The woman was pointing to my book on the American Revolution. She was inquiring if I believed people were fed up with the way the country was being run and ready for a repeat of 1776.
I wasn’t totally surprised by her question. I’ve heard the subject raised several times during my participation at historical gatherings this spring and summer throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.
During a June Civil War collectors’ show in Gettysburg, one veteran said he is convinced the revolution will begin soon. He’s moving to England. He’s packed, has his tickets, and has made shipping arrangements for his possessions.
Adding to all this talk was last week’s report on the BBC website concerning the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s resignation and the amount of trust, or lack thereof, that we the people now have in our government.
The BBC cited a Pew Research Center report that said only 24 percent of Americans trust government. At the time of the Watergate crisis and Nixon’s resignation — by far one of the lowest points in American history — the percentage stood at 36 percent.
The first conversation I had on the possibility of revolution was this spring in Fredericksburg, Va., at the 150th anniversary event of the Civil War battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse. A New York woman, who is connected with a Civil War publication, said she is convinced the nation is pulling apart. She said today must feel as it did in the years leading up to the Civil War.
There in Virginia, I was also struck by the emphasis on educating people about the historical significance of the Civil War. On the first day of the three-day event, thousands of school students were transported in on their big yellow buses to interact with the historians and re-enactors at Spotsylvania Courthouse.
In Pennsylvania, we certainly don’t take advantage of the many historical events to educate students and adults about the founding principles of our nation. All over Pennsylvania and Maryland I hear complaints that history, even recent history, is not being taught in schools, that even something as important as the Vietnam War is treated as ancient — often forgotten — history. The topic even came up the night before the anniversary of Pickett’s Charge, when I was interviewed on the radio show “Behind The Mike, hosted by Joel Michalec. His producer asked if history was being taught less, and I had to answer yes.
At another event, a man was incredulous about a conversation he just had with two young people. According to him, they had no idea that one of the planes brought down by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, crashed in Pennsylvania.
If we don’t know our history, including how we’ve dealt with past divisions, how do we avoid repeating our mistakes? Better yet, how do learn about those who forged unity and compromise?
The conversations I’ve had cite a number of different reasons for the unrest in the country. Certainly there is the great ideological divide between the far left and the far right. There seems to be no middle ground. In a recent telephone poll, I was asked if I was a conservative or liberal. “Can’t I be a moderate?” I asked. That was not an option.
During a conversation with an elected official, he cited a study of the gap between the haves and have-nots. That report suggested we are near a point in the great divide where historically revolutions take place.
That and many more issues are clearly straining the country’s unity, including politics, religion, education, immigration, excessive regulations, and distrust of government. Are these signs of an impending revolution? At the moment, I don’t think so. We’ve dealt with them all before. We won’t see a revolt unless we start seeing soup lines reminiscent of the Great Depression.
Of course, there is that veteran in Gettysburg, the one about to move to England, who totally disagrees with me.
Bruce E. Mowday is a Philadelphia-area author who writes about history, business, crime, and sports (mowday.com). He wrote this for the Philadelphia Inquirer.