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Politically Incorrect

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Politically Incorrect

Of course I'm a liberal. After all, I grew up in a liberal family, going back to the late 1500s and my 14th great-grandfather, John Haynes.

John Haynes was born in 1594 to an old, wealthy family who lived at Copford Hall in Hertford, England. He was an admirer of Thomas Hooker, a prominent Puritan religious leader who advocated for voting rights, religious tolerance (though only toward Christian sects) and government that must answer to the people. Haynes sailed with Hooker on the Griffin to the New World, where they founded Hartford, Connecticut and the Connecticut Colony. Haynes was a governor of Massachusetts, and then, on April 11, 1639, became the first Governor of Connecticut. He was one of five men who drafted Connecticut’s constitution.

John Haynes was my 14th great-grandfather.

Colonel Jonathan Fitch, born in 1727, was the son of another Connecticut Governor (Thomas Fitch IV). He graduated Yale College in 1748 and served as its steward for several years. He was High Sheriff and Naval Officer at New Haven and, at the time of the Revolutionary War, became a Colonel of the 2nd Connecticut Militia. Jonathan’s brother (Thomas V) is said to have been the original “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” about whom the song was written.

Col. Fitch was my 10th great-grandfather.

Alexander Kerr was born in 1694 in Scotland, the second son of the Laird of Graden. In 1715 he participated in the First Jacobite Uprising (the Fifteenth) in an effort to return James VII to the throne—he was captured at Chester and convicted of treason and, as a result, was transported to the Colony of Virginia in 1716. His son (also an Alexander) was a patriot of the Revolutionary War.

Alexander Kerr was another 10th great-grandfather.

Samuel Newberry was the son of an Irish stowaway who became a member of the Virginia Colonial Militia in the Revolutionary War. Samuel II was a Methodist minister who fathered ten children, all of whom were “given an education above the average.”

Samuel Newberry II was my 7th great-grandfather.

It’s said that a political conservative is a person who defends the status quo, and who wants change, if change must come, only slowly and in moderation. A political liberal, therefore, would be one for whom the status quo is not always sufficient—a person who continues to push the boundaries and for whom change is an accepted part of life.

Obviously, I did not become a liberal by chance—instead, I find that my blood has been steeped in liberalism for hundreds of years and, as a liberal, I express what more than a dozen of my forefathers expressed before me.

Early settlers in Colonial America, those who arrived in the 1600s as did so many of my own ancestors, came because they did not accept the status quo—they believed that life could not only be different from what was currently lived, but that by that difference, it could also be better—if not for themselves, then at least for their descendants.

The Slades, the Hightowers, the Coxes… the Saltonsalls and Byrds… the Braswells, Vaughns, Reynolds, Walkers and Fords, Barnetts, McNeelys, Strouds, Lesters, Fields and Dillons, all arrived in America prior to the Revolution and all served their country in the ultimate battle for liberalism, for change—for a new country where “all men are created equal,” and are blessed with “certain inalienable rights.”

And their descendents carried those liberal beliefs into the future. As America’s boundaries grew southward and westward, so these families followed, and often surpassed, its borders. The Barnetts arrived in Alabama not long after it became a state in 1819; the Fords were in Georgia at least a decade before it gained statehood; and the Newberrys arrived in Texas as soon as it was opened for settlement while the Williamses were there a few years before. The Langfords, Gordons and Futrells all made their way into the “West”—Tennessee—while it was still a settlement for pioneers. Literally dozens of my ancestors packed up family and belongings when given the opportunity to change their circumstances in the hope of something better. And yes, while a few found themselves wearing the blue in 1861, the majority took up arms in defense of their homes and fought in what they referred to as “the War of Northern Aggression;” not, from what I can tell, as avid defenders of slavery (few of them owned slaves), but as liberals who believed it was better to go to war than to submit to an overbearing government. They believed, in the words of Jefferson himself, government derived its “just powers from the consent of the governed,” and that, “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

In this first decade of the 21st century it appears that “liberal” has become a dirty word, and that people have forgotten the true strength of this country was derived from the compromises achieved by those who disagreed. Without liberals, conservatives would not today be concerned about their right to “keep and bear arms,” not just because there would be no Constitution offering them that right but because they would not likely be in a position where they could afford to purchase one. (Remember, one of the biggest challenges to the liberal revolutionaries in 1775 (and before) was obtaining weapons for a populace too poor to own them.) Without liberals, evangelical Christians would not be able to argue their agenda, because they would all be members of the Church of England, submitting to what their clergy and their King told them to believe. Without liberals, conservatives would be less concerned with what others do in the bedroom than with what they do themselves; for example, their high divorce rates. I suggest it’s worth remembering that we all have something of value to bring to the table.

I am proud that in the 400 years since my ancestors first set foot on the American continent their descendents have maintained a spirit of liberalism, of adventure, and of believing that we can do better. It seems that both nature and nurture suggest I can do no less.

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Family, genealogy, liberal

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