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A STRAIGHT DEAL (chapter8)

2006-08-28 14:08

    CHAPTER VIII: HistoryAstigmatic

    So far as I know, it was Mr. Sydney Gent Fisher, an American, who was the first to go back to the original documents, and to write from study of these documents the complete truth about England and ourselves during the Revolution. His admirable book tore off the cloak which our school histories had wrapped round the fables. He lays bare the political state of Britain at that time. What did you learn at your school of that political state? Did you ever wonder able General Howe and his manner of fighting us? Did it ever strike you that, although we were more often defeated than victorious in those engagements with him (and sometimes he even seemed to avoid pitched battles with us when the odds were all in his favor), yet somehow England did seem to reap the advantage she should be reaped from those contests, didn't follow them, let us get away, didn't in short make any progress to speak of in really conquering us? Perhaps you attributed this to our brave troops and our great Washington. Well, our troops were brave and Washington was great; but there was more behind-more than your school teaching ever led you to suspect, if your schooling was like mine. I imagined England as being just one whole unit of fury and tyranny directed against us and determined to stamp out the spark of liberty we had kindled. No such thing! England was violently divided in sentiment about us. Two parties, almost as opposed as our North and South have been——only it was not sectional in England——held very different views about liberty and the rights of Englishmen. The King's party, George the Third and his upholders, were fighting to saddle autocracy upon England; the other party, that of Pitt and Burke, were resisting this, and their sentiments and political beliefs led them to sympathize with our revolt against George III. "I rejoice," writes Horace Walpole, Dec. , , to the Countess of Upper Ossory, "that the Americans are to be free, as they had a right to be, and as I am sure they have shown they deserve to be…… I own there are very able Englishmen left, but they happen to be on t'other side of the Atlantic." It was through Whig influence that General Howe did not follow up his victories over us, because they didn't wish us to be conquered, they wished us to be able to vindicate the rights to which they held all Englishmen were entitled. These men considered us the champions of that British liberty which George III was attempting to crush. They disputed the rightfulness of the Stamp Act. When we refused to submit to the Stamp Tax in , it was then that Pitt exclaimed in Parliament: "I rejoice that America has resisted…… If ever this nation should have a tyrant for a King, six millions of freemen, so dead to all the feelings of liberty as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would be fit instruments to make slaves of the rest." But they were not willing. When the hour struck and the war came, so many Englishmen were on our side that they would not enlist against us, refused to fight us, and George III had to go to Germany and obtain Hessians to help him out. His war against us was lost at home, on English soil, through English disapproval of his course, almost as much as it was lost here through the indomitable Washington and the help of France. That is the actual state of the case, there is the truth. Did you hear much about this at school? Did you ever learn there that George III had a fake Parliament, largely elected by fake votes, which did not represent the English people; that this fake Parliament was autocracy's last ditch in England; that it choked for a time the English democracy which, after the setback given it by the excesses of the French Revolution, went forward again until to-day the King of England has less power than the President of the United States? I suppose everybody in the world who knows the important steps of history knows this——except the average American. From him it has been concealed by his school histories; and generally he never learns anything about it at all, because once out of school, he seldom studies any history again. But why, you may possibly wonder, have our school histories done this? I think their various au- thors may consciously or unconsciously have felt that our case against England was not in truth very strong, that in fact she had been very easy with us, far easier than any other country was being with its colonies at that time. The King of France taxed his colonies, the King of Spain filled his purse, unhampered, from the pockets of Mexico and Peru and Cuba and Porto Rico——from whatever pocket into which he could put his hand, and the Dutch were doing the same without the slightest question of their right to do it. Our quarrel with the mother country and our breaking away from her in spite of the extremely light rein she was driving us with, rested in reality upon very slender justification. If ever our authors read of the meeting between Franklin, Rutledge, and Adams with General Howe, after the Battle of Long Island, I think they may have felt that we had almost no grievance at all. The plain truth of it was, we had been allowed for so long to be so nearly free that we determined to be free entirely, no matter what England conceded. Therefore these authors of our school textbooks felt that they needed to bolster our cause up for the benefit of the young. Accordingly our boys' and girls' sense of independence and patriotism must be nourished by making England out a far greater oppressor than ever she really had been. These historians dwelt as heavily as they could upon George III and his un-English autocracy, and as lightly as they could upon the English Pitt and upon all the English sympathy we had. Indeed, about this most of them didn't say a word.

    Now that policy may possibly have been desirable once——if it can ever be desirable to suppress historic truth from a whole nation. But to-day, when we have long stood on our own powerful legs and need no bolstering up of such a kind, that policy is not only silly, it is pernicious. It is pernicious because the world is heaving with frightful menaces to all the good that man knows. They would strip life of every resource gathered through centuries of struggle. Mad mobs, whole races of people who have never thought at all, or who have now hurled away all pretense of thought, aim at mere destruction of everything that is. They don't attempt to offer any substitute. Down with religion, down with education, down with marriage, down with law, down with property: Such is their cry. Wipe the slate blank, they say, and then we'll see what we'll write on it. Amid this stands Germany with her unchanged purpose to own the earth; and Japan is doing some thinking. Amid this also is the Anglo-Saxon race, the race that has brought our law, our order, our safety, our freedom into the modern world. That any school histories should hinder the members of this race from understanding each other truly and being friends, should not be tolerated. Many years later than Mr. Sydney George Fisher's analysis of England under George III, Mr. Charles Altschul has made an examination and given an analysis of a great number of those school textbooks wherein our boys and girls have been and are still being taught a history of our Revolution in the distorted form that I have briefly summarized. His book was published in , by the George H. Doran Company, New York, and is entitled The American Revolution in our School Textbooks. Here following are some of his discoveries:

    Of forty school histories used twenty years ago in sixty-eight cities, and in many more unreported, four tell the truth about King George's pocket Parliament, and thirty-two suppress it. To-day our books are not quite so bad, but it is not very much better; and-to-day, be it added, any reforming of these textbooks by Boards of Education is likely to be prevented, wherever obstruction is possible, by every influence visible and invisible that pro-German and pro-Irish propaganda can exert. Thousands of our American school children all over our country are still being given a version of our Revolution and the political state of England then, which is as faulty as was George III's government, with its fake parliament, its "rotten boroughs," its Little Sarum. Meanwhile that "army of spies" through which the Kaiser boasted that he ruled "supreme" here, and which, though he is gone, is by no means a demobilized army, but a very busy and well-drilled and well-conducted army, is very glad that our boys and girls should be taught false history, and will do its best to see that they are not taught true history.

    Mr. Charles Altschul, in his admirable enterprise, addressed himself to those who preside over our school world all over the country; he received answers from every state in the Union, and he examined ninety-three history textbooks in those passages and pages which they devoted to our Revolution. These books he grouped according to the amount of information they gave about Pitt and Burke and English sympathy with us in our quarrel with George III. These groups are five in number, and dwindle down from group one, "Textbooks which deal fully with the grievances of the colonists, give an account of general political conditions in England prior to the American Revolution, and give credit to prominent Englishmen for the services they rendered the Americans," to group five, "Textbooks which deal fully with the grievances of the colonists, make no reference to general political conditions in England prior to the American Revolution, nor to any prominent Englishmen who devoted themselves to the cause of the Americans." Of course, what dwindles is the amount said about our English sympathizers. In groups three and four this is so scanty as to distort the truth and send any boy or girl who studied books of these groups out of school into life with a very imperfect idea indeed of the size and importance of English opposition to the policy of George III; in group five nothing is said about this at all. The boys and girls who studied books in group five would grow up believing that England was undividedly autocratic, tyrannical, and hostile to our liberty. In his careful and conscientious classification, Mr. Altschul gives us the books in use twenty years ago (and hence responsible for the opinion of Americans now between thirty and forty years old) and books in use to-day, and hence responsible for the opinion of those American men and women who will presently be grown up and will prolong for another generation the school-taught ignorance and prejudice of their fathers and mothers. I select from Mr. Altschul's catalogue only those books in use in , when he published his volume, and of these only group five, where the facts about English sympathy with us are totally suppressed. Barnes' School History of the United States, by Steele. Chandler and Chitword's Makers of American History. Chambers' (Hansell's) A School History of the United States. Eggleston's A First Book in American History. Eggleston's History of the United States and Its People. Eg- gleston's New Century History of the United States. Evans' First Lessons in Georgia History. Evans' The Essential Facts of American History. Estill's Beginner's History of Our Country. Forman's History of the United States. Montgomery's An Elementary American History. Montgomery's The Beginner's American History. White's Beginner's History of the United States.

    If the reader has followed me from the beginning, he will recollect a letter, parts of which I quoted, from a correspondent who spoke of Montgomery's history, giving passages in which a fair and adequate recognition of Pitt and our English sympathizers and their opposition to George III is made.

    This would seem to indicate a revision of the work since Mr. Altschul published his lists, and to substantiate the hope I expressed in my original article, and which I here repeat. Surely the publishers of these books will revise them! Surely any patriotic American publisher and any patriotic board of education, school principal, or educator, will watch and resist all propaganda and other sinister influence tending to perpetuate this error of these school histories! Whatever excuse they once had, be it the explanation I have offered above, or some other, there is no excuse to-day. These books have laid the foundation from which has sprung the popular prejudice against England. It has descended from father to son. It has been further solidified by many tales for boys and girls, written by men and women who acquired their inaccurate knowledge at our schools. And it plays straight into the hands of our enemies

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