In order to fully understand the role of Christopher Columbus in the elaborately constructed zeitgeist of these United States, and with it the underlying nature of the Pelosian-Cuomoist statue conundrum, it is essential to fully comprehend a powerful 19th-century doctrine known as 'the Teutonic Germ Theory'.
This has nothing to do with German healthcare, but everything to do with New England's obsession with the Anglo-Saxon hegemony, as purportedly blessed by the Godsphere. The Pilgrim fathers and their ilk, descended largely from the yeoman classes of 17th-century East Anglia and the West Country of Puritan England, saw themselves as a group apart, their bloodline infused with a superior Germanic strain which had drifted into their ancestral southern counties in the six centuries or so between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of the Norman-French in 1066.
The Normans stole the best real-estate and set up administrative and ecclesiastical institutions which levied heavy taxes on these good country folk, causing great umbrage. For the Normans, the Puritans soon became a factional nuisance in need of oppression, so by the end of the 17th century, after the death of their Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, the oppression and the taxes had got so out of hand that many of them left for America, where fiscal demands were much less onerous.
Once settled in their salt-box houses, they had the run of the place, especially after doing for the local Pequot Native-Americans much as Columbus had done for Hispaniola's Arawaks. As God's elect, and with fancy phrases such as 'sweet sacrifice' substituted for less attractive terms like 'genocide', the Puritans got down to more wholesome pursuits, including hoeing turnips, naming their daughters things like Chastity, Silence, Mercy, and Obedience (rather unfairly, the boys got away with such monikers as Zachary and Caleb) and hallucinating about shining cities on hills.
Among their many virtues, however, tolerance was noticeably absent. The humourist Artemus Ward was on the nail when he wrote: 'They came to America in order that they might enjoy their own religion, but then took pains to see that nobody else enjoyed his'.
In essence, the Puritans disapproved of anyone outside their tight-knit little group. They drove out bookish merchant adventurer Thomas Morton for holding wild parties at his aptly named estate of Merrymount, and hanged a Quaker woman, Mary Dyer, on Boston Common for heresy. But above all, the supreme object of their venom was Roman Catholicism. For evidence of this, look no further than the front page lead story in the first issue of the first officially licensed newspaper in Colonial America, The Boston Newsletter
. Although the publisher of this organ was a scurrilous Scots Protestant by the name of John Campbell, the paranoid invective was entirely in accord with New England Puritan sentiment.
This breaking news, cited but four months after it first appeared in Britain, concerned: 'the present danger of the Kingdom and of the Protestant Religion'. It warned: 'That Papists swarm in that Nation, that they traffick more avowedly than formerly, & that of late many scores of Priests and Jesuits are come thither from France, & gone to the North, to the Highlands and other places of the Country'.
And so on, interminably, in like vein. The New England colonists were not alone in peddling and believing such hysterical bigotry – when the relatively enlightened Scot Sir James Glen was appointed Royal Governor of South Carolina in 1738 he had to undertake to tolerate all religions, except that of 'Popish Recusants' – but the puritan New Englanders were in a class of their own. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts even passed an anti-priest law in 1647, mandating the death penalty for 'all and every Jesuit, seminary priest, missionary or other spiritual or ecclesiastical person made or ordained by any authority, power or jurisdiction, derived, challenged or pretended, from the Pope or See of Rome'.
Two centuries later, shiploads of Catholic Irish immigrants began arriving in America to escape the horrors of famine, to be followed in short order by Catholic Italians, Poles, Portuguese and Hispanics. For New England's all-powerful white Anglo-Saxon Protestant ascendancy, this truly was Groundhog Day.
The response was very Brahmin. Instead of kicking up a vulgar fuss, the Wasps simply re-asserted their superior status with the assistance of a popular historian, John Fiske, who set about making the Teutonic Germ Theory akin to holy writ.
The true heart and soul of America, maintained Fiske, had been carried in wooden hulled boats from Anglo-Saxon yeoman England to be further purified by clean-living piety and honest toil. Every 'proper' American – even one unfortunate enough not to have had an ancestor on The Mayflower – was expected to buy into this myth, as were the newly arrived huddled masses yearning to be free, Catholic or otherwise.
Astute politicians soon worked out that one way to cultivate the growing Catholic voting interest was via such Catholic fraternal groups as the Knights of Columbus, which had been formed in 1882. Ten years later, President Benjamin Harrison, hoping to win a second term, went stratospheric, declaring absurdly that: 'Columbus stood in his age as the pioneer of progress and enlightenment', naming 'Discovery Day', and even endorsing Irish home rule. The Knights of St Columbus were delighted, though it didn't save his Presidency. Just over 40 years later, Franklin D Roosevelt kept the faith when he decreed 12 October Columbus Day, and a nationwide holiday.
How times change. Just two weeks before Columbus Day 2000, the Grand Governing Council of The American Indian Movement issued a worldwide press release calling on Congress to repudiate 'the colonial pirate Christopher Columbus' and his legacy:
'To our Italian American friends, we say that to celebrate the legacy of this murderer is an affront to all Indian peoples – It would be the same as if German people would celebrate and glorify Adolf Hitler and the rise of fascism and the Nazi holocaust by holding parades through the Jewish communities of America.'
Columbus was rapidly becoming persona non grata in the land he hadn't actually discovered – an honour by then being granted to the enigmatic 'Clovis People' who had arrived around 15,000 years earlier – at least until some archaeologists came up with a 'pre-Clovis People' which threw everyone into a state of utter confusion.
By the 20th century, America had entered its Lionel Shriver moment – 'We've got to talk about Christopher'. Those who were doing the talking, however, were not always the progressive liberal cognoscenti. Anti-Catholic bodies like the Ku-Klux-Klan, who regarded his adoption as an American icon as a 'papal fraud', also spoke out against this attempt at rapprochement between Catholic and Protestant America.
Competing 'discovery' claims were piling up. Ancient Bulgar-Turks became 'Neo-Siberians', crossing the ice to Alaska, say some. The 5th-century Chinese apparently hit on the Pacific west coast, but didn't linger. Likewise the seafaring Irish scholar, St Brendan, at roughly the same time. The Welsh Prince Madoc visited Alabama in 1170. There was a Norse presence in north-east America around 1000 ad, while Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, seemingly explored Massachusetts in 1398.
Increasingly, Columbus was on the nation's bad cushion, his reputation blasted beyond recovery, his defenders desperately casting around for fraying arguments to hold the line. From sea to shining sea, from the Canadian border to Key West, the entire country was cluttered up Columbuses and Columbias, all wonderful targets for those self-appointed guardians of virtue who were out to lynch the old bandit.
For Nancy Pelosi, Democrat speaker of the House, and granddaughter of Tomasso, a labourer from Arezzo (for the succour and comfort of whose generation the entire Columbus cult had been perpetuated in the first place) this was a matter of no account. 'People will do what they will do,' she shrugged shortly after the 'Little Italy' statue of Columbus in her home town of Baltimore had been pulled down, smashed up and thrown into the harbour.
For Mario Cuomo, Governor of New York, it was another matter altogether. To destroy any statue of Columbus was to insult America's Italian diaspora, and by extension those descended from a mid- to late-19th-century Catholic Irish, Hispanic, and Polish immigrant wave whose votes, by and large, fall to the Democrats.
The great Pelosian-Cuomist struggle was underway.
For Part 1 of David Black's three-part series, click here