I imagine a lot of readers here already subscribe to H-SHEAR, the Early Republic historians’ email list, but for those who don’t, here is a notice for a bit of worthwhile historical television that is airing tonight, from Dan Feller, director of the Andrew Jackson Papers project:
This coming Monday, July 6, the PBS show “History Detectives” will air a segment featuring the work of the Andrew Jackson Papers project at the University of Tennessee Department of History. The episode concerns a letter threatening Jackson’s assassination, signed with the name Junius Brutus Booth (a famous actor and father of Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth) and sent to Jackson on July 4, 1835. Housed in the Library of Congress and long known to scholars, the letter has been presumed by Jackson biographers and political historians (following the lead of John Spencer Bassett, who printed it in his Correspondence of Andrew Jackson with Booth’s name in quotation marks) to be the work of a pseudonymous writer, while some Booth biographers and theater historians have accepted its authenticity but considered it a gag among friends. As “History Detectives” will show, the Jackson Papers staff were instrumental in proving that neither is correct. Booth really wrote the letter, apparently in one of his legendary choleric rages. He later apologized. Killing presidents, or threatening to, seems to have run in the family.
I will be interested to see how the show handles the Booths. One of the cardinal points in my History of Conspiracy Theories course is that Lincoln’s was perhaps the only truly political assassination of all the presidential assassinations. I was not aware of the elder Booth’s threat against Jackson, but I would not have put the letter’s attribution in quotation marks. A guy named Brutus who named his son John Wilkes obviously had some extravagant, self-dramatizing ideas about fighting for freedom.
Last week I did some more Tea Party commentary elsewhere:
…it’s true that many (though not all) of the conservative protesters were invoking the “tea party” mostly as empty symbolism and not as an explicit historical parallel. But such unthinking (not to say cheap) symbolism can be potentially dangerous. After all, the actual perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party destroyed over £9000 worth of goods (the equivalent of between $1 and $2 million dollars in today’s money), and this was after weeks of threatening the British tea agents at their homes and places of business. Perhaps we might agree today that the colonists were forced to resort to violence and destruction because they suffered under a “tyrannical” empire that ignored their arguments—but in a representative government, we have other alternatives. Despite the signs calling for “tarring and feathering,” in New York City, the strong police presence probably discouraged any real thoughts of violence. But will those protesters who were calling for “rebellion” be content with civil disobedience in the future?
It appears that the angry white guy who shot up a children’s production of “Annie” at a Unitarian-Universalist church in Tennessee thought he was taking revenge on something that is largely a fictional creation of the conservative political media, the “liberal movement.” (As far as I can tell, the only historical group that ever actually called itself the “Liberal Movement” was a minor Australian political party from the 1970s).
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – An out-of-work truck driver accused of opening fire at a Unitarian church, killing two people, left behind a note suggesting that he targeted the congregation out of hatred for its liberal policies, including its acceptance of gays, authorities said yesterday.A four-page letter found in Jim D. Adkisson’s small SUV indicated that he intentionally targeted the Tennessee Valley Unitarian-Universalist Church because, Police Chief Sterling Owen said, “he hated the liberal movement” and was upset with “liberals in general as well as gays.”
Adkisson, 58, a truck driver, had 76 rounds with him when he entered the church and pulled a shotgun from a guitar case during a children’s performance of the musical “Annie.”
Adkisson’s ex-wife once belonged to the church but hadn’t attended in years, said Ted Jones, the congregation’s president. Police investigators described Adkisson as a “stranger” to the congregation, and police spokesman Darrell DeBusk declined to comment on whether investigators think the ex-wife’s link was a factor in the attack.
Adkisson remained jailed yesterday on $1 million bond after being charged with one count of murder. More charges are expected. Four victims were hospitalized in critical condition.
“It appears that what brought him to this horrible event was his lack of being able to obtain a job, his frustration over that, and his stated hatred for the liberal movement,” Owen said.
Adkisson was a loner who hates “blacks, gays and anyone different from him,” longtime acquaintance Carol Smallwood, of Alice, Texas, told the Knoxville News Sentinel.
The term “liberal movement” (along with similar ones) is really just a convenient way for conservatives to package together some people’s uneasiness with a wide array of social changes and turn it into a sort of conspiracy theory that can be used against a variety of political opponents. Historically, of course, the radicals who promoted some social causes originating in the 60s and 70s often hated no one worse than the liberals who had helped foster some of the older rights movements. Moreover, as we have discovered in recent Democratic primary campaigns, even moderate politicians vaguely affiliated with rights movements for different groups of people do not form any sort of cohesive unit. If there was a powerful “liberal movement” that could pull itself together, we would not have spent quite so much of the past 40 years under real or virtual GOP rule. (Note that I am not even getting into the 18th-century meaning of “liberal.)
A CNN story makes it even clear that the shooter almost quoted right-wing media talking points when explaining his actions to the police:
According to the affidavit requesting to search Adkisson’s home, the suspect told investigators liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country. Adkisson also blamed Democrats for the country’s decline, according to the affidavit.
“He felt that the Democrats had tied his country’s hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of major media outlets,” the affidavit said. “Because he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement … he would then target those that had voted them into office.”
Killed in the shooting were Linda Kraeger, 61, and Greg McKendry, 60, police said. Witnesses said McKendry, an usher and board member at the church, tried to shield others when he was shot, according to The Associated Press.
I imagine these Tennessee Unitarians thought they were just trying to be tolerant and welcoming to all different kinds of people, being nice and polite we call it where I come from, rather than serving an all-powerful “movement” to oppress the likes of Jim D. Adkisson.