A History of the American People
by Paul Johnson

A politically conservative history of America by an Englishman. It seems strange that an Englishman would adopt the view that whatever makes the United States bigger and stronger is good. He portrays American as an ongoing experiment in building an ideal society based on religion and free markets. His apparent approval of the Revolution stands out as an exception to his general opposition to those who oppose authority. Evidently the independence of the central government of the United States is the supreme value, and it trumps the authority of the central government of his home country. He treats the Constitution as some sort of sacred contract the cannot be broken. He favors the war presidents and the imperialists. He does not sugar-coat the federal government's treatment of the Indians, but approves of it overall because the Indians were in the way. He takes the mainstream view of Lincoln and the Civil War. He takes an anti-revisionist view of FDR and WWII. He is critical throughout of everyone who protests or resists American policy. He praises Truman for rising to the challenge of the Cold War. He says there is no evidence that anyone but Oswald shot JFK. He believes that the US could have won the Vietnam war if it were not run by politics.

On the other hand, he favors the free market. He takes Rothbard’s view on the failure of Hoover's and FDR's interventionist economic policies. He recognizes that socialism doesn't work and that the Soviet Union was destined to fail (yet he approves of the military response to the Cold War).

He champions American culture: painters, musicians, scientists, entrepreneurs, religious leaders, as long as they are pro-American. He scorns abolitionists, anti-imperialists, and those who protest war. He is less critical of the yellow journalists who provoked war and American expansion than he is of modern journalists who criticized the policies in Vietnam.

Tidbits

Fully Anglicized territory in Ireland was known as the Pale.

Walter Raleigh had killed hundreds of Irish savages and been rewarded with confiscated Irish lands, which was good training for his dealings with Indians in America. (13)

Andrew Jackson's Protestant forebears in Ulster pursued the same policy against the "Wild Irish" as he pursued against the "Wild Indians." (272)

The essence of Carolina was a Barbadian slave-owning colony transported to the mainland. (63)

The war against the Pequots, which ended Indian raiding in New England for a generation was conducted without any assistance from England. (76)

He compares the Salem witch trials to the child-abuse hysteria of the 1980s and 90s. (83)

Cotton Mather: "Religion brought forth Prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother." (85)

In 1750, Philadelphia was the largest city in the British Empire, after London. (97)

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639) was the first written constitution not only in America but in the world. (105)

In colonial America, "it was impossible to enforce any regulation which most people did not like. In the towns mobs could form easily. There were no police to control them. There was the militia, to be sure. And most members of the mob belonged to it!" (107)

The British colonies on the mainland were the least taxed territories on earth in recorded history. New Jersey and Pennsylvania collected no statutory taxes at all for several decades. Until the 1760s most mainland colonists were rarely, if ever, conscious of a tax burden. (108)

Jonathan Edwards (1703—58):

The Great Awakening started in the frontier where new evangelists, denied churches, preached in the open, often round camp-fires. (113)

The Great Awakening crossed all religious and sectarian boundaries, made light of them ... downgraded the clergy, put little stress on liturgical correctness and parish boundaries, and above all laid emphasis on individual experience.

Whitfield was the first 'American' public figure, equally well known from Georgia to New Hampshire.

"It was the marriage between the rationalism of the American elites touched by the Enlightenment with the spirit of the Great Awakening among the masses which enabled the popular enthusiasm thus aroused to be channeled into the political aims of the Revolution—itself soon identified as the coming eschatological event." (117) ... the American Revolution, in its origins, was a religious event, whereas the French Revolution was an anti-religious event. (117)

Washington became famous for starting the French and Indian War. Fear of France was the great factor which bound the American colonies to Britain in the mid-18th century. (125)

England and France did not grasp the importance of continental North America and spent most of their negotiation time haggling over the Caribbean sugar islands. (126)

The Stamp Act fell particularly hard on two categories of men skilled in circulating grievances—publicans ... and newspapers (133)

Washington had little schooling.
Franklin had only two years' schooling (he taught himself French, Latin, Italian, Spanish, math, science) (134)
Thomas Paine was self-educated.
Abraham Lincoln's mother taught him how to read. After that he was self-taught. (436)
Thomas Edison had only three months in school and was mainly taught by his mother. (580)

Until the second half of the 1790s, Washington employed more people on his Mount Vernon estate than in the whole of the central executive branch of his government. (221)

"The sheer freedom of movement was staggering. ... In the five years up to 1820, some 100,000 people arrived in America without having to show a single bit of paper." (284)

John Quincy Adams announced the official policy of the State Department in 1819:

"The American Republic invites nobody to come. We will keep out nobody. Arrivals will suffer no disadvantages as aliens. But they can expect no advantages either. Native-born and foreign-born face equal opportunities. What happens to them depends entirely on their individual ability and exertions, and on good fortune."
It epitomized the spirit of laissez-faire libertarianism which pervaded every aspect of American life at this time (288)

The expense of government per capita in America was 10% of that in Britain, itself a country with a small state by Continental standards. (289)

In America, wage rates were high and you got to keep what you earned. There was no conscription, no political police, no censorship, and no legalized class distinctions. (289)

The Seventh-Day Adventist John H. Kellog popularized cereals throughout the world. (298)

The human race had always been unsuitably clothed in garments which were difficult to wash and therefore filthy until the cotton industry developed in the 19th century. (307)

Eli Whitney not only invented the cotton gin, which revolutionized the economy of the South, in his firearms factory he was the first to implement interchangeability of parts, uniformity, and standardization which revolutionized the economy of the North and which he called the "American System." (308—309)

George Wythe trained Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Marshall, and Henry Clay. (321)

In 1839, a traveler from Europe wrote:

"During two years spent traveling through every part of the Union, I have only once been asked for alms."
To Europeans, that seemed incredible, the real proof of a benevolent prosperity. (388)

In the 1860s Virginia and other Old South or border states concentrated on breeding a specially hardy type of negro, long-loving, prolific, disease-free, muscular, and energetic. (433)

Indians were extremely fragmented, they tended not to distinguish between Indians and whites but between their own small group and the rest, classified as enemies. (519)

The freedom of interstate commerce, guaranteed by the US Constitution, made America by the 1860s the largest free-trading area in the world. (532)

When FDR was asked what single book he would put in the hands of a Russian Communist, he replies: "The Sears, Roebuck catalog." (595)

Edith Wilson was president of the United States for 18 months. (654)

Jewish movie tycoons were immigrants or of immediate immigrant stock. They were poor and came from families of 12 or more children: Carl Laemmle (Universal Studios); Marcus Loew, Louis B. Mayer, and Sam Goldwyn (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer); the Warner brothers; Joseph Schenck (United Artists) (693)

John Philip So added USA to his name, making Sousa. (700)

Jazz was a black term for sexual intercourse; so was boogie-woogie. (703)

"In the 18th century American men of ideas and letters had been closely in tune with the republicanism of the Founding Fathers. In the 19th century they had on the whole endorsed the individualism which was at the core of the American way of life—the archetypal intellectual of the mid-century, Emerson, had been himself a traveling salesman for the spirit of self-help in the Midwest. From the early Thirties, however, the intellectuals, carrying with them a predominant part of academia and workers in the media, moved into a position of criticism and hostility towards the structural ideas of the American consensus: the free market, capitalism, individualism, enterprise, independence, and personal responsibility." (743)
FDR's primary characteristics that lead to his success in politics were (1) willingness to spend public money on lobbyists, (2) his capacity to lie, (3) his persistence, and (4) his public-relations skills. (749—750)

It is ironic that the Christian city of Nagasaki, the nearest thing to a center of resistance to Japanese militarism, was bombed because the pilot could not find his primary target. (804)

JFK's political ascent was based on money and corruption, yet the press left him alone and attacked Nixon who was much less corrupt and more intelligent. (848—851)

"Joe more or less ordered his son to marry Jackie, whom he recognized would give Jack the social and cultural graces he conspicuously lacked." (855)
In Berlin, JFK said, "I take pride in the words, Ich bin ein Berliner." It meant "I am a doughnut." (867)

LBJ might have gone to jail for many years if FDR had not intervened. (870)

In 1987 there were 83,166 local governments in the United States with over 526,000 elective posts. (940)

Gunner Myrdal argued in An American Dilemma that America was too deeply racist a country for the wrongs of the blacks to ever be put right by Congressional action. This influenced the Supreme Court to substitute itself for the legislative and executive branches in creating and enforcing civil rights laws. (952—953)

Since the 1972, high-cast Hindus could qualify for radical preference in America. (957)

Year Read: 1998


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