"The record is not flawless ... but from the Founding Fathers on, the American panorama is one we need not blush to own."
- Dixon Wecter
I'm not sure about other writers, but as soon as one of my columns is finished my wheels start turning toward the next topic. But like that fiery letter the anger-management people tell us to write one day and burn the next, the reader rarely sees my first draft - the one that's never written down but somersaults around my head while I'm driving, sprucing up the house, or going off to sleep. I do lots of "burning" before the final draft reaches print.
That's what happened with today's topic, which I was going to call: "If I ran the world."
Arrogant, huh? If no one else since the beginning of the world has been able to turn discord into concord, hatred into harmony or political rancor into sustained peace and good will, what makes me think I can turn the world's real or symbolic swords into plowshares?
Thus, after my humble return to earth, you get the tamed-down version, minus all original verbiage except: If I ran the world, I would force-feed every citizen large doses of history as it happened - no gilding, no revisions and no omissions to spare our 21st-century, uber-tolerant sensibilities.
And please be tolerant with me. With my head buried in Columbia County history for the past eight-nine years, perhaps I'm just more tuned into George Santayana's classic phrase, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," than most of my peers.
Now that I've spent half my space with that long-winded introduction I only have room for one "force-feeding" among the dozens I've been thinking about ever since the Bush-lied-get-out-of-Iraq-now rhetoric reached the boiling point a few weeks ago. Still, maybe this incident will illustrate what happens over and over when government and military leaders get their parameters of responsibility mixed up.
Button Gwinnett, Georgia's second acting governor following the Declaration of Independence, took his "commander-in-chief" role seriously. Gwinnett also hoped to become the state's first constitutional governor when elections were held in May 1777. But when Gen. Lachlan McIntosh, commander of Georgia's revolutionary forces, assumed he had authority to make military decisions, albeit in consultation with the "chief," not all battles occurred between the Patriots and the British. The resulting clash between McIntosh and Gwinnett would be catastrophic for Georgia and the would-be governor alike.
In Gwinnett's mind, Georgia's best line of defense was to defeat the British forces camped in nearby Florida, even though similar forays had already failed. Yet without consulting the general, Gwinnett organized his own Florida assault. While this plan also failed to rout the British, it succeeded in sharpening the hostility between McIntosh and Gwinnett.
By the time the general called the governor a "scoundrel and lying rascal," even normal Gwinnett supporter George Walton compared the "scoundrel" to Alexander the Great who thought himself "the lord of the earth." Gwinnett's now-public feud with McIntosh, plus his failed coup, cost him the election, and no one was happier with this turn of events than the general.
Shortly thereafter, a still angry Gwinnett challenged McIntosh to a duel, an acceptable method in those days of preserving a gentleman's "honor." On the appointed day the former governor and current general met at dawn on the outskirts of Savannah, paced the customary 12 steps apart, turned and fired.
The spectacle was over in seconds. Each man found his target; both fell wounded to the earth.
McIntosh recovered quickly, but when Gwinnett died of gangrene four days later McIntosh was accused of murder. The preposterous charge didn't hold and McInstosh was acquitted, but sentiment ran so high against him that he asked to be reassigned. By fall of 1777 the Continental Congress honored the general's request, essentially depriving Georgia of her finest military leader, and sent Gen. Robert Howe to Georgia to take his place. A little more than a year later the weaker, less effective Howe was in command when all of Georgia fell to the British.
To continue the Dixon Wecter quote begun above, "This is a history good citizens need to know, to understand their world and be able to improve it."
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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