Town hall at library revisits founding of America - Titusville Herald: News

Town hall at library revisits founding of America

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Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2019 5:00 am

A panel of six local figures took a trip back in time to the creation of America to discuss several major issues from the birth of the nation and how they relate to modern day.

Hosted by the Benson Memorial Library and moderated by Library Historian Jessica Hilburn, the forum featured Oil Region Alliance Historian and Educator Jennifer Burden, Penn State Behrend Assistant Professor of Mathematics Jamie Henderson, Titusville Middle School Social Studies Teacher Jon Herman, Magisterial District Judge Amy Nicols, Brode Law Firm Associate Attorney Sara Patterson and Crawford County Commissioner Chairman Francis Weiderspahn.

The forum used a variety of historical documents and images to guide its discussion, and is part of a grant-funded series the library is performing called “Revisiting the Founding Era.”

Shocking images

and social media

The first question posed to the panelist asked how shocking images can travel through social networks to galvanize political movements, and whether social media helps or hurts political participation. The historical reference used was the famous Paul Revere engraving of the Boston Massacre, which Hilburn called the most effective piece of war-time propaganda in American history.

Many of the panelists noted how the image was slanted to favor the colonists and did not present the full truth of the situation, showing the British soldiers gunning down innocent civilians rather than reacting to an angry mob that was throwing rocks at them.

Henderson remarked on the swiftness of how the graving was made, crafted only three weeks after the incident. He said that Revere rushed to shape the narrative of the massacre, and that modern day politicians try similar tactics, trying to release their press releases or hold conferences before others. Nicols echoed the sentiment on the engraving’s intentions, viewing the image as clearly aimed at trying to make the colonists seem sympathetic.

Herman noted how people can view the same image and see different things, comparing it to photos taken from the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Whereas some may see cops being overly brutal to African American protestors, Herman said, others may think that the marchers were doing something illegal that led to a violent response.

Dealing with the second aspect of the question, Patterson and Weiderspahn both viewed social media as having mixed results in the political process. While it can support conversation and grow grass roots movements, it can also lead to backlash and someone getting attacked because they hold a different view from those in their community.

America’s duty

The next question was based around a passage from “Common Sense,” by Thomas Paine, which said America had a duty to mankind at large to act as an asylum for persecuted people. Hilburn asked the panelists whether they agreed with this assessment and whether America lived up to that goal.

Weiderspahn agreed with the sentiment that America should assist the persecuted, noting that when the country gets involved with foreign conflicts, it is over a group being persecuted. He said America has lived up to that goal, or at least made reparations whenever it fell short. He used the example of America mistreating Japanese-Americans during World War II, but after the war helping to rebuild Japan and remaining a close ally of the country.

Patterson viewed America as currently failing to act as an asylum for the persecuted, mentioning the increased restrictions placed at the U.S.-Mexican border. Herman echoed the sentiments, reciting the poem that is on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, “The New Colossus.”

“‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’” he said.

He further elaborated that America has gone in cycles in terms of acting as an asylum, previously restricting or persecuting immigrants from Ireland, China and even Catholic immigrants at points in its history.

Henderson remarked that it can be easy to talk about helping others during periods of need, but it becomes easier to ignore those groups when it isn’t convenient to those in power.

“It is easier to be open and welcoming to Chinese laborers when we need a railroad built, and not so much when the railroad is finished and it becomes inconvenient,” he said.

However, he said that America does have a duty to mankind.

Burden saw America as having a different duty, that being to show that a republic can succeed as a form of government over monarchies. This, she said, the country has mostly succeeded in. However, she noted that the U.S. lacked many modern innovations of democratic forms of government, such as universal healthcare and cheaper costs for attending higher education.


The next topic regarded how communication can change based on a person’s background and whether there can be an effective conversation without including everyone. For the historical piece, Hilburn used an opinion piece from a several decades old edition of the New-York Weekly Journal, which supported women getting educated, but used sexist remarks in its argument, such as that women have more free time to learn due to not working a job.

Patterson thought different backgrounds can definitely change the nature of a conversation, noting how a millionaire might struggle to convince a working-class person of something because they don’t share the same problems.

“When you look at a picture … You can give it to someone and they’ll see one thing, and somebody else could see something totally different,” she said. “It’s all based on what are they geared to look for.”

While Nicols said that everyone needs to be included in a conversation. Burden noted that it can be impossible to get absolutely all viewpoints involved in every single discussion.

“Somebody will make a statement, there will be an article or whatever, and it’s like, ‘Well, you didn’t ask this person’ and then somebody else will be like, ‘You didn’t ask these 25 people,’” she said. “So, how do you possibly gather everyone’s opinion?”

Herman thought that the problem lay not in a lack of discussion, but in hearing what the other person says.

“Part of communication is listening, and we don’t listen well,” he said.

He agreed with the idea that different backgrounds can affect how people view and treat situations, noting that he feels no fear getting pulled over for speeding as a white man, but someone of another race may feel nervous about such an interaction.

Freedom of speech

and security

The following question asked what the balance is between freedom of speech and national security. Hilburn used the Alien and Sedition Acts to jumpstart the conversation, which were laws that made it harder to criticized the federal government and placed several restrictions on immigrants.

Many of the panelists expressed a view that freedom of speech can be taken too far at times, where words are used to inflame others to extreme actions or cause further issues. Weiderspahn and Nicols said that while it is okay for people to disagree, they should hold a mutual respect and never be done in a cruel way.

Herman noted that there are restrictions on free speech when they can potentially harm others, bringing up that a person can’t shout “fire” in a movie theater. He said that the things said by some politicians have the potential to incite violence, describing them as “bomb throwers.”

Burden, however, offered a differing view. While she said she views security as the more important of the two, she acknowledged that viewpoint is based on her current standings in life and could be changed.

“My freedom of speech right now isn’t in jeopardy, so that’s not on my mind,” she said, viewing the discussion as a battle between the “haves” and “have-nots.” While some immigrants might come to America specifically because of the freedom of speech offered, those already living here might feel secure in that particular freedom.

Where does power lay

The final talking point asked where power ultimately resides in the U.S.? For this, Hilburn referenced two different versions of the preamble of the Constitution, which varied their emphasis on the states and the country as a whole.

For this, the panelists came to an almost complete agreement that power ultimately rests with the people of the country, as they have the ability to change the government at a moment’s notice. There were differences with who has the next most power.

Nicols saw most power resting with the federal government, noting how the U.S. Supreme Court overrides all other courts beneath them, something she personally experiences. Henderson thought the federal government has the most short-term power, being able to affect more immediate change, but the citizens can always alter things come election time.

Burden saw a balance between the federal government and state governments, with the latter often being able to slowly work change up to the former. She used the example of marijuana legalization starting at the state level and working its way up to the federal politicians.

A follow up discussion will be held at the Benson Memorial Library on June 25, at 6 p.m., where the public will be allowed to make comments. The Revisiting the Founding Era series is made possible through a grant by the Gilder Lehrman Institute. The organization chose 100 libraries across the country to take part in the program, with two libraries selected per state.

Ray can be reached, by email, at

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1 comment:

  • Noahs Bark posted at 10:14 pm on Wed, Jun 12, 2019.

    Noahs Bark Posts: 81

    Less we forget that this nation of ours replaced several nations of indigenous people that populated this land thousands of years prior to our modern nation. European conquests raped, pillaged and I eradicated the natives to near extinction. Reparations have never been made and treaties have continued to be broken. A complete lack of respect for the native tribes was demonstrated from the time of John Smith until today. No wonder we have such a liar and cheat in the White House. Par for the course.


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