The great story of America

Reviewing A Patriot's History of the United States:  From Columbus's Great Discovery To The War On Terror.   Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen.  Sentinel/Penguin Group USA, New York, 2004.  825 pages, Notes, Index.

In response to textbooks and histories permeated with political correctness and infested with socialist doctrine and Marxist critiques, Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, professors of history at the University of Dayton and University of Washington, Tacoma have written a comprehensive, thoroughly documented book, a full bore response to their opening question:  'Is U.S. history the story of white slave owners who perverted the electoral process for their own interests?  Did America start with Columbus killing all the Indians, leap to Jim Crow Laws and Rockefeller crushing the workers, then finally save itself with Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal?  The answers, of course, are no, no, no, and NO.'

Their 825 page reply, presented in 22 chapters of well—paced narrative, takes the reader from the founding to 'Monicagate,' from the Civil War to Operation Iraqi Freedom, from westward expansion across the wide Missouri to the Golden Gate to outer space; from colonial times to the industrial age to the computer age. In these pages can be found the great, majestic sweep of American history with all its flaws and shortcomings.  The authors believe that if our history is told fairly 'the result cannot be anything but a deepened patriotism, a sense of awe at the obstacles overcome, the passion invested, the blood and tears spilled, and the nation that was built.'

What about Columbus?   Before he ever arrived in the New World its natives were hardly the 'noble savages' of myth.  As to their pre—Columbian status, the authors argue persuasively that

1. native populations were not as large as some historians claim, perhaps as low as 1.8 million.

2.  They died from epidemics, including a non—veneral form of syphilis. 

3. they died from inter—tribal warfare. 

4. Large areas of Mexico and the southwest were de—populated.  Hardly the portrait of a Garden of Eden despoiled by Europeans.

And when Europeans such as Cortes confronted tribes like the Aztecs, guess what?  Cortes had no trouble enlisting 75,000 Indians from surrounding tribes whose members had been regularly killed or enslaved by the Montezuma's bloodthirsty bunch. 

What about slavery?  The authors meet it head on, stating that 'British colonists convinced themselves that Africans were not human beings — that they were property.'  And, 'though numbers of indentured blacks became free and landholders and even slaveholders themselves, at some point in the mid—17th century, all blacks were presumed to be slaves.'

When it came to slavery vis—a—vis the founders crafting the Constitution:  'Let's be blunt: to have pressed the slavery issue in 1776 would have killed the Revolution, and to have pressed it in 1787 would have aborted the nation... the framers were highly focused only on Republic building, acting on the assumption that the Union was the highest good, and that ultimately all problems, including slavery, would be resolved if only they could keep the country together long enough.'

Indeed, blood and tears were spilled over slavery. The country was torn apart over its existence, and for over a century now, it has not existed in America. Societal and political progress in this regard might be measured by the four, that's right four, Civil Rights Acts passed by Congress in the years 1866, 1875, 1957 and 1964.  All were achieved through Republican majority votes. 

The son of a one—time New York street peddler, John D. Rockefeller started his career as an assistant bookkeeper in Cleveland, Ohio making 50 cents a day.  Thus introduced to business practices, he ventured into an oil drilling enterprise with partners Samuel Andrews and Henry Flagler.  But deciding that real profits would be found in oil refining, Rockefeller first sought to reduce refining's waste by 'using his own timber, building his own kilns and manufacturing his own wagons to haul the kerosene, and saving money in other ways.'  And so began Standard Oil, whose low—priced kerosene replaced whale oil as America's primary indoor light source.  Charged by the boss to invent different uses for industry by—products, Standard Oil chemists 'eventually made some 300 different products from a single barrel of oil.'     

Though Rockefeller stymied and frustrated competition through his  efficiencies, competition nonetheless existed.  However, it did not stop him from gaining 90 percent of the market, by which time kerosene prices had fallen to 8 cents a gallon.

 In the early chapters of this book, the authors posit a convincing hypothesis  as to why English settlers in America succeeded when those from other  countries did not.  Besides the chief reason of laws respecting property rights, they cite adoption of new business practices and an inquisitiveness that led to practical inventions.  Here we see the seeds of America's unique character and birth of the entrepreneurial spirit embodied by men such as Rockefeller and Carnegie.  Both men ended up giving away huge chunks of
 their fortunes to universities, libraries, hospitals, churches and museums.

And what of the average American worker of those late 19th Century decades?  Citing studies by Sokoloff and Villafor, the authors note that real  wages between 1856—1900 rose 1.4 percent per year.  And that  was during a  period of deflation.  Though affected negatively by the 1893 Panic, those wages went up steadily from $1.00 to $1.90.   Summarizing: 'The issue ultimately comes down to defining the average worker, and the evidence is conclusive that American laborers were well—paid and their standard of  
living getting better by the decade.'

Schweikart and Allen take on FDR's New Deal by stating that 'Roosevelt hoped to capitalize on the terrifying collapse of the economy, his own absence of pre—election promises, and a timid Congress to bulldoze through a set of policies that fundamentally rearranged the business and welfare foundations of American life.'  They note the absence of any internal  consistency to his policies which gave rise to some historians' claims that there were, in fact, two New Deals: 1933—1935 and 1936 to its end.

'That there is confusion about how many New Deals there were,' write the  authors, 'reflected the utter lack of...consistency to Roosevelt's programs.  Rather, a single theme underlay all of them, namely that government could and should do things that citizens previously had done themselves.'
Though the New Deal might have lacked a guiding philosophy, its purveyors did share a distrust of business and of entrepreneurship, which they believed were responsible for the depression.  Roosevelt himself told an advisor that he had probably talked to more businessmen than any other president, 'and that they are generally stupid.'  And so, the authors state that 'the New Deal —either of them — ...was a reactive network of plans designed to 'get' business.'

In the process of establishing an all—powerful government, and in the process usurping standard economic and market principles, New Deal policies saw the national debt soar from $3 billion to $9 billion from 1932—1939 and a rise in unemployment.  Citizens seeking employment were faced with the consequences of the Fair Labor Standards Acts, which enforced a minimum wage that 'cemented unemployment levels that were nearly twice those of 1929.'

For the first time in American history, farmers were paid NOT to produce.

In their critique of the New Deal the authors make it clear that the Democratic Party, in league with labor unions, viewed it as a once in a lifetime chance to, as Harry Hopkins said, ' Get everything we want — a works program, social security, wages and hours, everything —now or never.'   So the party became what it remains today — the Big Government Party.

If anyone is looking for just one reason why FDR is their patron saint, they need look no further than his 1941 proposal to impose a 99.5% marginal tax rate on all incomes over $100,000.  After the measure failed, Roosevelt issued an executive order taxing all income over $25,000 at a 100% rate.

Readers wanting a condensed critique of New Deal programs will find it on pp. 568—570 in an insert titled 'The New Deal: Immediate Goals, Unintended Results.'

Americans became restive as its government acquired more powers.  'Despite six years of controlling the American economy, of dominating the political appointment process, of rigging the system with government bribes to special interest groups, and of generally favorable press, the public still resisted attempts to socialize the industrial system or to hand the president more power.'  In 1938 midterm elections Republicans gained 81 seats in the House, 8 in the Senate, plus 13 governorships.

This is exactly what the founders understood, that a people with an instinctive distrust of a too powerful central government required a system of checks and balances.  They knew that the Republic must be anchored in liberty, in virtue, in responsibility and in property rights.  They understood that the sheet anchor for the Republic was character. It was the prerequisite 'because it put the law behind property agreements' and 'set responsibility right next to liberty.'  And what was surest way to ensure the presence of good character?  'To keep God at the center of one's life, community, and ultimately, went back to the link between liberty and responsibility, and no one could be taken seriously who was not responsible to God.'

The American story is a great one because its citizens 'knowing perfection is unattainable... have not ceased in its pursuit.'  They understand that faith is indispensable and 'have, more than any other place on earth, placed it at the center of the Republic.' 

This book tells the inspiring story of American politicians, pioneers, presidents and poets, of entrepreneurs, explorers and inventors, of revolution, reconstruction and defeat of the Third Reich, from sea to shining sea and beyond.  The authors have succeeded admirably in their goal of relating it honestly and fairly.  Reading it will indeed result in a deepened sense of patriotism, of pride in this beacon of liberty that would be that shining city on the hill.

John B. Dwyer is a military historian.