Ransacking Democracy (January 2021)

The AHA issued a statement condemning “the actions of those who, on January 6, stormed the United States Capitol, the seat of the nation’s legislature, the heart of its democratic form of governance.” The AHA deplores the “inflammatory rhetoric of all the political leaders who have refused to accept the legitimacy of the results of the 2020 election and thereby incited the mob.”

60 organizations have signed onto the statement.

Download the statement as a PDF.


Approved by AHA Council, January 8, 2021

The American Historical Association condemns the actions of those who, on January 6, stormed the United States Capitol, the seat of the nation’s legislature, the heart of its democratic form of governance. This assault on the very principle of representative democracy received recent explicit and indirect support from the White House and from certain senators and representatives themselves. Not since 1814, when the British looted and burned the Capitol, has the United States witnessed such a blatant attack on the “People’s House.”

Everything has a history. What happened at the Capitol is part of a historical process. Over the past few years, cynical politicians have nurtured and manipulated for their own bigoted and self-interested purposes the sensibilities of the rioters. We deplore the inflammatory rhetoric of all the political leaders who have refused to accept the legitimacy of the results of the 2020 election and thereby incited the mob-and this on the day when the nation reported 3,865 COVID-19 deaths, the highest number reported in a single day since the pandemic began.

We note with dismay the iconography of the banners carried by the mob—the flag with the visage of the president emblazoned on it, as if loyalty were due an individual and not the rule of law, and the flag of the Confederacy, signaling violence and sedition. Not by coincidence, those people who attacked the Capitol have been described by the current president and his advisers as “great patriots” and “American patriots.” The rioters were neither.

A day that began with two significant “firsts”—the election of Georgia’s first African American senator and that state’s first Jewish senator—ended with Congress performing its duties according to the Constitution. Yet during the day we witnessed the unprecedented spectacle of a group of Americans desecrating the sacred space of the nation’s Capitol, and terrorizing everyone in it.

As historians, we call upon our fellow citizens and elected representatives to abide by the law and tell the truth. Our democracy demands nothing less of ourselves and of our leaders.

The following organizations have cosigned this statement:

African American Intellectual History Society
African Studies Association
Agricultural History Society
American Academy of Religion
American Anthropological Association
American Association for State and Local History
American Catholic Historical Association
American Folklore Society
American Journalism Historians Association
American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies
American Society for Environmental History
Association for Documentary Editing
Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Association for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies
Association of Ancient Historians
Association of Historians of American Art
Central European History Society
Chinese Historians in United States
Conference of Historical Journals
Conference on Asian History
Conference on Faith and History
Conference on Latin American History
Coordinating Council for Women in History
Forum on Early-Modern Empires and Global Interactions
French Colonial Historical Society
Harvey Goldberg Center for Teaching Excellence
Historians for Peace and Democracy
Historical Society for Twentieth Century China
Hungarian Studies Association
International Center of Medieval Art
Immigration and Ethnic History Society
Labor and Working-Class History Association
Modern Greek Studies Association
National Coalition for History
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council on Public History
New England Historical Association
Oral History Association
Organization of American Historians
Rhetoric Society of America
Shakespeare Association of America
Sixteenth Century Society & Conference
Slovak Studies Association
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia
Society for Austrian and Habsburg History
Society for French Historical Studies
Society for Historians of the Early American Republic
Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Society for the History of Children and Youth
Society for the Study of Early Modern Women and Gender
Society for Textual Scholarship
Society for U.S. Intellectual History
Society of Civil War Historians
Southern Historical Association
University of Maine History Department
Urban History Association
Western History Association
Western Society for French History
World History Association