Thanks to writer Salena Zito and Mayor Bill Peduto for some thought-provoking historicizing this week.
This need for change was not what many of America’s Founders believed, especially those who worked the land and tended to view history as cyclical, according to Curt Nichols, political scientist at the University of Missouri.
He explained their philosophy: “Things tend to go from good to bad to worse before they get better again. And things only got better if a virtuous citizenry worked hard and was willing to sacrifice to make things better.”
Timing was everything for these “country” thinkers. They believed, as Shakespeare’s Brutus did, that “there is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” (Trib, Salena Zito)
The “country” people who worked the land and made sacrifices were slaves. This point takes nothing away from Zito or Nichols on our agrarian Founders chill zen relaxedness over their annual statements of revenues and expenditures, or about their disinclination towards government intrusion — it strengthens both.
By the time of the Revolution, the tending, harvesting and preparation of America’s cash crops of cotton, indigo, rice and tobacco was, to put it gently, no longer work white people were willing to do. Plantation owners were already fleeing their isolated, factory-like works and barracks for the relative security and comfort of town life. So if disinterest in social change typifies an historical archetype type here, it is at least as much “wealthy suburbanite” as it is “country farmer.”
Which brings us to this:
Mayor Bill Peduto kicked off the p4 Conference last Thursday with a story of the four chapters of Pittsburgh.
Chapter one is rich with tales of George Washington and tells of Pittsburgh’s birth as a frontier town. Chapter two is our time as an industrial giant while chapter three is the story of our Renaissance and subsequent collapse. As for chapter four? (NEXTPgh, Lauri Grotstein)
The next chapter is unwritten, but I would argue that after the messy quarrels over Downtown forts which culminated in Pontiac’s Rebellion, the American Revolution and the Whiskey Rebellion, the next great chapter in any thumbnail Pittsburgh history is the Civil War and the Underground Railroad.
Owing once again to our river traffic, and I suppose to our neighborly nature as a global frontier crossroads, Pittsburgh became a significant nexus and network of railroad “conductors”, fugitive slaves being hastened north, and abolitionist activism. We could do worse than pause to take inspiration from such.
Plus, supplying the Union war effort broadened Pittsburgh’s industrial base.
Once Frick and company really got things going in Chapter three, the impact of Pittsburgh’s mega-industrialization can then be informed by August Wilson’s perspectives on blacks migrating from the Deep South during and after Reconstruction. Our “Renaissance,” highways and urban renewal are then better recognized as reactions, and the “subsequent collapse” perhaps better explained.