A Portrait of Grandfather David

July 26, 2008

Myth and History

I wrote last week that even for those who reject political correctness, it may be difficult to love David Crockett as he was loved in the past. Having worked through a biography of Crockett since then, I no longer feel any need to distance myself from him. That such a man lived, and died, as he did in the early years of our nation is a wonder to be cherished. Here is how the people of Tennessee reacted to his martyrdom at the Alamo:

When the news of the massacre in the Alamo reached Nashville, Tennessee, the writer well remembers seeing adult men and women shed tears on account of the death of David Crockett. None ever knew him personally, who did not love him; none who were familiar with his public career, that did not admire him. The whole people of the state were then, as now, proud of him. (1)

James Shackford’s biography includes an appendix entitled “Portrait of David Crockett,” which tries to ascertain what Crockett looked like. Paintings of Crockett clearly conjure up a single individual with a real personality: the long, parted hair, high forehead, prominent nose, boyishly twinkling eyes, and cheerful demeanor are common to all. But perhaps Crockett’s portraits, like Shakespeare’s, reflect a graphic tradition as much as first-hand experience. Even Crockett’s grandchildren remembered hearing little about what the man looked like. The problem of reconstructing someone’s appearance struck me as symbolic of the problem we Westerners face today in recovering a workable heritage. How much vanishes with the passing of even one generation!

How do we begin a portrait of Crockett? An obvious approach is to talk about how the historical man differs from the myth, though even the myth is largely forgotten. First, there is Crockett as the primitive backwoods man, a child of nature, born in a cabin, killing bears with his bare hands, and so forth. Second, and related, is Crockett of the “tall tale,” as

…an American Hercules – wading the Mississippi, steering an alligator up Niagara Falls, straddling a streak of lightning, wringing the tail off a comet, and kicking the sun loose from its frozen axis. With his pipe-smoking pet bear Death Hug and his singing buffalo Mississip, [roaming] the West, and sometimes far beyond, in search of adventure. (2)

Third is Crockett the backwoods Congressman, reporting naively to Washington to serve the ordinary people of his state, and there battling the sophisticated Eastern politicians representing moneyed interests. This is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Finally there is the heroic martyr for Texan independence, as played by John Wayne in 1960’s The Alamo, blowing up the powder magazine of the besieged mission before succumbing to his wounds.

All of these myths do reflect something of the historical Crockett, not least because he encouraged the creation of such legends in his own time to promote his political aims and to make money – not that he was famously successful at either.

David Crockett, Novelist

There is truth to the image of Crockett as a teller of tall tales. His fame and his political success owed much to his charisma as a public speaker. He had Ronald Reagan’s quality of appealing to the people with down-home, simple, amusing stories, and like Reagan could be accused of using this charm to avoid discussing issues. In his autobiography, Crockett portrays with exaggeration his ignorance of politics at the time of his first campaign for the state legislature, seeing that as something that would please, not trouble, his constituents: “It now became necessary that I should tell the people something about the government, and an eternal sight of other things that I knowed nothing more about than I did about Latin, and law, and such things as that.” (3) He then describes a speech in which he lured the crowd from his opponent by entertaining them:

But the worst of all was, that I couldn’t tell them any thing about government. I tried to speak about something, and I cared very little what, until I choaked up as bad as if my mouth had been jam’d and cram’d chock full of dry mush. There the people stood, listening all the while, with their eyes, mouths, and years all open, to catch every word I would speak.

At last I told them I was like a fellow I had heard of not long before. He was beating on the head of an empty barrel near the road-side, when a traveler, who was passing along, asked him what he was doing that for? The fellow replied, that there was some cider in that barrel a few days before, and he was trying to see if there was any then, but if there was he couldn’t get at it. I told him that there had been a little bit of a speech in me a while ago, but I believed I couldn’t get it out. They all roared out in a mighty laugh, and I told some other anecdotes, equally amusing to them, and believing I had them in a first-rate way, I quit and got down, thanking the people for their attention. But I took care to remark that I was as dry as a powder horn, and that I thought it was time for us all to wet our whistles a little; and so I put off to the liquor stand, and was followed by the greater part of the crowd. (4)

So Crockett was indeed a storyteller. However, he was not exactly a teller of tall tales, if that means lying, bragging, and spinning stories from nothing. As the above passage shows, he enjoyed portraying himself in a humorously self-deprecating manner. And his 1834 Narrative appears to be mainly accurate. Perhaps there is exaggeration in the astonishing number of bears he claims to have killed (105 one year, with help!). His encounters with Indians and other adventures are fantastic but not unbelievable.

A similarly charming tale is that of his first courtship at about age 19:

[Though] I have heard people talk about hard loving, yet I reckon no poor devil in this world was ever cursed with such hard love as mine has always been, when it came on me. I soon found myself head over heels in love with this girl, whose name the public could make no use of; and I thought that if all the hills about there were pure chink, and all belonged to me, I would give them if I could just to talk to her as I wanted to; but I was afraid to begin, for when I would think of saying anything to her, my heart would begin to flutter like a duck in a puddle; and if I tried to outdo it and speak, it would get right smack up in my throat, and choke me like a cold potatoe. (5)

Crockett’s tale of youthful love, rejection, hurt pride, and eventual success at finding a mate is as sweet as any a novelist could make up.

The paradox of Crockett’s homespun stories is that they would not exist for us had they not been compiled and published by other, more literary, men. Crockett has three major “autobiographies”: the Narrative of 1834, which seems to be his work down to the fine details, though in the language of another; an 1835 account of his political tour of the eastern states, almost entirely ghostwritten by Whig politicians; and an 1836 account of his adventures in Texas, a hoax written to cash in on his death at the Alamo. The 400-odd page Life I referred to last week combines these three works, ranging from highly authentic to completely fictional. Thus was the unlearned Crockett a collaborative novelist of sorts.

The Frontiersman Builds a Nation

Crockett’s political career, as state legislator and then congressman, may seem an odd fit with his genuine backwoods background. That someone as unsophisticated as Crockett could be elected to Congress disturbed Tocqueville, who wrote “(Tennesseans have elected…) an individual named David Crockett, who had received no formal education, could read only with difficulty, had no property, no fixed dwelling, but spent his time hunting, selling his game for a living, and spending his whole life in the woods.” (6) Yet viewed within its own milieu, Crockett’s career path looks natural enough. Living in the woods was not an antisocial life, since survival depended on cooperation with neighbors. From that base Crockett began to rise in society, beginning with military service under Jackson and an appointment as local justice of the peace. Evidently Crockett had a talent for arbitrating disputes and the like. So what if his writing skills remained frozen at the grade-school level?

We are progressing very Slow with business owing to the great party Sperit that exists here on the great political question the old hickory is like the dimond in the hill of no value until it is Rubed and poliched So with Genl Jackson the harder they Rub him the briter he Shines…. (1827) (7)

It struck me as I read that Crockett’s political career fits perfectly with his career as frontiersman, because the function of the frontiersman was to tame and occupy the land so it could be added to the nation. When we modern folk go camping and exploring, we may feel we are re-living the frontier experience, but the purpose of a real pioneer (whether he knows it or not) is not temporary escape from civilization, but to domesticate and civilize it and destroy it as frontier.

This is shown by the fact the Crockett’s primary political project from start to finish was the Tennessee Land Bill, which he was never able to get passed. Crockett shaped the bill to protect the right of squatters in western Tennessee to purchase their land from the federal government at an affordable price. His devotion to this cause alienated him from the Jacksonian “democrats” of his state and eventually made him the public enemy of Jackson. Like Crockett, these Tennessee politicians tended to favor expansion of land, internal improvements, and low tariffs, but they were also beholden to wealthy planters and land speculators who backed Jackson financially. Shackford theorizes that Crockett cut a deal at some point with Whig politicians to act as an anti-Jackson spokesman, a move which destroyed his integrity and turned him into a political tool. He even links Crockett’s hatred of Jackson to his death in Texas, since it aligned him against Jacksonite Sam Houston, leading his group to disobey Houston’s order to evacuate the Alamo. (8)

Crockett’s move to Texas after electoral defeat represented not an abandonment of politics but an attempt to resume his career as frontier politician: he would settle his family in a rich new land and once again run for office. He joined the militia because “…all volunteers is entitled to vote for a member of the convention or to be voted for, and I have but little doubt of being elected a member to form a constitution for this province. I am rejoiced at my fate.” (9) He had no expectation of becoming a martyr. What exactly happened at the Alamo, of course, remains unknown. Shackford was convinced that Crockett died early in the final attack, while Michael Lofaro, in a new introduction to the book, gives evidence for the story that Crockett was one of a group of survivors who surrendered and were ordered killed by Santa Anna.

Crockett and the Indians: Sometime Foe, Sometime Friend

Last week, I took a detour on the issue of the Indians, not dealing specifically with the experience of Crockett, who fought Indians in the Creek War of 1813-14. Crockett is simply matter-of-fact in relating the horror of what happened in the battle of Tallussahatchee in 1813. His tone is certainly not especially sympathetic to the Indians: 

We pursued them until we got near the house, when we saw a squaw sitting in the door, and she placed her feet against the bow she had in her hand, and then took an arrow, and, raising her feet, she drew with all her might, and let fly at us, and she killed a man, whose name, I believe, was Moore. He was a lieutenant, and his death so enraged us all, that she was fired on, and had at least twenty balls blown through her. This was the first man I ever saw killed with a bow and arrow. We now shot them like dogs; and then set the house on fire, and burned it up with the forty-six warriors in it…. (10)

In later passages, Crockett states that he has no taste for war, and is glad he is finished with fighting, hardly coming off as an enthusiastic Indian fighter. Later, Crockett gained a reputation as a friend of the Cherokee, opposing the Indian Bill for their removal of 1830 in a moving speech that he may or may not have actually delivered (he reported to his pro-removal constituents that he had opposed the bill but did not supply the speech). Shackford is skeptical that Crockett was a lover of Indians, seeing the speech as a Whig composition designed primarily to harm Jackson by fanning up eastern pro-Indian sentiment. However, observing no particular hatred for Indians in Crockett’s autobiography (he got along well with those on his side), and knowing his willingness to stand against his political colleagues, I wonder why the sentiments of the speech should be presumed not his own? Crockett stated that the Cherokee were recognized as a sovereign nation by the United States, and that

[i]t had never been known that white men and Indians could live together; and in this case, the Indians were to have no privileges allowed them, while the white men were to have all. Now, if this was not oppression with a vengeance, he did not know what was…. He knew that he stood alone, having, perhaps, none of his colleagues from his state agreeing in sentiment. He could not help that. He knew that he should return to his home glad and light in heart, if he voted against the bill. (11)

Crockett’s skepticism that Indians and whites could live together does not preclude an attitude of sympathy and understanding. Interestingly, the conflict between the harsh western/southern position on Indian removal and the more sympathetic and sentimental eastern position seems to parallel the incipient clash over slavery. Crockett appears to stand somewhere between the east and the west in this regard.

What is Our Next Frontier?

Crockett’s significance to us is in his embodiment of the life of the American pioneer. Men like Adams and Jefferson helped create our systems and institutions, but men like Crockett physically and politically subdued the land that would become the bulk of our territory. Whatever the flaws of such men may have been, Crockett’s courage, persistence, love of life, honesty, and humor exemplify the good qualities that went into the building of our nation.

The question being asked in 1956, still not long after World War II, was: where do we go next? Shackford saw the issue as follows:

By the very act of conquering geographical barriers, man created a different sort of world and set himself upon a new and entirely different sort of quest. Having learned to live with, then master, all physical frontiers until he reduced the world to one small demesne, man must now learn to live with and to master the frontiers of the human mind, heart, and spirit until he reduces that demesne to one home. Man’s new frontier is the spiritual frontier of universal brotherhood where all men are their brother’s keepers. Not until he masters this frontier will man make a home of his narrowed world.

[Crockett] grasped the philosophy of the new spiritual man who judges a people intrinsically in terms of their inherent worth and their divine potential in a universe where all are the sons of God and where all before God are of inalienable value and entitled to equal dignity and justice. (12)

I suggest that the subsequent 50 years of American history, during which we have thrown our borders open to mass non-Western immigration, systematized racial discrimination against the founding population, and presumed to take responsibility for the welfare, defense, and livelihood of every nation on earth, show us that Shackford read the lessons of David Crockett’s life incorrectly. We need to focus less on Crockett’s democratic spirit and more on his cause, which he ultimately died for, of securing land for his people. Towards the end of his life, defeated by what he saw as a corrupt, moneyed, political machine, he feared for America’s future. His words reflect his own personal bitterness towards Jackson, but are still germane today:

I am gratified that I have spoken the truth to the people of my district regardless of the consequences. I would not be compelled to bow to the Idol for a seat in Congress. During life I have never known what it was to sacrifice my own judgment to gratify any party, and I have no doubt of the time being close at hand when I will be rewarded for letting my tongue speak what my heart thinks. I have suffered myself to be politically sacrificed to save my country from ruin and disgrace, and if I am never again elected I will have the gratification to know that I have done my duty…. (13)

(Here I have corrected the spelling and punctuation.) May we learn from the sacrifices of the men and women who built our nation and stop squandering what they gave us for the false ideal of a borderless global utopia. Then we can take revenge for David and send our false leaders tumbling from power and into oblivion.

(1) Quoted in Shackford, James Atkins, David Crockett: The Man and the Legend, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956, p. 238.

(2) Paul Andrew Hutton, “Introduction,” David Crockett, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1987, xxxvii-xxix.

(3) Crockett, David, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1987, 139.

(4) Crockett, Narrative, 141-2.

(5) Crockett, Narrative, 47-8.

(6) http://www.comedyontap.com/pantheon/crockett/crockett4.html.

(7) Shackford, p. 89.

(8)  This theory is criticized by Thomas E. Scruggs in “Davy Crockett and the Thieves of Jericho: An Analysis of the Shackford-Parrington Conspiracy Theory,” Journal of the Early Republic, Vol. 19 (Fall 1999), 481-98.

(9)  Shackford, 216.

(10) Crockett, Narrative, 88.

(11) Filler, Louis, and Allen Guttmann, The Removal of the Cherokee Nation: Manifest Destiny or National Disgrace? Malabar, Florida: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1962.

(12)  Shackford, 251.

(13)  Shackford, 205-6.


David Crockett, Indians, and Us

July 17, 2008

Note: I discuss David Crockett in greater detail in the follow-up to this post, A Portrait of Grandfather David.

It seems to me that when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, even as one radical social change after another was setting in motion the disaster of the present, a certain core culture and way of life continued relatively unchanged for most people. As I look back upon my own childhood in small-town America during that period, I imagine that it was not so different from the 1950s. Our fathers worked and we kids ran around the neighborhood watched by our mothers as they did housework. We played many of the same games our parents had played. Not only that, 1950s culture itself was still present on TV and radio.

For instance, my childhood image of frontiersman and Alamo hero David Crockett (1786-1836) came directly from the “Davy Crockett Craze” of 1954-55 (1), which started with a Disney movie and its theme song “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” It was characterized by phenomenal sales of merchandise, most notably the coonskin caps worn by small boys. The “craze” died down within a year or so, but I myself remember running around with a coonskin cap and watching the movie on TV in the early 1970s, so Crockett obviously remained in the culture to some extent.

What about Crockett appealed to Americans so? Undoubtedly it was the way he embodied the “frontier spirit” of America. Long after the frontier was settled, well into the 20th century, Americans saw their national character as being derived from the frontier experience: the restless craving for discovery, the ambition to build a new and better life in a new land, the courage and rugged individualism, and sometimes the crudeness and base acquisitiveness of those who led the westward expansion of our nation. From Westerns and books like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series the word “frontier” may be associated more with late 19th century images, but of course it expresses a central theme for all pre-20th century U.S. history.

Crockett’s 1834 autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of Col. David Crockett, Written by Himself (2), is a fast-moving episodic account of the high points of his life, peppered with dialect and folk humor. Its full title summarizes the contents: Life of David Crockett, the original humorist and irrepressible backwoodsman: comprising his early history; his bear hunting and other adventures; his services in the Creek war; his electioneering speeches and career in Congress; with his triumphal tour through the northern states, and services in the Texas war. To which is added an account of his glorious death at the Alamo while fighting in defence of Texan independence.

The book was written to promote Crockett’s political career. It consists almost solely of episodes, told in an amusing style apparently capturing something of the charm of Crockett’s public speeches. According to James Shackford, the Narrative is almost certainly ghostwritten, since it contains deliberate “backwoods” dialect and errors different from those that appeared in Crockett’s letters. However, the material is considered highly reliable, suggesting that Crockett checked the material and approved the final contents. Shackford (writing at the time of the Crockett craze) considers the narrative a forgotten classic of American literature, depicting the life of a real-life frontiersman who became overshadowed by a myth.

In today’s myth-debunking climate, Crockett the man may actually be faring better than in the 1950s. A newer children’s book, David Crockett: Sure He Was Right (3) , for instance, is a reasonable recreation of Crockett’s autobiography, though largely omitting the Indian fighting and bear hunting that gives his story most of its flavor. But we have lost the legend. Crockett is, after all, a White Man With A Gun. He killed bears, he killed Indians, and he killed Mexicans, activities essential to the creation of our country but which our liberal society, seeking to incorporate groups such as these (including the bears) as fully privileged citizens, finds shameful and ugly.

While American traditionalists will have no trouble rejecting the political correctness that leads to the expunging of figures like Crockett from history, it may still be hard to love him the way previous generations did. Indian fighting is central to Crockett’s character, even if he only spent a few years at this activity. In retrospect, the removal of the Indians seems like a sad inevitability at best, and in cases like the Cherokee removal, a cruel atrocity, not something to be celebrated wholeheartedly. Shackford lays out the problem in the opening passages of his biography:

The frontiersman was history’s agent for wresting land from the American Indian. How often – and how well – did he play his bitter role! Pursued by civilization which crowded him too closely behind, he arrived inevitably at the “final” boundary set by the latest Indian treaty. In front of him lay the rich wilderness and the trail of the retreating game upon which his very life depended. Pushed from behind, pulled from in front, he moved on inexorably into Indian territory.

Just as inexorably, the Indians resisted his encroachment. Angered by this betrayal of their established rights, they attempted to enforce the white man’s treaties in the only way they knew, by attacking the invaders – by pillage, burning, and scalping. Then came a new “war,” and a new treaty. Always the new treaty gave legal sanction to the latest accumulation of lands illegally acquired by these frontiersmen. No power on earth short of overwhelming physical force could have made them retrace their steps and abandon their “improvements” and the wild game on which they lived. Then the cycle would be renewed: new encroachments upon the new treaty, the inevitable massacres, the consequent accommodating treaty, – and new encroachments. So dwindled the hunting grounds of the redskin. (p. 3)

Elsewhere Shackford exhibits a very contemporary and, as we are seeing in the 21st century, unworkable liberalism in his assessment of the lessons of American history, something I will return to in a subsequent post. For now, I would like to consider, based purely on personal perceptions, the role of the Indian in white American identity.

It is part of the American tradition to be fascinated with the Indian and to seek to emulate the perceived bravery, discipline, and honor of the aboriginal American peoples. For instance, when I was in the Boy Scouts there was a society called the Order of the Arrow (which still exists) with an initiation rite that was supposed to emulate a manhood ritual of the Indians. More broadly, there are, of course, the names of sports teams and so forth that were understood to express the warrior spirit. I have talked about Crockett in my boyhood but in fact I was much more an “Indian” kid, doing my best to make Indian weapons and running around half-naked in a loincloth. In fact I generally sided with the Indians in my mind.

We cannot deny that America was created as a country by Europeans who claimed the land essentially for the reason that they wanted it, and could take it. Yes, this also meant the spread of Christian civilization, but we can hardly claim this was done for the Indians’ sake! It is a good thing for Americans to reflect on this aspect of their nations history.

However, contemporary discussions of the Indian problem are twisted by anti-Americanism. First, whites are judged by today’s standards, as if they were a 21st century army marching in to exterminate Stone Age people. In fact most Americans prior to the 20th century lived by the sweat of their brow, many died young, and all were dependent on the support of family and neighbors to survive. Society was violent, with wars fought and murderers hanged and duels and violence of all sorts common. In this context the settlement of the continent – at one’s own risk – was perfectly legitimate. From the European point of view Indian ways were backward and Indian societies were not “countries.” Further, many whites strove to find a humane and just solution to the Indian problem. In the end, sheer demographic force made the European settlement of the continent inevitable. The U.S. government broke its promises, but it had made promises it had not the power to keep.

Second, Indians are romanticized, as we can see in any contemporary movie that portrays them. Forgotten are the incredible cruelty they were capable of and the ongoing warfare between tribes and clans.

Finally, precisely the wrong lesson is derived from the conquest of America: that to atone for driving out the Indians, we must open our society up for the rest of the world to colonize. To the contrary, the American experience showed that Indian assimilation into white society didn’t work. Is it not madness that we now import whole “tribes” just as alien as the Indians into our society en masse? What kind of “Indian wars” are we setting up for the future?

In the next entry I will discuss some particulars of Crockett’s life and autobiography. Interested readers may be able to read it electronically on the University of Michigan Library website at:


(1) http://www.geocities.com/toppsgreen/01FrontPage.html.

(2) Crockett, David, Life of Col. David Crockett, Written by Himself, Philadelphia: G. G. Evans, 1860. This version includes an account of Crockett’s death at the Alamo.

(3) Shackford, James Atkins, David Crockett: The Man and the Legend, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1956.

(4) Wade, Mary Dodson, Davy Crockett: Sure He Was Right, Austin, Eakin Press, 1992.

Independence Day, 2008

July 4, 2008

Childhood Memories

The 4th of July was a blissful day for a small American boy. Brought by his parents to Main Street, he would watch the parade with its assemblage of local groups – school bands, the Little League teams, the Mayor, a few men in Revolutionary costume…. What it meant he could not have said, but there was a warm feeling in the sound of words like “revolution” and “liberty,” a thrill recalling heroic deeds mixed with the languid, lazy feeling of a summer holiday. The most inconsequential amusements – hot dogs, sparklers – were precious. The older boys, who set off firecrackers, swore, and tore down political posters, were objects more of fascination than of fear. Then in the evening, there were the fireworks! When the boy remarked that the loud booming ones were “scary,” his father explained that they were sounds of joy. Then, knowing what he was supposed to feel, he felt it.

He loved the National Anthem at baseball games, knew you were supposed to stand, hat off, with your hand over your heart, and once hit another boy who didn’t stand – a story told later, with amusement by his mother. He pored over the beautiful reprint of the Declaration of Independence purchased at some historic site. His possessions included Lincoln Logs, toy rifles and bows and arrows, coonskin caps, tricorn hats, Confederate flags, Indian gear; his heroes George Washington, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone. In their front yard was a flagpole surrounded by a ring of daffodils. His father flew the flag on national holidays.

On July 4, we Americans celebrate Independence Day. Happy Fourth of July to all!

Stirrings of Life

On the birthday of our nation, those of us who have awoken to the real nature of our national crisis may find the occasion more demoralizing than cheering. On one recent July 4, my city’s newspaper rubbed the changing demographics in our face by featuring photos of various local residents along with a quote from each on what America means to them. Hispanic, Filipino, Somali, and black American faces crowded the page to tell us how America, for them, means an opportunity for a better life. The whites were represented by a lone female student and an aged World War II veteran. For white Americans, what could better symbolize the loss of our nationhood, of our identity as a people?

National life in America since September 11, 2001 can look like one manifestation after another of our national decline. We can almost see the parts falling off the clunky vehicle of our nation as she continues to rattle along. To name just a few of the horrors, we have witnessed: the dramatic growth in Muslim power and numbers; the visible infiltration of the entire country by Hispanics; and the transformation of the Iraq project into the systematic sacrifice of American interests and lives to alien and hostile peoples. And now, of course, we have an impossibly absurd presidential contest between an anti-American candidate and one who is not American at all in any traditional sense.

Despite the evils we face, though, there is one wonderful thing to give us all hope. And that is the growth of a new national consciousness among white Americans. Completely unnoticed by the mainstream media, writers publishing on the Internet are beginning to articulate an alternative vision not only to the mainstream liberal madness but also to the insipid, shallow “conservatism” found in publications like National Review. We may be politically powerless at present, but we also know as an absolute certainty that our movement is based on truth and love of the good and will not crumble when opposed, as do most of our hollowed-out people and institutions today.

Who Are Heritage Americans?

This blog is entitled The Heritage American. The expression occurred to me a couple of years ago as I was trying to think of a term to distinguish those who are truly and unambiguously “American” from those who, although they might be U.S.-born or citizens, are ethnically or otherwise different from the mainstream, historic American people. I have since seen it used by another writer in a letter written to VDare, but not in the specific sense I had in mind.

I once saw a routine by Stephen Colbert, in his “dumb right-wing TV personality” act, that captured the problem. Asked by a black female politician what his ethnicity was. Colbert drew himself up in mock offended dignity, and said, “American.” He then claimed to be unconscious of either his or his interlocutor’s race. The humor, of course, came from Colbert’s unconscious assumption that “white = American” and his obliviousness to his privileged status as a white male.

And yet we know exactly what Colbert meant. He is a white man born and raised in the United States. He is American. His ancestry connects him with one or more European countries but he could not become a “native” of one of those countries even if he tried. Such a person is a “heritage American.” It is not so much that he “deserves” the privileges of being American as it is that he is most truly a child of the traditional American nation. Sons and heirs may be deserving or undeserving, but their membership in the family is not in question. This is not true of any adult immigrant to America, even an Englishman. Black Americans, American Indians, and some of the newer non-European groups certainly are perhaps equally attached to this land, but they cannot be regarded as the same “people” as white Americans. As for the new third-world immigrants, nothing more need be said.

Why the importance of making race explicit in our definition of who is American? Until a few years ago, I believed in a “race-blind,” libertarian society which it seemed to me would bring about the greatest prosperity and happiness. However, and I know I am not alone in this, in the post-September 11 I came gradually to see that the qualities I and other Americans value, like “freedom” and “prosperity,” only can be realized by a historically particular people, namely white, English-speaking, Christian Europeans. Replace these people, and our nation dies. Various thinkers led me to this understanding, but Lawrence Auster stands out for his articulated vision of America and the West as composed of peoples and nations, his unique analysis of the nature of modern liberalism, and his honest discussion of racial differences and other issues key to our civilizational crisis.

“Heritage Americans” are the core population of the American nation, and the intended readership of this blog. They are white Americans of Judeo-Christian heritage (the Christian part being primary). They are the only Americans who can fully and without conflict identify with the founding population of the United States. They are direct victims of post-1960s “multicultural” America and are logically headed for extinction if they continue to allow mass third-world immigration and the replacement of traditional social entities with liberal institutions enforcing “equality” and “non-discrimination.” But they are also the group with the power to change the course of this country and to turn America once again into a great nation.

In my view there is no strict “ethnic test” for being an American by heritage. What is required is not actually being descended from the founding population, but the complete assimilation to the existing nation. I have a friend, born in America, who tells people “my parents are German.” It doesn’t occur to him that he could be anything other than American, and rightly so.

Our Challenge: Recreating a Traditional Society

But what is this “heritage” that unites us? Our heritage does not bring us “privilege,” despite the propaganda: we may be materially well off, but we are spiritually ill, voiceless, cut off from each other and our past, and lacking any vision for the future. Nor can we feel much “pride” in our nihilistic, hedonistic culture. True, there are the great achievements of our past. But few of us can take any credit for those achievements as individuals. What, then, do we have to work with in (re)building our nation?

Many answers can be suggested. In this blog I would like to focus on the idea of an imaginative re-creation of American culture, occurring in conjunction with the development of an actual, living community of Americans who participate in the culture.

A national life requires a shared culture. Unfortunately, our present culture is now so dominated by radical liberalism, nihilistic hedonism, and the ethnic and cultural destruction of white America that it has become next to impossible to “work within the system” to improve the situation. We therefore have to create a new culture. Paradoxically, this new culture must be rooted in the past, both in the traditions of America and of the larger Western civilization.

On a cultural level, we must look to American and Western history, literature, music, art, film, and folklore for materials we can use today in our own context.

On the personal level, we can support each other in developing physical and spiritual health, financial skills, self-defense skills, and other qualities useful to survive and prosper.

On the level of social life, there are numerous aspects of national life for us to discuss and to begin to establish shared understandings for. What standards should we set for relations between the sexes, childrearing, language use, manners, dress, work practices?

At the national level, we must continue to analyze political, social, and economic trends. When is mainstream political activity called for? What are the weaknesses in the liberal “system”?

Our “heritage” as Americans, then, is not something we are born with that makes us better than others. It is something given to us, to use well or to squander. Such is the challenge we face today.