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11 Freedoms that Drunks, Slackers, Prostitutes and Pirates Pioneered and The Founding Fathers Opposed

What the Founding Fathers called corruption, depravity, venality and vice, many of us would call freedom.

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10. Racial Integration

Lower-class taverns -- the ones most frequently attacked by leaders of the new nation -- were the first racially integrated public spaces in America. Black, white, and brown Americans came together through mutual desire centuries before the federal government brought them together by force. Although the law in all the colonies barred blacks from public houses, the law was more often than not ignored by tavern keepers, white patrons, and by free blacks and even slaves. Early court records tell of drinking establishments across the colonies that disregarded the color line. Typical was a Burlington, New Jersey grand jury's charge in 1707 that a laborer named William Cale kept a "common house of drinking . . . and there received harbored and supported diverse vagabond and other idle and suspected persons of evil conversation as well as diverse servants and Negroes of the inhabitants of the town." Occasional attacks by law enforcers did little to stem the inflow of various colors into American taverns. Again, the less "respectable" a public house was, the more likely it was to facilitate the mixing of races.

11. Fashion

Prostitutes pioneered many of the styles that became "respectable." They were the first women to wear cosmetics, color their hair, and wear clothing that was considered fashionable. Slaves and free blacks -- who were generally welcomed in lower-class taverns and brothels -- were also known to dress "above their station." But the men who created the "good" American citizen dressed him in homely clothing. "He appear'd in the plainest Country Garb," said Benjamin Franklin. "His Great Coat was coarse and looked old and thread-bare; his Linnen was homespun; his Beard perhaps of Seven Days Growth, his Shoes thick and heavy, and every Part of his Dress corresponding." The revolutionary scribe Joel Barlow warned in 1787 that "[w]henever democratic states degenerate from those noble republican virtues which constitute the chief excellency, spring, and even basis of their government, and instead of industry, frugality, and economy, encourage luxury, dissipation and extravagence, we may justly conclude that ruin is near at hand. . . . No virtue, no Commonwealth." In 1843, Cornelius Mathews, the poet of "Young America," described the "Man in the Republic" as living "With plainness in thy daily pathway walk/ And disencumbered of excess." Women were instructed to wear dresses of "surpassing neatness and simplicity," and respectable urban men were expected to become what a business directory in the 1850s called "the unknown knight, with his plain unostentatious black armor."

 

Thaddeus Russell is the author of A Renegade History of the United States (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2010).

 
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