I finished reading (for now) David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, the second President and one of the drivers in the movement towards this country’s independence. (2001; New York, Simon & Schuster) McCullough writes about how Adams worked tirelessly towards America’s independence, advocating for Jefferson’s Declaration in the Continental Congress; nominating George Washington as Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army; and his vast and sometimes dangerous diplomatic missions to plead the nation’s case in the courts of Great Britain, France, and the Netherlands, and to attain loans to sustain the war effort. It also deals with Adams’ relationship with his wife Abigail and their children; how Adams interacted with some of the “Founding Fathers” of the Revolution, with each of them having his own agenda and idea about the future of the new nation, particularly his troubles with Alexander Hamilton and his friendship with Thomas Jefferson.
The book also covers his time as the second President, dealing with the “Quasi-War” with France, his ordering for an army, under Washington’s command, to deal with any land invasion, and his beginning the development of the Navy; his signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which endangered the liberties of the new nation based on liberty; and his difficulties with his cabinet, which was more loyal to Hamilton than to Adams.
Also—Time On Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin, edited by Devon W. Carbado and Donald Weise (2003; San Francisco, Cleis Press). These are a collection of writings from one of the greatest strategists of the Civil Rights Movement, who unfortunately had to keep his gayness hidden during a homophobic era. Rustin writes about his nonviolent protests—in the tradition of Gandhi—such as his refusal to enter the military draft during the Second World War; interracial rides on interstate buses during 1947, with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, to test the effect on interstate buses of a US Supreme Court decision prohibiting racial segregation, which led to his doing twenty-two days in a North Carolina chain gang; his work alongside of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1956 against segregation in the public transit system; and the need for coalition of white and Black workers, to challenge the inequities in the social-political order, and not be satisfied with superficial concessions just to quiet things down. (Social change movements follow their course, having with their own energy, which liberals try to control but can’t, and must not try.)
Also—Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, by Eric Foner (1988; New York, Harper Perennial). Challenging the long-held dominance of the Dunning-Burgess ideas about post-civil-war reconstruction, Foner writes about how the former slaves, far from being helpless pawns of northern “carpetbaggers” and southern “scalawags,” played active and positive roles in becoming full citizens in the regions they were enslaved in, working for and demanding such basic things as education, suffrage, and respect as human beings, running for county offices, state legislatures, and Congress to advance their cause. Foner also deals with how the same Republican Party the freedmen allied with betrayed them at the start of the post-war Gilded Age, when corporations that prospered flourished, wealth and poverty went to extremes, class conflict was becoming more real, and workers organized for their rights; and so the federal troops who enforced Reconstruction and protected the former slaves from their former masters and the Klan were withdrawn from the South to deal with any potential workers uprising, therefore leaving the freedmen at the mercy of white-controlled state governments oppressing them in a different way.
Know America’s history, so we don’t have to repeat the mistakes and crimes of the past.