About

James Thornton Harris is an independent historian, essayist and journalist. He began his career as a daily newspaper reporter and worked at The Sacramento Bee, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the Santa Cruz Sentinel and The Ukiah Daily Journal. He is a regular contributor to the History News Network and his work has appeared in many publications including Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, Heirs, New West and The San Francisco Chronicle.

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Articles

Identity and the Politics of Resentment

California: State of Resistance

How The Blue Wall Crumbled

Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made

Looking at World War 1 With a Contemporary Lens

When Mexico Feared U.S. Immigrants

How Charlottesville, S.C., Whitewashed its History of Slavery

Who Qualifies as a Founding Father?

What do North Korea and Colonial Virginia Have in Common?

Spain Banished Its Franco Monuments, Can We Do the Same for Lee?

It’s Been 398 Years since the Arrival of Kidnapped Blacks in America – And Still We Haven’t Come to Terms with It

Haiti: A Problem for U.S. White Supremacists since 1791

Donald Trump’s obscene comment about Haiti reflect a deep fear of that independent island nation present in American white supremacists since 1791. In August of that year, the black majority in the country began a bloody revolt against the white minority that owned all the land. Haiti (the western half of the island of St. Domingue) was a French colony and the blacks had been watching the French Revolution which erupted in 1789. The black population sought to obtain the same rights granted to citizens in the new French Republic.

The white sugar plantation owners opposed the black workers’ demands and hundreds of them were killed as the black workers battled for control. The victory of the black revolutionaries in Haiti sent fear into the slaveholding states in the U.S.

Despite the fact that the Southern states wanted more slaves, they held back on importing them, afraid they might be infected with “freedom fever.”

When Napolean became ruler of France in 1800, he sent troops to subdue the blacks and bring it back under white control. Yellow fever and a bitter defense by black rebels defeated his army. The defeat in Haiti was a key reason he decided to sell the French possession of Louisiana to the new United States government.

After the Louisiana Purchase, northern, anti-slavery senators sought to prevent slavery in the new territory (e.g. Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri), but that idea was defeated by slaveholder interests. President Thomas Jefferson did support the ending of slave importation from Africa in 1808. Since England had abolished its slave trade in 1807, this seriously curtailed the terrible traffic in humans.

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“Winston,” the Musical Will Hit Broadway in 2018

Churchill: the next Hamilton

Prediction for 2018: New Year’s Eve Predictions are always interesting, in part because they are reveal the prognosticator’s reactions to recent events but also because people are naturally interested in what they’ll be facing in the next 12 months.

I will avoid the more popular topics such as the 2018 midterm elections, Donald Trump’s strategy for China and the punishment of sexual predators in Congress and the media. Instead, I’ll stick to a single prediction on the cultural (and historical) front.

And here it is (drum roll, please)! I predict there will be a Broadway production (or possibly one in London) of a musical based on the life of Winston Churchill.

Reason 1: The success of “Hamilton.”
The tremendous success of Lin Manuel Miranda’s production is the most obvious reason for another work based on the life of a political leader. If a playwright can make an entertaining two and half hour show about a brilliant, but relatively colorless politician like Alexander Hamilton, surely another composer or writer can create some great songs based on the outsize personality of Winston Churchill.

Reason 2: the current interest in Winston Churchill and the 1940s and 1950s.

In the past year, at least four different movies have featured Churchill in the main role or as a key supporting figure.
The Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman, has already won several film festival awards for best picture and best actor.
Churchill, starring Brian Cox, focuses on the period leading up to the 1944 D-Day landings. Cox won praise for his acting, but a number of historians criticized the historical accuracy of the film.
The Netflix series The Crown featured John Lithgow as a glowering yet considerate prime minister tutoring the young Queen Elizabeth II.
(Note: I have only seen The Crown, but I look forward to seeing the others when they appear on Netflix HBO or another service).
Reason 3: material for great songs.

Hamilton had wonderful songs including “My Shot,” “The Story of Tonight” and “You’ll be Back.” The last song, sung by King George III, was hilarious. But think of the material a life of Churchill provides. I can image a song called “You Can’t Catch Me,” about his escape from a prisoner of war camp during the Boer War. Or maybe a number titled “It’s a Disaster,” about his decision to invade Gallipoli in World War I. Although the name “Blood, Sweat and Tears” has already been claimed by a 1960s rock band, maybe Churchill’s famous 1940 speech could be reworked into a stirring “All I Can Offer You.” As for the shocking results of the 1945 election, that has potential for a sad, reflective number, “I’ve Lost.”

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