The American Revolution: A History (Modern Library Chronicles)
Gordon S. Wood
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“An elegant synthesis done by the leading scholar in the field, which nicely integrates the work on the American Revolution over the last three decades but never loses contact with the older, classic questions that we have been arguing about for over two hundred years.”—Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers
A magnificent account of the revolution in arms and consciousness that gave birth to the American republic.
When Abraham Lincoln sought to define the significance of the United States, he naturally looked back to the American Revolution. He knew that the Revolution not only had legally created the United States, but also had produced all of the great hopes and values of the American people. Our noblest ideals and aspirations-our commitments to freedom, constitutionalism, the well-being of ordinary people, and equality-came out of the Revolutionary era. Lincoln saw as well that the Revolution had convinced Americans that they were a special people with a special destiny to lead the world toward liberty. The Revolution, in short, gave birth to whatever sense of nationhood and national purpose Americans have had.
No doubt the story is a dramatic one: Thirteen insignificant colonies three thousand miles from the centers of Western civilization fought off British rule to become, in fewer than three decades, a huge, sprawling, rambunctious republic of nearly four million citizens. But the history of the American Revolution, like the history of the nation as a whole, ought not to be viewed simply as a story of right and wrong from which moral lessons are to be drawn. It is a complicated and at times ironic story that needs to be explained and understood, not blindly celebrated or condemned. How did this great revolution come about? What was its character? What were its consequences? These are the questions this short history seeks to answer. That it succeeds in such a profound and enthralling way is a tribute to Gordon Wood’s mastery of his subject, and of the historian’s craft.
From the Hardcover edition.
incidental to representation, but rather by the mutual interests that members of Parliament were presumed to share with all Englishmen for whom they spoke—including those, like the colonists, who did not actually vote for them. The Americans immediately and strongly rejected these British claims that they were “virtually” represented in the same way that the nonvoters of cities like Manchester and Birmingham were. In the most notable colonial pamphlet written in opposition to the Stamp Act,
authorities in American politics and gave them its blessing by establishing the Continental Association. This continentwide organization put into effect the nonimportation, nonexportation, and nonconsumption of goods that the Congress had agreed on. Committees in all the counties, cities, and towns were now ordered by the Congress “attentively to observe the conduct of all persons,” to condemn publicly all violators as “enemies of American liberty,” and to “break off all dealings” with them.
different conception of what people were like and new ways of organizing both the state and the society. The Revolutionary leaders were not naÏve and they were not utopians—indeed, some of them had grave doubts about the capacities of ordinary people. But by adopting republican governments in 1776 all of them necessarily held to a more magnanimous conception of human nature than did supporters of monarchy. Republics demanded far more morally from their citizens than monarchies did of their
Virginia, most Anti-Federalists were ordinary state-centered men with only local interests and loyalties. They tended to lack the influence and education of the Federalists, and often they had neither social nor intellectual confidence. They had difficulty making themselves heard both because their speakers, as one Anti-Federalist in Connecticut complained, “were browbeaten by many of those Cicero’es as they think themselves and others of Superior rank,” and because much of the press was closed
America (1976); Richard Brookhiser, Alexander Hamilton: American (1999); C. Bradley Thompson, John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty (1998); David McCullough, John Adams (2001); Marcus Cunliffe, George Washington: Man and Monument (1958); James Thomas Flexner, Washington: The Indispensable Man (1974); and Garry Wills, Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment (1984). Modern interest in the ideas of the Revolution dates back to the 1920s and ’30s with the studies of constitutional law