Friday, July 4, 2008
A collateral relative lives in the formerly rural Maryland Manor House seen above. He is a direct descendant of a Signer of the Declaration of Independence who went on to serve in the United States Senate after the Constitution was enacted. The house was built by the Signer, beginning around 1760 and continuing with various additions and adjustments until about 1820. It sits on 100 acres or so, all that is left of the formerly vast plantation acreage that once surrounded it. You can see DC/Baltimore suburban development encroaching.
This house is the only Revolutionary era residence still in the hands of descendants of the Revolutionaries who built it. And the current descendant bars public access entirely, not simply barring access to the house, but even to the edges of the property itself, having closed off the formerly public road that passes well beyond the house. In fact, the house is invisible from the road. That the public can no longer traverse. He not only bars the public, he bars other family descendants!
Yet he has the nerve to demand millions of dollars from the county and from the State of Maryland to preserve the house and its grounds, or else, he says, he'll sell it for what he can get and tell Maryland and the county to go hang. Well. All I can say is that he is true to the spitfire character of his ancestors, and to their tendency to withdraw into hermitage as they enter their dottage.
In fact, his behavior is so much like my own father's as he got up in years, I have to laugh.
My ancestors were the only Catholics who served in the Congresses that declared independence and created the Constitution. I like to think they had something to do with the urge to Revolution (they being dispossessed Irish Catholic aristocracy and all) and with the Bill of Rights, and I've read some indications that that's the case, in that their money funded the Revolutionary armies, their sense of outraged honor informed the Declaration, the religious persecution they endured led to their strong belief in freedom of religion and religious conscience, something almost unheard of, even among persecuted Catholics, back in the day.
You can see the chapel attached on the right to the manor house above. It was for many years the parish church for the area, when the manor was in more accommodating hands. But it was built as part of the manor when Catholic churches were illegal and celebrating Mass, even in private, was forbidden.
It was built in defiance, in other words, of British restrictions on Catholic observance. A crypto-Revolutionary act well before the outbreak of hostilities between the Colonies and the Crown.
There would be many others and there would be more after Independence. The stories I heard when I was young about the conflicts and feuds between my ancestors and Thomas Jefferson -- disputes that went on for decades -- were certainly illuminating. And of course the genetic contrariness in my make up is often apparent in my own life.
I know where it comes from.
But every Fourth of July, I do think about the world my ancestors came from and the world they sought to create through the vehicle of the United States of America. It was to be, and it largely is, something better than the world they came from but only partially left behind.
As grotesquely as it has been perverted by the characters infesting the White House and its offshoots throughout the government, the idea of America, and the ideals of the Founders still resonate among the People and around the world. The Founders started us on a path that had many pitfalls, and from which we have too often veered. We may not be able to revive the Republic the Founders left us, but perhaps, just maybe, we can create a New Republic based on their model.
Right now we're stuck with Empire and all its many enervations and disasters. Americans do not do Empire well. The Republic is gone. Finding the right way forward will take time, dedication, and clear vision, something we may be blessed with eventually, but not something we can command into being.
It's a desultory Fourth all in all. I wish it weren't.