Thoughts about reading Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick
Disclaimer: I am not a trained historian nor a Constitutional scholar. I know a bit about American history, mostly from the perspective of writers and filmmakers like Ken Burns, David McCullough, and Nathaniel Philbrick. They are, first and foremost, storytellers, providing context as needed but always putting the people first. I like reading history because there are often parallels with our own time, despite differences in cultures, countries, and ideologies.
For example, in Bunker Hill, Nathaniel Philbrick takes a detailed look at the battle that began the Revolutionary War. He begins with the Boston Tea Party with flashbacks to the Boston Massacre. He tells the story of patriots and loyalists centered on the city of Boston. In the preface, he describes Boston as “the true hero of the story.”
Bostonians, according to Philbrick, had a sense of themselves as an “autonomous enclave” that did not have to follow dictates from England, a feeling that originated with the first Puritan settlers in 1630. During King Phillips’ War in 1676, John Leverett, the governor of Massachusetts, essentially declared independence to a British agent, saying the King could enlarge their liberties but not retract them. Philbrick writes, “A hundred years before the Declaration of Independence, the governor of Massachusetts boldly insisted that the laws enacted by the colony’s legislature superseded those of even Parliament” (p. 5).
Does that sound familiar? Substitute the federal government for Parliament, and we are suddenly firmly in 2020 as the federal and state governments debate their relationships in terms of the pandemic. This article about the possibility of the Department of Justice supporting legal action against state governors whose stay-at-home orders seem excessive shows the conflict between the federal and state governments. And states have to work with their counties. It is these kinds of conflicts that led to the Civil War.
How do we help students see these connections? How does this become the curriculum?