Written Out of History: The Lost Faces of Key Founders

We don’t like to think about it, but most of us will disappear from history. All we do for family and friends will vanish over the next several generations.
To be sure, God will remember. But it’s human nature; people forget. Over time, even our memory of the very remarkable tends toward distortion–for good or bad–or extinction.
It’s a sad case, even when someone played a big part in one of history’s most notable moments.  Take the case of Aaron Burr, for example. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) does just that in his new book Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government.
Painted as a villain in the Broadway hit play Hamilton, Burr shows up as an advocate for limited government in Lee’s book. Burr is just one in a cast of many faces history has distorted or nearly erased from memory.
Lee brings his cast to life–Mum Bett, later Elizabeth Freeman, a slave who went to court seeking her own freedom–and receiving it, eradicating slavery in Massachusetts even before America became a nation.
George Mason who helped frame the Constitution then refused to sign it because it lacked the Bill of Rights–which would come later.
Canasatego–the Native American who influenced Benjamin Franklin. And the Confederacy of Native American nations whose government formed a foundation for our own.
Lee shows us loyal British patriots pushed over the edge to rebellion–far from the somewhat sanitized, homogenous group of thinkers our elementary school education may have led us to conceive.

Most of us are raised to believe that the Constitution was a masterfully crafted document brought into being by a spirited group of reformers who generally saw everything the same way, united in their vision for a democratic republic. But that’s not the real story. Or at least that’s not the whole story. (Lee 188)

Lee’s book is another gold star effort in a growing line of works designed to help us recover “the whole story”–our lost “civic education.” This book keeps good company with Eric Metaxas’s If You Can Keep It and Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult in their calls for better learning of our own past.
Lee’s storytelling is impeccable as he narrates, warts and all, the stories of his primary subjects–one was a drinker, another a slave owner. He shows us complex, sometimes conflicted, real people. His secondary characters also get honest treatment.
He shows us a different side of President Thomas Jefferson, who used his formidable power, attempting to crush his enemies. We also see British oppression up close–illustrating the need for the Bill of Rights. These patriots did not want simply to trade one oppressor for another.
Lee aptly brings the controversies of the founders’ days to our own–controversies and conflicts that change less over the centuries than we may realize. In our forgetful natures, we sometimes fail to remember that people in the past were much like ourselves. Subject to engaging in bitter public ridicule and grasping for power. Or capable of greatness, even flawed greatness.
This book is a great read. More than that, it’s an important book for our own civic education and understanding of who America was in our early days and who we can still be.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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0 Replies to “Written Out of History: The Lost Faces of Key Founders”

  1. As ordinary citizens, our name may not be remembered in history, but our footprint and handprint remains in the lives that we touch. And in our families, for good or ill, this can impact generations.

    1. Absolutely! What we do matters. A few generations from now, others see our footprints even if they don’t know we made them. Nice metaphor!

  2. Yes, history is made not only by the actions or failure to act by those we read of but by the actions (and failures to act) of many forgotten people. As well, me must exercise a little healthy skepticism towards written history as it is not always in accord with the facts. The writers or chroniclers often have an agenda of their own.
    As to James Mason, I seem to recall when I lived in the Washington area as an undergrad that there was a university in Virginia named after him.

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