Monday, March 15, 2021

The Patriots


Patriotism seems currently out of fashion.  For many, pride itself seems to be associated with right wing extremism and violence (Proud Boys, etc.).  Why should we care about the lives of long dead white males?  To many of the "Woke," the Founding Fathers were an over-rated pack of slave-holding racists, right?  How are these stuffed shirts of the 18th Century relevant to our technology-obsessed 21st Century culture?

Winston Groom 1943 - 2020: RIP

The late Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump (novel 1986, film 1994), turned his attention from Fiction to History in later life.  Groom's final book, The Patriots ( published in 2020, asks us to focus on the lives of three Founding Fathers who helped to make America Great from its beginning.  Groom was a US Army officer during the Vietnam War and a Southern voice (born in Alabama) who was not afraid of cutting against the grain of contemporary thought.

The Patriots presents us with biographies of three key figures in the Founding of America...Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  None of these men were saints and Groom's work is no mere hagiography.  Hamilton threw his promising life away in a pointless duel with Aaron Burr.  Jefferson was a slave owner who seems to have fathered six children with his slave Sally Hemings.  Adams could be brusque and unpleasant.  Adams was a one term President who did not attend the inauguration of his successor Jefferson -- remind of anyone?  But these were men who shaped the United States of America in the critical early days of the Republic.  Moreover, these founding fathers affirmed principles that are today recognized as the bedrock of Conservatism...the Rule of Law, Gun Rights, Business Values and Financial Probity.  Having witnessed the tyranny of George III, all three of these men were advocates of limited government with Jefferson suggesting that government ought to be "rigorously frugal and simple".

Adams made his historical mark long before becoming the second US president.  The Boston Massacre occurred in March 1770 when British soldiers fired on and killed several members of a Boston mob that were hurling icy snowballs at them.  Adams was a rising lawyer who took on the extremely unpopular task of defending eight British soldiers.  He argued successfully that they were acting in self-defense.  Six were acquitted and two were convicted of manslaughter.  The rule of law applies to ALL -- no matter how unpopular the alleged transgressor may be.  Adams would have understood the civic necessity of a proper legal defense for the cop who killed George Floyd.

Thomas Jefferson tombstone:
Author of the Declaration of American Independence / of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom / & Father of the University of Virginia

Jefferson was the greatest writer among the Founding fathers penning the immortal words of the Declaration of Independence.  Jefferson was a thorough Revolutionary who insisted that "the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."  What exactly would Jefferson have made of those who stormed the Capital on January 6, 2021?

We know for certain that Jefferson was an avid hunter and a gun collector who owned eleven pistols and a shotgun declaring, "I am a great friend to the manly and healthy exercises of the gun."  President Jefferson demonstrated a strong acumen for business purchasing the 828,000 square miles of the Louisiana Territory from Emperor Napoleon for the sum of $15 million or three cents an acre, effectively doubling the size of the United States.  Two centuries before Trump, Jefferson knew all about the Art of the Deal.  Insatiably curious, Jefferson dispatched Lewis and Clark to explore the West all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Bitter partisan feelings did NOT begin with the 2020 Presidential elections.  Feelings ran high and editorial could be scorching in the early days of our Republic.  Thomas Jeffersons' words at his first inauguration speak eloquently to those of us in the 21st century on social media who may be inclined to block out or excoriate those with whom we disagree.  Jefferson said, "We are all republicans, we are all federalists...Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle...Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty, and even life itself is a dreary thing." 

Alexander Hamilton never became president.  An illegitimate immigrant from Nevis, young Hamilton studied law at King's College in New York (later Columbia University). He served as a loyal aide-de-camp to General Washington during the American Revolution.  He amply demonstrated his ardor for his country on the field of battle leading the Continentals who stormed a British redoubt with fixed bayonets at the battle of Yorktown in 1781.  As the nation's first Treasury Secretary he established sound credit for the United States and, though accused by political opponents of many transgressions, was scrupulously free of corruption and self-dealing.  Hamilton did more than any man to make the United States as Groom writes, "one of the safest nations in which to invest".  His untimely death at the hands of Aaron Burr was a tragic loss for our country. Musical theater has brought his life back into deserved prominence in the 21st century.

The Patriots concludes with the summation that Adams, Jefferson and Hamilton were men "driven by their own passions and particular genius" who "chanced their fortunes on creating a more just and promising world." Groom's literary recalling of their lives is a deeply Conservative act that pays proper respect to our founding fathers and gives us a measure of inspiration for the future.  Winston Groom, who died of a heart attack in September 2020, was an American Patriot who will be sorely missed.

Travel Notes, etc:

If you are near Philadelphia be sure to check out the excellent Museum of the American Revolution which features George Washington's tent (

My own forebear, William Lee Davidson, served alongside Alexander Hamilton during the Yorktown campaign...

I reviewed Winston Groom's The Allies earlier...

You can find signed copies of our books at these web sites...