A Time For Freedom, by Lynne Cheney, Simon & Schuster, New York, © 2005, ISBN: 13-978-1-4169-0925-5, 282 pp, $15.95 US, $21.95 CAN.

“No one can fully appreciate the great fortune we have to be Americans without knowing the events that brought us to where we are today.” –Lynne Cheney

Review by Del Meyer, MD

Lynne Cheney, a teacher, states in her introduction that our freedom and strength are products of the past, and although the choices made by the brave men and women who preceded us do not offer sure guidance to the future, they offer the best guidance that we have.

Unfortunately, fewer and fewer of us are leaving school knowing the basic facts of our history. One study found that two thirds of seventeen-year-olds could not identify the half-century in which the Civil War occurred. A survey of seniors at elite colleges and universities showed that only one out of five was familiar with the words of the Gettysburg Address. A significant number of seniors thought that Ulysses S. Grant was a general in the Revolutionary War.

Facts alone are not enough for understanding history of course, but without the facts understanding is impossible. A full appreciation of the achievement represented by the Nineteenth Amendment, ratified in 1920, requires knowing that women first organized to work for the right to vote in 1848, more than seventy years before. Comprehending why the Civil War occurred in the 1860s requires knowing that our nation expanded dramatically in the 1840s. It was a question of whether new states would be free or slave that finally made it impossible to paper over the great moral contradiction that slavery represented in a nation dedicated to freedom.

Cheney feels that some dates should be locked in our memory—1492, 1607, 1620, 1776, and 1787 for starters. But it is equally important to be familiar enough with the order of events so that one has a sense of the progress of our national story. We should all understand that when the delegates to the Continental Congress declared that “all men are created equal,” they provided more than a rationale for independence; they gave inspiration to generations of men and women whose struggles would make that ideal a reality for more and ever more Americans.

This book is a time line of the events in our nation’s history. She chose to highlight our political history rather than many other areas of importance. She feels the history of the entire world ought to be a subject of interest for students. But in A Time for Freedom, she chose to start with America. This is our home—how lucky we are that it is.

We shall highlight a few dozen of the hundreds of dates she has listed hoping that will inspire you to obtain a copy of her book and search further.



Under the sponsorship of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Christopher Columbus and his crew sail three ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, more than three thousand nautical miles across the Atlantic. Hoping to find the Indies, Columbus lands instead on an island in the Bahamas that he names San Salvador, or “Holy Savior.” Columbus made four voyages to the New World, which he persisted in believing was the Indies. He died ignorant of his real accomplishment.

“An age will come after many years when the ocean will loose the chains of things, and a huge land lie revealed.” –A Prophecy in Seneca’s Medea, a play Columbus knew well
“The prophecy was fulfilled by my father the admiral, in the year 1492.” –Ferdinand Columbus, writing alongside the prophecy in his father’s copy of Seneca


John Cabot, sailing for Henry VII of England, reaches North America aboard a small ship, the Mathew. Almost a century will pass, but his voyage will become the basis for English claims in the New World. John Cabot, or Giovanni Caboto, was an Italian like Christopher Columbus, or Christoforo Colombo. Cabot, too, was seeking a short route to the Indies.


Inspired by news of voyages taken by Florentine merchant Amerigo Vespucci, who traveled to the New World around the turn of the sixteenth century, mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller names the new land America. Waldseemüller apparently had a change of heart about naming the New World after Vespucci. In a 1513 atlas, he calls the new land Terra Incognita and credited Columbus with its discovery. But by then it was too late, and America it was.


Spanish exploration of mainland North America begins with Juan Ponce de León on the east coast of Florida. Among the others who will search for riches in the mainland are Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vásquez de Coronado. The Conquistadores, who explored the land that is today the United States found little gold. But Hernan Cortés, who conquered the Aztecs in Mexico in 1521, and Francisco Pizarro, who conquered the Incas in Peru in the 1530s, found tons of precious metal to ship back to Spain.


French explorer Jacques Cartier makes the first of three voyages to North America. August 10 is the feast day of Saint Lawrence, a Roman Martyr who was put on a grill and roasted alive. When Cartier sailed into a well-protected harbor on August 10, 1535, he names it after the saint, and from thence came the names of the Gulf, the River, and the Mountain Range.


At the direction off Philip II of Spain, Gen. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés establishes the first permanent European settlement in North America: Saint Augustine in Florida.


Three ships from England, the Susan Constant, the Discover, and the Godspeed, enter Chesapeake Bay and sail up the James River. The passengers, some one hundred men, found Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in America.

“There was no talk, no hope, no work, but dig gold, wash gold, refine gold, load gold.” –John Smith, a leader of the Jamestown settlement, who managed to convince the colonists that since there was no gold, they should plant crops.


Pilgrims sail aboard the Mayflower from England to the New World, dropping anchor off Cape Cod. After forty-one men aboard the ship sign the Mayflower Compact, a plan for governance, the Pilgrims go ashore.

“Being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the fast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element.” –William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Colony

The Pilgrims celebrate the autumn harvest in 1621, feasting on turkey, duck, and venison with Indians of the Wampanoag nation.

“Our harvest being gotten in, . . .  many of the Indians [came] amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted.” –Edward Winslow, a Mayflower passenger


To protect their claim to lands they call New Netherland, the Dutch establish the settlement of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island.

“They have purchased the Island of Manhattes from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders.” –Peter Schagen, Dutch West India Company official, 1626


John Winthrop and Puritan followers arrive from England and establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where they hope to create a pure and godly community. In the decade ahead thousands will follow in the Great Migration.

“He shall make us a praise and glory [so] that men shall say of succeeding [colonies], ‘May the Lord make it like that of New England.’ For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.” –John Winthrop, Puritan Leader


Roger Williams is expelled from Massachusetts for his beliefs. He flees to Narragansett Bay and, in a few years establishes the colony of Rhode Island, where Protestants, Jews, and Catholics are all free to worship.

“True civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or kingdom, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either of Jew or Gentile.” –Roger Williams

Also in 1636, Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony found Harvard College. The first president of Harvard, Henry Dunster, set forth rules and precepts for the school. Every student had to write and speak Latin, diligently attend lectures, and “Be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, [that] the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal Life.

“After God had carried us safe to New England, and we had builded our houses, provided necessaries for out livelihood, reared convenient places for God’s worship, and settle the civil government: One of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance learning, and perpetuate it to posterity.” –Members of Harvard’s first board of overseers



In a conflict that will be known as the French and Indian War, British forces fighting with colonists at their side, defeat the French and their Indian allies. Their victory gives the British control of Canada as well as lands east of the Mississippi River and west of the Appalachian Mountains.

In an early battle of the French and Indian War, forces under Gen. Edward Braddock suffered a great defeat near Fort Duquesne. The General and hundreds of his men were killed, but surviving and acquitting himself bravely was twenty-three-year-old George Washington, who had two horses shot out from under him and four musket balls go through his clothes.

The British government forbids colonists from moving west of the Appalachia Mountains, but colonists ignore the edict and go anyway.

“As I have heard . . . a circumstantial account of my death and dying speech, I take this early opportunity of contradicting both, and of assuring you that I now exist and appear in the land of the living.” –George Washington, to his brother


The British try to raise money with the Stamp Act, a tax on colonists that is met with protest and boycott.

“If this be treason, make the most of it.” –Patrick Henry, denouncing King George and the Stamp Act


The Townshend Acts, a new British effort to tax Americans, spur protest and boycott.

“First strip a person naked, then heat the tar until it is thin, and pour it upon the naked flesh, or rub it over with a tar brush . . . After which, sprinkle decently upon the tar, whilst it is yet warm, as many feathers as will stick to it.” –Instructions for tarring and feathering, a technique sometimes used by colonists to intimidate British officials and sympathizers.


“The Liberty Song,” America’s first patriotic song, is published.

Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all!
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!
–John Dickinson, supporter of the colonial cause

“The Liberty Song,” seldom performed today, was sung by the choir of Dickinson College (Named after John Dickinson) on November 9, 2001, as a tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.


Father Junipero Serra, sent by the government of Spain, arrives at San Diego, where he founds the first of California’s missions dedicated to converting the Indians of California to Catholicism.


The British parliament repeals the Townshend Acts, except for the tax on tea. Three years later Bostonians, disguised as Indians, boarded ships in Boston Harbor and dump tea into the bay.

“This destruction of the tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important consequences, and so last, that I can’t but consider it as an epocha in history.” –John Adams


The First Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia. It declares Parliament has violated colonists’ rights and urges preparations for defense.

“To these grievous acts and measures, Americans cannot submit.” –First Continental Congress


Virginia’s leaders vote to raise an armed militia.

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” –Patrick Henry

British troops moving to seize a store of arms in Concord, Massachusetts, encountered militiamen at Lexington, and shooting breaks out, leaving eight colonists dead. A skirmish at North Bridge forces the British to retreat; by the time they make it back to Boston, 273 redcoats are killed, wounded or missing.

“Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have war, let it begin here.” –Militia Captain John Parker

One the night of April 18, 1775, both Paul Revere and William Dawes rode to sound the alarm that the redcoats were coming. They reached Lexington but then ran into a British patrol. Dawes turned back, and Revere was arrested, but Dr. Samuel Prescott, who had joined Revere and Dawes, made it to Concord and alerted the militia there.

The Second Continental Congress chooses George Washington to head the Continental Army.

“I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity . . . But, as it has been a kind of destiny that has thrown me upon this service, I shall hope that my undertaking of it, is designed to answer some good purpose. –George Washington, in a letter to Martha Washington

In what will become known as the Battle of Bunker Hill, the British attack American Militiamen dug in on Breed’s Hill and drive them off, but only after suffering more than one thousand casualties.

“I wish [we] could sell them another hill at the same price.” –American General Nathanael Greene


Thomas Paine’s essay Common Sense lays out the case for revolution.

“The period of debate is closed. Arms, as the last resource, decide the contest . . . The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, ’Tis Time to Part.” –Thomas Paine

July 4, 1776

The Continental Congress formally approves the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” –The Declaration of Independence


Congress adopts the Stars and Stripes.

“Resolved, that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” –Continental Congress


The Articles of Confederation are ratified and become the governing framework for the thirteen states.

With the help of a French fleet and troops, American forces under the command of General Washington defeat General Charles Cornwallis and his forces at Yorktown, effectively ending the war.

“Oh God! It is all over.” –British Prime Minister Lord North, according to legend


The Treaty of Paris formally ends the Revolutionary War.

“The citizens of America . . . are, from this period, to be considered as the actors on a most conspicuous theater, which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity.” –George Washington, Circular to the States


Delegates meeting in Philadelphia create a new and stronger framework for government, the Constitution of the United States.

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” –Preamble to the Constitution


George Washington is sworn in as the first president of the United States.

“I walk on untrodden ground.” –President George Washington

The above few selections from the first two chapters reveal an important portion of the Time Line of our political heritage. The other five chapters take us to the present “Calling of our Time.” Placing the important happenings and great figures of our history into context and showing the expansion of our freedom in this land that we love, A Time for Freedom is a book families will cherish and want to share together.

Lynne Cheney has also written NY Times bestsellers America: A Patriotic Primer, A is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women, and When Washington Crossed the Delaware: A Wintertime Story for Young Patriots. She is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities.