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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/14/11

Rick Perry's Revolutionary War "History"

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry

For people who supposedly revere the Founding Fathers and the Constitution, the Tea Party and its favored candidates seem to know little about the actual history of the Revolutionary War or why the Constitution was written.

Instead, the Right has spun an upside-down narrative of America's founding era, much as the Right's pervasive media has created false narratives about almost everything else, a disturbingly easy process given how ignorant some Americans are about their own history.

The latest example of this garbled history came from Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday night  when he placed the Revolutionary War in the 1500s, a couple of centuries before America's Declaration of Independence in 1776 -- and even before the first permanent English settlement in the New World, Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.

"Our Founding Fathers never meant for Washington, D.C. to be the fount of all wisdom," Perry lectured. "As a matter of fact they were very much afraid of that because they'd just had this experience with this far-away government that had centralized thought process and planning and what have you, and then it was actually the reason that we fought the revolution in the 16th century was to get away from that kind of onerous crown if you will."

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Perry's "history" lesson followed a similarly loony account from Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, who -- while pandering to Tea Party voters in New Hampshire -- told them, "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord."

Of course, the Revolutionary War battlefields of Lexington and Concord are in Massachusetts. (Bachmann may have gotten confused because there is a Concord, New Hampshire.)

But the Tea Party's rewriting of America's founding narrative is more cynical than the know-nothingism of Perry and Bachmann. The Right has made a conscious effort to distort U.S. history into something that would have made the southern Confederacy proud, by wrapping its desire to maintain slavery inside the prettier trappings of the phrase, "states' rights."

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The Confederates of yore and the neo-Confederates of today reinterpretted the Constitution as a document providing for a weak central government that must submit to the supremacy of the states. That bogus historical claim was the core point in Perry's bungled "history" lesson on Tuesday night.

To push this revisionist history of the Constitution (under the guise of "originalism" or "strict constructionism"), the Right ignores what the Founders were up to when they convened the Constitutional Convention in 1787. They were set on replacing the weak central government in the Articles of Confederation with a strong one in the Constitution.

Washington's Purpose

Gen. George Washington, who presided over the convention in Philadelphia, was one of the strongest advocates for a powerful central government because he had experienced -- as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army -- the dysfunction of the Articles, which governed the United States from 1777 to 1787.

The lack of a federal taxing authority meant that Washington's soldiers were at the mercy of the states' contributions to the federal government for their pay and munitions -- and often those voluntary payments didn't arrive.

Other Founders, especially the merchants and businessmen at the convention, understood the need for a unified national policy on commerce, so the new nation could compete with the economic powers around the world.

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So, during the Constitutional Convention, the delegates from the 13 states agreed to scrap the Articles of Confederation in total and replace them with the Constitution, creating a dynamic central government possessing broad powers to tax, print money, make war, negotiate treaties, regulate national commerce and take a variety of other actions.

Another key change from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution was the stripping out of language describing the "independence" and the "sovereignty" of the states. In effect, the Constitution transferred national sovereignty to "we the people of the United States" and to the Republic that the Constitution created.

Often the Tea Party and the Right talk as if they haven't actually read the Constitution, at least not in contrast to what it superseded in the Articles of Confederation.

The Articles had described the United States not as a government or even a nation, but as "a firm league of friendship" among the states. The Confederation's Article II added: "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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