The Good Old Days

John’s return after fighting in Dunmore’s War takes him across what is now West Virginia and into Maryland.  He stops in Frederick enjoying a respite on the journey that will eventually take him back to his home and family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  During his stay, he and Isaac reunite with Fred Martin in his alehouse and partake of his excellent potted meat and cider.  They also run into Tillman Ingersoll, the current constable of the town.  During my few hours writing this chapter, I remain ensconced in the political climate of the time, and the concept of crime and punishment in Colonial America. Naturally, I draw comparisons to our own recent contentious political climate, the struggle between conservative and liberal views, and the desire to return to the halcyon days we think we had before.

The past months, due in great part to the lack of decorum promoted by the anonymity of social media, our country is lumped into two great opposing camps: Conservative and Liberal. Conservative includes Republican and Libertarian, and the Liberal includes the Green Party.   Each also drew in respective subsets: Conservatives drew the Alt-Right, White Supremacists, and Fundamental Christians; Liberals drew conservationists, Black Lives Matter, Socialists, and non-fundamentalist Christians.  Social media conversations, through the in-your-face style that has metastasized over time, tend to lump all Conservatives together and all Liberals together.  Posting of the now infamous “fake news” was, and still is a very real problem.  Conversations between “friends” were insulting, demeaning, and not in any way true to how those individuals would talk to each other in person.  Some moaned about political correctness and corruption. Others moaned about rights, and justice and chicanery. There was a theme that played underneath that was a tempting mantra. “Why can’t we go back to the good times, the times when we were more free, the times with less government interference in our lives, to the time when one did not have to worry about being politically correct? We wished to put God back in schools, we wanted everyone to go to church (if church equals Christian).

Let us turn the clock back!

How far? 1954? 1973? 1968? 1857? 1920? 1877-1950? 1863? 1770? 1776? 1976/2010?

Before 1965? There were no African Americans voting for Democrats – they couldn’t vote, remember? Before 1954, schools were segregated and not at all “separate but equal.”  Maybe we should go back prior to 1863. Then we wouldn’t have to provide any rights to African Americans.  Between 1877 and 1950, records find that upwards to 3,959 African Americans were lynched in a dozen Southern states.

How about prior to 1920? No women could vote. And prior to 1973, were restricted in decisions about their own bodies. We could go back to 1770 when a woman who had a child out of wedlock could be flogged, shamed, even hung.  Ducking chairs were used for half drowning scolds, quarrelsome married couples (tied back to back), slanderers, brawlers, “women of light carriage,” brewers of bad beer, and bakers of bad bread.

There were pillories, where people were stood tall with head and hands in a stock. Uncomfortable enough, but then ears were nailed to the wood at times-three nails in each ear, then the nails slit out. Other times ears were cropped, and some offenders pelted by anything at hand.  Some died because people threw rocks.

Each county in Maryland had branding irons which the applied liberally for various crimes.  B was for burglary and was burned into the right hand – a second offense earned a brand in the left. If it occurred on the Lord’s Day, the B was burned into the forehead. Other brands were SL for seditious libel burned on the cheeks, M was for manslaughter, T for thief, R for rogue, F for forgery.

For slanderers, gossips, and nags, there was a cage that covered the head and clamped the tongue to a flat piece of metal, sometimes with spikes.  Churches employed spies to inform on those who did not attend church so that they could be publicly humiliated, pilloried, fined, and whipped. All in love, of course.  The First Amendment protects against these abuses, but the vestiges remain.

God was never taken out of the schools. Students can still pray, read religious materials, and hold their own beliefs.  We have eliminated school sponsored religious activities. The public school is a state entity, the employees are agents of the state. Separation of church and state, that pesky provision of the First Amendment gives you permission to worship as you will, or won’t for that matter, without interference from the state, but does not give you permission to foist your beliefs or non-beliefs on others.  In Colonial times, every Virginia minister had to read the “Articles, Lawes, and Orders” every Sunday to the congregation. Failure to attend church twice each day was punishable by a loss of a day’s food. The second offense earned a flogging on the whipping post near the church. If you just couldn’t make it a third time, it was off with you to the colonial galleys for six months of rowing.  Not sure wishing for a theocracy is what we need.

When I sent a new batch of Student Teachers out into the world, I would gather them for an orientation meeting.  I started by saying, “l like to kick the sessions off with a prayer.” They would straighten, bow their heads, and become reverential.  I continued, telling them, “I like to pray to Buddha.”  Heads shot up, expressions changed, and they became uncomfortable.  “Now you understand the establishment clause,” I would finish.  As southern, very religious Christians, they saw immediately what it would be like to be a non-Christian while morning prayer intoned over the PA.

There have been many changes throughout our history concerning the rights and responsibilities that we each have.

Turn back the clock?   I would like to go back to the cowboy days of 1870’s.

Well, except for indoor plumbing and medicine….


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