Thomas Patrick Chorlton is no stranger to politics. Or history. Or LGBT rights. But, it is his passion for the American Revolution and our nation’s top office that pushed him to explore what he calls “the black hole of American history.”
His new book, “The First American Republic: 1774-1789,” explores the first 14 presidents that preceded George Washington. These men — Chorlton calls them “giants of their age, men of power, wealth & experience” — served the Continental and Confederation Congresses until the adoption of our current form of government under the U.S. Constitution.
As a child, Chorlton remembers devouring information about the Revolution. As he learned more, he found a natural curiosity that never faded.
“I had more questions than answers about the period of the American Revolution,” Chorlton says. “Of course everybody knows about Washington and Lexington and Concord and Yorktown but everything seemed vague beyond that. I remember at one point hearing about presidents before Washington. It’s just one of those things from childhood you tuck away but never let go of.”
As an adult, Chorlton found himself embroiled in politics. He worked as a local government specialist in St. Louis following his undergraduate education at St. Louis University and Webster University, where he earned a master’s degree in government administration. His work also led him to Washington, D.C., where he worked on the staff of Illinois Rep. Melvin Price, the Democratic chairman of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee. Later, in the 1980s, Chorlton served as the founding executive director of the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Democratic Clubs, a predecessor of the modern National Stonewall Democrats.
As his life and work continued in the realm of politics (he now teaches on the American presidency and American Revolution at the College of Charleston), his childhood interest in America and its history grew only stronger.
“I started digging deeper in the modern presidencies and as I read about the post-Revolution era it increased my curiosity about it all,” he says. “Once I delved into that, it was difficult even to make a complete list of the presidents before Washington. I could not believe there was not just one book that really answered these questions and explained this.”
Now, that book exists. Chorlton says it has been years, if not decades, in the making. It’s designed to be a full and complete tome, but he says each chapter — individually profiling each of the 14 presidents of the Continental and Confederation Congresses — are worthy enough even to stand alone.
Chorlton says knowing the history of our nation is important — critically so for young people. “People should know the history,” he says, though cautioning that lessons alone aren’t enough.
“One of the things I denounce constantly in my political science classes is this idiocy flag waving,” Chorlton preaches. “After 9/11 everybody put a damned flag on their car. What stupidity; what good does that do anybody? I say go out and vote and participate; run for office or support someone running for office; pass out petitions or sign petitions. Roll up you sleeves and get involved; just sticking a flag on your car is about the laziest thing I can think of.”
He adds, “Democracy demands participation. If you don’t participate then you’ve opted out and you’ve just left it to some other idiot to decide what’s going to happen. So often we look at what our rights are — freedom of speech or religion — but there are responsibilities that go with those rights — responsibilities to stand up and be counted.” : :
info: Learn more about Chorlton and read excerpts from his “The First American Republic” at firstamericanrepublic.com.