Updating America First by Lawton Evans: Restoring Dignity

AMERICA FIRST: UPDATED EDITION
RESTORING DIGNITY

AMERICA FIRST by Lawton Evans has always been one of my favorite books for elementary American History. The author has such a wonderful narrative style that always keeps students engaged. It is definitely a LIVING BOOK and many CM Curricula use it or recommend it. 

Both my children loved AMERICA FIRST as well. However, as a parent, I was upset by some of the language used in the book, as well as some of the subjects chosen.

The author, Lawton Evans (1862-1934), published this book in 1920. Unfortunately, the book contains language and attitudes from that time period that are racially insensitive, to say the least. In addition to the racial language, Evans sometimes chose subject matter that I consider inappropriate for young children, including tales that are too violent as well as stories that not only glorify Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, but also suggest that slaves were well-treated.

Honestly, I had a love/hate relationship with the book. 

I got tired of “editing” as I read the book aloud. And then when my daughter started reading it independently, I worried about questions she might have about the terms used to describe people. Terms like “savages,” or “negroes.” 

And I found myself skipping chapters that were either too violent or, worse, chapters that presented enslaved peoples as “happy” with their “new lives in America” and how they loved their wonderful and kind “Masters.”

Um, no. Just no.

The argument could be made (and has been made) that the language in these older books provide “teachable moments” for our children. They open the door for discussion about what was considered “OK” in the past versus what is considered “OK” now and why that has changed. 

And while all that might be true, I don’t think the Elementary years are the proper place for those kinds of conversations. I feel strongly about (and Charlotte was adamant about) protecting the innocence of young children.

And, more than that, I want to lay the foundation for teaching my children compassion for others.

Just because someone is different from us, or has a different belief system, or looks different – those are not reasons to demean them or, worse, deny them basic “self-evident” and “inalienable” rights.

Because ALL people are Born Persons, as Charlotte would say, and deserve respect.

ALL people deserve to be treated with dignity. 

Unfortunately, I felt that sometimes America First did not offer a good example of the idea that we are “all created equal.”

I often wondered why no one “updated” it. So I decided to do something about it and update the book myself! 

AMERICA'S HISTORY IS FOR EVERYONE

I am a very patriotic person. I love my country. But I also understand it’s faults and how our collective history has not always been in the best interest of certain groups of people.

I have tried to remedy this so that the dignity of these peoples – “negroes,” “savages,” and, yes, even women – has been restored within the text of the book.

You can now enjoy reading this book to your children without having to edit as you read it aloud. Or, if your child is reading independently, you no longer have to explain why certain disrespectful words and attitudes are included in the book and why they were common when the book was published.

So, for my children and for yours, I have made the following changes to the 1920 edition of AMERICA FIRST:

    • I have edited or removed any disrespectful and offensive language and subject matter that appeared in the original publication.
    • Any language that described Native Americans as savages or blood-thirsty has been removed.
    • The term “Indian” has been replaced with “Native American” or simply, “natives” in most instances.
    • The term “negro” has been replaced with “person” or “citizen,” or, when referring to enslaved peoples prior to or during the Civil War, the term “negro” has been replaced with “slave.”
    • All instances of the term “master” and “marse” have been removed.
    • The term “white men” has been changed to “explorers,” “English colonists,” “colonists,” or simply, “citizens” or “people,” depending on the context.

RESTORING DIGNITY

Other updates to the book include restoring dignity to the descriptions of enslaved peoples. An example of this includes changing the title of one chapter from “The Rescue of Jerry” to “The Rescue of Jerry McHenry” and using McHenry’s last name instead of his first name.

McHenry was an escaped slave who found freedom in the north. The original author, Evans, continually refers to him by his first name, Jerry, as if he were a child. The author refers to EVERY other person in the book by their last names, why not Mr. McHenry? It seemed demeaning to me that this brave man, Jerry McHenry, be only referred to as “Jerry,” as if he were a child or someone of lesser importance. So, in the updated edition, “Jerry” has been replaced with “McHenry” throughout the chapter so that Mr. McHenry receives the same respect as any other person mentioned in the book.

Likewise, changes have been made to the chapter titled “Through the Heart of the South.” In this chapter, Evans uses a “slave dialect” whenever a freed slave woman speaks. Again, it seemed demeaning to me that only her speech was different. I changed her dialogue lines to modern English to give the character her due respect. 

The book originally contained 100 chapters; it now contains 93 chapters. 

The following chapters were removed:

        • Hannah Dustin
        • Israel Putnam Captures the Wolf
        • How the Indians Treated Major Putnam
        • An Indian Trick that Failed
        • Christmas on the Plantation
        • Colter’s Race for Life
        • The Exploits of Sergeant York

Chapters were cut if they were too violent or if they made light of the issue of slavery. One example of this is the chapter “Christmas on the Plantation.” I discuss this chapter in more detail in the video below, as well as give more examples of the changes made.

Dates have been updated from “a few years ago” or “a hundred years ago” to the actual date or time period, so as to not confuse the reader.

I have also included new illustrations in addition to the original illustrations. Almost every chapter now has an illustration. However, some of the original illustrations were removed if the accompanying chapter was also removed.

All in all, I hope you and your children enjoy the revised and updated edition of AMERICA FIRST.

If you would like to see the original 1920’s text, you can preview it for free at Archive.org or at Gateway to the Classics

You can also watch the video below where I give more examples of changes I made to the Updated Edition.

Rachel

VIDEO ABOUT
AMERICA FIRST: UPDATED EDITION

If you’d like a peek inside the book, I go into more detail about the changes that I’ve made in this video.

Play Video

PRINTING ERROR NOTE: Books printed prior to June 1, 2020, have an error on page 268. Two sentences regarding John C. Calhoun and his supprt for slavery should have been removed but were missed in the editing process. I sincerely apologize. The error was immediately corrected in all formarts.

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