The Shocking Savagery of America's Early History
Bernard Bailyn, one of our greatest historians, shines his light on the nation's Dark Ages

Rosenbaum, Ron

Date Written:  01/03/2013
Year Published:  2013  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX22639

A discussion with reknowned historian Bernard Bailyn whose recent book "The Barbarous Years" examines a particularly violent period of America's early history which has since been almost erased.



Bailyn has not painted a pretty picture. Little wonder he calls it The Barbarous Years and spares us no details of the terror, desperation, degradation and widespread torture - do you really know what being "flayed alive" means? (The skin is torn from the face and head and the prisoner is disemboweled while still alive.) And yet somehow amid the merciless massacres were elements that gave birth to the rudiments of civilization - or in Bailyn's evocative phrase, the fragile "integument of civility" - that would evolve 100 years later into a virtual Renaissance culture, a bustling string of self-governing, self-sufficient, defiantly expansionist colonies alive with an increasingly sophisticated and literate political and intellectual culture that would coalesce into the rationale for the birth of American independence. All the while shaping, and sometimes misshaping, the American character. It's a grand drama in which the glimmers of enlightenment barely survive the savagery, what Yeats called "the blood-dimmed tide," the brutal establishment of slavery, the race wars with the original inhabitants that Bailyn is not afraid to call "genocidal," the full, horrifying details of which have virtually been erased.

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