So runs the very beginning of the first American history book, intended for ‘children and families’. It appeared in 1823, was published by John Prentiss and printed by Keane, of New Hampshire.

This opening passage already displays features that form the most widely-shared American heritage. That heritage was of course to alter, more than elsewhere, and did so dramatically at least twice – at the end of the nineteenth century, and in the 1970s. Still, the main features of this history emerge, even here. The tone is polemical, for Spain and the Catholic church are attacked as incompetent: they wrecked Latin America. Already, we have a myth, of a paradise to be built with sweat and blood: ‘The spirit of enterprise requires great self-discipline; only thereby can men bathe in the gentle rays of liberty, and linked by the beneficent laws of a single government, a single constitution, and a single nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific.’