How Ignorance Of American History Feeds Demagogues Who Hate The Constitution

How Ignorance Of American History Feeds Demagogues Who Hate The Constitution By  for The Federalist

Americans in 1913 showed by their votes they had forgotten the purpose of the Framers’ design for the Senate. We today, by and large, have even forgotten that generation’s forgetting.

We have forgotten so much of what Americans once knew about America. To choose just one example—a simple but telling one—there is the name of the city of Cincinnati.

For decades, I have been conducting a kind of unscientific poll. Whenever I meet someone from Cincinnati, I always say, “Cincinnati. What an interesting name that is. Do you know where it came from?” The question generally elicits a blank look.  So far, no one I have asked has been able to provide the answer. (I am certain many people from Cincinnati do know the answer, but evidently many don’t.)

How Ignorance Of American History Feeds Demagogues Who Hate The Constitution

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to pick on the fine citizens of this great city; many of us who are not from Cincinnati can’t answer the question either.

This would have astonished Americans of the Founders’ generation and many later generations of Americans. Once upon a time, every American knew quite a bit about the men known as the Cincinnati—and about the man they were named for. That man was George Washington.

Washington was celebrated as “Cincinnatus.” He earned that name by being an astonishing example of republican virtue.

Meet the Original Cincinnatus

Washington led America to victory in the American Revolution, but he did not then seize political power, as many in Europe assumed he would and as his contemporary Napoleon did after the French Revolution. In London, George III asked the American-born painter Benjamin West what Washington, having won the war, would do.  West replied that it was said he would return to his farm. “If he does that,” said the king, “he will be the greatest man in the world.”

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