(First published in the June 2005 issue of The
NRB Magazine magazine)
American history today has become a dreary academic subject. Yet, most who
are bored by American history view Bible history quite differently: they love
the stories of David and Goliath, Daniel and the lion’s den, and Peter walking
on the water. So it’s not that people don’t enjoy history, it’s just that they
don’t respond favorably to the way American history is currently being taught.
One reason Bible history is interesting and American history is not is that
the Bible (as well as American education during its first three centuries) utilizes
biographical history – that is, it presents history through the eyes and life
experiences of those involved (i.e., the biographies) rather than through the
recitation of a string of dates and places. It is the difference between reading
the stories in Guideposts and the numbers in a phone book.
Looking at history the way God presents it is exciting and informative; and
in numerous verses, God even commends its study: “Remember the former things
of old: for I am God” (Isaiah 46:9); and “Call to remembrance the
former days” (Hebrews 10:32); etc. But why would God want us to know history?
The Apostle Paul answers that question in 1 Corinthians 10:1: “All these
things happened unto them for example; and they are written for our admonition”
(see also Romans 15:4: “Those things written aforetime were written for
our learning”). In short, we learn from history; and what we learn affects
American leaders long understood this Biblical truth. For example, Thomas Jefferson
noted: “History, by apprizing them [students] of the past, will enable
them to judge of the future.” And what can be learned by being “apprized
of the past”? According to Benjamin Franklin: History will afford frequent
opportunities of showing the necessity of a public religion from its usefulness
to the public; the advantage of a religious character among private persons;
the mischiefs of superstition; and the excellency of the Christian religion
above all others, ancient or modern.
Franklin understood that history, when accurately presented, would demonstrate
the need for Christianity because of both the societal and the individual benefits
it produces. In fact, the presenting of an uncensored and unrevised history
actually causes a recognition of the hand of God – for, in the words of the
great statesman Daniel Webster: “History is God’s providence in human affairs.”
Today, however, history is presented in such an edited, revised, and politically-correct
manner that God’s hand is rarely visible – and even the historic role of famous
Godly leaders in education, business, politics, and the military is now virtually
An obvious example of the secularization of history occurs each year around
the Fourth of July. Americans are taught that “taxation without representation”
was the reason America separated from Great Britain; yet “taxation without
representation” was only reason number seventeen out of the twenty-seven
reasons given in the Declaration of Independence – it was not even in the top
half, yet it’s all that most ever hear. Never mentioned today are the numerous
grievances condemning judicial activism – or those addressing moral or religious
or other issues.
What religious issues? In 1762, the king vetoed the charter for America’s first
missionary society; he also suppressed other religious freedoms and even prevented
Americans from printing an English language Bible.
How did Americans respond? They took action; and almost unknown today is the
fact that Declaration signers such as Samuel Adams and Charles Carroll cited religious freedom as the reason they became involved in the
American Revolution. And significantly, even though Thomas Jefferson and Ben
Franklin (two of the least religious signers) are typically the only signers
studied today, almost half of the signers of the Declaration (24 of 56) held
what today would be considered seminary or Bible school degrees. Clearly, for
many Founders, religious issues were an important motivation behind their separation
from Great Britain; but that motivation is largely ignored today.
Moral issues are accorded the same silence. The greatest moral issue of that
day was slavery; and after several of the American colonies moved toward abolishing slavery in
1773, the King, in 1774, vetoed those anti-slavery laws and continued slavery
in America. Soon-to-be signers of the Declaration Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin
Rush promptly founded America’s first abolition society as a direct response
against the king’s order. The desire to end slavery in America was a significant
motivation not only for Franklin and Rush but also for a number of others; but
the end of slavery in America could be achieved only if they separated from
Great Britain – which they were willing to do (and six of the thirteen colonies
began abolishing slavery following the separation).
There were many other significant issues that led to our original Fourth of
July; so why aren’t Americans familiar with the rest? Because in the 1920s,
30s, and 40s, a group of secular-minded writers (including Charles and Mary
Beard, W. E. Woodward, Fairfax Downey, and others) began penning works on American
history that introduced a new paradigm. For this group, economics was the only
issue of importance, so they began to write texts accordingly (their approach
is now described as “the economic view of American history” and since
the 1960s has been widely embraced throughout the education community). Consequently,
since “taxation without representation” was the economic grievance
in the Declaration, it became the sole clause that Americans studied.
As a result, God is no longer visible in American history; and His absence
is now construed as a mandate for secularism. Texts now forcefully assert that
the American founding produced the first intentionally secular government in
history – even though the Declaration officially acknowledges God in four separate
clauses. (But who still teaches the Declaration – or even reads it?) Similarly,
leaders such as John Hancock and John Adams receive credit as being the source of our independence, even though
John Adams himself declared that the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mayhew and the Rev. Dr.
Samuel Cooper were two of the individuals “most conspicuous, the most ardent,
and influential” in the “awakening and revival of American principles and feelings”
that led to American independence. Regrettably, God (and His servants) have
largely disappeared from the presentation of American history in general and
America’s founding in particular.
As a further example, consider the legendary Minutemen: even though they are
still honored in many texts, their leader, the Rev. Jonas Clark, is no longer
mentioned – nor the fact that many of the Minutemen were deacons in his church.
And the Rev. James Caldwell is no longer acknowledged as a key leader of military
forces in New Jersey – nor the Rev. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg (who led 300
men from his church against the British) as one of Washington’s most trusted
Regrettably, we no longer know much about the indispensable role of pastors and Christian leaders in the founding of our civil government.
Americans have been subjected to “revisionism“
– defined by the dictionary as “the revision of an accepted, usually long-standing
view; especially a revision of historical events and movements.” Revisionism
attempts to alter the way a people sees its history in order to cause a change
in public policy.
Consider how successful this has been. Under the economic view of American
history, Americans now believe that the early colonists came to America seeking
land and gold rather than for the reason most cited by the colonists: evangelization.
And most now accept that the colonies were founded for trade, fishing, and other
economic enterprises, even though more than half were founded by Gospel ministers
for religious purposes (e.g., Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode
Island, Georgia, etc.). And if religion is discussed in a text, it will be to
present the 21 deaths during the Salem Witch Trials rather than the Great Awakenings,
the Civil War revivals, or the turn-of-the-century revivals that led to widespread
urban renewal and the end of child labor.
Having now come to believe that economics is what created and made America
great, it is not surprising that few Americans commented on the fact that, during
the 2004 presidential debates, “jobs” and “economy” were
mentioned hundreds of times but “marriage” less than a dozen. Nor
is it surprising that over the past decade, 45 percent of evangelical Christians
say that economic issues are more important than moral issues when it comes
There is so much of our wholesome, God-centered American history that we no
longer know today. This is especially true when it comes to the average American’s
knowledge of African American history.
Consider, for example, African American achievements during the American
Revolution. Few today know that almost 5,000 of the patriots in the fledgling
Continental Army were African Americans – that, for example, a hero of the Battle
of Bunker Hill was African American Peter Salem. His heroic actions saved the
lives of scores of Americans, and he was honored before General Washington for
And Pastor Lemuel Haynes was involved in several major Revolutionary battles
and became an ardent admirer of George Washington, regularly preaching sermons
on Washington’s birthday. This patriot preacher was the first African American
to be ordained by a mainstream Christian denomination (the Congregationalists,
in 1785), to pastor a white congregation (a congregation in Connecticut), and
to be awarded an honorary Master’s Degree (by Middlebury College, in 1804).
Yet who today has heard of Lemuel Haynes?
Or who has heard of James Armistead, the courageous spy at Yorktown whose remarkable
service considerably shortened the War? Or Oliver Cromwell and Prince Whipple
(depicted in several famous Revolutionary War paintings) who served directly
under General Washington and the general staff? Or Jordan Freeman, the gallant
soldier to whom a monument was erected for his heroic service at the Battle
of Groton Heights?
Then there is also African American church history – including the amazing story of the Rev. John Marrant, the first
African American to evangelize successfully among American Indians; the Rev.
Richard Allen, who gained his freedom from slavery, served in the American Revolution,
became a preacher in a church of 2000 whites, and founded America’s first black
denomination; and the Rev. Harry Hoosier, who delivered the first recorded Methodist
sermon by an African American and drew crowds larger than the great Methodist
Bishop Francis Asbury.
And consider African American political history. Who today knows the story of the Rev. Hiram Rhodes Revels, the
African American missionary who became the first black U. S. Senator? Or the
Rev. Henry Highland Garnet, the first African American to deliver a sermon in
Congress? Or Joseph Hayne Rainey, who overcame slavery to become the first African
American elected to the U. S. Congress, even presiding over the U. S. House?
(In the picture of the first seven African Americans elected to the federal
Congress – all as Republicans – the Rev. Revels is the first from the left,
and Rainey is second from the right.) Or who today has learned that nearly every
southern Republican Party was started by African Americans – or that the first
190 African Americans elected to office in South Carolina (and the first 112
in Mississippi, the first 42 in Texas, the first 127 in Louisiana, etc.) were
all Republicans, and many were ministers?
I have spent years collecting thousands of original and priceless documents
from American history in general and black history in particular; God’s fingerprints
are evident throughout. I have been asked why I, as an Anglo, would spend so
much time in the study of African American political history. The answer is
simple: I am an American; and since the story of African American history is
part of American history, it therefore is part of my own history. Furthermore,
I am inspired by all stories of sacrifice, courage, and Godly character – regardless
of skin color. The stories of African American heroes such as Phillis Wheatley,
Francis Grimke, and John Roy Lynch are as thrilling to me as are the stories
of Lewis & Clark, Helen Keller, and Alvin York.
The reintroduction of a truthful and complete telling of American history is
long overdue. Daniel Webster was right: “History is God’s providence in
human affairs,” and it is time for Americans once again to become aware
of the remarkable hand of God throughout our history.