Warner Library Tapped to “Revisit the Founding Era”

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by Elaine Marranzano – 

In 1787, Alexander Hamilton grew so frustrated with the Constitutional debate about states’ rights versus a central government, he threw up his hands.  “This is never going to work,” he proclaimed. “We’ll just be fighting about who has ultimate power over issues forever.” Of course, he was right.

Today’s political rancor and the bluster of the modern-day far-right were born in the Colonial period.  Now, a new national initiative aims to connect the dots between past and present political rhetoric and raise questions about the fundamental nature of democracy in the United States. Funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities, 100 libraries, including the Warner Library in Tarrytown, have been selected to participate in the three-year program called “Revisiting the Founding Era.”

“What binds us together is not a shared faith or common ethnicity, but our country’s founding principles,” said Julie Silverbrook, executive director of the Constitutional Sources Project, speaking at the program’s kick-off event in Philadelphia. “We have to go back to those ideas.”

An initiative of the Gilder Lehrman Institute and Library of America, “Revisiting the Founding Era” will examine 18th Century letters and documents in town hall events to reveal the way history looked to people who were actually living it at the time – not just “stodgy old white men.”

“We will be examining documents that show us how people like women or enslaved persons experienced the Revolution,” said Maureen Petry, director, Warner Library. “They didn’t necessarily have a vote, but they still influenced what happened.”

An example is a letter from 1787 written by Mercy Otis Warren. Not quite the household name she should be, Warren was an English writer, historian and, astonishingly, political advisor to the founding fathers – sort of the Steve Bannon of her day to the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.  In the letter, written just three days after the U.S. Constitution was published, she says it will “set in motion the pens and tongues of the political world,” but   ultimately feared it would “replicate the horrors of the British government.

In announcing that Warner Library was selected to participate in “Revisiting the Founding Era,” U.S. Representative Nita Lowey said she has “consistently fought to protect funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH),” and “led Democrats in securing a $3 million increase despite President Trump’s request to completely eliminate the NEH in Fiscal Year 2018.”

“Revisiting the Founding Era” events will take place over the next three years. Warner Library will host its event in 2019.

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