Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Gordon Wood vs. Some Random Woman from Decatur

with one comment

by Wiz

I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell the point of this op-ed by Gordon Wood in the New York Times. Here is the beginning:

THE American public is not pleased with Congress — one recent poll shows that less than a third of all voters are eager to support their representative in November. “I am not really happy right now with anybody,” a woman from Decatur, Ill., recently told a Washington Post reporter. As she considered the prospect of a government composed of fledgling lawmakers, she noted: “When the country was founded, those guys were all pretty new at it. How bad could it be?”

Actually, our founders were not all that new at it: the men who led the revolution against the British crown and created our political institutions were very used to governing themselves. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams and John Adams were all members of their respective Colonial legislatures several years before the Declaration of Independence. In fact, these Revolutionaries drew upon a tradition of self-government that went back a century or more

It appears that Gordon Wood, one of the most famous living American historians, wrote a long op-ed for the most prestigious newspaper in America in order to refute an anonymous woman from Decatur Ill.

I’m all for historians engaging the public. It would be nice, as various writers on this blog have pointed out, for some prestigious historians of the American Revolution to lay the smack down on the Glenn Becks of the world, and their reactionary interpretations of the Founding Fathers.

Point is… next time old man Gordon Wood gets cranky and wants to shake his fist in anger at some popular interpretation of the American Revolution, maybe he should pick a bigger more influential target than a random powerless woman from Decatur spouting some fairly anodyne and benign nonsense.


Written by Peter Wirzbicki

May 4, 2010 at 12:00

One Response

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  1. I don’t think op-eds should pick petty fights, but it seems to me that Wood was taking on the larger belief, help mostly by conservatives, in term limits and government by the non-elites. In that context, the quote by the woman from Decatur is probably one of the most succinct summary of those anti-elite inclinations.

    On top of that, it’s always good to have a historical refresher about the founding fathers, as their actions and beliefs tend to be carelessly and mistakenly tossed around in arguments far too often.


    May 7, 2010 at 17:59

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