American soldiers returning home from World War II repopulated small-town America with a strong enduring work ethic that drove them in their quest for the “American Dream.” A common attitude of an entire generation (that would later become known as our “Greatest”) was, “I want my children to have it better than what I had growing up.” These service men and women had been products of an era that featured a depression and tough times all over. For many, the American dream was simply to be able to give their offspring a chance they never had. For many, the dream would be fulfilled by whatever they could achieve through hard work, determination, courage, and honesty.
And then, a man spoke up about his dream….
“In the summer of 1957, a Baptist preacher in the segregated South issued a series of fiery sermons denouncing the laziness, promiscuity, criminality, drunkenness, slovenliness, and ignorance of Negroes.” “He suggested that blacks were ‘thinking about sex’ every time they walked down the street. They were too violent. They didn’t bathe properly. And their music, which was invading homes all over America, ‘plunges men’s minds into degrading and immoral depths.’” — Thaddeus Russell; from the book.
In the introduction to A Renegade History of the United States, Dr. Thaddeus Russell informs the reader that his book is “about the fight that political philosophers have always identified as the central conflict in human history; that between the individual and society.” He goes on to say that the founding of the United States “simply began the war [between pleasure and discipline] that continues today.”
Our thoughts go back to a book about the Founding Fathers and the weeks leading up to July 2, 1776. What struck this reviewer was that the founders were the rich elite of the times. Can you imagine the outcry if Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Ross Perot, and the other richest people of today overtly attempted to change our government? [I know they do, but it appears they don’t want it on the front page headlines.] What was going on in 1776 with the common “man-on-the-street”? What kind of life did that person enjoy? Russell agrees with John Adams that “probably most inhabitants of early American cities were corrupt and depraved..” And it’s Russell’s conclusion that we owe much of our individual personal liberties to the drunkards, laggards, prostitutes, pirates, slaves, and other renegades of the past.
A Renegade History of the United States is filled with ironies and none more significant than the fact that the thing that would make men give up their own freedom and still believe they were free was self-rule. The Founding Fathers took advantage of the knowledge that democracy is the enemy of personal freedom and once free of British rule, began a concerted effort to swing the pendulum back towards a severe, Victorian moral code. They got laws passed to support their efforts such as divorce laws in Georgia in 1802. According to the great state of Georgia, “..the republic is deeply interested in the private business of it’s citizens.” This was America? No wonder renegades revolted!
After an introductory chapter, the second and third chapters are, “The Freedom of Slavery” and “The Slavery of Freedom”. Old research is presented pointing out how many of the slaves missed the plantation and didn’t enjoy freedom after the Civil War. Evidence is presented to show how many of the efforts of the government and civil leaders were ineffective against the renegades. Oh, and that preacher in 1957? None other than Martin Luther King, Jr. According to Russell, “the immoral black people [King] denounced did more to destroy segregation than did the civil rights movement.”
In addition to all the irony that Russell exposes, another important aspect explored is that of connections. Specifically, Russell credits slaves with many of our freedoms such as dancing and music, whores with women’s rights, working class women with the creation of the weekend, consumerism, and FUN. Russell also credits jazz, legal alcohol, gay and lesbian liberation, and much of the entertainment business to organized crime (which was so much better than the dis-organized crime we have today).
Rather than avoid the politically incorrect topics as do many of his peers, Dr. Russell, the renegade historian, boldly addresses taboos, stereotypes, and prejudices of minorities and immigrants (especially Jews and Italians). He discusses their origins and how they influenced the renegades and helped them succeed in giving us many of our “personal liberty” freedoms we enjoy today. Should the government care what you do alone at home in the dark? If you think not, then thank a renegade!
A Renegade History of the United States was released last year by Free Press, an affiliate of Simon and Schuster, Inc. It is available in hardcopy, paperback, audio, and e-book formats.