History : Jan-Feb 2019
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 1 FROM THE EDITOR Amy Briggs, Executive Editor In 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” The two men were fresh off a successful rebellion, one that gave independence to North American colonists. Rebellions have been a key part of the United States’ story from the beginning, but not all rebellions and rebels are created equal. One rebel, Jesse James, has been mythologized as an American Robin Hood, stealing from the Northern rich to give to the Southern poor. The violence of the Civil War turned James against the United States; after the Confederacy lost, James and his comrades attacked the institutions of the victorious Union: They held up banks, robbed trains, and murdered Americans who stood in their way. But the “noble outlaw” myth does not stand up to scrutiny. James’s “rebellion” was not generous: Fueled by greed and a lust for revenge, James stole from the rich and gave to himself. James was driven by self- interest, what Jefferson called “the sole antagonist of virtue.” Woven into the fabric of American identity, a little rebellion can be good, but when fueled by ego, it’s dangerous, shortsighted, and destructive.