Samuel Watts

The events of January 6 shocked the world. In this episode of the ABR Podcast Samuel Watts reads his article 'This Is America' and offers a historical perspective. As Watts notes, 'To view the assault on the US Capitol as the climax of a dramatic, but brief, period of authoritarianism in the US is a potentially dangerous mistake. This attack was just the latest iteration in a long-lasting tradition of anti-democratic, white supremacist violence that has plagued the Republic since, at least, the Civil War.'

Samuel Watts’s article ‘This Is America’ is one of a series of commentaries funded by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.

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On the morning of 6 January 2021, President Donald Trump addressed a crowd of his supporters outside the White House for more than an hour. The president urged protesters who had already begun gathering along the National Mall to go to the Capitol Building where both houses of Congress were about to start the process of certifying the results of the electoral college, formalising Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 election. The election had been stolen, Trump told them: it was time for them to take it back and march on Congress: ‘You will never take back our country with weakness,’ said the president. 

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Rising to the lectern amid a tightly packed crowd in the Cambridge Union’s debating hall, James Baldwin began quietly and slowly to speak. ‘I find myself, not for the first time, in the position of a kind of Jeremiah.’ It was February 1965, and Baldwin was in the United Kingdom to promote his third novel, Another Country (1962). Baldwin’s British publicist had asked the Union if they would host the author. Peter Fullerton, the Union’s president, was quick to seize this opportunity, on one condition: that Baldwin participate in a debate.

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Andrew Johnson’s first day in the White House was less than promising. Whether, as his supporters claimed, he was suffering from illness and had attempted to self-medicate or had simply been celebrating his new position as vice president, Johnson was devastatingly drunk. It was 3 March 1865, the Civil War was rapidly drawing to a close, and the recently re-elected President Lincoln was to deliver his second inaugural address. In prose that would eventually be inscribed across the walls of his marble memorial, Lincoln reflected on God, war, and the emerging challenge of how to rehabilitate a divided Union. The vice president’s words that day were barely decipherable and after prostrating himself before a Bible and subjecting it to a long wet kiss, he was quickly ushered away.

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