Review: Jessica Choppin Roney, Governed by a Spirit of Opposition

Jessica Choppin RoneyGoverned by a Spirit of Opposition: The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014).

CaptureIn recent years, early American political history has received considerable attention. A range of historians have enriched our understanding of how Americans participated in and contributed to politics in the early republic.[1] Popular politics during the colonial period has received less attention.[2] But in Governed by a Spirit of Opposition, part of Studies in Early American Economy and Society from the Library Company of Philadelphia, Jessica Choppin Roney focuses on politics in Philadelphia prior to the American Revolution. In so doing, she makes an important contribution to the field of early American history. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Foundations of New England States’ Rights as a Unique Entity

Today’s guest post comes from Jordan Fansler, who received his Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire at Durham in May 2015. The following is based on his dissertation, “A Serious and Jealous Eye: Federal Union in New England, 1775 – 1821.”

kr-1759-neStates’ rights looms large in discussions of both historical and contemporary American politics and its federal union. For good reason, the ante-bellum states’ rights movement of the South is often the first to come to mind, but such a narrow focus does not do justice to the topic as a dynamic historical phenomenon, nor does it provide adequate context for the more modern manifestations of states’ rights movements. In the early republic, New Englanders promoted their own brand of states’ rights, to protect a type of near-sovereignty they attributed to their legislatures, as the best way to promote their interests and shield individuals from distant oppression.

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Recap: “So Sudden an Alteration” Conference (9-11 April 2015)

Two weeks ago, 175 historians descended upon the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) in Boston for a three-day conference that considered the political, social, economic, and global parameters of the American Revolution. The conference consisted of eight panels (with pre-circulated papers), two keynotes, and some special presentations on digital projects. The conference proceedings were live-tweeted under #RevReborn2, and fellow Juntoist Joseph Adelman provided some live coverage on the blog. The Junto has also had some post-conference commentaries, including “You Say You Want a Revolution” by Joseph Adelman and “The Suddenness of the Alteration: Some Afterthoughts on #RevReborn2” by Michael Hattem.

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Review: Andrew Beaumont, Colonial America & the Earl of Halifax, 1748-1761

Andrew D. M. Beaumont, Colonial America & the Earl of Halifax, 1748–1761. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Andrew Beaumont has written a provoking biography of George Montagu Dunk, second earl of Halifax (1716–1771) that covers the crucial period between 1748 and 1761. This book offers a re-evaluation of how we understand colonial American politics and, by implication, it forces us to reconsider the origins of the American Revolution.It also reorients our understanding of British figures who wanted to centralize the Empire during the eighteenth century. For Beaumont, we should look less at the familiar cast of characters: George Grenville; the Earl of Bute; William Pitt, later Lord Chatham; and Lord North. There are others, of course. But, we are familiar with these men. We know their stories. We know their contributions. Beaumont does not argue that we should look away from these men. Rather, he argues that we should look at other “ambitious men” and how they affected the British Empire. In this book, Beaumont examines the “Father of the Colonies,” the Earl of Halifax. Continue reading

No Politics, No Revolution

If there is a current orthodoxy among historians of the American Revolution, it is that the study of the Revolution has lost its focus. In their introduction to the Common-Place edition recapping the McNeil Center’s “The American Revolution Reborn” conference, Patrick Spero and Michael Zuckerman wrote of “a field that had grown stale” and that was “losing its verve, and worse, its center.” The call for papers for the forthcoming Massachusetts Historical Society conference effectively described the field as being stuck in a historiographical rut. There is a reason that study of the Revolution has lost its center. It has failed to concentrate its focus on politics. Continue reading

The OId World of the New Republic

Dept of Treasury notice

As someone who works on the late colonial period (1730s-1770s) in a field dominated by the “early republic,” it is easy to feel as though I am working on the margins of the field of early American history rather than what is actually the middle or center of what we usually define as early America (i.e., 1607 to somewhere between 1848 and 1861).[1] Yet, in this brief, speculative post, I will suggest that—in terms of my own subfield of political history and political culture—one of the things missing from much of the scholarship on the early republic is the colonial period itself.  Continue reading

The Paradox of Popular Sovereignty

If Inventing The People is a work of consensus history, it is not one that seeks to celebrate blindly the development of an Anglo-American tradition of popular sovereignty. “The popular governments of Britain or the United States rest on fictions as much as the governments of Russia and China” (13). Indeed, many of Morgan’s most important conclusions in the book are remarkably radical—reminding us that all power is at some level arbitrary, and that appeals to rationality alone cannot justify any single system of government. Indeed, governments that try and conform to the letter of their appeals to the people could not long hope to survive. “The fiction must approach the fact but never reach it” (91). Thus, while Morgan unquestionably concludes there is a coalescence of ideas of popular sovereignty, it is not a reassuring consensus. The consensus on the dominance of popular sovereignty is necessary, for else a community can never be made fit to govern. Continue reading