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Atlantic History The American Revolution
by
Trevor Burnard

Introduction

As a transformative event in American, world, and Atlantic history, the American Revolution has always attracted great interest. One of the results is an enormous literature, meaning that any bibliography is necessarily selective and partial. There are two major ways in which scholars have viewed the American Revolution and two major ideological approaches that they have taken to their studies. The American Revolution can be viewed as the culmination of colonial British American history. In this reading, colonial British American history is but a precursor of the main event. In these accounts, the main aim is to see how the American Revolution led to the creation of the United States. It is thus a key event in the development of American nationalism and the American state. Although a number of works listed in this entry illuminate this approach, this entry sees the American Revolution as part of a larger age of revolutions, encompassing the French, Haitian, and Latin American revolutions, and sees it as arising out global contexts and having major consequences as a key event in the birth of the modern world. Most of the events leading up to the American Revolution and the War of Independence itself are well known. What remains contested is how those events are interpreted. One school of thought—the Whig or neo-Whig approach—stresses the Revolution as caused mainly by ideological difference. Whig historians of the Revolution tend to see the American Revolution as having mainly political rather than socioeconomic consequences. The second school of thought—termed the Progressive school—sees the American Revolution as a social as well as a political revolution, akin to the French and the Russian revolutions. The early-20th-century debates that set the parameters are well surveyed in Greene 1968, cited under Reference Works.

General Overviews

These entries are a highly selective guide to synthetic works of scholarship representative of the two major lines of interpretation. Countryman 2003 and Nash 2005 see the Revolution as having profound social causes and consequences, while Wood 1993 and Middlekauff 1982 focus on political and ideological change in the revolutionary period. Greene 2000 downplays the importance of the Revolution, while McCullough 2005, in the most successful popular work of recent times, sees the American Revolution in traditional terms, as mostly important for the creation of the United States of America.

  • Countryman, Edward. The American Revolution. Rev. ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 2003.

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    Concise and lively summary of the cause and consequences of the Revolution. Takes a strongly Progressive interpretative line.

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  • Greene, Jack P. “The American Revolution.” American Historical Review 105 (2000): 95–109.

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    Written as part of a forum on 18th-century Atlantic revolutions. Argues powerfully for seeing the American Revolution as a settler revolt with 17th-century roots. Summarizes many years of scholarship by a leading historian of the Revolution.

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  • McCullough, David. 1776: America and Britain at War. London: Allen Lane, 2005.

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    Enormously popular and influential narrative account of the first year of the American Revolution. Framed within the context of US rather than Atlantic history.

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  • Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

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    Volume 3 of the Oxford History of the United States. This work is mostly narrative and is an extensive detailing of the events of the American Revolution that favors a neo-Whiggish interpretation of events.

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  • Nash, Gary B. The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America. New York: Viking, 2005.

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    A synthetic account of the Revolution from the bottom up that shows the Revolution was important at all levels of society and also that it provoked profound social change.

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  • Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1993.

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    The most important recent book on the Revolution, by a major practitioner, that asserts that the most important consequence of the Revolution was a transformation in American attitudes toward authority.

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Reference Works

The American Revolution is well served with reference works. Fremont-Barnes, et al. 2007 and Greene and Pole 1991 are both authoritative. Barnes and Royster 2000 provides useful visual information. Greene 1968 provides a guide to early historiography. Among the online resources, Liberty! is visually impressive and a good introduction for beginners and nonspecialists. It is useful for teaching purposes, as is the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History module on the Revolutionary War. The World Wide Web Virtual Library is nonselective and needs updating but contains a wealth of primary and secondary material. The website of the Massachusetts Historical Society is both comprehensive and visually impressive.

Journals

In the absence of a journal specifically devoted to the study of the American Revolution, the most prestigious journal that carries articles on the Revolution is the William and Mary Quarterly. The Journal of the Early Republic focuses on articles dealing with the consequences of the Revolution, while the New England Quarterly is the most important of a series of journals with a regional focus that often publish articles on the Revolution. Common-Place is a web-based journal that is more informal in tone than the other journals.

Primary Sources

There is an abundance of primary material on the American Revolution in published form. The conflict between colonial British America and Britain concerned matters of principle and ideology and thus generated a great deal of pamphlet material. Bailyn 1965 and Dickinson 2007 provide large quantities of these pamphlets. Bailyn 1965 is also important because its analysis of the ideas contained in the pamphlets suggests that Americans adhered to what Bernard Bailyn and other scholars term republican discourse. Bailyn’s interpretation has become the orthodox interpretation of the cause of the Revolution. Kuklick 1989 provides a good examination of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, an indispensable text for understanding the decision for independence. Hoffman 2001 and Klepp and Wulf 2009 are lively accounts written by contemporary participants, while Ramsay 1990 is by a person who was both a participant in and an early US historian of the conflict. Increasingly primary sources on the American Revolution can be found online. American Archives is a comprehensively indexed digitization of rare documents, while the Avalon Project provides easy to access versions of most of the major texts. The Library of Congress: American Memory website is comprehensive and visually impressive.

Comparative French and American Revolutions

The American Revolution initiated what is often known as the age of revolutions. It had a direct influence on the French Revolution that began in 1789 both practically and, as Palmer 1959 shows in a classic work on Atlantic history, ideologically as well. Dunn 1999 is a good survey of the connections between the two revolutions. Bukovansky 2002 is more specialized, connecting the two revolutions to changes in international political thought, while Albertone and De Francesco 2009 is a contemporary collection of thoughts on the two revolutions by European scholars influenced by Atlantic history paradigms.

  • Albertone, Manuela, and Antonino De Francesco, eds. Rethinking the Atlantic World: Europe and America in the Age of Democratic Revolutions. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

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    Thirteen essays by European scholars that use the idea of Atlantic history to rethink the notion of republicanism as a mainly British concept. Instead, the authors show that the intellectual linkages between American revolutionaries and European thinkers extended to notions of republicanism.

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  • Bukovansky, Mlada. Legitimacy and Power Politics: The American and French Revolutions in International Political Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002.

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    Examines the causes and consequences of a major transformation in both domestic and international politics: the shift from dynastically legitimated monarchical sovereignty to popularly legitimated national sovereignty. It analyzes the impact of Enlightenment discourse on politics in 18th-century Europe and the United States for its impact on international relations theory.

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  • Dunn, Susan. Sister Revolutions: French Lightning, American Light. New York: Faber and Faber, 1999.

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    A comparison of the two revolutions with a strong emphasis on their later legacies. Somewhat present-minded but good on modes of revolutionary expression in both revolutions. Mostly synthetic rather than based on original scholarship.

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  • Palmer, R. R. The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760–1800. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959.

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    First volume of a classic, wide-ranging two-volume set that was a contribution to Atlantic studies before Atlantic history became a subject. Dated in its lack of interest in the Haitian Revolution and in its limited focus on the concerns of ordinary people but a powerful statement of the necessity to see the American Revolution as one of several democratic revolutions. Vol. 2 was published in 1964.

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The Revolution as an Atlantic Event

The events of the American Revolution were important within the hemispheric history of the Americas, playing a part in subsequent revolutions in Haiti and in Latin America. Adelman 2008 makes a powerful case that these hemispheric revolutions should be placed in a wider context of imperial crisis around issues of sovereignty. Liss 1983 and Langley 1996 are pioneering comparative studies of several American revolutions that tend to see each revolution as a discrete event. Klooster 2009, the best short synthetic account of the revolutions, sees the revolutions as both parallel and connected uprisings, using Atlantic history as a guide. Onuf and Onuf 1993 offers a sensitive evaluation of the American Revolution as a part of changing ideas about international law, while Linebaugh and Rediker 2000 insists that the revolutionary impulse in the Atlantic world came as much from ordinary people as from American elites.

  • Adelman, Jeremy. “An Age of Imperial Revolutions.” American Historical Review 113.2 (2008): 319–340.

    DOI: 10.1086/ahr.113.2.319Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Occasionally dense, analytical survey of the connections between comparative imperial history and revolutions in the Americas. Questions the inevitability of the nation-state arising out of imperial convulsions.

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  • Klooster, Wim. Revolutions in the Atlantic World: A Comparative History. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

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    Synthetic account of the American, French, Haitian, and Latin American revolutions that sees multiple linkages between all four events. Argues that these events have to be seen within the context of shifting international politics.

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  • Langley, Lester D. The Americas in the Age of Revolution, 1750–1850. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

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    Narrative-driven analysis, stronger on facts than interpretation, that places the American Revolution and Latin American revolutions side by side. A useful guide for beginners or nonspecialists and a pioneering example of the comparative history of American revolutions.

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  • Linebaugh, Peter, and Marcus Rediker. The Many-Headed Hydra: Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Boston: Beacon, 2000.

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    Popular and influential maritime history from the bottom up that stresses the importance of sailors, slaves, and workers of all kinds in shaping revolutionary experiences that led to major social and economic transformations. Written firmly within a Progressive interpretation of scholarship.

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  • Liss, Peggy K. Atlantic Empires: The Network of Empire and Trade and Revolution, 1713–1826. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.

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    Pioneering study of economic linkages and disjunctures in the British American and Spanish American worlds. Ranges outside the revolutionary period but is focused on that period as when economic change most affected political developments and vice versa.

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  • Onuf, Peter S., and Nicholas G. Onuf. Federal Union, Modern World: The Law of Nations in an Age of Revolutions, 1776–1814. Madison, WI: Madison House, 1993.

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    Incisive study by two brothers on the importance of federalism in the making of the modern world. Downplays the importance of ideology and heightens the significance of founding-era institutional developments in shaping American responses to America’s relations with the outside world.

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Imperial Relations before 1776

The American Revolution was a surprising event, its origins occurring as they did shortly after Britain’s great victory over France in the Seven Years’ War, as described in Anderson 2000. Anderson explains how the end of the Seven Years’ War encouraged the British, in an act of hubris, to try to implement a grand imperial reorganization. Calloway 2006 explains the situation that faced the British in 1763 as they attempted such a reorganization and outlines the various problems that Britain faced in making the colonists pay what they considered to be their fair share in the maintenance of a large land-based empire. The result, as Morgan and Morgan 1953 outlines in one of the most enduring works in American history, was the Stamp Act. The Americans reacted furiously to this act, mainly because of their ideological convictions that they were entitled to a share in their own government. The underlying issues between Britain and British North America—where the locus of authority was with the empire or with local “Englishmen”—were established early and persisted throughout the lead-up to the Declaration of Independence. British justifications for their increasingly hard-line stance are in Thomas 1975. Nevertheless, breaking away from Britain was difficult for a people committed, as McConville 2006 illustrates, to Britain and especially to the British monarchy. In part this attachment to Britain and its king accounts for the decade-long gap between the first protest against British actions and the American Declaration of Independence.

  • Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. New York: Knopf, 2000.

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    Very long, comprehensive, and nicely written account of the causes, conduct, and consequences of the Seven Years’ War in British North America. Indispensable as a guide to how that conflict was fundamental to the American Revolution. Does not deal with the Seven Years’ War in other parts of the world except in relatively cursory fashion.

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  • Calloway, Colin G. The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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    Short, snappy, and incisive analysis of the pivotal year 1763, when Britain completed its victory over France and turned its attention to difficult issues of reorganization of empire, notably in the American interior. Shows the centrality of Native Americans and events on the frontier to shaping British policy, leading to the Stamp Act of 1765.

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  • McConville, Brendan. The King’s Three Faces: The Fall of Royal America, 1688–1776. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

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    Punchy analysis of the long-standing persistence of monarchical thought in 18th-century British North America, based on extensive reading in primary sources. The author is more surprised than he ought to be about the strength of monarchical sentiment. Nevertheless, it complicates the normal understanding of republican ideology as being counterposed to monarchical thought.

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  • Morgan, Edmund S., and Helen M. Morgan. The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953.

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    One of the great works of American history, still unsurpassed as a guide to the Stamp Act as an event and as the precursor to ideological conflict between Britain and America leading to the Declaration of Independence.

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  • Thomas, P. D. G. British Politics and the Stamp Act Crisis: The First Phase of the American Revolution, 1763–1767. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975.

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    Detailed first volume of a three-volume narrative account of shifts in British policy toward America from 1763 to 1776. Argues that hardening of attitudes by the British toward the colonists made the dispute between them insoluble as early as 1773. The other volumes are The Townshend Duties Crisis: The Second Phase of the American Revolution, 1767–1773 (1987) and Tea Party to Independence: The Third Phase of the American Revolution, 1773–1776 (1991).

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Causes of the Revolution

Our understanding of the causes of the American Revolution was transformed by Bailyn 1992 and the work of other scholars who discovered what has subsequently become known as republican ideology. Bernard Bailyn showed that American colonists were peculiarly receptive to a radical and minority political discourse in Britain in which people were intensely suspicious of politicians’ motives. He showed conclusively that the origins of the American Revolution are best discovered through examining the intellectual ideas of elite men. Maier 1972, by one of Bailyn’s students, shows that ideological belief could be accompanied by radical political agitation. Both Egnal 1988 and Breen 2004 concentrate on economic issues. Egnal 1988, in a Progressive reading of the Revolution, insists that differing views toward American territorial expansion help explain differing American attitudes during the prelude to the Revolution, while Breen 2004 places great importance on the consumer revolution of the mid-18th century, providing the ideological means whereby colonists could justify rebellion. Tucker and Hendrickson 1982 also suggests that economic issues, around defense in this telling, played a part in causing the Revolution. Tucker and Hendrickson 1982 is mainly interested in showing how the American Revolution can be interpreted through the prism of international state relations theory. Draper 1997 argues that we have to take at face value what both sides said the dispute was about and that to understand the Revolution we have to understand where authority lay and, as Bailyn would have it, where authority was thought to lie.

  • Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

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    Pathbreaking classic by a major scholar of colonial and revolutionary America. Attributes the outbreak of the Revolution to American intoxication with the idea of republicanism gained from an intense engagement with the thoughts of opposition Whigs in Britain in the early 18th century. Some critics argue that these attitudes can be traced back further, to concerns about 17th-century Stuart “tyranny.” First edition published in 1967.

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  • Breen, T. H. The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    Ambitious, not entirely successful attempt to overturn the republican paradigm and explain the outbreak of war as connected to an explosion in consumerization, especially among the middling and upper classes, from the mid-18th century onward. Closely connected to works on 18th-century consumer revolution.

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  • Draper, Theodore. A Struggle for Power: The American Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1997.

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    Slightly old-fashioned and earnest account of the cause of the American Revolution that stresses how the Revolution was at bottom a dispute over the locus of authority—Britain or America. Emphasizes the incompatibility of opinion between the two sides, which he attributes, overconfidently, to Oedipal conflict between mother country and adolescent child.

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  • Egnal, Marc. A Mighty Empire: The Origins of the American Revolution. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988.

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    Following in the footsteps of Charles Beard, prioritizes economic issues as causing the American Revolution. Pays particular attention to American attitudes toward territorial growth and posits that the revolutionaries tended to be greatly in favor of expansion while Loyalists were against expansion.

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  • Maier, Pauline. From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765–1776. New York: Knopf, 1972.

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    Takes an intellectual history approach to a typical Progressive subject, arguing that colonial radicals were influenced more by ideas of injustice and by a determination to preserve what they considered to be their rights than by a feeling of social dislocation.

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  • Tucker, Robert W., and David C. Hendrickson. The Fall of the First British Empire: Origins of the War of American Independence. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.

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    Argues against a view that the American Revolution arose principally from misguided and obstinate policies put forward by the British against constant American opposition. Instead, the authors assert, drawing on their experience as current foreign policy experts, the dispute arose from a mismatch between imperial thinkers wanting a rational defense policy and American colonists concerned about their liberty.

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Britain and the American Revolution

The Revolution may have been fought in America, but it was conceived in Britain and became an event nearly as important for Britons as for Americans. Marshall 2005 explains that British policy must be seen within the light of a developing global imperial worldview. Gould 2000 explains that Britons expected Americans to accede to British policy because they themselves were taxed in order that the state could provide for their military protection. Conway 2000, like Gould 2000, emphasizes the popularity of the war in Britain and shows how wartime mobilization increased British support of government aims. Wahrman 2001 outlines how this support for Revolution affected English understandings of selfhood and patriotism. British patriotism manifested itself in expressions of loyalty to George III, whose career and attitude toward America is explored in Black 2006. The War of Independence was just one of several wars that Britain fought in the Americas before 1815, as Flavell and Conway 2004 shows, and had major consequences not just for Britain and the United States but for Canada and other parts of the British Empire, as Jasanoff 2008 shows in an exploratory article on the British Loyalist diaspora.

  • Black, Jeremy. George III: America’s Last King. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

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    Well-written biography of the British monarch by a prolific British author that argues for the importance of George III to the revolutionary contest.

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  • Conway, Stephen. The British Isles and the War of American Independence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Authoritative survey of the effects of the Revolutionary War in Britain (including Ireland). Stresses the weakness of the fiscal-military state, the strength of localism, the significance of large-scale armed mobilization, and the popularity of the war among British citizens.

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  • Flavell, Julie, and Stephen Conway, eds. Britain and America Go to War: The Impact of War and Warfare in Anglo-America, 1754–1815. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.

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    Distinguished collection of nine essays on preparations for war and the popularity of war against America that sets the American Revolution in the context of both the Seven Years’ War and the War of 1812.

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  • Gould, Eliga H. The Persistence of Empire: British Political Culture in the Age of the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

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    Argues that the American Revolution was more popular among Britons than previously thought, in part because Britons had established military systems that bolstered the fiscal-military state without causing much pain to ordinary citizens. Consequently Britons failed to appreciate why Americans found measures such as the Stamp Act so offensive.

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  • Jasanoff, Maya. “The Other Side of Revolution: Loyalists in the British Empire.” William and Mary Quarterly 65 (2008): 205–232.

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    Depicts the American Revolution as a civil war with global impacts and treats Loyalists as a diaspora within a broad Atlantic context.

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  • Marshall, P. J. The Making and Unmaking of Empires: Britain, India, and America, c. 1750–1783. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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    Brilliant comparison of imperial policies in America and India that shows that the collapse of British rule in the former was underpinned by the same policies that led to the growth of a multiethnic land empire in the latter.

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  • Wahrman, Dror. “The English Problem of Identity in the American Revolution.” American Historical Review 106 (2001): 1236–1262.

    DOI: 10.2307/2692947Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Influential article that argues that the American Revolutionary War was not just an important political event in Britain but that it was a significant historical “quake” shaping the formation of the modern humanitarian self in 18th-century England.

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Intellectual and Political Thought

The American Revolution was the result of intellectual as much as political differences between Britain and America, as Rodgers 1992 traces in a short but well-thought-out summary of republicanism as an ideological concept. The Revolution also reflected significant shifts in how Anglo-Americans in the Atlantic world viewed authority, tradition, and deference, as Fliegelman 1982 sketches out and as Brewer 2005 outlines in more detail. Of course, as Reid 1986–1993 painstakingly details, most of the intellectual debates in the revolutionary period centered on issues of law and constitutionalism. Those issues were addressed most forcefully by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, whose making is chronicled in Maier 1997 and whose global impact on theories of international law and the law of nations is spelled out in Armitage 2007. Whether the American Revolution had long-term intellectual ramifications outside of its political importance is debatable, but Knott 2009, Eustace 2008, and Bullock 1996 are sure that some of its effects were transformational for the American sense of selfhood.

  • Armitage, David. The Declaration of Independence: A Global History. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.

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    Short but brilliant book on the founding document of the War of Independence that moves attention away from its adherence to natural rights toward seeing it as a transformation of the law of nations.

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  • Brewer, Holly. By Birth or Consent: Children, Law, and the Anglo-American Revolution in Authority. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

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    Only partially about the Revolution but follows and extends Fliegelman 1982 in seeing the Revolution as challenging long-standing ideas of deference, patriarchy, and hierarchy, especially in respect to intergenerational relations.

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  • Bullock, Steven C. Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730–1840. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

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    Both an authoritative survey of a social movement in revolutionary America and also an analysis of the importance of fraternity and new forms of ascertaining status for men in insecure social settings.

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  • Eustace, Nicole. Passion Is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

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    Occasionally windy, literarily influenced analysis of the role of emotion in shaping American responses to British actions. Challenges ideas of the Revolution in accounts influenced by republicanism that Americans adopted classical, stoical responses to events.

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  • Fliegelman, Jay. Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution against Patriarchal Authority, 1750–1800. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

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    Pathbreaking argument, important in works such as Wood 1993 (cited under General Overviews), that sees the American Revolution as an important cultural event resulting from mid-18th-century changes in patriarchal relations.

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  • Knott, Sarah. Sensibility and the American Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

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    Beautifully written survey of modes of sensibility in the revolutionary period that asserts that the Americans understood the events of the war with reference to philosophies of sentiment. Argues that the politics of revolution changed the tenor of discourses around sensibility.

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  • Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf, 1997.

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    Shows the 1776 Declaration of Independence as both the defining statement of national identity and the moral standard by which Americans live as a nation through a close reading of how the document was drafted, edited, and transmitted to the general population.

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  • Reid, John Philip. Constitutional History of the American Revolution. 4 vols. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986–1993.

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    Authoritative, perhaps exhaustive summary of the legal and constitutional dimensions of the controversy between Britain and America. Lengthy but indispensable.

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  • Rodgers, Daniel T. “Republicanism: The Career of a Concept.” Journal of American History 79 (1992): 11–38.

    DOI: 10.2307/2078466Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Incisive, well-balanced summary of the history and current importance of republican discourse that explains why republicanism is the dominant interpretative schema to understand the causes of the Revolution.

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Regional Studies

The American Revolution was experienced quite differently by different classes and by people in various parts of British North America. Taylor 2006 and Griffin 2007 provide two approaches to how it was fought on the borderlands. Carp 2007 alternatively examines the Revolution in urban settings. The most important works of Progressive history tend to concentrate on close examinations of class conflict at a regional level. Isaac 1982, Holton 1999, and McDonnell 2007 all insist that even in Virginia—a colony usually thought to be particularly unified during the Revolution—class conflict was endemic. Countryman 1989 and Riordan 2007 assert similar arguments for the Middle Colonies. O’Shaughnessy 2000 reminds us that one effect of the Revolution was to create an artificial division between the thirteen colonies and those parts of British America that did not rebel.

  • Carp, Benjamin L. Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    Modern updating of classic works by Carl Bridenbaugh and Gary Nash that examines the Revolution in American cities through five case studies of important towns.

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  • Countryman, Edward. A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760–1800. New York: Norton, 1989.

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    Classic Progressive account of tumult in New York that stresses the extent to which war changed the nature of political allegiance and political society in New York.

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  • Griffin, Patrick. American Leviathan: Empire, Nation, and Revolutionary Frontier. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.

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    Takes the American frontier to be a Hobbesian world, a state of nature marked by extreme violence and equally extreme commitment to absolute forms of liberty. Argues that there was a symbiotic relationship between attempts to create new forms of citizenship and more pernicious definitions of race.

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  • Holton, Woody. Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

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    Politically charged Progressive history of the coming of the Revolution in Virginia that concentrates on the experiences of Native Americans, slaves, and poor people generally.

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  • Isaac, Rhys. The Transformation of Virginia, 1740–1790. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982.

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    Highly innovative, anthropologically influenced account of revolution and war in Virginia that stresses ideological and religious incompatibility between elites and ordinary people in Virginia.

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  • McDonnell, Michael A. The Politics of War: Race, Class, and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

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    Detailed, revisionist, sometimes overwhelming narrative account of the process of war in revolutionary Virginia that takes a strong Progressive line, seeing the Virginia elite as both dependent upon and afraid of yeomen farmers who only occasionally supported their pretensions.

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  • O’Shaughnessy, Andrew J. An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.

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    Important study of the war from the perspective of the Caribbean. Outlines succinctly the course of events in that region and contributes to debates on why the West Indies did not join the Revolution. Major contribution is to show that events in the West Indies profoundly influenced the revolutionary outcome.

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  • Riordan, Liam. Many Identities, One Nation: The Revolution and Its Legacy in the Mid-Atlantic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.

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    Comparative case study of three mid-Atlantic towns that takes a long view of the American Revolution in terms of revolutionary identity politics. Riordan suggests that local diversity and persistent multiculturalism predated and prefigured the making of an American national identity.

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  • Taylor, Alan. The Divided Ground: The Northern Borderland of the American Revolution. New York: Knopf, 2006.

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    A lengthy, vividly written borderland history of the northern frontier of the United States that explores both the Canadian and the American sides of a contested boundary. Makes Native Americans major players in the conflict. Stresses violence as a factor in the revolutionary process.

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The War of Independence

The military events between 1776 and 1783 and the experience of soldiers and civilians during wartime remains the least studied or understood period in the American Revolution. Relatively few serious scholars have devoted much attention to warfare as a process, though when they have, as with Fischer 2006, the results can be illuminating. Hoffman and Albert 1984 has set most of the terms of debate about this topic. The experience of soldiers in wartime can be surveyed in Royster 1979, an authoritative history of the Continental army, and at a closer range through two quite different types of closely grained histories: Bodle 2002, a social history of Valley Forge, and Fischer 2006, a grand narrative of the same winter of 1776–1777. Lee 2001 shows the connections between wartime violence and patterns of riot and violence that went before, especially in the South and the backcountry. America’s military success came only partially from military prowess. Disease, as Fenn 2001 argues, played a crucial role. Once the war was over, it quickly became part of American mythology, a period of great sacrifice by patriots to establish a national union. Purcell 2002 shows that it was more complicated than officially portrayed. The War of Independence is a crucial part of the revolutionary process, as Shy 1990, the premier chronicle of the military aspects of the revolutionary period, reminds us.

  • Bodle, Wayne K. The Valley Forge Winter: Civilians and Soldiers in War. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002.

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    In-depth investigation of the reality behind the mythology of Valley Forge, where George Washington and his troops wintered in 1777. A social history counterpart to the Fischer 2006 narrative history.

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  • Fenn, Elizabeth A. Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775–82. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001.

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    Relatively few soldiers died in battle compared to those who died from disease. Americans were greatly aided by their comparative immunity to smallpox, a disease that ravaged the British, which contributed greatly to the British defeat. A new and powerful take on the War of Independence.

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  • Fischer, David Hackett. Washington’s Crossing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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    Prize-winning narrative history of George Washington and the Continental army at their lowest point, before French entry into the war changed the conflict from a civil war to an imperial contest.

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  • Hoffman, Ronald, and Peter J. Albert, eds. Arms and Independence: The Military Character of the American Revolution. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1984.

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    Collection of essays, only somewhat dated, that provides a useful entrée into what military experience meant for soldiers and nonparticipants.

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  • Lee, Wayne E. Crowds and Soldiers in Revolutionary North Carolina: The Culture of Violence in Riot and War. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

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    Explains how Americans moved from rioting toward war through a close examination of violence in North Carolina. Asserts that the War of Independence was an escalation of already high levels of violence rather than something new.

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  • Purcell, Sarah J. Sealed with Blood: War, Sacrifice, and Memory in Revolutionary America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.

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    Explores how the public memory of individual and collective sacrifice provided a powerful impetus, creating a common national identity and a sense of democratic purpose as the United States became a federal entity.

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  • Royster, Charles. A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775–1783. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.

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    Imaginative, vivid social and intellectual history about the linkages between being a soldier in the Continental army and wider social and political processes.

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  • Shy, John. A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence. Rev. ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1990.

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    First published in 1976, extensively revised in 1990. Contains a collection of thoughtful essays on battles, military mobilization, and the significance of armed contest in the Revolution.

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Gender

Did women have an American Revolution, to paraphrase Joan Kelly’s famous question about women and the Renaissance? Opinion is divided. In the early 1980s work influenced by the relatively new discipline of women’s history, notably Kerber 1980 and Norton 1996, argued strongly for women being important actors in the Revolution, Kerber 1980 introducing the notion of republican motherhood to emphasize the point. The idea of republican motherhood attracts less support now than before, but as Davies 2005 argues, republicanism had a feminine as well as a masculine version. Women’s roles during the war, well covered in the Berkin 2005 synthesis, were more circumscribed than were men’s, but occasionally, as Young 2004 outlines, they led amazing lives. Women were especially important in consumer production—and consumer boycotting—as Hartigan-O’Connor 2009 details. A much debated topic is whether female revolutionary gains were sustained after the war. Zagarri 2007 suggests they were not.

  • Berkin, Carol. Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence. New York: Knopf, 2005.

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    Readable textbook on women in the Revolution that celebrates their roles as consumers, political actors, and, above all, mothers, wives, and sisters.

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  • Davies, Kate. Catharine Macaulay and Mercy Otis Warren: The Revolutionary Atlantic and the Politics of Gender. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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    Pathbreaking historiographical study that shows how these women’s status as women underwrote their political and historical engagements. Revises scholarship on republican discourse to show that it links not only to masculine ideas of virtue but also to feminized ideas of sentiment.

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  • Hartigan-O’Connor, Ellen. The Ties That Buy: Women and Commerce in Revolutionary America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

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    More about the revolutionary period than about the Revolution per se, offers a nuanced and well-researched analysis of women as consumers and as boycotters of consumerism from 1750 onward. Particularly acute on how women used credit and debt.

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  • Kerber, Linda K. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

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    Pioneering account of women in the Revolution and early Republic that introduced the notion of republican motherhood—the idea that women, as repositories of virtue and the educators of sons, played a vital role in creating and consolidating American national identity.

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  • Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750–1800. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996.

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    Classic, intensely researched account of women’s revolutionary experience, written during the period of second wave American feminism, that argues that women played significant roles in the revolutionary conflict.

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  • Young, Alfred F. Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier. New York: Knopf, 2004.

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    Fascinating case study of a most unusual woman who served as a soldier. First-rate example of history from below.

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  • Zagarri, Rosemarie. Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.

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    Contests the Kerber 1980 and Norton 1996 claims that personal politicization of women in the Revolutionary War led to a change in female political status. Asserts that the female desire to grasp political opportunities was stymied by the implementation of more democratic male suffrage.

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Native Americans and African Americans

A growing area of interest among historians is the role of Native Americans and African Americans in the Revolution. This interest is only partly predicated on contemporary concerns. It is clear that the Revolution was not just a conflict between different groups of Anglo-American white men but involved all peoples in British America. Calloway 1995 and Dowd 2002 summarize Native American involvement in the conflict, both concluding that the American Revolution was a tragedy for Native Americans. In some ways it was also a tragedy for African Americans, entrenching slavery as an institution and confirming its legitimacy in the Constitution, a pro-slavery document. Egerton 2009 provides the best overall summary of African American experiences. Frey 1991 concentrates on how black people used the tumults of the Revolution to carve out space for themselves and occasionally to engage in resistance. That Revolution might encourage slave rebellion was a constant fear for slave owners, as Olwell 1989 debates. One consequence of the American Revolution was that many African Americans were displaced within the United States and within a truncated British Empire. Another consequence was that Britons began to question seriously the morality of slavery. Schama 2006, an entertaining text, deals with the intersection of these two concerns in the movement of free blacks to Sierra Leone.

  • Calloway, Colin G. The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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    Wide-ranging survey of Native Americans’ differing strategies in the American Revolution. Shows that while most Native Americans wanted to be noncombatants, they were generally drawn, to their great cost, into disputes between varying sets of Europeans.

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  • Dowd, Gregory Evans. War under Heaven: Pontiac, the Indian Nations, and the British Empire. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

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    Ethnographic history of Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763, a significant event in Native American history and a precursor of the American Revolution in backcountry Pennsylvania.

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  • Egerton, Douglas R. Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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    Elegant synthesis of the African American experience before, during, and after the American Revolution. Strongly Atlantic in orientation.

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  • Frey, Sylvia R. Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

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    Focused mainly on the South, where the vast majority of African American slaves lived and which was the fulcrum of much of the bloodiest fighting in the Revolution. Insists that African Americans helped turn the war into one that was more than partially about the future of slavery in the region.

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  • Olwell, Robert. “‘Domestick Enemies’: Slavery and Political Independence in South Carolina, May 1775–March 1776.” Journal of Southern History 55 (1989): 21–48.

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    Succinct and convincing explanation of the connections between planter fears of slave rebellion and South Carolina’s decision to join the rebellion. Unlike planters in the West Indies, South Carolinian slaveholders joined their commitment to slavery with their adherence to republican liberty.

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  • Schama, Simon. Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution. New York: Ecco, 2006.

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    Best-selling, rollicking narrative history of how free blacks, mostly from Nova Scotia, made a settlement in Sierra Leone. Hero of the story is John Clarkson, leader of the expedition and brother of the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.

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The Making of the Constitution

The two main questions that occupy scholars’ attention when examining the making of the Constitution are how republican ideology became transformed, or at least changed, during the Revolutionary War and the tumults of the 1780s and how American nationalism developed in that decade. Banning 1995 and Wood 1972 are the chief guides to how the thoughts of the founders developed from the Revolution through to 1789, while Rakove 1996 exhaustively examines how these thoughts were put into practice in the making of the Constitution. Bouton 2007 and Holton 2007, conversely, are less interested in ideology than in popular politics and want to widen the debate over the Constitution to ordinary people. Cornell 1999 puts in the Anti-Federalist case. Edling 2003 is convincing about how the Federalists managed to defeat their opponents. Hendrickson 2003 and Waldstreicher 1997 investigate the roots of American nationalism, seeing them, respectively, in colonial experience and in freshly created forms of public celebration and commemoration.

  • Banning, Lance. The Sacred Fire of Liberty: James Madison and the Founding of the Federal Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995.

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    Penetrating intellectual biography of James Madison influenced by the republicanism debate. Important for showing how the political ideology of republicanism developed.

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  • Bouton, Terry. Taming Democracy: “The People,” the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    Philadelphia focused, written with sympathy for Progressive interpretations. Sees the making of the Constitution as a counterrevolution by men of property to keep poorer men in their places. Some overstated claims but ultimately persuasive, at least for understanding the small farmers of Pennsylvania.

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  • Cornell, Saul. The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788–1828. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

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    Shows the origins and strength of Anti-Federalist opposition to a stronger national government and traces the continuation of their intellectual ideas into Jacksonian America.

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  • Edling, Max M. A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    Important revisionist study that makes a closely grained analysis of what was said in ratification debates and places them within the context of European nation-state formation. Suggests that the founders were mostly concerned with creating a strong fiscal-military state.

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  • Hendrickson, David C. Peace Pact: The Lost World of the American Founding. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003.

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    Important constitutional and international history that urges historians to see the creation of national identity as emerging from the distinctive interests and deep-rooted particularism of colonies and states.

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  • Holton, Woody. Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.

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    Follows in the interpretative footsteps of the author’s book on the causes of the Revolution to take a strongly Progressive line that the Constitution can be understood only as an attempt to control citizens thought unruly. Challenges the Madisonian line about America in the 1780s.

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  • Rakove, Jack N. Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. New York: Knopf, 1996.

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    Perceptive narrative about the creation of the US Constitution. Emphasizes the ambiguity in the thought of the authors of the Constitution and denies the premises behind “originalist” interpretations of the document.

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  • Waldstreicher, David. In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776–1820. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

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    Argues that American nationalism developed from a collective identification that emerged from public celebrations during and especially after the American Revolution. Progressively inclined.

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  • Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787. New York: Norton, 1972.

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    The classic and unsurpassed interpretation of how the Constitution was written and how the United States came into being. Draws heavily on notions of republican ideology advocated by Wood’s teacher, Bernard Bailyn, and extends those insights to understanding Federalist motivations.

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Revolutionaries

The public appetite for biographies of the Founding Fathers, especially the most prominent, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, produces a regular flow of biographies. Few of these popular biographies, however, treat individuals within a historiographical tradition, and fewer still see the founders through an Atlantic perspective. Some studies of individuals involved in the Revolution, however, illuminate larger historical processes, as in Wood 2004, whose portrait of Benjamin Franklin outlines how an imperialist could become an American. Bailyn 1974 is justly famed as demonstrating penetrating psychological insight into the dilemma of another American who, unlike Franklin, could not let go his attachment to the British Crown. Bernstein 2009 and Ellis 2002 look at the leaders of the Revolution collectively, while Appleby 2001 examines the fates of their descendants. Studying the great men who became Founding Fathers is important, but so too is looking at ordinary people, like the hapless James Aitken, “John the Painter,” executed after the failure of an arson attempt against the British government, recounted in Warner 2004.

  • Appleby, Joyce. Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

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    Ambitious study of the values and behaviors of the people born during and immediately after the American Revolution that highlights the changes in personal behaviors and personal philosophies that occurred as a result of revolutionary change.

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  • Bailyn, Bernard. The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974.

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    Sensitive and nuanced treatment of the life of the last royal governor of Massachusetts that highlights the dilemma faced by Americans wanting to remain loyal to the British Empire.

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  • Bernstein, R. B. The Founding Fathers Reconsidered. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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    Traces the colonial influences on the Founding Fathers, seeing them as Atlantic citizens and devotees of the Enlightenment. Has an excellent section on the historical reputations of the major founding figures.

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  • Ellis, Joseph J. Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. New York: Knopf, 2002.

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    Enormous best-seller by a skilled writer on what united the various men who served as patriot leaders during the War of Independence and the making of the Constitution. Overstates the commonalities between the founders but is a vivid evocation of the age. Influential with the reading public.

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  • Warner, Jessica. John the Painter: Terrorist of the American Revolution. London: Profile, 2004.

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    Witty and graceful account of a very ordinary man and his ill-fated and clumsy attempt to burn down the Portsmouth Docks in sympathy with American rebels. A good example of history from below.

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  • Wood, Gordon S. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Penguin, 2004.

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    Short biography of the most famous colonial American, showing how a devoted imperialist could become a supporter of colonial rebellion.

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The American Revolution and the Wider World

As a transformative event in world history, the American Revolution has interested not only Americans and Britons. The works in this section provide surveys in French (Cottret 2003) and German (Dippel 1985 and Wellenreuther 2006) as well as a biography in Chinese of Thomas Jefferson that sees Jefferson in Confucian rather than Enlightenment terms (Liu Zuochang 2005). In addition to these, Dippel 1977 is an account of the Revolution’s impact on Germany.

  • Cottret, Bernard. La révolution américaine: La quête du bonheur. Paris: Perrin, 2003.

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    Synthetic account in French of the events of the American Revolution. Useful guide to how the Revolution is seen by French scholars.

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  • Dippel, Horst. Germany and the American Revolution, 1770–1800: A Sociohistorical Investigation of Late Eighteenth-Century Political Thinking. Translated by Bernard A. Uhlendorf. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977.

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    Deeply researched investigation of the intellectual and political impact of the Revolution on Germany that also touches on how German speakers in British North America interpreted the events between 1770 and 1800.

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  • Dippel, Horst. Die Amerikanische Revolution, 1763–1787. Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Suhrkamp, 1985.

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    A short survey of the Revolution in German.

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  • Liu Zuochang. Jiefeixun quan zhuan. 2 vols. Shandong, China: Qilu, 2005.

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    Translated: A complete biography of Thomas Jefferson. A massive biography in Chinese that, according to a review by Andrew Burstein (William and Mary Quarterly 64 [2007]: 845) is “the most significant piece of Chinese scholarship ever written on early America.” Compares Jeffersonian democracy to Confucian philosophy.

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  • Wellenreuther, Hermann. Von Chaos und Krieg zu Ordnung und Frieden: Der Amerikanische Revolution erster Teil, 1775–1783. Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2006.

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    German-language synthesis of the events of the American Revolution that follows on larger studies based on primary sources by the same author.

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LAST MODIFIED: 05/10/2010

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199730414-0005

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