Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Mad Historian's Athenaeum, Vol. 1, No. 24

Today is the 242nd anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. I do not have any reviews of Benjamin Labaree's books as of yet, so I will celebrate with a review of a book that does deal with some of the people that played a role in the American Revolution in the Massachusetts area as well as others.

Alfred F. Young, Gary B. Nash, and Ray Raphael. Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of a Nation. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2011. 452 pp.

            Most Americans have a general idea of what the American Revolution was regardless of whether or not they understand the fine details of how it began and what followed afterwards. Few Americans know the men and women they will encounter in reading this collection of twenty-two essays penned by many of the leading historians of this period. In many ways these individuals had just as great a role in the founding of the US as the men who most consider to be Founders such as John Adams, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin. Although they are hardly known to the people of today, these individuals were the ones who helped start the Revolution, sustain it during the long years of combat, and determine the future direction of the new nation.

            The late Alfred F. Young, esteemed historian from Northern Illinois University begins the book with an essay on Ebenezer Mackintosh, the leader of the mobs that resisted the Stamp Act in 1765 in the streets of Boston. The tone of the book is set by this essay as Young explores the role of the common people in the Revolution. Without the support of the people there would have been no Revolution and no United States created in 1776. Yet, the people were not united in their actions nor were the men who are remembered as Founders on the national and state levels. In many cases the actions of the people led those men into supporting the Revolution. Unfortunately the common men would be forgotten or marginalized by the more well known men who took over the reins of the revolutionary effort. 

            Men like Ebenezer Mackintosh, Timothy Bigelow, and Joseph Plumb Martin along with black men and women both free and enslaved played prominent roles in their part of the Revolution along with Native Americans. All levels of colonial society was affected by the events that took place and despite the attempts by many to prevent change on a large scale, social, political, economic, cultural, and even religious change occurred on a massive level as the Revolution set the former British colonies on a different tangent than the home country. In reading these essays the reader can begin to develop an inkling of why historians like Gordon Wood think the period of the greatest change in the US came after the Revolution during the years of the Early Republic era. 

            These are certainly not all of the legions of forgotten patriots who put everything on the line during these years. If there is a drawback to this book it is that it doesn’t weave the essays into a grand narrative of US history although after each essay there is a section for further reading detailing additional sources to explore regarding the events and people brought up in that particular essay. What is interesting is that each historian has their own input on what was going on concerning the subject their essay was about so that the reader will begin to understand there are still many differing opinions on what exactly was going on in that time and how the individuals portrayed in that essay were both reacting to and participating in it. 
            For readers more familiar with the short topic form of literature the length of the essays here will fit them perfectly. They average 15 to 20 pages each and are compact enough to provide useful readings for both high school and college courses in addition to local historical society meetings. Even social organizations would find something to like in these essays. The essay by Richard S. Newman covers Prince Hall and the founding of Prince Hall Freemasonry in the United States which just naturally impels the reader to look up more information on that subject.  

            The essays that deal with events following the Revolution are poignant in that they cover subjects which have been debated throughout our nation’s history such as taxation, the unequal distribution of wealth, religion, the relationship between federal and state government, and the role of the people within both the state and federal governments. The reader should begin to understand that these essays deal with a time that is lost to the modern world and was experiencing massive upheavals in every aspect of life from top to bottom as the people began the world over again as Thomas Paine said. The men and women in these essays were the ones that helped bring that event about as well as determining the shape of things to come for their posterity.

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