Of the thousands of inquiries received by our staff through the years, one of the more frequent questions goes something like this: "Are there any good, reliable U.S. history texts that tell history as it really was, not as someone with a political ax to grind would like it to have been?"
Here’s a text I can heartily recommend: "A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror," by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen. It’s fresh, lively and bound to fill a void in many classrooms.
The Mackinac Center asked professor Schweikart to write a brief essay, which appears below, explaining the genesis of "A Patriot’s History." For a thoughtful review of the book and how it contrasts with two other recent history texts, see "The Future of Patriotism" on The Claremont Institute Web site.
— Lawrence W.
President, Mackinac Center for Public Policy
What’s in a name? Just 35 years ago, our book would have simply been called, "A History of the United States." Today, virtually all of the so-called "mainstream" texts range from moderately biased to completely and overwhelmingly biased against a free-market, limited-government perspective. Their slant is sometimes blunt, often clever and always varied to make absolutely certain that if one technique doesn’t work on unsuspecting students, another will.
More than a decade ago, professor Michael Allen and I became aware of how widespread and deep this bias was when we, individually, searched in vain for books that would merely present the basics of American history and report facts over interpretations. We found a huge problem of balance, largely brought about by the movement for "political correctness," whereby American heroes like George Washington, Paul Revere, Robert E. Lee and Andrew Carnegie received scant coverage, while gender and minority issues were dealt with at length.
There was also a bias of language or tone, wherein Franklin D. Roosevelt was wise and caring; Vietnam War protestors were visionary; but Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge were treated as crooks or dolts in one thinly-veiled slur after another. Even the pictures of Reagan emphasized his "wealthy contributors," and not a single one gave Reagan credit for winning the Cold War.
Religion was almost entirely ignored, unless it involved the dissident Berrigan Brothers during the Vietnam War or caricatured depictions of "fundamentalists" during the Scopes Trial. No book that we found made any references whatsoever to Billy Graham or Oral Roberts, or analyzed in any positive way the rise of Pentecostal or evangelical churches in America.
Most of the textbooks, if viewed honestly and objectively, suggest that the United States killed all the Indians, destroyed the environment, busted unions, perpetuated slavery, conquered the Philippines, illegally snatched Hawaii, oppressed workers in the 1920s, dropped the atomic bomb only to impress the Soviets, forced the Japanese into concentration camps and obstructed the efforts of a peace-loving USSR. If these books have heroes, none of them is white or male — and certainly never a businessman.
Welcome to American History 101.
In "A Patriot’s History," professor Allen and I tell a story of America as a special nation — a "City on a Hill" — not because the people in America are, or were, better than anyone else, but because from the beginning those settling the New World adopted systems that embraced primarily these three elements: private property rights, religious virtues and competition at all levels, from political parties to structures of government to market activities. All three were intricately wound together. The Massachusetts Bay Colony went so far as to rest political rights (voting) on a person’s status in the Massachusetts Bay Company (economic rights), which in turn required a person to be a member of the church (religious rights). All were connected. Above all, personal character counted for a great deal.
Supposedly "irreligious" leaders like Franklin, Washington and even Jefferson all realized the significance of these connections and of character. Well into the 21st century, studies have shown that competition among Christian sects for members has produced a far more vibrant and active church than is found anywhere in Europe, where state church monopolies have prevailed.
Likewise, despite 40 years’ worth of regulatory attack, the American economic system still remains the most productive in the world, due to a higher degree of private property rights and competition. In our book, we celebrate those who created and cultivated these pillars, while at the same time deconstructing numerous myths of the Left. The result is that any student reading "A Patriot’s History" will have a hard time suppressing pride in being an American.
Our economic processes and private property rights have generated more wealth than has existed at any other time in history; our foreign policies have liberated more people than any empire that ever existed; and our internal self-criticism has resulted in a steady improvement in civil rights and tolerance — often to a fault. The history of the United States is not only inspiring; it is essentially "conservative," in that it reaffirms many of those values that conservatives (and many libertarians) today hold dear. And the best news is that one does not have to distort the evidence to tell the story of a great country.
Ultimately, learning "just the facts" of the American past leads a student to inevitably conclude that the United States is the best place on earth, and that it has acted, for the most part, far better than any other nation at any other time. If that generates a feeling of patriotism — or makes one a patriot — so be it.
University of Dayton
Larry Schweikart, an adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, is a professor of history at the University of Dayton and co-author with University of Washington professor Michael Patrick Allen of the recently published “A Patriot's History of the United States: From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror.” Schweikart wrote this essay for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.