You might think politicians are a modern invention. Think again. James Fenimore Cooper, one of the first professional American authors, wrote The Last of the Mohicans in 1826. The novel is set in 1757, in the midst of the French and Indian War.
A minor character theme in the novel is the idea that verbal persuasion is a neutral tool practiced by good and evil alike. The antagonist, Magua, is described as an orator of extreme skill. The protagonist, Hawk-eye, is similarly gifted.
In an interesting scene, though tainted by the white superiority that appears throughout Last of the Mohicans, Uncas and his father Chingachgook are persuaded by Hawk-eye to choose a different course than their wisdom first suggested. When they do so, Cooper adds an interesting comment:
“In short, Uncas and his father became converts to his way of thinking, abandoning their own previously expressed opinions with a liberality and candor, that, had they been the representatives of some great and civilized people, would have infallibly worked their political ruin, by destroying forever their reputation for consistency” (ch.19).
Sound familiar? Think back to the 2004 election between Bush and Kerry. Remember those thousands of thong sandals sold in Kerry’s name? The news was slathered with items referencing Kerry’s flip-flop on one issue or another.
And lest this appear to be a thing of the past, check out this recent post by conservative commentator Cal Thomas about the stirrings in the current election.
If political consistency was a concern even in 1826, what else can we learn about our political history from this early American novel? Maybe we should read it and find out…