“Throughout this book,” the authors of America’s Providential History write, “we have seen that we must take action to assure that America is re-established on a firm Christian base, and hence, secure our God-given liberties and provide a free and prosperous platform from which we can go and make disciples of all the nations.” America’s Providential History is a Christian textbook used in homeschooling and elsewhere. It has gone through numerous editions, with the latest, America’s Providential History: A New Diverse and Expanded Education on the 400th Anniversary of the Pilgrims, published in 2020. I came across the textbook while reading Chris Hedges American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2006) for my Lillian E. Smith Studies course on Christian Nationalism. As we discussed Hedges’ book in class, we decided to look up America’s Providential History, and we found a 1996 edition online, so all quotes come from that edition. We looked, specifically at a section from chapter 18, “The Power for Reforming America,” and it is this section that I want to look at some in this post.
The chapter begins by presenting an argument that since the Civil War “federalism and a limited small national government has largely passed away,” leading to state governments becoming “mere administrative extensions of Washington D.C.” The text asks how this could have happened, and it begins to lay out the answer. Pointing back to the end of the Civil War, the authors tell students that the federal government denied Southern states their right, and that the problem rested “with the loss of the ‘Spirit’ of the Constitution,” leaving the worldly “letter” of the Constitution in place. They go on to argue that the 13th Amendment passed, abolishing chattel slavery, with three fourths of the states ratifying it, and a few months later Congress proposed the 14th Amendment.
The textbook states that the problem with the 14th Amendment arose with paragraph which reads, “The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” This, according to America’s Providential History, exemplifies a government overreach, and they argue that southern states, who “were champions of the idea of strong state government,” rejected the amendment which led to a “radical Reconstruction Congress” that ended up enacting “martial law” in the South in order to get the amendment passed. A lot stands out here, particularly the use of “champions” when referring to Southern states and “radical” for the Reconstruction Congress. This wording sets up an adversarial positioning, with the Southern states being champions and heroes and the “radical” Congress being the villains. While the textbook states that slavery was bad and the 13th Amendment good, this positioning subverts their statements because it reinforces causes of the Civil War and proposes that the Southern states, who racially terrorized recently freed enslaved people, were the victims themselves. Ultimately, the textbook argues, the amendment “was passed at the point of a gun and has become a very significant cause in the growth of the national government today.”
America’s Providential History doesn’t stop there when discussing “our problems today.” If the passage of the 14th Amendment signaled the start of increased federal control, that threat ballooned with executive orders, congressional legislation, and the courts. The authors end this section by starting a thread that will run throughout the chapter, the merging of the abolition of chattel slavery with the desire to overturn Roe. v. Wade. The first section ends by driving home that we need “absolutes” when constructing our laws, based on “absolute truths” (i.e. Christian truths). “Law,” they write, “not founded on absolutes in very dangerous.” To highlight this, the authors claim that the Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, “invented a new Constitutional right to abortion” that has “denied the inalienable right to life of over 20 million unborn children to this date.”
They move on, immediately, from this assertion to comparing the Court’s ruling in Roe v Wade to the Court’s 1857 ruling in Dredd Scott v. Sanford which ruled that enslaved individuals were not citizens. The 13th Amendment overturned the Dredd Scott decision, as the authors note, but they fail to add that the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to individuals. They go on to state, “Abraham Lincoln criticized the Supreme Court for its denial of the Law of God, which asserts the inalienable liberty of every individual.” The conflation of chattel slavery with abortion runs over the course of this chapter, and I will discuss this more in the next post. Here, though, I just want to note that this false equivalency works to provide rhetorical cover to the underlying white supremacist rhetoric we see throughout the text, namely the Lost Cause Rhetoric underneath the surface of the textbooks discussion of the ratification of the 13th and 14th Amendments.
“Absolute truth,” for the authors, stems from God, and they write, earlier, that “[n]ations cannot do whatever they want to, even if their law permits it. Everyone is subject to the higher law of God, and as a Christian nation we must not allow other nations to violate our God-given rights.” Within “other nations,” we must read the United States. This idea undergirds dominionism, the belief, based on Genesis 1: 26–31, that Christians must take dominion over “God’s creation,” which includes the government and politics. As Hedges points out, dominionsim “seeks to cloak itself in the mantle of the Christian faith and American patriotism,” and it works “to appropriate not only our religious and patriotic language but also our stories, to deny the validity of stories other than their own.” In essence, they argue that there is only one way to be a Christian and only way to be an American.
America’s Providential History presents America as a nation chosen by God, as a nation founded on Christian values, and as such, as a nation that must instill its values at any cost. It presents a narrative, as I will expand upon in the next post, that in order to do this one must be involved, actively in politics, and even if the masses disagree with a position, a “Christian” politician must adhere to the “absolute truth” of their “morals.” In this manner, democracy becomes moot and the minority ends up ruling and determining the laws of the majority. This becomes, as Hedges points out throughout American Fascists, a totalitarian or fascist state.
What are your thoughts? As always, let me know in the comments below. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.