The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHappy Sunday! With the excitement from March Madness still ringing through the halls at The Junto, we look forward to bringing you more great content on a wide range of issues in early American history in the coming weeks (including an interview with Mike Jarvis, our champion!). In the meantime, let’s head right to this week’s links!
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Was the American Revolution a Civil War?

William Ranney, Battle of Cowpens, 1845, oil, South Carolina State House“Every great revolution is a civil war,” as David Armitage has recently remarked. That insight could change the way we think about the American Revolution. Contemporaries understood it that way—or at least, they did at first. David Ramsay, the first patriot historian of the war, held that the Revolution was “originally a civil war in the estimation of both parties.” Mercy Otis Warren wrote that the fires of civil war were kindled as early as the Boston massacre. But in the narratives of these historians, the moment the United States declared independence was the moment the conflict stopped being a civil war. It was no longer being fought within a single imperial polity. Now it was a war between two nations.[1] Continue reading

“Nor Any of the Rights of Citizenship”: Indians, Property, and International Law

In the years after the American victory at Yorktown, a series of debates took place over questions of citizenship and international law. Who counted as an American citizen, and what did that mean? What did the new American republics, and their confederation, owe to those who fell outside that category? In an earlier post, I discussed these matters in regard to one group of outsiders—suspected loyalists. Here I want to continue the theme as it touches a different group—Native Americans. Continue reading

The JuntoCast, Episode 7: The Great Awakening

The JuntoCastIn this month’s episode of “The JuntoCast,” Ken Owen, Michael Hattem, Roy Rogers, and Mark Boonshoft discuss the Great Awakening, including its historiography, its relationship to the American Revolution, and its contemporary significance.

You can click here to listen to the mp3 in a new window or right-click to download and save for later. You can also subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. We would greatly appreciate it if our listeners could take a moment to rate or, better yet, review the podcast in iTunes. As always, any and all feedback from our listeners is greatly welcomed and appreciated. Continue reading

Rough and Ready and Real

Ratification coverThe ratification of the Federal Constitution is a notoriously difficult historical event to categorize. On the one hand, it is a watershed moment; the creation of a consolidated federal government with extensive power is a clear break with the immediate post-Independence traditions of American governance. Yet at the same time, it is traditionally seen as the final achievement of a revolutionary generation—the fulfillment of the ideals of the Revolution.[1] Continue reading

Cold Water and Living Documents

There is a breed of historians known, colloquially, as “cold water” historians for their drive to pour analytic “cold water” on the politically or historiographical fashionable arguments. Pauline Maier most certainly belongs to this historiographical polar bear club.[1] As anyone who read her New York Times obituary (or any other, really) knows, Maier is famous for describing Thomas Jefferson as “overrated.[2] Her wonderful American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence brings the most powerful weapons of the skeptical historians— context and contingency—to bear on that central document of American political and national identity. Continue reading

The New Old Revolutionaries

It’s often said that we tell old stories to get new ones, a truth self-evident in my favorite of Pauline Maier’s many works, The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams (1980). And everything I admire about her as a scholar rolls in with the first lines of that barefaced preface: “Let me confess at the outset that this book, though it answers some questions of the sort historians are trained to ask, has also been—and was meant from the outset to be—a personal adventure. I wanted to know better what it was to be an American of the late eighteenth century and to live through the American Revolution” (xiii). Maier’s prosopography of five men and their “worlds,” accentuated by a thoughtful “interlude” on the rigors of political life in the colonies, marked a change in how historians used individual biographies to retell the Revolution to post-bicentennial Americans. First given as a series of lectures at New York University in 1976, the essays gather a fairly random matrix of people for a group shot of colonial life: Samuel Adams, Isaac Sears, Dr. Thomas Young, Richard Henry Lee, and Charles Carroll. Few had appeared in solo biographies, and if they did, it was often in fairly dim light. In fewer than 300 pages, Maier promised to deliver the story of “not just why Americans made the Revolution, but what the Revolution did to them.” How to get at it? Continue reading