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Adam Bretz

HIS 151


Module 14

Shaping the Past and Present Through Law and Ethics

Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all shaped from past situations. Generation

after generation our kinfolk have used trial and error to ensure that their offspring have better

chances and opportunities to become more successful than them. This same idea is often used

throughout the world by the masses to bring forth a better tomorrow. The world is constantly

changing because people are looking to the past to see what went wrong, and why, to avoid the

same mistake and to bring liberty and equality in greater quantities. As a historian of early

America, I can now assert myself and make contributions to society. Learning from our ancestors

I can better understand why the world around me is the way that it is, while also taking steps to

try and make sure that it continues to evolve into a better place for everyone.

I picked the topic of law and ethics because I believe these two subjects have had the

biggest influence on past individuals. This reigns especially true for the figures that contributed

to the foundation of our nation. They literally had nothing in place to call their own prior to

declaring independence and looked to the past and how they had been treated by the British to

make new laws. Because I now know that some of their decisions only benefitted a select group I

can possibly help stop similar choices from being made.

The French Revolution brought with it many ethical issues to The United States and

George Washington. Although France had been an ally during the American Revolution and

greatly helped us achieve a victory against Great Britain, George Washington was reluctant to

stand beside them in their own revolutionary time. Although many people were against his
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decision, I believe it would have been incredibly hypocritical to support a country that didnt

want the same democracy he just spent years putting in place. It would have been a slap in the

face to his brothers in arms that paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting for independence from

Britain. He wisely choose what he was going to do thinking about it from various angles using

his own experiences. Consequently, the lessons of history, though supremely valuable when

wisely formulated, become grossly misleading when oversimplifiers try to transfer them

mechanically from one age to another, or from one place to another (McNeill).

The Louisiana Purchase may have been one of the greatest accelerators in terms of

expansion for our country but ethically it was handled poorly. Jefferson thought about the benefit

of his citizens and his citizens alone. I feel he did a poor job of using past events to help

influence his decision when the time came. There had been turmoil between Americans and

Native Indians since the discovery of the new world and he pushed even further. In essence,

history teaches us to move forward, recognize our mistakes and learn from them, and ultimately

create a better existence for all (Postma). This quote explains exactly the opposite of what he

did. Learning from the past he could have tried to negotiate with the natives instead pushing

expansion west into an already occurred area.

We look to the past to understand the present, and so did they, we construct appeals

regarding how things should be based on how they have been (Hodges). Its pretty obvious that

Gabriel (Prosser) had this same understanding when he decided to rebel. He may have used

examples from the past when he decided to create a better life for African American slaves.

Using previous examples it may seem hard to understand why his rebellion only made matters

worse but I think he may have put too much emphasis on the past and not the present. Thomas
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Jefferson was all about living off the land so he should have known then that slave conditions

wouldnt be changing anytime soon.

Now that I am an amateur historian trying to make this world better when I leave it Im

not sure where to begin. Its almost as though the important issues similar to the examples Ive

chosen are at a stalemate when it comes to change. You can look at Syria now and its very

similar to the French Revolution in regard to why its happening. An evil government against

equally evil rebels with two of the worlds super powers choosing sides.

The birth of our beautiful nation means nothing to the natives still living in it. We forced

them from their land and gave them certain incentives and benefits to try and make up for it.

However the government just recently showed they again havent learned much because of the

Standing Rock protest. Once again fueled by greed and selfishness the decision makers only

think of how it will benefit themselves.

My last example is the police shootings. Think all the way back to Gabriel and all the

civil rights activists that have come afterwards. The treatment of African Americans by people in

authoritative roles still is not humane and we do something to fix it. This is an issue when we as

a group need to take over a find a solution to why its happening. Is it police training, is

misguiding cell phone footage, is it the attitude towards police in urban neighborhoods?

Because of these issues that seems to be a constant in American life your question for me

is harder to answer than I anticipated. What can I do to better society? Sadly, nothing. Nothing

accept make sure that Im as good as I can be as an individual. I can also soak in everything that

goes on around me and teach my children. I may be too far along but our youth are our future. So
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if I could pick one thing it would be to let people know that. My goal is to teach the children and

make sure they understand equality and right from wrong.