Today I decided to kill a few minutes by browsing a bit at my local bookstore. To my surprise I noticed a new book by Jill Lepore, who happens to be one of my favorite historians. Her latest book is titled, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History. Of course, I bought it and I am glad I did. It’s a quick read and Lepore does a wonderful job of illustrating the various ways in which the Tea Party Movement is using (and often abusing) the past for their own present purposes. Early on she introduces what she describes as historical fundamentalism:
Historical fundamentalism is marked by the belief that a particular and quite narrowly defined past-”the founding”-is ageless and sacred and to be worshipped; that certain historical texts-”the founding documents”-are to be read in the same spirit with which religious fundamentalists read, for instance, the Ten Commandments; that the Founding Fathers were divinely inspired; that the academic study of history (whose standards of evidence and methods of analysis are based on skepticism) is a conspiracy and, furthermore, blasphemy; and that political arguments grounded in appeals to the founding documents, as sacred texts, and to the Founding Fathers, as prophets, are therefore incontrovertible. (p. 16)
Along the way I’ve learned that the term ‘Founding Fathers’ wasn’t coined until 1916 by Warren G. Harding in his address to the Republican National Convention. And I was surprised to learn that in 1798 John Adams signed an “Act for the relief of sick and disabled Seamen”. Both state and federal officials were, as a result of the legislation, permitted to tax shipmasters in order to construct hospitals and provide medical care for merchant and naval seamen.