Interview: Paul Lussier

Paul Lussier is a writer, film producer and historian who has recently published his first novel, Last Refuge of Scoundrels: A Revolutionary Novel. Lussier majored in critical studies and literature at Yale University. As student of the New History he has spent over 10 years doing research for this novel. He is an award-winning producer and is currently working on the HBO/People’s History Project and a four-hour mini series for ABC on the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock (as seen from the Native American point of view.) In addition, Lussier is working on the screenplay for Last Refuge for Scoundrels, which is being made into a movie by Warner Brothers. He is also at work on his second novel set in the American Revolutionary period and focusing on Thomas Paine. Paul Lussier lives in California and lectures throughout the United States.

Robert Birnbaum: David McCullough’s John Adams book is obviously a phenomenon (perhaps destined to be one of those best sellers that largely go unread) and with the Ellis book, seems to signal a large and burgeoning interest in the American Revolutionary period. I take it that mini-boom has washed over to Last Refuge of Scoundrels. How has that affected your book?

Paul Lussier: Yes it has. The book is 40-to-50,000 sales strong now … certainly the New York Times didn’t come to the party. Either did the Boston Globe. It’s been a best seller in virtually ever major city including Boston for three to five months — it’s been amazing that without the embrace of mainstream media such as the Times, that the book has found its audience. And that the audience is as devoted and enthusiastic as it is. I don’t subscribe to this notion — and it isn’t even a theory, it’s a notion — I don’t subscribe to this notion that in writing the story of the American Revolution and confining your focus to the Founding Fathers and somehow making that analysis slightly zingier, slightly fresher, slightly more sarcastic somehow represents any kind of forward movement. One could argue that by making the story more palatable, more hip, more interesting, more contemporary you are only further serving to reinforce the story of the American Revolution as the parade of the Founding Fathers. That’s not the story that I tell. I believe that the burgeoning interest in the Revolution is not about seeking out a reaffirmation of the story that is the status quo, the cultural mythology…I think it is a thrashing about, a searching.

RB: Who is searching? The readers of your book …

PL: The readers of my book and we as a culture are searching — in particular university students. The search is a result of this tremendous gap between scholarship, historical scholarship and research and all of these new insights as a result of new takes on history. You can’t go into the academy and read a story of the American Revolution — from the point of a lowly enlistee like Joseph Plum Martin or the point of view of a Native American or black American — and then go back into popular culture, visit Williamsburg, visit Yorktown, visit these institutions and see that what you have learned is not at all reflected. There’s an error there that ultimately we want to bridge.

RB: Is the academy exemplified by historians Eric Foner and Gordon Wood providing basic sources that include farmers and Blacks and other traditionally marginal [to historiography] people?

PL: That’s what people can read today. But what happens is that the dots are not connected. The implication of those points of view and exploring and elaborating on those points of view are not the same as introducing those points of view. This is something that I came to discover even though I had been schooled in revisionist modes of thought. I had no idea what it truly meant to take the perspective of the working man, the common woman, the black, the native American Indian, the fey, feminized aide de camp to George Washington — what it really meant to bring these people to the story of the American Revolution. I did not know that bringing these people to the story of the American Revolution, that as a result of bringing them to that story would change. I wound up telling a very different story than I thought I was going to tell. I thought I was going to tell the story of the American Revolution, but I would also include the perspectives of those belonging to the lower class — what they called back then, “the lower sort.” I was writing a novel that would be more inclusive. I didn’t even realize what the implications were when you bring these people to the party, and bring their points of view to the narrative the narrative as you and I know it explodes. Suddenly, the Stamp Tax is not issue that sets it all in motion. Suddenly the Founding Fathers find themselves marginalized. Suddenly Yorktown doesn’t mean the victory of anything but our independence. That’s all it means, that we have secured independence as a nation. It doesn’t speak to the cause of freedom or the quest for greater fairness. It doesn’t speak to the utopian impulses that were absolutely latent, if not kinetic in the people’s quest. That’s, I like to think, what this novel captures.

RB: Would we read John Adams described in the following manner in McCullough’s book, “There was the ‘so very fat’ John Adams who just wanted to be liked — another one History regards as a lover of the people. Which is particularly unsettling given Adams phobia of crowds and any activity that involved small talk, flattery, kind remarks, or discussing under any circumstances horses, women, weather or dogs. Instead of relating, he preferred simply to judge and did so harshly. Even his own wife, his beloved Abigail, he excoriated publicly for singing like a canary and looking like a pigeon when she walked. It was widely believed, in fact, that his commitment to laying the foundation for our independent country was mostly an excuse to get away from his wife, from whom at one point he stayed away for well on four years.”

PL: Certainly not.

RB: And what’s your source?

PL: First of all, in John Adams’ own diary. All those observations come from a variety of sources and that includes Samuel Adams’ diary, John Hancock’s writings — however slim. These men were dishing each other like crazy as they were writing to each other. As a matter of course when we study these men we study the documents that they wrote for public review. We traditionally don’t think it reliable or necessary to the story — that behind the scenes Samuel Adams was trashing John Adams and John Adams was embarrassed by Samuel Adams. Somehow that is not considered relevant. And the reason is that as a rule the story of the American Revolution only concerns the story of the American Revolutionary Founding Fathers as they were public figures. It’s no different if 200 years from now if you were to base a biography of Clinton on his own approved autobiography or a few mainstream press stories on everything that happened in the Clinton Era. What you would walk away with, 200 years from now, was an account that wouldn’t remotely capture the e-mail version of that same experience. It would be sanitized. It would be too respectful. It would not be reproachful. And it wouldn’t be sensual.

RB: I beg to differ with you.

PL: You think so.

RB: So much more “inside baseball” information makes it into the mainstream so much earlier than it used to. And what could be sanitized about the Lewinsky affair? His various real estate deals. His consistent desertion of his friends. All this and more is in the public record courtesy of an independent prosecutor. And possibly because of revisionist history we seem to learn the private information earlier.

PL: I think that’s true now. Just as people were in the present behind the scenes with the Founding Fathers. John Adams’ experience of the Stamp Act at the time, people living at the time did not see John Adams as this great figure who ultimately was advocating the abolition of the stamp tax. That is not how they viewed him. They viewed him as an attorney with a burgeoning and occasionally dismal practice who showed up as such riots as these because he wanted clients and to handout his card. Furthermore, when John Adams defended the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre this caused horror and disgust, but not disappointment. There wasn’t this sense that John Adams had disappointed the populace because they had never elevated him to a pedestal. To return to your rebuttal, the experience that we have of Clinton 200 years from now will not be recounted in our history books. The excitement, the disgust, the sensuality, the real chaotic mess that the whole Clinton Era ultimately represented will fade next to the story of his accomplishments. That’s what ultimately the story will be. Allowing for his impeachment, allowing for scandals …

RB: As if we had not learned anything about how to record and study history.

PL: That’s absolutely right.

RB: History has its own inexorable beat …

PL: Right, and it hallows those public figures …

RB: Why is that? I understand why popular mythologies might be in someone’s interest but today, as we sit here, what is gained by perpetuating historical myths?

PL: As a rule it’s a matter of course and habit and it’s very subconscious. When we think historical narrative we think a certain vocabulary. We think a certain syntax. We think a certain kind of narrative. Ultimately as we have come to learn it, know it and study it, it is not a narrative that really and truly includes the voice of the common man. As a result history as you and I study it is the history of the gentlemen who rule, it is the history of kings, of emperors and a military chronicle primarily. History has not respected or recorded the housewife who wrote about Clinton in the local newspaper. That’s not something that would be included. We automatically assume that we write history from the point of view of those who make history but we don’t question that assumption. The public figures are the people who ultimately constitute the historical narrative, but those are not the people who move history. Those are often the people who reflect history. Writing about George Bush and confining your assessment of him to his accomplishments would completely ignore and render irrelevant everything that we know George Bush to be: a product of certain constituencies, all everything that makes him what he is, is not traditionally considered fodder for historical narrative.

RB: So we are still captivated by the Great Man Theory of History. That major figures drive history and to study them gives us an accurate picture. The immediacy of our ability to find things out seems to make that a superficial model … not to mention that it would seem more difficult to hide information. But what’s more basic to me is whether people care about history as an accurate approximation of what has happened.

PL: No, but they don’t care about history. Which is one of the reasons I wrote this book. They don’t care about history. In my view the reason they don’t care is because they don’t see their own experience reflected in it. When you read a biography of Clinton, if it is going to confine itself to his accomplishments and policy failures, you do not see your experience of Clinton in that narrative. You have a good point when you say we have all this information and that the Matt Drudges of the world have changed the landscape or more to the point that the academic environment has changed the landscape. Or even more to the point, that the academic environment has changed the landscape because there is all this information that’s available in academia.

RB: And the Internet has changed things …

PL: … And the Web has changed things. But what it hasn’t changed — and this is where Howard Zinn and the others come in to my life — is that this information, these facts, these details,while they may change the landscape of scholarship, haven’t made a dent in the cultural mythologies that take hold and are firmly embedded and entrenched in our culture. To wit, the Cherry Tree mythology and the ideology attendant to it, which dates back to Parson Weems and the Cherry Tree Story. That story has been trumped and trumped and trumped again over 200 years because there has been an entire canon of literature, art, sculpture, novels and plays that support that point of view. Most adults will say to you that the Cherry Tree mythology is not true. That doesn’t stop them from going to Mt. Vernon, to the tune of 4,000 to 10,000 a year — as I did in my youth — asking for the site of the stump. The reason the story holds on is because that is a story that speaks to certain yearnings. That is a story that has an emotional stranglehold on people, that for better or worse, feeds the soul. Facts and research do not do that. Stories do it. The reason that the traditional paradigm, I feel has taken hold, is because scholars back then — and there was a conscious decision — to embrace Parson Weems and his ideology.

RB: Who is Parson Weems?

PL: The author of the Cherry Tree Story. And traditional historians since 1806 when Weems wrote the stories have embraced the mythologies and storytellers in a way that forms a kind of cathexis between traditional historical narrative and stories. To go back to your point, the gap that we speak of between information and popular culture is due to popular culture’s assessment of popular culture as is largely determined by stories. Not by very obscure historical research written by scholars for other scholars. This whole wealth of information that you and I are privy to is virtually ghettoized in academia. Progressive and revisionist historians — and Howard Zinn is the first to admit this — have been very slow to embrace their own storytellers. As a result of there not having been any storytellers to accompany this movement there has been this breach. The academy is very progressive, by and large. But you go to Williamsburg, you go to Yorktown, go to any of these places with the possible exception of Plymouth Rock, it is as sanitized as it has ever been, it is as white and it is as unprogressive as it has ever been. That’s because the people love that story and they ain’t gonna let it go until they have a new story that feeds certain yearnings. I like to think that that’s what I am making a contribution towards. And in my own small way, I am contributing to a new cultural mythology that — at the very least — if not competing head on with the Cheery Tree myth and ideology — at least presents a choice. There is the story of the American Revolution that begins with Lexington and Concord and ends with Yorktown and is the story of the Founding Fathers, men of great virtue and great ideas, whose ideas had a trickle down effect and inspired people to pick up arms. Then there is the other story, which is: This is 1765 Boston. Yes, some people are rioting against the stamp tax, OK! But also there are women rioting in the streets for a greater voice in their male households. Farmers rioting against John Hancock for fencing in the Common where once cows grazed freely.

RB: Hancock is a crazy man in your novel. Is he ever characterized as a nut case anywhere?

PL: No, never. Well, the man was a hypochondriac and he was out of his mind. Even amongst the other Founding Fathers — Samuel Adams in particular — were constantly making cracks about what was going to be the new ailment of the week that Hancock was going to come up with. And there were women rioting and indentured servants rioting to protest a custom that had been just a custom in England that had become law in Boston. Whereby if you are a poor man on the sidewalk and a richer man than you is approaching, you are to step in the sewage sludge that ran rivulets along the sidewalks to afford the richer man passage. People were protesting these things. There wasn’t a word for civil rights, but there is this sense that many of the common folk who had come over here as indentured servants were looking forward to a day when they would earn themselves their freedom and they were saying, “Oh no, no, no. I didn’t go through all this and indentured myself to servitude for 16 years to ultimately wind up in a world where farmers are going to be imprisoned for their debts. Where my cows can’t graze freely.” There was this burgeoning sense, no, that was then this is now, it ain’t gonna happen.

RB: In writing a historical novel what is your obligation to the historical record? Why should the reader accept, through the character John Lawrence, your debunking of the traditional narrative, as in: “It sounded simple, if you believed as future generations would, that the Continental Congress … was composed of sweet visionaries, enlightened men all, united in common rebellion against British tyranny and in making a case for freedom ….”

PL: First of all the idea is that you love the character that you are following and that you have affection for that character and that you trust the narrator. You have to allow for a certain investment in your protagonist and therefore a certain reliability in his point of view. As it happens, all of the words that I put in the Founding Fathers’ mouths, for example, at the Second Continental Congress, all of their words that I put in their mouths are their own. When you search the record for some sense that these men were really and truly interested in arming the Yankee rabble to rise up against the British Empire, you find it is not there. Secretary Thompson who saw this gap between the stories that were being perpetrated and perpetuated upon the American public — the gap between the stories being circulated and the facts — the clerical records themselves of what was said. There was such a vast gap between the two (and the story is famous), he burned as many records as he could get his hands on before he was stopped. Because as he said, “It was not his job to disabuse the American public of the fantasies that were being heaped upon them.” Now this was the secretary. So those words were their own. I’d like to think that if you fall in love with your character and you trust your character — even if you have doubts that the author has included the actual words of the Founding Fathers verbatim that there is an actual record for — that you at least trust that his perspective means something. And that it’s valid even if you don’t believe every single detail.

RB: You call this a revolutionary novel, and when I think of it I can’t identify many novels that have attempted what you have, but there are certainly films that have. So is this the first of a series?

PL: Yes, the next one is on Thomas Paine and it’s called Common Sense. There is no question that some auteur directors have attempted to weave a new mythology more than destroy the old. There’s a difference. The American Revolution, like the Bible, is one of the core mythologies of our culture has absolutely not been dealt with. The Patriot is as good as it gets. What happens when we try to represent the common man in the American revolution? He is nothing but a plebeian embodiment of the Founding Fathers’ ideas. He is still, at best, someone who is reluctant to join the fray until there was some violation upon his person or his family or upon his home that ultimately induced him to join the Founding Fathers in their revolt.

RB: Why do we still talk about the “Founding Fathers”? Wouldn’t we chip away at the prevalent myths by changing the nomenclature?

PL: That’s a good idea. I hadn’t thought of that.

RB: Do you know Daniel Lazare’s book The Frozen Republic? It challenges the notion that we must hold the Founding Fathers’ views sacrosanct.

PL: Talking about redubbing the Founding Fathers as ordinary men, we also have a long way to go to reframe the Constitution in the spirit it was held at the time. We tend to think of it as this sacrosanct document. At the time it was a document, particularly in Massachusetts, [that was a reaction to] riots in the streets. It was commonly understood that one of the chief objectives of the delegates who convened at the Continental Congress for the Constitution was to prevent something like Shay’s Rebellion, which happened in Springfield, Massachusetts, and to prevent it from ever happening again. The Constitution was a document that was to prove to be a bulwark against what they thought was anarchy but Daniel Shays and those farmers rebelling against their property being taken from them because of debts due and taxes levied saw the Constitution as a bulwark against democracy. There was never this consensus that the Constitution represented an achievement. To a preponderance of veterans, the Constitution represented a failure, represented a loss of the Revolution. So suddenly, somewhere down the line, we have the Constitution, this fabulous document. We say to ourselves, can’t it be a living breathing document? It will never be, until we bring to the story of the Constitution the reality of the context it was created in and the results that it caused. All of which has been wiped out of history. And more importantly, even if it’s not been wiped out of the history in academia, it’s been wiped out of the history of popular culture as its been disseminated because stories are the vehicle of the dissemination of points of view and ideology in popular culture. Without the lucky happenstance of DNA we wouldn’t be discussing Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson. The scholars would be debating it, but it would never have come out.

RB: So you see writing your style of historical novel as bridging the gap between the bloodless sanitized historical record and popular culture which is what people live in now?

PL: Yes, you put it better than I could. History has marginalized itself. There is so much truth, so much rebellious spirit, so much passion locked up inside the academia, were any of that unleashed and allowed to do its work, allowed to reach people that are not sitting inside the Ivory Tower its relevance would be immediately apprehended and progressive causes as we know them would begin to take root in a way that they heretofore have not. This is why — and I paid a price for this — I intentionally chose a rank commercial publisher who to this day doesn’t understand this book.

RB: This is a Warner book that has been optioned for film to Warner Brothers. Do they know what they have?

PL: Absolutely not. The publisher still doesn’t have a clue. They just think it’s a funny … they think I’m a Gore Vidal for the poor man. It’s funny and naughty and fresh. That’s all they see. With the movie, what I’m up against there — because the book is “so funny” — they see themselves wanting a Monty Python kind of movie in which the audience walks away laughing. People read the book and feel the vocation, but they are threatened by it. They back-pedal from it. For example, after all the publicity and attendant media on the book, the first note on the first draft I got back from Warner Brothers was from a 22-year-old development person. Ready? The first note I got was, “Shouldn’t we…” — it’s always the “we” — “shouldn’t we revere the Founding Fathers a little more?”

RB: Where do they learn that?

PL: Yeah, I know. “And how come the Founding Fathers don’t play a bigger part in this story? Shouldn’t we adjust that?” That was note number one. And you think, “And there we go.” This insane gap between what the book is about and what we as a culture can withstand.

RB: Let me get this right. Your are talking to a development person about a script you are presenting. Has that person read the book the script is based on?

PL: Evidently not.

RB: Does he care to or does it matter?

PL: No.

RB: So he’s just looking at the script.

PL: And he’s shocked. This isn’t the story of the American Revolution.

RB: Who bought it for Warner Brothers?

PL: The person who read it and bought and made the decision to buy it had seen the review and seen the response, seen the sales, gotten some reader to cover it who loved it, and then made an offer. And that person who is the head of the studio — it was a very high buy as they call it — never looks at it again. He attends the premiere and that’s it. In the mean time, the minions, none of whom have read the book, because the book doesn’t matter, after all, because we are doing the movie…This is why I believe I can be helpful to Howard Zinn in his People’s History of the United States at HBO. There is a bridgeable gap between what we are used to as a good story about the American Revolution in this instance and what we can go to, what we can ultimately accept. Within that there is all kinds of room for analysis. I wrote an article for, an online magazine for historians, which is all about if revisionist historians — and I hate that word because it implies that there is a text that you are veering away from that is somehow superior — if revisionist historians are really and truly to embrace their story tellers the first thing we need to learn is that the stories that we tell are not going to conform to what we accept as traditionally good stories. The whole definition of who we regard as hero and the reasons why we regard them as heroes change — good versus evil, beginning, middle, end, linear narrative — all of these classic things that we are taught that make a good story suddenly disappear when we want to tell a different story. We haven’t even begun to come to terms with the way our definition of a good story is infused with ideology of a most unconscious kind that winds up turning a story — no matter how radical, no matter how rebellious, no matter how progressive — into the same old story that ultimately is diffused and robbed of its political content. For example, this is a promise I have made to my readers. The fact that Deborah and John have an unconventional love story does not in any way conform to a love story as we understand it in Hollywood movie. To make that love story conform to what we accept as a good love story means that what binds them can not be their ideas, not their passion. It has to be about their lust and sexual longing. And that tells a different story. What happens is that their concerns, the things that have made her angry and his discoveries — these outrageous discoveries about the world which he as a Charleston kid was not privy to — are secondary, ancillary, tertiary to this other love story. You tell a different story then.

RB: Right.

PL: But we say, “That’s a good love story.” No, no, no. If you accept that that’s the definition of a good love story, then ultimately what you are accepting is that this whole other voice, this whole other quest, what unites Deborah and John their passion for battle. Passion for a fair world is just irrelevant. That’s a whole other discussion that hasn’t been broached yet.

RB: What’s your level of confidence that you can get the movie version of this story made?

PL: (sighs) It’s a very good and a very fair question.

RB: Actually, I would ask you the same question about the HBO project.

PL: As arrogant as I can be, I will tell you what other people have said of me as a way of answering that question. Other people have said that somehow I have a knack for giving them just enough of what they want and telling a different kind of a story that still is exciting and enough of a page-turner that ultimately will suit commercial parameters while suiting a more progressive point of view. With a respect to my being a bridge, I am mostly a bridge in that particular area. I am first and foremost a story-teller. Before I was a historian, I was a writer. I went to Yale intending to be a historian; I took personally the gap between what was and what I was seeing and I left history for Hollywood and have a successful career in Hollywood, never forgetting this vocation that was nagging at me. Now having been schooled and been successful in push-the-envelope kinds of stories I feel I have some kind of instinct for being able to tell a story in a way that makes it a ripping yarn, while also is protective of ideas that I am absolutely committed to getting out into the world. Who knows if I will be [continue to] be successful at it. The other answer to your question is — which is much more cynical — I don’t know whether the movie is going to get made or not. I do have a certain influence, a certain swagger, and that ultimately if this movie doesn’t get made, it would be a decision taken or made lightly. If for no other reason than that I represent a certain power in the marketplace and people don’t want to piss me off.

RB: And regarding the People’s History Project — you’re a hired hand on that one — what’s your sense of whether that will get made?

PL: I am a hired hand there and I’m not normally. Normally, I executive produce what I write. Which means I pitch and then produce it. In this case I will have a credit as an executive producer but it’s just because of a career precedent. But I’ll have no power whatsoever. It is my intention to write such a passionate, exciting, sensual, sexy, vivacious, alive rendition of Shay’s Rebellion, which is the first movie that I am doing, that ultimately people will see that in Howard Zinn’s perspective, in his point of view, as dramatic material. Not simply an intellectual exercise, not simply the voice of a forlorn rebel. This is my intention. If I succeed then my script could set an example for others.

RB: Is John Sayles doing The Ludlow Massacre script?

PL: I think that is not working out. I guess the Columbus episode by Perry Lavarty, which I haven’t read yet, Howard Zinn certainly likes. We don’t know yet whether HBO likes it. I think Howard is on pins and needles waiting to see what they think about it. Frankly, I’m under a little personal pressure because, assuming I succeed in this script, it could go along way to regenerating the project.

RB: How far down the line are you looking with your “novelistic” approach to history?

PL: Past Paine? Oh, I think I’m in it for the long haul.

RB: As the poor man’s Gore Vidal …

PL: It’s a label I don’t mind taking on …

RB: I understand.

PL: I think there is some truth that Gore Vidal, brilliant as he is — and I couldn’t have done what I did if never did what he did — has confined his focus to the upper classes. He did the Ode to Daniel Shays but that’s as close as he ever came. He is very interested in poking holes and perforating the upper classes. He’s not interested or committed to or cares about beginning to reconstruct a world view that actually includes other voices. The “poor man’s Gore Vidal,” I like to think means …

RB: Affordable …

PL: … that some of what I am doing is what he did but from the point of view of the common man. Not from the point of view of the fellow patrician.

RB: His Civilization series was eight books? How far will your novels go? Into the 2oth Century?

PL: You’ve asked me a question I haven’t thought about. I am so committed to opening and altering … making my contribution to altering the cultural mythology of the American Revolution because I think it is so absolutely pivotal to our culture that I would be happy spending the rest of my writing life confining myself to 18th Century America. There is so much to mine. In researching for the Zinn project on Daniel Shays I was made so angry that this information isn’t out. That traditional histories have deal with the Shaysite framers as anarchists. I say to myself, “Of course if the Shaysite farmers are anarchists, then of course the World Trade Organization protesters are anarchists.” Of course they are.

RB: How were the WWI veterans that protested in Washington in ’33 and were forcefully dispersed by MacArthur referred to?

PL: I don’t know. Even when we speak of the Shay’s farmers, honoring them always confine their honor to their cause as being about them not being properly paid or the government breaking their promise to them. Of their hundred concerns those would have been numbers 98 and 99. The real concern was coming home from having fought and as a result of having fought their farms lay fallow … if their wives were still around and hadn’t become camp followers, they were near destitute. And they would find red flags on their front stoops because their landlord as a result of the soldier having fought and not being paid was about to lose his house. And soldier after soldier was losing his house as a result of not being paid. Whole families were thrown into debtor’s prison. One prison in Boston was 20 feet by 30 feet and there were 99 imprisoned in it. At one point one out of three people in Massachusetts were imprisoned as a result of their fighting in the American Revolution. What’s amazing is that farmers didn’t protest their debts and taxes. What they said was, we want more time or if you take our house let that be payment for our debts. But that wasn’t enough. They [landlords] wanted to set an example. So not only were their homes taken but they were also thrown into prison. There was this tremendous sense of them not only having been robbed of this accomplishment but rather this sense of complete disaffection. Which was, “What was I fighting for?”

RB: In the face of the new government spending money on celebrations and arguably frivolous things.

PL: Absolutely! There’s no question about that. There were all kinds of taxes levied in Massachusetts to help pay for the war effort. Rum, which is what the farmers drank, was taxed five times more than the madeira— here in Boston — that the gentleman drank. That says it all. I am not a conspiracy theorist but this was a massive conspiracy against the poor. And they were left with no alternative but to pick up guns. In a text book in South Carolina it all about how these men were anarchists who were trying to destroy the legacy for which the Founding Fathers had worked so hard and held so dear. This is what’s being taught. As long as that’s what’s taught people protesting at the World Trade Organization are going to be anarchists. There really isn’t a way to talk about these things. The mirrors for your experiences, those events in history that could have validated the ’60s struggles.

RB: When was there ever a time when people protested the conditions of their lives and were found to be justified or those protest were validated by those to whom they were protesting? Ever?

PL: No probably never. But it’s time for a change.

RB: When will your Paine book be done?

PL: Two years.

RB: You continue to work on publicizing Last Refuge.

PL: I am not content for the book simply to be successful, I believe that I am on to something that is important and as a result of that I push on. This has been a long lonely road and it really took — without exaggeration — 12-13 years to compile this information. Now People’s History of the American Revolution by Ray Raphael — I want to cry. He would have saved me six years. But who’s reading it? Not the people at buying at Barnes and Noble or Borders. But this book [Last Refuge] was in the window of Barnes and Noble. The other day somebody said, “Would be all right for me to describe your characterization of John Hancock and John Adams as caricature?” I said. “I have no problem accepting that if you’ll also agree that the portraits of the Founding Fathers as they have come down are also equal as caricature.”

RB: What was the response?

PL: She didn’t say anything. Certainly, I pick and choose and I have great fun. Is the scene where George Washington is putting his uniform on, hoping to impress his fellow delegates with his military prowess in order to secure him the position of commander-in-chief — did that scene occur? Of course it didn’t occur as depicted. But are the facts true? Is George Washington at 43 and overweight squeezing himself into a moth-eaten uniform that he last wore when he was 17? And did the other Founding Fathers make fun of what he looked like in this uniform? Yes! And that’s all important information. All of the catty little comments about how ridiculous he looked. As you know one Founding Father I have no enmity for is George Washington. I do believe that George Washington does deserve the moniker “the Father of Our Country” for reasons entirely different than what he is normally celebrated. George Washington learned a thing or two about how the other half lives. He understood there was a gap.

RB: You had him right in there with his men, learning how to row.

PL: In his own diary when he writes of crossing the Delaware he writes of hunkering down, his arms around his men and relying upon the New England Marbleheads to negotiate the floes of ice to get himself across the Delaware. That’s what he writes. And guess what? Many don’t still believe the image of Washington with his hand on his heart, nose in the air standing in a boat, crossing the Delaware. What if we had an artist who knew enough to paint George Washington hugging his men, head down and Marbleheaders including women negotiating the ice floes. What a different culture we would be if that was the archetypal portrait that we grew up with.

This article originally appeared in Identity Theory magazine.