Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government, by Senator Mike Lee. Sentinel, 200 pages, $27.00
In his new book, Senator Mike Lee pays due deference to some important founding-era figures whom Americans seem to have forgotten over the decades.
History’s tablet keepers dictate how people are remembered. The power of determining who were history’s lions and lowlifes, heroes and villains, demigods and demagogues are, in some part, determined by the pens of historians. That is to say, historians have the power–both through panegyric and paralipsis–to alter people’s perception of the past. Consider, for example, the American Founding Fathers.
Nearly every literate is familiar with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and George Washington. But what about George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, and Mercy Otis Warren? These names, I venture to say, are ones the vast majority of readers are seeing for the first time. Yet these are names with which we should all be familiar, for they contributed a great deal to the institutions, liberties, and civilized order that we Americans enjoy today. But thanks to Senator Mike Lee and his new book, Written Out of History, these individuals and their contributions have been, deservedly, “written back into history.”
Mike Lee is the highly distinguished senator from Utah and no stranger to Movement conservatives. Although Lee previously wrote a widely praised book, Our Lost Constitution, Written Out of History was my first experience with his writing. Nevertheless, I was not disappointed.
In a taut 200 pages, readers have a great amount to learn in a short amount of time; but Lee makes the journey an effortless joy. Indeed, the author can make a sentence, a paragraph, and a story flow with simple, elegant, and concise fluidity.
The author challenges historians’ treatment of Aaron Burr; he unearths the patriotic contributions of Mercy Otis Warren; he largely vindicates George Mason’s skepticism of the Constitution. Put simply, by looking specifically at enemies of big government, Lee offers a fresh look at some very old history.
Lee’s efforts, however, are at times tinctured with historical affirmative action. That is to say, some of the senator’s analyses require, if I may say so, a bit of historical gymnastics. He attributes, for example, America’s adoption of federalism to the influence the Iroquois Indian chief, Canasatego, exercised on the thinking of Benjamin Franklin in particular and perhaps other founding fathers as well. “We have neglected,” Lee writes, “the words and lessons left behind by founding-era heroes like Canasatego, the visionary Iroquois leader whose service to his people introduced a budding American Republic to the principle of federalism…”
Perhaps Lee is, in fact, correct, but I am much more inclined to attribute the provenance of American federalism to the founders’ vast knowledge of and appreciation for Baron de Montesquieu and John Locke.
In addition, the author weakens the weight of this work by sneaking in campaign-trail banalities. (e.g., “[I]t is sobering to consider that, centuries later, we are still grappling with the same issue. . . Holding government accountable for using [its] capabilities responsibly and within constitutional boundaries remains an important task.”)
Also regrettable is the author’s penchant for clumsy colloquialisms, e.g., his use of the word “mad” when he means “angry,” in a context where such usage precludes clarity, as well as his noting of the “good long while” it would take for King George III’s writ of assistance to expire.
And, were this book written by anyone but the great, conservative lion from Utah, I doubt I could forgive it for the solecism on page seven, wherein it commits the linguistic sin of using the word “transpire” as a synonym for “occur.” Argh!
But I digress. After all, the book is a work of historical erudition, not a literary oeuvre. Therefore, it says a lot about Written Out of History that the misgivings to which I devote the most ink are nothing more than the ravings of a pedantic purist, a logophile disposed to logomachy.
This book belongs on every reader’s shelf. It is appropriate for the young and old, the knowledgeable and unknowledgeable. Indeed, everyone who picks it up will learn something about the unsung heroes of America’s founding that–I guarantee–he or she had not known beforehand.
Written Out of History was Senator Mike Lee’s attempt to “bring to life the sights and sounds and smells of the eighteenth century,” as he writes in the conclusion. “I made sure never to knowingly depart from the historical record and my research of these figures. . . I hoped to honor their contributions to the great American story.” It is my pleasure to report that through a commendable combination of élan, erudition, and entertainment, Senator Lee accomplished his goal. And in doing so, he has done–as he does each day in the U.S. Senate–a great service to our nation.
This piece was adapted from one of a similar name in the Fall of 2017 edition of The Arch Conservative in print. Grab a copy at our Tate or Main Library distribution boxes or subscribe by clicking the tab above.
—Ross Dubberly is the Book Editor at The Arch Conservative.