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Michael Barone, the senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, has suggested dividing U.S. history into increments of the very “American number of 76.” He starts with 1789, the date of Washington’s first inauguration. He adds 76 years to 1789 three times, which takes us to 2017 and then moves backward from 1789 creating two 76-year periods of time stopping at 1637. This encompasses five eras of 76 years for a total of 380 years of American History.

The old history teacher in me found this idea very intriguing. The epoch 1789 to 1865, which is Era C, takes us from Washington’s inauguration to Lincoln’s second inauguration and the victory at Appomattox Court House. Add 76 years to 1865 and you come to 1941, or Era D. Add 76 years to that and we come to 2017, which is Era E. If one goes backward 76 years from 1789, we are at 1713, Era B, which is the date of Treaty of Utrecht. Moving backwards another 76 years we come to 1637, Era A.

Historians painstakingly look at a period of years and come to a collective decision to designate the significance of the time frame in discussion. Barone believes that each of these 76-year periods can be depicted as distinct units.

The years 1637-1713 (Era A) mean very little to us today. During this period, Europeans were struggling to establish world-wide empires and were busy colonizing the new world. Massachusetts Bay, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and other colonies were becoming established.

The next period (Era B) from 1713-1789 is the time that the new world began to populate with Europeans. Over the years the colonists learned they had to become self-reliant. The colonists became dissatisfied with their colonial status and began to think of themselves as Americans.  Thus very dedicated and well educated leaders led us to independence.

Manifest Destiny can best describe the next period (Era C) 1789-1865. We expanded our territory reaching across the continent, but Americans were either diametrically opposed to OR in favor of expanding slavery into the territories. Nineteenth-century Americans went to war over slavery and states-rights.

The period 1865 to 1941 (Era D) is embodied by the flowering of market capitalism and rising standards of living for Americans. There were many scientific advances such as the invention of the electric light bulb, the horseless carriage, the airplane, and radio.  

Let’s look at the current 76 year period. You are an American living at the end of Era E. Do you recall or were you even born in 1941? In the minds of our parents and grandparents, 1941 is incredibly significant because it signifies to them a world-changing event, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and our entry into World War II.  

Historians have the ability to aptly organize years and bundle them into eras. Yet, it is almost impossible for people who are living (have lived) at the end of an era to think and feel like those who are (were) living at the beginning of any era. Michael Barone says, “The original arrangements in each 76-year period became unworkable and unraveled toward its end.”

Take for example the beginning of Era C, Washington’s first inauguration going all the way to the end of Era C and the events surrounding the Civil War. It is implausible to think that citizens who were living at the end of the Civil War could remember or empathize with Americans who lived during the establishment of our nation.

Likewise the passage of Reconstruction (1865-77) at the beginning of Era D is equally as far away for those Americans who exist(ed) at that the close of Era D with the passage of Social Security in 1935.

Add four years to 2013, and we will be at the end of another 76-year cycle. What broad picture will the historians give to our epoch (Era-E)? Many of us remember big government, big business, big labor and unbelievable, unimaginable technological advances like TV, the moon-landing and the Internet.

It was the early 20th century Americans who vividly recalled the Great Depression and the near collapse of our economy that created Social Security. Continued American compassion also led to the implementation of Medicare, Medicaid, Obama Care, and a sundry of welfare safety nets.

If 1941-2017 is indeed seen as the Era of Compassion and Entitlements, could we be on the verge of witnessing another catastrophic event in U.S. History? As Barone suggests, ends of eras often cause the original arrangements that made sense for the beginning of a given era to work loose and become ineffective.

Employment with one big company for life and big unions that promised lifetime pensions are ideas that are on shaky ground today. Entitlement programs are nibbling away at the fabric of the private sector and our government. Many safety nets have turned into hammocks.  What is next? Only time will tell.

WILLEE COOPER is a former teacher and military spouse. A Hopkinsville resident, she is past president of the Kentucky Federation of Republican Women. Her column runs on the first and third Friday of each month. Reach her at willeecooper@gmail.com.

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