bureaucracy, Follow That Dream will have you in stitches.

Oregon Teens Discover Their “Lightbulb Moment” at Young Entrepreneurs Business Week

Your average high school students may not be able to explain a fictional company’s dividends to a lecture hall full of adults from the business world. But after five days at Young Entrepreneurs Business Week, they could.

YEBW is a nonprofit annual summer camp founded in 2005 by young Oregon entrepreneurs Nick and Maurissa Fisher, hosted on the campuses of the University of Portland, Oregon State University, and University of Oregon. From 75 students on one campus during its first year, YEBW has grown to more than 400 participants on three campuses in 2016.

YEBW’s founders shared a concern that young people of all educational and economic backgrounds often leave high school with no practical business knowledge, hindering their ability to innovate, create, and produce the kinds of goods and services key to Oregon communities’ growth and success. They sought to fill the gap by drawing together curriculum developers, business professionals, educators, and successful youth-focused program leaders to launch an innovative educational program for high school students.

Participants spend one week on the UP, OSU, or UO campus and are exposed to a challenging curriculum designed to teach students that business can be fun and exciting, not to mention understandable and interesting. Students leave the camp possessing relevant, basic financial and business skills to apply to whatever goals they set for themselves. YEBW board chair Jeff Gaus says, “For some, YEBW is that lightbulb moment when they realize who they are and what they want to do in life.”

During the program, students are divided into student-led companies, guided by volunteers from the business community who share their knowledge and expertise throughout the week. The curriculum provides students with the financial literacy, business fundamentals, and confidence they need to be self-sufficient and successful.

During the first-year program, Business Week, students form mock companies where they create management teams, develop mission statements, invent a product, and conduct actual operation of their own business by competing in business simulations. Designed to broaden the practical skill sets of each student, the program incorporates professional speakers and other interactive learning exercises like mock interviews and networking events.

For returning students, Investing Week gives students the opportunity to learn about basic investment vehicles, the principles of evaluating a potential investment, and understanding the personal and business effects of the financial market system. Entrepreneur Week provides the chance to learn what it is like to start and run a business. Students prepare a full business plan, run an on-campus business as a team, and present their individual work to a panel of judges acting as potential company “investors.”

It’s not all “head knowledge,” either. YEBW fosters professional interpersonal skills. Students learn the art of the handshake, eye contact, introductions, proper business and evening attire, and table manners, so they can navigate job interviews and networking events with confidence.

Young Entrepreneurs Business Week teaches teens that “there is a business side to every occupation.” Likewise, every Oregon occupation would benefit from having more business-savvy graduates of YEBW. The young people who attend the first-year program mostly come with no prior business knowledge or experience, but they leave with well-earned confidence in their abilities and potential as tomorrow’s successful professional adults. A nonprofit program like YEBW, spearheaded by enthusiastic young business leaders, is truly a bright light for the future of the entrepreneurial spirit in Oregon.

Trust Lands Should Be Auctioned to High Bidder to Benefit Schools

In his recent guest column in The Oregonian, Director of the Oregon Department of State Lands Jim Paul summarizes the history of the Elliott State Forest. He correctly notes that the Common School Trust lands within the Elliott must be managed as an endowment asset for public schools.

Since the Elliott is now a net liability instead of an asset due to environmental litigation, the State Land Board has appropriately concluded that the Trust Lands should be sold.

Unfortunately, the sale will not take place through competitive bidding, because this is not an auction. On July 27, the Land Board will announce the results of an appraisal and set the sale price as the appraised price. If you dare to offer even one dollar more, your bid will be set aside by state lawyers as “nonresponsive.”

The three Land Board members – the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Treasurer – do not want prospective purchasers to compete on price. They want them to compete on four non-financial variables, which will greatly complicate the sale process.

All offers must include at least the following set of “public benefits”: (1) at least 50 percent of the timberland must remain open for public recreational use even after it is transferred to new owners; (2) 120-foot no-cut buffers on each side of fish-bearing streams must be left permanently untouched; (3) at least 25% of the older stands of trees must be left standing; and (4) at least 40 full-time jobs annually must be provided over the first ten years of ownership.

If there are multiple offers at the same mandated price, the tie will be broken by the strongest package of these public benefits. But that turns the process into a beauty contest. There is no objective way to compare an offer with 130-foot buffers with another offer that has only 120-foot buffers but proposes to employ 50 people each year rather than 40.

Public school students, parents, and employees deserve to receive fair market value for surrendering this asset. An “appraisal” is not the same as market value.

Evidence of this is everywhere. For example, almost everyone selling a home in Portland right now knows that the final sale price is likely to be higher than the listed price, because the Portland market is red-hot.

When the State of Indiana decided to lease the operations of the state turnpike to a private vendor in 2006, the “experts” estimated that it might be worth $2 billion. In fact, the winning bid from a Spanish-Australian consortium was $3.8 billion.

In 1984 the Portland Trail Blazers famously appraised the value of Michael Jordan to be lower than that of Sam Bowie. Subsequent events proved that the Trail Blazers had made one of the worst talent “appraisals” in pro sports history.

And just last month, a Chinese investor paid $3.4 million for one lunch with investor Warren Buffet (the purchaser gets to bring seven of his closest friends). How many of us, if asked on the street, would have appraised a single lunch with anyone as being worth $3.4 million?

But that’s the point of competitive bidding. Only the market knows the value of an asset. If even one person in the world is willing to pay millions for a single lunch, then that is exactly what the lunch is worth. If we don’t allow a market to set the price of Elliott State Forest timberland, we’ll never know its true value.

There is a simple fix to this problem. The Land Board should require that all offers for the Elliott Trust Lands include the mandated four public benefits, and then select the highest responsible bid.

School beneficiaries such as local school boards, employee associations, and parent booster groups should prepare now to sue the Land Board for breach of fiduciary trust if the Board continues with its absurd plan to give away Common School Trust Lands without competitive bidding. The appraised value announced on July 27 should be the starting point for competitive offers, not the end point.


A version of this article originally appeared in The Oregonian on July 14, 2016.

Freedom in Film: Ever After (1998)

If you are looking for an uplifting summer movie for the teenage girls in your life, Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998) provides a thought-provoking twist on the classic fairytale. While director Andy Tennant’s plot follows the traditional story, Ever After also explores themes of family loyalty, economic interdependence, social justice, and the rewards of hard work.

In a refreshing departure from predictable Hollywood storylines, Drew Barrymore’s tough and brave Cinderella (“Danielle”) combines a loving respect for her family’s heritage with a can-do approach to solving problems. A hard-working, educated girl―homeschooled by her father―she wants more than anything to restore the just order of her “economy” (in the ancient Greek sense of “managing the home”).

Orphaned young, Danielle does not dream of escaping work. Rather, she defines “happily ever after” as the restoration of her family’s estate to the prosperity it enjoyed under her parents. Like them, she takes pride in the farm and regrets it can’t reach its potential under her stepmother (Anjelica Huston), who has no interest in running what is essentially the family business. Danielle tries to be a good steward of the patrimony she should have inherited, even though her freedom to act independently is limited.

In Danielle’s world, the feudal agrarian society of the Middle Ages begins to meet the mercantile economy of the Renaissance. Forward-thinking Danielle masters the business acumen needed to keep the estate financially afloat; but her primary motivations are rooted in the medieval values of family loyalty, mutual obligation to others, and fulfilling one’s duty. Danielle considers “family” to include servants with multigenerational ties to the household. She wants to succeed for the sake of those whose livelihoods depend on her, as well as for herself.

An admirer of the English humanist Sir Thomas More, Danielle’s father bequeathed to her an inquiring mind and a social conscience. While Danielle’s Utopia-inspired prescriptions for the improvement of society have a fairytale simplicity, her instincts are basically good. She lives the Golden Rule with humility and charm. Her interactions with others show she believes in behaving with dignity and respect toward all whose various roles in society together make the world go ’round.

Of course, Ever After is a fairytale, so while it’s set in 16th-century France, the film isn’t without anachronisms and fictionalized historical events. (Obviously, the son of King Francis I didn’t marry a girl named Danielle, sorry to say.) But if you are looking for a delightful story about filial love, the blessing of honest work, and the ability of virtue to attract the right man, Ever After offers positive lessons, while entertaining the whole family.

Freedom in Film: Gettysburg (1993)

“Up, men! And to your posts! And let no man forget today, that you are from Old Virginia!”

―Major General George Pickett

In Gone with the Wind, Rhett Butler grimly tells Scarlett O’Hara that a looming battle soon would “pretty well fix things, one way or the other.” It would take place in “some little town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.”

The 1993 film Gettysburg recreates the events surrounding July 1-3, 1863. Unlike many war movies, including Civil War films, Gettysburg doesn’t really “take sides.” Instead, the film delves into the minds and hearts of both Northern and Southern combatants, largely through the thoughts and decisions of General Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen), Major General George Pickett (Stephen Lang), and Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), among many others.

Gettysburg manages to convey understanding of, if not sympathy for, the wide range of motives and issues with which honest people grappled on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line in the 1860s. This approach makes the movie an excellent introduction to both the Civil War and the culture of the Old South for high school and college history students.

Because of the issue of slavery, it can be easy for many 21st-century Americans to relate immediately to the perspective of the North. However, the war was actually much more complicated than a conflict over slavery. The slavery issue brought deep-seated, decades-long tensions between the agrarian South and the industrial North to a head. The war was also about federalism, sectionalism, federal tax laws and their effects on state economies, and cultural differences between the North and the South.

Many Southerners were loyal to their home states in the same way their grandparents had been loyal to the colonies at the time of the American Revolution. They believed they had the right to declare independence if their states’ legitimate interests were no longer served (or their rights were being abused) by the federal government or by other states, just as the colonies had separated from Britain. As one Southern general put it while musing one evening in the camp, the federal government denying Southern states the right to secede from the Union seemed like a voluntary club refusing to permit people to resign their membership when aggrieved.

Countless surviving letters from Southern soldiers and their families show they believed they were fighting for their homes, freedom, rights, and the sovereignty of their states. On the other hand, the United States was becoming a world power. The Northern states feared that secession would result in numerous tiny, powerless, irrelevant countries. The United States as a nation―and its Constitution―would fail. After the Civil War, the phrase “these United States,” in common parlance in the 1800s, faded. It was replaced by “the United States,” a singular noun, as we say now.

The causes and the legacy of the Civil War are not intuitive for many Americans today, especially for those who live far from the South. Because Gettysburg is a long movie, there is enough time and thoughtful dialogue for viewers without much understanding of the history behind the battle to be pulled into the philosophical, moral, and cultural underpinnings of the events. Gorgeous cinematography and a soul-stirring musical score remind viewers that it’s possible to hold in one’s heart both Old Glory and Dixie, and still to miss Old Virginia, 150 years after the war.


This article was originally published June 22, 2013.

 

 

Freedom in Film: Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot (1957)

Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot is the longest running motion picture ever, watched by more than 30 million visitors to Colonial Williamsburg since 1957. One of the most technologically advanced films of its day, it was recently remastered and restored to its original vibrancy. For those who can’t retrace the birth of freedom in Virginia’s colonial capital this Independence Day, Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot is available online.

A 2004 feature in Colonial Williamsburg magazine explains this film’s significance: “…[F]or forty-seven years The Patriot has introduced guests to Williamsburg and America on the eve of the Revolution. It shows the people of eighteenth-century Williamsburg as they might have been, introduces characters that made the nation, [and] helps audiences understand the issues that divided colonists from one another and from the mother country.”

In one memorable scene, Virginia colonist John Frye (Jack Lord) discusses the impending war with another landowner. His friend is disturbed by talk of independence and says he has decided to go “home,” meaning back to England. John’s reply reflects the shift in loyalty felt by Virginia’s patriots: “I am home.”

Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot is only about 40 minutes long, making it appropriate for young viewers and for classroom use. If you want to make America’s founding come alive for your family or students, Colonial Williamsburg’s website features extensive interactive history sections and multimedia presentations designed to make the people and issues of the 1770s accessible to children and teenagers.

Not everyone can experience the “Revolutionary City” in person, but through technology you can bring the characters of the American Revolution home.

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