Originally Reviewed on 4/18/2015 – Revised 3/19/2016
A Renegade History of the United States
A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell
Thaddeus Russell’s book is an account of the kinds of people that normal history courses bypass entirely, and the profound effect that they had on the making of the society we have today. The author clearly states that he does not necessarily think some of the behaviour was good, merely that it all existed and had an effect on the development of society. What it clearly illustrates is that when people are free to do as they want, they will do things that we may not like. It also shows that the ‘well-behaved’ sometimes benefit from the misbehaviours of the bad guys. Again, a book which asks whether you really believe in Liberty or not. Whatever your political bent, your ox will be gored by this book.
He begins with the debauchery of certain parts of society around the time of the Revolutionary War which led to the first initial steps into seeking pleasures, most of which were considered bad. Sexual and racial freedoms were thought as bad as sports and fairs. It was intended to be a very sober time. The renegades decided to use their freedoms differently than those who sought to control their behaviours. Later in the book, the author talks about the growing affluence of single women in the 1880s which led to the desire to nicer clothing and social entertainments apart from their families. They paved the way for everyone to enjoy some of these simple pleasures because they thought it would be fun or enjoyable, not out of a pursuit of a political agenda. Other trends covered are the changing attitudes toward racial groups during and after the Civil War, the Fascism of the New Deal and a different side of the Civil Rights movement from what is popularly shown.
Overall, it is easy to look at these groups and individuals and see the behaviour and stop with a judgement on the immorality. If this were a religious text, the examination would rightfully take that direction to explore. But this is a historical work and the point is not advocacy, but finding the truth of the change from an acceptable circumspect life at the time of the revolution, to one of great freedom with few socially acceptable restraints in the current time for the vast majority. (Even that is not ubiquitously true, as there were points in history when some groups had more freedom than they do now.)