The Diverse Cast of Freedom by Eliot Pattison
by Eliot Pattison
The miracle of the founding of the United States wasn’t that of heroic military victories, it was the unprecedented victory—unique in prior human history-- of shared values over ethnicity, culture, religion and race. In many ways that is the essential message of my Bone Rattler series, as vividly reflected in my latest installment Savage Liberty. It isn’t by coincidence that the casts of my novels include Scottish indentured servants, Mohawk matriarchs, Irish laborers, English aristocrats, African slaves, Oneida warriors and German missionaries, for it was such a diverse collection of characters who made up the threads that were bound into the unique tapestry of America.
Our younger generations are taught so little history that they often misunderstand this critical element, wrongly thinking that our core values were imposed by some club of crusty white males in powdered wigs. The seeds of liberty germinated in men and women of multiple cultures and faiths and were fertilized throughout our wide geography in markedly different cities, villages, farmlands and tribal wilderness tracts. Those seeds didn’t create a revolution at first, they created an identity crisis. Everyone arrived on these shores as someone else. For all of history until that date your birth defined you. Based on your parents, your sex, your faith, your race and your economic station your destiny was set in a lockstep pattern. You were labeled and stereotyped, so innately that you were likely not even aware of it. In the Old World, a German was a German, an Englishman an Englishman, forever and always. Immigrants who would have been at war against one another had they stayed in Europe learned to abandon old prejudices while struggling to survive and succeed in the dramatically different New World. They were gradually transformed, evolving new identities around shared notions of individual liberty.
Coming to America changed everything for these, and later, immigrants. Old identities were no longer relevant, and the anchors of ethnicity and culture that had defined human interaction since the beginning of history became less and less important in defining the individual. The colonists began to realize that their greatest strength didn’t derive from differing views but from supporting each other’s personal freedom. Our forefathers didn’t use their many differences as an excuse for intolerance, they used them to test and ultimately gather around common values. This critical early role of diversity is too often lost in our history books. Did you know there were Muslims in 18th century South Carolina who contributed to our constitutional debate? Did you know that a Jewish merchant, one of the wealthiest men in America, gave his entire fortune to the cause of the Revolution and died penniless?
Letting shared values lead public discourse was, and still is, the cure for intolerance. Our forebears first discovered that they were capable of acting independently of old stereotypes and prejudices but then –and this was the key—they discovered the power of acting independently together. Ideals built around the dignity of the individual grew strong because of the diversity behind them, not in spite of it. Whether farmer, merchant, warrior, trapper, or clergyman, man or woman, young or old, those colonists began to recognize values they shared despite their very different experiences and roles in society.
Discovering these shared ideals was the critical foundation that made revolution possible, and the reason it took hold was because it transcended all traditional identities. Diversity was an essential ingredient in the founding of America. Those who today invoke diversity under the guise of identity politics to drive a wedge between our diverse populations completely misunderstand this critical point, and ignore what is the singlemost important lesson of our history.
The true power of diversity, in the 18th century and today, has always been the power of shared values. Our founding was all about building bridges between diverse people, not driving them apart. There is no power in divisiveness. Lest you forget this vital point, you’ll find a reminder, sent across the centuries, on every penny in your pocket or purse. E Plurius Unum, the power of one out of many, was the source of the strength that founded the United States and that sustains us today.
Eliot Pattison is the author of the Revolutionary America Mystery Series, translated into over 20 languages. His work has been championed by NPR's “All Things Considered” Alan Cheuse, Entertainment Weekly, CNN, Publishers Weekly, Booklist as well as educators alike for succeeding with fiction where textbooks fail: spark our history to life for readers and examine what it means to be American.
The author’s Revolutionary America Series brings together a fascinating cast of real and imagined characters on the back drop of the American Revolution. A founding member of the Museum of the American Revolution, Pattison is a direct descendant of key American revolutionaries, blending his family’s experience as well as historical research into compelling page turners that illustrate an often-neglected truth about the founding of the United States: long before the muskets echoed on Lexington Green, the inhabitants of the American colonies were struggling with what today we would call an identity crisis. They weren't thinking of themselves as Americans, they were just questioning what it meant to be British when their Parliament refused to treat them as full citizens. Before they glimpsed revolution, these colonists first had to discover that they were American.