In preparation for writing an email reply to a twofer, I went to an article I had written on George Bancroft to copy a quote from him. I was reminded how happy I was to find a historian writing at length about the concept of citizenship at the time of the Country’s founding. While it’s nice that Bancroft provided a nice sound bite to use when arguing with twofers, what made me happy was that my understanding of how early Americans viewed citizenship grew, and what made me even more happy was that I could share with my readers what I learned – something so obscure that perhaps they didn’t already know it. (It’s not often that I find something that the well-read readers here haven’t already seen.)
Even when I found William Smith, writing in 1789 in a letter to the Charleston City Gazette, citing Emerich de Vattel in a way not friendly to my own views, I was still excited by the find which I quickly published. It is not by finding agreeable sources that we grow, but in confronting those that do not agree.
My motivation in research is not to win an argument or promote a viewpoint. My motivation is to understand the issues and publish what will help my readers reach informed conclusions. This is why I embed court decisions in articles so often, to encourage readers to get down in the trenches and read the details. I want to be what St. Paul described as “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15 – NRSV).