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.
his fellow officers in the Continental Army and they to him; they trusted him, and with good reason. What he lacked in military skill he made up with prudence and wisdom. When in the wake of the French alliance the French nobleman the Marquis de Lafayette, who had been in the struggle since 1777, proposed a Franco-American scheme for conquering Canada, the excited Congress readily agreed. Washington, however, pointed out that France had her own interests and was scarcely to be trusted in the
British world. In 1700 the American population had been only one twentieth of the British and Irish populations combined; by 1770 it was nearly one fifth, and such farsighted colonists as Benjamin Franklin were predicting that sooner or later the center of the British Empire would shift to America. Everywhere the expanding British population was in motion, moving from village to village and from continent to continent. In Britain growing numbers of migrants in a few decades created the new
occasional disparaging remark about ordinary folk. George Washington once called the common people “the grazing multitude,” Alexander Hamilton spoke of the “unthinking populace,” and early in his career John Adams, who never forgot he had once been one of them, referred to ordinary folk as the “common Herd of Mankind.” Other Americans too did not hesitate to qualify their belief in the natural equality of mankind. Many balked at even including Indians or blacks within the sphere of men; and when
(Under the leadership of Madison, the first federal Congress attempted to fulfill this promise and proposed twelve amendments to the Constitution. In 1791 ten of them were ratified by the states, and these became the Bill of Rights.) North Carolina and Rhode Island rejected the Constitution, but after New York’s ratification in July 1788 the country was ready to go ahead and organize the new government without them. Despite the difficulties and the close votes in some states, the country’s
‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” in Cary Carson et al., eds., Of Consuming Interests: The Style of Life in the Eighteenth Century (1994). Rhys Isaac, The Transformation of Virginia, 1740–1790 (1982), uses anthropological techniques to illuminate the popular challenges to the Virginia aristocracy. Carl Bridenbaugh, Cities in Revolt (1955), attributes the Revolutionary impulse to the cities. Gary B. Nash, The Urban Crucible: Social Change,