The Patriot's History Reader
Mining the past
By Steven Martinovich
The problem with history is that we all too often rely exclusively on the historians who have interpreted the past – and the key word in that sentence is "interpreted". We forget that our view of the past is generally tinted by the subtle and obvious biases of experts who all too often use history as an ideological tool to argue what is correct for the present. That is a sin that both liberal and conservative – what few of the later there are – historians are often guilty of. No less guilty are we for neglecting to explore the primary sources ourselves to see if those arguments carry any real weight.
Seven years after A Patriot's History of the United States: From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror, Larry Schweikart, Michael Allen and new to the club Dave Dougherty have released its companion volume, The Patriot's History Reader: Essential Documents for Every American. Covering speeches and documents spanning from 1620's The Mayflower Compact to Barack Obama's 2009 speech at Cairo University, the book covers an impressive array of issues and events.
Of course, neither The Patriot's History Reader, nor its predecessor A Patriot's History of the United States, are politically neutral efforts. As the back cover helpfully points out, "A Patriot's History of the United States has become a modern classic for its defense of America as a unique country founded on principles of justice, equality, and freedom for all." It is, after all, the conservative counterargument to Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. That does not weaken the author's efforts but a reader must weigh that when surveying the selection of documents that they have selected and the interpretations that accompany them.
With that in mind there are over 50 primary sources for the reader to explore and they include obvious standards like The Declaration of Independence and America's Constitution. Both the left and right get their share of time with John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter and Franklin D. Roosevelt, among others, appearing alongside George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln and Robert A. Taft. Along side the obvious suspects, however, Schweikart, et al also included some interesting choices including Kelo v New London, Carl Schurz's 1881 rumination on the "Indian problem", Eugene Deb's presidential nomination acceptance speech and the Rio Declaration on the environment.
Of course, given the political leanings of the authors, these choices weren't made in a vacuum. The entire point of A Patriot's History of the United States was to defend the exceptionality of the United States and the documents that Schweikart, et al have chosen are their nominees for the ideas that have either glorified the nation or dragged it into collectivism. Each entry is given a brief background by the authors explaining why they believe it holds both historical and current importance. As recent events have proven, ideological foes that some counted out hardly belong to the past.
That most of these documents could easily be found in other collections or on the world wide web shouldn't dissuade someone from The Patriot's History Reader, if only because of the interesting and informative interpretations courtesy of Schweikart, et al. Of course, as comprehensive as it is, the book could hardly include every major or important document or speech within its covers. It would behove the reader to look at the clues left behind in the primary author's work and further investigate those issues and events that interest them. History doesn't live simply because we read a book, but when we ourselves explore the past and interpret it on an individual level.
Steven Martinovich is the founder and editor of Enter Stage Right.
Buy The Patriot's History Reader: Essential Documents for Every American at Amazon.com for only $11.56