It’s been said that the victors write the textbooks. I supposed this is the way it should be. As a nation, if we want to know who has won the ideological war in America, take a look at the our textbooks and popular writing on historical subjects. Dr. Gary North writes:
When children are required by law to attend tax-funded schools and read state-approved textbooks, these textbooks establish the terms of discussion. History textbooks have long served as the State’s primary means of establishing public opinion. This was true in Prussia before it was true in the United States. The Prussian educational model, for kindergarten through graduate school, became the model for the American public schools, beginning as early as the 1840s. (The best study of the history of America’s public school philosophy is R. J. Rushdoony’s 1963 book, The Messianic Character of American Education.)
In addition to what is found in textbooks, certain historical revisionist claims worm their way through popular writing. You’ll find a snippet of historical revisionism here and a fragment there. In time, the new “truth” embeds itself in popular discussions.
For example, how many times have you heard the canard that for centuries prior to 1492 the majority of the religious world believed that the earth was flat until the intrepid Christopher Columbus put his reputation, career, and fortune on line to prove, contrary to what the religious leaders of his day believed, that the earth was round and not flat? This myth has been repeated so often in too many contexts to list here that it has become fact for millions of middle school students. The myth is continually used as a club to beat up on Christians who question the dogmatism of certain scientific theories – everything from spontaneous generation to man-made global warming. Here’s an example from the strident evolutionist Daniel C. Dennett:
If you insist on teaching your children falsehoods — that the Earth is flat, that “Man” is not a product of evolution by natural selection — then you must expect, at the very least, that those of us who have freedom of speech will feel free to describe your teachings as the spreading of falsehoods, and will attempt to demonstrate this to your children at our earliest opportunity. Our future well-being — the well-being of all of us on the planet — depends on the education of our descendants.(1)
For the longest tome, even the Encyclopedia Britannica perpetuated the myth: “Before Columbus proved the world was round, people thought the horizon marked its edge. Today we know better.” The people knew better in Columbus’s day. A 1983 textbook for fifth-graders reported that Columbus “felt he would eventually reach the Indies in the East. Many Europeans still believed that the world was flat. Columbus, they thought, would fall off the earth.”(2) A 1982 text for eighth-graders said that Europeans “believed . . . that a ship could sail out to sea just so far before it fell off the edge of the sea. . . . The people of Europe a thousand years ago knew little about the world.”(3) If a big enough lie is told, and if it is repeated often, people will eventually come to believe it.
Like the flat earth myth, there are certain other myths that are making their way through our educational system and popular culture. The purpose of rewriting history is to separate us from the past. If the revisionists can sow seeds of doubt into the way Americans view their founding, then everything is up for grabs.
It’s been claimed that credit should be given to the Iroquois for our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other vital instruments of liberty. The ideas expressed in these documents of liberty and representative government, so the argument goes, were not derived from Western Christianity and enlightenment sources but rather borrowed from Native American minority groups without given their due credit. For example, “Anthropologist Thomas Riley asserts that the League of the Iroquois served ‘as a model for the confederation that would make up the United States.’ Alvin Josephy credits the Iroquois with being ‘particularly influential’ on the thinking of the framers in Philadelphia.’ Jack Weatherford observes that the Iroquois provided a blueprint’ by which the settler might be able to fashion a new government.’”(4) What is the evidence for such claims? A letter written by Benjamin Franklin to James Parker in 1750:
A voluntary Union entered into by the Colonies themselves, I think, would be preferable to one impos’d by Parliament; for it would be perhaps not much more difficult to procure, and more easy to alter and improve, as Circumstances should require, and Experience direct. It would be a very strange Thing, if six Nations of ignorant Savages should be capable of forming a Scheme for such an Union, and be able to execute it in such a Manner, as that it has subsisted Ages, and appears indissoluble; and yet that a like Union should be impracticable for ten or a Dozen English Colonies, to whom it is more necessary, and must be more advantageous; and who cannot be supposed to want an equal Understanding of their Interests.(5)
Franklin was making a comparison, not arguing for the source of our liberties: If these “ignorant savages” can work out their problems, surely we civilized men can agree on a union of colonial governments that have a long history of common lawmaking principles.
Elisabeth Tooker’s study of the Iroquois origin thesis shows the profound differences between the “six nations” and the American Union. “Tooker concluded that the Iroquois claim to be the secret force behind the American Constitution is a myth, sustained by ideology.”(6) She writes:
Research over the past several decades has revealed that the sources of thought embodied in the Constitution are more varied and its history more complex than had previously been suspected, and there has been something of a revolution in this regard. But of all the influences that have been uncovered and assessed in recent years, none points to an Indian one.(7)
The goal in all of this is to strip America’s founding from its English Christian roots. When this is done, the shell of the Constitution will be filled with whatever ideology is presently in fashion and forced on us by an entrenched bureaucratic elite. When this happens, it will be almost impossible to extricate ourselves from it.
- Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), 519.(↩)
- America Past and Present (Scott Foresman, 1983), 98. Quoted in Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth, 3.(↩)
- We the People (Heath, 1982), 28–29. Quoted in Jeffrey Burton Russell, Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians (New York: Praeger, 1991), 3.(↩)
- Dinesh D’Souza, The End of Racism: Principles for a Multiracial Society (New York: The Free Press, 1995), 356.(↩)
- Franklin said the following at the Constitutional Convention with no mention of the Iroquois: “I have lived, Sir [addressing George Washington], a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice [Matt. 10:29], is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it’ [Ps. 127:1]. I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.”(↩)
- D’Souza, The End of Racism, 356.(↩)
- Elizabeth Tooker, “The United States Constitution and the Iroquois League,” in James A. Clifton, Invented Indian: Cultural Fictions and Government Policies (Edison, NJ: Transaction Books, 1990), 108.(↩)