On this day in 2007, I arrived in Virginia without a job or a home, but with a good working knowledge of 1776 (1972).* And while being able to recite the lyrics to “Sit Down, John!” has neither been sufficient in terms of my professional advancement nor even helpful where the happiness of my marriage is concerned, it has given me great joy.
That said, I suppose it’s unlikely that William Lloyd Garrison felt quite the same joy when, on this day in 1854, somewhere near Boston, he publicly burned copies of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. The context of this was the capture, trial, and deportment, earlier in the year, of Anthony Burns, a fugitive slave from Virginia.
Moncure Conway,** himself a Virginian and the son of a planter, used the occasion to “come out” against slavery, declaring that “in Virginia, they not only had slaves, but every man with a conscience, or even the first throbbings of a conscience, is a slave.”
Serious business, slavery. And history. Which is why, I think, we sometimes require the musical.
* I believe it was Ezra Pound who described the musical 1776 as “of the best, among them, / For an old bitch gone in the teeth.”
** Conway is one of the most interesting guys you may never have heard of. Seriously.
A version of this post was originally published on July 4, 2011.