Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Pennsylvania"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "Pennsylvania"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

Some sociologists and political scientists have written that Pennsylvania has a historical inferiority complex. For various debatable reasons, Pennsylvanians have stood back while letting people from New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, California, and Texas lead our nation, despite our comparable or greater size. We even let Delaware beat us to ratifying the Constitution. Until Ed Rendell and Bill DeWeese, Pennsylvania offered few great politicians. Except for the Philly cheesesteak, we have offered little else culturally to the nation. Even our professional sports teams choke year after year.

Our historical inferiority complex is even seen in state history books. While bookstores in many states offer books about their state history, Pennsylvania was sorely lacking its own history book. It seemed the few Pennsylvania history books one could find were so outdated, the authors were awaiting the outcome of the War Between the States. Now, finally, a book has answered the call. Pennsylvania finally has its own updated history book. It is entitled, creatively, "Pennsylvania".

Fortunately, this perhaps the best state history book ever. It is comprehensive and thorough, yet it is very readable and holds one’s interest. It contains chapters each well written and skillfully documented by notable experts on that chapter’s time period and subjects.

The book tells how William Penn’s treaty with Native Americans symbolized a new spirit of cooperation in America, and how his son’s breaking of that treaty perhaps introduced another national spirit. We see how Americans had regional loyalties over national loyalties, until the end of the Civil War pulled us together as a nation. Pennsylvanians, though, appear to identify with their municipality more than their state, which is not the norm. This is attributable to Pennsylvania’s diverse urban areas.

We see how industrial owners persuaded Pennsylvania government to make unprecedented infrastructure developments in railroads, roads, banks, and canals that both made Pennsylvania an industrial leader and the owners quite wealthy.

The book tells us of the first Paleo-Indians who probably came to Pennsylvania 14,000 years ago in search of food. This early lifestyles influence us today, as many of our present highways follow the same routes that Indians used for centuries prior. US 522 has probably been a passageway for over 8,000 years.

William Penn established Pennsylvania as a personal feudal estate. In 1701, the Charter of Privileges provided Pennsylvania with a Constitution that remained in place until 1776. The new state Constitution produced by the Revolutionary War created the most progressive of state societies, as all men including Blacks were free and allowed to vote. The legislature operated with a Council of Censors, who could alert the public of abuses of power.

In 1805, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court began its history of anti-labor rulings that continue through the present. The Court ruled that workers’ organizations were illegal conspiracies to deny employers their wealth, and thus were unconstitutional.

19th century Philadelphia’s business leaders are described as being more centered on their own businesses than on the state of their community than leaders in other cities. This led to New York and Baltimore surpassing Philadelphia economically. Further, the Philadelphia port tended to be frozen more days than the other ports, thus giving other ports further advantages.

Philadelphia had more violence against Catholics and African-Americans than most other cities in the 19th century. Some suggest that the size of these communities made them enough of a minority to attract these attacks yet they were not large enough to discourage violent abuses.

Pennsylvanian appeared divided over the Civil War. 2,000 Pennsylvanians joined the Confederacy. Pennsylvania George McClellan ran for President and urged a negotiated settlement of the war. McClellan might have won Pennsylvania’s electoral votes had absentee ballots from solders swung the state to Abraham Lincoln.

Before Abe Lincoln, James Buchanan, the only Pennsylvania to serve as President, was our nation’s leader. Buchanan was noted for his inactivity during a building threat of war and a growing economic crisis. Historians hope someday to find something worthwhile that President Buchanan did.

At the turn of the 20th century, child labor was an important factor of family income, often representing one third to one half of what a family earned. One sixth of households increased their income by renting to boarders.

The State Capitol, which was supposed to cost $4 million to build, went slightly over budget at $13 million. Joseph Huston was noted as the skillful architect, and for the time he spent in prison along with state officials who pocketed some of the cost overruns.

Capitol insiders will appreciate reading about Governor Gifford Pinchot, who in the 1920s and 1930s created a formal state budget, reorganized 139 state agencies into 15 departments, and made great advances in civil service protections. Also of interest is the history of the attempts to provide equal rights to African-Americans in 1921, a measure that passed the House but died in that notorious lower chamber, the Senate. Another notable failure in Pennsylvania law was the inability to declare lynching a crime until 1923, long after many lynchings had occurred.

In 1936, George Earle helped restore sanity to Pennsylvania politics by becoming the first Democratic Governor in four decades. Prior, the Democratic Party was dormant. The Republican Party even paid for the rent of the Democratic Party headquarters so there could be the appearance of an opposition party.

Pennsylvania has a temperature and climate that resembles that of Europe, for those wishing to save money in learning what it feels like to be in Europe. Our history, though, is unique. Finally, we have a book that describes much of that history. "Pennsylvania" is a great book about a great state.


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