The American Revolution is often portrayed as a high-minded, orderly event whose capstone, the Constitution, provided the ideal framework for a democratic, prosperous nation. Alan Taylor, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, gives us a different creation story in this magisterial history of the nation's founding.Read more...
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The American Revolution is often portrayed as a high-minded, orderly event whose capstone, the Constitution, provided the ideal framework for a democratic, prosperous nation. Alan Taylor, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, gives us a different creation story in this magisterial history of the nation's founding.
Rising out of the continental rivalries of European empires and their native allies, Taylor's Revolution builds like a ground fire overspreading Britain's mainland colonies, fueled by local conditions, destructive, hard to quell. Conflict ignited on the frontier, where settlers clamored to push west into Indian lands against British restrictions, and in the seaboard cities, where commercial elites mobilized riots and boycotts to resist British tax policies. When war erupted, Patriot crowds harassed Loyalists and nonpartisans into compliance with their cause. Brutal guerrilla violence flared all along the frontier from New York to the Carolinas, fed by internal divisions as well as the clash with Britain. Taylor skillfully draws France, Spain, and native powers into a comprehensive narrative of the war that delivers the major battles, generals, and common soldiers with insight and power.
With discord smoldering in the fragile new nation through the 1780s, nationalist leaders such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton sought to restrain unruly state democracies and consolidate power in a Federal Constitution. Assuming the mantle of "We the People," the advocates of national power ratified the new frame of government. But their opponents prevailed in the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, whose vision of a western "empire of liberty" aligned with the long-standing, expansive ambitions of frontier settlers. White settlement and black slavery spread west, setting the stage for a civil war that nearly destroyed the union created by the founders.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-06-13
- Reviewer: Staff
Taylor, professor of history at the University of Virginia and Pulitzer Prize–winner for The Internal Enemy, further cements his reputation with this comprehensive analysis of an American Revolution that was anything but the relatively decorous event of popular myth. The revolutionary era was a time of divisions and uncertainties. “Turmoil persisted after the formal peace treaty,” Taylor writes. But that upheaval inspired political and cultural creativity that enabled a nation to emerge from “much cruelty, violence, and destruction.” Stressing the importance of the trans-Appalachian west, Taylor suggests that the conflict between land-hungry settlers and restrictive British polices was just as important to sparking revolution as the resistance to taxation that inflamed the Atlantic coast. This expanded perspective frames Taylor’s presentation of George Washington’s understanding that “victory hinged on who could endure a long, hard, bitter struggle.” Taylor analyzes “the cycles of invasion, exposure, and suppression” that convinced most Americans that “a Patriot victory offered the best prospect for restoring peace and stability.” He also highlights the “broad and anarchic borderland” where “Patriots fought... to suppress the independence of native peoples” in the name of creating an “empire of liberty.” Provocative and persuasive, Taylor’s fine work demonstrates that on a continent “riven with competing allegiances and multiple possibilities,” the newly independent U.S. by no means faced a secure future. (Sept.)
A fresh look at America's beginnings
Our understanding of history does not always match the documented evidence. The American Revolution was not as orderly and restrained as we sometimes think. American colonists who remained loyal to the king and those wanting to break away often treated one another inhumanely. A plundered farm, the target of small raiding parties, was more common than a battle charge. After the war, 60,000 Loyalists became refugees.
In his excellent American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor gives us a wide-ranging view that draws attention to the multiple empires clashing for land and power. The result, based on the latest scholarship, is a fresh and authoritative interpretation of the complex series of events that led up to the war and the many problems the new nation faced in the years immediately following.
Taylor emphasizes the crucial role played by the western expansion of settlers despite British efforts to restrict them. This expansion is essential to understanding both the causes of the revolution and the republic’s growth after the war. Between 1754 and 1763, the British and their colonists claimed the West as far as the Mississippi River. The colonists already here expected to share the fruits of victory. When that did not happen—instead, the British tried to protect Indian lands from settler expansion, made unexpected concessions to Francophone and Catholic subjects in Canada, and then imposed new taxes on the colonists—dissatisfaction began to stir.
Taylor’s focus on a larger area of North America gives us a more realistic understanding of the struggle. He shows “that relations with the native peoples were pivotal in shaping every colonial region and in framing the competition of rival empires. Enslaved Africans now appear as central, rather than peripheral, to building the colonies that overtly celebrated liberty.”
Near the war’s end, black soldiers were one-tenth of the Continental Army. Women were also crucial to the Patriot war effort, running the farms and shops, keeping families together. Nevertheless, Patriots defended freedom for white men while continuing their dominance over Indians and enslaved blacks.
Taylor’s masterful account is consistently compelling whatever the focus—on diplomacy, religion, warfare, culture or slavery. Everyone interested in early American history should read this book.