culture and society. The dictionary defines revisionism as an “advocacy of the
revision of an accepted, usually long-standing view, theory, or doctrine; especially
a revision of historical events and movements.”
Revisionism attempts to alter the way a people views its history and traditions
in order to cause that people to accept a change in public policy. For example,
during the 150 years that textbooks described the Founding Fathers as being
devout men and Christians who actively practiced their faith, civic policy embraced and welcomed public
religious expressions. But in recent years as the same Founders have come to
be portrayed as atheists, agnostics, and deists
who were opposed to religious activities, public policies have similarly been
Revisionists generally accomplish their goal of rewriting history by:
Underemphasizing or ignoring the aspects of American history they deem to
be politically incorrect and overemphasizing those portions they find acceptable;
Vilifying the historical figures who embraced a position they reject; and
Concocting the appearance of widespread historical approval for the social
policy they are attempting to advance.
There are many means that are used by revisionists to accomplish these goals
but the most common include:
1. Patent Untruths
Numerous history texts make claims such as: our “national government was secular
from top to bottom,” or that the Founders “reared a national government on a
secular basis.” Those who have studied the American Founding know that this
is a patent untruth — proved by numbers of Founders, including John
Adams, who declared: “The general principles on which the fathers achieved
independence were the general principles of Christianity.” (Even the text of
of Independence refutes any charges of government secularism.) This approach
usually relies on a general lack of public knowledge about that untruth; consequently,
such untruthful claims are rarely made in areas where citizens have broad general
knowledge (such as claiming that James
Madison used an atomic bomb to end the Civil
War, or that the first sub-machine gun was developed in 1536 in Nevada by
the Quakers). Revisionism relies on a lack of citizen knowledge in specific
2. Overly Broad Generalizations
This revisionist tool presents the exception as if it were the rule. For example,
texts often name Thomas
Franklin, and Thomas
Paine as proof of the lack of religiosity among the Founders yet fail to
mention the rest of the almost 200 Founding Fathers — including the dozens of
Founders who not only received their education in schools specializing in the
training of ministers of the Gospel but who also were active in Christian ministry
and organizations (e.g., John
Rush, Roger Sherman, et. al).
Similarly, when discussing religion in America, the Salem Witch trials are
universally presented; but rarely mentioned are the positive societal changes
produced by Quakers, Baptists, Presbyterians, and dozen of other religious groups
and organizations that worked for the abolition of slavery,
secured religious freedoms for all, and fought to end societal abuses of all
types. (Also never mentioned is that the American witch trials resulted in some
two dozen deaths — and were halted by religious leaders, while the European
witch trials resulted in 100,000; that is, American Christianity at that time
might not have been perfect but it was light years ahead of both the Christianity
practiced in Europe and the European secularism that resulted in 40,000 executions
in the French Revolution.)
Notice the following three examples from American history works:
We whose names are under-written . . . do by these presents solemnly and
mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine
our selves together into a civil body politick. MAYFLOWER
Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains
and slavery? . . . I know not what course others may take, but as for me,
give me liberty or give me death? PATRICK
. . . ART. I.—His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States .
. . PEACE TREATY TO END THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, 1783
What was omitted from these important historical quotes?
We whose names are under-written having undertaken for
the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our
king and country, a voyage to plant the first colonie in the Northern parts
of Virginia do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence
of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a
civil body politick.
Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains
and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know
not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me
In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity.
It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts . . .
ART. I.—His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States . . .
The omitted segments are those that indicate the strongly religious nature
of American government documents and leaders. Also regularly omitted from texts
is the fact that gratitude to God was central to the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving
— and the fact that in 1782, the Congress of the United States was responsible
for America’s first English-language Bible;
and that in 1800, Congress voted that on Sundays, the Capitol Building would
serve as a church
building and that by 1867, the largest protestant church in America was the
one that met inside the U. S. Capitol; etc.
4. A Lack of Primary Source References
The avoidance of primary-source documents is characteristic in revisionism.
For example, the authors of the widely-used text The Godless Constitution
blatantly announce that they have “dispensed with the usual scholarly apparatus
of footnotes” when discussing the documentation for their thesis that America’s
government is built on a secular foundation. Similarly, the text The Search
for Christian America purports to examine the Founding Era and finds a distinct
lack of Christian influence. Yet 80 percent of the “historical sources” on which
it relies to document its finding were published after 1950! That is, to determine
what was occurring in the 1700s, they quote from works printed in the 1900s.
To locate revisionism in a text, look at its tone, the documents it presents,
and the heroes it elevates.
- To discover a revisionist tone, find the answers to these questions in
the textbook: Is exploration and colonization motivated only by the desire
for land or gold? Are those who promoted religious and moral values portrayed
as harsh, punitive, and intolerant? Is traditional family ignored? Is government
presented as statist — that is, that the state (rather than individuals, families,
churches, or communities) is to take care of society’s needs? Is there a victim
ideology — a steady diet of those who have been exploited throughout history
rather than those who have uplifted their culture? Are other religions portrayed
positively and Christianity negatively (if at all)?
- Are original documents presented? (Do students see the actual text or only
what someone else says about it?) Do they see the Mayflower
Compact, the Declaration
of Independence, the Constitution,
Address,” and Abraham
Lincoln‘s Second Inaugural Address? Are the documents
heavily edited to present only a sentence or two or do they provide a substantive
amount of text?
- Who are the heroes presented? Do they tend to be angry – fighting an unjust
society or government? Do they tend to be modern heroes only? Do they tend
to be only secular leaders? For example, the U. S. Capitol displays some 100
statues of the most important individuals in America’s history; a significant
percentage of those statues are of ministers and Christian leaders. Will your
children receive in their textbooks at least the same view of American heroes
that is presented in America’s pre-eminent government building?
When examining a text, always remember that your children do not know as much
about history as you do and consequently have no basis for identifying bias.
Therefore, examine each text as if you knew nothing at all about history except
what is presented in that text; on that basis, will you be pleased with the
tone toward America inculcated in your child through that text? If not, then
urge your school to get a better text or be diligent to supplement for your
children what is missing or wrongly presented in the text.
It is not melodramatic to state that America’s future rests on what is taught
to our children, for as Abraham
Lincoln wisely observed:
The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy
of government in the next. (attributed)
Famous American educator Noah
Webster therefore rightly admonished:
The education of youth should be watched with the most scrupulous attention.
. . . [It] lays the foundations on which both law and gospel rest for success.