Book Review: America's Forgotten History, Part 1: Foundations by Mark David Ledbetter

I've been meaning to get back to writing for a good long while now, but as noted earlier, various events have gotten in the way. Now, however, I'm sitting in my hotel room in London, sipping my third (or fourth) glass of wine, after a rather pleasant day spent pretty much entirely in my own company, and I finally have the time to post some articles about books, women, introversion, and various other topics.

Since I have been anything but idle in my time away from regular writing, I suppose the best place to start is with a book review. Mark David Ledbetter is an author who is, as far as I'm aware, reasonably well known within libertarian circles for his work Globocop: How America Sold its Soul and Lost its Way. He is, by his own admission, an amateur historian; he does not pretend to be a history professor writing for a scholarly audience, and nor does he pretend to be a mainstream author writing for a mainstream audience. Rather, he is something of a polymath- a self-described linguist who also happens to have a keen interest in the history of his people and his country. This is in my not-very-humble-opinion a very Good Thing; I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of actual professional historians whose books I have read in the past 10 years and have not ended up profoundly disagreeing with their conclusions based on my actual experiences and independent research.

America's Forgotten History, Part 1 is the first installment in what MDL himself apparently sees as a 5-part series chronicling the less well-known narratives of American history, examining the course of human events in this once-great nation through the eyes of a man devoted to the libertarian ideals of individual freedom and free enterprise. This first volume looks at the founding of the nation, the myths and facts that surround it, and the true nature of the various founders.

The true value of this book lies in the fact that, no matter how much you think you know about American history, you will learn yet more. MDL has been truly meticulous in his research, and has taken great pains to read both the conventional and the revisionist histories, from all sides of the political spectrum, in assembling this book.

To give you an idea of what you can expect from reading this book, let me ask you these questions:

  • How many of you knew that the very first colonies founded by the Pilgrims here in what would become the United States of America were in fact socialist if not outright communist in nature?
  • Do you know that when the socialist tendencies of these early colonies inevitably led to famine and disease and death, martial law was imposed by an outside governor and eventually gave way to the free-market system of individual liberty that came to define New England in the early days?
  • Did you know that George Washington was not quite the brilliant military leader that everyone seems to think he was, but was in fact an extremely astute politician and self-marketer while at the same time a man of flawless personal integrity?
There is much, much, much more to be found within the pages of this book, and MDL's simple. prosaic style propels the narrative along very smoothly. Reading the text is in fact very much like being a teenager again and listening to my mother, who is a history teacher, retelling history not as a series of dry facts and names and figures, but as a complex and intricate story, full of larger-than-life and yet all-too-human characters with their own great heroic strengths and tragic weaknesses.

MDL chooses to present his narrative in several parts. At first, he concentrates mostly on events and the flow of history over time, presenting little-known facts and anecdotes about life on the frontier that may well surprise you and will almost surely change your opinions about some of the greatest figures of American history- including the aforementioned George Washington, but also Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams.

Then, after dealing (in what might be called fairly perfunctory fashion) with the events of the War of Independence, Ledbetter abruptly shifts gears and starts concentrating on individual Presidents. (This trait continues in Part 2; each chapter uses as its overarching theme the events of a particular President's term or terms in office to unfold the story of the nation's hidden and often unacknowledged past.) And it is here that I think the greatest value of the book is to be found. By looking at each President individually, Ledbetter is able to pass judgement on each of America's founders and leaders, weighing each man's public sentiments and statements against his actual achievements in office. The results may well surprise you.

For instance, John Adams is reviled by a good many libertarians for his support of the Aliens and Sedition Acts, which many libertarians regard as the moment that government began befouling the hitherto pristine waters of American freedom with its usual filth. You will probably be very surprised to learn, however, that John Adams was also an adamant and ardent Constitutionalist; his personal integrity was absolute, unbreakable, and beyond reproach, and that very integrity is what made him so stubborn as to be intransigent in the face of massive Congressional opposition and public opinion, and yet completely incapable of doing something that he felt went against both the letter and the spirit of the sacred Constitution that he fought so hard to protect. Your opinion of John Adams will probably be significantly altered, and most likely for the better, once you read this book.

Another great example comes from Ledbetter's examination of the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson. Now Jefferson represents the libertarian ideal in both his words and his actions, but the reality is that Jefferson himself was a walking contradiction- and in that respect is indeed a perfect example of many of the contradictions inherent in libertarianism itself. (More on that in a future post.) Here was a man who wrote ardently and at length about the joys and burdens of freedom, yet kept many slaves himself. Here was a man who spent much of his time worrying about the public fisc and preached restraint in the public finances at every turn, and yet was himself constantly deeply in debt because of his extravagant lifestyle. This was a man who constantly argued about the need for America to remain aloof and restrained in interfering in the affairs of other powers, yet when the opportunity came did not hesitate to send the American military on a fool's errand into Canada to conquer the northern British colonies as part of a waking dream to add to America's burgeoning power and wealth. By the time you are done reading through the chapter on Jefferson, if you are a libertarian like me, then your deep admiration of the man and everything he stood for will be tempered by an appreciation of the all-too-mortal faults of this otherwise legendary polymath.

There is much, much more to be found within the pages of this book, but I think the book's greatest value- other than its astonishingly low price for a work of such quality and skill- is to be found in the fact that you will learn things about America's history that you never even thought you could learn. You will see that America's origins as a haven of freedom and a bastion of human enterprise built the greatest nation the world has ever seen. And you will eventually come to realise just how much of that spirit of freedom has been lost, never to be found again. You will wonder how it is that this incredible nation, forged upon the anvil of history as no other nation before or since has even been, built upon a legacy of rebellion against tyranny and evil, has become the very thing that it once fought so hard to resist. And if you continue reading on in Part 2 of the series, you will see exactly how it happened, and exactly why.

Didact's Verdict: 4.5/5, starts off a bit slowly but the writing style and content is so good that this is still a very easy book to read, and very informative to boot. Essential reading for any libertarian who wants a history of America from a free-enterprise perspective.

Buy America's Forgotten History Part 1 here.

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