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Happy 4th of July
Why 18th century U.S. history matters in the 21st century

by Dog Gone on July 4, 2017

Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania
(location of the three Yankee Pennamite Wars)
Crospey Francis Jasper, 1823-1900

As we celebrate the founding of our nation with the Declaration of Independence, in the more recent context of the challenges this nation faces in our modern era, it is worth reviewing a bit of history. The American Revolutionary War ended with the Peace of Paris, aka the Treaty of Versailles (there have been many other treaties of Versailles) in 1783.

 

We began and fought the War of Independence as a nation founded not by the US Constitution but by the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. That perpetual Union did not last all that long, ending in 1786, when it was replaced by the current, much modified United States Constitution which went into effect in 1789. From the official web site of the US Senate:
 

Written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and in operation since 1789, the United States Constitution is the world’s longest surviving written charter of government. Its first three words –– “We the People” –– affirm that the government of the United States exists to serve its citizens.

 

The Declaration of Independence wisely anticipated this possibility of the necessity of government changing so as to better serve the people, not plutocrats, not corporations-as-people, with these words, which follow the much better recognized words of the “We the People” preamble:
 

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Sadly few of my fellow Americans, and then mostly newly naturalized immigrant citizen, are knowledgeable about our history. When you look at the original foundation of this country, founded in bloody revolution, and then look again at what amounts to a second bloodless revolution with the replacement of the Articles with the Constitution, changing profoundly who we are today and how we became our modern nation.

 
There were middling better known events, like Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion, that contributed to the need to create a better, stronger, and very different founding document. Less well known but perhaps more indicative of those stresses were the Yankee Pennamite Wars, aka the Pennamite Yankee Wars, of which there were three. The wars primarily involved Pennsylvania and Connecticut, but other states involved themselves as well. The final resolution came in 1799, when the disputed Wyoming Valley became part of Pennsylvania.

 
Because of the vagaries of early cartography, there was a part of what is now Pennsylvania that was awarded in colonial land grant days to more than one claimant colony, subsequently involving multiple states in this series of conflicts. In brief summary, the first Pennamite ‘war’ ran from 1769-70, the second in 1774, and the final conflict, which the more limited federal government of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was inadequate to address — and the distant government of the UK which had created the problem was inadequate and impotent to do so as well.
 

The two important elements to take away from this relatively obscure bit of our history are the need for a strong and adequately large federal government, in part to resolve conflicts between the states and between local jurisdictions as well, in order to have a strong and functional nation. Another element is that any such federal government must exist not to serve special interests, but must exist to serve the people of this country — and corporations are not people. But the most important lesson, one that had to be relearned only a little more than a half century after the resolution to the third Yankee Pennamite War, was that we CAN resolve the challenges to this nation peacefully, without bloody revolution, without shooting our fellow Americans.
 

I wish all of our readers and their friends and families a happy and safe celebration of our Independence Day, and I hope this humble post will contribute to any thought you give the topic today and going forward.
 

If this leads you to browse a little history, I hope you consider checking out the Yankee (Connecticut) and Pennamites (Pennsylvanians) conflict that shaped who we are today.

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