Ignorant of History, and Unaware of it
By John D. Turner
15 Sep 2006

I am frequently amazed at some of the things kids these days do not know about American History, and their seeming unconcern about those holes in their knowledge. I’m not talking about the dates of battles, or who exactly was the 16th President of the United States, his Vice-President, and what political parties they represented. These sorts of things are why there are reference books and encyclopedias; although I am a bit disturbed when they don’t know things like why the 4th of July is a significant date in American History, or what hemisphere the United States lies in.

My problem lies with more fundamental knowledge, including but certainly not limited to such things as why the various colonies were established, why the founding fathers sought independence from Great Britain, and what they hoped to achieve. These are issues that strike to the heart of our identity as a nation and as a people. They speak to three of the important questions we have as a society; where do we come from, why are we here, and where are we going.

This problem is not a recent one. Adults fall into this category as well, having either not learned the basics when they were in school, or having learned them at such a shallow level as to have forgotten them upon attaining their majority. It is perhaps not hard to understand how so many Americans can be ignorant of the ideals and principles that shaped our nation when they never seem to have learned them in the first place; or when the information was presented in such a twisted fashion as to stand it on its ear.

An illustration of why a working knowledge of American history is important is illustrated by a radio advertisement I recently heard on the radio, for a political comedian who will be performing here in San Antonio. The person’s name escapes me, but the clip they played on the radio, as an example of his “wit” does not. This is not an exact quote, but it is darned close:

“Did you see the 2000 Republican Convention? They haven’t had that many Blacks on stage since they were selling them.”

Not only is such a “joke” in poor taste, but it reveals a profound ignorance of historical knowledge on his part, as well as on the part of his audience, who apparently found this joke funny. Certainly his publicist must think it an example of his best work, else it wouldn’t have appeared as the featured thigh-slapper in his ad.

For those whose grasp on American history leaves them wondering just exactly why I don’t find this particular “joke” in the least bit funny, the Republican Party was founded, in the 1850's, by anti-slavery activists. The idea that the Republican Party ever engaged in the selling of slaves, condoned the institution of slavery, or found the practice anything but repugnant can only be advanced by someone completely uninformed on the history of the Republican Party.

Why should anyone have any idea where the Republican Party came from, or even care?

Well, it is one of the two major political parties in the United States today. When it comes to voting you really have two viable choices; Republican or Democrat. If you are trying to decide which is the party for you, it is good to know a little bit about both, though admittedly, each has changed over the years.

The Democrat Party is the oldest political party in the country, and one of the oldest in the world. It has its roots in the Democratic-Republican Party, founded in 1792 by Thomas Jefferson. Democrats have frequently referred to themselves as “the party of Jefferson”. (It used to be that when they did so, it was Thomas Jefferson to whom they referred, not William Jefferson Clinton. But these days, who knows?)

The Republican Party on the other hand, was founded in 1856, as part of a meltdown of the Whig party over the issue of Slavery. Four years later, the country elected Republican Abraham Lincoln president. Thus, you hear the Republicans referred to as “the party of Lincoln”.

Lincoln joined the anti-slavery Republicans in 1856, and in 1858, unsuccessfully challenged Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, the principal architect of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, for his Senate seat in Illinois. Out of this came the now famous “Lincoln-Douglas debates”. In an 1858 speech in Quincy, Illinois, Lincoln stated

We have in this nation the element of domestic slavery. The Republican Party think it wrong - we think it is a moral, a social, and a political wrong. We think it is wrong not confining itself merely to the persons of the States where it exists, but that it is a wrong which in its tendency, to say the least, affects the existence of the whole nation. Because we think it wrong, we propose a course of policy that shall deal with it as a wrong. We deal with it as with any other wrong, insofar as we can prevent it growing any larger, and so deal with it that in the run of time there may be some promise of an end to it.

This statement greatly upset those in the South, predominately slaveholders and poor whites, which were happy to have someone lower than them on the social totem pole. These people overwhelmingly voted Democrat. In the election of 1860, the issue once again came to a head. The Democrats were deeply divided. Stephen Douglas, Senator from Illinois, was nominated by the Democrats in their presidential convention to be the Presidential candidate. However his support came mainly from northern Democrats. Southern Democrats, disliking this choice, decided to hold their own separate convention, and selected John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky, former vice-President under James Buchanan, as their candidate. The election resulted in a four-way split between the two Democrat candidates, Lincoln, and John Bell, a former Whig, who ran under the Constitutional Union Party banner. When the smoke cleared, Lincoln had won the election with 180 electoral votes, followed by Breckenridge (72), Bell (39), and Douglas (12). This map shows which states went for whom.

History shows the Democrats to be poor losers. Three months after Lincoln’s election, seven states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. Four more soon followed. The next four tumultuous years are variously called “the Civil War”, “the War Between the States”, and “the War of Northern Aggression”, depending on where in the country you come from and when you had your U.S. History classes.

John Breckenridge, the south’s presidential candidate in the 1860 election, became a Major General in the Confederate army, and fought in multiple battles. Later, in 1865, he was selected as the Secretary of War for the CSA.

One thing you can take away from this short lesion in American History; while it is unlikely in the extreme that you would ever have found Republicans auctioning off African-Americans, it would not have been remarkable to find Democrats doing so.

In any event, a practice which resulted in between 618,000 and 700,000 battle deaths, not counting injuries and civilian dead and wounded, and which has left festering scars on the nation that continue to this day, is certainly not a topic for “humor”. Particularly when that attempt at humor twists reality into a pretzel, and demands that I too, be ignorant in order to “enjoy” it.

This is why it is important to know what is and is not being taught in our schools these days. Ignorance of U.S. history allows all sorts of things to be claimed which are not factually accurate, but which, when repeated often enough, are accepted by the majority as true.

In this case, the “joke” described above allows one to paint Republicans, by implication, as historically bigoted, racist, and anti-black. When one considers that the south today votes predominately Republican, many of the former Republican states are now vote solidly Democrat, and that most Blacks also vote the Democrat ticket, this might on its face seem to make sense – unless one has a working knowledge of the history of the parties, and the changes that have occurred in the national political fabric since the Civil War.

How else can you explain how the party that supported slavery, fought to sustain it, and was against the civil rights acts of the 1960’s is the one supported by the majority of African-Americans today, while the party that was founded as anti-slavery, which fought the bloodiest war in the nations’ history, resulting ultimately in the abolishment of slavery throughout the nation, and which supported the civil rights acts of the 1960’s is now regarded as racist and bigoted by the African-American leadership? A close look at Democrat policies demonstrates that they still do not have the best interests of African-Americans at heart. Yet they continue to marshal their support.

They say that those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it; but what about those who never knew it in the first place?

They will believe anything you tell them, particularly if you get there first and are convincing enough.

There are those who count on this ignorance of history to advance their own agendas. If you say something often enough and loud enough, people will come to believe it; particularly if they are ignorant of anything to the contrary. So if someone tells you that Republicans are racist, and offers as support the fact that the south votes predominately Republican, and the south supported slavery during the civil war, you might tend to believe that; particularly if you know nothing about the history of either party or their voting records.

First impressions are lasting impressions. Once someone comes to believe a false version of historical reality, it is difficult to change their point of view. Convincing someone that what they believe to be true is in fact wrong is not the easiest thing to do, particularly if they have internalized it as part of their core beliefs.

This is why ignoring large swatches of American History in school, or twisting it with a politically correct version of reality is so pernicious. As Vladimir Lenin, the father of Russian Communism once said, “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

A similar theme can be found in the Bible: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).”

Children are malleable. It’s the way we are designed. Thought patterns and impressions made while young, are difficult to change.

The liberal left knows this, which is why you find their influence so strong in the school systems from Kindergarten through the Universities, as well as in the television and movie industries and the mainstream media; those venues where our children spend most of their time. These are places where they “can make a difference”.

The Islamic jihadists know it also, which is why they set up the Madrassas, and indoctrinate their kids in their particular way of thinking at a very early age. The maps in the classrooms where they teach Palestinian children, for example, don’t even show Israel to exist. They show the entire area as “Palestine”. They grow up believing the entire nation of Israel to be an occupying force. Which is why when their leadership says they want their land back, they aren’t simply talking about the Gaza Strip or the Golan Heights. They are talking about all of Israel.

What part of “Israel should not be allowed to exist” do we not understand? How is it that when the President of Iran says he seeks the complete nuclear destruction of the State of Israel, we fail to comprehend what he is saying?

We do share the Old Testament; they have seen Proverbs 22-6 too.

By not ensuring that our children have a proper grasp of our history, we are sewing the seeds of our future destruction. When people look at the Islamic jihadists (or Islamo-facists as it is currently in vogue to call them) and see no difference between them and “fundamentalist” Christians; when people see no moral superiority between freedom and Democracy, and repression and totalitarianism, but instead view them as morally equivalent; when people know so little about the principles that our nation was founded upon that they can cast them aside for political expediency, then we are truly in dire straits as a nation.

We need to wake up. While someone ultimately will live and rule here; it does not have to be us.