I received an outstanding Christmas book last December from family members who know my interest in art and history. It is Of Arms and Artists by Paul Staiti. The esteemed Joseph J. Ellis points out in his appreciation of the book that Mr. Staiti has achieved a “fusion of art history and political narrative.” Not only are the great artworks of the Revolution discussed and reproduced in color plates and black and white illustrations for our enjoyment. As Mr. Ellis remarks, Staiti’s narrative points out the art’s political significance and what that art says about the values that make this country singularly American. We are experiencing a great fissure in latter-day America over the subject of aliens and what our policy should be toward them. John Adams wrote about the Hessians, who were fighting on Britain’s side, “Is there any Policy on this side of hell, that is inconsistent with Humanity? I have no Idea of it. I know of no policy, God is my witness but this–Piety, Humanity and Honesty are the best Policy. Blasphemy, Cruelty, and Villainy have prevailed and may again.” Both Adams and Washington believed in the American way of showing mercy toward aliens, in this case, the Hessians, says Staiti.
This book reminds us of the great country we were before and after the Revolution, and why we were different from other countries. As the strident online voices quarrel with each other over whether we should shut out all outsiders from our shores, the rest of us can pick up this book and see what the Founders had to say about the matter.