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Political and social equality then and now

In a review of a recent book by Edmund Morgan, Russell Baker mentions this story:

Two Boston carters [were] hauling a wagonload of wood along a narrow snow-drifted road one wintry day in 1705 when they met the oncoming coach of the royal governor of Massachusetts and refused to pull aside. The governor later testified that after he jumped from the coach and ordered them to clear the road, one of them “answered boldly, without any other words, ‘I am as good flesh and blood as you; I will not give way, you may goe out of the way.'” When the governor drew his sword to assert respect for high office, the carter “layd hold on the governor and broke the sword in his hand.”

It was “a supreme gesture of contempt for authority and its might,” Morgan writes. One shudders to think what might happen to this stubborn working stiff and his supreme gesture in today’s world of terrifying political motorcades with their heavily armed bodyguards.

Indeed.

The election of Barack Obama and the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor remind us of our society’s great progress in social mobility, but in some ways we really do seem to be moving backwards.

3 Comments

  1. jonathan says:

    Tidbits from the past.

    Lincoln spent most of the warm months in Northern DC and would ride to work on his horse. There is a photo of him, looking very tall in the saddle, accompanied by an army major also on horse. Remember, this was war time in a largely southern city.

    I think it may have been Madison who was swimming in the Potomac and was pushed too far downstream from his clothes. The President had to ask passersby to fetch them for him.

    And when did it become mandatory to call the President "Mr. President." Not long ago, you'd accord him normal courtesy, as in Mr. Eisenhower or Mr. Roosevelt.

  2. derek says:

    I disagree that the people from many different ethnic groups present in the American upper class today represents more than a return to normality, from an unusual period in American history where they were excluded. In most of the world, for most of history, the upper class has been perfectly happy to let all who will and can, join them in wealth, just as long as they join them in screwing over the workers.

  3. BCC says:

    I wonder what happened to the guy who yelled at Cheney, "Go F- yourself", after Katrina, echoing Cheney's cordial 2004 greeting to Sen. Leahy (video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3SemYQH-8o @ 25s)

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