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.
Andrew D. M. Beaumont, Colonial America & the Earl of Halifax, 1748–1761. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
NB: This review is written by frequent guest poster, Christopher F. Minty, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellow at the New-York Historical Society and Eugene Lang College at The New School for Liberal Arts.
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
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
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). 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
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
One of the biggest difficulties I find in teaching the American Revolution is explaining to my students the large time gaps between so many of the most seminal events of the Revolution. The popular narrative of the Revolution has a tendency to conflate the Stamp Act with the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution, with perhaps a quick pause to celebrate Washington’s victory at Yorktown. Yet if the Stamp Act crisis happened today, it would be 2024 before we reached the Declaration of Independence, and 2035 before the Constitutional Convention met.
Over the last month or so, it’s been difficult to follow world news without seeing protests of some sort. Turkish protestors in Istanbul have attended demonstrations in opposition to Prime Minister Erdogan; Brazilians have protested the huge sums being invested in the 2014 World Cup at the same time many inhabitants are suffering from crushing poverty. In future years, it’s quite possible we will look at both protests as a seminal moment in their countries’ histories; stepping stones en route to a considerably more substantial change in governmental systems. Continue reading
In line with Matt Karp’s look back on Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution from last month, I’d like to take this opportunity to reconsider a classic work in early American history, Edmund Morgan’s The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89, which has just recently made it to its fourth edition. I have a long relationship with this slim volume. For many years before I began my undergraduate work as a 30-year old non-trad, I had been reading early American history, particularly classic works in the historiography, which has fascinated me since the beginning. I spent years going through the New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries’ 970 shelves and one of the earliest books I read was Birth of the Republic. A decade later, I am now extremely fortunate to be doing my doctoral work at Yale University, where Morgan taught and worked for three decades. Though he has long since retired into reclusion (having just turned 97 last month), he still casts a large shadow over the department. Graduate students here (myself included) whisper about a rare Morgan sighting and get excited when they find one of his books at a book sale with his name (and/or marginalia) written in it. So I very much appreciate this opportunity to return to and reassess this work. Continue reading