I’ve been reading Paul Johnson’s thousand-page History of the American People over the last month. The eminent English historian describes it as a “labor of love,” citing his longstanding admiration and affection for the people of the United States. Johnson does not, however, canonize our founders or gloss over our nation’s sins. He wrote this history in 1995, twenty-five years before the wealthy and powerful New York Times defined our country as fundamentally racist with their “1619 Project.” Actually, Johnson writes, three things happened in 1619: first, ninety young unmarried women arrived from England to find husbands, anchoring the Virginia Colony in stable family life. Second, the First General Assembly met in Jamestown to establish a representative government based on the English rule of law. And third, and a Dutch man-of-war arrived to sell 20 African slaves to the Virginia colonists. A criminal precedent was set in 1619 which would cause untold suffering and death, and nearly destroy our Republic 240 years later. But that vice must be balanced with the virtue of family life and representative government. Today, another 240 years have passed, and reasonable people will consider the entire history of our country, the good and the bad. Patriotism is a virtue—that is, it strengthens—and good citizens give thanks for the good we all enjoy while asking God’s forgiveness for our sins.
America has two great “original sins”: the enslavement of African people and the eradication of Indigenous people. But America has many more virtues than vices, and that is why we have become a haven for immigrants the world over. Good men and women have built for us a democratic republic based on the rule of law and the cultivation of free enterprise, a home for the oppressed and the poor from the entire planet. It is simply puerile to say hateful things about our country while taking advantage of its prosperity (as do many of our elites from their halls of power and gated communities). When I was in high school in the 70's, we read positive histories of America with lots of beautiful illustrations. Our teachers took us to Jamestown, Williamsburg and Washington to see and touch our wonderful history. In public schools today, however, young people read ugly and unbalanced diatribes against America, a Marxist version of history that breeds only resentment and violence.
An honest reading of our history teaches that we must be both the heirs of America’s virtues and the bearers of her vices. To live in peace with ourselves and other nations, we would do better to exercise the virtue of patriotism—gratitude rather than resentment, esteem both for our own forebears and those of other nations. Every country’s story is beautiful, because the Almighty is the Lord of History, guiding humanity, despite our sins, to rejoice in His beneficence. I think I will ride my bike down to Crissy Field for the fireworks tonight.