What do Dallas Police Chief David Brown and Sleepy Hollow’s satirst Washington Irving have in common? Not much you might think. After all, 200 years separate their lives.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown became a nationally known leader who showed calm and courage after five Dallas police officers were killed and nine others were injured on July 7, 2016. The deadliest killings of police officers in one day since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the perpetrator was a black veteran who had plotted to kill white officers and took advantage of a protest to implement his assassinations.
Washington Irving lived 200 years ago and authored the short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” featuring the character Ichabod Crane. Today Sleepy Hollow is also a TV fantasy drama inspired by Irving’s story.
In the FOX show, the character Frank Irving, whose name is a nod to Washington Irving’s authorship, was a police captain.
The connection between Chief Brown and the Irving of 200 years ago reveals a timeless patriotic virtue.
During a news conference after the Dallas shootings, Chief Brown, who is African-American, encouraged protesters to turn their opposition into service.
“We’re hiring,” Brown said. “Get off that protest line and put an application in. We’ll put you in your neighborhood and help you resolve some of those problems.”
Dallas police department applications more than tripled from 11 a day to 40 a day in the two weeks after the shooting. Applications were also up in police departments in Las Vegas, Denver, Orange County, California, and other major metropolitan areas. Police departments similarly experienced a surge in applications after the 9-11 terror attacks.
In the aftermath of another atrocity when the British military burned the White House in 1814 during the War of 1812, Washington Irving responded in a similar way. Known for making fun of his fellow New Yorkers in a satirical book, Irving had famously coined the phrase “knickerbockers.” Before the war, Irving had visited the White House, where he used cartoon-like language to describe the Madisons.
“Mrs. Madison is a fine, portly, buxom dame, who has a smile and a pleasant word for everybody.… But as to Jemmy Madison — ah poor Jemmy! — he is but a withered little apple-john.”
Sensitive to the seriousness of war, Irving gave up writing a satire about Washington, D.C. and became a magazine editor instead. But the burning of the White House profoundly changed Irving and many others, as I write about in my new book, The Burning of the White House: James and Dolley Madison and the War of 1812.
Irving learned the news of the burning of the White House and U.S. Capitol while aboard a steamboat in Albany, New York. A fellow passenger derisively wondered what President “Jimmie Madison” would say now.
Irving gave a quick retort. “Sir, do you seize on such a disaster only for a sneer?”
“Let me tell you. Sir, it is not now a question about Jimmie Madison.… The pride and honor of the nation are wounded,” Irving said.
He may have started as a writer of comedic fiction and had called Madison a withered apple-John, but he was very grounded in reality. “The country is insulted and disgraced by this barbarous success, and every loyal citizen would feel the ignominy and be earnest to avenge it.”
Indeed. Irving’s local New York paper, which had opposed Madison on many occasions, now echoed the need for unity and action. “Believe us fellow citizens. This is no moment for crimination and recrimination, which necessarily follows.… Let one voice and one spirit animate us all—the voice of our bleeding country and the spirit of our immortal ancestors.”
Just as a spirit of service motivated many across the country to apply to local police departments this summer, so Irving joined the militia and served New York more than 200 summers ago. Through his military service, Irving met a marine whose name he would never forget: Ichabod Crane.
Six days before the Dallas police shootings, the Pew Research Center noted that only 55% of Americans were “extremely proud” to be Americans, a sharp decrease from the two years after 9-11 when 70% were “extremely proud.”
As Chief David Brown has shown us in 2016 and Washington Irving showed us in 1814, getting involved and becoming a part of the solution is the American way. Respect for service is essential for strengthening our country.
George Washington expressed this need for loving America in his Farewell Address: “Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation.”
What do Brown and Irving have in common? They were and are names of patriotic Americans.