Language not only allows us to express what we think, but also plays a huge role in shaping what and how we think. At a very basic level, words and respective meanings define the limits of our entire scope of possible thoughts.
Have you tried to think without words? Not so easy.
On another level, how we refer to historical events or political and social developments, affects greatly how we view them.
With that in mind, I have five proposed changes to the American common- and official-use lexicon. Most of them are a reversion to how things were described in the past.
Here They Are:
The American Revolution should be referred to as the American War for Independence
The America of the founders was a mere continuation of the British tradition. Not a revolt against it.
The legal and political system that the men of ’76 and ’87 established was firmly rooted in English and British Common Law and tradition. Free elections by property holders, Habeas Corpus, no taxation without representation, freedom of speech and assembly–these were all included under the umbrella of the “Rights of Englishmen”. Indeed, the later American Bill of Rights pulls extensively from the English Bill of Rights of 1689.
The basis of the colonists’ complaints and petitions leading up to the war was justified by appealing to these traditional British rights. The argument went that the British Parliament and later the King were violating their rights as Englishmen. Eventually it was determined that, to protect their English/British rights, they needed to establish more local control.
A revolution implies an overturning of an existing order and, often, a complete overall and restructuring of society. This was not the case during and after the American War for Independence.
The Federal Government should be called the National Government
The distinction between “federal” and “national” is almost completely lost in modern American English. This is a shame both for limiting our linguistic ability, and because it allows the US central government to get away with acting like a national government while still claiming to invoke the decentralized political tradition of the United States.
Here’s the difference in a nutshell: a national government is one where all power rests in the central authority, and in which smaller constituent pieces, if they exist at all, exist solely for the convenience of the center. Think of unitary states like France and the United Kingdom.
A federal system on the other hand, is one in which the central body exists for the convenience of the constituent pieces. The smaller pieces precede the central authority as independent states or colonies and come together to form the central, federal authority to perform specific, well-defined tasks. Think Canada, Switzerland, and the early US.
The US was a federal system under the Articles of Confederation, the first US constitution. The individual States were thought of as independent countries which came together in a union for certain practical benefits. However, the current constitution created what was a national government in all but name.
It began as de facto power usurped by the central authorities. But as time went on the power of the States was extinguished further and further by law until the 17th Amendment killed its last vestige by dictating that Senators be elected by the people instead of appointed by State legislatures.
The Civil War should at least be called The War Between the States, if not the War of Northern Aggression
If we are being totally honest we should opt for the latter. It’s not racist, pro-slavery, or even pro-Confederacy. It’s pro-fact.
This ties into the previous section. During the Antebellum Period most Americans thought of the United States as a federal entity. And if that center, which was created for the convenience of the States, stopped serving the ends of your State, why stay part of that particular organization?
The States of the eventual Confederacy rationally thought to peacefully withdrawal from a union that they had chosen to enter because they felt it became detrimental to their interests, security, and overall society. That didn’t cause the war. Lincoln and his national government started the war to force the Southern States back into a union they had no business being a part of.
That is what cost the equivalent of 6-8 million lives today.
Also on a more tedious note, the term “civil war” almost always refers to a war in which two groups, bodies, or organizations are fighting for control of a country. Calling The War Between The States a “civil war” implies that two groups were fighting for political control of the United States. This was not the case. It was the Northern States fighting to dominate and enforce their will upon the Southern States.
We should go back to referring to the US as a plural entity
This is related to the previous two points. Once upon a time you would have said the United States ARE a beautiful place, ARE going to war, ARE having an election. Saying the United States IS was not heard very much before the post-War Between The States era.
By 1880 they were in equal common usage, and by the early 20th century “is” had almost completely replaced “are”. It’s debated whether or not the war had the decisive impact on this change. But either way, referring to the US as a singular entity plays into the idea of the center being superior to the States. One people, one country, one corrupt government in Washington DC.
The Department of Defense should go back to being called the Department of War
This slight of hand switch is straight out of Orwell’s 1984 and is a scary manipulation of language. Let’s not be scary.
Words are extremely important. The ones we currently use to describe the above entities/events/developments create a false view of American history and culture. Decentralization, secession, natural rights in the Anglo-Tradition, Common Law–these concepts are American.
Let’s take a step to stop destroying the knowledge of true history.