In light of the recent tragic stories of family separation occurring on the Mexico-United States border, what instantly came to my mind was America’s history of dislocation through American slavery. From the United States’s conception, the place of the country’s Black population, enslaved and free, was centered in debates on who this country was ultimately built for. There were factions that saw slavery as antithetical to the founding principles of “freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” During the Revolutionary War, even British orators like Samuel Johnson, clearly saw this dichotomy. In his 1775 pamphlet Taxation No Tyranny: An Answer To The Resolutions And Address Of The American Congress, Johnson juxtaposed the colonist’s “Declaration of Rights,” and equivocated “If [s]lavery be thus fatally contagious, how is it that we hear the loudest yelps of for liberty among the drivers of negroes.” Not all factions of the founding generation decidedly occupied one camp of pro-slavery or anti-slavery though. America’s first and third presidents denoted this friction. Washington and Jefferson’s stories denoted both held surface level anti-slavery positions, yet also owned hundreds of bondswomen and men; very similar to what Johnson characterized. This complication stemmed from the generation’s refusal to resolve the “slavery question” that plagued the new nation. Political compromises, like the counting of enslaved peoples as three-fifths a person, prolonged America’s reckoning, but only temporarily. However, a middle ground emerged by the early 19th century: colonization. Continue reading
We are pleased to host a Q&A with Craig Bruce Smith, author of the recently released American Honor: The Creation of the Nation’s Ideals During the Revolutionary Era (UNC Press). Dr. Smith received his PhD from Brandeis and is an assistant professor of history at William Woods University. We will be featuring a review of the book in the coming weeks. Continue reading
An article just came out in the American Historical Review’s October issue that should be on the radar for anyone interested in early American history: Holly Brewer’s “Slavery, Sovereignty, and ‘Inheritable Blood’: Reconsidering John Locke and the Origins of American Slavery.” In it, Brewer connects Locke’s criticism of absolutism with an opposition to inheritable slavery, thereby casting our understanding of democracy, capitalism, and slavery in an entirely new light. Continue reading
We continue “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50,” our joint roundtable with the S-USIH blog. Today’s post is by Jonathan Wilson, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Scranton and Marywood University. He studies ways that intellectuals—elite and otherwise—articulated American national identity in eastern cities during the early nineteenth century.
Upon first reading The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, I found it liberating. (That places me alongside Michael and Sara more than Ken this week.) True, Bernard Bailyn’s book was yet another attempt to credit elite white men for an idealistic national founding. From my perspective at the time, however, it modeled a way to study the ideas of relatively ordinary people. Bailyn depicted revolutionary thoughts as the work of communities, not individuals. He showed me that the life of the mind can encompass the inarticulate, the half-said, even the irrational, in ways that historians can analyze. This was powerful.
This week The Junto is co-sponsoring, “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50,” a weeklong roundtable on Bernard Bailyn’s seminal work with the Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH) blog. Each of the five posts will appear on both blogs concurrently. For readers unfamiliar with the book (or looking for a refresher), please see Episode 12 of The JuntoCast.
Throughout the winter of 2016-17, I helped organize “Ideological Origins at 50,” a conference jointly sponsored by the USC-EMSI and Yale’s CHESS to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Bernard Bailyn’s seminal work, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. The conference papers, presentations, and discussion were quite lively, as was Bailyn himself who delivered a 75-minute talk on the opening evening. Since then, other tributes to the book and its long-term influence and impact have appeared online. However, all of these have had one thing in common; they have been almost solely the product of senior historians who perceptively discussed the book’s long-term impact and the debates that surrounded it, both around its publication and in the immediate decades afterward. This Junto roundtable, “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50″ (#IOTAR50), aims to offer junior scholars a chance to reflect on this book’s impact on them and, by extension, its continuing significance and influence on the newest generation of early American historians. After all, perhaps the most impressive achievement of Ideological Origins is that fifty years after its publication it is still being read, assigned, and reckoned with by a new generation of scholars. Therefore, rather than rehashing what the book meant when it was published or what it has meant to historians living with it for decades, this roundtable is dedicated to exploring what the book means now. Continue reading
Today, we are pleased to offer an interview with Dr. Ibram Kendi on his National Book Award winner, Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas. Kendi is an Assistant Professor of African-American History at the University of Florida, and Associate Editor of the African-American Intellectual History Society blog. You can find his blog posts here. Continue reading
Contemporary culture loves origin stories. It’s not just that when we make our superhero movies, we always start with the origin—we even like to start the same franchises over and over again. For historians, the allure of the origin can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to see why. To borrow a phrase from David Marquand’s ecstatic review of Inventing the Individual, origin stories “persuade us to ask ourselves who we are and where we are going by showing us where we have come from.” The idea of finding in the past the hidden meaning of our present can be the very thing that captivates people about history in the first place. Continue reading