The San Francisco city government became so corrupt that a citizens' Vigilance Committee took over, violently. The year was 1856. Across the U.S. in Brooklyn, New York, Walt Whitman watched with approval. He wrote in his notebook, "These [United] States need one grand national Vigilance Committee, composed of the body of the people," to overthrow the government in Washington. Walt Whitman!

America is, after all, not a movie that started an hour ago. The ragged threads go back to the beginning, the violent underweave of the story. Visit 1886, say, during the birth of American organized labor: Chicago, Haymarket Square, riots,...

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