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.
houses or senates, the designation taken from Roman history. The senators in these bicameral legislatures were to be republican versions of the English House of Lords—not representing any constituency in the society, but simply being the wisest and best, the natural aristocracy, in each state, who would revise and correct the well-intentioned but often careless measures of the people represented in the lower houses. Although the people in most of the states elected the senators, in 1776 the
Scotland had been rising steadily since the beginning of the eighteenth century. The population of the North American colonies was growing even faster—virtually exploding—and had been doing so almost since the beginning of the settlements. Indeed, the North American colonists continued to multiply more rapidly than any other people in the Western world. Between 1750 and 1770 they doubled in number, from 1 million to more than 2 million, and thereby became an even more important part of the
control of the mushrooming new settlements. In the backcountry, lawlessness and vagrancy became common, and disputes over land claims and colonial boundaries increased sharply. But the most immediate effect of this rapid spread of people—and the effect that was most obvious to imperial officials by mid-century—was the pressure that the migrations placed on the native peoples. At the beginning of the Seven Years’ War, the problems of restless and angry Native Americans in the West compelled the
of Confederation . . . 1774–1781 (1940) stresses the achievements of the Articles. The best history of the Continental Congress is Jack N. Rakove, The Beginnings of National Politics (1979). The starting point for appreciating the social changes of the Revolution is the short essay by J. Franklin Jameson, The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement (1926). For modern appraisals, see Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert, eds., The Transforming Hand of Revolution (1995). J. Kirby Martin,
prohibited all private individuals from purchasing Indian lands. The aim was to maintain peace in the West and to channel the migration of people northward and southward into the new colonies. There, it was felt, the settlers would be in closer touch with both the mother country and the mercantile system—and more useful as buffers against the Spanish in Louisiana and the remaining French in Canada. But circumstances destroyed these royal blueprints. Not only were there bewildering shifts of the